Epilogue: Crust

Crust: A double layer of snow in which the lower layer may be powdery dry but where the upper one is frozen together in a stiff, icy surface, which often can support human weight.

The bar was so heavily heated that Ranka had to climb up the ladder and open one of the small ceiling windows. It was due to the many customers that were litting many cigarettes, and there were very many of both! Misuzu had started to charge them an extra for every drink that was ordered after midnight, but even without that percentage the cash register would have spilled out the notes and the coins.

And that spelled "shopping spree" in Ranka's mind.

He was in charge of greeting the costumers that night. He had to take out their coats, put their shoes in a locker and help them to find a seat among the cold, the drunk and the blizzard refugees.

Ranka was mentally window shopping a night robe for his daughter –that old flannel pajamas of hers was so last century- when a quite different customer stepped through the door.

Ranka knew that they had met before. However, he didn't look like any of their clients. He was tall, muscled, and impeccably dressed in a black suit under his frozen coat.

Ranka approached him and grinned a little wider than usual. The handsome not-quite-a-stranger looked down and stared.

"Fujioka-san," he greeted.

Ranka smiled even more. "Ooooh, my dear sir, I knew that we had met before! And how nice of you to remember the name of this humble woman. I am honoured," he tousled his long hair and winked at him. He reacted in a very stoic, hot way. Ranka felt that he was having a small crush. "Here, here, we do not have a lot of room tonight, but I will find you a cozy spot where you can enjoy our first-class sake and warm up that gorgeous body of yours," Ranka took the well dressed hunk's coat and shoes and walked behind the counter. "There, you are number 69, an easy one to remember, ain't it?" he winked again. The man blushed a little. "Oh, but don't be shy, I will treat you with my utmost respect and devotion. What kind of host would I be if I didn't?"

The man gasped and adjusted his tie.

"So your daughter is home alone," he stated.

Ranka stared. How did the hunk know his daughter's name? Maybe he was part of a band that kidnapped lovely girls like Haruhi and forced them to become prostitutes in barbarous, unscrupulous countries. But he had just talked to her on the phone, and she was alright. Maybe they were stalking outside their apartment, waiting for the lights to go off to enter and take her away. Now that he looked at it, the man looked a bit like a high-profile yakuza member. That was it. This man was the contact that the band had sent to check that Haruhi's father was occupied and wouldn't come home any soon. And that bulge under his arm that he had noticed when he took off the coat was not ball- pen. Ranka switched to Ryoji in a second and grabbed the baseball bat that was hidden under the shoe lockers, just in case.

"Why do you ask?" asked Ryoji in his most manly tone, nevermind the lackluster effect of the sparkly eye shadow. He planned to hit him hard in that criminal skull and then run home. What if the roads were cut? A simple manifestation of nature wouldn't get between a a loving father and Haruhi.

To his surprise, the high-profile yakuza collapsed over the counter and covered his head.

"What?" mumbled Ryoji. "What did you say?" he asked, letting go of the bat and leveling his face with the man's nape.

"I failed master Kyouya," miserably stuttered the yakuza.

Only –the light of realization lit up in Ryoji's's brain- that he wasn't a yakuza. Because he knew that lovely Ootori kid. Now he remembered; that's why this man looked familiar; he was Kyouya-kun's body guard. He followed the boy around, every day.

And then, Kyouya's soft voice spoke from the back of his memory. Something about a magazine, and a reportage, and some pictures from Haruhi's childhood...

"Oh, crap," Ryoji slapped his front.

"I've tried to drive, but even the secondary roads are cut," explained Tachibana from the depths of his despair.

Ranka was channeled again to save everyone's sanity and poured two glasses of hot sake without spilling too much.

"Don't worry," smiled the okama. "Both of them are sensible children. They will be okay," it wasn't as if Haruhi was trapped with that Tamaki-bug "and Haruhi is a wonderful little cook, and we have an extra futon..." he patted Tachibana's back and forced the sake in his hand. "It's not that bad."

Tachibana rose and drank the whole glass.

"But what if somebody tries to... take him away?" he wondered aloud.

Ranka paled a little, but he trusted the make-up to hide it. "With this storm? The kidnappers wouldn't be able to get away, not even in a helicopter. They said so in TV," why hadn't Haruhi mentioned that Kyouya was with her? She needed to be lectured again about that not-sharing-important-information mindset of hers.

