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Insignificant

Chapter Text

Rukawa's POV:

Have you ever lied to someone you love? For your own selfish reasons of course. You wanted to end it because at that moment, you were only thinking about yourself and foolishly disregarding the other. At the time, somehow you are convinced over the fact that you don't love the other as much as you know you did. Fact is, you did, you still do but the reality of it is, you are trying to resist the feeling. Then you start asking why. Why you wanted to resist so much when you basically accepted it in the first place. It then becomes a confusing battle between freely wanting and accepting the feeling to succumbing to what people or society will think of it. Don't get me wrong though, I usually couldn't care less about the judgment of others but when it comes down between love and life goals, I can't resist the tempting desire of the court, the familiar sounds of crowds and cheers and the almost mystic dribbling of the round orb known as basketball. With any type of relationships or petty romances, it can only go so far before I know I have to leave. This was just one of those instances where being indifferent towards my encounters with people would really help, it saves me the trouble of dealing with another person's emotion rather than my own since there is nothing left to look forward to if I do at some point decide America is too rough for a guy growing up in simple Kanagawa. However, that is not the case. It would be different if it was just a momentary consolation for the lonely, but I can tell you right now that it is anything but.

Insignificant relationships are what they are, insignificant. And I would be lying if I said I have never had an insignificant relationship before. Besides my very indifferent nature to everything else but basketball, there are moments when you feel a temporary void that needs to be filled. Perhaps you might think that males being males, I would use my overt popularity to take advantage of things. As shallow as that sounds, you are not completely wrong for thinking so but neither are you right. Just like everyone else, I have had my fair share of curiosity and just like any other male, you notice things you didn't before and you get questions you never asked before. Believe it or not, I gave the whole 'blind date' thing a try once and although she wasn't too bad and it was nice, I didn't feel anything particularly special like I hoped though. If anything, it made me think that girls are too much of a hassle to handle. That night I decided that maybe emotions were not something I show easily.

However, there was that one exception with a certain boisterous red head. There was chemistry between us and I am unsure where it came from or how it happened, it just did. Slowly but surely, I also had succumb to the unnatural charms of Sakuragi Hanamichi. I don't know what it is though, he was loud, stubborn, aggressive and not to mention self-proclaimed. Nonetheless, unlike any other growing relationships, the inevitable happens leaving you with undesired choices, choices you think is unfair. Staying in touch was another option but America and Kanagawa is not a car ride away and besides, I like to spare the emotional uproar and commotion that these feelings cause. It is not going to be worth it, no matter who it is.

I remember that day well. It was around June, and I spotted the red head cheerfully walking in in his usual manner.

Flashback: (Normal POV)

"Oi, do'ahou,"Rukawa called out to the red head walking cheerfully infront of him.

"What Rukawa?"he answered with the grin still vibrant on his lips. Rukawa looks at Sakuragi carefully, his eyes holding Sakuragi's brown orbs in a serious gaze, dropping Sakuragi's smile in the process.

"O-oi, Kitsune, whats wrong?" Rukawa continues to hold Sakuragi's gaze, not flinching, blinking once as he did so. A vast ocean of thoughts circled his mind as he continues to stare at the red head.

"Let's break up." Rukawa's voice came out serious and cold, causing Sakuragi to now return his serious gaze to a state of confusion and surprise.

"B-break up?" Sakuragi repeated the hurtful words, asking for reassurance that his ears had not betrayed him. Rukawa simply nodded, confirming his statement.

"We've been together for a while and I have been thinking," Rukawa explained. Sakuragi remained silent and quiet. "I am going to America soon and we won't be able to see each other anyway." he continued.

Sakuragi nodded slightly and bit his lip to resist the coming tears slightly forming in his eyes. Rukawa reached out for t red head's hands as he took it into his.

"I am going to be very honest with you right now ahou, so listen." Rukawa sighed, looking into Sakuragi's brown orbs.

"I don't think I feel the same way anymore."

Silence filled the air as neither spoke but simply looked at each other, hurt clearly visible in their eyes.

Sakuragi stared down at the ground, trying desperately to avoid Rukawa's gaze. He pulled his hands away from Rukawa's firm grip. If he didn't have feelings for Rukawa then yes, this would be a lot less painless and easier. But he does, and he is hurting inside right now. So much.

But its not like he never thought about the possibilities of this happening, he did and it seemed easier thinking about it rather than actually experiencing it.

"I am not good enough?" Sakuragi asked, trying to find reasons to his change of heart.

Rukawa looked carefully at Sakuragi, the question triggered an unexplainable feeling. Was it sympathy? Guilt? Possibly close to it? He cupped Sakuragi's cheeks gently, leaning slowly forwards as Sakuragi leaned back.

"Don't take it personally A'hou..I …" before he could continue, Sakuragi sighed and pulled away forcefully from Rukawa.

"Yarou!" he growled. "Do whatever you want. I Don't care anymore! Go to America and…whatever! "he cursed angrily.

I sighed as I reminisce the bitter and abrupt split between Sakuragi and I. Like I said, relationships become insignificant and no matter how much you enjoyed the sentiment of the relationship, it is better to depend on yourself rather than on someone else.

"Sakuragi…"

It is a principle I am learning to live with and it is a memory that I can live with, at least for now.

Chapter Text

Home

 

Rukawa sat uncomfortably in economy class, cursing mentally at the check in woman for deliberately giving him the window seat after reassuring him on his selected aisle seat. He squinted as he slowly moved his gaze to his side, secretly hoping the seat next to him will stay empty.  Suddenly, as if on cue, a brawny man came fumbling clumsily on the seat, his hands occupied with bags.  His movement practically shook the plane as he hurriedly placed the bags on the overhead compartment. He looked at Rukawa, carefully fixing his eyes on the handsome boy.  His expression was surprised at first but then suddenly contorted into one that of awkwardness. Rukawa gave him a threatening look, one that instantly caused him to move his gaze away from the boy.  

 “Excuse me kid, I need the room.” The man proceeded to shove his giant back pack under the seat, pushing the boy insistently further towards the window, cornering the poor boy in the process. Rukawa glared at the man, his gaze emitted a level of annoyance that seem to caught the attention of other passengers but only to be ignored by the man as he casually flipped through the in-flight magazine. “Moron.” Rukawa cursed mentally. If the space wasn’t so cramped perhaps he would’ve already started a fight. But then again, too much energy would be wasted on such a trivial individual.

Rukawa leaned back against his seat, folding his arms against his chest as he recollected the development that led him to this 13 hour flight back to Japan.  The details were unclear but he remembered the dreams, the smidge of a familiar figure and the flash of red.  It had been consistent now; the remnants of a certain boisterous individual seem to find its way into his psyche.  At first they were just random memories, memories which reminded him of the growing attachments between him and the red head. Awkward stares, silent confessions and unwilling acceptance, all of which took about a year.  But the more he tried to resist his thoughts, the more apparent they come, like a wave of relentless memories suddenly washing over him. 

Rukawa stared down at the ticket in his hand. He sighed; his eyes hesitantly glance up at the screen across him as he covers his face with his hand in a weary manner. Rukawa furrowed his eyebrows, suddenly realizing the suggestion of his decision, as if he intended on chasing his past relationship.  Rukawa shook his head lightly, affirming to himself that that was far from his intention.

It had been 2 years since their split, knowing Sakuragi; the last thing he would want to see is Rukawa’s face back in Japan.

 It had been 2 years since he left Kanagawa and he never once thought about going back. Truth is, he intended to stay in America for as long as he could, or at least until he fulfilled his desired purpose. The decision to come back was a normal one, normal by most standards. Some nights Rukawa stood silently on his balcony, looking out into the iridescent night view of New York City as he took in the loud honking and wailing of sirens of the sleepless city. Some nights he would be reminded of the difference between Kanagawa and America, and some nights he would miss the simplicity of Japan and the more calm nature of the lifestyle.

 It was a month ago when he received a letter from home.  His parents had begged him to come home to visit since they missed their only son and demanded that he show his face for an upcoming family gathering.  He dismissed it at first, uninterested in the plans that his parents always persuaded him to do. 

He debated on it for a while, reassuring himself that going back would only slow his progress down. But maybe it was partly homesickness that made him purchase those damn flight tickets. Or maybe he was possessed. Either way, he promised himself that it would only be a short visit.

2 years was a long time to be away. He wondered about the people he knew, and wondered how much things did or didn’t change.

 “Excuse me,” a light tap quickly snapped him out from his thoughts. Rukawa blinked as he noticed the stewardess smiling at him brightly. “Can you lift your window covers up please? We’re about to land.” Rukawa lifted the covers as his eyes squinted at the sudden blinding light penetrating his window.

“Sir?  Wake up sir.” The stewardess tried to move the man next to Rukawa to wake up. With one swift motion, Rukawa elbowed the man awake. “Huh? What going on?” the droopy eyed man scanned his surroundings and noticed Rukawa looking deeply outside his window while the female attendant points to the illuminated seatbelt sign. “We’re landing now; please have your seat upright.” The man cursed irritably and positioned himself straight.

Rukawa Strapped his Nike bag on his shoulders as he stood amongst the streak of people chaotically reclaiming their luggage. “Excuse me, can you help me please?” A blonde –blue eyed girl helplessly tried to reach for her bag overhead. Rukawa grabbed the bag from the overhead compartment and handed the girl her red luggage bag. “Thanks.” She smiled politely before pausing momentarily to look carefully at her heroic stranger. Her eyes widened in admiration as she noted his handsome features and his strong build. Her cheeks went crimson red, and her eyes sparkle in instant fascination.

“Are you going to take this?” asked Rukawa plainly with the bag still in hand.

She took the bag quickly and proceeded to walk over to the exit as she secretly glanced back at Rukawa one last time, smiling cheekily before departing out of sight.

Rukawa walked steadily along the familiar streets of Kanagawa, secretly thankful that he managed to make it back just before noon. As he took in the sight of the familiar structures he thought about America and his first week adjusting to the energetic streets of New York. The noise, the people, the skyline, and the thrilling lifestyle were a lot to take in for a simple guy.  But slowly, he just became used to the city, the people and the culture. Still, there were times when he had found it difficult to adapt to a place where people were so informal.

For someone as reserved as Rukawa; it was step outside his comfort zone. Sure, he cherishes his personal space like any introvert would, but that does not make him an outright hermit.

 Settling down in a different country was one of the most challenging and awkward things Rukawa had been through in his life. Not to mention the inevitable need to adapt to their use of the English language.  He regretted not paying attention in English class before since he was always caught sleeping instead. Speaking to them was hard enough but speaking to them in a language that feels so distant to the tongue is not only cruel but embarrassing. For a while, it was terrifying but then it became like an option he was able to adjust.

Rukawa yawned, placing a hand to his mouth. His eyes scanned the surroundings as he stopped to see a familiar structure across the street. He approached the open gates of what seems to be a school. On the walls, a sign read, ‘Shohoku high school’. Rukawa stopped and stared at the old looking building. Up until now, he hadn’t really thought about what this school really meant to him. In the past, it didn’t matter where he decided to go; all he cared about was joining the basketball team. But looking at the place now, he wondered if he would have been the same if he went to Ryonan or Kainan instead.

 “R-Rukawa?” a female voice called out, her tone between questioning and disbelief. Rukawa turned to see a brown haired girl with bright brown eyes staring at him in genuine shock. Her eyes widened and her mouth hung open. He looked at her, his eyebrows furrowed as he desperately tried to remember her face.

‘Oh, it’s the captain’s sister…’ thought Rukawa finally, embarrassed that he couldn’t remember her name.

“You’re back!” Haruko stared wide eyed as she approached the tall figure. Rukawa simply nodded and looked down at the small girl. “It’s been a long time hasn’t it?”

“Something like that.”

“How’s America? Did you like it? ” asked the girl excitedly, her eyes beaming with eagerness and curiosity. Rukawa shrugged and rubbed the back of his neck uncertainly, “It’s...different.”

“That sounds exciting!” exclaimed Haruko, clapping her hands in a childish manner.

“How are you Rukawa? We didn’t hear much from you since you left for America.” 

Rukawa fidgets slightly, recalling his many fail attempts at mail posting. “Oh, I was busy…”

Haruko nodded, her smile still plastered on her lips. “Of course, I bet it wasn’t easy. The team still talks about how proud they were.”

“You should come and visit the others. Its Sakuragi’s last season in Shohoku and since Miyagi and Mitsui will stay for a final year; it’s their last season together.”

“Ah, I see,” said Rukawa thoughtfully.

Haruko stared at Rukawa, her eyes carefully trace his features; from his porcelain skin to his jet black hair that always seem to lightly cover his cobalt eyes. She noticed he still remained as handsome as ever and his expression still indifferent as when she first fell for him.  

The girl smiled at the raven-haired boy, happy at the prospect of his return. Rukawa sensed the gaze on him but awkwardly looked elsewhere hoping to break the uncomfortable stare.

Bzzz…Bzzz…

“Oh, I am late, “said Haruko as she stared down at her phone in her hand.  “It’s nice to see you again Rukawa,” she bowed politely, smiling cheerfully one last time before proceeded to walk away. He watched as she walked on, waving frantically as she did so, “Come visit us okay!”  Rukawa only managed to lift his hand up before the girl disappeared out of sight. He stood there briefly, processing what just happened before he continued to walk again.

 Before long, he reached a moderate looking house. He stood there, familiarizing with the house in front of him. He scanned the structure carefully as several thoughts circled his mind. He gripped his bag tightly and heaved a weighty sigh as he proceeded to enter the gate of the house.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

A glimpse into the abyss

 

Youhei sat casually at a cafe; his body slumped as he sipped on his freshly squeezed orange juice. His eyes followed the movement of a tall figure across the room, his gaze glued to the redhead as he attended to different tables, practically sprinting as he shifted from one table to another. ‘They must be shorthanded again’ he thought as he sighed at the sight of the redhead as he repetitively smiled, greeted and wrote down orders for different tables. Youhei couldn’t help but smirk at the unfamiliar sight, never once would he imagine that his friend would actually take up the challenge and take up a part time job. It’s not that he thought Sakuragi was incapable of such task, but considering his attitude he couldn’t really picture the redhead dedicating his time to anything but basketball. But now, look at him, if his friends betted on him years ago, they would’ve lost.

He understands why Sakuragi decided to occupy himself with jobs and activities since the past year had left him emotionally drained. Despite what the redhead might say or what his reason may be, there is no doubt that part of the reason of his sudden exertion on himself was so that he could focus on different things, different people and different environments. His main priority would always and continue to be the sport he loves but even that wasn’t enough to erase a lingering figure haunting his waking existence.

Distraction. That was what this was. Something, anything to divert his thoughts.  No matter how hard Sakuragi tried to bury the memory of a painful past, Youhei could somehow see the glimmer of grief that envelops the boisterous redhead. Even though it wasn’t technically a long relationship, he understood the complexity and influence that both Rukawa and Sakuragi had on one another.

Youhei watched as Sakuragi jokes with another co-worker, childishly snickering at a failed attempt of what could have been a good joke.

Youhei’s expression softened at the view of his cheerful friend. It’s surprising how much Sakuragi have changed, although subtly but the changes are there. He is still as energetic and brash but there is independence and maturity to his friend he couldn’t help but admire.

“Welcome!” Sakuragi grinned as two women entered the cafe; she jumped slightly, taken aback by the tall figure greeted in front of her. She stared at Sakuragi momentarily before she let out a smile, “table for two, please.” She gestured the number two with her fingers. Sakuragi nodded and scanned the room, noticing for the first time how crowded the cafe actually was. Sakuragi hesitated, quickly trying to observe any potential

 

He felt his cheeks tense as he watched Sakuragi repetitively greeted and smiled at customers entering the cafe.  He was scared that if Sakuragi grinned anymore his jaw might fall off.  Suddenly, the door swung open as a familiar figure entered the cafe. Sakuragi turned instantly to greet the person when he stopped, his smile curved wider than usual.

“Haruko!” he greeted cheerfully, waving at her in an excited manner.  She smiled at the redhead, waving her hand at him. “Hello, Sakuragi.”

“Youhei is over there,” he pointed at the table near the window. “My shift is almost done; I’ll join you guys soon.” Haruko nodded then proceeded to walk over to where Youhei is currently sitting. He smiled at her, waving his hand in a friendly gesture as he straightened his posture slightly. “Yo, Haruko.”

