They’re going to have nothing for the banquet.
They’re going to have nothing for the banquet.
“Hey, Yuuri, it’s going to be alright.”
A hand falls on his shoulder, and it takes a second for Yuuri to realize that it’s not the hand shaking, but him. His lungs are too tight for air to get through, and a distant part of him hears the wheeze his breaths make.
“Breathe, buddy!” Phichit grabs him, steering him through the small kitchen until there’s a crate behind Yuuri’s knees and he collapses onto it.
That’s easy for him to say. This isn’t his family’s bakery. He’s not the one who screwed up the brioche twice. He didn’t completely destroy the pâte à choux, and the croissants, and the pretzels. He’s not the one that assured his family over and over again that he was completely capable of managing their contribution to the annual banquet, enough so that he let them take a damn vacation, and then completely failed them. Annihilated the chance to bring more business to their small little inn at the very edge of the capital.
Tears prick at Yuuri’s eyes, but he squeezes them shut to fight it.
“We still have all the tarts and cookies and cakes!” Phichit’s hand squeezes Yuuri’s shoulder, making him wince. He drops it.
“But I…” There’s nothing of his. Nothing to impress… “I didn’t do anything. I just wasted ingredients, and time, and money.”
“There’s your sourdough!”
Yuuri snorts out a laugh. Of all the things he could not screw up, it had to be plain old sourdough. The bread with the least amount of magic in it, that showed the least of his passion for baking.
Something warm plops down on Yuuri’s lap, and it takes a second of blinking through the wire frames of his glasses for his eyes to focus on one of the oven’s small, black dragons snuggling into his apron. A grin attempts to flit its way across his lips as he reaches down to stroke it, a soft rumble building in its chest. Most people might only keep the scaley beasts because their fire heats up the oven like nothing else, but Yuuri’s always liked having the snuggly dragons around.
Phichit finally catches his eyes, worry in the lines around his eyes. “The banquet’s gonna be fine, all right? We’ve got enough to make a display, we’ll just adjust the layout. Not to mention, less stuff means there’ll be less to pack on the horses.”
“Yeah, but if we ruin anything else, we’ll be screwed.” Yuuri bends over, burying his face in soft scales, much to the dragon’s squirming delight.
“And then we get to go to the banquet and eat all the food without having to worry about setting up our own stuff.” There’s a grin to Phichit’s voice. “People already know about your baking, Yuuri, you and your bread have a reputation.”
A reputation for failure. Yuuri takes a deep breath, looking up. This was going to be the year his family’s inn showcased his work. It was going to be the year that he caught everyone’s attention, especially the attention of Victor Nikiforov. The son of the last chefs that ruled the kingdom, trained by Yakov, the royal cook. Everyone knew he was an amazing cook, amazing enough to take the crown once old Plisetsky stepped down. And Yuuri knew that silver hair and that bright smile would forever be just out of reach. Always there at every banquet, to look at and never touch.
Though… maybe he’d at least get lucky enough to snag some of his food this year. If he could brave approaching his table.
Yuuri takes a deep breath. “Do we really have enough to bring?”
“Yep.” Phichit pulls Yuuri back to his feet, the dragon scrambling to the ground and back into its oven to curl up with the salamanders. “We might not have anything to put out to the shop tomorrow morning, but everyone’s always stuffed after the banquet. The most they’ll want is your sister’s coffee.”
Yuuri nods, looking around without focusing on anything. It’s just another banquet, same as ever. It shouldn’t be disappointing.
“Hey, it’s going to be okay.” Phichit wraps an arm around his shoulder.
Yuuri smiles, his first real smile in days. “Thanks. What did I ever do to deserve you for a best friend?”
“Hmmm.” Phichit pretends to think, squinting his eyes and putting his fist beneath his chin. “I mean, technically your parents hired me to help out, and that’s how you got stuck with me. But if you want to pay me back for my fabulous presence, you could always pack up all this stuff by yourself, and let me go galavanting to the banquet to get first dibs on all the food.”
Yuuri laughs, shoving him off. “You can get first dibs on checking out the food while I watch our stand, but no way are you getting out of helping me with this mess.”
After Phichit pouting for a minute, they get to packing it all up. It takes a few hours, but they manage to get everything tucked neatly away into crates. The light shafts into the little kitchen orange and pink in the dust motes—well, probably more excessive flour than actual dust—as Mari walks in.
“If you kids don’t head off soon, you’ll be late.” She leans against the doorway, eyeing their mess.
“We’re almost ready, don’t worry!” Phichit assures as he rushes out the door to go and grab the horses and their carts from the stables.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go?” Yuuri fiddles with the strings of his apron as his takes it off and brushes flour from his black chef coat. “You’ve never missed one before.”
“And you know I never cared about going, I always went to support mom and dad. Anyway, isn’t this going to be your big year?” She reaches out and ruffles Yuuri’s hair.
He ducks away, trying—and probably failing—to fix it, pushing his bangs from his eyes. “It was. But I screwed that up days ago. I don’t have anything to bring.”
“Wait, don’t you have your sourdough?”
Yuuri rolls his eyes. “Yeah, my plain ol’ sourdough. How impressive.”
Mari grins. “Exactly. You’ll be holding a swooning Victor in no time.”
Yuuri chokes on his snort, heat burning up his cheeks. “Th-that isn’t—!”
“We’re ready!” Phichit busts in the door, grabbing one of the crates. “Let’s get moving, or we won’t make it.”
“Go, have fun.” Mari gives Yuuri a push. “I get to enjoy a quiet inn, for once.”
He throws a small smile at her before tossing the dirty apron onto the counter and grabbing the next crate. It’s a tight smile that doesn’t reach his eyes though, and he’s happy he has something to keep his hands busy. There’s no point in him going now, it’s not like Phichit’s going to want to hide in a corner with him. He gets to splurge and eat whatever he wants for a day, sure, but…
But he failed. He failed his parents, he failed himself, and he failed the idol he’s most definitely never going to meet, now.
It took less time to get everything into the carts than it did to pack it all up, but by the time they were done, the light was getting dimmer through the leaves of the tree.
Yu-topia was at the edge of the kingdom’s capital, near the ocean’s coast where the breeze was rolling in cold and sharp that evening. They had a long way to the center of the city, but it gave Yuuri time to accept his fate, and enjoy the view. The clouds rolled in the gentle winds, fading slowly from pink to purple as the light faded. Their path was plenty lit though, the nocturnal sprites emerging and flitting around in glowing clusters, the singing of their wings a soft comfort in the darkness.
Phichit chatted on and off from atop his horse, keeping Yuuri’s thoughts from getting too tangled in themselves—probably on purpose, since he knew him too well. It only distracts so much, though, especially once they start to meet others on the road, and the streets grow wider and wider. Anxiety gnaws at his mind, sweat builds up on his skin, and his hands start shaking. He’ll survive it, he knows this, but that’s the worst part. He has to live with this.
“There it is.” Phichit’s voice is soft as he glances up, and up, and up.
Yuuri follows his gaze, and his breath catches in his throat, all thoughts numb for a blessed second. The castle was less built, and more grown. The branches of trees whorl together into intricate patterns, images and stories woven into every carefully grown branch, every manicured leaf. Lights dance around it all, giving it a sense of movement and life that Yuuri knows will match the sound of the music inside, the lights bigger and brighter than anything he’s ever seen. No one seems to know what they are, and most people think it must be some secret to royal cooking—a recipe no one else knows, and they have to master before their coronation. It doesn’t matter to Yuuri, though. He may see it every single year, but it still knocks him senseless each time.
The crowds push the boys through the streets, and almost through the front gates, when they manage to break free and make a beeline for the side entrance, where a few other latecomers are making their entrance. The whole kingdom’s invited to attend the feast, but only so many are allowed to cater the event along with the highest of royalty. Yuuri’s mother and father worked hard for this honor, and then he had to go and screw it up…
Phichit dismounts, catching Yuuri’s expression. “Uh oh. C’mon, what’s the worst that can happen?”
