A/N: And so the conclusion. Much gratitude to Rune for the beta and initial tweaking of Sharpayvoice. She is remarkably empowering to write, in funny ways. I also love how she gets angry and then deals with it. This chapter is emotional revelations of many kinds. There is kissing, just gonna throw that out there.
The day had been going reasonably well, all things considered. They'd measured Sharpay, run about finding fabrics in the twins' massive stores, fought over buttons and finally decided on a lining. Kaoru had, at one point, given up on being productive and convinced Sharpay to let him braid her hair, a practice at which he was surprisingly gentle and quite adept. Hikaru decided that wasn't fair and Kaoru had to soothe him with ice cream after lunch, the homemade kind with fresh blueberries and peaches. Sharpay hadn't minded.
When they actually started working, however, the twins fell silent. They cut fabric, pinned fabric, passed tools to one another without saying a word. Sharpay could see that they were attuned to each other, their movements even and well-balanced. But she could feel herself being shut out. So, the next time Hikaru passed a piece of chalk to Kaoru, she reached out and caught it.
"Hi, I'm here too," she said, raising an eyebrow.
After a pause, both of them realized, and ducked their heads. "Sorry," said Hikaru. "It's kind of a twin thing, I guess."
"We've always been in our own little world," agreed Kaoru, waving a finger in the air. "Talking without talking."
"It's the kind of bond you can't make without being born into it. We forget other people don't have it. We'll be better," said Hikaru, nodding. But both of them wore expressions of faint pity, enough that she set her jaw and lifted her chin. What would they know about twins anyway?
"You still need to talk to me."
Kaoru squeezed her hand. "You're right. Sorry, Sharpay-chan."
She huffed, and moved to sit between them. Hikaru leaned closer. "You're either an older sister or an only child, aren't you?"
"No, actually," she said evenly, managing to smile a sweet little smile.
He raised an eyebrow. "Younger?"
Kaoru laughed. "Any older sibling would have to be a practice run. Our Sharpay-chan is not a draft."
Sharpay turned a pattern marker over in her fingers. "Not that either," she murmured thoughtfully, not looking up.
Dryly, Hikaru said, "Middle child. Really? You don't seem the type."
"Oh, hardly," scoffed Sharpay. She looked over at him, then, and smiled, so sweet and serene she could have been in a commercial. "We're twins."
The clatter of Hikaru's pencil as it hit the ground was the only noise to break the ensuing shocked silence. The noise of it spurred Kaoru into action. He caught both of her shoulders in his hands, squeezed, and looked down into her eyes. "Oh, baby," he said softly. "Where- how-"
Calmly, so calmly, she said, "He's in New York." She was impressed with the evenness of her tone. She would not cry over Ryan, not when she'd been so damn' good about it for ages. It had been two whole weeks!
Hikaru was behind her, then, tucking his arms around her. "We're so sorry," he said softly.
"Tell us about him?" asked Kaoru, looking down at her with the most honest empathy his evil features had ever displayed.
"He's an actor. A fantastic one." She swallowed, standing straight up. Sharpay refused to lean on anyone, especially not these two, because then they might think she was soft. Which wasn't true even if she did miss her brother so much it made her feel like a child sometimes. "I'm going to visit him on break-"
"But that's still weeks away!" cried Hikaru, his voice tinged with horror. They both pressed closer, compensating for her posture with an encompassing bear hug.
Helper Twin murmured, "Tell us more?"
She sighed. As though she were doing them a favor, she said, "He's my brother. He's taller, and doofier, and he has a weakness for bad hats. I mean really bad hats, with flowers and neon accent piping and- and otherwise he dresses so well I feel like I just got all of the good genes for dressing from the neck up. He has good taste, and good posture. But sometimes he forgets to employ both of them, especially around boys. He has weird taste in men." She shook her head, swallowing. "And he's the nicest, most self-sacrificing person I know. And he's dyslexic about numbers, and he can't cook to save his life, and. And he can dance like Gene Kelly when he puts his mind to it, without looking down, even if it is a jazz square more often than not. He's doing musicals, you know, moving up from background characters to lead roles. He was Jack in Into the Woods in the fall. I've got the recording."
