Note: Spoilers up to Chapter 89. Rinne and Sakura have graduated from high school. They now attend University in Tokyo. Therefore, they should be legal age
Warnings: Possible ooc behaviour. Fluff. Some odd humour. Then again, I find the oddest things amusing.
Disclaimer: I don't own Rin-ne/Kyokai No Rinne. It belongs to Rumiko Takahashi and Viz Media.
Dedicated to Miyori999
Happy 18th Birthday Miyori, you're now of legal age and off to the future to do great and bright things. Thanks so much for sharing your fanart, the Fanfiction and enthusiasm with everyone. You're so awesome that this oneshot became a twoshot and now I have to work on chapter 2 (when university permits, of course).
Hope you enjoy it.
They had never planned to live together—ever—at any point in their lives (though Rinne admitted many years later, that he had sometimes daydreamed back in high school, of being with her.) It has just sort of... happened.
How did this, normally, very serious decision making react as spontaneously as gasoline combusts into fire? Didn't couples usually discuss such things with each other? (And, no. Once again, dear reader, they were not romantically involved with each other at the time. Though it is certain that at least one had feelings for the other...)
Simple. They needed a match.
Then things fell into place before either of the pair could think to stop it.
(For the record, Rinne used the damashigami and crazed murderers as an excuse. Sakura just went with the flow.)
The weather station had predicted the day of New Year's Eve to be sunny, without a cloud in the sky. There would be no rough weather, only a bright atmosphere to match the anticipation of another year.
Sakura, however, remembered that day was in fact gloomy, with slight snow that wasn't quite snow. It was more like slushy rain. It had also been extremely cloudy, making it hard to see when walking in the evening, even by the lamp posts. The only thing the weather station had gotten right was the temperature. It was cold. Then again, the weather station couldn't exactly be credited with this because it hadn't even mentioned how cold it would be. They had forgotten it all together.
Of course, Sakura wasn't exactly one to ask about the weather. She didn't normally commit such details to memory. No, she only remembered how cold it was because that was the day she had almost been murdered.
(Rinne would argue, of course, that just by associating with him, she was always getting nearly murdered by the spirits they encountered. Sakura would then remind him why she was the one telling the story and not him. He tended to extend things out of proportion when it came to her safety.)
She was coming home from a night class—Western Literature. She was studying to become a languages teacher for high school students. It seemed like a relaxing job for her and if she got too stressed with it, Sakura had some experience with botany, so she wouldn't mind becoming a gardener. Normally Sakura took the subway home but she had already missed it because she was caught up talking with Miho and Rika. So Sakura decided to walk part of the way home instead. It wasn't far and Sakura enjoyed walking, even if it was chilly.
Her scarf felt soft against her cheek and Sakura smiled at the memory of her first knitted scarf. The other day she had met up with Rinne on the street. She had been shopping for groceries and he had been working at the back, organizing boxes. He still had her scarf.
He hadn't seen her, to her disappointment. She would have liked to have said 'hello' but she didn't want to distract him. It would have been horrible if any of the boxes fell on him because he wasn't focused on his work.
Sakura hadn't seen Rinne in a long time.
In fact, she hadn't seen any of her high school friends besides Miho and Rika in a while. Tsubasa used to text her daily, but lately he only texted once a week. The exorcist had taken up the mantle of his father's work, deciding to travel all of Japan to handle any spiritual exorcisms. At the moment he was in Okinawa. He told her to expect a souvenir and postcard in the mail some time soon.
Ageha was another one. Sometimes Sakura wasn't sure if they were friends or not, but they had kept in reasonable contact. The female shinigami had gotten awfully attached to human cell phones and loved to chat in general. Apparently Sakura was one of Ageha's few female acquaintances (or maybe the only one), so Ageha would reluctantly call Sakura up and complain loudly about "a big idiot" who kept bumping into her while she did her work. Coincidently, Ageha was also in Okinawa at the present.
They were both caught up in their travels and so Sakura only saw them during major holidays. Rinne was a different matter.
After graduation, Sakura had wisely not asked for a number or an address from him. She had a feeling he didn't own a cell phone and, judging from his choice of residence all through high school, would most likely change addresses frequently.
Instead, Sakura had given him instructions on how to contact her. She listed her numbers, email and her future apartment location. She told him where she was enrolling. She smiled and told him that he should visit her and then they could go out for tea occasionally, because what else did old friends do?
Rinne had looked so touched at that moment, that Sakura thought he might faint from shock.
He had promised to visit her.
The first couple of months were great. Rinne had visited every week without fail (at first he had been a bit hesitant to do so, which Sakura found quite endearing). He moaned whenever Sakura paid the bill for their tea (which was most of the time), opened doors and held out chairs for her. He would blush every so often when waiters mistook them for a couple and Sakura allowed herself to wonder what would happen if she allowed this to become more.
But she never got to find out. Gradually, Rinne grew distant and busier. He stopped coming to visit her. She had no way of finding him again.
Second year of University came, and then a few months of term passed. Now it was January, and Sakura still wondered if anything would have changed if she had just reached out for his hand... if she had read the signs and told him it would be ok...
