Disclaimer: Saiyuki and it's characters belong to Minekura-sensei and her wonderfully talented pen, and also Enix, and….oh, various others that are not the author.
Warnings: There is quite a bit of gore mentioned in this one. Not the spilling of it, but it is kind of a death fic, so it also has very mature themes etc, etc. Oh, and I am also guilty of what is probably highly pretentious philosophising.
Authors Notes: Well, I've been watching Saiyuki box sets, so this had to happen. Keep in mind that I don't know how Gaiden ends, only how it starts, so I could be deviating from canon here. Also, I have refrained from mentioning Kenren's hair colour, since it seems to change between manga and anime. Never mind, that wasn't really essential to the story. Keep in mind that this is a sad story, but I also wanted it to be a hopeful one. As to the actual relationship between Tenpou and Kenren….well, what you read into it is your choice. Nothing is really explicit. Could be slash, or very close friendship. Up to you.
This story is set after disaster strikes in Saiyuki Gaiden, and presumably after Konzen has been killed, and Goku imprisoned. There really aren't enough Gaiden fics with our favourite Field Marshal and General in them.
Please, read and review.
Keeping Time – by Ryuuza Kochou
They would be killed on the morrow, they'd been told. A rather futile and cruel gesture that was so very Li Touten's style; they would never last that long and technically tomorrow didn't exist in the Heavens. He probably thought they were sitting here, boiling bellies full of spite and acid, rendered impotent and helpless. It showed how very little he really understood about his enemies, boorish bastard that he was.
Kenren was grinning. He was always grinning. Even with his gut punched full of holes and his shoulders wrenched loose from their sockets by the restraining chains they'd been transported in, he grinned like he saw the joke.
wished he would at least share the punchline. His own dislocated
shoulders screeched with every movement, not in the least because he
had a bullet lodged in one. His head spun and his vision, never the
best without his glasses, blurred and greyed from the bullet that had
creased his temple. One of his broken ribs pressed against his lungs,
his breath wheezing as a result. His leg burned cold fire, and was
not really damp, because it was actually more wet. Tenpou was not one
for anatomy textbooks, but he was pretty sure that they were both
His arm was a line of white fire as he stretched it into the next cell through the bars. "If you are feeling discomfort, you have only yourself to blame," Tenpou said primly, stretching even his fingertips.
Kenren curled on his side, the floor was laminated red with his blood. "Your compassion is just stirring, sir." A thin trickle of blood leaked from the corner of his mouth. "That's it, 'm done."
"Oh really, I'm not going to coddle you when you make a mistake," Tenpou's anger was a stiletto blade, sharp and thin. "I certainly gave no command for you to jump in front of me when they opened fire. Of course the soldiers were going to be insulted when you insisted on still fighting when already wounded. Especially since you were still a better fighter wounded than they were hale and healthy."
"Tenpou, do you ever use three words when thirty will do?"
"I gave you an order, General," Tenpou ignored this. "I may not be strong on discipline, but I will be obeyed."
"Your such a frickin' bastard, Marshal," Kenren rolled one shoulder experimentally. "If you weren't using me to distract all the higher ups, I wouldn't be here." There was a moment of pause, and Kenren thrust out a red tinged hand with the speed of punch, groaning.
Tenpou grabbed it before it could fall and be inches beyond his grasp again, his grip white knuckled. Okay, now came the really hard bit.
"What wrong, Marshal," Kenren huffed in the fetid air. "Can't practise what you preach?"
"Shut up, General," Tenpou growled, and yanked hard. Kenren groaned hoarsely with not enough breath to scream, and blackness wavered at the edges of Tenpou's vision as the Field Marshal fought against the agony. Kenren was yanked against the bars long ways, leaving a smear of blood across his cell. Tenpou's head rolled back against the hard stone, struggling to breathe. His body was lined up against the bars too. There was a long period of nothing but pained breathing.
"There now," Tenpou gasped. "That wasn't so bad, was it?"
"You're a bloody comedian," Kenren's eyes opened, and he found them lined up exactly with Tenpou's. Not one to make it easy for a superiors, even a respected one, he rolled onto his back, so Tenpou couldn't just look in his eyes and read thoughts of the back of his brain. Kenren had one advantage over Tenpou in that respect. Tenpou needed to look him in the eye, but Kenren only needed to hear the Marshal's voice to know what was going on in his head. It was a trick he picked up from constantly staring at a spot exactly two feet left and four inches behind his various superior's ears.
"Really, General," Tenpou sounded annoyed. "You'll irritate your wounds."
"Too late," Kenren hissed through his teeth. "They're already pissed off."
