The Only Constant is Change

It's Haruhi, Kaoru, and Hikaru's final year at Ouran. Dynamics are changing and evolving... What will happen to the Host Club Members?

Author's Note: This story takes place about 8 months after the events in A Faire Shot at Mythology. It can be read as a stand alone, but it references events and items from that piece as well. If you are reading my work for the 1st time, I would humbly suggest reading my other stories The Game and A Faire Shot at Mythology before reading this to completely understand some of the relationship dynamics that I use. I promise that if you like this style of writing you will like those too. =)

http://archiveofourown.org/works/681492/chapters/1250078

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43. Testing

Haruhi was fourth in a line of twenty, a fabric number 93 pinned to her back. She was not only the youngest competitor but also the only female, just as Takashi and Hani had warned her. Thanks to that warning she was half-expecting the comments and the trash talk kept just low enough that the judges couldn’t hear. She tried to ignore it but noted who was making the comments. However, one comment in particular made her clench her fists to keep her calm. It had come from a man in his late 20’s wearing number 142 who was standing a few places behind her. That would be Hiro Nakashimi if I remember the line-up order correctly.

“What did I tell ya,” Hiro sneered, “the little slut won’t even speak up for herself. She must be good in bed or something, because it sure ain’t her looks that get her here. Everyone knows women just can’t handle the pressure of true mastery.”

Taking a deep breath and physically relaxing her hands, Haruhi drew on the calm she and Takashi had just worked toward. “Actually it was my skill, as I assume applies to all of you as well. Unless of course, you actually did sleep your way into this testing… it obviously wasn’t your brain.”

Hiro started to rush her, but a couple of the other students held him back. The held him in place while he fumed and glared at her. Haruhi deliberately turned her back on him and faced the front of the line again.

The man wearing number 78 and standing in front of Haruhi gave her a wink. “I’m Kaziki Blake. Nice come back by the way.”

Haruhi smiled, “Thanks.” She noted the British accent and tiger emblem on his gi. “Are you from Master Fujimia’s school?”

“Yes. Sakura is my second cousin on my mother’s side of the family. She can kick my butt up one side and down the other, and she pretty much always could.” He grinned, “Personally, I am thrilled that the Council was persuaded to let you test. I hope it opens the way for her and my youngest sister.”

“I just met Sakura today and if anyone deserves it, it is her. I hope this gamble works.”

“I have only met Takashi Morinozuka and Mitskune Haninozuka a few times, but they are living legends among the younger crowd. I can only imagine that the student they would choose to teach would be someone unusual and extraordinary.” He winked again, “Since despite their family lineage they are rather non-traditional.”

Haruhi laughed, “Non-traditional about sums it up. Though from what I understand about the family lines, their non-tradition seems to be their tradition, if that makes sense.”

“That’s a great way to put it,” Kaziki laughed back.

An announcer’s voice echoed over the PA system - spoken first in Japanese then translated to French and English. It was a greeting to the audience and introduction of the students testing. At its conclusion, the line started moving towards the mats.

“Good luck,” Kaziki whispered as they started to move.

“You too!” Haruhi answered with a smile, before plastering a neutral expression on her face as she stepped out into the arena for the first time. Oh…wow… Haruhi glanced up to see thousands of people packing the grandstands. I didn’t realize how BIG this actually is. Panic started to claw its way up her throat until she looked forward and was caught by the sight of all of her friends, yelling and cheering wildly in the front rows, as close as they could get without being in the actual testing area. Without thinking her eyes sought out Kyouya and Hikaru. Kyouya’s eyes locked first and she felt the electric connection she always felt across the room and remembered his parting words outside – Change the World. It jolted her back into control. She then met Hikaru’s eyes and he blew a kiss at her with a wink. She felt a grin start to form and then had to quickly bite her lip to hide it when she saw Tamaki flash the sign he had made earlier, trying to keep it out of Kyouya’s line of sight. Renge and Kaoru were also cheering as loudly as they could. I have awesome friends. She reached her assigned place on the mats. She was the last person in the front row, but she knew that even if she had been in the middle of the pack, all eyes still would have been on her. Standing at attention, she glanced over to where Takashi and Hani were standing next to Master Zhi. They appeared to be in an intense discussion and neither of her sensei’s looked pleased. Something else must have come up with the Council and the testing process. I can’t ask, but I have a feeling I will find out soon enough.

