Haruhi wasn't a particularly athletic person by any means. Still, she could walk all day if she had to, and between her walking, as well as carrying large amounts of books and heavy bags of groceries, she generally declared herself to be 'fit enough'. This is beside the point though. Haruhi wasn't athletic and was generally poor at sports. Like many other people who weren't very good at competitive physical activities, Haruhi enjoyed watching others who were good at such things. It had been her habit to have the sports channel on the television while she did her chores around the house or was working on her homework. Sometimes she even set up in the stands of the gym with her homework, so that she could listen to her peers beat each other up while she honed her mind.
Then she'd been accepted as the scholarship student at Ouran High School.
The campus was huge. It had four libraries, all of them filled with students who it seemed were more interested in talking than reading. Haruhi had quickly sought out the books she needed and checked them out, sliding them carefully into her book bag. Then was the matter of finding somewhere quiet to study, or one of the gyms. Gyms actually were quite quiet, for all that there were almost always people yelling or teachers blowing whistles. The large, cavernous spaces just seemed to muffle sound.
Having gotten herself completely turned around as she sought a place of quiet that was not the hallway (deserted now for some reason, but unlikely to stay that way), and decided that it was time to just pick a door.
She honestly hadn't expected rose petals to come flying out at her. Three of them stuck to her face – one on her right cheek, one on her glasses, one over her mouth. She spat that one out before flicking off the other two.
"There really is nowhere quiet to study in this whole, over-sized campus, is there?" Haruhi dead-panned, almost glaring at the very attractive group of guys who were just sitting there.
"Ouran has four libraries," pointed out the one wearing glasses. "Special Scholarship Student Fujioka Haruhi." The capital letters seemed to slam into place.
"Not one of them are quiet," Haruhi countered. "Which way is the gym?"
"Why do you want to find the gym if you're looking for somewhere to study?" asked the twins, she recognised them from her class – Hita-something.
Haruhi shrugged. "I like listening to sports while I study," she answered.
"Any in particular?" asked the shortest member of the group. "There are different gyms for the different sports."
"I like kendo best," Haruhi admitted.
The little blonde's face lit up. "Takashi is the captain of the kendo team!" he announced patting on the arm of the tallest guy present.
Haruhi's eyes drifted over to the tall guy, the name and his face clicking together in her mind. "Morinonzuka Takashi?" she asked.
"Ah," he agreed, nodding.
Haruhi bowed to him slightly. "Congratulations on your most recent win in the National Circuit, Morinonzuka-sama," she said quietly. "The bout was most gripping."
All but Morinonzuka himself blinked in surprise, first at her and then at the tall teen.
"Thank you," Morinonzuka answered softly. "I will show you to the dojo if you like," he offered.
"Ah! Thank you very much Morinonzuka-sama!" Haruhi answered, bowing again.
Somehow, by the time they reached the dojo, they were on a more familiar terms.
"Thank you very much Takashi-senpai," Haruhi said.
"You're welcome Haruhi-kun. I hope you will come visit the host club again some time," Takashi answered seriously. "Your company would be a welcome change."
Haruhi laughed softly. "Certainly Takashi-senpai. I'll even bring a cake for Haninonzuka-senpai," she promised.
Takashi chuckled. "Mitsukuni will insist that you either call him Mitsukuni or Hani. Our family names are rather long."
Haruhi blushed a little. That was similar to the argument he had used to get her to stop calling him 'Morinonzuka-sama'. "I'll remember," she promised.
Takashi nodded. "I will see you around Haruhi-kun," he promised.
Haruhi nodded in agreement. "Definitely," she said. "And thank you again Takashi-senpai."
Takashi nodded, ruffled her hair, and left again for the third music room and the host club.
When Haruhi returned home that day, it was the first time her father saw what she had done to her hair because of a child sticking bubble gum in it. He'd been working late last night and sleeping in this morning, so he hadn't had a chance any earlier. Immediately, the scissors came out and he had her sit down.
"Oh Haruhi, you really are terrible to do this to yourself!" he exclaimed. "You didn't even just make one level cut so it would be easy to fix! Oh my poor girl," he moaned. "And you need to get new contacts," he continued with a sigh. "Or at least glasses that suit you better. Just because that horrible little boy stepped on one of your contacts when it fell out is no reason to wear your grandfather's old frames. The prescription is wrong anyway! And I can't believe you went to that fancy school looking like that! It's one thing to protect your virtue from all those boys by looking like one, but my precious daughter will not be looked upon as a rag-a-muffin!"
So, once her hair was fixed, it was shopping with her father to assemble all the things that they would need in order to 'fake' her new uniform: blue blazer, black tie, several pairs of black trousers and a collection of white shirts. Also, some purple ribbon and all the things needed to re-create the school crest that they would be stitching onto the blazer.
Since they were shopping anyway, they bought the groceries for the week at the same time, as well as the things Haruhi would need to bake a cake for Hani-senpai. A quick stop by an optician's, and Haruhi was properly ready for the school she had already had her first day at.
"I did so want you to embrace your more feminine side though," her father sniffed softly when they got back to their apartment.
Haruhi chuckled. "Think of it this way Dad," she said. "I'm going to be a lawyer like mother someday, but right now I'm an okama like you."
That got her a big hug.
"But what about you getting a boyfriend someday?" he asked, even as he sniffled into her hair.
Haruhi chuckled. "I'm too busy with school still Dad," she told him. "I promise it will happen someday, but not before I'm ready for it."
Ryouji sniffled again and hugged his daughter a little closer to him, but accepted it. "I will get to meet any boyfriends when they come though, won't I?" he asked. "And you'll introduce me to any friends you make at Ouran, won't you?"
Haruhi sighed and wrapped her own arms tightly around her father. "I don't want to share you," she admitted. "Between your work and school, we don't get to spend enough time together, and you don't get to rest enough, but if I ever get a boyfriend then yes, I'll bring him over," Haruhi promised.
"And your regular friends?" Ryouji pressed, looking his daughter in the eye.
"Maybe," Haruhi allowed. "I've only been at Ouran for one day though," she reminded him.
Ryouji nodded in understanding of this and released his daughter so that she could start on dinner and he could get to work fixing up the badge for the blazer and stitching the purple ribbon to the black tie.
There were murmurs about an attractive new student that was seen in the halls before classes the next day. These rumours and whisperings ground to a screeching silence the moment this 'new student' sat down in the chair of the Special Scholarship Student Fujioka Haruhi. (Yes, the capital letters were audible even in the whispers.) Just the day before he'd been so... so very poor-looking! No one was able to think of an explanation.
Speculation ran rampant through the day all around Haruhi, who ignored all such whispers in favour of study. No one had actually asked her what happened yet after all, so why should she tell them? That the general student body also thought she was a boy didn't bother her at all. She wasn't really very gender conscious after all, and having an okama for a father didn't help matters.
After classes, Haruhi took herself to the dojo and set herself up in the highest back corner, as was her habit in any gym, and got on with her homework while members of the kendo club filed in and started their warm-ups.
An hour later, she'd finished two assignments and gotten half-way through a third when she was distracted by a tap on her shoulder.
"Club is over for the day," Takashi said simply. "A few members may continue practising though."