The murderer, unfortunately perceptive, took this moment to attack.
Nothing could have prepared Sakura for the sudden pain which jolted through her body as her body was slammed against the wall of the nearby building. She would have fought back or run away from the unknown predator had it not been for the element of surprise.
His hands were wrapped around her neck before Sakura could even blink. She felt his fingers constricting the air flowing through her neck and could do nothing but gasp for that lost breath. Her arms writhed and reached up, attempting to pry those iron fingers from her throat.
Her eyes were beginning to tear up, her vision was getting foggy. Sakura could make out the shape of a deranged looking man—eyes bright and eerie as the moon, while his jaw was oddly wide open. He had a rather dazed face for a man intent on murdering her, and Sakura couldn't pick out more details as she was losing consciousness.
"Let... go...," she managed to breathe out, her fingers trying to loosen the grip, but failing. They slipped like skates along ice, unable to break the surface.
Fight back. Some instinct in her yelled, fight back or you'll—
The man stumbled back as Sakura began to run. She'd successfully kneed him where it would hurt and then scratched at his face with her hands before spinning around and dashing out.
Sidewalks were oddly slippery when running for your life; also, she would never wear simple flats to a night class again. They hindered her movements. She saw a garbage can coming into view as she turned another dark corner, and tipped it over behind her, hoping to slow the man down with a few obstacles. Something told her that it wouldn't help, so she kept running.
Something was fluttering above her, but Sakura didn't dare look up. That was a mistake, for when she felt something fall on top of her and throw her up into the air, Sakura made a startling conclusion, insane but then again, for a girl who could see ghosts, completely plausible.
This man could fly.
Was he a ghost? Maybe a damashigami? Or a freaky mutant of some kind, something she hadn't heard of? Her mind raced with possibilities, just before her face met cement and she felt a horrible pain burst through her right cheek and her eye. She hissed, moaned, but tried to get up to run, despite the ringing in her limbs.
He yanked her up and pushed her against one of the walls. Sakura berated her stupidity for running into a damn ally, effectively cornering herself. But she had been so concentrated on escaping that she hadn't concisely noted where she was going (being in the dark hadn't helped either).
His fingers returned to her neck, Sakura took a sharp intake of precious air, half her vision blurred in red and black while the other eye clearly saw her murderer looming an inch from her nose.
Her alarm heightened as she saw the man leer at her, a few missing teeth like holes in a soul. Thoughts raced in her head. Who was this man? What did he want with her? Could he let go of her neck? She really needed to breathe! Why had she walked home? Why couldn't she have taken the subway after all? Was he going to let go now? Was that a strange haze she saw around him, something like a spirit... a spirit possessing...?
No. Too many thoughts. She was slipping from this world, and they both knew it, the murderer and the victim. Perhaps this was what a drunk felt like when they lost control of their senses, disorientated and unsure of what reality they had stepped into—minus the intense pain and lack of breath Sakura was experiencing.
She was dying now and maybe no one would ever know. The murderer would hide the body and then vanish without a trace...
Well, Sakura thought in a strangely pleasant way (what other mood was appropriate when you were about to die?), at least the murderer hadn't gotten to anyone else tonight... at least he wouldn't be murdering children or old men...
The last thing Sakura remembered was falling to the ground, a flash of a familiar haori and the cry of "Sakura Mamiya!"
Sakura woke up in a hospital room, IVs pinned into her veins as if she were a broken puppet on strings while a monitor sent out periodic beeps to confirm that she was alive. There was something bandaging her right eye, like an eye patch. It felt a bit strange to rely on only the other. Everything smelled of chemicals and the slight underlying smell of urine and decay. It was a typical scent for a medical establishment, a place where you came out healed, more ill or worse, a corpse.
She wrinkled her nose, staring at the white ceiling (white, the colour for death) and turned her head against her fluffy pillow. Her arms felt as if they were logs, inanimate objects that were not a part of her. They wouldn't move without extreme effort and Sakura wanted to save her energy to figure out how she had ended up here. She wondered how long she had been sleeping in the bed, noted the large ensemble of gift baskets, cards and flowers sitting on a table at the windowsill.
Then she noticed that there was someone slumped against a plastic chair by her bedside. The sight of his red bangs, messily covering his eye lids, was enough for Sakura to recognize him and suddenly she felt something warm swell up inside her.
"Rokudo-kun," she tried to get up, but succeeded only in lifting her head just a little, feeling woozy just from that movement.
"Just a moment, now," said someone, hovering above her with a glass of water in hand. "May I?"
"Yes, please," she answered, without thinking. As the glass touched her lips, she took deep sips, savouring the water, how it felt down her throat.
Amused laughter made Sakura look up, and she blinked in surprise, seeing Tamako in her colourful kimono, floating to the other side of the room to place the glass on the table. "Granny Tamako...?"
The woman's fist came down on Sakura's skull, "Don't you mean Auntie?"
"Ow, ow! I'm sorry, Auntie, please stop!"
She must have sounded in serious in pain because Tamako looked rather guilty and refrained from any more playful banter. She frowned, arms tucked into the sleeves of her robe.
"How are you feeling?"
