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Portraits of Roses

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Portraits of Roses


The subtle click clack of a pair of footsteps prompted Kyouya to look up from the notebook in his hands. It was odd that someone else was out in the hallway during class time. He was only out here because he had finished his exam early, and since he was the class president as well, his math teacher sent him on an errand. So he was currently returning to his classroom after retrieving the textbook and papers that his teacher requested from the teacher's workroom.

Kyouya had surmised the second person to be female from the sound of the footsteps, so he had been expecting a vision of yellow and even readied a host smile for the passerby. Instead, his eyes met with someone dressed in a navy blue sweater vest on top of a white dress shirt and a black pair of slacks. Eyes moving upward, he found a black ribbon tied around the collar of the dress shirt and a pair of black framed glasses on a fairly feminine face. The hair was fairly short but casually styled. After another second, Kyouya recognized the other student as Fujioka Haruhi, the first-year scholarship student, who is quite female even though she was not wearing a uniform that better resembled the female one.

As Fujioka further approached and looked up from the book in her hand, attracting Kyouya's attention to the three books and a paper pad of some sorts in her other hand, Kyouya gave Fujioka a nod of acknowledgment. Fujioka returned his gesture with a small smile. They passed by each other, and Kyouya thought that would be that.

However, Fujioka seemed to have stopped walking after several more steps and turned around. "You are Ootori-senpai, correct?"

Hearing his name, Kyouya stopped and turned around as well. He regarded Fujioka with a cool and analyzing glance, pondering about Fujioka’s purpose. "Yes, that would be me."

A look of contemplation entered Fujioka’s eyes, and she seemed to have a short conversation with herself before stepping forward until she was within arm's distance from Kyouya. "Can you please hold my books for a few moments?"

Intrigued by the girl's request, Kyouya nodded and held out his hand. Fujioka quickly slipped a bookmark in her book before placing the four books in his hands. Then, she opened her paper pad, disclosing it to be a sketch pad, and began flipping through it.

A curt examination revealed the book she was reading to be a non-translated version of 1984 by George Orwell, and the others underneath to be Much Ado about Nothing by William Shakespeare, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, all non-translated.

"An interesting selection of books that you have chosen," Kyouya remarked, looking up again.

Fujioka made a noise of agreement, and replied without looking up from her browsing, "I had been meaning to read those titles for a while now since they all seemed interesting to me. I wasn't disappointed."

So she has already read the other three. She must be heading to the library then.

"Ah-hah, there it is."

Kyouya tried to discern what it was that Fujioka found, but she already flipped the page over. Kyouya was further intrigued when Fujioka took a nondescript ballpoint pen—a fairly cheap one, perhaps from one of those 100 yen stores?—out of her slacks' pocket and started scribbling something on the paper. Then, she gently ripped the page out, and closed the sketch pad.

"Thank you for holding these for me, Ootori-senpai," Fujioka said as she retrieved her books. She adjusted her grip on the books and pad before looking up and giving Kyouya a small smile. "I wasn't planning on giving this to you, but, well, this is for you."

Kyouya took the piece of paper from Fujioka, seeing that there was indeed a message written on it, and looked back up.

"Have a good day, Ootori-senpai," Fujioka stated with a bow and another smile, and turned around, walking away without waiting for a response.

Kyouya's attention returned to the piece of paper in his hand, finally reading the message. It said, "Breathe. Life is too short for such constant unhappiness. Enjoy life."

Somewhat confused, Kyouya turned the paper over and found a portrait of himself staring back at him. Kyouya stilled.

Sketch Kyouya was sitting at a table with a laptop in front of him and some rows of book behind him. It must have been sketched during one of the few times when he ate a quick lunch before heading to the library to finish some work. What caught his attention was the expression on sketch Kyouya's face though. He appeared very stressed and unhappy. The tenseness of his face, the frown on his lips, the hardness in his eyes, the harshness of his glasses' glint, the slight shadows under his eyes, the creases between his brows.

Breathe. Kyouya's mind flashed with the message as he subconsciously released the breath he had been holding in.

Kyouya's eyes suddenly darted up, searching for Fujioka’s figure. She was gone already.

Just how long did I stand here?

Kyouya's eyes returned to the sketch in his hands.

Enjoy life?

A flare of anger made itself known. What right does she have to say that to me? The third son of the Ootori family?

She doesn't even know me!

She doesn't know me...

Kyouya re-examined sketch Kyouya's face.

...and yet, she read my emotions.

Taking one last look at the sketch, Kyouya slipped it into his notebook. After another glance at where Fujioka disappeared to, Kyouya turned around, regained his composure and resumed his path to his classroom.

Fujioka Haruhi.


 

The second time that they encountered each other, it was another coincidence.

With how frequent Fujioka and her portrait haunted Kyouya’s mind, he should not have been surprised when the doors to the Chairman’s outer office opened and Fujioka stepped outside. But he was nonetheless surprised.

No matter how much he tried, he could not erase the image of his portrait out of his mind, and it continued to pass in front of his mind’s eyes these past two and a half weeks, especially when he was sitting in front of his laptop and working. It was quite an irritant actually and resulted in a darker than usual mood—one that had sent Tamaki into his corner of woe numerous times and had the rest of the club staying away from him unless it was a life or death matter.

Thus, having the cause of the irritation standing in front of him could only lead to Kyouya tensing and narrowing his eyes.

“What a pleasure to see you here, Fujioka-san,” Kyouya greeted in a tone that is smoother than the finest chocolate one can attain.

Fujioka raised an eyebrow at Kyouya’s reaction to her presence, but kept a small smile on her face as she lightly bowed and replied, “Good afternoon, Ootori-senpai.”

Glancing over the manila envelope in her hands, Kyouya noted Haruhi wearing a similar outfit to what she wore the other day. “So, what brings the studious honor student out of class and into the chairman’s office at this time of the day? Speaking of which, you were not quite in class like you were supposed to be the last time I saw you either.”

Fujioka’s smile seemed to turn to one of amusement as she answered, “If you are implying that I am skipping class or is in enough trouble to be called to the chairman’s office, then I am afraid I will have to disappoint you, Ootori-senpai. I am only here for an official non-disciplinary matter, and last time, I had finished my exam early and was returning my books after acquiring the teacher’s permission.”

Kyouya hummed in contemplation, eyeing the manila envelope. “Official non-disciplinary matter, huh? How interesting.”

“I am flattered by your interest in me, Ootori-senpai, so to save you from the trouble of researching, I will just tell you what is in this envelope. I had inquired whether there were any scholarships available for the school uniform, and Chairman Suou replied in the affirmative and gave me these forms to fill out. Though I am not quite sure why such forms even exist when this school rarely has any students of my economic status.”

“You are quite open to revealing information to me, Fujioka-san. Don’t you know that knowledge is power?” This time, it was Kyouya’s turn to raise his eyebrow in inquiry.

“Yes, I am well aware, but since you are busy enough as it is, I would rather not contribute to those shadows growing under your eyes and the tenseness of your shoulders. It seems as though you have ignored my advice, Ootori-senpai,” Haruhi stated with a touch of disapproval. Her eyes continued to rake through his body in clinical examination.

Kyouya’s eyes narrowed. “I am breathing quite capably and enjoying life just fine.”

“Are you? And what about being happy? You seem quite unhappy at times,” Haruhi criticized with a frown on her face, clearly not believing his words.

Who does she think she is? Kyouya thought as he felt his cool and calm demeanor slipping away from him. He struggled to grasp it with all of his might, but it seemed this was not a battle he could win. Even with all of his intelligence, he could not understand how this girl can so easily strip him of his calm, a feat that not even Tamaki cannot accomplish. An Ootori is known for his stone hard mask, amicable when needed but with a lingering touch of coolness—some even accuse them of being completely apathetic and possessing of a stone heart, and they are not completely incorrect since emotions are a liability after all—so where was his calm now?

Was it because of her commoner status that her judgment induces such fury? No, it could not be right. His father had drilled into him that commoners might be commoners, but some still have a brilliance that the rich can never match. To be able to attend Ouran on a scholarship and continually stay at the top of the class indicated that Haruhi possessed such brilliance.

Was it because she is female? No, conversations and companionship with his mother and Fuyumi had shown him that although there are many mindless airheads out there, not all are so. Plus, gender has no influence on degrees of idiocy.

Perhaps, because her words are true. It is an echo of what Fuyumi has said to you countless of times. A second voice, one that he judges to be his emotional heart, piped up with smugness.

Kyouya mentally glared at that voice, and logically retorted, No, that’s not it. I would not be this emotional over something that I have heard before.

Kyouya stared at Fujioka, closely examining every aspect of the girl and attempting to discover the reason behind his emotion’s sudden frequent appearance. Besides slightly shifting in response to the weight of his stare, the girl remained still and waited patiently for his response.

Finally, he decided on voicing what he thought upon seeing his portrait. “You do not know me, Fujioka-san.” Then, he added, “Moreover, I do not believe you should continue to stalk me.”

Fujioka chuckled, but seemed unfazed by his accusation. “No, I may not know you as well as Suou-senpai, but as an artist and keen observer, I do pride myself in my ability to read others, even ones as apathetic as you, senpai. Do not worry about acquiring a restraining order for me either; the only interest that I hold in you is as an artist. Although the contours of your face are quite pleasant, I am more intrigued by the deep emotions in your eyes and the minute changes in your expression.”

Ignoring her piece about her artist’s interest in him, Kyouya retorted, “So you claim to be able to read me?”

A spark of caution entered Haruhi’s features, but she nodded nonetheless.

“Then you must be able to prove it.”

“I am not interested in proving anything to you. Don’t try to bait me either, it won’t work.”

“It shall remain as a claim that cannot be backed then.”

Fujioka shrugged. “So it shall. The chairman must be waiting for you, I will excuse myself now.”

Kyouya nodded in acknowledgement, and Fujioka started walking away. He did not quite receive the satisfaction that he desired from this meeting nor did he think his mind will cease its replaying of his portrait, but there was no further merit in conversing with Fujioka. He is certain this abnormality will pass with time.

He laid his hands on the door handle and was about to open the door when a “Hold on, Ootori-senpai” reached his ears.

Turning his head Fujioka’s position, he raised an eyebrow. “Have you changed your mind?”

“No, but I have thought of a way to make you breathe and enjoy life, just a little. Are you free this Saturday?”

Intrigued, Kyouya fully turned to face Fujioka and mentally went over his week’s schedule. “Yes, I am.”

“Then meet me outside of the Aqua Museum in Hakkeijima Sea Paradise at noon this Saturday.”

A small smirk entered Kyouya’s face. “Are you asking me out on a date?”

Haruhi chuckled and shook her head. “No, but if thinking about it in that manner encourages you to go, feel free. Will you come?”

“I am uncertain how this venture is supposed to make me enjoy life, but I will admit that I am curious, so I will be there.” Kyouya did not know why he agreed so easily. If it was Tamaki, now that he is not trying to please the Suou heir anymore, he would have said no in a heartbeat. Additionally, he could think of many other ways to utilize that day instead of wasting it like he is bound to do, so why did he say yes? Curiosity, perhaps?

Curiosity did kill the cat…

“Good, I will see you then. Have a good rest of your day, Ootori-senpai,” Fujioka stated with a smile before turning around and walking off.

…but satisfaction did bring it back… Perhaps, this time, I will be satisfied.

With a smirk, Kyouya turned also and opened the door to the chairman’s outer office.


 

When Saturday arrived, Kyouya had woken up earlier than everyone’s expectation. Normally, on days without school, if there was nothing scheduled, Kyouya would not wake up until noon at the earliest, so when Kyouya left his room at ten in the morning, everyone that he encountered on his way to the dining room was startled.

Sensing Tachibana’s presence behind him, Kyouya called out, “Tell the chef I would like an omelet, my usual, and black coffee for breakfast. Also, ready the car, Tachibana, I will be leaving immediately after my breakfast.”

“Yes, Kyouya-sama,” Tachibana replied before disappearing.

After a quick and silent breakfast, Kyouya departed from the Ootori estate and entered the European imported car waiting for him. As Tachibana got into the front passenger seat, Kyouya looked at Hotta, the one serving as his chauffeur today, and ordered, “Drive me to Hakkeijima Sea Paradise, and drop me off as close to the Aqua Museum as possible.”

His two bodyguards paused and shared a look of confusion before Hotta responded, “Yes, Kyouya-sama.”

Ignoring his bodyguards’ reactions, Kyouya opened his laptop, and while waiting for it to boot up, he instructed, “For today, try to keep out of sight, and do not attract any attention. Since this is a family-friendly location, it would be advisable to change into something more casual.”

“Understood, Kyouya-sama,” both bodyguards replied with a nod.

Kyouya pulled up some documents and for the rest of the trip’s duration, worked on them, glancing out of the window every now and then. His two bodyguards held a casual and light conversation, which was mostly about the traffic, the best route and the plan for today.

After about an hour, Tachibana announced, “We have arrived, Kyouya-sama.”

Kyouya looked up to confirm Tachibana’s words before saving all of his documents and turning his laptop off. He stowed the laptop in a secret compartment as the car slowed to a stop.

Tachibana exited the car and promptly opened the back door for Kyouya while saying, “Kyouya-sama, you will have to cross that bridge and walk a bit before reaching the Aqua Museum.”

Kyouya looked at the bridge across the street and nodded before looking at Hotta again, “I will most likely be driving my companion home, so I will text you when to retrieve the car.”

“Understood, Kyouya-sama.”

Stepping back from the car, Kyouya waited for Tachibana to close his door before heading towards the bridge.

When Kyouya arrived in view of the Aqua Aquarium, he quickly scanned the crowd for the figure of Fujioka and located her standing by a column. Beginning to approach, Kyouya called out, “Time for you to disappear, Tachibana.”

Within moments, Tachibana disappeared from his position behind Kyouya.

Whilst walking, Kyouya examined Fujioka’s outfit, which consisted of a sleeveless, knee-length pink dress with ruffled ends, a pair of sandals and a medium cross body bag. As though sensing Kyouya’s approach, Fujioka looked up from the brochure she was reading and smiled in greeting.

“You look awfully dressed for an outing that is supposedly not a date,” Kyouya commented upon standing in front of Fujioka.

