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Kamio lay still for a few seconds, wanting to groan in pain. Every part of his body ached, and his chest was tight making it difficult to breathe. Now that his eyes were open, the light was serving to intensify his headache, and the room was refusing to stay still. He could feel something pressed against his cheek, and he moved further into it, as he adjusted to being awake. Finally he shakily looked around. Even though his gaze was fuzzy and swimming in and out, he was able to home in on Kirihara and he couldn’t help but smile weakly. “Ow,” he managed, and even then his voice sounded faint.


"You wimp." Kamio blinked fuzzily at Kirihara. Were those tears? "What's the big idea of trying to get out of paying me for babysitting?"


Kamio was confused. The room was still spinning in a swirl of colors, and it wasn't helping. "Wha.... hap'n?" he asked painfully. His throat was dry and scratchy. As though sensing his discomfort, Kirihara reached over to the table by the bed and picked something out of a container.


"Open up."


Obeying blindly, Kamio was pleasantly surprised when something cool and wet touched his tongue.


"Ice chips," Kirihara said quietly, studying him carefully. "What do you remember?"


Kamio remained silent for a few moments, letting the ice chips melt on his tongue and soothe his throat. He tried to get his jumbled thoughts in order, which was hard enough, without having to them vocalize them. “Late…” He said, frowning. “Was late. Try’n get h’me.” His voice cracked a little as he spoke. Memories flickered through his mind, scattered and twisting away, no matter how hard he tried to grab on to them. All except for one thing... "Red," he murmured, eyes unfocusing again. "...was red..."


"The car?"


Kirihara's voice sounded like it was coming from miles away, getting all blurry and garbled as though he were listening to it underwater. The black haze around him was warm and comforting, and he just wanted to fall into it, away from the pain of his aching body. "Red..." Kamio repeated, closing his eyes and sinking back into the darkness.


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Kirihara was about to try and pull him back to consciousness when the door opened behind him. Makamoto started to speak but Kirihara spun round, glad to see that the doctor was still with them. He jumped up from his seat and started towards them.


“He woke up. He was awake, and talking. Kind of.” Kirihara realized how fast he was talking by the slightly confused look the doctor was giving him. Apparently it had been enough to tip him off, though.


“He was lucid?” the doctor asked, moving to the bed to check on Kamio. “Did he mention being in pain? Did he recognize you?”


"Yeah. He said he was trying to get home." Akaya was aware of the tears building up in his eyes but sheer stubbornness refused to let them fall. "I asked him if he knew what happened, and all he said was, 'it was red.'"


The doctor nodded absently, pulling Kamio's eyelids up to check the pupil reaction with a small penlight. "That's a good sign," he commented. "If he was awake and showing awareness, then there's an excellent chance that he'll be just fine." He looked over at Makamoto-san. "Of course, we'll still want to keep him here for a day or two of observation. When he returns home, he'll need complete bed rest for a few days, to give those ribs a chance to knit. We can go over all of the details before he's released though." He straightened up. "As he's now sleeping and not merely unconscious, I'd say it'd be a good idea for you two to go home and get some sleep yourself. He's most likely going to sleep through the night. If he does wake up, he'll likely be in a fair bit of pain, and anything we give him will make him too groggy to appreciate visitors anyway."


Makamoto nodded, and turned to Kirihara who was trying to see Kamio past the doctor. “Thank you, Hiawatari-sensei, we’ll do that. Akaya.” She started, careful again to use his given name and not his surname. “Are you ready? We can come back and visit him in the morning; but right now he needs his rest.”


Kirihara shot her a disbelieving glance. “I’m not leaving him,” he said defiantly.


Makamoto shot him a stern look that froze him where he stood. After waiting a minute - no doubt to see if he'd argue against her again - she turned back to the doctor and smiled. "Sensei, could you give my grandson and I a moment alone? I promise we won't disturb Akira, and we'll both leave and come back in the morning." She stressed the word 'both' with another hard look at Akaya who fumed silently, but didn't say anything.


“Of course, but please try not to wake him.” The doctor nodded to them both and left.


Kirihara toned his glare down, but held her gaze. “I’m sorry, but I can’t leave him here like this. I don’t care if he doesn’t wake up. I don’t care if he does and doesn’t even recognize me! I just want to…” He sighed and looked away, his stomach doing a somersault as his gaze fixed on Kamio lying perfectly still and pale. “I want to be here in case anything happens.”


Makamoto smiled gently. "I know that, Akaya. But I'm afraid no matter how adept you are at getting your own way, hospitals still have rules, and the security guards will show you they are just as good at enforcing them." She reached out and lay a hand on his shoulder. Kirihara stiffened slightly at the touch, unused to such familiar gestures, before slowly relaxing. "Besides, young man, you have things to do anyway."


He glowered. "Like what?"


Makamoto arched an eyebrow in his direction. "Well, for one thing, there are two little girls whom I suspect would be happy to receive an update."


Kirihara clamped his mouth shut. He knew he was fortunate to be here; unlike Kamio’s sisters who were probably sitting up awake at Minagawa’s waiting to know if their brother was even alive.


The anger fought to resurface; he wanted to stay here, dammit, but he knew that even the best tricks he knew wouldn’t make the security guards let him stay. He finally nodded reluctantly, and walked over to the bed, gently letting one hand fall to cover Kamio’s. "I gotta go, Akira," he muttered roughly. "I don't have a say in the matter. I have to tell your sisters their bonehead brother is still alive and kicking. But I'll be back. And you'd better be awake when I am." Brushing his thumb across Akira's knuckles, he finally stepped back from the bed, and turned to Makamoto. "Okay."


She nodded. "A wise decision, my dear," she told him. "And after we speak to Sachiko and Michiko, I suspect you have a few calls of your own to make."


