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Laree's Slam Dunk Fanfiction
Family Ties
Part Thirteen

He really should have known better than to assume that everything would automatically become all right between him and Rukawa as soon as he broke things off with Hanamichi.  After all, you really couldn’t tell with that guy.  But he had been hoping so badly that it came as a bit of a shock to him when Rukawa still gave him the same cold shoulder treatment as before.  It wasn’t as though Sendoh expected him to welcome him at the door of their home with his favorite pair of soft, fluffy blue slippers in one hand and a hot cup of tea in the other.  But would a ‘Hello, welcome home’ have killed him?

His brow furrowed down into an uncharacteristic frown, as he threw his duffle bag carelessly onto the floor.  He noted the fact that Rukawa wasn’t passed out on his bed as he usually was at that time of the night, and deduced that his father had probably forced him out of his room to spend time with the family.  Something that Rukawa seemed to hate doing.

The younger boy spent most of his time locked up alone in his room whenever he wasn’t out in the yard practicing.  Usually, Sendoh just found him lying on his bed sleeping or disinterestedly flipping through channels on the T.V.  The only time he actually saw Rukawa with some semblance of liveliness was when he was on court or arguing with Hanamichi…

With a sound of disgust, Sendoh kicked at a stuffed toy shaped like a basketball that Totoya had given him on his sixteenth birthday.  There had not been a single second in the day so far that he had not had that redhead in his mind and it was driving him completely insane.  Everything, absolutely everything that he saw around him reminded him of Hanamichi.  He would hear his seatmate in class cursing over some math problem that he was agonizing over and he would think that Hanamichi could always come up with more creative curses than that.  Just that afternoon some of his female classmates had been cooing over some roses that one of their boyfriends had given them and Sendoh had thought to himself that personally, he preferred Sakura flowers because those were so much more beautiful, just like a certain freshman named after those flowers.

He was completely obsessed.  He had admitted that to himself by then.  Hanamichi was addictive.  Once he was in your life, you wanted to make sure that you kept him in there always.  And now, he thought he was beginning to understand Rukawa.  He thought he was beginning to see just how deeply the younger boy felt for the redhead now that it seemed as though he wasn’t about to get Hanamichi any time soon.  Now he could empathize with his younger stepbrother because he knew that he had had completely blown it with the redhead.  And like Rukawa right then, he would have done just about anything to make things right, to make Hanamichi his.

He had paid little thought to Rukawa’s feelings for Hanamichi.  He had thought them to be nothing serious.  But now he realized; who was he to belittle Rukawa’s feelings like that, thinking them to be less important than his own just because the younger boy was not as expressive as him when it came to such things?  Who was he, or the others, to say that Rukawa cared any less for Hanamichi than he did just because of his inability to show how he felt? After all, the ones who found it hardest to say ‘I love you’ were usually the ones that meant it the most.

Sendoh shook his head, a smile that was between mirth and bitterness on his lips.  “ Oh, you’re good, Rukawa Kaede.  You’re very good.  You’re actually making me feel guilty now for begrudging you Hanamichi when it was you in the first place that was making things so difficult for me…”

The spiky haired boy grabbed a sports magazine lying on his bed and proceeded down the stairs to look for his family.  He found the kitchen empty, save for a note stuck on the fridge with a smiley face magnet that said that his mother had gone with Tenchi Rukawa to visit some of the neighbors and that she had left dinner in the microwave for them.  Knowing full well that his mother’s dinners were usually the disgustingly wholesome kinds with lots of green leafy vegetables, Sendoh took a bag of chips from the cupboard instead, deciding that this was a good opportunity for him to gorge himself on the greasy and stroke inducing food that his mother hated but which Tenchi Rukawa loved.

Munching on a handful of sour cream and onion chips, Sendoh shoved the door to the family room open with a loud bang, attracting the attention of a half dozing Rukawa, who looked away from the game show on the T.V with faint interest.  Without a word, Sendoh dropped down onto the couch beside him and held out the bag of chips towards him in offering.  “ You want?”

“ You wont be able to run around the court any more if you keep on eating that sort of junk.”

Sendoh shrugged.  “ So I indulge once in a while when I’m stressed.  It won’t kill me.”

His calculating blue eyes still locked on Sendoh, Rukawa took a handful of the proffered chips.  “ You poison these?” He demanded, examining one that he had picked out at random.

“ I thought about it.  But then I decided, Hell, I’m hungry.  I shouldn’t waste a bag of perfectly good chips!”  Grabbing the remote control that Rukawa had set down onto the couch between the two of them, Sendoh began to flip through the channels, eventually settling on one of the mindless western cartoons that he loved so much.  “ Where are Naoko and Totoya?”

“ Ito took Totoya to the arcades.  Naoko is out on a date.  Like you should have been.”
Sendoh stopped his incessant chewing, his mouth dropping open as he turned to face his stepbrother, who wrinkled his nose in disgust at the sight of the half chewed food.  “That’s disgusting.  I’m sure a lady like your mother must have taught you better than that.”

