This comes from the 64 Damn Prompts on LiveJournal (by rashaka). I will, most likely, be working through all 64, because I can't bear to leave such a lovely thing unfinished. I will also include the song that helped me write it/find inspiration/that I thought fit the mood.
This story is a personal favorite of mine. It's not usual for me to favor one above another, but I seem to have fallen in love with Cassidy and Noelle. Ah, well. They're very lovable.
P.S.~ Beware the D.O.U.S's!
(Drabbles of Unusual Size)
Prompt 19: Crest
Music: Better Together, by Jack Johnson
It was snowing. The cold December wind picked up the flakes and sent them spinning through the air, feather-light and freezing. Cassidy tucked her hands deeper into her pockets and managed a small smile at the woman facing her.
"Sometimes…." She closed her eyes and sighed softly, knowing what she had to say, for both of their sakes. Then she looked back up, smile still in place—even though holding it there was almost painful. "Sometimes, it just doesn't work out."
Noelle watched her with unusually solemn eyes, for once not sporting her quick, quirky grin. Two packed bags sat at her feet, and her ride waited behind them, engine running. After a minute, she nodded, echoing Cassidy's sigh. "Yeah," she agreed, running a hand through her shoulder-length black hair and dislodging some of the snow that had settled there. She seemed to grasp for words for several moments before finally settling on, "Still friends?"
Cassidy's smile turned bittersweet but genuine instead of forced, and she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around the taller woman, pressing her face to Noelle's shoulder. Her grip tightened, and she huffed out a soft chuckle as Noelle returned the embrace almost desperately. "Of course," she murmured, stepping back to meet Noelle's eyes. "Always friends. Take care of yourself, right?"
With a flash of her signature grin, Noelle shouldered her backpack and picked up her suitcase. She winked. "Hey, I can't promise anything without you there to watch me, Cass, but I'll do my best." The moment the words registered, she hesitated, nearly wincing, and Cassidy's smile faltered. The exchange was too intimate for what they were now, a lover's gentle teasing instead of banter between close friends.
Then Cassidy sighed and waved it off, stepping back and giving a nod to Isaiah in the front seat of the car. She turned her attention back to Noelle and smiled wearily. "Call me next time your back in the country, okay? My door's always open if you need somewhere to crash." With one last, searching glance, as though memorizing the scene, she turned away, casting a quick wave over her shoulder as she headed back into the house.
The door shut softly behind her, muffled by the thickly falling snow.
Sighing, Noelle opened the back door of the car and tossed her bags in, then moved around to passenger side and slid in, dropping her head back against the headrest with a soft thump. There was no sound except for the hiss of tires in snow and the purr of the engine as Isaiah pulled out into the street, and then the auburn-haired man glanced at her and said quietly, "Are you all right?"
Noelle closed her eyes, suddenly too tired to keep them open. She reminded herself that they had known this was coming, had known it for a long time now. This assignment had come at the perfect time, really. It was a good excuse to do what they had been putting off for to long.
It was fine.
This was better.
She opened her eyes and cast a wry smile at her friend. "I'll get over it."
Isaiah shook his head, but didn't take his eyes off the road. After a pause, he commented, "If you're not over it right now, maybe it's best if you don't split like this."
Noelle closed her eyes again, a soft sigh fluttering past her lips. With a crooked grin, she echoed the words that so perfectly summed up their entire fucked-up situation.
"Sometimes, it just doesn't work out."
Isaiah had nothing to say to that, and turned his attention back to the road. Noelle let the wet shush of the wheels through the slush on the road lull her into an exhausted sleep.
Riyuki watched with concern as his friend corrected a student's stance and adjusted the way she was blocking. After a moment, Cassidy stepped back, nodding for the girl to continue, and the girl flashed her a grateful smile before going back to her practice. Cassidy cast a glance over the rest of the class and then dropped back to stand with Riyuki by the doors.
"You really needed my help with this group?" she asked dryly, arching an eyebrow. "Riyuki, I think even you would be fine without my help for this one."
Huffing, Riyuki turned on his childhood friend and narrowed his eyes. "Look, Tasha might have fed you that bull line to get you out here, but I'm not gonna sugarcoat it, jackass! You're killing yourself moping! Nico said you haven't left your house in a week!"
Cassidy rolled her eyes and stalked into the changing room. Riyuki growled softly in disgust and tossed a quick glance at his watching girlfriend. Tasha nodded her acknowledgement and returned to her students, and Riyuki went after their friend. With Cassidy, continuous assaults were always the best tactic, so he didn't even give the woman a chance to open her mouth before he started again.
"Look, Cassidy, why don't you just call Noelle up and apologize? Whatever you're fighting about, isn't getting back together more important? You guys love each other way more than most couples that have lasted this long. When she's gone, you're just about suicidal."
Cassidy threw a towel at his head. "Shut up, Riyuki," she snapped. "I'm not suicidal, and Noelle and I didn't fight. We broke up. It was mutual, and friendly, and we have no intention of getting back together. She has her life, and I have mine, and we're both better off just being friends. We do love each other, but…" She trailed off and shrugged. "It just…didn't happen. Didn't work out. It happens."
