A Most Dangerous Game

The double doors to the third music room never looked so large and imposing as when Kasanoda was standing outside of them. His hand had been on the handle for about five minutes now, but he just couldn't find the courage to turn it. Every time he thought of what awaited him beyond these doors, and about the letter he found on his desk that had brought him here and all that it promised, his pulse raced and his throat went dry and he felt like he was going to swallow his tongue. He couldn't do this, he couldn't do this. . . .

"You can do this," he muttered to himself in a poor attempt to boost his confidence. "You owe it to Fujioka to do this." So he took a deep breath, smoothed his hair, and loosened his grip on the envelope he clutched in his other hand, trying to smooth it out against his leg. Then, steeling himself, he pressed down on the handle and pushed inward.

From within wafted the scent of roses and instant coffee; and as Kasanoda's eyes adjusted to the light streaming in through the tall windows, a warm chorus of "Welcome! Please, come in," reached his ears.

He stepped inside the third music room to see the seven members of the host club posing invitingly in the center of the room. Their welcoming smiles fell, however, when they saw who it really was at their door. "Oh? It's just Bossa Nova," Honey said disappointedly.

"Casanova?" said Haruhi. "What are you doing here?"

"Bossa Nova?" the twins asked.

"It's Kasanoda!" the boy in question corrected, eye twitching. Honestly, did they have to go through this every time?

"Oh, it's you." Tamaki sighed. "At ease, folks," he said as he waved his clubmates away, "it's just a john."

Speaking of which . . . "Where is everyone?" Kasanoda asked as he looked around the room, empty but for the eight of them. Not a flaming fangirl in sight. "Aren't you guys normally swarming with clients by now?"

"Guests," Tamaki corrected him with an intelligently raised index finger. "'Clients' makes it sound like we're renting out our bodies for lascivious purposes."

Haruhi and the twins resisted the strong urge to say that's exactly what they were doing.

"You mean like to aliens?" Honey said, once again missing the boat completely. "Tama-chan, what did you get me into?"

"Not exactly, Mitsukuni," Mori began.

"But . . ." Kasanoda was confused. "This is a host club, yeah? (And you did just call me a john.)"

"That's beside the point," Kyouya interjected. As he adjusted his already impeccably balanced glasses he said, "The thing is, you're the first one to arrive today, even though we should have been expecting our guests over ten minutes ago. For some reason, all of our regulars seem to have decided unanimously to skip today.

"You wouldn't happen to have heard of anything happening today that would attract all of our guests at once," Kyouya asked him pointedly, "would you, Kasanoda?"

Kasanoda felt a chill run down his spine and he gulped. That cold, cold voice . . . "I couldn't say. . . ."

"Maybe they're just studying for exams," Haruhi said. "They are approaching fast, you know."

"Impossible," said Tamaki. "Students at Ouran have better things to do than study for exams."

"Well, some of us actually need to do well on them. . . ." Haruhi muttered, once again feeling like she was speaking into a wind tunnel.

"Or perhaps they found something more interesting," the twins said with a shrug.

"More interesting than us?" said Tamaki. "Also impossible."

Shaking her head, Haruhi turned to Kasanoda. "In any case, what brings you to the host club today?"

The rest turned to look at him, waiting for his answer.

Kasanoda turned beet red. It had been hard enough to follow the letter's instructions and come here, as much as he had wanted to; now he had to be humiliated in front of the entire host club to boot? "I, uh, I-I came to see you, F-Fujioka," he stammered. "I g-got your note—"

"You g-g-got her n-n-note?" the twins mimed. "What are you, the little engine that could? Ah!"

They winced as Haruhi pinched both their ears, a displeased scowl on her face.

Which instantly softened as she said to Kasanoda, "That's awfully nice of you, Casanova, but I didn't send you a note."

He didn't know what to say. He could feel his heart sinking into his stomach where he stood. "But . . . it says I should come to the third music room, and it calls me Casanova. Who else could have written it?"

