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You could've heard a pin drop. All the occupants of the room, consisting of the rookie 9 (sans Sasuke), Team Gai, and Tsunade looked to the cause of the shock-induced silence.

They were gathered to discuss the mission that really should've gone to jounin, but due to lack of manpower caused by the consecutive attacks on Konoha, would be carried out by gennin (who really should have been promoted to chuunin by now). They were just discussing who would take the most dangerous part of the mission, infiltration of the base to gather information and map out the area, when Naruto's comment made everyone freeze.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was Kiba who broke the silence. "W-What did you say, Naruto?"

Naruto, in his typical cheerful obliviousness, didn't notice the sudden tension in the room. "I said it make sense that I go, since I'm the most expendable". Upon not hearing anything, they whiskered blonde finally looked around, noticing the shock on his teammates' and Tsunade's faces. "Oi! Don't be so surprised! Even I can make a smart comment every once in a while!"

Tsunade, using her Hokage composure, was the first to recover. Her booming voice filled the room, "Why on Earth would you think that, you stupid child?!"

Naruto looked confused. It was pretty obvious to him. "I am unwanted, baa-chan". He stated as if it were a fact. Tsunade still didn't seem like she understood. Naruto frowned. Did she want him to explain more? It hurt him to think that. She must know he was unwanted, everyone knew, so why was she making him say it? A flash of pain entered his eyes. Was this a way to humiliate him? But no, Tusnade-baa-chan wouldn't do that to him. She wasn't like the villagers. But why did she want him to relive all of this? He head already accepted the fact that he was unwanted, true, but that didn't mean he liked talking about it.

Naruto looked around the room for support. Surely someone could back him up on this- they had all known him for a while now. Contrary to the blonde's expectations, most of his teammates were still looking shocked. All except Shikamaru, really. Shikamaru seemed to have come to a realization, and was looking increasingly angry. His face was contorted into an ugly grimace, and his previously laid-back posture that screamed "lazy and uncaring" was now tense. The cigarette he was smoking laid crushed in his hand. He reminded Naruto of a cornered animal, ready to lash out at anything that came too close.

The blonde looked back at Tsunade and remembered she was still expecting an explanation. He adopted his most cheerful smile, the one he used when he faced the rejection of the village he so loved and protected, and piped out, "Well, I'm rather disliked, baa-chan. Everyone here can attest to that- the teachers at the Academy said it all the time." He looked around, expecting nods and jeers, and was surprised to find them still rather motionless. Was something wrong with them? He was starting to get worried. Tsunade seemed to want to say something, but Naruto didn't allow her. He just wanted to get all this over with. "I don't have a family, and I've been living alone since I was four. All the neighbours left the building once I moved in. The villagers obviously hate me. They charge three times the normal price for food and supplies, and they used to try to kill me when I was a kid. There'd be an attack at least eight times a year before I became a ninja, always at least one on my birthday. Only reason I don't have scars is because of my fast regeneration". He laughed at that. "Whenever the beatings got too brutal, though, one of the people jiji sent would save me! The looks of frustration of the villagers' faces when I wouldn't die were priceless!" He laughed again, that loud, obnoxious laughter he was famous for, but noticed that nobody was laughing with him. His laughter died off.

He looked around. Well, this was awkward. He felt like everyone was in on some inside joke that he wasn't included in. He wasn't getting their reactions at all. At least his teammates were no longer standing quite so motionless. Instead, they looked at him with dawning horror. He was used to these expressions, he saw them all the time when a previously misinformed villager started talking to him, only to realize that they were talking to the kyuubi-brat. It hurt more than he'd care to admit to see the expression on his friend's faces. Would he be rejected now too? He was broken out of his thoughts when, to his left, he heard a loud sob. The usually quiet Hinata-chan had her hands covering her mouth, tears glistening in her eyes. To her left, Kiba looked a lot like Shikamaru, like he was ready to lash out at whoever stood too close or breathed too loudly. To Hinata's right was Shino. Naruto couldn't see his expression due to the coat covering his face and the black glasses, but he could hear the agitated humming of this kukabicho coming from underneath his clothes.

Next to Shikamaru, Choji had stopped eating. He had put down his bag of chips and was looking down at the floor, hair covering his face so Naruto couldn't see. The blonde idly wondered what was so interesting about the floor. Choji seemed to stare at it with unusual intensity. His hands were tightened into fists, and he seemed to be trembling. On Shikamaru's other side was Ino, who also stood still with an expression of horrified comprehension on her face. She clutched her sides, as though trying to stop her hands form doing something else.

Neji looked at him like he'd never seen him before. His mouth was opening and closing, as though he wanted to say something but didn't know what. Naruto would've laughed, he'd never seen Neji this discomposed except at their fight during the chuunin exams, if the silence weren't so heavy that breaking it would seem criminal. Next to him, Tenten was fingering one of her more deadly-looking weapons (had it always been in her hand? How had he not noticed that before?), and seemed to be glaring at the windows overlooking the village. Lee seemed like he didn't understand what Naruto was saying. As though the words weren't making sense to him.

