Disclaimer: I do not own OHSHC; Studio Bones and Bisco Hatori own it. I do not lay claim to the original idea of the Ouran Elementals; many thanks to Star-of-Seraph for her permission to use them. However, I do own this whole storyline and everything non-canonical.

Musical Accompaniment: Fear is the Mind Killer by Brian Tyler, found on the Children of Dune soundtrack. It begins with Haruhi going to the grocery store and ends with the chapter.

Author's Notes: I'd like to extend my deepest gratitude to huamulan03 for her beta-ing efforts. She's been a great help.


Chapter 7

Despite the chaos that came with being in the Host Club, Haruhi's life soon became relatively monotonous.

Wake up

Go to school

Go to class, elemancy practice, Host Club

Studying

Catching up on long-lost sleep, then wash, rinse, repeat

It wasn't a bad life, really; just a touch busier than she expected when she entered high school, but Haruhi handled it with nothing less than perfect composure.

Even the attacks from Iwasaki that followed were easily dealt with.

Barely a week after her first day at the Host Club, he accosted her in one of the courtyards and demanded a duel. She was forced to defeat him again, since he wasn't interested in picking his battles more carefully, and left him soaking wet in the middle of the hedge maze.

It soon became a regular occurrence that, once a week, he'd challenge her to a duel when no one was around, citing minor accusations as reasoning. And, no surprise, she'd claim victory without any useless attempts at peacemaking. In all honesty, she began to look forward to the attacks as "real world" practice, using techniques that she slyly garnered from watching the other Host Club members.

Who had absolutely no idea that she was engaging regularly in duels. It wasn't like she wanted to keep them in the dark, but Haruhi prided herself on independence and self-reliance. She didn't care to be a bother, especially when she was capable of handing any situation on her own. Iwasaki hadn't done anything really wrong, and it wasn't worth the trouble of reporting him to any higher power. Plus, she was quite certain that doing something like that would only make the duels more frequent and Iwasaki a lot more spiteful. So she shrugged her shoulders and made a nonchalant comment whenever Kyouya or Tamaki asked why she was late to the Host Club.

It only took two months for everything to go to hell.


The doorbell rang six times in quick succession, and Haruhi sighed in irritation. Only Tamaki or the twins were annoying enough to play with the ringer.

"I'm coming," she shouted, closing her texts before going to the door. The bell continued to ring, and when she opened it, she was hardly surprised to see Hikaru with his finger on the buzzer and Kaoru egging him on. Behind them was the rest of the Host Club.

She scowled at them. "Would you please find someone else to pester today?"

"No way!" the twins chorused.

"We came all this way to visit you, Haruhi! Aren't you overjoyed to see us?" Tamaki asked, bubbling with unrestrained excitement.

"Not really," she said, and he disappeared into a dark corner somewhere. "I've got homework to finish, and dinner to cook in less than an hour. Isn't there some rich person thing you people need to do?"

"Nope." "Nuh-uh."

"Haru-chan!" Huni said cheerfully, bouncing in front of the redheads. "We brought some treats!" Sure enough, Mori was holding a box with a bakery name stamped in gold filigree on the side. She recognized the name; they always brought desserts from said bakery when they came a-calling and wanted to butter her up.

Haruhi was tempted to slam the door in their faces anyway, but she relented. They did bring something, and why not enjoy it? "Fine, come in. But you're only staying for a few minutes."

They ignored her, filing inside and taking their usual places around her dining table, and Haruhi took a quick look at the sky. As a Water Elemental, she could feel the weight of the clouds overhead, sense that they were full to bursting. But rather than encourage the rain, she brought her hand up and thought, Stay! Just for a little while longer, hold it inside.

Her hand tingled and she saw a quick flash of blue light against the clouds, like cobalt lightning streaking across the sky. She didn't know how long it'd last – maybe no more than the few minutes she threatened the Host Club with – but it would be enough. She shut the door and joined the rest of the guys around the table.

"So what's the occasion?" she asked, nibbling at the strawberry cake (and relishing the richness more than she was letting on, because no way was she going to give them the satisfaction). Everyone else had finished theirs, and she had the weirdest feeling like they were studying her. They stared at her with an emotion she'd never seen on their faces, and she didn't have the energy to try and decode it now.

The twins shared a look and, together, they said, "We have something veryvery important to ask you."

She frowned; they rarely did that around her, knowing the futility in trying to confuse her. Only when hosting or trying to emphasize a situation did the Hitachiins speak as one, and since they weren't hosting…. "Yeah?"

"What do you know about Circles?"

Haruhi inhaled sharply. "Wow. Can't say I expected that. Uhm… only the things that most Elementals know, or things you could find on the Internet."

Except that's a lie, her conscience told her. You know a few things that can't be shared between strangers, things that only someone in a Circle would know. But no reason to tell them any of that.

"Enlighten us," Kyouya said, and her eyebrows flew up. He never asked for information that he could find on his own; where was this going? But everyone was watching her intently, obviously looking to her for something they couldn't get.

