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A Song For Another Time - A Hikaru Hitachiin Story

Chapter Text

Fall in America was different than he had imagined. It was a strange combination of wet and cool and it seemed every street in the suburbs surrounding Boston were coated with the remnants of summer. He kept his head down, a hoodie protecting his dyed black hair from the light breeze, as he walked his way to the university.

He had no idea why he had been summoned to the school's library by his friend, but he welcomed the opportunity to walk alone. Ever since moving to America he and his friends had been closer than ever — mere apartments apart — and though it was so uncharacteristic of him, he was grateful to brood in his newfound singularity. It was hard enough that he and his brother were in a new place in suboptimal housing but everyone he was close to was also adjusting to the life change and not everyone was adjusting easily. Well, except her, but she was already used to living in a small place with little access to amenities.

It was so strange how everything in this city was simultaneously within a feasible walking distance but seemed incredibly far away and before he knew it he was face to face with the school's library. He opened the heavy wood door and quickly realized he didn't actually know where Mori was.

"Why did I even come when he asked," he thought out loud, annoyed at himself for so easily bending to the will of others.

Despite his anger, something inside him told him to keep going and he stepped forward on a mission to find his friend with a fierce determination in eyes. He got about four steps before a soft voice rang out somewhere near his right shoulder.

"Uh, excuse me?"

Stopping in his tracks, he turned his head toward the owner of the seemingly mousy (though she was honestly just trying to be polite) voice with an unamused expression wavering behind his eyes. Great, a girl, he thought sarcastically. Time to put on the charm. He readjusted his posture slightly, preparing to don his best host club persona but the girl got the first word in

"Are you Hikaru? Mori is in the third floor conference room," she said briefly before turning on her heel and disappearing among the bookshelves. He watched her long brown hair fade into the well-worn novels covering every surface as far as the eye could see, caught off guard by her brevity. She hadn't even taken a second look at him, leaving him feeling deflated after the effort put into his preparations. Was he already losing his touch? It was better to dwell on such things and so he quickly turned his attention to the staircase and made his way to the third floor.

When he finally found Mori, his friend was in a room closed off by glass walls, clearly in the middle of some kind of school-related discussion with five or six students. Mori was at the head of the table with his laptop open while another student stood in front of a projection at the side of the table.

"He's still busy. Why did he ask me to come here if he was going to be busy," Hikaru fumed inwardly as he turned to sit on a chair outside the room. He pulled out his phone while kicking up his feet onto a nearby table and was just about to text Mori a strongly worded message when the students began to file out of the room.

He lifted his head at the noise and caught a glimpse of a short, blonde head of hair making its way into the room. Hikaru clicked his phone screen off and shoved the device back into his pocket, frustrated. He dropped his feet, rose from his chair and begrudgingly made his way into the conference room.

"Hi Hika-chan," exclaimed a very bubbly looking Honey. "We're so glad you came!"

"I don't know why you asked me here. You guys look busy and if you wanted to hang out, we could have just done it at the apartment when you got done with school work," Hikaru responded.

"We thought you might want to see the campus," Mori said in short explanation.

"That's right!" Honey continued. "You're going to have to go to college soon, so we wanted to invite both you and your brother to check things out today for yourselves."

Honey paused for a moment, looking around, before continuing, "Where is Kao-chan anyway?"

"He's busy with a group project," Hikaru responded, looking irritated. "We decided to take a few separate classes while we study here. So, he's off doing work for his Spanish class."

"Oh..." Honey said. "Well that's alright! We can still show you around."

"I think I'll pass. I'm not really interested in Harvard anyway. Kaoru and I already decided we're going to go to a school with a fine arts program," Hikaru said.

Honey and Mori looked mildly disappointed, but Hikaru honestly didn't care. He wasn't up for touring the school, even if it was considered one of the best in the country. He and Kaoru had dreams and they didn't involve this school in the slightest.

"I'm going to head back now," Hikaru said, turning to walk away, but he paused for a moment before turning back as he suddenly remembered something. "Uhm, who was that girl downstairs? How did she know me?"

Mori's mouth turned upward the smallest fraction before he replied. "She is my classmate. She wanted to get additional materials from downstairs and I told her she might run into a lost high school student. I asked her to direct you to us."

"Oh," Hikaru said.

He turned his back to them while waving and began to walk toward the staircase, his eyes aimed squarely on the ground. It wasn't that he was desperate to get home, but he hadn't even told Kaoru that they were invited to come here and he had a sinking feeling in his stomach.

Before he reached the staircase, though, he was stopped by a pair of shoes that suddenly appeared before him. He halted and slowly raised his gaze up from the dark blue Vans sneakers, up a pair of commoner jeans, a Harvard sweatshirt and met the stare of a pair of brown eyes so dark, he wasn't sure where the irises ended.

"That face of yours ... Is it permanently in a frown," the girl asked. Her face was painted in concern, but her eyes betrayed her in her quest for sincerity. She was obviously teasing him

He stared at her for a moment, taken aback. She caught me off guard twice in one day, he thought.

"You're the girl from downstairs," he said flatly. It was better to not give anything away by saying more.

"Mmmm. Good deduction; you could be a great detective," she said with a slight grin on her face. "You're going so soon?"

"I just came to see my friend, now I'm leaving," Hikaru said curtly. He didn't need to explain himself to her.

"That's too bad. I think Mori was looking forward to seeing you," she paused for a moment, scanning his face. "Well, it can't be helped, and it's really none of my business is it? So, I'll just be going."

She started to move past Hikaru but stopped and looked at him again. She was examining him and he has a shuddering fling that she was examining his soul.

"You're much too angsty; I hope you find happiness soon," she patted his shoulder and then breezed past him on her way back to the conference room.

Hikaru had returned his gaze to the ground with a contorted look on his face. Who the hell does she... Angsty? How does she know I don't have happiness ... He was completely lost in thought when he heard her voice again.

"Hey, grumpy face," she had turned back to face him before reaching the glass door and was waiting for him to register her word. He raised his head and moved to face her, slightly more miffed at being teased.

"What." he snapped.

"I'm Rose, by the way," she smiled lightly.

"Hikaru," he responded.

"Nice to meet you Hikaru," she said, waving her hand slightly. She turned and entered the conference room and began talking to Mori and Honey before sitting down at the table.

Hikaru watched her for a few seconds - confusion plastered on his face - before turning around and walking down the stairs. He wasn't fully brought out of his haze until his face was hit with the cool autumn breeze as he exited the building.

Without really thinking about where he was going, he headed toward home contemplating why Honey and Mori thought it so important for him to come. He kept his eyes on his feet, watching as one Timberland boot placed itself in front of the other.

"Hikkkkaaaaaaruuuuuu."

Hikaru looked up at a bouncing head of red hair running toward him with arms outstretched. He smirked a little and kept walking forward. His twin jumped on him as they met and began questioning him immediately.

"Where did you go? Why didn't you stay at home? I told you my project wouldn't last long. Are you cold? Why didn't you bring a jacket," his twin asked, blending all his sentences together.

"Mori asked us to meet him at the university library," Hikaru said simply.

" Us? " he asked. "Why didn't you tell me? Why did you go alone?"

Hikaru shot a forced look at his brother, as if to say it's obvious isn't it ? He kicked his shoes on the ground a little before answering.

"You were busy and I didn't really want to be home."

Karou didn't push further and instead moved beside his brother, linking their arms together and began to walk him toward their apartment. There was silence between them as they weaved through the narrow roads and light drizzle began to fall.

"So... did anything interesting happen today," Karou asked.

Hikaru thought over his day, the walk, going to the library, the walk back and answered honestly.

"Not really. Nothing fun, at least," he said. But he was lost in thought before the words left his mouth.

I hope you find happiness.

He closed his eyes for a moment, sighing a little. What a weird person. Karou took in a sideways glance at his brother, curious. Twins can't read each other's minds after all, he smirked to himself.

"Should we pester Haruhi to cook for us tonight," Karou joked.

"Hmmm? ... Oh. Let's go get sushi instead."

Chapter Text

Hikaru woke up annoyed. Birds were chirping outside his window as a light rain was falling, but his room was dark and silent. He heaved a sigh before pushing his way out of bed and heading to the bathroom. Upon entering the small, tiled room he stood before his vanity for a moment, analyzing his own eyes in the mirror, searching for answers within himself.

He had dreamed about her again, about the first time he realized she was a girl, about her understanding smile, about his confession to her and the ultimate relinquish of his love as he pushed her toward another man.

"Love is stupid," he sighed to himself, but saying so didn't ease his heart.

They had all come to America together — their whole group of friends — refusing to be apart from one another, refusing to become just memories. There had been so much joy in the decision and fun, too. The look on her face when she saw them all standing in her doorway was priceless.

But the joy wore off quickly. It was hard to move on when she lived in the same building. When she lived right next door to the man you pushed her toward and when she cooked for him every night. It had only been a few weeks since they had started their lives in Boston, but the emotional toll made it feel like it had been years.

He didn't feel any animosity toward Tamaki and Haruhi, but that didn't mean it didn't hurt.

Hikaru picked up a nearby comb and began to run it through his unruly hair, noticing the very beginnings or orange resurfacing at the roots of his black hair. I'll have to re-dye soon, he thought, placing the comb back down.

He walked out to the dining table and sat down to breakfast already prepared by his brother, who was sitting across from him. Hikaru stared down at plate of sausage and eggs and suddenly heard the voice again.

I hope you find happiness soon.

He looked up to see his brother staring at him with a questioning look on his face.

"Hmmm?" Hikaru toned.

"I asked you if you had a bad dream again," Kaoru said. "You were fitful last night."

"Oh," Hikaru responded, lowering his eyes back to the plate. The answer was obvious between them and the silence that followed was almost unbearable for the pair. Almost the entirety of their lives had been spent in secret conversations amongst themselves but now Hikaru found it hard to share what he was feeling.

Karou rose from his seat and knelt next to his brother, laying his hands on his.

"You know," probed Kaoru, resting his forehead on Hikaru's shoulder, "I had a hard time getting over it too. You can talk to me about it."

"You already know what am I feeling," Hikaru snapped. "Why do I have to say it out loud!"

He rose from the table to scrape his food in the garbage before tying the white bag up and removing it from the can. He hurriedly moved toward the door and shut it behind him with a resounding thud. He leaned his back against it for a moment, attempting to regain his composure before setting off for the dumpster outside.

Look at you, he laughed to himself, adjusting to commoner life.

As he made his way down the stairs he kept his eyes on the ground, watching his feet move over every step until eventually his eyes landed on a pair of familiar shoes. They stopped right in front of him, forcing him to pause and look up.

"Good morning Grump Face," she said with a teasing smile on her face.

"Uhm... it's Daisy, right? Or... maybe... Lily?" Hikaru responded, uninterested and intending to cause harm.

"Oh, have you met my sisters?" Rose asked, amused. "You know, we make up a lovely Garden of Eden."

Hikaru stared at her for a moment, perplexed. "Uhmmm..."

She giggled, hunched over slightly to hide her face. "Rose," she laughed. "My name is Rose."

"Well, I was close," Hikaru said annoyance clearly ringing in his voice. He had only met her the once and it was two weeks ago. "Who names their children after plants anyway?"

"Hippies," Rose said behind a grin while Hikaru raised an eyebrow, confused. "You know, like, Flower Power ?"

"What does baking have to do with naming children," Hikaru asked impatiently, clearly getting lost in translation.

Rose doubled over, lifting a hand to the wall to balance herself. She couldn't control her laughter. It took her a few tries to get any words out of her mouth.

"Hik...Hikaru. You. Are. So. Funny!"

Is she laughing at me right now, he thought to himself. What is so funny? I'm not the one named after a thorny flower.

Rose turned her head toward Hikaru, gasping for breath. She took her hand from the wall and walked toward the towering figure in front of her. She reached up to his face with her index and middle finger extended and spread out the skin between Hikaru's eyebrows.

"Always frowning," she muttered. "If you don't take care of yourself Hikaru you're going to end up as a young adult with wrinkles."

Hikaru moved her hand away from his face before responding.

"Don't touch me," he said while stepping back a stair. "What are you doing here anyway?"

The laughter faded from Rose's eyes while she tried to keep a sweet smile on her face. She raised the book she was holding at her waist and moved it in front of the boy's eyes.

"I'm here to study with Mori. We have a test next week and we wanted to be prepared."

Hikaru eyes grazed over the textbook in front of him. "Comprehensive Commercial Law," it read in bold blue letters.

"Sounds boring."

"Oh, well, you've never experienced real joy until you've spent seven hours reading through commercial law jargon," Rose joked.

"Oh? Maybe I should take a look then," Hikaru smiled, lurching forward as he made a grab for the book.

Rose pulled the textbook close to herself saying, "Oh no, you have to earn this honor."

Without hesitation Hikaru moved to pull the book from the top and out of Rose's crossed arms. He began to flip through the pages before looking up at her. "What's so great about legal stuff anyway," he asked. "Are you studying to become a lawyer?"

"No, not really," she said, reaching for the book. "I'm studying business, but I thought this class would be useful."

She tucked the book back under her arm and stole a quick look at her phone. She was late to her study session.

"I'm late," she said, brushing past Hikaru. "See you around sometime — enjoy your trash run."

Hikaru looked down a moment at the trash bag still in his hand. Oh, right, he thought and looked up again to see Rose walking away, waving her hand over her head in goodbye.

I wonder how many flower sisters she has, he thought, continuing down the stairs to the dumpster.

Chapter Text

High school in America was just as annoying, if not more, than school back at Ouran. While the private academy in Boston was not nearly as extravagant, the teachers still walked around with the same self-important air. That didn't mean, however, that the twins found the studies any more enlightening. They often caught themselves watching the students around them taking notes with vigor, asking questions and studying hard. The twins were almost filled with envy watching others learn with such spirit in their hearts. What must it be like to be so easily entertained?

For Hikaru and Kaoru school was boring, though they found the pursuit of knowledge worthy. In class, however, their notes were more filled with doodles than facts. Several times Kaoru found himself focused on dress designs rather than past participles, mathematical proofs or important battle dates while Hikaru spent his time looking out the classroom windows, noting the way the shadows changed throughout the day. Or he was staring at the back of Haruhi's head.

It's not like he wanted to spend the time thinking about her, but his eyes would always travel to her shape when his mind wasn't completely focused.

Knowing something was bothering his brother, Kaoru had decided to pester his brother on their walk home from school that Friday. He would race ahead of Hikaru and stop right in front of him, causing his brother to suddenly stop or crash into him. Each time he suddenly stopped, Hikaru would let out a sigh of dissatisfaction until finally he had enough.

"Would you quit it," he growled, walking around his brother.

Kaoru grabbed his brother's wrist and swung Hikaru around to face him. He put both hands on his brother's shoulders and smiled straight at him.

"As long as I live, I will never stop pestering you," he said, looking straight into his eyes. "We're brothers. I'm your personal source of annoyance."

Hikaru shot his gaze away from his brothers face and let out another sigh before trying to turn away, but Kaoru refused to let him go.

"Look at me Hikaru," he said, gently moving his twin's face toward him with his hand. It was almost a forgein action. Kaoru was never the one to initiate. Hikaru responded by looking at his brother straight on with an annoyed glare, tight lips and a slightly tilted head.

"If I wanted this view I'd just look in a mirror," Hikaru spat.

"Well I don't see an exact reflection anymore Hikaru," Kaoru said, taking his hand off his brother's face and pointed a finger toward his own mouth. "You see this? It's called a smile. My 'reflection' seems to have forgotten how to make one lately."

Hikaru stared at his brother blankly before turning up the ends of his mouth in a forced smile.

"Happy now," he asked through gritted teeth.

"It's not my happiness we should be worried about Hikaru," he said, ruffling up his brother's hair.

He linked his arm through his Hikaru's and turned him toward home, taking a small step in that direction. With arms intertwined, Kaoru let the conversation lull until they reached the outskirts of their apartment complex. He stopped suddenly, causing his brother, who was oblivious to the abrupt end of motion, to lurch backward.

"Kaoru what gives?"

Kaoru turned to face his brother, his eyes focused on the ground.

"I... I know you're hurting right now Hikaru. You know that I can feel it when you hurt this much. And, I know it's useless to tell you that eventually the pain will subside, but," Kaoru paused and moved his eyes up to meet his brother's. "But, I just think you are wasting your time throwing yourself into sadness over someone who has found their happiness elsewhere."

Kaoru threw his arms around his brother and pulled him into a soft hug. Moisture began to accumulate around the rims of his eyes as he whispered, "I just want you to find happiness."

Hikaru's eyes widened a bit as he took in what his brother said. That phrase seemed to be following him around like a shadow. It was no surprise that his twin could see right through him but, perhaps, Hikaru's emotions had been too obvious recently.

He wrapped his arms around Kaoru. "I must be really pitiful right now," he said, laughing into his brother's shoulder.

Kaoru pulled away from his brother, a slight smile on his face.

"You're telling me! If you're what I'm supposed to see when I look in the mirror, I may just drape sheets over them all."

Chapter Text

As much as Hikaru wanted to put the past behind him, he found it hard to let go. That girl down the hall was the first person to reside in his heart beside his brother. Do the feelings for your first love ever really fade away?

He was lying on his bed, arms folded under his head as he stared up at the ceiling. For so long it had been only him and Kaoru and then it was the brothers and the Host Club. After Haruhi, he was beginning to wonder if he was ready to let more of the world in.

Hikaru sighed and pushed himself up from the bed. He needed fresh air.

Moments later he was sitting on the stoop of the building, taking in the autumn breeze. It was almost dusk and the air was starting to chill. He looked out over the scenery in front of him and compared it to fall at home.

This is once-in-a-lifetime chance, he thought to himself. I shouldn't spend it moping around.

Really, it was a surprise that a Hitachiin could mope at all. It seemed rather outside their repertoire.

In the distance he saw figures moving to and fro as cars hummed by. He watched a city bus stop nearby, unload a slew of students and then blow out a large puff of black smoke as it took off again. Hikaru didn't bother trying to look at the faces of all the people headed toward the apartments as he began to roll a rock underneath foot. Other people had never really mattered.

He was lost in the world of his on design, oblivious to his surrounding and he barely took notice when a figure leaned down to face him. She smiled for a moment at his face, all wrinkled up in thought, then took her fingers and smoothed the crease of his furrowed brow.

"Still not working on smiling, I see," she said.

Hikaru slapped her hand away. "I told you not to touch me," he growled.

She gave out a small laugh before sitting down next to him and picking at the weeds popping out from the cracks in the sidewalk.

"She must be amazing," Rose said softly, picking apart the flower in her hand.

Hikaru looked up at her in confusion. "Huh?"

"That girl — the one that makes you frown like that all the time. She must be amazing."

Hikaru let the words hang in the air for a moment, thinking them over. He turned his head away from Rose and kicked away the rock he had been playing with.

"It doesn't matter either way," he said. "She doesn't love me."

Rose looked up from the plants in her hand and set them down beside her. She brushed some of the dirt off her jeans before placing a hand on Hikaru's knee.

"Well, who could ever love a boy who frowns as much as you do," she joked, breaking into a slight smile.

Hikaru looked at her dumbfounded before pushing her hand off his knee. He sighed before letting a small smile creep across his face and turned his head to look straight in front of him.

"You're not very good at comforting people, you know," he said.

"I'm not here to comfort you, I'm here to study," she said raising from the stoop and brushing her hands on her thighs. "Mori is probably waiting for me as we speak."

She bent down to pick up the plants she had been fiddling with and turned to Hikaru. She grabbed his arm and fiddled with his wrist for a moment before letting go. Hikaru looked down, surprised at her touch, to see a delicate flower chain around his wrist. He looked back up at her face, questioning her with his eyes.

"Flower power," Rose said. "To help you smile."

She turned and walked into the building while Hikaru gently touched the small weeds now encircling his wrist. They were cool to the touch, but scratched at him in the way only plants could. When he looked up Rose was already through the building doors. Without realizing it, he began walking after her.

Before long he had caught up to her in the stairwell and began walking with her, step by step. When they reached the floor that Honey and Mori lived on, he stopped and faced her.

"You sure spent a lot of time around Mori," he said.

"It's a hard class. Mori is smart. I'll take all the help I can get," she said plainly.

A large grin spread across Hikaru's face as he drew himself closer to Rose. "Oh is that all? You're not trying to get closer to the tall, dark and handsome foreigner in your class," he teased.

Rose took a step back and looked at the devious smile on Hikaru's face. Although she was slightly insulted by him implications, there were more pressing matters at hand. He finally smiled, she thought to herself.

"I'm glad to finally meet the real Hikaru," she said, holding out her hand as if to greet him for the first time. "It's a pleasure to finally see you smile."

Hikaru refused to let her phase him and continued on teasing.

"It's useless getting close to Mori, you know. He only has eyes for one," he said.

Rose smiled dissolved as she lowered her hand and turned to walk down the hall. When she made it to the right door she knocked twice and looked over her shoulder at Hikaru.

"That's alright. I kind of have a thing for redheads anyway," she said, walking into the apartment and closing the door behind her.

Hikaru blinked at the closed door before reaching his hand up to touch his hair. He grabbed a lock of it and slowly brought it down in front of his eyes. He twisted the strands of hair between his fingers while staring at them, as if he were confused by them being black.

Chapter Text

Hikaru didn't know why but he decided to post himself outside of Mori and Honey's apartment, waiting for Rose to reemerge from the depths of their home. He sat next to the side of the door, hopping up each time he heard a noise that sounded like she might be leaving.

He kept trying to distract himself. He moved dust on the floor around with his finger, or picked lint off his shirt, while his mind was racing — picking apart his conversations with her.

When the handle began to move he gave a little jump before pulling himself up and quickly dusting off his pants. Rose exited the door, sharing parting words with the duo inside and turned in the opposite direction from Hikaru, toward the stairs.

He snuck up beside her and began to walk with her down the hallway.

"Were you waiting for me," she asked, keeping her head forward.

"Who would wait around for you?" Hikaru shot back. Too defensive.

Rose's lips upturned slightly as she kept walking forward. "You can walk with me to the bus if you like," she said.

"Why do you take the bus? Can't you drive yourself," Hikaru asked, avoiding the invitation and trying to turn his thoughts away from how annoying the brunette next to him was.

A slight pink flushed across Rose's face as she paused on the top step of the stairs.

"I... uh... I don't have a license yet," she stammered.

"You're in college and you can't even drive," Hikaru mocked, happy to finally have the upper hand.

Rose turned to face him, a deep blush painted across her cheeks. "I haven't had time," she said plainly and Hikaru realized he had finally struck a nerve. It was time to go on the offensive.

"What do you mean you haven't had time. Isn't driving a right of passage for Americans?"

"I really haven't had time and I honestly just turned 16. I don't know what the big deal is," she said explaining quickly.

Her eyes started shifting across Hikaru's face as he took in what she said. She could see the math equations swirling around his head as he tried to figure out how a 16-year-old could possibly be a junior in college. Before he could get a word out, she started speaking again.

"I skipped a few levels in grade school and graduated high school with enough credits to enter college as a sophomore," she said simply. "It's honestly no big deal."

Rose started her way down the stairs, determined to walk away from the conversation. Before she could get down a second flight Hikaru ran in front of her and spread his arms across the stairwell.

"Are you some kind of super freak, or something," he asked her with a mischievous grin on his face.

Annoyance spread across her face as she looked up at him. "I get bored easily," she said flatly. "And unlike some people I find it's better to seek out the harder challenges out there for myself than to wallow in my boredom and think myself a genius."

She ducked under Hikaru's left arm and continued down the stairs. Hikaru turned around and shouted after her.

"I don't wallow in my boredom and think myself a genius," he called after her.

"I never said I was talking about you," she said without turning around, her words echoing in the stairwell. The door to the complex creaked shut and she was gone again.

So much for the offensive.

She always gets the last word, Hikaru thought with a slight blush rising on his face. She's so annoying.

Chapter Text

Hikaru Hitachiin was not a man that liked to lose. He never lost in a battle to the last word and he sure as hell was never a man rendered speechless. But Rose has won in the battle of wits on each of their encounters and Hikaru was anything but a gracious loser.

He would not be beat by some self-righteous, naive, bookworm who has to ride the bus to get around. He would not fall victim to some flower girl who was so insignificant in his life that he didn't even know her last name. He was the great Hikaru Hitachiin — one half of the notoriously mischievous Hitachiin duo — and, as of this moment, he had his mojo back.

All weekend he schemed. He hunched over the kitchen table with a pencil and paper scribbling furiously as the gears shifted in his mind. He looked like a mad-man with his black hair tousled, eyes narrowed in focus and a devious smile plastered across his face.

Crumpled paper littered the floor around the table and the quantity of them increased each time Kaoru checked in on his brother. Periodically, he would sneak behind him and try to glance a peek over Hikaru's shoulder. When he went to the kitchen to pour some coffee, he gave a curious look at his twin's fervor. As he watched TV, his eyes would track between his brother's back and the characters on the screen.

He couldn't help but be curious, poking his head around the walls and over the edge of the table, trying to grab his brother's attention. When the sun started setting on Sunday night, he just couldn't handle it anymore.

"Whhhhattt are you doing," he asked his brother.

Hikaru didn't even bother to look up from his work, mumbling a quick "nothing" as he continued scratching at the paper with his pencil. Kaoru shrugged and started to pick up the crumbled up balls of paper littered throughout the area. He carefully collected them in his arms, one by one, before walking over to the trash bin and letting them loose by separating his arms.

He couldn't help but stare into the litter, marveling at the sheer number and volume of paper balls stacked in the waste. Slowly he lowered his hand into the mass and pulled out one piece. He began uncrumpling the mangled sphere and pulled the corners out taught in front of his face.

Before his eyes was a four-paneled drawing depicting a hastily concocted prank. The last panel showed a character with long hair, spiked up in shock, with lightning bolts aiming toward her. Kaoru laughed at the stick drawing and turned to his brother.

"Aren't you a little old for pranks like this," he asked, holding out the paper to his brother.

Hikaru flushed, his head still faced down at his current drawing but his hand had stopped moving.