Finally nodding their head in acceptance if not agreement, Hani and Mori took their places in the section reserved for Masters with students testing. Hani was livid and trying hard not to show it while Takashi had retreated into his stoic blank face. Master Zhi looked determined.

In front of Haruhi, five gentlemen ranging in age from mid-sixties to late eighties took their places on a raised platform. All carried themselves with an air that demanded respect. Those must be the judges.

The man in the middle spoke into a microphone, “Welcome students. You are here to show your proficiency in the traditional arts of aikido and kendo and to attempt to earn your first level mastery. If you succeed, you will have earned the right to continue with your study and may in time become a member of this Council.” He paused and took a breath, “This year the council has decided to alter the requirements for achieving Mastery. You will be required to show the progression of your skill and your knowledge of its use.”

The crowd erupted into excited whispers and murmuring. Behind her, Haruhi could hear several of the other students inhale quickly in a gasp, though she maintained her blank face at the announcement. I already knew about the progression of skills and I figured something else was up just by the look on Hani and Takashi’s faces.

Clearing his throat to demand silence again, the judge continued, “Therefore, first you will need to demonstrate each of the previous testing routines that you have completed. If you pass that portion, you will demonstrate your sparring capability. Each remaining student will be paired with a fifth level Master and will spar against another pairing. Only the winning student from each pairing will achieve their first level mastery at this time.” A chorus of gasps echoed through the arena. “To make the testing fair, no student will be paired with their Sensei.”

So that’s their plan to knock me out of the competition in a way that appears coincidental. Haruhi fumed. They can’t know that I have been practicing the progression every time, but just in case I succeed in their first test, they intend for me to lose when partnered with an unfamiliar partner. I bet they won’t tell us who we will be partnered with until the time comes just to unbalance us further. Haruhi looked up and met Takashi eyes. She let her determination shine through and was met with an answering nod from him and a grin from Hani.

Very subtly, Hani stared at her before letting his eyes slide over to Master Zhi. He gave her a wink after.

So that’s what the deep discussion the three of them were in was about. If I pass the first test, Zhi must have requested that he be my partner for the second. That’s a relief. Even though I have never fought with him or seen him in action, I trust him, and that’s going to be the deciding factor.Snapping back into attention, she heard the judge conclude his speech.

“Those students that are not successful today may petition the council to test again next year. That is all. Good Luck. At the gong you may begin.” With that he placed his hand in his fist and nodded to the students, who automatically bowed in return, and gestured to a man standing near a brass shield to sound the tone.

As the last echoes of the gong faded, Haruhi started the first of her seven katas, letting their rhythm flow into her and shut out the rest of the competitors.
 

 

********************

Kyouya heard the judge’s speech and fury washed over him. “They are trying to make it so Haruhi won’t earn her title. What do you want to bet that if she doesn’t make it today, her petition to the council to retest would never be accepted.”

Hikaru heard the fury in his lover’s voice and covertly slipped his hand down to link with his. Quietly he said, “Look at Hani and Takashi. They are annoyed but still calm. They still think she will succeed. We can’t do anything less.” He squeezed the hand.

Kyouya felt the pressure in his hand and let its support help him calm. After taking a deep breath, he smiled and said, “Who are you and what have you done with Hikaru? Normally, I am the calm one and you are the one ready to blow up.”

Hikaru’s grin held malicious intent behind it. “Oh trust me lover, if I could find a way to get back at those misguided idiots, I would, but I have no influence and no control there. If the Morinozuka and Haninozuka families couldn’t stop this, nothing could. So instead, I will trust Haruhi. You know she will take this as a personal challenge.”