Tenpou looked over the damage to his subordinate's gut, and started to tug off his lab coat, grunting.
"Leave it," Kenren whispered.
"Me Marshal, you General, General," Tenpou padded the ghastly wounds with the coat as best he could.
"That just makes you dumber than me."
Tenpou lay back down, after doing what he could. "Yes. I suspect it does."
Kenren shot him a sideways look. "Aw hell, just let me get out my violin."
"I had no idea you were musical," Tenpou grinned.
"I'm good at certain sounds."
There was a silence as their voices echoed through the gloomy, damp darkness. It seemed to make it bigger, more empty, more futile.
"I hate Heaven."
Tenpou raised an eyebrow at Kenren's profile as the latter contemplated the ceiling. "I gathered that, Kenren. Granted," he sighed. "You certainly show a decent amount of taste for that. Corrupt purity, or pure corruption, you've got a choice of two. Futility, boredom, betrayal, politics, dishonesty, enslavement, entrapment, tyranny, vanity, hypocrisy, cruelty, cowardice, monotony, inflexibility, affluence, arrogance…" The list had been sitting like a lead weight on his chest for some time. But you don't say words like that out loud. Not in the Heavens. So they sit on you lungs and fight to get to your tongue. They inspired madness. Tenpou didn't know why they raced out of his mouth now. Maybe the point was you just said them once, even when it was too late.
Kenren blinked. "Actually, I just hated the clocks."
Tenpou stared at him. "The clocks?"
"Yeah," Kenren stretched one arm under his head; you could almost believe he was relaxing in his tree, out for an afternoon nap. Not here. Not in here and…not to be here for long. "There's not a single damn clock in Heaven. Not one. You have the best wines, and the best foods, and the most unrivalled views of all the worlds and all the knowledge you can need, but if you want to boil an egg…" Kenren turned his head into Tenpou's stare. "It just always pissed me off, okay?"
Tenpou tried to fit this in his fuzzy head. So many things had seemed so clear long, long ago, before Kenren and Konzen. But then he'd picked up books and ideas and histories and suddenly the world was full of questions and he could never, ever ask. "Why?"
"On Earth, you know," Kenren didn't seem to have heard him. "They have seasons. They have winters and summers and autumns. The have dances. They dance to bring in the warm, they dance to make the sun rise. They have short lives, and most of them spend their days measuring 'em. They built clocks. It's all gonna end for 'em one day, and they build clocks. They invite time in. They make it a friend." Kenren stared at the ceiling. "Never did understand it. I mean, why take the knowledge that nothing is going to last and hang it up on your wall?"
"Perhaps…they find it more comforting than flailing at an enemy they cannot defeat?" Tenpou hazarded. He wasn't sure where this was going. Kenren's face was so white, so white.
"Nah," Kenren waved a hand, or at least flopped it around. "'S not it. They like enemies they can't beat. Tell 'em they can't do it, and they'll go up and down, in and out to prove ya wrong. If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha."
"Kenren, I do believe you are delirious."
Kenren smiled at the ceiling. "Story of my life. 'Sides, 'm serious. They came up with that. I remember ya tellin' me that one, I remember thinkin' the poor bastard that thought that one up must be a smear of charcoal on the ground. If he'd said that up here…" Kenren trailed off.
Tenpou smiled slightly. "They seem to have an uncanny talent for anarchy, don't they?"
Kenren made an agreement noise. "But 's not jus' that. Not just that. They…it's like…they make all these rules, they try to ape the Heavens with all these ceremonies and stuff, they punish a lot if you get it wrong. They'll cast out 'nyone who's even slightly different. But then they turn around and say…and say…if your not breakin' the rules, your not doin' anything worthwhile." Kenren huffed out a breath and there was a hint of a gurgle in it. "Wha' a people. What a crazy bunch. No wonder they invite time into their door. They know nothin' is gonna last too long anyway. They make rules only so they can break 'em eventually. Turn a corner, wait a minute, an' the whole world's different."
"That is why they call it chaos up here," Tenpou spoke reflectively. "Nothing is steady, nothing is stable…"
"Hnn," Kenren grunted. "Now I know why Heaven doesn't have clocks."
"Yes?" Tenpou began pulling at his tie.
"Yeah," Kenren had a look of imparting great wisdom. "Heavens don't have time. They just have now. Old nows, new nows, now nows. Time doesn't pass here. There aren't any seasons here. People don't need to mark it's passing or try to summon it. All there is, is now. Now, now, now. Tomorrow'll never come, yesterday never happened. I spent my life running in circles around a long track, every frickin step a journey to nowhere. I hate Heaven, Tenpou. I hate it."
