The silence of Sanji's apartment was broken by the soft click of his alarm before the news anchor attempted to rouse the chef from the confines of his covers.
"-Is partially caused by the heat wave hitting the-" The pleasant voice explained as the harsh clash of plastic on plastic muffled out the rest of his sentence when Sanji's sleep drunken hand came down on the snooze button.
Sanji cracked his eyes open, yawning and turning in bed so his face disappeared into his pillow. The gentle breeze ruffled his thin curtains slightly, allowing an occasional beam of sunlight to slip inside the room and reflect in the blond locks on the back of Sanji's head.
The alarm began again; blaring the chorus of an old classic that Sanji couldn't remember the name of. His 5 more minutes were up. The blond groaned as he sat up and turned off his alarm. Green digital letters spelling out a boxy 'good morning' before they reverted back to their numbers.
After a long shower and getting dressed appropriately for work and eating his last home-made croissant Sanji took his cup of coffee out the door of his apartment. He sat on the doorstep, long legs spread out down the concrete staircase that lead out to the alley. HIS alley. The alley housing his door and his vacant parking lot.
Why should he have a car when the Baratie was only a 10 minute walk away?
He sat for a while and smoked his morning cigarette, watching the pedestrians pass by his alley without as much as a single glance; like a one way mirror. Beautiful women in their flowery dresses swung their hips elegantly as they passed, providing Sanji with plenty of eye candy as he drunk his morning coffee.
He'd almost emptied his travel-cup and finished his first cigarette of the day when he felt a soft brush against his foot. There it was, like clockwork. Sanji watched as a few cats gathered around him, looking up at him expectantly as they climbed the concrete half-wall at the back of Sanji's alley.
Sanji had a weak spot for strays. He reached inside, grabbing a bag of dry cat food and pouring some in the large bowl hidden along the concrete steps. The cats gathered, crunching away at their artificial-chicken flavored kibble. Sanji tossed the bag back inside before locking up and setting off to work.
Sanji bid all the lovely ladies a good morning as he walked, enjoying the walk through winding backstreets and small rows of apartments. He lit himself another cigarette as he walked, taking the turn down the main street that hosted the Baratie. The homely little restaurant stood out nicely among the multiple fashion boutiques and cozy little cafés.
Sanji's curled brow furrowed when he glared at the giant yellow construction crane towering menacingly over the small restaurant. It wasn't moving today, maybe they finally decided to stop construction? Whatever the reason, Sanji inhaled deep and enjoyed the silence over the street.
Sanji grit his teeth around the cigarette filter, hiding his clenched fists in his pockets as he glared at the steel beams dangling from the crane. That damn construction site RIGHT behind the Baratie had been making noise and scaring off customers for the past month.
It even got so loud at some parts of the day that the chef's couldn't hear themselves think. The headaches had almost gotten persistent now, the throbbing pain barely managing to fade in the moments between work hours.
Naturally the people building the hotel were doing it on purpose, trying to bully the Baratie into selling its lot to them. They'd persistently tried to trick the old man into selling it so it could be demolished, turning into a pool-park or some shit.
Sanji felt the bile rise in his throat at the thought alone. There was no way Zeff was going to sell the Baratie.
The Baratie wasn't just Sanji's workplace. He'd helped build the place as a child alongside his adoptive father. He'd lived on the top floor of the restaurant for years before he moved out. Sanji stepped inside the restaurant by the staff door, looking at the slightly crooked floorboards. It was easy to tell what boards had been arranged by him.
"oi, Sanji! Today's soup duty is yours, right?" Patty made his way over to the blond, bizarrely proportionate hands on his tiny hips. "What should I write on the board? 'The usual swill' or have you named it?"
"Call it the 'Patty-gets-his-face-kicked-in-before-noon-special .'" Sanji threatened casually as he donned his apron, killing his cigarette in the overflowing ashtray before he turned to Patty. The older man was frowning at him, white chalk rubbing off all over his hand as his oversized fist clenched around it.
"Just because you're the assistant head chef doesn't mean you can talk shit like this forever!" Patty stomped off in a foul mood, the frown on his face causing Sanji to grin as he washed his hands thoroughly. Patty would name today's soup 'Sanji special' like usual; it was what the customers were familiar with after all.