Kyouya actually smiled at that comment. “You are right. She will… and we all know that she will succeed. It’s not in her to fail since she thinks that by doing so she will dishonor her friends.”

“Haruhi will kick ass!” Renge said from a couple of seats over which caused all the guys to grin.

“Something else for the press to chew on…” Kaoru said a hint of worry in his tone.

“I have been wondering about that,” Kyouya said with a sigh. “I am loath to do this, but we may need to break down and do an interview with someone soon. I know we are used to some photographers anywhere we go, but we shouldn’t have gotten much more than a few quick ‘opportunity’ photos at this venue and they are hovering around us nearly as much as the competitors.”

“Yeah that crowd was something else,” Tamaki replied, “but it wasn’t actually surprising considering the social media blast that went out letting the world know we are here and that the mysterious girlfriend of Kyouya Ootori and Hikaru Hitachiin is also a student of the Martial Arts and is the first female allowed to test for her Mastery.” He held up his phone to show the trending topic and a short interview between a reporter and a red-haired woman. Haruhi stood in the background.

“What!” Hikaru cried. “Why didn’t I know about this?”

Kyouya glared at Tamaki. “It just came up on the ride over and I didn’t get a chance to tell you.” He quickly went over everything Takashi and Hani had told him in the car. “So you can see that these last minute changes are just political pressure to keep her from getting it.”

“Which will only make her push harder to succeed,” Tamaki smiled. “We all know she can do the first part with no problem. We have watched her do so. The second part is trickier, but she has teamed up with both Takashi and Hani before so she is familiar with partnering during sparring matches.”

“But that’s been with Taka or Hani – not a stranger,” Kaoru answered.

“Haru wouldn’t let a little thing like an unfamiliar partner stop her. She’s going to be partnered with another Master so she doesn’t have to worry about skill,” Renge responded. “Besides, any active sabotage will be noted and the party will be disqualified, right?”

“That’s the theory at least,” Kyouya replied. “There are still politics behind the scene, but matches are called by completely impartial umpires whose jobs and reputations are on the line if they are ever caught cheating. The biggest obstacle is probably in the Council finding flaws in her routines and using it to disqualify her.”

“Which won’t happen,” Renge gestured at the floor, where Haruhi’s focus and precision could be seen clearly.

“We hope.” Kaoru answered before leaning back to watch the rest of the testing phase.

Sensing the conversation was at an end, the others followed suit.

 

*******************

Haruhi completed the last complicated maneuver and bowed to the judges before assuming an ‘at rest’ pose, sweat dripping down her forehead and between her shoulder blades. In her mind, she ran through every movement, step, punch and kick. I don’t think there were any major mistakes. I know I didn’t miss anything. It actually felt good. I feel good. I am a little tired, but not exhausted. She glanced out the corner of her eye and saw several others still finishing their katas. Most were on their last one, but she could see that they were struggling and their form was suffering. We will see what the judges say, but I am pretty confident in this test thanks to Taka and Hani insisting that I run through everything constantly.

The gong sounded again.

The judge on the end spoke, “Students, you may take your rest. We will reconvene in ten minutes where we will announce those who are moving on to the second test and the Master they will be partnered with. At that time, you will have an additional five minutes to discuss strategy before the matches will begin. Dismissed.”

Haruhi walked off the mat and over to Takashi and Hani. Takashi handed her a towel and water while Hani enveloped her in a hug.

“That was flawless, Haru-chan,” Hani grinned. “You make us proud!”

“Thank you, Sensei!” Haruhi said with a smile. “So based on your expressions, I take it the sparring test was a surprise?”

“Yes,” Takashi said before giving her a quick hug. “They eliminated the demonstration that Mitskune and I were going to do with you and made it so all the students need to demonstrate their sparring skills.”