Haruhi smiled up at the tall senior student. "Thank you Takashi-senpai," she answered, then began gathering her books. "I think I'll stop now though too. The only assignment I have left unfinished isn't due until next Friday." It was Tuesday. "And I'm sure I'll be able to get it completely finished after dinner tonight."
Takashi nodded. "Will you come to Host Club with Mitsukuni and me?" he asked.
Haruhi laughed. "Are your customers that annoying already?" she asked in return, even as she stood with all of her books packed up in her bag, silently indicating that she would follow him.
"Ah," Takashi answered shortly.
"How very diplomatically non-commital," Haruhi observed with a cheeky smile.
A smile that Takashi returned.
"Mitsukuni," Takashi answered, halting as his cousin bounced over to him. "You remember Haruhi-kun?"
"It is a pleasure to meet you properly Haninonzuka-sama," Haruhi greeted.
"Mou," Mitsukuni said, pouting. "You should call me Mitsukuni," he instructed. "Or at least Hani," he added. "And no 'sama' Haru-chan!"
Haruhi smiled. "If you like Mitsukuni-senpai," she answered.
Mitsukuni beamed. "Much better Haru-chan!" he announced.
"Haruhi-kun is coming with us to Host Club today," Takashi said.
"Yay! What kinds of foods do you like Haru-chan?" Mitsukuni asked as they walked along the halls to the third music room. "I like cake and sweet things!"
"I'm not very fond of sweet things," Haruhi admitted. "Except for strawberries."
"Ah! I love strawberries!" Mitsukuni declared. "What other foods do you like?"
"I like ramen and I like sushi," Haruhi answered.
"Like Takashi!" Mitsukuni said, his eyes wide. "Takashi likes things like that."
"Ah," Takashi agreed. "Perhaps we should all go out for dinner together one night," he suggested as his hand fell to the doorknob of the third music room and he opened the door.
"Ano, I'm not sure I could afford to eat at the sort of places that you're used to senpai," Haruhi said as she followed the two seniors in. "And if I took you to the places that I like, I'd worry that it isn't up to the standards that you're used to."
"We eat take-out too," Takashi told her quietly. "Usually during tournaments, so that the other competitors don't feel intimidated by our wealth and will fight as hard as they've trained to."
Haruhi nodded in understanding, a smile on her face.
"Besides, if we decide to take you to a fancy restaurant, we'd pay," Mitsukuni promised. "We know you don't have the same sort of surplus wealth that we do. It's a bit of a surprise how different you look from how you did yesterday actually, considering."
Haruhi smiled. Finally someone was actually asking her, even if in a round-about way.
"I'd cut my own hair after a kid put their gum in it, and Dad didn't know to fix it until yesterday after school," she explained. "He also insisted that I get better glasses, since my grandfather's weren't actually the right prescription, but I was just using them since one of my contact lenses got broken."
After that, the 'customers' joined in the conversation with her, Mitsukuni and Takashi, and Haruhi had the 'joy' of explaining to the girls over, and over again, about her father taking her shopping at various discount stores to buy suitable trousers, shirts, tie and blazer, and then to the sewing shops so that he had what he needed to put the purple stripe on the tie and stitch the crest on the jacket.
The pampered little rich girls found this example of 'commoner ingenuity' absolutely fascinating, and they hoped that Haruhi would be joining the Host Club so that they could talk more. They were disappointed to learn that Haruhi was only visiting because the seniors had asked her to, but then they went into raptures over the idea of the cousins taking care of her.
It was all a bit confusing for Haruhi.
It began to become a routine. Haruhi would do homework in the kendo and martial arts dojo, then either Takashi or Mitsukuni would pull her from her work after one or other of these activities were completed for the day. Some days she would go with them to Host Club, to help balance conversation with the girls who designated Takashi while the 'silent giant' tended to his cousin with minimal words. Other days she would go home instead, usually via the shops to buy something for dinner that night. Of course, the days she went to Host Club with the cousins just gave her more time to think about what to buy for dinner, rather than making her mind up while she was in the shop.
The second Friday of term, Haruhi invited Takashi and Mitsukuni to share a meal with her and her father in her apartment.
"He's been insisting on meeting my friends," she said. "If you're busy tomorrow, we could arrange a different time though."
They weren't busy tomorrow, and would be by to share a home made lunch with Haruhi and her father, spend the afternoon with their young friend, and then take Haruhi out to dinner – Ranka would be working in the evening again.
"Haru-chan! Haru-chan!" Mitsukini called while Takashi pressed the button for the buzzer by the door.
"Ah!" Haruhi greeted as she opened the door, a smile on her face. "Takashi-senpai, Mitsukuni-senpai, welcome!"
"Haru-chan," Mitsukuni said softly, staring. "You're wearing a dress."
Takashi was silent, but his gaze was even more intent as he scanned their young friend's frame. He began to wonder how exactly he'd missed it.
Haruhi smiled and nodded, stepping aside to welcome the seniors into her apartment. Just for the occasion, minor as it may have been, Haruhi had worked out a compromise with her father that she would wear a dress if he would behave like the man of the house that he's supposed to be instead of dressing up like the okama he really was.
"Well, I am a girl," she answered.
"Why didn't you tell us?" Mitsukuni asked. "The whole school thinks you're a boy. Did you not want us to know?" The little senior started to tear up at the idea of not being told his friend's secret.
"It's not that Mitsukuni-senpai," Haruhi countered. "It's just that I've never really cared about that sort of thing."
"And yellow doesn't suit my precious daughter," Ryouji quipped firmly, "or I would have made the uniform dress for her instead of putting together the boy's uniform."
Takashi and Mitsukuni bowed slightly to the man. "Fujioka-san," the two of them greeted deferentially.
"Come in and sit and tell me all the things that Haruhi leaves out when she tells me about her day," the red-haired man said, smiling at them and gesturing to the cushions by the low table he was already seated at. The bowls and utensils for eating were laid out already.
"Dad," Haruhi warned gently as she picked up a tray from the counter, the food for the meal all arranged carefully on it.
"We brought cake to share," Takashi said, holding up a cake box. "For after lunch."
"Can't go visiting without bringing something to share!" Mitsukuni explained happily.
"Such thoughtful young men!" Ryouji said happily.
"Thank you very much senpai," Haruhi answered. "Shall I put them into the fridge until we've eaten?"
Mitsukuni nodded, and Takashi handed over the box.
"It's a strawberry cheese cake," Takashi said.
"Cheese cake?" asked Ryouji. "What an interesting idea."
"I'm sure it will taste wonderful," Haruhi said, tucking the box into the fridge before sitting down with her friends and father.
It did, though Takashi and Mitsukuni both praised Haruhi's skill as a cook as well, and when Ryouji had to get changed to go to work, they both appreciated how very incredible the change was and complimented the man on how feminine he looked.
After the dishes were washed, dried and put away, the apartment was locked up and the two rich boys were shown around Haruhi's neighbourhood before they called for one of their driver's to collect them. Before going to the restaurant itself, they took Haruhi to a clothes shop and bought her one good suit and one evening dress – the Host Club sometimes had balls, and Ouran itself had spectacular functions with some regularity, and they wanted their friend to look good when those times came, whether Haruhi wanted to look like the girl she was or the boy she had let her peers believe her to be. While Haruhi put on the dress they had just bought her (despite her protests that it was too much), the boys put on their own casual suits.
