March 31st - The Choice

by: Yenny

{March 31st, Shohoku High School}

It was already after school and the Shohoku High School grounds was almost without its normal clutter of students and teachers alike. Almost… Except for…

"Youhei, where are we going?" The redhead whined, slowly getting irritated by being dragged blindfolded by his best friend.

Sakuragi was about to go home when his Gundan cornered him before he could reach the school's gate since basketball practice was uncommonly cancelled that day and he was informed by his teammate that the gym was also closed for practice.

Mito heard the irritation in his friend's voice but took no heed. He just tightened his hold on Hanamichi's wrist and replied. "You'll know soon enough, Hanamichi."

"Yeah we have a surprise for you," added Noma with a little laugh.

Hanamichi almost groaned out loud. He didn't like the sound of that laugh one bit as well as the thought of surprise in stored for him. He loved surprises, who didn't? But his Gundan's surprises were more like practical jokes at his expense.

He could still remember last year's fiasco with a mixture of mirth and fondness since it was the only prank they've pulled on him where they actually felt its aftermath; the said aftermath being that a certain blue-eyed brunette was not as forgiving after being included in the so-called 'surprise' without his consent. Though for his part, he considered it to be as the only gag-tagged-surprise they sprung on him that he actually felt thankful for. He did not change their view of that particular surprise though since the person mentioned sworn him to secrecy.

Shaking his head, Hanamichi couldn't help but speculate on his friends' supposed surprise for him. Being his birthday tomorrow meant that it would also have the same 'Sakuragi Gundan trademark'… a joke wrapped as a present. Thus in a resigned attitude, Hanamichi let himself be dragged and hoped that his friends did not went into the extent of including another living/breathing human being into their prank again.

After a couple of times of stumbling or almost tripping over whatever ground he was walking on, Hanamichi was thankful to have heard a steel door being opened and then closed.

"Oi, are we there yet? I am getting tired of seeing nothing you know."

"Sakuragi-kun!"

"Haruko-san, is that you?" Hanamichi inquired, fearful that his friends dragged the sweet brown haired girl into whatever they were planning for him. But he was immediately ushered towards a seat before he could even get an answer.

"Hanamichi, welcome to your 17th birthday celebration."

The redhead turned his head towards the source of the greeting and smiled when recognized the owner of the voice.

"Ryochin!"

"Oi, carrot top, how does it feel like being dragged into your worst nightmare?"

Hanamichi could never mistake the owner of that voice, especially since only one among his circle of friends calls him that.

"Mitchy! What are you doing here?" He half-exclaimed in surprise. But after the initial shock, "You called me carrot top! Youhei, get this blindfold off my eyes and free my hands will you? I need to pound scar face before we start anything." Hanamichi demanded, still annoyed by the nickname that the former MVP player had fondly given him.

"There, there, Sakuragi, no need to get violent. This is your day after all," cajoled a sweet voice belonging to an equally sweet and charming guy.

"Megane-kun?"

With his curiosity piqued almost to its limit, the redhead wanted nothing more than to be freed from the constraints that hindered him from getting his questions answered. "Youhei! Noma! Takamiya! Yuji! If either one of you do not get these things off of me right now, I swear that all four of you will be wearing a lump on your heads for a week!" He threatened.

Nothing. He was still tied and the blindfold was too far to reach and too tight to loosened even if he tried flexing his face. Fed up, "Will anyone just get these things off me?" He shouted and was surprised to hear his voice echoing around his surroundings.

Where am I?

"Sakuragi-kun, please be patient. Youhei-kun and the others are just preparing your surprise."

"Haruko-san! Can you get these off me? Just untie my hands or remove this blindfold."

"I'm sorry, Sakuragi-kun, but I promised Youhei-kun that I won't." Haruko apologized.

"WHAT?" Hanamichi was almost at the end of his wits and was about to shout a customary curse when he suddenly heard someone running towards his direction.

"Sakuragi-san, Mito-san asked me to take you to him."

Sakuragi's expression went incredulous as he stammered, "Hi… Hikoichi?"

"Hai!"

Before he could even ponder on the newcomer's presence, he felt someone dragging him to some place not so distant from where he first was. Soon after, he felt another pair of hands guiding him to some sort of podium with a tall chair. Once seated, he heard his best friend say, "Now, Hanamichi, I will untie your hands so you could remove your blindfold but you have to promise me that you won't get off that stool. Ok?"

