Chapter Two! And just in time for 8/13. :D Thanks for all the reviews--warm fuzzies abounded. You can tell, because I actually got the second chapter out within the month. Like I said, reviews offer inspiration. ;)
Disclaimer: I still don't own Kingdom Hearts. ...actually, I don't even have my own copy of the game. So yeah, no rights, no money, don't sue please. ...And I also don't own the Hobart equipment company, or ceram wrap. As if anybody thought I did.
Back of the House: The Night Shift
Axel peeked around the corner of the cook's line at his newest source of entertainment.
After an hour and a half of running the salad bar, the little blond had already lost the wide-eyed, bewildered, new kid look. Now he just looked homicidal. It was an expression that most of the kitchen crew at The 13th Order were pretty familiar with, not least because they usually wore it themselves. Spending your life fulfilling the whims of customers, all of whom were apparently insane, could do that to a person.
At the moment, he was rummaging frantically through the coolers, obviously searching for something.
"Looking for something?" asked Axel, sidling into the kid's territory, this time making a point of announcing himself. The kid was jumpy enough as it was without actually trying to scare him.
"Croutons," was the response, a little muffled by the fact that he was bent over with his head still practically inside one of the coolers. "I can't find any more croutons."
"If you're out, croutons should be in dry storage," said Axel helpfully, only momentarily distracted by the view he was getting of his new coworker's ass.
Roxas extracted himself from the cooler and eyed him suspiciously. Apparently his earlier comment about setting people on fire had set off some warning bells.
"Dry storage? Where's that?"
"In the basement."
"Yeah. Along with the produce fridge and the freezer." Axel watched the kid's expression. Obviously he hadn't had time to go exploring yet, because he looked pretty surprised. "You've never been to this place before, have you?"
"No," said Roxas, a little confused by the sudden change in topic. "Well, we came here to eat once but it was a few years ago and I don't really remember. Why?"
"Rule number one at The 13th Order," said the redhead, "the kitchen makes no sense. The whole place used to be a big house. The owner added a bunch of equipment but never changed much else. It's kind of a maze, too. Lost a few employees that way."
Roxas appeared to be mulling this over.
"Hey, uh, Axel," he said suddenly, "why is it called The 13th Order, anyway?"
"You don't know? It's all part of the gimmick," Axel replied, reaching into the nearest cooler and helping himself to a slice of pepperoni. "Every thirteenth thing customers order from the menu is free. Supposed to bring in the customers at the start, I think, and then it was part of the name so Xemmy couldn't really change it without annoying people."
"Is that why people like having big parties here?"
"Right the first time." Axel reached in to take another slice of pepperoni, thought better of it, and liberated the whole pan. "…didn't you need more croutons?"
Roxas looked at him blankly for a moment, and then paled.
"Shit!" he said, running off towards the back of the kitchen where the winding staircase led down to the basement.
Axel was gone long before he came back.
So were the pepperonis.
The basement, Roxas decided, was creepy as hell.
It wasn't just that the lights on the staircase were burned out, or that said staircase looked like it might collapse at any moment. It wasn't just that, because of the way the house had been constructed, the basement was practically a labyrinth of rooms, all filled with their own tiny mazes made of shelf upon shelf of dried food, cans, and unlabeled boxes. It wasn't just that, wandering through it, Roxas actually started to believe what Axel said about having lost people down there.
No, the thing that was really giving him goose bumps was how eerily quiet it was.
He hadn't even worked a full shift at the restaurant yet, but one thing he had noticed was that the kitchen was never quiet. Aside from the sounds of chopping, sizzling, and general chatter, someone was always yelling about needing something, or asking if they had any more of this, or if they were out of that. Even if it was one of the prep cooks shouting "where the hell is the Ceram wrap?! If you've taken it again, Marluxia I swear to god I'm going to stab you"—Roxas had learned very quickly that pissing off the prep cooks was a feat to be attempted by braver men than himself—there was always some sort of noise. If nothing else, the guys on the cook's line never seemed to shut up.
