Spoilers: Through season one.
A/N: Decided to post this old story that has been gathering dust on my hard drive for years. I shipped Richard/Kahlan so hard when this show was on.
Richard smelled like sweat.
This was not an unusual occurrence. He nearly always smelled like sweat, truth be told. All the running, fighting, saving lives… it was sweaty work. So it made sense that he smelled like sweat most of the time.
The problem was, given that he smelled like sweat, Kahlan really should have found his scent unpleasant. Unattractive.
Unfortunately, his sweat did not smell dank and ripe or really any of the other negative qualities generally associated with body odor. No, the scent of his sweat was clean, sweet, and slightly tangy.
In short, it was utterly intoxicating.
Kahlan had nights like this, occasionally. Nights when sitting next to him by the fire and doing something as simple as breathing in his scent was enough to send her senses into a state of heightened, nerve-jangling awareness. Nights when she found herself wanting to bury her face in his neck and drink in that scent as though it were oxygen, necessary and life-sustaining. Nights when she couldn't stop herself from thinking about what it would be like to dart out her tongue and taste that sweat on his neck, the hollow of his throat, his chest. Nights when she thought about burying her fingers in his hair and kissing him so deeply she would be lost in him.
To be perfectly honest, there were some nights when she quite frankly would prefer to fight off a gar singlehandedly than spend another moment thinking about how she couldn't touch him.
Apparently, this was one of those nights.
Richard was reading by the firelight, oblivious. She had an awl and a piece of tack she ought to be mending in her hands. She hadn't cast a stitch in over a quarter of an hour. They were sitting next to each other on a log next to the fire, despite the fact that there was another perfectly serviceable log on the other side of the fire. It was always this way, with the two of them. When Zedd shared their camp they sat a respectable distance apart, knowing the wizard would disapprove of even the chaste intimacy of that nearness. On nights when Zedd was away, like this one, however, they inevitably arranged themselves as close together as possible by mutual, tacit understanding. Shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, thigh to thigh. Close enough to smell each other's sweat. It was all they had.
Sometimes she envied Richard his easy willingness to abandon common sense and give over everything for one taste of each other. She knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that given a single word from her, he would leap at the chance for them to be together without a thought for the inevitably catastrophic consequences. Just look at his reaction to that one kiss that they had shared. How he had followed her when she told him it was impossible for them to be together. And then even after she'd told him why, he hadn't hesitated to jump naked into a lake just because some woman who looked like her had taken off her clothes and crooked her finger at him. She huffed impatiently at the memory, equally exasperated at him for being taken in so easily by someone acting so clearly unlike her and at herself for secretly wishing she could have seen the look on his face when the woman wearing her body had bared herself to him. But the main thing was, she couldn't rely on Richard to do the reasonable thing and stay away from her. He would risk his own soul for a chance to be with her, and think it not too heavy a price to pay. The only thing that could have stayed his hand from reaching for her would have been if he'd thought that closeness might have harmed her. But his abandon carried no risk of him hurting her. He did not have to live with the fear that the power of his feelings might overwhelm him and destroy the one he loved, as she did. And so the burden of self-control was on her, for better or for worse. Mostly, on nights like these, for worse.
She knew she wasn't being entirely fair to Richard in this assessment. She knew it wasn't easy for him either. Sometimes she woke at night and found him staring at her with a look in his eyes that told her more than he'd ever said in words about the weight of the longing he felt for her, and knew that in its own way that weight was just as much of a burden to him as her own was to her.
She breathed in deeply. His sweat, again. Mixed with the woodsmoke clinging to his hair. Another thing that should have been unattractive to her and yet damnably, appallingly… wasn't.
She started, jolted out of her reverie by the sound of his soft voice. "Yes?"
"Is everything all right?" he asked with concern, peering at her with those black-brown eyes of his.
His scrutiny was, as ever, unsettling. "Of course," she said, trying to keep her voice light. "Why wouldn't it be?"
"You've been staring into the fire like it holds the secrets of the universe for the past fifteen minutes."
She flushed, glad that the darkness hid the color on her fair skin. "Have I?"
"Yes. And you've been unraveling the stitches on that tack instead of binding it back together."
She looked down at the tack in her hands and swore. He was right.