The name was starting to stick after all these years. It was probably going to confuse a lot of people when he finally DID name it. Sanji got to work, the soup took a few hours to boil to perfection. If he wanted it ready for the lunch-rush he'd have to get started.
The other chefs were discussing how nice it was to be able to work in relative silence, theorizing about why the construction next door had been halted. Sanji was about to point out that they shouldn't rejoice just yet, it wasn't even 9 am, when a loud rumble shook the tableware.
"AH! It's like they are setting off bombs!" one of the chefs wailed, catching the stack of bowls he'd dropped during the shake. "-are those bastards trying to brings down the Baratie!?"
"That could very well be." Sanji turned back to the pot, watching the water starting to boil as another tremble rippled the water. "Don't worry about it, the Baratie is sturdy enough to handle it. I helped build it myself."
The chefs whined for a bit and got back to work, cursing obnoxiously each time a clash or rumble echoed through the back of the restaurant. There sure was a lot of strange sounds coming from that construction site, different sounds than usual.
The soup looked perfect.
Sanji couldn't help but smile at the sight as he lowered the heat and watched the broth shimmer. The other chefs came over, glancing into the pot and taking deep inhales of the almost intoxicatingly delicious smell. There was never any leftover of this soup, if the customers didn't eat all of it, the chefs in the kitchen fought over the last bowlfuls.
It was the first thing Sanji invented in the kitchen, he'd been experimenting and testing it since he first started watching Zeff cook. He'd been making it for so long he knew the recipe by heart and had truly perfected the taste. Even Zeff couldn't deny that the soup was excellent.
The old man had never told him the soup was good, but Sanji could see it on the telltale twitch of his braided mustache when he liked something.
Lunch rush was starting, Sanji left the coup on slow boil with the lid on to preserve the flavor as he started working on the rapidly growing pile of orders. Thankfully the noise from the construction site had stopped an hour ago, whatever they were doing before was over or they were taking a lunch break.
"Oi, Sanji!" Carne walked over, patting Sanji's shoulder with a worried look on his face. "I think this order came from a health inspector or a critic or something. He's ordering soup."
Sanji half turned and gave the order a bored glance. "So? The Baratie is clean and the soup is excellent." Sanji turned back to the pancakes he was frying, flipping them off the pan and onto a plate with gusto. "If he's important, you shouldn't keep him waiting."
Carne didn't move for a minute as he waited for Sanji to garnish the plate and pass it onto a waiter. When Sanji's hands were free, the other chef forced the order into his hand, giving him an annoyed look. "Serve him your soup. You're the only one who knows what's in it after all."
Sanji frowned, feeling like throwing the order back just to show Carne that he couldn't be bossed around. But the critic had already waited two minutes longer than necessary, and it WAS true; he was the only one who knew what was in the soup after all.
"Fine." Sanji agreed, serving up some of his soup on a tray with the bread and drink on the order sheet. Carne eyed him nervously and Patty demanded to see if the bowl was clean before he allowed Sanji to leave the kitchen with the tray.
The man on table 12 DID look like a critic or an inspector. His carefully groomed pink hair and pinstripe suit clashing horribly with all the casually dressed people enjoying their lunch. If this guy was a critic, it was a stroke of luck that he happened to arrive right now when the construction next door was silent.
"Your order sir." Sanji said in the most polite tone he could muster, serving the perfectly shimmering clear soup on the table and the basket of bread next to the frowning man. The smell of cologne was stank and pretentious and the man gave Sanji a haughty glare.
"Finally! I'm a famous critic you know, and so far the service here is not scoring very high." The man said with a victorious smirk, glancing around the dining hall. "-and neither is the interior decoration, this place looks like a dump."
Sanji's knew he was being bated, but he refused to give this man the satisfaction. "I am terribly sorry for the wait sir; we have a packed house today." Sanji apologized insincerely in his most sugary voice.
"I don't want your excuses! Go and get me sparking water." The man said with a huff, waving Sanji off rudely with his manicured hand and custom made knuckle jewelry. "And I want LIME in it, not lemon."