Kirihara shrugged. There was nothing that couldn't wait really, but he could give his mom a call and let her know what was up. She knew about their relationship - when she had the time to think about it, that is - and would probably want to offer some kind of condolences, even if it was just over the phone. Nothing short of Akaya's own impending demise would get her out of the office and down to the hospital though, and even then, she'd probably have her secretary send a card in her stead. "I guess."


Makamoto nodded and smiled softly, motioning for him to follow her out of the room. She sent a final glance over to Kamio, and sighed as she began down the corridor and into the lift. Kirihara walked beside her as she fished car keys from her purse. He watched the hospital as she opened the doors for them; the large building lit up brightly against the inky black sky. He swallowed hard, and got in as Makamoto started the engine and drove them back.


The lights were still on in the living room at Minagawa's home. Kirihara blinked, and glanced over at the clock displayed on the CD player - it was nearing eleven-thirty. They'd only been at the hospital for just over an hour before being asked to leave. That surprised him - he felt as though he'd been put through a mental wringer, and an hour just didn't seem long enough to wear him down this much.


Makamoto drove past Minigawa's home, down the street to her own driveway and pulled in. As they got out of the car, Kirihara paused, unsure of what to do.


"Akaya?"


"Should I go over? Call?" Kirihara shook his head tiredly. "Would it be wrong of me to just call to give them an update tonight, and see them tomorrow? Hell, I don't even know what I'm doing yet tomorrow." His mind whirled with all the sudden details of daily life he'd forgotten about, ever since receiving that initial phone call from the hospital.


Makamoto offered him a comforting smile. “It’s okay if you want to call them. Tonight has been very stressful.”


Kirihara snorted, and shook his head. “Yeah. But…what about tomorrow? I don’t really trust anyone enough to take over tennis practice, but he’s going to wake up. I don’t want him to be alone. And what about the day after? And the day after that?” He bit his lip and swallowed hard. “What’s he going to do? He can’t look after the girls like this. And his mother isn’t going to. What’s going to happen to them? To him? I don’t know…” The night caught up with him and he slunk back in his chair, closing his eyes and trying to swallow back his fears .


"I'm going to borrow a phrase Minigawa-san used earlier," Makamoto said calmly. "'Don't go about borrowing trouble.' Think about what needs to be done, and do it one step at a time - keeping in mind, both Junko and myself are here to help as well."


Kirihara nodded slowly. "I figured as much," he said quietly giving her a small look of gratitude. "Okay... I gotta call the girls tonight, but they can stay with Junko--I mean, Minagawa-san tonight. Do you think she'd mind bringing them over in the morning to get their things for school before taking them in? That way, I can go back to the hospital and see how Kamio's doing. My vice-captain is a twit, but he should be able to handle morning practice, and if Kamio's doing better, I can sneak back to run the afternoon one."


Makamoto nodded. “That sounds like a good plan to me, I’m sure Minagawa-san won’t mind at all. She did tell me that they would get the girls things for the morning, so I assume that's already been handled.” She paused. “Kamio is also captain of his tennis team, isn’t he? Perhaps in the morning you could call his vice captain to let him know what’s going on.”


Kirihara slapped his forehead. "Damn, I forgot all about Sakurai." He chuckled wryly. "Not that it's a hard thing to do."


Makamoto's eyes twinkled. "That's not very charitable of you."


Kirihara shrugged. "I'm with... I'm friends with Kamio, not his whole team." Which was true enough. The team may have grudgingly accepted him on the basis that Kamio - and An-chan, of all people - had vouched for him, but there were still a few people on the team who were convinced Kirihara was biding his time like a snake in the grass, waiting for the right time to strike. Sakurai had been sure that he'd been targeting Kamio - which in a way, was absolutely true. Kirihara smirked slightly. It was too bad Sakurai just didn't know back then exactly 'how' he'd targeted the Fudomine Captain. The look on his face when Kamio told them of the status change in their relationship had been utterly priceless. “Really, I’ll let him know, though.” Kirihara promised, already dreading the conversation. He paused for a few seconds, savoring the sanctuary of the car. He finally opened the door and nodded to Makamoto. “I better get going, then. Thank you…seriously thank you for everything.”


He trailed off, feeling as thought something simple as saying it wasn’t enough. Makamoto smiled and shook her head, locking the car up. “I don’t mind at all. You’ve still got his house key?”


"I do." Kirihara turned to head for the Kamio household, but then something struck him, and he turned back. "Makamoto-san..."


She waited patiently, a curious look on her kind and worn face.


"How often... I mean, how many times has this come up?" Kirihara asked slowly. He'd known that this would happen - Akira had sat him down one day and gone over in great detail what Akaya was to do should Kamio ever wind up in the hospital. Makamoto-san had all the information, Kamio said. She would help. Minagawa-san would help with the girls. Call Makamoto-san. Don't call the police. That last part had been repeated several times. Kirihara knew that if Child Services ever knew the truth behind the Kamio household, the girls and Kamio would have been taken away so fast their heads would spin; they'd be split up and and put in foster homes, a fate Kirihara knew Kamio considered worse than death. "Why don't you tell anyone?"


"What would you have me do, Akaya?" Makamoto-san asked quietly. "How long do you think those three would survive without each other to hold on to?"


Kirihara already knew the answer: not long at all. And worse, Kamio would blame himself entirely should that happen, thinking that he’d somehow slipped up. He’d spent a lot of effort on getting routines set up, and implementing fail safes in case anything should go wrong…he needed this to work. He decided not to answer her question. “But this isn’t the first time something like this has come up…right?” He repeated, with a sinking feeling.


"I think you know the answer to that," was all she said.


He did. And in a way, he understood. If she were to actually come out and state emphatically that yes, she knew what was going on, and in true detail, then she could probably be held criminally liable for failing to report...something, to the police. Abuse, or neglect, or whatever Child Services could whip up and serve to her. As though reading his mind, she nodded.


