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Walking in the Woods

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Rapunzel let out the heaviest sigh.

She had just, graciously, been released from the longest meeting of her princess career. No sooner had the day started was she carted by her handmaiden into the war room with the over-decorated Lieutenant Commander General James Ruther- No, Jimmy. He talked both her ears off about spice stocks for a half-hour without letting her have a word in. Today he was Jimmy and he can't say shit about it.

Rapunzel smoothed her hair against her neck in frustration. "Boy, I am glad to be out of there."

"Agreed, your majesty," agreed Asako.

The red-haired Asian woman was the most recent addition to the castle staff, only been here for six weeks. She had been stationed at neighboring kingdoms and came to Corona with convincing recommendations from each. She took the job with graceful expertise that impressed even the stodgiest Old Lady Crowleys of the castle. She always stood tall and kept her ruby hair in a neat, intricate bun.

Rapunzel had to admit that Asako was the best handmaiden she has had yet. Cassandra was special, even more now than when she had the job. Faith cared very much even at the cost of her own well-being. Asako's honed perfectionism was quick to impress the royals and the staff entire. Her being a stickler for formalities though, Rapunzel called a work in progress.

"You too, Asako?"

"We all have our limits," she said rubbing her temple with her fingertips. "It looked like you were reaching yours, Princess."

A squeak at her shoulder asked if she was feeling alright.

"I'm okay, Pascal. It's just... been a difficult day. Perhaps, now might be the perfect chance to break for lunch?" She smiled at Asako hoping her wish would be granted.

"Are you sure that is a wise decision, your majesty? You still have a busy schedule ahead."

"I know, but just look outside!"

Don't you just wanna get out there and just frolic?"

Rapunzel gazed out the window towards trees colored by golds, oranges, and browns billowing beyond the bridge. A gust of wind shook the colors from their great canopies and leaves ascended across the wind like dancers.

It was a beautiful day, why waste it indoors?

"Well, your presence may not be... strictly necessary for another hour, hour and a half."

Rapunzel smiled. Work in progress.

"Any ideas, your majesty?"

"How about a picnic? Some wine to go with sandwiches."

"I can prepare your horses."

"Great! Asako," Rapunzel decreed, "I will be spending the afternoon with my husband."

"As you wish, Princess." With a curtsey, the redhead began her leave, but Rapunzel remembered something important.

"Oh, a-a-and my girlfriend also."

"Of course, Princess."

That word still made Rapunzel snicker with excitement. Cassandra, her... girlfriend. It took time, but the two knew they shared the same feelings for each other long before they were out in the air. It was something special just like what she had with Eugene. She'll never forget that first kiss, like a collision of stars.

It was exciting, learning these things from Cassandra. Things about loving someone of the same sex, the kinds of amazing new people she could meet. This new side of her sexuality was another adventure and she couldn't wait to see where else it would take her. For now, it would take her to the sparring room where she could hear swords clashing.

"HA-HA!" Eugene hollered making a wide slash. Cassandra dodged and replied by urgently sending the man into a throw he was just as quick to recover from. "Ooh, that's a new one."

"Picked that up from Ingvarri," she said evenly, her breath steadying again.

"Oh, I'm sure that wasn't the only Ingvarri thing you were picking up."

They were too absorbed in their duel to notice Rapunzel had come in so she sat quietly and watched. Her eyes took in as much detail as they could; the agility in their footwork, the width of Eugene's chest, and Cassandra's breasts covered by her wrappings. Cass's hair strung up in a ponytail that looked criminally good on her. Clashing metal sang with every parry, his saber against her short sword and long knife. Sweat shined on their arms and the flex and strain of their muscles were very much to Rapunzel's liking. Cassandra came in close to grapple with Eugene's hilt until he tried taking advantage of an opening to grab her wrist. Their blades stayed hold as both stood their ground, neither daring to give an inch. Rapunzel's applause garnered their attention.

"Hey there, Sunshine. Want to tag in?"

