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― 馨物語 ―
KAORU MONOGATARI ARC

In Medias Res miniseries, Part II of VI

Title: So Close
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.



SO CLOSE


"The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That's the deal." – C.S. Lewis


When Kaoru hears the name of the client specially requesting for him, he knows what she's here for and his first impulse is to either cry until he is exhausted of tears or run out there and rage at her until everything that is him burns up and leaves only a hollow shell.

It's not her fault, he reminds herself, this marriage is arranged for her as well. She also had no say.

Knowing that he must go out to personally welcome and greet a customer of her status – the name she bears and the name she will bear make her a key figure in Japanese high society – he sends his assistant out to prepare tea and refreshments as he takes a moment to compose himself behind the closed doors of his office.

He can't breathe.

Hikaru's gone out to organise the runway for the show – to inspect the décor, lighting, acoustics, seating, and to confirm that overall construction work is going well within the time frame. There's no other person that Kaoru can send out in place of the company; it would be a grave insult for such a distinguished customer to be met by anyone who's not the boss. Rolling out the red carpet wouldn't be too much ceremony in this situation.

Picking up his sketchbook and a couple of drawing materials, he braces himself, slips a mask on and strides out confidently.

At the reception area, he sees her.

His artist's eyes take her in with a top-to-toe sweep. She is beautiful, slender, aristocratic, with features that give off an impression of shrewd intelligence and a tasteful dress sense. Her pedigree, Kaoru knows, is as flawless as the person she's going to marry. In short, the place beside him was carved for none other than her.

They've met before, briefly, and they need no introduction.

He smiles radiantly, hospitality on full blast. "Hayashida-san, congratulations! If I may be frank, since hearing of your engagement I have been waiting and hoping in my office that you will grace us with your honoured patronage."

She laughs, the sound attractive and charming. "Hitachiin-san, where else could I have gone? Not only is your company the top fashion house in Japan, but my fiancé is your close friend! In my eyes, there is nowhere more fitting than here to commission my wedding gown."

"Exactly, exactly. That is why I was keenly hoping that Hayashida-san would not snub our humble skills." He stretches out an arm gallantly, showing the way to one of their private consulting rooms.

She smiles graciously at him as she thanks him. "Hitachiin-san's skills are not so humble, I think. My fiancé speaks very highly of you – even after marriage, I should find myself unable to compete with his love for his ex-host club friends; all of you have long occupied the lion's share of his heart."

Kaoru feels a twinge of sympathy for her. "Don't say that. He is an honourable man. Though your union may be arranged, he will do right by you, as he has always done right by us."

"Your words are too kind, Hitachiin-san. It's easy to see why he is attached to you. Although, you are mistaken on one small point – I chose him."

Kaoru freezes for the slightest second before pushing the door open and guiding her into the room.

"Oh! I was mistaken! I'm sorry for assuming that it was arranged, Hayashida-san. Please have a seat." He pulls out the chair and holds it for her.

"Yes, he caught my fancy and I requested the match; I was delighted when our fathers were of the same mind! Everything has worked out perfectly."

The assistant pours tea and serves it.

"I'm glad," Kaoru tells her, sitting in the chair opposite. "Not many people are able to live out their fairy tale romance."

"Isn't it," she agrees happily. "Your host club has done all of you credit – every single one of you is absurdly handsome, polite and well-groomed. I must say, he is rather a bit formal – did you know he refuses to call me Erisa despite our engagement? I thought many men are eager to call their future wives by name. Would you call your wife by name, Hitachiin-san?"

"Ah," Kaoru says courteously, "I would if I were given permission to do so."

"Permission!" she giggles. "Hitachiin-san is formal! How unexpected for a maverick designer as Hitachiin-san."

"I just – it would not be appropriate of me otherwise." Kaoru lays the sketchbook on the table.

"I have given my permission," she points out. "Further, I am younger than him – in terms of seniority, there should be no problem with him addressing me by name. After all, he addresses Suou Haruhi-san familiarly. Oh, I know! Hitachiin-san is shy about these things because Hitachiin-san prefers older lovers, does he? All this talk about appropriateness."

Kaoru laughs. "I have no fixed preferences, Hayashida-san. Now, here is what I propose we do: you can tell me any ideas that you have in your mind for a gown – cut, fabrics, patterns, length, anything. You can also describe more generic or abstract concepts to me, for example you can tell me about a theme that you would like, or a particular mood or feeling that you want the dress to have. Alternatively, you can tell me other details of the wedding – the choice of colour and location and flowers. All of these will give me a good picture of what you are aiming for in terms of your gown and I can begin making detailed sketches for your perusal. We will have to ensure that your gown and the groom's tuxedo are compatible as well. When you finally decide on one, we will begin making it to fit your measurements; at every stage we will seek your approval before moving on. Is this acceptable to you?"

