Title: Life Goes On, 9/?

Author: Stormy1x2 ( travelingstorm )

Pairing: Eventual KxK

Warning: None

Word Count: 4000-ish.

Notes: We're fast-forwarding ahead 2 weeks. ^^ I'm actually anxious for this story to progress, so this chapter is full of filler and scene-setting and in general, just helping me get back into the writing swing of things.

Italics used for emphasis AND for when Sachiko speaks English.

o0o o0o o0o

Kamio wasn't someone who hid his feelings as a general rule – growing up as the primary caretaker for two young girls meant all but turning into an actual empath to keep up with their ever-changing moods. He also wasn't the kind of person that was ashamed of his actions – when he decided on something, he stood by his decision with every moral fiber in his body. But somehow, he hadn't managed to get around to telling his team about his new friendship with Kirihara.

Mori and Uchimura probably wouldn't care much. They couldn't hold grudges to save their lives, and hadn't even made any comments during Shinji's bout with Kirihara save for critical analysis of the match itself. He was fairly certain they would follow his lead and be okay with it. Norihisa didn't even know who Kirihara was outside of the typical court rumors – which were considerably different ever since Kirihara's rather public change of play after the Senbatsu camp. Shinji would likely mutter for a while about the negative aspects of such a friendship but as his reasoning wore down, he'd start talking himself into the positives. Ishida probably wouldn't be thrilled, but his focus would almost immediately turn to Sakurai in an attempt to keep him from committing homicide.


Kamio rolled his eyes even as he prodded his sisters into getting ready for school. They'd been out for over two weeks, but the contagious stage was over; leaving behind the crusty pockmark stage. Michiko had it bad on her arms and legs but her face was relatively clear. On the other hand, Sachiko was utterly miserable thanks to the numerous (but slowly fading) scars running up her neck and scattering over her cheekbones.

"I'm ugly," she'd sobbed the day before when he'd told her that they were finally healthy enough to return to school, and if there had ever been a sign to show that his befriending Kirihara was a wise move, it was seeing Akaya soothe his little sister by saying she was still the most adorable thing he'd ever seen – following up with the statement that anyone who made fun of her would be dealing with him later. Kamio had been touched on his sisters behalf. Not that he advocated violence of course, but it was the thought that counted.

"I'm going to be late tonight so you're gonna have dinner at Hana-chan's house, remember?" He handed them their lunches, waiting patiently for them to pack them away carefully in their schoolbags. "I have lots to catch up on since I spent so much time with you guys this week and last."

"Not our fault," Sachiko grumbled, sliding her feet into her shoes and stalking past him to go outside.

Kamio muffled a grin at the petulant tone in her voice and closed the door behind Michiko, locking it up. "Right."

o0o o0o o0o

"Well, well, look who it is!" Uchimura whistled at Kamio as he strolled in for morning practice – his first morning practice in a week. "I thought you'd gotten lazy, Buchou!"

"Stuff it, 'Mura," Kamio retorted lightly. "You're just upset that you'll finally have to break a sweat today."

"Oooh, harsh." Sakurai poked his head out the locker room door. "Welcome back, boss-man." He smiled. "I think you'll find I kept these slackers in shape for you."

Kamio rolled his eyes. "I didn't miss that many practices," he said pointedly. Just the morning ones, and then Tuesday he'd been called home in the afternoon, and then no one had been able to babysit Friday... or Saturday... "Okay, fine. Whatever. I'm back now."

Ishida clapped him on the shoulder as the larger boy headed for the courts. "See you out there."


Kamio whipped his head around and saw An barreling towards him like an express train, jumping the track to hit him head on in a full-out glomptackle, the likes of which he hadn't felt in weeks. All the air in his lungs left him in a rush. "WHULF!"

"How are my girls?" An asked, perched on his chest and cheerily poking his nose with her index finger. "I'm sorry I didn't get to come by to see them this week, but I was busy. And you kept rushing out in between classes to call home – you've been lax about giving me proper updates."

