"Zero, your admirer is here again," Yuuki bursted into the back of the bakery, trying to catch her breath while loudly whisper-laughing the fact at their disgruntled patissier. "And he's asking for you."
Looking up from where he was piping the frosting on a custom order cake, Zero's already unimpressed expression seemed to become even more...well, unimpressed. Beside him, Fuka cackled loudly as she slapped the tabletop with each peal of laughter. Nadeshiko, on Zero's other side, nearly dropped the sugar flower in her hands and flushed red as she began muttering something unintelligible under her breath.
Setting down the piping bag, Zero sighed and rubbed his temples to stave off the inevitable headache.
"Why can't you say it like it is? Stalker. You mean my stalker is here again."
Having recovered (somewhat) from her laughing fit, Fuka wiped away a few tears of mirth. "I don't know, Zero. It's kind of cute. I sort of feel bad for the poor guy." And to his irritation, Yuuki nodded enthusiastically up and down in agreement with Fuka's statement.
His coworkers were all fucking crazy.
"You aren't supposed to encourage the stalker, Kisaragi." Zero re-emphasized the word.
She pouted. "Oh come on, what's the worst that could happen? He serenades you in front of our three customers?"
"I end up dead in a ditch somewhere, probably chopped into a million little pieces."
There was an awkward pause after that.
"I'm sure he's got good intentions. He hasn't tried anything so far, right?" Yuuki offered hesitantly, shooting uneasy looks towards the front of the bakery, where Zero's stalker was undoubtedly waiting for a response. "I mean, the only thing he's done is…"
"Show up every time I'm on shift with a bouquet of creepy red roses?"
"You're on shift every day, Zero," Fuka rolled her eyes.
And to his horror, even Nadeshiko spoke up. "I-I think it's kind of romantic," the shy girl interjected in a small voice. At Zero's incredulous stare, she shook her hands frantically. "The r-roses, I mean! Not the showing up at your w-workplace thing."
"You can say stalking, Shindo," Zero sighed. But to his dismay she fell quiet after that, looking away from him and pushing the tips of her fingers together nervously. He turned back to the cake he was decorating, hoping the conversation was over and Yuuki would give up.
But then again, this was Yuuki he was talking about.
"Well, the police seem to think he's harmless," Yuuki crossed her arms defiantly and stood her ground.
Because the police were so responsible.
"The police are fucking useless at their jobs."
There was a murmur of agreement at that, but it didn't hold his coworkers' attentions for long.
"I don't know why you're complaining, really," and Zero could really do without Yuuki's brainless commentary, but his best friend seemed determined to press on. "I'd be over the moon if a handsome stranger like that was bringing me flowers every day." The moronic sentiment was finished with a dreamy sigh.
"He is very good looking."
And here came the second brainless idiot's commentary. Fuka had the same dopey smile on her face, and Zero could swear he almost saw hearts in her eyes. "It's too bad he bats for the same team. Otherwise I'd have to swoop in and steal him from you, Zero."
Even as she said that, her face lit up in a way that Zero just knew meant she was going to say something even more stupid. "Hey, you never know. Maybe he's interested in girls too." She exchanged a meaningful look with Yuuki, and both of them flushed a bit from whatever they were imagining.
No. Just no.
Zero gave up on the delicate design he'd been piping onto the cake and turned his full attention back to his dumbass friend and their equally dumb coworker.
"Okay, first of all, no. Don't even think about it." At the shit-eating grin he received, Zero rolled his eyes. "And don't think I'm saying this because I'm somehow threatened by your interest in the guy's looks. What I mean is that a stalker does not make for an ideal romantic candidate."
He blamed their brain rot on the depiction of 'romantic' relationship in modern day mass media. Seriously, who thought possessiveness and stalkerish tendencies were indications of a healthy romantic relationship?
"And second of all--well there is no second of all. This is the end of that conversation. Yuuki, you're going to go back out there and tell him to piss off because there's no way I'm doing something as inane as encouraging my stalker. Kisaragi, you can finish piping the damn roses on this cake. Shindo, you...just keep doing what you're doing. I'm going to take a break."
Zero ignored the cacophony of protests that arose from his brisk instructions as he wrenched his apron off and tossed it over the side of a chair. He only had so much patience to spare for such stupidity.
