A/N: I need to say a huge thank you to misanagy for helping and encouraging me with this story. I started writing it in February of last year and, as it was the first thing I had ever even attempted to write, I was certain it was terrible. Then I asked for her opinion and thanks to her hugely encouraging words and massively helpful suggestions, I kept with it and finally managed to end up with something I think is not too awful. My girlfriend has been my rock throughout the length of time it took to write this, and I'm eternally grateful for all the support and suggestions which enabled me to continue and finish this even when I thought I never would. So, Ana, Pequenina, thank you. Without you I would have given up at two thousand words and never written anything ever again. So, you know, I also think you have a lot to answer for and possibly owe everyone an apology for unleashing my stories upon the world :-P
"A mighty pain to love it is, and 'tis a pain that pain to miss; but of all the pains, the greatest pain is to love, but love in vain." - Abraham Crowley
Kahlan should be happy - she is happy - she just wishes that she could focus her thoughts on that and not on the blonde, brooding, leather-clad figure who has been even more reticent than usual, ever since Zedd proclaimed that her and Richard's love is so powerful, it protects him from confession. But she can't.
Too exhausted, both mentally and physically, to carry on travelling until they found a more suitable location they made camp in the midst of the towering Pillars of Creation. Now, she watches Cara over the hastily built fire; watches as her clear green eyes carefully avoid making contact with her own, watches as Cara stands and announces, to no one in particular, that she'll take first watch; watches as she stalks off to the edge of camp, breezes past Richard and Zedd, and stares off into the cold, dark, seemingly infinite night.
So distracted is Kahlan's mind that she doesn't notice Richard approach her. It isn't until she feels his calloused fingers gently stroking over her knuckles that she realises he has sat down on the log beside her and taken her hand in his. She turns, sees the smile on his face; sees his love for her, his devotion and his hope for the future shining bright in his eyes, and hopes that the conflicted turmoil that is coursing through her mind is not so easily read by the Seeker of Truth.
"Zedd and I were just discussing where we go from here," Richard says, never ceasing his ministrations across her hand. "There's a town just a few leagues away and we were thinking about spending a few days at the inn there, get our strength back, and then be on our way to Aydindril." Upon her lack of enthusiasm, he quickly adds, "That is unless you'd prefer we just stop for supplies, so we can get you home and to Dennee quicker?"
"No, Richard, I think stopping for a few days is a great idea," Kahlan replies, granting him a smile that she hopes appears more genuine than it feels. "I think we could all use a short respite from travelling. A soft bed and a warm bath sound perfect."
"Then it's decided. Zedd mentioned that the inn is famous for its spiced venison stew," he says. "I honestly think he's more excited about that than he is about returning to Aydindril," he adds with an amused chuckle.
Kahlan smiles, this time genuinely, the first she's managed in several hours. "With Zedd, it certainly wouldn't surprise me."
Richard fleetingly glances towards Cara, and then hesitates before asking, "Have you noticed that Cara seems to be acting a little odd? I mean, more so than usual?"
Kahlan falters for a moment, unsure how to respond, because yes, she has noticed and she has a fairly good idea as to why - an idea which she cannot share with him. Finally she settles on, "She does seem a little withdrawn. But it's been an unusual day, for us all, I'm sure she's just trying to process what's happened. As we all are."
He nods, seeming to accept her explanation. "And you? How are you feeling? As you say, it was an unusual day...," he trails off.
She takes a deep breath, closes her eyes momentarily, and when she opens them, Richard is looking at her with concern. "I'm…I'll be fine Richard. I just need to rest, I think." She squeezes his hand, a gentle reassurance as she sees the concern still clouding his features. "In fact, that's just what I intend to do," she says, standing up and heading towards where they had previously unfurled their bedrolls.
Richard stands as Kahlan turns to teasingly ask, "Are you going to join me? Or am I to suffer Zedd's snoring alone?"
He laughs. "I'm a little restless, I'll only keep you awake." As if an afterthought, he adds with a look she doesn't know how to decipher, "If you don't mind, I'll just keep Cara company for a while."
"Of course," she says, reaching to cup his jaw, stroking her thumb across his cheek, wanting to kiss him, but feeling that it would somehow be a betrayal. She's not quite sure, however, exactly who she would be betraying: Richard, herself, or Cara. She darts her eyes away quickly, severing their connection before he has a chance to see the tumultuous thoughts that have suddenly saturated her mind. "Goodnight," she whispers, voice thick with unexpected emotion.
She lies, staring up into the vast inky blackness that is the night sky, wondering how she allowed her feelings to become so confused. Kahlan lies awake, staring, contemplating, until she hears Richard approaching. She closes her eyes, pretends to be sleeping as he settles on his bedroll on the opposite side of the small campfire, and when she hears his breathing even out and deepen, her troubled eyes open once again. Her mind drifts back to that night. The night that she's only now realising changed everything.
It was the night she watched as Cara recounted the day's journey to the grotto, to the Night Wisp birthing ground; she saw the sorrow colour her shimmering eyes, and heard the guilt strain her voice as she said she should have run faster, harder, done more to make sure the mother survived. And as Kahlan remembers the serene yet awestruck smile that unknowingly spread across Cara's face as she described the birth of the next generation, Kahlan's heart, just as it did that night, clenches. Remembering how the ethereal nature of her wonderment, highlighted by the flickering flames of their small campfire, made her appear young and deceptively innocent, and how she felt compelled to reach out and touch Cara; to reach for her hand, to stroke her face, just as she did to Richard only a few short hours ago. The need to kiss her becoming inexplicably all consuming. But she didn't, she couldn't. Instead, she feigned exhaustion, much like she's doing now, so she could attempt to calm and make sense of her suddenly chaotic thoughts.
Kahlan remembers waking, late into the night, seeing the campfire had died down to little more than glowing embers. She remembers feeling eyes on her and scanning the forest in front of her, and finding nothing, no one. Still feeling ill at ease, she rolled over to find Cara, wide awake, propped up beside her, Cara's weight supported by the elbow that was pressed into the cold earth between their bedrolls, and her head supported by the hand that was buried in her hair.
Cara was watching her intently, with a look that Kahlan is only now, upon reflection and with hindsight, able to recognise. The feelings she had barely managed to supress earlier in the night rose to the surface, and this time she was unable to ignore her wants. Slowly, Kahlan lifted her arm, reached out to tuck the stray lock of hair that had fallen in front of Cara's eyes behind the other woman's ear, and gently reached around her head to pull Cara forward, and claimed her lips with her own.
