potionwine: (Pissed off Kyouya)
― 馨物語 ―
KAORU MONOGATARI ARC

In Medias Res miniseries, Part V of VI

Title: The Price You're Paying For It (Hikaru)
Pairing(s): Kyouya/Kaoru
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.



THE PRICE YOU'RE PAYING FOR IT: HIKARU


"You can't sweep other people off their feet, if you can't be swept off your own." – Clarence Day, After All (1936), p. 224


Immensely relieved, Hikaru allows himself to relax at last.

He is the meaner twin, and on behalf of Kaoru he will be the one standing beside Kyouya while everything goes wrong between their senior and the Ootori family. When Tamaki had gone out to take the call, the young master sent all the servants, waiters and staff away to give them liberty to rumble.

They know that Kaoru isn't equipped for this – the best-case scenario had been to persuade Kaoru to stay home and have the club explicate their actions after the deed is done, but it's not like Hikaru can tie his brother up and his side of the deal had been to keep up his act no matter how grueling, letting things flow their course and trusting that they have covered all bases. It's not that Hikaru needed Kyouya to sign that skewed pre-nuptial, or, god forbid, that he thinks Kaoru needs Kyouya's money – no.

Hikaru needed to know that Kyouya would enter into a covenant that substantially prejudices his own interests for Kaoru's sake, and that pre-nuptial must be the most economically unsound decision of Kyouya's life: 60% of his annual income to belong to Kaoru unless Kaoru agrees to a joint account depending on tax liabilities (with the right of survivorship and Kaoru's signature alone must afford him unlimited right of withdrawal), and if ever they separate, Kaoru gets 100% of their asset pool at the time of the break up.

One hundred percent, demoting Kyouya to start all over again from zero.

Bearing in mind that Kyouya is already earning the most out of the seven of them, and that the contract takes effect upon Kaoru's acceptance of Kyouya's proposal of marriage… Even though Hikaru had overseen its drafting, he hadn't dared to believe their bottomlessly deep pocketed penny-pinching tycoon of a vice-president would sign it until he did.

Without needing to consult each other, on no other basis apart from what they know of Kaoru, the five of them unanimously stipulated the condition that Kyouya must get Kaoru out before any of the mercilessly ugly negotiations begin – not that Kyouya ever thought otherwise. It isn't because Kaoru has no stomach for commerce, but that he feels too responsible for the current situation despite his claims to the contrary. Always he wants to suffer in place of those he loves, always, and the single most compelling argument for Hikaru to accept Kyouya is really just about this: that Kyouya's powers of observation eclipses Kaoru's such that he rarely if at all misses the little selfless things Kaoru does regularly, that Kyouya surpasses Kaoru in sneakiness so Kaoru can't get away with plotting dumb schemes around him, that Kyouya has the talent and influence to neutralise or undo the practical effects of Kaoru's idiocy as and when it occurs, and, most of all… that he has the heart to do so, and comes close to comparing with Kaoru in his capacity for self-sacrifice when he's clean out of alternatives.

Like now.

Mori had loosened his hold on Hayashida-san as soon as Kaoru had been secured, and she is squaring off with Kyouya.

There's a first time for everything, and Hikaru has a hunch that this may be a bitchfight that he won't enjoy watching, because he already knows how much Kaoru has endured to reach this stage and how much Kyouya will be forfeiting – their overall win simply cannot compensate for this loss.

"Kyouya-san, this is extremely shortsighted of you," Hayashida-san criticises.

… Yup, Hikaru doesn't even feel like pointing out the joke. Definitely not going to fun.

"I beg to differ," Kyouya says, voice like shards of ice. Without looking away, he puts out a hand, palm up. "Tachibana."

His well-oiled machine of a team had been prepared – Aijima had fetched a stack of files from just outside the door, and Tachibana passes the three files on top to his master.

Kyouya extends them in the direction of Hayashidas. None of them condescend to take it, and Kyouya lays them on the table without so much as the crinkling of paper, deliberately refraining from any more displays of incivility (although, in all honesty, he's vastly more supercilious when he adheres to social conventions).

"These invoices will show that the costs of the wedding originally borne by you have been fully paid for. I have also defrayed the ancillary expenses not directly related to the wedding, such as the bill for tonight's informal dinner amongst others."

"We don't need your money!" Papa Hayashida barks.

Hikaru rolls his eyes. Who's shortsighted now?

"No, indeed," Kyouya agrees insouciantly, "but it is a good start, is it not? Recouping your financial losses will always salve the wounds somewhat; at least you need not contend with the indignation of pouring money down the drain."

As the man splutters unattractively, Kyouya opens the second folder. "I have seen to it that the wedding gifts that have been received either have or will find their way back to the senders with a note of apology that explains – well, nothing, actually. The words are flowery and meaningless. I propose that we develop a cover story together that will preferably keep both our families' reputations intact insofar as the embarrassment of a broken engagement will allow. Please consider this file in detail; I have listed a number of very plausible pretexts that we may – "

"Why should we do anything you say? You and your family should be lambasted by the media and it would be nothing more than just desserts!" Mama Hayashida gripes.

"Hayashida-san," Mori counsels from the corner with his arms crossed, "it is not possible to cast aspersions on Kyouya's marriageability without also affecting your daughter."

"Unless Hayashida-san would like us to tell the press that Kyou-chan prefers Kao-chan over your daughter and let them wonder why?" Honey asks sweetly.

She blanches. "You go too far, you bratty children!"

Unflappable Kyouya proceeds with, "We have to select a pretext within a day, or at most two in order to issue a timely press statement. My preference is on the first page – I am aware that the source of the trouble did not originate from you, hence I have provided for myself to take the brunt of the attention and blame: if you are agreeable, we will say that as a result of my travelling, I have caught a terrible disease from any one of those third-world countries that I have in fact visited over the past year, and due to its communicable nature and long recovery period, you no longer view me as a suitable spouse for your precious child. As I will be staying hidden for the next few months, this is a highly feasible option. The name and type of the disease are stated for your convenience – if you dislike this disease we can find another that will cause me to be bedridden, however I do not consent to any illness that is terminally incurable or acquired through sexual promiscuity. If you prefer to use another pretext, that is fine, but if you do not come to a decision then I will take action within two days and it will be entirely on my terms. My only qualifiers are: one, you may not involve Kaoru at all, and two, you may not expressly or impliedly say that I have a lover whether past or present. You may say that Hayashida Erisa-san has a lover on the side; if it appeases you, I consent to being made a fool of in that way."