"I do what I can," she said. "Kamio's a good boy. He takes on too much, but I do whatever he'll allow me to do to help. Junko does the same. But you, of all people, should know just how reluctant Kamio is to let others know of his particular situation. He's even worse at allowing others to help." She smiled suddenly. "I think you've been very good for him, Akaya."


Kirihara coughed a little, and a slight smile flickered across his face as his cheeks coloured slightly. “I don’t know. I try…you know. I want to help but sometimes it’s hard to know what you can do.” He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Well, I know what I can do now. Make phone calls. Thank you again, Makamoto-san.”


She waved him off. "Go on," she said. "You have many things to do before you'll get any sleep tonight. Will you be accompanying me to the hospital tomorrow morning, or will you go another time?" She winked mischievously at him. "It wouldn't do to have the doctors wondering where Akira's 'grandmother' disappeared to, after all."


Kirihara smiled and nodded. “I want to go tomorrow morning. I want to see how he’s doing, and make sure the doctors are keeping an eye on him.” His eyes sparkled as he said it.


"Naturally," she agreed. "Very well then. Meet me here at 9:00 sharp."


Kirihara nodded and waited until the elderly woman made it safely inside her home. He was surprised by how much he was coming to like and respect the spunky old lady. He'd seen her so many times in passing, and once he'd even helped Kamio to clean out the gutters on her roof, but he'd never had an actual conversation with her. Despite her age, she was obviously still sharp as a tack, and compassionate as hell about Kamio's situation. Kirihara was glad Kamio seemed to have such reliable allies in his sometimes-overwhelming life.


Flicking the keyring around his finger, Kirihara headed for the front door of Kamio's house, determined to get the calls over and done with as fast as possible. After all, the sooner he got to sleep, the sooner he'd wake up, and be back at the hospital with Akira.


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Sakurai was brushing his teeth and getting ready for bed when the phone rang. He waited for a few moments before sighing, rinsing his mouth out and storming out of the bathroom. “Geez, don’t all rush at once to get it,” he muttered, as his sister shot behind him and ran into the bathroom. He growled again – it had taken him ages to get time in the bathroom and now it was lost.


He picked up the phone irritably, but composed his voice. “Hello? Sakurai residence.” He shot a glare at the closed door as he heard his sister moving around.


"Hey, mighty Fukou-Buchou," came a familiar, grating voice. "Sorry to be calling so late."


"Kirihara?" Sakurai was stunned. What on earth was Kirihara doing calling him? "You're damn lucky my dad's working the night shift. What do you want?"


"I said I was sorry. Do you really think I'd be calling you if it wasn't an emergency?"


Sakurai paused. Kirihara's voice was still flippant, but there was an underlying note of stress that he could easily pick out. Sighing hard, he decided to give the troublemaker the benefit of the doubt. "What's wrong?"


“He was in an accident.” Then there was silence on the other end of the line.


Sakurai gripped the phone tightly, already knowing the answer to his next question. “Kamio?” He frowned and took a deep breath. “Is he okay? I mean…he is okay, right?” Sakurai was starting to panic at the lack of details Kirihara had provided.


"Chill out, Sakurai. Do you think I'd be talking to you like this if he wasn't?"


Sakurai abruptly realized that was true. Still... "Kirihara..." The other boy didn't need to be a jerk.


"He's got a nasty bump on the head, some broken ribs, an assortment of cuts and bruises, and a partridge in a pear tree," Kirihara rattled off. Sakurai could all but hear the grin he knew the other boy had to be wearing. "He woke up tonight while I was in there. The doc said he was gonna keep him for a day or two, but he's gonna be out of commission as far as tennis practice goes for a couple of weeks."


Sakurai found himself automatically running through lists in his head; mental tallies of things he'd have to do, practices and chores he'd have to switch, as a result of this information. He fumbled through the desk drawer for a pencil and a scrap piece of paper. "Where's he staying?"


Kirihara gave him the name of the hospital, the room number, and a stern warning not to show up without calling him first. Sakurai resisted the urge to stick out his tongue at the receiver. "Anything else?"


“I’m sure he’d appreciate a gift,” Kirihara said sarcastically. “Pitch in and buy him something nice.”


Sakurai rolled his eyes in agitation and finished writing down the information. “You said he woke up…did he say much? I mean…head injuries are nasty business. Did he seem okay?” His worry for his friend was currently enough to risk setting himself up for yet another sarcastic reply. But he wanted some solid facts, and hopefully a spark of good news, for when he had to relay this to the rest of the team tomorrow.


Luckily for him, Kirihara seemed to sense that, and for once, reigned in his sarcasm. "Yeah, he was lucid enough. Didn't remember much about what happened though. All he could remember was that he'd been on his way home. Well, that and the color 'red'. The nurse said someone found him on the side of the road and called an ambulance."


“He was just left?” Sakurai felt anger building up inside him. He just bit back a yelled curse in time, knowing that his mother was a light sleeper, and instead gripped the phone tighter. “Shit, the poor guy never gets any breaks…” He sighed and shook his head. “Look, thanks for letting me know. I’ll come and visit him.”


"Call first," Kirihara repeated firmly.


"Yeah, yeah." Sakurai listened to the dial tone after Kirihara hung up on him without saying goodbye. Not that Kirihara wasn't usually abrupt, but Sakurai figured this time he could cut the guy a break. No matter what his personal feelings towards the Rikkai player were, he was dating Kamio, and helping him out a lot with the girls. That went a long way towards redeeming himself in Sakurai's eyes, even more then the reports An-chan and Akira had made back during the past Senbatsu Camp, which were all hearsay. This had to be rough on him.


