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Kyoya can’t keep his eyes on the screen. 

The third music room is as peaceful as it ever is, a pleasant buzz of chatter on a Thursday afternoon. Nobody’s screaming or breaking things for a change. And yet, there’s something pulling him up and out of the calculations and notes. 

It’s an important task––updating the post-auction point totals of their guests––and it’s fairly simple. All he has to do is add the winning bids from their last auction to each buyer’s total. Simple tablature, just names and points and yen. Once he finishes this, he can finally get around to processing their appointment requests and scheduling the next week. 

He needs to focus. The point totals are important, because they determine who gets priority scheduling. The schedule is important, because it keeps the club busy and purposeful. And now more than ever, the host club needs to stay busy. He really needs to focus.

But every time he checks the winning bid for Haruhi’s contribution this round (willing, this time: a homemade bento), he finds himself staring off into space.

Five more minutes pass, and he’s still stuck on the bid labelled Houshakuji - ¥200000. He pinches his nose.

Well, then. If he really can’t do this now, he’d better attend to his other duties. Switching out the laptop for his notebook, he pushes his glasses up and takes stock of the room.

Hani and Mori: running late to their appointment after Kendo. Hani hasn’t had the chance to grab his snack yet, so he’s angling for Munakata-san’s slice of shortcake, voice growing sweeter and squeakier by the minute. He smirks. A classic loli-shota ploy.

Mori is slumped heavily against the cushions. Kendo must have been trying today, though Hani seems to be covering alright. 

He writes a note in the margins. Maybe send over some extra cake, if Hani doesn’t win her over anyway in the next five minutes. And some chamomile, for Mori-senpai. Next.

Tamaki: reclining elegantly across his favorite couch. Feeding grapes to his current appointment. Golden bangs curling slightly at the ends. Kyoya’s eyes linger for a moment, on the way that Tamaki tilts his head just so, so that afternoon sunlight is catching him. He glows, long and luxurious on the cushions, the very picture of narcissism. 

Somehow he’s been caught staring. He prepares an expression, pursed lips and raised eyebrow and imperious head tilt that will say get back to work, idiot. Just then, Tamaki sends a small, radiant smile his way. Not a host smile, but dazzling enough that Kyoya feels blinded and unsteady for a moment. He adjusts his glasses. He looks down.

Idiot. Why is he so glittery? 

Anyway. If he intends on hand-feeding every guest, they’ll need more grapes. Then again, Tamaki will probably get bored of it the exact moment Haruhi leaves for the grocery store. Best to leave it alone. He drags his attention onward.

Kaoru and Hikaru: hosting their regulars. Currently mid-story. Hikaru’s smile strains at the edges. Not too worrying, Kaoru isn’t sending any distress signals and they’ve got a break from appointments in ten minutes.

Given recent developments, Kyoya’s been scheduling in breaks for them. Hikaru will make it through. Then the twins can harass Tamaki or Hikaru can sulk in a corner while Kaoru finds someone else to sit with quietly. Recently, he’s taken to watching over Kyoya’s shoulder while he grapples with the budget.

Kaoru is fidgeting, though. With an empty teacup––oh, they’re out of coffee––where is Haruhi?

Ah. Of course.

Haruhi is making more coffee. Or rather, Haruhi was, at some point, making more coffee. The lid to the Nescafe container is open, and she is stirring something in a teacup. But she’s distracted, chatting with Renge. Judging by the lack of steam, she’s been stirring the same cup for a couple minutes.

Renge is wagging her finger at the coffee, gesturing insistently to some sweetener packets on the side. Ah, that’s right, Renge hates that instant crap. Smiling, Haruhi shrugs and declines the offer. Which is probably for the best, as the only way the sweetener could improve it is by replacing it entirely. Renge pouts. She recovers quickly, though, and asks something else that gets a more animated response. The back and forth continues, their enthusiasm growing until Renge is practically twirling in place. Haruhi watches her with such utterly indulgent warmth, Kyoya has to look away. But he can’t keep his eyes off them for long.

So unabashedly affectionate. Haruhi reaches out to steady Renge with fond exasperation. Both are blushing, but neither lets go. They’re truly lost in their own world, aren’t they? Renge says something indiscernible, speaking in a voice that is so soft it feels like he’s been punched.

Haruhi laughs, high and sweet, and the air shifts.

There’s an observable phenomenon among the hosts, where something happens to one of them and it rings through the others, vivid and calling. Uncoordinated, but perfectly in sync, they’ll turn to witness whatever momentous thing is happening in that host. Like Hani’s first painful bite of cake, the exact moment he’d found his cavity. Or Tamaki’s realization all those months ago about Haruhi’s assigned-at-birth gender. Today it happens again, all of them honing in on that laugh.

He wonders if she can sense it, their eyes and hearts on her, breathing in rose-sweet air and watching as the whirlwind delight that is Renge sweeps Haruhi off her feet. Each host watches with complicated feelings: Hikaru and Kaoru, of course, working out their tender hearts; Mori and Hani securely, fondly, proudly; Tamaki with his own bittersweet smile. And Kyoya, with a sort of sinking sensation.

He shakes himself. This is technically Renge’s timeslot, so there’s nothing wrong there. And with the new point balances, she’ll be taking up a lot more time in Haruhi’s schedule anyway. But it won’t do to have the coffee missing, and the hosts’ attention so clearly diverted.

Hani and Mori have already resumed their duties. He sends Tamaki a look to get back to his own appointment, and heads over.

“Haruhi, the coffee, please,” he reminds her.

“Ah, sorry senpai.”

Renge gasps. “Sorry, Kyoya-senpai! Here, Haruhi. Let me help.”

Kyoya pretends to check on their snack supply, carefully ignoring the snippets of conversation floating by. He keeps his eyes firmly on the cake he’s extracting from fridge four. He’ll get that tea for Mori-senpai, now.

Together they finish up the last three cups and ferry them over to the twins’ table. He breathes a sigh out once they’re finally gone, grabs an extra slice of shortcake for Tamaki. Since he’s here. Normally he’d ask Haruhi to do this, but… well. He takes the tray of tea and cake over to the seniors, returning Hani-senpai’s smile, and glides away to reach Tamaki just as his appointment ends.

“Kyoya! Is that for me?”

“Of course.”

“Thank you, mon bonheur. Come, sit.” He takes the whole tray so that Kyoya can. There’s enough time before his next appointment. Kyoya joins him on the sofa.

“Mori-senpai looks tired today,” Tamaki says, in between bites.

“Kendo, probably.”

“Hmm. I hope so.” He laughs, small and strange. “There are enough mushrooms growing around here as it is.”

Kyoya inclines his head. It seems like the safest response.

Clearing his throat, Tamaki looks up. “When… When did you know, Kyoya?”

That they liked each other? That they were together? That they would be?

“They were very close, at the Ouran fair.” It had been all but inevitable, after that.

Tamaki nods. That was over a month ago now. He doesn’t seem too upset about it, just far away.

If he’s being honest, they really are a good pair. Haruhi brings realism and compassion to Renge’s entrepreneuring spirit, and Renge brings imagination and fun into Haruhi’s grounded nature. Sometimes it’s almost too sweet. But it’s not at all unpleasant to see them happy. Just...

“Have you had trouble with the budget, lately? I’ve noticed you’re staying later,” says Tamaki, leaning forward.

“No trouble with the budget.” Actually, profits have been a little higher recently, on account of Haruhi’s inflated auction prices.

“Something at home, then? Do you want to stay over for a while?”

That would be the exact opposite of solving the problem, but the consideration still makes his heart warm, in a kind of aching way.

“No, but thanks. I’m really alright, you know.”

Sighing, Tamaki seems pretty unconvinced, but he sits back anyway. “Okay, then. You’d better come over at the first sign of trouble, you know. Anything at all, Kyoya.”

Very like him, to be keeping track of the most insignificant details in the grand scheme of happenings. Still, Kyoya can’t help but smile. “And yourself?”

“Me?”

“How is Tou-san holding up, hm?”

“Ah. That,” says Tamaki, looking away. “You know…"

He sighs. Kyoya leans forward, intent on whatever is coming.

“It’s strange. For some reason, I find myself... relieved,” he murmurs, gazing down into his empty hands.

Kyoya hmms. That’s not the end of what Tamaki has to say, but he’s conflicted about what comes next, or he’d have brushed the whole question off. For weeks he’s been grappling with the truth. Kyoya has held back and let him work through it. But today, he can finally help. He’s spent long enough struggling alone.

“Relieved. And what were you worried about, before?”

He bites his lip.

Very, very quietly: “It’s our responsibility, as members of the Ouran Host Club, to make every girl happy. It’s… my responsibility.”

“She is happy.”

“Yes, but- I can’t help but feel like-” - I’ve failed, is the end to that. “Ah, nevermind.”

Tamaki faces him, smiling, but his eyes are distinctly sad. “C’est la vie,” he shrugs, ready to move on.

That won’t stand. Not with Kyoya. “Her debt is paid off, you know.”

“Huh?”

“Her debt. She worked it off nine days ago.”

“She- what?”

“She knows. She’s still here. Did you really think that Haruhi would do anything she didn’t want to?”

“Well, no, but. That doesn’t mean-”

“Do you really think you don’t make her happy?”

Tamaki opens his mouth, closes it, opens it again and sputters. “But I haven’t even- I mean, I’m not-”

He hasn’t even been trying anymore. Not in the way he has been, for so long. As he’s gotten over her, he’s finally put down the prince costume. That’s what Tamaki is trying to say. 

Oh, this all-seeing blind beloved fool.

“Has it crossed your mind that maybe, perhaps, we stick around for more than the Host Club King?”

Tamaki gapes. So he’s finally getting it, is he? Good. Then Kyoya is done here.

Really, there are other things he can say––but maybe he shouldn't, given everything. He's said enough, Tamaki's not actually dumb. He wars with himself for but a second longer. Then he catches the tiniest scrunch of Tamaki’s eyebrows, and decides. 

“Father and King are just roles, Tamaki. You yourself bring us happiness," he says. Without his permission, he continues speaking. "We cannot help but love you.”

Oh. Oh no. Red, red, red. Their King has turned into a tomato.

“Kyoya...” breathes Tamaki, and oh no .

Kyoya breaks eye contact. That didn't… go how it should have. That is the exact opposite of the distance he should be cultivating. He glances up and Tamaki is still flushed and wondering, and so beautiful and he has to figure out a distraction for them immediately before his heart beats right out of his chest.

Then Tamaki catches something out of the corner of his eye, and his face falls a little. “Ah, Kyoya, your guest is here.”

Thank goodness. Distance. He needs more distance. He scolds his heart for quivering in its casket of bone, but it won’t be stilled. Kyoya stands, brushes off his pants, and pushes forward. 

~

He makes sure to present his most pleasant smile for Yamaha-hime, greeting her with a generous bow. Yamaha Tooru’s family sells pianos of every class worldwide. He has a healthy respect for their business. Yamaha herself is said to be an accomplished pianist, which he asks her about. She’s appropriately modest. The conversation goes easily from there. 

As the Cool Type, he offers very little of himself. It’s about creating intrigue. Hints are appetizers, there to imply everything and confirm nothing about the rest of the courses. He knows how to keep customers hungry. 

As an Ootori, he interrogates her with perfect social grace. She talks just a little bit more than him, and he learns far more than her.

She’s not incredibly witty, but she seems charmed by his dry humor. She’s humble, but she has an artist’s eye. 

He’s heard boys in his class compliment her hair. Objectively, it frames her face well, pleasing in shape. And it’s shiny.

At the end of the appointment, he makes sure to ask her to play for him sometime. A followup invitation. When he asks, though, the corner of her mouth pulls up and she tilts her head at him, glossy bangs falling into her eyes.

“I’m not sure it’s worth hearing me play,” she says. “After all, my playing couldn’t possibly compare to Tamaki-sama’s.”

Ah. “Ah, but it is the individual who shines through the music, and I would very much like to know how you shine, Yamaha-hime.” Inwardly Kyoya cringes at his recovery, but she laughs and blushes anyway.

“You flatter me. But it appears our time is up, now. Thank you for your time, Kyoya-sama.”

“Of course,” he agrees, and escorts her to the door. He watches her go, looking after the swish of her dark hair, and tries to imagine what their future would look like. She’s pleasant enough: level headed, unobtrusive but not too shy either. From her grades and the plans she just shared, she’s well on her way to managing her family’s business. Their children would learn to play the piano. That would be pleasant, a household full of music. But he’s afraid his standards might be too high. And that’s the last pressure he wants to put on them.

