Series: Three Cities
Title: Florence: A Bicycle Built for Two
Pairing: Eventual Hikaru x Kaoru x Tamaki
Summary: Three cities. Three stories. In the third of these, Tamaki argues the merits of "fat" architecture, asks the twins the same question only to get two different answers, and finally, because some experiences are worth your pain, lets go of the reigns.
First Part: Paris: An Experiment in Gravity
Second Part: Tokyo: A Study of the Classics
Florence: A Bicycle Built for Two
Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do
I’m half-crazy all for the love of you
Florence is a conglomeration of dirty, bright colors, crumbling Medieval buildings, and taxi cabs that have no inclination to use their breaks. Most cities are made of patchwork; there is normally some order to the madness, however, and these streets lack even a semblance. Tamaki worries, not for the first time, that maybe he should’ve asked Kyouya to come instead of deferring to his friend’s overwhelming workload. If there’s one thing he can count on Kyouya for, it’s to know which way they’re going.
The twins are, he’s discovered, unable to read a map without arguing. It’s fascinating to watch.
They have a good time for the initial two days, since all the walking they need to do is down the piazza to the markets by San Lorenzo. Hikaru buys all of the cheap, knock-off con artist brands he can, finding great humor in the “Gucci” sunglasses and leather purses. Tamaki is wary because this means he’s going to be subjected to “true fashion” tests, for which there will be ridicule at his answers and taste, all vacation. Kaoru buys two chess sets and a few bound journals. They all eat gelato and hot chestnuts: one for the end of summer, one for the beginning of fall.
No one talks about why they’re here, and for that, Tamaki is grateful.
He finds the musicians that play on the street corners to be distracting. He knows commoners through Haruhi, but this is an entirely new breed of commoner. These are men dragged to the gutters and trenches with their illnesses and bewilderments and strange cardboard signs and tuna tins. These are young women with hunger in their eyes and scarves to cover their scars. They are the kind he’s always read about, or seen in movies, or had horrific nightmares about. He watches them play, and watches them live, and finds his curiosity dulled not by sadness, but by respect.
The twins pretend they’re not there.
“It’s not the tragic story you’re thinking, Tono,” they tell him.
“She’s not as poor as she looks,” adds Kaoru, and doesn’t explain himself. But he must have come to the conclusion somehow, because Hikaru nods, his gaze flickering past the specters as if they are fog on the cobblestone.
Tamaki says, “It’s not about that.” But they don’t listen.
Tamaki watches the twins a lot, too. That’s nothing new. In the beginning, he looked upon them, and then he looked after them, and now he simply looks, finding their emerging differences to be just as wonderful and worrisome as ever. Hikaru, who stirs his sugar into his expensive coffees almost violently, spoon clinking against porcelain. Kaoru, who will rest against a church and tilt his head back to the warm Italian sky, as if reenergizing himself. After the first week, despite all their squabbles, Tamaki finds himself so glad that they’re here with him. Italy suits the twins like a fine pair of gloves.
They are beautiful, under the sun, and Tamaki loves them.
It deserves repeating.
He loves them, and they don’t quite understand it. They never have.
Tamaki knows this, much in the way that animals know fear and peace and good intentions. It’s not a conscious effort, but an instinctual one. The way he processes the world—in his belly and his heart, Haruhi once said—leaves a great deal of room for simplicity and truth. And the truth is, with simplicity, that he loves Hikaru and Kaoru. Not in a sordid way or in a hungry way. Not exactly in a friendly way, either, or through a paternal sense—though it is all of these things.
It is unconditional, and open, and as deep as the center of blood and marrow. And they know it; they’ve felt it. But Hikaru is frightened of it, and Kaoru despairs, and some part of Tamaki that can’t grasp comprehension is upset for all of that, but he can’t change things. He can’t not love them. He gave up trying a long time ago.
So now, they are in Italy. And even if the trip is for Tamaki’s benefit, he sees the bruising circles under their eyes and knows it’s really not. The three of them have been playing a game too long and without enough rest. He hates the idea that his presence has put that there; that there is a wedge, hard and coarse, aching and driving at them. “You work too hard,” he tells them instead. “You put too much of yourself into things.”
“Tono is a hypocrite,” they’ll say, every time.
