A/N: I know Christmas is done and it's already another year but I'll still post this. I've wanted to post this for days now but I kept getting pulled away from the laptop, preventing me from finishing it! And, yeah, I just finished it today. So, haha, belated Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.

Pairings: Kirihara Akaya X ? (Not an OC); Hints/Implications of Alpha Pair (Sanada Genichirou X Yukimura Seiichi), 2882/Platinum Pair (Niou Masaharu X Yagyuu Hiroshi), Sweet Pair (Marui Bunta X Akutagawa Jirou), Data Pair (Yanagi Renji X Inui Sadaharu)

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters or Prince of Tennis

[01/18/2013] - Updated: Beta-ed by my friend who I shall refer to as crimsondragonlily (coz that was her DA name before she abandoned it XD) Thank you, dear!


~A Little Holiday Mystery~

The sound of a ball hitting the fence echoed throughout the court. Silence overtook the area as the regulars of Rikkaidai Highschool Tennis Club watched their youngest member in both astonishment and perplexity.

"He missed again." Marui Bunta stated as his brows furrowed together, indicating his confusion.

"Yes, very unusual." Yanagi Renji spoke. "He's been returning rather inaccurate shots today."

"Oi, Bakaya!" Niou Masaharu called out. "What's wrong with you? Did you hit your head somewhere and forget how to play tennis or something?"

This caused the younger player to shoot a glare at him, before returning to his practice game against Sanada Genichirou.

"Tarundoru, Akaya!" Said opponent yelled when Kirihara Akaya's serve faulted. "Concentrate on the game or you'll be running a hundred laps!"

"Hai, Fukubuchou! Sorry!" Kirihara exclaimed. He hurriedly went back into position and continued his service game with considerable improvement. However, it was quite apparent in his upper-classmen's' eyes that Kirihara wasn't playing at his best – which was very unusual, especially because he was up against someone he'd wanted to defeat since middle school.

"What's bothering him?" Jackal Kuwahara wondered out loud, his tone laced with concern.

Yagyuu Hiroshi pushed up his glasses as he spoke. "I ask the same thing, Jackal-kun. He was still his usual self during practice yesterday. Whatever is bothering Kirihara-kun must've happened either sometime after we were dismissed from training yesterday or sometime this morning."

Yanagi nodded. "I agree. However, since his entrance to high school this year, I've already noticed that he's not as impulsive as before. It takes a bit more goading to actually trouble him nowadays."

"That is true." Yukimura Seiichi added to the conversation. "I've also noticed that, even when facing a dilemma, he is still able to remain level headed when playing. I don't encourage slacking off…" despite his gentle way of speaking, Yukimura's tone held a combination of challenge and threat to those who even thought of being inefficient under his leadership. "… but I do commend Akaya's improvement in retaining his form under pressure."

The other regulars couldn't help but agree.

Since the start of the school year, they had been noticing some differences in Kirihara. It became a sort of interest to them – to see how much the baby of their group had changed. He still loved challenging the three Demons of Rikkaidai, was still a bit naïve when it came to particular matters, and he still pretty much sucked in English and writing Kanji (although Sanada and Yanagi did note a little improvement in this area). But there was a new aura about him – a kind of maturity that may have been honed when he led his own team to the Nationals and went against Shitenhouji in the Finals.

"So you're basically saying that whatever his problem is, it's probably something big enough to actually bother him?" Niou clarified. "Couldn't you have just said that straight out?"

"Manners, Niou-kun." Yagyuu scolded. The trickster simply shot a grin at his partner.

"Yes, Niou, that's what we're implying." Yanagi replied, not bothered by Niou's words.

Marui popped his bubblegum as he glanced at his companions. "Now the question is: what is it?"

"Well, it's almost winter break." Jackal started. "You think it might have something to do with Christmas?"

Marui snickered. "Maybe he's worried that Santa wouldn't come to give him presents."

Niou joined the redhead in laughter while their teammates sighed at their antics.

"What's up with you, sempai-tachi?" The subject of their discussion asked once he reached their spot. To Kirihara's confusion and slight annoyance, Niou and Marui simply stopped for a moment, stared at him, then dissolved back into hysterics.

Yagyuu sighed as he passed a towel and water bottle to the freshman. "Don't mind them, Kirihara-kun."

Kirihara took the proffered items with a mutter of 'thanks', then shot a dubious glance at the two. "If you say so, sempai."