"…Oh, hmm, but what if I have no ideas?"

Mildly surprised, Kaoru recovers quickly. "That is uncommon, but it only goes to show what an uncommon lady Hayashida-san is indeed. Many women actually have very specific requests for their gowns – quite a number of them have spent a lot of time designing their dream gown – it makes our job quite easy, really. If Hayashida-san has no ideas, or for the customers who have insufficient ideas for their gown, we have a complete collection of lookbooks for you to flip though and draw inspiration from. As I mentioned earlier, we are able to give advice based on other circumstantial elements of your wedding; in addition, my brother and I are able to design a gown based on how you want to feel in it, or the image you'd like to project."

She leans back in her seat with a gleam in her eyes. "Hitachiin-san is very talented. It takes a true artist to capture emotion and translate it into material form."

"No, no," Kaoru chuckles. "It's a matter of practice too."

"I know what I want," she declares.

"Decisive," he says approvingly. "It is a trait that no doubt serves Hayashida-san well."

"It does."

Kaoru blinks.

"I should like Hitachiin Kaoru-san to design my gown, please."

"Yes, of course. Not to worry, my brother and I have a direct influence over every – "

"No, Hitachiin Kaoru-san alone, if it is possible. The design in its entirety."

Kaoru hesitates. "Hayashida-san, I assure you that my brother is richly talented and his artistic input is often invaluable."

"But I haven't met him."

"That is easily solved. Hikaru and I will – "

"That's quite all right, Hitachiin-san. I think your expertise will suffice."

"Of course," Kaoru capitulates. The customer is always right. "In that case, I will take full responsibility for the design of your gown. What sort of gown would Hayashida-san like to wear on her special day?"

She smiles. "From Hitachiin-san's long acquaintance with my fiancé, Hitachiin-san must know his taste better than I do, no?"

Kaoru smiles back. "Not at all. I wouldn't presume to – "

"At least half of his wardrobe must be selected by you," Hayashida-san estimates. "When I was in his room, I couldn't resist from peeking at his clothes – you know, to see for myself the types of clothes that a host would choose to wear. I noticed that many of them are from your clothing line."

"Our poor friends are constantly being drowned by the clothes we send them," he answers with palpable amusement. "They are walking advertisements, you understand. We don't know if they wear the clothes as a favour to us or if they actually appreciate the aesthetic of the brand."

"Even the clothes that are not of this brand seem to bear your influence," she observes.

"I'm afraid, that is the main drawback to being our friends. Especially with their physiques and striking appearances, they make perfect dress-up dolls."

"But does Hitachiin-san at least know my fiance's preferred 'aesthetic', as you put it?"

"I… daresay."

"Good, that's enough. For my gown, I want it to capture a feeling. Hitachiin-san may use your artistic liberty to design it however you wish, so long as you capture this feeling."

Kaoru nods amenably, beginning to scribble notes down on the sketchbook. "What feeling is this?"

"The feeling of being hopelessly, passionately, utterly in love with my fiancé."

It is difficult to write through the stabbing, suffocating pain in his chest; it's difficult even to grip the pen.

"My, Hayashida-san, this is an excellent feeling to be reflected in a wedding gown. Very devoted."

"Isn't it. Hitachiin-san will probably need to incorporate parts of my fiance's taste into the gown, that is why I asked. I don't want to be in love with any random man – it must be the person that my fiancé is – his likes and dislikes, his character, his future. Is this assignment beyond Hitachiin-san?"

Yes, it is. How can I stay sane designing something like this?

"No, I don't believe it is out of my range, no. I will draft some preliminary designs for you by your next appointment. If you will provide further details to my assistant, we will also liaise with the other wedding planners and organisers to make sure that the gown and tuxedo do not clash with the decorations and fit the purposes of the location."

"How comprehensive, Hitachiin-san, thank you."

Kaoru sees her out, bantering and joking and laughing all the while. The moment her car vanishes down the road, he calmly returns to his office to fall apart behind locked doors.

Fuck, he thinks, shivering in a curled ball on the floor, she knows. Or at least suspects.

It feels unbearably cold in the office – recently Kaoru's always cold – but his legs won't support him to the thermostat. Overwhelmed and foolish, his eyes stay on the written description of the 'feeling' he is supposed to produce in the dress – what a cruel insult, victory stamped on her enemies' foreheads as a reminder of their loss.

Kaoru can't make this dress. He can't take on this commission. He'd already known it, just as he's known he couldn't turn her down. How can he sit there to daydream of the feeling when he needs to get over it? How is he to withstand the onslaught of memories or stand his ground against the crushing heartbreak?

With a whimper, he tucks his head into the arms crossed atop his knees and gives in to bleak despair.


Next: Chapter 3: Endgame Move
Previous: Chapter 1: This Interminable Wait
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