This was his happy place. The heat of the stove top. The smells of sauces as they simmered. The sound of knives hitting their cutting boards. The sound of Tsunade shouting at one of the station chefs.
Sasuke did what he always did when Tsunade Kato was shouting. He ignored it.
He didn’t have time to worry about what was stressing her out. She had fired the head chef which gave him even more to be responsible for. About now he would be checking on the pantry and discussing the tasks the swing cook was required of that day.
But apparently the swing cook had other things to do.
Sasuke opened the door to the walk-in and glared at Ino Yamanaka. She was curled inward to keep warm as she whispered into her cell phone. She shrieked when she realized who was staring her down with his arms crossed in front of his chest.
“Has the delivery come in today?”
“Yes, Yamanaka. We were expecting a shipment today from Sabaku’s farm. Since you’re in the pantry I’m going to assume that you received the order.”
“Lighten up, dude.” Sasuke grit his teeth at the sound of Naruto’s nasally voice. “Gaara just pulled up around back.”
“Inuzuka and Uzumaki!” Sasuke called out to the busboys that were making puppy eyes at the commis pâtissier in the hopes of being fed. “To the truck.”
Sasuke rolled his eyes at their grumbling. He was sure that they were close to cracking the little resolve the Hyūga girl had and he had interfered. In a moment the pâtissier would be checking in on her and they wouldn’t get another opportunity until dinner service had ended.
“You’ll be the garde manger tonight, Yamanaka.”
“Pantry chef, right, got it.” The blonde girl nodded her head enthusiastically. As she walked past him she muttered, “English dude, speak it.”
Resisting the urge to roll his eyes again, Sasuke began taking inventory of the meats and the daily catch. Tsunade boasted always fresh and it helped that her farm-to-table restaurant happened to only be a fifteen minute drive through city traffic from the waterfront fish market.
Everything seemed to be in order so he went in search of the head waiter to inform him of the change to the plat de jour.
In the narrow hall between the kitchen and the bar among the hooks on the wall was a suit bag.
That’s not supposed to be here…
Sasuke turned over the slip of paper pinned to the suit bag. HARUNO was the only thing on it.
Frowning, Sasuke headed to the bar where he could see Kakashi’s silver hair poking out from behind an orange book.
“Any idea why there’s a suit bag on my smock hooks?”
“Really?” Sasuke cocked an eyebrow up. Kakashi just shrugged.
“New staff for front of house.” The head waiter, Neji, swung up the counter to get behind the bar. “Don’t scare this one away too.”
Wait staff. Sasuke’s brows furrowed and he scoffed. It wasn’t his fault that the waitress had been completely incompetent. She should have counted herself lucky he didn’t know her name. With the exception of Tsunade, Neji, and Kakashi he only knew the names of the employees he yelled at.
The one incident shouldn’t have been enough to have her running away. He didn’t even open his mouth! All he did was glare at her when she knocked over the order she was supposed to be picking up.
“Service is in an hour so let’s get the meeting out of the way.”
“Either yelling at the kitchen porter or the boucher.”
“It was most likely Lee,” Neji sighed.
“Are you saying that because you have a thing for the butcher or…?” Kakashi trailed off at the look Neji gave him.
“Either way here are the specials for today. We have added a new grill option that’s also available at the bar. I’m sure you noticed when you were stuffing the menu folders.”
Neji nodded barely looking up from the menu. He was trying to memorize the changes and specials for the night. He wasn’t one to need to consult a menu throughout dinner service.
“And please refrain from acting like a complete snob tonight with the guests.”
“She wanted a red with her halibut!”
“Kakashi?” Sasuke ignored Neji’s outburst and stared pointedly at the bartender.
“I’ll keep an eye on him.”
Despite his aloof appearance, Kakashi was someone Sasuke could trust. He was the person that introduced him to Wisteria Place after he was brought back home from Paris by his cousin Obito. He stood behind him and offered him a place to stay when he was temporarily disowned for pursuing a culinary career.
