1. Its All Business
The first time they ever held hands, he had had to think quickly on his feet.
The spirit, a boy with unrequited love morphed with a Chihuahua, had a clear lingering attachment to this strange girl who could see ghosts. Without any qualms, only thinking of his shinigami duties as always, Rinne had grabbed her by the wrist, muttering a fast apology and then they were off to the other world.
Since then, Rinne had had to hold her hand several more times. But it was always strictly professional, and Rinne would think nothing of it. Just another part of his job.
The time when Sakura Mamiya followed him to the other world, curious about her past and he had had to hold her hand to bring her back to earth, the time Sakura Mamiya followed Rokumon to his temporary 'home' in the abandoned school building and he needed to hold her hand in order to bring her back to her house were all examples of such behaviour.
It was all part of the job. As a shinigami, he felt a sense of obligation to protect her, since he always did seem to pull her into his troubles somehow.
When she needed a hand, he offered one. And he thought nothing of it.
Until his grandmother brought it up.
She stared blankly at his outstretched hand. The sort-of shinigami was looking as serious as always, tense and soft-spoken. Honestly, the only times Sakura saw any other expressions on his face was when he dealt with money. Somehow, it made her feel a little sad, how alienated he seemed to be from everyone else. In a way, her classmate Rinne Rokudo was untouchable to everyone around him.
But he was reaching out with is hand, and with that same bland expression, holding her gaze with those red orbs.
"Come on, Sakura Mamiya. You'll need to hold my hand so that we can return to your world," Rinne explained to her curtly.
Sakura nodded, remembering the episode that had happened when she had first met him and how he had had to grab her hand in order to take her to the wheel of reincarnation. It made sense, and Rinne seemed like the sensible type of guy. She had grown very comfortable around him, and she rarely took things the wrong way.
"Thank you, Rokudo-kun. I'm sorry that you had to go through so much trouble," she was referring to the incident with his torn sleeve.
Rinne shrugged, "I sewed it back up again."
"My, my," Tamako chuckled when she saw their intertwined hands, "is this why you met? Mutual interest, perhaps? Oh my, Rinne-chan, you've grown up so much! It was only yesterday that you were just—"
"Granny," Rinne felt his patience slipping, though he had no idea why.
As to be expected, Rinne found his noggin being ruffled again by his grandmother, "I told you not to call me that Rinne-chan!"
"Yes, well," Rinne felt some heat rise to his cheeks from indignation (and perhaps something else he couldn't pinpoint yet) as he pulled his head away from his grandmother's vicious treatment, "I would like you to stop insinuating such things between Sakura Mamiya and I. We're just well-known acquaintances… and I have to get her home."
His palm, the one holding Sakura's hand, suddenly felt sweaty.
"Whatever you say, Rinne-chan," Tamako chorused, as though she knew a big secret that they didn't.
"Let's go," Rinne muttered to his classmate.
"Ah, young love is so beautiful. Makes me remember your grandpa, Rinne-chan…"
He felt his ears heat up then, pausing in his tracks. Sakura Mamiya, luckily, had not heard Tamako's sly whisper.
"Don't call me that!"
But it was all professional, strictly business.
It was no big deal, right?
They were only holding hands, to get back to the world of the living, nothing more. They were only holding hands, to travel from plane to plane. They were only holding hands because they had too.
And it did not feel nice to have her skin against his.
Nope, it did not.
2. When in Danger…
Weeks passed on. They had not held hands in that time, busy with helping various spirits pass on and with Rokumon's contract; Rinne had had no need to hold her hand in order to travel from world to world. She could just get a ride from Rokumon, who followed after to Rinne when they went to Hell or to the other world. Sometimes Tsubasa would be with her as well.
It didn't matter much to Rinne, who had gone on in his life living as he always had. There were shinigami duties, and there were duties to his debts. Other than that, he rarely thought of anything else. Sakura usually tagged along in his exorcisms and various other 'adventures', so he never really noticed anything.
Except for when she was in trouble.
