There were cracks in the cloudy winter sky, and Tamaki was fidgeting like a hamster without a wheel. Blond wisps of hair escaped his felt hat and the golden restaurant sign tinted his skin the color of the sun. He was desperately early to their meeting, and Kyouya considered, from the warmth of the café facing the restaurant, to make him wait just a bit longer. Snow was only frozen water, and water could do no harm to handsome men. Besides, the London Stock Exchange had just opened and those financial logarithms were not going to crack any stocks all alone.
But then Tamaki lifted his head to the skies with an expression reminiscent of a Pietá, and Kyouya sighed, sipped the remaining drops of coffee in his tiny espresso glass and clicked his laptop shut.
All of this despair, he thought, for wine.
His best friend lit up like a torch when he saw Kyouya, flew his arms up and down like a fledgling chicken and buried him in a world-spinning hug that knocked the breath away from his chest.
"Mon ami! I'm never, ever, going to forget this favor! I owe you the world!", and then he lightly stepped back and kissed him three times in the cheeks, Parisian style.
Kyouya lifted a hand to strike his cheekbone and take his glasses off, as a few fearless snowflakes had landed on the brims and were dripping cold tears over his eyes.
"Yes, you do," he said on clipped tones. "Let's go inside. Will Haruhi be joining us?"
"No, she is working tonight – at the legal department of Tayo Beers. On an UNPAID internship. Can you believe it? Commoners are becoming more and more like slaves these days, we should do something about it!"
Kyouya, who employed a slave powerhouse of interns in his budding company, said nothing about this particular topic.
"Tayo Beers has a wine department; couldn't they help you out with your... predicament?"
"Nah, it's a tiny section, and Haruhi told me that it's staffed with Italianophile nerds, kids that have not yet passed their sommelier exams and hyper-competitive new rich hicks. Nothing like your cousin. Kyouya, he is a living legend!"
Issei Tomine was a legend alright, in the sense that his antics were legendary. Kyouya's father had been extremely surprised when his youngest and brightest had asked him for his stranged and strangest cousin's contact details. Issei was a good businessman on his own right, but the Ootori family could not forget that he, just like his mother, had a worrying tendency to spend a fortune on illogical nectars and to fly far, far away from his responsibilities whenever he faced a problem.
He always solved the problem (after all, he was partially Ootori), but the waters of his wine-tasting company turned a murky, troubled brown every time he abandoned his employers to his own devices. These tendencies were also very disconcerting, as on the outside he looked every bit the perfect logical businessman, down to wearing an impeccable suit even for casual outings.
As a result, Kyouya had only met his older cousin twice before in his life, at full-family functions.
"I love you, you know," Tamaki said, patting his back with his warm puppy hands "Even if your family is a bit strange,"
"Shall we go inside? I did not come all the way from Boston just to freeze on a Tokyo sidewalk"
The restaurant where Issei had asked them to meet him was declined in gold and red. It had a high bar carved from a single, huge mahogany trunk and a wall covered from floor to ceiling with open wine racks. The tablecloths flared like summer skirts down to the floor and were the exact shade of Tamaki's skin.
As the maître d'hôtel conducted them to their table, Kyouya cleaned his glasses for the second time that evening. That's why he was surprised when he lifted his eyes and saw that Issei had not only arrived early, but also opened and arranged at least twenty bottles of wine in a spiral leading to the vortex of their table.
A soft scent of berries and spices emanated from them over them.
"Kyouya. You are all grown up," Issei said, greeting him with a slight bow of his head. "And you must be Tamaki Suoh," he added, turning to Tamaki, whose eyes were bigger than flying saucers. "I had the pleasure of working with your father on the catering of the new Tokyo Sunrise Palace a year ago."
Kyouya did his best not to roll his eyes. Of course that Tamaki could have contacted Issei through other channels.
"I am a huge fan!" Tamaki almost squealed. "Your description of Chateau La Puy in the last Annuaire was just fa-bu-leux. The way you explain the nuances of the notes... and the pickings for the Hitachiin Pleather not Leather fund raising ball were just on-the-spot,"
Issei smiled agreeably as Tamaki chattered away and invited both of them to sit down with an elegant hand sweep. The restaurant was more of a wine bar: highly specialized and stocked, but not expensive enough for its staff to take their coats.
Tamaki was wearing an intricate wool sweater underneath his coat and what looked like dove-blue velvet pants, which somehow went better with the environment than the dark silken shirt that Kyouya had picked for the occasion. Issei had the sleeves of his shirt pushed up over his elbows and had started to expertly decant an extremely dark, dense wine.
"Thank you very much; the selection was easy, taking into account the expertise of the chefs involved. It was an absolute pleasure working with your father,"
Issei then turned to his younger cousin. "Your own father is good, I expect,"
"Exceptionally so," Kyouya answered, taking out his letter sized black agenda and cracking the spine open. "He sends his regards, and his best wishes for your current endeavors," he added as he noted down the date and the words "Wine Tasting Selection" at the top in ink that rivaled the density of the wine being poured.
Yoshio Ootori had said nothing of the sort. He had, however, clipped his words through a semantically crystalline tirade enumerating the multiple inconveniences that Issei could bring to the family business if he failed his current predicament, a clear clue for Kyouya to keep his ears open to prevent this failing from ever happening.
"Please transmit him my kindest regards as well," Issei ansswered. "I had the chance of passing through the Ootori industries in China during my return trip, and I must say that it was fascinated by the impeccable logistics of your manufacturing plant in Shin-Zhien."
The plant in Shin-Zhien had been fully automated a few months ago and the human factor was no longer a necessity. Kyouya nodded his head in gratitude, but kept in mind that Issei, who had a passion for wine crafted by men in ridiculously bankrupting amounts, could hardly admire a dehumanizing process such as the one they were conducting.
Kyouya thought that it was absolutely wonderful to push the human factor aside, especially when dealing with highly complex chemical elements that were going to be turned into highly expensive drugs that only a lucky few would be able to afford.
At that precise moment, an exquisite creature dressed in burgundy arrived to their table. Her steps were not refined in the slightest, but her head and back stood straight like the arrow of a queen. She had dense, wavy black hair pulled back, freeing her front and showcasing her confident black eyes. She looked younger than Kyouya and Tamaki. Kyouya was not surprised when she slid a hand over Issei's shirt like the gentle caress of a lover, but he was astonished when he stopped decanting the wine to return the gesture with a hesitating hand hovering over her hips only to bring it back to the table before he could touch her.
And then he realizes that the only reason why Issei agreed to meet him, he who did not appreciate his world of automated business at all, was because he did not give a shit anymore.
His crazy mirror cousin was in love, and Kyouya could see that this love was returned.
"This is my assistant, Loulan," Issei said, and his voice did not betray an inch of emotion. "She will be our guide and my apprentice tonight."