A/N: Thanks sooooo much for the lovely comments on the last chapter. It makes me really, really happy to know that I'm not the only one liking Denna/Cara as a pairing :) I hope you like this chapter as well, it's the last.
The sun was already setting and with it the temperature dropped noticeably. Cara had an uneasy feeling in her stomach and wondered where Denna had gone and why she wasn't back yet. As she left, Denna had told her that she would collect some firewood, since their stock was running out, and maybe even go hunting. But that was candle-marks ago and she should have been back in the meantime. Cara paced up and down in the small cottage and eventually decided to go after her.
Cara walked through the woods, it was very chilly already and she pulled the warm thick cape more tightly around her body. Despite the cold she was grateful to leave the cottage once in a while, since Denna did not allow her to stand up for long until her wounds were healed completely.
She would've never thought that she and Denna would get along that well, Denna had indeed changed; for the better. As much as she hated to admit it, since her rescue she had begun to dream of the day when she had tried to kill the other Mord'Sith. Before Denna had saved her from Rahl's fangs, she never felt sorry for having killed the blonde back then.
This had changed now. In her feverish state she would dream about endless stretching minutes, saw Denna's shocked and helpless expression as she stepped over that cliff and into death's arms. Even when Cara had seen her from the distance, the look on Denna's face had burned itself into her memory. It haunted her now and she would wake up drenched in sweat, trembling. Then Denna would sit next to her bed and try to calm her, with the hint of a mysterious smile on her face. What had happened to this woman, that she would change that much? Denna would not speak about how she survived and what had happened to her after the incident and Cara had stopped pushing for it. In her own time Denna might tell her. The thought itself, that Cara wanted Denna to talk to her, trust her with this was even more surprising to herself. Cara did not remember exactly when the terms of their relationship began to shift, evolving into something more than just plain acceptance. She couldn't deny that she had started to care, no, she really couldn't deny that. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that it wouldn't be so bad after all to have Denna around. Cara was convinced that in time Richard, Kahlan and Zedd would accept and tolerate Denna, if they saw how much she had changed and that the blonde wasn't the same person anymore, but someone better.
Half a candle-mark later, Cara had not found a trace of the other Mord'Sith and was practically about to give up, her leg started to hurt, but then she spotted an unnatural looking formation at the lake's shore. She had no idea what it was; only that it looked somehow out of place. She hurried her pace, almost started to run towards it, denying the protests of her injured thigh as much she could. As she came closer, the odd-looking object turned out to be crumpled and abandoned pieces of clothing. Cara chided herself for being almost anxious about a pile of clothes. Looking around, she took in the beautiful landscape surrounding her, as the evening sun bathed everything in a golden light.
Cara decided to head back to the cottage; Denna would probably long be there, growing angry and restless at Cara for being out for so long all by herself. She smiled at the thought. Denna had been very protective of her lately, ever pretending that Cara annoyed her with her stubbornness not to follow her instructions. It should be clear to Cara that, if she refused to step down a bit, never would heal completely so that Denna could finally get rid of her. But Cara knew the truth; she could see it in Denna's eyes, the warmth and affection, Denna tried to hide, deny, so vehemently. It was obvious, that Denna cared a lot for her well-being and this knowledge had caused a disturbing, tingling feeling in her stomach ever since.
Cara turned to leave, still with a smile on her lips as her gaze fell once again to the bunch of clothes at her feet. Her smile froze on her lips.
Reaching down, she took the soft fabric into her hands. How could she have missed that? It were the clothes Denna had worn as she left the cottage earlier that day. Cara turned around again, her eyes searching for any signs of the other woman, but couldn't spot anything unusual. Why would Denna strip out of her clothes and leave them here? Cara had no clue what to make out of this. Where are you? She turned around her own axis again as her eyes searched desperately all spots once again.
A huge knot formed in her stomach and she had difficulties to breathe. As her gaze wandered once again along the rim water, she noticed hardly visible traces of bare feet in the grainy sand. She followed them until its track got lost in the crystal water of the lake. Denna would not have gone in the lake. Why would she? Cara's eyes searched frantically the surface of the tranquil looking water until, her eyes spotted something in the distance. Unmoving, just drifting at the surface. From so far away she could not make out what it was, but the dread rising inside her, clouded any reasonable thoughts. In a matter of seconds, Cara stripped out of her clothes, tossing them carelessly aside in all directions, and sprinted, as fast her legs would carry her, into the lake. The ice-cold water hit her skin with a jolt, it felt like thousands of needles piercing deep into her skin.
But she did not care; she tried to block it out as well as the thought of what she could find ahead, if her presumptions turned out to be true. She kept swimming for some time, until she reached what had seen from the shoreline and her breath was stolen from her lungs, as greatest fear became cruel reality.