"I can't let her win," he mumbled, almost too quiet for Kaoru to hear.

"Ooohhh have you found us a new toy to play with," Kaoru asked coyly. "It has been getting a little boring around here lately."

It is time for things to get more interesting around here, Hikaru thought, but he wasn't sure yet that Rose would prove to be an entertaining toy. Right now she was just a buzzing fly that needed to be struck down.

"Maybe, I don't know," Hikaru said. "She's... annoying."

"Annoying a good start," Kaoru said, breaking out into a smile. "Tell me more,"

What was there to say? Hikaru barely knew her, but what he did know — what he had experienced — made him want to act out. He wanted to make her blush, to make her feel the same flashes of embarrassment he had each time she ended a conversation. He needed to win.

She was a bag of contradictions in his head and he felt like he couldn't pull out the right words. She was a quiet storm; a whispering force. Rose was barely anything to him, but getting back at her just felt so important and when he really thought about it, he knew that she knew what she was doing.

"She's nothing," Hikaru said suddenly. "But every time I talk to her, she kills me."

Kaoru laughed. "This is going to be good," he said.

"But I have nothing!" Hikaru moaned, pushing his head down to the table and covering it with his hands.

There was no way there wasn't at least one good idea among all the crumpled papers on the floor, Kaoru thought as he bent over and started rifling through them. As Hikaru wallowed in a pool of self-doubt, staring at his blank sheet of paper, his brother began to expand on the discarded schemes.

About 10 minutes later, Hikaru heard snickering in front of him and raised his head to see a nefarious grin on his twin's face. Kaoru was holding a piece of worn out paper in his hand with his eyebrow raised.

"I'm thinking, maybe it's time we made a house call."

The two smiled at each other knowingly. They had a new secret mission.

Chapter Text

As Hikaru made his way down the narrow dorm hallway he couldn't help but think that all the doors looked exactly the same. His head swiveled from side to side as he scanned the numbers on the wall, searching for the right room.

The twins had pestered Mori for hours to give him Rose's last name. Hikaru knew the two of them had worked on projects together. He knew Mori had the information he wanted and he was going to get it at any cost.

Now, Mori was a patient man, but he had never been at the center of a calculated "Hitachiin Twin Attack." Despite years of combat training, the psychological warfare Hikaru and Kaoru deployed (read: ceaseless annoyance) was well beyond his coping abilities.

He cracked after hour three.

To say each of the twin's friends was talented in their own way would be an understatement. Each and every one of them had stellar pedigrees topped off with extraordinary capabilities, but Kyoya, perhaps, had the most formidable skills. If they wanted information, Kyoya was his man.

Why Hikaru and Kaoru wanted the address of young college girl was far beyond Kyoya's rationale but anything with the twins involved would surely lead to an amusing end. After all, the Hitachiins' scheme were often anything but rational.

And, honestly, the work was not very hard. He had her school address in minutes.

The moment he had the last letter written down on a slip of paper, it was torn out of his hands. If he didn't know better, he would say he could see a trail of dust as the two boys raced out the door with a harmonious "thanks."

All of that scheming was coming to a head as Hikaru walked down the dorm hallway. His heart began to race a little with anticipation as he closed in on Rose's door and caught a hint of upbeat music playing behind it.

The music got louder as he stood in front of the door. As if acting on instinct, he pulled out his cell phone, opened the camera to record and held it right below his chest before knocking on the door.

---

Earlier that morning Rose had made plans with a particularly close classmate to get lunch and shop for a winter coat. She had spent the morning doing her homework and organizing her closet while listening to music. As she hung up her freshly cleaned cardigans on hangers she hummed along with the tune, contentment clear on her face.

It was a peaceful morning, a productive morning, and she was about to have a relaxing afternoon. After hanging the last item of clothing in her closet, she turned the music up on her laptop and allowed herself a moment of reckless abandon, knowing her friend would be there soon. Maybe they would go have tacos or have a simple lunch at the local cafe. When she got to the mall later, maybe she would look for a yellow coat. Who knew? There was joy in the possibilities.

When the Neon Trees began harmonizing through her speakers she couldn't help but dance.

Hey baby won't you look my way, I can be your new addiction, the band crooned while she lip synced into a pencil. As the song continued, she ran about her room, interpreting the dance through her movement and when she heard a knock at the door she couldn't help but want to share her melodic feature with her shopping buddy.

As if right on cue, she threw her door open with her left hand, pointed out the door with her right, closed her eyes and belted the chorus.

"It started with a whissssppppeeeer," she sang, bringing her left hand to her chest and resting her right in her hair, she continued. "And that was when I kissed heeer---ahhhhh."

She had opened her eyes on the last word to notice - far too late - that her audience was not in fact her sweet-faced classmate, but one tall and ash-haired teenager with a cellphone. In surprise she had squeaked the last note and immediately slammed the door in Hikaru's face.

With her back resting against the door, she brought her hands to her face and began mumbling to herself. Oh God. Oh God. OhGodOhGodOhGodOhGod. She resolved to turn herself around and sneak a glance through the door's peephole, hoping that she had just dreamed Hikaru was standing there.

Luck wasn't on her side. There he stood, squarely in the middle of the lens, looking down at his phone with a smirk. Realization began to pour over her as she turned around and let her back slowly slip down the length of the door until she was sitting with her knees to her chest.

Outside Hikaru was elated. This was infinitely better than anything the brothers could have imagined. He had simply hoped to show up unannounced and freak her out, then later have his brother do the same. They wanted to confuse the living hell out of her. Instead he now had in his hands an embarrassing recording of Rose.

He smiled down at his phone as it saved the recording and then flicked the screen off before sticking it in his pocket. The little Hikarus inside his head were fist pumping as he leaned forward to knock on the door again.

"Rooooossseeeee," he sang. "It's Hikaruuuu."

A muffled voice replied. "Sorry there's no Rose here. You must be mistaken."

"Is that so? Then who was the short brunette that just gave me the concert of a lifetime," he replied coyly.

Slowly the door opened just a crack as a pink-faced Rose looked up at Hikaru from the ground and said, "I don't know what you're talking about."

Hikaru squat down to her level and pushed the door open a bit to ruffle her hair in triumph.

"I had no idea you were such an enthusiastic performer. You must give me tickets to the next show. You're a can't-miss show," he said laughing.

In Rose's mind she had already melted into a puddle and her body began to evaporate away. Her soul had left her body. There goes everything, she thought to herself. You're not calm and witty to him anymore. You're forever going to be known as a lunatic.

"Why is it you," she moaned.

Suddenly, a soft buzzing emitted from her pocket and Rose began to search for her phone. When she finally flicked the screen on she hung her head again.

"Can't make it. Something came up," the message read. "Let's go shopping tomorrow."

And just like that, the final nail was hammered into the coffin of Rose's hopes for the day.

Chapter Text

Rose stared at the message on her phone for a minute as a wave of emotions threatened to drown her. How did a day that started off so full of joy suddenly turn into cancelled plans and immense humiliation?

The answer jolted her out of her thoughts when he spoke.

"Earth to Rose," he said, waving a hand in front of her face. She turned to him, fire in her eyes as she inched closer to him. She grabbed his shirt collar and started shaking him roughly.

"Hikaru Hitachiin, what kind of obsessive freak shows up to a practical stranger's house, unannounced, with ill-intentions," she yelled at him.

Shock raced across Hikaru's face. Obsessive... Freak... The insults stabbed at him from all sides.

"I'm...I'm not obsessive," he practically whined. "Or a freak."

"You seem pretty freaky to me," she said, releasing his shirt as she rose from the floor and brushed the dust off her jeans. "Why are you here anyway?"

Hikaru was silent for a moment. He couldn't just tell her he was there to mess with her, but he also didn't have a cover story. He had trapped himself.

"Uhm... well..." he started. He was grasping at straws, trying to find an excuse, but his mind was blank.

"It doesn't really matter," she said, grabbing her purse and pushing him out the door. "Since you're here, and my friend ditched me, let's go get something to eat." She continued to push him down the narrow dorm hallway, struggling to keep momentum. Hikaru wasn't sure what was going on and his feet weren't really moving.

"What? Eat?" He muttered.

Around the corner, behind the stumbling pair, Kaoru was trying his hardest to stifle his laughter. The look on his brother's face was priceless. Hikaru had succeeded — thoroughly besting his white whale — but had the victory snatched from him almost instantly. And now, after all their planning had come to this, Kaoru figured he wouldn't be needed to help his brother anymore.

But, that didn't mean he couldn't follow them.

He watched Hikaru and their newest toy walk down the hallway, waiting for them to move just out of sight before he trailed them. This wasn't the first time he'd followed his brother on an outing with a girl, but something told him this time would be much more entertaining.

Hikaru and Rose stopped, side by side, the moment they were outside of the dorm. She turned and began to size him up. As far as she knew, Hikaru had led a pretty sheltered life and, judging by his demeanor thus far, he probably hadn't done much exploring in America.

In addition, she had already had hopes for the evening's meal - hopes that a certain teenage boy had sent spiraling to the ground. So, without much more thought on the matter, she had made up her mind.

"We're getting tacos," she said, grabbing his wrist and pulling him behind her.

Hikaru looked at the back of her head, bewildered. He had never been ordered around by such a small person before. Looking down at his wrist, he wondered how she was able to drag him along with hardly any effort.

She wasn't even forceful. Her touch was gentle despite how determined she was and Hikaru could almost see the joy radiating off of her. Shrugging inwardly he decided nothing bad could come from eating with her.

"I think there is a nice (read: expensive) Mexican restaurant up the street," he offered, pointing in the opposite direction.

Rose stopped in her tracks and turned around to face him with her nose scrunched.

"Have you ever even had tacos before, Hikaru," she probed.

"Of course not," he responded, incredulous. "It's commoner food."

The f--- is a commoner? she thought. It didn't matter. She knew an insult when she heard one.

Rose huffed at him, almost as if she was puffing out her figure to seem more domineering. She was clearly angry but a sly smile was on her face.

Without another word she grabbed his forearm, more forceful than before, and began running. The sudden change caught Hikaru by surprise and he found himself stumbling to catch up.

Rose laughed over her shoulder, watching his free arm and legs flail as she pulled him along. He was so ungraceful, like an air sock flapping in the wind. She continued dragging him through side streets, winding through crowds of people. The wind brushing her cheeks exhilarated her and she kept looking back at the changing landscape of Hikaru's face.

When she was finally satisfied with their location she stopped suddenly, let go of his wrist and moved to the side slightly — letting Hikaru stumble and fall to the ground.

With Hikaru moaning on the sidewalk Rose tried earnestly to hold in her laughter. His hair was covering his eyes but his mouth couldn't betray his emotions.

She leaned down and extended her hand to him, offering to help him up as if it wasn't her fault he was there in the first place.

"You're so clumsy Hikaru Hitachiin. What am I going to do with you," she said with a smile.

Behind a tree, a few feet away, a particular redhead couldn't keep a smile off his face. Oh, she's going to be fun, he thought.

Chapter Text

Hikaru stared at the plate in front of him and thoughts of the Host Club flooded his mind. Rose had flat out refused to eat at an upscale diner. She had gone as far as to stand up on a bench to look him in the eyes when she told him that, if he was going to eat tacos, he was going to eat street tacos.

The look on his face wasn't exactly disgust. Maybe it was... Concern? He wasn't quite sure what to think of the food laid out before him, but he couldn't help but feel a pang of sadness. If Tamaki were here, Hikaru and his twin could hide behind his excitement over the commoner food. With Tono's over-the-top reactions, the twins had the liberty to show their curiosity and enthusiasm, but without them Hikaru wasn't sure of his emotions.

He looked at the food for probably too long, as he sat on the wooden bench with the plate in resting on his lap and Rose noticed that he didn't even attempt to touch it.

"It won't kill you," Rose said, waving the plate in front of his face.

"I know that," he shot back.

"Well, then you don't have to look so afraid of it," Rose teased and reached to push his furrowed brow apart.

Hikaru intercepted her arm, slapping her hand away, and reached for his plate. He quickly brought the food to his mouth, copying the movements of those around him by folding up the sides to keep the contents inside and took a large bite out.

His eyes widened as he chewed, showing his surprise at how much he enjoyed the food. While still chewing he smiled and said, "It's spicy!"

"You poor child.," Rose said as she moved to wipe away a fake tear. "Never had a taco before — it almost brings me to tears."

Hikaru offered an annoyed grunt in response before continuing to eat, taking pleasure in the different textural combinations dancing on his tongue.

Rose turned back to her food and smiled as she nibbled at her meal. Despite the day going completely awry, she had at least gotten her tacos. Nothing could replace tacos and nothing could turn a day around quite like them either.

Despite the excitement of finding a new food that he could become completely obsessed with, Hikaru still felt a twinge of sadness he couldn't quite place. He was immensely happy as far as he knew. Sure, Rose was a little annoying, but he had successfully schemed against her. He had caught her singing on tape and he was trying a completely delicious commoner food for the first time — from a dirty street vendor to boot. Kaoru would--

THAT was what it was. Kaoru was supposed to be with him. He had just left him at the dorm, all on his own, without even a second thought because he was so caught up in everything that was happening. Kaoru would have loved this experience and Hikaru had just left him behind.

While he was lost in thought about his brother, Rose watched the emotions change on his face and the shadows cross his eyes. This boy, she thought, always has a frown on his face, even when eating God's gift to food.

What in the world could be bothering his so much that he would be staring down at his place with such sorrow and regret? A thousand ideas battled inside her head to win the spot of best explanation. Maybe he had endured some childhood tragedy that involved Mexican food? Perhaps he was particularly close to some abuelita who faded out of his life.

Rose couldn't handle not knowing what the answer was. So, she finally just asked while reaching her hand out to touch his knee.

"Hikaru," she said quietly. "What's bothering you?"

He looked up at her confused, shaken out of his thoughts by the warmth of her hand on his skin.

"How... How did you know I was upset," he asked.

"Hikaru, it's all over your face," Rose replied, holding back a small chuckle as a light blush began to rise on his cheeks.

She scooted a little closer to him and moved her hand to his shoulder, repositioning herself to look him directly in the eyes.

"Will you tell me what's bothering you?"

He sighed before answering, feeling a weird sense of déjà vu. "It's just that, my brother would love this."

Curiosity crossed Rose's face. "You have a brother," she asked, her head slightly tilting with the question.

Hikaru looked at her incredulous, nearly choking on his food, and Kaoru, crouching in a bush nearby, nearly fell over with shock – both of the Hitachiins with the same questions in the forefront of their minds. Had Hikaru really never mentioned Kaoru to Rose before? Had she really never seen them together?

It took a moment for Hikaru to recover before he was able to answer her.

"Well, yeah. He's my twin, Kaoru," he said.

"HOLD UP," she said as she jumped up in shock and moved herself away from him. "There are two of you monsters?"

Hikaru started laughing at her and Rose could swear the air around them was starting to get thinner. The edges of the world were closing in on her a little. You see, in her head her relationship with Hikaru was like a one-on-one battle of wits and Rose was confident she would almost always come out on top, but the odds were changed if another "Hikaru" entered the equation. She could never win against two of them.

Rose sank to a crouch, her butt barely lifted off the ground as she hugged her arms around her legs. As far as she knew, that very morning had been an example of the deviousness of one Hitachiin. She couldn't imagine the damage that two could do.

Sudden laughter broke her out of plunge into doom. She blinked a few times before looking up at the source of the noise. Before her eyes was Hikaru standing over her with his hand extended and a wicked grin on his face.

Wearily, Rose put her hand in his and allowed him to help her to her feet. With her fully standing, Hikaru bent over so that their faces were at the same height and searched her eyes for a moment.

"We're really not that bad," he said through a smile.

Rose shot him a look that clearly said she did not believe him before responding.

"Really," she asked. "Then tell me about your brother."

"He's a lot like me," Hikaru said with a shrug. He stood up straight and put his hands in his pockets. "We've pretty much always been inseparable. For a while, it was always just the two of us in our own world."

He paused for a moment as he glimpsed red hair ducking back behind a tree down the street. A small smile appeared on his lips as his continued.

"Kaoru is my younger brother, but somehow he has learned a lot more about the world than I have. He always seems to know what's going on, long before I do. Though, sometimes, I think he can be really immature. We both can, I guess," he said.

Hikaru was still staring down the street, waiting for the red hair to reappear. He was too distracted to notice that Rose hadn't responded or see the look of concern on her face. But when she audibly sighed, he finally turned to face her.

"What's the sigh for," he asked.

"He's exactly like you, isn't he," she asked flatly. "This is a nightmare."

There's really two of them, she whispered to herself. Two. Two of them!

Rose looked down, started brushing the dirt off her pants and began to straighten herself up. When she was finished she looked up at Hikaru with a smile.

"Well, it can't be helped, can it? I guess I'm just going to have to meet this brother of yours and see if he is just as grumpy as you," she said, smiling and pointing her index finger into his brow.

Chapter Text

Hikaru's day was already a mess

When Rose said she wanted to meet Kaoru, this wasn't exactly what he had in mind. With ceaseless chaos surrounding him, he found himself mourning his already dead plans.

He had schemed it all out. The brothers would have picked Rose up at her dorm, where they would have presented her with tacky gifts in an attempt to fluster her. Then, the three of them would have gone to nice restaurant as if they were on a date and he and his brother would have played up their Host Club act to force some sort of reaction out of Rose.

His plan was flawless — not to mention devious — and he would have come out on top. Instead they were inside the Hitachiin apartment and Rose was somehow in charge.

Before his eyes was a site he wouldn't have dreamed up in a thousand years. Rose was practically straddling his brother as Kaoru attempted to squirm away from her grasp. She was much stronger than her physique would suggest.

She had Kaoru squarely pinned down on the couch beneath her as she used her hands to shakily apply a temporary tattoo to the redhead's cheek.

"Just hold still a second, won't you," she said, breathing heavily.

"Nooooo," Kaoru whined. "My face is too beautiful to be marked like this!"

Rose sighed heavily, probably for the hundredth time that morning. She felt like she had gone over the temporary aspect of the tattoo frequently enough that Hikaru's brother would have gotten the point but apparently he was denser than she thought.

"I TOLD YOU IT'S TEMPORARY," she said, looking him in the eyes. "Honestly Kaoru, it's so temporary that even a good cry would wash it off your cheeks."

She laughed to herself in mild victory as she pulled the paper backing off the tattoo to reveal a successful application. She moved herself off of him, one leg at a time before standing up in front of the sofa. Rose paused a moment, admiring her work before leaning down and patting his shoulder.

"If you decide you don't like it you can sob your little heart out like the baby you are and it will disappear," she said.

Kaoru gave her a glare before jumping up to look at his face in the bathroom mirror. Despite the fact that Kaoru had followed her and his brother around for an entire day, Rose wasn't quite what he expected. With Hikaru she had been almost soft, though mischievous but it seemed like with him she wasn't going to take any nonsense.

Rose had arrived earlier that morning, at exactly the time she said she would. She and Hikaru, though honestly it was mostly Rose, had decided the three of them were going to attend a Harvard Football game on Saturday. Hikaru and Kaoru weren't exactly the type to lean into school spirit, let alone attend a college football game, and Rose decided it was the perfect time to instill the spirit of Crimson into the boys.

Rose knew that meeting Hikaru's twin was going to be nerve wracking and, if she didn't take control, it was likely to be a shitstorm of never-ending teasing for her. She figured with two Hikaru's around she was in for a long day with plenty of surprises and she needed control of as much of the day as possible.

Hikaru and Rose had talked on the phone for less than three minutes about how she would meet Kaoru. Hikaru had thought it would be a long conversation but Rose didn't even give him 30 seconds to talk.

"We're going to the football game this weekend. I'll meet you at your apartment at 11:00 am," she had said. "I'll bring some Crimson gear. Have some water bottles ready."

She paused for a second — not nearly long enough for Hikaru to respond.

"Foot-" he had started to question, but she cut him off.

"They're playing Dartmouth. It's a big deal," she rushed through her words. "Remember, 11 am. Saturday. See you then."

And she hung up the phone. Rose had sighed as she put the phone down, pulling air slowly through her nose to catch her breath. Relief washed over her and she allowed herself to smile. She had won.

On the other end of the line, Hikaru had felt like he had been run over by a tornado as he pulled the phone away from his face and stared at the screen blinking in indication of the call ending. He looked over at his brother with a bewildered look on his face. Kaoru couldn't stop the laughter from pouring out of his mouth at his brother looking like a deer in the headlights.

"She wants to go to a football game," Hikaru had said as he turned his face away from him. He couldn't believe he had lost again.

Now, as the football game was mere hours away, Hikaru couldn't quite tell who was losing more: Kaoru or him.

There was a swirl of emotions erupting inside of him. He was annoyed at how Rose had taken charge without so much as a second thought about how the twins would feel about football and school spirit. He was nervous about her meeting his brother and he was angry that instead of flustering her, he was the one that was flustered. He couldn't really comprehend the image of Rose on top of his brother or why she hadn't so much as given him a second glance after saying hello at the door. She had brushed right past him and instantly introduced herself to Kaoru.

On the kitchen table she had laid out two separate outfits: one green and one red. She had instructed Hikaru to wear the green jersey, insisting that Kaoru's red hair would clash with the color as she handed the younger twin the red shirt. The Hitachiins knew next to nothing about Harvard football and didn't question the outfits, though the older had noticed Rose was wearing crimson. Did she mean for her and Kaoru to match, he wondered.

The twins hadn't pegged Rose as a girl particularly full of school spirit, but first impressions — or, hell, even impressions made over several weeks — were hardly an indicator of the entirety of a person. Hikaru would have also never thought Rose one to let loose enough to belt out songs in her dorm room.

As Rose began the process of putting temporary tattoos on the twins, Hikaru had the distinct feeling that he was witnessing an inkling of Rose's inner-monster.

While Kaoru lamented his face in the bathroom, Rose turned her attention to Hikaru. If he didn't know better, he would have sworn he saw a flash of deviance behind those chocolate eyes. Her gaze was fully focused on him as she grabbed his arm and pushed him on the couch. Unlike with Kaoru, she knelt to the side of him as she pressed the sticky paper to his face and dabbed it with a wet cloth.

"Really, I'm much too beautiful for this," Hikaru said, protesting.

Rose scoffed and responded, "No one is too beautiful for temporary tattoos."

Still, Hikaru attempted to wiggle away, forcing her to push her palm into his chest.

"Stay put," she mumbled before taking the cloth away from his face and pulling at the paper backing. "See, you're done already. Wasn't that painless?"

Hikaru responded with a glare but before he could retreat to the bathroom to see Rose's dirty work, she grabbed his hand, her purse and the waters and began to drag him to the door.

"Come along Kaoru," she shouted over her shoulder. "We're going to be late to the game."

Kaoru met them at the door moments later and gave his brother a good look over. Hikaru was too focused on the storm inside his head to notice his brother and Rose share a glance and matching grins. Their moment had passed in a flash, unnoticed.

Chapter Text

If Hikaru had to be pinned down to any one definition of weakness it would be that the way he interprets the world is often far from the way it is. As he, his brother and Rose walked toward the football stadium all he could think about was how close she already seemed to his twin.

He didn't notice that his jersey was a different color from everyone around him. He didn't know that the tattoo on his face said Dartmouth. He wasn't even vaguely aware of the stares from people around him or the sneers on the faces of passers-by.

No, Hikaru was focused on the fact that Kaoru and Rose matched, that she was endlessly asking him questions and her words kept playing in his head like the narration to a bad dream. "I kind of have a thing for redheads anyway."

His hands were balled up stiffly next to him and although his head was slightly hanging, his eyes were glued on the backs of his brother and Rose.

When they finally got inside the stadium Rose sat herself between the boys but turned her body toward Kaoru on her left. Though she knew she had brought both brothers along, the entire purpose of the day was to meet Hikaru's twin and, honestly, she was really interested in him. She wanted to know as much about the brothers as possible — mostly to see if they were as similar as Hikaru alluded to.

They had time enough before the game started for Rose to begin her "interrogation" and soon enough she and the younger Hitachiin were deep in conversation, laughing with each other.

Hikaru on the other hand was brooding. His hands were crossed tightly in front of his chest and he was slightly slouched over. He was bored, neglected and for some reason people kept throwing things at him. What's so interesting about his brother anyway.

Rose and Kaoru were hunched over, their heads almost touching as they tried to suppress their laughter. It was incredibly hard to do so, however, while they watched the emotional display on Hikaru's face as the crowd around them became increasingly aware of raven-haired boy's attire.

Kaoru couldn't help but think that his first impression of Rose had been correct, she was incredibly fun, but he also felt slightly guilty watching his brother get slowly pelted with straw wrappers and spare bits of food. Rose's plan was still funny though.

Finally the anger inside of Hikaru bubbled to a head and he quickly turned around to snap at those who were drowning him in trash.

"What are you doing?!" he shouted at them.

The two men behind him snickered and one of them threw a small piece of pretzel directly at Hikaru's face before answering.

"Who do you think you are — wearing that jersey in the Crimson student section," he questioned with a sneer.

Hikaru blinked back at them with mild surprise, not really comprehending the gravity of the situation. He raised an eyebrow at them as if to ask what are you talking about?

"You hear me you ugly green sellout," the other man answered. "Why even go to Dartmouth. Were you not good enough for Yale?"

Anger began to churn in the depths of Hikaru's belly, knowing he had been insulted, despite having no clue what the guy was talking about. He started to move toward the man, ready for a fight, but Rose held her arm in front of him, suppressing her laughter.

"You can pull your punches Lance, he doesn't even know what Dartmouth is," Rose said, speaking directly to the blonde behemoth in front of Hikaru. "I was just pulling a joke on him."

Hikaru looked down at his jersey, just now noticing that it, in fact, did not read out Harvard. I'm an idiot he thought. He had been too caught up in his emotions over Kaoru and Rose to notice. They had played him.

The men in front of him grunted, as if dissatisfied with the explanation as Rose hid her giggle behind her hands and then smiled at them. Hikaru, on the other hand, was facing Rose and his brother with a scowl. Kaoru returned the scowl with a sheepish grin as Rose began introductions.

