A/N: Well, it's about time I started writing again, and playing final fantasy 13 has really sparked an interest for me to write another fanfiction. I hope you all enjoy it, and I apologize if there isn't an update every week, I'm extremely busy because of exams. I didn't know exactly what to write at first, but I remember a saying, "write what you know" and well… I know food!

Some real quick definitions:

Walk-in – a commercial kitchen refrigerator

Truffle – there are actually two types mentioned in this story. 1 is a mushroom like tuber that is very expensive and pungent. 2 is a chocolate dessert made from a firm ganache (mixture of cream and chocolate)

Chapter 1:

The smell of morning was cinnamon.

Or lavender, or any other flavor the woman fashioned into her pastries and breads. She would hum a nameless melody, her delicate hands working dough into submission in the old house that resided in the middle of the small town. It was a well-aged home, the bricks the color of fine wine, the roof a bittersweet chocolate, with little white shutters fixed to every window. The house front had been transformed into her kitchen, where she woke in the mornings and baked. Bright yellow walls surrounded her, intensifying the early morning sunlight.

Such a cheerful color, she would say as she frosted a three-tiered chocolate cake with her special buttercream, always smiling. Always full of life. She had been so full of life…

The fond memory-dream slipped away, leaving a lukewarm feeling that settled into the man's chest as his alarm clock buzzed angrily. He groaned, turning in his bed. By now, Hope Estheim should have become accustomed to rising at the terrific hour of four forty-five in the morning every Monday. He let out a yawn, rolling onto his belly, pressing his face into downy pillow and let out a contented sigh.

Just…five more minutes… the thought passed through his head as he drifted back into a light sleep. He blinked his eyes open, turning over once more to read the beat-up digital clock.

"Five fifty?" Hope shot out of bed, leaving his bed sheets in the form of a shapeless cocoon as he rushed to his bathroom, partly tripping over a pile of jeans. He ran the faucet until the water was warm, quickly washing his face and examining himself ever so briefly after running a brush through his mangled hair. It seemed an unobtainable goal to ever rid himself of the 'bedhead" look—his silvery white hair sticking out at every which way on his head. He had once toyed with the idea of shaving it off, but the very image would have probably gained a combined cringe/laugh from his co-workers. Besides, it was his look.

Pressed for time, he exited the bathroom having taken no shower, and pulled on whatever he could find, picked up his bag, and ran out the door with a slice of leftover bread in his mouth from work yesterday. It was stale, but that was the price one paid with fresh bread—no preservatives to keep the stuff from molding for weeks on end. Hope slid into his jacket, fumbling for his keys to lock up. The next bus was in less than seven minutes and by now; the best pick of the markets had already been bought up by now and afterwards, he had to hall-ass over to work in order to receive the week's shipment, or Fang would murder him. Well, perhaps murder was a lighter way of putting it. In actuality he would be skinned, cut up into bit-sized pieces and sautéed with truffle oil to be put on tonight's menu.

"Freshest, in season ingredients huh?" Hope mumbled to himself. He didn't disagree with the Italian philosophy; it was just a pain in the ass sometimes. Especially when your boss demanded the highest quality ingredients one could find in this city. Hope checked his watch again—three minutes. By now the city had already begun humming with life, the usual business crowds flooding the crosswalks of every corner, dressed in the same stiff neck white collared suits with the same leather briefcases. He hung a left before the crosswalk, doubling his pace and praying he made it on time for the bus.

"Wait!" He called out as the stop came into view. The doors on the vehicle hissed shut and Hope broke into a sprint, just catching the sound of the engine revving up.

"Shit." Halfway to the stop, the vehicle pulled away. The man slowed into a jog, then a walk, doubling over to catch his breath. He made use of the nearest bench, groaning in between ragged gasps for air. The jacket he had put on was now sticky with sweat, his hair windblown.

If I hadn't overslept. He shook his head, clamping his eyes shut and snapped his focus back to his dilemma of having no transportation till the next bus arrived, twenty minutes or so from now.

Fang really was going to murder him.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

"Oh darling, isn't this exquisite?"

"Yes I do agree, however the salad seems a bit off."

"Off you say?"

"Yes off."

"Well perhaps we'll look for a new restaurant next time."

A loud crack sounded from the wooden spoon as it came into contact with Hope's skull. The man winced, nursing the bruise forming on the top of his head. The woman retracted her spoon, scowling up at him. "That is exactly how it will sound when our customers taste the goat cheese and arugula salad." Hope stiffened under Fang's unruly gaze as she circled around the kitchen. Eden would be open in less than an hour, and the owner, Fang Yun, had taken precious time out of her busy schedule to bully the young man. "Now, why do you suppose that is?"

"Because the sous chef overslept again!" came a cheery answer from around the corner. The voice belonged to one of the waitresses and Fang's cousin, Vanille. She emerged from her hiding place, skipping and giggling to give Hope a swift pat on the back. "Third time this week right?"

Hope exhaled, tightening his fists and averting his eyes to the floor. Sous chef was not exactly the right description of his position, seeing as there was another sous chef tending to the kitchen. But by calling him the executive pastry chef, Fang was paying nearly half more of what he was currently making salary wise.Yet at the young age of twenty two, he had managed to work his way up to third in command—a rather astounding feat for someone his age. It had been a blessing that he had found work at Eden, and was able to train under Chef Anya. It was all thanks to his mother's passion for cooking. Without her, he wouldn't have made it this far.

