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1.

"No problem! Cass and I are on the case," Rapunzel says cheerfully, looking up from the ruined caravan towards Cassandra. "We'll go get supplies."

Rapunzel sees Cassandra's shoulders slouch slightly with a barely audible sigh, and despite only being able to see her back Rapunzel can imagine the irritated expression she has while answering drily, "Sounds good to me."

Rapunzel smiles slightly, thinking that once she and Cassandra are alone, she might finally be able to get Cassandra to talk to her. Of course Cassadra wouldn't open up when they're around the guys… but alone together, Rapunzel thinks it will be different. Whenever it was just her and Cassandra somewhere - like their nighttime adventure beyond Corona's walls, their day of exploring and flying together as birds, the first day on Tirapai island building the treehouse together, and their scouting trip before the Great Tree - something would change. Rapunzel isn't certain what it is, and they do have fun together when there are others around, but when it's just the two of them it feels like some new and unexplainable level of closeness is brought out between them.

And Rapunzel intends to use this phenomenon to resolve the tension between herself and Cassandra. She imagines that just an hour's walk from where they are now, they'll have a long conversation about feelings that ends with a hug and Cassandra not being mad at her anymore. And then Rapunzel can stop being mad at Cassandra, for being mad at her.

She asks Pascal to stay with Max, Fidella, Eugene, and Lance as they start work on repairing the caravan. After taking stock of what materials they'd not be able to fix or rebuild themselves, Rapunzel and Cassandra start walking in the direction of the nearest village.

An hour's walk from the caravan, they are not having an emotional discussion filled with forgiveness and caring embrace. Cassandra is almost entirely ignoring her, actually, walking at a pace Rapunzel can barely keep up with.

Rapunzel does not let this deter her. "What about you, Cass?" Rapunzel asks, after rambling about inane topics for several minutes to try to lighten the atmosphere between them. "Anything on your mind?"

"Piranhas," Cassandra answers in that same dry voice she'd been using for days, stopping in her tracks.

"Really? Eugh, that's upsetting," Rapunzel answers, confused by Cassandra's train of thought but excited she'd answered and stopped to let Rapunzel catch up to her. She bounces over, adding, "Maaaybe we should talk about that."

Cassandra's armored arm shoots outs and pushes Rapunzel back saying, "No." She glances down at the river in front of them, and she gestures to the swarm of bulky fish just under the surface. "Really big piranhas."

"This place is called West Rabbit Woods," Rapunzel responds in shock as they start to walk upstream. "Okay, that's a little disingenuous."

She hears a small laugh escape from Cassandra ahead of her, and her heart soars. It's working! Rapunzel thinks to herself. She hadn't heard Cassandra's laugh in so long, this small one felt like she'd just been awarded a grand prize. Not as fast as I had hoped, but… we're going to get there. We'll be back to normal soon.

However, Cassandra still rejects Rapunzel's offers of help while crossing the river. Rapunzel sees her let go of a branch with her injured hand and shake it before resuming her climbing, and when she tells Rapunzel that she's fine there's a tinge of irritation in her voice. She jumps down from the tree without taking Rapunzel's offered hand, and on the ground she looks closely at Rapunzel with an unreadable expression. Rapunzel, nervous that she'll say something in anger, turns quickly to change the subject by talking about the village they're heading towards.

Despite Cassandra's brief unfriendliness, when Cassandra summons Owl and Rapunzel disappointedly tells her that she hoped that the trip would remain just the two of them, Cassandra sends Owl away.

They reach the village just before sunset and find it in ruins. The black rock spikes had entirely overtaken it, toppling buildings and impaling street vendor carts, causing Rapunzel to wonder how quickly the spikes had arrived. It seemed like the village had been evacuated swiftly in a panic, leaving behind many personal belongings that no one had returned for.

Cassandra begins searching through the ruins immediately while Rapunzel takes in the destruction around her. "Come on," Cassandra prompts her. "We've gotta look through all of this before the sun sets."

"Oooh, look at this, Cass," Rapunzel says in wonder, looking at one of the abandoned vendor carts. "It's an apothecary cart. It's got all kinds of tonics, and powders, and-" she gasps, reaching for a vial. "A snow potion!"

"Raps, come on," Cassandra's voice comes from behind her, sounding amused. "None of this junk works."

While she speaks, Rapunzel upends the potion over Owl who landed next to her, and he gets covered in snow.

"Ah, touché," Cassandra responds, and Rapunzel can hear the smile in her voice. "But we're not going to fix the caravan by freezing it," she adds. "I don't think anything on that cart is gonna help us. I saw what probably used to be a smithy back there, I'm gonna check it for nails and hinges."

Rapunzel hums in acknowledgement, distracted from both of her missions - reconnecting with Cassandra and finding caravan supplies - by the cart in front of her. She looks through other drawers but finds most of them empty, and she figures the cart owner must have shoved as many of their wares into a bag as possible before taking off. But in one of the bottom drawers she finds an unmarked box inside. Opening it and hoping for a potion of either "repair friendship" or "repair caravan", she finds instead a wooden wand inset with a diamond-shaped pink gem and a blue book with an emblem on the front.

Rapunzel recognizes the emblem - it's the Saporian insignia. She opens the book and reads the first page: "Wand of Oblivium."