The redhead nodded.

Mito went behind Hanamichi and slowly undid the knot, but he hastily stepped off the podium for his personal safety as soon as the knot was loosened.

Sakuragi swiftly freed his hands and removed his blindfold only to blink stupidly a couple of times before he rubbed his eyes to clear his vision. The redhead took note of his surroundings and his surprise was not of knowing the he was inside Shohoku's gym but of the presence of the other school's basketball players.

Kainan, Shoyo, Ryonan, of course his friends were there, his teammates, and even his coach.

Puzzled, Sakuragi motioned for Mito to come closer to him.

Mito gulped and went to his friend, fully prepared to receive a head butt, but none came. Instead, Hanamichi leaned towards him and whispered, "Did I forget a game we're supposed to have?"

Mito breathed a sigh of relief and replied, "No, you didn't but… this is still a game, one that we've specially prepared for you for your birthday." He supplied.

Question marks appeared on Sakuragi's head as he tried to digest the information his friend just gave him and fit his surroundings with it.

"Game? I don't get it."

From the sidelines, Hikoichi sprang to his feet and pulled a cord behind him, releasing a banner which made Sakuragi's eyes almost popped out from their sockets.

"WHAT!!!" He exploded after a minute of silence.

To describe Sakuragi's expression as shocked was an understatement. But even after the initial shock subsided, his eyes continued its travel over the words that were written in huge letters on the banner. He kept re-reading the words in hopes that he had just misread it.

Advance Happy 17th Birthday, Hanamichi. Welcome to your DATING GAME

Concerned for his friend's eerie silence, Mito went beside Hanamichi and gently shook him. "Oi, Hanamichi. Are you ok?"

Wakened from his stupor, the redhead grabbed his friend by the collar and menacingly growled, "What have you done this time, Youhei?"

The former gangster actually felt fear when he saw fire blazing in Hanamichi's brown eyes and was about to sputter something incoherent when Hikoichi suddenly went beside the podium.

"Will you let me explain it to you, Sakuragi-san?" Hikoichi asked cautiously.

Hanamichi glanced suspiciously back and forth from Mito and Hikoichi before asking, "What is Hikoichi's involvement in this, Youhei?"

Before Mito could even answer, "I am your host." Hikoichi cheerfully announced.

"Host?" Hanamichi repeated dumbstruck as he unconsciously let go of Mito's collar.

Once freed, Mito did not give a second thought to distance himself from his friend and went to stand beside the friendly face of Shohoku's ex-vice captain on the sidelines.

"Well, Mito, I guess Sakuragi was not as receptive as you thought he would be, right?"

Mito turned towards the smiling senior and said, "No, Kogure-san."

"Whose idea is this anyway?" Mitsui questioned, draping a casual arm over the spectacled boy's shoulder.

"Youhei's!" chimed all three remaining Sakuragi Gundan who were wise enough to have stayed far from their fiery friend.

Dark blue eyes turned to glare at his co-conspirators before saying, "It is OUR idea!" He corrected.

Seeing that their friend was getting vexed, Yuji stepped in and added his two cents. "It's our way of making up for last year's disaster."

"What disaster?" Ayako asked, closely followed by Miyagi.

Takamiya shook his head, "We'd rather not say it, Ayako-san."

Miyagi snorted, "Cowards!" Then he asked, "Okay, you tell me how this setup will make up for last year's so-called disaster?"

Mito glanced at his redheaded friend over at the podium and smiled a little when he saw the boyish face in deep concentration over whatever Hikoichi was telling him. He and his three friends hoped that Hanamichi would like their surprise for him, though part of it was designed as a joke. In its entirety, the whole setup was meant to aid the birthday boy in something that they've assumed the latter was aching to have for the past year.

Sighing, Mito returned his attention to the slightly shorter guy and said, "We want Hanamichi to pick the perfect guy for a date on his birthday."

For a moment, Mito's explanation was received with death silence and then… Miyagi and Mitsui's twin eruption of laughter almost made him regret sharing that particular bit of information. "Oi, will the two of you tone it down a bit? I don't want Hanamichi getting wind of the situation before Hikoichi ends his explanation." He reproached, thankful that the redhead did not seem to have heard the outburst. But it did attract the attention of nearby visitors like Jin, Koshino, and Hanagata.

