Cara remained stubbornly distant for the remainder of the day. Kahlan assumed that once they stopped for the night, Cara would roll out her bedroll and eat her dinner sullenly. Instead, she took two pieces of venison jerky and stomped away, not even bothering to be quiet. It wasn’t often that they ran across D’Haran soldiers or highwaymen or banelings this far from a village, but Kahlan could tell that Cara was looking for a fight. If there were any enemies in the area, she was going to find them.
Richard shook his head as she stomped away. “I shouldn’t have said anything earlier,” he said.
Kahlan touched his elbow. “You didn’t know she’d react this way.”
“She’s told me before she wasn’t going to talk about it. I think she’s upset that I brought it up in front of you and Zedd.” He winced. “She probably felt trapped.”
“Well, nothing that a little trunk bashing won’t fix.” Zedd lowered himself to a sitting position with a sigh, his long legs crossed in front of him.
“A little what?” Kahlan said.
“Trunk bashing.” Zedd began rubbing his hands together. “I’ll handle the fire tonight, Richard.” He turned back to Kahlan. “It’s when you go out in the woods and smash a stick against a tree trunk until you no longer feel angry.”
“So Cara will be gone for a few days.” Richard smiled weakly.
“Oh, I’m sure Cara’s doing her own version of trunk bashing.” Zedd chuckled. “It’s probably a bit more like head bashing.”
Kahlan bit her lip. That was exactly what she was afraid of: that angry Cara would rush headlong into some fight that she wouldn’t come out of unscathed. And here they were, trying to give her space when what she really might need was backup.
“Hey.” Richard cupped her face gently, pulling her gaze from the woods to his face. “Cara will be fine. She knows how to take care of herself.”
Kahlan nodded. She knew that, but it didn’t calm the pit of worry in her stomach. Behind them, Zedd’s Wizard’s Fire blazed to life, a beacon in the forest should Cara choose to return.
Cara crept back to camp hours after both Richard and Zedd had fallen asleep. Kahlan had volunteered to take the first watch, and the end of her shift had come and gone some time ago. She’d refused to wake Zedd though, determined to wait up until Cara reemerged.
“It’s me,” Cara announced boredly as she approached, and Kahlan relaxed her grip on her daggers.
“Where have you been?” Kahlan asked, her voice just as quiet. Cara tried to slip past her without answering. Kahlan grabbed her arm, pulling her up short. When Cara lifted her head to glare, Kahlan spotted a bubble of blood marring Cara’s full lower lip. She reached out, and before her fingers could make contact, Cara jerked her head—and arm—away.
Kahlan’s temper flared. She could understand Cara’s need to get away from them, to release some of her anger, but Cara could do it without making them all worry. “Obviously you’re fine. You walked back, didn’t you? I asked where you were, not if you were alright.”
Cara ignored the question again, her gaze on their campsite. “Who rolled out my bedroll?”
Kahlan exhaled sharply through her nose. “I don’t know, Cara. So you could sleep on it?”
“You didn’t know I was coming back,” Cara pointed out.
“Wishful thinking, I guess.”
Cara shrugged. Kahlan had not expected a thank you, and she refused to demean herself in Cara’s eyes in search of one. “You should go to bed. I’ll take the next watch.”
“Zedd’s taking the next watch,” Kahlan said. “You go to bed.”
Cara leaned casually against a nearby tree and crossed her arms over her chest. The light from the fire illuminated half of her face—the half containing the bloodied lip. Unconsciously, Cara probed the wound with the tip of her tongue. Despite her best efforts to match Cara’s stubborn glare with her own, Kahlan faltered for a split second when she saw Cara’s tongue dart out between her lips. When she met Cara’s eyes again, she knew she’d been caught. Nothing escaped the Mord-Sith’s attention. The corners of Cara’s eyes turned up in a smirk.
“Shut up,” Kahlan muttered. She didn’t even care that she’d been caught—they’d beaten her repressed affections over the head so many times in the past few days it was old news. Bags, she’d even managed to convince herself today that she was going to do something about it. She was more irritated that Cara thought Kahlan looking meant Cara had won the argument. Stubbornly, Kahlan lowered herself to a sitting position.
