A/N: And wow, this took even longer. Sorry! In my defense, it was unexpectedly difficult. I kind of ran out of ideas, because all of my remaining ones were allotted for days six and seven. Sigh. And then there was NaNo November, eck. Harder than I expected. But it's done now.
Title: Snow Days
Warnings: Unlikely circumstances
Summary: The Host Club's first meeting - before it was the Host Club.
Disclaimer: Sadly, OHSHC is not mine.
Ryoji was moaning.
Haruhi was exasperated.
"All night with strange boys, Haruhi! Why would you do this to your poor father-"
Ryoji was now entering his second hour of bemoaning his daughter's carelessness, and Haruhi really, really needed to shop for groceries. So she interrupted.
"I'm going out, Dad."
Ignoring her father's abrupt, shocked silence, she turned and headed out the door, mind already redirecting. Behind her, Ryoji let out a whimper.
"They grow up too fast…"
Haruhi was not ever going to be able to go grocery shopping. Haruhi could tell, because one of the twins was currently clinging to each of her arms, trying to stop her from moving. And succeeding.
"Haruhi!" Kaoru whined, laying his head on her shoulder.
"Play with us!" Hikaru insisted, tugging her arm a little.
"No," Haruhi replied firmly. "I need to go grocery shopping."
"Can't you put it off for a few days, Haruhi?"
That was Kyoya, vaguely exasperated. Haruhi was more so. How did they keep finding her? Did they have some sort of inborn Haruhi-tracking instinct?
"I did," she replied, some of her annoyance making its way into her voice.
"But Haruhi!" Tamaki. Where were they all coming from? And how were they finding her?
"No." Free of the twins' restraining arms, she kept walking. Vaguely, she hoped that they would go away. No such luck. A dial tone behind her had Haruhi glancing over her shoulder despite herself.
"I need you to send a team – what kind of team? I don't care, dimwit. A junior team, or something. Send them to…" He paused. "Haruhi, where are we going?"
To her credit, Haruhi only blinked twice before answering. "The grocery store." She pointed. "Just down there."
Kyoya relayed the information and listened a moment, then nodded sharply. "Good. Make sure they're here within half an hour." He shut his phone, looking extremely self-satisfied. "Well, Haruhi, lead the way."
Haruhi blinked, nodded, and continued on, while behind her, the twins and Tamaki bounced about, excited about their trip to the 'commoner's supermarket'.
Within a few minutes, they'd arrived, and Haruhi reached into her pocket for her list, pulling it out and glancing over it.
"Is that your list, Haru-chan?" Honey inquired. Oh, so Honey and Mori had found them. She nodded, found a cart, and made to go get it. Instead, though, an arm reached over her and claimed it. She looked back to find Mori looking down at her, face impassive. She gave him a smile and turned away without commenting.
"I wanna do something! I wanna do something!" Honey chanted excitedly, looking at Haruhi with wide, hopeful brown eyes.
Haruhi turned her head to look at him, paused, considered, and then asked him to go find rice. He beamed, nodded enthusiastically, and then took off at a run.
"Cheap rice!" she called after him as he ran down the aisles. "Look for cheap rice!"
Honey paused and looked back at her with wide eyes. "Really cheap rice?" he asked.
Haruhi considered the ramifications of having a rich friend look for rice, and then nodded firmly. "Really cheap," she agreed. "In fact, whoever finds the cheapest rice gets to choose what we do next."
That was enough to send the twins and Tamaki running off, too. Haruhi smiled to herself before continuing on her way.
Honey won that round, but apparently, the competitive spirit between Tamaki, Hikaru, and Kaoru was enough to send them searching for cheap fish, wasabi, eggs, and varying vegetables, despite the fact that no further incentive was given.
Haruhi was pleased; shopping had taken less than half the time it normally did.
To her mild confusion, though they were met outside by several cars' worth of policemen. Haruhi tilted her head and looked at them quizzically.
