By now, the sight that greets Kahlan when she steps into their shared flat is a familiar one. Cara is lounging on the couch in pajama pants and a fitted t-shirt that not-so-subtly proclaims her "God's gift to women", her bare feet propped up on the coffee table as she flips through channels on the television. Ordinarily, Kahlan might chide her for it—they've certainly had the coffee table vs. foot rest argument often enough, Cara should know better—or at least make a remark about the blonde lazing around in her pajamas in the middle of the afternoon, but today Kahlan is far too excited to gripe about such trivial things.
"Did you hear?" Kahlan asks quickly, in lieu of an actual greeting.
Cara glances over at her, raising an eyebrow at Kahlan's breathless enthusiasm. "Hear what?"
"The decision was today!" Kahlan reminds her, setting her purse down and hanging her keys—complete with "straight, not narrow" key chain—on their usual hook beside the door. At Cara's blank look, Kahlan rolls her eyes. "Cara, the state supreme court decision! Same-sex marriage, ring any bells?"
The blonde just shrugs, turning back to the television. There's an action movie playing, lots of explosions and car chases; Cara considers it for half a second before changing the channel again.
Kahlan chuckles, shaking her head fondly. "Honestly, I'm straight and I think I care about this more than you do," she says, dropping her eyes to the pile of mail on the table by the door. She picks it up and sorts through it, knowing that Cara likely didn't give any of it a second glance after collecting it from the slot downstairs. Bills, junk mail, Chinese food menus, a postcard reminding Cara to schedule her annual dental checkup. Kahlan slips that into her own pile; if she doesn't make Cara do it, the appointment will never get made.
"Why would I care?" Cara asks with dismissive shrug, settling on a reality show about gunsmiths that looks like it's about to devolve into an all-out brawl. "It's not like I'm in a rush to tie myself down to anyone, no matter what they have between their legs."
"Oh, I see." Kahlan braces herself on the arm of the couch as she slips off her sneakers, lining them up neatly under the coffee table. "You just want to keep bringing home random strangers for casual sex," she teases, sinking down onto the couch and tucking her legs underneath her.
"Last I checked, you didn't need a license for it," Cara says with an idle smirk, changing the channel again when the show breaks for commercial. She cocks her head in thought. "Although I wouldn't put it past them."
Kahlan just smiles affectionately, shifting to slip her arm through Cara's, resting her head on her friend's shoulder. "Don't you ever want to settle down, find someone to spend your life with?"
A brief, tense silence stretches between them, and Kahlan is about to pull back to ask if something is wrong when Cara scoffs, in a way that is more than a little forced. "I'm perfectly happy with my life the way it is."
For a moment, Kahlan debates whether to question her further, but Cara's shoulder is tense under her cheek, jaw clenched against the top of her head, and she decides to let it go—for now. "If you say so," she concedes, turning her eyes to the television. "Ooh, Xena's on."
"Mm." Cara nods, setting the remote down.
Kahlan smiles; Cara knows better than to try to keep changing channels when Kahlan's favorite show is on. "What did you want to do for dinner tonight?"
A month later, Kahlan is breathing in the jubilant atmosphere of the crowd gathered at the Civic Center. The sun is bright and warm in a cloudless blue sky, and a cool breeze brushes against her legs, tugging gently at the hem of her dress. There are people around her of all ages holding signs and banners, taking pictures, cheering and talking excitedly amongst themselves as they watch the growing line of couples leading toward the entrance of City Hall. Everywhere there are tears and smiles, and the happiness is almost overwhelming. Kahlan hasn't stopped beaming since they arrived.
"Why did I let you drag me here again?" Cara is leaning against a tree, arms crossed over her tight maroon tank top. Her sunglasses are perched precariously on the top of her head, pulling her shoulder-length blonde hair away from her face. She is apparently immune to the euphoria permeating the very air around them.