“Sakuragi looks pretty busy today.” She said, noticing the almost frantic movements of the redhead. “You know how it is with Hanamichi; he’s always so driven no matter what he does.” Youhei chuckled under his breath, imagining indestructible soldiers of Sakuragi’s marching in a substantial line with a threatening and unyielding scowl etched on his face.

“I’m glad he’s enjoying his work.” Haruko said optimistically. “You mean, you’re glad he managed to forget about Rukawa, right?” Youhei continued which made Haruko’s expression drop, her eyes instantly widened and unblinking as she suddenly remembered her earlier encounter. Youhei immediately noticed this and cast a questioning look at the girl, waving his hand in front of her face.  When Haruko snapped out of her trance her expression gradually knotted into a guilty one, her eyes softened apologetically as she remembered her conversation with the raven haired boy.

“Youhei, “Haruko started as she motioned him to come slightly closer. Youhei cocked his head and leaned his body slightly forward, tilting his head ever so slightly to listen in.  “I saw Rukawa today.” She said in a low whispering tone. Youhei’s eyes immediately widened at the news as he leaned backwards sharply. “What?”

“Rukawa is back, I talked to him earlier.” Haruko repeated herself, her voice still in a hushed tone. “You’re sure it was him?” he questioned seriously. The girl nodded confidently, “I am not wrong, I recognize that face anywhere.” A light blush crept on Haruko’s cheeks as she recalled the familiar handsome features of her past fantasy.  Youhei rolled his eyes at her reaction, detesting the look of admiration on her face.  “Fine, I get it.”  He said bitterly, his voice expressing a light tinge of jealousy.

“We can’t tell Hanamichi...”

“Tell me what?” As if on cue, Sakuragi chimed in as he took an empty chair and sat down. Haruko and Youhei was caught off guard by the sudden presence and tried anxiously to cover the obvious apprehensive look on their faces.

“We can’t tell you that you’re such a genius!” said Youhei, internally slapping himself in the face for coming up such a lame cover up.

“Yeah, because it’s so obvious, who doesn’t know that?” Haruko continued, fuelling the sorry excuse for an explanation.  But for some reason it seemed to work as Sakuragi confidently puts his hands on his waist and grinned proudly and began to laugh hysterically, “Of course, I’m glad you guys finally understand me.” ‘Thank God his ego is the size of his foot’ Youhei thought reassuringly.

“Oh Haruko, did you know Youhei bought a car?” said Sakuragi excitedly.

“Wow, really?” she replied, surprised. “You did? That’s great, it must be expensive.”

Sakuragi nodded, “he worked his butt off at that damn job of his, and he deserved it.”

Youhei smiled at his friend, “It’s time to invest on a good vehicle anyway, and the old vespa couldn’t afford to take anymore abuse.”

Haruko chuckled at the thought of the old, run down vehicle Youhei had since first year and the sheer endurance of such vehicle even after being able to support five guys on one seating.

 “Do you have practice today, Hanamichi?” asked Youhei. Sakuragi stood up from his seat as quickly as he sat down when he suddenly remembered his usual practice schedule with the basketball club. “I’m late!” he wailed.

“I’ll drive?” Youhei dangled the car key temptingly in front of him as a wide grin slowly stretched the redhead’s cheeks. “Come on Haruko, come with us.” Sakuragi motioned her to follow them. “We get to experience Youhei’s bad driving first hand.”

“Are you sure?” asked the girl hesitantly. Youhei grabbed her hand and gently pulled her over to them, “Yes!”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Rukawa yawned as he shifted in his comfortable bed; his bloodshot eyes wearily scanned his surroundings. He sighed as he felt his tired body unable to lift itself up from its natural position. ‘Ugh, jetlagged.” He thought as he glanced wearily at the clock sitting on the table next to him.  The time read: 8:30 am.

Suddenly, a knock came knocking on his door. Rukawa stayed silent, too tired to answer, too tired to care. The door lightly creaked open revealing a middle aged woman with dark black hair, her expression slightly weary but at the same time somehow still carried a sense of youthfulness to her that thread between the lines of old and youth.

“Are you awake yet?” the woman said lowly, careful not to wake her son in case he was still sleeping. Rukawa buried his head under his pillow in an attempt to block out the ray of light penetrating through his room and the sound of intrusion of his mother. He groaned in despair as his mum tiptoed into his room, lifting her head ever so gently.

“Kaede?” she hummed in a cheerful tone.

“I’m up, I’m up.” He said, raising his hand in assurance. His mother smiled brightly at the response of his son, “breakfast is ready for you so come join us okay.” Rukawa nodded, his head still buried deep in the comfort of his pillow. One of the things that he missed about living alone in America is definitely the privacy that comes with it.

He raised himself up and started to pandiculate before hesitantly dragging himself out of bed and headed to the bathroom where he rid himself of the germs that he managed to collect from the flight yesterday. He slipped on his usual grey hoddie and black varsity jacket covering over it with dark blue jeans to match his stylish appearance. If there was anything he managed to take back with him from America, it is definitely the fashion sense. Usually he would go for the simplistic, but since curiosity got the better of him, why fight it?

He entered the dining room and was greeted with two surprised looking parents.

“Wh-what are you wearing?” asked his father in a not so casual tone. His parents know him well enough to know that his fashion sense was usually simple and to the point, but now he looked as if he had finished a modelling shoot and ran way with the clothes.

“It’s American.”

“Well, that’s different.” His mother added. Rukawa shrugged at their reaction and sat down on the chair. They said their blessings and ate an array of delicious food prepared on the table.  

“How long are you staying, Kaede?” asked his mother.

“Two weeks.”

“Oh, that’s short.” She said disappointedly. Rukawa shrugged and said, “I can’t be away too long, I need to get back and train.”

“Isn’t this your home?” said his father as he raised a questioning eyebrow at his son. 

“Yes, but I can’t come home if I’ve not reached my goal.”

His parents looked at each other; their expression mirrored a worried frown. “I’m sure a long needed vacation is ideal then.”

Rukawa shot his father an ominous look as soon as the words escaped his mouth. Without words, his father lifts both his hands up in a hesitant stance and cleared his throat.

“There are other important things than basketball, you know!” Rukawa’s mother shot up suddenly, her eyebrows crumpled in frustration at her only son. Rukawa stared at his mother momentarily realizing the seriousness of the atmosphere and the inconsiderate words that they managed to hurl at him since his arrival. Rukawa stood up, his tall figure towering over his parents. “Thank you for the food.” He managed to say before picking up his bag and headed to the front door.

“Kaede!” his father shouted from the dining room but it was too late, Rukawa had already slipped through the gate and out of the tension filled house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Close Encounter

 

Youhei leaned against the wall of the gymnasium, his attention absentmindedly fixed on the centre of the court where figures move against each other. He watched Sakuragi swiftly dribble the ball, gracefully dodging every other challenger blocking him.

“Sakuragi has been improving a lot, hasn’t he?” a voice chimed in beside him. Youhei looked to the left to see Haruko standing next to him, smiling at the energetic redhead with a proud glint in her eye. Youhei nodded at her words and the improvement his friend noticeably made over the years.

“Sakuragi! Pass!” a teammate shouted, signalling his free hand. Sakuragi nodded and expertly mauver his position, passing the ball to his free teammate.

“Go Takamune!” Sakuragi cheered with confidence.

“And an astounding team player too,” Haruko added with a meaningful curl on her lips. Youhei smiled sincerely at the comment, for the first time acknowledging the truth in the fact that his friend really has changed. It’s a miracle to most to see the difference a year or so could do to even someone as coarse as Sakuragi Hanamichi, but as much as people doubt his potential, he has so much to offer, so many sides to him that surprise people day by day. Confidence is a trait Sakuragi have an abundance of and it’s his confidence and sincerity that ultimately moves people. It even moved the popular, impenetrable icy Rukawa. Okay, maybe moving him was an understatement since it did more than just that.

“Do you think he’ll be okay?” Haruko chimed in, turning her attention to Youhei, her eyes slightly concern. “I mean, it’s been 2 years since Rukawa and—“she stopped, unable to continue her sentence. If he was honest, he wouldn’t know how Sakuragi would react if he were to casually bump into him. Sure, it was easy to predict his response before back then but with these new improvements to his character, he couldn’t really tell and that kind of scares him.

“I don’t really know how to answer that,” Youhei answered honestly. “For the first time, I don’t know how he’ll react.”

Haruko stayed silent briefly before turning her attention to Youhei, “whatever happens, he won’t have to face it alone.” Her blue eyes gently reassuring him. Youhei fidgets slightly under the girl’s gaze, feeling his cheeks suddenly emitting some heat. His eyes modestly move down to meet hers as they stood there entranced in each other’s gaze. Beautiful blue smiled at him and he swears to this day that he’s never seen anything as captivating and compassionate as hers.

“Are you guys okay?” a voice chimed in immediately breaking out from their day dream.

“Oh, practice ended already? That was fast.”

“Well, not really, Ryo-chin let us go 10 minutes ago. I kind of just waited for you guys to finish...” Sakuragi eyes them suspiciously, “whatever it is you’re doing.”

Haruko furiously blushed at the suggestion. Sakuragi snickered at their reactions, amused at the tension growing between them. “Come on, I’m hungry,” Sakuragi smiled, walking towards the exit of the gymnasium. “Youhei is paying for dinner today.”

Youhei’s eyes widened at the declaration, “wait, what? Again?”

Sakuragi laughed a boisterously as he walked out of the gymnasium with Haruko and Youhei following behind.

 

 

Sitting on a street bench, Rukawa Kaede finds himself surrounded by the soothing setting of the sun melting into a moonlit star-studded canvas. The air crisp and sharp, an atmosphere he missed after so long. New York was beautiful in its own right but perhaps there was something about Kanagawa that even a fast paced and fancy lifestyle couldn’t replace.  He gazed up the sky, breathing in clear air. “2 weeks...” he whispered, breathing out slowly. “Just 2 weeks” that was all he needed to relieve this inconvenient feeling of homesickness.

He thought about his parents and the squabble they had earlier today. Maybe it was slightly of a dramatic exit but their words really did strike a nerve. Basketball was never an ideal career path his parents planned for him, no, it didn’t hold too much prestige in their mind to merit approval. From a young age, they had exposed him to the idea of becoming someone more ‘relevant’ and ‘respectable’ but he was never interested in the idea of imposed futures or any of the sort. For as long as he could remember, basketball never stopped being his priority, a dream he wanted and promised to fulfil.

He realized that being good enough was never going to be a good enough standard. He wanted more out of basketball; he wanted to play in the big leagues in America, to be better, to be recognized for his skill as a sportsman outside Japan. Few get to experience that success but then again, few had his passion and that was a huge difference.  Besides, being 21 years old now is a mature enough age for him to at least make his own decisions.

Bzz Bzz

Rukawa’s slid his hands into his pocket for his phone, swiping at the one unread text message notification on his screen.

‘Kaede, are you coming home for dinner?’ – Mum

Rukawa looked down at his watch and slides his phone back into his pocket. He stood up, picking the orange ball sitting next to him. As much as he likes to contemplate his life longer, his stomach seems to detest the idea.

 “You always do this Hanamichi!” a familiar voice chimed in. The familiarity of the voice and the name sends a strange sensation in Rukawa’s chest, He scanned his surroundings, trying to pin point the source of the voice.

 “I’ll pay you back if you let me drive your car,” Sakuragi grinned sheepishly at his friend. 

 “Fine,” replied Youhei, dejectedly with his arms folded against his chest. “But you better take care of that car, and don’t tell Noma I lend it to you either.”

“Sure, “Sakuragi agreed. “But you know, I bet Haruko thought you were a real gentleman for paying for dinner,” Sakuragi said teasingly. Youhei blushed at that and cleared his throat.

Sakuragi chuckled at Youhei’s immediate change of colour on his cheeks.

Rukawa eye the two figures from the distant approaching his direction, the distinctive colour of red stood out from the two.

Rukawa stopped dead in his tracks, finding it difficult to move. It felt as though his legs were frozen to the ground. His first instinct was to act natural and unfazed by the situation. A normal Rukawa tactic. For the first time in a long time, Seeing Sakuragi and being able to hear his voice after 2 long years, he felt a sudden sense of dread mix with longing wash over him. Rukawa realizes the reality of the situation and that this was more than just a scenario he visualises in his mind. No, this was actually happening. Imagining the situation is different from actually experiencing it. Sure, confronting familiar faces was always on the agenda but to see them this quick was frankly quite intimidating.

“Oh, wait, my shoelaces. Here, hold this,” Sakuragi stopped and hands Youhei his duffel bag as he kneels down on one knee to tie his disruptive shoe laces.  

Suddenly, blue eyes met jet black ones as their gaze lock momentarily in a stare.  Mito Youhei, Sakuragi’s best friend caught sight of him with a stern and an unsurprising look in his eyes, a gaze fierce yet protective as if Rukawa was somehow a thief out to steal away  something precious. Youhei’s reaction shows no sign of surprise, instead, it was one that was akin to expectancy. As if he always knew they would cross paths.

“Youhei, are you okay?” Sakuragi said, cocking his head to the side.

“Hanamichi, I think this is the wrong way,” Youhei quickly turned his friend the opposite direction, pushing him forward in a frantic manner. Sakuragi raised his eyebrows questioningly, “But the car park is—“

“I’m still kind of hungry,” Youhei lied, insistently pushing the redhead away from the bench where Rukawa stood. They were so close now that if Sakuragi were to pay attention a bit more he could surely spot the blue eyes staring at them.

“You ate one bowl less than me, how could you still be hungry?”

“Come on, help a friend out.”

“But Youhei, I’m tired after practice—“

 “Hanamichi, please!” Stunned by Youhei’s sudden urgency, Sakuragi nodded and walked towards to the direction of the city. Youhei glanced over his shoulder to still see Rukawa planted firmly on the ground with his eyes fixed on the oblivious redhead. Youhei sighs under his breath and pats Sakuragi’s back, “I’ll buy drinks too.”

Sakuragi grinned at the shorter man as his eyes lit up briefly before he stopped and narrowed them questioningly at his friend, “I’m not washing your car, though.”

Youhei chuckled softly, shaking his head, “Don’t worry, I wouldn’t want you to either.”

Rukawa watched as the two figures disappeared out of sight. He relaxed and heaved a sigh of relief at the close encounter. Whatever confidence or notion he had before this meeting quickly disappeared and in its place was an anticipation of a foreboding future confrontation.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Sakuragi stirred uncomfortably under his blanket, grunting groggily at his now ringing alarm clock. Caught in a weird sushi roll of blankets, he grumpily and blindly feels around for his clock to turn it off.

“Nggh, noisy noisy...” he mumbled incoherently, closing his eyes tighter, burrowing his head deeper underneath the blanket to avoid the ray of light slowly penetrating through the windows. Before he could settle peacefully, the second wave of alarm echoed loudly making Sakuragi tense in frustration. He jolted up and glared at the innocent object, his tired eyes twitching slightly.

Sakuragi sighed in defeat, accepting the fact that his own clock wouldn’t let him continue to rest. He yawned, rubbed his eyes sleepily as he glanced at the clock properly for the time. His eyes widened as soon as he read the time on the clock which read, 10:00 am.  Shock ran through him just as quickly as reality sets in.

But before he could move, the phone rang.

“Sakuragi!” the voice was stern and furious, “You have any idea what time is it?”  Sakuragi bolted up at the familiar voice on the other line, his awareness now heightened as he glanced at the clock. Oh great, it’s the boss.

“Uh...” before even finishing his sentence, Sakuragi was cut off by a cold reply, “You’re supposed to start at 8:00 Am.”

Sakuragi winced at the sudden realization. Today, out of all days was a bad day to be late.

“If you don’t come to work this instant, you’ll be working double shifts for a year.” The voice affirmed firmly. “Oh, since you’re late today, you’re going to be taking Ichiya’s shift tomorrow.” With that last threatening response, the line goes immediately dead.