Haruhi straightened and took a look at her own outfit. “I told my father I was going out with a classmate, and when he heard it was a male classmate, he threw this at me.”

“Hm.” Kyouya then took a look at their surroundings and asked, “What is the plan?”

Opening a pocket in her bag, Haruhi pulled out two armbands that served as their tickets and said, “Well, first we are going to visit Aqua Museum, then Dolphin Fantasy and Fureai Lagoon. I am hoping we will be done before sunset. The main purpose of today is to relax and have fun though, so I did not bother developing a plan beyond that.”

Kyouya nodded and started reaching for his wallet. “How much was my ticket? I will pay you back for it.”

“No need. I actually got these from a lottery of sorts during a trip to the grocery store.”

“You know, Fujioka-san, even though you had free tickets, if you wanted to go to a water themed place, we could have just gone to one of my family’s rehabilitation resorts. It would have been much more…” At this, Kyouya looked around him before continuing. “…peaceful.”

Fujioka chuckled while signaling Kyouya to extend his arm out and placed the armband around his wrist before doing the same for herself. “I suppose, but I am not really a fan of pseudo places. And going to one of your family’s resorts would have defeated the purpose of giving you a stress-free place. It would have been a reminder of work.”

When she was done, she gestured for them to start walking towards the building’s entrance.

“That is an interesting notion. Still, I fail to see how this…” Kyouya eyed all of the children and noise surrounding him with a hint of distaste. “…is supposed to relax me and take away my stress.”

“I admit that this amount of people is not preferable, but since we are both still students, there is no other time to come here besides weekends. Tomorrow would have been even more crowded. Anyhow, just pretend they don’t exist and focus on the marine animals,” Haruhi replied as they showed their armbands to the ticket attendant and started walking up the stairs to reach the first floor, where the exhibits started.

Kyouya shot Fujioka a look of doubt. “So besides the free tickets, why an aquarium?”

Fujioka smiled and glanced at him before retorting, “Why does there need to be a reason?”

“From our limited interactions, I have inferred that you are similar to me in the way that there is typically some sort of significance behind your decisions, and since today is meant to relax me, there must also be some deeper meaning to why you chose an aquarium.”

Fujioka made a noncommittal noise as she paused at the first exhibit and took a look at the yellow tangs swimming in the fish tank, leading Kyouya to follow her actions with disinterested eyes. It was only a few moments before Fujioka started walking again.

“Well, I could have chosen a zoo, but June weather is not that comfortable, there would have been a lot more children, and it would not have served my purpose. As to what my purpose is, I will leave that for you to discover. Just pay close attention to the animals. Those whale sharks are quite majestic, aren’t they?”

Kyouya’s eyes instinctively flickered to the animals behind the glass wall and watched as the massive creature languidly glided through the water. As his eyes trailed the creature, he failed to notice the small satisfied smile that Fujioka wore as she surveyed his reaction.

Fujioka waited until Kyouya’s eyes stopped following the whale shark before asking, “This is your first time here, right?”

Kyouya’s eyes flickered toward Fujioka as he nodded. “Aquariums were not considered beneficial to my education, so there was no reason to come.”

Fujioka chuckled at that. “Although aquariums can be fairly educational, they are more for people to enjoy them. Let’s go to the next exhibit.”

Kyouya followed Fujioka’s lead as he said, “I did not have time for such frivolous activities in my childhood.”

“But childhoods are meant to be somewhat frivolous. Before my mom passed away, she and dad would take me somewhere every weekend so that I could have fun and see the world for myself. Books can’t show you everything about the world; knowledge about the world is best gained from experience.”

“While I can’t dispute with that, my childhood was occupied with gaining other types of knowledge.” Kyouya responded while observing the seals and sea otters in their separate tanks.

“To each their own, I suppose. The seals and sea otters are adorable and intelligent. I have heard that they are quite affectionate and playful too.”

“Is that so? Then, they remind me of the host club’s Hitachiin twins. I believe they are in your class?”

“Mmhm, I actually sit beside them. They are quite playful. I am still not quite sure why so many girls in my class suffer from nosebleeds in their presence though,” Fujioka trailed off with a thoughtful look.

A small chuckle escaped Kyouya’s mouth. “No, I didn’t think you would.”

Understanding that Kyouya is unlikely to further explain, Fujioka simply smiled and continued to watch a small group of seals play together. “You know… they kind of seem lonely to me.”

“The Hitachiins?” Kyouya followed Fujioka’s line of sight and watched the seals play with each other. “Yes, you are perhaps correct. Before Tamaki successfully pulled the twins into our host club, the two of them were notorious for only interacting with each other. They have been that way since birth. I am afraid that although the host club can be considered their friends, for them, their world still only consists of the two of them, which likely rose from people’s inability to distinct between the two of them.”

“Then they are quite self-contradicting, are they not? They want people to be able to differentiate between the two of them, and yet, they regularly pretend to be the other during their interactions with others and closely shut the doors to their world,” Fujioka stated with a small frown.

Kyouya’s eyebrow rose in astonishment. “You can tell them apart?”

Hearing his tone, Fujioka turned to face Kyouya. “Hm? Yeah? I have a penchant for details, remember? They are actually quite fun to draw as well—very similar indeed, but little things that set them apart.”

Kyouya closely examined Fujioka before suggesting, “Fujioka-san, perhaps you should befriend them.”

“…Huh?” A clear look of surprise was plastered on Fujioka’s face. “Because I can tell them apart?”

Kyouya nodded as the idea became more and more agreeable in his mind. The twins’ brotherly love act is already quite popular among their clients, but if their world would open up even a smidgen more, it would entice their clients, and the profits would increase. “You would like to help them be less lonely, right? I think that if you were to befriend them, it would be quite beneficial.”

Skepticism and wariness entered Fujioka’s expression. “For who? It sounds like it could become quite troublesome for me.”

“Perhaps, but you would help them, and it could be beneficial to your conscience.”

Fujioka narrowed her eyes. “Just because I decided to help you, it does not mean I automatically help every troubled soul out there.”

“An Ootori does not need help. I am more prone to labelling your actions as you being nosy.”

Fujioka rolled her eyes as though she was mentally calling him a moron. “Then I really should not be nosy about Hitachiin-san’s business.”

I just shot myself in the foot, didn’t I? How is that even possible? Kyouya mentally growled in frustration. This girl just has a knack for changing impossibilities into possibilities, which can be quite a helpful tool—until it’s pointed at myself.

“Just give them one of your portraits. You must have one since you commented on them being fun to draw.”

“But that would lead to questions and complications, and judging from my assessment of their character, it would lead to the end of my peaceful school career,” Haruhi retorted with a frown marring her face.

“Then why did you give my portrait to me?” Kyouya’s stare grew intense and every fiber of his being awaited her answer. He did not even realize how much he wanted to know the answer to his question until he voiced it.

“Because we met each other in the hallway.”

Kyouya’s anger flickered. She disturbed my life and ruptured my peace because of a coincidence?

However, Fujioka wasn’t done. “Because you remind me of what I could be if I had never found art. Without art, I don’t think I would have been able to take a breath from life or observe the beauty that I have found in the world or understand that while studying and being a lawyer are very important priorities, I cannot live life solely dedicated to that without any pauses. If I did not discover art, I probably would not have even realized I was not enjoying life or living life to its fullest. I would have been surviving, but I would not have been living.”

Kyouya did not realize how enraptured by her explanation and tale he was until Fujioka’s eyes flickered to the exhibit once more and his eyes instinctively copied her action. She continued, “Even before my mom passed away, I was a very practical child who would rather read by herself than play outside with friends. However, I became more so after my mom’s passing. One day though, I saw these blooming cherry blossom trees with the setting sun, and I thought ‘How beautiful’. I am not sure where the urge came from, but I suddenly wanted to draw that. Of course, the sketch was quite raw and unpolished, but I was determined. So, every day, after all of my homework was done, I would attempt to recreate that scene, and every time I re-examined it in my mind’s eyes, I found some new beautiful aspect that I didn’t see the first time.”

Fujioka began walking to the next exhibit as she added, “From art, I discovered an appreciation for life and the world that I did not have before, and from that, I learned how to live. I don’t think it was necessarily art that changed me, but it was the realization that life is not only about working; life is also about enjoyment, fun and happiness. I wasn’t unhappy, but I wasn’t happy or content either.”

“I am not you though.”

Fujioka looked up at him for several dissecting moments before returning her gaze to the polar bears in front of them. “No, you are not.”

The silence that the duo melted into for the next two exhibits was a considerably more comfortable one, and every now and then, Fujioka would point something interesting about the walruses and penguins in front of them to him.

When they arrived at the next exhibit, they were greeted by five large glass panels and a mesmerizing view of water and hundreds—maybe even thousands—of fish swimming in front of them.

"Isn't it breathtaking? Just imagine what it is like in the actual ocean," Haruhi asked in awe.

Kyouya gave Haruhi a side glance. "I can bring you to an actual ocean. It's not that far from here."

Fujioka shot him a dark look in return. "Quiet. Just admire it."

Kyouya smirked and focused his attention on the schools of fishes swimming past in front of him. After a few minutes, Kyouya started, "I'm not quite sure I understand the purpose of this. This is quite mindless."

"Exactly. You are not supposed to think. You are supposed to focus all of your attention on the view in front of you and completely relax."

"This is a waste of time."

Another dark look was shot his way. "Can you please just do as I told you to?"

Kyouya pursed his lips in annoyance. "Fine."

Returning his attention in front of him, Kyouya allowed his mind to solely focus on the fish. His eyes followed one school and then another and then another. He observed the uniformity of their passage, the swiftness of their movement, the freedom of their personality. At that, a lightbulb went off in his mind.

"You brought me to an aquarium because of how free marine creatures are," Kyouya whispered with revelation dawning on him.

Fujioka granted him a look of satisfaction. "You figured it out. You see, you would say that these fish live in captivity, correct?"

Kyouya nodded.

"Yet, you still feel a sense of freedom from them."

Kyouya nodded again.

"They are quite admirable, aren't they?"

Kyouya turned to face Fujioka and held her eyes for several moments before stating, "You want me to use them as a model."

Fujioka merely gave him an enigmatic smile before turning around and heading towards the escalator.

Kyouya watched Fujioka's back for some moments. As a small smile appeared on his face, he jogged to catch up with her.

"So I think you will like the next part even more."

True to Fujioka's words, Kyouya was mesmerized upon stepping on the escalator and entering a tunnel of sorts. The escalator was encased in a fish tank. And from all sides, fish swam around him.

Kyouya barely comprehended Fujioka when she stated, "The aquarium labels this as the Aqua Tube. This escalator takes us to the third floor."

Kyouya felt as though he was in another world altogether. Do divers experience a similar feeling when they go underwater and witness the world there?

Perhaps, my next vacation will involve diving and underwater exploration.

Kyouya experienced a sense of loss the second he exited the tube.

"I should see to building something like this at our newest Ootori aquatic facility, except without the escalator. Maybe one on my family estate's grounds as well," Kyouya commented as plans began uncoiling in his mind.

Fujioka stopped in her steps. It took a couple seconds before Kyouya realized his companion wasn't beside him anymore. Turning back, he found Fujioka standing a few steps back with an incredulous look on her face.

"Fujioka-san?" Kyouya called out, confused.

Fujioka stared at him with that look for another second before shaking her head and continued walking while muttering, "I don't even know why I am surprised. Rich bastards."

Kyouya shook his head at her odd behavior and insult as he followed her.

With a friendly atmosphere between the two, they explored the third floor with open and curious eyes, casually chatting every now and then. Kyouya allowed himself to wipe anything school-related or work-related from his mind, except for those errant ideas for additions to an Ootori facility or house. This continued until they reached the third floor.

"Let's go see the Sea Creatures Show," Fujioka suggested and headed upstairs without waiting for Kyouya.

When they reached the entrance to the Aqua Stadium, Fujioka surveyed the amount of people lingering outside the entrance, took a look at the schedule posted outside and said, "It looks like there will be a show in about 15 minutes. Let's wait here so we can get decent seats."

Kyouya nodded as Fujioka led them to the end of the line. Glancing to where more exhibits are, Kyouya asked, "What's over there?"

"If I remember correctly, those two exhibits feature fish from the world's rivers, marshes and lakes. Do you want to go take a look while we are waiting?"

Kyouya shook his head. "No, let's go see it together after this performance."

Fujioka smiled at his response. "So after this floor, there is only the Deep Seatrium and Aqua Theater left, and they show a marine film of some sort in the theater. The entrance to that is not included in our tickets. Do you want to go do that or would you prefer to head out after the Deep Seatrium, eat what I prepared and then visit Dolphin Fantasy?"

"Eat what you prepared?"

Haruhi gestured to her bag. "Mmhm, I packed the two of us a bento and a sandwich. It's nothing extravagant or of the quality you are used to, but I thought you would prefer what I made to the fast food that they offer here."

Kyouya nodded and inwardly smiled at Fujioka’s consideration while replying, "I would rather skip the theater. If I wanted to watch something, I can just do that at my own place, and it will be considerably more comfortable."

Haruhi rolled her eyes at his response. "Well, Dolphin Fantasy will be set up similar to that Aqua Tube from earlier, but Dolphin Fantasy's feature will be bigger and more like an arch or dome, and it's stationary, so we can stay there for a while. You should like it."

"Mmm, yes, visitors at our facility would likely enjoy a dome shape more..."

This time, Fujioka just shot him a look of disbelief.


 

Perhaps, the simplicity of a commoner's happiness is more valuable than I initially thought. Kyouya thought as they exited the stadium and he recalled Fujioka's clear and vibrant joy over the performance.

“Did you enjoy the performance, Ootori-senpai?” Fujioka inquired, her eyes still sparkling from the amusement and joy leftover from the show.

Kyouya looked up from the path in front of them. "Yes, these dolphins and seals are quite intelligent and obedient."

"What, are you think of purchasing some and placing them in your facility as well?" Fujioka questioned with a clear tone of sarcasm.

Kyouya replied with an amused look, "While that is not without its merits, it would simply be too high maintenance and costly."

"And an entire aquatic dome isn't?"