Kyoya breezed right ahead of her easily. "Good," he said decisively. He pointed to the cart that Mori was refusing to relinquish to Haruhi. "Take these to Haruhi's apartment; her father should be able to meet you there."
The head policeman saluted sharply. "Yes, sir!" he answered promptly, hiding his confusion well.
Behind a car in the parking lot, Ryoji squeaked and scrambled away to hurry home before anyone could notice that no, he wasn't there.
Satisfied, Kyoya didn't wait to watch them carry away the groceries, extremely professionally, Haruhi noted. Instead, he turned to the rest of the group and gave them an expectant look, coupled with a cheerful, if slightly malevolent, smile. "Well. What now?"
Haruhi blinked, shrugged, and looked at Honey, who beamed.
"Let's make cookies!" Honey exclaimed.
"Yeah!" cheered Hikaru, Kaoru grinning beside him.
The instant they were in the twins' large kitchen, their house being the most accessible, the boys turned to Haruhi.
"So, how do you make cookies, Haruhi?"
Haruhi sighed, woefully unsurprised.
Then she began directing them.
"First we need flour, baking soda, butter, white sugar, brown sugar, salt, vanilla, eggs, and chocolate chips." She watched as the boys scrambled to the four corners of the kitchen, scared away what few brave cooks remained, and started searching. Honey stood on a counter, searching through a cupboard with Mori, who knelt beside him. Kaoru stood on Hikaru's shoulders doing the same thing in what looked like a pantry, while Tamaki burrowed through another, lower cabinet making a mess of things and Kyoya found the eggs and butter in the fridge.
Haruhi gave them all a warm smile that they were too focused to see and turned to begin searching for supplies.
Just outside the window, Ryoji, despite himself, smiled fondly. That was his Haruhi, taking charge as soon as it was called for. Even with a bunch of strange boys. Ryoji sighed. Finding her was actually easier with the boys in tow; they made a lot of noise.
At that moment, Haruhi glanced at the window, and Ryoji yelped and ducked down.
Soon enough, the various ingredients were splayed across the large central counter, and the kids were kneeling around that, not tall enough to work on it comfortably from the ground and without a stool in sight. Haruhi sat on one edge, facing inward, carefully measuring ingredients into a mixing bowl she'd found. Kaoru knelt across from her, helping with an unusual caution.
Kaoru dumped in the last of the baking soda with the flour and grinned at Haruhi. Haruhi smiled back and picked up the bowl, passing it to Tamaki, who looked down at it, and then back up at Haruhi with such a pathetically confused expression that Haruhi had to giggle.
She reached for a whisk, something Kyoya had thought to bring over, and put it in the bowl. "Mix it up," she explained to him.
He brightened instantly and nodded, sitting back and starting to stir fervently. Haruhi granted him a smile, took vague note that there were bits of egg in his hair, correctly concluded that one of the twins had thrown an egg at him, and turned back to the middle.
"Now we need to mix the sugars and the butter," Haruhi explained, flour lightly dusting her face from the first few attempts at getting it in. There was some on the counter, too. She waited as Honey passed Kyoya the bowl, and then received it from him. On her other side, Mori gave Hikaru two sticks of butter, and Hikaru opened them and dumped them into the bowl, making faces at the greasy texture of the remaining wrapper and letting it fall to the floor.
Haruhi reached for the white sugar herself and measured it out, meticulously pouring each cup into the bowl, and then frowned as a lump of brown sugar fell onto her hand and broke apart. She looked up to see Kaoru giving it a startled look. She laughed and Kaoru looked up, giving her a sheepish smile.
"Now it needs to be stirred until it's light and fluffy," she continued, smiling at Kaoru. Mori held one hand out and Haruhi gave him the bowl, along with a wooden spoon she'd found. Mori started mixing it quickly, a strangely intense expression on his face.
"Don't eat that yet, Honey," Haruhi told Honey, who pouted and stopped reaching for the bag of chocolate chips. "We need those."
"Okay, Haru-chan," Honey pouted, slumping back unhappily.
