Note: Spoilers for the end of the manga.


Hands On
by Clara

"Who was that handsome young man?" the nurse asked, resting one hand on Hanamichi's forearm. Hanamichi immediately tensed, narrowing his eyes. "A friend?" she continued blithely, unaware of Hanamichi's sudden discomfort.

Hanamichi made an exaggerated gagging motion. "No. Guh, no. Please don't make me sick, Keiko-san."

"A classmate, then?"

"He's on my team," Hanamichi admitted grudgingly. He didn't like how she suddenly stopped in her tracks, looking up at him thoughtfully. "For basketball," he added helpfully, in case she wasn't sure which team he was talking about.

Keiko dropped her hand from his arm and turned abruptly, back towards Rukawa. He was further away now, but Keiko had a voice that could carry.

"Running boy! HEY, running boy!"

Hanamichi stared at Keiko, wondering what on earth she was doing. "Don't call him!" he yelped, then prayed that the fox would be rude like he always was and would keep running.

He didn't. Rukawa stopped and turned around, folding his hands behind his head and looking at Keiko expectantly. She hurried over to him, not exactly running but moving remarkably quickly for someone wearing heels in sand. Actually, for someone wearing heels period. As a sports player, Hanamichi was very aware of his body and his balance, but he couldn't imagine trying to walk in pointy shoes. Unbidden, an image of himself wobbling around in high heels and in a nurse's outfit popped into his mind, and Hanamichi knocked his forehead against the fence. What the hell was he thinking about?

When he looked up again, the nurse and Rukawa were looking up at him, one uncertainly and the latter with slight disgust. To Hanamichi's utter horror, they both began walking towards him.

"Hanamichi," Keiko said cheerfully. "Your friend Rukawa agreed to help you once you've both returned to school."

"I don't need his help! I'm a genius!"

"Idiot." Three guesses who that was from. Hanamichi was tempted to lunge at the sly fox, but a twinge in his back held him still.

"Fox bastard!"

"Oh, you two are very close, huh?" Keiko said, putting a hand on Hanamichi's shoulder and her other on Rukawa's. "I've worked with young men like you before, and I know that nothing I say could keep you from playing basketball, right, Hanamichi?"

"Why would I stop?! I'm a genius!"

"Yes, of course," Keiko said, cheerfully. She sort of reminded him of Smiley, what with how unerringly happy she seemed to be. "Rukawa was kind enough to inform me that he will be returning to school himself -- around the same time you will be, apparently. Isn't that exciting?"

"No," Rukawa answered.

"Nope!" said Hanamichi.

"Since I know the two of you will be on a team together, I've asked Rukawa to help you out after training and games."

Hanamichi looked down at her.

"It's nothing too much," said Keiko continuing to not get to the point. "He'll just massage your lower back--"

"What!"

"Idiot," said Rukawa again, like the caveman he was.

"No! No, never!"

"Then I'll talk to Anzi-sensai and have him bench you for the rest of the year," Keiko said with cheerful wickedness. Hanamichi cringed and fell silent.

This brought them to the most humiliating situation Hanamichi had been in in his entire life. Not even ramming his head against the backboard when he first met Haruko, nor missing the slam dunk in front of all those Sannoh fans, could compare being forced to remove his shirt so that Keiko could show Rukawa how to give Hanamichi a proper massage.

"He doesn't know what he's doing!" Hanamichi protested, though he was already lying on his stomach. "He's just going to make it worse!"

"Shut up, idiot." Hesitant, calloused fingers, so different from the soft, gentle hands of Keiko, touched Hanamichi's lower back. Instantly, Hanamichi tensed. The fingers trailed against his skin, not nearly hard enough to be considered a massage, and Hanamichi shivered.

"I'm not going to break, fox!"

"Huh." The fingers pressed just a bit harder, and Hanamichi closed his eyes. The unsure touches were affecting him much more than any other massage ever had, tickling him slightly and making him aware of every nerve-ending in his body.

"That's right, Rukawa," Keiko said, encouragingly. "You can press harder."

Against his will, Hanamichi found himself relaxing, inch by inch. Rukawa wasn't nearly as talented as Keiko and often pressed a nerve that sent a shock of pain up Hanamichi's spine, but there was something about his calloused fingers that made Hanamichi boneless.

How mortifying.

o o o o o

"We don't need to do this."

Rukawa looked back at Sakuragi, who for some reason was walking him down the path. The nurse had taken Sakuragi through a series of easy looking stretches, though Rukawa could see that Sakuragi was clenching his jaw throughout each set. Pain crinkled the corners of his eyes. Rukawa wanted to be able to say that he didn't know why Sakuragi had unnecessarily pushed himself for the game against Sannoh, but he did understand. Anzi-sensai talked about 'moments.' Every time Sakuragi was on the court was a 'moment.' He rose to every challenge, not letting anything hold him back. Rukawa understood, because he was the same way.

