Bargaining

“Oh,” said Haruhi.

Tamaki, for his part, looked utterly stricken; his face was pale except for the hard high flush on his cheeks, and he was staring at her with something akin to horror. “H-Haruhi,” he stammered, trying to extract himself from Kyouya’s arms without much success, “I swear, I can explain, I –”

“Oh,” said Haruhi again.

“– I would never hurt you, it’s just, Daddy has needs too, and it’s –”

“That’s where the smell was coming from,” she said. “I thought it was the twins. Kyouya-senpai, I’m surprised.”

Kyouya sat up and adjusted his glasses, unruffled. “I hardly meant to,” he said. “However, Tamaki is a force to be reckoned with, when he puts his mind to it.”

“KYOUYA,” Tamaki squawked, then groped around, grabbing Kyouya’s shirt and flinging it at him; it ended up just sort of fluttering over his head. “Get dressed! Haruhi’s staring! What will she think, seeing Mommy in such a state?!”

Haruhi grimaced. “Senpai, that joke really is in bad taste.”

Kyouya just pulled the shirt from his head, calmly slipping into it and buttoning up. “You as well,” he said. “Won’t she be just as traumatized by her ‘father’ that way?”

“Kyouya-senpai too?” Haruhi sighed. “I can leave. I was just coming back to study–”

“Studying!” Tamaki lit up and vaulted — still shirtless — over the head of the couch. “Good, good! You must keep your studies up, Haruhi, that is Daddy’s greatest wish!” He struck a pose, one arm flung out and his other hand pressed over his heart. “Ah, the academic world! It sparkles like a fair jewel, and already my cute daughter is facing it bravely–”

“Who’s whose cute daughter?” she muttered.

“You’re free to use this room,” Kyouya said, adjusting his glasses. “I was careless this once, letting Tamaki get carried away. My apologies, Haruhi.”

Her eyes slowly slid off to the side — the light had pinged off his lenses just so, hiding his eyes, which she’d learned was rarely a good sign. “No,” she said. “I can always check the libraries again …”

“Haruhi!” Tamaki whirled on her, his best hurt-puppy face in effect. “Don’t you want to study with your father’s knowing guidance?”

“Not particularly.” Haruhi began to back up slowly, out the door. “If you two will excuse me –”

“Ahh, just a moment, Haruhi,” said Kyouya. He pushed his glasses up his nose again, and he’d managed to produce his ubiquitous notebook from somewhere. “You won’t tell anyone about what you saw here, right?”

“I’d rather just forget,” she said honestly. “It’s kind of pointless, isn’t it? We’re only in high school. There’s a lot of time for that later, if you’re that interested.”

Kyouya chuckled. “Indeed,” he said, ignoring Tamaki’s protesting wail of, This is the time of our youth! We must treasure it and this fleeting beauty as well as possible! and opening his notebook. “Because it would be terribly inconvenient if news of this got out.”

“I’m not sure why,” said Haruhi. “You’d probably get even more fans that way.”

“Well,” Kyouya said, “while some boy’s love is proven to be popular amongst our clients, there is a small but strong portion of our audience who are interested more in a man’s interest in a woman, rather than another man. We have to keep all avenues open.”

Haruhi glanced aside again. Though she was half-in the doorway already, escape had never seemed so far away. “Ahaaa …”

“And so.” Kyouya made a note of something. “We could slash your debt by thirty-three percent.”

“Done,” Haruhi said instantly. “Can I go now?”

“Go? Go?” Tamaki latched onto her, weeping. “Ahhh, what have I done! I’ve traumatized her so much she can’t bear the sight of us! Mother, what will we do?!”

“No, it’s not that,” Haruhi said, her voice muffled. “I have a test tomorrow and I need — Senpai, you’re strangling me –”

Kyouya sighed once, then strode forward, snagging Tamaki by the scruff of his neck and lifting him up off Haruhi. She gave a small gasp for breath, then quickly stepped out of range. “We’re in agreement, then?”

“I’m not interested in giving away secrets,” said Haruhi. “If no one asks me, there’s no reason to say.”

She thought perhaps Kyouya blinked — it was hard to tell, with his glasses doing that reflective-lens trick again. She could tell, though, from his expression, that he was certainly bemused. “Ah,” he said. “I suppose that’s the best I can hope for.”

“Haruhiiiiiiii,” Tamaki moaned. “Don’t go, I’ll help you studyyyyyyyy–”

“No thank you.” Haruhi backed up, out of reach of his grabbing arms. “I’m very sorry for intruding. I’ll be going now.”

“Haruhi,” said Kyouya. “One more thing.” He tucked the notebook away again, somewhere out of sight, and took her chin between thumb and forefinger.

“Eh?” She blinked up at him. “Kyouya-sen–”

He had very dry lips, actually — a little chapped, oddly enough for a rich man — and very warm. Haruhi made a vaguely stunned noise, and Tamaki for once was dead-silent. She remembered the beach house and wondered, belatedly, if she actually should have been worried. Kyouya, despite being methodical, was apparently harder to predict than she’d originally believed.

Her arms loosened and her books clattered from them, onto their feet, and even then Kyouya just leaned back calmly, as though he’d planned that, too.

“… Um,” said Haruhi, in the silence that followed. “K-Kyouya-senpai, that was …”

“An invitation, I suppose,” said Kyouya, and pushed his glasses up; just like that, his eyes were suddenly visible again. To her surprise, they were surprisingly warm — more accessible, really, than she’d ever seen. “Even though we’re only in high school.”

“Hahhh.” She blinked. “Kyouya-senpai …”

“K-k-k-KYOUYA!” Tamaki wailed. “HOW COULD YOU!”

Kyouya just shrugged, still looking at Haruhi. “How could I what?”

