Summary: Sometimes you also have to practice what you preach. Because the thing about old adages and bromides is that occasionally, they're right.
Good Things Come To Those Who Wait
When they were growing up, their mother had told them, "You're going to end up marrying twins one day."
"No, we're not!"
"Well, you surely can't marry each other, and you surely can't marry the same girl," she laughed.
And then, bustling around the kitchen with files in hand, a ringing phone to her ear, and a watchful eye on the cookies, she chided, "Hikaru, don't eat any of those right before dinner," when it had been Kaoru reaching for the plate.
Mother knows best.
Mothers and proverbs and sayings aren't always right, Kaoru knows.
It started with what Haruhi said about them the time that she explained how she could tell them apart. "Well, if I had to say, Hikaru's actions are one level meaner than Kaoru's."
He could sense Hikaru tense up at that innocuous statement. And even though their fight had only been pretend, a concoction, that had been one of the things that seemed to actually get to him.
"Hey, I'm just being sincere and saying what I want without hiding anything."
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
It wasn't the words that did; it was everything else.
That night, they dyed their hair opposite colors and climbed into bed, and Kaoru squeezed Hikaru's hand as if to say, I know you didn't mean what you said and I didn't mean what I said either. Hikaru smiled back.
Because that's how Kaoru does things. Subtly, with signals and motions. He doesn't need large waves of emotion or explosions of feeling to convey (or cause) what he needs to. Hikaru causes (or shakes) things with a bang, an exclamation, a string of sentences or a punch to the wall. He, on the other hand, can move those mountains with a touch, a glance, a word in the right place.
(just a word)
Whose actions are one level 'meaner'?
The short answer is, it depends.
"You actually like Haruhi, don't you?"
"I…idiot! What kind of a misunderstanding is that?"
It's a good thing that Kaoru has a level of perception slightly higher than what Hikaru does. Because he does not bring up that topic ever again, nor does anyone else. The others don't, because after the fight they decide that it was simply a ploy; the two of them don't because that's dangerous, uncharted territory - a world with a new hairline crack that an intruder inadvertently made.
Little tremors can cause big earthquakes.
They don't have to patch the crack up. Anything they ignore in their world disappears, so if they don't acknowledge it, it won't be part of what they can see. It's always worked before. Always.
Even if their world is suddenly shifting in places where it never had.
(It's not an earthquake if the foundations haven't shifted yet, he wants to say)
Kaoru doesn't like shake-ups. He doesn't like boring and he does like excitement but shake-ups of this kind just aren't the same.
The one other person they cherished before Haruhi came along, the one and only person, had left them with that message: "Perhaps there will never be someone who can tell you two apart."
But then she came, and they saw, and she saw more. More than any other person that came before her.
Kaoru isn't sure if it started from the moment they met her or the day of the fight or somewhere in between, but he eventually notices (more and more of) the little things. The little changes in Hikaru's mannerisms – glances that stay fixed on her a millisecond longer than his own, movements that slightly break their synchronicity, a new glimmer in his eye that only he would – could – notice – that gives him away.
And he thinks it's a good thing. They're both self-centered, a little, (a lot,) because of the walls they've carefully constructed around them. If anything, with how things have changed, it's a good thing for Hikaru to broaden his world. He's the one that's more stubborn, more affected by things that startle. So something like this, it can be good for him. Them.
Besides, things are changing already, aren't they? So there's no use in delaying the inevitable.
It takes a blind man to truly see things.
Whoever said that is a liar. Both of them have 20/20 vision.
His foresight is simply better, that's all.
He pushes them on a date and in the end it all works out. Hikaru brings back Haruhi, dripping wet from the rain, doesn't tell Kaoru what exactly happened but lets his regretful eyes speak for him, apologizes to Arai-kun in the morning and seems to have learned something.
He pushes them into a waltz at the dance and in the end they enjoy themselves. Haruhi is as surprised as his twin but Kaoru just grins a trademark devil's grin and sits back, watching them twirl each other about.
He pushes them on their first (real) date one weekend. They come to her house, take her by the arms and go out; she relents because she's realized how futile it is to try to stand in their way. They treat her for lunch despite her objections and walk several blocks while glancing at the shops, talking and laughing and joking around, before Kaoru realizes that he's left his cell phone behind at the restaurant by accident. He tells the other two to keep going, saying he'll catch up to them later, and jogs back before they can protest.
