Warning: Heterosexuality ahead. Gasp! Butchery of POV, too. Also there are spoilers in this story if you haven't read through chapter 62 of the manga.
A monster had been created within Yasumura Mei ever since she had discovered that a certain pair of twins had a certain mother who was a certain fashion designer. She was the self-proclaimed 'biggest fan ever' of Hitachiin Yuzuha. As such, Mei entertained urges to see her idol as often as possible.
Haruhi, despite her efforts to stay out of it, had found it difficult to escape frequent visits to the twins' home. Mei would talk her into it one way or another, and she would end up accompanying her anyway.
On that particular afternoon, Mei had come to the Fujioka home under the pretense of studying. Unfortunately for Haruhi, it wasn't made clear what her friend was really thinking until after their books had been cracked open at the table.
She really should have known better.
"Hey, Haruhi..." Mei said thoughtfully, twirling a lock of blonde hair.
"Let's go see Hikaru-kun and Kaoru-kun now."
"Why can't you go by yourself?"
"I don't know where they live."
"Mei-chan. You know as well as I do you practically have the exact route to their home memorized. You've been there so many times now, how could you not?" Haruhi sighed, lifting her brown eyes to take in the image of the other girl across the table.
"Well, I don't want to go alone," Mei huffed slightly.
"I don't want to go at all. I want to study," Haruhi said calmly, turning the page of her textbook.
"They're your friends, aren't they? Why wouldn't you go? What kind of classmate are you, Haruhi?!" the ganguro asked incredulously.
"Yes, they are my friends, I don't want to go because it's bothersome when I want to study, and I'm the kind of classmate that wants to keep her scholarship." Haruhi ticked off her answers on her fingers. "Hikaru and Kaoru understand that, why can't you?"
"Life isn't always about studying, Haruhi." Mei rested her chin in her hand boredly.
"You sound like Tamaki-senpai."
Mei arched her brow.
"Really? I always had the impression that Tamaki and I had nothing in common."
"Anyway, we both know you want to go there to see if Yuzuha-san is home."
"Well, obviously I'd pay my respects to their mother if she was there," Mei retorted, a touch of defensiveness coloring her voice.
Haruhi sighed again.
"You're not going to let me get any studying done unless I go with you, are you?"
"Nope!" Mei said brightly, already on her feet and tugging at Haruhi's hand.
The petite brunette grabbed her jacket, resigning herself to her fate.
It wasn't that Haruhi didn't enjoy visiting the twins at their home, though she did feel a bit guilty that her blonde-haired friend didn't exercise much discretion about the reason they were really dropping by. As soon as Mei would get within sight of the manor, she would look around expectantly as though Ms. Hitachiin herself would come out to greet them.
Hikaru and Kaoru always seemed relatively good-natured about these surprise visits, although each time the two girls were invited inside, Haruhi had a mental image of being lured into the lair of a beast, never to be seen or heard from again.
It was a silly notion, and it was usually dismissed as quickly as all of the other weird thoughts that were inspired by being in the presence of the Hitachiins for any given length of time. She had become more or less used to their antics.
Mei, on the other hand, still did not quite know what to make of the pair of brothers, a fact which Haruhi supposed was part of the intrigue. Where Haruhi would be unaffected by most of their usual tricks, Mei had yet to build up any immunity to their shenanigans. It was certain the twins, in some subconscious way, were aware of this fact, too.
It started almost as soon as they came inside the door. The two girls waited in the foyer, which Haruhi always tried to avoid acknowledging was almost as big as the entire apartment she lived in. Barely a minute after their arrival was announced, the thundering of footsteps preceded the twins' descent down the grand staircase.
Hikaru got to them first, his long legs taking the steps two at a time. Where Kaoru may have mimicked this action in the past, he now came down less recklessly, careful but still quick. Like so many other things lately, they had developed more and more individual quirks and mannerisms such as these, but once they exchanged a brief, silent look between them at the bottom of the stairs, Haruhi knew they were still connected, still able to plot without speaking.
"Hello, Hikaru, Kaoru," Haruhi spoke quietly, capturing the attention of both boys.
She braced herself for the inevitable torment. Just because she was used to them didn't mean she didn't still find it bothersome.
"Haruhi! Mei-chan!" they said in unison, broad smiles lighting up identical faces.
