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It’s an old building – most honorable the more it gets on in years. She doesn’t know if it is heresy to address the spirit of a house, but she finds herself doing it either way: putting up a second incense stick next to the one she lights daily for her mother. Maybe this is why, for years, the electricity doesn’t give in as easily as it does in neighboring condominiums when hard weathers hit. Maybe this is why the plumbing works with a little less groaning. Maybe this is why the central heating takes several more years to need a complete overhaul than it does in the neighboring condominiums.

However, as time goes on and Haruhi gets more knowledgeable in the ways of housing, she starts to realize that renovations are in order. Most front doors have needed replacement due to the cheap wood contorting with the weather changes in their equally cheap frames; the large water heater in the basement needs layman-expertise to be read (expertise that has, coincidentally, been accrued by the tenants) and there are windows that should not be opened lest they never shut again.

The small group of inhabitants of the condominium have acclimatized to these circumstances – Haruhi likes to think of it as living in peace with the house-spirit. It must have been a hard-fought battle, she thinks with chattering teeth, to finally have it give in to old age and the circumstances of weather.

Then again Tokyo is unusually cold this winter – schools have closed farther off in the country, whole villages have been snowed in and the further upthe mountains they are, the greater the likelihood of them calling for governmental aid during this proving time. National News have been broadcasting the daring adventures of military helicopter teams evacuating families from the deadly chill nonstop. Sapporo suffers from the lack of tourism; Japan’s economy suffers with it.

So no, she cannot fault the spirit of the house for falling victim to environmental circumstances. She just wishes it would have been at another time.

The harsh winter chill bites at her fingers which are growing numb around her pencil, her nose is in a perpetual state of running which is why she has shamefully resorted to wiping it with the edge of the blanket wrapped around her, her ears might be in an equally desolate state but she cannot feel them any longer and can’t say for certain.

For the first time in a while, Haruhi is actually looking forward to the hours spent at school.

While her relationship with Ouran had started out filled with trepidation and hesitant enthusiasm, it had very quickly turned into one filled with exasperation and perpetual stress, sprinkled with slight moments of reprieve. The latter most often experienced either when outside of the – admittedly far-reaching – influence of the Host Club or in near vicinity of its tallest member, who is basically synonymous with the word ‘quiet’.

Currently, however, her relationship with Ouran experiences a second wind.

Because: Central Heating.

Central heating is a gift given by the Gods and Haruhi is not about to let it pass her by without making the most of it. There’s a reason she’s been braving the library more often recently; a reason why she’s the first to occupy a table closest to the wall-mounted heating and a reason why she’s been making it to the Music Room with only minutes to spare. Or why she has moved her table closer to the Music Room’s heating units.

She might be a sniveling, shivering mess at home but she’s Queen of the Warm Spots around Ouran (Kyoya allows her moving her table because her designations are as much in favor of the warmer spots as she is).

There is, however, a down-side to sticking to the oases of warmth wherever she can find them: moving out of their protective circle proves just how cold this winter truly is.

“Stupid landlord.”, she growls under her breath as she reaches for the tin-can filled with loose Oolong for her next designation. “Stupid cheapskate.”, she adds, ignoring her hypocrisy. “Stupid, stupid weather.” The prep room is freezing. Haruhi is attempting to warm herself by stoking the flames of ire within her – it’s only partially successful.

“Stupid-”

“-mph.”

She should have noticed Mori-sempai. Conditional tense being the operative here. It should have been real hard to overlook his 6 foot 4 standing in the doorway ere he had moved into the room – probably to help her. Haruhi has been otherwise occupied and hadn’t noticed the foot under her heel unmaking her entire sense of balance.

Rolled tea leaves spill on the tiled floor around them.

Stupid debt—she sighs mentally, wishing she could voice the thought out loud. Beneath her, the curiously warm body of Takashi Morinozuka makes an inquiring sound.

“Gomen.”, she shivers her apology, making to stand on unsteady feet and increasingly unwilling to leave the circle of warmth that is being provided by the body of the multiple National Kendo Champion. She doesn’t usually put much value in it, but if rumors are true, Japan looks forward to sending him to the World Kendo Championships as soon as he is out of High school.

“Aah.”, he answers quietly, unfolding from his hapless position on the floor and pulling himself up just behind her – the room is barely large enough for one person, two is asking for it to burst at the seams – and she sighs at the warmth emitting from him. Mori-sempai is like a personified heater, she wonders if she could get away with draping herself over him under some pretense.

“Ah. Can you reach the pale-rose tea-kettle, Mori-sempai?”, she asks instead of giving her mouth lee-way to voice the question whether or not it is his dedication to his sport of choice that has vetted his metabolism to the point of his body running, surely, hotter than that of the average male.

“Ah?”, he lowers his chin to give her a curious look that she responds to by shrugging, relishing in the drag of her blazer-clad shoulder against the warmth of his front.

“You’re all giants or accomplished in martial arts-”, she starts by way of explanation, “I usually just… fumble and pray that nothing breaks.” Lest it goes to my debt. She doesn’t say it but perhaps her face conveys the message, because her upper-class-man reaches to cradle the porcelain in his large hands without much effort before bringing it down to hover just before her.

“Arigatou.”

“Ah.”

He moves away and she immediately misses his warmth. Stupid Kendo Champions. She cannot think it with real heat and turns back to more promising victims.

 

---

 

He notices her proclivity to seek out all sources of warmth – when he goes to the library, he finds her practically glued to the heating-units as if she were a wet cloth and when she moves her table in the Music Room to stand well within the heating radius of the unit nearest to her, he realizes that Kyoya, too, must take notice.

He just hadn’t thought her quest for warm places would extend to him.

And, in all honesty, it probably wouldn’t have if it weren’t for the fact that winter had claimed all of Japan in an icy grip like it never had before. National News are speaking of record temperatures and the coldest winter yet.

As an observational specialist among the Host Club, second only to Kyoya Ootori – and he’s not necessarily wanting to compete with the anal man in that particular department – he is among the first to recognize the signs of impaired health in their fellow Club Member: like the involuntary shivers that rattle her body the very moment she makes even one step out of the circle of warmth provided by the heating units, or the sheen of sweat that seems to cling to her brow no matter how warm or cold her surroundings are. Takashi has been trained to notice these symptoms and act accordingly – he feels woefully inadequate, watching Haruhi battle with her deteriorating health.

Which is why he starts to follow her around. Because he likes to think that his observations lend him somewhat of an advantage in regard to their female Host and he considers her to be stubborn enough to work herself into the ground. He, too, considers her ignorant enough to actually collapse in a show of an overwrought body before heeding the warning signals of her physical transport.

When he enters the tiny preparation room a few minutes after her, he is surprised to catch her angry ranting at the whole world. It’s enough to not feel her foot on his and stop her fall by any other action than catching her against him as they both succumb to gravity and their lack of balance.

Maybe this is when she starts to recognize him as a potential source of heat. It is most definitely the moment when he realizes just how far gone her body really is in terms of impaired health – because there is sweat on her brow, but her body is also fighting shivers that translate through her blazer and onto his front.

He becomes truly worried three days later, when Haruhi finds herself too tired to actually respond to either Tamaki’s or the twin’s usual greetings and, instead, makes a straight bee-line for Honey’s couch – the broadest available. Ignoring his own person already occupying it, she curls under Honey’s blanket.

He blinks.
And watches her breathing even out within a minute.

“Ano...”

“Is Haru-chan okay?”, Mitsukuni asks before either of the Unholy Triumvirate can start screaming and it’s a credit to his quiet maturity hiding underneath layers of Usa-chan and cake that he manages to not look upset at Haruhi hogging his blanket.

“It would seem her health is not the best right now.”, Kyoya interjects before Takashi can even voice the carefully selected words that had been sitting on the tip of his tongue. He swallows them down again and says nothing as the rest of the Host Club devolves into hysterical crying that lasts even until after the doors have opened.

