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A Taste of Something Different

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“How would you like to go on an adventure?”

Startled by Chinen’s sudden question and the piece of paper that was thrust entirely too close to his face, Inoo leaned back and blinked a few times to focus on the scene before him. Chinen stood in front of him, looking eager and still waving the paper in the air.

“I like adventures.” Their magazine shoot was done for the day. Inoo grabbed his coat to put on and struggled with the left sleeve before adding, “unless it’s like that ‘adventure’ Hikaru took us on one time where we ended up lost in the mountains for a whole day.”

Chinen chuckled at the memory. “But you have to admit that it was fun to watch Yamada try to navigate us out of there using only tree moss as a guide.” He waved goodbye to Takaki and Keito as they were leaving for the day before turning back to Inoo to await his answer.

Inoo took his time buttoning up his coat while he thought it over. “I’ll go on an adventure as long as it’s indoors,” he said as he did the last button right under his chin. He glanced around the room for his scarf.

Chinen saved him the trouble by handing the item in question to him along with the paper he’d been waving earlier. “You don’t have to worry. It’s gonna be awesome!”

The paper, which turned out to be a flyer, was covered in big bold letters advertising a new buffet restaurant. Taste of the World it was called and it purported specialty foods from all around the globe. It listed some examples of what they had to offer. Inoo didn’t think he’d ever heard of half of the foods. But he would never say no to trying new things.

“Well why didn’t you mention it was a food adventure in the first place?” Inoo grinned. “Let’s go!”

Chinen cheered loudly in celebration, startling Yabu who had dozed off in a nearby chair. He whispered an apology and then excitedly kicked the door to the hallway open, letting it bang against the wall. Inoo followed along, closing the door gently behind him.

“Can our adventure have theme music?” Inoo asked. He dug around his coat pockets for his gloves, but then decided to give them to Chinen when he noticed the younger was only wearing a thin jacket in this cold weather.

Chinen nodded his thanks as he accepted the gloves and then pressed a button on his phone to play the song he’d just looked up. The familiar notes of the Mission Impossible theme rang out from the phone speakers, echoing off the hallway walls. Inoo gave him a skeptical look while Chinen just looked pleased.

“That’s a really predictable choice of music.”

“But it’s a classic.”

Inoo supposed that he couldn’t argue with that logic. And besides, the theme music was really fun to sneak around to. He pressed himself against the wall like he was a statue hiding from someone. Once he deemed the coast clear again, he zigzagged to the other wall and did the same thing. Chinen laughed and followed along ignoring the weird looks the staff gave them as they rushed by.

Chinen led him to the bus stop, already crowded as rush hour was beginning. Inoo was slightly disappointed that Chinen had turned off the theme music because he was about to do a legit barrel roll on the sidewalk, but he understood. They really couldn't play it on the bus anyway.

There were no seats inside so the two of them just crowded on somewhere in the middle. With all the people there, it was much hotter inside the bus than out, so Inoo began to regret his multiple layers of winter clothing. He wanted to reach down and undo a few buttons on his coat but he was afraid he'd lose his balance if he let go of the handle he had a tight grip on. And there was a stern-looking old man beside him who looked like he'd be personally offended if Inoo invaded his personal space, accidentally or otherwise.

"What kind of food do you want to try?" Chinen asked. "Something really weird I hope?"

"You know it," Inoo smirked. "After that one time we ate scorpions on Little Tokyo Live, nothing is really that weird anymore."

"Wait, I'm still trying to repress that memory," Chinen said, waving his hand around, but not too much since he didn't want to hit any of the people surrounding around them.

The bus driver didn’t go easy on the brakes as it reached its stop, and everyone lurched forward when the bus suddenly halted. Chinen wasn’t holding on to anything so he lost his balance and pitched sharply forward towards an office lady standing nearby. But Inoo grabbed the collar of his jacket, saving Chinen from a potentially awkward situation. Even before things settled down, people were already beginning to shuffle towards the bus exit, forcing the two of them to bend and twist at odd angles to get out of the way and avoid getting pushed around.

“You almost took a tumble there.” Inoo gave Chinen a teasing grin as they plopped down in some seats that had just opened up.

“Yes, I’m excellent at tumbling. You interrupted what would have been a perfect front flip.” Chinen crossed his arms and looked smug. He could always turn any situation around to make it seem like he was in perfect control and always knew what he was doing.

But Inoo was also skilled in playing along. “There’s a strict no gymnastics on the bus rule. Very important. You’ve never seen it? It’s printed on a sign at the front of the bus with the driver.”

Chinen turned his head towards the front.

“Oh my God are you actually looking for the sign?!” Inoo exclaimed.

“I’m looking for our stop,” Chinen answered, eyes focused on the bus map attached by the door.

“Oh, which one is it?”

Chinen narrowed his eyes. “Apparently the one we were just at. Oops?” He shrugged since there wasn’t anything they could do about it now. The bus was rolling along again and they both swayed as it turned a corner.

