Thank you for waiting! Special thanks to those who gave a bit more of their time by telling me their thoughts!

By the way, I revamped the first five chapters a few weeks ago. I reread the story, you see, to actually be able to write this chapter. I cringed too many times I had to do something! I only have time to do the first five chapters though. I hope it would be better, though I am afraid I didn't proofread it enough.

Also, a bit of Sendoh here! Not much in this chapter though, but I'm leading to more!

Special Note: I'm crediting one of the ideas here regarding Yohei to Nero Claudius! Hope you're here!

DISCLAIMER: I WISH I own Slam Dunkand Kawamura Takashi from Prince of Tennis.


...


CHAPTER 17: Proposition

SHOHOKU HIGH

Her mother's flight got delayed again, which unfortunately caused her sour mood. By whatever logical rules that run her mind, a sour mood meant hyperactivity for a fight, which in turn she equated to hypersensitivity.

That was the reason, she guessed, that Rukawa—despite all that stiffness of his—was actually hungry. "You haven't eaten breakfast, have you?" She asked. They were currently walking to morning practice, meeting at the school gate by chance.

The Kitsune did not grace her with a response, though she just shrugged it off. "Well, at least Haruko-chan's bento will be more appreciated." He never had complimented the other girl directly after all, this ungrateful bastard. Still, he should have eaten breakfast—the most important meal of the day, which he should know since he's an athlete. Maya-chan would've shoved the food in his mouth—

"Maya-chan." She uttered as she realized a possibility. Her eyebrows furrowed and met his sea-colored eyes. He nodded to confirm her thoughts.

"Ill." Was all he said, though she really didn't expect much. The confirmation, however, was enough to keep her still for a while, almost as still as the human ice block himself. "How is she?" she asked. "Where is she?"

"In the house," was all he said at first, but expounded upon seeing her worried expression. "Dad said to watch her progress. If it gets worse, I'll take her to the hospital."

"Your parents still aren't home?" She recalled the video conversation a while back. They did say they would be back soon. Rukawa looked at her, and apparently knew what she had just been thinking.

"When they say that they mean a month." He said, clarifying, and she let out a small 'Ah', and that was that.

However, before Rukawa could walk to the gyms, she lightly held his arm before letting it go once she got his attention. "Hey, give me her number." She asked and she took out her new phone—a foldable blue one—from the inside of her skirt pocket. "The old hag gave it to me before she left."

"Don't have it." Was all Rukawa said.

"You have a phone though?"

He nodded. He did have one, though he never really bothered using it. It was rotting in his room, in fact.

"You just don't use it?"

He nodded with a shrug. At the back of her head, she wondered when they started to have civil conversations that lasted for so long, though it never really reached the forefront of her mind. Hanamichi blinked at the fact that he did not use the phone, instead. Having a phone was really convenient, not to mention it was becoming an increasing commodity. She guessed that in a few years everyone would have one.

But looking at Rukawa, she wasn't really surprised at his dismissal of technology. Not everyone was as innovative as the Tensai, after all. "Ah well, suit yourself." She said, just before inadvertently heading far from the basketball courts.

...

"Hmn." She crossed her arms and let her sharp, sharp, eyes wander around her location. She was in a gym, definitely, just not the one she knew.

It was then that she heard a familiar name being called. "Haruko!" Her ears perked, as usual, and she turned to walk to its direction. Her eyebrows furrowed when it turned into a chant, by multiple men.

"Haruko! Haruko! Haruko!" An eyebrow of apprehension rose and she carefully walked to the source. She did not have a good feeling about this, she mused as she trudged closer to the source. And sure enough, within a few steps she proved herself right.

What the—

What the heck was a group of white robed teenage-men doing throwing each other to the ground doing while chanting Haruko-chan's name? Her mouth opened in shock when she saw multiple photos of Haruko-chan pasted on the wall—she did not process how cute they were, not really—because WHAT THE HECK IS THIS?

"What the heck is this?"

All activity in the room paused and they turned their heads to them. The leader in the middle—obvious from how he stood and supervised his people's progress—began to speak. "Who are you?" He asked, arms crossed.

"Haruko-chan's best friend." She spat out, blushing a little at that. It wasn't entirely a lie. She blushed again. Best Friends—

Focus. She willed herself. As Haruko-chan's b-b-best friend, she ought to protect her innocence! "I'm sure she didn't approve of this." She said, looking at the photos, and the leader's face hardened.

