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The party, if Kyouya says so himself, is a success. He was worried that the midsummer heat would make the temperature unbearable after a few hours, but whatever deity is in charge of ensuring that Tamaki lives in a permanent fairy tale has sent a nice breeze for the evening. Everything else is under control; light and music have been arranged to perfection, and the buffet is a masterpiece.

On behalf of his bride-to-be, Tamaki has expressed a shy complaint about the lack of ootoro on the menu, to which Kyouya didn't answer that this is the reason he picked French cuisine in the first place. It was all very sensible when he made the arrangements, but formulated in words it sounds terribly petty.

Haruhi's former classmates tend to huddle in large groups against the sheer expensiveness of the main Suoh mansion, but the rest of the guests are mingling in a complex pattern around the happy couple. Although the term is somewhat inappropriate: while Tamaki is certainly cheerful enough for the both of them, Haruhi looks as put upon as she ever does. It makes watching them almost bearable.

The party is a success and Kyouya feels like beating something bloody.

Instead he pastes on his game face – there's merit in making connections tonight after all - and walks back into the crowd, snatching a glass of champagne on the way.

He talks, sliding gracefully from one group of guests to another, never staying long enough for anyone to ask him how happy he is that his friends have finally found each other. Here and there he spots a few familiar faces whose smiles are obviously forced, and makes a point to at least exchange a few words with each of them.

"I confess myself somewhat disappointed. She could have made such a better choice," Ayame Jonouchi comments, sipping gracefully at the glass she is grasping as tightly as Kyouya holds his own. He agrees politely and invites her to dance rather than telling her she isn't fooling anyone. Afterwards he changes tactics and puts on a brilliant smile, making it a duty to invite any lonely-looking lady onto the dance floor. Consolidating his reputation as a gentleman and working the frustration out: two birds, one stone.

What seems like hours later, he takes a break for another much-needed glass of champagne, and almost bumps into Ryuji Fujioka.

"Ranka-san. I haven't yet had the pleasure to tell you how beautiful you look tonight." It is the absolute truth. Only those in on the secret of his true gender would see past the elegant dress, high heels and perfectly applied make-up. He's a credit to his daughter, which suggests he's recieived a stern talking-to before the festivities started.

"You look quite dashing yourself," he replies. Then, just loudly enough for Kyouya to hear, "Unlike a certain idiot on whom I should have used a lot more bug spray when I had the chance. Who does he think he is, taking my Haruhi away from me?"

"I'm sure he doesn't intend to," Kyouya says soothingly. Protecting Tamaki in his absence is more or less instinct, now. "You may have noticed that Tamaki has trouble thinking things this far."

He talks with the unhappy father longer than he has with anyone else the whole evening, comforted by the fact that at least one person dares to voice their displeasure with what's unfolding here. The man freezes in the middle of a sentence, his face twisted in a mix of horror and disgust, and he excuse himself quickly before vanishing into the crowd. Turning around to see what has caused such a sudden retreat, Kyouya sees nothing out of the ordinary except perhaps for Yuzuru Suoh looking left and right, as if looking for something.

"I swear gender blindness runs in the family. I really wish I coud see his face when he realizes that it's not really Mrs Fujioka." By the intricate patterns on the speaker's dark silk shirt and a mental note made when he first saw the twins earlier in the evening, Kyouya identifies him as most-probably-Kaoru. The technique has seldom failed, but the twins have been known to swap clothes and hairstyle in the middle of the day. Kyouya has learned to be careful when attempting to identify them.

"Are you suggesting that he is courting 'her'?" The irony would be rather remarkable.

Kaoru nods. "We've been following them for most of the evening. It's the least depressing thing about this party."

Kyouya can't help but find himself a little offended at this apparent slur on his organizational skills despite fully understanding the twins' plight. He wouldn't say so himself, but for a certain set of people, 'depressing' is a very appropriate description for what is happening around them.

"We're not staying here much longer," Kaoru says, perusing the crowd. Kyouya follows his gaze and spots Hikaru carefully approach Benio Amasuka. "We're rounding up the losers for the after party".

"After party?" Kyouya asks, mildly curious.

"That's short for 'crash at Asylum, take out the booze and commiserate with company'." No one but the twins seems to know when or why they started referring to their place as Asylum, but the name was found to fit, and stuck. "Looks like we're out one Benibara, though."

Indeed, she's haughtily turned her back on Hikaru, who is making angry gestures of frustration behind her back. Kaoru sighs and puts his glass down, his little finger automatically slipping underneath to cushion it from the table. Some habits are hard to kill. "Are you coming with us?"

It's nothing like the first time one of the twins surprises him, but they rarely catch him out of the blue like this. "When you say 'losers'…"

"In the cruel game of love," Kaoru says, with underlying sadness beneath the sarcasm. It takes Kyouya a second to overcome the surge of panic. They know? Of all the oblivious, self-centered people in the world, the Hitachiin brothers have figured him out? His first instinct is to make a threat, but he stamps down on that too, because Kaoru's offer is matter-of-fact instead of teasing.

A chorus of voices rises from the center of the ballroom. He looks there curiously, only to see Tamaki trying to pull Haruhi into a dance. She struggles for a few moments, then sighs and follows him.

The fair maiden and her knight walk onto the dance floor, and hard liquor sounds like an appropriate conclusion to the evening.

"What's with this turnout?" Hikaru grouches, sprawled in the limousine that has become the twins' ride of choice. "Didn't we use to be popular?"

"Perhaps others were worried of the long-term consequences of drinking large doses of alcohol in your presence?" Kyouya suggests, settling on the opposite seat.

"And you're not? Hikaru, move it."

Obediently, Hikaru raises his upper body long enough for Kaoru to sit, then plops his head down on his brother's lap.

"Should I be?" The question is rethorical: if anyone should be worried about consequences it's the two of them. Kyouya knows not to drink too much no matter the circumstances.

"Who knows," they answer anyway, with a synchronisation that has long ceased to surprise him. The smirks are identical as well, although it's rather rare for them not to be at the same height.

"We can even start right now." With the hand that is not busy playing with his brother's hair, Kaoru gestures towards a door at Kyouya's right, too far for either of the twins to reach in their position. "There should be some stuff in there."

There is: a bottle of single malt whiskey, six glasses and an ice dispenser.

"Well. To Haruhi, then," Hikaru says a minute later, sitting up and raising his glass.

"And Tono," Kaoru adds. The conversation that follows is quick and silent, imperceptible to the unpreared eye. Kyouya, though, has spent a lot of time studying each member of the club. So he sees Hikaru's confused frown, sees Kaoru's eyebrow raise significantly as he tilts his head toward Kyouya.

The subtlety of the exchange stops with the look of dawning understanding on Hikaru's face.

"To Tamaki and Haruhi," Kyouya says icily as he makes his glass tinkle against Hikaru's, daring him to comment. Kaoru's assurance in asking him to go with them had him so certain that they knew already, but that might have been the champagne talking. He really should have seen it coming: it's just like them to bluff their way into getting a confession. But Kaoru hasn't shown a sliver of doubt about his assessment of the situation, so maybe the only oblivious one was Hikaru. In which case it doesn't really matter, because his brother would have told him sooner or later.

"I still can't believe she said yes," Hikaru grumbles.

"The quote was truncated," Kyouya provides. He wouldn't have, usually. The information can serve no other purpose than to bruise the twins a little harder, but at the moment he fails to see how it matters. "According to her father, what she said was 'Yes, whatever, just let me study in peace.'" By the time Haruhi figured out what she'd just agreed to, Tamaki had already alerted half the country. That goes without saying; some things simply never change.

The twins' expressions would probably have been comical if Kyouya had had a few more glasses of this excellent whiskey.

"She's going to marry him because she's too lazy to clear a misunderstanding?" Hikaru says in pained disbelief. "If that's all it took, I-"

"You're not Tono," Kaoru points out sadly. "None of us is."

The three of them contemplate the truth of these words in shared misery until the car comes to a stop. Kyouya has been here a few times since a doting and slightly senile great-aunt offered the twins her penthouse atop the building as a high school graduation gift. So far, they're the only members of the Host Club to have moved out of the familial estate (or two-bedrooms flat). Asylum has thus become the most used place for the 'family' reunions Tamaki keeps insisting on; seen like this, the name does seem sensible.

They moved out the moment the papers were signed, but their proclaimed self-reliance does not extend to giving up on the perks of being sons of one of the oldest families in Japan: as far as Kyouya knows, two maids have been detached from the Hitachiin mansion to work here full time, and the chauffeur who has brought them to Ouran every day for over ten years now lives in a much smaller appartment on the lower floors.

Kyouya takes a walk on the terrace as the twins pull out their considerable stock of alcoholic beverages. The view of the city is fantastic for one unaccustomed to such things, and even the noises of traffic come up dampened and unobtrusive. From where he stands, Kyouya can see the looming shape of the Ohtori Zaibatsu headquarters, where in two days he'll have to be professional and unaffected by personal matters as some of the company's most important partners discuss the rising threat presented by the Shibaura Keiretsu.

