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."
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Chablis Premier Cru - Vaillons
Tamaki rose to his feet and bowed to the girl like an army of one.
"It is a pleasure to meet you, mademoiselle Loulan, although it breaks my heart to know that the wines in this table will taste like muddy waters compared to your beauty."
Issei made a small sound that could have been a grunt of despair or a small suppressed chuckle, but Loulan smiled, wide and clear, and returned the bow.
"Pleased to meet you too. Your tongue is lighter than that of a spice merchant, so I am sure that you will have no problem at all enjoying master Tomine's selection,"
"Loulan was born in the Lop desert and has spent her whole life there, working as a guide. She does not have any formal training," Kyouya, after another look at her sturdy hands and tan skin deduced that she might not have had any formal education at all, "but she has the most incredible nose that I have ever met. She found a cage of wine beneath the sands of an abandoned town, in a dark night, while the wind howled," Issei stopped himself, looking out of the corner of his eye with an expression that left many things untold about that night.
"Wine, in the desert?" Tamaki leant his chin on his hands and opened his eyes wide, listening intently. "That is amazing!"
Kyouya nodded. "And slightly unbelievable,"
Issei picked another bottle and started cutting the seal with a sleek pocket knife. Kyouya vaguely admired the dexterity of his long, pale fingers as the wax twirled down into a red serpentine ribbon. The cork of that bottle came out with a soft pop that resonated in the second of silence that followed.
"To be completely honest, I had also started to believe that I had hallucinated, and that the city, the wine and Loulan were mere mirages, but then I sent a plane ticket to her and she appeared in Narita... in flesh and bone."
"How fortunate," Kyouya said, and turned to face the girl "And how are you finding Tokyo?"
"Very... humid," she answered. "But everybody has been very kind and accommodating, “I'm looking forward to starting my official training,”
She was uneducated and her words had the wrong ring - not false, exactly, but self-reassuring. However, she seemed surprisingly serene for a nomad transplant. Then again, the hardest your initial conditions were, the more adaptable and resourceful you became. Haruhi had been his perfect example.
"Desert rose, I would love to take you on a tour of the most magical places in Japan. Kyouya is a fabulous guide; he was the one who showed me everything around the first time we met,"
Issei had an admirable control of his face, but his left eyebrow lifted nonetheless. "Did he?"
There were a few seconds of uncomfortable silence in the table that Loulan broke with one of her wise smiles.
"So, what is the occasion? What kind of event requires such a wide tasting?"
"A wedding," he said as he placed a hand on Kyouya's knee and pressed, as if to gain some strength that for once he could not give. "My wedding," he said as his fingers burned over Kyouya's herringbone trousers.
"Congratulations," but Kyouya was not sure of whose lips said those words - they might have been his, not that it mattered.
Loulan clapped once, and Issei took the first bottle from the centre of the table.
"Ah, in that case, we will start with the chablis. I took the liberty of ordering some oysters to go with it,"
And then he lifted his glass to both of them.
"Cheers to you two. I guess the wedding will be taking place in France? They just passed a law accepting gay marriage," the server arrived with a silver platter piled with crushed ice and open shells, and he started pouring.
A scent of waves crashing against a mineral reef soared from the glass and reached their noses –it carried salt, lemon and thyme. It awoke a memory of a distant night in a summer beach.
And Kyouya answered to his own surprised ears, "Yes, in Fontainebleau, it means a lot to his mother,"
Had he been pressed, Kyouya would have admitted that he did not enjoy wine. He would drink it if it was served to him, and if he needed to impress his host he could even muster a few key words that would show off his worldly knowledge.
But if he had the choice, he would pick gin, vodka, sake or even sparkling water over wine. Those were transparent poisons that still let him watch the world even as he lifted the glass to his lips. Their effects were clear protections, crystal walls thicker than Haruhi's wrists and just as strong as Tamaki’s. They allowed for a comfortable clarity and dulled unnecessary outside noises.
Wine, however, pulled the drinker in by the ankles forcing him to pay attention to its particular nuances. The world around him became non-existent for the space of a few seconds.
Describing a wine, which was what Issei pulled off as a living, implied being open to the images that a particular taste or aroma invoked. Wine was unpredictable, the quality the same brand over the years varying wildly. Kyouya preferred his wine mediocre at best, or its excellence would drown him in sensations that he'd rather ignore in social settings. Wine was a horrible investment.
Of course, Tamaki loved it for exactly the same reasons. After all, he was half French.
