A/N: I'd like to extend a massive apology to all of you who have been so patiently waiting for an update on this story. I'm sorry for taking so long, but I'll go ahead and tell you that it was very difficult to write this chapter, and add on top of that my preparations to go and my trip to Italy for almost a month, well... I didn't have much time to get this finished for you guys. So I'm very sorry, and I hope you'll forgive me for my silence. I also hope you'll enjoy this next chapter where I've introduced the Host Wives Club for the first time ever!

Disclaimer: Nothing owned, nothing earned. Entertainment purposes only. Thanks!

Or So They Say: Chapter Thirteen

By: Rae

-An "Ouran High School Host Club" Fanfic-

He'd been gone for two days now, and Haruhi was annoyed. Not only did he get to skip out on the start of her morning sickness, but he also got away without answering her questions about what was going on. She was halfway tempted to call up her friends and corner them with her demands, but since it was the monthly meeting, she decided not to bother.

Despite herself, Haruhi found that she was, in fact, enjoying being with the other women as they laughed and talked. They always got together like this once a month and enjoyed their time together. As a joke, she asked them one month if they wanted to hear the hosts' story, and so it became tradition to meet each month and end their luncheon with a chapter from her rather ever-present journal.

Now, however, she was sitting between Renge and Chizuru. The two were laughing as Chizuru handed baby Hinako over to Reiko, who had, surprisingly enough, married Hunny-senpai shortly after she graduated from Ouran. Next to Reiko was a sedate Eclair, and on her other side sat Rin.

Looking around, Haruhi had to admit they were an eclectic group. She never would have expected to be friends with Eclair after what had happened her first year of high school. Nor did she ever think Renge would marry one of the hosts; after her rather eccentric entrance into their group, Haruhi figured Renge would simply end up on the outside looking in.

And both Chizuru and Rin were interesting additions to the group as well. They were the only girls who hadn't been a part of Ouran's legacy, and they were also married to the most random of hosts. Chizuru, Haruhi accepted, had definitely caught Mori's heart the moment he rescued her. Everyone had enjoyed watching the gentle giant become wrapped around the girl's little finger. They loved her because she was the sweetest girl they'd ever met, despite having had such horrible things happen to her.

Rin, on the other hand, had been a prickly one, having met them after high school. It was a weird circumstance that she'd latched onto Haruhi and told off all the guys in succession. It didn't matter that two of them were already involved and another was infatuated; Rin wasn't about to let any man near her heart. It was for that very reason that the host she married was able to woo her, and after he swept her off her feet, the friends saw a totally changed and decidedly not cold Rin emerge.

Reiko, for her part, was the only obvious one in the group. Haruhi could have bet on her being a part of the group simply because Reiko and Hunny-senpai had become such incredible friends. Hunny was the first person to view Reiko not as a Black Magic Club Member or a curse-wielding goth. Because he showed her how to relate to others and gave her the opportunity to open up, Reiko was a total goner. After his graduation, she'd been devastated, having to watch him go off to college without her. But she was always in the host clubroom on days he came back, scaring off most of his designators with her pointed looks and spooky demeanor.

The two had become close enough that Hunny finally admitted he wasn't sure how he felt about her. Haruhi was there the day Hunny told Reiko he couldn't figure out his emotions. He'd grown taller and was now a few inches taller than the dark girl, and she used that to her advantage.

"Mitsukuni," she whispered, looking up at him through her bangs, "why don't I help you figure out your feelings?"

Haruhi still found it amusing that Hunny had fallen, literally fallen, to the ground when she said what she did. The girls had exchanged glances before Reiko promised to help him learn what it was he thought of her. Apparently, she hadn't been the queen of maledictions for nothing; the girl was a regular shoujo freak, having devoured almost every popular romance manga that was out. Hunny never stood a chance.

That relationship, Haruhi thought, was why Hunny had changed into the protective person he was. Reiko brought out the desire to protect and defend in Hunny-senpai, and because of her influence, he'd changed into a person who would defend anyone in need, especially those who were a part of his 'family' of relatives and friends.

"So how are you feeling?" Renge was asking Reiko. The black haired woman was rubbing her stomach absently as she listened to the conversations around her.