With a heavy exhalation, Riyuki slumped down on the bench next to her. "It was mutual?" he asked.
Cassidy nodded. "Completely."
"It's been a long time coming."
Riyuki sounded like he was at a complete loss. Cassidy supposed it was understandable. After all, she and Noelle hadn't had any outward signs of problems—they didn't fight, didn't give each other the silent treatment, went out with friends, and were, by all appearances, completely happy with each other. But the difficulty was something completely different. She shook her head.
"We just…weren't working. Noelle's got her photography to focus on, and I've got the City Housing project coming up, and our lives are just getting too different. We're still friends, and we always will be, but we need to focus on us right now. Noelle is getting a ton of assignments in conflict areas, and being an architect requires a lot of on-site time. We've been getting more and more distant for months now, and neither of us wanted to go through a big, messy breakup after doing this for a year. It's better to separate now, without ruining what we used to have together."
They sat in silence together until the sounds in the other room alerted them to the end of the practice. Cassidy got up, pulling her coat on, and smiled at Riyuki. "I know you're worried, Yuki, you and Tasha both, but I'm fine. Really. You don't need to go to these lengths just to drag me out of the house. I was just working on finishing up some plans." She waved and headed out the door, nodding to some of the students as they passed. They bowed back, and Cassidy headed out into the snowy night, drawing her scarf up higher under her chin.
It was all true, Cassidy reflected absently, slogging through the slush towards her house four blocks down. Everything she had said to Riyuki was absolutely factual, and yet…
And yet, none of it was the exact reason they had separated, except for one thing.
It just hadn't worked out.
There was nothing wrong, really. There was nothing that either of them had done. No unfaithfulness. No unbearable habits. No fights. Nothing. Just two people who couldn't seem to connect they way they had before.
The house was cold when she finally reached it, dark and echoing in its emptiness. Cassidy shook off the depression that threatened to rise up and overwhelm, removing her winter clothes and boots and heading for the kitchen. Automatically, she turned on lights as she went, even though she was the only on there. They comforted her, almost like she was just waiting for Noelle to get back from a late night at the studio, and not…
Not expecting Noelle to come back.
Not allowed to expect Noelle to some back.
Cassidy paused in front of the stove, casting a detached look at the casserole her sister Casey had left that morning. She knew, clinically, that she should eat, but she couldn't summon up the will to actually do so. It was a bad habit, not eating whenever she was unhappy—but she wasn't unhappy, she corrected herself sharply, just busy. And right now, she was just too tired to eat.
Leaving the kitchen, Cassidy made a beeline for the bedroom and collapsed onto the mattress, breathing in the faint scent of snow and thyme that was all that remained of her lover. Her eyes closed, Cassidy wrapped herself in that fading trace of the past and fell asleep where she was, still clothed, with the lights still burning brightly in the rest of the house.
When she dreamed, she dreamed of Noelle.
Four months of jungles, photographing child soldiers and dodging soldiers on both sides of the civil war.
Three months of deserts, capturing the haunted looks of refugees who wanted nothing more than a single hour of safety.
Another four months of blast-riddled cities, getting pictures of rebel soldiers with rusty machetes and desperate eyes.
Two months of dead fields, looking through her viewfinder and seeing starving families scrounging in the dirt for whatever meager handfuls of barely-edible food they could find.
Thirteen months altogether, of thinking about what she had left behind, and why she had done it.
Now, halfway through her fourteenth month, Noelle couldn't quite remember her reasons. When she thought about Cassidy, all she could call to mind was a brief, sweet smile, as rare as a precious gem. Soft laughter, naturally husky and able to brighten a round by sound alone. Bright platinum hair, like icy sunlight, and grass-green eyes that were equally radiant. Smooth, tanned skin. Long, slender, ink-stained fingers from where she got too involved with her drafting.
And love, so much love, whenever their eyes met.
Noelle stared out the window of the plane as the landmass of America's East Coast came into view beneath them. Her thoughts were whirling, but seemed to be stuck on a looped tape.
I want to go to her.
But we separated.
We're just friends now.
I have no right to her.
Can I…get her back?
What if she's found someone else?
I don't know if I could stand that.
But, even if she has, I want to be with her.
She was so caught up in her thoughts that she almost missed the announcement that they would be landing soon. With a sigh, she snapped her seatbelt on and leaned back in her chair, fingering her jacket pocket and wondering what she would find when she landed.
Cassidy narrowed her eyes behind her glasses, studying the latest design for the Community Center her firm would be responsible for. It was one of the focal points of the project, and she had been given free rein to plan whatever she wanted—within limits, of course, but it was still a huge step. She was hardly the most senior architect in the firm, and this would be a huge boost for her career.
As she had been doing for the past year, she pushed down that little niggling voice that commented on how absolutely empty her life felt, even with a project like this to distract her.
Before she could get too deeply engrossed, though, the doorbell rang. Cassidy straightened up with a frown, wondering who it could possible be. Riyuki and Tasha were out of town. Whitney and Odette were on a romantic trip to Italy. Jason would have knocked. Her father would have kicked down the door. And Nico was a creeper who always seemed to have a copy of her key.