Haruhi glanced over at Tamaki, who was still stirring fervently. "I think it's done, Tamaki."
Tamaki stopped. "Really?" He looked in and beamed, holding out the bowl to Haruhi. "It's all mixed, Haruhi!" he announced, as if she hadn't been the one to tell him.
She stifled a giggle and took the bowl. In the background, the oven beeped, announcing that it was done heating. Haruhi set down the bowl of flour and baking soda.
A few minutes later, Mori silently handed her the bowl of butter-sugar. "Thanks, Mori," she said absently, wondering slightly. It always took her forever to get the mixture to this point. "Now we need the eggs, salt, and vanilla."
Mori passed Hikaru a handful of eggs, several of which tumbled from Hikaru's significantly smaller hands to smash on the ground. Kaoru, head poking between Haruhi's and Hikaru's, snickered. Hikaru smashed one of the remaining eggs on his twin's shoulder, pouting. Kaoru, egg dripping off him, pouted, too.
Of the three remaining eggs, Haruhi took two. Hikaru threw the last one at Tamaki, who yelped and started protesting violently, babbling something about evil twins. Haruhi gave Hikaru a frown.
"If eggshell gets into any of this, we'll have to start that part over," Haruhi told Hikaru.
"But Haruhi!" Hikaru protested. Mori put a hand on his head, causing him to make a face but look up. Mori gave him an amused, but firm look, and he let out a huff, but didn't protest further.
"Are we going to be able to eat these, Haru-chan?" Honey inquired hopefully.
Haruhi made a small noise of assent, carefully measuring out the vanilla into the bowl on her lap. "Mm-hm. We just have to stay here long enough for them to bake. Can you pass me the flour bowl?"
Honey grinned and handed her the bowl, and she dumped its contents in with the rest. She mixed it herself this time, watching it closely, and then paused.
A moment later, without any prompting from her, two arms circled around her head and the bag of chocolate chips emptied itself into the bowl. She blinked and looked back to Kaoru's grinning face, slightly mischievous. She looked back down to the bowl. I don't think there are supposed to be that many chocolate chips in there…
She shrugged and started stirring it again anyway. The boys crowded around her, white powder plastering itself over their clothes, to watch as the strange slop slowly mixed into dough.
"Done," Haruhi announced, bowl cradled in her lap, one hand securing it there and the other setting aside the spoon. She hopped off and crossed the kitchen to the oven, where a cookie sheet sat waiting patiently on top. Almost as an afterthought, she added, "Now we just need to spoon it out and then we can get it in."
She dug a spoon, normal this time, into the bowl of dough, then dumped the spoonful onto the tray without ceremony. Almost instantly, Tamaki enthusiastically added his (much larger) contribution.
Haruhi considered it for a moment, then split it in half and moved one half to the other side. Tamaki let out a little whining sound.
Haruhi smiled at him. He stopped and beamed back.
In the end, Haruhi and Mori had done most of the spooning, while Honey stared covetously at the dough and Tamaki, well, tried to help. The twins were kind of preventing it. Kyoya seemed to be transcribing the recipe.
Finally, though, it was all out, and Tamaki, more than anyone, was bouncing with impatience.
"Haruhi, Haruhi, can we put it in now? Can we? Can we?"
Haruhi looked over and granted him a smile and a nod.
Tamaki grinned and seized the tray. Then, with surprising care, tongue sticking out with concentration, he inserted the tray into the heated oven. He straightened up triumphantly and the twins closed it after him, high-fiving with an exchanged grin. Everyone else just smiled contently.
Outside, Ryoji sighed wistfully. When was the last time he and Haruhi had made cookies together?
Maybe, he thought as Honey hugged Haruhi, the twins clapped her on her shoulders, and Mori lifted her onto his shoulders as Tamaki protested, they're good for her after all.
"These are really good, Haru-chan," came Honey's slightly muffled voice as he munched on another cookie.
"Ah," Mori agreed, giving her a faint smile, and the twins chorused their agreement, grinning.
