Blizzard: A long-lasting snow storm with intense snowfall and usually high winds. Particularly severe storms can create whiteout conditions where visibility is reduced to less than 1 metre.
There were weeks in which Haruhi wouldn't see her father at all.
She would never say it aloud, but she loved to be home alone.
(Except when it stormed, and she had never really thought about it before that night at the beach. She had just assumed that everybody had to face their miseries alone.)
She enjoyed the silence while she shifted through the pages of her books. There wasn't a lot of traffic in the street beneath her apartment. The advantage of living in the suburbs of Tokyo. Children cheering during the summer, raindrops tapping against the roof on spring, the cracking of leaves on autumn and the sharp wind on winter.
Hot tea and cushions were everything Haruhi needed.
And maybe some noodles with pork and veggies for dinner.
When she was done studying –and in the rare moments that she spaced out, for Haruhi, as focused as she could be, remained human after all- she reflected.
When she went to middle school, she thought a lot about Ranka. She wondered what did it really mean to have breasts and to wear skirts. She concluded that it made certain persons look "cute". It didn't really affect the core of the person. Her eyes readjusted and went back to the page she was reading.
Since she had entered Ouran she spaced out more. Maybe because she did more things at her new school. She had a crammed timetable, so to speak. There were a few breaks. Between two and three o'clock, when she could stay at the library and just be. The twins were taking Art and Sports as electives, and she chose Free Study instead. After the club was closed for the day, in the train ride back home (that was the reason why she never accepted a limo ride from her friends). When she walked from the station to her house, that was peace.
She knew that other girls went out, in packs, to bathe in the city lights and to dance to the klaxons. She preferred the dim and the quiet, and the snowflakes that were falling from the sky at that very moment.
Softness. Her old clothes were smooth, the cotton turning to silk and the wool to cotton after too many washes. Hikaru and Kaoru would cringe at the sight of the button-down shirt and the patched pajama bottoms.
She readjusted the lamp. The lesson today was about the First World War. History was fine with her. More entertaining than Math. In class, Hikaru and Kaoru stared into space or doodled across the margins of their notebooks. Sometimes, they required her to trade tables with one of them, so they could be together and play hangman.
Haruhi felt her attention drifting away again and decided to take a rest. Maybe she'd have an early dinner. Her stomach purred.
The doorbell rang.
Haruhi opened the door reluctantly. The cold wind slapped her cheeks.
"Good night. Is Ranka-san home?" asked a very red-nosed, snow-covered Kyouya.
Haruhi blinked at him. "Hmm. No. He isn't."
Her eyes wandered from his frozen bangs to his laptop bag. His eyes drifted from her headband to the quilted sweat pants to her bare feet.
Kyouya shivered and tapped his boots on the door frame.
"He had to fill in for a collegue," Haruhi started to explain, and then she stopped. She didn't really like to hand out information for Kyouya. He could find what had happened to her father on his own. "Can I help you with something, senpai?"
He contemplated the girl for a minute. "Actually, you can. He promised me he'd have some pictures of you as a baby ready for the next number of the Host Club Magazine."
Haruhi stared at him in disbelief and started to close the door.
"Have a safe trip home, senpai."
He interposed his boot between the door and the frame. "It's quite inconvenient that he isn't home, as the magazine is going to print tomorrow."
Haruhi struggled and pushed the door further. "Then I guess you will have to do your special chibi reportage without me, huh?"
Kyouya managed to squeeze in an arm and then a shoulder despite Haruhi's efforts.
"In that case, the sales of the magazine would decrease, for your customers would not buy it. Should I add the difference with the expected revenue to your debt?"
Haruhi pressed a little harder. Kyouya extended his arm and banged the door against the wall. He readjusted his glasses, which had sled down to the tip of his nose during their little battle.
She still offered a little more resistance by crossing her arms and locking her leg before the tall boy. She really, really enjoyed her time alone.
"Can't you wait until tomorrow? I'll bring them to school. I can give them to you before the classes start, even. The train always leaves me early."
"I have to design the final layout tonight, and I can't do it without knowing the size and the nature of your photos. It should be harmonious, you know."
A defeated -and pissed off- Haruhi postaged the entrance.
"Be my guest," she muttered.
"Don't worry. I will only waste five minutes of your time."
Haruhi sighed. Kyouya took off his boots and his coat, and handed the later to Haruhi. She hanged it on the wall, trying not to forget her manners. They went into the living room.
"I highly doubt that." She opened the small built-in closet that contained the futons and the sheets. "Sit down... wherever you want," she told him before plunging her upper body in the closet.