Intrigued by the name, she flips through the pages and finds it split into four entries: "Spell for Erasing Memories," "Spell for Altering Memories," "Spell for Placing False Memories," and "Potion of Spell Undoing."

Rapunzel raises an eyebrow and looks at the wand again. Could that little stick really do all of that? She wonders.

Regardless, it solves neither of her problems, so she puts the wand and book back in their box. Sighing, she heads over towards Cassandra.

"Find any tarot cards that can materialize a wagon wheel?" Cassandra asks jokingly from where she searches through the rubble.

"No…" Rapunzel answers, rubbing the back of her neck with her hand. "I was actually hoping for a, 'open up to your best friend about the thing you guys are fighting about' potion."

Cassandra pauses in her searching and looks back towards Rapunzel. "What was that?"

"Cass," Rapunzel sighs, not meeting her eyes. "I know you're mad at me. But I did the right thing. I didn't have a choice." Rapunzel finally looks up at her.

"Look, if you feel that way, then it's fine, we're good," Cassandra says, turning away again. Rapunzel can hear the annoyance in her voice.

We're definitely not good, Rapunzel thinks. She's about to speak but Cassandra cuts her off, standing and still not looking at her: "Come on, we should set up camp for the night."

Rapunzel sighs, glancing at the darkening sky. "Yeah," she answers.

"You should get some firewood together," Cassandra directs her. "I'll search the houses for bedding. Really unfortunate that there's no inn here like we thought there'd be..."

"Right," Rapunzel answers again, dejectedly. And Cassandra had just started acting friendly with me again, she thinks, depressed.

The sun is well past the horizon by the time they've got their camp set up. They had brought food with them for the trip over and back, but had assumed that for dinner and breakfast they'd be able to purchase meals at the village. So instead they eat the lunch they had brought for the next day as their dinner, and Cassandra notes that there's likely orchards and vegetable gardens around the village - they'd have to forage for their meals the next morning in addition to finding more caravan supplies.

Later that evening, Rapunzel can't get comfortable even on the bedding that Cassandra had found. "I can't sleep," she says, staring up at the night sky.

"Rapunzel," Cassandra's irritated groan comes from across the dwindling campfire. Unlike how they'd usually set up their bedrolls, Cassandra chose not to sleep next to Rapunzel. "It's only been two minutes. Give it some time."

Rapunzel sits up. "Cass, I need to talk about what we both know is going on between us."

"Raps," Cassandra's voice sharply interrupts her without looking over. "There isn't anything to talk about. I never said that I was upset."

"You don't have to," Rapunzel answers sadly, looking down.

"Oh yeah?" Cassandra says, irritated but still not moving from where she lays with her back to Rapunzel. "What makes you so sure you know how I'm feeling?" She asks disdainfully.

"Friends just…" Rapunzel starts quietly, "have a way of knowing."

There's a pause before Cassandra's sigh, and her weary response: "Raps, I said it's fine."

"And you keep saying that," Rapunzel answers. "But it's okay if you're mad at me - I'm mad at you too," she confesses. "I told you I had it under control and you didn't listen. So if you're upset, then just tell me."

Cassandra finally turns to look at her, sitting up. "And I told you I'm not upset," she answers angrily.

"Please, Cass," Rapunzel says, desperation leaking into her voice. "I just want things to get better between us. We can't just push this aside and forget it like it never happened."

"You know," Cassandra says, laying back down with her back towards Rapunzel again. "I wish you would just forget about the whole thing."

Rapunzel opens her mouth to speak, but she feels too overwhelmed to say anything more. She doesn't even know what she would say - Cassandra has shut down every approach she could think of.

Rapunzel lays back down on her bedding and the pile of hair she's using as a pillow. Staring at the night sky overhead, the conversation plays again and again in her head.

Cassandra simply isn't willing to talk to her, no matter what Rapunzel says. She offered space for Cassandra to air grievances in a non-judgemental environment, balanced the conversation by saying that she was mad too, called Cassandra her friend numerous times, expressed that she just wants things to get better…

Rapunzel can't think of anything else she could have done. She feels despair start creeping up on her.

She can't bear this. She has to do something. But it's not like she could force Cassandra to talk about it… Or could she? She considers the possibility of tying Cassandra to a chair and not letting her go until they've talked it out.

But we're both so stubborn… Rapunzel thinks to herself. It probably wouldn't end well. Cass would probably just get more mad at me.

Maybe she should take Cassandra's advice. "Just forget about the whole thing." But how is she supposed to do that, when her best friend is so angry with her? She can't just ignore that. There has to be something she can do. She misses Cassandra.

Rapunzel gives a small sigh through her nose. What if acting like nothing happened is the only thing that would make Cassandra less angry? She wonders, but she frowns. Didn't she kind of do that already? She didn't push Cassandra to talk about the events of the Tree the entire time they were with Hookhand, but Cassandra was still angry. Is still angry.

It'd be better if Cassandra forgot about the whole thing, Rapunzel thinks to herself. Cassandra's the problem. She's the one acting mad, and she's the one refusing to talk about it. Rapunzel scowls.

While Rapunzel thinks, her gaze meanders around her surroundings illuminated by moonlight. Her eyes light on the edge of the apothecary cart, visible behind a cluster of black rock spikes.

