Disclaimer: I don't own Slam Dunk. It belongs to Takehiko-sensei.

Crusty's Note: I'm still alive, it's just that Eames and Arthur were incepting me so often that I should stop writing fics and just keep filming their romantic household (Lord, have mercy, I love them together).

Taking Steps

Rukawa's POV

The public library.

To be honest, I almost never went here. I live in my neighborhood since I was at 4th grade. The only thing I remembered about going to this place was when I need to find more information about bugs to help my summer project—yeah, another school matter.

I chose one of the tables in the library and put my books there. There's still time, I arrived twelve minutes early. I leaned back to my seat as I opened the basketball magazine I brought from home. To think again, this place isn't that boring. In fact, it's pretty comfort.

Reading some articles in the magazine, I realized perhaps I've spent some time in this place. I looked at my wrist watch, it already past five minutes from the time I should meet Akagi Haruko here. I shifted my attention to the entrance door to see if she might be arriving already.

Oh, there she was. Standing near the door, looking somewhat lost in space.

"Ah, um… good morning," she said while approaching me.

"Good morning."

Haruko took a seat right beside me. I put down my magazine and reached for my text books. I'm getting used to this. You know, this whole studying manners: open your book, read something, write something, analyze something. It's rather indifferent to basketball match—in one or another crazy way.

"Do you mind if I ask you about other subjects?" I asked Haruko during the tutoring.

"Huh? That would be fine!" she smiled. "What subject you need to ask about?"

"Physics. This part." I pointed a chapter on my book to her.

"Hmm… okay, we can start from this definition."

The tutoring went pretty fine though we discussed more subjects. I'm so lucky to have her helping me. Really gotta admit it, she's good in tutoring. Perhaps she could be a good teacher someday.

Thinking of that possibility of her future, I spontaneously looked at her face while she was reading something for me from the book. She already has this look to become a teacher. You know, the calm, intelligent, dedicated… fair… looks.

What she said suddenly snapped me out of my… my… drifting mind?

"I guess it would be enough for now. Let's have lunch." Haruko closed her book as my lesson ended.

I stood up. Yeah, actually I was starting to get hungry myself. We left the library to grab something to eat.

Outside, we strolled along the sidewalk to find a place where we could have lunch. It was pretty crowded. It was Sunday, everybody's out to do whatever they wish: kids, adults, especially teenagers.

Along the walk, I saw teenagers with their gangs or their own couples. A pair of young teens happened to walk in front of me. They were walking side by side with the girl holding her guy's arm so close (sigh… girls…), chattering happily and the girl was giggling once a while. Perhaps they were going to watch some movies or go to an amusement park.

Hm… is this how a guy and a girl will look like when they went out together? I don't mean the holding hands thing or stuff like that, I mean the 'being look like a couple'. Perhaps that's what I thought when I saw Haruko and Sakuragi at the concert area: they look like couples.

But… that wouldn't be the reason why I felt bad seeing that, right?


Suddenly the pair in front of me went left to enter a building. Hey, McDonald's. Oh yeah, we were planning to have lunch, almost forgot that.

I slightly turned to Haruko walking behind me, "Do you want to eat here?"

She looked at McDonald's at her left. "Okay."

I put our orders on the table where she waited. Hey, I'm a good person when needed, you won't think I'll let her do the ordering and taking the meal to our table, right? Anyway, I straightly went to the eating. I'm indeed hungry.

As I chewed my last piece and took my cola, slightly my eyes stopped at her at a time. She was still holding half part of her burger, looking rather laid back.

"You're not that hungry, are you?"

She lifted her face to view me. "Uh, well…" She seemed somewhat nervous or perhaps embarrassed.

"Do you always eat like that?" I asked again. Well, I was just kind of curious, knowing that she's also slow in phone conversations.

"Um, yes," she replied looking rather shy. After she said that, suddenly she took a big bite on her burger. She also took a grab of her French fries. She munched quickly and she didn't even hesitate snatching her cola at the same time. No doubt she was having trouble in swallowing with such a full mouth.

So funny—I mean that in a good way…

"It's okay," I spoke. Actually I felt like chuckling. But I thought that would probably make her more embarrassed and start stuffing all the food faster than she already did just now. I took out my basketball magazine from my bag.

I said then, "You don't have to be in a hurry like that. Don't worry, I won't leave you."

Yes, I won't leave her. This whole day is for us to spend—studying—right? Haruko must be thinking I was in a rush to go some place else made her speed up her eating.

