A/N: This isn't the happiest fic around. But it won't make you cry. I'm tired of always seeing Ryota being portrayed as a love-sick fool. I mean, how long can such feelings last anyway? This fic is dedicated to the cynics out there who may (or may not, but I don't care) agree with the sentiment expressed in the fic. BGRs are sooooo overrated. A one-shot songfic based on "The Seal" by Fool's Garden. (You know, the happy - supposedly - German band who gave you 'Lemon Tree'?)

Disclaimer: Slam Dunk isn't mine. The lyrics to "The Seal" belongs to Fool's Garden and their record company.


The Seal

"Ayako…"

You said it in a strange kind
I don't forget the day

Something in his voice, something subtle, but obvious enough to those that know him, makes my muscles tense, as if it were an instant reaction, a gut instinct. His face is turned away from me, his eyes focused on a distant point that I cannot see.

Your smile is not the same now
You've drawn your hands away

There is a space between us that used to be crammed with air molecules struggling to break free. There is no body contact. Hands that used to crave each other are now holding lonely air. Smiles that used to speak volumes without saying a single word are now restrained and silent. His sweetness that has made me smile so many times when I was down is replaced by tension, unease, discomfort.

He doesn't need to say much for me to understand. One word is enough.

"Ayako". Not "Aya-chan".

Ten months into our relationship, and feelings are starting to change. At least, his are. Mine remains pretty much the same.

I never thought I could love him. Of course, I knew that he was crazy about me. I'd be blind not to notice. He was always hanging around after basketball practice while I coached Sakuragi his basics, offering me a hand when it was obvious none was needed. He waited for me after school every single day without fail, even if I ended late and he early, just so we could walk home together. He would sneak me little looks of wistfulness during practice, looks that he didn't think I would notice, but I'm not blind. Neither am I stupid. Was it merely a coincidence how he always played better, moved faster, became more alert, when I shouted words of praise and encouragement to him from the bench during actual matches? I didn't think so.

He stubbornly stuck to me like glue, even when I tried hinting that I wasn't interested. I never liked guys who came on too strongly. I was afraid they wouldn't be able to let go when I wanted out. I thought it would be the same with him. He'd be so in love that he'd refuse to say good-bye, and then I'd be trapped within the bars of a lover's affection that burns like wildfire in the midst of a cold cold desert that refuses to relent.

It never once crossed my mind that I would be the one who can't let go.

Beside me, Ryota sighs. "Say something, will ya?" he mutters. He's still not looking at me.

I don't begrudge it to you
You've found another place

"What do you want me to say?"

I ask that, but my mind screams differently. Where is it that you can't take me? Where have you been that has no place for me anymore? And why can't we make it work? How do we know we can't, without even trying?

"Something. Anything."

Another place is good too
But I can't look inside your face

"You've changed."

The two words rushed out of my mouth without warning, and now they hang uncomfortably in the air between us, their presence so strongly felt that they try to shy away from the limelight, but it's a one-way street and there's no turning back. They are trapped.

"Have I," Ryota mumbles against his palm. He shifts slightly, making the swing we're sitting on creak noisily.

"Yes," I say softly. "You've grown up. You've outgrown me."

He takes that in silently. I wait for a protest, or at least a contradiction, but none comes. He doesn't dispute me.

I'm suddenly aware of a sinking feeling. It gnaws at the pit of my stomach and chews its way up, all the way up, to my throat, where it manifests itself as a muffled sob and makes my entire body convulse. I'm ashamed to be losing my cool in front of him, when he would finally let me down by watching from the sidelines with his hands in his pockets.

Inside your face…
Now you get away

Ryota glances at me from the corner of his eye. His face twists with discomfort at my distress, but he does nothing. Doesn't even say a word.

The old Ryota would have put his arms around me and envelope me in an embrace so warm that it would melt an entire season's snow. He would have whispered words in my ear that healed all my scars and blemishes, and he would have made me believe that I was the most beautiful girl in the world, simply because he loved me.

He would never have made me cry.

And now we shunt our train onto a siding
I see you wave your hand and disappear

I press an angry fist against my right eye, to stop a tear from rolling down my cheek.

"You were going to tell me something, weren't you?" I say, my voice trembling a little.

Ryota finally turns to look at me. His expression is grim, his eyes shifty. They don't dare to stay on me for too long.

He draws in a deep breath and lets it out, slowly. The seconds of time seem longer than usual, as if he had the ability to drag them out. He looks down at his hands.

"Ayako," he finally says. "I don't think we should see each other anymore."

**

You said come on and fly with me
Fly and then we'll dive into an endless sea

I sat motionlessly with my head lowered, clutched between my arms. I stared ahead, my face expressionless. I was tired of crying. I wasn't even sure if I had any tears left.

I didn't care about the curious glances I got from passer-bys that weren't curious enough to stop to ask if I was all right. I didn't care that I had missed my bus - five times. I didn't care either that it was slowly approaching ten o'clock, and that the streets were more and more deserted.

I was all alone. And it suited me fine.

Until he came along.

He was whistling cheerfully as he strolled towards me, his hands in his pockets, his bag strapped over his forehead. I saw him first before he saw me, and just when I was about to get up and bolt, he spotted me.

"Aya-chan!" he called out, unaware that I was in no mood to talk. "What are you doing here at this time of the day?"

His smile immediately faded when he took in my tear-stained face. Without missing even a beat, he scurried over and sat down next to me.

"Aya-chan…" his voice was tentative, halting. "What's wrong?"