For a moment, Sakura was confused, but remembered the attack, the flying man, the leer from his teeth and how she felt before her breath left her. She shuddered unconsciously before putting on a small smile."I'm fine now... "
Tamako snorted, disbelieving her and Sakura's gaze drifted to the sleeping sort-of shinigami in the chair.
She hesitated, "Did Rokudo-kun...?"
"Save you?" The elder shinigami said softly. "Yes... and he's been by your side ever since. You've been sleeping for three days; Sakura-chan. Rinne-chan was getting very distraught. He'll be relieved that you've awakened."
Sakura stared at Rinne's slumbering form for a long time before she said quietly, "I'm sorry for worrying you."
Tamako placed her hand on Sakura's shoulder, "You shouldn't have to apologize for this. It wasn't your fault. Circumstances were far beyond your control. Rinne-kun would move worlds for you; he's very devoted."
"Yes," She remembered wistfully, "he will always be dedicated to his work."
There was a muffled chuckle.
"Oh nothing," She rolled her eyes and adjusted her sleeves together, "Just thinking that you two seemed doomed to misinterpret each other as usual. Pay me no mind. Would you like something to eat, Sakura-chan? I'll go fetch you some dinner. I can't imagine that hospital food tastes any good. You should have seen what the nurses tried to feed my honeybuns when he got older and ill…"
With thanks, Sakura watched Rinne's grandmother fly out the ceiling, presumably to the shinigami world and found her gaze fixed towards the sleeping Rinne's face. His face was worn, there were bags under his eyes and his colour seemed paler than she remembered. She found her hand outstretched to brush the bangs from his eyelids, so that she could observe the changes in his features.
There it was, what was truly different. There was a nasty scab in the upper right corner of his forehead, ragged and twisted with dried red. His own shade of hair had hidden it, but Sakura had noticed it almost right away. She let her fingers brush against the wound, it seemed still wet and as if to confirm it, she felt the red wear against her skin.
Something in her stomach tightened uncomfortably and Sakura dropped her hand.
"It looks like you have to go to the trouble of saving me again, Rokudo-kun…" She felt her throat go dry. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
He was always protecting her, even when they had grown distant to the point where she couldn't walk into a store and greet him for fear of distracting him from his work. Even when she failed at expressing her own feelings clearly.
"I promise this won't happen again, Rokudo-kun. I won't bother you with my troubles. I'll learn to protect myself more and maybe then… I won't burden you so."
Tamako returned shortly with a stacked tray. She handed Sakura a thermos with warm miso soup, as well as a bowl of white rice served with boiled eggplant, mushroom and tofu. There was even green tea, fresh from the pot. Eating the food filled Sakura with a deep comfort and warmth. By the end of the meal, she was thanking Tamako at least over a dozen times and asked the elder shinigami if they could save some for Rinne.
"Of course we will. I'd be insulted if you thought that I wouldn't," she said.
They spoke of Sakura's time at University, her studies and Tamako's latest exorcisms. When Sakura asked about Rokumon, Tamako had told Sakura that the black cat was on patrol. She didn't give any more details, promising to explain when Rinne had awoken. Instead they discussed Ageha and Tsubasa, the strange texts and postcards Sakura received from them both which always seemed to arrive from the same places in Japan. They spoke of all they could save for why Sakura had been attacked and just what Rinne had been up too over the months.
Sakura wasn't sure if it was in her place to ask anymore... and she wanted Rinne to be awake when she did ask so she continued to chat with Tamako, enjoying her company. It had been a long time since she'd been able to speak freely like this, even with her friends Rika and Miho she felt guarded and heavy. At least like this, she could pretend that things hadn't changed, that it was high school when things weren't complicated and her closest relationships hadn't distanced away.
"I missed you," Sakura found herself saying, "you and Rinne. I missed you both very much."
Tamako hid her blush under her sleeve. "So did I. Rinne-chan as well..." Her gaze grew sad, "even if he's too stubborn to admit it."
"Too stubborn to admit what?"
Both females jumped at the sound of his voice, turning to see that the sort-of shinigami was rubbing his eyelids and blinking up at them from the chair. His hair stuck up at odd ends while his clothes looked worn and ruffled from sleeping in one position for so long. He wore a frown, having never been a morning person, and when he turned to look at Sakura, she felt warmth settle in her body.
"...Sakura Mamiya..." He rushed to her bedside, peering at her intently, "Are you feeling alright? Have your injuries worsened?" He looked up at Tamako, "Granny—"
She punched him hard on the head, "That name is on the forbidden list, remember?"
He winced but continued, "—did you give Sakura Mamiya something to drink? Is there medicine she has to take? We should call the nurse... definitely call the nurse..."
"Rokudo-kun!" Sakura stopped him with a tug at his wrist. "It's fine. Auntie already took care of it. I'm feeling better now... much better."
His gaze lingered on the bandages and the eye patch, as well as the tubes poked into her skin.
"No...," he said quietly, "you're not... I'm so sorry, Sakura Mamiya."
"Sorry?" Sakura felt alarmed. "There's nothing to apologize for. How could this possibly be any fault of yours? It's not as if you ordered me to be attacked in a dark alley."