It was difficult to navigate in the inside. Not only because it was pitch-black, but because it was cluttered with sentimental crap. Now, the last time that she had cleaned it up was last spring (ten months ago) and she remembered that the tin box with the photos was pressed at the left side, under the extra pillows and the tricycle...
Haruhi touched and pushed and reached for the tin box. She heard Kyouya's voice, amortiguated by many layers of feathers and foam. He sounded amused. Well, at least one of them was enjoying the situation.
Her fingers finally touched the metallic lid, and she took it with her to the outside. Her apartment suddenly looked luminous and spacious.
"Haruhi...," Kyouya chuckled.
"Your... pant teared off," informed her senpai as he put the laptop over the kotatsu.
Haruhi blinked, turned her head over her shoulder and blushed. A clean reap across her butt which let the little muppets of her knickers see the world.
"Most convenient..." smirked Kyouya. "After all, you shouldn't be wearing that in the presence of an upperclassman, should you?"
Haruhi threw the tin box across the room and over the kotatsu. It stopped before crashing against the shiny computer. Such a pity.
"I'll be back in a minute. There should be something useful in that box."
Kyouya nodded, made his glasses beam and loaded his laptop. Haruhi closed the door of her room and leaned against it for half a minute, trying to keep calm. She reminded to herself that it was Kyouya, not the twins, nor Tamaki, who was invading her living room at that precise moment. Therefore, he would be as eager to leave as she was to slam the door against his nose.
Haruhi took off her late comfy sweatshirt pants and rummaged through her closet. Her father had the nerve, giving away her pictures to the first handsome boy that talked to him. She took a pair of jeans from the rack. What if she thought that it was a violation of her privacy? And who had come up with that idiotic idea of rug-rat hosts? It reeked of Tamaki and Renge, but probably Hani had supported it too. The girls would love it, that was a given. She could almost see the dancing hearts in their pupils and the haze of baby-talk squealing out of their mouths.
Haruhi zipped up her jeans and repelled the urge of looking in the mirror and reconsider her whole image as a human being. She always felt half-finished, the project of a person, whenever she was near Kyouya, who was always so polished and neat and ironed. She put on a pair of thick wool socks for the cold feet he gave her.
Kyouya had emptied the whole contents of the tin box over the floor and was perusing through them, ordering them in neat lines.
"Found anything interesting?" asked Haruhi.
"No." Kyouya pursed his lips. "There are too many frills and bows. Besides, you are too old in those photographs."
Haruhi threw a glare at the valuable, tamakifiable memorabilia that was at her feet and sat down, legs crossed, next to the dark haired boy. He was right; her hair was already too long and her ribbons were a tad too pink. "That will have to do. Make a shop or something, like Hikaru and Kaoru."
"No. You should have pics from when you were a toddler, before Ranka-san fluffified your wardrobe."
"I don't remember where they are," she lied, and she knew that he knew that she was lying. So she pretended to be oblivious by helping him to order the pics.
Ten minutes passed in complete silence. The living room's floor was completely carpeted in shiny cartoulines. Kyouya wasn't frowning yet, but he would soon, and Haruhi really didn't want an irritated Shadow King at her side.
"Maybe this one could work..." she reached out for a very old picture of her in a cap, cheeks and t-shirt stained with the juice of an orange popsicle. She was expressionless, but maybe the designators would be able to project cuteness into her tiny features. He glanced at it, arched his eyebrows and shook his head.
"Too messy," though he took it. "Last resource material."
"Do you mind if I switch on the TV? I usually watch the night news."
He arched his eyebrows again, but Haruhi couldn't interpret it this time. He looked surprised, but his expression softened before she could get into it and he nodded.
"Why not? It could be interesting to see what the world is told."
Three minutes into the news broadcast, Haruhi shivered when she watched for the first time a rolling on the floor Kyouya.
"What do you find so funny?" she asked, quite pleased. "They're announcing the inauguration of a new amusement park that will create hundreds of new jobs in Okinawa."
He whipped a tear from under his glasses and straightened a little.
"Actually, they're building a new amusement park there because Disuneya Inc losed its holding to Pikusaru and had to close the park they had in Hokkaido. This new one will be machine-operated and will not make up for the thousands of people fired in the former one."
"And how's that funny?" she should have known better. A laughing Kyouya was an evil Kyouya.
"The cover-up is badly crafted, which is funny for a company whose aim is to create make-believe for the masses." He adjusted his glasses in place, and smiled so widely that his eyes became shining slits. "No wonder why they can't thrive anymore; not even a small child who knows the ABC of business would fall for that petty excuse."
Haruhi didn't answer. She knew too well that it would be pointless. Though a small –tiny, really- part of her admired Kyouya's grasp of the current events, another felt insulted by the carelessness that his senior had toward the job-less. Yet the biggest –the Ouran savvy one who had started to tag people, much to her displeasure- suspected that hKyouya only cared for himself and those lucky enough to be cherished by him - lucky because no one in his right mind would want to be on his not-cherished-at-all part of the world.
Instead, she asked something completely different.
"So, can I see the pictures of the other hosts from back in the day?"
"Are you interested in someone in particular?" he backfired.
"Can you not read something into every single one of my acts and words?" she asked.
A small shadow of a pause flew into the room while he considered the question.
"No." His voice came out clear and dry and he turned away to his laptop.
She started to put the photographs back in the box. The news were already talking sports and she wasn't interested at all. Neither was Kyouya. She finished the stuffing of the memorabilia and clicked the lid shut. So did him with his laptop.
"I'll call the car." He said as he pulled out his cellphone.
Haruhi nodded and smiled, happy that she would be left to her books and her silence and her pork noodles again. His dark irises shifted to the corner of his eyes and glimpsed the end of her small smile. She felt slightly guilty.
"Tea?" she offered in a voice tone that sounded a bit too complacent.
"That would be nice," he accepted, half a note too polite.
While he curtly ordered Tachibana to drive the limo to her house, she went into the kitchen and boiled some water in the tiny kettle. She knew that Kyouya liked green tea –he always ordered it at the club- so she made a strong cup of that for him. She could do with regular, black, sachetted leaves.
Haruhi put the cups on a tray and carried it to the living room. Kyouya was looking out the window. She joined him and handed him his cup of green warmth. There were no longer snowflakes gently floating in the air, but sharp needles of white slashing through the street lamps. So many that it was hard to see the building at the other side of the road.
"Was Tachibana very far from here?" she asked.
"Yes," answered Kyouya, a hint of worry in his voice.
"How did you get here, then?"
"The second chauffeur drove me. Tachibana had to attend his son's Christmas play."
The wind twirled the ice and howled. Kyouya sipped and stared a little more.
"Isn't it strange to have a bodyguard following you no matter where you go?"
"It's safer like that. After all, I was born into a very wealthy family."
She considered it.
"So did the twins and Tamaki, and no one's in charge of them like Tachibana is of you."
"True," he looked away from the window to her inquisitive face. "However, they are so hopelessly imbecile most of the time that my security team takes care of them too. Remember the incident at the supermarket?"
She did. When Tamaki was going to try out some fried cheese, Tachibana had stepped out of the blue and taken it in his place. To save master Tamaki from a potential murder attempt at a commoner's place.
"It's funny, I never thought that someone like him could have a family life," she commented. "He looks very absorbed by his job."
"He is. One of the most loyal members of the Ootori group. But he gets days off, too. I guess he used the little free time he has well."
"I think I would get jealous of you if I was his child," she stated.
Kyouya sat down again, softly cradling the teacup so that the liquid would almost surpass the border. Haruhi noted that his socks were thick too.
"His children will be able to attain the top education because of me. I wouldn't be jealous," he paused, and slowly turned his shady gaze to her. "Do you get jealous of Ranka's customers?"
It was Haruhi's turn to look into the depths of the tea. She realized that it was her who had started to turn the conversation personal, and that it was only fair that he posed the same question. "I used to... sometimes. When I was little," she could feel that he was still looking at her, and that this time he wasn't going to accept a half-hearted truth."When it stormed."
"But you never told him," he stated, matter of factly, and drank again.
The wind cried a little more. On TV, the bates and the rackets faded into the weather broadcast. Haruhi rested her head on the wall, and she noticed how cold the wall was.
"No. I didn't see the point. He would have stayed in. I knew that much."
The perky weather woman was exclaiming that the flakes that were falling from the skies were indeed made of frozen water. Haruhi swallowed. "But the situation was very different."
"My father's customers didn't know that he was a parent. Some of them couldn't even tell that he was a man..." the corner of his eyes and mouth lifted a little.
"...roads cut by the snow, we recommend our faithful viewers to stay in their homes until the blizzard has passed..."
They turned their attention to the screen. The map showed a lot of clouds and white stars over Tokyo. It faded into a series of images of the different main roads that connected the city with the suburbs. Most of them covered in slippery ice or with mounts of snow cutting in front of cars.
"...special rescue teams are already been sent to the most critical areas to take the drivers that have been stuck in the roads back to the city..."
It was Kyouya's turn to blink.
Haruhi just supposed that her father would spend the night at one of his lover's.
The perky weather broadcaster was faking that she was cold under the focus light while she cuddled inside a silvery parka. Outside, a car slipped and crashed against something. Haruhi rushed to the window, but between the curtain of cold she could see that the driver was angry at the winter but not hurt. The car alarm beeped once, then stopped.
Their phones rang in perfect unison.
They exchanged a look. Kyouya's was calculating and businessy, the closest he would get to asking for a favour. Haruhi's was blank, then horrified, then resignated.
In case the worst possible scenario was about to erupt through their mobile devices, they both had agreed that the extra futon would be unrolled.
Haruhi took her call in the kitchen.
"Honey, it's dad..." giggled a dizzy voice at the other side of the cord. "I don't think I'll make it home tonight... or tomorrow, have you seen the news?! Maybe you will get a school free day! Ain't that exciting?" Haruhi watched the back of Kyouya tensing in the adjacent room and cringed. Her father hadn't mentioned his appointment with Kyouya; maybe he had really forgotten about it.
"That's fine, father. Thanks for calling."
"The better part is that every customer is staying here to pass the blizzard! Which means... more tips!" he cackled "If the weather clears tomorrow, I'll buy you a nice skirt. Okay?"
Kyouya was pacing back and forth and one of his hands was on his hips. Not a good signal. Haruhi opened the cupboard, holding the auricular between her cheek and her shoulder. There were three packages of noodles.
"That would be nice..." she answered absentmindedly. "Take care at the bar."
"You take care. Close the doors and the windows. Don't let strangers in. And call me if you feel lonely, huh?"
Kyouya slammed his hand against the wall.
Haruhi opened the refrigerator. Its inside was decorated with a few soda cans, a lonely onion in the middle row and some pork meat at the bottom.
"I will. See you tomorrow."
Ranka kissed the auricular and hung up.
His daughter took the meat and the onion out and started to slice them thin.
Halfway through the recipe, Kyouya entered the kitchen rubbing his hand. He looked at the busy arms of his underclassmate and at her purposely expressionless face when she asked him how he liked his meat.
"Was Tabachana okay?"
He hummed and nodded as he picked up a slice of onion and bit it.
"I guess I'll have to finish the magazine here."
She shook her head. There was water boiling, again, and condiments to be added. "I don't know if it's worth it... my father speculated that maybe the blocking of the roads would last until tomorrow. If that's true, then it means no Ouran tomorrow. You get one more day to make a shop."
He rested his weight against the work top. Haruhi put the noodles on the pot and started to cook the meat and the onion in a sizzling frying pan.
"You could easy things up and give me the photographs."
His veiled tone didn't interrupt the stirring.
"I told you, I don't remember where they are."
"I'm not going to bribe you debtless this time," he informed, eating the rest of the onion slice.
"I wouldn't remember even if you did..." she paused "...but maybe you'd get more pork in your noodles."
He looked amused.
"Cheeky, but the mean doesn't justify the ways."
"So I thought."
Kyouya watched as she set up the table for dinner.
"For a person who doesn't care about gender roles, you play the part of a housewife perfectly."
Haruhi tried to shrug the mild insult off. He was probably enraged with the situation.
"It's easy. Even you could become one if you tried, mom," she answered, half teasing and half pissed.
He winced and adjusted his glasses. "That's a very rude thing to say to a guest, Haruhi."
"It's not as if I invited you in the first place," she snapped, a little tired of Kyouya's forcefulness.
He didn't step back.
"Careful, I'm not Tamaki. Actually, this situation is entirely your fault. Your lack of collaboration is causing me a lot of inconveniences."
Haruhi frowned and almost stabbed the table with the chopsticks. Kyouya leant against the wall and looked at the floor while she served the food.
Outside, the snow storm raged on. The room was dimly lit and there were strange shadows in the corners flickering with the lamp-posts outside. Kyouya's cell was on the table, and every once in a while he threw a glance at it. The alarm of the car that had crashed started to twit.
Haruhi caught a suculent bit of pork and ate it with gusto. Kyouya sipped the soup off the bowl before twirling the noodles around his chopsticks
The alarm started a crescendo minuet that could be heard over the wind and the TV.
Kyouya drank directly from the can, and this time he held it so fiercely that the imprints of his fingers were left on the thin metal. Haruhi looked at the can and then at the TV.
The car alarm became Renge's laugh.
Kyouya rose and walked to the door, stoped to put on his boots and stepped outside. Haruhi watched him with mild interest...
... until she noticed that he was wearing her father's "manly" umbrella, the one with the ebony handler, in his hand...
"Kyouya-senpai...?" she called in dismay, before following him out.
The boy was going amok on the car. No. He was more like meticulously destroying every window. Some heads peeped down to them from the apartment block. The poor machine shrieked in agony.
Haruhi tugged his sleeve. "Senpai..."
Kyouya slammed the umbrella against one lateral window. Haruhi retreated.
She noticed that the laces of his boots were untied and that his hair was going up in spikes, that his eyes were bright and that his cheeks were starting to redden –half due to his anger against the impossibly high-pitched death-squeal of the car, half due to the cold.- Maybe he was about to have a seizure of some kind.
Kyouya pulverized the last window.
The car screamed on. More windows lit over their heads, and more heads looked down down. Haruhi waved her hand to them half-heartedly.
She tried the play-tug-Kyouya's-sleeve-risking-your-life again.
But his sleeve was gone, along with his shoulders and his head which were already into the car.
Kyouya repeteadly hit the instrumental panel. The car shrieked in pain. Haruhi winced when she saw the real evil smile take control of her friend –the one that was sheer darkness, not the one that he showed when he talked money- and she stepped back a little.
With a final blow of the hardwood umbrella handler, Kyouya silenced the alarm forever.
The wind carried its last moan for a few seconds.
Kyouya sighed with satisfaction and closed his eyes before recomposing his features into those of a pleasant and well-bred young man. Haruhi shivered.
Splinters of ice attacked every inch of their exposed skin while Kyouya put his business card in the driver's seat.
Haruhi tugged for the third time, and this time he looked down and met her eyes.
Another blow of the wind ruffled their hair. Kyouya opened his mouth to say something, he closed it, adjusted his glasses and opened it again.
"That car alarm was annoying," he informed, cheeks still red and eyes still bright.
Haruhi quietly nodded and let the snow cool them down. Kyouya unclenched his fists and closed them again. There were scratches on the back of his hands. She bit her lower lip, and noticed that her jaw was quivering –and probably frosting.
"That was a really stupid thing to do," Haruhi said, stopping her teeth from bitting her tongue.
He looked down at her, his usually combed hair a mess of ice and ink and his glasses gleaming with tears from the cold. The duel carried on.
Kyouya shook his head. "No, it wasn't. That noise was annoying you too," the pallor reconquered his skin. "Only you didn't have what it took to stop it."
Haruhi caught his wrist and walked inside her house with the boy in tow.
Kyouya got his limbs warm and his hair dry. Haruhi served tea again and switched off the TV.
He touched his lips, and she noticed the scratches again. Some glass hailstones were beaming, trapped between the limits of his skin and his flesh. He picked up one and put it on the table.
"Let's see what can we do about that hand," Haruhi said standing up.
She got some Betadine, cotton balls and a whole package of band-aids.Those were pink and had drawings of tiny princesses. Kyouya didn't mention it. In the end, his usually elegant became a net of pink and yellow.
"So, have you kissed anyone since the Christmas party?" he asked nonchalantly. Haruhi suspected that he wasn't really interested; it was just another way of extracting information. Information that could be used to make her dance and jump and twist and swing.
"Hmmm... what about you?"
"I asked first," he lifted his other hand, which was less canary yellow than the other, and rested his head on it. Haruhi glued another band-aid to his thumb, and considered that, after all, it wasn't a big deal. And maybe that would make him lighten up a little.
"I have. Well, it was more like... forced on me," she declared.
"Benio?" he asked without moving a facial muscle more than necessary.
"Nope," there was a tiny glass in the delicate skin between the thumb and the index. She extracted it using her nails as tweezers. He winced. "You made sure she didn't, remember?"
"Then who?" he looked sincerely curious this time, like a child in front of a wrapped present. Not that he had gone all watery eyes and huge grin like Tamaki would have; it was more a nose thing. His nostrils dilated a little at the reek of secret information –though, as Haruhi repeated herself, it wasn't really that big deal. She let him wonder.
"Riddle?" he proposed at last.
"The guess-who-kissed-Haruhi-game!" she smiled, glad that he had lightened up. She trapped another glass needle. "You get three chances, if you guess right you'll get an extra pillow."
He rose his chin and his brows.
"Oh?" his face turned to positively angelic and Haruhi's deffenses rose up as one in a second. "That is not a very stimulating prize."
"You have to spend the night here, and our extra futon is no feather mattress. You'd think otherwise when we switch the lights off."
"In that case, it would only be polite to offer your futon to me."
His lips were curved upwards, but that meant nothing, so she replied nothing.
"I'd like to play, though. But only if I set the bets," he added, after the lack of reaction of his imprompted nurse.
Haruhi soaked a cotton ball in Betadine and took his other hand.
Kyouya pretended that he hadn't heard her.
"First, your prize. Ladies go first. If I fail –and I have three attempts- I'll add a 33 to each one of your designator's paycheck at the end of every month."
"You'll cut my debt by a third?"
"You may even end up earning some money, if you work hard," he pleasantly informed. Haruhi didn't like his tone.