I continued my reading that was paused at the library before. I intentionally held the magazine rather high to my face. I think perhaps she felt embarrassed if someone put a comment or looking at her while she's eating. I'm a thoughtful person too myself, you know—when needed.

After maybe around fifteen to twenty minutes, I heard her again, "Um… I'm done. Do you wanna leave now?"

I put my magazine down, "Okay."

I let her exited the restaurant before me—but I didn't open the door for her if that's what you're thinking right now. They actually have a person assigned to do that for the customers.

While exiting the door, I slightly glanced at the tiny girl walking in front of me. Does she realize sometimes she looks rather funny?—I mean that in a good way.

Outside, I didn't really know where else to go. But suddenly I recalled maybe I could find myself some fresh records to accompany me for morning jog—or doing my homework.

"Do you wanna go back to the library now?" Suddenly Haruko asked me.

I glanced at her rather thinking what to say. Oh yeah, she didn't know about my own agenda, she must be feeling clueless right now. "No, I think I had enough studying today," I said then still walking ahead.

"Oh… Um, so we're going home?"

"I want to go to the music store." There, now you know where we're going.

"Um… okay… I… I'll see you tomorrow at school… Bye…"

I was rather startled to hear it. I stopped and turned around. Haruko was ready to walk away to my opposite direction.

"You're not going?" I asked her. I could hear my own voice sounded unusual.

"Well, I…" Haruko looked around her, seemed confused and clueless, "Do you want me to go with you?"

I stiffen to where I stand.

Do I want her to go with me?

Yea, do you want her to go with you, Kaede? You didn't say anything like 'let's go to the music store' or something like that, did you?

But… shouldn't she know? I mean… we went out for tutoring together from the first place, why should she think that we won't go somewhere else together too after the tutoring? Why should she think that we won't spend the rest of the day together just like when we started our tutoring today?

She should know about it, right?

I turned back continuing my way to the music store. She didn't think I'm this person who will just leave after I got to what I expected, right? She got my point there and will tag along, right?


…Maybe not right…

I instantly turned my back slightly to see if she was following me.

Nope. Negative.

Akagi Haruko was still standing right at the same spot. She stared at me glancing her from the corner of my eyes. Her confused expression was still there.

Why? Why didn't you come along…?

I moved my feet to face her entirely. "Don't just stand there looking like that. I won't leave you."

Yes. I'm not leaving you. I may be ignorant… but I'm no worse than that. Bottom line, I'm not leaving you.

She was still standing there looking at me as if she was observing me. Finally she put a smile and approached me.

I waited until she was beside me before I started walking to my destination again.

Well, so I was wrong. She didn't get it. She didn't understand that I want her to go along.

…Now, waitaminit!

Starting from the basic, do I actually want her to come with me?

And if I do… for what reason?

Can't I just go to get my music by myself? Why do I need her to tag along?

Is this got to do with the weird yet mysterious feelings I'm feeling lately?

Unconsciously, I closed my mouth tight for a moment. I've chosen to try to go along with these unfamiliar feelings, right? If it brought me to questions, I can't be such a wimp and stepped back. So it made me wonder, but hell, new stuff always makes you wonder.

Finally we spotted the music store. We went inside and I tried to get rid of the confusing thoughts. I need to concentrate in finding me a good music collection.

I went to check out some new releases. Usually I'm pretty up to date about new songs, but I've been very occupied by basketball and studying matters these days made me forget about this particular interest of mine—yes, my life isn't all about the b-ball (though I'm willing to give it all to it).

My eyes stopped at a pack of CD. 'The Blue Hearts'. Isn't this the band whose concert Haruko went to?

I stared at the CD for some seconds, and then I went to listen to their samples. I wonder how this band actually sounds.

Listening to their music, they're quite okay. A couple of tracks caught my attention. As I was about to check the next track, suddenly I heard Haruko near me, "Who's that?"

"Blue Hearts," I replied without looking at her.

"Do you like Blue Hearts?"

"Mm… so-so…" I glanced her, "Do you?"

"Yes! I like them very much!" Haruko answered with an excited tone. She smiled widely, "By the way, do you know that they just held a concert yesterday?"

"Yes, I know. You went there?" I didn't know why I said that. Hell, I saw her there with my very own eyes and last night Haruko actually had said that she went.

"Why, yes!" she replied still excitedly, "Actually, Sakuragi-kun asked me to…" then Haruko's voice got lowered. Her smile faded.

I stared at her, waiting her to finish her line.

Go on, say it, you went there with him and it was a date.