Once he had worked up the nerve to descend the stairs into the darkness, however, a haunting silence had fallen. It must have been something about the acoustics of the building, but for whatever reason, the basement was dead quiet.
And wasn't that a great description, thought Roxas, kicking himself for even thinking it. He wasn't usually scared of ghost stories or creepy places, but he was stressed enough today without his subconscious trying to convince him that the boogeyman was going to jump out from behind a shelf of canned peaches.
He still couldn't find the damned croutons, either.
Wandering past a huge, metal door that either led to the freezer Axel had mentioned or to the place they hid the bodies, Roxas turned into yet another room of unlabeled boxes. Okay, to be fair the boxes did have labels, but more often than not they were on stickers with barcodes. They were very small, very hard to read, and invariably upside down. Roxas had to examine each and every one of them to make sure they weren't what he was looking for. After every room full of failures, he was lured deeper and deeper into the basement.
He was beginning to think that he'd never get out.
"Raisons," Roxas murmured, tilting his head and reading the labels aloud to stave off the silence. "Assorted crackers. Ranch dressing mix. Yellow cake mix. Brownie mix. Pecans."
He continued on to the other side of the room.
"Paper towels. Paper napkins. Paper…" he paused. "What?"
The next box was one he was entirely unsure what to make of. It was a fairly large, brown box, about the size of a microwave. The label, if Roxas was reading it correctly, said "Toques". He had no idea what that meant, but he was far more interested in the fact that it had been duct taped shut with great care. No one was getting that box open without a very sharp knife.
Underneath the label had been written, in red marker, the words "DO NOT OPEN." It had been underlined twice, and then, as an afterthought someone had added "under any circumstances."
There was something about this place that was more than a little weird, Roxas reflected as he looked at the box and wondered why they didn't just throw it out if they were so adamantly against using whatever was inside. He spared it only a few seconds of consideration, though, because he really did need to find those croutons, and the longer he was down there the more things he was probably running out of on the salad bar. Obviously a room filled with paper napkins wouldn't have croutons in it, so he shouldn't waste his time. He turned to leave.
He barely managed to stifle a gasp.
Standing right behind him, a little too close for comfort, was a tall, stoic-looking man that was gazing down at him with calm disdain. Long, thin scars formed an X across his face, and his eyes almost seemed to glow yellow in the dim light of the basement. The only way Roxas could convince himself that the man was not a ghost or a mass murderer was by rationally pointing out to himself that no self respecting creature of horror would be caught dead in checkered chef's pants.
"Do you need something?" asked the man.
"Uh," Roxas said warily, "…croutons?"
The man nodded.
"Follow me," he said, and abruptly turned and strode away. Roxas followed at a safe distance. To the mild surprise of his rather paranoid subconscious—which had been wrong about the peaches, but suspecting the boogeyman of jumping out at him from behind a shelf of raisons and cake mix was a close second—the man took him straight into another room, pointed out the croutons, and then led him back upstairs.
Back in the light of day again, Roxas was going to take the croutons to the salad line, but the man stopped him, instead dragging him over to a prep counter where Marluxia was… chopping cucumbers. Roxas blinked. Actually, for a second it had looked like Marluxia was caressing the cucumbers, but Roxas was sure his eyes were playing tricks on him.
"Marluxia," said the basement fiend pointedly. "The next time he needs something from downstairs, show him where it is. We do not have time to waste searching for things if we want the restaurant to be run smoothly."
When the pink-haired chef didn't answer right away, the man narrowed his eyes dangerously.
"Marluxia," he said, "that is an order."
Marluxia frowned, putting down his knife and scooping the sliced cucumbers into a pan.
"Yes, sir," he said, rather sourly. Apparently it was good enough, however, because the man nodded again and turned back to Roxas.
"I am Saїx," he said. "If anyone in the kitchen gives you trouble, please inform me."