"Akaya…" Yukimura began while handing Sanada his water bottle.

The said player turned to their captain with a questioning look. "Yeah, Buchou?"

Yukimura – after wiping off the sweat trailing down Sanada's face (with the latter vehemently insisting that there was no need for him to do so) – directed his full attention towards the youngest member of the group. "Your performance today was unsatisfactory. Is something bothering you?" In spite of his mellow tone, everyone from their circle could detect the undercurrent of demand within it.

Kirihara's face lost its color, and a slightly panicked expression crossed his features. He knew that there was no way he could successfully lie to his captain of all people, yet he really didn't want him – and the rest of the team – getting involved in his personal affairs. There were just some things he'd like to keep to himself, thank you very much.

"It's nothing, Buchou." Kirihara finally managed to stammer out after a few seconds of composing himself. "It's just something that took me by surprise. I'll get it sorted out by tomorrow. No need to worry!" He added with a sheepish laugh. Really, it was futile to even attempt to fool Yukimura. Might as well just stick to vague, partially-truthful answers.

The rest of the group – even Marui and Niou (who had stopped laughing yet still retained the wide grins on their faces) – watched their captain in anticipation of his verdict.

Finally, after several moments of silence, Yukimura nodded. "Very well. I expect better performance from you tomorrow."

Kirihara nodded vigorously, mentally sighing in relief that their captain had chosen not to pursue the topic further. However, his relief was proved short-lived by Yukimura's next words.

"Oh, before I forget: a hundred laps for inefficiency, Akaya." He said with that ever-so-sweet smile on his lips.

Kirihara opened his mouth to complain, but thought better and instantly closed it. He didn't think his feet could take it if another hundred was added to his already arduous task. So, he settled for a meek nod and jogged off to accomplish his task.

"Maybe he'll be back to normal tomorrow." Marui stated as they watched Kirihara start his laps.

"Maybe…" Yanagi trailed off. It was clear that he doubted his teammate's optimistic words.

~ooo~OoOoO~ooo~

It seemed that Yanagi's suspicions were correct, as usual. Kirihara's strange behavior didn't abate the following day –granted that he did do his best to act normally.

Everyone, even Marui and Niou, were starting to really worry about their underclassman, especially since it was blatantly obvious that he was troubled. This behavior was alarming, because Yanagi had once noted during the start of the year that Kirihara, despite still retaining his innocent nature, had already picked up Niou's and Yagyuu's acting skills. And, if the first year really wanted to, he was capable of hiding things from them (an example of which was the fact that it took the team two months to learn that Kirihara was living alone in a nearby apartment building). However, Yanagi also observed that their Junior Ace was unable to keep up the act if the subject bothered him far too much.

The current situation was no exception.

"Perhaps Jackal-kun wasn't quite off the mark yesterday." Yagyuu voiced out. The regulars, sans Kirihara, were gathered again whilst the excluded member of the group ran laps (another punishment from their captain after his mediocre performance earlier).

"What're you talkin' about, Hiroshi?" Niou asked as he placed an arm around his partner.

"I believe that Yagyuu is referring to Jackal's assumption that Akaya's problem has something to do with Christmas." Yanagi supplied, to which Yagyuu nodded in agreement.

"Then what is it?" Marui asked, not in the mood to crack another joke in Kirihara's expense. His kouhai's behavior was really starting to bug him.

Silence prevailed as each of them came up with their own guesses.

"Well, he lives alone, doesn't he?" Jackal started, breaking the hush and snapping everyone else from their respective thoughts. "His parents are abroad, and he mentioned that his sister's too busy to visit."

Yukimura placed a finger on his chin in thought. "Ah, that's right. It means he'd be spending Christmas alone."

"Now that you mention it…" Marui spoke. "… We were talking about our own Christmas plans the other day, weren't we?"

"I wouldn't rule out the possibility of a coincidence. Something else might have happened but, at the moment, this is our only logical possibility." Yanagi assented.

Yukimura smiled. "Well we can't have him upset these holidays now, can we? What do you think, Genichirou?"

Sanada, who had opted to be a silent bystander, crossed his arms. "I think that we should refrain from always interfering with his problems when it doesn't concern us. He should be allowed to mature through dealing with them."

"Ah, but that is where you are wrong, Genichirou." Yanagi countered. "Although I agree with allowing him to mature, Akaya is definitely our concern in the absence of his immediate family members."

