A/N: Twincest, whaa? I have no shame. But I was looking at recent OHSHC fics and there is a devastating lack of Hitachiincest lately. Probably because the anime is 6 years old…and I don't know if people read it anymore…oh well. Enjoy my lapse in sanity. :)


So just let me go; I won't change my mind.
I'd rather be lonely than be by your side.
And nothing you say can save us this time…
I'd rather be lonely.

-Hurts, Unspoken


Fearful Symmetry

x

Through our eyes, the world was as intangible as it was bleak. It was our world, small and unmarred, people existing within our realm for our convenience.

The Host Club was an extension of this rule, and one I'd grown fond of over the years.

"Kaoru-kun," a girl said uncertainly, setting her dainty teacup on the table between us. I couldn't remember her name, or if she'd even told me. "Where is your brother?"

Excellent question. Nobody was sure, so Kyouya, who stood against the east wall, was irate and Tamaki was more frazzled than usual. Or perhaps this had more to do with Haruhi's additional absence. He was particularly upset because he had been unable to gain any information.

"My little girl can't stay out this late, there are lecherous boys everywhere! I forbid it!"

"How sweet, calling him his little girl—"

"Oh, Haruhi, why are you doing this to your daddy?"

"Is he…eroding…?"

Hikaru and Haruhi both have disappeared without an explanation. This wasn't looking good. I sighed, remembering the girl had asked a question. She still was staring in suspense.

"He should be back soon. He stayed after for a class."

Her eyes were glazed over but she nodded in understanding. Perhaps this was because I had leaned a little too close to be casual, and my fleeting smile played across my lips for half a second too long. Eye contact was usually the winner, though, so I played it up for good measure.

"Don't you miss him?" another girl inquired.

"Yes, it must be awful to be apart for so long!"

They all exhaled in collective, dreamy sighs. I averted my eyes, fiddled with a button on my jacket. I could hold my own, but I was slipping without Hikaru to guide the script. Most of the time we improvised, and that had worked drastically to our advantage, so my entire act was based upon this fact.

"Yeah, I do miss him," I said reluctantly, feeling a tug of truth to that admittance in my gut. Forbidden brotherly love was only half as interesting with one brother.

It was strange to perform the act without him—incomplete and almost foolish. I spent more time twiddling my thumbs, suddenly understanding how Mori might feel. There wasn't much to talk about. This was boring. Too boring.

An exhaustive half hour later, I'd be free. I could have waited until then to leave, but I didn't see the point of continuing; the girls soon grew disinterested, making awkward excuses.

Blocking my path to the door was Kyouya. Him and his damned notebook, scribbling away with short, angry ticks, the glare from his glasses catching my eye. He straightened them and stopped writing. The unwavering stare was starting to irritate me. He was clearly in a foul mood.

"It wouldn't be wise for you to leave," he hinted.

I leaned forward, eyes narrowed, making it clear I would move around him.

"My intelligence isn't lacking. I know you want to find Hikaru," Kyouya said, "but we're already down one twin and we can't afford to lose business at the moment—especially with Haruhi gone."

"But don't you think they'd be together? Someone really needs to look for them—"

"Do what you want," he said. "Don't expect this to be overlooked, though."

I nodded firmly, stepping around him and out the door.

Their absence turned out to be perfectly legitimate and innocent. Hikaru was hovering over Haruhi, apparently receiving constructive criticism on an important paper.

"Hikaru! I've been looking all over for you," I told him, entering the near-empty classroom the pair occupied.

"Oh," Haruhi said. "I must have forgotten to tell you guys we wouldn't make it this afternoon."

I fought off a sarcastic jab making its way out of my mouth.

"Hikaru mentioned he needed help with this paper, and I figured he can't afford low marks," she continued.

I inched closer to Hikaru and my hand found its way to his shoulder, warm and sturdy. This was better; this was familiar. He was squirming a bit, though, and it didn't take a brilliant mind to figure out why. With a displeased scowl, I backed away. Haruhi—always so mellow. Also slightly reluctant to spend time with us outside classes and the Host Club, so this really spoke volumes. Something about her today made me want to tighen my grip on my brother more protectively.

"You could have asked me," I said. "I always help you with your homework. Don't bother Haruhi just because you're having trouble with an English paper."

My comment wouldn't help matters, but I was uncomfortable and slightly hurt, so maybe he deserved it, just this once.

"Kaoru," he said through clenched teeth, "just butt out, we're going home soon anyway."

I felt like I should have apologized, but I couldn't find a logical reason to do so, except that I sounded a bit possessive.

"Right," I sighed. "Hurry up, okay? Our car will be waiting."

This was our world, no longer a clean slate. It wasn't as lackluster, much more difficult to manipulate and solve. Before Haruhi arrived, we had such a simple equation worked out: Hikaru plus Kaoru equals one. Now a variable had been carelessly thrown in, complicating everything, and I had to watch Hikaru fumble for an answer that made sense.

He threw a crooked smile in my general direction. She's still our toy. Even if that was only a half-truth, it reassured me. At once we were in sync again. It was mine and mine only—it reminded me of how it was always Us against Them, and how unlikely that would change. At least for now I was sure we were on good terms. Right now, the world was still our playground, and peoples' good intentions could be twisted to our advantage. It was cruel, but it gave me a thrill, locking eyes with Hikaru and seeing the peculiar reflection of mirth and shared conviction surge between us. It made my breathing heavy and the air thin. As I knew it, this feeling was exhiliration at its most potent, and I lived for it.

x

His smug expression was getting under my skin in the worst way.

"It's obvious you need me to check your math, Kaoru, don't be ridiculous."

"Don't just assume things—!"

He cut me off, alerting me to the fact that it only took him half as long as I did to complete the assignment. I gave in and shook my head.

"Whatever, Hikaru. Only if you admit you need my help with English." It was then that I remembered he'd already received help for that. After a pause, I added, "You didn't seem to mind when it was Haruhi."

"Don't start that again, please," he groaned. "I'm not in love with her."

"I never said you were."

Of course, I knew it anyway, and it was all the more painful that he didn't know.

I couldn't force myself to turn around to look at him. We were on opposite ends of the dimly-lit room, each at our respective desks. I was close to snapping my pencil in half.

"Yes you did," he insisted. "Remember, when we…pretended to argue that time?"

A bit of nervous laughter escaped. "It was only a script."

