It had been such a long time since Anne-Sophie had seen them in person, since she'd been able to hug her son and kiss her husband. She'd been a little worried when she received a call from Yuzuru saying he and René were coming to visit her, because it either meant that they'd been disowned or that his mother was dead. If it was the former, they would be coming to her with nothing and because they had nowhere else to go; if it was the latter, René would be torn between his mourning and his joy. She knew René would be sad about the woman's death even if no one else was, because she'd always taught him to love his grandmother and to be respectful of her, even if she didn't deserve it.
She couldn't go to the airport to meet them like she'd wanted to—she was too weak to do much of anything. She'd given Yuzuru her address a few days before just in case, and now she waited patiently for them to arrive. She was feeling especially horrid the day their plane landed, but when she heard the hesitant knock on the door, her spirits lifted. She somehow made it out of the chair she'd taken to napping in and walked over to unlock and open the door.
"Maman!" René exclaimed happily, dropping his bags and pouncing on her. It hurt a little to hug him back, but this was her beloved René, her precious baby, and she had endured much worse for him before. "Maman, I'm so happy to see you!" he babbled in French. She had assumed the two of them would be speaking Japanese, for Yuzuru's sake, and the look of confusion on his face as their son spoke made her smile. "You don't know how excited I was when Father said we were going to come visit you, Maman—I was so happy I could have died! But that would have made you incredibly sad, so I rallied somehow. Oh, Maman, I want to tell you about everything that's happened in the past three years. There's so much to say, and I don't know where to begin. I—"
Yuzuru interrupted him in Japanese. She didn't understand all of what he said, but she assumed he was telling René to calm down. She caught his name—his middle name, Tamaki, which she wasn't used to hearing because he had always been her René—and the words "overwhelmed," "careful," and "tired."
René's smile disappeared for a moment as he looked back at her and asked, "Am I hurting you, Maman? I'm sorry—I guess I forgot. I'm just so happy that—"
She giggled, remembering what a darling he could be, and replied, "It's all right, mon cher. I'm happy too." She cupped one of his cheeks with her hand and stood on her tiptoes to kiss the other. "Now, come sit down and tell me all about Japan."
The three of them talked for the rest of the evening about everything that had happened while they'd been separated. René actually did most of the talking, and Yuzuru chimed in while René was taking a breath and when he knew how to express his thoughts in French. She would often reply to them in stumbling Japanese, because she could speak Japanese better than her husband could speak French. It reminded her of the night they'd first met. Neither of them had known any words of the other's mother tongue, but they hadn't let the language barrier stop them. He had kissed her that first night, a sweet, lingering touch of lips that shot lightening down her spine and made her fall head over heels in love with him. His stay in Paris ended up being rather lengthy, much longer than he had initially expected, and by the time they consummated their relationship, he had picked up enough French to tell her that he loved her.
"—hear me, Maman?" René asked, interrupting her line of thought.
"Hmm? I'm sorry, René. What were you saying?"
Yuzuru laid his hand on her shoulder and, in his very weak French, asked her, "Are you tired? Do you need sleep?"
In her slightly stronger Japanese, she answered, "We can talk tomorrow, right?"
René offered to help her walk to her room, but she shook her head and told him that growing boys needed rest as well. Yuzuru stood beside her, his hand on the middle of her back, and when René kissed her cheek as he always used to before he went to bed, he glanced up at his father and blushed lightly. She smiled and kissed him back, wondering if it had only just occurred to him that his parents were still married, hadn't seen one another in nearly eighteen years, and might want to be intimate again. There was no 'might' about it, though. She loved Yuzuru with everything that was in her, but she'd learned to live without his physical affection a very long time ago. The problem was with his current availability. He was here in front of her now, ready and more than willing to be hers again, if she wanted. And she most definitely wanted.
The weakness and fatigue she felt at the moment was her only hindrance. She could barely stand on her own, and she certainly wouldn't be able to make it through a round of lovemaking. She didn't want to taint their reunion with pain. And so when he locked the door and pulled her into his arms, she kissed him back without much enthusiasm and he immediately understood. They were staying for three weeks. There would be more time for that later, when she was feeling better.
She spent the entire next week in bed wishing her son didn't have to see her like this. He was worried enough as it was. He stayed by her bedside the whole time, continuing the things he hadn't been able to tell her before, and waited on her hand and foot. Yuzuru had business to attend to, she'd learned early that first morning, and didn't get home until later in the evenings. She and René napped together in the afternoon one day, and it was so wonderful to be able to see him again—to be able to hold him and spend time with him and just see him again—that she nearly cried.
