Speed of Light

A/N : ... I have no excuse. Two more weeks and then this semester is over, though.

Chapter 1

Haruhi Fujioka lost her mother to illness as a young girl. It had been a very sad, sad day in her young life. And it had also been a very sad, sad day in the young life of her father and only remaining family member. They grieved together for a month and did their best to move on. Moving on seemed to be the hardest part of it all, though. Her mother's clothes were still scattered around. The rare photo would pop up. All the shoes and papers and her work were all scattered around the house, seemingly ingrained in to the very walls. At times, when wandering the suddenly cold and empty, little hallway of their apartment, Haruhi thought she caught of whiff of her mother's perfume. That, and her daddy tended to hoard her mother's things and cry over them. It was hard to not cry with him. Especially at the meager burial service they were able to provide.

Yes, moving on seemed to be the hardest part. Especially when her father was having such a hard time of doing so. But as the month after her mother's death wore on (like a road that never ended), her father's tears seemed to slow, and the raw pain they suffered together merely became a raw ache. It was like a wound to their souls now, the hurt still fresh. But it was as if the month of tears had scrubbed the rot away from their souls and hearts. Surely, this wound was going to hurt for forever. It would ache with the mere mention of their departed love (wife... mother...), but it wasn't so open now. The burn of it had dulled to something bearable. It no longer felt that she was no longer still just around the corner.

By the time a month had gone by, father and daughter truly accepted that she was gone.

Her father then got sick a month after the painful passing of her mother. Haruhi felt the absolute terror of it all as the horror of illness was pushed upon her once more. Her father's job didn't offer the medical that allowed assistance for what he had (the cancer, oh it was cancer and a whole new terror compared to what her mother had, because this was eating her father alive). But they scrounged up what money they could (all of their savings) and borrowed as much as they could (the interest would kill them later, but at least he would live).

The insurance bills from her mother had nearly wiped them out before. But she had had health insurance from her employment. Her daddy didn't have any of that at all.

The medical bills accumulated over the passing year.

Her mother had died when she was five years old.

She was seven when her father was run over and killed by a drunk driver when she was at school.

Her mother had died on the first day of Spring... February fourth... and her father died, two years later, on that very same day. Like some sick cosmic joke. Haruhi learned to hate spring. She hated the sun and she hated the flowers (and oh, the sun had shined so brightly on both of those terrible, terrible days) and the careless people who hadn't suffered like she had, who couldn't even muster up the sympathy to recognize her painful loss.

She hated them.

With no more family, she was shifted off in to foster care. A system that had been designed to help young children that were in similar situations as she was. Or, that was what the Government Social Worker explained it as. The woman had toned down all of the big words and explained to Haruhi as much as Haruhi, in her grief stricken state, could understand. Haruhi understood that she was being put in to a new home with a few other kids for now. The details were lost to her those first few months after her father passed. Nothing had truly registered to her then. Three months later she had 'woken up' and started to ask her questions... And she had learned that apparently what had happened to her, losing both parents and having no remaining family, was pretty common. And the children were placed in homes like she was in now.

Haruhi didn't like the stricken, grief filled faces of the other children that were there with her. They all looked as shell shocked as she felt. But she didn't feel much of the rawness of it anymore. Or maybe she was pushing it away. She had more things to be concerned about now. Or, that was the logical face she tried to put to the front. She still cried herself to sleep every night.

Through time, though, she learned that Foster Care wasn't all it was cracked up to be. The moment it became apparent that there were different family names between her and her foster parents, it was total alienation for all of them. Everyone suddenly turned cold shoulder. No one in school talked to her, they ignored her. And the adults whispered so harshly about them to each other. And she figured that was where the younger kids had gotten their attitudes from. Even though understanding that the other kids didn't really know why they were acting the way they were didn't help Haruhi feel any better. It didn't calm the anger or sooth the bitter revulsion that lingered in the back of her mouth.

