Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters in this story. Naruto is the work of Masashi Kishimoto.
A/N: This story is YAOI meaning boy/boy sexual relations. It has been revised from the original posting for grammatical and spelling errors and I changed their age.
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Gaara lay sprawled out on the floor gazing up at the ceiling blankly. Somewhere in the distance his phone rang but he ignored it. He noted the worry in his sister's voice as she pleaded to the answering machine. It didn't matter; in a few hours she'd be over there with an annoyed
Kankuro in tow therefore answering the phone was unnecessary. With a sigh, the young man dug through a pocket of his now ruined black slacks. Pulling out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter with shaky fingers, he shoved one of the sticks between his lips and lit it. At that moment, his stomach made its presence known. Ignoring it, Gaara allowed his eyes to follow the swirls and twists the smoke from his cigarette formed as he blew it through his lips. Closing his eyes, he imagined the nicotine being pumped through his veins. His body had reached its limit. He liked this feeling, the numbing of his mind that came from utter exhaustion. Squashing the cigarette to the floor, he turned his gaze to the painting now drying on one side of the room as he slipped into the blackness that only came at times like these.
"Yeah I know." Kankurou muttered as he bent down to pick up his little brother.
"Don't wake him." Temari said as she turned and headed to the kitchen. Rolling his eyes, Kankurou walked to the living room with his burden while Temari began rummaging through the kitchen.
"He's out cold." Kankurou muttered as he accepted the mug Temari handed him. He was seated in an armchair at the foot of the sofa that currently held an unconscious Gaara.
"Should we wake him and try to convince some food down his throat or let him sleep first this time?" Kankurou asked as he stared at the bare torso of his brother, ribs clearly visible beneath pale skin. When was the last time the younger man had been outside in the sunlight?
"Let him sleep, I need to go shopping anyways, there's no decent food in this apartment as usual." Temari answered. Her fingers gently brushed some stray red locks aside. She only dared touch her youngest brother during one of his crashes.
"Did you see it?"
"How could I miss it?" Temari answered. "It's stunning as always."
"Yeah." Kankuro agreed as he tore his gaze away from his brother. "I wonder what he'll want to do with this one."
Temari shrugged in response.
"I'll be back soon."
"Just hurry up."
Grabbing her coat from where she had thrown it in a hallway closet earlier, Temari left her brothers alone. She understood Kankuro's anxiety; it was an anxiety shrouded in guilt that she they both shared. Neither of them wanted to be alone with him more than was necessary, even if he was currently stretched out on a sofa oblivious to the world around him.
"You're awake." Temari said, softly smiling over at a now awake Gaara. The redhead ignored her as he slowly sat up causing paint to flake off his stomach. Shakily he got to his feet and headed to the bathroom without acknowledging his siblings. Kankuro made a move to help him when he stumbled forward but was stopped short by a glare from the younger male. With a sigh of frustration, the older brother retreated to the kitchen.
"Are you hungry?" Temari asked concerned as she watched her brother grip the arm of the sofa to steady himself. She frowned as Gaara's grip tightened on the chair. When was the last time he had eaten?
"Not yet." Gaara's response was curt, voice hoarse from misuse as he slowly made his way to the bathroom.
"I'll have something ready for you once you're done." She said softly, hoping her true feelings couldn't be heard in her voice. Expecting no reply, the blond-haired woman proceeded to the kitchen to reheat the food she had prepared.
Temari and Kankuro sat in silence as they listened to the distant sound of running water. They waited patiently as the sound stopped only to be followed moments later by a now paint free Gaara dressed in plain black sweat pants and a dark red shirt. Temari took that as her cue to place the food she prepared before them. The siblings ate in nervous silence, the youngest seeming to be ignorant of the discomfort of the others; the older two knew the truth was that Gaara simply didn't care.
"Gaara…what do you want to do with this one?" Kankuro asked breaking the uncomfortable silence as he watched his brother intently. The redhead was absently pushing his food around his plate. Kankuro had learned the hard way to never touch Gaara's paintings without knowing explicitly what Gaara wanted. He still had scars from that day. That day he had misinterpreted a grunt from a semi-conscious Gaara as permission to move the painting to the art gallery that the siblings owned. The gallery was the only place Gaara permitted his work to be displayed and sold. To make a long story short, Kankuro had spent six weeks at a hospital nursing a concussion, four broken ribs and a knife wound. Thus, he had learnt his lesson; never again had he touched one of his brother's works without the redhead's permission.