Sendoh quickly swallowed. “ You…uh.  You knew about that, huh?”

Rukawa shrugged, switching the T.V off.  “ I overheard some stuff from Kogure-sempai.  He seems to think I’m a bastard.”

“ You are.” Sendoh affirmed without really thinking.

Thankfully, Rukawa chose to just ignore this comment, as he usually did everything else.  “ You shouldn’t have done that, Sendoh.  I don’t need your pity.  I don’t want you giving something up just because you felt sorry for me.  I hate it when people do that.”

“ You’re never happy with anything, are you?”   Sendoh commented, his face darkening.  “I thought you would be happier with the news that I’ve given up on Hanamichi.  Isn’t that what you wanted after all?”

“ It was.  And I was.”

Sendoh blinked.  “ At first?”  He repeated questioningly, puzzled.  What did Rukawa mean by that?  Had he decided that he didn’t want Hanamichi after all because if that were the case, then he would cheerfully murder him right then and there for making him go through all of that crap for nothing.  He tensed in his seat, ready to pounce of Rukawa when the younger boy went on with what he had been saying.

“ I still hate your guts.”

Sendoh snorted.  “ That’s good to know, Rukawa.”  He knew that it would take a long, long time for him to be able to change his younger stepbrother’s attitude towards him.  But sooner or later, he hoped that some sort of uneasy truce would spring up between the two of them.  It had to.  It wasn’t as though they had much of a choice.  After all, they were stuck with each other indefinitely so they might as well make the best that they could out of the situation.

“ You’re just…too perfect for your own good, you know that, Sendoh?” Rukawa murmured, his eyes downcast and trained on the elaborate carpet laid out onto the polished wood floor.  It was difficult for him to be saying something like this but it also felt good to finally be letting everything out.

“ Nobody is ‘perfect’ Rukawa…” Sendoh protested.  That had been the last thing that he had expected to hear from his stepbrother.  It wasn’t everyday that a person who hated your guts informed you of your perfection after all.  The way that it came out from the guy though, being ‘perfect’ didn’t seem to be such a good thing.

“ I’ve always been the number one, you know?”   This was said simply, not in a boastful way, as though it was just a simple and well-known fact, which Sendoh guessed it was.  “The best that Tomigaoka ever had, the best player in Shohoku.  But now…”

“ Now?”  Sendoh prompted.

“ Now…I’m not.”  Rukawa finished simply, his voice low so that the spiky haired boy had to strain his ears to catch his words.  “ Now…I’m second to you.  You’re the first thing that people see, they don’t notice me anymore and I’m not used to that.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be used to it.  But I have to get used to it because you’re going to be sticking around from now on, even if I don’t want that.  That’s what Sakuragi told me.”
“ Hanamichi?  When did you ever talk to Hanamichi?” Sendoh asked, his heart sinking as he realized that Rukawa must have already confronted Hanamichi and confessed everything.  Had the redhead accepted him?  He probably had, judging from the way that Rukawa was conversing with him right then.  He didn’t think the guy would be doing that unless he was secure in the knowledge that Sendoh had no more chance.  Well, at least now he could maybe hope for some peace around the house.

“ This afternoon.  After practice.”

“ Oh.  Well, congratulations.  You must be real happy now.” Sendoh forced a smile on his face as he scrunched up the empty bag of chips.  He was about to get to his feet so that he could go to their room.  He thought that at least he wouldn’t plagued with thoughts of Hanamichi with his stepbrother if he was unconscious, unless of course he dreamed of the redhead, which at this point seemed to be quite possible.

“ No.  I’m not happy.  I’ve never felt worse in my life.” Rukawa stated in a monotone, staring intently into the blank T.V screen.  “ And I don’t want you to think that I hate you any less, because I still loathe you.  I loathe you with the same intensity as when you first beat me on court.  But I’m not as big a bastard as you people may think I am.  I don’t ever, ever want to intentionally hurt someone that I love.  That’s what I’ve been doing all this time, without my knowing it and I’m sorry for that.”

Sendoh stayed silent, taking a while to ponder over what Rukawa had just told him.  “ You still hate me, but you’re saying that you’re sorry?”

“ For Hanamichi.  I’m sorry for hurting him.  I didn’t…I didn’t know that he…” Rukawa chose to look up then, his face, for once, housing an openly readable expression of sorrow, of regret.  “ I didn’t know that he cared so deeply about you.  I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to love a grinning idiot like you.”

“ Wait.  Let me get this straight.  You spoke to him and he said-”

“ I was talking to him.  He seemed broken hearted and it just didn’t feel right seeing him like that.  I asked him why he was acting that way and he told me that he’d just lost someone that he thought he loved…” Rukawa’s blue eyes were blazing and it obviously took a lot out of him to be able to force himself to blurt out the next word.  “ You.”

The spiky haired boy sat there stiffly, letting Rukawa’s words wash over him with only one persistent thought in his mind.  Hanamichi. Could Hanamichi still love him?  Could he?  