Reading through the details on the paper in his hand, Sakurai ran a hand through his hair and shook his head. How the hell was he going to tell the team this? A million scenarios played through his head, each one worse than the other. He wandered back into his room and collapsed onto the bed, letting an arm fall across his eyes. He was still awake several hours later.


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Kirihara hung up the phone and then lifted the receiver again. He felt a little bit guilty about calling Sakurai before the girls, but he had a feeling this conversation was going to be a little longer, and he'd wanted the other one out of the way. It'd be worse if he had to cut Sachi or Michi off on the pretense of having to talk to someone else. He dialed the number, and within seconds Minigawa’s voice came on the line. “Hello? This is the Minigawa residence.”


Kirihara swallowed; his voice was shaky with anticipation. She probably knew it was him, considering the circumstances and how late it was, but he introduced himself anyway. “Minigawa-san, its Kirihara. We’re back from the hospital.”


"I thought it might be you," Minagawa replied quietly. "The girls are in the living room with Hana-chan. I let them have a slumber party downstairs to cheer them up a bit. How's Akira?"


Kirihara took a deep breath and rubbed at his eyes, relaying Kamio’s injuries again. As he spoke he pictured Kamio lying in the hospital bed, and had to remind himself that the boy was okay; he’d woken up after all. He wasn’t going to win any awards for a prolific and inspiring speech, but he’d recognized Kirihara and had been fairly lucid. “I’m going back first thing tomorrow morning to check up on him,” Akaya finished.


"I thought you might. I brought the girls by to pick up their things for school tomorrow, so don't you worry about them. I'll tell the girls how their brother's doing while you get some sleep." Minagawa paused. "Akaya, don't you have school tomorrow yourself?"


“I…” Kirihara trailed off, quickly trying to verbalize the thoughts in his head. “I’ll see how he’s doing tomorrow. I’ll decide what’s going to happen then.” He knew, and several people had pointed out, that head injuries were risky. If he got there tomorrow and Kamio had taken a turn for the worse, school was going to be the last thing on his mind. His hand unconsciously gripped the phone at the thought.


“Akira wouldn't want you to neglect yourself, or get into trouble over him," Minagawa said gently. "Remember that, okay?"


Kirihara nodded even though he knew she couldn't see it. "Sure."


"All right then. I'll pass the news on to the girls. You get some sleep, young man. Tomorrow will come soon enough, and I don't want to see dark circles when you visit the girls after your hospital visit tomorrow."


“Thank you.” Kirihara repeated, a slight smile tugging at the corner of his lips. He knew well that Kamio worried too much about other people, and never enough about himself. He could almost hear the red head admonishing him now, telling him to go to bed. “I’m going to get some sleep now; tell the girls that their brother will be angry if they don’t do the same.”


"I will. Take care, Akaya-kun."


Kirihara hung up the phone, feeling accomplished in a weary way. He could put off calling his own Vice Captain until the morning - provided he remembered to set the alarm on his phone early enough - and everything was handled for the moment. A hot shower sounded like the best idea he'd ever come up with, and then he'd try and get some sleep before everything started up again in the morning. Morning. He shook his head, half-resigned and half-hopeful. Everything would look better in the morning.


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Kirihara woke to the sound of his mobile phone alarm, and groggily fumbled to turn the annoying tune off. He rested an arm over his eyes and let his mind clear; something was nagging at him. Something important…Kamio. He shot up, racing to get himself dressed and ready to meet with Makamoto. As he got ready, he managed to get a hold of his Vice Captain and give him instructions for morning practice. He held off on the afternoon one though – if Kamio was doing better, he'd go and run the practice himself. If not, he could always call later.


He stuck some bread in the toaster, and ran back upstairs to brush his hair. It felt strange to be here alone; the house felt horribly empty. He raced back down in time for the toast to pop up, and quickly spread butter on it and ate as he hopped around trying to get socks on. As he was doing so, he heard the front door slam. "Sachi?" He called out automatically. Wondering if Minagawa had brought the girls over to say good morning and get some extra reassurance before going to school, Akaya stuck his head into the living room.


Kamio Yuriko stood in the front door entryway, leaning heavily on the door frame, half bent over to try and pry her laced-up boots off. They were tied on tight, and as Akaya watched, she nearly fell over trying to remove it. Her long red hair was tangled, hanging in front of her face as she swore at the offending footwear. Her clothes were tight and revealing enough that if Akaya hadn't been gayer than a forest full of faeries, he might have had serious difficulties walking out. Kamio Yuriko was as old as his own mother, but she certainly didn't look it. Cleaned up, she'd probably be a knockout. As it was, Akaya could only see a cheap-looking woman coming home after a night all over the town.


He swallowed hard, and watched as she finally managed to remove her boots. She stood upright and staggered a little down the corridor, before realizing that Kirihara was watching her. “Who’re you?” She drawled, wrinkling her nose. She made a wild grab for the wall as she nearly tipped over, but kept her eyes on him.


Akaya managed to keep himself from rolling his eyes. "Kirhara Akaya," he said as patiently as he could. "We've met... a couple of times." Not that she ever seemed to remember, of course. He didn't make a move to go anywhere within her reach - twice in the past she'd tried to grope him, thinking he was a dancer at the club she frequented, and once she'd thrown up next to his bag, missing his shoes by mere inches. As far as he could remember, he'd never met her when she wasn't under the influence of something. "I'm friends with your son. And your daughters," he added as an afterthought.


“Oh,” she said, scanning him with a disinterested look. Judging by the paleness of her skin, and the deep circles under her eyes, apparently she’d partied herself to exhaustion. No doubt she was looking for the fastest way to get to her bed.


Not a single flicker of recognition sparked in her mind at the boy. “Why’re ya here?” she asked, feeling her way along the wall to the stairs. She didn't look remotely interested, but even to her fogged brain, it had to have seemed strange that she was being greeted by him and not one of her children.


