Actions

Work Header

We Could Be (A Tough Act to Follow)

Chapter Text

Zero decided that someone upstairs must really have some kind of grudge against him when, on his very first day and his very first patrol, he heard an explosion off in the distance. He quickly redirected the route of his car towards the direction of the rising smoke, calling in the situation and requesting back up. The wreck soon came into view, and Zero hurried out of his vehicle towards the collapsed buildings.

As he walked around the perimeter of the destroyed building, Zero saw a body covered in blood and trapped underneath the rubble. Heart pounding faster, he rushed towards the man. "Hey, can you hear me?" he called out, placing a hand on the still form. The man gave a hoarse cry of pain when Zero gently tried to shake him. Zero immediately let go, and the man cried out again when his form flopped. There was a high chance that something in the debris was either jamming into the man's body or had pierced it completely. It probably was the latter, given how much blood the man was covered in. Cursing, Zero quickly called for an ambulance and kneeled down next to the man. 

"Can you hear me?" he repeated his question urgently, mind struggling to think of a way to keep the man coherent and alive until the ambulance arrived. There was a shudder from the body in front of him, and then he heard a weak croak of affirmation. "Hold on a little longer, help is on the way."  His radio crackled, letting him know that an ambulance had been dispatched and would be arriving in six minutes. 

There was another weak groan, and to his immense relief the man lifted his head up. Zero was greeted by the sight of a pair of bizarrely almost red-brown eyes (though to be fair, his own coloring was highly irregular so Zero had no room to talk). Zero couldn't quite make out the man's exact features, considering the fine cover of dust and blood covering him currently. The man's eyes were slightly glazed and dulled with pain, and Zero could tell that he was on the verge of passing out. He frowned -- he wasn't exactly sure what was the medically correct procedure for something like this, but falling unconscious while bleeding out like something out of a horror film could be pretty bad, right? 

He gently tapped the man's cheek as he saw the other's eyes start to flutter close. "Hey, you have to stay awake until help comes," Zero said urgently, feeling more and more alarmed as the dark red stain on the man's torso rapidly spread. "I know it's hard to do, but you can't close your eyes yet." In spite of his words, Zero could see that the other man was struggling to keep his eyes open. With no idea of what he could possibly do, Zero began trying his best to engage the man in conversation in an attempt to keep him conscious. 

"You know, I never thought I'd see something happen on my very first patrol…" 

"...can you believe they wanted to get arrested? Something about free food and housing if they somehow got into jail…" 

"...Lily can be a nightmare sometimes. Don't get me wrong, I love her, but she can be such a princess…" 

"...Have you ever seen a poodle getting shaved? There's something very wrong about seeing a fluffy head and tail slapped on top of a shaved body and legs…" 

"...there was also that time my training partner got in trouble for the way he tackled the streaker at the park…" 

And so the 'conversation' went on. It was a mostly one-sided act, with Zero talking about anything his mind flitted to while omitting any too personal details. The trapped man would occasionally give a weak rasp of laughter, or make some sort of sound to acknowledge what Zero said. Zero could tell that while the conversation did help distract the man a bit, the situation was rapidly getting worse. The man had been getting quieter and quieter, and his eyes would only stay open for a few seconds at a time. 

Finally, Zero could finally hear the wailing sirens of the firetruck, followed closely by the ambulance. Help was finally here. "You're going to be okay, just hold on a little longer," he said quietly to the trapped man, whose only response was a wet, shuddering breath. To Zero's horror, blood spilled out of the man's mouth. "Over here!" he called out loudly, waving at the paramedics. "He's in a really bad condition!" The firefighters and medics swarmed over, bringing over a stretcher. 

"Sir, please stand back so we can remove him from the rubble," one of the paramedics told Zero as the others bustled around the man. 

Zero moved back, watching with trepidation as the team slowly excavated the trapped man's prone body. Eventually, the man was safely removed and laid down on the stretcher. Zero caught up with the paramedics as they wheeled him away, wincing at the long gash and severe burns he saw on the man's torso. The man's eyes briefly fluttered open, glazed and confused, until he caught sight of Zero by his side. There was a weak tug at Zero's sleeve. The man croaked something, and Zero frowned, leaning closer to hear him better. "Thank...you," the man managed to say in a raspy voice. 

Zero shook his head. "Just doing my duty," he said quietly, before his lips quirked up in a wry smile. "Besides, this is probably the most exciting first day anyone could ask for." The other man laughed weakly at that, a choking and dry sound, but then immediately winced as more blood poured out of his mouth. The paramedic shot Zero a nasty look and shooed him away. They closed the doors to the ambulance, and Zero watched the vehicle speed away. He lingered for a little longer, wondering if the man would be alright, but then his radio came to life and Zero was racing off to help stop a burglary in process. 

 

 

Chapter Text

Four Years Later

 

"Daichi Nakamura, open up!" Zero called out as he knocked on the door, exchanging a look with Kaito as the silence dragged on. Kaito nodded at him, and Zero kicked down the door. The two detectives pulled out their guns and walked into the apartment cautiously, looking around for their quarry. There was a frantic loud slam, and the two raced into the living room to see the man they were looking for crawling out onto the balcony. 

Kaito rushed forwards, "Freeze, Nakamura!" At his shout, the man panicked and leaped off the balcony. Zero was already out the door, racing down the steps. He saw Nakamura land agily on his feet, and when the two made eye contact the other man bolted in the opposite direction. Zero ran after Nakamura, barely noticing when Kaito too jumped off the balcony and chased after them. 

Nakamura led the two on a merry chase, dodging in between various alleys until they managed to finally corner him. There was a chain fence blocking off Nakamura's escape, and the detectives were standing in the way of the only path out. "Put your hands up!" Zero commanded, and Nakamura's eyes darted wildly around. Then, he seemed to notice something about the buildings behind the fence, and smirked. 

He suddenly whirled around, and started to climb the fence. Kaito fired a shot, and it managed to clip Nakamura in the shoulder. Zero could see the man wincing from the pain as red blossomed across his shirt, but it didn't deter him and in no time Nakamura had scaled the fence and dropped onto the other side. 

"Game's over, detectives," the man sneered before running off. 

Zero was almost about to follow until he realized why exactly Nakamura had smirked. The same realization dawned on Kaito's face, and Kaito cursed vividly. "Damn it, he got away!" Kaito kicked a nearby dumpster in frustration as the duo watched their target disappear into the distance. "That's Kuran's territory, how the hell are we supposed to get Nakamura now?" 

Zero could understand his partner's frustrations. They had been working a particularly difficult murder case when they finally found a lead. But now they could do nothing but watch said lead scurry away. "Give it up, Kaito," he put his gun back into its holster. "If he's gone into Kuran's territory, there's nothing else we can do." 

There was a mutual agreement between the police department and the head of the Kuran family that the police would let the Kurans take care of their own business. That meant that any area owned by the Kurans was strictly off limits to police interference. They could always try asking the current Kuran head for permission to hunt in his territory, but everyone knew that it was virtually impossible for the Kurans to agree to something like that. 

They stared for a bit longer at the alleyway where Nakamura had vanished. "Come on, let's get back to the precinct," Zero nudged Kaito towards where their car was parked. "Staring isn't going to make him magically reappear. We'll have to find another approach." As the two walked back to the police car, they failed to notice a pair of pale violet eyes watching their every move. 

 

--

 

After a thorough chewing out from their captain, Kaito and Zero went back to the drawing board, staring at the grisly photos with slight dismay. They spent a day pouring over the details of the case again, trying to figure out another angle they could investigate. After a full two days' worth of frustration, it became quite clear that they were stuck. 

"I hate to admit it, but I think we might have to let this case go cold," Zero admitted, his heart heavy at the thought. He disliked these kind of cases the most. It irked him to have to leave something like this unfinished, and he hated being unable to provide closure to the victims' families. Kaito grumbled his agreement from where he was sprawled facedown on the desk. Setting the file down, Zero reached out and started to take down the photos. 

Suddenly, there was a bustle of activity as one of the rookies came rushing into the precinct and stuttered something out to the commanding captain. Whatever he said, it was enough to alarm anyone within hearing range and soon people were pouring towards the precinct's entrance. Curious, Zero and Kaito followed the crowd out the door and then stared. 

Not one, but nine unlicensed black cars had pulled up to the precinct, each of them bearing a very distinct rose insignia. 

Their captain stopped by the duo's side, staring as a very well-known figure emerged from the first car. "What kind of trouble did you brats get up to now?" Touga frowned, sending a sharp glare at Kaito and Zero. Kaito sent him a look of disbelief and Touga growled. "Cut the bullshit, everyone here knows that you let Nakamura slip into Kuran's place. And a day later Kuran shows up with his entire entourage?" 

Kaname Kuran, the current head of the Kuran family, was making his way to the precinct doors with his most well-known lieutenants by his side. On his right side was Takuma Ichijou, also known as Kuran's most trusted aide and man who could sweet talk his way out of any situation and also the department's worse headache. No one liked having to deal with Ichijou, because the man somehow always managed to make you feel like you came out of the negotiation with the bad end of the deal. On his left side was Kuran's famous bodyguard, a former free-for-hire assassin known simply as Seiren. For years, she had eluded law enforcement while carrying out her hits with deadly precision, until one day she suddenly resigned from that life and swore her allegiance to Kuran. Now, she was simply known as Kuran's shadow and personal bodyguard. She was pushing along a gagged and tied up man, who, upon closer inspection, was the very same Nakamura that Kaito and Zero had been chasing down earlier. 

"Good evening, Commissioner," the crime lord began with a pleasant smile as his inner circle spread themselves out behind him. "I heard that you were looking for a particular rat that had slipped into my territory. I thought that I would do us both a favor and bring you a present."

At his words, Touga threw a sharp glare at Kaito and Zero. Zero shook his head. They had no contact with Kuran -- how were they supposed to know that he would suddenly show up here with Nakamura?

The commissioner spared the squirming man on the floor a glance before turning a calculating gaze to Kuran. "Thank you for your kind generosity," he said, his tone anything but sincere. "And what can the police department do for you?" 

"That's quite alright, I'm not in need of your precinct's services. Think of it simply as a gesture of my good will," Kuran chuckled as he nodded at the silver-haired woman by his left side. She lifted the tied up man and brought him over to where Kaito and Zero were standing before dumping her package unceremoniously at their feet. With a brisk nod, she silently headed back to Kuran's side. 

When Zero looked up from the squirming man, he found Kuran's eyes trained on him. For a moment, Zero thought the man's eyes were strangely familiar for some reason, but then Kuran's gaze snapped back to the commissioner. Kaito made a what the hell expression at the exchange, and Zero simply shrugged. He was just as confused as to why Kuran was staring at him. 

"Now then, Commissioner. I'm afraid that I'm not here on a social call. I do believe that your people have been trying to reach out to me regarding a certain...matter. As I believe that our interests align on this particular issue, I am willing to discuss the details if you are open to an exchange of information." 

At Kuran's words, the commissioner's eyes widened and then he quickly barked at a nearby person to prepare the conference room. "This way then," the commissioner gestured at Kuran towards a direction. The crime lord sent the unnerved man an amused smile and turned to go, his lieutenants following after him faithfully like a flock of well-trained sheep. The commissioner glared at all the onlookers. "Back to work, all of you!" At his words, everyone snapped out of their spellbound states and rushed back to their stations, whispering to each other about what had just occurred. 

"What do you think they're talking about?" Kaito nodded at the direction of the conference room. 

Zero shrugged, hauling up Nakamura. "Not our business," he stated simply as he wrestled the man towards their desk. "We've got a certain someone to question right now." He turned a steely gaze towards the man, who paled at the murderous look in Zero's eyes. 

 

 

Chapter Text

After Kuran's little stunt at the precinct, Zero thought that would be the end of it. He was proven wrong when Touga called him to the commissioner's office the next week. The blinds were drawn, and the commissioner was staring rather grimly at Zero from his chair when the detective came into the room. "Have a seat, Kiryuu." 

Sitting down cautiously, Zero tried not to twitch when Touga moved behind him and leaned against the office door, essentially cutting off any escape. What was this, an interrogation? 

The commissioner surveyed Zero for a while, olive green eyes narrowed as if trying to figure something out. Zero sat impassively, mind going a mile a minute. This couldn't possibly be about what happened last week, right? He had already told Touga that he and Kaito had nothing to do with Kuran's generous 'gift', and even if that was the case it would be strange for them to only call Zero in. 

"Captain Yagari tells me that you claim to have never made any contact with Kaname Kuran," the commissioner finally said, breaking the tense silence. Zero nodded stiffly. The commissioner frowned. "Then tell me why it is that Kuran specifically asked for you by name?" 

What? 

The commissioner gestured at the manila file on the desk in front of Zero. Opening it up, the detective glanced over the case details and was surprised by what he read. "Is it alright for me to be reading this?" he asked, then belatedly added, "Commissioner, sir." Like everyone else at the precinct, Zero had heard through the grapevine about a high profile case that the commissioner had entrusted to the department's top two captains, Touga and Cross. No one knew the exact details, only that it was highly sensitive and it had something to do with the new drug that was currently plaguing the streets. 

