AN: This is a canon compliant character study fic, but with an alternate base theory. The storytelling will be slow and introspective, as I am mostly interested in character growth and origins, and wrote this story to satisfy my own curiosity during last summer.

The storyline follows Kenshin's life all the way from 1856 to 1868, and I am going to have fun poking holes to fanon facts and introducing alternate theories to fill the gaps canon left us with. Regardless of artistic freedoms, the key canon events will be as true as they have ever been, but occasionally I am referencing OVA over manga - or even making a fusion of sorts.

Also, I am attempting to keep this remotely historically accurate, however occasionally the paint of historical facts is very thin indeed, mainly resulting from my erratic sources.

Concerning the dates, they all try to follow simple pattern of being western, but looking somewhat like moon calendar markings. So, for example, if the historical event happens on 8th of July, it would appear on the story as 'the eight day of the seventh month.' The years will follow Japanese era system, but I will provide alternate means of catching up with them, either in the prose or in author's notes.

Special thanks for my dear friend Chiera for being invaluable help with beta-reading and correcting my dyslexic errors kindly. (The pen might be mightier than the sword, but I seriously doubt the boy picked up a word here.) Or even better one, (I cannot see how they can play with desserts there, surely you mean cones, not scones?)

Let's see what happens.


This One, Prologue - Afternoon Discussions

"Whoop!"

An enthusiastic giggle.

"Weee!" Sounded a high voice proclaiming its simple joy to everyone within the backyard, a sound of stumbling, the voice changing the pitch lightning fast from joy to distress; "Ohmp –"

Kenshin glanced up from his laundry chores, his experienced eyes immediately zeroing onto the playing three years old toddler. There was no crying, he noted with relief and deliberately relaxed the tense muscles – instinctively ready to spur into action in the briefest glance of true danger. He let the corners of his mouth turn up into a smile; the red covered head of his son was already bowed down, absorbed in another interest.

It wasn't always easy for a parent to recognize the tones of their child's distress. He had been learning to be better at it lately, but in the beginning he had been a bit overprotective, perhaps. At least Kaoru found it to be so.

Speaking of Kaoru, she was finally coming home for the day. The creaking of the gate's hinge's, the light footsteps – it could be no one else. The small ache, caused by her absence, left like it had never been there. He pushed his hands back to the water and continued scrubbing the linens in the washtub. Better get this done, so he could start on the dinner. She would be hungry after a trip to the city center.

At times he couldn't believe he had this happiness. It was all thanks to her, Kaoru - his wife of four years, who had in short order become the cornerstone of his life and the anchor of his sanity. She had given him so much; home, love, family – a life he had always wanted, but hadn't truly believed he could ever deserve.

He frowned; her footsteps held a tinge of hesitation. That was unusual. She usually wasn't hesitant about anything…

"Kenshin-"

Her beautiful blue eyes were slightly tinted by worry - surely there couldn't have been bad news?

"Is something wrong?" He asked, immediately aware of her mood and seeking to abase it.

A loud exhale, and then she sat down next to him. "No, nothing, actually. I guess I am just making it out to be worse than it is by worrying too much. Doctor Gensai said that it most probably is just normal children's behavior, even common! Hmmph! You were right not to worry, love."

"There is nothing wrong with worrying, it just shows you care." He tried to console her. Through her speech, both her voice and face had gone through a multitude of expressions. So like her: kind, loving and fierce.

"Thank you, but I feel foolish. Going out there, all worried mother that I am, and then Doctor Gensai says that it is completely normal! How could I have known? Ayame-chan and Suzume-chan never did anything like that! By my understanding anyone talking to themselves, seeing things that aren't there - it just sounds so, so… like they aren't living in this world." Her voice faded into ashamed whisper.

She had been taking this harder than he had realized, and a flash of guilt struck him. "Those things that you speak of…" the word 'insanity' went without a mention, putting it in harsh words wouldn't help her any, "One has seen such people, and mostly it seems that they had seen or experienced something horrible to break them. Kenji has had everything he has wanted, love, family… it would be – unlikely…"

Her brilliant blue eyes sparked in flame and she growled; "I know that! Even Doctor Gensai told me that!" And just like that her annoyance wilted, and she blushed, turning her face away "Sorry, it's not your fault. I, I… No – Kenshin… why didn't you worry? Even for a minute, ever since Kenji introduced his imaginary friend to us, you have been unflappable about this. And I know you are even more protective of Kenji than I am… how could you be so sure?"

Her eyes held no anger, no accusation… just an honest curiosity. The dark cloud above her had lifted, like it had never been there. The wonders of her sparking temperament never ceased to amaze him.

He smiled at her, his heart flooding with tender warmth for her. She truly was his heart and soul. Glancing at the playing child under the maple tree, he considered his answer. It wasn't that he hadn't thought the same horrible options through that Kaoru had, but there had been a bone deep certainty – old as he was, or nearly so - that whatever it was that his son was speaking to wasn't causing any harm. Seeing his child's happy, almost proud face had just cemented that feeling into a place.

He took the linen out of tub, wringing it out of excess water, thinking how to answer.

"I guess I never told you…"