Loulan broke the silence with her bell-chime laughter. "Now, that's a good joke," and she added, sipping her glass with delight, "Your cousin is very funny, Issei,"
"A regular one-man show, our Kyouya is," Issei said, "Have an oyster, their tang goes perfectly with the mineral flavor of the Chablis,"
Tamaki elegantly attacked both the oyster and the glass, but Kyouya wanted to stall.
He took the bottle in his right hand and wrote down the name of the wine in black ink. "Chablis Premier Cru – Vaillons". He then sketched the small hut depicted in the bottle sticker, and the date. He took an oyster, sprinkling a pinch of black pepper to it, and let some of his rage leak into his stomach as he swallowed it alive, a sacrifice to his self-control. It was absolutely fresh and delicious. Difficult to imagine how the chablis could improve this.
"Mmmh, this is magnificent..." Tamaki said, sighing from his ribs. "So delicious," he added as he drank a mouthful of wine with his eyes closed. "Kyouya, stop writing and enjoy yourself, I am going to need your advice as my best man,"
There was a thin ribbon of red pouring from the mouth of the bottle in Issei's hands and into the clear glass of the decanter, and Kyouya could only think of his own blood, flooding from his heart to his brain until his body became as cold and brittle as fossilized ice. Tamaki was getting married, and had just asked him to be his best man.
He would give anything to stop his face from permeating his thoughts, so he lifted his arm to the naked low-voltage bulb above their heads and performed a cheer to his friend. The scene slowed down – Tamaki sighing and joking with Loulan, who was licking her lips with innocent playfulness, and Issei watching a server approach the table with an arrangement of hot tapas – and then faded to black as his lips touched the clear liquid and washed over the oyster's aftertaste.
It tasted like the sun kissing the shoreline. That beach was covered with ancient shellfish turned white by the moving waves. His hands could dig into the sand and go deeper and deeper, through millennia of receding oceans, unearthing the bones of the monsters that had lived and died millions of years before he was born. "It's ok, let go," the wine whispered in his mouth. "We all turn to salt and rock in the end," and Kyouya turned around from that treacherous voice, and saw plants growing across the beach, delicate white and yellow flowers, resinous and alive, just before the wave took him.
He opened his eyes, and was immediately thankful for his glasses.
"Very interesting aftertaste," he said, lifting the glass once more to see the light through its clear yellow hue. "It was almost like a wave destroying everything it had created in its wake,"
"Exactly!" exclaimed Tamaki, "It was a tsunami of love, a mirror of what I feel for Haruhi! We have to have this wine!"
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Once upon a time, Kyouya became Tamaki’s best friend in spite of himself. That was long before they reached they reached the age of wearing blue blazers and drinking in secret. Tamaki was in love with the rising sun, so green tea with its mysterious vertical stalls washed his hidden grieves bright and clean. Kyouya, who drank the tea for its bitterness and barely hid his own sorrows behind a plastic smile, could not understand Tamaki’s reasons at first.
“ If you are chained and tortured, turn the other cheek,” he dreamt once, after studying particularly hard for an World Religions exam, “Not so you can be hit again, but so you can have a different view of the situation,” dream Tamaki had had his flesh exposed by a golden whip, yet he seemed unconcerned. “You might even catch a movie,”
Even in his dreams Kyouya was irritated by his carelessness.
Still, if he was a potentially important future business connection, he merited having homemade nave served to him in a steaming pot placed exactly at the centre of a kotatsu brought out explicitly in his honour. Right after dinner, when Tamaki was cheery as a hearth, Kyouya served een tea and orange slices arranged like a sun on a gilded porcelain dish.
“When summer comes, I will serve you escallops and white wine,” Tamaki promised. “Brought directly from France,”
“They will not be very fresh then,” Kyouya said, waving his request away with a smile, “I must politely decline,”
“We will serve them at our club, in open shells, with their corals exposed,” Tamaki continued, ignoring him utterly, “Not the wine, of course, at school they are still underage after all,”
“We are still underage too,”
“Nonsense. I have been drinking wine at the table since I was twelve,” Tamaki answered. “How else are you supposed to know which one is good,” he sighed, leaning his head back, and his blond hair caught the light from the candles. “It’s the same as with everything, really, the sooner you start and the more you try the better informed you will be when time comes to make a choice,”
Kyouya’s throat had dried up when he sighed, and he could not tear his eyes off Tamaki’s neck and his budding Adam’s apple. Completely oblivious to Kyouya, Tamaki continued. “We are actually making those girls a favour, presenting them with all the types of amazing men that they might encounter in the future and letting them decide by themselves which type they prefer.