"Do what you want." Gaara whispered as he chewed slowly.
"Are…are you sure?" Temari asked. Her reply was an annoyed glance. Gaara didn't like repeating himself.
"Alright. How about we add it to the upcoming event?" Kankuro asked nervously, glancing from Gaara to Temari and back. Waiting for an objection from the redhead that never came, Temari eventually nodded.
"We can do that." she said forcing a smile. Gaara continued eating in disinterested silence as he let his brother and sister plan out the details for the upcoming exhibit.
The siblings had opened the gallery three years ago using some of the blood money their father had left behind for Kankuro and Temari. For Gaara, he'd left nothing. Neither of the siblings particularly wanted to depend on the funds they had inherited from a man they held no love for. It was surprisingly Gaara's idea, one he came up with while staring at a freshly completed painting of a storm ripping a ship to shreds. The theme was a common one but it held a haunting aura that made the person gazing at it lose himself in the moment that was frozen in the painting. It was only a few hours old but he'd been ready to destroy it.
"How much do you think this is worth?" Gaara had asked of his brother and sister as he stood ready to burn his latest accomplishment to the ground. Temari and Kankurou had been prepared to witness the violent death of yet another work. Art was Gaara's release; it was the outlet for all the toxicity he held within him, like opening a valve to relieve the pressure before he exploded.
The last thing they expected was to be asked how much the painting was worth. That was three years ago and the gallery had grown from just a small corner store to one of the more well known galleries in the city of Konoha. It had been an opportunity for them to start over when they first moved to Konoha, particularly for Gaara. However, Temari still had her doubts as to how effective the move had been.
Gaara was praised as a genius for what he created yet no one knew who created the most popular pieces sold in the gallery. His works were always signed using the alias "Shukaku," and he never visited the gallery or the exhibits held every few months to display his most recent works together with the ones from artists added to the gallery collection over the years. Questions concerning Gaara were never tolerated and the patrons of the gallery quickly learned this. It became a novelty to own something by the mysterious genius, the recluse that created masterpieces that seemed poised to erupt from their frames at any moment. The public loved the mystery that surrounded the creation of his paintings and had begun indulging in ridiculous rumors about him.
Honestly he didn't care what people thought of his work or him, he painted for himself and only himself. Painting was on outlet, it kept him sane on some level. It was all he had. He'd pour what he felt onto the canvas; let his emotions flow through the paint, the only outlet they would ever receive. If people wanted to pay money his creations then let them, he would have ended up destroying the paintings anyway. He didn't care what happened to them, as long as they were out of his sight.
The only ones he ever kept were the paintings that reflected his soul. Those were the ones that would be locked in his studio and left there. Those were the ones that left him asleep for days only to wake to a silently crying Temari and a weary Kankurou hovering not too far from
him. Those were the paintings that caused the scar he had carved into his forehead a decade ago to ache like a fresh wound. Those were the paintings the world never saw.
Shoving his plate away, Gaara rose to his feet.
"Where are you going? You hardly touched your food." Temari said, frowning as she glanced at the plate Gaara had shoved away. Kankurou held his breath when his younger brother froze. He shot a panicked glance at Temari. He saw his sister swallow realizing her mistake. She just couldn't keep her mouth shut sometimes.
"Get out and take it with you." Gaara gritted out before stalking out of the room. He had woken up in a particularly foul mood; apparently he hadn't been exhausted enough because he had dreamt. Not waiting to be told again, Kankurou scrambled from his seat and towards Gaara's studio.
"You just had to go piss him off, didn't you." He grumbled to his sister, grabbing the sides of the canvas, careful not to touch the still drying paint.
"Don't start with me. Look at him! How long do you think he will last at this rate? He doesn't eat, he doesn't sleep. He's been getting worse! He's my little brother, Kankurou and there is no way-"
"Oh get off it Temari. He's my little brother too! You're not the only one that's worried about him. I know what state he's in. I'm here every time he crashes; don't you think I see what he's doing to himself? You never fucking question what he's doing! You know that! If Gaara wants to leave without eating then you damn well let him. You know what happens when you try to make him do something he doesn't want to." Kankurou whispered harshly, heading to the front door with Temari in tow.
