Disclaimer: I do not own The Hunger Games

Rated for: sexual themes, including implied rape and Ss. 2-4 SOA 2003 (for pedantic law students)

Inspired by Zeviz who said he liked the cheerful fics because there are so many depressing ones around.

Smile

I) Cashmere is five years old

Ever since she could talk, Cashmere's parents have told her about the Games. The honour of the Games, the money it could bring. Gloss laps it up and runs around, swinging his arms wildly and picking up sticks, pretending they're swords. He also mimes dying with the same gusto. He sometimes convinces her to join in – if it's not muddy. Their mother hates it when their clothes are muddy and so does Cashmere.

She's watched several runs of the Games but she doesn't really take it in. Her parents make her exercise and don't intervene in fights between her and Gloss (which are few and they always make up later). All she knows is that winning the Games is a good thing. And when someone does it in District 1, everyone is happy. They get food and everyone has a party. And she gets toys.

In school, a trainer comes in to look for children who could train at the academy. She volunteers to be tested immediately because all of the great people volunteer for the Games and the best win it. That's what her mother and father said and they wouldn't lie. Besides, they'd tell her off if she didn't and she hates being sent to her room.

Overall, twenty kids try out. She runs faster than all of them but two of the boys beat her in the fighting. They take seven of them and she's the second person to be read out.

She runs home and tells her parents that she's going to be training for the Games. They hug her. Her dad hoists her on his shoulders, probably the first time he's ever done that. She gets to have her favourite food for dinner. And when she goes to bed, her mother kisses her on her forehead and tucks her in and tells her she loves her very much.

It's the best day of her life so far.

II) Cashmere is fifteen years old

It's a miserable day, Cashmere thinks. It's raining outside, her parents are angry at her and Coral is ranting about how neither of them have boyfriends to go to the Reaping festival with. The only good things about today are that she came top of training again and Gloss is still adamant about not volunteering for the Games which means that he's not going to die.

She's sat in Coral's room, on her bed. She wonders whether she should tell her parents where she is but even if they are angry with her, they know where she is. She spends so much of her free time with Coral that her parents occasionally joke about having two daughters. It's strange, really, because they've only known each other for three years but it feels as though they've been friends for all of their lives. Cashmere never feels as comfortable with anyone as she does with her.

She should be paying attention to the rant but she's too busy dreading what her parents' reactions will be when she finally goes home. She told them she'd promised Gloss not to volunteer for the Games that morning and ran out to the Training Academy before she could face their response. Gloss said it wasn't a good one. Coral has already offered to let Cashmere live with her.

"I'm pregnant and Gloss is the father."

"I know," Cashmere says for the thirteenth time in a row. Then the words sink in. "You're what?"

Coral laughs. "I'm joking. But that got your attention, didn't it?"

Cashmere wants to scowl but the way Coral's eyes crinkle when she laughs makes her smile. "I'm sorry. I'm not having a good day."

"And I'm not helping?"

"No, you are. I'm not worried about the festival, though. I don't particularly care about it."

"You don't?"

"No."

And that's the truth. If anything, she's glad she doesn't have a boyfriend. She's never felt comfortable when she's been with them and it's always felt ... like nothing. Nothing like it's supposed to feel. She's happy that she doesn't have the pressure of trying to feel like she's enjoying herself. She knows her parents are disappointed that her relationships don't last but at this particular moment, she doesn't care.

And although she won't say it, she's glad Coral doesn't have one either. That means they can have fun together. Despite her bad mood now, Coral always looks on the bright side and she can make anything funny. She'll enjoy herself anyway, even if she's only with Cashmere. And Cashmere will enjoy it because she's with Coral. She always does.

Coral looks surprised. "If you're sure ... I've heard Jasper was thinking about asking you-"

"No thanks," Cashmere says firmly. "Jasper's just trying to sleep with every girl in class. He hasn't done me yet."

"Thank you for reminding me," Coral says wryly, her warm, brown eyes sparkling with laughter. "Why didn't you warn me before he asked me again?"

"I hadn't worked it out then. Besides, you had fun."

"Not really."

Cashmere feels unreasonably happy about this. "Wasn't he any good?" she asks, trying to sound sympathetic. Then she sees that Coral is blushing. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked."

"No, it's OK. He was ... I mean ... it just didn't feel right." Seeing Cashmere's confused look, she adds, "No attraction. It was just physical. On my side anyway."