"The visitors' satisfaction would outweigh the maintenance and initial setup cost, and the visitors would not get tired of it like they would with the dolphin performance after repetitive viewings of it. Moreover, it would be one of its own kind amongst therapeutic facilities."

Rolling her eyes, Fujioka said, “While I can understand the logic behind your idea, I don’t think it would ever be an idea that would just come naturally to me.”

Kyouya smirked in amusement. “No, I wouldn’t think so.”

Fujioka narrowed her eyes at him before turning her attention to the exhibit in front of them.


The sky was a fiery orange and yellow with splatters of pink and lingering blue. Accompanied by the shimmering ocean underneath it, it was indeed a captivating sight, but Kyouya was lost in his memories and thoughts of today.

It had been an interesting and abnormal day to say the least. While he has willingly gone out with Tamaki in the past, there was something different today that he could not quite figure out.

After their lunch, they had visited Dolphin Fantasy, and as Fujioka promised, he immensely enjoyed it. They stayed under the arch for at least an hour, just watching the dolphins and fish and amiably chatting. He did not think he would be able to engage in what he previously deemed as mindless chitchat and enjoy it, but with Fujioka, even the most irrelevant chatting suited his interest. He particularly enjoyed their conversation about the physics involved with these encompassing tanks’ architecture and the subsequent conversation about physics and biology in general.

In Fujioka, he not only found an intellectual equal—which she must be in order to be an Ouran Academy scholarship student—but also someone he can be at ease with.

Perhaps, that was what was different between his trips with Tamaki and today. With Tamaki, he does not have to pretend, but he still cannot be completely at ease since he has to keep Tamaki in control, and he has to continue his calculations. That cannot be simply it though, there must be something more. Is it Fujioka Haruhi that is causing the entire experience to be different? If so, what is so different about Fujioka Haruhi?

Fujioka Haruhi is indeed unusual, but that alone would not have retained his attention like Fujioka had. While Kyouya does not completely rule out the beginning of a romantic interest, he knew that was not it. He might not be experienced in love or hold high regards for love, but he would not be illogical enough to completely cast it out of the realm of possibilities.

It was quite troubling indeed, to be unable to solve something.

Meanwhile, as Kyouya was deep in his contemplation, Haruhi had stood up from her spot besides him, and unobtrusively walked back. When she reached an adequate distance away from him, she smiled at the picture that this scene made. While the magnificent sunset and gorgeous waterfront did contribute to the beauty of the scene, it was Ootori-senpai’s closed eyes, relaxed posture and look of content that would mesmerize a viewer’s eyes.

With a smile, Haruhi took out the disposable camera in her bag, and snapped a picture of Ootori-senpai. (Unknown to her, she was not the only one to do so. Tachibana has not seen his young master look this relax in a long time.) She had been taking pictures all day—some of Ootori-senpai, some of the scenery and some at Fureai Lagoon, where they got to be in close contact with the creatures—and it was nearing the end of her film.

As she returned to Ootori-senpai’s spot, she mentally began to sketch out the painting she would start on as soon as she got this film developed. Haruhi settled on a spot a few spaces from Ootori-senpai, and took another photo of the waterfront and the sunset, and a side profile of Ootori-senpai before taking out her sketchpad and pencils. With her tools, Haruhi began sketching Ootori-senpai’s face and expression.

Their companionable silence was broken when a happy and chipper ringtone made itself known from Ootori-senpai’s pocket. Haruhi curiously watched him as he frowned and sighed while retracting his phone. He placed the phone an arm’s length away before answering it.

Immediately, a rambunctious and pitiful voice wailed from the phone, "MOMMY! Where are you?!"

Haruhi raised an eyebrow at the interesting title.

As though deeming it safe now, Ootori-senpai placed the phone closer to his ear and answered, “I am out on an errand right now—though I am sure you already know that since you are likely at my house.”

“But the maids said you have been out since this morning!” Though the other person have considerably quieted, his words were still clearly heard from Haruhi’s position.

Ootori-senpai sent her a glance of amusement before replying, “It is a long errand.”

“Will you be home soon?” It was as though the person wilted.

“No, I don’t think I will be home before nine. You should go home.”

Again, Haruhi raised an eyebrow.

“But…”

“Go home, Tamaki. If you are still there when I return, I am sure you won’t mind a few missing figures from your samurai collection.”

“Noooooo, mommy! I will go home now!”

“Goodbye then, Tamaki.” With that, Kyouya shut his phone and replaced it in his pocket.

“So you are Suou-senpai’s mommy?” An amused smile accompanied her words.

“No, that would be entirely insane. Tamaki has labelled me as the ‘mommy’ and himself the ‘daddy’ in our club. He is the only one who refers to us as such though.”

Haruhi chuckled. “He sounds like an… interesting character.”

Kyouya snorted. “That’s one way to call it.” Looking over at the sketchpad in front of her, Kyouya glanced over her work. “Is that me?”

Haruhi looked down at her halfway done sketch and nodded before starting to put it away. “I will finish it tonight or tomorrow.”

Kyouya gave her a look of surprise. “You can finish it now; I don’t mind.”

Haruhi just smiled and tapped the side of her head. “No, it’s okay, I have the scene stored away.” Omitting that she had taken a photo of him, she continued, “So are we going somewhere, Ootori-senpai?”

“After today, you should call me Kyouya instead.”

Haruhi thought about it for a moment before nodding. “Alright, Kyouya-senpai, then you should call me Haruhi as well.”

“I would like to treat you to dinner as thanks for today.”

Haruhi examined Kyouya’s expression, realizing he will not relent. “If you must. As long as you don’t choose somewhere too expensive or formal.”

Kyouya nodded and pulled out his phone to call someone. “Hotta, retrieve the car and meet me where you dropped me off.”

“Hotta?” Haruhi asked when Kyouya ended his call and stood up. She stood up as well and followed Kyouya’s lead in making their way out of the park.

“He is one of my bodyguards,” Kyouya replied with a smirk, awaiting another one of Haruhi’s “rich bastard” remarks.

“Is he one of the people who have been following us around since this morning?”

Haruhi’s question immediately wiped Kyouya’s smirk off his face and halted Kyouya’s steps.

Noticing her companion’s lack of movement, Haruhi paused as well and turned to face Kyouya with an inquisitive look. “What’s wrong?”

“You weren’t supposed to notice them. There is an extremely small amount of people who can notice them when they are undercover, even I lose track of them sometimes,” Kyouya explained with a look of consternation.

Haruhi chuckled. “I am an artist; I pride myself in being extremely observant. And even though they have blended in with their clothing, they kind of stick out anyways by being alone and extremely serious in a place like this.”

Hearing her explanation, Kyouya couldn’t help but chuckle as well. “I suppose I will keep that in mind the next time I instruct them to go undercover in a similar environment.”

“I think we should get a souvenir to commemorate how I successfully made the great Ootori Kyouya stop walking from surprise,” Haruhi proposed with an amused smile, gesturing towards the souvenir shop near the exit of the park.

Kyouya glanced at the indicated shop and raised an eyebrow before shrugging. “If you want to.”

Again, another difference between his interactions with Haruhi and his interactions with everyone else. If someone like Tamaki bad proposed it, he would have immediately shot the idea down and deeming it as juvenile and unnecessary, he would have walked away from it. Of course, if it was someone he had to please, he would have politely agreed, but inside his mind, he would have mocked them. But for some unexplainable reason, he did not feel any of those things at Haruhi’s proposal. While he did not jump at the idea, he found that he did not mind it. Perhaps it was because Haruhi was a level-headed person like him and he would like a tangible reminder of his day. Or perhaps, there didn’t need to be a reason.

Shaking himself out of his thoughts, he caught up to Haruhi, who had continued walking.

“So I was thinking we should get something small, like a keychain or phone charm. Or maybe even one of those snow globes that have fake tropical fish in it,” Haruhi suggested as soon as Kyouya resumed his position next to her.

“Are you suggesting we get matching phone charms like a couple? You should have just said so.”

Haruhi rolled her eyes at his response without deeming it worthy of a reply, and allowed a comfortable silence to sit between them for the rest of their walk. Once they reached the shop, Haruhi led Kyouya to the phone charms section and thoroughly examined the selection of silver charms. Kyouya merely watched as after a few minutes of contemplation, Haruhi picked up an anglerfish and a dolphin.

With a raised eyebrow, Kyouya stared at the anglerfish. “Most people would take that as an insult, but I think I will take it as a compliment.”

“How do you even know that one is yours?” Haruhi smirked as she dropped the anglerfish in his open palm.

“Well, besides the fact that you just dropped it into my hand, anglerfish suit my personality much more than yours.”

“I was debating between the sea urchin and the anglerfish, but I decided the anglerfish was more suited to your modus operandi even though you are quite prickly when you want to be,” Haruhi added as she moved to the snow globes section. As though instinctively, she reached out and shook all of the snow globes in the first row and, as though mesmerized, watched as the fake snow resettled.

Amused, Kyouya waited until all the snow was settled before asking, “Why did you choose the dolphin? It is such a common choice.”

“Common isn’t bad; I don’t mind being part of the crowd. Plus, I like dolphins. They are playful and intelligent,” Haruhi said with a smile. Then grabbing two identical snow globes, which featured a school of fish surrounding some corals in the center, she declared, “I like these two the best.”

While uncertain as to how Haruhi chose those two, Kyouya refrained from voicing his question and merely nodded. Then, something caught his peripheral vision, and Kyouya turned to look at the shelf of stuffed animals. “Would you like a stuffed dolphin as well?”

Following Kyouya’s sight, Haruhi headed to the shelves, and looked at the price tag attached to the medium sized dolphin. “No, they are overpriced.”

Kyouya shot a meaningful look at the charm and snow globes in Haruhi’s hands, as if asking, “And those aren’t?”

Haruhi huffed, like she did not understand Kyouya’s lack of understanding. “These are reasonably overpriced, and they mean something. I can get a similar dolphin at a department store for one-third of that price.”

“Haruhi, in case you haven’t noticed, I am not exactly lacking in money.”

This rebuttal simply caused Haruhi to narrow her eyes. “That isn’t the issue. If I really wanted to, I have the money to pay for it as well. Now, give me your charm, and let’s pay for our purchases. We shouldn’t make Hotta wait for so long.”

“Let me pay for it.”

“You know, if I so wanted, I can just grab a different charm. So let’s save us the hassle, and just hand it over, Kyouya-senpai.”

“My sister would rebuke me for allowing a female to pay for my purchases.”

“I was the one that propose getting souvenirs and chose it, so I should be responsible for it. Besides, since you are paying for dinner, you should let me pay for these. And if it makes you better, just think of this as a friend buying something for her friend,” Haruhi retorted with her hand held out and a look of expectance.

Kyouya narrowed his eyes and remained still.

Haruhi rolled her eyes. “If you are worried about my money, stop worrying about it. I set up stalls and sell my artwork at conventions and flea markets, and I do online commissions, so I have a decent amount of pocket money.”

Kyouya sighed and relented, realizing she is more stubborn than him and slightly reassured by her words. “Fine.”

Once the anglerfish charm landed in Haruhi’s palm, a triumphant smile appeared on Haruhi’s face. “Good, I liked this one best anyways.”

Before she headed to the cashier however, she said, “And don’t try to order your other bodyguard to buy the stuffed dolphin for me. I would not be happy, and you will not like the consequences, Kyouya-senpai.”

Kyouya smirked at how well she knew him, dropping his phone back in his pocket, and replied, “Yes, Haruhi.”

Kyouya decided to wait for Haruhi outside of the shop, and it wasn’t long before Haruhi joined him with an outstretched hand. Knowing what she wanted, Kyouya dropped his phone onto her palm and watched as she expertly attached the anglerfish charm onto his phone.

“There!” Haruhi exclaimed with a satisfied smile, holding his phone up and letting the charm dangle.

Kyouya subconsciously smiled as well, with his eyes shifting between the charm and Haruhi’s expression.

Then, realizing she was not taking her own phone out, Kyouya asked, “Shouldn’t you put yours on your phone too?”

Haruhi lowered her arm and placed his phone back in his palm before answering, “I actually don’t have a cellphone. I don’t really have a need for it since I don’t have enough friends to message constantly, and I mostly rely on emails for communication or my home phone if my dad wants to reach me. I am going to attach my charm on something else when I get home.”

Displeased, Kyouya immediately thought of how quickly he could rectify that situation, and witnessing the cogs reeling in Kyouya’s head, Haruhi immediately added, “Kyouya-senpai, you don’t need to buy me a phone. If I need it, I can get it myself.”

“Well, you will need it. How else am I supposed to contact you?”

As soon as those words left his mouth, Kyouya froze and a sly smirk appeared on Haruhi’s face. “So you actually want to maintain regular contact with me?”

“Well, your company is less unpleasant than others, and I think it would be beneficial for me to establish regular contact with you.”

Haruhi rolled her eyes and said, “I am sure it is very beneficial to be friends with a commoner like me.”

“Monetary and power benefits are not the only types of benefits in the world. Anyways, let’s start heading to the car. I am sure Hotta is wondering where we are.”

“And I am sure your other bodyguard informed him where we are.”

Knowing Haruhi was right, Kyouya shrugged. “Perhaps. Regardless, let’s go. Unless you would like to visit something else or make another purchase?”

“No, I think I am good.”


 

When Kyouya's car pulled up to the front of the restaurant, Haruhi took one look at the exterior and name, and proceeded to give Kyouya an unimpressed look. "You know, you have a really twisted sense of humor."

Kyouya quirked his lips in response but remained silent as Tachibana opened the door and he stepped out of the car. Haruhi followed him, knowing it was unwise to open a door to incoming traffic.

They had arrived in front of a sushi restaurant. It did not appear overly posh or expensive, but since it was situated in downtown Yokohama, its prices would still be something that makes Haruhi refrain from going, regardless of how good the food is. She enjoyed food, but she would rather spend the money on books and art supplies.

When they entered the restaurant, with Kyouya holding the door for Haruhi, they were immediately greeted by a waitress. The restaurant had a comfortable yet sophisticated ambience. Everything was a warm wooden style and the few paintings on the walls depicted serene nature scenes.

"A reservation for two under Ootori, please," Kyouya stated with a glance around the restaurant.

There were a few couples and a family of four that were waiting for seating, and she would hear one of them saying, "I told you we should have made reservations!" as the waitress guided them to their seats.

