Hikaru maintains, when pressed, that it's all their mother's fault. She came up with the hair-parting idea, and then she forgot which of them was left and which was right and for a whole month they had no point of reference for their identites. It's very odd to not know who you are at such a young age, Hikaru says, adopting a tragic pose. Showing off for the girls. Kaoru smiles and quietly takes his brother's hand and feels the patterns of their fingertips, which are distinct. They've always known. They've never been confused.
This, perhaps, makes the reality of their situation all the more strange.
It takes only a small amount of tweaking to change their public act to that portrayed in the Host Club -- Tamaki is a one-man embroiderer, darting forward to hook a particular mannerism out of them, to underline and emphasise their tangled fingers and their private smiles. He doesn't seem to care how much of it is truth and how much of it is play, and so they never have to tell him. In return they respect his ability to wear his heart on his sleeve, and respect Kyouya's subtler ability to make sure that heart is never endangered by such constant public display. There are layers covering layers; between themselves, they pretend that Kyouya is heartless, and that Honey and Morinozuka will one day be as devoted to other people as they are to each other, and that the twins stop touching each other once they are in the privacy of their own home.
"What's the matter?" Hikaru sits up rubbing his eyes, his voice uneven with fatigue.
"Nothing much." Kaoru props his chin on his knees. "Restless mind. I can't sleep."
His brother groans and collapses back down again. "Please try. For my sake."
It's just one of their things: Hikaru cannot sleep until Kaoru does. Sometimes it's inconvenient, but for the most part it's comforting. A safety net against abandonment, Kaoru thinks, and then feels guilty for the thought. He lies down and buries his face in his pillow, searching for oblivion.
"Sleep," Hikaru murmurs, against his shoulder. "Sleep."
When something gets boring, they get rid of it; but no matter how hard they search each other's faces for clues, they never quite seem to get bored of Suou Tamaki and the elaborate game he has constructed for them all to live in.
Their language stopped being verbal a very long time ago: this way, says the brush of Hikaru's thumb, and Kaoru takes the cue and they saunter over to the nearest table, their strides in perfect synch and their heads bent close as though sharing a secret. Someone asks them a question and their answer is a familiar blended tone with sharp edges. Kaoru's voice is oddly empty without his brother's overlaid. It is always a bit of a surprise to hear himself speak; sheer surfaces will swallow him up. (He avoids mirrors.)
Kaoru nicks his finger on a rose thorn and the girls perk up visibly, their eyes swivelling hungrily between the two of them. He wonders idly if they handed him that rose on purpose. Hikaru's lips are gentle and Kaoru makes sure to blush properly and run the wound across his brother's mouth, leaving a trail of blood.
"Here, Haruhi," and Hikaru is tossing the rose across to her. She doesn't hurt herself. She just shrugs and lays it down next to her teacup and adjusts her tie, stammering a little at the obvious flirtation of the girls on the other side of the table. Angling for the rose themselves.
We're leaving, says Kaoru's hand against Hikaru's jaw, and bathroom under his breath, and they excuse themselves in perfect unison.
Alone for once, Kaoru sneaks a glance at the mirror and sees a tall boy with hair parted on the right who says: it's just us, little brother, it's always been us.
The voice is wrong, but it's almost enough to convince him.
And so it goes, with minor variations on emotional blindness and careful resignation, for another three years -- "Finally," Tamaki says when they graduate, draping his arms around Haruhi and almost collapsing with relief.
Hikaru laughs."You're acting as though you haven't spent the past two years barging into the school whenever you have a spare moment."
Haruhi gives him a pointed look. "Hikaru, you should give Kaoru his certificate."
The twins shrug and swap certificates, unsurprised. "It was an experiment," Kaoru explains.
"Just to see --"
"If any of the teachers would notice --"
"But they didn't," they finish in chorus.
"Yes, good." Tamaki starts sweeping them towards the door like a maternal whirlwind. "Come on, Kyouya's bullying the owner of La Chasse into giving us a lunch booking, and he'll be angry if we're late."
Haruhi sighs and snaps her bag shut. "You couldn't have just booked in advance?"
Tamaki looks nonplussed. "Why bother?"
"No servants," Haruhi says, an hour later.
