Warnings: mild slash (mostly pre-slash though), does not follow canon (discounts anything that happened from the New Year's party and on)

Disclaimer: Ouran High School Host Club belongs to Hattori Bisuko and associates, of whom I am not one. Happy Birthday Purple Amanda! (no, that is not a username, just a regular nickname) Stalker has not read a Mori/Kaoru fic, so she doesn't know if others have used this idea... or exist, for that matter.

Popping Bubbles

The beginning was, as most beginnings are, innocuous. There was no sign of what was to come, and for all that Kaoru was the more observant twin, he still couldn't have seen it coming until it hit him in the face – or the backside. Whatever.

Anyway, it began with one Fujioka Haruhi. Kaoru had liked her, but he gave up any chance he might have in favor of letting his brother try to win her affections. Hikaru succeeded, too. Despite Tamaki's attempts to sweep the female host off her feet, Hikaru managed to woo her, and came out the victor in the battle for Haruhi's heart... not that the ever practical girl approved of that phrasing, but Kaoru knew his brother thought that way.

That had been a month ago, when Haruhi agreed that her crush on Tamaki had been just a crush and that she liked Hikaru more.

When Kaoru discovered what real loneliness was.

Not that he was going to angst about it, but he hadn't realized just how lonely it was to be... alone. He had always had Hikaru, and then Haruhi made her way into their world... and then she left and took Hikaru with her. Kaoru and Hikaru had been lonely together, and now Kaoru was alone alone, and no matter how he tried, he couldn't make his way out of the world he and Hikaru built for themselves.

There... wasn't anything out there for him. Not the same way that there had been something inside.

So he reverted to how he had been before Haruhi. Not before the Host Club – that was just cruel, and Kaoru had certainly grown up since then – but just enough that he could pretend he didn't care that he was still inside his bubble. He could pretend to Hikaru that Hikaru was still in the bubble, and in general that there was no bubble at all.

It was this reversion that had Kaoru rigging up a prank in the club room that he would set on Tamaki. It involved purple feathers, glitter glue, twine, and a rather creative use of a clock in Kaoru's not-so-humble opinion.

As Kaoru was setting up the trigger to loose the feathers, he heard the door open and froze in place. It was Tamaki, or worse, Kyouya. Or, worse than that, Hikaru, who would wonder why Kaoru was pulling a prank without him, even though Kaoru had mentioned it at breakfast that morning; Hikaru had been too busy exchanging emails with Haruhi's buddy-phone and-

He turned slowly on his ladder and released a relieved breath. It was Mori. He wouldn't reprimand the prankster, at least.

Still, Kaoru prepared to have Mori at least look at him in a way that would say "quit it". But he didn't. The tallest host merely moved over to the window where he sometimes sat, pulled a book from his bag, and started reading.

Now assured that Mori would not be telling him off, even metaphorically, Kaoru continued setting up the prank that was sure to hit Tamaki, and only Tamaki.

It occurred quite suddenly to the redhead that it was quiet.

Not that this was a surprise, given his only company was Mori... but the surprise was, in fact, that his only company was Mori. Hani had not followed his cousin into the Host room, was not stuffing his face was cake at the table where he normally did such things if he opted to eat lunch in the club room instead of the cafe...

"Mori-senpai, where's Hani-senpai?" Kaoru didn't really think about it before asking the question. Well, Mori might not answer anyway, either from lack of desire to do so or because he was engrossed in his book. It was likely a history text (1), anyway.

"Kanazuki." (2)

No further elucidation was required. While Hani wasn't officially dating the female Black Magic Club, all of the Hosts – minus Tamaki – knew it was only a matter of time. They got on well, and had been spending more and more time together. The fact that Hani was with the girl meant Mori was either giving them privacy or had been forgotten like Kaoru.

The lone twin empathized with his senpai... who had closed his book and was leaving. Had Kaoru upset him?

The bell signaling the end of lunch rang, and Kaoru found himself jogging after Mori's retreating back in hopes of not being late to class.

This went on for a week before Kaoru understood, somewhat. Not that he wasn't bright, but it was such a silly thing and Mori such a not-silly person... well, he was very observant of went on outside his bubble-world to realize at all.

At first, Kaoru had thought that Mori was simply in search of a quiet place to read after he finished eating since Hani was spending time with Reiko. The fact that for the space of ten minutes, while setting up a prank involving purple duct tape, a drape, and an American candy called "pop rocks", Kaoru did not once hear Mori turn a page was ignored on the grounds that he could have been rereading the information there.

