Act 3

    "Haruhi. A moment."
    Haruhi looked up in mixed surprise and trepidation. The words had been a command, not a polite request. The host club members were preparing for their customers; they had maybe twenty minutes before the doors would be opened to the school. Mori was setting out the snacks while Hunny looked on sparkly-eyed, and the twins were teasing their king mercilessly about something while Tamaki went into little fits of rage that only egged them on more.
    Haruhi carefully set her tea tray on the nearest table and trailed after Kyouya to the far side of the room. He turned to face her once they were out of earshot of the others, expression stern. "I don't have time for Tamaki's buffoonery and brush-offs. Nor do I have the patience for his constant moping. Something is obviously bothering him, and I'm not about to pin all the blame on Lady Eclaire."
    Haruhi's eyes shifted unconsciously towards the sputtering blonde, her face softening into something similar to guilt. "No," she admitted quietly.
    "You said something to him, didn't you?" Kyouya demanded, tapping his notebook impatiently against his thigh. "The two of you were fine at the festival, but since that night, he's been avoiding you, and it's rare that he calls you his 'daughter' anymore, much less put up a fuss at how much time you spend with the twins."
    Haruhi flushed. "Um- well--"
    "I've already asked him," he cut her off, "and he's playing dumb. So you're going to tell me."
    "I wonder if you ever ask for anything," Haruhi muttered.
    Kyouya gave a grim little smile. "That was asking," he assured her.
    Haruhi got the hint, but it was clear she was still uncomfortable talking about it. "The host club has become more important to me than I thought it would be," she murmured. "So have all of you. I thought it was a big hassle, but... I really am glad to be a part of it." She shook her head slightly. "But I can't do it for my entire stay at Ouran. I still have a dream. I want to be a great lawyer like my mother. My studying has suffered because of this club. I told him..." she hesitated.
    Kyouya could guess. He'd suspected that such a thing would come up eventually. "You won't be a part of the host club next year."
    She nodded. "I have to focus on my studies. That means no more host club. And no... distractions." She shifted nervously.
    Kyouya's eyes shot Tamaki's way. He'd had vague suspicions, but hearing it was still a bit of a surprise. He'd been sure that the two of them... "Such as relationships other than friendship," he finished. In the end, he shouldn't have been surprised as he felt, he told himself. Haruhi was a very determined, straight-forward and intelligent young woman. She would not give up her dreams for some fool of a prince. Especially when she had only just started to be come aware of the budding feelings on both sides. Better to get out before things got too entangled. Better to give him up now and deal with only a little guilt and maybe some regret, than allow herself to get closer to the host king and hurt the both of them even more when she drew away her second year.
    Haruhi, who had always been good at picking things up, must have noticed the slight frown on Kyouya's face and guessed the meaning behind it. "I don't love him," she said quietly but bluntly.
    Kyouya stared at her, nonplussed.
    "I'm as fond of him as I am of the rest of you," she continued. "He's become a good friend. I'm not sure about his feelings, especially with his 'father' role going on, but I had to be sure."
    "You told him you're not interested."
    Haruhi blinked. "Not in so many words. I just explained to him what I just told you. I have to focus on my studies. For once, I think he got the picture without having to have it bludgeoned into his head. I tried to explain to him that if for some reason I did start dating in high school, it would have to be because it was somebody I cared about deeply. My father finally made me realize that giving up something that could make you happy could make you miserable for the rest of your life, so if an opportunity presents itself, I'll try not to let it pass me by. It's why I went after Tamaki and Lady Eclaire in the first place. I realized what would happen to all of us if Tamaki left. And I knew in his heart he would only be unhappy. But... he looked so confused and hurt, I couldn't quite explain it, and I left it alone." She paused, studying Kyouya with a slight hint of puzzlement that quickly turned into a small smile. "It's unlike you to get this worked up about something, especially when it comes to somebody else's feelings," she pointed out. "You're a good friend to Tamaki."