It’s not that much of a problem, though, seeing as she clearly won’t be considering him in the future anyway. Perceptive, he writes in her file. Daring, too, to call him out. He sighs.

Crossing her name off the list, he’s in the middle of considering how he might entice another prospect when Tamaki sings something across the room. Ah, another serenade for another lovely young woman. It’s shrill for a moment, as Tamaki gets rather ambitious, but when he finds his range again it’s a grand, wondrous thing. He huffs a laugh, and doesn’t notice Haruhi sidling up to him until she’s already spoken.

“You’ve been taking more customers lately,” she observes.

“Well, my request rate is up. The girls are simply finding more interest in me.”

“Really.”

He glances at her out of the corner of his eye, catching her unimpressed eyebrow. But what does she care, anyway? He goes back to watching Tamaki, who is crooning into the ear of another poor girl. She’s quite overwhelmed. Tamaki had better set her down soon, before she faints.

“You’ve been a lot more open, too, Senpai. You don’t usually act where people can see you.” Yes, that is the reason they’re finding more interest in him, after all. One by one, he’s been carefully piquing their interest, securing appointments with them. It’s been draining, honestly. “Really, you never used to do that before. Why now?”

His eyes are following Tamaki’s elaborate dance, not unlike the mating display of a tropical bird, so he’s not thinking when he answers. “It’s come to my attention that I need to be looking out for new marriage prospects.”

He doesn’t even realize what he’s said until Haruhi’s spitting out her tea and coughing. 

Suddenly concerned, he passes her a napkin. Hm. This could be awkward.

“New marriage prospects? Has something changed?”

“Not really,” and that feels strikingly hollow. He slides in a class-exclusionary comment to cover it. “I always have to be thinking of my future, that’s all.”

The look she’s sending him tells him she knows he’s full of it. He pushes up his glasses. This isn’t really a conversation to be having here and now. 

Simply put, Haruhi and Renge’s exits from the dating market limit his opportunities. Kyoya has no illusions about his marriage prospects, but if he had the privilege of choice, he would have chosen Renge or Haruhi. They’re neither predictable nor easy to control, but he’s built something more valuable with them. He trusts them. He would have fought for the chance to choose, if he could have relied on choosing one of his friends.

But it’s better this way. They’re better together than in a passionless Ootori marriage.

Besides, he’s hardly out of options. It’s just... difficult, to imagine finding other women he can trust with himself as he is. 

Despite everything, this plan definitely beats the waiting game. If he can just find an appropriate business match before his father steps in, it will all be bearable. If he can just figure out how to stop sabotaging himself, he can make this work.

It’s funny. Haruhi is a commoner, and yet affords a luxury he could barely dream of tasting. He tries not to let his bitterness show when she catches him watching, but she probably sees it anyway.

Haruhi is merciful, though. She leaves him to watch Tamaki’s antics in peace.

Now their king is waxing eloquent about the theme for next week, gesturing emphatically. Wild, yet graceful. It only makes sense because Tamaki is king of contradictions. A flurry of applause and laughter ensues from the young women beside him––they’ll soon be flocking to Kyoya to secure next week’s appointment slots. He sighs. Tamaki’s most certainly overpromising on their cosplay and activities. 

Of course, if Kyoya were to point this out, he’d get another dazzling smile. “It’s impossible to overpromise when you’re delivering, Kyoya,” Tamaki would say, full of faith, and Kyoya would work twice as hard to make him right. 

The truth of it is not that Kyoya is anything special, merely that Tamaki’s lofty dreams and unwavering confidence make your heart beat faster, make everything seem more vibrant and meaningful and suddenly you want to buy him parcels of land on the moon, or small kingdoms. But Tamaki isn’t really into real estate, so he settles for the cosplays and the keeping-them-out-of-crippling-debt with the budget.

He makes a note to meet with the twins again tomorrow to go over any Hitachiin pieces that can be repurposed for the theme. But for now, he lets himself watch Tamaki work for just a little longer. He doesn’t notice the smile that’s made itself comfortable on his face. Nor does he notice the wide brown eyes absorbing this detail.

~

Once club hours are over, Haruhi approaches him again. She holds his gaze steadily and crosses her arms as she comes to a stop in front of him. A lesser man would step back, cowed. The Shadow King is a lesser man to the point that he's also supremely petty, so he manages to stay right in place.

“You're in love with Tamaki-senpai,” says Haruhi. A daring accusation, but she is just a little more daring lately. Though he's not about to let her faze him.

“Hm. There’s an interesting theory.”

She shakes her head at him, disapproving. “You are so in love with him, Senpai. Why on earth are you looking for new marriage prospects?”

“I told you before, I’m keeping an eye out for my future. Us damn rich people have to look out for ourselves, you know.” He rolls his eyes, but his fingers twitch. There’s nobody left but them right now. But this isn’t a good conversation to be having.

“But you’re in love with him,” she insists, and why won’t she leave it alone? Why does she sound so desperate? Why does she keep saying it? “Why would you plan for a future without him?”

The breath leaves his lungs.

Why indeed.

He clenches his fist, clawing his way back up and out of the anguish rolling through him.

“That’s ridiculous,” he says. “You of all people should know I only think of myself. If I really loved him I would act on it, wouldn’t I?”

She gapes at him, stunned. “Senpai-”

“Enough,” Kyoya snaps, “Not all of us can indulge in selfish fantasies, Haruhi.”

And like a coward, he runs.


Haruhi, to her great irritation, is rattled.

She feels it the whole train ride home, a churn in her stomach and a falter in her step. Selfish. He’d called her selfish. She kicks a pebble in her path, feeling satisfied at the ping it makes when it hits the post of a streetlamp. Then she feels guilty. Why did she do that?

She’s extra careful, then, closing the door to their apartment. No use in alerting her father to her mood. After dropping her bag off and changing out of her uniform, she heads straight to the kitchen. Homework can wait.

She grabs a few ingredients off the shelves, knocking things over and generally making a clattering mess. She huffs. When she finally has everything in front of her, she turns to add it to the pot- Wait, no, she needs to boil water first. She sighs at herself.

“Haruhi?” Ranka stumbles out of his bedroom. 

She must have woken him, making all this noise in the kitchen. Her stomach churns again.

“Sorry, dad. You can go back to sleep.”

He narrows his eyes at her. “What’s wrong? Did something happen at school?”

“No.”

“Don’t make me call Kyoya-kun, daughter dearest.”

She may have put the pot down a little too forcefully––they both wince at the clang.

How much should she tell him? Ranka likes Kyoya, after all. Then again, maybe they’d stop gossiping so much if she airs her grievance.

No. That’s not fair at all. She shouldn’t out Kyoya, even if it is to her bisexual okama dad. For what seems to be the fiftieth time, she sighs at herself. What is wrong with her?

“I don’t need to have a talk with the Ootoris, do I?”

She snorts. “You’d better not.”

“Oh good! We still don’t have our passports, after all. Though I would have done it, if we needed to. Anything for you, Haruhi!” He trills at the end, giving her name an affectionate sing-song sound.

Despite everything, she smiles. 

“So, what is it, then? Trouble in paradise?”

“No,” she says. “Well, maybe. I don’t know. It’s fine, Dad. I’ll figure it out.”

“Hmm.” Ranka yawns, then quiets. He seems to be waiting for more, but she just doesn’t feel like sharing.

Selfish, she thinks. Well, Kyoya’s a coward and a liar, in her humble opinion. It was so obvious he loved Tamaki. And then he’d had the gall to try and distract her with more of his rich kid exclusivity propaganda. Sometimes Kyoya-senpai could be a real jerk.

Her hands still, recalling wide eyes and twitchy fingers. He had been scared, underneath all the nonsense. Why had he been so scared?

Even in lies there is a little bit of truth. In every false claim to heartlessness, Kyoya revealed a fear about himself. In every pretentious reminder of how different his world was, she learned a little more about it.

What she was learning now was that something about being with Tamaki terrified Kyoya. Something about her being with Renge should terrify her.

Selfish. She feels so unlike herself. Haruhi knows she has a tendency to be blunt. Sometimes her words strike too true and leave people raw. She doesn’t mean to, it’s just… The truth is the truth. It will hurt you whether you acknowledge it or not, so you should acknowledge it. She’d learned that lesson very young.

Even so, she hadn’t meant to hurt him. But she had, and he’d called her selfish and gone running away.

She had just… seen that he was hurting, and wanted to know why, when… Kyoya-senpai always had a plan. And his plans usually worked. So why would he plan for something that would hurt himself?

Selfish, he’d said.

Of course, there is only one answer. Because the alternative would hurt someone else.

Her stomach twists.

“The pot’s boiling, Haruhi,” calls Ranka.

Alarmed, she looks to see he’s right. She hasn’t even finished preparing the ingredients! If she doesn’t focus they’re going to be eating burnt water for dinner. She puts the thoughts out of her mind the rest of the time she cooks.

Dinner is a quiet affair. Well, it is once Ranka finishes updating her on the lives of all his coworkers and the exciting newbie okama he’s taking under his wing. (“She’s so cuuuuuute, Haruhi! I’m so honored to be her Big Sister,” he cries tearfully.) She laughs at his stories, but when the time comes where she usually talks about school, she sits silently.

After several minutes of quiet, Ranka puts down his chopsticks and sighs.

“Well, I know you already know this, but no relationship survives without communication, Haruhi. You can’t fix a relationship alone in your head.”

She nods. Another truth comes to her, and it hurts, but she knows she must acknowledge it anyway. Still, this one she murmurs only to herself.

“You can’t fix a relationship if it was only ever meant to be a fantasy, either.”

~

The next morning, Haruhi’s walking with the twins to eat lunch in their usual classroom when they pass Kyoya and Tamaki in the hall.

“Oh, Haruhi,” says Kyoya, like yesterday hadn’t happened. She stiffens. “Your bento sold, to Renge. Make sure to get that to her.”

“I know,” she bites out. Tamaki and the twins do a bit of a double take at her tone. “I made it this morning.”

Kyoya gives her a curt nod, then proceeds down the hallway. She glares after him. Jerk. 

She’s vaguely aware of the others having some sort of flailing hissing conversation behind her, no doubt speculating over what new drama is going on between her and Kyoya. Haruhi turns around, sighing at them.

“Well! Um!” Tamaki straightens, smiling at her uncertainly. “I will be off with Kyoya for lunch in the music room. Feel free to join us, if you-”

“No thanks.”

“Ah, very well. Then, dear children, goodbye and have a wonderful day. Also, don’t be late to club today, Haruhi.”

She rolls her eyes at him, but it’s affectionate. He sends her one more look of concern, then jogs away to catch up with the Shadow King.

“So…” starts Hikaru, giving her the side-eye. Immediately her agitation level rises.

“What’s up with you and Kyoya-senpai?” Kaoru pokes her in the shoulder. His brother peers into her face from way too close.

“That’s between us,” she snaps, shoving both of them off.

They recoil. There’s a beat.

Pursing his lips, Hikaru waves a hand in the direction Tamaki had left. “Come on, Kaoru. Let’s go eat in the music room, then. Since we’re clearly not appreciated here.”

“You go ahead. I’ll catch up with you.” 

Hikaru gives him a hurt look, but goes anyway. Haruhi scuffs her foot on the tile.

“You should go with him, he’s going to feel left out,” she says. Like Kaoru doesn’t already know. Like it’s not her fault in the first place.

We’ll be fine. I’ll make it up to him later.” She winces. Kaoru’s managed to wave it off and prod her right in the guilt. “What's with you, though? You've been kind of snappy all morning. Was it because of you and Kyoya-senpai’s fight?”

Yes, but she can't get into it. 

“I'm not feeling myself, lately,” she says, dull. “I'm sorry. I'll apologize to Hikaru later, too. I need to go, Renge-chan is waiting for me.”

“Okay. I…” He sighs. “Have fun.”

So they part. Halfway down the hall, he turns around. “Haruhi, you’ll talk to her at least, won't you?”

And there it is, again. She nods at him. He goes.

When she finally ducks into their classroom, Renge puts down her phone and leaps to her feet, practically skipping over to hug Haruhi. Haruhi lets it happen and hugs back. Then the scent of Renge’s shampoo hits her and she holds a little tighter, struck by how familiar and calming that smell has become. Renge leans back and smiles, and Haruhi can’t stop her own mouth from curving up, fond.

“I brought the bento. Did you wait long?”

“Oh no,” Renge titters. “I’ve just been reading over the latest draft of Volume 12! It’s going to be a real showstopper, I think.”

For the first time all day, Haruhi feels completely at ease. Renge fills the air with cheerful chatter about the next issue of the Moe-Moe Ouran Diaries. As always, her passion drives her through phases of nefarious cackling, dramatic singing, and ear-splitting, glass-shattering squealing. It’s an infectious energy, even if Haruhi has almost no idea what her girlfriend’s talking about.

Eventually Renge does take a break from the future of her doujinshi, and starts eating.

“This bento is amazing, Haruhi-chan,” she gushes. “Thank you so much! To eat the cooking of my significant other is one thing, but to eat the divine art of a godly chef as yourself is a true treat.”

Haruhi has to laugh at the exaggeration, but she is digging in. She’s glad. She had worked hard this morning for it, knowing who it would go to.

Her mouth flattens at a sudden thought. It's strange, isnt it? That her girlfriend had to pay so much for this bento. It's just a bento. It's definitely strange.

“Renge-chan… does it bother you that you had to pay for this?”

Renge pauses to swallow. “No, why?”

Haruhi hesitates.

“I mean that normal couples don't hide like... this.” She gestures at the classroom they’ve been meeting in for the past few weeks. Every other lunch, one of them pretends to leave after class. Then they circle back. It’s precious time together, but it’s secret. “They can just do nice things for each other. Make food for fun. No business involved.”

“Hmm. Maybe normal people do,” Renge shrugs. “But I think at Ouran it's not too strange. If you were in the art club, I'd buy one of your paintings. If you were in the aquarium club, I'd adopt one of your tanks. It's supporting your interests.”

Oh. But Haruhi’s not… like the kids here. Haruhi doesn’t buy Renge’s doujinshi. She points that out, shifting in her seat.

“Well, no, but you listen to me talk about it! I mean, you just listened to me ramble for ten straight minutes about Volume 12!”

Haruhi bites her lip. Ten minutes of rambling for ¥200000 . That’s not a fair trade. And that’s hardly the most of what Renge’s spent on her. It’s not like she can offer any of that back. Selfish. It echoes again.

Out of nowhere, Renge presses her lips to Haruhi’s cheek. 

“It’s more than enough. I promise,” she says, voice serious and soft.

Haruhi’s hand comes up absentmindedly to the spot she’d kissed, like she can hold it there if she tries. Her stomach flutters, then turns. Selfish.  

“It still doesn’t feel quite right.”

Renge smirks. “Well… I suppooose … If you’re so worried… you could always have me over for dinner.”

That brings Haruhi blinking back into the present. Renge raises her eyebrows and shrugs with feigned nonchalance, though the effect is ruined by how she bounces in her seat.

She laughs wryly. “Fair enough. You can come over tonight.”

Her girlfriend’s resulting squeal drowns out the end-of-period bell.

~

When they arrive at the Fujioka apartment, Haruhi gets started on dinner while Renge plays on her DS in the corner. They’re quiet. It’s a Friday night, so Ranka needs all the beauty rest he can get before he heads to work, Haruhi had explained.

The three of them eat dinner together, Renge complimenting Haruhi for her cooking and Ranka for her outfit. Ranka seems to approve, laughing and chatting easily with her girlfriend.

“Well, I’ll have to be heading off to work now,” Ranka says. He gives Haruhi a look over their rice bowls. She feels her mood drop immediately.

The door closes behind her father, and then it’s just them.

“Thanks for making dinner, and for having me over,” says Renge.

“No problem,” Haruhi replies.

“Honestly, I just really like spending time with you.”

A muted smile. “Hey, can we… talk about something?"

Renge sits up a little straighter.

“Of course. What’s up?”

“I’ve just… Some things have come up, recently, and I’ve been wondering. Have you thought about what you want? For your future?”

Clasping her hands together, Renge nods emphatically. “Yes, actually! I was just talking with Kyoya-senpai last week about this. I’ve been thinking of starting my own publishing firm. I’d love to publish doujinshi on a much wider scale. He thinks I’d be great at it, and I have to agree. I mean, the profits from the Moe Moe Ouran Diaries are nothing to sneeze at!”

“That’s great,” Haruhi says. Renge cares a lot about her stories––and she certainly knows what her audience wants. She would do well. It’s not what she means, though.

“You’re going to be a lawyer, right? Like your mom. Of course, you’ll do great! My Haruhi is so smart, at the top of her class. They’ll be begging for your mercy in court,” she sings, wiggling with excitement.

“I hope so.”

She sips her tea, hoping it’ll help calm her stomach. An awkward silence sits with them while Haruhi tries to figure out how to ask her question.

“I meant to ask about things outside of work, too.” Well that’s ridiculously vague. “Like… I don’t know. A house. Becoming independent by a certain age, or getting a pet. Having kids… or...”

Renge freezes for a moment, then starts to vibrate. “Are you asking about… marriage?”

“Yes,” she blurts, without thinking.

Renge squeals. “Haruhi! But, isn’t that a little soon?”

“Yes. Yes it is way too soon.”

“Oh.”

“What I meant was… How does marriage affect your future?”

“Oh.” Renge goes a little quiet. “Well, most girls in my position get married off in arranged marriages, for business. But my father promised me when I was younger that I was allowed to marry whoever I wished. So I don’t have any worries about arranged marriage.”

Freedom from arranged marriages is different from freedom to marry non-men, though. She shifts in her seat. “And… have you told your father about us?”

“Yes. He was… confused. And upset. But he did promise me.” Staring into her teacup, she sighs, seemingly forlorn. 

It doesn’t last long. Renge sits up straight, clenching her fist, and looks at Haruhi directly. “I’ve always decided I am going to marry for love. People marry for business ties because they think it makes them stronger. But love is the strongest force of all! I believe that finding love will make me most successful!” 

Her eyes blaze with passion. Haruhi feels for a moment like she might catch fire herself, swept up into the inferno. Then Renge shrugs and takes another sip of her tea. “That’s what I’ve seen in manga, at least.”

Something sinks in Haruhi’s chest. For some reason, she has this urge to hide her hands under the table. She keeps her fingers wrapped around the teacup anyway.

“This isn’t a manga, though. How can you be sure it’ll work out?”

“I mean, I just know it will. It has to. It always does.”

A stone sits heavy in her gut. Haruhi can’t help but press. “But how? How will it work out?” 

“I don’t know exactly.”

“But that isn’t enough!”

Haruhi covers her mouth. She hadn’t meant for it to be so vehement. Startled, Renge leans forward and studies her face.

“You’re… worried about this, Haruhi?”

Yes, Haruhi realizes. She is. 

“I’m sorry for not noticing,” says Renge, biting her lip. Her voice is soft with regret. “I’ve been so caught up in my own head I didn’t see that you might be worried.

Briefly, bitterly, she thinks it's a miracle Renge had ever managed to get out of her head long enough to fall into this relationship in the first place. More and more it seems like a cheesy cliche. A fantasy. Selfish.

Haruhi shakes herself. That’s unfair, when Renge has put in so much work to get to know the real her. And Renge knows her. Renge is the one who’s been helping her untangle her identity, after all. If there’s anyone in the world close to knowing her, it’s Renge, because she has put in the effort.

No, Haruhi’s not a fantasy to Renge anymore. She knows that. 

But maybe she should be, whispers a voice. It’s the same voice that’s been plaguing her all day. The voice that won’t stop echoing: Selfish. Selfish.

“Haruhi, will you please talk to me?”

She doesn’t want to. But Kaoru. And Dad. And her mantra returns, though it seems colder than usual. The truth is the truth. It will hurt you whether you acknowledge it or not, so you should acknowledge it.

“I’m not a boy, Renge-chan. I’m not even a girl. I have nothing to offer you. And it’s going to cause you a lot of trouble for us to be together.”

“Don’t say that!”

“But it’s true. And… I just- I worry I’ve rushed into this with you. I worry I’ve made a mistake, I’ve been selfish.”

They had gotten together so quickly, in hindsight. Their friendship was slower: Renge had started to see the true her, had seen so well that she’d figured out Haruhi’s assigned gender, and had seen past even that and helped Haruhi decipher how she actually felt about it all. 

But their romance after that… It had been the Ouran fair, and a sleepover. Renge had been so pretty, so close, so sweet, so vibrant after all the dancing. And Haruhi in the rush of things had reached for Renge without stopping to think and she hadn’t stopped since. It had felt so right. She hadn’t thought for a second about the consequences. And that was where she’d been selfish.

How could she have been so reckless? Her hands shake at the realization.

“Haruhi?” Renge scoots closer, holding out her own hand.

Abruptly, a wave of longing surges in Haruhi. The wildness of it scares her.

She’s been so unlike herself, out of control and irresponsible and confused. It’s so hard to be rational, to sit alone and still when all she wants to do is hold Renge’s hand, and oh, that scares her. She's supposed to be independent. She's supposed to be able to handle stuff on her own. She's supposed to plan ahead and not burden anyone and achieve her goals on hard work and her own mettle. She’s not supposed to hurt Renge.

She closes her eyes, and turns away.

“Haruhi, will you please talk to me?” Her voice sounds like it could shatter. 

“I don’t know what to do,” she says. “I’m afraid to let go of you.”

“Why are you so sure you have to? I’m right here, just-”

Haruhi tries to be gentle, but her voice is shaking and it ruins the effect. “How can this possibly work out, Renge-chan? There are too many things working against us for this to be a happy ending. This isn’t a doujinshi.”

“I know is isn’t. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try…”

“What are we trying for? It’s just going to hurt you, in the-”

“But I still think it’s worth it!” Renge shouts.

When Haruhi turns around, Renge’s face is downturned. Her hands are balled into fists.

“Renge-chan…”

“Listen,” she says. She swallows, and looks up. “Please. I know this isn't a romance novel, or I'd skip to the end. Did you know, I can't handle that kind of dramatic tension at all? Every time this kind of thing happens, I have to turn to the wiki, or read the last page.” 

Her laugh is wobbly, nothing like her signature boundless cackle. Haruhi finds her hands moving to comfort before she can think. She drops them.

“But Haruhi, you really, really make me happy. I can be myself around you, but I can be even better because of you. I have to believe it will work out, but I really think it could.” The admission is hushed. But somehow, like before, Haruhi feels like she could catch fire from it. Renge’s shifted from wild passion into a quiet determination, a slow burning flame that flickers when they meet eyes.

“It’s because of you I tried to learn how to really get to know people. Your passion for your own dreams made me start thinking about my own plans for the future. You make me want to do more. I’ve never met anyone that made me want to work harder,” she confesses.

Haruhi thinks quietly about the door opened in her heart. She hears Renge’s voice in her mind, the what if you were neither? What if there was something in between, or not at all?  The what if that Haruhi found her truth in. The what if that allowed her to fit in her skin and own it. The what if that had propelled her forward, that reckless rushing night of the Ouran fair and every day since. The what if of truth, and bliss, that came without warning and without worrying.

Renge has changed her, too. 

“I just think… You’ve made me stronger. Maybe everything won’t work out right away, but… can’t we work toward it?” Renge asks.

Haruhi takes a deep breath. The churning in her stomach has stopped, but now there’s a shuddering in her chest. She wants.

“I want that. I do. But I don’t even know what to work toward,” she admits. “I don't even know what our happy ending looks like.” This is nothing as concrete as wanting to be a lawyer, or wanting to be independent by 21. There’s no model she can think of, no clear milestones.

“I have no idea what our actual happy ending will look like...”

Of course. It’s what if, there’s no telling where it goes. She nods. Sighs. But Renge’s not quite finished.

“...but, could I tell you what I’m imagining for now?”

Breath catching, Haruhi tilts her head.

Renge bites her lip again. It’s vulnerable. Her voice is impossibly soft when she speaks. “Right now, my happy ending looks like us, two successful business people. I'll have a legion of fangirls, and you'll be the top lawyer in Tokyo. We’ll have a little apartment together, and a dog. And…” Renge blushes. “We'll get married, somehow, somewhere——and I’ll wear white, and you can wear whatever you want. Our dads will cry together, we’ll have the Host Club and all of our friends there. We’ll dance under the stars.”

Like at the fair. Haruhi blushes too.

In the following silence, Renge's eyes begin to dim. She fidgets with her hands. “I'm sorry, I know it's not very realistic. I know you want something more concrete. I mean, we can't even get married here in Japan-”

Haruhi catches her hand. 

“No,” she says, utterly calm for the first time since they’ve started talking about it all. “It’s not concrete. But it is beautiful. It makes me hope. I… I want that too.”

A sniffle. And another. Renge wipes her eyes furiously. This time Haruhi does reach to comfort her, offering tissue and never letting go of her hand.

“I'm sorry, Renge-chan. I’ve been feeling so worried, because I really wanted this but… I want you to be okay. I’m sorry to worry you so much. I should have talked to you sooner and been more open about what I was feeling.”

Renge smiles wetly. “I think it worked out. We needed to have this conversation.” She hiccups another sob, and Haruhi jolts forward. Renge waves her off. “Sorry. Sorry. I thought… i was so worried you didn't like me anymore. I thought today might be the day we break up.”

“I like you, Renge-chan. I really do. I’ll work for this with you. Even if it’s uncertain. You… you’ve changed me too, you know? I think that, with you, I can learn to dream of happy endings.”

“Oh Haruhi. You’re like my own knight in shining armor,” sighs Renge. Brushing away the last her tears, her smile finally shines again.

An impulse comes. Haruhi looks at her girlfriend’s eyes, sparkling, sweet, so willing to see what could be. She wants. She wants to make her wishes come true.

Lifting their joint hands, she presses a kiss to Renge’s skin, and watches her blush.


Haruhi doesn’t talk to him about it again after that, although she gives up the cold shoulder by the next Monday. Over the next week he catches her watching him sadly. Whenever he does, she turns away, leaning into Renge more.

He tries not to let his bitterness show.

Having someone outside himself call out the truth for what it is is hard enough. But then, asking those questions, questions that he’s only asked himself in the dark, in the safety and silence of nighttime… it breaks the lock in his mind. He thinks about it more often, finds himself wishing more often. It’s not easy breaking your own heart, and he knows he’s being a little too obviously miserable.

Tamaki tries to fix it with shoulder massages and leaning over his chair and sleepovers and asking watching reaching and… it’s not easy, breaking your own heart.

But he can’t stop. The future he’s choosing looms cold and empty before him. On a Thursday night exactly one week after their first conversation, he wakes up alone in a cold sweat and an agony of yearning. He wishes it would stop. He thinks, wildly, in that darkness, that if he could just tell someone, anyone, maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much. And then maybe he could get a good night’s rest again.

So Friday finds him lingering after club, putting away the leftover snacks with Haruhi. He opens his mouth, then closes it. Probably about seven times. And then they’re both done, and he still hasn’t figured out how to ask her.

“I’m going to head home now, Senpai,” Haruhi says, voice clipped.

He’s out of time. He nods, and she turns and sighs and picks up her bag and heads for the door and he should apologize, at least, but she’s on her way out and it doesn’t even matter, does it? In the end? If all of his dreams are so meaningless? If he knows his dreams will die anyway, if he's already the one digging the grave, why shouldn't he have this?

“Kyoya-senpai,” she calls, turning suddenly. A fierce determination blazes in her eyes. It calls to him. It demands the truth.

“Did you know same-sex marriage is legal in France?” he blurts.

It startles them both.

Haruhi looks at him with a gaze that is just as patient and fond as it is exasperated. “Yes,” she says. Sheepishness colors her cheeks. “I looked it up too.”

And with that, she sits cross legged on the floor.

How pedestrian.

He sits down next to her anyway.

With both their backs to the door, he doesn’t have to face her, which is a great relief. But he also loses the advantage of reading her expressions. 

So it takes him by surprise when she murmurs, “Will you say it?”

He swallows.

This is why he’s here, isn’t it? If there was ever a time or a place… Well, he’s not sure there really is one. Kyoya had intended to take this secret to his deathbed, however melodramatic that may be. But if he’s not going to tell Tamaki, does it matter if one commoner knows?

And Haruhi would keep it a secret, even if she disapproved. And Haruhi would understand.

And the hardest part of breaking your own heart every second of every day is the silence.

“I do love him,” he whispers.

Something painful is swelling in his chest. The words hang in the air, waiting for a but. He’s spoken enough about buts. Until now, he’s spoken of nothing but buts. If it is so impossible to live with this trapped inside him, and too dangerous to air anywhere else, he wants to release the truth––the whole truth––at least once.

“I love Tamaki,” he says again, for the pure relief of admitting it.

“You do.”

Her voice says I know. It says, Tell me more. Tell me everything.

“For the record,” he says, voice false and light, “If I could have chosen who I would marry, it would have been you.”

He swallows down the lump in his throat.

“But if I could have chosen anyone ... I would choose him.”

“Did you know, France allows for same-sex marriage?” she parrots. “It’s not so impossible.”

He has to laugh. Such serious and unaffected people, dreaming about marriage in France. He has to laugh, because it aches. They’re the same, and their desire is one and the same, only she charges bravely toward what is right with no hesitation, and he has been trained to wait, to hold back, to smother everything that does not meet expectations.

“Do you ever think about…” She’s uncertain, maybe even embarrassed by what she wants to ask. Unusual. “What it would be like?”

Oh. There’s a world of imagination behind that question. A grin overtakes his mouth, and he prods her next.

“Why, do you?”

Haruhi shakes her head too fast. “No, no. We’re talking about you right now.”

“Are we? I could have sworn you were just about to tell me what flavor your wedding cake would be.”

“You’re too ruthless, senpai,” she groans.

He smirks. Waits.

“...strawberry, of course,” mumbles Haruhi. “We’d have lime on the side, though.”

Nobody in the host club likes lime cake but Kyoya. It is, in fact, the only flavor he actively likes. He bites his lip.

“Well. We would have two tables for ootoro, of course.” One for you and one for the guests.

The air in Music Room 3 is warm with affection.

“I haven’t decided whether I would wear a suit or a kimono. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t know until the day of, what I’d want to be. But Renge… Renge would be beautiful in a western-style white dress.” Her voice goes soft and maybe even a little breathless. Kyoya grins, hums, and imagines it. Haruhi’s right, of course.

“She would want to honeymoon somewhere from her novels, I think.”

“New York, Kyoto, Moscow, maybe. Or just Paris,” he offers.

She scoffs at that, muttering just Paris? He chuckles, and a beat of comfortable silence passes between them

“I’ve thought about it, too," he confesses, because that's only fair. Around Haruhi things like fairness seem to matter a little more somehow. "The wedding would have to be in France. The honeymoon in Japan, then. And by the time we were married, we’d have at least two homes. One in both. And we would join our bank accounts,” and she snorts, and he can’t even glare at her, because she’s sitting next to him, because he knows she gets just how important it is to him.

“I’d convince her to go undercover with me when we went out, I think. She’d enjoy that. We’d be able to make it, if we dressed right, but I don’t think the two of you would get far without being mobbed.”

“But of course not. Tamaki is far too pretty, and far too loud.” 

A thought comes: in this fantasy world where it’s even possible for him and Tamaki, there are a few more weapons Kyoya could have up his sleeve. “I’d hire the twins to distract the paparazzi so I could take him out to dinner without worrying.”

“Would you come on double dates with us?” And she’s joking, but his “Did you ever doubt it?” comes with such immediacy they both break into laughter.

“I love her. I really, really do,” admits Haruhi freely. “She’s really grown, and I’m learning so much from her. She… She makes me hopeful. She makes me happy.”

It strikes, him, how very dear to him Haruhi is. His throat aches with her happiness. He swallows.

“You’ve both grown a lot.” It’s good to see you happy.

“You have, too, since I’ve met you.” She hugs her knees, rocking forward and back with a sigh.

He can feel what’s coming next. He knows what she wants to say.

“I can’t,” he tells her. It comes out like a plea, a please don’t ask.

“You would be so good together,” says Haruhi anyway, because she can be ruthless too. “Whatever it is you’re afraid of in the future, you’re selling you and Tamaki-senpai short.”

She’s almost right. Kyoya would do anything for Tamaki. Anything, except defy his father directly. But…

If Tamaki wanted- if Tamaki felt the same way, Kyoya would give him all he could. He would hold Tamaki. He would let him open the cold lockbox of Kyoya’s heart and fill it with light and hope. He would submit to a thousand foolish whims, with only token complaining. He would fight that cold crone Shizue Suoh for him, somehow. He would make her see Tamaki for all his worth, and if Tamaki really wanted to be heir he’d make that happen too. He would take him away from that haunting hollow estate and he would hold him in their home and Tamaki would never feel alone or unloved again.

Except. Except, of course, that he would, in the end. Kyoya would have to leave. It would all fall apart.

His father would never allow them to be. The scandal alone would turn everything against them. People would talk. Deals would be dropped. And succession, of course, would be out of the question. His stomach sinks. That would only be the first month.

His father would demand that they stop. Appealing to Suohs has always proven fruitless, so it would be Kyoya forced to leave. If he tried to resist––something small and weak trembles in his memory. He shoves that five-year-old boy back down, hands shaking. No. Kyoya would leave. He would have to.

Kyoya is, after all, a coward and a sellout.

He can’t. Baring his heart, baring Tamaki’s––only to crush them both? That’s the cruelest thing he can think of doing.

So Tamaki can’t feel the same way. Kyoya cannot want him. Because Kyoya is a coward and a sellout, and the only way to prevent his own infinite betrayal is to never pledge such reckless loyalty.

In his worst act of cowardice yet, he refuses to admit it. To himself, and to Haruhi.

He looks up, and sees that it’s no use. Her eyes cut him clean through, and he knows that she knows. Of course. That’s how it is, with Haruhi.

Her lower lip trembles, but she breathes in his pain and doesn’t break his gaze.

“I won’t tell him,” she reassures him, so sadly. “I wish you would try. I wish you could see that things might be different.” 


Kaoru is breathless on the other side of the door. Hikaru is wide eyed, silent, and Kaoru is breathless and almost weeping.

He pulls them away, somewhere where he can crouch and press into Hikaru’s side and sit and calm down a little. He needs to calm down. He needs to ground himself. And Hikaru helps him by pressing his arm, pulling him down into the floor. Tucked up into his twin, Kaoru withstands the tempest of his feelings.

“I didn’t know Kyoya-senpai felt that way,” says Hikaru simply.

Kaoru shakes his head. Hikaru notices the gap where he’s messed up the lines, but for once doesn’t press.

He can’t decide whether or not he regrets pulling Hikaru aside after club now. By Monday, Haruhi had calmed down from whatever her deal was last Friday. Kyoya hadn’t. Kaoru had been watching the turmoil on Kyoya-senpai’s face all week. And so he’d crouched with Hikaru in the hall, and so they’d both been there when Kyoya had asked whether Haruhi knew about gay marriage in France, and so they’d been there when the Shadow King cracked open his heart for probably the very first time and maybe the very last time and confessed his love for Tamaki Suoh.

“Let’s go,” says Hikaru, once he’s recovered a little more. They exit the hall in silence.

As they walk, Kaoru thinks.

They’d known Kyoya-senpai since preschool. But they hadn’t known him until the club. Even then, it had been hard to get a read on him. There was always some sort of barrier: a glint of his glasses, a notebook held between them, a plastic smile, and the ice that seemed to follow the Shadow King everywhere. Not that they weren’t guilty of their own blockades. Especially in those first few weeks, still wary of how easily Tamaki had seemed to get them, afraid of how these others might do the same. They had been nasty, vicious, even as they were training to be nicer to the girls. Tamaki had been absolutely at his wits end with them. Honestly, everyone else probably had been, too. They just hadn’t shown it like Tono.

When Kyoya had teamed up with them against Tamaki for the first time––now that had been a turning point.

For one, the twins had a co-conspirator. From then on they became, occasionally, not a single entity but a three-person team.

For another, Kaoru had had his very first crush. Hikaru had had two crushes before then, the targets of some of their cruelest pranks. But Hikaru’s crushes had been girls. And Kyoya was definitely not a girl.

Two things had prevented total meltdown: firstly, Kaoru had realized that Kyoya was very much in love with Tamaki, so if and when he inevitably found out, there was leverage. Secondly, Kaoru decided to bury those feelings so far down he would never have to face this fracture in his identity.

But it had emerged, slowly, little by little, and he would catch himself staring at people a little too long, thinking. And Kyoya caught him, too. Kaoru startled at that cool gaze, which hadn’t condemned or threatened, though he could feel it being added to his file. At least Kyoya had enough mercy not to write it down in front of him.

And then: “I just don’t think I’m supporting cast, homosexual or otherwise.”

It’d been so subtle, but he’d glanced at Kaoru with his eyes laughing. Not at, but with. Privately sharing the joke.

And Kaoru had realized that somewhere along the way, the note in his file had become a silent pact between them. And it felt, a little bit, like maybe he and Kyoya-senpai were on their own two person team. Like they understood each other. Nothing like the understanding Kaoru and Hikaru had, but nothing that Hikaru could understand, either.

But then Haruhi and Renge had gotten together before either of them could notice, and suddenly the earth was shaking and the winds were shifting and the carriage was rattling and midnight was fast approaching.

Kyoya must have had some sort of plan. It would be so unlike him to not. But it must have fallen apart, because he’d been acting so strange lately. Hosting all these new girls (never repeat customers), getting massages from Tamaki-senpai and pushing him away (and staring at him, always), watching Haruhi and Renge with such anxiety (and looking so torn and miserable behind his glasses when he thought no one was looking and-

Kyoya was a lot of things. Shadow King, class president of 2-A, challenger to the Ootori line of succession, Kyoya, their senpai… If Kyoya couldn’t be a happy gay, how was Kaoru, who was some days barely half of a person, supposed to pull it off?

They arrive at the car. Kaoru gets in, still dumbstruck. It’s only when the car jerks and they start moving that he’s snapped out of it.

Hikaru is looking at him, waiting. It’s his turn. His part in the script, and he has no idea what to say.

“I’m surprised to hear Kyoya-senpai giving up like that,” his brother says, finally breaking the silence.

“He has to be worried about how it will affect his chances of becoming heir. His big dream,” he offers.

“And of how people will talk. It’s Kyoya-senpai, after all.”

Something about that makes him feel a little defensive. “His dad, too. Remember how he acted at the fair?”

“Ah, right. I can’t imagine what Ootori-san would do if he found out his son was in love with Tono.” Kaoru flinches, recalling the smack, the sudden hush, the clink of Kyoya’s glasses on the floor.

It fills him with a cold and sickening dread. No, of course Kyoya would hide. He’s thought for a long time about it, the distant way Kyoya talks about his father’s expectations, about his goals. For Kyoya, approval and recognition is the closest he’ll ever get to love from his family. And being with Tamaki is a sure way to get cut off from that completely.

He’s been silent too long again, so Hikaru speaks again. “Still, though. He shouldn’t brush the club off so easily.”

Wait. Where is that going? Because it sounds an awful lot like...

“He can be a bit full of himself,” Hikaru continues. “Just because he doesn’t know what to do, doesn’t mean we’re completely useless to him.”

He turns. Hikaru’s elbow is on the window, and he’s staring out in that fake disinterested way of his. It’s strange to be on the other side of that tactic, until he realizes: Hikaru, for once, is trying to give him space. He’s trying not to make a big deal of Kaoru’s freak out. He’s giving him privacy.

“He is a bit of a control freak. He’s not used to people stepping up to the task,” agrees Kaoru, mostly so he doesn’t miss yet another line. He holds his breath, waiting, watching.

His twin sighs. “You would think being in love with Tono, he’d have a little more faith in people. Oh well.”

“But faith isn’t very evidence-based, is it? He’s all about his numbers.”

“Then we’ll get some evidence good enough for Kyoya-senpai.”

Kaoru could cry. He smiles, instead. Hikaru peeks at him out of the corner of his eye, tense posture softening when he sees it. Oh, Hikaru.

There are things that being a twin has twisted inside of Kaoru. There are experiences and selves he’s lost and never will have, but this is one of those times where he is nothing but lucky and proud to have Hikaru as his other half.

Hikaru scratches the back of his head. “What would Kyoya-senpai count as evidence, anyway?”

What does Kyoya-senpai need?

Cheesily enough, the first thing that comes to mind is a twin like Hikaru. He snorts. Obviously, that’s not really an option… But a twin on call, that would be doable. Hikaru must sense the scheme on him because when he looks up, they’re wearing matching smirks.

“I’ve been thinking about the rates for our media-distraction services…”


Building a doujinshi requires a lot of research. Her team jokes about it, how they read doujinshi as research under the guise of “collecting data,” but it really is true. Pulling together the best tropes and characters and settings and pairing requires research. Putting together the pages and releasing at peak buying time and distributing at the right rate to keep sales coming requires research. 

That’s not the only thing Renge researches obsessively. Assembling cosplays requires research. Winning dating-sims requires research.

Building happy endings requires research. 

Renge watches, now, for signs. Things that she can add to their happy ending. Things she can do to get them closer. Haruhi looks into the legalities of marriage in France, Renge looks for queer wedding albums. Haruhi scouts for shifts in public opinion, Renge searches through the faces of their peers for the people that might support them. There are signs everywhere, small but hopeful. She stores them up in her heart, keeps them in her ribcage to spend when next she and Haruhi need them. 

Currently, though, Renge’s not watching for much of anything. She’s on her way into the third music room for the afternoon. It’s Tuesday, which is one of the days she likes to dedicate to thinking about her doujinshi. This is a sacred time, meant for writing and thinking and dreaming and dancing through the fictional world. Tuesdays she allows herself to dream biggest, to try out all the most unlikely plots and settings so that she can pick out the gems.

Sometimes Kyoya is there, and they’ll share a cup of tea while they plan. He’s been much warmer to her, over time. It helps that they have clear rules of engagement now. (She has promised to keep the doujinshi flattering, rated T and under, and either gen or strictly AU.) It probably also helps that she’s helped increase sales by 15% since becoming manager.

So she’s on her way to work on the doujinshi, hoping to ask Kyoya for his thoughts on the ending for Volume 13. Honestly, he probably won’t contribute much. But he makes for a decent sounding board. She cracks open the door to Music Room 3 and freezes in place.

Kyoya’s in the room. Not unusual. But he’s slumped in his chair with fingers pressed to his nose, pinching. He reeks of stress. He’s tired. Tamaki is there, too. He’s kneeling in front of Kyoya, reaching for his hand and oh.

She remembers holding her hand out to Haruhi, that day last week when she had thought this might be the end and it had turned into another beginning. Tamaki reaches toward Kyoya with nothing less than longing.

A strange thought. She doesn’t mean to be shipping them or anything––but her eyes and instincts aren’t lying, either.

Tamaki is holding out his hand. He’s trying to get Kyoya to take it, to look up, to… something.

“A massage, at least,” Tamaki says, loud enough for her to hear. He’s upset, bargaining. Kyoya brushes him off.

“If you won’t tell me, at least let me help ease your tension.”

Kyoya seems to give in, by the way he leans back in the chair. Tamaki reaches for his blazer, starts to tug one sleeve down off his shoulder, so tenderly, and Renge would normally be squealing, would normally reach for a camera, or for her phone, to call someone, to immortalize this moment with her fellow fangirls.

But Renge thinks of Haruhi turning her back, and of Kyoya, refusing to raise his eyes. Renge thinks of Tamaki with his arm outstretched. She recalls that desperate thrum that had travelled through her, when she’d realized just how scared Haruhi was. That current of how can I make this better.

She lets the door fall shut.

It’s a little stab of agony, not being able to watch that play out. It’s all the cliches! Best friends to lovers, oblivious sunshine takes care of tsundere shadow, the beginnings of something more than friendship between two boys who clearly need each other. If she were in the writer’s room now, she’d be absolutely cackling with glee. 

But Renge is not a writer here, or even a reader. She’s a living, breathing protagonist, and she’s determined to grow and to make her own choices. And to let them make their own choices, too.

This is a moment she needs to let them have alone. She doesn’t need to see it herself––she’s already been there, worked through that arc. She’s surpassed her role as second lead wingwoman. She’s already working with Haruhi to defy their tragic genre and build their happy ending. She’s building faith in her partner, in herself.

She walks away, slowly, solemnly. She has faith in the Host Club’s two kings, too. It’ll work out. She’s not sure how, yet, but if she and Haruhi can-

For the second time today, she freezes. Oh?

Renge’s got years of practice spotting tropes. But over the past year she’s realized you can never really tell when a trope is working on you until most of the work is already done. Alas, the curse of the protagonist.

Entire body vibrating at a frequency that could shatter glass, she texts Haruhi, then thinks better of it. She calls.

“Renge-chan? What’s going on? I’m still on my way home.”

“Haruhi, I’ve figured it out. It’s all going to be okay. Our happy ending: it’s built on solidarity! We’re not alone, Haruhi. We are the found family trope!”

“...what?”

“We have a powerful cast, for sure. But more than that––we’ve got the most powerful force of all, love! Not just romantic love. Familial love. Platonic love. That’s what’s going to save us––all of us!”

“Um, did you figure out the ending for Volume 13, then?”

“Oh! Yes,” she says, because suddenly she has. “But that’s not what I’m talking about now. The Host Club––it’s a found family. We’re all going to be okay.”

“Renge-chan, I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about,” Haruhi tells her, truly apologetic.

Renge sighs into the phone. Of course Haruhi doesn’t get it. It only makes sense. She’s been too lonely and too independent for too long. But it’s okay. It’s going to be okay. That’s why Renge’s here, that’s why the Host Club is here. To teach her that people are here.

“I know,” she says, and it’s fond. “I’m just excited. It’s all going to work out.”

Haruhi hums in the background. It sounds like she just got off the train.

“Are you home yet?"

“Almost. Just the five minute walk, now.”

Renge smiles. “Okay then. Be safe. I’ll see you tomorrow.” 

There’s a pause, and a pulse of bravery. “I love you, Haruhi.”

She can hear a soft gasp across the line. But she’s not afraid.

“I love you, too,” Haruhi murmurs. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Renge-chan.”

After she hangs up, an absurd vision enters her mind. It’s December, which is far too early for a springtime fantasy like this. And yet, she can’t help but smile to picture it. Tuesdays are a day for dreaming, after all.

Renge thinks of holding hands with Haruhi and dancing in the rain. They’re going to be okay.


Surprisingly, it’s Hikaru who has the foresight to remember the pen. Or maybe not surprising. It’s Kaoru’s scheme, but he’s been taking the lead for a lot of their moves, lately. It’s whatever. Hikaru doesn’t mind. If his baby brother is going to act weird and quiet and secretive and worrying, he can cover for them. Anyway.

Hikaru’s the one who remembers and rescues the pen. He plucks it out of Kyoya’s hand daintily, studying it with pretend fascination.

“What exactly are you doing,” commands Kyoya. Very like him, turning a five word question into a ‘Return my designer collector’s edition fountain pen immediately or face the mortal consequences of my wrath.’

“Simply delivering a promise,” Kaoru says, though he wavers the tiniest bit. Hikaru clasps his hand and picks up the slack. They have to move quickly, after all. In and out, no time to react, that’s the key to this operation.

“Just letting you know, Senpai. If for some reason in the future, you ever needed us to do something like…”

“Oh, we don’t know, run interference on the paparazzi so you can date in peace…” they chorus, in unison.

Kyoya’s hand snaps closed around empty air. Yep. Right on the mark, rescuing that poor pen. Man, Senpai is a scary person to be nice to.

“We would do so-”

“- without hesitation.”

“No matter who it was.”

“Free of charge.”

“No strings attached.”

“But since you’re you...”

“...we’ve also got it in writing.”

Kaoru whips out the contract ($0, 0% interest, 0 letters in tiny bold print laid as traps, up to five hours of media goose-chase frenzy guaranteed!) and slides it into Kyoya’s notebook. Hikaru drops the pen back into their frozen senpai’s lap, then they spin on their heels and make a hasty retreat.

Kyoya doesn’t return to his work. Instead, his hand clenches and unclenches in his lap. It’s honestly uncomfortable to look at, like watching a heart convulsing on the operating table. It’s humanity exposed. Kaoru leans heavy on his shoulder while they watch him suppress his panic.

They had purposely taken him by surprise, so he couldn’t fight them off. Still, he almost feels bad, watching Kyoya swallow hard once, twice, three times, before he stands, pushes his glasses up, and escapes to the bathroom or somewhere else to hide and recuperate for a while.

Oh well. This is what it takes for the twins to do something nice for the Shadow King.

“What did you do,” says Tamaki, approaching warily.

“We told him we would love and support him no matter what,” Hikaru answers. He ignores his brother’s surprised jerk.

Tono gapes at them. Kaoru shrugs. Then Tamaki stops gaping, mouth still open but with softer surprise. So he’s realized they’re being serious. A different expression forms on his face, then, one that almost makes Hikaru back away.

“That’s- that’s really sweet, and I’m glad you are being supportive, but I- Kyoya-” their King sputters, then sighs. “Okay. Okay. I’m going to give him fifteen minutes, and then I’m going after him. It’ll be fine,” he mutters, mostly to himself it looks like. Smiling in a way that’s proud and pained in equal measure, he pats them on the arm, pauses, and draws them in for a hug.

“Tono?” asks Hikaru, voice muffled in Tamaki’s jacket.

“I’m proud of you two,” is all he says.

His throat feels funny. Actually, there’s something in his chest, bubbling and bright. It... feels nice. Tono is proud of them. 

What the-? Who cares if Tono’s proud of him? It’s not like he’s actually their dad! It definitely shouldn’t mean anything, but for just a second Hikaru clings a little tighter. Tamaki squeezes back even harder, and he and Kaoru collectively oof as the air gets squashed out of them.

Then he releases them, straightening his clothes. 

“Ah, mes petits monstres,” he sighs, like he’s got some inescapable fondness for them, like he cares , and strides away back to his guests.

Kaoru and Hikaru blink at each other in stunned silence. He almost wishes he’d paid more attention in French, if it would let him understand what just happened.

“Hm, Kyo-chan is probably going to need a little while to recover, huh, Takashi?” says Hani-senpai. His voice is suspiciously mirthful as he pats them both on the back.

“Yeah.”

When Hikaru looks up at the oldest host, the look in his eyes is fond and approving. His face warms. This is weird. Everyone is being super weird, and Hikaru would like to stop feeling so embarrassingly fragile about it, thanks. He scratches the back of his head, avoiding eye contact.

“Well, let’s have some lime cake waiting for him when he gets back, okay Haru-chan?”

She’s been frozen, shocked, for the full five minutes during which everything’s happened. Now she comes forward, cuffs them both on the ear, and smiles adoringly at them. 

“You sneaks,” she chides.

He grins. For the first time in weeks, it doesn’t hurt to smile back. 

It stuns him for a minute. But… yeah. Somewhere between all their planning and the flurry of familial affection he’d just received––it had stopped hurting. She isn’t the one for him, but she isn’t leaving, either. Nobody is leaving. 

He snorts at the thought. It seems like such a silly thing to worry about, in hindsight. Nah, they weren’t going to be left alone even if they wanted it. The Host Club would always be there, nosy and overbearing and proud and obnoxious and caring way too much about everyone’s happiness .  

Huh. Maybe Tono had it right, after all. They really are something of a family.

When Kyoya emerges, exactly 14 minutes later, Tamaki is waiting for him by the door. He follows him to the couch, where Hani pushes a slice of lime cake into his lap. Mori briefly lays a hand on his shoulder.

Silently, probably unconsciously, Kaoru squeezes Hikaru’s hand. Hikaru watches out of the corner of his eyes as his little brother wills their senpai to accept it. 

He wants to push. He wants to ask. It’s unfamiliar. Uncomfortable. Eight months ago he never would have needed to ask, because they’d never been so out of sync. Or at least that’s what they’d pretended.

Contrary to what Kaoru might think, Hikaru’s not totally oblivious. He doesn’t know exactly what’s got his little brother so scared, though he’s starting to guess what’s on the line. But Hikaru is trying to give his little brother space this time. Kaoru can tell him when he wants, not just because they have a codependent psychic link blackmailing him into it.

Kyoya blinks at that slice of lime cake and swallows for like the seventieth time. “Thank you,” he says, to nobody in particular.

Hikaru squeezes his twin’s hand. He hopes that this works out. He wants Kaoru to be happy. He wants Kyoya and Tamaki to be happy. He wants Haruhi to be happy. It’s not too worrying, though. Either way, he’ll be here. They’ll all be here.


Now that the truth of his parentage is out to pretty much everyone in the host club, Tamaki’s less shy about dropping in French words, or talking about his mom’s side. But as the memories bubble up more often, French overtakes his tongue more often.

It’s been a long, weird day. The twins and their earlier scene, however sweet and promising for their future, had tired Kyoya out. So Tamaki’s been brainstorming, hoping to find something that can lift Kyoya’s spirits and distract him from this heaviness that’s been so pervasive as of late. It’s the least he can do, for his rayon de soleil.

He’s telling Kyoya his latest cosplay idea––une idée géniale, it will be! He’s rather proud of this one, honestly.

“A cult classic, it’s got everything,” Tamaki promises (posing with every thing on the list). 

“Romance!” (He clutches his heart, swooning).

“Family drama!” (He shades his eyes from the Cruel World.)

“Epic battle scenes!” (He lunges forward with an invisible ‘saber.)

“Cheap costuming!” (For this, he shoots a fingergun and a wink Kyoya’s way.)

Kyoya blinks. Tamaki reddens, but barrels onward.

“And! The combined nostalgia and nerd factors are sure to sell even more than usual!”

“Nostalgia?” That’s a cautious, fake-nonchalant tone, but he’s picked up his pen so he’s definitely intrigued by this potential theme.

“Oh, yes! I will always remember the first time I saw the films…” And so Tamaki does. 

He’d been very little when he’d seen the first first one at home. He’s not sure, but… his father may have been there. He was much too young to appreciate them then, mostly just entranced by the cool light displays and pretty lady with the teddy bears.

He’d been eight when he saw the next first one. He’d been so sad at the ending. In hindsight, it seemed even sadder. But anyway. Maman had cheered him up by taking him to the store right after so that he could buy a souvenir. Actually, he thinks he still has that little green toy sabrolaser, somewhere in the second estate… Where would it be? His hand comes up to stroke his chin.

While he ponders, he catches on a strange look in Kyoya’s eyes. Not impatience, surprisingly. Something… fond, maybe.

It’s not the first time that Kyoya's looked at him like this. But it is the first time Kyoya's held his gaze after getting caught. They stare at each other, Kyoya with that unfathomable tenderness, Tamaki with a rising blush, and then it becomes too much and they break away in unison.

He pulls at his collar, pursing his lips. It’s a little warmer in here than usual. Tamaki shakes himself. It’s happening again, that strange thing forming in his chest.

It just means a lot, Kyoya listening to him remember home. That’s all. But he’s on a mission! So he reigns in his attention. “Anyway! Yes. It’s nostalgic and wonderful and has no downsides! We should definitely do it.”

“And what exactly is the theme, Tamaki?” That’s definitely fond, and definitely teasing.

He beams. “I’m so glad you asked! The theme the Host Club will be putting on next is…”

Then he loses the next word.

The theme the Host Club will be putting on next is…

Is?

La Guerre des Étoiles. Which is… what is it? What is it?

It’s like trying to take a step forward only to find there’s nowhere to put his foot. Blinking, he falls quiet and rewinds his brain.

It’s been a long day. He shakes himself. Come on, now. But when he tries again, staring down at the abrupt chasm before his feet, he simply cannot remember what word is supposed to bridge him across to the meaning.

Tamaki laughs.

“I’ve lost the word,” he tells Kyoya, who cocks his head. It’s adorable. Tamaki finds his face heating, inexplicably.

“How do you describe it?”

In Tamaki’s defense, he really does try. But the more he talks, the more frustrated he gets with it, the more words he loses, until it’s all coming out in pure French and he still has no idea what La Guerre des Étoiles is in Japanese. He’s sure it’s based on the English name, but for the life of him he cannot remember even that.

"Euhhhh," says Tamaki, stumped. Now even his uhhs are french.

Half amused, half bemused, Kyoya shrugs.

“Well, I have no idea what you’re on about––as usual, I suppose,” he says. Such rudeness––such falsehood! And it comes out so gentle.

Narrowing his eyes, he retorts, “So mean, Kyoya. Pretend all you like, but everyone knows you’re the one who pays the most attention to me," this time in purposeful French.

Kyoya huffs a laugh under his breath at his indignation, despite clearly having no idea what Tamaki’s said. Which is good, maybe, because on second thought the words are startlingly true and it’s causing that strangeness in Tamaki’s chest again.

“Yeah, you always listen to what I say,” he repeats, tentative. It’s a warm little thing, that strangeness. “ Just like how you’re always watching me.”

Even now. Out of the corner of his eye, Kyoya’s taking him in. He feels suddenly breathless. Kyoya is an open book, and Tamaki bolts up in his seat with the giddy realization.

“Because you want to be there for me. Because you care!” he crows. Kyoya won’t object, because Kyoya doesn’t know!

Still, he somehow comprehends that Tamaki is being presumptuous, and rolls his eyes. Wow! It must be a pavlovian response at this point.

“Whatever, you goof. Let me know when you’ve got the Japanese back in your mouth,” he murmurs, looking back to his laptop.

"Nooo, don’t ignore me, Kyoya. I need your help remembering the theme!”

“Hm,” says Kyoya, and his voice is flat but there’s mirth in the way his fingers dance across the keyboard. Oh, he knows exactly what Tamaki’s saying now.

“How rude. Kaa-san shouldn’t ignore Tou-san in his time of need.”

No response. Well, Kyoya is clearly suppressing a smirk, but he's pretending to ignore him so Tamaki pouts at him. The strangeness from before doesn’t go away, though. In fact, the more he keeps on looking, the more the strangeness grows, warming him through.

So he looks.

It’s the end of the day, so Kyoya’s hair isn’t as perfect as usual. No more neat part, those raven locks fall carelessly, roguishly into glinting charcoal eyes. The slightly ruffled look suits him well, though. As does the cute little up-quirk of his lip. That especially pleases him. Kyoya deserves to smile more. He deserves to have fun.

Maybe that’s what makes him decide to play a little while longer.

“This is our most desperate hour,” Tamaki says gravely. “Help me, Kyoya Ootori. You’re my only hope.”

For a moment, he imagines it, wise Kyoya in the brown robes, wielding a sabrolaser of brilliant blue. A gallant hero, their Shadow King. Then he catches a tiny shift on Kyoya’s face––the slightest sideways dart of his eyes––and exits the mind theater, wandering closer.

“I can tell you’re still listening, my dear Kyoya.” An idea blooms there, silly and fanciful, and Tamaki laughs. His next words are saturated with charm and mischief both, dripping with wicked sweetness: “Say, Kyoya. Do you like the sound of my voice in French?”

Kyoya’s fingers slip on the keys. Oh? Several backspaces in a row commence.

“Oops, did I cause that?” 

Completely childish, he knows. But––there it is, Kyoya’s head tilted just so! Ear turned to better capture the sound, as though Tamaki’s voice is some pleasing melody to him.

And what is Tamaki, if not a born performer. “I wouldn’t mind if you liked it. Your voice is the song of my heart, sweet one,” he croons.

Kyoya stops typing to scowl at him. Tamaki’s pretty sure Kyoya himself doesn’t know why he should be glaring, but it’s fair enough. That scary face doesn’t cow him, not at all. It’s Kyoya, and it’s attention, and it leaves him feeling thrilled and buoyant and...

His face begins to flush. Red, red, red, always red with him! Never around Kyoya before, but lately always around Kyoya. What is this?

“Just what is this madness, my heart?”

He hasn’t felt this fluttery, grasping, warm sensation since… Haruhi. Which is strange, of course, because he had been in love with Haruhi, hadn’t he? And surely he would have noticed if he was falling in love with his best friend, surely.

Then again, he hadn’t noticed with Haruhi. Could this actually be…?

No. No way. It’s very different. For one thing, there’s none of that pressure to please. Well, there kind of is, but… it feels less urgent. He feels… There is something that pulls him forward, that makes him want to please Kyoya, but…

Kyoya’s voice comes to him, then, like a forgotten refrain: You yourself bring us happiness.

Kyoya… his dearest friend, his sunshine, his happiness. The literal yin to his yang. Kyoya, who regularly bends over backwards to make sure Tamaki is okay.

Kyoya… who makes Tamaki want to be himself.

We cannot help but love you. It echoes in his mind.

He thinks of his life, the lonely winding road, and thinks how it has been ever since Kyoya stepped in line with him. How all roads lead to home with Kyoya by his side, meeting his lackadaisical plans with firepower like no one else.

“How can I have missed this?” he says, in Japanese. 

Kyoya looks up, raising an eyebrow, ready to assist.

“It’s nothing,” Tamaki lies.

His voice wavers. There’s no way he can be in love with Kyoya. Can he? Would it… would it be so bad to be in love with Kyoya?

Yes, snaps something in his mind, an old, icy voice.

Tamaki cannot help himself––he has to see what it would be like out loud. In careful French, he speaks. “I have a crush on you, my happiness.

He holds his breath. Kyoya raises an eyebrow, tilts his head, and there’s no way for him to know what’s been said, but he remains Kyoya, and that alone rings true no matter the language. He’s Kyoya, he’s Kyoya, he’s Kyoya.

Could Tamaki have ever not loved Kyoya?

I’m hit. A shrill robotic scream rings in his head while his heart explodes in a blazing shower of sparks.

"Indeed I was wrong, I am madly in love with you," he murmurs. His hands come up to hide his steaming face. It’s for the best.

“Tamaki?” Oh no, now he’s worried.

“Worry not!” Tamaki shouts, startling them both. “I am still thinking on that blasted missing word. Don’t mind me.”

Kyoya is giving him the most suspicious, affectionate, worried look humanly possible. Because he’s Kyoya. Tamaki’s heart beats so loudly for him, and he slips back into full French. 

“Oh, Kyoya, I want to spend my life with you,” he groans.

“Ohohohoho!”

Oh no.

Renge emerges from her tucked-away doujinshi desk with a Twinkle of Doom in her eyes. Nononono.

“Renge-hime! Renge-kun! Aha! Um, how long have you been there, Renge-kun?”

“The theme of next week’s cosplay will be... Star Wars!” she announces, with a flourish matching what his would have been, if the memories and affection and feelings hadn’t gotten all caught up with him.

He would normally pout over having his thunder stolen so callously, but.

“Star Wars?” Kyoya sits up, pushing up his glasses. “That’s an excellent idea, Tamaki,” he says, voice carefully controlled in a way that means he is stamping down his excitement with every fiber of his being. He starts scribbling away in his notebook, muttering plans under his breath without noticing.

Kyoya is a closet Star Wars fan. That should be punctuated with so many exclamation marks. Tamaki should be squealing, interrogating him about this shared interest they’ve mysteriously never discussed, but.

"So you’ve figured out your feelings. Now what will you do?” It’s the calmest he’s ever heard her voice. Smiling, Renge tilts her head at him.

“Uh,” Tamaki says.

Her eyes narrow.

“Seriously, Suoh. The cluelessness is so boring.”

Indignation flares in him. “Excuse me for having trouble realizing! It’s not every day you fall in love with your best friend,” he hisses.

A sharp movement catches the corner of his eye––Kyoya’s surfaced from his Star Wars bubble and is watching them with deep suspicion. Of course he is. Tamaki flashes what is supposed to be a comforting smile, but Kyoya now looks infinitely more concerned. 

Gosh, Tamaki is so in love with him.

“I think I’m dying,” he says (in French, so as not to alarm Kyoya further)

“What are you talking about?” cries Renge, leaping onto the table with a rolled up copy of the doujinshi. “You are the Host Club King!”

“Pull!” Whack. “Yourself!” Whack. “Together!”

Kyoya stares. The snakes in her hair hiss every time she whacks him. Somehow, having snakes berate him on top of everything makes it worse.

“I’ve got to go to dinner,” says Kyoya, closing his laptop. He watches them warily the whole way out.

Tamaki watches him go in a daze, feeling slightly betrayed but wishing his friend a safe new life beyond Medusa’s reach... without him. Oh, no. Tamaki wants to spend his life with him. Oh, no. He turns teary eyes on Renge, whose hair has returned back to normal.

“How am I going to make this work?”

“By doing what you do best,” she tells him.

He has never felt so talentless in his life. Has he ever done anything ever? It’s hard to think, with the panic. What on earth could she possibly be talking about? What does he even do?

Renge shakes her head and laughs, like it’s obvious. “Host Club, Assemble!”


Kyoya all but collapses into the car. Thank goodness for blessed, blessed silence. It’s been a long day.

Time with Tamaki had been rejuvenating, in its own way. But after today he needs to think, and he certainly couldn’t do that with Tamaki hanging off his chair, whispering in French in that voice, striking poses and blushing every five seconds.

His breath still stutters thinking about it. But he doesn’t pull away from the thought, for once. Not immediately, anyway. 

After a quick glance at his driver, he pulls out a sheet of paper. He hasn’t had time to read it yet. Well, he had those fourteen minutes, right after, but that was… He wasn’t quite in his right mind, right then. At that point, he’d still been working past the knowing and the shame and the rage, moving himself past the panic, the panic, the panic that skewered him all sharp points through his heart, until. Until he broke through, to that strange, equally terrifying thing. That… hope.

He stares at the paper before him, bewildered. It’s a cheesy, sassy little contract. 

“Hitachiin Twins Smokescreen Act,” it proclaims, in bold, unflinching strokes. Hikaru’s handwriting, if he’s not mistaken.

The service promises “100% overtly scandalous media distraction guaranteed, or double your money back!” There are more details, surprisingly genuine. Best used on dates or confession scenes. Offer comes regardless of circumstance, including time, date, people involved. For one Kyoya-senpai alone. Ootori, he notes, is mentioned nowhere on the page.

His eyes catch on a number, underneath.

Cost: $0*.

Free? Ah, but there’s an asterisk––and there, the caveat, at the bottom of the page. 

*0% interest.

He has to laugh at that.

It’s signed with their names. Both of their names, separately. There’s a space for his name, too. Oh. He feels it in his chest, again. That feathery, warbling thing perching in his soul. That hope. He swallows.

They had really caught him by surprise. Somehow, without any influence on his part, or even Haruhi's... somehow, the entire host club knows.

It shouldn’t make a difference. But this flimsy sheet, covered in flippant, reckless, loyal words means so much that he can barely contain it. He slips it carefully back into his notebook before they arrive at the manor. He needs to keep it safe. Hidden. He still needs to think.

Dinner is a quiet affair. Even though his father’s been away for several days now, nobody shares any updates unless asked directly. And when the children of Yoshio Ootori do speak, it’s in muted, restrained tones.

“Business with Houshakuji-san went well,” reports Yoshio. “Though I’ve heard some troubling rumors about the Houshakuji heir.”

Kyoya carefully, carefully looks up. His father isn’t even looking, just tapping his finger on the table.

“He says his daughter is thinking of breaking away from the business, to form her own. A publishing firm, of some sorts. For doujinshi, of all things.”

His eyes widen. Renge had seemed genuine about her plans, but he didn’t expect her to start so soon. Actually, it was unusually forward-thinking of her to let her father know at this stage. This was no flight of fancy. She was seriously––responsibly––planning for the long term.

Across the table, Akito snorts. His brother’s tone is acidic when he comments, “From a major pharmaceutical company to a doujinshi firm? That’s a far step down.”

Not for Renge. She is wildly, ferociously passionate about it. And what she is passionate about, she succeeds in. He bites his tongue.

“Teenagers and their ridiculous delusions,” agreed Yoshio. “But that’s not all. It appears she means to end the Houshakuji family altogether. She is apparently involved with that honor student of yours, Kyoya. Haruhi Fujioka.

Had they been using the bone chopsticks they prefer for guests, Kyoya would have snapped them just now. As it is, his fingers turn stark white as they tighten around the metal. His heart is crashing wildly against his ribcage. But he needs to look up. He’s been acknowledged, he needs to look up and say something, respond. Calm down. Be still. Look up.

Father’s eyes are unreadable behind the glare of his glasses. It freezes him.

“Involved?” asks Fuyumi delicately. “I thought the honor student was a girl?”

“Exactly,” says Yoshio.

“-oh.”

Father shakes his head. “It’s staggering, what young people these days think they can get away with. I’m shocked to see Fujioka do something so careless. I had thought she was a bright young woman––though perhaps such behavior is to be expected. A commoner must be rather shameless, to aim for Ouran. She was brazen at the fair, as well.”

Clenching his jaw, Kyoya counts down from ten.

“The fair?”

“Yes, she stood up rather admirably for Kyoya. It’s unfortunate, really. I had hoped you would marry her, Kyoya.”

“Sounds like you really dodged a bullet there,” says Akito, smirking at him. Kyoya could kill him for that. Like he has any idea what Kyoya’s gone through, these past few weeks. Like he has any idea how Haruhi is.

“Indeed. I can’t imagine the scandal she could have caused otherwise. I can only feel sorry for Houshakuji-san. What he must feel to lose his successor for such a reckless, selfish fantasy.”

Oh.

A feeling washes over Kyoya. It’s familiar, a coolness that only comes right when his rage is about to make him do something utterly impulsive. And he is feeling it, that devouring rage.

Such cruel, cold words his father has spoken about them. Haruhi Fujioka is one of the smartest, bravest, kindest people he knows. Renge, whirlwind of potential, Renge, is planning ahead for her future. They deserve to be happy. The protectiveness that surges within him is vicious.

Whenever this feeling has come before, Kyoya’s broken something. A pen, a shisa––an entire tea set during that time with Tamaki. But now? The chopsticks are too strong, the table too large and heavy to be overturned even in his fury.

No, the only thing left to break is his silence.

“Actually, Renge-kun is planning pretty extensively for this. I wouldn’t say it’s reckless at all. She’s gotten a lot of practice at the host club, an efficient manager with an eye for the market and a hunger for big projects. She will take the world by storm,” he says, easily. He takes a sip of water to steel himself for the next blow. “Her father should be proud.”

Every head at the table turns. Father’s gaze is like ice pushed into his skin, stone-hard and bitingly cold.

“Proud of the end of a bloodline?” That’s a warning tone. 

Kyoya recalls the taste of lime frosting on his tongue. He pushes through.

“Would my children not have been half common, if it were me and Haruhi? But that’s a discredit to Haruhi’s own brilliance and drive. She is brilliant. And conscientious, and hardworking. She will overcome everything and become a top-notch lawyer.”

“Kyoya Ootori, watch your tone,” growls Yoshio.

The five-year-old within him trembles. Chokes. But this seventeen-year-old Kyoya remembers being pressed shoulder to shoulder in safety behind the doors of Music Room 3. He remembers choking on his sheer affection for her, that audacious commoner who owns a part of his life.

“They make each other disgustingly happy. And I’m happy for them. Such generous, hard working people deserve the happiness they’ve found.”

“I can hardly believe my son would grow to believe such senseless drivel,” says Father. The tilt of his head indicates a depth of disappointment Kyoya cannot hope to fathom.

His mind conjures the simplicity of a free favor, the handwritten contract waiting for him inside his notebook. All it needs is his own signature.

“No, Father,” he murmurs. “I can hardly believe it myself. That’s what happens when one makes such extraordinary friends, I suppose. The impossible happens before you can blink.”

Slamming his fist into the table, Yoshio stands up. He towers, thundering in his anger. “What is wrong with you, Kyoya? I’ve never been more ashamed of you.”

Kyoya stands up, too. There’s a churning in his gut, but if he can buy out a company once, he can do it again. There is nothing for him here, not if Yoshio Ootori is going to be so cruel about the people he loves. It is, however, urgent that he leave for now.

You’d better come over at the first sign of trouble, you know. Anything at all, Kyoya. Not an insignificant detail, after all. Of course, Kyoya was always significant to Tamaki. His shoulders are loosening already.

“I’m going to stay over at Tamaki’s tonight,” he says, voice as perfectly mild as it has been this entire time. “You’ll have to excuse me.”

“Kyoya...” All the wrath drops out of Father’s voice, replaced with horror. “Are you…?”

In love with Tamaki Suoh? In a relationship with him? Planning to spend the rest of his life with him?

“We’ll see,” answers Kyoya, honestly.

The possibilities, after all, are endless.


Mitsukuni is having so. Much. Fun!!!!!

“Oo! I know! I know! You should get a gigantic lime cake, and you should jump out of the cake singing a love song about how you feel for Kyo-chan!” He giggles madly, imagining it.

Tamaki is less giggly and more trapped in the madness part. He flings an arm out with desperate energy, pointing at the fourth whiteboard. “Quick! Mori-senpai! Write that down!”

“Uh, seriously, Tono?” Hikaru says. 

But it’s too late. Their King has already spiralled into trying to find a rhyme for Kyoya’s name so that he can complete the lyrics to his new love song.

Takashi sends him a flat look from across the room. The marker remains capped. He’s not writing it down. But Mitsukuni kicks gleefully away, from his perch on the back of the couch. Takashi’s just mad because he lost their bet.

Tama-chan had figured out his feelings before Kyoya confessed! Tamaki was going to confess! Oh, Takashi had been so sure, but Mitsukuni had been right.

He hears a sigh.

“Hani-senpai, could you please stop winding him up?” Haruhi asks. She’s been swinging between exasperation and excitement the whole night, but now she’s definitely exasperated more than anything.

“I mean, I thought it was a good idea,” he says, trying for innocent. 

The knowing look she sends in return isn’t so much a sign of his failure as it is a sign of her newfound perceptiveness. Renge-chan has really rubbed off on her. Alas.

But he still thinks it’s fair to rile Tamaki just a little bit. After all the circles they’ve run around him, for him. After the two long years Mitsukuni and his cousin have had to watch Kyoya pine. Yes, Tama-chan deserves more than a little ribbing.

Haruhi turns to her other problem. “Senpai, calm down, ” she scolds. “It’s going to be fine, I promise. Just be yourself. It’s going to work out.”

The twins nod furiously. “Yeah, Tono, seriously.”

Tamaki wails. “But what if it doesn’t? Kyoya deserves the best, the cream of the crop, so that he can overcome the challenges of his life. What if I’m not the cream?

All four first years present facepalm. Mitsukuni doesn’t have to because he’s still winning, so it’s bearable. Takashi doesn’t because over the past two years Takashi has built up an immunity to facepalm-worthy shenanigans. Things really do work out. 

“Tamaki?” a voice calls from down the hall.

Everyone freezes.

That’s Kyoya’s voice.

“Which one of you called him,” Tamaki hisses, flailing.

“None of us! We swear!” They’re telling the truth.

Oh, this day just keeps getting better and better!

“Quick, the boards,” snaps Renge. “Honey-senpai, run interference!”

“Tamaki?” Kyoya steps into the light. “Shima-san sent me in here, but-”

He stops in place.

“What are you all doing here?” he asks, voice weak with surprise.

The room is a flurry of highly incriminating activity, everyone shoving whiteboards into closets and down stairs. Except for Mitsukuni, who takes his distraction job very seriously and lets Kyoya watch them do all this the entire time. It doesn’t matter, after all. In typical sometimes-Kyoya-misses-key-information-to-further-the-plot fashion, he’s not reading what’s on the boards because he’s just so flabbergasted about why the rest of the club is even here.

Kyoya seems to realize there’s only one person not moving, and focuses on him.

“Why…?”

Mitsukuni Haninozuka is a firm believer in telling the truth. When it’s fun.

“Tama-chan was having an emergency!” He beams at Kyoya, radiating sparkles to blind him from the conniption ensuing behind him. 

“But… I’m… the one? That Tamaki calls? When he has an emergency?”

Poor Kyo-chan looks so lost.

“Oh, really? Oops,” he says, in his squeakiest, sugariest voice. 

All this acting is definitely wasted on Kyoya, he’s boggled enough, but Mitsukuni really does take pride in doing a job right. He takes a quick peek at the others. All the boards are hidden, looks like they’re good to go! “Well, anyway, Tama-chan has something to tell you!”

Diving at Tamaki, Mitsukuni swings them both in a wide circle. In two quick spins, they’ve switched places completely, with Mitsukuni out the door and Tamaki standing dazed in front of Kyoya. And just like that, they’re all on their own.

(Outside the doors to the lounge, the rest of the host club argues over who really called Kyoya.

“I’m telling you, all this talking about him behind his back is what summoned him,” Hikaru insists. “He’s the Shadow King!”

“As convincing as that sounds…” Haruhi starts to say, before she’s cut off.

“Shhh! It’s happening. Watch. Maybe we’ll find out, then,” says Kaoru.

They crowd around the crack in the door, all except for Renge.

“Hey,” says Renge, haltingly. Her fists are balled at her sides, shaking, like she’s just barely keeping herself from moving. “Maybe we should… give them their privacy?”

The hosts stare at her. They are collectively unable to discern whether this is a growth moment, or severe hypocrisy.

Mitsukuni bravely steps up to the plate, smiling. “Renge-chan, I’m really proud of you for thinking of them so considerately. You’re really growing as a person!”

Then he turns right back to the door to watch.

Haruhi giggles, and pulls Renge over to join them.

“It’s okay, this time,” she explains. “This is a family affair. A found family affair.”

Hm? He glances at them out of the corner of his eye. That must mean something special to them, because Renge looks pleased and almost tearful. Haruhi presses a kiss to their joined hands, then to Renge’s cheek. She looks so happy.

Aww. He’s proudest of Haru-chan. She’s come so far, being able to do this.

With all his kouhais here and having made so much progress, it’s hard not to feel on top of the world. Takashi looks at him, catching the thought, and smiles.)

Back inside the lounge, Tamaki’s finally quit his anxious pacing to collapse dramatically into a couch.

“Tamaki? You had something to tell me?” Kyo-chan sounds unusually nervous.

Lurching off of the couch, it’s like Tamaki’s been born again. He screws his eyes shut, throws his arms out wide. Then he shimmers, twirls, and assembles his princely self like a magical girl from an 80’s cartoon.

“Yes, Kyoya, I do,” he says gravely. He opens his eyes to see Kyoya, still standing there, still utterly mystified.

“Wait,” says Tamaki, magical charms all falling away. “Are you alright? What did you come here for? Are things alright at home?” 

He rushes forward. His hands land at Kyoya’s shoulders, arms, checking, brushing to make sure Kyoya’s okay, until they settle finally at his face. Having ascertained Kyoya is yet unharmed, he waits.

(“Do you think Tono realizes he’s holding his face?”

“Shh!”

“Leave him alone, it’s cute!”)

Kyoya winces. “I said something hasty, in front of my father. It was worth it, but…”

“Oh, Kyoya…”

“It’ll be alright.” One of his hands comes up, holding Tamaki’s where it cradles his jaw. “I’m here, aren’t I? It’ll be alright.”

“Yes,” promises Tamaki. “You’re here. It’ll be alright.”

(“Ugh, they’re so married. Kiss already, you cowards!”

Everyone nods at that.)

“What did you have to tell me?” Kyoya asks again.

Reddening, Tamaki releases Kyoya’s face and backs off. Kyoya steps after him, seemingly subconsciously, so that the distance between them stays the same. “Ah. That. Well…”

He takes a deep breath, and looks directly into Kyoya’s eyes. “Yes. I need to talk to you, Kyoya. It’s very important.”

“Okay.”

But then Tamaki gets stuck.

(“What’s he doing?”

“Oh no, he’s freezing up!”

“Shh! Shut up! Just wait! He’ll make it! He’ll make it.”)

Tamaki is staring, awestruck, into Kyoya’s eyes. A scarlet flush creeps up, up his neck, up his cheeks, into his entire face.

Eyes tracking this color progression, Kyoya’s brows scrunch.

They can practically hear the gears turning in his head. The host club rattles with anticipation.

(“Oh no,” says Mitsukuni, suddenly insecure in his victory.

“Oh yes,” says Takashi, the rotten gloating bastard.)

And… click! Understanding blooms across his face.

“Tamaki,” Kyoya starts. He says Tamaki’s name like each syllable is a honeymoon. He says Tamaki’s name like it’s the first time he’s ever tasted it, like it’s a burst of lime across his tongue. He calls after Tamaki with so much adoration that everyone listening in the next room melts in place against the door, an incoherent puddle of host club mixed media.

“Kyoya?”

Even Tamaki is melting, anxiety dripping away. The sweet happiness in Kyoya’s voice draws him out, until he’s stepped all the way back into Kyoya’s space again, until he’s back right in his orbit.

“Tamaki, I’m in love with you.”

You can actually see the exact moment it all registers for Tamaki, because, well. Red, red, red. 

He gasps. Tamaki’s hands fly up to his mouth, his face, and he nearly starts floating right up off of his toes, buoyed by the shock, the exhilaration.

Kyoya pulls his hands down, away from his flushed skin, and frees a laugh from Tamaki’s lips. It bounces out of him discordant and breathy, utterly broken with the extreme joy of it all.

“Ah, Kyoya. Mon indispensable, mon amour, mon bonheur,” he declares, and he sighs with all the lovesickness of a husband at his own doorstep. “Puis-je- May I kiss you, Kyoya?”

Kyoya moves, and Tamaki meets him. They crash together at the same time. 

It can’t be comfortable, Mitsukuni thinks, the frantic way their mouths collide. But they’re together.

Behind the door, the host club gives up muffling their tears to break into thunderous applause. Even Takashi claps. Unfortunately, they’re all still leaning on the door, so when they pause to clap they’re all off balance and well…

Crash!

The rest of the host club tumbles into the room in a heap.

Tamaki jumps back, startled.

“Oh my gosh.” He blinks, taking in Renge and the twins (who are simply bawling), while Mitsukuni, Takashi, and Haruhi break into hysterical giggles at the sheer drama.

“Oh my gosh,” he repeats. “Were you guys watching all of that?”

Kyoya’s voice is rueful, sighing. “Of course they were.”

“Tono,” sobs Hikaru. “You did it!”

“We’re so proud of you,” Kaoru sniffles, no more composed than his twin.

“Um, I believe I was the one who did it,” says Kyoya, looking slightly miffed.

“Yeah,” says Takashi, though nobody but Mitsukuni notices. He sticks out his tongue at his cousin, who shrugs, casually, as if he hadn’t been mind-blowingly close to losing, at the end. Oh well.

Haruhi is shaking her head wryly at Tamaki––and at Kyoya, too. “And after all that panicking! I’m glad you two finally got it together though.”

Kyoya’s shoulders do a little twitch. For just a moment, a little loading screen is playing behind his eyes, complete with a spinning wheel symbol and progress bar and everything! But then Kyoya figures it out and it disappears.

“Wait. That was your emergency?”

He turns a bewildered glare at Mitsukuni, who whistles innocently.

“Oh yeah,” says Hikaru, yanking out one of the whiteboards. “We were drawing up plans for how Tono was going to ask you out!”

“You what?”

“We told you we’d support you,” says Kaoru, nonchalantly inspecting his fingernails. Mitsukuni couldn’t approve more.

A sudden flailing from their Host Club King. “This is what you meant that one day? Oh my gosh?”

He laughs. Things really do work out amazingly.

“I’m really proud of you guys,” Mitsukuni tells them.

Takashi grunts, and everyone understands it means the same thing, smiling so wide it hurts.

“It’s time to celebrate!” Renge declares. “Come on, Haruhi, let’s go bake something!”

“Renge-chan, wait up!” Haruhi laughs and both of them disappear into the kitchen.

The twins stare at each other for a moment, reading each other's' minds, until, in unison: “Hot chocolate. We’re going to make hot chocolate!”

Hm, this must be their cue too. Mitsukuni starts dragging Takashi away by the arm, giving the remaining hosts a cheerful wave. “You guys come find us when you’re done with your alone time, okay?” He winks.

Tama-chan sputters at him, probably still feeling a little betrayed from all the trouble-stirring just ten minutes ago, but Kyoya coughs and he looks back and suddenly they’re both too smitten to care anyway.

They’re at the door again, and his steps toward the kitchen slow. Mitsukuni is a sucker for sweet things, so he lingers just the tiniest bit, peeking at the two boys who made it all happen. Something wordless and tender passes between them. Tamaki cradles Kyoya’s face and laughs in that aching, beyond-happy way––and then they’re embracing again, rocking back and forth with the force of it.

“Mitsukuni,” says Takashi, gentle. “Give them their privacy.” And Takashi pulls him away from the door, but he’s smiling, too.

They walk into the kitchen side by side. Somehow, in the sixty seconds they’d been apart, the first years have managed to recreate a natural disaster all on their own. It’s chaos. It’s the most laughter and warmth and love the Suoh’s second estate has seen in a while. There’s definitely going to be property damage.

Mitsukuni looks up at his oldest friend, surrounded by their bright, burgeoning future and feels utter serenity spread through him.

“We’re all going to be okay, huh, Takashi?” It’s soft with wonder.

His cousin smiles.

“We’re home,” says Takashi simply.

So they are.