Mural in white
A/N: Nikki-chan, since you only celebrate your birthday 'once' a year (note the emphasis), I've decided to upload another chapter of my long suffering story all in the name of...
Happy birthday and I hope you'll like this.
Disclaimer: I don't and never will own OHSHC. Blood, sweat and tears spent, I still can't.
XXX The Gamble XXX
Had I been a normal, cheeky heroine, I would have said it with more nerve. But seeing that I'm neither normal, cheeky nor a heroine, I settled for hesitant.
"But I have one condition." I said feebly, congratulating myself that I didn't stutter.
He slightly inclined his head to one side, urging me to continue.
"My parents aren't to know about this." I traced the rim of the delicate cup with my finger.
"Yes." He agreed.
"Then—Then I'll do it." I said with resolution.
She approached the bed hesitantly, where the Shadow King was effectively buried by thick quilts, varying from silk to satin, black to white.
The coughing came again, almost startling her.
"Kyouya-sempai, are you alright?" She asked cautiously.
Slowly, very slowly, she lifted some of the blankets that covered his head. She moved perhaps three out of the way.
When she saw the glimmer of his raven hair, peeking out from the covers, she proceeded to reveal the whole head itself.
Her eyes widened when she saw how pale his face was. Practically, since she was quite sure, he wouldn't remember afterwards, she felt the back of her hand against his cheek.
It was plainly burning!
She straightened to go out of the room and call for Tamaki, or someone in the vicinity for some help, when suddenly, her wrist was caught by an excessively warm hand.
"Fujioka..." Kyouya rasped in his most bedraggled voice, his eyes narrowing with some unknown expression.
"Y-yes?" She asked, arrested by the look on his face.
"I'll cut ten thousand yen from your debt if you stay here and another three if you won't tell that idiot I'm sick." He said in the same rasping voice.
The moment he finished what he had to say, he fell promptly on the bed slept on.
Haruhi knelt beside the bed and tried to disengage the hand that still held on to her even in sleep. It was still attached to her steadfastly, no matter what she did.
Hmnn...I wonder if Kyouya-sempai got sick monthly, would my debt disappear faster...
There was still about... thirty minutes till three o'clock. I could still back out right? I could still flee back to my room and hide under the bed right?
I resisted the urge to cower under my desk when an identical pair suddenly popped into my classroom, asking for me.
I knew it was suspicious that Mori and Hunny left before me. I knew it.
To my horror, the pair from hell approached me. "Hime-sama..." One of them said. Was it possible for two people to look exactly alike?
"We came to escort you." They chorused.
Escort me? Where?
I noticed my other classmates looking at me as if I contracted some sort of disease. What? Was it so bad to be fetched by someone from the host club?
Well, there was the word 'host' in it, but surely, it isn't that bad... is it?
No, no, no, no, no. Mori was in the host club. Wasn't it some sort of assurance that the club wasn't as... prurient... as its name suggested.
"Your presence is requested at the third floor music room, hime-sama." One of the twins said.
And what is it with them calling me 'princess'? It was honestly revolting!
With all the dignity I can muster, I stood up and nodded.
"Kyouya-sempai, are you sure you're well enough to attend club activities today?" Haruhi asked the shadow king quietly.
"I'm quite sure, Fujioka-san." Kyouya replied curtly.
"My debt is down by thirteen thousand, right?" She almost smiled at Kyouya's proposition yesterday.
"If you put it that way, yes." He suddenly whipped out a calculator and began clacking rapidly.
Haruhi could almost feel the sweat accumulate on her brow. No, this is not a good thing.
"Yesterday, you broke two La Valle cups and disposed a whole box of specially ordered Hunan brick tea on the floor. The cups are roughly six thousand Yen each and the tea is worth... more." He suddenly smiled the scary smile he always wore when he was talking about prospects.
"So instead of my debt going down, it was raised?" She gasped, horrified.
"Naturally." He smiled brightly again that she felt a chill run down her spine.
But the chill didn't originate from fear or horror.
No, not at all.
As if it wasn't enough to be escorted by two, perfect, identically handsome twins, the moment I stepped into the room, it was like I entered a scene from the Arabian Nights.
"Welcome!" Came a chorus of pleasant male voices.
When I looked around, I roughly counted five men, dressed in Egyptian garb, gold cuffs, eyeliner and all.
Mori was there, so easy to spot being the tallest with Hunny perched on his shoulders. The other blond boy, Tamaki was also there wearing his garb with king-like splendour. There was also another black haired boy with glasses, wearing the same theme garb as the others but looked as if he preferred being nondescript.