"Yeah, I guess you're right."

Our bedroom—officially Hikaru's, but one that I occupied just as much—was filled with a tense silence. I knew it wouldn't last. Hikaru hated awkward pauses.

A beat later, he laughed. It sounded anxious, like mine a moment ago. "The pink and blue hair confused the hell out of everyone, didn't it?"

Except Haruhi. Her uncanny ability to tell us apart still bemused me. I wasn't unaware that we were indeed separate people; there were certainly enough differences to be accounted for. My brother's personality leapt out at you, prominent and at times ill-controlled, whereas I knew when to rein it in, our actions faultlessly synchronized. Admittedly, from an outsider's point of view, it would be difficult to pull us apart and examine each complexity that made us different.

But Haruhi did it.

Suddenly I was seized by the knowledge that our world was truly being threatened. Interference from Them was making it more and more difficult to act in relation to each other.

Without thinking, I said, "It's been a while since we've done something to really throw them off. We should think of an idea."

He hummed thoughtfully, spinning his chair around to look at me. The paper still at his fingertips was nearly blank. "Maybe we should. I'm getting pretty bored, aren't you?"

Not so much bored as I was angry, but bored worked, too. I didn't believe for a second that he was. "Are you really, though?"

"Guess I am," he said, blankly chewing on the end of his pencil. "It's the same every day. The most interesting thing we've done lately is switch the parts in our hair."

"Both of us had it parted on the same side yesterday. We really mixed it up," I said, standing up to put away my books. However, this required being on the same side of the room as Hikaru, and to my horror I still felt a combination of jealousy and uneasiness in his proximity.

I would have loved to be proven wrong, but when he roughly shoved my shoulder and laughed, my face flushed. He didn't seem to notice.

"We could get identical highlights," he grinned, "and then screw with everyone, say there's a difference."

"That could be kind of funny." I paused to actually think about it. "Hikaru, is that really the best you can come up with?"

His expression dropped and he sighed, collapsing back in his chair. "We've been a little off the mark lately…haven't we?"

If I answered that with a positive, it might have come true, so I kept my mouth shut. I considered Haruhi's intrusion…her casual interference with our perfectly functional equation. My frustration must have shown on my face; Hikaru was beginning to look too suspicious for my liking, a peculiar narrowing of the eyes that was meant to reach deep inside my head, probably to figure out why I'd been so sullen.

I knew my brother, and I knew he'd be asking questions sooner rather than later. I wasn't entirely sure what they'd be, but I knew my answers would sound fabricated, and I couldn't lie to Hikaru about something like this. Whatever this was. Parting ways, dissolving lifelong bonds. I didn't want to face it.

"Let's do the highlights anyway," I said quickly.

At least we still had that.

x

"Kao-chan…what did you do to your hair?"

I tugged at the ends anxiously. The highlights did turn out to be identical, but a little too bleachy for my taste. Hikaru seemed to embrace it.

Truly—it was just hair, and that's not what had me concerned. I was acting ridiculous. For most of the weekend, every chance I got, I'd furtively inspect Hikaru's hair. Auburn streaked with light blonde somehow looked bizarre on him, and it always took me a moment to remember I looked just the same. It was the same with the pink and blue hair. That hadn't bothered me as much, though. I guess now I kept looking for some imperceptible difference—not just the damn hair, but his entire appearance—because things had felt so alien between us lately. So forced.

"Hunny-senpai," I said, turning around. "How can you be sure I'm Kaoru? Unless…maybe our hair is different?"

We didn't frequently ask members of the Host Club to guess our names anymore. He knew this, and therefore, looked truly puzzled. Maybe not for the reasons I wanted.

Hunny only had to point, and I immediately understood why he was so sure.

Hikaru was with Haruhi.

It was just before the first class of the day would start, so most of the students would linger. All of us were prone to doing the same. The difference was that our usual group was spread out over the entire school this morning. I deliberated—I wasn't sure whether it was a good thing I could see my brother and Haruhi so clearly from across the corridor.

"You don't spend as much time with Haru-chan," Hunny said a bit pointlessly.

And I definitely didn't…flirt with her like that.

Maybe he saw a touch of…something on my face, whatever it was that forced me into such a strong wave of jealousy. He tried to backtrack.

"Is there a difference?"

"No."

I sounded too defensive, but I was doing all I could to not shout some cutting remark at Haruhi despite the sizable audience, and this for some reason was intermingled with my insistence that Hikaru's and my hair were exactly the same.

I had to admit, now that we were living with the results, this was a substandard scheme. But Hikaru always came up with them, so I wasn't sure what could be done in that department. Highlights—really? It sounded so petty, so juvenile, to think that amusement could be extracted from this. People wouldn't notice, and if they did, they would only care for a fleeting moment.

By the middle of the day I was frustrated, so I gave up on social interactions. It was better that way—like old times. However, by the time we were all due at the Host Club, a sort of mild panic was boiling beneath an undercurrent of trivial thoughts, about things that probably mattered more, like schoolwork…and it was just enough for me to ignore the fact that I'd been acting irrationally. This kind of panic suggested 'irrational' wouldn't do justice for the remainder of the day.

It started when Kyouya pulled me over to a remote corner of the room, insisting I wasn't lively enough, or something like that. The brotherly love act wasn't as intriguing as it had been just weeks ago. So I made an effort to step it up.

"Your hair!" one of our guests eventually gasped. "I can't believe I hadn't noticed until now!"

Hikaru and I shared an uneasy glance. He'd understood just how lame it was as soon as he'd walked into school this morning, so we'd decided to downplay it this afternoon. But with somebody so obviously curious, I decided it wouldn't hurt to go along with the old script.

"Yes, it helps to tell us apart, doesn't it?" I said with a smile, pointing at no particular section of the light streaks. "It's not…completely identical."

It had the desired effect. The entire flock of guests leaned forward for a better look, scrutinizing us. A girl named either Mika or Miki, one of our regulars, tilted her head.

"Are you sure? It's very hard to tell."

"Positive," said Hikaru. "Kaoru was…a little upset that we weren't the same anymore. I spent almost all night reassuring him— I said he'd always be my brother, no matter how different we appear to be."

I knew it was probably a coincidence, but my eyes hardened, suspicious and ill at ease. Had one of us developed a telepathic ability and not the other?

