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: So...this is not at all the fic I had in mind when I started writing. That's probably why it sat unfinished for so long; the muse didn't want to be as angsty and serious as I intended the story to be. (Well, it also sat unfinished because RL was kicking my butt and I was doing way too many beta reads to have any energy left for writing.) Anyhow, as it turns out, my muse was right. As per usual, while this is a friendship story, you're welcome to read it as pre-slash if you wish :). Hope the story makes you smile, or, at the very least, doesn't leave you gnashing your teeth and wishing I'd left it languishing on my hard drive ;). Comments welcome, but never required.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To cheerfuloceangazer[at]gmail.com
By ocean gazer
Cara set her empty ale mug down on the wooden tabletop with more force than she'd intended. Looking across the table, she saw how the unexpected thud made Richard jump, and she smirked, raising a challenging eyebrow at him. He stared at her for a long moment before bursting into laughter, and she couldn't help but roll her eyes. He'd only started on his fourth mug of ale and he was already drunk very drunk. She'd finished her fifth and could barely tell she'd been drinking.
She heard another chuckle, and turned to her left to look at Zedd. He raised his mug of ale to her in a salute, then put it down and went back to the few scraps of their dinner he had not yet demolished. It didn't surprise her that he hadn't even finished his first mugful. He hadn't been part of the original bet between her and Richard to see who could out-drink the other, but he'd placed a coin on her being the winner.
Suddenly aware of eyes on her, she swung her head to the right, meeting Kahlan's assessing gaze. The other woman seemed as far removed from the food and drink and merriment as if she were sitting at a wholly different table on the opposite side of the inn's common room. The Confessor had drunk only water, which was not too much of a surprise, given her need to retain control of her considerable powers. But that aside, Kahlan had eaten little and said less.
Cara had been watching her surreptitiously throughout the meal, puzzled by her behavior.
They'd been traveling hard for the past three days, in part to put distance between themselves and Dunshire, but also in a rare attempt to make up time lost on their quest for the Stone of Tears. When they'd stumbled across this inn in the middle of the afternoon and learned that it not only had a bathing pool for guests, but a room available with two beds, Richard had insisted they stop and take shelter for the night, since there were storm clouds brewing on the horizon. Zedd had agreed enthusiastically. Even Cara had been pleased with the idea of a long, leisurely bath and enough cold ale to let her relax and sleep soundly, since there was no need to stand watch. Only Kahlan had resisted.
Now, with the Confessor's gaze trying to read her, Cara felt defensive, not sure why she was being scrutinized. Then she saw the slight shift of blue eyes towards the other side of the table, where Richard had collapsed in a fit of giggles at some inane thing the wizard had said, and she understood. She tapped a gloved finger hard against the back of Kahlan's hand, waited until the woman's eyes met hers once more, and then said, "I'm fine. It may take all three of us, however, to get Richard up the stairs without dropping him. Assuming we don't have to carry Zedd as well, considering the amount of food he has in his belly."
There was the faintest hint of a smile on the brunette's face at her words not enough to be noticed by anyone who didn't know Kahlan, but Cara saw it clearly. It was the most reaction any of them had gotten out of her since they stopped here, and she felt a ridiculous sense of pride in knowing she'd been the one to accomplish that trick. The moment didn't last long, however, before Kahlan went back to staring at an empty spot in the air, her face schooled to tranquility, dropping her hands from the top of the table to rest in her lap.
Cara frowned, trying to understand what was going on with the other woman. She glanced over at the two men, but neither even seemed to notice Kahlan's quietness. Perhaps they'd seen it before during their travels and were used to it in a way that she was not. Her gaze swept around the room, thinking that perhaps there was a clue there, something that reminded the Confessor of her home in Aydindril or her sister or somesuch. What she saw was people stealing glances at Kahlan, whispering to one another, faces full of curiosity, speculation, and fear.