Kamio wheezed, arms flailing weakly. "Air, An-chan. Air."

She sighed, clicking her tongue at him as she rolled off him. "You're getting soft, Kamio-kun."

"Also getting flat," he groaned. "And it's your fault."

"An-chan, you can't break him before practice," Mori admonished her playfully.

An snickered and then reached down to lend a hand. Kamio accepted it and let her pull him up, groaning again, theatrically this time. "I think you punctured a lung."

"Quit whining, you big baby. Is that any way for our Buchou to conduct himself?" Smiling, she patted him down, removing traces of dirt from his shoulders as a result of hitting the court grounds at Mach 5.

"Hush, you. And the girls are fine – they're back in school starting today." Kamio gave a big sigh of relief. "Those were the two longest weeks of my life."

No joke there either. As much as he loved his siblings, it was definitely not a time of fun and relaxation to be trapped at home with both of them when they were sick and whiny. His mother, as always, had been completely useless and utterly uncaring as to her offspring's state of health, continuing to head out to the bar where she worked hours before her shift started, and not coming home until well into the morning, around the time Kamio would be getting up. Kamio chanted 'two more years' in his head, and then put his mother firmly out of his mind.

But enough playtime. Kamio looked at his second-in-command expectantly, and Sakurai chuckled, sweeping his arm out to allow Kamio first entry into the clubhouse to go over the books. "After you, m'lord."

"That's m'lord Buchou to you," Kamio sniffed.

Another day was underway.

o0o o0o o0o

Kirihara was not pleased.

Practices went as well as they could – his doubles two had shown some improvement, particularly after Akaya had started firing Yagyu-level Laser Beams at them in order to get them to pick up the pace of their returns. It didn't speak well of them overall – two against one, and Akaya was still beating them without having to play at his personal best. He had kept them half an hour later, trying to push them past their limit, but it didn't seem to be working.

Was it because of him? Was he really that bad a captain? He hadn't thought he was – he worked them hard, certainly, but nothing more or less then what Sanada-Buchou had put them through. He couldn't be over-working them – they were still able to stagger home each night in one piece. He could recall – or actually, not recall - several instances of being on the court one moment, and waking up in the nurses office the next.

He didn't get it. Sure, there was animosity within his club – he wasn't well-liked, he never had been and he never would be – but he had never thought it would affect the team to the point where they would suck this badly. Kirihara sighed and ran a hand through his hair, pushing the messy strands back off his forehead. "What am I doing wrong?"

"Technically, you're not doing anything wrong," came a voice from behind him.

Kirihara snapped his head around to see Renji approaching. "Yanagi-sempai!" Bolting to his feet from the bench he'd been moping on, he tackled the older student with a gleeful bear hug. "What are you doing here?"

Renji smiled at him, eyes appearing half-closed as always, but Kirihara knew that Renji was studying him closely, picking out minute details only as he could. Details that would no doubt be sorted and filed into mental compartments for future use in his data-based style of tennis. "I did tell you I would come to see you, didn't I?'

"You said you'd bring Yukimura-Buchou and Sanada-Fukou-Buchou to see me too," Kirihara corrected him.

"You know, you can stop calling them that. Yukimura isn't Buchou at the high school."

Kirihara snorted. The 'yet' went unspoken but rang in his ears loud and clear anyway. "Yukimura-Buchou will ALWAYS be Buchou." He couldn't contemplate calling him anything else.

Renji smiled. "Well, regardless, they couldn't make it today. Practice at the high school was canceled but as Yukimura wants to make a bid for vice-captain in January, he's getting some practice in. Sanada is helping him towards that goal."

"Naturally." Akaya rolled his eyes. "Like he'd do anything less. But what about you? Why aren't you helping 'Mura-Buchou?"

"I told him I'd promised to come pay you a visit. He all but shooed me away – he's expecting a progress report. He and Sanada both."

Akaya's eyes dropped to the ground. "How much did you see today?" His stomach twisted. He didn't care what most of the world thought about him, but his sempai, his first teammates – their opinion had always meant the world to him, no matter how much he told them otherwise. They had to be so disappointed in what he was doing.

"I saw most of the practice." Renji tilted his head to the side, watching Akaya closely. "You worked them hard, focusing on a lot of specific trouble areas for each player. I was impressed – I had several doubts about your ability to be patient in this regard."

"So did I," Akaya mumbled. He could feel the heat rising in his face, and he knew Renji was surprised by it. Akaya had always accepted praise as his due, and in the past, had boasted as loudly and as grandly as Niou and Marui about his talents. But the past few months of being alone, of working on a team that was more stranger than family, had changed him somewhat. "Go ahead, sempai – give me the bad news."

Renji blinked. "Bad news?"

Akaya chuckled harshly. "C'mon, Yanagi," he said, frustration causing him to drop the 'sempai' for once. "I was beating my doubles team two against one – with ease. And my doubles one isn't much better. You can tell me, you know. I know I must be a lousy Buchou compared to ours."

There was a long pause, but Kirihara resolutely kept his eyes lowered. He could handle criticism, he would handle it – and learn from it. But instead of a recitation of his faults, he heard a long sigh come from Renji, and he jerked his head up to see his sempai regarding him with a sad smile. "Sempai?"

"Whatever happened to all that self-confidence?" Renji murmured. "I know Yukimura and Sanada left big shoes to fill, but I always thought you'd jump right into them. I never thought I'd see you slip them on like a timid child."

"Getting poetic in your old age, Yanagi-sempai." Akaya took a deep breath, squared his shoulders and then looked Renji straight in the eye. "Give me your analysis."

"Did it ever occur to you that you are just that good?"

Akaya blinked. He opened his mouth, closed it, and shook his head. "Say what?"

Renji smiled at him. "You, Akaya. Your skill level is far beyond that of a mere middle-schooler. We all were. But we were the exception, not the rule. You have some good players on the team, but no matter how you push them, right now, they are simply playing at a middle-school level."

Akaya blinked. "I don't get it."

"You can beat them because you are close to nearing a pro's level of play, Akaya. You are so very close to the level Yukimura was at when he was captain, and you have surpassed where Sanada was when he was in third year." Renji grinned at him. "Do you think, if Yukimura had been perfectly healthy in his third year, that he could have played against Yagyu and Niou and won? Or against Jackal and Marui?"

"Yes," Akaya said promptly, because in his mind Yukimura could do anything. That was a mindset that hadn't changed with time.

"You're right." Renji tapped the side his head. "Niou and Yagyu, Jackal and Marui – they were beyond mere middle-school level back then. But they were not pro-level, as Yukimura was."

"...So you're saying I'm beating my doubles team into the ground not because they suck, but because I'm just that good?"

Renji sighed. "At the risk of giving you a swelled head..."

Kirihara grinned. "I knew you thought I was the best." And that line of reasoning certainly made him feel better than the idea of him just being a lousy captain.

"Be careful, lest these boastful words find their way to a certain Buchou of ours who might find it necessary to come and beat some humility back into you."

"I'm always up for a match against 'Mura-Buchou," Akaya said, shrugging. "But I don't want him coming here. Even if what you're saying is true, well, that's only half my problem."

"I did notice there seems to be a gap between you and the rest of your team." Renji's voice sounded oddly tentative.

Akaya looked at him and saw that same sad look on his face that had been there earlier. "Yanagi-sempai?"

"Though we all hold Yukimura and Sanada in high esteem, it seems we – and yes, I include myself in this – made some mistakes during our final year." Renji looked out over the empty court, and Akaya knew he was remembering how no one from their old team would leave until everyone was ready to go. "We seem to have isolated you from the very people you were meant to lead, when we should have been properly grooming you for the role."

"I can handle them," Akaya said calmly. "I don't care if they hate my guts as long as they listen to me."

