Disclaimer: I own nothing of importance.

Chapter 5

True to his word, Hiko stayed in his room, sleeping most of the day away. The combination of drugs and fever from the infections made him very tired, so it wasn't difficult to follow the doctor's orders. Although a little worried by the uncharacteristic lethargy, Kenshin was glad that he didn't have to fight his master to make him stay in bed.

The tall swordsman sat on the porch, sipping his sake pensively. He tensed suddenly, reflexively rubbing his left arm as a sharp pain stabbed through it. I'm going to have to tell Shishou about that, he thought, staring at the bandages partially concealed underneath the armguard. And replace the broken armguard. The metal ones must have been new, since I can't remember him wearing anything but the leather ones before. As if injuring his 'perfect body' wasn't enough... He sighed, imagining Hiko's reaction to the news.

Not wanting to think about that right now, he distracted himself, his thoughts turning to the other occupants of the dojo. Kaoru seems to have no ill effects from being drugged. That's good. I wish I could say the same of Yahiko, though, he thought, feeling the boy's ki in his room. He seemed to be taking another nap at the moment. Megumi surmised that the drugs had somehow been slipped into the food and given how he eats at meals, it's no wonder he was unconscious all day and all night. He's not in much better condition today, but Megumi said most of the drugs, if not all, should be out of his system by tomorrow. His musings were interrupted as he felt a familiar ki approaching the gate. I was wondering when he'd be stopping by, he thought, concealing his left arm beneath the mantle once again.

The gate opened, a uniformed officer stepping into the courtyard. He saw the ebony-haired man sitting on the porch and walked over to him. "I'm here to see Himura-san," he announced in clipped tones.

"He's resting right now," Kenshin replied, replacing the cork in his jug of sake. "Perhaps I may be able to help you?"

"I have a few questions about the incident at the docks last night," he replied.

"I was there."

The chief of police looked at him a little distrustfully. "And you are...?"

"Hiko Seijiro XIII-- Kenshin's master," the swordsman replied.

The officer's eyes widened marginally before he regained his composure. "What can you tell me about the events of last night?" he asked.

"My baka deshi allowed himself to be captured. I took care of the problem and sent Sano to inform the police," Kenshin replied, shrugging his shoulders as if this were an everyday occurrence.

"Himura-san was captured?!" the police chief asked, shocked by the news. He didn't know of anyone who could take down the Battousai against his will.

"He was drugged."

"I see," the brown-haired officer replied, adjusting his glasses. His gaze, previously resting on the ground, shot up to meet Hiko's once more. "So, Himura-san did not take part in any of the fighting?" he asked.

Kenshin's jaw muscles tightened, seeing where the line of questioning was going, but unable to stop it. "No."

"May I see your sword, Hiko-san?" the chief asked, holding out his hand expectantly.

The swordsman stood, slowly reaching beneath his mantle and withdrawing Winter Moon. Wordlessly, he offered it to the policeman.

The brown-haired man accepted the weapon, holding it up for inspection. "A true katana and a fine one at that. This sword has seen many battles in its time," he commented, examining the blade.

Kenshin remained silent.

"Yet," he continued, "I do not recall seeing one single casualty last night. Most of the injuries matched those made by Himura's sakabato. But, you say that he took no part in the fight. I cannot help but wonder why a master such as yourself, with as fine a weapon as this, would hesitate to take a life when your own deshi was in danger?"

"All life is sacred and death is permanent. The ending of a life, even one of the dregs of society, should not be taken lightly," he replied seriously. His face remained impassive while his mind desperately went through different ways to get the sword back. His master would not be happy if he lost one of the heirlooms of Hiten Mitsurugi.

The chief wasn't too surprised by the response. After all, this was the man who trained Himura-- how different could their views on the world be? Smiling slightly, he handed the sword back to its owner. "Thank you for your assistance, Hiko-san," he said, bowing before walking back across the courtyard.

Kenshin watched him go, heaving a sigh of relief after the gate had closed. Well, that could have gone much worse. At least the police chief let me keep Shishou's sword. I suppose it's a good thing I was rescuing Master instead of the other way around. All those dead bodies would be sure to raise several uncomfortable questions... The swordsman shook his head, clearing his mind. In any case, there is still one last item of business I need to attend to. I'll have to take care of it tonight, before word spreads that Shishou and I are still alive, he thought, his gaze resting on the clear blue sky. Yes. Tonight.

. . .

Hiko was much more awake and alert when Megumi came back that afternoon to check his injuries again. His fever had only lasted a couple of hours and he was already tired of staring at the walls of the room. He wanted to get up and do something.

Smiling to himself, Kenshin left doctor and patient while he went to prepare dinner. /Remember, you have to act as I would if you don't want to arouse her suspicions/ he reminded his master. A parting glare was all he received as he closed the shoji behind him.

Entering the kitchen, the tall swordsman pulled out several pans, deciding what to make. I'll have to pick vegetables from the garden for dinner. Not exactly something Shishou would normally do but, then again, he wouldn't be cooking, either, he thought, putting a pot of rice on the stove, as well as a kettle of water for the tea Megumi would undoubtedly ask him to make. Oh well. I suppose this is just something he's going to have to get over.

Kaoru stepped out of the bath house, tying her ribbon in her hair. A tantalizing aroma caught her attention and she closed her eyes, inhaling deeply through her nose. Never would have thought that Hiko could cook just as well as Kenshin! she thought, making her way to the kitchen to see what was for dinner.

She walked around the corner, almost running into her young student. "Yahiko! What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be resting?"

"What, I'm not even allowed to leave my room now?" he asked crankily.

"No, that's not-- what I meant was, are you sure you're feeling well enough to be out of bed?" she asked, concern coloring her voice.

Yahiko just crossed his arms, staring moodily at the wall. "Yeah. I'm fine. Look, what's going on here?" he asked.


"What's going on here," Yahiko repeated. "What happened? Who's behind this? Why won't anyone tell me anything?" he demanded.

Well, it seems someone woke up on the wrong side of the futon, Kaoru thought. "You were drugged," she said.

"Yeah, I know that-- that's all Megumi would tell me. By who?"

"I don't know," the assistant master admitted.

"Where's Kenshin? He'll give me some answers," he said, turning away. Kaoru's voice stopped him.

"I don't think he will at the moment. You see, Kenshin was the one they were after. We were all drugged, not just you," she explained.

"Wha-- you mean, they took Kenshin?!" the boy asked, incredulous.

"He's all right," she hastened to reassure him. "He came back last night, but he was injured. Hiko-san hasn't let anyone into his room all day, saying he needs to rest."

"I-- Hiko? As in Kenshin's master?! What's he doing here?!"

Kaoru shrugged. "I don't know. He just kind of appeared, saying he was in the area, or something. I think he was the one who rescued Kenshin, but he won't tell me anything and Kenshin hasn't come out of his room all day," she replied.

Yahiko leaned against the wall, letting all this sink into his mind. Kenshin was captured? I didn't think it was possible... he thought, feeling very tired.

The assistant master noticed her student's fatigue. "Come on, I'll help you. I think dinner's almost ready," she said.

"I can walk by myself, Kaoru," he said, angrily pushing her hand away. Why am I all but useless when Kenshin needs me most? If I hadn't been drugged, I might have been able to do something instead of letting those guys just walk right in and take him! His train of thought was disrupted as Kaoru's words, plus the appetizing aroma of dinner registered in his mind. "If Kenshin hasn't been out of his room all day, then who's cooking dinner?" he asked.


Yahiko stopped dead in his tracks. "What?!" he asked, shock written all over his face.

Kaoru smiled at her student's reaction. "Yep. He volunteered, in a way. Said that Kenshin couldn't do it and he didn't trust anyone else to cook for him, so that meant he'd have to do it himself. Don't worry, though, it tastes just like Kenshin's cooking."

"Hiko...cooking..." the boy repeated faintly, trying and failing to picture it in his mind. "This I gotta see."

Kenshin stirred the rice, replacing the lid before moving back over to the sink. He gasped softly as unexpected pain raced along his ribs, feeling like they were on fire. He grabbed onto the counter to support himself, waiting for the pain to fade. /Warn me before you stand up, Shishou!/ he ground out, his hand unconsciously pressed to his side.

