The Rukawa Household, Kanagawa Prefecture: Saturday, February 11th_
Worry creased Sendoh's forehead. His lips tucked into a troubled frown that did not suit his normally blithe features. His eyes were filled with such intense bother that it was a surprise a hole had not been bored into the ceiling. His mind taunted him with ceaseless images of last night. What he saw unfold in that doorway made no sense no matter how much he thought about it. The unanswered questions plagued his mind throughout the night.
Why was Megumi here? Why was she so injured? What was her relationship with Kaede?
Shutting his eyes, the Sendoh continued to recall the strange events the night before. Thinking back, he could still recall Kaede's strained voice when he asked:
Kaede had repeated the question a second time after the trembling girl had calmed to the point of coherency. Though, from the looks of things, it was more of a rhetorical question. The stench of alcohol and fearful look in her watery hazel eyes seemed to scream volumes. "That bastard…" Kaede growled, gritting his teeth. With clenched knuckles, quivering white with anger, Kaede turned to barge out into the storm.
Kaede had been stopped though, by the touch of the hollowed shell that was once the confident Megumi Kobayashi. It was obvious that she wanted him to stay. Sighing, he unclenched his fists to place a hand on her head. Although monotone, Kaede's voice held a kindness that Sendoh could not quite grasp.
"Come in. You need to be treated."
Sendoh's hands flew to his face, slapping his forehead in frustration. After all he had seen, he asked: Are you okay?
What kind of question was that? Her skin was marred with cuts and bruises. She was drenched to the bone. Her eyes were puffed and red from the tears that streamed down her cheeks. Still, it was the remaining shreds of Megumi's pride that granted her the fire to tell him that she was 'fine'. He, dumbly, shut up.
A hand passed over heavy lidded eyes as if to rub off the fatigue. Weary, he sat up and a heavy sigh escaped his lips.
Time for breakfast.
Sendoh forced himself off the firm mattress and into a pair of black polyester shorts before he pulled a figure hugging, blue top over his well sculpted chest. Although uncertain if Kaede would follow through with their plans, it was best to be prepared –Kaede disliked compromising his practices. However, Sendoh doubted that Kaede was in any better state of mind and affairs as he was.
Like a zombie, he dragged his lanky limbs down the wooden steps, taking slow, weighty steps. A light rumble sounded from the pits of his stomach as he neared the kitchen, craving for even the smallest morsel. However, he did not enter. What stopped him was Megumi's motherly tone, as she demanded:
"Kaede! What were you thinking going back there?"
With piqued interest, Sendoh released his grip from the brass knob and tilted his head to the side. Squinting, he peeked through a slit created by the door that hung slightly ajar. His brows raised in a mix of surprise and confusion when he spotted Megumi apply medication to Kaede's cuts and bruises with cotton swabs. Surely those were not there when he retired to bed the night before. Had Kaede been in a street brawl?
Despite this, Sendoh found it odd that he was more concerned by the lack of space between the two than his friend's injuries. Another thing that caught his attention was the fact that Megumi was clad in an oversized white t-shirt that slipped from her shoulder in a messy yet seductive fashion, covering whatever shorts she wore.
Megumi didn't wait for a response or pause for breath as she continued to reprimand Kaede. "What did you think you could possibly accomplish from getting hurt? I told you not to go there! What were you thinking—"
"I wasn't," he answered dryly.
"That bastard hurt you," he spat bitterly, eyes narrowed on the tiled floor.
Her features fell for a moment before her lips forced themselves into an apathetic smile. It was as if she were struggling to find the right words to say.
"Kaede, he's still..."
"I don't care." Kaede's glare intensified. "Why won't you live here?" he snapped. The formerly monotone voice he carried out daily was renewed with a sharpened edge as his eyes flashed dangerously under the fluorescent lights.
Megumi would not answer until the boy had simmered down, thus, waited till that was so. Several moments passed in silence to allow Kaede time to cool down. She shook her head and sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose to calm herself. It was as if she were trying to explain a complexity to a child. "I can't. It'd be too much for her to handle with me around."
When Kaede's befuddled frown remained with matching eyes of uncertainty, Megumi's smile was one of sadness. The way she looked at him, her russet eyes held a sort of warmth and affection that Sendoh had never seen from her till then. When Kaede turned away in disappointment, Megumi cupped the sides of his face to focus his attention on her. "That doesn't mean I won't consider it," she whispered gently. "I will, but until then, I'll manage."