"Why did you agree to it then?"

To Cashmere's surprise, Coral looks away. She has the sudden urge to give her a hug but something stops her. Some fear of being rejected. "I just thought I should. He's got a good background and I thought maybe ... well. I mean ... haven't you ever done something, just because you thought you should?"

She thinks back. Almost every boyfriend she's had, she's agreed to because she felt like she should. In fact, she can't think of a single one she's been attracted to past friendship. No matter what she's agreed to with them. In fact the only times she's ever felt something is when she was thinking of...

"All the time," she says before she can allow herself to finish that thought.

Coral smiles. "What are we going to do, Cash? We're all alone."

"We can go together, I suppose," she replies, as casually as she can.

Coral laughs. Hurt flashes through Cashmere but she can't pinpoint why.

"We'll be together forever at this rate."

Cashmere tries to smile. "We do make a good pair. Always have done."

Coral flings an arm around Cashmere. "You and me against the world. Two beautiful ladies taking on the young men, right, Cash?"

"What? Oh, yes."

She's suddenly aware of how very close Coral is. She leans towards her shoulder and is pleased to feel Coral tighten her grip.

"Still distracted?"

Cashmere looks at Coral. "Are you really upset that you don't have a boyfriend?" she asks seriously. "I'm sure we can ask around."

"I suppose not," Coral says. "We always have fun together. I usually prefer it when I'm with you at these things anyway."

"Same here."

They smile at each other. And, suddenly, almost without meaning to, Cashmere feels herself leaning forward and pressing her lips to Coral's.

There is a brief second of uneasy quiet and then Cashmere jumps off the bed. Her cheeks are turning red.

"Oh Panem! I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I ... I don't know why I did that."

Coral looks at her, her fingers on her lips and her expression unreadable. Cashmere backs away, towards the door. She can't believe she just ruined their friendship. By acting for no reason.

Even if it did feel good.

"I'll go," she says. "I'm sorry."

"Hold on," Coral says and now she stands up as well. Cashmere freezes. "If you kiss me, I get to kiss you back. It's only fair."

"What?"

Coral walks up to her, places her hands on Cashmere's shoulders and kisses her. She doesn't move away and Cashmere finds herself holding Coral tighter as the kiss deepens and somehow, it feels better than any of the things she's done with previous boyfriends.

Maybe this is why it's always felt nothing like it's supposed to. Maybe she just wasn't looking in the right place.

They break apart. Coral exhales.

"You have no idea how long I've wanted to do that for," she says and smiles shyly.

"What?" It feels like she can only say one word. She licks her lips. "You mean ... but ... you were just ranting about not having a boyfriend!"

"Haven't you ever done something, just because you thought you should?" As Cashmere stares, she adds, quietly, "Besides, I assumed you didn't ... well ... even if you did ... we're not meant to do this, are we?"

"I don't know."

Because she's supposed to marry a handsome man and have children. She isn't supposed to kiss her best friend and want to do it again. But if it feels like this, how are they not meant to do it?

"I suppose this solves the problem of who I'm going to the Reaping festival with," Coral says into the silence. "Well, it doesn't but..."

"It does," Cashmere says firmly, her mind trying to make sense of everything which is happening. Then she smiles. "It does," she repeats.

"But people will-"

"That's their problem. I don't care about them. If you don't."

Coral hesitates. "You always were braver than me."

"You're my girlfriend now. My braveness will rub off on you." It feels odd, to call her that, but the smile on her face is worth it.

"It's a date, then," Coral says and kisses her again.

Cashmere doesn't stop smiling for the entire evening.

III) Cashmere is seventeen years old

"Are you ready, Cashmere?" her mentor asks.

She swallows and looks at the train door. "I am."

"Let's go then."

She opens the door and Cashmere walks through, to the cheering platform of District 1.

She's just returned home after winning the 66th Hunger Games and she's nervous. After the last four weeks, everything outside the arena feels surreal. She still looks around for mutts and even the slightest noise makes her whirl around. Her dreams are filled with blood.

"Cashmere! Cashmere! Over here!"

She looks through the screaming crowd and her eyes settle on her parents. She hesitates for a split second before running over to them. She doesn't know what reaction she'll get from them but she has to perform for the cameras. Isn't that what the Games taught her?