It was not just an object, carelessly thrown away, as she had hoped. Instead, it was a pale, feminine body, floating face down in the clear water.
Cara turned the motionless body around, even if she had mentally prepared herself for it as she discovered it to be a body, a gasp escaped her throat as she saw, that it was indeed the other Mord'Sith. Denna's face had already turned blue and Cara knew she needed to hurry and get her out of the water as fast as possible. She couldn't do anything for Denna while swimming; she needed to bring her ashore, trying to bring her back with the Breath of Life in case the blonde was already dead. And as far she could see, Denna did not breathe anymore.
It would work, she repeated over and over in her mind, but failed in the attempt to convince herself enough for the worry to dissipate. She had no idea how long Denna had been in the water by now, it could have happened only a few minutes before Cara reached the lake - or already long before that and then not even the Breath of Life would be able to save her life. Cara stubbornly refused to think about the second possibility.
On the way back, the cold water slowly took its toll on her already weakened body, arms and legs started to get numb from the freezing cold, sucking the last warmth from her body. Swimming got more difficult with each stroke and Cara had the impression that Denna's body in her arms got heavier with each passing second. She tried to block out the pain and the cold the best she could and her thoughts wandered back to the morning, before Denna had left to collect firewood.
Cara changed from her night-shift gown into warm clothing and smiled mischievously at the other Mord'Sith, „I will go hunting. I am in need of the something real to eat."
Denna stood next to the fireplace and arranged the wood, then dropped to one knee before lighting it.
"My cooking is most real." Denna answered evenly, then glanced over to the grayish, unappetizing looking stew, cooking on the stove, "unfortunately", she added quietly and rather to herself.
"Meat," Cara clarified. Denna shot her a glance over her shoulder then turned her attention back to the fire, adding more branches. „No, you won't. Go back to bed and rest. I'll do it. Later." Cara made desperate gestures with her hands. "But I will die from boredom!" Cara growled, "you can't make me stay inside."
Denna's gaze fixed on her and for a moment and Cara saw the challenge flare up in the blonde's steel blue eyes, glowing in an otherworldly fire with all its destructive and consuming power – like Cara had seen it so many times in Denna's eyes before, many turns of seasons ago. She had almost forgotten how intense Denna's stare could be and shuddered at the reminder. It seemed as if Denna remembered, that she was not supposed to back down or accept objections to her orders. The ghost of faint memories flashed over her features, accompanied by all kinds of emotions, fear and confusion, but mostly hurt.
Cara watched Denna closely as she waited for the blonde to speak, not wanting to disturb the thickening silence. As fast as the expression came to Denna's face, it was gone. A faint smile tugged at Denna's lips as she shook her head, as if to clear her mind from confusing thoughts and stood from the ground, absently dusting off her dark grey linen trousers.
In situations like this, Cara realized how different Denna behaved now, so unlike from the woman Cara once knew – but at the same time – not different at all. The thought disturbed and excited her equally.
"I can't tell you what to do, Cara." Denna said eventually.
"No you cannot!"
"Can I finish?" Denna asked impatiently.
Cara waved a hand.
„Like I said," Denna continued, while giving Cara a hard glance – daring her to interrupt her again, „I'll take care of it later. I need to gather some firewood anyway. Do me a favor and lie down for now and maybe we can make a small stroll tomorrow and see how it works."
The objections rose instantly in Cara's throat, but then she found herself unable to voice them out loud, as Denna smiled, rather mischievously, and winked at her and Cara suddenly felt oddly save and protected. She tried to shrug it off.
"But only because you are going anyway," Cara huffed, "not because I can't go on my own." Leaning forward, she pointed with her finger at Denna, "and tomorrow I'll leave this damn cottage, no matter what!"
With that, she turned and walked back towards the bed, ignoring how very stiff her legs felt, the searing pain that spread through her limbs and only seemed to get worse, the more she moved around. Denna was right she needed to rest. But she would rather die than admit it to anyone.
Across the room Denna watched Cara as the other woman walked over to the bed and sat down awkwardly. "Certainly," her smile grew as she answered, "only because I go anyway."
A low growl was Cara's only reply.
The pain was slowly overwhelming her, but the cold was even worse. Her arms felt numb and she had forgotten how to move her fingers some time ago. Every stroke went slower and took away more of her strength. The cold was reaching out for her from beneath, capturing her in its relentless grip, trying to drag her down in the black never-ending darkness, tempting her with the seductive promise of constant pain and cold to go away, daring her to give in - to end her struggle. Panic rose inside her; she needed to hurry.