"Let me see that," said Tamaki, and Hikaru and Kaoru gathered around him to read over his shoulder as he took the note from Kasanoda and unfolded it.

The first thing they noticed about it was that it was written on an expensive paper with a grainy, somewhat translucent texture but a smooth finish, and a faint tinge of pink throughout. "Casanova-kun (heart)," it read,

Casanova-kun (heart),

I want desperately to see you again. Since our last meeting I can't
stop thinking about you. Your bashful smile, your gentle hands—
my heart beats doki-doki out of control when I think of them. Your
laugh when we played kick the can together is a sweet melody to
my ears. To share a love-love umbrella with you would make me
happier than three square meals! So don't be coy, OK? I'll be
waiting for you in the third music room after class.

Sincerely, you know who.

"'Sweet melody'?" the three boys echoed when it was over, to which Kasanoda blushed furiously.

"That doesn't sound like me at all," an aghast Haruhi mumbled.

"Doesn't sound like Bossa Nova either," said Hikaru, to which Kasanoda not only blushed but began to steam.

"Mm," said Kaoru, nodding, "it definitely sounds like something a girl would write, though."

"Doesn't it?" Tamaki breathed incredulously.

"Do you three listen to me at all?" said Haruhi. "How would you even know?"

"Look how round and bubbly the characters are," said Hikaru as she elbowed in for a look, "and the author made little hearts out of the maru. That's a total chick move."

"Right. . . ." Needless to say, she was not impressed. She scrutinized the penmanship a little closer. "You know, this looks a lot like Honey-sempai's handwriting."

Honey's mouth fell open. "Eh?"

Which earned him the shocked looks of the rest of the host club, with Kasanoda being the most shocked of all. "Why are you all looking at me like that?" Honey hugged his stuffed rabbit closer to him, as though to save himself from being tainted by their dirty, circumstantial thoughts. "I didn't write it!"

"Can you believe it? Honey-sempai of all people," the twins said conspiratorially to one another. "He doesn't look like the type to be into that. . . ."

"But it wasn't me, I said! Weren't you guys listening?"

"Curiouser and curiouser," came an ominous, raspy voice from one corner of the room, where the shadows were suddenly gathering like curling tendrils of Indian ink. "To receive an unsigned missive of someone's fiendish confession of love, scented mysteriously of vanilla and cloves . . . what a dreadful portent for a client of the host club to receive, Cosa Nostra-kun—"

"Guest! He's a guest!" said Tamaki. "A-and not even that! More like a passer-through—"

"It's Kasanoda!" Kasanoda wailed. "Why is that so hard to remember?"

"Right, right, my apologies. I was totally thinking of something else." Nekozawa stepped into the room, draped in a heavy black cloak as per usual. "As for the matter of the note, however, I wonder if the culprit could be, perhaps, the vengeful spirit of a spurned clie—guest," he corrected to Tamaki's glare, "of the past, out to seek revenge on her tormentors by sending cryptic epistles of undead, unbridled passion to her rivals. Are you in need of an exorcism, Suou? Oh, do say you are; my club has been dying to perform one. . . ."

Needless to say, Tamaki really didn't like the way Nekozawa was grinning maniacally at the prospect of an exorcism—nor did anyone else if their queasy looks were any indication. Knowing him, he'd be more likely to be the cause of them needing one. "I-I really don't think it's as bad as all of that," Tamaki said quickly, waving his hands in front of him. "It's probably all a big mix-up, is what it is. . . ."

"Who invited you anyway, daywalker?" Hikaru said suddenly, stepping between his president and that of the black magic club. "Whatever snake oil you're selling this time, we ain't buying."

To which Kaoru pitched in, "Do we need to get the flashlights again?"

"Now, now," Nekozawa said as he reached under his robe and inside who-knew-what to fish for something, "there's no need to be rash. I come bearing an explanation for my presence here, though even I do not yet understand it. You see, I too received a missive that was missing a signature."

And so saying, he withdrew an envelope that looked distressingly just like Kasanoda's.