Her father wraps her in his arms while her mother kisses her cheek desperately, telling her never to leave them again. She's surprised to find herself hugging them back. But not that surprised. They are who she did this for after all.

She'd promised Gloss she wouldn't volunteer for the Games. But her dating Coral was the sort of thing which was frowned upon by people in District 1. And when she screamed at her parents that it wasn't "just a phase" she was going through and they told her that she couldn't be their daughter, it was as though a line had been crossed. So she did the one thing she knew would make them proud – she volunteered for the Hunger Games.

She casts her eyes around for her brother. She finds him a few steps away. She smiles tentatively at him but looks away before she can see his response.

The Mayor takes them to her new house in the Victors' section of the city before she has the chance to look for anyone else. And once they're in the house, her parents immediately hug her again and tell her they love her. She hasn't heard that off them since she was fifteen.

She doesn't know what to do next. Her parents say they're going to get the rest of the family's belongings. She looks at Gloss who hesitates before saying he's going to stay back. When they're alone, they regard each other quietly.

"So," he says, in a flat tone. "You won."

The last time they saw each other, Gloss told her he hated her.

"Yes."

There is a moment of silence before he walks forward and hugs her. "I thought you were going to die," he whispers.

"So did I."

He smiles painfully. "Don't ever do that to me again."

"You don't hate me then?"

He looks away and then back at her. "I'm sorry, Cash. I shouldn't have said that to you. I was upset. You ... you said you weren't going to volunteer. You could have died!"

"But I didn't," she says. Seeing him scowl, she adds, "You know why I did it, Gloss."

"I don't think you should have had to. It's their problem, not yours."

Gloss has always known her so well. He was the first and most vocal supporter she had of her relationship. But he's never cared about people's opinions.

"I love them, Gloss. I just wanted them to be proud of me."

He hesitates and then smiles. "I know."

Coral knocks on the door before her parents return to say hello and Gloss ends up shouting at them to get a room. The three of them sit in the front room with Coral's fingers entwined with hers. When the door opens, Coral offers to leave via a window but Cashmere shakes her head. If her parents aren't happy now then she'll simply tell them to leave. She's a victor. And she did this for them.

Her parents walk into the front room and see the three of them but their only comment is that all three of them need to help move some of the items upstairs. They invite Coral to stay for dinner.

Later, in the evening, her mother asks her if she's sure the "thing" with Coral isn't just a phase. Cashmere says no. Her mother sighs and says that she supposes she's had over two years to get used to it before telling Cashmere that she loves her very much.

As she's going to bed, Gloss stands in the doorway.

"They didn't freak, then?"

"Nope."

He smiles. "Was it worth it, then?"

"I don't know. But ... I feel happy. Not from the arena but..." she shrugs. "It feels like everything's slotting together again. Like we're all one family."

"Those Games must have damaged your brain."

She laughs and he leaves her to sleep. And even though she knows she'll have nightmares tonight and that she'll spend the next few days and weeks looking over her shoulder, she thinks of everything she's gotten from the Capitol. She thinks of the pride in her father's eyes and the love in her mother's voice. Her brother's hug and her girlfriend's lips. The fact that as one of the most powerful people in the district, she can be whoever she wants to be and never go hungry again. The fact that she won something as challenging as the Hunger Games. She grins with excitement. Everything is going to be great from here. She can feel it.

IV) Cashmere is twenty-two years old

She steps off the train and looks at the sparkling lights of District 1, waiting for the feeling of home to hit her. When it doesn't, she sighs and walks through the streets, trying not to catch anyone's eye.

It's September, she's tired and she's just returned from the Capitol. She hates her visits to the Capitol with an unspoken passion. The first thing she wants to do, every time she returns, is take a shower. A long one. With as much soap as possible. As though it will clean the memories away.

(It was a woman this time. It's the second time it's been a woman. Somehow, it's worse than when it's a man. It's almost as though President Snow is mocking her as well as selling her.)

She successfully avoids meeting anyone and walks into her house. After a long shower, she debates whether she should go to bed or not. She never sleeps well after the Capitol. Besides, it's only early evening and she could work on her music. It's supposed to be her talent. She actually has a flair for gardening but this doesn't seem to go well with her image as the "beautiful" victor. It's just as well that grouting and DIY are things she only does when she's upset because she's awful at them.

The phone rings, snapping her out of her thoughts. She picks it up.

"Cash, can you come over?"