“I know why you got mad. Richard told me what they did to you when you were little.” Out of the corner of her eye, Kahlan saw Cara stiffen. She half expected Cara to storm off into the woods again, and when she spoke, the Mord-Sith’s voice was laced with fury.
“Being told is not the same thing as knowing.”
Kahlan nodded. “You’re right,” she said quietly. “I couldn’t imagine…” she trailed off, trying to picture how scared she would have felt as a young girl if she’d been taken from her parents, just as she’d tried to do countless times over the course of the day. Each time she couldn’t comprehend the fear, and each time her opinion of Cara increased.
Cara’s leathers shifted as she shifted positions. “I don’t want your pity,” she said stonily.
Kahlan twisted at the waist, meeting Cara’s guarded gaze. “I don’t pity you.”
“I don’t,” Kahlan insisted. “Not you-you. I don’t feel sorry for Cara the Mord-Sith. I feel sorry for Cara the little girl.”
Cara’s eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“I’m sorry that there was no one to save you before Darken Rahl could hurt you,” Kahlan continued, “but I also know that you are who you are because you became a Mord-Sith.” She shook her head, suddenly frustrated with her inability to explain something that she had worked out so well in her head. “Pity would mean that who you are is not adequate, I guess.” She watched as the tension visibly left Cara’s shoulders. Cara pushed away from the tree, her eyebrows raised suggestively.
“I’m more than adequate.”
Kahlan refused to rise to the bait. She may not be able to read a Mord-Sith, but she knew when someone was attempting to change the subject. She had hit close to home then, voicing one of Cara’s own truths about her upbringing. “You are," Kahlan agreed. "I think you’re the strongest person I know.”
Cara rocked back on her heels. She stood above Kahlan, arms crossed over her chest, eyes shadowed by the curtain of blonde hair blocking the glow of the fire. “This feels like pity, Confessor.”
Kahlan shook her head. “It’s not.” She turned her head, casting her gaze back at the forest. She expected Cara to move away, to go back to leaning against the tree or even to her bedroll. When she didn’t move, Kahlan allowed her imagination to wander. Cara had been receptive to one soul-searching talk tonight. Maybe she’d be open to a second. Kahlan took a deep breath. They were alone for the most part, Richard and Zedd dead to the world. If she didn’t do this now, she wasn’t sure she’d ever do it.
Kahlan patted the ground next to her. “Will you sit?”
After a moment of stillness, Cara stepped forward and sat.
The second Cara’s bottom touched the ground, Kahlan’s heart began tripping over itself. It was one thing to plan out what she was going to say in her head, to envision the moment, it was another thing entirely to be in the moment and have the words waiting on her tongue. She was excited and she was terrified, and the emotions blended so seamlessly together Kahlan could not tell which she was experiencing more of. She snatched up a small twig and began twisting it in her hands, giving her mind something else to think about besides the confusing swirl of emotions in her gut.
“I’ve been thinking,” Kahlan said. She dropped her voice to barely a whisper, suddenly mindful of the fact that Richard and Zedd were sleeping only a few meters away. “About what you said last night. About…itches that need to be scratched.” She glanced at Cara out the corner of her eye. Cara did not move. Kahlan snapped the twig between her hands, and the muffled snap startled her. She dropped it and held her breath, certain the sound would have roused one of the two men.
“And?” Cara prompted. Her voice was liquid in the dark, sure and possessive. She knew the conclusion Kahlan had come to and she was going to make Kahlan say it.
“And…I think you were right.”
There it was. The admission she’d been denying for almost a week. Perhaps longer if she thought honestly about her time with Cara. A truth she could have denied herself forever, if only Cara hadn’t challenged her to face it.
Cara pivoted slowly, rolling onto her knees in front of Kahlan and placing her hands on either side of Kahlan’s waist. She looked like a jungle cat on the prowl as she slunk upwards, moving her lithe body over Kahlan’s. “And you’d like me to do something about it,” Cara murmured.
Kahlan’s breath caught in her throat. The fear was gone, replaced by a heady lust that filled her mouth with cotton. She stared as Cara’s injured lips moved closer, then remembered that this was not how she had envisioned this going. She moved her head away at the last second, leaning back and buying herself time to finish her thought “No, she whispered. She could feel Cara’s hot breath washing over her neck, tickling the sensitive skin of her exposed chest. “I’d like you to let me do something.”
