Title: A Small Word 1/1
Author: Kikiam-sama
Rating: G
Description: Rukawa-kun barely speaks. Would a small word from him be of any significance?
Notes: The story is told in Kaede's point of view. Inspiration struck me after watching the last eps of shohoku's practice game against shoyo-ryonan... especially the part when rukawa acknowledged haruko's praise to him. hope you enjoy reading. comments needed. this si my first slam dunk fic so please bear with me. and pardon the ooc-ness.
Spoilers: many. watch out. ^_^

Disclaimer: Slam Dunk belongs to Takehiko Inoue. The characters are only being used for fun. No profit is being earned. Please don't sue me.


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She is indeed beautiful.

I watched her with the corner of my eye as she stood by the door of the Shohoku High School Gym. The bright rays from the afternoon sun shone against her fair skin and nicely carved body. She wore a simple blue shirt with the letters of her name scattered around the cloth and quite skimpy shorts that made my blood burn. Her gentle blue eyes intently watched the basketball team practice for the coming national tournament. She brushed her recently cut brown hair aside to get a better view. I, on the other hand, took one of the basketballs in the cart and started to warm up with my dribbling.

"Ganbatte, Sakuragi-kun!" I heard her shout my enemy's name. I unconsciously tightened my grip on the ball I was holding and glared unnoticeably at the redhead shooting some lay-ups in one of the hoops. (It's okay. They say I always seem to glare at people.) It was good that my cheeks didn't flare up with jealousy.

"Did you see that?" I heard Sakuragi's annoying voice address her. I simply looked away to keep myself from doing anything unconceivable by the human mind. I decided to continue practicing my dribbling although I know I'm already good at it. I should have started practicing my shooting now. The problem was Sakuragi and //her// were occupying one court. The other three were being used by the sempai. I could interrupt Sakuragi, but she was too near.

//Too near...//

My name is Rukawa Kaede, Year 1 at Shohoku High School. I'm quite tall, probably a little bit above six feet. I have black hair usually kept like a bird's nest. My skin is pretty fair, or maybe you could say pale. You can barely see any eye bags on my face, since I spend most of the day asleep, whether at home or in the classroom. Some people say I look like some sort of a fox. Some say I look kinda sloppy and unreliable. Other people say that I'm cold and quiet and a glare from me sends shocks to a person's nerves. Naaahh... I just hate too many people. A little less than ten people around me wouldn't really hurt.

I looked at her again. She was still with Sakuragi. Damn.

What's the matter with me anyway? Here I am. I like this girl I've met when I was in junior high. Well, not actually met, but saw. She was from Kitamura Junior High, then, while I was in Tomigaoka. Since both schools were near, probably just a few blocks away, we often had practice games for basketball. Both of us were members of our respective teams. I was the team captain, while I think she was a manager. From the sidelines, she watched the games intently. As for me, I thought those practice games were boring (I could have fallen asleep if it wasn't a game).

I don't know but it really sounds stupid if I say that I fell in love with her the first time I saw her, but it is strangely true. When I think about it, I realize that it is true and call myself a big, fat doaho. It was the first practice game to be held after I was declared captain. The basketball team of Kitamura came. It was a hot day, then. I was asleep on one of the benches by the school gates when I heard a loud bunch of outsiders enter and bother my sleep. I tried to shut my ears off and remain in slumber, but there was one noisy girl with a high-pitched voice. Greatly annoyed, I opened my eyes to see who those noisy idiots were. I then realized that they were Kitamura's basketball team and the high-pitched voice actually belongs to a pretty, brown-haired girl, who seemed to be their manager. I lost all the annoyance I felt then and was shaken awake, though, not very obvious. I followed her with my gaze. A guy beside her tapped her on the shoulder and pointed at me. He probably saw me staring. I looked away, then stood up and headed to the gym.

I can hardly remember what happened during that game. It was so damn easy (no insult to //her// of course...) and I almost fell asleep at the beginning. During the first quarter of the game, I looked at the sidelines for interesting people to keep myself awake. I only found one: the same noisy girl who woke me up. She was cheering for her team despite the obvious loss. I was annoyed with her teammates. Here was a pretty girl cheering her life out for them, and yet, they still played so miserably.

To show my dissatisfaction, I stole the ball from their team captain, then dashed to the other court. I easily passed by each of them. Their defense was oh-so-lousy. Not only that, their center player was too slow to catch up with me and guard the area near the hoop. Without any considerable obstacles, I gave one powerful dunk whose impact on the hoop resounded through the whole gym. I heard my schoolmates scream, particularly girls. Not that they were annoying. I just didn't think them worthy of a reaction. Of course, I appreciate the effort in screaming. I caught a glimpse of her. Shock was written on her face. If my eyes were right, she blushed a bit. She quickly recovered, though, and continued to cheer for her teammates.