He found that his hand would automatically reach for her then, without a second thought. If Sakura fell, he'd catch her by the wrist. If Sakura was in trouble, cornered by damashigami, he would grab her hand and pull her away from them. If Sakura got lost, he would reach out to her.
It became second nature to him, despite the debts, despite his shinigami duties, somehow her safety and that constant was what his body thought about first.
They had run into yet another damashigami at school, a trio of them. The trio of damashigami had been trying to lure young high school students away into a misty playground, filling their heads with childhood memories to tempt the 'inner child' within each student. Then, when the students went into the mist, the damashigami would capture them, one by one.
Tsubasa had been helpful with his sacred ashes, to clear up the mist. He had handled one of the damashigami on his own, while Rinne had dealt with the other using his scythe.
But Sakura had gone into the mist, worried about the other students who were still trapped there. She and Rokumon had snuck past the third and final damashigami and managed to free all of the students before Rokumon was thrown to the ground.
By then, Sakura found herself cornered by the damashigami.
"If you're the only human left here, then I'll just have to settle for your soul!" The damashigami had grinned psychotically as he grabbed her and made for his escape to the spirit world.
"Sakura-sama!" Rokumon cried out, flying in after them.
Rinne felt himself lose breath.
Sakura Mamiya. No.
"Mamiya-san!" Tsubasa yelled furiously, plunging his cross into the first damashigami's head.
Hearing Rokumon's cries, Tsubasa had jumped onto the cat, yelling after the damashigami. But Rinne was way ahead of him.
As soon as Rinne had finished off the second damashigami and seen Sakura get captured, he had already started moving as fast as possible towards them. A furious anger filled him, making Rinne throw his scythe forward at the threatening damashigami.
"Rokudo-kun!" Sakura gasped, seeing him over the damashigami's shoulder.
The damashigami, some kind of fox-human hybrid, smirked, throwing IOUs towards Rinne's face to distract him. The scythe that Rinne had thrown missed the damashigami's face by a good inch and flew back to Rinne like a boomerang.
"You and your little friends ruined my plan, so now I'll ruin you," the damashigami hissed, taking out a large katana, in order to slice Rinne's head off while the shinigami was still in the middle of catching his returning scythe.
"Watch out!" Sakura wrenched one of her arms free, throwing it over the damashigami's eyes.
The damashigami, in pure surprise, threw back its arms and dropped everything. His katana. And Sakura Mamiya.
She fell forward.
There was no time to scream.
Finger ended up curling tightly around her wrist, warm and welcome to the touch. Her descent into no-where had stopped and in the pause of chaotic heartbeats, Sakura looked up to meet blazing red eyes.
It was Rinne. Sakura blinked, as his arms went around her, his brow filled with worry.
"Sakura Mamiya, how could you be so reckless again?" Rinne reprimanded her, looking her over for any wounds, "Don't you realize that this is an expert damashigami? He won't hesitate to hurt you or try to win your soul over to fill his quota!"
She was busy trying to slow her breathing, her head spinning. Sakura nodded dumbly at him, her brain still able to process some of what he was saying.
"Yeah…," Sakura's fingers felt numb against his, "… but its ok now."
Rinne opened his mouth to lecture her again. He didn't like how nonchalant she always was about avoiding death. Didn't she realize that she had almost died there?
He didn't know what would happen if…
"Hello?" The damashigami called out, "I'm still here!"
"Rokudo!" A roar came from behind them, presumably Tsubasa, "What are you doing? Hugging Mamiya-san?"
"Rinne-sama! Hurry up and purify the damashigami!" Rokumon reminded him.
He was frowning at them now.
Frowning because of… Of what? Being interrupted? But what exactly had been interrupted?
"I got it," Rinne told them, lifting his scythe one last time for that day.
Holding Sakura's hand with his other, though, he didn't let go.
It didn't help that Rinne got more paranoid about Sakura. Now he felt guilty for involving her and Jumonji in his affairs, but especially her. When they fought damashigami, though he usually focused all of his attention into purifying the damashigami, sometimes his eyes would flicker back to her and make sure she was ok.