Shocked, Hikaru turns to his senior with wide eyes.

"The third file is primarily for Hayashida Erisa-san." Kyouya picks it up. "Though I was testing Kaoru, I would not have actively sought to torment you in this manner. As I suppose I owe you the truth, I will tell it to you: I needed the time to gather sufficient resources to make it viable for me to choose him. Had I achieved a breakthrough any earlier than today, I would certainly have brought this farce to an end sooner. Therefore, this is a compilation of the names of eligible bachelors in our generation who have expressed an interest in you – in all likelihood, you know most of them since they have been courting you assiduously even post-engagement. You are too shrewd to have dispensed with contingency plans as well; now is the time to review them and follow through with the one most appropriate for your needs."

Bitterly, she clenches her hands into fists. "Exactly! We have backup plans for backup plans! You and I could have taken over the world! If you will do something like research potential partners for me, why won't you just see in yourself the same potential?!"

"I'm doing this for him, not for you," Kyouya says dismissively, taking the remainder of the files from Tachibana. "The longer it takes for you to move on, the longer he will feel guilty."

"I want to know why!" she demands, unable to lose. "Why do you think he'll make a better partner for you?"

"I refuse to engage in such an asinine comparison exercise," Kyouya replies, half-arsed host smile plastered on.

"Why? Because you know that the cold, hard facts will indicate that he is the poorer choice?"

"No." Kyouya's eyes spark with something colder and harder than whatever fact she can summon, a law unto himself. "Because there is no comparison."

"If you value his opinion, you should know that Kaoru-san genuinely thinks I am the better person for you!"

"Only because he cannot legally marry me in this country, nor can we have biological children together," Kyouya responds immediately, "which precludes my father from accepting him into our family. If either he or I were female, we would have been married three years ago and you would not even have entered the picture."

The Hayashida parents start freaking out about the duration of this clandestine relationship and Kyouya's claws finally come out.

"Enough!" he orders, glasses flashing, also able to plunge them into the glacial arctic.

Papa Hayashida shudders involuntarily.

"I think you will not be forgiving me for the events of today; no doubt that is why you will understand why I too will not be forgiving you. For the names you called him – and Hayashida Erisa-san especially, you don't think you might have played a part in your own humiliation? Do you know that if you had been wholly ignorant, my friends would never have countenanced such a monstrous plan, much less supported and executed it? Instead, you piled insult after insult on Kaoru by making him design a wedding that you knew he wished was his; you made him use all of his fondest dreams on you because I happened to be the groom and he would want my wedding to be flawless."

"How dare you blame me for this!" she screeches.

Relentlessly, Kyouya outlines his accusation. "Do you know that Tamaki made me investigate whether you were aware of my relationship with Kaoru before he was willing to cooperate with me, and do you know that Haruhi pleaded for leniency for you all throughout our collaboration? Do you know that Mori-senpai advocated waiting partly because he wanted to offer you the opportunity to reject me rather than have the reverse happen to you? Do you know that Honey-senpai advised me against embarrassing you in front of your friends even if our plans had succeeded earlier in the evening? Let's not be coy about it – you chose. You knew that the odds were not favourable and you chose to pit yourself against Kaoru because it was more important to you to win me, whereas it was more important to him for me to win yet you ask me why?"

"Erisa, you should have said something!" her parents get on her case. "You knew your fiancé was keeping that little harlot and you continued to let them associate with each other – that was a critical mistake!"

Hikaru slams the table and growls, "Stop. With. The. Fucking. Names."

"What do you call it then, boy?" Papa Hayashida challenges. "Your brother knew he could never have any legitimacy but he's happy for my daughter's fiancé to – "

Suddenly, in less than a fraction of a second, Hikaru has a terrible premonition about what he's going to say, and he's climbing over the table to try to stop those brainless anger-drenched words –

He's not the only one because Mori and Honey have moved too, propping a hand on the same table to leap over him to where Papa Hayashida is –

" – him like some cheap – "

Mori snags a once-hot towel on the way and stuffs the cloth into that mouth to gag it –

It's too late. The last words are partly muzzled; his meaning is still distinctly made out.

Hikaru's mind goes blank; he tries to hit that filthy mouth for what it said and Mori drags him back, fastening his arms to his side by cocooning him in an inescapable embrace.

"Let me go! Let me – "

He freezes; Mori's expression is terrifying, directed at Papa Hayashida like Mori hadn't thought a person so contemptible existed.

Tamaki and Haruhi instantly let Papa Hayashida have a piece of their minds. Even Fuyumi-san joins in the fray, everything else be damned, emphatically proclaiming that she would have called that 'love'.

To say nothing of Kyouya and Honey – Hikaru knows that the Hayashidas' businesses have just become the chief targets on the host club's hitlist.

"Get out."

Everyone focuses on the speaker with that sheer authoritative gravitas.

"The three of you are to leave this hotel," Ootori-sama says.

Mama Hayashida takes offence. "Yoshio-san, your family really has gone overboard today – "

"The relations between your family and mine have ended, but my relations with the owner of this hotel continues. If you do not disappear from my sight in five seconds, I will have you thrown out as disgracefully as possible and your photographs will be splashed across the newspapers tomorrow."

Woah…

Taken aback, Mama Hayashida huffs, "Fine!" and marches out.

When her daughter and husband reach for the files that Kyouya had laid out, Ootori-sama says, "You are not to take it. My son gave you the choice and you rebuffed him – everything will happen on our terms from now on."

Fed up, Hayashida Erisa follows her mother.

"You – ! Don't think you intimidate us just because you're an Ootori! I'm a Hayashida!"

"This has nothing to do with who we are," Ootori-sama informs him, unimpressed. "It has to do with whether you would like us to tell the press that my son prefers someone else over your daughter and let them come up with reasons why."

Honey smiles grimly, his blossoms twinkling with mocking amusement.

With a glare, Papa Hayashida straightens his suit jacket and defiantly swipes one folder anyway, gambling on the chance that Ootori-sama will not out his son so openly. Ootori-sama lets him go, uninterested in juvenile stunts.

Tamaki clamps down on Kyouya's shoulders to ease the quivering animosity emanating from him.

Ootori-sama studies his youngest son levelly.

He puts out a hand, eerily reminiscent of Kyouya. The files are respectfully submitted to him.

Even before he peruses any of them, he asks, "What is your stake in Refzip & Refzip?"

"Amazing!" Hikaru blurts, flabbergasted.

Ootori-sama cocks an imperious eyebrow at him. "If my son needed to gain leverage over me, if he understood the purpose of an alliance with the Hayashidas, if you children succeeded only today – given that it is now almost 2:30 AM and you were certain of this success approximately an hour and a half ago, it must be because of Refzip's board meeting that was scheduled to conclude at noon, New York time. Elementary, isn't it, middle-eastern heiress Ms. Lila Darpana Qaqnus?"

Kyouya smiles, ego-tripping over his family's unassailable supremacy.

Hikaru whoops with laughter, not bothering to contain his awe. Analysis at the speed of light – truly, he is Kyouya's father.

Ootori-sama flicks through the pages, saying, "Indeed, it had crossed my mind to negotiate an arrangement with Suou Haruhi-san to stop her from providing legal assistance to her 'old friend from Harvard' to acquire Refzip & Refzip; I predicted that you would stop her in the interests of our family and at any rate a union with the Hayashidas would have negated the threat posed by Refzip – perhaps I should have known that you are her fellow Harvard alumnus. My secretary brought to my attention as a trivial oddity that 'Qaqnus' means phoenix; I presume the rest of your alias carries the same meaning as your birth name?"

"'Night', and 'Mirror'," Kyouya confirms.

"Kyouya-senpai is the new chief executive officer of Refzip Group and sits as president of the board of directors with 26% share," Haruhi reports. "I have 12%, my husband holds 8% and we have enough support from the other minor shareholders to form the majority."

"I see. You have feathered a nest in the US for you to elope with that child; I certainly hope Yuzuha-san is aware that you will be absconding with her heir."

"She is."

"The Hayashidas were making nuisances of themselves; chasing them away does not equate to approval of this relationship."

"I would not have made such a laughably erroneous assumption."

"Is it your intention to pursue Refzip's objectives under its previous president?"

Non-committal, Kyouya says, "It depends."

"On whether I will retaliate against Hitachiin Kaoru?" Ootori-sama asks tersely.

"Will you?" Kyouya counters.

Hikaru is rather grateful that he is tucked under Mori's wing – this showdown is all steel and winter chill, unlike the turbulent feverish storm of the Hayashida parents that he is better at participating in and coping with.

Light glances off Ootori-sama's spectacles. "If yes?"

"Then the first directive I issue as CEO of Refzip will be to continue expansion into the Asian market to become the premier medical supplies and pharmaceuticals company, set up health retreats and resort-like clubs in conjunction with Suou Corporation and buy out the subsidiaries of Ootori Group that the previous president coveted. You knew that Refzip's presence in Japan would result in stagnation and eventually extinction, Father, that's why you were so keen on Hayashida-san's two-pronged export capacity through air and sea to thwart Refzip's aim of replacing us as the dominant force in the wider Asian region. As the deal with the Hayashidas has fallen through, expansion on your part will be doubly difficult – counterproductive, even, if the price of export surpasses the benefits to be gained – "

"Kyouya!" Akito-san denounces. "You will take down the family that raised you and fed you?!"

"I have not pretended to marry for the inheritance and cause Father to be unable to revoke his nomination only to divorce Hayashida-san later. I have left the subsidiaries untouched though it is now within my power to capture at least 75% of them. I have reimbursed both Father and the Hayashidas out of my own pocket. I have not left this family with no defences – this is not a situation in which I have alienated the Hayashidas and chosen Kaoru without regard to the consequences of letting Refzip run wild on our home turf. On the contrary, I have put myself in a position not only to prevent Refzip's entry into Japan, but to come to an amiable partnership with Ootori Group to monopolise half the world each – further, as I am Refzip's leader, does this not mean that the Ootori family has conquered the planet?"

Hikaru suppresses a snort. Their Shadow King was always destined to rule the known universe by hook or by crook – to think that Kaoru was the face that launched a thousand ships, never will Hikaru let him live it down. One day, the day they can laugh about this, Hikaru will give him hell to blush at.

Ootori-sama is less charitable. "Your actions have dragged our name through mud, you have put yourself before your family; do you still call yourself an Ootori, or believe yourself deserving to be a member of this family?"

This is it, Hikaru grimaces. This is the worst-case scenario; Kyouya had warned them that it cannot be avoided – this is the crime that they have aided and abetted, this is the weight on their consciences: the rift between parent-and-child cannot be mended. 'Life aspirations' is one thing, for Kyouya is genius enough to take what is not given to him and being with Kaoru doesn't compromise that at all. 'Familial acceptance' is another thing entirely… For Kyouya, the price of making a family with Kaoru is his ties with the family that made him, and Kaoru must not know.

"I'm very sorry, Father, Yuuichi-niisan, Fuyumi-neesan, Akito-niisan." Kyouya bows deeply and keeps himself there.

A large hand applies pressure to the back of Hikaru's head – Mori, the rest of Hikaru's friends and Kyouya's Team have bowed, too.

"What are you expecting us to say?" Akito-san demands. "That we forgive you? It's easy for you to apologise now that you've flagrantly done everything you wanted!"

Tamaki looks up, distressed. "It wasn't easy for Kyouya to do this, Akito-san! At every step of the way Kyouya tried to minimise the damage to everyone and make sure that your family will come out on top!"

"Then what do you want?" Yuuichi-san asks dispassionately. "State clearly what it is you want from us, Kyouya, before we decide if we want to give it to you."

Your acceptance, duh! Hikaru frowns at them. Isn't it obvious what Kyouya-senpai – what any normal human being – wants from their family?!

Kyouya's gaze is lowered, his eyes almost closed.

The silence stretches on uncomfortably.

Ask, senpai! Now is not the time to be proud!

No one says a thing.

Annoyed, Hikaru looks to Mori for clarification.

Mori is… sad.