"Kuran has offered to lend us his help with this case," the commissioner said in response to Zero's question. Zero raised his eyebrows. The Kuran family was infamous for being neutral in all police matters, so to have them willingly step in… "But he had a rather... strange request." 

Zero suddenly had a good idea what this 'request' was. 

"He said that he was only willing to cooperate with us if you were the one assigned to the case. We have been trying to negotiate with him, but Ichijou has made it quite clear that Kuran would only work with you." 

Swallowing, Zero's eyes dropped to the open manila file again. Fuck. Kuran had asked for him? Specifically? He licked his lips, throat feeling dry. It was never a good thing when someone that important had their eye on you. Zero suddenly recalled the look that Kuran had sent his way yesterday. Double fuck. "Commissioner," he started. 

The commissioner grimaced. "Don't get me wrong, Detective Kiryuu. I'm not giving you a choice here. We've hardly made any progress with this case and we cannot afford to let such an opportunity slip away." Zero nodded woodenly. He figured. "I like this as much as you do, but we have no other options. Whatever you do, Kiryuu, do not piss off Kuran. We can't afford risking Kuran's ire." 

There were a few moments of silence as they sat there, Zero struggling to process what exactly was happening while his two superiors stared on ominously. Damn, this was way beyond anything he could have ever thought of. His eyes flickered through the case details again, each re-read making his head hurt even more. 

Six months ago, a new drug, dubbed "Level E," hit the streets. The narcotics division had their hands full running around and trying to locate the distributors of the mysterious drug. At the same time, twelve people showed up -- all dead. Their bloodstreams had been pumped full with Level E, and their cause of death was ruled as mere drug overdose. However, it was soon discovered that these twelve all went missing on the same day a few weeks ago. Some of the victims were never reported missing because it was assumed that they had simply run away from home, and a few other disappearances were ruled to be kidnappings. When the bodies were discovered, the cases were all then passed on to the homicide division, where it was assigned to partners Touga Yagari and Kaien Cross. 

For a while, Touga and Cross had been stuck with no clues to pursue, helpless to really do anything as more and more bodies dropped. No one could really distinguish if these deaths were related to the case of the original twelve, or if they had just simply unfortunately overdosed while using. 

Eventually, Touga and Cross were able to find a common thread among these deaths. The victims all lived in the area overseen by local crime lord Ouri, with the most recent victims coming from the outskirts of Ouri's territory and the original twelve all having lived within a ten mile radius of Ouri's last known address. Before the two captains were able to pursue this lead, Ouri himself showed up. 

Dead and floating facedown along the river. 

And this was where things got trickier. Ouri's body had floated far enough along the river to have ended up in Kuran's territory, and therefore the body had been retrieved by Kuran's lackeys. This meant that the police force essentially ran into another dead end. Safe to say, the homicide division really didn't have the luxury of turning down Kuran's generous offer. "I understand," Zero sighed, closing the file. "So when should I expect to hear from Kuran?" 

The commissioner exchanged a look with Touga. "About that...Kuran is actually waiting outside right now." 

As if on cue, there was a brisk knock. Touga stepped away from the door, and it swung open to reveal Kuran, who was to no one's surprise shadowed by his loyal bodyguard. The crime lord stepped in, politely greeting everyone in the room. "Good morning, Commissioner, Captain." His eyes found Zero's, and the smile on Kuran's face widened. "Good morning, Detective Kiryuu," the look on Kuran's face was filled with something almost like warmth. It also didn't escape anyone's notice that Zero was the only one whose name Kuran acknowledged. 

Kuran sat down in the seat next to Zero, and Seiren dutifully retreated into the corner of the room, sharp violet eyes watching everyone like a hawk. Zero tried not to flinch away. He wasn't scared of Kuran, damn it. 

"Seeing as Kiryuu is in the room with us, may I presume that the conditions I set forth have been met?" Zero waited for the commissioner's response, but there was none and soon he noticed that everyone's eyes were trained on him. He nodded briskly, briefly tightening his hold on the file. Kuran gave him another one of those warm looks. "Excellent. I look forward to our partnership, Detective Kiryuu." 

His wording made Zero frown. That made no sense. Homicide cases were always assigned to a partner pair, and Zero had assumed that he was going to be partnered with either Touga or Cross (or maybe even another detective) now that they were bringing him on. 

"Who is my partner for the case?" 

Kuran frowned at the unexpected question. "We will be partners for this case, Kiryuu," he leaned forward, emphasizing the we .  

Zero gestured impatiently. "No, I mean, from the precinct." He addressed the next part to Touga and the commissioner. "I assume it won't be Kaito, since you haven't briefed him." 

At the clarification, Kuran laughed in amusement. "I'm afraid you've misunderstood something, Kiryuu." 

Zero was starting to get the same sinking feeling in his stomach as he did when he first heard that Kuran had an unusual request. It couldn't possibly be -- "As I've made it very clear to the commissioner, you are the only one I am willing to work with for this case. If they assign any additional officers, I will withdraw my aid." 

Oh. 

Zero swallowed. 

Oh.

 

 

Chapter Text

Zero was not even surprised when the news about his partnership with Kuran spread like wildfire amongst the precinct. Cops were terrible gossipers. He was worried about how Kaito would take it, since the two had been partners since Zero first transferred into the homicide division and they were as close as two brothers could be after all the shit they went through together. 

"I can't believe that they threw you to the wolves," Kaito fumed, pacing back and forth in front of Zero's desk angrily. "What was the commissioner thinking ?" 

Zero didn't answer, because it was a rhetorical question anyways. Both of them knew that had there been any other choice, their captain would have fought tooth and nail against the decision. Besides, the two partners both felt a strong sense of duty towards their work and helping those in need. And if this was the best way to finally bring an end to the mounting body count...

"I really don't like this," Kaito sighed, running a hand through his messy hair. "Just...just be careful, Zero."  

 

-- 

 

Like they had agreed on, Zero met Kuran at one of the other man's numerous business buildings. The security guard had been rather bored when Zero first drove up, but as soon as Zero gave the man his name the guard turned a ghostly white and stammered out a welcome. He gestured at Zero to park in one of the spots that was marked 'RESERVED'. Zero thought the whole thing was rather odd, but he wouldn't put it past Kuran to have said something about him to the guard. 

Kuran was already waiting outside by the time Zero strolled up to the front of the building. The man was dressed as impeccably as always, his dark burgundy suit highlighting Kuran's unique red-brown eyes. Zero was once again struck by an odd sense of deja vu. 

"Good morning, Detective Kiryuu. I hope your day has been pleasant so far." Zero could never quite get over the strangely friendly way Kuran spoke to him. It was nothing like the way Kuran addressed everyone else at the precinct. He was friendly with them in a distantly polite and insincere way. But not with Zero. Kuran seemed to genuinely mean it. 

He nodded his head. "Morning to you too, Kuran." 

"Have you had lunch yet?" Kuran casually inquired as he directed the two of them back towards the parking lot, heading straight for a sleek white car that Zero knew he would never be able to afford in his entire lifetime. 

As the two climbed in, Zero shook his head. He had been caught up in some minor paperwork at the precinct, and by the time he finished Zero had less than fifteen minutes to get to Kuran's place. Then, realizing that Kuran was busy driving, he cleared his throat and replied out loud, "No, not yet." 

Nodding in satisfaction, Kuran briefly glanced Zero's way to send him yet another smile. "In that case, let's stop and have lunch first. We can discuss some of the case details while we eat, and then we can visit my acquaintance afterwards." The taciturn detective grunted in agreement. He personally didn't see the point -- they could have easily just grabbed a bite from somewhere nearby and then talked about the case on their way to Kuran's acquaintance. Then again, Zero couldn't really imagine Kuran standing in line at the local deli waiting to order some premade seven dollar sandwich. 

To Zero's surprise, they did not pull up at a five star restaurant or any other fine dining establishment. Kuran parked his car in a dingy parking lot, and the two cut through a rather shady looking alleyway to reach the front of a worn looking noodle shop. The bell jingled merrily as Kuran pushed the door open, and a voice called out, "Be right with you!" The inside of the restaurant was relatively clean compared to its outside appearance, though it seemed like there were no other diners. Kuran led the two of them to a booth, sitting down and Zero followed suit.  

An elderly blond came out, wiping his hands on his apron. He grabbed two menus and set them down on the table. "Alright then, what can I get you boys?" 

Zero couldn't help staring at the scarred man. "Lieutenant Jinmu…?" he muttered in slight disbelief. 

The blond smirked. "If it isn't Kiryuu!" He laughed. "It's been a long time since anyone called me that. I'm not your lieutenant anymore, kid. I'm just a humble restaurant owner now." Zero nodded, still in a daze. Jinmu, when he was still working at the precinct, had been known for being something of a no-nonsense hardass. It was odd to see him running this restaurant after his retirement, and it was even odder to see the openness on the elder's face. 

"We'll have the tsukemen and the tonkotsu shio ramen," Kuran swiftly cut in, and Jinmu's eyes widened in surprise as he finally noticed who Zero's dining partner was. "And my usual, of course." Jinmu was still gawking at the odd duo when he nodded, repeating Kuran's order absentmindedly. A sharp glare from Kuran seemed to snap him out of his shock, and Zero watched as the blond hurried away, flipping the shop's sign from 'OPEN' to 'CLOSED' and lowering the blinds. 

Silence reigned as Zero fought not to squirm under Kuran's stare. He wasn't sure if the other was doing this as an intimidation tactic, or if he had some other kind of interest in Zero. Jinmu came back, setting down two cups of hot tea on the table before retreating to the kitchen. They both reached for a cup, Zero shivering slightly when Kuran deliberately brushed his fingers against the back of Zero's hand. 

"I presume you've gone through your department's case file already," Kuran began, surveying Zero over the rim of his cup. 

Taking a sip of the green tea, Zero nodded curtly. 

"Excellent, we can skip the redundant details then. Let's get right to the matter of Ouri's death." 

Zero straightened up. 

From what he had been told, the precinct and Kuran's information had pretty much matched up...except on the subject of Ouri's death and the recovery of his body. Since Kuran's lackeys had been the ones to recover the deceased crime lord's corpse, the police were forced to use what little they did know to make certain conjectures. 

"As I had suspected, Ouri was dead by the time he ended up in the river. There could be a few reasons as to why his body was dumped in the water. First, it was possibly to hide the true cause of his death. However, a closer examination procured no explanation as to why that would be the case. Ouri suffered a fatal bullet through his chest, and our forensics expert concluded that there was no other foul play involved in his cause of death." 

Zero nodded along to Kuran's words, mentally making note of everything the other man said. It seemed to align with the various eyewitness accounts they had heard. 

"That leaves us with another explanation. Perhaps there was something on or in Ouri's body that his murderer hoped to conceal by letting the river wash it away." 

"Or perhaps it was just a convenient way to dispose of his body, Kuran," Zero remarked dryly, taking another sip of his tea. 

Kuran smiled indulgently at Zero's disruption. "Perhaps." 

Zero was surprised Kuran hadn't gotten angry with him over his interruption. Although Zero didn't know that much about Kuran, he had heard from the grapevine that Kuran was someone who commanded everyone's respect. And he didn't take kindly to people who interrupted or ignored him. There was always a certain unbreachable distance between Kuran and everyone around him. 

So why was Kuran acting so differently with Zero?

Once again, he couldn't help but think that for some odd reason, Kuran had some kind of strange interest in him. 

At the brief lull in their conversation, Jinmu came out with their noodles, setting down the tsukemen in front of Kuran and the tonkotsu shio ramen in front of Zero. "I'll be in the kitchen if you need anything else," Jinmu told the two, and then left them to enjoy their noodles. 

Kuran quirked a smile, picking up his chopsticks. "I do apologize for my lack of manners, Detective Kiryuu. Murder details are hardly a suitable topic to discuss over lunch." 

"It's fine," Zero dismissed, mirroring Kuran's actions and selecting a piece of chashu. "I'm used to it." 

Inclining his head diplomatically, Kuran picked up some of his noodles and dipped them in the broth. "Regardless, there's no need to spoil our meal with such talk." 

Zero shrugged. He wasn't kidding when he said he was used to it. Working in homicide in a city like theirs meant that they spent most of their meal breaks going over cases, because there never were enough hours in a day to get everything done. Still, if Kuran wanted to keep up this facade of politeness, he was free to do so. It wasn't like Zero was just going to suddenly play best friends with Kuran just because the other man wanted him to. 

Kuran easily redirected their conversation, bringing up small tidbits about himself that never revealed anything too personal and casually inquiring about Zero's life outside of work. Quite quickly, Zero realized that Kuran was carefully tailoring their conversation to only include topics that were relevant to Zero's life. Not for the first time, Zero wondered how exactly Kuran came to know of him and how much information the crime lord had already gathered on him. 

