Title: "Cautery"

Spoilers: Through 2.08

Disclaimer: Not mine. There's no confusion on this point.


Kahlan has been limping for some time before she lowers herself onto the fallen tree. Her face in the moonlight is tight with strain when she looks up, and a pain Cara knows better than to think she will admit to.

The Mother Confessor would have made a superb Mord'Sith.

"You should keep going," Kahlan says, hard and quiet. "You'll move faster alone."

"Obviously." Not long ago, when Cara was still a Mord'Sith among sisters, she might have taken her at her word, and gone. The price of weakness is death: it is the code of D'Hara. The code of the house of Rahl.

Not so long ago, and yet longer than she can imagine. There is a life between her and the Mother Confessor now. Richard's life. Cara's life, which Kahlan held in her slender right hand, and beyond all expectation, did not take.

Sometimes, when she swallows, Cara can still feel the touch of the Confessor's palm against her throat. So, "But I made a promise to Richard," she says instead, not watching Kahlan's expression, not wanting to see the flinch there when she mentions his name, and comes forward to examine the scratch on the Confessor's thigh.

More than a scratch, and ugly beneath the bandage: she doesn't need to touch it - and she doesn't try: Kahlan is shy of touching, self-contained except with Richard, and particularly so when it comes to the Mord'Sith who killed her sister - to know that the red swelling around its edges will be hot under her fingers. "It's infected," she says, casual and light, as if unaware of Kahlan's roughened breathing and the edge of fear in the other woman's eyes. The Mord'Sith taught her to find strength in cruelty, but she is not so far removed from kindness as to have forgotten what it is. The wound must be treated, and there is no point saying what they both know: they do not have the time or the tools to do it properly. With the gash that close to the top of her thigh, if fever and woundrot set in before they find the wizard, Kahlan will likely die. Cautery is the only expedient. "We need to burn the wound closed."

"We don't have time to make a fire!"

"I don't need a fire." The agony of her Agiel is a familiar pain. Comforting. Kahlan's glance is wide, shocked, and Cara cannot avoid thinking I could break her, knowing it for a lie. Understanding how far she has fallen from what she was. She is Mord'Sith, still, and Mord'Sith teach with pain, even to destruction. It would not be the Mother Confessor who broke, under her Agiel. Not now. "But it will hurt."

"I've been struck by an Agiel before." Kahlan's blue gaze is steady, despite her pallor.

Brave, Cara thinks, and wonders when her respect for the other woman had ceased to be grudged. "Not like this." She cannot force a Confessor. She wants Kahlan to understand.

Even Mord'Sith would flinch from this.

An inhaled breath. Then Kahlan nods. "Do it."

Cara drops to one knee. She could say something - brace yourself, maybe, or try not to bite through your tongue - but a Mord'Sith does not say such things to an equal. She meets Kahlan's eyes. A challenge. Something to focus on. Something, if necessary, to hate.

She pushes her Agiel against the wound without needing to look.

Kahlan's hands convulse on the bark. Muscles jump in the Mother Confessor's jaw. Her skin is damp with sweat and Cara can smell her pain, and her fear, even over the roast-pork odour of cauterised flesh and the sewer-scent of burning pus.

She doesn't scream.

It's brief. When it's done, Kahlan is paler than before, breathing hard. "I'm impressed," Cara says, and grins, distracting with the truth. "Even the strongest Mord'Sith would have fainted." She does not say, I did. Some things the Mother Confessor does not need to know.

Kahlan grins back, fierce and relieved, before her eyes roll back in her head and she topples to the forest floor.

#

Kahlan wakes with the scent of loam and leather in her nostrils. Her head rests on something hard and warm, and she can hear someone breathing, closer that the soft rustling of the forest. Richard, she thinks, before she straightens her legs and memory returns with a throbbing ache.

"Easy." Cara's voice, when she tries to lift her head. Cara's hand on her shoulder, more gentle than she would expect of a Mord'Sith, steadying her sudden panicked flinch. "Easy. You're all right." There is a new note in Cara's tone. With some surprise, Kahlan recognises it as concern. "Don't try to sit up until you're sure you're not going to fall back down again, okay?"

"Okay," Kahlan says, and forces herself to let go of her instinctive distrust, to relax against... Cara's thigh. She's lying on the ground with her head supported in the Mord'Sith's lap, and when she goes rigid at the realisation of her vulnerability, she hears Cara sigh.

And realises that Cara has risked her life on the odds that Kahlan, injured, slightly feverish, would wake from her faint and remember that the face of the Mord'Sith leaning over her was not that of an enemy. It could shame her, if she let it: she does not want to like her sister's killer.

But it's too late for that.

"Cara?"

"Hm?"

She meets the Mord'Sith's blue eyes in the faint moonlight. "Thanks."

A brow lifts, faintly ironic. Cara tilts her head, a bare acknowledgement, but curve of her lips is genuine, and for a heartbeat there is something almost like embarrassment in her glance.

"How long was I out?"

"Not long. A few minutes. " This time, when Kahlan tries to sit up, Cara's hands are underneath her shoulders in support. "Breathe, Mother Confessor. We don't want you passing out again. You don't need be ashamed of needing a few minutes to catch your breath."

Faint emphasis on that you. Kahlan lets Cara brace her weight and breathes into the dizziness. Her leg still throbs, but the pain is sharper now, less hot and unhealthily deep. Nothing compared to the burning agony of the Agiel, and she flinches in memory. "Did you -" She stops, inhales, starts again. "Was this something that was done to you?"

Silence, and Kahlan begins to think she has overstepped the bounds of their careful, limited understanding. They do not share confidences, the Mord'Sith and she. They are not friends.

A breath, an exhalation. And, "Yeah," Cara says, voice quiet, flat. "I got in the way of an arrow, once. Got the barbs out, but three days later my shoulder was swollen like a pig's bladder and redder than sin. My sisters had to hold me down to lance and cauterise the damn thing."

Kahlan twists to meet Cara's eyes. These are more words than she has heard from the Mord'Sith in weeks. And more trust than she ever expected the other woman to offer.

Cara's lips twist, irony and amusement and something almost like regret. "I passed out, too," she adds, and stands, holding out her hand. "Come on. We won't find your wizard by sitting here."

Kahlan eyes the offered hand. Eyes Cara. And reaches up to grasp the Mord'Sith's strong wrist.

It's not trust, not quite. But it's a start.