"No, no, I'm happy watching."

"Aw come on, Raps, I'll go easy on ya," Cassandra carefully stretched her torso. "And if Eugene doesn't I'll beat him up for you."

"Oh haha, Cassandra."

"Yeah, what's the count at again?" She asked, knowing the answer.

"A number I'm sure. How was the meeting?"

"Way too much Jimmy, that's for sure," she said as she kissed her husband hello. "You're not pushing her too hard are you?"

"Nothing I can't survive," she gasped out.

"Of course!" Eugene exclaimed as he clapped Cassandra hard on the back, nearly knocking her off balance. "I'm just showing her what she's been missing out on."

"It's okay Raps, I insisted."

Rapunzel gave the taller woman's exposed arm a squeeze, taking note of how hard her breathing was. She hoped she didn't look too concerned. "You're looking better, Cass."

"Feeling better too."

Rapunzel slid her fingers down her arm into Cassandra's hand to squeeze it, feeling a chill in her heart. The chill that came with the dread of knowing her worst fears were very possible. It first came when an urgent message from Owl sent Eugene to bring back Cassandra in the worst shape Rapunzel had ever seen. Every visit Cassandra brought back new scars with new stories but this time she came with one foot practically in the grave and spent the weekend delirious from fever. It was a scary couple of days.

"That's great! So... do you have any plans?"

Cassandra and Eugene exchanged amused glances before she asked, "You looking for a daring escape, Raps?"

"Yes," she pouted. "You guys are free too?"

"Hey who better to take a lovely princess away from her responsibilities than two former enemies of the state? Not like Cass has shit to do whenever she has time to 'visit'"

"Suck it up, Captain," Cassandra said taking a seat. "So is there a place in mind for this escapade?"

"The forest. You guys up for a picnic?"

''I can squeeze in a luncheon before my next patrol but only if you wear shoes, little lady," He wagged his finger haughtily at her, turning up his nose. "Or you'll catch your death of cold."

Rapunzel gave a salute. "Yessir!"

Eugene gave the ladies a nod before leaving to freshen up. Once he was gone Rapunzel immediately planted her behind into Cassandra's lap.

"Oof. Well hello to you t-mmm!"

Rapunzel filled her mouth with hers which the traveler gradually replied with a similar eagerness. A red Pascal covered his eyes. Her hands pulled Cass's face in closer, fingers feeling the sweat matted hair, a hand rubbing her back. She wished her lover would be freer with their displays of affection. Rapunzel still felt the stars whenever they kissed. Fuck she missed this.

Cassandra pulled away, short of breath, and clutching her side.

"Are you sure you're still not too hurt?" Rapunzel asked nervously.

"I'm fine I'm just-" In slow and out slow. "You're just... very... eager."

Rapunzel and her concerned eyes were not convinced.

Cassandra sighed, "Rapunzel, I'm fine. Really."

The two women rested their foreheads together and sat in the silence of their personal space. Rapunzel's fingertips ghosted across the marks on her abdominals. She caressed the nasty remains of a terrible battle Cassandra had yet detailed her on.

"I wish you here more." You would be safer. You wouldn't be getting yourself killed like this if you were home.

But Rapunzel knew that what she wanted wasn't what Cassandra needed. She needed to find her own place in the world

"Hey," the raven-haired woman pointed to her chest. "You are always with me here."

The princess pressed her lips to the blackened fingers covered in bandages. She was here, and alive, and that's what mattered. "I believe you."

"Okay, I'll let you go to get changed."

"I'm comfortable like this."

Rapunzel took her girlfriend's cheeks in her hands, smooshing her face as she spoke. "Cassandra, I love you, but you're stinky. Go take a bath."

"What's wrong, Raps?" Cassandra smoldered. "You don't enjoy my, womanly aromas?"

Rapunzel climbed off of her, tugging at her hand. "You do bath, you get picnic. Princesses orders."

Cassandra rolled her eyes and blew raspberries on her princess's cheek.