Although the frown on his face lightened, it still remained unconvinced as a silent protest.
To smooth the creases that had formed throughout their conversation, she rested her forehead against his and tried to convince him. "I'll be fine…. As long as you're with me, I can handle anything."
Kaede gnawed on his lower lip and turned away. This prevented Sendoh a preview to the emotions that fleeted across that stone cold expression. Luckily, Megumi was still in view. Though, he would have much rather had her spot him and bring an apocalypse on him than to allow the next occurrence to take place. She, believing that they were alone, leaned forward and kissed Kaede.
That moment felt like a drugged eternity. Sendoh's heart plummeted into his stomach, stirring up something strange. Despite this, he could not look away nor block out the words that would damage him past redemption.
When she pulled back, the brunette spoke with the same determined honesty that had drawn Sendoh to her.
"I love you Kaede Rukawa... and if you love me too, you'll trust me. Okay?"
The air was tense. Sendoh's breath caught in his throat. Surely, this would be another rejected confession.
Sendoh's heart fell through his stomach, shattering as it hit the ground.
Why did he not deny that love? Sendoh could not even begin bring himself to believe that this selfish, basketball-centered male could possibly love anyone but himself. Unable to stomach the 'love fest' a second longer, he stepped in.
Banishing the agonized expressions that must have plagued his features, Sendoh replaced them by a steady, halfhearted smile. He would have entered to snatch a slice of toast that was sitting on the kitchen counter if not for the emotional whip that struck his heart when he watched the warmth of the girl's features dissipate. He could not help but cringe at the sight. He was tempted to demand why she would only smile in such a way for Kaede, but bit back the words he knew he would regret. With the lack of an appetite, Sendoh spoke as evenly as he could manage –putting on a façade that he had not heard what he heard nor seen what had transpired.
"I'm going on ahead," he said before adding, "Basketball."
Kaede simply nodded; a signal that he would soon follow in suit once business was taken care of.
"Don't you want some breakfast?" Megumi asked as Sendoh started out the front door. Her worry was hidden by confusion's tonality.
"I'm not hungry."
"Just leave me alone."
Although he hadn't raised his voice, he was still snappy. This time, he was unable to lock away the words that rolled off his tongue. However, he could not help but feel a twinge of remorse once his mind registered the flicker of stunned hurt that played their tricks in her eyes. Regardless of this, he did not attempt to apologize. After all, it was her who had hurt him first. So, he left the house in a silent fury with hands tightly gripping a rough, orange ball.
"What's his problem?" Megumi mumbled unhappily once the door shut with a slam. She glanced at Kaede for an answer but was met with a simple shoulder shrug and shake of the head.
A frown of annoyance settled upon Sendoh's lips as he watched the basketball ricochet off the backboard for the umpteenth time. Normally, he would have been able to hold back his strength. But, he found trouble doing so at the moment. This was not like him. Even if his mind was not focused on the task at hand, he would still be able to make most of his shots since each required moves that had long since been embedded into his muscle memory.
Frustration combined with physical and mental exhaustion was not the best of cocktails for any sportsman; Sendoh knew that much. Finally, he let the ball rest on the heated concrete while he sunk onto the soft, shaded grass. "Damn it..." he cussed as he wiped the perspiration from his forehead with his wristband. "What's wrong with me?" Thumping the back of his head against the tree that towered over him, he released an irritated sigh. He hated to acknowledge it, but he knew the answer all too well. Jealousy.
"I didn't even her in the first place, so why...?"
The soft rumble of muted thunder shook the inner walls of the Rukawa household. In the kitchen, Sendoh Akira, on bended knee, carefully applied disinfectant to Megumi's wounds with fluffed cotton balls. No words were exchanged between the two, leaving the atmosphere heavy. If she felt any sort of sting that should have occurred while he was cleaning her fresh wounds, she made no acknowledgement of the sort. She was like a life sized doll sitting in front of him. A beautiful, damaged doll void of any emotion or life.