Roxas nodded mutely, not particularly wanting to ask what kind of trouble Saїx was expecting, or what the slightly creepy man would do about it. He took some croutons out to the salad bar as quickly as he could, seeing as he'd already been gone for at least ten minutes. Wandering back to the salad line and dumping the rest of his croutons into a pan, he began to wonder if everyone who worked at The 13th Order was a little insane, or if he had just started work on a bad day. He'd already met two guys with weird collections of scars, a man who appeared to enjoy stroking the produce, and someone who liked to set people on fire.
Was anybody in this place normal?
Roxas turned from his contemplation of the croutons to see who had wandered into his line this time. He was greeted by a cheerful looking young man who appeared to be about two or three years older than Roxas. He was wearing chef's clothes just like the rest of the kitchen crew, but over it he had donned a transparent, full-length rubber apron. Unlike everyone else, he wasn't wearing a hat, and he had suds in his odd, half-mullet, half-Mohawk hairstyle.
"You must be the new guy!" he said in such a friendly, excited way it was hard not to like him instantly. "Roxas, right? I'm Demyx!"
"Hi," said Roxas, unable to keep from smiling a little at the other's enthusiasm. Demyx was the only person he had met today who actually seemed to want to talk to him. Well, except for Axel, but Roxas still wasn't sure what he thought about the redhead yet.
"Man, it's so cool to finally meet you," said Demyx, leaning back against one of the coolers. "I've been waiting to meet the new salad kid ever since your brother said you were coming last week."
"You know my brother?" he asked, suddenly wary. His brother had some pretty weird friends, and being left alone with them was fairly high up on his list of things to avoid.
"Weeeell," Demyx hedged, "not exactly. I mean, I've met him before of course, but we're not really buddies or anything. I know a lot of the waiters, though, and they said that he said that you were coming."
"Oh." Roxas considered this. He knew, of course, that his brother worked in the restaurant as a host, greeting the customers and taking reservations. It was, after all, the only reason he'd gotten this job in the first place. It had never occurred to him, however, that his brother might have told people about him.
"So, what did he say?" asked Roxas, suddenly feeling self-conscious.
"Not much," Demyx replied, grinning. "You know him. Just that his little brother was coming to work in the kitchen. Axel nearly flipped when he heard—said the place was getting boring and it was about time we got some new blood."
Roxas hesitated before speaking again. Ever since he'd met Axel he'd been wondering if he should try to avoid him. He seemed pretty strange, after all. Of course, he was also one of the only people who was acting friendly towards him, and Roxas wasn't sure if he should take the odd things he said very seriously. Demyx seemed pretty normal, at least for The 13th Order, so asking him about the cook couldn't hurt, right?
"Hey Demyx," he said, making up his mind. "Do you know him pretty well?"
As if on cue, an unruly mop of red spikes popped around the corner.
"Did someone say my name?"
"Hi, Axel," said Demyx cheerfully.
"Oh, hey Demyx," Axel waved. "How's Hobart?"
"Taking a nap."
"…Hobart?" Roxas repeated in confusion.
"The dishwashing machine," he said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder at the door opposite the end of the salad line. There was no steam spewing forth for once, so Roxas could actually see the metal counter holding a few scattered dirty dishes and a large machine that was presumably the dishwasher. "That's my job," continued Demyx, "running the dishwasher. I should probably get back to it, too. It's pretty quiet between meals, but I shouldn't let things pile up. See you guys later!"
The two of them watched as he went back to the dish room, a fresh cloud of steam soon obscuring their view.
"So I see you've met bubble-boy," Axel commented. "Weird guy."
"Excuse me?" Roxas said incredulously at this obvious hypocrisy.
"Well, think about it," said Axel nonchalantly. "He has the worst job in the kitchen, and he's been doing it for maybe two years. Could you be that happy after washing dishes for two years?"
"Exactly," Axel concluded. "Speaking of which, I've been meaning to ask you—what did you do?"
"What?" Talking to Axel was kind of like being on a roller coaster; you never knew when you were going to take a sharp turn or be mentally flipped upside down. "What do you mean?"
The redhead shrugged.
"You don't act like you want to be here," he elaborated, "so you've gotta be being punished for something, right? What did you do?"
Roxas blinked, surprised that the boisterous cook could be so astute.
"I totaled my mom's car," he replied.