"We really are going somewhere I couldn't afford, aren't we?" Haruhi said when she saw them.
The cousins nodded.
That night, Haruhi got her first taste of a number of delicacies that she had known about and wanted to try, but until that moment had never had the chance to.
The best thing about the day though, was that her friends knew that she was a girl and hadn't treated her too differently after they'd gotten over the surprise. In fact, their attitudes had really only changed in one way: they were now slightly more protective of her. An independent girl who liked to be able to do things for herself and who only relied on herself she may have been, but still it made her feel a little bit special to know that they'd take care of her if she needed to be taken care of.
Haruhi blinked mutely a couple of times as she stared at the little letter that she had been handed, quickly read its meagre contents, then looked back at the pretty young lady who had given it to her and was standing nervously before her still.
It was a love note, a hopeful confession and request to date.
Haruhi bowed politely to the girl – best to be polite to one of her classmates after all, especially considering that she was a member of the wealthy elite. "I'm sorry," she said. "I cannot accept your affections," Haruhi concluded honestly. Tactfully, Haruhi decided to not tell the girl all the reasons why beyond: "For me to do so would not be in your best interests."
The girl sniffed but nodded in understanding. "Thank you Haruhi-kun."
Haruhi smiled gently. "Just because I cannot return these affections, however, is no reason we cannot be friends, ne?" she suggested.
The dejected frown was replaced by a grateful smile. "Thank you Haruhi-kun!"
After school saw Haruhi walking towards the Host Club with her male friends.
"I don't understand it," Haruhi said as she showed the love note she'd gotten to Takashi and Mitsukuni. "I'm just a scholarship student and she's from a wealthy family, an heiress even. What could cause her to decide that she likes me? Never mind that I'm actually a girl just yet."
"That's simple," Mitsukuni said. "You're smart and you're cute. That you were able to get into Ouran because of your own merit, rather than because of money, it makes you a hero!"
"Ah," Takashi agreed. "Also, you have been very pleasant with her at Host Club."
Speaking of, they'd reached the door of the music room.
Haruhi stared in shock at the tropical jungle that had been created inside.
"Looks like Tama-chan decided to have a theme again," Mitsukuni said dryly.
"You're lucky Haruhi-kun," Takashi added. "You always managed to pick the days we didn't have a theme to come and visit with us."
"This is normal?" Haruhi asked, her voice a little nervous as she pointed to the masses of green.
"There will be costumes as well," Takashi informed her.
"We've even got one for Fujioka-san!" the twins called out, holding up three costumes – one for each Takashi, Mitsukuni and Haruhi. "Just in case he came today!"
"I'm not actually a member of this club," Haruhi pointed out, then actually looked at the 'costume' that the twins held out for her. "And there's no way I'm wearing that."
"Agreed," Takashi said firmly, Mitsukuni nodding beside him, a frown on his face.
"Haru-chan will never go topless," the loli-shota insisted.
"Regardless," Kyouya interrupted smoothly, "of whether or not Fujioka-san is actually a member of the Host Club, a large number of our customers do designate him as though he were one of our hosts, also listing a secondary host if it is one of the days when Fujioka-san is not here. The Special Scholarship Student has been very good for the Host Club."
"I wish people would stop making a big deal about me being a scholarship student," Haruhi mumbled softly. "Ouran always has a scholarship student. Depending how many applications the school gets, it may even have one in every year-group."
"But no one has met the standard set for scholarship students for a decade," Kyouya countered. "So whether you like it or not, Fujioka-san, you being here is unusual. Don't let it bother you though. You have customers."
Haruhi raised an eyebrow at this, but decided the most sensible thing to do would be to ignore the second-year and go to sit at the table shared by a number of girls who were waiting for the two third-years and herself.
"Are you going to be at the dance party Haruhi-kun?" the girls asked, every new rotation the girls asked. The Host Club was orchestrating a dance party where, for some reason, the hosts would be the only guys in attendance, with over a hundred girls to dance with. It was somewhat ridiculous to Haruhi's mind.
"I don't know how to really dance," Haruhi admitted every single time. "Besides," she always added. "I'm not sure I'm actually invited, since I'm not technically a host."
After the girls all left, Kyouya approached Haruhi again.
"You are invited to the dance party," he said. "A number of our customers want to dance with you. You will need to learn, and acquire some appropriate evening wear."
"Thank you for the invitation," Haruhi said, stressing the last word so that the older teen knew that she'd picked up that it wasn't an invitation, but much more of an order from someone who technically didn't have any grounds for handing out orders to her.
"Don't worry Haru-chan," Mitsukuni said. "Takashi and I will teach you dance!"
Haruhi smiled at her two friends gratefully. "Thank you very much," she said. "And I'll finally have an occasion to wear the suit that you both bought for me."
Takashi smiled and ruffled Haruhi's hair fondly. "Your father will be pleased you're learning to dance," he said.
Haruhi chuckled. "Yes," she agreed. "He will be."
"We'll drive you home Haru-chan, and organise a time that will be suitable for you to learn how to dance!" Mitsukuni announced. "And we'll go to that grocery store near your house along the way! They have great sweets there!"
Haruhi laughed. "Well, if you two will be my dance teachers, then I will be honoured to learn from you both. Also, Mitsukuni-senpai, you should try some of the treats from the street vendors near the grocery store. They really take pride in the food they make and sell."
"Then we'll do that too!" Mitsukuni said, nodding happily.
With permission from her father, dancing lessons took place after school and homework were completed. Sometimes at school, sometimes at Takashi's home, sometimes at Mitsukuni's. Haruhi was taught how to dance both the male and female roles, and was appropriately honoured to meet the parents and siblings of her two friends. Still, she couldn't help but feel... safe, when Takashi took the lead and helped her through the steps. But that was probably just because of Takashi. He really did have the whole 'protector/guardian' thing down pat.
If the girls who designated 'Hani-senpai' at Host Club were to see him as he helped Haruhi learn how to lead her dance partner, they would have been shocked at the gravity the diminutive senior was displaying in his role as the female partner. The serious expression on his face was not something they were used to seeing on him.
The girls who designated 'Mori-senpai' would have been mildly surprised by the tenderness he was treating Haruhi to as he guided her through the same steps from the other side. Stoic, they were used to. Solemn, most certainly. Tender, on the other hand, generally seemed to only be reserved for his cousin, and even then there was a sense of duty as well as understated pleasure in caring for Mitsukuni.
On the night of the dance party, Haruhi was present in her suit, and lined up with the Hosts despite not actually being one. Then the music began and the dancing with it.
One after another, girls shyly asked Haruhi to dance with them until the glass doors were opened and spotlights were beamed down on a couple that Haruhi didn't recognise – not surprising really, but that the last song of the evening was dedicated to them was surprising. Tamaki went off to do his 'kingly duty' of giving the 'queen of the ball' a kiss on the cheek, and Mitsukuni and Takashi tugged her off to the side.
"Ne Haru-chan, did you bring your dress as well?" Mitsukuni asked.
Haruhi laughed softly. "Yes, I did," she answered. "You asked me to after all."
Mitsukuni beamed and ushered her into a room to change. There was also a wig waiting for her – in the same colour as her own hair and cut in the style that it had been when she was in middle school – before the incident with the chewing gum.
"May I have this dance?" Takashi asked when she emerged.