Although his original wish to call for an ambulance was denied by both, Sendoh had half the mind to do so when the poor girl nearly doubled over from fatigue. When he demanded to know why not, her pleading, tear-filled gaze was the only answer he would receive at the time. He could not bring himself to press any further.
A set of hazed, faraway russet eyes stared out at the rain that assaulted a fogged windowpane. Her body was clad in a plain white, oversized t-shirt that slid off her shoulder and a pair of drawstring shorts –courtesy of Kaede. She did not flinch or recoil when Sendoh began to wrap the cleaned injuries with white gauze. Her unnatural silence unnerved him, but he preferred this silence if compared to several moments ago when he had to remove the shards of glass embedded in her skin. He tried to suppress the shudder that coursed through his body. The unsightly blemishes that were yet to be covered were a poignant reminder of her contorted, agonized features and helpless whimpers that passed between gritted teeth when the shards were removed, leaving blossoms of crimson in their wake.
Despite her weak protests, Kaede had stormed out of the home in a fury once the last of the serrated edges had been removed. He had been missing for the past half hour and with him went the girl's voice.
'What happened to you?'
With knitted brows, a frown settled on Sendoh's lips as he proceeded to wrap her ruined hands. However, it was the slight tremor he felt when his fingers brushed against hers that caused his features to soften. Although she could repress her emotions, she could not hide the fact that she was scared. Right now, she needed all the comfort and warmth she could get.
Carefully, Sendoh cupped a hand under her smaller hand. Slowly, he wrapped the bone white fabric around the abrasions with such tender affection that if someone were to peer into the scene, they would have believed that she was the most precious and beloved thing he held dear –an observation that would not be far from the truth.
Tying the last knot in place, Sendoh spoke in a clear, unhurried pace to keep a calm surrounding. "What happened?" When she did not respond, Sendoh began to wonder if she had even heard him. She may have completely left the world around her.
Just as his lips parted to repeat himself, she stood with a shaky form before hobbling towards the kitchen door. Unsure of what else to do, he stood to assist her but the attempt was brushed off.
"Thank you, but…" Her voice was hoarse as she continued with ragged breaths. "I can do this much for myself."
Her determination and desire for independence was impeccable. Though, her pride and stubborn disposition annoyed him. It pushed him to the limits of his tolerance. Nonetheless, he knew not to disregard her wishes.
However, he could not bury his own desires. He yearned to reach out to her. To hold her slender frame against his and stroke her dampened hair to comfort her. Every fiber in his body willed him to kiss her till she melted into his embrace. He wanted to shatter her numbed exterior. He wanted to make her, his.
He did not.
Instead he watched, no, allowed her to phase out of his reach.
"Please." When she reached the stairwell, she turned to meet his gaze for the last time. "Don't get involved with me any further." Then, she disappeared into the ceiling.
"I can't let this get to me anymore."
Shaking the images from his mind, Sendoh pulled his thoughts away from last night's recollection as he returned to the court to pick up his basketball. 'I tell myself that but...' Positioning himself behind the foul shot line, his next shot rebounded off a rusted rim. 'It still does...' he thought as he heaved a heavy sigh of exasperation. Sendoh squatted as he ran his hands through his hair as if to push aside the conflicting thoughts and emotions.
Sendoh's shoulders tensed, but he was able to force his neck to turn and face the owner of the voice. He was unsurprised that the tone of indifference belonged to Kaede Rukawa. At this point, he hated the thought of anyone witnessing his ruined state. Though, he was surprised to see the younger teen carrying two large bento boxes.
'Did she make one of those... for me?' The hopeful thought caused the creases in his forehead to soften.
Kaede had never been the best of mind readers or the best at mincing his words, nor did he possess the slightest ounce of tact or care to do so. With no attempt on his part to polish his words, he chilled voice was like steeled daggers when he spoke. "D'aho. You hurt her."
"I hurt her...?"
He grimaced at the accusation. He hurt her? No, he wouldn't. Not intentionally. From his perspective, they had hurt him. Kaede, the semblance of the brother he never had, had been kissed by Megumi, the one Sendoh had fallen for. If Kaede had pulled away and denied the kiss after it had happened, the betrayal would not have struck as hard. Unfortunately, no such denial occurred. If that was not enough, when Megumi told the Kaede that she loved him, the love was not denied but consented to. Every action and word indicated on them being lovers. It was that blaring fact that hurt the most.