"Lance, Caleb, this is Hikaru and Kaoru - my new friends. They're here studying abroad from Japan, so be nice to them, okay," she said with a smile.

Hikaru was just thinking that he didn't need kindness from complete strangers when Caleb interrupted his thoughts.

"So are you guys like, twins, or something," he asked.

Are you, like, stupid or something? Hikaru thought.

Rose toned a small affirmation then turned first to Hikaru, then Kaoru as she spoke.

"Lance Roberts is a triple legacy student at Harvard. His dad and his grandfather both went here before they went on to lead successful businesses. And Caleb Whinthrop over here, his family helped found the school," she said. "Their families are pretty impressive."

Kaoru held out his hand in greeting to the boys as Hikaru continued standing with his arms crossed, eyeing the boys wearily.

"It's nice to meet you," he said, shaking their hands as Hikaru hummed out a begrudging agreement.

"Our mother is a popular fashion designer," Hikaru stated, as if uninterested in the conversation."And our father owns a software company."

"That's cool, I guess," Lance responded as Rose lightly smacked his stomach.

"What Lance meant to say is your parents sound pretty impressive too," Rose said while nudging her elbow into his abdomen.

"And what about you Rose? You know so much about all of us. Tell us about your family," Caleb asked.

Rose giggled before answering.

"Oh you boys, you know there's nothing about me that is important — my family included," she said. She whipped herself around, letting her ponytail trail behind her in the light breeze. "The games about to start, anyway."

As if on cue, the marching band began their pre-game show and before the twins knew it, the game was in full swing. College football was a whole new beast to the boys and, despite previously having little to no interest in sports, they found themselves enthralled in the game and the stadium atmosphere. Though, perhaps, what caught their attention the most was watching Rose transform from a small, mild-mannered lady to a full out, brutal monster-fan. Her aura seemed to triple once the game began and the slew of phrases that escaped her mouth almost made the boys jump with shock.

"Break his legs!" she screamed at the team as a Dartmouth player made a beeline to the end zone.

Hikaru and Kaoru stared at her, open-mouthed, not sure what to think of this version of their new friend.

"That's right boys, take him down!"

The boys shared a frightened look between them, mentally taking note of the beast within, before they both turned to the game and began shouting.

"Down with Dartmouth," the three shouted together.

As time began to wind down on the clock, a comeback looked unlikely for Dartmouth and the Crimson student section was buzzing with anticipation. When the last second ticked down, Rose jumped with excitement and threw her arms around the nearest twin and began to pull him up and down with her.

"We did it! We did it!" she yelled in exaltation.

Kaoru, himself, was frozen in shock as the brunette clung to him and his brother looked on with displeasure. Oblivious to the atmosphere between the twins, Rose let go of Kaoru and began sharing high fives with the boys around her before Lance picked her up. He spun her around a few times as the pair laughed and then set her down, keeping his arms around her.

A light blush popped up on her cheeks, barely visible beneath the mild sunburn and the flush already present from her jolt of activity. She quickly peeled Lance's arms off of her, unaware of the scowling twins behind her. Lance flashed the boys a cheeky grin and winked.

Hikaru was just about to snap at the muscled blonde as Rose grabbed him and his twin's hands.

"Let's get going," she said simply, dragging the two behind her.

After exiting the stadium, the three walked together slowly as Rose and Kaoru talked about the game's highlights. As the conversation lulled, Kaou found himself curious about a previous topic. He turned his head to her and began speaking.

"So, Rose, you didn't tell us about your family," he said.

"You're just like your brother," Rose said, rolling her eyes. "The two of you never let anything go."

There was a silence between them as Kaoru tried to think of some sort of response, but Rose decided to continue before he could speak.

"My family really isn't anything special. I really don't have any legacy to uphold," she said. "I actually don't even know where I come from at all. I was raised by a foster family."

"Wait, do you mean you don't have a real family," Hikaru asked bluntly, receiving a warning look from his twin.

"Hmmm," Rose started. "I'm not quite sure how to explain it. Though they aren't my biological family, my foster parents were like a real family. They are lovely people."

"But, still, your real parents didn't want you. That's gotta leave some sort of scar," Hikaru said.

"Hikaru, you can't just say something like that," Kaoru added in a hushed tone.

"Oh, its okay Kaoru. I'm sure that's what's on any normal person's mind when they meet an orphan. After all, it is hard to understand," Rose answered, putting a comforting hand on Kaoru's shoulder as if to let him know that she was alright. "Besides, in a way, I was blessed. I found a family who gave me love and let me blossom. Not everyone is as lucky as me."

Rose gave Kaoru a warm smile before looping her arms through his.

"Plus," she added. "I always seem to find amazing friends to fill any holes left in my heart."

Pink flushed up on Kaoru's cheeks as he looked into Rose's chocolate colored eyes. There was so much warmth behind them and a sincerity he wasn't used to seeing. He smiled back at her and ruffled her hair with his free hand.

Hikaru, on the other hand, felt like he had become invisible walking behind the pair and, frankly, he had had enough. He turned and started walking backward to face Rose before laying on the insults.

"Wow Rose, try a little harder. That sweet innocent thing won't work on Kaoru," he started. "Back home he had his choice of any girl he wanted, why would he want someone like you?"

Hikaru stared into her face directly, waiting for some sort of reaction to reflect into those muddy brown eyes. He thought maybe she would jump away from Kaoru, she would start crying, or better yet break out in anger and swear that she had no feelings for his twin.

Instead, Rose's eyes narrowed at Hikaru as she flashed him an evil grin and he swore he saw smoke rising up from her. She stopped in her tracks and turned to a mob of Harvard fans behind her.

"Hey guys, this kid over here just said he thinks 'Harvard ain't worth shit,'" she said, motioning in the direction of Hikaru and Kaoru. "I think ya'll need to teach him a lesson."

It didn't take anymore prodding than that for the, clearly inebriated, mob to turn their full attention on the Hitachiins. Fury swept across the mass and, if all at once, they charged toward the boys.

Both Hikaru and Kaoru could let out a little shriek as the small crowd charged them.

"Hell hath no fury," Kaoru said as turned to run.

"Like a woman scorned," Hikaru finished as they darted away from the mob.

Chapter Text

When Rose got back to her dorm that night, she immediately took to studying on her bed. Papers, books, pencils and her laptop were scattered across the purple bedspread as she attempted to stay focused to the task at hand, but her eyes kept wandering to her cellphone. Every time a notification popped up on the screen, her eyes darted to the phone in anticipation and each time she would look away quickly in disappointment. The desired sender's name never illuminating the glass.

Get it together, she chided herself, patting her right cheek a few times. They made it home fine. And besides — Hikaru deserved it.

This pattern continued for two hours as Rose switched between subjects, trying to take in as much information as possible. Still, though, she found herself rereading the same line in her textbook or writing the wrong words down in her notes.

Sighing, she picked up her phone and clicked on the messages icon. She scrolled through the names before landing on the contact for "Grumpy Face." She selected the contact and proceeded to type.

Checking in on the status of one Ginger and one Grumpy Face. Did you make it home okay?

It was a few minutes before her phone buzzed with an answer.

We're home. No thanks to you.

Rose chuckled to herself, both relieved that the boys made it home alright and with mild amusement at Hikaru's response.

Unscathed?

A bruise or two, maybe. You should see the other guys.

Should I be calling the UN? Are we about to have an international conflict?

Yes.

Be sure to tell them you were the root cause, though.

Rose smiled down at her phone before tossing it to the side and setting her sights back on her work. It may be Saturday night but to her that only meant she had fewer hours left to finish her work before Monday.

All too soon, however, her phone started buzzing again.

And you? Did you manage to make it home without threatening harm to anyone else?

Affirmative. Tucked in for a long night of studying.

And: I only save threats for special occasions.

You're studying? This late?

It's only 10 pm, Hitachiin. I've still got two more solid hours of work time to go.

Hikaru frowned at his phone, slightly dumbfounded, before turning it toward Kaoru for him to read. The two stared at each other for a moment before Kaoru shrugged.

"I mean, she is a 16-year-old in college. We should have already known she was a book-freak like Haruhi."

"Even so," Hikaru said, putting his phone down. "It's Saturday night. She shouldn't be spending it hunched over books until the dead of night."

"God," he continued. "She's so lame."

Just then Tamaki texted them all to meet up in his apartment, as Kyoya needed to discuss plans for the end of the month. The American Thanksgiving holiday was approaching, after all. The twins grumbled as they lifted themselves off the couch and made their way downstairs to meet with the rest of their friends.

Before they knew it, they were already back in their apartment, talking with excitement about their upcoming trip to Spain. The pair, though unknown to most others, were absolutely enthralled with Spain and Spanish architecture.

The twins were in a fervor, trying to plan out every single place they would go and what they needed to pack. However they soon realized a small hitch in their daydreams: neither one of them had ever had to pack for themselves before, let alone plan out a trip.

If they were lucky, Kyoya-senpai would have the details of the trip figured out to a tee, but the packing — well — that was going to be up them. Kaoru briefly suggested that Haruhi would certainly be able to teach them, but one look from Hikaru and he knew that his idea was as good as murdered.

"Well," said Kaoru staring at an empty suitcase. "I guess we can practice and figure it out now, so that we're ready for Spain."

"But I don't want to practice packing. That sounds boring," Hikaru whined.

"It's not like we have much other choice here, Hikaru."

An idea suddenly flashed before Kaoru's eyes. He looked up to his brother hesitantly as he spoke.

"We could always get your new flower friend to help us," Kaoru almost sang. "You could probably even invite her to come with us, if you wanted."

Hikaru responded with a blank stare. Why would he want that girl anywhere near his vacation to Spain? She would just ruin it, if anything. But, they did need help packing their suitcases and he supposed it would be rude to ask for help packing and not invite her in the process. So, he shrugged to his brother as if to say "why not."

Kaoru jumped from their bed and sprinted for Hikaru's phone. Before Hikaru could even attempt to grab for the phone, Kaoru was already listening to the dial tone and waiting for Rose to answer.

Chapter Text

The boys hadn't bothered to look at the time before they decided to pester Rose. Time wasn't a concept they had fathomed in the instant. People around them said Hikaru and Kaoru lived in their own world — often in more ways than one — and it's impossible to live down something that's true.

Rose on the other hand knew perfectly well that it was half past midnight when her phone started singing to her and she grumbled when she saw the name dancing on the illuminated screen. She was so unhappy, and so incredibly tired, that she almost refused to answer the phone on principal. Instead, though, she forced herself to smile as she answered the phone.

"Grumpy face, do you know how late it is," she asked as she hit the green accept button.

"Is it late?" the voice on the other end reacted. "I had no idea, honest."

"Oh. It's not Grumpy Face. It's Ginger," Rose said with slight intrigue. "Why are you calling on your brother's phone at this hour?"

Kaoru immediately put his hand over the microphone on the cellular and turned to his brother.

"She knew it was me right away. That's no fun!"

In response, Hikaru snagged the phone out of his brother's hand and put it on speaker. "Hi Rose."

"Are you two trying to play games with me? It's too late for this," she warned. "I'm going to bed. Goodnight"

"Wait! Rose," Hikaru spoke with mild panic.

"What is it," she asked annoyed.

"Uh, well, we just got back from talking to our friends and they all decided to go to Spain for the holiday break, and, well, Kaoru and I wanted to know if you wanted to go," he said quickly. "And if you would, maybe, help us pack?"

Hikaru was feeling a little sheepish near the end of his remarks, while on the other side of the line, Rose's face was contorted in confusion.

"Uhm Hikaru, you're joking right?"

"Why would we joke about something like Spain," Kaoru asked, almost seriously.

"Boys. Do you know how long it takes to get a passport? Or how much it costs to buy tickets, not only out of the county, but for just a week into the future." Rose voice was heavily laced with sarcasm, but Hikaru swore he could hear just a little desperation in her tone.

"Uhm...No?" He wasn't quite sure what she wanted to hear as an answer.

"Spain sounds lovely, Hikaru, but I can't even afford to go home to Virginia for the holidays," she said simply, her emphasis possibly missing the mark with two foreigners.

The twins looked at each other in shock. Not going home for the holidays? How was that even possible?

"Then what are you doing for Thanksgiving," Kaoru asked, incredulous.

"Staying in the dorms and studying, of course," she replied, with a tone so flat it was as if there was no answer more obvious in the world. "Maybe I'll treat myself and order some pizza the day before."

"What?!" both boys exclaimed.

"It's not a big deal, really. I've done this the last two years, but I can make time to come help you guys pack your suitcases before you go," she said, before whispering, "I honestly can't believe you guys are so useless."

"We're not useless," Hikaru yelled. "And it's fine, we'll figure it o--"

He was cut off by Kaoru frantically covering his mouth.

"That would be great Rose. Can you come by next weekend," Kaoru asked, holding his brother down with one arm while pressing the phone to his cheek with the other.

"Uhm, sure I guess," she responded. "But you guys better have all your clothes cleaned by then and have what you want to pack separated."

"We can do that," the two chimed together, Hikaru pushing himself out of his brother's grasp.

Rose chuckled into the phone. "Alright you weirdos, I'll see you in a week." And she hung up before they had a chance to say goodbye.

---

The week didn't exactly fly by for either Rose or the twins. With a shortened week on the horizon teachers at every level were anxious to get as much material covered before their students' minds were completely lost to the thoughts of vacation and copious amounts of food.

Rose herself had to endure three midterms while the boys frantically attempted to complete projects and essays alike. When Saturday did finally roll around, Rose wanted to stay in bed all day, filling her mind with the visions of Faulkner or Steinbeck. Instead her eyes were blurred with artistic realism: the view of Boston from the back of a city bus.

When she finally made it off the bus and found herself facing Hikaru's apartment building she sent her sight skyward and silently prayed for patience. She wasn't quite sure what reality the twins were living in where they had never found the need to pack their own bags before and, honestly, Rose was just hoping this wasn't some sort of elaborate prank.

The boys met her downstairs and walked her to their apartment while they happily chatted about their upcoming trip. They explained how they would have three whole days in Spain to do with as they pleased as Kyoya, their friend who came with them from Japan, was to meet with some girl his father wanted to set up with Kyoya's brother.

Rose didn't really understand the whole dynamic, or why the entire group of friends had to go together for this meeting, but she smiled as the two started to rant and rave about Spanish culture. They kept going and going, all the way up the stairs and straight to their apartment door.

They only ceased when they walked over the threshold.

"Wow. I never knew the two of you were such nerds," Rose laughed as she set her purse down on their kitchen table.

"What can we say," they shrugged together. "We really love Spain."

Rose was just beginning to think that maybe things weren't going to go as bad as she feared, but then she walked into the twin's room. As she stood in the doorway she didn't know whether her body wanted to faint or to fall to her knees in desperation.

All across the room, clothes were neatly folded and stacked on every flat surface. That included the bed, where the piles of shirts surrounded four open suitcases. It could have been her imagination, but Rose thought she could feel sweat dripping down her neck, just from taking in the sight.

She turned around to face the twins and asked hesitantly, "I thought your trip was only for three days?"

"It is," they responded, unfazed.

Dumbfounded. That was the only word Rose could think of to describe how she felt in that moment. She could not fathom why two teenage boys needed four full-sized suitcases for a three day stay in a foreign country. Closing her eyes in concentration, Rose concluded that she didn't even own enough clothes to even fill two. The Hitachiins were clearly insane.

"I think you guys should probably narrow down your selections," she said cautiously.

"This is what we narrowed down," Hikaru said.

"Yeah, we've already done cuts twice," added Kaoru.

Rose felt her soul leaving her body. This was it - the end. On her gravestone it would read: Rose Marie Michaels - killed by the Hitachiins.

"Uhm, are you okay?" Kaoru asked, waving a hand in front of her paled face. Rose responded by blinking a few times before putting on her best customer service smile and grabbing each twin by the collar.

"Boys, you need some serious help," she said. "Now get over there and each of you pick five full outfits, max."

After an abundance of moaning and plenty of fake tears, Hikaru and Kaoru both had semi-reasonable piles of clothes set aside for the trip. Rose had them look on while she showed them small tricks to fit as much as they could in their suitcases - though she did warn them that she was not a miracle worker who could fit four pairs of boots into their bags.

The three of them were hunched over two bags and sweating when it was all said and done, but they felt a mild sense of accomplishment. Rose was a bit weak in the knees and found herself slipping to the floor as she sighed in satisfaction. Four hours later, and it was finally over.

Hikaru and Kaoru each took a seat next to her and she draped an arm around each.

"You two are honestly going to be the death of me," she laughed.

"Better us than you dying of boredom," Hikaru teased, pushing her lightly. As she lurched toward the other side, Kaoru pushed her back toward Hikaru.

"Yeah Rose," Kaoru said. "Without us, you'd just be studying.

"Mmm, you're right," she responded. "Without you two I'd be a more accomplished woman by now."

Rose brought her arms down and pushed them both away from her at the same time. She maybe pushed just a little too hard, as each Hitachiin fell completely over. All three broke out into laughter, the two boys on their sides on the ground and Rose, leaning herself back against the bed with her head resting against the mattress.

It was the first time either twin had heard her omit such a sincere laugh and they took pride in the way her joy took up her whole face. But the laughter soon ended and Hikaru put on a serious face as he sat up.

"You're always telling me I need to stop frowning, but Rose I think you need to find more reasons to laugh," he said.

"Yeah Rose," Kaoru piped up. "Studying is great and all, but you have to learn to live a little. What good is intelligence if you don't have life experience as well?"

Rose sat forward and giggled, reaching out a hand to each boy's head. She ruffled their hair and smiled brightly at them.

"Oh my wise little sages, don't you worry about me. I've got plenty of life experience."

Chapter Text

Thanksgiving break was always uneventful for Rose — if uneventful meant that she stayed inside, finished all her work and read ahead in each and every class. She had never placed much importance on the holiday set aside for feasting and sharing with your family. Going to college never really made any difference, but she was thankful for time it gave her to get ahead and breathe.

She relished in the moment of satisfaction and closed her eyes.

---

Rose had always been laser-focused on school. For the longest time it felt like her education was the only thing she had control over as she was bounced around from state-run facilities to foster homes and back again. Stability wasn't something she knew, but books were always there for her. No matter what happened during the day, she always knew she would get just a few quiet hours to do her homework - to lose herself in an equation or in the fine details of science.

As soon as she could she had begged every older child at the orphanage to teach her to read and when those children had had enough, she tried to teach herself. She was wolfing down words as fast as her eyes could move and devouring the knowledge they brought her. Fairy tales and equations could only carry her so far, though, as she struggled to stay afloat in the ocean of her emotions. If she wasn't distracting herself, she was drowning in the constant struggle to "always keep a smile," as the facility's director would say. Only smiling children get adopted.

It never made much of a difference though. Families swept right past her and her porcelain smile. She was never the perfect doll for the perfect family or the right soul to be saved. She was, however, always the perfect pawn for state money, though. Often being thrown away by the foster families as soon as she had served some sort of purpose.

It wasn't until she was placed with Todd and Molly Richards that her world was finally allowed to blossom. For the first time, she didn't feel like she was walking blindfolded in the desert and it wasn't until then that someone took the time to recognize her talents.

It was Todd and Molly who insisted she be able to skip the fifth grade, who fought with the school district to allow her to take summer school to advance even more. They were her warriors, advocating for her on every front and helping her fight her battles. Rose had never met foster parents like them before and it didn't take her long to relish in just how lucky she was.

The couple counted themselves lucky, too, and soon found themselves falling in love with their foster. Being stand-in guardians for a never-ending rotation of children brings a weight neither had quite anticipated, but Rose rejuvenated them.

They constantly found new ways to challenge her and never let her forget that she was strong enough to make it in this world. They pushed her into Advanced Placement classes, enrolled her in community college courses during the summer and gave her a reason to dream.

Rose didn't purposefully push herself closer to the finish line. It wasn't like she wanted her time with Molly and Todd to end sooner, but following her passions brought on the end of high school sooner than anyone thought. Molly broke down into tears when the first college acceptance came in the mail and had to excuse herself to the bathroom to remove all the strands of dusty brown hair that had stuck to her moistened face.

Despite having limitless love, the Richards did not live up to their surname and were, in fact, lower middle class citizens, unable to give Rose the college tour they thought she deserved. So when it came down to making a decision on her educational future the deciding factors were merits and photos alone.

Todd had decided that Rose's decision-making process a family event would be a superb idea and invited every foster in their home to write their ideas on poster boards he had brought home from his classroom at the local high school. That night the house buzzed with excitement as the five other children held fat markers in one hand and greasy pizza in the other.

The family had decided on Harvard before Rose had and when she went to bed that night she had her mind firmly set on Penn State. It wasn't until weeks later, when she was staring at the tenth Venn diagram she had made comparing Penn and Harvard, that she realized the Boston school would give her something she would desperately need in the business world: high-up connections. You see, Rose had a very specific dream in mind and Harvard would open up doors to people who could help that dream come true.

It was with that in mind that she finally took the dive and committed herself to Harvard, and after talking it over with the school, enrolled for the upcoming fall semester as a sophomore. When the time came, she left home ready to take on the Ivy Leagues with a secret promise in her back pocket.

Looking back at the house she had so many happy memories in, suitcase in hand, she vowed that she was going to do everything she could to use her gifts to make sure more people got a fair shake in life.

---

Rose sighed deeply as she opened her eyes and scanned over the invitation she had received on her phone just the day before.

Can't miss party at Lance's House - Friday @ 8 pm. Bring your own food, tunes and drinks will be provided.

It sounded like a huge waste of time to Rose, but the twins were probably right. One year at college had already blown past her with little else than work on her mind. She needed to spend more time outside the four walls of her dorm room because, honestly, she was never going to make any solid connections if the only acquaintances she was making were the characters in the novels she adored so much.

Alright Hitachiins, she whispered to herself, I'll go to a party.

Chapter Text

The music from the party reached Rose's ears before she caught sight of the overly extravagant house she knew belonged to Lance. With its thick, white Roman columns and navy blue shutters, his parents had known from the moment they set eyes on it that it was going to be the perfect house for their "angelic son" to spend his college years. They had stars in their eyes as they dreamed of him studying in the library and holding elegant dinner parties in the dining room. They would surely be exploding out of their designer suits if they saw the state of it on the Friday night after Thanksgiving.

Toilet paper clung to every uneven crevice of the roof line and slung to each nearby tree. On the lawn were scattered red solo cups and half a dozen metal kegs. To the right, a certain popular cheerleader was trying to imitate the elegant Greek marble fountain on the lawn by doing a one-handed keg stand.

Rose rolled her eyes as she walked up to the house. This was just something she would never understand — how people that have everything could disregard the beautiful things around them and lay waste to their own empires.

She slowly ascended the steps outside the door, mentally preparing herself to talk to other human beings. If she was lucky, there might be a dog inside. If she was unlucky the house would be mostly filled with frat boys.

She held her breath as she opened the door and took a peek inside. It wasn't her lucky day.

To say that the party goers were likely breaking the fire code would be an understatement. The house was packed so tightly Rose felt she might as well turn around and head home rather than fight her way in the door. She was just about to turn when a strong hand, attached to a toned arm adorned with a high school letterman jacket, grabbed a hold of her wrist and began pulling her through the crowd.

"I didn't think you would come," a gruff voice spoke — more to the space in front of him rather than the short girl behind him.

Rose shrugged the best she could with one arm being occupied and replied, "Life's full of surprises, I suppose."

Being tugged along seemed more efficient than pushing through the crowd on her own, so Rose decided to just go with the flow. As she made her way from the front door to the rear of the house she watched the crowd around her, taking in all the sights: the girls in short dresses, the boys in letterman jackets pushing said girls up against the wall, the couples dancing in the living room, the man in the black leather jacket leading a redhead in hot pink leather pants up the stairs.

Not surprisingly, the kitchen was rather tame compared to the rest of the house, though the music was only slightly softer. Lance finally let go of her wrist as he bent down to open the pull-out freezer. He filled a red cup with ice before setting it on the kitchen island and turning to Rose.

"I'm going to make you my famous Long Island," he said with a smile.

Rose momentarily shifted uncomfortably before placing her hand on the crook of his arm and smiling at him softly.

"How about I start with something less intense," she said, reaching past him to grab a Corona off the island. She had no intention of drinking the pale yellow liquid, but if it got her out of a custom-made concoction, she would gladly water some plants while she peeled the label.

"Aw, but that's no fun," Lance pouted, reaching for his bottle opener nevertheless.

"Tell you what," Rose said with mock sympathy in her voice, "Let me get through this and then you can show me your mixology skills with all the pomp and circumstance."

"It's a deal," Lance said, beaming at her.

He turned and walked away, noticing Caleb waving him over. When he was finally out of the kitchen, Rose leaned her back against the kitchen island and sighed. She had never really intended to keep her age a secret while at college, but she had always thought it best to not explicitly leave herself vulnerable. Showing any sign of weakness must be strictly avoided. That was something she had learned early.

Rose's eyes started to go out of focus as she took the cap off her bottle. She had kept her gaze on it, unfocused for too long, as she was lost in her thoughts. Without her realizing, someone had walked behind her and bent down to whisper in her ear.

"I heard you made a deal with the devil," a male voice toned, his breath dancing over the nerves on the outer lobe of her ear.

Rose shivered a little before turning around.

"I don't know what you're talking about, Caleb," she said stone faced. "All I said was that he could make me a drink later."

Caleb smirked as if telling her It's your funeral, taking the beer bottle out of her hand and taking a sip. Well, not exactly a sip. More like a large swig. He handed the half-empty bottle back to her with a large, lopsided smile as his blue eyes danced with mischief. Clearly Lance told him about the deal, Rose thought.

"I didn't take you for a beer drinker," Caleb said with mild curiosity.

"You know what they say about assumptions," Rose teased, tilting her head back as she pretended to take a sip of her beer.

Caleb let out a small laugh before reaching forward and tousling Rose's hair. "You're kind of cute," he said.