Another glance around the restaurant revealed that it was a place for business dinners as well, prompting Haruhi to ask, "Have you been here before?"

"A handful of times. Their food quality is excellent, and I like the atmosphere." A nod accompanied his words.

Reaching their spot, Kyouya pulled out a chair for Haruhi and waited until she was seated before sitting down himself.

"Thank you, Kyouya-senpai."

Kyouya nodded in acceptance.

"Here are your menus. A waitress will be with you in shortly," their guide said as she handed them each a menu.

They had spent a few minutes looking at their menu before a waitress appeared besides their table. When she noticed Kyouya, she blinked owlishly and a light blush appeared over her cheeks for several seconds, but she quickly shook away her stupor and inquired, “Good evening, are you ready to order?”

Turning his eyes to Haruhi, Kyouya noticed that she was staring at a particular spot on the menu, but seemed reluctant to actually decide on the item. Locating the same spot that she was looking at on his own menu, Kyouya deduced what it was and smirked in amusement. “Yes, we are. I will have a spicy tuna roll and unagi roll, and the lady here will have a plate of your best ootoro. I would like a cup of green tea as well. What about you, Haruhi?”

Haruhi looked up, wide-eyed and impressed. It took a few seconds and a glance at the menu before she decided, “Green tea as well, thank you.”

The waitress nodded and took away their menus. “I will be back soon with the tea.”

Once the waitress was gone, Haruhi blurted, "How did you know?"

Kyouya gave her a mysterious smile. "Have you never had ootoro before?"

A reminiscent smile appearing on her face, Haruhi replied, "I have, once, when I was fairly young. It was one of those times that my parents took me out, and we went to a sushi restaurant afterwards. I had some ootoro and I loved it."

Kyouya carefully observed Haruhi’s expression, and though he was uncertain as to whether he should ask, he still asked, "Do you miss your mother?"

It was definitely a loaded question, and it took Haruhi several minutes—minutes that Kyouya thought she was not going to answer—before she could finally find the right words.

"Yes, I do. My dad and I miss her very much. But we realized that we should celebrate her life and treasure the memories we had with her instead of continually grieving. Sometimes, our loved ones leave us, and it is very devastating, but it also teaches us to treasure everyone else that we love and encourages strength and love. I did not enjoy watching my mother suffer, and I am happy that she was released from that through death. I would want her back, but I don't want her to still be alive and suffering simply because I can't let her go," Haruhi replied with a melancholy smile and fingers playing with the napkin in front of her. At the end of her words, she met his eyes and a look of understanding passed between the two of them.

Recognizing the end of that particular topic, Haruhi asked, “So, where did Tachibana-san and Hotta-san go? They should eat as well."

Upon reaching his car, Kyouya had introduced Haruhi to his two bodyguards, and she was greeted with two friendly smiles and "It's nice to meet you, Fujioka-san." The trio made easy acquaintance, and during the trip, every now and then, Haruhi would include the two bodyguards into her and Kyouya's conversations. Though her actions initially surprised the duo, as they were used to being forgotten about, it only made the bodyguards accept her even easier. In their opinion, anyone that could make their master relax and smile like that was already in their good book, and Haruhi's polite and personable character only made her rise higher in their books.

With his head and eyes, Kyouya gestured to some spot behind Haruhi, leading Haruhi to turn around. It was easy for her to locate the duo. They were still in their suits, and while there were some others engaged in what looked like business dinners, it was a Saturday night, so most white-collared workers were spending time with their family.

Haruhi waved at them with a smile, and they responded in kind. Turning back around, Haruhi sipped from her tea before inquiring, "So is sushi your favorite food?"

Their comfortable conversations was only broken after the arrival of their food and Haruhi's look of pure enjoyment while eating her ootoro. Kyouya's subsequent smirk and smug remark of "Looks like I will have something to bribe you with in our future" was awarded a dark look. Its effect was negated by the look of pure joy that appeared as soon as she placed another piece of ootoro in her mouth.

At the end of the night, as the car approached Haruhi’s apartment, a trace of sadness creeped upon Kyouya and wrapped its tendrils around his psyche. The entire day had been surreal. He had enjoyed himself, and he gained a different perspective on life. Normally, at the end of his outings with Tamaki, he would feel relieved and wiped out. Though he admitted he was a little tired, it was a reasonable amount that resulted from being out all day, as opposed to how mentally and physically wiped out he usually was after spending the day with Tamaki. He found himself not minding this type of tiredness.

But it was now time for them to part ways. Kyouya struggled for words to say—words that won’t reveal too much, words that express his gratitude, words that can voice his feelings. It was unlike him, to say the least. With the car pulling up to the front of Haruhi’s apartment complex, Kyouya settled for a simple “Thank you for the day, Haruhi.”

“I am glad you had fun, Kyouya-senpai.”

The car rolled to a stop and Tachibana exited the car, walking around to open Haruhi’s door. Knowing Tachibana took pride in his duties, Haruhi refrained from opening her own door and waited until he opened it for her, disregarding how much her conscience told her to open her own door.  

“Good night, senpai. Thank you for spending the day with me and paying for dinner. I will see you soon,” Haruhi said before exiting the car.

“Good night, Haruhi.”

Kyouya’s eyes trailed Haruhi’s figure as she walked to the building and ascended the stairs. After unlocking her doors, Haruhi waved a good bye and entered her apartment, closing the door behind her. Directly afterwards, the apartment lit up, and Kyouya finally allowed his gaze to settle on the paper bag besides him instead.

He reached out and carefully extracted the snow globe from the paper bag. Kyouya tilted the globe upside down and returned to its upright position, watching as the snow settle. His gaze then moved to the phone charm hanging outside of his pocket as his hand absentmindedly unsettled the snow again.

“Tachibana, acquire a functional and modern cellphone for Haruhi. It does not need to be the newest phone or state-of-the-art, but it does have to be something easy to use and have a decent quality camera. Then, attain a phone plan from the same company as mine with unlimited minutes and add the cost to my account. Have it done by the time we arrive home. Since Tachibana is off tomorrow, Hotta, I want Aijima to remain with me while you go deliver the package at noon.”

“Understood, Kyouya-sama,” they answered simultaneously.

“Let’s head home.”

Without further prodding, the car moved out of park. For the rest of the car ride, Tachibana contacted people on his phone and pulled up cellphone information on his PDA, and Kyouya continually unsettled the snow and watched it settle.

The next day, at noon, the Fujioka residence’s doorbell was rung at twelve o’clock on the dot. Looking up from her task of placing laundry into the washer, Haruhi stared at the door in confusion. She placed the shirts in her hand back in the laundry basket, and walked towards to door, opening it.

Seeing the figure of Hotta with a package in his hand and a genial smile, Haruhi immediately moved her gaze from Hotta’s face and narrowed her eyes at the package. “Good afternoon, Hotta-san. That rich bastard got me a phone, didn’t he?”

Hotta’s smile only widened as he extended the package in Haruhi’s direction.

An exasperated sigh and utterance of “Rich bastard” accompanied Haruhi’s acceptance of the package. Meeting the bodyguard’s eyes again, Haruhi said with a much more pleasant expression, “Thank you, Hotta-san.”

“No problem, Fujioka-sama.”

Her title promptly caused Haruhi to narrow her eyes again. “What did I say about using ‘-sama’ with my name?”

With a chuckle, Hotta said, “I apologize, Fujioka-san, it is a habit that is hard to break.”

“If it makes it easier to break, just remember that it makes me uncomfortable and unhappy when you use that title with my name.”

“Yes, I will keep that in mind. I will also excuse myself now. Have a good day, Fujioka-san.”

“You as well, Hotta-san.”

Closing and locking the door behind her, Haruhi headed to the kitchen for a knife.

“Who was that, Haruhi?” her dad’s voice flowed from his bedroom.

“It was just Kyouya-senpai having someone deliver a gift for me.”

“Ooo, Kyouya!” Sounds of struggle and crashes followed his words, and it took several moments for Ranka to successfully exit his room.

Rolling her eyes at her dad’s antics, Haruhi proceeded to slide a knife’s blade against the masking tape.

As Haruhi opened the package, Ranka entered the kitchen with an excited “So what is it?”

“Just a new cellphone that he deemed I need.” Haruhi placed the box on the counter, which Ranka whistled at upon seeing the model and sleek design, before taking out the note beneath it.

Haruhi, I am sure you are unhappy with me. You told me to breathe and enjoy life, and you not having a cellphone is a hindrance to my ability to maintain contact with my relaxation coach. To acquire your phone’s email address, simply call the number at the bottom of the piece of paper with your plan’s information on it. Decide wisely, I retain the right to judge your decision. When you are done, email me, below is my email address.

Reading over his address, Haruhi chuckled, and the rest of her annoyance dissipated.

Haruhi took out the other sheet of paper in the package and pointed at the number typed on it, “Here’s my new phone number, dad.”

“Are you sure you should accept the gift, Haruhi?” While Ranka was ecstatic that his daughter received a gift from a boy, it was quite an expensive first gift.

“I would try to return it, but I doubt he will accept it. I will just try to repay him and acquire the phone bill from him somehow.”

Hearing his daughter’s response, Ranka was much more reassured and released the rest of his reservation to awe at the new phone.

Taking the house’s phone, Haruhi called the number indicated and set up a new email address. Once she was done, she opened the box and took her phone out, turning it on. While waiting, Haruhi turned the phone around, examining it. She had to admit, whoever chose this had good taste and was aware of her priorities. While looking modern, it still had a sturdy feel to it, so even if she accidentally dropped it, she was certain it would survive the fall.

When the wallpaper was finally revealed, Haruhi couldn’t help but chuckle yet again. It was a plate of ootoro staring at her. Quickly, she found the mail function and typed in his address. It took a little getting used to, but she found herself easily adapting to the handling and typing. She read her message one more time and sent it.

I hope you are accompanying that photo with actual ootoro.

Within a minute, her phone vibrated and a new mail appeared. You just had a plate of ootoro yesterday.

One can never have enough ootoro.

Seeing his daughter engaged in a conversation and enjoying herself, Ranka smiled softly to himself and left the kitchen, calling out, “I am going back to bed, Haruhi.”

Haruhi looked up from her phone. “Sleep well, dad. Sorry that you got woken up.”

“It was worth it.”

Haruhi’s phone vibrated again. Greed and gluttony are two deadly sins, Haruhi.

I suppose I will just have to share them with you so that I have companyThank you for the phone, Kyouya-senpai. I will pay you back somehow.


 

“Good afternoon. Is Kyouya-senpai here?” While by no means loud, the sudden question startled the room’s occupants and caused heads to swivel towards the room’s double doors. In the midst of the twins bullying their self-proclaimed king and Honey indulging in his confectionaries while Mori silently watched, they had managed to miss the music room doors opening and the entrance of a visitor.

Upon closer examination of their visitor, who merely stood still and met their eyes without hesitation, the group found something off. It was not merely the makeshift uniform that tried to resemble their standard-issued ones, but it was something about that uniform.

They all stared at each other for several moments before Haruhi tried again, “Excuse me, is Kyouya-senpai here?”

“You look really familiar.”

With a quick glance, Haruhi identified the twin who had spoken as Hikaru. “It is because I sit beside you and your brother, Hitachiin-san.”

Kaoru tilted his head sideways. “You do?”

Haruhi inwardly sweatdropped. “Yes, my name is Fujioka Haruhi.”

 “Hm, I don’t recognize that name,” Hikaru stated while glancing at his brother, who shook his head in response. “Anyways, what’s up with the uniform?”

“It’s a temporary one while mine are being adjusted.” Haruhi looked around the room, not really paying attention to the hosts. “So is Kyouya-senpai here?”

“Why are you looking for Kyouya?” This time, it was Tamaki who spoke up.

Haruhi exasperatedly sighed. It appeared she will not be getting a straight answer anytime soon. I should have texted him to let him know I was heading his way. “I have something for him.”

Tamaki instantly perked up, and everyone finally noticed the package that Haruhi held in her right hand.

“You have something for him,” Tamaki echoed, intently staring at the package, as though trying to utilize his nonexistent x-ray vision on it.

“Yes, so where is Kyouya-senpai?”

“You call Kyouya-senpai by his first name?” Kaoru asked instead, measuring the girl with narrowed eyes.

Haruhi’s eyes slid upwards, seeking counsel from an unknown entity. Maybe I should just call him.

Before Haruhi could voice a response though, a door in the back of the room opened and a voice injected, “What are all of you doing staring at the door?”

A sigh of relief escaped Haruhi. Finally.

All of the hosts simultaneously turned to face the newcomer with Tamaki boisterously greeting, “Kyouya! You have a visitor!”

Kyouya’s gaze moved to the door. “Haruhi, you are early.”

Haruhi nodded and walked towards him. “My appointment with the seamstress ended early.”

 The hosts all unabashedly stared as Haruhi walked past them, carefully observing the duo’s interaction.

“When will your uniforms be ready?” Kyouya also started walking towards her, but he was much more aware of his fellow hosts’ confusion and surprise.

“Early next week.”

A slightly disgruntled expression appeared on his face. “I could have acquired one for you within hours. Anyways, where are your glasses?”

“I picked up my new contacts yesterday, so I wore them today instead.” Reaching Kyouya, Haruhi held out the package. “Here.”

Taking the package, Kyouya swiftly opened it and peeked inside. “What’s that wrapped thing?”

“A painting.”

Kyouya’s eyes rose up to meet hers. “The one from the park?”

Haruhi nodded with a smile, causing a small smile to flit across his face.

Unable to stifle their curiosity any longer, the twins asked at the same time, “Who is he, Kyouya-senpai?”

Kyouya lifted an eyebrow at that. “This is Fujioka Haruhi; she is the scholarship student that I am sure you have all heard about. Doesn’t she sit beside you, Kaoru, Hikaru?

Lightbulbs went off.

“You’re the once-upon-a-decade scholarship student, Fujioka-kun?!” Within a second, Tamaki appeared in front of Haruhi, shoving his face in her direction. His hands rose up and lifted Haruhi’s chin, tilting this way and that, as if he was examining a rare specimen, which she probably was in his world.

“Oh, her!” The twins finally linked the face to the title and recalling her presence in their class.