"I hurt her?"
His mind clouded over the same, jealous rage ass before. He clenched his fists. Gritted his teeth. He didn't know what to believe. He didn't want to suppress himself any longer. Not for Kaede. Not for Megumi. He didn't care anymore.
Sendoh took two steps forward. Two furious steps and, drawing back his fist, smashed Kaede's face.
Kaede stumbled back several paces, stunned and bleeding.
"You have no idea what you're talking about! She's the one who-"
Kaede's knuckles met with Sendoh's chin. Sendoh, knocked off balance, fell on his rear. His stunned gaze met with the harsh glower of the one who towered over him.
Kaede spat out a wad of blood that gathered in his mouth and muttered an annoyed 'd'aho' under his breath. He leaned back, hands in pockets like he would in a gang fight.
"You hurt her."
The finality in his voice signaled the end of that topic –unless Sendoh desired a thorough beat down. When there was no response to his statement, Kaede clicked his tongue in annoyance. Reaching down, he yanked at Sendoh's collar, dragging him to his feet. "Giving up like this... you don't deserve her," he snarled, not breaking eye contact.
Whether it was the fact that Kaede had spoken more than five words in a sentence or the punch that jarred his mind into a state of clarity, it did not matter. The reels of intelligence hidden in the back of Sendoh's brain had begun to turn once more.
"I'm not giving up," he stated firmly.
With that proclamation, Sendoh was released. If his answer had appeased Kaede's wrath, no emotions portrayed as such.
It was only when Kaede picked the basketball off the ground that everything clicked.
"It's like basketball..." Sendoh thought out loud. It made sense now as to why someone like Kaede Rukawa would use 'basketball' as a comparison to love. Being an avid lover of the sport himself, the Ryonan player knew what the vague analogy entailed. Never give up no matter what odds are stacked against him and put in his all to win the game –to fight for possession of that ball.
Kaede merely grunted in response, tossing the ball to Sendoh after making several baskets within the time it had taken for that realization to occur. As he passed his senior, he shot the older a warning glance. "Don't punch me again."
Sendoh laughed. "Or else what? You'll sick your fan girls on me?"
There was a brief pause. Sendoh could have sworn he spotted a flicker of amusement in Kaede's eyes as if he were entertained by the thought. Although he did not speak, a brief smirk did grace his lips.
From that moment on, Sendoh decided it would be best not to hit Kaede again.
An hour and a half of strict practice passed, the two teenagers decided it was time to return.
Kaede, ravenous, even after eating every grain of rice in his bento and a few of his rival's octopus shaped sausages, headed to the kitchen for a snack. Sendoh on the other hand, decided it would best to lounge in the living room till his body cooled down before he took a shower.
When Megumi heard the front door open with a distinct 'we're back', she drew her attention away from her manga. After spotting Sendoh's bruised lip, she couldn't help but wonder what had transpired in the past two hours. Normally, she would have added a snide remark to mask whatever worry she felt, but could not bring herself to say anymore –or tell him to put on a shirt to cover his delicious, well-sculpted chest.
'Is it just me or is it getting hot in here…?' she wondered, averting her gaze.
Sendoh lazily sank onto the cushioned seat beside her. His arms casually spread over the top. From out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the gawking and chuckled.
She hurriedly looked away. "What happened to you?" she questioned, attempting to sound indifferent as she continued to leaf through her manga. She tried to fake it, but she paid no attention to the romance scene in the manga of two oblivious idiots who were unknowingly in love, sitting on a sofa.
"Why don't you take care of your dear Kae-chan instead?"
Sendoh had meant for the sentence to tease her. Honestly. The words just came off as snide.
He couldn't help but flinch when Megumi shot up from her seat. She slammed her manga shut and glared down at him through narrowed eyes. Whatever embarrassment she had felt was gone.
"What is your problem?" she demanded, lips curling into a snarl.
He didn't want to admit it, but he was terrified. He'd never been stared down by a woman before –much less someone a head shorter than him. He didn't dare stand. When he found his voice, Sendoh couldn't help but snap back. "Well, what's with you and Rukawa? You kissed him on the lips and told him you loved him!"