Kahlan sighs, an exasperated smile on her lips. "History is being made, right here, as we speak. You're not excited at all?" Cara raises an eyebrow, looking entirely unimpressed. "Come on, even if you don't ever want to get married, just look at how thrilled they all are," Kahlan says, gesturing to the long line of couples trailing down the steps. "You could be happy for them."
Cara scoffs, rolls her eyes. "Why would I? I'm not allowed in their little club, 'cause I like to fuck guys too."
Shaking her head, Kahlan pins Cara with a pointed glance. "Cara, that attitude is changing and you know it. There is a B in LGBT, you know."
"I know, I know, you're not bisexual," Kahlan says, leaning into Cara's side with a smile. She's heard it all before. "Labels are stupid and there's no way that the broad spectrum of human sexuality could possibly fit into a few arbitrary boxes. Did I miss anything?"
A smirk fights its way onto Cara's lips. "No, I think you covered it."
After a moment, Cara shifts awkwardly, her hands dropping to fidget with the belt loops of her jeans. She slips her cell phone out, looks at it for a second, then shoves it back into her pocket. There's something on her mind—there has been for a while now—and Kahlan hasn't been able to figure out what it is, the way she usually can with ease.
Kahlan's brow creases as a thought occurs to her; she pulls away to seek out Cara's gaze. "You're not still hung up on Dahlia, are you?"
"What? No!" Cara says quickly, looking at Kahlan as though she's lost her mind. "That was like two years ago."
Not Dahlia, then. Kahlan almost asks if there's someone else, someone new, but she knows there isn't. Cara has never been discreet with her affairs and one-night-stands, and if she was seeing someone on a regular basis, Kahlan would know about it. Besides, she's even slowed down in that respect; Kahlan has to think hard to remember the last time Cara brought someone home.
Strange. Kahlan hadn't thought to question before now why Cara was suddenly around more; she'd simply been glad to have her friend all to herself. She knows there's nothing wrong with Cara's sex drive—Cara is anything but quiet, even when she's alone, and their walls are thin. A hot flush rises to Kahlan's cheeks at the thought, while a tiny sliver of realization works its way to the forefront of her mind.
Now that she thinks of it, Kahlan's always been happier when Cara was single. She's certainly never liked anyone Cara brought home—especially Dahlia. She told herself it was because Dahlia was so possessive of Cara, to a borderline unhealthy degree—and, she thinks, that still holds true; it's what eventually made Cara put an end to the relationship, after all. But she wonders now if maybe she was more upset that Dahlia was taking up so much of Cara's time—time that used to belong to Kahlan. Every time Cara skipped out on a movie night with Kahlan to go out to the clubs with Dahlia instead, Kahlan hated Dahlia that much more. When they finally broke up, she had to fight to contain her relief, and she felt more than a little guilty for being so happy while her best friend was so miserable.
Kahlan's eyes widen as the pieces begin to fall into place. She and Cara have been friends for years, ever since Cara transferred to her high school back in junior year. They hated each other at first, though Kahlan can't even remember why anymore. It must have been stupid, because it didn't last long at all, and soon enough they were inseparable. When they graduated, it didn't even occur to them not to find a place together—the place they still share to this day.
When Kahlan's relationship with Richard collapsed, Cara was right there beside her; they spent countless nights curled up on the couch, sharing pints of Ben & Jerry's and lamenting the stupidity of men—a subject Cara was more than happy to discuss at length. School, jobs, and countless flings—the majority of them Cara's—have come and gone, but one thing's been constant: Cara has always been there when Kahlan needed her. Through everything, Kahlan has never once given a thought to anything beyond friendship—and looking at Cara now, she wonders why. It seems so obvious, an inevitable conclusion that she's seeing for the first time. The fact that Cara is a woman doesn't matter; Kahlan has never been more sure of what she wants.
"Is there a reason you're staring at me like we're in the middle of the desert and I'm made of water?"
Cara's uneasy sarcasm snaps Kahlan out of her daze, and words spill from her lips before they even have a chance to surface in her mind. "Marry me."
