Please check my profile for information regarding the ItaNaru Fanfic Awards I am holding up together with May_Neuma, Yum2 and Agni.
StarsOfYaoi: it has been a while, so I thought that writing a short one–shot would bring me back into the tidal wave of fanfiction writing. Don't you agree? Well, we'll see with this when it's finished.
This is not a death fic. I repeat, THIS IS NOT A DEATH FIC.
Anyway, I hope you will enjoy this :D please do drop a review if you feel like it. PMs are also happily received. ^^
Please note that you can consider this Shounen–ai or not, depending on your personal liking.
Summary: (Naruto, Itachi) In a ramen shop like there are so many in the country, a ninja tells the owner about his past, until the person he's waiting will come. Or not.
Warnings: mild mentions of shounen–ai, but basically, no warnings for this shot.
Disclaimer: I do not own. With the direction the manga has taken, I am glad I don't own it.
At a Ramen Stand
It was barely morning. The sun was just beginning its walk in the sky, colours of flames burning away the cold blue of the night, warming up the light hoar–frost coating over the leaves and grass.
Everything was silent, except a few chirping birds.
The village lingering between wake and sleep, the moment where everything blurred together, losing its meaning and making the world feel unreal, ethereal –the coming of a new day.
Few were awake at the time, people who had to raise early in order to start their work, walking outside of their houses and shivering at the slightly cold breeze of a winter that was slowly starting to become spring, and the ramen shop owner was one of them –always been an early riser, the middle–aged man was stretching carefully outside of his stand, attention wandering on the scenery around him with pleased calm.
His eyes returning to his silent shop, he peered inside, parting the noren curtains and throwing a look towards the kitchen, where the stoves were already heating up and the water was already boiling.
It was far too early for customers to appear, of course, as they would only start showing up around ten, but the owner of the ramen stand liked to be prepared, and the cool air, the silent street in front of him, the peace of the early hour were things he cherished. With a last, almost longing look at the surrounding buildings, the street and the trees, the man tightened the apron around his waist and cracked his shoulders, moving back into the shop.
There was a soft tingling sound when he left the cool temperature outside and entered the warmer, comfortable heat of the shop, and he started cleaning the stools at the counter, whistling softly as he did so.
It was so quiet, with the breeze making the chimes ting softly…
It was so quiet that when he turned around, expecting to see the room empty as it had been seconds before, he let out a shocked noise at the sight of a single person seated not even a feet away from him, the head covered by a huge hat.
He had not expected anyone at this hour, indeed, and the man had moved so silently, he hadn't even heard him enter, nor sit down!
Blinking away his surprise and the light shudder that ran through his back at the sight of the silent man, the shop owner couldn't but stare at the new customer with curiosity; from what he could see, he was a male, not much tall, not bulky, almost as if he was not even completely grown up… his face and hair were hidden under the hat, which at a second look the man recognised as a ronin's one. And if he wasn't wrong, the clothes were… ninja's ones.
So, a ninja.
"Good morning" he stated pleasantly. He had all kinds of customers, nothing could truly surprise him, he guessed. "Would you like to order?"
The stranger remained in contemplation of the wall menu for a moment, then spoke his order with a young voice, strengthening in the owner's mind the idea that he was young –barely twenty. "Beef ramen, thank you".
The man nodded and moved behind the counter, grabbing a handful of noodles and throwing them inside the boiling water with practiced ease as he started cutting pieces of vegetables and meat to add to the broth.
Since the work was repetitive and he knew what he was doing, he kept throwing glances at the customer, wondering if he was a talkative type and would like to have some sort of conversation. Maybe it would be better to start off with a simple question.
Company was appreciated as well.
"Are you a traveller?" at the person's nod, the man decided to continue, careful not to look too interested –he didn't want to bother his customer, after all, but he liked to chat. "Are you just passing by in the village or do you plan on staying?"
There was a moment of keep silence, and the ramen maker thought he wouldn't get any reply from the other, then the stranger's hand shifted to his hat, slowly removing it, and placing it at his side on the counter.
"I'm just passing by" was the reply. The voice was cordial, not cold at all, so the man was relieved and managed to have a good look at the stranger.
He was indeed young, probably not over sixteen years old, maybe seventeen, with short blond hair wild but looking bright and soft, and deep, intense blue eyes. He looked too young to be travelling alone, but there again, if the teen was a ninja, then he probably knew how to take care of himself.
Passing in front of him to cleanse the counter a bit more, and waiting for the noodles to be ready, the man took a closer look at the teen's face, noticing some faded scars on his cheeks, on both sides, that resembled whiskers.