Sakuragi sighs as he groaned at his unfortunate predicament. He was not prepared for this, he had hoped to squeeze some rigorous basketball practice session with Miyagi today since he was supposed to finish earlier than most days today. Not to mention, he was intending to ask for a week off from work but now that seems unlikely. He glanced at the clock again, wondering why of all days was he late for work today. He groaned at the sudden throbbing headache and the dizzy sensation. Wait, a hangover? Sakuragi shakes his head in an attempt to clear his blurry vision. He recalled snippets, disjointed memories of laughter, a glass poured to the brim and him chugging down in one shot. He remembered Youhei, his cheeks red with heat but still able to maintain a cool posture. He distinctly remembers falling down and rolling around happily.

“Oh, that's right...” he thought to himself, remembering last night’s events.

He was never a graceful or cool drunk, though, that was always Youhei. He’s either a careless-bubbling drunk or a giddy drunk which is less classy when you’re on a date. Sakuragi sighs, internally blaming Youhei for his now predicament. It was his idea to get drinks til the ungodly hours of the night. What was his deal exactly? Did Youhei want to poison him something? Youhei was acting uncharacteristically adamant of getting drinks. Typically it’s not strange but there was a particular worry in his expression that bothered the redhead.

He remembered Youhei’s persistence and the almost avoidant gesture he gave off, the kind of non-verbal language he gives when he was either upset about something or he was hiding something. Sakuragi shook his head, “he probably wanted me to be too wasted to forget about borrowing his car.” He scoffed, “Well guess what buddy, I wouldn’t forget even if I am brain dead.”

Sakuragi untangled himself from his blankets and slowly picked himself up. Still, in a light daze, the red head walked carelessly towards the bathroom.

 

 

Youhei entered the cafe; his eyes scanned the room only to suddenly be greeted by a familiar tall figure looking rather disappointedly at him. “Can I help you, sir?”

“Hanamichi?  I thought you’re off today?” asked Youhei. Sakuragi narrowed his eyes suspiciously at Youhei. “Apparently, I was too drunk the night before to even know anymore.”

Youhei scratched his head nervously, “sorry about that, It was fun though right?”

Sakuragi grumbled under his breath, crossing his arms at his friend.  “Since I’m here, can I get a seat?”

Sakuragi nodded and pointed to the table in front of the counter. “You can order from Makoto, I’ll have a few orders to take first. Youhei nodded and walked towards the long table and take his seat. A handsome man with light brown hair waved at him, a bright smile etched on his features. 

“Yo, Youhei, long time no see.” Makoto greeted, waving at him.

The night went on as usual with more customers coming in and out every hour.

He never realized how packed the cafe could be since he’s usually off duty on the weekends. Weekdays could be a handful but Saturday’s was a nightmare to keep track. He could hardly catch his breath when the bell of the door keeps chiming in with a wave of customers waiting and waving for attention.  “I had no idea it was this crazy on Saturday,” said Sakuragi, standing beside his other two co-workers, Makoto and Riku.

“Looks like you’re late for the party, Sakuragi.” Riku raised his eyebrows at him. Sakuragi simply stared at him, confused.

“What he means is that,” Makoto started, “We get a lot of people around this time since we’re the only cafe that close so late. Besides, young couples like our cafe best for their date on the weekends since we close late anyway.”

“couples?” now that he scanned his surroundings, there seem to be more couples occupying the space.

Sakuragi quickly shrugged the thought deciding that it was not his business to run and he wasn’t all that surprised considering how much of a money hungry asshole the owner could be.

 “Don’t you ever take your date to a nice restaurant, Sakuragi?” Makoto pat Sakuragi’s pack considerately.”

Sakuragi stayed silent, unsure how to approach the question. Makoto looks at Sakuragi, his eyes widened in realization.

“Wait, don’t tell me you’ve never...”

Sakuragi blushed at the thought and shot up immediately.

“I-I have!” said Sakuragi defensively, his voice stuttering slightly. Makoto and Riku smiled teasingly at his reaction.

“Hnn...” Makoto hummed, interested. “What did you do on your first date? Knowing you, you’d probably bring her to a cheap diner and tried your best to look cool.”

Sakuragi’s face dropped as he thought about his first real- actual –date. He wished he could say it was Haruko then it would’ve been easier to brag about it in times like this. But instead, he remembers the awkward ‘date’ with Rukawa at Denny’s and his sorry attempt at trying to look cool and put together when he was anything but cool that night.

“I...I guess you could say that.” Sakuragi chuckled, trying to play it off as a funny memory.

“Trust,” Riku commented as he bumps his fist lightly on Sakuragi’s shoulders.

“Hey, Youhei, what was she like?” Makoto leaned in and asked casually. Youhei nearly choked on his sandwich at the question.

“She?” Youhei asked to which Makoto nodded and winked teasingly at Sakuragi who was now standing surprisingly straight and still. Clearing his throat, Youhei gazed up at Makoto.  “Why are you asking me?”

“You’re his best friend, you know everything about him.” Makoto said plainly, folding his arms against his chest confidently. Youhei sat still, eyeing Sakuragi’s defensive body language. He understood full well that the subject is not something he talks about casually, considering the turmoil it left him.

“Who knows, “Youhei shrugged. “He’s been on a few dates; you’re going to have to be more specific.

Makoto frowned, disappointed at the vague answer.

They watched happy couples as they ate, talk and shared awkward moments together. Some couples were successful than others, stupidly gawking at each other and holding hands without any regard to their surroundings.

Makoto sighs dreamily, “Have you ever shared something so beautiful with someone?”

Sakuragi and Riku stayed silent momentarily before Riku commented with, “You mean like when I share that pie with you?”

Sakuragi chuckled and Makoto wrinkled his brows at Riku, “Hey, it's serious question okay.”

Riku shrugged, “I guess I’ve dated a few girls here and there but none really stuck to me.”

“Sakuragi?” Makoto prodded. Sakuragi kept silent, averting his eyes from Makoto, twitching slightly. The question sends a strange feeling in his chest, a sudden feeling of tightness as he remembers his sorry excuse for a love life.  It’s been 2 years now since everything happened, and that’s a long enough time to be reeling from a pathetic heartbreak. If he wants to forget about him and move on, talking about him shouldn’t affect him anymore.

“Oi, “Youhei interjected, “mind your own business, it has nothing to do with you.” Sakuragi stared at Youhei, surprised at his quick interruption.

“I was only --,” Makoto stopped when he saw Youhei’s glare at him, his intense eyes bore into Makoto’s green ones.

“Its okay, Youhei, it’s not a big deal.” Sakuragi places his hand on Youhei’s shoulder, comforting him to which Youhei just look up at Sakuragi. He needs to talk to Youhei about this outburst later.

“Yeah, sure, I’ve been in a serious relationship before, “he said plainly as if it’s nothing important. Both Makoto and Riku watched him silently, their eyes eager for more information.

 “Yeah, and?” Makoto raised an eyebrow, “what kind of woman have you dated Sakuragi? I’m curious.” His lips turned into a mischievous grin.

“Does it matter?” Sakuragi feels his cheeks turn slightly warm, shifting his feet awkwardly, a habit he tends to do when he’s uncomfortable. As much as he hates to admit it, there is a part of him that still feels bitter and heartbroken about the situation. He figures it’s because he still doesn’t fully understand Rukawa’s reasons. I guess he could take it as it is with Rukawa being a jerk and he wasn’t ever serious, but then, somehow, after reflecting on it properly, sometimes Sakuragi wonders if there was more to it.    

“Why are you guys interested anyway?”  Youhei added, eyeing the two suspiciously.

Makoto and Riku froze at the question, “Oh, you know, just curious.” Youhei and Sakuragi looked at each other, their eyebrows raised skeptically at the two.

“Excuse me,” a Man called out, “we need some service, please.”

“Over here too!” a woman raises her hand to get their attention. With that, both Riku and Makoto quickly rush to the customer, bowing apologetically when they reach their table.

Youhei sighs as he rests his palm on his cheek, relieved that the conversation stopped before anything gets out of control. He then steals a glance at Sakuragi who was wiping the counter in front of him, “Hanamichi, “he began.

“Are you okay?” ask Youhei, nothing but sincere worry in his voice. Sakuragi grinned, giving him the thumbs up.

“I’m serious.”

“I’m fine, nothing's wrong,” Sakuragi reassured his friend.

“So you’re fine with....you know?” Youhei prodded. Sakuragi stopped momentarily but shrugged at the question. “Look Youhei,  it’s been ages since and don’t you think I have important things to focus on right now? I don’t have time to think of something that happened years ago.

‘Wow, he’s matured more than I thought,’ Thought Youhei, staring at his friend with a new sense of admiration. Maybe he’s been thinking too much about how past Sakuragi would react that he didn’t even consider how the now, current Sakuragi would think about it. And now, it seems that he’s been worrying for nothing. Sure the past Sakuragi might give head butts and demolish a house but this Sakuragi might accept situations and the outcome of things better.

“Say, Hanamichi,” Youhei continued, biting his lip in indecision. “What if, if Rukawa came back to Japan. You know, if he just suddenly came back. “

“I’ll kill him,” Sakuragi growls lowly, his fist shaking at the thought. Youhei leaned back, surprised. Youhei sweat dropped at that, erasing the too optimistic view of his friend. Oh, where did all the maturity go?

“Okay, you’re pretty clear on that.” Youhei chuckled.

Sakuragi sighs, his demeanor serious, “Youhei, why do I feel like you’re keeping something from me?”

Youhei paused as he considers. Should he tell him? There's only so long before he bumps into Rukawa anyway and letting him know now is better than letting him know later. Whatever his reaction may be, Youhei figures Sakuragi deserves to at least know the truth.

“Hanamichi, there's something I want to talk to you about.”

“Oh...” noticing the sudden seriousness in Youhei’s posture and voice, Sakuragi nods to pay attention. But before Youhei could go on any further, a voice called out to the redhead, “Oi, what are you doing goofing off there! There’s a customer waiting!”

Sakuragi shot up and bowed apologetically, “Ah, sorry, we’ll talk later okay.”

“Someone will be with you in a minute,” Makoto smiled, the customer simply nodded and continues to scan the menu.

“Sorry to keep you waiting, “Sakuragi apologized as he takes out his mini notebook. “So, what will—“his sentence trailed off midsentence as soon as he looks up. A pair of familiar cobalt blue eyes stared back at him, any hint of surprise or shock absent from his expression. At that moment, Sakuragi could feel his soul escape his body; a wave of numbness devoured his senses. All thought, motion ceased as he turned pale at the sight of the man in front of him. His eyes widened in disbelief, “Y-you’re...”

Rukawa’s waits for his reaction, his eyes never leaving the redhead.  He knows confronting this head on and revealing himself was probably silly, it’s like starting a war that could easily be avoided. If he avoided the key places for a bit longer then the chances of meeting the redhead are slim to none. It was doable, but in some sense, that would make him a coward.

“You look just like someone I know,” said Sakuragi finally to which Rukawa lightly scoffs.

“Actually, you look exactly like him.” Sakuragi moved in closer, leaning his head closer to Rukawa to inspect him. Surprised by the sudden proximity, Rukawa leaned back slightly, his eyes trained on the curious redhead. Rukawa swallowed thickly, taking in the familiarity of the man. It’s been a long time since he’s been this close to Sakuragi and he forgets how much that made his heart race.

Sakuragi let out a forced laugh, immediately shaking his head, “That’s impossible, that’s impossible.”

“You’re not him,” said Sakuragi as he patted Rukawa’s back, “he left. There’s no way that-“

Rukawa simply looked at him, unflinching, “D’oahou.”

With that one simple word, Sakuragi feels everything come crashing down. “R-Rukawa?”  A question, a question he wishes he was wrong about. But Rukawa casually replied with a “Humph, took you long enough.”

“Rukawa!” Sakuragi shouted which perked the interest of everyone in the cafe. “What are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be here!” Sakuragi growled.

Rukawa simply shrugged, “Last time I checked, I live here.”

“Don’t get cocky with me!” Sakuragi grabbed Rukawa’s shirt collar, his fist shaking.

“Sakuragi, what are you doing attacking the customer!” Makoto panicked, shocked by the sight. Riku clasped his hand to his mouth, interested at the predicament before him. The whole restaurant watched on in concern with the girls generally taking notice of Rukawa, obviously completely smitten by his handsome face while the boys look on in curiosity, generally excited about a potential fight.

“Hanamichi, “a voice came from behind that immediately calm the redhead. Sakuragi turned his head and saw Youhei putting a gentle hand on his shoulders, his eyes pleading. Sakuragi dropped his gaze to the ground, analyzing the situation, collecting his thoughts in the process. He looked at Rukawa, his icy blue eyes bore into Sakuragi’s brown orbs. Then, slowly, he looked back at his best friend and suddenly everything makes sense.

Releasing his grip on Rukawa, he turned to Youhei; his eyes spoke the language of betrayal.  “Youhei,” Sakuragi started, “You knew, all this time.”

Youhei kept silent and nodded, avoiding Sakuragi’s gaze.  Sakuragi closed his eyes, taking in the disappointment. Sakuragi sighs and regains his composure.

“Makoto, “Sakuragi called out, “I’m going home.”

Perplexed and confused by the redhead’s bizarre behavior, he opened his mouth to protest but a hand appeared to stop him. He looked beside him to find Youhei shaking his head, a silent indication to just let it go.

Rukawa watched as Sakuragi left the restaurant and ignored his presence. He sighs as he sat back down in his chair. He anticipated Sakuragi’s reaction and didn’t doubt his ability to dramatize a situation but at least he was free from hiding, free from wondering if they’re going to meet the next corner. Sure, it’s a trivial matter, and usually, he would not care but somehow, this time, it’s different.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 6:  We don’t talk anymore

 

'I overdosed
Should've known your love was a game
Now I can't get you out of my brain
Oh, it's such a shame'

 

There are only a few things that Sakuragi Hanamichi hates besides losing. He hates being vulnerable, he hates being betrayed and he hates Rukawa Kaede. Well, hate is a strong word but anything less would be an understatement at the moment. Walking on the uneven road, Sakuragi sighs deeply. It’s been a few days since he ignored Youhei’s calls and he had called in sick often enough that he’s sure he’ll be fired by the end of the week.

But he couldn’t go back there. Not after...

A pair of icy blue eyes flashes through his mind, its familiarity scares him. He stared at those eyes too much in the past that he particularly had it memorized. And after all this time, it still affects him.

It shouldn’t be this way. It shouldn’t be affecting him like this, right now. He won that battle, right?

Sakuragi clenched his fist at the thought. The thought of betrayal, the thought of being so vulnerable by the ghost of his past, by the only person you once thought you could trust your soul with. That once innocent and beautiful person tainted by the cold betrayal of a lack of explanation and an abrupt departure.

He admits, the reaction he had at the restaurant was less than ideal. It did occur to the redhead that if he were to meet Rukawa, he imagined his reaction would be calm and suave as if his presence didn’t affect him like he used to. Two years had given him that time and space he needed to weed him out of his life. How could he confront Rukawa now?

If he’s honest with himself, he’s sad than he is angry, more hurt than he is bitter. The fact that Rukawa was so casual about just coming back and meeting proves more than anything, that it was a one sided frustration. Yet again, he is reminded of how much his efforts and his commitment was insignificant, especially to someone like him.

As much as he’d like to, he couldn’t erase those moments they had, not really. As abrupt as it was, it was still one of the only and longest official relationships he had with anyone. After months of subtle pursuing it feels awful to know it didn’t mean anything considering how much denial, confusion and secrecy they had to endure to get up to this point.

What was it all for then?

Bitter feelings aside, the relationship had been an experience regardless. If he were to reminisce on the good things instead, there had been plenty. Rukawa wasn’t the most romantic person out there as far as verbal communication was concerned but it is evident that he cared through gestures and actions.

“He was always a man of action,” Sakuragi sighs, smirking lightly.

 The small lingering gaze Rukawa would give him never fails to make him shiver, or how he would, without warning, hold his hand. The affectionate contact still makes him swell up with happiness every time he thought about it.

He missed the conversations, however insignificant it is. In his own way, Rukawa did know how to calm him or motivate him. One of the perks of having an above average boyfriend I guess. There is a certain comfort being with him, an unspoken bond that they share. It’s like how you understand someone without having to actually say or tell them.

Sakuragi smiles at the memory, his expression soften as he slowly regrets the reactive aggression towards the blue eyed boy.

“Why is it so easy for you?” Sakuragi mumbled, leaning dolefully against the lone bench. He wonders why he’s so hung up on this; it wasn’t as if they were married. It wasn’t as if he cheated, at least he didn’t think so. It’s not as if he still love him, right?

Right?

 “Ah this is so confusing!” Sakuragi clenches his teeth, cursing at the night sky and the God’s above for being so unfair with him.

“You shouting at the moon again, ahou?” a familiar voice called out. Startled, Sakuragi finds Rukawa Kaede looking down on him, with a bag of groceries in one hand.

“R-Rukawa!”

“I forgot how dramatic you are,” Rukawa smirked at the red head.

Wh-what are you doing here!”

“I’m trying to go home?” Rukawa answered questioningly, “you do remember I live around here right?”

Sakuragi stopped breathing at the familiarity of his surroundings. His cheeks turned a subtle shade of scarlet at the realization. He must’ve accidently wander here when he was deep in thought.

“I...I knew that!”

Rukawa approached the red head and stood beside him to which Sakuragi inched further away.

“Have you come to stalk me?”

Sakuragi’s cheeks turned scarlet red at the suggestion as he frantically tries to deny the suggestion.

“No, what? Are you kidding? It’s a public space I came here to clear my head!”

Rukawa chuckled at the redhead’s reaction, amused at how frantic and flushed he’s being.

“Something on your mind?”

“None of your business,” Sakuragi replied immediately, face turned away with arms crossed.

“Ah, you’re still mad at me?”

Silence

“You’re still mad at me.”

Rukawa sighs at the one sided communication, slightly impatient. He wanted to talk but this rejection is really starting to really get to him. 

“Look,” Rukawa started, “you have a right to be mad but after 2 years I thought you’d get over it”

His words came out colder than intended but he surprisingly has little patience for Sakuragi’s attitude. He didn’t mind leaving without a word at first but the rejection annoyed him more than anything. After the confrontation, he thought that at least there would be some initiation. 2 years was a long time to get over a breakup and even though he knew how stubborn Sakuragi could get, he didn’t think his reaction would irritate him like this.

“Just go away!”  Sakuragi said through gritted teeth.

“You know, I expected better from you.”

“Is that how you did it Rukawa? You just got over it?” Sakuragi shouted back, releasing every ounce of reserved frustration.

“Don’t talk like you know everything.” Rukawa’s tone was low but stern, his sharp gaze penetrated through Sakuragi’s brown orbs. Sakuragi finds himself taken aback by the intensity of it, partly intimidated.

“If you’re going to be like this, then fine, be like this. I’m leaving in a few days so you don’t have to worry about seeing me around.”

 Rukawa walked away, seething inside with frustration. As the sound of distant footsteps fades, Sakuragi relaxed as he let his body tremble. Tears clouding his vision trickle down his cheeks, little by little until it drenched his face. He sobbed quietly under the night sky.  

Sakuragi’s heart aches at the thought, he knew he was struggling with reconciling his feelings alone but to actually confirm it hurts more than he imagined. After all this time, Rukawa didn’t care, never cared and will not care. The worst part is, after all the stubbornness and bravado, deep down he still care after all and that scares him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 7: The truth is

 

The next day seem to resume normally much to Sakuragi’s pleasure. He entered the café, back slumped and distracted. “Yo, Hanamichi,” Makoto greeted him casually with Riku standing beside him.

“Hey, “He answered, putting on his uniform. “So, are you going to tell us what the heck that was the other day?” Sakuragi sighs, looked at them and shrugged, “He’s just some guy I used to…” “Used to?” Riku perked up, his eyes eager. Sakuragi stops and paused, “used to go to school with! What the heck are you guys thinking?” With that, the co-workers face dropped with disappointment. “You’re lying!” “Why the heck would I lie!” “Then why make such a big deal about it! You caused a drama here,” Makoto said as a matter of factly. “That level of tension could only be explained by some sort of deep hatred or regret or something…” Sakuragi swallows hard, sweating slightly from the absurd accusation. He didn’t really want to tell anyone about his relationship with Rukawa, not like this. “You know who he is do you?” Riku interjected. “Of course I do! I told you we used to go to the same school together!” “Yeah,” Riku waved dismissively, “so then you know who HE really is?”

“What?”

“He’s Rukawa Kaede!” Riku leaned in closer, his eyes beaming. “He looked familiar before but I wasn’t sure but now I am. He is THE Rukawa Kaede.” Sakuragi raised an eyebrow, confused. “I’ve heard stories about him, never met him. But as far as I know, he’s a basketball legend in Shohoku.” Said Makoto, touching his chin thoughtfully. Sakuragi let out a sarcastic smirk, “you guys must be big fans.” “YES!” both boys shouted at the same time with earnest expression in their eyes which immediately caught the redhead off guard. “For a guy, he’s pretty handsome too,” Sakuragi snapped his attention towards Makoto, trying his best to keep a straight face.

“Yeah, he’s really popular with the ladies but I won’t be surprised if he’s popular with the men as well.” Sakuragi’s heart freezes and he feels a hollow feeling in his gut, he feels slightly sick. The words are harmless but he feels like someone is squeezing his heart. He keeps silent, unsure of how he should react anyway. Normally he would deny it all and begin to boast about how he is better but somehow, right now, he couldn’t even shrug it off or laugh it off. He couldn’t deny it because it’s true. Rukawa is popular with the ladies and the men. Women find him beautiful while the men ogle his determination and skills. By all accounts, Rukawa is better than him.

Sakuragi’s known this truth a long time and he’s able to deny and bury that truth every time. But for some reason, today, he couldn’t. He looked down at his hands and remembers the first time he held hands with Rukawa. He noted how warm Rukawa feels despite his cold exterior. It was awkward at first, they were hesitant but after weeks and months of putting it off, they eventually melt together. It was one of the most unexpected things he had experienced, he had always thought that Rukawa would be the cold one but as it turns out, it was the opposite. Rukawa provided that warmth he didn’t know he needed. After all the things they went through, after all the self-loathing and the denials and realization, Rukawa had always been the more patient one. He didn’t know what changed or at what point that all change but re-living that moment breaks his heart all the time. If he is honest with himself, he misses that sometimes. Sure, he’s dated a few times after it ended but no one has ever come close….yet. “Hey, are you listening?” Makoto snapped his fingers in front of the red head’s face.

“Huh?” Sakuragi looked up, dazed.

“I asked, are you jealous?” “of what?” “of Rukawa, of course!” Riku folded his arms against his chest, a smirk already on his face. “Why would I be jealous of that kitsune!” Sakuragi frowned and glared at them. “Because he’s popular with the ladies, isn’t that why you had that reaction that night?” Sakuragi looked away, his eyes still sharp and his brows still wrinkled together.

‘No, not even close.’ Sakuragi thought to himself, finally coming to terms with the reasons why it had hurt him so deeply.

Standing in front of the brown door, he raises his hands and knocks on it gently. “Hanamichi?” “Hi, I know it’s late, but can I come in?” “Of course!” “Thanks,” he took off his shoes and walked in. “Whats up? You okay?” “I don’t know who else to turn to, I just want to talk,” Sakuragi said quickly, his expression still troubled. “About anything, I don’t care.” Youhei looked at him, surprised then smiles at his best friend, “I’ll go get the alcohol.”

Laying down on the pillows in the living room, Sakuragi and Youhei cheered, talked and drank casually about everything they could think of. “Yeah, Haruko said that Gori used to be so awkward with girls it’s actually kind of cute!” Sakuragi laughed. “Look at him now,” Youhei chuckled, “University can sure change you.” “Nah, I sometimes still confuse him with an actual Gorilla.” Sakuragi giggled, sipping his drink. “That’s too mean, don’t you think?” “He knows it,” Sakuragi sips his drink again, taking in more gulps this time. “Yeah, definitely too mean.” “Only because you like Haruko, right?” Sakuragi’s words came out slightly slurred. “When are you going to tell her?” The redhead continued. Youhei stopped and moved his gaze to the glass in his hand, “it’s not the right time.” What? Of course it’s the right time! You have more of a chance with her than anyone in this entire universe. Don’t blow it like I did.” Youhei looks at his friend; Sakuragi is showing early signs of drunkenness. At this state he is more honest and transparent about his thoughts and his feelings.

“I’ll tell her if you admit you still care for Rukawa.” Sakuragi slammed his fist on the table, “I do not care about him!” “Then why did you come here?” “To talk! I wanted to talk to you! You’re my best friend!” Sakuragi shouted, his expression twisted in a confused expression.

“That’s right Hanamichi, I know you,” Youhei smiles at him, “You wanted to talk…and you wanted to distract yourself. “You want to talk about Rukawa, don’t you?” Sakuragi sips at his drink more, a sign of nervousness. “I can’t help you if you don’t tell me the truth, Hanamichi.” Sakuragi’s face flush red from the alcohol and he shakes his head lightly trying to shake off the drunkenness.

“I just…I just want to know why I wasn’t good enough.” His voice cracked and his tears build up at the corner of his eyes. At the moment, with that confession, Youhei’s face fell as he immediately reaches over to hug his friend.

 

Staring at the wall in front of him, Rukawa stared at the calendar hanging neatly just above his desk. This is it, just 3 days then he has to fly back to America. To be honest, he couldn’t tell how he feels about it. A week before he would no doubt have said that he is happy to leave. He knew coming back would bring back some sense of nostalgia in him that he rather not bring up. As much as he hates being distracted since he knows he could be practising more in America with his team. But at the same time, he misses Kanagawa. He misses the simplicity, the culture and the way everything is and always will be part of him. Always. The places he grew up seem so small now. As time went by, he matured and his ambitions became too big for it to just stay here. He wanted, more than anything to challenge himself, to live that dream he always wanted. Still, he wishes there was something that he could bring with him. A memory, a feeling, something constant.

“Kaede! Phone for you!” ‘who would be calling me at this hour?’ Rukawa thought as he walked out the door. “Who is it?” “I don’t know but he sounds drunk.” Picking up the receiver, Rukawa hesitantly answers,

“hello?” No answer but he could hear the breathing from the other line. Confused, he attempted to end the call before he hears shouting in the background.

“Oi, Hanamichi, stop! Give me the phone!” Hanamichi? That name shocks the brunette; his heart nearly fell out of his chest.

“Rukawa you bastard! How dare you show your face here again! Why can’t you stay gone!” “Hey, you’re drunk Hanamichi, no don’t go to the—“ There was a loud thud and a click.

“Did you lock yourself in a room, you idiot?” Rukawa chuckles.

“Don’t change the subject!” “I just came back to visit my parents,” Rukawa answered simply, “I didn’t know I was lock out of my own place.”

“Well, you shouldn’t have shown your face! Why did you come to the café?”

“I didn’t know you work there, I can’t eat either?” Sakuragi stays silent, suddenly unsure of what to say. “Are you okay?” Rukawa’s voice came out soft, like a whisper.

“I don’t want to admit it, but this is the only time I will…” Sakuragi’s voice equally soft, sounding more vulnerable this time. Rukawa’s heart beat in anticipation

“After you left, I was a mess. I know we’ve only been together for a few months but I….I never felt that much hurt.” A light sniffle can be heard from the other line and Rukawa feels the guilt weighs in on him. He felt as if someone punched him in the gut.

“It wasn’t love, I know, “Sakuragi lets out a heartbreaking sigh, “No matter how much I try to keep it behind me, to move on like you did, I guess I wanted it to be real. I hoped it would.

At those words, Rukawa feels his heart break. He doesn’t cry but this is the closest he’s been.

“Even if it’s you, I can’t keep on denying how I feel. Maybe that’s why I can’t move on; I’ve just been keeping this inside,”

“I wanted to tell you, I wanted to tell you how I really feel…” Sakuragi’s soft voice tremble and all Rukawa want to do now is run to him and comfort him.

“How do you feel?” Rukawa prompts him. The space between them is deafening he could hear Sakuragi swallow nervously.

“I…” Rukawa's heart beat in anticipation but instead of words, he hears a muffled puking sound followed by the sound of a door opening before the line goes dead.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8: Serendipity

 

Sakuragi groaned, his head dizzy as if he’s been spinning too much for too long. Adjusting his vision around the room, he sees a glass of water next to him. He grabs the glass unevenly and drinks the content in one whole gulp.

“You’re awake.” Sakuragi look up to see Youhei standing by the door with his arms to his chest and his expression guilty.

“Wh-what happened last night?”

“You came over and we talked,” said Youhei, sitting next to the dishevelled redhead. “Then things just escalated quickly, I turn my back for one second and…” Youhei scratched his head nervously, looking away. “Youhei, what did I do?” Sakuragi’s face grimaced at what he was about to hear. “You called Rukawa, puked then passed out.” Youhei managed to say in one breath. Sakuragi froze in terror, his face shocked and it looks almost as if he stopped breathing. Youhei poke his unresponsive friend, making sure he is still alive.

“What did I say!?” Sakuragi jumped, panicked.

“You locked yourself in the bathroom! You were hell-bent on telling him how you feel.”

“How I feel?”

“Yeah, you were cursing a lot last night, you were really angry.”

Sakuragi sat upright and nodded. “So, was I cursing at him on the phone? Good. That makes sense!” Sakuragi smiled, satisfied.

“Hanamichi,” Youhei leaned forward, placing a palm on his cheek. “Is that how you really feel?” he observed his friend as if trying to figure him out. “Of course!” Youhei sighs and shrugs at the blatant lie. It’s kind of disappointing that Sakuragi calls them best friends and completely forget that he can see behind that false bravado he carries with him. Youhei knows when Sakuragi is lying. But he figures, if he’s willing to insult their friendship like this then maybe he’ll play along with this denial. At least until he is willing to admit consciously to himself that he is hurting.

Til then, Youhei will keep the knowledge of finding his friend crying on the bathroom floor with the phone on his chest repeating Rukawa’s name to himself. It’s sad, Youhei thinks. He wishes that Sakuragi would just be upfront about his feelings. It’s been 2 years after all; it must be such a burden.

“Don’t you have work or something?” asks Youhei. “Nah,” said Sakuragi, combing his hair with his fingers, “But I guess I should get home. I feel exhausted. Youhei hums in agreement. “Don’t forget about tonight.” Sakuragi nodded, “I’ll see you tonight.”

 

Two days. He has two days left. For some reason, he feels hesitant about going back which was odd since he’s been counting down the days since he arrived. Rukawa sat on a bench opposite small shops and café with the road running in between. He looks down at the piece of paper in his hand, an invite. Haruko mentioned about a get-together and apparently, there is a party tonight for the entire team.

He noted how inconvenient a letter would be since she could just call him. But he shrugs it off; the sentiment does feel somehow special. He runs his hands across the neat handwriting contemplating whether he should go. Does he want to go? He does, but at the same time, he just feels like it will just cause unnecessary tension between him and a certain boisterous redhead.

Rukawa sighs, thinking back to last night. The sincerity in Sakuragi’s words caught him off guard, the ache he feels knowing that he is the cause of the redhead’s remaining heart ache. Rukawa knew at some level that Sakuragi would resent him, he would too if someone did it to him. He imagines he would want to cut ties with someone who left him and avoid them as much as they could but unlike Sakuragi, he could learn to let it go. Unlike Sakuragi, after 2 years, he would eventually accept what happened. Rukawa anticipates the resentment he was sure to get when he came back but never could he imagine the honesty and the raw emotion he felt from Sakuragi. He knew Sakuragi, he know what he likes and what he doesn’t. He knows what he’s thinking as if he is a person anyone could figure out. But he isn’t. Just when you think you understand him he surprises you. Rukawa is sure he’s never met anyone as complicated and as intense as Sakuragi. And that is exactly how it started. His irritation for him turned into something more as time goes by. His innocence and his sincerity is something Sakuragi rarely shows but the couple of times Rukawa stumbles on it made him want to get closer, want to know everything about him, to just dive into the complexity that is Sakuragi Hanamichi.

“It wasn’t love, I know”

“I wanted it to be real, I hoped it would.”