"Ouch," said Axel, "that sucks. She making you pay for it?"
"Figured it was something like that," he nodded. Then, suddenly, he grinned. "Hey, nobody's bothered to give you the tour of the loony bin yet, right?"
"Sorry?" Roxas said, fighting the urge to step back. Something told him that when Axel grinned like that, bad things happened.
"I mean no one's introduced you to the rest of the night shift. Come on, you have to have noticed by now that to work here you have to be at least a little bit nuts."
"No time like the present!" said Axel, grabbing Roxas by the arm and dragging him bodily to the end of the salad line, where they had a better view of the rest of the kitchen. "We'll start off easy with the people you've already met. First of all, Xigbar," he pointed to the scarred man, who appeared to be having something of a one-sided conversation with one of the prep cooks. "He's been here since the restaurant opened, which is a sign of the crazy right there. Usually he works on the cook's line with me, but you'll see him around doing other stuff sometimes. I've never seen him get mad, so no need to worry there, but he can do some pretty weird shit, too."
"Like what?" asked Roxas, curious despite himself. He fidgeted. Axel's hand was still on his arm, and he was uncomfortably aware of how close to each other they were standing. Axel didn't seem to notice.
"Ever seen a guy accidentally slice his hand open and then try to stitch it up himself before giving up and then turning to super glue?"
"Yeah," laughed Axel. "He's got pain tolerance like no other. Trust me, all those scars didn't come from nowhere."
He pointed to their next target, who had moved on from cucumbers and was now petting—err, peeling carrots.
"Marluxia," he said. "The salad prep cook. He looks kinda girly, and he probably won't do anything to you outside of generally being an asshole… but don't ever touch the veggies when he's around. Fair warning."
"Saїx," continued Axel, pointing to a familiar basement lurker who was currently standing in the corner writing something down on a clipboard. "He's the—"
"I've met him," Roxas interrupted. "He showed me where the croutons were."
"Really?" Axel actually sounded surprised. "Then he must be in a good mood today. He's the manager's favorite, so don't act up around him too much. Most of the time he's kind of boring, though."
"Most of the time?"
"Just make sure you don't make him angry," was all he said to clarify. "Not unless you're a really good runner."
Still holding onto the blond boy's arm, Axel swiveled Roxas until he was facing the dish room.
"Then there's Demyx," he said. "He says he's only working here until his career as a musician takes off. Dishwasher for two years and counting."
"And… you think he's crazy because he's too happy?" asked Roxas skeptically.
"Well, there is that," Axel replied semi-thoughtfully. "But actually I think it's more because of the weird, violent mood-swings he has sometimes. And because if you piss him off he'll hose you."
Roxas blinked. So much for the one normal person.
"As far as dishwashers go, though, he's the one you'll want to talk to."
"There are other dishwashers?" Roxas didn't see how anyone else could fit in there—the room didn't seem very big.
"Sort of," responded Axel, pulling Roxas back around to look at the kitchen again and pointing towards the room next to the stairwell. It was no longer full of dirty pots, he noticed, and there was a small figure inside scrubbing away at something.
"That's Larxene," said Axel. "She washes the pots. She hates her job and takes it out on pretty much everyone. Don't talk to her unless you want a pot thrown at you. It's fun to watch her bitch at everybody else, though."
Roxas thought about this.
"So she hates washing pots," he repeated. That sounded pretty understandable to him. "Why do you think she's crazy?"
"The only person in the kitchen she likes is Marluxia."
"…ah," said Roxas, nodding sagely. Yeah, that sounded like an indication of insanity, alright.
"Aaand, last but not least, the prep cooks." Axel pointed to the two huge men still standing around the counters. One was making some sort of sauce and the other was dismembering a chicken. "The guy with the fungus on his face is Xaldin. He's been here from the start, just like Xigbar. Talking to him is risky unless you're standing a good ten feet away. Chances are he won't answer you anyway unless you annoy him, and usually it's a good idea not to annoy him when he's holding knives. Which is always."