Kirihara watched with disgust as she wobbled across the floor. Upon being first confronted by her, the back of his mind had been buzzing with ways to break the news to her gently. But the more he watched her, the more he realized that nothing short of a blunt, clue-by-four upside the head would get her attention. With that, he cleared his throat. "Your son was hit by a car last night... on the off-chance that you actually care."


Kirihara watched her reach the stairs and collapse onto the bottom one, turning her gaze up to him. “Son…?” A brief flash of confusion rippled through her eyes. “’Kira? Really?” She seemed to think about this for a few moments as pale fingers worked at a tangle in her hair. “Is he dead?”


"He's alive." Kirihara waited, but no more emotion seemed forthcoming from the older woman. She seemed to become ever more confused, tilting her head as though she'd only partially understood what he'd told her. "He's in the hospital though."


"Not my 'Kira," she said stubbornly, shaking her head and nearly falling over. "Knows better. Hospitals cost lossa money ya know. 'Kira hates hosp'als."


Kirihara was losing patience fast, and he didn’t have a lot of time left before he had to meet Makamoto. “Yeah, well he didn’t really have much of a choice in the matter. He was knocked unconscious and just left there. Somebody thought it might be an idea to call an ambulance and see if the nice doctors couldn’t try and save his life.” He spat angrily.


Yuriko smiled enticingly at him. “Yer cute when yer angry, sweetie,” she cooed. She gripped the banister railing and pulled herself up slowly. “Need a drink... where's 'Kira?”


The idea that she could just disregard what he'd told her about her child... Akaya shook with fury and suddenly found himself storming over to her. He slammed his hand down on the railing, making it shake, and Yuriko jump, her eyes darting nervously from his face to his hand and back.


“You have got to be kidding me!” he yelled. “He’s not some slave to get you drinks or whatever you need; and don’t you think you’ve had enough?” His eyes narrowed dangerously, the feeling so similar to that of when he used to crush players with sickening ease. “And what part of this is failing to register? Your son nearly died! Where the hell do you think he is? Right now, cost or...or anything, doesn’t matter.”


Yuriko scowled at him. "You're lying!" she accused him hotly. "Akira wou'nt go to a hospital. Wou'nt leave the other two." She paused. "Where are they?"


Akaya fought to keep his temper under control. "They're at Minagwa-san's house," he said, stressing the honorific. In her current state, she probably wouldn't understand the insult, but it made him feel slightly better. "She's watching them until Akira gets back."


Yuriko snorted. "Minagawa," she said mockingly. "F'king nosy bitch... what the hell's 'Kira thinking?" She turned around and started making her way upstairs, ignoring a completely bewildered and infuriated Kirihara at the foot of the stairs.


"Christ," he breathed, one hand still on the banister in a white-knuckled grip. He'd known it was bad, but not quite to this extent. "Fuck, Akira, why didn't you tell me?" He shook his head and sent a disgusted glare at her back. He didn’t have time for this. As much as it hurt to admit it, she really didn’t seem to care about her sons welfare.


But he did. He grabbed his trainers from by the door and put them on before finishing getting ready. Making as much noise as possible in an attempt to deprive Kamio’s mother a few more minutes of sleep, he was finally ready to go. He locked the front door behind him and jogged over to Makamoto’s front garden. As he headed up the path to her door, it opened, and Ling Ling raced out, barking wildly. Kirihara grinned at the familiar ball of fluff, reaching down to let Ling Ling sniff his hand, getting reacquainted with him, before giving her a scratch behind the ears. Makamoto stepped outside and smiled at him.


"Good morning, Akaya-kun," she said. Then she winked. "Or should I say, 'grandson'?"


Akaya smirked. "Whatever works," he said. "Ready to go?"


Makamoto gestured to Ling Ling, who was circling the yard in search of the perfect spot. "As soon as the little miss does her business," she said.


Kirihara laughed softly and nodded, watching Ling Ling sniff and reject a patch of flowers. His eyes flickered to Makamoto and he considered asking her about Kamio’s mother. But the question of what exactly to ask held him back. ‘When exactly did she become a psychopath?’ seemed a bit too forward. But he really wanted to know what could a drive a mother to that.


Ling Ling finally trotted over, having finished her business, and Makamoto picked her up, giving her a quick nuzzle and a kiss on the head. "You be a good girl," she said, pulling the door closed. As she turned around, keys in hand, she shrugged wryly. "This is what happens when you have Empty Nest Syndrome," she told Akaya. She unlocked the car door. "I've had at least one or two animals in the house at any given time since my daughter moved away and got married." She smiled softly. "Ling Ling is special though. I found her - or rather, she found me - soon after my husband passed away. She gave me something to live for." Her eyes met Akaya's, holding them captive for a minute before they flicked over to the Kamio household, aimed at one window in particular. Akaya suddenly realized that Makamoto must have seen Kamio Yukio return home. "I sometimes wonder what I would have done if I couldn't find comfort in Ling Ling, or in my daughter, when my husband passed away."


Akaya scowled at the obvious hint, and turned away, staring out his window. Frankly he didn't care about Kamio Yukio's excuses. As far as he was concerned, no reason could possibly be good enough. “She has three kids.” He said evenly, thinking of Yukio's window, even as he refused to look at it. The curtains had been drawn, and she probably wouldn’t wake until late afternoon. “If it hadn’t have been for Akira…” He trailed off. He had no doubt that she’d be dead if it wasn’t for her son. The way she’d wanted Kamio to get her a drink, it was obvious Kamio took care of her in addition to his sisters. Which raised the question; would she survive his hospital stay? It was all starting to piece together just how much Kamio had to do at home, without everything else that he burdened himself with.


The hospital car park was busier in the morning, and they had to park further away from the building this time. Kirihara closed the car door and waited for Makamoto to lock up, his stomach flip-flopping as he looked to the hospital. When he’d left Kamio had been thoroughly battered, but with a good prognosis. Was he still okay? They’d have called if anything drastic had happened…right?