Rose tilted her head to the side slightly in confusion, as if she had never heard anyone say that before. Honestly, she hadn't and she felt a blush rise to her cheeks. She raised her hand up to feel the heat on them, unsure about the new experience.

The dusty haired boy in front of her let out another chuckle and grabbed her hand.

"Come dance with me," he said huskily. "I want to see the look on Lance's face when he sees you with me."

Rose kept an eye on the room around her as she swayed back and forth to the pop music blasting out of the surround sound speakers. Dancing with Caleb wasn't un-enjoyable. He was kind, respectful and only put a hand on her waist when he was sure Lance was looking, but the look in Lance's eyes as he watched the interaction worried Rose and she began to keep track of his whereabouts and consumption.

After dancing with Caleb, and a few other boys who had asked, Rose left the living room in search of water. She hadn't realized how much work it took to dance. She was smiling to herself, taking pride in the fact that she was actually enjoying herself. Her face fell, however, when she returned to the kitchen and saw her beer bottle empty.

She had overestimated her abilities to keep the bottle full the whole night. I should have kept it with me while I danced, she chided herself. Lance, who was in the kitchen awaiting her return, was at her side the moment she walked in, with a drink in hand. He smiled as he handed it over to her.

"I made this especially for you," he said.

Rose took the drink and smiled at him despite the fact that the circumstances were highly suspicious. She wasn't an idiot. She knew he was the one who emptied her Corona.

"Mmmm, thanks," she hummed. "I hope the Corona tasted good."

Lance took a step back, feigning hurt in his emerald eyes as he put a hand over his chest.

"Why, Rose, I would never do such a dishonorable thing," he said while bowing down slightly.

"Oh, I'm sure," she responded with sarcasm. "What's in this anyway. It smells fruity."

"An artist never reveals his secrets," Lance replied with a sly smile on his face. "Go on, tell me how it tastes."

Rose bought the cup up to her face as she took the smallest sip she could muster. The flavors were overbearing yet somehow muted by the overwhelming taste of alcohol. She lowered the cup down and began audibly pushing her tongue against the roof of her mouth, playing up the act of tasting the beverage.

"It's so sweet, Lance," she giggled and put a hand on his arm. "Just like you. Thanks for making this for me."

She swiveled herself around and walked away from him, ready to begin the process of distributing the drink among the potted plants around the house. By her count, Lance had taken eight shots, mixed five drinks for himself and consumed five beers since she arrived at the party. He was well beyond any normal limit and she didn't want to be around him.

It was then that she felt her phone vibrating in her pant pocket. She pulled at the phone and glanced at the notification without surprise.

2 messages from Grumpy Face it read.

Hikaru had hardly been able to keep his excitement to himself as his visited Spain. Despite Rose's urging for him to just catch her up when he returned — for the sake of her studies — he had taken to texting her several times a day with play-by-plays on every single occurrence. She had taken to just ignoring the messages, but at that moment she thought she might owe it to him to respond. After all, it was the twins that had gotten under her skin enough for her to agree to come to this party.

Hey! R U Alright?

You haven't answered any of my messages.

Rose laughed to herself as she typed out a response.

You messaged me so many times my phone died.

Liar.

What are you doing now? You better not be studying.

Relax, Fun Police. I'm at a party.

REALLY? Pics or it didn't happen.

Rose rolled her eyes. She didn't need to prove anything to this child, but she couldn't help but snap a quick photo of the people dancing in front of her. She smiled to herself as she sent Hikaru the photo.

It's at Lance's place, near campus. The music is so loud you can hear it blocks away.

I feel like I'm living out a college trope.

Hikaru didn't respond and she tucked her phone back in her pocket. As the night continued Rose found enjoyment in talking to some of her classmates and dancing when a song struck her fancy. Occasionally Lance would come around to steal her cup and refill it and Rose honestly began to worry about the health of the potted greens in her vicinity.

At around 11 pm, Rose had decided she had enough. She slowly made her way to the kitchen to throw her cup away and to pick up her bag she left on the counter. Just before she made it to the back of the house, Lance grabbed her and pulled her into the nearby hallway.

"Oh, hey," she said. "I was just gonna find you to say goodbye."

He didn't respond. Instead he let go of her wrist and began to walk slowly toward her. Rose instinctively began to back up, holding her breath to prevent herself from breathing in the scent of alcohol that seemed to be seeping out of him.

It wasn't long before her back was against the corner where the two sides of the hall met and she looked up in panic as Lance put an arm up against each side, trapping her in.

"It's too early for you to leave the party yet, Rose," he said, slurring his words.

Chapter Text

Rose tried her best to keep the fear off her face and the shock out of her eyes. Despite his many attempts to get her attention throughout the night, she didn't think Lance would resort to something like this.

With her back to the wall and trapped between his arms, Rose wasn't sure quite what to do but she knew she had to think fast.

"I actually have to get going now," she said, trying to duck under his left arm. "I have some things to work on early tomorrow."

Rose wasn't fast enough to beat Lance. Despite the fact that he was clearly inebriated, he was incredibly strong and she felt the wind knocked out of her as he pushed her back against the wall. He closed the gap between their bodies completely, pinning her to the wall with his thighs as her eyes watered from the surprise impact.

He leaned down and tucked his head into the crevice between her neck and shoulder, breathing in her scent before sucking his way from her chin to her collarbone.

"You're such a naughty girl, Rose. You've been teasing me all night," he whined into her skin, causing goosebumps to rise. Rose tried to push against him, fighting for a way out with little success. She was going to have to change tactics.

She relaxed against his body, as if to indicate that she wouldn't struggle any longer, and brought a hand up to stroke the back of his head.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

"Damn right you're sorry," he growled, raising his head to look at her. "You shouldn't be dancing with all those boys, especially not in those jeans."

He released some of the pressure on her, but only enough for him to be able to trail his hand down her side and dance his fingers along her curves. His hands explored her hungrily before one rested on her hip. Lance grabbed at Rose's body hard, trying to pull her into him. He leaned his face toward her at the same time in an attempt to force her into a kiss. As his lips moved closer she turned her head away.

Lance's eyes flew open, his pupils dilated, and he threw her back into the wall.

"How dare you," he said, reaching up to slap her. "How dare you turn away from me."

Rose couldn't help flinching as his hand connected with her face, but she recovered quickly and set her eyes upon him in a heavy glare. She was unyielding.

"Do you think you could do better than me," he challenged her, grabbing at the collar of her shirt. "Don't make me laugh."

"You're nothing," he spat. "You are so useless and unappealing that not even your parents wanted you. Who do you think you're fooling by being here Rose? No matter how hard you try, you can't escape your nothingness."

Rose's eyes widened in a mix of shock and delusional realization. No matter how uncalled for, Lance's biting words had struck a chord. Stressed brains don't tend to be rational and the thoughts she constantly tried to push away broke free of their mental restraints.

She had always been nothing and not even Harvard could guarantee that she would ever be anything more.

She let her head begin to hang as tears threatened to leak from the corners of her eyes. The break in eye contact with Lance was short lived, however, as he grabbed at her chin with his right hand and pulled her face up.

"Come now, Rose, be a good girl and tell me that you're nothing," Lance said.

"I'm nothing," she whispered, not meeting his gaze.

Lance laughed as he moved her chin back and forth a little, satisfied with his work. He moved away from her, convinced his psychological tactics were successful. He put his hands on Rose's shoulders and smiled at her.

"Now there's my good girl," he cooed and then took his right hand off her shoulder and caressed her cheek. "But you know what they say about good girls — they're just bad girls who haven't been caught."

He cupped her cheek and attempted at another kiss. He missed the fire in Rose's eyes as he shut his lids and closed in to seal the deal. That was the opportunity Rose had been waiting for. She moved her head to the side of his and whispered in his ear.

"I guess you found out my secret," she said as she swiftly kneed him in the groin.

Lance went down hard and Rose took off running. She didn't' look back for a second as she escaped the hallway, pushed past the dancers in the living room and sprinted out the front door. The world around her was a blur and she didn't pay any mind to the shapeless surroundings rushing by.

As Rose made it over the threshold and out into the cool night air, she didn't stop for a moment. She didn't register anything — her mind on a mission to escape — not even the tall raven-haired boy walking up the pathway to the house or his amber eyes filled with shock as she whisked past him.

She just kept running. There wasn't such a thing as enough distance that she could put between herself and that house. The street lights blended together as she turned down street after street but as strong-willed as the heart and head may be in fight or flight, the lungs just aren't able to go the distance. Rose suddenly found herself struggling to breathe and she was forced to slow her pace. She finally ran out of stamina when she turned into a partially-lit alley.

Rose immediately turned her back to the wall and slid her way down to the ground. She locked her arms around her legs and rested her forehead against her knees. Then the floodgates opened. She couldn't have stopped the tears even if she had wanted too.

She sobbed heavily into her arms, letting go of any semblance of control she had left. She would allow herself to cry until her ducts ran dry and then she would get up, wipe the dirt off herself and walk home.

With each heave into her knees, she mentally reassured herself. It could have been so much worse. It was nothing. She wasn't this fragile, she had just made the wrong moves.

But the tears didn't stop, they just kept coming, and she didn't lift her head from her lap until she heard the crunching of loose asphalt under sneakers. The footsteps stopped beside her and she lifted her head to see a sweaty, red-faced Hikaru crouching beside her.

Rose turned her head back to her knees and began sniffling in an attempt to stop the tears. What happened was bad enough, but now that obnoxious twin was here too.

"I thought you were in Spain," she said, choking out the words between sniffles. She was almost bitter. Why did he have to see her like this — so weak.

Hikaru moved to kneel in front of her, reached out and pulled her into a soft hug. Rose tensed against the embrace, still reeling from the affections forced on her moments ago, but the soap smell lingering on Hikaru's hoodie was unexpectedly calming. She took a few deep breaths as Hikaru stroked her hair.

After a moment, though, she started sobbing again and threw her arms around his torso. She cried until the fabric in front of her face was soaked through and she finally pushed away from him. Almost instinctively her hands flew to her face and she began wiping the wet trails off her cheeks.

Hikaru reached for her hand and held it between his.

"Will you tell me what happened," he said softly.

Rose sighed and looked up at him. Her resolve cracked. "Lance," she whispered. "He..."

Hikaru cut her off, letting go of her hand. "What did he do to you!" His fists were now balled up on top of his thighs.

Rose wiped the last bit of wetness from her face and started to get up. "Nothing," she said. "He did nothing." That's not exactly a lie, she thought.

Hikaru rose to stand as well and put his hands lightly on her shoulders. "What did he do to you," he repeated.

"Jeez, Hitachiin. Protective much," Rose said, trying to smile. Smiling would make it all go away. "Nothing happened. Lance just got drunk and a little handsy. That's all."

Hikaru pulled Rose into to him and whispered, "Don't lie to me Rose."

She sighed and pushed herself out of his grasp. "Just forget it, alright." She turned to walk out of the alley and start making her way home, but she was stopped by someone grabbing her hand.

"No," Hikaru said forcefully as Rose flinched. "I won't forget."

Rose took in a deep breath as she pulled her hand away. "Fine," she muttered. Tears started to pool at the rim of her eyes again. She didn't want to talk about it. If she spoke the words out loud, than it was true and she could never pretend it hadn't happened. But he kept pushing her and she felt anger boiling up inside.

Rose whipped her body around and stepped close to Hikaru, pointing a finger at him.

"This is all your fault," she yelled at him. "If it wasn't for you and your stupid brother, I wouldn't have gone to that party. If it wasn't for the two of you, I'd have stayed in my dorm and had a peaceful night."

She was now inches away from him as she brought her hands up and balled them into fists. She started hitting his chest and sobbing. As she looked up through tear-laden lashes, she watched the face in front of her change from Lance to Hikaru and back again.

"I hate you," she cried, striking him repeatedly. She didn't know what she was thinking, the pain and anger had overcome her. "I hate you," she repeated in a whisper as her punches flailed and tapered.

Rose fell to her knees in front of him. He reached out and lightly grasped her arms as she fell and then shrank down to the ground with her. He pulled her into a soft embrace, unsure how to react to the situation as she continued muffled sobs into his sweater.

"He cornered me, Hikaru," she whimpered into his chest. "He trapped me. He wouldn't stop touching. I was so powerless."

Silence fell between them. Hikaru didn't know what to say and Rose didn't want to talk. She didn't want to relive it. There were too many emotions mixing inside the both of them and neither knew what the next move was.

Eventually, Hikaru leaned down to pick up Rose and cradled her against himself as he rose. He started walking down the alley, toward the main road while she shifted uncomfortably in his arms.

"What are you doing," she asked, uncertain.

"I'm taking you home with me," he said sternly. "I'm not letting you be alone tonight.

He kept walking. Down the numerous streets that would take him back to the apartment building — back to the warmth, light and safety of the home he shared with his brother. He wasn't going to let her hurt anymore tonight. She wasn't going to be alone.

When he made it to his apartment, he kicked at the door hoping to wake the sleeping redhead inside. After several minutes and a few kicking attempts, Kaoru opened the door, bleary eyed and confused. His eyes widened when he noticed Rose in Hikaru's arms and he opened his mouth to begin questioning his brother, but Hikaru started shaking his head before Kaoru could get a question out.

Rose hadn't left Hikaru's arms for a second after he had picked her up in the alley and he didn't let her go until he gently put her on the couch. He got down on his knees in front of her and put his hand on her shoulder.

"You'll be safe here tonight, alright," he said softly. "You can sleep here. Kaoru and I will be just through that door if you need anything.

Rose reached out and touched Hikaru's cheek with a thankful smile on her face.

"I had no idea you were such a softie," she said as she yawned and stretched herself out on the couch. He didn't either.

Hikaru retreated to his bedroom to find an extra blanket and returned to her as quickly as he could. When he looked down, Rose was already asleep facing the back of the sofa. He draped the blanket over her and tucked in the edges before reaching over and moving her hair out of her face.

He stood up and began walking to his bed where Kaoru was waiting for him. Hikaru closed the door behind him as he walked into their room and sat on the edge of the bed with a heavy sigh.

"Kaoru, if I ever see that bastard Lance again, I'm going to kill him.

Chapter Text

While Rose's rest was fitful, Hikaru and Kaoru didn't sleep at all. This was not what either had anticipated would wait for them when they returned, earlier than expected, from Spain.

Their trip had been magnificent. Not only did they get to witness a flustered Kyoya and a speechless Tamaki, but they had met an exotic, yet terrifying, woman, and had the chance to explore wondrous architecture and art.

Hikaru and Kaoru had been in heaven and could hardly wait to report about their adventures — constantly sending photos and updates to Rose, each grabbing at Hikaru's phone in an attempt to be the one to send her a message.

The trip had almost been perfect, but Hikaru kept getting this nagging (and frankly, annoying) feeling that he should be checking on Rose to make sure she was still taking care of herself between all the studying. As far as he knew Thanksgiving was an important American holiday and it still seemed weird to him that Rose would spend it in her dorm, by herself, without any real food.

He kept trying to throw the worry aside — after all worrying about another person had never really been a part of his personality — but he couldn't help but feel that Rose needed the annoyance of he and his brother in her life. Without them, she'd probably be a total shut-in and completely lame.

It wasn't until Saturday, when the Host Club was waiting in the airport to board their flight home, that he realized Rose hadn't answered a single one of his and his brother's text messages. What an annoying girl, he thought to himself as he scrolled through the messages they had sent. He'd have to check in on her when they got back to America.

The moment they landed Hikaru pulled out his phone and texted her, not really expecting any response. It was late and, like the nerd she was, she was probably still studying. He was surprised, however, when his phone almost instantly buzzed. That surprise quickly turned to amusement when he saw her typical sarcastic wit staring back at him.

When he found out about the party, he felt it only natural to attend himself — if for no other reason than to observe the book worm at her first rodeo. It's safe to say he wasn't expecting her to come darting out of the house the moment he set foot on the grounds. She went by in a blur and hadn't noticed him at all.

His immediate reaction was to think that the situation was just simply strange, but he quickly realized that there had been tears in her eyes as she ran past him and his skin started to prickle with premonition. He turned on his heel and gave chase.

While he ran, he couldn't help but wish Kaoru had come too. Whatever had happened in that house, he didn't think he could handle hearing about it on his own. And he was right.

The only thing clear to him in the moment was that someone had hurt Rose. This weeping person in front of him wasn't anything like the annoying super freak he had come to call his friend and there was an inferno alight inside him as he thought about the person who broke her. He was seeing red.

As she continued to cry that anger soon turned to self loathing when he realized that she blamed him in some way, even if she wasn't entirely serious. He felt somehow responsible — as if it was his fault she was in that situation. He should have been able to keep her safe.

He wanted so bad to push away the emotions inside of him as Rose broke down. Emotions wouldn't serve him any purpose right now, but things started to clear as he held her and the panic began to fade away.

He couldn't turn back time and change the outcome, but he could keep her safe the rest of the night. That was what he had decided when he brought her home. After she fell asleep, he spent the next hour talking to Kaoru about the situation and the angst he felt inside himself.

Worry crept into every inch of each Hitachiin, their minds consumed with what she must have endured. They only knew the very vaguest details of what had happened to Rose that evening and, with their two outrageous minds combined, they feared the absolute worst. Throughout the entire night Hikaru found himself pacing between the front door and each of the windows of the apartment, double and triple checking that they were locked and secured. At the same time Kaoru kept rising from their shared bed to grab things from the kitchen — a bottle of water, a glass of milk, a bag of chips — in thin-veiled attempts to check on Rose.

She had passed out almost the moment she landed on their navy blue couch and despite how peaceful she looked with her arms wrapped around the throw pillow, neither twin wanted to be far away if she woke up from a nightmare, reliving the assault. As the night went on, they hovered around her like bees near a hive, giving up any semblance of the fake excuses they had made to watch her.

As dawn began peeking through the curtains, the two slumped their bodies down against the sofa and rested their heads against the others. Hikaru sighed and grabbed his brother's hand.

"Do you think there's any chance she wakes up and doesn't remember any of it," he asked, an unreadable emotion in his voice.

Kaoru answered the question with a heavy frown and a slight shake of his head. Their pampered lives hadn't prepared them for anything close to this and their new-found emotional depth was at its breaking point. They may as well have been performing heart surgery, they were so far out of their league.

"Well, we're just going to have to make it a perfect morning, then," Hikaru said, jumping up.

Kaoru instantly began scolding him for pushing up against the furniture so roughly, obviously afraid of his boorish brother waking Rose. Unfortunately, the chiding led to a quarrel, which pushed aside any reservations they had been keeping previously in their attempt to achieve tranquility in the living room.

While Hikaru and Kaoru started swatting at each other with halfhearted insults, Rose began stirring. She groaned a little as she gained consciousness and opened her eyes to see the brothers at each other's throats.

"I told you to be quieter! Now look what you've done," Hikaru hissed.

"Me? You're the one that woke her up with your girly screeching," Kaoru bit back.

Rose looked on with confusion and slowly pushed herself into a sitting position as they continued on with their quarrel. She was in a morning haze, unsure as to why she was in the Hitachiin's apartment or why she had been sleeping on their couch. Closing her eyes she began the process of clearing the fog in her brain to figure out how she got here. Then, she remembered.

Her eyes flashed open and it suddenly felt like she couldn't breathe. She was choking on air, wracked with terror as her body shook silently. The tears trailing down her cheeks involuntarily.

The brothers quickly took notice and abandoned their sparring match in silence as they each turned toward her, concern and panic plastered on their identical faces. Hikaru dropped to his knees at her feet and put both his hands on her knees. She was shuddering violently as she raised her head to look at him and she gave out a little yelp as the face looking back at her through flooded lashes was Lance's.

Desperately, she began blinking rapidly, trying to clear both the tears and the vision.

"Rose, it's Hikaru," he said softly, reaching his right hand out to cup her cheek. She jerked away from him as his hand got closer and closed her eyes.

"D-don't touch m-me," she said through gasps for air.

He quickly retracted his hand and looked up to his brother with desperation in his eyes. Kaoru joined his brother at Rose's feet and put his hand on the couch next to her leg.

"Rose, it's just us," he whispered. "Open your eyes please. We won't hurt you."

Kaoru nudged his brother a little, drawing Hikaru's attention to his outstretched hand resting beside the sobbing girl in front of them. Kaoru wanted his brother to mirror his action, encouraging him to show support without touching. When had his brother become so mature?

"We're here for you Rose. Just open your eyes or reach out your hands," Kaoru said gently. "We'll wait for you, okay?"

Rose whimpered a little, instinctively bringing her hands closer to herself. She felt like drawing herself into a tight little ball where nothing and no one could touch her, but there was a voice nagging in the back of her head. There was a battle in her brain between retreat and revival as her instincts told her not to trust the men in front of her, but her heart berated her for being so openly weak. So weak. So weak. So weak!

Deep breaths, she told herself. Gain back your control. One handsy boy is not going to take you down, you're stronger than that. Rose slowly opened her eyes and took in the sight in front of her: two brothers utterly panic stricken. In a way it was almost comical, looking at those two twisted up faces.

It wasn't like them to so openly show emotions and their panic tugged at her heart. She reached out to each of them — instantly feeling a need to quell their spirits. Grabbing each of their hands in hers, she gave them a soft smile and let out a very quiet, "Thank you."

Chapter Text

When Rose woke up on Monday she struggled to keep her eyes open, thinking that she could use another whole Thanksgiving break. Two nights of sleep weren't enough to recover. Though she assured a certain pair of doppelgangers that she was alright, the night alone had been terrible.

She wasn't naive enough to believe that two days could wash away the pain of whatever had happened in that house, no matter how minor it may have seemed. This wasn't something new to life — after all, she had grown up in the system — but she had made it out and she thought everything about that life was behind her. Buried emotions have a way of resurfacing, however, and new trauma will always compound them.

Rose shivered thinking about the past and tried to find solace in sleep, though it didn't help. When she closed her eyes she could still feel Lance's hungry hands on her and she couldn't stop the shuddering. There was an urge inside her to crawl deeper under the covers, shroud herself in darkness and sleep the rest of her life away. What was the point in facing school, in facing other people?

The blankets were halfway up her head when her phone started ringing. She looked over at it on her desk, apathetically. Hikaru and Kaoru wouldn't stop calling her to check in but she refused to answer the calls or respond to messages. She just wanted any reminder of what happened over the weekend to disappear. What were they going to talk about anyway? How she was recovering? What they should do next?

It was all pointless. There was nothing to do next. There is no recovering.

The only thing those two boys had accomplished was convincing Rose to get out of bed long enough to swipe her phone off her desk and roughly push her finger on the power button. If they weren't going to stop, she'd make the constant onslaught of notifications end herself. She almost sighed in relief when the screen went completely black and she returned to bed quickly. If she closed her eyes, the day would be over quicker.

Hours later, Hikaru frowned and turned to his brother as they walked home from school. He had just tried calling Rose again without success. His phone was near his ear, ringing out the welcome of her voice mailbox for probably 150th time that afternoon. As he ended the call, his phone gave out a low battery warning that almost made him want to laugh. His phone was dying for want of contacting Rose.

"She still hasn't turned it back on," Hikaru sighed as his brother shoved his hands in his pockets and shrugged his shoulders.

"If she wanted to talk to us, she'd answer. At this point we're only calling to show her we're still here," Kaoru said.

"I guess," Hikaru responded. "But aren't you worried about if she's doing alright?"

Kaoru stopped walking, a pained look on his face. He grabbed his brother's wrist and stopped him in his tracks.

"You really are an idiot," Kaoru whispered. Irritation spread across Hikaru's face as he waited for his brother to continue. "Of course she's not okay. Did you really expect her to be?"

"But, before she left Sunday, she said she would be fine," Hikaru said hesitantly.

"Did you expect her to just fall at your feet crying and begging you to help fix the hole in her heart," Kaoru asked angrily. "I thought you of all people would know that she isn't that type of person. Of course she told us she was alright. For her, there wasn't any other response."

Hikaru stared at his brother in shock. The world was so simple to Hikaru but Kaoru seemed to see all of the grey in between the black and white. He didn't know when his twin had grown up so much and left him behind. He didn't know that Rose was the type of person to push away her pain. He didn't know.

Kaoru stood and watched the realization take hold of his brother's face, thinking this is what it looked like to shatter someone's view of the world. He felt an ache in his heart as he started to pity his brother but he couldn't help Rose if his partner in crime didn't understand the situation.

He put his hand on his brother's shoulder and gave him an encouraging smile. "So, what are we going to do about this?"

"We're going to help her, of course," Hikaru responded with a smile on his face.

Back in her dorm, Rose was shifting under her covers, attempting to rid herself of the overbearing heat that had accumulated while she slept. She groggily lifted her heavy head to look at the alarm clock to her left and her half-lidded eyes shot open as she read its face: 7:00 pm. She really had slept the day away.

Guilt was tugging at the bottom of her heart. It was the first time she had ever purposely skipped class in her life and ... she couldn't really say she regretted it. She readjusted herself in bed, moving her hand under her pillow and hit the edge of her phone. It had been peaceful without it screaming, but she was going to have to call a few people to find out what she missed in class today.

The moment the phone was fully powered on, it began singing. Notification after notification popped through the glass window and, once the phone quieted down, a total of 210 missed call, 10 voicemails and 324 text messages were waiting for her. Those annoying freaks, she thought to herself as she scrolled through the texts quickly, just to clear the notifications.

Getting through the messages was easy enough without diving into the actual greetings, but she wasn't going to be able to clear the voicemail notifications without playing them. She wasn't in the mood and quickly decided she wouldn't listen to a single one. Rose was just about to put the phone down when it started ringing in her hand.

She pressed accept before she had even processed what was happening. Begrudgingly, she brought the phone up to her ear.

"Kaoru, Kaoru, it's actually ringin - oh. She answered!," she could hear Hikaru saying. "Hi, Rose, are you there?"

She let out a small "mmm" in response. Hikaru went wild, talking with the speed of a runaway Freightliner. He was asking question after question, seemingly without end until there was an abrupt silence followed by a much calmer voice.

