Series: Slam Dunk
A/N: Revised. You might want to read again… ^^;
Feedback: Very much appreciated, can range from constructive criticism to just plain "Nice!" ^^; Although I would like to know what parts you really liked. Flames, or any other kind of criticism are only taken into consideration if the flamer signs in/is not an anonymous reviewer.
//I wonder what time will Oniichan be coming home.//
The sharp, measured clapping cut through the sighs of fatigue and echoed on the walls of Kainan High's vast gym. "Alright, you heard Coach. Practice tomorrow at 4. Be early or you won't be tasting Inter High."
Shin'ichi Maki's clear voice rang out, which was unusually loud enough to be heard despite hours of grueling practice. Surrounding him were the other, exhausted members of the basketball team, Kainan being one of those representing Kanagawa that year. That day's training session was none like others they had, well, Maki thought, for most of the freshmen. He already knew from experience, having spent three years in the club, and was prepared for the worst.
//We've done so much…I hope they get through this.// Grabbing a fistful of his damp jersey, he wiped his face with it. His teammates shuffled to the men's locker room, talking in low voices amongst themselves.
"Aren't you getting up from there, Kiyota-kun?"
His head whipped around to where Kainan's famous shooting guard, Soichiro Jin, stood looking down amusedly at the prostrated form of Nobunaga Kiyota, a.k.a. "wild monkey". Although Kiyota didn't seem particularly wild that moment. //More like half-dead monkey.// Maki muttered to himself. Three long strides and he was beside Jin, staring at the figure gasping for breath, eyes closed, perspiration running everywhere.
"Hard day, Kiyota? Or has your stamina deteriorated lately and you can't keep up anymore?"
The rookie's eyes flew open, flashing angrily. "Of course not, Maki-san!" he hissed. "I was just thinking how nice it would be to lie on the floor for a while. So cool and refreshing."
Maki raised his eyebrows, irked. He didn't need Kiyota's biting sarcasm just now. "Is that so? Then you can stay there and we'll leave you." He was just testing the freshman.
"We seem to be pretty tense today." Jin remarked neutrally, scratching the back of his head.
"Ehhh…he started it." Kiyota hissed again, a bit more subdued this time.
The Kainan captain stopped in his tracks, and sighed inwardly. He was being a bit snippy. The overwhelming pressure from the coming competition, he concluded, must have had a hand in this. He faced the two once more, both hands held up. "Okay, I admit that wasn't the best pep talk I could give. I forgot you freshmen don't know how hard Coach Riki's Inter High sessions are."
Jin had pulled Kiyota to a sitting position. The latter glared at Maki, then grumbled. "You never told us, of course. What do you expect?"
Maki laughed, making the rookie's glare grow icier. "Alright, don't make me feel guiltier. How does a treat from me sound? That better?"
At the mention of the word 'treat', Kiyota's eyes lighted up. "Yatta!" He grabbed Jin's extended arm and hoisted himself up. "Let's hit the pizza joint then have a round on those pachinkos!" he exclaimed.
"Ouch." Jin squirmed, rubbing his arm. "Pachinko? But we're not allowed to go in there, Kiyota-kun. Except for Maki-san, that is. We're underage."
"Underage! What the-"
"Yes, and besides, I don't have enough money for the three of us." Maki interjected.
Kiyota's eyes went as wide as saucers. "Nandatou!? You mean you lied?"
The ends of Jin's mouth twitched. "Technically, no, he didn't." Obviously he knew what the captain was up to.
"But he said he didn't have money!" By then Kiyota was making strangled noises.
"I'm treating you two to dinner at my house. My mother would have cooked something by this time. If not, I'll cook." Maki answered smugly.
"That'd be nice, Maki-san."
The two walked away, leaving Kiyota standing alone dumbfounded. Seconds passed.
"Matte! Don't leave me here!"
She certainly didn't expect visitors that night, specifically good-looking ones, not to mention friends of her brother. After being cooped up in her room doing homework, Maki Shiori heard sounds from the kitchen. //Oniichan's back!// she thought happily as she hopped downstairs, two steps at a time. She skidded to a stop in front of the doorway. "Oniichan! Okaeri!"
Two sets of unfamiliar eyes blinked back at her from the small dining table, and there was NO sign of her brother. Shiori's mouth dropped open, and her face gradually turned to a scarlet red. Stammering an apology, she thought dazedly if she had arrived at the wrong house. She took a step backward, out of the room.