He snags Mori's sleeve and Mori shakes his head.

"What is going – ?"

The rolling slide of wooden rails against wood frame is heard.

Kaoru stands there like he'd never left, pale with red-rimmed eyes.

All of the people in the room who care for him gasp collectively. He is insensate to it, heedlessly brushing past them to get to the cluster of Ootoris where he collapses into a full body kowtow, forehead against the ground.

"I'm sorry. I know I will never be – "

The hosts, the servants and Fuyumi-san cry out his name; Kyouya rushes to his side to forcibly pick him up and Kaoru opposes him, persevering in his apology.

" – the partner of your choice for Kyouya-senpai. I know that the disappointment must be oppressive and the pain must be heart-rending and nothing can lessen it because the higher the hopes, the greater the – "

"Kaoru, stand up! Hotta! You were to drive him away from here until Tachibana calls you!" Kyouya raps out, razor-sharp in displeasure. Everyone flinches and poor Hotta cowers.

"K-Kaoru-sama jumped out of the car and ran back here!"

"The moving car?!"

" – everyone who knows Kyouya-senpai automatically expects the world from him because Kyouya-senpai is that sort of person and Ootori-sama must have been so proud even if you didn't show it – "

Hikaru dashes forward to help. "Kaoru! Hey, Kaoru! Did you injure yourself?!"

" – and it's true that I was the one with no self-control, I was the one who wanted senpai and initiated and led him astray – "

Worriedly, Haruhi questions, "How much did you hear? How long were you standing there for?"

Kyouya darts a look in her direction, sickened at the realisation.

Hikaru gets an elbow in the gut and drops his brother reflexively.

" – so, please, I will ask. Don't make senpai do it. Don't disown Kyouya-senpai, please – "

"Kaoru! I can ask them myself!"

"No!" Kaoru's hands are bunched up in Kyouya's shirt. "No, you can't! Yuuichi-san is – don't be cruel, Yuuichi-san! You have made up your mind to refuse whatever Kyouya-senpai asks of you, and you want Kyouya-senpai to put himself out there, to humble himself by pleading with you but please, I will ask because the last thing that you say to him can't be something calculated to hurt him!"

Hikaru's jaw drops. Was that why – ?

Kyouya's posture softens; Kaoru accordingly slips back down to his penitent position and does not resist him anymore – he swallows once, like swallowing a sob, and leans against Kyouya's legs to wait.

Frustrated, Kyouya pushes his fringe back and takes a stabilising breath. Then, he smiles wryly, kisses the crown of Kaoru's head and also kowtows before his father, absolutely the humblest and most reverent any of them have ever seen him.

Kaoru follows suit – the both of them look like a to-be-married couple seeking their parents' blessings as part of the exchange of vows in a traditional wedding ceremony, and Hikaru knows that the symbolic significance won't escape any of the Ootoris. Were it not for today, in a week's time it would have been Kyouya and Hayashida Erisa doing this towards Ootori-sama and those hideous Hayashida parents.

Hikaru is pulled back quickly by Tamaki, that connoisseur of historical flicks and TV drama serials, but of course Hikaru already figured out that this escalation makes it an Ootori family matter, and for good or for bad his twin brother is rolled up in it. Servants never remain standing when their masters have prostrated themselves – with so many people kneeling, the seriousness cannot be overstated and it's making Hikaru's skin itch.

"Father, thank you for raising and nurturing me all these years, my debt to you I cannot repay," Kyouya says peaceably. "I regret that we have come to this. There are three things I would like to ask of you, my family, if you can find it within yourselves to grant them to me."

Anxiously, Kaoru grabs Kyouya's forearm. Kyouya does not turn, merely covers his hand with one of his own.

"First: that you will accept Kaoru, if not as a member of our family then at least as the person I've chosen as my partner. If that is not possible, then second: that you do not disown me and allow me to keep this name; although Yuzuha-san has given permission for me to become a Hitachiin, please don't use Kaoru's family name as a means of punishing me. If this too is not possible, then third: that you will allow me to contact whichever sibling or family member willing to talk to me instead of engineering my complete estrangement from the family."

Kaoru and Kyouya do not fidget even when put under a microscope by the Ootoris. Hikaru feels a pang of commiseration – that's why he won't choose a partner from a loony family – it's too much effort.

"All right, Kaoru-kun," Yuuichi-san says, retrieving his briefcase and taking out a lovely shugi-bukuro, "I will stop being cruel and be straightforward. Kyouya, I reject them all. You have wasted Father's affections on you, and the inheritance that we all have wanted, you have spurned as though it is something of no value. I cannot – "

"Yuuichi-san, that inheritance was Kyouya-senpai's life! For years Kyouya-senpai worked hard for it, caused it to thrive, guarded it from foreign and local competition!"

"Yes, and gave it all up when it was virtually his. It matters not that Kyouya has in effect gained possession over the inheritance from his manoeuvring – the inheritance is about ancestry, about playing within the rules of the family structure to obtain it. There are two things I cannot forgive: that Kyouya used outsiders, and that in his place I would have given you up. Take this shugi-bukuro – it's my last gift to you, little brother, and you too, Kaoru-kun. I hope that you have a happy and lasting relationship, though I acknowledge neither of you as family from henceforth."

"But – !"

Kyouya accepts the envelope with both hands and thanks his eldest brother.

"But Kyouya-senpai protected the inheritance by – "

Kaoru's fingers are squeezed lightly.

"Fuyumi," Ootori-sama directs.

She smiles, grief-stricken. "I accept them all."

"Thank you," Kaoru whispers.

"Subject to Father's decision, if I can stay in touch with you, I will, Kyouya."

Kyouya bows to her – she was always the one that they'd counted on when planning their coup.

Ootori-sama glances at his third child. Hikaru knows that Kaoru spent a lot of time evading Akito-san, and amongst their group the consensus seems to be that Akito-san is irritable and envious of Kyouya... very unlikely to support this relationship, especially after the fiasco.

Akito-san smiles broadly at Kaoru, visibly amused. Dubious, Kaoru draws back somewhat.

"I didn't know you had such a huge weakness, Kyouya."

Before Kyouya can say anything, Kaoru protests, "I never wanted to be his weakness! I wanted to be his strength!"