"I told you not to bother her like that," Kaoru hissed while unsuccessfully trying to hold his hand over the microphone. "Hi Rose, it's Kaoru. We were just calling to see if you needed anything. Mori told us you didn't go to your class today and we wanted to check up on you."

Rose breathed out an "oh" as a response and didn't say anything more.

"Uhm, well ... Mori said he could send you an email with his notes from class today, if you'd like that. And, Hikaru and I were thinking we could go to dinner tomorrow," Kaoru said softly.

"No," Rose answered quickly before adding, "I'll take the notes though."

"Oh, okay. Well, that's alright," Kaoru said with strain in his voice. Rose couldn't see it but he was currently struggling to keep his brother from snatching the phone out of his hand. He had successfully kept Hikaru at arm's length with the palm of his hand on his brother's face, but was quickly becoming overpowered. With a hefty push, Hikaru broke away from his brother's strong -arm and grabbed the phone, putting it up to his ear.

"Rose forget dinner, but please, let us get him," Hikaru said roughly into the mobile device. "We'll give that bastard what he deserves. Or get him expelled, or something."

"No." Rose's response was swift and quiet and Hikaru's grasp on the phone tightened.

"Why not," he demanded.

"Because it's useless," she said angrily, letting her emotions finally show. "It's a fool's errand. Just let it go."

"How can you say that? He hurt you. He deserves to pay," Hikaru screamed.

"No one will believe me," she whispered. "Its the word of one useless orphan against the account of a triple legacy student whose family makes large donations to the school. The only thing we would succeed in doing is making me a publicly hated figure. Don't you know how these things go?"

Hikaru was livid.

"No," he yelled. "I won't accept that. He can't get away with this. He just ... can't."

Kaoru pulled the phone away from his brother again and began speaking to Rose softly.

"Maybe there isn't anything we can do to make him pay, but you can't let him have this much control over you. I will never know what you're feeling right now, Rose, but I know you wouldn't be where you are now if you were the type that gave up," Kaoru said. "Please, don't give up."

Rose didn't give him a response, but he could hear her soft breathing on the other end of the line. It was going to take time, but he and his brother were going to get her through this.

"Alright, well, Hikaru and I have homework to do now, so we'll talk to you later, okay," Kaoru paused a moment, waiting for her to respond. Rose let out a slight grunt and he said goodnight before hanging up.

The next morning, Rose woke to the sound of knocking on her door. Reluctantly she rose from her bed and started walking toward the sound. As the rapt came a second time, she froze thinking of the possibilities of who could be behind the knocking. A slight jolt of terror ran through her but she forced herself to move forward and peek through the peephole.

A man in a white jacket was standing with a large vase of roses in his hands, impatiently tapping his black Converse on the brown carpet outside. Rose sighed and opened the door.

"Are you Miss Michaels," he asked her and she nodded her head. He handed her the vase while speaking. "These are for you. Have a good day."

He walked down the hall and Rose's eyes followed the back of his head before flicking down to the flowers in her hands. She stared at them while absentmindedly closing the door. There was a white card sticking out of the middle of the sea of pink and she plucked it from its plastic holder after setting the glass vase on her desk.

Hah! Made you look!

- H & K

Rose rolled her eyes at the message and set it down next to the vase. Those idiots. She returned to her bed and began throwing the blankets back over her body. When she was sufficiently covered she turned to face her clock and was surprised it was already 11 am. She had already missed her morning class.

Whelp, she thought. There's no point in trying to make it to the others.

She closed her eyes and didn't open them until 8 pm when there was another knock on the door. She looked at the light peeking through the crack at the bottom of the wooden entrance and sighed. Rose didn't want to get up and so she decided she wouldn't, throwing the blankets back over her head.

Unfortunately the knock came again and she huffed as she threw the covers off and stomped to the door. This time, she flung it open without checking and came face to face with a smiling ginger holding up a take-out bag.

"Hi Rose! Cute PJs," Kaoru said through a Cheshire grin. She closed the door on his face. "Heeeeey," he whined. "You have to eat."

"No," she said through the door.

"That's fine," he said cheerily. "I only got enough for Hikaru and I anyway. See you later!"

Rose looked through the peephole and he was gone. What the heck? Those stupid boys had made her get out of bed twice today for no reason. If she didn't know bett--- no, she did know better and those tricky jerks were plotting against her. They were purposefully getting her out of bed and making her move around.

What a pair of idiots. Did they think they could fight her depression by making her barely move - as if she couldn't wallow in all the time between? She wasn't going to let them get the best of her. Rose huffed as she picked up her phone and dialed. An all-too-sweet voiced answered after only the first ring.

"Hello Rose," Hikaru sang.

"Cut the crap Hitachiin and just leave me alone," she said. "You can't try to control my life like this."

"You didn't like the flowers," he asked innocently. "Would you like us to send a different kind tomorrow to make up for it? Which do you like better, daffodils or carnations?"

It was at this point that Rose started banging the phone against her head in frustration and hit end on the call. She didn't have the energy to deal with him. She closed her eyes and hurriedly shut her phone off to avoid anymore unnecessary annoyances. Rose climbed right back into bed and began to grumble to herself about how annoying those twins were, telling herself it would have been better to have never taken an interest in that stupid Grumpy Face.

Still, though, as she fell asleep there was a certain sense of peace about her. Instead of the biting insults from Lance that had been endlessly digging at her, she could hear Kaoru begging her to not give up.

Chapter Text

The next few days played through the same trope for Rose as she shut the world out. As hard as she tried to make a barrier out of her comforter and a sacred island of calm out of her bed, Hikaru and Kaoru constantly broke through. Each day they filled her phone's inbox with messages and her dorm room now looked like a floral boutique. It had been a good week for that florist, at least.

Much to her chagrin, those boys were making the exact sort of impact they had intended. Even though those Hitachiins were, in fact, the most annoying pair of brothers Rose had ever had the misfortune to encounter, their care and commitment hadn't gone unnoticed. They had made such an impact over the week that she decided to keep her phone on, even if she didn't answer every call — and to them, that was progress.

By Thursday evening Rose began to feel restless and, honestly, a little disappointed in herself. It was a tough emotional battle that was raging inside her head — the desire to seclude because of trauma against the self realization of how much time she wasting by remaining in bed. As if the aftermath of the event wasn't enough to handle on its own.

As Hikaru and Kaoru kept pestering her, Rose half wondered why they even bothered. She felt completely worthless while at the same time she was angry at herself for feeling that way. With such chaos raining down inside her, was there even anything left to care for?

A knock on her door brought her out of the dark abyss and she rolled her eyes as she pushed off of her bed. No doubt a ginger was waiting outside her door with some lame excuse for checking up on her. She jumped back a little in surprise when she opened the door to a towering man.

"Mori?"

"I brought your assignments," he said, holding them out to her. "You've missed two classes. I thought you'd want to catch up before class tomorrow."

Words refused to form on Rose's tongue as she reached out and took the papers from her classmate's hand. Did the twins send him to check on her? Did they tell him what had happened? Had he been collecting the assignments for her all week? Why was he so sure she'd be back tomorrow?

"Uhh, uhm, th-thank you," she stuttered.

He reached out and ruffled her hair. "No problem," he said and then turned away. He didn't make it two steps before he paused, as if thinking something over, and turned around.

"See you tomorrow," he said before turning and walking down the hall.

Rose stepped back into her room and placed the papers on her desk. She stared at them a while, still standing behind her desk chair. They were just assignments — for one class — but right now they signified so much more. If she sat down and did them, then she was going to class tomorrow, but if she turned out her lamp and went back to bed, she could keep hiding from the world.

A heavy sigh escaped her as she slowly sat down in her chair and leafed through the papers. She was just looking. Looking at them didn't mean she was going to do them. Her hands moved smoothly over the papers as her dark eyes moved back and forth over their contents, analyzing how much work she'd have ahead of her. Just before she reached the last page a small, light blue paper fluttered out from between the pages and landed on her floor.

Curiosity filled her eyes as she stared at the unexpected addition to her homework. She bent down, picked it off the floor and turned it around in search of some explanation. On the lined side of the stationary was a handwritten note with two distinct handwritings scrawled across it.

 

In very meticulous writing read: "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear. -FDR"

A personal note sat below it, in a very messy and flowery penmanship.

Ro-Chan, Hika-Chan and Kao-Chan won't tell us what's going on, but Takashi and I know you wouldn't miss class for a small reason. We just wanted to let you know that you have us looking out for you. Things may be hard right now, but that doesn't mean they won't get better.

Just remember, you don't have to be perfect to face the world. You can hurt and still move forward. Being in pain doesn't make you any less of a person.

Have courage.

- <3 Honey & Mori

 

Those idiots, Rose thought as she brushed away the tears that were slowly rolling down her cheeks. Who asked them to butt in?

Without thinking, Rose set the note on the top right corner of her desk and took up a pencil in her right hand. She set to work on the top paper in her stack and kept going through the sheets until her eyelids began to droop.

Her back ached a bit and she sat up straight, pushing her arms above her head in a mild stretch. Looking over at the clock, she realized it was just past midnight. A small smile snuck its way onto her face. There was an absurd amount of comfort in the idea that she had gotten lost in the work — like she was already back to her old ways.

But as soon as the assignments were over and her mind was free to roam, the dread set back in. It wasn't like she was under the impression, before, that the world was a safe place, but experiencing that world yourself was a whole different monster than considering the possibility of it.

A part of her knew her monster was going to follow her around for the rest of her life. This wasn't something you just got over. She was going to be damned, though, if she was going to let a selfish jackass and his roaming hands get in the way of her future. He'd be lucky to even be a footnote in the story of her success.

Rose looked at the clock one last time and grabbed her phone. She set an alarm for the first time in several days and tucked herself into her bed. She was going to face tomorrow with determination.

If she couldn't push away the pain, then she would let it fuel her.

Just as she was about to give into sleep, her phone vibrated in her hand. Groaning, she raised her head slightly and looked at the message on her screen.

We're taking you to dinner tomorrow night. Be ready by 7 pm. Wear something nice. -H & K,/div>

"Typical," Rose murmured and laid her head down. For the first time that week, it was a restful sleep.

Chapter Text

Rose had gone to bed with extreme determination the night before, but when she had finally dressed and packed her bag to attend class on Friday morning, she had a nagging urge to turn back to her bed and cry into her pillow. As she opened her dorm door, she could see it in her head: dropping her bag on the floor, slamming the door and running dramatically to her real, true love, arms outstretched. Oh bed, she would exclaim, you're the only one who has never hurt me! Let's be together forever.

A smile crossed her face at the thought, but she shook it away as she closed the door behind her and faced the day the best she could. The day of classes was only half of the battle she was going to face that day. She still had to find a way to finagle her way out of dinner.

Maybe, if she just ignored their text message all day, then she wouldn't have to go. She never actually opened the message — merely looked at the notification on her phone — so as far as they knew she hadn't even read it. Right? Right...

Rose wasn't sure how she had gotten into the habit of thinking that ignoring her problems would make them go away. It was like she was treating her inner self as an infant and she was playing a never ending game of peek-a-boo. If she put her hands up in front of her eyes, the world disappeared.

The problem with that, though, was that eventually the hands had to come back down and the world was hiding behind, ready to surprise her into a stupor.

And really, she knew there wasn't such a thing as ignoring the Hitachiins. She knew what the outcome would be without even having to think about it. Predicting the chaos of those two was already second nature.

She immediately attacked her closet when she returned from classes and quickly turned her dorm room into a disaster zone. Rose wasn't entirely aware of the world those crazy twins came from and she couldn't even begin to fathom what those two would consider "nice."

Frustration would be an understatement for the way she felt at that moment. How dare they try to dictate to her. How dare they! She had half a mind to throw on her worst pair of jeans, a band t-shirt and her vans and leave for dinner without her hair brushed. It would serve them right!

A knock at the door broke her out of her scheming, however. She shot a panicked look at her clock in fear that it was already 7 pm, but quickly chided herself for being so foolish. Classes had just ended. There was no way she had spent four hours tearing through her wardrobe.

With a hint of irritation she opened the door, not quite sure what she was expecting. Whatever the range of possibilities her brain could conjure up for what could be waiting on the other side of the door, the reality was entirely different.

In front of her stood a very short blonde wearing a smile that could melt away icebergs. His eyes lit up the moment Rose opened the door and he swayed with excitement, his hands behind his back, as she recognized him.

"Hello Honey," she said, exasperated.

"Hi Ro-Chan! I bet you're surprised to see me," he said excitedly. "I hope you liked our note. Takashi said you were at class today and ... I'm really proud of you Ro-Chan."

Rose's face softened. She definitely wasn't expecting Mori's roommate to show up at her door, but after the note they had sent yesterday, she felt friendship with the small college freshman wasn't unwarranted.

Truthfully, she wasn't sure how to react. After everything that had happened it just felt so good to hear that someone was proud of her for getting up today. Her body movements were beyond her control as she dropped to her knees and pulled Honey into a hug. "Thank you," she whispered before warm tears streamed down her cheeks.

Honey rubbed her back softly as he felt her heave with sobs. He had no idea what was going on Rose's life but he instantly felt a need to comfort her. When Hika-Chan and Kao-Chan had come to he and Mori the other day, asking if Rose had been to class, he had seen the concern all over their faces. When they left, he saw that concern mirrored on Takashi's.

It had been his cousin's idea to slip a note into Rose's homework, but Takashi had never been very good with his words. Honey felt like his heart was going to burst as he watched his cousin struggle over what to say and he suddenly felt the enormity of the situation. Although he had only met Rose briefly, on a few occasions, he knew what type of girl she was - the girl with chocolate eyes who was never afraid to meet someone's gaze, who had such fierce determination and who smiled so freely. She walked through the world thinking she was invisible when instead every person she met felt like she had turned their dried sticks to gold.

Without a doubt, he had to help. So, he prepared the note with Takashi and sent him alone, knowing the young brunette trusted him most. Although he's quiet, Takashi understands people better than anyone and Honey was confident his cousin could get through to Rose.

Today, though, he was sent on a solo mission from Hikaru: use the lolita charm and deliver a gift. The plan was simple enough, though he had been warned that the target may be severely annoyed. None of them had planned for her to break down on the lolita though and Honey felt an almost uncontainable rage in his heart as he tried to comfort her. What kind of monster would do this, he thought.

Rose felt extremely embarrassed as she cried on Honey's shoulder. It was just like her to lose it with a boy she barely knew, but he was a kind boy and she knew she was safe with him.

"I'm so sorry Honey," she said, pushing away from him and brushing her knuckles across her face quickly to dry the tears. "I didn't mean to break down in front of you."

"It's okay Ro-Chan. You don't have to be strong all the time," Honey replied with a closed eye smile.

Her eyes immediately darted to the floor in shame as she pushed herself up again. She was so weak lately. She kept her eyes glued to the dirty hallway carpet, unable to look back at the smiling blonde. It was then that she noticed the box to the right of his feet.

"Uhm, Honey," she said softly. "Why are you here?"

"Oh!" He said excitedly, reaching down and picking up the box. It looked extremely large in his small arms and Rose smiled at the site. "I brought you a gift from Hika-Chan. He said you would need it for tonight."

Rose eyed the box wearily. "I don't know what you're talking about," she said flatly.

"He said you'd say something like that," Honey giggled handing the box over to her.

"Did he?"

"Mhmmm and he told me to remind you to be ready by 7, okay?"

An exasperated sigh escaped from Rose's mouth. What's with all these bossy Japanese boys?

"You guys just don't take no for an answer do you," she asked.

"Nuh-uh," Honey replied shaking his head back and forth with a smile. "Bye now, Ro-Chan"

He left before she could fight him and they both knew it. Rose stared down at the box in her hands, squinting at it, and turned back to her room. She shut the door behind her by kicking it with her left leg, never taking her eyes off the gift.

Setting it down on the bed, she turned toward her desk and began searching through her backpack for her keys — the only sharp object she had in her room. Applying pressure to the top of her house key, she dragged it across the clear tape on the fold of the white box. She was both anxious and feeling annoyed at the thought of what it could hold.

Pushing apart the white tissue paper inside, her eyes landed on a pink note sitting atop a folded black dress. She picked up the note first and read it.

"Something nice."

That boy, she thought as she pulled out the dress. It was simple but beautiful — nicer than almost any other piece of clothing she had ever owned. Her hands played with the fabric as she looked it over. For a moment she considered throwing it back in the box and re-covering it with the tissue paper.

Red hot anger coursed through her. She wasn't some doll Hikaru could just dress up when he felt like it. She couldn't be told what to do, but at the same time she felt guilty. She wasn't worthy of such a nice gift. Her shoulders slumped as she thought about it more. It didn't matter in the end, really. It wasn't like she had a choice in the matter. And it was, kind of, a nice gesture.

Instead of wasting more time thinking it over, she prepared herself for the oncoming storm - slipping into the dress, adjusting it, brushing her hair, giving herself pep talks, and adjusting the dress more. As 7 o'clock drew nearer the urge inside of her to shed the beautiful dress and retreat to her bed grew stronger.

That stupid Grumpy Face. That stupid Ginger. Why couldn't they just leave her alone?

Right at 7, there were double knocks on her door. She opened it, bag in hand, and faced the twins.

"Hey Flower Girl, you look nice," Hikaru said lightly and Rose scoffed a little.

"Really? Thanks!," she said with fake enthusiasm. "I was wracked with nerves all day thinking about what to wear and tried on dozens of dresses before deciding on this old thing. I hope it meets your standards."

She held on to the end of her skirt with her hands and twirled from side to side. Hikaru smirked at her as Kaoru looked at her in surprise. He wasn't in on the joke and was frankly very confused how Rose got a hold of his design. He turned to his brother, searching for answers.

"Calm down Rose," Hikaru said through a big smile. "You'd hate to insult the designer to his face."

Rose paled a little before looking over at a sheepish Kaoru. That poor Ginger, he had nothing to do with this. She stamped her foot down a little as she turned back to Hikaru.

"God! I hate you Hikaru Hitachiin," she screamed before turning and stomping down the hall. Hikaru chuckled to himself a little, placing his hands in his pockets and turning to his brother.

"Your design makes her look good," he said.

Kaoru couldn't help thinking his brother had meant that the other way around, but he smiled and shrugged.

"You could have at least warned me," he said and turned to follow Rose out of the building.

Chapter Text

Rose gasped as the chilly December air hit her in the face. She hadn't been thinking — running away like that — and she wasn't prepared for winter's kiss the second she stepped out of the building. She shivered as she stood on the stoop of the building and considered her options.

Who was she kidding? There weren't any options. She was too proud to turn back now. Instead she walked down a few steps and sat with her arms wrapped around herself, shivering. Then, she heard the building door open and shut lightly before a single pair of footsteps made their way toward her.

A gray coat was placed around her shoulders before its owner sat next to her. She stiffened a little as she felt his head rest on her shoulder.

"I didn't know he sent it," Kaoru mumbled.

"It's a lovely dress," Rose offered. "It's not your fault your brother is a tyrant."

Kaoru let out a small laugh as he lifted his head off her shoulder and turned to face her.

"He means well," he said, seriously. He had planned to defend his brother further but, of all things, his brother was terrible at timing. At that moment, he blast through the door with a frown on his face.

"Ran away to get cozy with each other?" he spat at the two. Rose's hard face cracked instantly as she laughed at the absurdity of the moment.

"First it was Mori and now it's your brother. I'm just so close with everyone but you. Aren't I," Rose chided. "That's some inferiority complex you've got there, Hitachiin."

She pushed herself up from the cold concrete and handed Kaoru back his coat with a smile. Then, she turned to Hikaru with a frown. She impulsively reached up and pressed down the crease in his brow.

"Lighten up," she whispered and dropped her hand by her side. Shivering a little, she walked toward the door. "I'm going to grab my coat and then we can go, okay?"

As she disappeared through the door, Kaoru turned to his brother with a huge smile on his face.

"She sees right through you Hikaru," he joked. "It must drive you crazy."

"Shut up," Hikaru mumbled, pushing his brother lightly.

"You see right through her too, though. How did you know that pissing her off would help," the younger twin asked, filled with curiosity. Despite the darkness of the winter evening, the red that crept up Hikaru's face was clearly visible.

"I wasn't intentionally trying to make her mad," Hikaru grumbled and his brother couldn't hold in his laughter, clutching at his stomach in an attempt to not fall over.

"You're. So. Hopeless," Kaoru said through laughs as his brother pushed at him with his left hand.

When Rose returned she opened the door to the sight of a pair of brothers swinging arms at each other. They continued on with their minor spar until she started coughing from trying to hold in her laughter. Surprised by her presence, the two instantly froze with their hands still grabbing on to each other. Smiling, Rose walked down the steps and then between the pair, forcing them apart.

"Come along boys," she said. Hikaru and Kaoru looked at each other for a moment before falling in line behind Rose.

"Roooooose," Kaoru called to her with a sly voice.

"You don't know where we're going," Hikaru said, finishing his brother's thought.

"Oh, uhm.." Rose stuttered, stopping in her tracks. "Right... Well, lead the way Ginger!"

She pulled on Kaoru's arm and used the momentum to pull him in front of her, bringing him to the head of their trio. As Kaoru started leading the way, Rose slowed her pace slightly to move herself to Hikaru's side. Matching his pace, she tugged at his coat sleeve lightly in an attempt to get his attention.

"Hey," she whispered to him softly as he looked down at her. "Thanks."

"For what," he said with a smirk, almost as if he was pushing her to list all the things she was thankful for. Rose felt a sudden urge to walk away from him, but instead she turned her face forward to break eye contact with him. She let the question hang in the air for a few seconds as she thought about what she was actually thankful for.

"For not letting me be alone," she said. "I'm not really used to people sticking around."

Rose looked up at him and gave him a thankful smile. The smile was contagious making his lips upturn as he looked down at her and then proceeded to ruffle her hair. A warm feeling passed between them as they shared the soft moment.

So this is what real friendship feels like, Rose thought. Looping her arm through Hikaru's, Rose pulled him to match pace with his brother and placed herself between them. As she looped her left arm through Kaoru's right, she felt an overwhelming sense of calm wash over her. How weird it felt — to feel safe between two boys who annoyed her so much. Two boys she barely knew.

But, at the same time, it was the first time she felt safe all week.

Just a few minutes later their walk in the brisk December air was finished and Rose felt her body sigh with delight as the trio entered into the warm and fragrant restaurant. It was like she was being hugged by a loving Italian mother.

They were shown to their seats right away and Rose couldn't help but marvel at the entire experience. Never before had she been to a restaurant that had chandeliers on the ceiling, marbled walls with hand painted masterpieces and such large, plush seating. If this bistro was an Italian mother, then she must be quite affluent.

The twins looked on with amusement as Rose's wide eyes took in every aspect of the room. She was so entranced that she didn't notice the waiter calling out for her drink order until Hikaru flicked her ear with a mild laugh. Her entire body turned toward him in surprise as she was brought back to the realm of the cognizant.

"Your drink, miss?" The waiter asked again.

"Oh, uhm...water?" she replied lightly.

"How boring," the twins said together as the waiter walked away.

"You don't have to hold back," Hikaru said matter-of-factly.

"Yeah, we're paying for everything," Kaoru added.

Rose shrugged at the pair, trying to ignore their devious smirks, and set her eyes upon the menu. As her eyes moved back and forth over the laminated, double sided menu she silently thanked her foster father for teaching her the merits of a killer poker face. If she hadn't learned that particular skill, she's certain her eyes would have been popping out of her head at the sight of the large numbers printed in small font next to the dishes that all had names far too complicated for her to work out.

Just who exactly were these boys, she screamed in her head. To bring her to a place like this without a second thought?

In the end, her poker face wasn't as solid as she thought. Hikaru and Kaoru were growing red in the face due to the pressure inside their heads becoming far too great while they watched her. Holding in such boisterous laughter was quite a feat.

"I think Rose saw a ghost," Hikaru remarked with a smirk.

Yeah, the ghost of your wallet, Rose thought before letting out a small laugh. "Oh, no. I'm just not sure what to get. After all, I'm sure your kindness comes with some kind of price."

She shot a sly smirk at Hikaru before turning her eyes back down to the menu. Soon enough, the sharp dressed waiter returned with their drinks, took their orders and returned to the back of the room to input their selections into the computer.

A, not entirely, uncomfortable silence fell over the table while Rose began sipping lightly at her water. She took the opportunity to discreetly look over her tablemates. For a pair of mischievous punks, they cleaned up rather well — Hikaru in navy blue slacks, a crisp white button up and a gray tie while Kaoru sported similar gray slacks and a navy blue tie.

As Rose put her glass down she smiled in an almost-involuntarily mischievousness — wondering if they planned their outfits together like an overly-attached couple.

"You guys look nice," Rose said and the twins shared a look.

"Like what you see," they asked together with matching grins. Rose scoffed a little.

"Would you cry if I said no," she shot back at the pair before taking another sip of her water.

"Aw, Rose is so mean," Kaoru whined through the beginnings of crocodile tears. Hikaru immediately reached out toward his brother and held Kaoru's face close to his own.

"Don't worry Kaoru, I won't let the nasty lady hurt you," he said dramatically and Rose nearly spit out her water. What the actual f---. Rose's mind went blank in shock and the boys snuck a peek at her out of the corner of their eyes.

Her face was a masterpiece of confusion — somewhere between looking like she had choked on a particularly sour candy and walking in on her foster parents in the bedroom on their anniversary night. It wasn't the reaction the twins had been expecting. It was so much better. They quickly broke apart, wheezing with laughter.

Rose realized she'd been had and made a mad attempt to compose herself. Her mouth formed into a tight scowl and she narrowed her eyes at them.

"I never knew this is what having a real sibling was like," she said, unamused.

Chapter Text

It was entirely too early to be awake. The sky was still in a deep state of purple and the sun itself was only just considering to start its day. The whole world was draped in the haze of not getting enough sleep and Rose decided wholeheartedly, staring at the back-lit signs in front of her, that it was much too early to deal with the Hitachiin's shenanigans.