Hikaru's hands tightened. "Can we hear it?"
"It's only a burned copy," she offered gracefully, shrugging. She didn't suddenly crave the sound of Ryan's voice just then, not at all.
"We don't mind," murmured Kaoru.
Sharpay paused, sighed, and finally softened enough to rest one hand over Hikaru's where it pressed against her ribs. "It's in my purse."
"I'll get it," said Kaoru, stepping back after kissing the top of her head.
Hikaru guided her, gently, into motion. "Let's go sit, okay?"
Sharpay, feeling light and shaky at once, let herself be led. She settled onto the sofa in the next room, finding herself unsurprised by how well she fit under Hikaru's arm. It was natural, the way he cuddled up to her, his height providing a cozy protection. Kaoru, with a minimum of rummaging, found the CD and set up the stereo, sinking onto the sofa on her other side as the first orchestra hit sounded.
Sharpay did her best not to sigh, but the sofa was soft and the boys were warm and she missed Ryan. When his voice finally came in, she closed her eyes and just listened. This was Ryan, all Ryan, and the sound of him still soared. Plus that, the stupid musical always made her feel mushy on the inside, and her brother only made it worse.
The boys were silent until the applause. Hikaru put his nose in her hair, and Kaoru held her against his chest, and together they said, "He's good."
"Of course he is," she said, huffing. "He's my brother."
They laughed, soft and warm. "Of course," said Hikaru.
As the musical progressed, they cuddled closer, no snark, no silliness, no irony. Sharpay listened with her eyes closed, aware of the movements but only dimly. It wasn't until the end of act one that she blinked and realized she had been maneuvered into their collective lap. But it wasn't insulting. They'd been quiet, had listened and let her focus on the music and that was better than any sympathy or coddling. She rested her head on Kaoru's shoulder, her hands over Hikaru's where they laced over her hip, and listened.
She totally didn't cry either, not until "No One Is Alone", but everybody cried at that point if they hadn't already. She had waterproof mascara, so her eyes only glistened a bit more brightly than usual before she could swallow it down. She was proud of herself for making it through "Giants in the Sky" this time, too, though she had to scrunch her eyes shut to make it.
There was a time when, hearing a musical soundtrack, she would itch to sing along, or take over the lead role, imagining herself as the Witch, or as Cinderella. Then, as she matured, perhaps the Baker's Wife would be more appealing. But this one, with Ryan's voice as clear as a bell, just drained her with missing him. She'd thought, when she'd first headed for New York, that she needed independence. It was true, but the price she paid for it didn't reveal itself until she realized, the day after she'd stood in her empty apartment waiting for the furniture movers, that she had nobody to talk to about it, and she only wanted to talk to Ryan.
In the end, he'd come to stay with her, as she'd desperately hoped he would. Once in the New York theater scene, he blossomed more fully than she did, finding his own group of friends, joining an improv group, working on choreography every spare moment he got. When she'd realized she needed to move on, Ryan had found his own place to be, and hadn't followed. It had been a hard decision, but she'd told Ryan he had better beat the pants off of anyone in his way, that nice-guy act only worth the people he used it on.
He'd laughed and gone with her to the airport at four in the morning to see her off, even. That was Ryan. Her stupid, wonderful million-miles-away other-half twin brother.
The CD had finished. It was silent, but the twins hadn't moved, hadn't spoken. She wondered how long it had been, and when she sighed she realized it was a little shakier than she'd intended.
She cleared her throat. "I. I don't know if I'm feeling very inspired right now."
"We have all semester," said Hikaru softly, petting with his thumb.
Kaoru laid his chin on the top of her head. "Do you want to spend the evening in, Sharpay-chan?"
"Here 'in'?" she asked, caution rearing its head.
To their credit, they neither shifted their hold nor let go. "Or somewhere else, if you don't like this sofa," murmured Hikaru.