There was a long, heavy silence that settled in the room. Sendoh was staring at Megumi accusingly while she just stared back dumbfounded. When she finally found her voice, she spluttered:
"T-the lips? What are you –I kissed him on the forehead!"
He faltered. Kaede had turned away at that crucial moment. Sendoh had not actually seen her kiss Kaede on the lips. He had let his imagination run rampant to fill in the gaps. "But you told him you loved him..."
"For god's sake..." She rolled her eyes in disgust. "Of course I love him. He's my brother you idiot!"
His mind blanked. Sendoh simply sat there, wide eyed and stunned.
His thoughts echoed louder. His eyes widened even farther, pupils dilating as his mouth fell open. He was mortified. How could he have made such a mistake? "Y-you aren't dating...?" he stammered dumbly as he tried to wrap his brain around the concept. So she hadn't meant 'love' in a romantic sense, but a familial one.
"Of course not—wait—you were listening?" she thundered. Her voice raised a whole octave as she hurled her manga at his head with her signature strength and precision.
"It was an accident! Honest! I didn't mean to—"
Sendoh held his hands in defense, trying to pull back, but it was too late. The manga collided with his forehead. Losing his balance, he fell off the sofa to the floor with a loud thud.
"Urgh…but... how was I supposed to know?" he started, wincing as he slowly sat up. Rubbing the sore spot centered on his forehead, he glanced at the girl who huffed and turned away. "You guys have different last names..." He paused to raise a confused brow, "Why is that?"
Megumi seemed to falter for a moment, parted her lips in hesitancy but shut them. Shaking her head, she stood. Wobbling slightly, she started to leave as fast as her injuries permitted. "I told you not to be involved with me anymore."
He too stood to catch her as she passed him. He was not going to let her escape this time if he could help it. "Wait!" he called out as he reached out to grab her shoulder. Megumi should not have faltered due to the odd feeling that struck her heart. She should have continued on like her mind ordered. Yet there was a moment of hesitance. In that split second of uncertainty, her world came crashing down on her –in an almost literal sense.
A muffled groan escaped Sendoh's lips as he silently cursed the carpet for his untimely fall. Undoubtedly, he must have embarrassed himself in front of the girl he liked. On the bright side though, he had a soft landing as compared to the expectation of flattening his face on the floor's hard surface. He had not expected to be saved by two soft pillows. 'Two... pillows?' he wondered in confusion. Slowly, he turned his head to the side to view the perfectly rounded lump to his left. 'T-t-t-t-t-t-these aren't pillows!' His mind flew into a panicked frenzy. Thoughts clashed. Confusion ran wild. In the end, all he could do was lift his body to hover over the cushion. When his horrified gaze met with the stunned features of the girl he had fallen on, his whole body felt a cold chill and remained motionless.
A high pitched squeak sounded. As girlish as it was, he was sure that it was his.
'Oh god... Did I just- my face- pillows- I fell on- oh god.' At that point, not even his thoughts were coherent.
The woman too was in a state of shock. The pain from the fall and her wounds had dulled her thoughts. No words escaped her lips as her mind pieced together what just occurred. It took several moments before she awoke to the realization that both their faces were but inches apart. The blood rose to her face instantaneously. Her body felt as if she had been locked into place. It was only due to her self induced instinct that a frown crossed her lips to conceal the obvious embarrassment. She just hoped that he could not hear her furiously thumping heart.
Time passed yet Sendoh was unsure if the brunette's blush was out of embarrassment or fury. Slowly, his eyes trailed to her scowl and affirmed the possible fury. However, there was a soft glimmer in her eyes –something hidden deep within those russet pools that he could not place a finger on.
The gentleman within him knew that he should have removed his body from hers, but he could not tear his gaze from hers. He was mesmerized. The ghostly caresses of shallow breaths against his cheeks caused shivers to run down his spine. The enticing sensation of heat emanating from her skin drew him closer. He could no longer prevent the intoxication. Slowly, the gap between their bodies diminished. He held her gaze for a moment before his eyes slid shut and he drew closer to her to greet her lips.
In an instant, Sendoh found himself on the opposite end of the room sprawled on his back like an overturned turtle. With a groan, he rubbed the back of his throbbing head that had the unfortunate chance to greet the wall.
Kaede? That made sense.