The teen's blue eyes lit with some sort of sad amusement, showing he had taken notice of the man's looks, and shrugged.
"Those are birth marks" he murmured, leaning over the counter and pressing his chin on his hand. "The name's Naruto, by the way… I'm a missing–nin".
He stated the fact like it was the most normal thing in the world, and the ramen shop owner thought that maybe for him it was. He was not and had never been a ninja, so he didn't really know much of their lives, but he was aware of what a 'missing–nin' was.
And yet, with the cordial tone and bright eyes, the teen didn't look like a murderer, or a traitor. The man had seen his fair share of shady people, some with nice appearance that hid black, charcoal hearts, but… something inside him was sure the teen was not trouble, and would mean him no harm.
Still he did not talk, allowing the customer freedom of speech.
"I think you might not notice it, but I'm actually twenty" the 'teen' continued, making the man's eyebrows raise in surprise.
Twenty? Definitely he did look younger than this.
He opened his mouth to ask about it –how could a man this young have betrayed his village?- but he didn't. He bit his lower lip and returned to the counter. His thirty–something years of age had allowed him to see many things, despite his humble work, and a part of his mind was telling him to allow the blond some space to talk.
It was curious that he'd choose to talk about his past so freely, but maybe there was some sort of explanation coming along with that, as well…
"I've left my village… four years ago, give or take" Naruto spoke again, accepting with a smile the cup of hot green tea the owner offered him. "It wasn't an easy decision. There again, it wasn't a decision of mine, either. You see, I got chased away".
Rosy lips took a sip of the tea, the hot liquid scorching pleasantly his tongue before he gulped it down, and looked up at the older man, smiling wryly at him; the man frowned a bit, uncertain about the kind of look he was receiving.
"I guess you see many passing through this shop" Naruto continued, looking away and motioning towards the entrance door, and the street that was barely seen from his position. "Maybe many ninja like I was? Am. I still am a ninja, even though I do not belong to my village anymore" he corrected himself.
There was another pause, broken by the sipping noises once in a while.
"My village always hated me, of course… things weren't fun with me around, because I held inside me a beast ready to double up and devour them. They didn't believe I could control it, and thought of me as the beast itself, which made it hard to grow up there and be happy. But I was, you know? I still loved my village despite that!"
And it was true, the man knew this by simply looking at the young man's eyes, bright and passionate. Apparently, his love for his village hadn't abated despite being rejected by them.
Naruto fell into another long silence, and the owner of the shop busied himself with extracting the noodles and inserting a good ladleful of them into a cup filled with broth, vegetables and meat; his rough hands grabbed the cup and placed it down on the counter, in front of Naruto, who nodded in thanks and snapped a pair of chopsticks, clapping his hands together with a muttered "itadakimasu".
The man, knowing it was uncouth to stare at a client when eating, busied himself with some idle works around the shop, like shifting the seats so they were properly positioned, and wiping some dust from the tables –he prided his shop with cleanliness.
"Then they chased me away" the abrupt return to the conversation almost startled the brown haired man, making him turn around. Naruto had been halfway through his meal, almost savouring the ramen, with something akin to bliss on his face.
He grunted in reply, trying to remain noncommittal, and received a snicker from the blond.
"Your ramen is good" the young ninja praised him, with the air of someone who's had experience at eating ramen in stands. "It has been a while since I last ate something this tasty –it's just like… home's ramen".
This praise made the man's chest feel warmer. It might have been a humble work, but he loved cooking ramen.
"My home. The elders of the village –a few old coots, you see, that control the village from their high position– were fooled by one of them… a man. His name is Danzou, but I doubt this would make any difference. Danzou isn't renowned or anything" Naruto ate some more noodles, finishing them up and slurping down the broth with a satisfied smile. "Can I have seconds, jiji?"
The man smiled despite himself, and stood up, stretching his back; he was not old, but sometimes he had back problems. He might have to take an apprentice sooner than he thought… with these thoughts in mind, he went back behind the counter.
"So, as I was saying… Danzou tricked the elders" his eyes darkened up, his tone growing softer, vaguely angry, but then it returned to its previous chipper tone and he continued. "He made it look like I had done something terrible… which I hadn't. I am sure you might not believe me, because who ever believes missing–nins? But it was true. I was incapable of killing someone, back then. I was soft. Childish. And yet, the elders were far too ready to believe him, and I was charged of treason and treachery by the village I had sworn to protect".
The man felt his heart constrict at these words. It was true, he wasn't sure whether to believe the customer or not, but some part of him did believe him; bright eyes didn't look like they could lie.
