Title: Quest for Perfection
Fandom: Antique Bakery
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Tachibana, Ono, Chikage, and Eiji
Dedication: Sexybee, for Yuletide 2007
Prompt: The request was for a fic preferably involving all the men of AB.
Description: Tachibana decides to enter Antique Bakery in a dessert competition. Typical hijinks ensue.
Rating: PG-13 for a brief reference to jerking off
Word Count: 3,320
Status: Complete (It was finished in mid-December but authors weren't allowed to reveal themselves until after Jan. 1st. Posted now because I haven't had Internet lately.)
Other Notes: Once again, I wound up winding my Yuletide fic in a fandom I hadn't signed up to write. I'd always been familiar with Antique Bakery, but it wasn't something I'd ever thought I'd write for. I was matched with Sexybee because I had signed up to write d.gray-man, but in the end I felt that this request was more up my alley than her request for Rabi-centric gen fic. This fic was supposed to be more serious, with a lot of Tachibana/Ono/Chikage UST, but while in progress, the fic kind of grew legs of its own and went in a totally different direction, for better or for worse (you decide). I don't normally write humor, ever. Un-betaed and proofread on the fly. After all, I finished and submitted this fic at the airport.

It all begins with an innocent, concise newspaper article.

The employees of Antique Bakery never would've pegged Tachibana for the type to have a subscription to the Tokyo Shimbun—much less actually read it on a daily basis. Ono's eyes almost fall out of their sockets at the sight of his employer with a newspaper tucked under his arm, and Eiji exclaims with an air of incredulousness, "Hereads?!"—whereupon Tachibana quickly retaliates with an indignant snarl and a swift punch to the shoulder.

Ono reminds him that his apprentice needs both his arms to be fully functioning because today is Friday and it's therefore sure to be a busy morning. Defeated, Tachibana proceeds to sulk in a corner for three whole minutes before Chikage comes and reminds him that they only have an hour left until it's time to open the store.

As though instantly rejuvenated, Tachibana prances into the kitchen, sporting a wicked grin as he commands his employees to double-time it because he wants to hold a meeting fifteen minutes before the store is scheduled to open. Ono frowns but gets to work immediately, while Eiji complains in his usual manner before setting about to assist his sensei in preparing the chiboust and taking the freshly-baked cheesecakes out of the oven. Ironically, Chikage is the one who panics the most when he realizes he has only half the time he usually does to figure out how to tie his apron.

Forty-five minutes later, the three employees join Tachibana at one of the dine-in tables, a little flustered and none too happy-looking from having to spend the morning rushing. Their respective moods do not improve, and Eiji's eye begins to twitch violently, when Tachibana just sits in silence, regarding his employees' faces with an air of self-satisfaction.

Chikage is the one who finally breaks the silence by coughing and gently asking, "Waka?"

Tachibana's smug expression doesn't falter as he reproduces the newspaper. Flipping hastily to page 6, he folds back the other side before laying it flat on the table in front of the others. Antique's employees lean forward to read the small headline their boss is pointing at:


"For those of you who doubt my reading ability," Tachibana explains, though not without first sending a glare in Eiji's direction, "let me paraphrase. Girard, one of the best-known food connoisseurs from Paris, is coming to Tokyo next month because he is working on a book about the best of the best in international cuisine. In each country he has visited so far, he has been holding competitions—one for the three main food categories: appetizers, entrees, and desserts. The winner of each will be featured on its very own 6-page spread in his book, which will include no less than an extensive description of the dish, a history of the restaurant, a brief background on its owner and chefs, and several full-color photographs."

Tachibana leans back in his seat while he judges his audience's expressions.

When he isn't met with elated cries of joy and excitement, he continues, "Gentlemen, you don't seem to grasp the situation. We are going to win Japan's dessert competition. We will be featured in this book."

Eiji and Ono regard him with blank stares. The only sound is that if Chikage scratching his head.

Exasperated, Tachibana throws up his arms. "Don't you get it? We will be rich! We will be famous! Girls will be travelling from all over Japan—no, all over the world—just to get a chance to come and eat at our dessert shop!"

Ono cocks an eyebrow, clears his throat and asks, "Are we going to be paid overtime?"

Three weeks later, it's Tachibana's turn to panic.