However, when he looked up to see Mori watching him set up a trigger wire for the all-glittery Host King, he started to get an idea. Especially since Mori's features had softened, just a little. He was... amused. He was amused at Kaoru's antics and came during lunch because he knew Kaoru would do something amusing.

So the twin decided to liven things up a bit more. Besides, Tamaki had had the ladder removed after the third prank.

"Hey, Senpai, could you help me with this? I need to perch this," he held up the small bucket of purple glitter, "outside the door so it will hit Tono when he comes to the club today." Seeing the curious look – or Kaoru thought it was curious – he elaborated. "Tono knows I'm pranking him now, so he won't want to be the first into the room. So whoever does come in first will walk in and trigger the trap to hit Tono while he's still outside the door. I'm too short to get it up there."

A moment's silence, then, "Aa."

Kaoru grinned. "Thank you!"

It was the beginning of a beautiful partnership of sorts.

Hikaru realized it before Kaoru did. Maybe it was because Hikaru had already made his way out of their world – and he knew he had, though he didn't know that Kaoru was still trapped there, waiting to escape – but he saw the signs in his brother the same way Kaoru had seen the signs in him. The elder twin didn't take the revelation as well as Kaoru had for him, but the twins were very different people for all their similarities.

The way it happened was simple enough. Hikaru and Kaoru were eating dinner – alone together as was often the case being the children of such high profile people as their parents, even if their father was a bit of a wallflower – and talking about their respective days. They didn't used to, because absolutely everything they did they did together.

The difference from then to now – with Hikaru telling Kaoru about lunch with Haruhi and how she was still refusing his attempts to buy her a lunch – was quite notable.

"What about you?" Hikaru asked when he had finished the tale that ended, somehow, with Tamaki tripping and landing in the Vice Principal's soup. "Aside from setting up a prank during lunch, did anything happen? And how did you set that one up anyway? Tono took the ladder away a couple weeks ago..."

"Hm? Nothing happened," Kaoru shrugged and ate some of the lovely kobe beef that was on that night's menu. "And it wasn't too hard to set up. I asked Mori-senpai to put the streamers up; he's been really helpful with that stuff."

That was Hikaru's first hint.

"Has he been helping a lot?" He hadn't realized it yet of course, but the false-brunet (3) was curious. He had noticed (or, rather, Haruhi had noticed) that the oldest host hadn't been eating lunch with Hani lately, and in his stead Kanazuki had been keeping the cutesy boy company.

"For a week or so, yeah," Kaoru nodded. "Only when I need to put something up high, though. I think he secretly finds me pranking Tamaki to be hilarious."

That was the second hint. Since when did anyone but Hani know what Mori thought?

"Haruhi had been wondering where he was... so he's been taking lunch up in the club room with you?" Hikaru was curious, but mostly he wanted to fulfill the strange niggling interest in the back of his mind.

"Mm, kind of," Kaoru shrugged. "We each do our own thing. Since Hani-senpai and Kanazuki-san are spending a lot of time together, I think he wants to give them some space. Maybe the club room was the only other place he could think of to hang out during lunch?"

Hikaru took him his brother's honestly pensive expression and figured it out. He took great pride in the fact that he didn't explode then and there; the tanuki training (4) had obviously helped. Since even before dating Haruhi he had realized that he was perhaps a little too "dive in head first" and knew that thinking was necessary for stuff like... this.

But thinking about it made him mad, so he put it off to think about when he could get mad without freaking his ever-wonderful brother out.

"- And Mori-senpai has been helping him pull his pranks which explains so much!" Hikaru whined. He was sitting in the back of one of the family cars with Haruhi, on the way to movie theater that Haruhi had agreed to go with him to. She didn't want to be treated like a rich boy's pet and refused to do anything too expensive; she even made Hikaru promise not to buy out the whole theater!

"I'm confused," Haruhi looked at him deadpan. She was always so straight forward. "I thought you were mad that Kaoru was doing pranks without you. What does Mori-senpai have to do with that?"

"Wha – no. I'm not mad at him pulling pranks, or even that Kaoru is getting help from Mori-senpai – even if that is cheating. I mean, I can't expect him to do nothing when I'm with you..." he sighed and reclined his seat, letting the belt zip halfway into the holder. He had been leaning forward rather far. "He has a crush on Mori-senpai."

