Author's Note: This came from a deeper place than anything else I've posted so far. Details are uninmportant; clearly, as I'm sure a number of you may be upset that I don't detail how the relationship forms, just that it does. Take it or leave it. Use your imagination. (It's more fun that way, anyway.) On an unrelated note, am I the only person having trouble imagining Mori with teeth? ...Probably.

Author's Note 2: (08.17.07) Edited this a bit for clarity: "stoic" should now read "austere." Hopefully that'll help with any confusion. ..;;

Disclaimer and Acknowledgements: Ouran High School Host Club was created by Bisco Hatori and definitely not licensed by myself. Therefore, the following is a work of fiction using characters that are not my own, and no harm nor profit is meant or made by publishing this.

She couldn't remember a time when she had felt so cold, lying awake in the bed made for two. She was all alone for the seventh night in a row. She had been conditioned to pay attention to details like this, but still wished she wouldn't count the days because it made her heart ache in a sickly way to which she wasn't at all accustomed.

He wasn't to blame, though. In fact, she knew that if it hadn't been for him in the first place she would still be living alongside friends with which she couldn't quite mesh because of the all-too-obvious discrepancies among them. This one was too severe; these two were too insular; this one was too juvenile; this one was too annoying. That left only herself and one other in a relationship that blossomed so slowly that it was just barely noticeable, but so brilliantly that it outshone everything else in their lives once it came into full bloom.

Upon graduation from the academy, her father had been the one to cry the most, seconded only by the annoying one. But then her only one had come and lifted her up: she was all smiles and he was all warmth. It radiated from his deep grey eyes and pulsed through his veins with each calm beat of his heart. She could hear it when he held her close enough — although, he could never quite hold her close enough. Her ear would rest gingerly against his ribcage and she would be instantly soothed by the slow, steady beat, sometimes lulled into a sleep and other times only eased into a soft comfort that left her floating quite pleasantly.

It was times like these — lonely nights like tonight — when she craved that heartbeat the most. She was still so young and to be without her solidarity for too many consecutive days was unbearable.

Their first parting happened just a week after the wedding. They had decided to wait for her to finish schooling before marrying, but somehow that plan had backfired. She was offered a job with a rather prestigious firm and, before she knew it, her natural skills in the courtroom had her traveling the country, building her cases in every prefecture but the one she called home. Sometimes he would try to go with her, but those were just the earlier cases. Nowadays, he was much too busy with the students at his dojo to be able to take such a leave of absence. She respected him for it, yes, much as he likewise respected her dedication to her own job, but the pair knew that this strain was no real way for them to live or love.

Two years ago, they had had a child: a beautiful baby girl they had named for the season in which she was born. She was a gentle baby who hardly cried and certainly spoiled her parents almost as much as they spoiled her. She got everything that she could possibly want and yet all she truly craved was the adoration of her doting parents. It kept her sleeping soundly through the night and laughing throughout the day, filling their cozy apartment with a warmth and comfort the two of them could only have dreamt of as a duo.

She missed her daughter, now, remembering the phone calls to tell her she was crawling, and then walking. It was pure luck, she felt, which had had her home to hear her daughter's first word: "mama." She had lifted the baby up and over her head, the pair of them all smiles, and her husband with a steady arm around her waist, watching as his two favorite girls in the world laughed in their excitement. The baby had repeated the word over and over again because of the reaction that it got from her parents, though her mother did so hope that she truly knew what she was saying.

When she had arrived at her hotel in Fukuoka, the first phone call had been from her only two. He put their daughter on the phone almost immediately because she was so insistent, grabbing at the receiver to talk to the mysterious voice on the other end. At two, she had several more words in her vocabulary, and she began to speak to her mother about Papa's kendo classes. Her sentences were still a little sloppy, but she was markedly better than most children her age, and her mother was proud. Of course, she would have been proud no matter what because her daughter was the product of the purest thing there is: love.

With her husband back on the phone and their daughter running after their dog, she quickly stifled tears so he wouldn't need to spend time comforting her. His voice could substitute for his heartbeat when she was in such dire need, but sometimes she was so far past needing that nothing could help. This phone call was early enough in her stay that it could alleviate the separation anxiety. He spoke to her softly — as he had ever since the day they had met — and it soothed her nerves and eased her homesickness to a point where it was just manageable. She reminded him that she would be home in two weeks' time and he said that he had the date circled on their calendar the moment she told him of the upcoming trip. She smiled to herself, appreciating his predictability more than she understood.

Still, the phone call had been too short-lived for her liking because soon their daughter had run herself into a wall in pursuit of the dog and could be heard screaming in the background. He had to attend to her and she understood but that didn't make it any easier to hang up the phone.

