Disclaimer: Ouran Host Club and its characters are not mine, and I'm only posting this for entertainment purposes.

Notes: Assume spoilers through episode eight of the anime and volume five of the manga.

o 0 o 0 o

One twin always parts his hair to the left. The other, to the right. Everyone assumes it's a little sop they've thrown to the clueless to help keep tabs on which is Hikaru and which is Kaoru, but everyone is wrong.

After all, why would the twins do anything for the benefit of anyone who was not them?

The real reason was simple enough, so simple that they never even bothered to think about it. By parting their hair opposite to each other, it meant that when one twin looked at the other it was exactly like looking in a mirror. So, when they did look into a mirror, Hikaru would grin and sling his arm across Kaoru's shoulders and the mirror Kaoru would grin back at him as his hand squeezed the mirror Hikaru's shoulder.

Or maybe it was the other way around. In any event, it didn't matter in the slightest who was who.

o 0 o 0 o

There's a story their father used to tell them when they were little. The boys quickly became familiar enough with his sly sense of humor to figure out that the story might not be one hundred percent true. Still, like all good myths, the story was true in the essentials if not the particulars.

The story went something like this: When a sonogram first revealed that she was expecting twins, Hikaru and Kaoru's mother smugly assumed that maternal instinct alone would allow her to be able to tell the difference between her little darlings.

She was wrong. Short of writing their names in Sharpie on their tiny foreheads (their father's suggestion), there was no way she or anyone else could tell just from looking which twin was which. She, along with her husband and the two nannies, continually had to refer to the wristbands that had been placed on them when they were in the hospital.

Then came the inevitable twist, delivered with great dramatic flourish: One day, in a rare five minute stretch when the infant twins were left alone with no adult supervision, not just one but both of them managed to remove their adorable blue wristbands.

Their mother just stood there for several minutes with the wristbands cupped in her hand as she looked down into the crib with weary despair. Two utterly identical forms lay together in such a tangle that she couldn't tell which legs and arms were attached to which baby, let alone tell which of her sons was which.

Their father chuckled a little meanly the first time he told them this story, expecting his boys to be amusingly flustered and agitated by the idea that Hikaru might really be Kaoru and Kaoru might really be Hikaru. He was wrong.

To his dismay, both boys found the entire notion extremely reassuring and begged him to tell the story again. And again.

o 0 o 0 o

Some identical twins make a point of always wearing matching outfits. As for Hikaru and Kaoru, sometimes they did, sometimes they didn't.

Wearing different outfits didn't mean a blessed thing, because what Hikaru wore one day, Kaoru might wear a week from then, and vice versa. Their "there is no 'mine,' only 'ours'" approach to clothing had the added benefit of blurring the lines between them even further. Most people out there in the vast "not us" were stupid enough to assume that the twin who wore the blue sweater on Thursday was the same twin who wore the blue sweater on Monday.

Sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn't.

"We have the technology," their father said one day when the eight-year-olds had swapped outfits no less than three times in the space of an afternoon, sending yet another governess off in search of a valium and a new job.

"We can microchip them. They do it to animals all the time. All we'd need would be a couple of scanners and we'd be all set."

Their mother didn't even look up from her fabric swatches. "They'd find some way to switch them," she said, experience giving each word awful weight.

He seemed dejected for a moment, but then his face once again lit up with desperate hope. "Maybe we could tattoo bar-codes on the backs of their necks..."

"No."

o 0 o 0 o

The truth was, it didn't matter to the twins whether or not people could tell them apart. As with everything else they did, the "which one is Hikaru-kun game" was entirely for their own benefit. It reaffirmed that there was an "us" that was closed off and separate from that great horde of "not us" out there.

One plus one equals one, for certain values of one.

o 0 o 0 o

There was one area where the twins were not absolutely identical, and when they found out, they clung to each other even more tightly for a while, and pushed everyone else away even more fiercely.

It all happened right before they started middle-school. It was also right before the twins gained notoriety for being perhaps a little too close, and for being mocking, distant, and even cruel towards anyone who was not "us".

