Disclaimer: Slam Dunk belongs to Takehiko Inoue-sensei. I'm just twisting the story for my own evil purposes...
Author's Notes: My thanks to chelle, KanonA, Night Strider, mistressKC and cleo for spending a bit of their time to review... And also to those who bothered with this fic... ;)
Chapter 2: Two sides! Sakuragi Hanamichi vs. The Rukawa Brigade
Nothing matters but to follow what his primitive instincts tells him. And it was self-preservation. In the dog-eat-dog world of high school, he just happens to be the unfortunate prey.
Hunters might be a more appropriate term.
"Guys, I'll catch you tomorrow or something, okay?" Sakuragi Hanamichi runs pass by his guntai as the last bell for the day rings, a mere flash of red leading a sea of crazed girls.
Fan girls. Rukawa's fan girls. Armed and ready to kill.
"Don't sweat it Hanamichi!" Ookusu calls after him. "Just enjoy the moment! This might be the first and the last time a bunch of girls comes chasing after you!!! Bwahahaha-" His laugh is cut short by a member of Rukawa's shinietai, who breaks away from the crowd and grabs hold of the front of his uniform in a firm grasp.
"You, Blondie." She begins, her chest heaving from breathlessness. She wore a pink cheerleader's outfit, imprinted with a bold KA in the middle. "You never realize how hard it is for us to chase someone who smells THAT bad! This is a sacrifice that we must make to avenge Rukawa-sama! And you..." Her dainty finger points accusingly at Youhei while her nose takes minute sniffs around.
"Take a bath. You smell too." She then returns to her pursuit, leaving three bodies rolling on the floor, laughing.
"Bwahahahahahahahaha! Youhei, I think she likes you!!!" A wheezing Takamiya teases Youhei.
"Yeah, right. Very funny."
He learned a valuable lesson today. There exist girls who are far more dangerous than Ayako with a paper fan when angry. And they are wielding a very fatal admiration for a certain stupid fox.
He dodges an egg thrown his way as he makes a left at an empty hallway.
Where the hell do they get all these stuff? He wonders in the midst of racing away from the horde, which was a piece of cake considering he's been known to have strong and powerful legs.
"We will get you Sakuragi Hanamichi!!!! You must be punished!" Someone from the back shouts with full force, then followed by a manic war cry by the rest of the girls.
"Nyahahahahahahahaha! If you think some unexercised Rukawa groupies could catch up to a basketball tensai, think again!!" A rotten tomato narrowly misses his red hair by an inch. "Hey, watch it!"
Although it felt kinda good to be chased by the ladies for once, the entire business of running around and of dodging various grocery items is starting to annoy Sakuragi. And the whiny, grating shouts behind him didn't help matters either. They are just too damn persistent, even for him.
He hadn't seen this one coming. Not even in his hyperactive imagination. He half-expected that there might be a few who'd look at him a little differently. But now with the majority of the female students hunting him down like some wild animal, it finally got through his head that the whole school already knows and not just the measly 30 something he estimated earlier. And they definitely don't want to content themselves with only the looking-at-him-differently part.
It started with the dung bombs, which he triggered himself when he made the mistake of opening his desk to get his textbook. They landed with an irritating splat on him before it became irritatingly stinky too. Things have gone pretty much downhill from there.
"Aren't you getting tired from all this running? Or are you just making an excuse to see how fast a handsome tensai could run? Sorry but I have my eyes only for Haruko! Hehehe..." Sakuragi risks a quick glance at his assailants, only to be hit by a flying spatula in the process.
"We won't forgive you for seducing Rukawa-sama!" That did it, together with the pain of getting hit by a flying spatula.
"N-Nani?! Se-seduced???" The redhead babbles as his comfortable sprint comes to a screeching halt and the evil spatula falls away from his marred face. He turns around and sees the Rukawa Brigade at the forefront of the pack, a few safe meters away from him. Apparently they had stopped running too, red-faced and gasping for air.
"Sneaky bastard." One of them hisses. "You hypnotized Rukawa-san to say those words to you!!!"
It started like any other normal after-school basketball practice, as far as Sakuragi was concerned.
"Ore wa tensai!" The redhead shouted right after an orange ball smoothly sailed into the net. His brown eyes immediately searched for a familiar face in the gym, blushing as his gaze clashed with his target's. "Did you see that Haruko-san? Did you see how I stole the ball from Ryocchin? And and and-"
"That was great, Sakuragi-kun!" A smile played in the girl's lips and her hands clapped in a gesture of approval. "You're improving!"
"Really?" Sakuragi flushed an even deeper red, a goofy grin plastered in his face. Haruko had been noticing his talents! "Of course I'm improving! That was a display of my genius! Nyahahahahahaha!" With his hands to his sides, he proceeded to belt out his trademark laugh.