Being the outspoken in the trio, Koshino approached them and queried, "What's so funny?"

Mitsui and Miyagi did not stop laughing till a fan appeared out of nowhere and connected with their heads. "Will you stop laughing?" Ayako admonished.

"Ouch!" Both players exclaimed.

"Aya-chan!" Miyagi cried, rubbing his head.

"Oi, Kogure! Will you tell this feisty girlfriend of yours to stop hitting people with that fan of hers? She'll soon send someone to the hospital with that thing." Mitsui warned, also rubbing his head.

Kogure just laughed and wrapped an arm around his girlfriend then said, "I'll try Mitsui."

The three non-Shohoku players were obviously taken aback with that little bit of information and were not hesitant in showing their surprise. Jin raised one eyebrow, Hanagata rubbed his chin while he looked at the two, and Koshino voiced out his surprise by saying, "The two of you?"

Ayako blushed and inched closer to his equally abashed boyfriend before nodding her head.

"And here I thought all Shohoku players are gay." Hanagata commented, and chuckled a little when he saw Shohoku's point guard do a double take.

"I am not gay, Hanagata-san! Mitsui is a definite homo; Sakuragi just came to light and Rukawa…" stealing a glance at the seemingly asleep Shohoku ace at the podium, "… Well, Rukawa is Rukawa; the others I really don't know. But I am definitely not GAY!" Miyagi vehemently ended, frustrated at being branded as such. The people around him went silent and he was about to heave a sigh of relief that he had convinced them of his sexuality when …

"Not yet, Ryota-kun. But I promise you this… I'll make you the most delicious gay guy before the week is through." Mitsui drawled from behind, his arms holding him encased within his muscular frame.

Miyagi was speechless. He couldn't think rationally with Mitsui's arms tightly wrapped around him and to his dismay, he felt that he actually liked the feel of those arms around him. Utterly confused, Miyagi squirmed his little body out from that embrace and stammered, "You… You… Hentai! Stay away from me!"

Mitsui's blue eyes glinted mischievously when he saw the short adorable mushroom head cower behind Ayako and Kogure. "You can run Miyagi but you can't hide. You'll be mine, and that's a promise!"

"Yeah, you go, Mitchy." Sakuragi's Gundan cheered.

Koshino snorted and shook his head, "You guys are really something."

"Anyway, why were you guys laughing earlier?"

Jin's offhand question brought the group back to the earlier conversation and Mitsui gave the visitors a huge grin. "Well Mito here expected Sakuragi to pick a date on his birthday from those four." He revealed, gesturing towards the podium where the redhead sat on one side, and hidden from his view were the other four sitting on the other side.

Obviously puzzled, "Why is that funny?" Hanagata asked.

That wiped off Mitsui's grin and was replaced by an incredulous expression instead. "You don't think it's funny?" He asked.

"No, I don't," Hanagata answered.

"I think it's romantic," Jin added.

"I was surprised at first. But with that hentai…" Koshino trailed, his eyes darting towards his spiky-haired teammate sitting beside three others over at the podium hidden from the redhead's view.

"Er… Mitsui, why did you think it was funny?"

Mitsui shook his head to clear the incredulous expression from his face before he answered Hanagata's question. "You guys definitely do not know Sakuragi if you even think it was anything but funny."

It was Jin's turn to ask, "Why?"

"Because Hanamichi wouldn't pick those guys in normal circumstances, that's why." Miyagi imparted standing beside a close-mouthed Mito as a way of distancing himself from Mitsui. Mito, on the other hand, had his attention focused on his redheaded friend.

"Then why choose them?" Inquired Koshino, mystified.

"Ask them," Miyagi replied, pointing to Sakuragi's friends.

But before Koshino could raise his question, he saw Mito and the others rushing over to the podium and he almost ran himself when he saw Hikoichi being lifted an inch over the ground by Sakuragi.

"I will not do it!" Sakuragi growled.

"Sakuragi-san!" Hikoichi sputtered, almost out-of-breath from the redhead's strangling hold. Luckily for him, Mito came rushing to his aid.

