A/N: So, the plan is for this to be a short story that I can add oneshot-type additions to at will. This is just the first chapter, and there will be a second addition coming out within the next few days to complete the first portion. For your sanity, I would suggest thinking of this story as a oneshot and not expecting any additions-although please, do feel free to be excited when they come.
I do have an original novel that I have to be working on, and that does take up more of my have-to-do list than this. That being said, I've grown quite fond of this particular story idea, and, well... reviews are nice. And first drafts of novels don't really give reviews... Enjoy this offering, if you can, and if it stirs any emotion in you as you read, whether that be outrage, delight, or anything in between, please do leave a review. Constructive criticism is appreciated; even a simple "I liked it." makes everything I do worthwhile.
(Last bit, I swear: As of now, this story does not have a beta. I have gone back through and edited to the best of my ability, but if any of you would feel so inclined, drop me a PM, and I will be delighted to talk to you. I'll re-upload the beta'd version whenever it happens.)
The door to Music Room Three creaked open with its usual flair, and six pairs of eyes craned forward to catch a glimpse of their guest. Nothing happened for several long seconds, and Mori wondered if perhaps some stray breeze had blown the door open. It was unlikely, yes, but not any more than whatever over-the-top theory Tamaki would start spewing forth any second...
"A g-ghost!" The Club President's yell broke the silence and Mori held back a quiet sigh, already reaching a reassuring hand up to Mitsukuni's perch on his shoulder.
"Takashi?" His cousin's high, clear voice filtered through the noise generated by the fit Tamaki was still throwing in the background to anyone who would listen.
(-"What if it was Nekozawa, Mommy? I bet he's trying to get rid of me by sending a ghost to attack me! What if it tries to eat me, or steal my beautiful hair?!"
"Tamaki, do not be foolish. There is no ghost, and furthermore, Nekozawa has started his holiday early and gone to Austria with his sister."-)
"What is it, Mitsukuni?" He kept his voice low and soothing, prepared to impress upon his cousin that there was no ghost, and Tamaki was merely overreacting, as usual.
"Shouldn't we go help the kitty?"
Mori's brow creased slightly, but instead of questioning his cousin he scanned the room, quickly finding the object of the smaller boy's focus.
"Aa," He agreed, already in motion. Behind him he just barely registered the fact that Tamaki had finally fallen silent, the significant portion of his attention focused on the pitiful scrap of fur that sat, shivering, just inside the now-closed doors.
He paused several steps before he reached it, kneeling to make himself less of a threat. He let a hint of pride touch his lips as he felt Mitsukuni slide down to a more hidden position on his back. His cousin would normally be obsessing over the cuteness in front of him, but they could both sense the fear and borderline-terror practically leaking from its small frame, and he appreciated the control Mitsukuni was exerting over himself.
"Shh," He murmured as he reached a single hand out to the cat, palm up and fingers slightly curled. It panted, open-mouthed, the whites of its eyes showing all around. One ear lifted with timid slowness, and its muscles shivered as it shifted minutely to bring its tongue into contact with his skin. It gave his fingertip a rough lick, the action seeming to bring it a measure of calm.
With a shuddering breath that shook its entire body, it crept forward the two inches that would bring its head into full contact with his palm.
Mori kept his own breathing carefully regulated, fighting against the urge to hold it in. He used the least amount of pressure possible to smooth a path down its neck, showing the utmost care as he curled his fingers around its ribcage. He tried to find a balance between continuing his slow, soothing motions and gathering the cat to his chest before it could fight against the movement.
It struggled weakly for a few seconds, the protest seeming more for show than anything else, before collapsing against him in a boneless heap. As its body relaxed, its tail followed suit, loosening from the stiff hold it had been in and separating into two distinct strands.
Mori's breath froze in his chest, and he moved one hand to conceal the sight from his fellow hosts. Turning his head, he looked at his cousin, still hanging off his shoulder. Mitsukuni's wide eyes made it clear he had seen the same thing.
Mori cocked an eyebrow and tilted his head toward the door, and Mitsukuni nodded solemnly in reply.
Turning to face the rest of the Host Club, he bent slightly in apology and had just opened his mouth to excuse himself and Mitsukuni when Tamaki and the twins came bounding up, grins wide on their faces.
"A kitty!" Tamaki's piercing exclamation threatened the structural integrity of the glass ornaments on the overly-elaborate Christmas tree in the corner of the room.
The cat dug its head further into the crook of Mori's arm, a subsonic whimper shaking its slight frame.
