Author's Notes:

"Hikaru" in Japanese means to glitter, shine, or stand out. The kanji for his name is the same as "hikari"—the Japanese word for natural light.

"Kaoru" means "perfume." It is an outdated word made up of a single kanji. The more common word for perfume ("kousui") comes from two kanji that mean "sweet-smelling water."

"Mild Seven" is the top-selling cigarette brand in Japan.

"Yakuza" are the Japanese mob

Thanks to Kinomi for beta-reading 3!

Comments are greatly appreciated and put to good use. Nolan

Catalyst

Kaoru laughed breathlessly. "Oh! The look on Tamaki's face--!" he began.

"—Was priceless, right?" Hikaru finished.

They had mastered the art of finishing each other's sentences and used that skill to uncanny effect at school. Outside of class, they usually spoke only for themselves but the habit was hard to break when they first got home.

"His eyes bulged out--"

"—Just like a bullfrog's!" The two boys dissolved into laughter again.

The twins ribbed and jostled each other as they walked through the mahogany front doors of the Hitachiin mansion, still feeling giddy from their latest mischief. Their prank of the day involved getting Tamaki to step into a bucket of water, ruining their fearless leader's expensive Italian loafers, but more importantly, getting him to emit an unseemly shriek.

Even hours later, remembering the look on Tamaki's face was enough to ensnare the brothers into helpless laughter. As soon as one of them recovered, the laughter of the other would spread like it was contagious and the endless loop would begin again.

The brothers dropped their book bags carelessly at the door and headed upstairs toward their room, but the Hitachiins' elderly butler blocked their path with a grim expression.

"Master Hikaru, your mother is on the telephone," he said. He bowed at the waist at a slight angle and remained in that position as if frozen in place. He held a cordless phone with one gloved hand covering the receiver.

"Oh. Uhhh… Can I call her back?" Hikaru asked nervously. He had an uneasy suspicion of what she was calling about.

"I'm afraid she is quite determined to speak with you," the butler insisted, holding out the phone.

Kaoru and Hikaru exchanged a worried look. Their mother was away in Versailles on business and if she was calling in the middle of the afternoon, it wasn't likely to be a social call. It looked like their prank earlier had caught up with them, after all. Tamaki had turned red in the face when it first happened, of course, but ultimately he was a good sport about the whole thing. The school faculty apparently didn't share their friend's laid-back view on the matter. Perhaps their choice of a school hallway as a venue for their prank had not been so wise after all.

"I'll take it," Hikaru said coolly, taking the phone.

Kaoru's face crumpled in tense concern. He gave his brother a questioning look and pointed to the ground as if to say, 'Do you want me to stay while you talk to her?'

Hikaru shook his head and motioned his brother away. With his hand over the receiver, he whispered, "Go on up to our room. I'll be there in a minute."

Kaoru furrowed his brow in concern, but nodded his understanding. It felt strange climbing the stairs alone.

No less than twenty minutes later, Hikaru trudged into their room. Kaoru looked up from his Japanese homework and saw his brother's mouth frozen in a grim line. The sunny aura of laughter that surrounded him when they first got home was completely replaced with a gloomy shroud.

"Is everything okay?" Kaoru probed gently.

Hikaru's reply was abnormally blunt and frost-cold. "It's nothing. Don't worry about it."

Kaoru expected further explanation, but Hikaru said nothing and began shuffling through their CD collection.

"Uhm, well, did you get in trouble?" he asked timidly. It was obvious that Hikaru didn't want to talk about it, but Kaoru couldn't help but ask. Naturally, he was concerned about his brother, but even more than that, Kaoru couldn't stand secrets between them. The brothers shared everything and Kaoru was frustrated by being left out of the phone conversation.

"It's no big deal," Hikaru said. Still wearing a dispassionate expression, he chose a CD from their stash and slid it into the stereo mounted on the wall.

"It's not fair only you got in trouble," Kaoru said with firm indignation. He hoped it would cheer his brother to share in his annoyance. "We did the prank together, after all."

At this, Hikaru glared at Kaoru with a look cold enough to chill the blood in his brother's veins.