“I destroy what little reputation my parents have left?” Yuuri’s voice comes out a squeak.
“Little reputation?” Phichit lets out a short laugh. “People might not be traveling out to the edge of the city much anymore, but people still know the Katsuki name. And I’d like to see you try to wreck your parents’ business with that sourdough of yours.”
“I mean…” Yuuri’s pretty sure if he tried, he could. Maybe take loaves of it and start chucking it at the royal chefs. A grin sneaks across his face.
“Besides,” Phichit shoves one of the crates into his arms. “This is mostly stuff your parents made before leaving, and my desserts, right? So if anyone screws it up, it’d be the rest of us.”
Yuuri grumbles, hefting the crate and turning away to hide the fact that he’s still smiling. He still keeps his eyes down as they get everything inside, the servants of the castle helping them as much as the boys allow—you can only trust a stranger so much when there’s food involved. And that’s where he keeps his focus, on the polished wood beneath his feet. For one to make sure he doesn’t trip and ruin any of the baked goods they still have, but also because he doesn’t want to see who’s there. He doesn’t want to compare what they brought to what everyone else has brought, he doesn’t want to be cornered into making small talk before he has to.
Luckily their small table is in the same place it is every year, a corner near the entrance that all the guests will be coming through. At least that means they’ll run out of food quickly, people eager to try the best the kingdom’s chefs have to offer.
“That’s it, I think.” Phichit fiddles with their display. He’s always been better at that sort of thing than Yuuri—he’s happy to bake the goods, but to put them together into something pleasing to the eye, well, he’s never had the knack for it. “And just in time, too.”
Other people are still prepping too, but servants are starting to head towards the front, and in the next minute, there’s a loud creak of a door, followed by the buzzing chatter of hundreds of voices.
Yuuri finally lets himself look around, see what the guests are going to see. Towers of food litter the room, glittering and glowing, and in some cases, even singing. Every chef brings the magic out of food in different ways. Some are more practical, like healers, and others have been banned from ever creating after blowing up a house or shooting a filet of trout through a roof, for the safety of everyone. And then there are those who make it art. That bring out the magic and the life in what they create, the flavors singing in such harmony that the magic bursts with every bite.
That’s what this banquet celebrates.
That’s what Yuuri loves about baking.
“Ooh, if that a fondue fountain?” Phichit bounces a little next to him.
“Go ahead.” Yuuri gives him a tentative push. “I’ll stay here for now, I promised you first dibs.”
“Yuuri, you don’t have to.” Phichit frowns.
Yuuri shakes his head. “I know, but you go. I’m fine.”
After eyeing him for a minute longer, Phichit shrugs. “Your loss!”
And he takes off into the crowd beginning to bustle around them.
Yuuri fiddles with the sleeves of his chef coat, trying to smile and probably grimacing at everyone passing by. At least he doesn’t have to talk to anyone—the crowd pulls them away before they can get out more than a, “Delicious!” or, “Simply divine!” which Yuuri just smiles and murmurs a quick thanks to. It’s almost comforting in its routine, almost enough to get him to relax.
It really is just going to be another normal year, nothing different, nothing changing. Even if he hadn’t messed up his bread, his magic is too subtle to have stood out next to the vibrant sparkles and glimmers of Phichit’s tarts and cookies, or his mom’s glittering and humming hors d’oeuvres.
“Which ones are yours?”
Yuuri nearly jumps out of his skin, staring down at the kid in front of him. Maybe in his mid-teens, his blonde hair braided back, and mouth turned down into a scowl. He looks vaguely familiar, but before he thinks about it, Yuuri points to his sourdough. It glows in a faint imitation of the lights that float around the castle, his inspiration and passion for the one night he gets to see his idol bleeding into the dough as he kneaded it. Not that he even wants to see Victor after screwing everything up, but still.
The kid grabs a piece and shoves it into his mouth, chewing thoughtfully for a second.
That’s when Yuuri catches sight of the tiger crest on his chef coat, and it clicks into place. This is Yuri Plisetsky. Grandson of the current head chef of the kingdom, already a master even though he’s still a teenager.
