Before long, the helicopters arrived to take everyone back to the mainland. The Ohtori guards hoisted up the giant four-poster with Honey still asleep on it, and attempted to drag the monstrosity away for loading, one of them warning his buddies at every agonizing step of the way, "Careful! Careful! You don't want to accidentally wake him up. I mean, you really don't. Trust me, this is worse than transporting nitroglycerin."
"Don't worry," Hikaru half-heartedly called after them. "It'd take an act of God to stir him now."
"Or an act of our lord, more like," Kaoru chuckled.
Tamaki pretended he hadn't heard.
"So, it's really over?" he asked Renge. "We really get to leave, just like that?"
Mori did a quick headcount. Sitting with his teammates, Kuze was finally calm and content, an orange in his hand and a distant look in his eyes as he peeled off the rind and ate it piece by piece. The yakuza brothers were fidgeting, Kasanoda looked like he wanted to get a high-five or something out of Mori himself, and as for the journalism club. . . .
"Wait. Aren't we missing someone?"
"So-o-o-o-o-o? What did we miss? Did our team win?"
"Oh, no. . . ." Haruhi groaned at the arrival of that lyrical voice and tried really hard to make herself invisible.
Because that was when Ranka appeared, his arm around Sakyou's shoulders, and of course her father just couldn't help himself. He had to gay it up in front of everyone. "Look who I found wandering around the jungle."
Sakyou waved weakly at his club mates. Haruhi could only stare at the two of them dumbfoundedly.
"Hey, Fujioka," he said awkwardly to her, "I just want you to know there's no hard feelings. And that your mom is awesome."
"Um, he's not my mom."
Sakyou didn't seem to hear her, however, because at that moment Ranka caught sight of the helicopters and gripped the second-year tighter. "Are those the helicopters that are going to take us back to civilization? Oh, I'm so excited. This'll be just like Jurassic Park. I hope I get to be in the same one as Tomo-kun."
"Tomo-kun?" Ukyou tried his hardest not to laugh.
Which was no problem for Komatsuzawa. He cast his barely scathed underclassman I very disapproving look. "Sakyou, you and I will be sitting down for a little heart-to-heart about club loyalty when we get back to school."
Needless to say, unlike the ride home, that was not something Sakyou Tomochika was looking forward to.
At least he had Haruhi's father to distract him from his sense of foreboding as they boarded the helicopters with the football club, Shirou and Yasuchika, and the yakuza brothers.
"So. You managed to worm your way out of another one, Suou," Nekozawa said when they were gone. "Don't think the stars will align so favorably for you next time."
What am I, chopped liver? Haruhi felt like asking. Tamaki just managed to escape? It was her future at Ouran that had been on the line, but she had come to expect this sort of vanity of her rich classmates. . . .
Tamaki just waved his words off, if a little uneasily. "Come now, Sempai. You wouldn't have actually done it. Would you?"
Nekozawa leered mysteriously. "Maybe?"
Behind him, the twins must have gotten something caught in their throats, because they couldn't help their sudden coughs—which sounded uncannily like "Yeah, right" and "Pussy" respectively, but maybe that was just Nekozawa's imagination.
"Oh, by the way, Renge," Kyouya said as if he had just remembered, "I do believe you owe me one hundred-thousand yen."
Renge smiled politely as she dug into her jodhpurs pocket for the desired note. "I suppose you're right—though you must concede that Haruhi did reach Alpha Base before Honey-sempai. Under slightly different circumstances, the game could quite easily have gone the other way."
"I don't deny that. However, I still believe Honey-sempai would have won. Though I understand your faith in Haruhi is very well-intentioned, you're going to have to learn to put aside your personal emotions and look on the practical side of things if you want to bet with the big leagues."
"A point on which we shall just have to agree to disagree," Renge said as he tucked the ¥100,000 note away. "I will always be a sentimentalist at heart."
Haruhi was flabbergasted. "Wait . . . you two bet on the game?"
She couldn't decide which to be more offended at: the fact that they had had a bet running this whole time, or that Kyouya, her own teammate for crying out loud, had bet against her. And after those kind words at Red Base—to think that she had actually believed in his sincerity. . . .
Kyouya and Renge, on the other hand, did not seem to find anything wrong with their actions if the blank looks on their faces were any indication.
Tamaki turned to him. "Kyouya, I thought you said you had nothing to do with this. I mean, despite all the evidence to the contrary, I still tried to believe you."