"Whatever," Hikaru said, turning his gaze away. He turned up the volume on the stereo and pressed the 'play' button. The sounds of hard rock throbbed through the room at an ear-aching decibel level. Hikaru threw himself back on his bed with his hands tucked behind his head and stared up at the ceiling.

Recent days gave the brothers a taste for instant "commoner" coffee, but they had always been fans of obnoxiously loud rock music. At the very least, it helped bolster their reputation as—how did their teachers put it?—"impish miscreants." At the moment, however, Kaoru had homework to do.

"Can you turn that down?" he asked. He spoke as gently as the high volume of the music allowed.

Hikaru closed his lion-gold eyes with a smug expression. "I thought you liked this song," he said. He jerked his slim shoulders in an uncaring shrug.

Kaoru frowned. "You know I do," he said, "But that essay is due tomorrow and…" His words tapered to nothing.

"What are you worried about?" Hikaru asked, "Isn't Japanese, like, your best subject?"

"That's not the point," Kaoru said, "And you know it." Why was Hikaru being so difficult all of a sudden? It was understandable to be upset after getting scolded by their mother for nearly half an hour, but Hikaru never took his anger out on his brother before. They were always a unified force against the Outside World. If Hikaru really just wanted to listen to music, he could do it in the parlor, which had a better stereo anyway. The fact that his brother was being so obstinate proved he was doing it on purpose.

Hikaru sat up abruptly and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. "I'm gonna go for a smoke," he said. He stood, opened his sock drawer and pulled out a half-empty pack of Mild Sevens, and left the room without another word.

With haunted eyes, Kaoru watched his brother leave. Hikaru hardly ever smoked, but Kaoru always hated when he did. The more soft-spoken of the twins never liked being around cigarette smoke and it felt like being held at arm's length when his brother surrounded himself with a cloud of it.

Outside, Hikaru slumped down along the back wall of the house. He cupped his hand around the end of his cigarette and flicked at his lighter with inexperienced fingers.

He wasn't what anyone would describe as a smoker--he had gone through no more than four cigarettes in the past year. Nevertheless, the adolescent urge to rebel would sometimes overtake him and he would withdraw from the world to play it cool with a cigarette in hand.

No, that wasn't the full truth. The reality was that he did it because he was fully aware that his brother disapproved of it. Invariably, Kaoru would make a fuss over him and remind him that it was a nasty habit. A hidden part of Hikaru realized that this was precisely why he pulled away to smoke now; he hoped his brother would follow him outside and affectionately make a fuss.

Hikaru didn't like the feel of his brother's pity, but he loved Kaoru's admiration. True to his name, Hikaru loved to stand out and be the center of attention in his brother's eyes. In the end, wasn't that really the source of the trouble?

The reason their mother scolded only Hikaru instead of both of them was because she knew that Hikaru was always the instigator for their little pranks. The boys both played equal part in carrying out their mischief, but Hikaru was always the one to first invent it. He was the catalyst who put things in motion.

Hikaru's motive was never to cause damage or hurt anyone's feelings with his pranks, of course. He just knew that Kaoru thought it was cool whenever his brother thought of a particularly clever plan. They both enjoyed the rush of doing something they shouldn't, and it was Hikaru's best chance to impress and have fun with Kaoru.

Unfortunately, their mother saw things differently. She had harsh words for Hikaru over the phone--things like "corruptor" and "bad influence." She said it was bad enough for Hikaru to always get in trouble, but he was not to drag 'his innocent brother' down with him. The way she spoke, it sounded like she honestly thought that Hikaru would turn his brother from a straight A student into some yakuza crime boss.

Whatever. Even if she had the tendency to exaggerate when angry, she still had a point. On more than one occasion, their pranks had been so masterfully convoluted that they were likely to get expelled if caught. To Hikaru, the risk of expulsion was worth it to make Kaoru laugh and praise him, but it wasn't worth risking Kaoru's future as well.

If they were ever busted on a particularly brilliant caper, Hikaru would never be able to forgive himself for ruining things for Kaoru. The only thing he could do was stop being a bad influence and give up the pranking. It made him miserable to know that it meant giving up Kaoru's attention, too.