"Oh, I'm okay," Reiko said with a small smile. "Some days it's better than others, you know?"

"I thought I was going to die those first few months," Chizuru laughingly said. "But after the first trimester, the morning sickness went away, and I only suffered a bit of nausea."

Reiko was pregnant with Hunny-senpai's first child. He was thrilled. Making sure to be there every step of the way, he encouraged his wife and helped her with whatever she needed. They'd been trying to get pregnant for a few years now, so this first pregnancy was really exciting to the couple.

"Morning sickness was not my friend," Haruhi agreed with Chizuru's assessment. "I thought it would never end, but then again, I think you had it worse, Chizuru."

The group laughed, remembering their three meetings during Chizuru's first trimester. The woman had run out of the room several times to lose her lunch during the course of their luncheon. By the time they were ready to leave for the day, Chizuru had to call Mori to come pick her up due to her unsteady legs and rolling stomach.

"It was like being seasick after getting food poisoning," Chizuru remarked, smiling as she retrieved her daughter from Renge. "But it's totally worth it."

"Come to think of it, Haruhi," Eclair now said, "we weren't around for your pregnancies. You only had your husband and the hosts to deal with. What was that like?"

Haruhi grimaced, remembering her husband's overzealousness with a tinge of amusement. "It was awful," she answered. "They wouldn't leave me alone! All of them were all over me the whole time, and even though Reiko and Renge tried to shoo them away, they kept hovering over me like I was going to do a magic trick if they watched long enough."

The women laughed at this description. "But what's worse," Haruhi continued, getting into her story, "was Dad. He kept coming over to the house after work to visit. It took the maids a while to realize he was really a guy, and they kept offering to make up a guest room so my mother could stay the night!"

Rin was laughing so hard she snorted, and that caused the others to go into gales of laughter again. Haruhi giggled at the camaraderie and wondered how she'd lived without this kind of hilarity in her life. Having these women as her friends was such a blessing, she thought, because they truly were an amazing group to be around.

Despite her connections to the hosts and the history they'd shared, there were no hard feelings on the parts of any of them. In fact, even Eclair agreed that Haruhi was the glue that held the little family together. While it surprised her, Haruhi had to like Eclair for her wit and intelligence; she was the perfect fit to round out their group, and since she'd been the last of the women to join the wives club, the two had agreed to let bygones be bygones.

Of course, she remembered the coldness and tension the woman brought with her. The fact that her marriage was more or less one of convenience and not loving had kept her aloof and removed from the happiness the other women shared. It had taken the better part of a year for Eclair to come out of her shell, but when she did, the rest of the women became good friends with her because she truly wasn't as bad as she seemed. And her marriage had saved two of the families involved from disastrous fates, so Haruhi couldn't hold the past against her.

"All right, Haruhi," Rin now said, looking at her with a glint in her eyes, "it's your turn to spill. One secret, remember?"

The Host Wives Club had a policy of sharing one secret with each other during their time together. Each month they'd share another secret, and this allowed them to deepen their friendships. However, the secrets got more and more outrageous as the meetings continued.

Haruhi thought for a minute. "Well, I guess I'll tell this," she finally said. The women settled in for a new secret. "When I was in my second year of college," she said, "I almost dropped out of school. I had the paperwork filled out and was planning out where I was going to move and trying to find a job that could provide for me." The women, several of them completely dumbfounded, gasped. "I was on my way to the dean's office to submit the paperwork when I got a phone call that stopped me."

"Well," Eclair finally said when Haruhi didn't speak, "who was it? What did they say?" The woman was a bit too curious for her own good sometimes.

Haruhi grinned at her friends before saying, "That's a secret!" They all groaned at her poor joke. "C'mon, guys," she said, "I can't give away all my secrets yet. Isn't it enough that I'm reading our story?"

"Oh," Chizuru said as she rocked Hinako to sleep, "that's right! We've got another chapter to read, don't we?"

While most of the wives had heard the story through their husbands, they all found it interesting to hear the journal read. Some of them wanted to hear their husbands' writing because it intrigued them, and others found the different viewpoints a fascinating part of the tale.