//Cute... Why did she study in Kitamura?//

I shook away the thought. My "friend"-slash-teammate and batchmate, Takeyama, noticed me staring. He knew me well enough to be the only one to notice. I never admitted to him, though.

"Oi, Rukawa. Easy on that Kitamura manager."

I looked at him then smirked a little. "Whatever..."

My dunk kinda shocked the measly team. On the other hand, it boosted the morale of my teammates. It didn't boost mine, though. I didn't need it. What kept me was the shocked look on //her// face that I saw earlier. I knew that I impressed her. It made me want to show off. I barely do that, since I find no one worthy to impress. Well, I still did. It was the main reason why we the game ended with a fifty-point lead, in favor of Tomigaoka. Under ordinary circumstances, we would lead by thirty, as I had judged. That'd be when I'm subbed out by the second half because I would've already fallen asleep.

We had practice games throughout the rest of the year. We won almost all of them except for one, and the lead rarely got below thirty-something. The reason: I played my best to impress that cute Kitamura manager, strange as it may sound. (I can't believe I'm actually saying this...) It was quite good, since I didn't fall asleep. The only time we lost a game was when I overslept at home and arrived at the game with only thirty seconds left and Takeyama was suspended for brawling outside the school. The freshmen and the sophomores thought it'd still be easy even without me and Takeyama. Doaho...

Takeyama once advised me to try to know her. He even found out her name for me. I chickened out. Fearless as I was on the basketball court, I was a coward when it came to girls. I don't know why. He said that almost every girl in my year would be happy to be asked out by me. I didn't believe him, since I rarely paid attention to those girls. Well, the point was, how would //she// be any different? He had once overheard the Kitamura players tease //her// about me. So //she// liked me, too. That meant, getting rejected or snubbed wasn't a problem. I had a reason, though. Not that I was scared or something but I just wasn't sure of myself yet. I didn't want to make moves on girls based on impulses of sorts. After all, I was attracted to her because of her looks (and probably the mutual affection for basketball). That was no good reason to try getting close to her right away.

Unfortunately, by Junior High graduation, I was obsessed with her. Although I scolded myself for it, I slept more often to let myself dream about her and I thought nobody was worth staying awake for except for //her.// Cheesy as it may sound, but true. For someone like me, graduation would be something of little significance, but sadly, it meant that the practice games with Kitamura were over.

Oh, well, time to forget about her. It was just a little crush. Time for senior high school, meaning greater competition on the basketball court. I practiced by myself, or sometimes with Takeyama during the holidays. He was going to Tsukubu. He was going to quit basketball when we get to senior high, though. He said he'll just play to keep fit, but he wouldn't join the team there or participate in any competitions, just plain exercise. I didn't actually react to his decision but I told him I had several invitations to enter some other high schools. Despite those, however, I was going to Shohoku. I had no valid reason, except for the fact that it was near my house. Riding my bike asleep while going to school was no problem. A few crashes, here and there, it was okay. He laughed at me because Shohoku was a weak team and I'd be wasting my basketball skills there. I ignored his comment and stuck to my decision. I had a strangely good feeling about it.

My first day in Shohoku High School came. I rode my bike asleep, crashed into seven light posts, three cars, and around eight pedestrians. I parked my bike, occupying two spaces, then sleepwalked to section 1-10. I had no time to check the basketball team. Subconsciously, I wished the goddess of luck shined upon me and //she// went to Shohoku. Oh, well, I was too sleepy to notice, anyway. I spent most of the day sleeping through my classes. I only got out of the classroom once to go to the rest room. I noticed people staring at me because of my height. Let them be. During that single trip, I heard that the basketball team try-outs would still be on Thursday. It was Monday. I had a not-so-obvious smirk written on my face.

After lunch, I was so bored that I decided to cut classes and go to the rooftop to sleep. I slumbered until I felt a sharp kick on my back. I looked up to see a bunch of male students looking at me. They looked like gangsters of some sort. Whatever... I wanted to ignore them but they continued hitting me. I stood up and looked at them, hoping that they'd go away upon seeing my height. They didn't. They were simply annoying. How would I sleep now, damnit? With nothing but anger and pure annoyance burning in my mind I beat all of them up. They fought back, of course, so I was hurt a bit. They were still a bunch of losers, though. I know they asked my name after I beat up the first, but what the heck.

