Disclaimer : Slam Dunk is owned by Takehiko Inoue.

Note: Sentences in italics are thoughts.

Author's Note: Life gets in the way of my writing sometimes but I still manage to put up some… uh… mush like this. Anyway, enjoy. Oh, ignore the grammar, I think I am forever cursed to be bad at grammar, anyway so why fight it? (Diwata snickers)

The Reason

Rukawa Kaede pedaled as he biked on the streets of Kanagawa. Even though they just had their training that Saturday morning, he wanted to go to the park to practice some more by himself.

Valentines Day has passed and he survived it. Yes, of course he did. Didn't he promise himself that he would survive that heartache?

Valentine's Day. He heard people say that love was in the air. Yeah, right.

For him, Valentine's Day was just a pain for it just refreshed the wound that he had been carrying all this time.

Yes, he knew what love is, for deep inside, underneath that cold exterior was a hopeless romantic.

Everybody thought that basketball was his life. How utterly wrong they were. How utterly wrong because all they could see was the outer shell.

Just his outer shell. Not the real him. All they could see was the snob and aloof man who knew nothing but to play basketball. All they could see was his mask. The mask that he chose to put on so that the world would not see the pained man inside. He put on a face and image of somebody who was tough and unaffected even though deep inside, he was falling apart.

Yes, he was crumbling and the only person who kept him alive was her.

She was his life.

Everything he did was for her.

Because of her.

He loves her. But she couldn't love him in return for she has somebody in her life.

Sakuragi Hanamichi.

Damn him.

He sighed. Why did it have to be that way? Wasn't she was the reason why he went to Shohoku? Because he knew she would go there? He had known her brother Akagi Takenori way before he even knew her. Captain Akagi was already a well-known center in the Kanagawa basketball circle. Of course, he didn't tell the Ryonan coach the real reason why he was going to Shohoku. That was none of his business.

And all this time, he was hopeless. All he could do was steal glances. Yes, he was pathetic and he knew it.

The cool February breeze felt even more chilly as he pedaled faster, eager to get to the basketball court and have it all for himself. Then maybe, he could just drown himself into the game. Nobody would know.

Nobody, except him.

The hurt, the pain.

For the girl he wanted for the longest time was the do'aho's girl.

Damn him.

His grip on his bike became harder which made his knuckles even paler.

It was unfair. It should have been him. The very first time he saw her at the sideline while he was playing in junior high, he was smitten. It was love at first sight. He was haunted. He couldn't forget that look on her face after he made a dunk. Her eyes were wide open as if she couldn't believe what she just saw. From then on, he knew it was the way to catch her attention.

Yes. She was the reason why he played so hard, why he tried his best. He wanted to impress her so much that at one game he didn't even realize that he already scored more than 50 points.

It was for her. Because that was the only way he could get her attention. The only way he could keep her attention.

Just because he doesn't have the guts to approach her.

To talk to her.

The only way to keep her interested.

He doesn't know any other way.

Back then, basketball was just a game.

Just for fun.

Because of her, it became more than just a game. Basketball became the words he couldn't say, the feelings he couldn't show. Basketball represented all the things he wanted to say and do but couldn't.

It was all for her.

Why?

Why of all the girls in Shohoku, why did it have to be Haruko Akagi? That redhead already has a lot of friends. He could talk very easily to anyone and he could talk to any girl.

Unlike him.

He couldn't even go anywhere near her. Every time he would try, the redhead would suddenly appear out of nowhere. It caused him so much irritation but all he could manage to do was irritate the redhead in return. That likewise, he would also appear out of nowhere if Sakuragi Hanamichi would go near Haruko. He would taunt and insult the guy for being such a do'aho in basketball for he knew that Sakuragi joined the basketball team only because of her. How many times did he have to taunt him to play better just because he couldn't take it? If that do'aho was playing for Haruko, by God, he should play good.

Haruko deserved nothing less.

Haruko.

The only one he wanted to pursue.

He wanted to tell her. He wanted to shout that he loves her. But how? When he can hardly get near her.

Let alone talk to her.

Let alone shout.