While Yuji, Noma, and Takamiya tried to restrain the redhead from getting off his stool, Mito dragged the recovering Hikoichi a little away from the former and asked, "What did you tell him?"

"That he'll be having a date tomorrow by answering a few questions." Hikoichi explained through shortage of breath.

"You just got into that now? What were you guys talking all this time?" Mito asked in curiosity.

Rubbing his neck, "I had to explain my part on this first before getting to that."

Mito slapped his forehead. He had thought that Hikoichi had successfully explained the whole setup to Hanamichi already, seeing that they've been talking for a long time. But his friend's latest reaction told him that if a miracle don't step up and help calm the redhead down, then their plans would be ruined.

As he watch his friends hold Hanamichi down, Mito racked his brains for anything that could convince his best friend to take part in the so-called dating game. Suddenly, he heard a voice from the other side of the podium saying, "Oi, red monkey, afraid that you might actually pick someone you like?"

That got the birthday boy's attention, "WHAT?"

A low chuckle, "I can not believe that Sakuragi Hanamichi is actually afraid of doing something."

Hanamichi stopped in his struggle and in a surprised voice he said, "Kiyota? Fujima?"

"Me too, Hanamichi-kun."

Sakuragi's eyes went wide like saucers as a vision of a megawatt smile belonging to the always-cheerful face of Ryonan's ace came into his mind, "Sendoh." He groaned. His friends have outdone themselves this time and they did not only manage to get one, but three-living/breathing human being into their sick game.

And they expect me to play it!

Frustrated, Hanamichi did the only thing he knew on how to release his pent up anger… a head butt. After three loud thuds, Yuji, Noma, and Takamiya all lied on the ground with a huge lump on their foreheads.

Mito was about to say something to his friend when a deep somber voice belonging to the fourth and last candidate uttered, "Do'aho."

Just one word, one familiar word from a familiar voice and Hanamichi was suddenly subdued. The crowd, who was amusedly watching the redhead's normal show of eccentricity, waited for his usual comeback. But all they heard was a squeak of a voice sputtering, "Kitsune?"

"Who else do you think would represent Shohoku, 'Aho?" was Rukawa's flippant comeback.

"Represent?"

"Yes, Sakuragi-san. If you would have let me finish, then I would have told you that your choice for a date would be a representative from Kainan, Shoyo, Ryonan and Shohoku." Hikoichi babbled, glad to have finally finished his supposed 'introductory' speech for the redhead.

Sakuragi's mind whirled. Ok, not three. Four. Four choices and Rukawa?

"Hanamichi-kun, I wish you would reconsider and let this dating game start. I'm just itching to win this thing." Sendoh cheerily declared, much to the annoyance of a certain someone whose pair of glaring blue eyes was currently directed to the smiling spiky-haired player.

"Well, Hanamichi?" Mito questioned.

"Go for it, Sakuragi-kun!" Cheered Haruko.

"Do'aho, make up your mind already. I still have other things to do after 'winning' this."

"You sure are sure of yourself, Rukawa."

"Like you are, Sendoh," Fujima pointed.

Sakuragi listened and would have blurted out his customary response but held himself back. Something about the kitsune's words made him make up his mind. Facing Hikoichi and Mito, he nodded his head in compliance.

Loud claps resounded around the gym as the small crowd gathered cheerfully thanked that the 'game' was about to start. Sakuragi just ignored the loud cheer and settled on his stool. "So, Hikoichi, better tell me how to play this thing then."

Hikoichi beamed happily and took his ever-ready notes in preparation for the game. "I'll be asking you 10 questions and you have to answer them in all honesty. Then all four candidates would have to match your answers to get points. The candidate who gets the most points will be the winner and your date for tomorrow."

"That's all? 10 questions and my date will be set for tomorrow?"

Hikoichi scratched his head with the back of his pencil and muttered, "Yes."

"How would answering these questions make the winner a perfect date for me?"

"Who says it's going to be a perfect date, Hanamichi?"

Brown eyes eyed his dark-haired friend suspiciously and said, "What do you mean by that, Youhei?"

"It might not be a perfect date, Hanamichi, but he might be the perfect person for you. Besides, it will be up to you, and to whoever wins, if it will turn out to be a perfect date or not," Noma interjected before Mito could answer.

