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The Path

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It's the first morning in as long as she can remember where she wakes up feeling excellent.

Not just good, not just rested. Excellent.

Her eyes are still closed but she can feel the sun tickling that spot on her nose, gentle beams heavy and caressing on the top of her eyelids. The air smells alive, it nudges her still sleepy mind into conjuring an old memory of farmers clearing out wild green vegetation for a new field on a pleasant summer day when she was younger, the farmers stopping their work to stretch and smile and wave at her and Dennee as the two of them ride by on their horses at a lazy four-beat gait.

She feels loved.

It’s an odd determination and she pauses to think of why she came up with it. Unhurriedly she moves her perception from her face to the rest of her body, exploring, trying to find the cause of this feeling.

It’s not that she regularly feels un-loved; she thinks few people have the sensation of actively feeling unloved - or loved for that matter - over any extended and consistent period of time, rather these are feelings that spike between long stretches of feeling busy.

She senses a shadow falling over her before she has finished her thought or properly taken stock of the rest of her body, and she realizes that it must be much later in the day than when she usually awakens.

She opens her eyes.

Richard is crouching over her balancing on the balls of his feet, elbows on knees, the sun behind him haloing his head, a cup of tea in one hand, wearing an expression that she just cannot define. So she tries harder, but she still thinks she has never seen that look on his face.

She furrows her brow and moves her gaze behind him to where Zedd is sitting by the campfire stirring last night’s embers with a stick. He is looking at her as well, his expression relaxed yet clearly focused - not staring so much as highly curious. It is odd to open your eyes to a crowd, and she realizes that they are both waiting for her to do something.

It is when she tries to rise to her elbow - a question on her tongue for the both of them - that she realizes that something is holding her down, or rather someone. She twists her neck to look behind her and there is Cara, glued to her back with her face burrowed between Kahlan's shoulder blades, deeply, deeply asleep.

Both her eyebrows rise.

She looks back at Richard still crouching very close, still with her morning tea in his hand, his other close to his mouth, a forefinger pressed to his lip in the universal sign for quiet. It takes a couple of minutes to cautiously wiggle out of the embrace. Cara does not stir.

Kahlan helps pack up the camp and load the horses with the others. Around noon Zedd awakens Cara. She is furious that he did not wake her up sooner; her flush of embarrassment at sleeping in does not fade away for quite a while.

 

The next morning it happens again. Richard once more wakes her with his presence and a cup of tea, he still looks like he doesn’t know what expression he should wear but she gets the sense that he is slowly settling on amused, she smiles back. Zedd is already packing the horses.

This time Zedd rouses Cara early enough that she does not feel as if she has been cheated out of her dignity, though the blond still does not seem to realize that she is waking up more on Kahlan's bedroll than her own.

This goes on for a week. The first couple of days there are a few moments every morning where the atmosphere in their little camp ranges between apprehension and curiosity, when they all expect Cara to wake up and realize that she has completely wrapped herself around Kahlan during the night. But by the end of the week the tension has for some reason dissipated and her morning ritual of gently wiggling out of a dead-to-the-world Cara’s embrace has become just that – a ritual.

They joke about it when the two of them, Kahlan and Richard, are out to gather firewood one night. Richard confesses that at this point he feels an urge to kiss Cara’s temple as if she were a child after every time Kahlan manages to successfully free herself from her morning embrace. They spend the walk back to camp guffawing and thinking up elaborate scenarios of how badly and in which manner Cara would hurt him if she were ever to wake up to that.

When they reach the camp they conspicuously quiet down, both unable to avoid looking for a moment at Cara before tearing their gazes away. Cara gets a suspicious look on her face and spends her evening glaring at them challengingly. When it is time to settle for the night she rises with a frustrated huff and wordlessly claims the first watch - her glaring has been utterly ineffectual tonight; her once mighty stare has been met with nothing but fond looks and smiles by all of them.



On the third night of the second week since first Cara had started snuggling up to Kahlan, in the deepest hour of the night - when even the bugs stop humming - they get attacked by a dozen cutthroats.

Desperate, these bandits are smarter than the average thief and have waited for this dead hour to spring their assault. What they have not counted on is a Wizard of the First Order keeping watch. Zedd’s loud and glowing ring of impulse is not as concentrated or as lethal as his fireballs, but it has the benefit of repelling the bandits in a 360 degree radius as well as instantly waking up all those who slumbered.

The battle is short, even with the bandits’ superior numbers and better-than-usual tactics, their assailants are no match for the sheer amount of battle experience that their company has accumulated both individually and working together as a team.

They spend what's little left of the night hauling bodies for Zedd to burn while sending sideways glances at Cara, waiting for her to give them a cue as to how things are going to be with her from now on. It is clear from her introverted disposition and the way she just fought that Cara has been utterly baffled by the position in which she had found herself when waking up.

 

The rest of the day Cara moves between looking angry, distant, lost, embarrassed, and aggressively pensive, but mostly angry and distant. Richard and Kahlan share worried looks over Cara, while Zedd’s eyes calmly advise them to relax; this is Cara after all and there is nothing unexpected about her reaction. Kahlan marvels at how much he can communicate with a lifting of an eyebrow and the smallest upward twitch of the corner of his mouth.

Cara doesn’t snuggle up to her the next night or the one after that, it is clear to all of them that she is remaining half awake to assure this. Zedd compels them to remain patient, and they both take a deep breath and submit to his wisdom. It does not prevent Kahlan from feeling Cara’s loss as if it was a physical caress at her back.



On the third morning since the attack Cara is extra grumpy, looking frustrated with her inability to force the situation into a box - a classification in her mind - that is in alignment with how the world and a Mord’Sith should be.

By midday they take a break by the side of the road. They are on a high pass overlooking a magnificent view of a quiet valley. The sun is warm and there is a perfect gentle breeze, the air is so clear that Kahlan imagines she can see the most minute details on the farthest mountain ridge.

She spots Cara leaning on a boulder by the side of the road, eyebrows furrowed, mouth twisted in contemplation, hair gently moving in the breeze. She is gazing over the beauty of the valley though it is clear that she is not seeing any of it. Kahlan settles herself on the rock next to her and takes her time observing her. She looks edgy and thoughtful and stubborn and beautiful. She cannot help but smile when Cara truly does not seem to acknowledge her presence, so lost is she in her thoughts, so comfortable is her subconscious with Kahlan's presence.

Kahlan kisses her cheek.

“Why did you do that?” Cara is so startled she forgets to be angry.

“Because I can.”