"Hey, fox. Did you hear me? We don't need to do this. It's not like Keiko-san would know if you're giving massages or not. Anyway, I don't need you to give me a massage, gross."

"Hn." It was colder now, the breeze from the ocean was picking up. Rukawa flipped up his hoodie.

"Did you hear me? Forget this all happened!"

"Whatever, idiot," Rukawa muttered, then started jogging again.

"STUPID FOX!"

o o o o o

"THE GENIUS IS BACK!"

Immediately, the halls filled with shrieks and squeals as dozens of girls came crashing towards him. To say this stunned Hanamichi would be an understatement. While Hanamichi was self-confident to a fault, he was also extremely self-aware of his status in the school. It took him fifty rejections to figure out, but he knew. When the girls came crashing down the halls like the bull run in Spain, Hanamichi faltered back a step.

"Girls, girls," he said nervously, until he put a word to their shrieks.

"RUKAWA!"

They charged past him and would have knocked him over if he weren't a good two feet taller than most of them. Rukawa? The damn fox was here?

True to the racket, Rukawa sleepwalked past the girls, not even noticing as they crowded and chattered around him. Hanamichi exhaled through his nose in annoyance. "Fox bastard," he grumbled when Rukawa walked passed.

"Dumb bastard," Rukawa shot back, without even waking up.

Even Haruko was too starstruck by Rukawa to give Hanamichi a proper greeted, which made Hanamichi's mood even more sour. She called him Miyagi, for crying out loud.

"We're happy you're back," said Yohei, cheerfully clapping his friend on his shoulder. "Speaking of back -- "

"It's fine," Hanamichi said, scowling slightly at the pun.

"Is it fine enough for you to play basketball again?" Takamiya asked, reaching forward to poke Hanamichi's lower back. Hanamichi cringed.

"I'm fine!" Hanamichi snapped, then grimaced. No, this wasn't right. His mood wouldn't be ruined by that stupid fox and his stupid fan clubs and the stupid pain in his back that was dull but still there. "The genius can't be brought down!" Then he laughed loudly and made his classmates wince.

"Still the same," Ookuso said with relief.

Yohei frowned.

o o o o o

When practice ended, Hanamichi's back hurt. Not bad enough that he woke up screaming, like he did sometimes in the beginning, but still not in a way he liked. He stretched out on the bench, eyes closed, breathing even. He imagined Keiko's frown, and felt a pang of guilt along with the twinge in his back.

"Hanamichi," Keiko had said, "I'll let you go back, as long as you promise to have your back massaged properly for at least fifteen minutes after each practice. And don't forget to stretch!"

He had stretched all right, but the massage --

"Hey, dumbass."

Hanamichi cracked his eyes open, glaring up at Rukawa furiously. It was bad enough that his back was still a mess, but he was also painfully out of shape. Where everyone had been practicing religiously, Hanamichi was getting poked at by a chiropractor and forced into endless sets of stretches. Rukawa, who had been training for All-Japan, had gotten even better. It was the cherry to his stupidly bad day.

"Shut up, fox."

"Turn over."

Hanamichi narrowed his eyes. "No."

Rukawa reached forward and pushed him off the bench.

"FOX BASTARD!" Hanamichi roared, starting to push himself up. "Cold ruthless shithead, attacking the injured gen -- "

Rukawa sat on Hanamichi's ass.

"Pervert! Cold-hearted fox-eyed ugly-ass pervert!"

Rukawa slipped his hands up the back of Hanamichi's shirt, and pressed gently. Hanamichi tried very hard to keep up his steam, but his insults turned into a relieved groan, and he hung his head. Hard fingers probed around, releasing the tension from his tight muscles, and it was all Hanamichi could do not to sob with relief. He sunk back to the ground, closing his eyes and allowing himself to enjoy the massage.

"Why are you doing this, fox-face?" Hanamichi all but purred. The hand on his back froze, before Rukawa resumed with vigor. He didn't say anything for a long moment, just kneaded small circles against the small of Hanamichi's back.

"You're going to ruin your career."

Hanamichi jerked back, but was unable to buck Rukawa off him. "This small injury couldn't ruin the career of a genius!"

"It's not a small injury," Rukawa said, gruffly.

Hanamichi looked over his shoulder, honest surprise evident on his face. "You're worried for me."

Rukawa slammed Hanamichi's face against the floor.

"Motherfucker!"

Their first massage session turned into an all out brawl, which left Hanamichi sprawled out on his stomach, the twinge in his back much worse.