 

****

 

It wasn't too long until the group was ready for their little getaway. Rapunzel had adorned her lavender dress with a pumpkin orange shawl, ever-fashionable for the changing season. Even the fur laced inside her boots didn't keep her feet from aching too much. Eugene only threw on a scarf with his navy blue coat. Cassandra hadn't needed any new accessories to her evergreen traveler's outfit but that didn't stop Rapunzel from hand-stitching her a new cape.

Asako stood with Maximus and Fidella ready to go.

"Princess. Captain." She greeted the royals with a small bow of her head then turned to the ex-handmaiden with an even look, "Cassandra."

Asako seemed to like Cassandra more than Faith did; which was to say more than not at all so there was that. She was a tough read sometimes.

"All set?" Captain Fitzherbert asked, setting in himself in the stirrups.

His wife kissed his cheek. "Yup!"

"Lead the way," said Cassandra.

Off they went in a measured gallop through the Corona square, passing by and waving to civilians happily responding in kind. Cassandra awkwardly attempted to wave but while some had shared a polite hello she was still met with a few hard stares. The scandal that came to Corona when the princess took a second lover while still married to her princess consort. Not just another companion but another woman! Oh, all those popped monocles! The hushed whispers of 'concern' and 'worry' about Rapunzel's taste in lovers; ex-thief, now jilted fiance captain of the guards, and the witch who conquered Corona in a fortnight now occupying the other side of the princess's bed.

Her loved ones, Varian especially, insisted there will come a turnaround but she wasn't sure if unbearable formal events as Rapunzel's plus two were worth it until then. She kicked up Fidella's side to keep pace with Max if only to get away from the stares. Eugene, in a Rapunzel-like move, reached out to squeeze her shoulder. It did help for what it was worth.

When the horses reached the treeling past the bridge the riders dismounted to continue the journey on foot. Cool winds nipped at their faces, the leaves crunched softly beneath their shoes. The sun's warmth shone down on them between the branches of autumn oranges and fall browns. 

Rapunzel filled her two hands with one of theirs, bouncing with excitement. It was infectious and brought a smile to Cassandra. "You excited, Raps?"

"I'm allowed. How many times have we been on a date together as a throuple?" She chose to ignore how the rest of her party cringed or audibly groaned at the word. "We're going to make this little trip into something special."

''Oooh. You got a place in mind, Fitzherberts?"

"Mmhmm," Rapunzel squeezed her hand, glee fixing to overfill. "There is this special picnic spot Eugene and I made for ourselves since we got married. Now it can be for all of us."

"Are you sure? You don't want to keep it your own secret spot to get away from it all?"

"Ah that's fine," Eugene cut in, "we got plenty of those back at the castle."

"Is that so?"

"Well, when you just need to get away from everything but don't have a lot of time sometimes a broom closet feels like the other side of the world."

"And when you have the time?"

Eugene eyed the curious Cassandra, "You tell me yours I'll tell you mine."

The woman simply shrugged, "Nah, that one's staying with me and Raps for now."

They turned off the path leading towards the Snuggly Duckling to navigate through the branches. Owl was hooting excitedly above their heads as if he were antsy for his companions to catch up to him.

"It looks like Owl found your little getaway spot," Cassandra said as the avian perched on her shoulder.

Rapunzel gave the great bird of prey affectionate scratches on his beak and feathers before filling her fingers back with Cassandra's. "Who's a good bird? You're a good bird. Isn't he?"

"Having eyes in the sky comes in handy," she said petting Owl's beak. "It's a big help you when you get yourself lost."

Eugene noticed the tone Cass was using. "That sounds like a dig at me. Is that a dig at me?"

"Remind me, Rapunzel, who was it that got us lost in a creepy magical forest again?"

"Well don't blame me!" Eugene said indignantly.

"Why?"

"I'd rather you didn't!"

"Guys look! We're here!"