Renji shot him a look. "Akaya." His foot tapped impatiently. "Do not insult my intelligence, please."

Kirihara snorted and leaned down to pick up his tennis bag. "Whatever."

Renji waited for a minute, but then apparently gave up on getting more information. Akaya had no intention of getting all mushy and wimpy-eyed over a few idiot first and second years who didn't like him. "So, whatever did come of that address I provided you with two weeks ago?"

"What do most people do with that kind of information?"

"So you went to see him." Renji smiled again, and that was just a little bit creepy now. "I find that... interesting."

"What can I say? I'm an interesting guy," Akaya muttered. "Look, I had some unfinished business to take care of with that guy, why can't you just leave it at that?"

"Because I never leave anything, Akaya. You very well know that." Renji followed Akaya out of the courts, heading towards the bus stop. Sometimes Akaya jogged home, but he didn't feel like it. Besides it was starting to get late and his stomach was growling. "Should I be anticipating phone calls about where to hide a body? Or perhaps devising a suitable alibi for you?"

"What?" Kirihara blinked at Renji. "What are you talking about?" Then he replayed his words in his head, and rolled his eyes at his sempai. "Not that kind of business, Yanagi-sempai. Geez, I haven't done anything to anyone in months."

"I know," Yanagi chuckled. "You're still just as easy to tease as ever, Aka-chan."

Akaya really, really hated that name. "Shut up." He stomped the last few feet to the bus stop, plopped himself down on the bench and resolutely turned his head to the side, refusing to look at his sempai. It was none of Yanagi's business what he chose to do with the information he gave him. He didn't need to know.

….he also didn't really want Yanagi to know. Not yet, anyway. Akaya was well-aware of his own social deformities. Aside from his teammates, he'd never had a real friend before Kamio, and the whole idea was still to new to him. Hell, he didn't even know if Kamio saw him as a real friend, or if he was just humoring Kirihara. It felt fragile, like the whole thing could shatter in a second. Akaya knew that as soon as certain members of his team found out – read: Niou and Marui – they would all find a way to show up the next time he hung out with the Fudomine student and that would likely send Kamio running screaming for the nearest exit.


Kirihara blinked, coming back out of his thoughts, and he looked at Yanagi automatically. "Sempai?"

Yanagi gestured to the bus that was pulling in. "I believe this is the one that will take you home."

Akaya nodded and stood up. Just as the big doors opened an he climbed onto the stair, he heard Yanagi say, "Good luck with him." He turned to ask what Yanagi meant but the doors closed, and then they were moving. He shook his head, swiped his bus pass on the scanner and then dropped into one of the empty seats in the middle, listening to Yanagi's words repeat inside his head. He smiled ruefully – he should have known better. Yanagi-sempai always knew more then he let on.

o0o o0o o0o

Kamio knocked on Minagawa-san's door. He could hear childish shouts of laughter and thought he recognized Michi's high-pitched squeal easily competing with the older girls in terms of sheer volume. Minagawa-san opened the door, and the full blast hit him like a blown-out speaker. "I so do not envy you for putting up with that noise," he told her, grimacing as Hana screamed at something on the TV.

"It's called 'selective hearing', Kamio-kun," Minagawa said with a warm smile. "I have learned to differentiate between 'that boy is cute' screams and 'I'm in danger of dying' screams, and I tune everything else out." She opened the door all the way, allowing him entry into her home.

"Why haven't I mastered that skill yet?" Kamio slipped off his shoes and set his schoolbag by the door next to Sachi's and Michi's.

"Because your girls are little angels compared to my little hellion," Minagawa told him promptly.

"Mo~om!" Hana-chan poked her head out of the living room. "I am not a hellion!"

"My mistake." Minagawa grinned at her daughter and then raised her voice. "Sachiko, Michiko – your brother's here!"

"'Kira-nii!" Sachiko came bounding out of the living room, Michiko hot on her heels and tackled her brother, wrapping her arms around his waist. He returned the hug, and reached out to ruffle Michiko's hair. "We had hamburgers for dinner!"

