Spoilers: Again, this whole entire fic is pretty much a gigantic spoiler for the events of volume 6 of the manga.

Disclaimer: I'm most likely writing fanfiction because I don't own Host Club…I just play with the characters and their world from time to time to amuse myself.

Part IV – Behind the Folding Screen

After the chaotic weeks leading up to the Cultural Festival, she finally found a brief respite in which to sit back and think about the events that had happened in the past few days.

And after such a bizarre (and by her standards, almost entirely irrelevant to anything) week, Haruhi was glad to be walking out in the open and see buildings of normal sizes and unpretentious grocery store discount fliers advertising instant coffee in the dimly lighted windows she passed. She was glad to see people wearing sensible, mass produced clothing and people that she could not immediately point out as someone she had seen on the television just the other day.

Most of all, perhaps, she was glad because outside of the gilded halls of Ouran, where life seemed to be normal again and she knew, without a doubt, that school festivals merely had small classroom cafes for their events and their students did the majority of the work instead of directing it.

In Haruhi's mind, the past few days had been ridiculous even by the standards of the parallel universe known as Ouran High School.

Every day had revealed something of a greater degree of absurdity – students picking out fabric swatches and furniture for their class events, $100 pieces of cake, the construction of the entirety of Venice in the school's gym, contests that made it necessary for her to run up oil coated slopes and name the entire body of Vermeer's portraiture while in the most impractical clothing ever, having been enslaved to Kyouya simply because she was bad at cards…

…And it would be an understatement for her to admit that the days of the school festival had yet again caused her to re-evaluate her opinion of the free lifestyle of her classmates.

Much to her dismay, Haruhi couldn't even say that any of it necessarily surprised her anymore.

…There even appeared to be a strict taboo having to do with offering someone a bite of cake off one's own fork.

In all, she supposed that it all seemed entirely backwards.

No matter where Haruhi found she looked in the weird world she had tumbled down the rabbit hole into, she found she somehow managed to trip over or come up against strange lines and boundaries.

Every now and then there were flashes of something vaguely normal in that world…perhaps "normal" wasn't even the word…maybe "genuine" or "real" were more appropriate.

And at these moments everyone she now knew at Ouran stopped acting for a moment and were.

But, whenever she stepped out of there, she half felt as if the Host Club and all its strange characters might fade into absurd improbability behind her, because in the world that she had grown up in – the world where people behaved normally, lived in two room apartments, and avoided pointless and inexplicable excesses – seemed so at odds with everything that happened inside of that school.

There was, however, also a small part of her – held firmly in check by rationality – that had at the very least grown used to, and perhaps enjoyed the antics of her fellow club members.

A strange thought hit her as she grudgingly admitted this to herself.

…Perhaps her "superficial" turned into "reality" if you had to live in it constantly like those rich bastards…

The thought was almost too deep to contemplate.

Much, much too deep.

On the whole Haruhi found it much less problematic to maintain a healthy distance from their lives.

Setting a line between practicality and normality and, well, Ouran, seemed to be a necessary step to maintain her sanity for the next two years.

However, she had learned more about all of them in the past few weeks than perhaps she would have liked.

Indeed, in some very, very small place in her conscience, she felt a twinge of guilt because she, being a more rational person than most of them - except for Kyouya…however, his rationality was almost frightening in its well, supreme rationality…she chided herself, now she was sounding like Tamaki – realized that they couldn't help being rich anymore than she could help being normal.

(Haruhi pointedly refused to call herself a "commoner" as she preferred to think that such a distinction only served to point out that all of them were very uncommon in all of the wrong ways).

She recognized that they tried - well, "they" almost being limited to Tamaki and sometimes including the twins if they were bored and found her particularly entertaining at that moment - but at the same time that she saw glimpses of their lives she became all the more conscious that there was an illusive wall between them.

Somewhere she had heard that such a thing was called "conflicting social paradigms."

But Haruhi didn't know that she could ever really understand it, even should she try.

All that she knew as that the foundation of the wall was made of practical, quantifiable facts, and she liked to review facts rather than take part in the flights of fancy that everyone in her current close social sphere – her father included – seemed prone to.

To Haruhi, such facts remained objective indicators no matter who tried to manipulate them.

They were things she could enumerate one by one from just the evening's activities.

Leaving the school festival that night, she had returned a borrowed dress worth half the cost of her entire apartment to Hikaru and Kaoru's mother.

Hunny and Mori had waved good-bye to her as they left in a Rolls Royce as she made her way to the gates of the school grounds on foot.

Kyouya had informed her of the exact total of the remaining debt she had to pay off - with that particular smile of his - before stepping into his own Bentley and following his father who had already boarded a second Bentley.