The cheer in Rapunzel's voice brought Cassandra's gaze away from their intertwined hands to where she had been brought. Wow, what a sight. At the bottom of the hill was a meadow snugly hidden by the treeline. A small waterfall splashed water into a gentle cove that reminded Cassandra of the lagoon. A deer bounced away when it took notice of them. Cassandra's sojourn had taken her everywhere from Equis to Arrendale and there were somehow still sights to discover back home. This wasn't like though, that much was obvious. The lagoon was cool and mysterious like moonlight. This meadow was something different. It's peaceful, Cassandra decided.

Rapunzel was bouncing again, "Do you like it?"

"Whoa." was all that Cassandra said.

An approving 'whoa' was all it took for Rapunzel's happiness to boil over into overexcitement, expressed appropriately by attack hugging Cassandra so forcefully it sent the both of them tumbling downhill. She finally landed with a tender whump whereas Rapunzel wound up on top with an "Ooof!" The roll did no favors for her sore body and Eugene's howling laughter chipped at her ego but Rapunzel smiling on top of her was a decent remedy for such pains.

"Sorry. I got a little overexcited there."

A dizzy Pascal looked very annoyed at that understatement. Cassandra, similarly, gave her one of her trademark 'done with it' looks, "Ya think?"

Eugene, having followed their lead, rolled down the hill until he came to a stop and joining the ladies, arms draped behind his head. "Bonjour, madams."

"Comment vas-tu, mon amour?" Rapunzel replied. Her French was choppy but her voice was smooth as fresh honey.

"Sup?"

"Ah, silver-tongued as always, Cass. And might I say your French is coming along swimmingly, Ensoleillement." His compliment was graced with a peck on the cheek. "Any new bruises Cassandra?"

"No, I'm fine. A roll down a hill is just what my ribs needed, not tender or anything. You wouldn't happen to know what 'pushy girlfriend' sounds like in French?" Cassandra asked, jabbing the brunette in her ticklish side.

"That would be petite amie arrogante," he punctuated each word with pinching the princess' nose. Cassandra kept a curious look in her eyes.

"You must be getting a lot of mileage out of that, Eugene."

"Well," Rapunzel's freckled cheeks held a shade of red, "I think it's romantic."

"See Cassandra? It pays to have some social skills. It helps a great deal when you're failing to seduce an unsuspecting heterosexual."

"Laugh it up, Eugene. You know more than anyone what happens when you trashtalk me."

"Oh ho ho Cassandra, ti parlo in qualsiasi lingua che posso. Cagna." Italian words only Eugene knew flowed off his tongue and a smug flash of his pearly whites gave Cassandra great annoyance.

Rapunzel was about to scold her bickering beaus before Max came by with the basket in his teeth and looking absolutely done with antics for the day. He placed the basket at their feet and flopped himself in a spot by the cove to follow his rider's suit in taking the time to rest. The trio unfurled the checkered blanket by the horse. Asako had packed the works; cheese cubes, sandwiches with smoked meat. A bottle of wine and three glasses made it all complete, a good year too.

Rapunzel wished she was fully free of a princess's responsibilities but the reprieve from such tasks quenched her thirst more than the wine did. Eugene and Cassandra put up no such fight against their indulges and glass after glass it went. Cassandra wasn't much for wines, her taste was more for ales and lagers, meads if she was feeling adventurous. Eugene had said wine went to his head faster but who were they to deny a bottle from the Royal Wine Cellar?

Rapunzel shared wine-flavored kisses with her lovers, never favoring one over the other. Eugene's hand never left her waist and the more wine Cassandra partook the needier her grip became. At every taste of them, the warmth spread throughout Rapunzel's heart. She couldn't let her lips linger too long, lest she gets carried away, so she would bear this burden. For now, she is plenty satisfied with the closeness of this companionship; their little family of three, a chameleon, an owl, and two tired horses.

A gust of cool air shook Rapunzel's tresses. "Ooh, feel that breeze! It's getting colder by the day."