Cara sat back slowly, and Kahlan immediately missed the slight press of her legs and hips. She regarded Kahlan suspiciously. “This feels even more like pity.”
“It’s not.” Kahlan insisted as she sat up as well. “This is for me.”
And it was. As she’d pictured how to broach the subject with Cara again during the day, more and more Kahlan realized that her fantasies hinged on returning the favor and pleasuring Cara. She wanted to see what Cara looked like in the throes of pleasure. And, to a lesser extent, she knew it proved that she was not simply looking for a third hand once in awhile. Kahlan wanted to touch as much as she wanted to be touched, and the only way she knew to prove it was to take action.
Cara sat on her heels, her expression dark and unreadable. Kahlan but her lip, waiting for Cara’s decision. She would not force her. It was important to Kahlan to prove her intentions—she would not simply use Cara and expect the Mord-Sith to be happy with nothing in return. Kahlan herself would not be happy with a one-sided liaison. But maybe Cara was. Maybe she did not want to be touched, and Kahlan swore she would respect that.
After what seemed like an eternity, Cara sat back, her legs bent at the knees, and placed her weight on the heels of her hands. She fixed Kahlan with a penetrating stare—an agreement and a dare, all at once. Kahlan moved forward. She licked her lips nervously.
“Could you…could you close your eyes?”
Cara lifted an eyebrow. “Then who’s going to keep watch?”
Kahlan grit her teeth. “Please, Cara.” Despite her frustration, she was grateful for the sarcasm. It normalized things a bit. This was the same Cara who could be equal parts frustrating and courageous in battle, the same way she was, apparently, in bed.
With a roll of her eyes, Cara dutifully snapped her eyelids shut.
“Thank you.” Kahlan moved closer, amazed at the eagerness she felt to actually lay hands on Cara. She’d assumed she’d be nervous, and she was, but that was only a small, insignificant part of what she was feeling. Not nearly enough to make her change her mind. “And please,” Kahlan whispered. “No screaming this time.”
Cara’s teeth flashed brilliant white in the dark. “Is that the plan, Confessor? To make me want to scream?”
“I don’t really have a plan,” Kahlan admitted. She reached out and placed a hand on Cara’s thigh, just above the knee, stroking the leather. Odd that they’d been travelling together for so many weeks and she couldn’t remember ever touching Cara’s leather with the intent to memorize the feel before. It was smooth and soft—softer than she’d expected. “Am I allowed to kiss you?”
Cara shrugged. “It’s up to you.”
“It’s up to you, too,” Kahlan said. “Kissing is—“
“Fine,” Cara interrupted quietly. “It’s fine.”
Kahlan advanced slowly. She saw the lashes of Cara’s eyelids flutter as she sensed Kahlan’s proximity. Kahlan licked her lips nervously, and a second later, Cara did as well.
Cara’s lips were fuller than Kahlan’s, a fact Kahlan had been envious of more often than not. She pulled back before the kiss became anything more than a press of lips. She was holding her breath, Kahlan realized. She was holding her breath and Cara’s brow was furrowed in concentration, eyes still dutifully closed.
Kahlan slid her hand down Cara’s neck and across her shoulder, brushing her hair back and exposing the shadowed divots of her collarbone beyond the revealing cut of Cara's top. Kahlan inclined her head again, the angle forcing her to press her body more firmly into Cara’s as she gently touched her lips to Cara’s skin. She felt oddly out of control. Cara was letting her dictate everything, and yet Kahlan was moving on instinct, driven by her desire to touch everything all at once. Beneath her lips she felt Cara’s breath hitch in her chest. The acrid but oddly desirable tang of sweat hit Kahlan’s senses, dulled by the smell of worn leather and forest.
“Okay?” Kahlan whispered.
Above her, Cara exhaled heavily, the breath from her mouth ruffling Kahlan’s hair. “Okay.”
Kahlan met Cara’s lips again, and this time she did not pull away before Cara could respond. Their lips moved awkwardly but with purpose, like dancers who knew the steps but were unsure of whom exactly was in the lead. Cara took initiative, slipping her tongue past Kahlan’s lips and finding Kahlan’s to produce a sort of non-taste that set Kahlan absolutely on fire. She changed positions in response, her mouth never leaving Cara’s, so that she was straddling Cara’s waist. With the slightest forward pressure, she coaxed Cara onto her back. Cara’s hands, freed from being forced to support her weight, immediately went to Kahlan’s waist. Kahlan felt lightheaded when she finally pulled away, their lips separating with a wet pop. She was drunk on the taste of Cara. Her lips felt swollen and too hot, and they were both breathing hard. Cara’s eyes were still closed.
