The first time it happened, Kahlan had been trying to prove a point.
Stupid, really, but then, that was exactly what Cara had said to them to get Kahlan all worked up in the first place: You're all idiots, this will never work, if you're so eager to die then I can find a bunch of nightshade and you can die right here. You won't have to wear yourself out walking. I'm going to bathe, let me know when you come up with a plan that's not completely stupid.
It was the way she'd said completely that ignited Kahlan's ire. Dripping with malice and hot with conviction, as if Kahlan and Richard and Zedd were literally the most mentally challenged people she could have ever found herself traveling with. And, yes, Kahlan's pride was a little hurt too. She wasn't an idiot. Yes, their plan for convincing the people of D'Hara to abandon the deep set ways of decades of Rahl rule was flawed. Yes, it probably wouldn't work. But at least they'd tried to come up with a solution instead of contributing nothing but negativity.
"She could be a little more helpful," Kahlan said.
"Who?" Richard was rummaging in his pack, searching for the flint and tinder to start a fire. "Cara?"
"Yes, Cara. Who else?"
Richard shrugged. "Cara's not helpful if she can avoid it."
They'd been traveling together for almost a fortnight. Of course Kahlan had noticed. She'd have to be blind not to notice the way Cara scowled whenever she was asked to collect firewood or rolled her eyes whenever Kahlan and Zedd attempted to have a conversation with her. The only person she tolerated was Richard, and even that was done with an air of aloof deferment, like she was humoring the authority he held over her. Cara obviously did not want to be there. Why she and Richard insisted on her presence was beyond Kahlan. There was an unspoken agreement between the two of them that Kahlan was more than a little wary of.
"I just think she could be a little more respectful."
Richard paused his search. "I told her not to defer to me as the Lord Rahl. I asked her to voice her opinions. I can't--"
Kahlan cut him off with an irritated wave of her hand. "I know. You told me. You want her to think for herself. All I want is for her to be a little more polite, Richard."
A little smile cut across Richard's lips, as if he was witnessing the temper tantrum of an illogical two year old. It made Kahlan's insides twist with irritation.
"You can tell her as much, but I doubt she'll listen."
"Fine." Kahlan stood--Richard's smile had sealed it. Cara was not immune to acts of basic human decency, and Kahlan was going to prove it. "I'm going to go tell her. Wish me luck."
She didn't try to keep the sarcasm from her voice, and if Richard noticed he gave no indication. He began striking the flint on a rock, unconcerned with Kahlan's anger.
"Don't confess her," he called over his shoulder.
She knew it was a joke, but it infuriated Kahlan all the more as she stalked after Cara. Despite the attempts at levity, the amount of time Richard spent worrying about if she was going to confess someone indicated he wasn't as confident in her ability to control the magic as he said he was. Always trying to calm her down, as if she was completely ruled by her emotions and incapable of feeling without losing control. She wasn't a child. She knew how to separate her emotion from her power. Just because Richard's newly found han was unpredictable didn't mean Kahlan was just as volatile. It was a small thing that she'd ignored at first because she loved him, but now it was beginning to irritate her. Spirits knew he didn't panic whenever Zedd got upset.
Kahlan snorted, imagining Richard clutching Zedd to his chest, rocking back and forth, petting Zedd's long grey hair reassuringly the way he did to Kahlan. He treated her like a fragile thing to be protected. That's how he'd always treated her, and until recently it hadn't bothered her. Maybe she was tired. Maybe they were spending too much time together under constant stress, that little things like that stressed her out.
She heard the faint whisper of the spring bubbling and clawed her way through the foliage blocking it from view. She didn't bother with stealth. Cara was infuriating but that didn't mean Kahlan didn't respect her abilities. She'd be heard no matter how carefully she crept.
Cara was standing at the edge of the spring, back to Kahlan, upper body bare save for a dark brown strapless breast band around her chest. Her shoulders were thrown back aggressively, the shorn edges of her blonde hair barely reaching the tops of her shoulder blades.
"Come to warn me to behave?"
Kahlan stopped. She crossed her arms over her chest. "I'm not Richard."
"Are you telling me that so that I know I don't have to listen to what you're about to say, or because you think I couldn't tell it was you walking through the woods?"
She said it with such casual indifference that Kahlan felt a tic jump in the middle of her forehead.
"It wouldn't kill you," Kahlan said through gritted teeth, "to show a little common courtesy."
Cara's tanned shoulders rose and fell once. "Is that it?"
It was very obvious from Cara’s tone that she found Kahlan’s complaints less than worthy of her attention. Kahlan couldn’t clench her fists any tighter. She was so angry, almost irrationally so, that if she’d had the capacity to step back and examine her reaction she’d be infinitely embarrassed. As it stood, though, she’d settle for smacking Cara under the pretense of slapping some manners into her.
“No, that’s not all,” Kahlan found herself saying. She didn’t have a speech planned, which meant at some point her words would probably fall off in coherency, but she was too worked up to stop. “You are a bitch, Cara.”