Ryota rolled his eyes in irritation as he bent down to pick up the ball. "That was plain luck. Right, Aya-chan?" He looked up at Ayako, expecting a yes from their manageress. Instead, it was the abominable fan that answered him.
"Concentrate Ryota! If you hadn't kept looking this way every five seconds, you could have perfectly blocked Sakuragi's lay-up."
"Nyahahahahahaha! I'm better than you, Ryocchin! Admit it." Sakuragi nudged Ryota with his elbows but in return, only received a menacing glare from the small forward.
The laughter was everything Hanamichi: strong, annoying, at times comforting, and undeniably loud. Yet a low crisp voice managed to slash through that resounding cackle.
Silent alarms went off on everybody's heads and they unconsciously started counting down to an inevitable end. In a few moments now, Sakuragi Hanamichi would...3...2-
"Teme kitsune!! You dare question this tensai's greatness? I'll show you!" He launched himself right on the blue-eyed fox in a rather interesting form, with every intention of striking fear and terror. But this being used by the redhead appeared every bit as ludicrous.
Rukawa, likewise, prepared to deliver as much as Sakuragi could, taking on a fighting stance. But being what he is, well, he simply made it look way cooler than Sakuragi. "Like I said, you're a do'aho."
However, before any one of them had laid a hand on each other, a bulky fist came out of nowhere and delivered two solid bashes on their heads.
"Get back to practice, both of you! With the IH coming up we can't afford to waste any time!" Akagi Takenori loomed over the fallen pair on the floor, both still preoccupied with rubbing the sore spot on their heads to relieve some of the pain.
"Gori, he started it in the first place!" Came Sakuragi's retort, complete with an accusing scowl at Rukawa.
A nerve pounded dangerously on the captain's head. "What did you just call me?!" By then Ayako and Kogure came to Sakuragi's rescue, holding onto the big mass of flesh which was Akagi to prevent him from making mincemeat of the redhead.
"Akagi, that's enough. We should calmly continue the practice, ne?" Kogure mumbled to the seething captain.
"Calmly?" The captain echoed, peeking beneath the throbbing nerves of his forehead while glancing pointedly at the annoying redhead.
"Hai." The sweating vice-captain nervously agreed.
"Calmly?" Akagi repeated, now shifting his gaze to the Rukawa Brigade with their nerve-grating high-pitched squeals.
Kogure felt obligated to agree once more. "H-hai."
"Calmly?!" This time when Kogure followed the aim of Akagi's stare, his eyes settled upon Mitsui and the Sakuragi army –fighting over coins of 400 yen's worth and creating such ruckus that everyone turned to watch.
"You bastards, give me back my 400 yen!!!" Mitsui shouted after the troublesome trio –Noma, Takamiya and Ookusu- who scrambled out of his reach in a second's time.
Ookusu twisted around and stuck his tongue out at the ace player. "You lost the bet, Mitsui-san. The 400 yen is ours now!"
"No shit. How was I supposed to know that the loudmouth had shortened his reaction time towards Rukawa from 3 to 2 seconds?!? Give my money back!"
Kogure heaved a sigh. "Okay, I see what you mean."
After losing 400 yen's worth of change and gaining a raw swelling on the head –thanks to Akagi's infamous bashing- to nurse for the rest of the day, Mitsui searched for something to give vent to his irritation.
That something was a basketball, which happened to roll by his feet after his encounters with the gorilla kind. He picked it up and proceeded to dribble it with ease before letting it glide in a perfect arc towards the basket. And like most of his three-point shots it went in with a satisfying swish of the net.
There was also another ball that flew moments after he made his shot. But unlike his, it missed the ring by a clear two inches. Curious, Mitsui glanced sideways, expecting to see an inexperienced first year struggling with his shots.
He was right. It was a first year, but hardly the one to be called inexperienced.
Rukawa ran towards the end of the gym to retrieve his ball.
Mitsui admitted he was fairly surprised that Rukawa Kaede, one who has a reputation of being a super rookie, missed such a simple shot like that. He wasn't even behind the three-point line! However, the former MVP simply thought none of it and went back to practicing his shooting, thinking that maybe the cause of the freshman's blunder was a mere lack of sleep or some other trivial reason.
But as shot after shot -released by the blue-eyed lad- failed to even brush the side of the metal hoop, Mitsui knew it wasn't about something trivial anymore.
"Rukawa." Akagi advanced to the rookie's side and took note of the dwindling shots the player made.
"Captain?" Rukawa swiveled around and faced him, frustration evident in his generally emotionless features.
