It is four o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon in March, when Kyouya concludes that he is never, ever going to fall in love.
Oh hungry days, in the footsteps of fools...
It is four o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon in March, when Kyouya concludes that he is never, ever going to fall in love.
He is drinking coffee with a girl from Class 3-A (Matsuhira Keiko, heiress to the Matsuhira Electronics empire), listening to her plans for a weekend trip to Lyon. A nasty headache is drilling in deep between his eyes, but his smile is affable, attentive, and if he can just bear it a little longer, he thinks he can talk her into a reservation for the Host Club's Wisteria Festival--an exclusive limited-appointment event, in May.
So far today, they've discussed books, fine art, fashion, and travel. He's learned that Keiko-san likes English poetry, adores Vermeer, prefers Italian shoes to any other, and is considering purchasing a French villa. He keeps up his end of the conversation more than adequately; entertaining her, drawing her out, while simultaneously overseeing the rest of the Club in his peripheral vision, and in the back of his mind thinking that if this is what courtship is like, dear God, he wants nothing to do with it.
His headache is a sharp-edged, persistent thing, burrowing mercilessly through his skull into the soft tissue of his brain. While Keiko-san debates the merits of a country cottage versus a townhouse, Kyouya clenches his fists under the table, so tight he can feel his nails cutting into his palms.
The smart thing to do, obviously, would be to call Tamaki over. Let him rhapsodize at the girl about France and country cottages, charm her until she couldn't see straight, until she was ready to make fifty reservations to the damned Wisteria Festival, while Kyouya went to lay in the storeroom with the drapes pulled tight, and a cold compress over his eyes.
But of course he can't call Tamaki, because Tamaki is currently out of commission, for all practical purposes. He's crouched on his knees again, peeking around the bottom edge of a loveseat, pale with inarticulate longing, watching Haruhi entertain Kasanoda Ritsu for the second day in a row.
Kasanoda is looking a bit pale himself these days, Kyouya notes; anyone but Haruhi would be terrified at the way he fixates on her, and just like that, Kyouya has his epiphany: Tamaki and Kasanoda are both idiots. And he, Ootori Kyouya, will not ever under any circumstances suffer this outrageous indignity people call love.
His headache eases off a notch, and he forces his hands to open, determined to make the most of his reprieve.
"Can I offer you more coffee, Keiko-san?" He pitches his voice low, adding a calculated hint of gleam to his smile. He's looking through her, to the goal he means to achieve in the next three minutes, but she needn't know that.
His attention flusters her briefly, and she has to catch her breath. "Y-yes, please."
His smile broadens, and he drops to an even quieter, more intimate tone. "When you've returned from your trip, perhaps you'll consider joining me again, for a special afternoon our Club is planning...."
The end, oh the end
We live again
Oh, I grow weary of the end.
For all that she is a spendthrift, and occasionally scatterbrained, Hashima Takara is a decent, honest person. And so Kyouya is not outraged or angry when she tells him she cannot marry him after all, but he is surprised.
"I'm sorry," she says, and her regret is touching. "But I don't believe you really love me. Or that you ever will."
Her timing could be better. They're on their way to Opening Night at the Tokyo Opera, where he's reserved his family's box seats. And of course the entire point of going is not to see the Opera (he never cared for Puccini), but to be seen at this prestigious social engagement, in the company of his financee. So it takes a moment for Kyouya to get his bearings in this new predicament, to work out the ramifications of this sudden change in his options.
"It's too late to cancel the reservation," he thinks aloud. Then, "Do you wish me to escort you home?"
Takara smiles sadly at him, eyes glimmering in the car's dim light, matching the sparkle of the diamonds around her neck. Truly she is exquisite, and so well-bred. It's a pity she won't marry him.
"I'm talking about love, Kyouya. Not obligation," she says quietly. "I hope to be with someone who makes that distinction the same way I do."
He considers that, considers the ring on her finger, worth tens of millions, and the society columnists waiting at the Opera House.
"Perhaps I am old-fashioned after all," he suggests, and whether it's true or not, at least it gives her disappointment something to blame.
Neither his parents nor hers married for love; it was a known fact. And while he holds no particular opinion one way or another vis-a-vis arranged marriage, he has seen firsthand that love is not vital to a successful match. That it is possible to leave those pale fixated longings out of the equation, and still have something viable to both parties.
They go to the Opera anyway, avoiding the red carpet at the main entrance, entering quietly at the side door pointed out by his security detail. Kyouya mainly ignores the performance in favor of picking out faces he knows in the audience. Business moguls, celebrities, Prefecture officials, and a group from the Prime Minister's staff down in the Orchestra section.
When the curtain falls on the second act, he becomes aware of Takara's eyes on him, and turns.
"I am fond of you," he points out, figuring he may as well state this one fact in his favor.
"I know, Kyouya-kun." Smiling as always, but he can see in her eyes that she is already gone. The engagement ring sits heavy in his breast pocket, wrapped in his handkerchief. He wonders if it would be considered a sin of opportunism, or merely poor taste, if he made a profit on its resale. He can always donate it to a charity auction, and get the tax break.
Satisfied with that solution, he goes back to perusing the faces in the audience, choosing those few he will greet at intermission. There is a rustle of silk and a sigh next to him, as the curtain rises on Act Three. Really, it's not so very different from sitting alone, and Kyouya is used to that.
When will children learn to let their wildernesses burn?
And love will be new, never cold or vacant...
More years pass, and it is two o'clock on a Sunday morning in November, when Kyouya turns to the most terrifyingly honest person he knows, and says, "It's not that I'm afraid. I'm simply not convinced that love is indispensable to a satisfactory partnership."
