Sleight of Hand
Set during vol.3. For Tin's anon!meme prompts. A Kyoya short.

What catches Kyoya's attention when he arrives to the third floor patio isn't Tamaki's smooth poetry. Hunny barrels past while clutching a fresh glass of juice; the twins whoop off to the left, and there's the ever-present chatter of girls in session, letting themselves be entertained by the hour, depending on their budgets. It's business. It's Kyoya's business, and each customer rates their own mark in his ledgers, along with each of the members' profits.

They could be in another world for all that Kyoya cares. Someone has pushed back the overhanging curtains, and there's sunlight trapped in Haruhi's hair.

He slides through the doors like a thief come late to the party. Unlike the other students, he takes on no clients, so there is no one waiting for the privilege of squealing and tugging on his sleeve for hours on end. He comes and goes from the very performances he orchestrates like the best of magicians. Invisible. Unseen. Kyoya is a backstage artisan: the technician who knows where all the hidden levers are, all the lighting props and smoke.

"It must have cost a fortune for all that lace," one girl is cooing to a Hitachiin. Kyoya pauses long enough to smile indulgently in her direction. It had been cheaper than he'd expected to purchase several lengths of the gauzy stuff -- thank the twins' mother for that with her textile connections -- and with the help of Mori, Kyoya was able to transform the afternoon's stage into an array of delicate shadows. Cobweb light filters through the false canopy that was constructed to hang across the patio, an extended gazebo to shelter visitors from the heat of the sun. White lattice chairs nudge against small tables that dot the patio like particularly ornate mushrooms. Here and there, streams of unfettered sunlight pour down like liquid honey, accidental spotlights through the haze.

He'd purchased translucent domino masks to exaggerate the effect, checkerboard greys lending strange angles to the curve of familiar cheeks. The male Club members are all wearing theirs properly for once, but Haruhi's is pushed up until it kisses her scalpline and lays it bare. Her bangs splay out like a tattered scarecrow. Three girls cluster around her table; all have their hair properly coiffed and curled, makeup demure with every line of their silk-satin dresses in place. One of Haruhi's sleeves has a tea stain. The contrast is painful to Kyoya's eyes, but even as he stifles his wince, he's not sure which half of the equation he'd rather remove.

If it had been Tamaki there, acting young, acting guileless, then Kyoya would have simply nodded and moved on. Each of the Host Club's members has practiced their gimmick until it's become natural -- or have turned their innate tendencies into talent, characteristics finely honed to tease. Harmless play. They've all grown up doing it.

But not Haruhi.

There has never been a person that Kyoya could not buy, which is precisely why he is not in the business of it: everyone enrolled in the Host Club enjoys playing with customers, but Kyoya sits out of the games. As a child, he always had quick eyes, demanding to have every last trick explained by magicians at his birthday parties. The Host Club operates under the same principle. Sleight-of-hand with teenage chemistry, smoke and mirror illusions where the victims are willing participants. Instead of scarves, they juggle hearts. It's a comfortable standard. When he graduates, Kyoya knows exactly what his first salary will be, along with his official job description. The Ohtori family is rich; he is rich, deft enough with his own allowance that it's already been scheduled for stock investments with a moderate payoff despite routine trading.

Life is a series of rules and levers and power. A price tag isn't about finances. It's a challenge of desire.

Haruhi is a natural. They all agree on it, but Kyoya suspects that he's the only one who truly understands the label. She doesn't need a pretense, and that alone sets her apart in a school where every child knows they have to play the game of faces when they're older. She grins and jokes with the girls who swarm at her table, basking in the glow of what they think is a scholarship boy. It's effortless -- and untouchable.

Haruhi's domino mask starts to slip even while Kyoya's watching. First it creeps down her forehead, left side first, so that it's making a quizzical, lopsided stare towards the ceiling. Then the elastic starts to catch up; Haruhi has to set her cup down fast so that she can keep her mask from dropping onto her nose, and the table erupts in bell-chime laughter.

Kyoya leaves the party early.

His own body gets its own revenge for his reclusiveness, making him sleepy all through finals, victim to the rain which drizzles the school grounds for a week. The twins grow restless for the same reason. They resort to filching his glasses while he tries to nap on a couch, hoping to trap him in a practical joke where he'd stumble around for hours in a daze. But Haruhi catches them before Kyoya even finishes sleeping; her fingers are delicate cages around the frames to keep the lenses from smearing as she slips them underneath one of his hands, brushing against his stomach like the gentle apology of a lover.

Kyoya wakes up long enough to register her presence. When he falls back asleep, he dreams of counting out the number of strokes in her name like a bank vault code, or a secret figure that sums up her asking price.

Kyoya is a businessman. He is unashamed of this definition; it's the type of creature that he is, just as Hunny toddles along sucking his own fist, or the twins change clothes and wander around half the day with the wrong name. Kyoya can price Haruhi's smile on 10"x12" glossies. He can estimate the square inches on a used napkin that has touched her lips. He knows the upper bidding range of the average A-Class sophomore, and is always careful to set the start of each auction exactly 15 under. He's interrogated her father through the gentle coaxing of bribes -- a new dress, a string of blue-tinted pearls, high heeled shoes. Even Tamaki is susceptible to gifts. Ruffled feathers respond best to fancy placation. Money is the universal tie in any human relationship, providing a means of interaction that can be tallied up in concrete numbers.

Money has always worked before. It can even buy love, or at least a decent facsimile.

Until now.

The night before they leave for the beach, Kyoya's hands close and open of their own accord. They remember what Haruhi's wrists felt like when she bumped them against his knuckles. They remember how careful her fingers were. How unafraid. He has never been the Ohtori scion in her eyes, because in Haruhu's mind, she simply doesn't care.

Money controls everything, except for her. She could have her debt erased in an instant if she gave way to Tamaki's flirtations, and that's what confuses Kyoya the most as he watches the President's charm fail again and again. Haruhi would have anything she wanted if she only smiled back, or played along with any of the Host Club members. Tamaki has enough to pay off Haruhi's bills and more; he has the funds to give Haruhi a life of utter comfort, one that could never be matched on her own.

Except that Haruhi wants nothing from any of them. She exists self-sufficient, and that mystery haunts Kyoya even as he pushes her down onto his bed, and she lets him.