"Hiko-san! Are you all right?"

The tall swordsman turned his head, spotting Kaoru and Yahiko standing in the doorway. The woman looked as though she wanted to try and help him, but was unsure of how that would be received. The boy just looked surprised.

"I'm fine, Kamiya," Kenshin said, releasing the counter and forcing himself to stand up straight. The pair in the doorway didn't look convinced. The swordsman narrowed his eyes slightly. "Well, are you just going to stand there gawking all day, or do you have something better to do?" he demanded, his voice irritated.

"Oh, sorry! I was just wondering if there was something you needed help with," Kaoru explained, hoping she hadn't offended Kenshin's master.

"Hmph. Take these out," he said, gesturing to the pots on the stove. "Dinner's done."

. . .

The sickle moon shone down through the clouds, shedding its feeble light on the empty city streets. It illuminated the fog moving in from the ocean, its tendrils stretching out and filling the roads as it slowly engulfed the city in its ghostly grasp. One man walked confidently down the dark avenues, stumbling a little bit over unseen objects. The smell of sake on him was strong as he swaggered along the side streets and alleys, not the least bothered by the solitude or the eerie night atmosphere.

Ten years, Sharaku thought, a smile covering his face. Ten long years and my revenge is finally complete. I brought down the great Hiko Seijiro XIII and, since he killed all of the men out front, the police have no clue that I had anything to do with it! He laughed as he turned the corner, congratulating himself on his genius. Something made him pause, the smile disappearing from his face as a figure appeared on the road ahead of him. He walked with slow, measured steps, not making a single sound, like a hunter stalking his prey. His movements were graceful and there was an air of confidence surrounding him, as if nothing could stand in his way. He wore a white cape, the pale light of the moon giving it an almost wraithlike appearance as it gently swayed behind him, seeming to blend into and become one with the mist.

The elderly man took a step back as the stranger drew his sword, the moonlight reflecting off of the blade. He continued forward, advancing menacingly on the partially drunken man. He was now close enough for Sharaku to recognize his sharp features framed by black hair, his dark eyes holding nothing but the promise of death. "No...it can't be...it's not possible...I killed you..." he said disbelievingly, trying to back up. His body refused to obey his commands, rooted to the spot as he helplessly watched the swordsman approach. The mist seemed to part to make way for him, stray tendrils clinging to his arms and legs as he passed.

"Yes," came the deep baritone reply, low enough that Sharaku couldn't tell if he had spoken or if it had been whispered in the wind. He came to a stop in front of the old man, his face hidden in shadow as he looked down at his victim. "You did kill me."

"Then, w-why are you h-here?" the frightened man stuttered, unable to keep the fear from his voice.

There was a long pause before the swordsman answered, his tone emotionless. "I'm here...because you are late."

Sharaku's brow furrowed in confusion, not understanding what the ghost was talking about, but knowing that he most assuredly would not like the explanation. "W-what do you mean?" he asked, his hands starting to shake from the adrenaline.

"I'm here," the wraith repeated slowly, "because you are late."

"L-late for what?" the slightly inebriated man asked, his voice cracking as his fear mounted.

"Late for your death."

Sharaku's heart skipped a beat, pounding furiously in his chest. His breath came in short gasps as he turned, running for all he was worth. He's not real! I celebrated a little too much, and now I'm hallucinating! He's not real! I'm drunk and I only imagined that Hiko's spirit has come back for me! He's not real! he screamed in his mind, trying to escape the figment of his imagination standing in the misty street behind him. He didn't get far, however, when the specter appeared in front of him again, the cold steel pressed against his flesh halting his flight and confirming the reality of the deceased swordsman. The older man fell to the ground, helplessly staring up at the tall ghost. "What do you want? W-what are you going to do to me?"

"I am going to kill you and escort you down into the depths of Hell," the phantom replied, raising his sword as he prepared to deliver the fatal blow. "I have come for your soul."