"Don't tell them that, Hikaru," I begged as the two girls sighed at his declaration. "I thought that was just between us?"

"I'm sorry," he said swiftly, and then his face was so close to mine that I had to force myself not to cringe away. We'd done this so many times… "But how could I forget that display of how much you so obviously…"

Closer and closer he came, his breath on my cheek, my jawline—his lips brushing my ear. He could still put on a brilliant act. Out of both parts eagerness and show, I shivered.

"Obviously what?" My voice was husky, deep and uneven. I only then realized with sharp and shocking clarity that both his palms were slowly drawing a path along my thighs. I couldn't move if I wanted to.

"You love me," he whispered, his lips at my ear, hands now ghosting over my biceps. "But you know I love you…I always show you how much. And I'm always willing to show you more, you know." His voice took a playful turn and he smirked.

It was standard practice, really, for these statements to be twisted in such a way so they sounded incestuous and forbidden. I'd always played along, amused at the girls' reactions more than anything. I'd never taken into account my personal enjoyment, or my reasons for it. Only with Hikaru's words, ones that had been said before in the same context countless times here, did I understand what was happening.

It was true. Maybe a little too true. I sat there, immobilized by his touch, and my illogical mindset was lifted. Everything that I'd said and done in the past few weeks was painfully clear. For some reason I had never felt so lost.

x

My eyes were so tightly squeezed shut that it hurt. I was still shaken, head throbbing as it violently tried to cast away my earlier revelation. My fingers alternated between curling into a fist and drumming a nervous rhythm on my knee.

Hikaru had asked if I was all right at least three times in the past ten minutes. It was my unspoken promise to leave him in the dark for the rest of our respective lives. I wasn't completely convinced of the notion, anyway; it wouldn't be the first time I was overthinking a problem. This was more than complicated, though—my thoughts wouldn't touch it. They drew back from the idea like it was poisonous gas, but cautiously circled the word love. At the moment, I wasn't sure what it meant in relation to my brother. It was so ambiguous, such a vague definition…but of course I loved Hikaru. I loved my mother and father as well, but if I allowed myself to think through the poison, the way I felt about Hikaru was very different and much harder to pinpoint. It was gravity, it was symmetry.

It was…codependency. It was sick.

I must have looked like I was losing it as I shook my head roughly to clear away the poison, the words, everything.

"Kaoru, seriously, what's wrong with you?" Hikaru demanded, now sounding a lot more concerned.

"Headache," I muttered. It was the first time I'd spoken to him since we left school.

I had to be overthinking it. Why was I agnonizing over something with such an obvious explanation? My fears were unnatural for a reason. The confusion must have been a combined result of my jealousy and our brotherly love act. This was normal—normal to be jealous of the outsider breaking in, normal to be confused. After all, both our lives have shifted so much because of Haruhi. So this was normal, perfectly normal, and I had to stop being selfish and let Hikaru live his own life.

x

Music room three was covered with a sheet of artificial snow. The air conditioning was blasting at arctic temperatures. I knew without being told that this was the day Hikaru and I were obligated to cuddle. Actually, pretending to be cold wasn't hard at all—it was turning out to be quite a distinctive reality.

After ditching the club last week, I expected Kyouya to do something especially evil or manipulative in the name of lost business. But he only gave me a warning.

"I suggest you redouble your efforts," he said. "After all, you left us without both twins on Friday."

My jaw twitched. "Don't be ridiculous. Hikaru was the one who never showed up. Why don't you bother him about it?"

Fleetingly, he shot me a strange look. "It's not only about that. It's as if you're not even trying lately. Hikaru does just fine."

I mumbled something incoherent and sat on the opposite end of the club room, far away from my brother. It might have been counterproductive, and Kyouya would kill me (twice probably), but I was still hardening my resolve. I could act normally. I could do it…if only to avoid another talking-to from the Shadow King.

"Hikaru!" I cried urgently as I made my way to our usual spot. Yes, it was falling into place now. It was so easy, to spout these lies and act so over-the-top. It certainly was acting. After all, I never exactly felt like an uke.

We crashed into each other's arms, but briefly. We'd build up to the good moments.

As we exchanged sappy, nonsensical lines that our guests seemed to approve of, Hikaru would get a genuine look of apprehension. He'd brush his fingertips along my palm or wrap his arm around my shoulder. It was true that I wouldn't let him get too close and I may have cringed away more than once—imperceptible to anyone else but him—so he was worried. Still.

After fifteen minutes of this, it got easier to pretend everything was back to normal. It was no easier to touch him, but talking was just fine. Kyouya watched us, a scowl etched across his face, and I took it as another warning.

So I braced myself again.

I shivered, pretending to be discreet about it, and Hikaru's head snapped around.

"Oh, Kaoru, you must be so cold," he said. He never bothered to ask the girls, as they'd been forewarned and were dressed accordingly.

"It's n-nothing. Don't worry about it."

Just as he was about to swoop down—

One of our guests giggled and said, "I think Haruhi-kun will be jealous! Which one of you has the homosexual side relationship with him?"

Both Hikaru and I gaped. His arms dropped to his sides. After a long, stunned silence, we both said in unison, "Him."

It was the unravelling of a near-perfect act. Despite my distance, we still had steady business. No girl had ever looked at us as they did now—like we had said something dirty, and not in the deliciously forbidden way.

"Ah—okay," Miki's friend said. "So it's true."

"No," we said together. The side-glance I received from Hikaru said, help me, think of a way to save this.

I took a deep breath. "I'm so sorry, ladies, it just spilled out. But…my brother…I know how he cares for him…"

Hikaru immediately caught my train of thought. "No," he breathed, "Kaoru, how could you think such a thing? I love you too much—there isn't room for another."

Too much. I love you too much. Half my mouth quirked up in an awkward, nervous smile.

"You must be too proud to tell me your love for Haruhi," he went on.

I almost snorted as I pressed my palm to his chest and gazed into his eyes. "I would never."

It hurt to keep my tone soft and musical, to touch him like this, but I could see no other way. It should have made me relieved when he stood up and announced he had to step outside. Instead I felt twisted disappointment.

"Kaoru, are you coming?"

He did his best to mask his irritation by stroking my face. In a low, quiet voice, he insisted, "I figured we could use some…alone time."