"What?" Cara's eyes widen almost comically, before narrowing as she peers suspiciously at Kahlan. "Did you have one of those brownies that guy was passing around? 'Cause I'm pretty sure they had more than chocolate in them."
"I'm not high, Cara," Kahlan says with a laugh, a giddy sensation fluttering in her chest. Her hand trembles as she slides it down Cara's bare arm, tangling their fingers together and squeezing gently. "I'm thinking more clearly than I ever have. Marry me."
Cara swallows roughly, her face taking on a look of wary disbelief. "You're straight," she says, as though reminding Kahlan of something she's clearly forgotten.
Kahlan's lips stretch into a broad, affectionate smile as she tilts her head, looking up through her lashes to meet Cara's eyes. "I thought you hated labels."
"Where is this even coming from?" Panic is creeping into Cara's voice, and Kahlan squeezes her hand reassuringly, tugging it up to lay against the top of her chest.
"Right here," Kahlan says softly, pressing Cara's hand over her heart. It's pounding hard against her ribs, and her voice shakes with the weight of her feelings. "I don't know why I didn't see it before. Cara, we've lived together for years. We go grocery shopping together, spend almost all our free time together. We even argue like an old married couple." She laughs, her hand flexing over Cara's as her voice grows more passionate. "I can't imagine giving up the life I have with you for anyone, regardless of gender."
Cara has been staring back at her, mouth half-open in shock; now she closes it, swallowing hard before opening it again. "Kahlan, you're talking about a lot more than just playing house," she says roughly, eyes shining with guarded hope.
"I know that," Kahlan breathes, her stomach twisting into knots as her eyes drop to Cara's lips. Cara still hasn't said no, and that tells Kahlan all she needs to know. Cara's breath catches audibly in her throat as Kahlan leans forward, capturing her lips in a sweet, lingering kiss.
At first, Cara is slow to respond, frozen in disbelief; but Kahlan's tongue sliding out to hesitantly trace her lower lip spurs her into action. Her hands drop to Kahlan's waist, burning through the thin cotton of her dress as she pulls Kahlan closer.
Not for the first time today, Kahlan wonders why she never considered this before. Cara's mouth is hot and urgent without being demanding, and her body seems to fit perfectly against Kahlan's. She's never felt anything so right.
The distant sound of cheering and catcalling reaches Kahlan's ears, and she breaks the kiss, a furious blush stealing over her cheeks. She almost forgot that they were in the middle of a crowd. Pulling her lower lip between her teeth, Kahlan slips her hand back into Cara's, giving it a gentle tug. "Are you coming?"
The dazed look on Cara's face clears, her eyes widening a little. "What—now?"
Kahlan shrugs, smiling broadly. "The line's just gonna get longer."
"This is crazy, you know," Cara says as Kahlan drags her to the end of the line. The words would have more weight if she wasn't currently fighting a losing battle against the grin tugging at her lips.
Kahlan turns, reaching for Cara's other hand. Placing them both at her waist, Kahlan reaches up to rest her arms on Cara's shoulders, drinking in a closeness that is both familiar and wonderfully new. "Isn't love supposed to be crazy?" she asks, sporting a beaming smile of her own.
Cara's hands twitch at Kahlan's waist, her expression briefly clouding with something soft and uncertain before she rolls her eyes. "You didn't even give me a chance to get you a ring."
A dark eyebrow arches in response. "I asked you," Kahlan reminds her, leaning back against the raised concrete ledge running along the outside of the building. "Isn't that my job?" Cara just huffs and rolls her eyes again, and Kahlan pulls her closer, until their bodies are nearly flush. "Don't worry," Kahlan assures her, in a mockingly serious tone. "I won't tell anyone how badly I out-butched you."
"You? Butch?" Cara scoffs, dropping her eyes deliberately down to the white sundress Kahlan is wearing. They're too close together for Cara to call attention to the strappy sandals on her feet, but her point is made nonetheless. "Kahlan, please."