As the head of the basketball team, he had taken it upon himself to care about the well being of his teammates whether it was the physical or the emotional kind. He just felt a little perturbed that it was Rukawa Kaede who needed that concern. "Is there something wrong, Rukawa?"
"..." The boy let his ice blue gaze drop into his hands, right where he held a basketball in place.
"I've been watching your practices for quite some time and I've noticed-"He paused to ponder on the rest of what he has to say. "...your lack of focus. You've been pretty much distracted these past few days. What's the problem?"
"I'm fine." His eyes snapped back up to clash with Akagi's, as cold as his quick dismissal of the captain's question. He then carried on with his own solitary practice, leaving the captain by himself.
But an Akagi Takenori wasn't so easily discouraged. "I think it's affecting your play. I've seen how frequently you've been messing up your shots and-"It was with precision timing that a raucous redhead popped into the scene, ears perking up at the sound of any bad news regarding his rival.
"What's that?! Kitsune has been messing up his shots? Have I heard that right, Gori?"
As if dealing with a stubborn and apathetic ace player, who keeps insisting to be okay although it was rather obvious that it was far from it, wasn't enough. Sakuragi had to keep annoying him with his antics. And what the hell did he call him again?
Akagi managed to swivel around towards the origin of that familiar voice with a speed that seemed impossible for such a massive body.
"I knew it!" He interrupted him once more, his chocolate brown eyes burning with a fire that was sparked by a taste of victory over his hated enemy. "You couldn't always depend on someone like him, Gori, someone soo foxy looking."
"Wait Sakuragi-" However, the self-proclaimed tensai continued with his gibberish, much to the captain's dismay.
"You don't have to worry about the future of our team even without the measly skills of this fox right here. You still have me, Sakuragi Hanamichi, the basketball genius to depend on! I bet this is who he really is. He'd been pretending for far too long that he's all great and crap but I was the only one smart enough to see right through him!"
With renewed determination to make all things right in his part of the world, Akagi allowed his colossal hand to encase the shoulder of the loudmouth in a deadly grip before letting his other fist deliver the ultimate punishment. A sane human being could only take so much.
"I've had enough of your nonsense!! Now go get a ball, practice, and keep out of other people's business!!!" So horrifying was the captain's bellow that it might have a decent chance of permanently scarring somebody for the rest of his teenage years. Sakuragi, himself, had been sufficiently stunned into picking up a ball.
Then again, if Sakuragi had been famous for anything other than his innate loudness and his fiery temper, it would have to be his stubbornness.
"Other people's business? It's my rival we're talking about. Of course, it's my business too!"
The captain began to anticipate an incoming headache. "Sakuragi, you really don't get it."
It was then that the super rookie decided to speak up. He might've grown tired of the two arguing about his problems that he resolved to speak for himself --once and for all.
"Do'aho..." Rukawa started, catching the pair's attention. "It's your business alright."
His icy gaze was set on the redhead; strengthening the implication that it was Sakuragi he had been referring to and not anybody else.
"I've fallen for you that I can't concentrate on being no. 1 in Japan!"
Good lord. Of all the stuff the stupid fan girls could torture him with. It had to be the memory of that day!
"It wasn't my fault! I didn't do anything!" Sakuragi shouts, the beginnings of panic creeping through his voice.
A girl in front shakes her head. "Liar! You've been jealous of Rukawa-sama for so long. You created an intricate scheme to taint his reputation. We won't forgive such blasphemy!"
"Huh?!" Sakuragi lifts his hand to scratch his head in confusion amidst the hostility of Rukawa's fan girls. How do these girls come up with that idea? Yes, it is possible that he would do anything to ruin the jerk's name, for the sake of disillusioning his beloved Haruko and maybe even for revenge at making him look like a moron for countless number of occasions.
Nonetheless, if he ever planned on something like that, he wouldn't be as drastic as to make Rukawa fall in love with him and deliberately involve his masculinity as a debatable subject in their school!
As he argues with himself on his next move, his watch beeps to remind him of the passing time. He casts a furtive glance at the device on his wrists before realization sinks in.
"Kuso. I'm gonna be late! Gori's going to be mad..." He half mutters to his watch, then turns to look at Rukawa's fans. "Sorry girls, I've got to attend practice. You can be angry with me later, okay?"
The crowd simply stands there for a minute as they watch Sakuragi jog towards the direction of the gym.
"Hey, he just ditched as for basketball practice." One of them comments while Sakuragi's hair becomes a scarlet blur in the distance.
"Uhuh." The rest of the mob nods.
"We should run after him." Another suggests.
"But we're tired already."
A key member of Rukawa's shinietai, sporting a slightly soiled pink outfit with a RU in front bobs her head to agree. "Yeah, I'm beat."
"He's not going anywhere. He'll be at the gym, practicing."
