"When I have a camera in my hand, I know no fear." - Alfred Eisendstaedt
It is six months, two weeks, and three days since I successfully evacuated Katniss Everdeen from the middle of the Capitol. A bit over six months since I dropped her and Johanna Mason in some part of District 12, away from any villages or ruins, away from people. A bit over six months since Cashmere helped us end the revolution once and for all. A bit over eight months since the death of our "leader's" sister. Nine months to the day since they brought Cash back from the Capitol. Brought her back to me.
In all this time, not once have we stopped hiding in our own heads long enough to actually sit down and talk, discuss where we're going, what we're doing. It feels just like it did when we were younger, just as heady and intoxicating, but I need more. More permanence, more proof, more something. I'm not sure what. I wish I was.
Something else I wish is that Cash would share my bed again. Not for sex, we do that plenty, but just for comfort. Just for closeness, the warmth of another body. Just for me.
The real problem is what they did to her in the Capitol. Sometime in the last several years, very nearly six when I stop to think about it, they broke her. Not completely, she's never been shattered, but they still broke my Cash, my muse. She doesn't relish in closeness like she used to, she doesn't want to share space with her nightmares anymore. I think that's what I miss the most from when she was newly a Victor, that she would come to me when she had a nightmare and I would get to calm her down and shush her fears.
She doesn't do that anymore. I want to say I don't know why, but I do. I know what they made her do, and intellectually I understand why that would close her off, keep her from showing emotions, but it hurts that she is doing it to me. I can see that she loves me like she used to, but there's just a distance that shouldn't exist, that didn't when we met. There is a coldness that breaks my heart a little bit every time I hear her wake up screaming. Every time I go to her, she's already walling off everything, hiding behind the mask. I hate that mask.
I will do anything to break that mask, to get rid of it and make sure it never comes back. I've been trying to do that for over half a year, but Cash just doesn't cooperate half the time. Today though, today she doesn't have a choice. I've had enough of her saying that she knows I love her, saying that she knows I have always loved her, and still holding me at arm's length. I don't know if she thinks she is protecting me, or protecting herself, but it's over, I have had enough. Today is her last chance. Not that I'm going to tell her that of course, I'm not an idiot.
I have brought her out to the beach that our little house practically sits on, and currently she is enjoying the tang of the sea and the feel of the sun. Coming to Four was probably one of my better ideas, since this district is large, mostly waterfront, and definitely completely removed from everything our lives used to be. A fresh start. Something that all of us wanted, needed. Finnick and Annie are our neighbors, or as close to neighbors as you can get when you live a quarter mile from anyone else.
I called them three days ago when I was sure that Cashmere was on the beach to work on her tan, something she said she wanted to do so she could feel like a normal person and not just a survivor. Finnick came over, though I'm fairly certain it was just as a favor to me. He still doesn't really like or trust Cash, even though she helped the rebellion. Even though they were both held and tortured by the Capitol, and even though she loves me, he still doesn't trust her. He visited when I asked though, and that's what matters most to me since I was asking him to help me set up today.
We talked about a lot of things actually, but I think the most helpful words he said that day were the simple sort that no one in the Capitol knew he could speak. "Just tell her the truth," he said. "Just tell her the truth in the barest and most honest way you can express it, and leave no doubt of your sincerity. Ask her and use that moment to show what you want, what you feel, and she should come around. You'll be okay Cress, you're a genius with setting up a shot. Think of it like a scene in one of your propos, the way things had to be done to show Katniss to the rebels. Just find that moment."
Sitting here today though, the woven gold band stuffed into my bikini top and my head freshly shaved, I'm back to being nervous. I have my camera of course, and it's rolling like always, but there's something about this moment, this question, that is just intimidating. In this moment, I hate Johanna a little bit. She made it look so easy when she proposed to Katniss at Finnick's wedding, and in the same situation with far fewer people watching, I'm freezing up. I guess there is a reason why I'm always behind the camera, knowing that I'm about to be recorded is making this much scarier than I thought it would be.
I figured, "Hey, maybe if I film this, it'll be easier to do it. Maybe if I make sure I have a memory of it later, I'll be able to lay it out." Fuck that, this shit is not a carefree moment. At least, not until Cashmere surfaces out of the surf and early morning sun glimmers on her wet skin. The sky is still a little rosy, it's a clear morning, and Cashmere is so devastatingly beautiful that for a moment I forget that I have a ring sitting under my tit and sand on my ass. I forget that this is the single most intimidating and scary moment of my life, even after the war. I forget everything but her, and it's now or never.
I glance back to make sure that the camera is recording, my tiny tripod steadied in the sand and peering out at the water. No more time to think. She watches with amusement, her eyes raking all over my body to take in the movements of my hands brushing off my body. I know she notices me chewing my lip, a small smile on her lips at my nervous habit. No more time to think, I have to act.
My hands reach out and snatch her into a searing kiss, the sudden contact coaxing a gasp out of her and I see her walls crack a little. I haven't been this aggressive with her since our reunion, I've been too busy trying to make sure she was okay. Today isn't the time for gentle though, today isn't the time for hesitance and sweet shy words. At least not anymore, not with her looking like the Cash that I fell in love with and not the Cashmere of the Capitol. No more time to think.