Sanada kept his silence.

"So, what are we gonna do then?" Marui asked, as he popped the bubblegum he was blowing.

"Answer's obvious, Fatty." Niou said while rolling his eyes, as if denoting that the question was stupid. "We're gonna throw Bakaya a Christmas party."

Marui bristled. "Who are you calling a 'fatty', you old man?!"

Niou smirked. "You, of course, Fat-ass. Are you this stupid or has the obesity gone to your brain?"

"Why you—" The redhead's fuming expression suddenly turned into a mischievous grin. "Well, well, Niou, that's an interesting revelation. I never knew you checked out my ass. What's Yagyuu got to say about this?"

The other's face twisted into a sneer as he opened his mouth to retaliate. However, he was instantly cut off before he even had a chance to say a word.

"Niou-kun, this is not the time to be initiating verbal battles with Marui-kun. Please desist."

"But Hiroshi, I have the perfect comeback to shut his fat face up!"

"Masaharu." Yagyuu articulated in a calm, yet threatening, tone whilst Marui exclaimed "Hey!" at the same time.

Before anyone could say anything else, Yukimura spoke in a tone that didn't leave any room for interruptions. "As Niou suggested, let's throw him a party to at least cheer him up. Perhaps on the 23rd. After all, my plans with my family and Genichirou aren't until the 25th."

Niou smirked and let out a low whistle, while Marui covered his own mouth and snickered. Sanada cleared his throat, tried to stop the blush that was making its way onto his face, before sending a glare at the duo's direction.

In an attempt to save his teammates from laps (since Sanada looked like he was just about to order that), Jackal decided to add his own input. "My flight back to Brazil is still on the 24th, so that's okay with me."

Marui shrugged. "Twenty-three's fine with me too."

"Yeah, our trip to Nagano is still on the 27th, right Hiroshi?"

Yagyuu adjusted his glasses and nodded. Marui grinned impishly at Niou. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

Niou simply smirked in response. "Sorry Fatty, I plan to take full advantage of my alone time with Hiroshi. Maybe you should do something I'd do – like finally manning up and asking out that fanboy of yours."

Marui's face slowly started to match the color of his hair as he glared at Niou while the others watched them in either exasperation or amusement.

"Well, that's settled, we'll have the party on the 23rd. We would need a suitable distraction for him." Yanagi said with an amused smirk still on his lips.

"Oh, don't worry about that." Yukimura chuckled genially, making the others – aside from Sanada and Yanagi – take a small wary step backward. "I have the perfect distraction for him."

The present regulars couldn't help but feel sympathy for their youngest member.

On the track field, a foreboding shiver ran up the spine of a certain first year.

~ooo~OoOoO~ooo~

It was three days before the surprise party when something very strange happened.

Kirihara was, yet again, running another extreme set of laps. Yukimura had been 'merciful' this time and only assigned him half of what he had recently been giving as punishment (which was still a hundred laps).

The others (who had finished and were simply waiting for Kirihara to finish) stood on the side, subtly discussing their plans for the surprise party. So far, they had all decided that Jackal and Marui would be in charge of food, while Yanagi, Yagyuu, and (with great reluctance from them) Niou would decorate the venue (Yagyuu assured everyone that he would supervise Niou throughout the whole thing). Yukimura and Sanada would be left behind to oversee Kirihara's punishment-laps that day (Yanagi predicted that if the problem was still not resolved by that time, Kirihara's performance would continue to be abysmal).

Most of the particulars were set. Yukimura already had a copy of the apartment key and entrusted it to Yanagi (he confiscated it from Niou a month before – though, they all suspected that the trickster still had another copy somewhere).

They were in the midst of discussing their scheme when, to the confusion of Niou, Yagyuu failed to answer his question.

"Hiroshi?" Niou stared at his partner, only to see him with his eyebrows furrowed in what he deciphered as confusion. Marui and Jackal glanced at the brunette as well.

Yagyuu adjusted his glasses then gestured towards the stands. "If I am not mistaken, is that not Oshitari-kun of Hyoutei Gakuen?"

At that, even Yukimura, Sanada, and Yanagi (who were standing nearby and listening to the conversation) turned their attention to the stands. There, sitting comfortably with his chin resting on his hand, was Oshitari Yuushi.

"What's he doing here?" Marui wondered out loud.

