Of Friends and Family

Disclaimer: I don't own Prince of Tennis, or the fanfic Life Goes On.

This is a Giftfic for Stormy1x2 and Mayoki, set during their fic Life Goes On. Scene occurs sometime before Akira and Akaya get together as a couple, but after Akaya agrees to babysit on Thursdays.

Pausing at the bottom of the second tier of stairs, a young man cocked his head to the side, listening intently to the sounds spilling over the edge of the top of the stairs. He smiled in anticipation. Those were good sounds, he mused with a nod. The pair that were rallying were almost evenly matched, although from the screech of sneakers on the court one of them was getting tired. Seemingly as soon at that occurred to him, the sounds stopped, and were followed by heavy panting.

"Damn, 'Kaya," came one slightly familiar voice. "How'n the hell do you always know the best ways to push out my limits?"

Another, far more familiar voice chuckled. "Sanada-fukoubuchou. He's one of the hardest task-masters I've ever known, but he really knows how to bring out the best in a player. I'm just applying what he used to do to me, to you."

"Oh?" questioned the young man on the stairs, looking behind him at the tallest of the four who'd accompanied him to this place. "He's stealing your training techniques? My, that must be a nice warm-fuzzy," he teased lightly.

"Che," he growled. But he couldn't hide the slight twitch of his lips from his friends

Ascending the last of the stairs, the quintet was greeted by the sight of two boys sprawled out on either side of the court, both beginning to get their breath back under control. The dark haired one was the most familiar, and the pair at the back of the group exchanged a grin. The redhead on the other side of the net was also familiar to them, albeit only as an opponent. The two wore similar expressions of satisfaction as they levered themselves up off the ground. Tossing the ball at the brunette, the redhead grinned. "Care to go again?" he asked.

A wry smirk flickered over his face and he nodded as he turned toward the baseline to serve. And stopped cold in his tracks at the sight that greeted him.

"Hello, Akaya. How have you been?"

Kirihara's racket fell from suddenly nerveless fingers as he launched himself at his former Captain. "Yukimura-Buchou!" he cried as he flung his arms around the taller boy. Yukimura laughed and hugged him back, his calm violet eyes zeroing in on his kouhai's partner. One Kamio Akira of Fudomine. Who was watching the reunion with a small smile as he walked around the net and picked up the racket Akaya had dropped.

"Yukimura-buchou. Sanada-fukabuchou," he greeted them calmly as Akaya let go of his Captain to plow into Niou and Marui with a burst of laughter. "I'm surprised to see you here."

"A pleasure, Kamio-san. Akaya told Renji he'd be here today. Since all of us had some free time . . . we decided to come," the older boy said in that soft way of his. "You know, you don't have to call me Buchou. You were never one of my kouhai."

Akira waved that off. "No worries. Akaya talks about you all the time, so I got used to calling you the way he does."

A pained cry from the playground on the other side to the concrete wall that separated the tennis courts from the rest of the park brought Kirihara's head up from the three man dog-pile so fast, Yanagi wondered briefly how he managed to not get whiplash. Tossing the pair of rackets in his hands to an equally surprised Yukimura, Kamio spun about on one foot and took off at a full sprint, Akaya not more than a stride or two behind, leaving the Big Three gaping after the dust cloud they'd raised while Niou and Marui sat on the ground wearing identical expressions of "huh?" and gazing wide-eyed at the other three.

It was Niou who broke the moment of silence. "So . . . did we miss something?"

Yanagi shook his head. "I don't believe so. I did mention Kamio has two sisters, yes? They're probably over in the playgrounds. If that cry was one of them . . . such swift reaction is only expected."

With a slight shrug, Yukimura set down the pair of rackets that had been thrust upon him and his own tennis bag, then followed silently in the pair's footsteps.

The other four exchanged a glance, as one dropped their bags and trotted along in their Buchou's shadow.

The curious quintet leaned on the halfwall and silently observed the situation. Kamio had his arms wrapped comfortingly around a little girl whose enormous blue eyes and red hair proclaimed her to be one of the aforementioned sisters. As they watched, Kamio got her calmed down and the tears stopped while Kirihara held the older of the two girls present off a boy who seemed to be laughing at the younger girl's skinned up knees.

"You know," remarked Niou casually, "I never thought I'd see our baby-boy mediate a . . . a playground dispute." Beside him, Marui stifled a snicker. "Although he's certainly caused enough of them to know how."

Kamio was now looking at the younger girl's skinned knees and even from where they stood the five could hear the sigh. "'Kaya, can you run back to my bag and get some of the napkins left over from lunch and the box of bandaids? Come over here, Sachi and tell me what happened, okay?"

Shaking his head and stifling a chuckle, Akaya jogged past his sempai with the comment "Mommy-Akira to the rescue. No wonder Tachibana made him Captain." Freely rifling through Kamio's tennis bag, he came back up with a handful of napkins from a local diner and a box of . . . My Little Pony? bandaids in one hand and a bottle of water in the other. As he jogged past his teammates again Marui eyed him with a wide smirk. "Looks like Daddy-Akaya has things well in hand," he snarked, and all of them saw the way Akaya's ears turned pink.