In an all-too-familiar fashion, the small brunette found herself warmly embraced by two pairs of lanky arms. After a moment, Kaoru stepped back from his brother and Haruhi, his expression pensive, as though he had briefly withdrawn into his mind.
"Good afternoon, Hikaru-kun, Kaoru-kun," Mei piped up, smiling at each of the twins in turn as she greeted them.
It was something that she never talked about, but in a way, Mei was somewhat relieved that Hikaru had decided to dye his hair. Otherwise, she was quite certain she still would have had a hard time telling the two brothers apart all the time like Haruhi could. On the other hand, it was something of a shame, in her opinion. Though Hikaru looked handsome with black hair, the striking, cinnamon-hued shade that Kaoru still possessed was enviable. The light fixtures throughout the entryway highlighted the soft spikes of hair around his head like a fiery halo as he turned his eyes onto the other girl with a smile.
"So," Kaoru said softly, "to what do we owe the pleasure of this visit?"
"We just dropped by to say hello," Mei's smile became a bit strained with her little fib.
"She wants to know if your mother is here," Haruhi translated bluntly, still being fussed over by the older twin.
Hikaru paused in his actions and looked to his brother, who met his eyes silently. Mei gasped, her bronzed face taking on a flustered tinge of pink when Haruhi so heartlessly called her out on her underlying intentions.
"Haruhi!" she blurted out, clenching her fists. "How can you say that?!"
As if she hadn't really wanted to see Hikaru and Kaoru at all. That wasn't true! Just because she idolized their mother didn't mean she didn't consider them her friends, too!
Mei's eyes darted anxiously between the twins, who had yet to say anything again. She suddenly felt the sneaking suspicion that they were offended—usually some friendly banter happened before she asked about their mother, but Haruhi had put an end to that before it even started.
"To be honest," Kaoru finally spoke again, looking somewhat sheepish. "We aren't sure if she's home or not."
For the slightest instant, Hikaru looked puzzled. A question in his eyes was dismissed by a nearly-imperceptible shake of his twin's head. A thought had visited Kaoru, but his brother was sure to pick up on it sooner or later.
"You know how it is," Hikaru said, confidence immediately returning; he may not have understood what exactly Kaoru was planning, but he trusted his twin implicitly. "She travels so much, and all."
"I see," Mei said, partly in relief that the twins had not taken Haruhi's words badly, partly in disappointment at the possibility that Yuzuha was not there.
"She might be here, though," Kaoru said, placing a hand on Mei's shoulder.
"Really?" Mei questioned, her expression suspicious. "You're not just messing around with us, are you?"
"We could look around for her," Kaoru offered. "Why don't we split up and search? Mei-chan, you come with me. Haruhi, you can go with Hikaru."
The blonde girl stared at Kaoru as though gauging the sincerity of his words, but eventually brightened at the suggestion. Haruhi looked unenthusiastic.
Though Kaoru's words were delivered in his usual, softspoken manner, Haruhi knew that they were final. Any objection would fall on deaf ears when the other two people with them seemed okay with the idea. It was perfectly logical to look for Ms. Hitachiin, she supposed, but she couldn't quite shake the feeling that this was being staged for some reason or other.
That was when Haruhi realized the three of them were looking at her expectantly. She was on the spot now—how could she, in good conscience, say no?
She sighed, for what felt like the millionth time that day.
"Sure," she muttered in resignation. "Let's go look for her."
"Great!" Kaoru said brightly, gently prodding Mei by the shoulders towards one of the adjacent hallways. "So let's get moving, 'kay?"
The two pairs parted ways, then, as Hikaru tugged a reluctant Haruhi by the hand down another corridor, murmuring patronizing words of encouragement. The other two teens could vaguely hear the sound of Haruhi's blunt response and Hikaru's resulting laughter once they had disappeared around a corner.
Kaoru released Mei as soon as they had started down their own path. He fell into step with her, and they walked in silence for a few minutes without speaking. Mei stole a glance at the red-haired boy. As the seconds ticked by, the girl got a distinct impression that something wasn't quite right.
"We're not really looking for your mother, are we?"
Kaoru paused in his stride. Mei did the same. They turned to each other, and the girl folded her arms over her chest, looking none too pleased about her suspicion. Kaoru met her gaze evenly, his face the perfect picture of innocent curiosity.
