DISCLAIMER: This story is just for fun and I made no money writing it – didn't even get any chocolate for it. I think we all know I don't own the show, the books (which I haven't read), or the characters. They're the property of ABC Studios, Disney, Terry Goodkind, and others whose names escape me. They're all just kind enough to let me play in their sandbox.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is my first foray into LotS fanfic. Even though I've only seen part of season two and none of season one, I've fallen in love with this show, particularly the evolving friendship between Cara and Kahlan. The episode "Bound" made my muse finally come back from her Caribbean vacation (sadly, she didn't take me with her) and write what we didn't see in that episode, but should have. I've proven to myself in writing this story that I don't have the best handle on Cara's voice, so she's probably a bit too fluffy here; though hopefully she's not so out of character that the story's unreadable. <crosses fingers and toes> Feel free to let me know what you think; constructive criticism more than welcome.
SPOILERS: Second season, right after "Bound"; assume everything's spoiled.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Ties That Bind
By ocean gazer


Cara paced around the perimeter of their camp, her nerves on edge. Not because she was expecting any trouble – the woods they'd passed through that day were deserted enough. Besides, she was Mord'Sith; fighting was second nature to her, dealing blows to her enemies a morbid pleasure. She feared no opponent she could see or sense.

The thought caused a chill to walk down her spine that had nothing to do with the coolness of the night air.

Creeping closer to the fire in the cleared circle, she glanced over her companions. Richard and Zedd both slept soundly. She'd expected it from the old man; bringing back the dead to reverse Nicci's maternity spell had exhausted him more than he'd let on to the others. Much as she'd goaded him to get on with it, she knew the cost such magic took. But she frowned a little at the younger man, disturbed by the fact that he didn't seem disturbed. She had been trained since childhood to turn off her emotions, to keep herself completely controlled, and yet she found herself haunted by the events of the past few days. And as much as he seemed to love Kahlan…

Her eyes landed on the other woman's bedroll, not surprised to see it undisturbed. Glancing at the fire, she decided it had enough wood to last until morning. She stood perfectly still for a moment, ears straining to catch a hint of sound to tell her where Kahlan had gone. Nothing.

She slipped back the way she'd come, moving as quietly as possible. As she made her way slowly through bushes and underbrush, she couldn't stop her mind from returning to the last time she was skulking around in the woods in the dark – the night they'd gone with Kahlan's father to retrieve the jewels he'd buried.

Cara hadn't seen the whole thing; the other woman had gone ahead with her father, leaving her with Zedd to guard their backs. And then they'd been fighting for their lives. But she'd seen enough – Kahlan's head whipping to the side with the force of an invisible blow, Kahlan clutching her stomach and doubling over for no apparent reason. And what she hadn't seen, she'd somehow heard, even over the noise of the battle – the soft groans of pain, the harsher grunts, the thud of the Mother Confessor's body hitting the ground. She'd tried to tune it all out, to concentrate on the men she was fighting, to send them to the Underworld quickly so she could rush to the other woman's side and protect her. But she couldn't.

And then she'd turned to see the brunette fall to the ground, mouth bloody… she'd seen the terror in blue eyes when Kahlan realized she was pinned and couldn't move…

The memory froze her in place. She'd guessed what was happening by then, knowing she'd have done the same thing if she were in Nicci's place. But she'd never seen such fear on Kahlan's face before, and something inside her had shattered at the sight.

She closed her eyes for a minute, concentrating on her breathing, trying to get herself back under control. While she knew Richard thought her growing awareness of her emotions was a good thing, she didn't agree. Emotions were a weakness, something that could be used against a person, something that could get a person killed.

And why did she have such strong feelings about this anyhow? She wasn't the one in love with Kahlan Amnell.

At the mere thought, she snorted in amusement. Yeah, like that would ever happen.

No, the one who was madly in love with Kahlan, the one who knew as well as the rest of them what physical traumas she'd endured while bound to the little monster Nicci, was sleeping peacefully by the fire. He'd said he was sorry for what had been done to her, but other than that, he'd seemed to put it entirely out of his mind and refocus on his quest. Of course, the other woman hadn't said anything to contradict his idea that everything was fine. And clearly, finding the Stone of Tears was important for the fate of the world, though Richard seemed to have trouble focusing on it for more than a few days at a time. But if even she could see that something was still very wrong with the Mother Confessor, certainly the man who loved her should be able to see it too.