Rapunzel pushes herself up. She remembers the wand and book she found in it - the Wand of Oblivium. Which could erase memories…

Rapunzel leans back down onto her hair. That would be absurd, she thinks. It probably wouldn't even work. Besides, even if she forgot what happened in the Tree, she'd still see her hand and know that something happened, so I'd have to make something up. It'd fall apart immediately.

Rapunzel remains laying on her back, staring up at the sky. She feels wide awake with anxiousness, and her thoughts continue to race.

Her eyebrows draw together. She remembers that the book included a spell of altering memories. The whole problem is that my spell made it so she hurt her hand, Rapunzel thinks to herself. If she thinks it got injured some other way, she wouldn't be mad at me.

But the hand wasn't the only thing - Cassandra was mad at her before that even happened. Rapunzel continues to reflect on everything that happened in the Great Tree. We were on such great terms right before we got there. Our whole relationship changed in the Tree. But why?

She remembers the way Cassandra was mad at Adira because she told them about Hector only after he tried to kill them. And then Cassandra was mad at her, because she chose to follow Adira into the Tree even though it was Hector's domain. Then she was mad at Adira again, for not telling them the Tree was cursed by Zhan Tiri. Then she was mad at her again, because she refused to stop trusting Adira and wanted to make camp for the night instead of keeping moving.

Rapunzel thinks about the last conversation she had with Cassandra before Hector attacked them again. She told Rapunzel her bad mood wasn't just Adira - she was upset Rapunzel stopped trusting her.

Rapunzel frowns. But surely that can't be part of the change in their relationship - she'd fixed that by talking to Cassandra after. And Cassandra smiled like she understood.

But if I'm entertaining some fantasy about changing her memories of what happened, I might as well change that too, Rapunzel thinks. She keeps insisting she's fine now, so maybe when she smiled at me then she didn't mean that either.

If Rapunzel could decide a new version of their time in the Great Tree - a version where she'd keep her relationship with Cassandra the same as it was before - she'd make it so that Adira didn't come with them. They didn't know the Tree had Zhan Tiri's magic, nor that it was Hector's domain, so Cassandra would be fine with going through it. They never found the decay spell. Hector attacking again was a surprise, but Cassandra threw him over the edge, and then he got possessed by the Tree like how it actually happened. Then the Tree caused Cassandra's hand injury, but she saved all of them with the enchanted spear. Adira only appeared after the Tree to tell them about Zhan Tiri and the Brotherhood and the Dark Kingdom.

Cassandra would be happy with that version, Rapunzel thinks. I mean, she should trust me to be able to protect myself, but I could tackle that later. For now, I would let her be happy that she fought a successful battle.

Having thought all of that through and satisfied with her fantasy, Rapunzel continues to try to sleep. When she inevitably cannot due to stress, her mind returns to what she's going to say to Cassandra in the morning.

She thinks herself into circles, unable to come up with anything good. Hours must have passed before her mind returns to the wand.

It'd really be the best option, Rapunzel thinks to herself. Cassandra wouldn't be angry at me anymore, so we'd be able to have fun together again and she'd be happy instead of upset. Me and Cassandra getting along means we travel smoother, which is good for the guys and the horses. The smoother our travel the quicker we get to the Dark Kingdom, where I can fulfill my destiny and save Corona from the spikes. It would be best for everyone.

Rapunzel looks over at Cassandra's sleeping form across the dying coals of their campfire. And if we're getting along, that means I can help her with her hand, Rapunzel thinks. Cassandra hasn't told Rapunzel what her arm feels like, or how she's struggling with it. Rapunzel has barely even seen it, since Cassandra keeps it in a glove all the time now, even when she sleeps.

Before Rapunzel even makes the decision to try it, she's slowly getting up. I'll just read the book, Rapunzel thinks. I'll see what these spells are like.

Rapunzel watches Cassandra carefully as she starts walking towards the cart, but it's the dead of night and Cassandra is certainly asleep. She doesn't even stir when Rapunzel accidentally kicks a rock, making a clatter that keeps Rapunzel frozen in place for a few seconds, hardly breathing, watching Cassandra to see if she'll move.

Looking around to make sure that Owl isn't anywhere nearby, Rapunzel opens the drawer and pulls out the wand and book. She looks at the lantern hanging from the cart and takes the candle from it, and slightly quicker than she'd walked over to the cart, she returns to her bed.

She uses the dying coals to ignite the candle and holds it for light to read by. Opening the book for the second time that day, she looks at the introductory passage after its title page.

"Wand of Oblivium. The wand is enchanted to have the power to erase, alter, and place memories in a person's mind. The wand may be used to invoke full amnesia, but is not recommended from damage the target's mind might experience. When using the wand, the caster must visualize very specific events to manipulate, or it will not work. When altering or placing memories, the wand works with the target's subconscious to fabricate the new memories. The caster can place memories of specific events, and the smaller details will be filled by the subconscious, as if in a dream. The more outlandish the memory being placed, the more likely it falls apart under scrutiny, as do dreams, and the target might realize it was a fabrication. The potion listed in the last passage reverts all effects of the wand entirely."

Rapunzel blinks. The book seems to be taking itself very seriously - is it possible that the magic is real?

Rapunzel flips to the passage on altering memories. The page includes the same disclaimer about how memories being targeted must be very specific events, both to start with and to change to; and the disclaimer about not trying to place memories that are too unrealistic.