"I can't do this anymore Cash." I see her shrink within herself a little at those words, trying to repair the cracks my kiss caused, so I charge onwards and hope she understands what I'm trying to say soon. "I can't keep living this life as two separate people. I can't keep pretending that everything is okay when you're with me but you're not mine." I drop to one knee, decide that's not good enough and drop the other one too, and dig in my top until I can snag the band Finnick had made for me. "I want you, all of you. I need you to know I love you, I always have and I always will. You know I'm not good with words, not for myself. You know I stay behind the camera because it gives me distance, but I don't want there to be any distance between us."
This is it, the moment I've been dreading, the moment when she can break my heart and break my world. I just know I'm going to stumble over these words, but I forge on ahead and try not to show how desperate I am for her answer. "Cashmere- No, Cash. Cash, I don't want to live another day without knowing the answer to this question. Will you marry me?" I wait and I hope, and she's staring at me with love and something that looks like fear. And then she shakes her head.
The ache in my chest is debilitating, the kind of pain that must come from losing a big part of your life, and though I just want to curl up and die on the sand, I get angry instead. "Why the fuck not Cash?! I have waited for you, I have been there for you whenever you have let me, what the fuck else do I have to do to prove to you that this is it for me? You're it, it's you or nobody. Don't you get it Blondie? You're my only chance, and you just said no to me." At the end of my declaration, I can feel the hitch of a sob trying to escape and if I don't get out of here now I'm going to cry in front of her and I can't do that now. She's tearing my heart out and if I'm not going to be with her forever, then I can't let her see how much it's killing me.
I turn away, trying my best not to steal one last glance and failing miserably, but I don't get a chance to run because she's pulling me back and wrapping her arms around my waist. I feel water running down my back as soon as she presses her face into me, but I don't realize she's actually crying until she tries to speak. "B-be-because. I-I c-can't marry you, I j-just can't. You d-deserve s-so much better than me-e-eee." I can't take it anymore and I spin around in her arms, forcing her to look up at me as I feel the tears start to leak from my eyes.
"Goddammit Cash I love you. I don't care how you did this to me, all I care about is that I fucking love you and you just told me that you won't marry me. You're breaking my heart when all I want to do is love you for the rest of our lives, however long they are, and you won't let me. There isn't anyone else I want, and believe me, I've had time to look, wouldn't you agree? I want you. I need you. So, last chance you big idiot, will you marry me?"
Time just stands still, her sapphire eyes wide and shiny with tears. I can hear her trying to breathe, trying to process what I just said, and it's making her have this cute little hiccup that is slowly leeching away my anger, my hurt, everything but my love for her. For several long and painful minutes, she doesn't say anything, she doesn't move. Just when I've given up again, she slips her hand into mine and takes the ring. She doesn't break eye contact with me, but she does slip it onto her finger before kissing me more sweetly than she ever did. I enjoy it as much as I can, which is a lot, until I remember that my camera is on the beach. "Shit! I was recording this!"
It's like the last few minutes never happened because Cashmere starts to giggle, then laugh outright and I can't even be angry with her anymore. "Shut up! This was supposed to be romantic and shit, and now I have a recording of the moment that is always going to be the best and the most painful moment of my entire life! Goddammit..."
Sometimes you just know when two people are perfect for each other. I can't say that I knew Katniss was perfect for me at first, and I know she wouldn't say the same about me, but we came to believe in the end that our experiences meant we were made for each other. Cressida and Cashmere on the other hand, we both knew belonged together. We never had any doubt of that. We were so sure that they would end up engaged that we decided about a month after we made our grand escape from the Capitol to wait until they had before we actually got married.
I am thankful to Finnick for many things, but the most important one to me is the call I received late three days ago. He only said four words and then hung up, but those four words were, "She's going to ask." Katniss didn't even hesitate, she just packed a bag for each of us and we jumped on the next train out to Four. We've spent the last two days with Finn and Annie, and I have to say that I'm immensely happy for both of them.
Finnick looks much healthier now, and he is slowly making progress on his hydrophobia. Annie says he still hasn't gone for a swim since they moved back to Four, but he's able to sit on the beach now, and the wet sand doesn't make him shake anymore. According to her, a week ago he walked a few feet into the surf and stood there for several minutes. Neither of them knows how long it was, but just knowing that he was standing in the water and he didn't lose his grip on reality is a relief to me.
Today though is not about him, or them, or even Kat and I. Today is about the underdog story, the one that didn't inspire a rebellion or keep it alive. Today is about the couple that, against all odds, found each other again. Today is a day for Katniss and I to decide if Cashmere is really worthy of Cressida, and I'll be the first to admit that she is really going to have to convince us. I know Cash, and I like to think I know her rather well, but in all the years of our acquaintance, she never once even hinted at a loved one on the outside, not even one that she left behind.
