bored411: Both protagonists in this fic are going to have it rough, fair warning. Thank you!

Akari. Wolf. Princess: Sorry if the timeline got a little confusing! Shigeo only thought about getting Kosuke engaged to Kyoya after news about DomenMed hit. Most of last chapter happened before Kosuke and Shigeo met, with the last part happening after. The chapters of this fic are going to switch between Kyoya and Kosuke from here on out, and though most of them will go in sequential order, there will be a few that show their points of view during the same timeframes. Thank you so much!


There isn't a rule on how long someone can be 'in shock', is there? There's no medical limit on it as far as Kosuke knows. She feels like she has been in shock for days now.

She doesn't recall what she did after the police officer informed her that her parents had died in a car accident. It was just a fog of tears and denial and laying helpless on the floor. She'd been in shock for a second when she realized Marti dealt with a loan shark, to a much smaller degree.

Confirming that she was going to marry a complete stranger at the string-pulling of her estranged father had left her in probably the world record for longest state of 'in shock.' If that is even a good way to describe it.

She hadn't told Haruhi any details when she returned, but it seemed that the older woman had just written it off as her not wanting to talk. And Kosuke didn't, not when she hadn't even processed what she'd agreed to. For the rest of that evening, she hadn't shut down per se. She'd talked and responded and kept moving, but she couldn't remember what she'd said or done. She did not sleep that night.

The whole…thing just comes back to her every now and then like it's on a timer. One minute, Kosuke is folding up her laundry and tucking it away into her drawers, thinking about what she'll be making for dinner that night and wondering if she can fix the weird knob on the bathroom cabinet. Then she remembers her engagement and would you look at that, she's spent thirty minutes staring into space.

She hardly realizes anything new that didn't already hit her like a truck when she'd heard it in the first place. Oddly, she seemed to do better thinking about it then than now. Her shock had to build up, apparently.

When she'd talked to Shigeo about it, she'd been hit with a flurry of horrible ideas and images: a wedding, a ring on her finger, sleeping with a stranger in her bed, doing…not-sleeping things with a stranger in her bed. Some left her stupefied, others left her disgusted, and others still had her going to the bathroom and looking at her reflection in the mirror just so she could ask herself, What the hell happened to your life?

Now, though, she can't focus on images or scenarios, just the sheer weight of everything. It really did feel like she was shackled to a stone sometimes. It was almost physically painful to walk around with it.

The word forever, however dramatic, kept coming to her head and dealt the worst blows. No one could predict the future, but even so, Kosuke had just signed part of hers away. She'd always thought she'd get married some day, but she thought she'd do it of her own heart and will, because things were normal for her once upon a time and that's usually how people get married.

In the moments where she wasn't shocked, overwhelmed, stupefied, and whatever else, Kosuke had to admit, the whole thing made her…sad.

The night that Kohta and her had broken up, she'd grieved for all their wasted time together and worried that she had ruined future experiences for him. She'd also been so put off by the idea of being with anyone else she forgot what it was ever like to not be with Kohta in the first place.

Over time, though, the wound had healed. Or scarred. Whichever.

She thought that perhaps it wasn't the memory Kohta himself that had yet to stop bleeding. In all honesty, the more she thought about it, the more she questioned whether she was ever really in love with him. Maybe she just loved him, or the other way around. Whatever kind of love it was, Kosuke knows that you're supposed to want to do right by the person you love, want to make them happy and ease their feels. She'd just kept up with her laziness and swept his concerns for their future under the rug, so perhaps it was never love after all.

But she just…longs for someone.

She still remembers what it's like to be in love, or at least be in the unfair and selfish version she'd had with Kohta. She remembered the little sparks of happiness she felt when her eyes landed on him, the thrills when she made him smile and laugh. She remembers what it felt like to look at him and think, He's mine, and when he looked at her, I'm his. She remembers that it felt like a bond not made by chains, but by a ribbon that could stretch and bend without breaking.

She remembers what it's like to have someone brush a lock out of her face, or push their nose into her hair to breathe her in. She remembers the soft and warm, yet somehow burning feeling of kissing someone and feeling their hands on her—face, hips, back, wherever—as they held her close.

The really, really pathetic thing is that sometimes when she's alone, she can almost feel a warm hand holding hers, or phantom arms pulling her close, keeping her safe, giving her comfort. It especially hurts when she can't fall asleep because for some reason, her empty bed has made it all too clear how long she's gone without that kind of touch.

It's not like she's been avoided like a leper. She has the kids, who crawl on her like spider monkeys, who play with her hair and tug on her leg and fall asleep in her arms. The Fujiokas have no issue pulling her in for a hug or patting her hand in comfort. Tamaki is Physical Affection Incarnate. He has probably hugged her more times than anyone else in her life.

Even so, it's not the same. Whether she's lonely, or stressed, or just a hopeless romantic, she longs to have that kind of presence to turn to again.

After Kohta's memory had sewn itself up, she'd started thinking about her future in romance. There were some logical factors, like how she'd have to be less busy than she is now to give them proper attention, or how she's now a package deal with two children. On top of that, she had never really thought about her "type" before she'd met Kohta. She'd had crushes on the singers and actors that most teenage girls did, but she found a guy she liked before she ever had to really look.

She's always been hopeful. On more than one occasion, she's had a guy express interest. Sometimes it's the customers who smile at her as she hands them their change, or a stranger who sees her coming and holds the door open for her. It's nice, to have someone look at you and perk up a little. She recognizes interest on a person's face, but she just doesn't have time now. There's no way she can fit a loving relationship into her schedule at this point.