As I dropped the fourth one on the floor, the door to the rooftop opened. A tall guy with a red head and an insignificant-looking companion came out. The redhead was tall, probably as big as I was. Despite that, however, the cheekiness of their aura gave me an idea that they were just both freshmen like me. They uttered a few words of surprise and I realized that they were supposed to fight the guys I just beat up. At the same time, the short guy recognized me as Rukawa. Hmp… competent enough.

Upon hearing my name, the redhead appeared to burn in anger and approached me. The short guy tried to stop him. He took the collar of my uniform and raised me a few good inches above the ground. He probably didn't like the idea of me doing his fight for me. He said things, mostly of nonsense, forgettable. Only a few lines were worth remembering.

"Remember my name. It's Sakuragi Hanamichi."

"I've already forgotten," I asnwered, annoyed. Let me sleep.

He was about to hit me when the door opened once more. We both looked at who it was. Oh, damn.

It was //her.//

Mixed feelings rose up from within me. Here was my Junior High crush standing in front of me in an even shorter skirt (ugh, I'm a hentai...) prescribed by Shohoku High School. An ordinary person with the same feelings would jump with joy. On the other hand, I was embarrassed with the way I looked. My hair was messy and several parts of my face were bleeding. I looked like a total wreck. And of course, the person holding my uniform was the last person I wanted to see her with. Luckily my face didn't register other emotions except for anger and boredom, due to some unknown reason. Nobody would see how I was feeling so uneasy with that situation.

She kinda misunderstood the situation and thought this Sakuragi guy had beaten me up. Anyone would. He was holding my shirt while my face was bleeding to death.

"I hate you, Sakuragi-kun!" she cried. Sakuragi then released me. His reaction to that statement told me that he liked her just like I did. Well, who wouldn't?

I was starting to get nervous. This was my first one-on-one encounter with her. Before, we only watched each other from the sidlines and the court, hoping that we wouldn't be noticed. Now, I was facing her, only a few inches away. Thank my parents for the weird mixture of genes that gave me this perpetually emotionless face.

"Rukawa-kun, are you all right?" she asked me. She took out her handkerchief and tried to wipe the blood from my face. I looked away and tried to avoid her gaze.

//Kaede doaho. Here she is, damnit. Talk to her.//

//Should I?//

"Go away, I'm fine." The cold words were matched with an icy glare. //Hontou ni doaho...//

"Rukawa-kun, you're bleeding you have to go to the hospital." She continued to attempt wiping my face with her handkerchief. I pulled myself away. It was most embarrassing for me to have my blood on a female's handkerchief, especially on hers. At the same time, I just couldn't stand so much attention from her. I hoped that I wasn't blushing or anything silly, then. It was a good thing there was so much blood on my face that any reddening of my face could be easily mistaken as blood stains.

"Leave me alone," I answered her. She looked at me with sad eyes, with the feeling of rejection. I looked away. I absolutely _hate_ it when girls plead to me. But she wasn't pleading, she was offering me something. I couldn't accept it. I just don't feel worthy. After all, I'm such a bum who can think of nothing but sleeping and basketball.

I always wondered from then on why I had to be so mean. I could have said somehting like, 'No, I'm fine, thank you,' or something to that effect. Until now, I've never found the answer. No matter how much I try to think of it in my sleep, I couldn't find anything that could satisfy the question. Why did I have to be so mean?

Sakuragi saw the way I pushed her away, and of course he didn't like it. He wanted Haruko's attention, I didn't. He probably couldn't stomach the thought of somebody ignoring and being mean to her. She was being so kind to me yet I was so mean.

With that he went to me and grabbed my shoulders then gave me painful headbutt. He said these words: "How dare you? You're hurting her kind heart!"

Ouch. I know.

"Her kind heart!" He gave me another headbutt. I felt more blood flow out of my head. Damn...

I know.

"Her kind heart!"

I know!

"Her kind heart!" He gave me another one.

It went on for a while. I lost count of how many headbutts I got. I knew I somehow deserved it. Anyone who did the same would.

"HER KIND HEART!"

I KNOW. With that last one, I was already annoyed. Hey, I deserved it, but not this much. I gave him a punch as a form of reprisal. I wanted to beat him up. I possibly couldn't have been _that_ mean, could I? And besides, it hurt, in physical terms.