Just then, her brother's familiar face appeared from the next room. "Shiori-chan?" Her shocked brown eyes flickered towards him, her mouth still open in aghast. Maki stepped out and smiled briefly. "Come here and help me with the cooking."
She automatically obeyed her brother's words, despite her inner self screaming to get away. Strangers. At her house. //Why didn't Oniichan warn me he was bringing friends over?// And now she had to help him entertain them. //Why did Okaasan have to leave for a business trip this certain week?// If she stayed, Shiori wouldn't have to be facing this very awkward situation.
None of Maki's friends had spoken up. Tentatively, she took a step forward, then another, then another, keeping her head down but at the same time never taking her eyes off the strangers. The short-haired one had his back to her by now, so she didn't know what he could be thinking or doing.
But the one with the wild, longish hair – he was staring back at her with complete bewilderment. Shiori flushed even more and dashed to safety, into the kitchen where her brother was.
//That guy looks familiar!//
"Oniichan!" she wailed, not too loud however. She most certainly didn't want them overhearing her. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Tell you what?"
"That you were bringing people over!"
Maki poked his head back into the pantry. "I don't see what's so bad about that. They're from the basketball team." He took various canisters out and closed the door with a foot. "It's not like they're going to eat you."
"I know that!" she answered, throwing her arms up in exasperation. "But couldn't I just…just…" she bit her lower lip, "stay in my room?"
He stared in disbelief at his small, blushing younger sister. She barely came up to his chest, and her constant shyness made her appear even smaller. He deposited the ingredients on the counter. "You need to get out and meet more people, Shiori-chan."
In the presence of strangers Shiori wouldn't say a word unless someone pointed a gun at her, but with people she knew well, she could easily raise her voice. "Not in the house!"
"It's like someone intruding on our private lives, huh? That bad?" He reached out and ruffled her reddish-brown hair affectionately. Shiori nodded, relieved that her brother finally understood.
"Oi Maki-san, sorry to interrupt, but why is dinner taking so long?" An obnoxious voice floated from outside. She froze. Maki released his hold.
"Whoops, gotta finish my cooking." He returned to the boiling pot. "Go set the table for me, Shiori."
She felt like a ton of bricks fell on her. "WHAT!?"
"Have you eaten?" he asked as if he didn't hear her.
Shiori was about to answer no when he continued, "If you haven't you might as well join us." To this she uttered at once, "N-no, I've already eaten!" In truth she had been waiting for him to come home because he could cook much better than her.
"Set the table for three then."
"Oniichan!" she wailed desperately. //You are so mean!//
"So, I thought it best that you study some of the best moves, like Rukawa-san's."
Kiyota wasn't listening to a word Jin had said. He was busy eyeing the strange girl who had graced them with her presence a while ago. The one who kept her eyes down and whose cheeks were always tinted pink. Right now she was placing a plate in front of his companion.
"Hello," Jin suddenly greeted her. Kiyota noticed her flinch. His eyebrows knitted together. "Are you Maki's sister?"
She opened her mouth to answer but closed it, and instead nodded a bit fervently. Her cheeks went redder.
"I'm Soichiro Jin, one of your brother's friends." He gave her a warm, welcoming, typical 'I'm-a-nice-guy' smile.
She wasn't looking at the smile but at the floor. "Shi-shiori."
"Nice to meet you, Shiori-san."
"I never knew Maki had a little sister." Kiyota found himself blurting out. He followed her with a scrutinizing gaze as she walked towards his place, holding his plate.
Jin let out a melodious laugh. "Well, now you know. So, Shiori-san…" She halted mid-step. "Is your brother any good in cooking?"
Kiyota snorted. "If I wasn't that hungry I wouldn't be here right how."
The girl's hand, the one that just set his plate, trembled a little. Baffled, he glanced up to her small face, which in his utmost surprise looked very different from the meek girl that had been serving them.
"My brother," she began, breathing heavily. Kiyota craned his neck to listen earnestly. He wanted to hear what kind of voice she had.
"Dinner's ready!" Maki's voice boomed, cutting her off. Kiyota blinked. The meek girl was back, and she scurried off to the kitchen.
"Nice girl, isn't she?" Jin observed casually.
"Nice? Weird is more like it." Kiyota replied, eyebrows still knitted in consternation.
