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when you give a fox a fish (he follows you around forever)

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“Yikes,” Naruto whispers, sliding behind a wooden fence and crouching down to open his bag. A few eggs are lopsided in their container, but the rest of it looks good. If that shopkeeper doesn’t stop chasing him though, none of the food is going to make it back to his kitchen.

He doesn’t bother looking around, since he can hear the angry shouts off in the distance. As if some dumb old civilian is going to catch him when even Iruka-sensei can’t keep up!

He pushes up off the ground onto his knees and peers around the fence, only to crash his face into something and fall back onto the ground. And- yup, ominous crunch on the dirt behind him. Not the eggs…!

“Oof. Sorry about that, I didn’t see you down there,” someone says above him. Naruto scowls and looks up into the bright spring sunlight, preparing for an argument about stolen food and idiot brats, but ends up blinking in confusion at the lack of yelling.

“Hello? You alright?” A young man - teenager? stares back, eyes full of polite concern and a hint of a smile on his lips as he watches Naruto, his arms tucked into the sleeves of a purple robe. A foreigner?

“What’s it to you? I just ruined my lunch!” Naruto complains, shaking the now-crushed bag of groceries, as if that will magically uncrack the eggs and clean up the rest of it. The apartment’s all out of food and instant ramen, which means he’ll have to sneak in another store or hope that Iruka-sensei will be up for a shopping trip. Maybe if he promises to stay in class this week... “Watch where you’re going!”

The man brings his hands up in supplication as he huffs out a laugh. “I really am quite sorry about your food, but maybe you shouldn’t be sneaking out of an alley and surprising innocent people,” the stranger says.

Naruto gapes, then shakes his head and rises up to his full height which, unfortunately, doesn’t even come up to the man’s shoulders. He straightens his back a bit and glares up at the man, who responds with a closed-mouth smile. Aha - he knows exactly how he’s going to get his revenge. He grins widely. “Whatever! You owe me lunch now. Pay up!”

The man blinks and looks down at the bag that’s now drooping in broken-egg sadness on the ground. “Excuse me?” He says slowly, as if wondering if he heard Naruto correctly.

Naruto crosses his arms and tries to look as commanding as the old man does during his Important Office Meetings. “You ruined my lunch, so now you have to pay me back! Or else I’ll tell everyone in Konoha that you’re a rude foreigner who’s mean to kids,” he warns.

The man pauses, the smile dropping off his face. Ugh, did I go too far? Now he's gonna run away and everyone will tell him about me and I don’t even have lunch-! But the man breaks into a grin and runs a hand through his black hair. Naruto stares, transfixed, at the rare sight of someone happy because of him.

“Ok, I accept your offer. I’ll buy you lunch, and you’ll save my precious reputation.”

Naruto takes a breath, trying not to show his surprise. “Um, really?”

“Yeah, really. Now let’s get moving before that horde of angry villagers arrives,” the man says, gesturing vaguely at the buildings behind him.

Naruto jumps and notices what sounds like a whole band of store owners looking for revenge. He laughs nervously and rubs the back of his head while running across the grassy road and tossing the ruined food into a dumpster.

“Ugh, I think they might be looking for me...not that I did anything! They’re just rude and mean to kids,” Naruto explains. He starts walking hastily toward the center of the village, eager to leave the scene of the crime.

The man’s face scrunches a bit in confusion, before he shrugs the matter off and moves faster to catch up, his hands sliding into the sleeves of his kimono again. “How’d you know I’m not from here?” The man asks, glancing down curiously at Naruto.

You didn’t start yelling when I bumped into you. Naruto pouts and looks away at a random storefront and accidentally meets the eye of the owner inside. When the owner grimaces, he sticks his tongue out and turns back around. “You act differently, whatever. It’s a Konoha thing. And you’re so pale! Don’t you ever go outside?” Naruto blurts out. The man offers a polite smile again but says nothing. Weird.

“Since you’re paying, let’s go to Ichiraku! They have the best, best ramen in the whole world and it’s so delicious and great and delicious,” Naruto continues, bouncing a bit in glee. Ramen! Ramen! Ramen! This was definitely not how he saw his day going, but Naruto wasn’t going to complain. Maybe he should bump into foreign visitors more often? Hang out around the main gates?

“Hah, alright then. Ramen sounds fine.” Just fine? Naruto opens his mouth, ready to educate this man on the wonders of ramen and its status in life as the Greatest Food Ever, only to be interrupted by a shout.

“There he is!” Naruto stops and whirls around. The original storekeeper he was running from just turned the corner a few blocks away, followed by all twelve other people who felt attacked by Naruto today. He feels a slight nudge on his arm and turns back around to see the man holding out his hand, an amused shine in his eyes.

“Come on, let’s go!” Naruto stares at the hand offered to him, strangely hesitant. Before, it was just Iruka-sensei and the old man Hokage who came so close. And now…

“Do you wanna get caught? Let’s go!” The man asks as he looks out at the advancing crowd. Naruto breathes out and takes his hand. The man gently closes their fingers together and Naruto feels a weird pressure in his chest as they start running away from the angry faces.

“Hey, what’s your name, mister?”

“Utahara Rokuro. And you?”

“Uzumaki Naruto.”

“...huh.”


“Yeah, so that’s why ramen is absolutely the best food in the world! Do you get it, Utagara-san?”

“Utahara, kid. And sure, but as a Water Country native I have to say that I’m a bigger fan of seafood in general, you know?”

Naruto wrinkles his nose and Utahara feels a sliver of apprehension, right alongside the amused bubbling deep in his gut where the Rokubi has been spinning around all afternoon.

“Seafood? Like a fish sandwich? That’s boring, mister.”

Utahara looks off into the distance and wonders how his life got to this point. Was he some sort of charitable, pacifist office worker in his past life? What could he possibly have done to warrant such...such blasphemy being said right in front of his face?

“-gara? Hara? Ubahara-san?”

He looks down at this weirdly blond-haired Uzumaki and realizes that he has a duty. Yes, a righteous duty. The kid leans away a bit, but Utahara is too busy trying to remember if he saw a fish market on the way here because of course. Of course he has to teach this kid. After all, what would they say? His Uzumaki grandmother, his entire seafaring family, the entire population of the Land of Water? What would they say if he allowed an Uzumaki to remain ignorant as to the true beauty of seafood? He’d never be allowed into the Pure Lands, that’s for sure. No, he must maintain the honor of his blood, of all the recipes that have been passed down for generations, he-

“UTAHARA-SAN!” Oh, shi- shuriken.

“Yes, Naruto-kun?”

“... Yeah, it’s time to pay?” The kid says, pointing at the- three?? empty bowls on his side of the counter.

“Ah, of course.” He waves over the chef, who responds quickly since he's been watching them out of the corner of his eye for the entire time. Curious. He turns around and grabs the hand of the startled kid, bringing it up to his chest. “Dearest young Uzumaki. Where can I buy some fish. Please.”

“Uhh? There’s a fish market on the next street, I can...bring you if you want?”

“Yes.” Utahara feels his mouth curve into a smile he last used five years ago when he assassinated a local warlord family after months of tracking them through the rain and the mud and- anyways. Not surprisingly, the kid’s eyes open wide and he tries to wiggle out his hand, but Utahara’s holding firm. “I’m going to teach you how to eat seafood.”

Naruto looks over to Teuchi for help but the chef only gives him a surreptitious thumbs up. He’s never getting involved with random foreigners again…