After meeting with front of house staff, Sasuke returned to his kitchen where hopefully no one had burned anything down. He should have more faith in his fellow kitchen staff members, but sadly he did not.
He would have more faith in Yamanaka as his swing cook if she wasn’t constantly being distracted by something. Distraction usually came in the form of her boyfriend, the other bartender, but today that job belonged to her cellular device.
“You better be on your way Forehead! Neji hates tardiness more than he hates haircuts.”
Sasuke almost snorted at the comment but he was more frustrated with her than amused.
“What does ‘almost here’ mean? Hello? Are you there? Sakura!”
“Yamanaka what’s the rule in my kitchen?” Sasuke swiped the cell phone from her hand.
“No! Chef Uchiha, I need to have this call right now.”
“Yamanaka’s friend? Yeah, she’ll call you back when it’s her break time if she gets a break tonight—”
“You wouldn’t! No!” Ino wailed when she saw his expression as he continued to talk into her phone as he made his way to the back door to check on the handling of the produce delivery.
“I am confiscating her phone. Don’t attempt to call back.”
Sasuke blinked when he heard the warning through the phone and it’s echo from the back alley. It was the last thing he heard before he was tackled, someone’s very pink head ramming straight into his sternum.
She didn’t mean to be running late but the trains were always unpredictably delayed. She had adjusted her schedule for the rush hour but not for the trains to be running on a single track.
Instead of transferring lines like she was supposed to, Sakura decided she was better off heading to Wisteria Place on foot. Or by roller skate.
Rolling down the sidewalk, she hoped she would make it in time. Normally it would have been faster to take the train but the transfer was delayed by over an hour.
Dodging pedestrians and beating the blinking walking sign was no problem. Usually when she was speeding in her skates she was also trying to dodge the hits of opposing blockers as she tried to score points.
It just didn’t help when Ino was blowing up her phone with her calls.
“I’m almost there. I just had to switch to my skates.”
“What does ‘almost here’ mean?” Sakura grunted as she hopped onto a curb. “Hello? Are you there? Sakura?”
“No! Chef Uchiha, I need to have this call right now.”
“Yamanaka’s friend?” A smooth baritone replaced Ino’s haughty soprano. “Yeah, she’ll call you back when it’s her break time if she gets a break tonight—”
Ino wailed in the background of the other end.
“I am confiscating her phone.”
Sakura rounded the corner and dodged a parked truck she hadn’t expected. She didn’t hear what else was said as she spun around a gangly blonde young man.
“Watch out!” She shouted too late as she spotted a tall man all in black come out of the door she was hoping had been the back door to Wisteria Place.
Sakura was used to taking hits in roller derby but the body she slammed into was hard and the impact was like hitting a wall.
Her face slammed into a chest and her hands clawed, trying to grab onto something so she wouldn’t head face first onto the floor. They found purchase gripping onto muscular triceps and the hands of the owner found their way around her body to her back. Together they found her balance and steadied her.
Grateful, Sakura beamed upward and prepared to thank the man that caught her. She was met with a set of livid smokey gray eyes.
“What are you doing in my kitchen?”
“Wha—? Your kitchen? Doesn’t Tsunade Kato own this restaurant?”
“Ms. Kato’s restaurant but my kitchen,” the tall man fumed. “Skates aren’t allowed in my kitchen and neither are random strangers.”
Sakura’s face flushed red and her cheeks puffed out. It wouldn’t do to get into a fight on her first day at work but he was pushing all the wrong buttons.
“Haruno!” Tsunade stormed into the kitchen. “About time you got here.”
“Hello Ms. Tsunade!” Sakura straightened up and gave Tsunade all of her attention. “Sorry I’m late, it won’t happen—”
“Enough rambling!” Tsunade barked. “Neji is in the wings waiting to give you further instructions. Don’t keep him waiting any longer. Uchiha, you need to be getting ready for service not bothering my wait staff.”