Besides, he didn't think this blond man could kill, not even now. He had said 'back then' but… he didn't look like this had changed in the following years, either.
Ninja were strange. They fought against each other, with different ideals, different lifestyle, but they were people anyway.
This young man, who had probably to grow up faster than normal, was a ninja.
He could be lying, but… why?
And even if he did lie, what good would there be in lying to a ramen shop owner?
"I ran. I had no protection, no time to think. I had to run away. Thankfully my former teacher and teammates helped me. Sai… a close friend, wanted to come with me, but I couldn't accept. He had just barely started living on his own… have friends. A life. I could not take it away from him" the voice was tinged with sad tones, and the ramen owner felt a sympathy pain brush against him.
He had a normal, boring life. He could not know what this ninja youngster had gone through in his short life, what he had renounced to by running, having to leave everything he knew, everything he thought familiar, because of a trick.
Leaving behind his friends.
Just how big was the void hidden deep inside the blond's chest?
"I was also in a dangerous situation. Because of these" the blond brushed his fingers over his whisker marks, almost tenderly, and then pointed to his eyes. To the owner's eyes, they didn't look strange, maybe the pupil was more sharp, thinner that normal, but who knew what was normal with shinobi?
"And these" Naruto continued, pointing to his chest… no, to his belly. The ramen shop owner didn't know what that meant, but he figured there was some kind of secret meaning he was not supposed to get. "other missing–nins were out to get me, and I couldn't allow it… so I hid. I ran away, hiding like a coward… searching for ways to protect myself, to live on and grow strong so no one could use me!"
The second ramen bowl was placed in front of him, this time with some naruto into it as well, and that made the blond smile wickedly at the inside–joke.
He started to eat again, pausing in his story, but by now, the man wanted to know more. The way the ninja was talking, how his voice was calm, almost like telling a story instead of his past… it was captivating. He wanted to know how he had survived until now.
If he was ok.
Was it the truth? Or not? The man didn't care much about that. Not anymore.
"I was alone, but I travelled. I had travelled already, with my mentor, but now he also was out of my reach. He still believed I was innocent, but he was monitored. He could not contact me, help me… I knew how to care for myself, but the worst was the solitude. It was hurting me, not to have anyone to talk to".
The second bowl was quicker to finish, as if Naruto gained hunger the more he spoke, so at one sign from him, the owner started cooking a third bowl, smiling. Young people today, always hungry.
"I saw so many things" there was a shift of the blond ninja's tone now. One of wonder, of mild happiness. "I met people who accepted me for who I was, and not what I had inside. I met people who believed me, who befriended me instead of capturing me for the bounty on my head –as a missing–nin, I was chased by Konoha shinobi, wanted. Hated".
The man nodded, showing his understanding. Sometimes strangers were more open than people you met every day –which was probably why this Naruto was now telling his life to him, of all people.
"I also met those who wanted to hurt me. Those who saw a demon in me. I couldn't believe, I couldn't trust easily anymore. I had to become a real ninja, and learn".
The story felt raw, rough and strong, and had the mild–mannered man closed his eyes, he would have been able to imagine how it could have been. Naruto kept speaking, of villages in the far east, filled with sculptors and engineers, of big cities in the north, where people moved with cars, where everything moved faster… of small villages on the coast, where fishermen used their skills to provide food for their families.
He spoke of animals he had never seen, animals the ramen shop owner had never seen either, and plants, and forests and lakes. He spoke of the sea, and of mountains so high there was snow everywhere for most of the year.
He spoke of shinobi of all countries, of samurai and martial artists teaching him, or being taught by him, he spoke of warmth, and friendships, leaving out those who had, instead, tried to break him.
But still, in the back, there was a lingering pain, of solitude and betrayal, of a lost home that he could not return to. Not being able to trust anyone, even when they treated him gently, because he could not allow himself to die… not being able to trust again, after the betrayal. Alone, and terribly lonely…
"That is, until I met him".
The soft, sad tone changed.
"It's him the reason I am currently here, in this village" he confided, warming his hands over his third ramen bowl.
The man lost his last doubts and sat down, giving Naruto his undivided attention –screw politeness… the blond shinobi was talking, and he wanted to know, now.
How the story ended.
"I had already met him before. He was one of the enemies. I had never considered him… a human. A person. He was above me in strength, intelligence… he was powerful, emotionless… he was superior. And I couldn't understand him, so I never even tried to. But then, in my travels, I heard… of things. That didn't make sense. Things about him. About what he did when I was young, but that he didn't really do, in the end…"
It didn't make sense, back then.
Finding it out like this.