"Don't worry, Hanamichi, we have already prepped these guys and they know that it's up to one of them to make your birthday tomorrow… memorable," Yuji said, reassuring him when he saw his friend's uneasy face.

"Oh by the way, we did reserve a seat for you and your date at Danny's for dinner tomorrow," added Takamiya.

Crossing his arms over his chest, "Hmphh… It figures. Can't you guys pick a classier place than Danny's?" Sakuragi rebuked.

All four went red in the face, "Hey we're not the ones taking you out! You and your date have all day tomorrow to go wherever and do whatever you want. Let him shoulder it!" Mito explained in their defense.

"Hmphhh!"

"Can we start now please? I'm getting a cramp from sitting on this thing!" Kiyota wailed from the other side.

"Why? Your tail getting squashed by your butt?" Sakuragi gibed.

"Why you! Just wait till I win. I'll make your birthday a real day to remember." Kiyota promised with a wicked laugh.

Shit! What if he does win? That means…

Feeling a little panicky, "Hey, Youhei!" Sakuragi shouted over to his retreating friend. "Who the heck picked these guys?"

"We didn't! They volunteered." Mito yelled, settling to stand beside the other Shohoku players again.

"HUH?"

"Ask Hikoichi!"

Hanamichi turned to the host and waited. "Hikoichi?"

"When I heard that your friend's were planning this, I volunteered to scout for guys who'll play the game."

"Yeah, we never thought you were that lovable, Hanamichi," Yuji hooted from the sidelines.

"You mean the substitute, the monkey, and smiley all volunteered?"

Hikoichi nodded.

"And Rukawa?"

"The same."

"Speak of the devil. I think we better start, Hikoichi. Rukawa's already drooling over Sendoh's shoulder though I don't think Sendoh's one to complain," Fujima commented with a laugh.

Stupid Kitsune!

"Hey it's not everyday I get this pale beauty this close," Sendoh countered.

"HENTAI!" Koshino yelled to his teammate.

"Jealous, Hiroaki?"

Koshino blushed and roared, "in your dreams, Sendoh."

Hikoichi was about to wake Rukawa up when the crowd from Shohoku all screamed, "NO!" Surprised, he immediately withdrew his hand and gave Sendoh a questioning glance.

"Not me! I don't want to mar my face with a punch from this violent guy."

Feeling a bit annoyed, "WAKE UP, RUKAWA!" Hanamichi hollered, effectively waking the slumbering fox much to Sendoh's disappointment.

"Is he awake, Hikoichi?"

The short Ryonan player just nodded his head, still a bit shaken.

"Well let's get this show on the road. What do I do?" Hanamichi asked, rubbing his hands together in a show of readiness.

"Use the whiteboard beside you to answer the questions." He explained before turning to the other four, "No cheating guys and remember, no changing or copying answers. Ok?" Seeing all four heads nod, Hikoichi took out his notepad again and started.

"Ok, Question number 1…"

For a while, the gymnasium was hushed to silence and only a few 'ohhhs' from the crowd, a few brash comments from Hanamichi, some snide remarks from the four candidates, and Hikoichi's voice were the only sounds heard.

At the sidelines, "Who prepared these questions, Mito?" Mitsui asked after hearing the 5th question about Sakuragi's favorite food.

"Hmnn… the four of us. Why?"

"How would a question like - his favorite food, color, shoe size, past time and the number of times he was rejected - make the winner the correct guy?"

Mito smiled tenderly while he gazed at his best friend. "It won't." But the last one will.

"Mitsui, I think the better question is, how could they possibly have known the answers? I mean, Fujima and Kiyota don't even know Sakuragi that well."

"Kogure-san is right. Just look at their points. Still tied. No one has missed a question yet," Miyagi noted.

"That's because we gave questions 1 - 9 to Hikoichi to reveal," Mito enlightened them.

"WHAT!" Both Miyagi and Mitsui exclaimed. "How would that help carrot top find his 'supposed' correct guy?"

"Well, it'll show that the person who gets the most points probably took a lot of time and effort to know the answers. I mean, that alone will show how much the winner wants to win and be Hanamichi's date, won't it?"

"Well at the rate this is going, we'll have a four way tie till question number 9," Ayako remarked.

The small group turned to the scoreboard and noticed that the score was still tied at 7 points each.

"Wow, that redhead of yours sure is lucky to have four guys wanting to date him that bad."