She felt anger rising up in her then. She knew it was irrational and pointless, but even knowing that didn't stop her from feeling it. Richard should be the one traipsing through the woods, looking for his beloved. He should be the one unable to let her out of his sight, afraid that she'd slip away again. Normally he was worse than a mother hen, hovering and clucking. But this time, he seemed oblivious. And she realized, with a shock, that it wasn't the first time she'd seen him like this; it wasn't the first time he'd looked past what Kahlan was actually showing him to see only what he wanted.

Frustrated with her thoughts and the sense of disloyalty to her Lord Rahl they evoked, she shook her head to clear it. Continuing to move quietly, she made her way in a circle, knowing that no matter how much privacy the other woman might want, she wasn't stupid enough to stray too far away from camp. And indeed, within a matter of moments, she caught a glimpse of dark hair, of a figure in dark leathers sitting on the ground with her back to a fallen log, knees drawn up to her chest, chin resting on her knees, arms wrapped tightly around her legs.

For a long moment, Cara stood completely still, watching the other woman. In the silvery light of the moon, she could see the traces of tears glistening on pale cheeks, the tension in hunched shoulders, the white knuckles of clenched hands.

For an even longer moment, she tried to convince herself to turn around, to leave Kahlan to her solitude. After all, if the woman wanted company, she'd hardly have crept off after the others were asleep.

But no matter what she told herself, she couldn't uproot her feet from the spot. It unsettled her.

Even a month ago, she'd have turned away without a second thought. They hadn't started off on friendly terms, and the other woman's distrust hadn't been subtle. Even after they'd achieved an uneasy peace, they'd both kept their distance – still wary of each other. But in recent weeks, something had shifted – not just in her, but in Kahlan as well. She couldn't say exactly what it was that had changed or when it started; she had no interest in analyzing it. She'd ignored it to the best of her ability, content simply to know that the Mother Confessor seemed to trust her loyalty to Richard, if nothing else.

But she couldn't escape the awareness that Kahlan had looked to her for strength and support during the ordeal with Nicci. As much as she wanted to explain it all away with the convenient excuse that she was simply a poor substitute for the absent Richard, she couldn't. If that were the case, Kahlan would have looked to Zedd for comfort, to the man she'd traveled with for nearly two years. And it couldn't explain how Cara had been drawn to her side without even pausing to think about it.

There was some connection between them now, maybe because they were both women who knew what it was to have and lose sisters, maybe because they both bore deep scars from their childhoods…

Without conscious thought, she slowly moved forward, making soft noises to alert the other woman to the fact that she was no longer alone. Kahlan gave no outward sign that she'd registered Cara's presence, except that she neither jumped nor flinched when the Mord'Sith finally stood beside her.

Not really sure what she was doing, Cara sat down on the log just to the left of where Kahlan sat on the ground – her leg close to, but not touching, the other woman's arm. She leaned forward, resting her elbows on each of her knees, settling her chin in her hand and looking off into the woods, just as the Confessor was doing.

Half-expecting to be told to leave or to be berated for disturbing her, Cara was strangely relieved when Kahlan said nothing at all. She could hear an occasional hitch in the other woman's breathing, but other than that, they sat in silence, save for the sounds of the night forest around them and the more distant sounds of Zedd's snoring and the fire's crackling.

The moonlight spilled through the tree leaves and cast shadows on the uneven ground. The occasional rustle of nearby bushes spoke of small animals moving around. And despite her own disturbed thoughts and Kahlan's obvious discomfort, there was something comforting to Cara about just sitting there quietly in the presence of the other woman, the woman who had nearly died in her arms just two days before.

She'd been trained not to fear losing her comrades, to consider all losses except that of her Lord and Master as acceptable. But after just a handful of months traveling with Richard and his crew, she found her training beginning to unravel, thread by thread. In the beginning, she'd cared solely about protecting the life of Lord Rahl. Now, the idea of losing Zedd or Kahlan panged her, no matter how hard she tried to pretend otherwise. And she didn't know whether it was a good thing or a bad thing.

"Every time I close my eyes, I feel helpless all over again."

For a long moment, Cara wasn't sure if she'd actually heard the whisper, or if she'd imagined it. She looked to the side. Kahlan's eyes were still fixed straight ahead, but there were fresh tears on her cheeks.