Haruhi pulled out the notebook and opened it to the chapter she'd read to the girls just the other night. "This one was written by Tamaki," she said, looking around the room at the expectant faces.

"Remind us where we left off, Haruhi," Eclair said. She always had Haruhi recap the "story thus far" so no one would be confused.

"In the last chapter," Haruhi began as everyone settled deeper into their seats to be more comfortable, "Mori talked about what the guys were doing while I was off at Saint Roberia's. The twins turned against Kyouya because of his decision to come after me alone, and both Yuzuru and Yoshio were putting suspicions into the guys' heads about one another. At the end of the chapter, Tamaki ran out of the host club on Friday."

"To find you," Renge smilingly put in.

Haruhi grinned. "That's for me to know, and you to find out." The rest of the women laughed at her poor attempt at suspense. "Now," she continued, "shall I start the next chapter?" They all nodded the affirmative. Holding open the book, Haruhi began.

Tamaki was terrified. He'd been searching for Haruhi for days now, not taking any food if he felt he might be able to find his precious Haruhi during lunch or dinner hours. He would wake up feeling nauseated and not eat breakfast, and his maids had been worried for his health as his searching became obsessive. Losing sleep, he even went out in the wee hours of the night, calling a night taxi in order to allow his chauffeur to sleep.

Now that Friday had come, he was growing frantic. They hadn't seen Haruhi in almost two weeks, and he couldn't help feeling that with her absence something vital had been ripped from his heart. It took Hunny-senpai's questions about how he felt for her to knock some sense into Tamaki, and now he knew that he cared for her, more than just as a father.

Realization took place as he looked at a rare picture of her. It was rare because the photo was of her with Tamaki alone as opposed to one of their many group pictures. He'd had the picture taken on their third date because he knew she'd be happy with his choices, and he'd been right.

Tamaki had taken Haruhi to a small sea shack on the docks that he'd found during one of his commoner research trips. It was a cheap restaurant that served fresh fish caught right off the boats each day, and Tamaki found they had the most incredible sushi and even some spectacular ootoro (for a commoner restaurant).

The date had been a turning point in his feelings for the small hostess, and Tamaki knew it was only confusing him more to watch her date the others while his feelings were so muddled. In the picture, Tamaki and Haruhi grinned, Tamaki at the camera, Haruhi at the host club king as they held up forks full of ootoro toward the camera. It was one of the photos he cherished, and Haruhi had even requested a copy when he showed his to her.

He went home after the fight between the twins and Kyouya feeling more and more upset. What Hunny said struck a chord in Tamaki, and he wanted more than anything to figure out what he felt for Haruhi. He made up his mind not to pursue her until he figured out if he cared for her as more than just a father for his daughter. But as he sat on his bed that night, he knew there was something flawed in his father-daughter ideal. Glancing at his bedside table, he saw the framed photograph that sat there and picked it up, stroking his index finger over the figure of Haruhi.

Then he remembered something strange. He'd overheard the twins talking one time about him, and instead of bursting into their conversation like always, he stood back around the corner and listened. Something Kaoru said that had confused him at the time came back to him as he looked at the photo.

'You know Hikaru, Milord thinks we'll always be the same happy family with him as the father and Kyouya as the father, but it won't be long before everything changes and Milord's ideal falls apart. When that happens, he won't be able to handle it, and the carriage will turn back into a pumpkin once more.'

Hikaru had made a snarky comment, but now Tamaki could only think about that short bit of information Kaoru had given him. His head swam with the implications of the twin's insight, and he realized that he'd forced his familial ties on the host club, essentially creating roles for them to fill in order to make him happy. Because he'd never felt the love of a complete family, Tamaki knew, he wanted to create a happy family to be a part of. Now that he was in a competition for Haruhi's affections, the roles were changing, and Tamaki recognized that he needed to understand himself before he could understand what role his friends should be playing.

After taking the time to consider his relationship with Haruhi, Tamaki began a campaign, secretly, to analyze all the possibilities for how he felt for her. Putting together a list, he began to look at each potential relationship and see how he and Haruhi applied. Beginning with acquaintances, he moved up the scale, getting closer and closer to the most intimate of relationships.