"So what? We just leave him to starve himself to death?" Temari spat out, thoroughly pissed at both her brothers.
"That's not what I mean but if you want to keep him from doing just that we need to stay on his good side, not piss him off! At least when he's a in good mood we can force some food down his throat but when you go and piss him off he'll probably try to kill us before we can even get a word out!"
Temari gave Kankurou a withering look.
"Don't you think you're being unfair to him? He hasn't been violent in months."
"And I'd like to keep it that way, thank you very much."
Biting her tongue, Temari followed her brother to the front door. She knew Kankurou was right. Simply because Gaara hadn't put anyone in the hospital lately didn't mean they could let their guard down. If they wanted Gaara to keep allowing them into his life then they needed to remain wary. That was easier said than done when they didn't know what would set him off. Still, he was her youngest brother and Temari would be damned if she would let him leave her. Temari sighed in frustration as she closed the door behind her. Sometimes, she couldn't help but blame herself for the state her little brother was in.
Gaara listened as the voices of his brother and sister disappeared at the closing of his front door. If they wanted to waste their time worrying over him then that was fine with him as long as they stayed out of his way. It was their lives; they could do what the hell they wanted with them as long as they didn't try to stop him from living his life the way he wanted. As long as they understood this one thing then he wouldn't have to harm them.
Digging through his closet, the redhead changed into a pair of black pants and a maroon shirt before heading to his front door. Pulling on a coat, he shoved keys, wallet, cigarettes and lighter into his pocket and left his home.
He needed a distraction from his ghosts. The cool air blasted his skin causing him to shiver slightly. He hadn't been outside in over a month and the air that prickled his pale skin was welcome. It was late, the streets were almost empty. That's how Gaara liked it though. He hated the bustle of the day as people scurried about with their pathetic lives. Lighting a cigarette, Gaara began walking. He was still tired but at the moment he really didn't care. He needed an escape from his memories. The few people that he passed simply glanced at him before continuing on their way.
He wasn't sure how long he had been walking or how late it really was when he found it. It was tucked comfortably on a corner with its entrance on an adjoining side street. Without thinking Gaara walked in. He didn't make it a point to visit places such as these but this place drew him. Maybe it was the emptiness of the restaurant or maybe it was the simple fact that it was somewhere other than where he lived. A young woman with brown hair pulled up into a pony tail greeted him at the door.
"Um…I'm sorry but we'll be closing in about thirty minutes and the kitchen has already been closed for the night." She said politely staring at the redhead. Gaara disregarded her comment and allowed his eyes to rove the restaurant. It was a quaint place. He supposed it was the kind of place people would call romantic. The tables were arranged to give off a sense of privacy to its patrons. The lighting was soft and elegant, casting shadows in all the right places.
"Tea." He said simply as he browsed the restaurant with his eyes. Seeing an empty table tucked away in a corner, he walked towards it and sat down not bothering to wait for a reply from the girl. Even if the kitchen was closed, it wouldn't take much effort to brew some tea. With a resigned sigh, the girl went off to get the tea.
"What's wrong Ayame?" Naruto asked as a frustrated Ayame walked into the kitchen.
"He wants tea!" The brown haired girl exclaimed exasperated. "He's just sitting there even though I told him we were closing in thirty minutes!"
"Why don't just ask him to leave?" Naruto asked confused as he continued putting away ingredients. Ayame gave Naruto a look that said she was questioning his sanity. "You haven't seen this guy! I wouldn't even dare."
"That bad? Alright, I'll take care of it. Why don't you go on ahead home and I'll close up tonight? Has Ino left yet? Tell the old man I hope he feels better soon."
"She left about an hour ago. There really weren't any one here so I told her to leave. Thanks a lot Naruto and I'll tell him." Ayame said as she waved and left the kitchen.
"No problem." Naruto answered smiling as the girl left. With a sigh, the blond removed his apron and exited the kitchen. He scanned the restaurant looking for the source of Ayame's frustration. A shock of red hair caught his attention and Naruto headed towards it. Just as he was about to ask the man to leave, Naruto saw his face reflected in the glass through which he was staring. Gaara seemed to remain oblivious to the fact that he was being watched as he continued to stare out the window.