When she woke, René was sitting in a chair next to her bed, messing around on his laptop. "Good morning, Sleeping Beauty," he chuckled. "Do you feel better now, Maman?"
"Much better," she replied, sitting up. "What have you been up to?"
"Not a lot," he said. "I'm just sending the Host Club an email."
"These friends of yours in Japan, the ones in the club with you" she said, "I'd like to hear more about them."
He smiled and proceeded to tell her about them at length. She heard about Kyouya, who had started the Host Club with René and who did such a wonderful job of managing it. She heard about how they first met and became friends virtually overnight. When he talked about Mori-senpai and Hani-senpai, she thought she detected a tone of reverence in his voice, more so than he should have for his close friends. She wondered what they had done for which he respected them so much The twins—Hikaru and Kaoru?—were next. She laughed out loud when he told her about their Forbidden Brotherly Love act, and he made sure to explain that he was almost ninety-nine percent sure it was fake. He vented his anger at the doppelgangers, because they treated his precious little daughter like she was their own personal—
"Daughter?" she exclaimed, sitting straight up and turning to face him properly. "Is there something you should tell me, René?"
He hesitated for a moment, a look of confusion on his face, and then burst out laughing. He closed his laptop and sat it on the nightstand, getting up to come sit next to her on the bed.
"No, Maman," he whispered, still laughing under his breath. "I'm 'Otousan,' and Haruhi is my little girl. It's just a joke."
She had a feeling he wasn't telling her something, something that was very important, so she took his hand in hers and asked, "Tell me about Haruhi."
She knew she was on the right track when he couldn't meet her eyes without blushing. He explained why she was in the Host Club with them, and how she came to be his "daughter." The more he talked about her, the softer his expression became. His eyes gazed away from his mother, looking through time and space to see this Haruhi in his mind, and Anne knew right away what he wasn't telling her.
"The way you speak of her—you must love her very much, huh?" she commented softly. She patted the back of his hand. It was bigger than she remembered it being, which reminded her again that he was almost a grown man now. Time was cheating her, she thought, that he should grow up so fast.
He laid his forehead on her shoulder. "I do, Maman," he sighed. "I love her so much. I love her so much, it hurts sometimes."
She nodded, knowing all too well what he felt. He sighed and lifted his head back up. His blush had spread to the very tips of his ears now.
She leaned back in bed again and cupped his cheek with her hand. "Let's talk about love now, René."
"What do you mean?"
"Are you and Haruhi dating?" she asked, even though she already knew what the answer would be.
"Yes," he murmured, lying down beside her. He tried to hide his blush in her arm, like he used to when he was a little child, but she gently pushed him away. She wondered if his grandmother knew about the girl (which she probably did), and if she approved of her relationship with René (which she probably didn't). She hoped they weren't marauding around behind everyone's backs. She'd have to have a talk with Yuzuru soon.
"I see," she said. Placing her hand on his chest, she added, "So you know you love her here."
"Yes," he repeated just as quietly. "So much."
"And because you're a teenage boy, you love her here as well," she continued, laying her hand just below his waist.
His whole body stiffened as he shot up and exclaimed, "No, I don't! It isn't like that at all! We don't—! I mean, we haven't—!" His sentence trailed off, and she let him hide his face this time. His voice dropped down to a whisper again and he stared intently at the stitches in the quilt. "I'm still a virgin, Maman."
"I didn't say you weren't," she assured him, stroking his hair lightly. She was secretly very pleased that he protested as vehemently as he did. She'd often told him that he shouldn't lose his innocence to the first girl willing to have him—because God knew there had been plenty of girls in France who fell in that category, and probably in Japan as well—and that if he waited for the woman he was destined for, it would be much more wonderful. It was good to know that being in Japan (and away from his mother) hadn't changed him. "But can you honestly tell me that you don't want to love her that way? That, in the future, you will never love her like that no matter what?"
The color on his face deepened, and she decided not press the issue. The blush was answer enough, and she'd already had enough fun at her son's expense. "So, you love her in your heart and…elsewhere," she said, "but you know, there's another, more important place where you need to love her."
"What could be more important than my heart?" he asked, propping himself up on his elbow.