"I didn't have anything to do with it. Well, not directly. I might have let slip in casual conversation that my family's private police force had an island training ground for combat-survival situations equipped for capture-the-flag, and in Japanese waters no less. I might also have let slip the general location of said island, and suggested that the facilities on it could be rented for a minor fee. Aside from that, however, I don't see how I'm in any way, shape, or form responsible for what transpired this weekend."
"And the bet? That still implies some fore-knowledge."
"We made it after the game had already started, over the walkie-talkie system."
"Then the reason you decided to abstain from the game . . ."
"Was because I was familiar with the island's layout. I didn't want my unfair advantage to skew the outcome."
Kyouya adjusted his glasses, but even that action did not completely hide his wide, satisfied grin.
Nor did Haruhi say anything to the contrary, though it was quite obvious to her he had been more concerned about winning the bet than winning the game all along.
"I'm not buying it," said Mori.
The other hosts looked at him.
"I knew he was responsible yesterday."
"But . . . how?" said Haruhi.
Mori smiled to himself. "Because Kyouya is the real Lord of the Flies."
And as he said so, the third-year connected his fingertips to his thumb tips and put his hands around his eyes like goggles.
The other hosts just stared. Kasanoda and Nekozawa tilted their heads.
"Uh, you'll have to excuse Mori-sempai," Tamaki apologized to no one in particular, as though the cameras were still rolling. "He hasn't had his nappy-pie yet. Heh, heh. . . . Kyouya!" he hissed to his friend. "Translate?"
"I think what Mori-sempai is saying," Kyouya said with utter calm, "is that he saw me in a gas mask yesterday afternoon just before he passed out."
While the revelation only confirmed what had been suspect in everyone else's mind, Tamaki held his chin in Holmesian contemplation. "But why would Kyouya think to bring a gas mask to a club meeting? Unless. . . . You didn't just drop hints—you knew when this was going to happen from the beginning!"
Whereat he pointed an accusing finger in Kyouya's direction.
"I think maybe he was one of the people who planned it," Haruhi corrected him.
"In fact, I was not," Kyouya corrected her. "I left the planning up to Miss Renge and the host club fan club paintball committee. However, if you want the honest truth so badly, I will admit to letting myself in on enough of the details to come prepared. And if that's a crime, then perhaps I'm a bit guilty in allowing what happened next to happen. . . ."
"Try totally," muttered Haruhi.
"There's no bit about it," echoed the twins.
"I don't care either way," said Kasanoda. "This was the most fun I've ever had on vacation."
Meanwhile, Tamaki was giving his friend's excuses quite a bit of thought. "Yes . . . I suppose I can see how these things happen. . . ."
"But I figured it couldn't hurt the host club," Kyouya went on, with only a slight adjustment of his glasses to indicate he had even heard them. "In fact, if we played our cards right, it could even prove a boon to the club financially. The proceeds from the DVD sales and related merchandise should come in quite handy as festival season draws near. I figured this sort of exercise would also serve as a good, healthy way of releasing some stress going into the exam season. So, in short, I fully trusted Renge to make the right decision."
He turned to his old friend. "That is why I felt compelled to remove myself from affecting the outcome of the game, Tamaki. With my previous knowledge of the island's infrastructure, the plot would not have unfolded naturally if I had allowed myself to take part in it. It would have come off . . . forced."
Now, those were terms Tamaki could understand. His eyes shone with moisture. "How right you are. And how noble of you, too, sacrificing yourself so willingly for the cause. . . ."
"Yeah, for a hundred-thousand yen!" Haruhi and the twins said, but no one else seemed to hear them.
Kyouya's smile was impervious. "I accept your apology."
And that was how Tamaki ended up taking responsibility for the whole grossly unethical affair. Haruhi swore she nearly had an aneurysm just trying to wrap her brain around how that had happened.
Some time later. . . .
Inside, the high school third music room was dark, but far from empty. Or quiet for that matter. The curtains had been drawn, and a huge projection screen rolled in, on which the finished product of Renge's picture was playing before the audience of the host club's fans.
They oohed and ahhed at each daring move, sniffled at some "deaths" and cheered at others (had Akutaro and Akujiro ever lowered themselves to showing their faces in the third music room again, they would have been very disappointed with the reaction to their scenes), and screamed their utter joy at the tender moments between certain players—namely the twins and other members of the host club. ("It's so beautiful!" more than one sobbed when Mori was taken out of the game.)
But even Kuze would have found to his embarrassment, had his attention not been distracted so well by the gushing of his fiancee Kanan, that the seeds of a Kuze x Tougouin fandom were already beginning to sprout in some of the audience's minds.