"It is," Cassandra commented from her spot on the blanket, head pillowed by Rapunzel's knees. Pascal had taken to munching on cheese cubes on her chest. "That's why we wear warm boots when we go outside. Won't be too long until it starts snowing."

"Ew, gross," Eugene complained while refilling Cassandra's glass with what was left of the bottle. "Oh just an aside, be grateful you don't have five a.m. drills in the deadass of winter, Miss My-Only-Love-Is-The-Road."

Cassandra groaned, loudly and theatrically. "Uuuuugghhh!! Don't remind me of that."

Rapunzel laughed. Word had spread far and fast of a certain traveling rogue clad in green moving from town to town. An odd job here, fulfilling a bounty there. At some point, (and neither of them could figure out when exactly) a string of books about that traveler made its way to Corona and beyond. She came to be known as The Ranger; an honor-bound swashbuckling anti-hero. Men envied her, women wanted her, but nothing could tame her; as she said at every departure, her only love was the road. They were a favorite of Rapunzel's and helped to fill the void between Cassandra's letters.

"Awww, does our folk hero, not like the praise she deserves?" Rapunzel teased, squishing her girlfriend's cheeks.

The 'hero' sat up, annoyed. "Every time I walked into a town it was a gamble of 'Am I a hero in this town I haven't stepped foot in for some reason?' or 'Will strangers leave me the fuck alone because I'm just passing through and nothing else.' It went on like that for months! It was like walking in a field of... rakes!"

"Oh lighten up, Cass." Rapunzel said, Pascal nodding on her shoulder. "Look at it this way; anybody can pick up one of those books and get a first impression of you. No, it's not the real you but it's the you that I see. The you that I love and believe in. She's braver than most, tougher and stronger than everyone, and will stop at nothing to prove herself to everyone. Sure she might step on a rake now and again but she keeps moving forward."

The brunette nuzzled her cheek to Cassandra's. "Besides, I really like those stories."

Cassandra grinned lazily. Rapunzel held close and made a show of squeezing her bicep. She missed this too, the simplicity of coexisting with the woman she loved. Looking up at her sleep-deprived eyes, the smell of her hair in the cold wind, kissing her cheek before letting her finish the last of the wine. Rapunzel would give anything to have more than a few 

And it was a moment Eugene just had to butt into.

"She likes the sex scenes too."

"Eugene!"

Cass spat her drink and her coughing sounded like she was choking from laughter.

"I'm just saying Sunshine, you might as well devour her right now the way you are buttering her up." Owl's hoot agreed with the man's sentiment. "If you're like this with your girlfriend I can't wait to see the attention you'd give our kids."

"Eugene..." Rapunzel's voice sounded a little terse.

"If I had to make a bet," Cassandra said once she finally stopped coughing. "But I'd go with smothering them to death with love and attention."

"I can smother my baby if I want!" Rapunzel's declaration won her a round of laughter from the party and soon enough, herself. The laughing got so loud it had woken up the grumpy Maximus.

Cass was the first of them to settle down, "You two have a funny way of talking about wanting kids."

"Oh," Rapunzel looked to Eugene and back again, twirling a strand of hair. "Well, hehe... we uh..."

Cassandra sensed a nerve had been touched. "What?"

"We have been... trying."

"Oh." The wind passed through Cassandra. Then the realization hit her like a club. "Oh!"

"Oh yeah. It's been a very trying time uh, ahem, trying." Eugene schmoozed his beloved into a side hug but he still got a stern look from her. "Anyway, we wanted to know if you wanted in that part of our relationship too."

This conversation was making Cassandra feel much less tired now. "Say that again. Slower this time."

"Not that, Cass," Rapunzel lightly chastised, moving to her side again. "We want you to be a part of raising our children too."

Cassandra felt a lot of things at once; surprised, doubtful, but touched too. It's become a familiar sensation whenever she was included with the ins and outs of Corona's favorite couple, a couple she has to remind herself every day that she is a part of now. This thing the three of them had still found ways to surprise her.