Cara's smirk fades, her eyes darkening as she continues tracing the lines of Kahlan's body under the thin material. Kahlan feels a shiver race down her spine, and a wild flutter low in her stomach. She can see that Cara wants to kiss her again, and there's not a single bit of Kahlan that wants to argue with the idea. But Cara still looks unsure, off-balance; Kahlan takes pity on her, locking her arms behind Cara's neck and tugging her forward to close the distance between them.
The more she kisses Cara, the more Kahlan wants to kick herself for never doing it before. There's a spark unlike anything she's ever felt before, setting fire to her blood. At the same time, it's so terribly comfortable; there's none of the awkward hesitance that she's grown to expect early on in a relationship—only pure, simple desire.
The kiss ends only when Kahlan feels a soft nudge at her shoulder. Reluctantly pulling away, Kahlan looks over to see a pair of older gentlemen in matching pale blue tuxedos beaming at her. "Sorry to interrupt," the shorter one says, his eyes glittering with amusement. "But the line's moving. I wouldn't want you two sweethearts to lose your place."
"Thank you," Kahlan says, blushing as they all move forward to catch up with the line. "And congratulations," she adds with a bright smile.
"And to you, honey," the man replies, leaning into his husband-to-be with a dreamy smile. "Ah, young love," he sighs. "Do you remember what that was like?"
"Sure," the taller one says with gruff affection. "Back before electricity and running water. Now let's leave these two lovebirds in peace, shall we?"
Kahlan chuckles, glancing back at Cara as the two men turn away. Cara is looking at her with guarded wonder, as though she doesn't quite believe this is real. When she realizes Kahlan is looking at her, she covers it up with a sly smirk.
"You're wearing white, at least," she remarks, her hands sliding back onto Kahlan's waist. She quirks an eyebrow. "Although from the sounds you and Richard used to make, I'm pretty sure the symbolism is lost."
"Well you're anything but pure," Kahlan retorts with a furious blush, sliding her hands up Cara's arms to rest at her elbows. "So I guess we're even."
"Mm, I don't think so," Cara says seductively, shaking her head softly. "You've got a lot of catching up to do before you're even with me."
The hunger in her eyes causes Kahlan's cheeks to burn hot with something altogether different from embarrassment. Feeling bold, Kahlan nibbles on her lower lip, meeting Cara's sultry gaze with one of her own. "Would catching up involve those fuzzy pink handcuffs hanging from your bedpost?"
Cara groans, pulling Kahlan in for another kiss. It's the first time Cara has initiated the contact, and Kahlan hums approvingly into her lips.
"Your sister is going to kill me, you know," Cara points out when the line moves forward and they have to break apart again.
"Dennee will deal," Kahlan says with a smile and a roll of her eyes. "We can have a big ceremony later, invite Grace and her husband. Ella can be our flower girl."
Cara's eyes widen in horror. "You want to involve my family in this? Sirian hates me almost as much as Dennee does."
"My sister does not hate you," Kahlan insists, nudging Cara with her hip. "And you'll be sisters, now. She'll learn to love you as much as I do."
"I hope not," Cara scoffs, before the words have a chance to really sink in. Her gaze drops, then, and she fidgets with her belt loops for a moment before clearing her throat. She looks vulnerable, almost shy—a completely foreign look for her. "You...you really love me?"
"No, I just go around asking women to marry me for fun," Kahlan teases, poking gently at Cara's side. But it clearly took a lot for Cara to work up the courage to ask, and courage is one thing Kahlan has never seen Cara lack. The laughter in Kahlan's gaze dies down, turning solemn as she reaches up to cup Cara's face in her hands. "Cara, I have always loved you. I just didn't realize how much until today."
The bright, fragile smile that springs to Cara's face just may be the most beautiful thing Kahlan has ever seen. She leans in to press a gentle kiss to Cara's lips, pulling away before it can grow heated. When she draws back, the smile is just as bright, but more solid than before.