Sharaku saw a flash of silver as the blade descended, his eyes rolling back in his head as he fell back in a dead faint. Kenshin sheathed his sword, looking at the man before him disdainfully. Although he had originally only intended to apprehend Sharaku, he had seized the opportunity when it arose to act as a messenger from the underworld. The sheer terror produced had made Kenshin feel marginally better as he exacted his revenge upon the older man in the only way he could—by playing upon his fears and confusing his mind. "You are very fortunate indeed, Sharaku. Had Shishou been the one to find you, you would be well on your way to the afterlife," he spat, his voice filled with contempt. He sighed, leaning down and picking up the older man, slinging him unceremoniously over his shoulder. "Instead, you will only go to jail. Hardly an adequate punishment for what you did to my Master, but it will have to suffice. Very fortunate for you, indeed." The Hiten Mitsurugi master turned and walked back down the street, the fog closing in around him as he disappeared from sight.

. . .

Hiko woke up, hearing the first birds begin to sing as the sun peeked over the mountains in the east. He opened his eyes, knowing that he would be unable to go back to sleep and pushed himself into a sitting position, hissing as his ribs protested the movement. A grunt of pain caused him to glance to the side, seeing Kenshin open his eyes and look at his master disapprovingly.

"I wish you would stop doing that," he grumbled, standing and stretching before moving over to the futon. Kneeling in front of his master, he pulled out the jug of sake and two saucers, pouring them both a drink.

Hiko accepted one, sipping the liquid pensively as his thoughts turned to the events of the last few days. "Kenshin."

The dark-haired swordsman looked up at the serious tone in his master's voice, clear eyes meeting the redhead's steady gaze.

I cannot clearly remember anything from the past few days, Hiko thought angrily. Probably an effect of being drugged so many times in such a short period. In any case, I need to know what happened. "What happened after you left Kyoto?" he asked, his tone making the question sound more like a demand.

Kenshin fought the smile that tried to form on his face, keeping his expression neutral. It's nice to see that Shishou is feeling better, he thought. "I arrived in Tokyo after dark and headed straight to the dojo. Kaoru, Yahiko and Megumi were all here, while Sano was out looking for you. I then received a message, telling me to return to the 'place it all began' if I wanted to see you alive again. I was at a loss over where to go until I was able to talk to you," he admitted. "One of the docks on the outskirts of town is where you were being held. There were a few men guarding the door..."

Hiko nodded, remembering being tied to a piling. A few men were guarding the door? That means there was less than one hundred. How insulting, given that it was me they were expecting... his thought trailed off as he noticed Kenshin seemed to be hesitating. "Well?"

"There were a few traps inside the warehouse and I was injured."

"What?!" the redhead asked incredulously. My perfect body at his disposal and he was injured?! He took a calming breath, reminding himself that he had done more damage to his deshi's body than had been done to his own. He hardly had any room to complain. "Where?" he asked.

"One minor cut on my leg and a cracked bone in my arm," the taller swordsman replied.

"How," Hiko asked, trying to keep his voice calm, "did you manage that?"

"A crossbow bolt grazed my leg and I was unable to get out of the way of the steel cage that was supposed to trap me. I did, however, manage to cut off the corner piece that landed on my arm, thus only cracking the bone instead of smashing the arm completely," he explained. "However, it did break one of your metal armguards."

The redhead closed his eyes, sighing. "Then what?"

"I found you and brought you back to the clinic."

"After which, we returned here," Hiko finished.


The redhead paused, looking at his deshi. "Who was behind this?"


The name sounded vaguely familiar to Hiko. Sharaku...the place it all began was at the docks...and we are in Tokyo. Aside from my previous 'visit' to the dojo, the last time I was in Tokyo was... He let his gaze fall to the floor, memories coming back to him. Yes, it was that time...

Hiko entered the pottery shop, his most recent pieces wrapped carefully in a bag slung over his shoulder. The shop owner looked up, easily recognizing the tall swordsman. "Ni'itsu-san! How nice to see you again! And with some of your new pieces, too," he stated, eagerly accepting the bag.

"I take it you already sold everything I brought you last time, Takashi?" The tall man asked, his gazing wandering around the shop.

"Yes, you know how popular your work is," the owner replied, taking out the first piece and beginning to unwrap it. He paused, setting it on the counter before stepping into the back. "I believe a letter was left here for you," he called out, his voice slightly muffled. "Ah, here it is! It's from Tokyo," he said, reemerging with the letter. He handed it to Hiko.

The swordsman accepted the it, looking at the name written on the front. Ni'itsu Kakunoshin. It's her handwriting, he thought, breaking the seal and opening the carefully folded parchment. He looked over the letter, wondering why she had decided to contact him after all this time. How did she even find me?

"Dear Kakunoshin-kun,

How have you been? I'm sure you can imagine my surprise when I saw the most beautiful piece of pottery I have ever seen sitting on a shelf in a store, with your name etched in its base. So it seems that you have decided to become a potter after all. I managed to trace it back to a shop in Kyoto, so I am sending this letter in the hopes that it reaches you."

Well, that at least explains how she found me, he thought, skipping down to the end. Emotions had been high and a great many things that should have remained unspoken had been shouted in anger at their last meeting, many years ago. He knew she would not be contacting him without a good reason. He turned the sheet over, looking for the passage that held the explanation. His eyes stopped on the last paragraph.

"Now, for the reason I'm sending you this letter. I thought you should know that Maya has disappeared. She has been missing for two days. Kenzo does not know I am writing to you and will be furious if he finds out, but I don't know what else to do. He never speaks of you, but I know he misses you terribly. Please come and bring your master. I know he will be able to help us find Maya. I love you.


Ni'itsu Mayuko"

I headed to Tokyo immediately after that. My master had already been dead for well over a decade at that time. I had changed a lot since I had last seen them. They hardly recognized me. And Maya... Hiko's thoughts trailed off once again, his mind replaying another memory.

"Go home," the Hiten Mitsurugi master said, confronting the woman following him.

"No," Mayuko replied, matching his tone. "You know where Maya is being held and I'm coming with you whether you like it or not!"

"I will bring her back safely. Return to your house and wait with your husband," the swordsman spat as if it left a foul taste in his mouth, unable to keep the contempt from his voice. "I'm sure Kenzo is worried and you shouldn't even be here. It's too dangerous for you."

"Dangerous? I have lived in this city my entire life! I know the dangers!"

"You have lived the sheltered life of an aristocrat! You know nothing of the real world!" Hiko was taken by surprise as Mayuko's hand slapped his cheek. He stared at her, not quite believing she had hit him.

"How dare you speak to me that way," she said, her voice low.

An emotionless mask slipped in place over his features as he gazed at the old woman. "Go home, Mayuko," he said coldly. "You don't belong here." He disappeared before she had a chance to reply. Looking around futilely, she tried to glimpse even a flash of the conspicuous white mantle somewhere in the dark street.

Hiko dropped back down to the ground several streets away. His cheek was still stinging, but the emotional cut was much deeper. It doesn't matter, he thought, ruthlessly shoving his emotions aside as he focused on the task at hand. I made my choice when I cut all ties with them years ago. It's far too late to turn back now. Pushing all other concerns aside, he headed towards the outskirts of town.

A mass of jumbled auras caught his attention as he neared the docks, most of them frightened as they waited, unsure of what fate was in store for them. The others had a confidence and a feeling of power that comes from being in control. There were about fifteen of those with at least thirty captives. This must be the place, Hiko thought, calmly walking up to the warehouse. He paused, checking the position of the guards in the building one last time before throwing the door wide open. He took in the layout in a quick glance, noting that the steel cages holding the prisoners would keep them out of the way. He smirked as the guards all reached for their weapons, startled by his sudden appearance. A man in the back of the room stopped them.

"I am called Sharaku. Exactly who are you and what business do you have in my shop? Looking to purchase a slave, perhaps?" he asked.

"You don't need to know my name. Normally I wouldn't even waste my time on someone like you who is beneath my notice," Hiko replied. "However, you have taken someone dear to me and I want her back."

"Ah, here is where we enter a gray area. I'm afraid I can't give her to you unless you pay for her. If you would like to purchase one of my girls—"

"You misunderstood me. I will be taking the girl with me," Hiko replied, drawing his sword. Seeing the intruder prepare to fight, the guards tensed, waiting for the command to attack.

Sharaku shrugged. "Be that as it may. If you have a death wish, I shall be all too happy to oblige. Kill him."

In less than a minute the floor was soaked with blood, fourteen fresh corpses scattered about the tall swordsman. Hiko narrowed his eyes, realizing the leader was nowhere to be seen. "Hmph."

The swordsman moved to the first cage, ignoring the people as they moved back, putting as much space between themselves and him as possible. He sliced through the lock with his katana, quickly scanning the faces as he opened the door and stepped back. "You are free to go."

Hiko moved on to the next cage, cutting the lock as he looked for Maya. Not seeing her, he continued on the next one. He found her in the last cage, standing near the back of the group. He opened the door, stepping back as the people timidly filed past him. He held her arm as she tried to do the same. "Maya, you need to come with me."

He felt her tense, her ki spiking in fear. She was obviously terrified of him, and he knew she would have been trying to run from him if he wasn't holding her arm. That knowledge cut him deeply. Keeping a firm grip on her, he gently led her through the now crowded warehouse, everyone moving out of the way to clear a path for them.

The trip back across town seemed to take forever. Maya seemed unable to relax in the slightest as long as he was near her and Hiko didn't know what to say to put her at ease, so he remained silent. He could feel her surprise as they neared her house.

Kenzo was waiting for them inside. "Maya!" he exclaimed. The woman ran to him, burying her head in his chest and shaking as he held her in his arms. He cradled her too him, rubbing her back soothingly. His features hardened as he looked up at the swordsman. "So, you managed to rescue my daughter. I suppose thanks are in order," he said grudgingly.

"False appreciation is neither needed nor welcomed."

Kenzo looked around, as if only noticing something was missing. "Where's Mayuko?"

"Is she not here?" the swordsman asked.

"She followed you. Perhaps I thought too much of you to think you would be able to notice when a woman was trying to follow you," the older man sneered. "Apparently, your training wasn't that good after all."

Hiko's expression and tone remained impassive. "I saw her and told her to go home. I assumed she would have returned, but apparently she didn't. I'll go search for her now," he replied, leaving the room and closing the shoji behind him. Voices from the room made him pause, listening to the conversation.

"Father, who was that man?" Maya asked, her voice soft. "Did you send him to find me?"

Kenzo snorted. "There is nothing on heaven or earth that would make me invite him back into my home. Your mother sent for him. That is Kakunoshin," he replied, his tone filled with loathing and hatred.

"No," came the whispered reply. "No, it can't be...that's not Kakunoshin--that's a demon!"


Hiko looked up, drawn from his thoughts by Kenshin's voice. That's all in the past, he thought, banishing the memories back into the depths of his mind. And right now, I need to focus on the present. "What happened to Sharaku?"

"He has been taken care of," the dark-haired master replied.

Which means, he's being held at the police station, thus if I want to carry out any form of revenge against, I have to break him out of jail first. Kenshin seems to greatly enjoy inconveniencing me. Hiko shook his head. "And so, I'm stuck living your life until we have both healed enough to switch back," he stated sourly. Kenshin remained silent, seeing no need to restate the obvious.

Hiko drained his saucer of sake, setting it on the floor. "I suppose this means that I get to go start breakfast," he said, starting to stand. A hand on his shoulder prevented him from doing so.

"I will help you, Shishou. There is no need to cause us both undue pain," he said, helping his master get up. "You should try to look on the bright side, though. With your cracked ribs, the only chores you can do are cooking and sweeping. Scrubbing the floors and laundry are both out, and Megumi has already lectured Kaoru about sending you into town to get groceries. You can almost think of this as a vacation."

Hiko snorted, not deigning to reply as they headed to the kitchen.

. . .

Breakfast was an interesting affair. Everyone was pleasantly surprised to see 'Kenshin' up and about once more. Kaoru looked as though she was about to hug him, but under 'Hiko's' watchful glare, remembered the warning she'd been given the day before and patted the redhead on the shoulder instead. It did not go unnoticed by anyone when 'Hiko' helped his student to sit down on the mat.

And throughout breakfast, the redhead was bombarded with questions about his kidnapping. Hiko managed to keep a vacant smile on his face, giving vague answers their questions. The meal seemed to take forever.

Kenshin breathed a sigh of relief as Kaoru and Yahiko left the room, going outside to train. Well, that didn't go too badly, all things considered, he thought, glancing at his master. The redhead's face was expressionless, but Kenshin could tell he was not happy with the situation. "Don't worry, Shishou. They were just worried is all. I don't think it will be that bad from here on out."

Hiko opened his mouth to reply when he felt a familiar aura nearing the compound. The lady doctor is back, meaning it's time for my daily torture session. I really hate Kenshin's life.

. . .

The weeks flew by at a snail's pace. Although the progress seemed to be abnormally slow, 'Kenshin's' cracked ribs did heal nicely. When it had gotten to the point where Hiko only felt a slight twinge bending over (and after Megumi declared he was well enough to begin doing all his regular chores again), he decided that it was finally time to reclaim his body.

Kaoru happened to be teaching at another dojo and Yahiko was once again at the Akabeko, leaving Hiko and Kenshin alone in the compound. The two masters were sitting across from each other in Kenshin's room, sipping sake when the redhead broke the silence. "It's time."

The dark-haired man opened his eyes, meeting the violet gaze. "Another sparring match, then?" he asked.

Hiko shook his head. "Not this time. We were able to switch bodies in our sleep with over 300 miles separating us. We should be able to consciously do the same sitting only a few feet apart."

Kenshin set down his saucer of sake. "Very well. Synchronize and switch, then?"

The smaller man nodded, closing his eyes and allowing his body to relax, feeling his deshi's mind through their link. He could sense Kenshin doing the same, their ki easily falling into the same rhythm, their thoughts and feelings unified. Hiko maintained the synchronization, waiting for the familiar feeling of falling without moving as he willed himself to return to his body.

After several minutes, Kenshin shook his head, opening his eyes. It seems that we cannot-- "ORO?!" he uttered, surprised.

Hiko opened his eyes at the odd sound, preparing to scold his deshi when he noticed two things. One, his voice did not sound that high. Two, he was staring at the redhead sitting across from him. He looked down at his hands, making sure he was really back in his body.

"It seems we have switched back," the rurouni said, sounding confused. "But, I didn't feel anything."

"I didn't, either," Hiko replied, his brow furrowed in thought. "Did you notice how easy it was to align our ki?"

"Yes. I hardly had to try."

"And neither of us felt the switch take place. It appears that, the more we switch, the easier it is to do so. The mere thought of wanting to trade places may set it off in the future. You are going to have to be very careful of that, Kenshin," the tall swordsman said seriously.

"What? Why do I have to be careful of that?" Kenshin asked. "What about you?"

Hiko snorted. "Your body has nothing to offer me. You have to be careful because it is natural for you to want the better of the two bodies, especially now that you have become accustomed to using mine," he said, smirking superiorly as he brushed his hair behind his shoulder.

The redhead rolled his eyes, being sure the gesture was hidden behind his bangs as he bowed his head. "Yes, Shishou," he replied, not quite keeping the sarcasm from his voice.

"Well, now that that's settled, I shall be leaving," Hiko said, pushing himself to his feet. He stretched, feeling the power hidden within his muscular body. It is good to be me again! he thought, gathering his belongings.

"Leaving already?" Kenshin repeated, not surprised by the action in the least, but still a little disappointed.

"This was a rather unexpected trip and I have had as much of your friends as I can handle."

"I'll see you off at the station," the redhead said, standing as well.

Hiko opened the shoji, stepping out into the hallway. "That won't be necessary. I have some business to take care of in town before I go," he replied.

Kenshin followed him across the courtyard. "I guess this is goodbye, then," he said, standing at the gate as his master started walking down the street. "You should come back and visit more often."

"Hmph." Hiko paused, looking over his shoulder. "I'll see you around," he said, raising a hand in farewell. "And stay out of my head!"

Kenshin smiled, shaking his head slowly as he watched his master disappear down the street. So, he has some unfinished business to take care of in town? I hope he doesn't destroy too much of the jail, he thought. Shrugging, he walked back into the courtyard, closing the gate behind him. Some things never change.

. . .

The End

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