Title: Bonus Round (1/3)
Fandom: 咲-Saki/Ouran High School Host Club
Rating: U
Summary: Fresh from their prefectural-level victory, the five ladies of the Ryuumonbuchi High School Mahjong Club have arrived in Tokyo to compete in the national championships. But before they make their debut on the national stage, an afternoon of unparalleled delights awaits them -- courtesy of the Ouran High School Host Club.
Disclaimer: All characters are copyright of their respective owners; I lay claim only to this particular story.
Notes: This story mostly follows anime continuity for both series, with a few references to the manga. Set pre-series for 咲-Saki (during the flashback shown in EP 20), between EP 14 and 15 for Ouran.

For those who may not have seen 咲-Saki, the Ryuumonbuchi girls are one of the teams that the main characters compete against in the prefectural tournament -- this story is set one year before the start of the manga and anime storyline. In this picture, starting from the top and going clockwise, are Ryuumonbuchi Touka, Kunihiro Hajime, Amae Koromo, Inoue Jun, and Sawamura Tomoki.

Per Japanese convention, all names are given in the FamilyName FirstName order.


Bonus Round

Part I

'Thank you for your custom! Please come again!'

As the doors of the family restaurant closed behind them, five teenage girls stepped out into the hazy afternoon sunshine that warmed the streets of Tokyo. In their casual summer clothes, they looked like any other group of friends on a weekend shopping expedition, but their reason for visiting the capital was far more important than anything that could be found in a department store or trendy new boutique.

The Ryuumonbuchi High School Mahjong Club, winners of Nagano Prefecture's high school women's mahjong tournament, were in Tokyo for the 70th Inter High School Mahjong Championships.

Of the 52 schools from across Japan that had won the right to compete in the women's division of the championships, Ryuumonbuchi High School had attracted more than its fair share of attention from the Japanese mahjong community. Their five-person mahjong club -- all of whom were first years, and none of whom had previous national-level experience -- had decisively defeated the powerhouse team from their prefecture's reigning champion, Kazekoshi All Girls' School. Not even Kazekoshi's top players, five strong competitors hand-picked from the dozens of girls in their school's nationally ranked club, had been able to keep the newcomers at bay.

Ryuumonbuchi's unexpected victory sparked a heated debate in the online forums and chat rooms frequented by mahjong amateurs and pros alike. Some argued that Kazekoshi's coach was ultimately responsible for her team's poor performance. Others suggested that Kazekoshi's players had become overconfident after their club's long winning streak, and foolishly underestimated the threat posed by the less-experienced Ryuumonbuchi. But those who studied the play records claimed that Ryuumonbuchi had done more than simply take advantage of the other teams' mistakes: the final scores showed that they had targeted their opponents with ruthless precision, well beyond what one might expect from a club of first-time players from an exclusive but mostly unknown private high school. Speculation led to gossip and gossip led to rumours, and before long a handful of forum posters were swearing that they knew for a fact that one of the Ryuumonbuchi girls belonged to a powerful yakuza family, and was used to gambling for much higher stakes than point sticks. Few people actually paid attention to that kind of wild talk, but everyone who was interested in the discussion agreed that Ryuumonbuchi was a team to watch at the nationals.

While the online fanbase swapped theories and invented their own version of events, the professional mahjong magazines took a more rational approach to the story. Weekly Mahjong Today, hoping to collect material for an article to run in the issue before the tournament, even sent a reporter to interview the Ryuumonbuchi team. But the only club member that the reporter was able to speak with was club president Ryuumonbuchi Touka, the daughter of the principal of Ryuumonbuchi High School -- and her interview did not lend itself to being reproduced in print.

'Truly, I am certain that we will stand out even more brightly and brilliantly on the national stage!' Ryuumonbuchi Touka had declared at the conclusion of the interview. 'Any and all challengers should beware the Ryuumonbuchi name, for at the nationals we shall show no mercy to those who dare to oppose us!'

(The unfortunate reporter subsequently spent the entire train ride back to Tokyo with her head in her hands, for that statement had been one of the Ryuumonbuchi club president's least outrageous comments.)

In the end, even Weekly Mahjong Today had to make do with what little material it already had, and settled for an overview of Ryuumonbuchi's upset victory and short profiles of the club members. Inoue Jun, tall and confident, who had a knack for timing her plays in a way that rattled even the most unflappable opponents. Sawamura Tomoki, a quiet, calculating player with impeccable defence. Deft-fingered Kunihiro Hajime, quick to draw and quick to strike when an opponent left an opening in her play. The supremely confident Ryuumonbuchi Touka, of course. And their enigmatic final player, Amae Koromo, who had so thoroughly dominated the table during her matches that she had been named the prefectural team tournament's Most Valuable Player.

The magazine article on Ryuumonbuchi decided to play up the air of mystery surrounding Amae Koromo, partly because it made for a good story but mostly because there was next to no information on her. No press statements, no clear photographs, nothing but the prefectural tournament's official play records and various rumours circulating on the Internet. With so little to go on, it only made sense to depict her as Ryuumonbuchi's secret weapon: unknown, unpredictable, and seemingly unstoppable.