I noticed one of them was not in costume, a slightly built, brown haired boy that looked about the same age as the twins. There was something...
"Welcome, Kanna-hime." Tamaki knelt in front of me, effectively obliterating my current thought.
He went as far as reaching for my hand and kissed it, regardless of my hesitation. "I'm honoured that you granted our request."
Heat washed though me. Oh no. Not because of the flattery. No.
It was embarrassing!
Everybody was looking at me! Goodness!
"Perhaps we should talk to Tatsuhiko-sama in the private sitting room, Tamaki." The black haired boy said, to my relief.
I already liked him the moment I laid eyes on him. He spoke my language. Direct, unobtrusive, practical.
"Yes, of course." Tamaki stood up and led the way.
I followed gladly. The other girls/patrons/fangirls/fanatics whispered and gaped at me. I did my best to ignore them and appeared composed when in truth, my nerves were nearing breakdown with too much exposure to the sun, a.k.a. attention.
I was led to the comfortable sofa facing two winged armchairs.
Tamaki and the black haired boy sat on each chair, looking for all the world like black and white kings. Their colourings were really in contrast with each other, I mused to myself. I would love to have models such as these two. I would have named my painting then as Alice in Wonderland.
With a sudden jolt, I realized I was staring. I lowered my head and twisted my hands in my lap.
"Kanna-hime, we asked for a favour." Tamaki said gently.
"Didn't Mori-san tell you I agreed?" I asked, afraid to look up.
"Yes, indeed. We're glad you accepted." The dark haired boy said. "My name is Ootori Kyouya." He supplied the name I didn't know.
"Nice to meet you, Ootori-san." I said. I recognized the name.
My doctor came from the Ootori Allied Medical Association. So this was one of the esteemed Ootori sons. I wonder which one. Hmnn... Judging from the age and my own estimation, probably the third son.
"Please, call me Kyouya."
He looked at me as I looked at him, as if he was sizing me up. Well, it was fair enough, since I was sizing him as well.
Funny how this calculating looking guy doesn't make me flustered like the rest of them.
Him and Mori of course.
Well, about Hunny... who would be flustered by Hunny?
"I agreed to paint murals." I said.
"Yes. Not just any murals, you'll have to make murals on the walls." Kyouya said.
Walls? Not bloody likely. Walls meant rooms. Rooms meant spaces with people. People meant spectators. Spectators meant... bad news.
He probably interpreted my reaction, for he said, "You'll only paint during the free club hours when there are no patrons, if that's what you're worried about."
"You agreed." I tremulously said.
He tilted his head sideways.
"You agreed to not tell my parents about this." I continued.
"Well, it was not I who agreed, technically." He said. I froze. "But since Mori quite adequately represented us at that time, we agree to the terms you came up with."
Even in such ridiculous situation, I stifled a giggle. I just remembered something. I may have suppressed my laughter, but I couldn't possibly hide the quirk of my lips.
"Yes?" Kyouya asked.
"I'm sorry, I just recalled something." I didn't look at him and Tamaki or I might just grin foolishly again.
The movie that produced one of the most cliché lines in history, all for one, one for all... What was that movie again? The one with Leonardo?
"Do you use creative themes often?" I asked, now genuinely curious. Hunny briefed me about the comings and goings of the host club that I had an inkling of what happened behind the scenes.
"Yes indeed." Tamaki answered in a gallant voice.
"Like this one?" I indicated at their almost absurd costume.
"Yes. Whatever floats our boat." Tamaki smiled proudly at Kyouya.
Kyouya on the other hand, gusted a small sigh and turned to me.
"Do you have something in mind?" He asked me.
"Me? Why?" It was strange. Why would anyone ask me about something I knew little about?
"Well, you paint. You know a great deal about compositions otherwise, I wouldn't have asked you." He stated bluntly.
Goodness, Kyouya indeed knew how to cut to the chase.
"Hmnn..." I looked at my hands. Something I could work on... "All for one, one for all." I muttered to myself, only to fail in stifling laughter.
"Oh, good idea." Kyouya's glasses suddenly flashed. I could almost hear the gears clicking in his head as he elaborated the scheme.
"Huh?" Tamaki blinked.
"Tamaki, you know the three musketeers?" Kyouya asked.
"The candy bar?" Tamaki looked blank.
"No the characters." Kyouya said, exasperated.
"Oh! D'artagnan!" Tamaki clapped his fist into his hand.
"The movie about a man in an iron mask." I piqued in.
"Nice idea. The twins could play the twins." Kyouya scratched something rapidly on his clipboard.
"How about the others?" Tamaki asked.
"We'll work something out." Kyouya murmured as he continued scratching on.