At first Zero was rebellious, choosing only to answer with a word here and there. However, Kuran didn't seem to be deterred by his monosyllabic responses and seemed to take the detective's taciturn behavior as a challenge. Zero was tempted to tell Kuran to cut the bullshit, but then the commissioner's words rang through his head loud and clear. 

We can't afford risking Kuran's ire.  

Damn it. 

Zero decided that it couldn't hurt too much. As much as he wasn't keen on playing buddy-buddy with Kuran, the other man's questioning was at least only limited to harmless topics. While Zero was not generally the type to share his personal details with strangers (especially not the head of the Kuran family), he didn't see a point in angering the brunet. 

To his surprise, he found conversation with Kuran to be...not unpleasant. They actually had a lengthy discussion on the woes of being fellow cat owners. Apparently Kuran was the proud owner of a Ragdoll kitten named Artemis, and while she was a sweet darling she had a terrible habit of curling up on Kuran's keyboard whenever he was trying to work. Zero could sympathize, because although he adored his own Maine Coon, Lily tended to be rather prissy and would yowl terribly whenever anyone other than Zero approached her. 

As they finished up their meal, Zero finally decided to ask the question that had been plaguing him since the first time Kuran showed up at the precinct. "Kuran...what kind of connection do we have?" As soon the words left his mouth, Zero wanted to wince. It had sounded a lot less awkward in his head. 

"Why, I thought I had made it perfectly clear the other day in the commissioner's office. We are partners , are we not?" 

Zero shook his head in frustration. "You know that's not what I meant." Kuran surveyed him thoughtfully. 

"Would you like to guess?" Kuran offered at last. Well, he should've known it wouldn't be so easy.

Zero reexamined their past interactions in his mind, going over everything Kuran had ever said to him. "You know me, but I don't know you," Zero watched Kuran carefully. "But...we've met before." The last sentence he said haltingly, but with a resolute certainty. He didn't know how he knew that, but he knew that it was true. 

The brunet simply smiled indulgently at Zero's deduction. "Correct on all accounts, Detective Kiryuu." 

He didn't know how to respond to Kuran. 

They wrapped up lunch rather quickly after that, with Jinmu waving away their attempts at paying and claiming that it was on the house. He did seem rather eager to see them out of his restaurant, and Zero could catch him occasionally shooting Kuran nervous looks. Zero did spare a second of curiosity over the retired cop's behavior, but soon enough Kuran was ushering him back into his beast of a car and they were off again.

 

 

Chapter Text

Now that they were finished with lunch, Kuran resumed their discussion on the topic of Ouri's death. 

"Our forensics team did discover something quite interesting while they were examining Ouri's body. As I explained to you earlier, we had speculated that perhaps there was something on Ouri's person that his murderer wanted to erase by throwing him into the river. We ended up discovering faint amounts of blood mixed with Level E under his fingernails and inside his nose. His internal organs were fine, but we did find traces of ash inside his body." 

Zero nodded thoughtfully, remembering the sparse notes in the case file. "Yeah, when we consulted her, our medical examiner had guessed that there was probably Level E involved." He smiled wryly. "But without a body, we couldn't confirm our suspicions." 

Kuran hummed in response, "My apologies, but we cannot hand his body over to the police department." And damn if the regretful look on his face was almost genuine. "My acquaintance would be rather upset if we were to do so." 

"The same acquaintance we're going to see," Zero guessed, raising an eyebrow quizzically. 

"Indeed, Kiryuu." 

Kuran turned the corner and Zero noted the large mansion that came into view. They were briefly stopped at the gate, and when the guard working there caught glimpse of Kuran's face she waved them through. As they drove past the gate, Zero stared at the grand mansion they found themselves pulling up in front of. While he had never seen this place in person -- though he supposed that was untrue now -- Zero had seen it on paper many, many times before. 

"Your acquaintance is The Spider?

Domestic trafficking would have a field day if they were to ever find out Zero had stepped foot in Sara Shirabuki's home. There was a constant battle between that division and the Shirabuki heiress, with the police struggling to prove that Shirabuki was a major player in the local trafficking rings. In return, Shirabuki would claim that she had never done something so reprehensible -- she merely took in the lonely and unhappy girls and introduced them to new and loving homes. So far, the police department had yet to obtain any solid proof of Shirabuki's illegal activities. 

Kuran shot him a sardonic smile. "You might not want to call her that to her face. Sara is known for many things, but her tolerance for disrespect is not one of them." As they stepped out of their car, they were escorted by an entourage of armed women through the front door. "Play nice now, detective. She has just lost her fiance after all." 

Zero grimaced. Right.

Laughter rang out as the infamous lady herself appeared in the foyer, accompanied by a group of maids. 

"If I didn't know any better, I would have thought that you were genuinely sorry for my loss," Shirabuki smiled, blue eyes trained on Kuran. "But fortunately for you, it seems like your position is safe for now." 

Something clicked in Zero's head. 

The dead fiance Kuran had mentioned...was none other than Ouri. 

His mind reeled. 

It really was quite fortunate indeed. If Shirabuki and Ouri really had gotten married and consolidated their resources, their empire definitely would have been large enough to rival Kuran's. And much as the precinct hated the amount of power the Kurans held, it was undeniable that among the six major underground powers the Kuran family was the most reasonable. And trustworthy. If one could ever call a crime lord 'trustworthy'. 

"But let's not discuss such dreary matters here. Come now." Without waiting for them, Shirabuki waved at the two to follow. They were led into an elegantly furnished sitting room and invited to take a seat on the beige couch opposite of her. Two maids came in, bearing trays of small cakes and other assorted pastries. 

Shirabuki smirked, gesturing at the spread on the table in front of them. "Please, enjoy yourselves." Neither Kuran nor he made a move to touch the food. 

At their lack of response, Shirabuki sighed. "Distrustful as always. So what brings you here today, Kaname?" She glanced at Zero with notable interest. "Accompanied by such an unusual guest too."

"Sara.

Kuran's tone held a note of warning in it. 

"Yes, yes," Shirabuki drawled, leaning back . "You really are no fun, Kaname. Alright then, ask me your questions." 

"Do you know what Ouri was doing the night he was killed?" Zero swiftly cut in. He was tired of the power play between Kuran and Shirabuki, so he jumped straight to the point before they ended up talking in circles around each other again. 

Shaking her head, Shirabuki allowed herself a small frown. "I'm afraid not. I had other plans that evening--" Zero wanted to ask what those exact plans were, but he thought better of it. He was currently in the home of one of the underground's most notorious criminals, sitting right next to the king of the underworld himself. Better not to provoke anyone. "--so I wasn't able to meet up with him." She then paused for a bit, thinking about something. "He did seem distracted on that day," Shirabuki recalled. "When I called him, he seemed rather preoccupied with...something about one of his properties. You'll have to talk to his personal aide about that, if you can even find the spineless coward." She said the last part with disdain, her delicate features briefly twisting into a disgusted grimace. 

Next to Zero, Kuran stiffened. "I..am not aware that Hiiragi is missing," Kuran replied carefully, letting none of his surprise show on his face. "I was under the impression that he had been in charge of handling Ouri's empire until they could decide the next head." Despite his impassivity, Zero could detect an undercurrent of displeasure in Kuran's steely tone. Kuran's anger was understandable; it was not often that something slipped past Kuran's information network. 

"And so he was," Shirabuki confirmed. "But I received word last night that he had suddenly disappeared. All of his data was either wiped or completely corrupted, and unfortunately none of my informants could recover what it was Ouri discussed with him that night." She sighed irritatedly, continuing, "I always did tell him that Hiiragi was a simpering brownnoser who could not be trusted. But Ouri continued to confide in that old fool for some reason. And now look. As soon as his master is gone, Hiiragi's run off to the next big wallet, no doubt." 

Zero exchanged a look with Kuran. Well, at least they had something of a new lead to follow up on. Shirabuki's comments about Ouri's preoccupation with his properties was an angle to explore, even if it ended up being nothing more than the crime lord simply worrying about his electricity bills or something equally mundane. As for the missing Hiiragi...well. They would have to track him down somehow. If even Shirabuki could not locate Ouri's previous aide, then the hunt was not going to be an easy one.

He took turns asking Shirabuki some more questions, but there was nothing else that really stood out. She really didn't know much about what Ouri had been up to, and Kuran seemed to trust her alibi. 

Kuran wrapped up their current discussion, then looked down at his watch. "Well then, thank you for all your help," he said. "We won't trouble you any further." His tone indicated that their business was concluded. "There's no need for you to trouble yourself on our account. We can see ourselves out."

"Ah ah ah," Shirabuki shook her head. "I'm afraid I can't just let you leave." Suddenly, the mild-mannered maids in the room didn't look so unthreatening. Leaning forward, the blonde smiled at Kuran, a smile that was all teeth. "I've freely provided all of this information, but that seems hardly fair, doesn't it?" 

Zero started, his hands automatically reaching for his gun. At his sudden movement, the servants in the room also reached for their weapons, pulling a creative assortment of guns seemingly out of thin air. Kuran merely smiled, laying a hand on Zero's tense shoulder reassuringly. 

"I would hardly be so rude as to waltz into your home and ask for information without bringing you something of equal value. I do believe that you'll find my gift to be quite...worth your time." 

"Oh?" Shirabuki's eyes narrowed in interest. "And what could that possibly be?" 

Kuran held up his car keys. "Shall we have one of your servants fetch it from the trunk?" 

At Shirabuki's nod, one of her maids stepped forward to take the keys from Kuran, then hurried out of the room. There was a tense silence as they sat around, waiting for the maid to come back. While Kuran and Shirabuki both looked the epitome of relaxed, Zero felt like he was watching two restless lions, each surveying the other for a sign of weakness. 

The heavy thud of multiple footsteps alerted the room to the maid's return, only she wasn't alone. Four others were behind her, carrying what appeared to be a large wooden box into the parlor. Zero stared at the box, wondering what kind of illegal exchange he was witnessing right now. He learned forward a little just as one of Shirabuki's maids tentatively lifted the heavy lid. 

And then he stared some more as the contents of the box were revealed. 

There was a body in the box. 

More specifically, the body of the very same man they had been discussing just minutes ago. 

Just hang on a second -- "Kuran, are you telling me we've been driving around the city with Ouri's body in the trunk this whole time?" Zero hissed in Kuran's ear. 

Kuran simply gave him an amused smile before turning back to face Shirabuki again. "So," the other man began, surveying Shirabuki with a sly smile. "I do believe my little present should be more than enough payment for all the details you've given us?" 

The blonde raised a trembling hand and carefully stroked Ouri's cold cheek, brushing a few blond strands away from his pale face. Shirabuki casually gestured at her servants to let the two men go, her eyes still fixed on the dead body of her fiance. "I thank you for bringing him back to me," she mused, her voice oddly hushed. "I did not think I would see him again." There was a quiet, almost wistful air about her, making her seem like a completely different person than the one they had just been talking to. In fact, it almost seemed like she was genuinely sorrowful, almost as if she had...well, loved Ouri. 

Kuran tapped Zero's shoulder, tilting his head to indicate that they should leave while Shirabuki was feeling merciful. It wouldn't do for her to suddenly change her mind and decide that she wanted to play around with them some more. Zero got up, still feeling rather odd at the scene he was witnessing. He paused. Even if they were all criminals, still… 

"I'm sorry for your loss," he told her, ignoring Kuran's tense figure and Shirabuki's similarly surprised eyes glancing up at him. "Despite the precinct's history with Ouri, he didn't deserve all this." Zero nodded awkwardly at Shirabuki, and followed Kuran and their escorts to the door. 

As they were leaving, Zero heard Shirabuki call out, "Tell me, Detective Kiryuu, how does it feel being Kaname's precious bird in a cage? Does he take good care of you, or does he simply watch you flutter around from afar?" Before Zero could puzzle over what she meant, the doors to her living room closed shut with a loud bang and he was being ushered through the mansion and back to Kuran's car.

 

 

Chapter Text

The ride back to Kuran's place was filled with silence. It didn't take long for Zero to figure out that Kuran wasn't about to start explaining Sara's parting words anytime soon. For the first time, Kuran looked angry

"Alright, what the hell did Shirabuki mean when she called me your 'bird in a cage'?" He demanded, feeling disgusted even saying the phrase. He didn't care if Kuran was angry -- Zero was angrier.

Kuran sighed in frustration. "Ignore her, Kiryuu. She's only trying to rile you up." 

While Zero didn't doubt that, there was also no denying that Kuran was definitely hiding something. Otherwise why would he be reacting the way he was? No. There was something else going on here, something that Kuran had not wanted him to know. And Zero wasn't going to just let it go. 

He thought back to what Shirabuki had said. Bird in a cage -- that implied that Kuran had some kind of hold over him. Which wasn't entirely untrue, since Kuran's cooperation in this case hinged entirely on their partnership. But that couldn't possibly all Shirabuki was referring to. No, she knew something more about the circumstances behind their partnership. Shirabuki also hadn't been surprised at his presence, merely intrigued. 

Does he take good care of you, or does he simply watch you flutter around from afar?  

Zero frowned as her words echoed in his mind. 

Does he take good care of you, or does he simply watch you -- 

Motherfucker. 

