The streets of Konoha were fairly crowded at this hour; dinner time, and Naruto wasn’t the only one looking for a place to eat. He was on his way to Ichiraku Ramen, but there was something gnawing at him that wasn’t only his appetite. He had a bad feeling, a feeling of disappointment. Naruto himself wasn’t disappointed, but he knew he had made someone else feel disappointed. After a hard day of training his mind usually blanked out, but this had been bugging him for quite a while now.
‘Bugging’ him.. how appropriate! Naruto put his hands behind his head and showed off a goofy smile, even though he was serious. Ichiraku Ramen was just straight ahead, and he had just found the solution to his little problem. He didn’t like it when others were disappointed in him, and after all, Shino had been right - one should never forget his comrades… even if they were hooded and cloaked and wore sunglasses all the time.
Where was the Aburame residence anyway? He knew his way around in Konoha in general, but well… just as he had barely interacted with Shino, he hardly knew where the other was actually living. He had to ask his way around and after receiving directions, he broke out in a jog and hurried to the north-eastern corner of the village. Naruto quickly suppressed a depressed, almost desperate feeling when he passed the darkened and eerie abandoned Uchiha compound. Looking straight forward, he made his way over to the Aburame residence without getting himself lost in thoughts about Sasuke…he had other things to deal with tonight, and Shino was as much as a team member, a comrade, as Sasuke had been.
There were people standing outside the large residence, but Shino wasn’t among them. It was dinner time; maybe he was too late and the whole family had already settled down to eat?
“You go just inside,” a tall man encouraged him, “they won’t bite.” It was a standard joke and the others bursted out laughing, only Naruto scowled just a little before moving away. True, the Aburame family was…kind of creepy, with all the bugs involved, but that didn’t mean they weren’t a valuable asset just like any other of the clans. Naruto had watched Shino fight during the Chuunin exams, when he went up against that Sound Ninja; effective, controlled and deadly - if it weren’t for his bugs, Naruto would say that Shino moved like a shadow, more befitting of the Nara clan.
He bumped into an elderly lady with a basket, and made his apologies. He offered to carry the basket for her and as they walked towards the residence, he asked if she knew where Shino was.
“I’m right here.”
“Don’t scare me like that!” Naruto blurted out as he all but tossed the basket up in the air, jumping as Shino’s sudden voice surprised him. He hadn’t seen him standing in the shadows of the small building, the falling evening darkening the bricks and tiles. He managed to catch the basket nonetheless and gave it to the elderly lady again, who muttered something about “noisy youth” under her breath.
“What are you doing here, Naruto-kun?” Shino asked, his voice calm and composed as usual, not unfriendly at all. His hands in his pockets, hooded and wearing his sunglasses despite this hour, there was nothing of his body visible but some parts of his face; the nose and cheeks. Naruto assumed it was because of the insects; it certainly drove the point home that he actually didn’t know anything about Shino at all. Hopefully, the other wasn’t sulking about him not recognizing him…heh.
“Shino, well, ehm, I just wanted, you know, ask…ehrm…” Naruto jabbed his fingers together, not looking at Shino directly. Was it only the bugs that made him feel uncomfortable around the other, or was it just their lack of interaction before? There were no bugs in sight, so he just had to get over it. He looked up and smiled brilliantly. “Did you already have dinner? I wanted to ask if you’d come along with me to Ichiraku Ramen!”
“Ramen?” Shino sounded amused, yet cautious. Everyone knew of Naruto’s love of this particular type of food. Ramen wasn’t really a part of his standard diet, and why would Naruto of all people ask him out…for dinner? Shino was fully aware of the Jinchuuriki’s background, and he wasn’t afraid of the demon fox, or of Naruto losing control - he was a comrade to him, hailing from the same village. That was more than enough to care for him.
“Yeah, their ramen is exceptionally good!” Naruto beamed at him. He didn’t say out loud why he wanted Shino to accompany him, but the other was quick to pick up. For all that people could say about Naruto - loud, demon, brat, not a ninja - he was honest and genuine, without any hidden agendas or secret plans. Shino knew that Naruto had been bothered that he was unable to recognize him, but he didn’t show it - his offer for ramen was the first thing he could think of to make up to it. It brought a small smile to Shino’s face, even if it was unnoticeable because of his high collar.
“All right, let’s go,” he said.
“Really?” Naruto’s eyes bugged a little before he composed himself, as far as he could - the thought of ramen, delicious ramen had made him drool at the corners of his mouth - but then he broke out in another vibrant smile. “Yes, let’s go already!”
