This story ended up turning out completely different than what I had planned, but I think it's better as it is now. It just took forever to write.
If you haven't been to a Hibachi restaurant, I highly recommend you get yourself to one ASAP. =D It's a ton of fun that you don't want to miss out on! And who knows, maybe Cloud will be your chef! (or maybe not.)
I might not have all of the proper hibachi details down correctly, so please excuse any possible mistakes I might have made!
I've strayed from my usual pairing and decided to try a SephirothxAngealxGenesisxZack. There is also a surprise pairing at the end! ^^ Well, sorta.
The hibachi grill was originally going to be name Sushi King, but then I did some Googling and found out there's already a whole bunch of them. Hence, the less-creative ShinRa Sushi Hibachi Grill & Restaurant.
DISCLAIMER: I still don't own FFVII.
"Cloud Strife, I want you in my office immediately."
Cloud looked up from the grill to find an irritated Rufus ShinRa standing in front of him, looking none too pleased.
"Me?" The younger male asked as he set down his spatula. What could he have possibly done to have his boss behaving in such a foul mood towards him?
Rufus rolled his eyes. "Oh, no, I meant the other Cloud Strife in the room," he replied, his voice dripping with sarcasm. On a quick inspection, Cloud realized the entire dining room was empty. "Honestly," Rufus huffed. "Look, clean your station later. I need to speak with you now." He turned on his heel and headed for the back of the restaurant, a worried Cloud trailing behind him.
Once they were inside the office, Rufus was careful to shut the door behind them. That was usually a bad sign – it meant he didn't want anyone, not even the other employees, to hear the conversation. Cloud took a deep breath and braced himself for the worst.
Cloud's boss slid into his oversized plush velvet desk chair, and motioned for Cloud to take a seat. The younger male couldn't believe how ridiculously extravagant the office was; even though ShinRa Sushi was the main restaurant attraction of the ShinRa Towers luxury resort in Costa del Sol, it was still very over-the-top. Cloud sighed as he stared up at the glass chandelier that hung above the desk. Sometimes, he just didn't get rich people.
"Well, there's no way to drag this out, so I'm just going to get right to the point." Rufus folded his hands on his desk and leaned forward, looking very serious.
Cloud's eyes bulged, and he leapt up from his seat. He'd heard that line one too many times from his past employers, and knew exactly what it meant. "B-but sir! What have I done wrong? I come to work on time, I clean my station well, a-and-"
"For God's sake, Cloud, I'm not firing you," Rufus rubbed his temples. "Calm down. I called you in here because I have a special task for you."
The younger blond breathed a sigh of relief and collapsed back into his chair. "I'm sorry, sir. What do you want me to do?"
"Tonight there will be a group of SOLDIERs dining here, and I'm assigning you to be their chef."
Cloud was absolutely stunned. "Really?" He had to restrain himself from dancing around the office in joy. "Thank you so much! This is such an honor-"
"I'm not doing this for you!" Rufus snapped, and sent a chilling glare at Cloud, who immediately clammed up. "I only picked you because you're the only chef I feel I can trust." He then paused for a moment, running a pale hand through his platinum hair in frustration. "My father is setting me up. He's sending those SOLDIERs to check on me – they'll be evaluating the restaurant. My father doesn't think I'll be able to run ShinRa Towers by myself."
"How long have you known about it?" Cloud asked, curious as to why Rufus hadn't had told him earlier.
"My father just called fifteen minutes ago. He loves springing shit on me like this," Rufus scowled. "He'd come and see the place for himself, but he's away on vacation." Cloud knew as well as Rufus that when it came to old man ShinRa, vacations usually equaled extra-marital affairs. He could hear it clearly in Rufus' tone. Even though the prestigious ShinRa family was bringing in truckloads of money a day, they still had their fair share of issues, which seemed to affect Rufus the most. Cloud hadn't grown up in a picture-perfect family, but he'd still had it pretty darn good compared to his boss.
"So tonight," Rufus returned his piercing gaze to Cloud, "you need to give those SOLDIERs the best damn show they've ever seen. Because if you screw this up, they'll tell Father, and he'll take me off this job. And then he'll never trust me to run ShinRa Towers myself someday. And if that happens," Rufus growled, and Cloud felt a chill run down his spine, "you will be promptly fired and lose your Academy scholarship for next year. And I'll see to it that you'll never even be let past the gates of the ShinRa Academy as long as you live."
Cloud opened his mouth to protest, but Rufus didn't allow him any room to speak. "Think of all of this as… motivation." he offered. "I may not be the head of ShinRa, but believe me, Cloud, I can make all of that happen. And worse." He narrowed his eyes, and then pushed himself up from the desk. "Understand?"
Cloud nodded slowly, the entirety of his situation sinking in. "Yes, sir," he replied, defeated. Never in his life had he ever felt like such a hostage before.
