Martyrs of Love

Chapter 6 Trapped In the Middle of a storm…

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Beta: Aurian De Amenti & Mikawa

Keys:

"Dialogue"

/Thoughts/

Flashbacks and Dreams

Warning: Major OOCness

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Sendoh stared, absent-mindedly, at the TV screen, not really paying attention to the basketball game that was going on. He sighed deeply, thinking of his meeting with Shouzen.

He asked himself repeatedly, how had he allowed them to reach this stage?

The signs were there, Shouzen's occasional odd, yet familiar looks . . . His quiet, yet demanding presence . . . Koshino's warnings . . . His own inner warnings . . . His fears and dreams . . .

Everything was there, warning him, but he chose to ignore them. He chose to pretend that they didn't exist . . . and now . . .

Now, he's trapped…Trapped with no way out.

A slight movement below snapped him from his thoughts. He looked down and smiled, sadly, at the sleeping boy in his lap.

Sendoh gently ruffled his koi's silken hair, a tear sliding down his cheek. Was it too much for him to keep the happiness that he had finally found?

Was it written in his fate for him to suffer all his life?

Sendoh choked back a sob, remembering his miserable his life in Tokyo . . .

He was alone, with no one to love him. . . not even his own mother.

Even to her, he meant nothing…

He was nothing, but an unwanted fruit on one of the night stands with one of the numerous clients she had…

Sendoh had long asked himself, why his mother hadn't just aborted him when she discovered she was pregnant! If she hated him that much, why hadn't she gotten rid of him!

But he never got an answer…he never understood her, not even after living with that woman for 13 years. He had never gotten close to her. All he knew about her was that she was a prostitute, who hated him.

Another tear slid down his cheek, as he remembered her hateful words lashing at his hurting soul every night.

Then, she had given him to Shouzen's father, Shouzen Benjiro, at the age of nine, to do whatever he'd please with his body. She had watched him being beaten up and raped, by Benjiro's drunken friends and clients, without doing anything.

Then, Shouzen Ouji came into his life as another addition to his misery.

He was eleven when Shouzen Ouji returned from France. His father handed him Sendoh as a homecoming gift.

Ouji was two years older than he was, and the boy, at first, was actually gentle and understanding. He had protected him from his father's clients and thus gaining his trust and love.

And after a year, Ouji was officially his boyfriend . . . his first ever boyfriend and lover.

It was then, that Ouji's dark face had appeared. It was then, that he discovered Kanpuu. It was then, that Kanpuu started to destroy everything beautiful in his life. He was forced to take part of Benjiro's illegal activities, since his boyfriend was the son of the underground organization leader.

Sendoh felt his heart swell with pain, at those memories, to the point of suffocation. He took deep breaths, trying to ease the tightness in his chest. How he had overcome all of this, he had no idea.

The pain that he had faced in his life was too great for anyone to bear. But, somehow, he had managed to put it behind him, even if it was just for a while.

But it had returned!

A sobbed gasp escaped from Sendoh's mouth.

His dark past had returned and he couldn't do anything to stop it!

Suddenly, he felt his lover shift on his lap. He looked down, in horror, fully expecting to see Rukawa looking at him questioningly. Fortunately, his lover's sleep proved, again, to be deeper than he had thought.

Calming himself, Sendoh gently took his lover's head off his lap and slipped off the couch, placing Rukawa's head, softly, on a cushion. After switching the video and TV off, Sendoh, gently, scooped Rukawa's body off the couch and headed to their bedroom. He was thankful that they were alone, for none of the newly hired servants was sleeping in the house, and Mrs. James had gone to bed earlier tonight.

Slowly, he climbed the stairs to the second floor. Passing Rukawa's old bedroom, Sendoh stood and looked at the closed door then to his sleeping lover. He knew that Rukawa hadn't slept in that room ever since they started to live together. They always shared a larger room at the end of the corridor. But tonight, Rukawa would sleep alone.

Sendoh knew that he wouldn't be able to control himself any longer. He needed to be alone, so he could release the pain that was threatening to suffocate him. He needed to release the guilt that was building up inside his heart . . . the guilt of what he must do tomorrow.

He needed to be alone…

Pushing the door open with his feet, Sendoh entered the room and walked to the single bed. He placed his lover down on the bed, gently, and covered him with a blanket. After planting a soft kiss on the raven-haired boy's forehead, Sendoh whispered a soft good night, then left, leaving the door slightly ajar.

When Sendoh was alone in his and Rukawa's bedroom, he broke down. Tears and quiet sobs filled the air as he sank into the bed, covering himself, completely, with the blanket, as if he was hiding from the world.

He cried and cried, until there were no more tears to be shed. It was useless to fight back, and he knew it. Shouzen had already won when he had re-entered Sendoh's life. Now, Sendoh could only hope that Shouzen wouldn't take everything away from him.

He didn't want to lose Rukawa . . . he didn't want to lose Rukawa's love. And for that, he had to pay for Shouzen's silence. He had to pay with his own body.

Sendoh rose into a sitting position and stared blankly at his surroundings. He wanted to scream . . . he wanted to return in time and punch Shouzen to a pulp the moment the other boy entered his classroom for the first time. He wanted someone to save him from this mess.

Sendoh rubbed his temple, tiredly. He didn't know how he had managed to go through this whole night, without drawing any attention to himself.

After the park, he had run all the way to work, not because he was late, but more because he wanted to run away from this sudden turn of events. He wanted to be far, far away from Shouzen and his past.

After returning home at 8p.m., he had busied himself with homework until dinnertime. That, surprisingly, also applied to Rukawa. The raven-haired boy arrived at the same time as he did, because of the special practice sessions Miyagi had started. After taking a shower, Rukawa sat and actually dared to look at his books.

That, of course, was after Mrs. James had threatened to destroy every basketball in the house and lock the court, if Rukawa didn't pass his tests. This, made them skip their daily one-on-one, so the night went by without anyone noticing anything unusual about him. But that, as much as it was bliss, was also a curse.

Sendoh wanted someone to talk to . . . someone to tell about the horrible turn his life was taking to. The first name that came to him was Koshino, but he dismissed it, knowing that his best friend would surely give him the "I told you so" speech, followed by "You must tell Rukawa the truth, then go and kick Shouzen's ass."