Akito-san blinks, then rolls his eyes. "Also subject to your decision, Father, I accept all of Kyouya's requests."

Evidently nobody had seen it coming, not even Kyouya – seven ex-hosts and three servants gawk at him.

"I blame you for everything that's happened," Akito-san says flatly, "not Kaoru-kun. I really thought you were profiting at the expense of your family but maybe we can all benefit if you are sincere about using Refzip in the Ootori name. I still don't forgive you for being arrogant, but Kaoru-kun is fine. It's not like the Hitachiins are a lesser family than the Hayashidas – those Hayashidas think they're the best – it's just that the Hitachiins' areas of expertise don't exactly match up with ours. If Kaoru-kun was a shipping and air freight heir, it wouldn't have been a big problem to have him as a member of our family, I think, even if you can't marry. I don't think it's right to have Kyouya become a Hitachiin like the name is some form of condemnation rather than a privilege – now that we've turned the Hayashidas down, we should work on validating our choices and not discrediting them."

"Akito-san!" Kaoru squeaks. "Thank you!"

"I just like the fact that you take Kyouya down several notches," Akito-san blatantly admits, and Kyouya actually smiles with less inherent villainy than usual. "Or he would still be going ahead like he thinks he's a god instead of actually asking us for anything. Kyouya, since you think you can do everything, if you're really angry about what the Hayashidas said, you should take over their businesses. Then you can show them that you don't need a shipping and air freight heir, or you can make Kaoru-kun one, and maybe then Father will say yes if he doesn't accept Kaoru-kun today."

"Akito-san…" Tears well up in Hikaru's daft brother's eyes, and Akito-san is mildly alarmed, raising both hands to mollify Kaoru.

"I see," Ootori-sama says knowingly. "Yes, Akito is right – was that why you rushed back? Did you foresee that my son would use aggressive political tactics to coerce us into putting up with his unilateral arrangements despite being the one in the wrong? If you did, I gather you must know very well Kyouya's similarity to us – to me. Tell me, Kaoru-kun: did you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Kyouya would fail to convince me? Did you figure out why, and thus rushed back with all haste?"

"I – " Kaoru bites his bottom lip. "I came back because I couldn't leave Kyouya-senpai if he was going to lose his family."

"Liar," Kyouya says right away, quietly exultant. "Tell my father the truth. I've figured it out too, how very ironic. Don't worry about protecting me – I think this will illustrate to my family why you complement me ideally."

Kaoru smiles self-consciously at him. He reveals, "The first fight Kyouya-senpai and I had was actually because I apologised to him in an attempt to avoid a fight – Kyouya-senpai said that the apology was worthless and he didn't accept it. Initially I didn't understand why, then I realised that my apology did not give him any power to decide what happens next and didn't indicate any willingness on my part to give way to him; it was really a method to continue controlling Kyouya-senpai and our relationship. Kyouya-senpai has acknowledged that it is his fault but he's still overriding your will and doing what he wants, which is essentially another snub – already we have bypassed consulting Ootori-sama on breaking Kyouya-senpai's engagement with Hayashida-san. Ootori-sama's children all resemble you very closely in some aspects, and I thought Kyouya-senpai would play hardball as he has the upper hand and it wouldn't make sense for senpai to put me in Ootori-sama's power. You would clash precisely because your natures are the same, and nobody would ditch their pride to save this family… in the end, this problem was created by Kyouya-senpai and I, so I had to come back to apologise to Ootori-sama and your family."

"Hmm. Following from that premise, you must have known that unless you came back to put yourself in my power, anything that Kyouya does will be an act of defiance."

"… Yes, Ootori-sama," Kaoru confesses hesitantly, "and only by returning to Ootori-sama your parental authority over our relationship will Kyouya-senpai have the slightest chance of remaining a part of your family."

After a moment, Ootori-sama turns to Kyouya. "Kaoru-kun is here to request leniency; at no point of time did Hayashida Erisa depart from an attacking strategy or deign to assume an abased position. I did wonder about the dynamics of a marriage relationship between you and her. On paper you are highly compatible, yet when I met her I noticed a certain…"

"Rigidity," Kyouya supplies promptly.

"Yes, an unyielding personality not unlike yours, and though her combativeness serves her well in the business arena, I reflected upon the possibility that you might need a life partner who is more pliable in order that the marriage will not be an unremitting battle, but it is easier said than done to find a person who possesses comparable acumen. Despite duplicating your skill set, the pros may well have outweighed the cons if Hayashida Erisa works towards the same goal as you and leaves all other concerns to the side."

"If I may, Father," Yuuichi-san says, "I believe Hayashida-san has conclusively proven that she is poor at handling Kyouya. Kyouya himself has demonstrated an identical deficiency in his exchange with us earlier – he would not have begged unless Kaoru-kun did so first, even if begging is the sole solution to make amends."

"It isn't a deficiency!" Kaoru objects. "It's merely a course of action adopted by – "

"Kaoru-kun, your devotion to Kyouya is admirable but unnecessary. Of course I may speak only for my family and the servants when I say that we are familiar with Kyouya's character; however tonight's events have attested to the fact that everyone currently present is equally well-versed."

"Nonetheless it isn't a deficiency! Hayashida-san was militant in a situation where she was outmatched while Kyouya-senpai was in the ascendency! This means that the decisions to retreat have different values attached – for Hayashida-san, it cuts her losses; for Kyouya-senpai, it highlights Yuuichi-san's and your family's importance to senpai! Unless Kyouya-senpai has the ability to walk away, you don't know if he will choose to stay, and right now senpai is choosing! Ootori-sama, please, have mercy!"

Again Ootori-sama bores a hole through Kaoru, dissecting him like a science experiment. Kaoru is striking a wonderful balance of meeting his eyes without being belligerent, and how he manages to keep from squirming is beyond Hikaru. Who knew his twin excelled at this unstoppable-force-meets-immovable-rock form of conflict?

At long last, Ootori-sama concedes, "I was going to cast him off, Kaoru-kun; your conjectures are not incorrect. I would have refused any and all of his requests as well. However much I prize my children's competency and resourcefulness, they are worse than useless if not applied to the welfare of this family as a whole, and cancerous tumours must be cut off to prevent further growth and spreading."