"First of all, I don't believe you. I live next door to them and I have never seen you before." He said and her eyes twitched in many different levels of annoyance. "Secondly: This is the Judo Club. How I, Judo club captain Aota Tatsuhiko, handle the trainings—and the subsequent inspiration for the work—is none of your business."

Hanamichi gritted her teeth. So… this dude was using pictures of Haruko-chan to inspire his team. She apparently had her own little fanboy club, though no one probably dared to stalk her in fear of her brother.

She understood—Haruko-chan is adorable, after all—this was not acceptable! Not without her consent!

Would Haruko-chan allow her to keep some photos?

Focus

"Does Gori—her brother—know?"

The dude's eyes twitched, telling her he atleast had some sort of fear of the holy. "Takenori has no business with my club." He said lamely, just before sending her an annoyed glare. "We're childhood friends."

So Jealous

And apparently Judo dude did not miss this.

"I saw Haruko in diapers, you know."

She almost gasped.

"Do you have pict—No. Give them!"

They stared each other down, with his team watching interestedly, while some looking fearsome, no doubt knowing about her reputation. The fearful looks gave her an idea. After all, if what he said was true he was Gori and Haruko-chan's friend, as disturbing as that was, and she was a trainer now so she couldn't exactly take things by force as much as she used to anymore.

Bummer. Would've been so much more fun, otherwise.

Though an image of what would come after passed by her head: Akagi nagging her, Haruko in despair, the gang laughing at her expense (again), Miyagi and Mitsui mocking her brute nature (shameful, shameful! they said), and Kitsune tutting in the background.

She shivered in disgust, though she managed to school her expression to a diplomatic one. "If I beat you, will you give me all of Haruko-chan's photos? And promise never to use them again?" To return it to their rightful owner of course, maybe sans maybe one or two she can paste next to her own childhood photos. She almost giggled at that thought.

The Judo dude laughed, full of himself, along with the ignorant few members of his. "And if I beat you?"

"Dunno." She said and her confidence made Judo dude forgo his arrogant smirk to frown in annoyance.

"I won't hold back because you're a girl, you know."

"You wouldn't have to." She only said and Judo dude opened his mouth to agree when one of his members butted in.

"C-Captain!" Minion said. "T-That's Hanamichi Sakuragi—an infamous delinquent! She's—She's said to be a monster!"

"Oh?" Judo dude uttered, intrigued but still confident. "But you know me, I don't believe in rumours. To see is to believe." He said gesturing for his team to clear the mat, though he looked at her attire and had the audacity to blush a little.

"You're wearing a skirt, freshman!"

"I have shorts. Don't be prude."

"What—" But Judo dude heaved out a sigh forced himself to calm. "Fine." He spat, telling her where to stand as he positioned himself a few meters apart. He bent his knees and got into position, that arrogant smirk of his now back on his face. "Don't cry, yeah?"

Hanamichi almost laughed.

.

.

"JOIN US, SAKURAGI HANAMICHI!" Judo dude yelled loudly, which was impressive given his bruise-filled face.

"Uh, No." She said as she coolly walked to the door, happily skimming through her new treasures. Treasures she would return, yeahsuresuresure, but still admire nevertheless. How can anyone be so cute? Even Mito was not this adorable as a kid.

"Are you an idiot? I'm already a trainer in the basketball team."

"Then be our trainor!"

This earned him a shoe on his face.

Still… Judo genius Aota Tatsuhiko, could not get enough.

He followed her all the way to the basketball gym (the way to which he inadvertently showed her himself), stars sparkling and cheeks red in enthusiasm and admiration. Nursing his new bruise and bump, he thought he seemed to have developed a little crush.

"I get why you're obsessed with me—I get it, who could not?—but cut it out!" She yelled stomping to the gym.

"Tatsu?" Akagi went out due to the noise, looking at him and Sakuragi.

This forced Aota's sappy mood out his system. He stood up straight and fixed his judogi, taking on a dignified stance. "Takenori."

"I'm in the process of recruiting our new mem—trainer."

"Oh?" He looked at Sakuragi, though he wasn't sure if Akagi was bemused or annoyed. "Practice is over already. You've been to the Judo club?"

"Got lost." Sakuragi made a face, before handing over the photographs to Akagi, which made Aota lose all blood on his face. "You really should stop letting him in your house, Gori."