There was a beat of silence.


Hikaru face faulted. "So? So Mori-senpai is way too old for Kaoru! And he's quiet and straight-laced and doesn't have any spirit of adventure! At all! Plus, as far as I know Mori-senpai only dates girls – assuming he dates at all and notices anything outside of Hani-senpai and kendo – so what if Kaoru confesses and Mori shoots him down? You've seen how it is with the girls who ask him out! He's not even especially nice about it when they had to work to get their courage up!"

Coming down from his soap box, Haruhi intervened.

"He turns down girls all the time, but I don't think he's especially mean about it either; he doesn't make promises he won't keep like Tamaki-senpai," Haruhi pointed out. "How do you know Kaoru likes him that way, anyway?"

"He talked more about Mori-senpai and... I could just tell, okay," Hikaru huffed. "It was like back in November and even before that, before I realized how he felt about you – how I felt about you – and I just know it won't come to any good! I mean... I don't think Kaoru and Mori-senpai are a good match."

Haruhi leveled him with an unimpressed look. "You should trust your brother to make the right decision. Didn't he step out of the way to help you confess to me? No offense Hikaru, but in interpersonal relations, Kaoru has more common sense than you."

Hikaru winced, knowing this was the truth. "What do you think, then? What should I do?" He knew his anger was stupid, but it didn't mean it wasn't there. But Haruhi could do the thinking for him this time, keep him level. She was good at that.

"You have no say in your brother's love life. Just encourage him, and if he gets turned down you can comfort him," Haruhi pointed out.

Hikaru, being the eccentric person he is, took her words completely the wrong way.

It was starting to get annoying. Really annoying.

Kaoru first suspected his brother was insane when he heard a song playing in his brother's room. Repeatedly. Alright, so it took about two plays through the song for Kaoru to look up a translation of the lyrics, but... really? It was just someone repeatedly assuring someone else that being gay was okay. In annoying voices.

Why Hikaru would have this on repeat was beyond the younger twin, especially when the elder was off on a date with Haruhi and therefore not even home to listen to it.

The suspicion of insanity continued to increase as Hikaru began doing stranger and stranger things.

Kaoru had actually compiled a list containing of the following items:

Mentioning literary figures who were gay (including Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter films that the twins only watched because it was vaguely amusing).

Playing other songs on repeat that were pro-homosexuality.

Loudly conversing with Haruhi that Kaoru looked lonely and should get a boyfriend.

That was the worst of it, thankfully, but Kaoru was still rather annoyed as he started setting up a prank nearly two weeks later. Hikaru knew he was bisexual and was suddenly being super supportive? What the hell. It wasn't like it was a secret or anything, so why was Hikaru suddenly making a big deal of it?

Kaoru snapped the back hatch of the child's toy shut, almost breaking it. He glanced to the side where Mori was doing some math homework; the elder had looked up at some point – presumably when the hatch snapped shut – and seemed to gauge Kaoru's mood. The redhead quickly reassured that it was nothing and he had just put too much force into the motion, but he knew Mori would see through it.

They had become close in the past weeks... after a fashion. At least, Kaoru thought he understood the senior a lot better, and Mori seemed to pay him more mind than he used to. So they were closer, at least.

And Kaoru liked that. Mori was a good match for a friend. He was kind, quiet, helpful, enjoyed the pranks, and unlike Hikaru, he didn't egg Kaoru on to make the pranks any worse. They were all more harmless and easily brushed off than the ones Hikaru and Kaoru had pulled together. He was only doing it to make Tamaki mad and get a laugh, not to honestly make fun of their king, after all.

"I'm about done with this," Kaoru remarked. "Just need to test it and put up the rigging... will you help with that?" He indicated the string that was to be looped through the door hinge to pull on the little switch to activate the toy when the door was next opened.

Mori closed his text book and put things away, apparently content to get his things put away and leave as soon as the device was tested. This was the norm, as lunch was usually almost over by the time pranks were ready to be set in place.

Lately, Mori had helped a bit more, but this prank really required very little; Kaoru had been doing homework too until about five minutes earlier.

Three hours later, Kaoru managed to beat Tamaki and Kyouya to the club room, and waited in shadows as the king hesitantly opened the door, fearing glitter, paint, and falling nearly-lewd photographs. Kaoru was pleased to note that he seemed surprised by the faint whirring noise and large bubbles that started floating from where the device, a simple children's bubble machine, was perched on a shelf.