Oooh… Hikaru makes a face. That must have hurt, to have his father refer to him as some malignant disease.

Kyouya's expression doesn't change, Kaoru's goes to pieces.

"But, as you have extended to me the courtesy of letting me have my say, I will repay you in kind," Ootori-sama throws them for a loop. "The Hayashidas approached me to arrange for this match – although I was already aware that it was mutually beneficial and was prepared to agree, Hayashida Erisa promoted herself most extraordinarily. As I gave her the opportunity, so I will offer it to you: tell me how you will be an asset to my family."

"Seriously?!" Hikaru exclaims amidst the excited, incredulous gasps of his friends. Kyouya himself appears paralysed with shock, hunched over with his hands flat on the tatami mats like he hadn't thought this possible in his wackiest dreams.

"Thank you, Ootori-sama! This is more than I could have asked for!"

"Nothing is set in concrete yet, Kaoru-kun."

And then Kaoru does something to blow them all away.

"Hotta!"

"Y-Yes, Kaoru-sama!" He scrambles forward with the tablet that Hikaru only just realises he'd been holding all along.

"Kyouya-senpai, sorry – I saw your iPad in the car and borrowed it," Deftly, Kaoru enters the password to unlock it and clambers to Ootori-sama's feet to display the screen to him. "Ootori-sama, this is the electronic transcript of my results from design school over the past four years. As you can see, I topped every one of my subjects and graduated first in my level despite having twice the course load as my peers by undertaking two degrees simultaneously."

"Two?" Akito-san asks, inching towards his father to read over his shoulder. "Weren't you a fashion student?"

"And an interior designer," Hikaru choruses along with four other voices.

"Yes, Akito-san. As Ootori Group provides broad-spectrum services related to healthcare, there are several ways I can contribute. Firstly, as a designer in one of the foremost fashion houses of the world, out of our group I have the strongest connections to the popular media, the global A-listers and various celebrities – over the past years many of them have agreed to take part in advertising campaigns so long as I am involved in it, and I have all the industry connections to run Ootori Group's advertising, marketing and PR departments at a week's notice. I have introduced my friends to the recreational facilities run by Ootori Group and they have informed me that even though they enjoy their privacy at these resorts, they are willing to work with me to boost the profile of Ootori Group as a provider of exclusive, desirable status-symbol holidays to influence the perception of the mass media."

Kaoru flicks the screen with his fingers, not pausing in his sales pitch. "Secondly, I have been collecting a list of names of world-famous, top-of-their-trade fitness trainers, yoga and Pilates instructors, chefs, nutritionists, dietitians, cosmetic surgeons, dermatologists and beauticians who will throw their lot in with me at my asking, and they too have expressed willingness to join Ootori Group if need be, which will make Ootori Group the uncontested hub for the highest quality beauty services."

Fucking hell. Hikaru hadn't known that was why Kaoru has been schmoozing like mad with the elites and media darlings, proposing to make clothing for them that basically ruined his own health just to earn their favour.

"Thirdly, my degree in interior architecture and design is a double major in healthcare, as well as in hospitality and recreation – I have been gaining extensive practical work experience in these firms, which include the firm that designed the Ootori hospital in Nagoya and also the one that designed the tropical paradise in Tokyo. Higuchi-sensei, Ihara-sensei and Makino-sensei are my mentors; all three of them are Ootori-sama's longtime acquaintances and they have assured me that they will personally give Ootori-sama feedback about my aptitude in designing hospitals, restorative gardens, medical offices, specialist facilities, dentist offices, psychiatric facilities, laboratories, health clubs and spas."

"It is all very well to have breadth, Kaoru-kun," Ootori-sama says, "but do you have depth?"

"Yes! Yes, he does, Ootori-sama!"

Kaoru turns to smile gratefully at them, his supporting cast.

"Kaoru was the designer responsible for the Heartsease Garden, Father," Kyouya says meaningfully. "Ihara-sensei submitted the draft in his name at Kaoru's request, and you approved Kaoru's design even when Kaoru had been only a second-year student. You complimented Ihara-sensei for the elegance of the flower arrangements and the innovative use of space, and within a year Yuuichi-niisan mentioned that it had become the most popular garden amongst the patients."

"My brother's talent is very translatable, Ootori-sama!" Hikaru adds eagerly. "He has an amazing eye for art and his grasp of the design principles is so strong that he can pick up the aesthetic of new sub-specialties within two months and hit the ground running to develop specific technical knowledge! He's been juggling these three areas but his work is uniformly outstanding!"

All of the ex-hosts sans Kaoru give him a confounded look.

"… Three?" Haruhi asks.

Hikaru sighs, exasperated and loving. "Idiot enrolled in an architecture degree a year ago – got accreditation to finish the five-year B. Arch in four years."

Kyouya stares at Kaoru, eyes unfathomable like a starless night.

"Four," Kaoru says softly.

"That's what I said."

"No, four areas." Taking out his phone from his pocket, Kaoru brings up the information he wants. "Because I knew that Ootori-sama could always ask for tenders from many more acclaimed designers than me, so: fourthly, Ootori-sama, I am the founder and head of the informal team known as Code Iatrogenesis."

Neither Hikaru nor the hosts know what the flying fuck Kaoru is talking about, but all the Ootoris jolt with recognition so it must be something big and damn it is satisfying for Hikaru to watch his twin be the showstopper that Hikaru always knew he had the potential to be.

Kaoru hands his phone over to Ootori-sama, who inspects something on it with undisguised interest; Yuuichi-san and Akito-san are sandwiching their father to check it out.

"What?" Tamaki directs to Kaoru or Kyouya. "What's this team about?"

Kyouya is laughing quietly, apparently – pleasantly? – astounded and rendered speechless.

"Kaoru-kun, is this technology ready?" Akito-san asks enthusiastically.

"Nearly there," Kaoru replies with a muted glimmer of pride. "It's in its last stage of testing and Doctor Nomiya estimates that they will need another three months to be sure. I was going to show it to Kyouya-senpai for his birthday."

"Doctor Nomiya is with you?!"

"Ah… I see, I see." Fuyumi-san nods. "So that's why Kaoru-kun was asking me about Doctor Nomiya."

Hikaru and Haruhi exchange looks. "Can somebody explain, please?"

