Helping Out
Part Four

" So, have you finally decided that I'm a lost cause?" Rukawa asked Kogure as the upper class man flipped through the stapled together pages of his last history test.  There was a dispirited look on Kogure's face, as though he was the one that had done badly and not Rukawa himself.

The older boy made a conscious effort to appear cheerful.  " Well, a D is better than an F!  We're making some progress!"

" Not really.  Sorry if I made your Mitsui lose his money."

Kogure's face reddened, " He's not my Mitsui.  Not anymore."  For some reason it was important to him that Rukawa got that clear.  After all, he wouldn't want him to think...He frowned.  He wouldn't want Rukawa to think what?  " And don't worry.  I talked Mr.  Murasaki into giving you another chance."

" I really am sorry, you know."

" For making Mitsui lose his money?"

" No.  I couldn't care less what happens to him and that do'aho." He watched Kogure's reaction to this, thinking that he might take offense to what he had just said.  " I'm just sorry because here you are, wasting so much time on me, helping me out and still you get no results."

Kogure waved his hand dismissively.  " It's nothing, you know.  I've always liked history and we're friends, aren't we?"

It took a nerve wracking moment for Rukawa to answer.  " Yeah.  I guess we are."

It was amazing how five, simple words such as those could make someone as giddily happy as it just did Kogure.

" Come on, Ko-chan!  It's been ages since we went out together!"

" Yeah, and it's my treat, remember?" Hanamichi put in, waving a thick wad of bills in front of his face,
"  Come along with us so that I can put the money I got from Lil Missy here to some good use!  Whaddya say, Kogure-chan?"

Mitsui scowled.  " Don't call me Missy!"

Kogure shook his head regretfully, as he put his glasses back on, his dark hair still damp from the shower that he had taken just a while ago.  " I really can't, guys.  I'm sorry.  I'm supposed to go over to Kaede's again to help him review."

" Kaede?" Mitsui repeated in bewilderment.

" That's Rukawa's name, isn't it?"

" Well, yeah!  But...Since when were you on first name basis with the guy, Kogure?  Nobody around here calls him, ' Kaede'."  Mitsui pointed out, running a hand through his dark hair and looking at Kogure questioningly.

" Uh-oh!  Somebody here's jealous!"  Hanamichi sang out gleefully, his sparkling dark eyes darting from Mitsui's face to Kogure's.  " Poor, poor Anzai-sensei!  Losing his loyal Missy to the glasses boy!"

Mitsui was too mystified to even take notice of Hanamichi's comments.  " Hey, Hana-chan, I think I'll take a rain check on that too.  I'll walk Ko-chan over to Kaede's house!"

" You really don't have to, you know." Kogure told him.

" I want to.  I don't really know about anything that's been going on in your life anymore..."

This didn't make any sense to Kogure.  After all, the two of them spoke to each other nearly everyday and Mitsui knew more about him than anybody out there.  Even the resident confidant of the Shohuku Basketball club needed to talk to somebody once in a while about whatever it was that was in his mind and that somebody for him was Hisashi, because even though the two of them had broken up some time before, they were still the best of friends.  He allowed him to fall into step beside him.

" So, what's been going on, my friend?"

" Oh, nothing much."

" You've been to busy trying to help that Rukawa out to get out, haven't you?" Mitsui commented, as casually as he could.

" Well, Kaede and I always go out to the court near his house after each tutoring session."

There it was again.  That 'Kaede'.  Mitsui was getting more and more anxious as their conversation progressed.  " Oh.  That's...Nice."

" He beats me most of the time," Kogure revealed with a little laugh, " And when I do manage to beat him, I get the sneaking suspicion that the guy's just letting me win.  He's a real good player, that one.   Real talent.  We've got to watch out for him. He'll be big, I guarantee that."

" Yeah.  I think so too." Mitsui agreed readily.  No matter how he felt about Rukawa Kaede as a person, he respected him as a fellow team mate and basketball player.  He recognized and appreciated real talent when he saw it and Rukawa Kaede most definitely had it.

" I really enjoy tutoring him."

" That was one of the things that attracted me to you in the first place, you know.  The fact that you're always so helpful and just a genuinely nice guy."

" Really?  I thought it was more because of my masculine good looks!"

Mitsui smirked.  " Masculine good looks?  What masculine good looks?"

Laughing, Kogure dug his elbow into his companion's ribs.  Come to think of it, he really was glad that Hisashi had accompanied him.  They hadn't really been talking as much as they had used to lately.  He had missed this.

" Seriously, though.  We need to talk."

" Fire away." Kogure replied agreeably.