"So you're changing the original 'painters' theme?" He asked.
"We can do that next time."
"What will I paint then?" I asked. I just had to. Hope blossomed into me. Maybe they won't need me after all.
"Whatever floats your boat." Kyouya smiled in what I could swear was a sinister manner.
My heart sank. What could I possibly do for these guys?
"I could paint scenery." I said in defeat.
"Yes, yes..." Kyouya scribbled rapidly again.
"Oh, oh, how about I draw each host a scene of his own? Well, only one for the twins and one for Mori-san and Hunny-san of course." I asked.
Kyouya and Tamaki looked as if they were concentrating on what I said.
"That's a great idea. A sort of station of our very own." Tamaki's face brightened.
"That might work... Instead of using walls we could use large canvases to screen and frame each host..." Kyouya mumbled musingly.
Genius, I say! Genius! That way, I would need to paint in public! I can take the work home if it's in canvas.
"But you still have to paint here in the club, Tatsuhiko-san." Kyouya interrupted my exultation.
My heart fell once more.
"No need to worry, you'll only paint during before or after club activities." He said.
I stood up, feeling as if the meeting has concluded. They also rose to their feet. Gentlemen indeed.
"Oh, what medium do you prefer to use, Tatsuhiko-san? Oils? No the fumes won't be good for you..." Kyouya asked, peering from his glasses.
Oils? Bah! Who would want to paint with oils? It's like, the 21st century.
Don't he even try to dare suggest watercolour.
"Acrylic, Ootori-sama." I answered in my usual reserved voice. Damn, I hate myself.
"Very good. Very good indeed." He said smiling slightly as if I passed some sort of test. "Acrylic it is."
I made my way out of the sitting room back to where the hosting was actually done.
"Kanna-chan! Kanna-chan! Come, sit with us!" Hunny waved frantically at me and beckoned for me to come closer.
Mori sat beside his cousin and handed him a slice of cake.
"Mitsukini." I saw his lips move to form the word and Hunny took the cake with a beam.
I approached them and noticed the other patrons cast furtive glances at me, probably speculating.
There were times when I thought them absurd. They should just look at me and look back at the sparkling creatures that made up the host club to conclude that I posed no threat to them.
Well, the fact that they indulge in a host club would already prove them absurd indeed.
I sat on the proffered seat by Hunny.
"Kanna-chan, would you like some cake?" Hunny asked, offering me a sinfully moist chocolate cake.
I liked light cakes, not the succulent, guilt inducing cake that Hunny was offering me. I liked tea cakes airy, spongy, soft and not too sweet. Entirely too perfect with bitter tea.
"No thank you, Hunny-san." I declined.
Gasps went all around. I swivelled back my head and saw Hunny pouting. It seemed that Hunny was seldom denied when it came to accepting sweets. The other patrons were earnestly glaring at me.
I wanted to shrink from their sight.
What to do, what to do?
"B-but I would like a slice of the strawberry chiffon." I stammered.
"Ah! Yes! I see, you don't like heavy cakes!" Hunny deducted.
My, he was good with this kind of thing!
"You're like Takashi, you prefer sponge cakes!" He clasped his hands together.
Takashi on the other hand, gave me a slice of the chiffon. I felt the glares on me again. The shiver started down my spine up to my scalp. Totally bad vibes.
Was it so bad to be attended by this particular group of men? They paid to be attended, did they not?
Realization stuck me.
Yeah, they paid.
I was asked to be here.
Now, why did I feel some sort of unholy glee bubble up inside of me?
"Kanna-chan, taste it, taste it!" Hunny urged me.
I looked down at the pink confection topped with a ripe strawberry. Cautiously, I took a small bite from my fork.
It tasted remarkably good for something doused in pink food colour. "It's good. Not too sweet."
"I'm glad you liked it, Kanna-hime." Tamaki suddenly appeared beside me.
Goodness, if I wasn't holding on to the platter, it would have undoubtedly decorated the lovely carpet.
"Kyouya especially ordered those cakes from the best pastry chefs in Japan." Tamaki endorsed.
"He sometimes even orders from France and Italy." Hunny added.
Wow... Too... uhm... extravagant?
Well, I never thought to order foreign cakes; I just eat what cook made for me. Or sometimes ask Shizuka-san to make something for me.
"Wait, wait. France and Italy? How about English cakes?" I asked.
"Cakes from England are rubbish, if we may say so ourselves." The twins suddenly appeared within the conversation circle, twined together like ivy, dressed in costume.
(A/N: I meant no offense to the English, dear readers. Just something to poke fun at. You know, when the French say that the English can't cook? XD No offense.)