"Huh. I never thought of myself as the mothering type. Maybe I just never had the best examples." Cass appreciated Rapunzel's hug tightening her still sore waist.  

"Well, maybe the castle could always use a 'Royal Cool Aunt' to keep the little hellraisers in check."

Cass chuckled at Eugene's suggestion. "Mmm could be fun. I guess Kiera and Catalina don't tire me out enough anyway. Hey, Eugene, what's Italian for 'baby?'"

"That is bambina or bambino depending if it's the feminine or masculine pronunciation."

"I'm hoping for twins," Rapunzel said wistfully. "Gemelli."

"Hmm. So for what reason did the once infamous Flynn Rider learn Italian for?"

"Well, you ought to settle in ladies, that comes with a story."

So Eugene told a story involving an Italian villa, a "priest", and a plot to rob a jewelry

Rapunzel sat in rapturous attention while Cassandra laid in Rapunzel's embrace, drifting towards sleep little by little. At a bridge in his tale, he paused to check his pocket watch.

"That's going to be all for now, ladies, "He gave a great stretch that cracked his back joints. "Time to head back."

"Shh." Rapunzel lay perfectly still. Cassandra had practically curled up onto her like a great lazy cat. The Princess teased, "Well rested, huh?"

Cassandra answered with a sleepy grunt.

"Up and at 'em, Chevalier, it's time to go home." 

"Donwanna..."

Rapunzel pet her dark bob of hair then kissed her crown. Eugene, however, noticed one particular reason she didn't want to move.

"Oh, and you are sure this has nothing to do with your face being in a certain someone's cleavage, is it?"

"Eugene." Thought Rapunzel admonished him, Eugene watched Cassandra, holding eye contact with him, nuzzled her face into Rapunzel's chest with a shit-eating smirk.

"You smug fucker, I see that look!"

"CASS!"

"What's the matter, Raps?" Cassandra's voice sounded smoky with sleep. "You don't want The Ranger to show a lady what she's worth?"

Rapunzel's face flew into a deep blush, Eugene cackling at the display. She wasn't even safe from Pascal's tiny trills or whinnies from Max and Fidella. The brunette mustered as furious a pout as she could but Cassandra cupped her puffed-up cheeks.

"You're so cute when you pout, Princess."

Rapunzel blew raspberries, Cassandra sank into laughs.

"Okay, okay, off! Get off, we're going home!"

Rapunzel hoisted Cassandra to her feet, exhaustion having overwhelmed her now, she had an easier time than Eugene did with getting Max on his hooves. The distinguished, and only slightly drunk, captain of the royal guard mounted the steed only when the horse at long last allowed Eugene the dignity of following his command. With a helping hand, Cassandra was up on Fidella's saddle and leaning heavily on Rapunzel's back. The wind urged them forward and they were off for home.

"This wind just won't let up," Eugene shivered. "I think a night resting in front of the fireplace sounds in order."

"With a cozy sweater? I'll have to readjust Cass' but that sounds like the perfect way to end the day. What do you say, Cass?" Rapunzel asked the face resting on her shoulder.

"That sounds nice," she mumbled. Rapunzel never heard Cassandra sound so tired before. "Hey."

"Hmm?"

"What you and Eugene were saying, about 'Royal Cool Aunt' and all that stuff. Maybe... I could be... co-mom... or something?"

Rapunzel let out the happiest sigh.

Warmth spread throughout Rapunzel's body again and not even another gust of wind could quell it. This fire in her heart wasn't all too different from when they kiss but held a new tenor of reassurance. It reminded her of when she wanted to ask Eugene something important. Now Rapunzel knew that her plan for the future was the right one. For today, they will arrive back at the castle with Asako waiting to shuttle Rapunzel back to her meetings and put Cassandra to bed. Eugene will do his best to keep Corona safe for another day before turning in to get right back at it again by morning.

They will all find the time to be together again tonight and Rapunzel promises herself that one day she will show Cassandra the ring and ask if she can stay with them a little longer.