Ryouji got home that night later than he normally did, because the universe seemed to be working against him lately. His first order of business when he walked through the door was to check on Haruhi. If his daughter knew he still cracked her door open and peeked in every night after he came home from work, she night have killed him. She was nineteen now, and had just started her fourth semester of university. He had insisted that she continue to live with him, because really, there was no reason that she should have to pay an ungodly sum of money for a dank, run-down little 1DK apartment in a bad part of town when she could live with him for free.
"And you would know where I was at all times," she muttered, having given in to his request as soon as it was made.
"So I would know you were safe at all times," he whispered, tucking her hair behind her ear.
After he was satisfied with the safety and contentment of his daughter, he washed the make up off his face, changed out of his dress (a new one that he'd been lusting after for quite some time, and which he'd finally convinced Haruhi that he had to have just like he needed breath) and pulled on his dingy Dad t-shirt and black track pants. He took the pins out of his hair, and ran a comb through it quickly before throwing it up in its usual bedtime ponytail. He made his way into the kitchen and found the dinner that Haruhi had left for him. He smiled, thinking about how much more like her mother she was getting with every passing day, and enjoyed his meal.
His smile faded, however, when his eyes came to rest on his wife's little shrine. He hadn't thought it would be this hard to talk to her—it certainly never had been before—but his heart pounded louder and louder with every step he took. He knelt down and lit some incense, giving a quick prayer on his beloved's behalf. He did the same every night when he came home from work. It was always the same—kneel, light, talk, sometimes cry because he missed her sososo much—but that night's conversation would be more than just the normal discussion consisting of talking about the day's events. He would be asking Kotoko that night for her permission to love someone.
That wasn't it, really. He supposed he didn't need her permission per se to feel love for another person. He didn't really know what he was going to say, but it felt wrong to accept the offer of a date without at least informing his first Reason For Living that he was going to do it. He took a deep breath, letting the scent of the incense relax him somewhat, and gathered his thoughts.
"I love you, Kotoko," he started, as he always started his nightly conversations with her. It was sacrilege not to do so. "Where should I begin? Oh! I caught that insect mauling our darling Haruhi before I left for work this evening, and in her bedroom with the door closed no less. Can you believe it, Kotoko? I swear, that boy will be the death of me yet." He smiled and sighed after a moment. "But I suppose I remember what it's like to be young and in love. And they've been forced to hide their feelings for so long, basically since his third year of high school. I can't really blame Tamaki for being happy he can finally be together with Haruhi now and not have to wonder if his grandmother would try to put a stop to it. Haruhi attended her funeral, Kotoko, but you probably already knew that. I was so very proud of her for going. She has every right to hate Tamaki's grandmother, yet even so, she paid her respects to the woman's memory. She's such a strong young woman, our Haruhi-chan." He smiled softly. "Just like her mother always was."
He shifted slightly so his legs wouldn't go numb under him, and continued. "What else is there…?" He knew very well what else he needed to talk to her about, but the pounding in his ears hadn't subsided enough yet. Try as he might, he couldn't really think of anything else to say to her that would keep him away from the subject at hand any longer. He sighed. "Yes, I know," he whispered, threading his fingers in his lap. "Kotoko, I…I've met someone." He paused, as if waiting for a reaction from her, but he knew nothing would come. "I'll never forget you, Kotoko, and I'll never stop loving you, never in a million years. But deep down in the pit of my stomach, I feel like I need to give this a chance. I just—"
A sound from the vicinity of Haruhi's bedroom interrupted him. Her bedroom door was thrown open a few moments later, and she emerged. She was talking to someone, her voice still muffled with sleep.
"Did you really have to call right now, Tamaki? I was asleep, and I have class early in the morning. So do you! Why are you even awake at this god-awful hour?" She fumbled around in the semi-darkness, looking for something. He must have said something stupid, because she paused and rolled her eyes. "No, Tamaki, I do love you, but I'm just exhausted right now. Is there anything in specific you called to talk about…? Well, in that case, I'll see you in the morning."
He smiled and watched her bend over to grab her cell phone charger and plugged it in. She tossed the phone onto the floor and turned around quickly, meaning to go back to bed, but his slight laugh caught her attention.
"Hey, Dad," she croaked, rubbing her eyes and padding over to him. "How long have you been home?"
"Not long," he replied, patting the space next to him. "Sit down, Haruhi. I need to talk to you about something."
"Well, I'm awake anyway, thanks to Tamaki" she said, rolling here eyes and sitting down next to him. "What's up?"
"Haruhi," he began with a sigh, running his fingers lightly through her hair, "how would you feel if I started dating someone?"
Her eyes widened quickly and her eyebrows shot up, but she showed no other reaction. She didn't slap him or yell at him like he had somewhat thought she would. Her mouth opened, but no words came. After an eternity of silence, she replied, "It's really none of my business. If you want to start dating again—"
"Your opinion matters more than you think," he interrupted. "If you wouldn't feel comfortable with it, then I won't accept the offer."
"But I want you to be happy too, Dad. I'll be leaving home when I finish school anyway, so if you want to, then go for it."
He sighed. The girl was trying so hard to make him happy that she was willing to suffer through what he was sure she saw as her mother's replacement. She was a truly admirable woman, just like Kotoko had been. No wonder that little insect had so easily fallen in love with her. "Haruhi, I'm not trying to replace your mother."
Her eyes flicked over to her mother's picture. "I didn't say you were."
"I know, I know," he whispered, stroking her hair back from her forehead. "I made a promise to myself a long time ago that I would be true to Kotoko's memory, and I haven't forgotten it. But my gut is telling me that Yutaka deserves a chance. I—"
"Yutaka?" Haruhi interrupted. "Wait, you mean…a guy?"
He smiled as he watched his daughter take in what was the real crux of the issue. "You understand the difference between 'Ryouji' and 'Ranka,' don't you, Haruhi?" She glanced up at him and nodded warily. "As much as Ryouji-san always has and always will love your mother," he said slowly, "Ranka-san…well, he'll be lonely when you leave home. And he feels very strongly for Yutaka-san." He gestured in front of him. "So much so that he came here tonight to ask Kotoko if it was okay."
"And what did Mom say?" she asked hesitantly.
"She hasn't responded yet," he lied. His heart was telling him that his late wife wouldn't have minded (she had known he was bisexual long before his proposal, after all, and had still married him), but Haruhi's opinion, which mattered to him just as much, was still in question.
"I think," she began, "that Mom would understand. I think that she'd want you to be happy more than anything." He smiled and leaned over to hug his daughter, knowing she was masquerading her thoughts as her mother's. She wrapped her arms around him as well and set her head on his shoulder like she'd had when she was little. They stayed like that for some time, and he felt tears of joy and relief burning at the back of his eyes.
And when Haruhi had made her way back to bed, he picked up the phone and dialed a number he'd had memorized for several days. When he heard the knowing "Hello?" on the other end, he grinned and replied, "Yu-chan? I've forgotten where you said you'd like to meet. Do you think you could tell me again?"