Every day since he announced their partaking in Girard's competition, Ono—who heartily threw himself into the spirit of the competition only after Tachibana promised him a bonus consisting of a monetary sum large enough to fund a Prada shopping spree—and Eiji have been instructed to each produce at least one new dessert that they feel best represents the flavor of Japan, the legacy of the French, and Antique's own unique style. Every day, Tachibana has hand-selected one of their regular customers to try the new dessert. However, even though each and every single one received rave reviews, every day, Tachibana would in the end not be satisfied, and Ono and Eiji would be instructed to try again the next day.

Monday morning, one week before the start of the competition, however, Tachibana angrily stalks into the kitchen. Ono only needs to take one look at his employer's unshaved, frown-lined face to know that it will probably be a painfully long day.

"Need I remind you all," Tachibana hisses through gritted teeth, "that we must deliver our very best dessert to Mr. Girard for judging one week from today? How can we not have found a dish yet?! This is unacceptable!"

Eiji immediately comes to the staff's defense with, "It's not like sensei and I haven't been trying! You're the one who's wouldn't approve a single thing we've made."

"Because it's not good enough! Still not good enough!" Tachibana looks wild, like he's about to tear his own hair out.

Eiji, undaunted by his boss's tirade, yells, "Then maybe you should just do it yourself!"

Tachibana's irate scream can be heard in the street outside the shop. An elderly lady walking to town to buy groceries looks up, frowns, and hurries over to the sidewalk on the other side.

"Here's what we're going to do," Tachibana continues a little more calmly, after making some violent gestures in the empty air with his balled fists. "If we have not found a suitable dish to enter in the competition by the weekend, we will close the shop on Saturday and Sunday—to customers, that is. We will be here. All four of us—" Tachibana's gaze shifts to include Chikage, who immediately has a meltdown "—will be baking until we have found it. No one will be leaving the shop until we do."

Just in case Ono and Eiji think he's bluffing, Tachibana doesn't take long to prove them wrong. To emphasize his point, he immediately proceeds to put up signs outside informing all customers that the bakery will most likely be closed over the weekend—for "spring cleaning". Sure enough, Ono shoots Eiji a look that indicates that he realizes that their employer means business.

"I hope that Prada coat is worth it," Eiji sighs.

To Ono and Eiji's dismay, Tachibana keeps his word. When the shop closes for the night on Friday, Tachibana has yet to approve any of the culinary creations presented to him by his chefs. The latter are cleaning up the kitchen when Tachibana walks in, grinning viciously as he wipes his hands on a towel.

"All right, men," he announces. "Since we have yet to find a suitable dish for Mr.Girard, I expect to see you all here bright and early tomorrow morning at 10. Bring all your cookbooks, recipes, and anything else you think may be of use. Come well-rested and prepared. We will not leave, and no one will sleep, until we find the perfect dessert."

Chikage looks frightened and confused. "Me too, Waka?"

"Yes," Tachibana sighs, "even you."

"We should begin by narrowing down the scope we want to consider," Ono suggests the next morning, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes while he absent-mindedly rearranges a few items in the kitchen.

His latest lover had kept him up all night. He had known at the time that it wasn't a very responsible decision given Tachibana's rigorous plan for the weekend, but Masuda-san was so good in bed… Ono's knees go weak at the mere memory.

"After all, the field of desserts is very large," he continues before turning to specifically address Tachibana. "You should tell us what types you would prefer, so we can spend our time and energy focusing on those. What is it that you have in mind? Cake? Tart? Pudding? Mousse?"

"Cake," Tachibana responds without hesitation. "The French love cake. And in the end, I think it's what we make best. Judging by our customers' orders, at least."

Ono perfunctorily puts away several of the cookbooks he brought in. "Looks like these won't be necessary, then."

Tachibana leafs through some of the remaining cookbooks. "Okay. Here's the plan: Ono is in charge. He picks the recipes we try. If he wants to alter them or improvise, he will decide how. The rest of us will do exactly as Ono instructs. Eiji will be his right-hand man. Since Chikage and I have limited skills in this area, we will be assigned the simpler tasks."

"However," he emphasizes as he turns to Eiji, "this does not mean you get to boss us around, got it? In terms of actual authority and the power structure in here, you are still at the bottom. Got it?"

Eiji rolls his eyes. "Sure, old man. Whatever you say."

"If there are no more questions," his employer instructs, disregarding the fact that there were never any questions to begin with, "let's get started."

Six hours later, the men have made no progress. Ono started them on a modified peaches and cream cake recipe, which failed utterly when Chikage, who had been instructed to separate a dozen eggs, thought that separating eggs consisted only of shelling them, and unbeknownst to the others, who had assumed that he could handle such an easy task, poured both the yolks and egg whites into the cream mixture—a fatal mistake that led to thick cream that tasted far too strongly of egg.

Their second attempt was a failure on Ono's own part. He took a traditional almond cake recipe, but when he discovered that they did not have enough armagnac, he suggested that they simply substitute it with regular cognac—which both Eiji and Tachibana agreed caused the cake to not taste right. Tachibana was relieved, however, because it provided him with the perfect excuse to make a quick run to the liquor store while the others kept on baking.

He came back not only with armagnac, but also with whiskey, rum, and several cases of beer.

Nobody asks. In fact, nobody is surprised.

While he was gone, the others had started on a raspberry angel cake recipe. With Tachibana back, they manage to complete the cake successfully. It looks attractive, but their boss is not satisfied.

"It reminds me too much of a kids' birthday cake," he decides. "Let's keep trying."

The others groan, roll their sleeves back up, and start washing the dishes.

At 10 o'clock that night, Chikage succeeds in messing up a cake for the fourth time that day.

This time, he could not tell the difference between cream cheese and sour cream for a white chocolate walnut truffle cheesecake recipe. In his frustration and desire to avoid having to admit his ignorance to Ono or Tachibana, he put both into the bowl. As a result, the cheesecake's consistency is entirely wrong when it comes out of the oven. Even Ono can't help but scowl, which is when Chikage admits his guilt.

"What am I supposed to do with you?!" Tachibana yells, his exasperation obvious.

"Sorry, Waka," the taller man whispers.

It takes the others an hour to notice that Chikage has disappeared. They had already begun to count on his uselessness, so that when the clumsy man disappeared from the kitchen entirely, it took a while for anyone to note his absence. It is Ono who finally realizes that he hasn't seen Chikage stumbling about the kitchen in a while and hands the metaphorical reins over to Eiji while he searches for Tachibana's servant.

Not unexpectedly, he finds him in a closet, crying to himself.

"I'm so useless," Chikage sobs. "I never help you or Waka. I just create more problems for you both."

Ono wraps his arms around Chikage's hunched figure and allows him to cry on his shoulder for a bit, gently stroking his hair. When Chikage's sobs finally begin to subside, he kisses the taller man on the temple before helping him to his feet.

"You're not useless," he states. "In fact, I have an idea how you can make yourself very useful. Come with me."

Twenty minutes later, Chikage is cheerfully humming to himself as he rinses bowls, dishes and utensils while the others continue their baking endeavors.

At 3 in the morning, the atmosphere has completely changed.

Eiji, who consistently gets the most sleep out of anyone in the group, passed out on one of the kitchen counters about an hour ago. Tachibana had opened a case of beer at 11, and is now working his way down the bottle of rum. He looks happier to be in the kitchen than he ever has before. Periodically, he and Chikage—stalwart as ever and still washing dishes at the same rate as he was four hours ago—burst into song, belting out both tunes from their childhood and popular songs Ono would've never expected Tachibana to know.

At one point, Ono disappears for a whole half hour. When Tachibana goes to look for him, he finds him in the bathroom with his underpants around his ankles and his hand around his dick. When Tachibana begins to ask why the Hell the head chef is jerking off when he should be leading their culinary endeavors, Ono counters that if Tachibana can drink on the job and Eiji is allowed to take a nap, he should also be allowed to relieve his stress however he pleases.

Tachibana can't argue with that.

It's when Ono shoots him a lustful look and asks Tachibana if he'd like to join him that Tachibana, after a few moments of alcohol-induced hesitation, turns white, yelps, and runs out of the bathroom.

"From now on, we sleep in shifts," he announces when Ono rejoins them in the kitchen. "An hour and a half per person, one person at a time. Somebody wake up Eiji. I'm going to—"

He doesn't even finish his sentence before he passes out on the kitchen floor.

"What is this?" Tachibana asks, staring condescendingly at the plate in front of him.

His eye has started to twitch involuntarily from lack of sleep and general frustration. It's 9 PM, and none of the twelve cakes the trio produced in the past five hours pleased him.

Ono's voice lacks expression, as he himself lacks hope that his latest creation will be sufficient to win his boss's approval. "It's a variation on a traditional cheesecake. Mixed in with the normal vanilla bean flavor is the essence of green tea and a few drops of midori. This contributes to the cake's slightly green coloring. In addition, between the layers of cheesecake are layers of fluffy white chocolate mousse. The cake is garnished with a daub of white chocolate mousse, a thin slice of green melon, and white chocolate shavings."

"Midori? An unusual choice," Tachibana muses as he takes the first bite. "This is not bad. Not too sweet at all. Captures the flavor of Japan in the style of the French…"

He looks up at his three employees, waiting expectantly in front of him. "What do you all think?"

All three explain that they have tried it and enjoyed it very much.

"All right, then," Tachibana says, wiping his mouth with a napkin. "I think we've found it. At long last, our perfect dessert."

Ono is so elated that he faints on the spot.

In the morning, Ono and Eiji arrive at the bakery early to prepare another melon green tea cheesecake. Tachibana inspects every inch of it to ensure its perfection. Even Chikage is invited to give it one last look-over before they box it up.

At 11 AM, Tachibana brings the box to his Ferrari and prepares to deliver it to Girard's hotel.

"I probably won't be back in time to open the shop," Tachibana instructs, "so, Chikage, you'll have to handle it yourself for a little while."

Tears form in the corners of Chikage's eyes, but Ono good-naturedly wraps an arm around Chikage's waist. "Don't worry. We can handle it."

If their employer notices the rather presumptuous gesture, he doesn't say anything. Or perhaps, Ono hopes, perhaps the mutual all-nighter caused him to lighten up a bit with regard to his workers' attitudes. Either way, Tachibana simply nods to his employees, gets in his car and drives off without saying goodbye.

A week later, a special courier visits the bakery to deliver a letter from Monsieur Rémy Girard.

The letter, which comes in a gilded envelope and had been typed on expensive paper, seems to affirm what Tachibana has always believed: that his victory is assured. His eyes eagerly run over the lines. The first three paragraphs are an impersonal account of how much Monsieur Girard enjoyed his time in Japan as well as all the dishes that were presented to him as part of the competition. He emphasizes his appreciation of the Japanese culture and especially its cuisine, and although he suggests that the Japanese could still learn much from the French, he expresses his strong desire to strengthen the culinary bonds between the two nations by incorporating elements of the Japanese flavor in French cooking.

This lengthy explanation is followed by a short paragraph thanking Antique Bakery for their participation in the dessert competition. "Although I enjoyed the unique fusion of styles and flavors incorporated in your dish," Girard writes, "I decided to award 1st place to something slightly more traditional. After all, if I was looking for French cuisine, I would have stayed at home!"

The only other item included in the envelope is a certificate of honorable mention.

When Chikage, who has been trying to read the letter over Tachibana's shoulder this whole time, sees the certificate, he exclaims, "Oh, that's nice! Would you like me to frame it and hang it on the wall for you, Waka?"

Tachibana glares at him out of the corner of his eyes before angrily stalking out of the room with the excuse that it's time to open the shop for the day.

It all ends with a short and to-the-point newspaper article.

Eiji is the one who brings the Tokyo Shimbun into the shop this time. When Tachibana walks into the shop, later than usual because his hangover this morning was a little more intense than it generally is on weekdays, he finds his three employees crowded around one of the tables, the paper spread open to page 8 before them.

The headline reads:


The article, which briefly describes how the 1st place award in Girard's dessert competition was given to a mochi stand in Shinjuku, is accompanied by a small photograph of an elderly couple looking surprised but overjoyed as a tall European man presents them with a medal and a certificate for their "Tantalizing Taste of Tokyo red bean mochi" recipe.

Eiji snorts, then howls with laughter when he notices Tachibana's irritated look. Ono can't suppress a few hearty chuckles, and even Chikage finds that he has trouble keeping a straight face. It's not until they have burst into fits of giggles for a good five minutes that Tachibana joins them in their laughter.

When they finally quiet down, Ono to wipe the tears from his eyes and Eiji because he can't breathe, Chikage can't help but ask, "Wait, Waka, why are we laughing?"

Tachibana lets out a few good-natured guffaws, pats Chikage on the back, picks up the newspaper, rips it to shreds, tosses the scraps in the trash, and commands, "All right, everyone. Back to work."

After that, the men of Antique Bakery never bring up the competition again.