It was possibly for the best that the long-suffering Weekly Mahjong Today reporter would never know that Ryuumonbuchi's unstoppable secret weapon was at that moment using both hands to wave bye-bye to the family restaurant where she and her teammates had just finished eating lunch.

'Ko-ro-mo!' Touka dragged out her cousin's name, impatience increasing with each syllable. 'Are you coming?'

'Coming!' Koromo gave the restaurant a final wave and whirled around, her long hair flying about her face. She bounced towards the others like a child playing a very enthusiastic game of hopscotch, and landed with both feet right in front of Touka.

'We can go now, Touka,' she said, looking up expectantly.

Jun turned a snicker into a series of coughs. Tomoki silently took out a packet of tissues and held it out to her. Touka was radiating almost visible waves of irritation, so Hajime decided to step in and salvage the conversation.

'How was your hamburger and fried shrimp platter, Koromo?' she asked. She already knew the answer; Koromo had eaten every bite of it.

'It was delicious!' Koromo beamed. 'Thank you for asking for more tartar sauce for me, Hajime.'

Hajime smiled, ignoring the sudden tightness in the back of her throat. For all the money that Koromo and Touka's family had, it was often strange to see how unsophisticated they could be about the everyday things that Hajime took for granted. She found it sad that sometimes it took so little to make Koromo happy -- it was hardly a rare act of kindness to request a little bowl of extra tartar sauce for a cheap family restaurant meal. (Though it had also kept Touka from making a scene, and that alone was worth any effort.)

'I'm just glad I could help,' she said. 'It looked like very good tartar sauce, too.'

'It was!' Koromo skipped off down the street, singing to herself. 'Tar-tar sauce, just for me, tar-tar sauce....'

'Koromo, don't get too far ahead of us!' Touka called out. She hurried after her cousin, and Hajime, Jun, and Tomoki followed.

Once they had caught up with Koromo, they slowed their pace to a leisurely walk. Summer afternoons in downtown Tokyo were a good deal hotter than those in Nagano, and they all felt full and sluggish from their lunch.

'Ugh, that was a lot of food.' Jun took off her cap and used it to fan herself. 'I shouldn't have had the curry -- it's too heavy for a day like today.'

'My spaghetti was pretty good,' said Hajime. 'Was your meal all right, Touka?'

'A family restaurant would hardly have been my first choice, but the fare was quite adequate.' It was as near as Touka would come to admitting that she'd actually enjoyed her soup and salad. 'Though now that we have sated our appetites, we ought to return to the hotel. I would like to freshen up a bit before our car arrives to take us to this afternoon's engagement.'

'Wait, what?' Jun said, frowning. 'Since when do we have an "engagement"? I thought we didn't have anything scheduled until the start of the tournament tomorrow!'

'Surely I mentioned that we have an engagement in Bunkyou this afternoon?' Touka looked to their most organised member for confirmation. 'Tomoki?'

Tomoki's netbook was in her hand before any of them could blink. A few quick taps on the keyboard, and she nodded once, sunlight glinting off her glasses. 'It is on the calendar. Entered last Saturday at ten-thirty-two AM.'

Jun made a face, and folded her arms across her chest. 'Well, I don't remember hearing about it,' she said as Tomoki put her computer away. 'Even if it is on the calendar.'

'Be that as it may,' Touka said, holding up a warning finger, 'our presence in Tokyo requires that I at least carry out this obligation.'

'What is it?' said Hajime, her stomach churning a little at Touka's use of the word obligation. 'Another magazine interview?'

'Far more important!' Touka struck a dramatic pose, one hand pressed to her chest and the other flung out grandly to the side. 'In honour of our mahjong club's victory at the prefectural level, we have been invited for an afternoon of relaxation and entertainment hosted by the son of the chairman of the Suoh Corporation!'

'The Suoh Corporation?' The name didn't mean anything to Hajime, but if Touka was inclined to brag about it then the company clearly had a good deal of clout in her circles. 'They're doing this for us?'

Tomoki resettled her glasses on the bridge of her nose. 'No expenses spared.'

'So instead of chilling out at the hotel, we're supposed to go make small talk with some salaryman over tea cakes and finger sandwiches?' Jun rolled her eyes. 'Sheesh. Just how I wanted to spend the rest of the day.'

'The chairman's son,' Touka said haughtily, 'is a second-year student at one of the most prestigious private high schools in Tokyo. He is only a little older than we are -- hardly a "salaryman", as you so crudely put it.'

'Our age, is he?' Jun's expression turned sly. 'Are you sure you haven't been set up on an omiai, Touka? It's a little early for your father to start thinking about marrying you off.'

'Wh-wh-what?!' Touka spluttered, flushing scarlet, but lost no time in recovering her composure. 'How preposterous! My father has a long-standing business relationship with the Suoh family, and as his daughter it is vital that I uphold the prestige of the Ryuumonbuchi name in both professional and personal matters.' She glared at Jun -- and even though Jun was at least a head taller, Touka still managed to give the impression of looking down her nose at the other girl. 'You are, of course, free to decline, but it would reflect poorly on the reputation of our school if we did not accept such a gracious offer of hospitality.'

