Summary: Alternate ending to Chapter 58. She had never expected to see Rinne afraid of anything. So when she had woken up to warm arms and unfamiliar tears, no words would emerge. "I was afraid that I lost you."

Disclaimer: I don't own Rin-ne/Kyokai No Rinne. It belongs to Rumiko Takahashi and Viz Media.

This one-shot is for Arkaim. Thanks for helping me out with ideas and for inspiring this!


The tugging sensation, as if a siren were calling you, or the sweetest song you had ever heard, of the wheel of reincarnation was the hardest thing for a spirit in the otherworld to resist. It was like the Pied Piper's music to the children or honey to a bumble bee. The sweet allure felt like the most powerful magnet in the universe, stronger than gravity. It pulled you towards it, making you blissfully unaware and forget all of your earthly regrets which had tied you down as a spirit. It was the greatest high, a swooping sensation of moving on to the next life.

But Rinne wasn't really dead. He'd been cheated of his life flame by a certain shinigami clerk named Kain who had a misplaced grudge against him.

It was an alien feeling to be an ethereal spirit without the aid of his beloved haori. It was even more frustrating to find that he was not immune to the wheel's call, despite not truly being dead. Twice, Rokumon and Ageha had had to drag his spirit back to the otherworld and then hold him down so that he would not float away. He had never dreamed that it would be so difficult to resist. Suddenly he felt very thankful to Sakura and the others for accompanying him through the spirit way. If he had come alone, there was a high possibility that he would have just been reincarnated before his time.

Now he was battling Kain with a great disadvantage. For Rinne it was like fighting a giant mountain rooted to the ground as a humongous landslide blew Rinne away towards the sea where he would meet his end. He pulled against the current with all his might and yet the wheel still called to him, an insistent fisher's line unwilling to let go of its hook.

"Rokudo-kun!" shouted a familiar voice, echoing desperately in the sky.

He looked up to see Sakura Mamiya on top of Rokumon's giant flaming cat form. The ring that had emerged out of his granny's mysterious box was held tightly in her hand. She reached out, trying to get the tool to him even though he had no idea how to use it. Desperate to fight the pull of the wheel, Rinne whipped out his fingers, stretching as widely as possible. He reached out to touch the ring, fearing that it would be too late and he would be sent to the wheel of reincarnation.

His fingers grasped the outer rim of the ring—it felt corporal in his hand—before everything went black and his lingering thoughts only murmured of how Sakura Mamiya always seemed to come to his assistance at the right moment.

Mortality

Could spirits feel pain? Yes, they could. The weapons Tsubasa favoured were very successful in doing just that; Rinne had first hand experience. So he wasn't surprised when he stirred awake to feel as if his limbs were aching from lack of use. His head seemed to pound as if someone were crushing rock against his skull. He resisted the urged to moan, his built-in manners stopping him from doing anything rude. Even in death his grandfather's teachings were still engrained in his thoughts and actions.

Opening his eyes, Rinne saw only more blackness. The sort-of shinigami blinked a couple of more times to make sure that he wasn't just dreaming or waking up to an imaginary world of some sort. The pain ringing in his arms and legs as well as the warmth he seemed to be laying against confirmed that this was real. It was odd that as a spirit, you could still 'feel' certain things. Rinne had never really figured out why or what, but he reasoned it to be based upon the strength of a spirit's essence—whatever that was.

Blinking several more times, Rinne moved his hands, only to find that they were tangled around someone's shoulders, as if content to stay there. Warily, he blinked again before he realized that he was lying on top of someone's body, and that this body was breathing dimly.

Panic rushed into his head like a backlash of water. Rinne jumped up instantly, worried that he was squishing whoever was underneath him. He didn't want to wake them up and get yelled at, or hit and called a pervert of some kind. The shame would never leave him. It was the sort of thing that he'd expect Jumonji to be accused of.

But as he tried to move, Rinne realized that his limbs were truly wrapped and entangled around this person's body. To try and leave would mean to wake the person up and ask for trouble. Rinne didn't want to cause an unnecessary scene. So, reluctantly, he resigned himself to just staying there, hoping that the consequences wouldn't involve too much shouting or pain.

