Disclaimer: I do hereby disclaim all rights and responsibilities for the characters in this new excuse for mischief… especially for the one who is singularly unmoved by the twins' antics. A curtsy is dropped to Bisco Hatori in grateful recognition of her creative escapades.

Author's Note: This story will be told through a loosely-connected series of drabbles and oneshots based on the prompts of the Live Journal communities 30 kisses (where I hold a claim) and ouran contest (which holds bi-weekly drabble and oneshot contests). For the record, this isn't twincest… though the boys do have an image to maintain. If you find their act convincing, that just means they're exceptionally good hosts. ::wink::

Playing to the Crowd

"What happened, Hikaru? You're such a mess," scolded Kaoru as he straightened his brother's tie. Long, slender fingers curled gently around the knotted silk, lingering until he heard telltale gasps from the trio of young ladies seated at the table just behind him.

"Did you miss me?" Hikaru replied breathlessly, sifting equally long and slender fingers through vibrant red hair, rumpling it further.

"Of course," Kaoru mumbled, coyly dropping his gaze. "How could you think otherwise?" A good host must see to the wishes of his guests, and since Hikaru was late, their customers' patience should be rewarded. At this moment, Kaoru knew the girls were leaning forward, eyes riveted on this touching reunion between brothers.

A warm hand cupped his jaw, lifting his face. Hikaru's golden-brown eyes were soft with tenderness, but Kaoru could see the smile hiding behind that adoring gaze. Laughter was bubbling just beneath the surface, but his twin didn't waver from his well-rehearsed role. "I hurried back to you, Kaoru," Hikaru offered apologetically.

"Oh, Hikaru!" With casual calculation, he bent his knees as Hikaru straightened, playing up the whole 'protective older twin' angle. "I don't know what to do with myself when you're not with me," Kaoru confessed, laying it on a little thicker.

"Maybe I should remind you," Hikaru murmured suggestively. Right on cue, the girls who'd designated them sighed dreamily.

It was almost too easy, this game of insinuation—making it seem that their relationship went far beyond mere fraternity. Plenty of girls clung to fantasies about identical twins, and the Host Club catered to their fascination. It was all an act, but the Hitachiin brothers prided themselves on a flawless performance.

"Not here," Kaoru protested. "What will the others think?"

"Who cares? None of them matter half as much to me as you do!" Hikaru declared earnestly.

Their success was thanks in part to the genuine bond underlying all the incestuous trappings. Kaoru really had missed Hikaru; it was extremely rare for them to arrive separately. When his brother had finally dashed in, winded from his rush up the stairs, the first thing Kaoru wanted to do was to touch him. Sure, they played at passion, but the need to reconnect was real enough… and so strong, it was practically instinctual. At least, that's how it was for Kaoru; Hikaru understood, though. His reassurances were overdramatic, but they still soothed away the little worries that had collected while they were apart.

They twined together like a pair of ginger cats, practically purring as they reveled in their own little world. Together, they were indomitable. Together, they were incorrigible. Together, they were indistinguishable… well, mostly.

"Um… hey, guys?" Haruhi interrupted.

The twins stopped, slipping out of character as easily as they slipped into it. "What?" they asked in blunt unison.

With a soft clack, she placed a tea tray in front of the Hitachiins' guests and began collecting empty cups. "It's nearly time for the rotation; you've been designated by those two for the next hour," she explained calmly, nodding towards a pair of whispering damsels who hovered a discreet distance.

"We knew that," they said together, then pulled apart to stand shoulder-to-shoulder.

The three who sat at the table pouted prettily. "But Hikaru-kun only just arrived!"

"It couldn't be helped," Kaoru said with a shrug. "Sensei held me back after class."

Hikaru's shrug was a mirror image, and he readily accepted the reversal of roles. "I was too distracted with worry for Hikaru to be much of a host." Tears glistened in his eyes as he looked at his brother. "Forgive me?"

"No, no," Kaoru manfully declared, grasping his brother's shoulders and giving him a gentle shake. "You mustn't blame yourself, Kaoru."



The three girls, who were Hitachiin regulars, swooned happily, and identical glances were traded—a fleeting smugness that celebrated another triumph in the ongoing rebellion that was 'us vs. else'. Then, Haruhi picked up the tray and half-turned to go. Shaking her head, she said, "I don't understand the appeal… or why you guys bothered to swap names."

"What?" exclaimed one of the girls.

Haruhi turned back and smiled faintly. "Don't let them fool you. He's Kaoru, and he's Hikaru… no matter what they say."

"He can tell them apart?" gasped a starry-eyed third year. "Oooh, that's amazing!"

Her two friends nodded eagerly. "Haruhi-kun is attuned to them on an intimate level," said an excitable second-year, hands clasped and eyes sparkling in admiration of the newest host's amazing talent. "He can see their very souls!"

"How romantic!" the trio squealed.

"I don't see how that could possibly be romantic," Haruhi muttered, but the protest was ignored.

"I still think we deserve an extension," insisted the first girl, fluttering her lashes in Hikaru's direction.

The wide-eyed second year looked hopefully at the tray-laden host. "Maybe Haruhi-kun could stay, too. Do you have any guests now?"

"Well… no," she reluctantly admitted, taking a cautious step backwards. "Though I do have other duties…"

As Haruhi took another step back, she found her escape route blocked the Host Club's reigning king. "Hello, ladies," Tamaki crooned, giving his golden hair a toss before striking an artistic pose. "Did I hear the faint murmurs of discontent? What can I do to bring happiness to your hearts?" In a trice he was on his knees beside the second-year and gazing up at her with limpid violet eyes. "What is your desire, princess?" he inquired throatily.

As all attention swung towards Tamaki, Kaoru nudged his twin. "She can tell us apart," he whispered, flicking a glance in Haruhi's direction.

"Maybe it's a fluke. I mean… how could she know?" Hikaru asked.

His twin shrugged and said, "How do you know."

"Oh… I see," Hikaru replied, looking vaguely unsettled.

Tamaki interrupted then, saying, "Kaoru! Hikaru! You must make amends!"

"For what?" they asked.

"It is your duty as hosts—nay, as gentlemen—to see to the happiness of these beautiful guests. I demand that you make their last five minutes memorable ones!"

"How are we supposed to do that?" Hikaru asked.

"I don't know! Use your creativity!" Tamaki ordered, then folded his arms over his chest and cocked his head to one side. "Well… go on! Make Daddy proud!"

Creativity, huh? Kaoru and Hikaru traded a long look, then moved as one.

Haruhi rolled her eyes and tried to get out of range, but this time the twins detained her. They'd circled around behind her, and now, they leaned on her, elbows propped on opposite shoulders. "Umm… guys?" she ventured, looking from one twin to the other with wide, brown eyes.

One of the most fun things about Haruhi was that she was no fun. She was far too perceptive when it came to them, but she was clueless when it came to herself. They could take advantage of her selective obliviousness and exact a little revenge for all the times she treated them like spoiled children. After all, if you couldn't play to the crowd, you played with them.

Kaoru liberated the tea tray from Haruhi's grasp, and Hikaru led her to the plush velvet loveseat they favored. "Umm… guys, what do you think you're doing?" Haruhi asked suspiciously.

"Making Daddy proud," Hikaru cheerfully replied as he pulled her down beside him.

"Our guests did ask for 'Haruhi-kun' to stay," Kaoru reminded her as he slid into place on her other side.

They'd perfected their act, but it never hurt to mix things up a bit; it kept things interesting. Matching golden-brown eyes met, gleaming in silent understanding before sliding towards Tamaki, whose confidence had slipped considerably with this development. Their 'king' always brought out the best in them. Tamaki's invitation to join the Host Club had been the first of many small changes to the microcosm of their existence, and in their own way, they showed their appreciation… although Tamaki clearly viewed their efforts to include him in their fun as torment. Toy with Haruhi. Torment Tamaki. What could be nicer? Hikaru was obviously of the same mind, for there was a challenging light in his eyes, urging his brother to keep up… or one up.

As the twins pulled Haruhi into a double-sided embrace and rubbed their cheeks against the silky softness of her hair, their guests' eyes widened. "Oh, my, my, my," gasped the heretofore unheard-from second-year whose glasses began to fog over.

"Three–" gasped the other second-year, blushing deeply.

"–some," finished the third-year with a squeak before swooning at this shocking display of forbidden love.

Shock them, intrigue them, excite them—the Hitachiins were in their glory. They always could ad lib their way into the hearts of their admirers, but it was even more entertaining to perform for Tamaki's benefit. Or rather… at his expense, Kaoru silently amended as he watched their club president's jaw drop in horrified disbelief.

"Mmmmmm, Haruhi," Hikaru purred, nuzzling closer.

"Our Haruhi," Kaoru declared, giving his brother a melting smile over the top of her head.

The only one unaffected by their invasion of Haruhi's personal space was—somewhat surprisingly—Haruhi herself. If anything, she endured all their pressing and petting with a martyr's resignation. Yes, that's it; her expression definitely screams 'kill me now', Kaoru decided with inner glee. I'll have to remember to tell Hikaru later; he'll laugh his ass off at that one.

"What are you scoundrels doing to my darling Haruhi?" Tamaki imperiously demanded, then raised his voice even higher. "Mother! Mother! The twins are molesting poor Haruhi! Make them stop!"

In response to Tamaki's wail, Hikaru patted Haruhi's head, mussing her hair, then went so far as to place a chaste kiss on her temple. Not to be outdone, Kaoru pressed a kiss to the same spot on the opposite side. The young woman seemed startled by this turn of events, but after giving them each a shrewd look, she shook her head in exasperation. "Are you done messing around?" she asked flatly.

"You called… Daddy?" Kyoya asked with dry amusement as he strolled over.

Tamaki's usual dramatics had skewed into histrionics. "Look at those scoundrels! They're taking liberties!"

"We're only doing…" began Hikaru with a slyly innocent smile as he draped his arm around Haruhi's shoulder.

"…what Tamaki wanted," finished Kaoru, resting his cheek atop Haruhi's head.

"He… hey… they… huh… guh!" Tamaki sputtered. The twins were really rather proud of themselves for reducing their 'king' to inarticulate jibbering.

"Hmm," replied the Host Club's second-in-command before glancing down at his notebook. "Be that as it may, it's time to make a switch," Kyoya announced with casual authority. "Haruhi, I suggest you take care of that tray of tea things now. Kaoru, Hikaru, your next guests are waiting. Tamaki, we have a newcomer. Perhaps you could make her feel welcome? You're so good with first-timers."

Tamaki's drooping spirits instantly soared, and he straightened, giving his golden hair an expert flick. With his usual sparkle firmly back in place, he strode purposefully towards a bashful-looking young lady who lingered just inside the doors, and Haruhi snatched up her tray and excused herself. The twins watched them go with uncannily alert stares. "An interesting reaction," Hikaru remarked in a low voice.

"Shall we exploit it?" Kaoru asked conversationally.

"That might be fun… but how?"

"A game—no, a competition!" the younger twin proposed, nodding significantly towards Haruhi's retreating figure.

"Do we issue a challenge?" asked Hikaru.

"No need," Kaoru smiled. "In fact, it'll be more interesting if he doesn't know what's going on."

"I'd be careful if I were you," remarked Kyoya, whose presence had been largely forgotten. Intelligent eyes flashed calculatingly behind the lenses of his glasses. "There are often unforeseen consequences to plans of this nature."

Hikaru folded his arms defensively. "What do you care?"

Kyoya's tight little smile was chilling. "Oh, I don't… so long as this little challenge of yours doesn't affect the Host Club's regularly scheduled activities."

With a roll of his eyes, Hikaru waved off the thinly veiled threat. "We're just going to have a little fun with Tamaki."

"Will Haruhi think it's fun?" Kyoya smoothly inquired.

Kaoru shrugged. "Haruhi has too much of the commoner's 'common sense' to take us seriously."

"But... if we continue to lavish her with attention, it'll drive Tamaki crazy," Hikaru beamed.

"Hmm," Kyoya murmured distractedly. "Do as you like, but don't say I didn't warn you."

"Thanks, Mom," the twins said in saucy unison.

The dark-haired 'shadow king' beckoned to the two young women who'd been waiting so patiently, and Kaoru and Hikaru reluctantly set aside their plotting to welcome their guests. First things must come first, Kaoru mused, especially when you're pinned under Kyoya's watchful gaze. While Hikaru pulled out chairs, Kaoru procured a fresh pot of tea and a plate of cakes.

Polite conversation soon gave way to giddy gossip. "Did you really kiss Haruhi-kun?" asked a beribboned first-year.

"That's so… naughty!" whispered her friend, though there was an approving shine in her eyes.

"Do you think so?" Kaoru asked.

"Haruhi didn't seem to mind," Hikaru smirked.

"It was a very shocking thing to do!" the second girl assured the twins. "Even Tamaki-sempai was agog!"

"Aghast!" chimed in the first girl, placing her hand over her heart.

For several moments, Kaoru pondered the mysteries of girls who only spoke in exclamation points. These girls are so damned excitable compared to Haruhi. However, his line of thought was interrupted when Hikaru straightened with a muffled exclamation.

The older twin leapt to his feet and hurried around to stand behind his brother's chair. Settling his arms around his brother's shoulders in a loose embrace, he whispered, "I know!" into his brother's ear. "I have the perfect plan!"

Kaoru smiled softly and reached up to pat his brother's cheek, shyly protesting, "Hikaru, you're embarrassing me! Not here!" With the ease of long practice, they slipped back into their 'brotherly love' routine, both of them looking forward to finding Tamaki's last nerve… and dancing on it.

End Note: This oneshot was written for the Live Journal community ouran(underscore)contest and their prompt for Challenge #22—Last. In addition, 'Playing to the Crowd' fulfills part of my claim at the Live Journal community 30(underscore)kisses—Theme #08, Our Own World. Posted on February 14, 2009—Happy Valentine's Day! 2,335 words.