Disclaimer: Unfortunately, I do not own SLAM DUNK. These wonderful boys belong to the great Takehiko Inoue.

Author's note: You thought I was dead, didn't you?? Nope, I'm still alive but this new chapter was just terribly hard to smoothen out. It took me longer than usual and due to new office location, I can no longer write in the bus and writing in the subway is a big no-no for me, not with people standing around anyway, so yeah. But its finally out and I hope you enjoyed it.

Once again, thank you so much for the reviews! Big hugs and kisses to lilrocker, Gaelle, Star7, Lysythe, Minh-Tuyet and Miyo Yukimora!

Dance to the Rhythm of Love
Written by Merri

Chapter 12

Rukawa stayed silent throughout practice that night. Other than his usual single syllable replies, it was impossible to get any other kind of reactions out of the man. Sakuragi wondered if last night was all a fragment of his dreams...

"What is with that sulky face? Shouldn't you be the happiest man on the face of earth?" asked Youhei as he stirred his morning coffee. "Oi! Stop day dreaming!" he called out when he found his friend stoning at his drink.

"Eh? What did you say?" asked Sakuragi when he snapped out of whatever his mind was in.

"What's wrong? Things not going well at the dance studio? You look a little off..."

"It's nothing, just thinking about some... stuff," Sakuragi replied.

"Ah, so the great Sakuragi Hanamichi actually thinks, that's good to know." Youhei joked. "Anything you need help with, just let me know alright?"

"Thanks but I'm really fine, just..." Sakuragi trailed off before pressing his lips together in a grim line. "Ok, let me ask you," he finally asked, "If this person keeps popping up in your mind and just has a way of getting on your nerves and, and, you know you hate this person's guts a lot but somehow this person just makes you feel... weird at times but not in a bad way, what does that mean?"

"Well..." Youhei started.

"Well?" Sakuragi urged, "So, have I been voodooed or something?"

Youhei laughed. "No! but I must admit that you can be quite dense sometimes." Youhei sighed before slapping his friend on the back when Sakuragi looked at clueless as before, "Congrats Sakuragi! So who's the unlucky girl?"

"Wha-what do you mean?!" Sakuragi stammered, looking horrified at the implication.

"What do you mean, what do I mean? Isn't it obvious? You like the girl of course!" Youhei happily exclaimed. It has been a while since they celebrated Sakuragi last heartbreak.

"Li-like the girl?!" Sakuragi repeated, too mortified to correct his friend about the gender issue.

"Has too much dancing made you dumb?" asked Youhei, raising a brow. Sometimes, his red-haired friend can be so slow it pains him. "Does your heart go beating at the speed of light when you see her?"

"Erm, not exactly..." replied Sakuragi. It was more of accelerated heart beat from frustration and anger if he tried to remember.

"I'll take that as a 'Yes'..." Youhei decided, "And you can't help but think about her all the time, am I right?"

"Well, you can say so..." Sakuragi replied, a little unsure about his answer because thinking about how to torture a person all the time shouldn't be considered as affection, if you asked him.

"Then it's confirmed! You do like her!" Youhei concluded before shifting his chair closer towards Sakuragi, "So when are you going to confess? Need us to help? We can always play the middle-man and help pass on the confession letter if you're too shy," he teased.

"Oh, shut up already!" Sakuragi exclaimed slapping away the hand on his shoulder. "Nobody is confessing anything and whoever said it was a girl?! And why the hell am I asking you for advice?" Sakuragi grumbled, already getting up from his seat to leave. "Ok, that's it! I'm leaving, thanks for the coffee!" Tucking one hand into his pocket, he waved the other casually before escaping as fast as he could from the cafe.

"Eh?! You're leaving? What about the coffee!? and who said it was on me?!" Youhei called out after the retreating red-head.

"Damn, Sakuragi that idiot..." he cursed, pulling Sakuragi's unfinished cup of coffee over. "Not a girl huh..."

The rest of the day past by in a blur for Sakuragi, so caught up in his thoughts that he bumped his head twice while making repairs under a car.

"How can that ever be possible? Stupid Youhei and his crappy analysis..." Sakuragi mumbled as he made his way into the shabby building. "But I do think of him most of the time, don't I?" he asked out loud to nobody in particular. Jamming the button twice, he waited as the cranky old elevator made it's way down to the lobby. "BAH!! What the hell am I thinking about!? This is ridiculous!" he finally exclaimed before slapping his face twice with both hands. "Oh my god, I'm such a girl!" he groaned.