Determining that he was well past acquaintances with Haruhi, Tamaki began to consider his friendship with her. The senpai-kouhai relationship had obviously proven a barrier to their friendship in the past; Tamaki well remembered the incident in Karuizawa with Arai-kun, but, at the same time, he understood that things had progressed from there, and he felt they were no longer just senpai and kouhai. As friends, their relationship had developed rather well, and she'd shown her trust in him by allowing him to see her weaknesses and humbling herself to apologize to him when she'd hurt him in the past. However, their recent relationship had even changed beyond just the comfortable waters of friendship, Tamaki thought.

So he looked at the familial ties he'd begun putting together. Having never had a sibling, he wasn't quite sure about the brother-sister aspect of families, but looking at the twins, Tamaki was positive he didn't have a sibling relationship with Haruhi. That left him with the conflicting familial positions of either father-daughter or husband-wife.

For an entire year, Tamaki had called Haruhi his daughter and pretended to be her father. Questions from Kasanoda-kun and derision from the twins had left him confused, and his own grip on that reality shifted in a major way when the competition began. Now he thought it wasn't possible to have that kind of relationship with Haruhi when he was also trying to date her. But he was very attached to that reality, and that left Tamaki feeling conflicted and empty inside.

Looking back at the dates, Tamaki realized how much fun he'd had with Haruhi. Instead of doing the things he was taught to do with girls-- take them to balls, go dancing with them, treat them to fancy dinners and elaborate teas-- Tamaki tried different things with his precious Haruhi, things he'd always felt were exciting and unusual but that brought simple pleasure to both of them. Their first date had been a walk through some of the more scenic areas of Tokyo, followed by a picnic in a park near her apartment. He'd never forget Haruhi's tinkling laughter as he sat very still when a butterfly landed on his nose.

It was moments like those when Haruhi smiled at just him with a joyful look in her eyes that made Tamaki's heart beat a little faster. Moments like those had him questioning how he felt about her because he knew a father shouldn't be feeling this way about his daughter, nor a friend that way about his friend.

That was why Tamaki was now panicking at the end of class on Friday. The weather called for storms, and he knew that she would be all alone if even Ranka-san didn't know where she was. Tamaki couldn't stand the thought that Haruhi would be alone for an entire storm, especially after he'd promised to be there for her.

When he walked to the clubroom that afternoon, he made a beeline for the window, looking for some indication of coming rain and praying the weather report was wrong. The skies to the west were clear, but as he shifted his eyes to the right, he could see the growing darkness building out towards sea and knew the clouds were headed their way.

Even though he didn't know where Haruhi was, something in Tamaki felt she was in Tokyo, and he couldn't help wondering if she was just under their noses. As the twins and Kyouya began setting up for the day, he continued to stare out to the east, waiting for some indication of what he should do. Then he heard it: a dim rumbling coming from far off that caused a chill to race down his spine. Whirling around, Tamaki raced out of the room, not even pausing to listen to the twins calling him and not noticing his senpais coming up the stairs to the clubroom.

After clearing the gates of the school, Tamaki began running west, thinking Haruhi would want to be as far from the storm as she could get. He pulled up short when he heard a car honking behind him. Turning he saw his limo race down the street after him.

"Tamaki-sama," the driver began once he'd parked the car and gotten out, "please allow me to come with you to search for Fujioka-san. You will go faster in the car, sir."

Tamaki stood a moment in indecision before nodding. The man quickly opened the door and allowed his master to enter the car. Getting back into the still running car, the driver awaited orders.

"Go to the westernmost commoner's market, Laori-san," Tamaki said. "I'll walk around there until it begins to storm."

The drive took twenty minutes, and once he'd arrived, Tamaki hopped out of the car before Laori could open his door. He'd already ordered the man to park somewhere nearby and wait for him to call, so the car sped away after he turned to the market. Tamaki walked with confidence through the throngs of people hurrying to get their shopping finished before the storm hit. He'd been to this market before on one of his commoner research trips, and luckily, he'd been able to drag Haruhi along to give him some direction.