Takashi is lucky that Haruhi’s designations are usually the shy and quiet kind either way because Kyoya piles them unto him; little black book filling with numbers he is certain will end up added to Haruhi’s debt. He wonders why it is that the Shadow King insists on accruing it. Haruhi is well along to her thousand customers and if she keeps on charming them the way she currently is, there is not a doubt in his mind that she would be free of the financial obligation either by the end of this year or the early start of the next. He hopes it’ll be the former, he wants to see her free of the ludicrous debt before he graduates from Ouran – wants to see her come to them out of her own volition, if ever she would, rather than out of a sense of obligation.

Haruhi’s eyes open some time towards the middle of the Hosting Hours but a short glance shared between the two of them results in her pushing a little more firmly into his side and closing her eyes again – he allows it, cautiously settles his large palm to wind around the small of her back and skillfully ignores Kyoya’s flashing camera as well as the silent sounds of Moe coming from the girls in front of him.

The Host at his side sleeps deeply through the three hours.

And despite the fact that she stands without problem once Honey wakes her and apologizes quietly, accepting, without comment, the addition to her debt, Takashi cannot help but keep his eyes on her throughout the next days.

Which is how he realizes that her body is intriguingly slow-moving in its sickness; probably because Haruhi instinctively, but halfheartedly, seeks out the best remedies to her situation. One noon he finds her collecting enough money from her pockets to order a ginger-tea in the cantina and she has an unusual amount of oranges packed in her bento; she still sticks close to heating units and if they have the misfortune of not being cloaked in rich woods it has happened – once, to his knowledge – that she will unashamedly drape herself over them.

It occurs to him that this might be why her fever is slow in the taking. That her body seems undecided whether to be sick or not.

She does not fall asleep during Hosting Hours ever again – even though it looks like a torrid battle of will between her stubborn brain and her body – but she gratefully sinks into the heat of his proximity whenever he stands close in the prep room or sits next to her on the sofa because Mitsukuni has fallen asleep in direct consequence of his sugar rush.

Her body is small and lithe against his and he knows from experience just how little she weighs. Which is additionally worrying, considering that sickness generally draws on the fat resources of a body – fat that Haruhi simply does not seem to have.

And because Takashi is nothing if not a servant by nurture, he accommodates to her recent bout of heat-location by allowing her certain liberties with his body (Kyoya doesn’t protest because the club’s profits sky-rocket; Honey doesn’t protest because most of the time he cannot quite find the words for it).

 

**

 

It starts with a blazer that is too wide for him – one of the very first he’s acquired this year. The school-tailors generally tend to assume that his height correlates positively with the width of his mid-section. Which it doesn’t. Takashi has learned not to take offense.

Nevertheless, when he wakes up one morning to see the snow falling in thick flakes, quietly floating to join their brethren in coating the once green-brown earth, he makes the hesitant, if very conscious, decision to reach for the botched blazer instead of the tightly fitting one. In order to make up for the ill-sewn midsection, he leaves it unbuttoned – which might not actually be the polite thing to do, but it works for his designations if Kyoya’s furious scribbling can be correctly interpreted.

It also pays off when he wanders into the prep room shortly after Haruhi has made her way there and he finds her pressing her teeth together harshly in a bid to stop their chattering. When he positions himself behind her to help her reach for a few ingredients that he that have been on lower shelves just yesterday, he is not disappointed: Haruhi melts into the open lapels of his blazer and doesn’t move away for several breaths during which he doesn’t necessarily still so much as slow his movements down to avoid jostling her.

He checks his own forehead when she is gone again.

But he continues to wear the over-large blazer, relishing in the moments when he will steal after her and allow her some reprieve against his front while he helps her to fix tea. It happens more often than he originally anticipates and leaves him with a queer sensation similar to that of post-battle-adrenaline-surge. To quell his nerves he resorts to the tried and tested method of drinking tea - quite a lot more than he normally would.

He is only marginally surprised when Haruhi picks up on it and takes it unto her to prepare his cups personally. She must, too, be watching his reactions because she learns quickly that there are days for Kukicha and there are days for Houjicha. This hypothesis is especially proven when she prepares a perfectly done cup of Koicha for him a day after a tournament – he can not remember a time when he’s held a tea cup in his hands for as long as he’s held this one.