They all stare at her.
"That's my condition."
She'll win; she always does.
"Mori," Tamaki is whining into the phone, an hour later again, "oh -- no, no, don't, please, I won't --" His shoulders slump. "Hello, Honey."
"You're not going to convince them," Haruhi tells him.
Tamaki holds the phone away from the side of his head. A bubbly stream of noise punctuated by pauses just long enough to be inhalations is coming from it. "It won't be the same without them!"
"But think of how much we'll save on food."
"Kyouya -- oh, yes, Honey. Of course I'm listening. Of course. We'd be delighted. See you then."
He hangs up with a mournful sigh, and Kaoru turns his head and smiles against Hikaru's neck. He didn't really expect Tamaki to win this one.
"Cheer up." Kyouya's smile is not sympathetic in the least. "Let's go and look at the house."
It's an Ootori property, which means --
"I'm going to get lost," Haruhi says. "Wait, how much electricity does this monstrosity need?"
"Let me worry about that." Kyouya touches her shoulder. "That's my condition."
Kaoru lets his brother pull him along hallways and test the floors, spinning against the smooth wood and leaving pale scuff marks.
"Too many walls," Tamaki says, and Kyouya is on the phone to a construction company within a minute.
The final result is open-plan and huge, kitchen and dining area and study all sprawled out across a room that rivals the Host Club's old music room for size: Tamaki's attempts to incorporate the past into their futures are transparent, but oddly comforting. Most of them sleep on the second floor, but Kyouya's room is just off the living area. He sleeps late and his door creaks; he refuses all suggestions to fix this, and soon enough they get use to the noise as an announcement of sorts. Sometimes, however, he -- and only he -- can open it without the creak.
The twins have a wardrobe three times as large as anyone else's. Tamaki sings: in the shower, while learning to chop vegetables, while poring over financial papers. Haruhi studies with her own brand of single-mindedness, and wears dresses more often. It's exactly like and yet exactly unlike the old days: they are older, their edges are sharper, and they drag at one another's orbits with more and more force.
Life is exciting; life is like a house of cards. It is harder and harder to pretend anything at all.
Again they wait for the boredom to hit -- again Kaoru waits for the real world to wake up to the self-contained domestic fantasy that Tamaki requires and they all perpetuate. How long can it last, really? But the answer does not seem to lend itself to limits: long enough is possible, and forever is frighteningly plausible. The world is shrinking. Kyouya has a room with a teleconference screen covering half one wall and flies out of the country one weekend in every four.
"Kaoru," Hikaru says one day, and Kaoru knows what's coming next, and Hikaru knows that he knows.
"Go ahead, then." He sits up a little straighter and tells himself that he's been prepared for this day for a long time.
"I love you, you know," Hikaru says, awkward, and Kaoru fights down an unexpected burst of laughter.
"Don't be an idiot, Hikaru." Warning, teasing, reciprocation.
So that night Kaoru lies in a bed that is too large for his body, odd spasms of coolness and absence running along his limbs, and stares at the ceiling. He wonders if Hikaru will be able to sleep, and is not sure which of the two possible answers he'd prefer.
He's almost asleep when the bed dips and there's a low steady exhalation like wind brushing against glass. When the lamp flicks on, Hikaru almost flinches.
"I can't," he says shortly, not meeting Kaoru's gaze. Kaoru sits up and reaches out, feeling exhaustion in his brother's shoulders -- Hikaru closes his eyes and shudders. "Please," he says. "I don't want to just leave her alone."
So Kaoru nods and slips out of one bed and into another, and the two of them clasp hands over Haruhi's bare stomach.
"I thought so," is all she says when she wakes up, and for some reason Kaoru thinks that he would have liked her to voice some kind of preference in the matter. She laughs and kisses Kaoru's cheek, then his neck, and from then onwards it's always three and never two. Hikaru sleeps deeply and with a smile on his face.
Kyouya's phone rings in the upstairs library, and he runs an absent finger along the spines of books while he answers. "Yes. Understood. No, I don't think formal charges will be necessary as long as the employer is made aware of our knowledge through…other channels. Yes. Thank you."
His expression doesn't even waver as he lowers the phone and moves to stand near the windows, curtains not yet pulled against the night.
