Monday: Milk & Cream
Rukawa Kaede pressed his lips into a narrow line as he stood proud and erect. Sendoh Akira was watching him with confused surprise, his marshmallow grin falling into pieces to scatter over the chocolate ground. With every passing second of deadly quiet, Rukawa's heart hammered an erratic, pounding beat as Sendoh closed in, dark blue eyes flashing.
"What do you mean it's over?"
It began with Saturday mornings of basketball, with the four walls of the gym a fading backdrop against their fierce one-on-ones. Sendoh had surreptitiously thrown in lunch after a couple of weeks and Rukawa had sneered at his skirt-chasing activities. Girls were weaknesses the Shohoku ace could do without, unlike his rival, who would happily skip their Saturday rituals for a great pair of parted legs.
Three minutes. That was all it took to finally rouse Rukawa's rage at Sendoh's tardiness one Sunday morning and in the ensuing battle, boundaries were crossed that shook both boys to their very core. Sendoh had left a bewildered Rukawa behind on the basketball court, blood dripping unnoticed to the buffed wood.
It had continued with another Sunday face-off that Sendoh had attempted for as long as possible to avoid. Three months. It was enough time, should have been enough time to push past the memories of what had transpired between them on that long ago Sunday morning. Sendoh was a coward; he knew as much when he cancelled an important opening game: Ryonan vs. Shohoku.
What the new Ryonan basketball captain didn't expect was Rukawa to come banging on his apartment door, demanding answers to questions that Sendoh did not want to think about.
Sendoh had known moments of madness when lips met with lips, when anger and anxiety collided to fog his mind and blind him to what he was doing. He hated Rukawa for this – this insane addiction he could not flush from his system. If Sendoh had thought that bedding Rukawa once would cure him of his obsession, he was dead wrong.
Rukawa had shut his eyes tight when Sendoh had penetrated him, and it almost killed Sendoh to catch a grimace cross that white face.
He really should have gone slow. Instead, Sendoh found that he had despised Rukawa's vulnerability – where was the strong, silent boy who had the balls to challenge him?
Afterwards, Rukawa had pulled on his white cotton briefs where they puddled around his ankles, tugging up the waistband of his grey sweat pants. Ignoring the sting of invasion, the feeling of being ripped apart, Rukawa had walked stiffly to the door and quietly shut it behind him. It had been absolute, bloody hell to ride his bicycle back home.
A week went by. Two.
Early Saturday, Rukawa was jarred awake by the insistent ringing of the telephone. He swore loudly as he picked up the handset, furiously wrestling with the tangled cord and twisted bedsheets.
Rukawa had stayed quiet, his chest contracting, his teeth nervously chewing on thin lips.
There was an uncomfortable silence before Sendoh cleared his throat. "You're supposed to say 'see you in an hour'," Sendoh's low voice teased.
Another pause. "See you in an hour, then."
Rukawa had ambled into the gymnasium, his backpack casually slung over a broad shoulder. He was first annoyed when he heard the echo of a basketball pounding on the floor, then was slightly astonished to find that Sendoh was there first. Rukawa dropped the backpack in the corner of the gym, trotted towards Sendoh and proceeded to steal the orange rubber ball away from him. Sendoh's face twisted into a frown and then his features relaxed, and to Rukawa's irritation, he actually laughed.
"Good one, Rukawa."
In Rukawa's confusion over Sendoh's about-face, Sendoh had slyly whacked the basketball out of Rukawa's grip.
Rukawa chased after Sendoh's retreating form, cursing in his mind for letting his guard down, cursing again as Sendoh placed the basketball into the net. Rukawa's eyes became blue diamonds, hard and unrelenting, as he concentrated on regaining possession of the ball. He succeeded when Sendoh's next shot hit the metal rim and he quickly shot up to grab the rebound, dropping back lightly on his feet.
Jump. Shoot. Score.
Rukawa had beaten Sendoh that day, but he rather suspected that the affable boy had let him win. Furious, Rukawa had confronted him, spit flying into Sendoh's calm countenance.
"I'm not made out of fucking glass. I won't fucking break, got it?"
Sendoh had grinned, a smile of relief as he swiped at the fluid on his face. "Got it, Super Rookie. Lunch?"
Rukawa huffed impatiently and stepped back. "Ex-Super Rookie."
They fell back into their routine as though it had never been broken in the first place: Saturday morning basketball and lunch subsequently. And then Sendoh would drive him home, and Rukawa would walk to fetch his bicycle where he had left it at Shohoku High.
Almost a month had gone by before Rukawa finally gathered his courage to squeeze Sendoh's hand goodbye before stepping out of the Honda Civic. Sendoh had gazed at him, cobalt eyes dark and unreadable as Rukawa slammed the car door, nonchalantly disappearing into his white brick house with its immaculate gardens.
As soon as Sendoh's car zoomed down the road, the automated gate swung open again and Rukawa walked along the footpath that would take him to school. Pedaling back, eyes half-closed, he began counting the cracks in the sidewalk until he reached his house. The steady rumble of an engine awaited him.