That’s not exactly true. Tamaki isn’t very hardworking. Rather, his projects tend to be small in scale and reach, but he invests so much of himself into them that they feel like building cities and airplanes and outer space. He enjoys that part. That feeling of touching something bright, with a future. Everything has its own signature. Haruhi, a cup of flowers. Kyouya, a steel frame with cloth walls. The twins, a melting snow globe on the verge of spring.
He carries them with him, hoping to bring them into the light more and more.
“It’s just a big fat church,” says Hikaru of the Florentine cathedral, looking disappointed. His satchel is knotted over one shoulder.
“It’s a beautiful church!”
“It’s a beautiful church,” Kaoru agrees. Then he shares a secret grin with Hikaru—it’s always secret, with Hikaru—and adds, “But it’s very fat.”
Tamaki stares at the cathedral. “It’s a bit fat,” he finally says.
“See?” They link their arms in his and steer him away. “The horse track, Tono! Let’s go watch the horses.”
“That’s not what you want to do at all!”
They laugh at him.
The real problem, Tamaki decides as the days wear on, is the eyes. It’s so much easier to be gentle, and ignore, and not push when he’s somewhere he’s familiar with. Unfortunately, their hotel is grand but tiny, a true staple of Italian hospitality. The rooms are humid and stuffy. They can hardly breathe without breathing each other’s air. And here, it’s much harder to pretend that Hikaru isn’t tracing a word in Tamaki’s back with his gaze, or that Kaoru isn’t considering Tamaki’s hands like they’re much more interesting (and less fat, hopefully) than Brunelleschi architecture.
The twins are brooding, but looking. And it’s driving Tamaki crazy. First, because he can’t make them smile as easily. Second, because it makes somersaults out of his stomach and his neck burns when they do that.
You were happier when you were only wrapped up in each other, Tamaki thinks. He’s fairly sure it’s true.
He, with resolution, does not consider how he feels.
If it had only been strain between the twins and Tamaki, that would’ve been fine. Easy. Piece of cake. But the strain exists between the twins, as well—they’re avoiding each other’s eyes, their walking is not aligned, they barely hear each other. They shop, but with words instead of heart, like they’ve said these things to each other enough that they can afford to go on autopilot.
Kyouya, when Tamaki despairs of this over his cell phone, is short and brutal. “They’re not mad at each other. They’re too busy desperately ensuring that the other doesn’t figure out how they feel. Because then, they’ll be mad at each other.”
“Will they really?”
“Well, they’re very contrary that way.”
It’s called character, thinks Tamaki. He doesn’t believe they’d be mad at each other. Isn’t having a twin supposed to mean sharing, and the same, and understanding?
He wonders if they’d be relieved.
“More importantly,” Kyouya murmurs, voice scratchy over the long distance line, “have you decided what to do yet? The Suoh family is in an uproar still.”
“No.” He hadn’t come here to run away, but that’s what he’s doing. “I guess. I guess I should come home.”
“She’s dead, Tamaki.” And oh, it doesn’t hurt because they were never, even to the end, very close—but it’s frightening nevertheless. This great expansion of idea and possibility and freedom. “Figure out what you’re going to do first.”
What is he going to do? Isn’t that just the question. Tamaki hangs up and goes to have dinner in a little sidewalk café with dirty red tablecloths. Kaoru comes with him, and they take out the tourist guides and maps and pretend they’re plotting out another week of activities, even if there’s no certainty for how long they’ll be here. Kaoru is a little red on the nose; if he’s not careful, the sunburn will peel. It’s endearing. It makes Tamaki giggle.
“What would you do?” he asks Kaoru, and it’s the first time he’s mentioned what happened since getting on the plane.
“Oh.” Kaoru is uncertain but kind. His answer reflects that. “I’m… not sure it matters, Tono. I think. Maybe—you should do what makes you happiest.”
He pauses, and adds, “I think you should be where you’re happiest.”
Of course it matters. It matters. Tamaki crumbles his crackers in his soup nervously and musters enough of an appetite to fool them both that it’s okay. They buy a bottle of wine and stroll back through the darkening alleyways, and Hikaru is waiting for them on the sofa in the hotel room, a distracted and troubled expression on his face.
Hikaru. His answer is no better.
They’re waiting for Kaoru to find his way out of the Academia, leaning against the stone wall and watching the buses come late. Tamaki notices that there’s orange dust on Hikaru’s collar, but says nothing. The tightness in Hikaru’s mouth is too harsh. Turning closer to him, but not too close, Tamaki asks, “What would you do, Hikaru?”