Tsunade turned to lead her down a hallway. Sakura skated backwards sticking her tongue out at the chef and only turning back around after seeing his jaw slightly drop at her immature behavior.
He waited for her to screw up.
Sasuke wasn’t expecting much out of the short girl with the rose gold hair.
He could admit that she cleaned up nicely after she changed out of her torn up jeans and raglan crop top into the white button down shirt, black dress pants, black vest and red tie uniform required of the wait staff. Her long hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail showing off a proud high forehead.
And she must have impressed Neji because she was put right to work. Neji only supervised her directly for the first table.
She was always the fastest to retrieve her orders. It was if she knew exactly how long something would take to prepare and timed the kitchen right after she dropped her tickets. Sasuke searched for a watch on one of her wrists but didn’t find one. Either it was coincidence or she was able to calculate the time in her head.
“Pretty!” He heard her squeal when Yamanaka placed a salad with julienned vegetables on the serving counter.
He rolled his eyes at how smug Yamanaka looked when she returned to making the various ribbons necessary for their ribbon salad. It wasn’t even the most complex dish he ever had her prepare.
But there was a sort of power that compliments gave. When he was younger and worked on desserts he hated, it always made his chest blossom with warmth when he saw his mother and brother’s faces full of joy when they took their first bites.
It was probably the same for Yamanaka, to hear from her friend how well of a job she did.
And Yamanaka typically excelled in everything she did in the kitchen. She was the only person he had ever accepted as his commis. As the swing cook he trusted her at whatever station he placed her in.
If she were quieter he would probably be on friendlier terms with her instead of being the coworker that was constantly snapping at her.
“Thank you,” the pink haired skater told him like she did every single time he handed her a plate. She had been quite amicable despite how they had met earlier.
He refused to admit that her shy smile when their eyes met, was charming. Refused to admit that by the end of service he was a little impressed with how well she handled herself.
“Haruno’s good with guests,” he heard Neji comment as he turned in his review to Tsunade. He added, “It also helps that she’s pretty.”
“That it does!” Tsunade barked out as she laughed. “Can you talk to Tenten and Lee? Her job is to debone fish, not to debone Lee. I can’t afford to find a new kitchen porter right now.”
Sasuke snorted. Not many people were able to deal with the hiring process and put up with both Tsunade and him. The kitchen porter was an odd one and took all criticism with the widest grin humanly possible. Sasuke was sure he was a masochist.
“Alright, I guess that’s all for tonight. Finish cleaning up and you’re good to go.” Tsunade stood and stretched. “Gonna see if Kakashi minds mixing me up a cocktail before heading out.”
It was time for Sasuke’s favorite time of the night. The staff would be wiping down their stations and then he would have the kitchen to himself. There was something therapeutic about taking nightly inventory in his quiet kitchen.
Sasuke sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. As much as he loved his job, he was ready to go home and take a hot shower for his sore muscles. Standing for hours every day was taking a toll on him.
Sighing again, he unbuttoned his smock as he shuffled his feet toward the locker room. He was always the last one to leave besides Kakashi and Tsunade who would toss back a couple of drinks before heading home.
So to say he was shocked to see the new waitress huddled in a corner would be an understatement. But nothing shocked him more than what he saw her doing.
“What are you eating?”
“What?” She drew her can of sweet corn closer to her body, as if she were trying to shield it from him. “Not like I took this from your pantry.”
Sasuke scoffed, crossing his arms in front of his chest. Of course she hadn’t! Wisteria Place didn’t use any canned products. They even made their own mayonnaise.
“You’re not seriously eating corn straight out of a can?”
Sasuke had seen some disgusting eating habits. Inuzuka and Naruto were some of the worst offenders. And as much as he turned his nose up in disgust at instant ramen, at least Naruto has never stooped so low as to eat canned corn as though it were normal.
No. That wasn’t happening. Not at Wisteria Place. It was unacceptable.
“Hey!” The waitress whined when Sasuke snatched the can out of her hands. He threw the can into the trash can. “I was eating that!”