"Kuran, how long have you been keeping a tab on me?" 

Bingo. The sudden tenseness of Kuran's shoulder and the way his grip on the steering wheel suddenly tightened told Zero everything he needed to know.  

For a second, Kuran looked hesitant. Then his expression was replaced with a nonchalant confidence. "Detective, do you really think I have nothing better to do than follow you around all day?" 

Kuran did not deny that he was keeping a tab on Zero. 

"How long, Kuran?" Zero asked with gritted teeth, not in the mood for the other man's evasiveness right now. 

There was another long pause. "Just in the past year," Kuran said at first. At Zero's unwavering glare, the brunet eventually relented, "Four years." 

Four years.

Four years.

Four years.

Kuran had been shadowing him for four goddamn years

Zero's mind spun as he struggled to process what he'd just heard. 

Kuran's reluctant confession was...alarming? Fucked up? Freaking terrifying? 

Zero's fingers twitched, and he took a few deep breaths in an attempt to calm down. As tempting as it was, drawing his gun right now would not solve any problems. Alright, he could work with what he heard. It wasn't that unusual for Kuran to have someone keeping watch over anyone who worked in the precinct. Especially someone who he apparently was already planning to work with. This was no different, right? 

"So uh," Zero fought to keep his voice even despite Kuran's admission to the gross invasion of his privacy. "Which one of your lackeys did you send to keep an eye on me?" God, that was such a weird thing to ask but here he was. He didn't really want to keep talking about this, but staying in the dark wasn't an option Zero was willing to pursue.

"Seiren." 

He tensed at the name. Kuran had sent his...personal bodyguard to tail him?

"Don't worry, she was discreet." 

Zero twitched. "That is not the point, Kuran." He tried to relax back in his seat, but it was hard to do so when the alarm bells in his head were starting to go off. Kuran's posture looked equally tense, and the death grip he had on the steering wheel had not eased up since Zero brought up the question of Sara's parting words. 

Silence prevailed for a while, but the air remained uncomfortably strained. Zero debated whether he wanted to push the issue any further, considering this was his life they were discussing. At the same time, Kuran definitely did not want to keep talking about his creepy habit of having Zero followed, and Zero could clearly recall the commissioner's strict warning not to piss Kuran off. Even if Kuran was temporarily on their side due to this weird 'partnership' he had foisted upon Zero, he was still very much the head of a very dangerous criminal network. And one simply didn't walk away scotch free after pissing off such a prominent crime lord. 

Eventually, after having stewed on the extremely disturbing revelation, Zero realized that they were not headed back to Kuran's building. In fact, Kuran was driving them deeper into his own territory, somewhere looking distinctly abandoned. He stiffened in his seat and his heart raced. Well then. Was Kuran ready to stop playing at being friends and bring out the torture tactics? Just as Zero's hand started to wander towards his gun, Kuran spoke up. 

"Relax, detective. I'm not going to kill you. I thought you would appreciate a more private conversation with some fresh air." 

Yeah, sure he was. 

Zero remained seated even after Kuran parked the car, his mind in disarray. He wanted to know, but he also didn't want to know. Did he really want to be aware of the full extent of Kuran's surveillance on him? ...For four years? Even if it made sense -- he had first entered the police department at around that time -- Zero wasn't sure what to make of the fact that Kuran had the ability to do something like that. After all, there had to be a reason why Kuran was only willing to work with Zero specifically. 

He sighed. Well, there was no point in delaying the inevitable. Climbing out of the car, he slammed the door close and joined Kuran. The other man was leaning against one of the building walls, looking rather ominous in the dying light. Zero came to a halt next to Kuran, crossing his arms tensely. 

For some odd reason, something about this scene struck a familiar chord in him. Zero briefly closed his eyes, trying to shake off the weird sense of deja vu. 

"Alright, Kuran," he began, turning towards Kuran. "You said we'd talk. So talk." 

The crime lord sent him an amused look, but it was nothing like the lighthearted warmth and playfulness Kuran exhibited earlier in the day. "How bold of you, detective. Making demands now, are we?" He reached out, and Zero dodged backwards. He scowled, and Kuran retracted his hand. 

"Cut the crap." 

Kuran's expression became brittle. "Very well, Kiryuu. What would you like to know?" This again. Zero huffed in frustration, running a hand through his hair in agitation. 

"Oh I don't know, maybe let's start by talking about why you had your personal bodyguard follow me around. Or maybe why you were stalking me for four years? Or maybe let's talk about what exactly it was you had her do this whole time, because I would really like to know just how much of my life you were spying on." 

Zero grew more and more agitated with each word, letting the meaning of what he was really saying sink in. Honestly, the more he thought about it the worse it became. It was easy to try and dismiss the situation as simply something Kuran would do (being a criminal mastermind of sorts and all), but it struck Zero how personal it all seemed. Kuran sending his most faithful dog, Kuran bringing him the lead he needed for his case, Kuran's choice of oddly relatable conversation topics during lunch... Kuran ordering his favorite dish during lunch for him.  

He swallowed. Those weren't things a person would do for just anyone. Even if Kuran was keeping tabs on all the officers in the precinct, Zero highly doubted that Kuran would have bothered memorizing details like favorite foods and personal hobbies. And he had singled out Zero for some reason. 

"Honestly, detective. You seem almost offended that someone was looking out for you."

"I don't need a creepy stalker like you interfering in my life!" Zero growled angrily. "I was doing perfectly fine before you came along!" 

Apparently that was the wrong thing to say, because something about that made Kuran suddenly snap.

"Oh? Were you? Tell me, detective. Did you really think that it was just pure coincidence that a spot just happened to open up for you in homicide? Or that on all your seemingly 'impossible' cases, you would find a convenient clue that hadn't been there before? Did you think that it was your good luck again when you managed to somehow find an apartment that was close enough to the precinct even though there hadn't been any listings in the area for nearly three years?" 

Zero's eyes widened, and he scrambled backwards, putting space between them and pulling out his gun at the same time.

"What the fuck."  

His hands shook as each of Kuran's words sank in. 

Kuran hadn't been just 'keeping a tab' on Zero, he had practically been stalking him! Not even that -- if what Kuran said was true, Zero had been little more than a puppet dancing in the palm of Kuran's hand. In the dying light, Kuran suddenly looked every inch the ruthless predator Zero heard he was. Gone was the soft warmth and indulgent smiles, and in its place was a terrifying man who didn't hesitate to do whatever he wanted to. 

As Kuran stalked towards him, Zero fired a warning shot. "Stay away from me, Kuran," he snarled. "I'm not going to miss the next time." In response, Kuran lunged. Startled, Zero fired another warning shot at the other man, flinching as Kuran ignored it and rushed forwards in a sudden burst of speed. Kuran collided with him, a hand reaching out and knocking the gun out of Zero's hands. Slightly winded by the impact, Zero quickly twisted sideways, a hand automatically coming up to push Kuran away from him. 

Kuran met him at every turn, pulling him into a lethal dance as the two traded blows. They were evenly matched. Clearly Kuran wasn't just all talk and a pretty face. When Zero fell backwards from one of Kuran's blows and landed right next to his fallen gun, he didn't hesitate to scramble and pick it up. Taking that as an opening, Kuran slammed him against the car just as Zero's fingers closed around the grip. His vision blanked for a moment as pain shot across his back, but Zero had a firm hold on his gun now and brought it up, pointing it directly at Kuran's forehead. But Kuran was hardly fazed by the threat that was quite literally staring at him straight in the face. The brunet raised his other hand, resting his fingers threateningly at the base of Zero's neck. 

Will you do it? Kuran's eyes challenged, blazing almost bright red in the light of the setting sun. In fact, the brunet leaned into the cold touch of steel against his forehead while the fingers at Zero's throat pressed harder. Will you pull the trigger?  

And fuck, he wanted to. Zero really wanted to. While he had suspected Kuran had been keeping some sort of tab on him, Zero hadn't been prepared for the complete and absolute invasion of his privacy. For some reason, he had attracted the attention of a monster, and that monster wasn't willing to let him go. 

"Don't." His voice was trembling. "Don't provoke me." 

Kuran's face, up close, was even more sinister. "Or what, detective? You'll really kill me? Put a bullet straight through my brain?" The crime lord laughed, and it was a terrible sound. "We both know you could never do it. You'd lose your only lead in this case, and you'd condemn the entire police department to an endless bloodbath." 

"Don't test me right now," Zero's voice was still trembling, but lined with a determined steel. 

Kuran hardly looked fazed. "It's your call, detective." In the dying light, the red in Kuran's eyes seemed to almost glow, giving the man a demonic look. Zero didn't doubt that he was dealing with someone -- something -- that wasn't quite human. 

Damn it. 

Damn it, damn it, damn it.

Kuran wasn't wrong. As much as he loathed the idea of someone playing puppetmaster with his life, Zero couldn't bring himself to do something that would ruin the whole precinct. Even if he somehow did miraculously manage to make it out of this hostile situation alive, Zero didn't doubt that Kuran's retribution would be terrible and swift. There would be war on the streets, and he would be condemning both the lives of his fellow officers as well as their families...and any innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. 

When Zero considered the situation from that perspective, there really wasn't a question of what he would choose. But how could he keep working with someone who had so little regard for him?

"You know, detective," Kuran smiled as if he could read Zero's thoughts. "Despite what you may think, I do respect you and would prefer that our partnership continue without any...unfortunate mishaps. It would be terribly upsetting if you were to terminate our partnership now." His eyes bore into Zero's, unwavering and resolute. "Then again, I don't imagine you have much of a choice in regards to that." 

The commissioner's warning words rang in his ears once again.

"Fuck," Zero sighed, slumping against the car. 

Kuran wasn't wrong. There really wasn't much of a choice. There was another moment of silence where Zero watched Kuran with resigned eyes, his finger still on the trigger but his heart no longer in it. 

"Fine. You win." Despite his reservations, Zero lowered his gun and re-holstered it. He really didn't like this, but in the grand scheme of things it was probably the lesser evil. "But if we're going to be partners, then we need to set some boundaries. Call your dog off. And no more interfering in my life without my knowledge. I know you're going to meddle whether I like it or not, but if I'm going to be cooperating with you I need you to stop treating me like one of your damn lackeys and start respecting me." Kuran still looked mildly displeased, but the fingers lingering at Zero's throat withdrew. He surveyed Kuran uneasily, watching as the other man's disturbing expression slowly morphed into the polite facade that he was accustomed to. But now, Zero knew exactly what was hiding behind that false gentleness. "Let's start again from the top." 

Taking a deep breath, he stuck his hand out, "Zero Kiryuu," and held his ground when the other grasped it firmly. His throat felt dry, and Zero wondered what exactly he had gotten himself into. 

Kuran smiled at him, a dark smile that shed all pretense of gentleness. "Kaname Kuran. But please," the devil in human form suddenly tightened his grip. "I'd really rather you call me Kaname." 

Fuck.

 

 

Chapter Text

"You know, Kuran, when I said we could try getting to know each other the normal way, I didn't mean we had to do it the very next day," Zero fidgeted uncomfortably as the brunet slid into the seat across from him. 

As soon as he had gotten home yesterday night, he received a text from an unknown number with an address, a time, and a 'request' to meet. Even though the message had been unsigned, there was no need for Zero to guess who the sender was. The message had a very confident 'do as I say or else' tone to it that only Kuran could pull off with such ease. 

Kuran simply smiled. "It's good to see you too, Zero." 

There was a pause where Kuran looked expectantly at him. 

Glaring at the brunet, Zero grudgingly amended, "Kaname." 

The crime lord was back to his usual false politeness, nothing of the terrifying monstrous aura he had displayed the prior day. Kuran looked oddly pleased at Zero's acknowledgement, and Zero decided that he didn't want to read too much into that. He was still coming to terms with the fact that he had willingly agreed to play nice with the man who essentially had been stalking him for about four years. That was so many different levels of fucked up. 

Kuran was still looking at him with a disturbing mixture of pleased fondness. Casting his gaze around desperately, Zero's gaze landed on the awestruck look of the girl at the counter. She seemed mesmerized at the sight of himself and Kuran, though Zero could not figure out why. Okay, that was maybe a lie. Even if he had his reservations about Kuran, Zero wasn't blind. You'd have to be neck deep in denial to not notice how unnaturally beautiful Kuran looked. 

Kuran followed his gaze, and -- was that a frown Zero was now seeing on Kuran's face? He was starting to get whiplash from Kuran's mood swings. 

"Should we order something then?" Zero interjected, redirecting Kuran's attention. 

Well, at least that made Kuran's frown ease up, and the brunet was soon sporting a pleasant smile again. Kuran shook his head as Zero made to get up, instead gesturing at someone over his shoulder. The bell on the door jingled again as Seiren of all people walked in, and she headed to the counter. 

Zero stared. Wow, he did joke about Kuran's subordinates being his dogs, but just how close was he to the truth? 