"What makes you say that?" he asked softly.
"You haven't looked anywhere. We've just been walking," she said, gesturing in the direction they had come from; rows of doors that had been ignored. "You haven't asked any of your hired help, either... now that I think about it, wouldn't that have been the first step?"
Kaoru's lips quirked at the corner, a smile just below the surface.
"Maybe I forgot to ask."
Mei's brow furrowed.
"Kaoru-kun, you would never be anything less than thorough if you were really conducting a search."
"You caught me so soon, Mei-chan." He grinned sheepishly, lifting his hands in surrender. "I'm impressed."
"I'm not stupid just because I go to a public school, Kaoru-kun." She glared up at her companion.
"No, no." Kaoru blinked, tilting his head. "I never thought you were stupid, Mei-chan."
"Then what is the point of this game?!" she demanded, prodding the lanky boy in the chest with her finger.
"I think you know." He rubbed the spot absently.
This caused Mei to pause. A moment's confusion flitted across her features, but understanding soon flashed in her eyes.
"You wanted to let Hikaru be alone with Haruhi."
"You know me so well. See, Mei-chan, I knew you weren't stupid."
"I may know now what you are doing, but I don't get why. Aren't you setting Hikaru up for disappointment?" she asked dubiously. "Nothing will come out of it."
"That may be so, but Hikaru was already rejected once by Haruhi, yet he still wants to pursue her. He knows the odds are against him in favor of Tono. As his brother, I feel compelled to help him anyway I can."
"When you put it that way, I guess that's thoughtful of you... but did you really need to try and trick me, too?" The girl did little to mask her disappointment as she averted her eyes. "I doubt it would be very much fun for you to keep up that sort of charade with me."
"Ah, but that's different, Mei-chan."
Kaoru put a hand on her shoulder, causing the blonde to look up at him questioningly.
"Whenever you come over, you look so eager at the prospect of meeting our mother. I played along because it was amusing to see you so excited about it."
Mei's eyes widened. While one part of her was glad that he didn't seem to be annoyed about her always wanting to see Ms. Hitachiin when she visited, another, much larger part of her, felt hurt that he seemed to gain amusement from leading her on.
"You're terrible." She brushed his hand off. "Didn't anyone ever tell you it's not nice to toy with a girl's feelings?"
Kaoru looked slightly taken aback. His shock soon dissolved into an apologetic smile.
"No," he said slowly. "No one ever has. Thank you, Mei-chan."
The girl clearly didn't know how to respond to that, just as she didn't know how much significance her words truly held to Kaoru. She was blissfully unaware that toying with the feelings of others had been a terrible habit he and his twin had only recently begun to break.
"But I didn't mean it the way you think," Kaoru continued.
"So how did you mean it?"
Mei looked at him expectantly. Kaoru's eyes looked distant; he leaned against the wall as he began to explain himself.
"Our mother always travels a lot... when we were small it wasn't easy to understand the importance of her work. In time, we came to realize that she worked hard not only because she loved her work, but because she loved us. Everytime she would leave on a trip, Hikaru and I would search every single day for her, until we finally found her on the day she would return. We didn't want to hear someone tell us she wasn't here. So we would search, always hopeful." His eyes met the girl's. "I guess the way you always look around for her so hopefully when you visit reminds me of that, in a sense. I just couldn't let you down so soon."
As he spoke, Mei was uncomprehending at first, but as she began to piece together his meaning, her eyes were opened to an entirely different take on his actions.
"...Kaoru-kun, I..." she trailed off lamely, searching for the right words. "...I didn't know."
Mei looked thoroughly humbled, but Kaoru laughed brightly, startling her.
"There's no way you could have known," he said cheerfully, waving off her concern. "I'm sorry, Mei-chan. I shouldn't have tricked you."
"It's okay... I understand now."
Kaoru's smile faltered when it seemed his companion still felt guilty for jumping to the wrong conclusion. She had taken to fiddling with a strand of her blonde hair, and wasn't really looking at him anymore. Though she had bluntly cut right to the heart of how the twins had behaved during middle school, he didn't hold it against her. She had been right, even if she was ignorant about it.