Fuyumi-san takes pity on them. "Code Iatrogenesis is a loose organisation of expert professionals developing cutting-edge medical technology."

"They're very obscure, shrouded in mystery! It's difficult to know for sure who their members are because they aren't an official organisation and are not incorporated – it's like they're working on an ad hoc basis and nobody knows who is coordinating their efforts, yet they've been churning out some of the most advanced technology in the past two years, like streamlined patient management software and comprehensive medical information systems for research purposes," Akito-san furnishes them with details. "How did you get Doctor Nomiya to work with you? She insisted on retiring even when we offered to give her a large pay rise."

"Sorry," Kaoru chuckles feebly, "I wasn't trying to be mysterious – I just couldn't let it be found out that I took a good part of my father's top personnel to focus on producing technology and software for the healthcare industry, otherwise I would have to answer questions about my sudden absorption in that field. I rounded up some of the best engineers, computer programmers and doctors I could find to create a team that could intensively research medical technology, such as pioneering 3D imaging and other visualisation software – that short video and its attached PDF document that you just saw, Ootori-sama, shows Doctor Asari – ah, those are his hands – manipulating the 3D model of a patient's brain to zoom in on the blood clot."

"How many of our doctors have you stolen?!"

"Only the retired ones!" Kaoru retorts defensively.

"The retired ones are the best ones!"

"That's why I needed their knowledge and experience! I went on my knees to beg Doctor Nomiya, of course – she turned me down at first, about nine times actually, and it was only when I found out about her background and decided to tell her the truth about Kyouya-senpai that she agreed to help. Fuyumi-san said that Doctor Nomiya's parents forbade her from marrying Doctor Asari when they were younger because Doctor Asari was from a poor, low-class family with a single father who was constantly drunk – and by the time Doctor Asari fought and struggled through medical school, Doctor Nomiya's parents already made her marry someone else. Anyway, they've obviously never forgotten each other since high school if Doctor Asari pursued her all the way to the same hospital, so it's not really very weird that they want to work together past retirement, is it?"

"Yes, yes, very good, Kaoru-kun," Fuyumi-san says. "I always thought they were working all the time because their real love was in the workplace and not at home."

"They practically live in the lab now," Kaoru confirms with a tiny snigger. "The rest of us have been trying to get Doctor Asari to propose since Doctor Nomiya became widowed."

"Oh, good! Keep me updated, Kaoru-kun."

"I will. Ootori-sama, I am the sole heir of my father's software business, excluding Hikaru and Ageha who will be inheriting my grandparents' businesses – this is the arrangement that my family has settled on. I enjoy the work that I do with Code Iatrogenesis and we will continue to invent and improve relevant technologies that will have a powerful impact on the practice of medicine and enable your family to be the principal authority. I know that the financial advantage of subsidised export is massive and I… I honestly don't know if I can match th – "

"Kaoru."

"No, it's okay, senpai, I know I'm not doing a very good job of selling myself, I'm sorry. Even before I started, I knew Hayashida-san would outtalk me. It's not the sort of person I am – I design and create something beautiful, Ootori-sama, and usually let it speak for itself. On the rare occasions that it needs to be actively promoted, either Hikaru or Kyouya-senpai does it for me. I have no real edge over Hayashida Erisa – if anything, I start at a severe disadvantage because I cannot give you grandchildren and we all know it. Only… even if everyone else thinks that your family doesn't really care about these things – speaking to Ootori-sama as a parent, and to Yuuichi-san, Fuyumi-san and Akito-san as elder siblings, you would only have gotten angry just now if you were hurt at the thought that Kyouya-senpai betrayed and disrespected you, and that in turn indicates that you believed Kyouya-senpai was loyal to you and respected you. After all, Kyouya-senpai is the youngest and he must have been doted on by all of you before he was capable of remembering it… The past four years of my life were the happiest but probably also the worst… so many, many times I thought of leaving; so many, many times I asked myself why I didn't… my grandmother was actually the very first person to know because she worked it out herself, and she told me to properly consider if Kyouya-senpai was worth it… that's why I – that's how I know that this person whom you love is worth everything and anything to me, and I couldn't leave him if I tried."

… Okay, Hikaru will admit that he's trying not to give in to the hot sensation at the back of his eyes. He wants all of Kaoru's dreams to come true, but he doesn't think he's ever wanted this badly – never felt like his whole being will rip apart if this wish is not granted. The hilarious thing is that Tamaki, Honey, Fuyumi-san and Kyouya's team are openly weeping when Kyouya and Kaoru themselves are not – in fact, in this moment they are the bravest that Hikaru has known either of them to be, love without reservations, love that knows no end.

Ootori-sama doesn't say anything for a long, long time, tormenting them with the silence.

Finally, Yuuichi-san clears his throat. "Father, I take it back. I am willing to accept Kaoru-kun as a member of this family if you are."

Kaoru snaps his head up, looking like a ten-day corpse – everyone gapes at Yuuichi-san – except Kyouya, who is glazed over and seems fixated on the weave of the mats.

"Akito and I can easily work with the resources that Kaoru-kun has at his disposal, especially as Kaoru-kun has made a concerted effort to align those resources with our needs. We often have ongoing construction and renovation projects – in a decade's time when the current office towers beside the hospital will be in need of an upgrade, I've been wondering about building an ambitious, iconic structure to redefine the cityscape and its skyline, on par with buildings such as the Burj Khalifa, Westminster Palace or the Petronas Towers that immediately call to mind a particular city – in our case, Tokyo – to entrench our family in the public consciousness."

"Yes!" the supporting cast almost screams out, taut with prolonged tension. "Yes, Kaoru/Kao-chan will definitely be able to do that one day! Definitely!"

So close! So close, please!

"Kyouya," Ootori-sama asks, "Were you going to marry Kaoru-kun in the US?"

Today is a day of miracles. It must be. Kyouya, of all people, actually misses a beat – when his father called him, he hadn't caught the question and needed his sister to repeat it for him.

"Yes – yes, I was going to – I am."

Hikaru thinks his senior desperately wants to pinch himself, to know that this isn't a pipe dream born out of sheer fool's hope.