He almost was about to ask how Seiren would know what to order, but then Zero remembered that Kuran had all of his preferences conveniently memorized. He slowly sat back down. There went his excuse to delay having to make awkward conversation with the other man. Well, since they were both here they might as well make good use of their time together. 

"So, I was thinking about the case," Zero started. "About what Sara said regarding Ouri's aide. You said his name was Hiiragi? His disappearance is way too--" 

Before he could finish his thought, Kuran had lifted a finger and placed it on Zero's lips. Zero's mind blanked. What the fuck. The brunet stilled as Zero pulled away, a disturbed expression slipping across the detective's face in spite of his efforts to stay calm. Kuran didn't look too happy, but Zero supposed that even he had realized he went a little too far with that. 

"You know, Ku -- Kaname," he finally said after a moment of awkward silence. "When I said we needed to set some boundaries, I also meant physical boundaries." To be fair, Zero had thought it was common sense that you didn't just do things like that with someone you didn't know very well. And Kuran certainly had seemed like the sensible type. 

Their awkward conversation was interrupted by the appearance of Seiren, who had their drinks in hand. She set down the two cups in front of them, bowed to Kuran, and made herself scarce. 

Zero seized this as a chance to pivot the conversation to safer topics. He reached out for his coffee, noting that Seiren had ordered his usual espresso macchiato (which by extension, meant that Kuran indeed knew his coffee preferences), and took a sip. He jerked his chin towards the cup in Kuran's hands. 

"So what's your poison, Kaname?" 

Alright, so maybe their go-to coffee orders wasn't the best conversation starter, but in Zero's defense he really didn't want to keep thinking about Kuran's creepy habits. And Kuran had made it quite clear that he didn't want to discuss the case. That left Zero with the only option of actually making small talk and getting to know each other on a more personal level. Well, more of Zero getting to know Kuran, since Kuran probably already knew everything he needed to about Zero's preferences. 

The brunet gave him a knowing look, but indulged Zero's obvious pivot and replied, "I've always enjoyed a good cup of Americano."

Somehow, that ended up extending into a conversation about Kuran's expertise in determining good coffee, and Zero found himself engaged in conversation regarding everything from the beans that were used to the coffee making process. It caught Zero off guard about how passionate and knowledgeable Kuran was about the subject. The disconnect between the Kuran he had expected and the Kuran he was seeing before him was unsettling. 

For someone who was so annoyingly mysterious and vague most of the time, Kuran was sure eager to share his personal interests with Zero. Of course, Zero was very much aware that Kuran wasn't doing this purely out of the good of his heart. There was no way Kuran missed how tense Zero's posture had been this whole time, or how Zero had deliberately chosen a seat in the coffee shop that gave him easy access to an escape route should the need arise. This whole conversation was probably a ploy to make Zero lower his guard, and it irked Zero to know how much it worked. 

The fact that Kuran also had such mundane and inane interests had helped him relax over the course of their coffee da--meeting (not a date), and it briefly allowed Zero to remember that there was indeed a man beyond the terrifying crime lord he saw the previous day. Logically, he knew that it didn't mean Kuran was any less dangerous and that Kuran's monstrous nature had not simply disappeared, but the human brain was a stupid thing and Zero felt himself letting his guard down despite knowing that this was all part of Kuran's scheme. 

In fact, watching Kuran's face grow more open and animated as he shared a story about one of the coffee places he frequented with his sister, Zero finally admitted hesitantly that he honestly found this side of Kuran to be...just a little, slightest bit endearing. If a monster could be endearing.

 

-- 

 

Luckily for Zero's nerves, Kuran's schedule became too busy for another meetup. He didn't see Kuran until nearly eight days later when they were both called to the forensics department to look at some new bodies that had been brought in. Kuran was already discussing something quietly with the medical examiner when Zero walked in. As he opened the door and came inside, the two looked up at him and Kuran smiled at him. 

"Good morning, detective." 

He nodded. "Good morning, Ku -- Kaname." Zero had almost slipped into familiar habits, but caught himself last second. His automatic correction earned himself a pleased look on Kuran's face, and while Zero didn't particularly care for how Kuran felt he wasn't about to purposely antagonize the other either. He really didn't want to deal with Kuran's...other side. "Good morning, Momoyama," he greeted the elderly medical examiner. 

Smiling indulgently at the display of friendliness between the two men in front of her, Momoyama returned, "Good morning Zero. I'm afraid that unfortunately I don't have such great news." Zero took a look at the number of bodies laid out in front of them, and sighed. Yeah, it really didn't look so good. 

"Alright then, what do you have for us?" 

He felt Kuran step into place by his side as he followed Momoyama to the first of the bodies. The medical examiner glanced down at her clipboard, then gently peeled back the cloth that had been covering the corpse's face. "Kobayashi Aoi, twenty-four, front desk receptionist at a logistics company. Passed away at around four thirty this morning, with her cause of death being overdose from Level E." She walked to the next body and did the same, revealing the features of yet another young woman. "Ichihara Maiko, twenty-one, recently graduated student and unemployed. Passed away at around four thirty this morning, cause of death also overdose from Level E." As she went down the row of bodies, it became quite clear what connected them -- 

Hasegawa Inori. Twenty-three. Project manager at an advertising agency. Time of death, four thirty am. Cause of death, overdose from Level E. 

Osato Yuzuru. Twenty-four. Accountant at a nonprofit organization. Time of death, four thirty am. Cause of death, overdose from Level E. 

Ichinose Kureha. Twenty-one. University student. Time of death, four thirty am. Cause of death, overdose from Level E. 

Five young ladies, all in their early twenties, same times of death and all from overdosing on Level E. Other than those similarities, it didn't seem like the victims had much in common. Their profiles didn't reveal much; the five girls all worked in different areas of the city, engaged in mostly different social circles, and didn't seem to have any connection to each other outside of whatever it was that led to their deaths. 

"Arata and Mayumi found the five of them on their patrol this morning. They rushed the bodies here, where I was able to observe something really interesting." They watched as Momoyama pulled back the rest of the sheet on Aoi's body, revealing the neat incision she had made down the front of the corpse's stomach. Zero braced himself for what he would see, but the actual sight that greeted them left him confused and horrified. 

"Where...are her organs?" 

They saw a hollow cavern inside Aoi's body, covered by what seemed to be a fine layer of -- "They disintegrated into ash." Momoyama explained, gesturing at the other four corpses. "All of them. When the bodies were first brought here, their organs were still in the process of deteriorating. There must be something inside Level E that react with the internal organs and breaks them down." 

This...certainly was a new development in the case. While there were signs of organ degeneration in previous victims, there hadn't been anything as extreme as this. It meant whoever had created Level E was still developing it.

Still, there was something about the word ash that seemed oddly familiar. Zero frowned, trying to remember what it was about that detail. He caught Kuran's gaze, and a metaphorical lightbulb went off in his head. 

"Ouri." 

Kuran seemed to have came to the same conclusion, and the brunet nodded in affirmation. "Yes. Along with Level E, we also found traces of ash inside Ouri's body. His organs were nowhere near the same state as this, so it stands to reason that Ouri possibly could have discovered whoever was testing out this new batch of Level E and unwittingly became a victim himself." They exchanged another troubled glance. 

This was raising more and more red flags. If Ouri had been close to discovering the truth when he was murdered, then they had to find Ouri's former aide as soon as possible. Perhaps Ouri had shared his suspicions with Hiiragi, which was why the man went off the radar when his master died. Hiiragi's life was in danger. At the same time, it became even more imperative that they find the makers and distributors of Level E. The drug was becoming increasingly more dangerous (not that it was safe to begin with), and Zero had the sinking feeling that the body toll would only continue to rise exponentially higher as time went on. 

There really was only one way to sum this all up. 

"What a shitshow," Zero sighed in frustration, earning a nod of agreement from Kuran. 

 

--

 

Despite the urgency, there was a brief lull in the case for a while. Hiiragi was frustratingly difficult to track down, and there was not much they could do as more bodies began to drop as the new Level E hit the streets. Zero met with Kuran every now and then, both to discuss matters relating to the case but also whenever Kuran wanted to 'get to better know each other' over a cup of coffee. Their busy schedules meant that their coffee outings -- not 'dates', Zero adamantly swore -- usually took place at night. It was an unusual time to get coffee, that was for sure, but Zero didn't keep the most regular hours anyways. 

In between the fruitless efforts to search for Ouri's former aide and attempts to track down the distributors of Level E, Kuran took him on an adventure to nearly all of the coffee shops in town. Zero had expected the pricey and extravagant places, but then occasionally Kuran would surprise him by bringing him to some hole in the wall that served really amazing coffee and pastries. Kuran had a surprisingly diverse taste, and Zero was forced to concede when the brunet wasn't pulling his evil overlord act he was an intriguing person Zero didn't mind spending time with. 

If he was being honest, if he looked past Kuran's questionable career choices and tendency to do whatever he wanted, Kuran was...not exactly lacking in admirable qualities. Kuran was intense but dedicated, smart as hell, had a wicked sense of humor, and extremely gorgeous. Sometimes Zero honestly felt somewhat...well, flattered that someone like Kuran desired his company. 

"Earth to Zero, it's your turn." 

Kuran's words shook him out of his daze, and Zero blinked to see that the brunet had already finished placing his block at the top. Kuran was smirking rather smugly as Zero surveyed the leaning tower in front of them, trying to find a block that he could pull out without making the entire tower collapse.

...Yes, they were playing Jenga while having their usual coffee meetup. 

It was a right strange sight, a detective and a crime lord sitting together in a coffee shop playing some nonsensical game. Zero had only been joking when he pointed out the array of games sitting on the shop's shelf in the corner, but next thing he knew Seiren was placing the box of Jenga blocks down on the table and then suddenly disappearing again. Zero was caught off guard by Kuran's almost childish impulses, but he gave in after a few seconds of stupidly gawking at the sight and helped Kuran arrange the blocks into a standing tower. 

Zero was beginning to see that Kuran had a much more...human side that most people didn't expect. On their meetup a few days ago they had exchanged pictures and videos of each others' cats. Zero had been wary of showing Kuran anything on his phone, but Kuran took the initiative to hand his own phone over to Zero for Zero to look at. And so, reluctantly, Zero unlocked his own phone and opened up to his album of cat pictures. He didn't go as far as to let Kuran take his phone from him, but it was still a sign of trust that he allowed Kuran to look through all his personal photos.

When Kuran stumbled across the pictures Zero had taken of Lily when she was a kitten, they ended up telling swapping stories about what it was like when they first adopted their respective cats and all the trouble the two got up to. Zero never pegged Kuran to be such a cat dad, it really was...adorable. 

He couldn't help but feel guilty that they were spending all this time whimsically going around having coffee while there was still some madman running around out there, but Kuran managed to dissipate all of those thoughts whenever they were together. Kuran had a way of pulling him into engaging conversation, and after the first few initial misses Kuran seemed to have found his footing and remained relatively respectful of Zero's space (from what he could tell, anyways). Zero didn't really want to admit it, but he was starting to see Kuran as someone more than just an acquaintance from work.

 

 

Chapter Text

Their first real break in the case came the day after their ninth coffee meetup. Zero had been ushered into the commissioner's office bright and early, where he saw Kuran and Touga engaged in a battle of wills. The commissioner also looked displeased, and his eyes flashed with some unknown emotion when Zero opened the door and stepped in. 

"Good, you're finally here," the commissioner's words were abrupt, causing Kuran and Touga to both break away from their staring contest. "We've received an update from one of our informants." 

According to their source, Hiiragi had been spotted hanging around in Hanadagi's territory. More specifically, the Blue Light nightclub that the crime lord was known for favoring. Seeing as Kuran wasn't on good terms with Hanadagi (putting it mildly) and Hanadagi hated the police force (also putting it mildly), they were stuck as to how to approach the place. Touga was of the opinion that they should conduct a proper police raid on the place, while Kuran was in favor of a more subtle and less legal approach. Touga wanted the precinct to send backup, Kuran insisted on bringing his own people as backup. 

Essentially, Touga wanted to follow proper procedure so as to not incur legal issues later on down the road, and Kuran was against this idea because he thought it would spook Hiiragi and they would lose their only lead. 

Zero could already feel the onset of a migraine. Massaging his temples, he tried to think of some kind of best case scenario so that neither party would feel left out of all the action. 

"How about this," the detective started, turning first to Touga. "Captain Yagari can send someone to Blue Light and see if Hanadagi is willing to cooperate with police questioning. The goal isn't to make sure he does; we already know that Hanadagi would never agree to actually work with the precinct. Rather, we want to just scout around and take a look at the night club to see if there's anything out of place or any evidence that Hanadagi is involved with Hiiragi and the production of Level E." 

Zero then turned to Kuran, hesitating. 

He wasn't sure how to address the man in front of everyone else. Kuran had been very insistent on the use of first names, but Zero also knew that if he were to do that, the commissioner and Touga would have him locked in an interrogation room faster than he could blink. In the end, he decided to solve the issue by talking to Kuran directly. "You can send someone after this visit under the pretense of being concerned regarding the police presence at Blue Night since everyone knows you're running surveillance on the precinct anyways. And then you can try your approach to get Hanadagi to spill the beans." 