Rukawa stood over him, panting a bit, eyes narrowed. He sat back down on Hanamichi's ass, pressing his thumbs into Hanamichi's back harder than necessary. His nose was bloody -- sometimes he wondered how he got away without breaking anything with all the fights he'd gotten into since Hanamichi joined the team, but somehow he still had a straight nose and all his bones intact. "We'll do this," said Rukawa sharply, "after every game, and every practice, when everyone has already left for the day."

"Fuck off."

"Or I'll tell Keiko-san and she'll have you kicked off the team."

Hanamichi said nothing, but Rukawa could feel him trembling slightly under his fingers. For a moment there was blessed silence, then, "Why do you care?" The end of his sentence lilted up in a petulant whine, and Rukawa dug his thumbs in a little cruelly.

Truthfully, he wasn't sure why he was being so insistent. Maybe because Hanamichi was fighting him so hard about this, and Rukawa was never one to back away from a challenge. It certainly wasn't because he saw the pain evident on Hanamichi's face, when he so obviously thought no one was looking.

"I'm not going to let you drag the team down with you just because of your 'small injury'."

Hanamichi said nothing, just dropped his head and hid his face from Rukawa's view, hands clenched in fists by his face.

"Have you been doing your stretches?" asked Rukawa, curtly.

"Yes, you stupid asshole."

"How's your back?" His tone hadn't lightened a bit, even if the question seemed gentle.

"Oh just fine, thank you."

"Funny, I didn't know you were even capable of being sarcastic. I thought you needed more than one brain cell of that."

Hanamichi tried to buck him off again, and this time Rukawa dug his thumbnails into Hanamichi's skin.

"So are you just going to keep me hostage until you're satisfied?"

His words were so vulgar and suggestive that Rukawa stilled. After a moment, he leaned forward and said harshly in Hanamichi's ear, "Don't you dare, asshole. I'm doing you a favor."

"I don't know how to thank you," said Hanamichi, flatly.

That was enough. Rukawa pushed himself up roughly, wondering why he was even bothering with someone so ungrateful. He certainly didn't appreciate the insinuations, not how it made him tremble with barely pent up fury. He also wasn't sure just why he was getting so hot and bothered.

"Fine," he hissed. "See if I give a fuck if you never play basketball again. Don't come crying to me tomorrow when you're paralyzed because you're too much of a big prick that you can't even -- " He was on a roll, not able to stop the rant that was spilling from his lips like an ugly river, not liking that he was saying more at that moment then he would normally a whole week, just because his offer of help was being thrown so viciously back in his face. Why did he even care?

Hanamichi sat up, glaring up at Rukawa. "Fine!" he cut Rukawa off, rudely. "I didn't even want your help, but you had to force it on me -- " This time, he cut himself off, looking a little startled, but Rukawa was done.

"Oh, screw you." He didn't even bother to tag on his usual nickname for the redhead, just spun around angrily.

He didn't get very far, because Hanamichi had lunged up and grabbed his arm. "Let go of me," he snapped. Hanamichi didn't, just turned him around.

"You are the most socially awkward dickwad I have ever met in my entire life," Hanamichi shot back. Rukawa tried to pull away, thinking that if he had to deal with anymore of this bullshit, he would take care of both their problems and break Hanamichi's back himself. "You know what I think?" Hanamichi was all but yelling now, right in his face. "I think you are worried about me, but you're too stunted to know how to properly show it!"

Rukawa scoffed. "What, you're psychoanalyzing me now? Don't try too hard, Sakuragi, or you might hurt something." He yanked his arm again, lips pulled back in an angry snarl. "You have the balls to call me 'emotionally stunted' when you're the one who can't even accept help without it being forced on you!"

To his surprise, Hanamichi laughed. This was too much. Rukawa yanked back with all his strength, preferring to pull his own arm out of his socket than to spend another minute in this idiot's presence. Hanamichi latched on with his other hand.

"You're right."

Rukawa stilled.

"I might even be as messed up as you are, though that's pushing it."

Rukawa deflated slightly, the anger expelling from him through an exhaled breath. For Hanamichi to take himself down a peg was enough to calm Rukawa's anger, though he still narrowed his eyes.

Slowly, Hanamichi released his grip, as if he was afraid Rukawa might take off again. Hanamichi rubbed the back of his head, a sign of nervousness. "Look, we can do this -- massaging thing for awhile. It really does help," he admitted, twisting his body a bit to test his muscles, "and I do need it. I'm -- sorry."

Rukawa was completely blown away.