Richard laughed, apparently delighted at her most un-Confessor-like choice of words. He bumped her shoulder with his. "What has you so distracted?"
Distracted. A more accurate description of her state of mind could hardly be found in a missive of a thousand words. "Nothing," she said, avoiding his gaze.
"Kahlan, haven't I told you that for someone who is a master of discerning untruths, you're a terrible liar?"
She sighed. "It's not important."
He looked at her. "Kahlan, you can tell me."
She opened her mouth to evade his inquiry, scrambling to think of something that would keep him from realizing the true nature of her thoughts. Instead, she heard herself sigh. "It's just… don't you ever feel lonely?" She stopped, appalled at the ridiculous words coming from her own mouth, horrified to hear her own treacherous tongue give voice to the very thing she should not discuss with him.
"No," he said, his brow furrowing in confusion.
She frowned, irritated despite herself at his apparent lack of shared emotion on this point which she should never have brought up in the first place. "Never?"
"How could I feel lonely when I am with you? I am only ever lonely when we are apart," he said, the simple honesty of his words searing her heart and frustrating her at the same time. Sometimes Richard could be so endearingly, maddeningly innocent about such matters.
She huffed impatiently. "No, Richard. I mean-" she struggled for an accurate way to express what she meant. "Lonely… in the flesh."
She knew the instant she said it that she had made a mistake. His eyes darkened instantly and she was suddenly twice as aware of his scent as she had been before. He wasn't so innocent after all. Which she knew, really. Hadn't he looked at her like this before? Didn't she know how hard it was for him, without her being foolish enough to provoke him like this? She should look away, hide what she was thinking from him, but she could not, and she knew that her eyes told him just as nakedly what she was feeling as his eyes told her.
"Yes," Richard said, his voice low with heat. "Yes. Of course."
She did look away then, because she knew if she did not she would do something they would both regret. "I… forgive me. I shouldn't have mentioned it."
He took her hand in his. "I'm glad you did."
She shook her head but could not bear to pull her hand away. "No, no good can come of it."
He traced his thumb over the back of her hand. "Well, I don't know…" he said slowly. "It might be good if the Seeker isn't driven mad thinking he's the only one with those feelings. Why, tonight alone might have killed me if you hadn't said anything."
She looked at him sharply. "Tonight..? You were reading!" she accused.
He grinned. "I haven't turned a page in half an hour."
"Well, what were you doing then?" she said, exasperated.
"Watching you," he admitted. "You were too busy sighing at the fire to notice."
She felt the heat rising in her cheeks, thinking of him looking at her while she thought of him.
He inched closer to her. He released her hand and hesitantly reached out to touch her hair. "And I was thinking about how you always smell nice. Even when you've been tromping through the woods all day and fighting D'Harans."
She shook her head, not so much in denial but disbelief that he'd been thinking that about her just as she had about him. "Richard…"
She didn't know what she wanted to say, she only knew she couldn't stand seeing the look in his eyes and not being able to reach out to him. "I'm not strong enough for this, Richard."
"You are," he said firmly. "You're the strongest person I know. Besides, we've faced fights with men ten times our number, monsters, Mord'Sith, Darken Rahl… what could be worse than that?"
She shook her head dismissively. "I'm not talking about the mission, Richard. I'm talking about… not being with you."
His eyes widened in understanding, and she blundered on, not knowing what to do, only knowing that she must keep speaking or she was going to give into the urge to fling herself at him and slip her tongue down his throat. "I can't control my thoughts when I'm around you, Richard. I've always been in control. Always. The lives of so many depend on it. And yet when I'm with you I find myself wanting to throw away all those years of self-control for a moment of joy. A moment of closeness, with you. Only if I did… I can't bear the thought of being the one to destroy you, Richard. It would kill me."
"Kahlan," Richard sighed. "You're being too hard on yourself. No one is meant have perfect control over themselves all the time. It's part of being human. You need to let go, sometimes."
"I can't, Richard. It's too dangerous."
"I'm not saying you should lose all your control. Just a little bit. You need some kind of release, or you'll go mad."
"I want to believe you, Richard. But I don't see how it is possible."
He was silent for a long moment, thinking. "Maybe we need to compromise," he said at last.