Sometimes, he would grab her hands, even when there was no danger there, but because he was worried that there might be. And when she asked about it, he wouldn't know what to say and look away.
Sometimes, when they faced off against something, his hand would automatically lock on to hers, as if to make sure she was still there.
But it was perfectly fine, right?
They were friends.
He was a concerned friend.
They could hold hands, once in awhile, if it meant that he could keep her out of danger.
But something nagging at his conscience told him… maybe that wasn't it.
They were pretty comfortable with each other lately.
Not awkward acquaintances—where Rinne would be tense around her and she'd just nonchalantly follow him during his exorcisms.
Not just merely calling each other friends anymore.
They were acting like friends now.
"Hey Rokudo-kun, want to go to the park with me?" Sakura suggested one day, out of the blue. "There's a hot-air balloon festival today, and I want to see the balloons."
He looked up from his sewing. His haori had gotten several holes in it again, in which Rinne now had to sew the pieces back together. He only had Rokumon's sleep-clawing to blame for that. The silver needle was still poised skillfully between his thumb and index finger, while a lone piece of red thread hung loosely from his lips.
Sakura couldn't help but giggle a little at Rinne's imploring gaze. It was always very fascinating to catch her classmate in these oblivious and endearing expressions. She really admired the dedication in which Rinne put into every little task he did. He was really something else.
"Balloon festival? I don't know…," he looked down and returned to his sewing.
But the slight tension in his shoulders told Sakura that he was probably more worried about the money. Again, Sakura couldn't help but smile. A few months ago, when they were mere acquaintances, Rinne would've responded with a quite and polite 'no', explaining that festivals were a waste of time. She felt honored that he was actually considering the invitation from her.
"You know," Sakura placed a flyer in front of his face, "it's a public event. Anyone can go, there's no admission fee. And we don't have to buy any food, I made some bentos."
Rinne's eyes lit up quickly before the sort-of shinigami could hide it.
"Sure. Why not?"
"Great! I'm looking forward to seeing the hot air balloons with you!" Sakura said happily.
It didn't even matter when she saw Rinne look away abruptly. She was determined to let the sort-of shinigami have fun as well.
She spotted Rinne later by the school gates. Tsubasa, Miho and Rika were already present as well. She waved happily and the others, save for Rinne, returned the gesture in twice as much enthusiasm. Actually, Rinne looked more regretful if anything else.
When the group proceeded to walk to the park for the festival, Sakura escaped conversation with Tsubasa in order to ask Rinne about it.
"Is something the matter, Rokudo-kun?" Sakura asked him.
Rinne seemed surprised that she was talking to him, though she had no idea why he would. However, he swiftly hid his emotions under a cool gaze.
"It's nothing. I just didn't expect you to have invited Jumonji and the others as well," he said carefully.
Sakura paused for just a moment, before feeling even more confused. "Well, of course I did. We're all friends. It's a lot more fun in a group."
But that was all Sakura could get out of him for now.
When they arrived at the festival, Rika dragged a protesting Tsubasa away with Miho to mooch off of the exorcist's wallet. This left Rinne and Sakura alone together in the middle of a bustling crowd. It wasn't long before Rinne lost track of Sakura all together.
He began to panic… just a little.
"Sakura Mamiya? Where are you?" He asked, his tone rising just a little higher than usual. Other than that, he kept his calm, but he could feel the increased beating of his heart and the sweat coming down his forehead.
Looking back and forth, the sort-of shinigami was about to grab someone's arm and ask them if they had seen a girl in braids wearing his school's high school uniform when Sakura touched him lightly on the shoulder.
"Come on, Rokudo-kun," Sakura tugged on to his wrist, "I just went to the bathroom for a second. If you had noticed when I told you five minutes ago, then you wouldn't have panicked."
She watched as the sort-of shinigami's face turned slightly red. Or maybe she was imagining it. Rinne stared straight at her, "I was worried that maybe a damashigami had shown up again. Of course I was… concerned."
Now Sakura felt her own insides heat up—if it was happiness or something else, she didn't really know—but she knew that she felt touched by his show of concern for her.
