“Yuuri, you have to go to this banquet!”
“No, I don’t.”
“But you keep promising! And it’s the perfect chance!”
Yuuri lifted his arm and used the back of his wrist to adjust his glasses, then swept his black bangs out of his face, leaving a trail of flour across his forehead. He then returned his attention to the dough laid out before him, digging the heels of his palms into its pliable texture again. Almost there. “No, it’ll be a waste of time.”
“But what if he’s there?” Mila put all her stress on the pronoun, like she always did when mentioning a certain someone.
“Of course he’s going to be there! It’s a royal party,” Yuuri sighed then paused again. “Flour?”
Mila obediently sprinkled pinchfuls of flour onto the countertop in front of Yuuri, and then he put his weight into the ball of dough again. “You could meet him,” Mila mused, shaking a thoughtful finger at Yuuri. “Oh, do you think there’ll be dancing? Wait, stupid question, of course there will be dancing.” She stepped back and lifted her arms over her head and then twirled gracefully. “You can meet him and dance into the sunrise together!”
“I really don’t think he would ever come into the kitchens, so how would I meet him?” Yuuri questioned her logic.
“You could sneak out,” the redhead winked at Yuuri as she finished twirling, plopping one elbow down on the counter, resting her chin on her palm. “Or, someone’s gotta bring all the cakes out for them to stuff their faces, you could bring them out yourself?”
Yuuri let out a noise halfway between a scoff and a laugh. “They’ve got people more proper to take care of that. All my parents ever see are the doors, and the kitchens.” On the occasions that the palace threw its splendid parties, the Katsukis would often provide all manners of sweets for the celebration, as their bakery was heralded as one of the best in the kingdom. In the previous years, Yuuri always elected to stay behind at the shop while everyone else went out to make the delivery.
They had seen the list that had come in that morning, detailing the order for that year’s annual banquet which celebrated the long-standing truce between the neighboring kingdoms. The paper had hit the floor when it unraveled. Chocolate walnut éclairs, browned-butter spritz, raspberry zabagliones, glazed strawberry tarts, meringue nests with citrus custard, cranberry zephyrs… they would have to import ingredients for that one.
Yuuri and Mila had both stared at the list with slack jaws. It was more than normal. There was a note midway down asking if it was possible to make a life-sized swan out of choux pastry and chantilly cream. Mila had read that and breathed out, “the fuck?!” Yuuri had not echoed her words, but agreed with her sentiments mentally.
“But, it’s him, Yuuri!”
Yuuri ripped the dough into quarters and rolled each section into a perfectly round ball. “And what? What would I even do if I did meet him? Stare awkwardly until some guards carry me off?”
“You can shove one of your amazing macarons into his mouth and watch him helplessly fall in love with you?” she suggested.
“Yeah, right.” Yuuri’s tone dripped with as much skepticism as his mother’s signature baklava dripped with honey.
“Or you can shove something else in his mouth.”
Yuuri’s hands slipped and smashed into the dough, distorting its shape completely. “Mila! He’s the prince!” He sighed and restarted, using his palms to gently stretch out the dough into a long, thick rope.
“And I can’t believe you are not taking every opportunity to get close to him! You’ve been head over heels for him for yeeeeears but you’ve never once gone over to the palace when you’ve had the chance.”
Yuuri paused, vision unfocusing as he gazed down at the counter in front of him.
When Yuuri had been twelve years old, the royal procession had ridden through the center of the capital. Yuuri had been out with his mother, to deliver some pastries. He had never seen anything like it before. The carriages had been pulled by white horses with manes that shone like fresh morning snow, the panels of the carriage painted rich with shades of deep purples and red that Yuuri had never known existed, the sidings carved with birds which looked so lifelike that they could fly off and intricate flowers which had petals lined with gold. It all looked like something out of the picture books his father sometimes brought home for him.
But none of that wonder compared to when someone leaned out of one of the windows of a carriage, and caught Yuuri’s wide-eyed stare. The brightness of the smile and the gleam of the ice-blue eyes Yuuri witnessed made his young heart pound a bruise against the inside of his ribcage. The forward movement of the carriage combined with a gust of wind swept up long strands of shining silver hair, letting them catch the sunlight and Yuuri’s attention in a flash of a moment before the horses raced off, and took the beauty Yuuri witnessed with it.
From then on, any time that a procession would ride through the city or there were any events at which the royal family would appear, Yuuri went to try to catch a glimpse of the eldest of the two princes. He was always a sight to behold. Tall and well built, with skin so fair that Yuuri found it a wonder that it did not burn pink the second the sun graced it. Even from a distance, those blue eyes seemed to sparkle brightly, calling out to Yuuri to draw closer, but the way his hands tended to tremble whenever he thought about moving nearer prevented him from answering their beckon.