"Don't take this the wrong way," Kaoru says after a moment, closing his own book and feeling a smile tug at his lips."But I'm not sure I trust you."
"That's perfectly all right." Kyouya smiles as well. "I'm not sure I'd want you to."
"What was it?"
"Assassination attempt," Kyouya says, with the same tone of bored distate that he might use to say 'external audit'. He turns and gives Kaoru a familiar look, the one that says I'm reading your mind. "No, it's not the first."
"Tamaki, I believe." Kyouya looks outside and Kaoru does the same. Nothing is visible in the window except their own reflections, limned in light; Kaoru frowns and looks away. "Don't worry, it's being dealt with."
Kaoru knows, at least a little, how this works. "And how many people are having us watched?"
"Usually at least three." Kyouya shrugs. "I won't have them shut down until they become a real nuisance. Mostly, they're looking for evidence of things that aren't there. Think about it. Without really realising it, Tamaki has placed the futures of some very important financial empires all in the same house. That sends a message."
And it's true, once Kaoru does think about it: from an outsider's perspective, there are corporate implications to everything they say and do. When the twins buy Kyouya a birthday present, the Hitachiin label is presenting the Ootori Group with a symbolic tribute. When Tamaki collapses into someone's lap with an expression of wounded pride, it's practically an alliance.
Their games have no clearly defined rules; there are just these corporate cobwebs, unconscious, but making ripples where they do not notice them. Adulthood intruding on their assumptions. Layers covering layers.
"Two months," Kaoru bets his brother.
"Never," Hikaru says, but he doesn't mean it.
It actually takes much longer than Kaoru was expecting for Tamaki to get through to Haruhi: the problem is no longer any lack of awareness of his own feelings -- that was overcome some time in her final year of high school, and involved the twins listening to his traumatised mumblings for an hour before rolling their eyes and getting him drunk -- but the fact that it takes him even longer to let go of the blushing feminine fantasies and realise that she will never be anything but her half-smiling, plain-spoken self.
After that, it's just a matter of Haruhi carefully lowering her boundaries one by one.
"She won't really." Hikaru puts his chin on Kaoru's shoulder and slides his arms around his body, sandy and sun-warm. "Will she?"
"That's your jealousy speaking, Hikaru." Kaoru pats the back of his hand.
"Aren't you jealous?" Hikaru demands.
Kaoru smiles and leans back and doesn't remind his brother that he worked through all of his jealousy issues in school, and is almost incapable of the emotion now. (Within the circle of their world, of course; with these few people. He would not be sharing Hikaru with just anyone, after all.)
"No," Kyouya says into his phone. "Yes. That's not even negotiable." He ducks the inflatable ball that Tamaki throws at his head without even blinking, and keeps talking.
"This is a holiday!" Tamaki yells. "Haruhi." He turns his most appealing face upon her as she approaches the towels, shaking water out of her ears and goosepimpled with the cold. "Tell Kyouya to stop working for one damn day."
"Today is a day for everyone to do what they want." She looks unconcerned. "If Kyouya wants to work, he can work."
Tamaki throws his hands up dramatically. "If you say so, Haruhi. However, I want to throw his phone into a rockpool."
Kaoru is watching the waves, but the abrupt tension in Hikaru's arms prompts him to look back just in time to catch the visible click of Haruhi's decision. She laughs, kneels down on the towel next to Tamaki, and hugs him tightly.
He looks delighted, but still pulls a face. "Haruhi, you're all wet."
"Handsome men," Haruhi says, pulling back, "can't be hurt by water."
Tamaki's face flickers comically, like a radio searching for the correct frequency, and then one of the most graceful smiles Kaoru has ever seen breaks out on it. "I suppose you're right."
"Of course I'm right," she says, and kisses him.
"I'm so glad everyone can live together and be happy!" is Honey's comment on this new development. His ability to wield nominally unschooled optimism as a social weapon has not dimmed a single watt since graduation.
Tamaki beams. "Are you sure you won't --"
"No," Mori says, firmly aborting the argument before it can resume.
"Haruhi!" Honey races towards the front door as she opens it, juggling her bag and books. "We brought cakes!"