In retrospect, Zero should've realized that his stalker wouldn't give up so easily. Not that he thought Yuuki would actually tell the guy to go piss off. She was too kind of a person--and too enamored with the guy's looks--to do something like that.
"Hello," a pleasant lilting voice greeted him. As Zero turned to take a look at the speaker, his stalker stepped in front of Zero, where he was trying to enjoy his break in the alleyway behind the bakery. And the guy was still holding onto that creepy bouquet of roses. "Isn't that bad for your health?"
As if to spite the other man, Zero took an extra long drag on his cigarette. He wasn't going to humor the stalker with a response.
"What do you want?" he finally asked when the silence grew too long and it was clear the stalker wasn't going to leave.
Without missing a beat, the stranger took another step forward and held up the bouquet of roses. "You," he answered simply and confidently. "Always you."
And of course he had to be stalked by someone who could spout these corny 'romantic' lines without a blush or a hint of shame. Honestly, Zero was starting to feel secondhand embarrassment for the guy in spite of his determination not to sympathize with his stalker. He sighed, dropping the cigarette onto the ground and snuffing it out with the heel of his shoe.
"Listen, I don't even know who you are, and you don't know who I am, so let's just go our merry ways and I won't press charges, okay?"
He didn't actually expect it to work, but Zero was still very much disappointed when his stalker didn't take the peace offering for what it was and leave him alone.
"I know who you are, Zero."
Rolling his eyes, Zero shoved a finger at the name badge clipped to his shirt. "Good try, but my name is literally right here. You're not going to impress me with that."
It didn't faze his stalker one bit, however.
"I know you have a twin brother named Ichiru--"
"Facebook stalking," Zero dismissed easily.
"--you dislike sweet things despite being a patisserie--"
"Not exactly a difficult observation to make."
"--you're ambidextrous but you favor your right hand--"
"--you enjoying eating shio ramen--"
"Again, lucky guess."
"--and you have a birthmark on your left shoulder in the shape of--"
"Did you install cameras in my room? "
Maybe he was going to end up chopped into little pieces at the bottom of a ditch after all. At the very least, Zero's indignation gave his stalker pause.
"Of course not," the other man frowned, looking mildly offended by the idea. "Why would I need to?"
And then. "Or is this an invitation--"
"No. No, it isn't." Zero glared at the stalker. Just how in the world did that sound like an invitation to install cameras in his home? How?
And how was he going to get himself out of the situation? While Zero normally wouldn't have batted an eye at the idea of just ignoring a stranger and getting back to his own business, his stalker was a bit of a different issue. He eyed the creepy red roses warily, wondering if there was a knife or gun or chloroform hidden in there somewhere. It didn't help that his stalker still had that same psychotic smile ("Charming, Zero, it's a very charming smile!" Yuuki had insisted) on his face.
"You're supposed to accept the flowers," the stalker decided to unhelpfully inform him.
"No thank you," Zero responded without missing a beat.
The stranger glanced down at the bouquet, frowned as if the flowers had personally offended him, and then seemed to come to some conclusion. "Ah my apologies," and the mysterious smile was back on that perfectly sculpted face. And fuck, he was starting to sound like Fuka and Yuuki's demented ramblings. "I should have realized. Will you forgive this oversight? Next time I will bring your favorite lilies."
Great, the stalker knew his preference in flowers too. Of course his stalker knew.
"I'd rather you not do that," Zero shook his head, taking a step back in an attempt to put some distance between himself and the stalker. "Since you know, we're strangers." He emphasized the last word, hoping that it would somehow break through to the stalker. "I don't even know your name."
And that was evidently the wrong thing to say, because it gave his stalker an opening.
The other man's smile became a bit more sincere, and he took a step forward to intrude into Zero's personal space again. "That's alright, we'll get to know each other again." Again? Oh great, so the guy really was demented. Zero's brain unhelpfully decided to replay all the Criminal Minds episodes that Yuuki had forced him to binge with her and he could only come to the conclusion that he was completely, utterly fucked. "My name is Kaname."
It was probably a sign that Zero was losing his sanity if he thought that the name was somehow familiar.