As a Mord'Sith, Cara was used to inspiring fear in people and she suddenly recognized what was going on around them. People knew who the Mother Confessor was, were concerned about her presence here, were worried about whatever petty deeds they'd done that she might uncover. Richard had told her that many towns had this kind of reaction to Kahlan, that the Confessors were as feared as they were respected. But given that the Seeker and his companions usually only stayed in a town after they'd saved it from near-disaster, she'd only seen positive reactions to Kahlan's presence until now.
And she could see that these people were watching the Mother Confessor closely, to see how she behaved herself did she drink too much, did she laugh too much, did she frown too much, did she do anything that they could gossip about later? They certainly all knew who Richard was as well, but apparently the Seeker of Truth had license to be a normal man; all the glances that fell on him were admiring at best, indifferent at worst. Nothing like what she noticed when they looked at Kahlan.
She wanted to slam her fist down on the table, to tell the whole room of them to stop staring at her...friend. She did glare at one or two of the people whose expressions disturbed her, gratified to see them shrink away from her hard gaze, but other than that, she did nothing. She knew Kahlan wouldn't like it. And it wouldn't help the situation. The only thing that could help was for the other woman to do exactly what she was doing keep herself composed, say nothing that could be misinterpreted, and ignore the stares as best she could.
Cara was suddenly very glad she was Mord'Sith and not a Confessor. She and her sisters learned control, scar by agonizing scar. But they could indulge themselves in food and drink, in sex and physical pleasures, without anyone blinking an eye in surprise. In fact, D'Harans expected the Mord'Sith to be hedonistic and demanding, shaped as they were by the appetites of their Lord Rahl. And the people's fear of both their Lord and his most loyal servants kept gossiping tongues in check, for fear they'd be cut out.
But Kahlan could never let down her guard like that around people she didn't know; no matter where she went in the Midlands, she was the Mother Confessor first, and Kahlan Amnell second, if at all.
Richard was still giggling into his drink and Zedd was leaning back in his chair with a contented look on his face, and Cara suddenly wanted to slap both of them. While she'd never willingly admit it aloud, she knew her time locked in the tomb with Kahlan had affected her in that she was more attuned than ever to the woman's moods. But it irritated her that the other two could possibly be so clueless, especially given how much they claimed to care for Kahlan.
Abruptly she stood, startling all three of her dinner companions. Her voice was hard. "Richard, it's past time for little boys who can't handle their ale to be in bed. It's been a long day and we need to get an early start."
Predictably, Richard giggled again, which only irritated her further. She glanced at Zedd, daring him to protest, but he only yawned and agreed with her. Darting her eyes to the side, she caught the look of gratitude in blue eyes and allowed herself a quirk of the lips which she knew Kahlan would understand as a smile.
The other woman rose beside her and Cara took note of the fact that her posture was regal and her face still set in a calm and pleasant expression, as if she was completely undisturbed by the attention of the other patrons. She saw Zedd look up then, watched his eyes narrow in thought as he studied Kahlan's face, and nearly laughed aloud when he shot out of his chair as if he'd been insect-bitten. She was glad he'd finally figured out the same thing she had, but his reaction was amusing nonetheless. Now all they needed was to get Richard moving. The wizard was tugging on his arm, trying to pull him up, but failing miserably.
Cara walked around to the other side of the table and brushed the old man aside as kindly as she could. She glanced pointedly at two hard rolls sitting in a basket that he'd somehow overlooked in his feeding frenzy, and he nodded in understanding and palmed them. Zedd asked, "Do you need help with him, or should I go upstairs and get the room unlocked?"
She hooked her arm under Richard's armpit to give her leverage to pull him up and noticed that Kahlan mimicked her action on his other side. "Go on. We'll be fine."