I took another bite of my cake and thought about what I just heard.
Come to think of it, there was no English Cuisine. Italian and French, yes. Heck, even the Japanese had Japanese cuisine.
Well, there was probably an English cuisine, but not often used that it eventually faded. Well, who would want to eat a dish called 'spotted dick'?
I'm not here to talk about culture, dammit.
When I finished the cake, well, half finished since I left some of the icing on the platter (too much sweets give me migraine), I stood up.
"I'll go home now. Hunny-san, Mori-san." I bowed to them. "Hitachin-sama, Suoh-san." I also did the same.
I didn't see Kyouya so I didn't bother.
The other brown haired boy wasn't in sight and I didn't know his name, so why bother?
"Ah, Kanna-chan, you can't go home alone!" Hunny held up his fork.
I blinked. "My butler and driver will escort me home, Hunny-san." I said, feeling the glares once again fixated on my back.
"That won't do! Takashi, can you take Kanna-chan home?" Hunny gazed imploringly at Mori.
Gasps came from the patrons. The negative feeling intensified.
"Ah." Mori agreed. I felt my heart sink. I didn't go to school to gather enemies!
"I would have come, Kanna-chan, but I slept yesterday, so I'm making up for the club time. And besides, Takashi's house is closer to yours. Mine is five miles farther."
Hunny was also my neighbour? And they knew even though I didn't?
"Shall we go?" Mori asked very quietly that I almost didn't hear.
"Ah, yes..." I said a little breathlessly, feeling the prickles on my scalp as the jealous patrons undoubtedly singed the back of my head with their glares.
Earlier, when Tamaki and the others joined the hubbub surrounding Tatsuhiko-san, she saw Kyouya discreetly slip back into the private sitting room.
Suspicious, when her patron's time finished, she followed to the said room. There, she found Kyouya leaning back against the chaise lounge, his face drawn and pale.
"Kyouya-sempai?" She uncharacteristically whispered.
He didn't respond so she went closer until she was standing before him.
"Kyouya-sempai?" She repeated, a little more loudly.
Was he sleeping? Yes, his eyes were closed, but it was not like him to be like this while club activities were ongoing.
Did he feel sick?
Slowly, so as not to be looming over him, she knelt and hesitantly touched his face. It was almost as hot as the day before.
But that was not what urged her to let her hand linger. Fascinating. That was how she would describe the way his soft skin felt on her sensitive fingers.
It was so silky that it hardly seemed fair that he was a guy. And those lashes. Kyouya seemed to have yards of them. Miles of them.
Her hand drifted down to his cheek, to his lips.
If his skin was silky, his lips were silkier a thousand fold.
And so warm.
She looked up just in time to see his eyes flutter open. She snatched her hand away, but what he did next startled her. He clasped her hand and brought it to his cheek again.
We walked in silence, as usual. Well for one thing, I'm far too mortified to think of something clever to say.
Mori also didn't exert effort into conversation, so we kept on walking. He just glanced at me from time to time and opened doors when there was a need to.
To my relief, for I was afraid I was hyperventilating, we reached the large driveway where Hayes was waiting for me.
"Ojou-sama. Morinozuka-sama." Hayes bowed respectfully at us, which kind of puzzled me. Why all the respect?
"I'll accompany Miss Kanna to her house." Mori said.
"Of course." Hayes replied.
Wow. That was easy. Hayes didn't even hesitate. Well, of course he was a superior butler, and butlers even at their worst weren't inclined to react. But really, I expected some sort of... resistance, to say the least.
When we got in the car, he just sat there wordlessly and I sidled beside him.
Goodness, was anyone ever allowed to smell that good?
He didn't smell like cologne at all! He smelled like ivory soap, for crying out loud.
There should have been cologne made from this scent. It would be called 'Eau de Mori'. The world would be a much better place with 'Mori' scented men.
OH MY GOSH.
What the hell am I thinking? Why are my hormones going rampant? Well, it was entirely Mori's fault for emitting such pheromones.
I leaned back exhaustedly against the seat and closed my eyes.
"Are you alright?" Mori's deep voice suddenly shattered my calm once again.
"Y-yes... Just a little tired." I snapped my eyes open, flustered.
"You should rest once you get home." He said calmly.
"Well, I'm not that tired." I said in a small voice. The statement came from the selfish, irrational and delusional side of me that wanted Mori to stay over for dinner. Not that I would be able to eat much anyway since eating was not my forte.
Finally, after that tension filled (for me) ride, Mori got out of the limo and helped me out.
He did have rather nice, large hands. When he took my own, they disappeared completely under his long, slender fingers.
