Zero Hour

Rating : PG
Summary : Life is short. Carpe diem.

They were running out of time. He could feel that it, the way the other greeted the dawn by slipping out the door believing that he wasn't awake, the sleep of the night unable to erase the stress and frustration grinding down on his shoulders. He could feel it, the way the year turned and the other showed no signs of slowing, no sign of stopping, still engrossed in a chase with no end in sight. Most of all, he could feel it when the temple runners came hammering at the door, urgently requesting his presence at the temple.

He stared at the acolyte on the doorstep. The young man's robes were dusty and sweat soaked, his eyes wide and frightened, his gasps loud in the silence.

"How bad?" Hakkai asked.

"They can't get the bleeding under control... it's a stomach wound..."

He was furious as he slammed on Jiipu's accelerator and shot down the road. Furious at the other's stubbornness. Furious at the Three Aspects for putting the other through this. Furious at himself for... believing that it would all be over after the Journey.

Jiipu screeched around the corner, the acolyte hanging on for dear life in the passenger seat.

One day, one day, Hakkai swore, he would give up and take up permanent residence in the temple. But You don't have to, the other had said. I'll finish up here and join you.

But that had been five years ago.

And they were running out of time. He was running out of time.

He took the temple steps two at a time, neither needing nor heeding the frantic directions of the monks. He'd done this before. He'd done this so many times that he'd lost count.

Each time, running until the air cut through his lungs and burned and disappeared, heart pounding frantically against his ribcage, fear twisting his stomach and coasting through his veins--

--he slammed into the room, pausing for two seconds to catch his breath.

Sanzo was ... bad. He'd patched the priest up whenever he came back cut open from one of those crazy missions, and he hadn't seen worse than this in a long time. It was no wonder the temple had called for him; without his ki healing techniques, the man would not have survived.

I'm running out of time. He stumbled to the bedside, the green healing ki already growing between his fingertips. The trance gripped his mind as he leaned over his work, stitching back ruptured organs and parted flesh, stanching severed vessels and persuading the blood to flow again.

He heard the faint murmur of a heart beat and coaxed it out, encouraged it, lent it his strength. A stronger beat. Another. The whisper of air through damaged lungs.

Stronger, he urged it. Sanzo wasn't breathing properly. Sanzo was going to have permanent brain damage if he didn't hurry up...

He doubled his efforts, unaware of the trembling in his arms and the sweat streaking down the sides of his face. Come on, Sanzo...

We're running out of time.

The return to consciousness was explosive. Sanzo choked violently, coughing out blood lodged in his lungs. His ki flared up into life, slamming into Hakkai's and snapping him out of the trance. The priest bolted upright, lashing out with a fist that stopped just a hair's breadth from Hakkai's face.

For a moment, green eyes met white-rimmed purple ones.

"Hakkai." The fist dropped and Sanzo collapsed backwards, still coughing.

"Sanzo." He couldn't manage more than that, too drained even to move from the bedside. The temple doctors moved in, stitching up the smaller wounds and wiping the blood away. The acolyte hesitantly offered Hakkai a cold towel and water, both of which he accepted gladly.

"Hakkai..." Sanzo whispered, and Hakkai leaned in to listen. "Tell these morons to get lost. I'll be fine."

"He'll be okay," Hakkai announced loudly. "But he needs rest and quiet."

They respected Cho sensei's opinion, of course, so the doctors hurriedly bandaged the wounds then left, bowing nervously. The acolyte paused long enough to pour tea, then withdrew.

Hakkai waited until the last of them was gone before reaching out to grasp Sanzo's hand. The fingers were cold against his own, cold and still bloodstained. But they had just enough strength to tighten briefly in silent thanks.

"What happened?" Hakkai asked quietly.

"I was careless," Sanzo murmured. "They jumped us-- was reloading... didn't dodge fast enough."

"Did you find it?" He couldn't recall the time he'd asked that question, to an injured Sanzo, to a bone weary and exhausted Sanzo, to a frustrated and furious Sanzo...

"No." And every time the same answer, the same quiet sigh of vexed defeat, the same determination to go on.

Until it killed him.

"We're running out of time," Hakkai murmured.

Sanzo looked over, eyes heavy lidded with exhaustion and pain. "Almost. We're almost there... just... it's just the last one..."