Sendoh knew that he would do anything except tell Rukawa anything regarding his awful past. He knew that he couldn't bear to see loathing or disgust in Rukawa's eyes. Although he was sure of Rukawa's love, he was afraid of Rukawa's standards for everything. In Rukawa's eyes, there were only two colors in the world, black or white, and two classes, good or bad. And Sendoh couldn't bear the thought of being classified in Rukawa's eyes as black, because this would mean the end of everything between them.

After thinking about it for the millionth time that night, Sendoh made up his mind. It was for the sake of his love, that he would accept Shouzen's offer.

Suddenly feeling exhausted from thinking, Sendoh laid his head on the pillow and drifted off into troubled sleep.

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Koshino yawned lazily as he listened, or pretended to listen, to the history teacher. Today's history class seemed to go on, and on and the old bat hadn't shut her mouth even for a second since the start of the period.

Glancing at beside him, Koshino frowned at Sendoh's expressionless face. His usually energetic friend was in a dark mood since morning and hadn't talked much since his arrival at school.

Fukuda had teased him, saying that his boyfriend was starting to have a bad influence on him, but Koshino was having doubts that Sendoh's bad mood was a result of any influence from the Shohoku's quiet ace . . . at least not to this degree!

Koshino sighed, wondering why fate had decided to curse him with the role of Sendoh's personal guardian angel…

God couldn't possibly hate him that much to stick him with a friend so troublesome, could he!

Sighing in defeat, Koshino left his grumbling and complaining for later. For now, he had to find out why his friend was upset…

The first thought that occurred to Koshino was that Sendoh had an argument with his boyfriend but then dismissed it. Arguing with Rukawa or even fighting with him wouldn't affect Sendoh this much. Sendoh looked like a man going to his execution, or a man about to do something unforgivable…

Koshino cast a glance at Shouzen, wondering if he had anything to do with Sendoh's bleak mood.

Surprisingly, the green-eyed boy wasn't even looking at their direction. Shouzen was listening attentively to their teacher and taking notes in his notebook.

Koshino studied the boy for a while. He was surprised that Shouzen had attended their school, aside from supposedly being dead; Koshino knows that Shouzen was two years older than they were. But then Sendoh said that Shouzen explained that after the police-attack on the secret headquarters of Shouzen's father drug-dealing gang, he stopped school for two years and went into hiding. Now, he was making up for those missing years.

/Well, no one would suspect that he's 20 years old, anyway/ Koshino said, eyeing the boy warily.

True, Shouzen didn't look like a person in his 20s; instead, he looked more like a teenager.

Koshino snapped away from his thoughts at the sound of the bell, signaling the end of the period and the start of lunch break. He gathered his books, then turned to face Sendoh, only to find his friend had already finished packing his books, and was on the way out of class.

"Koshino," Sendoh said, turning to his friend. "I'm not going to the cafeteria today. You go ahead and meet Fukuda."

"Why?" Koshino asked, standing up from his seat.

"I have something important to do," Sendoh said secretively. "Don't wait for me." Without waiting for Koshino's reply, the spiky-haired boy turned and left the class.

Koshino blinked several times at his friend's retreating figure, before following him outside. When he stepped out of the class, he saw Sendoh talking with Shouzen in one corner, before the two walked away together. Driven by his curiosity, Koshino followed the two from a distance, until he saw them climbing the stairs to the rooftop.

Koshino stopped in his spot, wondering if he should follow them or not. The dead look in Sendoh's eyes frightened him to no end, and now, seeing the spiky-haired boy going to the rooftop with that bastard had raised his fears. He feared that Sendoh would do something very stupid.

/What the hell am I thinking about/ Koshino shook his head.

Sendoh was a rational person –well, most of the time, anyway— he wouldn't do anything idiotic or stupid!

He must have something very important to do with Shouzen; like getting his personal stuff from that bastard for example…

Yes, this must be the case. Sendoh must be feeling very awful because he was about to face the memories of his past! Trying to convince himself that his explanation was correct, Koshino turned around and headed to the cafeteria.

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"Have you come to a decision?" Shouzen asked smugly, as he sat on the edge of the roof.

"You sound as though I have a choice," Sendoh said solemnly, standing near the door, far away from Shouzen.

Shouzen didn't reply, instead he stared at Sendoh with a deep assessing look.

Under Shouzen's scrutinizing stare, Sendoh started to feel uneasy. Before he spoke again, Shouzen waited until Sendoh's discomfort was very obvious.

"Well, you don't." he said with a smirk. "Not very much, at least. However, you do have a choice on how things might occur. Either, I get what I want the hard way, which will cause you to lose everything you have, or you could be a good boy and give me yourself willingly, and in return, I'll let you keep your, so-called, new life with your rich little puppet."

Sendoh stared at Shouzen, silently before shaking his head and lowering it in defeat. "When and where?" he asked.

Shouzen smirked, standing up from his place and walking toward Sendoh.

"My place," he said with a smirk. "As for when, I'll tell you later." With that, Shouzen patted Sendoh's cheek and walked to the door. "And by the way, Yuujo," he said as he opened the door. "Do not try to run away from me next time, because I'll find you wherever you go." and he left.

Sendoh lowered his head and squeezed his eyes shut, preventing the tears in his eyes from falling.

/I'm sorry, Kaede./

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Sendoh let out a deep sigh as he made his way through the streets of Kanagawa.

Since it was Tuesday, he had to go directly to work after practice, which granted him some time before going home and facing his lover again.

Sendoh sighed again. How could he ever face Kaede now? He wondered.

This morning, Rukawa hadn't questioned him about their sleeping arrangements last night, to which, Sendoh was extremely grateful. Yet, the younger boy's eyes held that terrible question in them.

Sendoh rubbed the back of his neck, taking a deep breath. Even if he didn't say it, Rukawa was irritated by Sendoh's strange behavior; the spiky-haired boy could feel it. He couldn't blame Rukawa, though. Imagine waking up in your old bedroom alone while your boyfriend is in another room within the same house with no clear reason.

