Vigil (part 1)
He was trapped in a vacuum of illusions, a great darkness that stretched on to forever all around.
From time to time he thought he saw a wisp of something out of the corner of his eye: cigarette smoke. He would turn and he would see nothing. From time to time he thought he heard voices calling his name. But he would call back to them and not hear himself. And they would vanish as if they were never there.
At last he thought he heard a faint peal of laughter -- or was that running water? -- coming from a direction he could barely pinpoint. It was no beacon of light, but it did not fade, not like the rest.
So he pursued it, feeling nothing but cold. He wasn't afraid. He couldn't be.
Someone had taken an important possession of his. He had to remember what it was. He had to get it back.
Hakkai sat on the stool beside the makeshift bed. He looked down at the unconscious young priest with unmasked pity and concern. Who knew how long Sanzo needed those bandages to be there. They couldn't even move him without further damaging his spine.
He glanced over to where Gojyo was sleeping on the floor, sitting up against one of the taller haystacks. Gojyo's head was bowed, and his red hair made a curtain that hid his face. He looked like a discarded rag doll, Hakkai noted numbly. Like he had stopped pretending everything was going to be all right, for just a few hours.
And he glanced at Goku, where the boy lay at the foot of the makeshift bed, facing away from Hakkai and the person he watched over. Hakkai almost smiled, thinking about how bravely Goku was holding up. Though he joked and acted his old hyperactive self, Goku was falling apart faster than any of them. Hakkai knew this from the boy's unguarded moments, the sullen silences, the pleading look in his eyes whenever he asked Hakkai if they needed anything else.
_"Ne, Hakkai...Sanzo's going to get better, right?"_
They were staying in an abandoned storehouse, a good walk from the nearest town. Even if Sanzo needed to be in a hospital at that moment, they couldn't risk moving him, or having someone see them on the road.
The fire was dying out. Hakkai left the chair for a moment to throw in a few more sticks. His movements were slow and quiet.
_"Of course he's going to be all right, Goku. He can't be killed that easily."_
Hakkai had done all that he could. He had more than adequate knowledge of herbal and spiritual healing techniques...but it was harder, so much harder, when it was a frail human body he had to deal with. Sanzo only ever reminded him how temporary a human body was, how easy it was to crush in the palm of one's hand.
That man...that GOD, who had called himself Homura...had simply reached out and taken the Evil Sutra. Even as he recalled it, Hakkai was stunned by the suddenness, the ease, with which it had happened. He identified the chill in his heart to be fear. Was that what they were up against? If so, how could they ever be prepared...?
He had seen the same fear in Gojyo's eyes when Gojyo was picking Sanzo up from the dust, so carefully. A wounded Gojyo with an unconscious Sanzo in his arms had glanced up at Hakkai, and his face had said "Is it over?"
Hakkai had not answered. He hadn't wanted to know what answer lay inside him. He still didn't.
Hakkai remembered the last expression on Sanzo's face before the Makai Tenjou completely blanketed him and the god. The Makai Tenjou had been a last-ditch effort, an animal impulse...Sanzo must have known it wouldn't work. The look on his face bordered on fear and defiance -- danced between "You're going to have to kill me" and "I'm going to die."
He had fought for the Evil Sutra with the last of his courage and strength.
A determined look crossed Hakkai's pale features.
They couldn't let him go.
He left the chair and went down on his knees beside the haystack bed. Most of Sanzo's wounds had closed up, but he had still lost too much blood. His healing ki would never be able to restore that blood, but maybe a slight acceleration of the metabolic process...carefully, so the strained organs and glands wouldn't break down...
He bent forward and positioned his left hand above the spot between Sanzo's fractured ribs and his stomach. He closed his eyes. A moment later, the space between Sanzo's naked skin and his began to glow with a pure white light.
The few seconds that it took for that light to materialize already drained him beyond his expectations. He hadn't thought he was _that_ weak -- and yet he couldn't stop. He knew it was going to be futile, but he couldn't stop. It had been five days and he had to do something again, he couldn't just sit by and...
He shook his head. He didn't even want to think about it. Sanzo would never even consider it an option.
_Work with me now, Sanzo. We need you._
There was no response to this unspoken summons. Frustrated, Hakkai shut his eyes tight. He concentrated deeper and the light grew dim.
"Please. You must want to recover," escaped him in a whisper, "Sanzo..."
He was running through unfamiliar stone corridors, past endless turns, lit and unlit corners. The feeling of being trapped like a mouse in a maze only made him more determined to escape.
He was being pursued by youkai. Whenever he looked back, he saw their hateful, glowing red eyes, all fixed on him. He had no time to stop and shoot. They were gaining on him.
"Faster!" he told whoever was following him. "Hakkai!" he cried, because that was the first name that came to mind.
A body appeared close behind him, running with him: a green shirt, three metal earclips, a monocle that shone when the light hit it. The body said nothing, but Sanzo could hear it breathing as it ran. The urgent rhythm matched his own.