When they meet the person of their dreams, they will know right away if they are making the right choice,”
Kyouya wanted nothing more than to reach out and slide his fingers across that creamy skin. “Nonsense,” he said instead, as Tamaki popped an orange slice into his mouth, “There are no right or wrong choices, just opportunities,”
“Ha,” his friend opened his eyes, “You are the one who should practice for when the right opportunity comes along,” And he propped himself up on his two knees, using his knuckles, until his eyes were level with Kyouya’s. “For instance, how would you know if the girl in front of you is experienced or just looking for some innocent hearthrobbing?”
“I did not know those two concepts were incompatible,” Kyouya said. Tamaki’s nose was so close to his that their tips were almost touching. “But returning to the topic, I think that, after having second thoughts, I would be delighted to have some scallops,”
Tamaki’s smile was a wonder of joy.
“Merveilleux! I will tell Shima. She knows how to cook everything. Just don’t pay attention to her when she starts berating foreign cuisine,” and then he dipped in, and Kyouya closed his eyes, fearing the moment their lips would clash, but Tamaki only touched his front to his bangs and leant in for a second before pulling out.
That had been eight years ago.
“Eight years is the ideal time to conserve and then drink the finest modern Bordeaux. Any more than that and the wine will go past its peak threshold, and taste a little bit like prunes,” Issei said in the present.
“A geriatric wine,” Loulan added, half joking. “Ew,”
“At best, its elements will be muted. At worse, it will turn dark and undrinkable,” the wine that Issei was swirling around in his big bowl glass was thicker than blood. “This one, however, comes from an Italian vineyard famous for keeping only one branch in each of the vines. All the sugars concentrate on those few grapes, which makes them incredibly rich,”
“Lucky us,” Kyouya said, sipping his glass. He was definitely tipsy. Barely registered that the owner of that vineyard must have some other source of revenue apart from the wine that allowed him to afford it. Even at the highest of prices it would be a ruin to produce.
“I believe the owner belongs to the mafia elite,” Issei said, reading his mind. “The old school mafia, not the new one that wears sweat suits everywhere, overdoes the UV tan and appears on the press for placing cheap starlets on ministerial seats,” he licked his upper lip. “Our families’ preferred associates,”
“Glad to hear that you have managed to keep any associates at all,” Kyouya retorted, “Must be difficult, with all those pleasure trips…”
“Research, of course, excuse me, filling up your busy, busy schedule,”
“Those trips are a necessity in my line of work. See, without them, there would be no new blood in this business,” he inclined his head towards Loulan, “For instance, let Loulan tell us what she tastes in this wine,”
“Shouldn’t we wait for Tamaki to come back from the men’s room?” she asked, “He is the groom after all,”
“Indulge my so-very-young cousin, please. You can always repeat what you felt to the groom when comes back,”
Loulan wet his upper lip in the opaque wine. Her tongue flickered out for the barest of moments, and then came back almost immediately. She closed her eyes, a picture of serenity, drank, placed her glass carefully behind her small evening bag and spoke.
“It is delicious, but I do not think it is appropriate for a wedding. This wine is full of regrets,”
“It’s like – a lonely tree in the desert. A tree that has been growing is roots beneath the earth, so deep that it drinks from underground lakes. But even though this water is sweet and fresh, it is so very far away from the leaves, which are barely holding up to the hot sun up in the sky. There are no birds on its branches because it bears no flowers or fruit. All its energy is below,”
Issei was frowning. “Not what I expected,” he said, taking Loulan’s glass and sniffing it. Kyouya realized that he was doing it to make sure that she was drinking the same wine as they all were. “Up until now this was one of my favourite brands,” he took a sip, and then another shorter one. “Still is, actually,” he threw a sideways glance at Loulan, who was pressing her lips.
“Was I wrong?”
“No, it was just…”
“It was a perfect description, miss,” Kyouya said, presenting her with the tray of irregular chocolate truffles that the waiter had brought over before. “Not very technical, though, but excellent. The mafia winemaker would be proud, although his marketing department would probably avoid it,”
“Oh dear. I still have a lot to learn. Was it so depressing?”
“No,” Kyouya said, thinking that it had been extremely objective, at the same time that Issei said, his feathers a bit ruffled “Yes,”
“What was depressing?” Tamaki said, dropping back into his chair and draping his arm around Kyouya’s shoulder. He took a truffle and swallowed it whole. “Yum,”
Kyouya, Loulan and Issei looked at each other. “Handsome men getting married so young!” Loulan said.
Tamaki nodded, incredibly solemn for a man that had chocolate on the corners of his mouth. “But how else would a couple remember themselves as young and beautiful in their old age if they did not marry at their peak?”
“Of course you think this is your peak,” Kyouya said, rolling his eyes. “When you are forty, you will think that that is your peak, and when you are sixty you are going to be insufferably smug. Haruhi is a saint,”
“That she is,”
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Kyouya stood up. “Well, Issei, it has been a pleasure to see you,”
“Thank you so much for the tasting. It has been illuminating!” Tamaki added, taking Issei into a tight embrace. Issei was rigid for a second, and then pat the younger man on his shoulder, just once. “Will you do me the honour of working with the chef at the wedding?”
Issei nodded. “I will be delighted. Would you mind if Loulan acted as the sommelier? The wedding is still a few months away and her training will be much advanced by then,”
“No-one would be lovelier in that position,” Tamaki said vehemently, taking both the hands of Issei and Loulan into his. “I am so lucky that Kyouya could arrange this meeting,”
Issei slid his hands out of the embrace and let Tamaki babbling sweet nonsense to Loulan. He pulled a folded wine bag out the inner pocket of his blazer and filled it with two of the bottles that they had tasted earlier in the evening. He walked over to the counter, signalling Kyouya to come with him.
He stepped right behind his cousin. As they passed by the counter, Issei took out a red envelope and left it on the countertop. “That will take care of the bill and the tips,” he said.
“Tamaki would have paid,”
“You should have paid, as the best man,” Issei said, turning left into a wood panelled corridor adorned with vintage photographs of French chateaux. “Although of course you could not have planned for that expense if you did not know that you were going to be one,”
“On the other hand,” Kyouya answered, “You can always write this off as a sales dinner in your books,”
“Very good. You are learning,”
“Don’t insult me. Even a child would know that,” they arrived to the men’s room, which had an antechamber strewn with velvet sofas and international newspapers. “What are your intentions towards this Loulan, anyway?”
“Only the best,” Issei turned around, put his hands on Kyouya’s shoulders and forced him to sit down. “What are your intentions towards Tamaki?”
Kyouya realized that the men’s room was dimly lit, so much so that he could not hide behind the glint of his eyeglasses. “To throw him an unforgettable bachelor’s party, and then check regularly on his conjugal happiness from wherever I happen to live,”
“An ocean and a continent away, so far. Boston seems to be treating you well.”
“The only way you could get farther away from him would be if you got in the one-way Mars colonization program that your family has started to fund,”
Kyouya looked up at Issei. He could see his own face reflected in his glasses, and he did not like his own expression. He was one drop away from scolded child, and could not come up with a suitable response to Issei’s suggestions. “This is none of your business” gave too much importance to Issei’s words. While, “I don’t know what you are talking about,” was completely unbelievable. It must have been the wine, because he settled his mind on the third option.
“His fiancée and I, have history,” he said, standing up, “But it’s in the past. I did not want my presence to prevent their happiness by triggering any unwelcome memories,”
“Lies,” Issei said, pushing him back on the couch. Kyouya caught his reflection in the mirrors around. His lips were tinted black from the tannins. He opened his mouth to fight back. “Don’t bother,” Issei said, lifting a hand and pressing the bag with the bottles onto his chest. “I’m not here to give you a lesson in anything other than wine. So take this wine. Drink it with him, tonight. And let go of that worm that is feeding on your heart. It will drink your blood if you don’t.”
Outside it was still snowing, and Kyouya welcomed the cold and the lights of the cars, bathing on them to clear his head. He looked behind him to see Issei snake an arm around Loulan’s waist, who leant on him with so much trust. The half-empty bottles were heavy on his fingers.
Tamaki was happily drunk.
“What’s in there?” he said, with his arm still around Kyouya’s shoulders.
“A parting gift,” Kyouya said as they walked through the slush. “We should drink them tonight,”
“Let me see,” Tamaki said, stopping and taking the bag from his fingers. “Oooh, it’s the Pinot from Va... Vaaal...” he turned around to Kyouya, tragedy written all over his face. “Kyouya, do not panic, but I’m drunk,”
“I’m not panicking,” Kyouya smiled. He then stopped, when he saw Tamaki taking out the cork of the bottle. “What are you doing?”
“No, not here! It’s vulgar!” he slapped his front. “But you know this, of course,”
Tamaki giggled. “Mon ami, you would be much happier if you embraced your inner commoner more often,” his eyes glazed over back to the bottle. “Besides, no one will know who we are,”
“How could people not know who we are?”
“Because...” and Tamaki leant in, solemnly bringing him into a world changing secret that was taking place into his head. “...we are not wearing our uniforms,”
Kyouya blinked, stunned. They had been out of school for 3 years.
“Ssssshhhhhh. I’m Suoh, but it’s a secret,” Tamaki whispered, snickering and taking a swig directly from the bottle. “Mhh. Here, have some,”
“No. It’s still vulgar even if nobody knows who you are,” Kyouya pushed his hands deeper into his pockets and kept walking.