She pulls a face at her wall. "Gloss, you live next door. Why didn't you knock?"

"I'm kind of ... stuck."

"Stuck?"

He hangs up. She rolls her eyes but she can't stop herself from smiling. They've only been reunited for about three months but it feels like the four years which they barely spoke in have never happened.

She pulls some old clothes on and walks to her brother's house. She knocks on the door. Gloss lets her in and leads her into his dining room.

"SURPRISE!"

She actually shrieks as the lights come on and thirty people jump out at her. A banner reading "Happy 22nd Birthday Cashmere!" is strung across a wall.

"What the ... what?"

Gloss laughs as he slings his arm around her. "You didn't think we'd let you miss your own birthday, did you?"

She looks around the room. Her parents are there as well as the other victors. Old friends. Coral, with whom she has a friendly, if slightly awkward relationship after they broke up three years ago. She's amused to notice that Gloss has even invited Awe, a fellow flautist who is just as terrible as she is and who she likes. She doesn't think she's ever even mentioned Awe to her brother.

"But ... how did you get everyone here?"

Gloss looks at her as though she's crazy. "I knocked on their doors and asked."

"Why?"

"I thought, if you had a bad last night of being twenty-one, you should have a great first day of being twenty-two," he says cheerfully, ignoring the looks of confusion around them. "Now come over here and have a drink."

She lets herself be led, trying to look a bit less stunned. It's not that she forgot her birthday – she's just been dreading the last week so much that she didn't put much thought into it. She usually spends the first night back just wandering around her house restlessly so she didn't see the point in celebrating.

The cynical part of her wonders whether this is Gloss' way of dealing with his visits. He's always enjoyed partying and he likes to wipe away bad memories. But she shakes that out of her mind as she accepts a drink. He did this because it's her birthday. Nothing more, nothing less.

She sips her drink as Diamond and her husband drift over to chat. She doesn't say anything about her recent trip to the Capitol and, instead, they talk about random gossip in the District. She feels herself calming down. She supposes this is what normal people must feel like. She's careful to laugh at their terrible jokes and, eventually, she excuses herself to get another drink.

People pass by her in a blur and she's surprised to find that she's loosening up. It's almost as though everything that has been haunting her mind is drifting away. It could be the alcohol but she wonders whether it's because she's having fun.

She can't remember the last time she had fun, just for the sake of it.

That thought stops her. What happened to all of her dreams after winning the Games? Everything her parents had told her would happen? Why isn't it as satisfying as they said it would be?

Probably because they didn't mention the nightmares, the paranoia, the memories and the forced prostitution.

"Cashmere? Earth to Cashmere?"

She looks at Awe who laughs and draws her into a conversation about their music piece. It ends when she says she has to go to bed for work the next day but suggests meeting up for a drink at some point which is enough in itself to cheer her up, even if after the last week, she doesn't want to do anything with anyone.

Even with Awe gone, there are still plenty of people left. She talks to Coral and when her ex mentions meeting someone new, Cashmere says she's pleased for her and is surprised to realise she means it. She doesn't often think about other people. It makes her feel good.

She's managed to avoid her parents for most of the evening but, bolstered by the alcohol, she decides to have a proper conversation with them. After weeks like the one she's just had, she always looks at her parents and feels a twinge of anger because none of it would have happened if they hadn't pressurised her to take part in the Games. But they're her parents and she supposes she loves them so she hugs them and asks them about life in the main District. And she's surprised to find herself feeling interested. Although it could just be the alcohol.

When the night finally draws to a close, it's just her, Gloss and a few other friends. Cashmere has reached the stage of intoxication where singing loudly and jumping off furniture seems like a very good idea so her brother ushers everyone out of the house before leading her to a guest bedroom to sleep.

"Happy birthday, Cash," he says as he's leaving.

"Thanks for the party," she slurs. "I had fun."

He laughs. "I can tell."

She smiles and hums herself to sleep. And even when she wakes up with the worst hangover she's had for years, she can't help thinking that it feels better than any of her days from the last few months.

V) Cashmere is twenty-six years old

When their mentors say goodnight and leave them together, Cashmere has a sudden feeling that this might be the end. She should feel more panicked but somehow, all she can think is that she wants it over and done with

"Think we should get some sleep?" she asks Gloss.

He shrugs. "Are you going to be able to sleep now?"

"No."

