Cara makes sure to keep her voice quiet.
"The child seems to like you."
Her words are barely audible over the low crackle of the night's campfire. There are probably many reasons for that, going far beyond the obvious, Kahlan is well aware.
Kahlan glances at her. Just out of the corner of her eye, careful not to move too much, lest she disturb the little one sprawled prone on her chest. Cara's sitting on her own blanket beside her. Farther away than she might have been otherwise, if it wasn't for the new blood among them. Zedd's snoring joins the chorus of crackles and pops from the fire, coming from across the way. Richard is on the watch; he very well might never sleep again, nearly buzzing out of his skin in exaltation of the Stone of Tears' heavy presence in his front pocket at last. They have two more days of travel to the Pillars of Creation, with a stop to a nearby temple of Ulric (to leave the babe until safety is guaranteed).
It's just the two of them, Cara and Kahlan, waiting for sleep, minding the boy.
And Kahlan is doing most of the minding.
She chances a shift - adjusts how she's reclined against her pack and a side-lying log, propping herself up in pursuit of the most comfortable position. It's decidedly not very comfortable. His blonde curls, soft under her chin, are just a bit damp with perspiration. He's so warm. The shared body heat is making her sweat, too, but he's content and that's what matters.
Turning her head to look at Cara more fully, pressing her cheek to the top of his head, she replies. "Yes, he's happy." She strokes his back with one hand, a soothing circle, feeling his little chest expanding and contracting against her in the hypnotizing rhythm of slumber. "He's sleeping soundly, now."
Cara, meanwhile, is rigid on her blanket, knees to her chest, arms holding them there. She tilts her head and clicks her tongue against her teeth, sneering. "He has certainly earned it," she comments in that familiar barbed tone, looking pointedly at the ground by her boots. "I was unaware that a human could scream like that. And I've tortured plenty."
Kahlan rolls her eyes, but Cara's tone hides just enough uncertainty to keep the rest of her soft. She smiles with encouraging gentleness.
"He's just a baby, Cara." In the back of her mind, but not anywhere near her tongue: he's your baby. It's almost absurd. She reels but keeps speaking through the rush. "Babies cry, and they scream." It's an obvious statement, but she's not convinced it doesn't need to be said, in the wake of Cara's earlier impatience and utter aggravation (each covering what Kahlan knew was truly all-consuming terror).
And, tired-minded, nerves raw from all the hot-teared fussing, she almost says, imagine how you would scream if a group of strangers took you from the only home you ever knew.
Then, with a chill in her bones, she realizes she doesn't have to say it at all.
She's very glad she stops herself.
Cara just glares, a silent I know babies cry. Then shrugs, stiff, guarded. But she lets her gaze flit once again to the child - tuckered out and finally silent - on Kahlan's chest.
Kahlan watches her watching him.
Aidric Rahl. Alive. Existing in the first place. Just like the other Mord-Sith promised. Rescued from an unknowable but unspeakable fate, now with them. For good.
A child of Darken Rahl. With them, somehow, for good.
A child made of Cara's body, formed inside of her, carried in her own womb. Never mentioned, never once referenced or revealed. A non-issue. No matter of concern.
And there's hurt, then, in Kahlan's chest. The requisite heartbreak, when she imagines this now-robust little one taken straight away at birth, no cradling or comforting by his mother. She had just learned his name, almost a year and a half later. It breaks for both of them, cracking into several pieces of irregular size, for child and mother alike.
There's also a petty sting.
I consider you to be my friend.
Friends would have spoken of something like this. Friends trusted each other with secrets and pain like this.
But what Kahlan also understands is she will never comprehend this. She can't be angry, or feel passed over, or wronged.
She can only try to be even more of a friend, now. Cara is going to need it.
The image returns to her mind: reuniting after the separation, each cradling a new treasure. Richard and Kahlan with the Stone of Tears. Zedd, Cara, and Dahlia with the baby.
(Spelled shoes, of course, led them back together. That old Zorander specialty.)
The identical looks of numb shock plastered to Cara and Aidric's faces as they approached won't soon leave Kahlan's mind. The same clear teal eyes, with the same dark lashes, wide with silent panic. The same mouth, the same jaw, taut and dubious. Aidric was clutching onto Dahlia, slung in a wrap across her chest, attaching himself firmly the only familiar person around. Cara, meanwhile, had looked like she was clutching to the only emaciated shreds of composure she had left.