Tamaki hugged Haruhi tightly, head cuddling against hers happily. "My Haruhi's cooking is the best!" he insisted, as if they were disagreeing.
Haruhi pushed him off. "I'm not yours," she complained.
Tamaki whimpered and flew into his corner, taking a cookie with him to nibble on dolefully.
Haruhi sighed and turned back to the others with a soft smile, muffled by memories. "It's my mother's old recipe," she explained, looking almost wistful. "Out of all of them, the only one I've memorized is this one."
For a moment, no one spoke. Then Tamaki flew from his corner with astonishing speed, attaching himself to Haruhi, crying. "Oh, Haruhi, thank you for sharing this lonesome memory of your wonderful mother with us!"
"Get off!" Haruhi protested, squirming. "You're smothering me!"
Tamaki just kept clinging to her, sobbing. Eventually, it took Hikaru and Kaoru to pull him off, and they crashed to the ground with the force of the wrench. Protests, sobs, and jabs transformed on their lips, turning instead to laughter. After a few seconds, the others joined in – Honey's giggles, Kyoya's soft chuckles, Mori's rumbling laugh.
It seemed like forever before the laughter faded, and they were left smiling on the ground, a swiftly emptying tray of fresh-baked cookies in the middle.
Tamaki sat up, face flushed and grinning like a loon, and asked, "So…" He let out a soft, leftover giggle. "What do we do now?"
"How about we go for a walk?" Haruhi suggested, face every bit as flushed as his, and not much more composed.
"In the forest!" the twins put in together.
"Yeah!" cheered Honey.
"Ah," Mori agreed, still smiling.
"I'm alright with that," Kyoya decided, pushing up his glasses and valiantly ignoring his own healthy flush. "Let's go."
And so they wound up in a forest, chattering their way down the path. Haruhi looked up to Honey, talking from his perch on Mori's shoulders, and the twins teased a flustered Tamaki to the tune of Kyoya's slight smirk.
"Why, hello, there."
All of them jumped, whirling towards the source of the voice. Approaching them was a figure, clad in a dark cloak that obscured every part of him from view, about Tamaki's height.
Behind them, just out of sight, Ryoji let out an undignified squeak and tripped backward.
The figure waved a puppet at them. "Beelzenef here says that you are lost." As he spoke, he manipulated the puppet, making it wave, drop, and rub its hands together evilly. "Are you lost?"
"No," Haruhi answered bluntly, looking at the puppet with unabashed interest.
The boy and his puppet slumped. "Oh." He sighed and elaborated, "I am. I thought that perhaps we could be lost together."
"You can come with us, if you like," Haruhi offered without thinking.
Ryoji let out an unheard, piteous moan.
The boy visibly brightened. "Really?"
Haruhi nodded. "Mm-hm." She gestured to herself, then, as she spoke, to each of her boys. "I'm Haruhi, and this is Tamaki, Kyoya, Hikaru, Kaoru, Honey, and Mori." She tilted her head at him as she finished, large brown eyes looking at him without fear. "What's your name?"
"I am Nekozawa," the boy answered, waving his puppet around again. "And this is Beelzenef."
"Creepy," Tamaki whimpered.
"Stop being a baby, Kyoya retaliated.
Haruhi reached out and tugged on a part of Nekozawa's cloak, causing him to lurch forward. "We're walking," she informed him.
"Beelzenef wants to know where we're going," Nekozawa told her, making the puppet bob and raise its arms. Honey's eyes followed it with fascination.
The twins, deciding Haruhi had been urging Nekozawa forward for long enough, darted forward and embraced her from either side, dislodging her grip.
"Hey Haruhi," Kaoru started.
Haruhi turned her head and looked at him expectantly. From behind her, a finger tapped her lightly on the back of her head.
"You're it," Hikaru whispered mischievously in her ear.
And with that, both Hikaru and Kaoru let go, turned, and took off in opposite directions, leaving Haruhi standing alone, faintly startled.