Naruto glanced down at the pale, bony fingers wrapped around a cup of now tepid tea. Without saying a word Naruto spun around and headed to the kitchen. He now understood why Ayame was hesitant to ask the redhead to leave. The blond reappeared some minutes later holding two bowls and chop sticks. He placed one bowl and a pair of chopstick before the young man before he sat down.
"I would eat that before it got cold if I were you." Naruto said before breaking apart his own chopsticks and noisily attacking his own ramen. Startled at the voice, Gaara glanced at the other male now slurping noodles and then down at the steaming bowl of ramen in front him, confused.
"It's pork ramen, my specialty and favorite. Try it. I'm yet to meet someone that doesn't like my ramen." Naruto said proudly as he eyed the redhead in front him. Gaara looked up at the guy who had imposed on his personal space but made no attempt to touch the food placed in front him.
"You know we closed about an hour ago."
Gaara blinked at this and looked at his watch. It was almost midnight.
"Don't worry about it. You can make up for it by eating that ramen." Naruto said smiling while pointing to the bowl before the redhead. Slowly, Gaara unwound his fingers from the cup and picked up the chopsticks. He hesitated as he inspected the contents of the bowl.
"Don't worry, there's no poison in there and it's free too."
Naruto watched as Gaara gradually brought some noodles to his mouth.
"Well what do you think?" Naruto asked expectantly.
Gaara ignored the question in favor of chewing. As if finally coming to a conclusion, the redhead dug into the bowl before him.
"Good stuff right? Ramen has to be the best food ever invented. I could live of the stuff but of course Iruka wouldn't let me but I eat it every chance I get. That's what's so great about working here. I could get free ramen. Of course the old man set a limit. He said I'd put him out of business if he let me eat as much ramen as I wanted. Iruka says I have a black hole for a stomach."
The blond was starting to grate on his nerves with the ceaseless chatter but the ramen was good and he hadn't eaten a proper meal in days so Gaara decided to let him ramble. In fact the only reason he wasn't currently pummeling the blond in front him for even speaking to him was the ramen that he was now cramming down his throat.
"My name is Naruto by the way, what's yours?"
"I could care less what your name is." Gaara said as he set down his now empty bowl.
"Yeah, you're not the only one." Naruto whispered as he brought his own bowl to his lips and drained it. Gaara observed the young man under the guise of a death glare. He had a shock of messy blond hair that hung every which way about his head. Setting the bowl down, Naruto grinned as he caught Gaara glaring at him seemingly unfazed by the earlier comment and the look that was currently aimed at him.
Gaara allowed his eyes to flick over the blond's face. Three thin scars lined either cheek giving the other a slight feral look. The effect wasn't bad though, it was rather appealing in fact. Startlingly blue eyes stared back at him twinkling with mischief. Gaara allowed his gaze to linger on those eyes causing Naruto to fidget under the strong gaze.
"Well…a-as fun as eating with you was I really need to close up." Naruto said, fighting down the blush threatening to appear with a vibrant smile.
"Since you enjoyed my ramen so much, why don't you come by tomorrow and I'll make you some more. You'll have to pay this time though. Maybe then you'll be willing to tell me your name."
"Don't get the wrong idea just because I allowed you to sit with me and I humored you by eating that garbage you placed in front me. Get out of my way."
Standing up abruptly, Gaara left the restaurant. Shaking his head, picked up the empty bowls and stood up.
"You're welcome" He called as he watched Gaara's retreating figure.
Gaara lay stretched out on the floor of his studio staring up at the ceiling. He was tired but as always sleep was only a fleeting memory. Bit by bit he was analyzing what had taken place, trying to understand his actions.
Why had he walked into the restaurant in the first place? Why hadn't he left when the blond man first sat down? Why had he eaten when the smiling fool had placed the food in front him? Why did the man place ramen in front him in the first place? Hell he didn't even like ramen but he had wolfed it down like a starved dog. Then why was he craving more of the ramen that guy made? Probably because he hadn't eaten for so long. It was only natural his body would have cravings. Was he really that hungry to accept food from a perfect stranger?
Temari had cooked enough to last him a week. True but Gaara couldn't help but admit to the fact that the guy's ramen tasted better than Temari's cooking by far. Gaara growled at the unanswered questions and unnecessary comments. The more he thought about it the more pissed off he became. Rising to his feet, he stripped off his shirt and grabbed the nearest brush in frustration.