Somehow this didn't surprise Roxas in the slightest. He'd already noticed that the prep cooks seemed like some of the most dangerous men in the kitchen.
"We think he might have been a professional knife-thrower in the circus," Axel continued. "But then he accidentally killed someone and had to quit and come here." He paused. "That or he's a serial killer lying low."
Roxas rolled his eyes.
"The gorilla standing next to him is Lexaeus. He doesn't talk much, and he's kind of uptight. Can't take a joke."
Roxas glanced sharply at Axel and then back at the second prep cook, this time with a more critical eye. He noticed that the ends of the man's hair that were peeking out from under his hat had a rather crinkled, crispy look.
"Is he the one whose hair you didn't mean to set on fire?"
"Right," he said, completely unashamed. "I was aiming for his hat."
"He was wearing one of those official chef's hats," he said, as if that was any explanation. "Y'know—tall, white, pleated. Made of paper. It just looked so flammable, I couldn't resist."
Roxas stared at him, disbelief written all over his face. Then…
He couldn't help it.
He burst out laughing.
Axel decided right then that he liked the new kid.
The kid—what did he say his name was? Roxas?—had been so jumpy and suspicious of him all day, and it was nice to see him loosen up a little. Of course, he didn't really know why he was suddenly laughing. Probably he had just fallen prey to Axel's superior charm and wit.
Whatever it was, a sense of humor was a rare thing in the kitchen of The 13th Order, and if this kid actually had one Axel was definitely going to be spending more time with him.
"You okay?" he asked as Roxas doubled over, clutching his sides.
"Y-you set his hat… on fire…," gasped the blond between laughs, "and you're… calling them crazy?"
Oh. So that's what it was.
"Hey now," Axel replied, grinning manically, "I never said I wasn't one of the crazies. Remember? Everybody who works here is at least a little bit nuts."
Roxas's laughter had mostly subsided by this point, and he gave Axel a somewhat half-hearted glare.
"I'd say you're more than a little bit nuts," he said, accusingly. Well, there wasn't a lot Axel could say to refute that, certainly not in light of current evidence. That was okay; he didn't really want to argue the point anyway. "Why didn't they fire you for that?"
"Can't afford to lose me, I guess," replied Axel offhandedly. He took the opportunity to haul Roxas back into the salad line, where they had a little more privacy. "And that brings the tour of the insane asylum back to me!" he said grandly. "Axel, age 22, line cook extraordinaire, college drop-out, and slight pyromaniac. And," he announced, "I'm single." He winked at Roxas. "Got all that memorized?"
Roxas rolled his eyes. Apparently his little outburst had somehow managed to cure all the tension and paranoia he'd been plagued by earlier, because he seemed a lot more relaxed. Even, dare I say it, willing to joke with Axel.
"Yeah, yeah," he said. "Anything else I should know?" he added sarcastically. "You're birthday? Phone number?"
"Are you asking?"
Roxas glared at him.
"No," he said firmly.
Axel shrugged. Oh well, it was worth a shot.
"Nothing I can think of, then," he said, as if it had been a serious question. "You'll figure the rest of the kitchen quirks out on your own. I don't want to spoil all the surprises."
"Dinner starts soon anyway, so we don't really have much more time to talk," Axel added. "You should probably start breaking down the salad bar in a few minutes, and I need to get back to setting shit on fire. I mean… cooking."
He started walking back towards his own territory, but suddenly something occurred to him.
"Oh, right," he said, stopping. "I guess I should warn you about the Fronties."
Roxas raised an eyebrow.
"The 'Fronties'?" he repeated, skeptically.
"Front of the House," Axel clarified, waving a hand towards the window in the salad line. "You know, the waiters. They're not exactly friendly with Back of the House. That's us, in case you're slow," he added.
"So what about them?" he asked, ignoring the jibe.
"Well, let's just say that they're a good case study in whether insanity is catching," he replied. "And they've got it on both sides—first the nuts in the kitchen, and then the customers, who are all absolutely batshit."
"You're accusing the waiters of being crazy, too?"
"Nah," said Axel. "I'd say a better term for them is… unstable."