"It reads simply," he recited, unfolding the pinkish piece of paper inside with a little help from Beelzenev, "Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble/ Come to the host club on the double. So, as per orders, here I am." He extended the letter to the host club to examine for themselves. "I don't suppose any of you know what that's all about, either. However, it does look to be written by an individual of the fairer sex. The feminine curve of the ten-ten is a dead give-away, isn't it, Fujioka?"

Haruhi tried to suppress a twitch of her eye, and was mostly unsuccessful. "I wouldn't know."

That was when there came a rap of knuckles on the main door. "Finally, customers!" Tamaki said, all lit up, as he bounced to a conspicuous place and waved Nekozawa and Kasanoda out of the way. Clearing his throat and running a hand through his golden hair and practically sparkling, he opened his mouth to say, "Welcome to the—"

"Yo, Ohtori-kun, we need to talk."

One hand still raised invitingly in the air, Tamaki deflated, and the rest of the host club and Kasanoda and Nekozawa looked toward the doors to see Takeshi Kuze, captain of Ouran's champion yet somehow oft overlooked American football team, stride into the third music room with teammates Tougouin and Tarumi tagging along close behind.

"More guys. . . ." Tamaki mumbled. "How can this be . . . ?"

"What seems to be the problem?" Kyouya said as he stepped forward to face his old preschool rival.

In response, Kuze waved a crumpled up note and envelope in his face. "This is the problem," he said as Tarumi crossed his arms over his chest behind him. "Is this some sort of joke, Ohtori? Because I'm not laughing. I thought we had come to an agreement last time that we would put an end to our petty rivalry—"

"I didn't know it was started," Kyouya said, but the other ignored him.

"I thought it was clear from how gracefully I admitted defeat that I wanted to put our differences behind us like gentlemen, but it seems I underestimated you. You try to act so cool and objective and polite, but you just can't help yourself, can you? Pulling a sophomoric stunt like this isn't so beneath you after all. Well," Kuze said with a grin and a flip of his bangs that, next to Tamaki, had the host club seeing double, "if you can't let sleeping dogs lie then I guess I have no choice. Kyouya Ohtori!" He raised a fist, which just happened to be holding an orange, his sharp eyes gleaming with the youthful spark of sportsmanship. "The Ouran Orages challenge your host club to a rematch!"

"I refuse," Kyouya said flat out.

So cold, Kasanoda and Haruhi had to agree. Positively antarctic.

"Unacceptable!" Kuze said.

"Pardon me. Excuse me," said a voice from the hallway.

Wind blown out of his sails, Kuze looked down to see a grade school boy squeezing past Tougouin's large frame to get through the doorway. Ouran's linebacker moved out of the way as he and his teammates stared at this eleven-year-old kid who had interrupted Kuze's challenge.

Once he had penetrated their offensive line, the boy bowed and shouted: "I am ready for my next lesson, my king!"

Which assured that the object of everyone's attention next was none other than Tamaki.

"King?" he echoed to himself. It became quite obvious that he was overjoyed to be back in the spotlight, even if he did not exactly know why, after Kyouya had briefly, if unintentionally, stolen it. "Ho-ho! Why, of course, Shirou, my faithful disciple! Your king welcomes you back! But, er . . . may I ask what brought this about all of a sudden?"

And as if it were not obvious by now . . . "I got your note," Shirou said, offering up the offending piece of folded stationery as if Tamaki should have known that by now.

Before anyone could say, What note?, a trio of voices moving up the hall toward them drew their attention. "Like I said," a young man's voice was saying, "he probably called us here to discuss some kind of reparation for making those threats. I mean, it was entrapment pure and simple. That's just plain unethical—"

"But, President, isn't what we were doing a breach of ethics—"

"Shut up, Sakyou! That's different. We're journalists. It's our sacred duty to get to the bottom of corruption using every means at our disposal!"