Kahlan ghosts her fingers over her lips, remembering how it felt to have Cara's soft, pliant mouth caressing hers. Remembers how, after their initial contact, Cara pulled away, wanting eyes flitting between Kahlan's own eyes and her lips as Cara worried her full bottom lip between her teeth. Kahlan could see the uncertainty in her just as easily as she could see the hunger. She sought to reassure Cara by moving the hand that had been tangled in the hair at the nape of Cara's neck, trailing her fingers down her warm, smooth cheek until she could use her thumb to gently free that abused lip from its mistreatment. Unsure as to her sudden need for Cara, Kahlan continued to stare into ever darkening eyes, until Cara seemed to reach the decision to push aside her uncertainty, and as she felt the gentle pressure of Cara's hand pushing on her shoulder, a silent request for her to lie down, Cara moved to straddle her waist.
Lying just a few feet from a slumbering Richard, in the shadow of the great, towering Pillars, Kahlan closes her eyes and remembers how her travelling dress and Cara's leathers were shed with haste in the haze of their rapidly intensifying lust. She remembers the almost devastatingly pleasurable torture as Cara slowly, reverently, explored her body, searing invisible marks onto her skin as her lips followed the path mapped out by her fingers. She remembers the feeling of being entered for the first time, being filled by Cara's fingers, and the honest, unrestrained emotion that flooded the eyes of the usually impassive Mord'Sith as she tenderly, expertly, brought her to the brink of release. Seeing her confessor magic turn Kahlan's eyes almost entirely black, and apparently feeling the air of panic rolling off of her, Cara withdrew her fingers, only to replace them with Kahlan's own, and used her slick fingers to gently guide Kahlan in the steady rhythm she had created.
At the very last moment, Kahlan remembers Cara moving off of her, lying propped up on her elbow beside her, never breaking eye contact as her penetrating green eyes bore into hers as she stroked herself to an explosive climax. She remembers with painful clarity that as she came, Cara's eyes momentarily swirled with black. Kahlan remembers the surge of despair, heartache, and horrified guilt that tore through her body as she realised that in being so consumed by her own pleasure, she had failed to notice Cara's hand gently stroking her inner thigh.
She had thought that she'd destroyed Cara. The magnificent, fierce warrior who would sacrifice everything for those few people she held dear. Kahlan had thought that with one act of selfish want she had enslaved her, destroyed the free will Cara had only recently reclaimed. Kahlan had thought that her selfishness meant that Cara would die while once again unwillingly bound to another, but as Cara moved to straddle her once again and as she felt a hand slide up her thigh to cup her still pulsating sex, Kahlan saw that ever present smirk reappear and it was clear she hadn't confessed Cara. Too relieved to question how or why, she pulled Cara down for an intense, passionate embrace that left them both panting, needing more.
In the crisp desert air, a rush of heat surges through Kahlan's body as she remembers exactly how much more they had. She remembers exploring Cara. Remembers following every mark that mars her beautiful, battle scarred body with her tongue. Wetness pools at her sex as she recalls making the strong, controlled Mord'Sith wantonly cry out and beg for more. Kahlan made her lose control, then watched as Cara took it back, reversing their positions. She remembers that after she blissfully surrendered to Cara's skilled hands and mouth, the Mord'Sith took her with a passion and hunger Kahlan had only ever seen her display in the heat of battle.
She opens her eyes, glances towards where Cara stands, in the shadows, at the far side of camp. Kahlan sees her leaning against a fallen pillar; agiel clutched tightly in each hand, staring into the black nothingness beyond. She wonders how she could have missed that no matter how fervent Cara's touches became, how heated her kisses, she conveyed a tenderness Kahlan had never before experienced. A tenderness Kahlan wasn't aware Mord'Sith were capable of.
Kahlan remembers waking just as the radiant warmth of dawn was beginning to make itself known, feeling naked breasts and stomach pressed into her equally naked back, could feel the swell of her rear pressed tightly against the neat, soft curls of Cara's sex. Thigh against thigh, shin against calf, feet tangled together, and Cara's arm draped over her body with her hand pressed to her stomach, holding Kahlan close as she slept.
Remembering Cara's need for intimacy, not just sexual, but physical and emotional intimacy, she wonders what triggered it. Wonders why the detached and fiercely independent Mord'Sith suddenly so desperately needed the touch of another. But whatever the reason, she needs to forget.
She needs to forget the comfort and the warmth of her. Needs to forget how it felt to wake up surrounded by Cara; surrounded by her strong arms and the safety her embrace provided. She needs to forget how it felt to have such an incredible, powerful, proud woman writhing beneath her, pleading with her, begging. Needs to forget her touch, and how Cara made her own body tremble and purr. Needs to forget how with one touch, Cara made her forget everything except the smell, the taste, and the touch of a woman who was once her sworn enemy; made her forget everything except how much she needed, wanted, Cara and only Cara. It's all too much.
Kahlan thinks of Richard, and the way he used to make her heart beat faster or her entire body tingle when he'd smile at her. She tries to remember when that started to change. The Sisters of the Light. Denna. She remembers travelling alone with Cara after Richard had left with the Sisters and Zedd had been taken by Denna. She remembers mornings waking to find Cara stoking the fire or pacing the perimeter of their camp. She often wondered if Cara ever actually slept or if she stood watch all night.
She remembers the look that settled on Cara's face as the Mord'Sith pressed her agiel to the wound on her leg. She thought it was just Cara being Cara; taunting, provoking. Now she realises what that look was. Hunger, want, arousal. Kahlan remembers the deep throb that took up residence in her centre upon witnessing Cara's reaction, but not understanding it. She now realizes that it was her body recognising, understanding, what her mind could not. What her mind would not.
How many other times had Cara's feelings betrayed her? How many times had Cara's actions told Kahlan she wanted her? Felt for her? How many times had Kahlan's own body and mind told her she wanted Cara? She'd look for Cara after every fight to make sure she was unhurt, only to find the Mord'Sith staring back, apparently with the same intention. She never questioned why it was her safety, and not Richard's, the Lord Rahl, which the Mord'Sith sought out first. She also never questioned why she'd only make sure Richard and Zedd were safe after checking for Cara.
Somewhere along the way, and without her realising, Cara had become the person she cared for most.