"You better," Rufus responded, a smirk playing on his lips. "Because if you make a good impression on them and they leave here satisfied, then I'll, shall we say…upgrade your scholarship. For all of your years at the Academy, you'll never have to pay a dime. I'll see to that myself. Do we have a deal?"
"Of course, sir," Cloud answered, sort of relieved that Rufus hadn't been trying to force him into a one-sided bargain. But really, it wasn't all that much of a deal anyway – it was more like blackmail. "They'll get the best dinner they've ever eaten."
"That's what I want to hear," Rufus glanced up at the enormous grandfather clock by his desk and gasped. "Go clean up your station now," he began shooing Cloud towards the door. "I have no idea when they'll be showing up. You need to be ready to serve them at any given time."
"Right, sir," Cloud replied, but Rufus slammed the door shut in his face before he had finished speaking. He shrugged and walked back to his usual grill and began tidying up for the most important dinner he was ever going to serve.
The last hour and a half in ShinRa Sushi Hibachi Grill & Restaurant had been absolute hell for everyone. Rufus had been running around like a madman, barking orders at the hostesses, the waiters, and even the poor busboys in the back. As the clock ticked closer to dinnertime, Rufus became more anxious and irritable as every minute passed by. All of the employees were terrified to approach him, seeing as he'd nearly fired one waitress for simply asking if he approved of how she'd set the table for the SOLDIER guests.
Cloud was currently the only employee not being screamed at or bossed around by Rufus at the moment, seeing as he was cooking for a family who had come in for an early dinner. He'd lost sight of the man after he'd disappeared out of the main dining area, presumably to yell at the hostesses again.
As Cloud began frying shrimp on the grill, one of the waitresses came out to refill the family's drinks. There were evident streaks of tears running down her face, and Cloud didn't have to guess why. Rufus wasn't exactly the kindest employer in the world, and none more so tonight, considering he was under tremendous pressure to have everything be nothing less than perfect.
Suddenly Cloud saw a white flash dart into the dining hall. A hand grabbed him roughly by the wrist, causing him to drop his spatula and nearly launch a couple of half-cooked shrimp across the restaurant.
"They're here, hurry," A bewildered Rufus tore him from the grill and spun him around quickly. The man was a bundle of nerves now, and it definitely showed. He seemed much more high-strung than he had been not all that long ago. Cloud's boss eyed him over quickly, making sure his appearance was tidy and flawless for the special guests. He adjusted the blond's chef hat and re-folded his shirt collar. "They're going to be sitting in the private dining hall. Everything you'll need is there for you already. Get moving!" Rufus hissed, giving Cloud a shove towards the dining hall in the back.
"But sir, my table-" Cloud pointed to the family he had been serving, who were exchanging confused looks with one another.
"The hell with that. And I told you to be ready before! You shouldn't have been serving them!" Rufus snapped at the younger blond, his eyes burning with anger.
"You told me to serve them dinner!" Cloud argued, nodding towards the family.
Rufus gave the most chilling glare Cloud had ever seen another human being give in his life. "Don't you dare argue with me now," he hissed, and then pointed to the back of the restaurant. "Go."
Once Cloud had darted back to the dining room, Rufus looked around wildly. "Kaijiro, get back in here," he barked at one of the chefs, who was just about to take his leave for the night. "You're working overtime."
Cloud raced back to the private dining hall to get prepared for the important dinner he would be serving. It was exciting and yet terrifying at the same time to be serving some of his heroes, seeing as it was his goal to become a SOLDIER himself someday. This was a life or death chance for him now – he was going to have to fry rice and chop up meat like never before.
He was going to give those SOLDIERs the best dinner they'd ever eat in their life.
"Cloud! Get ready!" The sniffling waitress from before poked her head into the doorway. "They're coming. Good luck!"
"Thanks, Tifa," Cloud called to her before she quickly vanished from the room.
Cloud took a deep breath and closed his eyes. No matter what stressful situation he encountered, it always helped to calm him down when he took a moment to mentally prepare himself for what was about to unfold. After a brief pause he exhaled and opened his eyes again. He was going to try his hardest, and that's all that mattered. After all, what was the worst thing that could happen?
Well, besides losing his job and never being allowed into the ShinRa Academy forever. Cloud gulped.
"-And here is where you'll be dining tonight."
Rufus stepped into the room, followed by four incredibly handsome men.
"Please take a seat," Rufus gestured to the four chairs strategically placed in front of Cloud. "I hope you will find everything to your liking. The bellhop will have your luggage delivered to your rooms."
Cloud realized that the four SOLDIERs had just arrived to ShinRa Towers; he'd been under the impression that they had already been staying at the hotel. But if that had been the case, Rufus probably would have been even more high-wired than he currently was, which was a sight Cloud hoped he would never have to see. Good thing he had the next couple of days off.