Haruhi shrugged and gave them the most basic things she knew. "A Circle is a bond between seven different Elemental types. Most Elementals never enter one, either because making a Circle without permission is illegal or because it's so serious that few people are willing to risk themselves by making one. They're used a lot in diplomatic and political situations, but mostly they tutor young Elementals who don't have access to training. And en-Circled Elementals are powerful duelists, so they're – unfortunately – also asked to act as a type of Elemental law enforcement when necessary. Uhm…," and she supported her chin with her thumb and forefinger, trying to hide her nervousness at such a sensitive subject, "it's also a lifelong commitment. Once you're in a Circle, you can't leave it."

She stopped abruptly, and they regarded her with interest.

"What else?" Kaoru asked.

"I don't know anything else," she lied, and glanced at the clock. "Look, guys, it's already after 5, and Dad's going to be home in a couple of hours, and I wanted to make him dinner before-"

"Dinner?" Tamaki said, perking up. "You're making dinner?"

"Just the usual, but I have to go shopping before-"

"Can we stay for dinner?" the twins asked, giving her identical grins. "Please?"

"No, I've got a lot of things to do," she said shortly, feeling her nerves start to fray with impatience. "I don't have time to cook and feed your picky mouths."

"But we'll help!"

"You can't even boil water properly. Go away!"

"Please, Haru-chan?" Huni asked, eyes wide and teary. "Please? We wanna spend time with you!"

She ground her teeth in quiet frustration, but there wasn't much of a choice. When the Host Club got an idea into their collective heads, it was all but impossible to turn them from it.

"Fine," she said, barely masking her exasperation. She stood up and caught a glance out the window, and her frustration quickly turned to apprehension. The sky had deepened in color, transforming from mid-afternoon gray to ominous black in less than a half-hour. June was notorious for its schizophrenic weather, and she felt the weight of the rain between her shoulders.

My elemancy didn't hold as long as I wanted; those clouds are gonna burst any minute. I'll have to make this a quick trip. Can't dawdle, better go now. "Then I'm going out to buy ingredients."

"We'll come with!" the twins said, and Tamaki nearly fell over himself in agreement.

"No!" Haruhi winced; she hadn't meant to contradict them so harshly. At everyone's surprised – and a few hurt – looks, she said more softly, "No, it's all right. I'll just grab a few things and be back before you know it. Please, the trip will go much more quickly if it's just me."

Kyouya frowned, studying her from over his glasses. "Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'll be fine. The store's less than a mile away, and I can carry everything by myself," she said, silently pleading with him to help her. They didn't look ready to accept her words, and she couldn't spend too much time convincing them.

But Mori, of all people, came to her rescue. "We will stay here," he said, and she knew that he understood her need for speed, if not the reason.

That was all she needed, and she gave him her brightest smile. "Thank you! I'll be back before you know it, I promise! And if you want to help, clean up the dishes for me."

She slipped on her shoes and stuffed her wallet into her shorts before venturing outside. She could handle rain – handle it well, and even enjoyed it to some extent – but if it got any worse….

Just grab only the things on this list and run home. I'll be fine, there won't be anything bad, and I'll have worried myself – and the guys – for nothing. As long as I get home before the cloudburst, I'll be fine.

She was almost three blocks away, humming mindless tunes to keep the nervousness at bay, when she heard someone yell, "Fujioka!"

Reflexively, she turned in the direction of the voice. The street had been empty just a minute before – apparently, most of the world wasn't foolish enough to be out in this portentous weather – but three people came walking from the shadows towards her.

Then her heart began to pound in fear as she recognized them.

Iwasaki.

And flanking him was Miyamura and Kitobue, the Lightning and Wind Elementals from the ESC. Their tattoos flickered with dark intent under the moonlight, and Haruhi took an instinctive step back from them.

"What do you want?" she asked evenly.

Iwasaki didn't so much smile as let a corner of his mouth quirk upwards. "See, you and your Host Club buddies still owe us for that little incident all those months ago. But they're too well protected, even out of class. You, on the other hand, are a worthless piece of shit, and no one would lift a finger to save you."

"It's going to storm soon," she said, eyes snapping across the trio. "Water Elementals always get power from the rain."

Iwasaki laughed; a threatening sound. "Yeah, but I remember what happened last time we fought in the storm."

Haruhi did too; she had beaten him, but only barely. Though she hadn't been wanting for power, she panicked in the middle of the duel when the storm became harsher. There was no way she could mask the fear that clawed from her throat and tore at her insides. It was only by luck and desperation that she had taken the win before sprinting into the main building and hiding beneath one of the deserted stairwells.

She knew why he was here now, and for a moment she considered running back home.

Then she planted her heels in the sidewalk and reached for her talent; no matter how terrified she was, she refused to back down. Blue light shone like a miniature beacon, and she felt immeasurable power of the incoming storm flood her like a waterfall filling a cup. Pulling her hands close to her chest, Haruhi filled the space between her palms with cerulean energy.