"Whoa!" Hikaru and Kaoru spoke together. "How did it get in here?"
Tamaki struck a dramatic pose. "Obviously Santa left a present for his favorite Host Club President! Here kitty, come to Daddy! He'll take care of you, and love you, and treat you like a princess-"
While Tamaki had been speaking his hands were reaching out for the cat, and they were finally close enough for it to take notice. Pulling its head up it glared, a gravelly hiss leaving its throat. When even that didn't deter him beyond a slight widening of his eyes, it shot out a paw and slapped at his hand, leaving a blood red trail behind it.
Tamaki sprang back, clutching his injured digits to his chest, a wounded look on his face. Tears sparkled in his eyes but didn't fall, magnifying the already luminous orbs to unnatural levels.
"Bad kitty!" he cried, running back over to Kyouya. "Mommy, that kitty is unnatural and evil! I insist you get rid of it at once!"
Mori felt an entirely inappropriate flash of humor. Tamaki had no idea how close his description had come to the truth, at least in part.
"No way, Tono!" The twins protested in unison, their grins only widening at the cat's action. "This cat is great! We should make it the Club mascot!"
Tamaki let out a horrified gasp. "Absolutely not! As Club President, I forbid it!"
The twins pouted at him for a moment before turning to Kyouya, undaunted by Tamaki's disapproval.
"Ne, what do you think, Kyouya?" Hikaru began.
"Yeah, shouldn't we be able to keep it?" Kaoru joined in.
Kyouya gave a smile, glasses glinting oddly.
"I think," he mused, drawing the word out and seeming to take pleasure in the way both Tamaki and the twins hung on his every word, matching expressions of impatience on their faces.
"I think that we should let Mori-senpai decide, since it does seem to have taken to him rather more than anyone else."
Mori tilted his head almost imperceptibly at Kyouya in thanks, and the other boy nodded back, as cool as ever. On his back he felt Mitsukuni shifting so that one arm was braced against his neck, leaving the other free to reach across Mori's side and calm the creature in the tactile manner they both knew would reach it most easily. Satisfied his cousin was doing his part to keep the nekomata calm, he turned his attention back to the rest of the Host Club.
"Mitsukuni and I will be leaving now. Happy holidays." He took advantage of the dumbstruck expressions on the faces of Tamaki and the twins to make it halfway through the door before they broke free and called after him.
"Now, wait a second," one of the twins started, followed directly after by the other. "You can't just leave! Haruhi hasn't even gotten here yet, and if you and Hani go, that'll leave only half of us here! We can't keep our customers happy with only four of us!"
Their expressions were set with both determination and triumph, obviously sure there was no possible way Mori could argue with their logic. Luckily, he didn't have to. Lifting an eyebrow at Kyouya, he caught the younger boy's nod and bent forward slightly in thanks before continuing on his way out the door, Mitsukuni still clinging to his back and the cat an equally solid presence against his chest.
Haruhi had no idea what was going on. Her whole body felt like it had been turned inside out and pulled along a road full of glass before righting itself with some of the shards still attached. Colors she'd never seen before-and some she thought she had, although they looked rather different now-darted around her vision like flies, erratic and distracting.
She tried to think back to the last thing she could remember correctly, but her memory didn't seem to feel like cooperating, turning anything that might be helpful into half-heard whispers and dark shadows. One tactic failed, she tried another. Opening gummy eyes she looked around herself with cautious anticipation. It was some... large, white-and-gold place, with huge, echoing walls and dangerous-looking angles. She hugged herself closer to the solid corner at her back.
To her right the floor suddenly ended, and she felt an instinctual need to get away from the drop. A long hallway stretched forward in front of her, lined with doors on both sides. After a short struggle she managed to get her feet under her and force them to stay there. Placing one in front of the other she began to stumble down the hall.
Her perceptions seemed skewed, and every time she thought she had gotten the hang of movement something would shift, and she'd be right back to tripping over herself again. Her breathing came in erratic bursts, the stress and exertion combining to drain her shallow reserves of strength.
She moved continually forward, something driving her past each door, an indefinable shift in color when she looked at each one that made it clear it just... wasn't... right... yet. As time wore on her determination began to wane, and she contemplated just laying down and waiting for something to happen to her. Only the core-deep knowledge that that was not a behavior she would accept, that if she wanted something she worked her way steadily toward it, stopped her from giving up.