"No, I didn't," Rinne admitted, while Tamako hovered by, her face sombre, "But I may as well have. That person was possessed by the spirit of a damashigami... a dangerous damashigami named Naraku who has a lingering grudge on me."
Sakura blinked, processing this new information. She hadn't known that damashigami could die and become spirits. Suddenly the strange powers that her attacker had possessed—glowing irises and flying—made more sense to her.
"But I still don't understand... How is that related to me?"
For a moment, everything was still. She saw Rinne stiffen, refusing to look at her, while his fingers graced the surface of the bed sheets. Tamako made herself scarce, floating near the doorway, as if she could sense the need for privacy.
"Sakura Mamiya... He attacked you because he grew aware of how much I... how much I value and care for you," his lips went into a thin line. "He attacked you because he knew that it was the most effective way to make me suffer," Rinne looked up, staring at her with guilt. "He attacked you because of me."
He closed his eyes and brought him his right hand to rub his temple, faced slightly away from her.
"Alright," Sakura said. "So what? You exorcised him, didn't you? So everything is fine now. I trust you."
"What?" Rinne's mouth parted slightly and his eyes widened. "No... He's still out there, Sakura Mamiya. He escaped and he's still out there," he clenched his fists, "Naraku will likely return to finish the job he set out to do for revenge."
She frowned, "Then that's fine... I'll be more careful when I walk home from class and I'll get some weapons from my closest. Tsubasa-kun's been kind enough to send me all kinds of pepper spray, holy water, that sort of thing—"
"—You don't understand, Sakura Mamiya, I put you in danger!" Rinne said loudly, finally turning to face her directly. She felt her breath escape her at the intensity of them. "My job, who I am, just be associating me, you're in danger. I put your life at risk and it's my fault. I'm sorry."
"Rokudo-kun!" Sakura grabbed his hand and forced him to keep his gaze. "Stop blaming yourself. It is not your fault, its Naraku's. If anything, you saved my life... again. I should be thanking you."
Rinne's fists unfurled and his shoulders slumped. He looked tired, more tired that Sakura had ever seen him. She felt her heart go out to him, wishing she could press a rewind button and turn back time. At least then, maybe she could return him to a time and place when he had been happy, without a care in the world. But life was cruel like that.
"...I still failed in my duty as a shinigami..." He said in that same defeated tone.
Sakura wanted to say something, but she wasn't sure what. Her hand hesitated around his, before she squeezed it and brought it up to her neck, two fingers. When Rinne looked up to give her a questioning gaze, Sakura continued to hold his hand there.
"Can you feel that?"
They sat there quietly for a few moments.
"Yes," her lips quirked upwards. "I'm alive because of you. So next time you feel yourself doubting or you feel inclined to blame yourself for things that aren't your fault, just feel my pulse... and remember this."
Rinne stared at her for a long time, until his hand began to feel sweaty in hers and he slowly pulled away. He swallowed hard and nodded once.
After Tamako insisted that Rinne eat something, she hovered on the other side of the bed. Rinne's chair was pushed forward so that he was an inch from Sakura's bed side. His expression was serious. He began explaining how he had met Naraku and accounting how his life had been in the past months.
"You must be wondering why I haven't contacted you for a while," He shifted uncomfortably, face blank.
Sakura smiled sadly, "Yes, I have."
"Almost a year ago, I had a very important assignment from the higher-ups," seeing her confused look, he elaborated, "Each shinigami is typically given a district of the human world to maintain and set order to. Mine is here, has been since Gran—I mean Tamako—decided to move on from Tokyo after my grandfather died."
"It was too painful to remain and be reminded of him," Tamako explained. "I tried to take Rinne-chan with me but he insisted."
"It's where you and your grandfather used to live..." Sakura realized, "It's special to you."
Rinne ducked his head down, his ears coloured. "Yes, well, I felt it was my duty... besides, I had a lot of debt because of my old man. It's a good way to pay them back."
"Usually I take any ghost I can find and exorcise them. Occasionally Rokumon brings me posters of wanted damashigami in the vicinity who are worth a hefty sum. It's too good an opportunity to pass up, so I usually take the job.
"The damashigami on this poster was Naraku(1). He has a five billion yen price on his head, wanted for trafficking the human souls of prostitutes, drug dealers and the like by disguising himself as a lawyer or a business man who could pay and take them away from their current lifestyles. He also had a reputation of stealing the souls of lonely women, destroying them completely before he took them.
"Rokumon managed to find a lead back at headquarters (and some sneaking around). It turns out that Naraku was the former damashigami president before he stepped down. The job was given to my old man. He and Sabato don't see eye to eye (surprisingly), but he does keep tabs on everyone in his company (again, I'm just as surprised as you are).
"It was easy to find the old man and threaten the location out of him. Naraku was hiding out in the seediest parts of Tokyo, posing as a rich and talented entrepreneur, willing to take whatever prostitutes away from their trades if they swore devotion to him. When they did... he tortured them until they broke down and then he killed them and took their lives. It's unforgiveable, that sort of thing.