"Really?" The Western-style food was a treat for the girls, and Minagawa-san cooked it frequently. She and her husband had studied overseas for years back in University, and had returned to Japan when they'd been ready to start their family. "Anything left for me? Or did you monkey's eat it all?"

Michiko beamed up at him. "I made a hamburger for you," she said shyly, pointing into the kitchen at a bento container laying on a piece of orange and yellow cloth. "It's got two patties in it!"

"Two? Wow, I don't know if I'll be able to eat all that," Kamio said. He reached down and poked her gently in the side, grinning as she dissolved into giggles and backed away from him. "Thanks Michi."

"We had salad too," Sachiko chimed in. " I put some in there for you."

"Ah, thank you too, Sachi. And you as well, Minagawa-san." Kamio bowed at the older woman. It still wasn't easy accepting anything he deemed 'charity' from people, but Minagawa-san was drilling it into his head that she was to be exempt from that line of thinking. "I really appreciate it."

"No trouble at all," she told him. "How was practice?"

"It went well, thank you." He looked at the girls. "Are you ready to go?"

Michiko and Sachiko raced to put their shoes on. Kamio helped Michiko tie her laces (she still had some trouble getting the final rabbit into the hole) while Sachi said goodbye to Hana-chan. Within minutes they were ready and waiting by the door.

Minagawa handed him the bento container now wrapped in the bright cloth. "It's microwaveable," she told him.

Kamio nodded. "Thank you again."

She waved him off, and they began to walk home. The girls chatted about their day – apparently Sachiko had been the center of sympathetic attention from her girl classmates, and any boy who even thought about laughing kept their mouths shut for fear of angry reprisal from the entire female population. Michiko was happy she hadn't missed much in class. Kamio had mixed feelings about that – Michiko was in a 'special' class because of her hearing issues (he refused to call it a disability), and the work there was rather simple for her. He couldn't do anything about it now – they were already 2 months into the semester, but he had every intention of making the school test her properly next year, allowing her entry into a regular class.

But that was a rant for another day. Kamio smiled at his baby sisters, and led the way home. He was unlocking their front door when Sachiko chirped, "Is 'Kaya-nii coming over tomorrow?"

He let them into the house first. "Shoes off please. And I don't know, Sachiko. Why do you ask?"

"I like him," she declared. "He's cute."

Kamio froze. Cute? "You are too young to be thinking boys are cute," he said faintly. She was only eight years old! Hormones weren't supposed to kick in until they were what, eleven? Twelve?

Sachiko grinned. "Hana-chan made us watch an American show today. John-as brothers, I think? Hana-chan thinks they're cute."

"I am not ready for this," Kamio groaned. "You are not allowed to think of boys in that manner until you're sixteen. Maybe twenty. Definitely thirty."

Sachiko snickered and grabbed Michiko's hand. "C'mon Michi, let's put Card Captors on."

"Homework!" Kamio called out automatically.

"Yes, yes!" they shouted back.

Kamio stuck out his tongue in their general direction (good thing they couldn't see him) and set about unwrapping the dinner prepared for him by his sisters at Minagawa's house. He had his own homework to do.

He was just settling at the table when his phone rang. He fished it out of his jean's pocket and checked the name of the caller. A smile broke out on his face and he raised the phone to his ear. "Hey, Kirihara. What's up?"

o0o o0o o0o


End Notes:

Gah, that was like pulling teeth to get written. It wasn't until the last final paragraphs that it started to feel more natural. But filler done – next chapter, we see Kirihara and Kamio hanging out some more, getting closer, and more sibling cuteness. Also, a look into what Kamio's doing with the track club – Kirihara, babysitting? All this and more, coming soon!

My grade 3's this year were all in love with the Jonas Brothers (the girls anyway) - one of the local channels started playing that and episodes of Hannah Montanna, so I thought I'd share the pain with Kamio. ;D

Thanks for your patience. I hope you find it worth it!