A/N

Hello, it's me again! Goodness, I seem to be quite taken in with writing Ouran-based fanfics - not that I'm complaining, of course, but...it does sort of get irritating when I'm supposed to be studying. Oh well.

The premise for this fic; hmm, I'm not really entirely sure as to how this came about, but I do vaguely recall that it had something to do with exploring the bonds, the threads if you like, that bound the hosts to each other. Each of the hosts were important to the club, and therefore to each other - on a level based purely on friendship and nothing more - which made them rather close to each other, in their own...er...unique ways.

As I was mentally ranting on how beautiful the whole 'system' - as it were - was, I couldn't help but wonder what would have happened if the 'threads' were severed - not stretched thin, but actually severed. Adding that to the fact that I have had the sudden urge to further explore the character of Nekozawa Umehito - who I've never really thought much of, except for fondly finding him hilarious - well, I guess this is the result of it!

I do apologize if none of that made any sense, but do try and bear with it, please!

Disclaimer: I'd love to say I owned everything to do with Ouran High School Host Club...but everyone knows that that's nothing but wishful thinking. It's all Bisco Hatori's, not mine!


Chapter One: How Times Change

The sound of birds chirping right outside the large windows of his room was the first thing that he heard as he opened his eyes, escaping the clutches of the dream world that had held him captive for...a couple of hours. Sighing softly, he allowed himself to lie on his back in the large, comfortable bed, content with staring up at the wooden beams above him and listening to the birdsong.

He was so deep in his feelings of immaterial bliss that he did not hear the first or second knocks on the door. In fact, he was snapped out of his state of contentment only when he heard the soft sound of shoe-clad feet scuffling occasionally on the wooden floorboards.

Turning his head to his left, he was met with a pair of turquoise eyes; eyes that smiled upon seeing him awake.

"Ohay – good morning," he said, quietly, as he watched the turquoise-eyed male observe him for a moment.

"Good morning to you too, Tamaki," said the golden-haired male, in his usual soft voice. He cringed slightly as he moved to sit on the edge of the bed, only to find himself exposed to a great deal of light from the opened windows. He soon recovered, however. "I trust that you slept well?"

The still-in-bed golden-male paused for the briefest of moments before nodding.

"Yes, I did," he said, just as quietly as before. "Thank you." His companion frowned slightly.

"How many times must I tell you Tamaki, that you need not thank me every single day?" A wry smile twisted the half-French boy's lips in a manner that would have startled those who knew him.

Those who had known him, corrected his companion mentally, and a touch sadly.

"I can't help it," he said. "If it wasn't for you...I..." he allowed his voice to trail off as a distant, almost vacant glaze took over the once-bright and shining purple eyes.

Knowing what the younger man was probably thinking of, his turquoise-eyed companion decided to put an abrupt end to it – at least for the moment.

"That is all in the past, Tamaki. I don't see why you insist on bringing it up so often." His tone softened as he watched the glaze disappear from the eyes, telling him that he was back, that he had bidden his thoughts of the past goodbye, at least for a short while. "In any case, I was wondering if you had anything planned for today."

There was a slight pause, during which the continuing birdsong was all that was heard.

"Well." There was a – twisted – smile on the still-a-bed man's lips. "Apart from lying around in bed, being seen by the doctors, and having the occasional meal...I wouldn't say that I have anything planned."

His companion resisted the urge to frown at the tremor of bitterness that he heard in his voice.

"That's good then," he said, keeping his voice light. "Because I was thinking that we should go out." As the younger male raised his eyebrows, somewhat sardonically, he flushed. "I meant go out of the house."

Despite his slight embarrassment, he couldn't help but feel relieved when his companion chuckled softly, and much too-briefly.

Regardless, a chuckle was still a chuckle. And he hadn't heard any from the twenty one year old since ---

Don't go there. Really.

"Forgive me if I'm not exactly leaping for joy at the idea," said the purple-eyed boy, after a moment or two. "Leaving aside the fact that I can't leap – for joy or for anything else – there is also the slight fact that I can't really move."

The turquoise-eyed man waved a hand casually.

"A wheelchair isn't just meant to be used at home, Tamaki," he reminded him. "And besides, it's a lovely day outside. It's certainly not the type of day that should be spent indoors."

A wary expression spread across the younger male's face.

"I don't think this is a good idea..."

"Nonsense. It's a pretty good idea, and you know it."

"I just...if you want to get out of the house, please, feel free to leave. Don't concern yourself about me. I'll be-"

"-Stop being stubborn. How long do you intend on shunning the outside world, Tamaki?"

"...I do not shun the-"

"-When was the last time you left the house? No, don't look at me like that, just answer the question."

"I don't-"

"-Tamaki, you've shut yourself off from the rest of the world ever since this whole thing happened." The turquoise-eyed male raised a hand to silence his younger companion. "Now I understand your reasons for doing that, but...must you continue to do so? The...ones you wish to avoid, you have avoided them, haven't you? They don't have a clue as to where you are. And no one here knows you. You can't keep doing this to yourself Tamaki."