The drive to Ryonan was filled with nothing but the sound of Sendoh's fingers tapping on the steering wheel. Rukawa stared out of the car window, his ears jammed with the plugs of his Panasonic player.
There were no words that passed between them as they entered Sendoh's apartment, no words as their bodies pressed together with urgency, no words as sweat broke upon their dark brows; nothing but quiet sounds of lust and the rhythmic smack of pale skin upon paler skin.
It was already evening when Rukawa made to open the car door, struggling with the handle. As he popped it open, a warm hand hesitantly encircled his bony wrist.
"Forget the bicycle. I'll pick you up next time."
They continued in this fashion – Saturdays, Sendoh would drive to Shohoku, let in a yawning Rukawa and drop by Shohoku High's gymnasium. After a heated one-on-one, Sendoh would chatter through lunch as Rukawa's face threatened to fall into his bowl of ramen. And then, dead silence as Sendoh's Honda Civic roared down the highways to Ryonan and back again.
It had never occurred to Rukawa that this would end up in a pretty fairytale package, tied up with streaming ribbons and lace. But he assured himself that this was all he deserved – one whole Saturday out of the week with Sendoh. It would do. It had to do.
But if Rukawa was brutally honest, he would say it wasn't enough. It would never be enough.
Not when it came to Sendoh fucking Akira.
It had crept up on him so suddenly that he had had no time to prepare himself, like a well-executed fake. Rukawa wasn't quite sure what it meant, but he knew he didn't like the feeling.
Rukawa had always hated depending on other people. It was both his strength and weakness. And suddenly, Rukawa found himself caring what Sendoh thought; whether Sendoh would like his new shirt, whether Sendoh would think his playing had improved. Whether Sendoh still had his girlfriends when it wasn't Saturday.
Rukawa hated it.
He was scared of it.
He was scared of how much he had come to rely on Sendoh.
And in his brusque manner, he began to withdraw.
"I can't. I'm done."
Sendoh paused, his chopsticks halfway to his mouth. "What do you mean you're done? You still have half a bowl of ramen left. Is anything wrong? Do you want something else?"
Rukawa's throat tightened as Sendoh stared at him with concern.
Afterwards, I promise. After we finish lunch.
"I mean, I'm done with this place. Noodles here aren't that good."
Sendoh frowned a little, chewing on his food thoughtfully. Then he smiled. "We'll try somewhere else next time."
Under the table, Rukawa's hand clenched into a fist. There wouldn't be a next time. He'd already put this off for weeks.
They walked to the car, keeping some distance between them as Sendoh talked about his team's new center, and how they had adapted to playing without Uozumi and Ikegami. Rukawa 'hn'ed' when it was appropriate, barely listening to Sendoh's chatter.
They had reached the car. Rukawa swallowed as he watched Sendoh unlock the doors, the dry leaves fluttering to the earth around them.
Now. Tell him now.
Sendoh blinked with puzzlement. "Are you sick today? It's fine, I can drop you home now. Do you want me to fetch you to the doctor's first?"
Rukawa's chest squeezed, but he willed himself to continue.
"I mean, this. Us. I can't do this anymore."
Rukawa shut his eyes, not wanting to see Sendoh's face. Rukawa tried again to say the words he had been playing, practicing in his mind all week.
Rukawa pressed his lips into a narrow line as he stood proud and erect. Sendoh was watching him with confused surprise, his marshmallow grin falling into pieces to scatter over the chocolate ground. With every passing second of deadly quiet, Rukawa's heart hammered an erratic, pounding beat as Sendoh closed in, dark blue eyes flashing.
"What do you mean it's over?"
Rukawa glared back defiantly. "What part of it don't you get?"
Rukawa stared at Sendoh. That was an unexpected question. Hell, he hadn't expected Sendoh to care or to want an explanation. Wasn't it just sex – at least to Sendoh? And wasn't Sendoh glad that Rukawa had taken the initiative to step away? After all, he was so damned worried every time the both of them were together. Like what they were doing was just so wrong.
I'm not a fag.
Rukawa could still remember the hatred twisting Sendoh's lips as they had fallen to the floor the first time, pulling at each other's clothes and hair. He could still remember the hiss that warned him that this was all there would ever be between them – a secret kept in the rumpled cotton sheets and soft pillows of Sendoh's bed.
Nobody – nobody – hears of this, do you understand?
Rukawa's resolve hardened, and he found his voice. "There was never an 'us', anyway."
Sendoh's eyes flickered but he did not say a word. Neither acknowledgement nor denial of that undisputed fact. Rukawa forced himself to slip back to the days before he had ever known the taste and feel of Sendoh's warm, smiling mouth. He reminded himself that their dalliance had been built on nothing more than lust, curiosity, rivalry and Saturday morning basketball.
"I don't want you." The words were cold; hard and unfeeling even to Rukawa's ears as he continued, "I don't need you."