The journalism club for their part had decided not to show—with the exception of Sakyou, who claimed to have been sent there for research purposes for his own club—but the host club had made sure that an advertisement for the film did run in their paper. Komatsuzawa naturally proclaimed very loudly his displeasure, making sure everyone knew the decision to include it had been out of his hands—in other words, he couldn't afford to turn down the money.
But Yasuchika had come to watch the premier, albeit gloomily; and Shirou was there as well, gleefully soaking up the attentions of the high school girls who crowded around him, along with Nekozawa and Kasanoda . . . and Kasanoda's guest.
"Way to go, Waka!" Tetsuya yelled along with Kasanoda's couple of die-hard fans as they reached the part where he helped Haruhi make her way through Alpha Base. He punched his boss playfully in the arm. "I just knew you wouldn't be written off so soon. Nice comeback!"
Kasanoda blushed and sank lower in his chair. "Thanks. . . ."
Tetsuya lowered his voice and leaned closer to say so only they could hear, "And check out this response from the crowd. . . . You're really the center of attention, aren't you, you stud?"
"I don't think it's for the reason you think," Kasanoda said warily, all too uncomfortably aware of the way the girls around them were ogling him and Tetsuya, rather than the Kasanoda on the screen. They had that edge-of-their-seats eagerness about them that should have been reserved for the picture, the kind that forewarned screams of "moe" and crack pairing fanfics on host club fansites. The less Tetsuya knew, he decided, the better.
At least the problem of what to do about the final battle scene at Alpha Base appeared to have been resolved. In keeping with the notion that those who had been eliminated from the game had died, the film crew had pulled off some pretty clever special effects and editing, so that in the end product it looked as though, as Haruhi and Honey neared the base, the fortress was being mobbed by the zombified members of the two teams. It was all rather realistic looking. However . . .
"I just don't see how it's possible," Haruhi found herself saying for the umpteenth time that afternoon, tilting her head at the screen as though that might make her see the sense in it. "I mean, you didn't even give a backstory for why they turned into zombies. You know, like the island's being radioactive, or there being some sort of parasitic thing inhabiting it that reanimates dead people. And they're still remarkably eloquent for zombies—"
"Haruhi," Tamaki interrupted her sweetly, "this is why Kirimi called you the nerd of the group."
That, however, only increased Haruhi's intensity.
"You don't have to be a nerd to get that zombies don't just pop up for no reason. You have to at least have, like, a curse on the island or something. Otherwise, it just isn't credible storytelling."
"Yeah, well, nobody else is paying attention to the story. It's all about our acting."
And at the word "acting," Tamaki flicked his wrist in a casual way that carried through his whole person, giving him at once an immediate air of buoyancy and emotiveness, a je ne sais quoi of adolescent angst that temporarily yanked the girls' attentions away from the screen—like sharks to the scent of fresh blood. Immediately he was surrounded by a chorus of "Oh my God, your pain was just so out there, I could, like, taste it, it was delicious," and "Did you really mean all those things you said to Haruhi, Sempai? You're so heroic and sexy!"
Tamaki turned to her. "See?"
It was more than Haruhi could bear to watch.
As usual, Kyouya was there when she needed him least, seeming to read the very thoughts she did not want him to.
"You should just be thankful our second foray into the motion picture business was such a success," he told her while he multitasked as per the usual—taking notes of viewers' reactions in his clipboard, tallying numbers of DVD sales, and somehow managing to adjust his glasses all at the same time. "It wasn't an inexpensive trip, you know, and film crews need to be paid."
"You make it sound like I actually wanted to go on that trip and be chased through the jungle by a bunch of teenage boys with guns," she grumbled.
Which Kyouya just pretended he hadn't heard.
"Still, sales are such that, if they continue this way, we should make a sizable profit. It helps that we have a network of fans in other schools as well as our own."
"Yeah, and speaking of which, what kind of weirdos think it's so cool to watch us killing each other off?"
"Another three dozen orders here!" Renge happily announced, waving an order form at Kyouya. "Tsubaki wants to send some off to her friends in Kitakyushu, big host club fans all."
At this point Kyouya smiled, as though to say "I rest my case," and Haruhi could honestly say she didn't like the vibe she was getting from it. "It is just make-believe, Haruhi. But if it helps put that weekend's experience into perspective, you can just think of it in terms of a reduction in the amount of money you still owe this club."
"You mean, to the tune of a hundred-thousand yen."
That got Kyouya to momentarily stop his scribbling. "Now, you're not still sore over that, are you?"
That was when Nekozawa decided to drape himself over Kyouya's shoulders, one arm dangling down to graze his underclassman's breast pocket. The reaction from the fans was immediate, and it was wild.