He doesn't have Sakuragi's strength. He doesn't have a moral support of friends like he does. And now he even got the girl. While he, he doesn't have anyone. The only girl he ever wanted was his.

He got her.

Damn him.

Wasn't it because of her that as a team captain in Tomigaoka, he arranged to have a lot of practice games with Yonchu High so that he would have more opportunities to see her? It didn't matter that her school's team was not much of a challenge. What mattered was to see her again.

And wasn't she also the reason why he wanted to go to America? Because he wanted to forget her? He wanted to be as far away as he could from her knowing that he doesn't have any chances.

Yes, she was the reason for everything.

He pedaled faster as he tried to ignore the couples walking at the streets as he passed by, couples holding hands and whispering sweet nothings to each other.

He sighed once again. From afar, he could already see the park.

-r-u-h-a-r-u-

As soon as he turned at the corner leading to the basketball park, he saw a group of boys and teenagers clinging to the fence surrounding the basketball court. A feeling of annoyance washed over him at the thought that the basketball court is in use, apparently by someone or some people interesting enough to merit such crowd. Could it be that Sakuragi Hanamichi is making a clown out of himself again?

After he parked his bike on the side and slung his duffel bag on his shoulder, he trudged towards the small crowd to see what was going on. The group of boys didn't notice him since they were so fixated on what was going on at the court. Rukawa's eyes grew big the moment he became a part of the onlookers.

A girl wearing a maroon shorts, yellow t-shirt and sneakers was using the basketball court alone. Her hair barely held together by a scrunchie.

His musings was interrupted by the loud whistling and taunting of the boys. A pang of jealousy welled up inside of him for he knew what was going on inside those minds.

"Kawaii!" said one teenage boy.

"Sexy!" the other one said before he whistled.

"When I grow up, I will marry her!" a little boy about 10 years old said.

Rukawa smirked. Even a ten-year old is feasting on her.

Once again, another boy whistled.

The girl didn't seem to mind. She stopped from bouncing the ball, raised the ball in front of her and aimed for the basket. Was she aiming for a three-point shot? His question was answered by the bouncing of the ball against the basketball rim. A chorus of 'aww…' was heard from the crowd.

He studied her in silence, so concentrated that she doesn't even notice that she has an audience. She ran after the ball and rushed towards the goal and made an easy lay-up that went in effortlessly. A tiny, indiscreet smile appeared on his face. Not bad, he thought though that was not the first time he saw her make that move.

Since she looked determined to play some more he made his way to the other side of the court quietly. Maybe she wouldn't mind him using the other half of the court.

"Hey! Leave the girl alone!"

"Yeah! Who wants to see you!"

The girl whirled around and found the object of the boys' disapproval.

"Rukawa-kun!" he heard Haruko call out his name as he was taking the ball out of his duffel bag.

Seemingly hesitant, she walked up to him and stopped when she was about four paces away. "Gomen… I didn't know you'll be here. You may use the court now," she said.

He couldn't even look in her eyes. All he could do was nod at her and hear groans of disappointment.

"I think you just disappointed them," he said flatly.

"Disappointed who?" Haruko asked, not getting what he was trying to say.

"Them," he answered as he shook his head to the direction of the boys walking away from the scene.

"Huh? I don't even know them," she replied, scratching her head.

"Figures. Where's your boyfriend, anyway?" He asked, annoyed that some boys were ogling at her and the man who was supposed to protect her was nowhere in sight. He would bet his life that if Sakuragi was around, those boys would be in the hospital by then.

"Eh?" Her reaction, not sure what he was talking about.

"Sakuragi Hanamichi. He is your boyfriend, right?" He asked. His jaws tightened, as he mentioned the name of his rival.

"S-Sakuragi-kun… is…my… boyfriend?" Haruko stammered, shocked at his question.

He frowned at her reaction.

"Oh no! He is not my boyfriend. We are just friends!"

He never felt so stupid in his whole life.

