--

They'd been in the dojo practicing for the majority of the time Kenshin'd been taking a nap. Yahiko and the Little Missy.

Only she doesn't look so much the Little Missy now. She's fully the Assistant Master of her father's style. Fully the teacher as she bashes Yahiko around the dojo, admonishing him to learn what the hilt can do.

I let the fox-lady poke around at my hand again. She's worried about Kenshin, about all of us, about what the future holds. She needs something to do, someone to scold. If badgering me about my right hand helps her calm down, I'm all for it. We might need her to be the clear-headed professional doctor all too soon.

I hear the dojo door slide open a second before I hear Tsubame-chan's startled "Kenshin-san!" I turn and see my best friend standing in the doorway to the dojo. He still looks exhausted. I doubt the nap did him any good at all. Even if he did manage to fall asleep. He still hasn't cleaned up any from the battles. Dust and dirt streak his gi and hakama; bruises that weren't there last night, but have shown up since, are sprinkled across the skin his gi leaves exposed to the air.

As Little Missy fills him in on her idea to pass down the techniques, I take an even closer look at my friend. By her sudden stillness at my side, I can tell the fox-lady is looking him over with a doctor's eye for injuries that might be less obvious to those of us not trained in medicine.

I'm not worried about his wounds, though. I've seen the guy fight through a lot worse than what he got from our last battles. The wounds he took from Shishio – hell, even the ones he got from Sojirou and Aoshi– are burned into my memory. I'll never forget it.

So I'm not worried about his injuries. I'm worried about his mental state. And it sounds weird coming from me. What do I know about a person's mental health, right? But I know he's been hiding something from us since I met him. I've known nearly from the beginning. After all, I did all that research to find out how to fight him, didn't I? And if there's one thing I learned from that, aside from the fact that he gave even the people he fought alongside the wheelies, was that only his commander and those who worked with him on a regular basis, namely the ones who verified his kills as Battousai, ever knew what he really did. He was a mystery even to his own side. He had secrets even back then.

I've never pushed him to tell us. Whatever he was keeping from us, whatever made his eyes become pained and far-away whenever he thought no one was looking; I knew it had to have been something from his time as the hitokiri.

But I can't shake the feeling that this trouble is going to drag out all sorts of secrets, kicking and screaming, from whatever dark corners they've been hiding in. And I wonder what that's going to do to Kenshin, who's been reluctant to tell the rest of us even the smallest thing about his time as Battousai.

Then Kenshin's speaking, holding Little Missy's wrist like it's the last life-line he has.

"There's something I want to tell you all. About this battle, from the beginning."

Kenshin's face is resolved, most of the pain so evident when he'd come back to the dojo hidden once more. Little Missy and the fox-lady exchange glances, before the fox-lady determinedly moves forward as Little Missy firmly suggests that Kenshin at least let the fox-lady look him over for wounds before any speaking is done.

I'm a bit surprised that he lets her do it. But the look on his face when he said he had something to tell us...Maybe he needs the time it takes her to look him over to compose his thoughts. Maybe he needs more time to figure out how to say what he needs to.

Then we're all gathering on the engawa surrounding the dojo, all supplied with cups of the tea the Little Missy had brewed with Tsubame-chan while the fox-lady looked Kenshin over.

I watch closely as Kenshin starts to speak, tea forgotten already by his side, hands clenched around his sakabatou so tightly I can see the whites of his knuckles even from my position leaning on the fence. Whatever he's getting ready to tell us, it's painful for him to speak of it.

"This morning, on my way home, I received a declaration of war from the mastermind behind all this…"

Kenshin's voice is low enough we're all but holding our collective breath to be able to hear him. I'm more concerned with the tightly controlled pain and anger I can hear behind his words; pain and anger I'm sure Kaoru and Megumi missed. They're too worried about the pain that's still obvious on his face.

"Ten days from now, he will attack the Kamiya Dojo with all his forces…"

Why give us a time of attack? Doesn't that defeat the purpose? Giving a man like Kenshin the time to prepare for your attack is like handing your sword to your mortal enemy and asking him to please consider not killing you.

Of course, Kenshin won't kill anyway, so maybe that hadn't been the smartest metaphor ever…

"This man's name is Yukishiro Enishi. My brother."

And my brain skids to a halt. A brother? But Kenshin's family name is Himura, not…

"More accurately, my brother-in-law."

I can't tell if someone, like me, made a noise at the revelation that Kenshin has a brother, but he'd clarified the relationship anyway, so it didn't matter.

But a brother-in-law implied there had to be a wife to have the brother…

"The brother of…" Kenshin pauses, and I catch the brief grimace of pain that crosses his features, but only because I'm looking for clues as to how he feels about all this. "…Himura Tomoe. The wife I killed with my own hands."

I can tell Little Missy's shocked. Everyone is shocked. How could Kenshin kill his own wife? Why would he have?