"I broke into his hotel room but he was prepared. He was powerful, with a spiritual miasma and strange powers I've never seen from a damashigami before. At first he underestimated me. I was losing, finding it hard to breathe or fight against the poison he dispelled through the air. But somehow I managed to cut at his arm with my scythe. I kept most of my face hidden behind the haori. I inherited it from Tamako, it's good quality, able to help defend against those attacks.
"Naraku was livid that I managed to cut him. He tried to strangle me, but I fought back. We must have been on the top floor of the hotel because Rokumon came in and bit Naraku on the neck. Naraku howled and wrenched back from he... falling through the window.
"He tried to fly upwards but I hit him with the back of my scythe and he fell. I flew down after him, ready to cut him with the scythe so he could be purified but then he charged at me. We wrestled around, since he threw my scythe away. Rokumon ran off to fetch it for me. I tried to hold him off but he was strong, much stronger than I had anticipated.
"We were in an alley way. There was an abandoned car there, filled with gasoline. I pushed Naraku, with all my strength, towards the car. Just then, Rokumon came, throwing the scythe towards me. I cut down and the blade slashed through him in half.
"But he didn't die... not really..." Rinne frowned.
"What do you mean?" Sakura asked.
Tamako cleared her throat, "Sometimes... a damashigami is too powerful to be purified by simple weapons alone... his spirit lingers... and if it does, he can obtain a new body through possession and continue his exploitations in that way."
Rinne nodded, "That's right... Naraku became a spirit... and he was angry. He tried to possess me... but spirits always find it difficult to possess those with high spiritual power like you and I. Only when a person with spiritual power is weak or caught when they are most vulnerable in their emotions, can they possess them. They find it much easier to target humans who have no sight for the supernatural. He ended up possessing random strangers around me, trying to kill me that way.
"I managed to exorcise Naraku out of them, but he was persistent. Eventually, after running and hiding from him for two weeks, I realized that it was unsafe to come see you anymore. I couldn't call you either, Sakura Mamiya... I never knew when Naraku might appear with his new host. I couldn't risk him finding out about you."
At Sakura's questioning gaze, Rinne frowned and said, "You were the only one I kept in regular contact with at the time... I didn't want to avoid you, but I had to."
Sakura stared at him silently before she nodded. She was upset that he hadn't told her about his problems (perhaps she could have done something to help and it would have lessened her worries) but she would accept it for now. Later, they would have time for further discussions and she could try to convince Rinne to trust in her. But for now, she needed to listen and he needed to speak.
"Rokumon and I travelled around Japan. We never stayed in one place for long," Rinne told her, "since Naraku has an uncanny way of tracking me. We tried to get messages to the shinigami world, to Tamako, so that we could get some advice on how to exorcise him for good. But I think our messages were often intercepted. We tried, once, to go there ourselves but Naraku tried following. We didn't want Naraku to get a hold of a weaker shinigami's body. He would grow too strong if he did.
"So we waited it out, as long as we could. We tried different techniques that we had heard of or recalled. It was several months when Tamako found us. She was concerned when she hadn't heard from me for a while and managed to track us down. She helped us drive Naraku out, but in that time, Naraku had found out something vital from me...
"He found out about you, Sakura Mamiya..."
Sakura shifted from her position on the bed, her brow furrowed, "I don't understand. How did he find out about me?"
Rinne turned his head away, "I... carry a picture... from the old days, with all of us in it..."
Sakura remembered that pictured and felt touched that Rinne had kept it. Her mother had taken the photo of them at graduation, just Rinne and Sakura, after snapping several group shots with her other friends. Sakura remembered it because they hadn't been paying attention, speaking to each other solely about what they would be doing in the future. It was when Rinne had given her one of his paper roses, a white one that was the most intricately folded of them all and she had given him her number on a sheet of paper. Rinne had turned pink, stuttering his gratefulness and thanks while Sakura fiddled with the paper rose in her hair. Their hands had touched and then her mother had snapped the picture.
Kaori Mamiya had used one of the old cameras that printed photos instantly. She had made two shots and when they'd dried, presented them proudly to the blushing pair saying that it would make a good memory.
Sakura had the photo within her wallet (along with a group picture of Rika, Miho, Tsubasa, Rinne and herself... Ageha had snuck into the photo as well, claiming to be a visitor from another school) and liked to look at it every now and then. She felt happy to know that Rinne seemed to do the same...
"So, he found the photo then?" She guessed.
"Yes, it fell from my pocket as we were fighting him... I... I'm so sorry, Sakura Mamiya," he bowed his head.
"No, please don't apologize. It wasn't your fault. I just wish you could have told me. I would have helped..." But Sakura stopped. She knew what he would say next.
"I couldn't put you in danger," he replied. "Now it seems all for nothing now that he's set his sights on you. He's a powerful damashigami spirit, crafty and sly. It will be difficult for us to exorcise him properly but we're working on it."
Sakura nodded. She still felt irritated that Rinne had left for these reasons but she could understand them.
"I trust you," she told him quietly. "You'll find Naraku and you'll finish this."
Rinne seemed speechless with emotion for several moments before he grasped her hand between his and proclaimed then and there, "Yes, I will. I swear to you, Sakura Mamiya that I will not rest until I find him. I will protect you."