"Maybe when this is over," Nekozawa purred into Kyouya's ear, loud enough for them all to hear, "you would like to team up with our club once again to host another fund-raising, picture show event of our choosing."
Of course, his words were mostly lost in the sudden din of dozens of fangirls squealing in rapture like so many overheating kettles.
Though secretly glad it wasn't him this time, Tamaki stared in horror at his friend, who just tilted his head nonchalantly and smiled under Nekozawa's weight.
Then again, it wasn't like there was any worry the black magic club's blackness would corrupt Kyouya.
"What did you have in mind?"
"Oh, nothing much," Nekozawa went on. "Just a little costumed, musical get-together full of weird science and campy innuendo we think would be right up the alleys of your clientele."
"We're so in!" Hikaru volunteered, while Kaoru asked, "Do we get to do the Time Warp again?"
"All that and more, my little Rorschach blots." Nekozawa lowered his voice. "But you, Ohtori-kun, can come just the way you are. . . ."
Cue another outbreak of uncontrollable whistling and squealing.
And a horrified Shirou, who, much to his own inexplicable shame, could not seem to look away.
"I decline," Kyouya said politely without a waver in either his or the other's smiles.
Tamaki flashed Kyouya a double thumbs up at that—and quickly put them away again and crushed his enthusiasm when Nekozawa happened to look his way.
Cheers from the portion of the audience that was still paying attention to the picture thankfully interrupted them, and those who had turned away to catch the tension between Nekozawa and Kyouya wanted to know what they had missed. They had reached the part where Honey raised the Red Flag at Alpha Base, with the dramatic lighting effects shining around him and an epic score to go with it. The Honey fans could hardly be more delighted, even as he collapsed with a little sigh into the four-poster bed.
The source of their attention blushed like a Hummel figure and bowed all around, soaking up the praise. Mori simply smiled beside him. Despite Honey's demure words, he knew his friend loved being lavished by such attention.
Yasuchika, on the other hand, sat and stewed in his shame in a very tenuous silence.
"That's so Honey-sempai," a couple of first-year girls said, alternately holding their cheeks and their chests. "He's so serious one moment, and the next . . . adorable!"
"I just knew he could do it. He's such a natural athlete," said her friend. Then the two realized they were standing within earshot of Haruhi, their usual pick in club activities, and humbled themselves. "But, of course, I was still rooting for you the entire time, Haruhi. I'm sorry you didn't win."
Haruhi shrugged. "Thanks. But, you know, it really doesn't matter to me—"
"How did it feel to have Tamaki-sempai confess to you like that on screen?"
That question threw her for a loop. If Haruhi had been sipping her instant coffee at that moment, it would have quickly doused the backs of several viewers' heads. Had that been a real confession? Was she missing something that was obvious to everyone else?
"Uh . . . um. . . ."
"I think you have your answer there, ladies. Of course, as actors we have to be able to separate our personal feelings from those of our characters on the screen. However. . . ."
Haruhi nearly jumped as Tamaki's arm somehow found its way around her shoulders. She tried to protest, but he pulled her close to him, gazing into her eyes with a lusty darkness that would have given Hikaru and Kaoru a run for their money. The results were instantaneous.
"We can't help it if a little of our off-screen relationship slips through into the final product."
Haruhi could feel her cheeks turning pink, but she was quick with a comeback. "Our father and son-like relationship, you mean."
Tamaki's smile was unflappable. "Of course. What else could I be talking about?"
However, Haruhi thought she caught a slight wink in his look, begging her to play along. Strangely enough, the feeling that flooded her then was relief. For now, it seemed, they were still safe. Even with all the faked deaths and drama, nothing had been changed by their adventures on the island after all. And that was the way she wanted to keep it.
"Come on," Tamaki said to her in a lower voice, once the girls' attention had wandered back to the film. "You don't really think that weekend was all a bust, do you?"
Haruhi was surprised by how easily he had picked up on her mood, though she didn't know why she should be. He may have acted oblivious, and in truth been easily distracted, but she should have known better than to think her sour attitude would have gone unnoticed by Tamaki. She gave his question some serious thought . . . and in the end, looking back on their weekend on the island, and barring the unethical manner of how they had come to be there in the first place, could not find as much to complain about as she had thought she would.
Haruhi let her mind wander back to the twins' high jinks and new forays into cosplaying, her father's terrible acting, the overblown chivalry with which Tamaki and Kasanoda had attempted to rescue her, and how comically predictable it had all been every step of the way; and she found that in place of an answer, she was actually smiling to herself.
And that was good enough for Tamaki.