Oh, damn. Two weeks late. I mean, how late can you get? I hope you'll pardon the tardiness and continue with your generous reviews. This is the ending. I hope you enjoy it as much as you enjoyed 'In the Rain' and the past installments.
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Title: In the Sunshine [9/9]
Author: Kikiam-sama
Rating: G
Description: The bright summer days have come, but some seem to have brought the rains back. [Sequel to 'In the Rain']

Notes: 'Just thought that 'In the Rain' needs a sequel, and some RL events gave me inspiration.

Disclaimer: Slam Dunk belongs to Takehiko Inoue. The characters are only being used for fun. No profit is being earned. Please don't sue me.

For this Chapter: The ending, at last! Kill me for it if you must.

I was hoping 'sunshine' would beat 'rain' in terms of review count. Well, I know 'rain' is still my best fic to date, but I was hoping 'sunshine' lived up to it. However, it'd be quite unfair to 'rain' since this has more chapters, meaning theoretically, more reviews.

And there's still 'snow', the grand finale to this trilogy, which I'll start writing by mid-January, the actual time setting for the fic. I'll finish my pending HXH fic first.

Bearbugg's is not a typo. It was deliberate.

And belated happy birthday, Rukawa! I know this isn't a good birthday gift for you... That is, if you really like Haruko. ^_^

Translations:
+ Gambatte - good luck, do your best
+ Hai - yes
+ Ara - some sort of interjection expressing surprise, shock, or such. This is like 'ay' in Tagalog, 'ai-ya' in Mandarin, or "Ooh lala' in French. *snickers*
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Chapter 9
Dreamless and Sorrowful
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The Kanagawa Shopping Center was a busy sight that Saturday. Due to the agonizing pains of the sun, the people resorted to the mall's free air-conditioned environment. Every inch was occupied by at least one person, and anyone can rub arms with anybody, exchanging sweat in the process. The sales ladies went crazy with catering of the demands of the shoppers. One particular victim of the crowd was the ice cream shop, where flocks of children, angels and brats alike, pleaded their moms for ice cream to fight the heat. The noise didn't help very much, either.

Rukawa stood in front of Bearbug's, a gift shop specializing in stuffed toys particularly bears and bugs. His tall figure gazed down the toys at the window, deliberating which one he should get. There was quite a handful of people in the shop, some purchasing gifts for the Tanabata Festival coming in a week.

// The bear or the bug? //

// Pink or blue? //

He was perfectly fine. He had fully recovered from yesterday's injury. The doctor told him though to take full rest for the next week, meaning he could go about ordinary activities except for those that required much physical exertion, like basketball. He had no choice, but then, they were only having one important game for that week. He also realized that it was about time that he trusted his teammates.

Except for the task at hand.

It was early afternoon. He slept through the whole morning, and when he woke up, he decided that it was very much about time that he visited her. He was about to ride the train to Kitamura General Hospital, when he saw the shopping center. He realized that it was quite rude to go see someone in the hospital without bringing something so he went and tried to dig something out. For some strange reason, he had saved up enough to buy something decent.

And to come think of it, with the one month they had been together, he had never given her anything. Oh, she had given much. Every other day, she brought him lunch. Maybe that was why he had enough money. Sometimes, too, she brought him cookies she baked during the weekend. It was usually food, but women were good at that, weren't they? So when the idea of bringing a cake came along, he decided against it.

Walking around the mall, he came upon Bearbug's. He usually saw that guys gave girls stuffed animals on special occasions. He was never the one to follow such a trend, but he lingered on outside the shop, gazing at the displays, thinking what she would like.

// There's nothing wrong if I buy one, right? //

He went inside to look at more products. One particular toy caught his eye. It was that of a white stuffed dog that looked quite realistic. With his little knowledge of dog breeds, he realized the toy to be an imitation of a Japanese spitz, with chinky eyes, soft, long fur and short legs with an eternally cheerful expression on its face.

// Cheerful, huh? //

// Rukawa-kun, let's go home. //

// Gambatte, Rukawa-kun. I know you'll win. //

The image of her smiling face falshed across his mind, with eyes sparkiling at him, like that of a child when he sees his mom buying him candy.

// Not really perfect, but this would do. //

"Will you purchase that item, sir?" a voice suddenly interrupted his thoughts. The sales lady gave him a look that told him to hurry up. They wanted transactions to finish as quickly as possible, with the rate of customers entering the store.

