...There is so much excitement, blame-laying and noisy argument; no one notices quiet Haruhi wandering off to think, or furtive Kyouya slipping up to watch her from the shadows.
"Hmm. So they mean to eliminate a large number of competitors early on," he observes to no one in particular.
The race has been under way for an hour, and Kyouya has been watching carefully from the sidelines. Belatedly he realises that he's not alone; Haruhi stands nearby, and it seems his statement has caught her undivided attention. It stands as a reminder to him, to watch where he chooses to think aloud. With a nod her direction, he heads off to see Kaoru and Hikaru's landslide victory in the memorization quiz.
The pace of events quickly picks up, as does the heat of competition, with more and more participants being quickly swept aside. By late afternoon, it is down to three teams: The Host Club, the Football Club, and after a surprising show of endurance, the Art Club. But the latter are defeated in the Campus History Trivia challenge, and then the field is down to two.
The final stage of the contest is introduced by a list of clues, hints leading to the location of a hidden winners' trophy. Both teams of finalists determine that the clues all point to the West Gym, where the Senior class has commissioned a scale-model replica of Venice, as their festival exhibit.
As with most things at Ouran, no expense was spared in the installation: the seniors' Sunset Venice is complete with authentic canals, bridges and roads made of native stone, and several notable landmarks. The door opens to Venice at sunset, and the Host Club is there.
They reach the entrance still dressed in their handsome--and uncomfortable--Hitachiin uniforms, but their lead on the Football Club gives them just enough time for a wardrobe change. At least this is how Kyouya justifies it to his team; truly he wants his dramatic neck-and-neck finish, and cannot have it unless the Football Club catches up. The Carnivale-themed apparel is no more practical to their endeavor than the last costumes, but at least they're easier to move in.
That is until Tamaki, taunted by a desperate Kuze, leaps from the Host Club's gondola (for reasons known only to himself), and sinks like a stone into the canal, dragged down by his sodden glittering robes. Kyouya would have made pointed comment on what Tamaki's recklessness might cost them, but as the gondola drifted to a halt, with Mori and Hikaru wrestling Tamaki up into the stern, he is more concerned with the second clue in their list.
The general interpretation of the final clue (/Between the Holy Mother and Angel/), has them bearing toward the Accademia Bridge; the obvious choice given its position between the models of Sant'Angelo and /Santa Maria Della Salute/. And all the clues except the second one seem to support this premise.
Go up and sink? It's the only hint which Kyouya cannot reconcile with their destination. Both teams assume it indicates they should look in a westward direction, because west is where the sun sets, or sinks. And Tamaki has already demonstrated the possibility of sinking in the West Gym. But what about going up to sink?
When the answer finally comes to him, it's startling and bears such a host of implications that he's left breathless. As the Academia Bridge floats slowly into view, he has just enough time to think that this is going to be a very, very close race indeed, and to pray that Haruhi is truly as good as his estimate of her.
I am gambling a great deal on you, little Joker. I have no other option, now.
Because where the Accademia bridge ought to be, there is only a high construction barrier, with signs forbidding unauthorized personnel. They were all misdirected.
Sunset Venice is a dead end, leaving the Host Club and the Football Club standing baffled before the unfinished bridge, wondering what other location the clues could possibly have meant. All the players save two, launch immediately into debate with their respective teams. There is so much excitement, blame-laying and noisy argument; no one notices quiet Haruhi wandering off to think, or furtive Kyouya slipping up to watch her from the shadows.
He is aware of the adrenaline surging in him, as he urgently wills her to understand now, to turn that incisive mind on the problem and know what he has just grasped. She has the tools already; all the puzzle pieces are in order. All she has to do is put them together, and quickly. In the past two weeks, he's memorized the far-off dreamy look that means she's thinking hard, the tiny crease of determination between her eyes, and he has vacillated all along between care of his secrets and secret fascination with her nimble, relentless intellect.
There! There is that gleam in her eyes again, and his heart skips a beat when it flares brightly.
That's it. She has it. Move! Just as she's opening her mouth to call the group he seizes her, feeling all through him the wild rush of the winning ticket, the lucky roulette spin. Even as he whispers, "Hush. Did you figure it out, too?" he wants to laugh out loud and spin her about in celebration, but the winning isn't quite done yet.
"Mmmph!" she protests from behind his hand. "Kyouya-senpai!" She has the look of a small startled creature, brown eyes unnaturally wide. He loosens his hold on her before she panics, and leans in close, keeping tight rein on his trembling excitement.
With a few quiet words, he sets his final play into motion.
"But....we--," she stammers, frozen at the enormity of what he's asking.
"Haruhi," he admonishes softly, letting his open expression communicate what there is no time to find words for, and what mere words might fail to express anyway. With a single look, he shows her everything: his esteem, his confidence in her, and his desire to see her take this small but critical portion of the day's victory and make it her very own.
She swallows, and nods, and then she's sprinting off to their real destination alone, shedding as much of her cumbersome costume as possible on the run. Watching her disappear in the distance, Kyouya thinks he feels an odd small part of himself go with her. But there's no time to examine the notion; it is the work of seconds for both Tamaki and Kuze to reach the same conclusion he and Haruhi had--that the contest is meant to end on the roof of the West building, where the heated pool is (and where one could very well go up and sink).
The leaders' voices ring out; Tamaki and Kuze are marshaling their teams for the final race. Kyouya strips off his costume and launches into motion, fired with the same fierce determination he sees in the eyes of Tamaki, Kaoru, Hikaru, Takashi, and Mitsukuni.
All their cards are on the table now. There are no more bets to be made. All that's left is to run, run for the prize with everything in them.