He's spent his life preparing for this, but right now the thought just makes him turn around and head back inside, where Kaoru is displaying a surprising amount of skill at piling up layers of brightly coloured intoxication in too many shot glasses.

Hikaru raises his glass, but finds nothing to say. Toasts have been made in honour of a number of people in the past two hours: their elders of the Host Club, Ranka, Usa-chan, and a number of other personalities including but not limited to Renge, Kasanoda, Arai (the fourth glass had Hikaru feeling particularly generous), and Belzeenef.

They appear to have run out of names. Considering the quantity of alcohol that has been consumed between the three of them, it might not be a bad thing.

"I need something to eat," Hikaru says after a moment's hesitation.

Carried by the momentum, both Kaoru and Kyouya raise their glasses and chorus "something to eat!", leaving Hikaru no choice but to drag himself to the kitchen grumbling about pulling the short straw.

Kyouya closes his eyes and leans back on the couch, trying to enjoy the silence for a moment. But his perception seems heightened, because under the creaking of leather whenever Kaoru so much as twitches and the fridge door being opened in the kitchen, he could swear he hears the rumbling of cars far below.

"I have an idea," Kaoru whispers conspiratorially from rather closer than he was the last time Kyouya saw him.

"That can't be good news." The answer is automatic, a reflex born of too many years having to take responsibility for the twins on behalf of the Host Club.

Kyouya's eyes jump open as a hand is set on his thigh.

"I think you'll like it." Kaoru is incredibly present now, and the focused look in his eyes makes it very clear what is running through his mind. Objectively -and at this level of inebriation Kyouya can still think objectively- he's beautiful. It's nothing new or surprising; it was, after all, a prerequisite to even be remotely considered Host Club potential.

(Haruhi, all unkempt attire and thick glasses, was special from the moment she opened the door.)

Beauty isn't a surprise, but looking at him from this close Kyouya finds that Kaoru has grown luscious, all sharp eyes and soft skin and messy hair and the grace of a young man confident that he is temptation personified.

In this moment, he might very well be.

(But he isn't Tamaki.)

Kyouya knows what he's going to do. He's going to politely pull away, call a taxi and go home. When they meet again, later, they'll either have forgotten about this or pretend to. It's the sensible thing to do, and Kyouya Ohtori is nothing if not sensible.

A minute later he's forgotten about the traffic noises, but he does hear a gasp and something like a plate falling on a thick fluffy carpet. Hikaru is back from the kitchen, and he was clearly not expecting to find them sprawled over each other on the couch, hands hidden under layers of formal clothes, rubbing, grinding in a most undignified but pleasurable way.

Kaoru takes his time, keeps biting-sucking at Kyouya's neck for a few seconds before looking up at his brother, and by that time Hikaru has recovered from the shock. The twins' deep-seated need to make believe that all their actions are scripted will be their downfall someday. Tonight it might be Kyouya's, as Hikaru half-smirks half-pouts and grumbles "Could have waited."

"But Hikaru, you were taking so long in the kitchen," Kaoru protests, sounding meek and bashful even as his fingernails trail shivers down Kyouya's sides. The exchange is a mere variation of the old Host Club act, something that Kyouya himself helped them perfect. He should be used to it.

He's not. He realizes it as Kaoru goes back to sucking at his neck, as Hikaru crosses the room and kneels by the couch - their kisses are different, Kyouya notices distantly. Kaoru was just a little tentative, like despite his brash approach he was afraid of being pushed away, where Hikaru demands and expects his due.

They pull back at the same time, leaving Kyouya to look at them through tilted glasses. "This isn't going to work," Kaoru muses right as his brother, always the blunter one, says "bed".

They get up and try not to be too awkward. The twins do this by keeping their hands on him and slowing the progress a few times by pulling him in for a rough kiss, and all through this all he notices is how carefully they're not touching each other.

Kaoru is the one who pushes him on the bed, he thinks, but maybe it was Hikaru. Kyouya has never been that interested in telling them apart for the sake of it. Right now, all that matters is that they don't stop touching him, don't let him start thinking again because this is a really bad idea, and if he takes the time to think about it he might back out.

But movement has stopped.

They're standing on either side of his legs, mirror image of each other -except for a few undone buttons on Kaoru's shirt and Hikaru's messier hair- staring at each other and seemingly unable to move. Through his skewed glasses Kyouya sees clenched fists and trembling arms, like they're longing to touch but can't or won't or are afraid to. Like two magnets resisting an external force trying to push them together. It occurs to Kyouya that he has to do something, anything, or they might break under the conflicting pressures and never be whole again.

He says, "you're drunk". The phrase bounces against the bedroom walls.

It's enough.

Enough of a reason, or an excuse, and as he watches them wrapping themselves around each other like they never had a chance to - like they'll never have it again- the thought pops up that the relationship between them might be a lot more complex than anyone ever anticipated. But the intricacies of brotherly love are not what interest him, not now. Not when they're right here in front of him, devouring each other on the spot,

(having forgotten about him)

their hands never settling anywhere because they need to touch every inch of skin at once. Being drunk may just be an excuse - doubtlessly they've wanted to do this forever- but it's the perfect one, both for them and for Kyouya who stares avidly and rubs his erection slowly through his tailored trousers. This is perfect. Tomorrow this won't have happened, therefore tonight they can do it. The logic is faultless.

Without a warning, the roving hands stop and the desperate kiss is broken and the twins don't let go of each other but turn around to look at him with that trademark grin that has always meant trouble.

Waking up alone in someone else's bed is something Kyouya has little experience in, as he's always made it a point to leave before he fell asleep. Sneaking out in the middle of the night might not be a gentlemanly thing to do, but neither is biting a woman's head off for waking him up in the morning.

It isn't much of an experience. The bed is big and comfortable, the blanket just a little too heavy for his liking but bearable. Through the blinds he can tell that the sun is already high in the sky, which the alarm clock confirms. His glasses sit on the bedside table (definitely not where they were dropped) next to a glass of water and two aspirins. His clothes are folded on a chair in plain view. To the right an open door seems to lead to a bathroom, and Kyouya knows (and in this case appreciates) a subtle suggestion when he sees one.

He showers and dresses quickly, grimacing slightly at the smell of alcohol on his clothes. There is no noise coming from outside the room: no conversation, no tinkling of cutlery. The option to run out without having to deal with either of the twins has been made fully available. Only if he does, this encounter will lead to bigger trouble eventually. Some things should be sorted out now, such as this was a punctual event of which we will never speak again.

He finds one in the kitchen, and identifies him as Kaoru by the dark red bruises his highly fashionable, shoulder-exposing jumper do not quite hide. Kyouya closes his eyes against the rather vivid memory of how they got there: it wouldn't do to get distracted now.

"Oh, good morning," Kaoru says, looking up from the strange mixture he was peering at. "Slept well?"

He sounds distracted and not at all ironic, which makes Kyouya wonder if he has any recollection of what happened. But then, the twins are excellent actors. Kaoru might just be playing it safe, banking the hope that Kyouya doesn't remember.

There's a bite mark just over his left clavicle, only half-covered by the jumper. Kyouya

(put it there)

promptly looks back at Kaoru's face.

"Quite well, thank you. Are you cooking?" Frankly, he hopes not. The thing in the bowl looks slightly leathery, and might be breathing. Not anything Kyouya wishes to have for breakfast, even out of the kind of reckless curiosity that led to last night's episode.

Kaoru makes a contrite face. "Pancakes," he admits. "The maids don't come on week-ends. I usually call Haruhi for help with the commoner stuff, but…" He trails off, frowns, and turns the bowl upside down.

The pancakes-to-be stubbornly stick to the bowl.

"I think this might be beyond help," Kyouya suggests in as mild a voice as he can manage. To his relief, Kaoru nods. "Is there anything to drink?"

"Tea, milk or what's left of the pineapple juice. Hikaru went out two hours ago to get some commoner coffee." Kyouya frowns. The thought of either of the twins doing their own shopping is preposterous.

"He thinks it doesn't taste the same if someone was paid to buy it," Kaoru explains. Kyouya doesn't question the logic. When it comes to the twins, it usually only leads to confusion. "Also, I think he needed some air. He's a little freaked out."

"You don't seem to be," Kyouya answers carefully. He never expected Kaoru to breach the topic so spontaneously. "I'll take black tea, if you have some."

"It was a long time coming," Kaoru says, busying himself with a kettle. Kyouya doesn't know if he's supposed to be shocked by the assumption that he's been waiting for the occasion to fall in their bed, or offended that he doesn't seem to be considered in the equation at all.

He goes for sarcastic and fakely surprised.

"Was it? I never knew." Gratifyingly, Kaoru's posture tenses, and the kettle makes a loud clonking noise against the counter.

"I didn't mean you," Kaoru says almost apologetically. Kyouya's face doesn't move. The response was expected. Such is the purpose of the third party: necessary to make things progress but ultimately unimportant. After all he's always been the one in the shadows.