“If you were me. And this happened.”
Hikaru spares him a glance. And there’s something tired in Hikaru, and wistful. “Well, first I’d get drunk and dance on her grave.”
Tamaki is so horrified that he throws his head back and laughs.
He laughs, and Hikaru looks at him in that way that is still weary like old, fat churches that are so, so, so full of wishes. And then Hikaru mumbles, like a child, “Don’t go.”
“Stay in Japan. Don’t live in France.”
And that’s not funny at all.
Tamaki’s throat burns. But he can’t say, I won’t.
Instead, he whispers, “God. It’s been so long.” And then Kaoru comes out, and Hikaru storms away, and he’s left looking between them like a bridge that’s stretched out too far.
That night, it rains in Florence.
It pours and batters against their window shutters. The air smells like old death and newspaper, and the world is wet, drowning, lost. Tamaki feels the enclosed space of their hotel room more than ever; it squeezes his organs and makes his knees weak.
The twins are no better. Hikaru paces like a caught tiger, and Kaoru leans back against the sofa, closes his eyes, and doesn’t move.
Tamaki looks at them.
They’re so hard to tell apart sometimes. And sometimes, they’re so easy. That crookedness that lingers in Hikaru, like something bent just beyond perfect. The completely reckless way his emotions color his eyes. At the end of the day, Hikaru feels and lives and rejects everything deeply. His favorites change; he is fickle. He is wild and glee-stricken when he’s happy.
He glances at Tamaki and Kaoru, and then draws back into himself. His face is dark and stormy—a reflection of the sky, only always too close.
Kaoru is like distance. It’s in the way he sits, in the way he studies you, and most of all, it’s in where he places himself in your life. If it were up to Kaoru, Hikaru and Tamaki wouldn’t be close enough to see his strain and joy. And at the same time, Kaoru can’t help but be close to things, to what he loves. Kaoru, even more than Hikaru, is the perfect contradiction. That is how Tamaki feels.
Tamaki can go to Kaoru now and curl up beside him on the sofa. When Kaoru opens his eyes, they are weary.
On the piano, they call this part the crescendo.
“What is it, Tono?” asks Kaoru, quiet.
And here I fit, Tamaki grieves. Between too close and too far, and there isn’t even a word for that. And isn’t that the real problem? Isn’t it? Does physical space, like Japan or France or anywhere else beyond here, matter so much when compared to this?
Their world is made for two. There are two seats, and two plates, and two smiles, and two sets of fingernails. Hope, like clock hands, comes only in pairs. Nothing else. They will tire of ones, and threes, and sixteens. They will tire.
But Tamaki loves them.
It deserves repeating, because he does. He loves them.
And because of that, Tamaki bows his head, opens his mouth, and brings them back together in the middle space. “I’m not going to France.”
They say nothing.
“I’m not going,” he tells them. “And there’s more. About us three.” This time, Hikaru stops moving and is still. Kaoru doesn’t sound like he’s breathing.
“I won’t have you,” says Tamaki.
There is silence. His heart trembles. He cannot bear to look; the devastation would kill him, it would really kill him. And if it is relief, then so much quicker the death. “I won’t,” he repeats. “Not you, Hikaru. And not you, Kaoru. You already have each other. If you come to me alone and ask, I’ll tell you the same. I won’t.”
He can hear the clock.
He can hear the clock. Did he… Oh. Had he wanted it so much? Setting them free shouldn’t bleed him this deeply. It hurts. It’s for their own good. It hurts.
It is ironically, unexpectedly, blessedly, Hikaru who unravels the trick.
“And if we come to you together, Tono?”
And how can he say no and still give them the truth that his entire being demands? This is agony, sweet and undefined. He will live in Japan. He will live there because it’s home, because he couldn’t bear to leave, even for Maman. Even for Maman. They will have visits. Tamaki will have this.
For as long as it lasts. Until their flirt with non-symmetry is over.
Until il faut qu'une porte soit ouverte ou fermée.
Tamaki looks up.
He asks a question: “Would you?”
French Proverb: Il faut qu'une porte soit ouverte ou fermée.
A door must be either opened or shut.
Next, the epilogue: London: The Deluge