"C-can I have one of those?" a soft voice asked.

Hikaru startled and turned to see his twin standing a shy few paces away. Kaoru's fair-skinned hands were poised in the air as if uncertain whether to hug his brother, take a cigarette, or drop back to his sides.

"Naw," Hikaru said, "It's bad for you." He took a defiant drag on his cigarette and clenched his throat against the urge to cough from the harsh smoke.

"What's with you?" Kaoru said hotly. "We do everything together!" His slim fingers clenched into fists at his sides. His cheeks flushed pink with frustration, making the sprinkling of freckles across his nose and cheeks stand out even more. He wasn't used to standing up to his brother, but he wasn't going to back down now.

"Well, maybe we shouldn't," Hikaru said. "I mean, don't you think we're getting too old for this? The pranks and everything."

Kaoru planted the knuckles of his fists onto his hips. "Is that what this is about? Just Mom getting mad about our prank? I already said it wasn't fair only you get in trouble. I take equal responsibility." On a whim, he snatched the cigarette out of Hikaru's mouth and put it between his own lips without inhaling.

"It's not your fault; it's mine," Hikaru said. He tried to look angry, but his voice only made him sound miserable.

He yanked the cigarette out of Kaoru's mouth, broke it in half and tossed it to the ground, grinding the lit end under his heel. "I'm always the one who comes up with these ideas," Hikaru said, "It is my fault and I need to give it up." He sighed and closed his eyes. "I'm just saying things gotta change from now on. That's all."

"A-and who said that's your decision to make?" Kaoru shot back. He stammered when he spoke, not used to being so forceful, but the aristocratic angle of his jaw clenched in determination. "You may be the one who invents our trouble, but aren't I always the one who fast-talks the teachers so we don't get in trouble?"

For some reason, the high school staff always let Kaoru off the hook. When he turned on the charm, he had a deceptive innocence about him that made it impossible for adults to suspect him of any wrong-doing. It was a talent he worked to a masterful degree.

"Err, well…" Hikaru began.

"And anyway, I take equal part in everything we do," Kaoru continued without pause, "So don't go pinning the blame on yourself like you invented this little game of ours. I deserve just as much credit as you do."

Hikaru rubbed his face with his palm in frustration. "It's not about 'credit'," he sighed, "I mean we could get in trouble. Expelled. I don't want that for you."

"For us," Kaoru corrected. "Do you really think I'd keep attending school at Ouran if you got kicked out? We either both get off free or we both go down together."

Hikaru was quiet a long moment. It was unusual for the boy to be tongue-tied; normally he knew just what to say. "It still doesn't seem worth it," he said finally in a small voice.

"Worth what?" Kaoru pressed. His cheeks were still flushed from the stress of standing up for himself, but he felt giddy with the triumph of knowing he was right and it looked like Hikaru knew it, too. "As long as we're together and having fun, anything is worth it with you," he said more softly. "The thought of being bored and studying, just paying GameBoy all day… That is a life that doesn't sound 'worth it'."

Kaoru reached his pale fingers forward and swept back a stray lock of red hair from his brother's face. Hikaru said nothing and nodded.

"We can be more careful if you want. Okay?" Kaoru said. The gentle sweetness returned to his voice. "And even if we got expelled, Mom will just put us in another nice school. No way is she gonna throw us in some second-rate school after all the work she went through to push us both out."

Hikaru struggled to keep a straight face, but a snort of laughter escaped him at that. Kaoru positively glowed with the knowledge that he'd made his brother laugh.

"And anyway," Kaoru said, "I didn't really want to say this earlier 'cause I thought you liked being the one to think up all our ideas, but I had one of my own…"

"Ohhh?" Hikaru asked with a smile, his interest piqued.

"Well, you know how we were talking about how it would be cool to see the inside of a commoner house? We want Haruhi to show us her home, right?"

Hikaru nodded.

"I think I might have just the plan," Kaoru said. A wicked smile spread across his angelic face.

Hikaru grinned back. "I'm game."