"Why don't we find out?" Yukimura suggested, and led the group to where the Hyoutei student was.

Oshitari, noticing the approaching group, stood up and met them at the foot of the stands.

"Oshitari." Yukimura acknowledged with a nod.

"Good afternoon, Yukimura-kun..."Oshitari greeted back before glancing at the rest and nodding at them. "… Everyone."

"What brings you all the way here to Kanagawa?" Yanagi asked the question in their minds. "According to my calculations, you should be heading back to Osaka by now."

Oshitari raised a brow but chose not to question the dataman's information network. "Yes, that's true. I'm simply passing by to have a word with your Junior Ace and I'll be on my way."

His purpose seemed to momentarily stun the Rikkaidai Regulars.

"What business do you have with Akaya?" Yukimura queried, his protective instincts kicking in.

A smirk made its way onto Oshitari's lips. "I believe that is a private matter between him and me. If it is anyone's decision to tell you, it would be Kirihara-kun's."

This earned him a few hard stares, which he wasn't really bothered by.

"Buchou, I'm done with my laps!" Kirihara called as he approached the group – his yell instantly gaining their attention. His eyes widened when they landed on the Hyoutei student. "Oshitari-san?"

"Ah, there you are, Kirihara-kun." Oshitari greeted. "If you would please come up here for a moment, there's something I need to discuss with you."

"What is it?"

"Actually, I'm here to fulfill a favor and I can't do that unless you come up here."

Kirihara looked at Oshitari with slight suspicion before shrugging and climbing up the stands.

Oshitari led the younger male to where his bag was and took something from it as he spoke in a low voice.

The other Rikkai regulars watched them like hawks. They weren't gullible – they knew perfectly well why Oshitari asked Kirihara to go up the stands instead of simply approaching him. And they had to commend the rival player, seeing that his plan worked quite well. Though they could see the two's every action, they were unable to hear any of their conversation. However, their apprehension was slowly replaced by curiosity when Oshitari said something that seemed to astonish Kirihara for a second, before a bright grin lit up his face.

It was a grin of pure, genuine delight that only graced his features at rare times. Sure, they'd seen him smile and laugh often enough – but this expression appeared different in a way. It made him look more carefree and innocent – as if even the mysterious problems themselves would hesitate to taint such bliss.

It made all of them wonder what Oshitari said to incite such reaction.

And, if the aura around Kirihara could brighten even more, it certainly did when Oshitari handed him the object he pulled from his bag. The object was wide, thin, and rectangular in shape, wrapped up in simple red packaging with only a yellow ribbon – fashioned in what looked to be a flower – as its only embellishment.

Kirihara seemed to thank Oshitari, who let out a chuckle as he patted the boy on the head. They exchanged a few words before Kirihara bid the older boy good bye and ran off to the clubroom while shouting: "I'll go change now, Buchou! Bye, Oshitari-san!"

When Kirihara was out of sight, Oshitari shouldered his bag and moved to go. "Now that my job here is done, I'll be taking my leave."

"We weren't aware that you had a friendly relationship with Akaya." Yukimura stated plainly, yet Oshitari immediately understood the underlying query.

"You could say we have a mutual acquaintance." The Hyoutei student smirked as he adjusted his glasses. "I'd like to tell you more, but it is not my business to divulge and, in any case, I think I'm the least of your concerns. Now, if you don't mind, I still have a train to catch. Good day, everyone." He spoke with an air of finality and left.

No one stopped him to ask more questions. It was clear that, no matter what they did, they would never be able to convince him to tell them anything substantial.

"What the hell was that about?"

"Language, Niou-kun."

"I didn't say anything that bad, Hiroshi!"

"At any rate..." Yanagi cut in. "… Oshitari is right. Our current priority is Akaya."

"Do we still need to do anything?" Jackal asked rhetorically. "It looks like the problem's been solved."

"Let's not jump to conclusions." Yukimura spoke.

"According to my data, there is a fifty-percent chance that Oshitari may have indeed solved Akaya's problem and a fifty-percent possibility that this is momentary. With those numbers, I believe that we should still stick to the plan."

"I still want to know what that was all about." Niou complained.

"I can't believe I'm saying this, but I agree with Niou." Marui said grudgingly, making said person grin smugly. "I want to know too. What did he mean by 'favor'? And what did he say to make Akaya so happy?"

Yukimura chuckled… a chuckle that made shivers run up their spines. "We'll get to that soon. Let's focus on Akaya's surprise first, and then we can investigate this matter."