"Yes. Maybe we shouldn't deny ourselves all the time. I mean," he said awkwardly, "we need to recognize that we can't have… everything. But that doesn't necessarily mean we can't have… something, right?"
"Something?" she repeated blankly.
He reached over and took her hand again. "I mean, we could do this, couldn't we?" he asked, indicating their clasped hands. "That's not so much."
"I suppose not," she said softly.
His other hand came up to the side of her face and stroked her cheek. "And this? That's all right, isn't it?"
She nodded, no words able to escape her breathless lungs.
He ran his fingers through her hair. "And if I do this, are you suddenly seized by an overwhelming urge to confess me?" he said softly.
"No," she whispered.
He leaned towards her, slowly, that she might anticipate his intention. His eyes dropped to her mouth, and he tilted his head towards her. He stopped just before his mouth touched hers, waiting for her permission before proceeding. Kahlan tipped her face up to meet him, and their lips met softly.
This was not the passion-borne embrace of their encounter in the woods, so many months ago. This was slower, gentler. Kahlan sighed into his mouth. His touch was a relief, a salve upon her torn heart. To taste him again, at last, to drink of him slowly, like sweet water from a pure spring, eased something inside of her she couldn't name. She only knew now that it was fading that it had been poisoning her slowly, and Richard, Richard was the only elixir that could cure it.
There was a balance, she knew. If they continued this much longer, that relief would turn to an even more unbearable need than before. But this… this, she could do. She was close to him, but not out of control. She didn't know if what he was proposing would work—if they let themselves get closer, wouldn't the ache eventually be even worse? She only knew that right now, the kiss was making everything better.
Richard was the one who ended the kiss. He leaned his forehead against hers, breathing heavily, his eyes closed. "We should stop, shouldn't we?" he asked the question as though hoping to elicit denial, but she could tell he already knew the answer.
She nodded against him, unable to marshal her own breath into a coherent statement.
He exhaled deeply, clutching the back of her neck, and pressed a tender kiss to her forehead. "All right." He stood up, and held his hand out to her. "Come on."
She took his hand and allowed him to pull her to her feet. "Where are we going?"
He led her to their bedrolls. "Here."
She stiffened. "Richard. I don't think it's wise for us to… do whatever it is you have in mind here."
He quirked an eyebrow at her. "I had in mind that we are going to sleep here, Kahlan. Why, what did you think we were going to do here?" he asked, grinning wickedly.
She felt her face turn scarlet and she smacked him on the chest. "Richard! You—you did that on purpose!" she spluttered indignantly.
"Why, Kahlan, whatever do you mean? Surely you didn't think I would suggest anything improper to the Mother Confessor?" he said with false innocence.
She crossed her arms over her chest defiantly. "Tease," she muttered.
He laughed out loud, delighted at her response, and she couldn't stop the laughter rising in her own chest in response. An undignified snort escaped her, and then neither of them could contain their laughter. Richard sprawled out on his bedroll, tugging her down beside him, his smile so beautiful she almost lost her breath. She had to kiss him again, because it had been so long since either of them had laughed like that, and she realized they had needed that just as much as the other.
He returned the kiss sweetly. He pulled her towards him, stroking her hair and smiling at her, and Kahlan had never felt so treasured in her life. "Feel better?" he asked softly.
She nodded. So much better.
He opened his arms to her, and she curled up against him, his chest pressed against her back, his arm securely around her waist. "I can't believe this weakens us, Kahlan," he whispered. "I don't care what anyone says, it makes us stronger. What I feel for you… it's the best part of me. It gives me all the strength I need to go on. It gives me something worth fighting for."
She squeezed his arm. "And I, Richard. My feelings for you are the best part of me, too."
He kissed the top of her head. "We will find a way to be together someday, Kahlan. I swear to you, we'll find a way."
She closed her eyes. "I never thought it was possible, Richard, but when you say it, I can almost believe it. You have given me hope, where I believed it to be lost."
He pulled her even closer to him. "And for now… this will be enough."
She laid her head on his arm where he offered it as a pillow and covered his other hand with hers where it rested on her stomach, tracing the strength of his hand with her fingertips. She'd never felt closer to him.
Yes, this was enough. For now.