It made her feel like an alien. ("But I'm human too!")

But that wasn't the worst part. The worst part was that she was a girl.

And being a girl was dangerous. Being a girl made her a target, and that was very dangerous. Haruhi Fujioka had learned that danger the first time. She was a very, very smart little girl when she was ten. When she was ten, she was skinny and weak and a definite girl, but no one could deny that she was a very, very smart.

Within a week of being placed in another new foster care home, Haruhi learned just how dangerous it was, when walking back the long way to her foster house from her new school. It was such a long distance, and the little girl hadn't expected anything to go wrong. Because it wasn't as if she hadn't already walked down this street dozens of times. 'New' was relative, really. Those streets had already felt familiar to her at the time that the 'incident' had happened. Only the knife wounds and the absolute terror of that incident remained in her teenage self. Haruhi could admit to barely remembering anything at all from the incident (a psychologist, gifted by her foster parents of the time, had called it repressed memories).

But remembering and feeling that fear was more then enough.

Haruhi didn't really remember why she stopped wearing dresses after that, or why she had butchered her hair. But all she knew was that it was safer this way. So she brutalized the hair she loved (that her mother had loved and that her father had loved and helped her care for), and wore boy's clothing. She stayed skinny over the years, and was never able to get in to a proper home outside of the foster care system. None of the families that took her in for a few months seemed to like her much and passed her off when the agreement finished up.

She looked too ratty and thin to be adopted, apparently.

Maybe that... or maybe the adults of Japanese society just couldn't withstand the pressure of alienation. Not even to help a child like her, or anyone.

No one wanted a child that wasn't their own.

Not even for an allowance of 64,000 yen a month.

When she was eleven, she had learned to defend herself during the summer. She learned to fight like an animal. All teeth and claws and desperation. She had seen the people on the television and watched their refined, classic Japanese fighting styles while pressing her hands to the glass of the stores that had the bright screens on display. But she didn't do anything of that sort of fighting. She fought dirty for her money. She wasn't going to be robbed or pinned or hurt and she would damn herself to hell if anyone got the one up on her.

There was no honor protecting herself and what was left of her possessions from everyone else.

It was her. There was herself. And then there was everyone else.

She had had so many things stolen from her. Some boy had even tried to steal her Grandfather's glasses, the very glasses she needed to see. She won that fight, broke the boy's arm while she was at it. She had jammed his arm up to the elbow in to a chain link fence and had ran in to him and snapped his arm in the opposite direction. She had won the battle, but that boy had won the war when he had snapped her glasses in half.

Haruhi had stolen the other boy's stylish black hat as compensation and taped her precious glasses together.

She had gained so many scars over that summer, but they learned not to mess with 'that boy that no one wanted'. And when she turned thirteen and was moved to another foster home (to another set of green parents who couldn't have kids and wanted to try this process. Too new to know the pain of alienation and the prejudice of 'the old way' and ignorance to just how important blood family is to everyone else) she went through the same process. Only, it did not start and stop with the summer. She moved in to the city, and there, in the city, there was always someone who wanted a fight. She grew stronger, but gained more scars then ever before.

It was almost as if her history was being written on to her skin.

Haruhi found that it made people more wary of her, the way she proudly wore her own skin. She wore sleeveless shirts as often as possible once she realized that it made a good deal of kids leave her alone. Of course, it also attracted the stronger ones that itched for a fight. Scars were something important amongst kids, and Haruhi had joined the throng of boys on the streets, showing off their scars like prizes. Of course, they only seemed to point out the ones where they had won whatever it was they had been up against at the time. Of course, it was here that those tougher, older kids seemed to prowl, looking for any young upstarts that could one day challenge their rule and take them out of the game early. It was amazing what broken bones did to a boy's confidence.

Haruhi never had a bone broken, but her pride took more battering then it should have and she became uncomfortably familiar with the ground under her feet.