"Three for him, and three for the rest of us to share," Tamaki calls, sticking his hands in his pockets and following him across the room.
"Things seem…" Mori raises an eyebrow at Kaoru.
"Yes," he agrees. "Surprisingly."
And they are.
The first time they sleep with Tamaki, Kaoru is already surprised that it hasn't happened sooner. He is not surprised at the way it begins: with a fight. Hikaru is that kind of person. Kaoru feels it building all evening, and he is stretched out on the longest couch with one eye on his magazine and one on his brother when the storm breaks.
"Hey," Haruhi says, looking up from her textbook. "If you're going to be loud, move out of the study."
Tamaki pouts, looks to be on the verge of protesting; Kaoru watches his lips and counts down: three, two, one, and then Hikaru growls and slips his hands underneath Tamaki's shirt. "Idiot," he says, and moves closer. The twins have always known how to move; Tamaki goes from trapped to turned on to willing within the space of two breaths.
Hikaru hooks permission out of Kaoru's face with a quick glance and then -- to nobody's surprise -- both he and Tamaki look at Haruhi. A smile dances around her mouth and she shrugs, her attention already drifting back to her studies, her blessing implicit. Hikaru makes a low noise and slides an arm around Tamaki's neck, tugging him towards the door.
Kaoru raises his eyebrows, but doesn’t feel like moving just yet: I'll let you get started, his look says.
Don't be too long, Hikaru's own look demands, as they leave the room, and Kaoru notices the shiver that runs down Tamaki's arms and the way his eyes have darkened to a deep, fierce indigo, and knows that it will not be difficult to comply.
Haruhi is learning to read their glances as easily as their identities, and her own eyes stray to fall on Kyouya. "I suppose," she begins, but Kyouya gives her such a sharp look in return that she stops speaking.
"Don't you think it's time you started accepting the responsibility for your own desires, Haruhi?" he says sternly.
Her eyes widen and her mouth goes tight. "What do you mean by that?"
"I mean," and Kyouya's mouth tightens in return, "it's not very nice of you to treat us as conveniences."
"I don't!" she snaps. "That's…you have no right to say that."
He sets his book down and stands up. "Acceptance is one thing; people will only put up with not being wanted for so long. Either decide that you want this, or decide that you don’t."
"Kyouya…" She sounds almost betrayed, as though Kyouya has just broken some unspoken agreement, some pact between the two of them to never let emotion run this particular house of cards.
"This matters a lot, this arrangement," he says. Clipped, neat -- arrangement -- Kyouya to the last syllable. "To all of us. But we need to know that it matters to you too, or there's not much point in continuing."
And Kaoru thinks of the bemused twist that adorns Haruhi's lips when she runs her hand through Hikaru's hair, the way she twirls her pen around her fingers and shrugs and moves from bed to bed as though she's doing nothing more important than trying on pairs of shoes. He smiles, flooded with an unexpected surge of relief, but keeps silent: he has more than enough faith in Kyouya.
Haruhi is looking at Kyouya with a mixture of surprise, resentment and -- so rare, on her face -- guilt. "Are you saying you don't want --"
"That is not what I am saying," Kyouya says with perfect courtesy. He is leaving the room; he pauses for a moment in the open door. "But I don't need any favours, Haruhi. Not even from you."
Haruhi stares down at her textbook for a while; then she lifts her head and looks at Kaoru, clearly wanting either reassurance or distraction, but he has already let his hand drift down to brush the carpet and is feigning sleep the best he knows how.
Haruhi lets out a long sigh.
Kaoru counts his own breaths up to twenty, and then to thirty, and on thirty-five he hears her stand up; then her footsteps, fading across the floor, and then the calculated creak of Kyouya's door.
The legacy of that particular night is gradual, but certain: Haruhi becomes a lot more likely to voice her opinion, to be the one doing the choosing or the gainsaying, to consciously and carefully wield the power that she holds over all of them.
"Have the samples join the rest of the shipment in Paris," Hikaru says. They are connected at three points: his head pillowed in Kaoru's lap, the fingers of their hands twined loosely together, and the earpieces through which they are talking to their logistics manager. "Because we -- no, hang on --" and they both say, "Make that Rome," at the same time, blended and perfect.