The members of the host club and the American football team, and Kasanoda, Nekozawa and Shirou all exchanged glances as the voices came to a sudden halt outside the door and lowered to a nervous whispering that they couldn't make out. Needless to say, it wasn't any girls who were standing outside the third music room's open doors like they thought no one had heard them coming, but the unmistakable voices of the journalism club, Ukyou, Sakyou, and their unscrupulous leader, Komatsuzawa.

Just when the tension was building to a head, everyone waiting for the inevitable entrance worthy of Toshiro Mifune in Seven Samurai

"Young master, we're here to rescue you!"

"Don't let them make you do anything undignifying!"

—In leaped two ruffians who had nothing to do with the journalism club whatsoever, all puffed up and ready for a fight. Kasanoda's eyes went wide as he recognized them, and he made the most fearsome face his fearsome face ever did make as he glared daggers at them. "Aahhh? Akutaro! Akujiro! So, you dare show your faces in the third music room?"

"Wuh . . . Kasanoda!" the duo said in unison, in equally chill-inducing voices and making equally horrible faces at their sworn enemy from across the room. "What are you doing here? Is this some kind of set up? Where are you keeping our boss's son?"

"Testuya ain't here, ya jerk-offs! What the hell are you talking about?"

"Don't act all innocent, Kasanoda! We know you've been trying to get into his pants since middle school!"

"Say that again?" Finally, someone had gotten his name right—twice—but Kasanoda was in no mood to congratulate them. His priority now was the yakuza sons stare-off showdown that the third music room had suddenly become.

Which was promptly interrupted by Komatsuzawa, who once again proved himself a wealth of temerity when he shoved Akujiro out of the way to make room for himself. "Hey! That's my dramatic entrance you're stealing!"

Sakyou and Ukyou, it should be noted, had much more restraint. And fear.

Kuze stared at the recently arrived president of the journalism club, who was remarkably enough holding his own against the two sons of the mob, then back at the note he had thought singular that was still clutched in his hand. "What the hell is going on here?" he muttered.

"That's what I want to know!" Tamaki wailed. "Why is our host club full of men? Eeee. . . ."

"Look to the notes," Nekozawa murmured in his ear, having draped himself over Tamaki's shoulders like a mink muffler (which was the source of the shiver that ran down the host king's back without a doubt). "Therein you shall find the answers you seek."

Fair enough, all parties decided, and they grudgingly put aside their differences in the meantime in favor of getting to the bottom of this debacle by offering up their respective notes—all of which, it should be noted, shared the same cherry blossom-pink hue.

Kuze's ran like an advertisement. It read:

Finding yourself in need of a Hail Mary on laundry
day? Try orange peel! Its super-acidic oil is nature's
solvent for removing those tough away game stains!
Gently lifts out grass and dirt to leave your jersey
looking and smelling fresh! Even gets out blood!


"This is true. . . ." Kyouya observed as he adjusted his glasses.

"As if I didn't know that already," Kuze said coolly, though the twitching eyelid kind of gave him away.

"Okay," said Haruhi and the twins, "but what does it mean?"

Komatsuzawa's typewritten one was a little more straightforward:

Come to third music room stop scoop of century stop
bring camera and change of pants stop.


The twins snickered at that, specifically at what they thought would necessitate both a camera and a change of underwear, but whatever it was seemed to go right over the journalism club's heads.

Akutaro and Akujiro's was rather straightforward as well, if a boldfaced lie. In rough handwriting that looked like it meant business, it read:

Greetings, jerk-offs. We've got your boss and are holding
him hostage in the third music room. You know what we
want. Bring it and maybe we can negotiate an exchange.
If you know what's best for him you'll be quick about it.


"So that's what you two were worried about," Honey said to the two young thugs. "You thought from the letter we were going to do this and that to him and you wanted to protect his virtue?" He smiled ear to ear. "How cute of you!"

Mori nodded.

Akutaro and Akujiro lit up like Christmas trees.

"Knowing the host club, though," Kasanoda grumbled to himself, the note recalling a not-too-pleasant memory of his past experiences with the group involving cat ears and a maid outfit, "that wouldn't be a real stretch."

"All I know is that I know nothing," Tamaki said in a dramatic voice.