"All I want is a chance for us to become acquainted again."
He got the feeling that the man crowding into his space didn't often take no for an answer. There was only one correct response for this situation, and desperate times called for desperate measures.
"You have three seconds to get away from me before I tase your ass into tomorrow."
Taking an occasional break from work wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Even if Zero was a workaholic--Yuuki's words, not his--that was apparently practically married to his job, it didn't mean he didn't have a life outside of the bakery.
At least that was what Zero told himself as he browsed the store shelves for vanilla extract.
It was fine. It was just a little break. And he didn't even have to deal with the stalker situation while he was on break. He could take the time to just...explore new recipes. Experiment with new flavors.
"Zero, you tased Kaname," Yuuki said exasperatedly when she caught sight of Zero's frown. "You should be glad that he didn't press charges and our boss let you off lightly. And since when did you even start carrying a taser on you?"
And that was another thing.
His stalker was no longer the nameless bastard who creeped him out with bouquets of red roses. Now he was Kaname Kuran, heir apparent to the sprawling Kuran business empire who creeped him out with bouquets of white lilies.
(The discovery of his stalker's identity had sent the girls into another tizzy, because who didn't love a handsome, charming, well-spoken, and rich man?
"Did you guys forget the very inconvenient fact that he happens to be a stalker?" Zero had demanded.
Yes. The answer was a resounding yes.)
Tired of Yuuki's rambling about her favorite new topic, Zero stopped and turned to her. "Yuuki, why are you here?"
She pouted, "Can't I spend some time with my best friend?"
"You never want to go grocery shopping with me."
"That's cause you never let me buy any snacks," his best friend muttered. She cleared her throat, then looked at him straight in the eye. "I think you should apologize to Kaname, Zero."
Zero froze in the middle of reaching for a bottle of vanilla extract, and then fought the sudden, irrational urge to just hurl everything off the store shelves in an unholy fit of rage.
"Well too bad, cause I invited him here today. He's waiting for us out in the parking lot."
"You did fucking what now."
"He deserves an apology!"
"I'm sorry," Zero grumbled, shoving his hands in his pockets as Yuuki loaded the groceries into his car and pretended not to eavesdrop on them.
Kuran smiled. "I'm afraid I didn't quite catch that, what did you say?"
The fucking bastard was going straight to hell, and Zero was going to be the one shoving him face first into that burning pit of lava. He had the nerve to smile at Zero like they were doing nothing more than exchanging inane pleasantries.
"I'm sorry you were such a creepy bastard that I had to tase you out of self-defense," Zero straightened up, glaring at his stalker, who once again was holding a creepy bouquet of flowers.
"Zero!" Yuuki hissed, clearly no longer pretending to be loading the groceries.
And then Kuran had the nerve to just smile indulgently at him as if he'd done something adorable. It was the same look you would give your pets when they did something endearing and you just had to take a picture before uploading it onto social media for a quick five minutes of fame.
"It's alright, I don't mind," Kuran was, once again, holding out the bouquet of white lilies in an eerie mirror of their stances from the alleyway before the...incident. Zero eyed the flowers distrustfully and made no move to take them. "Will you accept my flowers now?"
Zero opened his mouth to respond, but before he could tell Kuran just exactly where he could shove the flowers, Yuuki hastily stepped in between them and took the lilies from Kuran. Zero proceeded to find himself with an armful of the damn flowers as Yuuki beamed up at Kuran.
"Yes, yes he will." She briefly turned around and gave Zero the stink eye, unsubtly digging the heel of her boot into Zero's poor toes. "Isn't that right, Zero?"
"Do I even have a choice?" he asked, and for his award-winning response Yuuki grinded down extra hard on his toes.
"I was serious about getting to know you again," Kuran continued blithely without acknowledging Yuuki's interference. Her entire existence, really. Talk about a one-track mind. "I understand that this can be overwhelming for you." Zero's eyebrows nearly shot up to his hairline in disbelief at the sheer understatement of that comment. "But I truly do mean it. I've made reservations this Friday at your favorite restaurant so that we'd have some private time to ourselves."
The last thing Zero remembered was seeing red and Yuuki's horrified scream of, "Zero, no!" before he was surging forward to suffocate the smug bastard with his own bouquet of creepy flowers.