“Ne, ne, Haru-chan, why are you wearing a guy’s uniform?” Honey asked as he skipped to Haruhi’s side.

Haru-chan? Haruhi inwardly wondered as she forcefully extracted herself from Tamaki’s grasp. “Get away from me, you annoying French puppy!”

Instantly, Tamaki wilted and proceeded to melt himself into a corner of gloom and grow some mushrooms. Muttered and broken sounds of “She… she… she… called…. She called…. She called me annoying…” could be heard over and over again.

This then launched the twins to bend over with laughter and tears at the corner of their eyes, clutching their stomach. “Oh, you are a keeper!”

Haruhi glared at Hikaru, the speaker, before huffing and calming down. With a much more pleasant countenance, Haruhi turned to face Honey. “I am wearing this because it is more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing than those yellow daffodils they call uniforms. It is also easier to make the male uniform from everyday clothes.”

Honey’s mouth opened into an o-shape as he absorbed this. He nodded once. “I see! Would you like to play with Usa-chan?”

Switching her focus to the bunny that Honey held out, sparks of adoration entered her eyes. “Oh, she is rather cute, I would love to hold her, may I?”

Near-tangible flowers and sparkles surrounded Honey’s figure as he excitedly nodded and gently placed Usa-chan in Haruhi’s arms. “Of course! Take care of her, Haru-chan!”

Honey pranced back to his table with the cake, and Mori gave Haruhi a greeting nod before following his cousin.

Holding Usa-chan against her stomach, Haruhi walked back to Kyouya, who has been watching all of this with clear amusement. Kyouya gave Usa-chan a meaningful glance and met her eyes.

“What? She’s cute!” Haruhi defensively stated, hugging Usa-chan a little tighter.

Kyouya smirked, but stayed silent.

“Is Suou-senpai going to be alright?” Haruhi asked, gesturing to Tamaki’s corner, where he remained gloomy and the twins were taunting him some distance away.

“He will recover.” Suddenly, a sly smile that sent waves of unease to Haruhi appeared on Kyouya’s face. Kyouya made an obvious eyes gesture towards the twins, and Haruhi instantly understood what he was about to do.

Haruhi’s posture snapped upright as she fiercely glared at Kyouya, her eyes flashing with warning.

Kyouya being Kyouya ignored her and called out, “Hikaru, Kaoru.”

The twins turned to Kyouya and straightened up. Hikaru asked, “Yes, Kyouya-senpai?”

“Kyouya-senpai!” Haruhi protested.

“Haruhi has something for you.”

The twins’ eyes turned expectantly at Haruhi.

Still glaring at Kyouya, Haruhi adamantly replied back, “No, I don't. Kyouya-senpai is mistaken."

Kyouya-senpai mistaken? The twins thought while sharing an incredulous look.

At her words, a staring contest between Haruhi and Kyouya ensued. It only lasted a minute or so before Kyouya recognized Haruhi was more stubborn than him in this matter, and he tried a different tactic. “If you comply, I will buy you a new set of paint colors and a plate of ootoro.”

Haruhi’s eyes narrowed. “Three plates.”

“Two.”

Haruhi relented with a sigh. "Agreed.” She turned to face the Hitachiin twins, who were intently watching her with an unsettling amount of interest. It was time for her to resign herself to her fate. “I do have something to give you guys, but I don't have it with me right now. I will give it to you two tomorrow during lunch."

Kyouya smiled. "I will hold you to it."

Hikaru and Kaoru just looked at each other in confusion.


 

It was in his car on the way home from host club that Kyouya finally allowed himself to take out the contents of Haruhi’s package. Taking the photos out, Kyouya sifted through each one, remembering the exhibits and scene that each was taken at. Some he recalled seeing Haruhi with her camera, some he did not. When he reached the last one, he paused. It was a photo of him during sunset sitting on that bench. He had his eyes closed and he was leaning back on his arms with his shoulders loose and relax.

I didn’t even know I could be that relaxed. Kyouya stared at the photo for a few more minutes before placing it with the other photos. As he reached into the envelope again, a sense of anticipation sneaked up on him. Before she put it away, he had seen the beginning of a sketch, and it had already mesmerized him. He could only imagine the effect the finish product would have on him.

Swiftly yet carefully unwrapping the brown paper, Kyouya revealed the painting hidden in its depths. His breathing paused when he finally allowed his eyes to feast on the painting. It was an almost replica of that photo with a few tweaks here and there that only added to the beauty of the painting. It was literally breathtaking.

The fiery orange and yellow and red of the sky with the blue of the ocean created a rich mixture of colors that his eyes yearned to imprint upon his mind. His relaxed figure was sitting on the bench like it did in the photo, and he permitted his sight to linger on the realistic portrayal of himself before trailing it to the scene behind him. There was a family in the distance. Two sons were a few steps in front, playing with each other, bursting with happiness, while the mom and the dad followed them with a content and amused expression. Closer to him, there was a couple holding hands and amicably talking. On his other side, there were a group of teenage friends joking and laughing. There were more people around him, and they were all happy and having fun.

This was a painting of peace and beauty. While he had an important role in the scene, he was not the sole focus; he was a part of it, and his presence added to the wholeness of the painting.

Keeping his eyes on the painting, he called out, “Tachibana, order one black 6P photo frame, one black KG frame and a KG photo album.”

“Yes, Kyouya-sama.” Tachibana promptly pulled out his phone and called someone.

 It’s time to replace the painting hanging above my bed.


 

“Haruhi,” Kyouya greeted as soon as he heard the line connect. His left hand held the phone to his ear while his right hand continued to navigate his laptop in front of him.

“Kyouya-senpai. Why are you up already?”

“I had a family breakfast this morning that I unfortunately had to sacrifice my sleep for.”

Kyouya heard a noise of understanding and shuffling.

“What are you doing right now?”

“Laundry.”

“I see.” He paused and looked at the webpage in front of him before continuing, “So what type of fish should I get?”

The noise on the other end of the line halted immediately. “Please tell me you are not building a domestic version of the Aqua Tube.”

Kyouya smirked. “While I did contemplate the merits of that idea, I am not quite sure my family would approve of such a drastic renovation. No, I am merely acquiring fish tanks in my room.”

She voiced a sigh of relief, but after a second, she asked with clear suspicion, “How big?”

“I was thinking one would be the width of a California king-sized bed and the other would be half of that size. I want to place one by my desk and one in front of my bed. The smaller one would be by my desk.”

“That’s smaller than I was expecting. So what’s the website that you are looking at?”

This time, it was Kyouya who paused. “How did you know?”

“I can hear your clicking, you know.” Haruhi sounded amuse. “Email me your website, I will look on it with you.”

“What about your laundry?”

“You have a knack for contacting me when I am about to finish a certain part of my laundry process. I just need to finish hanging a few shirts up, so I will finish that while my laptop is starting up.”

Kyouya quickly copied the web address, opened up his email, and composed and sent the email. “Sent.”

“Alright. So what environment were you thinking of? Tropical fish? Fresh water fish? Salt water fish?”

“I definitely want a tank of tropical fish. I am not sure about the other one, depends on what species are in each category.” Deciding to wait for Haruhi, Kyouya paused his searching and propped his chin against his right hand.

“What about turtles or crabs? Are you interested in those as well?”

Kyouya tossed the idea around his head for a moment. “Maybe a pair of turtles.”

“Are you planning to get some corals or decorations?”

Kyouya had thought being a fish owner would be simple, not realizing how much work and preparation went into it. At least Haruhi seemed to know what they were doing. “I suppose I am.”

Haruhi chuckled. “I am almost done. Let me hang this last shirt.” Sounds of Haruhi clipping something traveled through the phone. “Done. Now let me pull up the website. Are you planning to actually purchase your fish from this website or from a store?”

“I was planning to pick out the type and quantity that I want from here, and then have Tachibana or Aijima purchase them from a store for me.”

“Well, before you do that, you should set up your tanks. Let it run a few days so that it’s not completely new. Even after that, you should initially only add two to four fish to each tank. Only add more after your tanks are stable and the nitrogen cycle is established. Each time, you should only add two to four more. Oh, and since this is your first time owning fish, we should start with fish that are easier to take care of, are compatible and nonaggressive with other fish, and have a high tolerance of different water conditions. You should also refrain from getting anything too expensive.”

“How do you know so much fish owning? Do you own fish yourself?”

With a chuckle, Haruhi responded, “No, but I like aquariums, so I have researched this before, and I have talked with people who do own fish.”

Kyouya made a noise of understanding and started looking over the webpage and the variety of fish that was shown before asking, “So what do you suggest I get?”

For the next hour, the two went through the website for fish selection, several shopping sites for tank decorations and tank supplies, and various other knickknacks that Haruhi insisted he needed for his aquarium and its future occupants. Kyouya had never put this much consideration into his shopping, and he found that he enjoyed it. Normally, he would be miffed that someone has greater knowledge than he on a matter like this and that he required guiding, but with Haruhi, he did not mind at all. It was enlightening, and he realized that there were just some things that commoners are more adept at.

To be truthful, he was immensely grateful for Haruhi’s assistance, not that he would tell her or admit it a second time. He could only imagine how disastrous his first venture into owning fish would have been without all the pointers that Haruhi gave him and her opinion on certain selections.

He was kind of exhausted, but he now had a list of all of the supplies that he wanted, and he had a plan for the establishment of his own mini aquarium. It was satisfying, to say the least.

“Thank you, Haruhi.” As an Ootori, it was rare for Kyouya to have to voice his thanks to anyone, but since the first day he met her, Haruhi has been an exception to a great many things that he thought he had long established. It was just one of her special abilities. That, and being able to locate his guards at any moment in time.

“No problem. Just make sure to tell Tachibana-san or Aijima-san to pick healthy fish and examine for injuries or abnormalities.”

“I will.” Kyouya smirked as he asked his next question, “Has Kaoru or Hikaru texted or called you yet?”

He might not be able to see her, but he could feel her narrowed eyes and scowl from the other end of the phone as she responded, “Yes, Hikaru called me and I found a text from Kaoru when I woke up.”

As promised, Haruhi gave two of her portraits to the Hitachiin twins, and ever since then, the twins somehow managed to acquire her phone number and email address, and have been calling or texting her every day. Haruhi was not enjoying her position as their new toy and object of interest.

“Perhaps they will show up on your doorstep again tomorrow,” Kyouya said with a note of false innocence, not-too-subtly reminding her of how they had shown up on her doorstep last weekend and forcefully dragged her with them to one of their mom’s fashion shows after a quick makeover. She ended up enjoying the show and borrowed the twins’ cameras to take some photos for references, but she did not appreciate being kidnapped. He still recalled her phone call to him that night, and her mixture of anger and annoyance and awe as she ranted at him and blamed him for her current predicament.

“Don’t worry, if the bell rings, I will carefully look through the peephole before answering the door. And so far, I haven’t noticed any signs that they are going to kidnap me again from their calls and texts.”

“It usually doesn’t come with warning.”

Haruhi wasn’t impressed with him. “Is this how you repay my assistance? By mocking me? This is all your fault anyways!”

“Actually, Haruhi, if I recalled correctly, it was your greed and inability to resist temptation that led you to your agreement.”

“You are still the root of the problem. Anyways, where is my second plate of ootoro? Can you get it from the same place that you got the last one? It was really good.”

Kyouya wondered if she would still insist on having the second plate of ootoro from the same place if she knew the price tag on it, not that he was going to tell her. He was not one to spend money on other people (unless it benefited him), but of course, the one person that he is quite willing to spend money on is rather unwilling to have any money spent on her. Turning his thoughts back to the conversation, Kyouya replied, “You second plate of ootoro will appear the night of the start of summer break ball that the club is hosting.”

Several second passed. “Is that your way of inviting me to the ball?”

“Is that a yes?”

“No, that was actually a no. One, I have no idea how to ballroom dance. Two, I don’t have a dress.”

“Neither of those are valid reasons. I can easily teach your how to dance, and Hikaru and Kaoru would be more than happy to provide you with a dress.”

“The deal was that I would get two plates of ootoro.” Haruhi’s irritation was clear.

“We never confirmed when I had to provide the ootoro. It could be in two weeks or it could be in twenty years, your choice.”

“So the first plate of ootoro was to act as a lure? What am I, a fish?”

“I am sure you have a greater resemblance to an irritated cat right now. So, yes or no?”

Haruhi huffed. “Fine, when is the ball?”

“In two weeks, Saturday night. I will have someone pick you up that evening, and I will notify Kaoru.”

“You are evil, Kyouya-senpai. The plate of ootoro better be as good as the first one.”

“It will be even better.”


 

“Kyouya-senpai!”

Hearing his name, Kyouya looked up from the flyer in his hand and found Haruhi a few feet from him, waving. They were at the Izumi shopping center, where there was an ongoing Hometown Regional Products Expo, so there was a sea of people. This was not where he would prefer to be on a Sunday, especially on the last day of summer break, but Haruhi had wanted to check it out and invited Kyouya to come along. Kyouya had to admit he was curious about the contents of this expo. The rest of the host club would likely enjoy the expo even more than him, but inviting the other hosts would be utter chaos, and he was not insane enough to bring that upon himself.

After browsing through the various merchant stalls on each floor and the dissembling of a fraud merchant selling porcelain, they finally ended up on a roof, where there appeared to be a play intended for kids occurring on one side, and a myriad of carnival games and food on the other.

“Kyouya-senpai, you should purchase a cat. I have heard animals are wonderful therapeutic animals, and a cat would be a suitable de-stresser.”

Slowly blinking at this non sequitur, Kyouya turned to face Haruhi and followed her gaze to a pet shop.

“A cat?”

“If you were Suou-senpai, I would suggest a dog, but for you, a dog would stress you rather than de-stress you, so a cat,” Haruhi plaintively reasoned. “Let’s take a look.”

Without another word, Haruhi headed to the pet store, expecting Kyouya to follow.

As they entered the store, a bell on top of the door rung over their heads. One of store’s attendants looked up, lightly bowed, and greeted, “Welcome to the store. Is there anything that I can help you with?”

“We are looking to adopt a cat for him,” Haruhi stated, gesturing to Kyouya, whose eyes were examining the store in its entirety.