"A girl who talks to herself, very scary indeed..." said Akagi as he appeared from behind.

"What the-!" Sakuragi squeaked in surprise. "Don't scare me, Gori!!" He patted his chest in a bid to slow down his racing heart.

"Gori?" Akagi lifted a brow before frowning in anger when the Sakuragi's implication caught on with him. "Why you idiot!" He gritted out, catching the other man by the front of his shirt.

"S-sorry!! It was a slip of the tongue! I didn't mean it!" Sakuragi defended with a weak laugh as he tried to pry the fingers away from his favourite shirt. Was this retribution?

"Brother! Stop it!"

"Ha-Haruko-chan!" Sakuragi cried out happily when the girl stepped out from behind her brother to stop him from violent murder. "You're early today!" He cried out in pure adoration.

"Good evening, Sakuragi!" Haruko greeted cheerfully. Her smile bright like a thousand suns in Sakuragi's eye.

"Work ended on time, so I got a lift from my brother." She smiled.

"I-I see," Sakuragi blushed before abruptly resuming his struggle against Akagi's iron grasp. "A-Akagi! Let go of me!," he pleaded. Now that Haruko was here, it was crucial to maintain his image in front of his beautiful goddess. He was, after all, the up and coming star of the Shohoku Dance Company!

"So... how's practice with Rukawa coming along?" asked Haruko, a spot of colour appearing on her cheeks at the mention of Rukawa's name.

Sakuragi looked away, a little jealous that the blush was not due to his presence.

"It's going well!" he answered instead, "No doubt about that with the great Sakuragi Hanamichi around. We'll definitely be taking the festival by storm!!" Sakuragi exclaimed before bursting into a haughty laugh. A defensive act to hide his insecurities. Rukawa can step aside by then, and he, Sakuragi Hanamichi, shall be No. 1 in Kanagawa.

Akagi snorted. "That would be until you pass the auditions, that is in two weeks," he reminded before pushing the man into the elevator when it arrived with a "ding".

Rukawa was thirty minutes late when he arrived for practice that evening, earning himself a good smack from Ayako's legendary fold-able paper fan. He started looking around the minute practice started, trying to seek out the red-haired monkey in the small confines of the office area and was not surprised to find him missing. Sakuragi was probably avoiding him and he cursed himself for the momentary lost of self-control the previous night.

"Rukawa, if you think you're good enough to not concentrate during practice, then you're terribly wrong!" Ayako admonished when she noticed his distraction. Rukawa looked away, ignoring the curious glances from his fellow dancers and Haruko's worried frown.

"Ok guys, we'll stop our practice here today!" Ayako announced to the surprise of the troupe. They briefly wondered if Rukawa have finally brought Ayako over the brink of sanity because everyone knows Ayako is a slave-driver and slave-drivers don't stop practices before the day is over.

"Before you start that merry dance in that brain of yours, nope, you're not dismissed yet." She smirked at their crestfallen faces and turned to signal Sakuragi who was hiding behind the door. "Oi Sakuragi! Stop hiding there and bring in the telly!"

Sakuragi peeked out from behind the glass window and ducked when he realized that all eyes were directed his way. "What the hell..." he cursed before rushing down the corridor towards the storeroom. Damn, Ayako for exposing him like that. Rukawa was probably laughing at his cowardice by now.

"Is there something you want to show us today?" Kogure asked as is typical of being the group's unofficial leader. He watched Ayako expectantly as he adjusted the glasses on the bridge of his nose.

"Well, I guessed practice must have been getting a little repetitive for everyone," she started, noting a few guilty nods. "To the point that you might have forgotten about our ultimate goal," she paused, letting that comment sink in. "Yes, you forgot didn't you? Well, today would be the day to give you guys a motivational push and a wake-up call." Ayako tutted, shaking her head in disapproval. "Remember the dance that shot Ryonan Dance Company to fame?" she asked as Sakuragi carried a television into the room, setting it on the table next to the hi-fi set.

"Ah! That was in 1993, am I right?" asked Mitsui in relief. He was glad to finally break that horrible silence of guilt and she really can't fault them for their one-track mind. People do get lost sometimes when overly engrossed.