The body beneath him groaned softly, before breathing against his ear, hot breaths making Rinne shiver inside. He gulped, wondering why he was feeling so nervous around this person, or what they were doing here. In fact, he wondered what had happened before this. Where was he? What had happened—?

He remembered then. The memories came back—Kain, his life flame, Kain's mother, the mysterious box, the ring, the wheel of reincarnation, Sakura Mamiya—His heart stopped.

Sakura Mamiya. The person he was lying on top of, as if they were a throw pillow, was Sakura Mamiya.

"Oh no…," his voice whispered hoarsely, as if it had cracked out of a rotten egg. "No…no, no, no…! Sakura Mamiya! I didn't mean… I didn't want… oh God… this is all my fault…!"

His fingers trailed down her arms, he knew they were her arms now, almost reverently, as if she were a goddess that he was forbidden to look at, let alone touch.

(She was dead now.)

His fingers tightened around her elbows, pulling her close so that his arms totally encircled her waist. It was as if she was the only thing he had left in the world and he was trying to hold on to it. He held her tightly, as he never had before, and breathed in the scent of her hair, like light vanilla and flowers. Something warm trailed down his cheeks but he was too much in grief to deny it.

(She was going to be reincarnated before her time.)

Why had he never held her like this before? Head down against her braids—he'd never told her that he rather liked her braids, that he thought they were kind of cute, hands wrapped tight around her waist—so many times he had wanted to hold her, like when she had asked for protection against his father's camera thing, and bodies pressed together for warmth. He suddenly felt, as if he had wasted all his time, all of his life. How easy it would've been to say a few simple words, how easy it would have been to just hold her hand or offer a genuine smile.

Why hadn't he done that? Why had he not appreciated what he had? Why hadn't he tried to reach for her? Wouldn't it have been worth it, to spend what time they had left, getting to know one another?

(And it was all his fault.)

He had liked her; maybe he would've grown to love her even, a lot. He hadn't known how much until he had heard her say that they were just classmates, thus rejecting the 'marriage' proposal and wedding ring. He hadn't really known how much he subconsciously looked forward to the idea of marriage, and how the image of Sakura standing there by his side for the rest of his life didn't seem at all bad. In fact, it had felt more right than anything in the world.

But when she had said those heartbreaking words, Rinne had reverted back to his blasé self. He tried not to show too much of his feelings and decided to deny them.

Now, they were spilling forth like a river, something held back by a dam now broken, just like the liquid streaming from his eyes.

Rinne suppressed another powerful sob and laid his head against her shoulder. His hands reached up to stroke one of Sakura Mamiya's charming braids. Feeling the texture of each link, he wondered briefly what she would've looked like with her hair down, and if it would've made her look more beautiful. Actually, it probably wouldn't have mattered. Rinne thought she looked wonderful all the same, and now he regretted never, at the very least, telling her that.

How hard could it have been to say 'you look very nice today'? Or 'gorgeous' even?

He brought his face closer to hers, staring deeply at Sakura's face, now able to make out the smoothness of her nose and her eyelids. Her lips. He could now make out her long eyelashes and the beautiful bangs finishing the portrait that was her face. Rinne brought his nose now to brush it against hers, and revelled in the softness and the intimacy. Hopelessly he felt like a student desperately cramming for an exam, looking over and over at the one diagram that wouldn't stick in his mind. Looking at every detail, trying desperately to memorize it when he knew he would forget it all the next day.

In his next life, would he even remember who Sakura Mamiya was? His grip on her waist tightened, and he pulled their bodies closer together, ghosting his 'breath' against her cheek.

"Sakura…," Rinne whispered her name (just this once, because no one would ever know. Because they were going to die soon, because he would never get another chance with her alone.) His thumb moved up to brush her cheek lovingly, and he found that he couldn't bring himself to look away for even one second, because if he did, he'd feel as if he were cheating himself of the world's greatest prize. Rinne lowered his head once more, brushing his nose against her forehead, almost daring for a kiss.

He closed his eyes.