He walked past shop after shop and eventually found himself in the center of the market where the 'designer' stores were. Haruhi had told him most of the commoners either came to stare and 'window shop,' something Tamaki had found most amusing, or bought expensive items for a rare special occasion. He'd witnessed several commoners entering shops and coming out with labeled bags from some of the nicer brands of foods, clothing, and accessories, and while he wouldn't consider them designer, the commoners seemed quite pleased with their purchases.

Finding a seat, he decided to watch the people for a few minutes. There were several people in this area, and for some reason Tamaki was drawn to the nearby stores. He nostalgically felt reminded of his beloved France in the way the stores were designed, but at the same time, he needed a breather after having rushed to the center of the shops.

Looking around, he watched several younger girls running from store to store holding hands. They were probably middle school aged, and he grinned as they pointed with awe-filled faces at the clothes in one of the shops. A blur of white passed them, and his eyes followed the school uniform of the girl passing by. She was wearing the Saint Roberia uniform that Tamaki so dreaded, and he began to look past her when he realized that it was strange for a girl from such a prestigious school to be in the commoner's market, even if she was going to the 'designer' grocery store.

He watched her enter and waited for her to come back out. When she did, he first noticed her long, brown hair and ruled her out. Then he saw her eyes. They were the same big, brown eyes that had beguiled him from the moment he saw her without her glasses, and Tamaki felt his heartbeat speed up. His eyes gazed over her face and then dropped to her neckline where he saw a rather familiar necklace and realized with a start that this was indeed Haruhi.

Taking a moment to compose himself, Tamaki realized how stupid they all were not to consider Saint Roberia's. Then he saw Haruhi was walking back the way he'd come to the commoner's market. She was taking the long way to the bus stop where she could go back to the school, he noted. Seeing the black clouds moving in much faster now, Tamaki resolved to stop her from making her way back to Saint Roberia and the Zuka Club's protection.

Running down the opposite direction, Tamaki quickly called his driver and ordered him to come to the western end of the market. There he climbed into the car and sat anxiously as the man drove him over to Saint Roberia's, a very short drive from that part of the market. He knew they must have arrived before Haruhi, so Tamaki hopped out of the car and sent his driver down to a nearby parking lot where he was to await further instruction.

Now came the hard part. Tamaki had to decide if he should await Haruhi outside the gates or inside. He noticed that no one was wandering around the area, and he wondered if that meant he could find a way inside easier; however, his last encounter with the Zuka Club left him wary. Seeing the gate was open, Tamaki decided to find a place inside near the gate where he could easily watch Haruhi's entry.

Parking himself near the faux statues of lions that guarded the girls of Saint Roberia's, Tamaki sat on a small bench and waited for her to appear. Five minutes passed as he sat, and he began to get rather anxious, wondering if she'd somehow managed to beat him there. When ten minutes had almost passed, he stood, running a hand through his hair agitatedly. That's when he saw her walk into the courtyard. His heart sped up as he considered how to approach her, and he nearly raced over to her when she lost hold of her bag and had to bend over to collect the items that fell from it. Just then, thunder struck in the distance and his chance was lost as Haruhi dropped her bag and raced toward the nearest door.

All doubt as to her identity was instantly gone as Tamaki ran after her, not daring to call her name so as not to disturb her. He noted absently that they were running into the school theater where he'd witnessed that horrid Zuka Club play so many months before. The two entered the building, and Tamaki slowed to watch where his hostess was headed.

Once she'd reached relative safety, Tamaki began his pursuit, being careful not to shield his footsteps. When she looked up to see who was coming her way, he felt certain she couldn't see him.

Waiting only until he reached the edge of the balcony where the light would fall upon him, Tamaki finally, hesitantly, called out to her, "Haruhi?"

Even from his place near the back of the theater, he could see her fear, and wanting to alleviate that, he moved to the center of the theater and took a seat, not uttering another word until he could see how she would respond to him.

Haruhi curled into a little ball underneath the table on the stage and stared at Tamaki, who, to his credit, did not flinch away from her gaze. A full five minutes passed before she asked, "How did you find me?"