-r-u-h-a-r-u-

More than thirty minutes passed and he just finished practicing his fly-swatting technique. He didn't plan on practicing that stunt though. It's just that the situation called for it since it was a way to shoo the crowd. In the eyes of the onlookers, it was just a coincidence that he swatted the ball to the direction where the whistles are coming from. But for him, it was deliberate, for in his mind, he was literally swatting 'flies'.

And although not even Haruko would notice, he knew that his mind wasn't in practice. His mind was trying to digest what he heard from her not too long ago.

Did he hear her right? Or could it be that his ears were playing tricks on him?

Sakuragi Hanamichi was not her boyfriend?

He was not her boyfriend!

He shook his head. How long should it take for him to digest that fact? Coming from Haruko herself, it should be a fact. He felt stupid. He rejected her offer of kindness at the rooftop just because he thought she was Sakuragi's girlfriend! All the taunting, all the heartache that he felt, they were all for nothing. She wasn't taken after all.

From afar, he saw Haruko drank water from her water bottle. He swallowed when he saw some of the water oozing out from the corner of her mouth. For a while, he was mesmerized and wondered if she knew what she was doing.

Once again, he shook his head. He doesn't know why she has this much effect on him. He mentally slapped himself for thinking of her in such a manner. He loved the girl so much, so much so that he would protect her from anyone, even from himself.

The girl blushed and smiled sheepishly as she wiped the water off with the back of her hand. "Oh, Rukawa-kun, want some water?" She invited. "I have one more bottle here."

Indeed, Haruko's words were like an invitation. He walked towards her and accepted the bottle that she was offering to him. He sat down on the bench beside her but left a big gap between him and Haruko. He twisted the cap and let the cool water freshen his throat.

Only to realize that Haruko's eyes were fixated on him. Like she was studying his every move or maybe there was something on his face.

"What?" he asked in a deadpan manner, still not looking at her.

"Oh…" Haruko uttered, stunned. "N-Nothing," she said.

He narrowed his eyes at her, trying to analyze her. What goes on behind that pretty face, he couldn't tell.

Haruko must have felt that stare for she looked uneasy under his gaze.

"I mean… just… crazy thoughts… nothing that would interest you," she tried to explain in between stammering.

"Try me," he said before he took another gulp from the bottle on his hand.

He felt her look up at him, seemingly lost. At what, he doesn't know.

"Why—how did you get to the conclusion that Sakuragi-kun was my boyfriend, Rukawa-kun?" she inquired.

He wanted to kick himself. How did he ever get to that conclusion anyway?

Then he remembered.

It happened at the rooftop. The redhead was in the act of bullying him when Haruko appeared on the scene. It was very embarrassing, the girl of his dreams seeing him bloodied and all. When she lashed at the redhead for using violence and Sakuragi cried like a child, he almost felt sorry for the guy. Who would want to lose a girl like that? He knew the pain and it was not the kind of pain that he would wish even for his own enemies.

He was so crushed and felt beaten that when she approached him and offered her handkerchief, he rejected her. He had to. How could he not when the redhead won't stop crying and on the verge of being suicidal.

Still, it was just too unfair. She was offering help but there was no way he could accept. When she insisted, the only way he could think of at that time was to be rude to her so she would stop. The impression that Sakuragi was Haruko's boyfriend was hammered even more when the redhead beat him after he rejecter her help.

It didn't help either that she didn't give him any chocolate last Valentine's Day when she gave one to every team member. Not that he wanted the chocolate. He just couldn't understand why he was singled out.

He shrugged and tried to act like his normal self. "Cause I always see you together, that's probably why," his reply to her question.

Haruko didn't answer and that somewhat bothered him. How can a girl who seemed so jolly in the company of other people seemed so formal and aloof in his presence?

When he turned his face towards her, Haruko looked away and stared at the ball lying on the ground instead.

"Rukawa-kun…"

"Hm?"

"I know we never talked a lot and you maybe a quiet person… but I know… deep inside, you are a good person."

"We can change that."

"…?"

"But before anything, you owe me chocolates last Valentine."

He saw her smile at him. "I didn't know you would want chocolates, Rukawa-kun."

"Try me."

"But… isn't it too late? It's no longer Valentine's Day."

"Never too late."