"I promise you… Sakura, I swear… in the next life… I'll remember you. I'll make it up to you. And I'll find you, whatever you are—bird, fish, insect or another human being—I'll find you and I'll make it up to you. I'll make it up to you in whatever lives we meet again, in every single one. I'll make sure this priceless debt is repaid… I swear," he whispered again, finding that he could not see for tears clouded too much of his vision.

As if in response, her breath quickened when Rinne removed his hands and put them on each side of her head. He stared down at her, such deep regret piercing him to the bone, and trying so desperately to make every moment last. And when he dared to move his nose away from hers, he caught sight of her lips.

When he had described the call of the wheel of reincarnation like a siren's song, Sakura's lips, at this moment when he came into terms with his feelings for her, were irresistible.

Rinne blushed and shook his head quickly. This was no time for indecent thoughts. He couldn't take advantage of her just like that; he would be taking her first kiss. Girls were very touchy about that, he had heard.

But he couldn't quite look away. And slowly, he was lowering himself back down, bringing his own traitorous lips closer and closer… His heart, thumping loudly in his ears, a voyering orchestra to his first and last kiss…

He knew it was wrong to do this, but he couldn't just lose this chance. It was just this once; he would only indulge in this sin once before he died, only bite the forbidden fruit just this once because—

—as he relished in the contact between his lips and hers and felt the sweet taste of heaven in his mouth, he knew that he had been, was, and always would be, destined to fall for the soul that was Sakura Mamiya.

And he was just too mournful as he knew that he had realized this too late.


Fairy tales were just for children. They didn't exist in real life and Sakura, being as cool headed as she was, didn't believe in them. Even as a child who had enjoyed running off to play with butterflies and loved her grandmother's tales about spirits, didn't believe in magic. The dead were one thing, magic was another.

Yet it always seemed that she was thrown into fairy tale-like situations. When she had been spirited away as a child, she couldn't help but compare the experience to a book called "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll. The only differences between Alice and herself were that she was still living her tale and she could still see strange things.

Rokudo-kun, the ever elusive and distant Rokudo-kun who she admired, often reminded her of a male version of Cinderella. His poverty and dedication to his work touched her deeply every day. She doubted that her admiration would ever die down. He was truly a figure who had changed her life forever.

Even Tsubasa reminded her a fairy tale character. His fashion sense and the smug way he carried himself reminded her of a prince. Of course, Sakura knew that he wasn't for her. She just didn't feel much of an attraction to him. She wondered if Ageha and Tsubasa would ever begin to look at each other more closely. Those two had one of the most obvious budding attractions that she had ever seen.

And now… with something warm and wet pressed against her lips, along with hot trails of liquid, Sakura couldn't help but think of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, awakened by a kiss.

Wait, Sakura thought groggily, a kiss? What kiss? And who in the world was kissing her?

Immediately, she opened her eyes, and was shocked to see that red hair obscured her view. It took several nanoseconds for her to deduce that the only one who could be on top her right now was none other than Rinne Rokudo.

Now normally in these situations the heroine would scream or push the boy off. She would at least do something. But Sakura was too frozen to do a thing, and she was aware that Rinne hadn't noticed her waking. Plus… she couldn't help but enjoy the warmth that she felt…

She must have made a sound of some sort because suddenly Rinne's red eyes pinned her to the couch and the sort-of shinigami was too—shocked? Emotional? Astounded?—to move.

Her heartbeat, rapid as raining bullets, kept track of the milliseconds of time. Sakura barely knew what to say when suddenly she felt herself knocked out of the couch. In his excitement, Rinne had thrown his arms around her once more and was holding her too tightly for any further movement.

Sakura marvelled at the strong build of his chest and felt his heart beat against her hands. Wide-eyed, she tried to stare up at Rinne, but he seemed too distracted to look at her.

Hesitantly, she spoke his name, his first name, just to get his attention, "…Rinne…?"

The reaction she had been expecting was anything but this. He let go of her, put his hands on her shoulders, to lock her in a stare. What she saw in his red eyes shocked her.

She saw terror, and now relief. It chilled her to the bone.

"Sakura," Rinne said her name breathlessly, in a way she had never heard her name uttered before, or ever believed that it could be uttered. He whispered it like it was a prayer, like it was salvation, like it was… like it was loved, even.