Inoo laughed while he loosened the scarf around his neck a little. “Well, what’s an adventure without a detour, right?”

They spent the rest of the short ride to the next stop speculating about how many flips and cartwheels Chinen would be able to squeeze in along the narrow aisle down the middle of the bus. If gymnastics were allowed, of course.

Luckily the next stop only put them two extra blocks from their destination, so there wasn’t too much time lost. The cold air still tried to sink under their clothes and into their skin, but they walked fast enough to avoid most of it.

“This place looks delightfully tacky,” Inoo said as they reached the restaurant building. There was no way they could have missed it. Fresh blue and green paint adorned the front wall as someone had recently spent a lot of time painstakingly painting the outlines of countries from all around the world. Inoo noted that India was next to Brazil though, so perhaps geographical accuracy had not been the goal of the mural. Once inside, however, they were both slightly disappointed by how normal it looked. Just regular tables and chairs set up on one side and the large buffet set up on the other.

“Ooh, I want to try everything.” There were so many choices that Inoo didn’t know what he wanted to eat first.

Chinen picked up a plate for himself and for Inoo. “How about a challenge then? We each have to pick something from every continent. And then you pick out the most disgusting-looking thing on the buffet for me to try and then I’ll do the same for you. Winner is the one who can clean both their plates.”

Inoo pursed his lips as he thought it over. “This isn’t fair because I had a big lunch. I had half of Daiki’s sandwich too. I’m gonna give you a handicap.”

“But we walked two extra blocks, so you should be extra hungry now. So actually… you’re welcome.” Chinen smirked. It wasn’t often that he lost a challenge.

“Nope,” Inoo shook his head. He wasn’t gonna let Chinen get away with that excuse so easily. “During the challenge, you’re not allowed to pick any of the French food. Because that’s not fair. You already know what’s good to eat and also what to avoid. That would be cheating.”

“Now that’s totally unfair. Takaki was the one who ordered all the food when we were in France and I had no clue half the time what we were eating. And Takaki had no idea either. He just kept ordering ‘the special’ and hoping that it was good.”

“Uh-huh.” Inoo was unimpressed.

“I could have died,” Chinen continued. “Takaki kept buying things and making me eat them. Did I ever tell you about that cheese—”

Inoo was already halfway to the Africa buffet line. “No French food,” he called out over his shoulder.

They met back up at the table sometime later (Chinen had gotten lost in South America briefly) with plates laden with all sorts of foods. Meats, vegetables, desserts. Some of it looked a bit stranger than they were used to, but for the most part, it was quite delicious-looking. They hadn’t picked out the disgusting food for themselves yet. They had to get through part one of the challenge first.

Inoo took his time eating his food. He alternated between his chopsticks and his fork to separate each dish into reasonable portions, and then he rearranged everything according to type of food and then country of origin. He realized that he had a disproportionate amount of desserts on his plate, and he might regret that later, but right now it was looking like a pretty effective strategy.

Chinen, however, was doing the complete opposite of Inoo. He took bites of his food as fast as he could, only pausing occasionally for a few gulps of water in between. Of course, Chinen was still precise even in his haste so at least he wasn’t making a mess all over the table.

“We didn’t have a time limit, you know. You can slow down to chew your food at least.” Inoo smirked with amusement at Chinen’s eating habits.

“This,” Chinen, mouth half-full, paused and pointed to some sort of unidentified brightly-colored mush, “is disgusting. And I’ve learned,” he paused again to swallow, “that the faster you eat, the less you’ll taste.” Chinen pointed his chopsticks almost absentmindedly at Inoo as he continued. “Did I ever tell you about that cheese—”

“Sorry, can’t hear you over this delicious flan I’m eating,” Inoo said and then shoved half the dessert in his mouth.

Chinen crossed his arms and gave him an annoyed glare. The last time Inoo had seen Chinen make that face, it was directed towards Yuto after he’d snapped an embarrassing photo of Chinen and then sent it to half the agency. Later, Yuto had woken up from a power nap with a drawn-on sharpie mustache.

“That old lady over there is wearing an Arashi t-shirt I’ve never seen before.” Inoo pointed behind Chinen. While he was distracted, Inoo reached over to the other’s plate and stuck the mysterious mush with his fork so he could try it himself. It was best to appease the wrath of Chinen now. While Inoo was certain that he could easily rock a fancy handlebar mustache made of permanent marker, he also remembered that they had another photoshoot in the morning and he had no desire to have to explain that to the makeup staff. Best not to risk it.

“That’s an Exile t-shirt,” Chinen scoffed as he turned back around.

“Guess that’s why…” Inoo scrunched up his face as he got a good taste of the mush, which made it difficult to talk, “…I’ve… never seen… it before.” He swallowed with great difficulty. “You’re right, that stuff is terrible.”

Chinen laughed.