Sendoh wondered if this was last straw in Rukawa's patience…

He had been acting weirdly for three months now.

It's a miracle that Rukawa had actually been this patient with him through the whole time.

Sendoh sighed again. Not only Rukawa was irritated with his strange behavior, but also his friend, Koshino. Throughout the day, he had been acting weirdly, which had worried his friends, especially Koshino, who cornered him just before practice and asked him what was wrong. Sendoh had just shrugged, saying that it was nothing, then walking away.

Thankfully, Koshino didn't press the matter any further, but his teammates tried to cheer him up, without success. He felt as if his soul went numb all of a sudden.

"Not anymore." Sendoh whispered, shaking his head. From this day on, he must learn to hide his feelings and act normally. He was carrying a horrible secret in his chest that no one must discover it.

/I must act normally or I'll lose Kaede…/ with a new determination, Sendoh continued his way home.

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When Sendoh reached the house, he was surprised to see Rukawa standing in front of the gate, unlocking it.

"Kaede," Sendoh said, approaching the raven-haired boy. "You've just gotten home? But it's 8 p.m. already!"

"Special practice." Rukawa said coolly, as he opened the large gate and walked in.

"Oh! I forgot." Sendoh said, following his lover in. He closed the gate then walked next to Rukawa through the gardens.

"So how was practice?" he asked cheerfully, trying to test Rukawa's mood.

"Hn." Was the only reply he got.

Sendoh sighed. It seems that, Rukawa wasn't in the best of moods. Sendoh wondered how this night would end! When they entered the house, they saw Mrs. James appearing in the hall.

"Oh, good evening, boys," the old lady said with a smile. "How was your day?"

"Fine," Rukawa whispered as he passed Mrs. James, before walking up the stairs.

Mrs. James stared at him until he disappeared upstairs, before looking, questioningly, at Sendoh.

Sendoh sighed again, shaking his head. "I guess he's annoyed at me for letting him sleep in his old bedroom." He gained nothing but a giggle from Mrs. James; Sendoh shook his head and followed his lover.

He saw Rukawa standing in front of his old bedroom.

"Will I sleep in my old bedroom tonight as well?" the raven-haired boy asked quietly, as Sendoh approached him.

Sendoh felt a stab of pain in his heart. The question itself increased the already existing guilt in his heart, not to mention Rukawa's quiet accusing tone.

"Only if you want to," Sendoh said, hugging his young lover from behind.

"And why did I sleep there last night?" Rukawa asked softly.

/Here goes nothing/ Sendoh thought with a sigh, not knowing what to say.

Receiving no answer from his lover, Rukawa sighed and shook his head.

"Fine, Akira." He said, disengaging himself from Sendoh's embrace. "You don't have to tell me. But I warn you, the next time you act weirdly; I'll be sleeping in there permanently."

With that, the raven-haired boy took his bag from the floor and headed to their shared bedroom. Sendoh blinked several times at his lover's retreating figure, before taking his bag, as well, and following his lover with a sigh.

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After dinner, the two lovers sat in front the TV, watching another NBA tape and soon, Rukawa started to doze off. Around 10 o'clock, the doorbell rang. Gently, Sendoh slid from underneath Rukawa's head and walked to the intercom.

"Rukawa's residence," he said. "Sendoh speaking, who is it?"

"Hey, Yuujo." A cool voice answered back. "How are you?"

For a moment, Sendoh felt his heart stop beating and his entire body tensed up.

It was Shouzen!

He had come here!

"What are you doing here?" he asked, shakily.

"Came to give you your schedule, boy." Shouzen replied cheekily. "Are we going to continue talking this way? Aren't you going to invite me in or are you afraid that your boyfriend would see me?"

Sendoh's body tensed more than it already was.

"Wait where you are," he snapped, in fear. "I'm coming."

After checking that Rukawa was still sleep, Sendoh ran outside the house until he reached the gates, there, he saw Shouzen Ouji waiting for him.

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Shouzen smirked as he saw Sendoh crossing the house's gardens at full speed. It gave him a feeling of satisfaction, seeing Sendoh shake, with fear, whenever they were together.

"I see that you have chosen your boyfriend well, Yuujo." He said slyly as Sendoh opened the door. "He's a famous, rich kid for his age."

"You stay away from him," Sendoh said, fighting the fear that filled his heart.

As he snorted, Shouzen's smirk widened. "I don't want anything to do with him. I want you, Akira." Shouzen took out a piece of paper from his pocket and shoved it into Sendoh's hand. "I'll expect you in my apartment at those times. If you don't come, or if you are one minute late, that album and other things from our old days will be in the hands of your Rukawa faster than you can say basketball, clear?"

"Clear." Sendoh said tonelessly, his fist tightly clutching the paper.

"Bye," Shouzen brushed his lips against Sendoh's and walked away.

Sendoh watched Shouzen until the latter disappeared around the corner, before going back into the house.

He felt as though his chest was about to explode. He punched the wall with all his might, hoping that it would lessen the pain that threatened to burst his heart.

After scooping up his sleeping lover in his arms, Sendoh headed to their room. That night Sendoh slept, hugging Rukawa tightly, in fear that he would one day lose him.

Little did he know that his fears were only one-step from coming true…

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One month later…

Sendoh closed his eyes as he sank his body into the hot water of the bathtub, allowing his tired muscles to relax after a long, hard day.

/A long hard day in hell…/ he reminded himself.

During the last month, Sendoh was forced to lie and cheat on his boyfriend, with Shouzen, twice a week. He had told Rukawa that he had taken extra shifts at work to explain his absence after school when he was supposed to go to Shouzen's apartment.

Sighing, Sendoh tried to clear his mind and block out the world around him but it was rather hard to do so, considering the rumpus that Shohoku's infamous, redhead genius was making downstairs.

Since it was Thursday, the Shohoku basketball players were having a studying session in Rukawa's home. It was a 'suggestion' from Ayako, to have study sessions twice a week to keep the players' marks in a good level, so that they won't face the threat of expulsion from the team because of their poor grades. Naturally, the players protested, but Ayako managed to force them to accept, and even asked Akagi and Kogure to help in tutoring. Rukawa's house was chosen because it was the nearest house to the school.