The words echoed, and suddenly his heart feels strained at the thought. He remembers butting heads with Sakuragi most of his freshman year but somewhere along the way that changed. Rukawa couldn’t remember exactly at what point it change. Honestly, it wasn’t because he hated the redhead, irritated, sure, but Rukawa tries to avoid anything that wasn’t important. He only has two things he cared about in freshman year and that was sleep and basketball. Anything beyond that was just extra. Love is a strange thing, something obscure that perplex even him. It’s not as if he detest the feeling, despite what people seem to assume. Rukawa has never been the type to waste time, to idly dreaming that things would work out or for someone to come and change him. Sometimes that makes him feel like he didn’t belong. When everyone was ogling the girls or when people around him would go in and out of relationships, he didn’t think too much about it. Maybe because he would be the one girls stare at and that irritated most of the guys in school.

He used to wonder if he was just asexual. If he was, he wouldn’t really mind it but his parents would be the ones disappointed not him. Being the only son he supposes there is some kind of duty that he should fulfil. There is nothing more that his parents want for him than to settle down, get married and have a stable job. After years of being in America that traditional mindset seems so mundane and uninteresting. The exposure to a more individualistic culture was weird at first but he really come to appreciate the freedom that comes with it. American people are assertive, there is no hidden meaning, and people tend to be self reliant.

Love, Rukawa feels, tend to be used around so carelessly. He witnessed ‘love’ from different people and all of them always fall apart.

Rukawa asked a friend once what love meant to him and with a thoughtful tap on his chin his friend answered confidently, “I think if it makes your heart fast and you get that sense like you can’t control yourself, yeah, that’s love.” “When you can’t control yourself?” Rukawa repeated his words, confused. “Yeah, you know when you’re turned on or something.” Surprised at the shallow response, Rukawa simply nodded and accepts the answer. Coming from a place of experience, he supposes that is one way of interpreting love.

With Sakuragi, it wasn’t the easiest of awareness to his feelings. He only wanted to get to know him at first, to get closer, to understand what makes him so….passionate. As it turns out Sakuragi has a lot of layers that even the ones closest to him don’t know about. Well, except Youhei, that guy knows everything. The bravado Sakuragi carries with him all the time is irritating and painful to watch sometimes. Especially considering he does posses the skill he frequently boasts about. It was gradual, they established some sort of friendship and soon enough they were able to see past the unnecessary bickering and actually talk. Well, Sakuragi prefers teasing him more but it was an improvement nonetheless.

The first time they talked seriously was because of a girl. He remembers Sakuragi walking up to him after everyone left the gym. The sky was a brilliant mix of yellow and red indicating the sinking of the sun. It was beautiful, he paused to admire it for a second before a tall figure appeared beside him. Red hair and a tint of concerned look on his face. Rukawa notices the redhead’s fidgety stance and decides to break the odd atmosphere.

“If you have a problem, you should just spit it out.”

Sakuragi jerked lightly and fumble his thumbs nervously.

“I just wanted to ask if you there is anyone you like.” Rukawa raised a questioning brow at the redhead, unexpected of the sudden question.

“No.” Rukawa stated plainly without hesitant.

With that response, Sakuragi breathes out, looking relieved. But then quickly change his expression to a more panicked one.

“I mean, that’s bad!” Sakuragi frantically shakes his head. “I mean, that’s good!” “What?” Rukawa asked irritated at the nonsensical dialogue.

“I promised Haruko I would talk to you about it,” Sakuragi explained, “She really really likes you.” Each word makes Sakuragi’s twinge, he avoid Rukawa’s gaze, embarrassed at level he allowed himself to stoop.

“And you really really like her?” Rukawa didn’t mean it as an insult but the pain in Sakuragi’s eyes lets him know he had gone too far.

“You should tell her how you feel, ahou.”

“I’ve tried! “ Sakuragi snaps defensively. “I’ve tried…” he repeated lowly.

Rukawa doesn’t know whether he should feel sorry for him or to be envious over the fact that he isn’t swamped with girls swarming up to him like bees.

“Wait, “Sakuragi looks at Rukawa, backing away slightly. “Don’t tell me you…you bend the other way…” Sakuragi motions his hand to make a swinging gesture.

“You better stop.” Rukawa glares at Sakuragi, irritated.

“I don’t understand Kitsune,” Sakuragi asked, sincerely confused. “You have all this popularity but not once have you even smiled at a woman.”

Rukawa sighs, “All they care about is looks.”

“But it gets them interested. Think about it Kitsune,” Sakuragi leaned closer, his hand on Rukawa’s shoulder. “You use that to your advantage. You go on a few dates, hold her hand, and walk her home. Then when the mood is right, the moon shining down on you and her, hearts beating fast as you caress her delicate cheeks, you lean in and press your lips against hers.” He could hear the longing in Sakuragi’s voice, swooning at the idea of romance. He was so close he could feel the warmth oozing out of the redhead's chest. Rukawa leaned away from the proximity and fixed his jacket.

“Love, “Rukawa scoffs at the notion. “Sounds like a waste of time.”

Rukawa chuckle sarcastically at the memory. Oh he was so wrong. If only his past self could see the situation he is in he would personally kick himself many times over.

Sakuragi groaned, rubbing his hand on his temples with one hand while brushing his teeth. Staring at his reflection in the foggy bathroom mirror he regrets the poor decision he made last night. He doesn’t know what possessed him to trouble Youhei at 11 pm but all he knows is that he felt unsettled, almost restless with unwanted thoughts. If he didn’t confide in someone or distract himself he would surely explode. The conversation in the café just made it difficult to focus. His co-workers wouldn’t stop pestering him about Rukawa and he’s sick of it. The more they ask, the more it forced him to remember every memory, every detail, every information of the man that he rather not remember. To make it worse, the real icing on the cake is that random women start coming to the café looking for the handsome blue eyed stranger. Sakuragi rolled his eyes and if it weren’t for the rules in his contract he would already push them away.

Seriously, it’s like there is no escape. Is God really this cruel to punish him like this?

Sakuragi washed his face and place his toothbrush in the cup holder. He paused and examined his worn out face, clearly seeing the stress. He sighs, “calm it Hanamichi, he said he’s only here for a few days.”

“Yeah, a few days then you won’t see him ever again.” He reassured himself. “Won’t see him ever again…” he repeated, his voice low and unsure.

This is what he wants right? If it is then why does he feel so unsure about it. He was fine living his life for 2 years not hearing anything about Rukawa, not seeing him. It was easier, easier than this. He can at least pretend that Rukawa didn’t exist and there was nothing between them. But seeing him, in the flesh, it feels as though he never left. It made the break up real, as if he is mocking him about ever making him feel like he cared. He recalls Rukawa regards love as a waste of time. It makes sense that perhaps everything that they felt was also a waste of time and he realised it and left. Without warning, Rukawa suddenly decides he didn’t want or didn’t like him anymore and just end everything without an explanation.

Sitting on the balcony, Sakuragi hugs himself as comfort as he stared at the setting of the sun. He looked down at the road below him and immediately he could visualise his past.

It was a hot summer night; he just ended another unsuccessful date with a girl. At that point he was ready to give up and accept the fact that no girl will like him for who he is. Almost all dates ended up with them using him as a ploy to get closer to Rukawa. There were some that were sincere but it became clear that they weren’t that interested. Sakuragi is a hopeless romantic so without being rude about it, he told them he had work in the morning and left after paying for the bill. Walking home with a slumped posture and a frown, a usual thing habit he does after every unsuccessful date he thought about everything that he did or didn’t do. Sure he was slightly shy but he was just careful, he didn’t want to mess up. But of course, he ended messing up. He kept his gaze on the ground when a pair of sneakers came into view. He stopped and looked up to see Rukawa looking at him up and down with a basketball in one hand.

“You’re dressed for something, ahou?”

“Rukawa! What are you doing here?”

“I came to practice.” Rukawa answered flatly. Sakuragi scanned his surroundings to see accidently walked in the direction of the public basketball court. Before he could make sense of anything, he found himself sitting next to a sweaty Rukawa. Rukawa wiped the sweat from his forehead with his towel, his breathing rough from the intense practicing. He stared at Rukawa, wondered how it would be like if he could have his looks and his skill for one day. Although Sakuragi kept boasting about his own skills, he would be stupid to deny Rukawa's raw talent. No matter how many times he would deny it. “What?” Rukawa asked, noticing the intense stare. “I wish we could trade places sometimes”

Rukawa raised a questioning eyebrow at the red head. “I mean, just for one day!” Sakuragi backtracked quickly. “Just to know how it feels to be popular.”

“Oh, is this about girls again? You want to know how it feels to be wanted by girls that bad.” “Doesn’t everyone?” Sakuragi replied.

“I don’t.” Rukawa said without any hesitation.

“That’s your problem.” Sakuragi grumbles, pouting as he leaned against the wall sulkily. Rukawa smirked at Sakuragi’s cute response.

“Why does it bother you?” Rukawa asked, genuinely curious. Sakuragi regards the question, focusing on the hoop in front of him. “I just want to know how it feels like,” Said Sakuragi with a distant look, “I’ve never kissed anyone.” This love fixation that Sakuragi has baffles him. He’s never seen anyone wanting to experience something trivial as this. Usually if someone is desperate enough they would either quit or really lower their expectations.

“If I give you the experience would you shut up about it?” Sakuragi choked at the words coming out of Rukawa’s mouth, so casually too. His eyes widened in disbelief and he snapped his head towards Rukawa so fast he thought maybe he strained a muscle.

“Look, it’s no big deal. It’s just kissing.” Rukawa shrugs.

“Oh, and you have experience?”

Rukawa nodded and folded his arms against his chest. “You said to put my looks to good use so you’re not the only one who’s been on dates.” For some reason, Sakuragi’s heart felt as though it sank down to his stomach. He ignores it and grinned, “Finally listening to me!”

“Don’t flatter yourself, idiot.”

The atmosphere between them became quiet with nothing but the gentle breeze of the hot wind blowing around them. Sakuragi stared at Rukawa’s blue orbs, noticing for the first time that it is a cobalt blue, a colour like the ocean. They stayed still, nothing but the loud beating of their hearts against their chest. Sakuragi swallowed his nervousness; this is becoming way too real. To be honest he much prefers doing it with girl but maybe this will make it easier for experience. Rukawa leaned in closer, his eyes half lidded and before he knew it Sakuragi is already closing his eyes. “No, keep them open,” Rukawa’s warm breath tickled his skin. “I’m only going to teach you once.” Sakuragi nodded and slowly open his eyes. His cheeks burned like it was on fire, Rukawa is so close now he could almost feel him. His heart is beating so hard and so fast he could hear it in his ears. Rukawa close the gap between them, their lips gently meet and for the first time Sakuragi noted how soft Rukawa’s lips are. It was a soft peck and already Sakuragi feels like he’s losing control. Everything is closing in on him, he feels caught up in the moment. He’s been dreaming of the chance to feel this. Everytime he watched a romantic movie he would wonder how it feels like. How much he wanted to share something private and intimate with someone. Just one time is enough.

In hindsight, this was a very bad idea because without any self control, Sakuragi pressed harder against Rukawa as his hand slowly wanders to jet black hair. Rukawa moaned lightly and that seemed to instantly snap Sakuragi out of the moment. His eyes snapped open and he broke the kiss immediately. His face still burns as he awkwardly cleared his throat.

“Now would you shut up about it?” asked Rukawa, looking unaffected by all this. Sakuragi nodded and he did shut up about it.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9: Nothing

 

Shohoku (2nd Year) -Past

 

The June summer is unusually unforgiving with the sweltering heat and suffocating humidity.  The night sky stood an ink canopy of darkness freckled only by the fewest stars, where just hours ago it had been a blue summer’s day. The air is particularly dry and damp which makes it slightly harder to focus but it’s nothing too extreme.  With the last shot in the basket, Rukawa breathes heavily, wiping his sweat soaked face with his towel. Taking a moment to catch his breath, he stared up at the silent sky; a tint of amethyst purple mixed with blue shroud the atmosphere, leaving breathless scenery. Rukawa smiles lightly at the night sky, silently praying for good fortune waiting for him in the future.  It’s not that he is extremely religious; he makes sure every day to work hard but it wouldn’t hurt to ask for extra help.

From the corner of his eyes, a speck of red comes into view. Rukawa turned to see a familiar figure walking towards the court with an unusually depressive stance. His body slumped, his expression reserved and his gaze fixated on his feet. Without much thought, Rukawa walked to the redhead and stopped just in front of him.

“You’re dressed for something, ahou?”

“Rukawa! What are you doing here?”

The look on Sakuragi’s face was a mixture of sadness and defeat, one that is different from his usual fiery personality.

There must be something exciting about love that Rukawa hadn’t figured out yet. There must be since everyone seems to flock to the idea that having a significant other is the only thing worth living.  At least, that’s what they believe, a romanticised version of a love.  Although he’s not the best at expressing emotions, Rukawa isn’t someone inexperienced. He dabbled in the dating realm; unfortunately it’s not something he finds very thrilling. Kissing, holding hands, it’s a spark but it never last.   Don’t get him wrong, it’s a great notion, falling in love. Maybe one day he will feel completely infatuated with someone, someone who makes his world brighter, better and his heart faster. Or maybe not. For someone expressively inept as Rukawa, that might seem unlikely. If that doesn’t end up happening, then who is he to go against fate?

“I wish we could trade places sometimes,” Said Sakuragi in a low whisper. “Just to know how it feels to be popular.” He continued.

There Sakuragi goes again, talking about the what ifs. It’s become so frequent that he feels annoyed hearing about it. It’s drilled into him that the only thing Sakuragi wants is to earn petty affections from one-dimensional girls as proof of his worth. Rukawa is sick of it, sick of all the complaining. Mostly because it leaves a sour feeling in his stomach, he doesn’t know why but he doesn’t like it. Rukawa breathes heavily, leaning against the wall.

“If I give you the experience, would you shut up about it?” Rukawa said flatly. It’s unnerving how casual he sounds asking this. After the shock sets in, the atmosphere between immediately turned heavy and the anticipation surrounds them.  Their nervousness only made worse by the sizzling summer night. Every inch closer is restless, their breath’s tickling skin. Sakuragi swallows hard at the feeling, realising that it’s not the best idea. But curiosity got the better of him and before he could stop himself he glance at Rukawa with eyes half lidded, taking in his handsome features. It’s unfair how calm Rukawa always is, even when lip locking with his team mate.

As soon as the sensation came, the first person to react was Sakuragi. His body jolted up in alert and his senses somehow heightened by the contact. Lips position itself comfortably together, a touch, a peck, nothing firm and yet Sakuragi feels his head spinning. Rukawa was surprised at how quickly the redhead succumbed to the sensation. After telling him to not close his eyes he did so anyway without realising. Rukawa smiled against his lips; its cute how seriously Sakuragi takes this.

Without warning, Sakuragi pressed harder against Rukawa, their lips now firm against eachother. Surprised, Rukawa blinks at the situation, for once taken by surprise at the situation. A hand wanders to his hair, lightly combing it. Sakuragi pressed his body against Rukawa as their lips start to move lightly. Giving in, Rukawa let out an unintentional moan that seemed to break the spell. Sakuragi stopped and his eyes widened in horror at the embarrassing predicament. Breaking the kiss immediately, Sakuragi inched away from Rukawa, leaving a hollow gap between them. His cheeks still burning red as he cleared at his throat and apologised.

“Now would you shut up about it?” was all that Rukawa could say, sounding unaffected as usual. But the tint of red across his cheeks indicates a different story.

In hindsight, Rukawa should’ve minded his own business and let it be. But he didn’t, and he doesn’t know how to make his heart slow down.

 

 

There seems to be a side to the redhead that Rukawa noticed which is different to the usual loud, annoying, and arrogant individual. Sure, he is still those things but sometimes, you do get a glimpse of the genuine, naïve and innocent Sakuragi. Sakuragi Hanamichi is, by all means, a paradox, someone complicated. As stupidly confident as Sakuragi make himself to be, his insecurities does show.

As months passed, he is able to tolerate the empty threats and the unprompted confrontation; it always leads to nothing anyway. More and more Rukawa finds himself feeling irritated at the redhead though. He’s used to Sakuragi’s antics enough that he sometimes finds it amusing and frustrated but there is just something in him that feels restless. Sakuragi had claimed him as a rival and as ridiculous as that is seeing as they are on the same team, this one-sided rivalry is just misplaced and Rukawa figures ignoring it is best.  He’s never seen anyone so ridiculous and dedicated, so arrogant but so fragile all at the same time. He doesn’t know why but he finds it somehow interesting. There is innocence to that fiery personality; it’s something not many people see. But Rukawa does, though a glimpse of it, but it’s there.