Kahlan thinks back to when they were trapped in that Creator-forsaken tomb, when they traded vows of friendship. Remembers how the word "friend" seemed wrong as it tumbled from Cara's hesitating lips. How it made her heart beat faster and ache all at once. Kahlan realises now that she longed to hear different words. Not words of friendship, but words of affection, words of love. Remembers that as she leant forward, in anticipation and silent encouragement for Cara to continue, she had hoped she'd hear those words. But as the word "friend" filled the stale air around them, the weight of disappointment settled heavily on her heart
How she didn't recognise what those feelings were, what they meant, is beyond her comprehension. It's all so obvious now.
She recalls the perplexing thoughts that occupied her mind as she saw how Leo looked at Cara. She remembers the acrid taste of jealousy that filled her mouth as she encouraged Cara to open up, to lower her walls, and accept Leo's affections. She had assumed that she'd merely been envious of Cara; envious of her being able to be close to and to be intimate with the man who carried the Sword of Truth when she herself could not.
She remembers the paralyzing fear that stilled her heart when they learnt Cara had died and returned as a baneling. Unable to force the words she so desperately wanted to say passed her lips, she merely uttered useless platitudes, rested her hand on Cara's shoulder, and squeezed gently. Inadequate comfort that couldn't convey how much the situation terrified her; how the thought of losing the woman who had only just entered her life, the woman who against all odds had become more than simply a travelling companion, made her heart constrict painfully and her mind race in desperation as she tried to think of a way to fix it and to save Cara.
She remembers with shame the relief that momentarily took hold of her as Thaddicus took his own life by Cara's hand in an attempt at giving her more time. And as Cara and Richard hurriedly set off to reach the source of the shadow water, she hoped against hope that they'd make it in time. Never before had she felt such relief as she heard Cara's shout of "I'm here," as she rushed towards them, revived and ready to give Thaddicus the Breath of Life.
She remembers the affection that swept through her as Cara seemed to seek her approval; Kahlan had never seen Cara be so uncertain of her decisions or of herself as she had when she asked if Kahlan thought her a monster for taking the Keeper's deal. She wanted to take Cara in her arms, to hold her and assure her that she most definitely wasn't a monster. She wanted to feel Cara, warm and alive, and wanted to reassure herself that the Mord'Sith was still here with her and still safe.
She remembers the look of panic that fleetingly appeared in Cara's eyes as she realized that pressing her agiel to Nicci's throat hurt not only the sorceress, but Kahlan also.
She remembers the barely contained rage that seemed to fill Cara as Zedd explained the effects of the maternity spell the Sister of the Dark had cast upon her. As Kahlan remembers asking to be killed, she sees the look of…..something that flashed in Cara's eyes when she said the Mord'Sith could revive her with the Breath of Life. Even now, she can't figure out what that look meant.
She hears Cara, scared and uncertain, as she insists that Kahlan is not going to die. Thinks about how frightened the Mord'Sith looked when she regained consciousness, her head resting on leather covered thighs. She remembers her need to reassure Cara, to make the fear leave the green eyes she had unknowingly grown to adore, and as Kahlan became aware of the world around her, she sought out those eyes with her own.
She feels a twinge of guilt as she thinks about how Cara attempted to initiate a conversation about Frederic, her father, only to be abruptly interrupted. She remembers the harsh tone and the raised voice she used on the Mord'Sith as she said she didn't want to talk about her father. Kahlan wasn't aware she could hurt the other woman's feelings, but as Cara reeled back, she realised that's exactly what had happened. What surprised her as she apologised was the concern that radiated off of Cara; she expected to be met with indifference or perhaps even anger, not with the worry that coloured the Cara's features.
The last thought that drifts through Kahlan's mind as she finally surrenders to her exhaustion is the blind hatred she felt when she and Richard first came upon Cara, and the complete disregard she had for the Mord'Sith's life as she wanted to confess her. The thought sends a wave of fright through her. Fright at how easily and guiltlessly she would have destroyed the woman who has come to mean everything to her. She now finds it impossible to imagine her life without the gruff, fiercely loyal, incredible Cara. And it somehow doesn't surprise her when she realises that she doesn't want to.
As the late morning sun warms Kahlan's skin, she stirs into consciousness wondering why the others allowed her to sleep so late. She sits to find Zedd sat before the recently extinguished fire, slowly eating a handful of dried berries and staring absently off into the distance.
As she moves to sit beside him, she notices the absence of Cara and Richard. Before she can ask of their whereabouts, Zedd turns to greet her with a gentle smile. "Kahlan, how are you feeling this morning?"
"I'm…ok. I'm better now I've had a good night's rest," she offers with a weak smile.
Zedd fixes her with a doubtful look as he says, "Kahlan, you don't have to pretend. Yesterday's events were unprecedented and extremely traumatic; it's perfectly understandable if you're not alright."
Staring at the sandy ground beneath her feet, the Confessor says quietly, "What Nicci did – stealing my power, confessing me – I wasn't aware that was possible. I don't know how I feel, I don't know how I'm supposed to feel, but I think I just need time. I'm not alright, but I will be."
"Zedd," she interrupts, raising her eyes to meet his. "I just need time. Honestly. Talking about what that sorceress did to me just makes me angry, and after yesterday, after what I did, I don't want to be angry. So please, give me the time I need," she implores, her blue eyes staring beseechingly into Zedd's own.
Reaching over to gently, reassuringly, squeeze her hand, the wizard says, "Of course, dear one. But if you do wish to talk, about anything, know that I'm here - always."
With a small, sincere smile she replies, "Thank you, Zedd." Turning her attention to her missing travelling companions she asks, "Where are Cara and Richard?"
Seeming to hesitate before answering, Zedd looks off in the direction of the stream she knows is nearby. "They've gone to fill the water skins."
"They've gone to fill the water skins?" Kahlan asks doubtfully, having detected the half-truth in his answer.
"Yes, they've gone to fill the water skins," he reaffirms.
Half amused, half worried, she asks, "Zedd, are you actually trying to lie to a Confessor?"
Affronted, the wizard exclaims, "Lie? I would never! I-"
"Zedd," Kahlan interrupts for the second time this morning. "They may well have gone for water, but what aren't you telling me?"
Defeated, he admits, "Richard may have wanted to speak with Cara alone and decided to accompany her to the stream."
Irrationally, Kahlan feels her body stiffen and panic swell in her chest as she asks, "For what possible reason would he need to speak with her alone?"
"Cara expressed her desire to return to the People's Palace, with or without Richard. She claims that someone needs to attempt to restore order. She wishes to align the Mord'Sith and soldiers loyal to Richard, the true Lord Rahl, and bring about peace. She claims that under Richard's orders, they will follow her command," Zedd explains, eyes filled with doubt.
Aghast, Kahlan exclaims, "But with Rahl attempting to seize control of the D'Haran army and the Mord'Sith, that would be suicide!"
The wizard nods in agreement. "Which is why Richard wanted to speak with Cara alone, to try to convince her to return to Aydindril with us. Once there, we can discuss the future of D'Hara and what can be done in regards to Rahl."
Stunned, Kahlan barely manages to say, "She wasn't planning on coming to Aydindril with us?"
Once again Zedd hesitates, this time more noticeably, before replying, "I think recent events have had more of an effect on her than she'd ever admit."
"Recent events? What do you mean?" She asks, confusion clouding her features.
Hesitating for the third time, Zedd decides honesty is the best option. "I mean: whatever transpired between you and her when you travelled to the Night Wisp grotto has made it so that she can no longer ignore her feeling for you," he says softly.
"I…I don't… Zedd, I don't know what you mean, nothing happened. We just-I mean, noth-" Her stuttered reply is cut short by the knowing look she sees settle on the wizard's face. Admitting defeat, she asks, "How long have you known?"
Exhaling slowly before taking a deep breath, Zedd answers a question with a question and asks, "How long have I known she has feelings for you or…how long have I known you have feelings for her?"
"Zedd…" she breathes, unsure how to answer.
"I may be an old fool Kahlan, but I still have my senses," he chuckles. "Oddly enough, it was Cara's feelings for you that were more obvious. For someone who claims to not have feelings, she doesn't hide them very well. I think I've known longer than she has. I believe it took her some time to realise what her feelings meant," he explains.
Dumbfounded, Kahlan can only open and close her mouth repeatedly while desperately searching for something to say.
"I…" Unable to continue, she stands, and walks to the edge of camp, needing a moment to herself.
Zedd watches from his place by the dead fire, giving Kahlan the time she needs to compose her thoughts. After a few moments, he approaches and rests his hand on her shoulder.
"What I feel for Cara is not love," she says. "I think of her as a friend, my sister. I certainly do not love her as I love Richard," she states with as much conviction as she can muster.
"Kahlan," he says, moving to face her. "I never said you love her. But I've seen how you look at her, and it is not platonic. And it most definitely isn't sisterly either. It is, however, the same way you used to look at Richard."
Shocked eyes dart up to meet wise eyes as she asks, "Used to?"
"Kahlan," he says again, with his tone gentle and his understanding eyes trying to offer comfort. "I know you love Richard, but first love isn't always meant to last. Richard is my grandson, the last thing I want is for him to hurt, but you are the granddaughter I never had, and even Cara has somehow managed to work her way into my heart," he offers with a rueful smile as he thinks about exactly what Cara would say to that. "I see all three of you confused and in pain, and I wish there was something I could do to help; some spell or potion that would clear your conscience and allow you to be happy with whomever your heart chooses. But there isn't," he finishes, wanting nothing more than to ease Kahlan's confusion.
The tears that have been glistening in Kahlan's eyes spill over at Zedd's words. She tries to respond, but once again words fail her. Finally, she manages to whisper, "I can't love Cara."
He chuckles softly as he pulls Kahlan into a comforting embrace, and gently says, "The heart is an irrational thing that wants what it wants, regardless of what your head tells it you wants."
She pulls back at Zedd's words, frowning in confusion, "What?"
The wizard takes a breath to clarify, but before any words can leave his lips they're interrupted by the sounds of Richard and Cara returning to camp. Quietly, he says, "You have a decision to make Kahlan. You need to decide whether to follow your head or your heart. And you need to decide before you, one way or another, lose them for good." With that, Zedd turns to greet the Seeker and Mord'Sith with the joviality they've all come to expect from him.
Deciding not to stop for their midday meal, irrespective of Zedd's objections, they travel well into the late afternoon. As Kahlan walks several paces behind Richard and Zedd at the rear of the group, she wonders if anyone has noticed her distraction. Neither of the men has tried talking with her, thus allowing her to focus her mind, and her vision, on the woman walking ahead of them all. Cara has kept a brisk pace since they left the Pillars, not engaging anyone in unnecessary interactions, and although that's not unlike her, it's still bothersome.
Despite the Confessor's best efforts, the Mord'Sith has spent the best part of the day avoiding her questioning gaze. Kahlan had forgotten just how stubborn Cara could be, and it is just as frustrating now as it had ever been before. She's not sure exactly why she so desperately wishes to see Cara's eyes; all she knows is that she misses the intensity that burns in them whenever their gazes meet, and she misses the affection Cara unintentionally radiates when looking at her. But Kahlan knows she shouldn't miss these things; they're the same things she sees in Richard's eyes when he looks at her, but to her shock, she realises that coming from Cara, they mean more to her.
So focused are Kahlan's thoughts on Cara, she's oblivious to the dark shapes moving just behind the treeline to her right. She doesn't notice anything is amiss until several dozen figures wearing the red and black of D'Hara come streaming towards them; their swords held high, ready and wanting to taste the blood of their enemies.
In an instant her daggers are in her hands; she hears the ringing of the Sword of Truth as it's unsheathed, and she hears the distinctive scream of agiels as Cara grips them tightly in her leather-clad hands. All too quickly the soldiers are upon them, hacking, slicing, trying to land a fatal blow. With each thrust, parry, and slice she's aware that the D'Haran numbers are falling. With a satisfied grunt, she removes her dagger from where she had embedded it in the neck of an overly large, overly confident brute of a man. He had foolishly left his right side unprotected as he swung his left arm, the arm wielding an unpleasant looking axe, aiming to cleave Richard in two.
Just as Kahlan turns her attentions to a soldier who managed to avoid Zedd's Wizard's Fire, she hears a distinctly feminine grunt of pain somewhere behind her. As she hears Richard's panicked cry of Cara's name, her blood runs cold. Quickly and ruthlessly dispatching the soldier she was trading blows with, she turns to find Cara, barely ten yards away from her, lying motionless on her back, the huge gash across the side of her ribcage clearly visible even from a distance. The soldier responsible for inflicting the wound stands above her, readying his sword to deliver the blow that will end her life. Fighting through the last few remaining D'Harans, desperately trying to get to the prone woman, she sees the man raise his sword and mercilessly run it through Cara and deep into the earth below.