"You've been saying that for three years," Hakkai said dully. "I don't understand. You only ever wanted the Seiten sutra back. When did it become your objective to find every single one of them?"

He rather thought he knew, of course. It couldn't have ended after they'd stopped Gyokumen and brought the Seiten sutra back. It couldn't have ended then because Sanzo couldn't stop. He'd been chasing the sutra for as long as he remembered, living his life one mission to the next, focused on one singular purpose. And he didn't know any other way to live his life.

Of course there were excuses. There always were. The Muten sutra was missing; someone was using a sutra to the north to attempt to drive youkai crazy, this Sanzo had reportedly died somewhere, go get the sutra back before someone misuses it...

The Three Aspects were driving their emissary into the ground, and their emissary didn't have enough self preservation to avoid it.

"I know. But we almost have it. Almost. We're so close."

"Sanzo," Hakkai laid his head against the edge of the bed, sighing in disappointment and fatigue.

"I'm sorry."

Once, that had been enough, two simple words that Sanzo would never say to anyone else. Once, the genuine apology in those amethyst eyes would have quietened his protests, made him stand back, wait, watch... watch again and again as he went out and got ripped up and came back more dead than alive. Now it simply didn't work any more.

It wasn't even that he was jealous. It wasn't even that he'd been waiting too long for Sanzo to finally come home and stay home. It wasn't even that they were losing years that they should have spent together.

"I'm sorry," a dust caked Sanzo would say, turning up on his doorstep. And Hakkai would scold him for apologizing, drag him in and feed him and watch over him as he slept the sleep of the dead tired. And when he believed that Hakkai had dozed off nearer to dawn, he'd quietly pick up his bags and sneak out of the house even before dawn had broken.

Hakkai could hear some great clock ticking. He could hear it in the quiet of the night, counting the hours. He could hear it as he walked down the street, waiting desperately for Sanzo to return from another mission. He could hear it now as he sat by the bedside, and he could hear it chiming, Doom, doom, doom.

"You're going to die," Hakkai said, and he knew it with certainty. "Sanzo, please... stop."

We're running out of time.

Sanzo frowned at him. "Die?"

Hakkai shuddered. "I don't know. I can feel it. Every time you go out, you're one step closer to death. Every time you come back alive it's a miracle, and we're running out of miracles."

"Don't be an idiot," Sanzo sighed. "You're just being paranoid."

"I'm serious," Hakkai said, turning to face him. "It's been five years since we found the Seiten sutra. You've been hunting the Muten for three. Come spring, it'll be four years." He took a deep breath. "You will give up this mad search if you can't find it by spring."

Sanzo stared at him.

"Promise me," Hakkai said.

Once, Sanzo would have snapped at him for forcing his hand. Once, Sanzo would have refused it simply because it was asked of him. Once, Sanzo wouldn't even have suspected that he could love another.

"We've missed the best years of our life already," Hakkai begged him quietly.

A quiet sigh. "Alright."

*

The day it happened, Hakkai knew. He awoke to find it had snowed heavily in the night; it had been a harsh winter, but it would be over soon. Sanzo had left again a week back.

"This is the last time," Hakkai had said, refusing to back down.

Sanzo looked annoyed. "Yes, yes, it is."

He realized moments later that the invisible clock had stopped ticking. He tilted his head, listening, but the tick that had haunted his days and nights had ceased. The silence was eerie.

He sat still for all of five seconds, then flung himself out of the door and ran all the way down to the city gates.

Out of time, out of time...

He was in time to see the procession come in. There was one youth of about eighteen in the lead, and Hakkai ran up to him, dread threatening to freeze the blood in his veins solid. "Shinta-kun..."

The youth paused and looked up.

Black hair parted in the winter breeze to reveal a small red dot in the middle of his forehead.

"Shinta..."

"Cho sensei..." his eyes were red. "I'm sorry."

The world stopped. In the stillness, he heard that clock chime once. Doom.

"Sanzo-sama..." the youth was clutching a sutra in one hand.

"Is that the Muten sutra?" Hakkai asked, his voice calm with the flatness of denial.

"...Yes. We... he found it." A single tear inched its way out of the corner of his eye and escaped down his cheek. He brushed it away angrily, and drew himself up. "We ran into heavy resistance last night. Genjo Sanzo-sama created a distraction for us while we went in for the sutra." He sighed quietly. "Before he left, he conferred his title upon me. He never came back." He dug in his robe and handed something to Hakkai. "He left this for you."