Kaoru hummed. "We're comfortable here, but we'll move if you like."
She clicked her tongue. "Of course you are." After a moment, she sighed, thoughtfully biting her lip. "But I could use a new pair of sunglasses. And then a cupcake," she added. It was an admission, but they'd been good and deserved a bit of gratitude. And she needed to get moving to calm her nerves. She didn't think she could just sit on that couch all day but... but maybe when they came back, a bit more cuddling with cupcakes couldn't hurt.
They hummed in unison. "Retail therapy," they murmured in agreement. "Did you want to drive, Sharpay-chan?" asked Hikaru.
"I will let you take me," she said graciously, lifting her chin.
"Thank you, Sharpay-chan," said Kaoru, smiling into her hair. Gently, they disentangled themselves and held out their hands.
As graceful as the dancer she was, Sharpay took their hands and let them help her rise to her feet. She didn't quite remember when her heels had slipped off, but she held their hands as she stepped back into them. "Thank you."
They smiled down her in unison. As they walked beside her to the garage, Kaoru said, "Would you mind letting us have a copy of that soundtrack?"
She lifted her nose. "I would, in fact. You ought to purchase it from the playhouse, like everyone else. I just burned a copy so my original wouldn't get damaged." She looked over and smiled a little, patting his arm consolingly. "But I'll tell you who to call."
The ensuing days were nice. Sweet, even. The twins started sitting on either side of her in class, too, platonic and respectful, but providing a bubble of protection. They took notes together, though sometimes the corners of Sharpay's notebook were so filled with doodles she had to make the both of them sit on their hands so she could get some actual work in. On Friday nights, instead of going out, they all stayed in at the Hitachiin condo, working late into the night. And she always drove herself home, and came back with breakfast or, in a few cases where the distinction was quite important, lunch.
The war never quite ended, but it was different. She liked them. They liked her. It was comfortable, and genuine, and often they meshed so well creatively that it felt like they fit.
Which meant that the fight, the real fight, the big one, shook them all to their cores. Hikaru was bent over a seam ripper, cutting stitches for the hundredth time, his teeth clenched together. Kaoru, by the window, was watching, his mouth carefully closed, his hands busy with coiling the cord on the iron.
Sharpay was across the room, vibrating, her shoulders shaking and her posture so straight. She'd only told the truth, had only ever told the truth. But the boys had been equally unsparing, and she'd taken on the burden of the hand stitching. Somewhere between the button holes and the buttons themselves, they'd lost it, fighting down personal attacks and only pressed deeper into personal rages.
Kaoru's fires had faded some time before, and his position as spectator was only thinly veiled. He'd been messing with the iron for fifteen minutes.
She took a slow, calming breath, but her voice still came out with that tremor that threatened tears. "Next time you should just let me do the stupid buttons."
Hikaru hissed, slamming the seam ripper down with a flat hand as he pushed himself up. "The. Buttons. Are. Fine."
She didn't want to fight. Sharpay didn't like fighting, not with the people she'd come to think of as her only friends here, not when they were already exhausted and she only had one week left before break to go see Ryan. But Hikaru looked menacing, and she would be damned if she would let some stupid boy intimidate her just because he was bigger. She bared her teeth, leaning forward. "If you want us to fail, sure! They're fine!"
Hikaru narrowed his eyes. "If the lining on the sleeves doesn't fail us first."
She stared, her shock showing in the way her jaw dropped. Then she sneered, "Are you blaming me because you fell in love with kitschy paisley satin?"
In the intake of breath, she could see Hikaru's posture had changed. His shoulders had dropped, and he just barely breathed it when he said, "Bitch."
Then, he lunged. It was the kind of full-body tackle Kaoru had always threatened him capable of, pulling Sharpay to him hard and catching her by a fistful of her hair and kissing her so hard she felt his teeth dig into her lip. She squeaked furiously, grabbing his shoulders and digging her nails in, ready to push him away and wreck him when she realized. Realized he was kissing her, because he knew.