Their dinner continued on uneventfully since the rest of their choices ended up being very tasty. They left the topic of food behind and moved on to chatting about life. Juggling busy schedules between work and family and everything else meant that they didn’t often have time to just sit and talk without interruptions. They sat at the table well after they’d finished eating, just letting the conversation flow like a river, expanding until it burst the banks in a flood.

They paused briefly when Chinen decided to disappear a moment for more dessert and returned with a bowl of jellybeans to share. But the sweet snack turned out to be a bad choice since they weren’t actually very good. They all tasted really funky. Inoo lobbed a few across the table at Chinen for punishment when the restaurant staff nearby wasn’t looking. Chinen dodged all but one, a green one that bounced off his cheek and then landed squarely in the middle of his empty plate. They both dissolved into a fit of giggles.

The good thing about the jellybean incident was that it reminded them about the second part of their challenge: the disgusting food part. Again, they stood side by side at the buffet, looking over all the choices.

“Remember,” Chinen said, “it’s got to be super gross.”

“Remember,” Inoo added, “it’s can’t be French food.”

Chinen rolled his eyes and then they set off on their mission. Inoo weaved in and out through different countries, searching through all the possibilities and also trying to keep Chinen from figuring out what he was going to pick. He got distracted briefly in Australia by a delicious-looking something called Fairy Bread, but then he remembered that he had to continue on his food quest.

At last, he finally came across something so gross looking that he knew he just had to pick it. It was so repulsive that he didn’t even look at it very long. It was some sort of smelly cheese, so he just scooped up a bit and walked back to the table as fast as he could, brimming with confidence. Chinen was already at the table, waiting with his own smirk.

“Ha ha!” Inoo triumphantly put the plate down, just knowing that Chinen couldn’t have picked anything more disgusting as this cheese. But then he looked down at the table and frowned while Chinen’s smirk disappeared.

“We both picked the same thing.”

Inoo nodded. “Indeed we did.” He leaned back a little to get away from the pungent odor coming from the cheese. The longer he looked at it, the more disturbing it became. He was pretty sure he just saw something on it move.

They both silently stared at the plates for a few moments. Chinen stared at it. Inoo stared at it. And whatever was in the cheese stared back.

Chinen pulled out his phone. “I think we should research this a little more first.” He glanced warily at the plates. “What was it called? Casu Marza from Italy?”

“Is this like that time in France with the cheese?”

“No!”

Chinen tapped at his phone and then grimaced. “Oh, okay. Well, it’s made from sheep’s milk.” Inoo nodded since that seemed normal enough, but then Chinen continued. “It’s also known as ‘maggot cheese’ since it has actual live maggots in it. And those maggots may jump at our faces if we try to eat it. And it’s also banned from consumption in Europe.”

“Well then.” Inoo felt sort of nauseous now. He picked up his chopsticks and used them to push both plates to the edge of the table. The only sound was the distinct screeee of plastic against the wood table. The farther away, the better.

“How about we just play rock-paper-scissors to decide who wins?”

“That sounds much safer for our digestive systems,” Chinen agreed. He rolled up his shirt sleeves in anticipation. “Loser has to pay for dinner.”

Inoo nodded and the game began. First they tied with paper, and then with scissors, then with paper again, and then rock, again and again and again. After about fifteen rounds of ties, Inoo pointed out that it wasn’t working out so well.

“Patience, Young Inoo Kei,” Chinen said in a sagely voice that made Inoo snort into the drink he’d just taken a sip of.

After another ten rounds of ties (and with some shouts of encouragement and good luck from the surrounding tables), Chinen won by choosing rock while Inoo picked scissors. He cried out in disappointment and dramatically laid his head down on the table before realizing that his hair was dangerously close to the illegal maggot cheese. He quickly sprang back up in his seat.

“I can’t believe you won.”

Chinen smirked. “What can I say? I have skills.”

Inoo grabbed the check and stood up. “Rock-paper-scissors isn’t a game of skills.”

“Luck is a skill!” Chinen insisted as he followed Inoo to the cash register.

Once the bill was settled, they left and walked together to the train station this time. The temperature was still freezing outside but the pleasant feeling of a full stomach combined with laughter warmed them up.

“Can our next adventure not involve maggots?” Inoo asked with a happy grin.

“I can’t make any guarantees. Not knowing is what makes it an adventure.” Chinen took off the gloves Inoo had lent him earlier and handed them back, but Inoo just waved them away.

“Keep ‘em,” he said. “You can return them at work tomorrow.”

For a rare moment, Chinen was caught off guard before stuttering out thanks while he put the warm gloves back on. The train Inoo was waiting for pulled in and came to a slow stop at the platform.

“See you later!” Inoo waved goodbye as he stepped onto the train, and he saw from the window Chinen waving back with a smile. He hoped it wouldn’t be long before their next adventure.

(Later, in what Inoo considered a cruel twist of irony, Inoo would try to tell the group about the cheese experience but nobody was interested in listening. Chinen would send him snarky smirks of understanding when no one else was looking. And together they would laugh about it.)