The blond chef held his breath as the four men took their seats in front of him. He'd seen many ShinRa SOLDIERs that were attractive before, but they paled in comparison to the men seating before him. The four of them were all insanely gorgeous, to the point where Cloud didn't feel worthy of serving such handsome SOLDIERs.
"This is Cloud. He will be your chef tonight." Rufus introduced him, and Cloud suddenly had four pairs of beautiful eyes resting on him.
"It's a pleasure to be serving you," Cloud responded, giving a smile. He was a nervous mess inside now, but he tried hard not to let it show.
"Cloud, huh?" That's a cool name," a dark-haired man grinned up at Cloud. "I'm Zack. Nice to meet ya."
Rufus cleared his throat. "This is Commander Angeal Hewley," he introduced the guests, starting with the man seated to Cloud's left. Commander Hewley had the most muscular build out of the rest of them, and black locks of hair framed his handsome face.
"And this is 1st class SOLDIER Zackary Fair," Rufus continued, even though the man had already given his name. Zack had spiky black hair, and a look of playfulness and mischief in his sparkling eyes.
"Commander Genesis Rhapsodos," The man had more slender features compared to the others, and shoulder length red hair. He wore a bright crimson coat, in contrast to his comrades' mostly black attire.
"And General Sephiroth." Cloud's eyes rested on the fourth man. The General had beautiful silver hair that spilled over his shoulders, and accented his chiseled features. He wore a long black leather coat, which exposed a generous amount of his toned chest.
After a moment, Sephiroth caught the blond's gaze and gave him a small smile. It was only then that Cloud realized he'd been staring at the men for far too long. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Rufus glaring daggers at him.
"Will this be acceptable?" Rufus asked the SOLDIERs, absentmindedly wringing his hands.
Commander Hewley surveyed the room for a moment, and then shook his head. "Absolutely not. This is the worst dining room I've ever seen."
Rufus looked about ready to have a heart attack. Cloud wouldn't have been surprised if the man had keeled over right there on the floor. Desperately, Rufus launched into a rapid stream of apologies. Cloud felt it was strange to see his bossy, self-centered employer groveling in front of the SOLDIERs like a beggar, but it just showed how much he cared about his job. Cloud had a feeling that if he ever spoke about this incident, Rufus would personally hunt him down and kill him.
"Rufus, calm down," Angeal rested a massive hand on the blond's trembling shoulder before he had a chance to kneel on the floor and beg for forgiveness. "I was just kidding. Everything's great so far."
Rufus breathed a heavy sigh of relief, grabbing the edge of the table to steady himself. He looked about ready to pass out from all of the stress. "I'm so sorry. It's just that-"
"I know, I know," Angeal cut him off before he could apologize any more. "Look, unless this turns out to be a rat-infested hellhole, we're not going to mention anything bad to your father. Okay?" Angeal gave a kind, almost fatherly smile.
Rufus began thanking the SOLDIERs profusely as he backed out of the room, probably to get the waiters all straightened out on their orders for the billionth time. He tried to give the SOLDIERs a smile, but he ended up looking more like a deranged serial killer, minus the chainsaw and bloodstains. Cloud received a final "mess this up and I will personally mangle you" look from his employer before the man disappeared out into the hallway. Knowing Rufus, he had probably calmed down a little, but he was still going to be stressed out beyond belief. Cloud could hear what sounded like someone strangling a hyena out in the hall, and figured it was just Rufus trying to laugh off the whole incident. His boss didn't function too well under pressure.
"He's going to lose it before we leave," Genesis sighed once the frazzled blond was out of earshot. "It's a wonder his hair hasn't gone gray yet." The others muttered their agreements.
Angeal smirked. "He can't lose what he's never had." Cloud couldn't have agreed more.
"Well, why don't you get started then, Spiky?" Zack chirped enthusiastically. It took Cloud a moment to realize that he was being spoken to. He looked down to find four expectant SOLDIERs watching him.
"Spiky?" Cloud repeated, blinking.
Zack grinned. "Sure, why not?"
"Uh, sure, that's fine," Cloud replied, unused to having a nickname like that. Giving the clock a quick glance, he realized that he needed to get started or else Rufus might actually kill him. Cloud took a deep breath and got ready to start the show.
"Welcome to ShinRa Sushi!" He greeted them cheerfully, giving his signature smile. "As Mr. ShinRa already said, I'll be your server tonight. Tifa should be here momentarily to take your drink orders."
"Oh, she already did," Genesis replied. "Before we were seated."
"Okay, then," Cloud raised an eyebrow in confusion, then immediately thought of his boss. Rufus was really on his game tonight. "Well, I'll let you look over your menus for a few minutes. Please let me know if you have any questions about anything. I would be happy to answer them."
Zack gave a mischievous grin. "What color is my underwear?"