The others nodded at the plan – some of them giving Yukimura a wary glance.

~ooo~OoOoO~ooo~

"Niou-kun, don't think that I'm unable to realize what you are doing."

"I don't know what you're talking about, Hiroshi."

"Don't even think about it, Niou! No pranks!"

"No one asked your opinion, Fatty!"

"Who are you calling 'fat', you freaking geezer!"

"You, obviously. By the way, do you plan to leave anything for us later? Because if you do, you should really stop shoving those cupcakes down your throat."

"I'm going to kick your -"

"Guys, Yukimura, Sanada, and Akaya could arrive anytime soon…"

"Around ten minutes or less based on my calculations."

"… So this isn't the time to be fighting."

"I concur with Jackal-kun. Niou-kun, please control your need to cause trouble. Marui-kun, perhaps we should wait for the others before dining."

"But Hiroshi-!"

"Fine, only because it's Yagyuu who said it."

"Oi, you! Don't you go hitting on my Hiroshi!"

"What the hell are you talking about?! I only meant that there's no way I'm going to do what you say! And I agreed 'coz Yagyuu said it nicely!"

"It seems that Marui has some form of interest in Yagyuu as well… this is interesting data…"

"What the hell, Yanagi!"

"I do not think that's the case, Yanagi-kun. Please refrain from adding fuel to the fire."

"You stay away from Hiroshi!"

"I'm not even interested in Yagyuu that way!"

"You better not be. I'm watching you, you damn Fatass."

"There's no need to because I like -"

"Guys!"

"What do you want, Jackal? I'm busy fighting for my Hiroshi."

"Niou-kun, I am quite certain that Marui-kun's romantic interests lie somewhere else."

"But-"

"Please carry on, Jackal-kun."

"As I was about to say a while ago – I think I heard Akaya."

Yanagi looked up from his notebook. Marui and Niou paused from their argument and glanced at Jackal in surprise. Yagyuu, who was in the process of separating the aforementioned duo, paused.

Silence fell over the apartment unit.

"Ah, where did I put the keys?" That was definitely their Junior Ace.

"Tarundoru, Akaya! You shouldn't be so careless with your things!" There was no need to guess who that was.

A soft chuckle was heard. "Have you searched the pocket of your bag?"

"Oh, right!" They could practically imagine the sheepish grin on his face.

"Hurry! Get to your places!" Niou ordered in a hushed tone as he grabbed hold of Yagyuu's arm and pulled him towards their assigned spot. Marui, before heading to his place behind the couch, delivered a swift kick to Niou's backside. The silver-haired teen instantly turned around to retaliate, but was hindered from doing so when Yagyuu held him back and proceeded to tug him behind the kitchen counter.

"Why you – just you wait you overweight bastard. I'm going to get you for that later!" Niou hissed, making sure to keep his voice down. Marui replied by childishly sticking his tongue out.

Jackal, who was crouching behind another couch, placed his finger to his lips in a gesture of silence. Yanagi simply stood still behind the book shelf that was situated beside the door leading to the entrance hallway.

A moment later, a click resounded throughout the quiet apartment. The light in the hallway was switched on and padded footsteps were heard.

"I'll just go get something to dri -"

"Merry Christmas, Akaya/Bakaya!"

Kirihara stood there, eyes wide and jaw slack as his upperclassmen popped out of their spots and yelled out the greeting. His eyes roamed to the Christmas tree (that was definitely not there before) and the decorations that, despite being minimalistic, were enough for the occasion.

"Se-sempai-tachi?! What – How –!?"

Niou jumped over the counter and placed his arm around the younger boy whilst Marui approached them and did the same on Akaya's other side.

"Do you really think we'd leave you this Christmas without celebrating it with you?" Marui grinned as he ruffled the first-year's hair.

"Marui-sempai…" Akaya spoke in what seemed to be awe.

"Come on, Bakaya, you can say something better than that." Niou smirked.

"Niou-sempai…" Akaya said in the same tone before finally snapping out of his stupor. "How did you all get into my apartment?"

Niou's smirk widened. "Well, not exactly what I had in mind but it will do, puri~"

"Niou-sempai, you didn't answer my-"

"Let's go before a certain fatty eats everything."

"Oi! I'm not fat!"

"I don't remember saying it was you. So you're finally accepting the truth, eh?"

