Characters/Pairing: Darken/Nicci, Richard/Kahlan, Cara/Dahlia, Zedd, implied Denna/Jennsen
Spoilers: whole series
Summary: Three years post-Tears, Darken enjoys a quiet evening with family, that just happens to be on a night for lovers.
(Note: The references to what happened with Cara's son are in more detail in my story Undone; Richard and Kahlan's son's story is coming soon for dark_fest, and the Darken/Nicci backstory is in Learning Curve.)
It was more than three years since Richard had sealed the rift in the Veil to the Underworld, and not two months since Darken and Richard had broken the dreamwalker Emperor Jagang's hold over Nicci, whereupon she promptly fried the Puppet Master to a crisp, and the seven of them—Zedd, Richard and Kahlan, Cara and Dahlia, Darken and Nicci—were sitting by their bonfire, talking lazily and watching the stars.
"I always liked the legend of Kieran's Eve, the night for lovers," Dahlia, Cara's inamorata and the woman who had, apparently, single-handedly saved Darken's son from his execution, was saying. She was leaning back on the log she shared with Cara, their thighs touching.
Darken watched her, thinking of Cara, memories made hazy by the passage of years—and by the sweet tang of mallowroot in the air (Zedd had tossed it in the fire, and now smoke floated upward in red and pink swirls). Once, he would have seen his son's survival, and that of the tiny girl whose very skin hummed with Nicci's protective spells, and who he knew to be his daughter, as a threat.
But he must be mellowing with age—Darken now saw golden-haired, studious Sam and that towheaded termagant toddler, Cali, as opportunities. For what, he still wasn't sure, but on this balmy night, it hardly seemed to matter.
Outside their circle, the wind howled and snow and ice sparkled in the moonlight, but here all was warm and dry.
Darken ran his fingers through Nicci's pale hair as he sat, with her on his lap, and listened to Zedd's lecture about Kieran's Eve. The power he had taken from Nicci, which had originally been Richard's, was sufficient to keep more than encroaching age at bay: he could level mountains, or suck oceans dry, if he chose.
And yet Nicci never seemed to feel any lack—her power was as great as his, as great as it had ever been. It had originally been Richard's—and how he had willingly, even eagerly, given it up remained a mystery to Darken.
Just when he thought he understood his brother, Richard's behavior became once more inexplicable.
Now Zedd was saying, "Kieran was most famous for the great battle of the Green Shore, where he and his Confessor, Viviane, died in one another's arms."
"But they didn't," Kahlan protested, frowning. "We met their spirits in Kieran's tomb, when we were looking for a place to hide the third Box of Orden."
A spasm crossed Darken's face at this reminder of the power of Orden, which he still mourned. To distract himself from the thought of that unattainable ultimate power, he watched Richard and Kahlan. They held hands like a pair of gawky adolescents, even though they'd been married for a good three years now.
Although Darken would always mourn what might have been, as Richard's Grand Vizier he did have unlimited opportunities to irritate the Underworld out of Kahlan, and that he wouldn't have traded for all the gold in Tamarang.
He smirked, and for the first time, paid proper attention to the conversation.
"Kieran was helpless after Viviane died," Richard was commenting. "How could he go on, without her?" He and Kahlan exchanged fulsomely happy smiles.
Darken saw Cara roll her eyes, and smiled. Some things never changed.
"In fact, Kieran was later famous for the Solstice Massacre," Darken put in. "Perhaps not such a saint as he is portrayed." Of course, Darken thought expansively, who didn't have a massacre or two to their name?
"There are no true saints in this world," Nicci stated categorically. Even now, she was as rigid as iron and as melting (as Darken had cause to know) as warm sugar.
"So you're saying Kieran's Eve is a big fake?" Dahlia frowned. "And here we built the ritual bonfire and got Dennee to babysit, and everything!"
