Could not have been accomplished without the fantastic help of lucathia_rykatu who has been beta-ing like a mad beta-ing thing, suggesting word choice alternatives, reminding me to add this and remove that, and providing me with information about parts of the anime I haven't seen yet so the fic blends somewhat closer to canon. I asked for a beta and I received a true partner. Thanks so much!
The doctor sitting behind the oak wood desk looked genuinely sorry. "I regret I don't have any other news for you, Kamio."
Kamio desperately wanted to cry. Hit something. Scream. Something. Anything. He swallowed back a tsunami's worth of emotion, just enough to thank the doctor, bow shortly, accept the file folder full of papers, and leave the office. In the waiting room, his ten-year-old sister Sachiko was reading an English book for school. His other sister Michiko was eight, but was still able to amuse herself with the stack of colorful blocks that filled part of the play area in the corner. A rather large and intricate tower stretched up almost four feet tall. Michi's tongue was poking out of the corner of her mouth as she carefully set the last piece on top. Kamio cleared his throat. "It looks good."
Sachiko looked up and smiled. Michiko, predictably, didn't react. Kamio's throat clogged with a sob that wanted to escape, but he didn't let it. Closing his eyes, he inhaled, exhaled; then he tried again, speaking louder and waving his arm. "Michiko?"
Michiko's peripheral vision caught the movement, and she looked up, smiling when she saw him. "Nii-chan!"
"Put your hearing aid back in," he told her, gesturing to her pocket.
She nodded and did as he asked. "Are we going home now?"
"Yeah." Kamio waited while they gathered their things up. "Ready?"
His sisters nodded, and taking hold of his hands, they left the office.
Kamio let the girls' chatter wash over him as they rode the bus home. Thankfully, neither of them questioned him about the 'secret' meeting he'd had with the doctor, which was a blessing. He knew he had to tell them eventually, but he had to find the words for it first. Then, he had to come to terms with it himself. If he tried to explain to eight-year-old Miki that she was going to go deaf (and of course, having to try and explain exactly what that entailed), he was going to burst into tears before he could make her understand. That would probably scare her more than the news, anyway. "Sachi…pull the line please."
Sachiko had to kneel on the bench seat to reach the cord, but she yanked on it with all the enthusiasm a ten-year-old could muster for such an exciting activity. A minute later, the bus slowed to a stop, and Kamio herded his sisters off the bus. He had taken the afternoon off school for all of them to make the doctor's appointment. He had them all scheduled at the same time so he didn't have to skip any more time than necessary. Thankfully, Sachiko was still as healthy as a horse. He smiled at his sister, who was leading the youngest by the hand ahead of him, and then scowled down at the prescription he had initially shoved into his pocket but kept pulling out to look at. 'Iron pills,' he growled internally. 'Anaemic. Again.' The doctor had also prescribed more rest, and had notified Tayaka-san about Kamio's need for a prescription sedative to help him sleep.
Tayaka-san was his father's oldest friend and the lawyer who had helped Kamio establish a tentative custody agreement over his sisters from his mother. He had the power to talk to the schools with the authority of a parent, and the hospitals would deal with him if there was a need to take his sisters in. Tayaka-san had been appointed as a temporary guardian who would check up on them each week and allot funds when needed from the trusts Kamio's father had secured for his children. And all they had to do to get Kamio's mother to agree to it all, was to give her an allowance that would keep her from having to work ever again. Kamio didn't care if she spent the rest of her life partying until the cows came home, as long as he could keep his sisters with him. The battle to keep them had been a long one, and he was tired of thinking about it. He would take the iron pills without a fuss, but he wasn't gonna use the sedatives unless it was a true emergency. He didn't like the idea of being unable to wake up in case there was an emergency.
Turning the corner, Sachiko and Michiko broke out into a run down the street, racing to see who could get to their gate first. Kamio had practice that night. It was Thursday, which meant Kirihara would be over shortly. How often Akaya spent the night was kind of random (he rationalized it was more fun at Kamio's place than it was at his own), but Thursday nights were a given, and they took the bus together in the morning the next day to get to practice at Rikkai high – a ride that took at least an hour each time. Over two years, almost three they'd been together, and Kamio couldn't imagine functioning without him anymore.