"Then let's stay up talking." He grins mischievously and he looks like the five year old child of her memories rather than the twenty-five year old victor before her.

She smiles. "You don't seem worried about tomorrow."

"Are you?"

She thinks about it. "A little. I keep wondering what it would feel like."

"What?"

"Dying."

"Don't say that."

"Why not?"

He looks at her. "What happened to you, Cashmere?" he asks. "You used to think you were invincible."

She used to be. She used to be the sort of person who would volunteer for the Hunger Games just so that she could be with her girlfriend without really thinking the consequences through. Because there was no doubt in her mind that she would win.

"I'm not anymore," she says. "Not since ... visiting the Capitol. And tomorrow ... you know they're going to target us. And we're with Brutus and Enobaria."

"We can still win."

She can hear the fakeness in his confidence. Of course they won't say it out loud but if Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark haven't worked out some plan to win or escape the arena, her name isn't Cashmere Ludovik. She's seen the other districts conspiring together. It hurts her that they haven't made any kind of offer to them. But part of her knows she would say no. She wants to win and go home. She doesn't want to cause real trouble. She doesn't want Snow coming down on her harder than he has, or killing those she loves. She isn't brave enough to do more than grumble.

She suspects Gloss has different reasons for not wanting to join them but she doesn't ask.

"Maybe. But even so, can both of us win?"

"Well, I don't think we can pull off the 'star-crossed lovers' act, if that's what you're getting at."

She laughs, almost without meaning to. He grins his trademark grin. He's always known how to make her smile.

"You never know," she says mischievously. "There might be someone in the Capitol who-"

"I don't want to know," Gloss yelps.

She shuffles closer to him and puts her head on his shoulder.

"What are you thinking about?" she asks.

"Just ... people at home. You know, our parents were always mad because I never married or had kids. I didn't care at the time. I kind of wish I had now." He turns his head to face her. "You're lucky, even if your lovely lady is Seren."

"I never understood what you've got against her."

"Nothing. I just preferred Coral."

She smiles. "I loved her. But ... it didn't work out. I guess we just weren't meant to be, in the end. Better than Awe though. Why did no one tell me she only likes men?"

Gloss laughs. "We thought she should. She probably didn't realise she was leading you on. I mean, we only knew of one other person like you and we were wondering why you two didn't stay together."

"That's not how it works," she says tartly. "That's like me saying you should fall in love with every girl you meet. I love Seren. Besides, you had Luna."

"Yes, and she cheated on me. That worked out well. Thanks ever so much for the reminder, dear sister."

"At least you were free to have children," she says. "That's something I was never going to do."

"They have the technology in the Capitol."

"They weren't going to waste it on me. Besides..." She stops, realising she isn't supposed to say the next part. But then she thinks, why not? It's only Gloss. And she's probably going to die anyway. "President Snow told me, after my twenty-second birthday, that he didn't care who I wanted to sleep with but I wasn't to think about settling down until I turned thirty and no children until then." She shudders.

He stiffens. "You're joking."

"No. Why do you think I rebuffed Seren for so long?"

"I thought that was you getting back to normal ... well, my respect for Seren has gone up then, if she got you anyway."

She laughs and then they fall silent. After a while, she says, "I'm glad you're the one I'm here with."

"Same. And it hasn't been too bad, when you think about it. We had some fun. Actually, I had a lot of fun nights in District 1." He grins.

"Only you," she sighs. Then she stops to think about it. Maybe her life hasn't worked out the way she wanted it to. But he's right. "I suppose there are a lot of worse things that could have happened. Mother and Father are still alive."

He smiles. "Remember my twenty-fourth birthday?"

They start to swap anecdotes and memories, laughing at some of their more bizarre tales. As she leans on her brother's shoulder, she realises that maybe she has been luckier than most. She has a family who love her. She got to lead a large part of her own life. She has Seren. Even here, she's sitting with her little brother and having fun. Maybe she has been through hell. Maybe she isn't going to see her twenty-seventh birthday. Maybe she isn't going to have a proper family of her own, or live in peace or finally master the damn flute. But right here and right now, it doesn't matter.

After all, she thinks: she's had just enough time to learn what it means to be happy.

Fin

I'd appreciate concrit about writing homosexual relationships – as you can probably tell, I haven't really tried before and as someone who's heterosexual, it was interesting to give it a shot – but it'd be cool to know how to improve if I ever try again.