Then, without her even really realizing it, a light smile overtook her face and she, too, turned, one hand flashing out to catch Tamaki's forearm. For a moment, their eyes met, confused lavender questioning pleased chocolate.
"You're it." She gave him a smile and let go, hair swishing as she turned and vanished into the trees.
For a moment, confusion lingered in his eyes, but then he figured it out, grinned, and started to reach for Kyoya.
Kyoya glared at him.
Tamaki hastily changed his mind, tagging Mori instead. Mori chuckled quietly as Tamaki fled haphazardly into the trees. Honey flashed a grin at him, detached himself, and ran off. (Ryoji scrambled to get out of the way.) Mori took off after him in long, easy strides.
Nekozawa was left confused on the path.
Within moments, though, Honey came tearing back, cheeks flushed and laughter spilling from his lips. Haruhi, already panting from exertion, was running after him.
She paused on seeing Nekozawa all alone, gave him a bright smile, and tagged him.
He blinked, stared, and then smiled.
Haruhi took that as her cue to leave.
Half an hour later, they'd migrated some ways down the path, and finally collapsed into the snow, breaking off occasionally into laughter. Little bits of leaves and dustings of snow covered each of them, even Kyoya.
Haruhi wasn't sure how he'd gotten dragged into it. She was pretty sure it was Tamaki's fault, though.
Nekozawa looked completely burned out, laying flat on his back and panting from trying to keep up with the energetic little group, while the twins snickered at him. His cloak was half-covered in bright snow that stood out against the dark cloth. Haruhi, sitting up but leaning against a tree, tilted her head at him.
Tamaki was sprawled on his stomach on the ground, also panting, and the twins not far from him. One of them grinned and poked him.
"Hikaru!" he whined.
Haruhi barely glanced over before correcting, "Kaoru."
The twins grinned at her as Tamaki pouted.
"It's getting dark," Kyoya noted, a hint of regret in his voice.
The others looked up as if to confirm it. By the groans that echoed through the clearing, Haruhi knew that she wasn't the only one disappointed by this.
"I can head home, then!" Nekozawa said happily, oblivious to the sudden cloud over the clearing's other occupants.
Honey tilted his head at him quizzically. "You couldn't before?"
"I am deathly allergic to light," the boy claimed, waving his puppet emphatically. Haruhi wondered how he hadn't lost it in the chaos. "The forest is the only safe place for me!"
"I see," Hikaru deadpanned. He turned over to grin at the others. "Wanna stay at our house again?"
That wasn't any of the boys. Haruhi frowned. That was…
"No!" More emphatic this time. They looked up.
Ryoji was clinging to a branch above them, glaring balefully at Hikaru. "My Haruhi won't be staying with any of you… you… boys ever again! Never!"
"It's her dad," mumbled Kaoru. "How long has her dad been following us?"
Both he and Hikaru shuddered slightly.
Haruhi just glowered up at her father. "Dad, why were you following me?"
Ryoji burst into sobs, dislodging himself from his branch and making him fall to the ground in front of his daughter. He didn't appear to notice. "I just wanted to keep my Haruhi safe!"
"I wasn't in any danger, Dad." Haruhi's voice was certain. "The boys won't do anything to me."
Ryoji whimpered. "But Haruhi…"
Haruhi sighed and looked back, a slight regret in her eyes. "I think I gotta go."
"Yeah," Honey mumbled, unhappy. The other boys gave a general, if approximate, assent and Haruhi turned, grabbed her father's hand, and dragged him along behind her, heading back.
"I could possibly let you stay with them overnight again, Haruhi! You're so innocent and they're… boys!"
"OK, Dad. If you say so."
Ryoji whimpered again at the clear doubt in her voice.
And that was fun as heck to write, once I got around to it. Never thought I'd actually be grateful for any of my math teacher's un-math-related warmups, but this one was inspired by a cute little video she made us watch about a ball pit in which people sat and made friends. Granted, by 'inspired by', I mean it gave me cute feelings that made me want to write it, whilst providing absolutely no material for it, but still. Done at last! Please review!