Cloud tilted his head to the side. "I…don't…know…?" Did he want to?
"Zack, shut up," Angeal rolled his eyes at the younger male, but he couldn't resist cracking a grin. "Stop being a smartass and let him do his job."
"But he said I could-OW!" Zack tried to protest, but Angeal swiftly smacked him on the back of the head.
"Leave the poor boy alone," Genesis told him, briefly glancing up at the blond chef. "He has to put up with Rufus already, don't give him any more problems."
Cloud just laughed, unsure of what exactly he was supposed to say. While the SOLDIERs were flipping through their menus and deciding on what they wanted to order, Cloud got himself acquainted with his new surroundings. He'd never cooked in here before – out of all of the chefs in the restaurant, he had the least experience under his belt. Rufus hadn't given him this task for his skill – he had only picked Cloud because he knew he could dangle that scholarship in his little blond chef's face and get whatever he wanted in return. Most of the other chefs had gone to some of the most prestigious culinary schools in Midgar, while Cloud had attended a few cooking sessions at the local recreational center. His teachers had told him numerous times that he had a great talent for cooking, but how he'd landed a job at the world-famous ShinRa Towers five-star restaurant was still a bit baffling to him.
Sure, Cloud loved cooking with all his heart, but what had reeled him in was the one year ShinRa Academy scholarship tied in with the job. Depending on his performance at ShinRa Towers for six whole months, Cloud could get a free year at the Academy with no strings attached. But now, according to Rufus, that could easily turn into as many free years as it took until he became a SOLDIER. However, that would happen only if he pleased the four handsome men in front of him.
Which he would, of course. Cloud could almost picture himself in an Academy uniform already.
Cloud studied the cabinets behind him, something he'd never had before while cooking in the normal dining hall. Usually he had a cart filled with everything he'd need for cooking, but that was completely unnecessary here. Everything in the cabinets had been organized to perfection; no doubt the work of his boss. To be honest, he would have preferred to have his usual cart; he rather liked the squeaky wheel in the front and how it didn't look like it had been organized by some neat freak. But as much as he wanted his own cart, Cloud didn't dare complain to Rufus – he wanted to leave work tonight in one piece.
After a few minutes everyone had placed their orders, and Cloud reviewed them quickly just to make sure he had everything down pat. It really should have been handled by Tifa, but in the hectic rush earlier, everything had gotten a bit backwards. Rufus had most likely realized this by now and was probably contemplating committing hara-kiri over it. Well, he didn't think his boss would do anything quite that drastic. But with Rufus in the quickly deteriorating mental state that he was, Cloud couldn't be too sure. When Tifa swung by to bring the drinks, he'd tell her to keep an eye on the man, just in case.
The SOLDIERs had declined ordering appetizers ("It would be better for Rufus' mental health if we didn't stay longer than we have to," Genesis had explained) which meant that Cloud could start the show.
"How is everything so far?" Rufus entered the dining hall again, his hands clasped together. Cloud had noticed circles under the man's eyes earlier, but he swore they had gotten darker since the last time he'd seen Rufus, which had only been about ten minutes ago.
"He was just about to get started, Rufus," Angeal responded, turning to face the blond. "Why don't you go sit down for a little and relax? You don't look too good."
"I-I guess I could-" Rufus froze as his eyes rested upon the silverware by Zack's plate. As if in a trance, he staggered over to the table, a horrified look on his face. He picked up the SOLDIER's knife and held it away, as if it were some repulsive thing he'd fished out of a garbage can. "It's…dirty?"
"Wha…? Oh, it's just a little speck." Zack leaned in to inspect the knife, which was beautifully polished and cleaned, save for the miniscule blemish on the handle. Cloud had to squint to find the little spot. "You can barely even see it! It's probably a water spot or something. Don't worry about it."
"But-but this is inexcusable! I'll go bring another one immediately. I am so sorry for this inconvenience!" Rufus moaned, still staring at the offensive knife. He looked about ready to hang himself from the air vent above the grill.
Cloud found it rather hilarious how Rufus was so incredibly worried about there being any problems for the SOLDIERs and didn't realize that it was himself, in fact, who was causing the most trouble for them tonight. But Cloud sure as hell wasn't going to mention it.
"Rufus, it's just a stupid knife. If it makes you feel better you can go get another one, but I'm perfectly fine with this one here. Okay?" Zack tried to calm the man down, but Cloud had a feeling it wouldn't do any good. "And then you should go sit down and chill for a little. If we need anything, we'll tell you."
"O-okay. Please excuse me for a moment." Rufus stalked out of the dining room, muttering something about incompetent busboys. He gripped the knife tightly in his hand, as if it were a dagger. Cloud wouldn't be too surprised if someone later discovered the busboy dead with a knife stabbed in his back.