He'd planned it all, of course, and walks back leisurely, pulls his phone out of his pocket, and calls them to designate a meeting point. But he's done what he set out to do; by the time he gets there, the two of them are perfectly fine and happy on their own. He rejoins their little trio with ease but leans back for most of the time as he intended to.
(He doesn't feel anything but gladness for them, nothing at all)
He's constantly pushing them because they're the type that seems hopeless without a guiding hand, and he feels as though all of his attempts work at bringing them closer together (while keeping Tamaki as far away as possible, though the success rate of that is slightly lower).
Until one day, when he's lying on the bed playing his video game and Hikaru walks in, leans against the doorway, and goes, "So what about you?"
"What about me?" he responds automatically, focused on his game.
"Me, and Haruhi, and you."
There's no "I" in team.
No. There is no "I" in we. And you can't jumble it up to find a "me", either.
When had they become me and you and not you and I or us two or we?
He allows his little character to walk into a wall, looks up. "You really are the stupider one."
Hikaru doesn't fall for the bait, and continues to stand there, arms crossed.
I know you better than that rings unsaid across the room.
Silence speaks volumes.
No, he thinks. Silence says nothing. It's the lack of words that does.
Hikaru has known for a little while. Has finally figured out his brother, has finally figured out himself (as much as he can).
Kaoru, on the other hand, isn't willing to acknowledge everything, in a sense. He has the capacity to know, yet doesn't, doesn't try to see.
Then one day, they're sitting in study hall, and he looks up from his book to see Hikaru and Haruhi bent over textbooks and papers. Haruhi gives his brother that look and tells him without malice just what he's doing wrong with his English assignment, while he scowls and folds his arms across his chest, muttering about how he's not the one who likes languages.
He's on the outside of their trio looking in and he looks at their cheerful faces and he feels a twinge of something and realization hits him. What he feels for him, her, them.
A butterfly beating its wings on one side of the world can cause an earthquake continents away.
For all he knows, perhaps. It's not exactly the same as his brother, because even though he does like her, he doesn't really like her the same way that Hikaru does. But in the end it all comes down to more or less the same thing. And it's only now that he realizes just how problematic everything has become.
(Even in this, especially in this)
When had his brother gotten more perceptive than him? he wants to ask, but the words won't form quite right in his mind.
It isn't all that surprising.
It was always inevitable that one of them would fall in love with Haruhi, since she's so much of what everyone else is not. Interesting. Unique. More than just a toy. More than just a girl. Unwittingly casting a spell about her that draws everyone in, doing things that mean no malice but still shatter crystal and glass and illusions and order.
But then again, it's not quite right, that he simply likes her; it's not quite the whole story. Because his fear isn't that Hikaru will get the girl. It's that, well, the girl will get Hikaru. Or is it? After all, his brother doesn't fall into one of those standards of love or like, either.
It's Haruhi. It's Hikaru. It's Haruhi. It's Hikaru.
Everything's simpler than it seems.
Except when it's not.
Either way, both scenarios have the same result: he'll be left alone.
(Kaoru doesn't like change, doesn't like change like that
He wanted to help himself and his brother, wanted them to learn to adapt before they'd be plunged headfirst into the world outside their doors, wanted his brother to break free from his shell and temper his emotion. Wanted him to grow, wanted him to learn how to love someone other than his fellow twin, wanted him able to be happy without him around.
He wanted those things.
He still wants those things, but now, things are different. He's the one that's different. And Kaoru's now as aware of it as his twin standing in the doorway is. He's wanted his brother to be able to survive in the world without him, but he's never considered if he can do the same.
Assuming makes an 'ass' out of…
Whoever it is that he loves more (or less the same), that's something that, for all of his talking about change and adaptation, he's not sure he can take. The being left behind, the odd man out, the third of a pair, the shattering of his world.
It takes a blind man to truly see things.
Whoever said that is a liar. Both of them have 20/20 vision. His foresight is simply better, that's all.
It's just that…
(he watches them, watches him watching her, and)
…this time, it's not good enough.
"You're going to end up marrying twins one day."
His mother isn't the only one who thought of such a thing.
"Both of you are going to stay together after school, right?"
"How are you going to do that?"
"Are you going to marry twins?"
"Maybe they'll marry the same girl!"
Hikaru slides his fingers under Kaoru's chin, tilts his head up and gazes down with lowered lashes. "Maybe, instead…"
He doesn't get a chance to finish the sentence before all of the girls instantly swoon.
"Kyaaa! Forbidden brotherly love!"
