|The Masquerade Ball
Author: Nyakai PM
Sequel to The Labyrinth. Nekozawa knows about Haruhi, and now he's with her daily. The hosts are miffed to no end. Besides the seniors and twins running around scheming, they've got a schoolwide ball to put on. And everyone wants to be Haruhi's date. UhohRated: Fiction K - English - Humor/Romance - Haruhi F. & U. Nekozawa - Chapters: 9 - Words: 32,318 - Reviews: 186 - Favs: 163 - Follows: 128 - Updated: 04-24-08 - Published: 07-07-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3641162
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
a.n. Apologies! I'm sorry it took so long. A combination of no interest plus lots of homework makes it hard to update. My bad. But I even threw in an epilogue, 'cause I made you all wait so long. Hope you enjoy the end of Masquerade, and thinks for reading it all!
For the first time in her life, Haruhi slept in till nearly noon. Her father was at work for most of the day, so when she slumped into the kitchen in her pajamas, so was startled to find two identical faces staring at her.
"Seriously, guys," Haruhi said with a yawn, "you need to give that spare key back." She shuffled over to the fridge, making them move out of her way. "How long have you been here?"
"Twenty minutes or so," replied Kaoru as they followed her into the little living room. Haruhi sat down to eat random leftovers and the twins settled across from her.
"So why are you here?" she finally asked when they kept silent.
"What's this… Nekozawa thing?" Hikaru questioned after a moment. Haruhi glanced up at them and took in the fact that they were utterly serious before replying.
"Nekozawa is a friend… a good friend. I like spending time with him." The twin' expressions were flat.
"But you'll stop seeing him now, right?" Kaoru asked suddenly. Haruhi put her chopsticks down and considered both the twins and the question for awhile.
"I don't have to tutor him anymore, but he's still my friend."
"Nekozawa doesn't have any friends," snorted Hikaru, folding his arms across his chest.
"Then all the more reason for me to keep visiting him… to make sure he's not lonely," replied the girl matter-of-factly. Kaoru not so subtly elbowed Hikaru. The twins fell silent, no doubt forming a new plan of attack, and Haruhi finished her breakfast in peace.
"Next time you go see Nekozawa, we're coming, too," Hikaru spoke up as Haruhi began cleaning up the dishes. The girl gave a humored snort and the twins followed her back into the kitchen.
"Only if you don't try to scare him, or threaten him, or bully him," she replied. Haruhi set the dishes in the sink and headed back toward her room. Passing the refrigerator, she noticed the fancy invitation and (finally) took it down, but instead of dropping it into the garbage can, she refolded it carefully and took it with her.
The twins tried to follow her into her room, but she closed the door in their faces.
"Why do you think so badly of us?" Kaoru almost whined. "You always side with Nekozawa and make us out to be villains." Hikaru nodded his approval and gave his brother the thumbs up.
"You two always think badly of Nekozawa-sempai," came her reply from somewhere away from the door. "Maybe you should get to know him before judging him so severely. He's somewhat like you two guys before joining the club."
"How do you know that's what we were like then?" Kaoru retorted almost defensively.
"I've heard stories."
The twins were silent for a moment, staring straight ahead, straight into their memories.
"It's not the club that made us change," Hikaru muttered loud enough for his brother to hear. A moment later the door slid open and Haruhi stepped out, dressed in yet another cute skirt. She was almost glaring.
"I am utterly serious when I say I want my real clothes back."
The twins exchanged glances. Kaoru said quickly, "Kyouya would know their whereabouts better than us."
"And you actually put ensembles together nicely for not having good clothes much," complemented Hikaru, looking her up and down.
Haruhi continued to stare judgmentally as she stepped out of her room. They followed her as she went to kneel in front of her mother's shrine.
"So, when are you going to visit Whatchamacallit?" Hikaru mumbled, shoulders bent and hands in his pockets.
Kaoru looked like he was about to punch something. "When?"
"Whenever I'm picked up," Haruhi said after a slight hesitation. The twins exchanged glances, silently conferring, and the girl was left in peace for several moments to speak to her mother.
"How much… how much do you like him?" Hikaru forced out.
"Well he's nice and funny and kind, he takes care of his sister and respects his parents… I really like him." Haruhi stood and slipped between the twins over to the fridge, making a note for her father.
"Are you thinking of getting together?" asked Hikaru, his tone pure disgust. Haruhi's writing slowed considerably.
"We haven't made any plans like that…"
"Good," he muttered, stomping for the front door, "because if you do, we're out of the club." Kaoru silently followed. They closed the door with a less angsty bam! Than Haruhi was expecting, but it still rattled free-standing objects in the house. The girl gave an exasperated shake of her head, yet pushed the thought out of her head long enough to finish the note.
Twenty minutes or so later, there was a knock on the door. Kyouya smiled unenthusiastically when Haruhi entered and immediately the girl began checking for Tamaki.
"He's not here," the vice president announced curtly.
"But it seems the whole club's visiting me today, so if we wait a bit longer…"
Her sarcasm was interrupted when Kyouya remarked, "I'm on my way to Nekozawa's and I told him I'd pick you up. Apparently you had a… dinner date today?" Haruhi nodded slowly, her mouth shut tight. Kyouya moved to the side, one hand pointing invitingly to the stairs to the street.
"My limo awaits."
Haruhi sent him a questioning glance but got her purse and locked the door after her. Dropping the key into her purse, she said, "You know, you should really take the key back from Hikaru and Kaoru. They're not very responsible with it." Kyouya slowed as he followed her down the stairs.
"What are you talking about? They gave me that spare back a few days ago." Haruhi turned to look up at him so quickly that she nearly fell down the rest of the steps.
"They have their own key to my house?!"
Kyouya put up his hands appeasingly. "I'll talk to them about it." With a huff, the girl climbed into the limo past the waiting chauffer, muttering something about "boundaries" and "unwelcome guests."
There was no further conversation during the ride to Nekozawa's. Their limo stopped near the front door, the last in a series of dark stretch limos, and once Haruhi stepped out, she pointed to the closest vehicle.
"Is that… that isn't…"
"It looks like Hani-sempai's," Kyouya stated plainly, walking coolly to the front door without a second glance around. Haruhi followed slowly, scanning over the rest of the parked limos as Kyouya rung the door bell.
"Is everyone here?" she scoffed. The vice president looked back at her indifferently, hands in his pockets.
"Well, lately there has been quite a bit of interest in Nekozawa going around the club. And considering how curious and utterly brainless Tamaki and the twins are, it's quite possible."
"But the seniors' limo—"
Just then Kuritake, the pig-tailed maid, answered the door, giving a polite bow. "Ootori-sama. It is a pleasure to see you again." She opened the door wider and Kyouya entered, Haruhi on his heels.
"Obocchama is in the library," the maid told them quietly. Kyouya motioned for Haruhi to lead the way and the two left the main hall.
The library was dimly lit with the familiar glow of tall candlesticks on the long table, a hunched-over Nekozawa hidden by a particularly ornate candelabra.
"Sempai?" Haruhi greeted slowly. The president jumped, nearly knocking over a nearby free-standing candelabra.
"Oh, hello, Haruhi!" He quickly leaned over to peer around the candelabra and instantly his face fell when he saw Kyouya, too.
The Shadow King smirked at that. "I believe you were expecting me, too, Nekozawa-sempai?"
"Yes, yes. Of course, Ootori-kun. Please, have a seat."
With a perfectly executed smile, Kyouya sat across from Umehito, inquiring. "How have you been feeling lately? I heard you had been experiencing mysterious pains recently."
"Oh, that," Nekozawa said, his creepy grin cracking his face. He pushed the candelabra to the side to look straight at Kyouya and continued wit a storyteller-like air: "Bereznoff and I were utterly confounded when I began feeling excruciating pain in my arms, back, legs, and head. I thought one of my clubmates had failed terribly at casting a curse, but then I realized the pain only afflicted me terribly when I was being tutored by you, Haruhi."
The girl stiffened at the sudden attention of Nekozawa's gaze and Kyouya's subtle glance out of the corner of his eye.
Nekozawa almost chuckled. "What really gave it away was when I started hurting in my— well," he paused to clear his throat quickly. "I determined it was a voodoo doll and sent my underlings out searching during my last tutoring session… and do you know who they found?"
Neither Kyouya nor Haruhi made any indication they were too curious about it, but a minute later when Nekozawa was still silent, Kyouya finally asked, "Who?"
Haruhi's eyes widened and she barely stifled a gasp. Kyouya arched a brow.
"Was it your voodoo doll he purchased… to use on you?" he asked. Nekozawa's head sunk slightly.
"He bought two. But my underlings learned from him that he didn't know who Haruhi was tutoring, so the curses were much less painful than they could have been."
"But, if he didn't know who he was trying to hurt…" Haruhi spoke up.
"He vaguely knew. He had written 'Haruhi's student' on the back, which still hurt me, but not as badly as if my name had been written on the doll," Nekozawa explained.
"And what of Kasanoda? What did you do to him?" asked Kyouya.
Nekozawa chuckled again. "He has a threat of torment and disparity through five generations hanging over his head, so I doubt he'll bother me. Though I hope he does… it's been a long time since I cast that curse."
Kyouya turned slightly to Haruhi, motioning to the door in his subtle manner. "If you don't mind, Nekozawa-sempai and I have things to discuss." When the Black Magic club president made no protest, Haruhi gave a small bob of her head and exited.
Once back in the spacious, dim hallway, it didn't take long for the girl to find something to do with herself because Kirimi pounced on her from behind, nearly tackling her.
"Gariben!" she giggled and stuffed Bereznoff in Haruhi's face. "We're taking a break right now, but we're on A Faraway Dream #10! You'll definitely love it! Come on!" She jumped off Haruhi's back, took her hand and led her to the play room.
The two seniors were waiting on a puffy, expensive couch, Hani chatting about what he expected to happen later on in the manga as Mori nodded automatically, when Kirimi led in her new captive. Hani brightened even more— if that was possible.
"Haru-chan! We were wondering when you'd get here!" She was plopped down between Mori and Hani and Kirimi climbed onto Mori's lap. Through in an effort to better see A Faraway Dream, she slowly, deliberately encroached on Haruhi's lap. A moment of silence followed and Haruhi glanced at Hani, holder of the Dream.
"Don't worry, they'll be back any second now," he replied with a smile, pleasantly swinging his legs.
"DON'T START WITHOUT US!" voices from the hall shouted. The next moment, two redheads darted into the room and dived for the empty space on the other side of Hani. Hikaru shoved his brother close to the arm of the couch.
"My turn! You got closest seat earlier!" Kaoru playfully struggled back, but once the twins noticed the extra audience member, they halted, smiles instantly dropping.
A second later Tamaki flounced in, calling, "This is the most exciting story I have ever chanced upon! We should have a costume day devoted entirely to A Faraway Dream! I'll be Taro!" He squished in between Haruhi and Hani, only noticing the girl because of the twins' obviously pointed stares.
"Haruhi!" he cried, hugging her. "You've come at the best part!" And he posed in anticipation.
Haruhi suffered through the rest of the novel, which she probably could have read by herself in ten minutes, but with Hani's narrating and acting, it lasted more like a half hour.
When the story was over, as if on cue, the pigtailed maid entered the room to announce it was time for dinner. The hosts, carrying Kirimi, hurried to the large dining room. Haruhi followed much slower, and as she passed the library, the door opened and Kyouya stepped out. His only acknowledgment was a glance flashed at her before heading for the dining room. Haruhi was about to follow when she heard Nekozawa call her name.
"Yes?" she responded, sticking her head into the library. Nekozawa was standing next to the table, awkwardly fiddling with the corner of a book lying there.
"Come in, please."
Haruhi closed the door behind her. "Is something wrong?"
"Kyouya and I came to an agreement," he said slowly, his full attention on the book next to him. "And we… you and I… can't… we can't go on like this." His voice was increasingly turning into a whisper. "I'm sorry."
Haruhi took a bold step forward. "He threatened you, didn't he? With his private police or with bankrupting your family…" Nekozawa looked up finally, a hint of amusement on his sorrowful features and the girl quieted.
"No, no. It's nothing like that," he replied soothingly, even letting a small chuckle slip. "It's just business."
Haruhi stifled a gasp, all the outrage from Kyouya's worldview of business rushing back to her. Just like he would approve of a marriage for the sake of merging companies, he would also break people apart to keep companies separate. Was he her father now, deciding all these things for her?
"This isn't for Kyouya to determine!" Haruhi burst out, cheeks flushing. "It's not his life!"
"Our clubs can't be seen with one another too often. Everyone would notice and start talking," Nekozawa said calmly. "I mean, I have a reputation to uphold… I can't be seen with hosts like Tamaki-kun."
His smirk at the end made Haruhi prompt, "Was that another one of your jokes?"
Nekozawa neared her and put his hands on her shoulders. "Listen, this is the best option to take to uphold both our clubs."
"But… you're my— my friend. Who can tell us we can't see each other?" Haruhi's cheeks were still flushed from the insult of it all.
"We travel in different circles, that's just how it goes. Kyouya approached me to discuss this, but I had already known it for awhile…"
"Aren't we friends?" Haruhi chirped immediately.
Nekozawa chuckled. "I think we crossed over into something else awhile ago. But we will always be friends. And once you're out of Ouran high school, give me a call…"
"You have a cell phone?" Haruhi questioned almost incredulously.
"Oh, no, but I have a wide variety of carrier pigeons that are very reliable."
The girl could not stop a snicker from growling into a sweet laugh that was soon muffled in Nekozawa's shoulder when he pulled her into a hug. After a moment, she hugged back.
"I'll miss you, Haruhi, but I'll see you around school still." The girl kept her mouth shut. She wanted to continue the debate that business should not control people's personal life, but it would be no use. Is she changed Nekozawa's mind, she would still have Kyouya to convince. So she surrendered the battle.