"I was looking for you in the market when I saw a girl from Saint Roberia's pass me to enter one of the shops," he said simply, not daring to move and in fact settling in more comfortably.

She looked at him quizzically for a moment and then smiled a little. "You saw me at the commoner's market? How did you recognize me?" She fingered the wig perched haphazardly on her head.

"Your eyes," he replied. Feeling emboldened, he stared at her as he said, "I've never seen eyes as big or as brown as yours, Haruhi. When I saw your eyes, I knew it had to be you."

Haruhi looked a bit confused as she searched his eyes for something, but being so far away, she found herself lost in shadows. She could only utter one question, one word as she unconsciously moved out from under the table to the edge of the stage, drawing closer to the man who had come for her. "Why?"

Tamaki smiled as he slowly stood. Before answering, he walked up toward the stage, being careful to not make any sudden movements as he approached his precious Haruhi.

When he stood only a few feet from the stage, Tamaki stopped and softly answered, "Because I promised to be with you through the storms." He walked to the stage and levered himself up to sit next to her, not touching her but offering support. "I won't let you be afraid alone, Haruhi," he now said.

Not sure how to respond, Haruhi sat nervously next to the host club king; she clasped her hands together and kicked her feet awkwardly as she tried to find something to say to such a profound declaration of his caring. She couldn't decide if he was being serious or simply trying to woo her into a state of comfort so he could take her back to Ouran and the horrible competition between the hosts.

Now that he was so close to her, Tamaki couldn't stop the quickening pace of his heart beat. Her scent was that of roses, and her eyes, so lovely before, were beguiling him with their swiftly changing emotional depths. He felt himself holding back, trying not to reach out to her, though he desperately longed to hold her. It was only now that he'd found her after two weeks away from her that Tamaki realized how long it had been since he'd touched Haruhi, and he couldn't quite stop himself from reaching a hand over to graze the top of her knuckles where she held her hands clasped in her lap.

Haruhi jumped at the contact, not taking her eyes from the fingertips brushing her knuckles. Tamaki was silent, and she couldn't figure out what he was thinking from the way his fingers moved so gently. It was unlike him to have such a calming affect on her, and it was downright shocking to not have him jump her and wrap his arms around her like she was some kind of stuffed doll.

Before either of them could figure out what was going on, thunder struck again, louder this time, and Haruhi nearly leapt into Tamaki's arms. When moments passed in silence once more, the two backed slightly away from one another, and Haruhi blushed at her rather compromising position, sitting squarely in the king's lap as he wrapped his arms around her.

"Haruhi," Tamaki whispered, feeling himself to be in a rather magical moment, "won't you come back to us? We've called off the competition until further notice, and we miss you terribly in the host club. We've been looking for you night and day."

Haruhi stared at him in shock before asking, "Did your fathers agree to calling off the competition?"

"No," he regrettably replied, "we decided to call it off on our own. Kyouya, the twins, and I are not going to pursue you any longer. We realize how much we must have hurt you through our actions, and we're sorry."

"But what about your fathers? Won't they force you right back into the competition once I arrive back home?" She was no fool, and Haruhi could tell how deeply the rivalry between the Suou and Ootori heads ran. Her questions were not made in vain.

Tamaki sighed before saying, "I don't know, Haruhi. I'm not sure what Father will do to me, but I do know that I won't bow to his wishes. Hunny-senpai was right, and I want to take the time to figure out my feelings before I continue to pursue you. More than anything, Haruhi, I want you to be happy, and I won't allow myself to cause you any more pain."

His voice had risen as he said this, and his eyes glazed with a fire that was borne of his determination to see his task through to the end. Haruhi could scarcely believe that Tamaki would not continue to compete for her and halfway wondered if it would last only long enough for the twins to begin goading him again.

Before she could voice her concerns, however, a new voice joined the two.

"Hina-chan?" Chizuru asked as she entered the theater. "Benio was getting worried about you, and I..." She broke off awkwardly as she took in the scene in front of her.

Tamaki and Haruhi scrambled away from one another, both jumping down from the stage to stand guiltily in front of the surprised Zuka Club member.