Yanagi filed that observation away. It was difficult to embarrass Akaya, after all, and the way the information and it's implications fit into the over-all picture that was Kirihara Akaya was . . . interesting.

They kept watching as Akira deftly tended to skinned knees while listening to the high-pitched babble of the older girl.

"You know," began Marui carefully, after a moment of observation, "he's awfully good at this for a teenager."

Yukimura nodded in agreement and leveled a Look at Renji.

He closed his eyes all the way for a moment and sighed. "While I don't normally reveal such personal details, given how deeply Akaya seems to be entangling himself in the situation I feel I have little choice. From what I can discern, Kamio's father died about five years ago. And while his mother does work to make sure the bills get paid, she has no interest in raising her children, thus leaving Akira the primary caretaker of those two little girls."

Akaya sprang up beside them, an irritated frown on his face. "Not to mention, Michiko has hearing condition." He passed a glare in Yanagi's direction. "That's one of the things I hate about you, ya know. You know everything about everybody. I'm pretty sure he would have preferred that information to stay private."

"Ma, ma, Akaya. We're only concerned. He seems to be handling things just fine," murmured Yukimura, setting one hand on the younger boy's shoulder.

"In spite of everything, yeah he is. Part of it is he's got some great neighbors, and the rest of the tennis club is understanding," Akaya replied with a shrug. "He's a great guy to hang out with, and the girls aren't too bad either. Nothing like my cousins, that's for sure. Just don't let the cute and innocent faces twist you around their fingers, they'll own you for life."

Slinging an arm around Akaya's waist, Niou sing-songed, "That sounds like the voice of experience talking!"

"Get off me, bakayarou!"

"So it's true?"

Kamio shooed his sisters off to the swings and stood up, stretching all the way out. Looking over at the tennis courts he grinned to see the good-natured joking around that seemed to be going on. He shook his head. He knew Kirihara liked hanging out with him, but these were his real friends, the people who knew him best. And the happy smile on his face spoke volumes. Shoving his hands in his pockets he sauntered back over to the courts, a small grin playing along his lips to see Kirihara's loneliness evaporate for a few hours. The grin faded a little when he became the focus of twin laser-beam stares from Yukimura and Sanada. "She's fine," he reassured them, although he wasn't really sure why they were worried. "The other kid pushed her off the slide, is all. She's not really hurt, just shook up a little. They'll be fine for another hour or two, if you guys feel like playing."

Niou and Marui smirked at each other. "Ooh. The Speed Demon of Fudomine wants to play. Should we smack him down a little?" taunted Marui.

Kirihara snorted. "Don't get your hopes up, Marui. Akira's really upped his speed and endurance since Nationals. All that training with TITC."

"Tokyo International Track Club?" inquired Yanagi with a look of surpise.

"Mmhmm. Apparently, someone from the club saw this guy catching up to a guy on a bicycle going downhill. He showed up later the same night at Akira's doorstep making grabby hands." Kirihara snickered. "Ever since, he's been in training over at the Track Club with Pete Anderson." He glanced at Akira. "Speaking of, didn't he want you in the Meet three weeks from now?"

"Yeah. But Fudomine has a exhibition match against Ginka scheduled for that day. Tennis comes first, Anderson-san knows that."

The pair missed the speaking glance shared by the Three Demons of Rikkaidai. That was an interesting bit of information. A could-be-useful bit of information.

Akaya grinned and headed off toward his racket, taking a ball out of his pocket and tossing it up as he went. "So, a match, anyone? We could play doubles?"

"Shyeah, right, kiddo," sneered Niou as they followed along. "You don't play doubles. Not even Coach Sakaki at the Invitational could get you to play doubles."

Looking rebellious, Akaya turned toward Akira. "We play doubles, right? Once in a while, anyway."

"Took you a while to get used to it, but yeah. Want to team up against them?"

"Sure, we work pretty well together." replied Akaya after he picked up his racket. Turning to face his friends, he let loose a wide smirk. "So, who wants to get trounced first?"

Hanging back as Niou and Yanagi decided to pair up against Kirihara and Kamio, Yukimura considered the impromptu pair. Akaya was highly skilled, and had excellent endurance, but his speed was well below what he knew Kamio was capable of when pushed. On the other hand, that speed would be what made Kamio a good doubles player. Even if he misread the path of the ball, there was still a good chance he could get to it. Their individual skills dovetailed quite nicely, Kirihara's skill at controlling the ball and Kamio's speed, but the question would be if they could truly function as a doubles pair. That would truly be the interesting thing to see. After all, anyone Kirihara liked enough to play doubles with was worth a look.

Later, when the sun was sitting low on the horizon, the seven boys began gathering up their things. Thanks to the arrival of Kamio's neighbor Minagawa-san and her daughter shortly after Kirihara's teammates showed up, Kamio was able to give his complete attention to the games. Amazingly enough to him, he and Kirihara had managed to snag a win off of Niou and Yanagi, even if Yukimura and Sanada wiped the floor with them later. He'd never had quite so thorough a workout before, and he wanted nothing more than to get home and take a shower to get all the sweat off. He felt like a well-cooked noodle.