They left the Aburame residence behind them and took another route to Ichiraku Ramen. Enthusiastic, Naruto elbowed Shino every now and then.
“Hey, hey, can you actually see something with those glasses? It’s already dark, you know!”
“I can see just fine, Naruto-kun.”
“Hey, hey, why do you wear so much clothing anyway? A vest and a jacket, and it covers up so much of your face!”
“Not everyone likes an orange jumpsuit, Naruto-kun.”
“Hey, hey, have you ever been…”
“We’re here, Naruto-kun.”
“Yeah!” Naruto moved inside and cheerfully greeted the elder proprietor, who welcomed his favorite customer back.
“You have brought someone with you!” He said out loud, noticing Shino standing behind Naruto. “Ah, I’ve seen you before! Aburame clan, right?”
“He knows me,” Shino couldn’t keep from pointing out. Naruto made a mock-pouty face, then flailed with his arms.
“All right, all right! I get it! Fine! You can get one bowl of ramen, and then I don’t want to hear anything about it anymore!”
Shino just nodded and sat down, as Ayame turned around to greet the both of them as well, obviously recognizing Naruto’s dinner guest - but before she could say anything, he quickly silenced her by ordering two bowls of their special barbecued pork ramen.
“I’m sorry, though,” Naruto said as soon as they were served their meals. He had his chopsticks in his hands, and stared into his bowl. “You were right. I should’ve known immediately who you were.”
“It’s all right,” Shino answered, staring into his bowl as well. He knew of ramen, had tasted it before, but that had been a long time ago… “After all, there are worse things to happen.”
“Yeah…” Naruto glanced at Shino. Akatsuki. Orochimaru. Sasuke. He fiddled around with his chopsticks. He was alive, he was eating his favorite food, and he was in the company of his comrade. What more could he wish for?
“Come on, eat, eat!”
“I’m not as fast as you when it comes to eating, Naruto-kun…”
“He can’t hear you,” Ayame said, laughing behind her hand. “See? Once he starts eating, he doesn’t see or hear anything.”
Shino shook his head, far too amused than he dared to admit. He took up his own pair of chopsticks, broke them apart and took some of the ramen out of the bowl. It tasted better than he remembered it… or it might be Naruto’s infectious cheerful company that made it taste so good, as he suddenly found himself talking and eating, despite Naruto stuffing himself silly - and hearing better than Ayame thought, as he commented on everything Shino said - and before he knew it, his bowl was empty and they had discussed a lot of things, from what would be beneath Kakashi-sensei’s mask to the next mission they would embark on..with their respective teams, of course.
“Teamwork is important,” Shino added as he pushed his empty bowl to the side, “but it’s a set-up to work together, individuals working as a group to obtain a certain result. It doesn’t matter who’s your teammate, it could be anyone, it’s not set in stone.”
“I’m so used to Sakura-chan in my team,” Naruto said, eyeing the fourth bowl he had emptied in the meantime. He was starting to get full. “Sai was..a whole different matter.”
“True, the best is to have teammates you’re familiar with. When you’re adjusted to each other, that’ll gain the best results.”
Naruto refrained from burping and he leaned back, just a little, and rubbed his belly. “Phew! I think I have enough for one evening.”
“I’ll walk you home,” Shino offered as Naruto’s place was closer to Ichiraku than his own. After paying for the meal, they left the place, Shino walking quietly and calmly, Naruto swaggering, loudly reminiscing the delicious ramen he just had. The streets were far less busy; people had returned home, to be with their families.
They halted in front of the building where Naruto lived.
“Thank you for the invitation and the dinner,” Shino said.
“You’re welcome,” Naruto beamed at him. Ah, what a wonderful feeling to have the air cleared between them! Maybe he should’ve taken Sai out to dinner instead of fighting with him. Nah, they had started off a wrong foot the moment they saw each other. Shino was someone different.
“You know…” despite the darkness, Shino had seen the dilapidated condition of the building, “whenever you feel like it, you’re welcome to have dinner with us.”
“Thank you,” Naruto answered, slightly surprised but genuinely happy. “That’s great! I certainly will take you up on that.”
“All right,” Shino nodded. “Until later, Naruto-kun.”
It was of no use to return the sentiment, as Shino had already left. Naruto felt a little tired, as always after a day of hard training…but he also felt relieved and happy. It had to be the food… and Shino’s company.