He paused for a moment. "In fact, I won't let you keep doing this to yourself."

"You really are annoying," grumbled the purple-eyed boy, as he closed his eyes for a brief moment. "Really, really annoying."

But his companion was not the slightest bit insulted. With a kind, relieved smile on his face, he hopped off the edge of the bed and crossed over to the closet at the other end of the room. Throwing the wooden doors open, he picked out a pair of jeans along with a short-sleeved t-shirt, before heading back towards the bed.

"Come on then, it's time to get out of bed!" he said, with a cheerfulness that he most certainly had not had – or displayed – four years ago. Ignoring the younger male's half-hearted protests, he helped him into a seated position on the bed, being very careful to support his back as he did so.

"You don't have to do this, you know," grumbled the purple-eyed boy, as he grudgingly allowed his companion to unbutton his pyjama top before sliding it off his shoulders and then discarding it on the bed.

"Oh, I take it you miss the maids' gentle touches?" he questioned, a touch teasingly.

"I'm not a pervert," was the mumbled reply he got as he picked up the ugly yet necessary contraption that lay on a chair beside the bed. As he brought the back-brace closer to the now seated man, he noticed the lack of the usual defeated expression on his face, and remembered that he had stopped looking at the contraption in that manner a year ago.

Which was a very great improvement.

"Now stay still," he muttered, as he slipped the item over his friend's – yes, that was what they had become; friends; even though the mere thought of it would have terrified the half-French young man a couple of years ago – shoulders. Adjusting the position of the now motionless male's arms, he quickly set about fastening straps across the – he frowned – sunken chest and around the area just above the male's waist.

He tightened them as much as he dared to, without hurting his friend. "Bear with me for just one more second," he said quietly, although the younger male had not said a word, not even if it had hurt him. Slipping behind him on the bed, he adjusted the firm frame of the brace, so that the medically padded area fit exactly over the expanse of his spine that was...damaged.

When that was done, he gave the brace one last pat before slipping away from behind him. "There, it's done. That wasn't so bad, was it?"

The purple-eyed boy shook his head.

"It's infinitely better than what I...had to deal with before..." he said, softly. And the turquoise-eyed male could not help but agree. The first few months after that life-altering, near-fatal accident had been, without a doubt, the worst times of his life – of both their lives. With no one to support the half-French male, he had risen to the occasion, and was very glad that he had done so, for he did not know where the younger male would be now if he had not had even the slightest bit of support.

The contraptions that he had had to wear, mainly for his back, had been painful not just to look at but to see him in as well. There had been many nights of him hearing muffled cries from outside the firmly shut door to his friend's room, along with many days of tear-filled eyes as the slightest movement evoked pain from both the injury and the brace. And that was leaving out the months of depression that he had watched the boy fall into.

He was still a boy; a boy who had had to grow up too fast, in a most cruel manner. And that irked him, mainly because he didn't deserve any of it.

"I'm afraid you'll have to bear with me for a while more," he said, snapping himself out of his reverie as he held the white short-sleeved t-shirt up. With an almost inaudible sigh, the purple-eyed boy nodded, his shoulders looking a little bit slumped.

Refusing to give in to his melancholy thoughts, the turquoise-eyed male slowly and carefully slipped his friends arms into the shirt sleeves, before pulling the fabric down over his head and back. The back brace that his friend wore now was quite a bit slimmer when compared to the previous ones, and that meant that he didn't need to get oversized t-shirts or shirts – he could actually fit in to a smaller size.

Stepping away, he watched his friend tug at the t-shirt until he was satisfied. "Right. Your jeans..." His friend's shoulders did slump this time, and he found that he could not find fault with him for it. Having to depend on others for the slightest things such as getting dressed...

...well, he had been putting up with it admirably thus far, and both he and the maids in the household made sure to keep encouraging him.

"I'm not going to throw a fit. Go ahead."

"Alright." With a bit of help from the purple-eyed male, he managed to slide his pyjama bottoms off him – stifling a smile when he saw the Disney boxers that he had on underneath – before helping him into his jeans. His hands were slapped away when it came to zipping and buttoning up.

"I can do this much," was the soft reply he got to his unvoiced question. "Sometimes..." And sure enough, he managed to pull the zip up halfway, before it became evident that his hands were betraying him once more.

"The doctors did say that you'll need a lot of practice," murmured his older friend as he pulled the zipper up the rest of the way. "There will be times when your muscles fail you, but there will also be times when they allow you to do things like this."

"Wonderful. I can certainly see myself in my sixties, unable to anything at all." He blinked when a finger was wagged in his face.

"No pessimism today," said his companion, in a mock-stern voice. "It's too good a day to be dwelling on such dark things."

"And to think I never thought the day would come when I would hear you warning people against anything 'dark'."

He received a cheery, if not somewhat embarrassed smile in reply to that.

