Similarities and Differences
Disclaimer: Ouran High School Host Club © Bisco Hatori
Summary: "I can be the female manager of your fashion company! A new Host Club without the incest!" She strikes a pose that probably came from some ditzy anime.
Notes: Shameless crack pairing! Mostly for SilveryDarkness, who fan girls with me about this pairing. See, Wifey? This is what happens when you not-so-secretly-hint for me to finish something. :D Hope you enjoy!
The story begins with an ending:
She comes knocking at his door one night, wet and full of determination.
Kaoru does a double take and almost doesn't recognize her without her yellow dress and frilly bow.
"Can I come in?"
He wants to say no. He wants to slam the door in her face because she's a reminder of something long gone and rotten and insane.
"Sure." The word is droned out, almost as if he were bored, as if this meant nothing. He opens the door further and lets her slink through as if she were a stray cat.
He turns and regards her with a weary expression. "What the hell are you doing here, otaku?"
With no preamble, she's already looking at him with her hands clasped in front of her face along with wide, starry eyes. "I need a job," she says, clothes dripping water on his pristine, dry floor.
Kaoru quirks an eyebrow at her, as if she's speaking a different language.
She looks at him haggardly, sighing. "You're supposed to feel sorry for me and and give me the job, don't you know anything?" The old her shines through at last, and the only thing that's missing is the High Power Motor and energetic grins.
When she realizes he's not going to say anything to that, she visibly deflates. "I need the money."
"It can be like old times!" she says quickly, as if this will help her case. "I can be the female manager of your fashion company! A new Host Club without the incest!" She strikes a pose that probably came from some ditzy anime.
His mind is still wrapped around her previous statement. "You crazy otaku," he mutters instead, nonplussed, not bothering to ask further because it really wasn't his place to ask and because she's still gazing at him and it was starting to creep him out.
Kaoru maneuvers away from her and disappears into the long hallway that stretches into the darkness, and it isn't long before he returns with a towel and a mop. He hands them to her and waves her forward to the wet floor, suddenly wondering if he was crazy himself.
"Get started. Now." He watches for her reaction.
The smile that washes over her is almost like a tidal wave, and it's powerful and large and wet because she's suddenly hugging him with all her soaked might.
"Thank you! Thank you! Hoshakuji Renge at your service!" she cries, seemingly not even disappointed at the position he had given her as Non-Female Manager.
"Yeah," Kaoru mumbles into her hair, which was flopping against his face in a shaggy mess. "Great."
And then there's this:
Kaoru awakens the next morning to the sunlight filtering through his window with the calm, hot breeze passing over him as if he were an old friend. It reminds him of the time spent in Karuizawa all that time ago – of a flower pot and a special girl and of a time when nothing mattered except for himself and his brother.
There isn't enough time to wrap himself up in his blankets and old memories – he'd had the strangest dream last night, after all – because there was a sudden clink, thud, bang from below and a familiar shout of, "Oi, what is this?!" that boomed and vibrated in his chest because even after all this time, Hikaru is still connected to him in ways nobody else ever could be. "Kaoru! Kaoru!"
Pulling himself out of bed, Kaoru suddenly remembered that his dream hadn't been a dream at all – damn it, the crazy little – and that his brother was now probably face to face with a wet mop, partially dry floor, and new employee.
"Stop poking me!" Renge shrieks from her spot on the floor as Hikaru's finger mercilessly attacks her from above. "You horrible twin!"
"Hey, otaku!" Hikaru exclaims, voice full of barely contained wise-cracks. "What's with the mop? Decide it's better than those stupid dating sims?"
"Hardly!" she replies, making a swift attempt at biting him.
"Hikaru," Kaoru calls from the banister over looking the two of them. "Cut it out."
Hikaru turns his head away from the girl in front of him instantly, and gives his twin a smirk. "Been calling you for awhile," he says finally. "Did you happen to keep the door unlocked, Kaoru? Look what I found asleep on the floor." The chide is playful; forever Hikaru.
Kaoru comes down to meet his brother, and the air is slightly stale and tense with the new presence that watches them eagerly, as if expecting something extravagant. (And he wouldn't be surprised if she did.)
"I suppose this means both of you twins are my boss," Renge mentions casually, deciding the previous moment wasn't interesting enough.
The grin on Hikaru's face is practically slapped off and replaced with a look of utter shock. "Huh?! When did this happen?!" It's Renge's turn to grin now, and Hikaru can do nothing but do what he always does: turn to his twin for answers. "Kaoru!"
A shaky laugh, a hand scratching the back of his head. "Last night. Sort of."
"Yes, last night!" Renge chimes in with an exasperated look. "I'm now your new female manager!"
"Non-Female Manager," Kaoru points out helpfully.
"Non-Female Manager... wait, what?" Renge chokes, and uses the mop as a crutch to hold herself upright.
Hikaru raises an eyebrow. "Damn."
The world began to break apart like this:
He starts her off with the small tasks. Tests the waters. How far he can push her before it got out of hand.
"You missed a spot," he tells her one day while she was dusting their many elephant statues. "Better make it shine."
Renge looks at him as if he's just said something died in her bed.
Kaoru looks back at her plainly. "You're the one that asked for a job here," he says. "Don't tell me you're having second thoughts?"
She takes a dramatic gasp (or dramatic something) and turns her attention back to her work, muttering something that sounded like, "Horrible, evil Twin Boss," and, "I feel like Cinderella before she got the prince."
The scene in front of him is strange and foreign, and he can't help but stare openly at the hard-working Renge (who really wasn't working all that hard, but it was something). She didn't appear to be any older than from when they had went to school together, and the only thing that seemed any different about her was that she had cut her hair and had come to work for them.
The image is distorted and fractured and Haruhi is the first thing that is thought.
"What was that?" Renge's eyes are on him now, eyes wide and cheeks slightly flushed. "Did you say something?"
Shit, his mind supplied, realizing his mistake. "No, otaku. I think you're hearing things." Hikaru's face – his face – swims into view at the back of his mind and he shakes himself out of whatever fantasy world he's in. There is longing and love hidden away somewhere.
"Uh huh." She doesn't seem to believe him. "Your painful secret will come out in all due time! It always does."
And then like this:
"I don't like it," a customer tells them that same day, holding up a pretty yellow sun dress that Kaoru thought looked just fine to him (didn't this woman have any fashion taste?). "Make it again."
Hikaru, looking as if he were trying not to scowl at the woman, took initiative. "But don't you -"
"No." The old lady had her hands clasped in back of her, peering up at the much taller twins with a critical eye.
"How about -" he tried again.
Kaoru wanted to smack his forehead. Hikaru went ahead and did.
"Um," Kaoru started, and the woman shot a look at him, as if daring him to speak against her. "What's wrong with it?" Running a business, he now could say, was difficult. He had no idea how Kyouya always managed to keep track of things so flawlessly during their Host days – here, with him and his twin, they could make anything they desired and make things bigger and brighter and better, but it didn't do any good if the customer just Wasn't Pleased. The lady in front of them had come three times already, complaining about anything and everything about one little dress.
The two were frustrated beyond belief.
"Everything," the woman replied. "The size, the proportion, all of it." She'd said this the last three times, always the same things.
"Or maybe you're just crazy, lady," Hikaru murmured low enough for her not to hear (or maybe she wouldn't of heard anyways, neither of them really were interested enough to see), but Kaoru did, and felt compelled to feel the same way.
Their conversation was interrupted by the opening of the door, and Renge's small frame came into view, eyes bright and hands clutching to something as if it were a prize.
"My, my! And here I thought they were releasing the next version of Uki Doki Memorial next month! I guess my keen eye for detail and persuasion skills has allowed it to be released early!" Happiness practically consumed the girl. "Wonderful!"
They all stared and watched, looking at the young woman as if she were insane. Kaoru decided giving her the day off was officially a Bad Idea.
"Otaku!" Hikaru called angrily. "Can't you be a creepy, obsessed otaku somewhere else?"
Renge struck a pose that answered all. No. It's my day off.
Their customer was still staring, and slowly, almost hesitantly, she adjusted the tiny spectacles she wore and walked up to Renge, fully directing her attention away from the twins who watched with confusion and slight offense.
"You," she said, pointing up to the girl who looked at the finger questioningly, "look just like my granddaughter."
"Oh?" Renge blinked.
"Yes!" the woman said, and her expression grew until there was a smile on her face. "Definitely! You look exactly like her! So like her, in fact..." she turned to the twins, still pointing at a nervous Renge. "I want the dress to be modeled after her!"
"What?!" the twins' jaws fell simultaneously.
"Really?" Renge asked, pointing at herself now and grinning in glee. "This is fabulous!" she said, shaking her fist in triumph. "I knew I would be promoted! This is just how it goes in the movies! Renge could eat three bowls of rice of this!"
The old woman clapped enthusiastically.
The twins died just a little inside.
The rising action smears across the page about here:
She would laugh and dance around with little imaginary hearts around her – talking about some new game or anime she had watched lately -- and the customers with children would look at her and would clap in delight. ("Are you the mascot?" one asked, looking her up and down and the large purple hat that she wore.)
They continued using her as a model for some of their designs – the words commoner and doll came to mind in a wave of memory – and they found her even helpful with some of her gentle comments ("You're hopeless!" "More flare! More flare!" "I thought you were supposed to be fashion designers!").
Kaoru looked at Hikaru, and Hikaru looked back at Kaoru, and they held hands after what felt like an eternity of being apart and cold.
"Maybe it wasn't so bad you hired her after all."
Kaoru watched her jump up and down in one of their designs, singing what sounded like the badly pronounced National Anthem. He's been doing that a lot lately. Watching her. Constantly comparing her to her old high school self. Bits and pieces fit while a larger chunk remained put off to the side for safe keeping.
Something was missing.
"Kaoru?" Hikaru asked, looking at him in concern when he was met with silence.
"Yeah," Kaoru replied, giving his twin a smile, hoping to ease his mind. "Does any of this remind you of something else, Hikaru?"
Hikaru blinked. Turned to look at Renge. Turned to look at Kaoru. Understanding dawned in his eyes. A hand was gripped harder.
"... Don't be stupid, Kaoru."
Kaoru still looked directly ahead of him, wondering why she cut her hair.
Hikaru sighed, not wanting to see, unable to.
To Kaoru, the similarities were impossible to miss.
But so were the differences, he tells himself.
The differences jutting out at odd angles:
"Twin Boss Number One -"
"Kaoru." The name slips out from his tongue like hot metal. He knows exactly why the title she gives him annoys him so much; he's just not willing to carve it out in words yet. "It's Kaoru."
Renge cups her chin in her hand, peering at him through calculating eyes. He thinks she might call, "Foul." It's what she always does.
And then something unexpected happens. She frowns. Looks at him through big eyes. Much like that time during the Ouran Festival, when she was explaining Eclair Tonnerre as if she were reciting a school lesson.
Something like that.
The temperature in the room drops several degrees before there's any other type of development.
"There's a client waiting for you." It's all she says, without her usual flare. "So... I'll be going now." She says this last part as if she's waiting for him to say something. He doesn't, and she takes it in stride and doesn't bother calling him by name because she can't tell the difference anyway.
She's angry. He can tell, because she keeps to herself that day and even the clients were able to see it.
The climax is abrupt, but like her:
She doesn't say anything about their little fumble, and he doesn't bring it up.
After all, she's not Haruhi. Renge is not oblivious.
But then again, he notices she's perfectly fine with knocking on his bedroom door at night.
There are tears and hugs and someone begging, Please, please don't let this be happening.
"Did you know Haruhi-kun was a girl?" she cries into his chest, gripping him tightly, and he is kicked with the fact that she definitely knows which twin she's holding because she knows who lives here and who doesn't.
Kaoru pulls at her a little, the surprise of her coming to him to tell him that outweighing anything else. "Renge-chan -" He uses her name for the first time in a long time.
Her wails escalate. "I've been in love with a girl all this time!" She looks at him with tears shining in her eyes. No moe here. "Isn't that something!"
Kaoru believes she will take it very, very badly if he mentions the something they were doing this very moment.
"Haruhi-kun once said it doesn't matter about what's on the outside!" she hiccuped. "'It's fun to learn what's on the inside!' It – it shouldn't be a big deal! Right?!"
He's too shocked to answer.
She seems to take this as something all on it's own, because suddenly she stops crying and lets him go.
And then she sits down right in the middle of the hallway, as if she's drained of whatever keeps her going.
Quietly, reluctantly, he takes a seat right next to her. He think of putting a hand on her shoulder, but decides against it. Not a good time.
They don't say anything for awhile, and Kaoru wants nothing more than to question her on something. Anything. Everything. That fits better with the puzzle.
Renge lifts her head a little and says, "Sorry." She sounds tired.
Kaoru is close but not close enough to touch her. "It's okay." He looks at her, really looks at her, and sees her in a way no one else probably has. It's almost frightening. "Renge-chan," he calls her by name again. He's nervous about asking her this next question – because she might cry again, she might hug him again, she might do something incredibly crazy again– but he has to know. "How did you find out Haruhi was a girl?" There's no reason to hide it now. It doesn't matter anymore.
She puts her head down again as if she's trying not to cry, and just says, "He... she told me."
Kaoru raises his eyebrows questioningly. "When?"
Her feet are bare and she's wiggling her toes. "Two months ago," she says.
There's a long pause.
Kaoru listens, because that's what he's good at, and he is given words attached with meaning. Things like "France" and "My father died" and "My lawyer" and "Haruhi helped me with his will" were all apart of the same line, which finally ended with the punctuation of, "I miss him."
He looks at her with quiet, understanding eyes. She doesn't look at him at all.
"And then she told me, 'I think your father would be proud of you, Renge-san,'" she continues anyway. "'Whatever you decide to be, I'm sure he supports you. Isn't that right?'" Her voice cracks near the end. "Haruhi-chan is a really amazing person. Girl or boy or commoner."
"She is," Kaoru agrees, unable to think any different. He feels bad for her, for himself. This strange confession was something he could relate to. Bonding, he realizes.
He hears her tell him goodnight after awhile, hears her bare feet against the floor, hears her soft footsteps fall silent both in the hallway and in his thoughts.
Kaoru sits there for a long, long time.
And then there's the falling action:
The next couple of days are a blur; she follows him, works for him, acts nothing like a cleaning lady and everything of an assistant.
Kaoru notices right away. The smiling face she gives him everyday is weird but strangely appreciated. Their little talk that night did something that he isn't comfortable with yet, but he's taking it anyways and shoves whatever it is that bothers him away because there is actual work to be done and because he might actually faint from all of it.
Hikaru watches them from the other side of the room.
Kaoru knows he notices it too.
And that's not all:
That night, she comes to him again, only she is dry of any tears and she's wearing socks this time.
"Hi," she says conversationally. As if this isn't strange at all.
She starts talking about anything and everything, as if he was there specifically to listen to her. Of old memories and friends, of moe moments, of whatever cosplay she's planning, of whatever level she's at on her new dating sim.
It all goes through one ear and out the other, and he thinks he might just fall asleep listening to her, but he sits there anyways and lets her talk. It's better than letting her hug him to death while she's wiping her nose on him.
He feels like a mini-therapist, murmuring "uh huh" and "yeah" every now and then.
They base their strange friendship around these times.
She'd come talk to him about... whatever (and it was light-hearted stuff now, nothing drenched in angst or sadness or lost loves or anything like that), and he'd just listen. He never had anything to say in return, nothing to confess to her because he never wanted to and because he was still so closed in even after all this time.
If both he and Hikaru had stood side by side right that moment, he would have made a bet that Renge had no idea which twin was which.
Something about that bothered him, and when he glanced at her with a blank expression and saw the similarities (they were too obvious for him to miss, and he's always been the intuitive one), he had to say something about it.
"Why'd you cut your hair?"
Renge shrugs, stopping mid-sentence. "... it looks better this way."
Kaoru thinks that's not like her, not how he remembers her, and says, almost as a whisper to himself, "And the carriage turns into a pumpkin. Again."
Renge blinks, confused. "Huh?"
"Nothing," Kaoru says quickly. "Just be yourself, Renge-chan. It hurts less in the end."
Renge doesn't say anything, but she blushes, blushes, blushes and it's so obvious she scrambles up from her spot on the floor and says, "Well! Goodnight then," and hurries, hurries, hurries away from him.
Kaoru realizes right then that they're both treading very dangerous waters.
It's starts getting twisty and turny after that. She doesn't come for the next couple of nights, and he really doesn't mind because boss and employee really shouldn't be sharing secrets in the hallway right next to his room.
They continue on.
While that's happening, he questions his motives. Thinks on things that aren't important because maybe that will help cure whatever this is.
He remembers brief conversations he's shared with her in high school. Teasing, laugher, something about commoner coffee.
It doesn't help.
He watches her talk to customers, clients. She doesn't see him doing it (he's always been the sneaky one), and he's just fine with that because he doesn't even know why he's doing it in the first place either.
He wants her to grow her hair back. He wants to know the difference between her and the her she's trying to be.
The world is a big and scary place.
Especially when this happens:
Renge comes back one night after a month of not coming. Sits down. Looks at him.
"You were in love with her too, weren't you?"
Gets straight to the point.
Kaoru stares at her openly, her face the only thing he can see. It's full of something that hadn't been there before.
His lack of a response pushes her forward. He wonders if she had guessed or if she just really did have a keen eye for detail.
"I knew it," she says with the same face she had given him when he had spit his name out at her. "This is quite the exciting plot twist, isn't it?" she mumbles, a small, shaky smile on her face. "I knew your deep, dark secret would come out sometime. They always do."
They always do.
And then Kaoru's afraid she might try and kiss him, because she's just looking at him, just looking, but it's more than a look and less than a question and it would be easy because even if he didn't want it, they were both connected now because of these meetings and the shared feelings they had once had for a commoner/cross dresser/host/amazing person.
And then she's leaning towards him, leaning, leaning, and he doesn't even move (and he doesn't even know what that's supposed to mean) and there's waiting and then she trips on her night gown and her face hits his shoulder and he just sort of tries not to look at her.
And then there is laugher. First come the frowns, full of fumbling, fumbling awkwardness, and then there's the real laughter because it's better than crying or running or painful kisses.
He tells her she's weird, but not that bad.
She tells him he's evil and not like anything from the movies, but she calls him by name for the first time.
They hardly notice the time slip away from them.
And the resolution:
Kaoru can tell the difference between who she is and who she had wanted to be.
When she rose up from the middle of the studio, with clients all around her two months later on top of her High Power Motor with long hair and a microphone in hand and decked out in a yellow dress that looked vaguely familiar, he knew she was back to normal.
The sound of him and his twin's laughter was drowned out by her bad singing and the clients' claps.
And in that one little moment, he thinks he just might love her.