"Niou-sempai!"

"My methods are a secret~" Niou said with a wink.

Yagyuu adjusted his glasses. "No need to worry, Kirihara-kun. I assure you, Niou-kun will not abuse his questionable methods."

That seemed to relieve the younger boy while Niou pouted. "You're no fun, Hiroshi."

"Come, everyone." Yukimura said with a smile. "The food is getting cold." He gestured towards that table laden with a variety of food and beverage bottles (although, for some reason, there were more sweets than necessary).

~ooo~OoOoO~ooo~

Laughter filled the once-quiet apartment as the regulars ensured their youngest member's happiness for the season. Conversation flowed smoothly as they gathered around the dining table. Even the ever-stoic Sanada donned a small smile whilst Yukimura – who was leaning against him – more or less, did the talking for both of them. Yanagi joined the conversation once in a while, but had to excuse himself at times to take calls (Niou had jokingly told him to just go to his 'Seigaku boyfriend' if he missed him that much – the data player chose not to dignify that with a response – although, Niou might've thought that the faint, traitorous red that colored his cheeks was a sufficient reaction). Jackal, who had been previously trying to control Marui's sweet intake (since it looked like he wasn't planning on leaving them with any), had given up on preventing his doubles partner from eating all the sweets and decided to engross himself in a conversation with Yagyuu. Niou and Marui were, as usual, teasing their kouhai (and throwing insults at each other while at it). Kirihara, in spite of being relentlessly joked at by his upperclassmen, had a permanent grin on his lips. It wasn't as bright as the one they saw days prior, but it was genuine, and that was enough for them.

"Hey, Niou, check this out! Akaya's been holding out on us!" Marui suddenly exclaimed when the group moved to the living room. Yukimura, Sanada, Yanagi, and Yagyuu made themselves comfortable on the couches while Niou, Kirihara, Jackal, and Marui settled on the floor.

Kirihara looked at the redhead with a confused expression. "What are you talking about, Sempai?"

Marui, who had left his canned soda on the side and crawled over to the television to peruse the numerous games stacked beside it, held up a CD case. "You didn't tell me you already bought this game!"

The others glanced at the object.

"Is that the one you've been talking about since last month?" Jackal asked.

"Wait, you have it?" Niou joined in, hurrying to his teammate's side to look at the game. "I thought you said you were still saving up for it."

Everyone turned their attention to Kirihara and found him grinning sheepishly. But, what really caught their attention was the blush staining his cheeks.

"Anou… I was saving up for it." Kirihara explained. "That's just a gift I got recently."

All their thoughts instantly went back to the present Oshitari gave to Kirihara days before, and their curiosity was instantly piqued.

Niou smirked and went over to Kirihara and placed his arm around the younger's shoulder. "Oh, is that a blush I see, puri~?" This only served to darken the flush even further. "So, who's this special someone, eh, Bakaya?"

"Uh… ah…" Kirihara stammered as the color on his cheeks reddened even more. Before Niou could persuade him further, Kirihara escaped from the upperclassman's hold and rushed over to Marui. "Why don't we play the game, sempai?" He suggested in a feeble attempt to change the subject.

That's when something unfortunate (or amusing – depending on whose view it was) happened.

When Kirihara approached the redhead, the latter was in the process of opening the can of soda he left to the side earlier. It just so happened that the opening was facing away and, unluckily, Marui opened it the moment Kirihara stopped in front of him.

The drink spurted out of the can and drenched the other's shirt.

It was silent for a few seconds before a laugh cut through the hush.

"Niou!" Marui exclaimed in annoyance. Niou didn't seem to hear it as he was busy bending over and laughing out loud.

Sanada sighed while Yukimura chuckled softly. A small amused smile made its way onto Yanagi's lips while Jackal tried to restrain himself from doing the same. Yagyuu let out a sigh as he stood up and went over to Kirihara with a handkerchief in hand.

"I apologize on behalf of Niou-kun's infantile behavior, Kirihara-kun. This apology also extends to Marui-kun as it was clear that the trick was meant for you." Yagyuu spoke as he dabbed the handkerchief on the younger's face and neck.

Yukimura, who stood up at the same time Yagyuu did, walked over to them and gently grabbed the cloth from the brunette to take over his task.

"Go get changed, Akaya." Yukimura suggested. "You might get sick."

There was no mistaking the command there. Kirihara nodded in assent before heading to his room.