She looks at the instructions. It's criminally easy: say a short series of spell words, and then describe the changes you want to make.

Rapunzel looks at the wand again. There's no way, she thinks. She picks it up regardless.

I mean, it's so easy that I should just try it, right? It's not like it's going to work. Rapunzel looks back over at Cassandra, fast asleep. And if I'm quiet I won't even bother her.

So Rapunzel looks back down and, pointing the wand towards Cassandra, whispers the words of the spell. There's no change in the wand, no lights or sparks. She continues, describing the new version of the events of the Great Tree.

The wand doesn't change at all during Rapunzel's speech, and she's sure it's a dud. But as soon as she finishes speaking, the pink gem begins to glow, and shreds of light spiral out from it as the glow intensifies. Rapunzel's about to drop the wand in fear when there's a final, bright flash of purple, and then it goes back to being nothing but a bedazzled stick.

Rapunzel is severely alarmed. She immediately shoves the wand and book into her hair, and blows out the candle to throw herself down on the bedding and pretend to sleep, sure that the flash of light would have woken Cassandra.

But Cassandra doesn't move. Rapunzel keeps herself still for several minutes, her heart pounding, but Cassandra doesn't wake. Rapunzel breathes a quiet and slow sigh of relief, and she takes the wand and book out of her hair.

There's no way, Rapunzel thinks again. It makes some flashy lights to make people think it works, like for a magic show. And then the person pretends they don't remember things.

Rapunzel tries to bury her knowledge that magic very much exists in the world and the potion on the apothecary cart had been legitimate. She slips the book and wand into her blue bag next to her for safekeeping.

She looks at Cassandra again and very badly wants to wake her to make sure she's okay, just in case. Nope, not an option Rapunzel, she scolds herself. Cassandra's already mad at you, the last thing you need is to wake her in the middle of the night and tell her about how you tried to mess with her head.

So Rapunzel stays on her bedding and pile of hair, staring up towards the sky until her heart stops pounding and the adrenaline crash leads her to fall asleep.

<<<<<♢>>>>>

2.

When Rapunzel wakes, she has no idea where she is. It's also bright.

"'Morning Sleeping Beauty," Cassandra's voice comes from the campfire next to them, which has been built back up with a pot hanging from a few support sticks over the flame. Rapunzel rubs at her eyes, blinking in the sunlight.

"Yeah, it's kinda late. I didn't wanna disturb you though, so I went and found us some breakfast," Cassandra tells her. "There were a couple of apple trees, an overgrown vegetable garden - had a good fence around it though, rabbits hadn't gotten in yet - and in some of the houses I found…" she looks next to her to list them off. "Salt, tea, honey, and-" she holds up a large amber bottle, "whiskey. So, y'know, standard breakfast stuff."

Rapunzel snorts a laugh, and the information of where they are - a destroyed village in West Rabbit Woods - and what they're doing - collecting parts for rebuilding the caravan - slowly enters her sleep-fogged brain. "What time is it?" she asks, pulling herself upright. She notices that, unlike the past week, Cassandra hadn't immediately put her armor on upon waking.

"Like, nine?" Cassandra guesses, squinting at the length of the shadows around them.

"Nine?" Rapunzel cries incredulously. She hadn't slept that late in… she's not sure how long. Both in the castle and on the road she'd wake at seven at the latest.

Cassandra smirks. "Yeah, guess that bed I made you was pretty comfy, huh? Better than your princess bed in the castle."

Rapunzel rubs at her aching neck. "Yeah, suuuper comfy," she answers. "Thanks for getting us breakfast Cass, I'm sorry I didn't help…"

Cassandra waves her hand dismissively. "If I wanted help, I would've woke you. Now what do ya want? There's apples, roast potatoes, or shots. Take your pick."

"I'mmm gonna have to go for the apples and potatoes," Rapunzel answers. "I'd love tea, too, if that's water over the fire."

"I figured you would so, yep, that's tea I already made, Cassandra answers. "All the hot leaf water you could want."

Rapunzel laughs. "Thank you, Cass." Now that she's fully awake, Rapunzel marvels at how relaxed and friendly Cassandra has been. She wonders if Cassandra is trying to make up for how they fought the night before.

"I looked for some other parts, too, while I was poking around for breakfast stuff," Cassandra tells her as they start to eat breakfast. "Didn't want us to get too far behind schedule, although the fact that we have to look for parts at all instead of just buying them in a shop is a delay itself."

"Yeah, I wonder if it'd be better to go back without all the things we need, and then take Max and Fidella back over here to search properly," Rapunzel answers. "So we don't have to worry about, y'know, foraging for meals."

"I'm telling you, this whiskey could last us like, three days," Cassandra responds.

"I don't think we can subsist off of alcohol, Cass," Rapunzel tells her, amused. "Hey, um," she pauses, uncertain of how to best proceed. "Are you… mad at me?"

Cassandra pauses with potatoes halfway to her mouth. "Why would I be mad at you?"

Rapunzel pokes her breakfast around her plate with her fork, guessing that Cassandra's still going with her denial defense. She wonders if she should list the fight they had the night before, but decides she'll just go with the overarching reason. "Because of… everything that happened in the Tree," she answers uncertainly.

Cassandra's eyebrows draw together in distress. "Hey, you know that wasn't your fault," she answers earnestly.