"I see." Sendoh's eyes were vacant as he opened the door of his car and slammed it behind him. Rukawa fought the urge to call out as the Honda Civic pulled away, tires squealing in the dirt. Then he reminded himself that this was what he wanted. No more Saturdays. No more one-on-ones. No more ocha, ramen, tea, lemons. No distractions, no feelings, no caring. Nothing.
He didn't need Sendoh. He didn't need any of it.
Rukawa slowly walked home to the cold, white walls of his house, as empty and hollow as he felt. He had trouble sleeping that night, and the next as well.
On Monday, Rukawa dozed through all of his classes. He awoke only when the last bell rang later that day.
That same afternoon, Rukawa was rushing to extra-curricular activities when he spotted Sendoh in his dark blue uniform, loitering by the gym doors. The sound of basketball practice was already thumping inside. As Sakuragi's booming voice echoed loudly within the gym, Rukawa grabbed Sendoh's shirt.
"What are you doing here?" hissed Rukawa as he pulled Sendoh away.
Sendoh's customary smile was thin and strained. "We need to talk."
"No, we don't. There's nothing to talk about. There is nothing between us anymore, get it?"
Sendoh's head whipped up and he leveled his gaze with Rukawa. "There's someone else."
Rukawa almost wanted to laugh at the absurdity of the statement. How, how could there be anyone else besides Sendoh?
"It's none of your busi–"
"Is it a girl?"
Rukawa's mouth opened and shut, but nothing came out. Good god, Sendoh wasn't actually serious, was he?
"There's nobody. Really, there isn't. It's just – we're finished."
Sendoh rubbed wearily at his tired eyes; eyes that were also fringed with dark rings. "So you took what you wanted. And now, you're done with it; you're done with me. I'm just a toy to be played with and thrown aside, then."
Rukawa snorted and folded his arms across his broad chest. "Stop the self-pity. You were the one who fucked me."
"Only because you kissed me, threw yourself at me, begging so–"
"I. DON'T. BEG."
They were shouting at each other now – their faces red, their tempers rising.
"Oh yes, you do. All those 'Please, Sendoh' and 'Harder, Sendoh' and 'Faster, Send–'"
"Shut up; just shut the fuck up! Why do you even fucking care that it's over? I thought you didn't give a flying fuck!"
Sendoh's incensed face abruptly crumpled. "Of course I do. Why would I be here if I didn't?"
Rukawa was stunned into silence.
"If I didn't care, I wouldn't come down here every Saturday morning, burning up all the petrol in my tank. I could be having a nice lie-in, but no, I choose to drive down here and play basketball with you. I don't have to buy you lunch either, and remind the waitress to make your ocha cold. I don't have to know that you like pink for god knows what reason, and that rock music is all you ever listen to on that damned Panasonic player of yours. I can't even date a girl anymore without wishing she was you, fuckdamnit. So yeah, tell me I don't care, since I'm definitely not here, wasting my time on you."
Sendoh raised a callused hand to caress Rukawa's impassive face; remembering, missing the feel of that milk-and-cream complexion. "I was scared once, Rukawa. I'm not scared now."
Rukawa blew at his raven fringe with exasperation. Do'ahou. "Idiot. Didn't you understand me when I said I didn't need you?"
"Coward," Sendoh mildly rebutted, his fingers now touching Rukawa's cheek. "Who's the one who's afraid now?"
Rukawa's very same words from that long ago Sunday were being thrown back in his face.
"I don't need you," Rukawa repeated, drawing in a shaky breath.
"I know," Sendoh agreed placatingly, "I know you don't. But I do."
Sendoh moved closer to lightly kiss Rukawa's jaw, whispering softly into his ear, "I need you, Kaede."
That did the trick.
"Akira." Rukawa's voice was strangled as he leaned into Sendoh's arms and began to kiss him back furiously. Rukawa's fingers lightly stroked the back of Sendoh's neck, and Sendoh's hand gently cupped the back of Rukawa's head. Tea. Lemons. That bittersoursweet aftertaste Rukawa couldn't get enough of. Milk. Cream. That smooth, silky skin Sendoh wanted to drown himself in.
More, more, more.
Rukawa had missed – needed – this more than he would ever admit.
"Now what?" Rukawa breathed when they finally broke apart, both their fingers entwined in coal-black hair.
Sendoh grinned as he began to shrug off his dark blazer. "One-on-one?"
Rukawa's lips twitched slightly.
"Saa, ikou yo."
AN: Zomg, I'm finally done with this. Longer than expected and more conversation than I would like, but that could hardly be helped:( I tried to keep it brief, I really did! Still, I enjoyed writing this, and I hope you enjoyed reading it. I'd like to dedicate this to BattleAngel (first AFF reviewer, gracias chica!), The Long Fall of Prose (best constructive criticism and great reviews), and sLL (boosted my confidence when she read Tea&Lemons before submission).
To everyone else who has stumbled across this, thanks for reading:)