But she only grew stronger for it. And learned to be faster when running away from the real big kids in their real gangs and their real guns.

Hunger was common enough. The lack of funding made food very... meager (she learned this once, when with three other kids, the foster parents had both lost their jobs and things had been stretched so, so tightly before she had been removed). But she had scraped out her meals from the very walls and staved off sickness through sheer will alone. It was pure accident that she got to see over her transfer papers when she was removed.

Boy. They had written down that she was a boy.

For one lonely second she ached for her long hair and the beautiful dresses her mother had worn. But then something inside her gut had jumped and a shiver had run through her whole body at the mere thought of being something... weak. Girls were weak. If they thought she was a boy, then...

... that was fine.

She kept her hair shaggy and dirty. She wore old, worn and donated clothes.

But it was fine.

It was safer this way.

And she continued to wear her skin proudly and she jerked her knees out when she walked, copying the bow legged style many tall boys seemed to have. It looked a little awkward but Haruhi figured that she'd be better in time.

Haruhi learned to hate this kind of living. Hardly owning anything at all (or really, hardly owning anything at all. Things had been lost over the years. Lost and stolen and slowly worn away in to dust or just plain old outgrown and nothing seemed to really be worthy to replace what she had lost, if that was possible. No, the only things that were replenished amongst her few belongings were the clothes that she needed with her growing body), where the place that she slept was only marginally safer at times then the streets outside. It was at least a roof, but the operators of this most recent foster home were neglectful at best. Verbally abusive at worst.

There were even nasty people in this world of Foster Care that took in the children for Government money and then ignored them. Hardly fed them and didn't even look at them. Haruhi had seen many bad things in life, but at least she was satisfied that these terrible people were always eventually caught. Even if she had to do an anonymous tip herself. For some reason she seemed to have all the bad luck, though. She had hit these kinds of people three times in a row. They never lasted more then two months, these stints with the 'bad people'. The moment she found drugs was the moment for the tip.

But in the meanwhile, in the purgatory between switches, the kids scratched out their living from each other.

Every day was horrible. No respite at all besides school (not that being ignored or bullied was much of a respite). And at these new schools (a new one every six months, tops), Haruhi learned to hate the system too.

The newspapers gave tantalizing glimpses in to a life beyond her own, though. Of the richer end of the spectrum. For some reason whenever someone bought a plane, the journalistic world had a field day. 'Rich Bastards' was not even a swear big enough to cover that. Haruhi thought of them that way anyway, enough though, more then anything else... she wanted to be like them. She wanted their homes and money and food (and by God... she wanted their safety and their family, too).

English tourists were the best. Haruhi thought this as she led then around during the summer of her thirteenth year of life. Know a little English, direct them around and tell them where to go and how to act and they just showered you with money!

Haruhi wasn't greedy, not really.

She had been informed recently about the debt her family... that she, owed. The staggering three hundred million yen was burned in to her mind. All the money that had been carefully spent and borrowed to keep her beautiful, wonderful father alive had all been wasted when he had gotten mowed down with a car.

Apparently it had been worse at one point... only a little. The drunk driver had paid for the funeral, at least. Even if it was stingy. That man had owed a debt to her family. He had paid only a little of it before he disappeared before he could be hauled off to jail.

She didn't feel any better knowing any of that, though.

Haruhi didn't even have any pictures of her mother or father to pray to anymore. Then had been destroyed a year ago (and she had made sure that girl had paid for it. She had given the older girl a broken nose and several broken fingers and even more fractures. And she had lost a good deal of blood... sadly, Haruhi suffered several fractures and bruises and cuts too, but at least she didn't have to go to the hospital. She didn't want to increase her debt more then it was).

The interest would probably increase the total amount to six hundred million yen. Or that was what Haruhi figured if she was going to finish paying it off by the time she was sixty. As it was, her future didn't look too hot. She didn't know if she could even get a loan anymore, or if she was going to high school at all.