That, of course, left Sendoh and Rukawa with weekly confrontations of Sakuragi's challenges and proclamations of his intelligence.

Sendoh thanked all the gods that he managed to reach the bedroom unnoticed by the Shohoku players, when he first arrived home.

A groan escaped his mouth as Sakuragi's loud voice filled the house once more. He wondered how many set of lungs did the redhead truly possess to allow him to be THAT loud.

He was downstairs in living room, for heaven's sake, and yet, Sendoh could still hear him from his bathroom on the second floor.

Sendoh wondered how Rukawa was coping right now. The raven-haired boy wasn't in a state that allows to him to tolerate or simply ignore the redhead teen. Rukawa was going to be in a bleak and desolate mood for two weeks as the anniversary of his parents' death approached.

Sendoh prayed that Sakuragi would not say or do something that would agitate Rukawa further. The entire house's atmosphere was already filled with tension and heaviness due to Rukawa's state and Sendoh couldn't bear another source of stress be added to his already stressed mind.

Speaking of which, Sendoh's mind drifted to what he had discovered in the last month.

It appeared that Shouzen had wasted no time. He had regrouped his gang once again and was, apparently, planning to resume his activities in Kanagawa.

Every time, Sendoh went to Shouzen's apartment, he would see a few members from the old gang, and some of the new members partying there. They would drink, dance, and make out with whores, while he sat alone in a dark corner, waiting for Shouzen to call him to his bedroom.

Sendoh shook his head violently, trying to clear his head from those thoughts. Standing up, he quickly washed his hair and body, before getting out and wrapping a towel around his waist, thereafter exiting the bathroom.

He wore a pair of light pajamas and sat at his desk. He didn't have any homework, thank goodness. However, he had a history quiz, so he took out his history textbook and opened it. He stared at the page for a long time trying to make sense of what was written there, but his mind wouldn't stop wandering back to his night in Shouzen's apartment. Tonight, Shouzen was rougher than usual, so that Sendoh couldn't suppress his cries of pain anymore. He screamed the whole time, begging Shouzen to stop, or at least be gentle for once, but all his cries fell to deaf ears.

Sendoh almost jumped from his seat, when the door of the room suddenly opened. Looking at beside him, he saw a half-asleep Rukawa entering the room.

"Good evening, love." Sendoh said, smiling slightly at his lover.

"Good evening," Rukawa answered sleepily, as he walked to his closet, took out a clean pair of boxers and a towel, before going to the bathroom.

Sendoh returned to his book and tried to study, until Rukawa emerged from the bathroom and headed directly to the bed.

"Tired, Kaede?" Sendoh asked softly, as he joined his lover in the bed, with his textbook.

"Ahuh," Rukawa replied with yawn. "That do'aho's too loud."

Sendoh chuckled softly. "Indeed, he is." He said, amusedly. "I could hear him, clearly, from here. So, how was the study session aside from Sakuragi?" he asked, returning his attention to his textbook.

A soft "hmm…" was his only reply. Looking down, Sendoh saw that Rukawa had already fallen asleep. A warm smile appeared on his face.

"Kaede," he whispered. "Please, forgive me." Sighing, Sendoh put his textbook on the night table, and laid back, staring at the ceiling. He wondered what else life had in store for him. He wondered what would happen to him and Rukawa in the middle of all that was happening.

He didn't care what would happen to him, actually. Pain and humiliation were things that he had gotten used to since the day he was born. But what worried him was Rukawa's safety. He was afraid that Shouzen would harm Kaede for any reason at all…especially if he was, indeed, planning to resume his shadowy activities again.

Turning to Rukawa's side, Sendoh stared at his lover's sleeping face. His hand reached out and ruffled his lover's hair, gently.

"No matter what happen, Kaede, I will always love you." he whispered softly, as he wrapped an arm around Rukawa's waist, pulling the boy into his embrace. Soon, he drifted into deep sleep.

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

Sendoh sat alone on the rooftop, staring blankly into space. It was almost the end of lunch break but he still couldn't go back and face the questioning faces of his friends about his strange behavior earlier.

FLASHBACK

Sendoh, Koshino and Fukuda sat under a blossom tree, eating their lunch. This would have been a normal sight for everyone, except for the fact that the three friends were oddly quiet this day. There weren't any friendly fights or teasing between the three friends, as per usual.

The students glanced, curiously, at the silent trio, half-expecting them to start teasing each other at any moment.

Koshino grit his teeth, as he heard his friend sighing deeply for the millionth time since morning. In addition to that, the energetic Sendoh had been quiet all day and hadn't said any word other than hi, yes, and no. Koshino wondered if having Rukawa as his boyfriend was, truly, influencing Sendoh's personality. Maybe he ought to take his friend away from the silent fox of Shohoku!

And to complete Koshino's torment, all those annoying students were looking at them, as if they were aliens. Honestly, can't people, for once, stop prying into others' business?

Another sigh from Sendoh broke the last straw in Koshino's patience.

"That's it!" he exclaimed. "I've had it with you, Sendoh Akira. I will not tolerate any more of that kitsune-behavior of yours. You hear me?"

Sendoh blinked several times at his friend, in surprise. He had, nearly, spilled his food all over him, because of the sudden outburst.

"Ne, Kosh? What's the point of screaming into my poor ears like that?"

"The point is your mood swings are getting on my nerves, Sendoh Akira." Koshino hissed, annoyed. "Add to that, you've been brooding the whole day. I swear, you're behaving more like your boyfriend every day."

"I agree with Kosh," Fukuda said, quietly. "He is a very bad influence on you, Sendoh. Perhaps, it's time that you break up with him and find another one to hook up with."

"Perhaps, it's time that you two shut the hell up." Sendoh snapped, standing up suddenly. "How I behave is none of your goddamn business. And don't you ever dare and say another word about my life. It's my life not yours." With that, he walked away, leaving his two friends in great shock.

"What was that all about?"

END OF FLASHBACK

Sendoh sighed again. He didn't mean to snap in his friends' faces the way he did, but he couldn't help it. Fukuda's suggestion struck him in the heart, and stirred his fears once more.