"Uhuh." The multitude of Rukawa groupies agrees once more.
"Isn't Rukawa-sama at the gym too?" Comes a petite girl's mild interruption.
As if rejuvenated by the mere mention of Rukawa's name, the growing Rukawa Brigade immediately disregards their earlier bouts with weariness. "We must protect Rukawa-sama's virtue! Let's go after him!"
"Grrrr. They won't let me be!!!!" The redhead exclaims, right after he discovers the Rukawa Brigade already hot on his trail--again. The frenzied girls had already crossed his threshold for annoyance a long, long time ago. And if he doesn't do something quick to keep them off his back, he would never get to his basketball practice on time.
Well, he muses while running, he could head butt each and every one of them into oblivion. But that would take a lot of time and he isn't in a position to waste any. Besides, that would clearly violate his ethics as a gentleman. Haruko would be disappointed in him if he'd do such a deed.
As his options for escape continue to run low, the sight of the gym door -only a short distance away- considerably cheers the redhead but does nothing to eradicate his present problem.
Instead, it made it worse.
"Faster girls! He's getting to the gym door! He's going to violate our Rukawa-sama!"
Sakuragi's speed falters. "Violate?!" He sputters; taking note of his pursuers' firm belief that he is out to transform Rukawa's image from being Shohoku's ice prince/heartthrob into the basketball team's resident homosexual. Not that he wanted it that way. How was he to know that his charms worked on men as well?
Just when Sakuragi resigned himself to his fate of running away almost endlessly for the rest of his high school days, some girl decided to stop the insanity and sets up her short frame as a barricade against the crazy mob.
"S-Stop it! Sakuragi-san doesn't deserve this!" The tremor in her voice betrays her true feelings. Even so she continues to hold her ground, her outstretched arms creating a significant line between Sakuragi and the girls.
"Dare?" Curious, the redhead turns to look, half-expecting to see his precious Haruko. She had been the only one who believed in his abilities. And she's the only one he needs to believe his side of the story now.
It took a minute before he realizes that it is someone else and a minute longer to fish out her name in his memory.
"Anata... Haruko no tomodachi desu ka? Fujii-san?"
"Yes, I'm Haruko's friend. I'm glad you remembered my name." She directs a small shy smile his way. "Now, go get inside. Akagi-sempai's waiting for you."
Sakuragi glances momentarily at the crowd of scary looking fans and feels something cold slither down his spine. "But..."
"Don't worry, I'll hold them off. I can handle them." He very much doubted her word but he has no other choice. This is the only chance he could get to escape the deadly fans.
He hastily bows in gratitude. "T-thanks. Thank you very much Fujii-san!" He proceeds to make his way towards the gym door, the thought of asking Fujii about Haruko's whereabouts casually slips through his mind in his panic for being an hour late for practice.
At the idea of being extremely late, he therefore concludes that Gori would probably kill him.
But before he lets that happen, some blue-eyed kitsune would have to die first.
"Out of the way, Fujii-san! Let us inside the gym!"
"N-No." Fujii insists. "Besides, Akagi-sempai had announced that starting today, the gym is off-limits to nonmembers of the basketball team during practice hours."
A longhaired girl belonging to Rukawa's personal cheering squad pushes the petite girl a little far back. "Don't make us hurt you too... You're just protecting that idiot!"
"So what if I am?" She mutters, surprising herself for having gathered the courage to say so. Ever since Haruko had persuaded her sometime ago that Sakuragi isn't as bad as he is rumored to be, she sort of developed an admiration for the redhead's abilities and his fearlessness in doing anything he wants. She felt the sudden need to emulate that part of him, to get rid of her awkward shyness and step away from her friend's shadow to be her own self.
And after witnessing the injustice of Rukawa's fans towards Sakuragi did she first feels the impulse to put into action her resolution into being a stronger person. Now that she understood Haruko's reasons for believing in Sakuragi, her friend will no longer have to bear the burden of protecting his reputation alone.
But it certainly is a bit strange that Haruko didn't join her in stopping the angry mob of fans. Although Haruko had been the chief perpetrator in their plan of rescuing Sakuragi just so he could attend basketball practice, she had contented herself into hiding in the middle of it all and opting to stay away from the redhead's sight.
"It's not Sakuragi's fault if Rukawa-san feels that way about him... Right, Haruko-chan?" Fujii asks in hope for a little bit of support from her friend.
She emerges not far behind, with a rather perplexed look in her features after having recently heard various accounts of that day's event. They all seem to be highly plausible. Somehow, Haruko finds herself taking a side.
"I don't know, Fujii. I'm not so sure either." Opposite and against Sakuragi's.
AN: Next chapter...Sakuragi confronts Rukawa!