The intensity of his words startled her and she found that she could not look away.
"...I know you will... Just... let me protect you too. Don't do anything reckless."
He hesitated. "I won't."
But they both knew that was a lie.
(In hindsight, Rinne should have told Sakura not to be reckless, not the other way around, because she was like that... extremely and stupidly reckless around him, always getting into trouble. At this point in the story, Sakura would ignore him.)
There were no attacks that night at the hospital but Tamako and Rinne kept a relentless guarding schedule despite that.
"He will return for you, and I'll be waiting to stop him," Rinne had said.
The two shinigami only seemed to eat when Rokumon came by to bring them food. The black cat and Sakura would catch up on old times, exchanging pleasantries and news.
"I'm so glad Rinne-sama and I get to see you again, Sakura-sama! You have no idea how depressed Rinne-sama became after we had to leave. He really missed you," the black cat revealed while munching on a few chips.
Sakura had lent him some money to buy snacks for himself and for Rinne. While she suspected that Tamako had attempted to lend the sort-of shinigami some money for food and necessities, she also knew that Rinne would never accept. This was her way of subtly feeding Rinne without insulting him. Rokumon almost always shared his food with his master so Sakura was reassured that Rinne was functioning with something other than coffee in his system.
She felt something in her lighten at the feline's words. "I missed you both as well," she admitted. "I always thought that Rinne just became swamped up in his debts and duties and that he couldn't afford to see him anymore. I'm relieved that isn't the case."
"Of course not!" Rokumon gasped as if Sakura had said something taboo. "Rinne-sama is extremely fond of you. He cares about you very much, he"—the black cat stopped and then said more carefully—"he's risked his life for you this past few months, hasn't he?"
Sakura clenched her jaw. "I suppose he has."
Rokumon raised his brow, observant as always. "Is something else bothering you then, Sakura-sama?"
"Well..." at the cat's eager face, Sakura decided to tell him. "It's not a big issue. I'm just irritated."
The cat's tail shot up. "Irritated? You, Sakura-sama? But why? Did my master do something untoward?"
Light laughter escaped from her, but she kept her gaze downcast upon the sheets. "No, of course not. I'm just... hurt, I suppose? Yes, I'm just hurt and... a bit angry that he didn't try to ask for help from me or even Tsubasa-kun and Ageha-chan... At least they could have offered their support..."
And now Rinne was taking it upon himself to defend her, guarding her door night and day without any rest until his grandmother returned from her teaching to relieve him of his station. He hardly got any rest. There were bags under his eyes, his clothes were wrinkled. Sakura wondered when the last time he had a good night's rest or a relaxing bath was.
Sakura knew that she was being slightly unfair. Rinne had truly been in a situation where he couldn't communicate with anyone, if this Naraku was as powerful as he had described. Sakura understood the circumstances all too well, but still... something in her ached...
She looked up at the cat. "Doesn't he trust me?"
One little paw reached out to touch her fingers. "You know he does. He always will. It's just complicated... and," the cat's teeth flashed in a wide grin, "Rinne-sama has always been a bit slow when it comes to the people that he cares about."
Sakura felt better after that conversation but still felt uneasy about the situation. She'd been in the hospital for three more days, in which Tamako made frequent visits during meal times to make sure that Sakura (and Rinne) were eating healthy. At night, Rinne wore his haori and slept, unseen by human eyes, in one of the empty beds by Sakura's. Rokumon kept Sakura company during the day, when Rinne guarded the door. They watched a few dramas on television before Sakura lost interest and asked Rokumon if he could get her textbooks from her apartment so that she could study.
The only times that Sakura had the opportunity to speak with Rinne were mealtimes. Even then, their conversation was silted and a bit awkward. Sakura hadn't told Rinne how upset she was with him while Rinne, she suspected, was hiding more than he was willing to say. She did not push the issue. Time had made them both slightly more distant. Yet at the same time, it had made them closer.
Though they didn't converse often when they were together, Sakura caught Rinne gazing at her and they'd exchange shy glances at first before smiling. Rinne lingered around her more, just standing there as he wanted nothing more than to enjoy her company. In those moments, Sakura believed that the sort-of shinigami looked more relaxed.
It was at the end of the week that something changed.
It was freezing when Sakura awoke from her nap. She seemed to need more naps lately in her recovery, often sleeping away the long afternoon hours and the night, only doing some textbook work in the evenings and mornings.
Shivering, Sakura glanced at the window. It was open wide, letting in cold air. Rokumon had probably left to fetch something for his master.
She groped around for one of the extra sweaters that the black cat had sent, along with her homework. It was hidden deep within her bag, under her cell phone (she really needed to phone her mother and let her know that she was alright) and several scarves. When she found it, she picked upon a muffled discussion outside of her room.
"...Naraku hasn't shown up yet, Rinne-kun... maybe you should go home and get some rest, just for one day..." Sakura heard Tamako's voice through the door.
Rinne's reply quieter, so quiet that Sakura could only distinguish a few fragments of his speech.
"...can't... no home... won't impose... What if Sakura...? ... too dangerous..."