Cara was not sure, if she was coming closer to the shore at all or just floating back and forth. There was no way that she would give up; she would not only seal her own fate, but Denna's as well. Failure was not an option, it never was, and she would not start with changing that now.
She pulled Denna's body more tightly against her own, sharing the last body warmth, she imagined still to be there. She made sure that Denna's head was above the surface, as she dragged her slowly along. Despite the cold, she could feel Denna's body to be even colder as the water against her skin. She didn't want to think about what that meant and listened instead carefully for any sound the blonde would make, but only her own ragged breathing and the noise of her strokes in the water reached her ears in the otherwise deafening silence.
By the time, she finally reached the shore Cara was beyond exhaustion. Panting heavily she laid on her back, staring up into the darkening sky as she tried to breathe against the pain of thousand of needles, piercing her lungs with every breath she took. Even when she was out of the freezing water, it was still so cold, she did not even feel the sand against her skin, her whole body felt numb. Cara reached out for Denna who lay beside her, still in the same position Cara had placed her in. Denna did not move and Cara was sure now - she did not breathe either. Just a minute to catch her breath, just a second to gather her strength. Cara closed her eyes for a moment and then as she opened them again; she wasn't sure how much time had actually passed. The sun was already starting to disappear behind the tree line, bathing everything in a dim, fading red light.
Cara moved and kneeled next to Denna, who still was lying still on her spot in the white sand. She opened Denna's blue lips with her fingers and leaned down. The magic for the breath of life was gathering inside her, but something was wrong. It never took so long to gather. Cara's skin was prickling with the magic rising inside her, but the breath just wouldn't leave her throat. Panic rose inside her, as she tried again and again, but in the end with no use. Cara wasn't ready to give up just like that as she leaned down and started with resuscitation. At first it seemed as if it wasn't working, but after a sheer endless time Denna's head moved to the side and the blonde was spluttering water out of her system.
A severe coughing fit later her eyes fluttered open. Denna's gaze remained unfocused, caught in the grip of her struggle back to full consciousness. Cara's hand grazed over the blonde's forehead, her skin was cold to her touch, but her fingertips tingled as if they were burning. Denna was still looking ghostly pale and her lips shimmered blue. She could see that Denna had problems breathing. Her fingers caressed her cheek and felt relieved as Denna responded to her touch. She looked at Cara. At least her eyes were the same piercing blue they always were. Cara took her hand in her own. "It will be alright, we just need to warm you up."
She tried, she tried with all she had, but could not stop the single tear from falling. She looked away. Denna reached up and touched her face, her hand cold against her skin. Cara brought her eyes back to Denna's and saw she was close to tears as well.
"Don't." Denna whispered, faintly squeezing Cara's hand. Cara bent down and placed a soft kiss on her lips. She lingered there a moment, taking in the scent of her.
Denna smiled but then started coughing again. She shifted her head and a pained expression crossed her face.
"I found it." She breathed after a moment of silence, her eyes closing as her face visibly tightened.
„Was it worth it?" Cara asked, looking down at the golden chain, resting in Denna's hand.
„It was worth everything."
Cara could see how much effort it took her, but Denna forced her eyes open again, looking at her. „My mother gave it to me. It's all I have left."
Denna took a shaky breath, coughing slightly, and then winced as she moved her head. "I'm cold, Cara." Denna breathed, "I am so cold."
"Sssh," Cara whispered as she cradled her even closer, attempting to share as much warmth as possible. "Save your strength. Everything will be alright." She knew it was not true, as knew Denna.
"Take care of yourself," Denna eventually said, a faint smile ghosting over her lips, „I know you're lost without me, but when you do what I told you, you'll survive."
Cara huffed, but said nothing. She was in no mood to fight. Her hands stroked Denna's arms for a while, trying to warm her up and get the blood circulation going. She stopped as Denna started trembling violently beneath her fingers.
"No." Cara breathed and cradled Denna's face in her hands, as if that would keep her from leaving. Her voice was shaking. "No - stay with me." She could barely speak she was so choked up. "Please."
Denna's blue eyes opened a little, she took a ragged breath and she smiled at Cara, „you do know that I care," the 'for you' left hanging in the air. Cara was aware that Denna couldn't say it and she did not need to – Cara knew already.
"I care for you-"
Denna tense body went slack beneath her fingers.
The sudden silence cut through her like a knife.
Kneeling in the sand, Cara cradled Denna's fragile body tightly in her arms and rested her head at the other Mord'Sith temple, her voice cracked, as she whispered so silently that only Denna would hear, "on that morning, when this life is over - I know we'll see each other again."
She took a shaky breath and pressed her lips against Denna's temple,
"and I'm looking forward to this day."