She watched the muscles in Cara’s back tighten, and Kahlan felt a trill of euphoria at the prospect of surprising the unflappable Mord-Sith.
“A horrible, rude, ungrateful, bitch.” Kahlan was breathing hard. Under her anger was a schoolgirl urge to run before the bully decided to retaliate, but she stood her ground, determined to get her point across.
Slowly, Cara finally turned to face Kahlan. It had been twelve days since they'd found Cara, after she'd been beaten and disowned by her fellow Mord-Sith. Her split lip had healed, but there were still angry scabs near her temple and across her right cheekbone. It made her look dangerous and vulnerable all at once, and the contrast unsettled Kahlan. Her eyes were hard, lips were pulled tight in an angry pout that seemed almost permanent as she surveyed Kahlan, and Kahlan felt her anger falter under Cara's piercing green eyes.
“Ungrateful,” Cara repeated. If her stare was unsettling, the lack of inflection in her voice was downright terrifying.
Kahlan thrust her chin forward determinedly. "Yes. Ungrateful. If it weren’t for us—“
“If it weren’t for you three halfwits, I’d still have a home.”
The argument Kahlan had been building died at the word “home”. That wasn’t how she imagined the People’s Palace. She envisioned it as a prison of sorts, where mostly innocent people went to be tortured and brainwashed. Mord-Sith, she imagined, were called to serve Darken Rahl out of something twisted that lurked deep in their souls. But even they were oppressed in some way, and for the life of her Kahlan couldn’t imagine being content calling a place like that home. But Cara had, and if she truly believed that, then of course she wouldn’t be inclined to say thank you. Rather than argue her point, Kahlan switched gears.
“It's not exactly a secret you don't like us--"
"But you'd all be more comfortable if it was a secret," Cara interrupted. Her voice was tinged with ice, detached and cool. "Am I right?"
It sounded ugly coming from Cara, but she wasn't exactly wrong, Kahlan admitted to herself. That was essentially what she was asking. Just not quite so...blunt.
“That’s not…" Kahlan shook her head adamantly. "No, you--”
“You were so certain a moment ago, Confessor. What’s wrong? Don’t like being faced with your own truths?”
Kahlan set her jaw and narrowed her eyes. “You’re twisting my words.”
“I’m being honest. Maybe you should extend me the same courtesy.”
Cara turned to face the spring, Kahlan’s dismissal implied with a flip of her sun bleached hair. Kahlan heard the unmistakable clank of a belt buckle being loosened. Still, she didn’t move. Cara wasn’t going to scare her away by getting naked. What was the old adage? She doesn’t have anything I haven’t seen before?
Except scars, Kahlan thought. A lot of scars.
Light scars traversed the entirety of Cara’s back. They didn’t appear to be raised, save one or two longer, vicious looking wounds. Which meant they’d been well cared for, and, deduced by sheer location, someone other than Cara. Cleaned, bandaged, stitched…she couldn’t imagine this Cara, this cold and angry Cara, ever letting anyone take care of her. Nor did Cara seem to have any concern for her own well being—the cuts on her face had been washed in more sweat than water in the past few weeks.
Kahlan watched the scars stretch and twist, overshadowed by the play of muscles beneath Cara’s tanned skin. Her spine was ridiculously well defined, her upper back cut from stone, yet it all tapered into two sensual dimples just above the rise of Cara’s pants.
“See something you like, Confessor?”
Kahlan started. Cara was looking over her shoulder, pouty lips twisted into a smirk.
“No, I—I was—“ She was embarrassed to have been caught, but even worse was her complete inability to control her reaction. Cara’s tone implied she’d caught Kahlan lusting, and that was not true. Not at all. But she knew that the blush heating her cheeks and her stammering would paint Cara an entirely different picture. She swallowed and thrust her chin forward determinedly. “You have a lot of scars.”
Cara snorted. “So?”
“So…" Kahlan scrambled. "So you don’t generally let blows land.”
Cara turned away again. “I wasn’t always as proficient as I am now.”
Kahlan stepped forward. She didn't know why--to get a better look, maybe. To see just how far beneath her shoulder blade that one scar curved. “Cara the Mord-Sith, admitting she isn’t a great fighter.”
“I did not say—“ Cara turned and found herself closer than she expected to Kahlan. She took a startled step back, and out of reflex, Kahlan grabbed Cara’s arm to keep her upright.
Quick as a blink, Cara wrenched her arm from Kahlan’s grasp. “Do not touch me,” she seethed. She was almost convincing in her anger at having her personal space violated, but Kahlan had seen that momentary flash of fear cross Cara’s features. It was so foreign on Cara’s face it was unmistakable. Cara may have left Darken Rahl’s side and joined Richard, but she was still plagued with a Mord-Sith’s fear of Confession.
And therein lay Kahlan’s power. She pressed forward, sensing a possible blackmail opportunity, if she could only convince Cara she wouldn't hesitate to confess her despite Richard's promises. Cara’s nostrils flared and she stayed stubbornly rooted to the spot.
Kahlan stopped mere inches away, the tip of her nose just above Cara’s. They were nearly the same size, though Cara’s separatist attitude and imposing presence had always made her seem a little taller.
“Funny. I’d say from the look of some of those scars, you let someone touch you.”
Cara’s mouth curled into a sneer. “She also helped in other areas as well. Are you volunteering, Confessor?”
Kahlan heard the challenge in Cara’s voice. She knew, without a doubt, that if she backed down now she would relinquish all power to Cara. Never would Cara have to listen to her. She would open herself to merciless ridicule and, perhaps worse, she would never be able to achieve even grudging respect from Cara. Kahlan thrust her chin forward.
Her voice held it’s own challenge. She didn’t expect Cara to back down, but she herself could leave on a high note. Leave with the challenge unanswered. No shift in power, just a bit higher stakes for next time. She allowed herself a smirk. As far as she was concerned, this was check. She stepped away, Cara’s green eyes drawn and fixed tight to Kahlan's.
She was pulled back immediately by Cara’s hand fisted in the loose material around the waist of her dress.
Kahlan crashed into Cara with a gasp, their bodies flush together save for the gap created between their chests by Kahlan’s hands. Her palms were pressed into Cara’s bare skin, just below her neck and just above the swell of her breasts.
“I just thought you should know what you’d be volunteering for,” Cara said. She was smiling wickedly, fully aware of Kahlan’s confounded state. She slid a leg forward, between Kahlan’s, and pressed her strong thigh up into Kahlan’s center.
Kahlan jerked in surprise. “Cara!”
“This is what Mord-Sith do for each other.” Cara’s voice had dropped an octave to something deep and predatory. She moved her hands to Kahlan’s waist and rotated her hips suggestively. "This is what you'd be agreeing to."
The sudden turn in events had Kahlan reeling. This was still a power struggle. There was still a challenge being posed. She just couldn’t see how she could win. Stopping Cara meant she was prudish and timid, put off by Cara’s inherent sexuality. Letting her continue…she didn’t even want to think about what letting Cara continue would mean to the Mord-Sith. It was either the ultimate submission or the ballsiest move Kahlan could make.
Cara seemed unconcerned with Kahlan’s dilemma. Her hands continued to rove Kahlan’s backside, cupping and squeezing areas not even Richard was allowed to cup and squeeze.
And worse than that, she was getting turned on.
She understood her body was a separate entity from her mind. It didn’t care who was stimulating it, only that right now, the right buttons were being pushed.
And pushed hard.
“Cara.” Kahlan was slightly breathless, and she cursed her traitorous body again. “You should stop.”
Cara’s eyes narrowed to dangerous slits. “So it’s not just Richard you like withholding from. You get off on it too.”
“I don’t…get off. At all,” Kahlan said. She could feel Cara's skin against her fingertips--her nails were digging into Cara's chest.
“I know.” Cara leaned forward until her mouth was a hair’s breadth from Kahlan’s ear, her thigh maintaining an even and constant rhythm. “So let me help,” she whispered.
Her breath was hot against Kahlan’s skin. Prickles of pleasure traveled up Kahlan’s scalp, and the last vestige of rational thought sharpened her awareness. She pushed against Cara’s chest, separating their upper bodies. Cara’s thigh remained stubbornly connected, but Kahlan could feel the dangerous swirl of confessor’s magic starting in her gut. She was stupidly turned on and it was her own fault. If she’d just do it herself once in awhile instead of worrying about if Zedd or Richard were still awake—
It hit her so fast she almost didn’t shove Cara away in time. Cara fell to the ground and Kahlan curled in on herself, hands wrapped around her midsection as her sex clenched in pleasure. The loss of contact just before orgasm dulled what would have been something significantly more earth shattering and left her less than satisfied. It was always that way, though: teetering on the verge of intense pleasure and falling back into something that left her hungry for more, because to achieve that pleasure would require a sacrifice she couldn’t justify.
Kahlan took a deep breath and opened her eyes, steeling herself for whatever crude joke Cara would no doubt make about her being “easy”.
Cara said nothing. She sat, leather clad legs sprawled out in front of her, the muscular plane of her belly shiny with sweat, her weight resting on her hands. The expression on her face was unreadable, her eyes fixed unblinkingly on Kahlan’s face.
Kahlan could not look her in the eye. She felt cheap. She had, without even the slightest hint of some elaborate seduction, cheated on Richard. And with a woman he had once turned down out of devotion to Kahlan, no less.
And to top it all off, she was still painfully aroused.
She quickly turned to leave—what else could she possibly do? Berate Cara for starting something Kahlan had had no problem with allowing her to finish? She was almost the edge of the forest when Cara called after her.
“Can I expect much of the same should I decide to behave?”
The self-satisfied smirk crossing Cara’s face was glaringly evident by the tone of her voice. Kahlan bit back a retort—anything she said would only swing the momentum further to Cara’s favor. Cara had leverage against Kahlan now. No more could Kahlan frighten her into submission with the threat of confession: one word to Richard or Zedd and their precarious harmony as a group would shatter. Kahlan had one option now: figure out a way to put Cara back in her place.