When Sanzo looked behind, he saw the body stop, then stand feet apart, back to him, facing the enemy. Sanzo would have stopped running as well, if he had not seen in time the blast of light that issued from the body's outstretched arms, exploding into a half-sphere, hiding their pursuers from Sanzo's view.
When the flash cleared, Sanzo saw that the glowing red eyes that were closest to them had vanished. More points of red light were coming, but they were still a long way off; the blast had helped buy Sanzo and his companion time.
Sanzo started running again, without looking back. He knew the body that had caused the blast of light was running with him, guarding his back, always guarding his back.
They came to a large, half-open door. An opportunity. Sanzo ran through it, then turned around, slamming his open palm against the heavy wood, preparing to close the door once his companion had followed him inside...
But he did not see his companion. Through the gap in the door, he could see blasts of light coming from all directions, and a myriad of red eyes -- so many. There must have been a thousand pairs in that large room he had just left. Demon screams filled the air, echoed through the great invisible walls.
His companion was nowhere within this chaos.
Panic enveloped him in his stillness and once more he shouted "Hakkai!" He took a step back through the door --
"Please go on ahead," a calm, cold voice answered from everywhere. "I'll hold them off, Sanzo."
The words struck him like a blow across the face, and he finally realized that a torrent of red eyes and bared inhuman fangs had begun to flow in his direction. Acting on instinct, he stepped back through the gap and pushed the door shut.
He only understood what he had done when the silence of the corridor beyond enveloped him like a shroud.
Sanzo seized the door's great handles and pulled. The door did not budge. He slammed the side of his fist hard against the wood. It did not even shudder.
Silence. And a long unlit path ahead. Sanzo swept aside the wrenching in his chest that said he was all alone, that there was nowhere left to go. He willed his feet to move.
In the utter emptiness, he could hear no breathing, no footsteps, aside from his own. The promise of forever in this state would have driven a lesser man mad, but Sanzo had something to hold on to: his companion was going to catch up. He was going to pull through. He always did. He was going to find a way to rejoin Sanzo...because he was extraordinarily loyal and intelligent and because Sanzo was going to blow his damned head off if it turned out that he was anything else.
He must have been walking for miles, though he felt no tireder. His eyes grew accustomed to the dark and he could clearly see that the corridor looked the same at every step. He was only walking through an endless tunnel, all by himself. And then...
Something lay in his path, close ahead. He would have hurried toward it, except at the very sight of the thing blocking the road, something inside him had iced over with dread. Sanzo couldn't stop his feet, they had gone on for so long they only knew how to move forward.
And when he had come close enough, he saw that it was what he had feared: a mangled, white-haired body, almost complete, recognizable as human, but drained of blood, devoid of entrails, and broken everywhere.
The body had a name, but Sanzo couldn't draw it out of his lips. The body's green eyes were intact, and they were open and dead and staring out at him, when they could have easily been staring out at anything else, or at nothing at all. They were not frozen in a final picture of shock: it had not been sudden.
Where was the monocle? Where were the metal earclips? How -- ?
At last the body's name festered around Sanzo's tongue, bit and struggled and twisted and bled poison, until Sanzo had to let it out or die. And when he did, he didn't hear it; the emptiness swallowed up the sound.
The blackness came to Hakkai's sight and the light from his hands gradually. It overwhelmed him, and he collapsed back into himself.
Just then he felt a pair of strong hands grab him by the sides, and pull him upright.
"Oi," a gentle voice said, "the hell is this. You trying to kill yourself too?"
He looked up, into Gojyo's kind, tired red irises. "I'm sorry," he muttered as he struggled for control of his limbs. "I couldn't..."
"Stop talking." The young half-human had regained more strength than Hakkai had given him credit for. He pulled Hakkai up to his feet, and he felt so steady, so solid.
Gojyo led him to a shadowed corner made soft by a cluster of dry straw. Hakkai wanted to sit up, at least, to rest his back against the wall and stay awake long enough to finish the conversation. But he felt so tired. Gojyo's hands were on his shoulders, supporting him so that he would not crash onto the ground.
"You're not exactly in the best shape yourself," Gojyo pronounced when the back of Hakkai's head had touched the straw. He released Hakkai, and rocked back to sit on his haunches. "In case you forgot."
Hakkai passed a hand over his eyes, pushed the hair back from his damp forehead, cautiously stretched out his legs. "I'm sorry," he said again. "I did all that I could."
Gojyo was silent for a while. He could be very still sometimes. Softly he asked, "Is he really...?"
"If he doesn't wake up before dawn" -- Hakkai barely whispered, casting a brief searching glance over at Goku, who had not moved -- "it'll just be harder to hope."
After another stillness, Gojyo nodded. "Well...we'll know at dawn." He pulled himself upright and regarded Hakkai from his height. "My turn to watch. Go to sleep."
Hakkai nodded vaguely and shut his eyes.