Next time, he told himself each time his parents asked if he wanted to come with them when they dropped off the bakery’s specially prepared confections at the palace. Next time. He would get over his nerves next time, he would go next time. But his nerves never lessened, because with each of those little glimpses he kept catching over the years, the prince only seemed to get more beautiful and Yuuri more intimidated.
Sharpening his focus back on the task at hand, Yuuri spun the dough in his hands, twisting each one into a thick but elegant braid. “Can you get me the peel?” he asked Mila and she sighed but grabbed it, setting it down forcefully in front of her friend.
Dusting the surface of the wooden paddle with a light layer of flour, Yuuri quickly arranged the prepared loaves onto it before washing the tops with beaten egg. “I will! I will…” Mila’s eyes lit up for a moment, but Yuuri moved around her to transfer the dough into the masonry oven. Her hopeful look died when Yuuri cleaned his hands on a damp towel and finished his statement, “…one day…”
Groaning, Mila sunk down onto the countertop in defeat, sprawling her arms out in front of her. “This is the shittiest love story ever,” she complained.
“That’s because it’s not a love story,” Yuuri said and exhaled sharply, looking around their small bakery kitchen and then at the carefully hung list of the orders the palace had sent over that morning. It was going to be more work than usual. Yuuri knew that there was no possible way they would be able to complete everything in-home and that a few of the items requested would have to be made at the palace the day of the banquet to ensure the best quality. “Do we have any other special orders?”
“Just that.” Mila pointed at the same list without looking up, still acting out her drama. Yuuri chose to ignore it. She would get over it quicker that way.
“I guess we should start on the prep then.” Yuuri massaged the back of his neck. “There’s a lot we are going to have to buy…”
“Are you really gonna make them a choux swan?” She peeked up at Yuuri with expectation.
The two of them, along with Yuuri’s parents, had agreed that the request was beyond ridiculous, too technical and too time-consuming, and that the probability of perfecting something like that with limited time was low. But then Yuuri thought about how beautifully the prince might smile if he saw it and…
“Yeah, I’ll do it.”
“Only two minutes since you last asked that question. Stop asking!” His younger brother snapped back, sitting off to the side of Victor’s room. The blonde’s legs were thrown over the side of the armchair he lounged in and he held a book over his head, flipping through the pages with disinterest.
“But I’m booooored,” Victor whined, grabbing a pillow to hug to his chest, but then decided it was not plush enough so he tossed it aside before grabbing another one. Huh, too plush. Off the bed it went. “When’s everyone getting here?”
“Three hours. Why? You don’t even like these banquets,” Yuri reminded blankly. “It’s gonna be the exact same thing as last year. The Crispino twins are gonna end up making some scene and Christophe is gonna spend the whole time making inappropriate comments at every opportunity. Why are all the other royals so fucking weird?”
“Was Jean-Jacques invited after all?”
“Of course! His family has finally started talking with Father again after the shit you pulled two years ago. Which reminds me, Father says I’m in charge of making sure you don’t do anything to insult Jean-Jacques again, so don’t make me hurt you today.” Yuri glared pointedly.
Victor pushed another pillow off onto the growing pile on the floor beside his bed. “But I was thinking of introducing this game where everyone has to talk without using a determined letter of the alphabet…”
Victor giggled. “Yeah, super easy for everyone except him. It’ll be hilarious.”
“I will hurt you, Vitya,” Yuri threatened.
Pouting again, Victor gazed up at the canopy over his bed, counting the petals in the flowers embroidered above his head. There were twenty-four in that particular bunch. He had counted them a million times during bouts of boredom, knew the Latin names of the species even, knew the exact angle of the thorns in the roses, knew the amount of feathers detailed on each bird—
He sat up bolt-upright. “What time is it?!”
Yuri rolled his eyes and slammed his book shut with expressive force. “One minute since you last asked!” he snapped, shooting daggers at Victor with his eyes, but then saw the excited anticipation on his older brother’s face and sighed. “12:47. You skipped lunch cause you were too busy complaining about tonight. Why?”
Shoving pillows away from him, Victor scrambled off the bed, giving Makkachin a quick apology when his sudden departure disturbed the sleeping poodle. “Because it means the bakers are already here!! Yura, let’s go raid the kitchens!”
“Can’t you wait till the banquet?” Yuri asked, not moving from his position.
“I’ve been waiting all week for those amazing oreshki they always bring! Don’t you want to try everything while it’s fresh?”
“No,” Yuri deadpanned.
“And what if they actually made the swan? Don’t you wanna see it? I really hope they made it! What if they’re making it right now? How amazing will that be? Let’s go see it!!”