"Don't do this," she said, silently hoping please just go away please.

Iwasaki turned to his buddies. "Now."

Everything happened in slow motion.

Miyamura raised his hand over his head and his tattoo burned from yellow to black. Haruhi looked up and the sky flashed in time with his tattoo, and he swept his hand down to her.

MOVE!

And Haruhi literally threw herself backwards, hitting the concrete as the air exploded with thunder and a bolt of lightning crashed into the ground barely two feet in front of her. The water in her hands spilled all over her legs and the sidewalk, and she could do nothing but stare at the scorch mark in the road with wide, disbelieving eyes.

He just tried to hit me with lightning it could have killed me it could have killed me killed me kill me they're going to kill me NO!

She heard the rumbling laugh of thunder overhead as the rain began to fall, and fear gave her speed. She scrambled to her feet and ran, but she didn't even make it more than a handful of steps before the lightning struck again. This time it hit the nearest lamppost, and the rain carried sparks from the metal to Haruhi, sending her screaming and sprawling to the sidewalk.

She gasped in pain, trying her hardest not to cry but knowing that tears were running with the rain down her face. Every nerve felt rubbed raw, so that even her clothes seemed to prick needles into her skin. At the same time, she watched with detached interest as her fingers spasmed.

Then from nowhere, someone landed a kick against her ribs, brutally driving the wind from her chest. She gagged and gasped for breath, as if a knife was tearing through her every time she moved. She tried to hide it from her attackers – at the same time, she tried to swallow
the reflexive and silent help me – but it seemed her effort wasn't good enough.

"The little prick is afraid of thunder," one of them said, and Haruhi barely registered the three pairs of feet standing beside her. "Watch."

A muttered word, and a roar from the heavens tore through Haruhi's ears. All around, she could feel lightning snap and crack as it trapped her in its violent tendrils. She whimpered, hating herself and her weakness, but was unable to stop the pathetic sounds from leaving her lips. Curling into the fetal position, she brought her hands over her ears and squeezed her eyes shut and prayed.

Someone help me….

Hands grabbed her, pulled her to her feet. Before she could fight back, before she knew what was going on, a fist smashed against her cheek. It was a solid punch that sent her head snapping back – she'd never been hit before and it was a bone-deep pain – and the hands that were supporting her suddenly disappeared. She crumpled to the ground, tasting blood on the back of her tongue, and there was nothing in the world except the storm, the pain, and fear so deep that Haruhi went blind and couldn't stop shivering.

Someone help me!

"That was for our first fight," Iwasaki said, the thunder punctuating his words. "The rest is gonna be for fun."

But the noises that followed had nothing to do with the chaos around her.

A yell, like the wordless sound a tiger makes when its fury is too great to hold in, cut through the air as another lightning bolt struck nearby. Haruhi couldn't even scream or move her hands to protect herself. She barely caught the scent of electricity burning the air, and felt the wind whipping through her clothes and hair. Impacts and grunts and shouts and curses resonated in the back of her reality.

"Shit! Let's get out of here!"

"Stay right there, you assholes!"

"Where's Haruhi?"

"Fuck you!"

"There! Behind that car!"

The new voices were somehow familiar, so familiar that she felt herself being pulled back into the world of torture and tempests. Something touched her and reflex caused her to shrink away with a high-pitched shriek.

"Haruhi! Haruhi, it's me, Hikaru!"

Her eyes snapped open and she saw Hikaru and Kyouya kneeling over her, though their expressions were hidden beneath shadows. Flashes of multicolored light silhouetted them, and she knew that the other Host Club members were nearby.

They came for me.

Her eyes slid shut, and it was enough of a signal to Hikaru. He quickly picked her up, cradling her with almost manic possessiveness, as Kyouya threw his shirt over her arms.

"Get her out of here! We'll take care of these bastards!" Tamaki yelled.

"Right!"

The duo then headed down the street, away from the battle that Haruhi didn't want to remember. The bounciness of the trip was painful – her body ached with even the slightest movement – but she concentrated on the heat gently radiating off Hikaru. Almost instinctively, she huddled against him, warming her chilled skin and breathing in the scent of peppermint and cedar ashes.

"I don't like leaving them behind."

"We had to get Haruhi out of there. You're no good in the rain."

"But you should have stayed!"

"I'm needed here."

Thunder rumbled overhead, and Haruhi gave a helpless sob.

"We're almost home, Haruhi," Kyouya said. "Just hold on a few more minutes."

"Just a few more minutes," Hikaru parroted, almost desperate for her to believe him.

She believed them enough to drift into an exhausted slumber.


Author's Notes (8/6/07): As I mentioned, this is the beginning of the more serious parts of this story. The humor and light-heartedness won't disappear forever, but there are things that must be said and done before the Host Club can relax.

This is the beginning of my weekly updates. The next chapter will come on Aug. 13, with many questions being answered – and many new ones being posed.

Thank you to everyone who's been reading and reviewing. I await your reactions to this rather heart-wrenching chapter with bated breath.