I didn't answer. Not because I didn't want to, but because I couldn't. I was determined to drive him away the very instant I saw him, but as he continued to look at me with concern and anxiety etched so clearly on his face, my resolve began to dissipate.

When I started crying again he pulled me into his arms. It was so automatic, as if it had been programmed into him, as if it were as much of a given as breathing. He didn't question it. And neither did I.

Right there and then, amidst all the wrongs in my life, crying into his chest, with his arms around me, his hand gently stroking the small of my back, with his soothing voice saying that everything would turn out fine, it felt strangely right. As if nothing could ever bring me down again, not when I was flying, soaring, towards the sky, with the gentle wind grazing softly against my cheek, dashing over rainbows and defeating storm clouds, with Miyagi Ryota by my side.

When I woke up in his bed the next morning and found him dozing in the living room, I fell in love with him.

**

And now you fly again
I couldn't fly like you

He had told me to fly. To flap my feather-like wings and let them take me wherever I wanted. Let them take me from the ugly truth that was my parents' divorce. Let them take me away from my life.

He promised he'd fly with me and always be by my side. No matter what. He said those three words fiercely, and I could sense the intensity and passion building up inside of him that I almost didn't dare go too near for fear of being scalded.

We've always flown together, him and I. AyakoandRyota. RyotaandAyako. We completed each other. And life was perfect as long as he was by my side.

I should have seen it coming. I should have known that there was no such thing as perfection, let alone forever. I should have known that our relationship was too good to be true. Too good to last. Good things never lasted anyway, so why should this be any different?

Ever since he returned from the Inter-High games - victorious, of course - things have not been the same. I don't know if he blamed me for sitting out of Shohoku's matches to focus on my schoolwork. It was my third year, and I wanted to go out with a bang. I thought he'd understand.

"What do you mean, you're not coming along?" Ryota exclaimed. "You have to come! This is important to me! I need you there!"

"I told you, Ryota. I have to study. That's important to me too."

"But you're the manager of the team! How can the manager not come along?"

"You have Haruko-chan, don't you?"

He looked differently at me that day. I couldn't quite read his expression - it was a mixture of disappointment and anger and hurt, and yet in the midst of all of that was confusion and disbelief and uncertainty. He didn't understand.

"But she's not you," he replied softly, and turned and walked away.

The next day, he left for the Inter-High without so much as a word of good-bye. Not even a message on the answering machine. He simply left without a word.

And I was left behind, all by myself.

And now I'm losing you.

**

I don't know what to say. For once, my mind is a total, complete blank. I know those words were coming. I was preparing myself for the blow.

Funny how words sound and feel so different from the way they do in your imagination when they are finally out in the open.

Pathos - how the eyes gape
I've got blood in my hands

"But... why?" I manage to choke out.

Ryota cringes. "You know why. Don't make this difficult."

For you or for me? I want to retort.

I want to strike out. I want to grip Ryota by the shoulders and shake answers out of him, answers that he owes me. I want to scream, to yell, to cry.

But I hold myself back.

Thoughts about the promises
And all the tears that we have shed

"You promised you'd fly with me," I say shakily. "You promised that, no matter what. No matter what, Ryota! Have you forgotten?"

"No Ayako, I haven't," he snaps. "Have you forgotten about the Inter-High? I led Shohoku to victory! We were the national champions! And I was named MVP! And you weren't even there to witness it!"

**

His phone calls got less and less frequent, until it became a seeming chore for him to call me. We saw less of each other in school. I quit my position as team manager and channelled most of my energy towards my studies. Our paths hardly ever crossed in school, and when it did, it was a mere exchange of a quick 'hello' before one of us - usually Ryota - rushed off to attend to some important business that couldn't wait for another thirty seconds.

I used to cry about it. I spent countless nights lulling myself to slumber, my cheek pressed against my tear-stained pillow, as if it could take away the incredible void I felt inside of me.

After a while though, the tears stopped coming. I simply got used to it.

**

I stare at Ryota in disbelief. "This is about my not going to the Inter-High with the team?"

He shakes his head furiously. "It's not just about that, though it constitutes quite a big proportion of the entire picture."

"Tell me, then" - I'm almost yelling - "what is the entire picture?"

Don't let them use you
Be cautious when you dive

Ryota throws his hands up in frustration. "Do I really have to spell it out for you? Would you prefer it that way?"

It is at this very moment that I know it's all over. It's written all over his face. He's impatient, and just wants to get this break-up done and over with, and he doesn't give the slightest shit whose feelings get trampled upon in the process. He's standing up now, and even though he's right in front of me, he may as well have been miles away.

I don't know him anymore.

Into the world around you
You've broken all the ties

"You don't love me anymore. Do you."

Perhaps it's the defeat in my tone. Perhaps it's guilt. But Ryota freezes for a moment, and then his face softens. He opens his mouth to say something, but quickly shuts it again. He looks at his feet.

"I..." he starts to say. He pauses. And then,

"Well... I mean, people change, and..."

No. He doesn't love me anymore.

All the ties...

"...sometimes things don't work out..."

It is all over.

Now you get away

"...feelings don't always remain the same..."

And now we shunt our train onto a siding

"...it's happened to your parents..."

I see you wave your hand and disappear

"...we're just kids...what do we know about forever..."

You said come on and fly with me

"...we can't keep flying...keep running away..."

Fly and then we'll dive into an endless sea

"...there comes a time when things come to a standstill...now is that time..."

And now you fly again

"...I'm sorry, Ayako...but..."

I couldn't fly like you

"...I can't fly with you anymore."

And now I'm losing you.

-end-