Yuri simply glared back at his brother through narrowed green eyes. Victor got the message and shrugged, checking his reflection in the mirror. He smoothed out the ruffled strands of silver hair at the back of his head before skipping out of the room.
“Don’t trip!” Yuri shouted after him. Before Victor was too far down the hall and out of earshot, he heard his brother call out a loud follow-up. “If you’re really going, grab me some zephyrs! Just because they’re not worth the effort of me getting them myself!”
Victor laughed in delight and swiftly ran down toward the kitchens. They were so worth the effort.
“Yaaaaaay, I’m so happy!”
Yuuri tried to push Mila off him as she practically choked him with the strength of her hug. She only clung tighter and ground her knuckles into the top of his head. Painfully. Too much affection. Yuuri managed to duck out from under her, instantly putting distance between them by moving to the other side of the coach they were riding in.
“Okay, I’m not happy that your mom almost broke her ankle going down the stairs this morning, that’s like really bad, but if it had to happen sometime then today’s the best day for it!” She clapped her hands in delight.
Yuuri rubbed at his scalp, trying to soothe the pain still prickling through it. “Uhhh, yeah… sure…” In his opinion, it was not the best day for his mother to suffer a minor injury. Well, there was no such thing as a best day for that kind of thing, but today was the worst day. He had come down to his family’s living room in the morning to find his mother sitting with her leg propped up, his father pressing ice to her ankle, which was swollen, red, and angry. Yuuri knew right away from their faces what was expected of him in that moment.
His father had escorted his limping mother out of the house, to the doctor living not too far away. But Yuuri was well aware there was no way his mother would be able to return home and walk properly well enough to go to the palace that day. His parents were apologetic. Mila was ecstatic. Yuuri was terrified.
Deep breaths. He told himself as Mila chattered on about how she was so thrilled that Yuuri was finally going to get to see the palace. The palace. Deep breaths. In, out. Calm. He was calm. They weren’t even there yet. No need to worry. It was going to be fine.
They were going to get there, arrange everything they had prepared ahead of time, make the few things they still needed to, construct the swan, and get out. He would be calm. He would be professional. It was no big deal. They would just be in the kitchens the whole time. Yuuri could do this. Calm. No need to freak out. It was not like the prince would ever come down to kitchens anyway—oh no, he had thought about the prince. Don’t think about the prince! Calm, Yuuri! Deep breaths, Yuuri! Don’t think about the prince, Yuuri! The prince with his gorgeous blue eyes and his unbelievable hair and those full lips that had an impossible way of turning up into the most beautiful heart-shaped smile. What would it look like up close. He bet those lips were so soft too, supple and plush, maybe tasting of mascarpone because Yuuri had heard his parents mention the prince really liked the tiramisu Yuuri made last year. What would that taste like coming off the prince’s tongu— No, Yuuri! Don’t think about things like that! Calm! Deep breaths! Get your mind off th— oh god he was hyperventilating.
There was an arm around his shoulder and Mila handed him a handkerchief, which Yuuri pressed against his mouth, trying to calm himself. He could faintly make out Mila’s voice coming from beside him, so he concentrated on it. She was talking insistently, not pausing.
“So I was thinking of arranging the plates differently. Your parents always set everything out side by side but it takes up so much space, even if the tables are huge—and they are huge, you’ll see—but I saw last time that they have these triple-deck stand things, so we can organize everything by flavors that compliment each other, or maybe arrange them by sweetness. Like have the sweetest ones on the bottom and the most subtle ones on top so people can easily choose what suits them best without guessing. Oh, and I was thinking that—”
Yuuri breathed easier as Mila continued spouting off her ideas, letting her creativity run wild since Yuuri’s parents were not there to reign her in.
“—And if that swan comes together well, I brought the indigo dye so we can color the bottom and make it look like it’s gliding on water and really blow everyone away—”
Yuuri closed his eyes, picturing what she talked about and nodded, his heartbeat gradually slowing to a manageable pace. Releasing a slow and steady exhale, Yuuri lowered the handkerchief from his mouth. “Thanks…”
Mila smiled back gently and squeezed his shoulder. Then her eyes flickered to the window as their coach halted. “We’re here!” She glanced back at Yuuri, searching his face. “You ready?”
Yuuri let out one more slow, calming breath. “Yeah. I’m going to be fine,” he said and stepped out of the coach after her, handing over some of the boxes of sweets they had brought with them. He took a few others for himself, and some palace attendants rushed over to help with the rest. “I’m going to be fine,” he repeated out loud, then kept saying the words to himself as hey made their way up to the palace. He was going to be fine. Just fine. Calm and professional. Fine. Just fine.