“HOW COULD YOU STEAL MY CUTE DAUGHTER’S LIPS LIKE THAT?! FATHER CAN’T FORGIVE THIS–!”

“She’s already had her first kiss,” Kyouya said, unfazed by Tamaki looming in his face, expression nearly demonic. “If she wants to say no, she’s welcome to.”

For a moment Tamaki seemed to breathe fire, glaring fiercely. Behind him, lightning split the air. “YOU–”

“Haruhi,” Kyouya said to her, “would you say there’s more merit in doing things this way?”

“Ah.” She blinked. “Kyouya-senpai, you’re not …”

“Nn?” He turned back to her again, carefully pushing Tamaki back as he continued to wail and gnash his teeth. “What’s that, Haruhi?”

“You’re not trying to … blackmail me, are you?” she asked carefully. “Because, Senpai, I’m not terribly interested in being forced that way.”

“Blackmail?” Kyouya blinked. “Is that what you’re worried about?”

“Hahhh …” Haruhi glanced aside. Really, it was the fact that he didn’t seem terribly offended by the suggestion that worried her. “It’s, well–”

“There isn’t any point in blackmailing a partner,” said Kyouya. “Or in alienating an ally.”

“Ally?” She blinked.

“Of course,” he said. Light pinged off the frames of his glasses, but she could still see them clearly, and he seemed … amused, somehow, by her reaction. “Our King isn’t exactly the most reasonable of people, you might have noticed.”

“It’s sort of hard not too.” Haruhi turned her head again as Tamaki turned huge shaking eyes at her — Haruhi, how could you say such cold things? When I work so hard to make this club a good place! — then slowly looked back at Kyouya. “Kyouya-senpai, you’re not actually saying that …”

“Well,” said Kyouya. “I wonder if I am.”

“Are you sure this is so wise?” Belatedly she went down onto one knee, gathering up her books. “Hiding this sort of thing with one person is probably difficult enough, when the entire school is watching you. With three, it’s even more troublesome, isn’t it?”

“Kyouya,” Tamaki whined. “Haruhi! What are you talking about? What’s troublesome about people watching us? That’s what we’re here for! We–”

“I trust you to be discreet,” Kyouya said. “You’ve done remarkably well thus far.”

Haruhi stood, holding her books to her chest. “It seems very roundabout,” she said. “If you two are together like that, shouldn’t you be able to handle each other without an ally?”

“Ah,” said Kyouya. “You misunderstand me.”

“–Eh?”

“By now, you should realize I don’t do things unless I want to.” He looked at her over his notebook, and his eyes were hidden again. “And Tamaki is remarkably simple-minded about the things that make him happy. Are you saying you’re not interested?”

“I’m saying I don’t get it,” Haruhi said. “Why is this so important to get settled now? I’m not getting away from you for a long time. I still have a debt to pay.”

Kyouya paused. Tamaki had dropped back to sulk in the corner over being ignored, and so the silence that suddenly followed was encompassing. Haruhi blinked back at him, unruffled. At this late point, she thought, she would just have to go back home to study.

Then Kyouya began to laugh — a low chuckle that was almost alien in his voice; it took her a moment to identify it as simple, genuine affection. In his corner, Tamaki had lifted his head, looking curiously over.

“So, ‘wait and see,’ is what you’re saying,” he said, and pushed his glasses up his nose. “Wait until high school is over.”

“At least,” said Haruhi. “Senpai, I don’t have time for things like that right now.”

“And later?”

“Later is later,” she said. “What I’m saying is not ‘I’m not interested,’ but ‘I need to focus on other things right now.'”

“Ah,” said Kyouya. “… Good.”

Like so many other things, it sort of worried her how he said that. Haruhi tilted her head. “Senpai?”

“Then we’ll discuss this again,” said Kyouya. “When you graduate.”

“Three years is a long time to have your mind made up about something,” she said. “Are you sure?”

Kyouya glanced at Tamaki, who was trying — without much success — to sidle over without being noticed. When he saw Kyouya looking, he froze, as though the daruma had actually fallen.

And Kyouya smiled, which Haruhi thought (though it was more of a passing impression than a conscious decision) was the sort of thing that his fan club would’ve given their considerable fortunes to see, the cool glasses-wearing Ootori Kyouya with such an honest expression on his face.

But when he said nothing, Haruhi glanced at Tamaki, then back at him, and said, “Then, Tamaki-senpai, Kyouya-senpai, I’ll be leaving now.”

“Ehhhh?” Tamaki straightened abruptly, pouting. “So soon? Haruhi, we never get to see youuuuuu–!”

“I’ll be back tomorrow,” she said. “Senpai, you know that.”

“Haruhiiiiii–”

“Tamaki,” said Kyouya, and put a hand on his shoulder. “Let her be. You wouldn’t want her to fail her test, would you?”

“Never!” Tamaki reeled back in horror, throwing his hands up as though he could ward off the bad luck. “Kyouya! You shouldn’t say such things! Ahh, Haruhi, just ignore him, he’s saying crazy things –”

“Then let her go study.” Kyouya smiled at her again, and this one she recognized — pleasant with an edge he was too savvy to unleash except when provoked. “Work hard, Haruhi. You want to graduate properly, don’t you?”

“Ah — yes,” she said hesitantly. She had the uneasy feeling she’d bargained for something over her head, though it had all seemed fairly straightforward to her at the time. “I’ll see you both tomorrow.”

As she headed from the room, closing the door behind her, she heard Tamaki say, “What was all that about? Kyouya, your king wants answers!”

And she heard Kyouya laugh: “I’ll tell you later,” he said. “Maybe when you’re older.”

She left to the sound of Tamaki’s whined protest, and before they could hear her brief giggle as well.

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