Akagi raised a brow before looking at the things she handed to him.

He saw red.

Judo genius Aota Tatsuhiko, would receive the beating of his life that moment.

The day was relatively typical. Same routines, same trainings, same people...

Akagi Haruko, however, decided she should take more initiative to get closer to the star. Granted, she did not expect to be his girlfriend, but she did wish to know more. To be a bit closer to him than anyone else.

She blushed at what happened during morning practice.

.

.

Haruko had gathered her courage to speak with him that morning, at least to greet him good morning with a confident smile. But he was on a daze, looking around the court, and with her small size he did not see her. "Good morn—

But she was cut off when his entire body bumped into her and she was pushed backwards. His reflexes saved her, however, and by instinct his hand ended on her back and he pulled her to him, her face buried on his chest even if just for a moment.

He was strong. So strong.

Haruko felt her face heating up again.

Then Ayako did not help with that sly smile of hers and patted her head as Rukawa walked past, not acknowledging her after saying a succinct apology. "He doesn't do words."

"So how was the delivery?" The older girl asked, referring to the handkerchief.

"Uhm.. the housekeeper took it." Haruko said with a weak smile. "He did thank me for bringing it to him though." She added when Ayako stared at her worriedly. Haruko kept a strong face, even when she was once again reminded of her troubles—the towel's owner—but she steeled herself. Ayako was obviously trying to help her out. "Thank you, Ayako-san."

"No problem." She had said with a womanly grin, before adapting a more serious expression. "By the way Haruko-chan. I'm graduating soon. Aren't you interested in becoming my assistant manager?"

Haruko remembered how she gaped and blushed at the offer. Still, if she was asking because of Rukawa—"A-Ayako-san! I—"

The third-year had giggled at her reaction, patting her head to reassure her. "You're the only one who likes it enough and not just fawn over that guy. You already get here earlier than some of the players!"

.

.

Haruko closed her eyes at the memory and smiled. She had no reason to refuse.

In any case, it was lunch time now, and Haruko willed herself to know more about her crush in whatever setting she was given. Somewhere in between, when the boys (this included Sakuragi-chan) were being rowdy and her friends were amusedly watching them, she turned her head to the school's Ace and asked him what his favorite food was (silently giving in to the wonder that she could just ask him things now, without fearing of being rudely dismissed).

At this, he looked at the direction of the others, the direction of the Sakuragi gang to be precise, but his eyes seemed like it was looking far away. "Soup." He finally said, expression morphing back to the familiar stoniness. "I like soup."

Haruko pondered on how on earth she was going to put soup with her bento as she stole glances of her crush. She blinked. For some reason she felt his expression has become softer somehow, maybe even a bit sad and tired, and she only knew because she had always—always—been staring at his face.

It was then that she saw Hanamichi-chan throw (literally) several pieces of carrots to Rukawa's bentos. "Even Haruko-chan can't make me eat carrots," she said apologicetically but somehow Haruko can tell she was not telling the truth (Hanamichi's never a good lair). "But baka-kitsune will probably eat it."

"Eh?"

And he was eating it, with that blank expression on his face, but the strain that she has sensed was now completely gone.

"Kitsunes like carrots," She said as if it's general knowledge. "And also because Haruko-chan has made it."

Haruko blushed at the compliment. She was not quite sure what the mixed feelings was all about.

Still, Haruko maintained her brave face and smiled regardless.

The battle with Tsukuba was in a few days, and Gori said not to underestimate the team. Apparently the enemy captain—Godui, Genai, whatever—was an old teammate of his and Megane from their previous middle school. This team would not be nearly as easy as the previous matches, and they better prepare for a hard fight.

In any case, Hanamichi watched the team with sharp eyes, being uncharacteristically quiet as they practiced. Her eyes ended up on the then-meek Kawamura, though as he went through more and more games she noticed that even the mere prospect of holding the ball was slowly enough to send him to his Berserk-mode.

"Oi, Kawamura!"

"…Hai?"

She then sent him an evil smirk, and the meek boy shivered.

"What do you say about becoming a rebound king?"

Rukawa watched as the Idiot focused on their docile member, teaching him stances and techniques with the coach and the captain. They trained Kawamura non-stop until the end of the day, while the rest of them continued on their practice matches. He could see his improvement, and he'd silently commend the instructions the idiot gave.

