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MARCH 31st -- THE CHOICE

{March 31st, Shohoku High School}

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

“Youhei, where are we going?” The redhead wailed, getting slowly irritated by being dragged blindfolded by his best friend. He was about to go home himself when his Gundan had cornered him before he even reached the school’s gate. Practice was uncommonly cancelled that day and he was informed by his teammate that the gym was also closed for practice.

Youhei 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 did not like the sound of that laugh one bit and so was the thought of the surprise in stored for him. He loved surprises, who wouldn’t? But his Gundan’s surprises were more like practical jokes at his expense. He still remembered last year’s fiasco after they had let their surprise known with a mixture of mirth and fondness. It might be the only prank they had 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. But for Hanamichi, it was one amongst few of their numerous gag-tagged-surprises that he had actually felt thankful for. He did not change their view of that particular surprise though, since the person mentioned had 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 once again.

After a couple of times where he stumbled or almost tripped 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 had dragged the sweet brown haired girl into whatever they were planning for him. But before he could even get an answer, he felt himself being ushered towards a seat.

“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 echoed 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 replied in apology.

“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 had advised me to take you to him.”

Sakuragi’s expression went incredulous, “Hikoichi?”

“Hai!”

Before he could even ponder on the newcomer’s presence, he felt himself being dragged again but only to a short distance. 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.

Youhei 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 and Ryonan. Of course his friends were there, his teammates and even his coach. Puzzled, Sakuragi motioned for Youhei to come closer to him.

Youhei 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 are suppose to have?”

Youhei breathed a sigh of relief and replied, “No. You did not forget a game. But this is a game. One that we prepared for you for your birthday.” He supplied.

Question marks appeared on Sakuragi’s head as he tried to digest the information his friend had given him and fit his surroundings with it. Still puzzled, “I don’t get it. What kind of game was I suppose to have with all of them?”

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 had 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, Youhei 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 Youhei and Hikoichi before asking, “What is Hikoichi’s involvement in this Youhei?”

Before Youhei could even answer, “I am your host.” Hikoichi cheerfully announced.

“Host?!” Hanamichi repeated, unconsciously letting go of Youhei’s collar.

Once freed, Youhei 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?”

Youhei 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 was 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?”

Youhei glanced at his redheaded friend over at the podium and smiled a little when he saw his 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, but in its entirety, the whole setup was meant for the redhead to actually get what his heart was aching for in the past year – that is, they presumed that Hanamichi was actually aching for something.

Sighing, Youhei 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, Youhei’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.

But Kogure just laughed and wrapped an arm around his girlfriend and 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; 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 did 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!” He vehemently ended, stomping his foot in frustration 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 suddenly… “Not yet Riyota-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 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 with a shrug.

“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 Youhei whose attention was on his redheaded friend. He still distanced himself from his old foe for fear that his emotions might get jumbled again.

“Then why choose them?” Inquired Koshino.

“Ask them.” Miyagi pointed to Sakuragi’s friends.

But before Koshino could raise his question, Youhei and the others were already rushing over the podium. Koshino turned and almost ran himself when he saw his teammate being lifted an inch over the ground by an angry redhead.

“I will not do it!” Sakuragi growled.

“Sakuragi-san!” Hikoichi sputtered, almost out-of-breath from the redhead’s strangling hold. Luckily for him, Youhei came rushing to his aid.

While Yuji, Noma and Takamiya tried to restrain the redhead from getting off his stool, Youhei dragged the recovering Hikoichi a little away from Hanamichi 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?” Youhei asked in curiosity.

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

Youhei slapped his forehead. He had thought that Hikoichi had successfully explained the whole setup to Hanamichi already, seeing that they had 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 watched his friends hold Hanamichi down, Youhei 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 vision of a megawatt smile belonging to the always-cheerful face of Ryonan’s Ace came into his mind, “Sendoh.” He groaned. His friends had 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 were all lying on the ground sporting a new lump on their foreheads.