It really was by accident that she had found out how generous English tourists could be. She had known a few broken words and they had had a phrase book. For her trouble she had gotten one thousand yen! It wasn't much at all, but she had saved it all the same.

She had helped a few more and then bought a phrase book herself... and made a business out of it. It wasn't really more then pocket change from some of these people. But it was here, during this time, that Haruhi learned how important the presentation of herself was. She cleaned up her hair and while it still looked like a butchered bob, it looked clean and almost intentional. She wore thin, long sleeved shirts and the best looking jean shorts she could find. She covered her scars and smiled as pretty as she could behind her grandfather's broken glasses.

And the nicer she looked, the more money she had.

She opened a bank account then, trying to find the cheapest thing she could to store her money. She had a few years before she was no longer 'protected by law' from debt collectors. She needed to get the money up fast. She needed to get rich.

This debt was like a knife at her neck. Inches away from opening up an artery.

Her life goals narrowed down to one thing...

... live by any means necessary.

Haruhi stared at herself in the bathroom mirror. It was roughly two in the morning and no one else was awake but her. She had claimed this hour as her own. She showered and paid attention to her upkeep at this time of the morning. The calm was soothing and anyone else would be asleep or gone.

The bathroom was tiny and cramped, but clean. It had a mirror on the back of the door. A full length mirror. She folded her towel from her shower and placed it on it's rack and turned and looked to herself. She really was skinny. She reached up and pressed her fingertips in to her hip bones, which stood out against her pale, thin skin visibly.

No wonder her current foster parents (what were their names?) always insisted she ate more. Whenever they could look her in the eye. They seemed disturbed by her indifference to the world at large.

A little higher, above her belly button, was one of the five stab scars from when she was young. The scars were white and pink and hadn't faded at all over the years. This set littered her middle and her back. Her shoulders had a herd of scars on them, and more on her back from falling on the ground so much. She called them 'road burn' scars. Of course, they weren't from the road but that was just a technicality.

Haruhi absently pushed up her taped together glasses and just stared at her body, touching a scar every so often.

At times, it didn't feel like this body was hers.

Sometimes, she even felt like an alien. ("But I'm human too!")

Haruhi sighed and let her hands drop and then rested her forehead against the mirror. She didn't like thinking too much now, really. Thinking took too much time during a fight, it was always best to react. Of course, such thinking didn't help her grades. She was barely scraping by in her classes, but some deep part of herself wouldn't allow her to not pass middle school. Even if she couldn't go to high school, she at least was going to pass middle school.

But thinking about school had her thinking about other things...

She had pushed a kid she was fighting with in to the street today. He had almost gotten hit by a car. He wasn't an orphan, even Haruhi and her indifference was able to tell that. He was some spoiled little child with both parents and trying to rebel. So she had pushed him. If she had pushed him a little harder, he wouldn't have been able to get out of the car's path.

He probably wouldn't have lived.

She didn't really care, though. He had been trying to bully her. Haruhi wondered if this made her the bad one. Who was the 'evil' one now? Who was the instigator and who was at fault? Him bad for being a bully... or her, for not caring if he was hurt? Haruhi frowned at her mirror self and wondered if she should be concerned with herself right now. (And maybe that sudden moment of terror when the car came barreling down the street was really for herself and her innate fear against cars and the damage they could do, and not for the kid who had almost been mowed down like her father had been, oh so many years ago.)

She wanted to live. And she wanted to live right (comfortably, without fear, with family) and if someone tried to ruin what little she could claw from the world, well...

Shame on them.

Haruhi sighed and turned to her clothes. It was probably a good thing she was so skinny. She thought she was under weight. She hardly needed the bra she had (it was a 'Barely There' brand that she had gotten from a thrift store for the lowest price possible) and she had yet to gain a period like the other girls. Out of fear of that event suddenly happening, she always carried some form of feminine product hidden in a secret part of her bag.