She poked his forehead lightly and chuckled. "You have to love her here too, René."
His eyebrows drew together in confusion. "My head?"
"Your mind," she clarified. "Your brain. You have to love her with your brain."
"What do you mean?" he asked again. "How do you love someone with your mind?"
She smiled, pleased that she was having this discussion with him. Although René loved his father, they weren't as close as they could have been. Yuzuru had probably never talked to his son about love before, except to say that it was a double-edged sword.
"Well," she started slowly, "when you love someone with your brain, you always think of what's best for them, what they need to function both as a human being and as your partner, and the ways that you can provide them with those things. Think of Kyouya. If he didn't think about the Host Club and take care of it, would it flourish as it does? Would the girls keep coming back day after day, or paying for those photo books, or anything like that?"
He frowned slightly, his eyes going far away again, and replied, "No. The club would have died out a long time ago without Kyouya."
She nodded. He was beginning to understand what she was saying, but unfortunately she wasn't finished. "Tamaki, will you promise me something?"
He looked up at her again with earnest eyes. "Anything, Maman."
She would have to break him of his absolutes one day, but now wasn't the time for it. She sighed "I want you to promise me that you'll always love Haruhi—with your heart, with your body, and with your mind. But before you answer," she added quickly, raising her hand to forestall another of his absolutes, "do you know what making that promise means?"
His brows drew together. "It means I'll always love her and support her and stay by her side, no matter what happens."
"No," she whispered, shaking her head. She felt the sting of tears behind her eyes and hoped she could make it through what she needed to say. "I have no doubt that you know what always loving Haruhi with your heart and body means," and René's blush crept up his neck and into his cheeks again, not stopping until the very tips of his ears were a bright shade of pink, "but do you know what always loving her with your mind means?"
He took a deep breath and thought a long time. She could tell by the slight frown on his face and the sheen of tears on his eyes that he knew what she meant. "But Maman, I won't…I can't—"
"You might have to," she said simply. "It's not at all fair, and it always hurts, but—"
René cut her off with an intense shake of his head. His hands fisted in the quilt of her bed. He yelled, "I will never leave Haruhi! I won't be like Father and leave her alone and make her wait for years and years and years, and then just come back to her one day when I feel like it! She's much too important to me! I refuse! I love her too much to do that to her, Maman!" Angry tears spilled onto his cheeks, which were flushed again with something other than embarrassment.
She let him cry against her for a little while, venting his childish fury at the world's injustices. She rubbed his back and stroked his hair, as she had done when he was small enough to curl into her lap, cooing comforting nonsense to him.
"Maman," he choked out, "you don't understand. I love her so much. I can't…"
"I do understand, mon cher. I really do," she replied, tipping his head up so she could see his face. "I felt the same. But I had a new baby, and if coming back to France meant I could be healthy enough to take care of him, then that's what had to be done. Should I have stayed with your father in Japan and died?"
"Of course not!" he exclaimed, digging his fingers into a pillow. "But Father shouldn't have—"
"Love isn't always as neat and clean as fairytales make it out to be, René," she continued somewhat harshly, tears sliding down her cheeks. "Love sometimes means you have to give up everything for the well-being of the person you love. It hurts sometimes, René, and you know that. You must always want the best for the person you love, even if it isn't fair or easy or right. And if, for whatever reasons, the best thing for Haruhi is to be away from you, then, no matter how much it hurts, you must love her with your brain and let her go."
Yuzuru came home not long after and found them sobbing into one another. He assumed the worst, of course, and rushed over to ask them what had happened. René pushed roughly away from her and stormed off to his bedroom. He ignored his father.
"Anne…?" her husband asked, sitting down next to her.
She just shook her head at him. She wouldn't tell him just yet, because he wouldn't approve. "It's nothing," she lied through her tears. "He'll understand eventually."
And she heard René on the phone late that night, speaking in frenzied Japanese and still sobbing. She heard Haruhi's name several times. She glanced down at her watch. It muist have been very early in the morning in Japan. She smiled. If Haruhi could stand René's awful mood swings and being called in the middle of the night, Anne didn't doubt that she loved him very much indeed. She shamelessly eavesdropped outside his door, even though she couldn't understand much of what he was saying.
And near the end of their conversation when he'd calmed himself down, he said, "It may hurt, Haruhi, but I want you to know that I'll always love you, no matter what. So, promise me the same, okay?"