Kaoru goes along with their little play and pretends on the outside, but inside he knows.
Inside, he knows.
He's been thinking too much lately. Hands move on the large grandfather clock, second hand ticks and the minute hand tocks, time flies he can't but how he wishes sometimes how he wishes.
Wishes never won wars.
He's not trying to fight anything.
(just a tide)
He knows he can't go against the flow, he knows.
(When's the carriage going to stop, when's the magic going to fade?)
Kaoru is not jealous. To be jealous would imply that there's something that he doesn't have that he wants. He's never envied someone for their money, status, or class. He's never envied someone because they're not a twin, not a Hitachiin, has no shadows and ghosts or Siamese twins following their back. He's never envied the members of the Host Club for any kind of reason, never envied any of their bonds. He'll always have Haruhi's friendship, always have Hikaru's love.
In short, he's not the jealous type. He's not.
The club closes down for the day and as Hikaru wanders off for a moment to take care of some errand or another, Kyouya comes to stand next to him, closing his ledger book with a flick of his wrist.
It can't be a good sign.
They stand next to each other in silence for a moment, which only confirms Kaoru's thoughts.
"Remember that day, when I asked you if you knew that feelings of love could develop from your date plan?"
He smiles, not ruefully, not with anything bittersweet – not with anything. "They were already there."
Kyouya says nothing for a moment, and then. "If you're any more distracted than you already are, you might deter some of our clients. I'd hate to see that happen."
(What kind of a debt are you willing to pay?)
He doesn't respond.
Kyouya walks away.
He should've known that's all that he's worried about.
Some feet away, Hikaru leans against one of the room's pillars, thinking.
Back when they'd been far, far younger and less unruly and unmanageable, their mother told them stories. Fables. Fairy tales.
He still remembers when she told him about Cinderella. "Is it like that one movie?" they asked.
A laugh. "Yes, yes, somewhat." And then she proceeded to paint pictures in words, of sisters and fathers, helpers and hinderers, dreams and fairy godmothers.
Kaoru remembered the carriage part the most. "But I don't want it to turn back into a pumpkin!" he cried after the clock struck midnight.
"Stupid," Hikaru mumbled. "It has to happen, otherwise everything's too easy."
"But it's unfair!"
"But that's how the story goes!"
His mother smiled, shushed them both. And kept telling the story like a true weaver of rhythm and rhyme up until the very end and the happily ever after, then looked at her boys and how content they seemed. "So you see, Kaoru? It was unfortunate that the carriage turned back into the pumpkin at that moment, but the fairy godmother had already said that the magic would at midnight. That was one of the conditions that she had given Cinderella. Without agreeing to that, she never could have gone to the ball."
Kaoru nodded; he already knew that.
"And perhaps, if Cinderella didn't have to leave at midnight and the carriage didn't change back, maybe she would've been able to stay with the prince forever at that point. But it had to happen that way in the story. Cinderella had to go back home, the prince had to have such strong feelings that he went out and searched for her, and her family had to be disillusioned."
"What's disillusioned?" Hikaru asked.
Their mother laughed. "The spell had to be broken. Her family had to realize something, but never mind that. And then they were all forgiven by her after she had become the princess, and everyone lived happily ever after." She turned back to Kaoru. "You see? It might've been a sad thing at the time, but good things came to everyone afterwards. It had to happen."
Kaoru nodded, though he didn't understand. Hikaru shifted in the bed and muttered something about Western fairy tales, and that was that.
Eventually, the two of them would respond to any attempt at telling them a story by sticking their tongues out in tandem and going, "Bah, they're so stupid," while decimating every point in the writing that they could. Like why princesses needed saving and how they couldn't take care of themselves, why princes were so ridiculous and two-dimensional and as real as cardboard, why they had to hear stories that were "once upon a time" if that phrase itself meant that they didn't matter any more.
But now, things are different.
Kaoru thinks back, tries to shake himself free of the image that his mother had instilled in him when he was a child, of the princess dancing with the prince and the clock ticking in the background. And finally, finally, finally understands the point his mother was trying to make about the carriage and the pumpkin so long ago.
(No he doesn't, he doesn't understand he doesn't want to understand real life's not a once upon a time and stories aren't real)
It all depends on the version of the story, though. In some, Cinderella forgives her family, they repent and cast aside their old ways, and everyone does live happily ever after. And in others, they're punished. Eyes torn by ravens, bleeding stumps and halves of feet, exile and atonement and god knows what. They're punished.
He wonders how much of his life is like one of those fissured little fairy tales, in the end.
He's lying on the bed with a book stretched out in front of him, and that sense of his that warns him of potentially inconvenient conversations is alerting him with a big red flashing light right now.
I know you're not busy, he hears in that, and the light's now a wailing siren.
It's a lost cause.
He sighs and sits up, taking his time. "What, Hikaru?"
His twin doesn't respond right away. "Something's up with you."
And it makes him shiver slightly, because he's supposed to be the one with words and Hikaru's supposed to be the one with actions and intensity, not the other way around, and it's making him wary. "What do you mean?"
"This. You. You've been…" He scrunches his face together, at a loss for words. "What's going on with you lately?"
At least his brother hasn't gotten a single bit more perceptive, he thinks.
"Kaoru. Look at me."
Hikaru's eyes are bright and bold and stark, with light dancing in their depths that give Kaoru the feeling of something akin to accusation. "What is it? Is it something I did?" Pause. "Is it Haruhi?"
Well, all right, so his brother isn't stupid. "No," he says easily.
(Because it's not)
Denial's more than just a river in Egypt
Again, it's not it's not it's not. It's not simply him, or her, or anything. If he knew what it was, knew the best way to solve the problem, then. Then.
"Kaoru – "
A tentative knock on the door. Hikaru spins around and opens it with more force than is necessary.
The maid doesn't flinch. "It's dinnertime." She bows and walks away.
Hikaru's fist shakes for a moment. Kaoru senses a tinge of helplessness. Which is completely unreasonable, because doesn't he notice that he's the one that holds most of the power?
"I'll see you downstairs," his brother says as he stalks out into the hallway, leaving Kaoru by himself.
That night, Kaoru and Hikaru sleep on opposite ends of the bed with their backs to each other. They stay that way until morning.
There's a first time for everything, that one saying goes.
He's too tired to refute it.
Their steps are still in synch the moment they walk into the third music room, but something else must not have aligned, because Honey-sempai comes up and makes one of those faces of his. "Do you want to share some cake with me, Kaoru? It'll make you feel better! But, if we have to split the strawberries…"
(When was everyone able to look at him and see through everything, figure it all out?)
Hikaru can hold a grudge pretty damn well and doesn't say anything, stands off to one side as Kaoru, flustered, can't seem to come up with the right response. Kyouya and Mori are standing behind Honey and he has to close his eyes for a moment and breathe and –
The doors open. The customers pour in.
What is he here for, again?
"Another time," Kaoru grins at Honey with a bit of a wink, his composure regained, and he and Hikaru immediately fall into step.
One, two, three, step step smile grin another show another day.
He's not sure what had been wrong in the first place.
The door opens with another boom and he looks up and Haruhi's there, being chided by Kyouya in his I'm-not-blatantly-chiding-you way about timeliness.
(She walks in two minutes late and suddenly it all clicks, suddenly it all clicks)
"But I'd never, ever allow anything to hurt my brother," Hikaru says grandiosely in response to some foolish question or another, fingers pushing his head up again and jolting him back to the present. "Not a single person."
"Oh, Hikaru," he murmurs in a love-struck voice, allowing himself to be pulled closer and farther in.
He can't hear the more than love-struck girls through the noise in his head, and instead focuses on his brother's eyes, focuses on the game that won't last forever.
(clock's ticking down to midnight tick tock tick)
When did all of those sayings suddenly become more and more true?
He wants to ask the question, but there'll be nobody there to answer it.
And there'd be no point in that.
Haruhi and Hikaru are talking quietly to each other like they've been doing lately (looks as though his plans worked better than he thought), and he wonders whether he should simply go home by himself instead of waiting for his preoccupied brother.
A shadow falls over him. He looks up.
Mori looks down at him.
Uhm, Kaoru thinks.
"…," Mori says.
Kaoru would say that he's going crazy because it feels like a conversation, except that it's Mori and it's happened before and this is the Host Club, after all, so he's probably not.
Several seconds later, Honey bounds in, jumps onto Mori's back, and waves goodbye cheerily as Mori leaves the previously proffered cake on the table next to the tea.
It even has the strawberries left on it.
They walk out of the music room, the doors closing behind them with another resounding bang, and Kaoru looks back at the cake. And shrugs, grabs a fork.
"Oi, Kaoru. Time to go."
He finishes off the tea, boxes the cake back up, and unconsciously offers some to both Hikaru and Haruhi when he catches up to them at the doors, words slipping out of his mouth before he realizes.
In the end, they end up going back inside and finishing it all off amongst themselves. Haruhi still protests, saying she doesn't care for sweet things, but Hikaru's unconvinced (and knows she likes strawberries anyway), sticks a forkful of cake into her mouth, and smirks when he sees her expression of pure bliss and hears something that might be, "Strawberries..."
The more things change, the more things stay the same.
Kaoru eats with them, eats less of his third so that the other two can have more, and smiles, and understands everything at last.
He understands, at last.
It feels kind of rushed, sort of anticlimactic. No real epiphany, no eureka. Instead, it was simply as though the pieces were swimming in his mind and eventually collided to form a whole.
Anticlimactic's sort of boring, he thinks idly. It takes a bit of the fun out of it.
(Really, what actually gets him is that he doesn't know why he didn't see it all along.)
"You seem better today," Hikaru says after they've waved goodbye to Haruhi and they're in the car heading home.
Are you really okay? he can hear his brother say, though he merely looks at him.
He squeezes his hand in reply – just like old times – and he seems pretty satisfied with that.
This time, so's Kaoru.
(He doesn't need explanations)
That night they sleep with their backs to each other but they're back-to-back, and in the morning he's warm from his brother's body heat, his arm slung over the other's chest. And for once, he hasn't been kicked off of the bed.
This kind of morning's not going to last much longer, and he knows that.
But for what it's worth, he can live with that.
They're at the Host Club and once Hikaru's out of earshot, Kaoru can distinctly hear Honey say to Mori, "Hey, hey, Takashi, that cake worked, didn't it?" and an "ah." in response.
He says nothing.
It's not until they're closing up that he finally runs into Haruhi – alone. He doesn't say the first word; he knows that whatever it is, she's perceptive enough to know about it. Except when it's in relation to her, of course, but that's a completely different story.
"Hikaru was worried about you for the past few days."
He nods, making no effort to show that what she said is anything different than a commercial for cardboard or a notice of yet another club event.
She pauses. "There's no point to me telling you how close Hikaru is to you or how much you mean to him, but…"
He looks up.
She looks at him.
He can feel the corners of his mouth lifting, and she gets up from her seat with a slight bounce in her step (he's known her long enough to tell), gives him one last look of hers, and walks away.
Walk a mile in someone else's shoes and you'll understand.
He doesn't need the entire process, though.
He goes a little red, so slightly that only Kaoru would be able to tell. "I…I'm going out with Haruhi for lunch tomorrow, and she was wondering if you'd want to come too."
He smiles, in the ohoho, I'm proud of you kind of way, and says, "So, you asked her on a lunch date?"
His brother mumbled in reply something like, "well, Tamaki was talking about how he'd venture into the world of the commoners again and how he'd stop at her house and she was looking for an excuse to be busy that day so," and, "besides, she doesn't really see it that way…you know her, I don't know how she sees it anyway."
Kaoru's still smiling, but shrugs. "Maybe I'll come."
(Maybe I won't.)
If you love something, set it free.
The thing that gets Kaoru about clichés is that sometimes, they're true.
But sometimes, they're also right. And sometimes, he believes them too.
(The most clichéd thing is wanting only what's best for the ones you love no matter what no matter what no matter what when it should hurt the most but doesn't hurt at all.)
The world is no longer black and white, us versus them, you and me against the world; it hasn't been for a while and he's finally (willingly) come to (believe it) accept it.
"Go and enjoy your afternoon with Haruhi."
"But – "
"If she insists, then I'll be…late. Something. Just go and treat her well and have a nice time, you know?"
Kaoru hears the sound of receding footsteps, and looks up at the now-empty doorway.
If you love something, set it free.
Maybe it's what he should have done all along.
After all, he thinks, you never know until you try.
I liked it enough at first, then I really didn't, then I arrrrgh'd to my beta reader about it and okay it's done. Done. Left it for a few weeks before I realized I finished it, and here it is. It was originally more Hikaru/Haruhi, but then became more Kaoru-centric. Like magic. Yep.
Uhm, so I'm like the drive-by shooting that hits every fandom once and once only, but I'm hoping to stick around in this one. I have a few things planned. Which may or may not be a good thing, I guess.
Dex is the Swiss army knife beta that I could never live without, and I'm glad that this time, I could write something for a fandom that she knew. Thanks again for reading, hope you enjoyed, and please drop a line. :D