Was this the best plan? Probably not. Excluding the extremely dubious lack of legality in certain parts of the plan, there were also so many opportunities for things to go south. Was it one that could reasonably satisfy both parties? Considering he had tried his best to incorporate both Kuran and the precinct into the plan, Zero certainly hoped so. 

He looked around the room, waiting to see if anyone had a better idea. Neither Touga nor Kaname looked particularly pleased with the solution, but no one seemed to have a better proposal. 

The commissioner narrowed his eyes, staring at Zero contemplatively before turning to Touga. "We will go with Detective Kiryuu's idea then. Captain, I'll leave you to select your team. Kiryuu, as you will be working directly with Kuran, I expect a full detailed report on my desk after this is done." Zero remained respectfully quiet, realizing this was the commissioner's attempt to re-establish control over the case. With the way Kuran operated, Zero wasn't surprised to find the commissioner feeling threatened by Kuran's authority. 

The meeting dragged on for another thirty minutes while they tried to figure out the logistics of the plan. Touga and the commissioner also unsuccessfully attempted to pry out of Kuran the crime lord's plan for confronting Hanadagi. By the end of the discussion, no one looked any happier and tempers were starting to run high. Zero could see Seiren was getting ready to jump in and defend Kuran if necessary. 

Zero could only heave a silent sigh of relief after the meeting concluded. However, his peace was short-lived. As soon as he reached his desk, he was accosted by an irritated Kaito. 

"You're still working with that bastard?" was the first thing Zero heard when he sat down at his desk. 

Turning to his -- former? -- partner, Zero sighed. "Good morning to you too, Kaito." 

Since the beginning, Kaito hadn't exactly been silent about his disapproval about what the precinct was doing. His vocal complaints about the commissioner 'selling' Zero off to Kuran had eventually died down, and instead he had turned to interrogating Zero about what it was he was doing with Kuran exactly. The situation was further exacerbated by the fact that the commissioner had elected to keep Kaito in the dark about what was going on with the case. 

Well, that was soon to change. Touga had selected Kaito to be the third member of the team that was going to Hanadagi's night club. In fact, he could hear their captain barking out Kaito's name right now, calling the brunet over to the commissioner's office. Zero wasn't sure what details they were going over in the meeting, but he highly doubted that the commissioner would tell Kaito too much. There was a good reason Kaito had been forcibly transferred from the organized crime unit after all. 

Kaito looked annoyed at the interruption, but they both knew that it wasn't wise to keep the commissioner waiting. Standing up from his seat, the other detective promised, "We'll continue this conversation at another time." Zero wanted to point out there wasn't much of a conversation to continue, but it wasn't really worth the hassle and Kaito was already making his way to the commissioner's office anyways. 

Sighing, Zero leaned forward and pulled one of the files stacked on top of his desk. Well, the least he could do while waiting for the others to report back was to start polishing off his tower of paperwork. 

 

--

 

Upon stepping out of the building, Zero was ambushed by Kaito. 

The brunet had stayed stonily silent while Cross and Touga took turns giving their report on their attempt that afternoon to talk to Hanadagi. Zero could feel Kaito's displeased glare flickering over to him every five minutes or so, and Zero resigned himself for an inevitable confrontation. To his surprise, Kaito did not immediately say anything after the debriefing. Zero had allowed himself to cautiously hope that maybe Kaito's curiosity had been satisfied and that he was merely upset at being kept out of the loop. 

It wasn't until Zero walked out of the precinct after having received a text from Kuran that he noticed Kaito was shadowing him. 

"What kind of dangerous shit did you get involved in now?" The other man's voice was accusatory, with a hidden undercurrent of worry lining his words. 

Zero simply felt tired. He knew this was Kaito's own way of showing concern, but with the way his relationship with Kuran was currently developing Zero just wasn't sure how to respond to Kaito's constant questioning. As the youngest members of the homicide division, the two detectives had always felt a certain kinship with each other. And as they were partnered together, he developed a kind of brotherly bond with Kaito. Having to hide this cloak and dagger business with Kuran left a bad taste in his mouth. It was bad enough that he was keeping something this big a secret; it would be so much worse if Kaito were to ever discover that Kuran's less than appropriate feelings for Zero were not completely unreciprocated. 

"Kaito, everything we do is dangerous," Zero finally answered, mentally bracing himself as he saw Kaito's scowl intensify at the way Zero avoided answering his question. "Working in homicide isn't the safest job in the world." 

The other detective stepped forward, reaching out and grabbing Zero's shoulders in an almost punishing grip. "Zero." Kaito's eyes were dead serious. "The last time we really talked was right before you were reassigned as Kuran's partner. I haven't heard much from you these past few weeks, and now I find out from Captain Touga that not only did you get involved in some case about disintegrating bodies you also went with Kuran, alone, to The Spider's place." 

Zero looked away. He couldn't stare at Kaito straight in the face and tell him a lie. "You're hurting me," he said instead. 

"Why are you doing this? Does Kuran have something on you, and that's why you can't say anything? Is he threatening you?" Kaito had resorted to shaking his shoulders, his fingers digging into the fabric of Zero's coat. At the same time, Zero's phone rang. Kuran's number lit up on the screen, and Zero despaired at the terrible timing. Kaito's face was thunderous as he jerked his chin at the phone screen. "Is that him?" 

It was, but Zero wasn't about to admit to it. He allowed the phone call to go to voicemail, but his phone lit up again seconds later. Kaito looked like he was ready to take the phone from Zero's hands and hurl it. Before Kaito could actually do anything, Zero quickly muted his phone and slipped it into his coat pocket, ignoring the angry buzzing as he let the calls go unanswered. 

"It's not like that," Zero tried to explain, wondering how much he could say. He didn't need Kaito and Kuran's paths intersecting. The last thing Zero wanted was for Kuran to put a close tail on Kaito because the other detective was getting too involved. And he knew that Kaito was also particularly touchy about the topic. Zero didn't want Kaito to have the wrong idea about what was going on and then grossly overreacting. 

Running a hand through his hair, Zero sighed. He tried to pry Kaito's hands off him, but the older man seemed determined to hold Zero in place as he waited for answers. 

"I know that he's a crime lord, and his morals are dubious at best," Zero started again. "But he isn't completely inhuman. I know you don't want to hear this but," he licked his dry lips, trying to figure out how to best say the next part. "I...I trust him." At Kaito's stunned look, Zero shook his head. "I don't mean that I completely trust him with everything--" because he really didn't. "--but I trust him enough to know that he's not going to stab me in the back while we're working together." 

It didn't seem to reassure Kaito, because the brunet looked angrier as Zero struggled to explain his relationship with Kuran. Kaito was already dismissing Zero's words, stepping closer to the younger detective. "He's manipulating you, Zero. You can't trust anything that man says." When Zero opened his mouth to protest, Kaito raised his voice. "He's not a good man, Zero! He's just using you, just like how he's using the rest of this precinct!" 

"I know," Zero replied, wincing at the reminder. 

"Then why are you defending him? Why are you not telling me what's going on? I can't help you if you don't tell me anything!"

At Kaito's barrage, Zero snapped.

"Because Kaname isn't pure evil like you're making him out to be!" 

As soon as Zero said those words, he knew he had made a mistake. Stupid Kuran for insisting on first names only. Stupid him for falling into that bad habit. 

Meanwhile, his slip didn't go unnoticed by Kaito. 

"Kaname? You're on a first name basis with that bastard?" 

"It's not what you think, Kai--" 

"No, it's exactly as he thinks." 

Both Zero and Kaito stiffened when a new voice entered their conversation. In the heat of their argument, neither of them had noticed the nondescript black car that pulled up to the precinct, much less when Kuran stepped out of said car to join them. The crime lord was smiling, but it wasn't the polite and mild-mannered smile he often defaulted to. No, this was the same cruel smile that Zero had witnessed a few weeks ago when Kuran wanted to make a point about something. At the sight of Kuran's terrifying expression, Kaito instinctively released a hand and moved it to the holster of his gun. His other hand clamped down hard on Zero's shoulder, trying to push the younger detective behind him. 

"Imagine my surprise," Kuran began in a leisurely drawl, his eyes flickering to where Kaito's hand was gripping Zero's shoulder. "When I called you to let you know I was waiting for you outside the precinct, and not only did you fail to pick up the first time, you didn't pick up the next five times either." For a millisecond, Kuran's eyes softened just the slightest touch. "But now I see it wasn't of your own accord. Detective Takamiya, I suggest you unhand my partner, now, before I'm forced to take drastic action." 

No one missed the way Kuran crept ever closer to them, or the threatening tone he used to address Kaito. 

"He's not your partner, Kuran." 

"No?" Kuran stepped forward again challengingly. "I think you'll find you're quite wrong on that account. Zero here is my partner for the time being, so I would really appreciate it if you took your hands off of my partner now, Takamiya." His eyes narrowed at Kaito's defiance. "I won't be repeating myself a third time." 

Screw this. 

"He is right here, and he would like to say that now is not the time for your argument," Zero spoke up, feeling irritated at the way they were talking about him as if he wasn't there. He pried away Kaito's insistent hand and stepped out from behind the older detective. Zero first turned to Kaito, deciding to borrow a page out of the other man's book. "Kaito, we have to go. We can continue this conversation another time." 

He then looked at Kuran, who was sporting a rather smug expression. "...Kaname." Zero resolutely ignored the stock-still figure of Kaito behind him and the insufferably delighted smile on Kuran's face. He knew he was going to pay for this later, but Zero decided that he could deal with it when the time came. "We should stop wasting time." 

Kuran continued to smile, gesturing at Zero to get in the car. "Of course," he practically purred, looking very much like the cat that got the cream. "After you, Zero." The last part was said with a pointed look in Kaito's direction. As he climbed into the car, Zero only had a moment to shoot Kaito an apologetic look before Kuran closed the door. Seconds later, Kuran came in through the other side and instructed the chauffeur to take them to his estate.

 

 

Chapter Text

As it turned out, the very urgent business Kuran had called him away for was not so urgent after all. Or at least Zero certainly didn't think it was. Kuran insisted that Zero needed an appropriate outfit for tonight's venture to the Blue Light club, and that he had booked his personal tailor for Zero's fitting. 

Playing dress up with Kuran went about as well as he had expected. 

There indeed had been a tailor waiting at Kuran's estate, fretting and tutting the whole time during Zero's measurements about not being able to prepare a proper set of clothes given the very last minute nature of this house call. Of course, he had promptly shut his mouth when Kuran entered the room, and only had simpering praises and gratitudes for Kuran's patronage. Personally, Zero thought it was rather wasteful to summon a tailor for the purpose of crafting a single set of clothing that he was probably only ever going to wear once, but Kuran had steamrolled over all of his protests without a care in the world. 

After four hours of torture, with Kuran insisting that the tailor take all of Zero's measurements not once, not twice, but three times, the reedy little man wiped the sweat off his forehead and let them know that he would send over the completed suit sometime later in the day. Zero was then promptly -- forcibly -- shown to the dining room, where Kuran had arranged for his cooks to set up a decadent feast. 

Given the elaborate spread, Zero initially thought that they would be joined by Kuran's lieutenants and inner circle and braced himself for a tense lunch full of unpleasant pleasantries.

He needn't have worried. 

As it turned out, his assumption that Kuran was a possessive bastard was on the dot, and they were the only two people in the entire room. The wait staff, after serving them, disappeared to god-knows-where and left the two of them to dine alone. Naturally, Kuran was seated at the head of the table. There was only one other chair at the table, and it was to Kuran's direct right. 

Lunch was less of a casual affair this time as their conversation turned to the reports they had received regarding Hiiragi's presence at the Blue Light club. The most concerning point was the mention of seeing someone who looked like Seiren by Hiiragi's side. When Zero brought that up, Kuran had momentarily stiffened, and after careful prodding from Zero he reluctantly revealed that he had sent Seiren to scout out the nightclub after the meeting at the precinct. Seiren had never reported back, and Kuran was forced to conclude that she had been forcibly detained or captured. 

("You did what," Zero asked flatly at the confession, angry at Kuran but completely unsurprised. He should have known Kuran wouldn't trust the precinct to handle the investigation alone.) 

At seven thirty pm, a package arrived for Zero, containing his outfit for the evening. Kuran had tried to 'help' Zero get ready as a 'good friend' would, and the crime lord managed to finish popping free all the buttons of Zero's work shirt before the detective was able to kick him out. 

Just being a 'good friend'? He thought Kuran was smoother than that.

Slipping his shirt off, Zero winced as he noticed the bruises on his shoulders, angry discolored patches where Kaito had gripped him too hard. He reached into the package, taking out a crisp white shirt and marveled at the quality of the material. It was a wonderfully expensive white shirt, but at the end of the day it was just another dress shirt. Zero never would have bothered spending this much money on a single article of clothing. He left the top two buttons unbuttoned; Zero had always hated feeling restrictions around his neck and if it hadn't been for the workplace requirements he never would have bothered with button downs. 