His eyes lingered a little on her, before turning his attention back to the game at play.

His feet paused when he saw a member of the Ryounan team—the small one, the one always holding a notebook—who flinched under his stare. The boy quickly bowed his head and scurried off. Rukawa shrugged in the end. It wasn't like there were special techniques being displaced. Besides, they wouldn't be a strong team if they wouldn't be able to counter enemies just because they gathered data on them.

"Oi, Rukawa!"

He caught the ball with ease, easily catching up to Miyagi's fast break.

Kawamura's special training ended a little after the practice plays, and Rukawa saw that Kawamura bowed thankfully to his teachers. He then appeared to have asked something that sent some probably-annoying idea to the Idiot's head. She then took out the phone she had been bragging about. She turned her head to the courts, making him flinch.

"Oi, EVERYONE! HAHAHAH!" "This great me just realized how much I'm needed so I'll tell you how to easily contact this genius!" She stated, promptly yelling her number. "You can call me because I'm awesome like that—HAHAHAHAHHA"

He shook his head with a sigh. As if anyone would call on her.

Saturday morning came, it was rest day prior to the early morning game with Tsukubu that Sunday. Hanamichi woke up with noise in the kitchen and she trudged down, annoyed, to see the source of the sound. Sure enough, it was her gang, hanging out in the living room.

"Wassup!"

"Morning!"

"Yo!"

Which earned them a head-butt each.

"What the heck are you doing so early?" She asked in annoyance, looking at the clock. It was only eight in the morning. She wanted to sleep in, damnit!

"We never got to hang out anymore!" One said and the others nodded.

"We miss yoouuuu!"

"UGH."

She went with them to hang out in their favorite arcade, still.

Sometime during their arcade stay a few hours later, something vibrated in her pocket. She didn't really realize immediately what it was—she never did have to use it before—and she blinked when she opened her phone.

:How are you? Heard you finally got a phone. Mine's pretty new, too.

She blinked at this. She couldn't imagine anyone from Seigaku speaking with her like this. But then, who else could've had her number?

:Who are you?

:You'd know me as a guy who liked fishing and sleep.

She blinked, before gulping whatever was in her mouth and furrowed her eyebrows suspiciously. This could be a prank, she thought, and she narrowed her eyes at her gang.

"What?" Nozomi asked as he ate his hotdog, watching Ohkusu and Mito play Tekken. She then glared at the other members, one by one, who only looked puzzled and maybe a little bit scared.

They seemed to be genuinely not planning something.

:Prove it.

:Saaa…what do you want me to tell you about? How you found a worm fascinating, or what you looked like afterwards?

"You are beautiful." His words echoed and at this point, she could hear her heart inside her ears.

Did they turn off the air-conditioning?

:How did you know? She managed to ask, fighting the urge to fan herself. The gang might sniff what was happening to her and she was not in the mood to be violent right now.

:Hikoichi, of course was all he said. :I hope you don't mind chatting with me for a while, ne?

Hanamichi knew she wouldn't be able to sleep that day.

"I didn't think Hanamichi was the type to get attached to her phone." Nozomi mumbled as he chewed on his pretzel. Noma, who absent-mindedly put a hand on the pretzel box, nodded—though his hand was quickly slapped away by Nozomi.

Yohkusu looked behind them to the red-headed leader who had a slow pace due to her eyes being on the phone, before turning to Mito. "You think she's talking to someone?"

Noma scoffed. "She's probably just playing games. The snake game is fun." He paused and as he looked at her expression, took out another pretzel. "And she's winning."

Mito, however, looked at the girl in ponder, not missing the giddy smile she quickly pushed down.

In any case, there were headed towards one of the town's courts. He recalled Haruko telling him she was going to practice to get into her new role as assistant manager, and Mito brought it upon himself to bring the two girls closer together.

"We're here." He announced, turning to look at the red-head. "Oi, Hanamichi. You better put down your phone and look."

Hanamichi stared at him and blinked, before turning her head to where his thumb was pointing. "Haruko-chan!"

Though to Mito's surprise, she didn't quite forget the existence of her phone. Hanamichi quickly typed something before putting it away, confirming to Mito that she was indeed speaking with someone for the past few hours. Who, though?

Rukawa?

He almost laughed at that thought.

But who else could get her to look like that?