Cara pressed her lips together, not sure what to do or say in the face of such obvious pain, her own remembered fear coming back to haunt her. A memory of childhood swam just out of reach in her thoughts – something about her mother, about the night before she was taken from her home. She lifted her hand, noting that it trembled ever so slightly. She was Mord'Sith; offering or needing comfort was a failing. Swallowing hard, she placed her hand lightly on Kahlan's shoulder – not sure if she was bothered more by her own show of weakness or by the possibility that the other woman would reject her. She felt the muscles under her hand tense harder at the unexpected contact, then relax ever so slightly, and she sighed.

She froze when the brunette head swung around and wide blue eyes met her gaze. There was a haunted look in Kahlan's eyes, but she could also see compassion, understanding. A sad smile touched the other woman's lips briefly and Cara realized that if anyone in the world, other than a Sister of the Agiel, could understand the internal struggle over a simple touch, it was a Confessor. They stared at each other for a moment before the other woman looked away, her eyes going back to the woods, her voice a bare whisper. "Thank you."

Cara felt a tiny smile touch her own lips for a moment, warmed more than she would have expected by the sense of trust conveyed in those two words. She let her hand gently squeeze Kahlan's shoulder as they sat in silence once more. She didn't know what to say, only knew that she probably should say something.

At long last, when the silence began to feel awkward, she spoke hesitantly. "It wasn't… I mean… you weren't the only one who felt… helpless. I couldn't see the threat; I couldn't protect you. When I saw you pinned down and saw the fear in your eyes…"

She trailed off, throat tight, unable and unwilling to find words for what she felt. She jumped when a gentle hand came up to cover her own. Her first instinct was to flinch away, but she mastered herself and accepted the gesture as the offering it was. Kahlan's words were soft, but the regret in them was unmistakable. "I'm sorry I couldn't find a way to fight back against her. I know how frightening that must have been for you to watch."

The other woman's concern for her, despite her own suffering, shook Cara to the core. She almost couldn't breathe under the intensity of it and she swallowed hard against the lump of fear that rose in the back of her throat. Not the remembered fear of watching Kahlan fall, but her current fear of being exposed. She knew the Mother Confessor couldn't read her, couldn't read any Mord'Sith, but the other woman had a painful knack for seeing more than she should. Fisting her hand, she took a deep breath, calming herself. The woman hadn't tried to force her way through Cara's barriers yet; there was no reason to think she would do so tonight.

Despite telling herself that, the fear remained and she couldn't quite keep the rough edge out of her voice. "Don't worry about it. It's over." She could feel the sudden tension in the shoulder muscles under her hand, but was thankful that Kahlan didn't respond in words, even though Cara knew she'd seen right through the clumsy lie.

For a long time, they stared out into the night woods again, silence settling around them. And then, she heard Kahlan draw breath to speak, the woman's tone almost painfully even. "I told you a little about my childhood. Being spell-bound to Nicci brought back the worst of those memories. I felt helpless as a child. My father would bind our hands with rope, to keep us from being able to touch anyone unless he ordered it. If we disobeyed him, he would… punish us. I wanted so badly to comfort my sister when she cried, but I couldn't reach her."

She glanced over and saw that Kahlan was staring down at the ground, hands clenched. When the woman spoke again, Cara could hear the strain in her voice. "I… I spent years feeling like it was my fault somehow… like I'd failed because I couldn't protect her from all the things my father did. I tried… I tried so hard, but…"

Cara heard the broken sob and reacted without thinking. She reached out with her free hand and placed her fingers under Kahlan's chin, coaxing the woman's head up and around so their eyes would meet. "Like you told me before, you were a little girl. You did the best you could just to survive and you were strong enough to leave and take your sister with you. You can't blame yourself for what your father did or the damage he caused."

She saw the flicker of pain in Kahlan's eyes as the woman considered her words. Cara knew that what she'd said wasn't enough, but it was all she could do. Her own emotions felt thread-bare at best and she found herself wishing she was in the heat of battle with odds of twenty to one against her. At least in a fight, she knew what to do.

Gaze still locked with Kahlan's, she saw the flare of concern again, though the pain remained. And then, the blue eyes softened and she felt her heart nearly stop beating at the compassion she saw there – the compassion for her. "Oh, Cara… you can't keep blaming yourself for the life you were tortured and bullied into, for the orders you were bound to obey. You know I've struggled with what you did to my sister, but I know you're not the same person now that you were then. You're a good person and I'm glad you're here with us. I wouldn't want to do this without you."