All of a sudden, the lights went out.
"Wha-what's going on!?" Kiyota demanded, worry in his voice.
The lights went back on, but this time they were the smaller, dimmer yellow lights. Maki, donning an apron, appeared holding a tray.
"Pesto Chicken, a Shin'ichi Maki house specialty!" he proudly announced, setting the dish down on the table.
"It's about time!" Kiyota sat up in his chair excitedly. He gazed in awe at the newly served food. Then his face twisted into a frown. "Why does it have those green specks?"
Jin laughed, and the rookie raised an eyebrow at him. Jin was always laughing. Kiyota rolled his eyes. He was so not in the mood to be annoyed; and besides he had no basis either.
"That's the pesto, baka." Maki plopped down on the seat at the head of the table; Kiyota on his left, Jin on the right.
"Itadakimasu!" Kiyota yelled gleefully, and started attacking the chicken.
"You sure you don't want to join us, Shiori-chan?" Maki called. "Okay."
"What was that?" Kiyota looked at him mid-chew.
"She said she's going to wash the dishes."
"You actually heard her!?"
"I live in the same house. Of course I'd get used to her voice."
Silence befell them. Kiyota chewed on a particularly juicy piece, while Jin hummed a popular song as he cut his food into smaller, bite-size parts. //What a weird girl…// the rookie mused. She wasn't extremely pretty. In fact, she was very ordinary – brown hair and eyes. Why was he 'checking' her out, anyway, if that was the case. Judging from her looks, she was probably in junior high. But somehow, her extraordinary shyness (and soft voice!) sparked his interest.
"Is she really that…you know, quiet?" He finally asked, after swallowing the piece.
Maki shrugged. "She's always been like that ever since she became my sister." A grin formed on his tanned face. "Oh, it must be because we went to the zoo when she was very young and the animals scared the wits out of her." He chuckled. "Just kidding, Shiori-chan."
"Oh. Your little sister right." Kiyota put another bite in his mouth. "Is she going to Kainan High when she graduates?"
Now the captain gave him a flat, unfriendly stare. //What…what did I do?//
"Stop joking, Kiyota. She's studying at Kainan already."
He almost choked on his food. "You mean she's in SENIOR High?"
"Kiyota-kun," Jin murmured placidly. "I think Shiori-san is in the same year as you."
"NANI?" His head shot up to look past the shooting guard, where the kitchen was. The sink, and the girl, was partly hidden by the wall. "But," spluttered Kiyota, "but she's so small-OW!"
Maki had kicked him in the shin.
"Itai!" But he recovered, and turned his attention to his plate.
Maki dumped a fairly large piece on the plate the rookie was glowering at. "Enjoy your chicken."
The conversation transferred to basketball, yet Shiori's hands continued to shake. She tightened her hold on a cup, to prevent any accidents. //Stop talking like I'm not here…//
But she's so small!The voice echoed in her mind. How many times had she heard that remark? A mirror hung on one side of the kitchen. She stared at her reflection. A thin, pale face, framed by straight brown hair past the shoulders. Big but sad eyes stared back. //I look like a frightened rat.// she thought bitterly. Looking away in disgust, she closed the faucet and wiped her hands on a towel. When she turned around, someone was blocking the doorway.
The guy with the long hair peered at her. He was holding the dishes they had used. The sound of his brother's voice came from the next room; he was clearing the table with the other one.
Shiori's heart was pounding. //Why didn't I hear him come in?// Her apprehensive gaze traveled from his worn sneakers to his jeans and plain yellow shirt. She couldn't force herself to look any higher.
"You do look kinda like the captain." He finally broke the silence, which felt like years to the girl. Tongue-tied, she just watched him as he deposited the dishes near the sink.
Then he faced her. He frowned, opened his mouth, but closed it at once, apparently deciding against his original thought. She kept her eyes down. He stuck his hands in his pockets.
"The name's Nobunaga Kiyota, by the way."
She looked up slightly, but didn't answer. "I guess I'll be seeing you then." He took a deep breath and walked away. "G'night, imouto-san."
The scuffing of his sneakers grew fainter.
Yatta!– "Yeah!", "All right!"
pachinko– slot machine, pinball
Nandatou?!– "What the hell!?"
Okaeri!– short for "Okaeri nasai", which means "Welcome home!"
Itai!– "That hurts!"
Imouto-san– Polite name to call the younger sister of someone else