But Haruko didn't continue. She just stared back. I wonder what she saw in my eyes since she seemed hesitant.

"…I went there with Sakuragi-kun yesterday…" she said finally with her face rather tilted down.

"Oh…" I shifted my attention back to the music panel in front of me. I thought I slightly saw that guilt expression on her face. "Did you have fun?" I asked again. For no reason, I don't like her putting that face, but I didn't know whether I asked that to get rid off the awkward silence or for another intention.

"Well… yeah…" Haruko replied after some seconds, "I mean, the Blue Hearts was great. I really enjoyed that concert. I mean, I seldom went to a concert, but that one was… great!"

I felt somehow relieved to hear her going all cheerful again. "What's their latest album?"

"Umm… 'Cracking shells'. I heard it's a good one, but I haven't bought it. I got some emergency expenses this month."

I wasn't really listening to the third track and it hasn't finished yet, but I think I had enough listening. I put down the headphones to check what else on the new releases.

Choosing some CDs, my thoughts took me back to its complicated labyrinth.

So Haruko did justify again that she went to the concert with Sakuragi. She really looked reluctant in talking about that back there. Just like the time she apologized because she felt guilty lying to me about going with someone I actually know.

Why should she feel like that?

Why she didn't like me knowing that?

After grabbing a CD, I went to look for her. But as I spotted her not to far away, there was someone I would least expected to see at this time.

Sakuragi and his friends were standing before Haruko. He stared at me as I did.

"N-No, I was with Rukawa-kun," I heard Haruko. Perhaps Sakuragi was asking who she's with.

Sakuragi passed Haruko and came up to me. I sighed inside. What now. What other stupidity he's going to spill.

"Rukawa, I thought you're the human ice block. I never thought you'd ask Haruko-chan out, you sly kitsu—"


"I didn't ask her out," I cut him. Yes, f-y-i, I didn't ask her out. "I ask her to tutor me. After that we went here. By the way, I don't think that's any of your business."

"Teme!" He was ready to blow up as usual.

"Sakuragi-kun!" Haruko was clearly anxious.

Out of my prediction, Sakuragi turned to Haruko with a neutral tone opposite to his previous growl, "Sorry, Haruko-chan." Then he shifted to me again, "Rukawa, I knew it that you must be jealous because yesterday you saw me and Haruko-chan went out together."

I was annoyed of his stupid grin while he was saying that, but I was bothered more by his words.

Jealous? Me?

That redhead idiot still went on, "You envy that, that's why you asked her to tutor you today. I'm sure it's just a reason you made up. You can't think of a good reason, so you used this tutoring thing as an invitation to ask her out. Tsk-tsk, that is very lame of you, Rukawa…"

You don't know what you're talking about…

"Wow, I never thought Hanamichi could make a good deduction like that," suddenly one of his gang—the fat guy, said snickering.

"Hn? What's that supposed to mean!" Sakuragi growled to his friend.

"Me too," I stated my opinion. His friends were laughing hard made the idiot really blew to his top.

"Aargh! You ask for it, Rukawa!" he approached further.

"Sakuragi-kun! Stop! Mito, please stop him!" I heard Haruko panicking around. But I didn't mind whatever is going to happen here and now because this redhead sure has made me so annoyed and irritated.

He pierced me and I pierced back with the same tension. None of us said anything or did anything yet.

"Rukawa," he finally said, "I don't have to humiliate myself in front of everyone, especially Haruko-chan, by hitting you. How about a game tomorrow, huh? You and me."

Are you serious? You?

Actually I was going to say 'no thanks, I'm not interested', but on second thought, he would need this once a while. Let the reality hit him hard so he won't bother to challenge me the next time. Fine, I'll deal with you—you dimwit…

"Okay," I replied him.

"That was disappointing…" Sakuragi's gang seemed disappointed. Surely they were expecting some fight or whatever. Maniacs…

"Yeah, but Hanamichi is an athlete now, right?" another friend of him spoke, "He won't do anything stupid."

"You got a point there, he-he…" Sakuragi grinned proudly.

"Yeah-right! Like we would buy that!" Again, he earned mocks and laughs from his very own gang—gees, some friends…

"Temee! How dare you guys mock me!" Sakuragi chased the laughing group out of the store.

"Do aho…" I sighed. They were like these unfunny comedians.

Remembering I was holding a CD in my hand, I went to the cashier to pay. Haruko followed me and waited at the door.