At last, she came to a door the colors didn't automatically reject. They shifted around it in uncertainty for several seconds before apparently finding something about it they approved of, settling themselves as a warm, star-filled red and a sky blue lined with amethyst ribbons. The relief that her search was over-that it had had a point at all-was almost enough to break her right there. She had wondered sometimes, during the hellish journey, if perhaps she had just been cursed to move forward until her limbs broke and crumbled into dust.
She turned her head, butting against the door once, then twice, some faded understanding of its mechanics insisting that she was missing something important, that she'd never get it open this way, but she refused to listen. Finally, on the third strike, the colors seemed to decide to cooperate, meshing themselves together to flash a deep mahogany that overcame the door's resistance and forced it to open a grudging, bare inch.
It was enough for Haruhi to slip through, although something off about everything tried to catch a place in her mind. She had far more pressing concerns, however, and it slid to the back of her mind like water off of oil.
The minute she lifted her eyes to look around her she wished she hadn't, cringing down in dismay at the colors that were everywhere, brilliant, blinding, and utterly inescapable. The flared out from everything, leaving dazzling imprints in her eyes that refused to dispel and rendered her incapable of seeing anything clearly. Before she could even try to wrap her mind around the disorienting shift a high-pitched cry rang out, rising and falling and shredding through her eardrums like shards of glass. She groaned and bowed her head under the pain, hunching down until her belly touched the floor.
She first sensed the movement with something other than sight, a displacement in the air that flowed dispassionately over and around her. Her first instinct was to recoil away from the large being that had somehow settled itself before her, but its carefully nonthreatening stance and the way the colors danced with warm abandon around it warred against that impulse, leaving her crippled by her own indecision. She flinched when the creature reached out a limb toward her, but it stopped far enough away from her to just tread the line of a possible threat.
A shuddering ache ran through her and she groaned again, her uncertainty manifesting itself as near-physical pain. The colors danced around her, non-voices chiming and mixing with each other until they spoke with one thunder-bright, interwoven voice.
Her tongue flicked out subconsciously, curling around one of the offered digits and the colors pulsed in satisfaction.
She crawled forward, wrapping herself in the warm certainty of :Kin:. She felt a gentle pressure curl around her chest and then everything was shifting and swirling around her and she realized the stability of the ground beneath her had disappeared and she was now being supported entirely by something outside of her control. She put up a token struggle, but was too tired, too glad to finally feel safe, to give much more than that.
The red starfield was the strongest of the colors, leaving some of itself with every other color that touched it. By its side was the sky-filled blue, smaller but with no less strength. Together they both gave off the comfort of :Kin: and :safe:, which she eagerly accepted. She had been frightened for far too long.
Just as she was settling into rest, colors dulling as something deeper than exhaustion pulled at her eyelids, another piercing sound rang out, colors suddenly flaring bright as firecrackers and she whimpered, ribs aching with the pain that rang through her entire body. This time it didn't end, cresting like a wave as sound after sound added to it, finally crashing down over her in a continuous flood. She kept herself as still as she knew how, tiny shivers running over her frame in sets as she struggled to find an end.
At last it came, and she sagged against the red strength supporting her. The blue-edged black of unconsciousness tugged at her and she saw no reason not to succumb. She was so close, and then-two points of violet, reaching closer and closer, until they were too close and her colors cried warning after warning, bell-tones pealing a cry of :notKinnotKinNOT:.
She lifted her head and glared, making as clear a threat as she knew how, and still they reached. She hissed, the sound traveling up from her mouth with a curious type of pain-a good kind of hurt, like stretching a cramped muscle-and when it still showed no sign of stopping, she swiped outward with a paw, extending every muscle to its fullest length. She felt her claws slide through the threat like water, and this time, the pain of its high-pitched yell was tempered by her own satisfaction.
She snuggled back into the starfield, only just registering the continued maelstrom of sound and colors that danced around the corners of her eyes. She couldn't ignore them for long, however, as they once more grew and threatened to overwhelm her. Her breath began to rush out of her chest as quickly as she breathed it in, and black sparks that had nothing to do with colors and everything to do with panic filled her vision.
Just as the crush of sensation grew too much to bear a soothing tide of blue sky washed over everything else, setting itself as a barrier against the storm. Blessed relief grew in its path and she accepted the touch of the sky as it brushed over her head and shoulders, one more distraction from the whirlwind assaulting her senses.
The last thing she remembered before finally falling prey to her exhaustion was a low, crooning rumble marked with the sky's own blue.
:Hush:, it said. :Safe now. Kin close. Sleep.: