One Question, Different Answers
Naruto and ramen.
It was a concept that practically the whole of Konoha knew about. If you were looking for Naruto, nine times out of ten, you could find him at his favourite restaurant: Ramen Ichiraku. Founded by Teuchi and being run by his daughter Ayame – although the old man could still be found in the restaurant, helping her out – this place had practically a seat reserved for the blond Jinchuuriki.
Sai had heard the other man praise Ramen Ichiraku enough that he could recite the whole speech in his sleep by now, including imitating the accompanying hand gestures and facial expressions. Naruto's love for ramen was as characteristic for him as his eternal optimistic nature and his strong perseverance.
In spite of knowing the man for several years now already, Sai, however, still hadn't managed to figure out just why exactly ramen was Naruto's favourite food. According to his books favourite food was usually tied to a pleasant memory; everyone had a reason why they liked a certain type of food. For all the praise Naruto offered, Sai had never got to hear the exact reason why he loved that dish so much.
So he set about to investigate the matter.
The logical way to approach this enquiry would be to talk to Naruto himself, but Sai was pretty certain he would just get another speech as to why ramen was so awesome and frankly he could do without yet another one. If he couldn't ask the man himself, there was only one other solution to get his answer: question Naruto's friends. Someone was bound to know the real reason why he loved ramen so much.
"Why Naruto loves ramen so much?" Sakura blinked, snatching her hair back to tie it together in a short ponytail. Some pink strands still escaped and she brushed those back behind her ears.
"Yes, my books state everyone has a reason why they love a certain food and for all that Naruto praises it, he has never really mentioned why he loves it," Sai explained, matching her pace as she walked to her next patient. He had caught her near the end of her break at the hospital, but she was willing to indulge his admittedly odd question.
She tapped her lower lip thoughtfully. "Hm, well, he never really mentioned it to me either," she admitted, pursing her lips slightly. She snatched a couple of patient files from the desk when they passed it and shrugged carelessly. "Honestly I never thought to ask him about it either. I always just figured it's because nobody else taught him better."
He furrowed his eyebrows in confusion, not really understanding what teaching had to do with his question. "What do you mean?"
She halted in front of a lime green door and rested her hand on the doorknob, quirking an eyebrow at him. "Well, he grew up all alone, because his parents are dead, right?"
He nodded slowly, still not understanding what this had to do with Naruto loving ramen.
"Normally, your parents are the ones who teach you what's healthy to eat and what not, but Naruto never had anyone to teach him that." She rolled her eyes and scoffed. "Ramen's not exactly healthy, but a kid wouldn't bother with eating healthy if someone didn't make them. I suspect Naruto just loves ramen because he's not used to eating anything else. And since nobody ever taught him better, that's probably the reason why he likes ramen so much."
"Oh." He blinked, mulling the answer over in his head.
She jerked her head to the door. "Sorry, Sai, but I have to start my shift now."
"Right, thank you, Sakura," he smiled and walked away, leaving her to her work.
Could that be the reason? It sounded logical. Naruto had indeed grown up without any parental guidance and the presence of the Kyuubi inside him had ensured that most people avoided him. As a child, he had had nobody to teach him which food was good and which was not.
It made sense – and yet the answer didn't sit right with him. Naruto hadn't been the only orphan in the village – being shinobi, the chance of growing up without at least one parent was significantly heightened due to the dangers associated with their line of work. Sai himself had been an orphan and he had known several other orphans who had to make do without any sort of parental guidance. Yet they had all learnt the difference between healthy and unhealthy food at an early age and none of the people Sai knew had taken to ramen like Naruto had.
He was also certain that Naruto knew what constituted as healthy food; the blond had cooked for his team a couple of times before and the food had been both delicious and healthy.
If, however, the lack of a parental figure had caused Naruto's love for ramen, then his other friends would know that too and give the same answer, right?
Only one way to find out.
"You want to know why Naruto loves ramen so much," Shikamaru said slowly, sitting up straight.
Sai had found him dozing off underneath a large tree and had remorselessly woken him up. He could continue his nap after he had answered his question; he had it on good authority that Shikamaru was a master in taking naps, so it wouldn't take him long to fall back asleep.
"Yes, do you know why?" Sai inquired politely and sat down next to him. There was a group of children roughhousing around further down the hill whilst being watched over by some women, but they wouldn't be disturbed. The children were having too much fun to pay attention to two older men sitting together underneath the shadow of a tree.
Shikamaru stared at him blankly, rubbing his nose absentmindedly. "Why do you want to know that?" he asked bemused.
"Naruto is a master in giving passionate speeches, but as of now I haven't figured out the real reason why he loves ramen so much," Sai said and shrugged. "I'm admittedly a bit curious as to why he loves that dish so much, considering its great lack of nutrients."
"Why don't you ask him? Don't you think asking the source would make more sense than asking other people?"
"I have considered that, but I am certain that would only lead to him giving me yet another speech about the wonders of ramen and not his real reason."