It was only days ago that she had been sitting at a much-too-posh Italian restaurant, staring on in horror as a pair of similar but different boys used their voodoo magic to lull her into a stupor. It was like she blinked and suddenly, finals were over, her bags were packed and she was standing outside an air terminal at Boston Logan International.

She hadn't even planned on going home, but it wasn't like the Hitachiins cared much for plans. Or personal space for that matter. They were free spirits in a way she could never be and when they realized that Rose would be alone for Christmas they found themselves on the brink of not needing the fake tears they always kept hidden away in their pockets.

The dinner hadn't gone exactly as rehearsed for the Hitachiins but, then again, nothing with Rose ever really did. It was like she held the immunization to their scheming ways and their onslaught of annoyance left mere scratches where there should be flesh wounds. Honestly, they were trying their best to be well-behaved and understanding friends, but being considerate was a new skill for the brothers and their skill bar was running low on mana after an entire week of (attempting at) playing nice.

They had strong regards for Rose — one could even liken it to affection if they kept their voice low and didn't let the Hitachiins catch on — but enjoying having someone around didn't change the fact that the pair of them were innately bored individuals. To put it simply, they were always looking for ways to make any situation more fun.

When their twincest shtick only yielded, yet another, sarcastic remark they found themselves scrambling for some other way to get under her skin. How naive of them to assume they would get the results they desired with only one trick up their sleeves, but, well, you know what they say about assuming.

It was then that each brother realized, at the same time as is typical of those two, that they really didn't know that much about their short-tempered companion. They immediately set out to mine as many personal details out of her as they possibly could.

To say that Rose had unparalleled grace under pressure would be giving her too much credit, but she was rather skilled at keeping the Hitachiin boys in line. As the two double teamed her, so to speak, with incessant questions about her bygone days, Rose stood firm as a dam refusing to let anything but a trickle of information pass from her river of sorrows. But Hikaru and Kaoru have almost always been known for being crafty, and eventually, after bemoaning the woes of constantly being alone at Christmas, she cracked.

Details she never wanted to see the light of day started pouring out — how she didn't even know the names of her real parents, that she spent her first eight or so Christmases in eight different places without so much as a cheery greeting sent her way, how confused she was the first time she ever got a yuletide gift from a smiling Molly and Todd and how entirely miserable she had been last year as she spent the holiday away from them. It left her teary-eyed, confused and wondering what, exactly, had happened.

And that was how she ended that night, in a daze, outside her dorm room door with a stomach full of risotto and a promise from two mischievous boys that she was going to be home for Christmas. At the time she had thought the two were just so overcome with emotion (and perhaps swayed by their own overly-used crocodile tears) that they were making hollow promises to a girl who had learned to stop dreaming long ago.

But when finals were over and Rose, sighing with relief, had tucked herself fully into her bed, thinking that was exactly how she wanted to spend the entire winter break, there was a knock on her door and two starry-eyed twins were waiting behind it to whisk her away. She wasn't ready, but they were prepared for that.

They flew into her room, the second she opened the door, and dramatically started throwing clothes into the suitcase they had conveniently brought with them. They were so deep into their mission of mischief that they didn't even take the time to make snide remarks about her clothes.

Those twins were in and out like a fast moving hurricane, blowing into Rose's room, spinning her about and leaving her seeing stars. Everything before her became a blur — forcing her into such a state of confusion that she was hardly aware of being pushed out of her room, down the hall and into a waiting town car.

She began mentally chiding herself when her butt hit the plush leather and she realized she had been effectively kidnapped without putting up even an ounce of a fight. Rose was so lost in her self-scolding that time became irrelevant and by the time the droning on of the two overly excited brothers managed to penetrate the walls of her personal thought palace, she was already standing outside the private Signature terminal, over-sized purse in hand.

They never even mentioned a private jet, she grumbled to herself as she pushed her way into the glass and steel building. Relief coursed through her body as she entered through the door, making her all too aware that she had been cold, and she allowed herself to assess her surroundings.

This was a much different experience to what she was used to at Boston Logan. There were no lines, far fewer government employees in blue button downs and far more business suits and expensive labels hung from the clientele. Airports, to Rose, were the ultimate display of the human condition. On the runways stood one of the finest inventions known to man — the kind that could take these fragile, dream-filled creatures to the skies — but inside the building those humans were reduced to the worst of their personalities as they filed through line after line, waiting with tapping feet and fidgeting hands, only to sit and ignore everything around them.

Rose enjoyed the juxtaposition. She loved to just sit and watch the world around her move. This terminal was a different story, though. While she was expecting the usual waits and grump faces, it seemed the rich really do live a different life and she was out of the terminal after only 10 minutes as she was ushered to a small, white jet.

Wonder filled her mind as she paused at the bottom of the steps and her hesitation allowed her escorts the time to rejoin her. Without warning, Rose felt an arm lean on each of her shoulders.

"Well...," Hikaru started.

"What do you think," Kaoru finished.

Rose didn't take her eyes off the stairway up into the small plane as she answered.

"I've never seen a personal jet before," she said softly. "Is it yours?"

Hikaru and Kaoru each turned their head toward hers in surprise. Private planes were just a part of life as far as they were concerned. How could she have never seen one before?

"This is our smaller plane," Kaoru explained.

"We asked mother to send it over since there weren't any decent first class tickets from here to Virginia," Hikaru continued.

They were so nonchalant about the entire thing. As if having a plane sent from Japan wasn't a big deal at all. And what a waste of fuel, she thought. She really couldn't understand them at all. Wait, this is the smaller one?!

"I don't see what the big deal is. We could have just flown coach," she said simply before shrugging the boys off and walking up into the plane. She kept a straight look on her face, not wanting to give any emotion away, but the mask fell the moment the interior came into focus. Eyes wide, she stopped in place and thought to herself: having this much money should be illegal.

Chapter Text

The plane ride home had been, to put it briefly, an experience.

The moment she sat down, a doe-eyed stewardess was at her side asking "Miss Michaels" if there was anything she could get for her. Rose, very noticeably put off by the fact that a complete stranger both knew her name and was smiling at her so wide, shot a bewildered look at the Hitachiins before shaking her head vigorously and turning away from the woman.

For the entirety of the two hour flight, Hikaru and Kaoru switched places next to Rose, as the aisles were only two seats wide, while the other took up residence behind her. Neither stopped talking for the duration, asking questions with such rapid fire that she would forget two or three as she answered one. Forgetting was also an effective strategy to ignore unpleasant inquiries as well — though to be honest, there were some questions that she just couldn't answer.

Hikaru and Kaoru were unabashed and shameless in their interrogation (though they didn't think as much as they aren't well accustomed to social cues). Any question that popped into their minds, they asked and Rose soon began to realize that their kindness came with a price: her privacy. They were on a mission to uncover everything they could about this girl who had unexpectedly found her way into their lives and Rose had half a mind to tell them their attempts were in vain. They could ask all they wanted; she didn't have the answers they were looking for.

But some of the questions were easy enough and, after being spoiled with snacks she could never afford, she was, maybe a little, buttered up. So when they asked about her foster parents she was happy enough to brag about the caring people who took her in, about their mundane but inspiring careers, and about how they taught her what being loved felt like.

"She can see straight through people," Rose said on the plane about her foster mother. "After so many years working in social services, she just has this uncanny ability to just know."

There was a different feel to the air around them when Rose spoke about her parents. It was the first time either brother had seen those chocolate eyes light up in such a way and, as they snuck a quick look at each other, they had the distinct feeling that they were catching a glimpse of a completely different Rose. What a complex flower.

However, as Kyoya would say, the beauty of such moments are fleeting and the fragile instant was shattered by an announcement from the flight attendant that they were about to begin their descent to Richmond. The shine in Rose's eyes dulled as anxiousness filled her heart.

On the other hand, Hikaru and Kaoru buckled themselves back into their seats with elevated anticipation. Excitement was coursing through their veins as the Richmond skyline peaked through the overcast sky and they knew they were just that much closer to the end goal: Rose's home.

The moment they were allowed to move around again, the twins had grabbed Rose by each arm and quickly (and literally) dragged her out of the plane and into the Richmond Jet Center. In all honesty, there was no need for them to be so hasty as Rose's mother had never been to that part of the airport before and had promptly gotten lost.

Instead of whisking themselves away immediately off to the Richard's, the trio was stuck waiting inside the private terminal (two of them sulking while laying casually across several chairs). It wasn't until 20 minutes later that Molly's dirty blonde head popped through the automatic sliding doors and called Rose's name that the boys finally jumped out of their exaggerated stupor, and raced to Rose's side to meet her foster mother.

"You boys best get your arms off my daughter," Molly said fiercely, narrowing her eyes at the twins and revelling in the way their composure faltered. There was tension in the air as the Hitachiins slowly backed away from Rose and let their arms fall to their sides.

Molly had surprised even herself with the tone that rolled out of her throat and she lost her composure much quicker than she intended. Her stern face cracked and her entire body erupted in laughter as Rose looked on with a typical teenager stare.

"Ahhhaha, I'm sorry. I couldn't help myself," Molly said, holding her arms across her stomach. "I wanted to see their shocked little faces."

She took a few deep breaths, willing herself to quell the hysterics inside her, and straightened out her back.

"I'm Molly, Rose's mother," she said, moving forward and pulling the boys into a tight hug. "It's very nice to meet you both."

Hikaru and Kaoru's bodies were slack against Molly's as she hugged them tightly. They were a bit bewildered by the whole experience, not knowing what to think. But, you can never keep a good Hitachiin down and they were quick to adjust to the situation.

"We're excited to meet you Mrs. Richards," the raven-haired twin said with a wide smile. "I'm Kaoru."

"And I'm Hikaru," the redhead stated.

"Ahhhh, you're such nice boys," Molly said warmly as she released them from her embrace. "Thank you so much for bringing my Rose home for the holidays!"

"They're not as nice as they'd like you to believe," Rose huffed while grabbing Hikaru by his sleeve. "This one is Hikaru, not Kaoru. And visa-versa."

Sheepish smiles flickered across the twin's faces. This was a much easier trick before Hikaru dyed his hair. The corners of Molly's smile faltered slightly before she let out a small laugh.

"Troublemakers, huh? Well, we're going to have a great time, then, won't we Rose," she said, turning to her foster daughter to grab her arm and start leading her out the exit. Concern briefly flickered across her face as she looked down at the brunette, who was holding herself in such a different manner than she had last seen.

During the car ride home Molly noticed Rose was uncharacteristically quiet. Her foster daughter had a knack for filling up the empty space with her passions. The young woman had grown up substituting happiness and love for goals and fantasies and, although Rose tried desperately to keep it bottled in, her determination and excitement often bubbled through to reflect in the way she spoke and the way she walked through the world.

Her silence was striking. The way she looked out the window of the car, as if looking at the familiar drive for the first time, was so devoid of emotion. Molly already knew.

On the other hand, the two hyperactive boys in the back seat were talking so much Molly was concerned they weren't taking enough time to breathe. Everything peaked their interest. Everything caught their eye. Everything, even the cows, was extraordinary in their eyes. Rose wouldn't have had the chance to speak if she wanted to, anyway.

In total, the drive from the airport only lasted 30 minutes and, to Rose, it didn't last nearly long enough for any real mental preparation to occur. She was unprepared to walk through the door and face the only home that had ever brought her any comfort. It was as if the building was a sanctuary and, now, she felt too sullied to enter.

Hikaru and Kaoru, however, took no notice of Rose's reverence and had no qualms about breaking her trance.

"It's even smaller than I thought it would be," Hikaru said after exiting the car and standing next to Rose, who was already outside the vehicle.

Kaoru chuckled lightly while shaking his head at his brother. You'd think his brother would have learned his lesson about flippantly speaking his mind. Just as he walked up to his brother's side and leaned on Hikaru's shoulder with his right arm, Rose turned to the older twin with fire in her eyes.

"Don't you have your own family to spend the holidays with," she spat.

"Of course we do," Kaoru answered. "We'll go home on the 24th."

"But until then, this will be a lot more fun than going home," Hikaru said, completing their shared thought.

Rose's shoulders slumped in resignation at the same time that Molly slid up next to her with a large smile on her face.

"You boys can stay as long as you like! I'm so grateful that you brought Rose home to us for Christmas," she said jovially as she threw her arms around her foster daughter. Molly kept a tight embrace around Rose's shoulders — tight enough to notice the way the short brunette tensed, just slightly, at her touch. Rose tried to play it off as surprise, jumping a little, but she wasn't fast enough. Her foster mother noticed.

Molly always noticed.

Slowly, she removed her arms from Rose, casting a short, but discerning, glance at her face before walking on into the house. The trio of students followed suit — two of them much more excited than the other.

Bags were dropped just inside the door the moment they arrived inside and Rose instantly threw herself on the couch and covered her eyes with her left arm. It was going to be an incredibly long week. Meanwhile, Hikaru and Kaoru were led to a pair of swivel topped bar stools that were tucked underneath the kitchen island. Molly, assuming her motherly role, went immediately to the refrigerator and pulled out a pitcher of lemonade as she told the boys to sit down.

"Rose, darling, do you want anything to eat," Molly asked, peeking her head around the refrigerator door only to see Rose's brown hair hanging over the arm of the smaller sofa and her feet (notably free of shoes) resting on the edge of the opposite arm.

"Mmrrphhh," was her only response. Her arms were holding a throw pillow lightly over her head. Molly nodded, somehow satisfied with her answer, (Chalk it up to motherly decoding?) and emerged from the fridge with the pitcher and a plate of cake.

"I hope you don't plan to spend the day on the couch," Molly teased. "You're being quite inconsiderate of your guests."

"I'm sorry," Rose said sitting up. "But in all the chaos, it seems those two forgot to pack my enthusiasm."

Rose pushed herself off the couch and lazily made her way over to the open, third bar stool before jumping atop it and instantly pushing herself from right to left on its swivel. The two boys beside her snickered, only now bearing witness to a side of Rose that didn't breathe the air of being soundly thought through.

Molly served the twins each a slice of chilled cake before turning to her daughter, whose head was bobbing between states of consciousness, with a slight frown.

"You must be tired. Why don't you go take a nice shower. I'm sure that will perk you up," she said with a sweet smile.

"Mhph," Rose toned, nodding lightly before hopping off her stool and turning toward the guest bathroom.

All three watched as the chocolate brown head of hair disappeared into the hallway restroom with fond smiles on their faces. Hikaru and Kaoru turned to each other with satisfied grins — they were finally in the castle and between them stood an air of self satisfaction. The game was afoot and delight was radiating in their hearts so loud it could practically be heard from their smiles.

That all ended when, without warning, Molly snapped her head toward the grinning boys with fierce determination in her eyes and a tone in her voice that could only be likened to the growl of a mama bear.

"So which one of you boys is going to tell me what happened to my daughter."

Chapter Text

If they had been anywhere but Rose's house, Hikaru and Kaoru would have broken into crocodile tears. Their famous waterworks could quell the anger of any beast and make the heart of any maiden swoon. Rose's foster mother, on the other hand, looked like the type of woman who could see right through them.

Molly was dangerous and unlike any mother figure they had ever met.

Their own mother, while beautiful, sophisticated and loving, was not around often. She loved her red-headed monsters with all her heart and dreaded the day they would ultimately leave her, but that didn't change who she was and what she did. She was away often — too often — and that didn't leave her two devils with much guidance or structure.

As far as the twins were concerned, they were allowed to do whatever they pleased as long as it didn't tarnish the Hitachiin reputation or get in the way of their parents' work. They were hardly scolded (though that could be due to their early affinity for crocodile tears and not completely because of a lack of parenting) and were more than used to getting their way. They were masters of manipulation who were often left alone to use their skills.

Now, facing the foreboding dirty blonde, with one hand on her hip and the other firmly placed on the bar top, Hikaru and Kaoru came to realize they have never found mothers challenging up to that point. Staring into her eyes, with admittedly a little fear fluttering in their chests, they were struck with sudden clarity.

Yuzuha Hitachiin was a deity. She ruled from on high, with great distance, using untouchable power and unquestioned laws.

Molly Richards was a war-tested queen.

The twins were facing odds the like of which they had never seen and, between them, they knew they were going to have to resort to tactics they'd never dared tried to use with an adult: telling the truth. And, if they tried to think about it rationally, Rose had never explicitly told them not to tell her foster mother anything — and Molly probably had a right to know. Right?

Hikaru and Kaoru, who are known for being so precisely in sync, choked down simultaneous hard gulps, shot a wide-eyed look at each other and then took turns explaining what they knew to the queen. Molly was extremely calm as she listened to Hikaru recount that night in alley and when it was over, she reached over the bar, squeezed a hand of each of the brothers lightly while breathing out a light thank you, turned back toward the kitchen and began tidying up.

The twins could only see her back as she whisked herself around the kitchen and because of that they would have said she was acting freakishly calm. They couldn't see how tight she was holding her hands around the sponge or how frantically she was searching for something to clean - to occupy her mind.

Moments later, a refreshed Rose stepped out of the hallway bathroom and walked herself back to the empty bar stool. She smiled at the boys as she sat down and swiveled her seat toward them.

"Have you boys been torturing my foster mother," she asked them teasingly. Hikaru and Kaoru shot a knowing glance between themselves, so brief that no one aside from them would have known they were communicating, and wide grins spread across their faces.

"Well it was just so quiet in here," Hikaru said.

"That we had to find something to entertain ourselves with," Kaoru finished.

Molly turned back toward the trio, sufficiently out of the kitchen to clean, and plastered on her motherly smile.

"Don't you worry boys, it won't be quiet for long. As soon as 3:30 hits, this house will be the loudest one on the block," she said.

"Why 3:30," Kaoru questioned.

Rose rolled her eyes at him. "Because that's when school lets out," she said plainly.

"And everyone will be home, including Mr. Richards," Molly said with mild excitement. "You'll get to meet everyone, and trust me it will be anything but quiet."

A small groan escaped Rose's lips. It was hard enough handling the two mischievous twins, she didn't know if she could handle them in combination with her current foster siblings — one of them she hadn't even met yet.

Hikaru, picking up on Rose's discomfort, thought it might be a good idea to see how far he could push her buttons. He may be a smart boy, but he could be incredibly stupid.

"Hey," he said, turning to look at Molly, "Could we look at Rose's baby photos? I'd kill to see a tiny Rose covered in chocolate."

While Hikaru sat in self-satisfaction and thought about how clever he was, Rose turned to face him thinking he must be the single most brainless man on the planet. The air in the kitchen turned heavy as Rose dropped her feet to the ground and slid off the stool.

"I'm going for a walk," she said and promptly exited the house.

The second the door slammed shut, Molly turned to the black haired twin with a glare and smacked the side of his head.

"Are you some kind of idiot," she scolded.

"What?" Hikaru asked, turning to his brother for some sort of explanation. Kaoru just shrugged at his brother.

"There are no baby pictures," Molly said. "And even if there were, I wouldn't have them. Rose was already a preteen when she came to us."

Both twins' eyes widened as they realized what Hikaru had done. Remorse washed over his face and he felt an urge pushing against his chest, telling him to run after her. This wasn't like when he had left Haruhi in the storm. That time he had read all the signs wrong and claimed innocence instead of ignorance. No, this time he had known and forgotten. He couldn't play the fool if he already was one.

With a small grunt, Hikaru leapt off his bar stool and found himself chasing after a hurt Rose, yet again. Only this time, he was the jerk to blame.

Chapter Text

Molly and Kaoru were left in a sudden silence as the front door slammed for a second time in mere minutes. There was a beat before Molly and Kaoru turned their heads away from the door and looked at each other with slightly bemused smirks. Simultaneously the two of them realized something that Hikaru himself wouldn't come to terms with for quite a while.

But that wasn't the matter at hand currently and Kaoru didn't want to dwell too much on his brother's emotions. Frankly, he'd had enough of them lately and Rose's life was so much more interesting anyway.

If he were honest with himself, he did actually want to get to know her better, but in his mind this was all still a game. He was still storming the castle, searching for answers in an attempt to annoy the short brunette even more.

And, so, he asked more questions now that it was just he and Molly. He asked about Rose as a girl, about how she had flown through school so fast, about why she was usually so calm and collected and if she had always been that way. His curiosity knew no bounds and Molly's head was beginning to spin with all the questions being hurled her way.

"She was quiet when she came to us," Molly admitted. "And I have a feeling she was incredibly lonely. Rose used to hide away in her room all day and at night we'd catch her reading under her covers with a flashlight."

Molly giggled lightly at the memory. Rose had brought so much joy into the Richards' household, but she had carried sorrow with her there.

"Did she have any boyfriends in high school," Kaoru asked with a small, but impish smile. Molly was pulled out of her reminiscing by the odd question and she refocused on Kaoru's face with confusion bubbling in her eyes.

"My, my," she said. "Rose led me to believe that you boys were smart, but I see you are just like your brother. Though, I can't blame you. Reading others emotions must be all so new to you two."

Their initial analysis of Molly had been correct, Kaoru realized. She was incredibly scary. This woman had looked through him and his brother and read them like an open book.

She had this ability to just know, Rose's voice echoed in his head.

"But to answer your question, no," Molly said somberly. "To be honest, I don't think Rose knew what being loved felt like until she came here. The state — they don't exactly give you the whole back story when they place a child with you, but you can just tell when they get here. It's in their eyes."

"She didn't even know that birthdays were something to be celebrated," Molly continued. "When you grow up not knowing love, it's hard to even love yourself, let alone project love onto another person. I'd be surprised if she even noticed boys that way in high school. She was too busy figuring out herself."

- - -

The moment Hikaru was outside the door, he realized he was more of an idiot than he had ever imagined. He had absolutely no familiarity with his surroundings and Rose was in the neighborhood she grew up in. She could have gone anywhere and he could spend hours searching for her without success.

The thought of spending hours in the cold annoyed him, but he was at fault here. Maybe it would be cosmic punishment for him constantly choosing to ignore others' feelings — for being so completely horrid to so many girls for so long.

Sighing heavily, he set off from the porch and started walking down the street. His feet and heart seemed to know where they were going, so he decided to just follow their instinct and headed northward.

The Virginia winter air was cold, but nowhere near as biting as Boston's had been before they left. Now that he was standing out, searching for a familiar head of chocolate hair, he could hardly believe they had flown here just that morning. Despite feeling guilty, he also had an urge to scream out to clouds how utterly exasperating Rose was and how much trouble she had been since the moment he met her.

Still, though, his feet kept him moving forward, crunching over the last few remnants of fall and sloshing through muddied puddles. Fifteen minutes into walking through the neighborhood streets, Hikaru was about ready to give up. He stopped on the landing of a small wooden bridge that crossed over a frozen creek. Staring at his feet, all his thoughts were telling him it was useless trying to find her, and he had no idea what he was going to say anyway.

Hikaru turned to his right, sighing, and resigned himself to returning to the Richards' house. He looked up from his shoes just in time to see a flash of blue amongst all the brown surrounding the creek bottom and stopped mid turn.

Rose was sitting on the slope, near where the incline of the hill bottomed out — in her navy blue pea coat — and she was tossing pebbles at the water's frozen surface, watching the paths of the rocks' ricochets.

With a triumphant smirk, Hikaru stepped off the sidewalk and headed down the slope toward her. She was too engrossed in her distraction to notice him until he stepped on a twig just feet away from her back. Startled, she rose to her feet and turned to face the intrusion.

"Oh, it's just you," she said and turned back to face the creek. "What do you want?"

"To apologize," he responded, walking up next to her as she threw another stone. They watched its trajectory together before he turned his head toward hers. "I didn't mean anything by it. Really, I forgot you were a foster."

"Funny," Rose said, keeping her sights forward. "Sometimes, I wish I could forget."

Although she threw another pebble, Hikaru kept a puzzled gaze on Rose, searching her features for some sort of explanation. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he felt a little sorry for her and his stare softened.

"Don't look at me like that," she muttered, giving him a sideways glance. "Isn't it normal to wish you had a happy childhood with a family that loved you?"

I made her feel like this, Hikaru thought. This is my fault.

He didn't know what to do — how to respond to this vulnerability that she was showing. Her sudden trust in him was so raw and pure and completely overwhelming. Despite his best efforts, not a single appropriate response was formulating in his head and he did the only remotely sympathetic thing he could think of.

Reaching forward, Hikaru grabbed Rose's wrist and pulled her into a hug. It was a far from perfect moment as Rose stiffened in his arms and Hikaru wasn't sure where to place his hands, but it was a heartfelt apology nonetheless.

"I really am so sorry," Hikaru whispered into her hair, cradling the back of her head lightly into his chest.

"I know," she replied softly, finally moving her hands around his center and returning his embrace.

Hikaru tightened his grasp around her slightly before sighing in both relief and defeat.

"I'll try not to be an idiot anymore," he said, almost entirely seriously. Rose gave out a light chuckle as she pushed away from him.

"Don't make promises you can't keep, Hikaru," she said through a smile and started on the path back toward home.

The words didn't hit him at first, as he stood looking at the ground, but they processed soon enough.

"Hey!" he yelled, clearly insulted, and then took off after her.

Chapter Text

The walk back to the house seemed much shorter than it had felt to Hikaru on the way out, but that could have been because he chased Rose halfway home. She had run away after teasing him and didn't slow her pace until she was doubled over gasping for air from both laughing and exerting herself.

As they neared the Richards' house, a blue Honda minivan pulled up alongside them and jolted both of them with a single, loud honk.

"Hey kiddo!" A voice rang out as the passenger side window slowly rolled down. Although Rose looked collected, the interaction put Hikaru on edge. He didn't know what was happening, but he had heard horror stories about lone teenage girls being pulled into minivans in America, and he was ready for anything.

"Toddddd," Rose whined, pushing Hikaru's protective arm out of the way. "You scared me!"

The tension in Hikaru's body immediately dissipated. If Rose wasn't frightened, he certainly wasn't going to be. He dropped his arm and turned to her with a questioning brow.

"We'll meet you at the house in a moment," she said toward the van and moved to continue walking down the street. She answered his question without even acknowledging him. The blue colonial house was only a few yards away and the pair arrived at the house just as the van was unloading.