Once he was gone, Sephiroth shook his head. "He's not always this bad, is he?" He asked Cloud.
"No," Cloud replied, surprised that the quiet silver-haired man was talking to him. Out of the four SOLDIERs, he seemed to be the most soft-spoken. "He's not even like this during holiday season." Cloud realized then that he felt somewhat sorry for his stressed-out boss. Sure, Rufus was a stuck up jerk and impossibly unfair most of the time (Only Rufus would force Cloud to work double overtime and then laugh when Cloud asked about getting paid for it), but still. He'd never seen anyone this visibly freaked out before, and felt rather sorry for him.
"Well, anyway, let me get started cooking before he comes back." By the time Rufus had left the room, Cloud had prepped the grill already and had just started cooking the rice.
"First I'll start with the rice," Cloud pointed to the grill with one hand as he reached down to find the bottles of sauce he was going to need.
"I'll add the cola first," he explained as he twisted off the bottle's cap, and then shook it all over the sizzling rice. It was a joke, of course – just to play with the customers. "And then the lighter fluid," he picked up a different bottle and sprinkled a generous amount of the sauce over the rice again.
Both Angeal and Sephiroth caught on early and gave Cloud knowing smiles. With Zack, it took a bit longer for the joke to register. But then his face lit up, and he grinned. But the three of them were all laughing silently as Genesis stared dumbfounded at Cloud, then looked back down at the rice.
"You can't seriously put that in food. Does that actually taste good?" Genesis wrinkled his nose, watching as Cloud stashed the bottles of sauce away in the cabinet.
"He's joking, Gen," Sephiroth leaned over and teasingly nudged the man in the arm.
Commander Rhapsodos frowned, narrowing his eyes. "I knew that."
Sephiroth then leaned in close and gave the redhead a quick kiss on the cheek. "Of course you did." The others traded glances and laughed.
It then dawned on Cloud that the four SOLDIERS were together. They weren't just together as a group, but actually together-together. At first it had just seemed that they were close friends, but it was evident after a while that there was indeed more going on than that. Cloud watched discreetly as Genesis and Sephiroth would lean over and murmur in each other's ears in soft voices. Occasionally, Zack would reach over for Angeal's hand and give it an affectionate squeeze. Cloud tried not to look surprised, but it was hard to hide his amazement; the concept of four insanely hot SOLDIERs as an item was indeed mind-blowing. But when Rufus had returned with a shiny new knife for Zack, he hadn't been at all fazed by the SOLDIERs' behavior. Was that sort of thing common at ShinRa? Cloud certainly hoped so.
Cloud moved onto the next item, taking out several eggs from the cabinet and cracking open the shells against the metal-edged counter. He let them cook to the left of the rice, and then tossed the shells quickly into the garbage. He grabbed his spatula and fried the eggs evenly, making sure they were thoroughly cooked. One of his favorite parts of the show was coming up – once he chopped the eggs up, he'd ask for volunteers to try and catch pieces of egg in their mouth. It was tricky, but a lot of fun. Especially for Cloud, since he was the one tossing the eggs – but he just couldn't laugh too hard if someone got a piece up their nose. Hey, it happened.
"Anyone want to see if they can catch this?" Cloud chopped up the fried eggs and scooped a bite-sized piece onto his spatula. Sephiroth and Genesis declined almost immediately. Cloud wasn't surprised; he'd had a feeling they wouldn't go for it.
"You guys are such wimps! I'll try it." Zack sat straight up and opened his mouth wide, revealing sparkling white teeth.
The dark-haired man gave an energetic thumbs-up, and so Cloud tossed the piece of egg up into the air. It went a bit higher than he'd hoped, but Zack leaned back in his seat and caught the food with no problem.
"Ha! That was good," Zack patted his stomach in an exaggerated fashion, then turned to look at Genesis and Sephiroth. "You guys are really missing out."
"Commander Hewley?" Cloud got another piece of egg ready on the tip of his spatula.
But Angeal shook his head. "No thanks."
"Man! You guys are so boring." Zack pouted and crossed his arms. Then a smug look crossed his face as he looked around at his lovers. "Well, maybe not all the time."
Cloud felt a little embarrassed to be hearing what he really shouldn't have been hearing. Quickly he whipped out the shrimp and threw them on the grill, not wanting to waste any time. He then reviewed the group's orders once more, making sure he put the right meat on the grill. All four of them wanted the steak, so that wasn't too hard to follow. He took out a pile of steaks from the mini refrigerator underneath the cabinets and threw them onto the grill, chopping them into little chunks and flipping them over every now and then. The meat tended to cook the longest, so it was best to start that now.
Although his future at the Academy was depending entirely on this dinner, Cloud was hardly worried anymore. The SOLDIERs evaluating the restaurant were obviously enjoying their dinner so far, and had stressed numerous times that the only way there would be any problems was that if the restaurant was an absolute disaster. Therefore, Cloud felt he had no real reason to fret about the situation. But he couldn't get cocky yet – he still had a lot more to do.