Sendoh heaved a heavy sigh and through narrowed eyes, shot a look at Kaede who stood beside his girl. In one hand was a first aid kit while the other reached out to help her up.
Groaning once more, Sendoh wondered why on earth he had to be kicked in the face. Surely, he did not deserve such brutal treatment. It was not as if he was about to do anything bad, right? He paused for a moment as his brows knitted together whilst he pondered the question. Seconds ticked by as he rewound and replayed the scene in his head only to pause at the climax. He had almost kissed her. As the mere thought of attempting such an unspeakable act crossed his mind, he began to panic. At that point, the only thing that Sendoh did do was bury his burning face in his palms. He had almost stolen a kiss from Megumi and he doubted that the gesture was much appreciated.
"Are you okay?" Although his voice bared monotony and indifference, buried within the cellars of his soul was a care for his sister as well as anger directed towards the one who had dared to touch her in such a way. He'd even gone easy on Sendoh. Kaede honestly contemplated to never leave her alone with Sendoh Akira ever again unless the latter desired a thorough beating.
"Ah, I'm fine Kae-chan. Just a little stunned," she answered as she turned down his hand to stand on her own. When she spoke, she tore away from his forceful gaze to the ground as an act to conceal her pink tinted cheeks with her bangs. 'That was too close...' She heaved a sigh of relief and placed a hand over the heart that continued its overtime. Her fist tightened on her shirt's fabric and the explosive thumps started to dull. It was as she did so that a jolt of remembrance flashed through her mind and the reels of her memories clicked to a halt. It was a reminder of a most awkward landing. This time, the bright red was no longer of embarrassment. It was fury.
Megumi's head whipped about at such a frightening speed that Sendoh almost feared she may have broken her neck. "You..." Her eyes twitched involuntarily as a low growl escaped her lips that had curled into a fierce snarl. This frightening sight caused a terrified whimper to escape his own lips. He cringed but all he could do was swallow hard and brace himself for her attack.
At that very moment, the wrath of a thousand demons descended upon the unfortunate Sendoh Akira.
It was then that Kaede made a mental correction. Hedid not need to carry out any punishment. Shewas perfectly capable without him. All he had to do was retie her loosened bandages after her rampage.
By the time the Megumi was through, Sendoh was no more than a twitching mass of bruises and aching joints strewn across the ground. 'I guess I sorta deserved that but... she's so violent...'
It was, however, whilst Kaede attended to the girl's bandages that her eyes met with the fresh bruise that marred her younger brother's lips. She froze. "Did you two... get into a fight?" she asked placidly despite the danger that laced each word with poison. They froze.
The two braced for another explosion, but nothing of the sort happened. Instead, she huffed and turned to the first-aid kit for a couple bandages. "Really, must you always worry me like this?" she grumbled as she peeled out the first band aid to apply on her brother's cut lip.
Kaede simply looked away as his response and Sendoh could not help but note the flicker of sadness in her eyes.
"H-hey! I'm injured too!" Sendoh quickly cut in, waving his arms in the air to attract the girl's attention.
She turned to him with a raised brow of disbelief and a demeaning smirk. "But didn't you say, 'why don't you go take care of your dear Kae-chan?'"
Sendoh could only laugh. It seemed his words had returned to bite him in the rear.
Nevertheless, after much childlike whines and pouts, even she had to concede out of sheer annoyance. With little care, she slapped a bandage onto his wound, which greatly contrasted with the great pains she took to disinfect her own brother's cut.
This act of clear favoritism only caused the sheepish smile on Sendoh's lips to widen.
"What?" she demanded with her usual raised eyebrow and matched frown.
His shook his head but the grin remained. "Nothing."
The girl eyed him for a moment with suspicion but shrugged her shoulders and let the matter slide. It was impossible to understand that fool anyway. With that, she was out of the living room and on her way to her room to change into better attire.
As he watched her leave, the little epiphany that had struck him not too long ago arose once more.
'I guess... I'm really falling for her...damn it.'
A/N: Edited September 7th 2011 and 21st June 2013.
Pst, Megumi has never called Sendoh by his name! And a quick note, while planning out this chapter I was still uncertain if I should take the 'Kaede was Megumi's childhood friend who has a one sided crush on her' or the 'sibling' route. I chose the latter since it seemed more believable than Kaede having a romantic interest in Megumi.