"Hey Naruto, here's an order for you." Ino said as she entered the kitchen with an order in hand.
"At this time of night?" Naruto asked annoyed. The only time they ever got orders this late was on a weekend and it was only Thursday. Naruto sighed as he looked at the order.
"Yeah, it's some creepy redhead dude."
"Redhead huh?" With a grin Naruto set to work. "I'll take it out to him Ino."
The young woman eyed the blond curiously before heading back outside.
"Whatever you say Naruto." She wouldn't complain. With a wave she went back to her few remaining customers.
Gaara sat at the same table as the night before staring out the window, his fingers once again wrapped around a cup of tea that was slowly going cold. The only other patrons in the restaurant were a young couple that couldn't seem to keep their hands off each other. Gaara shot them a particularly nasty glare when the woman giggled a little too loudly.
"Here you are." Naruto said as he placed the bowl unto the table. Gaara stared at the bowl a moment before picking up his chopsticks.
"So you liked my ramen that much?" Naruto smirked as he sat down opposite his newest regular. Gaara ignored him and began eating; only this time he resisted the urge to plow through the bowl of ramen and instead ate painstakingly slow.
"You don't talk very much do you?"
"You just talk too much." Gaara mumbled between mouthfuls. A low rumble caught Gaara's attention causing him to look up from his bowl. The blond was laughing; his blue eyes sparkled brightly as he stared back at the redhead. Gaara titled his head slightly at the sound. When was the last time he had actually heard someone laugh in his presence?
"You're not the first person to say that." Naruto added as he continued to watch the redhead eat.
"Nice to meet you Gaara. I'm Naruto."
"I already know who you are." Gaara said, his gaze clearly saying Naruto must not be very bright.
"Oh yeah, I told you my name yesterday didn't I." Naruto said sheepishly as he rubbed the back of his head. Gaara rolled his eyes as he continued to eat. Was this guy really that dense?
"Hey Naruto mind if I leave? My ride is here." Ino called as she slipped into her jacket. Naruto glanced around the restaurant noting no one else was there.
"Sure Ino. I'll be closing up for the remainder of this week as well. Teuchi hurt his back you know and Ayame has to look after him so she won't be staying to close."
"See you tomorrow then?" Ino called, brushing aside her bangs to scrutinize the other male Naruto was keeping company.
"Alright see you tomorrow." Naruto waved at the girl before turning back to the young man in front him.
"So Gaara do you live around here?"
"Why do you want to know?"
"Just curious I guess. Don't worry it's not like I'm going to stalk you or anything." Naruto chuckled as he lifted up his hands defensively.
"You couldn't even if you wanted to." Gaara stated flatly as he set the now empty bowl down. Naruto blinked at the statement.
"…Well that's good to know."
"Hey wait here for a bit." Naruto said as he picked up the bowl and left.
"Don't go anywhere." He yelled over his shoulder. Gaara narrowed his eyes at the blond as he ran off towards the back of the restaurant, irked at the fact he had dared give him an order. Still he remained seated. Not like he had any other pressing engagements at the moment.
"I'm ready." Naruto said as he smiled at the redhead. Gaara looked up only to wince at the sight before him. Naruto was clad in dark blue jeans and a plain black t-shirt. However it wasn't this that had made him wince. It was the hideous orange and black jacket that said blond had donned. Despite this Gaara couldn't help but think the jacket fit Naruto. Maybe because it was as subtle as a ton of bricks and demanded your attention. Either way he was certain that if it was anyone else wearing the ugly thing they would look like a complete moron.
"Well come on don't just sit there." Naruto said impatiently. Smoothly, Gaara rose to his feet and followed Naruto out the restaurant.
"It's 11:30 now so I have about an hour before I have to get home. So…what do you wanna do?" Gaara didn't answer; instead he fished out a cigarette from his pocket and lit it.
"You know those things are going to kill you." Naruto stated as he stared at the other man. Gaara's reply was a look that clearly stated he didn't give a damn. With a shrug Naruto started walking expecting Gaara to follow. Gaara hesitated for a minute then decided it wouldn't hurt to
follow. It wasn't like Naruto could hurt him anyways and he had questions that needed answers.
It was cold and the wind that whipped their hair certainly wasn't helping as they walked along in amiable silence. Gaara couldn't help but glance over at the person walking next to him. Naruto was an enigma. Instead of trying to escape his presence, Naruto was actually seeking it. In fact it almost seemed like he was enjoying Gaara's company as he walked along with his hands behind his head and a slight smile.
"Hey Gaara how old are you?" Naruto asked intruding on the redhead's musings. His question startled Gaara causing him to stop and stare at Naruto. Realizing he was getting no answer Naruto stopped and turned around.
"Yes." Gaara hissed out as he resumed walking.
"…okay." Naruto frowned slightly but decided to continue with his previous question.
"You never answered my question…fine I'll just have to guess then. Let's see…" Turning to the side, Naruto scrutinized the other male. He noted they were about the same height but the similarities ended there. While Naruto was by no means scrawny, Gaara was extremely thin, although this was hard to tell under the layer of clothes the redhead was currently wearing, Naruto recalled the bony fingers that had been wrapped around the tea cup. While Naruto had a healthy tan from constantly being outdoors, Gaara was deathly pale. He let out a slight chuckle as he thought that Gaara was even paler than Sasuke.
"Stop that!" Gaara snapped in irritation. He was quickly becoming uncomfortable as he watched the blond sweep him with his eyes.
"Sorry." Naruto mumbled as a faint blush appeared. He hadn't meant to stare so hard.
"I'm guessing you're about twenty right?" Naruto continued in an effort to break the uncomfortable silence that had crept up. His only response was a slight nod indicating he was right.
"I knew it. You're as old as I am. You know I started working at Ichiraku's about a year ago. I used to eat there a lot and the old man finally offered me a job for being his best regular." Thus began Naruto's ramblings of his many adventures at said restaurant. At first Gaara listened to the tempo of the blond's voice, allowing it to wash over him. For a moment he wondered if it would eventually become a familiar sound in his life but quickly suppressed the thought. Still, Gaara had to admit that part of him had felt slightly exhilarated by the thought. It wasn't long before Gaara stopped listening all together.
His mind had returned to its attempts at understanding the puzzle chattering beside him and identifying the reasons behind his own behavior. Gaara's brows knitted in frustration as he struggled to understand why this man had taken such a sudden interest in him and why instead of leaving Naruto bleeding he was now allowing him to talk his ears of while following like a blind idiot.
"Why?" Gaara whispered abruptly. Naruto stopped and turned to face the man next to him confused.
"Why…are you here?" Gaara asked frowning.
"Because we're hanging out?" Naruto asked confused.
"No! No I mean…with me…why are you here...with me?" Gaara asked struggling to form the right question.
Naruto stared back into the green eyes that were observing him intently. For a moment, he let his eyes rove the other's face noticing the subtle flawless luster of the redhead's smooth, pale skin only marred by the heavy dark rings about his eyes. Naruto frowned slightly as he realized what the circles meant. Eventually his eyes flickered up to the "Ai" that stood out harshly on Gaara's forehead. Gaara immediately tensed as he caught the glimmer of motion in Naruto's eyes and the fleeting question that swam through them. The change didn't go unnoticed by Naruto. For a minute the mischievous twinkle ever present in the blond's eye disappeared as he took in Gaara's tense form.
"Why you?" Naruto asked as he gazed intently into green eyes as he slowly began to realize that understanding Gaara meant being able to understand what his eyes were saying. His face was a permanent stoic mask but he couldn't hide what he truly felt in his eyes. One just had to learn to listen to what his eyes were saying.
"You seem like a cool person I guess." Naruto said as suddenly a broad grin was plastered onto his face as his eyes curved upward. Gaara narrowed his eyes at the blond as he clenched his fists. Glancing down at his watch, Naruto swore.
"I gotta go. By the way on weekends the restaurant is really crowded and it stays like that till closing so...well I'll see ya around Gaara."
With that Naruto spun around and ran off. Gaara watched as the orange jacket disappeared in the distance before turning in the direction of his apartment. Not for a second did he believe Naruto's answer to his question was that simple. Instead of getting answers, he was left even more confused. Why would Naruto tell him the restaurant would be crowded? Gaara scoffed, the idiot was assuming he would come by again.
Gaara didn't even like ramen.