The four SOLDIERs were not at all what Cloud had been expecting; he'd been picturing four burly, no-nonsense men to show up with clipboards and ballpoint pens and condemn the restaurant if there was even one fork out of place. But clearly, that was not the case tonight. If all of the SOLDIERs were as friendly and easy-going as the four men in front of him, then that gave Cloud all the more reasons to want to go to the Academy.
Cloud pulled out an onion from the cabinet and was just about to start slicing it up when he noticed one of the busboys hovering in the doorway, looking extremely nervous. Cloud wasn't good with names, but he thought the boy's name was Reno or something like that. Cloud gave him a questioning look, and Reno just motioned for Cloud to come over to him.
"I'm terribly sorry, sirs, but could you excuse me for a moment?" Cloud hurried around the side of the counter, fast-walking over to the busboy.
"What's wrong?" Cloud whispered as he and Reno stepped out into the hallway. He had a sinking feeling already – the busboys never talked to the chefs like this unless it was an absolute emergency.
"Uhmm… oh, god. It's not good," Reno fidgeted nervously. "I was bringing the trash cans back in, and… one of them had rats in it."
Cloud's stomach dropped. He did not like where this was going at all.
"And I think they escaped out to the dining rooms."
Cloud's eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets. "Does Rufus know? Did you tell him?"
Reno looked as if he were about to collapse. "No way. Are you kidding me? He'd murder me on the spot."
Cloud shook his head in disbelief. "Well, you have to do something. I'll try to get the SOLDIERs out of here as fast as possible." And with that, he headed back into the dining room, and Reno dashed back to the kitchen.
Before returning to the grill, Cloud tried to regain his composure and not look like he was seriously stressed out – which he now was. Of all nights, there had to be rats now? At this exact time? Cloud couldn't believe his rotten luck. Maybe Rufus had been right about incompetent busboys.
"I'm sorry about that," Cloud apologized as he continued cooking the SOLDIERs' dinner.
"Is everything alright?" Sephiroth asked, a concerned look on his face. Three other pairs of eyes rested on Cloud, waiting for an answer.
Cloud really, really hated lying, but he didn't know what else to do at the moment. "It's nothing at all." He felt like he was trying to assure himself more than the SOLDIERs that the evening would turn out okay. Occasionally he'd see Reno or another one of the busboys run through the hallway with a broom, but thankfully Cloud hadn't spotted any rats in the dining room…yet.
Cloud's answer seemed to satisfy the four men, who watched in fascination as Cloud chopped up the onion into different sized rings, then stacked them up on the grill.
"You might want to sit back a bit," Cloud warned as he filled up the onion mountain with cooking oil. This was, by far, the coolest part of the show – no matter how many times he did it, watching flames shoot up from the onion was his favorite part.
Everyone leaned back in their chairs, even Zack, who'd nearly had his chin resting on the grill. Cloud pulled out a box of matches, lit one up, and dropped it into the onion rings.
It was then, as Cloud had feared, that the entire evening fell apart.
In that exact moment, as the saying goes, the shit hit the fan.
Whether he'd put too much cooking oil in the onion or the grill was turned on too high, it was an utter and complete disaster. The flames shot up from the onions like a giant, angry volcano, spewing flames and flecks of charred onion all over everyone. They licked the top of the air vent, singing the edges where the metal met the ceiling.
The four SOLDIERs jumped leapt out of their seats as the flames danced across the table, snagging a few of their napkins.
Cloud's first instinct was to turn the grill off, but it didn't help to quell the fire at all; it had spread far too quickly already.
Cloud leapt out from behind the grill, making a beeline for the fire extinguisher out in the hall. The SOLDIERs, who had now sprung into action mode, were busy trying to put out some of the flames with the pitchers of water at the table, but it didn't do much good.
Just before Cloud raced out into the hallway, he watched as Reno and another busboy came thundering down the hallway, brooms in hand, chasing a group of rats and attempting to herd them to the back door. Cloud looked on in horror as the horde of rats ran by his feet and into the dining hall, where they scattered and squealed as the flames burned on.
ShinRa Sushi had turned out to be a rat-infested hellhole after all.
Cloud flung open the glass door and grabbed the fire extinguisher, but not before catching a glimpse of Rufus striding down the hall. Cloud dashed back into the dining room, but Rufus had already seen him with the fire extinguisher and was running after him.
"Everyone stand back!" Cloud hurried over to the fire, and unleashed the fire extinguisher's fury onto the flames. The overhead sprinkler system had kicked in by this point, but Cloud knew he could put out the flames faster with the extinguisher. Reno had thought for some reason that it would be a brilliant idea to try and put the fire out with his broom, and didn't realize the flaw in his plan until his wooden broom had caught on fire. Cloud had aimed the extinguisher at Reno's broom in an effort to help him out, but had accidentally shot him in the face with it as well. But as far as Cloud was concerned, he deserved it.