"I can see you're a bit busy," Chizuru now said. "I'll go tell Benio that you were tied up at the store and had a bit of trouble." She turned to go and then paused to lay a bag in one of the seats. "By the way, you dropped the tea, Hina-chan."

"No, Chizuru-san, wait," Haruhi called, stopping the older girl in her tracks. "Please give me a moment to explain."

Giving a large sigh, Chizuru turned and walked back to the couple now standing closer together. "It's not really that much of a surprise," she said. "Well, he is, but this isn't."

"What do you mean?" Haruhi asked, feeling confused by the cryptic remark.

"I mean that I knew one of them would have to find you," Chizuru replied languidly. "It would have to be the one who wouldn't stop searching for you, the one who cared for you more than the rest," she continued. "I just didn't think he'd be that one."

The two stared at one another, Tamaki blushing a deep red after the girl's comments.

"Besides," Chizuru went on, "you wouldn't have been able to stay here for much longer anyway, Haruhi. Hinako and I have already been having to keep some of the girls away from you; they all want to get you away from Benio, and she won't have that."

Haruhi looked at Chizuru with new respect for the older girl as she said, "So you two have been protecting me?" The senpai nodded. "Thank you for that, and thank Hinako for me as well. I'm not sure that I'm leaving quite yet, though. I haven't figured out what I should do yet."

Chizuru nodded again, carefully ignoring the crestfallen look on Tamaki's face. "I understand Haruhi," she said. "But you should know that Benio will not appreciate his being here with you. She'll feel hurt that you chose to listen to this man after all he's done to you, especially after she offered you our help."

Tamaki's eyes were carefully shielded by the time Chizuru finished speaking, and he now spoke, "I don't want to force anything on you, Haruhi, but we do want you to come back to the host club. I can't promise you the others will respect your feelings all the time, but I will do my best to keep you happy and to make you feel back at home with us."

He paused a moment before speaking and then, taking a deep breath, said, "I want you to come back to us, Haruhi, but if you feel more comfortable staying here for the time being, I won't press you. I won't tell the others that I found you, and I'll wait for you to come back home. It's your call, Haruhi."

Staring between Tamaki, the one who'd brought her into the host club and given her a place of belonging in the uber-rich Ouran Academy, and Chizuru, a girl who had taken her in and protected her when she had nowhere else to go, Haruhi was torn. She'd become somewhat comfortable in the Saint Roberia's world, but at the same time, she missed Ouran, her home, and most of all, the crazy hosts. Not only was this a very different Tamaki from the one who'd claimed her as his daughter, but for some reason, Haruhi was drawn to him as she suddenly heard thunder in the distance once more.

A booming crash caused Haruhi to leap once more towards Tamaki, who was, to his credit, standing next to her but facing Chizuru with a surprising calm. He turned to her to calm her fears, but was unable to do so as Haruhi reigned in her fear, not wanting to show it to Chizuru. Unfortunately, she couldn't fool the girl, and Chizuru merely raised an eyebrow before speaking.

"I do believe, Haruhi-chan," she began, "that you might want to reconsider leaving with this one. He's become different from the last time we met... he seems...a bit more mature now. I don't think he would appreciate it if you stayed here, and even if he says he respects your decisions, he would be hurt if you chose to remain here."

Haruhi glared at Chizuru, not wanting to admit that she was right. "I don't think I can handle being around the rest of the host club right now," she stubbornly said, while refraining from clutching Tamaki's arm as the storm rolled in. It was a fight to keep from going crazy with fear as she strained to focus on the conversation and ignore the growing thunder.

"I don't know what to tell you, Haruhi," Tamaki now said, looking grieved. "I would say that you could just stay at home for a while, but Father and Ootori-san have posted people around the apartments to make sure Ranka-san isn't lying about your not being there. I tried to stop him..." he trailed off at Haruhi's outraged sniff.

"How dare they," she spat, looking angrier than Tamaki had ever seen her. "How dare they spy on my father! This has gone too far! What kind of people are they anyway?"

Her anger piqued, Haruhi grew more and more frustrated as she paced the small space in front of the stage, not even noticing the nearing storm. "It's bad enough that they've forced me into this decision that I have to make," she continued. "And it's worse that they're encouraging this sick competition between you. But how dare they spy on my father! It's not his fault that they singled me out, but now he's being punished for it."