“Rich bastard,” Tamaki said, imitating Haruhi’s voice.
“Prince Idiot,” Kyouya replied, with the rasp of the twin’s throats.
Tamaki laughed again and leant his head on Kyouya’s shoulder. “I missed you. Nobody insults me like you do,”
“I’m sure that Haruhi has her moments,” Kyouya gave up on walking through the snow with his glasses, and pushed them up until they lay on the crown of his head. The world had a soft blur around the edges that was quite agreeable.
“Where are you sleeping, Kyouya?” Tamaki asked.
Where was he sleeping, indeed? He could always go to the Ootori estate, and swim through two oceans of questions in the morning, both from his father and Fuyumi. Or he could check in any of the capsule hotels and wake up in the morning, refreshed but confused, and stumble back to the airport in a daze of regret.
“Why don’t you sleep at my place?” Tamaki proposed. “I can set up the kotatsu and polish off the wine,”
Kyouya took the winter in his lungs. He thought about saying no.
“It will be just like in the old days,” Tamaki insisted, lacing their arms together. “I even have some tapes of that show we watched, with the flowerpot,”
“You have tapes? Tapes were long gone when we were watching them.”
“Nothing expresses nostalgia better than the grainy quality of a tape. Besides, they get used with the use.. of the watching thingy. It is very wabi-sabi,” Tamaki took his elbow and turned right. “I live around the corner,” he said turning left again.
His friend’s house was surprisingly unassuming from the outside, almost undistinguishable from the Gamer’s Café on its left and the Dog Lovers Shop on the right. A small red door lead into a narrow corridor garden, which in turn opened into a tiny courtyard with a two-storey cabin-sized house at the end.
“Yes? What? What do you think?”
“Unsecured. I will have Tachibana take a look at it this week,”
“If you set surveillance cameras on my home, our friendship will be over,” Tamaki said, waving a finger in front of his face. “O-Ver!”
“What makes you think that I have not installed them yet? Maybe I will call Tachibana just to check that all the connections are still in perfect working order,”
Tamaki dismissed him with a wave and another swig at the bottle.
“You wouldn’t dare,”
“I would stay clear of the bedroom and the bathroom. Assuming there are no windows in those two, where an intruder could sneak in,”
“Sssh. I’m Suoh. By definition, a Suohero,”
“The more eyes to watch over you, the better. Who knows what antics you would get that poor girl in if nobody was looking,”
Tamaki leant against the doorframe and considered him. Kyouya had reached the point where it was easier for him to feel the scent and hear the movement of his friend rather than looking directly at him, or he would have an instant split headache. “Tell you what. I will let you install one small camera on the outside entrance if,” he said lifting the bottle, which was almost empty, on his hand, “If you take a sip,”
“I will gladly do that once we are inside,”
“Ah-ah. You have to do it here. Under the potentially curious eyes of Shiro the All-Night Dog Stylist and the terrible Drag0nF03 Guild,”
Kyouya rolled his eyes.
“Out of the question,”
“Don’t you there? Are you afraid of what your father would say?” he tickled.
Kyouya shook his head. “Let’s go inside. We are going to get sick,”
“Maybe,” Tamaki said, with a twinkle in his eye, “You should drink it from my mouth,”
And before Kyouya could step back, Tamaki took the last of the wine into his mouth, threw the bottle back into the garden, where it softy landed on the snow, leant into Kyouya and covered his tinted lips with his own, pouring in the taste of a summer day.
His hands, still inside his pockets, opened and closed on their own. The night outside and the day inside pressed on his skin. And then the door opened on his back, their mouths parted, and they stood like children under the light of Haruhi’s sleepy eyes.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Ha-ru-hi – spring sun in a snowy night.
Maybe she widened her eyes, bit her lips and clenched her fists.
Maybe Tamaki bowed at her naked feet, covering them with his hands – the same hands that ten seconds ago had been pressing Kyouya’s chest against his indecisive door.
Maybe Kyouya stepped back, careful to put his feet back into their twenty second old snow footprints.
In the end, it didn’t matter what their first reaction had been, because the next thing that happened was that the bottle of wine fell on the stone steps, breaking in green glass and gold spill.
Kyouya managed to stand very still, to readjust his glasses and to meet Haruhi’s eyes over Tamaki’s disheveled hair. But where he had expected to find anger, he encountered an apology, and then (a relief) anger followed. But Haruhi was not pointing her hammer at him.
“What the hell, Tamaki?!” she said, pulling her feet from the cradle that her boyfriend had made with his hands. “What did you think you were doing to Kyouya?” her words tumbled out quick but slurred, and Kyouya stood to attention. Now he noticed her too rosy cheeks and nose, and her glazed eyes.