Rolling his eyes, Kyouya makes a mental note not to let Tamaki make him watch another romance movie again. They are doing bad things to his cognitive abilities.

The silence is broken by the shrill song of the kettle, and Kaoru serves his tea with a grace that would put a professional to shame. But then, he was a professional once, wasn't he?

"Is it going to be a problem?" Kyouya asks. He's entitled to some curiosity at least, considering they picked him as a catalyst. Kaoru looks off in the distance, which would have been a lot more impressive if his gaze wasn't directed at a white wall three meters away.

"I don't know," he admits.

The first thought to burst in Kyouya's mind is Tamaki will expect me to sort it out if things go wrong between them. It is closely followed by but I won't get involved. Kyouya can't answer to every one of Tamaki's expectations, and for the first time in years the thought doesn't feel like a failure.

Catharsis by sex. Kaoru's idea was a good one after all, even if he didn't put it in so many words. But now the deed is done, to speak crudely. Plus, planning the party took more time than expected, and there's a lot of work to be caught up on now.

"I should be going," he says, putting his teacup down. Kaoru's stance changes almost imperceptibly, in a way that Kyouya distantly associate with the twins' equivalent of gratefulness.

The door opens as Kyouya gets to the vestibule, and Hikaru stands frozen and wide-eyed in the doorway for maybe five seconds. Then he blushes hotly, looks down, and forces his way down the corridor despite Kaoru's attempt to stop him.

Seconds later, they hear a door slam closed.

Kaoru scratches his head, looking embarrassed. "Make that really freaked out. Sorry about this."

Kyouya nods silently. He understands, maybe better than he wants to. "Go talk to him. I'll let myself out."

"Yeah. Thanks." Kaoru's attention is completely focused on his upcoming conversation with his brother, and it annoys Kyouya, just a little, to be dismissed this easily.

"It was my pleasure," he says with a raised eyebrow.

Kaoru has the grace to blush.

There's a lot of work to be done, but even virtually alone in the building Kyouya finds that concentration eludes him. A few parts of his brain seem to have chosen to dwell on the previous night rather than focus on work. Talented as he is at manipulation, Kyouya still hasn't figured how to trick his own mind into submission.

He wonders what happened after Kaoru went to talk to his brother.

If they fought.

(Or gave in.)

If they decided to move to separate places.

(Or tumbled together on Hikaru's bed.)

If they agreed to pretend nothing happened.

(Or decided they don't need the excuse of a third party.)

After three hours of disgraceful unproductivity he gives up, pushes away from the desk and goes to visit Fuyumi.

Chapter Text

"Thank you for your business," Kyouya concludes, bowing to the retreating men. They make the proper noises and expressions, and he manages to keep the charmingly professional smile on his face until they're safely sitting in their car, nodding to each other and furthering a conversation that could lead to the downfall of the Ohtori Corporation.

Then he goes back to his office, asks his secretary to get him a lunch from the cafeteria, and waits until she's off the floor to slam his office door as hard as he can. To his disappointment, it bounces noiselessly.

What were they expecting? The Shibaura Keiretsu has always had a strong medical department. For some reason they've always kept its development to foreign country, leaving the Ohtoris free reign over the Japanese market. And all these men, these long-time business partners, are acting like this fortunate and hitherto unexplained state of events was supposed to last for ever.

It won't. If he needed any proof of it, it's sitting on his desk now, in the form of a gold-embossed invitation to the party celebrating the return to Japan of the clan's youngest child. His name is handwritten on the envelope, but printed and misspelled on the card.

It's a studied insult, the beauty of which resides in the fact that he can't ignore it.

Something is changing. Their patriarch and head of family is well past his ninetieth birthday, and has been controlling the company for over fifty years. Business opponents of his have been waiting for him to drop dead for the past thirty years, to no avail so far. But he represents stability. He hasn't changed his methods in three decades, and the invitation Kyouya holds in his hands doesn't come from him, he's sure of it. This is the sign of a shifting of power within the Shibaura family, something the Ohtoris can't afford to not pay attention to.

Whoever is taking control clearly has views on the Ohtori hunting grounds. They must be identified and stopped.

Well, he needed a distraction, didn't he? And this might be the best time to prove himself to all those irreplaceable partners who see nothing more in him than a fresh Todai graduate with no experience of the real world.

Between that looming threat and the work Kyouya has been putting off to plan the engagement party to Tamaki's satisfaction, he barely has time to sleep for the next two weeks, let alone think about anything even remotely host club related.