Katniss put it as only she could of course, "We know Cress is stupid for her, but do we really know that she loves her just as much?" The simple answer is no, so today we are going to get her to prove it. Not like "show me or you can't marry her" prove it, but more like "show me you are not going to hurt her." Or at least, that was the plan. Watching them from the corner of their little house though, I'm sold already. I turn my head to see what Kat thinks only to find that her cheeks are rosy with a blush and her beautiful gray eyes are wide and glistening. Her squeal and effusive grin completes the picture of joy, not to mention shattering the quiet of the morning and grabbing the attention of the ladies in their own little world on the sand.
Even this far away I can see the shock on their faces as they find out that their private little moment wasn't so private after all. Of course Cashmere doesn't mind, but I don't think I've ever seen Cressida flush as red and I'm not sure if it's embarrassment or just a leftover of her rather adoring kiss with Cash. It doesn't matter, the moment Katniss takes my hand and leads me to the water I can't deny her the opportunity to make an impact in the way that only she can. From the look in her eye, I know she has something to say and it is going to be passionate as she always is.
I can't help falling in love with her a little more every day, even now.
The squeal from the direction of our house finishes destroying any leftover romance in the moment, but when I see who it is I can't even feel angry about it. Embarrassed as hell, sure. Angry however is not a possibility, not with Katniss dragging Jo out onto the sand. It's a relief to have a small distraction, but it becomes a much larger one when I noticed that the only ring on any fingers is the same one Johanna gave Katniss at the wedding. I can't help how scandalized I sound when I find my voice again. "Johanna Mason, you still haven't married that girl?"
She just grins enigmatically, something I was not even aware she could do, and shakes her head. Katniss takes the lead, which I suppose is a good thing, and hearing her voice again for the first time in months reminds me why we all followed her into a war. There is a self-assured strength to her, something that I guess comes from growing up in the poorest district without a father, and it is inspiring. "No, of course we're not married yet. Ready every day of course, but we were waiting for you two."
When she turns to Cash, I can feel the blonde slip behind me almost as if to hide from this tiny little slip of a thing. The look in those gray eyes gives me another haunting reminder of why she started a rebellion without even trying. She is defying Cashmere to do or say something, though what that something is I'm not sure. "You took your sweet time with this engagement. I'm not surprised it was up to you to do the asking actually, just that you took this long Cressida." The look in her eyes that still haven't left my newly christened fiancee hardens and I swear I can see actual sparks fly.
"And she almost didn't say yes. What a shame that would have been, you deserve to be happy and we all know how much you love her. I just hope for both your sake that she loves you every bit as much. You've become a friend, and more than a friend, to us and we want you to be able to smile every day with the wholeness of love." Then she turns her gaze back to me and she is soft and sweet and every bit the girl that I only ever got to see around Johanna. It is unnerving, to say the least, and yet I am just glad that they care.
I can see her courage failing her, the strength and iron softening and her eyes slipping back into the fugue that she was in after losing Prim. I remember those days and nights more vividly than I would like, remember the experience of seeing Johanna so lost and devoid of hope, convinced that the woman she loved was gone forever and would never really return to her. So involved in those memories am I that it affects me more than it would have before to watch Johanna bring her back to life, the quiet whispered words and the unconditional love in her movements stark and without pretense. She isn't the same spiny woman that Snow created when he murdered everyone close to her. She isn't the same hard and angry woman that was Reaped a second time. She isn't the same vicious animal that used to bite anyone who came too close.
At the same time, she is still those women. She is still the girl fresh from her brush with death and destiny, holding the rapidly cooling body of her lover. She is still the woman with eyes of flint and a tongue so coated with acid that it melted the hearts of lesser men with fear. She is still the broken person who was so afraid of losing someone again that she would fight anyone she could feel worming their way into her heart, kick and scratch and yell until they gave up and went away. And at the center of it all, she is still the woman who thought she was empty and found a second chance in a poor little hunter from the Seam. Johanna Mason is still and always will be the woman whose heart was set ablaze by the Girl Who Was on Fire, and seeing that gives us all a little more hope.
Seeing the love in their eyes somehow makes this day even more real and the pricking in my eyes gives way to salty tears running down my cheeks. I pull Cash to me, forcing her to press herself into my back again as I wrap her arms around my belly and lean back into her. "Never let me go?" I whisper, the feeling of her soft lips curling into a grin on the side of my neck sending shivers down my spine. "Wouldn't dream of it," she answers, hot breath tickling my skin. "Now, about that wedding..."
A/N: Alrighty then! Here we have a fluffy and gentle break from the sadness and stuff of previous chapters, and it was about damn time too.
However, that also means that we're coming down to the end of our time with these ladies, at least as far as their personalities like this are concerned. I have up on my profile a poll. This poll is to determine what we get to see next, the where, the who, and so forth. There is even a short summary of the plots of almost every possibility on the page, so have a look and vote to tell me what you want to read next!
And please review me, I miss the love from you guys. :3 I know I've been neglectful and such, but I'm back and I'm writing again, right? Let me know how I'm doing. ^_^
A/N #2: Sorry, I know that there were a lot of you looking forward to reading another wedding, but this story just feels complete here. You know that Katniss and Johanna are forever, Cash and Cress are with them on that front, and I just don't have it in me to write another chapter. Not one that does justice to this, anyway.