Haruhi smiled a little and slipped her hand into Takashi's extended one. "You may," she answered happily.
Mitsukuni asked the last violinist who hadn't left yet to play a soft waltz for his cousin to dance to, and Haruhi and Takashi had the whole hall to themselves to dance in – since everybody else was outside saying goodnight after Tamaki had given some girl a kiss on the cheek.
"Shh!" Mitsukuni scolded when Tamaki yelped at the sight of Takashi and Haruhi dancing close together, alone in the empty hall.
"She isn't one of our customers," Kyouya observed shrewdly.
"So why is Mori-senpai dancing with her?" the twins asked. "And who is she?"
"And who is she to Mori-senpai?" Kyouya asked. "I don't like there being things I don't know and have no data on."
Mitsukuni chuckled softly. "You'll find out soon enough," the small senior decided.
"Well, whoever she is, she looks good with Mori-senpai," Tamaki said, smiling at the sight. He really was a romantic, no matter what else he may or may not have been.
Haruhi was given a maroon haori and grey hakama when she arrived at the third music room with Takashi, and once she'd changed into them was ushered down to where the cherry trees were blooming. It was another theme day. Still, at least the costume she had been given roughly matched Mitsukuni and Takashi, so the level of interaction she would have with the other Host Club members was limited somewhat by their being involved in a different area of the garden and serving tea in a different way.
That didn't stop her from hearing Kyouya's sales-pitch however.
"Like the cherry blossoms, beauty is such an ephemeral thing. It will always look different from one moment to the next, from one day to another. As such, I have compiled a photo collection that captures these beautiful but fleeting moments. By the way, there's a version for each of our one of our hosts, and a slight discount if you buy the full set."
Quietly, Haruhi slipped up behind the bespectacled host and pulled one of the portfolios free of his grasp. It had pictures of her.
"Violation of privacy laws, Kyouya-senpai," she said quietly. "I don't recall giving you permission to take photos of me, and certainly not to print them. I'm not officially a member of this club. I'm doing you a favour coming along at all."
"This is true," Kyouya conceded, a very small smile on his face. "If you will stay behind after club activities today, Fujioka-kun, we can discuss appropriate recompense?" he suggested. "It would be a waste of funds to have printed these photos and then not be able to sell them."
Haruhi nodded and returned the slim photo collection to Kyouya before returning to Takashi and Mitsukuni with the new refreshments in readiness of their next designates.
"No more than ten percent of the profits made from the sales of the pictures."
"Funny, I was going to say no less than twenty percent of all sales pertaining to me, and all sale items are to be approved by me first."
"Have you considered the rent of the costumes we supply you? Some of which you never wear because you do not regularly attend Host Club?"
"Have you considered that I have a mobile phone and you can easily text me for a fraction of the cost of renting a costume that I may not wear?"
"That is to include anything that is related to me in any way, and I get the final say on if you can or can't sell it. I want this little contract in writing Kyouya-senpai."
Kyouya smiled. He seemed to have met his match. How fun! "Agreed."
Haruhi nodded, a smile on her own face.
A little way away, Mitsukuni made an observation to his cousin. "Haru-chan really is a hero."
"Ah," Takashi agreed.
Physical exam day came, and went, and that Haruhi was actually a girl managed to pass unnoticed due solely to her asking one of the doctors if she could have her exam privately. As this was Ouran, even the scholarship student didn't need to give a reason for a little bit of special treatment. There were plenty of other students getting their exams done where people wouldn't be staring at them after all.
Of course, if Takashi and Mitsukuni hadn't thought to warn her and explain the way Ouran ran physical exams to her, then Haruhi wouldn't have known that she could make such a request. So it was all thanks to them – and a note from her father that insisted that Haruhi not be exposed to public purview for her physical if there was the possibility of having it done quietly and privately.
The day that Renge arrived, Haruhi wasn't at the club. She had a major assignment to write, as well as the shopping and laundry to do. Takashi had offered her the use of his limo (he'd get a ride home with Mitsukuni) as soon as kendo club was finished.
The second day of Renge's continued presence, Haruhi got the scoop from the two seniors, and came with them to watch the filming and observe Renge herself.
"Haru-chan!" Mitsukuni cried, throwing himself at the girl. "I don't like this! I'm not that kind of person!"
"I know you're not Mitsukuni-senpai," Haruhi comforted him, stroking his hair. Renge had set Mitsukuni with the part of being a bully in the shadows and hired some extras to be the victims. It was Takashi's place to be the unheeded voice of reason to his smaller cousin in the film that Renge was making for the club.
Kyouya caught her eye and nodded at one of the cameras – the one that had been pointed at Mitsukuni for his scene, and had yet to stop tracking and recording his actions. Letting Haruhi know that this interaction was being filmed.
Haruhi's reaction was to sigh and turn back to the blonde in her arms.
"Takashi!" Large brown eyes, flooded with tears, looked up at the tall teen. "You know I'm not a bully, don't you? You know I'd never -!"
Takashi placed a finger over Mitsukuni's mouth, silencing his cousin. "Ah," he said. "I know."
"Then why does Renge-chan want me to play that sort of part?" Mitsukuni asked, wiping at his tears.
"Because she hasn't learned yet that forcing her fantasies onto people doesn't work. It would be different if you were a real actor in a film, just playing a part, but that's not what she's trying to do. Here, Renge-chan seems to be trying to change who you are to suit what she thinks you should be," Haruhi said, then turned slightly so that she was able to look directly into the camera without turning her whole face to it. "In the long run, getting to know people as they really are is much more rewarding than building up a fake image of them in your head."
"Like us!" Mitsukuni said, finally smiling again. "The three of us are friends, ne Haru-chan? And we don't pretend around each other or expect any particular kind of behaviour."
"That's right," Haruhi confirmed with a small smile. "And I couldn't ask for two better friends," she added, giving a slightly broader smile to Takashi.
Both of them returned the gesture warmly.
Renge got the message and learned her lesson regarding who Kyouya was and wasn't. The small movie was also a big hit with the customers, which in turn meant Haruhi got a tidy little sum deposited in her bank account. After all, the 'scene' of her comforting Mitsukuni had been kept in its entirety.
It was inevitable she supposed, that someone else from the Host Club would decide that they wanted to visit her home. She hadn't minded inviting the two seniors, they were her friends and understood her and weren't like everybody else in the school – that is to say, practically detached from the rest of the world because of their wealth. Somehow though, Haruhi had expected it to be Tamaki – who took to things like they were fads – or Kyouya – who would use the excuse for research purposes and try to find a way to get Haruhi to become a regularly appearing host so that business would level out properly.
She had not expected it to be the twins asking to visit just because they were bored. Not even because they were curious. Just bored.
"No matter what?" they asked.
"No is no," she answered firmly. "We may be in the same class, and I may sit between you, but we are not that friendly."
"No matter how much we beg?" they wheedled.
"No," Haruhi repeated flatly.
"Then how about this, if you guess wrong at the 'which one is Hikaru-kun game', then we get to go to your house as a penalty," they offered, putting their caps on their heads.
"I already said no," Haruhi reminded them. "Besides," she continued, pinching her fingers around Hikaru's right ear. "If I couldn't tell you from your brother after having to sit between you for as long as I have, then I would have to be either stupid or really unobservant."