Purple bubbles, of course. That was the only difficult part of the prank, finding a reliable bubble brand that made purple bubbles. Otherwise, Kaoru mused, he would have done it a week ago, when he thought of the idea to begin with. It was simple, elegant, and completely flummoxed the King. Better yet, it would lower Tamaki's guard for tomorrow's prank.

Kaoru overheard Kyouya advocating that the bubble machine could stay for the club activities. He seemed to think it would amuse the customers.

Which made sense; girls were easily amused in Kaoru's experience. Dangle a shiny and they're occupied for hours.

... Then again, the same could be said of Tamaki... and Hikaru... and Kaoru back when Hikaru was still in his bubble... and sometimes Hani...

Maybe it was just "people in general" who were easily entertained by shinies then.

Regardless, Kaoru grabbed Hikaru – Haruhi was off doing the shopping and refused Hikaru's assistance – and literally waltzed into the club room. Hikaru laughed and stared at where the bubbles landed, popping on impact, seeming pleased when they didn't color his hands like the cheaper brands had (Kaoru had tested these things at home). He soon abandoned Kaoru to look out the window and await Haruhi's return.

It wasn't much longer before Mori and Hani arrived, the latter riding on the shoulders of the former. It was a little surprising, since the kendo club usually met on Wednesdays, and therefore the elder members of the club were usually late those days – Hani attended all of his cousin's practices after all – but not unheard of. Mori was already the best at kendo in the country for his age bracket, so he didn't need the practice.

While Hani bounced off to eat a preliminary cake before the doors were opened to the customers for the day, Kaoru walked proudly up to Mori. "So, what do you think? It's a success, right?" he grinned, pleased.

"Aa," Mori nodded calmly. It was perhaps a bit disconcerting to have those gray eyes on him, but Kaoru had become accustomed to it.

Bubbles continued to float by aimlessly, and Kaoru was amused when one brushed the top of Mori's head and popped. It was probably a good thing he had tested so many of the color-bubble brands in preparation of what was seemingly the tamest prank in the past month.

Kaoru reached up to pop a bubble floating between himself and the senior, only for it to latch onto his hand. He probably still had some of the formula on his hands, allowing them to stick. His hand turned, and the bubble rolled until he maneuvered it to sit in the palm of his hand.

Quite suddenly, it popped, and Kaoru realized.

Not that he realized because of the bubble popping. And the bubble in his hand popping... well, that one wasn't his doing either.

"Will you go out with me?" They were not words that Morinozuka Takashi said. It just... didn't happen. Not to Kaoru's knowledge anyway. All the same, he understood immediately, and felt a small break in his little bubble world that he had been completely ensconced in since Hikaru left.

The smallest break is all it takes to pop a bubble.

However, it can also be said that realizing things did not come in that instant. Kaoru was a bit too shocked to realize what had happened, what had been said, and his own opinion on the matter. He blushed a little though, and then came the kick in his backside to put his mind back in gear.


Kaoru was shoved at Mori by his elder brother, the little purple bubble popping between them as Kaoru's hand crushed to Mori's shirt. He blinked, blushed, and said the only thing he could.


Author's Note: Happy Birthday Amanda :3 Why did I write this? ... 'cause my friend Amanda cosplays Kaoru and her boyfriend cosplays Mori. Or they will in September. I'm writing a Kyouya/Kaoru next month for the Hikaru of the group... (and I'm Kyouya... awkward).

*pause* actually, I finished this a week ago and gave her a hard copy. Forgot to post it. Er... oops?

If you are wondering at all the purple prank-things in this story, it is because Purple Amanda likes purple. A lot.

Just assume that Hikaru and Haruhi got together at New Year's when Hikaru asked her out instead of getting rejected like what happened in the manga...

(1) History is Mori's favorite subject (and geography)

(2) In the manga, Kanazuki Reiko of class 1-D (same as Kasanoda) is a member of the black magic club and casts a bunch of "curses" (love charms from girly magazines) on Hani because he "stole her soul" (she has a crush on him).

(3) In the France arc, Hikaru dyes his hair black.

(4) In the "Hikaru wants to woo Haruhi" arc (pre skiing trip), Kaoru buys a tanuki piggy bank that he puts money in the longer Hikaru can keep his temper in check as a training exercise. The money is put toward... something for Haruhi. Can't remember. Probably ootoro.