It was time, Chiaki thought, to leave. Past time.

He stared at the phone in his hand in pained fury, resisting the urge to throw it to the ground.

After four hundred years, he had become very, very tired of history repeating itself.

Who could judge him now if he simply declined to watch this tragedy unfolding again to its end, as he already had times beyond counting? The child-Kagetora, escaped so far from himself that he had tossed away even his pride as a warrior? Kenshin, his exalted lord in his unreachable sky palace? His comrades-in-arms? By what sane measure had they the right? Had anyone?

Japan was a cage, but all the wide world lay beyond it. Surely there existed another place for him somewhere--not home, perhaps, but one place where he could be free, where he could live as he wanted?

He looked up with a scowl as a knock sounded at his door--then snarled as a touch of the unquiet aura behind it told him exactly who it was. He considered ignoring it, but after a moment of internal debate decided that even if he were to leave, he wanted to do it under his own volition instead of being tossed out by his landlord for disturbing the quiet one too many times. Even it if wasn't his fault. Even if none of it was his fault.

He opened the door, jerked his visitor roughly inside, and barely restrained himself from slamming it shut.

"What?" he growled coldly.

Takaya glared at him. "What's with that welcome?" he demanded belligerently. The stink of alcohol was so strong in his breath that Chiaki wondered that he was still standing.

He crossed his arms and looked down his nose at Takaya. "You're the one who invited yourself here. What do you want?"

"I...I want you to tell me about what happened thirty years ago. A-about what happened between N-Naoe. And me." He faltered, looking away and swaying in place.

Chiaki stared at him. Gods and Buddhas. Why me? Why me, damn You? None of the divine beings deigned to make reply to that.

After another moment of heated internal debate, when good sense finally won over the urge to simply bop him over the head and leave him to sleep it off with the garbage, he pointed to a chair. "Sit down before you fall down."

He went into the kitchen and came back with a cup of water, which he shoved into Takaya's hand, then took a seat opposite and studied Takaya's new collection of bruises and cuts impassively as he drank. The one covering his right cheekbone was rather impressive. And that split on his lip looked fresh. What had he been doing to himself?--No. He cut the thought off. Not his problem. Not his concern.

Besides, it was rather obvious what he'd been doing to himself: immersing himself in his own misery. As usual.

"What the hell is going on, Kagetora? Did something happen in Toyama?"

"I thought you were going to answer my question." Takaya scowled down into his cup.

Chiaki snorted. "Give a little, get a little." They glared at each other.

Takaya looked away first. "Nothing." His hands around the cup were bone-white. "Nothing's going on."

"Sure," Chiaki drawled. "And that's why you look like someone mistook your face for a punching bag."

"So I got into a few fights. Nothing better to do."

Chiaki tamped down his temper by an effort of will. "Fine. The door's behind you."

"Fine." Takaya set down his cup with a thunk. He paused at the door, his back to Chiaki.

"Chiaki...thirty years ago...did I do something to make him hate me? Or has he hated me all along?"

Chiaki stared at him, at a loss, for once, for words. The silence stretched.

Without turning, Takaya opened the door and stepped out. It clicked shut behind him.

Chiaki closed his eyes at the muffled thud from the hallway a moment later.

This time, the debate took no more than a second. He got up and opened the door.

Protect him, Nagahide. A conversation of three words. How many times had he heard those exact words over the centuries?

Past time. Far past it. And maybe four hundred years too late.