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Confession, and Other Trouble a Mord'Sith Can Get Into

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1.

The problem with magic is that there are always consequences.

Cara doesn't care what happens to the Quillion after Richard has been released from Confession. Once the girl, Annabelle, leaves with Flynn, neither of them are important any more, and though she hears Kahlan and Zedd whisper about where the safest place for the Quillion is, it's of no concern to her. Protecting the Lord Rahl is a hard enough job without any meaningless distractions.

But traveling with Richard, Zedd and Kahlan, it does things to her. Mostly bad things, making her soften into something entirely unbecoming of a Mord'Sith. It means that when the Quillion shows up again, she finds herself concerned. And when it shatters in a thousand pieces on the floor in front of Darken Rahl, Cara thinks only about what Kahlan said before, gripping Cara's wrist so hard it stung: don't let Rahl absorb the Confessor magic. Do whatever it takes.

Cara has no attachment to the Confessor magic inside of the Quillion. She has killed Confessors before and she won't hesitate if it needs to be done again. But for Kahlan it is personal, and Cara is not sure she wants Kahlan to see her put an Agiel to a Confessor's heart, whoever that Confessor may be.

It's something Cara tries not to think about most of the time.

The problem with magic is that there are always consequences, and ever since Cara met Richard, it seems that she's had to suffer through more than her fair share of them. Rahl is holding the Quillion, a small smile on his face even as Kahlan strikes the hilt of her dagger across the face of one of his Mord'Sith. Cara hears Richard draw his sword behind her and she takes a step forward, Agiels ready.

It happens very quickly; Rahl is holding the Quillion in his hands, and then he is not. Cara looks away only for a moment, and then the crystal hits the floor with a crash. There is no time to wonder if it happened by accident or with purpose. Cara takes a step forward and shoves Rahl away with enough force that he lands on the floor in an awkward sprawl. It might have been amusing at any other time, but there are more urgent matters at hand. Such as impending death and doom, most likely her own.

The purple glow curls around her, raising goosebumps on her skin, and she has no chance to deflect it when it attacks like a snake. Before the Confessor magic overwhelms her, Cara's gaze falls on Rahl, on the floor.

His smile is very pleased.

 

*

 

After they leave the Pillars of Creation, it all seems inevitable.

They will go to Aydindril, of course. The quest for the Stone is over and it is time for the Mother Confessor to go home. Days of walking through the desert after the solstice give Cara time to think. A Mord'Sith's place is by Lord Rahl's side, but no Mord'Sith belongs in Aydindril. Just the thought of it makes her feel restless.

Eventually, they find a town and an inn, filled with people eager to celebrate the Seeker, especially once Zedd lets it slip that they just saved the world. Cara doesn't want gratitude, but she has endured worse things for Richard, and the need to wash away sand, sweat and blood is starting to become urgent.

The people are friendly and the spirits high, especially the ones in Zedd's cup. A bard on the way through town is listening intently to the stories (some of them true, most of them wildly exaggerated) flowing freely from Zedd's mouth, and before the night is over, the bard is singing songs of their journey.

Though Cara enjoys the verse about the fearless Mord'Sith who slayed a thousand Banelings, the rest of it gives her a headache. As if having Kahlan and Richard behaving like lovesick puppies right under her nose all this time isn't bad enough, now Cara is forced to listen to songs about them too.

The inn is full, and there are only two rooms available. Cara has no intention of spending the night anywhere near Zedd and his snoring. She would be perfectly content to get cleaned up and then be on her way, but if the others have decided to celebrate, surely it is almost rude of Cara not to do the same, by way of pleasure found in an easy embrace. The time is much overdue to put an end to the unnatural celibacy she's been forced into.

Unfortunately, her hunt for prey is cut short by Kahlan's hand on her shoulder. Cara is slouching over the bar, and she jerks when Kahlan touches her. People rarely touch a Mord'Sith without being invited to - Kahlan, Richard and Zedd have become much too comfortable with it. It's really about time Cara put an end to that once and for all.

Kahlan slides down on a chair next to Cara. With a glance over Kahlan's shoulder, Cara notices that Richard and Zedd have both left.

"We saved the world, Cara," Kahlan says. "Yet you've been in a terrible mood ever since."

Cara frowns. "This is my regular mood."

Kahlan tilts her head and smiles at her in that strange way she does, the one that always makes Cara want to roll her eyes. Instead, Cara looks over at the barmaid, who has a dress with an appropriately low neckline and a constant smile for Cara. "Where's Richard?"

"He was tired," Kahlan says. "And he wanted to grab at least some of the covers before Zedd hogs them all."

Cara whips her gaze back to Kahlan. "Why are you not sharing a room?" she asks bluntly.

Kahlan blushes bright red. Cara usually enjoys the way the most natural things make Kahlan flush with prudish consternation, but lately it's as if her heart isn't in it.

"There's... there's no rush for that," Kahlan says.

It is not what Cara expects, but when she thinks about it, it makes perfect sense for the Mother Confessor and Lord Rahl to hold ridiculous ideas about chasteness and marriage. The idea of it (both chasteness and marriage, and any combination of the two) makes Cara grimace in disgust.

Kahlan leans further over the bar, her hair falling around her face. "I had them draw us a bath. You can go first if you want."

"I don't need a bath," Cara says, turning her eyes back to her drink.

"Yes, you do." Kahlan nudges her in the ribs with an elbow. "I'm not sharing a bed with you smelling like that."

Cara almost tells her she won't have to because she is spending the night with the barmaid or possibly the man in leather in the corner, the one who looks like he can swing an ax with precision. But the idea of striking up a conversation with a stranger suddenly seems endlessly tiresome, and she does need a bath.

After all, they did save the world - even the fiercest warrior deserves rest after that.

 

*

 

In the middle of the night, Cara awakes, gasping for breath.

There had been a dream, something unsettling, but it's gone already. Only the racing of her heart is left, and the uneasy feeling in her stomach. Kahlan is asleep, face pressed into her pillow and her back nudging Cara's shoulder. The bed suddenly feels much too small. The room too - the walls, the ceiling, the floor. They have slept outside for a long time, and this cramped, worn-down inn is nothing like a Mord'Sith temple.

And now they're going to Aydindril, to more walls and small rooms.

No one has asked Cara what she wants. All of them have assumed.

Cara draws away from Kahlan, who sighs slightly in her sleep but doesn't wake. Instead of sharing her bed with a willing man or woman, or battling the enemies of Lord Rahl, Cara is here, sleeping chastely by a Confessor's side like a dog.

She glares at Kahlan's sleeping form.

No doubt Kahlan and Richard will marry, and they will settle like people who are not Mord'Sith do. Granted, Cara does not know much about what marriage actually entails, but she is fairly certain it involves sitting still a lot and growing old and soft. She would not wish that even on her enemies, that is why the thought of it weighs so heavy in her chest.

Not to mention that Cara has a terrible suspicion that Richard and Kahlan are going to force her to go to their ridiculous wedding and try to make her wear a dress. She has no intention of sticking around for that.

There are limits for what she's willing to do, even for Lord Rahl.

The next day, Cara rides last and makes plans. Mord'Sith serve Lord Rahl, but there is no sense in her staying in Aydindril. Perhaps everyone is better served by Cara protecting Richard in a less direct manner, far away from the city.

The thought cheers her up. There are many ways to serve Lord Rahl and she will bring glory and justice to his name all throughout the New World. She will search out any enemy of Lord Rahl, wherever they may hide, and she will kill them and bathe in their blood. It's a life worthy of a Mord'Sith.

"That is the first time I've seen you smile since we left the Pillars of Creation," Kahlan says, looking back at Cara with a sunny smile on her face. "What are you thinking about?"

"When you and Richard are settled in Aydindril," Cara says, suddenly eager to share her glorious, blood-filled ideas, "I will continue on, searching out the enemies of Lord Rahl in the Midlands and beyond."

For some reason it doesn't make Kahlan look happy at all. "What?" she says, her smile replaced by a frown.

Cara shrugs, still smirking at the thought of all the delightful possibilities. "There is no reason for me to stay."

"But you can't leave," Kahlan says. "I mean, what about Richard?"

"There is more than one way to serve the Lord Rahl."

"But..." Kahlan doesn't finish the sentence, she just stares at Cara with an expression on her face that makes Cara's joy fade.

Cara tries to focus again on the pain and torture she will bring to those who may one day threaten Richard, but it's no good. "It's what I want," she says, voice curt, as she urges her horse on ahead of the others.

 

*

 

Of course, it's never as easy as that.

They've made camp for the night, and Cara goes to collect wood for a fire. Kahlan rushes after her, and Cara sighs because she knows where this is leading. Kahlan is always about the words, about saying things aloud and talking about them. What good has that ever done anyone? Cara feels angry suddenly, because she is sure that it is all that incessant talking that has stripped away her strength.

As luck would have it, there is no time for Kahlan to start firing questions that have no easy answers. It's with some gratefulness that Cara realizes they're being watched.

Nicci steps out of the shadows, light hair, black dress, graceful like a snake.

"Hello, Kahlan," she says, and the smile on her face makes Cara itch to see her bleed. Her Agiels are out in a second, and she moves in front of Kahlan, even though she can see that Kahlan has already pulled out her daggers. Only a Mord'Sith has a chance to deflect Nicci's magic.

"If I'm not mistaken I put an arrow through your throat last time we met," Cara says.

Nicci shrugs. "Death didn't take."

Cara takes one step closer. "Give me one reason why I shouldn't snap your neck and send you back to the Underworld."

Nicci brings her hands up to her throat, unbuttoning the high-collared dress to reveal a metal collar. "I'm not here for my own reasons," she says. "Darken Rahl has a message for the Seeker."

Kahlan steps forward, nudging Cara's arm. "It's a Rada'Han," she says. "She's powerless." Kahlan is not sheathing her daggers, though, and Cara has no intention of letting go of her Agiels.

"Wearing a collar does not make her harmless," Cara says.

Nicci smiles, but it is strained. "Let your guard dog search me, Confessor. I have no weapons. I am only here for the Seeker."

Though Cara wouldn't mind killing Nicci on the spot, Kahlan is, for some reason, not fond of the idea. Instead, Cara pulls Nicci into camp with a firm grip on her hair and an Agiel aimed at the small of her back.

Cara thinks about watching Nicci confess Kahlan, and the feel of the bow in her arms as she aimed an arrow at Kahlan's back, and every once in a while she lets the Agiel slip and graze by Nicci's back, smiling as she feels Nicci stiffen in pain.

"I want to trust you, Nicci," Richard says. "But you haven't exactly made that easy."

Nicci rolls her eyes. "Do you think I revived myself and put the Rada'Han around my own neck? Darken Rahl collared me and had one of his pet Mord'Sith give me the Breath of Life."

"What is this message you talk of?" Zedd asks.

"Darken Rahl is in a village three leagues from here," Nicci says. "He wishes to invite you there to discuss the future of the Midlands and D'Hara."

"Trap," Cara says, letting the Agiel nudge Nicci's ribs, hard enough to make her cry out in pain. It's truly a glorious sound, one that Cara would like to hear more of.

"Cara, don't. You can let her go," Richard says.

"What? Absolutely not," Cara says firmly. Obviously Richard must not be thinking clearly. After all the trouble Nicci has caused, she deserves this and much more. The Maternity Spell, confessing Kahlan, almost causing the end of the world, and worst of all, she got Kahlan kidnapped by the Margrave, which had Cara rhyming in a dress.

"Cara, please." Richard looks at her with raised eyebrows until she relents and lets go of Nicci with a scowl. Lord Rahl's predilection towards unnecessary kindness always seems to get in the way of Cara putting her Agiels to good use on those who blatantly deserve it.

She sheaths her Agiels and crosses her arms in annoyance. Richard never lets her have any fun.

"Tell Rahl," Richard says, "that if he wants to talk to me, he can come see me himself."

"He also says to tell you that he's safekeeping something that belongs to you," Nicci says with a half-sided leer, somewhere between bored and smug. "I believe it was a Quillion."

 


2.

Cara dreams of Mord'Sith temples, of dangling from ceilings in chains, of a purple glow wrapping around her neck like a noose and of Darken Rahl, smiling.

The dream lingers as she wakes, pain etched along her bones like fire, and something else that is new and brings goosebumps to her flesh. When she opens her eyes, she expects to see a familiar training room and a Sister with an Agiel, but instead, there is Nicci and an air of magic.

Cara is out of the bed in an instant, one Agiel in each hand aimed at Nicci. The memories are hazy and her mind feels heavy and reluctant, but her instincts are still intact.

"Don't," Richard says, quickly stepping between them, holding his hands up against Cara. She doesn't lower her Agiels, and she doesn't take her eyes off Nicci.

There is movement to her side, and Cara sees Kahlan's stunned face in the corner of her eye. "It worked," Kahlan whispers, voice awed. "Thank the Spirits."

"Don't thank the Spirits," Nicci says, meeting Cara's eyes without fear. "Thank me."

"Cara, are you all right?" Kahlan asks. "How do you feel?"

Cara is starting to sweat with the effort of remaining upright; she clenches her hands around the Agiels and the familiar pain numbs the other, new feeling that is like death inside of her. "Fine," she mutters, eyes trained on Nicci. "What did she do to me?"

"When Rahl dropped the Quillion, the magic... it killed you," Richard says. "Garen gave you the Breath of Life, but you wouldn't wake up."

Nicci smiles, but there is nothing friendly to it. "You're welcome."

It makes no sense. Cara doesn't remember dying, and she has been dead enough times to know that it isn't the sort of thing that's easily forgotten. She vividly remembers the days after the solstice, and meeting Nicci in the forest. But after that, there is little more than flashes of strange things... Darken Rahl, her Mord'Sith sisters, Kahlan's face as she can't take her eyes off the Quillion. Kahlan's daggers, the sound of Richard drawing the Sword of Truth behind her, and then...

The Quillion crashing, magic let loose, and Darken Rahl's smile.

Thinking about it makes her skin prickle and a shiver settle along her spine, so Cara lets her mind focus on more important matters. "Who unlocked her Rada'Han?" she asks, though the answer is obvious.

Richard and Kahlan exchange a glance. "You were dying, Cara." Kahlan says. "We had no choice."

"There's always a choice," Cara says. "She did something to me."

Nicci tilts her head, remaining infuriatingly calm. "All I did was save your life. You absorbed the Confessor magic from the Quillion," she says. A small smile grazes her lips, and the look she gives Cara is calculating, almost curious. "Stings, doesn't it?"

"I've had worse," Cara says.

Kahlan's gaze shifts to Cara, the look on her face changing from surprise into worry, and she takes a hesitating step forward. "It is hurting you?"

"Being a Confessor and being confessed is nothing but two sides of the same coin. A Mord'Sith's body cannot contain Confessor magic," Nicci says, looking to Kahlan. "You of all people should know that."

"Tell me," Cara says, voice sounding more strained than she'd like, "how to get it out of me."

Richard turns to Nicci. "You took part of Kahlan's Han before, you could do it."

"Of course I could," Nicci says. She raises an eyebrow and smirks at Richard. "There's no one in the world with a Han like mine."

"I'm not letting her have any more Confessor power," Kahlan says, her eyes turning a little wild. It's too personal for her, Cara thinks, but in this they are in agreement. Nicci is not an option.

"Actually," Nicci says, "Confessor magic is overrated." She puts a hand on Kahlan's arm before anyone can stop her. "You can have yours back."

A glow erupts from Nicci's palm, sparkling around them both for a moment as Kahlan gasps. Cara is there in an instant, pressing both of her Agiels to Nicci's shoulder. Nicci staggers back with a strangled moan of pain.

It's not enough. There's an itch in Cara's palms that not even the power of the Agiels can disguise. She throws one on the floor and grasps Nicci's neck.

For the first time, Nicci looks genuinely afraid.

Cara smiles with a strange sort of satisfaction and pours all of herself into the action. It's painful in a brand new way. Cara has been involved in her fair share of torture; this is something else. Not stronger in intensity, but it's unlike any pain she's experienced before, and it feels like she's splitting open at the seams.

"Cara, no!" Kahlan cries and then she's pushing her away from Nicci even as Cara crumbles to her knees and then to the floor, legs giving out under her.

"Don't touch her," Nicci says, and Cara is vaguely aware of Nicci holding Richard back. Kahlan is by her side and Cara tries to wiggle away from her hands, because it's still inside of her, trying to get out.

"It's all right, Cara," Kahlan says. "You can't confess a Confessor."

 

*

 

Cara is Mord'Sith, nothing else.

The Confessor magic curls inside her chest like a parasite, nibbling on her composure and eating away at her until she is too frayed to focus on anything. It doesn't belong inside of her.

Richard watches as she takes out the leather armor from her bag and straps it on. The corset straightens her back and the neck-piece is tight and heavy on her shoulders. It makes her stronger. She can't remember why she stopped wearing it.

"Zedd thinks there might be another Quillion in Aydindril," Richard says.

Cara turns toward him, standing ready. "Perfect," she says. "When are we leaving?"

The apologetic look on his face is answer enough. "Darken Rahl is up to something," he says. "You know I can't risk turning my back on him."

He is right. Cara can't remember, but she does know Darken Rahl. Maybe if her thoughts were not so unclear... Cara lowers her chin, letting hair spill around her face as she looks down. Her hair is not yet long enough to make into a braid, and she misses the feeling of having it pulled back tightly.

"I can't serve you like this," she says quietly. It is a weakness she does not want to admit, but protecting Richard is a duty that requires much of her energy, and how can she do it when the Confessor magic is always there to distract her?

"If you and Kahlan go on foot through the forests around Winterhaven, you can be in Aydindril in less than a fortnight," Richard says. He takes a step closer and lifts his hand as if to touch her. Cara backs away quickly, body tensing. Touching her has always been a risk for whoever dared it, but it's a different kind of danger now.

There is a reason he wants someone with her. Cara knows that Dennee rules in Aydindril now, until Kahlan returns, and though they parted on civil terms, Dennee will not want her there. But there is little Cara wants less than for Kahlan to go with her. "Not Kahlan," she says.

"She'll want to go to Aydindril," Richard says and looks out the window, a strange look on his face.

Cara grinds her teeth. "Then Kahlan and Zedd can fetch it and I will stay to protect you."

"I'll be fine," Richard says, looking back to Cara, smiling now. "I have Zedd. And Nicci."

Cara doesn't like the way Richard is always so generous with his trust, even to those who've done very little to deserve it. She may not remember what happened after reaching the village, or what possessed Richard to unlock her Rada'Han, but there is one thing she knows. "Don't trust Nicci," she mutters.

"I am the Seeker, you know," Richard says. "I'm not entirely defenseless."

Cara rolls her eyes. "Lord Rahl is a mighty warrior."

"I don't know how I'll make it without your uplifting encouragement," Richard says with a chuckle.

"Then it's a good thing I'm not going anywhere."

Richard tilts his head and looks at her with a regretful half-smile on his face, and Cara hates that there is no way she can win this discussion.

 

*

 

Cara stalks ahead of Kahlan, tightening her hands around the straps of her backpack. Under the mid-day sun, she is sweating under the neck-piece. She has become too used to not wearing full Mord'Sith regalia, too... weak after months with Richard and Kahlan and Zedd.

"Cara," Kahlan says and hurries her steps. "Wait for me."

Kahlan makes a little skip-jump as though she is happy about this. Cara frowns when Kahlan catches up with her, long legs winning out despite Cara's forceful stride.

Kahlan bumps her shoulder against Cara's. "Are you going to keep up this pace all the way to Aydindril?"

Cara mutters something affirmative in response, shirking away to the side, away from Kahlan, who doesn't let this deter her. Kahlan casts sideways glances at Cara with eyes that are far too amused. "Are you also going to be this cranky all the way?"

Cara stops walking abruptly, narrowing her eyes at Kahlan. "I am not 'cranky'."

Kahlan's grin only grows wider at that.

A muscle in Cara's cheek twitches. "I am only going because Richard ordered me to."

Kahlan's smile fades then, and her eyebrows knit together. "Why don't you want to go to Aydindril?" she asks. "It's beautiful."

"I've been there," Cara says. "I know what it looks like."

"You'd be welcome there."

"Of course I would," Cara says. With a glare and a hand on an Agiel, there are very few places that won't welcome a Mord'Sith, if somewhat reluctantly.

Kahlan is silent for awhile. Cara keeps her gaze firmly locked in the opposite direction, but she can feel Kahlan's eyes on her. "Is it me?" Kahlan says finally. "Is it really so bad to be with me?"

"My duty is to protect Lord Rahl," Cara says.

Cara starts walking briskly again. This time Kahlan doesn't try to catch up.

 

*

 

They reach a town three days later, and stop at an inn for a hot meal and a soft bed.

The food is tolerable, and for awhile, Cara almost forgets the reason for their trip. Kahlan is in a good mood and when they get ready to sleep, she inches closer to Cara on the bed. Touch without purpose isn't something Cara particularly understands, but Kahlan likes to lie close enough that her back touches Cara's when they share a bed, and so Cara allows it. When Lord Rahl isn't there, Cara has decided it falls within her duty to provide Kahlan with the comfort she apparently requires.

The warmth of Kahlan's body is evident even through her shift and Cara's leather. Cara brings her knees up a little and her naked feet brush against Kahlan's calves in a way that's not entirely unpleasant. Kahlan sighs contently, and Cara feels her curl forward slightly so that their backs are pushed closer together.

"You should have stayed with Richard," Cara says and Kahlan tenses.

Maybe it is the wrong thing to say. Kahlan and Richard are sometimes touchy about any advice Cara tries to give them, and so when Kahlan doesn't respond, Cara tries again. "He's your mate. You... love each other." The word sounds funny in her voice. "Now you can be together. But instead you are here."

Kahlan pulls away, and Cara regrets speaking. "I don't think that's any of your business, Cara," Kahlan says sharply, sitting up on the bed.

"I am Mord'Sith," Cara says, propping herself up on her elbows. "Lord Rahl's business is my business."

Kahlan gets out of bed, crossing her arms and fixing Cara with a glare that almost makes Cara wince. "Oh, don't you dare start talking about your duty."

Cara stands up too, eyes narrowing. "It is."

"I love Richard," Kahlan says, anger practically glowing around her. "We love each other so much that he can't be confessed. We made a Stone of Tears! Didn't you hear Zedd? There's nothing in the world as powerful as our love. You serve Richard, that does not mean that what we do or don't do is any of your concern."

"I'm going for a walk," Cara says. She leaves the leather armor on the floor, but snatches her boots, gloves and Agiels as she leaves the room, and shuts the door more harshly than is perhaps necessary.

 

*

 

He has full, soft lips and a ready smile. The inn is full and busy; after Cara has wet her throat, she drags him up to his room and pushes him inside. Two doors down, Kahlan is no doubt sleeping, dreaming sweet dreams of her happy future, and it's been much too long since Cara enjoyed herself like this.

"You didn't tell me your name," the man says.

Cara pins him down on the bed, hands on his wrists and hips pushing him down. "You didn't tell me yours."

"Actually, I did. Twice." He pauses, as if waiting for her to remember. "It's Maren," he finally says.

"You may call me," Cara pulls his shirt over his head, "Mistress Cara." Grabbing his chin, she crushes her lips to his in a hard kiss. She will make good use of that luscious mouth of his before the night is out.

Her Agiels are still strapped to her thigh. She's probably not going to use them, but it's a good reminder for them both of what she is. His fingers are clumsy on her laces, but that can be forgiven. She unlaces them swiftly herself, pulling her leathers down to her waist and putting his hands where she wants them. He's eager to please and quick to learn, and it's good to feel hands other than her own on her skin again. It makes everything else bearable. Not just the unwelcome Confessor magic that hides inside her like a predator waiting to strike, but the rest of her miserable life too. She lets her muscles relax and enjoys the way her heartbeat increases. There is no unwanted emotion to this, just body and skin and pleasure.

"Your eyes," Maren says.

Cara slides a gloved hand down his naked stomach, smirking slightly at how it makes him twitch. "What?"

Maren grips her hand, stopping Cara before she's reached the waist of his pants. "Your eyes," he says, "they turned black."

Too late Cara realizes that the sensation building in her chest isn't just the pleasurable hum of arousal, but something much more sinister.

She scrambles away from him quickly, even as the magic slices through her chest like a particularly dull blade. She pulls her leather up, doesn't bother with the laces as she crashes through the door, hardly able to stand.

"Cara?" Maren calls. "Did I hurt you?"

The idea that he'd be able to do any harm to her would be amusing at any other time, but Cara is in no mood for laughter. She stumbles through the corridor and falls against the door to Kahlan's room, hands trying to find the handle. When the door unexpectedly flies open against her, she falls to the floor.

Kahlan is at her side immediately, even as Cara tries to push her away.

"Mistress Cara?" Maren is standing outside his room, looking at her with his mouth half-open and a bewildered look on his face.

Kahlan looks from Maren's naked chest to Cara's untied laces, and the hand grasping Cara's arm tightens. "Did you confess him?"

The way Kahlan looks disappointed makes the magic sting worse. "No," Cara gets out.

"Go back to your room," Kahlan says to Maren. "She's my friend. I'll take care of her."

"I don't need anyone to take care of me." Cara pushes herself up and into their room. She can hear Kahlan close the door behind them.

"Cara," Kahlan says, and Cara doesn't need to turn around to know that her face is etched with disapproval; it's in every note of her voice.

"I won't live my life like you do," she says, because Kahlan holds herself to standards no one can live up to and Cara refuses to be molded in her image.

"A Confessor doesn't have the luxuries others take for granted," Kahlan says. "You need to learn about your powers or you're going to end up hurting someone."

Cara exhales angrily, body tight and stiff. "I don't need to learn about anything. I am going to get this... magic out of me as soon as I can, and then I'll be free to do what I want again."

"But until then, you need to be careful. If you need to touch someone, touch me."

Kahlan is too calm, too collected, and Cara cannot believe what she is hearing. "You wouldn't approve of the way I'd touch you," she says, voice condescending.

Kahlan remains still, eyes locked on Cara, still with the same eerie calmness. "Try me."

But Cara can't. There are certain things that are too fragile to even contemplate.

She shoves harshly at Kahlan's shoulders instead; there's no purpose to it, just a way of releasing some of the pent up anger and frustration. Kahlan responds in kind, grabbing Cara's wrists and twisting with more force than Cara expects. It forces Cara to take it one step further, putting a knee in Kahlan's stomach. Kahlan grunts and doubles over, and Cara is torn between triumph and guilt, until Kahlan straightens, and with a determined look on her face takes a step forward and wraps her fingers around Cara's neck. It's almost instinct - Cara's palms itch and tingle and without thought she grasps Kahlan's neck back, hard, mimicking Kahlan's actions. Kahlan's eyes are still blue, but Cara doesn't stop herself. She's not entirely sure she would know how to, because as soon as she can feel Kahlan's pulse against her thumb, the magic burns its way through her chest and down her arm.

Kahlan doesn't struggle. She bares her neck with a sense of trust that just makes everything that much worse.

The magic rushes into Kahlan and Cara releases all of it, all of everything, even as she feels herself start to tremble and twitch with the feeling of it; pain and yet not. Cara isn't afraid of pain, it's nothing but a familiar friend, but there is an oily sense of intense wrongness wrapped around it that makes it close to impossible to bear. It pulls her strength along with it until there's nothing left, ears ringing, muffling all other sounds, as spots start to dance in front of her eyes.

Finally her knees fail her and she falls and falls and falls until there's nothing but blackness.

 

*

 

Cara awakes with a start, sitting up straight on the bed.

The Agiels are still at her thigh, but someone has removed her boots and her gloves. The latter are folded neatly on the table by the side of the bed, next to a tray holding bread and a cup of something hot.

She lifts a hand to her face, trying to rub the exhaustion from her brow. It feels like she's just run two laps around D'Hara and back.

"Confessor magic drains you, especially when you're not used to it." Cara quickly looks up; Kahlan is sitting in a chair on the other side of the room, hands folded neatly in her lap. "I could barely get out of bed for days after the first few times."

Cara presses her lips together. She's seen Kahlan confess people without batting an eye and she cannot imagine anything keeping Kahlan down for days. Obviously she must be lying. "I'm fine," she says. "I'm ready to leave when you are."

"You need to eat to regain your strength."

Cara glares at the tray by the side of the bed. "Then why have you brought me food suitable for a child? I want meat. And something strong to drink."

Kahlan's smile is wide and bright and the look she gives her is one that Cara hates. Cara frowns, but she eats the bread and drinks the tea without another word.

 

*

 

Cara does feel like she's been in battle. Every part of her is sore and tired, but it is a good feeling, because she can barely feel the magic inside her. It'll take time before it's back to its regular strength.

It is a short respite, though. At night, she can feel it return and with it, the tension in her limbs and ache in her chest. She grasps both Agiels tightly in her hands as she stares into the fire.

Cara finds herself wishing for D'Harans or bandits, perhaps even a Baneling or two. But the Banelings are gone since they sealed the Rift, and the woods are too thick for anyone to attack without plenty of warning. She trails one Agiel around her knee, and the pain is sharp and clear and right. Not like the feeling of Confessor magic that is nothing like how pain ought to be.

"I'm sorry about yesterday," Kahlan says.

Cara looks at her with surprise. She can't even begin to guess what Kahlan has to be sorry about.

"I'm sorry I yelled at you." Kahlan sighs, and it's a little wistful. "I don't think Richard and I... I don't think we're going to be together."

"Don't be ridiculous," Cara says, focusing on the fire and her Agiels again.

"It's... complicated," Kahlan says.

Cara doesn't respond. Of course they will marry, that has already been decided long ago.

Kahlan bites her lip and looks at Cara as if she means to speak until Cara can't stand it any more. "What?" she asks.

Kahlan looks down. "Nothing."

Cara narrows her eyes. "Speak if there is something you want," she snaps. Her patience is wearing thin and trying to decipher what Kahlan wants is exhausting.

Kahlan's eyes flare and her mouth thins out in a harsh line. "I'm going to sleep," she says and moves to fetch her bedroll with jerky motions.

Cara stays awake, staring into the fire and focusing on thinking about nothing at all.

 

*

 

Cara hates the way Kahlan tries to coax her to use the magic, and even more that Kahlan thinks she's being subtle about it. It seems not a night passes without an argument about it.

They are getting closer to Aydindril - at least Cara hopes they are, because even Aydindril must be better than being alone with Kahlan's patient smiles and calm insistence.

"Stop fighting it," Kahlan says.

Cara pours out the last of her soup, throwing the bowl on the ground. The conversation is making her lose her appetite, and Kahlan's cooking isn't exactly legendary anyway. "I'm not," she says.

"You are. I know you are." Kahlan splays a hand over her chest. "It's like a feeling building inside you, and if you resist it, it's going to struggle back. You need to embrace it, not fight with it."

"Embrace? A feeling?" Cara gives her a dark look. "What sense is there in that?"

Kahlan sighs. "It isn't supposed to hurt you."

"A Mord'Sith is not supposed to carry Confessor magic," Cara says. "You needed Nicci to keep me alive. I was prepared to die. It would have been better than this." The last is muttered in annoyance as she kicks an unsuspecting twig back into the fire.

Kahlan raises a delicate eyebrow. "Are you done feeling sorry for yourself?"

Cara is on her feet, spine straight, within a moment. "I don't feel sorry for myself."

"Really?" Kahlan stands slowly so that they're face to face again. "That's what it sounds like to me."

Cara tightens her jaw, not responding. Kahlan's hand grazes by hers, and Cara snatches it back as if touched by fire.

Kahlan pulls her hand back too, clasping her other hand around it and fumbles. It looks almost like she's nervous. "It's my fault," she says. "Be angry with me if you want to. I told you to do anything to keep the Quillion away from Rahl."

In truth, Cara barely even remembers that. There is still too much she doesn't recall happening, before the Quillion broke. But Kahlan is right about one thing.

"It is your fault." Cara glares at Kahlan, fisting her hands. "I used to be strong. Before you. Before all your talking and the way you keep expecting things from me." She is saying too much, but there is no stopping the words now. It's been building for too long, and there is no point in trying to deny that she is anything but a pathetic excuse for a Mord'Sith any more.

"I don't expect anything from you," Kahlan says.

"You do," Cara insists. "I just don't understand what."

"If I have.... the only thing I want is for you to be happy. I--" Kahlan's voice is quiet and gentle, brow furrowed in concern.

Cara takes a tense step closer without meaning to. "You made me feel things," she says, before she can stop herself. Shame and anger makes blood rush to her face. "It's disgusting."

"Feel what?" Kahlan says, moving closer until she can put her hand on Cara's arm, as if she thinks Cara will run away. She's not entirely wrong. "Feel what, Cara?" There is an eagerness, something almost needy, in Kahlan's voice.

Cara pulls her arm back harshly with a glare. "Does it matter? You made me weak."

Kahlan looks so devastatingly sad then, and it's one more thing that Cara doesn't understand. It only serves to make her angrier. For a moment it's too much, it feels like she will go insane if she doesn't do something. If it had been anyone but Kahlan, she would have struck them to diffuse the tension.

But it's not someone else.

It's Kahlan, so Cara does the only other thing she can think of.

There is no thought in it; Cara presses her lips to Kahlan's, plunging her tongue into her mouth. It's rough, no finesse at all, but Kahlan responds in kind, and Cara feels the vibration of a whimper on her lips. She isn't sure who it belongs to. Kahlan is clinging to her arms, and for a moment Cara thinks she's trying to push Cara away, before Kahlan's hands move to her back, her hair, pulling her closer.

Cara pulls back, breathing hard. Her hand is still on Kahlan's neck, and she can feel the quick flutter of Kahlan's pulse under her hand. Kahlan's eyes are very wide, and Cara finds herself staring into them, unable to look away.

It's Kahlan who finally breaks the eye contact. She presses her forehead to Cara's cheek, nose fitting in below Cara's jaw, and Cara doesn't know whether she wants to throw Kahlan down on the ground or run away.

Then Kahlan puts her mouth on Cara's neck where her pulse beats the strongest and any thoughts of running away are gone. She hooks a leg behind Kahlan's knee and with one quick, fluid motion, Kahlan is on her back, Cara above her, pinning Kahlan down with hips and arms and mouth.

It's far more engaging than it has any right to be. When Kahlan frees her hands from Cara's grip to settle on her hips, pulling her closer, it's almost too much. For a moment Cara forgets how to breathe, until instinct kicks in and she gasps over and over against Kahlan's mouth. Her head is full of racing thoughts without purpose, so Cara lets go of everything but skin and leather and the smell of Kahlan and the soft moss they're lying on. Maybe Cara has thought about doing this before, and maybe at first the danger of Confession was alluring in a way that only a Mord'Sith would understand. But there is no danger now, and it changes nothing.

Wanting Kahlan is like breathing and Cara can't remember a time when she didn't.

Cara impatiently rips off her gloves and throws them to the side. She loosens Kahlan's laces enough to slide her hands under leather and cloth and for a moment she slows down, as her mouth maps out Kahlan's neck and shoulders and the swell of her breasts above her clothes. Kahlan sighs, and then her hands are in Cara's hair, gently urging her head up until their eyes can meet.

Cara slides one hand lower, below Kahlan's skirts, raising an eyebrow with a smile full of intent. It is the first time in a long while that she has felt like she's the one holding the reins of her own life, and it's glorious and seductive.

If not for the urgent arousal that pounds through her, she would do this slowly; drag it out until Kahlan is begging for it. But Cara's body has other ideas, and when Kahlan lets a hand graze over Cara's backside, grasping at her upper thigh to create more friction, Cara is helpless to resist.

It's difficult imagining that Kahlan is affected by any of the same itches other people feel, but maybe she is, after all, because she moves with impatience and eagerness in ways that make Cara feel too warm inside her leather. When Cara slides her fingers inside of her, palm pressing with insistence, Kahlan's back arches and her eyes flutter closed. Cara considers using her mouth, but then she won't be able to watch Kahlan's face, and she would not miss that for anything.

Cara is good at what she does, and she uses that to full her advantage. When Kahlan comes it is with her head thrown back and a sharp moan that hits Cara straight between the legs. The Confessor magic flows into her, and it isn't the same as when Cara brings her own magic forth, because this is Kahlan and nothing she does could ever feel wrong.

It takes Kahlan a few moments to regain her breath, but when she does, she opens her eyes and looks at Cara with something that Cara can't interpret. "This was supposed to be about you," Kahlan says, half a smile on her face.

"I'm fine," Cara says, pulling back to sit on her knees.

Kahlan follows her up, placing a finger under Cara's chin, tilting her head towards her, and lets their lips brush together. It's too soft, hardly a kiss at all, and there is no reason for it to make Cara tremble like someone with less control over herself.

Kahlan slides a hand down to Cara's breast, and Cara can't stop herself from groaning with appreciation. It makes Kahlan bolder, hands finding the buckles of the corset, and the neck-piece, and then her belt, removing them with care. The laces are more complicated; Cara puts her hands on Kahlan's and helps her and when Kahlan hesitates, Cara peels the leather off herself, until she's entirely naked.

It takes a few moments, but finally Kahlan nudges Cara's shoulder until she lies back. Maybe another time Cara would enjoy turning it into a game of wrestling, but it's been too long since she allowed herself this, and there is a gentle sort of demand in Kahlan's eyes and in the soft pressure of her hands. Cara can't find it in herself to protest.

Most of Kahlan's clothes are still on, and when she lowers herself slowly over Cara, the leather is rough against her skin and Cara aches with wanting. There's a shyness to the way Kahlan slowly start to touch her that makes something tighten in Cara's chest, makes her feel out of control in a strange, new way.

Cara grasps Kahlan's hand and slides it down across her stomach. Kahlan fumbles before finding a rhythm, and Cara wonders if she's done this before, with a man, a woman, or with herself. There are still things about Kahlan that are a mystery, for all that she presents herself as an open book.

It doesn't take much before Cara is panting, hands clenching on Kahlan's back, hips rolling against her hand. When Kahlan stills, suddenly, Cara very nearly whimpers in frustration. "Don't stop," she says instead, after a few steadying breaths.

The look Kahlan gives her is full of concern. "Is it hurting you?" It's not until then Cara realizes that the Confessor magic is running rampant inside of her. She can only assume her eyes are black with it, because her palms itch and tingle and it feels like the magic is nestled right under her skin, ready to escape at any moment.

"It's fine," Cara says. Her voice actually cracks at that point, which by all rights should make her feel deathly embarrassed, but it is hard to summon any kind of energy for that when Kahlan's body is pressed so close to hers. "It's not... it's not a bad pain."

Kahlan still looks hesitant. "Kahlan," Cara growls, "don't stop." She intends for it to sound like a threat, but it comes out sounding half-way desperate. It would be mortifying, except it makes Kahlan start to move her fingers again, and so it might be a fair trade after all.

Kahlan kisses her cheek and the side of her mouth and lets her tongue trail over her bottom lip. The magic pulses hot inside Cara's chest, in time with her quickened heartbeats, and when she tumbles over the edge - body shaking, tightening, Kahlan's name on her lips - the magic tears through every part of her like fire.

It tastes of Kahlan.

 


3.

Cara is awake before dawn. Kahlan is curled into a ball at her side, and when Cara rises, the lack of Kahlan's warmth leaves her chilled even as she pulls her leathers on and starts running.

When she returns to camp, Cara has two fat rabbits slung over her shoulder and her steps feel lighter than they have in weeks.

Kahlan's cheeks are rosy and her smile is sweet. "Thank you," she says, as though she thinks that Cara has brought the rabbits especially for her.

"We need to eat," Cara mutters, ducking her head down.

They walk for most of the day in silence, Cara moving stiffly ahead of Kahlan. The forest is thick and the footing uneasy; there is little time to let her mind wander, and Cara is thankful for it. She doesn't want to think or talk, but she can feel Kahlan's gaze on her back and she knows it's just a matter of time. Kahlan always wants to talk, talk, talk, as if that has ever made anything better.

"Well?" Cara says, when night falls and they're forced to stop. "You've been itching to get me to talk all day. Aren't you going to start?" Her voice is challenging, and she crosses her arms in preparation.

"I," Kahlan says, "am tired from walking all day. Maybe you are the one who wants to talk." She throws her backpack at Cara as she walks past her. "I'm going to find kindling for a fire, you can start preparing something to eat."

 

*

 

Despite a day of hard walking, sleep doesn't find her. Cara lies on her back, staring up into the star-filled sky and absentmindedly rolls one of her Agiels in her hands.

Kahlan is wrapped in a blanket on the ground on the other side of the burned out fire, back turned to Cara, and the soft sound of her breathing does nothing to calm Cara. After a day of reprieve, the Confessor magic is starting its unwelcome burn in her chest again, pulling her off-balance.

There's a rustling sound as Kahlan shifts with a sigh. "You'd sleep easier if you weren't so tense," she says.

"I'm not tense," Cara says reflexively. She turns her head towards Kahlan, who just tilts her head, and it's pointless to try to deny it. "Maybe I don't want to sleep," Cara says instead.

"I'd sleep easier too," Kahlan says, something that looks suspiciously like the sort of fondness one might have for a small kitten growing on her face. "It's exhausting just watching you."

When Cara doesn't respond, Kahlan remains quiet too, turning her face up toward the sky.

Cara looks up too, tracking stars and constellations with her eyes. "What happened when the Quillion broke?" she asks after awhile.

Cara can feel Kahlan's eyes on her. "You died," Kahlan says, and Cara can hear her take an additional breath. "It... you died."

"I meant before."

"You don't remember?" Kahlan says, concern evident in her voice.

"Darken Rahl had a reason for wanting us there," Cara says. The Quillion was a means to an end, but what end?

"He said he wanted Richard and him to rule D'Hara together."

Cara has a sudden flash of Darken Rahl, stripped down to his pants, chest sweaty the way Cara has only seen when she's had him flat on his back.

He always did enjoy when his Mord'Sith demonstrated power that was all his.

But he isn't on his back this time, and though there are plenty of Mord'Sith around, they aren't doing anything that would exhaust their Lord. Darken Rahl is chopping wood, and it's the most bizarre thing Cara has ever seen. His nose is slightly red from the sun, his hair tied back at the neck.

He smiles brightly. "Dear brother! I've been waiting for you for days. Did Nicci have trouble finding you?"

Nicci crosses her arms, eyes dark. "If I could use magic, I would have been faster."

"There, there, Nicci," Rahl says. "I'm still barely healed from the last time you used your magic around me."

"Where's the Quillion?" Kahlan asks.

"Impatient," Rahl says. "All in good time."

"Why did you call us here?" Richard asks.

"For a brotherly chat about the future, of course." Rahl smiles, and it's devious in ways only he can manage. "I think the time has come for a change. Think about it, brother. You and me, allies, brothers, family. Ruling D'Hara together."

"Obvious trap," Cara says.

Kahlan frowns. "But a trap for what? He couldn't have planned for the Quillion to break. How would he have controlled who absorbed the Confessor power?"

Though most of what Cara remembers after meeting Nicci in the forest is hazy and dreamlike, Darken Rahl's smile as the Confessor magic surrounded her is not. "I shouldn't have left Richard."

Cara turns her back to Kahlan, feeling her gaze linger on her back.

 

*

 

They're ambushed after the forests have thinned out and the walking is easier. It isn't a very successful trap; Cara and Kahlan both see it coming, exchanging glances, and they're ready when the attack comes.

There are few things Cara enjoys more than fighting beside Kahlan. It's the closest thing there is to fighting alongside her Sisters, but it is different too, because Kahlan fights like no Mord'Sith. Rhythm and pace are different, but it breeds an equally irresistible harmony of movements.

Kahlan moves in circles, elbow hitting one man under his chin as the daggers slice through air and then flesh. Turning quickly, she kicks another man across the face before cutting both daggers over his throat. Blood sprays from the wound as he falls down, but Kahlan has already moved away.

It's the way Confessors fight; gaining momentum through movement instead of using raw strength as foundation, like Mord'Sith do. It should be ineffective, but it isn't. It's deadly and elegant in a way seems almost like dancing to Cara, only better, because dancing mostly does not involve violence or blood.

There are seven men in total, and Cara has faced much worse odds before, but as the battle rises in her blood, the magic inside of her starts to burn brighter until she can't stand it any more. She kicks a man over the ear so that he staggers to the ground, and she follows him down, holding both Agiels to his chest until his heart stops. It does nothing to ease the magic that throws her center until it's impossible to focus. As she gets to her feet she sheaths one Agiel quickly, so she can wrap a hand around another man's neck and be rid of the magic.

The power spikes through her and then flows down her arm in a rush of something that isn't quite pain any more. For a second she can feel the man's soul connect with hers, before it cracks like a dry stick under the weight of her powers.

It's not the same as with Kahlan. The Confessor magic flows into Kahlan like a wave and then back again, finding no purchase. This time she can feel the magic rush into the man before her and destroy him. Cara has killed men before and tortured them until little remains, but the power of Confession is a weapon like no other.

"Command me, Confessor," the man says, the black clearing from his eyes to reveal only adoration, and Cara realizes too late her mistake, as her body fails her.

She drops to her knees, trembling.

Another man sees her vulnerable on the ground and rushes toward her. Cara strikes the knife from his hand with her Agiel. He screams in pain, but then he pulls another dagger from his boot and Cara can't make her arms move again. The exhaustion is too great and she sags the rest of the way to the ground, face dropping down in a puddle of blood and mud. She can do nothing but watch as the man raises the knife with a smile.

Death has never been something she's feared; sometimes she has longed for it. The smell of blood, warm and heavy, makes her stomach turn, but there is something else too. It settles in her throat and roars in her ears.

She's not ready to die yet.

Moreover, getting killed by an incompetent thug, who's probably going to aim for the heart like an amateur and miss, leaving her to choke on her own blood in a death completely lacking in finesse, would be the height of shame.

Her Agiel is still in her hand, and with will alone she raises her arm enough to ram it into the man's kneecap. He screams and almost falls. It's not enough, but it buys her time, and then Kahlan is there, hand around his throat.

It's over in the blink of an eye, and there is nothing to indicate that Kahlan's strength is weakened by the release of her power. Cara still can't get herself to move, and she doesn't know whether to be angry about her weakness or in awe of Kahlan's strength.

"Protect us!" Kahlan tells him, and shoves at the man Cara confessed before. He's still standing where she confessed him, smiling at Cara. "Protect your mistress, you idiot!"

Both men do as they're told, and Kahlan sinks down beside Cara, breathing heavily, hands finding Cara's shoulders, turning her over and shaking harshly. "Cara!" she cries. Her face scrunches up briefly, then her hands are searching along Cara's body, and it takes Cara a moment to realize she's looking for a source of the blood that seems to be everywhere.

As bone-deep tired as she is, she can't stop a smile from rising on her face. "Are you going to cry, Confessor?" she says.

Kahlan's hands still, but her eyes are still wide with worry. "Cara..."

The fighting is dying down around them, and Cara feels like laughing. "Touching as that would be, I'm not dead yet."

Slowly, Kahlan's breathing returns to normal, and her face hardens. "I'm glad you find the prospect of dying so amusing," she says and gets to her feet, stomping off before Cara can speak again.

Cara spreads her arms wide on the ground and smiles at the clear blue sky.

 

*

 

It's a little while longer before Cara can summon the strength to stand. She can see Kahlan's shape by the stream they've been following. The man Cara confessed is standing a few steps away, still smiling that same stupid smile at her. When she starts to walk toward Kahlan, he follows her like a puppy.

Cara ignores him.

Her knees are still shaking, but she can feel herself getting stronger for every moment that passes.

Kahlan has cleaned her daggers and is scrubbing at the blood stains on her dress, with more force than seems necessary.

Cara sits down beside her and starts to wipe clean her leather. Mord'Sith leather is meant to repel blood and mud and dust, and so cleaning it after battle is not meant to be a difficult task. It would be even easier if she took it off, but this is not the place to linger at longer than required.

Kahlan stops scrubbing and glares at Cara. "Wash your face," she says.

Cara can feel the skin of her face straining under caked blood. It seems to upset Kahlan. Cara cannot understand why, but she does as she is told, dipping her head in the cold stream and scrubbing with her fingers until she feels clean.

Kahlan is still tight-lipped when Cara is finished. "Can you walk?" she asks, and when Cara nods she sets a brisk pace ahead.

Cara trails behind, feeling like she's missed something important.

 

*

 

It doesn't take long for Cara to notice that the man she confessed is still following her at a respectful distance. Cara glares at him over her shoulder. He smiles back like she's bestowed the greatest honor on him just by looking at him.

Finally she stops and turns around. "Why are you following me?"

He smiles adoringly at her. "You're my mistress. I love you."

"Well, stop it," Cara says, putting her hands on her hips. The man looks entirely perplexed, as if she'd just asked him to bring down the moon. Cara rolls her eyes. "Don't follow me," she says as she resumes her walking.

"Mistress," he calls out from behind her. "What do you want me to do?"

"Do whatever you want, just leave me alone," she says with a scowl.

Kahlan stops abruptly in front of her, shoulders rising in a sigh, before she turns around. "Cara..."

"What?"

"He's confessed."

Cara nods thoughtfully. "You're right, I should kill him."

"No!" Kahlan says with exasperation. "His only purpose in life is you now. You need to tell him what to do."

"What would be the point? Once we find the Quillion he'll be released."

"And until then?"

Cara looks at Kahlan and tries to remember the kind of tripe nonsense Kahlan usually tells the people she's confessed. "Fine. Go and... be happy," she says sternly as she turns back to the man. "Be nice to people. Help the poor. Give children food. Take care of helpless animals." She turns back to Kahlan. "Is that good enough for you?"

Kahlan just covers her eyes with a hand and sighs, but when they start walking again, she stays at Cara's side.

 

*

 

There's a lake, and after days of walking without much chance of getting clean, Kahlan takes childish joy in having a bath.

Cara stands by the side and looks on, arms crossed, because the water is much too cold to be enjoyed the way Kahlan is.

"Are you coming in?" Kahlan asks and splashes water in Cara's direction, forcing her to take a step back.

It's summer now, but it's been a chilly couple of days; Kahlan's teeth are clattering, her skin is covered in goosebumps and her lips are starting to look a little blue. "It's too cold to bathe," Cara says.

Kahlan laughs. "I thought you were stronger than that."

"It's not about strength. It's about common sense."

"Poor, spoiled, little Mord'Sith," Kahlan says. "Too used to heated bathhouses to stand a bath outside."

It sounds suspiciously like a challenge, and though it's clear that the lake is too cold for anyone with sense, Cara has her pride to protect.

She starts to unlace herself; Kahlan stares and looks down and then stares some more, cheeks going pink. It's completely ridiculous because she's had her hands on most parts of Cara's body in the dark. It still sends a hot pulse down Cara's spine, blooming with anticipation low in her stomach.

Sliding into the water, Cara moves towards Kahlan without hesitation, until they're side by side. The water is cold enough to have her shivering, but the way Kahlan looks at her, gaze darting to Cara's mouth and then lower down, makes her feel very warm indeed.

Cara leans back, lifting her feet from the bottom of the lake and letting herself float for a moment. Next she feels a hand on her knee, under the water. Kahlan's grin is sly and very promising as she moves closer and slides her hand across Cara's thigh and hip and stomach.

It's perfect. It will never last.

The next day, they reach Aydindril.

 


4.

Kahlan beams like the sun from the moment they spot the city in the distance. Cara walks slightly behind her and watches the way her face is lit up, happier than Cara has ever seen her. In her dark dress no one recognizes the Mother Confessor, and so they are left alone as they walk through the streets up to the Palace.

The last time Cara was here, they went in the main gate to where the Mother Confessor is meant to sit in judgment. This time, they sneak in at the back. There is no doubt the people at the Palace recognize Kahlan, despite her clothes, and no one questions her right to bring a Mord'Sith inside.

They are brought to the Council chambers, and it's not long until Dennee is there, falling into Kahlan's arms.

Cara crosses her arms and looks on.

Dennee ignores Cara at first, as if pretending she isn't there will make it true. But when Kahlan tells her the reason they are in Aydindril, Dennee's face darkens and there is no mistaking the anger in her eyes.

"The Mord'Sith has Confessor magic?" she says, voice sharp.

Cara can feel the blow hanging in the air before it happens. Her jaw clenches in preparation even as she forces herself not to move. Dennee is strong like her sister; she strikes Cara hard over the side of her face and it's enough to make Cara stagger back a few steps. She tastes blood and the Confessor magic rises in her as her blood sings for a fight.

She stays still. Cara is not a dog who slinks away with its tail between its leg after it gets kicked, but this is a fight she has already won, before, on Valeria, and there is no point in repeating it.

"Dennee, don't," Kahlan says, putting a hand on Cara's arm.

Cara looks at Dennee, and Dennee's hand fly to her mouth. "It's true," she whispers.

Cara shuts her eyes quickly, willing away the evidence of Confessor magic. With a few breaths she can feel it pull back, along with the urge to fight.

"Don't worry," Cara says. "I am only here to get it out of me. Then I'll leave."

 

*

 

"She didn't mean it," Kahlan says, sitting down on the bed next to Cara.

"Of course she did," Cara says. "She wants me here as little as I want to be here." Dennee understands, even when Kahlan doesn't.

Kahlan grabs Cara's chin, tilting her head to look at her split lip. There is something very proprietary about it. Cara allows it anyway. "I've talked to her," Kahlan says.

"I don't want her pity."

Kahlan is still holding onto Cara's face, and now she leans in closer. "I didn't tell her to pity you. I told her about all the times you saved my life, and Richard's and Zedd's."

Kahlan kisses her, softly, the tip of her tongue touching Cara's. Then she presses her lips to Cara's harder, and it makes the wound in Cara's bottom lip open up again. The kiss tastes like blood and pain and Kahlan, old life and new, and everything she can't have.

Cara pushes Kahlan away. "I don't want her pity or her forgiveness," she says.

"Cara..." Kahlan says, and Cara hates the way Kahlan looks at her.

"Find the Quillion," she says.

Once they find the Quillion everything will make sense again. She will be rid of the unwelcome magic that ties her to this place. She will leave Aydindril and serve Lord Rahl elsewhere with her Agiels. Kahlan will rule the Midlands from Aydindril as Mother Confessor and she will marry Richard.

Everything will be simple and right and the way it's meant to be.

 

*

 

Cara is not welcome to help search for the Quillion. Whenever she leaves the room she's been given, a guard escorts her. Dennee does not trust her, as well she should not.

And anyway, the guards are fun. It gives her something to do while waiting, especially since Kahlan has made herself scarce.

It's been a week, a very long week, when Dennee comes to see her. "The guards were not for you to play with," she says.

"I didn't hurt them," Cara says. "Much."

"I appreciate your restraint." Dennee tilts her head and regards Cara intently, as if she's trying to read her. "Can I come in?"

Cara steps back, hands behind her back, but always ready. "Are you here to strike me again? The bruise has only just healed," she says. It is half-a-challenge, but Dennee doesn't bite.

"There's something that's bothered me," Dennee says instead, "since last time I saw you. It's about Valeria."

Cara hesitates. "Kahlan--"

"Forget Kahlan," Dennee says, and there is nothing soft about her voice or the way she looks at Cara now. "This is not about her."

"You will not like what I tell you."

"Do you think I expect to?" Dennee stares straight into Cara's eyes. "When your Sisters caught the other Confessors, they bound their hands and tortured them with their Agiels before they killed them."

Cara doesn't know what Dennee wants her to say, but she is quiet long enough that Cara feels compelled to say something. "Cats like to play with their prey," she says, and it is the truth, harsh as it may be.

Dennee doesn't look away. "Yet I was dead within two breaths after you caught up with me."

Cara is frequently surprised at the way Kahlan needs the most obvious things explained to her. Apparently it's a family trait. "Our mission in Valeria was to retrieve the boy; the male confessor," she begins, not sure how to put to words to actions that are so deeply ingrained in her.

After a pause, she continues, "I saw you drown him and I knew punishment awaited us for our failure. But you would rather take his life yourself than let him into the hands of your enemy. There is honor in that, deserving of a swift and painless death."

The look on Dennee's face is impossible for Cara to read. It is the same with Kahlan, every time Cara tries to explain things that are as natural as breathing.

Cara won't ask for forgiveness again, because Dennee will never grant it, and Cara would not want it even if she did.

"Don't tell Kahlan I came here," Dennee says, before she turns around and leaves.

 

*

 

There are no more guards after that. Cara wanders the halls for a few restless days, until she finds her way down to where the Home Guard train.

Cara's reputation has preceded her, it seems. She had done little more than deal bruises and break a few noses, but coupled with her leather, that was apparently quite enough. No one protests when she joins them in sparring.

They are no Mord'Sith, but some of them have decent technique. There is nothing playful about the way they spar with her, though Cara expects nothing else. They've learned to hate Mord'Sith, like she's learned to hate Confessors, and it keeps their minds sharp.

Cara revels in it. It's what she needs. The sun is hot and she soon starts sweating, but it's not like the last time she fought. The unpredictable Confessor magic remains calm, and the more tired her muscles grow, the weaker the magic becomes, until she almost feels like she's in control again.

She doesn't notice they have an audience until Kahlan's sudden laugh cuts through the air. Dennee is there, watching carefully, as if she's trying to learn the movements of her enemy. There is a small child on her hip, and beside her is a red-haired boy of perhaps ten or eleven years who's looking at them with wide eyes - the Listener, no doubt, though Cara hasn't seen him before. And then there's Kahlan. She's smiling, talking to the boy, one hand on his shoulder.

Cara hasn't seen Kahlan since the day they arrived, and it's distracting that she's come to watch. Cara straightens her back and turns her focus back to her sparring partner. He launches at her, and she moves stiffly to the side, but not quick enough; his sword grazes her arm, cutting through leather and flesh with an unexpected, sharp sting.

Cara can feel Kahlan's eyes on her back.

Cara's cheeks flush with anger, and the guard is powerless to defend himself from her onslaught. The boy applauds enthusiastically when the guard lands at Cara's feet, her Agiel less than an inch from his trembling chest.

Cara helps him up, and then tips her head slightly towards him and the rest of the guards, before leaving without a word.

 

*

 

After that, Cara doesn't feel much like sparring. She spends the next day staring up at the ceiling in her room, summoning the Confessor magic and then letting it rescind, over and over again. The feeling of it isn't new any more, and the way it twists and burns no longer seems painful.

There is a part of Cara that wishes for the pain back. It's not natural for a Mord'Sith to bear Confessor magic so easily. Instead, all it does it make her think of Kahlan, as keenly as if she was in the room. It ruins her concentration completely.

Giving up, Cara goes to the Council chambers. "Where's Kahlan?" she says, voice sounding more sour and impatient than she intends.

Dennee looks at her thoughtfully from behind her desk. "Have you tired of my guards already?"

Cara clasps her hands behind her back, and keeps her face neutral. "They are not Mord'Sith, they need rest," she says.

"Kahlan is busy," Dennee says, looking back down to the papers at her desk. "The Mother Confessor isn't in Aydindril very often."

"And the Quillion?" Cara asks, and then she cringes at how eager she sounds.

Dennee doesn't look up. "It will be found, sooner or later."

Cara presses her lips together and turns to leave, but when her hand is on the door handle, Dennee speaks again. "Kahlan has told me things about you."

Cara turns around, instantly on guard.

Dennee's lips quirk upwards in something that isn't quite a smile. "Does that make you uncomfortable?"

"You are a Confessor, I am Mord'Sith," Cara says.

"You're a Confessor too, right now."

"No," Cara says. "I am not."

Dennee holds her gaze, but she doesn't argue. There is more to a Confessor than magic, they both know that.

"Perhaps Kahlan has told you that I am with child," Dennee says. Cara's eyes dart to her midsection, barely visible behind the desk, though there is not yet any evidence to be seen.

"Kahlan has no reason to tell me," she says truthfully. "We are not friends who whisper secrets in each other's ears," she adds, feeling annoyed suddenly that Dennee would assume such a thing. After all, Kahlan hasn't spoken to her once since the day they arrived.

"Male offspring of Confessors is very rare," Dennee says, still with that same pensive look on her face, "but it is hard not to worry."

Cara doesn't know why Dennee is telling her this. It is trust she doesn't want. Trust can be exploited, but that time has passed. Now instead, trust chips away and lays unwelcome hooks. A male child to be taken away at birth, or a girl to keep and raise. It's far too easy to understand, even though Cara tries not to.

"Kahlan and I are the last Confessors," Dennee continues. "It's our duty to make sure the line doesn't perish with us, and as long as Kahlan is running around in the woods it falls to me."

"It will not be your burden to bear alone much longer," Cara says. "Kahlan will marry Lord Rahl and I'm sure they will supply the Midlands with an endless string of daughters."

"So they say." Dennee smiles slightly, head tilting as if she's curious about something. "I hear there are already songs sung about their love."

Cara's eye twitches as she remembers the insipid song in question, and the thirty-four verses dedicated especially to Richard and Kahlan. "We met a bard in a tavern," she says. "Zedd overindulged in the wine and let his mouth run away with him."

"I'm not like Kahlan," Dennee says, leaning back in her chair. "I took a mate because I wanted a child. It's what Confessors do. I've never dreamed of having that kind of love."

Cara nods with approval. "Love makes you weak," she says. "I see no purpose to it. Mord'Sith do not love and I am glad for it."

Dennee covers her mouth with a hand, but Cara can see the smile underneath - there is something patronizing about it, which makes Cara frown. "What's so amusing?"

"Oh, nothing," Denne says. "Nothing at all."

 

*

 

It seems there is no point for Cara to remain in the Confessors' Palace. Instead she leaves to find a tavern where they serve a decent drink. Zedd has talked more than once about Ambrosio's, but Aydindril is not lacking in similar establishments.

Cara sees it as her duty to inspect them all.

She's traveled with the Seeker and Mother Confessor so long that she's almost forgotten the way people look at a lone Mord'Sith. Cara glares back, hands grazing her Agiels, and the animosity stops at quiet looks and mumbling.

She rents a room in one of the inns, and wonders if Kahlan notices that she's not been to the Palace in days.

 

*

 

There are establishments where people are less discerning and where no one looks at her leather when she asks to join a game of cards. Cara doesn't necessarily mind when people look at her with fear, but sometimes it's nice to not have to be on watch for a dagger to the back.

Cards have never been her preferred method of combat, but it's a way to pass the time, and winning is sweet no matter the battlefield. When she spots Kahlan out of the corner of her eye, she frowns in annoyance. It's been almost two weeks since they arrived in Aydindril, and Kahlan has kept away until Cara has a perfect set of cards in her hand and most of her meager savings on the table.

"Cara," she says. She has her arms crossed over her white Confessor dress, black hair flowing in curls over her shoulders, and she looks more regal than ever. The men around the table stare at her dumbly, as if they've never seen the ruler of the Midlands in a seedy tavern before.

"Leave us," Kahlan says, though her eyes never stray from Cara's. The men are gone in the blink of an eye, and with them, Cara's chance of completing a perfect game.

"I was winning that game before you interrupted," Cara says. She almost wants to run after them and insist they finish it. Actually, any kind of running seems like an excellent idea.

Kahlan sits down. "You weren't easy to find," she says. "Why didn't you tell me you were leaving the Palace?"

Cara leans back and rolls her eyes. "You were busy."

"Yes, exactly. Too busy to be looking all over the city to find you."

Cara starts to toy with the cards still left on the table, realizing that the men she played with seem to have taken her coins with them when they made themselves scarce before. It doesn't exactly improve her mood. "I am not your dog," she says. "I go wherever I want to."

Kahlan puts her hand over Cara's, and for whatever reason, Cara doesn't pull hers away. "Stop it," Kahlan says. "You know that's not what I mean."

Cara says nothing.

Kahlan looks down at their hands. "We found the Quillion," she says quietly.

"Then what are we waiting for?"

"Nothing." Kahlan smiles, but it's strange because it doesn't make her look happy at all.

 

*

 

Without Zedd, there is no Wizard of the First Order to help, but one of the Third Order has been summoned to witness the transference.

Kahlan rings her hands, and keeps reaching out to touch Cara's arm absentmindedly until Cara bats her hand away. "Let's get this over with," she says.

Kahlan retreats to the other end of the room, well away from the magic of the Quillion, and then the Wizard is opening it.

It's a gentle tugging at first, turning more and more intense as Cara can feel the magic being dragged out of her. Purple lights flow from her body toward the Quillion, and she's suddenly out of breath and light-headed.

With a last wretch, Cara glows white, feeling a pulse of power pass through her, before the Wizard closes the Quillion.

Something still isn't right, though.

"No," Cara says, panting slightly. "You didn't take enough. I can still feel it inside me."

"Try it on me," Kahlan says, grabbing Cara's hand and putting it around her throat. Cara takes a deep breath, before loosening the grip around the tingling ache in her chest. It's an unbelievable relief to find that there's nothing to be released, but there is still that eerie feeling in her chest.

"It's gone," Kahlan says.

"It's still there," Cara insists.

Kahlan loosens her grip around Cara's wrist, letting her thumb caress skin there. "If there is any Confessor magic still in you, it's not enough to affect anyone else," she says gently. "I would have felt it."

Cara jerks her hand away from Kahlan. "Take the rest of it too," she demands, turning to the Wizard.

The Wizard looks between Cara and Kahlan, face unsure. "If I take any more, it will take your Mord'Sith magic with it," he says, and he looks as if he's afraid she's going to put an Agiel to his chest.

"Fine," Cara says and stalks off.

 

*

 

Later, Cara knocks on Kahlan's door and slips inside. Kahlan's is sitting on her bed, her half-packed bag in her lap.

They're leaving early in the morning.

Kahlan looks to the side, putting the back of her hand to her eye and wiping away a tear. Cara doesn't know what to do, so she remains standing, arms hanging uselessly down her sides. "You are upset."

"I'm not. I'm happy, for you." Kahlan wipes away another tear and smiles slightly. It's not very convincing, even to Cara.

If Richard were here, he would comfort Kahlan with hugs and hand-holding and then they would talk and he would know what to say. Cara glances at the door, but then she steels herself. She is a poor substitute, but Lord Rahl is not here and so Kahlan will have to make do with her.

She sits down next to Kahlan on the bed, back rigid. "You're concerned about Richard?" she tries.

"Yes," Kahlan says. "Of course I am. Aren't you?"

"I am always concerned about Lord Rahl," Cara says. "It's the duty of a Mord'Sith." She lifts her arm and then hesitates. Comfort is not a subject she has yet mastered. Eying Kahlan for a suitable place of attack, she finally settles on Kahlan's shoulder, bringing her hand there to pat awkwardly.

After the sixth pat Kahlan laughs through her tears. Cara experiences a brief relief that she performed the task correctly, but then Kahlan gathers her up in a hug that she doesn't know how to reciprocate. Instead she brings her mouth to Kahlan's and kisses her, until the hug turns to arms clinging, fingers pressing into her back.

Cara pushes Kahlan down on the bed, continuing to kiss her, slowly and thoroughly, as her hands wander and she commits every little detail to memory.

They're leaving in the morning to go back to Richard and Zedd, and Cara's touch is no longer deadly to everyone but Kahlan. There is no need for this to happen again, and Cara wants to be sure she'll remember everything. It's not sentiment, it's practicality. After all, there might come a time when the fate of the world rests on her knowledge of Kahlan's freckles. Stranger things have happened.

She's just memorizing a particularly nice cluster of freckles on Kahlan's left breast, when Kahlan pushes at her shoulders until Cara relents. "Don't," Kahlan says. "Stop. We can't. Not... not any more."

It takes Cara a moment to realize what Kahlan is talking about, but when she does, she grins and lets her fingers trail up Kahlan's inner thigh. "There is a part of the magic still in me. You can't confess me."

She doesn't know why she's so sure of it, but she is, sure enough to bet her life.

It's not often Cara has seen Kahlan afraid, but now there is worry and fear etched to her face.

"Trust me," Cara says, and Kahlan looks into her eyes for a long moment. Whatever she sees there must calm her, because her face smoothes slowly into a look of wonder.

"Are you sure?" Kahlan asks finally, and there is something in her voice that makes Cara wonder if they're talking about the same thing.

"I'm always sure," Cara says, and Kahlan smiles like someone just handed her the world, wrapped in a bow.

Kahlan puts a hand on Cara's checks, looking very serious now. "I'm sure too."

Cara looks down at Kahlan, eyes narrowing a little. "That's... good," she says, somewhat suspiciously.

For some reason, Cara feels like she might have missed a vital part of the conversation.

 

*

 

Cara wakes early to the sound of hoof-beats. The windows of Kahlan's room face the courtyard, and Cara slides out of the bed quickly to peer out.

Kahlan stirs, still wrapped in covers, hair messy. She yawns and smiles, as she lets her gaze rest unabashed on Cara's naked figure.

The look on Cara's face as she meets Kahlan's eyes, though, makes Kahlan stop smiling. She sits up, clutching the covers to her chest, in a vain effort to protect a modesty that has already been thoroughly debauched. It would have made Cara roll her eyes at any other time, but not now.

"Richard is here," she says, and moves to pull her leathers on.

Kahlan looks on, face impossible to read. "Something's happened."

 


5.

"You lost the Sword of Truth?" Cara stands to the side, arms crossed, as Kahlan hugs Zedd and Richard, who looks strange without the Sword hanging at his side.

Richard keeps a hold of Kahlan's hand even as he turns to Cara. "That's not what I said."

Cara rolls her eyes. "It's what it sounds like."

"It's not that simple," Zedd says.

Richard nods eagerly. "There were... circumstances."

Of course there were circumstances, Cara thinks. Most likely they involved Richard trusting people who should never be trusted. "Rahl," Cara says, because Darken Rahl doesn't plan two steps ahead; he plans ten steps ahead, in all directions.

At the same time, Kahlan breathes, "Nicci."

"Unfortunately," Zedd says, "you're both right."

 

*

 

Richard and Zedd aren't entirely forthcoming with the details, but it doesn't matter. Cara understands perfectly: leaving Richard and Zedd on their own was a terrible, terrible mistake.

Cara has already picked out two sturdy horses for herself and Kahlan, and she is making sure they are well-fed and tended to, which is necessary and wise and not at all a way of avoiding anyone.

"I shouldn't have left you," Cara says when Richard walks into the box stall.

"Then you'd still have the Confessor magic," he reminds her. "You were miserable. I had to send you away."

Cara untangles a straw of hay from the mane of the horse. "It was Darken Rahl's plan all along. It didn't matter which of us absorbed the magic. He knew it would split us up and you'd be vulnerable."

"Maybe," Richard says. "But he didn't plan for Nicci. He would have kept her collared and bound, and whatever alliance they have now can't be anything but uneasy."

"You should never have unlocked her Rada'Han," Cara says, threading her fingers through the horse's mane. "None of this would have happened if you'd let things be."

"But then you'd be dead," Richard says, smiling now. "And aren't you always mumbling about how I'd never manage without you?"

"You're right," Cara says. "The world would be doomed."

Richard laughs and puts a friendly hand on her shoulder. "I've missed you, Cara."

Cara smirks. It is easy to be with Richard. He is Lord Rahl and she is Mord'Sith, and maybe some days she might even admit that he is her friend. It has always been more complicated than that with Kahlan. Her mouth says friend, but it's less and more than that, and infinitely more difficult.

Cara looks forward to being on the road again. It will all be like before. The four of them, traveling together. Richard will make stupid decisions and Cara will have to protect him. Kahlan and Richard will insist on stopping in every tiny village and help people, and Cara will roll her eyes and absolutely not have any kind of feelings about it at all.

 

*

 

At midday, Kahlan bids her sister a tearful goodbye, while Cara readies their horses and secures their packing. Dennee embraces Richard and Zedd, and gives Cara a curt nod. It's not a warm farewell, but it's not unfriendly either, and Cara appreciates the simplicity of it.

When night falls they make camp and eat food brought from Aydindril.

"I should have killed her when I had the chance," Cara mumbles when Kahlan and Richard mention Nicci. If she'd wrung her neck when Nicci first appeared in the forest, she never would have left her message and they would have continued to Aydindril in peace.

"You don't know her," Richard says. "I've spent time with her. I know she's not a bad person deep down. If I could just talk to her..."

Cara huffs. "You don't believe anyone is a bad person deep down. It's a foolish way of looking at the world."

Richard smiles in a way that is completely infuriating. "It worked with you, didn't it?" he says, and Cara scowls.

Kahlan smiles too, as she nudges Richard's shoulder with her own. "You're always looking for people to save."

"He did not save me," Cara interjects forcefully. "I saved him. I hit him on the head with a rock, dragged him across D'Hara and then I helped him travel in time, back to you. He'd be dead ten times over if it wasn't for me."

"You're far too modest," Richard says with a grin.

"And a tad short-tempered tonight," Zedd says. "I'd have thought you'd be in a good mood without the Confessor magic."

Her mood is not the Wizard's business, be it short-tempered or not, and Cara wraps her hand around one of the Agiels at her belt, feeling much better as the familiar pain shoots up her arm.

Kahlan frowns, as if Zedd's words concern her.

"I'm going for a hunt," Cara says.

 

*

 

In Northgate, the villagers insist on throwing a ridiculous party for the Seeker.

"I told you we should have gone around the village," Cara mutters.

"They're trying to be nice and thank us, Cara," Richard says. "As your Lord Rahl I demand you smile and enjoy yourself."

Cara glares at him. Richard only ever uses his influence as Lord Rahl for inappropriate requests. There is no time for frivolous activities like this. Cara doesn't particularly care about the Sword of Truth, but someone has to make sure things get done.

When night falls, there is a bonfire and fireworks. (Of course there is. Cara hates fireworks. They're a distraction from potential danger, of which there is always a lot when Richard is involved.)

"Be careful with the wine," Kahlan says, leaning on the bar. "It's really strong."

Cara fills her cup to the brim, shooting Kahlan a defiant look before taking the wine pitcher and joining Richard at the table.

"We should talk," he says, and for a moment, Cara considers taking her cup and wine pitcher and going to sit elsewhere. In the end, she settles for filling Richard's cup with wine and looking at him until he drinks.

"I've been thinking," she says. "Maybe it would be better if you were married now, before we reach D'Hara. I'm sure I can scare up someone appropriate to bless your union somewhere in this village."

Richard sets his half-empty cup down on the table, running a finger along the brim. "Why are you so eager to see me married, Cara?"

Cara empties her own cup in one quick swig. "I have a duty as a Mord'Sith to keep you from making stupid decisions."

Richard sighs. "We're not getting married."

Clearly the world has gone mad. Kahlan doesn't want to marry Richard, Richard doesn't want to marry Kahlan, and quite possibly pigs are flying. People who spontaneously create Stones of Tears are supposed to be together, that's just the way it is. Sometimes Cara wonders if she's the only one with any kind of sense left.

"With the right amount of... persuasion," Cara says, feeling quite cheerful at the thought, "I could probably find someone to wed you tonight."

Something dark passes over Richard's face. "Let's not pretend, Cara. I think we both know that--"

Cara stiffens, reaching for the wine pitcher almost by instinct. "I have no idea what you're talking about," she says. "More wine?"

Richard doesn't protest as she refills both of their cups, and when he empties his quickly, Cara takes this as encouragement to fill it again. Drinking seems to keep him from talking, at least momentarily.

Eventually, though, the pitcher ends up empty, and while Cara waits for the barmaid to bring them a fresh one, Richard seems to remember again. "We really should talk," he says, rubbing his chin and giving her a somewhat unfocused look. "There are different ways to, uh, what, what I mean is that..."

Luckily, Richard doesn't get to say what he really means, because a new pitcher of wine is placed on their table and Cara quickly fills up both of their cups, raising hers and nudging the man on the table behind "To the Seeker!" she says with mock-enthusiasm, and the room erupts in cheers.

"Cara," Richard starts, but then half the room wants a chance to pat the Seeker on the back and cheer, and Cara sits back and crosses her arms, raising a triumphant eyebrow.

"I'm still your friend," he says quietly when the cheers die down, and Cara shoots him a wild stare, filling his cup without asking and practically forcing it into his hand.

Richard and Kahlan, they are all the same with the talking. She should have stuck with Zedd, whose long-winded stories might be dull as watching grass grow, but at least he doesn't have the obsession with talking about feelings that Richard and Kahlan do.

Cara is Mord'Sith, she has no feelings. That would be absurd.

 

*

 

Unfortunately, Richard is a completely unable to hold his liquor. Zedd has to practically drag him to his room, and it probably took magic to get him to stop singing.

Cara is, of course, entirely sober.

Kahlan has the most lovely hair. Cara can bury her face in it and breathe in and it smells wonderful. It's not something she's usually able to do while walking, though. "Why are you leaning on me?" she asks.

Kahlan snorts. "I'm not the one doing any leaning."

"You should wear your hair in a braid," Cara says into Kahlan's hair. "You would make a good Mord'Sith."

"Thank you. I think."

Once in her room, Cara drops down on the bed, keeping a hold of Kahlan so she falls down over her. With a few quick twists, Cara has Kahlan pinned down under her, Kahlan's mouth half-open in a surprised gasp and too inviting to resist. Cara is almost certain there is a good reason why she shouldn't be kissing Kahlan, but she can't seem to recall it just then. In fact, she can't even imagine a situation where anything involving Kahlan's lips wouldn't be a fantastic idea.

She makes a small sound of protest when Kahlan pushes her away and slides out from under her, standing up next to the bed as if she's planning on leaving for no good reason.

Cara rolls over on her back and props herself up on her elbows, breaking out her most inviting smile. "I am skilled in matters of the flesh," she says, voice low. "I can make you scream with my hands tied behind my back."

Cara doesn't miss the slight blush rising on Kahlan's cheeks, but instead of falling into Cara's embrace (like most men and women would, Cara is sure), Kahlan simply pats her knee. "You should probably sleep. I don't think you're going to feel very well in the morning."

Cara sinks back onto the bed, snuggling with the pillows in a tough, warrior-like way. "I will feel fantastic in the morning."

 

*

 

Cara does not, in fact, feel fantastic in the morning.

But she does feel better than Richard, which is some consolation.

"What a wonderful morning," Zedd bellows loudly as their horses are brought out and saddled. Richard groans and rests his head against the neck of his horse for a moment.

Kahlan and Zedd look inordinately pleased with themselves all day.

 

*

 

Things are not so very different when they are on the road again.

Richard and Zedd bicker about food while Kahlan looks on with a fond smile, and Cara rolls her eyes at all three of them. There is no efficiency to anything they do, and the worst part is that Cara has gotten so used to it she isn't even questioning it anymore.

After some time, Cara returns the corset and neck-piece to her packing. She is quicker, more mobile, without them, and it is really much too warm in the summer to bother with added armor. If the others notice, they keep their comments to themselves, although Cara can't quite shake the horrible suspicion that they are smiling behind her back.

Sometimes Kahlan looks at Cara as though she is about to speak, but at that point Cara is usually quick to find things to occupy her hands elsewhere, and she is grateful that Kahlan always lets her go.

Until one night.

It's really quite unfair, because they're camped by a lake and Cara is taking a bath, and there is no easy way to escape that doesn't involve running through the woods, naked and wet.

Not that it would be the first time she's done that, and quite possibly it would still be preferable to having to listen to whatever it is Kahlan wants to say.

Kahlan sits down on a stone by the side of the lake, and it reminds Cara of another lake, before they reached Aydindril, when their positions were reversed. It's dark, and Kahlan's white dress is almost glowing in the moonlight.

"Aren't you coming in?" Cara says, standing up slowly so that the water only comes up to her waist. Kahlan's gaze remains locked on Cara's face, though, so Cara tilts her chin down, allowing her most suggestive leer to grow on her face.

"I don't think so," Kahlan says. "You can be very distracting when you want to be."

"You should come in." Cara's smile widens with promise as she takes a step closer, and then another one. "The water... is very... warm."

"Come to Aydindril with me," Kahlan says. "When this is all over and the world is safe. Come to Aydindril with me."

Cara halts her steps, eyes narrowing as she looks at Kahlan. "Why?"

"Because I want you there, with me," Kahlan says calmly.

Cara sinks back into the water, dipping her head down under for a moment. "This is a pointless discussion," she says when she comes back up again. "We need to get the Sword of Truth back."

"We'll get it back."

"Other things might happen too," Cara says.

"They probably will," Kahlan agrees.

Somehow Cara feels like she's losing this discussion. "Some people won't approve of you bringing a Mord'Sith to Aydindril," she says.

"Probably not, no."

Cara lifts her chin high as she looks straight at Kahlan. "Maybe they are right."

Kahlan's smile is bright and sudden. "Now you're just fishing for compliments."

There is something soft in her eyes that makes Cara feel torn between doing everything Kahlan wants without question, and running far, far away. It makes it impossible for Cara to stop her own lips quirking upward in a reluctant half-smile. She hates when Kahlan looks at her like that, usually, but lately it seems like she hasn't minded so much.

Aydindril holds little allure to her. What would she do there, besides sitting still and growing old and soft? It is the last thing she wants, she is fairly certain of that, although it is difficult to say exactly when Kahlan is smiling at her like that.

But by all reason, it is unlikely they will be going to Aydindril any time soon. Things will happen, and as long as Darken Rahl is alive he will never stop causing trouble (in fact, not even death seems to hamper that particular character trait).

There is plenty of time to get used to the idea.

In a quick attack that Kahlan can't deflect, Cara lurches forward and pulls Kahlan, clothes and all, into the water by her calves. It makes Kahlan squeal like a child and cough water until her face is bright red.

"Clearly you do need someone to keep you protected in Aydindril," Cara says, crossing her arms.

Kahlan has her hand wrapped around Cara's throat in an instant, and Cara has to focus to keep her body relaxed and not fight back. "That won't work on me," Cara says, all smug pride.

Kahlan smiles, and then she moves in closer to press her lips firmly to Cara's.

That does work, and Cara can't even be particularly sorry about it.