"What would you get if you guess right?"
"I want to see your secret stack of photographs, and to take some, for the magazine," Haruhi arched one eyebrow. "As you can see, I'm only thinking about the club's profit."
"Yeah, right..." Haruhi mumbled. "You'll never guess," she stated, pretending to be sure.
"Then, lets start. My offer is very generous."
Haruhi looked out the window. It was going to be a long night.
"I'm all ears."
"You can only take one picture for the reportage if you win."
He thought about it.
"Why are you so interested, anyway?"
"I love to have a psychic advantage over my peers, as you once said."
Haruhi blushed. He remembered.
Then, she felt stupid. Of course he remembered that conversation. He was humoring her.
As she tinted his skin with iodine, he guessed.
"I know it's not Tamaki. He would have exploded of happiness. Neither one of the twins, they are too transparent and we'd have seen through them... not to mention the conflict in their relationship..." Haruhi looked up, a little surprised. What did he mean? Conflict? "... Hani could have done it, disguised as a child's kiss for his sister, but then you wouldn't be so secretive about it, would you?" he scrutinized her features, looking for a reaction or a clue, and finding nothing, went back to his brain. "... that leaves Mori. Only... kissing you would be a big deal. And you would never confide it to me. Unless you were serious. Hence this game wouldn't take place at all. Would it?" he leant in an inch too close, his pupils tiny and his lips a thin line of tension. Haruhi's heart skipped a beat and she quickly went back to the healing-the-devil thingy.
"It wasn't Mori," she stuttered, her eyes on his inert hand and her fingers shaking a little. "And that counts as a first guess," she added, a bit too aggressively.
"Don't worry. I know that you like him," he sighed. "I'd like him too if I were you," he added as an afterthought. Before Haruhi could retort that Mori was certainly handsome but that she was not really interested in handsomeness, he went on. "So, no Mori."
Haruhi shook her head and let go of his hand. He opened and closed his fingers in the air, trying them.
"Forced on you,"he repeated, watching his hand fold and unfold in the air."Did you lose a bet or something like that?" he asked. She shook her head again. "Then, how could it be forced? No Lobelia kidnappers either..."
"Do you need clues, senpai?" she quietly asked. The room, without the TV screen on, had gone darker. Kyouya tilted his head, dead serious, and that graveness made Haruhi smile.
"What would be their price tag?"
"Fifty percent over the prize that the designators pay for me."
"And I only get a photograph," he stated, his jaw clenched again like when he was wrecking the car. "But you'd tell me nonetheless, even if I lose."
Haruhi shrugged and lied on her back , curling her toes inside her socks. "Really, it's not that big deal."
"Fine. That person kissed me... two weeks after the Christmas incident that you so kindly manipulated," Haruhi rolled over her side to face the Shadow King, who had followed her to the floor and was now looking at the ceiling.
"I didn't knew that you were the rancorous kind."
"I never knew your motives for that. Other than to tease Tamaki."
He turned his head toward hers. His eyes were veiled and mostly closed.
"Why should I have a second intention?" he asked in a husked tone.
Because you always do, she thought.
He stretched like a cat and held her gaze, daring Haruhi to elaborate.
"Do you want another clue?"
"It was also your fault that this other person kissed me."
He stared at her, his eyes got bigger and his skin lit up with realization. She frowned. There went her opportunity to cut down her debt.
"Renge," he rushed in, a little startled. "Renge," he repeated , rolling on his side and staring right into Haruhi's eyes, who were slightly closed and pissed that he had guessed it right. "It was Renge."
"Yeah," she'd rather not recall it very vividly.
He softly laughed. It reminded her of Kaoru's small chuckles.
"She forced me to play Uki-doki Memorial with her... for a whole night... and when I obliged," because I was scared of what you would have done me if I had offended the daughter of your family's business partner, senpai ", she took it as a proof of my eternal love. Apparently, nobody had ever endured that many hours with her and her console."
"I'm..." he snickered a little more, and put his hand over his heart, in a parody of a most sincere apology. "I guess I'm sorry. She's a terrible, slippery kisser."
It was Haruhi's turn to be surprised. Her jaw dropped, her eyes questioned and Kyouya went grave again, though his glasses glistened with mischief and its corners were lifted and sharpened.
"When?" mumbled Haruhi.
The lamp flickered, and for a few seconds the room went dark. Haruhi tried to remember where were the candles and the flashlights, but then the light came back along with Kyouya's stunning confession.
"Cookie day. After the club was closed. Before the horrified eyes of a wedding planner that she had just hired."
And you didn't kill her.
"Does Tamaki know?"