"Yes, you are. Starring Sendoh Akira, Aida Hikoichi, Fukuda Kicchou, Hino Matsuri and Umeda Erika, it was hailed as one of the best works in Japan's contemporary dance scene." Ayako inserted a video tape into the television's built-in video player and turned it on. The screen flickered to life, revealing a dark empty stage with dim circle of light focused in the center. "It was choreographed by Taoka Moichi and Anzai Mitsuyoshi, founders of Ryonan & Shohoku Dance Company respectively."

"Why aren't there any Shohoku dancers?" asked one of the female dancers, Megumi.

"Well..." Ayako lifted herself to sit on the table. "Shohoku wasn't formed yet. It was only after this dance that Anzai-sensei left to start his own dance company and while I would love to go into the history of Shohoku, our main objective today is nothing historical. Please observe the video instead." She nodded towards the screen.

Halting drum beats started to thumped out from television's speaker and the group watched as little brown figures moved swiftly onto the stage into formation. It felt a little like theater with their exaggerated expressions and moves that could only be described as beautifully grotesque. Slight but obvious influences from the japanese butoh dance, though still strongly westernized with the various contemporary dance techniques.

"How old was Sendoh then?" Miyagi exclaimed in amusement, only to be shushed by Mitsui. "What? I was just trying to point out how young he looks with his hair unspiked, ok? You don't have to glare at me like I've murdered your mum!"

Rukawa rolled his eyes at Miyagi's immaturity before turning his concentration back onto the screen. Technique-wise, Rukawa was sure as hell that they weren't that far away from his own. All those late-night practices were not for nothing, he can carry out any maneuver with exact precision but as a team... it might take a while and for a moment, he felt like he was being held back by the team's inability before it was broken when Ayako got up to pause the video when the dance routine came to an end. "The technical difficulty of this dance is not one to be belittled," she started, "The moves may seem rather straight forward but the difficulty of this routine, lies in the pace of the dance and it's dependence on exaggerated facial expressions to convey the various aspects of emotions."

Rukawa tighten his fists at that, he knew his own weaknesses.

"The fluctuating pace requires the dancers to have absolute control over their muscle movements." Ayako pointed out, "Not to mention the degree of acting skills required, it will be a while before we can all catch up with that level of technical prowess. We are getting there but ultimately, what I'm saying is that we might be good enough to be invited to participate in this year's dance festival but to beat Ryonan in the Kanagawa Dance Competition next year, we'll have to do more than the blind practice we're currently having. This video was taped five years ago and Ryonan had five years since then to advance to a level where we might never reach."

She looked at her team solemnly. "Are you guys up to the challenge?" She taunted before raising her voice to ask, "Do you think you can beat Ryonan next year?"

Ayako smiled in satisfaction as she took in the sudden glow of passion in their eyes. She didn't need an answer, they spoke for themselves. It may have been a wake-up call for some of them to face their impending challenge, but for others it was a slap to the face from where they were resting on their laurels and Rukawa knew it was time to move on.

"Who would have thought that Sendoh was that good huh? Probably just slightly behind the great Sakuragi Hanamichi!" Sakuragi laughed. He hummed a little tune, making his way eagerly towards the dance studio when the evening practice came to an end. Rukawa should be in there by now.

"Oi! Fox face!" Sakuragi shouted as he entered the studio.

Rukawa was practicing as usual but he didn't stop at Sakuragi's interruption nor did he acknowledge his presence. Sakuragi walked in, closing the door silently behind him. Rukawa was looking rather serious today, not that he wasn't serious during practices but the atmosphere was so much thicker and Sakuragi felt he could simply suffocate from the tension alone.

But of course, being the genius he was, he wouldn't do something as stupid as to irritate a moody fox now, would he? Well, not today anyway.

"Ah! That turn, what do you call it? Pirouette something seconde?" questioned Sakuragi to no one in particular. Unfortunately for him, knowing what not to do and unconsciously doing it were two entirely separate matters.

"Oh, that movement is nice but I'm sure Sendoh can do better! and since the great Sakuragi is above that spiky head, that makes Rukawa beneath me as well! AHAHAHA!" Sakuragi rambled on, unaware about the rapidly dropping room temperature. If looks could kill by frost, Sakuragi would have been frozen dead on the spot.

"Wait, shouldn't the hips turn out a little more here, the fox must be getting tired! Ha! As expected, lousy stami-"

"Shut up!" Rukawa finally snapped, a throbbing vein visible on his right temple.

"What? Can't take a little criticism?" Sakuragi taunted as he straightened from his slouch against the wall.