He buried his face against her shoulder once more, bringing one of her braids up to his lips as if to kiss it as well.

His behaviour alarmed her, and yet strangely, it touched her at the same time.

She had never expected to see Rinne afraid of anything. So when she had woken up to warm arms and unfamiliar tears, no words would emerge. No words would've made sense anyways.

So she let him hold her, and slowly wrapped her arms around his back as well, breathing together with him, all thoughts gone.

When several minutes passed, Sakura allowed herself to ask him hesitantly, "…Rokudo-kun…?" She couldn't help but feel a certain loss by returning to his last name again, "what's going on?"

The unspoken question lay between them. Why did you kiss me?

As expected, Rinne stiffened, before saying slowly, "Sakura… I'm sorry to tell you the bad news but… I think we're on the wheel of reincarnation… We're going to die soon, and be reborn into our next lives… I'm sorry. It's…," he gulped slowly; "it's all my fault."

"…We're on the wheel of reincarnation…?" Sakura stepped away from his reluctant arms to ask sceptically. "What gave you that idea?"

Rinne's brow furrowed in sadness, "Well, where else would we be? Didn't I pull in here with me?"

"No… there was a ring too… and Rokumon-chan also got pulled in. He's sleeping on the floor over there. Plus, now that my vision is adjusting to the darkness, I can make out furniture… it looks kind of familiar…"

Noises could be heard, something neared, something that sounded like footsteps. Instantly, Rinne grabbed Sakura and pulled her close, as if to protect her from whatever gave you new form and body. The footsteps came faster and faster when—

Light engulfed the room as a door swung open. In the door way stood Kain's mother and the very problem of it all, Sabato Rokudo.

"…Dad…?" Rinne almost growled out in disgust, still holding on to Sakura's arm.

"Oh, is that you, Rinne-kun?" the damashigami asked him pleasantly. "How are you doing today?"

Glowering, like a volcano bubbling for an eruption, Rinne bellowed, "So… does this mean we're not about to be reincarnated…? That we're not going to die?"

Sabato gave his son a confused pout, "Whatever are you spilling from your mouth? Papa never taught you that. No, you're in the house of my lovely lady here. We're going to get lunch."

"It's on my tab," Kain's mother piped up happily.

Is she an idiot? Rinne and Sakura couldn't help thinking despite their present situation.

"You…," Rinne glowered, about to explode.

Sakura couldn't really blame him. It was after all, Sabato's fault that this whole mess had happened. Then Sakura's mind wandered back to the kiss and she went slightly pink… Did Rinne regret what had happened? Would he want to talk about it?

She shook her head; it wasn't the time to think about it. The important thing was to get his life flame back. In time, Rinne would explain himself, she was sure.

As if on cue, Kain, Ageha and Tsubasa burst into the door behind them with cries of "Rinne-kun" and "Mamiya-san!"

Moving to confront their companions, Sakura was stopped by Rinne who still had his hand on her arm. He gave her a significant look which promised to tell her everything later. Sakura felt her breath get caught in her throat at such a significant look before she nodded and he let go of her arm.

Now was the time to fix this mess with Kain.


When they returned to earth, Rinne went back into his physical body. Sakura watched in relief as the colour returned to his skin and his lungs regained their function to pump air in and out of his body. In joy Ageha had tackle-hugged Rinne before happily waving goodbye, giving Tsubasa a good glare and then waving a tentative goodbye to Sakura and Rokumon. She still wasn't sure where she stood with that human girl. Oh well, she wasn't that bad in Ageha's books.

The shinigami girl skipped off into the spirit way, humming a catchy tune.

Back in the abandoned school building, Tsubasa put his hands in his pockets and smiled lazily at them. Rokumon had gone off to find some food for his master, maybe some of that edible grass again. The exorcist wasn't too sure what went on in that cat's mind.

"Well, I suppose Mamiya-san and I should get going back home. I'm glad you're not… well, dead, or anything like that, Rokudo."

Rinne merely raised an eyebrow, "Right. Well, I appreciate your concern."