After what seemed like an eternity, the fire was out, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. On a quick inspection, it seemed that everything was finally under control and no one was hurt. The room hadn't sustained too much damage, other than charred table ends and water splashed everywhere.
By this time, Rufus had rushed into the room, a horrified look on his face as he stood frozen in the doorway, staring at the clouds of smoke billowing up from the grill and the tables.
Cloud waited for his boss to scream at him and curse him out, and maybe even throw a spatula or two at him, but instead Rufus shuffled over to the table, near where the SOLDIERs were standing, unable to take his eyes off of the smoke. He stared down at the charred table, and immediately started sobbing.
Cloud had never seen his boss in such a pitiful state before. He watched as Genesis nudged Rufus in the arm, and offered him a charred napkin from the table. Rufus took the ruined cloth, stared at it miserably, and buried his face in it, now sobbing even harder.
It was all over. The four SOLDIERs were going to tell President ShinRa what had happened, and Cloud would never be allowed to even look at the Academy ever again. In ten short minutes, his future had been completely screwed over.
By this time, hotel security had been called down to the restaurant, and everyone had been asked to leave the private dining hall in order to get the mess cleaned up. Cloud stood outside in the lobby of the restaurant along with his boss, and the SOLDIERs, fidgeting uncomfortably. Genesis was trying unsuccessfully to calm Rufus down, and gave up after a few minutes.
The last time Cloud had seen Reno or the other busboy was when they had run terrified out of ShinRa Towers, right after Rufus had screamed at them to never come back. Cloud had a sinking feeling that he would be joining them shortly.
"Father's never going to let me have ShinRa Towers," Rufus wailed, still clutching the burned napkin. "He'll never trust me now." He then turned to face Cloud, rage burning in his eyes. "It's all your fault!" He bellowed, pointing at the little blond chef. "I shouldn't have trusted you with this! You're just a worthless-"
"Wait a minute, Rufus," Zack interrupted the man before he had a chance to go any farther, "Cloud really did a great job handling the fire."
Rufus wasn't buying it. "If he hadn't caused the fire, he wouldn't have had to handle anything!" He argued, glaring at Cloud again.
"Sir, please, I didn't mean to-" Cloud held up his hands in protest, but Rufus cut him off.
"It doesn't matter! I told you what would happen if this went wrong, didn't I?" He leapt out of his chair and angrily marched over to Cloud. "You'll never be allowed to enter the Academy-"
"Rufus, listen to me. This was an accident, right?" Angeal stepped in front of the man, creating a wall between him and the trembling blond chef. "This doesn't mean you're not capable of running this restaurant. Accidents happen, don't they?"
Rufus was silent for a moment. "I guess so…"
Cloud was amazed at how quickly Rufus had started to settle down; Angeal really had a calming presence when dealing with people.
"And Zack is right – Cloud really did do a great job in handling the fire. Most people usually freeze up in that kind of situation. If he hadn't acted as quickly as he did, the restaurant would have burned down by now."
Rufus gave an indecipherable look at Cloud, then back to the SOLDIER in front of him. "B-but what about the rats?"
Angeal smirked. "How many times before have there ever been rats in the restaurant?" He asked, taking a more serious-sounding tone.
"None," Rufus answered truthfully. "That was it. Reno's never taken the trash in since…" he gritted his teeth at the thought, "tonight."
"Well, he's not going to be taking the trash in here anymore, so that's that," Angeal smirked, crossing his arms. "If you can solemnly swear that it won't ever happen again, we won't mention anything to your father. But for the future, just make sure your busboys aren't quite so…dense."
"I promise! I swear it'll never happen again." Rufus was practically kneeling before the SOLDIERs. "I can't thank you enough for this!"
Cloud breathed a sigh of relief; it seemed that his ass had been saved. ShinRa Academy, here he came!
"How about instead of thanking us, maybe we could get to eat dinner now?" Zack offered. "All of our dinners were ruined in there."
"Of course, of course!" Rufus led them into the normal dining hall. "You can come back here any time you like, and eat for no charge at all."
Angeal laughed. "We might have to take you up on that."
To spare Cloud the trouble of cooking their entire dinner again, the SOLDIERs decided to instead order at the regular section of the restaurant. Rufus took the task of making sure they had the absolute best seat in the house, and then disappeared off somewhere. Cloud had the feeling he was probably back in his office, recovering from all of the action earlier. Cloud wished he could do the same; but even though Rufus miraculously hadn't fired him, he'd still made the blond chef clean up the entire dining hall. There wasn't much he could really do, seeing as most of the damage consisted of charred tables and counters, but Rufus had still found work for him. He had subjected Cloud to cleaning up all of the burnt napkins, silverware, and mopping up all of the water and fire extinguisher gunk. Usually he would have been grumbling and muttering under his breath, but today Cloud wasn't complaining – and besides, he could leave work right after he finished cleaning up the mess.