Rukawa ignored the comment, choosing instead to walk towards the hi-fi to turn it off. He stood there by the table, simply looking at Sakuragi, appraising him.

"So, are we starting practice now?" asked Sakuragi as he fumbled with the seams of his shirt. Now that Rukawa's attention was focused on him, he couldn't help but feel his cheeks burn in unfounded embarrassment.

"Sendoh is better?"

Sakuragi blinked, a little surprised. Was that a question or a statement? "Well, if you were referring to dance techniques, that is for sure..."

Rukawa frowned. "Idiot."

"Temee!! Who- wait, wha-what are you-" Sakuragi sputtered when Rukawa came forward to grab him by the front of his shirt. What is with people and their obsession with his shirt!?

"Keep quiet," Rukawa ordered before jerking Sakuragi forward to seal his lips with his own.

Sakuragi's grunt of pain was swallowed in the kiss when he was forced back against the wall, his head hitting the hard surface. His discomfort ignored by Rukawa who chose instead to continue his assault, suckling and biting on Sakuragi's lower lip before slipping his tongue into the other man's mouth when the tightly clenched teeth relented. It was rough, aggressive, nothing romantic and Sakuragi was overwhelmed by a moment of light-headness as he fought for oxygen. His mind was in a whirl and heat was creeping up his neck and face as Rukawa's tongue fought to tangle with his, ravaging the inner walls of his mouth. If it wasn't for the sharp pain, from where Rukawa bit him on the tongue, Sakuragi would have allowed Rukawa to kiss him silly all night.

"St- STOP IT!" Sakuragi shouted before launching a punch across Rukawa's cheeks. He spat a few times, trying to clear the taste of Rukawa from his mouth then rubbing his lips roughly with the back of his hand. "What the fuck were you trying to do!?" He hollered, his face flushed with anger. That stupid fox kissed him!

Rukawa remained silent, wincing as he wiped the blood from his split lip.

"Temee! Don't think you can escape this by remaining silent!" Sakuragi fumed. He moved forward to grab Rukawa by his shirt, forcing the man up on the tip of his toes as he was lifted an inch from the floor. "What was that for? Were you mocking me!?" Sakuragi gritted out, his grip on the t-shirt tightened.

A warm hand covered his own and the shirt was forced out of Sakuragi's grip. "Dou ahou," Rukawa said instead, stumbling back a little from the loosen grip. "Become stronger when I get back..." he whispered before turning towards his belongings at the front of the studio.

"O-oi!" called out Sakuragi as the man grabbed his bag to leave. "Wait! Aren't we-" Rukawa left before he could finish his sentence and he turned to look around the now empty dance studio, suddenly feeling an overwhelming sense of loneliness.

Rukawa failed to show up for their nightly practice for the next few days, even though he did turn up for the official evening practices. Sakuragi had wanted to confront the man about his absence but felt awkward about doing so with the others around. Not to mention that Akagi had kept him busy with the various administrative and non-administrative tasks.

"Stupid fox!" Sakuragi silently cursed as he watched Haruko passed Rukawa his towel. "Ah! Ah! Y-you touched her hand!! You, pervert!" He cried, wringing the handle of the mop in distress. He was simply jealous of Rukawa, that's all. Jealous that the girls are swarming around him like bees. Nothing more. "Don't let them touch you! You, big Casanova!" Sakuragi seethed.

"Who's the big casanova?"

"Why, that stupid fox of course!" Sakuragi growled before a sense of doom came crashing down on him. He whipped his head around, and as expected, Akagi was standing right there behind of him. "Erm, Go-Akagi, are you stalking me?"

"IDIOT!!" scolded Akagi as his iron fist came landing hard on top of Sakuragi's head. "What do you think you're doing by lazying around here?!"

"That hurt like hell!!" Sakuragi screamed, clutching his head in agony. "I-I was just wiping the... the door!"

"Damn right, you were!!" said Akagi as he pointed at the wooden door. "You were wiping the wooden door with a mop!"

Sakuragi winced. Maybe he needed to brush up a little on his excuses. He hang in head in resignation and was about to accept his ill fate when the door to the studio swung open.

"What's the commotion about?" asked Ayako as she stepped out, a crease evident between her brows.

"Nothing, just the idiot slacking off again." Akagi explained before gesturing Sakuragi to return to the office. "Please excuse us and continue with your practice."