For two weeks, it was like that: a phone call a day that always ended abruptly for this reason or that because there was no other way the pair would be able to get off the phone.

Then, just before her two weeks were up, she received a devastating blow when she realized the case was not going to be so simply won and that her stay was to be extended indefinitely. She couldn't help the shakiness in her voice when she made the phone call that evening, and it only had him worried right from the start. She could hardly explain herself, but he understood anyway. His voice was even when he assured her to stay as long as she needed to, but her expert ear could hear the heartbreak in it as easily as if he were pleading with her to come home now. Their daughter was in the middle of a bedtime story, though, so he couldn't stay any longer, and that was how the two had parted.

The case lasted another three weeks. She had won, but was wrecked because of it, and now wanted nothing more than to fall into the safe arms of her husband. When she had finally packed up for good, she checked out of the hotel immediately, ready to run all the way to the airport if that's what it took. But it didn't and she was there in her rented car in right on time. Still, the five excruciating weeks she was gone had taken their toll, and her anxiety was palpable, increasing exponentially as she transferred from hotel to car, then car to plane, then plane to car so that she could finally go home.

It was her father who greeted her at the door, looking wan, and she was immediately panicked. He spoke to her softly, telling her they had to leave, and all she could do was ask of her husband and her daughter. He assured her the girl was fine, being cared for by the insular two, and it was then that she could hear her daughter crying inconsolably in her bedroom for the first time in such a very long time. She almost demanded to be able to see her, but part of her held back because she knew she had another obligation. Quickly, she decided that her daughter was in safe hands, and let her father lead her from the apartment and take her to the hospital.

He had overworked himself. Between caring for their daughter and caring for his students, he had lost all time for himself and fallen into disrepair. She blamed herself entirely. He was all right, but worn, sleeping soundly when she arrived but waking to find her crying over him. Even in his weakened state, his first instinct was to protect and to comfort her, but she pulled from him because she feared making things worse. He assured her he was in no further danger but she couldn't listen and only cried harder. It made him afraid because he had never seen her so discomposed. She had then collapsed into a chair by his bed and made gentle, nervous conversation when he was awake. When he slept, she did too, but only in ten or twenty minute bursts from which she always awoke with a start, fearful of leaving him lonely while she rested.

She stayed for three nights straight, living on little sleep and having forgotten her obligations entirely for the sake of her only one. Eventually the austere one came to collect her. She wouldn't go quietly and only stopped causing a fuss when her husband awoke and assured her she should go and see their daughter. That was when she remembered the girl and then wanted nothing more than to see her again. The austere one took her home, but only let her stay a short while with her daughter before he sent her to bed because she needed the rest. She hadn't wanted to leave the girl either, but was drifting off even as she argued, and was soon taken to bed by the annoying one.

The entire apartment was still when she awoke. The clock read just past two in the morning. It was again day seven and nothing had changed. The friends she had thought were long gone from her life were still here, sleeping on futons in the living room and on the floor in the child's room. She was still a shell of herself, her motions automatic and not quite convincing enough for her to be allowed to be left alone with her child. Her husband was still in the hospital, stable and steadily recovering.

During her visit on the fourth day, alarms had sounded which threw her into a brand new panic. The austere one's family's hospital staff had been prepared, though, sedating her and escorting her hurriedly from the room while they attended to the new problem with her husband, which turned out to be nothing more than an ill-secured wire to his heart rate monitor.

She cried all day the fifth day and forgot about her daughter.

The sixth day she hadn't needed any more sedatives, but even her daughter could only bring a ghost of a smile to her face. She looked just like her father: the same deep grey eyes and the same dark hair. She had her mother's delicate mouth, though, and it was that which she used to place a kiss on her mother's cheek to help comfort her because that's what she had seen her father do. She wrapped her arms, still layered in the innocence of her youth, around her mother's neck as she sat on the floor, trying to remember why she was holding this tiny pink rabbit in her hands. The juvenile one looked on from the door, empty-handed, only slightly taller than he had been in high school and still being towered over by the insular two as they stood behind him. The three of them watched as mother could only been confused by daughter and daughter perplexed by a mother that was so different from the one she had known, and they worried of the damage it was causing. Eventually, it got to be too much and the juvenile one gently took the rabbit from his old friend, wiggling it at her daughter to get her attention so the pair could leave the room while the insular two collected her mother. Her daughter only gave a single hesitant glance back to watch them, and all the same worry that could be found in her father's eyes was seen in that one look. It was a worry too far beyond her years, and if anyone had seen it they would have understood that these memories were already stamped too firmly onto her mind to ever truly be forgotten. They could only hope they would be buried by time and by happier ones.

