The first time the monks of the Shambali order surprised Genji with a steaming bowl of ramen, he threw it into the snow.
He would later regret the way he shouted at them, and the childish way he slammed the door to his room. But at the time, being hit with that familiar scent wafting from the delicious-looking noodles was far too much for him to bear.
The monks cleaned the mess he had made solemnly, picking up the pieces of the shattered bowl. They had gone to great lengths to find a recipe that emulated that of Rikimaru’s ramen, in an effort to make Genji feel more at home. But perhaps, they concluded, there was no more home for Genji in the past.
It was hours before Genji was willing to hear their apology, and days before he would forgive them. At twenty-nine years old, Genji never wanted to see another bowl of ramen again for it was over countless bowls of the stuff that he had bonded with his brother. Even as Hanzo grew more distant, the one thing that always warmed the elder’s heart was a trip to Rikimaru with Genji. One of his earliest memories was of when he made himself sick trying to eat more bowls than Hanzo, and though the two of them grew more and more different as they grew up, Hanzo always made time for a ramen outing with Genji. Ramen was Hanzo, and Hanzo was death.
At thirty-four years old, Genji had not tasted ramen in nearly ten years.
Even still, the smell of it wafting through his air circulators nearly knocked him flat. Zenyatta must have sensed him in the brief moment that he stumbled out of his usually silent gait, for he spoke up in his gentle voice:
“Ah, Genji. I was wondering when you would appear.” Zenyatta stood at the stove in their small home in the Shambali village. He appeared relaxed, as always, but Genji knew him well enough to see that the monk was on his guard. Genji remembered the last time Zenyatta and the other monks had made ramen, and felt a pang of guilt. “Dinner is nearly ready.”
“It is kind of you to cook for me when you cannot enjoy the meal yourself,” Genji said.
“I do quite enjoy the process, though,” Zenyatta said cheerfully. The tension in the omnic’s stance dissipated somewhat. He served the ramen into a bowl, and began artfully arranging the toppings. Genji watched silently. What had prompted his master to prepare this for him all of a sudden? “Have a seat, Genji.”
Genji did as he was told, and removed his visor, shuddering as the biting cold air hit his face. Zenyatta set the ramen in front of him, and laid a pair of well-used chopsticks alongside it. It was clear that the omnic had taken great care in preparing the dish, and it smelled positively heavenly. Zenyatta sat across from Genji, and folded his hands expectantly. Genji found his hands shaking as he lifted the chopsticks. He closed his eyes as the first bite hit his tongue.
All at once, he was home. He could almost hear the bustle of the ramen shop, and the owner shouting orders back to the kitchen. Genji felt what remained of his guts twist as he swallowed. It was delicious. But it was missing something.
“Thank you master,” Genji said quietly, his lights dimming slightly. Zenyatta tilted his head in concern.
“Is it to your liking?” Zenyatta asked softly, as though he already knew the answer.
“It is wonderful,” Genji assured him. “But it just isn’t the same…”
“Have your injuries changed the way you sense taste?” Zenyatta asked. Genji shook his head.
“No. It tastes exactly as I remember it. But it feels wrong to indulge in it alone, while Hanzo is…” Torturing himself. Traveling in an aimless rage. Carrying the wounds of the last nine years.
“I see,” Zenyatta said gently.
“I miss him,” Genji confessed, for the first time out loud. “Even when I was… consumed with fury and lust for revenge, I missed him.” Genji’s modulated voice shook slightly at the end of his sentence, and he swallowed thickly. A cold metal hand rested on his arm.
“Maybe someday, the two of you will have the chance to share a bowl of ramen again,” Zenyatta offered. Genji stared into the bowl. Only a few months remained until the tenth anniversary of the day that rent both of their lives into pieces. Soon, their fates would begin to intertwine once again. Genji replaced his face mask.
“We shall see,” he said. “Thank you for this, master. I am sorry I cannot eat more. But maybe one day.” Zenyatta nodded knowingly.
“You have come so far, my student. I believe you are finally ready to face him.”
“Thank you, master. It is time. What happens now is up to him.” The taste of ramen lingered in Genji’s mouth. It convinced him, more than anything else, that he was ready. He wanted to taste more, with his brother by his side. It was time.