Youhei 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 had amusedly watched 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 pair of glaring blue eyes currently directed to the smiling spikey haired player.

“Well Hanamichi?” Youhei 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 Youhei, 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. He just ignored the loud cheer and settled on his stool. “Hikoichi, since you are the host of this ‘game’, why don’t you explain the exact details on how to play this thing.”

Hikoichi beamed happily and took his ever-ready notes in preparation for the game. “I will be asking 10 questions to you 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 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 Youhei 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?”

All four went red in the face, “Hey we are 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!” Youhei explained in their defense.

“Hmphhh!”

“Can we start now please? I am getting a cramp from sitting on this thing!” Kiyota wailed from the other side.

“Why? Your tail getting squashed by your butt?” Gibed Sakuragi.

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

Oh no! What if he does win? That means…

Feeling a little panicky, “Hey Youhei!” He shouted over to his friend who was already retreating to the side of the gym, alongside his teammates and the other players. “Who the heck picked these guys?”

“We didn’t! They volunteered.” Youhei yelled.

“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 is 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 or 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?”

Youhei 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.” Youhei 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 had taken a lot of time and effort to know the answers. I mean, that alone will show how much the winner wanted to win and be Hanamichi’s date, won’t it?”

“Well at the rate this is going, we will 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 said with mirth.

“Make that two, 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 had been after that redhead and that pale-faced Rukawa ever since he had met them. But the redhead seemed to have taken his attention more.”

“That’s true. Hanamichi have been spending much time with Sendoh lately.” Youhei 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 had called him a ‘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 his way of getting to know him better.”

“At least Fujima’s intentions were somewhat noble.” Koshino snorted.

“Well Kiyota’s intention is different. I think he wants to win so he could torment Sakuragi on his birthday.” Jin confessed.

“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 said, 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.” Youhei 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.

“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.” Youhei 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?”

Youhei 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 had asked Sakuragi during those times they were fishing?”

“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!” Youhei 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 had 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 written 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!” Youhei exclaimed, breaking the silence thus jarring Hikoichi back to his job.

“Well I guess we have a winner.” He 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 surprise and amazement whilst Sendoh’s clearly showed a bit of jealousy over his sunny face. “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 is mine.”

With that, Rukawa casually strolled to where his nervous redhead was waiting and was rewarded with a smile when a pair of honey brown eyes locked with his own. In return, Rukawa gave him a smile reserved for his ‘aho alone. “Hana-kun…”

“Kaede…” Sakuragi whispered, his face a picture of happiness when he saw the loving blue eyes of his secret boyfriend.

Youhei 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, “You thought I might have lost?” 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 Hana, let alone your birthday.”

Hana 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 former 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. But after almost a year of secrecy, he had grown to admit 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. However, his decision of coming out in public was more in the form of a spikey haired player who had managed to be his boyfriend’s shadow over the past months. It had taken quite a lot of his time, not to mention many sleepless afternoons, following the two wherever they went and it had taken most of his energy just to control the urge to push Sendoh off the bridge whenever they went fishing. His Hana explained that his acceptance was only to throw off any hints about the two of them 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 their friend’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?” Youhei asked in a tone of triumph.

“Youhei, did you know about Rukawa and I?”

“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 Youhei, “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.

Youhei 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 fell into step with his boyfriend, who was already making his way out of the gym, and was slightly surprise when Kaede clasped his hands into his. The act made him blush when teasing and cheering from his teammates were thrown at them. “Shut up! Get yourselves your own boyfriend.”

“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.” He stated in assurance 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.

“You’ll know tomorrow Hana.”

“Can’t I have a hint? Come on… just even a clue or something?” Hanamichi persisted.

“No!”

“Please?”

“No!”

Frustrated that his boyfriend seemed to be adamant in keeping him in the dark, he tried attacking his emotional level. “But I thought you love me!” He pouted.

That made Rukawa whirl around to face him. “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 on his hands to look directly into his 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.

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OWARI

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March 31st - The Choice ©2002 YENNY


SDFA © 2002 fgg



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