Yet he feared he was one slip up from being fired. "I-I'm sorry," Hope stammered. "No excuses, I heard the alarm go off and I—"

"Yeah, yeah, alrigh' quit your moping. You're not fired…yet," Fang said, making a shooing gesture and turning towards the dining area. A wave of relief swept over Hope, but it was struck dead when Fang continued. "Finish prepping before I take it out of your paycheck."

"Right," he said hurriedly. Hope maneuvered around several cooks braising potatoes, barely squeezing past to the walk-in at the back of the kitchen. Whoever had the idea that commercial kitchens were large and spacious like the ones on the cooking channel were seriously misinformed: Eden's cooks were packed tightly like pickled herrings in an aluminum tin. The person to space ratio hardly varied from restaurant to restaurant. No matter where you worked, you were always fighting for more elbow room. He reached for the handle of the fridge, a big whoosh of cold air biting at his face as he stepped in.

Hope reached out a finger and prodded one of his lemon-honey shortcakes, verifying that they had cooled down enough as to not melt the lavender ice cream that accompanied it. Tonight's menu was also featuring crème brulee, a French chocolate torte with raspberry sauce, and their signature white chocolate truffle cheese cake. Hope had found that a blend of cream cheese, ricotta, and some goat cheese gave the cake a heightened flavor profile as opposed to the ordinary cream cheese.

"Hey kid." Hope jumped at the sound of the voice, eyes bulging from his head. The woman who successfully entered the walk in without so much as a peep began to laugh. "Still skittish as ever, huh?"

"Chef, I don't think it's that I'm skittish so much as you move like a lion about to pounce on a gazelle." Which was a frightening thought, he believed as he rubbed the back of his neck, because Anya was eight months pregnant. It was an extremely odd sight to behold a woman with child running a busy kitchen, but if she wasn't already impossibly intimidating when provoked, the pregnancy added a new depth. Almost like a game of Russian roulette—you'd push her buttons, but you could never quite tell with the hormones when she would be set off. She placed a delicate hand on her hip and rolled her eyes.

"My husband tells me similar things," Anya laughed. Her chestnut colored hair was pulled back tightly under her toque, and she was donned in her signature converse shoes—today of which was a blinding highlighter pink.

"Your husband is a smart man," Hope grinned in agreement.

"I guess he is," She nodded, watching Hope move from shelf to shelf as he verified all his desserts were ready for serving. "Well Cupcake, is everything ready for the lunch rush?" Hope sighed, cringing at his nickname. Cupcake—because he was a male pastry chef, that or it was a mockery of his insatiable sweet tooth. Of the two, the first one held more validity, as well as humor. He had never bothered to ask why she called him that.

Hope nodded, "Just came in to check on the shortcake. Everything is ready for the line, when the lunch rush gets in."

"On top of your game as always, I see," she noted, but Hope bit his lip, and began bouncing on the balls of his feet. Anya raised an eyebrow. "Did you oversleep again?"

"Vanille can't keep her mouth shut, can she?"

"Not exactly. That girl has more energy than twenty lithium energizer batteries," the chef marveled. She finally began to pick things from the shelves, which Hope assumed was her actual reason for coming in here. "I can see why she's probably one of the best servers here. Always chipper, never slacking on moving from table to table. But boy does that girl love to flap her gums." Hope gave her a quiet smile, preferring not to voice his opinion in the delicate matter, and the two left the fridge one after the other.

Just as Hope settled into his station, and the first orders came flocking in from the house, Fang burst through the doors. The whole kitchen came to a grinding halt, everyones' eyes widening and sulking down from the presence of the incredibly irate woman.

"I jus' received two phone calls," said Fang with steely eyes. "The first one was from James. He's not comin' in tonight. Caught some sort of stomach bug."

Oh great, said a faint voice in the back of Hope's mind. As if it wasn't already hectic with Marco on leave because of recent back surgery, their second sous chef was going to make tonight incredibly difficult. But Fang had notfinished informing them of the painstaking night that none of them were prepared for.

"PSICOM is having their twenty-fifth anniversary dinner tonight. I had nearly forgotten about it when one of their receptionists made a call in to confirm the reservations."

A collective groan filled the room as Fang made her second announcement, cut silent as she threw another icy glare at her work force. "Now you listen here kids: this had better be the best damn dinner they've ever sat down to or so help me I am replacing every single one of you by the end of this week." She mustered a forced smile, which looked very intimidating as she rushed back to the dining area. Hope turned to the other pastry chef on duty, a middle aged woman named Marta who continued to shake her head as she piped chocolate garnishes in the shape of butterflies.

"You don't think she's serious, do you?" He asked, setting down a stack of plates at the right side of the line.

Marta sighed, "Honey, I've been working here for more than fifteen years, and never once have I heard that woman utter a single empty threat in the presence of her employees." Hope felt his heart drop into his stomach at about the same time he dropped one of the plate he had been holding onto the floor. It would seem fate had put a large crack in the proverbial thin ice Hope had been skating on this past month. He cursed under his breath, pulling one of the towels from his apron and began picking up the large shattered pieces.

Already off to a great start… Marta had left her station to grab the dust pan and Hope sighed as he dropped the ceramic shards, towel and all, into the garbage. He loved his job, but there were some days, like today, which made him want to crawl into a hole and never come out.

Chef Anya came into his line of view, a thin line forming on her lips, "Hope, when you're done cleaning, we need you over at the fire. I'm pretty sure you were already aware of this, but pulling double duty tonight." She left the man standing there, mouth slightly agape.

Never had crawling into a hole seemed like such a good option.