There was a pair of dark grey slacks and a large Oxford Blue overcoat in the package. They were both made of equally expensive materials, and while Zero had never felt so comfortable in what he considered work appropriate clothes, he felt even less comfortable about the astronomical cost of everything. 

"I think we'll go for charcoal next time," Kuran mused, his voice drifting from the now open doorway. 

...Of course it was too much to expect Kuran to respect the fact that Zero had locked the door. He briefly wondered just how much Kuran had seen before deciding that it was something he did not want to know. 

Zero sighed, reaching for the expensive cufflinks. "There will be no 'next time', Kaname." 

Kuran merely hummed in amusement, gliding forward to help Zero thread the silver accessories through the button holes. 

"Perfect," the other man declared, purposely reaching out and brushing off some imaginary lint away from the front of Zero's coat. Zero suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. 

Taking a step back, the detective shook his head. "Boundaries," he reminded the crime lord. 

Kuran's face twisted in displeasure, but he sighed and gestured at the doorway. 

 

-- 

 

The Blue Light nightclub was definitely one of the fancier establishments Zero had been to. It was a classy place, and Zero was pretty sure that everyone here was wearing clothes that probably cost more than his paycheck could ever hope to afford. No wonder Kuran had insisted on a wardrobe change. 

Speaking of wardrobe change…

Zero couldn't help but sneak a few glances at his partner. Kuran was always impeccably dressed, but it seemed like he had gone the extra mile tonight. The older man had selected a black double-breasted coat, pairing it with a dark burgundy scarf decorated with a check and dot stitched pattern. His outfit accented his red-brown eyes, giving them a subtly threatening glow. In other words, Kuran was dressed to go to battle, and he had purposely chosen a white shirt and dark grey slacks to match with Zero. It was an unspoken claim of their connection to each other. 

The staff exchanged uneasy glances at their appearance, and a nervous member of the wait staff showed them to their booth. They were in a relatively secluded corner of the club where they could see out onto the floor at all the patrons but were shielded enough that prying eyes were unlikely to find them. Kuran ended up ordering for both of them, once again rattling off Zero's preferred drink without doubt or hesitation. 

Taking a glance around the club, Zero noted that the atmosphere had become stilted and awkward when they sat down at their table. "Is it always this tense in here?" Zero murmured quietly as he took a sip from his espresso martini. While the patrons were still mingling and dancing, a few had taken to discreetly trying to catch a glimpse at the two men in the corner. 

Kuran laughed dryly. "Did you forget whose territory we are currently in?" He gestured at where Zero assumed the private back rooms were. "This is Hanadagi's prized club, and it's favored by members of his circle. Naturally, they are wondering why I have chosen to make an appearance here." He leaned back in his seat, glass of Black Russian in one hand and beckoning to Zero with the other. 

Curious, Zero slid closer to Kuran, and the crime lord leaned into him. "Of course, everyone also wants to know who my partner for the evening is." Kuran's lips were so close to his ear that they brushed against his sensitive skin with each word, and Zero fought the urge to shiver. "Seeing as I rarely take anyone out, they're rather agitated that someone seems to have captured my attention. See those women there? They had an ongoing bet about who would be the one to finally capture my attention." As he spoke, he curled his free hand around Zero's waist, ignoring the detective's sudden jolt of alarm. Zero glared up only to see Kuran smirking. "Careful now, or you'll draw suspicion to us." 

Zero tried his best to relax, but it was hard with the way Kuran had taken to rubbing circles into his side, and was that his hand slipping under Zero's shirt -- "What are you playing at?" Zero hissed under his breath, attempting to maintain a neutral facade. 

"Smile, darling, the people are watching." 

Kuran dipped his head into the crook of Zero's neck, and this time Zero really did jump when a wet tongue darted out and licked his neck. He tried to pull away, but he found himself unable to move when there was a sharp pain and the sensation of teeth scraping along his skin. His brain realized rather belatedly that Kuran was trying to mark him. 

Thankfully, Kuran's machinations were brought to an abrupt halt by the appearance of three men dressed in black. They bowed their heads stiffly, and to Zero's mortification --  waited for Kuran to finish his business with Zero. The crime lord pressed a soft kiss against Zero's neck, and Zero shuddered at the feeling. 

"Yes, what is it?" Kuran demanded. 

"Hanadagi requests the honor of your presence," the leader of the group stepped forward, his head still bowed respectfully. "If you will follow after me." 

 

--

 

"Kuran Kaname," the pale blond man sitting across from them drawled, barely concealing his distaste under a thin mask of politeness. "How surprising that you have graced my little establishment with your presence. You certainly are the last person I would expect to see here. And you've even brought a guest."

Kuran shrugged, looking unfazed by Hanadagi's words. "I'm afraid this isn't a social call," he replied, sounding just as relaxed as if he didn't care for Hanadagi's disagreeable disposition. "The police have been sniffing around this place. As I make it my business to know the goings on of the precinct, you can imagine my surprise when your fine establishment came under their surveillance." 

The two men glared at each other, Hanadagi trying to maintain a calm facade but his tightening grip on the armchair giving away his anger at the jab. "I didn't realize the Kuran family was so interested in the routine checks of a nightclub run by a lowly person like myself." 

Kuran's smile didn't reach his eyes. "We do pride ourselves on being thorough, after all." 

Zero tensed, forcing himself to stay calm through the dangerous banter. Something was wrong, and his senses were screaming at him. His fingers twitched, aching for the comforting grip of his gun. 

"Then you'll pardon me if I say that your visit has been in vain, because I certainly don't need your help with the police." 

"It wasn't a negotiable offer." 

"Still, I must decline. As you see, I'm managing just fine." 

Kuran smirked. "Not from what I can tell. Business is slowing, is it not?" 

"Enough with the pleasantries," Hanadagi snarled, finally losing his patience. "I know why you're really here today, Kuran, and I'm not falling for your petty tricks." 

Fuck, he had been right. This was a trap. Zero reached inside his coat and grabbed his gun just as men began to swarm the room, their own firearms pointed at the two 'guests'. Hanadagi spared him a mildly interested glance before turning back to Kuran. The nightclub owner stood up gracefully, stepping behind the cover of his men. He laughed, vicious and mocking. 

"Did you really think that I wouldn't know why you came here, willingly? Do you take me for a fool?" Hanadagi flicked a hand towards their direction, heading towards the exit. "Kill them." 

Zero fired off three shots immediately as the room lit up with gunfire, aiming for the legs of nearby henchmen. Kuran had no such reservations and emptied his clip into the foreheads of his enemies, killing them on the spot. To Zero's surprise, they didn't have any issues fighting side by side; Kuran flowed around his movements like it was second nature to him and covered all of his blind spots. Together, they were a deadly duo, managing to dodge most of the stray bullets and returning fire without a beat. Zero was suddenly very glad that he had insisted they both wear bulletproof vests.

"Go after Hanadagi," Kuran murmured into his ear as the other man grabbed him and pulled him behind cover of an overturned sofa. "I'll hold them off, but we can't afford to let Hanadagi get away." 

Glancing at the door, Zero hesitated. Kuran had a point, but he also loathed the thought of leaving Kuran behind to deal with the rest of Hanadagi's men. 

Kuran gave him a shove in the direction of the exit, shaking his head. "I appreciate the sentiment, Zero, but we don't have time to spare right now. Do you trust me?" 

Up close to him, he could see all the dazzling colors of Kuran's eyes and the earnest expression on that handsome face. Zero swallowed. He did -- God help him, he really did. Zero nodded, grabbing Kuran's arm. He opened his mouth. There were so many things he wanted to say, but they didn't have time for all that. "Be safe," Zero whispered fiercely. "Don't get yourself killed." Before he could doubt himself, Zero pressed a quick kiss to the corner of Kaname's mouth and dashed off towards the door, his cheeks flushing furiously. 

The sound of gunfire became louder as Kuran presumably rejoined the fight, and Zero tried to push all thoughts of the crime lord to the back of his mind as he shot another two rounds at the men guarding the door. He winced as one of their returning shots clipped him in the arm, but Zero pushed through. 

He wandered through the hallways, gun at the ready and sneaking glances around corners for a sign of Hanadagi. Zero carefully combed the place, but there was no sign of the crime lord anywhere. He opened another door, stumbling into the nightclub's warehouse. There were stacks of crates lying around, and if Zero squinted he could see the other warehouse door. 

"--as expected," he heard Hanadagi's voice say from somewhere nearby. 

Stilling, Zero raised his gun, walking around slowly. He pulled back rapidly as he spotted Hanadagi conversing with someone else in the corner of the room, the nightclub owner scowling and looking harassed.

"Tell your master that Kuran is suspicious of me," Hanadagi snapped at the unknown person. Zero craned his neck, trying to catch a glimpse of who Hanadagi was talking to, but the other person was too well hidden in the shadows. Could it be Hiiragi? "It's too risky to meet at Blue Light. We'll talk again at the gala next week." 

Master? Could Hanadagi be referring to the person who was behind the development of Level E? Zero had to get back to Kuran and relay this information to him, now.  

As he turned to go, Zero stiffened at the feeling of a blade drawn against his neck. 

Shit. 

"It seems like I've caught a naughty little bird," a voice breathed into his ear. "What trouble you get into when your master lets you out of your cage." 

Before he could do anything, the blade withdrew and Zero felt two sharp stabs. He fell forward in pain as blood trickled out of his mouth and onto the floor. His assailant carefully stepped around his body, a hand grabbing his chin and lifting his face up. "What a pretty bird you are," a very familiar face came into view. "It really is a shame." 

His head was dropped unceremoniously back onto the ground. Something hit him in the back of his head, and Zero knew no more. 

 

-- 

 

"You're finally awake," was the first thing Zero heard when he regained consciousness. Zero made a noise in response. "Do you remember what happened?" 

Turning over, he squinted at the figure of Kuran sitting by his bedside. His vision was still blurry, and Zero winced as his head screeched in pain. Come to think of it, the rest of his body felt pretty damn awful too. He tried to think back on what had occurred, but it hurt too much to really focus on anything. Zero shook his head. 

"I found you passed out and bleeding on the floor after I finished dealing with Hanadagi's underlings. You were quite heavily injured, so I had my driver take us back to my estate. While under normal circumstances I would have brought you directly to a hospital, I don't think the precinct would be quite happy seeing what happened to you while you were under my care. I hope you don't mind that I selected a more...discreet method."

Zero wanted to roll his eyes and call Kuran out on his bullshit. Possessive bastard. More like Kuran had wanted to keep Zero at his estate for as long as possible. He was too drained to really do anything but lie in bed and wait for recovery though, so Zero sighed and closed his eyes instead. Whatever. Kuran had saved his life -- it would be an ungrateful move.  

"Thanks," Zero mumbled. "I owe you one for saving me." 

There was an odd silence, and Zero cracked open an eye to see an indecipherable expression on Kuran's face. A second later it was replaced by a warm and gentle smile. "Anytime, Zero." Kuran leaned forward to peck his temple, and Zero made a face at the display of affection. He didn't want to think about what this meant. Nope. Especially not after what he had pulled back at the nightclub. Against his will, Zero's cheeks turned red at the remembrance of the kiss. 

Kuran then got up from his chair, giving Zero another fond smile. "Well then, I'll leave you to your rest. I'll see you later, Zero." He headed for the door and was halfway across the room when Zero suddenly recalled something.

"Kaname," Zero called out quietly, urgently. 

The other man paused and turned around, casting an inquisitive glance his way. "What is it?" 

Zero swallowed. "I could be wrong, because my memory is a bit fuzzy, but…" He took a deep breath. 

"The person who incapacitated me -- she looked a lot like Seiren."

 

 

Chapter Text

Zero spent the next few weeks recuperating in Kuran's estate until he no longer looked like death. He wasn't sure how Kuran managed to convince the commissioner to not blow up at Zero about his extended absence, but seeing as Zero had yet to receive any requests or demands on his location he assumed Kuran had stepped in to interfere. 

The first few days were a struggle. 

Zero had tried to brace himself for it, but he still wasn't ready for the sheer amount of hovering that Kuran was doing. It seemed like Kuran had decided that seeing to Zero's recovery was more important than whatever business operations and meetings he was supposed to attend to. The other man was constantly by his side no matter the time of day. Kuran wasn't exactly waiting on him hand and foot (that would be beneath him), but he wasn't really allowing Zero his own space either. When Zero was still bedridden, Kuran had even attempted to spoon feed Zero his dinner. It was only when Zero leveled an unimpressed stare at Kuran that the other man set the spoon back down and explained with an insincere smile that it was simply a joke. 

Kuran's actions were starting to drive the detective a little crazy. The only bright side was that he had been given his own guest bedroom (even if said room was in Kuran's personal wing of the place). With the way Kuran was progressing, Zero honestly wouldn't have been surprised if one day he simply woke up in Kuran's bed instead of his own.  

