TIME

The members of the Sanzo-ikkou climb out of the jeep, worn and dusty from a long day's travel. They have stopped at a small, backwater town, managing to reach it just before dinnertime. It has been a particularly long day, devoid of much of the backseat's usual bickering, a front seat gunshot, and the other front seat's gentle laughter. Today has been quiet. No youkai. No sharp words. Just sand and travel and a continuous, open road before them.

Hakkai's smile turns a shade more genuine; quiet can be welcome, but too much quiet leads to too much thinking, usually about things he would much rather forget.

He turns to his friends warmly. "Shall we find ourselves an inn first or should we search out dinner instead?" he asks.

The usual voice pipes in. "FOOD!" Goku cries, raising one hand in the air madly, while the other clutches agonizingly at his rumbling stomach.

"No. Inn first, then we'll feed you." Sanzo corrects with a firm glare, folding his arms across his chest, just daring Goku to challenge his authority.

Naturally, Goku does. "But Saaanzooo...harehetta!!"

Whack. Whack. It truly is a wander how fast a monk's arms can move. "I said, no! You can wait five minutes, idiot!"

"Lighten up, bouzu." Gojyo grins, slinking an arm around Sanzo's shoulders, partly to hold the monk's fan-holding hand in place, and partly just to piss Sanzo off. "The monkey doesn't know any better. No one ever taught him manners. Guess you're getting lazy in your parenting duties."

Sanzo brushes Gojyo's hand away roughly, his other hand still tightly gripping his harisen. "I am NOT his parent. Touch me again and I'll kill you."

"Yeah, yeah."

But even such a familiar game is quickly given up, with Hakkai's obliging laugh coming only a few moments more, with Goku failing to beg a second time, and with Gojyo and Sanzo not falling into an argument that brings them close to blows.

They are all far too tired for any of that. And so, they turn to the inn just ahead of them, filing inside with a trailing Hakuryuu—who has since abandoned his jeep form—following close behind before catching up to perch on Hakkai's shoulder.

"Four rooms, please, if you have them." Hakkai asks politely.

"You're in luck." the manager smiles. "We have just four rooms left. All singles. They should do nicely for you boys, I think."

"Thank you very much." Hakkai replies with a slight bow of his head, it being so rare that they actually get rooms to themselves. Hakkai smiles back at the others as the manager rummages for their keys and notices Goku's anxious expression. "Also," he adds, giving Goku a small wink. "Can you tell us where we can get a good meal? My companions and I are rather famished."

Goku beams.

"You can eat right here." The manager explains, handing Hakkai the four keys. "I have a wonderful staff of cooks. My daughter helps out a little, too. Personally, I think she's the best of the bunch, even for a little thing."

A young girl comes running in just then, no more than seven or eight years old, and slams right into Hakkai, her arms being overloaded with bed sheets that block her view. She stumbles back, but Hakkai easily catches her and helps her steady herself. She has long, wavy brown hair, clean down her back, and when she looks up to smile at Hakkai in gratitude, large green eyes appear as well.

The girl had all intention of apologizing for her clumsiness and then thanking this stranger for keeping her upright, but as her emeralds meet his, she falters.

"Kirei..." she whispers, caught up in Hakkai's gentle features and striking smile.

Only he is close enough to hear what she has said, and a faint blush touches his pale cheeks. "Why...thank you, little miss. But wouldn't that be more fair to say of you?"

The girl promptly blushes in return, smiling shyly. She realizes there are others in the room, and surveys this stranger's friends, all of whom seem nearly as pretty as him, though she manages to hold her tongue this time.

"This is my daughter." comes the manager's friendly voice from behind the counter. "Please, Kairi, be more watchful. You don't need to carry so much at once. I don't want you to wind up tripping and breaking your nose."

The girl, Kairi, nods to her father and then speeds off, passing a final glance back at Hakkai as she disappears into a back room.

Hakkai finds that the warmth in his cheeks remain even though the girl has left. She reminds him so very much of...

"She's a wonderful help around the place." The manager mentions, breaking into Hakkai's lingering thoughts. "But she tries too hard, does too much. We lost her mother in one of the first youkai attacks, and she's been trying so desperately to make up for my wife's absence. If she could, she'd run this whole place herself just to make things easier on me."

Hakkai returns his attention to the manager and takes a humble step forward. "I am sorry for your loss." he speaks softly.

"She's so little to have lost a mom." Goku adds, gold eyes watching the door she had gone through.

"Can't make things too easy on you, either." Gojyo offers.

Sanzo says nothing.

"We get by. It isn't always easy, that's true, but I still have her, and I gotta say, that little girl has got to be the dearest thing in the world to me. Fathers and daughters, as they say, have a close bond. One not made by obligation or even understanding, but...by love."

Gojyo, Goku, and Hakkai all offer smiles, and even Sanzo does his best to appear less bastardly than usual. But there is little else to say, and soon, the four members of the Sanzo-ikkou are heading for the dining room to eat their fill before turning in for the night.

There are few other guests, but enough for Sanzo to be thoroughly embarrassed by Goku's eating habits, nonetheless. The evening is filled with little commotion, though, and all are significantly thankful for it.

Kairi, the manager's daughter, serves most of the tables, though a young woman serves the Sanzo-ikkou. Hakkai wonders if this is on purpose. Kairi often passes the group wayward glances, though she tries very spiritedly to seem occupied whenever Hakkai catches her staring.

Indeed, she reminds him very much of...

"Hey, 'Kai, you up for a game of poker?"

A sigh. "I hope you will take no offence, Gojyo, but...no. I think I'd like to make an early night of things if it's all the same."

Gojyo's lips curl into a half-smile. "Thank the gods. I don't wanna play, either. Figured I had to ask, though. You look kinda...melancholy. Everything okay?"

"Of course. I'm just tired is all."

"If you're sure."

"Yes." Hakkai drives his point further by flashing Gojyo his most convincing smile.

Gojyo isn't convinced. "I'll shut up, but I ain't buying a word of it. You can't swindle me, ya know?"

For a moment, Hakkai's smile turns genuine. "I know."

Whap. Whap. "Damn it, saru, enough with the desserts! You're done!"

"But Saaanzooo..."

Whap. "Quit whining. It's annoying."

"Itai! Hakkai, make him stop! I'm not doing anything!"

"Maa, maa..."

And thus the night passes rather uneventfully, and soon the four weary travelers have bid their goodnights and are retiring to their separate rooms.

Goku is out the moment his head hits the pillow; Sanzo manages to smoke himself to sleep rather quickly, as well; but Gojyo lays awake rather restless and Hakkai has yet to even climb into bed.

The brunette youkai is plagued by a pensiveness he usually only feels on rainy nights, and Gojyo, being the resident Hakkai-expert, knows things aren't as 'okay' as Hakkai keeps trying to pretend.

It isn't anything knew or out of the ordinary that is plaguing Hakkai tonight. The usual self-pity and self-loathing hang forever at the back of his mind, but certain regrets claw a little further forward than such starlit nights usually allow.

The girl...Kairi...really is so very much like...

Hakkai leaves the solitude of his room and begins to wander, having no real destination in mind. He just needs a walk, a distraction from...whatever it is that has him so upset. And so he walks, through the hallways and around corners, until a particular turn brings him to a small, open living room, with a scattering of windows, old carpet, and a very dusty, straight-back piano.

"You really are haunting me tonight..." Hakkai speaks with the smallest tinge of bitterness beneath his tone.

He walks to the piano and runs a hand along the smooth wooden surface, picking up a think sheen of grey dust.

He can clearly remember the old piano in his and his love's home, and how she used to play. He played then, too, though he hasn't since. They would often sing and play songs they knew from church. Simple things he had learned at the orphanage, or new things they picked up at mass.

Mass. The thought almost makes him laugh aloud. When they were together, they went every Sunday. It was a necessity then, like breath. But of course—back then—he believed.

After losing her...he saw very little to believe in.

"Do you play the piano, Oniisan...?"

Hakkai whirls, not having sensed the presence of someone behind him. Kairi stands in a second doorway, dressed in a rumpled nightgown that swishes at her ankles. It is pale green, playing off her emeralds beautifully. Hakkai suddenly remembers that he, too, is dressed for bed, wearing only his thin pants and nightshirt, with no shoes or socks, and no monocle.

"Do you play?" Kairi asks again, stepping cautiously into the room. Her hair is an adorable mess, with wild curls in every direction.

Hakkai gets over his rapidly beating heart, and smiles. "I did once, though I am out of practice."