Despite being forewarned, Hikaru was amazed at the amount of children piling out of the van. The only thing he could equate it to was watching a clown car unload. The driver ran around the front of the car and pulled Rose into a crushing hug.

"I missed you so much, my little flower," the man said before releasing her. Rose smoothed down the pushed up arms of her coat before giving him a small smile.

"I miss you too," she said. "But not enough to stand out in the cold. Let's go inside."

The Richards' living room looked packed to capacity once everyone was inside and Rose was feeling a little suffocated. Todd and Molly were looking on to the gathered company with something akin to pride in their eyes as Molly leaned against Todd on their overstuffed love seat. Across the couch sat Rose's foster siblings - three of whom she was well acquainted with and one who was new to her, and frankly looked quite unapproachable. Rose, herself, was sitting on the only accent chair in the room with the twins each leaning their arms onto its back.

Introductions were quickly made as the Hitachiins were presented to six-year-old Luci White, eight-year-old Russell Marks and 14-year-old Becca Stevens. The last to be introduced was Diego Rosalez, the newest member of the Richards household. He was 13. Right at the age where you don't know if being a jerk was a result of the hormones or his actual personality - and he played the part accordingly, laying his feet on the coffee table (even though he knew he wasn't supposed to) and zoning out of the conversation until he heard his name, then tuning it right out again.

Rose analyzed him from her chair, taking in every movement. Molly had phoned her several times while she was at school to talk about the new foster and his desire to push everyone away. In a way, he was a lot like the other fosters and his new family had thought it would only take a few weeks for him to warm up, but now they were months in and he still refused to speak more than a few sentences to anyone.

There was a sort of tranquility to family gathering in the living room as everyone sat around and got to know each other, but such moments couldn't last forever and soon enough Luci was chasing Russell from the couch, shouting about her ruined hair.

Quickly the family dispersed into their after school routine — Diego rushing into his room before firmly shutting the door, Becca pushing in the earbuds connected to her knock-off brand MP3 player while spreading out on the couch, Todd brushing Molly's cheek with a quick kiss before pulling test papers out of his briefcase to grade all while the two youngest continued to chase each other around the house.

A small laugh escaped Rose's mouth as she pushed off of her chair and scooped Luci up in her arms. She held the small blonde against her hip with one arm and used the other to brush her fingers through the child's knotted hair.

"Why don't you and I go get some ice cream for the boys," she asked, pushing the bangs out of Luci's face.

"Russell doesn't deserve any," Luci said, with the authority that only a haughty six-year-old could muster.

"Hmmmm. You're right. I don't think Hikaru and Kaoru deserve ice cream either," Rose said, bringing her free hand to her face in an over-acted form of thinking. "But you know what? Sometimes ice cream makes someone a better person, so why don't we give them some and hope they magically change into nice boys?"

Luci giggled and gave a fervent nod as the trio of boys let out a whiny "heeyyy."

Together, the five of them ate chocolate ice cream in the heated kitchen, paying no mind to the fact that it had started to snow outside. With melted chocolate framing their lips, Luci and Russell animatedly talked about school and asked Rose dozens of questions.

The twins looked on in amusement as they continuously marveled at the ice cream in their hands. It was their first time ever eating ice cream they had scooped themselves from a frozen box and they found the whole ordeal intriguing. Later, they were amazed further by take-out boxes and revelled in living a full day of commoner life.

Soon enough, the younger children were sent off to take baths and prepare for reading before bed. Becca had retreated to the confines of her room and Diego had only surfaced briefly to grab a slice of pizza before escaping back to his room.

Rose was left alone with the twins while Todd and Molly were each corralling a youngster in their night routine. As they sat on the plush furniture in the living room, she told the two what she knew about each of her foster siblings until they became bored and started asking about her life again.

"Show us your room," Hikaru pushed after getting, basically, nothing out of Rose. In his mind, a girl's bedroom was sacred and would encapsulate her personality. Everything in the room, from the books she chose to adorn her shelves, to the posters on her wall, would tell him more about her.

"I don't have one," she said shrugging. Well, so much for that.

"What do you mean," Kaoru began.

"That you don't have a bedroom?" Hikaru finished.

"Well, Diego has my room now," Rose stated plainly. "While I'm home, I'll be sleeping on an air mattress in Luci and Becca's room."

No individual bedroom? The idea was beyond Hikaru and Kaoru. I mean, sure, they share a room, but that was by choice. To not have one at all, or worse — to have one and then to have it given away — that was just outrageous!

The lives of the poor are just so sad, they thought simultaneously as they wrapped Rose up in a dual hug. She shrugged them off, not seeing the bedroom thing as a real issue, but they continued to coddle her.

A sudden throat clearing from behind them is what finally made them detach.

"Rose, why don't you go get ready for bed," Todd said. "I'd like to speak to the boys for a few minutes."

Shrugging, Rose got up from the chair and made her way down the hall. When Todd heard the bedroom door close behind her he turned the boys with a stern look on his face.

"Now, knowing my wife, Molly probably probably tried to pull some joke on you boys when she picked you up from the airport, so let me preface this by saying, this is in no way a joke," he said, a frighteningly new tone. All the suburban dad-like qualities from before melting away. He had moved closer to the twins, wrapping his arms around each one's shoulders and pushing their heads closer to his. "You touch my daughter and I'll end you."

He let go of them simultaneously and ruffled their heads before flashing them a toothy smile.

"We clear," he asked.

The Hitachiins gulped before resounding in unison.

"Yes, sir."

Satisfied, Todd turned his back to them and walked down the hall to his shared bedroom with Molly, switching off the lights on his way. Hikaru and Kaoru turned to each other, their eyes still wide.

Were all commoner parents this scary?

Chapter Text

Even by his crazy educator standards, Todd had sent Rose to bed exceptionally early. Becca was still on her bed, reading some vampire fantasy novel while Luci was already fast asleep. They were off in their own little worlds and Rose was left staring at the ceiling from her squeaky air mattress. Each and every move she made caused the plastic bed to emit a noise akin to flatulence — and she was moving a lot.

She couldn't help it. Not only was the bed uncomfortable, but she couldn't move her thoughts away from being sent to bed early. Never in all of her time with the Richards had she been sent to bed, and Todd had been pointedly cryptic with her. What did he have to say to the boys that she couldn't be there for?

Probably some cliche father warning, she thought, turning over again with a huff. If only he knew.

As far as Rose was concerned, Hikaru and Kaoru were nothing to worry about. Those two boys were far too emotionally naive to ever pull anything and they were far too dependent on each other for one to move forward without the other. In addition, Hikaru was still caught up on some other girl. Beside that, Rose had never been interested in romantic feelings, and that certainly wouldn't change now. Not now that ... ah, no, she thought, I shouldn't be thinking about that.

The mattress groaned again as she threw herself face down into her pillow. Becca looked up from her book, annoyed, and let out a sigh before placing a school handout between the pages and setting it down on her nightstand.

"Do you have to move around so much," she asked, placing her ear buds in her ears before reaching out to turn off the lamp on the table and push herself beneath the covers of her bed.

Rose tried to hold back the sigh forming in her lungs. Becca was becoming quite the moody teenager, though with all things considered it could be expected. Not every kid who went through the foster system was "broken," but children just weren't made to withstand the hardships that so many in the system faced. Becca's moodiness could be a result of her pent up frustrations, or it could just be a result of being in high school now. It really was a toss up.

The new onset of dark clothes, dyed black hair and black painted fingernails was a little bit beyond Rose. She didn't quite know where the phase had come from, but what she did know was that it was amusing. Becca, among other things, was extremely afraid of anything being near her eyes. So, despite wishing in her hearts of hearts to be a hardcore goth, her grunge clothing was almost always pared with a face, free of makeup and the quintessential black eyeliner, hiding behind a pair of thick rimmed glasses. The only hardcore thing Becca was, was a fraidy cat.

The thought caused Rose to chuckle. Becca was lucky she was placed with the Richards and not some southern family who would find her phase satanic rather than amusing. They were all so lucky to have Todd and Molly.

Except, Rose kept thinking about being sent to bed and Todd probably going full dad on the boys. In that moment, she didn't feel quite so thankful for Todd. He didn't know it, but she'd already found trouble and those boys weren't the source.

Two hours into tossing and turning, Rose decided to leave the room (and the two light sleepers) behind. She walked out to the living room, pillow and blanket in hand, and smiled at the two boys sprawled across the love seat and sofa. They were clearly having a hard time sleeping too as they whispered between themselves about the day.

They looked up as Rose drew nearer and gave her a mirrored grin.

"We had no idea, when your father lectured us on inappropriate behavior," Hikaru said.

"That he was actually warning us that you'd seek us out," Kaoru finished.

Rose answered by throwing a pillow in Hikaru's face as she rolled her eyes.

"Thanks," Hikaru said, moving the pillow under his head. "How did you know this cheap couch needed more padding?"

"God, you're annoying," she responded, pulling the pillow out from behind his head before setting it on the floor with her blanket. She dropped to her knees before rolling backward to sit with her arms around her legs.

The twins both eyed her as she settled with expectant eyes. Rose sighed before speaking.

"I figured it was your first time sleeping on a couch. So, I thought I'd come make sure the sofa was safe," she teased. Kaoru raised an eyebrow at her, letting Rose know that her taunt wouldn't be taken as a proper explanation.

Rose exhaled dramatically as she let her body fall backwards onto her makeshift floor bed.

"Fine," she said. "I couldn't sleep. Haven't been able to at all, lately."

There was a silence in the living room as the three of them thought on her words, all aware of the reason but none wanting to talk about it further. It was the silent moments, though, when his voice snuck in and Rose shivered as he haunted her.

"You'll always be safe with us, Rose," Kaoru said, breaking the silence.

"Doubt it," she said, smirking. "You two are terrible."

"Hey now, is that any way to treat your guests," Hikaru teased. "I'd hate for Molly to find out you're treating us this way."

A small chuckle emitted from Rose's closed lips as she stared up at the ceiling fan. The thought of Molly's reaction to her poor hospitality was too much.

"Don't threaten me Hitachiin," Rose spoke through small laughs. "I'm not afraid of you."

"Oh?" He shot back at her. "Well, then maybe I should show your family this video I have of you on my phone."

Hikaru shifted on the couch, reaching for his phone on the accent table before turning his attention to his brother.

"Hey Kaoru, have I shown you this yet?"

Rose shot up from the floor and made a grab for his phone. Despite her best efforts, Hikaru was too fast for her and had tossed his phone to his brother before she even had a finger on his wrist. Defeated, Rose huffed and dramatically threw herself into her makeshift bed.

"Devil twins," she mumbled before turning her back to them and settling into her pillow. The resident couch dwellers snickered with each other before Kaoru returned Hikaru's phone, never having pressed play, and the two rested their backs onto the sofas.

There was an immense quiet as the three set off to end the night. Winter evenings are that way — far less nature around to break through the silence of the night. After about 10 minutes, Rose rolled back to face the ceiling and sighed.

"You guys are lucky to have each other," she whispered.

"Yeah," they said together quietly. "We've always had each other."

Rose's eyes were closed as she smiled and let out a heavy breath. They were so lucky and they didn't even know it.

"Sometimes I wish I had a real sibling," she said softly. "I love my foster ones, but those kids aren't the same ones that were here six years ago, or even three. It's not the same. I've never had someone with me through thick and thin, you know?"

The Hitachiins were quiet as they listened, also watching the shadows on the white living room ceiling. They'd never really thought about what life would be like without someone to lean on. From the beginning they'd always had each other and then, later, they had a band of unbreakable friends.

Hikaru and Kaoru were devious. They were incorrigible and could be annoying beyond words, but their friends had never left them. They rolled their eyes. They called them devils, shady, and scheming and yet, their friends remained true. It was a loyalty they, frankly, didn't deserve and they had never felt so thankfully aware of it before.

"Well, we'll adopt you," Hikaru said simply.

"Yeah, we'll be your thick and thin, now," Kaoru added.

Rose chuckled lightly. Such silly boys, she thought. Even if they could live in fantasies, she knew they were leaving in just a few short months.

Chapter Text

Mornings in the Richards household were a far cry from the quiet of Rose's dorm or the quiet morning wakings the Hitachiins grew up with in their manor. Instead of a beeping alarm or a gentle stir from a maid, the three teens in the living room were woken up by small children jumping on their stomachs with loud screams.

"Wake up Rooooooooose," Luci sang. "We're going to the winter street festival today. You have to geeeeeet ready."

Rose groaned as she rolled over, effectively moving Luci off her abdomen. She pulled her blanket up over her head and grumpily told the young girl to go away.

"Noooooo," Luci whined. "Momma Molly said you and your boyfriends were going to take us to the festival today."

Her eyes opened up suddenly, taken aback by the words that so easily came out of the little blonde's mouth. Rose blinked a few times, staring at the underside of the couch, before rolling onto her back and sitting up.

"Molly said what, now?"

Luci was standing next to Rose's floor bed with her hands behind her back and her head tilted slightly to the side. She bit her lip as she tried not to look her foster sister in the eye.

"Well, Momma Molly said you were gonna take us out today," she said, pausing briefly as she tried to clear the thoughts in her head. "Becca said those boys were your boyfriends, though."

"It's Starr now," Molly called from the kitchen. Rose's eyes scrunched in confusion as she gave a sideways glance toward where the voice came from. Molly chuckled lightly. "She wants to be called Starr now."

Revisiting her thoughts from last night, Rose decided that Becca was, in fact, incredibly lucky to be with the Richards. With one hand, Rose pushed herself off the ground and walked over to the kitchen.

"So," she asked. "What's this about a festival?"

Disheveled was the only way to describe the Richards matriarch that particular morning. It was the first day of winter break — her house was full — and she had forgotten to plan out breakfast. As the Resident Suburban Supermom™ she may as well have brought shame upon her family and she was scrambling in the kitchen. It was at the point where pop tarts were just going to have to do. She'd already spent her morning keeping two tiny monsters in check and dealing with Starr's backtalk. If one more child in this zoo had the gall to get just a little bit mouthy, she was going to lose it.

"Please," Molly practically begged. It was the only word she said. Her crazy mom-eyes did the rest of the talking for her and Rose got the message loud and clear.

"All right, you little rascals. We leave in an hour," she said, turning to the four gathered near the couch. "Luci, go tell Becca and Diego to get ready."

In her time away from the Richards' house, Rose had forgotten just how much trouble it was to gather up a family filled with children. Add the Hitachiin twins into that mix and Rose felt like she may as well have been herding cats. When everyone was finally situated inside the minivan, Rose hopped in shotgun and hummed to herself while Molly started the car.

She did her best to distract herself on the short drive to the street fair. Although it wasn't a great distance away, she felt like she was in a different dimension inside that blue minivan. Luci, Russell and Starr sat in the back row, while Hikaru, Kaoru and Diego occupied the second. Though logical, based on heights, the set up allowed the younger passengers to constantly berate the twins with questions that went along the lines of something like this:

"You have a funny accent. Where are you guys from?"

"How old are you guys?"

"Why do you guys look alike but have different hair?"

"Are you Rose's friends?"

"Where did you meet Rose? Do you go to her school?"

"Which one of you is her boyfriend?"

"Do you think she's pretty? Do you guys love Rose?"

For their part, Hikaru and Kaoru weren't entirely used to being on the other end of a calculated interrogation and, they had to admit, they didn't entirely like the feeling. In addition, the little brats were playing a no-sum game — laying traps with their double-edged questions.

If they responded that they didn't love her, then they were asked if she wasn't good enough for them. If they weren't her boyfriend, then why did they fly her home for the holidays?

It was clear, they couldn't win. Luckily, the drive to the festival was short and as the blue van pulled up to the venue, the children's excitement for the festivities far outweighed their curiosity about the Hitachiins.

If the Richards' van didn't resemble a clown car before, adding three more children into the mix surely did the trick. The departure from the vehicle was far too slow for the younger fosters, who were impatient to explore. It was also a cause for embarrassment for Starr, who hopped out of the car and immediately walked away to distance herself from the show.

Molly waved out the window, reminding Rose to check in with the young children during the day and that she would be there to pick them all up at 8 p.m. Rose waved to the van as it pulled away and then turned to face figurative dust clouds where there should have been children.

The Hitachiins were practically dancing away from her, arm in arm, looking as excited as a pair of suburban housewives at a Pottery Barn. Diego, on the other hand, had promptly moved himself to the nearest bench and sat with his head facing his feet. Rose sighed, called after Becca to watch after the younger fosters and moved to sit next to the newest member of the Richards household.

"Not interested in the fair?"she asked politely.

"I'm not into socializing," he responded flatly, looking up from his shoes only to give Rose a bored look.

"You'll never get to know your siblings with that attitude," she responded with a light laugh.

"Well maybe I don't want to get to know them," he shot back "There isn't really any point to it. Someday soon, either they'll leave or I will. There's no use getting attached."

Rose turned her whole body toward him with a concerned look clear on her face. She understood what he was going through. In the early days, she too had thought it was better to remain unattached — to stop loving and stop trying — but she learned that pushing others away did exactly what you intended. It made you lonely by your own hands.

Opening up wasn't easy, but it was the only way to move forward. It took her too long to realize that and, right now, it looked like Diego was running, full force, down the same path she had once stuck so fiercely to.

Reaching out, she ruffled his hair and smiled. "It's too late for that. They're already attached," she said. "There's no use in trying to push away the Richards."

Diego grimaced and moved Rose's hand away from his head roughly.

"I don't know how you can just sit there and accept these people as your family," he said incredulous, his voice rising. "How can you just smile and act like everything is okay, when you were tossed aside, like you were nothing. When your parents abandoned you too?"

He was on his feet now and looking down at Rose with anger in his eyes, his shoulders heaving.

"You're no different than me. There's nothing that makes you more special" he cried. "So, how can you love them all so much when they're just going to leave you behind one day."

"Because," Rose said, rising and reaching out to tuck a few strands of his short black hair behind his ear. "There's no joy in living a life of self-sanctioned solitude. You shouldn't love so selfishly, Diego."

Rose gently let her hand drop down, first, to Diego's shoulder and then grazed the back of her hand down his arm before taking his hand and leading him back to the bench. They sat back down simultaneously, Diego almost hypnotized by the calmness surrounding Rose as she closed eyes, breathed in lightly and opened them again.

"No one in that house wants you to be alone, Diego. Not a single one of them is thinking that giving you love, even if you end up leaving, is a waste. You see, loving people who leave you is always worth it. Those memories will always be yours. That love will always be yours."

"But what do I know?" She laughed, breaking through the melancholy atmosphere surrounding the pair of fosters as she rose to her feet with a jump. She walked a few steps away from the bench and turned around to face Diego with a smile.

"I'm just a child thrown away and completely unloved... by anyone," she said with a wink and reached out for his left hand. "Now come on, lets go enjoy the fair."

As he was pulled from the bench, Diego found himself surprised by how strong Rose was, despite her stature. She continued walking backward as she tugged him by the wrist with a sly, but soft, smile. When she was confident her foster brother would follow, she turned around and began to walk forward — only to crash directly into an extremely animated blonde teenager, throwing his arms around in emphasis as he spoke lovingly about food stalls.

Chapter Text

Rose wasn't quite sure how she had landed on her back, staring at the grey sky, in the middle of the sidewalk, or why she had the distinct feeling that she heard that word "commoner" again, but she did know that the laughing coming from her right was Diego and the pain in her left shoulder would probably be with her for at least a week.

"Nice going Senpai," a flat voice whispered from somewhere near Rose's feet. "You couldn't be less graceful if you tried."

"What a terrible thing to say to your boyfriend!" Another, much louder, voice blared from the same direction.

Rose pushed herself up slowly with her right elbow as her left arm screamed obscenities through her nerves. Her whole face winced as she attempted to sit up and locate the bodies connected to the voices she heard but when she opened her eyes, there was no one in sight.

Blinking a few times, Rose turned to Diego with questions written all over her brow line. He merely shrugged at her before helping Rose to her feet and standing off to the side awkwardly as she brushed dirt off her butt.

"Thanks," she mumbled, absentmindedly, as she turned her head left and right looking for a blonde head of hair. Her search was, thus far, proving to be fruitless when a blur of ashen hair filled her vision.

"Did someone hurt you," Hikaru demanded, throwing his hands on Rose's shoulders so he could search her for injuries.

She shrugged him off, wincing slightly at the pang in her side. "I'm fine," she breathed.

Behind a nearby booth, a girl with chestnut hair was struggling to breathe between the fingers held firmly over her mouth. Try as she might, she couldn't squirm out of her boyfriend's grasp as he held her close, his own back pressed firmly against the side of the stall as he continuously peered around the corner.

"Shhhh, Haruhi," he whispered dramatically. "We don't want them to find us."

With one final, strong push, Haruhi broke away from the hold she was in and whirled around to face her captor.

"It would serve you right, idiot," she berated. "We shouldn't be here anyway, but you just had to insist on following Hikaru and Kaoru on their vacation!"

"It's not my fault they left without telling us where they were going," Tamaki yelled as quietly as he could, his hands thrown above his head. "We're a family and families are supposed to stick together around the holidays!"

Ignoring his ranting completely, Haruhi was instead peering around the booth's wall. Groaning softly at the sight, she turned back to Tamaki with a grimace.

"Figures you would walk straight into that girl they brought here," the brunette sighed, annoyed. "Nice going."

The color immediately drained from Tamaki's face as he slowly peeked his head around from their hiding place. In front of him stood Hikaru, testily looking around for who accosted the short brunette standing beside him while Kaoru fixed her ruffled hair.

"You sure have a way of messing things up," Haruhi said flatly, her back now against the wall as she pinched the bridge of her nose with her right thumb and forefinger.

"Gahhh, Haruhi," Tamaki gasped, jumping back from the corner and turning toward his extremely blunt girlfriend. "Why must you say such mean things to me."

While Hikaru and Kaoru continued to fuss over Rose, Diego had quietly slipped away, leaving the trio alone. Rose hardly had a chance to notice, however, as she was continually poked and prodded by the duo.

"I can't believe we just left you alone," Hikaru said, chiding himself.

"It was just a dumb accident," Rose replied. "Chill out."

"But, you got hurt..." Kaoru offered, sheepishly. "And we could have prevented it."

The two boys stood behind her, trapped in a fog of regret and guilt, likely mixed with a heavy hint of self-pity, and she didn't quite understand what was going on.

"What's going on with you two," she questioned, pushing each of them softly with her shoulders. "I'm fine."

"That's not the point," Hikaru shouted, before storming away, further into the street fair.

Rose's head followed his movement as confusion and annoyance spread across her face. When his back disappeared among the crowd, she turned her face toward Kaoru with an arched eyebrow. Kaoru shrugged lightly before lacing his arm through hers and starting off to follow his brother.

"I think," he started quietly. "He blames himself."

Although to anyone else it was few words, Rose immediately understood and her eyes drifted downward to watch her feet move across the broken-up asphalt.

"Oh," she whispered.

"I think a part of him still firmly believes that without his insisting, you would have never gotten hurt. We both do..." Kaoru said, hanging his head.

Rose lifted her eyes from the ground and gently laid her head on the younger Hitachiin's shoulder, gripping his arm tighter.

"That night, I said some things to him that I didn't mean," Rose said, gently. "But I'm the only one to blame. I wasn't careful enough."

There was a sudden jolt at Rose's side as Kaoru whipped his arm out of her's and turned to face her with a pained and determined expression.

"No," he said sternly as he reached out and cupped her cheeks between his hands. "None of it was your fault. The only person at fault is that lowlife, egghead who touched you. Do you hear me?"

"Be careful Kaoru," Rose teased with a smushed smile on her face. "If your brother sees you harassing me, he may get angrier."

Kaoru pushed Rose's cheeks inward more with a small laugh before dropping his hands and returning to her side. They walked together, talking about Hikaru's anger issues, as they searched for the fake ravenette among the crowd. Just as they spotted him near a corn dog stand, Kaoru caught sight of a familiar head of bouncing blonde locks.

As he and Rose neared Hikaru, Kaoru kept his eyes on the short, flowery, fair-goer trying his best not to lose sight of him. Without a word, he placed his hand on Hikaru's shoulder and turned his brother to the direction of the familiar silhouette.

"For a master, he is terrible at tracking," Kaoru whispered.

Hikaru's eyes moved along the crowd searching for whatever was bothering Kaoru and narrowed his eyes when he watched a short blonde jump onto the shoulders of a giant.

"I guess this means they're all here," Hikaru groaned, his eyes still trailing the duo.

"What?" Kaoru questioned, surprise clear on his face.

"Well, I'm pretty sure I heard Milord and Haruhi bickering earlier when I was ..." he stopped mid sentence and lowered his eyes to the girl by his side. He coughed lightly before continuing. "...When I was walking."

"Ahhh, when you ran away like a child," Rose teased.

Hikaru stopped in his tracks and turned to face her completely, ready to go off on the mouthy brunette when she threw her hands up in front of her chest in an instant truce.

"Who are you guys talking about anyway," she asked, turning her head toward Kaoru, but he had already walked away in pursuit of their stalkers.

Standing near a cotton candy stall that Honey had yet to fully realize, Kaoru waited patiently for the right moment to strike. He knew his target well. Within a minute, the blonde's pupils grew twice their normal size and he practically floated to the pastel stall, ready to devour the candy floss behind the counter. Just as Honey was about to walk up to the vendor, Kaoru snatched the back of the boy's collar and began to drag him back to his brother and friend.

"Ahhhh! Takashi, help me!" Honey cried, not seeing who had snagged him away from his sweets.

Mori appeared immediately beside his cousin, ready to inflict mortal harm upon whoever dared touch the lolita without expressed permission, only to quickly come to the realization that he and Mitsukuni had been found out. His eyes betrayed his sheepishness as they connected with Rose's and then Hikaru's. The two had ceased their bickering the moment Kaoru snatched Honey.

"Mitsukuni," Mori toned, grabbing the blonde out of Kaoru's grasp by the shirt. "You were careless."