He pulled back, breathless and rough, saying, "Don't lie. You loved it too. You made Kaoru buy fifteen extra yards when you thought I wasn't around but he-"
She grimaced, then smacked him, good and hard, so it resounded and his face turned away and his cheek went white before it went red. She waited for him to look at her again and held him tightly by the chin. "If you ever call me a bitch again, it'll be the last thing you ever say with your own teeth, Hikaru."
He gritted his teeth, but she held his chin tightly. "And if you think you're going to get away with kissing me, you had better do it right."
"Do I get a chance?" he asked after a moment, his cheek already gone a brilliant pink. His hand hadn't left her hair, hadn't even pulled when she'd hit him. The other, in the center of her back, moved slowly down her spine, fingers spreading.
Sharpay growled, and pulled him down. If he thought he was going to run her over, he had another thing coming. And, after a few moments, it appeared he actually got the idea, too. It was messy, and breathless, and passionate, their resolution. She hadn't forgotten what they were fighting over, but it mattered less with Hikaru's hands on her, his mouth on hers, and that little sound he made that sounded like he hadn't forgotten the fight either but kissing was more important. Doing it right was more important.
About the time she started actually getting lightheaded, the press of her body against his turning into something too close to a request for support than she liked, Hikaru pulled back. He was panting, his eyelids heavy, his hands moving to her hips. She glared up at him, daring him to make fun of her for liking it. And for that matter, she paused to check and make sure the idiot hadn't ruined her truly perfect hair, her spine straightening as she ran a hand through it.
Hikaru swallowed, started to lean toward her again, when Kaoru said, "Hikaru." It stopped him, and he turned as if he'd forgotten the audience.
Sharpay glanced between them, then settled her gaze on Kaoru. He'd always looked the hungriest, and it. It hadn't changed. She bit her lip, fighting through her indecision, and said, "Well?"
Kaoru half-smiled, crossing the room from the window, maintaining eye contact. Hikaru moved back out of the way without a word, and the only warning Kaoru gave was the briefest flash of a grin before he dipped her. Sharpay gave a little cry, her mouth widening in surprise, and she caught his shoulders for balance. But she realized, very quickly, that a skinny little boy holding up a skinny little girl was surprisingly stable. Before she could start laughing, Kaoru pressed his lips to hers, pulling her back up to her feet. His movements were slow, warm, soft. Where Hikaru had been nearly an attack, Kaoru was a question, working up to full strength.
Of course, thought Sharpay. Of course the both of them would be fabulous kissers. It only made sense. It only made sense to feel Hikaru's chest at her back and the tickle of his breath behind her ear-
She realized only an instant later that both she and Kaoru had caught Hikaru by the hair to stop him. Kaoru broke the moment by starting to laugh, and pulling Sharpay that much closer to him. "I'm sorry, Sharpay-chan," he murmured, "that my brother is so incorrigibly rude sometimes."
"He-ey," whined Hikaru, stuck bent over in their collective grip. "That's not fair!"
"Not fair is not letting me finish. I was so gracious," murmured Kaoru, his grin baring teeth.
Sharpay thought, quite clearly, boys. It had been an obscure, unacknowledged worry of hers, ever since she'd realized Hikaru had been in earnest. Things like this only happened in stupid romance movies, right? There was no way she'd be part of a triangle if she could help it. She ducked out of both of their hold and said, "Not if you two are going to fight."
It was Hikaru who started laughing first. The two of them nearly collapsed, holding on to each other and laughing with their heads bowed forward. Kaoru started to hiccup, and Hikaru had to sit down on a work table.
Sharpay put her fists on her hips. While it was relieved, she still didn't see the point of the extent of their laughter. They didn't need to be snotty about it, really. It was rubbing it in.
It was finally Kaoru who said, "But Sharpay-chan, it's so much more fun. Look, Hikaru, even if she needs to go slow, you can always use mine."