Hakkai looked down.

He couldn't help it. He smiled, a mixture of bitter and sweet and everything in between. He smiled even as his heart twisted and broke, even as the world turned to ashes and blew away.

It was a watch. It was the watch, the one he'd broken a life time ago, when he'd gone after Kanan. The one that Goku had handed back to him that night when he met Sanzo.

...The one he'd thrown away that same night.

There was a shred of paper inside. I'm sorry was barely legible. The rest was torn away. There might have been more.

"Thank you," Hakkai said quietly.

Shinta -- no, Sanzo, whatever his new name was -- touched his sleeve briefly. "I'm really sorry, Cho sensei."

Hakkai smiled at him, at the rest of the monks, and turned and walked away.

*

He would leave, he decided. Gojyo had moved on a long time ago, and Goku had decided to wander the world in hopes of finding some clues as to his lost past.

But he'd stayed, because Sanzo had stayed.

"We'll go, one day. Somewhere out there," Sanzo gestured vaguely into the distance.

"When?" Hakkai asked.

"Some day."

"We ran out of time, didn't we?" Hakkai asked. The watch was heavy in his hand. Sanzo had gotten it repaired, which was just about the only thing that stopped Hakkai from flinging it away a second time. The tick was quiet against the inside of his palm. Annoying yet familiar. Threatening yet comforting. "North, I think," Hakkai said to Jiipu's chirped question. "That's the way Gojyo went." He paused outside the house that he'd once shared with Gojyo, another life time ago. Snow covered everything, pure and white and unforgiving.

He sighed, and his breath misted in the cold air. Sanzo...

"What the hell are you sighing about, idiot?" the voice said in his ear.

He jumped and spun, as Jiipu took to the air in alarm.

The other took a step back and frowned at him, golden brows drawing down in an expression that was all too familiar. "I've quit my job. Isn't that what you wanted?"

"Sa...n..."

"You certainly took your time," Sanzo said, pulling out a cigarette. "Leaving me to happily freeze my ass off waiting outside for you."

"...zo...."

Sanzo stared at him. "What the hell is the matter?"

"You were dead. You were supposed to be dead. Shinta--"

Sanzo stared at him for a minute longer. Then he growled in irritation. "That idiot. And I thought that he, of all of them, had half a brain. Didn't you get the note?"

Hakkai snapped the watch open, and wordlessly held up the scrap of paper.

Sanzo glared at the tiny strip. "No wonder."

"No wonder what?" Hakkai demanded, his voice rising in near hysteria.

A shrug. "The rest must have gotten torn off. It told you that I would be waiting here. Don't want the rest of the town flocking around me and all the monks asking stupid questions."

"SANZO!" Hakkai stared at the watch. "You... you.."

"Urusee, idiot." A quiet murmur in his ear, an arm around his shoulders. "I know I'm late. But it's not quite spring yet, is it?"

"Sanzo..."

"Can't you say anything more intelligent? And stop calling me that. I passed the title on."

"So what do I call you?" Hakkai asked. "Koishi."

An amused glance. "You can start with that. Now, can we get indoors?"

"Later," Hakkai said, the smile breaking out on his features again. "For making me believe that you were dead, I am going to drag you around to find the first spring flowers until you freeze."

"It wasn't my fault," Sanzo protested.

"After all," Hakkai continued ruthlessly, "We have all the time in the world."

--

End

--

Koishii (adj) -- Beloved

A/N :

I sometimes look at the challenges on Temps mort, and I wrote this one in response to it. Unfortunately, at the material time I'd already taken twice the stipulated time, so it doesn't count. Too bad, I guess, so I'm just posting it as a normal fic. (I'm incapable of writing really short 45 minute fics.)

The challenge was to write something to do with deadlines. I wanted to leave Sanzo as dead, but the recent spate of angst in my fics is getting to people, so I decided to be kind and make it fluffy.

...After all, I've never killed Sanzo-koishi before (not without reincarnating him, at least) and I'm not about to start. ^_^

sf, 12:15pm November 07 2003

Time taken : 1 h 30 min

2,000+ words : Check

Angst : Check

Sanzo/Hakkai : Check

Work neglected in order to write fic : Check