Zedd disappeared with a flourish and a speed that she marveled at; had she eaten that much, she'd barely be able to waddle. Turning back to her task, she pulled up, and between her efforts and Kahlan's, they got Richard to his feet. He protested that he could walk by himself, but Cara ignored him, as both women gripped his arms tightly and guided him away from the table. She let Kahlan take the lead as they made their way through the maze of tables, while she took up a position behind Richard, sandwiching him between herself and the Confessor, putting her free hand on his back to keep him mostly moving in a straight line.
They'd nearly made it to the stairs when, naturally, Richard tripped over his own feet and fell forward. Cara tightened her grip on his arm and kept him from hitting the floor, but not before he'd knocked Kahlan into an empty table. The other woman steadied herself quickly enough, but her knuckles were white on the tabletop and Cara heard her nearly inaudible hiss of pain.
The slight fall shouldn't have been painful, really, at least not compared to the kinds of fights they got into nearly every day. But she could see that Kahlan's right thigh had borne the brunt of the impact the exact spot where the woman had been stabbed in a fight not too many weeks before, the same spot that had been bruised when she fell off Cara's shoulders in the tomb mere days before.
Cara's lips tightened, but she said nothing. Instead, she hoisted Richard up again, taking his full weight so Kahlan could walk unhindered. She didn't miss the brunette's slight limp as they made their way to the staircase. Richard was now singing tunelessly to himself, still incredibly happy and oblivious, and if there weren't stairs involved, she'd have knocked him out and dragged him the rest of the way.
It was still an appealing option.
She readjusted her grip on him, and then felt some of his weight leave her hold as Kahlan braced him on the other side. Cara met the Confessor's eyes and started to tell her she could manage, but Kahlan shook her head decisively and said, "It will be easier with two of us. Besides, the sooner we get him to bed, the sooner he'll stop making that noise."
It was the closest thing to a joke she'd heard Kahlan make in days, and she couldn't help but smirk. "Yes, and then we'll have to listen to him snoring."
For a moment, she thought perhaps she'd overstepped, still uncertain of the Confessor's sense of humor when it came to the man she loved, but then she heard a slight chuckle. "At least he's not nearly as loud as Zedd."
They fell silent then, all their concentration focused on getting the happy, tone-deaf man up to the room. When they finally made it, Zedd was holding the door open and they maneuvered Richard over to one of the room's two narrow beds. Cara pushed him down, none too gently, to sit on the mattress, while Kahlan knelt on the floor in front of him to unlace and remove his boots, as if she was his mother and he was nothing more than a small boy.
Cara rolled her eyes at the scene, even as she reminded herself that she should be more respectful of her Lord Rahl, no matter how childish he could be. She moved slightly away from the bed, looking at Zedd as he latched the door, his mouth open wide in a yawn. Not bothering to turn around and ask Kahlan, she said, "You can sleep in the other bed, Wizard."
His protest didn't surprise her, even though she knew his bones ached more than he liked to let on. She said nothing further, just crossed her arms over her chest and stared at him. She watched him turn to Kahlan for confirmation, and she turned towards the other woman as well. The Confessor still knelt, wrestling with a stubborn knot, and didn't even look up as she said, "Listen to Cara. You need a night of comfortable sleep, Zedd."
Cara saw the look of relief in his eyes as he thanked them. Then he turned back to her and fumbled in the pockets of his gown, pulling out the two rolls he'd taken from the table, handing them to her with a significant glance at Kahlan. She took the offering with a nod, and watched him make his way over to the unoccupied bed, his mouth opening again in a yawn. Moving away, she walked over to where she'd stored her pack earlier, taking out a piece of cloth and wrapping it around the bread, setting it aside. Then she busied herself with setting up both her bedroll and Kahlan's, putting them next to each other underneath the room's tiny window, against the wall opposite the two beds.
There was a stack of thick blankets provided by the inn, stored in a corner cupboard, and though the temperature of the night air was mild, she unfolded two of them and used them as padding underneath Kahlan's bedroll. By the time she'd done the same with her own bedding, and moved some of their supplies so they were within reach, Kahlan was walking quietly across the floor towards her. Casting a glance across the room, Cara saw Richard tucked into bed, already snoring. Beyond him, Zedd was fiddling with his blankets, a look of bliss on his face, eyes sliding shut.
