How to Conquer Kanagawa

Kainan's championship streak in Kanagawa ended during Maki's leadership. They lost not once, but twice. It vexes him. No, scratch that; it infuriates him. It is the biggest blow one can ever have, especially after winning second in the Interhigh just last season. Everyone is expecting them to go back to the Interhigh and give another hurrah on the national trophy. Qualifying was never even questioned.

Was it overconfidence?

Maki replays the matches against Shohoku and Ryonan in his head, and he can say yes, maybe during the first few minutes, but they all turned serious after they lagged 15 points at most. Normally, they could have caught up, delivered their Titan's justice, and won, but these games were different.

The only thing Maki could pinpoint, and the one that honestly infuriates him the most, is the other teams' improvements - the improvement of the aces of each team, to be exact.

Their first loss was against Shohoku. They were ready for a tough fight; it was, after all, the team that beat Sannoh. Even though Shohoku did not qualify for the Interhigh top 8, everyone was also eying them. Sakuragi was back from rehabilitation just in time for the finals, Mitsui was said to repeat his third year in high school and therefore not needing to get ready for any university examinations, Miyagi was their new captain, Rukawa was back from the All-Japan Basketball camp. Kainan was prepared for all that.

What they were not prepared for was the monster that Rukawa had become.

Rukawa got the first two points at the start of the game with a fastbreak ending with a simple lay-up. Nothing fancy. He gets the fourth point by doing a jump shot. And he continued getting points and more points and not giving anyone much chance to score. By the first three minutes, Shohoku was leading 17-2 and Coach Takatoh had to order Kiyota and Jin to double team him. They were able to stop Rukawa from scoring, but not from assisting. He wouldn't even look for his teammates; it was like he had an eye above the whole court and could see who was free. When they became wary of his assists, he used the opportunity to drive to the basket and make crazy shots. He shifted from assisting to scoring as needed, and Shohoku widened the lead further. Takatoh ordered Maki to help Kiyota and Jin. It simmered down his performance.

Maki frankly looked forward to the second half, remembering that Rukawa had collapsed during their game last season. Rukawa did more in this game's first half, so he should have worn himself out more. Maki turned to the basketball monster he was known for, and soon he and Rukawa were exchanging baskets. But the wearing-down-and-getting-Rukawa-out-of-the-game Maki was aiming for did not happen. Instead, it was Kiyota, their rookie who was guarding Rukawa since the start of the game, who got injured and pulled out of the game. Shohoku won 110-99. Rukawa got 48 points, 15 points from the three-point line, 15 assists, with a 95% field goal percentage, with Maki guarding him half the time. Monster.

Next match was against Ryonan.

This, Maki can admit openly, they had taken for granted. As far as most people are concerned, Ryonan is now all about the ace and captain Sendoh. Well, they were somehow right, but Sendoh also has some pretty useful teammates. There was Fukuda, the offensive player who was a little weak on defense, and two previously unknown benchwarmers. One had developed terrific defense, the other turned to a deadly three-pointer who shot 65% from the three-point line during the game. Boy, how had Sendoh used them. He was making passes left and right and hadn't really bothered scoring much for the first half of the game. Kainan was in the lead, but Ryonan never really trailed off far behind.

The second half of the game was different. Maki started to attack Sendoh seriously, and the defense of the whole Kainan team got tighter too. Kainan's lead widened. When Sendoh saw that his teammates were losing spirit, he attacked the whole Kainan team on his own in the same explosive quality Rukawa had - jump shots, dunks, drawing fouls intentionally, basically doing all the work. He attacked with so much passion that he got Ryonan back to the game and raised the whole team spirit such that his teammates became usable again. He is one amazing captain, and Maki would have praised him if it weren't for the fact that they were playing against each other and his team was beating Kainan. Game ends with Ryonan victory, 98-94. Sendoh scored 36 points, 11 rebounds and 22 assists with Maki guarding him the whole time. Monster.

And just like that, Kainan was disqualified from the interhigh.

The stadium was packed when both teams went against each other. It was the match that decided who Kanagawa's new champion is. Needless to say, both aces were matched against each other. And this was when Maki was most amazed or infuriated. Probably both. Both aces were able to contain each other. Sendoh knew exactly when Rukawa was faking, and Rukawa knew to whom Sendoh would pass the ball. It pretty much resulted to them having a one-on-one every time one got the ball. It didn't hurt Shohoku as much as it did to Ryonan since Rukawa had teammates to depend on to make a play. Ryonan, however, depended on Sendoh's play, and since Rukawa can read to whom Sendoh would pass the ball, they didn't have much done. Coach Taoka was forced to take Sendoh out of the point guard position so someone else can make the plays, but the guy was honestly no match against Miyagi. Ryonan tried to make up for the 16 points lag; Sendoh, free from making plays for the team, went all-out. The damage has been done, though. The game ended with Shohoku's victory, 68-63. Rukawa had 22 points and 1 assist; Sendoh had 20 points and 5 assists.

Kainan had to stay during the awarding ceremony, as much as it pained them. The MVP was awarded to 1st runner-up Ryonan's captain Sendoh, much to the chagrin of champion Shohoku's captain. Maki sneaked a peek at Rukawa and saw an irritated glare, but it was not as much anger as he expected. He didn't really know, he decided, the boy could have been swearing inside while maintaining that non-chalant face he always wore. The first five were Sendoh, Rukawa, Miyagi, Fukuda, and Mitsui. Sakuragi was fuming by the sides; but one of the managers consoled him by saying that he could have been part of the first five, too, had he returned earlier from his rehab. It seemed to placate the redhead.