    Kyouya frowned at her. She was right; Tamaki's moodswings were getting to him, and he was displaying more impatience about it than he normally did. He cursed himself for letting the idiot get to him, and quickly smoothed his face into its normal dispassionate expression. "His strange moods could affect the well-being of this club, that's all," he stated coolly. "Not only will he affect the other members, he may inadverdently push the majority of the customers away. He still remains their favorite."
    Haruhi nodded, and Kyouya studied her in silence. She was fond of Tamaki, but her feelings were of mere friendly affection, then. But her remark about opportunities... Her father must have really struck a chord in her to get her to think this way. And the fact that she had tried to explain it to Tamaki at all.... almost like... a warning...
    His face remained blank as he watched her return to the table, but inwardly he was frowning pensively.
    For her to admit that she would, if her heart told her to, allow someone else in, for her to say this out loud to Tamaki and Kyouya... did it mean she suspected there was already someone worming themselves into her life too deeply to be pushed away?
    It was a warning for herself and Tamaki. For Tamaki, it was 'I don't love you, but be prepared if I do start dating someone I do love'. For herself it was an admittance of a weakness.
    'Someone has already tugged at my heart'.
    Kyouya's gaze shifted to Tamaki. He doubted Tamaki had read into it that much; all the blonde knew (which, given his usual slow speed to come to grasp with things he didn't want to accept, was remarkable) was that Haruhi didn't feel for him as he did for her. He winced as an unfamiliar pang of guilt jabbed his conscience. Would he have been so crushed if he'd continued to fool himself with thoughts of "paternal affection"? If Kyouya hadn't nudged here and there, forcing him to explore these feelings, would the news from Haruhi have been only a mild disappointment instead of this?
    It's not my fault, Kyouya thought grumpily, then forced the issue from his mind. He'd gotten his answer. Now he knew the reason behind Tamaki's dark moods. That was all he'd wanted to know. It wasn't his job to fix or console the twit. If this continued much longer and was a threat to business, he would kick Tamaki's ass into gear, but until then...
    It's not my fault, he thought again without meaning to, and went to go open the doors for their customers.


    It quickly became obvious that Tamaki had either informed the others of the conversation at lunchtime, or the twins had never planned on giving up on the game in the first place. But this time Kyouya spotted Hunny-- who still seemed to think he had a chance --trotting his way with an enormous slice of apple pie. He excused himself politely and made a beeline for the bathroom. It would take less than a few minutes for Hunny's self control to vanish; he wouldn't be able to wait for Kyouya's reappearance, and would undoubtedly devour the pie and allow himself to be distracted by cooing girls.
    The moment he stepped inside he realized his mistake. He should have checked the location of the other members. It seemed his next move when confronted with a beaming Hunny had been rather obvious.
    Hikaru was lying in wait, and seized the front of his uniform the instant he stepped into the restroom, spinning him around to pin him by the sinks. He laughed at the look on Kyouya's face.
    A moment later Kaoru, who must have been following Kyouya at a distance, slipped inside and propped himself by the door to block the exit. He smiled charmingly at their captive, with no trace of guilt for their trick.
    Kyouya turned his attention back on Hikaru, forcing himself to relax slightly as he stared with hooded eyes at the younger boy, not bothering to try and twist free. "You'll be the ones doing the dry cleaning if my uniform gets wrinkled because of this," he pointed out coolly.
    Hikaru just grinned and abruptly leaned in.
    Kyouya jerked back so fast he knocked his hip painfully into one of the sinks, his fingers curling around the basin behind him. Staring at Hikaru's mischievious grin, he swiftly readjusted his assumptions and attitude. All right, not just innocent teasing or flirtation, then. He should have guessed that with Hikaru taking the lead things would get a bit hairier. He was the more sexually agressesive of the twins; it was just that Kyouya had never seen him act such a way with anyone aside from Kaoru before. He hadn't expected a bold attack right off the bat.
    "Don't," he warned flatly when Hikaru looked ready to attempt another try at his mouth. Hikaru paused, hands flat against the mirror either side of Kyouya's head. By the door, Kaoru shifted, a flash of something like displeasure crossing his face. Either Hikaru was doing something other than they'd agreed, or he was more bothered by this than he might have let on to his brother before.