"Haruhi-kun... got it right..." Kaoru breathed in surprise while his slightly older twin complained about the ear-pinching.
Haruhi released Hikaru's ear and continued towards the couch where Takashi and Mitsukuni were waiting for her. She was waylaid however by some of the girls that the twins had been entertaining.
"Haruhi-kun, how do you tell them apart? I can't tell once they hide how they part their hair," one of the girls said.
"Please tell us Haruhi-kun!" another begged.
Haruhi smiled. "Everybody is different," she explained. "Even identical twins. It's just a matter of learning the differences. I found it irritating not being able to tell them apart at first, so I made myself learn quickly. One day I just watched Kaoru out of the corner of my eye and noticed all the little things, then the next I watched Hikaru and noticed the things he did differently, and then another day I watched them together to make sure I wouldn't mix them up."
"You won't tell us Haruhi-kun?" a third girl asked.
Haruhi chuckled. "With them listening in?" she returned. "They'd just try to change it so that it wouldn't work any more... Hmm, actually, one thing they probably wouldn't change is the way they act."
"How Haruhi-kun?" the girls asked eagerly.
Haruhi smiled. "When you come and watch them, which one is always the shyer?"
The girls all thought carefully. "Hikaru will sometimes say something that Kaoru scolds him for as sharing something that was supposed to be between just the two of them," one said.
"And then?" Haruhi pushed.
"Hikaru bends over Kaoru and apologises or comforts..." continued the second.
"That's exactly it," Haruhi said. "Hikaru takes his place as older then Kaoru when they interact by being a larger presence, whether he's comforting or protecting in some way."
"Ah, Haruhi-kun is so smart!" the girls cheered.
Haruhi laughed. "Well, I want to be a lawyer some day, so noticing things like that will be important to my career. It just comes in useful other times too."
"You do say a lot of things to the customers that you shouldn't Hikaru," Kaoru said once Haruhi had finally rejoined Takashi and Mitsukuni at their table.
And instead of apologising and comforting the way Hikaru usually did when his twin said such a thing, they began to fight.
Rather than holding Host Club while the twins were fighting, the senior hosts plus Haruhi had a small meeting.
"You mean to tell me that they managed to survive being twins, being mistaken for each other, for this long and that this is their first fight? Ever?" Haruhi asked, surprised.
Mitsukuni nodded. "I've known them since they started in kindergarten, but didn't have much to do with them since I was older. Still, it was always them together like the rest of the world didn't exist," the blonde senior explained.
"They were very isolated from the rest of the world in middle school when I met them," Tamaki put in. "Almost like they were fighting against the world to be left alone."
"Don't feel bad Fujioka-kun," Kyouya said. "No one could have anticipated that your words would have this effect."
"I don't feel bad," Haruhi said plainly.
"Huh!" the older students all yelped – except Takashi, because he never yelps, though his eyes conveyed his surprised just as well.
"Why should I, when they're not even really mad at each other?" Haruhi pointed out. "Just before the fight began, they were asking to visit my home because they were bored. I refused, so they found something else to distract them from their boredom. Ignore them, tell them that their fight isn't entertaining any more."
"Haru-chan, you mean that they're not really fighting?" Mitsukuni asked.
"That's right," Haruhi agreed. "The things they're doing are too orchestrated for a real fight between siblings, especially considering how it began. If they want to continue their game of fighting with each other then maybe they'll learn how to be their own people from it, if they don't want to keep going then they're really just waiting for someone to do something to get them to stop."
"Haruhi-kun," Takashi said, looking at her intently, a slight question in his eyes.
"Probably me, yes," she answered. "Since I already refused to let them come to my house and I could already tell them apart before they dyed their hair those ridiculous colours."
"Haru-chan is so smart!" Mitsukuni cheered, hugging his rabbit close.
"Ah," Takashi agreed, a smile on his face.
The fight lasted for a grand total of three days before the twins got bored with it themselves and did a great, showy apology in the cafeteria during lunch. The hosts, as according to Haruhi's recommendation, had done nothing to interfere. Kyouya had needed to restrain Tamaki a few times of course, the tall blonde was too dramatically romantic for his own good sometimes.
Haruhi was walking from the gym to the front gates – she wasn't attending Host Club that day – when Mitsukuni came running out. Naturally, Takashi was following him.
Apparently, a kid from Ouran's elementary school had come to ask advice from the Host Club on how to charm women. The boy was a threat to Mitsukuni's position as the loli-shouta, and he wasn't even doing it right!
Haruhi got the whole story in the limo as they gave her a lift home. Since they weren't in club, they would spend time with their friend instead, and Haruhi was always able to cheer them up.
"How about I show you were my father works?" Haruhi offered. "That should cheer you up."
"Fujioka-san's work?" Mitsukuni asked.
"What does he do Haruhi-kun?" Takashi asked.
Haruhi chuckled. "Dad's a professional okama," she answered with a grin.
The two seniors stared for a moment, then began to laugh quietly themselves. The driver was given the address of the okama bar where Haruhi's father worked and instructed not to wait for them.
Ranka was working that day, and he and all his co-workers were absolutely thrilled to have Haruhi come visit them – particularly seeing as she brought such handsome (Takashi) and cute (Mitsukuni) young men to visit with her.
For the two seniors, they found themselves in the position of customers instead of hosts, and – as Haruhi had promised – the visit certainly cheered them up. Even when they somehow got Mitsukuni into a dress and make-up. His hair was still short because they didn't have any extensions that matched his colour, and it wasn't good to just share wigs around, but he still made a cute girl.
"Even cuter than my cute daughter, and I hadn't thought that possible!" Ranka gushed. "And with such cute taste in dresses too!"
Mitsukuni smiled up at Haruhi. "I see why you like pretending to be a different gender now Haru-chan," he said. "It's really quite fun!"
Haruhi chuckled while Ranka fetched out the camera and happily took photos of his daughter and her friends. Mitsukuni even posed like a girl for a little while before changing back into his uniform and washing the make-up off. He liked cute things, but he wasn't going to walk from the okama bar to Haruhi's house for dinner dressed up as a girl.
Haruhi was permitted to skip the 'club trip' to the relaxation resort, and then the subsequent outing to the beach. She wasn't really interested in fake tropic set-ups, as she'd made clear the first time she'd experienced a Host Club Theme Day. Also, though she liked the beach, Haruhi didn't want to leave her father alone for the whole weekend – and it was a weekend trip that the club had planned.
Takashi and Mitsukuni both backed her up, saying that it should always be a person's choice to participate in such things, and Haruhi was very busy maintaining her scores as a scholarship student. That her not attending meant that the rest of the club continued on in ignorance of Haruhi's status as a girl was just an extra reason for them to support her choice to not go.
Since Haruhi's lack of passport didn't need to be considered for the weekend trip to the beach, the club went to the Caribbean with their customers. She got to see the photos though, and the two seniors promised to help her get a passport and treat her to a round-the-world trip when she graduated.
Then came the bust.
Kyouya had stopped by the classroom of 1A and asked Haruhi – asked, he and the rest of the club had learned that the future lawyer would not be ordered or blithely manipulated – to purchase some instant coffee for the club. Tamaki had become interested in the stuff shortly after meeting Haruhi the first time, and though this was the first she'd heard of it, apparently he'd had a 'commoner expert' come to show the entire club how to make instant coffee and instant ramen. Like so many normal people, the rich boys had become addicted to the stuff.