"I thought I'd find you here." A cold voice came from behind, making Sendoh's blood freeze.

Looking behind him, Sendoh saw Shouzen leaning on the entrance door. They stared at each other for a long time, in silence, before Shouzen walked over to him.

"Haven't you heard the bell? Lunch break is over, yet you are still here, lost deep in thought." Shouzen said. "What's the matter, Yuujo? Did you have a fight with your friends, or with your boyfriend, perhaps?"

Sendoh's body tensed, but his face remained expressionless. "My name is Sendoh Akira." He said quietly.

"Oh, yeah!" Shouzen chuckled. "Sendoh Akira...That's the name your mother had given you. I still don't understand though, why hadn't she given you her last name!" he said, sarcastically. "Sendoh, huh? Even though, it's a nice name, it isn't even your biological father's name. Oh, well, even she might not know who your true father is."

"Stop it." Sendoh whispered.

"But really, she should've given you her name." Shouzen continued to pour salt on Sendoh's open wounds. "But then again, she hadn't loved you like a true mother would anyway. So it's understandable that she wouldn't recognize you as someone who belongs to her."

"I said stop it." Sendoh snapped. "Why?" he asked vehemently, glaring at Shouzen. "Why do you enjoy torturing me like this? Why do you always like to see me in pain?"

"Torturing you? I was merely reminding you of the facts concerning the name you're so proud of." Shouzen said, with a snort. "Anyhow, I didn't come here after you to talk about such a meaningless subject."

"What do you want then?"

"The boys are very disappointed at the way you were treating them," Shouzen said. "I mean, you are, indeed, an ungrateful friend. They were so looking forward to seeing you, yet, you have given them nothing but the cold shoulder during our parties. It isn't a way to treat your old buddies, is it?"

"They are not my buddies." Sendoh said, quietly. "I don't want to have anything to do with them. I don't want to have any part in your gang." With that, he walked past Shouzen, but was stopped by a strong hand holding his wrist.

"Don't you ever talk to me in that way," Shouzen said in a dangerous, quiet tone, yanking Sendoh to the floor. "Don't you forget who you truly are." He glared down at Sendoh. "I can't care less if you acted nicely to the gang or not. I can't care less if you wanted to take part of the gang or not. I'm the one who decides what part you will take in the gang, and whatever that might be, you will obey or accidents do happen…even to a rich famous basketball player like your boyfriend."

Sendoh gasped in horror.

"Anyhow," Shouzen smirked. "I'm not going to make the same mistake twice, and allow a weakling such as you to participate in the activities of the gang. Your role, pretty boy, is limited to my bed only. So rest assured." With that, Shouzen left, without looking back.

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

The orange ball hit the rim of the basket and the players watched it, with great shock, as it fell on the ground and bounced away.

"SENDOH AKIRA!" the scream, from its strength, rocked the whole gym to its roots. "WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?"

"I'm sorry, sensei." Sendoh apologized meekly, lowering his head. "I wasn't concentrating."

"Of course, you weren't." Taoka yelled. "This is the ninth time you missed the basket, even though it was clear in front of you. What the hell is wrong with you?"

Sendoh said nothing, still looking at the floor.

Taoka sighed in defeat. "It's no use," he mumbled to himself. "Fine…Fine. Let's end practice for today. BUT, tomorrow, Sendoh Akira, if you remain this way, I'll have your head, DO YOU HEAR ME?"

"Yes, sensei." Sendoh said softly, before walking to his bag on the bench.

"Are you alright, senpai?" Aida asked, as he handed Sendoh a towel.

"I'm alright, Aida." Sendoh said, giving the younger boy a small smile, as he accepted the offered towel. "Don't worry." With that, he walked away, heading to the showers.

Koshino and Fukuda exchanged worried glances, as they followed him with their teammates.

"Sendoh, are you sure there is nothing bothering you?" Koshino asked, as they dressed after their shower. "You know, you've been acting weird today."

"It's nothing." Sendoh murmured quietly, putting his training clothes into his gym bag and hurrying outside.

The players blinked several times, in shock, at their captain's strange behavior.

"What's wrong with the captain, senpai?" Aida asked Koshino. "He's been acting weirdly for whole month now. He's been quiet and serious, more often than usual, and his performance in court has deteriorated."

"Well, Sendoh's sudden lack of sociality could be due to an outside influence," Uekusa said teasingly. "Sticking around certain people for a long time could change a person, you know. As for his performance, maybe he isn't getting laid enough…thus, affecting his play. Our poor captain, sleeping all alone with no—"

"Uekusa, that's enough." Koshino interrupted, suddenly. "You've passed your limits here."

"But, Kosh, really!" Uekusa said. "Oh, I know. Sendoh must be worried. Isn't Shohoku having a match now? I wonder how they are performing!"

"Uekusa, I said that's enough."

"Come on, Kosh," Uekusa said, as he, Koshino, and Fukuda exited the locker room. "Usually, you're the one who teases Sendoh about his love life."

"Yes, but not this time." Koshino said. "Don't you see that Sendoh is upset about something? Joking about his relationship with Rukawa-kun is the last thing he needs right now. Besides, you shouldn't drop too many hints about it anyway. There are so many freshmen who don't know how things work in here yet. If anyone found out about Sendoh and Rukawa, they might tell the coach and we will all be in big trouble."

"I guess you're right." Uekusa said with a sigh. "I would hate to know that Taoka-sensei is after my neck because of a Shohoku Kitsune."

"I said DROP the subject already." Koshino snapped at his teammate.

"Alright, alright!" Uekusa held up his hands in surrender.

"Do you think we should apologize to Sendoh, guys?" Fukuda said suddenly. "Sendoh did seem upset about my remark this morning. He hasn't even looked in our direction the whole day."

"That's right," Koshino said. "But I don't think it's the true reason. As Aida had said, Sendoh has been acting weirdly for one month."

"Could it be that he had a fight at home?" Fukuda suggested. "That's why he got agitated when I mentioned his boyfriend?"

"Probably." Koshino said. "However, I must hear that from Sendoh. I'll follow him home and I won't leave, until I've got a straight answer from him."