The air densed. Kyouya went grayer, and straightened. Haruhi would have gladly stuck her foot into her mouth, but it was too late. She didn't want him to know what she knew; but those glances over the kotatsu had been too obvious, hadn't they? Had she been the only one to notice? Kyouya got back together quickly, though he didn't went back to the floor.
"Of course not," he lifted his only unharmed finger to his lips. His nails were pale and not a millimeter too long ", this is a secret between me..." still mind-struck, Haruhi followed his finger through the space that separated them until it touched the tip of her nose and traced it down to her bottom lip. "...and you," The finger lingered in the softest spot a moment longer than necessary, and it made her think of a suspect leaving his fingerprints in a police file.
The lamplight flickered again, and Haruhi stood up.
The finger retreated and the smell of iodine flied away with it. With the tip of her tongue, Haruhi felt the small hollow that it had left in her lower lip.
Kyouya smiled one of his secret mouths and Haruhi realized that they had gotten too acquainted for her comfort in the last three minutes.
"I'm going to lit some candles; it could be dangerous for you to be in the dark," she informed.
"Not for you?" he asked, crossing his arms under his head.
"I'm not half an inch too tall for the ceiling."
She poured herself into the infamous closet for the second time that night, and emerged with a few white, thick, wind-proof candles and a matchbox. The light bulb hesitated again, and she hurried up with the birth of the small flames. Just in cue the electricity got cut and the table remained an island of warmth.
"Kyouya?" she called to the corner where they had been lying and sharing secrets about kisses -like normal people did at sleepovers.
"I'm here," he called back from behind her, somewhere in the shadows of the kitchen.
Haruhi chose a candle and followed the faint trace of the voice.
"What are you doing in there?" she rose her hand with the candle to illuminate his features. The tiny flame danced in his glasses.
"I was looking for my cell phone when the lights went out."
"Your cell is on the table. Come with me and help me to put those around the house before you break your neck."
"Yes, mom," he mimicked her, cold and composed. She split the group of candles –their only barrier between the blackness and the shape of things- between the two of them.
"This must be the opposite of what you're used to, musn't it, senpai?" she asked.
"Certainly. Though I was once in a blackout," he answered, in his host-mode chit-chat tone.
"And what happened? Your father banned the electric company from the country?" she joked.
"Actually, I don't remember; I was only a few months old. Apparently, someone tried to kidnap me."
Haruhi had a bad feeling about his words, because Kyouya never talked about his family unless it was strictly necessary. But she waited to see where his narration led.
"They infiltrated the mansion and they blew up the power source. The alarms didn't work. The baby's chamber was in the farthest wing of the house, so it wouldn't bother anyone when it cried," Haruhi doubted that Kyouya noticed that he had started to talk about himself in the third person and with a non-human pronoun, "and everybody was more concerned about the safety of the documents and the first born than about mine, so before anyone noticed, they were already fledding out with the baby."
"With you," Haruhi corrected.
"Unfortunately for the so-called-professional-kidnappers, our gardener, whose family had worked for us since the dawn of times, had seen them. So, before they could cross the garden's gates, he fashioned them a new hairstyle with the rake."
Haruhi's mind was invaded by images of the Ootori gates splattered with blood. A small bundle with shiny black hair crying his lungs out, a bent rake on the trembling fist of a faceless man and the darkness swallowing the whole scene.
Kyouya played with his healthy finger and the long flame of the candle, traversing it so quickly that it didn't get burn. Haruhi saw her image reflected in his glasses, all wide-opened eyes and parted lips.
"Did they...?,"she said "...survive" she didn't say.
"No. The gardener wasn't prosecuted. After an appropriate amount of time had passed, my father promoted him."
He nodded, hovered his palm over the light, and the flame grew taller and bluer. His eyes met hers for the third time that evening, and she felt an ache in her chest, as if something was crumbling.
"But, Haruhi-kun, that happened a long, long time ago," his gaze pulled out and his body stood up, a candle in each hand. "Where are those top-secret photographs that you owe me?"
"In my room."
He led the way and opened the sliding door of the tiny place with his foot. Haruhi followed.
Kyouya left the candles over the table and waited. Haruhi pointed to the higher bookcase. "There. The white album. Can you see it?"
He nodded and fetched it, and then sat on the floor with his back against the wall. The room was so small that his feet almost touched the door. Haruhi took the candle and sat down beside him.
It was funny. Haruhi felt really uneasy with that precious album trapped in his hands –even if they seemed colorfully inoffensive now- yet a part of her yearned for Kyouya to open its lids and see what was inside; it felt almost fair after the story that he had just told her.
But why was she thinking about intimacy in terms of give and take? Was it calculation, a way of not owing him anything, not even the right of pressing her for more information than the one that was already confined in his notebooks?