“I paid for that! It was my last can you ass.” Her cheeks flushed a dark pink in anger. “What am I supposed to eat now?”
Sasuke rolled his eyes and shuffled back into the kitchen. He turned slightly and locked eyes with the pouting girl. He sighed and beckoned her to follow him with a nod of his head.
“Sit. And don’t talk.”
She hopped up onto one of the counters and he resisted the urge to snap at her for putting her bottom where they prepped food. He had already shouted his voice hoarse and no longer had the energy to talk.
He pulled out the cod he was saving for his lunch the next day and some mussels from the fridge. He brought them over to the stove top where he set a pan to bring some wine to a boil. He tossed in the mussels and shook the pan until the mussels opened up.
If it weren’t for the fact that he kept seeing her sitting there from the corner of his eye as he made his way around the kitchen to grab more ingredients he would have forgotten that she was there.
The only noise she made was one of distaste when he shook the cayenne pepper into the house-made mayonnaise. He stopped in his mixing and raised a brow at her. She clammed up, letting out one last giggle.
The waitress had leaned over to prop her elbows on her thighs, lips slightly parted as she watched him, her eyes sparkling with wonder.
He was sure the heat on his face was from the stove as he seared the cod not from feeling flustered from being watched so intensely.
He plated the cod and mussel aoli in the same manner he would beautifully plate a dish for dinner service. Just because she wasn’t a guest didn’t mean he would serve her anything less than perfect. He delicately garnished the cod with red bell pepper slices and handed it to her.
“Here. Real food.”
Sakura was entranced. She knew through Ino and her own mother how much work went into cooking but never had she seen the task look so beautiful.
Chef Uchiha was art in motion. When he was quiet and at work it was hard to relate him to the same man that had yelled at her after she ran into him by the backdoor or simply grunted when communicating with the wait staff.
Sakura swallowed hard watching his forearm muscles flex when he shook his pan or whisked the contents in his bowl.
Nothing sexier than a man cooking, huh? A voice in the back of her mind whispered and her face warmed up.
Her eyes wandered from the way his snake tattoo coiled around his forearm to his broad shoulders and down to the way the seat of his pants fit on his rear.
Sakura was so distracted by her thoughts that she was caught off guard when Chef Uchiha stood in front of her, a beautiful plate of seafood in his hands.
“Here. Real food.”
She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Technically, sweet corn was real food.
“Thanks,” she muttered when their fingers touched when he slid the plate into her hands.
Sakura dug in and couldn’t help the moan she let out from the first bite. Despite the spice sitting on her tongue, the fish and mayonnaise was delicious.
And to think she had been satisfied with her can of corn only twenty minutes ago.
The feeling of being watched wouldn’t go away so she looked up, still chewing, and narrowed her eyes at Chef Uchiha. He had a smug smirk on his face.
Stop with the arm crossing already, she groaned inwardly. How did being a cook cause guns like those?
“You may have a point,” she grumbled. He only laughed through his nose and then moved away from her to clean up his station.
“Clean up when you’re done. I gotta cut the lights soon.”
Sakura ate as quickly as she could while still savoring the food. It had been a while since she had freshly cooked food. If she was lucky Ino would make her something when she was home in their apartment but usually Sakura was on her own.
“Come on.” Chef Uchiha was waiting for her in the hall when she was done changing. “Tsunade already went home so I gotta lock up.”
Out in the alley, Chef Uchiha had a Kawasaki waiting for him. Sakura had to take the train so that was where they parted.
“A Ninja huh?” Sakura whistled at his bike.
He simply raised an eyebrow at her as if he didn’t expect her to know anything about motorcycles.
“Well, g’night Chef Uchiha!”
Chef Uchiha snorted and put his helmet on.
“It’s just chef in the kitchen.” He paused for a moment before finally saying, “Good night, Haruno.”
Sakura beamed at him. She was sure he hadn’t even bothered to learn her name at all.
“Good night Sasuke,” she altered her previous farewell and waved at him before heading home.
It was a good first day.