“ And I…I just didn’t want to see him so broken hearted over it.” Rukawa whispered, “ It hurt so much to see that Hanamichi felt unloved, as though no one wanted him just because you had been forced to dump him because of me that…I don’t know…I just wanted to get him back to the old Hanamichi that he was before, no matter what the cost.  So I told him that your backing out had all been my fault and I…I fixed things…”

Sendoh took in a deep, calming breath, not wanting to get his hopes up for nothing.  “ You fixed things?”

“ I told Hanamichi about everything.  I apologized.  I just…really didn’t know he cared for you so much.  That you being kept from him would hurt him like that.” Rukawa shrugged, a heart-rending gesture, Sendoh thought, since it seemed to signify complete and utter defeat on the younger boy’s part.  “ So you win yet again.  Congratulations, Sendoh.”

“ I win?”

“ You get Hanamichi.”  Rukawa nodded towards a clock hanging on the wall.  “ It’s getting late, you know.  You should be getting over to the Sakuragis.  I have a feeling that Hanamichi will be wanting to see you tonight.”
“ For your information, Rukawa, you are not second to me and I am going to keep on telling you that until it actually sinks into that thick skull of yours.  You, Rukawa Kaede, are just as good as me at everything, even better in some cases. As for people not noticing you anymore…” Sendoh snorted.  “ That’s just plain ridiculous.  You can’t walk into a room without the eyes of all of the people following you.”

“ Get out of here, Sendoh.” Rukawa muttered, not really feeling the need to hear such things from his stepbrother right then.  It had taken him a lot to do something like that and he just wasn’t in the mood for one of Sendoh’s uplifting little speeches that god only knew lasted how long.  

“ You’re a good person.”

“ Sendoh!”

“ No.  You really are, despite of the front that you put up, you are a good, kind person who is very capable of love.  You seem like a bastard at first, but what you are doing right now…” Sendoh’s words trailed off.

“ I didn’t do it for you.” The younger boy reminded him, “ I did it for Hanamichi.  He seems to have his heart set on you for some weird reason…”

For a while, Sendoh watched his stepbrother fiddling uncomfortably with the throw pillow that he had on his lap.  He couldn’t begin to imagine what was going through Rukawa’s head right then after just basically turning over someone that he had loved so much to his rival.  That had taken a lot.  It showed the extent of Rukawa’s feelings for the redhead because if he had been willing to give up his own happiness for Hanamichi’s sake, then they must run much deeper than anybody else thought possible.  “ Thank you.” He whispered, trying to put as much feeling and gratitude into those two simple words that he could.

“ He loves you.  Not me.  He chose you.” The dejection was obvious from Rukawa’s tone of voice and his lowered head.  Defeat showed in every line of his body.  “ I am just…so sick of losing to you…”

“ This isn’t a contest.  I know that I can’t make you see that right now but sooner or later maybe…when you find someone for yourself…”

“ But who?  Hanamichi is one of a kind.”

“ I know.  And that’s what makes him so precious.  We both understand this, I think.  We both love him and I’m sorry that it didn’t work out for you.” And he found that this was actually the truth.  He found no pleasure in the fact that Hanamichi had rejected the fox eyed boy.  Sure, he was pleased to know that he still had a chance with the redhead but he felt sorry for Rukawa.  He felt sorry for him because now, with the younger boy’s sacrifice, he could see just how much the Shohoku star player had truly cared for Hanamichi Sakuragi.

“ You don’t mean that.”

“ But I do.  Why do you always have to contradict me, Rukawa?  Why do you always have to compete with me?  I don’t understand it.  What is it about me that you hate so much?  And don’t give me that ‘ Because you’re better than me’ or ‘because you beat me’ crap because I’ve got news for you, Rukawa.  Out there in the world, there will always be someone who is better than you or me at something.  Someone out there that is capable of beating you.  And if you can’t cope with that, then you’ll always remain the jealous little bastard that you are, sulking in your little corner just because your ego had been hurt.  I know that you’re a smart guy, Rukawa.  So I’ll give you a little piece of advice that my father gave me before he died, when my elementary school basketball team had just lost the Kanagawa Championships.”

Despite of himself, Rukawa actually found himself to be listening intently to Sendoh.  The older boy never spoke about his father so he was naturally curious about him.

“ It’s from these people that you can learn.  They can push you to better yourself, to do things that you never thought possible.  I hope that you wont be discouraged after this whole Hanamichi fiasco, Rukawa, because I have never seen a guy who is more capable of giving love than you are, despite of the fact that this may not seem like the case.  One day, you’re going to find some other lucky guy out there that you will be able to love just as much as you love Hanamichi now, and I’ll be waiting for that day, because maybe then you’ll mellow out a little and act less like a bastard.”

“ Don’t count on it.  Now get lost.” Rukawa snapped, closing his eyes in preparation for a nap to signal the end of the conversation.  “ Someone’s waiting for you.” The Shohoku freshman didn’t open his eyes until later, when he heard the door to the room being slammed shut.  It was only then that he allowed himself to drop the impassive mask that he was wearing as he recalled his prior conversation with Hanamichi only a few hours before.  The conversation that had helped him come around and see the truth…

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