Roxas blinked. Axel could tell that he had no idea what the redhead had meant by that. He'd find out soon enough, though, Axel thought.
It would probably be a hella funny show, too.
Taking down the salad bar was almost as annoying as keeping it stocked. The one bonus was the knowledge that after he was finished, he wouldn't have to worry about it again that night.
Running the salad bar wasn't all that bad, though, Roxas reflected as he pried a pan of assorted greens—the bag it had come from had called it "spring mix," whatever that was—out of the metal contraption used to keep the produce cool while it was out in the restaurant. It was a lot of running back and forth to the kitchen, but at least it was cold food. He wasn't in any danger of being burned, which was a plus, and he got out of the kitchen once in a while, unlike the rest of the cooks.
He picked up a pan of tomatoes and attempted to balance it on top of the spring mix. The more he took back with each trip, the better, he reasoned. It was a little unwieldy, but he thought he could manage it if he was careful. Taking half an hour to unload the salad bar wasn't really an option. He added a pan of olives to the stack, and started back towards the kitchen.
Being able to go into the actual restaurant was well worth it, he thought, looking out the window as he passed by. The view was a stunning panorama of the city. The sun was just beginning to set, gilding every building with a beautiful golden light, and in an hour or two vivid colors would be splashed across the horizon.
No, the job wasn't all bad. It would be interesting to work with people like Axel and Demyx, after all, and he would never get tired of that view.
Roxas turned away from the window, heading towards the kitchen.
Roxas stopped dead as the pans and their contents fell from his arms, spilling all over the person he had run into. For a moment he just stared, dumbfounded at his own apparent ability to completely overlook people until they had either startled the hell out of him or he literally ran into them. Then his brain kicked in and he realized that he had just spilled tomatoes and olives all over a customer.
"I'm so sorry!" he said, leaning down to try and scoop what remained of the vegetables back into their pans and clean up the mess. It looked like a hopeless effort without a mop. "I wasn't watching where I was going," he continued to babble, keeping his eyes down in case this was the kind of customer who went into rages at helpless employees and demanded that they be fired. "I—"
"Hey, it's no problem!" said the person in an awfully cheerful voice for someone who'd just been covered in tomato juice.
Roxas blinked, looking up.
"No, really," he said, "I'm terribly sorry, I was…" he trailed off, realizing that the person was wearing a uniform.
The uniforms in the Front of the House, he noticed, were in direct contrast to those in the Back. While everyone in the kitchen except Axel wore kitchen whites, the waiters were dressed entirely in black. He was wearing black slacks, a black apron around the waist, and sleek black shoes. His smart, black, button down shirt looked pretty expensive.
It was also graced with a large, yellow smiley-face pin.
"Seriously, don't worry about it," said the waiter, smiling even wider than the pin. "The aprons cover spills, and we have extra shirts in the office for when stuff like this happens."
"Oh," said Roxas intelligently, remembering what Axel had told him about the waiters. Not that he was really willing to take anything the redhead said one hundred percent seriously, but this kid just seemed… unnaturally happy.
"You're Roxas, right?" he said, holding out a hand. "The new guy on salad?"
"Yeah," said Roxas, taking the proffered hand warily in case it bit, and shaking it.
"Nice to meet you!" the other kid grinned. "I'm Sora!"
Author's Note: If you don't know (and don't feel bad if you don't, it's a pretty obscure word), a "toque" is a tall, white, pleated chef's hat with no brim. And yeah, they make them out of paper. They're also banned in the kitchen of The 13th Order now, at least until Axel stops working there.
Next Chapter, introducing the Front of the House! Meet Sora, the rest of the waiters, and the hosts. It will be the first of the Front of the House chapters, and if all goes according to plan, I'll be alternating between Back and Front.
Also, for the three Organization XIII members who haven't appeared in the kitchen yet--don't worry, they'll be there. They have slightly more specialized jobs than the cooks, so their appearances are a lot more random. But everybody has a place. ;) And sorry about all the exposition in this chapter... it's kind of important, though, so I couldn't skip it.
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