There was also the other matter that made things awkward between them, with Kuran wanting to bring up the subject of Zero's impromptu kiss and Zero studiously avoiding said topic. Zero was adamant that it was merely a spur of the moment thing due to the adrenaline rush, but Kuran didn't see it that way. They were both stubborn people; Kuran was determined to try and make Zero admit to...whatever this thing between them was, and Zero was just as determined to stay silent on the matter. Eventually, Kuran gave up when he realized his persistence was only making Zero clam up even more. 

Thankfully, after about a week of Kuran driving Zero up the wall, Ichijou stepped in and forcibly dragged Kuran away from playing hooky, a scarily vindictive smile plastered on the right-hand man's face the whole time. With Kuran taking out his displeasure on his business empire, Zero was able to breathe again. 

To his surprise, he was granted relative freedom for the rest of his stay -- while there were a few obvious 'KEEP OUT' areas in the estate, for the most part Kuran was content to let him roam around as he pleased. Zero wasn't about to go and poke his nose where it didn't belong anyways. Given the nebulous nature of his relationship with Kuran, he wasn't exactly sure he wanted to be too involved where the crime lord was concerned. 

His stay wasn't entirely unproductive. Zero spent a good portion of his days dodging calls from Kaito (there were more than a hundred angry voicemails sitting in his inbox now) and working on the report that the commissioner had requested (and wasn't that a pain). He hesitated to include Seiren's involvement after the lengthy discussion he had with Kaname about her possible betrayal. Ultimately, Zero decided to omit her from the report. It was still speculation at this point, and privately he admitted to himself that he felt uncomfortable exposing Kuran's vulnerability to the commissioner. 

Meanwhile, Kuran had sent a messenger to Shirabuki's to give her an update regarding what transpired at Blue Light. He also had left out the fact that it was quite possible his personal bodyguard had decided to betray him. Zero was hesitant about continuing to cooperate with The Spider, but Kuran was firm that it would be better to have her as an ally and keep her on their side. 

There was one bright side to all of this, however. 

 

-- 

 

During his stay at the Kuran estate, Zero had gained a little stalker somewhere along the way -- and no, he was not talking about Kuran. At first, it was the small thumps of tiny paws landing somewhere nearby as his shadow darted from place to place. Then, it was a pair of bright blue eyes peering curiously at him from various hiding spots. Zero had an inkling as to who his follower was, but he was patient and waited for her to present herself. 

He was rewarded one afternoon, when after having fallen asleep in one of the sunrooms he awoke to a weight on his chest. 

"Hello Artemis," Zero murmured sleepily. 

Kuran's beloved ragdoll kitten was staring back at him, her eyes wide and luminous. She surveyed him with keen interest, and Zero held her gaze as she tilted her head and came to some kind of conclusion. With a satisfied little meow, Artemis curled up on his chest and closed her eyes. 

Zero couldn't help but huff a little laugh, because of course Kuran's kitten was just like him. What a tiny tyrant. "Seems like both of you are happy to do whatever you want when it comes to me," the detective told Artemis quietly, lifting a hand and gently laying it down on top of her fur. One of her ears flicked backwards at the action, but otherwise Artemis was content to stay where she was. 

"How hurtful," Kuran's voice rang out, and Zero closed his eyes in exasperation. 

Of course the crime lord had been lurking nearby. He honestly shouldn't have expected any less. 

Kuran took a seat next to Zero on the sofa, shifting closer until his thigh brushed the top of Zero's head. Kuran lifted a hand, reaching out to his napping kitten and running his fingers through Artemis's fur. Zero was content with ignoring Kuran's presence until he felt those same fingers stroking his hair. He jerked his head away, glaring up at the smirking man. "Hands to yourself, Kuran." 

"Just making sure that my other kitty doesn't feel neglected." 

"Fuck off, I am not 'your' kitten." 

"More's the pity, I do take such good care of my things." 

Zero threw Kuran a half-hearted glare at the banter. A few weeks ago, he probably would have retaliated against Kuran's comment, but he had been acclimated to Kuran's possessive tendencies after constant exposure to the crime lord. 

It wasn't just that however -- for some reason, Kuran seemed to believe that they... belonged to each other in some sense. While wandering through the labyrinth of Kuran's mansion, Zero had accidentally stumbled upon the tail end of Kuran's phone call to the commissioner. Kuran had burned with a cold anger when the commissioner suggested sending a replacement partner as Zero was currently recovering from his injuries. Kuran's insistence that Zero was the only partner for him was just as flattering as it was terrifying. It was getting harder and harder to see Kuran as the faceless demon he had heard from rumors and incident reports -- much to his detriment, spending more time around Kuran humanized the other man even as Zero became more aware of  exactly how cruel Kuran could be. 

"So why are you here? Stalking me again?" 

Kuran huffed with laughter. "I hardly need to stalk you in my own house." Zero made a face. "But no, I came to talk to you about the gala that Hanadagi spoke about." At the mention of the case, Zero stiffened, eyes flickering to the brunet warily. Was Kuran finally going to bring him back into the fold? "I discussed it with Takuma, and we're both in agreement that Hanadagi is most likely referring to the annual charity gala hosted by Isaya." 

Isaya...the name sounded familiar. Zero mused on it for a while longer until he realized who Kuran had been referring to. 

"Isaya Shouto? One of the ruling six?" 

Kuran hummed in affirmation, looking rather pleased that he'd gotten Zero's full attention. "That's right. Isaya puts on this event every year to bring together the major players in our world. You'd be surprised at who shows up to the gala. Criminals, politicians, law enforcement, and socialites all gathered around to make fake pleasantries with each other. Of course, things weren't always like this. When we were seven…" Kuran drifted off, his eyes looking like they were miles away. 

After a while, Zero cleared his throat. 

"Kaname?" 

That seemed to bring the other man back to reality. "Getting back to my point. I don't believe Isaya is behind this whole affair. It's not his style, and besides," Kuran smiled, a dangerous smile that was all teeth, "Isaya knows better than to go behind my back. Still, Sara and I have reached out to him and he's agreed to cooperate with us." He glanced down at Zero. "Which brings me to my next point. You'll need a new suit for the gala, so I've called my tailor. He'll be arriving within the hour." 

Zero glared weakly at Kuran's smirk and then closed his eyes, leaning his head back with a groan.

 

--

 

"Why are you even in here? I'm pretty sure you don't actually need to be here for the fitting." Zero turned his head to look at Kuran.

The tailor clicked his tongue disapprovingly at Zero's movement, and Zero simply rolled his eyes as the man fluttered around him like a nervous bird. He could tell that Kuran's intense staring was starting to unnerve the tailor. It was one thing to be taking Kuran's measurements and getting him fitted for a suit -- it was another to be stared at by Kuran while working with the person that Kuran had personally requested him to take care of. Zero could tell the pressure was really starting to get to the tailor, as the man had done more groveling and simpering in the past half hour than he ever did the last time he helped Zero with a suit. 

Kuran laughed, tilting his head to observe Zero with a knowing smile. The detective scowled at the suggestive look. 

"Zero, you and I both know that there was never a possibility of me not being here." Kuran stood up, approaching the two of them. The tailor hastily bowed his head in reverence as he retreated from Zero. "I think we'll add a cream linen in addition to the evening gala wear," Kuran told the tailor, ignoring Zero's protests that he didn't need more than one formal ensemble. "And perhaps the grey twill." 

There was that contemplative look on the crime lord's face again, and Zero just knew Kuran was thinking something excessively stupid. Before Kuran could voice any more of his opinions, Zero glared fiercely at the other man and issued an ultimatum. "If you try to buy me a whole wardrobe, I will not go to this evening gala with you." Kuran looked amused at first, until Zero followed up with, "I'm serious, Kaname." 

"Fine," the brunet agreed, his voice heavy with displeasure. "How about ten suits?" 

"One." 

"Seven suits."

"One.

"Five." 

"One. Suit. Kaname." 

"Three, and an additional bulletproof one. That's my final offer, Zero." Kuran's eyes were blazing with a simmering anger, and he tilted his head subtly towards the tailor in a gesture of threat. It was Kuran-speak for 'if you don't go along with it, someone is going to get hurt, do you really want that?' Zero could not believe the depths of Kuran's pettiness. 

"Fine, four suits -- three normal, one bulletproof. That's it." 

Having settled on a compromise, Kuran began issuing orders to the tailor, discussing the different cuts and colors of Zero's suits. Assuming that the tailor was done taking his measurements and making his mock-ups, he began to pull the pins out of his clothing. It was incredibly annoying to move around with their needle points threatening to stab him at any moment. 

Noticing Zero's actions, the tailor quickly wrapped up his conversation with Kuran and hurried over to help Zero with the process, the whole time muttering under his breath the foolishness of Zero's actions. And Zero felt appropriately chastised. He'd forgotten that this man's head was literally on the line. He didn't doubt Kuran would order the tailor's immediate execution if he found out that one of the tailor's pins had accidentally drawn Zero's blood. 

The tailor, once done and having packed up his materials, bowed to Kuran and shakily informed the crime lord that the evening suit would be ready on the night of the gala. His face lit up with relief when Kuran finally dismissed him. 

"You didn't have to be so hard on him," Zero remarked as he unbuttoned his cuffs, flipping his shirt sleeves back and rolling them up to his elbows. "He was only trying to do his job." 

Kuran drifted closer, holding a pair of suspenders in his hands. "He's already on thin ice for being allowed to touch you so freely," the crime lord remarked bluntly as Zero stared at the item in confusion. Was Kuran expecting him to put that on? And what was that about the touching? 

"It's his job, Kaname." 

"Yes, but it doesn't change the fact that you welcome his touches yet reject mine." Tired of Zero's resistance, Kuran stepped forward and forcibly helped Zero into the suspenders, clipping it securely to the waistband of his beige slacks. "There, perfect. I knew you would look good with suspenders." Kuran's gaze darkened with hunger. 

Okay, nope. Zero was not dealing with that. 

"Stop right there," Zero stepped back uneasily, shaking his head at the other man. "And I don't welcome your tailor's touches, I tolerate them because it's part of his job.

 

--

 

Two days after returning to the precinct, Zero was still struggling to adjust to life outside the Kuran estate...as fucked up as that sounded. He had become used to Kuran and Artemis's presence, and it was odd to go through the notions of daily life without the two of them around. 

On the bright side, the commissioner had been pleased with his report, and he even hinted at possibly recommending Zero for the lieutenant exam once this ordeal was over. Kaito, however, was a different story. His former partner was still angry at him, and it didn't help that Zero had essentially disappeared off the face of the earth for a couple of weeks without having returned any of Kaito's numerous calls and texts. In the precinct, Zero had taken to avoiding Kaito as much as he could, going as far as to request Touga to assign him another partner temporarily. Touga had given him a long stare before informing Zero that he technically didn't have a formal partner right now on the force as Kuran had insisted on assigning himself as Zero's permanent partner. 

So that was that. 

Zero didn't have to wait long before Kuran reached out to him again. He received a text from Kuran the night before the gala, inviting Zero back to the Kuran estate to join in the preparations for the event. The very next morning, there was a nondescript black car parked right outside his apartment. When Zero clambered into the car after his escorts, he despaired at how accustomed he was to Kuran's methods. 

Unsurprisingly, Kuran wasted the first half of the day insisting that the two of them spend 'quality time' catching up over a cup of coffee as their coffee 'dates' had been so rudely interrupted. Artemis had invited herself to their 'date', plopping down on Zero's lap contentedly as she received head scratches from both Kuran and himself. Then Kuran wasted another few hours making Zero try on the suits that his tailor delivered to them, using the excuse that he needed to make sure the suits were a perfect fit. 

When Kuran finally led him to the meeting room, the sun was starting to sink under the horizon. All of Kuran's inner circle was already waiting for them by the time they arrived, and Kuran brushed past them without a single acknowledgement of his tardiness. The spot on Kuran's left had been left open, and after a hesitant second Zero took the seat. He received a few icy stares from Kuran's lieutenants as the meeting started, with two blonds looking particularly irritated at his presence. If he remembered correctly, it was Souen and Aidou, two of Kuran's more...fanatical subordinates. 

With a cheery smile, Ichijou went over the plan for the gala. Shouto's staff for the event were to keep an eye out for Hanadagi as they served the guests. Shirabuki was setting up a few traps of her own, dispersing some of her girls among the guests as a way to extract information about any suspicious behavior. Kuran's own group would be in charge of securing the perimeters while Kuran and Zero would sweep the ballroom for anyone acting suspicious. 

Aidou had protested quite loudly when Ichijou brought up that particular aspect of the plan, turning a frosty gaze on Zero and claiming that Zero was a hardly appropriate man for the task. As the blond grew more and more vocal, Kuran's patience snapped and he quite literally glared Aidou into submission. 

After the meeting was called to a close, Kuran pulled him aside. "I need you to help me keep an eye out for Seiren," the crime lord told Zero quietly. "The others know there's something wrong, but they haven't been made aware of Seiren's possible betrayal yet." 

Something warm fluttered in his chest to know that Kuran had placed this much trust in him. Kuran didn't have to keep him involved in the matter regarding his personal bodyguard, but he was choosing to keep Zero in the loop. 

Zero swallowed. "Of course."