The mantra ceased unconsciously the moment Yuuri set foot in the palace kitchens. He was not sure what he was expecting. Actually, he had not been expecting anything, not really having put in much thought into what they would be like. His parents mentioned that they were impressive, and Mila had commented on how they were much bigger than that of their bakery, but this was beyond that. It was grand. Extravagant. Awe-striking. Royal.
The counters were solid marble, almost radiating light from the stark white which was only interrupted by naturally artistic webbing. Yuuri could have cried with how beautiful it was. There was so much space, the counters stretching far and clean, and Yuuri could tell instantly that he would have room to prepare at least five different desserts at once. There was the perfect amount of distance between the islands to move freely, but everything sat close enough that he would not waste time running around to grab things that he needed, unlike back at in his own kitchen, where everything was scattered wherever there was room for it.
The pantries (plural!) were fully stocked with at least fourteen different types of flour, eight types of sugar, the shelves almost groaning under the weight of fresh and dried fruits, herbs and spices, edible flowers, and there was a floor-to-ceiling ice box that was delightfully cold when Yuuri peeked into it, seeing creams and milks and butters and cartons upon cartons of fresh eggs and he felt like he could die happy right at that moment. “It’s so…”
“Much?” Mila offered.
“Perfect!” Suddenly, Yuuri regretted not coming years before, because he could have lost himself for hours in here, creating anything his heart desired. Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, Yuuri looked around once more, noting the layout, mind already buzzing with what he needed to prep and how to best arrange everything. He could see the palace kitchen staff standing at attention off to the side, ready to jump to action the moment he gave the word.
Yuuri rolled up his sleeves and grabbed an unconceivably white apron hanging nearby, wrapping it around his waist, tugging the ties tight. He was excited.
“Let’s get started!”
Maybe he was biased but when Victor visited the neighboring kingdoms to attend their functions, the confections never seemed to be quite as good as the ones brought into his home.
Victor had to side-step quickly to avoid colliding with a few of the palace attendants as he rushed toward the kitchens, eyes scanning over some of the trays they carried. Huh, they were using the three-tiered serving stands, that was different. The thought faded rapidly as he saw the neat arrangements of bite-sized rhubarb tarts and princess tea cakes be carried past him, the attendants dipping their heads in respectful greeting to him. He knew no one would stop him, so he slipped swiftly between a couple more attendants and through the double-doors.
Oh wow. The kitchens hummed with activity. The white of the marble countertops was obstructed almost entirely, with beautifully-colored desserts all carefully being transferred to servings trays, arranged in ways that would be pleasing to any set of eyes. Victor caught glimpses of a few of his favorites—oh and there were the zephyrs that Yuri wanted, tinted a brilliantly deep pink— then he searched the kitchen for… There it was.
They actually made it. Victor could hardly believe it. He dodged past more attendants and trays of desserts, beaming with joy as he made his way toward the back walls, where someone was carefully sculpting wings out of cream, perfecting the marvelous details on the full-sized swan which sat on a large silver tray. Its neck curved elegantly, beak made from smooth and solid orange marzipan, black beaded eyes shimmering with convincing glaze.
Victor trained his attention on the graceful and skilled flicks of the wrist with which a young man carved detail into the cream wings, making individual feathers that looked real enough to permit the bird to soar right out of the kitchen. It would be a shame to eat it. Leaning over the back of the sculptor, Victor tried to see more of the exquisite creation, unable to hold in his excitement when the man working on it paused, seemingly satisfied. “Wow, amazing!” Victor exclaimed.
“Ahhh, thank you.”
The answer came softly, voice gentle and quiet, shy as if the creator did not quite believe the compliment he had been paid. Victor took half a step back when the silver tray with the swan on it was picked up with considered caution, shifting away to make room, and then the young man turned to face him.
Delicate brown eyes met Victor’s, and the prince forgot about the swan because the man holding it was far more lovely. His dark hair was ruffled with work, unruly strands charming. There was a smear of chantilly cream across one of his cheeks, unnoticed by its host, and Victor was very tempted to reach up and clean it off for him. Pink lips were parted and releasing slightly elevated breaths. He looked a little overwhelmed, no doubt from all the hustle of the kitchens and concentration with which he had just finished decorating the grand centerpiece. How cute. Victor felt it was only appropriate to introduce himself to someone so captivating.
“Hi! I’m Victor!” It did not matter if it was something that everyone should know. He just wanted the young man in front of him to know. Because Victor did not recognize him and felt like that was very unfortunate and wanted to rectify that problem immediately.
The lovely man blinked up at him. His beautiful brown eyes grew wide and his lips parted a little wider. And then…
Yuuri dropped the swan.