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― 馨物語 ―
KAORU MONOGATARI ARC

In Medias Res miniseries, Part III of VI

Title: Endgame Move
Pairing(s): Kaoru/club member
Rating: M
Disclaimer: Ouran High School Host Club belongs to Hatori Bisco and related companies.
Word Count: approximately 30,000 words in 6 parts. [Complete]

Complete summary: Straight 'in the middle of things'. Kaoru has been seeing one of his host club colleagues on the sly. Everything has now come to a head and it's time to decide the course of the future.



ENDGAME MOVE


"I know that's what people say – you'll get over it. I'd say it, too. But I know it's not true. Oh, you’ll be happy again, never fear. But you won't forget. Every time you fall in love it will be because something in the man reminds you of him.” – Betty Smith


"I would like to be the air that inhabits you for a moment only. I would like to be that unnoticed and that necessary." – Margaret Atwood


" – ru! Kaoru!"

A hand lands on his shoulder, causing him to jerk in surprise.

"Sorry, what?" Kaoru focuses on his twin, fully alert.

With increasing frequency Kaoru has been lost in his thoughts; this is far from the first time that Hikaru has had to snap him back to the present, though with supreme forbearance Hikaru does not tell him off. Instead, his eyes glaze over with sadness whenever he catches sight of Kaoru, in a way that makes Kaoru feel immediately guilty – when Kaoru smiles at him to reassure him, it always seems to deepen that anguish rather than get rid of it.

"Don't go. Stay at home today," Hikaru implores, voice rough with pain. "We can say you don't feel well. Everyone will understand!"

"Yes, I know they will," Kaoru says softly.

"Nobody's expecting you to go, you know! None of us want you to be there – to – to go through this! More than anyone else, we understand!"

"Yes, I know."

Kaoru holds out his brother's watch to him. Hikaru continues to stare stubbornly, refusing to put it on. With a sigh, Kaoru takes one of his brother's hands and slides the watch up his wrist for him, clicking it into place. "Let's go."

Hikaru yanks him back. "No! I won't let you!"

Kaoru steps closer to him to touch his cheek.

"Hikaru, it's because all of you understand, that is why I must go," he explains. "I must go and change that understanding."

Puzzled and annoyed, Hikaru asks, "What?"

"If I don't go, it will be as if I don't support this marriage, and that's – "

"Isn't that the truth?! I sure as hell don't!" Hikaru snaps.

"I do," Kaoru states firmly. "I want you guys to stop worrying about me. I want to be there to show that I think it's a great idea. I want it to be made clear that this wedding should be happening, and that there is no way on earth I will be standing in its way."

"Even going so far as to make the gown for that person?" Hikaru yells, boiling with rage. "Don't be fucking noble, Kaoru! Nobility is for fools!"

Kaoru laughs. "I was never that smart anyway."

"Kaoru!" Hikaru grabs him by the arms and shakes him desperately. His features are tortured with too many emotions that he cannot express, and, speechless, he shakes Kaoru again like he wishes Kaoru would wake up.

Kaoru flings himself at his brother to disarm him – then, he hugs Hikaru when he is temporarily subdued. "Listen, idiot: it may not look like I had a say in these events at all, but trust me, I did. I still do. In a reciprocal relationship, both people must have chosen to be in it. I chose, Hikaru. I knew the consequences. It was always my intention not to be a burden. I already told you: yes, I'm hurting terribly, but I also know it will pass. In the past weeks alone, it's not like I've been upset all the time. That's not the way emotions work – they come and go, high and low, even for people with clinical depression this is the case. So you see, all I need to do is look forward to the day where the heartbreak will be gone, and on that day I'll probably be shocked at the realisation that it'd been fading day by day without me noticing it."

Hikaru goggles a little.

Before he opens his mouth, Kaoru adds, "We've fought about the gown too much; I don't want to rehash that argument. It's pointless now since it was completed just yesterday. I know you hate that I had to do it, but I don't hate her, okay? Saying anything more is superfluous."

It had been the worse design Kaoru ever had to come up with, and he never wants to repeat the experience of creating it, whether in his mind or in physical form – the finished product is incomparably beautiful and he couldn't be more proud – in the end, it's a riot of feelings, really, reflecting the mess he is at the moment.

Kaoru strokes his brother's hair. "Let me do this. Please. Let me go there to let him go. Oddly enough, out of the group of us I might be the person who is happiest about this marriage – it's also fulfilling a dream that has become my own, you know. Although we've only been together for four years, I can't remember a time when I wasn't half mad from waiting for the heir to be announced."

Hikaru closes his eyes. "Don't smile. It's killing me."

Kaoru feels his own smile widen; obediently, he wipes it off. "Okay, I won't. You can open your eyes now."

Hikaru cracks his eyelid open a fraction to peek and it's so cute that Kaoru knows he'll break his promise. To cover it up he swiftly presses a kiss to Hikaru's cheek. "Thank you. I'm sorry for putting you through this, Hikaru. If I could wish for something to turn out differently, I'd wish for you to be spared from these negative, frustrated emotions."

"Don't," Hikaru warns sharply. "Stop giving too much. If you were given a wish, you should use it on yourself. Keep him by your side, or something."

"I wouldn't do that to him." Kaoru shakes his head ruefully. "And the seven of us will always be friends. Come on, it'll be awful if we're late."

.

-------

.


Kaoru will admit that he was almost paralysed at the entrance to the graveyard. He doesn't want Hikaru to have to hold his hand, so he soldiers on to the family plot where the groom will pay his respects to his dearly departed mother before his wedding next week. A few of their friends are waiting for them.

"Kao-chan, Hika-chan!"

Honey and Mori come up to them and they greet each other warmly. Kaoru only hopes he can withstand their piercing scrutiny today, though they have been careful not to cause him discomfort with any overt expression of concern in front of outsiders. In private they are Kaoru's rock, in public they are the souls of discretion – honestly, he suspects they'd known all along.

"Where's Tono and Haruhi?" Hikaru swivels his head around to search the sparse crowd of people in muted shades of clothing.

"On their way," Mori informs them succinctly in that wonderful, steadfast manner that produces a helpful grounding effect.

Kaoru clutches the bouquet of flowers spasmodically. He'd thought long and hard about the selection and ultimately entrusted the entire project to Hikaru. Of course he remembers being told about the types of flowers favoured by the deceased matriarch, and being trained in the art of ikebana since birth, it's child's play to him to arrange an outstanding symphony of blossoms.

He'd found he couldn't do it. He can't – won't – show up Hayashida-san and the bouquet she is bound to bring. It's better for everyone for him to be forgetful or uncaring in this and in everything else.

After Haruhi and Tamaki arrive, they join the remaining member of their ex-host-club, who is with various family members and relatives chatting amongst themselves in low tones. Kaoru flicks his host switch on, still an invaluable skill set after all these years. It'd be lovely if the other ex-hosts would stop keeping tabs on him, no matter how covert the surveillance – it's making him unnecessarily nervous. He exchanges pleasantries with those present and solemnly gives his word to Hayashida-san that he will bring the gown to tonight's informal dinner for family and the innermost circle of the bride and groom at the Roi Grand Tokyo. The engaged couple has moved into the luxury suites in anticipation of the wedding banquet and the security around the hotel is outrageous.

As the groom's closest friends, they stay behind to accompany and support him while everyone leaves, presumably to tend to other matters and change before the party. Kaoru is aware that this is the first time in months that they have been in such proximity. They haven't spoken since the engagement was announced. Planning for a wedding of this scale is time-consuming and exhausting; the groom has been rushing around insanely, flying overseas and back and overseas again to tie up loose ends before taking a break for the mega-event and honeymoon. The others are aware of these relevant facts too – they keep trying to slip away to give Kaoru time alone… to do what? Talk it through? Confront him? Cry, scream, demand?

