"Remind me again why we're making cupcakes, of all things?"

"Andrew said he wanted a little more variety for his menu, so he told us to come up with a baked good to draft for the menu, so we went with cupcakes."

"Right. And remind me why he couldn't have had Asuna do it?"

"...beats me," Shino said in defeat, sighing.

Kazuto huffed and kept mixing the batter. They'd done two batches, one vanilla and one chocolate, as to allow customer choice as to what they wanted. Once the batter was thoroughly mixed, Shino set out a couple of muffin trays, putting in colorful cupcake liners in each of the slots.

"Alright, let's get the batter into the trays!" Shino said cheerily, putting her hands together.

The two of them began scooping the batter out of the mixing bowl and systematically depositing the mixture into the liners. Once they finished their trays and went to fill the third one between them, Kazuto stopped her.

"Wait, I have an idea," Kazuto began.

"What?"

"Give me your spoon and batter."

"Alright," Shino said, raising an eyebrow and sliding over her bowl. Kazuto then took both spoons and scooped some batter up, then proceeded to drizzle both of the batters into one cup.

"What are you…"

"It'll give the cupcakes a marbled look. Pretty cool, huh?"

"Yeah… Say, where'd you learn how to do that?"

"I, uh, went through a phase after SAO where I'd watch a ton of cooking how-to's, and I saw a trick where they did this exact thing, but for a whole cake! I figured that it could work for a cupcake, so I thought that I could try it here," Kazuto said sheepishly.

Shino pursed her lips in thought. "I never thought he'd take an interest in cooking. I would've thought that Asuna did all the cooking for him when they were dating. Huh." Within minutes, Kirito was finished, and the pair loaded the cupcakes into the preheated oven. Setting the timer, the two began their wait for fifteen minutes. As they waited, Kazuto began gathering ingredients for the frosting. He grabbed the butter off of the table that they'd left to soften, vanilla, powdered sugar, milk, and some blue food coloring. "A man after my heart," Shino thought half-jokingly.

"Alright, let's mix these bad boys together," Kazuto said, eliciting a giggle from Shino. Kazuto took the butter and dumped it in the mixer, starting it up. He poured the confectioner's sugar in, let it mix, then finally adding the milk for viscosity. He topped the buttercream frosting off with a few drops of vanilla, turning the goop into a nice and fragrant frosting. Finally, Kazuto added a few drops of blue food coloring to turn the frosting a nice sky blue, not too far off from Shino's in-game avatar's hair. After the mixing was done, Kazuto took a spatula and spooned all of it into two piping bags with metal, flower-shaped tips at the ends.

"He's doing all the work at this point. If I didn't know him as well as I do, I would've pegged him as a baker."

Kazuto sighed, glancing at the timer. "Seven minutes left," he said. "And now, we wait."

His words snapped Shino out of a trance. She didn't realize that she'd just been staring at Kazuto as he worked. His toned arms deftly mixing the ingredients and putting them into the bags, the edges of his mouth curved up in a slight smile as he worked, his hair bobbing up and down as he moved about. "When did he get so damn attractive?"

After making idle chatter for the remainder of the baking time, the two pulled out the cupcakes following the timer buzz. Kazuto stuck a toothpick in one of the cakes, and it came out clean. Perfectly baked.

"Alright, this is the fun part!" Kazuto said with a demeanor bordering on giddy. Shino couldn't help but smile. It was rare for Kazuto to indulge in things like this, considering his line of work nowadays. The two began frosting, laughing, and making jokes. She glanced over at Kazuto's work and she was subtly blown away. "Holy crap, it's like he's been doing this all his life," Shino thought. She looked down at her own sad cupcakes and felt immediate inadequacy.

She kept frosting her cupcakes anyway, and when she went to scratch her nose, she failed to realize that a glob of frosting had attached itself to her finger and stuck on her nose when she went to relieve her itch. Kazuto looked at her to see her reaction to the next part of the story he was telling about Klein's escapades to flirt with NPCs when he noticed the frosting on her petite nose and began smiling. Shino quickly noticed this action and turned to him.

"What, do I have something in my face?"

"Yeah, you do, actually," Kazuto said as he formed a plan in his head.

"Shoot," Shino said as she lifted her hand to clear it. Before it got very far though, she was taken by surprise as a particular Kazuto had leaned into her face and touched her nose with his, taking some of the frosting with it as Kazuto pulled back and grinned at her innocently.

"Look, we match now!"

It took a few seconds for the glasses-clad girl to fully process what had just happened. Once the realization hit her, she turned a shade of red that Kazuto had never seen before, a million thoughts racing through her mind like a busy train station. Her heart began beating faster, and she felt a strange, but not unwelcome warmth in her stomach.

"K-Kazuto! Jeez, I-" Shino sputtered, not knowing how to articulate a response.

"What?"

Shino went silent, baking in the newfound heat under the collar of her turtleneck.

"Sorry, was that uncalled for?" the boy quickly said, concerned.

"W-well, I didn't dislike it," she mumbled. She decided to push it a little bit further, like Kazuto hadn't done it enough already.

"I wouldn't mind if you did it again," she said quietly.

Flabbergasted, Kazuto mentally reeled, at a loss for words.

That was the start of some very interesting developments.


This was posted on my AO3 account as well. Thanks for reading, if you did!