"I win!" Sachi crowed, and Michi whined that it wasn't fair, Sachiko had longer legs. Kamio chuckled under his breath and jogged the last part of the way with his keys in hand.
It was only nearing five o'clock, which was really early for them. What with after school practice from 4:00 to 5:30 and the hour bus ride, Kamio (and sometimes Kirihara) didn't arrive home until after 6:30. On Thursdays, they'd pick up the girls from Minagawa-san, Kamio would grab a quick bite to eat, kiss everyone goodbye, and then rush to catch the train to the Tokyo Track and Field Club. As long as he was there by 7:20 or so, his coach didn't mind waiting a bit for him and sticking around twenty minutes later than everyone else.
To have this much time idle... it was a rare gift. Kamio decided that he could splurge for just one day. "Girls, how do you feel about pizza for dinner?"
Wide eyes accosted him. Was he serious? Could they order pizza? Tokyo, like many countries around the world, had a Pizza Hut as well as numerous other foreign fast food places, and the girls had fallen in love with the cheese pizza special at Domino's, having had it several times at Minagawa-san's (who could cheerfully live on Western take-out when she wasn't cooking it for herself).
His phone rang after he called in the order. It was Akaya. "Practice isn't over yet," Kamio said, smiling.
"I'm taking a break," Kirihara said dismissively. "I just whupped Niou's ass in singles practice." A grumbled, 'smart ass kid got lucky' drifted in the background, and Kamio chuckled at the victorious tone of his boyfriend's voice.
"Congratulations. Hurry up when practice is done. I ordered a pizza. It'll be here in an hour. We'll save ya a slice."
Kamio could almost hear the frown when Akaya spoke next. "What's wrong?"
"Screw that. You only splurge when you need a pick-me-up – and a big one at that."
There was absolutely no hiding anything from Akaya. He really should know better by now. Kamio checked to make sure his sisters were out of range; they had vacated the kitchen for the living room. "I got some bad news from the docs about Miki's ears." He leaned against the wall on the far side of the kitchen where he could see the girls if they entered.
"What is it?"
Kamio pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling the utter despair and bleakness start to creep over him again, even as he took a deep breath to steady his voice. "She's gonna lose her hearing, 'Kaya. Completely. It's just a matter of time."
Kirihara swore, fluently and vividly. He must have turned his head away from the phone as he did so because a second later, he sounded further away from the mouthpiece. Two years of being such an integral part of Kamio's family meant he would have felt the sharpness of the news grating on him almost as much as Kamio did. Then he was back. "I'm coming home now, 'Kira."
"Finish practice," Kamio choked out. He squeezed his eyes shut. Gay or not, he was still a guy, and he had some pride left inside himself. "It can wait until later."
"The fuck it can. I'll grab a taxi, see you in thirty, okay?"
Kamio opened his mouth to repeat the order to finish practice but surprised himself when he agreed and hung up. In the other room, Michi giggled and started singing along with the theme song for Pocket Monsters. The idea of her not being able to hear even simple joys like a TV show, or her family's voices, gnawed a hole inside his chest. Instead of joining them in the living room, he sat down at the table to wait because for some reason, his legs refused to support his weight anymore.
Just one break, that's all he wanted. He guessed it really was too much to ask for.
"Cochlear implants, huh?"
Kamio nodded, mashing his palms against his eye sockets. Akaya let him get away with it for a minute before he felt warm, calloused hands pulling his away from his eyes. "What?"
"You're gonna damage your eyes that way," Akaya said gruffly. "And I can only handle one crisis at a time, okay?"
"Yeah." Kamio sighed and sat back, letting his gaze drift to the clock. Seven thirty. He was late for practice. Well, he would have been, had Akaya not made him call his coach to tell him he was taking the night off when he'd slammed through the front door at five thirty. "The implants, the operation, the tests, the rehab after with a specialist... we're looking at almost four and a half million yen. (50,000CAD). Insurance will cover part of it but not all, because it's not life threatening. I still need to come up with almost a million yen on my own and outside of a loan – which I ain't gonna get – I don't see it happening." He sighed. "If I use the trust money from our grandparents and my dad, we might scrape up enough to cover it and still have enough to cover bills until the end of high school."
"What about University for you? The girls?"
Akira looked away, swallowing hard. He really did want to go to University. "This is more important. Besides, there's a good chance I can qualify for a scholarship if I work hard at track and tennis, and keep my grades up."
"When do you gotta do this?" Kirihara asked quietly. "The operation, I mean."
"I dunno." Kamio drummed his fingers absently on the tabletop. "I have to talk to Tayaka-san next week about everything and see what we can do. The doc had to call him and give him our updated information since we're all still minors, so he knows all about Miki."
"How long does Miki have?"
"He said the rate of deterioration varies from person to person. I have a prescription for some meds that will reduce inflammation and keep her comfortable, and I have to get her a pair of those noise-reducing headphones to use any time she's in places with lots of loud noises."
"Like a tennis match?"
"Filled with screaming fan girls?" Kamio nodded. "That'd be one case, yeah."
"So best case, worst case?"
"Hard to say. He said she should have the operation sometime this year if we want to be sure of its effectiveness. If she goes completely deaf, the chances of an implant working are reduced even further."
"So you have some time."
Kamio blinked. "Well, I guess. But short of winning the lottery within the next eight months or so, there's not much chance of a change here."
Akaya looked pensive. "You know... I could ask my mo—"
"No." Kamio shot his boyfriend a grateful look but shook his head resolutely. "I'm not going to your mother and begging her to finance a several -thousand dollar operation for a kid she's only met a few times in her life."
"Why not?" Akaya countered swiftly. "The worst she can say is 'no.' There's no harm in asking."
"Because they're my sisters," Kamio said. "This is my responsibility to find a solution for, not your mom's, not yours."
Kirihara's expression changed, his eyes narrowing slightly. "Really?"
Kamio, caught by the change in tone, blinked. "Well… yes?"
"So it wasn't my responsibility to volunteer to watch the brats every Thursday night for the last two and a half years so you could join the track club?"
"And practically moving in back when you were in that car accident and couldn't get out of bed for almost two weeks straight? Who was responsible for them then?"
Kamio sighed. "Akaya…"
"Look, 'Kira." Kirihara now had the same determined look he usually got in a tough tennis match. Having it aimed at him was a little unnerving. "If we were adults, living together, Miki and Sachi would be my responsibility too right? I mean, they're yours in the eyes of the law, which means they'd be part of my family too."
Akira was touched. He reached out and touched Akaya's hand gently. "Yeah. And that means a lot to me that you'd say that. But I don't think it applies to two guys still in high school. You are not responsible for my siblings, Akaya."
"What if I want to be?" Kirihara blurted out, flushing bright red now.
Kamio leaned forward and brushed his lips with Akaya's in a feather-light kiss that sent a tingle through both of them. After a minute, he pulled back and smiled. "Like I said, that means a lot. More than you can imagine. And in all the ways that matter, you do share the responsibility with me. I wouldn't trust them with anyone else the way I trust them with you." He shook his head. "But you are free from all fiscal responsibilities at the moment. You know that."
Kirihara glared again, but the glare had lost a lot of its heat. "Well, I hope you'll at least let me help find a different way to help. Maybe we can arrange donations or something."
Akira looked horrified. "No. NO. Any donation drives would be followed by 'concerned' authorities wanting to know why I need to do this, and whether or not I'm truly capable of caring for my sisters. Forget it." Kirihara didn't look too happy, but he nodded slowly, apparently realizing the inherent danger in that sort of action. "Look, the docs said Michi could qualify for government assistance. It just takes a lot of paperwork and a lot of waiting." He frowned. "Unfortunately, like I said, hearing loss isn't considered life-threatening, so there's probably a long line ahead of her in terms of who the hospital will assist. Especially since our insurance is going to pay the bulk of it."
Akaya snarled soundlessly and clenched a fist. "That sucks."
"Tell me about it."
They sat in silence for a while, listening to the sounds of the TV in the other room. After a minute, Akaya looked over at Kamio again, biting his lip. "You uh... when you gonna tell Michiko?"
Kamio closed his eyes and lowered his head to his folded arms. "I don't know." He was almost pathetically grateful when Akaya let the silence go for a minute. A minute to regain his composure. That was all he needed.
It was a short reprieve. "What else?"
Akaya glared at him. "All three of you had a check up today. What else did he say?"
Kamio chuckled wryly. "Well, Sachiko continues to be the healthiest member of the household. I swear, I don't know where she gets it from."
"And you?" Kirihara's gaze pressed hard into him.
Kamio sighed and scrounged through his pockets. There was no point in hiding anything from Akaya when he'd just find out later on, and they'd agreed a long time ago to try the whole complete honesty thing. It had worked out pretty well for them up to that point, so he had no real incentive to stop himself from handing the prescriptions over.
Akaya flicked through them. "Freakin' anaemia again." He shot Kamio a look. "You're gonna start eating liver for dinner every damn night."
"Ugh." Kamio rolled his eyes. "I think not. Besides, I think those damn iron pills were meant for horses. They don't need to be supplemented."
Kirihara was ignoring him in favour of the second script. He looked a bit happier. "I'm going with you to get this filled," he said, waving the prescription for the sleep aids. "It's about freaking time. Normal people need more than five hours of sleep a night."
Kamio exchanged the sighing and eye-rolling for a glare. "Normal people don't have as many things to get done in a day as I do," he said petulantly.
"Whatever." Kirihara pushed himself up from the table. "C'mon, let's get the brats up for a walk. The drugstore down the road is open twenty-four hours."
Kamio gave in and rolled his eyes once more as he let his boyfriend pull him to his feet.
Tokyo Track Club
Seven days later, Kamio still hadn't told his sister what the doctor had said. He freely admitted he was a chicken, but he rationalized that it wasn't something he needed to tell her just yet. Maybe when he met with Tayaka-san he'd have some good news, and then he could tell Miki that everything would be solved once she had her operation.
Akaya had been really good about not nagging him to get his rear in gear, but Kamio knew he felt Michiko should be told. Kamio agreed. It was just hard to do, knowing how upset it would make her. Or worse, she wouldn't understand, and he would have to try to explain just what it would be like to not hear anything, and if he could do that without breaking down into tears, well, then he'd have to be tougher than he gave himself credit for.
All of these thoughts kept circling in his head, refusing to stop even for a coffee break, and he knew without asking his coach – who was glaring at the stopwatch like it had committed some sort of personal offense against him – that his time was far below what he was capable of.
Nothing seemed to be working out for him lately. Kamio took a deep breath and prepared to apologize yet again to his coach, also known as Shishido Ryuu. Ryuu was a student at the Tokyo University who was studying to be a fitness trainer. He was also a marathon runner currently studying to get his coaching licence to work with the Tokyo Track Club. Kamio had been surprised when Andersen-san – the man who had initially recruited him – had turned him over to the young man who would be the one to increase Kamio`s stamina to insane levels in a very short amount of time. Kamio had been surprised to learn that Ryuu was the older brother of Shishido Ryo of Hyoutei – one half of the famous Silver Pair.
Ryuu pushed him hard, but he was a fair person. He expected no more from Kamio than he would from himself, and he was always encouraging. Kamio hated the idea of letting him down.
Kamio couldn't focus, and it was affecting his stride. Ryuu could see it easily. When the redhead stumbled for a third time, he jogged over and put a hand up, making him come to a stop. "Hold up there, Kamio."
"Sorry Coach," Kamio panted. He bent over holding his stomach as he tried to slow his breathing. "I know I'm messing up big time tonight."
"No worries, Kamio." Ryuu cocked an eyebrow at him. "But I've never seen you triple fault before. You've been spaced out all night." He pointed at Kamio's hands, which were tightening into fists and relaxing, and then at his twitching feet. "You're all fidgety. I told you to cut down on the sugar before practice. A little gives you a burst. Too much makes you hyper."
Kamio blinked and then steadied his hands and feet. "It's not sugar," he said. "I've just got a lot on my mind. Sorry, I'll try it again—"
"Hold your breath." Ryuu held up a finger, and taking the towel from around his shoulders, he draped it over Kamio's head. "Come sit down a minute, have a drink, and tell me what's going on."
Kamio looked suspiciously like he was going to be mulishly stubborn, but then he sighed, and all the fight seemed to seep out of him. Ryuu smirked and tugged on Kamio's shirt to get him walking.
A few minutes later, they were both perched on a small bench beside the track, sipping from their water bottles. Ryuu rubbed the cool plastic against his forehead. "Mmmm. Feels good."
Kamio nodded. "Sorry, again. You know, for wasting your time."
Ryuu looked at him. "So why don't you tell me why you're wasting my time? I don't promise miracle solutions, but I have been known to help my own baby brother out with a few of his rough spots."
That got him a small smile – he knew Kamio was well familiar with his brother Ryo via the tennis club over the years. Then, Kamio set his water bottle down, leaning forward to brace his arms on his knees. "It's my sister."
"Michi. You know how she has a hearing condition?" Ryuu nodded. "She's had it from birth." Kamio stared at the ground, drilling holes into the grass with his eyes. "It's getting worse. The docs think she'll be completely deaf in a year or two. Maybe less."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Ryuu said gently. He put a light hand on Kamio's shoulder. "How's everyone taking it?"
Kamio's face seemed to close a bit. "Michiko and Sachiko don't know yet. Neither does my mom."
Ryuu blinked. He knew there was something off about Kamio's family – he'd heard the rumors, and Andersen-san had given him a brief idea on what to expect in terms of parental support (in a word, none), but this was a little bigger than a track club. "They don't know?"
"I just found out today," Kamio admitted. He stood abruptly and began pacing back and forth in front of the bench, obviously trying to work off some of his nervous energy. "I haven't told Michiko yet because she'll start crying. And then Sachiko will start crying. And then I'll start crying, and then Akaya will run, terrified by the overflow of oestrogen in the room, out the door, never to return. Then, as the only testosterone-producing individual in the house, I'll have to escape by drowning myself in the Sea of Japan."
Ryuu let out a short bark of laughter. Kamio gave him a small grin. "Is it really that bad?"
Kamio shook his head. "No. I mean, it is bad, and it will be bad, and there will be tears, but it'll pass eventually. I'm just not looking forward to it."
"I don't blame you." Ryuu looked thoughtful. "Did the doctors say there was a chance at a cure or anything?"
"Well, kinda." Kamio scratched the back of his head. "There's a surgery to put cochlear implants into her ears. The surgery, plus the rehab and the meds and all the other stuff equals out to a hell of a lot more than we can afford though. "
"Even with insurance?"
"Isn't there some kind of government grant you could apply for?"
"None that I know of. And the docs, well, they've promised to look for ways to cut the cost but they said it likely wouldn't be by much. I'd take out a loan except I'm a sixteen year old, unemployed high school student." He rolled his eyes. "Care to guess how many banks are willing to place a bet on that?"
"That sucks man," Ryuu said frankly, and Kamio nodded, blowing his breath out with a huff.
"It does. But I do feel better now, Coach." Kamio gave him a tired grin. "C'mon, I'll give it another shot. I promise, no more faulting."
"I'm gonna hold you to that, kid." Ryuu followed his charge back to the line.
The Shishido household
Kamio's problem stuck with Ryuu that night as he worked on his university homework. He enjoyed living at the dorms, but he liked to spend Tuesday and Thursday nights at home since the Tokyo clubhouse was closer to home than his own place. It also meant he got to catch up with his moody little brother who was moping over math problems at the table next to him. "They can't be that bad, Ryo. You're good in math."
"Hyoutei teachers are fucking sadists," Ryo grumbled, scrawling an answer into his notebook. "It's not that it's hard. It's that they gave us so many pages to do in one night. It's like all the teachers get together in the morning before class and decide, 'how can we fuck up the students' lives today?' One teacher names a set amount of homework, and then they all try to top her like it's a friggin' competition. Next thing you know, we all have hernias from carrying it home."
Ryuu snickered. "Cute. Very likely accurate. And while I don't care about your language, our mom and dad do and they aren't that far away, so you might wanna watch it."
They worked in amiable silence for a few minutes. Then, Ryo paused in working out quadratic equations and tapped his pencil on his textbook. "What did you do for your charity project in high school, Ryuu?"
Ryuu looked up from his anatomy books. "Hmm?"
"You know, that project where every student has to do so much volunteer work and fundraising in their last two years before they can graduate. Something about making us thoughtful, concerned citizens." Ryo snorted and dropped his pencil. "So lame, I swear."