She dressed silently, and pushed her thoughts on morality away from herself. She didn't care what other people truly thought about her. What right did they have to judge her? She didn't see anything wrong with herself. Not yet, at least.

... no, at least not yet.

At thirteen, during the Fall, it was pure chance that she stumbled upon that scholarship.

And by fourteen, and standing outside of the gates of the prestigious Ouran Private Academy... Haruhi finally believed that there was a God out there.

The short girl stood in front of the rich silver of the gates and stared through her dorky glasses up at the softly shaded building. She knew that most of the details would be lost, her glasses were old (they had belonged to her grandfather). But as long as they still worked for reading, they were fine. She had worked her fingers to the bone to study to get in to this place. Just thinking off all that work finally paying off brought a gut warming feeling of satisfaction. Clutching her ratty, old middle school bag to her chest, Haruhi took a hesitant step to the open school gates.

Ouran Academy represented so many things to her. It represented a free ride through high school. A school so prestigious that it was rumored to have gotten people in automatically to world famous colleges. And her scholarship had had so many items avaliable to her.

Free school lunch was one of the many, many wonderful things.

It was a pity that the uniform wasn't involved. But Haruhi figured if she brought that fancy blue suit back with her, it'd be destroyed the moment she took it off.

Now that she was here in front of this school, though, University didn't seem so far away now. Her mother had gone to University and had been a lawyer. She had remembered that much. Haruhi was beyond happy that she was getting a free ride through high school, to imagine that it was possible to do so in University made her heart leap a little bit.

She had always known she was smart. Other people had always acknowledged it, too. But at one point Haruhi had traded that innate learning for street smarts. For speed and quickness and the ability to survive, running along the concrete as fast as she could to escape. Escaping what, was often a good question as she sometimes forgot what she was running from. But then again the running was always a freeing feeling. After all, when you could out run all who would drag you down, it was freeing to let the wind lift her hair and let the speed of her body free her. But even the speed hadn't helped her when the feelings of being trapped had taken hold during her year long exile from the streets to the books and libraries. It had taken over a year of studying to put herself back on that 'right track' but she had. Her fingers still ached from all that writing and her brain still felt a bit 'offline' from all the retention it had been forced in to after such disuse. Years of failing middle school grades had been against her, but...

But she had proved them all wrong. Haruhi was so happy...

... she was so happy, she was sure she had never been this happy before.

Haruhi had arrived hours before the start of school. Haruhi would not risk being late (that and she walked. The walking itself took a few hours with some running inbetween. But she didn't want to spend the precious school donated money on travel fare. She'd save it for a better future. What she had been given hadn't even been enough for a uniform either way. And the run was good, she had enjoyed the short little runs when she had let herself loose). Here she was at school, fed and clothed in an old, once dark purple sweater and some old blue jeans; and she was ready to learn, telling herself that she didn't need to run here. She had had to create a tolerance for stillness here, and that she couldn't just run around all the time now like she once had in middle school.

Learn. That was why she was here. Not to pick fights, or assert her dominance in some kind of food chain picking order. She didn't need friends and she didn't need bullies here. She wanted to be invisible. Haruhi had outlined all her future years of high school already. She would remain friendless and invisible to the school population at large. Use all the resources that she could and keep a firm grip on the 'top'.

She had gotten plenty of paper, pens and a lock for her school designated locker. The ground work for the start of her plan.

The only thing she had to do to keep this new school was to keep at the top of her class, '1-A'. For the next three years she just had to be number one. Haruhi's knuckles turned white as she gripped her bag and started a steady walk into the school. She wasn't going to let anyone get the best of her here. She didn't dare loose this scholarship, she didn't want to be poor anymore!

Haruhi needed this chance, more then anything.

She needed this far more then these rich bastards, in any case.

By the end of the day, her debt had increased by eight million yen and all her well thought out plans had gone up in smoke.