“Are you drunk?” he asked, surprised.
“No. Yes. A little. The idiots at Taiyo took me out. Beer is stupid,” she grunted, “I didn’t know that you were back in Tokyo,” she said.
“Just passing by,”
“But you did not tell me. Us,” she said, and Kyouya knew that she did not mean “us” as in “Tamaki and I”, but “us” as in “your clubmates, your friends, the people that would have your back in any situation, us, your real family,” and the hurt in her words hit him like sleet.
“Tamaki knew,” he said, pointing at their personal shaking blond special snowflake. Haruhi shook her head. She had pulled her now longish hair in two short braids before going to bed, but it was too layered, and some strands were pointing outwards. “And I told Kaoru,”
Haruhi crossed her arms, and then uncrossed them. “Kaoru is abroad, too,”
She was only wearing a tank top over her pajama pants, and Kyouya saw through the thin cloth that she was colder than she wanted to let on.
“I asked him to come over,” Tamaki said, standing up and dusting off the snow from his hair, coat, trousers, “Because I have a very important thing to tell you, two actually, and I wanted him to be present,” he stepped inside his house, took off his shoes, put on the slippers, and waved at Kyouya to come in. “Please,”
“No. I am leaving now. You can tell her on your own,”
“No, I can’t,” Tamaki contorted his face into the perfect puppy eyes expression. “I need you,” he said.
“You don’t,” said Kyouya, soft and cool, counting the mouthfuls of snow that he would have to swallow to clean his palate Tamaki’s tongue. “You’ll be fine,” he added, reassuring and level-headed, the perfect advisor, the star consultant. Tamaki’s face started to crumble. “You will be fine,” he repeated, backing up, turning around, bowing his head to say goodbye to the boozy bride-to-be. “I’ll call you. Both of you,” he said before he reached the door.
I will leave a very nice message in their answering machine after making sure that they are asleep in this looped time zone.
He heard the snow crunch behind him, and he barely had the time to think she shouldn’t, not in this weather, not barefoot – before a small hand clasped the belt of his coat and pulled him back. Kyouya turned, and parted his lips to issue a warning, but the wine had made him slow just as the beer had made Haruhi bold, and she knocked the breath of his chest when she jumped and clenched her pajama-clad legs around his waist.
He had pulled her in, pushed her out of the way, out of the chair, into a pool, into a debt eight million times before, but he had never dropped her and he was not going to start now, mostly because they might think that it was due to the alcohol and Kyouya wanted the world to know that he could hold his wine.
The pavement was slippery and covered in snow. Her face was just inches away from his. “You are not going anywhere,” she said, “Until Tamaki apologizes,” and just to make her point, she closed the distance between their lips and she kissed him, using her tongue like a scalpel to find his heart at the parting of his lips. Kyouya wanted pulled back, but his hands had already found a balance spot at the very top of her thighs, and it was the wine’s fault if she tasted like dew and light and lilies and clean laundry. Haruhi licked her lips thoughtfully, and Kyouya could read her mind, knowing that she had been searching for the taste of Tamaki in his mouth, and that she had found it.
Tamaki shouted something from the door, and Haruhi tightened the grip of her legs around Kyouya’s waist. The top of her head glistened with powdered snow and her braids were unraveling. He secured his right arm beneath her and used his left hand to slide down the elastics, unmaking her braids and combing the strands with his fingers. “I know you,” he reminded her “I knew who you were before he did. I knew him before you did. I don’t need to get to know the both of you now, again. It’s tiresome,”
“Bring me inside, Cool Type,” she ordered, “Your lips are purple,”
“And your mouth is glacial,”
So he walked back and into the fairytale house, past the bottle of spilled wine, past Tamaki, past their shared memories and his own regrets, and closed the door behind the three of them.
Their home (her home?) was just as tiny on the inside as it seemed outside. The slipper space led directly into the smallest kitchenette that Kyouya had ever seen, which led into the living room – dining room – studio, where Haruhi’s futon was already unfolded, looking warm and soft. A rackety ladder, gilded with gold flakes, led upstairs, to the bathroom and toilet.
“That looks very unstable,” said Kyouya, before dropping Haruhi on the futon without much ceremony. A handful of feathers flew up – domestic snow, warm but it could get up your nose and throat and make you cough. Some people were allergic to duvet. He took off his boots, not bothering with the slippers, and arranged his coat on the stair’s handrail. Tamaki had joined Haruhi in the futon and was speaking urgently in Frenchonese, the language of bad doramas, while she looked at him quizzically and rebuffed his explanations. Tamaki touched her lips and Haruhi slapped his hand away.