There was something missing. We didn't have the complete story yet, just the ending.

"It began in the Bakumatsu, the story of the hatred behind this scar…"

And as I listen, I can't shake the feeling that some kami had a bunch of malicious fun at Kenshin's expense. This tale sounded so much like a kabuki drama, it couldn't have really happened.

But the pain is evident on Kenshin's face. I've never realized just how much he never told us of his time as the hitokiri, until he started this explanation. He speaks with hardly a pause for breath, as if he believes if he slows down, he'll lose his courage and not be able to finish the tale.

I clench my fists…well, fist, out of Kenshin's line of sight. Not that I'm worried he's going to see it – no, he's too focused on the ground between his feet for that to be a concern - but because I don't want any of the others to think I'm angry at him. I'm angry at those bastards that used him during the Bakumatsu.

Maybe everyone else thought of the Triumvirate as the saviors of Japan, but every time I think of them, I see Okubo-san striding into the dojo, calmly explaining they needed to know how strong Kenshin still was. As if he were testing a tool that hadn't been used in too long.

And now, I can't help but wonder what kind of man Katsura was, that he could command Kenshin's loyalty and respect, for even now, in the midst of revealing the pain and turmoil he went through during the months he acted as the Battousai, not one word reveals a hatred or disrespect for the Ishin Shishi leader.

Me? I'm placing him just slightly above Okubo-san, but only because I never met the man. I'll trust Kenshin's judgment that he was a good man. Hell, I already had it pounded into my skull that not all the Ishin Shishi are bastards. But it's hard to remember that, looking at the result of that 'good man's' deeds. As my friend reaches the point where he first met Himura Tomoe, at that point still Yukishiro Tomoe, I can see something more than old pain in his eyes.

Suddenly I know why he has always remained at a polite distance from Kaoru. Why he has always appeared the oblivious fool around her, when we all know he misses very little of what goes on around him.

He loved this woman, this Tomoe.

And he still loves her.

I glanced over to Little Missy, sitting stock still beside Kenshin. Her eyes never left him, and I knew if he'd raise his head just a little, her eyes would be seeking out his own. There was a kind of hurt understanding there, tempered with shock.

What would this knowledge, that Kenshin had been married once before, do to her? It was obvious to all and sundry that she loved him. She'd followed him all the way to Kyoto even though she knew he had a mad-man after him.

But my attention couldn't stray for long from Kenshin's story. It was mesmerizing. He had never allowed anyone even a glimpse of what he had been like, how he thought, during the Bakumatsu. All we knew, all we had seen, came from his fight in the dojo with Saitou, and what we had witnessed during the fight with Shishio and his faction.

And as he told the tale of the confusing and mysterious woman who knew he killed on orders, knew he was a hitokiri, the woman who asked him questions that made him question his convictions and his own sanity at times, I couldn't help but feel despair tugging at my heart.

I knew how this story ended.

"The wife I killed with my own hands."

Kenshin spoke uninterrupted for over three hours. His voice grew slightly hoarse, but I wasn't sure if it was from speaking so much, or from the strain of keeping the pain he was re-experiencing from interfering with his story.

And then, as he told us of the conversation on the bridge, after the Ikeda-ya incident, I saw his hands, which had loosened somewhat on his sakabatou, tighten again. His hands had been a good indication about the intensity of his feeling for what he spoke of, while his face was a mostly blank mask. The tighter he gripped the sword, the more he felt, be it pain, or confusion or loss, or anger.

Kenshin stopped speaking.

"Ken-san?"

"Let me…catch my breath."

I supported his wish to pause for a few moments, because I could see he needed the break, and I needed it too. There was so much to absorb in what he'd just told us, and we were only half-way through the story.

Tsubame-chan broke the awkward silence by offering to get more tea. I took the offered distraction and headed off for snacks, Yahiko following me muttering about free-loaders. The fox-lady had gone ahead with Tsubame-chan to make the tea.

Kaoru stayed at Kenshin's side, and I couldn't decide if it was a good thing or not that she did.

--

A/N: I decided to break the story into two parts, following the outline Watsuki-san used in the manga. I'll post the second half in another few days.

A/N2: Sano consistently reveals thoughout the manga (and some in the anime, though they kinda fell flat on showing this side of his character) that he does have the ability to do some deep thinking and make connections between events that are widely separated on first look. And his conversation with Yahiko in the manga shows that he does in fact do quite a bit of connecting and thinking during Kenshin's explanation of his connection to Enishi. I wanted to explore what he might think, because Sano's a character that fascinates me, frankly. He alternately makes me want to join Kaoru in the bokken-brigade and bean him a good one, and at others I'm beaming like an old, proud grandparent when her grandkid does something smart. *shrugs* He's one of the more obviously human characters, in that we can see him consistantly make mistakes and try to make up for them. Not that the others don't make mistakes; Sano's are just usually more obvious.

But before I digress further, please, review and tell me what you think.