Once he'd stashed the mop and other cleaning supplies away in the storage closet, Cloud hung up his chef's hat and got ready to take his leave for the night. The SOLDIERs were still at their table, laughing and having a grand old time. Cloud gave them a friendly wave goodnight before leaving the restaurant.
He made his way out to the lobby of the hotel, which was at least five times the size of the ShinRa Sushi restaurant. There was a small crowd of people checking in at the front desk, but it wasn't terribly crowded.
Cloud was just about to exit ShinRa Towers through the extravagant revolving door (one of his favorite things ever) when something across the hallway caught his eyes.
The bar sat directly across from the restaurant, and was usually filled up with people this time of night. However, he could only see one man seated at the bar, swaying back and forth slightly as the bartender set down a bottle on the counter next to him. On closer inspection, Cloud realized that it was his boss sitting there, and that the man was completely drunk.
He knew his boss had a low tolerance for alcohol, which made it seem silly to Cloud that Rufus would go and get himself wasted. And when he had a hangover, Rufus was an absolute bitch to deal with. After the ordeal today, Cloud really didn't feel like putting up with his drunk boss tomorrow and decided to step in. He walked over to the bar cautiously, and took a seat in the barstool next to Rufus.
"Sir? Are you alright?"
Rufus turned to face the younger blond, shot glass in hand. He stared at Cloud for a few moments, then gave him a delirious grin. The man was completely wasted.
"Cloud!" Rufus lunged forward, and Cloud found his boss practically draped over him, his arms wrapped around the younger male's neck. "Thank you thank you thank you!"
"For what, sir?" Cloud shifted uncomfortably in the drunken man's embrace. Sure, having Rufus suck up to him was pretty nice, but the hugging was awkward as hell.
For some reason, Rufus found Cloud's question extremely hilarious. "You're so funny, Cloud!" He laughed, shaking the blond by the shoulders. "You saved my ass in there. Remember?" He jabbed a finger at the ShinRa Sushi restaurant. "That's why I love you so much!" He then leaned in dangerously close to Cloud, his eyes boring into the younger blond's.
And before Cloud knew what was going on, Rufus leaned forward and kissed him.
Cloud was too stunned to react at first. His boss wrapped an arm around his back, pulling him in closer. He felt Rufus's lips press firmly against his own, the bitter taste of alcohol working its way into Cloud's mouth.
Although Cloud would be lying if he said he didn't at all like the kiss, he pressed his hands firmly against Rufus's shoulders and pushed the man back onto his own chair. Rufus was surprised, but grinned again.
"Sir, you need to go home." Cloud stood up from the barstool, motioning for Rufus to follow. The man was too drunk to know what he was doing; if he didn't get him home soon, there was no telling what Rufus would do next. The man had a reputation for being… creative while under the influence.
Rufus slid off of the barstool, but stumbled forward and nearly smacked his head on the floor. Cloud reached out and caught his unstable boss, putting an arm around his shoulder to help steady the man. Slowly but surely, Cloud walked Rufus out of the bar and out to the main lobby. After plopping Rufus down in a chair and making sure the man wouldn't try to get up and go somewhere else, Cloud walked up to the main desk and explained the situation to the nice clerk lady, who immediately called up a limo to take the drunk Rufus home.
Seeing as Cloud had done all that he could do, he decided that he would finally start heading home. After making his way through the doors, he took a quick glance back at Rufus, who was latched onto a security guard that was trying to get him to sit down. Cloud rolled his eyes and laughed. Rufus really was something else.
Once he had safely navigated his way out of the parking lot and hopped onto the sidewalk, Cloud thought back to the kiss he'd gotten from his boss. It hadn't meant anything…right? Rufus had definitely not been in his right mind, and he probably hadn't even known what he was doing. Still, it had been rather…
Cloud shook his head, and got his mind back on track. There was no way he'd seriously enjoyed that kiss. And there was no way that Rufus would probably even remember it. Hell, Rufus probably wouldn't remember anything about tonight when he woke up the next morning.
But whether Rufus remembered the kiss or not, tomorrow was certainly going to be an interesting day at work.
Thanks for reading! ^^ I hope you enjoyed it.
Since I really really want to use ShinRa Towers again, I'm definitely planning on adding more chapters to this story, but they won't all necessarily be a continuation of this plotline. They will revolve more around the resort part of ShinRa Towers. I also want to do more with the pairings here, since there weren't a whole lot of opportunities for that in this particular story. Please keep an eye out for them! =D Pairings in future chapters are subject to change!