Ayako spared a glance at the said idiot before her face brightened in recognition. "Ah, Sakuragi Hanamichi! I've heard alot about you," she exclaimed before giving him a once over. "Well, well, so this is the great Sakuragi Hanamichi who is going to the No.1 in the Kanagawa Prefecture?"

Sakuragi scratched the back of his head in embarrassment. It was not everyday that you get recognized like a celebrity. "Yes, that would be me!" He laughed, in way that showed his lack of brain cells.

Ayako smiled dangerously. "So, no dance background?" she asked before coming forward to feel him up like a piece of meat in the market. "Nice muscles." Ayako whistled. "Would be a waste to just use it all on administrative work, wouldn't it?"

"A-Ayako!" Akagi sputtered as Sakuragi stood there speechless, face as red as his hair.

"Ne, Akagi. Why don't you let him watch us practice today?" asked Ayako. "He is now a member of our dance troupe, isn't he?"

"Ayako, he will not be considered a dancer until he passes the audition the week after. Until then, he will have to fulfill his role as my assistant." Akagi answered as politely as he can.

"Slave you mean," Sakuragi mumbled.

"What did you say?!" Akagi grabbed Sakuragi by the back of his neck, giving him a good shake.

Ayako laughed before prying Sakuragi away from their manager. "Let me borrow your little idiot for a while, ok?" asked Ayako as she dragged Sakuragi into the studio not waiting for the reply.

"Oi! Who you calling an idiot?!" Sakuragi shouted as he was dragged away.

"You, of course," answered Ayako as she closed the door behind them.

"Ah, Sakuragi!" Kogure greeted when they entered the studio. "Nice of you to join us today!"

"Hello, glasses-man! Yes, the genius is going to watch you guys practice today!" Sakuragi greeted back, waving his hand.

"Che' Who's the genius? Wait until after the auditions before you make this claim, red-furred monkey!" Miyagi snorted.

"Temee-"

"Enough! The both of you!" Ayako scolded as she brought down two consecutive whacks on the heads of both men. "Sakuragi, please take a sit at the sides, and watch, quietly." She requested, giving Sakuragi the look before turning her attention back to the rest of the dancers.

Sakuragi sulked, casting envious glances at the dancers as they pranced around the room. Well, at least he can watch them from up close instead of from behind a tiny glass pane. Making himself comfortable from where he was sitting on the floor, he sneaked a glance at Rukawa, watching as the man caught Haruko mid-leap. His face was flushed from the exercise and his fringe wet against his forehead. Sakuragi felt his heart skip a beat before it clenched into an odd feeling of... well, something indescribable.

"Oh no, I'm having a heart attack." Rubbing his chest absently, Sakuragi tried to catch Rukawa's gaze, hoping to transmit some portion of his unhappiness over to the other man. Damn him for being such a jerk yesterday. "Look here! Look here!" Sakuragi chanted, deciding to tap into his non-existent telepathic abilities to will the man to look at him.

By break time, Sakuragi was practically panting from exertion. "Stupid fox! Is he avoiding the great Sakuragi Hanamichi on purpose!?" Sakuragi grumbled before hopping up onto his feet and making a beeline towards the stoic man. "Fox face!" He called before pushing away a female dancer who was practically clinging onto Rukawa. What was her name? Megumi or something?

Rukawa gave him a brief look before turning away, choosing instead to stare at the bottle in his hands.

"Oi! Look here when I'm talking to you!" Sakuragi snatched the offending bottle away, daring Rukawa to get it back.

Rukawa merely raised his brow by barely a millimeter before, taking Sakuragi by surprise, snatching the bottle right back.

"You!" Sakuragi gritted out before snatching the bottle away again, totally forgetting about his earlier intention. The water bottle ping-pong could have went on a little longer, if the appearance of a big paper fan hadn't interrupted their snatching match.

"That hurt!" Sakuragi winced in pain while Rukawa, poker-face still intact, simply rubbed the assaulted area gingerly.

"If it hurts that much then why aren't you taking instructions and behaving yourself like you should?" asked Ayako as she tucked the paper fan back to wherever it came from. "Ok, end of break!" Ayako announced, "Everybody, back to your positions!" She clapped her hands signaling the dancers to gather back at the front of the studio.

"Eh?! That fast?" asked Sakuragi, suddenly recalling that he have yet to question Rukawa about missing their nightly practices. He turned to face the man, only to find to his horror that the previously occupied space was now empty. He looked around frantically, wondering where Rukawa had disappeared to. "Temee! Stupid fox! Why are you avoiding me?!"

To be continued…