"Getting jealous, Koshino? I think Sendoh was on to something earlier," Jin surprisingly teased.

"Jin-san!" Koshino's expression went incredulous aside from the apparent redness on his cheeks.

"Ha ha ha… That contradicts your perception that only Shohoku high have gay guys, Hanagata. Ryonan has one as well," Mitsui stated with mirth.

"I hope you're not forgetting someone else, Mitsui-senpai. I think Sendoh's really serious in dating Sakuragi. His sunny attitude seemed to have taken a vacation."

Mitsui returned his gaze to the five people sitting at the podium and true enough, Sendoh was indeed looking a bit peeved. "You're right, Ayako."

"Hmmpphhh… Like I said, Sendoh is a just a big hentai! He's been after that redhead and that pale-faced Rukawa ever since he met them. But the redhead seemed to have taken his attention more."

"That's true. Hanamichi's been spending much time with Sendoh lately." Mito said.

Yuji nodded his head in agreement. "Yeah, he even acquired a liking for fishing."

Kogure couldn't help smile at that. "That's nice. At least now we know that Sendoh really has his reasons for wanting to date Sakuragi." After some thought, "But what about Fujima and Kiyota?"

Hanagata smiled before replying, "That's a long story, but to cut it short… Sakuragi managed to catch Fujima's attention ever since he called him 'substitute'. His ego was not able to accept that there's a basketball player in Kanagawa who actually didn't know him, even if he is an amateur." He paused for a while, remembering that particular moment when the redhead had commented on why Shoyo had let a substitute enter the game. After scanning the expressions on the other's faces, he was glad to know that the ex-Shohoku players remembered the incident as well. "After that, Fujima just followed Sakuragi's career and commented on his fast improvement. You could say that his annoyance turned to admiration and this game may be Kenji's way of getting to know him better."

"At least Fujima's intentions are somewhat noble," Koshino grumbled.

"Well Kiyota's intention is different. I think he wants to win so he could torment Sakuragi on his birthday," Jin confessed, looking surprisingly peeved.

Having overlooked the expression on Jin's face, "I think much like our fox over there. I wonder why he even joined. Just look at him, all bored and ready to fall asleep. It's amazing that he got the answers right up to this point," Mitsui commented, noticing Rukawa's countenance at the podium.

"That's where you're wrong, Mitsui-san. I think we'll get to know his reason just right after this 9th question," Mito cheerfully corrected.

Though puzzled, Mitsui and the rest of the group returned their attention to the game and were in time to hear the 9th question.

"Who did Sakuragi-san unintentionally spent his last year's birthday with?" Hikoichi asked.

"Huh? Even I don't know that one," Miyagi mumbled, tilting his head to the side in an act of trying to remember something.

"But I think they do." Haruko voiced out. She was silently listening earlier and inwardly prayed that whoever wins truly deserved to be with Sakuragi on his birthday. But her surprise when the answers were shown was not lone felt because she suddenly heard in take of breaths as Miyagi gasped, "Rukawa?"

"He spent last year with Rukawa?" Kogure couldn't help expressing his surprise either.

Sakuragi's Gundan all had the same expression of sheepish guilt when all chimed, "Our fault."

"How the heck did that happen?"

"Well… We kinna gave Hanamichi a day of splurging in leisure at this five star hotel in Kyoto locked in a penthouse," Mito informed them.

"How did Rukawa ended up with Sakuragi-kun?"

"The Rukawa's were the ones occupying the penthouse and their only son was left alone that specific day because his parents had to return to America that same day."

Mitsui laughed and went over to the shorter guy to playfully jab him on the shoulder. "That's way too wicked a prank, Mito. Are you sure you guys are Sakuragi's friends? Weren't they injured?"

Mito chuckled before answering, "No, Mitsui-san, no one was surprisingly injured."

"We were!" Yuji, Noma, and Takamiya clipped, rubbing different parts of their bodies where the raven head had delivered his revenge.

"Well it seems that they are still tied," Jin stated.

"How did they know what?" Ayako wondered.

"They sure are a resourceful bunch." Hanagata remarked.

"Hmmpphh… Sendoh just used Hikoichi's information, I bet. That guy is so lazy to even be bothered about researching," Koshino grumbled. "Or maybe, he asked Sakuragi during those times they were fishing," he stated after some thought.