Carefully, Cassidy shook off that last, disturbing thought and headed for the door. Without bother to look through the peephole, she threw back the deadbolt and swung it open, only to have the knob slip from suddenly numb fingers and thump against the wall as she stared at the woman standing there.
"Noelle," she whispered.
Noelle gave her that crooked grin that made her heart hurt just a little bit more, and offered a brief wave. "Hey, Cass. That offer of an open door still good?"
Inwardly, Cassidy shook herself hard, and then stepped back. "Sure. You're always welcome. I just…didn't know you were back. Your sister said you were on assignment in Africa still, and that you wouldn't be home for another few months."
"Regina's doing well, then?" Noelle smiled fondly at the mention of her older sister, dropping her bag and starting to struggle out of her heavy coat. "I haven't been able to call her for the last few weeks—phone's out of range or something."
"They're filming in the mountains," Cassidy explained, helping when one of the sleeves got stuck—and it was such a familiar thing to do that they both had to pause for a second to fight back the emotions it brought bubbling to the surface. After a moment, Cassidy cleared her throat and took the jacket, hanging it up on the empty hook by the door—and that was familiar, too, though they ignored it. "She called from the nearest town a few days ago, said not to worry if we couldn't reach her. They don't get cell reception wherever they are."
But Noelle wasn't listening anymore. When Cassidy turned around, Noelle was right behind her, staring at her with blue eyes full of emotion. The look on her face made the breath catch in Cassidy's throat, and she couldn't move as Noelle took a half-step forward, hands rising to grip her elbows and hold her in place.
"I forgot," Noelle said, her voice unusually husky. "I can't remember why we broke up."
Cassidy bit her lip, trying to tell herself that the feel of Noelle's hands on her after so long was not the best thing she had ever felt, that there was no reason for her heart to be pounding like it was. Fighting down the reaction as best she could, she said weakly, "It just…didn't work out."
Noelle shook her head, eyes never leaving Cassidy's face, and she took another step forward, her hands sliding from the blond's arms to her waist, and curling around to bring her in close. "Not good enough," she whispered in her ear, and Cassidy shivered sharply. "I've spent the last thirteen months seeing everything bad that's been happening in the world, and now I want to save something that was good. We were good, Cass. Can't we be good again?"
Cassidy closed her eyes and shook her head—not in denial, but in wonder. She leaned forward to rest her head on Noelle's shoulder, a soft laugh shaking her body. "I've been lonely, Noelle. All the people in New York, all the people in America, all the people in the world, and you were the only one I ever wanted to see. We can't be friends. I don't want to be friends. I just want…"
"You,"hung unspoken between them, and Noelle smiled, lifting Cassidy's head and brushing the faintest ghost of a kiss over her lips. She touched the black-framed glasses and the smile widened.
"So cute, Cass," she murmured, even though cute was hardly the word to describe her. Cassidy wasn't a cute woman. She was beautiful. There was nothing soft and delicate about her. She was lean and lithely muscular, elegant and utterly breathtaking. But now, dressed in a rumpled green dress shirt that was buttoned incorrectly, with a smudge of ink at the corner of her mouth where she had obviously been chewing on the wrong end of a pen, wearing her glasses, her short platinum hair sticking up in every direction from her running her hands through it—Noelle thought she had never seen a more adorable sight. With a wide smile, she leaned forward and kissed Cassidy gently, thoroughly, as though attempting to make up for all the kisses they had missed with a single one.
By the time they separated, they were both breathless. Cassidy drew back to drop her head back to Noelle's shoulder, huffing out a soft laugh.
"Missed you, Noelle," she whispered.
Noelle took her left hand and raised it to her mouth, kissing the long, slender, calloused fingers, and when she drew her lips away, she revealed the thin silver band she had placed firmly on Cassidy's ring finger.
Looking up into the redhead's startled tawny eyes, she grinned somewhat nervously and took a step back. One hand rose to rub the back of her head, a nervous habit she had picked up from Cassidy.
"Remember when we were looking up family crests?" she asked softly. "Back in high school? I got Mr. Talley to send me the ones we found. Yours is on mine." She held up her hand to show a matching ring, with the symbol of the McCoy family carefully etched into the metal, and then tapped the ring Cassidy wore, with the Ramon crest. "And mine is on yours. Do you…mind?"
The way Cassidy answered her left little doubt that no, she did not mind at all.
"So?" Tasha asked, crossing her arms over her chest as she glared at them, Riyuki gaping at her side. "What happened?"
Cassidy and Noelle traded glances, amused at the shocked gazes of all their friends and family. Then, with a small, secret smile, Cassidy just shrugged. "Well, sometimes, it just…"
Noelle caught her hand and twined their fingers together, and finished with a crooked grin, "Sometimes, it just works out."
The crests on their matching rings shimmered in the light as, like two puzzle pieces, they meshed perfectly, coming together with utter ease.
Their reunion, Cassidy thought with a rush of easy satisfaction, had been much the same.