However, he was stopped in his tracks when the sound of the doorbell echoed throughout the room.

"Just go, Akaya. We'll take care of it." Yukimura assured.

Kirihara looked at his upperclassmen uncertainly, but nodded nonetheless. "Well, if you're sure. I'll change quickly."

With a nod from Yukimura, Kirihara disappeared into his room. The captain then turned to his team and gave them a meaningful look.

"You get it, Niou." Marui pointed at the said teen. "It was your fault that Akaya can't answer it."

"What?" Niou scoffed. "Shouldn't it be you? If you didn't aim it at him, he wouldn't have gotten wet."

"Someone has to answer that door." Jackal cut in.

The Brazilian was promptly contradicted when the sound outside filtered in – an implication that the person had entered the apartment. Footsteps padded closer and a voice called out. "Tadaima, Akaya!"

It was male...

"Oton's convention ended earlier than expected."

… With a very distinct accent. 'Oton' instead of 'Otou-san'. So Kansai-ben.

"So, I can spend time with you - ah, sorry, was I interrupting something?"

The Rikkai team stared at the unexpected person standing in the entranceway – a stunned type of silence fell over the room. Even Yanagi seemed astonished at his presence. What was he doing here?

The person laughed sheepishly while rubbing the back of his neck – a sign that, though he was still calm, he felt rather uncomfortable from the attention he was getting.

To the person's relief, the attention was immediately directed away from him at the sound of a door slamming shut.

"Sempai-tachi, who was it? I heard someone co - Kura-san!"

Shiraishi Kuranosuke smiled – all traces of awkwardness gone when he laid his eyes on Kirihara. "Akaya."

Kirihara's eyes were wide as he stumbled on his own words. "What are you doing here? I thought you had somewhere to go? What about your father's convention?"

"Calm down, Akaya. One question at a time." Shiraishi chuckled. "As I said a while ago, Oton's convention ended earlier than expected. He still has something to take care of, so I can go wherever I want for the time being." Then he grinned sheepishly. "But it looks like I came at the wrong occasion. Sorry for the intrusion. I'll return some other time."

But he hadn't moved even a single step before he found himself almost knocked off his feet by a sudden weight colliding into him. Thankfully, he had good balance and was able to steady himself just in time.

Marui's eyes widened in shock. Yagyuu's eyebrows raised in surprise. Jackal's jaw fell agape. One of Niou's brows arched in interest. Yanagi had a pen on his notebook. Sanada stood as still as a statue. And Yukimura… Yukimura didn't seem to be fazed – though there appeared to be a slight shift in his aura.

Shiraishi glanced down to find Kirihara burying his face into his chest. His arms were wound tightly around Shiraishi's waist, as if the older boy might vanish if his hold loosened even for a bit. A look of fondness came over Shiraishi's features and he lifted his hand to run it through the other's hair.

"Does this mean you don't want me to leave?"

Kirihara didn't say anything but the tightening of arms around his waist was enough affirmation for Shiraishi.

"Alright. I'll stay." He felt the arms relax ever so slightly. "Was Oshitari-kun able to give it?"

Kirihara nodded against him, still refusing to detach himself from the older boy. The others, who were watching the scene with either shock or intrigue, looked at each other as realization dawned on them. Slowly but surely, the pieces of their little mystery was coming together.

"Gomen, Akaya. I wanted to give it personally, but I thought I wouldn't be able to see you until after the holidays." Kirihara didn't react. "Did you like it?" Another nod against his chest. "Were you upset when I told you that I wouldn't be able to visit you?" He asked in a tone that was both teasing and genuinely curious. That was when Kirihara finally reacted. He tensed up all of a sudden and quickly pulled away.

"Don't jump to conclusions. It's not like I missed you or anything." Kirihara said, trying not to meet the other's eyes.

Shiraishi, used to this behavior, chuckled in amusement. He reached up, played with the other's curls, before leaning down to place a kiss on top of Kirihara's head. "Akaya is still cute, as always."

"K-Kura-san!" Kirihara protested – almost whining – as a blush stained his cheeks. Shiraishi only replied with a smile before turning to the other Rikkai regulars.

"I'm really sorry for intruding on your party like this. I could leave and return later if you're not comfortable having me around." The moment these words left Shiraishi's mouth, Kirihara instantly held onto his shirt.