After the music store, I didn't really know where else to go. But Haruko didn't ask me any more where we are going. I guess after what happened before, she had the same agreement that we'll just go on wherever we could before we're tired and bored and decided to walk home.

"What CD did you buy?" she asked, sounded slightly excited.

"Cracking Shells," I replied without looking.

"Really! The Blue Hearts!"


"That's a good choice! I'm sure you'll like them very much." She sounded very excited now.

I reached out the plastic bag containing the mentioned CD for her to take. "You tell me how good they are."


"Actually I'm not that sure about them. You listen to it, and then you tell me how good they are. If you said they're really good, maybe I'll listen to it."

I was kinda lost inside of me. That wasn't the line… No, that wasn't the one…

"Um… okay…" She eventually took it after hesitating for some seconds.

"Hi, Haruko-chan."

A familiar voice made me glanced. It was him again, that redhead moron.

"Sakuragi-kun? Where are the others?" Haruko asked him casually. I wonder why she cares. Oh-yeah, she's always being friendly with the whole gang, she's such a buddy-buddy person anyway.

"I told them to get lost wherever they wish. Well, I don't mean to bother you… it's just that I feel responsible to guard you from any sly person, specifically from a certain sly kitsune…" Sakuragi intentionally glanced me.

"Find a better thing to do, Do aho," I said careless.

"Nani? You mean guarding Haruko-chan isn't an important thing? Why, of course you'd think so. Because you don't want anyone get in your way, right?"

Hallucinating over some crap lately?

"Sakuragi-kun. Rukawa-kun won't do anything bad, if that's what you mean."

"Haruko-chan, you just don't know that some people could be very deceiving…" Sakuragi sighed and shook his head. I think he was hoping to look intelligent.

Haruko chuckled, "Okay, so you guard me next time, okay? I'll be fine with Rukawa-kun today."

"What? But, Haruko-chan…"

"They're waiting for you," I cut him and pointed behind him.

Sakuragi looked and found his gang grinning happily. "They always put their fingers on everything I do," he muttered.

I sighed slowly. I really felt wasting my time if I have to keep on seeing them around for the rest of the day. I think I've reached the point where I'm tired, bored and decided to walk home.

"Haruko," I slightly turned to leave, "Thanks for the help. I should be going now. Bye."

Haruko couldn't hide her startled expression (I guess my action was too sudden for her, I dunno). Kind of stumbled, she said, "Ah? Uh, okay… Bye…"

I instantly walked my own way before she even finished saying her goodbye.

I hate to admit this, but along my way home I recalled what Sakuragi said back there at the music store. About the whole jealousy thing and how I actually meant to ask Haruko out.

Last night I've decided to take a shot at this particular confusing feelings department. Now I know it wouldn't be that easy to give in to it.

It's true that when I suggested Haruko to have the tutoring outside I was thinking for a different atmosphere. It's true that today I was thinking maybe me and Haruko could spend the day doing other things besides studying. It's also true that I mean it when I said I won't leave her.

And it's also true that the CD was…

I sighed –and was a bit surprised too that I did that.

I had given in, but why does it still felt uneasy? Or perhaps I'm still hesitant about it.

At night when I was ready to hit the sack, I got a phone call from Haruko. I was the one picking up the phone in the living room and I heard her voice on the other end of the line.

"Rukawa-kun? It's me, Haruko," she said without hesitant. I was a bit amazed of her tone.

"Yes?" I replied.

"Umm, I've listened to the CD. It was great, seriously. I'm not saying this because I'm a fan of the Blue Hearts, but it's a great music. You won't sorry to have it."

"Oh, okay." I replied again. At the same time I was also thinking that perhaps this is the right time to say something… Just, something…

I heard her again, "Well, I don't think I had enough listening to it, but I'll bring it back to you at school since it's yours and you haven't listened to it—"

"Do you like it?" I quickly cut her, will a little… uneasy feeling?

"Yes! Of course I like it. Like I said, it was gre—"

"You can have it." I cut her again, with another… uneasy— or was it… nervous feeling?

"What?" Her tone sounded confused. Well, with how I said it, anyone would be, I suppose. But I can't afford having her keep asking (or at least my suspiciously in-a-nervous-state heart couldn't), so…

"I said you can have it. You like it, don't you?" …so I said.

A little silent came by. "Why do you want me to have it? It's yours, isn't it?" I heard Haruko again, still sounded confused, but also somewhat kind of interrogating.

"Yes. But you said you like it—"

"That doesn't mean I want it," this time she was the one to cut me

I was silenced. I couldn't answer her.