Haruhi had agreed, since she was on top of her homework and with the loan of a limo could deliver her own groceries to her house before returning to the campus. She was just carrying the paper bag full of different varieties of instant coffee up the main way when she tripped.
And was caught by a tall girl in what was definitely not the Ouran girl's uniform.
"It would be bad if your pretty face got scratched, miss," the tall girl said.
Haruhi blinked in surprise. She'd been figured out! And by a complete stranger! Well, if that wasn't just irritating.
"Thank you," Haruhi said, standing. "Now, will you please excuse me?"
The tall girl followed her to the Host Club though.
"What sort of words would you like to hear?" Tamaki was asking two girls in the same red-and-white uniform as Haruhi's 'rescuer'.
"Lets see. If it were me, I'd never leave my lover alone," announced the tall girl from behind Haruhi, gesturing grandly all of a sudden and laying a hand on Haruhi's shoulder, pulling Haruhi against her chest. "We shall fight together, and we shall perish together if we are not allowed to live!" the girl continued, throwing Haruhi around a little bit as though she were her partner in some pantomime. "Even if my life ends, I swear to never leave your side for eternity."
Privately, Haruhi wondered what it was about her that she kept on getting confessions from people. This girl even knew she was a girl when she kissed her hand!
"Benibara-sama, you're late," said the smaller of the girls in the different uniform.
"You problematic person," added the taller of the two. "But where did you pick up such a charming lady?"
Behind them, those of the Host Club who hadn't known Haruhi's gender – meaning everybody not the two seniors – dropped their jaws in surprise. Even Kyouya.
"Just out there," the tall girl – Benibara – answered. "I could tell right away, even if she was wearing men's clothes." Benibara pushed Haruhi into a low dip. "Behold, her beautiful maiden's eyes."
"Excuse me," Haruhi said, really just wanting to be released. What she got instead was the other two girls fondling her skin. One removed her right shoe and sock, then pushed up her trouser leg to rub her shin. The other pushed down her left jacket and shirt sleeves and rubbed her forearm.
"Her skin is so beautiful," said the shorter.
"Really, she is a diamond in the rough just waiting to be polished into something brilliant!" complimented the taller, now rubbing her cheek on Haruhi's leg.
She was still, unfortunately, in that uncomfortable dip.
"Haru-chan?" Mitsukuni asked nervously. He wasn't really one for beating up girls, but he wouldn't let his friends go undefended either.
"A little help would be appreciated," Haruhi said.
"Unhand Fujioka-kun!" Tamaki said, finally regaining some sense and charging the unknown girls.
"Don't you touch her!" Benibara ordered, punching Tamaki in the face.
"She punched me!" Tamaki quailed, clutching the side of his face as he backed away.
The desired result had been achieved at least – Haruhi was released and allowed to re-dress herself.
"They're even more inferior than the rumours say!" Benibara said, staring down at Tamaki where he was on the floor. "Just a group of randomly selected and light-minded fiends with little history."
Kyouya identified them by their uniform. Among the dozens of other schools, Saint Lobelia Girl's Academy had come to Ouran to put on a show for Ouran's two-day cultural exhibition. More specifically, the Zuka Club of Lobelia had come to put on a show.
The number of costumes that they had underneath their uniforms was actually quite impressive, especially since the costumes where larger than the uniforms and really didn't look like they could be so hidden.
Of course, Tamaki passed out from shock and the twins started laughing at the general hilarity of what was going on before them. After all, nobody believed that Haruhi was actually a girl just because these Lobelia students said so – and the seniors weren't correcting the misconception yet because Haruhi had managed to gesture for them to keep their peace. It was her place to tell them the truth after all.
The club members used the time given to them by Renge's explanation on exactly what the Zuka Club was to remove the armour they had been wearing for theme that day, and took the time where the Zuka Club members explained for themselves to actually get comfortable and decide that they were tired of even laughing at the girls any more.
"They are very troubled because the best of their host techniques won't work on us," the one called Chizuru said to the smallest – Hinako, though she'd called her 'Hinagiku'. Like the one they called 'Benibara' had introduced herself as actually being called Benio.
"Still, it was worthwhile to have come peeked at this notorious Ouran Host Club after our show," Benio said.
"We're notorious?" Mitsukuni asked, surprised.
"Who knows?" Takashi answered.
Benio turned her attention back to Haruhi, who had managed to give the bag of instant coffee to the twins while the Lobelia girls were distracted.
"I cannot believe that they've got such a helpless female student involved in their activities," Benio said, laying a hand against the wall right beside Haruhi's head before letting it drift to Haruhi's shoulder. Then she went off on a rant again against the Host Club, it's president, its methods and its practices. "I swear that I will abolish this Host Club at once!"
"I see," Kyouya said, pushing his glasses up his nose slightly. "I understand your intention, but could we continue this at another time?"
"Are you saying you will not face us?" Benio demanded softly.
"Not at all, but our president is still passed out from the culture shock," Kyouya explained, gesturing to where Tamaki had been laid down and tucked in.
"So it's not even worth a talk," Benio said, dismissing all males from her view even as Tamaki began to wake. Instead, she just pulled Haruhi against her chest. "Now that we know the state of matters, we cannot leave a fair maiden in a club like this! We shall process her admission papers for Lobelia immediately, and bring her into the Zuka Club!"
"Eh?" Haruhi gasped quietly.
Takashi and Mitsukuni both echoed the sentiment quietly.
"Just a minute there," Haruhi said, extricating herself from Benio's hold. "You do not know the state of matters here. First of all, it's not your place to yell out that Suoh-senpai is a half, that's his business, not yours. Second, a club's history or lack thereof is no way to base judgement on if it's actually a good club or not. As for your third point about this club being nothing but a way to satisfy greed," Haruhi crossed her arms and looked at Kyouya out of the corner of her eye. "No one is forcing anybody to spend their money. The whole world runs on greed. That's basic economics."
Kyouya smirked slightly in approval. "Your pacer went for thirty-thousand yen in the last auction," he offered. "Are you pleased?"
Haruhi raised an eyebrow. "Thirty-thousand yen for an extra from the electronics store?" she asked, surprised, then shrugged and rolled her eyes. "Forget I asked," she said, waving it off. "Rich people have more money than sense sometimes, I swear."
"Yeah, like these Lobelia students calling you a girl," the twins said, grinning as they lay an elbow each over her shoulders.
The girls all blinked in surprise. They truly hadn't expected this sort of response.
"We'll come back for an answer tomorrow," Benio promised. "When you've set things straight with these fools."
The three Zuka Club girls pirouetted their way out of the room and the hall, the door shutting behind them.
Haruhi smiled at the twins. "I am a girl," she told them. "I just enjoy listening to the chit-chat of the girls that come to the Host Club, so I didn't bother saying anything, especially since you never figured it out for yourselves. Now, if you will all excuse me? I have to make dinner for my father."
Haruhi ducked out from the clutches of the twins and slipped out the door herself, a smile on her face as she considered the chaos that she may have left behind in her wake. Tamaki in particular would not take it well that a girl could be so content at being mistaken for a boy.
The next day, Haruhi allowed the Zuka girls to lead her to the room used by the Host Club – not that they really gave her much of a choice anyway.