Kyouya’s toes were defrosting, and he found the tingling delightful. He tried his newly sensitive feet to take himself to the tiny kitchenette, where he tried to locate, and failed to, the water boiler. He settled on unrolling a roll of tinfoil, which shone like the world’s sharpest blade before wrinkling and crinkling. Now it looked like sunny water.
He heard giggling, and turned around to find Tamaki and Haruhi gently laughing at him. Whatever they had been arguing about, the tinfoil had stopped it.
“Are you drunk?” ask Haruhi.
“I’m experimenting,” said Kyouya, showing them the roll, now naked cardboard, devoid of magic, its shiny coat lying on the floor, the silvery skin of a great snake.
“He never got to play in the kitchen,” explained Tamaki, walking up to him and taking the cardboard roll off his hands, turning it over, putting it over his left eye – Tamaki the coeursair, the Corsair of Hearts, one of his imaginary roles in the past - “Even green tea – his maids prepared it and gave it to him so that he could carry it to the kotatsu,”
“Like you played a lot in the kitchen,” said Kyouya, knowing that Tamaki Richard, a spawn of the finest French tradition, had started to walk in a vineyard and had learned the names of the finest cheeses from the people that made them, tasting the first cut of a camembert wheel and the raw juice of unfermented grapes. “Shut up,” added Kyouya, before his friend could say back exactly what he had thought. “I’m tired. This is tiring. Stop it. Just ask her to marry me – I mean you. Marry you. Ask me to marry you. Oh, hell -- ” Kyouya took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, frustrated with how stupid his tongue had become, bitten by the wine and the poison at the tip of his friends’ tongues. “You know what I mean,”
In the startled silence that followed –how could they be surprised, though, were they that dense?- Kyouya considered the three possible scenarios that lay ahead through the rosy glass of wine.
He could tackle Tamaki into the futon, using his whole weight to pin him down and take back the control. Tamaki would laugh like a child, and Haruhi, he knew, would slip into the sheets with them, first acting as a bridge to him and as an anchor to Tamaki. She was good and she had a smart mouth and even smarter skin, and she was generous and she would share all of his fiancé because the more she gave away the more that came back to her. Because she knew, just as Kyouya knew, that she was Tamaki’s home and would always be.
He could also take Haruhi first, and show his friend just how deeply he knew her, his bride to be, how well their bodies worked together, the ripples of her pleasure an earthquake, his own oblivion an ice storm. That might make Tamaki walk away from the wedding, but he would also walk away from him. And Kyouya needed to be the one doing the walking, not the one left behind.
Or he could just go to sleep. Feign exhaustion – that shouldn’t be difficult, unless Tamaki’s curious hands wandered south of his waistline – and drop like a bag of coffee beans on their bed. Let them stay up and fend for their own solution in tonight’s cold equation.
But Tamaki robbed him of his preferred path with another kiss, and Haruhi stepped on his self-destructive revenge plan by straightening the sheets, the duvet, the pillows, by taking off her clothes as casually as the snow frosted the windows, by staying Tamaki’s hand when he reached to turn off the lights – so that the last thing that Kyouya saw that night was Tamaki’s forget-me-not eyes closed with pleasure, his back arching into his pelvis and pushing into Haruhi’s, the waves of the white sheets arranged around them like a snow country.
“Weddings are expensive,” said Kyouya, warming his hands with the ink-black coffee cup.
“They don’t have to be,” Haruhi was brushing her hair into a practical ponytail. “Technically, we only have to sign some papers. We could register today,”
Kyouya blew into his cup. “Please, make sure that I can watch when you tell your plan to Ranka. Or the twins. Or your fiancé,”
“I can be frugal, you know,” said Tamaki, descending the very thin ladder, fresh from his shower and with only a towel wrapped around his waist. “We will make do without the Cirque du Soleil as entertainment. I’m sure that I can pull a few favors with the Zuka Club, that way we will be going local. And the international guests will have to fly on business, not first – if they want an upgrade, they will have to pay for it themselves,”
“It might be cheaper to buy the plane and fill it with your guests,” Kyouya wrapped himself tighter in the duvet and risked burning his tongue for a sip of scalding caffeine. “How many people are you flying in from France?”
“Only Paris, about a hundred guests, between family relations, business partners and my HEC friends – but if I bought a plane then some of them might have to fly on coach,”
“I see how that could be a problem,” Kyouya nodded. “Unless you decide to make it into an experience. You could - ” Kyouya run the numbers through his head, and they seemed sound “You could do away with the central rows, because you won’t need that many seats, and use that space to hire actors – maybe someone that will teach your French guests about Japanese wedding customs,”
“Such as the money envelope?” said Haruhi, staring at him from the mirror. Kyouya didn’t care about her death stare. In any case, he could not properly appreciate it due to his glasses being somewhere under the pile of discarded clothing instead of on his face.