He blinked at the thought, though he really wouldn't categorize it as impossible. He was not sure, but he maybe perhaps saw a member of the Ryounan team lurking around the gym the previous day…

Hmn, how curious, Mito thought, pondering whom he should be rooting for in the first place.

Mito was brought back to the present with the sound of motorcycle approaching quickly inside the court and the driver jumping out of it, catching the ball Haruko was throwing and then dunking it.

It was pretty cool, he'd admit.

The girls in the court gaped, though the helmeted driver was facing Haruko and seemed to be staring. The girl blushed, to Hanamichi's chagrin who promptly yelled. "You idiottt—stop showing off in front of Haruko-chan!"

This seemed to have embarrassed the girl, who looked at her wristwatch. "Oh! My family's having dinner tonight with my grandparents." She said, pausing. "Thank you so much Sakuragi-chan!" Before stealing a glance at the newcomer, who seemed to be in a daze.

"Haruko-chan?" He said after a while, taking off his helmet revealing a teen with partially-highlighted hair. "Her name is Haruko-chan?" The newcomer grinned. "So cute! Just my type!"

She head-butted him and he did not even lose his footing. Not a lot of people could do that. Mito was impressed, again.

In any case, the gang was approaching the two then, most with a sort-of grudging respect for the newcomer. He was apparently called Rango Koichiro (which Nozomi commented must be a pun for some English word), coincidentally from the very school they'd be fighting next. What were the chances?

It somehow led to a bet that if Tsukubu lost, Rango would give up.

"You can't go after her! You're unworthy!"

"What?!" The other exclaimed, head-to-head with their leader. "Who are you to tell me that?"

"I'm her b-best friend!"

This made him pause, no doubt debating whether to try to get to her good side or not. He obviously opted for the latter, not that he could blame him. "I don't care!" He told her. "If she doesn't have a boyfriend then she's free target!"

Mito did not realize Hanamichi was suddenly pointing at him until she spoke. "She does have a boyfriend! Him!"

What?

This made Rango stiffen before staring at him. Mito could feel the group stare at him, stifling their laughter. Mito unwillingly entered a staring contest then, before the other just shrugged and looked back at Hanamichi.

"Well, whatever—" He just said. "I'm sure she'll see the light."

She head-butted him then and there, and they entered another row that would last approximately 5 minutes. Eventually, Rango did go away, leaving a fuming Hanamichi behind.

"I better train Kawamura more." She said after a while, sometime during their walk home. Mito sighed, still a bit peeved at being thrown under the bus.

"You are not even Haruko's best friend." He told her. "And even if you are—which, I repeat, you are not—you really shouldn't be meddling with her love life so much."

"But she's so sweet and soft! Like a Shih-tzu!" She exclaimed, and Mito realized that okay Haruko did look like a Shih-tzu—the very breed the young Hanamichi always wanted to have. If auntie's allergies weren't that bad, she would've gotten one years prior.

"You should have seen how lecherous eyes ran over her! I felt it!" She made a face as she recalled, and Mito almost chuckled at her expression. "It was so annoying!"

"You didn't have to make me her pretend-boyfriend, though."

She stopped her steps, facing him completely. "I know men," She said, and it was true, dealing with them almost exclusively her whole life. "When I had to think of a match for Haruko—you were the first one I thought of!"

Mito honestly did not know how to respond to that.

Didn't mean he would play along, of course.

...

NISPEDANA SPORTS COMPLEX

Still, the next day, when Haruko was being ogled shamelessly in the hallway by the refreshments—Mito found himself touching Haruko's shoulder intimately, thus earning himself a glare from the basketball player.

"What are you doing?" She asked, surprised, as he pulled her closer and gestured for her to start walking. She and Mito have become close, but they never really touched before.

This was momentarily forgotten when she felt a Tsukubu player's stare on her (again) and she tried her best to ignore him. "You seemed uncomfortable with the staring." He said simply and Haruko stared at him in surprise.

"T-Thank you."

"Oh, please don't." Mito said. "He actually thinks I'm your boyfriend."

"What?"

Mito chuckled at this, evidently a little embarrassed. "Remember the motorcycle dude from yesterday?" She nodded. "That's him." He subtly pointed behind them with his thumb. "Hanamichi announced I was your boyfriend so he'd leave you alone, though not quite effectively."

"Eh?"

"Do you like him?"