He closed his eyes and let out a slow breath. "Fine," he said quietly, then turned around again and walked out. This time, Hanamichi didn't try to stop him.

o o o o o

Miyagi frowned at Rukawa, who once again ignored Sakuragi's call to pass him the ball during a practice game. He had put them on the same team for a reason; Sakuragi and Rukawa had proved themselves a dangerous combination during the Sannoh match, but for some reason --

"Does Rukawa seem a little more angry than normal?"

Miyagi looked down at Haruko, not that surprised that she would be so perceptive when it came to Rukawa. There was a frown line marring her eyebrows.

"Huh," Miyagi said noncommittally, though he was interested in her observations.

"And Sakuragi, why's he trying so hard to get Rukawa's attention?"

This was also true. It almost appeared as if Sakuragi looked as if he felt bad, which was absolutely ludicrous. Even when he fought with Rukawa, he always placed the blame on the opposite party, not himself.

"Do you think they got into a fight? Did Sakuragi upset Rukawa?"

"Don't know," said Miyagi, thoughtfully. "They're acting strange, though."

On court, Sakuragi all but body-slammed into Rukawa in the middle of a lay-up, knocking the ball out of his hand.

"What the hell!" Takeru, one of the freshmen, shouted. "This is basketball, not hockey!"

"He's on your team, Sakuragi!" Mitsui snapped.

Sakuragi ignored them both, grabbing the front of Rukawa's shirt and yanking him forward. "I already apologized, you fox-faced bastard!"

Rukawa scowled.

"What more do you want! You were just in the wrong as I was! You feeling guilty or something?"

By now, both teams had stopped playing and were crowding around them. Miyagi cursed under his breath and pushed his way through the players. He had erroneously thought that after the Sannoh game, the two of them would, well, not be friends per se, but come to some sort of understanding with each other.

Rukawa had pulled back his fist, but didn't strike him, just glared at Hanamichi defiantly. "Play ball, you dumb bastard."

Sakuragi shook him a bit and Miyagi reached forward, only to be pulled back by Ayako, who just shook her head at him.

"Just tell me what the fuck is wrong!"

Rukawa opened his mouth to say something, then seemed to change his mind and looked away, harshly.

Sakuragi let go in disgust. "Jesus, you're such a girl."

This time, Rukawa really did punch him, hard, in the jaw, and sent Sakuragi sprawling. He stepped over to Sakuragi's head, and Miyagi had a rather gruesome thought that Rukawa might stomp Sakuragi's face in. Instead, he bent over so that he was looking Sakuragi in the eye.

"I don't care," he said, simply.

Sakuragi pushed himself up, rubbing his jaw. Beyond the anger was uncertainty, as if he was wondering if he overstepped his boundaries but was unsure how to broach the subject, let alone why Rukawa was holding a grudge.

"That's it, break it up you two," Ayako said, stepping between the two of them just as Sakuragi took a step towards Rukawa. "Take it outside if you guys are going to have a lover's spat."

Rukawa muttered something that sounded an awful lot like, "I'd rather stick my dick in a garbage disposal," and Ayako colored slightly. "I'm off," he said clearly, and stormed off towards the locker room.

Sakuragi looked fit to kill.

"Go run a lap," Miyagi ordered Sakuragi, shoving him a little on the shoulder. "Then -- and I don't care if you guys have to break each other's teeth," here, Mitsui winced, and Miyagi regretted his choice words slightly, "but patch up with him. It's bad enough the two of you don't like each other very much, but if you're too busy actively hating each other to play basketball, then I don't want to see you on the court."

Sakuragi took off and Miyagi sighed, running his fingers through his hair. "What was that all about?" he asked Ayako, who had fallen beside him.

She followed after Sakuragi with her eyes, looking concerned. "I don't know, but." She chewed on her lower lip and shook her head. "I hope they can work things out."

In the locker room, Rukawa slammed his fist into the wall, grimacing. He wasn't sure why his anger had followed him to the next day, but it had and it was affecting him in ways he shouldn't be letting it. He sat on the bench and dropped his head in his hands, trying to regain his precious control. Basketball was the only thing that matter. He would be the best. He was the most promising player on the team. He had a chance, and he couldn't blow it on some petty rivalry he had with a no-name player.

That wasn't entirely true. As much as he disliked Sakuragi Hanamichi, he couldn't deny the sheer talent the red haired player had. He had so much fucking potential, and surpassed so many people in the four short months he had played. The idiot was a quick learner and had a natural affinity to sports. He could, one day, even be better than Rukawa himself.

Well, that just meant he had to work harder. There was no way Sakuragi would ever defeat Rukawa.

"Fox."

Rukawa looked up, barely managing to keep the surprise from his face. Sakuragi walked up to the bench and stretched out on top of it, next to Rukawa. He was long enough that Rukawa had to get up, or risk being kicked off the bench.

"Are you going to give me a massage, or what?"