“And since they want to keep us from showing off, they made it so students cannot partner with their teachers,” Hani continued with a tone of disgust. “Like we would do anything to jeopardize our standings…”

“Master Zhi has claimed you as his partner. This will be a far better thing than I think the judges realize.” Takashi said. “His method of training is similar to the Haninozuka way, since one of the founders of his school once studied with the family for a brief period of time.”

“However, I wouldn’t put it past the Council to try and subtly sabotage you again. Neither you nor Zhi has great height or weight, though Zhi is taller than I am. They will likely put you against the biggest opponents from either the Nakashimi or Kazimera families. Those two families have a long standing grudge against ours,” Hani added with a grin, “We keep beating them in matches and have for the last 200 years.”

“But I am used to partnering with Hani to take you on,” Haruhi responded. “I know size matters some, but ultimately its speed, impact and endurance.”

“Which is exactly why we trained that way, Haru-chan. We wanted to cover all situations.” Hani looked over to see the students lining back up. “Looks like they are ready to announce the next test. Keep your eyes level. Show no emotion. If they don’t pass you, the families will fight it. Your performance was flawless and they know it.”

Straightening, Haruhi took a deep breath, swiped her head once more with a towel and took her place again in line.

Walking back to her place on the mat was easier this time, even though the tension of the crowd was building. She stood at relaxed attention and waited for the judge’s decision.

“Our decision for the first testing is complete. Of the twenty candidates, eight will be given the opportunity to continue the testing process. These numbers are – 26, 78, 57, 93, 103, 110, 127, and 142.”

Haruhi could hear the screaming of her friends as her number was called. Phew! That’s a relief. One stage down… another to go. Though, I am glad that Kaziki also made the cut.

“All other students - please leave the floor now. You will be eligible to test again next year. Thank you,” The judge continued. The four matches will be – Master Aguri Nakashimi and Fumio Chinen against Kaziki Blake and Tadashi Morinozuka, Master Zhi Fujimia and Haruhi Fujioka against Hiro Nakashimi and Master Jun Kazimera, Master Tsuneto Hanikino and Jou Haga against Eiji Maita and Master Ben Haninozuka, and Master Genji Kurata and Niito Okawa and Master Yamato Shinohara. You now have five minutes to meet and prepare. When the next gong sounds you will need to take your place on the mats.”

Zhi immediately came up to Haruhi and handed her the testing sparring gear. “I wanted to come over a bit earlier but didn’t want to give the appearance that I knew something the others didn’t. Your katas were perfect. I wanted to tell you that I was really impressed by that. Mitskune and Takashi really did know what they were doing when they chose you as a student, especially since you came to it much later than some of the others,” He tilted his head toward Hiro Nakashimi.

“Thank you, sir. I know I was extremely fortunate to be chosen by my teachers.”

“Nice, formal answer. I like that,” Zhi grinned. “We have time to get to know each other later as I know my wife is eager to continue the friendship. She keeps muttering about partner yoga, so I may have you and Takashi to thank for getting corralled into learning something new. But as my master once said – knowledge makes you stronger. How are you at partner sparring?”

“I regularly trade off with both Hani and Takashi to take down the other. Occasionally Hani’s younger brother will join us and we will split with Hani and me against Chika and Takashi. We are probably equal in number of matches won.”

“I should have known those two would prepare for this as well. This is really really good. I know that the Nakashimi and Kazimera families focus on the individual not the group, which will mean that there will likely be some strain between the two of them in the beginning. Though watch out. Hiro Nakashimi is incredibly strong and his family creed is that women are meant to serve, not be served. He has no problem hitting a girl.”

“I gathered that from some comments that he made to me earlier before the first test. I am not afraid of being hit and I want to take him down.” The gong sounded.

“Then let’s do this,” Zhi replied with the devil in his smile as he and Haruhi took their places on the mat.

 

********************

Hikaru watched as his girlfriend and some strange Master took on opponents twice their size. He was fascinated by the way that they worked together to corner and tag the other team. Pride evident in his voice, he leaned over and said to Kyouya, “Do you know who she is paired with for this match? She is working almost as well with him as she does with Hani or Takashi.”

