Kahlan was dead, gone, and Cara didn't think, couldn't think, from the time she saw Kahlan fall to the time she was at her side. There were D'Harans in the way, bloodthirsty bastards who anyone would think needed killing, but Cara took no pleasure in ending them, barely noticed them.

She was aware of Richard at her back, shouting for her to get to Kahlan, that he would hold them off, but again, she could take no notice of it. If he was telling her anything else, if he thought there were any other acceptable plan, then he wasn't worth listening to anyway.

Some internal clock in Cara's head chimed. It had taken her a minute to cross from her position in the battle to where Kahlan had fallen (her resting place), and though the time had passed in a blink, something cool and cold and unmerciful was insistent that Kahlan had been gone for a minute, a whole minute, she'd been dead, and that was the world Cara had been plunged into.

Annoying distractions at the edge of her consciousness: Richard cutting a swath through the D'Harans' reinforcements, Zedd smiting them with blasts of flame like Cara had never seen from him before. She just wanted them to be quiet, to let her get to Kahlan, why wouldn't they let her help Kahlan?

She swung her Agiels so hard that her arms burned, not caring at all for the painful magic they held, but only using them as blunt instruments, breaking bones, stoving in skulls. Blood spattered her. Richard had wiped out the last of the deserters trying to loot Kahlan's body before they fled; three in one scything blow. Cara ignored the heat of their death-sprays blooming through her leathers, and knelt beside Kahlan.

Cold, colorless, so empty—not just composed or neutral, but truly vacant. Seeing it was an obscenity, a defacement. She summoned up the Breath of Life within herself, hot and cold and loud. She could hear her own doubts now, all the hateful thoughts Kahlan herself had kept so far away, just by being Kahlan.

That it wouldn't work. How sometimes it didn't work, and now would have to be one of those times, now that it was her friend. That Kahlan would leave her as so many had left her, leave her because Cara didn't deserve to have her as a sister, Cara didn't deserve anything but hatred and bitterness and recrimination. Even that Kahlan had been removed from the world just because the Creator could not have someone going around pretending Cara wasn't the disgusting creature that she had been for so long.

Cara burned those thoughts inside her. She'd often thought of the irony, how this most healing of arts could only be performed by a Mord'Sith instead of a gentle Confessor. How it would've come with such ease to the composed, collected Mother Confessor, but the only way for Cara to work such magic was to summon up rage, white-hot fury that the Underworld would try to claim what was hers. Whether it be her prize, her ally, or her Kahlan.

The heat of the Breath felt all wrong inside her. Feverish and overwarm, rising so sluggishly up her gullet. I'm doing it wrong, I'm doing it wrong, I'm doing it wrong. Cara put those thoughts to flame as well. It was impossible for her to be doing it wrong, not when it was Kahlan, not when it mattered.

She forced the Breath out, same as always, and willed it into Kahlan as if it were any other corpse. Not the separation between a world that was cold and empty, and a world that was understanding and sympathetic.

An eternity. Time itself was against her. Having ripped through the opportune moment to save Kahlan, it now slowed to an agonizing still. She was aware of the remaining D'Harans being routed, running for dear life. Richard and Zedd coming to her side to witness her failure.

Cara could no longer see if the Breath was working inside Kahlan. The subtle nuances of its usage were lost in her, drowned by her rising emotions. She couldn't hold them back any longer. She could feel the world breaking, stop making sense, she could feel in her bones how wrong it was to be alive while Kahlan was lost.

Richard put his hand on her shoulder. She didn't think he was so insane as to try to spout platitudes just then, but still, the support landed like a blow. Of course he wouldn't realize how she had failed him. He was the Confessor's man, and just like Kahlan he would be forgiving, sympathetic, merciful when mercy belonged a million miles away. It was like being given another taste of Kahlan's forgiveness, a last few cool drops before the waterskin ran dry. She hated him. She hated herself. She hated all the world but Kahlan, and Kahlan wasn't there anymore.

Then her eyes opened.

Cara stared as if, between one moment and the next, she'd had a full night's rest, a hearty meal, a quenching drink. Kahlan's very breath set the world right. Cara could think, could realize that of course Kahlan was fine, that the magic had just needed a little time to work, that—

It wasn't important. Her mind, her logic and rationality, they were impediments, in the way. She needed to know Kahlan was alive, to feel the restored heat of her body with her own hands. Kahlan was already smiling reassuringly, trying to wave off all her friends' concerns—Richard was too respectful, too concerned to just grab her up like he wanted to, treating her as fragile as a doll with one crack running through it already, but Cara wasn't hampered. She grabbed hold of Kahlan (alive) and touched their foreheads together.

Lately, Kahlan had begun making her own jibes about the bedroom, Cara's many and frequent desires. She would never be as smutty as Cara, but she was no longer as prim or as proper as when they had first met, treating sex as some unspeakable taboo instead of what people did. When they touched, their lips practically on top of each other, one's breath ending where the other's began, some of her own blushing responses to Cara's innuendo swam into her mind.

Cara's mind beckoned that way too. But as if they shared the same thoughts as well as the same breath, neither of them let the lingering touch turn into a joke or a come-on. It was too important for that, too intimate for that. For once—or once again, but at a time they could finally admit it—they were in harmony. Just at that moment, Cara didn't want anything but to be absolutely sure Kahlan was there.

And Kahlan wanted nothing else than for Cara to know that, to let herself believe a little more that Kahlan was there for her, as she always would be.

Richard understood, and Zedd too, after a fashion. Cara would not relinquish Kahlan, would not bother overcoming the childish fear that letting go of Kahlan would allow her to be taken away again, not when it was so much simpler just to hold onto her and not let go.

Richard knelt down beside them and wrapped his arms around the two of them, his big hands warm and callused and full of strength. If something did try to drag Kahlan back to the Underworld, he would hold onto her at least as hard as Cara would.

Cara didn't even mind Zedd pressing into her back, his bony arms wrapping around the other three of them to place one more layer of armor around Kahlan. If the Underworld did want someone, she would throw the geezer to them and drag Kahlan away as fast as her legs could carry her.

Kahlan smiled, a little awkward, but accepting of their love with so much grace that Cara couldn't even imagine how she did it. "I wasn't gone that long, was I?"

"It seemed a lot longer," Richard said simply.

Cara nodded dolefully. "Especially when it seemed like you would leave me alone with these two."