Makamoto locked her car and followed behind him. Just before they entered, she called Akaya's name. He turned, raising an eyebrow in question.


"She's aware of how many children she has," she said quietly, referring to his earlier statement. "Painfully aware. She deserves no sympathy, no pity for what she has done to them, to herself. But she wasn't always like this. Some people in life want different paths from what they're given. Some can handle the disappointment with grace and dignity. Others... can't. It was Kamio's father who desperately wanted children. And Yukio loved him enough to give him what he wanted, even though it wasn't necessarily what she wanted."


Akaya didn't say anything for a long minute. "Does Akira know this?"


Makamoto shot him a Look, and Akaya mentally smacked himself for asking such a stupid question. Of course, Akira knew. It was painfully obvious in the way his mother cared only for herself, how Akira had been promoted from the role of 'big brother' to a combination of 'mother and father'. Makamoto given him a lot to consider, and he was silent as he trailed behind her into the hospital. Makamoto smiled to the woman on the reception desk; it was the same person as yesterday, who regarded her with a wary smile. She still obviously didn’t know quite what to make of the woman. Kirihara followed Makamoto into the lift and then down the corridor.


Watching a nurse leave room five-ten, he wondered how many times Akira had been disturbed during the night. He remembered that the nurses had been notorious for coming into Yukimura's room at all hours, day or night, with precious little regard for the residents privacy when it came to getting those stupid little charts updated. Renji claimed it had been pure hatred of the nursing staff that had propelled Yukimura through each vigorous rehabilitation session to an early release from the hospital. Kirihara was working under the assumption that nurses were the same everywhere.


Aiming a glare at the nurses back, he followed Makamoto into Kamio’s room. Kamio was asleep, and Kirihara instantly veered towards the bed, letting Makamoto take the seat. Whether the nurses had woken him regularly Kirihara wasn’t sure, but Kamio didn’t look particularly well-rested. He was still pale, and the bruises looked painfully dark in the light of the morning. He looked thin and tired, and in his sleep his hand curled then relaxed.


"Hey lazy," he said quietly. He sat down on the edge of the bed and played with the stark white sheet, tugging on it absently. "You know, if it were me in this situation, Sanada would be pounding down my door, insisting I wasn't really hurt, and that I had three seconds to get my ass on the court." He chuckled softly at the image in his head.


"Good thing he's got no say in anything I do," came a tired voice.


Akaya looked up to see Kamio smiling wearily at him. "'Bout time you woke up," he teased gently, thrilled to see him aware.


Kamio weakly brought a hand up to rub at his eyes, and then seemed to lose the strength so let his hand flop back to the bed. “How could I not with you complaining so loudly?” Kamio countered, trying to force his gaze to stay steady and meet Kirihara’s.


"I figure I have the right to complain," Akaya said staunchly. Happiness and relief were spreading through his body, warming him from the inside out. "I mean, making me babysit was one thing, but then you had to go and get hit by a car, and make me worry about your sorry rear end all freaking night, and - hell, I had to voluntarily talk to Sakurai. Sakurai!"


Kamio's eyes glowed, and his mouth curved upwards in a soft smile.


"What's that look for?" Kirihara looked at him warily.


"I think that's the first time you've ever admitted that you were worried about me," Kamio told him. He reached out with one hand and Kirihara met him halfway with his. "I'm sorry I scared you."


"Who the hell said anything about being scared?" Kirihar could feel the weight slipping off his shoulders as they bantered back and forth. All the tension seemed to drain from him, and he was about to lean forward to greet his boyfriend properly, when a discrete cough caught his attention. His face flamed as he realized both of them had forgotten about Makamoto-san.


“I’m glad to see that you’re doing a better than last night, Akira.” She was smiling as both boys turned to look at her. “I’m sure that I can go and find a doctor for a proper update if you need to have a few minutes alone.” She finish, her eyes shining slightly as she switched her gaze between them.


Kirihara froze in mute horror, but Kamio laughed weakly and waved her out. As soon as the door closed, Kirihara whirled around, pointing a finger at his boyfriend. "What have you told her about us?" he hissed wildly. "Does she know?"


Kamio managed a small smirk. It was only half as mischievous as it usually was, but Kirihara still bit back a smile of his own when he saw it. "Come on, 'Kaya. Do you really think we could be together this long and have Makamoto-san not know about us?"


"She did say something about not underestimating old people and what they know," Kirihara mumbled, red-faced. "I just didn't think she was talking about us!"


Kamio laughed softly. “Even if I wanted to keep something like this from her, do you really think I’d stand a chance?”


Kirihara folded his arms and sent another put-out look the door. “I’ll give you that, but still…you could have given me a heads up that she knew!”


Despite lying in bed, bound in bandages and half-drugged, Kamio still managed to give a casual-looking shrug in an attempt to look innocent. "It never came up."


"Just wait until you're feeling better," Akaya muttered. "You're gonna be in so much trouble."


Kamio's eyes held a vague hint of their old sparkle. "Promise?"


Kirihara rolled his eyes and shook his head. “How can you even be thinking that right now?” He was unable to quell his smirk, though.


Kamio took that as a 'yes' and smiled triumphantly. “I’ll be holding you to it.” He finished tiredly, attempting to keep the smile in place.


“Dude, shut up and go back to sleep," Akaya commanded. Kamio's eyes were at half-mast and falling fast. "Before you know it, we'll have you out of here and back to watching the Twin Terrors in no time."


Kamio blinked. Then suddenly, he surged upwards off the bed. "Oh my god - the girls! How are they? Do they know what happened? Who's watching them?"