Rapunzel looks up at her, and her heart jumps at Cassandra's genuine expression. "You… really think so?" Rapunzel asks. This is new information.

"Of course," Cassandra answers. "If anything it's Adira's fault, for not telling us anything beforehand," she says disdainfully.

Rapunzel stares at her, confused, and the events of the middle of the night hit her all at once.

Cassandra raises an eyebrow at Rapunzel. "What, you don't think so?"

Rapunzel shakes her head and tries to get the surprised expression from her face. "Uh, no, Adira... could definitely be more forthright with her information," Rapunzel answers vaguely. Adira not telling us anything beforehand...? Could it be possible that her memory has actually changed?

"It's just," Rapunzel starts. "Really unfortunate, you know, what happened. And if you want to talk about it, I'm here to listen," she adds.

Cassandra glances down at her gloved right hand, closing it into a fist and opening it again. "I knew the danger when I signed up for this trip, Raps. It's okay, there's nothing we can do."

Rapunzel swallows. "I know. I'm sorry, Cass."

Cassandra looks back up. "Like, I said, it's not your fault, you have nothing to apologize for," she tells Rapunzel. "I mean, we saw what the Tree's magic was capable of, making things decay. I should've done a better job staying away from the vines. I'm just glad it didn't get any of you guys," she adds. "It all could've gone much worse. A hurt hand is probably the best outcome we could've hoped for."

"R-right," Rapunzel stutters after a moment. She can't believe it - Cassandra's memories were actually altered. Cassandra has no idea it was Rapunzel's magic that hurt her, and she thinks the Tree had the decay power instead. Rapunzel realizes that the wand did as it said in the book: minor details not specified during the spell got filled in by her subconscious.

Rapunzel doesn't realize she must have looked lost in thought until Cassandra leans forward and touches Rapunzel's wrist with her ungloved left hand. "Hey," she says quietly, looking earnestly at Rapunzel. "I mean it. I'm thankful that it was me instead of you."

Rapunzel's breath catches in her throat while looking into Cassandra's eyes. She hasn't felt this close to Cassandra in weeks. She wants to clasp Cassandra's hand and hold it, but she stops herself.

"And there's no point dwelling on the past," Cassandra continues, pulling away from Rapunzel and standing. "We've got a caravan to fix. I think you're right that we shouldn't bother with some of the items on the list, although I think if we do find certain stuff we could get the caravan operational again at least until we can make it to the next town…"

"R-right," Rapunzel stutters again. "That's a good idea. I guess we should start looking…"

Cassandra flashes a smile at her. "It's like a scavenger hunt, right? We could make it a competition," she suggests. "A race to see who finds what we need the fastest."

"Oh, you are so on," Rapunzel says, smiling back at her and feeling her mood continue to lift with Cassandra's playful behavior. Rapunzel feels like she's in a wonderful dream, starkly contrasted against the reality that was the last couple weeks.

A couple of hours pass in good spirits, with Cassandra and Rapunzel showing each other neat items they find while searching for parts. Cassandra even looks through bookcases during her searching to see if there's anything Rapunzel might like to read, and she offers Rapunzel a book she finds of a short collection of riddles. Rapunzel gasps, delighted, and she puts it into her blue bag to bring back with her. When she opens the top of it, the pink gem of the wand glints up at her from the bottom of the bag, and Rapunzel is reminded again that this isn't some wonderful dream, but their new reality.

They fill a salvaged pack with the nails and metal supports and ropes that the caravan and its horse harnesses need. They begin heading back in the direction of the caravan, and instead of the tense silence of their trip over, it's filled with conversation, pointing out birds and animals to each other, and looking at the clouds overhead to discuss the shapes they see in them. Rapunzel is reminded of the scouting trip they had taken together before the Great Tree, which was a time they both greatly enjoyed and was possibly the closest Rapunzel had ever felt to Cassandra. Cassandra had even said afterwards that she missed when it was just the two of them. And now here they are, having another trip like it together.

"Ugh, why didn't we bring Max or Fidella?" Rapunzel asks, after taking a turn carrying the bag of supplies and stretching her back.

"The guys figured they'd be more useful hauling tree trunks to cut up for wood planks," Cassandra answers. "Which, considering how much they brag about their muscles, I think we should make fun of them for that as much as possible when we get back."

"Mmm, good thinking," Rapunzel agrees, amused. She looks in the direction they're headed and sighs wistfully. "I know we have to get back before nightfall, but I don't want to get back too quickly. I kinda like being out here."

Cassandra snorts. "I'm with you on that. It's nice being able to hear myself think without Lance or Eugene prattling about some inane shit." She winces pulling the bag onto her back.

"Well, here, let's take a break!" Rapunzel encourages. "We could sit and have our lunch, and make flower garlands, and even go swimming!"

"I'm not sure about that last one, Raps," Cassandra says, snickering. "Unless you're interested in turning into a skeleton."

Rapunzel tilts her head, confused, and Cassandra says: "Piranhas, remember?"

"Oh, yeah, forgot about that," Rapunzel says, disappointed. "Still can't believe they decided to call this place West Rabbit Woods."

"Well, it's entirely possible that the slayer wolves and piranhas are somehow less memorable than the rabbits, which are a monstrous subspecies we've never seen before," Cassandra comments while putting the pack back down and readjusting the straps.