"Well, that was kind of a given, milord," said Kaoru from where he and Hikaru were reading the previous note.

"No, that's what Shirou's message says. It's a quote from Socrates. . . . I think." Tamaki pointed at the slip of stationery as he added, "Then beneath that it says, Are you ready for your next lesson? Signed . . ."

"A crown," Shirou filled in when he trailed off.

"'Tis so, 'tis so!" the other said with an intelligent nod. "A crown fit for a king! Only, if I know anything it's that I didn't send this. Or any of them, for that matter."

"Neither did I," said Kyouya.

"Nor I," said Haruhi.

Honey's thoughtful hum and Mori's silence pretty much said the same thing.

Slowly all heads turned to the twins. They started. "Well, don't look at us," said Hikaru. "If we had something planned, guaranteed we wouldn't be this cryptic about it."

"Right. We would have taken a much more direct approach."

"Besides, warm, fuzzy reunion scenes just aren't our thing, you know? We're more dividers than uniters."

"Then I wonder . . ." Kyouya trailed off as he turned his back to them, his ever-handy pen tapping his chin in thought. "If none of us sent the notes, then who did? There is nothing in their contents to tie all six of them together, nor is the handwriting consistent across the board. The only similarities are in the circumstances, and the stationery—but even that is readily available at any high-end paper mercantile."

"It doesn't make sense," Tamaki said. "Who would want to bring everyone together like this?"

Haruhi was struck by a sudden thought that as far as she knew had nothing to do with the proceedings. It was only that she had known something was missing from this whole thing but couldn't put her finger on it until now. "Has anyone seen Renge?"

As if that were the magic word (and, who knows, maybe it just was), the doors to the third music room suddenly slammed shut on their own accord. The eighteen found themselves in just a matter of seconds locked inside the room, and if the grave sound of bolts sliding closed did not convince them of this, the frantic tugging at the door handles that inevitably followed to no avail did.

"Shit," said Tarumi, as Tougouin and Mori took turns trying to knock the doors down by ramming them. "We're trapped."

"We're doomed!" Komatsuzawa cried as he pulled at his hair. "Doomed, I tell you!"

Before he had a need of that change of pants he was supposed to have brought, however, the crowd parted for Honey, who was rolling up his sleeves as he faced down the unbudging set of doors. The chi was rising from him like steam as he prepared himself. "Flying . . . iron bunny . . ."

"No, wait, Honey-sempai! That's—"

"Marzipan frosting kick!"

A pathetic slap of shoe against door was the anticlimactic result. "Solid oak," the twins finished as everyone stared at Honey, who was still standing with one foot against the door.

For all of about three seconds, after which he wailed in agony, and everyone held their ears as Mori tried unsuccessfully to console him.

"Brute force won't do you any good," Haruhi said calmly as she stepped forward, "especially when the doors are hinged to swing inward. You know, sometimes the best solutions are the most delicate." And so saying, she produced two bobby pins, knelt by the door latches, and went to work on the lock.

The host club was amazed, not least of all Tamaki and the twins. "Whoa, Haruhi! you know how to pick locks?" said Hikaru while Kaoru stared admiringly.

"What poor, unfortunate circumstances forced you into a life of thievery?" Tamaki wanted to know, ever the concerned father figure.

Haruhi let out a deep sigh. "I learned it because I was curious, not out of necessity," she deadpanned; "and do you mind? You three are blocking my light."

Not that it would have mattered. The sickening snap a second later made everyone's hopes sink.

Haruhi stared. "Huh? It ate my bobby pins. . . ."

"The main doors are useless!" Tamaki gasped, backing away from them in terror. "Which means, we have to find another way out!"

"You know," said Nekozawa, who was still eerily calm about the whole matter, "there's always my way out."

"Already checked," Ukyou and Sakyou chimed despondently from the dark set of doors in the corner.

"No, I meant—"

"Also locked," Shirou said from the windows, the latches of which he was rattling in vain.

"Besides," said Tamaki, "I am not jumping out or through anything from this storey."

