She could feel it again. It was a tension, air drawn tight and thin. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled. She ignored it as she always did, concentrating on bringing the cup of tea to her lips. The warm liquid slid easily down her throat, dulling the anxiety she felt. It was quiet. Often there were several of the village children that ate the evening meal here; but today they’d all gone home, leaving the tension to grow and spread in their absence.
The source of this tension was the youth seated across from her. He was nearly three years younger than her—her childlike husband. They had lived together in the small countryside hut for two months now as a married couple. Life was pleasant, as her husband, Himura Kenshin, was a kind, honest, and gentle person. He helped her with the chores, made medicines for the townspeople, and played with the children. None of these things bothered her. The source of her discomfort was his eyes.
Yukishiro Tomoe set her cup down. "Yes?"
"I’ll be gone tomorrow morning. I need to gather some more herbs from the mountain, but I’ll be back by lunch. Is that all right?"
"Yes, of course." Whenever he went anywhere or did anything out of their daily routine he always sought her permission. She appreciated his thoughtfulness, though she’d never said so. "The children will miss you."
Kenshin smiled. "I’m sure they’ll be fine."
"Yes. Are you finished? I’ll clean the dishes."
"Alright." He gulped down the last of his meal and handed the cup and bowl to her; even if he wasn’t finished, he always ate his meals quickly so as to not force her to wait. It was another courtesy she never acknowledged. He began to lay out the futons as she cleaned and replaced the dinner dishes. He dressed for bed and she wrote in her diary as she always did. Then she changed into her sleeping kimono.
This was the point at which the tension was greatest. Kenshin was already settled and the room was silent. Every breath and movement that she made echoed with tremendous volume against the walls; her ears were exaggerating, but that didn’t matter. Her greatest fear was his eyes.
Kenshin’s eyes, a pair of clear, violet orbs, were watching her now. He was thinking about her. Tomoe tried to ignore it, but after eight weeks of enduring it had begun to wear her down. His gaze was not lecherous or unkind, but soft, curious, and filled with the same uneasiness she felt. Husband and wife he would be thinking. Till death do us part. Their marriage began for the sake of a cover-up, but even knowing that both their minds were plagued with insecurity. What made a married couple anyway? Was it the home, the vows, the way of life? Or was there something deeper? Maybe it was the way he spoke to her softly when things went wrong, or the way she watched his hands as they did the chores.
Or maybe it was the way he was looking at her even now, as she untied her hair and slipped between the sheets of the futon they shared. How his violet eyes drank up every inch of her face and features. The way he edged closer, disguising his actions with a discomforted shifting of movement. This was the moment. Both husband and wife, lying together, unspeaking and waiting for sleep. Until one found such surrender they would listen to the questions in their minds. Only one would be answered: not tonight.
But as the tension reached its thickest point Tomoe could feel Kenshin’s stare. Despite her better judgement she opened her eyes. He was lying on his back, head turned toward her, eyes calm and without any deep emotion. His long red hair curled and snaked about his head on the pillow like tendrils of a vine. He watched her.
Tomoe was also lying on her back, and she returned his dull gaze. She wondered vaguely what he must have seen in her; she saw a young, strong boy led astray. He was a pure, innocent soul—or had been once, now washed in blood. Only one blemish marked the existence of his failed perfection: the scar that crossed his cheek. The wound had always drawn her attention in a kind of curious dread. That night she wasn’t thinking and she reached out.
Kenshin looked bewildered and a bit startled as her hand slid across his face, tracing the line of damaged flesh. "This scar," she said quietly. "Where did you get it?"
"During a fight a month before I met you," he answered, his gaze flickering between her face and her hand. "A night patrol."
Tomoe drew her hand back, a sudden chill running through her flesh. "A month before?" she repeated, her stomach growing hollow and unsettled. "A night patrol…"
"Yes. Is something wrong?"
Half a year ago. Tomoe felt a tremble. She knew what it meant. The wind was whispering to her, telling her terrible things. All along she’d known what her husband was and what he’d done, but she hadn’t expected to see the proof of those deeds displayed so plainly on his visage. She knew the hand that gave him that scar.
"No," Tomoe answered at last, reaching out again. She touched the rough skin of his face, hesitantly at first, then with a bit more confidence. "Only…even though it’s only been a while, it feels like a long time, doesn’t it?"
Kenshin nodded slightly. "It’s been two months since I killed anyone. It’s…a strange feeling."
"Do you…miss it?"
Tomoe held her breath as he ran her question over in his mind, a bit fearful, though no emotion showed in her face. It often surprised even her how soft her voice sounded, how calm and sure as if she knew all the answers. She certainly did not know—she was lost. She didn’t know what to do with this boy she had wed. She didn’t know what he was thinking, and that made her nervous. Would he return to the life of bloody slaughter if he could? Had she made a mistake in believing in the purity of his hidden heart?
"I’m suddenly in a new, mysterious way of life," he said after a long, thoughtful pause. "It feels like years since I lived away from the black envelopes." He covered the hand on his face with one of his own. "But being here with you now makes me think that I don’t want to go back. I will, if I must, but…" He ran his fingers delicately over the back of her palm. "…I’d rather touch you with hands that aren’t stained."
Tomoe held her breath as Kenshin moved closer. His hand now reached to touch her face, and she startled herself by shivering as their skin brushed. She couldn’t move. His warm breath flowed sweetly down her cheek and neck, and she waited, suspended in shock. A moment later she felt a dull, soft pressure on her forehead. It didn’t last long, and then he withdrew once more. "Please sleep well," he said quietly as he settled back into his previous position. He closed his eyes.
Tomoe released her breath, forcing herself to calm once the incident had ended. She swallowed a lump in her throat and wound her fingers about her kimono’s lining. Her heart was beating quickly. Stop it she told herself fiercely, trying to control her shuddering limbs. A wave of guilt washed over her. Remember why you’re here? Didn’t you come for revenge? The man who gave him that scar—was that not your fiancé, who you so loved but never admitted your feelings to? Where is your honor, your loyalty?
But now…this is my husband…
She glanced at him cautiously, and was relieved to find him sleeping—or, at the least, in the guise of sleeping. His childish face was arranged in a calm expression, one which she now envied. He may look and seem like a boy, she told herself, but you’ve seen what he is. You watched him as he made the streets red with his bloody rain. Have you forgotten? Have you forgiven?
Kiyosato…that death was not this boy’s fault.
And he wasn’t a boy. He was a man. She recalled all the times she’d caught herself watching him at night, wondering at the strength he must have to be so accomplished a swordfighter. She’d seen the grace in his movements, and the smooth, perfect muscles in his shoulders and back. Her thoughts caused her to blush. You’re such a fool, Tomoe. Is your heart truly so fickle?
That night sleep did not come easily for her.