Kaoru doesn't need words.

He doesn't need an explanation either.

For four years this imminent end has loomed in their horizon, haunting and taunting him. They've never lied to each other about the direction of their relationship or their priorities and life goals. In his weakest moments Kaoru had tried to drown himself in his lover, to own his lover's body if nothing else, leaving bites and fingernail marks that he'd known he should not have left lest they be found out.

Everything there is to say, everything that can be said, Kaoru already knows and he accepts wholeheartedly. That they had so much time together is more than he had dared to imagine; that his lover kept faith despite being inundated with more admirers and proposals with each progressive year, that his feelings were sincerely returned –

It may not be enough, but that's only because love is boundless and insatiable in its need.

In all aspects, to his immense credit, this lover has been… perfect.

Perfect for Kaoru, that is. There's no other way to describe it.

Kaoru won't ever tell Hikaru that he knows (profound, etched-into-his-bones sort of knowledge) that there is no moving on from this. He will survive, yes, he will be happy and he will live, he may or may not find a new partner, he will pursue his bright future in fashion design with his brother, he will inherit his family's vast fortune and head the illustrious dynasty he is descended from.

He will do all of that, and everything that he does will come back to this.

With no gaps in his understanding of the situation, what purpose can words serve? In the course of their relationship, part of their compatibility came down to their mutual ability to appreciate each other's motivations on their own, to grasp the crux of things without outside assistance, they have never let words get in the way; why wreck it now by throwing a tantrum?

The others have snuck off in the meantime, claiming hunger and a thousand and one excuses. Great.

'Senpai'. 'Senpai', Kaoru admonishes himself mentally like a malfunctioning tape recorder. Attach 'senpai' to his name. Actually, just don't speak unless spoken to.

He lingers at the fringes, considering running to catch up with the others in the distance. Again, he scraps it because he wants to keep this friendship and running for whatever reason is going to convey the opposite message.

The black head is bowed slightly, eyes obscured by his fringe. It causes a dull ache within Kaoru to look at him, yet he can't turn away as if looking for one more instant, loving for one more minute, will make it ache less. Kaoru wonders whether he too feels a sense of loss.

The answer is yes – at least, Kaoru is ninety-nine point nine percent certain.

It's too arrogant to assume sole responsibility for inflicting this on him. Kaoru may have tempted him into this but he also chose and Kaoru knows he knows it. Nonetheless Kaoru wants him to know that, "I'm sorry."

A pair of carbon-black eyes is fixed on him.

Its intensity, its heat makes Kaoru the centre of the universe. The tingle that washes across his skin is poignant and familiar and Kaoru basks in it – for all it's worth, for the very last time.

"For the pain that you feel, I'm sorry. I never wanted to rob you of the opportunity to savour the taste of success," Kaoru says plainly. "The worst thing is I can't even bring myself to regret anything, and given a second chance I'd do it all over again."

With a faint tinge of amusement, "Would you?"

If I experienced what it's like to have someone fulfill my hidden desires, it's only because you paid such attention to me that you basically read my mind. If I learnt how to ask for what I want, it's only because you taught me. If I graduated at the top of my cohort, it's only because you did. If I have the maturity to accept what I can't change, it's only because you do. If I know that I can cause change, if I know that I have the strength to conquer any challenge, if I know the meaning of patience, if my prospects are so glorious now, it's only because you showed me what I could do.

It's only because of you that I –


"Yes," Kaoru replies, and knows it to be true.

Saying nothing in response, his (ex-) lover lowers his eyes to the headstone of the tomb again, quietly contemplative. Kaoru notes that he seems unusually reluctant to leave his mother's grave – were Kaoru in his place he'd probably cling to the tranquil silence surrounding this small plot of land too, much better than facing the chaos of being the leading man in the 'wedding of the decade' (the media must love this label, having previously applied it to Honey's wedding, and Haruhi-and-Tamaki's).