Rukawa stared down at him, then carefully positioned himself on top of Sakuragi. He didn't touch him for a long moment, still wrapped up in his thoughts.

"I'm sorry."

Sakuragi looked over his shoulder in surprised. Rukawa was equally stunned, lips forming a thin line. He hadn't meant to speak. "What you said -- "

"I didn't mean it," Sakuragi said, hard. "I was just being a stubborn asshole."

"I shouldn't have -- "

"Fox, if you ever think highly enough of yourself to think that you could really, seriously force me to do anything, injured or not, then you need a reality check."

Rukawa settled his hands on Sakuragi's back, still feeling uncomfortable. He was aware just how socially inept he was, and knew very well just how bad he was in situations like these. He was stronger than most people. When he was a kid, he had accidentally broke the arm of one of his neighbors in what should have been a friendly one-on-one in basketball. He shuddered a bit at the memory and pressed his fingers into Sakuragi's back.

"You're a pretty sensitive guy, aren't you?"

"Only when my pride is wounded," said Rukawa, honestly.

This earned a laugh from Sakuragi, which startled Rukawa slightly.

"Have you ever even had a friend before, fox-face?"

Rukawa said nothing.

Hanamichi looked over his shoulder, looking stunned. "I know basketball is great and all, but you mean to tell me that you've never had a friend?"

"I have friends."

"Teammates don't count. Tell me, have you ever had someone who you could just talk to? And do -- non-basketball things with?"

"Not interested."

"You really a cold-hearted bastard."

"I have one goal," Rukawa said, sliding his thumbs up Sakuragi's spine, eliciting a small shiver from the redhead. "And I don't need anything to get in my way."

"Friends can help you achieve those goals," said Sakuragi, philosophically. "What about Smiley?"

Rukawa snorted.

"Did you just laugh?"

"If you think I would ever be friends with that cheerful moron, then you're stupider than I thought."

"What would you call me?"

"Not a friend."

"No," said Sakuragi, thoughtfully. "Not a friend."

o o o o o

"Hanamichi's been leaving practice late lately, huh?" said Yohei to Mitsui, who was the last to leave besides the red haired giant.

"Hm? I guess," Mitsui rubbed the back of his head, nervously. He always felt a little uncomfortable around Yohei -- Sakuragi and Ryouta had forgiven him, but they were his teammates. Yohei was Sakuragi's friend, and Mitsui had never really apologized. "Now that you mention it, Rukawa hasn't left yet, I don't think."

They shared a startled glance at this. "What do you think," Yohei asked, slowly, "are they going to duke it out over Haruko?"

Mitsui snorted. "Rukawa? He doesn't even know Haruko exists."

"No, that's true," said Yohei, "but Hanamichi would still do something that stupid."

"Like, threaten Rukawa?"

"Or something like that. And Rukawa would take up the challenge, right?"

There was look shared between the two.

"Now that you mention it," said Mitsui, realization slowly dawning on his face, "even at away games, Rukawa and Sakuragi disappear on their own."

Yohei looked horrified. "You're not implying--"

"Only one way to find out." Mitsui turned around and strode right back into the gym, Yohei quickly following.

The door to the locker room was open a crack, and Yohei and Mitsui peeked through it. There wasn't much to see -- the crack only allowed a very narrow field of vision, which didn't include Rukawa and Sakuragi.

They could, however, hear plenty.

"Oh god yeah," Sakuragi groaned. Rukawa hummed a response, too low for the peeping toms to hear. "Fuck, a little lower."

Mitsui grabbed Yohei's wrist. Yohei turned sheet white.

"Yeah, Rukawa, like that."

"You're too noisy," Rukawa said lowly, but apparently didn't stop doing whatever he was doing, since Sakuragi didn't quiet down a bit.

"Mmm, harder. How many times have I told you I'm not going to break?"

"That's enough," Yohei whispered, dragging Mitsui away. He was still white, and the hand that he had clasped around Mitsui's wrist was clammy. "Jesus," he said under his breath, closing his eyes.

"I don't believe it," said Mitsui. "They're fucking!"

Yohei looked a little as if he was about to pass out.

o o o o o

"Hey, Yohei, do you know -- "

"NO! No! I don't know anything! I swear, I don't!"

Hanamichi stared at his normally level-headed friend, eyebrows raised to his hairline.

"I've got to go," Yohei mumbled, gathering his books and taking off, even though class was starting, not ending. Hanamichi watched him leave, surprised, then turned to Ookuso.

"Do you know our Lit assignment?"

o o o o o

To the surprise of both parties, they didn't spend their sessions in silence, but rather talking almost amiably. It always started with Sakuragi babbling about something or another, usually how cute Haruko looked (though Rukawa really couldn't put a name to the face) or how amazing his slam dunk was (Rukawa had to grudgingly admit that Sakuragi really did look amazing when he slammed the ball in), but their conversations usually turned towards their personal lives.