"Hey, Mei-chan. Let me make it up to you. I'll show you something that I think you'll like." He offered her a hand. "Come with me?"
"Where to?" She looked skeptical.
He shook his head, golden eyes shining.
"I want to surprise you."
Mei was torn. She chewed on her lower lip, not knowing whether to believe him or think he was playing another game.
"Trust me," Kaoru said quietly.
His voice was soothing, and something in the way he spoke when he gently took her hand made her calmer, despite her hesitance. She finally met his gaze again and he smiled secretively before leading her down the hall and around a few corners, until they stood in front of a nondescript mahogany door.
"Here we are," he murmured, letting go of her hand to twist the knob.
Even though he lived there, Mei didn't understand how he could tell this door apart from the many others just like it that they had passed. Her musings were cut short, however, when Kaoru held the door open for her.
"What is this?" She stepped inside the room, and was immediately struck completely mute by the sight before her.
The room was open and spacious; cream colored walls were adorned with intricate wooden molding painted with gold details where they met the high ceiling. A row of mirrors that almost completely covered one of the walls made the area seem even larger than it actually was.
Mei was not interested in the décor, however. What had snared her immediate attention were the racks of colorful garments hanging there. Kaoru had followed her inside, leaning against the door jamb as he watched the girl eagerly look through the clothes.
"This... is this...?" Mei asked breathlessly, turning back to look at Kaoru.
He laughed softly.
"Yes, it's a studio."
"These are amazing," she murmured, running her fingers along expensive fabrics as she admired the well-made outfits.
"Would you like to try something on?"
Mei's head snapped up, looking at him with excitement in her eyes.
"Really? I can?"
"Sure, Mei-chan. Pick out whatever one you like. You can change over there." Kaoru gestured to a small area hidden by a curtain in the corner.
She beamed, nodding as she turned back to the racks to make her selection. Upon closer inspection, she discovered that they were separated into men's and women's clothing, and further grouped by the type of outfit. As she perused some elegant formal dresses, she almost jumped when she suddenly became aware of Kaoru's presence behind her.
"Might I make a suggestion?" he spoke quietly into her ear, leaning over her shoulder.
Before she could protest to how close he had come, his arm reached around her, long fingers immediately plucking a particular dress from the collection, and her attention became captivated by it. It was simple in design, but still lovely; a pale lavender sheath made of silk, with violet ribbons that made up the straps and crisscrossed in the back.
Kaoru passed the garment to her, and Mei took the opportunity to delight in the cool texture of the material on her fingertips, cradling it lovingly in her arms as though it were a precious treasure. The boy looked on with a hint of amusement.
"Are you going to look at it, or put it on?"
Mei turned to him as he spoke, gathering the dress to her chest, almost as though she was afraid he'd try to take it from her now that she had it.
"Of course I'm going to put it on," she snapped defensively.
Marching across the room, she ducked behind the curtain, trying to ignore Kaoru's chuckles at her attitude. As Mei began to unbutton her top, she paused, shifting her eyes to the tiny gap between the curtain and the wall.
"Kaoru-kun, if I catch you peeking, I will end you."
Another laugh. Mei bit her lip. Though he didn't seem to be taking her sense of modesty very seriously, Kaoru's laughter was, admittedly, kind of pleasing to the ear. She might have enjoyed the sound if she wasn't the current object of his amusement.
"Don't worry, Mei-chan. I'm staying over here," he assured her.
Mei relaxed slightly when she heard his voice coming from the opposite side of the room where she had left him. Quickly changing into the dress, she was eager to see what it looked like in the mirror and slipped out into the main room again.
Catching her reflection on the wall, she immediately rushed forward to get a better look. The cut of the dress was flattering, hugging her curves gently, yet loosely enough to look classy. The hem fell just above the knee, and it flared out slightly as she turned around to try and see the way the ribbons intertwined across her back.
Mei saw Kaoru's reflection approach and she turned to him, smiling.
"Wow," she said breathlessly, smoothing her hands over the skirt. "This is..."
"Do you approve of my recommendation?" Kaoru smiled back at her.
"A-Absolutely!" Mei blurted, clenching her fists in her excitement. "This is amazing!"
Kaoru stepped back and folded his arms, eyeing her appraisingly up and down. Eventually he grinned broadly, looking rather pleased with himself.
"Looks nice on you. If you want..." he said slowly, "you can keep it."
Mei's eyes widened.
"Really? B-But I can't!" she insisted, slightly flustered. "I can't just take one of your mother's designs!"
"It's okay," Kaoru said quietly. "She didn't design it."
"What—are you serious?!"
"With school and the host club, we don't have very much time to create our own designs, but Hikaru and I are going to take over the company one day, you know? We practice when we can."
"Practice?" she echoed, in awe. "...But this already looks professional!"
"You really think so?"
"Of course, don't you?"
His surprise melted away, to be replaced with a soft smile.
"Thank you, Mei-chan. It makes me happy to hear you say that."
"Still... you can't just give this to me. It's yours."
"Are you saying I should wear it instead?"
"N-No! That isn't what I meant!"
Kaoru rumbled in laughter at the girl's obvious embarrassment.
"Your face is all red, Mei-chan."
"It's your fault!" she cried indignantly.
The boy shook his head, grinning. He took in the sight of his companion's flushed face, and an idea visited him.
"Don't be like that. I'll still give you the dress, on one condition."
"What?! You didn't say anything about there being any condition!"
"Don't worry, Mei-chan, it's not a big deal." He tapped her nose with his index finger. "Since you're already playing model with the dress, why don't we go all the way with it?"
"'All the way'?" she echoed suspiciously.
"Yeah. Let me do your makeup, too."
Mei stared at Kaoru, clearly searching for some sort of ulterior motive in his request.
"You're going to do something weird to my face, aren't you?"
"I assure you, that's not my intention."
"But I'm already wearing makeup," she complained, folding her arms.
"You're not wearing makeup that suits the dress," he explained. "This isn't something you'd wear to go shopping in Shibuya."
"I guess not, but why can't I do it myself?"
"It's my design."
"That's not fair! It's my face!"
"Name one model that does their own makeup for a shoot or a show. It's always done according to the designer's whims."
"I am an artist. The model is my canvas. Seeing makeup that doesn't go with the outfit makes my fashion glands hurt."
"You're not gonna let this go, are you?"
"Nope!" he said brightly.
"I knew you'd come around, Mei-chan."
"You didn't give me a choice."
"Hey, I didn't force you into the dress," he sang, ushering her into a nearby chair.
"Whatever, Kaoru-kun," she grumbled.
He chuckled again, and Mei had a sudden longing to wipe that grin off his face as he approached her with a small bag of supplies. She restrained the urge, however, and sat relatively still—until he pulled out a bottle of what was unmistakably makeup remover. She shrank back in her seat.
"What are you doing with that?!"
"I think you can work it out for yourself." He pulled up a chair in front of her.
"But I don't want anyone to see me without makeup on! It's embarrassing!"
"Even if it's me?"
"Especially if it's you!" The girl covered her face with both hands as though it would guard her from the contents of that bottle of doom he held in his hand.
"Mei-chan," he said calmly. "I'm trying to be professional about this. Please lower your hands."
"No!" she said stubbornly.
Though she couldn't see him at the moment, she heard his sigh. The next thing she became aware of was the sensation of his hands closing around each of her smaller ones. Being a boy, Kaoru was met with little difficulty when he tugged them away from the girl's face, not for lack of any resistance on her part.
"Mei-chan, look at me."
"No!" she repeated, eyes screwed shut as though it would prevent Kaoru from following through with his plans.
Mei flinched at his simple plea. Kaoru was never forceful in the way he asked for things, but he never had to be. His voice was soft, but powerfully compelling. He released her hands, as though sensing the exact moment she gave in. Her eyes opened to find him smiling at her.
"Thank you," he said sincerely, picking up the bottle once more.
"Just hurry up, okay?"
Though she still had her reservations, she no longer struggled when he wiped a cotton pad soaked in the makeup remover over her face.
"Don't worry, Mei-chan, this won't take long. Although I don't understand why you're so self-conscious about it... you don't see me with makeup on and I never complain about it," he commented with a hint of amusement.
"Not all of us are born looking like models," she said accusingly. "Besides, you're a guy."
Kaoru laughed again. It somehow made her feel a bit more at ease with this whole awkward situation.
"Thank you for the compliment, but models are made, not born."
"You know what I mean."