One day, the twins began to notice that their mother was confusing them less and less, even when they changed their clothes and hair down to the last detail.

"What's giving us away?" one twin finally asked after their mother calmly called bullshit on another attempt to fool her.

"What are we getting wrong?" the other chimed in even before his brother had finished speaking. If they could no longer play one of their favorite games, they deserved to know why.

By way of answer, their mother reached into the pocket of her dress slacks and pulled out the digital recorder she used for taking notes while designing. "Until I got used to it, it always threw me for a loop how different my voice sounds in my head from the way it sounds in a recording."

She pushed a button and out came a soft, almost musical voice. What's giving us--

She stopped the playback. "Kaoru."

She pushed the button again. There was a moment of overlap where away and what are blended together. It sounded pretty much like what each twin always heard in his head when he spoke.

Then there was a darker voice with a bit of an edge to it. --we getting wrong?.

She turned off the recorder with a triumphant click. "Hikaru."

The difference between the voices was infinitesimal, but it was there once you knew to listen for it.

The twins stood there in mute shock for a moment, and something amazing happened: their mother noticed that while Hikaru's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly in anger, Kaoru's widened just as much with realization. It was so subtle that she might have been imagining it, but for the rest of the day, she would have sworn that Hikaru was the more agitated and snappish of the two and Kaoru was more calculating and withdrawn.

It was three days before either twin spoke to her again (it was Hikaru who broke silence first). One day after that, she was not entirely surprised to find that her digital recorder had gone missing.

o 0 o 0 o

Fans of the "brotherly love" performances at the Host Club knew full well that Hikaru was always the more aggressive member of the duo and Kaoru was the more passive. What they didn't know is that thanks to hours of practice and repeated use of that damnable recorder, each twin could imitate the other's voice perfectly, if only for a few moments.

They could never fool their mother, however. Or their father. Or, to their initial dismay, one Fujioka Haruhi.

"You're alike," she said with utter confidence only a few days after they'd met her. "But the same? No way."

Maybe it had something to do with the attention to detail needed to maintain her male fa├žade. Whatever the reason, Haruhi had a nasty little habit of clinically unearthing and exposing all the little details that the twins had carefully buried beneath their own notice.

And once they were acknowledged, all those not-so-little details could never be swept back under the rug, no matter how much they might try.

Even worse, she treated each of them differently. That was completely unacceptable. It was an insult. A violation.

Something had to be done.

It took them a few weeks, but they were able to hash out a pretty decent plan. They even managed to convince themselves they were doing it to alleviate the boredom that had been creeping up on them more and more these days.

Whatever the reason, when one of Haruhi's too-astute observations presented them with an opportunity, they were ready and they jumped at it.

o 0 o 0 o

It said something about the state of affairs in the Hitachiin household that the next morning, when one twin showed up to breakfast with flamingo pink hair and a cheerful "good morning!" their parents simply blinked a few times then returned to their coffee and newspapers as if nothing untoward had happened.

But, when the other twin showed up with acetylene blue hair and an equally cheery "good morning!" their father felt compelled to say something.

"Why--"

Their mother kicked him in the shin before he could utter another word.

"Never, never ask them why, remember?" she hissed. "Because they just might tell you."

"Ah," he said, not bothering to explain that it wasn't the hair that had caught his attention; it was the strain in those "good mornings". Something big--something more than hair--had changed, or was about to change, and he was worried about his boys.

o 0 o 0 o

They never told anyone this, but on that first day, the twins' mock fight very nearly became a real fight. They'd had to improvise the initial quarrel, and both brothers managed to step squarely on some land mines.

Kaoru's nasty little barb about Haruhi was only the beginning. Sniping about Kaoru's at-sea-ness with math and Hikaru's ineptness with foreign language was airing dirty laundry in public, pure and simple. Their cumulative scores had always been neck and neck, and until then they had always painstakingly ignored how they'd arrived at those scores.

That night, as they were waiting for the hair dye to set, they sat silently, shoulder to shoulder. Neither one apologized for anything. After all, it was only a fake fight so why should they apologize for good acting?

