Title: Sorting Through Real (Part 1)
Author: Crystal
Characters: Richard/Kahlan/Zedd/Cara
Rating: PG
Timeline: Season 2
Story Type: Drama/Angst
Spoilers: Season 2 Perdition
Synopsis: Richard deals with the physical and mental fallout of his time in Perdition.

Richard sorted through sticks for the funeral pyre. He hadn't known Leo, but he respected him as another Seeker, a Seeker who'd jumped in front of wizard's fire and saved Kahlan from certain death. And giving him a respectful passage into the underworld where he couldn't be used as a pawn for the Keeper was the least he could do.

Still, it had been a long several days in the desert of Perdition with no water or food, and no real sleep. He'd gulped down some too-warm water from Zedd's skin, and chewed on a handful of nuts that Kahlan had pressed into his hand, but there hadn't been time for more, and he was as anxious as everyone else to move on.

"She had feelings for him," Kahlan whispered as she dropped an armful of sticks at his feet. She nodded toward Cara who was absently hacking at a dead tree with Richard's hunting knife, barely nicking the wood. She definitely didn't look like the hard Mord Sith Richard remembered leaving behind.

"He was a good man," added Kahlan. "If we had to pick another Seeker, I'm glad it was him."

"I'm sorry he had to die," said Richard.

"We'll talk later. I want to know everything." Kahlan squeezed his arm and gave him a brief smile.

Richard nodded and tried not to wince. She'd touched a sore spot from the baneling attack that Zedd hadn't healed yet. Wait, Richard thought, that hadn't been real, had it? He shook his head. If hadn't been real, why was his arm still sore? He squeezed the bridge of his nose as a wave of dizziness hit him. It was just so hard to sort through what had been real and what hadn't, like his mind was still out there in Perdition and only his body had made it back.

"Are you okay?" Kahlan asked, laying her hand along the side of his face. "You're warm."

"I'm just tired," he said, patting her hand as the dizziness subsided. "And I want to know everything that happened to you too. But first we have to honor Leo and then I just want to get out of here. You have no idea how much I want to get out of here."

"Soon," she said, glancing back at Cara, her forehead creased with a small frown. "Very soon." She moved off to gather more wood.

Richard sorted the sticks and tied the thickest and longest ones into the frame for the pyre, using some vines Verna had found before she'd slipped away.

"I must move on before the prelate finds me," Verna had said, placing her hands on top of his in the manner of a blessing. "I wish you the best in your quest, Richard. I hope you are right about the prophecy."

"Thank you for your help," he'd said, giving her a mischievous smile. "If I ever have to learn to be a wizard again, I want you to be my teacher."

"I see you've learned some wisdom from your experiences." She'd smiled as Richard chuckled. Then she'd nodded to the others and walked quietly over a dune and into the forest of the Old World.

Richard tied the last of the strongest sticks together, his hands shaking from the effort. Zedd must've noticed because he made Richard take another swallow of water before the two of them picked up Leo's body and hoisted it onto the top of the structure.

"We're ready," Zedd said, lighting a torch with a flicker of his fingers.

Richard stood next to Kahlan as she and Zedd spoke about this man he'd never known, yet shared so much with. He wanted to add some words to theirs. He was the current Seeker and he should say something about a man who'd wielded the Sword of Truth in his absence, but his mind was still back in Perdition and he kept seeing the other Seeker, Kahlan's husband who'd died because Richard hadn't listened to him about Cara being a baneling and who'd married Kahlan and given her a daughter, a daughter Richard could never give her.

As Cara placed a small flower on Leo's body, Richard wrenched himself back to the present. She said something too quiet for him to hear and took the torch from Kahlan. After touching the flame to the dry wood, the former Seeker caught fire and began to burn in a way that was both beautiful and awful. Richard turned away, glad they could finally move on.

They walked for hours, Cara leading the way toward the New World, a stiff figure in red setting a brutal pace as if she could erase any feelings she'd had for Leo with each step.

Richard kept up, his mind floating in a haze of false memories from Perdition where he thought about Verna and sisters in red and Kahlan being married with a husband and a daughter. He wondered if she'd been happy with the other Seeker or if she'd thought about him on occasion. He thought about Cara and wondered if she'd ever found someone besides Leo before she'd become a baneling, if she'd minded serving a Seeker who wasn't also the Lord Rahl. And he wondered how Zedd had died and if he'd thought of Richard at the end, his only grandson training to be a wizard just like him. Had Zedd been proud of him? he wondered.

"How are you holding up, my boy?" asked Zedd, remarkably alive and whole beside him.

Richard blinked and passed a hand over his forehead. "How did you get here?" he asked as another wave of dizziness hit him. "Did you take the Keeper's deal?"

Zedd frowned and opened his mouth to say something, but Cara called out, "We're under attack."

Richard turned. Banelings swarmed out of the forest – when had they left the desert and come to a forest, he wondered? – and charged toward their group, their faces wretched with decay. Richard raised his hands and held his fingers out to burn them with wizard's fire. But nothing came out, and he stared at his hands in astonishment.

"Richard," yelled Kahlan, clutching two daggers as she prepared to meet the horde, "what are you doing?"

Richard meant to tell her that wizard's fire was better than the Sword of Truth against banelings, but before he could get the words out, the horde was upon them. Richard gave up on his wizard's fire and pulled out the sword, hacking and slashing bodies as the banelings threw themselves at him. Luckily, his reflexes kicked in, so he didn't have to think, just react. His world shrank to one decaying body after another, hurtling themselves at him as he slashed their throats or thrust the sword into their abdomens. Their dead blood splattered hotly against the skin of his wrists. His sore arm throbbed with each thrust.

Nearby, Zedd fought with the wizard's fire Richard hadn't been able to find within himself while Kahlan did her graceful dance with her daggers and Cara stabbed her agiels with a ferociousness he hadn't seen her use in a long time.

Finally, the last baneling lay dead on the ground. Richard waited for another wave of dizziness to pass, only it didn't pass and he tried to ignore it as he wiped his sword on the grass and thrust it into his scabbard, glad he could still perform those simple tasks.

Kahlan walked up to him, breathing hard, her daggers still coated with blood. "Are you okay?" she asked, looking his body up and down. "You weren't yourself. Maybe we should stop for the day."

"I'm fine." Richard said, rubbing his sore arm as the world swirled around him, turning into pinpricks of black that spread until he couldn't see anything at all. "I just need to sit down," he muttered and fell to the ground, consciousness slipping away.