When he reaches for the over-sized sweater to go with the blazer one morning he rationalizes that it’s merely because Haruhi’s not-sickness has been holding for two-and-a-half weeks now and despite the fact that he’s never seen somebody stare down sickness, he admits that he is a little curious whether Haruhi Fujioka will be the first person within his circle of acquaintances to do so if only by sheer will and stubbornness.

Even though he cannot fathom how it could possibly help her, he wears the over-sized sweater. But when he checks his own forehead for elevated temperature there is none to be found.

Her health declines despite his clandestine efforts and her stubbornness to the contrary. Which is why, when she shakes even sitting or standing still, he knowingly abandons Mitsukuni – with the fervent prayer that his cousin might forgive him for the blatant slight on their families’ dynamics – and shadows Haruhi fully. Not, granted, that she notices any of it. He is surprised she even manages to take proper notes in class considering her state.

“It’s a little like watching a robot.”, Kaoru admits with a shrug that belies his worries. Hikaru’s sour mood implies her inattention towards the twins in class.

When he steps after her into the preparation room now, she has less compunctions about moving into the radius of his heat, pressing her back into his front while she labors over the hot water and tea-leaves (hopefully any and all bacteria she could potentially transmit will be sufficiently dealt with by the heat of the water lest she involuntarily infect half of the student body and be served the debt in consequence). It’s only when she turns one day – cheeks too ruddy, forehead too pale, mouth too white – and slips her hands unashamedly under his pullover that he short-circuits for a lack of better wording.

“Cold.”, he doesn’t know if his statement is just that or an admonishment too. But the blocks of ice that have to be her fingers shock him even through his layers and reflexively his elbows clamp inwards, trapping the chill against his sides where she rests her palms.

“You don’ say, sempai.”, is the smart, mumbled, answer he gets when her forehead comes to his chest. He notes the stuffiness of her voice besides her blatant disregard of physical propriety while they wait for the water to boil; worrying signs that her sickness is more advanced than he would have been able to tell from a distance.

 

**

 

It is therefore only logical that he should want to check up on her. Only rational that he finds himself at her doorstep the next day. It’s natural to be concerned for a friend who has not been showing any signs of slowing down despite their obvious ill-health.

He feels like a michelin-man-shaped-idiot standing in front of her door. But he knocks, tupperware in hand. Thick flocks threaten to bury him alive in their flurry if he dares to wait any longer than he already has – even so, he cannot justify breaking down the meager wood merely to enter. He knocks again after fourteen deep breaths. This time, Haruhi actually opens the door. Third time charm and all that.

“Sempai?”

He doesn’t move from his position, but he does nod at her – curtly. She is dressed as one would expect of anyone who’s had the brains to stay inside during this weather and he would check his forehead for temperature again, considering his being out and about, if it wouldn’t necessitate him undressing out in the open. He eyes her critically even as his arms move up to offer the tupperware wordlessly.

Her skin’s pallor has taken on frightening shades of white but the sweat he’s anticipated to dot her brow is missing. She is shivering at intervals, heavily, forcing her mouth shut so hard he can see the spasms of her jaw-muscles work to contain the involuntary movement of her chattering teeth.

It’s only when he realizes that the expected gust of warmth from the inside has never come that he bites his right-hand-mitt off to reach for her face.

She is glacial.

 

---

 

She remembers the door-bell going… or the door… something… something was with the door… someone was at the door… had been at the door. Her Japanese homework had been getting strangely difficult at that time and she’d started reading passages three or four times to get some kind of grip on their syntax and logic.

What she doesn’t remember is how she got here. Because here is not in her home. Her home is cold. Even under the blankets. Also… she’s very certain she’s been dressed at home.

And it is warm here. And she is… she feels under-dressed to say the least.

But… She sighs and worms deeper into the blankets, ears warming with a rumbling puff of air somewhere behind her. It’s warm here. And she’s not going to give that up anytime soon.