Haruko quickly shook her head.

"Then play along." He said, her head now resting on his shoulder.

"But—"

"I also don't want to be head-butted by Hanamichi later." He just told her, tilting his head down to look at her. "Besides, just until he goes back to court." Haruko really couldn't say another and blushed when a pair of schoolmates passed by them, and started whispering. She tried to part from him by instinct but he was strong, and the Tsukubu player was still there.

When he finally left—with a strong huff and a kick on the trash bin—Mito did as he said: letting her go when the rival player finally went inside the courts. He patted her head and casually waved, walking casually to the stairs.

Strangely, Haruko did find herself blinking at the loss of warmth.

Then she turned around, bumped into someone. Her eyes widened the moment she looked up.

"O-Onii-san?"

"Kyaaaaa...! RUKAWA! RUKAWA! L-O-V-E RUKAWA!"

"So noisy!" Hanamichi would never understand why these women do what they do, but she found herself gripping her blue towel with an embroidered cat.

"His performance is a bit off today." Ayako mumbled beside her, and Megane nodded with a similar expression of worry on his face.

"Yeah, I wonder if something happened..."

Hanamichi wondered if it had to do with Maya. She was the closest to a mother the Kitsune had, after all, and maybe even he had "feelings".

Her attention was pulled back to the game when the enemy captain got another three-pointer.

As the captain said, this really was a challenging game. The enemy team's average height was well below theirs, but they had good synergies, stamina, and strategy. Rango was, to her annoyance, a great center. He matched Akagi in jump, power, and height and for a while he was a big part of why the enemy dominated the early game.

Not to mention the enemy captain (Godai, they said), was a pretty good shot too.

Soon, coach called for a time-out, likely to stop the enemy team from maximizing the momentum that was well into their court.

"H-Here's a towel and your water..." Haruko whispered although she handed half the team the same thing. Rukawa shrugged.

"Thanks,"

Hanamichi turned away, not really feeling like looking at the scene.

She watched as the coach smiled at everyone, telling them not to fret, just before turning to Kawamura and telling him to do what he had been training to do. Hanamichi blinked at this and realized what the coach wanted to accomplish. If Kawamura guarded the area under the basket with more vehemence than before, it would put pressure on the three-pointer with good rebounds. It was a good strategy, though the problem was if Kawamura would be able to pull it off.

And he did just that. And he did it well.

Soon, Kawamura entered a groove—nearly tying with the high school record for rebounds, even—allowing Kitsune and Toothless to score point after point. The enemy team fought valiantly but eventually the pressure got to them, and Godai fouled out. The game became rather predictable afterwards, and they won with a decent margin.

Hanamichi stood up to get herself a drink when the greetings were over, giving their respects to the other team. Really, after the previous games, this really was a good fight.

It was official: Shohoku would be joining the National Playoffs.

The audience cheered for the good show and some even clapped and it was then that she noticed both Sendoh (*hearts*) and the prince were talking at the balcony together and suddenly everyone at that level disappeared, replaced by fluffy flowers and bunnies and pink background. She climbed up and thankfully met them at the hallway, indifferent about the countless stares they were receiving. Hanamichi, also used to being stared at approached them naturally.

"Sendoh-san! Ouji-san!" She turned to the turn guy behind prince. "And bodyguard."

Sendoh turned his head to her direction and shined even more brightly (that was possible?!, she thought admiringly) "Sakuragi-san...!" Then he paused, eyebrows cutely furrowed in bemusement. "Ouji-san?"

They both tilted their head at a small angle, and looked at the other player. "Fujima-san?" then turned to Sakuragi-chan. "He's a bit smaller than you though."

"Yep." Was all she replied. "He's a prince I feel I should protect!"

"...ha?" Sendoh heard Hanagata utter after a little, which made him laugh. "You must be the bodyguard, then."

"It was a good game, congratulations on making it to the play offs." Fujima said with a smile. And Sendoh blinked a little at his rival's expressions, before returning his attention to the red-headed fireball. He almost chuckled. No one seemed immune to the girl's unconventional charms.

"You know who you're next opponents are going to be, Hana-chan?" He asked. They were slowly shifting to first name basis, when they were exchanging text messages the night prior. It was adorable, really.

"Shoko, I think."

Hanagata coughed in offense while Fujima chuckled, correcting her with a smile. "Shoyo." He said.

