[fic] Cooking With Zack

Title: Cooking With Zack
Fandom: Final Fantasy 7 (AC AU)
Rating: G
Word count: 1780ish
Summary: Well, someone has to cook when Tifa can't.
Author's Notes: This was a one-comment (in theory) b-day present for [info]chibirisuchan, and she asked me to post it on my journal as a fic so she could link to it. I (greatly) expanded this from the original, since I figured, "Hey, if I'm gonna post it, I'll do it right and fix some stuff and expand it a bit." It's now four pages. ^^;

And my language geekery comes out again, with Cloud lapsing into his native Nibelheim dialect for a bit. There's also a reason why I chose the kind of food mentioned in this; it's something I've played around with for puppyverse and will go into detail about later. *waves Overthinkers Club flag and grins an evil grin* Overthinkiners Unite! XD

This is a Harrow Children happy-ending!verse fic, btw, and takes place after the fic. ;)


"...Why is Zack cooking?" Kadaj said warily as he came out of the kitchen with an apple. Kadaj had been lucky to get that; Zack had been shooing everyone out of the kitchen for the last two hours, but Kadaj could be very persistent when he wanted to, especially when it meant going against Zack.

Cloud looked up from the busted video screen he and Loz were working on. Pieces were spread out all over the table, and Loz was working on one piece, his tongue poking out of the side of his mouth as he concentrated on a delicate wire.

"You did see Tifa today, right?" Cloud said slowly.

Kadaj made a face. "Yes, well, but can't you just fix her?" he said, and took a bite out of the apple after looking it over.

Cloud eyed him. "She has the flu, Kadaj. I can't do anything about the flu."

"So why is Zack cooking?"

"Because we have to eat, and I burn water."

"You cook better than Zack," Kadaj said, and Cloud let out a snort of laughter.

"You've eaten my attempts at cooking before, remember? Yazoo accused me of trying to poison you."

Kadaj hmmphed. "You're still better," he said huffily. Cloud's eyebrow went up and a faint smirk touched his lips. Kadaj was nothing if not loyal (or "obsessive," as Tifa would put it), fiercely so. At least this time, while Kadaj's loyalty was misplaced because Cloud well and truly could not cook at all (something he was happy about in an odd way, because at least he knew that failing was well and truly his own), it wasn't weird or weirding him out (either by the nature of Kadaj's focus on him or the unsettling feeling that part of Cloud liked it and how easy it would have been to completely control Kadaj; it was only by virtue of the fact another part of him always simply said 'But you won't, so stop worrying, silly' that he didn't wonder what in Hel's name was wrong with him), and that was always a good sign.

And he suspected, based on the petulance in Kadaj's voice, that this was less loyalty to Cloud and more Kadaj's seething "hatred" of Zack--Zack was a cockroach and Cloud was by default better.

Of all of his 'brothers,' Cloud thought to himself, and had to fight to keep the smirk from growing, Kadaj and Zack's relationship was the most human, sibling-like of all...in regards to Zack being the big brother that believed it to be his given-by-the-gods right to torment his younger ones.

Specifically Kadaj. He teased the others a bit, too, but it got under Kadaj's skin so much Zack couldn't pass it up.

Zack would tease Loz, but it was a gentle teasing--Cloud had long ago figured out that Loz wasn't simply Sephiroth's 'strength' but the twisting of the childhood Sephiroth hadn't gotten to have. So they did their best, stumbling and uncertain, to try and unkink the twists forced onto Sephiroth that had made Loz into what he was. And so they were gentle, all of them, even if Loz didn't understand it sometimes.

And Yazoo...Zack would try to tease Yazoo, and Yazoo would smirk and turn that teasing into something that made Zack take a few steps back and vow to himself not to do that again. Yazoo was Sephiroth's cunning as well as the strangely dangerous, almost primal pull Sephiroth had had, and Yazoo knew it and used it to his advantage whenever he saw fit. Zack knew full well when he was outgunned.

Kadaj, though...Kadaj was everything high-strung and needy that Sephiroth had hidden; he was the drive Sephiroth had that Jenova had exploited, and Zack needled at Kadaj because of the three, Kadaj was the one who was the neediest of all and most needed to be shown what 'human' really was. And a little, laughing voice in his head said this was good for Kadaj.

...Cloud still spent a lot of time in the church.

"Say that after you've tried whatever Zack is concocting in there," Cloud said with another snort and went back to trying to repair the screen.