"Got it." She disconnects. Kaoru pulls the earpiece out.
"I thought you'd already set the itinerary." Tamaki is pouring wine, his sleeves rolled up past his elbows, and he keeps darting absent looks at Haruhi's bent head as though to remind himself that she is still there. They'll be sleeping together tonight: this was agreed some time over dinner, though Kaoru could not put a finger on exactly when. Subtle body cues. Silences left open. This isn't something that can be analysed any more.
"Last-minute complications." Hikaru lifts his free hand and waves it. "Nothing we can't handle."
"No." Kyouya's outburst startles all of them, but he's only glaring at the wall, his phone pressed against his ear with such force that it has turned pink around the edges. He takes off his glasses, rubs his forehead with two fingers, and then replaces them. "I do not feel that this is an optimal use of…yes, I realise the long-term prospects for…no."
"Not this argument again." Tamaki has developed an uncanny knack for keeping track of everyone else's business affairs. "He'll be at it all night."
Haruhi sighs. "And we were almost business-free for the evening, too."
There has always been an element of the spontaneous in Tamaki's movements, no matter how structured and elegant they are, and so it is surprising to no one when a seemingly vague trip across the room takes him within an arm's length of Kyouya's chair, and when he plucks the phone from his best friend's hand without any effort. His face, as he raises it to his own ear, is that of someone discovering a new toy for the first time and finding it wonderful. Kaoru has seen him make that face over chopsticks. Like so many of Tamaki's quirks, it's inexplicable; like the rest of them, of course, it also manages to be endearing.
"Kyouya will not be taking the deal," Tamaki says brightly, "because he cares deeply about the people in the hospital."
A sudden silence; even Haruhi's fingers pause in their swift typing, and Kaoru feels the muscles of Hikaru's neck tense against his own legs. Kyouya pushes his glasses up his nose and does not move. "Tamaki. How many times must I tell you to use my family name when you are undermining me to my board of directors?"
"Not when you act like a child." Tamaki holds the phone high above his head, even though Kyouya is making no attempt to take it back, and looks stubborn. "You do care about the patients, don't you? Your emotions are making it difficult for you to construct an objective argument."
After another pause, one edge of Kyouya's mouth tilts up -- his chin tilts down -- and he makes a quiet sound of assent. "There are financial reasons too," he says.
"I know." Tamaki uncurls his fingers to reveal his thumb, sealed tightly over the mouthpiece of the phone. "And I'm sure you'll be able to convince them that you only care about those reasons. But don't try to convince yourself." He hands the phone back to Kyouya and lowers his voice. "Don't try to convince us."
Kyouya does not quite smile as he picks up the thread of the conference again with smooth apologies for his absence -- a minor disconnection, aren't these larger satellite companies dreadful, we really should look into branching into telecommunication one of these days -- and a perfectly reasoned argument against the proposed deal. Ten minutes later he closes the phone with a quiet snap and taps it against his lips before standing up.
"Tamaki," he says. His voice is very soft, and Kaoru looks at him with more interest, recognising the tone. Kyouya's hand brushes for a moment against Tamaki's shoulder: too close to the neck to be innocent, too mobile to be accidental. "Don't ever do that again."
"Hah," Tamaki says thoughtfully, watching Kyouya walk out of the room.
Hikaru's hand asks a swift question of Kaoru's own and is granted a reply; "Haruhi," he says, two seconds later.
"Yes." She barely looks up from her laptop. "I know. But if you kick me off the bed again, Hikaru, I swear to God I'm sleeping on my own for a month."
Paris, Rome, Tokyo, London -- in the post-school world the Hitachiin twins have adapted their act even further, sent it out to every corner of the globe and watched it flourish. And yet very little has really changed: they're selling image, and they're selling that which shocks people and makes them crave the shock.
Kaoru holds his brother's hand in public and together they seek out cameras with the same old instinct for attention. They wear their mother's clothes (in complementary shades). They speak in unison, and their voices enrich each other, and the fashion world gushes over their quirks whilst simultaneously resenting and admiring what they see as an endlessly, flawlessly maintained pretense.
It's amazing how much you can get away with. It's amazing what people assume.