Dammit! I couldn't find something to say!

Or... maybe I couldn't find something to cover what actually should be said to her question.

"Rukawa-kun, may I ask you something?" she asked with a careful tone.

I kept silent, didn't really know which to say: Yes or No.

And I guess she thought it was her cue to continue because then she spoke again, "When I was at the concert area with Sakuragi-kun yesterday, I thought I saw you there too. Am I right? I mean, were you really there yesterday?"

I decided to be honest. Maybe that would stop this weird somewhat agonizing moment I couldn't understand. "…Yes, I was there," I finally replied.

"You were?" she sounded really surprised, "What were you doing there? I mean, you got an appointment with my brother, you wouldn't watch any concert, am I right?"

Damn! And I thought she'd stop asking questions! "That's all I'm gonna say to you. The rest of it is really none of your business and I got no necessary to explain it to you."

A cold silence was suddenly creeping in. I got worried was I scaring her.

"I-I'm sorry, Rukawa-kun…" I heard her again and I nearly sighed in relieve. She said again a bit stuttering, "I really don't mean to mind your business… I was just wondering… I'm really sorry!"

I closed my eyes, I guess I shouldn't be mad at her. What she meant by 'wondering' maybe it was about the 'worrying' stuff she once said (and I'm surprised I could remember that).

But Haruko, I still couldn't figure it out. Why is it important for you to worry about me? Why is it necessary to wonder things about me?

This is it, Kaede. Ask her, and she'll tell you.

"…Haruko…" I said, at the same time trying to get rid away my hesitance, "At your house, you said before that you're okay if I was meddling with your business… Why is that?"

"W-What do you mean?"

"I want to know why you're okay if I'm meddling with your business. Aren't you supposed to feel bothered?"

I could hear my own voice in my head as I asked that last question. I sounded so… ignorant. And I don't really find my ignorance is a bliss no more.

"I don't know…" she replied, her voice was soft and weak, but also pure.

"Look, Rukawa-kun…" Haruko spoke again with a regretful tone, "I'm terribly sorry if you feel that I'm minding your business. I just want you to know that I never meant so. I wasn't careful… I'm so sorry…"

I couldn't help hearing her so sorry and bashful like that. It's okay, Haruko…

"…Well, I do feel annoyed, but… it's okay. Don't worry. I'm not mad at you."

I thought I heard her sighed in relieve. My suspiciously in-a-nervous-state heart was beginning to relax since some minutes ago. I think I can say it now. I may be ignorant, but it's not like I can't do anything about it. So you, Haruko, hear me out…

I carefully inhaled, and spilt it out, "Anyway, you can have the CD. And if in any case you're wondering why, actually I bought it for you. So there."

Another silence. And damn, I think I spoke too fast, sheesh, shameful… I hope she caught what I said so I don't have to repeat it again.

I need to end this conversation, "Is there anything more you want to talk about?" I asked her, still kind of fast. Shameful…

"Huh? Uh, n-no…" she went stuttering again, "I mean, well, that's about it… Umm… I'll see you at school, Rukawa-kun…"

"Okay. Bye."


I quickly hung up while I only half-heard her said that 'Bye'.

What. Was. That.

I sighed, closed my eyes and pressing my temples. Suddenly I felt so tired. I went upstairs to my room to drop myself on my lovely bed.

While slumping on the mattress, I replayed the conversation I just had with Haruko on the phone.

So I said it. I told her that I actually bought the CD for her.

Somehow, I felt relieved, but also felt sorry for myself. Why was I unable to say that back at the music store? Why do I have to wait for her to push me with questions, making me feel nervous, before I finally admit it?

Shameful… and pathetic. I felt in a loss. And I hate losing.

And dammit I suddenly remembered what that stupid Sakuragi said about me being lame. Or basically, about me being dishonest. Sometimes it's just the blokes' turn to teach you with their simple mind.

I closed my eyes trying to sleep (which never been a difficult thing for me to do).

Faint recollections started to make their way more clearly in my mind: about my one-day-tutoring with Haruko Akagi. How she perfectly portrays a (fair-faced) teacher, how sometimes she looks funny while doing something (I meant that in a good way, but I think 'funny' is not the right word, yet again I don't know what is), and how she's being… just plain kind.

And before I actually went doze off, absentmindedly, I don't know what has gotten in to me, I mumbled, "I gave you that CD, because I thought you'd be happy, and I'd be happy if you are."

Oyasumi, world.


Crusty's endnote: I love you guys, thanks for reading *kisses*