"No, Cara!" She hears Richard yell; sees him reach the Mord'Sith's side; sees him brutally dispatch the man responsible for wounding his friend and then drop to his knees. She knows she should be angry at him for dropping his sword, leaving himself defenceless, and as she quickly scans the area and sees a few remaining soldiers standing, she is. She sees them approaching the Seeker from behind, and rushes to intercept them before they reach their destination. With a few swift and well placed blows, the men fall quickly at the hands of the Confessor.
Terrified, she stands motionless over Richard and Cara. She sees the huge gaping hole where the sword penetrated her torso; with relief she sees that although she's slipped into unconsciousness, she's still breathing. But only just.
As Kahlan kneels beside Cara's head, she frantically searches for Zedd, finding him stood amidst the charred bodies around him; his eyes checking for any other possible threats. "Zedd!" she shouts, panic making her voice shrill. "Zedd, we need you! Cara, she's hurt, it looks bad."
Rushing to the injured Mord'Sith's side, he ushers both Kahlan and Richard back, asking for space as he kneels over her.
"She can't breathe," he explains as he quickly examines Cara's injuries. "The sword must have punctured her lung." As he sees Richard start to panic, he quickly reassures, "I can heal her, but it may take some time."
He turns his gaze towards Kahlan, asking, "May I borrow a dagger? I need to get access to her wounds, which means I need to remove her leather."
Deep in shock, Kahlan can only shake her head and reply, "You-you can't cut her leather. She loves her leather, she'd never forgive you. You'll have to take it off prop-"
"Kahlan," Richard's worried, but gentle, voice interjects. "There's no time to unlace her leathers correctly. Zedd needs to get to her injuries quickly."
Shaking herself out of the daze that seemed to envelop her, she hands her right dagger to the wizard, absently noticing the blood that coats the blade.
He slices down the centre of Cara's leather, splitting it in two. As he peels away the left side, revealing first her breast, then her naked torso, Richard looks away, a slight blush colouring his cheeks.
The Seeker quickly moves to where he dropped his pack, reaches inside for his blanket, and returns to cover the blonde's now fully exposed chest.
"Her lung is the most pressing matter, but she's losing a lot of blood from the wound on her side." Zedd explains. As he turns to Richard, he instructs, "Use the blanket to press on the gash, we need to slow down the blood loss while I try to heal her lung."
Kahlan watches as Zedd places his hands over Cara's torso, hears the muttering of words she doesn't understand, and once again falls to her knees beside Cara. She pulls the Mord'Sith's head onto her lap, and leans down to rest her forehead against the blonde's, whispering pleading words, begging her to fight; to come back to her.
Kahlan's not sure how long she's been sat like that, resting her head against Cara, with the tears she's unable to control gently rolling down her face. She's also not sure how long Zedd's been working on Cara, but it feels too long. She feels movement nearby, and looks up to find Richard crouched down beside her with his hands still pressing the blanket tightly against Cara, a look of understanding on his face as he worriedly watches on. Of course he understands, she thinks, Cara's his friend too.
Kahlan turns her attention to Zedd as he stops chanting and moves his hands to the wound on her side, replacing Richard's hands with his own. "How is she?"
Wearily, he releases a sigh before answering, "She's… Her lung is healed, as are the entrance and exit wounds of the blade. I need to focus on the gash on her side-"
Richard interrupts, needing to know one thing. "Will she be alright?"
"She'll have a better chance if you allow me to concentrate and stop the bleeding instead of barraging me with questions!" The old wizard barks, his worry getting the better of him.
Unable to be offended by his grandfather's harsh tone, Richard merely nods his acquiescence. He turns to see Kahlan gently lower Cara's head on the ground and move away to feverishly start cleaning her blood-stained daggers.
Watching her move several feet away, he rises to follow. As he reaches her he lays a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Kahlan, she's going to be fine. Zedd said-"
Looking at him with watery eyes, she mutters, "Zedd didn't say she's going to be fine, Richard."
"No. But she will be," he asserts, not willing to consider otherwise. Taking the half cleaned dagger from her hands, he nods towards Zedd and Cara, "I'll clean these. You should go be with Cara."
"She's your…" he trails off, glancing quickly to his injured friend, and then turning back to meet Kahlan's questioning eyes, "She's your friend, Kahlan, and she needs you. You should be with her right now, in case she wakes up."
Taking his hand, Kahlan says, "You're her friend too, we should both be with her right now. Come with me."
"I don't think Zedd would want us both hovering over them," he says, shaking his head. With a sheepish smile he adds, "And I don't want him shouting at me again."
Pouring a little water from his water skin over the bloodied blade of his sword, Richard watches Kahlan settle beside Cara once again. He watches as the woman he loves takes the hand of the still unconscious Mord'Sith; the worry etched across her face making his heart ache for all three of them.
He can't hear the words Zedd and Kahlan are exchanging, but as his grandfather no longer appears to be muttering indecipherable words over Cara, he assumes that the wizard's done all he can for her.
Sheathing his sword and gathering Kahlan's daggers, he makes his way towards the now silent threesome. As he looks over Zedd's shoulder to Cara, he sees that her previously torn leather has been repaired along with her injuries. "Her leather?"
With a shake of his head, Zedd mutters, "I would not wish to incur the wrath of Cara if she were to wake to find her leather still damaged; especially if I could have mended it along with her, but instead chose not to."
Raising a teasing eyebrow, Richard asks, "Zedd, are you afraid of Cara?"
"Of course I am."
Richard's next teasing words are halted before he has a chance to utter them as Kahlan asks worriedly, "If she's fine, why is she still unconscious, Zedd?"
"I don't know," he says with a sigh. "There could be many reasons why Cara's still unconscious. I'm no healer, there's only so much I can do, I'm afraid"
Looking up into the ever darkening sky and then scanning the forest around them, Richard says, "We need to get moving. We need to be off this road before nightfall."
Kahlan's quite certain that once Cara wakes up, she'll be outraged by the indignity of being carried by her Lord Rahl. But circumstances were against her; the late hour and Zedd's exhaustion meaning that the only way to reach the town by nightfall was for Richard to carry her.
They had burst through the door of the inn - the Seeker of Truth carrying an unconscious Mord'Sith and the Mother Confessor supporting the weight of a clearly struggling Wizard of the First Order - and the innkeeper merely raised his eyebrows in surprise, and then handed over the keys to the two rooms Richard requested.