"But still... you can't spend all your time and energy here, think of poor Sakura-chan. She's worried about you, so am I. You're no good to her if you fall asleep on the spot."
She didn't hear the rest, for their voices became soft hushes and she furrowed her brow. Slowly she moved her legs over the ledge of the bed, feeling like a swaying branch in the wind when she nearly fell to the floor. She still felt weak, like her body was no longer her own and was just a sack of skin and flesh. But she forced herself to stand still and was proud when only her knees seemed to tremble.
Sakura tiptoed towards the door, thankful for the socks which made each of her steps mute. The IV hooked on to her arm, rolled to follow her. She moved extra slow so that the wheels would not make a noise. Then she leaned her head against the wooden door, straining to hear what Rinne and Tamako were saying about his health. She hoped that Rinne would rest soon. It would pain her if he became ill from overworking himself.
"...her, don't you?" Tamako finished. "So take care of yourself. Don't you see how she looks at you?"
Who? Sakura wondered, feeling suddenly very cold. It was similar how she had felt when she'd intruded on Rinne and Ageha hugging several times over their high school career or when she had thought that Rinne would prefer a shinigami girlfriend to a human one (not that it mattered).
Sakura pressed closer to the door, her ear tickling the edge of the wood (and yet she felt something creeping behind her, something sinister which made Goosebumps trickle up her skin) when—
"Can I help you, dear? Do you need anything?" a voice said behind her.
Whirling around, fists outstretched, Sakura nearly hit one of her nurses, Emiko, in the face.
"Oh, I'm so sorry. You just caught me by surprise..." The apologies immediately flowed out of her. But her heart was still pounding, flashing back to the alley and the possessed man who had tried to squeeze the life from her throat.
Emiko smiled, a rosy blush on her cheeks. Yet there was a stiff paleness to her and when she spoke, Sakura felt an odd chill rush down. Emiko's gaze was downcast, covered by long bangs.
"Not at all. I should have warned you first..."
The nurse stepped closer. The white of her uniform, white the colour of death(2), was pale as a corpse. She had a long needle in one of her manicured hands, several in fact, each held in between long delicate fingers. Sakura was certain that she didn't need that many shots and found herself trapped between the nurse and the door.
Nurse Emiko stared directly at her and then, Sakura saw the red gleam hidden between innocent brown eyes and she knew.
"Naraku..." Sakura whispered.
The possessed nurse smiled, her pleasant features twisted in a sneer not of her own making. The window, Sakura noticed now, had been open for a long time. There had only been one other way into the room and Sakura had thought maybe Rokumon had used it. A careless thought. Next time she would question anything that seemed out of place.
The damashigami ghost crept closer and Sakura frowned at him, prepared to scream if necessary. Rinne would protect her, this she knew.
Then Naraku stopped. The nurse's lips turned down and then Naraku's voice emerged from her lips. "Are you not frightened, little girl? I'm going to kill you, right here, in front of your beloved."
Sakura stared up at him, remembered how she had struggled against his stranglehold, remembered how she had fought for breath, wanting to live so very much. But then she thought of the spirits she'd met, their peaceful gazes as they rode towards the wheel of reincarnation, the promise of a second chance, another life in the air.
Dying was frightening. But...
"I'm not afraid of death," she said. There were worse things in the world, like regret, like drugs and war. "Do your worst."
Anger flashed through the possessed nurse's face and then Naraku roared, bringing his hands down on her neck once more.
She did not scream.
Instead, she kicked the nurse in the stomach, hard and then ran towards the window, the noisy whirling of her IV machine following. Something sharp hit Sakura in the elbow, tearing down as if to tear her entire arm out and she let out a cry.
Blood gushed down from her skin. The gaping wound stared up at her in a curved grin, glistening red and Sakura saw the needles swipe down at her again.
The IV machine was close by. Sakura yanked the tubes from her wrist, wincing when more red flowed down her wrist and her other arm equally and then she yanked the machine in the damashigami's path. She saw it hit Naraku in surprise, pushing him back until he hit the wall. The crash alerted Rinne and Tamako who were banging at the door.
"Sakura-chan! Sakura-chan, what's going on? Open the door!"
"Sakura Mamiya? Sakura Mamiya! Damn it, he's there, isn't he?" There was a slam as the door hinges trembled from the recent assault. "Don't worry, Sakura Mamiya, I'm coming!"
There wasn't much to worry about yet. Naraku threw the IV machine off his host body and then proceeded to throw needles at Sakura. She ducked down, partially shielded by the bed and then she forced her limbs to move (despite the protests and how weak she felt). She lifted the mattress upwards at an angle and threw it at Naraku as well.
She scuttled to the door, twisting at the knob but found it stuck.
Naraku tore the mattress apart with inhuman strength, laughing. "You can't get out. They can't get in. Instead they will hear it when you scream their names in your death!"
"NO!" Rinne roared, slamming against the door again.
Sakura ran for it. She ducked past the darting needles, avoided Naraku's arms and went to the window. When she glanced out, she saw that she was several stories up. A fall from this height would kill her...
The damashigami's laughter echoed around her.
"There is nowhere to run, little girl. You should blame Rinne Rokudo. If he didn't care for you so dearly, I wouldn't have found you so fun to play with..."