"My father -- " Sakuragi said one day, then dropped off without finishing his sentence.

Rukawa didn't push. If Sakuragi wanted to tell him about his family, then he would in his own time.

"When I was younger -- "

The pain in Sakuragi's voice was almost palpable. Rukawa smoothed his hands up Sakuragi's back, touches gentle.

"He had a heart attack," Sakuragi finally managed, voice bleak. "When I was younger. I tried to run to the hospital, but -- "

Sakuragi's shoulders were trembling and Rukawa was lost. He kept running his hands up Sakuragi's back, rubbing what he hoped was soothing circles.

"Eight on one, can you believe that? They took me down, and my father -- my father -- "

His father died. Rukawa flinched, surprised at the surge of anger that flared up in the pit of his stomach at Sakuragi's words. He wondered how Sakuragi could live with that burden, if his boisterous attitude was a cover for the burden of guilt that must weigh him down every day. He wondered if those kids had gotten their karmic retribution, and if not, where he could find them so that he could deliver it himself.

Instead of enacting the justice he so desperately wanted to, he rubbed Sakuragi's back until he cried himself out. Sakuragi sniffed deeply, then reached up to swipe his hand over his eyes.

"I don't talk about that often."

"Yeah," Rukawa said, not sure what else to do. He had never had to live with such a tragedy before, and didn't know how to comfort someone who had. He kneaded his thumbs into Sakuragi's skin and said, "If you ever do need to talk about it -- "

"Yeah, thank you."

When Sakuragi left that evening, he stepped a little lighter than he had before, his body loose and the weight on his shoulders just a little easier to carry.

o o o o o

"When did you start playing basketball?"

Sakuragi was jumping to the chase. Rukawa looked down at the redhead, who was already shirtless and sprawled out on the bench, then took his normal position (and boy, was it odd to think of it like that).

"Longer than I can remember," said Rukawa, honestly. "My father's a basketball nut."

"Oh yeah?" said Sakuragi, a little drowsily. The game had gone into overtime, and it took their celebrating team a good thirty minutes to finally clear out from the locker room. Mitsui had shot Rukawa odd looks the entire time, and Rukawa had to carefully school his face to not show his impatience.

Rukawa smoothed some oil onto his fingers, looking thoughtfully down at Sakuragi. He had never used this before, but thought it might help.

"My dad's very competitive," Rukawa said honestly, then pressed his oil-warmed fingers against Sakuragi's skin. Sakuragi jerked slightly.

"What is that?"

"Oil," said Rukawa. "It'll help."

Sakuragi said nothing, but he tensed a bit more when Rukawa smudged his fingers against Sakuragi's back.

"I don't think you should use that."

Rukawa stilled. "Why not?"

"Just don't think you should."

Sakuragi sounded a little unsteady, his face buried in his arms. Interestingly, his ears were red.

"Sakuragi, you -- "

"Don't say it, Rukawa."

Rukawa smiled slightly, resuming his massage. A small groan sounded as if it was all but ripped from Sakuragi's chest, and Rukawa's fingers spasmed slightly. He had a feeling he was stepping over some unknown line, but he couldn't bring himself to stop. What were he and Sakuragi, anyway? Not-friends.

For once, they said nothing at all during the entire massage.

o o o o o

Rukawa would never admit it out loud, but the noises Sakuragi made during their sessions were doing things to him. This was the tenth time they had met like this, and apparently Rukawa was getting damn good at what he was doing. Every little groan Sakuragi made sent a spike up Rukawa's spine, and it was all he could do to not spring to his feet and bolt. He smoothed his palm across Sakuragi's lower back, which elicited a hum of pleasure.

Rukawa stood up quickly. "That's enough."

He took off before Sakuragi could respond, running for the privacy of the showers. He was so hard he could barely see straight, and his arousal was having an all out battle with sheer terror. The incident with the hot oil had changed their not-friendship into something unspeakable. He leaned against the wall and closed his eyes. It was normal for a guy his age to get hard over anything, and it was just evil to force him to touch that much smooth skin. And the sounds Sakuragi made..

Rukawa yanked off his clothing almost violently and flung it away from him, turning on the water as cold as it could go.

"Harder, Rukawa -- yeah, like that -- "

Rukawa braced himself against the wall. He couldn't blame his body for reacting like it did -- he was a teenager -- though he'd thought he had better control of his body than this. The cold water was doing nothing. Day after day of touching Sakuragi was doing a number on his system. He closed his eyes and slid his fingers down his stomach, keeping his back to the door. He wasn't gay. He was not. But he imagined his fingers replaced by his tongue on Sakuragi's back and Sakuragi's mouth replacing his own hand and was lost.

He balanced himself against the tiles, not believing he had done that.

When he opened his eyes again, another hand was next to his own.

"What were you doing, fox?"

Sakuragi's voice was low and dangerous, and Rukawa felt every muscle in his body tense. Sakuragi had boxed him in. He knew he could get away easily, Sakuragi was still weak from that short break in his rigorous training, but a hot flush was crawling up the back of his neck.

"Were you jerking yourself off?"

Rukawa said nothing, and didn't turn around.

"Did you get hard after giving the great genius a massage?"

He couldn't believe he had, either, since "the great genius" referred to himself in third person. "Fuck off, Sakuragi." He turned around, finally, clenching his fist to break Sakuragi's jaw, but faltered.

Sakuragi hadn't removed his clothing, and was drenched to the core. His clothing stuck to him like wet tissue, highlighting every detail of his body.

Sakuragi was blushing deeply, and Rukawa dropped his eyes down.

"I -- " The confidence in Sakuragi's voice fell away. "Rukawa -- "

Rukawa sank to his knees.

o o o o o

They never talked about what they were doing, but more often than not their little massage sessions ended in messy hand jobs or blow jobs, both of them unskilled and much rougher than necessary, clumsy and desperate and scared out of their minds. Outside of the locker room they were as nasty to each other as normally -- in fact, their relationship really hadn't changed all that much, except now it included sex.

This was terrifying.

Hanamichi dribbled the ball, staring up at the hoop but making no move to shoot. He was totally zoned out. He would have never, not in a million years, thought that he and Rukawa would have ended up -- where they were now. Hell, he still couldn't picture himself as friends with Rukawa. He wasn't somebody one went and played pachinko with. Rukawa was a not-friend. He was something so much more.

"Hanamichi?"

Hanamichi caught the ball in both hands and turned around, surprised. Haruko had her hands behind her back and looked slightly nervous.

"Hi," said Hanamichi.

Haruko smiled brightly. "I was hoping I'd find you here. We haven't had a proper chance to talk since you've returned."

Hanamichi smiled easily, dribbling the ball again. For some reason, he couldn't muster up his usual wild enthusiasm. He felt a little -- guilty. Almost as if he were cheating on Haruko, which was just silly. "How have you been?"

"Good!" Haruko said brightly. "I'm really glad you're back. We should start our morning practices again!"

Hanamichi didn't want to tell her that he couldn't practice without getting a massage right after, but he couldn't quite bring himself to turn her away, either. He caught the ball and tried spinning it on his finger, something he had never managed to master, but not without desperately trying.

"Say, Hanamichi." Haruko stepped closer to him, looking a little shy. The ball dropped from Hanamichi's finger. Could this be the moment Hanamichi had dreamed about for so many months now? And if it was, why was his stomach clenching in dread? "Have you and Rukawa been fighting?"

The anxiety unraveled slightly in his stomach, but not entirely. Did Haruko suspect something? And if she did, did she really have the chutzpah to ask him to his face? "No, of course not! Me and that fox? Why would the genius waste his time on some stupid fox-faced brat?"

Haruko seemed to accept this nervous explanation, nodding slightly. "Good."

He looked at her out of the corner of his eye. "Why?" He had a feeling he knew the answer. Haruko was in love with Rukawa.

"Well," said Haruko, dropping her eyes. "You're a very good friend of mine, Hanamichi. And Rukawa -- " she flushed slightly. "Well, Rukawa is special. To me. I mean." She flushed deeper, and Hanamichi felt a disturbing twist in his stomach. It wasn't the normal crippling jealousy that spurred Hanamichi to chase after Rukawa with everything he had to prove he just as good, if not better, than Rukawa, but more a stab of guilt.

"We're not," Hanamichi said, almost gently. "Haruko, you like Rukawa, right?"

Haruko looked scandalized. "You should know better than to ask a girl that."

"Right?"

She looked a little as if she were about to combust from embarrassment. "Yes."

Hanamichi nodded slightly. "Yeah, thought so. I wouldn't -- " He just couldn't bring himself to crush her dreams, but.

Haruko smiled brightly at him, but it wavered slightly. "Oh, don't worry Hanamichi, I know I don't have a chance. Rukawa has only one thing on his mind -- and that will never be me. That doesn't mean that I can't admire him, you know?"

Hanamichi managed to spin the ball on his finger for a full moment. "Yeah. I know."

"Sakuragi."

Hanamichi looked away from Haruko to Rukawa, who was leaning against the frame of the entrance to the gym. "Let's go," said Rukawa.

Hanamichi glanced down at Haruko, who's eyebrows had shot up to her hairline. He tucked the ball under his arm and offered an uneasy smile to Haruko. He wasn't sure why Rukawa was calling him away -- it wasn't as if they had made any plans outside of their daily sessions -- but there was something in Rukawa's tone that kept Hanamichi from protesting. He sounded a little off. Not particularly angry, but none to pleased at all.

"Rukawa?" Hanamichi asked, when they had walked a good while without saying anything. "Where are we going?"

"You took the gym's ball."

Hanamichi started, looking down at the ball he had tucked under his arm. Crap. He turned around to take the ball back to the gym, but Rukawa stopped him by grabbing his arm.

"Forget it. You can take it back tomorrow."

Hanamichi tried spinning the ball on his finger, uncomfortably. "Where are we going?"

"My house."

Hanamichi dropped the ball. It bounced erratically into the road, and Hanamichi immediately took off after it. Several cars honked at him as he trotted back to Rukawa's side, smiling sheepishly.

"Moron."

"Why are we going to your house?"

Rukawa said nothing for a good block, then, "You love that girl, right?"

It was said so quietly that Hanamichi almost missed it. Hanamichi scrubbed at the dirt that had gotten on the ball when it bounced away from him. "Love's kind of a strong word."

"Don't fuck around."

"I liked her, yeah."

"'Liked'?"

"Well, I mean, I still like her, but.."

"Then why are we doing this?!"

Rukawa's tone startled Hanamichi. He looked at Rukawa in surprise, took in how his hands were clenched at his sides and he was trembling slightly. "Are you -- jealous?"

"No!"

Hanamichi just looked at him.

"If you like her, why are you doing this with me? Are you curious? Is this just some sort of game?" Hanamichi had never seen Rukawa like this before, nervous and uncertain and so, so angry. "What is this, Hanamichi?"

Hanamichi dropped the ball, and this time didn't bother chasing after it. Rukawa realized his slip instantly and stared at Hanamichi with horror, then suddenly took off.

Jesus, it seemed like he was always chasing Rukawa -- literally.

They were pretty evenly matched when it came to speed, but Hanamichi was more determined to catch Rukawa than Rukawa was to get away. He caught Rukawa around the waist and sent them both flying into a wall. They were both breathing heavily, and Hanamichi was reminded of the first time they had gotten into a situation like this, Hanamichi boxing Rukawa against the wall, Rukawa glaring at him icily.

"Say it again."

Rukawa glared.

"Come on, say it again!"

"Screw you."

"Does that mean I can call you Kaede?"

Rukawa socked him in the stomach.

Hanamichi refused to double over, though he did drop his head on Rukawa's shoulder, trying to catch his breath around the pain in his stomach. "You know, we've never even kissed."

"Don't be disgusting."

"Oh, you can suck my -- "

"Don't be crude, either."

Hanamichi pulled back a bit and looked Rukawa in the eye. It never got old for him, that he could look his lover straight in the eye. He would have never thought it possible. Hanamichi was tall, and he always figured he would have a soft, delicate girl who he could protect. Instead, he had a ridiculously strong, stubborn as hell guy who had a killer right hook. "I don't like her like that anymore, is what I was trying to say before you had a fit."

"So what, you like me like that, then?"

What kind of question was that? Hanamichi had been rejected fifty-one times, and here he was, being pressured into a confession to a guy -- and not just any guy, but Rukawa. Hanamichi flushed.

Instead of saying anything, he closed the distance between the two of them and kissed Rukawa, gently.

o o o o o

"Quit screwing around, Hanamichi!"

The entire court stilled. Even the audience quieted in shock. The first years stumbled a bit, looking around in confusion, aware of the rivalry between Rukawa Kaede and Sakuragi Hanamichi, but not really knowing the extent, certainly not thinking that players from Shoyo would give a damn that Rukawa would call out Sakuragi's first name.

Sakuragi, who had the ball, dribbled it continuously, looking hard at Rukawa. Rukawa's ears heated up, but he didn't look away. Suddenly, a huge grin split across Sakuragi's face.

"All right, Kaede."

The stands exploded with whispers, and even the players swerved towards each other to whisper in surprise. In fact, the only ones who didn't look stunned were Mitsui and Yohei of all people, both of whom wore a very similar shade of green, if anyone cared to look.

"'Hanamichi'?" asked Ayako, eyebrows to her hairline. Rukawa looked away. A grin slowly spread across her face. "Hanamichi?"

Rukawa said nothing, but his ears were still red.

Shohoku beat Shoyo, quite spectacularly. After Rukawa's interruption, Shoyo couldn't seem to regain their usual steam, whereas Hanamichi played spectacularly.

end

Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed. :)