"Yes," he answered quietly and went to the counter, but not without bumping into several people.

"That would be 3,400 yen, sir. Thank you and come again to Bearbug's!"

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"Ara! Rukawa-sempai!"

Rukawa looked in the direction of Kitamura General Hospital's entrance and saw Sakuragi and Mizusawa leaving the premises. Both of them were looking at him with blank looks with Mizusawa having a little tint of surprise. Mizusawa approached him with quick steps.

"Sempai, are you here to see Haruko-san?" he asked. Sakuragi followed up close behind while pretending to look in another direction, his red head raised, and looking into the street.

Rukawa nodded and tried to hide the package he brought. It was likely that Mizusawa would ask him questions, and so would Sakuragi.

"Ara? What's that package for, sempai?"

Rukawa glared at Mizusawa. He didn't want to be mean to his kohai. He just wanted to keep the guy from asking questions. Mizusawa took the cue and quickly changed the topic with a very sheepish smile on his face. Sakuragi continued with his pointless gazing into the street. Rukawa looked at him with the corner of his eyes, waiting for him to say something. He guessed that Sakuragi still hadn't forgotten last week's fight despite the fact that they had gotten along quite well during the last part of yesterday's game. Rukawa wanted to forget the whole thing, but he had too much pride to apologize.

"She's quite fine now, sempai," Mizusawa spoke.

"Thanks." Rukawa nodded to Mizusawa as a sign of acknowledgment of the information. He then walked past the two of them, trying to maintain the distance bwetween him and Sakuragi at the maximum. It was best to avoid him right now, with the way he acted.

The hospital doors opened, just a feat of modern technology. Inside, there were a lot of people, though slightly less dense than those in the mall earlier. There were those running around across the white marble floor while some just sat on the blue old-fashioned sofas on the far corner of the room. Beside the entrance was the receptionist sitting beside a blue table piled with papers and a small phone placed somewhat lopsidedly beside the mess. The woman behind the table had a sweet smile on her face, trying to offset the dirty table.

"Yes, may I help you?" she asked Rukawa, who approached in big, quick, steps.

"Akagi Haruko's room, please."

"Oh. Room 475, sir. You may use the elevator to your right, sir."

"Thanks."

That was the second one. The second 'thanks' he said for that day. He usually didn't say that word, and usually felt awkward upon saying it. Maybe because he really didn't value other people's efforts much before. Now, it seemed to come naturally to him.

// Have I changed much? //

On the way to the elevator, a tall, glass mirror stood. As he passed, his own reflection caught his gaze. He glanced at it for a second, but a million thoughts came by quickly.

He still looked the same. He still had his pasty white skin and his messy black hair. There were still his small blue eyes and the same small nose and closed lips. The perpetually blank look on his face seemed to plan to stay there for the rest of his life. He was still him, Kaede Rukawa, or at least, in the mirror. But still, he knew that he had changed. Maybe it was because of her, or maybe he was bound to change sooner or later. He wanted to know.

The elevator door opened, and Rukawa stepped out with a soft sigh. Room 475 was to his right and he approached the said direction. With every quick step, he felt his heart beat faster again, his lips getting dry and his face with cold sweat. It was very unlikely of him but he was quite eager to see her. Even if she had only been gone for four days, he wanted to see her as if she had been gone for a month or longer. And this time, he knew that he really, truly deserved this visit.

Room 475. He opened the door. The sight of the all-white room welcomed him with a fresh scent of flowers from inside the room. The bed was on the far side of the room, its direction parallel to the entrance. On it, there she was, sitting up, with a blanket covering half of her gown-clad body. She was gazing off into space. She seemed to be deep in thought and when she heard him make his first step into the room, she looked up sharply with a surprised look on her face.

"Rukawa-kun..."

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// He came. //

Haruko didn't know what to say. She didn't expect him to come. She saw what happened at yesterday's game. Although Ayako had called up a while ago and told her that everything was okay, she still didn't expect him.

And besides, she had written that letter already. It lay on her bedside table, sealed in a envelope, waiting to be opened, to be read.

// Will I give it to him? //

The question burned in her mind. It occupied her so much that she didn't notice that Rukawa had come to her bedside, with the letter only a few inches away from him.

"How are you?" he asked softly, almost without a tune, but with a very small hint of gentleness he rarely showed.

"Quite fine," she answered flatly, trying to act as coldly as possible.