Well, that was probably as close as the two would get to admitting they were good friends—or something like that. Most likely it was more of a boy thing.

"Actually, I have to stay behind and talk to Rokudo-kun about something, Tsubasa-kun. I'll see you tomorrow," Sakura said next, looking only a little apologetic.

Disappointment washed over Tsubasa's face before suspicion took over.

"Why do you have to talk to him in private?" Tsubasa asked sharply. The exorcist suspected a romantic motive. His imagination was already running wild with various scenarios ending in Rokudo and Mamiya ending up together.

"Ah… well, he just has to explain something…," Sakura Mamiya trailed off.

The sort-of shinigami, as expected, merely stared at him. Perhaps it was the exorcist's paranoia but he could've sworn that Rinne's expression was a tad bit more icy than usual.

Tsubasa pursed his lips and was about to retaliate with a whining comment when he truly noticed the wariness in Sakura and Rinne's eyes. Rinne seemed more tired than normal (which was saying something, the guy always looked sort of miserable) and Sakura seemed a bit more pensive. Perhaps it was the way that they were eying each other, sort of cautious and yet sort of hopeful that Tsubasa suddenly felt that if he intruded on this, he would be upsetting two very good friends of his.

He did like Sakura Mamiya quite a lot, but he could also see that it was a dying cause. Because right now, it seemed that those two—Rokudo and Mamiya—were on the edge of the next step of something greater, and Tsubasa couldn't really bring himself to ruin it.

He shook his head. Well, why not? Rinne was an ok guy, more than ok if Tsubasa was ever forced to admit it. There was no harm in giving him a chance to be happy. Lord knew that the sort-of shinigami deserved it more than anyone else.

So Tsubasa shrugged and waved good bye, "Alright. See you."

And good luck, he thought wryly.

As the door clicked to a close, the remaining two couldn't help but feel as if the air was suffocating them. Rinne and Sakura avoided looking at each other because every time that one of them did dare to look up, they would turn slightly pink and look away all over again.

Sakura, normally calm and collected, had no idea what to say. She supposed that there was the option of pretending that the kissing incident had never happened, but then it would haunt her forever with endless questions of 'why?' If she had to choose, she would rather hear the reason upfront than fain ignorance for the rest of her friendship with Rinne.

Actually, when she thought about it, the kiss hadn't bothered her too much. She had rather liked it—maybe it was because it was her first kiss, or maybe it was because it was Rinne.

She frowned thoughtfully; did that mean she liked Rinne? The girl had never really been interested in topics such as dating and love. In fact, until she had met Rinne Rokudo and Tsubasa Jumonji, she might've drifted off into life without ever considering it. Now, as she thought of Rinne's eyes and his strong hands, she felt a surge of happiness inside and oddly safe—at home.

Before she knew it, she was smiling rather wistfully.

It wasn't a bad thing, to think of him.

"How are you feeling?" Sakura decided to speak first, since Rinne seemed to be wrestling with his thoughts. Though his face was blank, his eyes said more. Sakura had become quite more adept at reading his emotions. "Is it strange to be back in your body again?"

Rinne blinked several times, snapping out of his own blank gaze. He became aware that Sakura Mamiya was staring down at him with concern and his face coloured again. "I'm fine. It's just like waking up from a very long rest."

"Hm," Sakura hummed in agreement. The air in this room was getting stuffy.

Abruptly, Rinne decided to stand up, a determined expression glued on. The sort-of shinigami marched up to Sakura like a soldier charging into battle (and maybe in all seriousness he was). Sakura Mamiya peered up at him incredulously as Rinne bowed his head low, contrite.

"Sakura Mamiya, I apologize for taking advantage of you and stealing a kiss. I promise I won't do so again without your permission," the soft-of shinigami said, head still down. With a heavy gulp, he continued, "You must think I'm a disgusting person."

It took several moments for Sakura to process what he had just said. By the time Sakura truly understood it, she was surprised to feel a little bit hurt by his statement, but she hid it behind a strained smile.