Yukimura smiled at his fellow captain. "There's no need, Shiraishi. It's not as if you're a stranger to us here. We wouldn't mind if you joined us. Besides, it's Akaya's decision. It is his apartment, after all."

Shiraishi looked at the blue-haired teen and returned the other's smile. "If you say so, Yukimura-kun. Thank you."

Kirihara appeared to be holding back a grin. "So, he can stay?"

"As I said, it's your decision, Akaya."

Then that smile – that pure, innocent, and genuine smile that rarely appeared on his face – graced Akaya's features. "Hear that, Kura-san? Come on, you should eat." He said, pulling the Shitenhouji captain towards the dining room.

The others were left watching them, in various states of shock.

"Well…" Yanagi started. "… This is a rather interesting development."

~ooo~OoOoO~ooo~

Shiraishi picked up the last of the dishes and placed it on the rack.

The team had already left about an hour before. Some of them offered to help with cleaning up but Shiraishi assured that he'd take care of it.

It was a rather remarkable experience to spend time with Rikkai Dai. Although they were merciless in the courts, they were actually quite entertaining outside of it. In fact, seeing the way they interacted with each other, Shiraishi was reminded of his own team. It was like a big, dysfunctional family – but a family nonetheless.

He was also able to see first-hand how much the team cared for Akaya. He wasn't dense – in fact, he was perfectly aware that he was being scrutinized. It seemed that each of them had their own way of showing their approval (which ranged from a pat on the shoulder from Sanada to a pie-down-the-shirt from Niou – Yagyuu had explained to him that it meant the trickster liked him… he wasn't quite sure how that logic worked).

Shiraishi proceeded to wipe his hands on a nearby towel before heading to the living room. He smiled fondly when he caught sight of Akaya sprawled on the couch, illuminated by the light coming from the television.

He must've fallen asleep while trying to wait up for him.

Shiraishi couldn't blame the exhausted teen – it was obvious that he really enjoyed the surprise celebration (Yukimura had told him about it). As silently as he could, Shiraishi padded towards the sleeping figure. He turned off the television, and proceeded to lift the younger male in his arms and carry him to the bedroom.

Ever so gently, Shiraishi laid the slumbering boy on the bed and tucked him in. He lightly brushed Akaya's hair from his face, and placed a kiss on his forehead. However, when he moved to pull away, he found that he was unable to do so. That was when he noticed that Akaya had somehow taken a hold of his shirt.

"Kura-san?" Asked a voice bleared with sleep. Shiraishi glanced up to find Akaya staring at him with unfocused eyes – a sign that he was only partially conscious.

"Sorry, Akaya. Did I wake you?"

His only reply was a small shake of the head accompanied by a grunt. Shiraishi was about to ask if he needed anything when the other slowly shifted to the side. Instantly understanding the gesture, the captain smiled as he climbed up the bed and slid underneath the covers, careful not to jostle the one beside him.

Shiraishi felt the younger male shift closer to him, burrowing his head into his chest. His smile, full of affection, widened even more as he tenderly wrapped his arms around the smaller body.

"Sweet dreams, Akaya." Shiraishi murmured against the other's hair. Then he added. "Merry Christmas."

"… ry… sms… ra… sn…" Was the incoherent mumbling he got in return.

A soft chuckle bubbled in Shiraishi's throat as he placed another kiss on Akaya's hair before closing his eyes to succumb to slumber.


~ooo~[EXTRA]~ooo~

[There's no need to read this part… only if you want to~]

Shiraishi watched from afar as Kirihara played the video game with Niou and Marui. He was jarred out of his thoughts when a hand suddenly rested on his shoulder. His eyes traced the arm to its owner and he found himself the receiver of an ever-so-sweet smile.

"So, Shiraishi…" Yukimura began. Shiraishi felt the hand on his shoulder tighten. "… It seems you are dating our Akaya."

Shiraishi, not really knowing where this was heading, smiled in return. "Yes, Yukimura-kun, it seems so."

The hand appeared to tighten even more. "Then it appears we have much to talk about. Don't we, Shiraishi?"

Shiraishi felt a shiver run up his spine as Yukimura's smile appeared more radiant. Was it just him or did the air around them suddenly grow colder? "Come, Shiraishi, why don't we discuss this somewhere else?"

He had already spoken to Yukimura in private before, so this wasn't supposed to feel any different…

… So why did Shiraishi feel as if he was confronting the devil's mother incarnate?