“That is Master Zhi Fujimia. They guys were talking about him on the way over. Both of them have the utmost respect for him. From what I understand he likes to shake things up the way Hani and Takashi do. It wouldn’t surprise me if when the second testing was announced that he requested Haruhi. He would have done so out of respect for his friends as much as making sure that she wasn’t paired with someone who would sabotage her.” Kyouya responded, his eyes never leaving the center of area and the mat containing Haruhi, Master Zhi and her two opponents. He never relinquished Hikaru’s hand from the moment Hika had grabbed it earlier and the constant touch was reassuring. He couldn’t let anyone but Hika know how anxious he was for her, they depended on him to be the strong one, but watching his girlfriend taking punches and kicks that he knew would have dropped any of them made his stomach churn. Yes they are wearing standard protective gear, but gear only minimizes the impact it doesn’t stop it. She can still get seriously hurt.

“WOOT!!! Two points to one!! One more point and Haruhi wins the match!!” Tamaki yelled as he jumped up and down in enthusiasm. Down a few seats from him Renge was chanting, “Go Haruhi, Go Haruhi!! Take him down!”

Hikaru and Kaoru both were leaning as far forward as they could, disregarding their normal carefully cultivated blasé façade in excitement. They clenched when they saw Haruhi get hit with a combination that caused her to drop to the floor and earned the opposing team another point. She came up limping slightly. “Come on, you can do it” they chanted together under their breath, willing her to keep going.

On the mat, Haruhi was focused. She ignored the pain ripping through her shoulder and upper thigh where Hiro had managed to connect that kick-punch combo and did a handspring to get to her feet. Meeting Zhi’s eyes, she nodded when he signaled a move that she had only done a few times in practice and only with Takashi. If this works, we win. If it doesn’t, I am open to the attack and the final point.

In sync, they executed a double punch combo, but when they would have normally turned to kick, Haruhi twisted in front of Zhi, bent deep at the knees, and started to jump upwards. As her feet lifted, Zhi grabbed her hips and pushed her higher, giving her the momentum and height that her jump alone couldn’t achieve. At the apex of her jump, Haruhi kicked out with her right leg as Zhi punched with his right fist. The double impact hit Hiro in both the head and chest and knocked him out cold.

“Point to Fujimia and Fujioka. Match won.” The referee’s voice was barely heard over the screaming as several thousand people jumped to their feet.

Haruhi blinked and saw Hiro Nakashimi struggling to get to his feet. Without a word, she walked over and offered her hand. When he ignored her, she turned back to Master Zhi and bowed. He responded in kind with a twinkle in his eyes. Together they turned and bowed to the judges before stepping off the mat.

“That was a brilliant move!” Sakura Fujimia got to the duo first and threw her arms around both of them. “Completely legal and completely unexpected. I just didn’t know you knew it.”

“I watched Hani and Takashi do it once for a demonstration,” Zhi grinned. “I knew that Haruhi was feeling that last combo and was on her last reserves. It was a gamble.”

“More of a gamble then you know,” Haruhi grinned, “I have only done that move a couple of times, since I don’t get enough air with Hani as a boost and too much with Takashi. We pretty much wrote it out of our practice schedule.”

“I think it’s about time we put it back in,” Takashi said with a grin before wrapping his arms around her.

“Definitely,” Hani responded as he hugged her from the other side. All three knew that they couldn’t do anything more than hug, but the joy and desire flowed through all of them equally. Pulling back he said with a grin, “Now… go kiss Kyouya and let him know you aren’t hurt before he faints. He had a death grip on Hikaru’s hand the entire match.”

“But what about the press?” Sakura asked.

“Screw them for the moment. They already know I am dating them and it will deflect interest off of Hani and Takashi. ” Haruhi said and took off running towards the rest of the Host Club.

   
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