But he’s still an idiot.

The first time Rukawa realised the troubling signs was when he started noticing more of Sakuragi’s presence, more than usual. They would fight more and Rukawa would storm out bitterly more.

“D’oahou! Focus!” Rukawa glares.

“Mind your own business, Kitsune!” Sakuragi shot back.

It would be like that for a while. Although Rukawa couldn’t quite figure out why, it would always be when he couldn’t get his attention.

If you ask Rukawa at which point his opinion on Sakuragi changed, it was at the point where he noticed the unrevealed sincerity that Sakuragi secretly carry.  It didn’t help him that they shared a kiss, albeit an educational one but Rukawa still couldn’t put out of his mind. The aftermath of the kiss is surprisingly a heavy one because he walked home unfocused and frazzled that night, his mind distracted and fixated on that one moment. It’s funny, Rukawa was sure he was not the type to be occupied with something trivial, but I guess even the best fall sometime.

There are not a lot of people Rukawa can admire in a person without being at least slightly sceptical. It’s a flaw, or a defence mechanism, or both. Rukawa learned early that the world is cruel, people always expect and it’s better to be self sufficient than dependant. It’s not that he doubts people, only that he has reservations about what they say and what they mean. Sometimes, these are two separate things. To Rukawa, words are almost useless unless when they are supported by action.

So it was a surprise learning that he has himself distracted by none other than Sakuragi Hanamichi. Rukawa pulls a distraught expression realising the irony in his predicament.

The problem with this is that it’s not something he prepared for. He tried rejecting the idea but the more he does the harder it is. Another problem is that Rukawa seems to develop a craving for Sakuragi’s attention. He subtly interjects in every stupid situation or comments indifferently to his antics just to get a rise from the redhead.  However, he noticed how different Sakuragi acts around him. He observed the way the redhead would look away, refusing to hold longer eye contact and the way he seem to act slightly tense around him as if he was the last person he wanted to interact with. Rukawa tried his best to do the same, reminding himself that the last thing he needs is a distraction.

 

Falling is a process, a roller coaster of emotion where you feel insecure about the feeling but reassured every time you see them. It is madness and a cure, clarity and confusion.

The point when everything started to make sense and when he realised that maybe there is something more to his irritation. He ran out of reasons why he would think Sakuragi as anything more but he would come to accept his feelings.

He tried to ignore it but the thumping of his heart won’t stop. He tried but the undeniable feeling in his gut keeps telling him to acknowledge it.

Rukawa sighs tiredly, exasperated from feeling as if nothing makes sense. He tried working out the reasons why he feels this way, trying his best to consider the ways in which Sakuragi affected him. The more he sees Sakuragi, the more irritated he feels. Why him of all people? There are other more extraordinary, talented and better-looking people out there and here the only person he’s thinking of is Sakuragi Hanamichi. It’s either he has really low standards or….

“Haruko!” Sakuragi called out to the petite girl, his face beaming with joy.

“Sakuragi,” she smiled, “Oh, I didn’t see you. Were you practising here alone?”

Sakuragi nodded, his cheeks showing a tint of red. Rukawa stood by the door, eyeing the two figures.

“Are you looking for someone?”

“Ah,” Haruko’s cheeks went red at the question, “I was just…wondering if Rukawa is here.” She continued, holding a small parcel to her chest.

“Oh,” Sakuragi replied, a hint of disappointment in his voice. Wiping the sweat dripping from the side of his forehead, he breathes heavily.

Noticing the sulk in his expression, Haruko raised her eyebrows, “Do you want to maybe have dinner together?” Sakuragi light up instantly at the question, nodding his head vigorously. His once gloomy exterior turned immediately cheerful.

Amused, Haruko giggled at the sight. “I’ll wait here while you change.” She sat down on the benches.

Sakuragi perked up, a wide grin plastered on his expression with excitement bubbling in his chest.

As soon as he stepped in, he sees Rukawa sitting on the long bench opposite the lockers, his hands focused on his shoelaces.

“You’re still here?” Sakuragi’s voice is defensive remembering how Haruko is looking for the blue eyed boy. Rukawa paid no mind to him, decided that his shoelaces is giving him enough trouble already.

Sakuragi walked to his locker which coincidently happens to be beside Rukawa. “I still think it’s unfair that you have all this popularity and never once have you smiled at a woman.”

Rukawa remained silent.

“That other night…when we…I mean, you said you have experience…”Sakuragi stammers lightly at his words, “If you have any advice… I’m having a dinner date with Haruko so I was wondering if…”

Rukawa sighs and stands up, grabbing his duffel bag next to him.

“You said you would shut up about it.” Rukawa replied, his eyebrows wrinkled and gaze fixated on the redhead.

Sakuragi meets his gaze momentarily before looking away. “I was just…”

“Why do you always chase after people who don’t appreciate you?” surprised by his sudden seriousness, Rukawa bit his lip and moved his gaze to the floor, avoiding the redhead’s reaction.  The atmosphere is heavy and awkward, both surprised by the sudden irritation seeping in.

“Why do you care so much?”

“I don’t,” replied Rukawa, “It’s pathetic.” He continued before he can stop himself. Surprisingly, a comeback never came and only silence stretched between the two. Rukawa glance at the redhead, expecting a snarl, a glare, a commotion, anything but was only met with hurtful eyes. Sakuragi’s expression fell, eyes cast down and lips pinched. Rukawa feels his heart wallow in guilt. Feeling the remorse gnawing him, he turned silently to his locker pretending to put more things in his bag.

“You better hurry up, she’s waiting for you.” Was all Rukawa said as a way to ease the tension. Without wasting any more time, the redhead closed his locker door and lingered momentarily. He opened his mouth to say something but quickly changed his mind to walk away.

“Do’ahou,” Rukawa called out. Sakuragi turned to Rukawa, expecting another blow. Rukawa moved his eyes elsewhere, sighing lightly before saying, “just…be yourself.” Taken aback by the change in tone, Sakuragi nodded lightly before walking away leaving Rukawa to contemplate alone in the empty locker room. His grip on the small metal door tightens, cursing himself at the misplaced aggression. He didn’t mean to sound mean but he couldn’t control his irritation. The wave of bitterness washes over him at the thought of the redhead being alone with a girl. He can imagine the goofy smile and dorky expression on his face all too clearly.

Rukawa sighs, surrendering himself to the feeling of sudden envy. This is becoming too much of a hassle.

 

It takes a second, a moment for everything to lay open. It takes only once for Rukawa to act on his feelings, one small fragile moment. There must be something about the overbearing pressure of burying the useless feeling that makes Rukawa feel especially vulnerable.

It had been a stressful match and Sakuragi and Rukawa are the only ones last in the gymnasium in charge of clearing the equipment. The atmosphere is surprisingly light and friendly between the two. Sakuragi’s animated laugh could be heard echoing the halls.

 “You weren’t that bad either.” Sakuragi smirked, his expression kind. “Your assisting skills are great.” He continued. Rukawa glance at the redhead, looking for any sign of mockery or sarcasm but there is none.

“I mean, you managed to get the last basket in. It was pretty cool.” There is admiration in his voice.

Rukawa remained silent, trying hard to ignore the tingling of his heart.

“What’s wrong Kitsune? You look tense.” asked Sakuragi, leaning closer. Rukawa swallows, his eyes unblinking, everything in him screaming to ignore and walk away. He steals another glance at the redhead, noticing how close he is right now. Before he could stop himself, he grabbed Sakuragi’s arm, turning him around against the solid wall.

“Oi, Rukawa…”

Before Sakuragi could react, Rukawa pressed his lips against Sakuragi’s chapped ones. It started as a peck, just a touch at first but gradually he pressed harder, moving his lips slightly as if greedy for more. Sakuragi’s hand threatened to push him away but Rukawa tightened his hold on him. The rush of the moment makes Sakuragi lightheaded and before he realised it, he finds himself giving in to the kiss, further deepening the kiss. When Rukawa finally break the kiss, it was soft and slow, as if savouring in every last bit of sensation he could.

 “What are you doing?” Sakuragi whispered, his voice came out hoarse and breathy.

“Is it not okay?”

“Are you crazy?” said Sakuragi, his cheeks stained red. They held their gaze, uncertain of how to properly make sense of the current situation. Rukawa bit his lip, his eyes never leaving Sakuragi. He watched hazelnut eyes studying him and all Rukawa could think is how attractive the colour brown is.

Sakuragi’s lips parted as he stared questioningly at the black haired boy.

“Is it not okay for me to like you?” it’s more of a question to himself but the words slipped out without him realising it. It’s a question he always asks himself and now in this fragile moment, he search desperately for the answer. Is it really okay?

Sakuragi’s eyes widened at that and his mouth hang open. “What!” Sakuragi exclaimed, jolting back in the process. “Like me?”

“But—you—I mean, “Sakuragi stammers, trying desperately to search for answers. “But I am a guy.” He muttered lowly

“So it would seem.” Rukawa folded his arms against his chest.

“Isn’t that—“

Sakuragi’s wide eyes bore into Rukawa’s, confusion and uncertainty apparent in the redhead’s eyes. Rukawa raised his eyebrows, keeping their gaze focused.

“You can’t just—“Sakuragi trailed off. “I’m a guy!” he repeated again, voice still low.

“Why does that matter?” asked Rukawa. “How is it so different to liking girls?”

“Of course it’s different!” Sakuragi exclaimed immediately. “I mean…you know—we can’t just do something like this! It’s not right!“

“Is that what you really think?” Rukawa asked, his voice dripping with disdain. When Sakuragi didn’t answer him Rukawa feels his heart clench in his chest, realising that acting on his intuition and his feelings might not be the smartest thing to do. This hurts more than he anticipated. What is he thinking? Why is he so reckless?

Rukawa clenched his fist. “You’re right, let’s just forget about this.”

 “Rukawa, wait!” Sakuragi grabbed Rukawa’s wrist but he immediately pulled away. “If you want to keep chasing after people who don’t return your feelings then go ahead.” His tone came out slightly bitter than usual but Rukawa is too frustrated to even care at this point.

Rukawa glance at Sakuragi with serious eyes, “The way I see it, feelings are feelings. I don’t care about genders. But if that means much to you I’ll stop... liking you.” His gaze fell to the floor, turning away from the redhead as he starts to walk away.

Sakuragi watched Rukawa’s figure disappears. He stands there, alone with his thoughts, still processing the weight of the situation. His cheeks flushed with the thought of Rukawa’s lips brushing against his and him giving into the kiss, secretly craving for more sensation. He feels his heart thumping lightly against his chest as he remembers how sincere Rukawa’s eyes had been. Rukawa Kaede just admitted to liking him. Is this real?

 

 

There have been very few instances where Sakuragi would have his feelings reciprocated. Okay, maybe less than few. But it never leads to anything much because by the first week she had either moved on or was too embarrassed to continue liking him.

He admits, he wasn’t such a great person in the past. His life was consumed by fighting. It was the only thing he was ever really good at and the only thing that gave him purpose. After his parents passed away, the gang life only consumed him more. The only thing that grounded him was his friends especially Youhei, who was always there from the very beginning. Without anyone there, he didn’t see much point to care about anything else that people usually aim for. Deep down though, he wished he care, he wanted to care. When he see people so full of purpose with happiness plastered on their faces and a glint in their eyes as if they’re the luckiest people on earth, so content with life, Sakuragi could only wish he would find that someday. One day.

Everyone he had ever liked would reject him. That’s how it’s always been.

Sakuragi gazes intently at the cup in his hand, swirling the liquid around lightly, deep in thought. He sighs.

“You okay?” Youhei nudged him lightly.

“Yeah,” Sakuragi sighs, but Youhei remained unconvinced.

“You haven’t even touched your food,” Said Youhei, eyeing his untouched pasta. “That’s a little worrying,”Youhei added jokingly.

“Sorry, “Sakuragi apologised, setting his glass down.

“Is something wrong, Hanamichi?

Sakuragi pursed his lips thoughtfully, “How would you react if someone confessed to you.”

“Happy?” Youhei raised an eyebrow, “that’s obvious right?”

 Sakuragi sighs, crossing his arms over his chest. He wrinkled his eyebrows, focused on something. “But what if he’s a guy?” he slowly turns to Youhei expecting him to be so shocked. Instead, Youhei remained calm; his eyes stared at Sakuragi, squinting at him suspiciously.

“Who confessed to you?”

“That is not the point!” Sakuragi exclaimed.

“So you have an admirer…who turns out to be a guy,” Youhei shrugged, “what’s the big deal?”

Sakuragi scratched his neck nervously, his cheeks turning to a darker shade of red. “It’s weird, isn’t it? Two guys…you know, together.”

Youhei smiled, sipping on his drink. “It’s weird if you think it’s weird.”

“What do you mean?”

Youhei meets his gaze and raised his eyebrows pointedly at him, “The way I see it, feelings are feelings. And if you like someone genders aren’t important.” Sakuragi’s eyes widened, surprised at how familiar the words are. Rukawa said the exact same thing. Enlightened by the concept, he nodded, taking in Youhei’s words carefully.

“But not everyone thinks like that. If you have a problem with it then you don’t have to return his feelings.” Youhei added.

 

 

He finds himself in a weird situation where it becomes hard to look at Rukawa for too long, like he used to. If he did, it would leave a strange sensation.  The wave of nervousness washes over him as he starts to notice Rukawa the way he is, not as a rival but as a confident and competent individual. Sakuragi have always known how good he is, he always knew how much talent and skill the boy has but watching him made Sakuragi realise how  focused he’s been in trying beating him that he forgets to appreciate his sportsmanship. Many times Sakuragi felt a sense of awe and admiration, secretly wondering how someone could be that talented. 

It’s not love; at least, he doesn’t think so. But he’s never felt this way before so he couldn’t accurately identify what it is. Maybe he’s just sick of the blue eyed boy, maybe the uneasy feeling in his stomach and the quick pace of his heart points to a more serious disease. Maybe he’s going to die, Sakuragi pales.

Youhei laughed when he told him this.

“Maybe you like him?” Youhei teased, snapping him out of his thoughts. Surprised, Sakuragi chokes on air, coughing.

“What!”

Youhei chuckled, “You avoid him like a shy school girl.”

Sakuragi blushed at that and folded his arms against his chest in protest. “Give me a break!” he rolled his eyes. “he’s just awful to look at!”

“Then?”

Sakuragi rubs his chin thoughtfully, considers the question seriously. “Rukawa is…”

As if on cue, a tall figure came into view, stopping right in front of him. Blue eyes collide with brown, cold blue clash with fiery red. “R-rukawa!” was the only thing that Sakuragi manage to let out.

Rukawa acknowledges him, his eyes fixed on the redhead. Sakuragi fidgets under the stare, picking anxiously at his sleeve.  The air seems awkward somehow, not a lot, just a tint, like an unspoken tension suddenly fills the open air. Youhei glance from his friend to Rukawa then back again, sighs and deadpans. Without words, Rukawa walked past the redhead, leaving him to stare back at the blue eyed boy as he walked away. Youhei’s question lingers in the air, still waiting to be answered.

‘Odd….” Sakuragi continued softly, staring contemplatively at the disappearing figure, ignoring the red lightly dusting his cheeks.

 

Present Day

Sakuragi stared down at his drink, moving the glass in a circular motion distracted by the swirling liquid. Sitting in a crowded room, he finds himself preoccupied with a memory; a disjointed flashback he didn’t know was real or just a dream. It comes in flashes of words, questions he asked someone. He remembers feeling sad and vulnerable as if desperate for some sort of affirmation.

“I wanted to tell you how I really feel…”

“Even if it’s you, I can’t keep denying how I feel…”

Sakuragi closes his eyes and breathes heavily trying to shake his thoughts away. Looking around the room he watched his friends immersed themselves in the atmosphere of the party. He watched as Mitsui trying his best to seduce the girls while Miyagi recklessly chugs beer with the guys.

He’s trying really hard to blend in, to have fun; he must look so out of character right now. He had thought this party would make him forget, at least for awhile. But here he is, sitting in Haruko’s house; with thoughts of days prior where he had drunk call Rukawa.

Youhei had asked him how he felt about Rukawa, what he would do if he sees him again. Of course his immediate response that day was nothing but contempt for the blue eyed boy. He had denied every feeling; he had furrowed his eyes and folded his arms at the mere question. And of course, Youhei just smiles back knowingly, not taking any of his response seriously.

Sakuragi questions himself a lot. When he’s alone, when he’s dares to be honest, he asks himself the same question, ‘what Rukawa means to me?’, if he still does mean anything and why he feels so bitter even after so many years?

He feels like he’s regressing, now more than ever. Denying and being so vengeful is something the past Sakuragi would do, not the present. He’s changed, he know he has. But why does Rukawa makes him feel like he hasn’t?

Truth be told, he doesn’t hate Rukawa, he never could.

“Maybe Youhei is right, I am running away...” Sakuragi mumbles, rubbing his neck thoughtfully. “Well, whatever, it’s not like I’ll see him here.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 Chapter 10: There’s no starting over without finding closure

 

First, you think the worst is a broken heart

What’s gonna kill you is the second part

And the third, is when your world splits down the middle

 

Rukawa lay on his bed, idly waiting for night to arrive. He debated on whether he should go to the party. He only has two days left in Kanagawa so the sensible thing to do would be to enjoy it as much as possible, indulge in the familiarity.  But he feels hesitant to meet Sakuragi again, and he doesn’t know why. He is not afraid of the redhead so why does he keep running? Is it guilt?

Rukawa sat up and walked over to the window, admiring the scenery. He missed this, this serenity. Sure, it’s sometimes as gloomy as New York but it’s calmer and honestly, he prefers this.

Blue is boundless, like the ocean, thought Rukawa as he imagines the sky above freckled with stars. Some days it is a pure, uninterrupted blue that stretches seamlessly across the vast canvas.  When the sun rises, the bright yellow and pink hues piled on top of each other, reflecting low hanging clouds filling the world with haze of wonder. Today, dark grey clouds gather together angrily pushing each other. Rukawa observed the city landscape, taking in the calm atmosphere of Kanagawa. Rain or shine, the mellow city feels constantly alive.  

Rukawa sighs as the image of a grinning Sakuragi Hanamichi flash through his mind. He remembers the way Sakuragi would smile sincerely at him when he thought he wasn’t watching. The once bitter frown would gradually turn into a fond, soft smile that Rukawa swears always leaves him weak even now when he’s so far away. 

He remembers the way Sakuragi looks at him, his brown eyes always gleaming with kindness, sincerity and a strange tint of anxiousness. The first time he met the redhead in freshman year he had thought that he was no different from the people he’s met, the kind who fixated on useless things. He had been that but the closer he got to know Sakuragi, the more he finds himself gravitating towards the redhead.  It started innocent enough, they got along and then they just started to see more of each other. One thing leads to another and suddenly Rukawa finds himself initiating a second, more deliberate and intimate approach towards Sakuragi.

Sakuragi’s eyes were a hickory as rich as the earth’s soul; stained with the colour of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s night. It exudes warmth that somehow makes you feel as if precious and secure, something you want wrapped around you. Those deep pools of dark cinnamon swirls seized the depths and heaviness of untold stories. They consisted of raw emotion and if you observe closely, they will reveal the honesty that most fail to see. Rukawa swears that he’s never seen anything quite so beautiful, it could rival the stars.

Rukawa closes his eyes and imagines the redhead, the way his angry yet confused expression turns into a fond and soft one. Despite their differences, they were compatible. Rukawa is more mellow and reserved but Sakuragi was able to bring that emotional side of him.

It turns out they made a really good team. Whether on the court or outside of it, they were effective. They balance each other; Sakuragi tends to somehow give him something he needs. He feels freer to express himself with the redhead that even though Sakuragi may react in animatedly sometimes, it never came from a place of judgement. As complex as their relationship can be, there is simplicity to it. Rukawa swears even Youhei doesn’t know the level of depth that Sakuragi has.

Somehow, Sakuragi was able to effortlessly pierce through Rukawa’s reserved mask.  He was the only one who understood him. In his own way, he did.

Rukawa smiles at the thought. Sakuragi’s confidence is endearing at times, the willingness to persevere even in the absence of hope is probably the reason why he’s able to persist the way he does. It is definitely one of his better qualities.

Rukawa turned and walked to his desk, staring at his table hesitantly. Opening the drawer, he let out a breath seeing the familiar contents. Cards and photos tucked neatly next to notebooks, hidden from plain view. Picking up the cards, he examined it thoroughly, remembering the significance it carries. He opened it to reveal a written note. And just like that, all the nostalgia hits him instantly.

Rukawa runs his fingers over the letter, his gaze softens at the sight. Rukawa smiles lightly at the far away memory; he never expected to fall deeper for the redhead that day, but at the time, it was difficult not to.

But just as much as Rukawa remembered him as a boisterous and loud individual, the last expression Sakuragi directed at him was a bitter one. The one you pull when your boyfriend just broke up with you. It haunts Rukawa up till now. People might assume that it doesn’t bother him but it does, it genuinely does. But he had to make a choice.  There had been countless nights where he lay awake thinking about his decision. Love, he thought, would only make it harder; it would make him want to stay. Rukawa stared up at the melancholic sky, feeling his heart heavy with the reminder of his inner turmoil. Sakuragi noticed it too, the way he had acted all those months before the break up. The way that Rukawa would pull away sooner when they hug or when he had been too occupied that he had missed out on every promise they had made together.

 It is painful to think about now but Rukawa was convinced that he had made the right choice, the only choice that makes sense. He doesn’t understand this hesitation, he used to want this. He used to be so sure, so convinced that this was right. There was a time in his life Rukawa’s life where he expressed in an honest way, but he knew earlier on that he couldn’t go on that way. They couldn’t keep pretending that life wouldn’t affect them. He has dreams, Sakuragi does too. Being together, wouldn’t it just make everything difficult? 

He recounts the way Sakuragi had glared at him that night after confronting him at the café. The redhead’s eyes were burning with anger and hurt, it caught him off guard. But still, his frustration had taken over and he glared back at Sakuragi with similar animosity at how much he accused him of being heartless. Now that he thought about it, it did seem that way. It was selfish of him to make anyone understand how he actually felt without any explanation.

Rukawa clenched his fist firmly; irritated at the thought that he allowed himself this guilt. He didn’t want to feel this way, he shouldn’t, and he couldn’t. But he did and for some reason still does.

Rukawa sighs heavily, opening his eyes slowly as he comes to the realization that to heal him from any guilt, he should stop denying and confront his emotions. With the days he has left, perhaps Sakuragi deserves an explanation too.

Without anymore hesitation, he grabbed the black denim jacket on his bed and walk out the door with the hope of making sense of his feelings. He needs this closure, they both do.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 11: Bloodstream

 

‘I think I might've inhaled you

 I can feel you behind my eyes

 You've gotten into my bloodstream I can feel you flowing in me’

 

Rukawa stares at the house decorated with party lights with the sound of distinct music coming from the inside. He fixed himself before pressing the doorbell. Out of better judgement, Rukawa decided that maybe showing up to the party would also be good to see his friends and teammates again for one last reunion. They were a big part of his life and he really didn’t want to lose that regardless how he might act.

Staring at the heavily decorated lights and the loud music it’s surprising how much it seems that it is less of a ‘little get together’ and more of a frat party. He had doubts about showing up though, uncertain how people would receive him. This is the first time in 2 years meeting familiar faces and considering he never write letters despite trying, would they treat him differently?

If they did, how much would it bother him? If they didn’t, would he regret not trying sooner?

More than anything, he thought about the phone call the night before. He couldn’t stop thinking about it. The raw sincerity from Sakuragi leaves a sense of longing he’s not felt in a long time.

Rukawa sighs, bracing himself for what is to come.

“Hey, don’t touch that!” he heard someone shouted, sounds like Mitsui. “Are we expecting more guests?”

Mitsui opened the door; his body immediately freezes at the sight of the familiar face. Surprised, Mitsui stared at Rukawa dumbfounded. Rukawa seem to tower him slightly now since the last time they met.

“Senpai,” Rukawa greeted, bowing lightly at the older man. “Rukawa?” Mitsui stood still in shock, his pale as if he’s just been greeted by a ghost. Rukawa feels bad for avoiding people the way he did. He realised that maybe it was selfish of him to not have visited the basketball team sooner, despite what qualms he might have with Sakuragi. Mitsui shakes his head and grinned at him, “Haruko didn’t tell me you’re coming! When did you get back!”

“Come in, come in!” Mitsui dragged him in excitedly. Rukawa scanned the house and he was right, it is a little more than a get together. There are a lot of unfamiliar faces and plenty of discarded beer bottles on the floor. He has to wonder if there is more to the sweet and innocent looking Haruko than she led on. The music was pretty loud but not as bad as he thought, you at least can hear yourself think or talk. People mostly sat in the living room and some were on the balcony talking, playing or making out. Not that it matters much since he’s been to rowdier parties but to see his friends and strangers in this state is surprising to say the least.

People stares at him as soon as he walks in, their eyes eyeing him up and down. The girls smile in his direction whereas the boys seem to give him a mix of a judgmental and shocked expression. Rukawa ignores the heavy stares and scanned the surroundings of any sign of red.

“Hey guys, look who’s here!” Mitsui announced. Miyagi who was in the middle of chugging his beer spontaneously spat out at the sight of the blue eyed boy. Haruko jumped excitedly, clapping her hands.

“I’m so glad you came Rukawa!”

Rukawa nodded.

“When the heck did you come back!” Miyagi cleared his throat, trying to regain his composure.

Just as soon as he is about to answer, Youhei chimed in with empty beer bottles.

“Haruko, is there—“Youhei stopped, noticing Rukawa’s presence in the room. The atmosphere becomes thick with tension but ignoring the strain of it all, Rukawa manage to acknowledge Youhei’s presence with a small wave. It’s not that they have a problem with each other per se but it’s not hard to imagine that the best friend of your ex lover wouldn’t be so ecstatic seeing the face of the man who broke his friend’s heart. That is something Rukawa completely understands and he doesn’t blame Youhei for having a negative reaction.

“Hey, Rukawa, “Youhei waved back, his slightly stoic expression melts into a friendlier one which surprises Rukawa. Wow, that was quick, Rukawa thought.

“You should come hang out with the rest of us at the balcony; Hanamichi is making a fool of himself again.” Youhei chuckled.

“He never learns.” Miyagi commented.

Taken aback by the openness of the mood, Rukawa relaxes, his uneasiness gradually disappears.

Mitsui sighs, “That idiot is always showing off.”

Youhei grabs two beer bottles then walked in to the living with Miyagi and Mitsui following behind. Haruko smiles after them then to Rukawa before walking in the direction of the living room.

The mood seems to be too pleasant and that, Rukawa thinks, is suspicious. It’s not that he is superstitious, far from. But from experience, when something is too good it usually ends up being the opposite. Rukawa shakes his head, shaking off the gloomy thought. It’s a stupid concept.

 

 

Youhei stepped on to the balcony approaching the red head who is now talking to a blonde girl. Her giggles can be heard from a mile away. Youhei notes how annoying it is, her high pitch laugh sounds more like a squawk more than anything. Youhei wonders why his friend gives her the time of day. Sakuragi doesn’t have the best judgement sometimes.

It’s not that Youhei minds Sakuragi talking to girls, he’s happy for him in fact. The only problem is that he hates seeing his friend so pathetic. Besides, it doesn’t help that the girl, Sayori, is notorious for leading guys on. Youhei knows what Sakuragi really wants, what he really feels. Until Sakuragi stops being immature and actually seeks some sort of closure, he’s never going to feel okay about his situation, no matter how hard he convinces himself.

Sakuragi is still in love with Rukawa, that much Youhei is confident about.

“Hanamichi, “Youhei taps Sakuragi’s shoulder, “I think we should get back inside, it looks like it’s going to rain.”

“I think it’s pretty romantic being out in the rain, don’t you think?” the girl smiles seductively at the redhead. Youhei rolled his eyes at that horrible seduction technique. But of course, Sakuragi agrees.

“Hey, have you seen the guy in there?” Another girl chimes in, whispering and excitedly tapping Sayori on the shoulder. “He is gorgeous! It’s that guy you like from freshman year.”

“You know…Rukawa Kaede.” The girl whispers, giggling.

If Youhei could, he would actually threaten them to keep their mouth shut. He is against violence on women but sometimes, especially when they are this insensitive, they are no different to those mobsters he fights.

Sayori’s eyes widened in interest at the mention of the name as Sakuragi’s eyebrow wrinkled with evident worry.

“You know what, your friend is right, we should get back inside.” Without any hesitation, without even the courtesy to consider the redhead’s feelings, the girls left, leaving Sakuragi to process what just happened.

The atmosphere fell silent.

“You okay?” Youhei moved closer to his friend, offering him a beer bottle. Sakuragi takes it and chugs on it immediately.

“Whoa, hey, slow down.” Youhei panicked, staring at Sakuragi in shock. “Are you that upset that you’re trying to drown yourself?”

Sakuragi swallows the last drop of beer and wiped his lips. His cheek now flushed red, his body emitting warmth.

“I-if I have to go through tonight, I might as well go through it drunk…” Sakuragi mumbles. Youhei let out a heavy sigh. He hates seeing Sakuragi this way, always in denial, always running, never confronting. There are limits to his patience. He understands how much it affected him, how much it took out of him. But if Sakuragi never face his feelings, he will always be trapped in this cycle.

“Hanamichi, “Youhei started, “maybe you should talk to Rukawa.”

Sakuragi turned to him, surprised.

“He must have his reasons for—“

“He was never serious with me, he led me on and now he’s living comfortably in America without any regrets.” Sakuragi’s says bitterly, every word feels like a knife through his heart. It hurts, oh my god it hurts.

“Hanamichi, you don’t know that.”

“Yes I do.” Sakuragi responded firmly as tears starting to build up.

And there it is again, he looks as if he is about to break right there and then.  

“No, you don’t.” Youhei replied back, his tone suddenly serious. “You think you do, but I know you’re just scared to face him.”

Sakuragi furrowed his eyebrows at Youhei, taken aback by the sudden rebuttal. Sakuragi sighs, “Youhei, I know you mean well but I have nothing to say to him.”

“Hanamichi, please, I know it’s hard but---“

Sakuragi rubs his forehead, feeling slightly lightheaded from all the alcohol.

“Can we stop talking about this?”

“Look, I hate seeing you like this,” said Youhei, “I know you still care and just once, I’m asking you, as a friend, to do yourself a favour and talk to him. Even if nothing comes out of it, at least you won’t regret anything.”

Deep down he knows Youhei is right, deep down he knows he should stop running. He wants to.  Why is he making it so hard on himself?

“I know you’re right, “Sakuragi agrees, hanging his head, sighing.

 

 

When Rukawa imagined a ‘small get together’, he never anticipated it to be filled with strangers. A lot of unfamiliar faces gawking at him left and right. The girls seem to want to flirt with him endlessly while the guys keep asking him personal questions.

Sitting on the couch, Rukawa tries hard to blend in and to keep himself occupied. He feels so out of place, and suddenly he silently regrets being here. So much for rekindle past friendships, half of them are drunk. He looks around the room, searching for any sign of red only to be disappointed by the lack of vibrant colour in the room.

Out of nowhere, a figure takes a seat beside him.

“Rukawa,” Mitsui appeared, grinning at him as he hands him a bottle of beer. He takes it, bowing slightly.

“How is America?”

“It’s good, “Rukawa replied, sipping the drink in his hand.

“I bet, “Mitsui winked, “America must be great, I’ve always wanted to visit one day.” Mitsui continued, suddenly excited.

Rukawa nodded, “Yeah, a little bit. It’s just different.”

Suddenly, a feminine voice interrupted them. A blonde haired girl smiled at them flirtatiously, flipping her hair over her shoulders trying to look seductive. She sat down next to Rukawa, trapping him the middle. Rukawa backs away slightly, uncomfortable by the lack of space.

“Can I help you?” asked Rukawa, raising an eyebrow at the girl.

“Mitsui, who is your friend?” The girl smiled, leaning in just slightly close. With this distance he can smell her overpowering strawberry perfume with her make up so overdone he could see the thickness of the powder on her face.

“Oh, this is Rukawa Kaede.” Mitsui introduced, “Rukawa, this is Sayori, she’s a 2nd year in Shohoku.”

Rukawa notes the lack of honorific when addressing Mitsui, he flinched.

“So, “she starts, “you must be Rukawa Kaede. I’ve heard so much about you.”

Rukawa merely stares at her, uninterested.

“You’re as handsome as I imagine,” she continues to ogle him with her big brown mascara-heavy eyes. “Actually, even better.” she giggles as she stares up at Rukawa dreamily.

“Thanks, I guess.” Rukawa shrugs, his tone uninterested, hoping she would get the hint and leave him alone. But of course, that just fuels the blonde woman. Sayori just sat there, deliberately sitting so close so her exposed legs would rub against his jeans. If her skirt is any shorter than it already is, Rukawa swears she would be flashing him right now.

“I can see that I’m intruding,” Mitsui stands up, “It was great seeing you Rukawa. We should all hang out again before you leave.”

Rukawa nods, smiling at the idea. Mitsui smiles back before leaving Rukawa to deal with the burden next to him.

 “Wow, I didn’t know you were so close to Mitsui.”

Rukawa simply looks at her, his face scrunched in into an unpleasant expression; it’s a miracle he didn’t manage to vomit right then and there.

“Wow,” she smiles, admiration in her voice, “you live America? You’re so much better than the guys I’ve ever met. All the guys I’ve been with don’t have anything special to them, but I can tell you’re different.” She winks.

For once, Rukawa feels like running out the door. This sorry excuse for a flirting attempt is atrociously bad he contemplates just chugging the whole beer bottle in hopes to numb the pain, to forget this girl is even here.

Rukawa reach for the beer in front of him, taking a sip, feeling the heat of it glide down his throat. He’s been sitting here for hours now and not even a glimpse of the red head anywhere. Maybe this is all a waste of time, maybe it’s a sign telling him to just leave it. Rukawa stands up, sighing as he puts on his jacket.

He was really hoping he would meet Sakuragi here. He plans to talk, to straighten things out before he leaves so he can leave any guilt he feels behind him. If not, at least to just see him once is enough.

Suddenly, Rukawa hears a familiar voice coming from the balcony door. He turns his head so fast he feels a twinge of pain in his neck. There, wearing a black hoodie and blue ripped jeans stands Sakuragi Hanamichi. Even when he’s standing in a crowded room like this, he is still the only one who seems to stand out.

Just like that, Rukawa feels restless again. It’s not that he’s scared, just tense. Suddenly he has second thoughts about confronting Sakuragi. In the moment he thinks maybe leaving things the way they are, without trying to justify anything is not such a bad thing.

Rukawa shakes his head, snapping out of his foolishness. Since when is he this anxious?

Rukawa is never the one to hesitate like this. But somehow, when it comes to Sakuragi, he learns that he’s a lot of things he’s not.

The sooner he gets over this, the better.

“Where are you going?” Sayori asks, surprised. He ignores her and walks towards the familiar speck of red leaning against the door frame, laughing at some joke.

Rukawa taps his shoulder, anticipating the reaction that will come. Sakuragi turns around and his eyes widened, frozen in shock. For awhile time seems to stand still, Rukawa’s expression remained aloof and plain, countering Sakuragi’s surprised one. The moment between them stretched as if everything has been building up to this encounter.

“Rukawa…?” Sakuragi jumped at the sight of the pale boy.

Rukawa nodded, “Let’s  talk.”

“Now?”

“Yes, now.”

“Fine,” Sakuragi sighs, “let’s take it outside.”

 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 Out of all the people he thinks he would bump into, Rukawa Kaede would be the last. But here he is, standing outside with his estranged ex-boyfriend. He knows this is bound to happen, but today is a bit too soon. If he knew he would confront Rukawa today, he at least would’ve prepared himself.

But this is good, he needs this.

“You’ve been drinking a lot, haven’t you?” Rukawa pointed out, noticing the redness of Sakuragi’s cheeks.

 “If you wanted to lecture me about my drinking, you could have just said so.” Sakuragi folds his arm defensively, keeping his posture aloof. 

“No, I, “Rukawa looks at Sakuragi, for once feeling like he’s the vulnerable one between the two. “I just wanted to talk about what happened.”

Sakuragi instantly meets Rukawa’s serious gaze, a sudden wave of longing washed over him. This is it; this is the closure he needs. He’s been wondering why for so long, the question that keeps him up at night pacing now can finally be answered. He’s been wondering why for 2 years it feels almost useless knowing about it now. Whatever information he gets from this won’t change facts; it will not stop to erase what the years he spent lost and confused. Sakuragi swallows the lump in his throat; he would be lying if he said he wasn’t nervous.

Standing in front of Rukawa makes him realise how he long he waited for this moment. It made him realise how much time he had wasted on feeling sorry for himself. He had let the pain consumed him for far too long that now after all the endless nights reeling, would it even make a difference?

“Maybe we should just leave things as it is,” Sakuragi said flatly, his voice sounded defeated. “It wouldn’t change anything between us.”

Rukawa looks at Sakuragi sternly, “no, we need to solve this.”

“Whatever we say wouldn’t make a difference.” Sakuragi averted his eyes away; the image of Youhei wouldn’t stop nagging him telling him to talk to Rukawa, to make him understand how much his absence affected him. Sakuragi scoffs at the thought of pouring his feelings to the blue eyed boy.

Rukawa shrinks slightly; his tall posture now slightly slouched.

“Look, I know things weren’t great, “Rukawa moves his gaze to the ground, focusing on the uneven patch of road instead.  “But I was just trying to separate myself from everything. I knew telling you would just make it harder.”

 “seperate?” Sakuragi repeated the word, his voice low as he tries to make sense of the word. Sakuragi feels his heart sinks knowing Rukawa had wanted to separate himself from the relationship. Was he that bad? Had he caused so much trouble that Rukawa decided that it was better to just cut himself off entirely? Was he that bad? Sakuragi blinks; taken aback by the explanation Rukawa gave him.

“You’re joking right?”  Sakuragi scoffs, his tone mocking. “That’s why you decided to leave? What kind of man avoids his problem so much that he’s willing to move just to run away?” Sakuragi clenches his fist, his anger rising. “You said you don’t feel the same anymore without telling me why!” Sakuragi leaned in Rukawa’s space, every word coming out of his mouth is like venom, and his eyes flash with fiery rage.

Rukawa returned his gaze with similar intensity, “It would’ve helped you move on.”

“Oh? Like you have?” Sakuragi snapped, his voice dripping with disdain. Sakuragi turned his head away, moving his gaze away from Rukawa. He can’t look at him, it’s hard to without feeling like he’s going to punch him, and it makes everything unbearable. Sakuragi inhales heavily, remembering the conversation he had with Youhei. Deep down he knows Youhei is right, but standing here at this moment, right now, physically present is harder than he could have anticipated. Sure, he imagines this scene more than a few times. In his head, it wasn’t this heavy, in his head he knew exactly what to say. In his head, Rukawa was the one having a hard time.

Rukawa narrowed his eyes at Sakuragi’s heated ones. He stays silent, letting the redhead vent his frustration. Somehow he couldn’t bring himself to get mad.

“I understand how you feel…” Rukawa started.

“No, you don’t! You want to know how I feel?” Sakuragi raised his voice, the frustration oozing out. “I’ve spent 2 years trying to move on, but I can’t. I’ve spent half of it feeling angry, asking myself why you left the way you did. It was not over for me, you’re the only person that makes me feel like I’m losing my mind!”

“You know what,” Sakuragi continued, “we shouldn’t have started anything! At least we were better at being enemies than we were lovers!” Every word spilling out of his mouth feels like a punch to the gut.  It surprises him how much frustration he‘s been bottling up, letting it go like this feels cathartic. He can feel his frustration gradually leaving him.

The atmosphere turns heavy, the space between them further than before. Rukawa folds his arms, unsure how to continue the conversation further.

Rukawa opened his mouth to say something but the words died on his lips. Anything he says now will only make things worse.

The atmosphere fell silent momentarily with nothing but their breathing and the sound of light breeze around them. Suddenly, small pellets of water start dripping down signalling the sign of the rain. Then all at once heavy rain comes pouring down, soaking them both.

 “You have no idea what you’ve put me through!” Sakuragi gritted his teeth, his eyes narrowed dangerously and his fist tight suppressing the tears threatening to burst out. “I was losing my mind when you left!” Sakuragi exclaimed, moving his hands animatedly to convey the frustration with his body, “I blamed myself for never being good enough! I’ve struggled with the fact that maybe if I had done more then maybe you would’ve stayed…” Sakuragi’s voice cracks a little, revealing the fragility he tried so hard to hide as he folds his arms tighter against his chest. The weight of his words feels real now.

“After everything we’ve been through…” Sakuragi chokes, his tears now trickling down his face, “Of course I’m going to take it personally…”

Rukawa feels his heart break, feeling the jab from every word. The reality of it throws him off. For some reason, this is harder than he thought it would be. He anticipated the anger that would come from Sakuragi; he had imagined all the blunt harshness that the redhead would throw at him. But he never considered how much his actions have wounded the person he cared, how much of a coward he must look.  Visualising this scene was easy; actually being in it is harder.

This complicates it further. He only wanted to explain, to justify his actions but he doesn’t know what he wants any more. All he knows is that Sakuragi is hurt; all he knows is that he feels it too. As reckless as it may seem, it was never to intentionally cause this much damage. He didn’t know any better, he ran away because he knew if he didn’t, he wouldn’t be able to bring himself to. He never feels this torn about anything or anyone. All his life he was always confident about what he wants but right now, with Sakuragi, he feels confused about what he wants and what he thinks he deserves.

Sakuragi meets his gaze, hurt visible in his brown eyes. Sakuragi’s eyes are glassy with tears as he waits for his response.

 “I’m sorry,” Rukawa’s voice came out low and vulnerable. It catches Sakuragi off guard; he looks at him with sympathy as he lowers his defences slightly. Out of all the reaction he imagined Rukawa to have; this was the last.

Rukawa closes his eyes, breathing in the regret that seems to chase him for too long. It’s always been there, whether he chooses to ignore it or not. After all this time, its clear now more than ever that all he keeps on is denying, repressing every memory. He so desperately wanted to move on, but the truth is he wanted to save himself from his own heartache. He had been selfish up til now, he is still selfish. Sakuragi is right, he only thought of himself.

Being here right now makes it clear that he didn’t deserve being part of Sakuragi’s world, he loved him but he can see now that action without commitment is just as bad as wasted potential. It makes him realise how long he’s been running away and how much the idea of losing scared him. Rukawa never sees himself as someone who gives up on things or people he cares about but it is evident now that he had become the very person he never wanted to be. This confrontation concerns more than just him; it’s about overcoming his mistakes, it’s about making sense of his feelings.

Rukawa swallows the lump in his throat, the sadness seeping in. “I was afraid…” and just like that, Sakuragi hears the frailty from the only man he thought could only be strong.

Rukawa glanced at Sakuragi, moving his gaze slowly from the ground to the redhead’s face as if waiting for the red head to start laughing. Instead, Sakuragi stares back at him, confused. His eyes scan every detail of Rukawa’s handsome face, trying to make sense of the sudden burst of emotion.

“I just thought if I ended things then it would be easier...” Rukawa’s words trail off.

“But I was just thinking of myself.”

 Rukawa rubs his neck, a habit he does when he feels tense. He furrowed his eyebrows, his gaze focused on the ground.

“Truth is, I would’ve stayed if you asked me to.” Rukawa wrinkles his eyebrows upwards, taking in the honesty of his own words, “America, basketball, I thought about giving it up…”

“I was selfish, “said Rukawa, tears brimming at the corner of his eyes “I was confused.”

Rukawa bit his quivering lip, wiping the tears now trickling down, somehow thankful that the rain is able to mask his tears.

“I’ve never felt this way before….” Once the first tear broke free, the rest followed in an unbroken stream. Rukawa buried his face in his hands as he aggressively wiped the tears flowing down.  Every sincere statement feels like liberation all on its own. As if it’s the first time he’s ever admitted his true feelings.

“I was afraid of losing you…”

“But you broke up with me.” Sakuragi countered.

“I know,” Rukawa said immediately, “I know, but I just thought that if I ended things, I wouldn’t have to go through losing you when life decides that one day we shouldn’t be together.”

“Look,” Rukawa sighs, “If I didn’t end things I knew it would be hard because I wouldn’t be able to …”

“I thought if I just focus on basketball, it will be okay.” Rukawa closes his eyes, imagining all the times he kept himself busy just so he could put his feelings out of his mind. “But it was not okay.”

I am sorry I never considered your feelings.” Rukawa’s blue eyes meet Sakuragi’s chocolate brown, sincerity looming in his cobalt blue eyes.

“I can’t keep denying how I feel.” Rukawa’s voice is soft like a whisper. Sakuragi’s eyes widened at his words, recalling a particular drunken incident he had over the phone.

“I loved you then, I love you now and I will always love you…” his voice came out choked as if suppressing tears. “But you’re right; maybe it was better if we never started anything. You don’t deserve this.”

Sakuragi stares at him with a newfound empathy, his expression softens at every confession. It surprised him to see Rukawa Kaede so broken in front of him, someone he only knows as confident now so delicate. Sakuragi was so caught up in feeling bitter and vengeful that he never stopped to think how Rukawa might feel. He always assumed that Rukawa was mostly untouchable, aloof and indifferent even when they’re together. But maybe he was blind to Rukawa’s emotions. It would’ve been easier if Rukawa was angry, it would’ve been easier if they succumbed to their aggressive side and left things as disconnected as possible.

Sakuragi continues to stare at Rukawa, speechless and perplexed at what he heard. He had no idea how strong he still feels. A sudden wave of yearning washes over him.

They stayed like that; neither said anything, only their expression visibly covey what their words couldn’t. Rukawa thinks if he stays here any longer, the remaining rainwater would drown him right then and there. Rukawa pushed his wet hair back, feeling the wet sensation on his skin. Every inch of him drenched.

The silence stretched between them, far longer than Rukawa finds comfortable. Feeling the awkwardness of the situation, Rukawa steps aside to walk past Sakuragi. But before he could walk further, a hand grabbed his wrist.

“Wait,” Sakuragi’s voice is soft and his eyes warm. Rukawa couldn’t help but let himself be pulled by the comforting gaze. He was always weak to Sakuragi’s eyes, it never stops being captivating. Rukawa turns his whole body towards Sakuragi, facing him. Sakuragi lets go of Rukawa’s wrist quickly and immediately puts his hands to his side as if he had just been burned.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you, “Sakuragi’s tone is soft and tender, his gaze focused on the ground. “I was just…mad.”

Without warning, Sakuragi wrapped his arms around Rukawa as a way of comfort. The rush of warmth from the redhead sends a flurry of emotions spiralling back like strong waves. Rukawa’s hands fidget slightly before letting his arms cling to Sakuragi’s strong back. The feeling is familiar now as he takes in Sakuragi’s warmth and scent. If he could just stay like this he wouldn’t complain.

“It was hard for me too, you’re the first person that I--“Sakuragi swallowed his words, “I always feel like I’m never good enough for you.”

Rukawa leaned back to look at the redhead properly, carefully tracing his features, from his chocolate brown eyes to his red hair, reminiscing on the days he spent memorizing the redhead. “Do’ahou, “he teases, smiling at him.

Before he could stop himself, Rukawa leans in and close the distance between them. He pressed his lips against Sakuragi’s soft ones. A peck, nothing more, but it is enough to make Rukawa feel the thumping of his heart. It must be the overwhelming openness he allowed himself or the sudden lightness of the atmosphere where their tension had evaporated completely that makes him feel so brave. He couldn’t help feeling swept away by his emotions, the emotions he tried so hard to reject for so long. The emotion now lay open and bare, exposed for everyone to see.

He pulled back slightly; his forehead leaning against Sakuragi’s as he drowned himself in the heat of the moment. Sakuragi’s cheeks flush deep red, his eyes half-lidded and lips parted.  He breathes in heavily at the loss of soft lips against his. They look at each other, their expression mirroring the longing that still lingers between them.