"About that," Cara says, giving Kahlan a sidelong glance as they step forward again. "Not that I'm complaining, but what exactly prompted this sudden revelation?"
Kahlan's lips twist in thought as she tries to think of a way to explain it. "I don't know," she admits with a slight shrug. "I just...looked at you, and it was like everything fell into place. It feels like I was meant to be with you, as cliché as that sounds."
Cara rolls her eyes, but Kahlan can see the emotion glittering in them. "You always were a hopeless romantic."
"I don't know," Kahlan replies, glancing pointedly at Cara. "I think there may be hope for me yet."
The line moves again, but Cara resists Kahlan's gentle tug. When Kahlan turns back, a question on her lips, Cara has that nervous look on her face again. Kahlan squeezes her hand encouragingly, and finally Cara meets Kahlan's gaze. "I do too, you know."
Kahlan smiles, hearing the words Cara can't yet bring herself to say. She steps in closer, stopping just before her lips meet Cara's. "I know," she murmurs softly before closing the last bit of distance.
The vaulted ceilings and elaborate architecture of City Hall are more beautiful than any place Kahlan has dreamed of getting married in. They are standing at the top of a grand marble staircase, under an ornate stone arch, Cara in her boot-cut jeans and red tank top, herself in a simple sundress, and she can't think of anything that could be more perfect. Unable to resist a sideways glance at Cara, Kahlan meets her gaze with a heartfelt smile before the city official starts to speak.
"We are gathered here, in the presence of witnesses, for the purpose of uniting in matrimony Cara Mason and Kahlan Amnell."
"Cara!" Kahlan exclaims, arms tightening around Cara's neck as her legs bump into the side of the gate. Cara seems to have taken Kahlan's earlier comment as a challenge, and is currently trying to prove her dominance by carrying Kahlan over the threshold. "I'm perfectly capable of walking up the stairs."
Cara huffs, her arms straining under Kahlan's weight. She manages to turn them sideways and get them through the gate, but Kahlan is taller than her, and she doesn't exactly make a habit of carrying women around. Finally she gives up, letting Kahlan's feet drop to the ground just long enough to shift their positions and sling Kahlan over one shoulder.
An indignant squeal sounds in Kahlan's throat, and she swats gently at Cara's back, but it's no use: Cara is determined. When they reach the top of the stairs, Cara holds tight to Kahlan's thighs with one hand, reaching into the pocket of her jeans with the other. She fumbles with the keys, but finally manages to unlock the door.
Once inside, Cara drops Kahlan unceremoniously onto her back on the couch, quickly moving to climb over her. "Welcome home, Mrs. Mason," she says with a victorious smirk, leaning in to capture Kahlan's lips.
Kahlan smiles into Cara's mouth. Returning the kiss, she imagines that she can feel Cara's heartbeat increasing in time with her own. Eventually Cara is the one who pulls back, only to trail lingering kisses down the column of Kahlan's throat. Kahlan arches, her hands coming up to tangle in blonde hair.
"Wait," Kahlan gasps, as Cara's words finally sink in. She tugs at Cara's scalp, and Cara pulls back, eyebrow raised. "Who said I was taking your name? I think Cara Amnell has a nice ring to it."
Rather than respond in words, Cara just smirks, lowering her head to nibble at Kahlan's collarbone. Kahlan groans as Cara's jean-clad thigh slips between her own.
"Of course," Kahlan pants softly, "we can always figure that out later."
Cara hums approvingly, her hand sliding up under Kahlan's dress to rest at her hip as she surges back up to kiss Kahlan again. "Your room or mine?" she murmurs into Kahlan's lips.
Kahlan's head falls back against the arm of the couch as she considers the options. "Well," she finally says, looking back at Cara with a mischievous smile, "yours has those handcuffs."
She does, after all, have a lot of catching up to do.