Hajime, as usual, had to be the peacemaker. 'Come on, it might be fun,' she said to Jun. 'It's not like we had any specific plans, and we'll still have time to see the city after the tournament's over.'

Jun looked skeptical, but it was increasingly clear that she was fighting a losing battle. Tomoki was walking quietly beside them, neither supporting nor countering her protests, and Koromo was wandering a few feet ahead, lost in a post-lunch reverie of dreamy satisfaction with a world that contained such delicacies as fried shrimp and hamburger platters. Between Hajime's hopeful smile and Touka's imperious stare, there was nothing for her to do but sigh and pull her cap down over her eyes.

'Fine, fine, you don't have to twist my arm,' she muttered. 'We're not supposed to get all dolled up for this, are we?'

'Formal attire is not required,' Tomoki said tonelessly.

'Thank goodness,' said Hajime under her breath. Touka and Koromo's sundresses and Tomoki's skirt were nice enough, and Jun could get away with dressing like a guy most of the time, but the only truly formal outfits Hajime had brought to Tokyo were her school dress and her maid uniform. Even though she would have changed into either of them if Touka asked her to, it was nice to wear normal clothes once in a while, especially in the summer.

'Our current clothing should suffice.' Touka cast a disdainful glance at Jun's T-shirt and cuffed trousers. 'For the most part.'

Jun shrugged. 'If you say so,' she said, and deliberately cracked her knuckles loudly enough to make Touka wince. 'So, what's involved in this promised afternoon of relaxation and entertainment? Manicures and magic tricks?'

At the mention of 'magic tricks', Hajime scowled and aimed a kick at Jun's ankle, dodging to avoid a retaliatory elbow that barely missed her head.

Touka paid no attention to the scuffle going on all of two feet away from her. 'I have the invitation letter here somewhere -- ah, here it is!' From the pocket of her sundress, she produced a cream-coloured envelope with a red wax seal and drew out a card embossed with a formal coat of arms. 'It says, We humbly request the favour of your presence, and hope that you will graciously permit our members to provide a few hours of divertissement to refresh both body and mind before your triumphant debut at the national championships. Your obedient servant, Suoh Tamaki -- President, Ouran High School Host Club.'

Jun and Hajime, still eyeing each other for opportunities to land a blow, both stumbled and nearly collided with one another. Jun, who had longer legs, regained her balance first, while the less-lucky Hajime only just managed to grab a nearby crosswalk pole to stop herself from ending up face down on the pavement. Touka and Tomoki stopped short, and even Koromo came hurrying back to see what had happened.

'Honestly, what on earth is the matter with you two?' Touka planted one hand on her hip and glowered at them. 'I hope you won't be like this for the rest of the day.'

Clinging to the crosswalk pole, Hajime was too preoccupied with trying to get her feet back under her to reply. Jun, however, had recovered enough to turn to Touka and say, in a slightly hoarse voice:

'Ouran High School...Host Club, you said?'

Touka looked at the invitation again. 'Ouran High School is known for the high calibre of its student body, drawn from many of the nation’s most prominent families. It would only make sense for it to have a club devoted to hosting events for distinguished visitors, one that allows its members to develop the skills needed to succeed in any social setting.' She slipped the card back into its envelope, obviously pleased. 'Such refinement would only be expected of a first-rate Tokyo high school!'

Hajime finally managed to stand up and let go of the pole. 'Touka, that's not what -- ' she began, desperately, but Touka wasn't listening.

'It does seem a bit strange, though.' Touka rubbed her chin thoughtfully. 'The invitation gives no indication as to what sort of divertissement they have planned for us.'

Koromo's eyes lit up. 'Maybe it's a surprise!' she said, bobbing up and down on her toes.

Hajime tried again, waving her hands in a feeble attempt to get Touka's attention. 'R-really, Touka, it might not be such a good ide -- '

Before she could finish, a heavy hand came down on her shoulder, gripping it so tightly that Hajime lost the breath she needed to complete the sentence.

'Kunihiro,' said a low voice in her ear, 'are you telling me that you don't want to see the look on Touka's face when she finds out what a host club is?'

Hajime turned her head a fraction of an inch, just enough to glance at Jun out of the corner of her eye. Jun's grin was positively wolfish, with a glee that Hajime seldom saw away from a mahjong table. On the other side of Touka, Tomoki's expression was as unreadable as usual, but Hajime thought that the light reflecting off her glasses seemed somewhat...mischievous.

This is a train wreck waiting to happen, Hajime wanted to say. There is no possible way that this will end well, and Touka is probably going to kill someone, and we'll all end up playing mahjong with the yakuza in prison instead of going to the tournament tomorrow. But in spite of the despairing thoughts running through her head and the sense of doom settling like a lead weight in her chest, what actually came out of her mouth sounded surprisingly cheerful -- especially to her own ears:

'Then we shouldn't keep them waiting, should we?'


Continue to Part II

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