There was, in the immediate tension that followed that statement, a flicker of doubt on Hikaru. He glanced over at Sharpay, then hummed and kissed Kaoru's throat below his ear, saying, "Hm." Kaoru watched her, his expression a dare and invitation at once.
Even though she'd been expecting it, it sent a flutter through her belly. Somehow she'd almost wanted it to be weirder than it was. But, at the end of the day, they would still be themselves, with or without her, and nobody moved on from Sharpay. She raised an eyebrow at him. "Fighting in a relationship is only fun if you want to be a brat."
Hikaru snorted, straightening up again. "You've nailed him, Sharpay-chan."
"Ch," said Kaoru, shrugging and tilting his head away.
She huffed, shaking herself out a little. "So. It's nearly two in the morning, if I'm not mistaken. Are we going to keep working tonight?"
The twins looked shifty. Sharpay sighed. "Okay, focus broken. And I don't know about you, but I'm tired. Really, really, ridiculously tired. So I'm going to go home and go to bed."
"If you're that tired, you shouldn't drive yourself," said Hikaru, finding his words first.
She smiled. "I'm not tired enough to sleep yet," she said, and Kaoru snorted. Sharpay straightened the cuffs on her sleeves and said, "Be good boys and kiss me goodnight. I'll come back with... lunch. In the morning."
"Afternoon," said Hikaru, and Kaoru murmured, "Uh huh," in agreement. Obviously one of them had given up on syllables for the evening. She got two kisses at the corners of her mouth for her trouble, which was, she'd realized, just the way to leave it.
She gathered up her purse and left them at the door, walking down to her car in the bracing chill. In Albuquerque, the sky turned black at night. In LA, dark gray was the best she ever got. Somehow, the thicker air helped cool her down enough to focus on the drive home.
In twenty minutes, Ryan would be getting up in New York city to go on his morning run, then take a shower and have a bowl of granola over yogurt with blueberries. Just like every day, even weekends. If she disturbed him then, it'd throw off his workout and make the rest of his day feel a poor fit.
She decided, as she sank into bed, that she'd tell him later. Somehow she didn't think she was going to take too much teasing very well, at least not until she'd finished Pestor's class.
Sharpay took it as a good sign any time Hikaru started to vibrate. Though she, alphabetically, was the first on the grading sheet and therefore the one who received it, Hikaru had snatched it out of her hands in his absolute excitement and buried his face in it. And then had started wiggling.
"Well?" she said, as Kaoru leaned up against her to get a better look. Hikaru turned the paper with the sort of grin cats wore when well-fed from questionable means. Kaoru crowed.
"Ninety-nine!" he grinned. But Sharpay took the paper in her hands and frowned.
"That means something marked us down. I want to know what it - oh." She squinted to read Pestor's handwriting at the bottom of the sheet. "Oh, for heaven's sake."
"Speaking in unison," read Kaoru, "makes a presentation feel overly rehearsed."
"It's not like we do it on purpose!" cried Hikaru, his expression falling.
Sharpay patted Hikaru's arm. "It's a sign of a lack of vision. I personally think it's darling, and this is just the first sign of his growing inability to change with the times. It's an unfortunate downward spiral that will eventually make his sense of style obsolete, but it happens to the other ninety-nine percent."
Kaoru wrinkled his nose, even as Hikaru took heart. "That's so sad," he said. The three of them cast identical baleful looks at the closed door to the lecture hall.
Sharpay sighed and turned smartly on her heel. "Well, at least we can put that behind us."
"That brings me to a question, Sharpay-chan," said Hikaru, stepping out front to block her.
Kaoru linked arms with him. "How do you plan to spend your Fridays?"
She looked from Hikaru to Kaoru, then rolled her eyes. "You owe me three seasons of Project Runway." She brushed past them, walking with her head up. Only when they caught up, kissing her cheeks, she added, "And it's your turn to host dinner anyway."
When they said, "We know," she thought it might be love. Ryan was on quarters, and still had three weeks left of school. She'd have to bring him in for outside consultation when he was done with his finals. Until then, she was content to remain undecided in their arms.