Oops…was Kirihara’s initial reaction. He had meant it to be an offhand comment to cheer the other up; not to panic him. He was completely at a loss as to whether or not he should try and push him back – the speed at which Kamio had shot up had to have aggravated his ribs at the very least, so actual pushing was probably not a good idea. He did settle for putting out a steadying arm, though. “Whoa, calm down! You really think I’d be here this calm without making sure they were looked after? They’ve been with Minagawa-san, she’s already taken them to school. They’re fine, everything’s fine.”


Kamio's face was white with pain but he fought back against Kirihara's mild attempts at restraining him long enough to search his face thoroughly for any hint of a lie. Finally, after what seemed like hours, but was really only a minute or so, he relaxed back into the soft mattress. "They're okay?"


Kirihara gave him a mild glare filled with exasperation. "Are they the ones in a hospital bed?"


“That’s not the point and you know it.” Kamio shot, and Kirihara winced as he did, watching as pain flared through Kamio's chest, making him gasp. “I can’t believe that I didn’t ask about them. What the hell am I thinking? They…” He trailed off, shaking his head and frowning.


"You might want to give yourself a break, there, 'Kira." Akaya ran his thumb along Kamio's palm, as he'd done the night before when the red head had been unconscious. "You took a hard shot to the head - you're lucky you're still thinking at all."


"I know," Akira said quietly, watching Akaya play with his hand. "It's just... they depend on me, you know? It's scary to think I've been here, and they've been at home, wondering what happened to me." He looked up at his boyfriend. "Can you call Makamoto-san back in here? And a doctor? I want to go home."


Kirihara froze, sending Kamio the most disbelieving look he could muster. “Home?” he repeated. “You were knocked unconscious by a car last night, ‘Kira. I seriously doubt they’ll give the OK for you to be coming home quite yet.”


Kamio bit his lip and half-shrugged, still staring at their hands. “I’m going to ask.”


Kirihara arched an eyebrow. "You in a big rush or something?"


Kamio looked seriously at him. "Actually, yes," he said quietly. "Hospitals are expensive. I've probably stayed too long as it is. Makamoto-san most likely paid the bill up to this point, and I'm gonna have to get the money from mom to pay her back, and that's always fun to do, you know."


Kirihara scowled at the mention of Kamio's mother, but didn't say anything. "I can help."


"I know you can. But I don't want you to." Kamio looked pleadingly at him. "Akaya, please."


Akaya sighed heavily, dropping his head. After a minute, he nodded, and turned to go and get Makamoto.


He started down the hallway and spotted her talking to Kamio’s doctor by the nurses station. He cleared his throat as he walked up to them and they both looked up; it seemed to have been more of a casual conversation. Makamoto smiled to him as he approached. “Kamio wants to see you, er, see you both,” he amended, still not fully liking the idea.


The doctor nodded, and followed the two back down the corridor and into Kamio’s room. Kirihara stood to one side and shot a look at Kamio. Kamio pretended not to notice, instead turning to the doctor with an eager look that was completely pasted on. "So when can I go home?"


Hiawatari-sensei gave him an odd look. "You're rather badly injured, Kamio-kun," he pointed out carefully. "I really think it'd be best if you stayed for a few more days, so we can make sure there's no complications."


"I'm fine," Kamio said stubbornly. "Yeah, I hurt, and yeah, I'm gonna hurt a lot for a long time. But I can recover just as easily in my own bed as I can in a hospital bed."


“I really can’t advise it, though. We can monitor your head injury and be on hand should anything happen.” The doctor looked back to Makamoto.


She forced a smile and shook her head. She’d apparently known this was going to come up – Akaya too, once he'd thought about it, but he had hoped that Kamio would have lasted a little longer before making the request. “Akira, it’s really okay if you stay a day or two more,” she pressed.


"I can rest in my own bed," Kamio repeated, his voice rising slightly. "I'd like the AMA forms, please." He directed his last statement to the doctor.


"What are AMA forms?" Akaya demanded.


"Against Medical Advice," the doctor replied. "Kamio, it's my professional opinion that you stay at least a full twenty-four hours so we can eliminate any possibility of further complications with your concussion. It's barely been thirteen."


“So I'll go home and stay awake until midnight," Kamio said calmly. "You can't deny a patient's request for those forms, sensei. I appreciate what you're trying to do, but I've already made up my mind. May I have them please?"


Hiawatari sighed and looked over at a nurse who had somehow magically appeared in the doorway. "The AMA forms, please."


"Yes, Sensei," she said, and disappeared.


The fact that his boyfriend knew what AMA forms were, and knew to ask for them was slightly disturbing. He watched silently as the nurse returned with the papers and a pen, which she handed to the doctor. Kamio slowly sat himself up, bracing himself against his pillows.


“Akira…” Kirihara pleaded once more, as Kamio was handed the forms. The red head didn’t even bother to answer him this time, or when the doctor reiterated his concerns over the head injury.


Kamio squinted at the text, and Kirihara was convinced that the only reason he could make out the questions was because he was familiar with what they were asking. Soon he was handing it back to the doctor, and smiling up expectantly. “Now can I leave?”


The doctor exchanged a worried look with Makamoto. "Well, technically yes, but--"


"Wonderful." Kamio slowly drew the blanket off, moving gingerly. "Where'd the nurse put my stuff?"


The doctor sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I can see you're not backing down on this, so why don't you stay still a moment longer? The nurse will fetch your things, and there are some things I'll need to go over with you before you leave us."


Kamio glared but Akaya growled, making Akira look at him in surprise. "We get it, 'Kira, you want to go. Fine, you get to go. But you can wait five minutes for us to get the information we might need in case you fall into a fucking coma or something!" He then turned to Makamoto-san and the doctor, bowing quickly. "Excuse my language, please."


The doctor seemed to want to curse himself, and Makamoto simply offered a weary smile and nod to let him know it was okay. The nurse that had brought the forms, hurried off to find Kamio’s personal belongings. Kirihara silently watched Kamio as they waited; his boyfriends face was pinched in pain but he was refusing to meet anyone’s gaze. He seemed to be concentrating on something, though, and Kirihara had a horrible suspicion it wasn’t about resting. This was definitely going to be a battle.


The nurse returned, slightly out of breath, and handed a bag marked ‘Kamio Akira’ to the doctor. “This was everything he had on him when he was admitted. The clothes are a bit dirty and have blood on them, so I don’t know what you want to do with them.” Her eyes flickered to Kamio.


Kamio looked green, and Kirihara snatched the bag. He pulled out the blood-stained clothing and shoved them at the nurse. "Burn 'em," he said flatly. The rest of Kamio's stuff was returned to the bag, and he handed it over to Akira, who gave him startled yet somewhat grateful smile.


The doctor had been going over the release forms with Makamoto. "Keep him awake until at least this evening. Bed rest is essential if he wants those ribs to heal without complications, and any new symptoms should be immediately called in so we can best decide a course of action. Things like blood in the urine, nausea, bloody bile, sharp pains that come and go and keep their intensity level, blurred vision, and shortness or tightness of breath." The doctor fixed a stern eye on Kamio. "I mean it, young man. If you experience any of these symptoms for an extended period of time, or more then one together, you need to come back here. Your life could be at risk. Do you understand?"


Kamio nodded solemnly, and Akaya added his own to the mix. Even if Kamio planned on throwing a hissy fit, Akaya would just drag him in.


The doctor sighed, and looked down at the AMA forms still in his hands. “If this is really what you want, I think that’s everything I can do. I can only reiterate that I strongly discourage your leaving, but since you seem set on it…”


The nurse disappeared and came back a few seconds later with a wheelchair which she pushed to the bed, offering a small smile. “It’s hospital policy. Besides, you’re not going to get very far without it.” Kamio frowned at the wheelchair. Before he could argue, Akaya held out his hand. Kamio looked up at him, sighed audibly, and then reached out, grasping his fingers. Akaya moved in and helped him sit all the way, moving his legs so they swung carefully off the bed with out too much movement. Kamio sucked air in and out harshly, but didn't let a sound escape him. The nurse was on his other side, and she gave them a level look. "Slow and easy, gentlemen."


Kirihara knew only too well how badly Kamio coped with doing anything slowly, especially when he was in pain and particularly agitated. Kirihara made sure he took it slowly, though, easily supporting his boyfriends weight as he helped the nurse to settle him into the wheelchair. However painful it must have been, Kamio didn’t let out a single word. He closed his eyes for a few seconds once he was in, but then forced them open, nodding. “Let’s go.”


Kirihara rolled his eyes. "Yes, your Highness."


Kamio leaned his head back and looked up at him. "If I could hit you, I would."


"Yeah, yeah, sure, sure." Kirihara grinned back. As much as he disagreed with Akira's decision to vacate the premises, he had to admit, seeing him moving under his (well, their) own power, did a great deal for lowering his anxiety levels. "Makamoto-san, what's next?"


"You boys go on outside. It's a nice day out, and I'll be a few minutes handling the last of the paperwork." She led the way out of the room.


"Makamoto-san..." Kamio looked down at his lap, as though he didn't want to meet her eyes.


"Hush, child," she said calmly. "Akaya, I believe I gave you an order."


Kirihara snapped a sarcastic salute with his index finger. Kamio gave a wan smile to Makamoto as she waved them off down the corridor.


“You know, I should charge you for my pushing services.” Kirihara mused, as he pushed Kamio into the lift and worked out how to steer it so they could face the door.


“I didn’t want the chair.” Kamio reminded him. “You want me in here, you push, and you’ll do it with a smile.”


"I must be rubbing off on you," Akaya mused. "I don't recall you being this snarky before. Whatever happened to my fire-spitting ball of repressed rage?"


"You beat it out of me that first day I played on the street court," Kamio replied. "Besides, I get a better reaction from you like this."


"It used to be so fun to rile you up," Akaya complained, a tad wistfully. The elevator doors opened, and Akaya directed the wheelchair at a throng of people lounging about in the hallway. "BEEP BEEP! Out of the way, injured man coming through!"


Kamio turned bright red, and Akaya was positive if his ribs would have allowed it, he would have sunken down as far into the chair as he could go. “What are you doing?” he hissed, and Kirihara noticed with a smirk the poor boy couldn’t even hide behind his fringe as it was pinned back by the bandage wrapped around his head.


“Pushing you with a smile,” he explained, grinning to emphasise the point. “Hey, it’s what you asked me to do. And what Akira wants, Akira gets. Besides, people are getting out of our way so it makes it easier to not bump you into things.”


“They’re getting out of our way because they think we’re insane!” Kamio insisted, closing his eyes and shaking his head; seemingly unsure of whether to throttle the other boy or laugh. Since he was physically incapable of either, Kamio just let himself be pushed out of the automatic doors.


Once outside the doors, Kirihara checked his watch. It was lunchtime at Rikkai, which meant now was the perfect time to call his Vice Captain to inform him that afternoon practice would be canceled. He felt a small surge of glee at the thought of what Sanada would do if he knew - his head would probably explode. Once upon a time, Akaya would have been exploding right along side him. But if he left Akira at his house alone while he went to practice, he'd be distracted the entire time. There was no way Kamio would consent to be being 'babysat' by Makamoto, either. "Hang on a sec, 'Kira." He pulled out his cell phone and dialed. A minute later, his Vice Captain picked up. "Umino?" Umino Matsuoka was twit of the highest order, but he was the only one who blindly obeyed Akaya. Therein lay his uses. "About practice tonight..."


o0o o0o o0o o0o o0o


Onward to the last part!


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