"At least we've met by chance. Funny, ain't it?" Ranka said.

"Master Kyouya told me to come here," Tachibana confessed. "He was worried that you might try to get home, specially after hearing the news..." he frowned, and Ranka understood that Tachibana had been expecting exactly the opposite and that he disaprobed of his choice of working through the blizzard. That explained his surprise when they met at the entrance.

"That's so thoughtful, Kyouya is such a kind boy..." Ranka served more sake. "What would you have done if you hadn't found me?"

"Call the Ootori rescue team, of course," answered Tachibana as if it was obvious. "I wanted to do that to take master Kyouya out of your apartment the moment I got stuck, but he told me that those would be excessive and unnecessary measures."

Misuzu, who was overhearing the conversation, awarded Kyouya with his first refreshing point.

Ranka sighed. "And he was right, wasn't he?" he cheered and took a sip. "Honestly, I think that you worry too much. Kyouya-kun is perfectly capable of surviving a night alone."

Tachibana shrugged.

"It's my job."

"Nah, it's 1 AM. If you worry so much at this hour, it's not a job, it's an obsession," giggled Ranka. "Besides, I phoned home an hour ago and Haruhi told me that she was fine."

"So you were worried before too," calmly stated Tachibana.

"That is different. I'm a daddy," answered Ranka. "I have to worry about my child."

The bodyguard frowned. He seemed to be thinking something intently, so Ranka refilled his drink. Three times. Eventually, Tachibana looked up, excused himself and went to the men's toilets. On his way he took out his cell phone.

Misuzu and Ranka exchanged a look.

Five minutes later, Tachibana walked back to the counter, skipping the cold that had drunk too much and were now sleeping on the floor. He looked mortified and sad. Both okamas stared at him .

"Ermm..." he started.

"Yes, Tachibana-san? Can we help you with something?" they chorused.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

"Do you have a phone guide?"

Ranka wondered why he hadn't called the information service. Misuzu had an answer prepared. "No, but you can access them through the internet. I could look it up in the bar's computer."

"That would be nice..."

Misuzu gave him a pen and a napkin. "Just write the name here..." he did, "Fine, I'll be back in a sec."

Ranka went behind the cash register and covered for Misuzu.

"There weren't enough operators... or maybe the lines to the information service were cut by the storm..." mumbled Tachibana.

"Nevermind," waved away Ranka. "However, it is strange that you don't know the phone number of your own home."

The faithfull bodyguard blushed and looked away. "I don't call my own home very often," he grumbled. Ranka nodded. "Tonight it was my son's Christmas play. I had to leave before I could tell him how great he was," he explained in a very low tone.

Ranka was surprised that Tachi-chan had a family, but didn't show it.

"I used to love those," he said instead. "But Haruhi was so bad at acting, she always got the part of a shepherd or a sheep... of course, I made sure that she was the cutest sheep of all, but for once I would have wanted her to be the Virgin Mary. With the halo and the blue dress..." Ranka pictured his daughter in that heavenly attire, but Tachibana's sad expression brought him back to Earth.

Misuzu came back with the napkin. He had written the phone number under Tachibana's kanji. He thanked Misuzu and reached for his cell phone.

"By the way, what role did your son play?" asked Ranka as he marked the numbers.

Tachibana pressed the green key. "He was a guardian angel."

The okama smiled. Tachibana thought that Haruhi's smile –whom he had only seen once, at the supermarket- looked very much like Ryoji's.

"Just like you, then," said Ranka to Tachibana, just before his wife answered the phone.

He felt warmer inside.

Some snowflakes flew into the bar through the ceiling window.

A/N: So... that was it. I hope that you liked it. Believe it or not, it was supposed to be a one-shot, but it became too long to manage and spell check... which is important, kids, even if English is your first language -not my case. I had to re-write some paragraphs that got lost in the first version that I posted! Big missing chunks of text that were nowhere to be found. If you suffered that lack of continuity, I apologize. Really, I'm sorry. I myself hate to read badly edited stories.

The mistake hunters are welcome!

All the definitions about snow come from .

PS.- Thanks to daevilgenius for her kind correction. It's iodine, not yodine. I fixed it.