After carrying Cara up the almost impractically narrow stairway to what would be hers and Kahlan's room, Richard gently placed her on the bed and then left to make sure Zedd got the rest he sorely needed instead of heading downstairs to indulge himself – a task Kahlan did not envy in the least.
Kahlan now finds herself here, alone, staring at Cara, willing her to wake up. She's been sat on one of the chairs placed by the small table in the corner of the room for a while, watching the steady rise and fall of Cara's chest as she tries to reconcile her feelings for Cara with her duty to both Aydindril and to Richard. She loves the Seeker, she honestly, truly does, but she realises it's not enough. She doesn't desire him as she once did; the prospect of spending her life with him no longer fills her with joy as it did before, and the thought of being with him while she feels this way about Cara sickens her.
Closing her eyes against the tears threatening to fall, Kahlan takes a deep breath; she knows what she has to do. She just hopes she's strong enough.
Although Kahlan's not sure she wants to face Richard just yet, the promise of the breakfast she can smell cooking in the tavern below proves impossible to resist. She quickly freshens up at the small bowl of water left for her the night before and after checking on Cara one last time, heads downstairs to join Richard and Zedd.
Reaching the bottom of the narrow stairway, Kahlan stops cold as she sees Richard and Zedd in a quiet corner, the table empty before them and the wizard appearing to be comforting the troubled-looking Seeker. She approaches slowly, and as Richard looks toward her with eyes full of regret, she realizes what the two men are discussing. She wants to turn around and run as quickly as she can back to the sanctuary of her room, wants to never have to see those brown eyes so full of pain ever again, but instead she straightens her spine, holds her head high, and tries desperately to keep the impassive mask of a confessor firmly in place.
As she reaches the table, Zedd rises and steps passed Kahlan, stopping briefly to squeeze her shoulder gently and offer a small reassuring smile. She returns it hesitatingly and then watches as he disappears up the stairs she's trying hard not to flee to. She sits opposite Richard, folds her hands on her lap, and stares intently at a small blackened notch in the table.
"You love her," Richard states softly as she feels his Seeker's eyes watching her closely.
Kahlan raises her eyes, meets his resolutely, and nods. "Yes, I do."
Richard shifts in his seat, sniffles softly, and as Kahlan sees his eyes shining with tears her heart tightens. But she has to do this; it's the only fair thing for all of them. "I'm so sorry, Richard," she says. "I never meant for this to happen." She falters, takes a deep breath, unsure of what to say next, or how to explain how or when she fell in love with a Mord'Sith. "She wasn't what I expected, she's so much more, Richard," she starts softly. "I'd never stopped to consider my feelings towards her; she's my friend, our companion, and it wasn't until the Pillars of Creation that I-"
"You realised then?" Richard interrupts. "Before or after Zedd had told us we could be together? That our love was more powerful than any magic?" he asks, his voice getting sharper with each word.
"Richard, please…" she pleads.
"Please what, Kahlan?" he demands, the rising anger in his voice betrayed by the frightened eyes begging her to not to do this. He sighs sadly, the anger draining out of him as quickly as it rose, and he slumps in his seat. "I saw how she looked at you, how she changed," he mutters almost too quietly for Kahlan to hear. "I wanted to think it was because of me; that by having someone trust her, believe in her, she could change and be the person I always knew she could be."
With tears running freely down her cheeks, Kahlan wants to say something, tell him that Cara is the person she is because of his influence, but she knows that's not true and all she can manage is a strangled, "Richard…"
"But it wasn't me," he continues. "It was you who helped her become the person she is." He shakes his head and chuckles bitterly as he mutters to himself, "I was so happy when you started getting along so well."
Kahlan composes herself, wipes away her tears and breathes deeply as she resolves to say what she needs to say. "I never wanted to hurt you, Richard," she says, her voice stronger than she thought possible under these circumstances. "I never thought I'd love anyone else but you. I'm not sure how it happened, but I love Cara, and being with you, marrying you once we return to Aydindril…that would be too cruel to all of us."
He nods silently, his eyes glistening wetly once again. "And Cara? You want to be with her?" he asks brokenly, his voice rough with emotion.
"Yes," she whispers. "Maybe."
Kahlan nods. "The only thing I know for sure is that I need her to wake up." She meets his eyes again; she needs to tell him everything, thinks he deserves to know the whole truth. "It wasn't until the Pillars of Creation that I knew how Cara felt about me," she explains slowly.
He closes his eyes and shakes his head sadly. "I can't, Kahlan," he says softly. "I can't hear anymore just yet."
Feeling ashamed of herself and her actions, Kahlan hangs her head and lets her tears fall unchecked. "I never wanted this," she whispers, "I never, ever wanted to hurt you, Richard."
"I know, Kahlan," he whispers back, his own tears spilling slowly. He clears his throat and scrubs his face with his hands as he takes a moment to gather himself. "We'll stay here for a few days, until Cara's awake and able to travel," he says softly. "And then travel on to Aydindril."
"And then what?" she asks. "Will you stay in Aydindril for a while?"
Richard nods. "We have to figure out what we're going to do about Rahl," he says. "Whatever happens after that, I won't stand in your way."
Frowning, Kahlan asks, "What do you mean?"
"Cara," he explains. "If Cara wishes to stay with you in Aydindril, I'll support her decision." Richard stands, shuffling uncomfortably before saying, "The village elders asked to meet with you, there seems to be a few issues they'd appreciate the Mother Confessor's help with."
Kahlan nods. "Will you please tell them I'll be there shortly?" she asks.
"Of course," he says as he steps around the table on his way to the tavern's exit.
"Richard…" Kahlan says sadly, reaching for his arm as he passes her. "Will you be all right?"
She sees his jaw clench as stares blankly ahead. "I just want you to be happy, Kahlan," he mutters quietly, refusing to look at her. "Even if it's not with me."
Kahlan watches Richard as he pulls his arm free from her gentle grip and walks away slowly, his heartache clear to see as he leaves the tavern with his head hanging low and his shoulder slumped. She scrubs angrily at her cheeks, wiping away the tears as a fresh wave of guilt washes over her. She just hopes all the pain she's caused will be worth it in the end, but until Cara wakes, she'll just have to wait and hope.
Needing to check on Cara, Kahlan heads back upstairs and as she reaches her door, she hears movement coming from inside. Her heartbeat increases and as pushes the door to her room open she stops, her jaw dropping slightly at the sight before her.
"Cara…" she breathes as she sees the other woman awake and tightening the laces of the leathers at her hips.
"Kahlan," she says casually, nodding her head in greeting.
Filled with overwhelming relief, Kahlan darts towards Cara, not bothering to shut the door behind her, and all but tackles the other woman as she throws her arms around her body and hugs her tightly.
"You're awake," she breathes.
Standing stiffly, not returning the embrace and wanting nothing more than to push Kahlan away, Cara says simply, "Yes, I am."
Kahlan pulls back a little, examining Cara's face closely for any signs of lingering pain or discomfort. "How do you feel?"
"I'd be a lot better if you weren't trying to squeeze me to death," Cara answers, forcing her way out of Kahlan's arms.
Long moments pass as Cara shifts her weight from one foot to the other, eyes drifting around the room as she searches for something to say. She feels Kahlan's gaze never wavering from her face, and as she finally meets her eyes, Kahlan quickly looks away, as if caught doing something she shouldn't.
"When do we leave for Aydindril?" she asks.
Still not willing to meet Cara's eyes, Kahlan steps towards the small bed and busies herself with tidying the blankets that Cara haphazardly discarded when she woke. "Richard wants to stay here for a few days," she says. "He says we could all do with a short rest."
Cara scoffs. "Mord'Sith don't need rest," she says, seemingly offended by the mere suggestion.
"We all do, Cara," Kahlan insists softly. "Especially you," she mutters as she roughly tucks the threadbare blanket underneath the thin straw mattress.
Raising an eyebrow, Cara stiffens as she asks, "Excuse me?"
Again, Kahlan mutters, "You need to rest."
"I need no such thing," Cara barks indignantly as she rests her hand on her agiel.
"You were hurt, Cara," Kahlan snaps, her patience wearing thin with Cara's Mord'Sith pride and stubbornness. "You were hurt badly, you lost a lot of blood and you were unconscious for half a day."
"And now I'm awake and I'm fine," Cara insists, her voice increasing in volume with each word.
"Well I'm not!" Kahlan shouts. She turns to face Cara, a pained look creasing her face and tears shining in her eyes. "You were hurt," she says again, sniffling softly and falling to the bed behind her. She rests her forearms on her knees and drops her head, letting her hair fall around her face to hide the tears she's not sure she can stop from falling.
Cara takes a tentative half step towards the other woman, not entirely sure how to respond. "Kahlan," she starts and takes another half step. "I'm fine," she insists softly.
Kahlan looks up, her broken gaze making Cara's chest tighten. She meets Kahlan's watery eyes and the resolve she's been holding onto for so long is close to breaking. She will not abandon a life's worth of sacrifice and duty in the name of her Lord Rahl for her own selfish desires. Sure she'll do something she'll regret if she tries to comfort Kahlan, she turns and leaves, grabbing her pack from beside the bed, and lets the door close softly behind her.
Richard's sat in a corner of the tavern, alone and brooding. The village elders had decided that their problems could wait; after talking with Richard briefly, they seemed to come to the conclusion that the weary Seeker and his companions should rest before involving themselves in local affairs. So he's been sat alone in the dark corner for a while when he hears the stairway door slam, and then watches a determined looking Mord'Sith stomp through the tavern and out the door. He stares after her for a few moments, not sure if he's ready to talk to Cara, but eventually he stands and chases after her.
"Cara!" he shouts quietly as he quickens his pace, trying to catch up to Cara without drawing attention to them.
Hearing her Lord's voice, she stops abruptly and turns, her face the usual empty mask of apathy and boredom as she says, "Yes, Richard?"
He looks at the pack slung over her shoulders and frowns. "You're leaving?" he asks, wanting to be shocked that she'd leave without a word, but finding he's unable to be.
"Someone has to try and protect D'Hara, and by the time you decide what to do Rahl will have recruited all the soldiers and all the Mord'Sith who are still loyal to you," she says sharply as she rests one hand on the agiel at her hip.
"Cara, there probably aren't any D'Harans left that would be loyal to me, it'd be suicide for you to even try, especially alone," he reasons,
She tightens her grip on her agiel and smirks dangerously. "Then I'll remind them to whom they should be swearing their allegiance."
Richard shakes his head sadly. "You can't leave, who'd stop me from getting killed?" he asks playfully, trying to lighten the mood and change the subject, if only for a while until he can figure out a way of convincing the annoyingly stubborn woman to stay.
Refusing to even acknowledge his joke, Cara snaps, "D'Hara is yours, Richard, and if you won't claim it, I'll gather the troops and do it for you."
"And what about Kahlan and Zedd?" he asks harshly. "You're just abandoning them, without even a goodbye?"
Cara rolls her eyes and scoffs as she says, "Zedd won't miss me."
"And Kahlan?" Richard asks softly.
He sees her jaw clench and her throat work as she swallows, and then she replies gruffly, "Kahlan will be too busy with her duties and with planning your wedding to even notice I'm gone."
Feeling his heart constrict at the mention of a future he and Kahlan will never share, he steels himself to say what he must. "No, she won't," he mutters sadly.
"What do you mean?" she asks, frowning. For the first time since he came after her, Cara looks at Richard closely and she sees his red rimmed eyes and the sadness they contain within.
He takes a deep breath to try and stop a new wave of emotion washing over him as he tries to explain to the woman who has Kahlan's heart why she no longer wants to marry him. "We decided…" he trails off, lowering his eyes and staring at the ground between them. He momentarily clenches his own jaw, and then forces himself to say, "Kahlan doesn't wish to marry me."
Shocked, Cara blinks, trying to find the right words. Unsure of what to say, she settles on, "Why?"
His pain getting the better of him, he snaps, "You'll have to ask her that."
Cara raises her eyebrows at his tone and takes a step back, slowly distancing herself from the suddenly angry Seeker. "Richard-" she starts.
Richard sighs, rubbing the back of his neck he meets Cara's gaze and says softly, "I won't order or even ask you to stay, but I will ask you to follow your heart." He turns and glances meaningfully towards the inn, then turns back to Cara. "If you really want to leave, I won't try to stop you. But just make sure it's what you really want." He lifts his hand and gently squeezes Cara's shoulder, and then walks away with his shoulders slumped and his head hanging low as he stares at the ground beneath his feet.