Of course he flared up. He gave me a punch, too. She watched us, and was trying to stop Sakuragi. I didn't care how many punches I got and gave. I knew that she was watching, though. But what he just did was damn embarrassing, and painful, mind you. Doaho...

"Stop it!" she screamed and then went to us to stop the fight. Sakuragi was shocked to see that she was actually on my side. Once more, she offered to wipe the blood on my face.

"Go away," I said. I couldn't stand it anymore. I was in an embarrassing state, and my head hurt, damnit. I almost felt like fainting, feeling all the blood on my face. At the same time, all the attention she was giving me, her close distance, and her worried face was driving me mad. It was giving me the impulse to burst out with all my feelings and probably hold her in my arms all of a sudden. I didn't want that to happen, at least not in this situation. I knew the best thing that I should do was to leave. And I did.

"Hora, Rukawa!" Sakuragi called after me as I walked towards the door exit of the rooftop.

"Rukawa-kun!" she called me, her soft voice almost crying. I looked away, and tried to hide my face and whatever marks of emotion it had on it.

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I really couldn't understand why I did that, why I coldly rejected her offer to help me. Maybe I was just too embarassed with the way I looked, or maybe I just couldn't stand being near her, as I have explained earlier.

Why couldn't I stand being so near her, anyway? Even with just two meters away, my mind wants me to run away and hide in a place where she'll never find me again. My heart, on the other hand, persuades me to get close, talk to her, be friendly with her and let things develop eventually to a good relationship.

A good realtionship? Am I actually worthy enough to have a good realtionship with her? I think not. They may say I'm good-looking and my skills in basketball are almost unequaled. But besides that, what else do I have? I'm a bum who does nothing but sleep all day. I care about almost nothing in the world. My cares for the future are almost practically zero. I don't even have a single drop of kindness in me. And if I have no kindness, then I have no love as well. Yeah, sure it sounds damn cheesy, but I have nothing to give her. I may not even be able to express a single sign of affection towards her. What kind of relationship will that be? Nothing will happen. Both of us will just end up hurt and miserable. It's better that I forget about the whole thing. It will never work out between us.

Yeah, forget her.

//Yeah, right.//

*******

Summer came, a few months after that fateful encounter on the school rooftop. Those few months were the most terrible for me. I saw her everyday, watching the basketball team practice. It made forgetting her much hadrer for me. While I try my best to push her out of mind, her face appears in front of me. When I try to get away from her, I find her on the school gym's doors, cheering, sometimes even screaming my name. It was as if fate was playing a cruel game against me, reminding me of the useless person I really am, reminding me of somehting, rather, someone I can never have. I wanted to bang my head on the wall until I bleed to death, or maybe have amnesia so I can finally forget her and stop all this madness and suffering.

I continued to practice my dribbling on the side and tried to shut my ears and close my eyes. I could hear her cheering for Sakuragi and raising her arms in encouragement. Damn, I hate to admit it but I am jealous of him. He had enough confidence to talk to her, and he was worthy enough to even get near her. That was one defeat I against him that I had to admit.

Tomorrow, we would be going to Hiroshima for the national tournament. We had to practice pretty hard, of course. I didn't want to do anything that would annoy the team captain, her brother. The good thing was, I wouldn't be seeing her for a while. I'll do my best to stay in Hiroshima for as long as possible and the difficulty of the games would probably make me forget about her. At last...

Unexpectedly, three of the members of the Shoyo High School basketball team arrived to bid us good luck for tomorrow's game. They were with the manager from Ryonan High School, that is, if my memory serves me right.

"Good luck, then, Shohoku."

"Wait!" a well-known and annoying voice called after them as they were about to leave. "We'll have a match!"

Everyone looked at Sakuragi. Another one of the doaho's lousy ideas. I sighed in exasperation. He may have her but not the brains.

They went on talking. It was generally a bad idea. We'd be going to Hiroshima tomorrow, but we couldn't afford to have anyone injured today. However, with much pleading and persuasion, Sakuragi got his wish. I tried to utilize all my brain cells for a valid reason for having this practice game, but I found none.

The guy from Ryonan went to call members from their team. That meant Sendoh would probably be coming. It would be a very good game, then, and probably forty minutes without her in my mind.

Since they all agreed to have the game, I intensified my warm-up a bit then changed into my jersey. After that, I continued to warm-up, finally being able to practice shooting a bit. I struggled with myself to keep my gaze away from her, who was as worried as most of us. I really didn't care. A game is a game. A challenge is a challenge.

The game was about to begin, however, the other team still lacked a member. For some strange reason, Sakuragi couldn't wait to start the game and offered to be their fifth member. I was secretly annoyed. What kind of a game would that be? It was a good thing that their fifth member arrived. At last, a decent game was about to begin.

We were leading. Just like in every game, I did my best. She was looking at me. Damn. Damn. Damn. I hate it. With every basket I scored, I heard her give a scream of glee that pierced through my ears and made me want to cover myself. Oh, damn. I was concentrating on the game, but I just couldn't help but use half of my mind on her. It was making me want to impress her, and I was doing a good job at it. The other half, told me to concentrate on nothing else but the game at hand. I was doing a good job at it, too. Damn, maybe they really go together.

The other team changed members twice. At the second half, Sendoh entered the game. The game was already difficult, and now it was more challenging with Sendoh in it. I braced myself for a more difficult situation. Yes, I consider Sendoh as my greatest rival. The day I beat him would probably be one of the best in my life. And I hope it would be this day.

We were on the defense. I blocked him as much as I could. //Use your eyes. Move your whole body.// He smiled as if teasing me, mocking me that I couldn't do anything. I tightened my guard and locked my gaze into his. Now, my mind was really on the game. All of a sudden, he shifted his gaze to the court's sidelines. I followed it. He was looking at her. He looked back at me and gave me a sly smile that said, "How's she doin' super rookie?"

He knew?! Damnit, I couldn't let my greatest rival know that kind of secret, something I considered a weakness. And how would he know that? I quickly searched my mind for possibls ways that he would know. I found none. Oh, well, he was truly intuitive to begin with. K'so. Now that he distracted me, He was able to pass by my defense and he scored.

K'so.

He did the same thing several times. I was starting to look helpless against him. I clenched my fists. They were starting on gain on us. Sendoh was cheating! He was using my weakness against me.

But then again, he seemed to be challenging me to overcome my weakness.

My weakness? What is it again? Yeah, to stop being a coward and get my stupid head thinking right for a change. Yeah, I wasn't thinking right. Truly, I like her a lot. In fact, it's more than that. I don't think I deserve someone like her that's why I hide myself and try to be as mean to her as possible, so she'll stay away, and I can forget about her. But the truth was, it hurt me inside with every cold glare that I give her, with every cruel instance that I ignore her, and with every moment I try to push her out of my mind. Although I tried to deny it. And for some strange reason, Sendoh knew about it and was using this opportunity for me to get over it. He was, in fact, doing me a favor, while giving me a hard time.

Fine. I will.

This time, Shohoku was on the offense. The ball was in my hands. I glared at Sendoh, while he continued to give me the same silly smile. He gestured towards her again. Instead of annoying me, it only made me increase my concentration.

//I'm going to pass by you, damnit.//

//I'm going to pass by you, damnit.//

//I'm going to pass by you, damnit.//

I dribbled the ball then let it pass between my legs to my other hand. Now, he couldn't steal it, so I dashed past him. There weren't any guards underneath the hoop and I gave a good lay-up. It increased the lead. After that I began to run to the other side to prepare for defense.

//Hah. I did it.//

It felt good. At last, I passed by him and gained some points. I didn't let that silly face of his mock me once more about her. I wanted to laugh out loud. I wasn't going to let her distract me from the game. Never again.

A voice then called my name.

"Nice, Rukawa-kun!"

I looked at where the voice was coming from. It was from the sidelines, from her. She was looking at me eagerly with a warm smile, praising me for what I just did.

Should I acknowledge her this time? I know the millions of times she said those same words and I simply ignored her like she was of no value. Those times flashed by my mind. As they passed, they scarred me of my failure. I looked at her properly for the first time and saw her face still smiling at me.

Maybe, I will never, ever deserve her, but it was time to try. I gathered all the courage in mea dn slowly opened my mouth...

"Yeah..."

I ran past her, and smiled secretly. I saw her blush, but that really didn't matter. I felt really good, in fact, probably one of the best in my life. I'm not the same cowardly guy, anymore. Even if the time I'll be with her will never come, at least, a small word will make up for everything that will never happen, rather than hiding inside myself and never even letting her know that she was someone in my life that I consider special from all those I ever met.

Just a small word, it meant everything I felt for her all these times, and probably, an apology for all I've done in the past.

And of course, I'll win this game and the rest of the games in my life for her. I got back to defend and crouched. Sendoh wasn't smiling anymore. Good for him.

Yes, I was going to with his game. For Haruko.

~Owari de gozaru yo~

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Comments? Flames? Please drop me a mail at kikiam_sama@edsamail.com.ph