Dark eyes blinked. "Ah, yes, I can't argue with you on that," Shikamaru mused, raising his right leg.
Silence fell between them while Shikamaru stared at something in the distance. Sai allowed the quiet to last for a moment, before he prompted, "Do you have an idea as to why it is his favourite food, Shikamaru-san?"
Shikamaru sighed and scratched the back of his head. "So troublesome," he muttered, shaking his head. "Honestly, I don't know the real reason why it's his favourite dish. I always thought it was because ramen is cheap."
"The cost factors into his love for ramen?" Huh, he had never considered that that might be a reason.
"It could be. He grew up without a family, so money was probably tight. It's cheaper to buy ramen than healthy food, unfortunately. If you have to scavenge for every coin, you're going to choose the cheaper food option just to make the money last for more than a week or so."
"Ah, I had not considered that possibility before," Sai murmured and stood up, offering the other man a polite smile. "Thank you for your help, Shikamaru-san."
Shikamaru waved his hand lazily in the air and laid back down, crossing his arms behind his head and closing his eyes. "Sure, no problem. You're still better off asking Naruto himself, though."
Sai inclined his head, though the other shinobi was already back to napping, and made his way down the hill, back to the hustle and bustle of the centre of the village.
Now he had two entirely different answers – which one was the right one?
He didn't know why he was asking her, but he had noticed her constantly looking at Naruto whenever she was around him and it was no secret that she liked him romantically – well, not a secret to anyone aside from Naruto himself. Even Sai – as socially stunted as he was – could understand that the Hyuuga girl liked Naruto in an entirely non platonic way. It was a question to everyone when Naruto himself would realise that. Sai was pretty sure there were even bets being placed on when the Jinchuuriki would stop being oblivious.
People who were in love paid a lot of attention to the object of their affection, so perhaps she would know the real answer? It was worth a try.
"Why ramen is Naruto-kun's favourite food?" Hyuuga squeaked; her pale cheeks gaining that tell-tale pink hue she got whenever she so much as thought about the blond man.
He nodded, ignoring how the shopkeeper was staring at them curiously from behind his counter. Hyuuga hadn't been really on his list to ask about Naruto, but he had spotted her through the window of the bookstore and figured it couldn't hurt. As someone who was in love with him, she could perhaps give Sai the best insight.
"Oh, eh, he always says it tastes really good," she said and blushed even harder, clutching a book against her chest.
"That's the reason?" Sai cocked his head to the right, honestly a bit stumped at how simple this reasoning was. Was there really no deeper meaning behind it than simply the flavour?
She worried her lower lip between her teeth and nodded; her pale lavender eyes growing even wider. "I think so. Naruto-kun always says it's the best food he has ever tasted."
"Hm, well, thank you for your time, Hyuuga-san." He turned around and left before she could utter another word.
The bell of the shop rang loudly when he stepped outside and he stood there for a moment immobile, pressing his lips together, watching unseeingly how other people walked past him.
Same question, yet another different answer.
Either someone was right or they were all wrong. But if they were all wrong, though, what was the real reason then?
He couldn't believe he hadn't thought of asking him. Out of everyone involved in Naruto's life, he would know the most about the Jinchuuriki. He was after all his best friend as Naruto had stated time after time again. Best friends knew each other's secrets, Sai's books assured him, there was nothing hidden between them.
So it only made sense that Sasuke would know why Naruto loved ramen so much.
Really, the lone Uchiha survivor should have been the first one Sai should have thought of when considering who to ask, but he thought he could be forgiven for that slip up as the man in question hadn't been in the village for a couple of months, still travelling around on whatever mission he had taken on after the war.
Fortunately for Sai, Sasuke was stopping by the village today to deliver some information to the Hokage. Sai tracked him down right as he was making his way out of the Hokage tower.
The dark blue cloak he wore shifted with every step he took, revealing a scratched forehead protector which was clipped onto his belt.
"Good afternoon, Sasuke," he smiled pleasantly, adjusting his pace to match that of the other man.
Dark eyes – one purple – glanced at him briefly. "What do you want?" Sasuke asked disinterestedly.
Sai wasn't offended by the tone; Sasuke seemed to use that particular infliction around almost everyone. Aside from Naruto of course – but he had always been the exception.
"I wanted to ask you a question about Naruto," he said.
Something flickered in those black and purple eyes. "And you can't ask him?"
"No, in this case I cannot." They were walking to the centre of the village, he noted absentmindedly. Did that mean that Sasuke wouldn't leave Konoha immediately?
"I don't see how I can be of any help, but ask."
"Do you know why Naruto loves ramen so much?"
Not many things could catch the Sharingan user off guard, but this question clearly did, because he abruptly stopped walking and turned his head to stare at him blankly. "You ask me why that idiot loves ramen so much?" He sounded utterly dumbfounded, as if he couldn't believe this was the question Sai wanted to ask of him.