Minding the creak in the floor, she stepped out of bed to go steal a look at her daughter, only to be stopped at the door by the annoying one who was apparently keeping guard at this hour. They still didn't trust her with her own child — not with the way she had been. She wanted to be upset, but she didn't have the strength, so she only crumbled and slipped back to the bed. This clearly bothered him because he followed her, and took a seat on the mattress beside her knees to watch her silently for a while.

He told her that her husband was coming home from the hospital in the morning. She mustered a grimace that was meant to be a smile. He smiled for the both of them. He told her that her daughter had scolded the insular two today. She mustered a gurgle that was meant to be a laugh. His smile for the both of them faded. He told her he still loved her even though they never spoke anymore. She couldn't muster a thing. He wasn't surprised. He moved a bit closer and he set a hand on hers as he leaned over to kiss her forehead. He told her that he was glad things had turned out the way they did, regardless of his coming into his feelings for her far too late. He knew whom she loved and he loved that she loved. He said he was glad to be back in her life. She spoke quietly, her voice clearing cobwebs from a throat that had only known how to sob all this week, and said that she didn't understand how they had ever managed to part in the first place. He asked if this meant he was invited to stay longer. She told him to get real. They both laughed, though her voice was tired and his voice was more relieved than amused.

She had fallen asleep again sometime during the early morning hours, and when she next woke it was to the juvenile one. He was no longer the child he was in high school, but he still tugged at her arm excitedly to get her out of bed. She was groggy, but followed, and hardly knew what had hit her when she walked headlong into the missing piece of her heart. He wasn't fazed in the least, his arms wrapping solidly around her to shield her from the darkness that had surrounded her all of this time. The first thing she felt was his heartbeat, steady as ever, but a bit faster than usual due to his relief and his happiness. She started to cry again and he held onto her, not daring to let go until she told him to because he knew that she never would and that he would never want to.

The juvenile one had run off to check on their daughter, who was shouting from her bedroom that she couldn't find her bunny. It was the insular two that brought her down the stairs, though: she rode on the back of the one who looked invariably more awake than the other. Her first word was "Papa!" and she shouted it loudly, causing him to finally look up from her mother. He smiled broadly, showing teeth, and eased one arm from around his wife to let his daughter clamber clumsily to his side. Her mother set a hand to her daughter's back and from the looks on their faces, they already had a silent understanding that this was the piece that had been missing, that now things would be getting back to normal. First, she gave her papa a kiss on his cheek and the largest hug her two small arms could manage, not letting go for a very long time. Then she mirrored the action with her mama, crawling into her arms completely and saying quite plainly that she had missed her: words that her mother hadn't been able to hear when she first arrived home from the airport over a week ago. Her mother repeated the words, whispering them carefully so only the three of them could hear her.

The friends that had been missing from their lives looked on and realized that the girl they had tried to make fit in with them had found a place now quite apart from them that fit her much better. Each had had their separate doubts when thrust into the setting, gathered by her father in her time of need, but now that the puzzle was complete, they understood. The seven of them had been their own family once, but it was all too obvious that those days were over and that new families had been created. Even the cousins, her husband and the juvenile one, had managed to part ways when the latter realized that his life-long guardian had needed someone else so much more than he himself realized. Neither ever knew that it had been he and his rabbit that conspired to complete the pair of them just before he flew transcontinentally to make sure that his plans followed through, and only the austere one could ever have guessed at it. The annoying one knew he had lost a love that he could have had, had he only known sooner, but he had tied up his loose ends when he spoke to her about it the night previous. The insular two were no longer as isolated as she remembered them, but were still bound as much by blood as they were by their mutual love for their old friends.

Even after it was all said and done and the apartment grew quiet again with the departures of their visitors, the echoes of their voices could still be heard and their shadows still danced on the walls. The pair felt guilty for letting their love blind them of the other things that mattered most in life. Just before their daughter's third birthday, they moved back home, near her father's apartment so that he could visit his granddaughter whenever he chose. It meant that she had to leave the firm she'd been with since she graduated, but it also meant that she didn't have to travel nearly as often. She was home for her daughter's third birthday, and, much to her surprise, her husband had invited all of their friends to return for the occasion. Even the juvenile one managed to come all the way back from the United States and the annoying one from France, and all five of them brought a gift for the little girl who was more than excited to have them back again so soon. But mother was even more excited than daughter, for she felt more complete than she thought she ever could, having thought that her world could and would only ever come in the form of her own tiny family. She understood that family never meant only blood, never meant only sharing a home. Family can live as far away as Paris or as near as Tokyo, but what makes them family is the fact that they will always come back no matter how long they have been away.