Sendoh casually pointed his thumb at the smaller player. "This dude is that team's Ace and Captain, you know."

"Ouji-san?" She stared at Sendoh before turning to look at Shoyo's captain. For a moment, Fujima thought she'd give out a disbelieving laugh. But she did not, to his surprise, and he wass thankful. "No wonder." She said and turned her head when someone near them called on her.

"My team's calling!" She said raising a hand in farewell. "See you soon!"

Fuji and Sendoh simultaneously gave her a smile, and Hanamichi thought it would seriously make her week.

...

"Anyway. A prince to protect, eh? Isn't that like a princess, Fujima-san?" Sendoh whispered with a chuckle, before his expression changed a little. "How do you know Sakuragi-san?"

"She found Prince, my cat." The smaller player shrugged, before adopting a slightly more serious expression. "What is she to Seigaku?" He asked, and Hanagata turned his head to his direction as well, interested.

"She's the trainer." Sendoh explained. "Seems like Coach Anzai himself recruited her."

Fujima smiled and Hanagata nodded as they both recalled the gameplay they had just witnessed. Shoyo's top two players looked at each other, apparently agreeing on something.

"Seems like Seigaku is even more interesting than we thought."

...

"Was that Sendoh?" Ayako asked, unhampered interest and curiosity showed in her entire stance. "And Fujima?"

Kogure turned to her. "You know Fujima, too?"

"Sure I do." Hanamichi shrugged. "Mito's pretty much best friends with the tall one."

"Hanagata?!"

"That, I am not." Mito corrected as they walked past the hallway, then he felt a stare—Akagi's—and he felt himself freezing. "W-What is it?"

"You have good build." He just said, surprising them. "You play basketball, too?"

"I—"

Hanamichi supplied the answer for him. "He does."

"Oi—"

"Join the team." Akagi said, simply. "We'll be graduating soon. We need to gather good new blood."

"But—"

The gang could no longer hold off their laughter. Hanamichi, in particular, felt particularly proud. "NYAHAHAHAHAHAHA—You'd do well, Yohei!"

Mito's face scrunched in disagreement. "You—"

But as she teased her best friend, her eyes caught sight of Kitsune, then looking out the building, in a daze. His shoulder was sagged, and she had no doubt his pseudo-mother was the reason. Still, she didn't really have much to work with at the moment., and she was already kidnapped for free sushi.

She knew she'd be there when she's needed, anyway.

RUKAWA RESIDENCE

The next morning, Rukawa groggily woke up, only to realize it was still dark outside. He had apparently fallen asleep by Maya's bed, as she had a dizzy spell the night before. He clicked his neck and his back, partly due to the sore and the rest to sweep the lethargy away.

His eyebrows furrowed when he took in Maya's features, and he felt his stomach turn in fear.

The woman was pale. Very pale. And—after hurriedly taking her temperature—ice cold. His eyes widened.

His fingers pressed buttons on his phone. It rang a number of times, abruptly cut off by an unexpected voice that shook him further. "Hello?"

A pause: Rukawa re-processing the voice, and the other wondering who was calling.

"Hello? Who is this?"

Rukawa blinked.

He called the Idiot? He was sure he was calling the taxi company—

He did not even realize he memorized her number.

"Hello?" She repeated and he tried to reply but no voice came out. Until she spoke again. "Kitsune?"

"...Maya." was all he said, but he already heard something drop on the other line.

"I'll be right there."

And she did, probably quicker than a taxi would've reached them, and judging by all the sweat she had come running full speed. She already called a cab, and they took Maya to the hospital shortly after.

Rukawa marveled at the fact that she did not get lost this time.

...

"It's Hypoglycemia, and upon examination it is most likely due to problems with the kidney." The doctor told them, taking a glance at the semi-conscious woman on the bed. "Don't worry. You have brought her here in an early enough stage, so it didn't exacerbate to a full-on kidney failure. She'll need to be confined for a week, however."

He looked at the two of them. "Which one of you is the contact?"

Rukawa tilted his head up. "I am."

"Very well," the doctor said, gesturing to the door. "Come with me. I'd like to discuss the treatment in detail."

Hanamichi sat down at the chair, and realized that Maya was awake. "You know... you are the first person he thought to call."