Maybe that's why he had considered it necessary to offer a bit of information about his past. Just in case she would have wanted to break their agreement.
Had it been conscious?
Haruhi was surprised when he didn't flicker professionally through the pages, discarding the cuteness-free photographs like she had thought he would. Instead, his palm caressed the blank cover, and he looked at her, barely an understated way of ask for her permission.
She bit her lip, got closer and, still hesitating –because this had been, until now, a private part of her world, so private that the album had never been opened since her memory had gone somber- lifted the cover for him.
A groom and a bride smiled at them through the thin, transparent plastic sheet.
The man could have been a perfect stranger. Not much older than she was now, a little awkward with his short and dull hair.
Haruhi didn't look at the woman.
Kyouya passed the page.
A tiny red thing covered in white frills.
Newborns are really ugly.
The woman feeding the red thing.
Her stomach clenched and her body swayed enough for Kyouya to notice. He touched her nape with his free hand and caressed her back over the thick button-down shirt. It was supposed to be an attempt at calming her. But then, why didn't he stop the shuffling?
Baby naked in the sink. For obvious reasons, they could not use that photograph.
Kyouya smirked. His hand slid down her spine and briefly around her waist, before catching her wrist. Haruhi closed her eyes, and the darkness was perfect, until he circled the inner side of her wrist with his thumb, shuffled the book and she had to look again.
Mother, father and baby in the beach, the sunlight that seemed to be dead since then making them bright and alive. The candlelight made Kyouya's features sharp and cruel. He was actually enjoying this; this was his retaliation for...
...for her witnessing him in a moment of weakness, the car alarm incident, maybe...
...his way of informing her that knowledge and the crumbling of walls had a prize, and that prize was to blow her own defenses up...
... an intoxicating step towards pain and memory lane that she wasn't ready to take yet...
... an excuse to pin her to the floor, so close to him that she could actually feel his warmth through the sweater, and rejoice in his previous victory...
... which wasn't that bad, because the house was cold and she wouldn't be able to look at the album if he wasn't holding her...
The nausea came and went. His grip tightened.
It wasn't worth it. He could decide which picture was Ouran-worthy on his own. It wasn't part of their deal that she had to stay and die.
Haruhi decided to leave the bedroom and return to the History book until she and the insomniac that was torturing her went to sleep.
Kyouya passed the page and Haruhi walked her intentions through the doorframe.
The last thing she heard before closing the door was the crunching of the pages that had turned crisp and stiff with the weight of a decade of ignoring them.
Kyouya didn't follow her.
Later that night, when the candles were almost consumed and the deathly winter was still shattering the windows, Kyouya stepped out and slid the door of Haruhi's bedroom closed.
She laid in her futon on a corner, already asleep with a thick textbook covering her chest. Kyouya kneeled by her side and took the book from her hands. He opened the closet and took out blankets and pillows for both of them and a futon for him.
"Take an extra set of sheets for you as well,"ordered her drowsy voice.
"Of course," he unrolled the futon and set it up on the floor.
"Senpai..." she said when he finished tucking the sheets.
There was a tiny pause.
"How does it feel to kiss a boy?"
He froze, though only for a second.
"It feels better than to kiss Renge," he said.
"How did it feel to kiss Tamaki?" she asked again. This time he looked. Her eyelids were close, and her eyes rested unreadable.
Oh, Haruhi. Your paybacks were endearingly transparent.
It didn't really matter if she knew or if she was pretending that she did.
"It... was good. Though it wasn't a serious thing. As you would put it, not a big deal."
"Oh," her eyes opened and her pupils adjusted to the darkness. "Why?"
"You ask too many questions, Haruhi," Kyouya sighed. "though I guess that's what's fair after..."
Kyouya approached her still form, and noticed that the socks were gone. Her feet were a stain of white among the haze. She followed his movements as he sat by her side.
"It wasn't serious because... he was playing. Practicing, for when the real thing came along."
He couldn't help the pause.
"I knew what he was doing."
One candle went off. The darkness grew. One feet caressed the other. Kyouya weighed the questions.
"Would you like to practice?"
He felt satisfied when her pupils dilated.
"But. You've already had Renge," she managed to humor through the shadows.
"I don't think that's representative."
"It could be enjoyable," he mused, still not touching her. "You would learn," Haruhi turned her back at his business-like presentation.
"And this time you would be practicing too," she whispered, her voice not sad at all.
Kyouya forced her to roll over and face him again.
"You shouldn't care about my reasons if the only thing that you are feeling is curiosity."
Another flame died. The shadows engulfed Haruhi, who was further away from the table.
"Would I owe you?" she asked.
"Hosts do not sell their bodies."