"Right away, sir." Sanji managed to spit out relatively politely though his grit teeth. He had a feeling Carne just dumped this guy on him because he was a pain in the ass to wait on. Next table of screaming children was CARNE'S problem.
Luckily they had lime in the fridge and they were spared the frantic rush to the next door grocery store. Sanji made sure to give the glass an extra wipe with a cloth before serving the water on it, dropping in a couple of ice cubes and the lime into the frizzing drink with a scowl.
When Sanji got back to the dining-hall, he could see the critic tuck something into his pocket, smirking joyfully to himself before he raised his overly-decorated hand. "WAITER!" The man screamed, his face suddenly contorted in disgust.
"Yes sir?" Sanji asked softly, placing the ordered drink on the table with a small flourish. Everyone in the restaurant was watching, Sanji could feel the wide eyes of lovely ladies on his body. The man pointed to his soup plate, glaring up at Sanji from his seat.
"What sort of sick joke is this? What is a BUG doing in my soup!?"
There was a low murmur in the entire restaurant, people pointlessly rearing their heads to try to see what was going on. Sanji took a look into the man's soup, indeed, there was a bug in there, pathetically kicking it's back legs as it slowly drowned in the delicious soup.
"I'm not an expert in bugs, so I'm not sure." Sanji said calmly, trying to keep the venom from his words when the man glared at him. "I hope it's doing what you wanted it to when you put it in there."
The man reeled slightly backwards at the accusation, hand subconsciously covering the pocket he probably kept the bugs container. The people in the restaurant were murmuring in shock now, shaking their heads and giving the critic nasty glances. The man was humiliated, and furious.
"What sort of dump is this!? Serving insects in their food!?" The man howled, pointing furiously to the soup and shaking the table threateningly.
"There are no insects in this restaurant sir." Sanji tried his best to keep his tone calm, tough the man's accusations were starting to grate on his very last layer of patience. "You must have brought it in the small bottle you hid in your pocket moments ago."
The man's eye twitched slightly, growing a shade paler as he attempted to set Sanji on fire with his glare alone. "Y-YOU BASTARD! You are a WAITER! How DARE you speak back to me!?"
"I'm not a waiter, sir. I'm the assistant head chef." Sanji said calmly, malice in his voice as the bug stopped moving. "-Your soup is getting cold."
"Fuck this soup! I'm not eating it! IT HAS A BUG IN IT!" The man howled, throwing the table over in a fit of rage and shattering the bowl of soup on the floor. Sanji watched the bug twitch in the puddle of soup, people in the restaurant gasping in shock as bread and broken glass rolled over the floor.
The soup soaked into the floor, slowly spreading it's bizarre pattern along the cracks in the floor and seeping into the bread. The lime crushed under a piece of the glass, sparkling water fizzing it's last and soaking into the crumbled tablecloth.
"If you hadn't put that bug in, the soup would have been fine. Even picking it out would have been alright." Sanji said slowly, crouching down to try to save the white tablecloth from soaking in too much of the soup.
"What sort of bullshit is that to say to a customer!?" the critic yelled out, stepping on Sanji's hand and crushing it into the broken glass and soup littering the floor. "This place is history! The moment I get the health inspector in here this dump will be shut down!"
Sanji felt the glass cut into his skin as the man put more pressure on his hand. The last of his self control slipped out with the blood mixing into the soup under his palm. He blacked out, his body moved by itself, fuelled by rage as Sanji whipped his legs over his head, kicking the man into a wall across the room with a furious roar.
Customers screamed and lovely ladies covered their beautiful heads with dainty hands as the pink-haired man crashed against the solid woodwork, rattling the decorations on the wall. Sanji ran over to the man, catching him by the throat and raising him into the air to glare at him.
"Don't you go ruining our food." Sanji hissed up, ignoring the feeling of the critic's thudding pulse against his palm. "-Your self-righteous crap won't work in this restaurant."
"h-hey! Sanji!" The other chefs came running, and the blond dropped the critic unceremoniously on the floor. "Don't beat up the customers!"
Sanji frowned, anger trembling hands slid into his pockets looking for the reassurance of his packet of cigarettes. "He broke our table and tableware, ruining our food and disturbing the mood for our other customers-" Sanji grimaced, glaring up at Patty who looked absolutely horrified.