Spirits, does he resemble her. It's incredible. He is her.
When Dahlia departed earlier that day, set on returning to the other Mord-Sith temples to search for survivors, hell broke loose.
Wailing, gagging, tears, screaming, more wailing, more gagging, more tears, more wailing, more screaming. Each tried to soothe the beast. Most failed. He nearly launched himself out of Zedd's arms, and thrashed relentlessly against even Richard, who had wanted more than anything in the world to be the one to calm his nephew.
Cara had held him for maybe a split second before shaking her head vigorously, calling out a resolute no, and passing him right along to Kahlan.
Her expression upon letting go, in that instant after the connection was broken, was devastating. Raw, petrified. But it was gone as quickly as it appeared.
Kahlan had cradled him through the shrieking. She hummed, she rocked, she hushed, she crooned, she swayed, she sang. For what felt like hours. For what probably was hours. She had foregone dinner, aside from the few bites Richard managed to feed her by hand as she bounced the baby. When he had finally cried himself out, she sank to where she was reclined now, and there she had stayed.
He's calm now, though. He's calm and sweet. Nothing like his father. More like his mother, at least some of the time. The times that count.
"He'll be better in the morning." Kahlan's promise is more of a hope. "He's been through it all in the last few days."
Cara's quiet. Kahlan lets her be.
"I doubt he'll ever let me hold him like that. Without all the screaming, at least."
Her words are flat, yet by some means dripping with so much feeling - dread, sadness, envy, helplessness - and it's just another thing about Cara that amazes her.
Kahlan has an idea.
"He's not screaming now," she points out. "You could try, if you want." No pressure, but all hopefulness. Cara needs this. The baby needs this. "He's deep in sleep. He might not even wake."
Cara looks at her with a twisted mouth, incredulous eyes. But there's want, there, too. Kahlan can see it, and for once, it's clear. Conflicted, but clear.
"Kahlan…" She sighs. "I don't want him to start-"
"Try it. Sit here, against my pack."
She gathers herself to her feet, little by little, keeping the babe's head against her shoulder. He doesn't stir, not beyond hiccuping and bringing his thumb to his mouth. Cara glances around once, twice.
"Nobody is watching, Cara," Kahlan whispers, swaying to keep Aidric asleep. "It's new for both of you. It's hard for both of you. Just try. I'll be right here if there are any catastrophes."
She watches Cara's hard stare break, shoulders shrink, eyes narrow.
She lurches over, sits on Kahlan's blanket, rests against Kahlan's pack.
"Soften yourself," Kahlan instructs. "He'll be fine." Cara does the best she can, unsure, awkward. But it's close enough. It's her son. She'll learn what he needs.
Steadily, methodically, Kahlan shifts the child in her own arms and rests him on Cara's chest.
Both hold their breath. And wait. And silently beg. Cara needs this. Kahlan needs this for her. For her terrified eyes. For how this had to have destroyed her, even if she did not let it show. Even if she did not realize it at the time.
A few moments. One of Cara's hands, leather-gloved, comes to rest on his back, nearly hovering just over it.
No deafening howling. No tiny lungs tearing the night air with vehement protest, letting the Keeper know they're coming. Just quiet. Zedd snores. The embers pop.
"Alright." Cara pauses. There's disbelief. "For now."
Lying on her side on Cara's blanket, facing them, Kahlan watches.
Cara stares straight up at the sky, unwilling to move.
"Hm?" Kahlan stifles a yawn.
"I don't know what I'm doing." Her whisper is frantic, helpless. "I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't know how to do any of this. He's better off without me."
This is the fear she hates to show. This is who she hates to be. This is what Kahlan needs to see, to help.
"He's not. I promise. And I know you don't know." She nods against her arm, cradling her head. "And that's alright. You'll learn. You're his mother. And you're never going to be alone. We're all here for him, and for you." She reaches over to touch Cara's elbow with her fingertips. "We're a family, now. All of us."
There's a lot more quiet after that.
Kahlan eventually stops trying to keep her eyes from slipping closed. But she's still there, and she'll be there if Cara needs her.
The last thing Kahlan sees before calm sleep overtakes her is Cara looking down at her son, slowly, carefully. Tracing a tiny circle on his back. Trying it.
And, unless she's already dreaming, a tiny smile breaking through.