That is, until Tamaki forgets about the very notion of time difference and calls him to describe the beauty of the French countryside (and Haruhi, but Kyouya has long since developed selective hearing) at sunset. Kyouya remains strained but civil, and waits until the very end of Tamaki's monologue to mention what time it is in Japan and hang up. He falls back asleep with a smirk, content in the knowledge that Tamaki will spend the rest of his trip agonizing about what form Kyouya's revenge will be taking.

He's still considering his options as he steps out of his family's car, walking half a step behind his father as they walk up the stairs in front of the Shibaura mansion. He takes a deep breath before going through the doors, shoving out all thoughts of sweet revenge for the time being.

The Shibaura parties are famous, but Kyouya has never had an occasion to attend before. At first sight, it looks like any of the events that happen weekly in this season. Decoration, food, drinks. In these circles, the choreography starts long before the music. Innovation is not usually welcome.

"Kyouya-kun. This might very well be a miracle." He turns around and sees a familiar if unexpected face.

"How is that, Watanabe-sensei?"

She smiles, her teeth so white that they reflect the lights from the candelabres. "I was expecting this evening to rewrite my definition of hell," she says in a confidential tone, looking around the gigantic ballroom. "Will you live up to the reputation of the host club and save me from death by boredom?"

"How could I deny such a request?" Kyouya says, offering her his arm.

"Thank you," she sighs in relief. Looking at her more closely, Kyouya notices how uncomfortable she looks. Not being an art student himself, and utterly uninterested in Hikaru's lasting grudge, he never paid much attention to her. But from her few appearances in the Third Music room, he's kept the memory of a woman in paint-stained clothes, flat shoes and messy hair. He remembers someone more likely to be found in an artist's studio than here, and she does look terribly uncomfortable in her designer's dress.

"Might I ask what brought you here if you dread this so much?"

She shrugs. "The old man demanded the presence of the whole clan tonight. There was no escaping it."

Kyouya stops dead in his tracks. "The old man?" Could she possibly mean...

"Oh." She looks vaguely surprised. "I thought everyone knew." She gives a sloppy, ironic curtsy. "Surely you've heard about the many mistresses of our head of family? I happen to be one of the youngest illegitimate children."

This is where Kyouya's high school training in reacting to the unexpected comes in handy. He starts walking again, still smiling amicably. Does she have any idea what she's doing, talking to him so freely? She never struck him as one to play in power struggles, but surely she can't be completely ignorant of the growing rivalry between her family and his?

"But enough about me. I heard your president got married?"

"Engaged," he corrects, not missing a beat. "To Haruhi Fujioka. You may remember her, she was a member of the host club as well. He has taken her to visit his mother in France for a few weeks."

"I thought he was very interested in... her," she says, sounding mildly confused. Kyouya tries to remember if she was around when Haruhi's gender was revealed, but can't come up with a definite answer. Not that it really matters anymore.

"What of the two terrors?" she asks with a raised eyebrow. To this day, Kyouya still can't figure out if she has taken the same approach to the twins as most other people: incomprehension followed by anger, eventually replaced by exasperated fondness. The alternative is that she despises them with every fiber of her being. It's a 50/50 chance.

"They were fine the last time I saw them," he lies. "They're both college students at the moment."

She looks thoughtful for a moment. "Art?"

"Among other things, yes."

She nods, and leans towards him to whisper in his ear. "I'll trust you not to tell them that, but they were two of my most talented students. They take after their mother."

"You know their mother?"

"We've met. One of my sisters went to school with her. This dress is one of her designs. In fact, I believe most women in the family are wearing her creations tonight."

It's a small world, Kyouya knows. The Hitachiin family has no direct influence in the medical business, and it's not like the twins' mother has any reason to be loyal to the Ohtoris.

Nevertheless, it feels just a little like betrayal.


They both turn around to face a young woman, maybe two years older than Kyouya, wearing another Hitachiin design and a thin-lipped smile. Watanabe grimaces.

"If you'll excuse me..."

He watches the two women exchange a quick, tense conversation before they both walk back towards him.

"I am told you are the wrongest person to associate with tonight," Watanabe says.

"I'm very sorry to hear that," he answers just as seriously, amused by her refreshing straightforwardness.

"So am I," she sighs, "so am I. Kyouya-kun, this is the belle of the ball, my niece Atsuko. And I will now leave you two to a business conversation that I'm sure will be fascinating."

She saunters away without waiting for an answer, leaving Kyouya to stare after her for a moment, thinking he understands just a little how Hikaru came to hate her so much. She's certainly a loose electron.

"Miss Atsuko," he greets, giving her his most charming smile. "How are you enjoying Japan so far?"