Cara swallowed hard – feeling the unexpected and unwelcome prick of tears at the words she hadn't known she needed to hear – and had to break eye contact. She dropped her fingers away from the other woman's chin as if the skin could burn through her gloves.

Kahlan's voice was gentle, though she sounded like she was on the verge of crying again. "I never expected to trust you, Cara, let alone care about what happened to you. But I do care. Part of what scared me so much about feeling helpless wasn't just the memories it brought back, but the fear that I'd let Richard and Zedd down. That I'd let you down."

At those last, heartbreakingly quiet words, Cara cautiously looked up again and met Kahlan's eyes. She felt like she had to say something, had to try to offer some kind of comfort after such a confession. But no words came to her. The night pressed heavy on her, like even the stars above were waiting. At long last, she reached up once more, this time caressing the woman's cheek, very lightly, and said, "I care about what happens to you too. And not just because you're important to Richard."

She saw tears glistening in blue eyes, though she no longer felt the threat of tears herself, and knew there was more she needed to say, if she could just find the courage.

She took a deep breath, then spoke softly. "Never worry that you'll let me down, Kahlan. Even when I've mocked you, I've never doubted your determination. Or your strength."

At those words, it was as if a dam broke loose in the other woman. Tears flowed freely down Kahlan's face and Cara felt an ache of sympathy, the kind she hadn't felt in more years than she could count. Again, the fleeting memory of her mother danced just out of reach in her mind, and she acted on instincts she'd suppressed since childhood. Removing her hands from the woman's face and shoulder, she took the agiel on her right hip out of its holder and set it on the ground to her left, where she could still easily reach it if needed. She slid gracefully down the log to sit on the ground beside the other woman, wrapping her right arm around slender shoulders as she went. Kahlan shifted slightly in her loose embrace, laying her head against Cara's neck and upper chest.

Cara adjusted the arm she had around Kahlan's shoulders, holding the other woman tightly. She couldn't remember the last time she'd been so close to another human being, unless there was sex or training involved. But here, in this moment, it felt right. Given what they'd just been through together, she could briefly let down her guard – helped by the cover of night and the lack of eyes to see the chink in her armor. She knew the Mother Confessor understood that armor better than most; the other woman had her own armor, the role she had to play because of her powers. She trusted that this moment of openness would remain a secret between them.

Reassured by that thought, Cara simply held Kahlan, letting the woman's near-silent tears soak into her leathers, surprised that after all the animosity between them, she was the one allowed to see the Confessor vulnerable. It was strange, like most of the things that had happened to her since she pledged her service to Richard Rahl. She realized that there was truth to what she'd been taught. Emotions were a weakness because they could be used against her by her enemies. She just realized that she hadn't been taught the whole truth – that emotions could be a strength when she was fighting for and with people she cared about and believed in.

She noted that the woman's tears were drying up and that her breathing was beginning to slow. And she knew Kahlan was still exhausted from the ordeal, even if she was too stubborn to admit it. She reached up hesitantly to ruffle dark hair, then moved her hand back down and whispered, "It's safe to close your eyes now. I'll stay here with you while you sleep."

Kahlan's drowsy protest didn't surprise her. "You need rest too, Cara."

She tightened her grip on the woman's shoulders, squeezing reassuringly. "I'm fine." She paused, weighing potential consequences, then continued, "I'll be able to sleep when I know you've gotten some rest… when I know that you can close your eyes and not be haunted by demons."

Soft fingers came up to gently caress her cheek, saying more than mere words could. Then the hand dropped as Kahlan snuggled closer to her. She shifted slightly to accommodate the other woman, arm still around slender shoulders, holding her protectively. It wasn't long before she heard the regular, rhythmic breathing that told her the other woman was asleep.

For the first time in days, knowing Kahlan had finally found a moment of peace, Cara felt like a weight had lifted from her chest. She sat bathed in the moonlight that filtered through the trees above, calmed by the familiar forest sounds and the rhythm of the other woman's breathing. She closed her eyes, her senses still on alert for any signs of danger near their campsite, and leaned her cheek against the head resting on her shoulder.

She didn't sleep, but sat quietly and let her mind drift. And the memory that had been tugging at her finally returned in fullness – her mother's arms around her, fingers stroking through her hair, soothing her to sleep after a nightmare.

For the first time since that night, sitting in the woods with Kahlan nestled against her, Cara had the same feeling of safety, of home.

The End

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