He did not so much as offer to give her a ride, as Hunny and Mori had.

…not that she would ever have accepted his offer for fear of what it might cost her.

Then there was the flurry of horrified sounding conversations had gone up when she had simply made what turned out to be a slight, though completely nonsensical, error in etiquette…

But the facts – totaled in yen, refined mannerisms, and material items she could never hope to own – constructed the base of the wall that she somehow managed to catch a glimpse over now and then.

And, unfortunately for her sanity, Haruhi also realized that this was just the part of the wall that was obvious to her…

Perhaps, she thought, rounding the last block to her apartment complex, it was not so much a "wall" as it was a folding screen.

Even as she thought this, Haruhi could not help but feel a little ridiculous…upon deciding to refer to it as such, her mind had immediately conjured up an image of the entire Host Club sitting behind a folding screen.

Looking like that, they quite reminded her of the daimyo's of the Edo period.

But if that were the case…she would definitely be their vassal. The idea was not appealing at all…being Kyouya's slave was an experience she hoped never to repeat.

But, strange mental images aside, the thought somehow seemed to fit them.

She could definitely see their outlines through it, but they were merely silhouettes that outlined the shape of what they were without any detail that was discernable through the thin material.

Haruhi knew without a doubt that each of them had their own (considerable) quirks.

Hunny was confusing because she could never quite tell how calculated his personality was. Haruhi didn't know if he was simply as ridiculously surreal as he appeared or just a coded enigma. Either was a little much to contemplate.

And, although Mori made up for his lack of speech with meaningful action, his silence was still a barrier to any real knowledge. If you couldn't unlock his brief responses or the quiet that they interrupted, it would be difficult to know any real details about him. Perhaps, if she found she wanted to know about him, she would ask Hunny, whom she knew could interpret every small gesture ever made by his cousin.

Kyouya, on the other hand, wore his wealth and refinement like a coat, and, while she was sure (well, she hoped) that there was something quite different underneath it all, Haruhi knew very well that he had not been dubbed the "Shadow King" for a habit of direct behavior. Thinking back to a conversation she had overheard her father having with "Kyouya-kun" last night, Haruhi fleetingly wondered if the Kyouya beneath the façade was still as troublesome of an individual as this one was.

As for the twins, well, they were slowly learning that she was not a toy at all and that "our" could be used in a much broader sense – Kaoru definitely learned this at a faster rate than Hikaru – but Haruhi could never quite see their infamous boredom as anything but a product of their wealthy upbringing.

Too much constant stimulation during childhood, perhaps, she thought logically.

And Tamaki…?

Haruhi didn't really know what to think of him anymore. She didn't know if, knowing what she now did, she could call him "troublesome" as she usually would, but she failed to find a word to replace it. And even though she had an explanation, she wasn't yet sure if it made him any less of a foolish person.

She decided she would avoid thinking about it, if possible.

But these were just impressions – silhouettes – rather than any actual knowledge about any of them.

Besides calculations of yen and displays of more refined social mannerisms, Haruhi always found that the number of facts she possessed about each one of them were surprisingly few.

It seemed that every day during the preparations for the festival, something came up to remind her that she was very much deficient in the information she had about the other members of the Host Club.

And, sometimes it seemed to her that most of the things she didn't know were already common knowledge to everyone but herself.

Haruhi still didn't think that she would go out of her way to catch up with her classmates, but, she couldn't help but wonder what the side of the screen that the members of the Host Club lived on looked like.

She had never been to one of their houses or heard anything about their family lives. She didn't know anything whatsoever about their family businesses, their academic quirks, or even their family members…

Whereas they had come into her house, met her father (and Kyouya, the most dangerous and problematic of them all, kept in constant communication with him…), been bothersome to her father's co-workers…it sometimes seemed as if they had hired a private detective to document every mundane aspect of her life.

…and she definitely wouldn't put it past them.

Especially Kyouya.

But when it came down to anything outside of the doors of the Third Music Room…Haruhi remained in a state of not so blissful ignorance.

In fact, she would much rather view them in the way every one of them presented themselves within the club, simply as a strange stereotype. It was far less problematic…however she found that she often was able to catch a glimpse of the figures that cast the silhouette just beyond the screen.

Contemplating exactly what it all meant, she dug around within her school bag for the key to her apartment's door, and in the dim light, found the familiar keyhole.

The lock clicked and the door swung open to allow her to enter her dark apartment.

Putting aside thoughts of the festival and the members of the Host Club, she briefly debated as to whether she would study before bed. For once, the exhaustion she felt won out over her urge to take advantage of the rare moments of silence that her life now contained (between her father and the Host Club it seemed increasingly amazing to her that they existed at all) in order to pour over her small mountain of textbooks.

