Note: This is a re-publishment; some of you might have read it before from my old account rurouni-inu.

Underlying Affection

As Kaoru traced the jaw line of her sleeping husband, she felt her chest tighten.

He was here physically, but he would never be hers.

Her hand paused at his chin, her fingertips and eyes trying to memorize its shape and feel in the candle-light dimmed room. After a few moments, Kaoru stifled a sigh, her thumb giving a last brush against his skin before bringing it under the covers, close to her chest. She closed her eyes, hesitantly snuggling her head closer to her husband's sturdy body. She wanted warmth, and he seemed to readily give it to her, but she never knew if it was sincere or not.

After all, they had not married out of love.

Although after one and a half years she had grown to love this man she called husband, she wasn't sure about his feelings towards her. He did tend to her needs and wants, but he never voiced out his feelings. Kaoru felt like she was just another woman who shared his bed and his life. They never fought, were civil towards each other, but that was it. It was probably in his kind nature to take care of someone whom he chose as wife anyway, Kaoru resentfully thought. But there was this nagging feeling that she knew she felt this way because of the scene she had seen the night before their wedding. He and another woman sharing an embrace under an umbrella, in the pouring rain, as she watched it from the window of his guest room, preparing for their wedding. She bravely asked him about it later in the night, but he went so still. "She's a good friend." He whispered, not looking at her in the eyes. "She's getting married too. We were congratulating each other on each other's marriage." He cracked a smile that did not seem to speak his true feelings. "Don't worry too much, Kaoru. We're having a long day tomorrow, do turn in early."

Kenshin suddenly moved, which made Kaoru's heart skip a beat as she frantically thought if her snuggling had caused him to wake up. She had to forget that this man had super sensitive reactions to slight changes in anything. When Kenshin started to shift, Kaoru knew he had woken up. She squeezed her eyes shut, thankful for the fact that he couldn't see her face that was pressed against his chest. She just hoped that he wouldn't be able to feel her racing heartbeat which she failed to calm.

"Kaoru?" Kenshin's sleepy voice called out.

If Kenshin had guessed she was awake, she wasn't showing it. Kenshin had stilled his movements and she could feel his now more alert eyes on her, but Kaoru didn't dare guess what his expression was like. She could almost see it if she imagined hard enough; soft amber eyes looking down at her. Kaoru stubbornly kept her eyes shut and refused to move, although her heartbeat raced even faster in fear of being caught faking sleep. How was she supposed to explain herself for being awake at such a late hour? She was a bad liar, and she knew it.

After what seemed like an eternity, Kenshin moved again. He shifted her form, which nearly had Kaoru gasping out loud in surprise but she managed to act limp, as if still sleeping. Although still facing each other, he had put some space between their bodies, which made Kaoru's heart sink as she realized that she was not going to have his warmth for the rest of the night. She felt like crying, but restrained herself. You knew, Kaoru berated herself for feeling such disappointment. You're just another woman, Kaoru, you shouldn't be crying because he decided to sleep 5 centimeters away from you!

Suddenly, Kaoru felt a slight brush of rough warm skin stroking her cheek. It went round in slow circular motions, before tracing her lips and down to her chin. She wanted to open her eyes, but was also afraid that this moment would be spoilt if he knew she was awake. Just this time, Kaoru told herself. Just let me slip into oblivion to have something in which I might never have again.

Kenshin pulled his hands away, and Kaoru immediately missed his touch. But that want was instantly quashed when she suddenly felt her lips being pressed by another. Kaoru swore she stopped breathing. Although they had shared kisses before, mostly during sex, those kisses were lustful, hard and so unlike this chaste kiss. Kenshin let his lips linger there for a while, and she could feel his breath from his nose on her cheek. Slowly, he again pulled away, but this time his hands also quietly wrapped around her and pulled her gently into his embrace. Kaoru felt her nose hit his collarbone while he kissed her on top of her head before nestling his chin there.

"Kaoru." Kenshin whispered softly.

Kaoru could feel the vibrations in his chest as he spoke her name. She waited for him to continue, probably to expose her from her sleeping act. She then wondered then if she should really give in and open her eyes if he did ask. She too had many questions to ask. What did that kiss meant to him? Was he angry at her for pretending to be asleep?

She heard him take in a deep breath.

"Kaoru, I love you."

When he said those words, Kaoru instinctively opened her eyes. Her mind turned blank and she felt as if her heart had burst within her chest. "What…?" She whispered. Now Kenshin shifted, positioning himself so that their faces were on the same eye level. He had known that she was awake all along, but he did feel that it was easier to say it to a shut-eyed Kaoru. In fact, he had already whispered it to Kaoru several times when she was fast asleep. But now, after saying it out loud the first time, it felt easier saying it again.

Kenshin locked eyes with her, pouring his emotions into her gaze. She was still looking at him with those wide, surprised, and scared eyes. She was scared that he didn't mean his words, and it hurt him. But he knew she couldn't blame her for the silent accusation. Their marriage was all but a whim. Given his high rank, their people's culture expected him to marry at his coming-of-age. His uncle had invited a few respectable families' with daughters for a banquet at his place one night, and told him that he had to make a decision of a wife. He had not welcomed the idea at all. He had Tomoe then, but their relationship would have been a scorn to her. She was after all, the princess.

He had proposed to Tomoe, but in the end she had refused, unable to go against her family's rule. They had parted ways while still loving each other. But rejection was rejection, and Kenshin tried his best to suppress whatever feelings he had left for Tomoe.