Tenpou used his tie to wipe away the blood from Kenren's mouth with his better arm. He felt his leg going damper and colder, and thought, in a detached way, they he didn't remember getting hit there, but anything was possible. Here, near death, anything was now possible. "So do I, Kenren. It was a safe and secure lie. It crushes even as it beguiles. I had thought…to change it. I hoped to change it."
"What don't move don't change, Marshal. A river can change, a puddle can't. Basic rule."
"Yes," Tenpou replied flatly. "Yes. I suppose I dreamt a fools dream."
"Nah, was a good dream," Kenren turned his eyes to look at Tenpou affectionately. "Like humans. Full of fools dreams. They never get 'em, but they still walk around with stupid smiles on their faces. The biggest stupid dream they have," Kenren gave an ironic smile. "Is that here is a place worth getting to."
"Yes," Tenpou smiled bitterly. "I always thought that too."
"Aw, don't look so down," Kenren reached out to touch Tenpou's face. "We're going up in the world. Goin' down…" Kenren giggled hysterically. "You can change the world to ya hearts content. You can wipe it clean and start over if you don't like the way you did it. And Goku and I can go to the dances. Konzen's too boring, he'll just hang around at the edges, snubbing everyone. But Goku," Kenren's eyes stared into the middle distance. "Goku will have a ball. There's colours and food, and fun stuff…other kids…yeah, we'll have to take him…we'll take him…"
Tenpou tried to breathe past the weight on his chest. It was so damnably hard. "Kenren…" This was one of the things we weren't going to speak of…
"What makes you so damn sure we won't see each other again?" Kenren's voice was loud and angry. He turned to glare at his former superior. Tenpou was so shocked he nearly recoiled. "Was that written in one of your damn books? Who cares? When humans write it, it lasts about five minutes before someone crosses it out! Maybe next time it'll be me who stuffs your guts back in. Scratch that, it will be – I'll be damned if I'll go through this again. You gotta stop thinking Heaven. This place was boring. It needs more clocks."
Tenpou felt the first real smile he'd had in ages working it's way onto his face. "And better cigarettes."
"More nude beaches."
"A tea ceremony that lasts less than four hours."
"Dances! Bonfire nights for the paperwork! A freaking bar!"
"An actual library."
"Boring, Tenpou. What it really needs is a platform in front of the Palace where I can show Li Touten just what I think of him on the way down. All the ladies know it, right?"
Tenpou laughed, and laughed. He couldn't remember when he last laughed so hard. Kenren laughed too, but it came out a pained gurgle.
Tenpou laughed as he pulled Kenren's head against the bars, he laughed as he placed his forehead there, he laughed as the only result was the tiniest brush of skin against skin, and not even the gods themselves could have broken his grip and robbed him of that tiny, clammy, living warmth. He laughed and laughed until the clearness of the tears actually cut through the trails of red on Kenren's face where they fell.
"Please forgive me, Kenren, please forgive me."
Kenren snorted, and wheezed. "Typical officer," he gasped, his hand finding it's way limply around Tenpou's face. "The grunts can't possibly have a thought or opinion of their own. 'S bull. You didn't get me into anything that I didn't want, so…get over…yourself." Kenren started to cough. "When I see…you all again, even the boring bastard, I'll probably….be spending…most of my….time pulling the rods out of your asses and beating you with 'em. Sounds like…fun. What a way…to…go. Just what I…wanted."
"What did you really want, Kenren?" Tenpou asked. The cold was really intense now. Tenpou felt like sleep. "I know what I wanted. I know what Konzen wanted, and Goku. But you…"
Kenren appeared to consider it. "A destination," he hissed out finally. "Somewhere with a beginning and an end. And a clock. A clock'd be nice. There'd not be time for everything, but there would be a time for everything. There's no destination in Heaven. Only places."
"You're not usually so poetic, Kenren," Tenpou mumbled.
The dry press of Kenren's lips left a red mark on Tenpou's forehead. "Things…change…." He could feel Kenren's smile. "I'll…have your back when…I see you again, Marshal. Promise. Some…things…don't…change…"
Tenpou felt his eyes sliding shut. Only Kenren could speak in paradoxes until the very end. But he was smiling. They were both smiling. This wasn't punishment. This was promotion.
Five hundred years later, Sha Gojyo was indeed the one stuffing the guts back into his former Marshal, soon-to-be Cho Hakkai. He didn't appreciate the joke at the time. But they did have each others backs from then on.
Some things don't change. Like the ticking of a clock.