The sign on the shop door said all hoods, hats and helmets must be removed. Theseus cringed inwardly but it was 3am and the poor cashier didn’t look like they’d know who he was. It would be less awkward to explain to one person that he was in fact a lazy arse (though he could always lie and say he was experimenting) than it was to tell a whole police department when he was arrested for not pulling his hood down as asked. With a sigh Theseus loosened the drawstrings of his hoodie and pushed it down to reveal his face. Hopefully his dishevelled hair, unkempt look and generally grouchy mood would be enough to prevent people from recognising him.
He stepped into the shop and the world didn’t end. The cashier glanced at him briefly before going back to their magazine. An energy drink can was open next to them on the counter and Theseus let out a relieved sigh. Being a celebrity chef was great usually, it opened so many doors for him that never in his dreams did he imagine. But there were downsides, which included having ridiculous cravings in the middle of the night for awful comfort food while he was doing a guest tour of another continent. It wasn’t like he would have got up and made something for himself back home, but at least in England he knew which corner shops to go to for his favourite things without fear of being seen and judged.
This whole cravings thing came about because of stress anyway. Theseus was guest chef at MACUSA – the trendiest restaurant in New York, owned and managed by none other than Seraphina Picquery while her right hand man Percival Graves ran a tight ship in the kitchen. The man was a control freak and a nightmare. Theseus had merely suggested using a little less salt in something and the man had flipped. It was like a bull charging at a matador in blind fury. The rant he got about this being his kitchen, his ways being tried and tested, his sweat and tears were what brought such renowned to the restaurant and what people came to pay good money for. To change a recipe was sacrilege even if they advertised having Theseus as a guest chef. In short it was a nightmare and Theseus had three more days to suffer through. He didn’t rise through the ranks only to be made to feel as adequate as a dishwasher boy with a dirty dishrag and a broken sink. It had bristled and they’d all but started throwing knives at each other in anger. Needless to say Theseus was grateful for the end of the day.
Tiredly he shuffled towards the worst section of the shop - the instant foods, ramen noodles and cup-of-soups. The selection wasn’t vast and Theseus quietly raged at why America felt the need to make such weird flavours. Why would he want buffalo wing flavoured noodles? Or Kentucky fried chicken at that? What on earth was wrong with a plain and simple chicken or maybe a minestrone flavour? Grumbling to himself Theseus grabbed one of the less strange looking chicken flavours. Someone stopped next to him and let a basket clatter to their feet. Without meaning to Theseus looked over and judged. Ready meals for one, frozen pizza and now instant noodles. It was pretty pathetic but not too different to what he would have bought if he was feeling under the weather back home. A hand reached blindly to grab a couple of boxed of noodles while Theseus admired the pop tarts hidden under the mound of TV dinners.
The feeling of being watched made Theseus glance up at the stranger and his eyes widened. Percival stared back at him sheepishly, incriminating boxes of ramen noodles still in hand. Not that Theseus was any better with his choice tucked under his arm. At least he also had a box of strawberries to brandish as a healthy and wholesome choice. It made him feel a little superior suddenly.
“Hello,” Percival offered as though it was nothing unusual to find two celebrity chefs in a corner store stocking up on instant meals.
“Hello,” Theseus offered back dumbly. They eyed each other up, gazes lingering on the other’s food choices. Percival was the one to break first and huff out a laugh.
“Bad habits and cravings, eh?” he asked and Theseus nodded, a small smile tugging at the corner of his lips. It curled further up until laughter began to bubble out of him. Opposite him Percival too began to giggle and the more they looked at each other the harder they laughed. It was ridiculous. Beyond that even. The cashier was giving them strange looks, hand poised over the alarm in case the two lunatics who sounded like they were high on something to find ramen noodles so hilarious were going to do anything worse than laugh their heads off in aisle three at 3am.
Gasping for breath Percival wiped his eyes. He proffered a hand towards Theseus who shook it. It brought another giggle out of Percival.
“I was offering to take your noodles and treat you to a late night snack but okay. Nice to meet you, I’m Percival.”
Theseus flushed and snorted a little.
“Use your words next time. You know how it is, a hand comes towards you, and you automatically shake it.” Despite his words Theseus passed over his now slightly crumpled box of noodles and strawberries. Percival cocked an eyebrow at him but went to pay.
“Didn’t realised you live nearby,” Theseus said as they walked out of the shop.
“Nobody told me your hotel was so close either,” Percival shot back. He led Theseus down a little alley to the back entrance of a fancy apartment building. Theseus whistled as they went in and followed Percival to the elevators. Once inside the apartment he looked around with awe. It was spacious and the kitchen rivalled his own back home. He settled at the central island and watched Percival grab a couple of the pans hanging up.
“One sachet or two?” he asked and Theseus blinked. One sachet of flavouring was poised over the noodles while another was in Percival’s hands.
“One?” he ventured. Theseus wasn’t sure why Americans would put two in but then he watched as Percival opened up two sachets and poured them onto his own noodles. Something tickled the back of his mind and Theseus had another look round. There were a lot of spices, all in bulk and he watched Percival add a few things to his pot before placing it on the stove. He must have noticed Theseus staring.
“Hypogeusia,” he shrugged as though that explained everything. In a way it did. All the strong flavours, the refusal to tamp down on them even when Theseus tried to explain it would taste fine without so much salt and whatnot. An idea struck him.
“Want to experiment?” he asked, already pulling spices from their racks. Percival watched him before he grinned and nodded. The first batch of noodles came out inedible, the water long boiled away and the mass of brunt things in the bottom of the pan only remembered when the stench and the fire alarm went off. The second batch faired a little better though the strawberry and cumin and turmeric wasn’t a hit.
By the time the clock chimed 8am there were pots and pans everywhere, half written recipes for improving things and the echoes of comfortable laughter.
It was the first night Theseus crashed on Percival’s couch. His guest week at MACUSA a huge hit and he was offered an open invite to come back whenever he wanted to. On his return there wasn’t a hotel booked for him but Percival picked him up from the airport with a kiss and a box of strawberries.