Yuuki was, understandably, quite angry with him.
Considering he'd tried to commit homicide twice in the past week (though Zero would argue the incident with the taser didn't really count as he hadn't actively been trying to murder Kuran at the time), perhaps some of her anger was justified. But then again, Zero didn't feel too terribly about sneaking in a punch and wiping that godawful smirk off his stalker's face.
"I barely got you to apologize--not that it was a real apology--and now we have to go apologize to him again!"
Zero rolled his eyes.
"I'm serious, Zero! I'm not speaking to you again until you apologize, and properly this time!"
Absentmindedly, Zero finished piping in the last of the dark blue frosting and took a step back to survey his work. Fuka whistled as she passed by him, her eyes going wide at the sight of the detailed work on the flowers and patterns.
"Damn, what's got you stressed?"
"What? I'm just saying like it is. You never produce such detailed work unless you have to get something out of your system." Fuka leaned in, whispering conspiratorially. "Is it about Kaname again?" She casted a look around the kitchen before adding on, "Or is it about Yuuki ignoring you?"
"I'm not upset," Zero muttered.
But that only made Fuka break out into laughter. "I never said anything about you being upset."
Zero glared at his frustrating coworker until she threw her hands up in surrender and returned to her own workstation. But not before she left some parting shots about him mood swinging worse than a girl with raging hormones, which Zero frankly found offensive but also could not respond to without sounding like some misogynistic ass. It was a lose-lose situation either way.
Still, it was rather awkward to have to come in to work every day and be subjected to icy silence from Yuuki. His best friend had to be in cahoots with Kuran or something, because how else was she still holding this against him?
Zero stared down at the cake he'd finished decorating, scrutinizing the porcelain-like design as if the swirls and petals held the answers to his dilemma. Naturally, it was an exercise in futility. He'd probably get more done if he actually approached Yuuki (or Kuran) and properly talked things out. But Yuuki was determined to make good on her promise, and Zero really, really did not want to have to talk to Kuran.
Every word out of that man's mouth was like an open invitation to just punch him.
"Zero?" a timid voice piped up from beside him, and Zero glanced down to see his bespectacled coworker staring shyly at him. "I-If you need someone to talk to, I-I don't mind l-listening."
Nadeshiko's voice grew progressively more and more quiet, and not for the first time Zero wondered just how intimidating she found him to be constantly stuttering around him. Sure, he could be a bit brusque and blunt to a fault, but he could swear that he wasn't that bad.
(To his annoyance, he could hear Yuuki's voice sniggering at the back of his mind and calling him an oblivious, blockheaded fool. Maybe this abnormal silence between them was causing him to lose his own sanity. Then it was all the more important that they returned to normal as soon as possible.)
Zero shook his head, about to reject Nadeshiko's offer with a polite thanks but then thought better of it.
Compared to his other coworkers--Fuka, who was crazy, and Yuuki, who was out of the question--Nadeshiko did seem to have a stronger hold on reality. Zero wasn't ashamed to admit his own social skills were often found wanting. And since he was more than little out of his depth here, perhaps Nadeshiko could offer some insight to solve this conundrum.
"It's about the stalker--Kuran--and what happened before I...went on break."
"T-The tasing incident?"
"Yuuki wanted me to...apologize to Kuran. For the tasing."
"Ah, I-I see."
There was a solid thirty seconds of silence before Nadeshiko realized that Zero wasn't going to say anything else.
"C-Can I ask what h-happened after?"
Another thirty seconds of silence passed before Zero caved.
"Sort of. And I," he grimaced, "sort of tried to choke him with his own flowers."
He watched as Nadeshiko's face turned an interesting color and the girl nervously pressed her hands together as she tried to process Zero's confession.
"She wants me to apologize. Again." Zero added. "Said she wouldn't talk to me until I did."
Zero could see some kind of understanding dawn on Nadeshiko's face. The conversation died again while Nadeshiko looked at the cake Zero had just decorated with a thoughtful expression on her face.
"Do you think I should?"
Startled out of whatever she was thinking about, Nadeshiko's eyes grew wide. "W-What?"
"Apologize. Do you think I should?"