Kadaj perched on a chair and ate his apple while watching Cloud and Loz working on the set, and Cloud knew by then that Kadaj was just watching him. Which made things weird, but by then, weird had almost become normal, so normal Zack had almost stopped cracking "kid leash" and "stalker" jokes.

This didn't stop Cloud from fully expecting to wake up one morning with Kadaj staring down at him. The "weird" was, after all, never that far away. For any of them.

"If you're just going to sit there, be useful," Cloud said when Kadaj finished eating, and handed him a set of pliers. Kadaj wrinkled his nose slightly, but took them and then sat down next to Cloud, and Cloud could almost hear Zack snickering in his head.


"Taa-daa!" Zack said with a flourish, laying down two large bowls filled with...well, Cloud had no idea. They looked like really thick stew with hunks of meat and vegetable, only...only the colors...even the rice was...

"That shade of green is not one found in nature," Yazoo said, blinking.

"...Neither is that, what is that, is it orange? Red?" Kadaj said, pointing to the plate of some kind of meat. "I'm not eating that."

"I see why this took you all day," Cloud said blandly. Zack had definitely been working; there were the two thick stew-like dishes, the meat, an oddly-colored fragrant rice, salad, and a plate stacked high with some kind of flatbread.

Zack grinned. "I told Mom I hadn't had food from home in a long time, so she gave me some supplies a few weeks ago when I finally went to visit. You guys are lucky, this is authentic!"

"...Authentic what?" Yazoo said, blinking.

"What is it and how do I eat it?" Marlene said, looking perplexed at the lack of cutlery.

Zack grinned. "The green stuff is spinach and cheese tari, the reddish brown one is chickpea and pumpkin tari. That meat is tone tiki."

"Oh, that clears it right up," Kadaj said sarcastically.

"You eat it like this," Zack said, ignoring Kadaj and taking a piece of the flatbread and tearing off a sizable piece. "Break off a big piece of the bread, and dip it in the sauce," he said, and showed her by then and dipping it into the green sauce, scooping it so a piece of cheese was on the bread. Marlene, Denzel, and Loz watched him openly, with Yazoo watching surreptitiously. Zack brought the loaded piece of bread over to his mouth and took a bite. "Mmm, perfect!" he said around the mouthful of bread, and Marlene took a deep breath, grabbed a piece of bread, and tore off a piece. She tentatively dipped it into the brownish sauce and then took a bite.

Her eyes went wide, and she immediately dipped another piece into the sauce, this time almost drowning the bread in it. "This is so good!" she said, her whole face lighting up.

Loz seemed to take that as a sign it was safe, and so he picked up some of the bread and dipped it into the green sauce with one hand as he reached for some of the meat with the other.

Zack grinned. "You use the bread to pick that up, too," he said, and promptly did so himself to illustrate.

Yazoo and Kadaj exchanged glances, then both of them pointedly looked at Cloud and waited. Cloud snorted to himself and picked up some of the bread, then stared at the sauces. They really weren't colors he'd ever seen occurring outside of poisonous plants that would melt your face off, but so far, Loz and Marlene were still alive, so he figured it wouldn't kill him. Zack had managed to live off the Nibelheim food Tifa made, even though more than once he had gone cross-eyed and yelped, "I can't even pronounce that!" when they would try to tell him the names of things (although Cloud honestly had no idea why 'Speckpfannkuchen' was that hard to say). Zack'd always been good about it, no matter what Tifa put in front of him, even trying the blood sausage she'd made one day, so Cloud figured he could manage food from Gongaga. Plus, the reddish brown sauce kind of looked like Nibelheimer Paprikahuhn stew, so he figured that would be safe.

...Or so he thought until he took a bite and the spiciness made his tongue feel as if it had been lit on fire. He swallowed and groped half-blind for a glass of water and downed it at once, but he still felt as if someone had set off a Firaga in his mouth. "Sp-spicy!" he managed to splutter out, choking.

"Er," Yazoo said slowly, slightly wide-eyed. "I don't think that's a normal reaction to food."

"I'm not eating that," Kadaj said immediately, staring at Cloud, who had by then reached for Kadaj's glass of water as well.

Zack, being unhelpful, was laughing his head off. "Oh, Rahmuh, don't die over there! Sorry, kid! I guess I should have warned you, huh? I didn't even think about that. And it's safe, shrimp. Try the spinach tari. It's not as spicy."

"I'm not eating that," Kadaj said more forcefully, and glared at Zack for the 'shrimp' part to boot.

"But it's good!" Marlene and Loz said at the same time.