She noted the brunette was still limping slightly and didn't miss the tiny flinch as Kahlan dropped down to sit on her bedding. After a moment of fidgeting, the other woman sat with her back against the wall, legs stretched out in front of her, a weary sigh escaping her lips. Cara mimicked that posture on her own bedroll, not ready for sleep yet, and handed over the cloth-bound rolls to her companion. Watching from the corner of her eye, she saw Kahlan smile and heard the woman's soft "Thank you."
They sat in semi-silence then, the only sounds in the room the snores of the men, the sound of Kahlan chewing, and the regular rhythms of breathing. Cara felt a type of ease that she rarely felt in their campsites, where they always had to be on-guard and alert, and helped along by the alcohol, she allowed herself to relax ever-so-slightly. Something troubled her, though, and at long last she spoke, not looking sideways at the woman beside her. "The reaction of the crowd at dinner is that the reason you didn't want to stay here tonight?"
The silence stretched so long that Cara began to wonder what was so inappropriate about what she'd asked. She knew she wasn't good at all this emotional stuff, but she was trying her best. Finally, she turned her head so she could see the Confessor, sharp words ready on the tip of her tongue. But the barb died forgotten when she saw the look on Kahlan's face. If there were words to describe it, she didn't know any of them. What she did know was that the woman was warring with herself.
And then Cara's breath caught in her throat as she heard a deep sigh and saw the turn of a dark head and was faced with blue eyes that were completely unguarded. She swallowed hard, not sure what to do with such openness, with being allowed to see such openness. She wasn't sure if she was relieved or saddened when Kahlan abruptly dropped her eyes down to her lap where her hands were tightly folded.
The Confessor's voice was nearly a whisper. "That wasn't the reason. I didn't know the people here would react like that. And I'm accustomed to that kind of scrutiny; I've been dealing with it my whole life."
There was a long pause then, and just when Cara had decided that Kahlan was not going to say any more, she heard the other woman's soft words. "It's because the idea of being enclosed by four walls reminded me of the tomb. Of being helpless. Of being afraid afraid of dying alone."
Cara squeezed her eyes shut then, remembering their knock-down, drag-out fight and the reason behind it. She'd been trying to sacrifice herself to save Kahlan; it hadn't occurred to her that maybe the other woman would see it as being left behind, being left alone. While the Confessor had also been willing to die to save her, the ability to be revived by the Breath of Life meant that Cara wouldn't really have been left alone. Not permanently, anyway.
She felt a gentle hand curve to her shoulder and it startled her into opening her eyes. She was once again caught in the intensity of Kahlan's gaze, with Kahlan's soft words once again echoing in her ears.
"I didn't mean it like that, Cara. I know why you did that and that's not why I stopped you."
She was glad when Kahlan didn't elaborate further. They'd already had one painfully stuttered conversation about the whole "your life is important" thing; she was certain she couldn't stand another one. Not yet. Perhaps not ever. Relieved that this would not be another talk about that, that she wouldn't be prodded to share her feelings, Cara asked brusquely, "So what did you mean?"
The hand on her shoulder dropped away and blue eyes closed suddenly. "When we were lying there, with the air nearly gone, I couldn't bear the thought of dying like that of feeling alone. I knew you were there, but I couldn't see you, couldn't get up and move to your side. When I finally found the strength to turn my head and then reach out to find your hand with mine, it comforted me to know that my friend was there with me."
Cara swallowed hard. Even after the conversation they'd had in the tomb, the one where she'd openly admitted friendship, she wasn't comfortable talking about it. She'd denied the whole thing the next day, even knowing Kahlan didn't believe her in the slightest, and she'd sworn to herself that she'd let herself be mauled by a gar or throw herself over a cliff to her death before saying those words again. But, there were no gars here and the window was too small for her to leap through, and so she made a fist and took a deep breath and spoke quickly. "Me, too."
Blue eyes snapped open at that and found hers again, and she couldn't look away. Kahlan smiled at her then, a smile that lit her whole face, and it was as dazzling and uncomfortable as the warmth from the sun on a midsummer's day. Cara squirmed slightly on her bedroll, and saw understanding dawn on Kahlan's face and soften the intensity of her gaze. She was relieved when the Confessor's next words went back to where the conversation had started. "I was afraid that being in a closed room like this, so soon after the tomb, would give me nightmares." There was a slight pause, before the woman continued, "I've grown accustomed to the openness of the night sky."
That was understandable enough and Cara nodded. After a moment's thought, she offered, "A room like this can be a refuge instead of a prison. At the very least, tonight it allows you to escape from the stares and whispers of rude villagers."
She was rewarded with a tiny chuckle. "Yes, there is that, isn't there?"
Cara was glad for the lightening of the other woman's mood, and gladder still to be the reason for it. She drawled, "And it's doubtful you'll be plagued by nightmares; with the noise those two are making, we'll be lucky if we get any sleep at all."
At that, Kahlan actually laughed, and Cara smiled, just a little.
The conversation lapsed then, as they both leaned their heads back against the wall, sitting quietly next to each other. And while Cara was grateful for it, she also felt a tiny bit of guilt because she knew that the Confessor would have liked to talk more about things. But maybe part of them being friends was for Kahlan to respect her needs and wishes, just as she respected Kahlan's.
She rolled that thought around in her head for a minute, surprised by it. Normally, she tried to adapt to the ways of Richard and the others, to follow their lead, because she knew that they considered her ways of doing things to be...well...not wrong, exactly, but not entirely right. But now, instead of pushing her to open up, Kahlan was allowing her space, understanding that Cara was not like her. It felt freeing. And very odd.
Not really wanting to think too much about that just then, she was almost glad when she heard a soft hiss next to her. Glancing over, she noticed that Kahlan had been shifting her position and guessed that she must have jarred her injured leg. Cara spoke firmly. "Let me look at it."
Predictably, Kahlan argued that she was fine, but Cara knew better. The Confessor admitted to pain about as well as she did, which was to say not at all. She pushed up from her bedroll and knelt beside the brunette, fingers as gentle as she could make them as she moved aside the flap of Kahlan's skirt in order to see the injury. The scar from the stab wound, the one Cara had cauterized with her agiel, still held firm, no breaks in its protective cover. But the skin surrounding it was multicolored, and she cursed under her breath for not having realized sooner just how bad the bruise was and insisting Zedd heal it.
She heard Kahlan speak quietly, as if reading her mind. "Zedd had been through enough already with becoming the Nygaax. He didn't have any energy to spare. And we really should save his power for more important things than healing a simple bruise."
Cara looked up at her sharply, then sighed. Of course, Kahlan was right. They used the old man as a personal healer enough as it was. But still, in this instance, she didn't have to like it.
Looking down, Cara slipped her fingers off Kahlan's skirt and trailed them lightly over the discolored flesh of the woman's thigh. She heard the sharp gasp the Confessor couldn't quite contain, and cursed under her breath again as she realized the skin was warm to the touch; she could feel it even through her gloves. The earlier stumble when leading Richard to bed must have done more damage than she'd imagined.
"Don't worry about it. It'll heal. Let's just get some sleep."
Even though she knew the brunette's words made sense, Cara shook her head. She had been unable to do anything to ease Kahlan's emotional discomfort earlier, when the villagers gaped and stared at her. But there was something she could do to ease this physical discomfort. She gently moved her hand away and then pushed to her feet. She could see Kahlan's confusion and gave a brief smile as she said, "Lie back and get comfortable."