"I think I do. Do you know what I mean, though?" he mused.
Now that her face was a clean slate for him, he had moved on to dabbing at her with various brushes. She didn't look in the mirror to see what he was doing. It would only serve to remind her that he could see what she looked like underneath the generous amount of cosmetics she applied on a daily basis. Mei was still not entirely comfortable with that notion, and focused on figuring out the answer to his question instead.
"I don't know," she admitted after a while. "I kinda figured all models were scouted because they look beautiful."
"Most people equate models with beauty, like you just did. But the thing most people don't think about is that the clothes they wear are meant to flatter them, and their makeup is done to enhance their natural beauty."
"Isn't that what I just said? Natural beauty?"
"That's not what I meant, Mei-chan. When you see a model step out onto a runway, she has purposely been made up to look amazing. That's what makes people want to buy the clothes she's wearing, right? But it's part of a package. Yes, the models look pretty to begin with, but only with the designer's eye for what outfit they should wear, and how their makeup should be done, do they really shine."
"What I'm saying is, any woman looks beautiful in her own way, especially if she knows how to enhance her best features, and wears clothes that suit her. That's what makeup does, it's supposed to enhance a woman's features, not mask imperfections."
Mei stared at Kaoru. She hadn't expected him to give such a detailed explanation for what seemed to be like simple musing, but it seemed obvious now that he gave more thought to this sort of thing than she would have guessed.
"Kaoru-kun, you really like what your mother does, don't you?"
"Yes," he answered. "I like to help people look their best."
They fell into a comfortable silence as Kaoru continued to work. He had seemingly finished with her eyes, and was now selecting lip color.
"Are you almost done?"
"Yes. Don't talk now. Open your mouth a little for me," he requested, poising another brush.
Mei felt little urge to fuss now that she was almost free from his clutches. She opened up obediently, trying to resist the urge to twitch. It felt odd to have someone else doing this. The brush tickled a bit as Kaoru swiped it across her lips.
After a few moments, Kaoru sat back to examine the results. His expression was thoughtful as he studied her face. It was a bit unnerving, to have his golden eyes staring at her so intensely. But it was only briefly; he soon broke out into a wide smile.
"Well, take a look." Kaoru glanced to the mirror next to them.
Tentatively, she turned in her seat to peer at her reflection. What she saw staring back at her was unlike anything she expected. Where she thought Kaoru might take advantage of the situation and make her look ridiculous for a laugh, she was surprised to find that suspicion couldn't be farther from the truth.
In light of the colorful dress, Kaoru had chosen to use mostly brown tones around her eyes, with just the slightest touch of purple to match it. For her lips, he had applied a gloss that was shiny, but colorless. All in all, the effects were very subtle. She gazed at herself in the mirror for a while, trying to decide what she thought of it.
"You didn't put on very much," she murmured. "It's kind of strange for me to wear so little."
"You don't need more than that, really."
"Are you trying to say I wear too much?" Mei turned to him, looking slightly offended.
"We thought it when we first met you, and the opinion hasn't changed," he stated, scratching his cheek.
"Why you—! I can't believe you'd be so rude!"
Her hands clenched into angry fists by her sides. Who did this... this boy think he was, to tell a girl how to do her own makeup?!
"You did ask," he sighed.
"I didn't want to hear it!" she cried.
"Stop." He held up a hand in a gesture to cease her tantrum before it escalated. "Don't misunderstand me."
"I don't want to understand you! You're being mean to me!"
"No, I'm being honest. I'm not going to lie to you just because you don't want to hear the answer."
By that point, Mei was certain she couldn't possibly feel more humiliated than she did right then. She couldn't believe how hurtful the things that had come out of Kaoru's mouth felt. Kaoru had never been like that before.
"You think... just because I let you do my makeup that it's okay to criticize me?" Mei's voice had become less angry and more defeated.
"I'm not trying to criticize you. I was hoping you'd understand that I said it because it's directly related to the point I was trying to make all along."
"Oh, right, Kaoru-kun." She stared at the floor with a sullen expression. "What might that be?"
"You remember what I said about the purpose of makeup? It's meant to enhance what makes you beautiful, not cover up what you think is wrong with you."
"But I'm not beautiful. Don't patronize me, comparing me to the models you describe."
"Mei-chan, I said every woman is beautiful in her own way. You are not an exception."
His voice was quiet, but it snared her attention as if he had shouted the words. She looked up at him again, skepticism more prominent on her face than the cosmetics he had applied.
"You don't believe me," he said, studying her.
"Why should I? I mean... if I was, wouldn't I have a boyfriend?"
She was startled by the soft sound of his laughter.
"Boyfriends aren't a measure of beauty, either. You haven't been listening." He smiled.
Kaoru leaned closer, his fingertips barely resting against her cheek.
"Every woman is beautiful, and so are you. I tried to do your makeup in a way that you could see it, too."
"But I just feel naked..."
"You always hide behind so much makeup, Mei-chan," he murmured. "But if you hide, all you're doing is keeping people from seeing how beautiful you really are, inside and out."
She couldn't find the appropriate way to end her sentence. Not when he said what was quite possibly the nicest compliment she had ever received. How was one supposed to respond to something like that?
Mei found herself unable to think too deeply on the subject, when Kaoru's nearness was so distracting. The closer he came, the more distinctly she could detect a pleasant scent, but she couldn't determine whether it was his cologne, shampoo, or something else entirely.
Then Mei felt his warm breath against her lips. Her mind went blank.
A tingling sensation akin to anticipation spread outward from the base of her spine, but when his mouth finally touched hers, the feeling multiplied, leaving her breathless. His lips were soft and slightly moist, the touch so delicate that she couldn't even be certain he was really doing it. Mei felt a desperate need to know this was real, to confirm that Kaoru was truly kissing her. She hadn't noticed when her eyes closed, but her current sightlessness didn't stop her from tangling her fingers indulgently into the red hair she had always admired.
Kaoru's mouth opened slightly in a surprised gasp at her action, but it encouraged him to press forward. He leaned into her, tilting her chin upwards to allow the kiss to become more natural as her lower lip slipped between both of his. His intention was not to push his luck, however, and he backed off after a few moments, gently tugging at the flesh before his mouth released hers with a soft smack. Their eyes opened simultaneously; they studied one another silently for a long moment.
Eventually, he smiled.
"I'm glad I got the chance to give my first kiss to such a pretty girl."
Mei stared at him, quite certain that the flush on her cheeks had overpowered the bronzed color of her skin. She definitely had no idea what to say to him now. His golden eyes remained fixed on her, as calm as ever, and for some reason that made her uncertain. She admittedly had enjoyed the kiss, but his composure made her wonder if he had felt anything at all.
She bit her lip. She could still taste him there, along with another flavor... something that was vaguely like...
"Vanilla?" she mumbled, more to herself than to the boy.
"What, Mei-chan? I didn't catch that."
She held his questioning gaze as her tongue darted out and glossed over her lips. The taste of vanilla visited her tastebuds a second time. Her eyes widened as realization hit.
"Vanilla," she repeated, louder this time. "You put flavored lip gloss on me, didn't you?"
She stood up from her seat, hands on her hips.
"Kaoru-kun, don't tell me you—you... planned this?!" Her tone held a note of accusation.
Unlike when she jumped to conclusions before, he made no effort this time to shoot down her theory. He merely looked up at her placidly from beneath the fringe of his eyelashes. His relaxed posture in his chair made her stance over him feel less and less threatening as the seconds passed, and she became the one that felt intimidated as he slowly rose to his feet.
She didn't trust his lazy smile, and trusted his words that followed even less.
"Who can say?" Kaoru challenged her, taking a step closer.
It didn't matter, though, because she forgot to be worried when his lips once again touched hers.
That evening, Kaoru was sprawled on his bed, idly thumbing through a book. He wasn't really focused on it, because he'd already read it once before, but it was merely for the sake of looking occupied, anyway. His true purpose was waiting for his twin to break the silence.
Ever since Haruhi and Mei had left for the day, Hikaru had been sitting on something he'd wanted to say, and Kaoru knew it. He also knew his older brother had a hard time articulating what was on his mind at times, and so he waited. Kaoru was nothing if not patient.
Hikaru, on his own bed, had been playing a hand-held game for the last several minutes. Kaoru knew his twin's mind was elsewhere when he repeatedly heard the ominous jingle that indicated the game was over. After the fifth time it happened, Kaoru heard him close the unit and sit up on his bed.
There was a pause, and Kaoru understood Hikaru was struggling for the proper words to voice his thoughts.
"Thanks. I mean... for the thing with Haruhi earlier."
Kaoru rolled onto his side so he could look at his brother.
"You know... I didn't get it at first, 'cause we knew mom wasn't home."
"Yeah, I could tell."
"It was Haruhi that pieced it together before I could, though," Hikaru said, shifting uncomfortably.
"I'm sorry, Hikaru," Kaoru said sincerely. "I wasn't trying to keep it from you."
"No, no... I should have taken the hint." His twin hung his head, but perked up after a moment. "It turned out okay, though."
Kaoru immediately sat up, interested.
"Really? What happened?"
"Not what you think," Hikaru explained, and Kaoru's face fell.
"But like I said, it turned out okay," the older boy persisted.
"Well, Haruhi and I talked, after we both knew what you were trying to do. Probably talked more than we ever have at one time by ourselves," Hikaru said with a grin. "It was... nice."
"That's good, isn't it?"
"Yeah... she didn't want to talk about Tono, of course."
"Of course." Kaoru matched his brother's grin.
"But somehow I feel better. Because she still wants to be friends with me, and now I know she wasn't just saying that to let me down easy."
Kaoru blinked, an expression of awe written all over his face.
The younger twin smiled.
"You're growing up."
Hikaru stared at his brother for a moment before pouting slightly, folding his arms across his chest.
"Are you making fun of me?"
"If it bothers you so much, then I take it back." Kaoru's smile widened.
"What?! No fair, Kaoru."
"Okay, then just take the compliment without complaining about it."
They shared a laugh, eventually falling into a comfortable silence. The two of them set aside their things, turned off their bedside lamps, and climbed under their matching coverlets, facing one another to go to sleep as they had always done. Kaoru let his eyes fall closed with a smile on his face. He had almost drifted off when Hikaru's voice spoke quietly from across the room.
"What did you and Mei-chan talk about today?"
"Why this all of a sudden?"
"I dunno. I just wondered."
"Fashion... and taking compliments without complaining," Kaoru murmured, grinning invisibly into the darkness.
"Kinda," Hikaru mumbled, his drowsiness becoming more evident as the seconds ticked by. "Do you think we'll ever get girlfriends?"
"Maybe when we find the right girl, huh?"
"Go to sleep, Hikaru."
He heard his twin sigh softly, and Kaoru knew that Hikaru's curiosity was sated enough for the night. The younger twin settled his cheek against his pillow, letting his thoughts drift in those calm moments before slumber claimed him.
Maybe, just maybe, the right girl wasn't so far away.
It would be something to think about in the morning.
Author's Note: So there it was. My brainchild, the Kaoru-gives-Mei-a-makeover story that I've thought about for freaking ever. I had so very much wanted to write a fic with this pairing for a while now, but was saddened by the fact that FFN didn't have Mei on the character list! So I very nicely asked them to add her (and Misuzu, too), and they obliged me. That made me extremely happy, and I just had to write some Kaoru/Mei fluff to celebrate! Still, I have to remember to smack Thatzly for beating me to the first fic uploaded here featuring Mei as a main character, but I guess I can forgive her, since I was the one that asked her to write it in the first place. Go read hers now, if you haven't! It's really cute!
That said, I've always really enjoyed the little 'moments' Kaoru and Mei have had in the manga so far. Maybe I'm reading too much into their relationship, but I could easily see them being canon in the end. That was the point of my little story here, to write something that could end up actually happening. Which was why the Hikaru/Haruhi element of this fic was one-sided (sorry if I disappointed any fans of that pairing), even though I never liked his resulting heartbreak. He is my favorite host, after all! That's why I tried to imply some sort of resolution of his unrequited love here. Since Mei is a secondary character, I might have taken a bit too much freedom with her personality, but I've always liked her a lot. I picture her as having a big heart once you get past her tough-girl attitude. I like to believe Kaoru has the ability to have a calming effect on her, much like he does with his brother. :)
I'll cut this short before my notes end up longer than the fic. Hope you liked. ^_^
Disclaimer: Ouran High School Host Club and all corresponding characters belong to Bisco Hatori.