Glancing guiltily one last time at her desk (specifically at some French love poetry that she had been assigned to translate – why, the teacher had chosen it she couldn't fathom), she took her futon out and unrolled it on the floor.

Frowning at nothing in particular, she pulled off her uniform and left it crumpled on the floor, changing into much more practical clothing for bed.

If I leave it as it is, it is bound to wrinkle, she thought passively, gazing at the heap that was her uniform.

In fact, she wondered what they would all think if she showed up one day in its wrinkled glory – and she narrowly had quite a few times, if not for her father's intervention by iron.

Tamaki would probably think she slept in a street somewhere because she had been unable to pay her rent or something idiotic like that.

Deciding that she wanted to avoid that at all costs, she walked over and picked up the discarded clothing and hung it up over a chair where it wouldn't become too wrinkled.

It disturbed her a little that she could now guess exactly which conclusion her overly excitable Senpai would jump to. But she immediately dismissed that thought in order to brush her teeth and finish preparing for bed.

All that remained of the night's routine was to tell her mother goodnight.

Kneeling down before the family altar and lighting the small stick of lavender incense, she began her habitual address, "Mother in Heaven, today was the school festival. It was as bizarre as school usually is. Father and I are doing well, and even though they seem to play more than anyone normal, so is the Host Club."

Haruhi smiled at her mother's picture, wondering what exactly her mother would have thought of the life she lived now.

"I wish I would have had more time to study last week, but my grades are still fine, and I hope they will be good enough to get me into law school."

Even when she had slipped momentarily in the rankings, Haruhi always told her mother this. It was the goal she had been pursing since middle school and the reason why she had gone to Ouran in the first place.

She had decided ten years ago that she had wanted to be a lawyer like her mother.

And, although Haruhi never elaborated on this or spoke of it to anyone else about it, she wanted to be like her mother in more ways than simply pursuing her chosen occupation.

Haruhi remembered her kindness and independence, as well as her cheerful habitual farewell of "Haruhi-chan! Mother's going to win another case today." Those aspects were what becoming like her mother meant to her.

Her goal was far greater than simply achieving her law degree.

But Haruhi, with her normal sense of economy and practicality, condensed everything under the convenient label of "becoming a lawyer." It made things much less difficult to explain, if asked.

And as she did every night in the ten years since her mother's passing, she looked very closely at the picture in front of her, to the point where she could almost see her own reflection in the glass, and said, "Mother in Heaven, I still miss you."

But tonight, after all that she had learned in the past few weeks, this habitual sentence aroused a different set of thoughts in her head.

Surprisingly, her mind returned back to Tamaki and what she had just learned about his mother.

Out of all of them, she would never have guessed that Tamaki had a life like that. In fact, it seemed to be straight out of one of the Korean dramas her father was fond of watching in his free time.

And yet, despite all the unfortunate circumstances that had been forced upon him, Tamaki could still smile when she asked him about the mother he had not been allowed to see in at least three years.

There wasn't even so much as a trace of his normal overly dramatic sadness.

Haruhi wondered, with a touch of admiration that she was unaccustomed to feeling for him, how exactly he handled all of it the way he did.

She herself missed her own mother dearly and knew that there was no possible way of seeing her and speaking to her again.

However, Tamaki's own mother was alive somewhere…he could see her…but it seemed that his grandmother had placed a line in front of him that he could not cross. Tamaki's position wasn't the same as hers…in many ways, in was worse.

His grandmother was holding something in front of him that he couldn't freely reach out to anymore…while Haruhi knew that, for her, that precious person was simply gone and preserved only in her own goals in life.

And yet, he still smiled genuinely…and spoke too loudly about irrelevant things, and did seemingly pointless favors for anyone who needed them, and so many other things.

Tamaki, she had realized some time ago, did not affect any persona in front of others. He was very much what he appeared to be.

Certainly he had the ability to behave himself (and she was not so surprised by what she had learned as to forget that Tamaki's version of "behavior" differed greatly from everyone else's') better in front of clients…

But there was no fundamental change in his attitude as there was in both the twins and Kyouya during the hours of the club's operation and the periods of the time when the seven of them mulled over inane cosplay ideas alone within the doors of the Third Music Room.

In both cases Tamaki always remained Tamaki.

And, having realized Tamaki's degree of openness long ago, it seemed strange that Haruhi knew as little about the dark soap opera that was his life as she did.

For a long time, she had thought that one such as him would declaim every sort of bad luck and slight against him to the world simply because he liked the sound of his own voice a little too much.

But it seemed everything she learned about him, from his father being the chairman of the school to the fact that he was in fact the chairman's illegitimate child accepted into his family by the coldest woman she had ever seen, seemed to come from someone else.