"It seems smaller than when I was a child," she answers with an identical smile and cold eyes. "But I'm sure something can be made of it."

He snaps to attention.

Her? A young woman who seems perfectly at ease here, born and bred to be sweet and pretty until such time as the family sees fit to marry her off. Surely she can't be the one-

"I'm rather flattered that you chose to answer my invitation, Kyouya-san."

But then, he once had a similar future. And the twins' mother, as an example, is both a perfect hostess and a business shark. The two are not necessarily incompatible.

"I would not have dreamed of missing an occasion to attend one of the famous Shibaura parties," he answers smoothly.

She raises an eyebrow at him.

"Famous among businessmen, certainly," she says with a strange accent on 'men'. "Surely an attractive young man like you doesn't need the extra help?"

"Do you mean-?"

She smirks. "I expected you to be more observant." She moves aside, giving him a clearer view of the room. "If you pay attention, you'll notice a group of young women wearing a uniform not dissimilar to that of the caterers, yet carrying no tray of petits fours."

He does spot one, a beautifully plastic youth talking to a man in his fifties (Ryou Aizawa, leader in the marketing industry, father of one daughter currently in her last year of high school at St Lobelia's Academy - Kyouya's inner Who's who is as efficient as ever) standing just a little too close, laughing just a little too loud.


"A charitable word. Bought and paid for by the generosity of my grandfather. All young, flexible, imaginative, yet known to have the standing instruction to remember nothing about the people they may or may not have... entertained."

He takes a glance at her, and finds her looking around the room with sharper eyes than a woman this young should have.

"You don't seem very impressed."

"Should I be? Times are changing, Kyouya-san. This might be the last party of its kind to be held here. If you plan on enjoying the special service, I suggest you do it tonight."

"I don't," he answers more than honestly. Sex is the last thing on his mind these days, and the thought of having one participant pay for it, even by proxy, has always disturbed him to the highest point.

"I'm relieved to hear that." She gives him a brief smile. "Now that you've figured out the secret of the famous Shibaura parties, is there anything left of interest here? I have to make a public appearance later, but perhaps afterward we could move this conversation to a more private location?"

Kyouya is disappointed, just a little. The youngest of the Shibauras propositioning him less than ten minutes after their first meeting? Do they really expect him to fall for it?

"I wouldn't want your grandfather to misinterpret my intentions," he says, giving her a fake smile of his own.

Snorting graciously is no small feat, but she manages it. "Of course. In this case, would you come with me to the terrace for a few minutes? In full view of the ballroom and the three men in sunglasses who haven't left you out of their line of sight since your arrival."

"If it pleases you." He offers her his arm and lets her lead him to the terrace.

"By all accounts, you are most likely to become the next head of the Ohtori family," she says matter-of-factly when they're far enough from potential eavesdroppers.

"Am I?" This conversation is becoming surreal. She keeps taking him off guard, a position he is neither familiar with nor fond of.

She sighs. "You are. And I will be the one to replace grandfather."

She sounds so sure, so determined, that for a moment it doesn't occur to Kyouya to doubt her.

"Why are you telling me this?" More accurately, how can this possibly benefit her? She's throwing away information that will be precious to him, even if it turns out to be a false lead.

"Spirit of the samourai?" Her eyes as she says this are as innocent as those of Hani-senpai asking for a sweet, and therefore he isn't fooled.

"It sounds a little old-fashioned, for a young lady brought up in Europe."

"Japan is a small country," she says, suddenly serious again. "But it's a jewel. I want it, Kyouya-san. And I will have it."

"Forgive my impertinence, but you sound like you're planning a coup."

Her laughter sounds almost genuine. "No. But I will take over the Ohtori Zaibatsu eventually. And because I was mostly educated abroad by people who do believe in samourais, I decided you deserve a fair warning."

"That's very honourable of you," Kyouya says. He's thoroughly confused now, and suspects that this is exactly what she was aiming for. He can't think of a good reason why she would want to do that, but the odds are rising that she's doing it for entertainment.

"I suppose. Although I have to say, I really just wanted to see your reaction."

A test. It makes sense, somehow, and Kyouya can only hope that she got less information than she gave. "Did I pass?"

She shrugs and moves in front of him, backlit by the party. He can't see her face, but her voice is expressive enough. "Let us count this as my fair warning and keep it at that. It was a pleasure meeting you, Kyouya Ohtori. I hope we can do business together."

She heads back to the party without looking back.

Kyouya goes through the rest of the party on automatic mode. Atsuko's official speech is as dull as could be expected. She's perfect as the slightly overwhelmed, celebrated but minor member of an old clan.