Naurto turned back to Tsunade. She still hadn't said anything. He figured he'd finish his explanation. His teammates were acting way too weird right now. Naruto shrugged. "I'm a useless demon-brat. No one will miss me if something goes wrong."

Naruto heard a distinct crack. With wide eyes, he saw the Hokage desk practically disintegrate under Tsunade's grip. The destruction of the desk seemed to be some sort of signal for the world to erupt into chaos. It was as though the noise of the desk falling apart broke them out of their stunned silence. Everyone tried shouting at the same time, so much so that Naruto couldn't understand what any of them were saying.

"QUIET!" The noise stopped as everyone looked at a furious Tsunade. "Who said this, Naruto? Who called you that- that name?"

The whole room seemed to suck in a breath in anticipation. Naruto could swear he felt some KI coming off some of them.

Naruto drooped. He was getting tired of this conversation. This wasn't a fun topic for him, he'd really rather not talk about it. "Everyone, I guess. Villagers, the academy, ninja... I'm pretty universally hated baa-chan". He gave a sardonic smile, so different from his usual sunny smile that some of them flinched.

"Since when have you believed that it would be okay for you to die, Naruto?" Shikamaru was calm as he posed the question. It reassured Naruto who wasn't sure why everyone was so agitated all of a sudden.

"You guys are way too serious! It's not like I want to die. If I did I'd already be dead. There were plenty of opportunities as a kid, after all." The blonde snorted. There certainly were plenty of opportunities. And eager volunteers as well. "But between me and someone else, it's better for me to die. Less people would miss me. A lot of people would be happy. I'm an unwanted demon brat, after all". He paused, but Shikamaru's expression still hadn't changed. Why weren't they getting what he was saying? "It's logical. Really, Shika, you're smart. You don't need me to tell you this".

Before Shikamaru could say anything, someone else spoke. "If you were to die on this mission, don't you think Sakura would miss you, at least?" The carefully posed question came from Ino, who seemed almost hesitant. Naruto had never seen her so unsure of herself before.

Naruto thought about it for a minute. "She might be a bit sad at first, but she's still got the most important team member – Sasuke". He turned around to Sakura and caught her worried face. Ah, of course! "Don't worry, Sakura-chan! Even if I die, Sasuke will definitely be brought back to Konoha! Just you wait!"

Sakura had tears in her eyes. "Naruto you idiot!"

Naruto laughed. "See? She'll be better off without me, really."

Ino had to restrain Sakura to keep the pink-haired kunoichi from hitting him.

"And what about your dream of becoming hokage, Naruto?! Are you just gonna give up on that?!" Kiba shouted. The Inuzuka boy was red in the face, and sweating profusely. He seemed breathless and confused. Like he didn't know what to do with this situation.

"Of course not!" Naruto was indignant. He'd never give up on being Hokage! "Being Hokage doesn't mean much if one of you is dead, though".

The room became silent again.

"Oi, Naruto." Naruto turned back to look at Shikamaru. The latter seemed to have regained control over his body. He no longer looked murderous, although the intensity had not left him. "Our lives wouldn't mean much if you were dead, either".

To this, Naruto turned wide blue eyes to the rest of the room. He was genuinely perplexed. "Of course they would! You all still have your parents, or siblings. You'll still have teammates, teachers, friends, and the entire village!" He comforted. "You'd hardly notice I was gone".

Shikamaru's eyes steeled over again, and he began muttering indistinct curses. He suddenly looked up, and lit another cigarette. "This is obviously going to take a while." The others in the room seemed to understand him, and each looked like they were preparing for battle. Naruto was clearly missing something. Shikamaru took a deep breath and breathed out the smoke. With a meaningful glance to the rest of the room, he announced, "We're going to Ichiraku Ramen".

Naruto was still confused, but had learned not to question a good thing. And going to Ichiraku Ramen was definitely a good thing. "All right! Let's go!"

Shikamaru gestured to Choji, and the big teenager hurriedly joined them. Ino came along as well, complaining about how she was going to gain so much weight. Team 8 was close behind, Kiba throwing an arm around Naruto's shoulders, Shino falling into step right behind them, Hinata walking determinedly next to him, for once not fainting after an extended period of time in Naruto's company, though hints of red could be spotted on her cheeks. Lee was running ahead, shouting about Naruto's extreme youth, Tenten chuckling a bit at the scene. Even Neji joined in, berating Naruto for his unbalanced diet. All had a hard gleam in their eyes when looking at the blonde ball of sunshine.

Sakura, apparently the only one who remembered why they were in the Hokage's office in the first place, turned to Tsunade, "Sensei, may we be excused?"

Tsunade looked like she had aged decades. She looked her real age, or perhaps even a little older than that, wearing a defeated expression. "Yes, you're all excused. I'll contact you later to give you the details of the mission". She had villagers to find... and punish.

And so they headed for Ichiraku Ramen.

And if one of rookies hugged Naruto a second longer than usual, or if they made sure to listen to his ideas and feelings with more attention than before, or if they hovered protectively by his side when walking through the streets of Konoha, or if the villagers who looked like they would say something to Naruto received subtle glares and a healthy dose of KI, well, the others pretended not to notice.