Actually, she realized with a pang of guilt that once he had tried to tell her about his life himself and, moreover, in front of the St. Lobelia Zuka club.

And Haruhi, because if its timing had dismissed it as something irrelevant - even though it was decidedly irrelevant at the time – she had simply assumed someone with his carefree attitude wouldn't have anything like that in his past. Looking back, she had a rare moment of realization of the full extent of her own insensitivity towards him.

Brushing the guilty feeling aside, she briefly wondered if Tamaki had ever tried to use his puppy eyes on his grandmother…but she could not so much as imagine anyone, Tamaki included, looking kindly at a woman like that.

Well, it did seem to work on Kyouya, so there might be hope.

And Haruhi knew very well that it took a good deal to make Kyouya appear to have somewhat of a benign personality, but somehow, the Suoh Matriarch had managed to do it.

But even then, with the horrid things she had overheard her say to Tamaki she couldn't imagine she herself being at all kind to that woman.

Because, tonight she had realized that she herself could not in the least do what Tamaki Suoh did.

Despite everything, somehow Tamaki still managed to smile at his grandmother and care about offending her (even though he was very much off the mark at how he had done so).

Perhaps even stranger was that, in thinking about it, a troublesome person like him did certainly have the capacity to get lost in the sad parts of his life. Before tonight, Haruhi might have considered Tamaki to be one of these people.

However, to the best of her ability, Haruhi could tell that he didn't have any such darkness within him.

His words to her at the dance party confirmed that, as far as she was concerned. And moreover, he had made a conscious mistake in front of everyone, including his grandmother – that had been entirely her fault – and he showed absolutely no regret.

And she was glad that he didn't regret being himself. He was loud, obnoxious, and overly excitable to the point where she wondered if he ended up absolutely exhausted every night…but all of this was channeled into a strong positive energy.

Almost too positive, in fact.

But his energetic nature didn't come from idiocy…it came from knowing pain and not allowing it to touch him. In affect, Tamaki made himself almost invincible, annoying though it sometimes could seem.

In fact, she thanked whatever higher powers were up there that Tamaki was not a regretful, dark person…she couldn't imagine what he might do after growing mushrooms in despair and didn't want to know how troublesome his personality had the potential to become.

But she was also glad because, this way, Tamaki would be Tamaki with all the implications that had, good and bad.

In his own words, said without the least egoism and ulterior motives, "I'm me before I'm a Suoh."

Haruhi didn't pretend to understand the folding screen of wealth and names that was placed between her and seemingly the entirety of Ouran High School.

What she did understand was that Tamaki, and maybe some of the others, were willing to peek over it at her.

She smiled for a brief moment, turning her attention back to the beaming face of her mother.

"Mother in Heaven," she continued, "Today I learned that the troublesome president of the club I am in is actually better the way he is, despite his annoying characteristics. He wants me to see photos of his Mother someday, as well. Maybe she's someone that you would have gotten along with."

Bidding her one last goodnight when she had finished with the report about her day's activities, Haruhi blew out the incense and moved to turn out the light and lie down on her futon.

Her last that before closing her eyes was, But most of all, Mother in Heaven, I am glad that I can understand him a little better now.

FIN

A/N: It's done! It's done! I can't decide if Yuzuru or Haruhi was more difficult to write…probably Haruhi. But I love the degree of resonance possible between Haruhi and Tamaki simply due to their mothers. And, Haruhi strikes me as someone whose independence and strength would be a testament to that of her own mothers' virtues as well. Haruhi kept wandering off and getting bored on me…and for some reason it was excruciatingly hard to get her thoughts to bridge over to Tamaki specifically. She wanted to do more general analysis and then simply go to sleep.

It would certainly be practical…oh irony.

These are some of my favorite pieces that I have written for Ouran. I particularly loved the Yuzuru piece for no apparent reason…and the Kyouya one kinda astounds me when I go back and read it now. Although all of the pieces can stand-alone perfectly fine, there's a number of small details and doublets that link them together besides the overarching theme of the school festival. There's obvious things like the photographs in Yuzuru and Haruhi, and the spacial planes (Suoh Mansion #2 and the Ootori Car in Tamaki's and Kyouya's) and then small mentions of things sprinkled throughout.

What I really tried to do, however, was, even though the piece is predominately Tamaki-centric, you really only got his character analysis through the lenses of the other characters' lives and experiences (with the exception, of course, of his own section).

And, I was right…my favorite pieces get no reviews! Anyways, as always, feedback, comments, etc are very much appreciated and will almost always receive a personal response. I hope you enjoyed all of them, because I certainly enjoyed writing them!