He kept his head tilted as he placed Honey on the ground. The pair stayed still as Rose and Hikaru approached.

"How nice t-" Rose started but was quickly interrupted.

"Mind telling us why you're here," Hikaru said, testily, walking straight up to the cousin duo.

Honey smiled widely at the older twin and giggled.

"Tama-chan was really upset that you two went on vacation without us," he said. "So he decided we should all follow you here."

"That sounds like Milord, alright," Kaoru sighed.

"But it was still none of his business," Hikaru mumbled.

"If you guys wanted to spend a romantic vacation away with Ro-chan, you should have just told us," Honey said with all sincerity. "We wouldn't have bothered you."

Hikaru and Kaoru jumped slightly, their faces paling at his words.

"No, no, no, it's not like that Honey-senpai," Hikaru said, waving his arms in front of him to show extreme denial.

"Yeah, you shouldn't say such things so casually," Kaoru moaned, equally as distressed.

Rose stood in the background while the boys bickered, watching with amusement. As long as Honey continued to fluster the twins, she certainly wasn't going to step in. Out of nowhere, a tall blonde leapt into the middle of the group and started going off about the twins ignoring their family and their completely outrageous "rebellious phase."

Just as Rose was starting to get concerned about how she would stifle her laughter, she felt a light touch on her left shoulder. Her brief moment of surprise subsided when she turned her head and found herself looking into the eyes of an equally short brunette.

"I'm sorry about them," the girl said, pointing to the group of obnoxiously loud boys. "Once Tamaki gets an idea in his head, it's impossible to talk him out of it."

"Oh, it's alright," Rose replied, turning her head back to the group with a small smile. "It's all rather amusing."

The girls laughed together as they watched the boys animatedly argue, minus Mori who stood behind the group and watched silently. Without any end to the quarrel in sight, Haruhi sighed and turned for proper introductions.

"I'm Haruhi by the way," she said, holding out her hand. "I've known all those numskulls for a while now. The crazy blonde one is my boyfriend."

"Oh," Rose said, taking Haruhi's hand and shaking it lightly. "I'm Rose. I, uh... know the Hitachiins?"

A small chuckle escaped from Haruhi's at Rose's hesitation.

"I'm surprised that you went straight to them. You could have just as easily said you were Mori-senpai's classmate."

Raising an eyebrow, Rose turned fully toward Haruhi before breaking into a mischievous smile.

"You already knew who I was then," she teased. "I see you fit right in with these boys."

Haruhi blushed slightly, realizing she had shown all her cards without prompting. A heavy hand placed itself on her shoulder as she struggled to recover.

"That's our Haruhi for you," the tall, bespectacled owner of the hand said coolly. "She's never been good at keeping secrets."

Before Rose could meet the newest conversation member, a yell from the other group caught their attention.

"Look Milord, Kyoya is harassing Haruhi," the twins said together, pointing toward Rose. "Shouldn't you help her?"

"Kyoooooooooya." Tamaki shrieked and hustled his way toward his best friend. "You'd never do such a thing to Haruhi. Would you?"

Tamaki had reached out and grasped onto the collar of Kyoya's black Polo shirt and had taken to shaking his friend vigorously. Haruhi decided to step in before any real damage could happen, taking Tamaki's left hand in both of hers and calmly telling him that he was acting abnormally deranged.

"Well," Rose said, exhaling dramatically. "It has certainly been lovely to meet you all, but I should be going."

Turning on her heel immediately after the last word, Rose began to power walk away from the side show occurring in the middle of the fair. For all intents and purposes, she had decided that the group of people she had met were in need of psychiatric salvation and she needed to put as much distance between herself and them.

Unfortunately, she had only made it, say, 10 steps before each of her arms was grabbed by a hand and she was pulled backward.

"Just where do you think you're going," the Hitachiins sang together.

"Home," Rose grumbled, though she knew it was a rhetorical question. "Away from you."

"Uh, ah, ah," Hikaru teased, wagging his index finger back and forth.

"That wouldn't be very becoming of our host, now would it," Kaoru asked, amusement lacing his words.

Rose rolled her eyes and attempted to break out of their hold. All her attempts were in vain.

"Alright, alright, alright. Just let me go," she said and they released her simultaneously.

Thinking she could outsmart them, Rose bolted the moment her feet touched the ground — they caught her instantly.

"My, what a feisty little princess you've got there," Tamaki mused as the brothers carried the brunette back to the group.

He received a small, questioning glare from Rose in response as she continued attempting to wiggle her arms out of the twin's hands.

"Your princess is in another castle," Rose mumbled, still struggling.

"What was that," Tamaki asked while the Hitachiins, the only ones who heard what she said, stifled laughter.

"I said, 'it sure is a pleasure to meet you,'" Rose replied with a half-hearted smile.

"Of course it is," Tamaki shouted, elated. "And now that we've met you, you can show us around the fair!"

Chapter Text

Hikaru swore under his breath as he watched Rose and Haruhi walk slowly, arm in arm down the rows of booths and vendors. He'd always heard anxiety felt like your chest was being squeezed like a dishrag being rung out. That there were heart palpitations, maybe your throat felt like it was closing and your hands got sweaty.

Up until this exact point he never would have been able to tell someone what that felt like, but watching those two short brunettes talk made him suddenly feel like he couldn't breathe. The way they pushed their heads together when they laughed made him sure they were talking about him. Each time one of them threw a backwards glance his way, he knew he was the topic. It was infuriating.

"And this one time, my foster dad got barbecue sauce all over his pants," Rose giggled to Haruhi.

Okay, so maybe they weren't talking about him. But that was worse! Wasn't he the only thing connecting them? Wasn't he important enough in both of their lives to be talked about?

Hikaru's inner meltdown was more than apparent to his twin walking beside him. It was almost as if Kaoru could see the way his brother was twisting himself up emotionally. The animated Hikaru in their minds was popping up over both girls' shoulders, trying to listen to every bit of their conversations. He was steaming from the ears and blushing as red as if he had somehow burned in the December sun.

Sensing that something needed to change quickly, Kaoru bumped into his brother with his shoulder and began speaking just loud enough for the female pair to hear.

"Hey Hikaru, you never got to tell me about that recording you have of Rose," he said through a grin.

"Oh yeah," he twin responded, being completely snapped out of his self-obsessive, anxiety-ridden, spiraling plummet. "I know you're going to love it when I show you."

He began digging around his pocket to maneuver his phone out. Rose instantly sprung into action and grabbed the device from his hand the moment it was freed from the fabric.

"Oh no you don't," she exhaled, sprinting away from him, phone in hand. Both Hitachiins watched her move further away with surprise, Hikaru's hand still shaped as if he was holding her phone.

"She's faster than she looks," Kaoru commented. Hikaru nodded slightly and then took off after her.

Rose meanwhile had already set pace with Haruhi, who was well in front of the boys, and had taken to trying to crack the lock code on Hikaru's phone. After the third failed attempt, she looked to Haruhi with, what could only be described as an attempt at, puppy eyes, silently begging her for assistance.

"Did you try their birthday — June 9," she whispered as Rose typed and then shook her head as the phone vibrated another rejection. "Well, I don't know! They're pretty simple guys — maybe someone else's birthday?"

Rose began a sigh but the air escaping her mouth quickly turned to a squeal as her arms were pulled upward.

"I'll take that back now," Hikaru growled into her ear, detaching the phone from her hand and letting her drop to her feet. She stared at her now empty hands for a moment before turning her head up toward the tall boy and flashing him "forgive me" eyes.

Before any more confrontation between the two could occur, Haruhi lightly grabbed at Rose's shirt and pulled her down the row of booths.

"Don't mind him," she said, annoyed. "Why don't you tell me more about the food here."

"I also want to know more about the exotic foods of the American commoner!" Tamaki practically squealed, jumping up behind the two ladies. Haruhi immediately took to calming the excited blonde down as Rose tried to stifle a laugh while she pointed to a nearby booth.

Behind them, Kaoru stepped next to his brother as Hikaru messed with his phone. He sighed in relief as he reconfirmed that Rose hadn't gotten in to it, hastily pressed 0802 into its face and swept to the settings icon. The code he had chosen was a constant reminder he didn't need anymore — a knife to his heart each time he typed it in. It was more than time to change it.

"Becca just called," a voice rang from above him, startling him out of his thoughts and almost forcing him to drop his phone. "She wants to meet up now to go home."

Hikaru nodded slightly before pressing in a simple number pattern he could remember — 7673 — hitting confirm and closing his phone. Finally looking up from his device, he caught his brother watching him with a sly smirk on his face. Hikaru threw him a "what are you smirking about" look that was only met with a chuckle and his brother turning away.

Before long the three had parted ways with the rest of the twin's friends (Rose having promised to spend more time with them in the future after much insisting from Tamaki) and had regrouped with the rest of Molly's fosters.

Piling back into the car, Rose allowed Becca a small reprieve from the others by giving her the front seat and sat herself next to the window with Kaoru at her immediate right. It had been an incredibly exhausting day for the brunette and she wanted as little drama as possible on the drive home.

Once everyone was buckled in and the car was finally on the way home, she leaned toward Kaoru with a sigh.

"It was nice to learn more about you today," she said, resting her head on his shoulder.

"Oh?" Kaoru asked, stiffening a little at their proximity while throwing a gauging glance at his brother.

"Mhm," Rose responded, her eyes closing. "Haruhi was incredibly nice."

There was a slight pause in Rose's words and Kaoru wondered if she would say something about each of his friends. He looked down at her quizzically, curious what she would think of their antics, but that wasn't what she had in mind.

"I can see why you both love her so much," she mumbled and then she fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Just like they promised, the troublesome twins were gone before Christmas — each taking with them a pack of homemade cookies made for them by Rose and Molly while they were sleeping. The break was short but sweet and Rose was back in her dorm room before she knew it.

It looked different now though. She couldn't tell if it was the way the late winter light was shining through the far-too-old curtains or if it was the feeling welling up in her chest.

For so long, she had felt like she was on her own — isolated on a leaking lifeboat saved for only those without family or friends. She had felt so singular in a world made of complex wholes, but she had always ignored the parameters of her life's equation, floating along in hopes of one days making it to solid ground.

Only now had she realized how fervently she had pushed away attempted rescuers and refused their help to plug the leaks in her life. There was safety in keeping an arm's length and, until now, the only people who had broken through were her foster parents and she had been content with that. Content with people passing in and out of her life, with surface friendships and siblings lost to happier lives.

Rose should know by now, though, that life was like constantly overflowing rivers: it just doesn't stay the same no matter how hard you try. If nothing else, change had always been a constant and despite how comfortable she had felt in the suspended state of her life, there were two colossal pains-in-the-ass that had shoved their way into her comfort zone and refused to leave. It was like they had reached into the unending emptiness and forcefully pulled her out of her suspension and into the land of moving time.

"Jerks," she whispered to herself as she unpacked her suitcase on her dorm bed as she went over the events of the past few months in her head. Despite the mild curse toward their general being, there was a smile on Rose's face. "Those stupid jerks."

Snow was falling outside her window as she continued walking around her room, preparing herself for the upcoming semester starting just the next day, and there was a simplistic, post-card readiness to the world around her. Once everything was settled in the right places, the right books packed in her bag and an outfit had been set out (just so she could sleep in an extra few minutes in the morning), Rose sighed and slumped onto her bed, propped up on her elbows as she lay out on her stomach.

The twins had returned to classes two weeks prior and Rose had decided not to distract them from their studies with drivel about her ongoing vacation, but she had found herself actually missing their annoying voices. As she flicked through her phone, trying to slow the buzzing of thoughts in her head, she opened her photos and smiled at the memories passing in front of her eyes — memories she wouldn't have if she hadn't gone to that study session that day in the library. What an absolutely crazy thought.

Rose made a slight grunt as she flipped over in her bead and raised her phone above her head, smiling at a photo of Hikaru teasing Diego. Maybe she had three new brothers now? Just as that thought crossed her mind, the picture was overlapped by a notification and Rose rolled her eyes. Figures he barges in at this moment.

You ignoring me or something?

'Yes,' she thought to herself and didn't respond, clicking her phone closed and throwing it under her pillow. Her face soon flew into the pillow as she tried to muffle her frustrated screams. As long as she continued her education here, he was always going to be hovering around.

You're nothing.

You're useless.

Unappealing.

Not even your parents wanted you.

With her eyes closed, Rose tried to calm the heartbeat pacing in her head by taking long, slow breaths through her nose. His face kept breaking through the darkness, though. What a mistake it was to have trusted the first person who smiled at her here. Her foster mother had always told her that the devil hides behind beauty, but she had been so desperate for even just one person to help her transition to college life.

She had chosen wrong. This was her fault. It was her responsibility to move past this, alone.

She was getting lost in the thoughts, the taunts, the regrets — drowning again in weight of it. Breathe, she told herself. Just breathe. That's all you have to do right now. In - out - i-. Her phone buzzed under her pillow and broke her concentration. Her eyes shot open and her brows slowly moved apart from the hard furrow she had conjured without knowing. She retrieved the phone from its hiding spot, with the smallest strike of dread, praying it wasn't him as she clicked the screen on.

Classes start tomorrow for you, right?

You're not going to chicken out, are you?

"Grumpy-faced jerk," Rose muttered to herself, almost relieved, before typing a response, tossing the phone to the side and closing her eyes thinking she could get used to having a friend with incredible timing.

...

Rose woke up in a haze the next morning as her phone blared next to her ear. She groaned as she rolled over to retrieve and quiet the phone before throwing her head back down into her pillow and splaying her arms at her side. The first day of spring classes loomed ahead of her and staring at the dropped ceiling wasn't going to magically solidify her resolve.

She had nothing to fear. Mondays were supposed to be a cake walk with only a simple finance class, an intro to marketing and a guilty pleasure class: Shakespeare. Out of all of her classes this semester, she was most looking forward to that one. It was the kind of giddy excitement that could make her overlook the fact that it was on Mondays and Fridays at 2 pm. She had even modified her schedule to ensure it was the last class on those days so she could go home in a good mood.

As she sat down in the intimate lecture hall, she pulled out their first assigned text, "Much Ado About Nothing," and gently ran her finger down the book's spine with a satisfied sigh. A comedy was a great way to cautiously wade into the vast and wondrous ocean of The Bard's works.

At that moment she felt an immense contentment — a sentiment that had evaded her for quite some time. She had new friends who cared about, foster parents who actually loved her, an easy enough schedule and a for-fun class that she could get lost in.

Suddenly, a hand grasped onto her shoulder and she almost let a yelp escape her lips as she jumped in her seat.

"I should have known you'd be a fellow Shakespeare aficionado," the hand's owner chuckled.

Rose sighed, attempting to compose herself and wave off the embarrassment of scaring so easily. "I didn't take you for a Shakespeare man, Caleb," she teased, tilting her head up to look at him behind her.

"I'm a man of culture," he smiled back at her, ducking under his messenger bag strap and settling himself into the seat next to her.

"Could have fooled me," she chuckled.

"Ouch, Rose. And here I thought I might actually end up having two friends in this class!"

"Two," she questioned, not taking the proper time to process the statement before speaking. Caleb didn't respond immediately, distracted by the process of taking out his new notebook, and Rose suddenly found herself mulling over his words.

It's not possible, she thought to herself, instantly paling at the possibility. Nah, he has more than one friend. The probability is incredibly low.

Caleb seemed to have missed her question completely, setting to the task of dating the first page in the blue spiraled book and titling the top. When he looked up, his eyes drifted to the side to see the brunette's eyes closed in some kind of intense concentration — maybe meditation? Bemused, he reached out to flick her nose but his attention was soon drawn past her to the door where a bulky blonde waved to him with a smirk.

"Oh hey Lance, man!" he called excitedly, waving his hand slightly.

Rose's eyes shot open and she slowly turned toward the door, praying to any deity she could think of in mere seconds that Caleb had not just said that name. No. No, no, no, no, no, she chanted in her head, trying to remain as cool as she could on the outside, though she visibly stiffened.

"Sup, Caleb," Lance smiled as he took a seat in front of the pair and then turned to the girl with a grin that turned her stomach. "Ah! What a nice surprise to see your pretty face here!"

Just end me, Rose thought as she fell down into the darkness inside her. The world may as well have broken apart at the seams and sucked her into the nether — taken her soul and thrown it away. It was over.

Chapter Text

Each time Rose's eyes traveled back to the clock on the right wall of the room she silently cursed. Her right leg shook uncontrollably under her shared table with Caleb and she twitched every time he touched her shoulder to ask her if she was alright.

Maybe she just really needs to pee, he pondered as he watched her jitter around.

Time was moving entirely too slow, like each second was everlasting. For a class that was only 90 minutes, Rose felt like she had waited 10 years, just for 30 minutes to pass. Despite the fear pricking through her tense body, her mind was running simulations. How could she leave early? What excuse could she make? Maybe she could feign a stomach bug? Would it be suspicious if she dropped the class immediately after it ended?

In spite of her internal chants, begging the blonde in front of her to keep his attention on the professor, Lance kept sending glances her way as if to reassure himself she was really there. Each time he turned back, her grip on her pencil tightened but her eyes remained directly forward. She was ignoring him the best she could but his gaze burned her. It was like his eyes were making a game plan for later and she could already feel his hands on her.

As time drew nearer, Rose hastily packed her things away in her backpack, eager for a quick escape. She was already out the door by the time the old professor had finished announcing their dismissal.

Keep your head down. Blend in. Don't walk too fast. Don't grab attention. Keep your head down. Blend in... The chants kept circling in her head as she tried desperately to escape without notice. She'd barely made it halfway down the hallway when a hand grasped her shoulder.

"You're so quick Rose," an out-of-breath voice echoed near her ear and she jumped slightly. Her heart beat so fast she thought she might die right on the spot. "I didn't know someone so short could walk so fast."

Shakily Rose turned to face her seat partner as he stared back at her with a genuine smile. It's the second time he's frightened her and he's starting to wonder if she is scared of him for some reason.

"Why are you in such a hurry? Do you have another class to get to," Caleb asked, almost laughing.

She nodded, unable to speak.

"Oh, that's too bad. I wanted to catch up with you," he said, absentmindedly fiddling with his fingers. "We didn't see you all break, so we'll have to get coffee soon, okay?"

Caleb waited for a confirmation, but Rose's eyes weren't on him. She wasn't listening. Her attention was completely on a certain blonde moving nearer and nearer. Her mind was completely turned toward hoping he would move in another direction, or that his attention would be pulled away.

"Okay?" Caleb echoed his question.

Her attention snapped back to him, slight confusion muddled in her eyes as she tried to process what he asked.

"Uhm, sure," she mumbled. "I ... I have to go now. Bye" She turned without another word and practically ran away from him. Just as she rounded the corner of the hall, Lance stepped next to him with a sigh.

"You know what's up with her," Caleb asked, pointing to the spot where Rose just disappeared. "She's acting really strange today."

Lance's eyes stayed focused on the spot in the hallway where he watched Rose disappear with a slight frown upon his lips. He was silent, for perhaps a beat too long, before turning toward his friend with a lopsided grin.

"Hasn't she always been weird, though," he teased, pushing his hands into his pockets with a light shrug.

"Uhm," Caleb mumbled, trying to fill in the space in the conversation as troubling thoughts buzzed through his head. "I guess?"

A large smile broke out across Lance's face as his chest rumbled with a low laugh. Taking his left hand out of his pocket, he thumped his friend on the back and began pushing him down the hallway.

"Forget about it. Let's go get something to eat."

Down the bending hallways, out the building door and five steps away from the building, Rose decided it was finally safe to run — and run she did. She kept running, ignoring everything around as she pushed her lungs to their limit, until she finally felt that there was enough distance between her and the demons laying in wait for her in that building. With shaking knees, she all but collapsed on the first bench she could spot and pulled her whole body upright onto it, wrapping her arms around her legs and burying her face in her thighs.

"I am not going to fall apart," she whispered to herself as she tried to regulate her breathing. "You get to sit here and wallow for two minutes. TWO MINUTES. And then you're going to pick yourself up, withdraw from that class and never, ever, let that prick get to you again."

And so she sat there, in relative silence, as she focused on the way the air stung in her nostrils each time she took a break. In and out, she would become as still and as cool as the winter afternoon. In and out again, calm as the bare tree branches that swayed gently above her.

Nothing was going to break her. Nothing could get in the way of her future. Nothing could interrupt her focus — not even the slight rustling next to her as someone broke into her personal bubble by sitting on the same bench as her, even though there were several other empty benches around.

"You're fine," she told herself as the rustling continued. "You've got one more minute to refl-" Her thoughts were quickly interrupted by a soft, warm pressure on her shoulder. "AND I SWEAR TO GOD IF ONE MORE PERSON PUTS THEIR HAND ON MY SHOULDER TODAY..."

Rose lifted her head slowly from her knees and turned to face the bench's newcomer with a glare. It took her slightly teary eyes a few blinks to truly be able to focus on the giant next to her, but when her vision cleared she tried her hardest to soften her stare and hurried to brush any stray tears away from her cheeks.

"Don't mind me, Mori," she said through a slight sniffle and an attempt at a smile. His only response was to move his hand to her head to lightly ruffle her hair while keeping that same constantly stoic look on his face. "You probably have class. You should get to it."

Mori made minuscule movements as he shook his head, indicating that he had no other place to be, as he took his hand from her head and used it to move his backpack from his shoulder to the end of the bench. Shifting slightly, he moved his body toward Rose and attempted to soften his gaze. She gave him a small, sheepish smile in response before her eyes slowly drifted away from his and attached her attention to the stained pathway.

"Did..." she started, trying to find the right words for her question. "Did Hikaru tell you...uhm... what happened in..."

Rose couldn't quite finish the thought and she wasn't sure if it was because she didn't want to instantly push herself back into the head space she was trying so hard to escape or if it was because she really didn't want her tall, Japanese classmate to know how weak she'd been.

"No," Mori responded, not needing her to continue on. "Despite being troublemakers, the twins are incredibly loyal. You're too special to them to betray."

"Ahhh," she almost stuttered as she felt the apples of her cheeks heat despite the January weather. Now wasn't the time to blush, though and she pushed the strange feeling in her stomach away as she tilted her body to lean on Mori's side.

"Someone hurt me," she practically whispered with her eyes closed, almost hoping she was too quiet for him to hear but the tensing of his body was answer enough that he had. "I saw him again today and I kind of freaked out."

While Rose made an attempt to sarcastically laugh at herself, Mori found himself chewing slightly on his bottom lip. He'd been quiet most of his life. Silence had been his constant companion as he grew and his stoic demeanor had always been natural and steadfast, but as he watched Rose's face contort while she tried to reassure him (or maybe herself) he felt questions burning his tongue, begging to be let out. He'd never struggled to keep quiet, but here he was unable to keep his mouth shut.

"Hurt you how?" The words left his lips with almost a growl. The tone surprised even him.

Rose nearly jumped as the words left his mouth but it wasn't because of his unexpectedly protective tone. It was because he asked the question she was hoping he wouldn't. Her eyes squeezed together as she cringed and turned her face away from him.

Regardless, she trusted the man sharing the bench with her and she told him. She tried to stress that it was her problem. That, in the end, it wasn't that big of deal and she was just overreacting. She even went far enough to tell him that, really, she should just grow up and get over herself, but none of her words of self preservation sunk very deep for either of them.

Mori was a man raised to be the living embodiment of contradictions — to be strong yet gentle, fierce but poised, mighty but swift, silent yet romantic. His life has been built upon the core tenets of respect, morality and humility. So, after Rose told him her story, tried desperately to make it all seem okay and then walked with him in silence to their apartment complex, his head was spinning.

He'd never been a man to act on his emotions and that had always been one of his most admirable traits, but as he climbed the stairs to his shared apartment with Mitsukuni he found his feet pulling his body in a different direction. And when he found himself reaching out to knock on the twins' front door he had to take a second to figure out how he even got there. As he watched his hand retract from the wood his mind raced through what he would even say if they answered.

The door opened before he'd reached any conclusions and for the first time he found his own silence frustrating.

"Mori-senpai," Kaoru asked, opening the door with confusion. He'd never seen this emotion on the stoic man's face, whatever it was. "Do you need something?"

He didn't answer but instead pushed his way into the apartment and let his eyes roam across the contents of the twins' living room. His hands were tense at his sides as he continued to ponder what, exactly, to do next.

"Who was at th-," Hikaru began to ask as he peered his head out of the bedroom door."Ah! Hello Mori-senpai."

Mori gave them a curt nod before the two of them grabbed at his arms, pulled him to the couch and each sat a chair opposite of him.

"What can we do for you," they asked in unison and Mori's brows scrunched together as frustration flushed through him.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa Mori-senpai," Hikaru teased. "Don't frown so hard! Rose would scold you and tell you you're gonna get old man wrinkles."

He pushed at the wrong button and Mori let go of any notion that what he had to say should be sugar coated or fully thought through.

"Why didn't you do anything," he asked, forcefully. "Why didn't you go after the guy who hurt her?"

Twin faces of shock sat in front of him in silence as they attempted to recover, not only from the abrasive question but also the surprise of their stoic senpai raising his voice at them. Finally, Hikaru flinched slightly and moved his right hand to rub the back of his neck.

"Ah, well, she never even told us the guy's name," he answered, offhandedly — almost as if he was trying to play the situation off.

"And besides," Kaoru added. "She asked us not to do anything."

"And since we're trying to grow into being better people, we listened to her," they said together with mirrored shrugs.

Mori gave them a blank stare, completely unimpressed, but he didn't know how to respond. If she didn't want them to intervene, then there was hardly a thing they could do to remedy the situation. If what she wanted was to forget the situation and move on, then what right did they have to seek further justice?

But the idea of someone not only hurting their new friend, but walking away from it unscathed didn't sit well with any of them — though not a single one of the three would let those thoughts out into the open. It wasn't their place.

Still, as Mori rose from the couch, highly unsatisfied with the situation, he couldn't remedy the tightness in his chest and he left the twins with words that would ring through their poor, socially inept heads for weeks.

"Sometimes, it's better not to listen."

If only they had known that before.