The day the Suou and Ootori groups hurtle into a bloody corporate feud in the space of a single trading day, nobody finds out until the announcement during the financial news, and by then it's too late: Suou Yuzuru has forbidden his son to speak to Ootori Kyouya, and added a hefty amounts of bribes and threats to the pile. Kyouya's father has done almost the same thing, but paradoxically hinted that any inside information on the Suou empire's plans for overseas expansion would be very welcome.
Both of them have agreed that cohabitation is out of the question.
"What?" Haruhi explodes. It is easy to forget how hard an edge her anger has.
Tamaki gives a skeleton of a laugh. "Would you call this sleeping with the enemy, do you think? Is Kyouya going to seduce secrets out of me like a Russian spy?"
"Stop that," she says sharply, and slaps him on the back of the head.
Kyouya closes off even more than usual and sends email after email at warp speed, but Tamaki is intolerable for an entire afternoon, striding around the house disrupting every conversation with his own melodramatic mutterings about Romeo and Juliet. He calls his father and argues for half an hour, then he calls his grandmother and is mostly silent for another half an hour. By the time he hangs up, his hand is shaking so badly that he almost drops the phone.
"Maybe you should sit down," Haruhi suggests from the kitchen. She's been making Tamaki's favourite dishes, quietly and without advertisement.
"Can't." Tamaki presses his hands against his hips and starts pacing.
"Try." Kyouya. It's the first thing he's said for hours.
"It's all right for you," Tamaki snaps in his direction.
Kyouya closes his laptop and stands up, placing himself in Tamaki's path and forcing him to a halt. "Calm down, Juliet," he says, unreadable, but he reaches out and takes hold of Tamaki's shoulder and then kisses him: slowly, calmly, with purpose.
Haruhi drops a wooden spoon and it clatters against the bench. It is one of the rules that nobody has ever bothered to spell out or even think about consciously, the fact that Kyouya touches none of them in front of the others. Tamaki's eyes are very wide when the kiss breaks.
"Some of us, Kyouya," he says quietly, "are yet to buy their way out of their family's whims."
Tamaki makes a face. "This is going to be quite a fight, isn’t it?"
"Don’t worry. I have a private army," Kyouya says, as deadpan as ever, and Tamaki bursts out laughing.
Forever is unthinkable, but it's also plausible. Forever is the way each of them grows into their own talents, building upwards and outwards, spanning the globe but keeping tight hold of one another, and always returning home. Forever is the angle of Hikaru's wrist as he pours warm sake into five cups and they push the furniture backwards and get gently, lazily drunk while lying on cushions in front of the fire.
With so many permutations, sooner or later you start thinking about the ones you haven't tried, looking at hands you know and connecting them, in your head, with limbs that you don't. Finding unfamiliar tastes on familiar lips, and wondering. So it's almost inevitable that when Tamaki starts telling ridiculous jokes, Kaoru meets Kyouya's eyes -- because they are the only two not yet laughing -- and sees a suggestion that is dark, curious, and not boring in the slightest. Something inside Kaoru unfolds itself and stretches, languid and approving.
Kaoru nods and drains his cup. "Excuse me," he murmurs.
Nobody speaks when he leaves; not even when Kyouya follows. Kaoru counts ten of his own breaths before --
"Well." Tamaki's voice, transparently surprised.
"Hmm." Hikaru; not as surprised, but a little awkward. "Haruhi?"
Kyouya removes his glasses and Kaoru turns away from the door, so he doesn't catch anything distinct in the murmur of Haruhi's voice. Nevertheless, part of him wants to know.
"It's inevitable," Kyouya says, giving him that mind-reading glance, "if you think about it."
And there it is, the reaction -- "Seriously, Haruhi?" -- and the girl's bright laughter, challenging them, bringing them out of themselves just as she always has.
Kaoru smiles. Every permutation is possible; every alliance is worth making.
"I'll have to leave, later," he tells Kyouya. "Hikaru, he can't sleep unless --"
"I know." Kyouya's elegant fingers are already loosening the knot of his tie. "Do you trust me yet?"
And Kaoru almost says: no, not entirely, but that's part of why I'm here.
One empire undresses another.