My flesh burned at his touch. A sharp pang in my stomach and I knew I couldn't go out there with him. Alone. I knew I needed a new perspective…I had to pull myself together…

Give him some breathing room. Even if he doesn't know he wants it.

"No, it's okay. I'll be fine on my own. We can save our alone time for tonight." In an obvious stage whisper, I tacked on, "Not in school, Hikaru!"

I knew it wasn't what he wanted to hear, and definitely not scripted. He was taken aback.

"But—well—alright…I'll be back in a moment."

Hikaru's wicked smile was back in place. It was so convincing that I glanced back, almost expecting to see Haruhi missing, waiting in the corridor. To my immense and displaced relief, she was present. I worked to transform that into a vague feeling of satisfaction.

x

I peered into our bedroom with stifled apprehension. It was too early for Hikaru to be tired, so I was hoping for some time to sort out my thoughts, or at least do homework in peace. Apparently luck was not on my side.

"Hey," said Hikaru casually a few seconds later, startling me out of my trance. He laughed when I flinched.

"Sorry. I just zoned out."

"Well don't just stand in the middle of the room," he said, lightly shoving me toward my desk. "Finals are coming up. We could quiz each other."

"Guess so…"

He turned to me again, getting that suspicious glint in his eye again, clearly disappointed with the lack of response. He abandoned his desk to stand next to me, put his arm around my shoulders in what was surely meant to be a comforting embrace—what would have been in any other circumstance. Physical affection usually came naturally for us. It was a way to express what only we could understand, telling each other things through little, indefinite actions. Light brushes of the hand and tight grips, fingers tangling and sides pressing together—it all meant something different each day, but I always knew.

So he definitely noticed when I flinched, just like I had earlier. His arm drew back in hesitation. When I braved a small glance at his face, it looked a bit wounded and I immediately wanted to take it back. As his expression grew more frustrated, I sighed, turning away. I wasn't sure if I was equipped to handle this right now. Was it so much to ask to be left alone?

"Tono was going to round up the others," he said, cheerfully ignoring my sullen mood. "He just called. I think he wants to go to a commoner's festival—that should be interesting. We should leave soon."

"I'm not going," I said, keeping my tone as neutral as I could. "I've got work to do."

"What? Everyone but you will be there…"

"You'll be fine on your own, Hikaru, I promise."

He gave an exasperated sigh, muttered, "Fine," and turned to leave.

My face crumpled and I returned to my work. I'd always had a lingering suspicion the would had opened more for Hikaru than myself. I still liked to think it was still Us against Them when the Host Club was out of our line of sight—after all, it was strictly for killing time, and that's all it ever had been. Though I had to admit…at this point I was operating on false notions.

A moment later, I registered his presence still looming under the door frame. I fixed my expression into something less miserable and looked up questioningly.

"Kaoru," he started. It looked as if there were a lot of things that he wanted to say, but held back in the interest of keeping a cool head. It wasn't like him.

"I know it's not just me," he eventually got out. "There's something you're not saying."

"You're right." It even surprised me when I said it. "And I'm sorry if I've seemed…off…lately. I'm really sorry. But I've been thinking. Everything is changing, Hikaru, and I know—it's good change, and I'm glad there's someone else making you happy—but can you understand why I might be a little—"

"Wait," he ordered. "Hold on a minute—are you…jealous?"

The dread returned full-force, turning all my limbs into heavy, useless stone. I was frozen.

"Of what?" I heard myself say, smoother and flatter than expected.

"Don't play stupid," he snapped. "You know who I mean, and it's the only one reason you won't go to that festival with us."

The silence was longer than appropriate, but my mind was somehow both blank and chaotic, and I couldn't conjure a response for my life.

Hikaru stopped glaring after a few seconds, and instead looked at me in confusion. Probably wondering why I was staring at the wall behind him.

"Um…Kaoru?"

"No, of course I'm not jealous about Haruhi. You like her. I would never try to compete against you." I laughed. "Were you serious at the Host Club today?"

"You know," he said slowly, "that's not what I meant."

I almost said, yes, I do know. His eyes held mine for a long moment before I looked down. I almost admitted to all the poisonous thoughts I'd been having—the urge to tell my brother the truth was always strong, there was usually no need to lie—but in the end, I knew it was better to keep it to myself. I was terrified. This problem that kept cropping up every time I spoke to Hikaru, it was mine alone to grapple with. I couldn't drag him down with me; I had to leave his mind untainted.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

There must have been something in my tone that prompted Hikaru to stand up and leave the room. I sank into some semblance of unconsciousness afterwards. My mind was still too alert to be asleep, but I didn't ever hear Hikaru come back.

With him so ignorant to my feelings, it was getting so hard to make excuses for my cold behavior. I told myself it wasn't all bad, because I liked Haruhi well enough as an individual and wanted Hikaru to be happy…but I couldn't deny that sometimes I stared off into space, wondering what we'd be like without her. Probably the same as before. I hated to admit it, but her arrival was a blessing in disguise. A slap in the face, a shove into reality, right in the thick of things.

Could I honestly start acting natural? I'd taken the first steps to distancing myself already when I first saw the way he looked at Haruhi. I was letting him do things on his own, almost arrogant in my assumption that he could never fall in love with somebody else so soon. Now I understood that was an immediate possibility; it might have already happened. Why couldn't I be happy for my brother? Why couldn't I be supportive? This was partly my doing. I pushed them together and pulled myself away because I believed it was best.

It was best. It had to be. I was going to be happy for him, no matter what the price I had to pay. Once it had been set in motion, there was no stopping us from growing apart, I suppose. I wouldn't speak of my feelings. I wouldn't waver. I'd watch it all pass by me with a smile fixed on my face.

I reassured myself in steady waves that it was all for the best.

x

The act continued to falter, though not as badly as before. I still couldn't bring myself to touch him without my face turning a deep red with shame. The same two girls that had asked us that horrid question about Haruhi requested us more than ever now. The lovely, inquisitive girls. I didn't know why they bothered, because most of the time they looked bored with our sweet nothings. Even I was bored, but I couldn't go as far as I used to, no matter how many lectures and dirty looks Kyouya tossed at me. Even Hikaru became hesitant, or maybe he was just as terrified as I was. But why would he be? He didn't have the thoughts plaguing him.

Did you two get in a fight? the girls asked. You seem down, they observed. Over and over and over, all these questions that never would have cropped up if I could just touch him, and I don't think either of us knew how to answer.