"You're not disgusting! I would never think that of you. Rokudo-kun, I'm sure you had a good reason for what you did…," she strung the words together as best she could. "I mean… you didn't want to kiss me, so it must have been for a different reason then…"

The sort-of shinigami looked up at her in confusion, "What? When did I say…?" He paused, thinking over his previous sentences carefully before exclaiming, "No! I did want to kiss you—I mean, I kissed you because I wanted to kiss you and… I'm just apologizing for kissing you without your consent. Just in case you didn't want me to do it. Er… yeah, that's what I meant…"

The last part was murmured more quietly, but Sakura still heard it. In fact she found Rinne's flustered side rather endearing.

Still, she felt perplexed. "So then… what happened back then? It really scared me seeing you so… so stricken… and…"

Crying, she finished in her head. You were crying while you were holding me. Why were you crying so badly?

The other questions were left unasked, but she had a feeling that Rinne was going to answer them all.

Rinne did not speak for several minutes, only stared at her with an intensity which scared and exhilarated her at the same time.

"I was afraid that I lost you."

The words were spoken hoarsely and with such conviction that even a rock could feel the raw pain in that voice.

For yet the millionth time that day, Sakura found that she had nothing to respond with. Only wide eyed shock seemed appropriate and yet this alone was not enough to convey how moved she was.

"Sakura," she had never really heard him speak her first name like that before, "today I thought that we were going to die. Our mortality suddenly became clearer to me than anything else I've ever seen before. Yes, we're going to be reborn into our next lives, but have we lived out our present lives to the fullest? How many days have I wasted holding my silence, thinking that it was worthless to try?" the shinigami seemed to be speaking to himself at this moment, and then he looked at Sakura, "Why shouldn't I at least tell her?"

If Sakura had been planning on giving him a comment or reply, she couldn't now—not when Rinne was looked at her so intently, not with those eyes. She forgot how to breathe.

"…I know that I am poor, extremely low compared to you—"Sakura tried to protest, but he carried on, "—but I want to try. I want to live this life without any regrets; I don't want to think of any what-ifs. I need to tell you that… that I like you, Sakura Mamiya. I like you a lot. Maybe even more than a lot. I'm not sure if I'm the one for you or if you'd ever consider spending your time with someone like me, but… I just want you to know that… even in the next life and those after, those before… I think I would always like you. Always."

He smiled warmly at her, brighter than anything she'd ever seen.

"That's why I kissed you because I thought I'd get no other chance… and now that we're both here and still alive… I just wanted you to know that."

They stood there, looking at each other.

Rinne uncomfortably looked down at his worn sneakers. He fidgeted with the bottom of his shirt for a little bit before nodding to himself and turning away.

"Wait," Sakura's voice stopped him.

He paused; he wouldn't have been able to refuse her either way.

"…Did you…? Did you really mean all of that?" She spoke delicately, as if loudness would destroy this fragile moment they had shared.

The sort-of shinigami turned around to meet her eye. It took only one firm nod to show that he had indeed meant every word. He'd never said anything that had meant so much.

The happiness that Rinne saw reflected in her gaze seemed too good to be true.

"Then," Sakura said, "I want to try and accept your feelings."

Now it was Rinne's turn to look incredulous, his jaw was wide open. His disbelief made him look more endearing in her eyes.

"Rinne…," she said his first name hesitantly before smiling to continue, "when Kain took away your life flame… you have no idea how angry, how afraid I was for you. I was ready to hunt down every last damashigami if it meant getting your life flame back, if it meant you'd live. I've never been good with articulating my emotions or with feelings… but I know I care about you. That kiss… it felt right. I liked it. And I think… it wouldn't hurt to try."

He couldn't help but feel like a fish, mouth hanging open like that. "Do you really mean it?"

"I don't want any regrets either," Sakura said to him. "And I think we could make this work."

Carefully, Rinne reached for Sakura's hand. Without a word, her fingers grasped his in return and when they looked at each other, they saw what they had been denying for so very long.

-End-

The idea for this story came when Arkaim and I were chatting on msn. A question along the lines of 'wouldn't it have been nice if Rumiko Takahashi had included more of a Rinne x Sakura moment in the latest chapter of the manga?' popped up and (boom!) this idea was born.

I hope you enjoyed it, thank you for reading! Please review if you have the time :D