"Ahh…" Ryuu nodded, remembering. "I teamed up with some of my friends and we organized a series of fundraising parties for the local animal shelter. We combined that with a lot of dog-walking shifts." He shuddered at the memory. "I came away from that with the realization that I like small dogs. The smaller the better. Big dogs crap like freaking horses."
Ryo looked disgusted. "Yeah, 'cause I really needed to hear that part." He rolled his eyes. "Thanks bro."
"Hey, you asked." Ryuu glanced over again, and flicked him on the shoulder. "So why did you ask?"
"Tryin' to come up with an idea for my group." Ryo pushed his textbooks away and lay his head down on the table. "Atobe announced that we third year Regulars will work together to come up with the best idea that'll set Hyoutei apart from all other schools."
"And make him look good in the bargain?"
Ryo pointed his index finger at his brother and mimicked the sound of a shot going off. "You got it."
"And no one's arguing with him about it?"
Ryo shot him a wry look. "It's Atobe. What good does arguing ever do with him? He'll just be 'ore-sama says this' and 'ore-sama says that' and either Oshitari or Gakuto will mock him. Next thing you know, he'll have Kabaji on our asses and we'll be running laps until judgment day. And we'll still have to do the damn project his way or we'll never hear the end of it."
Ryuu did his best not to let his amusement bleed into his voice. "Sounds like you've thought it through."
"No, I've just been in the same class as him for the last ten years. Believe it or not, I did learn to choose my battles, bro." Ryo grinned. "Besides if we let him do it his way, we'd have a charity project covered in frills and purple lace and him telling poor people they should be gracious for his presence. I don't know about you, but I have a reputation to maintain." Ryo sighed and closed his eyes. "Why can't everything just be about tennis? Life would be so much easier."
"One day kiddo, you're gonna discover a whole new world out there that doesn't involve tennis."
"Yeah. About the same time that you realize life doesn't revolve around marathon running." Ryo shot him a look. "I meant to ask you. How was practice last night?"
"Not too bad." Ryuu pushed his papers aside. Ryo was obviously in a chatty mood, which meant it was better to indulge him now and make up the work later. "Coaching is harder than it looks, let me tell you."
"You wanted to do it."
"I did and I do. Doesn't mean I can't complain once in a while." Ryuu flicked him again. Ryo puffed his breath out at him in annoyance. "Boss had me working with Kamio-kun again last night."
"Kamio…" Ryo frowned. "Oh yeah, I almost forgot he's part of the club now."
"You saw him there just a few weeks ago."
"So sue me for having a life." Ryo tossed an eraser at him, ducking with a grin as Ryuu batted it back to him. "You coaching Fudomine's redheaded wonder. That's interesting."
"Yeah. Man, was he having an off night."
"Really?" Ryo sounded mildly interested. "What do you mean?"
Ryuu steepled his fingers, drumming the pads together. "His sister's got a hearing condition. She's gonna go deaf without an operation, but Kamio's family can't afford it. It's really breaking him up."
Ryo frowned. "That sucks."
"Yup, it does. Count your blessings kiddo." Ryuu shrugged. A few things Andersen-san had told him about Kamio's situation rolled through his head and he chuckled ruefully. "I wouldn't wanna be in that kids' shoes for all the money in the world."
"Why do you say that?"
"It was bad enough babysitting one of you as a kid, Ryo. Even Atobe couldn't afford what it would take to get me to play father-figure to two of you. Kamio's got the weight of the world on his shoulders, and one day it's gonna break him down." Ryuu thought about stress lines getting etched deeper and deeper into Kamio's face each week as time went by. "And Michi's such a sweet kid too. Such a shame." Suddenly Ryuu remembered who he was talking to, and he shot a quick look at his brother. "Keep it under your hat, okay? That was kinda confidential. I shouldn't have said that to you."
"Whatever. I kinda already knew some of that because of what happened last year with Atobe's lawyer. Remember? Kamio's dating her kid." Ryo was still looking interested, his eyes suddenly wide. "Maybe we could use that."
"Use what? A lawyer?"
Ryo was looking off into space now. "No. A fundraiser to help fellow tennis players in need." His fingers drummed against the table faster as ideas obviously seemed to surge through him. "It's perfect!"
Ryuu was a little confused. "What kind of fundraiser?"
Ryo shot him a wide grin as he got to his feet, gathering his books. "Why, a tennis one of course!"