"Kieran's Eve is not a 'big fake,'" Zedd protested. "You children have no holiday spirit." And he summoned pink tongues of flame, licking their small bonfire. "Traditionally, this is a time for lovers to move forward, embracing their shared destinies—"
"Do you think Dennee will be all right with the children?" Kahlan asked worriedly. "I don't like to make her babysit on Kieran's Eve," even if she did have no one to celebrate it with, Darken thought sardonically. Not every Confessor was so lucky as Kahlan. And he wondered how little Richard Junior was—Darken kept expecting him to show signs of wondrous power, or great evil (it would serve Richard right), but so far, the child was disappointingly normal. Even sweet.
"We could've let Jennsen babysit," Richard said. "She's been begging for a turn with the children for ages."
"Please!" Cara snorted. "Did you not see her and Denna? The get-a-roominess of them?"
"Cara!" Zedd said, shocked. But the Wizard's disapproval was as nothing to Richard's.
"You mean you think they're," he swallowed, "celebrating Kieran's Eve…in private?"
"What a good idea," Nicci murmured in Darken's ear. He agreed with her, although Richard's sputtering was worth some postponement of such a private celebration. Had Richard really failed to notice Jennsen and Denna's significant looks? He was so naïve.
As Richard struggled to get his mind around this apparently entirely foreign concept, and Kahlan put a comforting hand on his arm, and Zedd glared indiscriminately (just as though he hadn't been sneaking behind the stables with the head cook for weeks now—magic was so advantageous to February assignations), and Cara rolled her eyes some more and then started whispering with Dahlia (the two of them were sitting so close together on the bench that it was hard to see where Dahlia's dress ended and Cara's leathers began), and Nicci sighed her boredom with the proceedings, and pink smoke floated upward in lazy spirals…
Darken conjured cushions, leaning back against the no-longer empty air at his ease. "We're just like a normal family," he drawled, his voice sardonic but the sentiment genuine.
"What!" Kahlan demanded furiously. "You were the greatest tyrant the world has ever seen—she Confessed me—" referring to Nicci.
"You're welcome," Nicci smirked. "You never would've sealed the rift if I hadn't, you know."
"Technically, Cara killed Dennee, and Kahlan killed me, in an alternate reality," Dahlia piped up, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.
"What!" it was Cara's turn to exclaim.
"Get the Wizard drunk," Dahlia advised coolly. "He'll tell you more than you want to know."
"You killed my father!" Richard protested. Darken wondered if he were referring to Darken's own father (in which case he wasn't in the least sorry), or Richard's adopted father. Maybe Darken should apologize for that one.
"I would've killed you all," Nicci interrupted what was rapidly turning into a game of point-the-finger.
"See?" Darken grinned. "Family."
"Goodnight," Zedd said dryly, vanishing back toward the Confessors' Palace.
As though his presence had been a constraint, Richard and Kahlan kissed, pulled together as if by a gigantic magnet, and Cara tugged Dahlia to her feet. "I want to give you your Kieran's Eve present in private," she whispered, and Dahlia's eyes sparkled.
Darken watched them go, until Nicci rolled her eyes, twisting in his lap so she faced him. "Finally," she said. "I thought he'd never leave."
Darken and Nicci had an on-again, off-again relationship that had weathered torture and theft of magic—she was the only other person in the world who understood what it was to have quit the Keeper.
Darken found himself suddenly very glad they were currently in an on-again phase.
"Happy Kieran's Eve," Nicci murmured, and Darken kissed her fiercely, pulling them to their feet so as to get some privacy (he was forced to see Richard and Kahlan kiss often enough as it was).
And Darken carried Nicci through the snow, into the dark night. The ice melted before them, as though unable to withstand their passion.
For the first time in all his life, Darken finally had somewhere he belonged. Home wasn't a place, it was people—it was getting under Kahlan's skin—it was protecting Richard, because if anyone was going to take his little brother down, it would be Darken—it was watching Cara squirm, knowing eventually she'd come back to him—it was Jennsen, hand in hand with Denna, bragging about her brothers, the heroes—it was verbal sparring with Zedd, who came well-armed to the battle of wits—it was sharp-tongued Nicci, whose magic hummed beneath that beautiful, smooth skin, a perfect counterpoint to Darken's—
Happy Kieran's Eve, he thought, and Nicci's eyes gleamed in the darkness.