The teams disperse after that. Kainan doesn't really want to hang around anymore, but Jin is missing his cellphone and they have to wait for him. After ten minutes of still no Jin, Maki goes off to look for Jin and maybe help look for the cellphone. He wanders all around the stadium to look for his teammate. He passes by Shohoku with the still-fuming Miyagi and an annoyed Mitsui who announces that they are leaving Rukawa behind if he doesn't fucking show up by 5 fucking minutes. A smug Sakuragi says that the kitsune is probably fuming since Sendoh won the MVP. Miyagi suggests that he probably dozed off somewhere. By the end of the corridor is a shouting Coach Taoka looking for his team's captain while being surrounded by players trying to calm him down. One of the Ryonan players starts running around to look for their captain. Maki honestly feels annoyed. If this is how the aces who replaced him and Fujima will behave, then Kanagawa's damned.

All the walking around made him thirsty. He spots a vending machine and approaches it, only to notice that the Shoyo captain is approaching it as well.

"Yo." Fujima greeted with a wave.

"Yo." He replies. He lets Fujima use the vending machine first.

Fujima nods gratefully and inspects the vending machine. "No Pocari." He murmured.

"None?" Maki asks as he approaches the vending machine. He was hoping for a Pocari too.

"Yeah. There's another vending machine upstairs, there might be one there." Fujima says. He heads to the direction of the stairs.

Maki, after a pause of a few seconds, decides to follow. "I didn't know there was a vendo upstairs."

"Yeah, it's pretty discreet, so there's probably Pocari." Fujima says.

There was a pretty awkward silence after. He and Fujima don't really interact outside the courts. But Fujima breaks the silence with something that the both of them have been thinking of. "Both Sendoh and Rukawa have improved tremendously, haven't they?"

"Yeah." He agrees. "I know they would replace us, but I was hoping they would do it after we left."

Fujima smiles at that. Shoyo lost all games in the finals. It was probably devastating for him.

As they near the stairs, they hear a familiar voice laughing. Both of them stop at the sudden sound. "Hey, that's better than having your guard open every time you fake! How many people do you need to hear it from before you start working on it? I mean, even Maki noticed!"

Maki's interest piqued. He goes up the stairs as quietly as he could; Fujima follows suit.

It was Sendoh and Rukawa, standing side by side beside the vending machine. Each has a Pocari in hand.

"How is bad footwork better? You almost slipped thrice today, do'aho." Rukawa retorts.

"Fine. We'll work on footwork next. But really, how do you work with unguarded fakes? They seem more like bad habits to me." Sendoh asks. He turns to Rukawa, who shrugs. "More one-on-one's, I guess. I'll tell you every time I notice your guard's down again."

"We've done that before." Rukawa says.

"Well, we'll have to continue doing it. Unless you have another idea in mind." Sendoh says. He takes one last gulp at his Pocari and shoots it in a wastebasket a few feet away.

Rukawa beside him shrugs again.

"So that's why." Fujima whispers beside Maki. Maki has the same comment.

Sendoh suddenly smirks. "I think you're doing this on purpose. So I'd have to look out for your unguarded fakes and I'd concentrate less on the game, then you'd have a higher chance of winning against me."

"Dream on." Rukawa glares at Sendoh.

"Really? Because the last time I checked, I won the MVP." Sendoh continues his smirk. He was obviously teasing the younger one.

Rukawa continues glaring at Sendoh as he starts losing his cool. "They gave it to you because you're older, do'aho."

"Evidence says otherwise. You have yet to win a one-on-one against me without me looking out for you unguarded fakes."

"Fuck you." Rukawa sends his most murderous glare yet.

And suddenly, Sendoh pins Rukawa to the wall. "Fuck me?" He whispers to Rukawa's ear. Rukawa instantly blushes.

"Get off, do'aho. We're in a public place." Rukawa says, but makes no effort to push Sendoh away from him.

"Pubic place?" Sendoh starts nibbling on Rukawa's ear.

"Pervert. If someone gets a Po-" Rukawa freezes as his eyes lock with Maki's. A half-second after, he pushes Sendoh with a force so great that Sendoh would have ended up sitting on the floor, had the wall not caught him.

"Kaede, ouch! Why-" Sendoh finally follows Rukawa's gaze and sees both Maki and Fujima. He is also frozen for a second before he greets them. "Yo, Maki-san, Fujima-san. Looking for Pocari?"

"Yeah." Maki is the first to recover. Beside him, Fujima is still blushing and speechless.

"You're in luck. There are still three cans in there. We were, um..." Sendoh scratches the back of his head.

"Leaving." Rukawa finishes for Sendoh. He passes by Sendoh and Maki and Fujima and goes downstairs without pausing.

"Uh, yeah. Bye." Sendoh waves a goodbye before rushing off downstairs and running after a flushed Rukawa.

They leave a still-blushing and still-speechless Fujima with a Maki who can't believe he never thought of that before.

-END-

A late Senru fic :3

Edited 8/13: Edited some of Maki's narrative and fixed some timeline errors :3