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  Cassandra liked to think she wasn't good with kids. It was something of a lifelong personal knowledge, in the same way she knew her hair was black and her eyes were green. After all, she knew she wasn't good with people, so why should she have any congenial relations with children? There were a slough of reasons for her to stay far away from them, including but not limited to the fact that some part of her still believed her mother’s parenting failures were hereditary. In spite of all that, however, she had to admit that she didn't truly mind children. 

Children didn't play the same games of trickery that adults did. They said what was on their minds, regardless of how appropriate it might be to the conversation. They wanted respect, and they wanted to be noticed. It was simple, really. Cassandra was almost embarrassed at how easily she understood the plight of a scorned toddler.

        So really, all this considered, it shouldn't have been a surprise to her that the baby was so calm in her arms. Rapunzel and Eugene were off in a meeting with Sir Grandel, a dignitary from the far-off island of Kistbourgh. Cassandra made a habit of staying out of the meeting room after the table-flipping incident, so the other facets of the royal family had left baby Garrett with her– which Cassandra, personally, had thought was the worst possible idea they could have come up with. 

Still, somehow, she’d been left alone in their bedroom that morning with a 3-month old baby, some toys, and a few rushed reassurances for good measure. 

At that moment, Cassandra would have almost preferred to be trapped in a burning building. At least she had some semblance of capability in a crisis. Still, as the day wore on, her nerve endings were grated on and rubbed until at last they became soft. Caring for Garrett wasn't without its hardships, but Cassandra was used to tough jobs, and she had soon fallen into a rhythm. Garrett himself hadn’t changed a bit since Raps and Eugene had left, which was something of a comfort. The only difference was that Cassandra was now caring for him on her own. 

         After a long day of having no one to talk to but Garrett, Owl, and a palace dog, Cassandra looked through the bedroom’s soaring windows and noticed the sun was setting low in the sky. She was curled up in the corner of one of Rapunzel's sofas (there were three in this absurdly massive room), nestling into the soft upholstery as she absentmindedly bounced Garrett in her lap. She was tired, but it was a good kind of tired. Old and familiar.

        During and after her stint as a villain, Cassandra had gotten used to exhaustion. Stress had destroyed her, physically and emotionally, and it was a long time before her wrung-out body was reacquainted with the gentle aches of a hard day's work. Sitting here on the sofa in a casual tunic, just a little sore from her earlier exercises and still damp in some places with the remnants of sweat, Cassandra felt a sort of peace. So often, even before Zhan Tiri, she'd felt a nagging fear in the very back of her mind, bouncing through her head like a marble in a glass tube. Now though, the fear was quiet, appeased by the warmth of the dimly lit bedroom.

        Garrett shifted in Cassandra's arms and huffed, resting one pudgy hand on her chest and settling his head on her shoulder with a level of dramatic flair which would've made Fitzherbert proud. Cassandra chuckled, and as she stroked the tiny hairs on his head she realized he himself was a calming presence; soft and warm and alive . She closed her eyes for a moment, resting her head against the cushions. She must have laid there for some time, phasing in and out of wakefulness, because when her eyes finally opened the sun had fully disappeared beyond the edge of the sea, revealing a nebulous dark sky strung with stars. She blinked the sleep out of her eyes, wondering what had woken her.

        "Hey, sleepyhead," came Rapunzel's voice from the doorway.

        Cassandra jumped, and Garrett shifted in her arms. Rapunzel was peeking in with a soft gaze, looking frazzled but relieved. She pushed further into the room, and the door groaned on its hinges.

        Cassandra didn't bother to pull herself upright. "Hey, Raps. How was the meeting?"

        Rapunzel sighed deeply and wedged herself between Cassandra and the arm of the sofa, because of course she had to pick the one part of the couch that wasn't wide open. She buried her face in Cassandra's shoulder. "Why are dignitaries always so sensitive? "

        Cassandra chuckled. "That bad, huh?"

        Rapunzel groaned against the fabric of her tunic, wrapping her arms around Cassandra's waist and resting one hand on Garrett's back.

        After a few minutes, she rested her chin on Cassandra's shoulder, pouting. "Sir Grandel is.... an interesting person."

        "An asshole, you mean," Cassandra purred.

        "No!" Rapunzel's voice rose an octave in her indignation. "He is not a.... no. He's just...."

        "Jerkface? Dumbass? Stuck-up fuck?"

        " Cassandra! " Rapunzel swatted her shoulder, and Cassandra chuckled lightly. "What? I'm just telling the truth. I met the guy yesterday; he was a real bonehead."

        "Oh? I didn't know you met him." 

        "Huh, thought he would have mentioned it, at least passive-aggressively. He told me to get him some coffee for his meeting, and I told him I was the queen. Don't think he saw that coming, 'cuz he just called me 'the side-bitch' and left. Still not sure if he knows I heard him."

        Rapunzel's arms tightened around her. "That's horrible!" she cried. "Oh, he's just....he's so....so closed-minded. "

        "That he is, Raps." Cassandra nuzzled her wife's hair, shifting the baby in her arms.

        Rapunzel reached out to brush a finger across his hand. "How were you two today?"

        Cassandra shrugged. "Eh. Could be worse."

        "You know," Rapunzel purred, pressing her nose under Cassandra's jaw, "I think he likes you."

        Cassandra blushed and tilted her head away. "What makes you think that?"

        "Aww, come on Cass. We all know you're soft for kids." Rapunzel pressed a light kiss against her neck, and Cassandra melted against her.

        "I guess they're....charming. In their own gross, drooly way."

        "Mhm." Rapunzel nuzzled against her, pulling Cassandra into her lap.

        For a few minutes, the three of them sat together in comfortable silence.

        Rapunzel drew an invisible circle on Cassandra's belly, and she returned the gesture on Rapunzel’s arm. It was a sort of unspoken 'I love you' , she supposed. Cassandra wasn't even sure when they'd gotten in the habit. Garrett sneezed against her shoulder, and she shifted her hand up to rub his back. She couldn't help but notice how similar his bright green eyes looked to Rapunzel's; wide and curious, almost luminescent.

        Rapunzel, even if she tended to sugar-coat her harsher thoughts, was an open book. Her pages were well-loved and smelled of soft fabric and daisies, and when they’d met Cassandra's were brittle with age and smelled of must. Rapunzel was the only one, save for Eugene if he was careful, who seemed able to touch those pages without breaking them. Still, with every brush of her fingers the vellum softened, and soon enough what had begun as a sandcastle held together by sheer power of will became a warm, rough tome. 

        Cassandra hadn't realized how desperately she'd needed someone to come and read through her story, nor how fascinating it could be to find new subtext and metaphors in between the lines of another. The two of them had shaped each other, and even if they'd mishandled one another a few times along the way, they always managed to smooth over and restore the damaged bits.

        A deep sigh from Rapunzel broke Cassandra from her reverie, and she noticed the odd absence of energy in the room.

        "Hey, where'd Fitzherbert sneak off to?"

        Rapunzel snorted against her collarbone. "I left him to see Sir Grandel off for the night. I couldn't take it anymore."

        "Poor sap," Cassandra chuckled. "I wouldn't wish that cruel fate on anybody. Even him."

        "Now I feel like I did something bad," Rapunzel whined.

        Cass snorted and pressed her face into her wife's hair. "Nahhh, goatee face could use an ego check."

        "Meanie," Rapunzel grumbled.

        "Goody two-shoes," Cass fired back.

        "I love you."

        "....Love you too, Raps."

        Garrett made a gurgling noise against her chest, and Cassandra smiled. “And you too, little prince.”