So we only smiled, shook our heads, and lied. If I let myself fall into his grandiose play-affections, my lies would not be lies at all anymore. I found every excuse to get up, move away, squirm a little. I told Hikaru he was beautiful a lot, if only because I'd known that forever. It wasn't a lie-turned-truth, and after all, it wasn't even about that.

Fabricated stories spilled out of his mouth and I caught them, enforcing the words with my own. These things didn't hurt so much. What I couldn't do was listen to his lies and reply with the truth. The line was blurred so much that sometimes it disappeared altogether.

It got easier. I might have managed to convince him nothing was wrong. It seemed like, maybe, if I was reading him correctly, he started to get the picture. He still ran for me when I walked away, but it was becoming commonplace for him to let me go at the last moment.

Appearances were easy, but after all, a façade is a façade. Underneath it all, I felt split down the middle, slowly bleeding out. I'd severed my other half. What's worse is that I did it on purpose. I dreaded the day he'd finally give up on me, when he would naturally break apart from our unshakeable bond. I'd be left drifting. Not now, though, when Hikaru still tried so hard to hold me down.

It was mostly at night.

It wasn't out of the ordinary to watch Hikaru while he slept. I could barely make out his features in the darkness, but I scrutinized them anyway. All our lives it had been a fact: Kaoru and Hikaru are identical, they look exactly alike, no one will ever tell them apart. But with the gap increasing, I found myself desperately searching for ways we were different. I didn't find them. It might have been relieving, but it only made me uncertain. Was I causing him pain, being so distant? Was I helping?

It was nights like these when I truly understood. His face was pale and narrow, as was mine. I brought a hand to my cheek and touched it; it didn't feel the same. Though without a comparison…

My hand trembled as I molded my hand to Hikaru's cheek, as gently as I could manage. Soon afterwards I collapsed again, restraining my urge to curse—looks were so deceiving. We could never be exactly alike.

Living as a single entity was impossible. This was the only way to protect us both from what would surely be a slow, painstaking death of the senses.

For instance, right now, as Hikaru flung a leg over both of mine while he slept.

At his insistence, we still slept in the same bed. It had been this way forever, ever since we were born, even when our parents tried to force us apart at bedtime. At eight years old we pushed the beds together. At twelve I moved out of my new room and into Hikaru's. There was only one large bed instead of the two medium-sized ones it had repleced. On some unconscious level I'd always liked it much, much better. It was more comfortable for our entangled bodies to mesh this way. It was for warmth, for security…to be close to Hikaru…and every night, without actually deciding for ourselves, we'd fold into each other and sleep.

I'd never thought I would want to end it. But Hikaru was starting to have more frequent…dreams. Watching him writhe in frustration and want, feeling him right up against me—it was too much. All his noises, every movement, it affected me tenfold. Out of morbid curiosity I wondered who he dreamed about. What he did with her.

So, reluctantly, I rolled to the very edge of the bed, already tense. I wondered if Hikaru would be okay if he reached for me and was only met with the smooth fabric of long-cold sheets. Then again, it wasn't supposed to matter anymore.

x

"Kaoru?"

I looked up, startled out of my thoughts. I wasn't thinking about anything in particular, actually, but listening to the light conversation of the hosts. This was my first free moment of the day, to be perfectly honest. The guests had only just left.

"Hey, Haruhi."

Her eyes were clear and shrewd as she contemplated my withdrawn attitude. I'd thought everyone had gotten used to that.

She stated calmly, "You've been acting different for the past month…maybe more. Hikaru is worried."

My eyes lowered to the ground again. "Sometimes people grow apart. They need to live their own life."

"No," she said, "I don't think that's it. You used to hang out with us a lot more, but now it's just Hikaru. You don't talk to anyone." There was a cautious pause. "Especially me. You don't talk to me at all. You're avoiding me."

"Of course not," I laughed weakly. "Why would I have a problem with you? You're not doing anything wrong. Besides," I added under my breath, "any idiot can see you've got a thing for our lord over there."

Haruhi blinked. Then, without warnnig, she burst into laughter, looking far too smug for comfort. I sputtered in outrage.

"What the hell—?"

"No, that's not how I meant it, I'm sorry. It's just—" another out-of-place giggle— "You're jealous, Kaoru."

"Oh," I mouthed. "Wait, no, that's not it! I like you, just not…in that way. No offense."

"I know. I meant you're jealous of me. You don't have to be, you know. As far as I see it, you brought this on yourself. You've isolated yourself from everyone, so of course you're miserable. You're alone for the first time in your life."

It was true; I was alone, in a sense. Hikaru and I had never been lonely as individuals. It was more of a dual loneliness that settled over us, and we'd help each other to push it back enough so it didn't hurt. This was no longer the case. I'd chosen Hikaru's happiness over my own, and I was paying the price. It was what a good brother would do. At this point I wasn't sure if I preferred being lonely to my sharp, stinging thoughts…the confusion. I'd managed to make it a dull buzzing, devoid of words or images. Maybe it would work out for both of us eventually, and I could be close to him without being burned.

"You don't understand," I muttered. "It's not that simple. I'm doing Hikaru a favor. He needs…" He needs a chance with you. He deserves that much.

Haruhi sighed and scooted closer to me. "I don't think so. And you're certainly doing no favors for yourself. He's your twin brother. Of course you miss him. Hell, even I miss you." She rolled her eyes. "There's no one but me to rein him in when he goes too far."

I had to crack a smile at that.

"You should be together," she said, more to herself than to me. "I don't know why I didn't see it before. You try so hard—but you contradict yourself at every turn. The more you try to be like Hikaru—" She knew about that? "—the more you grow apart."

"That's…that's…"

"I'm only telling you the truth. It's so easy to tell you apart now. Not just for me, but for the others, too. It's because you're not yourselves. You need to be together."

If only she knew the implications of that. I hummed a dismissive sound. I didn't want to listen to this anymore. It was everything I'd already known but couldn't admit.

"Anyway, Kaoru," she continued, "he misses you a lot. I can tell."

As she started to get up, I shouted, "Wait—Haruhi."

She turned to me again, all wide-eyed and calm. It didn't infuriate me like it would have before.

"How does he act? Around you?" I kept my voice low.

Her smile seemed off somehow. "Sometimes he…tries to involve me in his stupid schemes, but they don't go anywhere. He's irritable most of the time. And he's always talking…almost like he's trying to make up for something that's not there."

Haruhi's eyes bore into mine. I couldn't help but feel she said her next words very distinctly and intentionally. Or it could have been blossoming paranoia.

"It's like when you've lost your best friend, so you try to replace him with someone else. Of course, there's nobody in the world that can replace a best friend." She lowered her voice until I barely understood her. "He feels lost, just like you. I have no clue what's really going on with you guys, but it better end soon. It's exhausting to be a replacement sibling."

As Haruhi stalked off, calm as ever but with a certain menacing quality I'd never seen before, I could only stare. This could either make things better or infinitely worse, and the scale was not weighing in my favor lately.

x

We didn't talk anymore. Hikaru had stopped begging me to tell him what was wrong, or even engaging in idle conversation. I'd built up a strong wall of indifference.

So I wasn't surprised when he entered our room and slipped under the covers without so much as looking at me. This time, though, I lay closer to him. Before he turned on his side to face the wall, I reached for him, my pleading eyes staring into his. He truly looked shocked.

"What…are you…?"

"I talked to Haruhi a few days ago," I whispered.

His eyes went somewhat flat. He knew from experience that any talk of Haruhi ended in an argument.

"And…" God…how do I say this… "I'm not sure of anything anymore."

Hikaru grasped my hand tightly, as if he was afraid I'd put up the wall again. He looked afraid.

"What aren't you sure of?"

I breathed in and out, vacillating between two dangerous alternatives. I couldn't keep this up. I pulled Hikaru close until we were interlocked. His bare skin on mine was warm and familiar. I threaded my fingers through his hair and sighed into the crook of his neck. Hikaru clung to me, his breathing ragged and choppy. It was the sweetest torture; I hadn't let myself feel this in so long. It was wrong to indulge myself.

"I don't know if I'm doing the right thing."

It was true either way you looked at it; this very moment or the last few weeks…I had no clue.

"By pushing me away," he clarified.

"Yes."

If it was possible, he crushed himself closer to me, pressed his lips to my temple. I let out a shuddering breath.

"Kaoru," he whispered. "…You are such an idiot."

I froze for one, maybe two seconds. Then I pushed him back angrily.

"I'm not the idiot here, Hikaru!"

"Oh? How is that?"

"At least I can admit to my feelings—you're as bad as Suoh!

"What feelings?" he hissed. "For the millionth fucking time, Haruhi is just my friend! She used to be our friend until you started pulling this woe-is-me shit—"

"Don't even say that," I growled. "Don't. You have no idea what it's like." I rolled to the side so I didn't have to face him. "Obviously I wasn't wrong. I can't talk to you anymore."

There was a long silence. The lump in my throat wouldn't disappear and I wanted to reach for Hikaru again, even though I knew I couldn't. He could never know.

Well after an hour later, as I was drifting off, I heard my name. I only turned over for a second; Hikaru stared at the ceiling with a faraway expression. I thought I heard him say, so quietly I was sure it was only for himself, "I dream of you sometimes…it scares me."

It couldn't mean what I thought. I wouldn't let myself believe it. I must have heard wrong.

x

It hadn't started out so bad. Things might have been looking up.

To everyone's chagrin, Tamaki had developed a fascination with California. Specifically, Malibu. And that was our theme for today: acting like the spoiled rich kids we were. (At least, that was how Haruhi put it.)

Someone had ordered sand imported from an actual beach in Malibu, fenced in with a small wave pool. Haruhi looked like she might pass out.

"This is a music room!" she exploded. "How does that even—wait, is that guy wheeling in a screen from an actual cinema?"

"The movie will be a surprise, but we'll be the first to see it. And it's in 3D!" Tamaki said exuberantly.

"I don't even know how this all fit in here," she muttered.

"You can cut the peasant act now, Haruhi," Hikaru scoffed. "At least wait until the guests arrive."

"He's right," I said. "I think that's your main draw. Save it."

"That still doesn't explain anything."

"Hmm…" both Hikaru and I said. "Renge?" We shrugged.

"Wrong," Kyouya interjected. "But it's a well-protected secret. Slightly illegal as well." He winked at Haruhi, who promptly blushed.

Hikaru looked as though he might have disapproved, while I laughed.

It was enough to finish each other's sentences and speak in unison; we always did it, fighting or otherwise, but it brought me some level of comfort.

Today's act would not be comfortable, though. It would probably dredge up memories of last night. The movie was going to be of the horror genre, and being the designated uke, I'd pretend to be scared and cling to my brother for life. He'd tell everyone a false embarrassing story and I'd pretend to be humiliated. End. Go home. Back to ignoring each other.

And I was right about the movie.

"Love burns brightest in the dark," Tamaki told the guests as he dimmed the lights. "Enjoy the atmosphere."

Hikaru snorted.

As we were approached by the three girls who had requested us today, I greeted them by their names, which I'd actually bothered to learn this time, and invited them to sit down.

"You just don't want to be alone," Hikaru said, as means of an explanation. "I know how you feel about horror movies, Kaoru, but it'll be alright—I'm here to protect you."

It was less about the girls and more about him being an ass, but I went along with it.

"I don't need protecting," I said in a quivering voice.

Later, at the first sight of blood, I cringed into his chest anyway. He held me and whispered soothing, sensual lines in my ear just loud enough for others to hear.

As far as horror went, this was pretty weak. I had to put a lot of effort into fearing it. The girls seemed to be scared stiff, at any rate.

When the movie finally ended and the lights were back on, I frowned, watching as several men removed the sand and wave pool.

"Milord," Hikaru said flatly. "What was the point of all that if we were only going to watch a movie?"

"A terrible one, at that," I added.

"It wasn't even scary—"

"—and the special effects sucked."

"Stop whining, you two," Tamaki said. Immediately he perked up. "But isn't it great we got to wear swimsuits?"

"It was an excuse to be half-naked?" Hikaru and I snickered.

We were all entirely unsurprised.

Hikaru apparently decided that Haruhi hadn't been aptly tortured for the day, so he dragged her to the back room to rummage through a box of bikinis and order her to put one on. He seemed to take a great deal of entertainment out of her discomfort.

"I'm not wearing it," she refused, her brow slightly twitching.

"What?" Tamaki yelped. "We've been through this—she can't show that much skin! It's…it's…immoral!"