"We all have our days," said his companion, even as he warily eyed the bright sunlight outside.

"Thank you." The whisper caused him to draw his eyes back on to the seated figure. He stared at his friend's lowered head for a moment before gently placing a hand on his head, ruffling the golden locks on it. "H-hey..."

"I told you, there's no need for any of that," he said, a touch affectionately as he watched the younger male make his best attempt to smoothen his hair – which was difficult, given the fact that his arms decided to sporadically lose their power.

He ruffled the hair once more, earning himself a half-hearted glare.

"U-me-hi-to!"

"Come on, we've wasted enough time as it is." Helping his friend up, the turquoise-eyed man half-carried half-helped him towards the comfortable wheelchair that was always next to the bed. A few minutes of checking and double-checking later, the...injured male was securely and comfortably seated.

He watched as his friend walked around the room, grabbing a pair of shades, a handkerchief and a hat, and stuffing them into a light bag before slinging it over his shoulder.

"Where are we going anyway?" he queried, as his once-sparkling eyes travelled to the window and took in the...nice weather outside.

"Hmm...maybe the park?"

"You're not taking me to some Black Magic Market or something like that, are you?"

"You wound me. As R- an acquaintance used to imply, that kind of thing isn't popular with the ladies." He prayed that his friend hadn't heard his near slip-up, of mentioning the name of that 'acquaintance'. Names from the past were not mentioned in his company after all, saddening though the fact was.

"Hmm. So we're going out to pick up women? I've changed my mind, I'd like to stay in and read." He lightly smacked the seated male's head. "Hey! Watch it. Knowing my luck-"

"-Quiet, you. Enough of this; let's go. And no, Tamaki, we're not going out to pick up women."

"Sarcasm evidently goes right over your head, Umehito."

It would do the same when used on anyone who knew the old Suoh Tamaki, thought Umehito, sadly, as he stared at the back of the golden-head. Because sarcasm was one thing that the 'king' did not do...

"When used properly, it doesn't. But I suppose I can't expect anything better from you," he said instead, feigning a sigh – which elicited a disgruntled grunt from his friend – before pushing the wheelchair towards the door, and then out of the room.

They had not gone far when a maid appeared out of the blue, startling both golden-haired men as she was prone to doing.

"What about breakfast, young masters?" queried the dark-haired maid, her cat-like eyes lingering a moment longer on the wheelchair-bound young master. "He-" Tamaki 'eeked' despite himself as she flung out an arm to point accusingly at him. "-Is not eating enough. Look at him. He," she stepped closer, "needs," Umehito watched as his friend quivered, "more flesh on his body!"

"That hurts!" yelped Tamaki, as she pinched at his upper arm. "U-me-hi-tooooooo-"

"Kuretake, you are hurting young master Tamaki," cut in a deep male voice, as a suit-clad man stepped up towards them.

"But look at him! He hasn't been eating and-"

"-We'll have breakfast from outside, Kuretake-san, Kadomatsu-san," intervened Umehito, peering down at his friend who nodded his agreement.

"You're going outside?" A warm smile blossomed on the young woman's face. "That's lovely. I'm sorry, don't let me keep you." She too, knew how so very rare it was for Tamaki to leave the house, having played a large part in the small group that had looked after the young man since the accident.

"Would you like one of us to accompany you, Umehito-bocchama?" asked Kadomatsu, the Nekozawa family secretary who was a part of the very small group who knew of the purple-eyed boy's presence in Australia.

"No, I don't think that will be necessary, Kadomatsu-san," said Nekozawa Umehito, shaking his head. "When Kirimi gets back from Auntie's house, tell her that we'll probably be in the park...she might want to join us there."

"Of course, obocchama."

"I'll escort her there myself. We can't have Kirimi-ojousama wandering around on her own, can we?"

"No, that we can't."

"Have a fun day outside, young master Tamaki," piped in Kuretake, knowing how hard the younger boy tried to avoid Japanese names and titles that had once been familiar to him. "Umehito-bocchama, if you need anything-"

"-Yes, we'll call you," interrupted Umehito, nodding at the pair before continuing forward with his friend. "Remember, Tamaki, no pessimism today," he reminded him, as they stepped out of the large house and into the lovely warm yet breezy day outside.

"And no flinching from sunlight either."

"I'm not as bad as I was."

"True. You have improved greatly."

But let's not dwell on the past, shall we?

"Come, let's stop by the pancake place first and get some breakfast."


A/N

I hope that that made some kind of sense, just enough so that you got the general gist of things. I will, of curse, go into greater detail about the 'event' and such as the story continues!

Oh, and I'd just like to take the opportunity to point out that this fic will not contain any male/male pairings. The main focus is...well, friendship...and angst. It's simply because I'd love to see further development in the friendships between the very original and unique hosts!

And I think I'll shut up there.

If you liked it, please take the time to tell me what you think.

If you didn't like it, please take the time to tell me what went wrong with this piece!

Till next time!

Siriusgirl1