Miraculously, due to the lack of haemoglobin in the blood, or the lack of blood altogether, I don't blush. Yes, despite my 'unfortunate' deficiency of pigment, I'm rather glad that I don't colour easily.
"Ojou-sama, dinner is ready." Shizuka-san said unobtrusively.
If I were given to such exuberance, I would have kissed Shizuka-san, but I settled for smiling.
"Mori-san, would you like to join me?" I asked demurely.
I didn't even expect him to agree, so when he graciously inclined his head, my heart did this crazy... clichéd 'back flip'.
It was so weird eating gently braised foie gras drizzled lightly with delicate almond truffle sauce while Mori was at the other the end of the table.
But for some reason, I'm not getting the vibes that Mori likes what he was eating at the moment.
"Hayes, can you please change our course?" I asked quietly when Hayes approached me.
Mori didn't even blink when the courses were suddenly changed into traditional Japanese food, though I noticed that he ate more vigour now that he was eating something he was used to.
"I'm sorry about the western cuisine, Mori-san. If I knew you preferred Japanese, I would have asked them to make it immediately." I mumbled apologetically.
"No problem. I was the one who came on short notice anyway." He said.
Will you look at that? He actually spoke normally.
Well, it's not like he spoke mermish or anything. He spoke like a normal teenager.
"So you do like Japanese than Western dishes." I didn't notice that a small, semi-permanent smile formed atrociously on my face.
I wasn't used to smiling much so it felt as if the muscles of my face were pulled by piano wires instead of nerves.
And then I noticed.
Was that a smile on his face?
It was there only a split second that I wasn't sure if I saw right. Maybe it was just a trick of the light.
"Preferably." He answered and put another sushi in his mouth. Delicately.
His manners were that of a traditional Japanese woman. Or a high samurai.
Even the way he held his chopsticks was enviable. Like holding a calligraphy brush.
So there, we occasionally talked, when my nerves weren't racked enough for me to answer 'un-manically'. Not that he asked.
I wanted to talk to him. There were many things going inside my mind, but I couldn't muster the courage to actually bring them up.
Then he broke the silence.
"I'm glad you're painting for the club." He said.
"I-I'm glad to do it." I stammered.
Are you crazy? A while ago, I was hell bent on refusing their offer. How come when Mori was the one who asked, I daren't refuse?
I could feel this as a bad premonition.
After dinner, he formally said his goodbyes to me and called his own chauffeur to take him home.
There was something fishy about the staff in my house. How come their eyes were glinting secretively? They thought I wouldn't notice? I drew people for a hobby! How can I not know?
But the question is, why?
My heart stopped, did they poison the food?
I cut off my mistrustful thoughts, surely if they planned to poison us, we'd be dead by now. Or dying.
I never before saw them move that way around me. Like sneaky cats, with matching cat-in-the-cream-pot invisible grins.
Very fishy indeed.
When I changed into my nightgown, for I was inordinately tired indeed, I lay in bed for a while, unable to sleep.
How come I'm doing things I never dared to do before? Like painting for the club?
Inviting someone for dinner.
Why was it that when it came to Mori, I did things I normally wouldn't?
Could it be that I...
Nah, that's not possible. I never knew how it was to properly like a person anyway.
In all her years in the Tatsuhiko Manor, Shizuka had never seen Miss Kanna smile like she did last night.
Although Miss Kanna did have a naturally sunny disposition, she wasn't inclined to smiling much.
She was a bit envious though, because none of them had been able to make her smile such smile of genuine joy. It was all thanks to Young Master Takashi.
He did grow to such a promising young man. When he was just a boy, he was sickly, but so full of steely determination that one could barely notice that he was unwell at all.
After many years, he grew to such a strapping young lad.
She could tell that Hayes was glad as well. He didn't particularly like taking away the things that Miss Kanna enjoyed, but he had to follow orders or he would be discharged. If he were discharged, who would keep an eye on Miss Kanna like he did?
She understood his sentiments completely even though he didn't say them out loud.
They all loved Miss Kanna in all her quietness. They loved her dearly, so to see her smile, even if it wasn't because of them, they would happily give way just to see her smile once more.
It's a good thing that Takashi-sama would be coming here on a regular basis.
They did a good match.
XXX End of Chapter XXX
A/N: So, did you like it? Did you hate it? Please review me.
Someone asked me if the romance stuff was going a bit too fast. There's a reason to that and you'll know soon enough.
OMG, that's actually a spoiler, I just gave out.
I know it's a month and a half late, Nikki-chan, but I hope you like it. As for the other readers, thank you for your support!