She seemed surprised at his question, which alright, fair, Zero hardly engaged non-Yuuki people in personal conversations. But given Yuuki was not an available option and Nadeshiko was the only sane person left in his life, Zero didn't have much of a choice if he wanted genuine advice.
Nadeshiko bit her lip, opened her mouth to say something, seemed to think better of it, then shut her mouth. She fidgeted with the hem of her apron for a bit, then a determined expression set into her face.
"I-I think a verbal a-apology maybe i-isn't your s-strongest point." When she saw his rapidly darkening mood, Nadeshiko hastily waved her hands. "But you could always b-bake him a c-cake instead!"
Bake a cake? For Kuran? Put that much effort into a pointless--huh, wait a minute.
He looked at Nadeshiko thoughtfully.
It wasn't actually that terrible of an idea.
"Shindo." She tilted her head inquisitively. "Thanks." Zero wasn't great at expressing his emotions, but he hoped that he put enough sincerity in his voice.
And a second later, when Nadeshiko turned bright tomato red and fell backwards in a full faint, Zero wondered just what he'd done wrong.
She didn't even bother sparing him a glance.
Zero hesitated, but the cake was already baked and he'd made up his mind.
"Do you still have Kuran's number?"
And though Yuuki still didn't say anything, at least he managed to get her to smile around him again.
In the end, they agreed to meet in a more neutral location. One where Zero didn't feel like he could be just chloroformed and carted off without anyone noticing, and one where Kuran wouldn't end up accidentally dead at Zero's hands before an ambulance could be called.
That was to say, they ended up meeting in the middle of a busy parking lot.
(Zero ignored how eerily similar the setup was to the...flower incident. The fact that Yuuki was standing just out of earshot to give them privacy didn't help.)
"Hello, Zero," Kuran said with that same infuriating smile as if Zero hadn't tried to kill him twice now. Not for the first time, Zero wondered just how many loose screws Kuran had to still be pining over someone who clearly wasn't interested in him and actively tried to...get rid of him. And then he wondered how many loose screws he had to be entertaining said crazy stalker.
His grip on the brown paper bag in his arms tightened as he stared at Kuran. Now that they were both here, Zero found it incredibly difficult to just give the damn cake to Kuran. He'd carefully selected a nondescript bag so that Kuran wouldn't read too much into the gesture, but it was only now that Zero realized how much thought he had ended up accidentally putting into the 'apology' present.
No wonder Fuka laughed her ass off at him when he agonized over the bakery's packaging choices.
Luckily (or unluckily) for him, Kuran seized control of the conversation, as he always did.
"Is that for me?" Zero could swear he saw the other man's eyes light up with an uncharacteristic warmth, ruining the politely mysterious facade he always wore.
They stared at each other for a while, and then Kuran coughed politely. "Are you...going to give it to me?"
Amusement. That was the odd tone coloring Kuran's voice. The fucking bastard was laughing at him.
Zero made no move to hand the cake over.
Except that only made things worse, because Kuran's face took on that oddly adoring and somehow patronizing gaze. The one that all pet owners gave their pets whenever they did something adorable and social media worthy. That one. And out of the corner of his eye, he could see Yuuki start to tap her feet impatiently.
"Here," and Zero practically shoved the bag into Kuran's chest, feeling both an odd sense of satisfaction as he watched Kuran hurriedly right the box and then gingerly cradle the damn thing as if it was something precious. Probably was, given Kuran's odd fixation on him. "An apology present."
The last part was mumbled, but based on the expression on Kuran's face it was clear that Kuran had heard all three words crystal clear.
"It's tiramisu," Zero sighed, deciding to just roll with the situation, as Yuuki would put it. "Yuuki said it was your usual order, so I figured you weren't allergic to it or anything."
And now Kuran was looking at him in that soft way that made Zero's stomach twist itself into unpleasant knots. That was before Zero's brain came crashing back in and not-so-gently reminded him that right, this creepy stalker’s attentions should not be encouraged.
"So can we put this all behind us now?" he asked tiredly as Kuran continued to look at him as if he'd hung the moon and stars. "You go your way, I go mine, no more near accidental deaths and no more," he gestured between the two of them awkwardly, "this, whatever it is."