"T-that's bullshit!" The critic sat up and grimaced. "Treating your customers this way! How do you even stay in business!" The man glared up at Sanji, blood dripping from his nose and iron-covered knuckles whitening in anger. "I'm contacting health inspection RIGHT NOW! I'll make sure to DESTROY this shitty little dump!"
The man stood up, grabbing his phone and holding it out to Sanji like it was a sword. "I'll make sure your precious little restaurant will go out of business!"
Sanji grabbed a cigarette, lighting it up with a furious glare at the man as they stared each other down. "Who do you think you are?" Sanji snarled, taking a step closer to the man who backed to keep a relatively safe distance between them. "I'LL KICK YOUR ASS INTO A COMA YOU CORRUPTED PIECE OF SHIT!"
Sanji was ready to jump the terrified critic when the other chefs piled around him, holding him back and begging him to calm down. Sanji's body was trembling with fury, his temped too far gone to be kept in check. Sanji couldn't even hear the other chefs, he couldn't see anything but the red murderous haze around the man who DARED threaten Zeff's dream.
"Owner! Please stop Sanji!" one of the chefs wailed, and the name of Sanji's adoptive father managed to break through Sanji's rage.
"Hey Sanji!" Zeff's voice caught Sanji's attention as the old peg-legged man entered the dining hall, displeased expression on his face as he made his way towards the blond. "Were you fighting in my restaurant again, you idiot?"
"Shut up old man!" Sanji snarled, calming down considerably at the sight of Zeff's frown. "He started it!"
"It doesn't matter who started it you idiot!" Zeff yelled angrily, lashing out as he got right up to Sanji's face. "Do you want to destroy this restaurant you idiot!?"
"This man treated me like a- "The critic complained to Zeff as he stood up, gleeful grin plastered on his face.
"You shut up too! How dare you break our furniture and bring bugs into our establishment!?" Zeff shouted as the critic recoiled, his face rapidly growing paler as Zeff poked him in the chest. "Get out! now! We don't serve the likes of you in here!"
The critic took a few hesitant step back, looking from Sanji's expression to Zeff's with increasing dread as he noticed the disapproving faces of other customers. No one here was on his side, children stuck out their tongue at him and old men shook their heads in disappointment.
"I-I'LL NEVER FORGET THIS! YOU'LL REGRET TREATING ME LIKE THIS!" the man shouted in anger, pointing at Sanji and Zeff with his phone as he ran out of the restaurant with his metaphorical tail between his legs.
When the door slammed shut, Zeff turned to Sanji and frowned deeply. "Sanji. Come talk to me in my office." The head chef said sternly, starting his trek upstairs. Sanji gave the old man a few moments to get up the stairs alone before he exhaled deeply, his anger replaced by guilt.
His temper had gotten the best of him again, Sanji ran a hand through his thick blond hair as he set off to join Zeff in his bedroom, the only "office" the old man had. He found the older man sitting on his bed, the swirling chair facing the bed like it always did when Sanji was in trouble.
"Sit down Eggplant."
Sanji did, feeling ten years old again as he watched Zeff's peg-leg tap the floor impatiently. The silence seemed to drag on forever and Sanji eventually cracked under the pressure and disappointed expression.
"He put the bug in there HIMSELF! He was trying to ruin our reputation-"
"-and kicking a critic into a wall isn't ruining our reputation?" Zeff interrupted, his voice calm and infuriatingly logical.
"But he wasted the soup-"
"But nothing eggplant." Zeff said in a tired tone. "I know why you did it. Personally, I think you are more than justified to break every bone in his body ."
"Sanji." Zeff said calmly and the younger man fell silent. "Someone wants us gone. We need to be careful about how we do things from this point onwards. There might be someone bribing those people, so we can't mess up."
"What are you saying old man?" Sanji groaned, his head was throbbing from a strange mixture of adrenaline and guilt.
"You should go home for today Sanji." Zeff said with an air of finality to it, giving Sanji a very determined look. "Just in case that critic calls the police or something."
"Go home!? Lunch is barely over!" Sanji tried to object, but all he got in return was a kick in the shin.
"Listen here you shitty-brat. We have a dining hall full of witnesses that can assert that man attacked you first when he stepped on your hand." Zeff frowned as he stood up to get a first aid box and took hold of Sanji's hand. The cut was small but the head chef wound it carefully in band aid. "-but if you lose your temper again and attack him in front of the police, you'll be in serious trouble."
Sanji clenched his hand a few times experimentally, contemplating what the old man was saying. Was the Baratie really better off without him right now? The idea alone hurt so bad; way worse than the cut.
"Go home for today. If the police are called I'll tell them you had to go home because that man injured your hand." Zeff gave Sanji a reassuring pat on the shoulder, his tone practically dripping with fatherly concern.
Sanji sighed and ruffled his hair in frustration, gritting his teeth as he cursed himself for his short fuse. The small cut in his palm ached under the bandages and the blond slumped forward in the creaking chair.
"Fine." The younger cook sighed and looked up at his adoptive father, feeling rather dejected at being sent home like a naughty child at his age. "I'm still coming to work tomorrow though."
"You better." Zeff closed the first aid kit with a click and tossed it onto the unmade bed he'd been sleeping on for as long Sanji could remember. "I'm counting this as a sick day shitty brat! Go make the most of it and sleep or something!"
Sanji allowed the older man to shoo him testily down the stairs and to the staff-quarters. Sanji rolled his eyes at the only father he'd ever needed as he put back his apron. He washed his hands as thoroughly as the band aid allowed; getting any remaining soup and blood from between his fingers.
He couldn't remember how long it had been since he left the Baratie before dark. Probably a few years. He usually arrived in the morning and finished dinner shift. Even IF the old man yelled his ears off every time he caught him doing unnecessary overtime.
Sanji sighed as he lit himself a cigarette in the alley behind the Baratie, glaring at the creaking crane of the construction site as he set off for his apartment. He could get himself some lunch and then maybe go for a jog while it was still bright out. He hadn't had a jog in the sun for a while, it was probably the reason he was so pale too.
When Sanji rounded to corner and walked down the alley housing his beaten up front door, he paused. There was an uncomfortable feeling in the air, the hot air was sizzling around him and the smell of hot asphalt was burning his nose. For a minute or two, Sanji stood still and listened, trying to ignore the roar of the traffic and the laughter coming from the coffee shop across the street.
Mewling? Sanji's ears strained, he was no crazy cat lady, but he could tell when there was something wrong with an animal. It wasn't just one cat either, it was several. Crying out in chorus from the other side of the half-wall at the back of his alleyway.
The cook took a few careful steps towards the wall, straining his ears as he stood right in front of the concrete, looking up at the steel rebar jutting out of the half finished top of it. Sanji's eyes squinted as he reached up, running his finger along a particularly rusty looking steel bar.
Except it wasn't rust. Sanji smudged the staling blood between his thumb and index finger, looking up wide eyed to see the almost hand shaped mark of blood smudged across the top of the half wall. His heart was hammering in his chest. The cats had noticed him from the other side of the wall, jumping up and staring at him expectantly. One of them rubbed it's light gray coat along the rebar, smudging a large line of blood along it's fur.
With a single jump, Sanji was on top of the wall besides the cats, looking over the other end of the alley he had never really taken a good look at before. The alley hosted nothing but backdoors and dumpsters until the road took a turn. Directly across from Sanji's wall, at the other end of the rather long back alley, was the construction site.
But where did the blood come from? Did someone gut themselves on these steel bars while jumping over? There was a trail of blood a little further down the alley from the construction site, maybe someone had jumped over from Sanji's side and cut himself on the concrete.
Sanji jumped down from his wall into the other back alley, slipping on something and almost falling face first into a pile of garbage and broken bricks. He managed to catch himself just in time. His palm ached where he'd been cut earlier and he cursed as the cigarette fell from his mouth.
The cook winced slightly as he stumbled to his feet, his breath caught in shock when he noticed the pool of blood smudging the sole of his shoes. There was a body laying against the other end of the half-wall he just jumped over; a blood soaked, motionless body of a young green haired man.
To be continued.
Get ready for another adventure! This one will probably be a bit longer, my first real attempt at a "modern-ish" AU story.
Please tell me what you think so far in the box below!