"Well, this means there's more for you," Kadaj said, now staring wide-eyed at Cloud, whose face had gone completely red and had tears streaming down it.

"Water's not going to do you any good against spiciness. Drink some milk," Yazoo finally said. Cloud nodded quickly and reached over to take the milk Denzel had poured for himself, and with a choked and coughed out, "Ent--entschuldigung," drank all of it.

Kadaj's eyes bugged out and he stared at Cloud in horror before looking accusatively at Zack. "What just came out of his mouth?! Did you break him?"

Once the tears stopped streaming down his face, Cloud took a deep breath and let out a pained, "So, who's up for some McMoogles?", and Kadaj and Yazoo were on their feet and heading for the door before Cloud could take another breath. Denzel looked torn, then got up and headed for the door, flashing Zack an apologetic smile as he did.

"Heathens!" Zack yelled. "You have no sense of adventure!" he finished as the door slammed behind the four of them as they fled. "And hey, leave some for me!" he yelled and swatted at Loz's hand before Loz ate all the tone tiki.
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Hey, send over the stuff Cloud doesn't want. I'll chow down on it. (Mad keen spicy food addict here - grew up on curry, and now don't really notice spiciness unless it's capable of melting cooking implements.)

Zack, some advice from one spicy food fan to another: to train up newbies, start with something very plain, and provide something acidic to cut the chilli burn (Mum used to use lemon pickle for us when we were kids; tomatoes also work to cut the burn down a bit), or make one of the dishes which uses yoghurt as a final ingredient. A korma or a tikka with coconut milk is usually mild enough. Failing that, provide ample amounts of rice, bread and other bland carbohydrate to bulk out the meal, and let them gorge on that. My guaranteed curries for my brother's family (who are mostly curry wimps) are things like red chicken curry (with lots of rice), chicken korma (with coconut milk in the sauce), or a kedgeree variant which I grew up with as "Mum's fish curry" (smoked fish cooked in a milky sauce, with very little curry powder). Start them on that, then work up to spicier stuff as they gain a tolerance.

But next time Zack's cooking, I'd love an invite!
Oh, and Kadaj's "I'm not eating that" reminds me of years of trying to get my younger brother to eat anything he hadn't tried before. Sisyphus had it easy - he could have been given that task. Eventually, Mum would effectively stand over him and force feed a mouthful, which he'd then discover he liked... but oy, the performance to get to that point.

So I can definitely see Kadaj as the fussy eater of the trio - the one who has very definite likes and dislikes, and doesn't trust anything he hasn't eaten before. Loz is more likely to try anything at least once, while Yazoo would probably research the ingredients, and decide one way or t'other once he'd checked things out sufficiently. I get the feeling Tifa (who strikes me as the practical type, out of necessity) would have a very straightforward policy of "you eat what you're given, or you starve" - no between-meals snacking.
Hee--Kadaj is definitely a picky eater. I can see him being ridiculously fastidious about his food. And Loz is "Hey, it's not moving! I can eat it! :D" Yazoo, yes, waits to see how others react first and then goes in cautiously.

And heh, yup on Tifa. She's of the "either eat what I cooked and like it or cook it yourself" school. Which lead to a lot of terse standoffs between her and Kadaj near the beginning. Luckily, Cloud ate it without blinking, and Kadaj followed his lead. Or else it would have been very, very much like your mom and your brother.
Spicy food is the best thing ever--I went to this Thai restaurant in Tokyo that had food so spicy I was in tears. It was heaven. >XD

And poor Zack, he's just not used to people not being able to handle spicy food--everyone can eat that where he's from!
:3 Keep an eye on and_cupcakes - I'm going to be posting Zack's recipes and probably Tifa's fast remix versions too *sob* why do I do these things to myself as soon as I get the spice balances nailed. Keralan, Goan, and Tamil Nadu cooking in a mashup with touches of Malaysian Chinese on account of how Gongaga's a tropical port city and would be getting both hot-food influences and south-Wutai-fusion influences and and and *headdesk*

...it's like my brain decides that even if I haven't got time for ficcing amid summer crisis mode, I've got to come up with SOMETHING creative, and I have to eat one way or another, soooo it's clearly time to invent more fandom recipes. Or something.

did I mention *headdesk*?
To help out with the Tifa-remixes, there's a link in the comments on my dreamwidth crosspost to a site that had some really awesome-looking Indian food, as well as how to make some of the spices, and some of them were in the "15 minute" range. I'm at work so I can't pull up the links directly, but I'm "joudama" over there. :D