"It's just us, boss," Hikaru said. "And it's the new line from our mother."

We cornered her.

"Not again," she groaned.

Before we were able to lift her up, one arm each, Tamaki made an odd sort of growling sound and barrelled into us, snatching Haruhi and bolting before we had the chance to even register what had happened. They were clear on the other side of the room. Haruhi looked sheepish while Tamaki glowered in rage.

"What the hell?" Hikaru snapped. "You're not her owner!"

"Neither are we," I said under my breath. He didn't hear.

"My god, Suoh, just admit it," Hikaru shouted. "Are you that stupid? Do you not know you're in love with her, or are you just in denial?"

Stunned silence met our ears. Everyone knew it but him. There was an unspoken agreement to respect that, almost, but Hikaru had lost control. Something inside me broke as I realized he really was jealous. Some part of me still hoped he told the truth about Haruhi being a friend.

"You're such a hypocrite," Tamaki says after the initial shock in a soft, menacing voice. "I have eyes, you know."

Hikaru's eyes met mine for the briefest second. By the time I'd looked away, Tamaki had already gone.

"That was uncalled for," I said to him quietly.

Everyone murmured in agreement, except Haruhi, who had gone off to find Tamaki.

"He doesn't have the right to be so possessive," my brother said stubbornly. "He doesn't own her."

That's when it clicked into place.

Maybe Hikaru was in love with her, maybe not—but she still was his toy. One he cared about, at the very least. He was jealous because he wanted ownership.

I only stared at him in disbelief. "Why are you such a jackass?"

What he'd said previously might have been construed as a nice or noble thing to say about a girl, so my rhetorical question sounded offhand as a reply. This might have explained Kyouya's frown as he looked at us, glasses lowered.

"Hikaru, Kaoru, please conclude this lovers' spat until you leave. We don't need to hear it."

"Yeah," Mori agreed curtly.

Hikaru's brow furrowed and he opened his mouth, obviously with a comeback at the ready—but nothing came out. He looked at me, back at Kyouya, back at me. His eyes were wide and confused; they said, help me, please, I am so lost. I imagined it was the same reason I couldn't find any will to speak. But that would only mean he'd thought about it before…

I dream about you sometimes.

No.

"Hika…" I let my voice trail off as I touched his shoulder, gently, so I didn't startle him. He flinched away like I'd burned him and stormed out the door.

x

When we were younger, we took a masochistic sort of pleasure from confusing the hell out of students and teachers alike. When they needed to address us individually, they'd avert their eyes in a vain effort to not offend, usually focusing somewhere hovering in the little space between Hikaru and me. They'd ask for Hikaru and I'd reply, and they'd go on with their message without a second thought. They couldn't comprehend our switch in time—mostly they never did unless we told them—and if we were bored enough, we'd torture them with that. It was cruel. And fun.

We were HikaruandKaoru, or KaoruandHikaru, or just Hitachiins.

People were so predictable. Not in the comforting rise-and-fall, push-and-pull dynamics that always aligned in our favor, but in a mind-numbing, frustrating way.

It wasn't a coincidence that we overheard muffled whispers about our relationship…unnatural, dysfunctional, maybe even dangerous…because we were too close, even for twins. We had no friends other than ourselves. We had no empathy except for each other.

I was starting to see their point.

That one miniscule slip-up from Kyouya had us both tense and leaning away from each other on the ride home. One minor mishap—one that couldn't be explained away, like a meaningless stroke on the hand when nobody was watching, or an arm, previously slung around Hikaru's waist, falling to rest on his hips. These things were innocent enough if one could only see it that way. However, when cast in a different light…

Hikaru's lips pressed together in a hard line, pointedly watching out the window, pretending the street signs and passersby were intriguing novelties of the afternoon. The silence was unnerving; he seemed to be a ticking time bomb and I was chained, unable to move. It was all I could do to avoid counting down the minutes to his detonation.

I wasn't sure why or how he'd chosen to take Kyouya's trite comment that way. I could have been wrong—he could have been angry about Haruhi—but it didn't explain the way he refused to look at me.

I felt no relief as I usually did upon exiting the car. The tension in my shoulders, forearms, hands, everywhere, doubled as I monitored Hikaru's profile. I tried not to swear as he marched on ahead of me. By the time I was inside, he was nowhere to be found.

Our room was empty, and I didn't know whether or not to be thankful for this. Nothing helped to clear this pressure in my head, foul and penetrating. It seemed that the harder I tried to alleviate it, to force myself to empty my mind, it only got worse and worse until I felt too awful and exhausted to try anymore. This was always going to rest on me. The carriage did not change back into a pumpkin; it rusted away until all that was left was the bare, ugly framework. There was nothing good and special about our bond. It was unnatural. An abomination for me to have ever thought about it.

Sometime in the middle of the night, Hikaru quietly slipped inside. I pretended to be asleep; he saw right through that.

"Come on, Kaoru…we need to talk. About…" He coughed and cleared his throat. "About earlier.

I blinked, watching his face swim into focus. Seeing no other choice, I sat up and sighed.

"Alright," I mumbled. It was only then that I noticed there was something like panic in his eyes and the corners of his mouth, fists tight next to his side.

"Hikaru? What's wrong?" I reached out to touch his hand only to remember I wasn't allowed. So I scooted closer to the edge of the bed—farther from Hikaru—but he grabbed my arm in an effort to pull me closer. I snatched it back quickly, attempting to quell what felt much like terror in the pit of my stomach.

"Just listen to me," he griped. "Are we going to shove this in a corner and let it sit? Am I supposed to read your mind or something? Because we're twins?"

I turned away, giving no answer.

"Just because we're twins," he said in a rushed, agitated way, "doesn't mean we're telepathic. We're not the same person. We're not."

It only served to rub salt in the wound—no, we couldn't read each other's minds, and maybe that was for the best, but the slightest reminder of our differences dampened any optimism I still possessed.

"I know. That's what I've been trying to tell you."

"I know," he whispered. "I knew what you were doing for months but didn't want to say anything. I didn't want it, I just want to be with you. But…we made a new friend and I thought that's what you did…spend time with them…" He paused.

"Um," I said, finding myself lost for words.

With sudden vehemence, he said, "I know you think we should have some independence—and that's fine. But what we have here…no matter what others might think…it's ours, Kaoru, and I'm not ever going to be ready to let that go."

