Down in the still, sacred place where his deepest desires are kept, he feels the prayer-wheel of family expectation reach the end of its timeworn circuit.
When the day comes, Kyouya enters into the motions of the festival with unwavering, perfect form. He plays gracious Host to the Central Salon's visitors, appropriately modest Team Player to those who congratulate. He waves from the horse-drawn carriage, parading about the school grounds for the benefit of spectators, for the benefit of the Host Club.
Never once is his smile tarnished by the disappointment he harbors; in no respect does he fail to rise to this occasion. The world expects, and he exceeds that expectation, for he is Ootori. It is what he was born to do.
"...if he has the talent," his father tells the surrounding guests at the reception, "I don't mind naming my third son heir to the family business." This news comes as unexpectedly to Kyouya as it does to everyone else assembled, and he can't deny the momentary gratification it brings.
Listen to that. There's your consolation, he tells himself. And if it isn't quite enough, at least it gets him through the day.
No one notices when his eyes linger on a certain point across the room, where a particular person stands. Kyouya is very careful in that respect. No one realizes how acutely aware of her he is, whether she's seated next to him in the carriage, or three meters off conversing with Chairman Suoh, plucking nervously at her cuffs as the man rhapsodizes over her (for Suoh Tamaki is every inch his father's son).
And when he explains to Haruhi why Tamaki's grandmother behaves so cruelly to the boy, no one, not his friends or even Haruhi herself, suspect that he's taking a lesson from the story. Reminding himself he could be far worse off than he is.
Thankfully the charade gets easier as the day wears on, as visitors continually stream through the Salon to be entertained, to be served coffee and refreshments, to satisfy their curiosity with respect to this Host Club which has so keenly captivated Ouran High School's girls. He funnels all his energy into keeping track of the logistics, making sure the visitors' needs are promptly attended, and any potential mishaps are averted.
Above all, he makes certain that as much as possible, he is entirely too busy to think.
In the lull before the evening dance party, the Hitachiin twins--finding themselves bored and apparently unsupervised--manage to bully Haruhi into a feminine costume. They drag her into the party, wearing a long straight wig and a fetching dress, passing her off as her 'cousin', Lady Natsumi. Upon her entrance, Tamaki (predictably, and to the twins' vast and wicked amusement) goes completely to pieces, abandoning all decorum and common sense to monopolize her company.
From that point it's no secret to anyone with eyes, that Tamaki fancies Haruhi desperately, excepting perhaps Tamaki and Haruhi themselves. Whether either of them will ever recognize this esoteric not-quite-romance (and having recognized it, ever act upon it), it's impossible for Kyouya to judge. He watches their interaction play out from the fringe of the party, deciding the important thing is that Tamaki, in his own ardent misdirected way, had desired the girl well before Kyouya even took notice of her potential.
Tamaki. Kyouya's own frustrating, devoted, utterly selfless friend. Tamaki, who would doubtless jump off a cliff if Kyouya asked, because friendship to him is an ongoing act of absolute conviction, and unwavering trust. In the course of this friendship, Kyouya has agreed he'd rather share that conviction than trade it for anything, and chooses to let that decision stand now, even if it disqualifies him from a pursuit he hasn't yet had the chance to begin.
It's not an especially happy realization, but he knows Tamaki too well to harbor any ill-will over it. Even watching his friend flutter about Haruhi like a moth around a glowing lamp, exhausting himself to stay within the warmth of her attention, Kyouya finds he isn't jealous. There's no denying Haruhi dresses up very prettily, but this 'Lady Natsumi' character pales in comparison to the formidable person he believes Haruhi is destined to become.
There is a time to grasp victory in both hands, and a time to wait empty-handed in readiness for something greater. And discerning between the two is the secret power of the Third Son, the gift of Kyouya's own birthright; a talent he can use better than anyone.
He watches her from across the crowd that night, trying to see her as others must: a quiet girl with thoughtful eyes and a ready smile, moving with fawnlike awkwardness in her borrowed party shoes. He thinks she will not grow up to be like the other princesses the Host Club entertains. But who will she be, on the day she finally comes into her own?
I want to see that. The thought hits him, sudden and blazing with promise. When her day comes, I want to be there. I want to know.
And at that moment of determination, Kyouya senses a change occuring in him. As though somewhere in the puzzle of his destiny, a fundamental shape is at last shifting into place. It is the work of seconds, but so profound that the memory of it is bound to stay with him the rest of his days. Down in the still, sacred place where his deepest desires are kept, he feels the prayer-wheel of family expectation reach the end of its timeworn circuit.
He forgets about the party, and his obligations to it. He forgets about his father, Tamaki, and everyone around him save one person: the girl who in that very moment turns, meets his eyes from across the room, and sets his heart racing with a tentative smile. Thus is his prayer-wheel repurposed for a new petition; a secret one which he, and no one else, will be author to.
I will be there, he promises silently, answering her smile with a tilt of his head, hand over his heart; the quaint courtly gesture of--for now--the Perfect Host.