"Well, you won't need to follow him until his home," Uekusa said. "He's right in front of you." the two players looked where he was pointing and saw Sendoh sitting on a bench under a tree, and staring into the space.

"Jeez," Fukuda exclaimed. "What has gotten into him?"

"I don't know, Fuku, but I'm going to find out for sure." Koshino said determinedly. "You two go now, and let me handle this."

"Alright," Fukuda said after awhile. "But tell him that I'm sorry for making fun of him."

"Right." Koshino couldn't suppress a small chuckle, as he waved good-bye to his mates. He watched until Fukuda and Uekusa passed through the gates, before walking towards Sendoh.

"Yo, captain," he said as he approached the spiky-haired boy. "What are you doing here, sitting all alone like this?"

Sendoh looked up at his friend, and then looked away, sighing. Koshino shook his head and went to sit next to Sendoh. He saw their teammates coming out of the building, and waving goodbye to both of them as they passed.

After they passed, Koshino looked at Sendoh.

"Akira, what's wrong?" he asked. "You've been acting weird for a whole month. Are you having a problem that you can't solve? Did you have a fight with Rukawa?" he asked the last question cautiously.

"No," Sendoh said in a low voice. "Kaede and I didn't fight."

"Then what's wrong? Are you worried about his match today? If you want, we can go and catch the last minutes of the game."

"No, can we go somewhere else?" Sendoh asked, standing up. "I want to walk a little bit along the shore." With that, he took his bag and left, followed by a puzzled Koshino.

Once they were at the beach, they walked along shore silently, until Sendoh suddenly stopped and looked away at the horizon. He reached out into his pocket, took out a cigarette, and lit it.

"Since when do you smoke?" Koshino asked in surprise.

"For a while." Sendoh replied solemnly. "I only smoke when I feel tense."

"This stuff will kill you, Akira." Koshino said firmly. "You're an athlete; smoking isn't good for you."

"Relax, Hiro." Sendoh said. "I said I only smoke occasionally. It's not a big deal." He paused for a while before speaking again. "Hiro, I'm sorry about this morning. I didn't mean to snap at you and Fukuda-kun."

"There's no need to apologize, Akira." Koshino smiled slightly to his friend. "It's obvious that you are going through a rough time. We were trying to cheer you up. I'm sorry if we upset you more."

Sendoh sighed, closing his eyes, briefly, before re-opening them. "Kaede is in a gloomy mood these days," he said softly. "His parents' death anniversary is this coming Sunday. Tension in the house has become unbearable."

"I see, so that's what was bothering you all day?"

"Not really." Sendoh said. "I admit that this matter is weighing heavily on my heart, but—but the weight of guilt and disgust is even heavier."

"Guilt and disgust? From what?"

Sendoh took several inhales from his cigarette, still looking away and avoiding Koshino's gaze. "I'm cheating on Kaede, Hiro." He whispered quietly.

Koshino stared at his friend in shock. He didn't knew what shocked him more, the fact that Sendoh was cheating on the one he claimed to love, or the way that Sendoh said it, as if he was talking about the weather.

"What?" he asked in shock.

"I'm cheating on Kaede," Sendoh whispered softly, his eyes downcast. "I'm cheating on him with—with Shouzen."

"WHAT?" Koshino exclaimed angrily, grabbing Sendoh's collar and shaking him violently, causing Sendoh's cigarette to fall to the ground. "What the hell has gotten into you? Isn't bad enough that you are cheating on your boyfriend…the one that you've given me a headache from whining about how much you love him, but also, it has to be with THAT BASTARD?"

"I had no other choice." Sendoh said softly, still refusing to meet Koshino's angry gaze. "It was either this or—"

"Or my ass!" Koshino pushed Sendoh, causing the other boy to fall down. "I have warned you, haven't I? I have warned you about him. But did you listen? NO! You kept telling me that he had changed and all that crap, and now you're having an affair with him?"

"I was wrong." Sendoh whispered, softly.

"DAMN RIGHT, YOU WERE." Koshino growled. "YOU SHOULD HAVE KICKED HIS ASS BACK TO TOKYO THE MOMENT HE OPENED HIS MOUTH."

"Kosh, please understand. I couldn't say no." Sendoh said. "He threatened to expose my past to Kaede. He sent an album to Kaede's house as a warning…an album of me in the most humiliating positions."

"So what? That was almost 4 years ago." Koshino snapped. "Are you that unsure of Rukawa's feelings for you? If that kitsune can't understand that this was in the past, then he doesn't deserve a single drop of sweat from you!"

"It's not like that!" Sendoh yelled, standing up. "Kaede loves me…loves me very much. But—but no one can pretend that all the horrible secrets in my life are nothing. No one can pretend not to be ashamed that I'm an illegitimate child of a whore…that I was involved in an underground drug-dealing organization—"

"Just listen to yourself…" Koshino cut him off vehemently. "No one, you say? What about my dad? Did he feel ashamed when he took you into his family? Did mom feel ashamed when she loved you and treated like a son? Did I feel ashamed when I considered you the brother I've always wished for? Tell me, Akira, did we feel ashamed when we made you part of our family?" at this, Sendoh lowered his gaze.

Koshino snorted, then said coldly. "It's not about what Rukawa might think of you, is it? It's about what you think of yourself." Sendoh's eyes widened. "You're the one who's looking down on yourself. You still see yourself as a worthless toy, owned by Shouzen Ouji, or Kanpuu, or whatever his name is." Sendoh's body tensed at Koshino's words.

"Apparently, I have misjudged you, Sendoh." Koshino continued. "I've thought that you have finally got over your past…finally stood on your feet and shook all your old fears away. I've thought that you've changed…that you've become another person than that frightened kid who came to us one night. But it seems that, I was wrong. You're still that frightened boy, whom that bastard played with as he pleased." A heavy silence reigned on the two, cut only by the sound of the sea-waves, before Koshino spoke again. "What happened to you, Akira? You said that you love Rukawa-kun, yet you've betrayed him. You said that you have changed, yet you're still surrendering to that bastard as you did before. You said that you would never return to him, yet you did. Why are you contradicting yourself?"