Nekozawa's shoulder's slumped. "What I meant was—"

"We knew what you meant," everyone told him at the same time.

"Oh man," said Akutaro, "we're screwed! Game over, man, game over! We're all gonna die in here—with Kasanoda!"

"You think this is how I wanna spend my last days?" Kasanoda shot back.

"Stow the bellyaching," said Kyouya. "No one is going to die. By my calculations, there is approximately seventy-two hours' worth of oxygen in here. I suggest we sit tight and wait for the janitorial staff to let us out."

"But, Sempai," Haruhi said, "today's a Friday."

Which prompted another hearty round of lamentations and yelling for help at the door (a lot of good that would do from inside a music room, but one could never be too thorough) and concerns about whether they were going to have to eat each other, or worse, what they were going to do when they had to use the little boy's room.

"Would everyone please relax?" Kyouya said evenly. "Like I said, right now the best thing to do would be to remain calm and conserve oxygen. I'm sure there's a very rational explanation for all this."

"Kyouya-sempai," the twins chimed, "you're taking this rather well."

"Yes," said Tamaki as he thoughtfully rubbed his chin, "almost too well if you ask me."

"Nobody asked you, milord."

Kyouya smiled to himself. "I wouldn't say my handling of the situation is anything out of the ordinary. The problem lies entirely in your mindset. I myself am an optimist. I believe we will eventually be saved by the cleaning staff by Monday morning at the latest, which should leave us with a good nine hours of oxygen to spare. I am simply looking at things rationally."

"Impressive," said Tarumi, to Kuze's glare. "You can rationalize spending sixty hours locked in a room with Komatsuzawa? That takes nerves of steel!"

The others couldn't help glancing at the president of the journalism club, as an anomalous rain cloud seemed to have suddenly and inexplicably found him.

After a second of careful consideration, Kyouya had to admit to himself that Tarumi had a very good point. He took out his cellphone and immediately started punching in a number.

That was about when Honey swooned.

He quickly caught himself, but Mori put a steadying hand on his shoulder nonetheless. "Mitsukuni, you okay?"

"I'm fine," Honey waved him off. "Just that suddenly I feel so . . ." He let out a big yawn, rubbing his eyes as he managed to finish, "Sleepy."

The collapse was so sudden even Mori and his cat-like reflexes weren't able to catch him in time. Honey landed on the floor with a loud thump; and though it surely would have woken anyone else, his gentle snoring told that he was sleeping peacefully.

It was when Mori bent to examine him that he smelled it—a faint, acrid odor that seemed to be coming from beneath the door. "Gas!" he said, and covered his mouth and nose in his hand.

"Gas?" everyone chorused in alarm.

"Everyone, back away from the doors!" Tougouin said, but as Tarumi noted, pointing at the ceiling, "No good! It's in the ventilation!"

Desperate to get fresh air into the room, Shirou tugged at the window latches more ardently, but, with a pathetic squeak of hands against glass, he was the next to go—because, as Tamaki was quick to point out, like canaries in a coal mine, Lolita boys were naturally the first to drop.

Nekozawa put his cloak to his nose, but even he was struggling to remain standing; and some of the others' first reaction to cough, as though to rid themselves of whatever they might have unwittingly inhaled, only made the situation worse. The twins didn't even have time to play up the situation before they passed out in each other's arms, Haruhi joining them a moment later in a rather undignified position; and, calling her name, Tamaki made it about as far as the sofa before he collapsed over the arm of it and landed upended with his face in the cushion.

In a matter of but moments, just about everyone was down for the count. Even the American football team's athletic builds ultimately proved to be no protection.

Mori was able to hold out longer than most of the others; but even he was quickly losing his grip on consciousness. The last thing he saw as he hit the floor, just before the world went black, was Kyouya turning to look at him, still standing, a black shape backlit by the windows.

Mori knew for sure he was losing it then, because he swore when he looked up to where Kyouya's face should have been, what stared back at him was the inscrutable face of a fly.