“Among them, yes,” he nodded, and sipped, and assimilated the coffee inside.
“If Tamaki is buying a plane exclusively to fly his guests from Paris to Tokyo, we are going to sound ridiculous asking them for the money envelope. We don’t need the money envelope. We don’t need any of this,”
“No. Tamaki doesn’t need any of this. You do,” said Kyouya, pointing at her with one finger, the other four curled around the coffee cup. Tamaki pulled on an orange sweater with the serigraphed face of a French singer. “Ironically, if Fujioka was a household name, you could afford a very modest ceremony and reception,”
“I don’t care how people perceive me. It doesn’t matter,”
Kyouya leant back on Tamaki’s chest. His head was still lightly hooded with the duvet, his legs stretched in front of him, loosely wrapped in the soft covers. The coffee was working. “Then you will be entering into a contract with one of the most influential families of Japan with your eyes willfully closed. How dangerously naïve for a lawyer,”
“I don’t follow,”
“I just want to throw a wedding as beautiful as you are, that makes our guests as happy as you make me –“ said Tamaki, showing his palms. Kyouya pushed them away from his face. He could not see Haruhi’s body language properly, his vision being blurry and all, but the hand on the hip and the crossed legs tapping were not conveying joy at Tamaki’s love. Once again, she would only be won over with ice-cold logic.
“You are marrying the only heir to the first luxury hospitality conglomerate in the world,” Kyouya addressed the soft brown ovals of her eyes. “How do you think that the press –and not the best press, either- is going to say if you two go through with your quaint plan of signing some papers followed by a shared bowl of ramen,”
“They are going to say that we are being fiscally responsible in these times of crisis,”
“No. They are going to wonder why the Suoh heir practically hid his elopement with a girl with a scandalous father, a squalid bank account and a very ambitious career track,”
“Kyouya, I am not a gold digger,”
“I know, I know. Tamaki knows. Everyone who knows you and loves you, which is practically the same thing nowadays, knows. The problem here is that not everyone knows you. Unlike us,” Tamaki rested his chin on Kyouya’s shoulder, “You were not raised under the strict rhythm of press rehearsals and PR communicates,” Tamaki nodded. “And as such, you have no idea of how to groom your public image, because thankfully, so far it is inexistent. But what is visible is not very favorable. And if you go your way, it will not only hurt you, but also those around you,”
“Let me put it this way: what do you prefer? A few hours at your wedding, in a controlled environment, spent with selected photographers and handpicked reporters chosen from the best –and most amenable- journals in the world, or years of paparazzi following you around publishing everything they dig up about you and your father?”
Haruhi turned her back to them, and, her spine straighter than a cadet, checked her reflection one last time before leaving for work. In doing so, she came closer to the bed where Tamaki and Kyouya rested, and Kyouya could see that her dark business suit was at least a size too big for her, and an unflattering shade of beige. Then Kaoru had really been abroad for a while now –he was the one who was concerned with how her clothes fit her, as Hikaru was much more interested in taking her out of them and setting them on fire. He wondered what had specifically driven him away.
Kyouya caught her wrist as she passed by, and pulled her in bed with him and Tamaki. “This marriage proposal has upset you-“
“Kyouya!” protested Tamaki.
“Sorry – perturbed you – more than you realize. You are not thinking straight,” he pushed her shoulders around softly, so that she faced Tamaki’s blondness in all his clean, scented, casual morning glory. “He was afraid of bringing a ring in case you would send it back because it shone too much, and he knew that you were going to react this way regarding the wedding preparations. That’s why he brought me instead,” he set the empty cup of coffee on the table, cueing Tamaki.
Tamaki laced his fingers behind Haruhi’s neck and kissed her softly on the lips. She sighed, a grumpy “I don’t have time for this – my train is coming,” sound. Kyouya recognized himself in it, and smiled, hidden in duvet hood.
“He is going to be my best man. Let him take care of this,” Tamaki said. “S’il te plait,”
Haruhi turned her face away from her fiancé, so that her profile and her ear, found her way unto Kyouya’s lips. He barely traced the outer shell with his tongue, meeting Tamaki’s eyes, all dark purple and huge black pupils, before repeating, “You are not thinking straight,”
“I have not been more clear-headed in my life,” replied Haruhi, pulling away and failing to stand up, this time due to Tamaki’s palms sliding up her legs. “Unless you two, I have to be. I have to go to work,”