The banging at the door was relentless now, in scattered beats and phrases. "Sakura Mamiya! Sakura Mamiya! I'm coming, I swear, damn it why isn't the haori working?"
What is he? Sakura thought as she stared at Naraku. How was it that this damashigami could block so many shinigami powers? Was he using some strange device from the other world? Or was it something else? Rinne hadn't mentioned any abilities like this before, so perhaps it was the power of a special item that was making it impossible to enter or exit the room.
"Why did you wait this long?" Sakura found herself asking, buying time. There was still a chance. Maybe Rokumon would come, bringing a life-saving purchase from the shinigami market or maybe Tamako had retreated to her home to find back-up and would return with a plan... Rinne would rush in, purify the host of the damashigami and all would be well...
"To kill me that is," Sakura clarified when she saw that Naraku had paused. "Why did you wait so long to kill me here? Surely it would have been easy with your powers. You found out who I was easily enough, you could have probably found out who was taking care of me here much sooner than now."
Naraku smirked. "You're right. I could have killed you many days ago... even the day we met in the alley," Sakura forced herself not to flinch as he eyed her neck hungrily, "but I let you go, just as your knight in shining armour arrived... and do you know why, little girl?"
"No," she answered calmly.
"Because suffering is the best part of revenge. What fun is it to kill you now when he hasn't even had you yet? A few days here and there of wedded bliss and then when I kill you, take away everything dear to him, well my revenge be complete."
Sakura's eyes widened. "Why are you telling me this?" Wasn't he going to kill her now? What was this murmuring about suffering about...? What did it mean?
The damashigami laughed.
"This is only the beginning," he said. "My revenge has barely begun."
Then he snapped his fingers and the doors burst open. Rinne and Tamako rushed through, their scythes already outstretched.
"Naraku!" Rinne yelled, raising his blade.
Instantly, the damashigami seemed to move, his hands dropping the needles and now around Sakura's neck once more while Sakura's mind raced. (If he had been able to move that fast before, why hadn't he just killed her sooner? It was like a cat playing with its food, watching for the right moment to strike...)
"Let's give him a show," the damashigami whispered against her neck.
Then he threw them both out of the window, Sakura and himself.
There was screaming and yelling while she hurtled to the ground. Was that Rinne's voice, calling out to her? She couldn't tell. The air echoed in her ears selfishly, taking all thought. And only Naraku's red gaze, staring out of stolen eyes, could be seen.
He was whispering something to her, tracing something against her back. Sakura recoiled, feeling very strange and lightheaded in a way that had nothing to do with the fall. Naraku was doing something to her, some kind of damashigami ritual... She didn't know what it did but she could feel the tendrils snaking around her body, something seeping into her skin, foreign and sickening...
No... She thought, realizing what he planned to do. No, you're not going to control me... get out... She thought again when she heard Naraku's amused chuckled. Get out... GET OUT!
There was a light, a flash of surprise in the damashigami's gaze and then they were torn apart from each other.
Rinne's arms wrapped around her, the familiar haori flapping in the air as Rinne sliced the nurse's body with his scythe. The nurse and Naraku screamed together, until the nurse disintegrated (a corpse, a corpse with a strange spider like tattoo on her back, Sakura realized coldly. Naraku had killed the poor woman before he had taken her body) while an eerie cloud of purple and black fog seeped out of her.
Cloth was pressed against Sakura's mouth; she felt Rinne's arms hold her tight.
"Don't breathe it in, Sakura Mamiya. Its deadly poison," she heard him say.
But what about you? She wanted to protest. It was useless to, not with the cloth forcing her words into muffles.
They didn't need to worry about the poison, because it slowly morphed into a cruel face with slanted eyes and tendrils of hair.
This was Naraku's spirit form.
"I will return," it snarled. "And then... I will kill you in the worse possible way."
Before Rinne or Tamako could capture him, he rushed away, scattering into the air as if he had been a part of it all along.
Silently, the three of them hovered in the air.
"...He'll be back, Rinne-kun," Tamako remarked sadly as she tended to Sakura's wounds. There was miasma in the needles and Sakura needed to be treated with shinigami drugs. It was a lucky thing that Tamako were experienced in first aid.
"I know," Rinne hadn't let go of her waist yet, had her pressed against him as if Naraku might return, manifesting beside them.
Sakura hadn't woken yet; her breathing was shallow after she had gone unconscious.
"He's eaten so many human souls and bodies that he's grown impossibly strong... Sakura-chan and you won't be safe, Rinne-kun," Tamako warned him.
He tightened his grip on the girl, feeling frustrated as he stared down at the ground.
"It doesn't matter."
"I will protect her."
His gaze softened as he looked at her again, and he brushed a few bangs from her eyes.
In her dreams, Sakura saw spiders crawling everywhere.
Meanwhile, hovering just above them, watching (always watching), Naraku smiled.
Everything according to plan.
No sanctuary for the lovers.
(1) Naraku is based on the villain from the anime Inuyasha. I don't own him, he belongs to Rumiko Takahashi.
(2) In Eastern culture, white is the colour worn at funerals.