" You might not appreciate having me discuss this with you..." Mitsui started hesitantly, his eyes were on anything but Kogure's face.

" Why?"  A sudden thought struck him suddenly, bringing a smile to his lips and making him look incredibly adorable, in Mitsui's rather biased opinion.  " Have you found a guy?  Because if you have then that's great!  You don't have to worry about me!  Anything that makes you happy is fine with me!  After all, we broke it off a long time ago and-"

" Yeah.  We did, didn't we?  We tried as hard as we could but we still couldn't make it work out.  I don't mind telling you that I still regret that sometimes.  That sometimes I think that I'd like nothing more in this world than to be with you again, the way that we were before.  But then I start thinking about how great it is having your friendship.  I know it's better this way.  I'd be too afraid to try anything with you again because the next time, we might not get out of it as easily as we did before.  You might just end up hating me and I would never want that.  Ever."

" Just what are you getting at, Missy-kun?"

He winced.  " You've been spending too much time with Hanamichi."  But Mitsui's effort in lightening the mood didn't work.  " I'm just trying to tell you that I would do anything to make sure that you don't get hurt."

" Yes.  And?"

" You'll probably hate me for even bringing this up."

Kogure shook his head.  " I could never hate you, Hisashi.  You should know that by now."

" Think whatever you want to, Kogure.  That I'm just jealous or being malicious or whatever but I have to warn you..."  Mitsui paused before he continued.  He was going to regret this.  This was probably going to destroy the friendship between the two of them.  Kogure wouldn't appreciate having somebody try to meddle in his affairs, what person would after all?  But this had to be done.  It really was true what he had said about him not wanting to see him hurt.  He'd rather have an angry Kogure than a heart broken one though.  " I don't think this whole Rukawa Kaede business is a good idea." He blurted out all at once.

" What does Kaede have to do with anything?"  Kogure demanded, his face suddenly hardening in a way that Mitsui had never seen before.

" Kogure-kun,  I would be the first person to congratulate you when you find someone for you.  Someone who can give you whatever it was that I wasn't able to.  Someone who'll make you happy, not like me" Mitsui told him softly, his face earnest.

Kogure opened his mouth to speak, to tell him that he had been perfectly happy in their time together, but was silenced by one look from Mitsui

" It's just that...Well, I don't think Rukawa Kaede is the person to do that.  I really don't."

He had been touched by the guys speech but any warmth that he might have felt for him before suddenly disappeared upon this announcement.  "  What exactly is it that you're trying to imply about me and Kaede, Hisashi?"

" I think you know."

" No.  I don't.  Tell me what it is."  His voice was cold.  For an instant Mitsui was reminded of Rukawa and he had the insane urge to laugh.

" You're in love with him, Kogure.  Don't try to deny it.  It won't help you any.  I know you better than any other person around!"

" In love with him!"  Kogure was outraged.  He just couldn't believe this!  " Can't I offer my help to anyone without you thinking that I'm in love with that person?"

Mitsui shook his head.  " I knew you'd react this way!"

Kogure took a few deep breaths to compose himself.  Him ,in love with Rukawa Kaede.  The mere thought was ridiculous..." You're wrong.  I only consider him my friend."

Mitsui examined his face for a few seconds.  " All right.  Now I'm really sorry that I even brought this up!  If I'd have known that you haven't even admitted it to yourself yet then I would never even have broached the subject!"

" That's because I have nothing at all to admit to myself!" Kogure insisted adamantly.

" Fine, Kogure.  Whatever you say." Mitsui relented finally, though he had his doubts about that.  He just wanted to get all of this over with.  At least he couldn't say that he hadn't tried to warn him later on when Kogure came running to him, pouring his heart out about that bastard Rukawa.  God help that guy if that day ever came.  " Just want to remind you that that guy feels absolutely nothing for anybody, just in case you ever do get a stupid idea in your head about him..."

" That's where you're wrong, Mitsui.  All of you are wrong about him."  Kogure told him softly.  " He cares.  He just doesn't know how to show it."

" And you've come to this conclusion because?..."

" Because I know him, Mitsui.  I know more about him than any of you guys in the team."  He came to a stop before the Rukawa's doorway, which had by now become so familiar to him.  " Well, here we are."

Mitsui ignored this.  " Don't even assume that, Kogure-kun." He sighed tiredly.  " Don't assume anything about that guy.  I tried to warn you.  I just don't want to see you hurt.  Really.  But if you won't listen then I guess that there's not much more that I can do, is there?"  There was no reply.  Only the sound of the front door slamming before his face.