Zero tried to be sincere for the first time since dealing with Kuran, pushing all the ringing alarm bells in his head to the back of his mind. He'd resisted his urge to punch Kuran in the face, refrained from saying anything too insulting, and he thought he was conducting himself rather reasonably for someone who was trying to apologize to their stalker.
Then, for the first time since Kuran had rudely intruded into his life, Zero saw an almost sad expression cross Kuran's face. It immediately made him feel bad for even asking, but Zero was determined to put his foot down this time. No more getting wrapped up in Kuran's crazy pace. He didn't think his life had ever been this hectic since he started actively interacting with Kuran (not by choice, but still).
His hopes were shattered as soon as Kuran shook his head.
"I'm afraid I can't do that." Damn it, why not? "Because I made a promise a long time ago that I wouldn't let go of you again. And now that we've met again in this life, I intend to follow through on my promise."
And here Kuran was again with his vague and weird references.
"Kuran," Zero began, but then he stopped when he saw Kuran's eyes widen in alarm.
One second, Kuran was turning to carefully put down the bag with the cake that Zero had given him, and the next he was rushing towards Zero in a rather alarming fashion.
It was only after he was sprawled across the concrete parking lot floor, back aching from the sudden push Kuran had given him that Zero registered the frantic honking and Yuuki's horrified screams in the background. Meanwhile, his own gaze was fixated on the carnage in front of him.
His thoughts came to a screeching halt, then sped up in a one hundred meter dash to what the fuck as Zero's brain struggled to process what had just happened.
Did Kuran seriously push him out of the way of a car?
Followed immediately by--
What does he mean, in this life?
But also, more importantly--
Oh shit, Kuran got absolutely flattened.
When Kuran opened his eyes, Zero seized the chance to apologize, again, before Yuuki could get mad at him for being an 'insensitive jerk'.
"I'm sorry for getting you pancaked, Kuran."
"Zero! Why can't you apologize like a normal person?" Yuuki wailed from across the room, a bouquet of get-well-soon flowers in her hands. Zero had a brief moment to appreciate the irony of the fact that they were the ones bringing Kuran flowers before Kuran opened his mouth and naturally, turned his world upside down again.
"I'm sorry, who are you two? And what do you mean, getting me pancaked?"
Zero exchanged looks with Yuuki and wondered how to respond. It wasn't every day someone took a hit from a car for him and then proceeded to lose their memories as a result of said car accident.
"You got pancaked by a car while telling me something," Zero said at last, as if it explained everything. "Yuuki called an ambulance and now you're at the hospital." He stopped, then as if realizing something important, "Not to imply that I wouldn't have called an ambulance for you. You might be a creepy bastard, but no one deserves to get pancaked."
Kuran smiled at him, blissfully ignoring Yuuki's presence yet again despite the fact that she was more supportive of him in his endeavors than Zero ever was. "If it was for someone like you, then it was all worth it."
Zero shot him a dry look.
"Do you even know who I am?"
"You literally just heard Yuuki scream my name twice, that doesn't count."
"Even so, there's a part of me that knows you're someone important to me."
Dear lord, even with amnesia, Kuran's flirting skills were just fucking terrible. If this was how he was like as a blank slate, then no wonder Kuran's sense of romance was so off.
Meanwhile, Yuuki was glaring daggers into him, and when he turned to look at her she mouthed 'fix this, you dumbass'. And that made him roll his eyes, because oh of course how could he forget that he had the magical ability to somehow fix amnesia. Zero turned back to look at Kuran, who was unfortunately still fixing that really intense gaze of adoration on him.
This was going to be a long, long afternoon.
After a lot of bad flirting and headache-inducing conversation turners, Zero eventually left Kuran's hospital room with the tentative promise of one (1) singular date.
("There was always something I found puzzling…"
"I heard from Yuuki and the others that you referred to the flowers I attempted to gift you as 'creepy'. I suppose I don't understand how bouquets can be 'creepy', and I wondered if flowers were not an ideal expression of my intent to court you."
"...Kaname. Your bouquets were always so enormous and over the top that I couldn't decide if the gesture was more menacing or desperate."
"I see. Would it be safe to assume that I should refrain from such gifts in the future?"
"You have a brain. Use it.")