A week after was the banquet. Kaoru was the only lady there that had caught his eye. He had noticed her while glancing around the room. She was silently sitting down on a chair amongst the chatting crowd, enjoying the slow melody that the musicians were playing, a glass of champagne in her hands. Whether it was her serene face, or her pale figure contrasting her blue dress, Kenshin unknowingly had himself walking towards her, slightly entranced. When he realized he was standing in front of her, he was left with no choice but to try to initiate a conversation. Steadying his voice, he asked, "Was your night pleasurable, my lady?" She then looked up at him with those pure azure eyes and a smile that left him breathless.

As he relieved his memories, he unconsciously became more determined to show Kaoru his hidden emotions. He continued gazing into her eyes, trying to show her that these words were only meant for her. His Kaoru.

"I love you."

Kenshin had never told Kaoru that he loved her, precisely because he himself was not sure. It was true that he adored her. She was pretty and kind, and despite her weakness in the kitchen, she was a wife that anyone could wish for. But some things ran along the line of responsibility and affection, and he could not distinguish between the two. He also didn't feel justified to tell her after he'd known that she had seen him and Tomoe in the rain. He had to admit there were still some tender feelings for Tomoe, but it was no longer a strong or hard yearning. It was just… there, a pale thread of emotion remaining as a memory.

How he fell in love with Kaoru, he did not know. It could have been the night at the banquet itself. It could have been when she stood at the altar with the gorgeous bridal gown, with the shy faint blush on her cheek that took his heart away. It could have been the sex, always so passionate and their bodies seemingly made to fit for each other. Or, it could have been slowly gaining up on him within his one and a half year of marriage. All he knew was that, he wanted to make her happy. He never wanted to see her sad. He didn't want to see her tears. He wanted to give her a comfortable house where she could call home. He wanted to support her, and to be there for her when she needed him.

He wanted to be the only man her eyes would look at.

Kaoru could feel here eyes watering. As she still stared at him with quivering lips, unable to speak, she could feel her tears falling from her unblinking eyes. She continued to stare at him, as if wondering if she was dreaming or what she had seen and heard was true.


Her voice came out as a soft squeak, and Kaoru dared no speak a syllable more. Kenshin let out a breath, gazing at her and grazing his thumb across her cheek again, wiping away her tears.

"I know you might not believe me, because of your perceptions of who I am… and my past." Kenshin started slowly, careful with his words. "But… I cannot ignore my own feelings, especially when I know that you wish to know them too."

He paused, and there was a brief silence before he continued.

"Kaoru, over this year and a half, I have grown to love you. I have come to admire you, who share my life not only physically, but emotionally as well. I… can only say I'm sorry for taking so long to be sure of myself, and for making you worry."

Kaoru flinched, evoking bad recollections of that somber, rainy day. But Kenshin used both of his hands and grasped the side of her arms, steadying her. "You were never a replacement, Kaoru. I promised myself to let go of her, and I did. What I feel for you is totally different from what I felt for her. Its…"

Kaoru glanced up into his eyes, surprised at the sudden pause. She breathed in when she saw a pair of intense, amber orbs looking back at her, as if searching her very soul. She felt bared to his raw emotions.

"My love for you is raw, Kaoru." Kenshin's voice had suddenly lowered a baritone, and it felt almost rough to Kaoru's ears. "It could… be dangerous. It could be the side of me you've never seen before. It's because I want you like what I've never wanted anything before. The more I want you, the more I see you as my possession, and only mine to touch. Kaoru…" He narrowed his eyes, almost in a plea. "Can you love a man like me?"

Kaoru made a weak smile. Instead of replying, she moved, and leaned in to kiss him. She had given him a soft, chaste kiss but he caught her lips, his hands grabbing her face as he dove in her mouth. Kaoru startled, but fell victim to his velvet tongue that always took her breath away. He ravished her, until they were both out of breath and unwillingly parted, panting. He rested his forehead on hers, and softly said, "You haven't given me a proper answer."

"You're an idiot, you know." She whispered back. "Why did you just give me everything so suddenly?"

"I'm sorry…" He apologized, kissing her forehead. "I was a coward. I was so scared you'd run away."

"You weren't. You just didn't want to hurt me, did you."

"Maybe. But I was also unsure of myself."

There was a pause.

"I love you too, Kenshin." Kaoru softly said. She looked back up at him, her tears threatening to fall again. "And, no matter who you may be, I will accept you, because it's too late." Kaoru's voice tightened and she struggled to choke her sobs. "I've… already fallen in love with you."

Unable to hold back herself, she broke down, letting her pent up feelings, worries and frustrations for her husband ebb away along with her tears. She hid her face in her hands, sobbing, as Kenshin gathered her in his arms, giving her the warmth he hoped she would feel.

I am here, and I will always be here.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry little one." He mumbled, repeating himself as he held her. And as she cried, she felt relieved. The dark, thick emotions that constricted her chest slowly melted away and the air around her became easier to breathe. She need not hide her true self from her husband anymore. The wall between them had been broken down, and she knew that from now on, there would be no need for an act. The space between them had suddenly disappeared, and she cherished the closeness, both physically and emotionally.

He loves me. I love him.

Their love might be raw and untamed. But, it would be enough to keep her alive. It would be enough to make her smile. This love would bind them together, in sickness and in health, through happy and sadness,

...and till death do us part.



"Little One" by Ravyn

"Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen