DISCLAIMER: ABC, Disney, Terry Goodkind, Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, et al own this reality and these characters. I wrote this for my own entertainment and made no money from it.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I had no intention of writing a sequel to Life Interrupted, especially since it ended on a happy note. And yet here we are, with a follow-up that somehow manages to be fluffy despite the references to dark themes. While this story is self-contained enough to be a standalone, it'll make a whole lot more sense if you read the other one first. I still don't think the fic warrants a specific warning for rape and torture, but there are non-graphic references to both. Not beta read and somewhat hastily rewritten and edited, so all mistakes are my own.
SEQUEL: To Life Interrupted
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
WARNING: Non-graphic references to rape and torture.
FEEDBACK: To cheerfuloceangazer[at]gmail.com

Life Resumed
By ocean gazer


Kahlan slides off her horse with a muffled groan and tightly clutches the saddle to keep herself upright, not yet trusting her footing. Her damaged leg aches fiercely. Though she and Cara have been riding for a week now, her muscles still aren't conditioned to such vigorous activity.

She catches movement out of the corner of her eye and glances over to see her partner walking towards her. Cara's gait is a bit stiff, but there's no other sign that her old injury is bothering her. Then again, the blonde is far more used to being ahorse than Kahlan is.

When Cara draws near, Kahlan releases her grip on the saddle and takes an experimental step, testing if her leg will hold her. Satisfied that it will, she hands her mare's reins to the blonde, who takes them with a curt nod and leads the horses off to groom them.

Kahlan stands still for a moment, getting her bearings. Then she limps into the woods beside the small clearing they've chosen as their campsite. She unties her cloak from her shoulders and spreads it out on the ground. Moving carefully, she expertly pulls deadfall out of the underbrush, then piles it neatly on top of her cloak.

It's been a long time since she and Cara last traveled like this. Once settled into the cabin on their homestead, they've been far too busy with the work of daily survival to spare time for anything else. But the habits of making camp are still wholly ingrained. The months of wandering the countryside with Richard and Zedd--though a lifetime ago--left an indelible mark. One she can finally smile at.

She ties the ends of the cloak together, securing the gathered firewood, and easily swings the bundle up over her shoulder. Limping back out to the clearing, she stops beside the saddlebags Cara placed in a neat row and sets down her load of wood. Bending down, she unties the cloak and pulls out one of the larger branches, then rummages through her bag for a flint. She slips the flint into her pocket, then straightens and uses one end of the branch to scratch out a large circle on the ground.

By the time she's finished scraping away the grass, leaving a ring of bare dirt to serve as their fire pit, and has her tinder bundle and kindling in place in the middle of it, she's sweating profusely.

She straightens and wipes her brow on her sleeve, not too surprised to see Cara walking towards her. The blonde smiles at her as she nears the saddlebags, then kneels to pack away the grooming supplies. Kahlan limps over to stand beside her. The blonde hands her a bucket, then pulls out a bow and arrow. Without a word, they head off in different directions, moving effortlessly on to their next tasks.

Their campsite is close to a stream, so Kahlan is back quickly with a bucket full of water. She sets the pail down beside the fire pit and pulls the flint from her pocket, lighting the tinder bundle at the base of the fire she laid earlier. When the flame catches fully, she pockets the flint and picks up the bucket, setting it down carefully near the stack of burning kindling so that the water can simmer and boil out any impurities.

By the time Cara returns from hunting, a brace of skinned and dressed rabbits in hand, Kahlan has their bedroll laid out and the fire built up, blazing merrily away. She's seated on the ground, her back against a large rock and her legs outstretched, a knife in one hand and a stew pot in her lap. A bag of vegetables from their root cellar sits beside her and she's cubing onions, carrots, and potatoes into the pot.

Kahlan smiles as her partner kneels down beside the fire. Pausing in her work, she watches in fascination as Cara lays the rabbits out on the grass, then swiftly and expertly quarters and debones them. The blonde tosses the bones into the blaze, then gathers the meat and springs to her feet.

Cara walks over and drops the rabbit pieces into the stew pot, then turns and heads off in the direction of the stream. Kahlan isn't bothered by her partner's abrupt departure, knowing the blonde is washing her hands and her knife. She turns her attention back to the vegetables and the rhythm of carefully slicing them against the pad of her thumb.

She's just finished her task and is wiping her blade on her breeches when Cara returns to camp. Kahlan sheathes the knife, sets the stew pot aside, and starts to roll to her knees so she can get to her feet. She falls back with a yelp. Her muscles are stiff from sitting and pain lances through her scarred thigh. Seconds later, her partner is standing in front of her, sea green eyes dark with worry.

"I'll be okay," Kahlan manages after a minute. "Help me up?"

Cara extends both hands and pulls her up, then slides an arm around her waist to steady her. Kahlan breathes through the throbbing ache, leaning heavily on her partner until she feels steady enough to stand on her own.

Her mouth is set in a tight line from both pain and frustration. She hates feeling so weak.

She allows herself a few moments of self-pity, then marshals her considerable self-control and forces the thought aside. The damage is long-since done and she can't do anything to change it. All she can do is work around it as best she can. That she struggles with physical limitations isn't a failing in her.

After all, it wasn't her idea to be tortured by her son.

Eventually, she's able to move on her own, albeit stiffly, and Cara slips away from her, heading towards the campfire. Kahlan is grateful that her partner leaves her to finish up her task without stepping in to take over. Carefully, she bends and picks up the stew pot, then takes it over to the fire.

She sets it down in front of Cara, who uses a sturdy stick to lift the steaming water bucket out of the fire pit by its wire handle. She stands back and watches as her partner positions the pail above the stew pot, then uses a shorter stick to tilt the bottom of the bucket, letting water spill over the edge into the pot below, until the meat and vegetables are covered. While the blonde sets the pail outside the fire pit so that the water can cool enough for them to drink, Kahlan picks up the full stew pot and quickly places it right beside the roaring blaze.

With nothing else to do except wait for their dinner to cook, Kahlan limps back over to the rock she was sitting against. She plops ungracefully to the ground, her thigh protesting, and squirms around until she finds a comfortable position. Moments later, Cara joins her, the lithe blonde sinking down easily next to her.

She leans back against the rock and watches idly as Cara frees her ponytail from its fabric tie. The blonde combs through her hair with her fingers, then neatly separates it into sections and begins to braid it.

Not for the first time, Kahlan marvels at the way her partner never seems to age. The blonde still has only a few streaks of grey in her long tresses, and her face--though tan from hours working outdoors--is still smooth and uncreased.

Kahlan's own close-cropped hair is fully silver now, though she's only in her middle years. She suspects it's largely from the strain of her ordeal at Nicholas' hands. Her face is generous with wrinkles and while she's still active and able to do her share around the homestead, she often feels the weight of her age keenly.

Though she knows it's not all because she's growing older. Much of it is likely due to her years of captivity, the cumulative effect of all the pain and abuse she suffered.

Lost in thoughts of that dark time, she jumps when she feels a hand on her thigh. Registering Cara's touch, she calms quickly. She meets the blonde's concerned gaze steadily and sees understanding dawn in green eyes. Her partner knows intimately what it's like to be haunted by the ghosts of the past.

She's not surprised when Cara doesn't comment. Instead, the blonde reaches out and draws Kahlan's leg into her lap. Strong fingers deftly massage her aching thigh, working out the knots in her muscles, tracing the crisscrossed lines of the scars hidden by her breeches.

Kahlan sighs softly and leans back with her eyes closed, allowing her partner to tend to her.

There's silence for several minutes, then Cara clears her throat. "If we keep to this pace, we should be in Aydindril in two weeks."

Kahlan opens her eyes and nods in acknowledgment.

They haven't been back to the city since moving to their isolated cabin two years ago. They hadn't planned to visit now. But after months of sporadic--at best--communication via journey books with Kahlan's daughters, they'd gotten a note from the Mother Confessor asking for their presence at the Confessor's Palace at their earliest convenience. Though phrased as a request, there was no question that it was an order--no matter how informal or unofficial.

There was also no question of refusing, no matter how surprising or unexpected the message. Despite everything, Kahlan is still conditioned to serve her people and will always do whatever she can to protect the Midlands, though she's ruler no longer. And Cara, bound by her own particular sense of duty and loyalty, will always stand beside her.

Kahlan just wishes she knew what, exactly, they're being summoned for.

On receiving the message, she'd written back immediately, asking what was going on. There was no answer. When she wrote again the next morning, the only response was that it would all be explained once they arrived. Which had done nothing to ease her rising concern. She and Cara had packed their bags that night and left for Aydindril at dawn.

She shifts her gaze to the fire and says, "I hope nothing's wrong with the baby."

Rikki and Trevon, though constantly on the road, had wasted no time starting a family. Their Tania had just marked nine months.

Cara's hands stop their massage. "If there was a problem, Rikki would have been the one to tell us. Or Jayden would have written to us personally, rather than signing the note as the Mother Confessor. And she would have come right out and told us what was going on, or said it was urgent, or something."

Though her partner's voice is perfectly even, Kahlan easily picks up on the exasperation behind it. They've already had this conversation. More than once.

"I know," Kahlan murmurs, staring broodingly at the flames.

Cara resumes massaging her thigh. There's silence for a minute, then the blonde points out reasonably, "Besides, we just heard from Rikki a month ago and everything was fine. She and Trevon were busy in Westland, trying to rebuild the magical barrier."

Kahlan sighs softly. Eyes still on the fire, she says, "You're right. I know that. But it's just...I can't imagine why else they'd need us to come. Or why the message was so vague."

When several moments pass with no response, she turns her head and looks at her partner. Cara is staring down at her hands as they knead Kahlan's thigh, appearing at a casual glance to be concentrating on her task. But the blonde's brow is slightly wrinkled and there's a tight set to her mouth.

For all Cara's studied nonchalance, Kahlan can tell she's concerned and curious too.

At length, the blonde says gruffly, "Whatever it is, we can't do anything about it until we get there."

Despite the worry nagging at her, Kahlan can't help but smile at her partner's reliable pragmatism.

She shifts her gaze back to the roaring flames, knowing Cara's right. There's nothing they can do right now other than what they're already doing--traveling to Aydindril as quickly as they can. Deliberately, she changes the subject. "How do you think Rylan will do while we're gone?"

Rylan is the middle child of the large farmer family that lives an hour's ride from the cabin. He's seventeen, steady as a rock, and--unlike his siblings--has ambitions of owning his own land one day rather than remaining on his parents' homestead. She and Cara asked him to tend their animals and garden until they return, and in exchange he can sell the eggs, milk, and produce.

Cara's tone is thoughtful. "He'll do well. He needs something to challenge him and he's more than ready for the responsibility."

Kahlan nods, though she's aware her partner isn't looking at her. There's not much to say to that, so she lets the conversation lapse, closing her eyes again and relishing the feel of Cara's talented hands soothing away her aches and pains.

After a while, the scent of cooked meat and potatoes wafts over and she opens her eyes. She stills the other woman's hands with a quick touch, then pulls her leg out of Cara's lap. The blonde pushes effortlessly to her feet, then turns and holds out a hand. Kahlan takes it gratefully, allowing her partner to pull her up. She still limps, but is moving much more freely, and she sighs in relief.

She heads to the saddlebags and pulls out utensils and bowls, then makes her way over to the fire, where Cara is using a stick to lift the stew pot out of the fire by its handle. Kahlan kneels beside the pot and stirs the stew with a long-handled wooden spoon. Scooping out a spoonful, she lets it cool for a minute, then tastes it. The meat is done and the potatoes are soft, so she wastes no time dishing up two heaping bowlfuls.

Handing them to Cara, she clumsily pushes to her feet. They head to the rock they've been using as a backrest. Once Kahlan is seated and comfortable, she takes the bowls from her partner, who gracefully flops down beside her. Hungry after a long day of travel with only apples and journey cakes for lunch, she eats quickly. She's not surprised that Cara does the same. Once finished, they set their bowls aside and sit quietly, watching the flames die down as the sky grows ever darker.

Though it's not all that late, Kahlan's eyelids grow heavy and she yawns. Glancing to the side, she sees that Cara is blinking sleepily. She awkwardly rolls on to her hands and knees, then braces her hand on the rock to push herself upright. The blonde stares blankly at her for a minute, then she sees recognition dawn in sea green eyes. While she bends over to pick up the bowls, Cara clambers to her feet. Without needing to discuss anything, they fall into practiced routines to finish up the chores before bed.

Cara fills their waterskins from the cooled water in the bucket. Kahlan piles the bowls and spoons into the empty pail and grabs a scrap of soap from her saddlebag, then heads to the stream to wash the dishes and collect more water. By the time she returns, her partner has the coals of the fire banked, with the stew pot in the middle of the heap to continue simmering overnight. It will be nice to have a hot, hearty breakfast in the morning.

While Cara checks on the horses, Kahlan packs the dishes back in the saddlebags, then sets the filled water bucket inside the fire pit, right next to the hot coals. She's back from the latrine and curled up in their bedroll before her partner gets back.

Kahlan sighs in sleepy contentment when Cara slips in and spoons up behind her. Strong arms wrap around her and she relaxes into the comfortable embrace.

"Love you, dearheart," she murmurs.

She feels a kiss against the back of her bare neck. "Love you too, cariad."

The familiar exchange warms Kahlan. She may not know what it is that they're riding towards, but she knows one thing for certain. Whatever it is, they'll face it together. As they always do.

As they ride under the archway of the main entrance to Aydindril, Kahlan feels herself grow tense. Though it was once her home, she spent too many years as a prisoner within its walls to ever be wholly comfortable there again. Though the streets are familiar, her anxiety only grows the deeper into the city they get.

When they rein their horses to a stop in front of the dais in the courtyard of the Confessor's Palace, sudden panic hits Kahlan. She trembles with the force of it, her breathing ragged, her heart threatening to beat out of her chest. The dais is where Nicci collared her with the Rada'Han. Where Darken Rahl beheaded Richard in front of her and the gathered crowd. Where Nicholas publicly cut off her hair and stripped her of her title.

Their ghosts linger and will forever haunt her here.

A hand comes to rest atop hers and the familiarity of her partner's touch gives her something to latch on to in the midst of her terror. She grabs Cara's fingers in a crushing grip, focuses on the tangibility of warm skin against hers, concentrates on slowing her breathing.

Slowly, the panic fades and she begins to calm. When she's fully back in the present, she realizes Cara's horse is right beside hers, close enough that their shoulders are touching and she's surprised neither animal has shied away. The blonde is watching her like a hawk. She manages a single nod in response to the question in green eyes. It doesn't feel like nearly enough, but she sees the worry drain from her partner's expression like water through a cracked pot.

Cara's focus shifts off to the side and as Kahlan's gaze follows, she abruptly realizes they aren't alone in the courtyard. A redheaded Mord'Sith, a stablehand on either side of her, stands at attention next to the dais. When Kahlan's eyes meet the Mord'Sith's, the redhead moves forward, as if simply waiting for a signal that it was okay to approach. After a beat, she recognizes the young warrior as Lily--Kyla's girlfriend.

Lily's tone is apologetic. "I know you must be tired after your long journey, but the Mother Confessor wishes to see you. Your horses will be well cared for and I'll make certain your packs are delivered to your room."

With those words, Kahlan's curiosity rises to the fore, crowding out her lingering anxiety. While she notices Cara wastes no time dismounting, she moves more slowly, sliding carefully off of her horse. She winces when she lands, and holds tightly to the saddle for a moment while she gets her footing. Though she's now hardened to travel after three weeks on the road, her damaged leg will always give her problems.

One of the stablehands moves forward, and she lets go of the saddle and hands him the reins. He gives a shy smile as he leads her horse off to be groomed and watered. She's grateful when Cara passes off her horse's reins to the other stablehand and quickly comes to her side. The blonde slips a supportive arm around her back, and Kahlan unashamedly leans against her partner as they follow Lily into the palace.

From the official slant to the Mord'Sith's greeting, Kahlan expects to be taken to the public audience chamber where the Mother Confessor hears petitions. So she's taken aback to be led into the private conference room across the hall.

She's even more surprised to walk in and see blonde Jayden and raven-haired Kyla sitting side by side in cushioned chairs. Both round-bellied. Both very, very pregnant.

Her mouth drops open and she feels Cara's start of surprise, her partner's arm dropping away from her back.

Jayden frowns, studying them carefully, clearly uneasy about their reactions. Kyla merely smirks at them. Lily seems torn between worry and amusement as she motions them to the two empty chairs across from the sisters.

Kahlan sits down carefully, her aching thigh muscles protesting. Cara's hand rests on her shoulder until she settles, then the blonde takes the seat beside her. She stares in stunned disbelief at her daughters, doesn't have to look to know that her partner is doing the same. The two young women stare back, Kyla's green eyes twinkling, Jayden's blue gaze serious.

"If you don't need me for anything else, Mother Confessor..." the redheaded Mord'Sith suggests adroitly. At Jayden's dismissive wave, Lily disappears quickly.

Silence settles around them.

Finally, Kahlan clears her throat. "How?"

Under any other circumstance, that wouldn't be her first question. But all things considered, it seems the most pertinent. Kyla clearly has eyes only for Lily, and Jayden hasn't shown any signs of attraction to anyone at all.

Jayden's cheeks redden and the young blonde ducks her head to the side shyly. Kyla reaches out to cover her sister's hand with her own. The raven-haired triplet says dryly, "How do you think? The usual way."

Kahlan frowns at her daughters. Though Kyla's sardonic observations aren't exactly unexpected, this hardly seems like the time for wit. She notices the way Jayden suddenly sobers and straightens, as if picking up on her thoughts. The young blonde gives an admonishing glance to her sister, who merely shrugs at the rebuke, though her smirk falls off.

Jayden draws herself up, pulling her hand away from Kyla's, and Kahlan sees the Mother Confessor mask drop firmly into place. "A widower whose three young children died while he was passed out, drunk, petitioned me to Confess him and take him as a mate. Though their deaths were an accident--a wild boar got into his yard because he didn't fully latch the gate--he was consumed with guilt and desperate to do something to make up for his actions. He thought helping continue the line of Confessors would be a suitable atonement."

Kahlan's eyes widen so much that they feel as if they might pop out of her head. She can't remember anyone ever freely volunteering for such a fate.

Jayden's gaze locks with hers, and Kahlan feels a surge of sympathy for her daughter. She remembers the weight of such responsibility all too well, is probably the only person there who truly understands what it's like to be in that position.

Blue eyes still fixed on Kahlan, Jayden continues softly, "As you'd expect, I refused his request. I pointed out there were far better ways to atone and encouraged him to use his time in prison to better himself. But he was...persistent."

Kyla breaks in. "That's an understatement."

Kahlan glances over at her other daughter, sees fond exasperation in green eyes. But Kyla's tone is indulgent as she continues, "She visited him regularly in prison, and they had long, drawn-out conversations about philosophy and ethics and other things that were way over my head. He was adamant that giving new life and siring new Confessors would honor his children's memory more than anything else he could think of. He wore Jayden down and she eventually gave in."

Jayden shakes her head, even as her cheeks turn pink. "Kyla, you know full well I had my reasons for agreeing," the young blonde says firmly. Attention shifting back to Kahlan, the Mother Confessor continues, "I only asked that he be willing to mate with Kyla as well. That way we could both fulfill our duty and bear a child, and she would be spared the burden of having to Confess someone to do so. He agreed without question."

Kyla, not appearing remotely fazed by her sister's scolding, adds, "The palace wizard cast a spell to ensure we would both conceive on the first and...uh...only attempt. We'd already decided we wanted our children born at the same time, to share nannies and wet nurses, and to be raised up together."

Cara speaks for the first time since entering the room. "What of the man you Confessed?"

There's no mistaking the shadow that crosses Jayden's face, and Kyla reaches out once more to take hold of her sister's hand. The young blonde says sadly, "He's dead. He worked in the mines before he married, and developed an untreatable lung ailment because of it. That was the only reason I finally agreed to his request--because I knew he wouldn't have to live Confessed for more than a few months."

Jayden shakes her head and continues quietly, "Even willing, it's not a fate I would ever condemn someone to lightly. Confession should be done only for absolute need or serious cause."

Kahlan's heart clenches with pride for her daughter's scruples and sense of justice. And she's grateful that Jayden has Kyla to lean on when the burden of that responsibility grows heavy. Though it feels like a lifetime ago, she remembers the weight of holding another person's life in her hands, remembers the second-guessing and the grief.

Before she can get too caught in melancholy, she feels Cara's hand slide into hers, sees the knowing look in Jayden's blue eyes, sees the sympathy on Kyla's face. Though her past is more painful than not, the sudden sense of understanding that surrounds her fills Kahlan with warmth. She's no longer alone. Never alone.

After a moment, Jayden clears her throat. "Which brings me to the reason we asked you to come," the Mother Confessor says briskly.

Kahlan can't help herself. "Which is what, exactly? And why didn't you just tell us you were both pregnant?"

Though Jayden's flinch at her words is barely noticeable, Kahlan easily picks up on it. Unease begins to blossom in her chest. Is something wrong with one of the babies? What is it that her daughters aren't telling them?

Kyla's hold on her sister's hand tightens and green eyes flash defensively. "Jayden's not to blame for withholding that. She wanted to tell you, but I strongly advised against it. I thought it was best discussed face-to-face, along with all the rest of it."

Expecting more of an explanation than that, Kahlan blinks in surprise when Kyla stops there. Her concern and confusion only growing, she glances at Cara and sees the blonde's raised eyebrow. Her partner's voice is dry. "Well, we're here now, so stop stalling and speak your piece. I doubt you summoned us to act as midwives or take care of the babies. Surely you have plenty of people to help with that."

Kyla laughs and raises an eyebrow, her expression droll. Once again, Kahlan is struck by the sense that her daughter is nearly a dark-haired replica of Cara. "A whole palace full," the young woman agrees readily. "What we don't have is someone to hear petitions and administer justice while Jayden and I recover from giving birth."

Kahlan's heart beats faster and her breath sounds ragged to her own ears. "But I'm not..." she starts, then trails off when she hears the quaver in her own voice.

Immediately, Cara springs out of her chair and comes to stand behind her, hands rubbing her shoulders reassuringly. Kahlan takes a deep breath, trying to calm herself. She's comforted by her partner's supportive presence, but the reminder of all her losses still stabs through her.

"I'm sorry," Kyla says, eyes troubled and tone full of regret. "I didn't mean to hurt you."

Kahlan doesn't trust her voice, so merely nods. She watches as Jayden pulls her hand free from her sister's, then reaches out and drapes her arm around Kyla's shoulders, enfolding her in a one-armed embrace.

At length, Jayden releases Kyla and straightens, fixing her gaze on Kahlan. "You don't have to be a Confessor to administer justice." The Mother Confessor's voice is compassionate, soothing. "Listening carefully and knowing what questions to ask are the keys to determining the truth. And your skills and experience with that are legendary."

Kahlan sighs softly, some of the sting fading, and leans back into Cara's supportive hold. Kyla says earnestly, "You were the first person we thought of because we trust your judgment. If a situation arises where Confession is absolutely necessary, then one of us will handle it."

The Mother Confessor quiets her sister with a fleeting touch on the hand and says gently, "This is why we wanted to talk to you in person, and why I'm not making this an official request. I don't want you to feel obligated, particularly if the prospect is too painful or the burden is too much to bear after what you've been through. If you say no, then we'll find another solution, even if it's to stop hearing petitions for a month or two."

There's a pause, then Jayden continues lightly, "Regardless of your answer, we want you here so you can spend time with your granddaughters when they're born."

Despite everything, Kahlan feels a tiny smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. Though she has precious few memories of her daughters, she still remembers snuggling them as infants, feeling their sleepy weight in her arms and marveling at the overwhelming sense of love she had for them. She relishes the idea of getting to experience that again.

Before she can say anything, Kyla smoothly takes charge. "I know this is a lot to take in all at once, especially since you're weary from your travels. There's no need to decide right now. I'll make sure a bath is drawn for you and will have food and drink sent to your room."

Though Kahlan already knows what her answer will be, she nods agreeably. A bath sounds heavenly, grimy as she is after the long journey, and their meals have been sparse the last few days as their supplies dwindled.

She glances up at Cara, seeing her thoughts reflected in green eyes, then turns back to her daughters and says simply, "We'll sleep on it."

Two weeks later, Kahlan feels an odd sense of deja vu. She's seated in the Mother Confessor's chair, Cara hovering just behind her, to her left. Her partner is keeping a watchful eye on the crowd, though there are a dozen Mord'Sith and palace guards sprinkled throughout the chamber to keep the peace.

Though her daughters aren't due to deliver their babies for another two weeks, both are keenly feeling the effects of late pregnancy. While Kyla is still up and moving, albeit clumsily, the palace midwives have confined Jayden to bed.

Kahlan still isn't certain she's up to taking on this task after all this time, but she's spent a lifetime doing everything in her power--no matter how difficult--to take care of her people. This is no different.

She sits up a little straighter in the chair. "First petition," she calls, her voice clear and commanding.

Just like the old days.

Kahlan sits in a rocking chair in the Mother Confessor's private quarters, marveling at the tiny, perfectly formed babe in her arms. She's snuggling Jayden's Katryn, who's sleeping like an angel. In the rocking chair beside her, Cara's holding Kaitlyn, Jayden's other daughter, curled up in the crook of her arm.

No one, not even the midwives, had expected twins.

In the chair next to the bed, Kyla's nursing her little Daphne, Lily draped over her shoulder admiringly. Jayden's lying in bed, propped up on a mountain of pillows, half-asleep, still recovering from her prolonged and difficult labor and delivery. Kahlan's heart goes out to her blonde-haired daughter, remembering her own struggles to give birth and the long days of regaining her health afterwards.

A soft giggle draws her attention across the room, to the couch against the wall by the window. Rikki and Trevon are murmuring to each other, their little Tania fast asleep on the cushions between them.

Their arrival earlier in the day had come as a complete surprise--at least judging from the shocked expressions on Jayden and Kyla's faces. Rikki had merely laughed at her sisters and said nonchalantly, "Did you really think I wouldn't come back to meet my nieces?"

Her cheerful tone and expression were so like Richard's that it had taken Kahlan's breath away.

Though her daughters are clearly their own women, the resemblances to herself, Richard, and Cara are uncanny enough that she wonders--not for the first time--if Zedd somehow had a hand in that. In the past, the thought that he'd meddled in something so private and personal made her very uneasy. But today, she finds she's grateful to see Richard's generous spirit living on in Rikki. As she's grateful that Cara, though not related to the girls by blood, has her formidable personality reflected in Kyla. Just as Jayden mirrors Kahlan's own strong sense of duty and mercy.

And now there are more children to carry on those traits.

She looks down at the beautiful babe in her arms and smiles. Then she glances around the room, drinking in the sight of her family.

Her family.

The thought warms her and her eyes prick with sudden tears. During those long, grim years of imprisonment, she'd felt utterly alone. Richard and Zedd had long been dead and buried. She'd had no hope of ever seeing her daughters again. Her son, though living under the same roof, had been turned completely against her under Nicci's vindictive influence. And Cara had been stolen away from her, re-broken to Darken Rahl's service and sent back to D'Hara.

When Rahl and Nicci seized the Midlands and took her captive, Kahlan had mourned the loss of those she loved. She'd grieved the death of her hopes and dreams, expecting she wouldn't have any future at all. That if Rahl's abuse or Nicci's torture didn't kill her, she'd die trying to escape. Dealing with Nicholas and his sadistic games had only made her already gloomy outlook grow bleaker. She'd shut down her emotions as best she could, and focused on surviving as long as possible for the sake of her people, on the off chance that she might somehow find a way to help them.

Never, in a thousand years, could she have imagined this. Her daughters back in the Midlands, taking over her role and responsibilities. The line of Confessors continuing. Cara once again at her side, an integral part of her life and heart. Sometimes, it still feels like a dream.

She's blinking tears out of her eyes when she feels a hand come to rest against her arm, fingers moving in a soothing caress. She looks over at Cara, sees the mix of sympathy and understanding in sea green eyes. No doubt her partner knows exactly where her thoughts have gone--and why.

She nods at Cara, then shifts her gaze down to where Kaitlyn is tucked securely in the crook of her partner's elbow, sleeping peacefully.

In her arms, Katryn wiggles, and she looks down at the tiny child. The infant squirms for a moment, then settles again, a warm weight against her breast. Her eyes on the precious babe, her partner's hand on her arm, comforting and steadying her, Kahlan sighs softly. Content beyond measure, she soaks up every sensation, not taking this perfect moment for granted.

Rikki and Trevon stay for a month, until Jayden is back on her feet. Then they take their leave as abruptly as they arrived, in a whirlwind of hugs and kisses and sly promises to visit again when Tania has a sister.

The life of traveling Confessor and Wizard clearly agrees with the couple. Their excitement about being back on the road--despite the ever-present challenges they face--is almost palpable.

Granted, with the Midlands and D'Hara at peace, many of the dangers faced by past Confessors aren't an issue for Rikki and Trevon. They don't have D'Haran squads hunting them or enemy Mord'Sith trying to kill them. But there are still bandits and thieves that prey on travelers, not to mention insular villages that don't take kindly to strangers.

While Kahlan doesn't miss any of that, or the seemingly endless work, or being out in all weathers with limited supplies, there's a part of her that's wistful as she watches them ride out of the city with their entourage.

Glancing at Cara, she thinks she sees a hint of longing in green eyes. She understands completely.

Their days of wandering the countryside with Richard and Zedd in their roundabout quest for the Stone of Tears were, on the whole, good ones. There was freedom in being out under the open sky, and there was the satisfaction of helping people who desperately needed it. And it was those experiences--both good and bad--that cemented her friendship with Cara. That set the foundation for the unshakable bond they now have.

She wouldn't trade that for anything.

She's glad one of her daughters gets to have similar adventures, and share it all with someone she loves.

Another month passes quickly. Though Jayden has once more resumed her official duties, Kyla watchful as ever by her side, Kahlan and Cara remain in the city.

Because the Mother Confessor is still regaining her strength, Kahlan volunteered to help resolve a protracted dispute between two farmers laying claim to the same parcel of land. Both have papers to prove their ownership; both have judges' statements in their favor; neither has any intention of giving in. The work doesn't require a Confessor's touch, but trying to unravel all the layers requires a degree of patience and diplomacy she almost forgot she had.

Her attention has been divided between the complex challenge of that situation and the utter simplicity of time with her granddaughters.

She still has a hard time wrapping her head around the fact that she's a grandmother. She barely had time to be a mother before Darken Rahl and Nicci turned her world upside down. And yet she has grown daughters and infant granddaughters in what seems like the blink of an eye. An instant family that, as much as she loves them, she had little hand in nurturing and shaping.

While she's undeniably grateful for it, it's a distinctly odd feeling.

Kahlan's mood is light when she returns to their quarters in the palace early one afternoon. She finally--finally!--found a solution to the feud between the intractable farmers.

It's a huge relief to have that weight off her shoulders, though she has to admit it felt good to once again use her old skills and do something practical to help others. Though she's ruler of the Midlands no longer, she wore the mantle too long to ever completely shed her sense of duty and her desire to see her people prosper.

Quietly, she slips into the room, wanting to surprise Cara. She's confused to find their quarters empty, then sees a silhouette against the gauzy curtains and realizes her partner is out on the balcony.

Though the blonde has kept busy helping in the stables, practicing martial arts with the Mord'Sith, and tending to the babies, it's clear to her that Cara's feeling a bit at loose ends.

She steps on to the balcony and finds her partner leaning against the stone railing, arms crossed on top of it, staring off into the distance. She's not surprised when Cara straightens and turns to greet her before she has a chance to announce her presence. The blonde's reflexes are only a touch slower than they used to be.

Cara quirks an eyebrow. "I didn't expect you until the evening meal."

Kahlan sighs heavily. "Neither did I." Her days have been uncommonly long, spent poring over reams of old papers and carefully questioning people, and she can't deny she's tired. "But the issue is finally resolved."

Seeing the blonde's questioning look, she elaborates, "Once I finally figured out that they want the land for entirely different purposes, I came up with a way to divide the parcel that satisfies the needs of each farmer. And since both inherited the land, rather than purchasing it, there was no monetary loss involved."

She laughs dryly. "Neither of them liked the idea until I pointed out that both sets of original papers appeared to be forged and that the state was probably the rightful owner of the land. Suddenly, they were both quite eager to split the property as suggested and sign the documents to make the division--and their respective ownership--legal."

Cara chuckles. "I'll bet they were."

Kahlan smiles. "Now that I'm finished with that, I don't need to remain here any longer. Are you ready to head back to the cabin?"

To her surprise, Cara turns away, crossing her arms on top of the balcony ledge again, and stares out into the distance. After a minute, her partner says slowly, "I'm ready to leave the city."

It's not the response Kahlan expected and she's not entirely sure if she should take the words at face value, or if there's something deeper behind them. Before she has time to try and parse it out, Cara admits, "I feel restless being here. Especially because of...you know..."

Though her partner isn't looking at her, Kahlan nods anyhow. She does know. The horrors they endured will forever ensure that Aydindril and the palace feel more like a prison than the place they once called home. Though they're sharing joyful moments and creating happy memories with their daughters and granddaughters, the ghosts that haunt them here are stronger.

After a moment, Cara continues softly, "But what about the babies?"

Kahlan flinches as though she's been slapped. She can't answer immediately. Instead, she moves forward, coming to stand next to the blonde. She braces her hands on the balcony ledge and looks out across the meadow beyond the palace, at the outline of the distant woods on the horizon.

She takes a deep breath. At length, she cautiously confesses, "Of course I love spending time with them. But there's no shortage of people to kiss and cuddle them. And I feel guilty doting on them like this when I wasn't able to do that with my own children."

Her daughters were just toddlers when the Midlands were invaded and Zedd teleported them to the Old World for their own safety. And from the time they were born, she was Mother Confessor to her people first and foremost, and mother to her own children second. She'd loved them fiercely, but had had little hand in caring for them and raising them. The thought still pangs her.

Cara uncrosses her arms and grabs hold of her hand, twining their fingers together. Kahlan's grateful for the understanding, comforting touch. Her partner is the only person alive who knows just what a struggle it was for her to balance her identity as Mother Confessor with her role as a mother. And the blonde is the only person, including Richard, who never once made her feel guilty for the choices she made.

Kahlan swallows hard, wrestling her errant emotions under control. She says carefully, "As much as I love them, I'm ready to move on."

Eyes on the sun-dappled meadow and the shadow-drenched forest, it takes her a minute to feel the weight of Cara's gaze on her. She turns her head to find her partner staring at her speculatively. She raises an eyebrow in question and is shocked when the blonde clears her throat, seeming almost nervous.

Cara says slowly, "You didn't say you were ready to go home."

Kahlan blinks. After a moment, comprehension dawns. "Neither did you."

She's not surprised when Cara looks away, green eyes going back out to the meadow beyond the balcony, though the blonde's hand remains joined with hers. Kahlan stares out at the horizon, at the woods in the distance, then lets her gaze go unfocused, sifting through the jumbled thoughts and feelings that emerge.

There's silence for several minutes. Then Kahlan shakes her head to clear it and focuses her gaze on a patch of sunlight moving across the grass. "What do you truly want, Cara?"

She's not expecting a quick answer. It's not a simple question. Silence settles between them again.

Finally, Cara sighs heavily. Kahlan doesn't turn to face the other woman, giving her partner space to speak in her own time.

Soberly, Cara says, "As grateful as I am for our cabin and the life we had there, I don't miss it."

Kahlan nods. She's just realized she feels the same. When they first settled there, it was a much-needed refuge, a place to heal wounds of both body and spirit. Now? She's not so sure.

Cara sighs again, softly this time. Kahlan turns to look at her, tightens her grip on her partner's fingers. The blonde glances over at her, the expression in sea green eyes unguarded, wistful.

"I miss traveling," Cara says. "I miss being on the road, out under an open sky. I miss seeing new scenery and exploring new places." There's a measurable pause before the blonde finishes, "I miss having a larger purpose."

Kahlan's heart clenches in sympathy and the words are out of her mouth before she has time to think about them. "Me too."

A month later, Kahlan stands next to her horse in the courtyard of the palace, tightening the straps of her saddlebags, marveling at the speed with which her life has changed yet again.

After their conversation on the balcony, she and Cara had decided to stay in Aydindril for a little while longer, to give themselves time to think about what they wanted to do next. They'd said nothing to Jayden or Kyla, opting to keep their inchoate ideas to themselves until they'd actually come up with a plan. A few days later, the Mother Confessor requested their presence in her private conference room.

Jayden had told them she had another favor to ask. The combined lands--the Midlands and D'Hara--were too vast for Rikki to handle all the issues of justice herself, even with the larger towns and cities having their own judges and courts. The Mother Confessor hoped Kahlan would be willing to serve as a traveling mediator, with Cara as her bodyguard. Most village disputes didn't need the power of a Confessor, merely needed a neutral listener who could ask difficult questions and offer objective advice.

They'd both said yes immediately, without even bothering to consult each other first.

There will be no set itinerary or schedule. Rikki will handle any actual emergencies, while Kahlan tackles whatever issues she finds in whatever town she finds herself in. The palace will provide their supplies, and they've been given Zedd's old cabin in the forest outside Aydindril to live in when they're not on the road. The place is small, but is as comfortable and cozy as Kahlan could want, and as secluded and secure as Cara would prefer. It's close enough to the city to allow them to easily spend time with Jayden, Kyla, and the babies, but far enough outside the walls to not leave them feeling trapped.

Had they thought to ask for an assignment and a new place to call home, they couldn't have come up with a better one. Jayden's ability to anticipate their needs is more than a little uncanny.

They're gifting their former homestead to Rylan, with the caveat that whenever they're in the area, they can stay in the barn and get fresh provisions at no charge. He agreed readily and his excitement at having a place of his own was palpable--even through the flat pages of a journey book.

Somewhat to Kahlan's surprise, she felt nothing but relief at giving up the property and the animals. Much as she'd come to love the isolated beauty of their life there, she won't miss the hard work needed for simple survival.

To be sure, traveling and serving the people of the Midlands and D'Hara will be hard work as well. Plus, it will involve being responsible for more than just themselves and their animals. But she's ready for the challenge, and there's an anticipatory gleam in Cara's eyes that she hasn't seen for far too long.

This new role is a bridge between past and present. It echoes their old life with Richard and Zedd, her former role as Mother Confessor, and Cara's former identity as Mord'Sith, while giving them a chance to do something new and different. Something that has a bigger meaning than just them living their daily lives.

It's a chance to reclaim some of who they might have been without Darken Rahl, Nicci, and Nicholas' interference.

A baby coos, pulling Kahlan out of her thoughts. She looks around the courtyard. Cara stands beside her, hand on her horse's saddle. Jayden, Lily, and Kyla stand in front of them, each holding a baby.

She smiles at the sight. Kyla has placid little Daphne slung across her chest in a fabric wrap, one hand rubbing her daughter's back. Jayden has sweet Kat snuggled up against her shoulder and is humming softly to her. And Lily holds Kait curled up securely in the crook of her arm--the fearless Mord'Sith and the feisty baby having become nearly inseparable.

Moving away from her horse, Kahlan gives her daughters and daughter-in-law hugs, then presses kisses against her granddaughters' heads. She watches with thinly veiled amusement as Cara follows suit. Seeing the formidable former Mord'Sith make goo-goo eyes at a baby will never cease to entertain her.

After a round of goodbyes, Kahlan swings herself up into her saddle. Cara quickly mounts her own horse. Jayden, Kyla, and Lily wave, then head back into the palace to enjoy a cup of tea and a precious few more minutes of baby snuggles before their duties beckon.

Abruptly, she and Cara are alone in the courtyard with their horses and two pack mules. They stare at each other for a moment. Unexpectedly, Kahlan feels a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. Scant seconds later, she sees an answering grin on her partner's face.

She tilts her head to the side in invitation and Cara nods. Without a word, they ride off.

Kahlan lies on her back on top of the bedroll, staring up at the stars. She hears the familiar sounds of Cara finishing up the last chores of the night--banking the fire and situating the water bucket in the middle of the embers.

It's been six months since they left Aydindril. Six months of trekking from town to town--mediating minor disputes, bringing news from the city, and re-establishing ties with the many small villages that had either been totally neglected or utterly oppressed under the rule of the Rahls.

While they've traveled at their own pace, rather than racing to put out fires, they've still put many, many miles under their belts. She's actually lost count of how many villages they've visited. It's been exhausting, between the work of dispensing justice when they're in a town, and the labor of setting up and breaking down camp every day when they're not.

It's also been exhilarating.

She's missed all of it, more than she'd ever realized. The work. Being of service to others. Getting the chance to use her skills. The adventure of wandering the countryside. The beauty of the lands.

Only now, it's even better than it was in the past because she's doing it by choice rather than obligation, sharing it all with the woman she loves.

She smiles up into the darkness as Cara lies down beside her. They're out in the middle of nowhere, camped on the shore of a small lake and surrounded by thick forest on three sides. The isolated spot is on the northern edge of the Midlands, the beginnings of what she still calls the green lands. They're heading back to their former homestead to retrieve the handful of personal items they left behind. Then they'll visit several more towns on their way back to their new home outside Aydindril, where they'll take a much-needed break and spend some time with their granddaughters.

In the meantime, it's nice to have a few days just to themselves.

Rolling over onto her side, Kahlan props herself up awkwardly on her elbow. She leans down and kisses Cara.

It's meant to be a quick good-night kiss.

It doesn't end up being one.

Cara reaches up, hand sliding around to the back of her neck, and pulls her closer. Kahlan loses her balance and topples over onto her partner, who catches her, laughing throatily. She chuckles in response, then settles herself so she's lying half on top of the blonde, their bodies pressed together.

She leans in for another kiss.

Before long, she snakes her hand up underneath Cara's tunic, fingers tracing lightly over the toned muscles of the blonde's abdomen. Her mouth opens against firm lips as she deepens the kiss, swallowing her partner's soft gasp as she palms her breast. Cara's nipple pebbles under her hand and she strokes the hardened nub with her thumb, making lazy circles.

After a while, she pulls her hand out from under the shirt and breaks the kiss. Pushing up on her elbow, she fumbles with the hem of the blonde's tunic. Cara bats her hands away and sits up, pulling the garment off over her head and tossing it carelessly aside.

Kahlan smiles as her partner lies back. She reaches out and crooks her fingers into the waistband of the blonde's breeches, sliding the pants and Cara's smallclothes over slim hips. She pulls the garments down well-muscled legs, then sets them aside next to the discarded tunic.

The sight of the gorgeous blonde bared willingly before her never fails to quicken her pulse. She moves up and dusts another kiss over rosy lips, then kisses her way down the other woman's neck, her fingers ghosting across her partner's stomach. Lazily, she makes her way to Cara's breasts, lips and tongue worshiping every bit of skin. She focuses on taut nipples, mouth suckling one while her thumb rubs lightly over the other, alternating between them, spurred on by her lover's gasps and groans.

Kahlan's ministrations are soft and sweet. The attentions Cara received at the hands of her Lord Rahl and her Sisters were rough, bordering on abusive even by Mord'Sith standards. The blonde has come to crave this kind of gentle lovemaking that's as careful of her spirit as it is of her body.

When Cara starts writhing beneath her, Kahlan makes her way down her partner's body, lips and hands gliding across smooth skin. When the blonde spreads her legs, she settles between them and kisses her way up one thigh while her fingers trail up the other, listening intently to her lover's panting breaths.

Cara moans loudly and opens her legs wider, her growing need obvious. Kahlan stares down at the blonde in awe, amazed as always by the way her lover responds to her touch.

She reaches out and lightly brushes her fingers over Cara's center, then lowers her head and presses a kiss to the hot, slick flesh. Her partner cries out and a strong hand cups the back of her head, pressing her closer. She obeys the implied command, licking and kissing her way along wet folds as she slides two fingers fully inside her lover. Cara arches into her touch and she thrusts harder with her fingers as she flicks her tongue over the blonde's sensitive bundle of nerves.

Her partner's gasps and groans grow louder and louder. When she senses Cara is close to the edge, she pushes her fingers in deep, then closes her lips around her lover's swollen bundle of nerves and sucks hard, until the blonde bucks up wildly, screaming out her pleasure to the stars.

She gently suckles tender flesh, drawing out the sensations, until Cara falls back onto the bedroll with a ragged gasp. With one last, light kiss to nerves twitching with aftershocks, she carefully withdraws her fingers and shifts position, moving up the length of the blonde's body to lie next to her. She pulls her lover into her arms, holding her close while she comes back to her senses.

Once Cara's breathing returns to normal, the blonde turns in her arms and kisses her deeply, clearly enjoying her own taste on Kahlan's lips.

It isn't long before Cara's hand slips up under her tunic as they kiss, strong fingers tracing carefully over her abdomen. Her lover's hand moves up, gently stroking the soft skin of her breasts, and her nipples tighten at the contact. Her mouth is plundered as her partner's fingers draw light circles over pebbled flesh, and she pulls away from the kiss with a gasp at the overwhelming sensation.

Her partner's lips move down to suckle her pulse point and she pants softly, tangling a hand in blonde hair to help ground herself as the intoxicating dance of fingers on her nipples continues. At length, Cara's hand moves down, slips into her breeches and beneath the waistband of her smallclothes, lightly stroking her center.

When two fingers dip into her folds, spreading her open, Kahlan suddenly freezes, body going rigid, torn between conflicting sensations. Arousal throbs between her legs even as sudden terror seizes her by the throat. Her breath comes hard and fast, her heart feels as though it's beating out of her chest, and her vision greys out.

Though Cara's touch is soft and light, it's not her lover's hands she feels on her now. Even after all this time, her body remembers in vivid detail being violently, painfully, repeatedly claimed by Darken Rahl.

It's why she never allows Cara to penetrate her. It's why she's rarely comfortable being completely naked--even with her lover.

Nicholas isn't the only one who left her with scars.

She's vaguely aware that she's lost in the past, but with her heart still racing and her lungs not quite getting enough air, she can't do more than just ride out the panic attack. She focuses on the silken feel of hair tangled around her fingers, the rough wool of the blanket beneath her. She concentrates on her harsh breathing, each laborious inhale and exhale. In and out. In and out.

Gradually, she quiets as her senses register what's real, rather than what's remembered. She becomes aware of gentle fingers brushing across her cheek, hears a tender voice murmuring, "I've got you, Kahlan. You're safe."

When the worst of her fear finally ebbs away, she blinks and looks up at her partner. Untangling her hand from its hard grip on blonde hair, she lowers her arm back down to the blanket beneath her. She opens her mouth to apologize, but is stopped by her lover leaning down to kiss her. Cara pulls back and scolds softly, "You have no reason to be sorry, cariad. There's no fault here. I know what he did to you."

The words reassure her and she manages a nod, despite sudden tears that prick the corners of her eyes. It's not the first time this has happened. She knows, sadly, it probably won't be the last.

Cara kisses her again. "Do you want to keep going, or do you want to stop?"

Though the question is predictable--her partner always asks it when she has a panic attack while making love--it still leaves Kahlan feeling strangely vulnerable. She can't hold Cara's gaze, instead bites her lip and glances off to the side. After a moment, she whispers plaintively, "Can you just hold me?"

Her earlier arousal has thoroughly evaporated, shaken as she is from the sense memories of Rahl's brutal touch, and sex is the last thing she wants right now. What she wants is intimacy. To be close to Cara. She needs her partner's protective, steady presence to ground her. She needs to feel loved and cared for.

She feels herself being rolled over so she's facing Cara, then enfolded in a snug embrace. Wrapping her arms around her partner, she tucks her head under the blonde's chin, curling as tightly against the other woman's body as humanly possible. She closes her eyes against the tears welling up unbidden, and focuses on the soothing rhythm of Cara's breathing, the reassuring feel of being cradled in strong arms.

Much as she hates these moments where the ghosts from her past rattle her to her core, she's eternally grateful for her lover's undemanding, unwavering presence. For having someone in her life who truly understands not only what all she's endured, but why and how it still affects her.

Just as she understands Cara's bouts of moodiness and knows how to defuse the blonde's rage when it erupts unprovoked.

After all, she isn't the only one haunted by the past.

Bit by bit, the horrific memories fade back into the depths of her mind and she calms completely. She sighs in relief at being completely in control of herself once more, and opens her eyes. She shifts position until she's lying half on top of Cara, then rests her head against her partner's bare chest. The blonde's arms tighten around her again when she finally settles.

Comforted by the secure embrace, Kahlan fully relaxes into the warmth of Cara's body. She hears the blonde's steady heartbeat, the soft lapping of waves against the shore, the rustle of leaves in the night breeze, the crackle of twigs as small animals move through the forest's underbrush.

She turns her head slightly so she can look up at the bursts of starlight against the canvas of the night sky. She sees the slim crescent moon, its soft gleam outlining the treetops.

It's utterly peaceful. Abruptly, she realizes that she's truly at peace.

Not just here in this moment, sheltered in her lover's arms, her panic soothed, her demons again at rest. But with who she's become and the life she's built.

Her freedom and choices were taken from her. Her identity was stripped away, her magic stolen. She bears scars both physical and emotional. She can't return to the existence and role she once had. She can't be the person she was before Rahl and Nicci destroyed everything she held dear, before Nicholas did his level best to annihilate what little remained.

But she has a purpose again. She's helping her people and traveling her beloved lands. She's helping keep the darkness of the Keeper and his minions at bay.

It's mended something inside her that she hadn't really realized was still broken.

She's not certain, but she thinks the same is true of Cara.

Kahlan feels a kiss pressed to the top of her head. Her partner asks quietly, "Are you okay?"

It's a simple question, but one weighted with meaning.

She pulls back slightly and lifts her head so she can meet Cara's eyes. "I'm okay." She pauses for a moment, then continues softly, "Being out here, with you...I'm better than okay."

The words aren't at all eloquent, but it's all she needs to say. Her partner is still as pragmatic and unsentimental as she ever was, but after all they've been through together, the blonde is far more attuned to the nuances of Kahlan's emotions than she used to be. They seldom have to say everything they feel for it to be understood.

Cara reaches up and strokes her cheek tenderly. "I'm happy with our life too."

The satisfied look in sea green eyes warms Kahlan all the way through, and she smiles. Loosening her hold on her partner, she reaches up and manages to snag a corner of the folded blanket sitting at the top of the bedroll, the one they keep handy for chilly nights. With a quick shake, the bundle of fabric unravels and she manages to drape it haphazardly over herself and Cara. While she's still fully clothed, the blonde isn't, and shows no interest in moving to get dressed.

Cozy under the blanket, she cuddles up against Cara again, arms wrapping around her lover, head resting on her chest. She blinks sleepily. The blonde yawns.

Kahlan sighs contentedly. "I love you so much, dearheart."

Another kiss is pressed to the top of her head and Cara's arms tighten around her. "Love you too, cariad."

It's not long before she hears the deep, even breathing that tells her Cara has slipped into dreamland.

She closes her eyes and listens to the steady beat of her lover's heart. The warmth of the naked body beneath her and the weight of the thick blanket on top of her are comfortable, lulling.

Safe in her partner's arms, secure in herself and her place in the world, Kahlan snuggles closer to Cara and surrenders to sleep.

The End

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