And then, being chased again. Running from the organization that wanted the demon, running and knowing the person who was chasing him was the only one who could be honest about the rumours Naruto had heard, and the only person who would probably never tell the truth.
The chase had ended abruptly with Naruto having to face him, crimson eyes and dark, ebony hair –months of hunting him down until the very moment where the two found themselves face to face.
That was when Naruto had asked. Cornered, he knew there would be no way out. The other was far too strong.
So he had asked, and to his surprise, the other had let him go, without giving an answer but clearly shaken. Naruto had known it then –the truth.
The rumours were the truth.
And his world had changed perspective, shifting abruptly once again, and yet this time it was easier… he had already experience of a year of travelling alone.
He had met him again not much later. The older man had left his organization to follow him. Because he knew the truth.
That was how it had started.
Naruto shook his head.
"It didn't make sense, but the rumours were true. And I trusted him then. The first person I could trust in so long… and he was a former enemy…" blue eyes lost the cold edge, returning to their bright warmth.
"They had said he had killed many people. His family" he felt compelled to explain. "They had said he was the culprit, and for years he had been the first to admit being the killer… and it was all a lie. Crafted to protect, not hurt. Cursing himself, forced to live the life of a killer by his own choice…"
His eyes filled with tears. Even now, years later, he couldn't but feel regret for the life that could have been, and had not. He did regret his own life, the choices he had been forced to make, but no pain was greater than knowing that someone he now thought of as precious had been forced to give up his entire life.
And how, now, by Naruto's entire fault…
"He became my precious person" he stated softly, as if nothing else was as certain as that. "After years alone, he was the one whose presence made me happy. He comforted me, taught me… kept me company, and I tried to offer the same. He trusted me, and I found that I could easily trust him… that I wanted to trust him".
Watching the blond shinobi smile, the man let out a deep breath, somewhat relieved.
This blond young man… had the ability to grow in the hearts of people, of that, he was sure. He had already wormed his way into the heart of a stranger who had a ramen shop, after all, and they had barely spoke together.
But the story, his past, with its bittersweet raw strength, had a strong power.
'Then, what?' he wanted to ask, but didn't.
Silence was maybe the only thing that kept the blond ninja talking.
"He was the one who told me to not go. That I would regret going back to my village… but… I wanted to see it! I wanted to know what had changed since I left it, wanted to see if anything remained of the place I had loved and protected…" Naruto slammed his hands on the counter, lowering his head until it touched the wooden surface, gritting his teeth.
It was painful to remember.
"So I went! I didn't even give a thought about his words. He cared for me… I was the first in years to know about the truth, and yet I didn't believe his worried words, his attempts to stop me… I… I missed Konoha!" he yelled, tone almost strangled, pained.
The man's heart twisted inside his chest. A signal that Naruto had lost to his emotions was the first mention of his village's name, that should have remained a secret… names meant nothing, not knowing who they were, but a place's name was easily tracked up, and names could be put next to faces.
Naruto's hands were trembling. His desire, his need, his longing for home was clear. It weighted on his back every day more, impairing his mind, making him want to go back. It was so strong it hurt the owner, too.
It was almost pitiful how life had wrenched this poor young man.
"I went back. Hidden. I thought it was safe –I was in Konoha, it was… it was…" words failed him, hands gripping at the chopsticks tightly. "I didn't know how to feel. I was happy, but I wasn't! it felt dirty. Wrong. I shouldn't have gone back, it didn't feel like home anymore, and yet it was, and it hurt… I wanted to run, and I wanted to drop on the ground and weep…"
A chocked sob.
The ramen shop owner quickly turned around, filling another cup of green tea in order to allow the blond some time to control himself. When he turned around, he realised it wasn't enough, as tears were running down his cheeks.
The man coughed, at loss.
What could he…
"I was found out" Naruto muttered, quietly.
The ramen shop owner stilled.
"I was found out… I was almost captured. The villagers yelled at me, cried, running away, the ninja attacked, insulting me… calling me a traitor, a monster. Danzou's lie had worked miracles in the last few years. My bond with… the other traitor… with my precious person… it had been revealed somehow. Not even my friends were able to find an explanation. I had no more anchors. I was hopeless".
Silence enveloped them again, colder, still.
It took Naruto more than a moment to be able to speak again.
"He came. To protect me. He knew what would happen. Had I listened to him, I would have known… he had gone through this once already. He knew what it would be like. But I ignored him. And he came anyway".
The tears seemed to dry slowly, as though he had already cried enough. He was under control again, but it was a loose control, and the owner was able to see it now. The same control he had when he had entered the ramen stand.
It was all appearance. His calmness, his cheerfulness, the smiles.
Slowly, the ramen stand owner shifted forwards and pressed his hand on Naruto's shoulder, trying to offer some sort of comfort. The shoulder under his fingers trembled, but there was a grateful flicker in the blue eyes.
"He told me to run away. He was surrounded, but kept on fighting in order to allow me to run…" Naruto chocked on his breath. "he said…"
"If I survive, we'll see each other again"
"… to meet him here" Naruto finished.
The man straightened. So he was waiting for him. for his precious person to show up alive…
"I ran. He wouldn't have allowed me to stay… and I ran all the way here. I'm waiting. He might not… he might not come… but the hunter–nin might. So I am waiting".
"But what if…" the man had spoken before thinking, but Naruto didn't seem displeased. "What if he's not the one to come?"
A smile marred his features. Marred, not graced, because it wasn't a happy smile, it was more like a grimace, of a heartbreaking quality. "If he won't come… if they come instead… they will capture me. Bring me back to Konoha. Process me, and kill me. Or torture me first, and kill me afterwards".
His words made the older man shudder –they were spoken so calmly, because no matter how young the person in front of him was, he was still a shinobi, and had known a life that to him, middle aged man owner of a ramen stand, would forever be precluded.
"I will allow them to get me".
Were there any words to speak after such statement?
Older in age he could be, but this young man had a different kind of experience with life. And he was giving it away, knowing it.
"Why?" he simply asked. He wanted to know.
Blue eyes met his brown ones.
"I was alone after I left Konoha. Until he came. He gave me what I had been missing, and more. A reason to keep on fighting… without him, I am nothing. Enough with running away. It's time I face my past, even if I end up losing my life because of it…"
It was then that, together with the rays of a now warmer sun, chakra flared outside of the ramen shop.
A shadow appeared on the entrance, barely shifting the noren curtains to check inside, and Naruto placed down his chopsticks on the borders of the bowl, clapping his hands together and muttering a low "gochisou–sama deshita".
His hands were trembling.
The owner of the shop tensed, but Naruto's face gave away nothing about the identity of the figure, and the man was unable to see the face, nor the clothes. Not that it would have mattered, not knowing who Naruto's precious person was, or how Konoha's hunter–nins were dressed.
"Naruto–san…" he called, his voice wavering despite his will. "Is…"
Naruto looked at him a soft smile on his lips, then dropped some money –enough to pay for the three ramen bowls, and a bit more– on the counter. The money clinked when falling, one of the coins rolling off the counter and onto the floor, but neither cared.
"It's time for me to go," he stated. "Thanks for listening to my story, jiji… I wanted someone to know about me, about the real me, and the truth about my travels, no matter the outcome. For someone to remember me, I guess".
Then, he exited the shop, not once looking back.
Eerie silence kept company to the owner, so lost in his thoughts, not knowing, the need to know if the blond would be able to be happy, or not, strong and leashing in his stomach like a poisonous whip.
He ran out.
Sweat trickling down his chin, brown eyes wide, the man felt his heart race in his chest as his cheeks met with the cool air of the outside.
He had to know.
He had to see!
But outside the ramen shop, there was no one.
The street was empty, with only the cold breeze gracing the leaves. The birds were chirping. Everything looked normal. Peaceful.
Just like it had been before the blond man had entered the stand.
The first customers started entering the shop a few hours later, and found the owner standing still behind the counter, eyes of a shade darker, wrinkles of worry on his face. They didn't notice, of course, and ordered their meals.
The owner of the ramen stand allowed himself to fall back to his routine. Life went on.
And a cold breeze kept blowing outside, remnant of a winter that was slowly turning into spring.
StarsOfYaoi: well, that's it. A bit short, I know, compared to most of my works, and also differently styled, but it was meant to be like that. I hope you enjoyed, and if you did, please consider reviewing. Thanks.
Before you ask. No, I did not write who it was outside. If an ANBU who checked up on the chakra Naruto was allowing to show, and demanded him to come out by his presence alone, or Itachi, who appeared to let Naruto know he was alive.
Choose your final.
Glossary just because it might be needed:
Noren curtains – the cloth strings in front of ramen stands. Or food stands in Japan. You know, like those you have to part in order to enter. Those curtains. Well. yeah.
Itadakimasu – common line used when starting to eat a meal. "I humbly receive" is one of the various way to translate this.
Jiji – uncle. It's a way to address older males, in Japan. Not really proper, but common.
Gochisou–sama deshita – common line used when a meal is finished. "Thanks for the meal" is one of the various way to translate this.