She flinched in surprise of the unexpected voice, though upon absorbing her words a proud grin found it way on her face. "Of course, Maya-san." She said as if it was the most obvious thing. "Even Kitsune has got to admit I'm awesome, reliable, and very strong." She stopped when she felt the older woman's stare. "What is it?"

"Nothing."

"Ei…" The woman laughed in response, weakly, though it quickly turned to a coughing fit. Hanamichi tried to comfort her and patted her back, eyes never leaving the older woman.

"You seem like you wish to ask me something." Maya asked when the coughing subsided.

"His parents." She said after a pause. "Aren't they out for seminars?" "Do seminars last so long?"

"They're all good will lectures but yes, they do not last so long nor do they happen often." "Rukawa's parents belong to separate good will organizations."

"Rukawa never mentioned that."

"He's not the type to brag." She said with a fond smile. "He's not sure if it's worth bragging about either."

Hanamichi stared at her, urging her to continue, and Maya was glad to finally be able to do so. She had never before found valid enough reasons to tell such personal stories of her watch. Maya sat up with some assistance, staring at the young girl with gratitude that would no doubt befuddle the teen. "They have practiced in hospitals until a few of years ago." Was all she said, however. "They're almost never home even then."

"What about now?" She asked, wondering why it didn't improve.

Maya shook her head. "They realized they have missed Kaede's childhood already. And with the personalities all of them have, the strain hasn't been fixed." Maya tilted her head to look at the window, a wistful expression on her face. "I tried, but the best I can do is make sure Kaede doesn't grow up to be a delinquent—no offense."

Hanamichi sent a lopsided grin. "None taken."

Still, she tilted her head. There were multitude of ways this could've gone. But as Maya said, three Rukawas didn't get very emotional.

"Their relationship is already strained to try for another baby." "So they use the guilt to try and do charity work instead." "I know it's not normal, but that's how it ended up."

There was a deep silence, before Maya heaved out a sigh. "They've been treating each other like that for so long... none of them knows how to change anymore..."

They stay silent after that, until Rukawa reappeared, surprised to see his nana up and chatting. "Did you rant?" Rukawa asked. He found himself looking suspiciously at them both.

"No, she told me a couple of things I need to mind in the house." She looked away simply because she was lying. "What did they say?"

"She'd need to stay for around ten days, at best."

"I will be confined for precisely ten days, then." Maya repeated, determined to keep her stay at minimum, before turning to Hanamichi. "Can you please cook for Kaede?"

"What?" The two utter simultaneously.

"I don't think he can eat otherwise." Maya said, wearing a pseudo-worried expression on her face. "Surely that is bad for your team."

"I can cook, but I used to have time to make only dinner lately." She shrugged. "I'd like to say Yohei should do it." "...but I know he's busy... so I guess I'll make time..."

"We'll pay you every day."

Hanamichi blinked and her back straightened at this. Goodness knew she needed the money to buy new mangas, including the one Prince-devil destroyed.

"Deal." Hanamichi said immediately extending her hand. Maya laughed at this and Rukawa face-palmed.

"D'aho."

.

.

END OF CHAPTER 17

Coming Soon:
CHAPTER 18: Scoop
Well, someone's popular.


REPLIES TO ANGELS

DaOreinjiNekoFF – Thank you for commenting! So glad you liked it! Hope this one is also nice~

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Sairaanzaki – Hehehe glad you found the story hilarious! I hope I can keep it up… thank you for reviewing!

Guest [Oct 18 2019] – Here'ss the next update! Sorry for the wait~! And heheh—more Sendoh and Fujima very soon!

Hikaru Itsuko – Thank you for commenting! I am glad you found it to be a great chapter and thx for telling me! Hope this chap didn't disappoint.

R. G. J. C. M. – Here it issss! I am soo sorry I took forever! I hope this was worth the long waittt!

Kiki – Hahah coming up! Soon. For now he's busy with his nana. Hahaha.

Neaki – (ch12) (ch14) Yep! She and Haruko will be good friends. Hehehe. They have to get past some issues first though. Thank you for commenting! I hope you get to this chapter!

Guest [Jan 6 2020] – Thank you for telling me you though the story was cute and how you love the story! *hugs*

Emerald Solstice – First of all thank you your review! I am soo glad to know you liked the chapter, and that so far her interactions seem natural. I do hope to keep it up, and tell me if I'm straying! Hehehe

Leireyna – Thanks for the review! Heheh Glad you thought it was cute!



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