She didn't miss the Confessor's skeptical look, simply stared at her with her best stubborn expression, until Kahlan finally shook her head in defeat and shifted around on her bedroll. Cara smirked and walked across the room, reaching for the water pitcher the maids had left on the table between the beds. She peered inside, relieved to see that it was still mostly full, and carried it back over to the bedrolls.
She set the pitcher down carefully on the floor, then crossed over to the cupboard in the corner, taking out another blanket. Careful not to unfold it, she turned and went back to her bedding, kneeling down beside Kahlan. The Confessor lay on top of her bedroll, on her back, eyes still open and watching Cara.
Gesturing with one hand, Cara said, "Bend your knee and lift your leg up." She half-expected an argument, but Kahlan did as instructed, though Cara heard her soft hiss of pain at the motion. Expertly, she slipped the folded blanket under Kahlan's thigh, then reached out to cradle the woman's knee as she told Kahlan to go ahead and put her leg back down.
Even though the injured limb wasn't elevated all that much, Cara knew it would help soothe some of the pain. Reaching over Kahlan, Cara grabbed the cloth that had been wrapped around the rolls, and shook out the few crumbs that clung to it. Then she folded it into a neat square and dunked it into the water pitcher, soaking it thoroughly. Pulling it out, she draped the dripping cloth across the exposed bruise on Kahlan's thigh, not at all surprised when the woman started slightly at the contact. She knew the water wasn't all that cold, but it was still cooler than the night air.
Still kneeling, she watched Kahlan for a moment, glad to see the discomfort in her friend's eyes begin to fade. Satisfied that she'd done what she could to help, Cara shifted positions, lying down on her bedroll on her back. She heard a soft, contented sigh. "Thank you, Cara. That helps a lot."
Cara smiled up at the ceiling, but kept her tone matter-of-fact. "Of course. You'd have done the same for me."
She could almost hear the smile in Kahlan's voice, though thankfully the Confessor kept her response short. "Yes, I would have. You're my friend, Cara."
And she didn't want to say the words out loud, she really didn't, but Cara couldn't stop herself from replying, "And you're my friend, Kahlan."
She clenched her fists and tensed her body, half-expecting Kahlan to either start weeping from joy that she'd admitted it again or want to have yet another talk about feelings. But the Confessor did neither. Instead, Cara felt a hand reach out to cover her fist, gently squeezing her clenched fingers before moving away. She took a deep breath, absurdly grateful that Kahlan seemed to know her well enough to know how hard this kind of thing was for her, and forced herself to relax.
They lay in near silence then, broken only by the familiar snores from across the room and the soft cooing of owls in the trees outside the window. Cara's eyes were open; she was physically tired, but not quite ready for sleep. The moonlight streaming in through the tiny window began to dim and Cara remembered the storm clouds they'd seen on the horizon. She knew from experience that the night would grow rapidly darker, as the clouds began to roll across the moon's face.
Something about that thought stayed in her head and she frowned up at the ceiling, wondering why. Storms and darkness weren't things that frightened her. Then she heard a soft rustle as Kahlan shifted slightly beside her and she knew. Four walls...the tomb...darkness...her friend's fear of nightmares...
Slowly, she slipped her gloves off and set them aside. Then she reached out with her hand, seeking Kahlan's hand. When she found it, she covered it with her own. After a moment, she heard a sleepy sigh and a murmured, "I'm glad you're here." Then she felt her friend's hand shift in her grasp, until their fingers were laced tightly together.
Cara closed her eyes, feeling the gentle pressure of long fingers twined with her own, feeling the soft caress of Kahlan's thumb against her palm, listening to the other woman's slow, even breaths. Soon, the caress slowed, then stopped, and Kahlan's breathing deepened, and she knew her friend was asleep.
She whispered, "I'm glad you're here, too." Her hand was warm where it rested in Kahlan's, and she felt a contentment she hadn't felt in a very long time. She let her thumb gently caress her friend's hand, the motion soothing her as she began to drift into sleep.
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