Sakura reached out and placed her hand over his, "Alright, then we'll hold hands. We won't lose each other this way, right?"
Rinne opened his mouth again, but then he nodded. "Fine."
So they moved through the crowd together, watching the colorful balloons displayed in the park with awe. They did not run into Jumonji, Miho or Rika again, for those three were most likely spending the exorcist's wallet like crazy. Rinne and Sakura had a very nice time together, just talking about school and previous festival experiences… and having fun.
They did not let go of each other's hands, until it was time to eat Sakura's homemade bento.
And by this point, it just felt natural for one of them to reach for the other's hand.
No words needed.
4. Turning Sour
They couldn't stay in this oblivious point of 'friendship' forever, now could they? No. Because they were more than that… Rinne felt more comfortable and relaxed around Sakura than any other person in his entire life.
He felt… safe.
"Rokudo," Tsubasa glared daggers at him, "I want to know what your relationship with Mamiya-san is, right now!"
The shinigami sat by his weather hutch, haori on. To the students walking by, it looked as if Tsubasa was yelling at thin air. They made sure to keep their distance from him which suited Tsubasa perfectly as he could yell whatever he wanted at the invisible Rinne.
Rinne looked warily at Tsubasa. Normally, such things didn't bother him. However, today, and with his… whatever he had with Sakura… lately, he felt slightly more annoyed than usual at Tsubasa's more unusual yelling.
"We're just friends," Rinne said as evenly as possible, looking off into the distance.
"Hey! Look at me when I'm talking to you! You two are not just friends! What kind of platonic friends walk around holding hands all of the time when walking to class or merely talking? What's that all about? Have you finally made an indecent move on my precious Mamiya-san?"
A rush of anger (He didn't know where it came from, but at the moment, it didn't matter) flowed into Rinne as he stared indignantly at Tsubasa, "I would never do anything indecent to Sakura Mamiya, and she knows that. You should stop jumping to conclusions, Jumonji. Sakura Mamiya and I are just friends."
With that, Rinne jumped in the air, flying away from the irritating exorcist, anything to get away from these accusations…
"You and I both know who's lying, Rokudo!" Tsubasa hollered after him, "You're going to end up hurting her if you don't admit it to yourself now!"
"Rokudo-kun!" Sakura smiled at him, when she passed him in the hallway.
He looked at her for just a moment, remembering the previous conversation he had had with Tsubasa before frowning at the memory and turning away.
"Sorry Sakura Mamiya, I'm busy."
She stood a little speechless by his change in attitude and wondered what she had done to offend her normally nonchalant classmate.
Later, when Rinne had properly composed himself, he sat down in the empty classroom, waiting for Sakura Mamiya to come in and invite him to go outside to eat lunch.
Instead, Miho and Rika showed up.
"Hey Rokudo-kun!" Rika grinned from ear to ear, leaning on the rim of Rinne's desk while Miho giggled off to the side behind Rinne's chair. The proximity of the two girls irked Rinne greatly, and he was on the verge of telling them off in the most polite way he could manage when Rika asked him a very awkward question.
"How far have you and Sakura-chan gone, Rokudo-kun?" Rika asked slyly.
The shinigami would've spluttered if it wasn't in him to do so. He merely let his jaw drop a few centimeters before saying, "What are you talking about?"
"Don't act so prude now, Rokudo-kun… or should I say Rinne-kun, since you are dating our dear friend Sakura-chan…," Rika giggled. "We just want details, and we want it from the source!"
"Sakura-chan is very logical about these things, so it's no fun trying to wrestle them from her," Miho explained for Rinne to hear. "We noticed how close you two have been… eating lunch together, walking together… holding hands…"
The uncomfortable lurch in Rinne's stomach began to sicken him.
"It's nothing. I don't feel anything for Sakura Mamiya besides friendship. I'm sorry if you have misunderstood our relationship," his tone was clipped, as if rehearsed.
As if disappointed.
He didn't know where that had come from.
But it felt sour to him.
What he felt for Sakura Mamiya… was nothing he wanted to admit to himself. He was very aware of what was going on now, with every insinuation sent his way from Jumonji and Sakura's friends. He was more than aware of how he felt for her… but he couldn't act on those feelings.
Not because he felt disgusted by the very idea, truthfully his entire being felt enthralled with the very idea of being with her but… because he knew he wasn't enough to make her happy.
A shinigami that constantly put her into danger?
A shinigami that had nothing but debts in his life?
A shinigami who was dead poor?
It wasn't as if he didn't want to be happy… he just didn't want to be the one to weigh Sakura Mamiya down.
He didn't want to ruin her.
5. Reaching Out To You
He had been avoiding her lately. And he knew that she had noticed. Rinne had taken the time to glance at her from the corner of his eye during class. He saw her worried looks and the hurt reflected in her green eyes.
But he didn't want to ruin her.
He cared about her too much to hang out any longer… so he had to let go.
"This is the happiest day of my life!" Sabato cheered, jumping around happy that his son was finally going to join him in being a damashigami. "My little boy is finally going to follow in my footsteps and get married to a damashigami girl!"
There was a whack as Rinne threw his scythe at Sabato's head.
"I never agreed to that, father," Rinne said dryly. "The only reason that I came by today was to talk to Granny. I have no idea why you're here."
Sabato threw his arms around Rinne's shoulders, to which the sort-of shinigami pushed him away instinctively with disgust. "Oh but when I heard the good news from one of my spies, er, I mean damashigami about the confirmation that you weren't in love with your human girl, but merely in a so-called platonic relationship with her, I just had to rush over and talk to you about your agreement to get engaged again!"
"I thought you gave up on that engagement idea! And of course my relationship with Sakura Mamiya is platonic! Now excuse me," Rinne walked past him and knocked on the door.
Tamako emerged instantly with a sad smile. "Ah… Rinne-chan… I've been expecting you."
"You're leaving…?" Sakura blinked, as she watched her classmate and friend staring back at her blandly.
"But… I thought you didn't want to live in the shinigami world…?" Sakura said slowly.
He wished he could know what was going on in her head… He could see the hurt in her eyes very clearly but he didn't stop. He knew this had to be done. If he stayed in the human world any longer, these feelings would grow stronger… and Sakura Mamiya deserved someone better than him.
"Yes, but I discussed it with Granny. We'll figure out another way to pay off my debts from the shinigami world. I need some more training from her after all… which could take several years...," he trailed off. "Please understand, Sakura Mamiya."
"Oh. Well, you'll come visit right?"
There was an awkward pause. He braced himself for the inevitable answer….
"No. I won't. It's easier that way."
And then he walked away.
(Or at least… he would have… if he wasn't so frozen to the spot.)
But Sakura wasn't fooled so easily by his act. She knew him too well by now, from the tone of voice he used to the way he stood.
"You're lying to me… it's not easier that way… I don't think you really have to go at all, so why are you making up stories?" Sakura asked him. "If you don't want to be in the human world, than just say so! I just want to know why!"
He flinched. Of course Sakura would pick up on his excuses… Trapped, Rinne remained paralyzed between the truth and the lie. He was too conflicted to make any movement.
"Is it… something that I did? Have I done something, Rinne-kun?"
It was the first time that she had addressed him as something other than Rokudo-kun.
"Sakura…," He blushed in spite of himself, unused to using such familiar terms. "I really care for you… a lot. I just don't want you getting hurt."
"Then don't run away from me."
His heart skipped a beat and before he knew it, he had reached for her hand and he was holding it tightly.
And before he knew it, his lips had graced over hers in a kiss that neither of them initiated, but rather, gravitated towards.
Needless to say, Granny Tamako never did set up a place for Rinne to stay in the shinigami world. She had a knowing smile on her face as she hummed to herself and swept up her porch.
"Ah… young love."
Sometimes letting go was impossible. For Rinne, it was impossible to let go of Sakura's hand. Once he had grabbed it, he found that he just didn't want to let go.
They were intertwined.