"Haruhi-chan," Chizuru's cool voice stopped the girl mid-rant. "You need to calm down and think about this logically," she now said, looking at Haruhi with a mixture of pity and annoyance. "I thought that was why you chose the name that you did. And why you decided to come here as a backup in the first place. You worked it out logically. Now you need to calm down and think logically about this new development."

Tamaki was worried but would not say anything until he figured out if Haruhi was angry with him as well. He knew well enough to stand back, but he wasn't about to leave until she told him what her plans were. He couldn't stand the thought that she would run away again.

Haruhi stood for a moment, breathing heavily from her exertion, and trying to piece together what she'd just learned and how she wanted to deal with it. "Tamaki?" She wanted to get some things straight, and Chizuru was right about being logical.

"Yes?" Tamaki's voice was uncertain.

"How much do you know about what your father and Ootori-san have been doing to ensure my father cooperates with them?" Haruhi's voice was tightly controlled, and though she felt positive Tamaki knew nothing of their schemes, she needed to be sure.

Tamaki's mouth fell open as he loudly protested, "Father tells me nothing, Haruhi! He and Ootori-san have been scheming together on this secretly, but I think they're angry at one another after what they said on Tuesday..."

"Excuse me for interrupting, my lady," the Haninozuka's chauffeur said as he hurriedly entered the room, "but I'm afraid I have some news."

Reiko stood up to face the man, looking worriedly at his pale complexion. "What's wrong?"

Looking nervously at the other ladies, who were now watching with concerned looks on their faces, the man quietly requested, "My lady, would you be willing to come over there for a moment?" He gestured meekly at the opposite corner of the room. Reiko nodded and followed the man.

She whispered urgently for him to explain what was happening. The quiet whispers that followed went unheard by the watching women. Haruhi wanted to go to her friend but remained still until they all saw her go frightfully pale. Haruhi and Renge began to walk over to her but got no further than a few paces before Reiko swayed and then fell into a dead faint, her chauffeur trying in vain to catch his falling mistress.

"Reiko!" Haruhi called as she and the rest of the women ran to her. Chizuru called out to a maid passing outside the room and requested help for her friend. Haruhi and Eclair each picked up an arm and half-dragged the pregnant woman to the couch where they laid the still unconscious woman. All the while, Haruhi wondered what could have caused such a reaction in her friend.

A/N: Well, there you go... a cliffhanger to try to figure out. I know... you're probably wondering how long it will be before I'll update. I promise not to abandon the story and will do my best to get your next chapter out as soon as possible.

I wanted to make a note about the host club wives before we get into more of their backgrounds and who they are. Haruhi, Reiko, Renge, and Eclair were all a part of the manga, anime or both. Rin and Chizuru are my OCs that I've brought in to complete the club. If you don't know who Reiko is, she's from (I think) the 10th volume of the manga or something like that and is the Mistress of Maledictions in the Black Magic Club who falls for Hunny. Eclair, if you were wondering, is from the last two episodes of the manga and was not exactly the best of friends with Haruhi and the guys.

You'll have to be kept in the dark about the pairings for the most part until I work things out in the story enough to start introducing the pairings. I've already got all the guys paired up and the order of their marriages pinned down. You can have fun trying to figure out who's paired with whom because I can assure you I tried to pair the guys with the most interesting of the girls. I'm actually considering writing side stories for each of the pairings and posting them as separate stories on here because this story is shaping up to be quite a bit longer than I expected... let me know what you think about that idea. I promise I wouldn't post the side stories until after I've introduced all the pairings in here, but it would give you something else to read.

Thanks for sticking with me on this one, guys! I appreciate all the reviews I get and am so pleased that you're all enjoying the story so well. I do hope to continue to hear from you as I will definitely continue posting on this story, and I hope you enjoyed the chapter! I'm going to answer reviews after I post this chapter, but I might not answer all of them since I can't remember who I've already replied to... so don't be upset if I don't send you a reply! Thanks again!

Until next time...