Besides, apologies would mean explanations, and Hikaru really didn't want to think about the very real jealousy in Kaoru's eyes when he'd made those accusations about Haruhi, or about how Haruhi wasn't the only one who could ambush a person with lethally insightful comments.

As for Kaoru, he didn't want to think about all the things he'd been on the edge of noticing lately--things like how natural it had been for him to do most of the work on the script, or how natural it had been for Hikaru to design booby-traps that would backfire on exactly the right people. Or how Hikaru's eyes would glaze over when Kaoru nattered on about something they'd read for Modern Lit. Or how he felt left in the dust when he watched Hikaru plow through a programming assignment with no apparent effort.

Maybe they'd have been better off remaining bored.

"Tomorrow, we stick to the script," Hikaru said with no preamble. He'd known exactly what his brother was thinking.

"It'll be okay," Kaoru said, answering the question his brother had not asked. He tried to make himself believe it, but he had a nasty feeling that some damage could never be undone.

He was right.

o 0 o 0 o

The prank fight had a glorious ending, with both twins howling in laughter at the other club members' expense. The expression on Tamaki's face was the sort of thing the brothers would remember fondly for years to come whenever they were in need of a good laugh.

They'd fooled everyone. Everyone. Even Haruhi! And while there was no logical reason for them to come to this conclusion, both twins fully believed that they could go back to the way they were.

A little more work with the hair dye, and a few rounds of the "which one is Hikaru-kun" game, and everything would be put to rights. Simple as simple could be.

Then Haruhi saw right through them again without even trying.

Without even thinking, the twins reached for each other and held hands lightly as Haruhi walked away. It was the barest of touches, but something about it made even the most rabid "brotherly love" fangirls shift uncomfortably in their seats and find fascinating things to look at in far-off corners of the room.

Kaoru looked at his brother, hoping for some reassurance, but Hikaru kept staring straight ahead even after Haruhi had passed through the door and out of sight. Kaoru sighed and closed his eyes.

That night as they were finishing up dinner, Hikaru asked their father for the same old story again.

Their father blinked in surprise. "That's strange. You haven't asked for that one in years. Why--" he caught himself barely in time. "I mean, sure. I'm happy to tell it. If you want."

Before he had a chance to start, Kaoru excused himself from the table, pleading fatigue after a long day at school.

A few hours later, when a strangely quiet Hikaru came to their room, he crawled into Kaoru's bed, and the two lay sleepless and tangled together. For a few hours at least, they didn't have to think about where one ended and the other began.

"It's all changing," Kaoru said. The side of his head rested against Hikaru's chest, so that when Hikaru said "We can't go back," it was as if the words came from within his own head, in his own voice.

Kaoru wanted to ask "why not?" but he already knew the answer. Instead, he told his brother a story, a story they both knew well even though they hadn't heard it before. It was as improbable as any fairy tale, with kings, counselors, siblings, and a girl who disguised herself as a boy and got into many strange adventures as a result. The story even had a nice and punchy moral:

"You're alike. But the same? No way."

Or, as Hikaru put it, one plus one equals two for most values of one. That's how the universe works, like it or not.

In a way, it was frightening. But in another way, it was just as reassuring as that other story been, once upon a time.

o 0 o 0 o

These days, when Kaoru looked in the mirror, he saw only a reversed image of himself. It still came as a shock, and probably would for a good time to come. But if, as he brushed his teeth, his glance slid to the side, he would see his brother standing next to him, combing his hair into artfully messy spikes and giving him a look as if to say Yeah, I know. It's weird.

As they left for school, Hikaru usually flung his arm across Kaoru's shoulders and gave a rough but comforting squeeze. Of course, Kaoru thought, Hikaru always been the more touchy-feely of the two, ever since childhood, so it was to be expected.

It was funny, they both thought, how things that had always been there could still seem so new. And while it was weird and still kind of scary, it was still good, because even though there was now a "you" and a "me", there was still an "us".