"Come here, Kaoru."

Baffled, Kaoru complies.

"Which bouquet is yours?"

Kaoru's footsteps falter as his heart lurches dangerously.

"U-Um, that one." He points to it.

"… Hmm. No wonder I didn't recognise it. It doesn't look like your handiwork."

Damn it. It's come back to bite him in the arse. He knew he shouldn't have agreed when Tamaki wanted the seven of them to undergo ikebana lessons from his and Hikaru's esteemed grandmother. Before that, there hadn't been a single soul who could differentiate between the twins' creations and that'd suited Kaoru just fine.

Kaoru grins sheepishly, not forthcoming with any plausible justification.

A wickedly seductive eyebrow is arched at him. "How curious. You don't remember what flowers she liked?"

Nigella damascene, Polianthes tuberosa, Centaurea cyanus, Eschscholzia californica, the descendant of a celebrated ikebana master lists in his head, not needing the visual reminder of the bouquets from the rest of the family. Please forgive me for lying through my teeth in front of your grave; I mean no disrespect.

"Did you tell me? It must have slipped my mind. Can only store so many things in my limited memory space, after all. Sorry, senpai."

The other eyebrow goes up – never a good sign.

Kaoru fights the instinctive urge to wince at the awkwardness of this term of address when they are alone. It sounds foreign on his tongue, which is stupid and demonstrates the extent of his ungainly ineptitude beside this person. It's not like he's ever stopped using this title for his senior for the most part.

"Falsehoods? Here? For shame, Kaoru."

Why. Why are you doing this to me.

"Don't accuse me of lying," Kaoru says sourly. "Next time I'll make sure your mother receives the perfect arrangement. Here, if you tell me now I'll record it in my phone so I can refer to it."

Those eyes, they see through him. "Liar."

Kaoru shakes his head in disbelief, unable to meet the gaze head-on. "Believe whatever you want to believe."

"Admit it," a strict command. "Admit that you knew which four flowers. Tell me that the botanical names immediately occurred to you. Say you spent days trying to incorporate them into your bouquet."

No, I will not ask you to stay by my side.

Kaoru shrugs, chewing on his bottom lip and barely able to keep from falling to the ground to beg like he wants to.

The wind blows the leaves into a swirling dance; the two of them remain motionless.

"All four species are in Erisa-san's offering. I mentioned it only once to her."

Oh, that was fucking vicious. Kaoru chokes out a helpless little laugh. But I know what you're doing, I don't know if you will say yes, I don't want you to and I won't risk having you answer.

He smiles and carefully pitches his tone to be mellow and free from pretense, "Congratulations, senpai. This is – she is – really an excellent choice. From my short acquaintance with Hayashida-san I know she is meticulous and decisive, filled with qualities that you admire. Even if this marriage begins as a convenient tool to achieve a goal, she is the sort of person who will rapidly become a companion that you can't live without, a teammate while you navigate through life, an asset that will enrich you and never abandon you. Hayashida-san is that sort of person, senpai, and she picked you. Obviously I think highly of her taste. This union will be blessed, lasting and prosperous, only if senpai also commits yourself to it, so please do and don't worry about me. You'll always have me as a friend, I promise."

There is no visible reaction.

Kaoru is at his most soothing when he is allowed to touch; however it would be unspeakably ill-conceived in the circumstances and he resigns himself to the stifling air, heavy like their moods.

"Senpai, if we don't go now, we'll miss out on tea with the others." He marches to the gate and holds it open.

Inscrutably, the figure crouches to skim slender fingers across the name carved into the marble surface with an almost inaudible sigh. Kaoru doesn't rush him – his attempt to get them to leave was a mere ploy to end the deadlocked conversation and they both know it.

At last, "Let's go."

Kaoru trails behind, battling with the accursed longing to hold his hand all the way to the café.


Next: Chapter 4: Checkmate
Previous: Chapter 2: So Close

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