Who’s now eating his bread, eyebrows furrowed. Yuuri’s knees knock together, and he leans against the table while the teenager chews.
When he swallows, Yuri’s scowl pops right back on his face. “This is it?”
“W-what?” Yuuri squeaks.
“This is all you’ve got? For this banquet?”
“Um… yes? I mean, there’s tarts over there, and those are my mother’s—“
He snorts, cutting Yuuri off. “Pathetic.”
And then he walks off, short head disappearing into the crowd.
Tears prick in Yuuri’s eyes, and he tries to keep his breathing even. Not here, he can’t cry here.
God, he knows he’s pathetic, but he didn’t need anyone saying it.
More people pass by, some eyeing Yuuri warily, but he tries to push through. For his family, if nothing else. But his gut is full of rocks, grinding against each other, making him want to vomit.
“Hey, you need a break?” Phichit pokes his side, lips turned down at the edges.
“I, um, yeah.” Yuuri lets out a breath. “Yeah, I’ll go walk around a bit, if you’ve got the table.”
“Sure, I probably spent too much time out there myself. Have fun?” He asks it, knowing the effort it’ll be for Yuuri after the past week of failed prep.
“I’ll try.” Yuuri attempts a smile before pushing himself into the crowd and losing himself in the pull of it.
He knows that his chef coat makes him stand out, but he’s not the only one in the crowd wearing one. And who knows of him? He’s been here every year, sure, but it’s not as if he’s really ever been someone to notice. His parents own the inn, he just bakes bread.
With a sigh, he looks up—and finds his feet took him to the one place he always goes every banquet, the one place that he didn’t know if he wanted to be at this year: the royal table. And it truly is magnificent. Even picked over, the remaining food still still create the illusion of movement and still wafts smells that has Yuuri drooling. And only a few yards away, the royal family themselves.
But Yuuri only has eyes for one. His silver hair is as short as it was last year, but his chef’s coat in completely different, all pinks and maroons and golds wrapped about him in a way that Yuuri can’t help to admire, even if it’s less than practical. And of course his eyes, blue as the ocean…
Are looking at Yuuri.
A heart-shaped smile breaks out across Victor’s face, and he waves.
Yuuri can’t even breathe.
He’s just being nice, he’s just greeting another chef that came to taste his display, he knows this. But Victor’s never looked at him before. Victor’s never waved at him, definitely not.
So Yuuri does the only thing he can do. He bolts.
He runs through the crowds, accidentally stumbles through the dance floor, until he’s on the other side of the room. He leans up a wall, lungs burning as he gasps in air, squeezing his eyes shut. That was dumb. He shouldn’t have run. Now Victor probably just thinks he’s crazy. Which, maybe he is.
Yuri’s word bounces around his head, and Yuuri’s stomach churns with how true it rings.
“You look like you could use a drink.”
Yuuri blinks open his eyes, squinting through his glasses to find a man there, holding out a glass of something brown and most definitely alcoholic. He’s never been one for drinking, but if there was ever a time for it…
He mutters thanks as he accepts the glass taking a sip. And then screws up his face in a desperate move to resist the urge to spit it back out. It takes like pond water. Rotten pond water, if it can even rot.
The man laughs. “Here’s try it with this.” He hands him a small plate with some sort of block of cheese and pink and purple vegetables.
He doesn’t trust that anything can make that sewage taste better, but the guy’s trying to be nice and Yuuri doesn’t want to be rude. So he takes a bit of the dish, sips the drink, and… It works. Somehow the food blends into the nasty liquid, bringing out a richer flavor in both.
The man laughs at him and his giant grin. “If you think that’s good, you should try this.”
And Yuuri does try it. And another dish and a drink, and another, and another. There’s some muffled voice in the back of his head warning him that the room’s starting to get a little blurry and that his feet aren’t working like they should, but Yuuri doesn’t care. He doesn’t want to think, so he doesn’t until the night turns into a blur of colors and food and alcohol, and he can’t remember why he was even feeling bad in the first place.
In fact, he can’t remember the rest of the night at all.