"Yes, I'm curious, you see. He gives a big speech about ramen whenever you ask him, but he never revealed the real reason," Sai explained and shrugged. "It made me wonder."
Sasuke stared at him for a moment longer before he snorted in disbelief and started walking again. "Of all the questions you could ask," he muttered, sounding annoyed.
"Do you have an idea as to why it's his favourite food?"
Sasuke stopped walking again and studied him with unreadable eyes. The soft breeze was constantly playing with his dark locks, revealing his Rinnegan at regular intervals. It didn't make his gaze any less intimidating and Sai caught himself before he shuffled his foot nervously.
Resting his hand on his hip, Sasuke uttered a soft sigh. "Because the old man was one of the very few who didn't reject him when he was a kid," he said shortly.
"What?" Out of all the possible explanations, he had not expected to hear this one.
The dark haired man gestured impatiently, casting his eyes briefly to his left before they focused on Sai again. "Being a Jinchuuriki, nearly everyone stayed clear from him or chased him away, because they didn't want to deal with a 'monster'," Sasuke sneered the word and his eyes flashed dangerously. "But the old man running Ramen Ichiraku never cared about his reputation and often served him ramen whenever he caught him wandering around. To Naruto, ramen symbolises acceptance."
"Acceptance," Sai murmured and suddenly everything clicked.
Acceptance was very important to Naruto, he knew. As someone jeered, ignored and hated by the people around him, Naruto had worked hard to gain acceptance, desiring to be acknowledged, to be known for more than just the Jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi.
His love for ramen wasn't tied to the flavour, to a gap in knowledge about healthy food, or even to finances: it had an emotional tie. It made Naruto remember that he had been accepted long before the rest of the villagers changed their minds. Every time he ate ramen, he was probably reminded of the time that someone had been looking out for him, even when he had been hated by everyone else. That was why eating ramen made him so happy.
"Well, that and the idiot just has a horrible taste in food," Sasuke added with a sneer, but his eyes were surprisingly soft.
As if he didn't really mean the jab. Hm, interesting.
"Sasuke, there you are!"
Naruto's loud voice drifted over towards them and they both turned around simultaneously, watching the blond man run towards them.
"I was already wondering whether you had lost your way," Naruto grinned, slapping Sasuke's shoulder enthusiastically.
"I told you I would meet you there," Sasuke replied stoically, but made no attempt to stop the rough handling. He just stood there, allowing the blond man to press up closely to him.
"Eh, you should have been on time then, bastard," Naruto pouted, slinging his arm around Sasuke's neck. Blue eyes landed on Sai then, looking a bit curious. "Hey, Sai, didn't expect to see you here."
"Just met Sasuke on his way here," Sai smiled, interlacing his fingers behind his back.
"Well, Sasuke and I are going to eat ramen, because the bastard here hasn't tasted it in months. Can you believe that?! It's an outrage!" Naruto declared, swinging his other arm around wildly, nearly clipping Sai in the ear.
"What's an outrage is your deplorable taste in food and your hairstyle," Sasuke muttered, clucking his tongue and giving Naruto a criticizing look.
"Hey!" Naruto protested, running his hand through his hair. It had been kept short until a few months ago, but he had started growing it out again for some reason. It was growing out unevenly, though, so he looked a bit ridiculous at the moment, as if he had been zapped with a Chidori. "I'm growing it out again, all right? No need to act so prissy about it anymore."
Why would Sasuke act prissy about whatever Naruto did with his hair?
"Hn. About time you did, because you looked incredibly stupid with that short cut," Sasuke said snidely and paused before adding with a smirk, "Not that you need a new hairstyle to look stupid."
"BASTARD!" Naruto screeched and went to punch his shoulder but Sasuke deftly stepped out of his reach, flickering out and in sight again a few feet further.
He cocked his head, looking expectantly at the spluttering blond. "You coming, usuratonkachi?" His eyes were dancing with amusement, but there was something else in there too, in the depths of those black and purple eyes. It was there in the way the corners of his mouth were almost imperceptibly lifted in a soft smile.
Something which was echoed by cerulean blue eyes, glittering in the sunlight like sapphire. Naruto grinned widely, placing his hands behind his head, as his cheeks coloured a suspicious light pink.
"That's my line, bastard!" he laughed, before turning to Sai. "You eating with us, Sai?"
He looked between the two of them and smiled, shaking his head. "No, unfortunately I don't have the time for that. Enjoy your date!"
Leaving a spluttering and fiercely blushing Naruto behind – and a smirking Sasuke, who didn't appear to be offended at all by Sai's departing words – Sai turned around and made his way leisurely back to his own apartment, where his own pre-prepared lunch was waiting for him in the fridge.
He had asked the same question to various people and had been given a different answer every time.
There was no doubt in his mind, though, that Sasuke's answer was the right one.
Now, wouldn't it be amusing to see how long it would take the rest of their friends to realise why exactly Naruto remained so oblivious to Hyuuga's feelings?
Perhaps he should start a betting pool of his own.