"Don't worry, the last question will decide the winner of the game. Not only did we not give out the information but only Hanamichi knows the answer to this one, and the four of us are just itching to know about it."

All ears perked to Hikoichi's next question.

"This is the last question guys, so listen up. If given his own choice, who would Sakuragi-san choose to be his date for his birthday tomorrow?"

"Remember, Hanamichi, you have to answer that one in all honesty!" Mito yelled.

The redhead just threw a baleful glance over the general direction of his friends.

Kiyota, Fujima, and Sendoh's pen hang in mid-air for a moment before each scribbled a name on their boards in hopes that they have written the correct name.

"Well this is it guys, turn over your boards and show your answers."

All three boards showed the name 'Haruko' while one board clearly had the words 'ME'.

"Rukawa sure is spunky enough to have written that," Mitsui sniggered.

Haruko blushed but she knew that her friend wouldn't be writing her name. It had taken sometime to get over the fact that her loud friend has had a crush on her since 1st year but that was all over now.

"Sakuragi-san, show us your answer please."

Sakuragi drew in a deep breath before showing his answer. Well it's now or never. Hope it'll be ok. Unlike the others, he was not allowed to know how each candidate was faring, thus he could only hope that his answer would make a difference.

A deafening silence took over the whole gym, as no one dared believe that the redhead had actually written the name; no one but Sakuragi's Gundan.

"I knew it!" Mito exclaimed, breaking the silence thus jarring Hikoichi back to his job.

"Well I guess we have a winner." Hikoichi announced and went to where the coupon for Danny's was lying on the table. He picked it up and strolled to the winner. "Rukawa-san, congratulations," he said, handing the coupon to him.

Kiyota and Fujima's expression were that of slight surprise, amazement and of something else whilst Sendoh undoubtedly had jealousy written all over his. "You're a sly one, Rukawa. I guess you made your move last year, am I right?"

Rukawa gave him his famous icy stare before clearly stating, "You won't have him, Sendoh. He's MINE."

With that, Rukawa casually strolled to where his nervous redhead was waiting and smiled when a pair of honey brown eyes locked with his own. "Hana-kun…" He softly called, his pencil drawn lips curving to form a smile reserved for his 'aho alone.

"Kaede…" Sakuragi's face was a picture of happiness upon seeing his secret boyfriend's loving blue gaze and he showed just how much when the latter got near enough to him.

Mito and the others were whooping in joy that their hunch was right while the others stood gaping at the two 'now seniors' hugging over at the podium.

Rukawa slowly unwrapped his arms over his jubilant boyfriend to stare tenderly into his eyes, "Did you think I'd loose the game, Hana?" He queried, caressing the redhead's face with the back of his hand.

Hana just nodded his head, no need to voice his worry that his date might not turn out to be his boyfriend and grasped one of Rukawa's hands in his.

"Do'aho!" Rukawa lovingly chastised, rubbing their noses together. "I won't let anybody spend a whole day with you let alone your birthday."

Sakuragi felt elated with that knowledge and rested his forehead onto the other. "Is that why you volunteered?"

"Yes."

In a small voice, "But I thought you wanted our relationship to be kept a secret till you're ready?"

The tinge of sadness in his boyfriend's voice did not elude Rukawa. He had remembered Hana's reluctance in keeping their relationship a secret when all the latter wanted to do was to shout it to the world. But, being a private person made him fear the attention that their relationship would cause from the outside world. He had always disliked people butting in his life, and the encumbrance of having to answer questions about his relationship with the redhead might prove to be too much for him to handle, thus he opted for them to keep it a secret for a while. However, after almost a year of secrecy, he gradually admitted the fact that the burden of having to hide something like his affection for his teammate proved to be much more tedious than to ward off someone's curiosity about them. Nevertheless, his decision to make their relationship known in public was more in the form of a spiky-haired player who had managed to be his boyfriend's shadow over the past months. It took quite a lot of his time, not to mention many sleepless afternoons, to follow the two wherever they went and it took most of his energy just to control the urge of pushing Sendoh off the bridge whenever they went fishing. His Hana explained that his acceptance was only to throw off any hints about their relationship and it made sense… at first, but afterwards, it turned to be more of a nuisance for him. Thus, when Mito approached him about their plan for Sakuragi's birthday, he didn't even think twice before volunteering himself and vowed that he would win the game and have their relationship out in the open.