"I wish I knew why, Hiro." Sendoh said, looking at the horizon. "When I saw Shouzen for the first time, all my old fears rose inside of me. I tried to fight them, convincing myself that they don't exist anymore. Shouzen's friendly behavior helped me to suppress them to a degree. But when he revealed his old self, all the old fears accompanied with my fears of losing Kaede and my life here overwhelmed me, and I couldn't resist. I just couldn't."

"And where does that leave you, Akira?" Koshino asked. "What will be the end of this?"

"The end?" Sendoh said, sighing deeply. "I don't know, Kosh. I feel like a helpless little bird caught in the middle of a storm, totally at the winds' mercy. But, this how my life's always been, even before I can remember. I'm used to it. What worries me most is Kaede. I don't want Shouzen to hurt him. Fears of a harm coming to Kaede because of me, has filled my soul since the day Shouzen sent that album. However, today, he said it clearly. If I didn't obey him, he will hurt Kaede. I don't want this to happen, Hiro." Sendoh looked at his friend.

Koshino sighed deeply. "Akira, I've told the right way to handle this. You should've beaten that bastard's ass since day one. If you want, Fukuda and I would be glad to do it for you."

Sendoh looked at friend and smiled gratefully. "No, Hiro." He said. "I don't want you or anyone to get involved in this either…because you, as well, might get hurt. Shouzen isn't as easy a target as you may imagine. He's dangerous…even if he looks otherwise. Besides, I didn't know you to be the violent type of guy!"

Koshino snorted. "That shows how much you don't know me, Sendoh Akira."

Letting out a small chuckle, Sendoh looked at the horizon and sighed.

"Please, Hiro. Don't get yourself involved in this." He said quietly. "It's my problem and I need to solve it alone."

"So, you will continue on having an affair with that guy?"

"I'm forced to." Sendoh said. "But it won't stay that way for long. I promise you, Hiro. I'll get over my fears one day and I'll end everything between us. However, right now, I just need someone to talk to and rely on."

"You'll always have me, Akira." Koshino said, wrapping an arm around Sendoh's neck. "I'll listen to everything you say, well, most of it. But don't take too long to solve this matter, or I'll lose the tiny amount of patience I have in me and beat up that bastard myself, alright?"

"Alright." Sendoh said, amused.

"Now, tell me exactly what happened between the two of you." Koshino said.

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

"Tadaima," Sendoh greeted as he entered the house and took off his shoes.

"Oh, Sendoh-san," Aoki said with a smile, as got she exited the living room. "Okaeri nasai."

"Arigatou, Aoki-chan." Sendoh replied with a smile. "Where is Kaede?"

"Rukawa-san is upstairs." The maid replied, taking Sendoh's bag from him. "James-joshii was angry at him for some reason. After scolding him, she sent him upstairs and told him not to come down for the rest of the day."

"She—she grounded him?" Sendoh asked in amazement.

Aoki nodded. "She said that he would even eat his dinner there."

"Why?" Sendoh asked.

"Oh, Master Akira, Welcome back." Mrs. James said as she descended the stairs. "It's 6:30. You are early today."

"Thanks, Mrs. James. Well, I was tired, so I called the shop and took the day off." Sendoh said, as he and Mrs. James entered the living room. "What happened between you and Kaede?"

"That boy never learns." Mrs. James grumbled. "I've told him millions of times not to get himself into fights, but he just keeps getting himself into trouble. I've had enough of him coming back home with bruises and blood all over him. He will not leave his room, or touch a basketball during the whole weekend as punishment." She let out a sigh of defeat. "He wasn't like this before. He was a silent and quiet little boy. Of course, that was if his father wasn't around."

"But, Mrs. James," Sendoh said with a chuckle. "He is still a silent and quiet boy."

"Well, he wasn't a troublemaker, unlike now." Mrs. James frowned. "His parents would surely be disappointed if they knew about all the fights he's getting himself into." Mrs. James gasped, realizing what she had said.

"You didn't say that to him, did you?" Sendoh asked, alarmed.

"Of course not." The elder lady exclaimed in terror.

"Good." Sendoh sighed in relief. "Anyhow, Kaede usually doesn't start a fight, unless he was forced into it. And, maybe, if it was with Sakuragi, you can't consider it a real fight. They hit each other and so, but it's not a serious matter."

"It's still called a fight. And I warned him about fighting, so many times," Mrs. James said. "If he wants me to treat him as an adult then first he has to behave like one…but until then, he will remain grounded."

"Can I go and see my boyfriend or is it not allowed either?"

"You may go, but he will sleep in his old room during the weekend. And you will sleep where you sleep every night, young man. And that's final." Mrs. James said, before Sendoh could protest.

Sighing, Sendoh headed upstairs to see his lover.

"Kae-chan!" he exclaimed, opening Rukawa's bedroom without knocking. A dart was flying straight towards his forehead, and if not for his quick dodge, it would have made a hole in his flesh.

"Do'aho."

"Ne, Kae-chan, you could have hit my head and killed me just now." Sendoh said, pouting at Rukawa. "What were you shooting at anyway? Oh, me and Sakuragi!" he stared, uncomfortably, at the large picture pasted on the door, of the Shohoku, Shoyo, and Ryonan players, taken when Ryonan and Shoyo played a practice game against Shohoku.

"I didn't know that you hated me that much, Kae-chan." He looked at Rukawa with mock sadness.

"Do'aho." Rukawa said, throwing another dart at Sakuragi's grinning face. "What do you want?"

Sendoh looked at his lover and smiled. "I've heard what happened." He said. "So you got yourself into a fight, huh?" Rukawa just looked at him and snorted.

Sendoh studied his lover carefully, Rukawa was lying on the bed on his stomach; his head was tilted to the left, leaning on his left arm while his right hand was holding another dart, ready to shoot. There weren't any bruises as far as Sendoh could see…so how did Mrs. James know that Rukawa had a fight?

"Did you get injured?"

"Not much." Rukawa replied, shooting the dart at Sendoh's (the picture) neck.

"Where?"

Sighing, Rukawa straightened his head, revealing his bruised cheek and neck.