Inside, once the lights came up, Haruhi fought to restrain her laughter. She had been raised by an okama after all, and the sight of Tamaki with purple eye-shadow, and the twins with lime green eye-shadow, heavily applied above their fake eyelashes, as well as too much rouge and altogether the wrong choices of lipstick, all topped by over-the-top hair-styles that didn't really suit their faces... At least Kyouya had forgone the make-up, though he was also wearing a dress, gloves and wig. Mitsukuni knew how to do it properly from his little adventure with her dad's co-workers, though he was also wearing a lovely, long hairstyle and large pink dress. It suited his character though at least. Takashi wasn't wearing a dress at all, thankfully, and his outfit was no more over-the-top than any other Host Club Theme costume.
She managed to hold it in until they'd all re-introduced themselves as female (Takashi and Kyouya the exception. The former just smiled at her silently while the latter peered out at her from behind his glasses and fan) and Benio began to yell at them.
"You think the fair maiden would fall for such a thing!" Benio demanded. "Do not try to joke! No maiden would -"
Then Haruhi couldn't hold it in any more as her brain finally computed that even Mistukuni's bunny had been done up with lipstick, fake eyelashes, and a bow. Her laughter cut off whatever else Benio might have had to yell.
"I can't handle it!" she said, drawing her knees in tight and falling to the floor as she clutched her stomach. "I mean, I knew you guys did weird stuff sometimes, but this just takes the cake!" she said, rolling and kicking and hitting the floor and holding her stomach and crying from laughing so hard.
"Are we that funny?" the twins asked. "Call us Onee-sama," they insisted, Mitsukuni joining in.
"No!" Haruhi cried between laughter, scuttling away from them backwards, her tears of laughter starting up again just when she'd wiped the last ones away.
"Say it! Say it! Say it!"
"Aah!" she cried, shaking her head through the tears and the laughter. "Please stop! I can't take it any more! What were you guys thinking to do this?"
"Because we don't want you to leave," Hikaru said.
"Even if you've been lying to us the whole time and are really a girl," Kaoru added.
Mitsukuni winked. "You make Host Club more fun Haru-chan," he said.
"You couldn't have helped them with their make-up though?" Haruhi asked the small senior. "Or at least called in my dad and his friends?"
Takashi chuckled and extended a hand to help her up. "But then you wouldn't have laughed as much," he pointed out.
Haruhi breathed deeply to try and stem any further laughter as she let Takashi help her up.
"It also gives us a slightly better understanding of your situation," Kyouya put in. "And statistics show that the customers don't mind men in women's clothing, though only occasionally."
"Fair Maiden..." Benio said, the shell-shocked look on her face clear as she reached a hopeful hand out to Haruhi.
"I never intended to leave Ouran," Haruhi told the girl. "I could have applied for the Lobelia scholarship if I'd wanted to, but I didn't and that's all that there is to it. Your way of thinking is unique and I'm sure that it suits you, but I'm not really interested in that kind of thing. I have my own reasons for coming to this school above all others, and this is where I intend to stay."
"We won't give up Fair Maiden. We will rescue you from this place and destroy this host club!" Benio insisted before she and the other two girls twirled off out into the hallway.
On a particularly polished bit of floor though, they managed to all slip at the same time.
Haruhi sighed as she watched them go.
"I wonder if they even knew my name," she commented before turning back to the hosts. "Okay, Hikaru-kun, Kaoru-kun, never wear lime green eye-shadow again, alright? If you truly feel the need, at least don't apply it so heavily. Suoh-senpai, the same goes for you – and don't wear such large earrings, you don't have the neck or jaw-line for it."
"Haru-chan really knows her stuff, even if she doesn't dress like a girl often," Mitsukuni said with a smile.
"Oi, what about Kyouya-senpai and Hani-senpai?" the twins asked, affronted that they, the children of a world-famous fashion designer, were being scolded about style and taste.
"They did it right," Haruhi countered firmly. "And your pigtails are just wrong all by themselves! I don't get how you didn't see that!"
Following this was the incident of helping the Nekozawa siblings to unite despite their opposing natures – the elder sibling unable to withstand too much light, the younger terribly afraid of the dark, both of them trying really, really hard to be with the other. It was difficult, but it worked out in the end. Even if the 'ending' was somewhat unconventional.
Then was the attempt by the school's paper to do... something. Haruhi wasn't exactly clear on what though. She'd had a difficult assignment to work on at the time and hadn't been able to participate in any of the club activities. She only heard about it afterwards.
From the incident with the kemari ball through to the complete and total destruction of the other club, Haruhi was busy elsewhere. Takashi was a good story-teller though when he and Mitsukuni came to visit her again and catch her up on what she'd missed out on.
The cousins treated her and Ranka – yes, her father was in his absolutely nicest dress – to dinner at a nice restaurant. Not one that would make the father and daughter gape at the prices like Tamaki, the twins or even Kyouya might have chosen, but still a very nice place. There they explained about all the subtle dynamics that went on at Ouran as well as the incident itself. The incident didn't quite make sense without an understanding of the business dynamics that the students dealt with after all.
There was also a small incident over Mitsukuni needing to get a cavity filled, but the dentist saw the boy immediately after school that day and fixed it right up. Haruhi and Takashi both went with him, since the blonde was scared of dentists. It wasn't a big deal and worked out fine, though there was some concern over the possibility of Mitsukuni having to forgo his sweets because of the hole in his tooth. Mercifully, it didn't come to that.
A small episode during the school's Halloween celebrations had all of Haruhi's class screaming in fright while Haruhi sat back and watched with Takashi and Mitsukuni – after all, she only had one real fear, and she'd found that thunder storms weren't as terrifying when she was with Takashi, so she was slowly getting better about that too. It was annoying being caught in that net with the twins for a little while though. At least it didn't take long to get out.
Then semester break was upon them. Just as well too, the twins and Tamaki were starting to get odd around her, since they'd finally properly wrapped their heads around the fact that Haruhi was, in fact, a girl.
"This is a little earlier than planned," Haruhi said with a smile as the two seniors took her and her father to get her passport.
"Well, I have a business trip while you're on holiday Haruhi," Ryouji explained. "And I'd worry about you if you were alone. How could you possibly think of not accepting the offer of these two wonderful young men to go to Switzerland?"
Haruhi laughed. "Alright," she said, hugging her father again before taking her turn in the photo booth. She wasn't objecting after all. Takashi and Mitsukuni would let her get her homework and study done as well after all. She was a little disappointed that she wouldn't be able to get a part-time job during the break, but apparently it was also against school regulations for students to have part-time jobs. Stupid in her opinion, but then it was a school full of people who were stupidly rich, so it all went together.
Soon enough the passport was in her hand and the only thing left to do was pack her suitcase and make sure she had enough batteries and film for the camera. Her dad wanted lots of pictures after all.
A week into their Switzerland vacation, they were surprised to receive a frantic call from Tamaki. It was even more surprising to learn that he'd been calling Haruhi's house several times a day, had tried her father's work place, and currently believed Haruhi to be destitute, bankrupt, kidnapped, sold into slavery, and possibly ran away in the middle of the night.