Cara stares at the closed door for a long moment, not sure what she'll say to the person on the other side. Slowly she pushes open the door and enters with her eyes low, trying to be as quiet as possible. As she hears muffled crying she looks up sharply and finds Kahlan sat exactly where she'd left her, with her hands covering her face and her body shaking as she tries to hold on to the sobs threatening to escape.
She rushes to Kahlan, kneels before her, and cups her jaw. She tenderly strokes her thumbs across pale cheeks and kisses away the tears before they reach her fingers. "I'm sorry, Kahlan," she mutters.
Kahlan breaks. Her tears come faster and she throws her arms around Cara, pulling her into a crushing embrace as she sobs silently. "I thought you'd left me," she manages to force out as her body shakes with the force of her sobs.
"I'm here, I'd never leave you, Kahlan," Cara coos softly as she rubs soothing circles on Kahlan's back.
Kahlan pulls back little, stares into Cara's eyes, and mutters, "I don't want you to." She tentatively leans forward and gently grazes her lips across Cara's.
"Kahlan," Cara breathes against her lips. She tries to move away from Kahlan, only to find herself trapped by the arms circling her neck. "We can't do this," she says firmly.
"I know how you feel about me," Kahlan says softly.
Cara drops her gaze to the floor and her hands settle on Kahlan's hips. "When we reach Aydindril, I'll ask Lord Rahl to allow me to travel D'Hara," she mutters. "He'll need someone to find and assemble the soldiers and Mord'Sith loyal to him."
"No, Cara," Kahlan says quickly. "I want you with me."
Cara looks up, confusion swimming in her eyes as she asks, "Why?"
"You know why," Kahlan replies.
Shaking her head slowly, Cara mumbles softly, "No, I don't."
"You do," she insists. "Or you wouldn't have come back"
"It doesn't matter." Cara lifts her hand, tucks an errant lock of dark hair behind Kahlan's ear. "You belong with Richard, not me."
"I belong with who I want to be with," she states as she absentmindedly plays with the hair at the nape of Cara's neck.
"We'd break Richard," Cara says. "If he found out he'd be within his right as Lord Rahl to send me to the Keeper for this betrayal."
Kahlan swallows, her next words coming out strained. "He already knows."
"What?" Cara asks, her eyes widening in shock and her body tensing. "How?"
"I told him," she says. Kahlan frowns in confusion as she corrects herself. "No, he already knew."
Cara mirrors Kahlan's frown, confused herself. "Kahlan, you're making less sense than you usually do."
"We talked this morning," she explains. "He already knew, I'm not sure how." She sucks her lower lip into her mouth, bites at the flesh as fresh tears threaten to fall. "I think he knew before I did," she whispers.
"Kahlan?" Cara asks softly. She raises an eyebrow, silently asking her to explain.
"We're over," she states, her voice trembling slightly. "I told him…" she trails off.
Cara nods, already aware of this. She shuffles closer and squeezes Kahlan's hips as she whispers, "Told him what, Kahlan?"
"That I love you and want to be with you," she blurts in a rush. Her lips curl cautiously as Cara's lips twitch softly, as if trying to break into a smile. Kahlan's own smile falters as she remembers the broken man she watched leave the tavern. "I hurt him," she says, her voice catching softly.
Cara sighs heavily. "I'm sorry, Kahlan," she says again.
"So am I." Kahlan takes a deep breath, and hesitates before asking, "Will you stay with me? In Aydindril?"
Cara's breath catches, and she looks away from Kahlan. "My place is with Lord Rahl," she says sadly.
"Your place is wherever you want it to be, Cara," Kahlan says firmly. "Richard said he won't stand in your way."
Cara's eyes dart to Kahlan's face, surprise mixing with hurt as she asks, "He doesn't want me with him?"
"He's hurt and he's in pain," Kahlan says softly. "But you're his friend, all he really wants is for you to be happy."
Cara scoffs. "And that just proves why he needs me," she says. "He's too soft, he'll get himself killed without me to protect him." She reaches for Kahlan's arms, pulls them from around her neck, and stands. "I can't do this, Kahlan," she says.
Kahlan watches as Cara grips the handle of her agiel and paces. "Cara-"
"No, Kahlan, he needs me," she interrupts sharply. "And what about Dennee?" she asks. "How will she feel about us? I killed her, remember?"
"And your people will never accept me." Cara stops pacing and turns to Kahlan. "They shouldn't accept me, I'm Mord'Sith."
Kahlan stands and approaches Cara slowly, wanting nothing more than to tell her that it's ok to be scared, and that she is too. She carefully moves Cara's hand from her agiel, and entwines their fingers. "They'll accept you when they see how much I love you, and how much you care for me," she says. "As will Dennee, eventually."
Kahlan steps closer to Cara, presses her body against the other woman's and kisses the corner of her mouth. Cara swallows, her breathing increases, and she closes her eyes against the flood of emotion threatening to spill out of her. "Kahlan," she murmurs.
"Please, Cara, please stay with me," Kahlan pleads, her voice barely a whisper as she squeezes a gloved hand and presses her tear-stained cheek to Cara's.
"And what happens when you realise you're too good for me?" Cara asks as she chokes back her own tears.
"That'll never happen," Kahlan replies confidently.
Cara opens her eyes, takes a deep breath and says, "I love you."
Kahlan wraps her arms around Cara's shoulders and holds her tightly. "I love you, too," she says. "And I don't think I could ever be without you."
Cara blinks rapidly, trying to blink away her tears before they manage to escape, but as one, then two slowly trail down her cheeks, she finally gives in and lets them fall freely. "As long as Richard allows it and as long as I'm sure he won't get himself killed, I'll stay with you in Aydindril," she murmurs softly.
Kahlan releases Cara, rests her hands on her shoulders and asks, "You will?"
Sniffling a little, Cara nods. "I want to be with you, too," she says. She pulls off her gloves and rubs her face, scrubbing away the tears and clears her throat, trying to regain her composure. "It won't be easy, Kahlan," she warns.
"I know," Kahlan replies with a soft smile. She cups Cara's cheek and pulls her close, tenderly resting her forehead against Cara's. "We also have a lot we need to talk about," she says. She presses her lips to Cara's gently, kissing her slowly, and then whispers against her lips as she gazes into emotion-filled eyes, "But you're worth the effort."
A/N 2: I know the end seems rushed, but yo, I just really needed to get this finished. It's taken a year and a half (!) of writing a few hundred words every few months to get this done and if I kept at it for any longer I think I might have just given up on it.