"You never forget the songs you really love." Kairi replies, coming to stop within only a few feet from where Hakkai is standing beside the piano. "That's what mom always said. This was her piano, but...I can't play very well. I used to sing when she played. I liked to sing then."

"I'm sure you sing beautifully."

"Mom sang beautifully."

"It would be a treat to hear her voice through you, I imagine."

"I'd rather hear you."

Hakkai suppresses a blush and casts his eyes down. "I'm out of practice on that account, too."

"Please, Oniisan." Kairi pleads, closing the gap of those last few feet and grasping Hakkai's hands in hers. "Please play."

Hakkai reluctantly allows the girl to lead him to the piano's bench and sit him down, but when she releases his hands and stands back in anticipation, he honestly doesn't know what to do. "Really, I can't think of anything. It's been years since I played or sang."

"Sing for the one you love. That's what mom always said. She said she played and sang for me and Papa."

"...yes. The one I loved said much the same. She died...years ago. You remind me much of her."

So much of her. Dear, sweet...

"What was her name?"

Beautiful, tragic...

"Kanan."

"My name's Kairi."

"Yes, I know."

"My friends call me Kai."

Hakkai gives a gentle laugh. "So do mine. My name is Hakkai."

Kairi's smile glows and she leans forward, looking into Hakkai's face closely. "I knew it. I just knew it!"

"Knew wha--"

"Play for me, Hakkai! Please play and sing for me!"

"But...really...I don't know what--"

"Play something you played for Kanan."

"But...I don't remember."

'That's a lie. I remember, I just don't believe in those songs anymore...'

"You remember! Please, Hakkai. Please..."

Hakkai ponders this. He has a number of songs still rattling in his brain, and one in particular he and Kanan had loved very much. But...well...even if he doesn't believe, perhaps it won't hurt to indulge the girl.

"Alright. But you're going to have to sing with me."

"What if I don't know the song?"

Hakkai reaches his arms out and picks Kairi up by the waist, bringing her around to sit in his lap. "The chorus is easy. You'll catch on. Is it a deal?"

Kairi looks up at Hakkai stubbornly at first, but soon crumbles under his deep, emerald gaze. She nods.

Flexing out his fingers, Hakkai places them experimentally on the keys, caught instantly off guard by the familiarity of that cool, delicate feel. Indeed, it has been a long time, and he is no longer the man who once played the song he is about to play. But for tonight...he doesn't mind pretending.

The melodic introduction flows beautifully from his fingers, despite such lack of practice all these years, and Kairi sits transfixed by his graceful hands moving so swiftly in front of her. She is trapped by his arms on either side, but feels no fear of the man behind her, leaning into his chest comfortably as she waits for the words to come.

When they do, her breath is lost in the gentle beauty of Hakkai's voice, so soft, so full of belief he does not have.

/What will you do with the time that's left?

Will you live it all with no regret?

Will they say that you loved till your final breath?

What will you do with the time that's left?/

He peers his head around to look into Kairi's face as he sings on, beginning the chorus, and their green eyes lock.

'No...I don't believe. But I can pretend...for her...'

/Oh hallelujah, oh hallelujah

Hallelujah, amen/

Hakkai had seen the cross necklace the girl wore when they first bumped into each other, and she is wearing it still. Her mother had been Catholic; perhaps her father is, too. Whatever the truth, she smiles brightly when those familiar words leave his lips.

He sings on.

/And what will you do with the time that's past?

Oh and all the pain that seems to last?

Can you give it to Jesus and not look back?

What will you do with the time that's past?/

He flows into the chorus again, nodding for her to try and join in. She hesitates at first, but by the second 'hallelujah' she has come in singing harmony Hakkai had not expected.

/Oh hallelujah, oh hallelujah

Hallelujah, amen/

Her voice is lovely for one so young, and mature beyond its years. Hakkai finds himself forgetting for a moment that he is supposed to be pretending.

/And what will He say when your time has come?

And He takes you into His arms of love

With tears in His eyes will He say "well done"?

What will He say when your time has come?/

Kairi raises her voice higher, fuller, ready to accompany Hakkai forever.

/Oh hallelujah, oh hallelujah

Hallelujah, amen/

Hakkai's smile could not be wider or more real than it is now, here in the dark of the room he is playing in, and Kairi's matches it, making the piano almost unnecessary as their voices mix and meld and compliment, repeating the chorus again, adding, surging forward.

It is truly, truly beautiful.

It has been years—years—since Hakkai last played or sang, and just as long since he even entertained the ideas ringing so loud and true in his song of choice. He may be pretending, but in the moment, this moment, it doesn't quit feel that way.

/And what will you do with the time that's left?

Will you live it all with no regret?

Will they say that you loved till your final breath?

What will you do with the time.../

He plays out a few lingering notes to signal the song's end, holding still, paused in disbelief and oddly fulfilling, parental pride. When at last he pulls his hands from the keyboard, he honestly cannot believe he did what he has just done. But for all his mixed emotions, he would not take a single act back, not when Kairi is looking up at him with such admiration.

"Oniisan...Hakkai...you sing and play so beautifully!" she cries, hugging him suddenly about the waist. "Thank you. Thank you for finally coming."

Hakkai hugs her back, dipping his head to rest his cheek against her soft, brown hair. "It was a pleasure to sing with one so talented. But...what do you mean...finally coming?"

"Coming down from Heaven." the girl responds matter-of-factly, hugging him all the more tightly.

"Heaven...?"

"I prayed to God for so long to send my guardian angel to me."

Realization strikes Hakkai very hard and very fast. "Oh dear...Kairi, sweetheart...I'm not--"

"I won't tell anyone." She jumps in quickly, pulling back to look up into Hakkai's face, exuding innocent love. "I know you're not supposed to say you're an angel when you come, coz we're supposed to believe on faith and not miracles or because we get what we want."

"I...well...that's true, I suppose."

"But all I wanted was to know that Mom is with a God that loves us enough to send help when we need it. I know I shouldn't have asked for something so big, but...but you came, and...and I knew the moment I saw you it was you...my guardian angel. I've never seen a man look so pretty..."

Hakkai promptly blushes again and smiles, even though her words remind him so much of distant, dark times.

'Is it strange to call a man beautiful...?'

"God works in mysteries ways, as they say..." he smiles wider, giving in, knowing that pretending is often just what someone needs you to do. "There is nothing wrong with asking for something large, occasionally. For a girl so full of faith, you did no wrong at all. Rest assured...your mother is in a peaceful, loving place..."

'That...even now...even now...I still believe...because I have to imagine that you are happy...safe...loved...'

"Thank you so much, Hakkai." Kairi speaks, hugging him tightly again. "Are your friends angels, too?"

Hakkai allows his laugh this time; he really has no other choice. "That, my dear, is a matter of perspective..."

The next morning, having gotten a very good night's rest, the Sanzo-ikkou file their way back into the jeep, supplies fully loaded and stomach's full with breakfast. Kairi and Hakkai had their own private goodbye earlier, and she stands in the doorway now, smiling out at them as they pull back onto the main road.

"Hey, 'Kai..."

"Yes, Gojyo?"

The redhead leans forward in his seat, placing his mouth close beside Hakkai's ear. "You know...you have a real pretty voice..."

Hakkai's hands tighten on the wheel. "G-Gojyo!" he chokes back accusingly.

"It's not my fault you're so bad at noticing when I'm tailing you. Don't worry, I won't spread it around."

"Spread what around?" Goku asks, having tried his hardest to listen in.

Hakkai turns very red but says nothing. Gojyo laughs.

"Come on, guys, you know I hate secrets!"

"Why don't you just tell him, Hakkai?"

"Gojyo..."

"Tell me what?! Tell me what?!"

"Well...I...it's..."

"It's something a tiny monkey brain wouldn't understand."

"Don't call me a monkey, you over-grown cockroach!"

"Cockroach?! For the last time, these are NOT antennas!"

"Oh yeah?! Well they sure look like 'em to me!"

"Why you little--!"

"URUSEI!" Bang. Bang. "It is too early in the morning for this! Shut up!"

"But Saaanzooo..."

Bang.

"Oh dear..."

owari

A/N:

"Time that is left" is a Mark Schultz song that always made me think of Hakkai singing while playing the piano. It is gorgeous. I listen to it when I read this fic and...happiness ensues. Find it if you can. Just a little ficcie I've been tossing around for a long time. Currently working on an ongoing Weiss fic. Check it out if you know the fandom. Thanks for reading, please REVIEW, and see ya next ficcie! Love you!

Crimson