"Suoh-senpai watches too many dramas," Haruhi said with a sigh as she listened to him rant from the speaker-phone. She was at the other end of the table the phone was at, so he didn't hear her quiet comment. Considering how close Tamaki was with Kyouya, and how obsessed Kyouya was with having information on everybody, she didn't bother to wonder how the annoying blonde had gotten those phone numbers.
"Tama-chan," Mitsukuni scolded. "You're letting your imagination run away with you. Haru-chan is perfectly safe."
"How can you be so sure!" Tamaki's voice yelled down the phone line. "If she's not answering the phone, there could be a million reasons why, and so few of them any good! And where is her father in all of this?"
"Haruhi-kun is here, with us, in Switzerland," Takashi said firmly. "Her father is on a business trip and asked us to look out for her."
"But Haruhi doesn't have a passport! How can she be with you in Switzerland?" Tamaki yelled.
"It's not exactly hard to get one Tama-chan," Mitsukuni answered.
"How did Haruhi afford the tickets?" the twins asked. It was, after all, a conference call.
"It's a treat," Mitsukuni answered. "Haru-chan doesn't have to pay for anything!"
Haruhi determinedly ignored all arguing after that, with Tamaki ranting about secret dates, how he'd made plans for them to do things all together, and how he wouldn't be satisfied that Haruhi was alright until he'd seen her for himself.
Thankfully, Mitsukuni was able to talk the other hosts out of making such a trip. After all, they were only in Switzerland for another two weeks. They'd be back a few days before the new semester started and they'd go to a shopping complex together – this would satisfy Tamaki's need to experience 'commoner life' as well as have all of the hosts doing something together and Haruhi would be able to be seen as perfectly healthy and fine.
School had been back for a week – and Haruhi had gotten the chance to meet Mitsukuni's younger brother – when it happened. It was a day off for Ouran students, and Haruhi had made plans with Takashi and Mitsukuni to go to the beach. She'd had to buy a swimsuit, but that wasn't exactly a great expense. She'd just finished packing her extra clothes and towel when the doorbell rang.
"That must be Takashi-kun and Mitsukuni-kun!" Ryouji said with a smile, tired as it was. He'd worked late the night before and Haruhi's plans to go out were made in part so that their apartment would be a bit quieter so her dad could rest. "I'll go greet them before turning in while you get your sun hat."
"Thanks Dad," Haruhi said with a smile.
It wasn't Takashi and Mitsukuni though. It was three girls... in the red and white uniform of Saint Lobelia Girl's Academy.
"We clearly should have come sooner to rescue the fair maiden from such a terrible man," the tallest of the girls said.
"Clearly, Benio," agreed the other two, nodding.
Ryouji raised an eyebrow at this. Now normally, he'd be all for his cute daughter having some elegant female friends, and he genuinely thought highly of Lobelia in general – his late wife had attended that school after all. He was not, however, inclined to put up with anyone thinking that they knew better than him what he daughter needed – unless it was Haruhi herself of course.
He stood straight and crossed his arms firmly, frown on his face. "It's rude to appear unannounced at someone's door in the first place, let alone to then insult them as though they weren't even standing right in front of you," he scolded the girls.
"Huh?" Haruhi said, appearing in the hallway behind him. "Dad? Oh no," she groaned, recognising the three Zuka Club girls. "Not them again! I swear they're worse than Suoh-senpai and the twins!" - and they'd been getting steadily worse since her gender had been revealed to them, which was entirely the fault of these girls as well... though Haruhi supposed that she didn't have to confirm their claims to the hosts.
"Fair maiden!" Benio exclaimed upon seeing her, immediately trying to push passed Ryouji.
She didn't get far.
Haruhi smiled. Her dad was utterly excellent like that sometimes.
Benio was currently pressed down on the floor beneath Ryouji, his foot on the back of her head.
"Benio-sama!" the girls cried, kneeling down beside her.
"How dare you! Just because you're a man you think you have the right to treat women to terribly?" demanded the shortest girl. Hina-something, Haruhi thought. Hard to tell with Zuka Club girls, they insisted on changing the ends of their names between when they introduced themselves and when they actually used their names in conversation.
Haruhi laughed quietly at the accusation, but thankfully neither she nor her father had to come up with an answer, as Takashi and Mitsukuni arrived at that moment.
"Good morning!" Mitsukuni chirped.
"Good morning," Takashi added, holding out a box to Ryouji. "You worked late last night Ryouji-san?"
"I did," he answered, accepting the box. "Oh, thank you Takashi-kun!" he exclaimed as he opened it. It was full of things to fizz in his bath and make it smell nice while making his skin soft and smooth. "I'll be the envy of all the other okama down at the bar with these!"
"-ma?" the Lobelia girls stuttered.
"Okama," Ryouji confirmed. "Do you know these rude girls, my cute daughter?" he asked Haruhi.
"Unfortunately," Haruhi said with a sigh. "They're determined that I need to be rescued, though I honestly have no idea from what."
"From the clutches of men!" Benio exclaimed from beneath Ryouji's foot. "We would take you away to Lobelia -"
"Kidnapping," Haruhi said firmly, "which is clearly what you planned, is a criminal offence. Also it is something that the Host Club that you are so opposed to has not yet even thought of doing."
"And never will!" Mitsukuni interjected firmly.
"I should report you for sexual harassment as well, since I certainly never gave you permission to invade my personal space the way you did when we met," Haruhi finished.
Ryouji's frown deepened and he ground his foot a little harder on Benio's head. "I take my precious daughter's virtue very seriously," he said. "No one is allowed to even think of trying to woo my precious daughter without getting my permission first, and you are clearly not worthy of her!"
Haruhi checked her grip on her bag and gave her dad a peck on the cheek. "Remember to get some sleep," she said. "Love you Dad, I'll see you later."
He nodded. "I love you too," he told her. "Now go have fun with those two handsome boys," he added, giving a wink and a nod to Takashi.
"Ready to go?" Takashi asked, gently taking her back from her to carry it himself while he willed down the slight blush that had been brought up by what he knew Ryouji's gestures meant.
"Un!" Haruhi answered with a nod and a smile, letting her friends take her by the arms and walk her to their car. The beach awaited them.
"Have a good day Fujioka-chan!" called the landlady as she passed.
"Fair maiden..." the Lobelia girls called weakly. Benio, however, was still trapped under Ryouji's foot.
"Haruhi," Takashi said as they sat together on the warm sand under the beach umbrella – Mitsukuni was collecting shells a little way away.
"I love you."
Haruhi froze, not turning her gaze to the boy beside her but determinedly watching the waves as they gently crashed on the shore. Slowly, she let herself relax and even leaned over to rest her cheek on his shoulder – something only possible while they were seated like this.
"After this morning, I can only think that you wouldn't have said that if my dad didn't know and approve already," she said, and threaded her fingers through Takashi's. "And he's always looking out for me, in his own way, and he wouldn't make a decision like this lightly. I'm his precious daughter after all," Haruhi continued, shifting just a tiny bit closer to Takashi's side.
"Haruhi?" Takashi asked hopefully.
She smiled and looked up at him. "I'm not in love with you yet, Takashi-kun," she said. "But that's easily fixed, I'm sure."
Takashi smiled back and gently pressed his lips to her brow. "Will you be my girlfriend?" he whispered into her hair. "Will you let me ask you to marry me someday?"
Haruhi chuckled just briefly. "Yes," she answered happily. "I will."