He zipped up his bag with a sigh and stood up, exerting the last of his strength to heave it up to his shoulder. It wasn't that heavy, but he was totally exhausted. Turning around to go get his sisters, he was surprised to find Yukimura, Sanada, and Yanagi standing there looking at him. "Ah . . . something I can help you with?" he asked.

"Have you given any thought as to which high school you are going to attend?" asked Yukimura bluntly.

"Um, no, not really. I was planning on staying with Fudomine. It's where most of my friends are after all, and it's fairly close by. Why?"

"Would you consider coming to Rikkaidai?"

Kamio was absolutely floored. They wanted him to come to Rikkaidai? With them? He wasn't anywhere near their level. "I couldn't . . . I mean . . . It's not that I don't want to . . . i do. . ." He couldn't find words to express the millions of thoughts running through his head.

Kirihara came up beside his sempai and looked his friend over. "Hells, he's white as a sheet, guys. What the fuck did you say to him?" Kirihara demanded as he pushed Kamio down onto the benches and patted his cheeks to try to get him to wake from the shock. He threw them a glare. "Well?"

Yukimura hid a grin at the concern Akaya was showing. They were such a cute couple. He halted that thought and backtracked it. He had to stifle a grin suddenly when he remembered the look he'd caught on Yanagi's face when Akaya was helping Kamio tend to his sisters. A look that said "It's only a matter of time." So that's why Yanagi kept sporting those weird looks when they talked about Kirihara these days. He'd seen this coming from a mile away. "Ma, ma, Akaya-kun. I only asked him if he would consider coming to Rikkaidai for high school."

Kirihara looked positively gobsmacked. "You want Akira . . . to . . . come to . . . Rikkaidai? Really? Awesome!" he exclaimed. He grinned down on his friend. "Hey, come on super-nii-san, wake up, or I'll get the girls to jump on you." He waited a few moments, then sighed and dumped the last of his bottle of water over Akira's head. "That's enough of that, Kamio. Is it really that surprising? You're a good tennis player."

Finally coming out of his shock, Kamio could only shake his head. He sighed. "It's not that I don't want to go, Yukimura-Buchou. It's just . . . I probably can't afford a school like Rikkaidai," he admitted.

the Captain of Rikkaidai High Schools tennis club looked thoughtful. "Rikkaidai has a scholarship fund. There are at least three handed out every year to excellent sports players," he mused. "I could write a letter of recommendation for you. Selection criteria requires a GPA of at least 3.5; as Captain of your tennis club I'm sure you meet that. The selection committee also reviews your prior performances and that can actually be waived by recommendation of at least three Regular members of the club. That would be myself, Sanada, and Yanagi. Though, after that match today, I'm certain Niou will put in his two yen worth."

Kamio seemed positively overwhelmed by the offer. "I . . . I honestly don't know what to say," he finally replied. "I . . ." he shook himself. "Thank you for the offer, Yukimura-Buchou. I'll think it over."

Sanada nodded. "Good. Tell that friend of yours, Shinji, the offer is open to him as well." Picking up his bag, he turned on his heel and strode away.

Yukimura smiled softly at his vice-captain's back. "As always, a man of few words. Well, Kamio-san, do think it over. We'd be more than happy to welcome yourself and Ibu-san into our school."

The other three gathered around their Captain and started walking away, leaving behind a thunderstruck Fudomine Captain and a thrilled Rikkaidai Captain. Only, at the top of the stairs, Yanagi stopped and looked back at them, meeting Akaya's eyes for a brief moment then turned a meaningful leer on Kamio, before returning his gaze to Kirihara. Then he turned his back and disappeared down the stairs.

Kirihara stared in the direction his friends had gone, his face bright red. Yanagi thought . . . No way. Couldn't be! Him and Kamio? As a couple? Not in a million years. Even if he did think the redhead was pretty cute for a guy. Not that he'd ever tell him that.

He shook those thoughts away. Right now he had to get one shell-shocked Kamio moving in the direction of home. He nudged Kamio. "Hey? You still in there? We need to get the girls home for dinner."

"Yeah, yeah. I hear ya. Let's go." Groaning, Akira pushed himself up off the bench and trudged in the direction of the playgrounds.

Following along, Kirihara's thoughts returned to his Buchou's offer. "Isn't this great? Yukimura-Buchou wants you to come to Rikkaidai! You must have really impressed him. Sanada, too. He's the one that's really hard to impress!"

Kamio looked back at the animated Kirihara with a tired grin. He was such a good-looking guy when he smiled like that. His face was so openly happy. "I get it, Akaya, I get it. I'll think about it. Now, let's go home. You're staying for dinner, right? You promised Michi you'd stay for dinner today 'cause you couldn't last week, remember?" Side by side the pair disappeared into the playgrounds.