“Creator,” Kahlan whispered. Her voice was gravelly with lust, and Cara smiled beneath her. A real smile, not mocking or leering, and it was gone in a flash as Cara’s expression settled into something more relaxed. But Kahlan had seen it and it made the insides of her elbows tingle.
“I don’t know what to do next,” Kahlan said, and she realized she was frustrated with her lack of knowledge. She knew what she wanted to have happen: she wanted to watch as Cara came. She wanted to know if Cara stayed stoic, if she was quiet, or if she had to fight to keep from making noise. She wanted to feel it happening a split second before she saw it. She just wasn’t sure how to go about making it all happen.
“You’re killing me,” Cara groaned good-naturedly, and Kahlan kissed her lightly on the edge of the mouth.
“I’m sorry. I should have planned this out better.”
“I can…” Cara lifted her leg, pressing that familiar thigh cautiously up. Kahlan reached back and pushed her leg back to the ground.
“No,” she clarified. “For you, Cara. Tell me what to do for you.”
Cara hesitated, and for a moment Kahlan was sure she would refuse. Cara did not strike her as the type of person to submit control, let alone allow someone to watch her in a moment of absolute vulnerability. For all Kahlan knew, just letting herself be pushed to the ground may have been the limit to Cara’s tolerance. She held her breath, praying that that was not the case.
“Just… take your hand…and press,” Cara finally murmured.
Kahlan reached between them, her hand sliding to the “V” of Cara’s thighs. She pressed gently. “Like this?”
“A little lower, so that the heel—“ Cara broke off as Kahlan did as instructed. She nodded. “Right there. And if you press a little harder…and move your hand in circles…” She bit her lip as Kahlan did so, her body tensing beneath Kahlan, and Kahlan felt her own body shudder in response. Never in her wildest dreams had she envisioned the physical reaction she would have to doing this for anyone, let alone Cara. She was painfully turned on, and yet pushing Cara to release was almost as satisfying as experiencing her own climax. It seemed insane now that she’d tried to deny herself this experience, tried to convince herself that what she felt for Cara was simply the confusion generated by all Mord-Siths’ flippant approach to sex. No longer could she cling to that excuse. Cara was right: she flat out turned Kahlan on.
Beneath her, Cara’s breathing shortened to frantic, parted lip gasps. Her hips ground against Kahlan’s hand, encouraging more pressure to which Kahlan willingly obliged. In a moment of pure inspiration, she dropped her head onto Cara’s shoulder and latched her mouth onto Cara’s neck in an open mouthed kiss. A split second later, she felt Cara’s body stiffen and rise up from the forest floor. She stayed suspended for a moment, body quaking, her hips pumping against Kahlan’s hand, before she collapsed limply back to the forest floor. Cara exhaled heavily through her nose, and Kahlan felt her own heart thundering in her ears in sympathy.
Kahlan withdrew her hand slowly. Then and only then did Cara open her eyes. Her pupils were large, almost catlike in the dim light. Kahlan traced the fragile skin beneath Cara’s eyes with her index finger.
“Thank you,” Kahlan whispered. She didn’t know if she had the words to convey to Cara what it meant to her, that the Mord-Sith had allowed her to do that. And not only do it, but do it without ridicule and an I-told-you-so attitude. The rest of the world was slowly leaking back in. She was aware again of Zedd and Richard asleep around the fire and that she was at least an hour over due waking Zedd up for the next watch. She was aware, too, that they were pushing their luck lying together on the forest floor, even though she was loathe to break whatever synchronicity she and Cara had just managed to fall into. Right now was perfect, and right now couldn’t last.
Kahlan rolled to the side and back onto her bottom, breaking their bodily connection. Cara slowly sat up next to her. As an afterthought almost, Kahlan leaned over and kissed Cara on the temple.
“I mean it, Cara. Thank you.”
Cara nodded jerkily. When she spoke, her voice was hoarse. “Anytime.”