They're seated on an old scrolled-iron bench, at the playground near Haruhi's home. He's still wearing the suit for his third engagement party, canceled at the last minute when his latest former fiancee called in tears, apologizing profusely; it wasn't him, it was her, stumbling over the words. He volunteered to contact the event planner; she sounded in no shape for the task. Between hiccuping sobs, the lady promised to return the ring by courier. Kyouya was tempted to tell her to just keep it.
Haruhi burrows deeper into the coat he loaned her, and gives him a skeptical eye. "If you really believed that, then you'd choose someone who thinks the same thing. Instead, it sounds like you only pick women who do want to marry for love, so really, the whole situation is doomed to failure from the beginning."
"Isn't that a tad cynical?" he asks reprovingly, and she stares at him.
"You dragged me out of bed in the middle of the night, out into the cold, to discuss something you claim not to believe in, for two hours, without listening to a single thing I've told you. And you think I sound cynical? Honestly, Senpai."
"I never claimed that....never mind." He isn't here to quibble with her, he's here in hopes that one of her startling practical insights might surface, and show him where he's gone wrong. It's a long shot, but really it's his last hope for understanding why every suitable woman he's encountered is disinclined, one way or another, to agree to a marriage contract with him.
"Did you ever think," she muses, "about being with someone because they make you happy?"
"Happy?" he scowls, disappointed. "Please tell me you're joking." What a naive, simplistic, impossible notion.
Haruhi juts her chin up from his coat lapels. "What's wrong with happiness? People make relationships with it all the time."
"Weak criteria." Kyouya shakes his head, and starts counting off points on his fingertips. "It's tenuous, subjective, completely unreliable for the long term--"
"And you were doing so well with your other standards," she interrupts dryly. "I'll bet you've never even considered what makes you happy before."
"Don't be absurd. Plenty of things make me happy."
"Really? Like what?"
It wasn't longing if you only watched, he'd reasoned all along. If you only checked in every so often to see how she was getting on, asked after her father, otherwise kept on with the life that was laid out for you. MBA degree, penthouse in Tokyo, high-rise corner office, cocktails with the heiresses, Puccini with ex-fiancees.....
"I'm not certain this is a wise digression," he murmurs, pushing his glasses up, pinching the bridge of his nose, contemplating behind his closed eyes a vast and complex equation which could've been made so much simpler, had he only used different variables at the outset. Variables he'd been keeping careful, quiet tabs on for years, and yet had never dared examine too closely, lest it interfere with the pact he'd made with himself back in another lifetime.
He wasn't going to fall in love. He wasn't going to wither and die just because she was three meters off pouring Kasanoda more tea from the Pitcairns set, and hadn't so much as looked his direction since 3:18pm yesterday afternoon....
"Senpai?" The soft query calls him back to the present; he feels her tentative hand on his shoulder, and remembers those old chronic headaches, how they had pounded away behind his eyes for days sometimes, because he stubbornly refused to admit the pain might belong anywhere else. Somewhere in the middle of his ribcage perhaps; fifteen centimeters or so below his collarbone, slightly left of center.
"Senpai, is something wrong?"
"No," he shakes his head, sighs heavily. It wasn't pining if he observed that every year she grew a little lovelier and seemed, (maybe on a crisp winter night, after a few glasses of wine in her small homey kitchen) a touch more melancholy than he remembered.
And really, strictly speaking, it still isn't pining if what he wants more than anything is just this; her friendly hand on his shoulder and her voice close by, telling him soothing, sensible things.
Things like, "Look, it can't be all that bad. Why not try finding someone you really like, and see what happens?"
All right then, perhaps not so soothing. Clearly he needs to quit seeking reassurances, and pull himself together.
"It isn't that simple, Haruhi." Fidgeting with his glasses. "You forget I've had personal bodyguards since I could walk. My position requires me to maintain advantageous relationships--"
"Forget about the abstractions," she waves him off impatiently. "I'm talking about what you want for yourself, something just for you, that you'd give anything to keep."
Her aim--as always--is sharp enough to make him wince, but he soldiers forward anyway.
"Those things have nothing to do with--"
"Kyouya." She halts his contradiction again, this time with one hand cupped against his cheek; the unexpected touch silencing him as completely and effectively as his name--his proper name--on her lips.
"You have to put your heart into it. That's how it works."
Her tone is so earnest, and her fingers so cold, and when he musters the nerve to open his eyes, it's the last straw. He glimpses her smile, and knows he's done for, as eight years of studiously repressed desire blaze up, like a brush fire given the breath of a strong wind.
He feels it break loose in him; a hot, ungovernable hunger set to consume all the years of hard intellectual labor required to maintain his illusions, every article of misdirected faith, every meticulously placed card in an Imperial city made of them.
Fine. Let it all burn, Kyouya thinks. He's aware that he must look fairly stricken, but Haruhi's smile remains steady, warm, just as it has all these years. And yet there's something new in there. Something he is startled to recognize.
Slowly he reaches up, touches the tender hand upon his cheek.
"How long have you waited?" His voice sounds tight and gravelly to his own ears, and he swallows, forces himself to hold her gaze, though it takes every bit of his courage.
Haruhi's fond, exasperated sigh suggests a considerable amount of time; that for whatever reason, she still puts up with him, and maybe never minded that much after all. It's not that her sighs are particularly eloquent; he just knows them so well by now. "You know it's silly to sit out here and freeze, when my perfectly comfortable kitchen is right across the street."
He calculates the distance in a quick glance, wonders if he's really up for crossing the street, in the aftermath of a life-changing epiphany. Wonders if he even dares let her out of his sight now.
"Come on. I'll make you coffee," she says.
Well. There's something to be said for that.