So she'd planned to just pursue romance in the future, and that plan had been slashed out with the permanent marker that was this arranged marriage.

Not only that, her entire life structure was about to be flipped. She couldn't force herself to be happy about a gold lace wardrobe and fine dining and big mansions. Not when she was going to have to spend every waking moment for the rest of her life being aware of people she's never met, attending their funerals and weddings, sitting down for long meals with them, all because your image and connections could make or break you.

It might've been just a little easier if she could put a finality to this, but apparently there was one last, last, last, last step to be taken for this, which was a dinner with the Ootori family. The deal itself was pretty much set by now, but Shigeo had said it was just for propriety. Which is just slap-your-knee hilarious, in Kosuke's opinion.

Part of her wishes she'd never let him in to talk in the first place; another is grateful for it.

Whether or not she hates her father, she cannot decide. She does not trust him, she does not remotely like him, she is filled with fury when she recalls that this whole thing—whether he'd warned her or not!—came down to him using his flesh and blood as business leverage. That Emiko had run from him only fuels her distrust.

He's not her father. He's hardly more than a stranger. He's a figure who came in to offer her a deal that would hurt her but save what she held dear, with him as the one most profited. Shigeo is basically Rumpelstiltskin. And oh, how Kosuke would love to throw him out to the curb, demand he never contact her again, and spit on him while he was down.

Instead, she has to shake his hand, accept him as her father, and play along with him. He and she both know she has no real choice here.

She'd also love to spend years just yelling about everything that has gone wrong in her life and how she feels desperate and how much she hates herself for all of this, but it's not happening.

She can't even force out the words "I am engaged" to her own reflection, she has decided to keep this under wraps until the dinner is over. Then she can drop the atomic bomb on everyone. She knows Haruhi will be appalled, and Tamaki likely infuriated, but it's the children's reactions that has her the most concerned. She doubts there is anything she can say or do to make them understand.

If her parents could see her now, if her mother could be here to see what she was doing to herself and her siblings, Kosuke is positive that though she had never done it in all of her daughter's life, Emiko would have struck her across the face.

Kosuke can keep all her secrets bottled up. It's a struggle, but she manages to go about her day and doing her rituals as if nothing has changed. What she really, truly needs is for someone to tell her that this would not enrage her parents. Or just tell her that even though Emiko and Marti had died unconvinced that Kosuke would never be able to be a caretaker for herself or her siblings, she hadn't proven them horribly, dreadfully right.

No one can tell her that, though. No one but her parents would know, and even if they did, it would be a lie.


The days leading up to the dinner take a lot of mental exercise on her part. She is all but physically bracing herself for impact.

She figures that considering she's all but guaranteed money for the rest of her life now, she should be forking out a few extra yen to buy a babysitter for the evening. However, the second she brings it up to Haruhi, she's interrupted by the older woman's almost offended insistence that she can take care of it. She has not asked any questions about the night, because Kosuke had promised her all the details she would ever need once it was all over. It only seemed to concern Haruhi more, but she digressed.

Tamaki is not so easy to sway, and is very vocal on how she needs to cut ties with Shigeo as soon as possible, but he loses the battle. He isn't angry, not at her. His eyes are just filled with a little too much pity for her to take. Ranka is no better.

Hitsuji is still too young to know any better, and is just happy to go to another sleepover at Haruhi's. Minami, however, is more than a little upset that she is being deprived specifics.

"It shouldn't be a secret," she tells her as Kosuke is tucking her to bed one night. "Sisters don't keep secrets."

"It's a temporary secret. Like a surprise." But horrible. "I'll tell you once it's over."

Minami accepts it, just not happily. She's noticeably pouty for much of the time after.

She has to check everyone off like a bucket list. With them all sated, she can focus on her much-needed preparation for the nightmare that's coming.

This dinner will be most representing of her incoming life than the engagement party could ever hope to be. She is going to have to watch what she says, how she moves, the way she sits, everything. She is once again going to have to display that she is not stupid, even though she knows nothing of what anyone is talking about. She had asked Shigeo about whether she should start touching up on her knowledge, but he had only responded that they would get to it. Kosuke thought it'd be wiser to "upgrade" her insight on the company she would apparently inherit, at least to make her look better to Mr. Ootori, but apparently Shigeo isn't going to waste time on it until it's written in ink.

She turns to what she can research herself instead on the internet. She can now confidently say that she knows what Amida Health does and their market value. She herself was surprised to see that the company was based in the United States and not Japan. She had to remember that.

As for her future husband, that is a different ballfield.

Kosuke imagines him as blandly as she can. Polite and nice are her only two expectations personality-wise. He'll probably be smart. He'll certainly be much, much better at the etiquette of bluebloods, having been raised as one since birth. Kosuke thinks his hair will be dark, just judging by his father's. She has tried to imagine Mr. Ootori younger to give her an idea, but it's no use. She can't imagine what he looks like without the gray hair and goatee, and if her fiancé's eyes are as razor-sharp and cold as his father's, she doesn't think she'll ever be able to keep eye contact.

This is the man she is going to be spending the rest of her days with. They will have a wedding and live in the same house. She will belong to him and him to her. Shackled.

The only way she can power through all this is to host just a little smidgeon of optimism. Her hopes of living a marital life of love and affection and passion have all been dashed. She has accepted that. There is no other option.

However, that doesn't mean she has to hate her husband. She doesn't right now, though it might be easy to. From what Shigeo had said, arranged marriages very rarely had anything to do with the opinions of those involved. He could have as little a choice in this as she did.

She could swallow the planet-sized pill of signing her life away, but she isn't going to be able to power through a hateful marriage. She just isn't, and she doesn't have to. They will not call each other 'honey', or kiss each other's faces, or close any distances as they go to bed for the evening. That doesn't mean they can't have peaceful talks with one another, or be good housemates. Who knows, she might even strike a friendship with her husband.

It's a pathetic compromise, but it's the best she can do. Kosuke has kind of given up on a happily ever after at this point. She probably gave up on it a while ago.

The point is, Minami and Hitsuji will be safe and happy, they will never starve or go cold. The needs of the family outweigh the wants of the daughter.


Shigeo gives her one last surprise by telling her that she will have her own hotel room for the night. She attempts to protest, saying she already has a place to stay, but he shuts her down. Her makeup and dress fitting will need a place to happen, and that can't really be at a tiny little apartment already packed to the gills. Besides, it will be closer to the venue. That makes sense, at least.

Dropping off the children and getting her last good wishes from the still-concerned Fujiokas is the easy part. Getting on the bus and arriving at the hotel—which is another pinnacle of luxury and wealth, which shouldn't have surprised her—is where she has to put her war paint on.

The hotel room is thankfully not grandiose enough to floor her to the ground, but it is enough to make any other one she's ever stayed in look decrepit in comparison. The far wall is a floor-to-ceiling window of the city, the wallpaper has gold trim, and the whole place is larger than the Fujioka's entire apartment.

Her artist arrives a little after three. It is the same one as before, in clothes just as gaudy and heels just as high.

"Prepare yourself," she warns Kosuke in her odd stilted accent.

Kosuke cracks her neck and takes a breath. "Let's do this."

The process is a little shorter and less painful this time. Her dress is another spectacle that is going to worry her all night long: dark blue satin, floor-length with a slit up to her knee. Simple in comparison to the last one, but just as glamorous. She will have to wear heels, however, white ones that go with a gemstone necklace. The artist keeps her makeup fairly normal—"God didn't make your body for bold tones, it seems."—and pulls her hair back with a salon's worth of bobby pins that disappear into her blonde locks. She is good at her job, Kosuke can't deny that.

Knowing the purpose of this makeover makes her feel much grosser than she did the last time. Back then, it was wariness and confusion that had dominated her thoughts. Now she really does feel like some kind of prize pig being paraded around for auction.

The limousine comes to take her away, but Shigeo is not inside this time. Kosuke is driven into the heart of Tokyo, among all the bustling taxis and towering skyscrapers, before she's dropped off at her destination.

The place is called Ambrosia, and is what she imagines when she think of high-class dining. There's a red canopy over the entrance and a man waiting to open the door for you. The people who pass in are in their bets suits and evening gowns.

Shigeo is waiting outside in a black suit with a blue tie. They almost look like they're matching, and Kosuke bites her tongue as she steps out.

Neither immediately says anything to each other. Kosuke has no clue how she's supposed to greet him at all. She hasn't seem him since she first agreed to this, only minimally communicating over the phone. His eyes, though not glaring, are warning her to not screw this up, propriety or not. Kosuke wishes she could say that she has some kind of power here, but she doesn't. No benefit would come from intentionally throwing this out the window.

She just makes sure to keep her back straight and her chin raised. He will not scare her.

Shigeo finally speaks when she comes closer. "When we go in, you are going to be polite and, if you can pull it off, charming. Just do that without coming off as robotic or ditzy."

She's reminded of her horrifying act at the Blue Tower. "I won't."

"Hopefully Mr. Ootori will understand why you're not up-to-date on all the details, but like I said before, just don't be stupid. If you answer a question right, don't let it get to your head, because if you get the next one wrong, you'll look pompous. If you can't answer a question, just play up how willing you are to learn."

"Don't come off as confident, but try to come off as confident. Understood."

His gaze briefly takes on a withering chill, but it only gives her a little spark in her chest. She supposes she does have some power here after all. She's his only playing card here, and it'll take more than sass to make him cut ties.

Which means she can be as sassy as she wants. Victory.

"Try to talk without being a blabbermouth," he goes on, a little clippier. "Don't focus solely on Kyoya, either. You'll look either desperate or nervous."

"I'm not nervous."

"Sure, and you're not desperate, either." Shigeo almost rolls his eyes before straightening the tie beneath his chin. "Come on, they'll be here soon."

The good thing about only needing to trail behind is that it gives her a few more minutes to brace herself. While Shigeo talks about a reservation, Kosuke is trying to figure out a plan for her fiancé. Not about their meeting—a handshake and a smile will be just fine, she thinks—but the best way to get him to at least like her.

She thinks that a good idea would be to note little facts about him. The better she knows him, the better they can try and get along. So far she has just three.

#1 He is the youngest son of Mr. Ootori

#2 He is around her age.

#3 He is attending Ouran University.

That's it. She will just have to branch out from there.

In the main hall of the place, faceless figures dressed to the nines are mingling around with hors d'oeuvres, but they need not wait. They are led to a room that looks just a touch bit more like a meeting room for business, in Kosuke's opinion, although it does suit the situation better. The long table is sleek and black, lined with candles, the walls designed in an impeccable traditional style of vines and flowers. There is no head seat, only four chairs on either side. Shigeo sits in one and Kosuke sits beside him.

To steel her nerves just a little bit, she pulls her phone out of the clutch the stylist gave her—awfully inconvenient, clutches—and texts Haruhi.

Doing fine so far. Text me if something's wrong.

Which she already knows, of course, but Kosuke's hands are shaking.

Sadly, for all the times she tells herself "It's all in your head," she's starting to get the same feeling she had when she was heading into her night at the Blue Tower. Her stomach is starting to roil, she has to be mindful not to breathe too hard, her back is starting to hurt from her shivering. No wonder Shigeo could see her nervousness from a mile away.

It's not that she's expecting anything to go wrong, she just has to let the question of what she's doing sink in one last time. She'll probably have to let it sink in a few thousand more times, but yeah…For now.

Theoretically, she could still put her foot down (over and over, out the door) and shut the book on this whole thing and let enough years go by to where she can mark it off as some crazy fever dream. She allows herself that fantasy for just a minute, like she's done before. She's not sitting at a table about to meet her fiancé in an arranged marriage by a scumbag stranger. She's sitting at a table at home, watching the children settle into their seats while her mother and father bring out dishes. She's happy.

Buuuuut then she hears footsteps start to approach from outside the door, and Shigeo tugs on her arm until she stands up with him. Then all that's running through her head is a reminder to keep her back straight and her head high.

The first person she sees when the door slides open is the same woman that led them back here, bowing to Mr. Ootori, who enters the room next, well-dressed as the last time Kosuke saw him and maybe even icier. A young-looking man with hair that borderlines on too messy enters, but he's holding the arm of a raven-haired beauty, marking him off as a possibility. Then the final member of the quartet enters.

Kyoya. Her fiancé.

He's tall. Taller than her, not quite as much as Tamaki. She does see the resemblance between father and son instantly, but it's not as severe as she'd feared. They have the same jet black hair and pale skin, cool dark eyes, and his angles might not be so severe as Yoshio's, but his glasses renders that a moot point. It's just a little funny, Kosuke thinks to herself: they are as opposing in appearance as they are in upbringing. Raven hair and dark eyes, blonde hair and blue eyes. Born and raised blue-blooded, raised commonly and then body-slammed into wealth.

She can't deny that he's incredibly handsome. She'd have to be blind to not see that. High school-Kosuke might have even blushed and whispered behind her hand to swoon with other girls if he passed by. Unfortunately, as Kosuke looks at him and thinks, "This man will be my husband," she doesn't feel relieved or pleased or anything remotely positive. She doesn't feel anything.

Maybe if she tries to block the fact that they're going to be married from her mind, she can calm down. He's just a guy, and this is like their first date. Just…with their family present, too.

Mr. Ootori and Shigeo say something to each other that Kosuke doesn't catch. Thankfully, she is in her right mind enough to give a respectable bow when his eyes turn to her.

"Kosuke," Mr. Ootori says. "It's nice to see you again."

"You, too, Mr. Ootori."

All Kosuke spots signal-wise is a slight tilt of Mr. Ootori's head before Kyoya bows and introduces himself. "Kyoya Ootori. It's nice to meet you both."

"This is my daughter, Fuyumi, and her husband Tetsu Shido." The two of them bow to either Shigeo or both of them, Kosuke can't tell. She just bows again. They're both smiling, at least. "I hope you don't mind them accompanying us."

"Not at all," answers Shigeo, and Kosuke can't help but feel that the lighthearted icebreaking isn't so genuine. "Mr. and Mrs. Shido, it's a pleasure to meet you."

Shigeo's hand comes on her back in what may seem like a simple gesture, but she takes as the signal to bow, now. So she bows at the waist as Shigeo says, "This is Kosuke."

"Hello," she answers. She thinks it might sound stupid to say "nice to meet you" for the third time.

When she stands upright, she tries to at least make some eye contact with Kyoya. She doesn't want him to be offended or anything. Or—

Oh.

Kosuke is infinitely grateful that she has managed to withhold any kind of verbal or physical reaction. Not that she's about to be swooning anytime soon. All she's noticed is that Kyoya's eyes are not exactly like his father's—Lucky him.—and are a shade of gray just slightly lighter. They look like actual eyes and not chips of black ice.

They're just a little pretty, that's all.

But even though he smiles, and even though his voice is smooth when he tells her, "I've been looking forward to meeting you," it feels just a little forced.

Which is perfectly fine, in Kosuke's eyes. She doesn't know his knowledge or mindset on this. She doesn't have a mirror or feedback, so she might look and sound exactly the same when she replies, "Me, too."

So fact about her husband #4: he is polite. (Low-hanging fruit, but cool.)

They all take their seats, Ootoris and Shidos on one side of the table and the…Amidas on the other. Shigeo and Yoshio sit across from each other, same with Kyoya and Kosuke. The Shidos sit sit-by-side. Shortly after, their glasses are filled—wine and champagne for the others, water for her. Kosuke doesn't think she's ever drank from an actual stemmed glass before. Or ate at a full table set of three forks, three spoons, a napkin folded like a pyramid…

So things kind of just…go from there. Shigeo certainly hadn't lied to her; he and Yoshio are the only two who talk to each other. Even the married couple only whisper a few syllables under their breaths. It's not that everyone talked over each other at Kosuke's family's table, but that felt like politeness, whereas this feels more like subordination.

Now, if the two men could just not talk to each other the way characters in a movie talk before they're interrupted by the plot, that would be better.

"I hope business is going as well as usual." "It is, thank you."

"Have you travelled recently?" "I've just returned from a business trip out of town this morning, actually."

"I believe you mentioned part of your manor is being renovated?" "The lounge, yes."

It is monotonous and forced. Two robots held at gunpoint. It hurts to listen to. Taking a sip from her water, Kosuke risks a glance around at the others. Despite the lack of expressions, they seem to agree.

She finally gets some kind of distraction when the first course of the evening arrives. It's a small cup of cold soup, clear green in color. From taste alone, Kosuke guesses there's melon in it. It's incredibly refreshing. She's read so much about multicourse meals at this point, but having never expected to actually take part in one, it's almost thrilling. Which is probably sad, but whatever.

So fair, in fact, that she almost forgets her situation for a second. Then she remembers, and it really, really sucks because the soup doesn't taste so good after that.

The fathers continue their lifeless chitchat, the Shidos are pleasant to one another but quiet, and Kosuke and her fiancé have not said a word to each other apart from greetings.

She wonders if he likes or dislikes her. Again, neutral is good. She doesn't think she's done anything to offend so far. If he doesn't like the way she looks, well…Tough luck on that. She'll just be mindful to be polite and nice. She's nervous about the situation, not him.

When Shigeo and Yoshio finally settle their talk, there is a large stretch of silence. The servers come to take their cups, and Kosuke has spent maybe a little too much time savoring. She's so tempted to slurp it down before it goes, but gah. Appearances. She just has to let it go.

"So, Kosuke!" Fuyumi Shido's voice chirps up, refreshingly alive. Kosuke straightens to attention. "You've taken a skip year from college, right?"

"Yes." She goes on, not wanting to answer in monosyllables. "It was just easier, for the time."

"Are you excited to attend Ouran?"

She gets the amount of time it takes to swallow one sip of water to realize that Shigeo had not told her this and she will be attending Ouran University. Ouran University. Not just college, the college for God's chosen people.

So - that's something.

"Yes, I am. I wanted to start college right after high school anyway, so I'm more than happy to start attending the best in the country."

Mr. Ootori only interjects with, "Best in the world." It somehow manages to sound like an agreeable correction and a scolding at the same time.

The doors open once again as servers come in with the second course. Fuyumi tilts her chin ever-so-elegantly to her brother. "Kyoya is in his third year now. Top of his class, too!"

So…#5: He is very smart. An actual fact, this time.

Now that she's said it, though…Kosuke looks to Kyoya, who is looking at the orchid centerpiece on the table but moves just so to let the server set down his plate. It's a medley of carrots and red cabbage glazed and topped with something resembling pepper. There's no time to admire it, though. Now's a prime time to actually talk to him.

"What are you—oh, thank you." Kosuke gives a smile and nod to the server and tries again. "What are you majoring in?"

His blink is the surefire sign that he'd spaced out. That's fine, she won't blame him. She just—

"Business Administration and Management."

…Okay.

She'd asked, he'd answered. He could keep it blunt and simple, he didn't have to go on.

Eye contact, though, that would've been nice.

…He may not like her.

For a minute, she just watches everyone eat their food until she gets an idea. Once she picks up her fork, however, Tetsu Shido hurls a curveball at her: "What will you be majoring in?"

She musters enough telepathic power that she can point toward Shigeo to ask, Yeah, what am I majoring in?

"The same, or very similar," Mr. Shigeo answers just readily enough. "We haven't finalized her exact schedule yet."

The Shidos nod in understanding. Perhaps she's a little desperate after all, but Kosuke wants to keep trying. She's not being pushy, she's just making small talk.

"I didn't attend Ouran High School. Is it much different going to the University?"

Her immediate answer is silent. Fuyumi, who has already claimed her title as Kosuke's Favorite Person at the Table, looks expectantly to her brother. The little purse in her lips is so small it's almost unnoticeable. It's strange, because even though Fuyumi doesn't move an inch, Kyoya suddenly looks at her, and she looks at Kosuke, and then he's looking at Kosuke.

"It's certainly a larger scale, but matched in quality."

Kosuke doesn't miss that he's spaced out again, or the brief little sigh at the start of his words, or that he once again looks down at his food instead of her.

Tough walnut to crack, this one. This might be more neutral than she was okay with.

The appetizer is taken away once they're all done, which doesn't take long. Kosuke thanks the server again.

Shigeo leans towards her, and in this instance, she'd actually appreciate a word of advice. Just to get on her fiancé's good side a little more.

"Stop thanking the servers."

Damn it.

The next course comes out—a salad of chopped romaine, tomatoes, shrimp, and avocado all together in a bloom, woof—and the talk between the heads begins again.

A lot of it.

Kosuke listens to the best of her abilities, but it's not much use. She doesn't understand a word they're saying, they just keep talking about business and the past year, people she does not recognize the names of. It's all about Amida Health, too, like there's something about Ootori Medical that they're not to be discussing.

The talk takes up the entire fish course, salmon with a soy sauce marinade. Oh, to dine like this every evening. And yet, it's gone so soon, leaving Kosuke to sit there and bemoan that they're pretty much halfway through the evening and her dialogue with her husband-to-be has been the dullest chitchat known to man.

Inside her clutch, her phone vibrates.

To her, it's loud as a siren, but no one else seems to notice. Her clutch is on her knees under the tablecloth, not the best place but she…panicked. Anyway, she unsnaps it as quietly as she can, keeping her eyes downcast but not obvious. This is the absolute worst possible time to get a text, but if it was anyone, it was going to be Haruhi, and she had to know if something was wrong.

The message was from Haruhi, but all it said was, Don't worry, I will!

She's confused, but then she looks at their past messages and—oh. Right. Okay. Maybe they were watching a movie and that's what took her so long to answer. Okay. All good.

The first main course is a roasted poultry, probably quail, with a sort of honey glaze. Each plate gets half, and not knowing any "proper" way to eat it with her fingers, Kosuke takes up her knife and fork and gets to carving. She's done this before, and Marti had given her many tips on it. Plus it's already cooked, so it's easier getting it off the bone—

"Do you cook often, Kosuke?"

Tetsu's voice has her perking up to attention, not because she was zoning out, but because she was just—really, really concentrated. Unfortunately, she looks like a deer in headlights, because Tetsu almost chuckles as he says, "I'm just saying, your knife skills are impeccable."

Kosuke looks down at her plate. She doesn't mean to brag, but she supposes she has done a good job of carving. "Oh, thank you. Yes, I cook just about every day."

"See, maybe if I had that kind of resolve, I wouldn't turn everything I touch into ashes," Fuyumi bemoans. Kosuke giggles, remembering when she was just the same. "The other day, I tried to make a panini and one of the waitstaff threw it away because she thought it was garbage…"

"I enjoy cooking very much, but I'm also cooking for my siblings. They can be a little picky about trying new things sometimes. I actually found a new omurice recipe with more vegetables in it, and they didn't even notice, and when I make my sister's lunch I make the rice into animals and the sausages into octopuses—"

Kosuke cuts herself off when Shigeo's foot presses sharply into hers again. The flood of blood into her cheeks has to be forced down. Leave it to her to start babbling like an overexcited child in a professional environment. At least the Shido couple don't seem to mind.

She clears her throat and continues, "You know. I want to cook food that makes them happy."

Fuyumi has been smiling ever since she started talking, and only waits until she has finished to exclaim, "You have siblings!"

On the outside, Kosuke smiles and nods, but on the inside:

Are we seriously going to keep leaving out this detail?

This whole backstory he'd made up about him coming to the rescue of his daughter, estranged since the separation from his wife and raised poor—the worst thing anyone could ever be, dear heavens!—and he just keeps leaving out the part where she has two living, human siblings, too.

They will have words. They were going to, anyway, but now they are seriously going to have words, because Kosuke's going to have to get this guy to figure out how all of his plans are filled with more holes than Swiss cheese.

Unaware of her stewing, Tetsu asks, "How old are they?"

"My sister Minami is eight, and my brother Hitsuji is five."

"Aww," coos Fuyumi. "Little angels!"

Tetsu laughs. "Are they?"

"For the most part. They, uh…" She chuckles. Earlier that day, Hitsuji had gotten the first two letters of his name crayoned onto the hallway wall before she found him. "They've had me running in circles more than once."

"Oh, I believe you. I was the only girl among three boys growing up." Fuyumi sighs and tucks a silky strand of raven hair behind her ear. Her hair is impeccable, really. "That was running in circles. Do you all get along?"

Shigeo's shoe presses down onto hers under the table. Again.

So not only has he neglected to mention her other family, he doesn't want her to bring it up, period. Her siblings are officially a taboo topic. She can take a good guess why.

It's awkward, changing her voice from amiable to clipped. "Yes, we do."

And that's that for the halfway point.

After that is the palate cleanser course. It's odd to Kosuke to be eating something sweet and cold in the middle of a meal, but it's no less heavenly. The culinary textbook part of her brain reminds her that it serves a function, too, to clean the tongue before moving on through the meal so the next courses are more flavorful. Though mindful to not give herself a brainfreeze, she savors every icy, raspberry-flavored bite.

Unfortunately, her enjoyment of it is plummeting less and less and less, to the point where her stomach is started to churn despite the aptly-named ambrosia she'd just eaten. This isn't good. This is the exact opposite of good. She's supposed to be collecting facts about the person she'll be spending the rest of her life with, and she has gotten a whopping number of five.

She knows there will be time, that this doesn't doom the course of the future, but come on. First impressions matter.

Then, mercifully, Mr. Ootori and Shigeo scoot their chairs back almost in unison. Mr. Ootori nods to his children and son-in-law. "Mr. Amida and I need to discuss something in private for a moment. Excuse us."

They leave, and it's the exact feeling of being a child again, sitting in the classroom and watching the teacher step out, leaving her students to their own unsupervised devices.

The giddiness lasts for all of two seconds before her mind goes into overdrive. She's not alone with him yet, but they finally have the spotlight off. This is a golden opportunity to talk and get to know each other. If he's like her, and he's been nervous this whole time, he might even feel better now. Having Shigeo leave has taken a thousand pounds off her nerves.

The little ray of hope shines brighter when, as their glasses are taken away, Kyoya finally asks her a question. "Will you be attending Ouran this upcoming semester, or later?"

Uh-oh. "Hopefully this semester!"

Her hope that the giggle will make it come off as joking is dashed when Kyoya only frowns a little…more. "You're not sure yet?"

He isn't one of the Suits, Kosuke reminds herself. Don't be so giggly. "Well, I live in Karuizawa right now, so it's going to be difficult attending a school in Tokyo. There's a lot of things we're still working through right now."

Fuyumi hums her sympathy as the second main course comes in. "Will you be staying with your father, or somewhere else? The dorms, maybe?"

"Oh, I don't think I'll be moving!" Kosuke waves her hand no, and catches herself. That is incredibly rude, no doubt. She clears her throat, almost thanks the waiter for her plate (pork medallions, maybe?) before remembering that nonsensical rule, and goes on, "I mean, I'm not sure of how I'll be attending, but…"

Kyoya is only frowning deeper, and Kosuke's stomach is only dropping farther. "Have you only just now starting planning this?"

"All of this is only just now being—"

"'All of this'?"

He looks so confused right now, and the thought occurs to Kosuke if she isn't the only one with a father keeping important information from those that need it. They all must know some details about her current "circumstances", but had Shigeo criminally undersold just how new this all is for her?

"All of this change, I mean." Judging by the slight turn in his head, he kind of knows what she's talking about, and all she can do is keep bumbling an explanation. "Becoming the heiress and attending a new college, it's just a huge change in structure and schedule. Not to mention the children…"

It sinks it a little bit more how she, Minami, and Hitsuji are all going to have to adapt to this new lifestyle. Kyoya can't read her mind, but she fails to hide the gears turning in her head, and he sees it. He asks in a not-a-question way, "Mr. Amida making you his heir has been very recent."

"Yes."

"Are you prepared to be the heiress to a company like Amida Health?"

"I—Not right now, no, but we're working very hard on preparing me for taking the role. It's just…We have to plan everything before we can even begin…"

"We understand," Tetsu grants her. "It's a struggle even if you were prepared for it. Right, Fuyumi?"

Fuyumi nods, but then…

Kyoya huffs, scoots his chair away from the table, and stands to his feet. "I'm very sorry, please excuse me."

And he…leaves.

His first time meeting his fiancée...

...and he has just left the room.

In all of Kosuke's bad scenarios, of embarrassing herself or letting something slip, it had never crossed her mind that she would annoy him to the point that he would huffily leave the damn room.

She crosses her fingers and thinks, Maybe he just went to the bathroom, maybe this, maybe that, but ten minutes of a silence thick enough to drown in go by and he has not returned. Her plate is taken away completely untouched. She hates wasting such good food, but she can't make herself eat another bite. Her stomach feels like a rock.

Her fiancé's first impression of her is that she's inexperienced, possibly stupid, and probably frustrating. So now she's sitting here at a table of strangers, angry, humiliated, confused, and as the cherry on top: now realizing she's spent far too much time mentally whining like a child, drowning in her own self-pity.

Dessert comes. Three diners, and not one of them so much as lifts a fork. Kosuke will be kicking herself for this later. Seriously, who turns down panna cotta that looks crafted by the heavens?

"Hey."

Fuyumi speaks once the last server has left the room, and Kosuke almost can't look at her. She's developed a bitter taste for looks of pity by this point, but she tries not to hold it against her…future sister-in-law. God. She's been the nicest person of the night.

"I promise Kyoya isn't usually like this." She sighs. "Things at Ootori Medical are just very tense right now, the stress is getting to him. He's very nice, I swear."

"I understand," Kosuke says, and she nods, but it doesn't help much. Even assuming that stress was to blame, this is their first impression of each other. It's already been thrown off the cliff.

Tetsu readjusts his tie and shares a brief glance to his wife. "You know, Fuyumi and I's first meeting didn't go so great, either. I was shaking in my shoes the whole time."

"I drank so much wine in a hurry I started spitting and snorting like a pig. And I got wine on my white dress." Fuyumi leans back and places her palms on her belly to show her. "I spent the whole night walking around like I was pregnant just to hide the stain!"

Kosuke laughs…to be polite. They're so nice. She likes them. She knows they're just trying to help. She wishes she weren't so melodramatic right now, she just can't make herself feel better.

They all take a grand total of one bite apiece before lapsing back into whatever it is they're in. Fuyumi places her fork back down and taps her pinky against the tablecloth. Tetsu takes a sip of wine. Kosuke plays with a thread on the tablecloth.

At the very least, Kosuke knows her first impression with them is fair for now. She'd rather not ruin it by pouting, so she finally sighs and says, "It was nice to meet you both. I thought it was just going to be him and our fathers, but…I'm glad."

The smiles she gets are both sincere and piteous. Fuyumi plucks a mint leaf off her panna cotta and sets it aside before replying, "I kind of badgered my way here. I wanted to meet you, too. See what you were like."

Instead of hiding back in on herself, Kosuke figures she can just ask this time. "Anything good?"

"You seem perfectly nice and polite. Just…unprepared."

Kosuke looks off to the side. "That's one way to put it."

Tetsu says, "I'm sorry if this is a rude way of putting this, but we were told about Mr. Amida just recently making you his heir after being…estranged for so long." He cringes as he says the word, but Kosuke doesn't. She just nods him on. "I understand that it's a lot to take in, but how prepared have you been, exactly?"

Kosuke swallows, thinking. She doesn't want to lie to them, but neither can she say the whole truth, or speak ill of her darling, dearest father.

"Can I be honest with you both?" Husband and wife nod in almost perfect unison. "Not much at all. With all his work and all my responsibilities, we hardly have time to discuss anything. If we could just get started, but right now…I hardly know anything. I don't know anything about Amida Health, let alone any other business in Japan... Not through lack of trying! I just…"

"We understand. Poor thing…" Fuyumi shakes her head just so. "I can't imagine how much this is to take in all at once."

"No, no, it's fine. I just wish I knew more than I do. I'll get to work on it as soon as possible. I should have already."

She thinks that's the only acceptable response. She'd slipped for a second there, becoming a broken little girl and not a respectable heiress. They're not here to listen to her whine.

"If you don't mind me saying so…" Fuyumi shifts in her seat, posture a little straighter. "After going through this all so recently, you agreed to an arranged marriage very quickly."

There is just a second where she pauses, and Kosuke panics, because she has no idea how she's going to respond to this. Or at least, no idea that isn't going to sound horribly, horribly fake and ingenuine. She can neither brush it off nor go into poetic acceptance.

"I don't think I have to say that takes a lot of maturity! And trust me, even though I can't read Kyoya's mind, I know he'd only ever like a woman with maturity."

Kosuke says, "Oh, thank you!"

Kosuke thinks, This is her normal. There's nothing strange about arranged marriages to her, she was IN one. She isn't going to be your bestie sister-in-law who can relate to what you're going through.

Whatever Shigeo and Mr. Ootori discuss, it takes the rest of the meal. Kyoya returns just a few minutes before them, and says nothing to her or anyone else besides a simple apology for taking so long.

I should say something, Kosuke thinks, but in the end, they sit in silence until their fathers return. It isn't to finish their food, either, it's just to leave.

Once they come in and stand at the head of the table, the others stand to their feet in near-unison. Kosuke takes too long pulling out wrinkles in her skirt and switching her clutch from one hand to the other. She hates them, really. So stupid.

"This was a wonderful evening, Mr. Ootori." Shigeo doesn't look at her as she comes to stand by his side. "Thank you all for the fine company."

The Shidos both smile and nod, all sincere and welcoming. Tetsu says, "We're sorry for tagging along unannounced. We hope you didn't mind the intrusion."

There has to be something off about her father. He smiles briefly, like he knows he's supposed to give a kind and charming tug of his lips, but it's so quick and fake it's more like his mouth twitched out of his control. "No intrusion at all."

"Miss Kosuke, it was nice to see you again," Mr. Ootori tells her.

Fuyumi adds, "It was wonderful to meet you! I hope we see each other again soon."

I guess they can't really say the word "engagement" just yet. Still, Kosuke nods and smiles and agrees, but that's just about all she can do before there's another farewell, from her partner in the spotlight.

"I'm glad I was finally able to meet you."

God…How more unsure could he possibly sound?

More importantly, does she sound any better when she replies, "You, too."

Their fathers exchange just a few more words, and while Shigeo lightly takes her arm in his and leads her away, Kosuke looks at Kyoya, trying not to stare, thinking, What do I know about you? What do you know about me?

Then he disappears behind the doorway.

Thus concludes their first meeting.

It's a little strange, walking back through the restaurant and into the nighttime streets of Tokyo. It's that feeling after watching a movie in a theater, wherein she disconnects from the past few hours into what feels more real.

They walk past the front and down the pavement a small way before Shigeo finally stops and lets go of her arm.

"That went slightly better than I was expecting," he tells her without a hint of a compliment.

Kosuke takes a deep breath of the fresh air. "What did you and Mr. Ootori leave to talk about?"

It's almost unnoticeable how he runs his tongue over his teeth, but she notices. And is annoyed. "It was a private conversation."

"About Kyoya and I."

"When we get the confirmation from Mr. Ootori, we're going to talk about how this—" He gestures a finger between the two of them. "—is going to work. It seems we're not on the same page."

How the hell are we supposed to be on the same page when you decide over and over not to tell me things I should obviously know? Shigeo's look goes colder, and Kosuke stops the appalled expression she's probably wearing. She doesn't nod, she just doesn't protest.

So he just continues. "There aren't to be any public announcements of this yet, but I'll tell you to keep your schedule clear. Whether tomorrow or the day after, we have to set this in motion, and it's going to take more work than you've ever done in your life, I'll guarantee it."

Kosuke is inclined to disagree, but she keeps quiet.

A vehicle pulls up to the curb, not a limousine but just as luxurious a vehicle, but Kosuke doesn't know every car model ever, so…Yeah. When he opens the door, he stands in front rather than hold it open for her. So they are departing, Kosuke guesses.

"Kyoya might come to see you again. Wait to see if he does. Your limousine is around the corner."

Kosuke is inclined to disagree, but she keeps quiet.

"Keep your schedule clear," Shigeo emphasizes again. "And expect a call from me soon."

He steps into the car, it drives away, and that's it. Kosuke wants to take a sigh of relief, but she knows that this was just the prologue. She will be attending the most prestigious college in Japan soon, she figures something will change about their living situation, she has an entire business to become the heiress to, a whole world to learn, an entire life going down a different path ahead of her.

Needless to say, she's already exhausted.

She has to remember to take baby steps lest she let this all overwhelm her. So tonight was just one step, and…Well, it wasn't a good one.

Looking down at her heels, Kosuke thinks, I have to be more positive about this. There's no way Kyoya hates her, he just probably isn't very impressed. That's mostly fine. First impressions are important, but she'll just have to make up for it. It's either quit trying and fall deeper or try harder and stand back up. Keep going and be strong.

Her phone buzzes again.

Is everything okay?

Whatever time it is, it's late, and Haruhi probably isn't interested in her spilling all the details while she's watching over the children. She still deserves a phone call, however, and Kosuke needs somewhere more private than a nighttime Tokyo sidewalk to do that.

Shigeo said to wait…Kosuke looks back to the door, where men and women dressed to the nines are still filing in and out. …but I doubt he's coming for me.

So Kosuke instead turns and heads down the sidewalk for her ride back to the hotel. Back there, she strips down to her pajamas and follows through on that phone call, checking in on the children and promising more details in the morning. It is tempting to lie in the 10000-count bedsheets and wallow in some more self-pity, but there's been quite enough of that. She just has to try harder from now on.

I can get him to like me, she thinks before she drifts off to sleep. I…have to get him to like me.