"Postpone it," Ootori-sama decrees, "until after Kaoru-kun's graduation – I will withhold my judgement until that time. That is three more years of study, Kaoru-kun – plus I will give you a year to accomplish all that you can. If you want to become my son-in-law, you will have to adhere to my standards. Forward every single one of your academic transcripts and portfolios to me by the end of this week, as well as the names of your mentors with whom I am unacquainted. From henceforth, I will closely monitor your school results, career choices and trajectory. Further, you will begin to work with Yuuichi and Akito to show me the extent of your skill and adaptability; Akito, arrange for Kaoru-kun to join every department that he listed earlier and any others as you deem fit; Yuuichi, arrange to meet the members of Code Iatrogenesis and work on a plan to integrate Kaoru-kun's software sector with ours. Fuyumi, you mentioned that you wanted to redo the front garden and prepare a nursery room – Kaoru-kun will be your designer. As for you, Kyouya, whether or not I accept Kaoru-kun, you will not be inheriting the family business. I presume you will have to fly to the US regardless to finalise your appointment? As you have begun to walk this path, do your best with your friends to uphold the family name while Kaoru-kun finishes his degree. In four years' time, I will reassess Kaoru-kun and if he passes, if you should still wish to marry him, I will be there at your wedding. Is this fair?"

"More than fair!" all of them cheer. Despite feeling rather sorry for his brother, Hikaru knows that this is a fighting chance they hadn't even dared to imagine, and Kyouya has paid with his inheritance while Kaoru has paid and will likely be paying in blood, sweat and tears – they've lessened the price of their wish by undertaking to protect Kyouya's family's interests, by both discarding their prides to beg and this might just be enough, it might be enough to buy a happy ending –

God, they made the impossible happen.

Kaoru slaps a hand over his mouth, weak with delight and relief.

The bunch of them run to their friends (or brother and friend), yelling and bouncing in exhilaration as the four Ootoris take their leave – Kaoru and Kyouya must have been kneeling for more than an hour by this point, not having risen at all, yet they're frozen there, too stunned and numb to move.

When the Ootoris are out of earshot and Hikaru strives to hoist his rag doll brother up, Kaoru chokes out in the wobbliest voice, "I couldn't even stand, I was so scared."

Hikaru was going to go all jokey-jokey, "Was that why?!" on his brother, the others are also looking at him with their jaws hanging by a thread –

Kaoru begins sobbing in earnest.

He hasn't bawled like this since he was a child, overflowing with pain and keening with loss, unable to stop himself from being utterly shredded by the maelstrom of emotions that is the wellspring of his ethereal and transcendent art, gasping in a way that breaks Hikaru's heart and never fails to make him cry too.

Oh, he must have been – this entire thing must have been so –

"K-Kaoru…" he whimpers, hating to see his twin like this. It's because Kaoru always puts a lid on his strongest feelings, like a Pandora's Box that he fills with all of the evil that has been done to him in order not to hurt his world, and to release it is to experience all of the feelings at the same time with apocalyptic force.

It's bloodcurdling, this much raw anguish, and knowing that they were the ones who did this to him…

Everyone is aghast – only Hikaru has ever witnessed this – and branded by their shame; all of them had embarked on this to make Kaoru happy, with the unwavering belief that as long as they could succeed in getting him to vamoose from here and skip town with Kyouya, that they and Kyouya would take on the task of healing the wounds and make him glad and conceal from him the things that had been surrendered for him behind his back, only to discover that at the end of the day, the bottom line is that Kaoru has and always will absolutely wipe the floor with them in terms of self-sacrifice and like Kyouya said, there is just no comparison.

It wakes Kyouya from his trance and propels him to action.

Like déjà vu, now it is their über cool ex-vice-president with the half-crazed eyes and the infinite manic longing, and Kyouya skids across the mats to crush Kaoru in an embrace, to hold him until he simmers down by himself because there is no other way to dam such a tide.

Contrite and looking more ancient than they have a numerical right to be, Honey and Mori are brandishing handkerchiefs and tissues at Kaoru – Honey is intermittently using a portion of those tissues for himself and Mori's eyes are wet though the droplets have not leaked out. Haruhi lays her head against Tamaki's upper arm and smiles through her tears, Tamaki is decidedly annihilated from recent events and so is Hikaru – he's grasping his brother's hand helplessly and hiccupping uncontrollably.

They watch as Kaoru trembles like a leaf; Hikaru doesn't know if part of that convulsive shivering is Kyouya's – Kyouya had buried his face in the crook of his lover's neck and has not produced a sound.

When Kaoru exhausts himself and is wilted against Kyouya droopingly, the rest of them have also more or less regained some manner of equilibrium… except maybe Kyouya, whose white-knuckled fingers remain clenched tightly in Kaoru's shirt and hair as though he physically can't let go, and in his stillness there are volumes untold. It takes a while for Kaoru to be lucid enough to realise that Kyouya is in a supremely bad state and he returns the hug, returns the favour and their roles swap with a fluid naturalness that's to die for.

And, proving that he's made of sterner stuff, that he can survive and endure, that he really can be someone's strength –

Life gradually creeps back into that pair of amber eyes peeking at Hikaru over the top of Kyouya's shoulder. They take on a vivid golden lustre, happier and happier to the point of ecstasy.

A burst of laughter rings out.

"We did it!" Kaoru squeals. "We did it we did it we actually did it! Ahh! I can't believe it! We actually did it!"

Laughing their heads off with him, Hikaru, Honey and Tamaki pump their fists into the air and everyone is rowdy again, reveling in this singularly blessed moment. "Yaaaay!"

"I love you so much, all of you, thank you!"

"We love you too, Kao-chan/Kaoru!" and they all clump together in a spectacular group cuddle that dispels the bitterness of the previous one in the rock garden.

Poor Kyouya separates from Kaoru when the group pulls away – yes, they seized that invitation to try to comfort Kyouya – ruffling his hair (Mori), planting a kiss on his cheek (Honey), hugging him (Tamaki and Hikaru), touching his arm encouragingly (Haruhi)… he's slightly dazed by the enormity of it all and it's funny because the idea had been to put this expression on Kaoru.

"We did it, Kyouya." Kaoru smiles at him, magical and hypnotic.


Next: Chapter 6: Fairy Tale Romance
Previous: Chapter 4: Checkmate
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