“Our cats are in the next room, and we recently received two new litters and they are in the back of the room. Feel free to take a look around, and if you have any questions, you are welcome to ask any of us.”

“Thank you.”

When they entered the next room, there were already a couple and two families interacting with the various felines around the fairly spacious room. As the attendant mentioned, in the back of the room, there was a little play pen with a number of kittens fumbling around.

Haruhi decided to look through the older cats first, offering her fingers for them to sniff. A few allowed her and Kyouya to pet them, but none particularly attracted them and vice versa. Then, they reached the back of the room.

Keep her eyes on a litter of black kittens in the pen, Haruhi asked, “You don’t hold any particular superstition towards black cats, do you?”

With an eyebrow raised in response, Kyouya stated, “That would be awfully illogical of me.”

Directing her attention at the female attendant standing near the pen, Haruhi requested, “Excuse me, may we have a closer look at the black kittens?”

With a smile and “Of course,” the attendant stepped gestured for them to step into the pen with her, careful of the kittens on the ground.

As soon as the duo crouched onto the ground, a black kitten with slate gray eyes and a pink collar approached Kyouya and clamored for his attention.

“This litter is two and a half months old, there are three females and one male. Their gender is indicated by their collar.”

Relenting, Kyouya picked the kitten up and the kitten immediately buried her head in his arms and purred.

Haruhi grinned. “Looks like you have an admirer, and we have found our kitten, Kyouya-senpai.”

Though his attention was mostly focused on the kitten in his arms, who was butting her head into his scratches, he noticed another black kitten—this one with a blue collar—standing apart from his siblings, who were gently roughhousing, and eying Haruhi. “It looks like you have an admirer as well, Haruhi.”

Haruhi turned to look behind her and found said admirer. Seeing that he had her attention, he quickly scrambled towards her and jumped into her lap. Unable to help herself, Haruhi began petting and scratching his head.

“If I am going to get a kitten, you will as well. Also, he likes you. I don’t think he will let you leave him.”

Haruhi looked up from her adoring ministrations, surprised, and shook her head, “No, I can’t. One, I am not certain my dad will permit it, and two, even though my complex allows pets, I don’t have the resources to feed it and house it.”

Kyouya narrowed his eyes in contemplation for a moment before stating, “I will provide you with his food and everything that he needs. Call your father and ask.”

Haruhi was clearly taken back and hesitant, but no one could mistake the spark of hope in her eyes. Reluctantly but without further protest, Haruhi said, “…Alright.”

When the call connected, Haruhi briefly explained the entire situation to her father. As soon as her face lit up in surprise and happiness, Kyouya knew her father agreed. As Haruhi wrapped up her call, Kyouya looked up at the attendant and said, “We will be taking these two kittens; can you pull up all the necessary paperwork?”

With a nod and smile, the attendant headed to backroom.

When she ended the call, Haruhi exclaimed, “My father said yes! But he agreed that I should share half of the costs with you.”

Kyouya narrowed his eyes. “A quarter.”

Haruhi narrowed her eyes as well. “A third.”

Knowing she won’t budge, he sighed and stated, “Deal.”

Haruhi grinned and returned her eyes to the kitten in her lap. After a few moments, she looked up and asked, “Have you thought of a name yet?”

Kyouya looked down and observed the kitten for a minute before remarking, “I think Noel suits her. What about you?”

“No.” Haruhi frowned and looked down in contemplation. While petting him, she muttered, “Noel… Christmas… Joyeux Noel… Meriikurisumasu… Merii… Tano… I think Tano is suitable.” She looked at the kitten, “Do you like Tano?”

The kitten rubbed his head against Haruhi’s hand more.

“I will take that as a yes. You are coming home with me, Tano-kun.”


 

Kyouya was reading a financial news article when his phone alerted him to a new message. Recognizing the tone as Haruhi's, Kyouya quickly finished the paragraph that he was reading before looking.

 

 

 

 Kyouya-senpai,

May I borrow Tachibana-san, Aijima-san or Hotta-san and your car tomorrow before noon?

Haruhi

Kyouya rose an eyebrow. It was not every day that Haruhi requested something from him. Curious, Kyouya returned to his phone's home screen and dialed four (one to three being his bodyguards/assistants).

A ring later, Haruhi picked up. "Kyouya-senpai?"

"Out of curiosity, Haruhi, why do you need a driver and car?"

There was some rustling on the other end before Haruhi responded, "I would like to enter into the traditional art portrait category and specialty category of the National Art Competition. I finished my piece today and would like to bring it to the submission site tomorrow. However, my art piece is quite big—taller than me actually, so it is quite cumbersome for public transportation, and I would rather not damage it during transportation."

Though he was not too familiar with the competition, Kyouya have heard that the specialty category has a different theme each year. "What is the theme for the specialty category this year?"

"Loneliness."

"Hmmm... I will lend you Tachibana if you take a photo of your finished product and send it to me."

Haruhi chuckled. "I had a feeling you would request that, so I have already taken the liberty of sending you an email."

Kyouya promptly clicked on a new tab and opened up his inbox. Within moments, Kyouya was mesmerized.

It had four sections: The top left depicted a winter scene with elementary-school aged Hikaru and Kaoru sitting on a bench together while the rest of their classmates played in the snow; top right was autumn and child Kyouya was passing by a park in his car with a laptop in his lap and glancing out of the window while other children his age were playing in the park; bottom right was summer and child Tamaki was in a classroom being sociable with everyone and had a bright smile on his face, but his dull violet eyes were lonely, and his surroundings were monochromatic and his classmates faceless; bottom left was spring and featured Haruhi reading a classic literature of some sort at her desk while her classmates were in groups chatting with each other.

It was a masterpiece.

"-ya-senpai, Kyouya-senpai?"

Jolted from his admiration, Kyouya realized Haruhi must have called his name several times.

"If you do not at least attain second place, I believe it is time to replace the current judges."

Even through the phone, Kyouya could feel Haruhi rolling her eyes with a smile. "Thank you, Kyouya-senpai, I'm glad you like it."

"Does Tamaki, Hikaru and Kaoru know about the painting?"

"I asked for their permission to use them, but they don't know how I am drawing them, and I haven't shown them the finished product yet."

"I see. Tachibana can be there at 10:30 tomorrow morning, will that be alright?"

"Yes, thank you, Kyouya-senpai!"

"Afterwards, if you don't have anything scheduled, we can have lunch. You should bring Tano with you."

"I only have some chores that I can finish tonight."

"I will see you tomorrow then."

"See you. Thank you again, Kyouya-senpai."

"You're welcome, Haruhi."


 

“Who are you?”

Haruhi looked up from petting her kitten to see a dark-haired young man stepping out of what was likely his bedroom. He looked cautious and curious, which was typically not the greatest mix for an Ootori. From his age and casual yet professional clothes, she wagered he must be Ootori Akito, Kyouya’s second brother.

“Good afternoon, Ootori-san. I am Fujioka Haruhi, a friend of Kyouya,” Haruhi greeted with a small bow. Tano, for her part, only granted a curious look at the newcomer before turning her head back to her mistress and nestled herself deeper in Haruhi’s hold.

“A friend of Kyouya? I was not aware he started bringing home his customers from that host club of his,” Akito remarked with narrowed eyes, closely examining Haruhi and noting her modest clothing. “But I am afraid I am not quite familiar with the Fujioka family name.”

Feeling mildly insulted, yet understanding of his thought process, Haruhi tried to withhold any bite when she responded, "I am afraid you are mistaken, Ootori-san, I am not a customer of the host club; I am simply Kyouya-senpai's friend."

Akito's face scrunched in thought. "I was unaware Kyouya had any friends beyond those hooligans from the host club. While on that topic, how is that host club doing?"

"I am not certain since I don't have any affiliations with the host club."

"You claim to be his friend, so Kyouya must tell you something."

Amused yet uncomfortable with the situation, Haruhi's hold on Tano tightened slightly, causing Tano to perk her head up in inquiry. "If you have any questions about the host club, please directly ask Kyouya-senpai instead. Kyouya-senpai is waiting for me, so please excuse me."

With that, Haruhi quickly bowed and zoomed past Akito without waiting for a response. Normally, she would never do that as it was kind of rude, but extreme situations called for extreme measures.

A few doors down, Haruhi reached Kyouya's room, and with a subtle glance at Akito, who was still standing in the corridor and had turned to watch Haruhi, Haruhi decided manners be damned, and let herself into his room without knocking, extremely glad it was unlocked.

Kyouya, who had been working on his laptop on the low table in front of the sofa, looked up from his screen with surprise. Noel, ensconced in Kyouya's lap, also looked up, and sensing her sister, jumped out of his lap and darted towards Haruhi.

Upon sensing Noel, Tano also jumped out of Haruhi's hold, and the two promptly began to play with each other.

"Haruhi?" Kyouya inquired with a raised brow, confused by Haruhi's ruffled and uncharacteristic behavior.

"Your brother, Akito-san, is a hound," Haruhi stated unceremoniously. While this was not the first time she has visited the Ootori estate, it was the first time she has encountered any of Kyouya's family on her way to his room.

Immediately understanding Haruhi's predicament, Kyouya chuckled. "I take it that you are not very fond of Akito-niisan either?"

"Well, considering he first assumed I was one of your host club customers, then he briefly mentioned being unfamiliar with my last name, and somewhat badgered me about the host club, no, I’m not too fond of him. I felt like a prisoner being interrogated. Does he have a brother complex or something?" Haruhi reiterated as she walked around the room and stopped by a drawer with some photo frames on it. Though she has been here previously, common courtesy had prevented her from browsing through Kyouya's belongings, but now, she felt they were on a familiar enough level for her to casually stroll around the room and look at it more close-up.

Kyouya rolled his eyes at her question. "No. He just enjoys questioning my friends about my activities."

"That sounds like a brother complex to me." Examining the photos, Haruhi began to get an idea. "Are these photos of your family?"

Glancing at where Haruhi was, Kyouya made a noise of affirmation and returned his attention to the screen. "You have already met Akito-niisan. I also have an older sister and brother."

Then hearing some shuffling noises from Haruhi and what suspiciously sounded like Haruhi taking a photo, Kyouya looked up. "What are you doing, Haruhi?"

Ignoring his question, Haruhi moved on from the family photo and snapped a photo of his sister and mother. "Tell me more about your family."

Realizing he won't get a straightforward answer, Kyouya propped his chin onto his palm and observed Haruhi's photographing. "My father is the CEO of the Ootori group, and my mother is a board member and COO of her family's company, so they are often busy. My eldest brother, Yuuichi, is a doctor, but he has been shadowing my father and learning the business aspect of our company. My sister, Fuyumi, is married to Shido Yamato, who is the heir to the Shido Group, a Group focused on construction and architecture. While it’s an arranged marriage, it’s also a love match. Akito, who you have met, is finishing medical school and plans to pursue an MBA upon graduation. I’m the closest with Fuyumi."

Haruhi finished taking photos and turned to survey the rest of the room as she asked, "What about hobbies? What do they like to do?"

"I have seen my mother with a book a few times, and Fuyumi does attempt to do housework and plays the piano—though she claims she'll never be as good as Tamaki." When mentioning Fuyumi, Kyouya couldn't help but have a small smile on his face, thinking about his sister's humorous attempts at folding his clothes.

"And your brothers and father?"

Kyouya shrugged. "What are you up to, Haruhi?"

Haruhi gave Kyouya a look for his lack of knowledge before returning her attention to the fish tank before her. "Nothing, I was just curious." Shooting a glance at the unused desk, Haruhi continued, "You have a desk, you should use it more often."

"I tried to, but Noel demanded my lap."

Haruhi couldn't help but chuckle at the image of the almighty Ootori Kyouya bending to the will of a small black kitten. Sensing Haruhi's thoughts, Kyouya shot her a dark look.

"So why did you ask me to come, Kyouya-senpai?" Haruhi questioned as she finally headed to where Kyouya was and settled across from him.

"I would like to commission a painting for my father's upcoming birthday, and extend an invitation to you to his birthday party, which is also the Ootori Christmas ball. It is two months from now, on the night of December 20th, a Saturday."

"I don't have an expensive enough dress, unless I reuse the one from the host club ball, which I doubt you will approve."

"Hikaru and Kaoru will be happy to attain a dress for you."

"I already have a lot of clothes from them, and I am certain they are worth more than my apartment."

"You can’t blame them for enjoying having you as their personal model. One more will be hardly anything."

"But Kyouya-senpai, I’ll stand out."

"Think of it this way, you will save me from being completely miserable, and you can personally see my father's expression when he opens my present."

"Alright, fine, but I am not letting you pay me for the painting. I still owe you for the cell phone."

Narrowing his eyes, Kyouya realized he won't win this fight, so he merely sighed and stated, "Alright, but at least let me buy the canvas and paint."

After thinking it over and deeming it reasonable, Haruhi nodded. "Deal."


 

“Kyouya, I didn’t know you were bringing a guest.”

Kyouya looked up from handing Haruhi a sparkling cider to see his older sister, Fuyumi, approaching the duo on the arm of her husband, Shido Yamato.

Meeting Fuyumi’s eyes, Kyouya noticed a particular unsettling sparkle in it.

“Good evening, Fuyumi, Yamato-san. Please let me introduce you to my friend from Ouran Academy, Fujioka Haruhi. Haruhi, this is my sister, Fuyumi, and her husband, Shido Yamato-san,” Kyouya greeted, emphasizing on “friend” with a pointed look at Fuyumi, who returned his gesture with an amused smile.

“Nice to meet you, Ootori-san, Shido-san. Please take care of me.” Haruhi greeted with a smile and small bow of her head.

Shido returned her greeting with a nod of his own and a small smile. “Nice to meet you, Fujioka-san.”

“Please, call me Fuyumi, there are too many Ootori-san here, and it will get confusing,” Fuyumi replied with an amiable smile, already liking the girl. “Is that a Hitachiin original?”

Haruhi briefly looked down at her long navy blue gown before replying with a slightly shy smile. “Yes, I am classmates with Hitachiin Kaoru-san and Hitachiin Hikaru-san, and they kindly acquired this dress for me.”

More like overexcitedly, Haruhi thought, remembering how Hikaru and Kaoru pulled Haruhi to their house and made her try on gowns after gowns before settling on this one. Then, they thrusted a rack of clothes for her to bring home too. I think I am going to run out of room in my closet soon.

“They made a brilliant choice. They truly have an eye for fashion like their mother. Are the Hitachiins here today?”

“Yes, I believe they were invited, and Hikaru and Kaoru mentioned they were coming.” Kyouya responded.

While the Ootori did not have direct business with Hitachiin Fashions, the Hitachiin were still a prominent family in the elite society and could not be excluded from an Ootori gathering.

“Well, I have something to discuss with Yuzuha-san, so I must go find her. Enjoy yourself, Fujioka-san, it was a pleasure meeting you.” Before turning away, Fuyumi added with a wink, “I hope to see you more often.”

Kyouya merely release an exasperated sigh, not expecting anything less from his sister, while Haruhi responded with a hesitant smile.

Once the couple was gone, Haruhi stated, “I can see why you are the closest with your sister, Kyouya-senpai. She’s nice and genuine.”

Kyouya nodded. “Yes, she can be a bit overbearing at times though.”

“I suppose I am the first guest you have brought to any of these gatherings.”

“Well, yes. The rest of the host club is typically naturally invited to these gatherings.” Then, spotting his father, who was chatting with his eldest brother, Yuuichi, Kyouya gestured towards the duo and said, “Let’s give my father his gift. Tachibana.”

Within seconds, Tachibana appeared next to Kyouya with a nicely wrapped package in his extended arms. Kyouya took it and Tachibana immediately disappeared again.

Placing her free hand on Kyouya’s forearm, Haruhi followed Kyouya as he smoothly navigated through the strings of people. His father and brother didn’t notice him until he was two meters away, but when they did, they both rose a brow at the female on his arm.

“Good evening, father, Yuuichi-niisan. Happy birthday, father.” Seeing his father and brother’s eyes still trained on Haruhi, who could not help but tighten her hold on his forearm upon receiving the intense focus of the two Ootori, Kyouya added, “Please allow me to introduce to you my friend from Ouran Academy, Fujioka Haruhi.”

“Good evening, Ootori-san, Ootori-san. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” Haruhi allowed her gaze to settle on Yoshio and then Yuuichi before returning her gaze to Yoshio. “Happy birthday, Ootori-san.”

They both noticed Yuuichi’s look of consternation as he mouthed her name, as though he was trying to recall any family called Fujioka.

Yoshio nodded in acceptance. “Thank you. Have you enjoyed your evening so far, Fujioka-san?”

Haruhi nodded. “Yes, I have.”

Sensing the conversation’s dead-end, Kyouya injected, “Father, I would like to give you your present now.”

Yoshio’s eyes settled on the package that Kyouya was extending towards him as he placed his champagne on a nearby table. He received it and carefully unwrapped it. When he saw the painting in its entirety, a gleam of pleasure appeared in his eyes and he adorned a small smile.

It was a framed acrylic painting of Yoshio standing by a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows and staring into the Tokyo night cityscape with his desk, posed in the center of the modern office, behind him. Yoshio’s side profile with his arms held behind his back illustrated him to be an intimidating and imposing figure, but his expression was thoughtful and released from his usual controlled countenance. The only thing illuminating the office and Yoshio was the light from the luminous and flashing city. It was truly a piece of work, with the masterful use of lighting and shading and blending of colors.

“I am afraid I don’t recognize the artist, but this is brilliant. Thank you, Kyouya.” Yoshio finally pulled his gaze from the painting to meet Kyouya’s eyes.

“Yes, Kyouya, who is the artist?” Even Yuuichi cannot help but appreciate the beauty and brilliance of this painting. It was the perfect representation of their father.

Kyouya had a smile of his own, pleased with his father and brother’s approval. Anticipating their reactions, he replied, “She is standing beside me. I commissioned this painting from Haruhi.”

Both Yoshio and Yuuichi’s eyes flew to Haruhi, who gained a light blush over her cheeks.

“Fujioka-san?” Yoshio quickly masked his trace of disbelief.

“Yes. I am glad that you enjoy the painting, Ootori-san.”

“I will hang this in my office tomorrow.”

“I think you have outshone the rest of us with your present, Kyouya, even mother’s,” Yuuichi remarked with a good-natured smile, no trace of jealousy in his voice.

A genial smile accompanied his words, “Perhaps. It looks like there are others who would like to talk with you, so we will excuse ourselves now. Have a good evening, father, Yuuichi-niisan.”

“Goodbye, Ootori-san, Ootori-san,” Haruhi said with a smile and small bow.

As soon as the duo parted, a few other guests took their place and initiated conversation with the Ootori patriarch.

Some distance away, Kyouya offhandedly remarked, “The only time I have seen my father that pleased is when he is closing an advantageous business deal. But I must agree with my father and brother, that painting is truly a masterpiece. You did a superb job.”

“Thank you. I am content with the outcome too. It took a while to work out the lighting and blend, and there were definitely a few things I could have tweaked now that I am looking at it again, but it is satisfactory, I suppose.”

Kyouya scoffed at the critical tone, but realized none of his words can reassure her. People did say artists were their own worst critics. Then, hearing the current song coming to an end, Kyouya gestured towards the dance floor. “Well, Haruhi, would you like to join me for a dance?”

“Yes, please.”

And so, Kyouya and Haruhi spent the rest of the night dancing—with Kaoru and Hikaru and even Tamaki interceding to ask Haruhi for a dance of their own every now and then—and mingling with the other hosts (there were quite a few looks of envy directed at Haruhi for the closeness she shared with the hosts, especially Kyouya). Kyouya did go speak with a few business partners of his father, but it was always after he made sure there was someone accompanying Haruhi. Though there was not ootoro, Haruhi did enjoy the other delicacies and finger food that was served, and Hikaru and Kaoru managed to coerce Haruhi into trying some champagne and white wine. When the clock approached 11pm, Kyouya and Haruhi both decided it was time to call it a night, so after saying goodbye to the rest of the host club, Yoshio, and Fuyumi, Kyouya drove Haruhi home.

As the car pulled up to Haruhi’s apartment, Haruhi requested, “Can you come up for a moment? I have something to give you.”

With a knowing smile, Kyouya pulled out a wrapped present with a bow on top from one of the compartments in the back and said, “I have something for you as well.”

Haruhi rolled her eyes. They both got out of the car, and upon reaching the inside of Haruhi’s apartment, Haruhi told Kyouya to wait as she retreated to her room to attain Kyouya’s present.

Looking around, Kyouya noticed a small decorated Christmas tree standing by Haruhi’s mother’s shrine and a few other Christmas decorations dangling from the ceiling and wall.

“Would you like some tea, Kyouya-senpai?” Haruhi asked as she reappeared with a wrapped present in her hand.

“No, I’m good.”

“Alright, but I don’t think my dress will allow me to sit by the table, so let’s do this at the kitchen counter.” Haruhi accompanied her words with a gesture towards the low, wooden table in the room.

Kyouya nodded, following Haruhi to the kitchen. Then, he handed his present to her. “Ladies first, Haruhi.”

Haruhi raised a brow. “Is the present more expensive than my apartment?”

Kyouya chuckled. “No, Haruhi, just open it.”

Taking a letter opener knife, Haruhi unwrapped the wrapping paper and seeing the package of the box, a digital camera, looked back up with widened eyes. “No, Kyouya-senpai.”

“Yes. It’s a practical camera, and a better investment than those disposable one that you use. It’s also more environmental friendly.” Having already anticipated Haruhi’s refusal, Kyouya had prepared his arguments beforehand.

“But it’s too much! I’ll never finish paying you back at this point.”

“Haruhi, the point of presents is that you don’t expect anything in return. You definitely don’t pay someone back for it either.”

“Alright, fine, but please keep in mind the value of your future presents,” Haruhi relented, gaining more excitement. “Thank you, Kyouya-senpai, I really appreciate this. I can take so much more reference photos now.”

“Good, because your art is much more valuable than this camera.”

“Hm, then maybe my present won’t pale in comparison to yours,” Haruhi replied, handing over her present to Kyouya.

Using Haruhi’s letter opener, Kyouya unwrapped his present, revealing a cardboard box. Shooting Haruhi a curious glance, Kyouya cautiously opened the top of the box and found a colored drawing of him on his laptop with a fishtank on the table and a cat by his laptop staring back at him. Carefully, he took it out.

It was a seven-sided hanging decoration, and there was a host on each side and Haruhi on the seventh side. Tamaki playing piano with roses on the piano, Kaoru holding a dress in one hand and video game controller in the other, Hikaru with a suit in one hand and PSP in the other and headphones around his neck, Hunny surrounded by sweets with Usa-chan next to him, Mori in his kendo uniform holding his shinai and Haruhi holding a paintbrush in front of a canvas with books next to her stool.

“Merry Christmas, Kyouya-senpai,” Haruhi wished with a sweet and happy smile that warmed Kyouya’s heart.

A responding smile naturally appeared on Kyouya’s face. “Thank you, Haruhi. This is beautiful. Definitely more valuable than the camera.”

“I am glad you think so. I also have something for Tachibana-san, Aijima-san and Hotta-san, can you pass it along to them for me?” Haruhi then took four plastic Christmas-themed bags from a basket on the counter, and held them out. “They are just cookies that I made this morning, and there is a bag for you too.”

Kyouya nodded as he gently placed his present back in its box. “Of course. I am sure they will love it. I think they are beginning to like you more than me.”

“Perhaps you should reevaluate your treatment of your employees then, eh?” Haruhi retorted with a joking smile.

“You are just spoiling them. Anyways, Merry Christmas, Haruhi, thank you.  I will see you soon.”

Two days later, a bouquet of flowers accompanied by a card with “Thank you for your cookies, Haruhi-san. They were delicious. Merry Christmas. Sincerely, Tachibana, Aijima, and Hotta” arrived at the Fujioka household.


 

"Kyouya-senpai, when I asked when would be a good time to give your family a present, it didn't mean 'Invite me to your family dinner'," Haruhi deadpanned as a servant took her coat from her. She recalled how earlier today, after her question, Kyouya told her the family was having a dinner tonight and a car will pick her up at 5:30pm and hung up on her without waiting for an affirmation. Any attempts to call him back and subsequent texts were ignored, leading Haruhi to call the twins in a panic of what to wear to an Ootori family dinner. Luckily, the twins were merely playing video games and instantly brought over some appropriate outfits for her. They even got her prepped and ready to go by 5:15.

"But this dinner guarantees that all of my family will be present," Kyouya retorted, holding out his forearm for Haruhi.

Haruhi laid the hand that wasn't holding her package onto his forearm. "Except you forget the fact that an outsider like me is intruding on a family dinner. Do they even know I am coming?"

"I informed my father and the cook to prepare a meal for an extra person," Kyouya stated with a wry smirk as he led Haruhi to the dining room.

"This is not going to end well." Haruhi quickly sent a prayer to whatever deity that was listening.

"It will be fine, Haruhi. My family does not bite."

"No, they just throw you out of the country or have the Secret Police do the biting for them," Haruhi muttered underneath her breath.

Kyouya rolled his eyes at her statement, but allowed a tinge of amusement at Haruhi's uncharacteristic dramatics and nervousness to color his expression.

"I think the bigger problem will be you bleeding out before you even reach the dining room if you continue to bite your lip like that."

"What? Oh!" Realization dawned on Haruhi as she immediately stopped biting her lower lip. "I haven't done that in ages."

"Relax, Haruhi, my father, Yuuichi-niisan and Fuyumi already like you. They won't mind having you dine with us." Kyouya placed a palm over Haruhi's hand in reassurance.

"But what about your mother and Ootori-san?"

"Ootori are bred with manners, and you are here to give them a present. They will be receptive and genial. Now, why don't you tell me what is this present you are giving us?"

"You'll have to wait, Kyouya-senpai."

"I suppose I won't have to wait long since we're here now," Kyouya announced, pulling them to a stop in front of a pair of doors.

Instantly, Haruhi's hold on Kyouya tightened.

Kyouya chuckled. "Relax, Haruhi, before you cut off my arm's blood circulation."

Her hold promptly relaxed. "Sorry."

"Ready?"

Haruhi nodded, taking a deep breath.

Grasping the door handle, Kyouya pulled open the door.

"Kyouya, there you are! We were waiting for you," an unfamiliar voice wafted towards the two entering figures. "Oh, who is this? I wasn't aware we invited a guest."

All of the Ootori's conversation halted at that and their attention turned towards the newcomers.

Kyouya caught the accusing look Haruhi shot him with his peripheral vision, but ignored it in favor of a smile. "I apologize, mother. This is Fujioka Haruhi, my friend from Ouran Academy. I invited her because she had a present for us."

"A present?" Kyouya's mother, Ootori Chiyane echoed.

"Good evening, it is a pleasure to see you again, Fujioka-san," Yoshio greeted, standing up from his seat at the head of the table. "Please, take a seat."

"Chiyane, do you remember the painting that I showed you from the office?" At Chiyane's nod, Yoshio continued, "Fujioka-san is the artist that Kyouya commissioned it from."

Chiyane's eyes widened with an impressed look. "That was a very beautiful piece, Fujioka-san. I did not realize it came from one as young as yourself."

At her words, a light blush scattered across Haruhi's cheeks. "Thank you, Ootori-san."

Instead of taking her seat next to Kyouya, Haruhi approached the standing Yoshio and extended the somewhat large package in her hand. "Ootori-san, this is a gift for your family. Think of it as a belated Christmas present or a first time house visit gift."

"Thank you. Is it another painting of yours?" Yoshio accepted the package.

"Yes, it is. I hope you don't mind."

"Of course not. May I open it now?" Yoshio inquired, looking up from the package.

At Haruhi's nod, a servant instantly appeared with a letter opener knife on a silver tray.

Haruhi inwardly shook her head at the efficiency of the Ootori servants and retreated to her seat with Kyouya pulling her seat out for her.

Placing one end of the package onto his seat, Yoshio carefully cut open the packaging. When he was done, he took a long look at it with a rare smile spreading across his face.

"What is it, father?" Fuyumi asked, voicing all the other Ootori's unvoiced question.

Yoshio finally turned it over to allow his family to see, and was rewarded with a few gasps and looks of astonishment.

It was a painting of the Ootori family lounging together in the sun-casted living room. Yoshio was reading the newspaper on the armchair; Chiyane was reading a book on the couch with Yuuichi next to her reading a medical journal; Fuyumi was playing on the piano; Akito was studying at the low table; and Kyouya sat across from his brother, typing on his laptop with his ever-present black notebook next to him. Added with the sun's rays creating an ambient lighting across the room and the occupants' near-tangible happiness, it was a heartwarming scene.

Fuyumi even had a few tears pooling at the corner of her eyes as she held onto her husband's hand. "Oh, it's beautiful."

Nods of agreement followed.

"Are you planning to become an artist?" Yoshio posed, redirecting the family's attention from the painting to Haruhi.

Haruhi shook her head. "No, I am planning to become a lawyer like my mother. Although I incredibly enjoy creating art, it is not something I want to base my life around."

"But you won’t ever give up making art, right? You have an incredible talent," Fuyumi injected with a hopeful expression.

Haruhi reassuringly smiled and answered, "Of course not, art is as much a part of my life as breathing and eating."

"Good." Satisfied with her answer, Fuyumi turned back to the mesmerizing painting, admiring it some more.

Yoshio allowed his family to see it for several more moments before waving for a servant to come forth. "Bring this painting to my office. Be careful with it."

"Of course, Ootori-sama."

As that servant proceeded to do so, another servant came forth to take away the brown packaging paper and letter opener. Then, the butler stepped forth, "Are we ready to serve, Ootori-sama?"

"Yes, we are."

Finally pulling his eyes from where the painting was, Kyouya turned his gaze to Haruhi, who sat next to him. "You have truly outdone yourself yet again, Haruhi."

Haruhi smiled. "I am simply happy you all like it."

"Of course we do," Chiyane inputted. "Like Fuyumi said, it's absolutely beautiful."

"It characterized each of us very well. You are impressive." Surprising Haruhi, it was Akito who said it.

"Thank you, Ootori-san."

"Now, Haruhi, though it is a bit late for introductions, I believe you have not met my mother and Yuuichi-niisan's wife, Ootori Kanoko," Kyouya introduced, gesturing at his mother and the woman sitting next to Yuuichi, who each nodded in greeting.

"It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Ootori-san, Ootori-san. Please take care of me," Haruhi greeted with a polite nod.

"Oh dear, I believe this will become quite confusing if you keep calling all of us Ootori-san. You should call us by our first name instead, that is, if everyone is alright with it," Chiyane suggested with a laugh.

Everyone nodded, even Yoshio.

"Then you all must call me Haruhi as well," Haruhi replied with a smile.

As expected of the Ootori servants, sensing an opportune moment, they began entering the room with covered trays and began serving.

After the servants exited, Akito suddenly asked, "So, are you Kyouya’s girlfriend? I believe I saw you at father’s birthday party as well."

Everyone's attention promptly shifted to the two, immensely interested in the answer.

Kyouya was about to answer, but Haruhi spoke first with a genial smile, "No, I am just Kyouya's friend, but anything can happen in life, so I won’t deny the possibility. However, we are friends first and foremost."

Though Fuyumi's expression dimmed at the negative answer, it brightened a moment later at the prospects of Haruhi becoming Kyouya’s girlfriend eventually.

"Then I believe I speak for all of us when I say we will not object to the two of you dating if it does happen," Chiyane stated with responding nods from the rest of her family.

"Yes, now let's begin our meal," Yoshio suggested, picking up his chopsticks.

Throughout dinner, conversation freely flowed with topics ranging from the latest business highlights to Haruhi's current projects to Kanoko's latest visit to her obstetrician to new pharmaceutical breakthroughs to current major lawsuits. It was relaxing and engaging and thoughtful, likely one of the best family dinners that the Ootori family has had. After desert, the family moved to the living room, and Fuyumi played a few songs on the piano for them while conversation continued. Haruhi even played a game of chess with Yuuuchi, though it unsurprisingly resulted in her defeat. 

When it was time for Haruhi to return home, she exchanged a handshake and farewell with everyone, except for Fuyumi.

Fuyumi simply ignored Haruhi's outstretched hand in favor of a more intimate farewell with a hug and happy "Please come back soon, Haruhi-chan. You are welcome anytime."

Upon Tachibana closing the door, the first thing that Kyouya said was "See? That ended perfectly fine. I would even say it ended splendidly."

Haruhi merely shot him a look, contemplating whether his bodyguards would prevent her from throwing a tissue box at his smug face. Probably not.


 

Similar to everything else in their relationship, slipping into the roles of boyfriend and girlfriend was gradual and natural. It was one night after spending the day together that Kyouya suppressed his trepidation and kissed Haruhi in front of her apartment door, and Haruhi kissed back. It was a soft and gentle kiss. When they parted, they stared at each other for a moment, assessing each other, before simultaneously breaking into a smile. It was a mutual understanding that kisses were now allowed and physical contact can linger even longer and hands can be held.

Taking a step back, Kyouya picked up Haruhi's hand and brushed his lips against her knuckles. It was soft and it was intimate; it was an entirely un-Kyouya thing to do. But this was Haruhi, and Kyouya lets down his walls when they are together.

"I will see you later, Haruhi."

"Good night, Kyouya."

Kyouya smiled at his name without any honorifics, released her hand, turned around and walked down the stairs and back to his car.

Haruhi also turned around and opened her door with her keys, letting herself in.

When he got into his car, Kyouya made sure Haruhi was inside before signaling Tachibana to start driving.

A week later, during a family dinner with Haruhi, Kyouya and Haruhi officially announced their relationship to the Ootori family, and everyone smiled and Akito muttered an "About time," which resulted in Fuyumi glaring at him. With the exception of occasional lingering contact between Haruhi and Kyouya, the rest of the dinner continued like normal.

When Kyouya escorted Haruhi home that night, Kyouya and Haruhi also announced their official status to Ranka, who returned home from work not too long ago. A giant smile spread across Ranka's face before he burst into joy and congratulated them. After Kyouya left, Ranka badgered his daughter about how they became official until Haruhi relented and told him. Ranka gushed and cooed. Even though there was no official question, their beginning was just so them that Ranka could not muster any irritation at Kyouya.

For the rest of the school, it was a much more mixed reaction. While they did not officially announce their relationship, their touches and looks and change in aura have not gone unnoticed by the school population, and rumors rampantly circulated. No one dared to directly approach Kyouya about it, and while they would have questioned Haruhi, she seemed to always have someone by her side, whether it be the twins or Tamaki or Kyouya himself. However, it was unanimously decided that Kyouya and Haruhi were an item. There were definitely many looks of jealousy and discontent from the female population as a result of a commoner taking a fairly influential and A-grade potential husband off of the market. A few were even brave enough to resort to petty acts of mischief to express their jealousy, but all actions were thwarted by Kyouya's bodyguards and accordingly warned against further action.

Unsurprisingly, when the results for the national competition were announced, Haruhi's touching and expressive painting took first place in the specialty category of the traditional art section for those in senior high. Immediately, Chairman Suou purchased the painting so that he could place it in the hallway near his office. He would have placed it in his own office, but he wanted it in a public place that would remind students they don't have to be alone and to see beyond another's exterior. (Imagine his surprise when while judging for the competition, he saw his son as one of the contestants’ subject. He correctly deduced the artist to be his school's Fujioka-kun—he has heard of her extraordinary art skills after all. And perhaps there was a slight bias when he casted his vote for her painting during each elimination round, but it deserved his vote.)

This sudden rise in fame and association with the Ootori name was accompanied by a sudden rise in commissions from the upper class. While Haruhi did love painting, her academic career was the first and foremost priority, and as a second year, since she was aiming to go to a United State university, she needed to prepare for the SATs and TOEFL. Thus, she limited her commissions to two a month, which spurred the prices even higher. Though that was not her intention, it did make her happy since she will be able to attain enough money to pay for her university expenses if she does get into a university in the U.S. or Britain.

At the same time, Kyouya was debating which university to choose. While Oxford and Cambridge were prestigious and closer to Japan, Harvard was a much more common gathering place for heirs and heiresses from everywhere in the world, and the Ootori family had more connections and business contacts in the United States than Britain. Additionally, it was more likely that Haruhi would choose Harvard or Yale if accepted as their law programs were more suited to her desires and American English was much easier for her to navigate.

Since choosing an international school meant their semester schedules would conflict, Kyouya finished his third year early so that he could start his first year at university on time in September, but he did return for his graduation in March.

With his resources, it was true that Kyouya could return every weekend if he so chose, but both Kyouya and Haruhi decided that they need to focus on their academics and they still talk to each other often, so they would see other one weekend/break every month. Sometimes, he would return to Japan. Sometimes, she would visit the United States. Sometimes, they would just travel somewhere if they finished all of their work. Since Kyouya’s move also meant Noel followed him, Tano really missed his sister and would go berserk whenever he spotted Noel over Skype.

When Haruhi's acceptance letter arrived from Harvard, she immediately called Kyouya, completely disregarding that it was some ungodly hour in his time (the only one who can do so without severe consequences). Her exuberance was tangible even through the phone, and Kyouya almost wanted to ask her if she was jumping up and down in joy but refrained.

When an acceptance letter also arrived from Yale, she was incredibly excited and happy as well, but she did not call Kyouya. Instead, she began comparing the financial aid that each school offered, the cost of living, the real estate market, student anecdotes, nearby locations, courses and professors. Then, checking to make sure it is a reasonable hour and that Kyouya didn't have a class, Haruhi finally called Kyouya.

"Good evening, Kyouya, would you like to come with me to Yale this weekend?"

After a pause where he absorbed her question's implications, he responded, "When's your flight?"

Haruhi gave him the necessary information, and plans were made.

After elaborate considerations, Haruhi chose Harvard.

Just like Kyouya, Haruhi finished her year early. She and Tano were settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts by mid-August, and she returned to Japan in March for her graduation ceremony.

It was during Haruhi’s second year at Harvard that she moved into Kyouya’s apartment—with her father’s permission, of course. In between Kyouya’s volunteering, shadowing, research position and studying for MCAT, and Haruhi’s summer time internship and part-time position at a law firm, their free time was few and far between. Living with each other was the solution; they could still spend time with each other whenever they were home, and they could study together in the living room. Plus, it made more sense financially; they were perpetually at each other’s place anyways.

When it was time for Kyouya to apply for medical school, he mainly focused on private and non-state-supported medical schools, since admission was rarely granted to international applicants. Although the price-tags of private medical schools were incredibly high, he was an Ootori; money was not an issue. On that same note, with the backing of the Ootori name, the connections that the Ootori zaibatsu had in the medical world and his superior academic performance and medical experience, Kyouya’s admission into various top medical school went without a hitch. He ended up choosing Harvard again due to its top-notch medical program, its prestigious name, and his settled lifestyle.

Late May of that year, Kyouya graduated from Harvard with honors and a biochemistry and business degree at the top of his class. The entirety of the host club and Kyouya’s family showed up at his graduation. While inspiring, his valedictorian speech would not have been complete without his reiteration of his day with Haruhi at the aquarium and his subsequent friendship with the girl who taught him to enjoy life. Yes, he had worked hard, but he recognized studying and working weren’t the sole focus of his world. He had Haruhi, he had their cats, he had his friends, and he had his family. He applauded everyone’s achievement in reaching this point, but also advised them to enjoy life and ended with the saying “Smell the roses.” The host club erupted in cheers at the end of Kyouya’s speech, and again when Kyouya walked across that stage and received his diploma.

That June, after Haruhi took her LSAT, the duo returned to Japan for a month-long stay.  One evening during the second week that they were there, Kyouya told Haruhi he had a dinner reservation for the two of them and told her to dress up. Once she was ready, Kyouya announced he had a surprise for her and proceeded to blindfold her.

“You know, it is very unsettling for an artist to be without her sight,” Haruhi muttered with a purse of her lips. However, when Kyouya started leading her to the car, she followed without any resistance.

“I suppose you will just have to trust me then.”

When Kyouya finally released her blind fold, it was after a long car ride and a ten minute walk. Haruhi gradually opened her eyes, but her eyes barely had to adjust.

“Dolphin Fantasy,” Haruhi whispered, mesmerized by the sight in front of her. The room’s main lighting came from the tanks that surrounded them, and in the center of the room, there was a circular table with navy blue table cloth and a candle placed in a glass cup. On the table, there was a plate of ootoro in front of one seat and a plate of unagi and what she guessed was spicy tuna roll in front of the other.

“Since I have a feeling you know what this is about, I will start our dinner with this,” Kyouya said before promptly kneeling on one knee. He waited until Haruhi faced him before taking out a ring box, opening it, and starting, “I know that it was in Ouran’s hallway that we first met, but I feel like this park was where our story truly began. You taught me how to live, and you showed me what love was. We are first and foremost friends, and I really treasure our friendship. I think that within the first month of our friendship, I knew you were it. You captivated me, and you led me out of this enclosed space I trapped myself in. While Tamaki was my first friend, you are my best friend. I have not regretted a single moment from our time together, and I can only hope that you will allow me to spend even more time with you in the future. So, Fujioka Haruhi, will you marry me?”

At his words, Haruhi’s eyes grew watery and a soft smile appeared on her face. “Of course, Kyouya, yes.”

The widest smile that Haruhi has ever seen spread across Kyouya’s face. He quickly slipped the simple and sophisticated ring on her ring finger and kissed it before standing back up. Then, Kyouya’s hands reached out to gently hold Haruhi’s face. “I swear that I will forever treasure you, and you will never regret this decision.”

As if to mark his words, Kyouya leaned forward and laid a gentle and warm kiss on Haruhi’s lips—one akin to the first one that they shared. There was a time for passion and fieriness, but this was not one of them.

“I love you, Haruhi.”

With a smile, Haruhi pulled Kyouya into a hug and replied, “I love you as well, Kyouya.”

Kyouya allowed his eyes to roam the aquatic life surrounding them one last time before closing his eyes and melting into the loving embrace.

FIN


Extra:

[Link (if first doesn't work Link) for Haruhi's fashion style. I've always imagined a somewhat Mori style. The top left dress is similar to what Haruhi wore to Hakkeijima Sea Paradise.]