"That's good."

// Does he have anything else to say? //

He raised his left arm and then carried up a package that she didn't notice he carried when he went in earlier. It was wrapped in white paper with designs of small pink and violet flowers scattered around it. Rukawa handed it to her as she gently squeezed parts of the package and tried to feel what was inside. It was something soft, but she couldn't quite guess what it was.

"What's this?" she asked, with her flat tone starting to disappear in eagerness.

"A present."

"Thanks..." her voice gently trailed off as the package lay in her lap. She gently peeled the scotch tape off the wrapper and gently pulled the contents of the package out. It was a stuffed white dog, with long fur, chinky eyes, a long nose and small, pointy ears. It had a cheerful expression on its face, which made it quite cute. She put the wrapper aside and gazed at the stuffed toy. At the corner of her eye, she looked at the envelope on her bedside table.

She had decided yesterday. However, things seemed to go against her plans. There was nothing actually, except for herself. Upon seeing his intense gaze on her once again, all the thoughts that came to her yesterday, both rational and irrational, disappeared into a whirl.

It was the first time that he gave her a present. Not that she was into material things or anything as such, but then, it was the thought, the effort that got into her. It was unlikely of him to do this, having known him for quite some time already.

// He's changed. //

Ayako's words rang throughout her mind. She was right. Haruko didn't need any more proof of it. If he really had changed, then maybe their relationship would gradually turn better. Maybe he'd eventually open up and stop becoming the cold person he is. Maybe he won't be late every morning. Maybe he won't oversleep and forget about lunch. Maybe he wouldn't fall asleep during the train ride while she's talking like before. Maybe...

There were so many maybe's.

How can she be so sure that he's changed. After all, there was still his silence, and his very few words, much less than what the situation called for. There was no sign of concern or relief on his face. It was the same, like a cold carved stone painted with pale colors.

He was still Kaede Rukawa.

But that was who he really was. Who was she to change that? She knew that she should learn to accept that he'd always be like this: cold and quiet, always with a mystery that she'd never know. It was what drew her to him in the first place. Now that she had a first-hand taste of it, she couldn't accept it. She wanted him to change, to be different. Then, he would be someone else.

And that was all wrong.

If she couldn't accept him the way he was, then what's the use of staying with him? She was only getting hurt, and he was getting hurt back. Nothing was going right.

She had to stick with her decision.

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Rukawa was happy that he was finally able to see her.

// Happy... //

He gazed at her sitting on her bed gazing blankly at the gift he brought for her. Watching her like this, seeing her all safe and sound, made him quite contented. Almost everything was well, except for one thing: // she // didn't seem happy. Ever since he had arrived in her room, the only thing he saw on her face was a blank and distracted look. There was not her usual, cheerful smile that he longed for and missed.

"Is anything wrong?" he asked quietly. She had been silent for some time already, which was very unlikely of her.

"Oh, nothing. Thanks for this," she answered with an obviously fake smile, waving her hand in attempted apology.

He continued looking at her, telling her with his stare that he didn't believe her answer. There was something else between her lines. She was hiding something from him, and the fact was keeping her deep in thought. He badly wanted to know what it was, or at least, assure himself that it wasn't something bad.

"Don't you like it?" he asked again. It wasn't like him to ask so many questions. It was usually the opposite. For the first time, though, he couldn't bear her silence.

"Oh, I like it very much," she answered a few moments later. The blank expression on her face remained.

"I see."

// Silence. //

The silence in the room was deafening, giving the air a tense feeling. For some strange reason, he was starting to feel nervous (although he really didn't show it) as if something terrible was going to happen.

Something was going to hurt him. It was coming soon. He was never the intuitive type of person, but for some unknown reason, he felt it. He still wasn't regretful that he came to see her, though. That was what he wanted. He just tried to ignore his thoughts.

Haruko suddenly spoke and broke the uneasy silence. "I have something for you, too."

She slowly reached out to her bedside table and took the envelope that had been lying there. Rukawa had seen it when he first came in, but he thought that it was of no importance. Haruko took his left hand, and gazed at it, as if avoiding his own one.

"Read this when you get home. Please. And try to understand."

He didn't know how to react. What did she mean?

Haruko squeezed her hand. She was acting so strangely. She then gave him somewhat a guilty smile. "I think I need to go to sleep now. I'm starting to feel quite dizzy."

"Sure," Rukawa answered, quite unsure of his self. He offered to help her lie down, but she gently pushed his hands away and laid her body with much effort. He watched her close her eyes, and her face once more was the same one he saw on the night of the accident. This time, he watched not in horror, but with a feeling he couldn't explain: quite nervous he was, yet happy. He watched for a few more moments, trying to carve into his mind the image, then he turned for the door. He folded the envelope in half and placed it in his pocket with much confusion in him.

A few minutes later, he arrived at the park a few blocks away from the hospital. There were only a few people, for the sun was at its hottest there. It was good for him. At least, he can read it in peace, without any noise disturbing him except for the soft rustle of leaves and the chirping of birds. A gentle breeze blew, sending a few grains of dirt flying around. Curiosity and confusion was killing him. What was in the envelope? He decided to take a look now and sat one of the distant benches. He carefully opened the flap of the envelope and gently unfolded the piece of paper inside. It was a letter, in Haruko's handwriting, which was a bit wobbly. It must have been written while she was on her bed.

Rukawa read the contents of the letter not missing a single character or space. He didn't understand a thing. He read it again, still he couldn't understand what it meant, as if his mind and heart had become numb to perceive what was written. For the third time he went over it.

He quite understood, but he didn't. Or rather, he couldn't accept it. But he had no choice. If he chose not to accept it, things might become worse. He tried to tell himself that at least she was with him for a month, and that was enough blessing.

// Do'ahou. Stop lying to yourself. You can't accept it. //

He stood up, folded the letter, replaced it in the envelope and placed it back in his pocket. He slowly walked away from the park. He wanted to go home and sleep as soon as possible. He had many had a lot of things to think about for the rest of the day, something that can be only answered by his thoughts in sleep.

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Haruko opened her eyes as she heard the door click. He had gone, at last. She gave a heavy sigh of relief. She was able to do it. She was finally able to give him the letter. It was about time. She knew that, but still, a part of her scolded her for giving it to him, telling her it wasn't the right time, yet, and that she should give him another chance. But this time, it was too late. He was already gone.

And maybe forever.

She had wanted it ever since she met him, but she had to let go.

// It's just the right thing to do, Haruko. //

The white stuffed toy lay beside her. Haruko gazed at it for a while, and felt that it was looking back at her. Just earlier, she thought that it was smiling at her, but now, it's face looked different. It was sad, as if crying to her, telling her about something she shouldn't have done. The dog's bright chinky eyes seemed to shine with tears, its pointy ears drooping down.

// What is this? //

She avoided looking at the dog and then gazed out the window.

// It's just too late now. I've given it, already. //

// You can call him up, Haruko. You can tell him it's not real. //

// No, it's just right that you gave it to him. He made up for his mistakes too late. //

// It's never too late for anything, Haruko. Never. //

// But it is. The guy must be reading it right now. And even if you try to take it back, he won't forget what you wrote there. It'll be marked on his mind that you attempted to do it. //

// Haruko, he will forgive you. You've always forgiven him for the mistakes you've done. Of course, he'll do the same. //

// No way. He's still the same, cold person. He may forgive you but he won't forget. //

// He won't forget YOU. That's why he came here. He still hasn't forgotten that he still has something left to do. He still hasn't forgotten you. He cares for you very much. It's just his nature that he doesn't show it often. He's just being himself. //

// He's just being himself. Why can't I accpept that? He accepted me for who I am. That's what's most important. Why can't I do the same? Why? //

// Why? //

Slowly, tears formed around her eyes. She tasted the salty drops in her mouth, and swallowed them bitterly. She took the stuffed toy in her hands and buried her face in its long, white fur. She didn't try to stop her tears, for she knew that she truly did something wrong. She wanted to run after him and take the envelope back, but it was way too late. Even if she was able to take it back and he wasn't able to read it, he'd be wondering what's inside, and everything might go wrong again. If only she had known...

// Why did I have to do it? // She was filled with self-pity, anger, remorse, sorrow, and other biter feelings that split her spirit into pieces, leaving her in pain. She realized that she had been more hurt than ever. And to think of it, it wasn't him who hurt her, but herself: for being the careless person she was.

She continued to cry, leaving a dark spot in the toy's fur. It was already late in the afternoon when she was finally able to cry herself to sleep, with her arms tight around the gift he gave. As Haruko closed her eyes, everything turned black, leaving her into a dreamless and sorrowful slumber.

~Owari degozaru yo~
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