One who just told him that she was planning on single-handedly taking over his family's company.

He doesn't know what to make of her, and goes home troubled and irritated. Even after a warm shower and a cup of herbal tea, he ends up laying on his bed, staring at the ceiling. After a while he takes off his glasses to rub at his eyes, which doesn't help much.

Normally, he'd call Tamaki. There's no better person to help him sort things out, even if it's only by distracting him long enough for his subconscious mind to do the trick. But Tamaki is in France, probably having dinner with his mother and his fiancée. Tamaki is moving on with his life. Tamaki, in short, has better things to do than counsel him. Which leaves Kyouya devoid of anyone to call for support.

The thought crosses his mind to call Hani-senpai and have Atsuko preemptively assassinated. Alas, Kyouya's personal Private Police is currently unavailable. The last attempt of his upperclassman's father to turn him into a real man consisted in sending him on a survival trip somewhere in the Himalayas for the next six months with nothing but Usa-chan, a mountain of cake and Mori.

And then there are the other ones, whom he's been so good at not thinking about after that first day of pathetic distraction. Of course, the thought of calling onto the Hitachiin twins for moral support is laughable, but he stays on it for a little while just for the sake of distraction.

Moral support indeed. Although... it did help, that time, the chance to stop thinking. An opportunity in exchange for which he may well have opened their personal Pandora's box. It occurs that checking on them would be the responsible thing to do, if only so he can answer accurately the next time a ghost from high school asks about his former club members.

It's not that he's curious as to whether they're regularly sleeping together now. It's hardly his business, and the brotherly love act has never been anything more to him than a reliable source of revenue for Tamaki's club. At least not until he had Kaoru naked on top of him, his neck arched, his eyes clenched shut and biting his lower lip in a desperate attempt not to cry out as his twin fucked him.

It seems it does do it for him now, if his body's reaction to this single mental picture is any indication. Kyouya groans, throwing an arm over his eyes. He considers shoving the thought down or waiting it out. But it's easy to reason that he needs to wind down, and this, starting with trailing his fingers slowly down his body, might be the easiest way to accomplish that.

So he lets his back arch and his legs spread as his right hand reaches between them, fingertips teasing the soft skin of his inner thighs. A little harder is letting out all the thoughts that usually accompany this sort of activity: usually they're made of anonymous soft curves and long dark hair, the very opposite of what he doesn't allow himself to think about.

But tonight it's not a safe, nameless symbol of feminity that comes to his mind, or even Tamaki. Tonight, the only images he seems able to conjure up are memories. And they're working. Oh, how they're working. With his eyes closed he can almost feel their hands on his skin, undoing the buttons of his clothes with surprising ease until he lay there with his shirt and pants open. Kyouya never considered himself to have a thing for exhibitionism, but the twins unlocked a number of his kinks that night, for the memory of them watching him spread out and exposed on Kaoru's bed has him groaning as he strokes his erection in a loose grip. The predatory looks were nothing to the touches, the hungry roving of their lips over his chest and finally, finally their fingers on his cock, all teasing and frustration because they were playing with each other as well as with him.

And then there was Kaoru reaching further down, and that's where the steam lets off a little, because despite lowered inhibitions Kyouya was not exactly fine with the concept. But tonight he's alone, and he rolls over to his side as curiosity wins out over discomfort.

How debauched he must look, naked on top of the covers with his legs spread and fingertips brushing against his asshole, now thinking not of what happened but of what might have been. The exploration only lasts a few moments, but as he rolls on his back and grabs his cock again the thought of one of them fucking him as the other rides him overwhelms all other, and he comes within a minute in hot, short bursts all over his hand.

He leans back, breath short, muscles loosened and thoughts even stormier than before. For something he wasn't supposed to think about anymore, his tryst with the twins seems to be pretty close to the surface. It surprises him, just a little, that right after meeting a woman as fascinating and intriguing as Atsuko Shibaura, his subconscious chose the Hitachiiin twins over her. He's always thought himself straight, and Tamaki an exception of which he seldom ever thought of in a strictly sexual way.

The thought that he may have been wrong isn't exceptionally hard to formulate. Kyouya always expected that when he gets married (and he will, eventually), it will be out of a mutually beneficial arrangement that has nothing to do with personal affection. The fact that he might prefer men changes little in the long run. He never expected to love a wife.

Having come to that conclusion, he crawls under the covers, and as he falls asleep he could almost think there's someone cuddling up against his back, relaxed and affectionate and smiling the smile that broke the hearts of a thousand girls.