We looked at each other, and I still didn't know what to say.

"What Kyouya said," I reminded him, my voice shaking. "You…you didn't take it seriously."

Only I could have found such danger in an intensionally false accusation. They were empty words, but they triggered such a response that I could only make one conclusion out of it.

Maybe…everyone knew.

Hikaru swallowed hard and looked away.

I could only say, "I'm sorry. I'm so, so, so sorry, Hikaru, I tried to hide it and get rid of it and just make it die—but it doesn't, it only gets worse—and…and—"

Still looking away, he placed a hand over my mouth.

"You were ignoring me," he said slowly. "You pushed me away…"

"And I'm sorry," I almost pleaded. "Don't you see why, though? I didn't want you to hate me. Like you probably do now." It hurt to even think about Hikaru really, truly hating me.

He only shook his head. And finally, looked me straight in the eye. I couldn't understand the expression. It was one I'd seen before on him, but never in this context. It didn't make sense.

"I could never hate you. Idiot."

"I'm…glad."

Was I the idiot, or was he? What was he doing, sitting so close to me like that? Then he was lunging across the bed, wrapping his arms around me in a desperate embrace, whispering, stupid, stupid… Which one of us was stupid? The one holding the other, or the one that couldn't breathe because he was being hugged by his brother? Maybe it was me. I returned the embrace and felt as if I could cry. My other half didn't hate me for my unreachable fantasies, even if I hated myself for it.

"You know I love you," he whispered in my ear. "You know it. How could you not? I never lied about that, not once."

At least there was that—amongst the fabric of lies and half-truths we spun in the Host Club, there were things that would always be the truth. And painless.

Before I could say it back, Hikaru's mouth was on mine, enveloping my lips in a hard, insistent kiss. For the first three seconds, I was too shocked to fully understand what was going on. Then I felt the tremor behind it all, enough for my concern to override everything else. I didn't know if it meant he was simply nervous or that he forced himself to do it for my sake. Cautiously, I curved my hand to his face, hoping to soothe him. Logic was blissfully absent; I only knew Hikaru was kissing me. My lips stroked his to calm his uneven breathing, gently at first, but mindlessly I pressed closer with each brush of the lips.

It was such a foreign experience. I wasn't familiar with the precise way he held me against him, forced my lips apart with his tongue, scraped my lower lip with his teeth. It was completely new, the sounds escaping us both, panting, gasping—I could hardly tell whether it was me or Hikaru that moaned, a guttural sound in the back of the throat, as his lips trailed along my jawline and grazed my earlobe.

This pulsing arousal I'd only just decided to acknowledge—it had been lurking in the shadows all this time—compelled me to grind against him, thrust upward with abandon as something else quite foreign brushed against me. I didn't question how I'd ended up underneath him while he held my wrists up against the bedframe, roughly sucking on a spot on my neck that made me gasp. Another thrust, simultaneous low moans.

It was new, despite how long we'd been attached at the hip. It was strange and addicting and wild and I wasn't sure if I'd ever be able to live without his touch again.

After awhile, when I gained enough sense back to be the slightest bit more logical, I gently pushed Hikaru away. His eyes were still dark with lust, but he caught his breath after a moment and rolled onto his back beside me.

"Okay," he exhaled. "So that just happened."

"Yeah."

It really wasn't funny at all, but we couldn't keep from cracking up. And it seemed like poetic justice or something, how Kyouya of all people had instigated this.

After we recovered from our brief hysteria, I watched Hikaru carefully, our hands linked together between us.

"I'm not going to pretend this is right," I said softly. "I…I know it's wrong, and we should stop now. It's like taking ten steps backwards, Hikaru, I hope you understand that."

"I don't understand you," he rebuked. "We never cared about what was right before. We never cared about anyone but ourselves…I don't see why that should change."

"But it has changed," I said. His jaw was set, stubborn, refusing to admit the obvious. "No…Hikaru, it's true. You care about Haruhi. You're not sure how, but you know that much, don't you?"

"Of course," he said. "But…I love her like family."

I smirked darkly. Hikaru kicked me.

"You're different. I mean like a cousin, maybe."

"Still," I contended, "we can't be like this forever. We need to have separate lives. Someday you'll meet someone you want to be with, maybe somebody you already know."

"And maybe I've already decided that," he said, holding me to his chest. Yes, he was selfish and possessive, but in this instance, I rather enjoyed it.

"Think about what I said."

Hikaru breathed in and out, slowly, rhythmically. Then he looked at me again.

"I don't understand you," he repeated. "You're still pushing me away? I don't…"

"Know how to handle it. Neither do I."

We were both silent.

x

It was the most uncomfortable thing, to go back to the Host Club the next day and act as if nothing had happened. It was awkward, not-pretending to love each other in ways brothers shouldn't. It was an act of an act for the first time, or maybe it always had been. It should have made it easier. Instead I was hyperaware of everything he did and said, and all the ways I responded. It was like putting our deepest secrets on display for some frivolous girls to lust over.

Those same girls must have detected the note of truthfulness to their script, because they looked to be both uncomfortable with the obvious intimacy, and at the same time captivated. They didn't squeal or swoon, but watched, a hint of a blush creeping up on their cheeks. Somehow we drew a larger crowd than before.

Maybe they were only curious, maybe they didn't know, and maybe they understood the danger in this balancing act. We were mirror images of each other; it was laughable, if you think about it. Quite narcissistic, actually. But again—it just wasn't about that.

Kyouya didn't give me dirty looks anymore. I stopped ignoring Haruhi, but the jealousy still flared up if I wasn't careful to remember I had him for now. How long that would last was anyone's guess. Maybe our days were numbered, but it wasn't the first thing I wanted to think about.

If we could just stay together like this, maybe the fear creeping up on me would retreat. I knew a time would come where we would look at each other and realize it might have been a mistake, but as long as that wasn't any time soon, I could almost ignore it. For now, I was only going to enjoy the scorching kisses and intoxicating friction when we were alone, the forbidden pleasure of it all. Even without it, I needed him there with me. We held each other together.

So I wasn't exactly surprised when others started to put two and two together. I knew it would come, and oddly enough, I wasn't terrified anymore.

Like the day Haruhi casually sat down between us and sighed. "So it's true, then."

Hikaru and I glanced at each other from the side. We shrugged.

"Probably."