    "Mou, don't be such a cold fish, Kyouya-senpai," Hikaru tsked. But he wasn't quite stupid enough to have another try after the warning tone in Kyouya's voice. He did not, however, back out of his personal space. He was also noticing his brother's lack of participation, and turned slightly to frown quizically at him. Rarely did they clash on things, their minds usually seeming to run along the same lines so that everything they did or said synchronized. The moment he was distracted Kyouya reached up and shoved him backwards forcefully.
    He caught the boy off guard, and he stumbled back, slammed into one of the stall doors, which swung open, and landed with a yelp on the toilet.
    Kaoru reacted immediately to the violent retaliation to his twin. He raced to the stall to check on him. "Hikaru!"
    "Ow.." Hikaru winced as he pushed himself to his feet, rubbing his sore bottom. "I'm OK," he reassured his brother when he caught the look of worry on his face.
    Kyouya had suddenly turned things into an "us and them" scenario, one the twins had been accustomed to their whole lives. They both turned to face Kyouya with identical pouting looks. "No need to overreact," they chimed. "Don't be so mean, Kyouya-senpai."
    "Hn." Kyouya straightened his uniform jacket and strode to the door. "Get back to your customers and stop fooling around."
    He opened the door and froze. The atmosphere in the music room was full of tension. He glanced around quickly, assessing the situation. A frown tugged at his mouth as he spotted the group by the couch Haruhi was seated on.
    So it was happening at last.

    "What, so now you deny customers?" one of the rougher-looking boys scowled at Tamaki, stepping up to him aggressively. He seemed doubly irritated at the fact that the blonde was taller than him, forcing him to lift his chin when addressing him. "Haruhi IS a girl, isn't she? If she's going to be in this club, shouldn't all her customers be guys?"
    Some of the girls were clustered together, railing indignantly at the small group of boys. "You're wrong!"
    "Leave Haruhi-kun alone!"
    "This club is for girls only!"
    "Don't talk to Tamaki-sama like that!"
    Haruhi was looking with wide eyes from the boys hovering around her to Tamaki. "Ano... Tamaki-senpai, we've allowed male customers before," she started a bit nervously, obviously trying to forestall an ugly argument. "Like Casanova-kun--"
    "That was different!" Tamaki declared, refusing to back down, gaze locked with the boy before him. "The host club caters to the princesses of this school," he informed the boys. He was still being reasonable; they hadn't managed to do more than irritate him on a very base level, and politeness was too firmly ingrained in him. "And besides that, Haruhi is already busy with customers."
    "Haruhi is a girl," the boy, a scowling second year, repeated. "Her customers should be guys! You may have some people at this school fooled, but some of us got a pretty good look at her in that dress. Haruhi may be flat-chested, but she's still a girl!"
    There were horrified gasps from Tamaki and the girls at this bold statement. "How dare you call Haruhi flat-chested!" Tamaki exploded, practically dancing with indignant anger. "Take it back!"
    The boy jeered at him and turned away. He shouldered past one of the other boys and reached out, wrapping strong fingers around Haruhi's elbow and jerking her out of her seat.
    "Ch-chotto!" she protested, alarmed by the sudden turn of events-- more because of what stupid thing she thought Tamaki might do than fear for herself.
    Kyouya arrived on the scene, and stood beside Tamaki, face stern. "Violence will not be tolerated in this club," he announced coldly, reaching up to nudge his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. His other hand was holding the back of Tamaki's jacket where the other boys couldn't see it, preventing the fool from jumping forward. Tamaki's overprotective reaction to the rough treatment of Haruhi would only make things ten times worse. "Nor will harrassment of our members or customers."
    The twins appeared behind the couch suddenly. They wrapped their arms under Haruhi's armpits and lifted her bodily over the back of the couch, placing her safely between the two of them. "That's unnecessary," they informed the startled two-year, an edge to their voices.
    "We are going to have to ask you to leave," Kyouya continued calmly. He could sense the presence of the other two host members at his back. He wasn't sure what kind of faces Hunny and Mori were making, but Hunny's expression must have been unusually grim, because some of the boys looked suddenly nervous. "It would be an annoyance to have to report this incident to the superintendent."
    It was a subtle reminder of just who they were dealing with, and several uneasy glances shot Tamaki's way. In the end they decided a retreat was safest. "We'll be back," the second year shot over his shoulder as he left.
    Kyouya's grip tightened on Tamaki's uniform when the blonde furiously made as if to follow. "Leave it," he said shortly. "They won't come back; they know better." He glanced at the girls that were gathered around, looking uneasy. Some of them were comforting Haruhi. "Right now we need to concentrate on calming the customers."
    "Are you all right, Haru-chan?" Hunny asked, staring up at her with large concerned eyes as he hugged Usa-chan tightly to his chest.
    "I'm fine," Haruhi insisted, struggling half-heartedly to extricate herself from the arms of the twins looped possessively around her shoulders. "Really. I was more afraid that Tamaki-senpai would start a big fuss."
    "How dare they--" Tamaki started to sputter, still glaring at the door.
    Kyouya jerked his uniform firmly, causing the slightly taller boy to stumble back a step. "Your customers, Tamaki," he said sternly.
    Tamaki blinked, turning to the flustered girls. Immediately his princely persona rushed to the fore, and he clasped the hand of the nearest girl, lifting it close to his mouth as he smiled at them all charmingly. Kyouya tuned out the flowery words that spewed forth in comfort, making notes in his book.
    "You can let go of me now," Haruhi was informing the twins dryly, still trying to pry their arms free. "I'm fine, and I've got customers..."
    Said customers, along with a few other concerned girls, were crowding around the trio, offering their assurances and sympathies.
    "That was Yufuki-kun, he's a big bully, don't let him get to you!"
    "We still believe you, Haruhi-kun!"
    "We'll never turn our backs on you!"
    "He had no right to grab Haruhi-kun like that!"
    "Are you all right, Haruhi-kun?"
    "Did he hurt you?"
    "I was so frightened!"
    Hunny joined them, holding forth the blue rabbit Kyouya had abandoned. "You can hold Aoi-chan if you want!"
    Haruhi sweatdropped, momentarily giving up on the twins to hold her hands up placatingly. "Ah- I'm fine, I'm fine!" she soothed them. "He just startled me, that's all. I'm sure it was all a misunderstanding..."
    "I don't trust him, what if he comes looking for you outside the club?" one of the girls fretted.
    "No, he'll do something mean again!"
    Haruhi shrank back against the twins slightly as the girls pressed in closely. "A-ano..."
    "Saa~ he can't be that stupid," the twins pointed out. "If he comes to our class to bug Haruhi, there will be consequences." Their smiles widened dangerously, eyes gleaming.
    Haruhi closed her eyes in defeat as the girls immediately latched onto the unvoiced threat.
    "That's right! Hikaru-kun and Kaoru-kun are in Haruhi-kun's class!"
    "They'll watch his back!"
    "What a beautiful friendship!"
    "You won't let that brute touch Haruhi-kun again, will you?"
    The twins' smiles only widened. "Over our dead bodies," they said in firm unison.
    "Haruhi-chan, hold Aoi-chan, you'll feel better!"
    "Mori-senpai," Haruhi called frantically for aid.
    Kyouya moved aside as Mori moved in, stonefaced, to lift her easily out of the twin's grasp, ignoring their indignant protests.
    Life was normal before I met Tamaki, Kyouya thought darkly, slapping his notebook shut and heading back to his table.


    Kaoru flopped bonelessly back on the bed he shared with his brother, heaving a sigh as he stared up at the ceiling. "No progress today," he noted.
    Hikaru was stepping out of the bathroom, rubbing vigorously at his hair with a towel. "With Kyouya-senpai?" He shrugged. "Eventually we'll get to him. I mean, look who we're up against." He snorted derisively as he dropped the damp towel carelessly to the floor for the maids to get later. "Hunny's cute act doesn't work on people like Kyouya, and Mori's too emotionally stunted to know what to do. I mean, a stuffed rabbit? All he has to go off of is Hunny-senpai. He thought maybe everyone liked stuffed animals, I guess. Anyway, as soon as Hunny-senpai loses or drops out, Mori will do the same."
    Kaoru folded his arms underneath his head, eyes drifting to the wall as he studied the inticrite design of the wallpaper lazily. "Haruhi-chan has a chance, though," he warned. "Kyouya-senpai doesn't act like it, but eventually she gets to everyone." He paused, glancing towards his brother, who was tugging on a loose pair of sleeping pants. "If she got to us," he murmured, "then even a guy like Kyouya is no problem."
    Hikaru frowned, eyes on the drawstrings as he tied them. "...Maybe," he allowed finally. "But this is a seduction game, and I can't see Haruhi being any good at that. She doesn't even seem like the type who would bother. Especially not for a game."
    "She's still the 'natural rookie'," Kaoru pointed out with a wry grin. "If Kyouya-senpai has to pick one, it will probably be her."
    "Wrong." Hikaru sat on the edge of the bed, leaning back on his hands. "It's seduction, Kaoru, seduction. Maybe she can smooth some of his edge, but I still think if anyone can turn him on, it's us." He smirked. "Even if he isn't expecting it." He looked down at his twin with a frown. "Speaking of which... what was with you this afternoon in the bathroom?"
    Kaoru avoided his gaze, eyes back on the wallpaper. "Nothing. I just didn't expect you to move so fast, that's all."
    "What? You knew the plan!"
    "Kissing wasn't involved," Kaoru grumbled.
    Hikaru stared at him for a moment, then gave an impatient sigh. "Yeah, well, he wasn't having any of that anyway. We'll have to try something a little more obvious." He leaned down abruptly and pecked his brother on the lips, perhaps as a form of apology. Kaoru's gaze finally met his as his older brother pulled back slightly. Despite their act and hints during club hours, such a chaste kiss was the most they'd ever done. The "brotherly love" concept was, after all, something from Tamaki's demented skull, meant merely to attract customers. Kaoru thought of Hikaru leaning into Kyouya's personal space in the bathroom, intentions clear, and felt another irritated frown tug at his lips. He rolled onto his side, presenting his back to his brother. "I'm tired," he pouted. "Let's go to bed."
    Hikaru stared down at him in mixed puzzlement and annoyance. "What's wrong with you? It's just a game, Kaoru."
    "I know that."
    "So what's your deal?"
    "Nothing," Kaoru insisted stubbornly. Then he added, a bit more snidely than he'd meant to, "Besides, if you're going to kiss anyone, it should be Haruhi, right?"
    "What??" Hikaru jerked back, startled. Kaoru peeped over his shoulder and caught the blush on his twin's face. "What brought that-- I mean, what are you talking about??"
    "Baka." Kaoru turned away again. "You're as dense as Tamaki-senpai sometimes."
    "I am not." Hikaru made a face, then abruptly grinned. "C'mon, Kaoru, don't be jealous," he teased.
    Kaoru felt a twinge of irritation. "Are you going to turn off the light or not?" he snapped.
    Hikaru fell silent, staring down at him in bewilderment. This was threatening to turn into a real argument, one that involved anger and hurt feelings, and he back-pedaled swiftly. They'd had small disagreements before, but he was not about to let something like this stupid game and his brother's sudden weird mood get between them. "Yeah, yeah, OK." He clapped his hands, and the lights faded. He slid under the covers, lifting them over the both of them. "It's just a game," he repeated quietly, needing to be sure that everything was all right.
    Kaoru sighed quietly, but he finally rolled over so they were facing each other. "Yeah. I know."
    They fell asleep shortly afterwards, but their minds were each filled with questions about the other.
    And Hikaru's last confused thought was of Haruhi.

Author's Notes: T_T I apologize if the beginning is OOC, but I couldn't figure out a way to have that conversation about Haruhi and Tamaki put in the open and still keep it IC. Arrghh.. *gnaws on Kyouya irritably*

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