Slowly Rukawa pulled back and used his free hand to level his beloved's face with his, "I love you, Hana-kun. I don't need to hide it anymore."

Brown eyes turned misty and the love that shone on them was clearly identifiable, "Kaede, I…" His words were cut off when Rukawa suddenly fused his lips onto his and they shared a kiss for everyone to see, but they were oblivious to it. All they could sense, all they could feel was each other; their hearts beating as one, their lips enjoying each other's taste and their arms wrapped tightly around the other.

Through the haze, a loud cough from behind Rukawa broke their intimate moment and both pulled back. "Well Hanamichi, how did you like our present for you?" Mito asked in a tone of triumph.

"Youhei, did you know about us?"

"We have our suspicions. Especially since you were so tight lipped about that incident last year," Yuji confirmed for the four of them.

"Yeah, we could never miss the sudden change in your attitude either, especially towards him." Takamiya added, pointing to the fox-eyed boy.

Hanamichi stepped down the podium and slugged his friends in a playful manner but when he reached Mito, "Thanks, Youhei. This is the best present you guys have given me." He said, and hugged his best friend in gratitude. Then as if he had remembered something, "Oh yeah. As for last year's, Rukawa and I both give our sincerest thanks." He whispered over his best friend's ear.

Mito felt happy, not because their theory was right but more because of the knowledge that his best friend had at last found someone to love and call his own. "Be happy, Hanamichi, that's what we wish for you on your birthday tomorrow."

Close to tears, "I am, Youhei. More than you'll ever know."

"Hana, I think it's time we go. There are still a lot to be planned for your birthday celebration tomorrow."

Brown eyes lit up, "You mean there's still more?"

"You'll know tomorrow, Hanamichi. Go with your boyfriend. Leave everything to us," Noma replied.

With a nod, Sakuragi sprinted to where his boyfriend was already making his way out of the gym. Upon reaching Rukawa's side, he was slightly surprise to feel a hand entwining with his own. The sweet act made him look questioningly at his boyfriend but he was sidetracked when he heard teasing and cheering coming from his teammates. "Shut up! Get yourselves your own boyfriend," he hollered, blushing like mad.

"Take care of him, Rukawa!" Sendoh shouted after them. He still couldn't believe that the sly fox outsmarted him.

Once outside, he peered through Rukawa's expression. "You ok, Kitsune?"

"It's ok, Hana. I don't mind." Rukawa assured and squeezed the hand he was holding.

"Hey, Kaede, what do you have in mind for my birthday?" The redhead gleefully asked after they exited the school grounds.

"Tomorrow's soon enough to know, Hanamichi."

Shaking his head, "No way. I can't wait till tomorrow. Can't I have a hint? Come on… even just a tiny clue or something" Hanamichi persisted.

"No!"

"Please?"

"No!"

Frustrated that his boyfriend seemed to be adamant in keeping him in the dark, he tried changing tactic. "I thought you love me!" He uncharacteristically pouted.

That made Rukawa whirl around to face Sakuragi. "I do! That has got nothing to do with it."

Eyes downcast, "Then why not tell me?"

Rukawa sighed. "Because it's a surprise."

"Will I like it?"

The raven head took his beloved's face between his hands and looked directly into honey brown eyes. "Will having me in it make you like it?"

Breathless with the way Rukawa looked at him, he mumbled, "It definitely would."

Rukawa gave him a smile that could match Sendoh's and in a low voice, "You don't have to worry then, because you would definitely love your present tomorrow. I promise." He said, kissing the tip of the redhead's nose.

Though he exactly did not get the information he wanted, the promise of what's to come the next day brought a sense of satisfaction to him which made him nod his head in acquiescence. After he gave his handsome boyfriend a chaste kiss, he entwined their hands together and laughingly dragged the older boy towards his house where they could spend quality time together… until his birthday.

--- THE END ---

A/N: This fic was supposed to be a prologue in lieu of Hanamichi's birthday but... the keyboard made it into a very long fic ^^;; By the way, special thanks to Seph for edting some parts for me.

Started on March 28, 2002
Finished on April 01, 2002
Edited on October 18, 2002