They held each other for about a minute until Haruhi's cell phone rang. She sighed, muttering something about the interfering clubmates as she fished through her purse for her phone. Nekozawa let go when she answered.
"Hello? Oh… dad. No, I'm at a friend's house—I left you a note." Haruhi vented another sigh. "On the fridge. Yes… I'm fine, the hosts are here, too." Frantic chattering came from the other end of the line. "Kyouya-sempai's here, too." The chattering calmed. "Okay… yeah. Bye, dad." The girl gave a frustrated huff, dropping the cell back into her purse, and she noticed Nekozawa smirking at her. "…What?"
"You kept the keychain." He indicated the red Bereznoff that dangled from the cell and that had failed to follow the phone inside. It hung proudly (scarily?), draped over the side of her purse.
"Oh, I like red," Haruhi said quickly. Nekozawa gave a grin that Renge could base an entire yaoi fanfic on, and Haruhi felt the color return to her cheeks. She also felt Nekozawa entwine his fingers in hers.
"I'm glad." They stood there for a bit before he added, "We should go eat. They're probably waiting on us." He walked around her and began to lead her by the hand toward the doors. Haruhi stopped.
"If we're still friends, then I can come visit you at school once in awhile… and we can study together sometimes, right?"
He squeezed her hand. "Of course. This isn't stopping our relationship… it's still just beginning." He leaned over and kissed her forehead before exiting the library with her.
Haruhi smiled on her way to dinner. It was fine that they would be kept from exploring their relationship any further, because, while she was dedicated to the Host club, a friendship was probably all she had time for. And unlike the younger hosts, who hid their shallowness under a façade of chivalry and etiquette, Nekozawa, under all his creepiness, was truly a gentle spirit. He genuinely cared for his family, clubmates, and now cared for Haruhi. And as long as she could remain in his gentleness, she would be happy.
Everyone was seated at the long table when Nekozawa and Haruhi entered, no longer holding hands. For the couple of minutes the hosts had been waiting, they were entertained by the father's stories. Hani, Tamaki, and the twins were genuinely enthralled; Mori was interested; Kyouya faked it expertly.
All during dinner the twins cast disapproving glances at Nekozawa, and Kyouya watched hi m like a hawk. Haruhi couldn't help but sympathize. Nekozawa was certainly different, but he didn't deserve their scorn. When he glanced her way, she gave him a reassuring smile. No matter what the selfish hosts did or said, they could not stop Haruhi from being Nekozawa's friend.
And in a few years, who knew what all else?
Ranka hummed to himself as he danced through the door, returning home early some random weekend afternoon. He stopped dead in his tracks when he entered, because although it was still the afternoon, it was somehow very cold and creepy in the house.
He heard his daughter's mirthful laugh coming from the dining room and ran to investigate. What he found in there made him shriek. Sitting across the table from his daughter, draped in black, was something… alive. It seemed to even be oozing blackness because, in the decently lit room, the area around… the thing… was shadowy. Shadowy for no reason. The windows were covered, but that alone couldn't produce that much unnatural darkness.
At his shriek, both his daughter and the unidentifiable mass looked over at him. Eyes gleamed menacingly (were they eyes? Or soul-stealers?) out from under its hood.
Ranka yanked a charm from the depths of his purse and threw it at the blackness, shouting, "Demon, BE GONE!"
Before it even hit it, the shadowy figure gave a fearful yelp and darted under the table.
"Dad!" Haruhi shouted when he whipped out his can of pepper spray. "This is Nekozawa-sempai— he's a schoolmate— don't attack him!"
Ranka stopped trying to force the huddled boy out from under the table and laughed nervously. "Oh… a human student? Why didn't you say so? Sorry, sweetie." He returned the pepper spray to his purse. "How 'bout I go make tea for everyone?" And he flounced back to the kitchen as if nothing had happened.
Nekozawa cautiously crawled out from under the table, though Bereznoff wanted to stay hidden. He shook on Nekozawa's hand.
"Th-that's your… dad?" he asked slowly.
Haruhi nodded. "Yep. Usually he's not this cool about strangers. I'm kind of surprised." She looked back at their game of cards on the table. "Whose turn?"
Nekozawa petted Bereznoff, trying to soothe him. "You're joking, right?"
"No. But then again he's usually just bad around Tamaki. You should have nothing to worry about."
"He attacked me with a charm! Those things hurt!"
"I actually thought he would've first tried holy water. But you're fine. I think he likes you," Haruhi chirped. Nekozawa eyed the water Ranka was boiling as Ranka eyed him back.
"If you say so, Haruhi-kun…"
"So, whose turn?"