"Ouch," Sendoh said, walking to his lover and sitting on the edge of the bed. "What happened?"

"That do'aho was too loud." Rukawa said, yawning in boredom, while throwing another dart. "I smacked him with a basketball."

"And then?"

"He smacked me back."

"And that happened during the game?" Sendoh sweat dropped slightly, imagining Rukawa and Sakuragi throwing the ball at each other instead of playing.

"After it, baka."

"Oh," Sendoh said. "Speaking of the game; who won?"

Rukawa gave Sendoh an odd look. "Do'aho, we did."

"Of course," Sendoh chuckled. "And how are the Takezato boys? I've heard that some good players joined them this year."

"Not really." Rukawa huffed. "They're not strong enough yet."

"I see." Sendoh smiled. "No one has been able to challenge your skills, I assume."

Rukawa nodded, throwing his last dart at Mitsui's face. "The darts."

"Huh?"

"Retrieve the darts, aho." Rukawa said. "By the way, why you are here early?"

"I took the day off." Sendoh said, standing up and walking to the door. "And Taoka-sensei let us off early today…so Koshino and I had a short walk in the beach before coming here."

"Hn." Was his reply.

Silence reigned on the room as Sendoh pulled the darts off the door.

"I want to go to America." Rukawa suddenly said.

"I know." The spiky-haired boy said calmly, despite anxiety that filled his soul.

"I want to go to America after Shohoku." Rukawa said.

Sendoh's heart nearly jumped from his chest.

/After Shohoku! That's only one year/ he bit his lower lip, feeling his body tense up. "I see." He said, pulling out the last dart. Returning to the bed, Sendoh poured the darts on the floor in front of Rukawa again, then returned to his previous place on the bed.

Rukawa stared at the darts on the floor but did not reach out for one, while Sendoh stared at anything but the boy next to him. He knew that Rukawa's dream was to play professional basketball in America. This is the only thing that occupied the raven-haired boy's mind…this was one of many things that Sendoh admired about his lover. But where does this leave him?

Sendoh never thought of that before. When Rukawa leaves to fulfill his dreams in America, what will happen to him? What will happen to their relationship? To their love?

Will he stay here and wait for Rukawa's return? If so, then how many years should he wait? Would Rukawa even consider returning to Japan after he leaves?

The younger boy had a home in America. He could stay there forever, if he wished. Then, what will happen to Sendoh?

Will they end everything before Rukawa's departure?

Will they part and each one will take a different path and move on?

"I want you to go with me." Rukawa suddenly said.

Sendoh's eyes widened in surprise. "What?" he asked softly.

"To America." Rukawa whispered. "I want you to go with me. Would you?"

Sendoh closed his eyes, fighting back his tears. Of course, he could go with his lover. They could go and start a new life in a new land. But, could he? Would he be able to break the chains that his past had tied him with? Would he be able to escape the nightmare that he was living in?

"Akira," Sendoh snapped from his thoughts at his lover's voice. "If you don't want to—"

"Of course, I want to go with you." Sendoh interrupted, looking down, lovingly, at Rukawa. "I can't live without you, Kaede. I—I just never really thought about your dreams to go to America. I've never thought about what will happen to us when it's time for you to leave."

"Well, you have to think now." Rukawa said, sitting up. "Will you go with me?"

"I've already told you." Sendoh smiled. "Of course."

Rukawa smiled slightly before throwing his arms around Sendoh's neck and hugging him tightly.

Slowly, Sendoh's arms reached up and hugged his lover back.

"Akira," Rukawa whispered against Sendoh's neck.

"Yes?"

"Will you do something for me?" the raven-haired pulled away and looked deeply into Sendoh's eyes. "Please?"

"Sure, Kaede." Sendoh smiled. "Anything…"

"Don't go to work." Rukawa said.

"Kaede—"

"Two weeks only." Rukawa said, pleading. "For me."

"Kaede, we talked about this hundreds of times." Sendoh said with a defeated sigh.

"I know," Rukawa said. "But you're going to work almost everyday, and with the tournament going on, we barely see each other. Please, for me. Don't go…at least until tournament ends."

Sendoh thought deeply. He can't say no to his lover, and would gladly stop going to work just to spend some time with him, but the fact that he had to be with Shouzen two days in the week remains a problem. How can he balance the two?

"Alright," he said finally. "I'll stop going to work the extra two days I took before."

"But—"

"Kaede, that's the most that I can do. I'll go to work only two days instead of four."

"Ok," Rukawa whispered softly, before leaning into Sendoh's embrace once more.

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

Later that night, in a semi-dark room in Shouzen's apartment…

"Well, how are you doing in your new school?" Shouzen asked the youth standing in front of him.

"Fine, I guess." The young man replied. "I can't still believe that you have made me enroll in a high school again, though."

"It will be fun. Trust me." Shouzen said with a smirk. "This school is far better than the one you attended in Tokyo."

"No kidding." The young man snorted. "But why?"

"I need you to keep your eyes on the basketball team." Shouzen replied. "I want you to watch them like a hawk."

"What you're up to, Shouzen?" the youth asked seriously. "They are only bunch of kids."

"Well, I want my little toy back, Majin." Shouzen said casually. "I want him back under my control."

"Isn't he now?" Majin asked with a snort.

"No, I still have to get rid of that boyfriend of his." Shouzen said heatedly.

"Be careful, Shouzen." Majin said in a warning tone. "That kid, Rukawa, isn't a homeless tramp who people won't give a damn if anything happened to him. He's a wealthy, well-known boy, in and out of his school. Don't do anything to him that may attract attention."

"Relax, Majin." Shouzen said coolly. "Who said anything about doing anything to that Rukawa? I only want to get Yuujo back from him…that's all I'm going to do. I'm merely trying to know my rival better."

"I don't assume that your love for Sendoh is your motive, right?" Majin said sarcastically.

"Right," Shouzen said. "It's just that I don't like anyone playing with my toys. My toys are mine and mine alone."

"And when you are bored with them?"

"I destroy them before tossing them in the trash bin, so no one can play with them. Now, any news of the new shipment?"

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

T.B.C.