Watching her, Rapunzel feels warmth fill her as she's abruptly stricken again by how happy she is that she has Cassandra back.

"Let's find some place to sit and eat-" Cassandra starts, but she glances up to see Rapunzel watching her with a goofy smile on her face. "Uh, why are you looking at me like that?"

Rapunzel quickly waves her hands dismissively in front of her with a nervous laugh, responding, "It's nothing." She pauses and tucks a bit of her hair behind her ear. "It's just really nice being with you," she admits.

Cassandra smiles back at her. "It's really nice being with you too, Raps," she answers. "Let's go eat our second meal of potatoes today."

"Hmm," Rapunzel hums as they keep walking to find a place to rest. "I think I'm feeling whiskey."

<<<<<♢>>>>>

3.

"Huh, not as bad as I thought," Cassandra observes as they approach the caravan. "I definitely expected to find it in worse shape than we'd left it."

Rapunzel snickers while Eugene walks over. "Well didn't you two take your sweet time," He says, irritated. "While you both got to sleep in a cushy B&B, Lance and I were out here in a cold, hole-ridden wagon filled with splinters, and-"

"The village was destroyed, doofus," Cassandra interrupts. She shrugs the pack off of her back. "Totally covered in black rocks. No one was there, there wasn't an inn. We had to sleep on the ground. It was probably nicer for you guys in the caravan."

"Oh," Eugene answers. "Well, I'm surprised you took so long, then."

"We had to look through a bunch of ruined houses for the stuff we needed," Rapunzel tells him. "We couldn't get everything, obviously, but hopefully with what we found the caravan will be in good enough shape to reach the next town."

"We also just didn't wanna be back with you guys," Cassandra adds, slinging an arm around Rapunzel's shoulders. "We only came back for Max, Fidella, and Pascal," she says, leaning forward tauntingly.

"Cass," Rapunzel chides. "She doesn't mean it," Rapunzel tells Eugene, who's looking between Rapunzel and Cassandra with a startled expression.

"Alright let me see what you guys ruined," Cassandra says, stepping away from Rapunzel and walking towards the caravan, interlacing her fingers behind her head.

Eugene steps closer to Rapunzel, watching Cassandra walk away. "Wow, you really did fix things with h-"

He's cut off as Rapunzel grabs the front of his shirt and drags him close. "Don't say anything to Cass about the Tree until after I've talked to you tonight," she hisses quietly into his face. She looks over his shoulder at Cassandra, who has started talking to Lance by the caravan. "I'm taking first watch tonight," she continues, looking back at him. "Go to bed like you normally would but don't go to sleep until after I've knocked on your door, got it? And tell Lance, too, but don't say anything to Cass."

"Uh, sure thing, blondie," Eugene says, confused. "What's this abou-"

"Later!" She hisses at him again, and then lets go of his shirt to step around him. "Hey Lance!" She calls, beaming. "And Pascal!" She cries, seeing him on Lance's shoulder. She goes over to greet her friends.

<<<<<♢>>>>>

4.

Rapunzel waits until at least an hour after Cassandra, Lance, and Eugene have gone to bed - the horses and Pascal also asleep - before she sneaks towards the guys' side of the caravan. She knocks at the door as quietly as she can, and after waiting half a minute she's about to try again, but Eugene cracks it open. "Oh, it was you," Eugene says. "I barely heard it, I thought I was imagining-"

Rapunzel presses a finger aggressively against his lips. "Shush!" She whispers. "Now come on," she adds, gesturing away from the caravan. She pauses and adds, "Is Lance awake?"

"Uh, barely," Eugene says quietly, looking behind him.

"Well, get him up!" Rapunzel whispers.

"Uh, yes ma'am," Eugene answers, and he steps away from the door.

Rapunzel brings them far enough away from the caravan that their campfire is only barely visible across a clearing and through the trees. She keeps looking nervously over her shoulder, making sure that Cassandra hasn't left their room for any reason.

"Okay," Eugene says quietly as Rapunzel stops, Lance yawning next to him. "What's this about?"

"Hoooo this is a long story," Rapunzel says nervously, fidgeting with her hands and starting to pace. "Well, obviously both of you know Cass has been mad at me, and really my goal for our trip together to get caravan supplies was to talk to her and try to resolve things between us while we were alone together, but she refused to talk to me no matter what I did - and for the record I tried everything - and it was so stressful and I didn't know what to do but I had found this… um… thing, in the ruins of the village while we were searching it, and I didn't actually think it would work, but it was this magic wand and I tried to use it and I seriously, honestly didn't think anything would happen but it did so now," Rapunzel takes a deep breath. "Cassandra thinks that her hand was hurt by Zhan Tiri's magic and not mine."

There's a brief silence of Eugene and Lance staring blankly at Rapunzel, before Eugene whispers, "WHAT?"

"You said you used a… magic wand on her?" Lance asks, puzzled but more awake.

"Yeah, there was this apothecary cart in the village," Rapunzel elaborates, gesturing vaguely with her hands and speaking rapidly again. "And there was this Saporian wand in it that said it could change memories, and Cass refused to talk to me all day and she was being really mean about it and then it was the middle of the night and she was asleep and I thought, well, this isn't going to work anyway, but wouldn't it be so much better if she didn't blame me for what happened, it's not like it even matters how her hand got hurt because it was an accident but she's been so mad at me for no reason about it, so I tried the wand which I didn't think was going to work and suggested that Zhan Tiri hurt her hand and then the next morning she actually thought Zhan Tiri did it and she wasn't mad at me anymore!"

Eugene seems like he still hasn't caught up. "What?" He asks again in shock.

"Uh, princess, that's kinda messed up," Lance tells her.

"Listen I know it sounds bad," Rapunzel tells them, pacing nervously again. "But it's actually been really good! Like I said, it doesn't matter how her hand got hurt since it wasn't my fault, and now she's happier not being mad at me. It's better for everyone! We need to be a team for this journey, it's not going to work well if Cass is mad at me. We can't afford to lose time or get into trouble because we're not getting along, we've got a kingdom to save. And Zhan Tiri's the real bad guy anyway, I wouldn't have used the decay spell if it wasn't for Hector getting possessed by that magic. It basically already was Zhan Tiri's fault, using the wand on her just cut me out of the middle!"

Eugene puts a hand to his chin. "Well I guess my only question, sunshine," he starts, "is that if you found a wand that could mess with Cassandra's head, why didn't you fix her whole personality?"

Rapunzel glares at him. "Eugene," she says warningly.

Eugene puts his hands up in front of him. "I'm just saying, you're right about how we need to work well together, and Cassandra isn't the friendliest companion even in the best of moods."

"So you need us to go along with the lie," Lance interjects, bringing them back to the original topic of conversation.

Rapunzel sighs. "Yes," she answers. "Cassandra can't learn what I did. If she did-"

"Hoo boy would that be awful," Eugene notes.

"Right," Rapunzel says. "I know it's not like any of us have really talked about the Tree anyway-"

"Yeah, we were scared Cass would skewer us," Lance responds.

"-But it ever does come up, you have to remember that there's no such thing as the Moonstone decay spell, and Zhan Tiri hurt her hand when we were fighting possessed Hector," Rapunzel finishes.

"Well, that should be easy enough to remember," Eugene answers. "But back to this wand. Do you still have it? What else can it do? Can we reprogram her-"

"Eugene! No one is using the wand again, on anyone, got it?" She looks intensely between Eugene and Lance.

Lance shrugs and nods, Eugene puts a hand to his chin again. "So you do have it-"

"Eugene," Rapunzel repeats sternly.

He sighs. "Fine. Yeah, I got it."

Rapunzel takes a deep breath and smooths her hair. "Okay, good," she says, relieved. "That's all I needed to talk to you both about. Now let's just… let everything go back to normal."

"You got it, boss," Lance answers.

<<<<<♢>>>>>

5.

The next morning, Eugene and Lance continue making preliminary repairs to the caravan while Rapunzel and Cassandra scope out the clearest and smoothest path through the woods to get the caravan back to the road. By afternoon, they're on their way to the next town.

Everything is going better than it had gone for weeks. Certainly some of it is due to having the caravan and a lot of their belongings back, so they no longer have to trudge through the woods on foot with packs. But the air itself feels lighter and the anxiety Rapunzel had felt every step of their journey after the Great Tree has evaporated. For the first time in weeks the group's meals are filled with easy conversation and lighthearted jokes. More than once Rapunzel sees Cassandra catch her eye and smile.

In the late afternoon, there's a crash as a section of the back stoop of the caravan falls apart, dropping the barrels stored on it. They stop immediately to check the damage, and Eugene groans looking at it.

"Okay, who was supposed to tie all of this down?" He asks, irritated. "It was supposed to be secured with rope until we could get more nails!"

"Keep your manicure on, Fitzherbert, it's not a big deal," Cassandra answers, walking over. "It was tied, the knots came undone. Let's just get it back together."

"Oh, well excuse me for wanting to make some progress so we could have a halfway decent meal in town for dinner," Eugene responds. "Great job tying it, Cassandra."

Cassandra rolls her eyes while Rapunzel interjects, "Easy guys, Cass is right, it's not a big deal. We'll be back on our way in no time. We'll still be able to get dinner in town."

Rapunzel hopes that once they have the stoop and barrels resecured that the tension from the minor holdup would blow over, but while she sees Eugene get back in regular spirits as they approach the town, Cassandra seems to become more reserved. Rapunzel doubts Eugene or Lance even notice the minor change in her demeanor, but Rapunzel is closely attuned to Cassandra's moods, especially after the way their relationship shifted after the Great Tree (well, used to have been shifted). So Rapunzel notices when Cassandra no longer offers Rapunzel a friendly smile when they look at each other, and how Cassandra frequently seems lost in her thoughts. Rapunzel suspects her change in mood has something to do with what happened with the caravan's stoop, but she can't imagine how Eugene getting irritable towards Cassandra would phase her.

They reach the town and they're able to sit down to dinner at a pub, agreeing to go shopping for the rest of the materials they'd need in the morning and find a carpenter to help them with repairs.

Later that night, Rapunzel and Cassandra are in their side of the caravan before going to sleep, and Rapunzel decides to ask Cassandra about her behavior.

"Hey, are you okay?"

Cassandra looks up from her storage chest. "Yeah, why wouldn't I be?"

Rapunzel toys with the nightgown she's holding in her hands. "You just seemed kinda…" she searches for an accurate descriptor. "Melancholy."

Cassandra raises an eyebrow. "Melancholy?"

Rapunzel gestures vaguely with her hands, distressed. "You know what I mean. You seem down."

"It's nothing, Raps," Cassandra assures her, but she looks away from Rapunzel while she speaks. "Just tired."

Rapunzel frowns and watches Cassandra continue to ready herself for bed, but Cassandra doesn't look back at her.

While laying in bed trying to fall asleep, Rapunzel can't shake her feeling of unease. Cassandra avoiding Rapunzel's question reminded her of how adamantly and angrily Cassandra refused to talk after the Great Tree. It wasn't as bad this time, obviously, but the longer Rapunzel lies in the dark, staring at the ceiling and thinking about this, the more worried she gets that Cassandra is hiding some kind of resentment towards her.

Rapunzel knows it's likely just paranoia, but she feels waves of distress hit her regardless. She desperately wants to know what Cassandra's thinking. If there's a problem between the two of us, I need to fix it, Rapunzel thinks to herself. And even if it's not a problem between us, maybe it's something I could still help with, so Cassandra would be happy again sooner. She pushes herself up on one arm to look over at Cassandra's bed in the darkness.

But Rapunzel lets herself fall back onto her pillow. She has no idea how she could get Cassandra to open up. It's not like she could force her to, Rapunzel's certain about that - she'd already considered every angle for that during their excursion to the destroyed village. It occurs to Rapunzel that the last time she had this problem - Cassandra being upset and refusing to talk about it - she used the wand to change Cassandra's memory of what upset her so it would just disappear. But this time Rapunzel doesn't even know what it is that's upsetting her.

Rapunzel squints into the darkness over her bed, spending a while thinking about this problem.

Inspiration strikes, and Rapunzel's thoughts race as a plan forms in her mind. The wand - which she moved from her bag to the back of one of her drawers - has the power to place memories in a person's head. If Cassandra thinks that she'd talked to Rapunzel about her feelings on something major recently and that Rapunzel made her feel better, maybe she'd be more likely to open up to Rapunzel again now.

I could make her think that she opened up to me about her feelings after getting hurt in the Great Tree, Rapunzel thinks. And that I comforted her and she felt better afterwards. Then maybe when I ask her again tomorrow about what's bothering her, she'll open up to me, remembering how I made her feel better before.

It's a long shot, Rapunzel knows. And she remembers the disclaimer about not trying to place memories that are too outlandish in a person's mind, or they'd figure out it's not real. Rapunzel frowns. Would this fake memory be outlandish? Cassandra had opened up to Rapunzel in the past… it just usually took a long time. Rapunzel reflects on times Cassandra had opened up to her. She remembers the end of the Challenge of the Brave, and that time Andrew chained them up during the Day of Hearts, and that time they'd been captured as birds. Rapunzel's eyes narrow. Does Cass really only open up during physical danger? She's ridiculous.

Rapunzel wonders if she should come up with some elaborate fantasy about the two of them being driven into danger before Cassandra chooses to open up to Rapunzel. But that feels more outlandish, Rapunzel thinks. Surely it's not too unrealistic to make a memory where she just offers me her thoughts. Especially since we've been on such great terms lately… that scouting trip before the Great Tree we were so close, surely she'd be willing to confide in me after the Tree. Well, with the new version of it, she would.

Rapunzel sits up slowly, carefully shuffling herself towards the ladder of her raised bed. She moves as quietly as possible, although she's sure that Cassandra's deeply asleep - it's the dead of night now, and she hadn't heard Cassandra move in a long time. Rapunzel lowers herself down the ladder and reaches in the dark for her drawer. She's lucky that there's barely enough moonlight coming through the windows and she's familiar enough with the space that she's able to find the wand with ease.

Except she doesn't know the words for this new spell. Rapunzel feels a bolt of concern - it's too dark in the caravan to read, so she would need a candle or lantern. But fumbling around with flint to light something might end up waking Cassandra, and she'd ask what Rapunzel is doing. Rapunzel bites her lip, thinking about her options. She could wait until tomorrow night to do it, and make sure she had a light source with her. But she doesn't want to wait.

Rapunzel gets another idea, and she decides if she's already indulging in long shot plans, she might as well try this one.

Climbing back up the ladder and settling into her bed, she takes a few strands of her hair and starts pulling them from the rest to wrap all 70 feet of it around her hand. Soon she has a small coil of hair and, staring at it, she wills her magic to make it glow.

Rapunzel knows that the most likely outcome is nothing happens, and the next most likely outcome is that her entire head of hair lights up and wakes Cassandra, so before she tries the trick she's hidden the wand and book under her pillow. But watching the hair in her hand, she sees the strands - and only those strands - begin to light up.

Soon she has a light source about the brightness of a candle flame in her hand. She can't believe it worked - and she wonders what other tricks she could be capable of if she put her mind to it - but knowing she has to work quickly, she doesn't stop to marvel and instead brings the book and wand out again. She wraps the top of her blanket around the base of the wand with the gem, not wanting the bright flash of purple light to show when she uses it. And so with her hair and the book in one hand and the wrapped wand pointed towards Cassandra in the other, she whispers the words of the spell and then her brief description of Cassandra opening up to her - and Rapunzel making her feel better - after her hand was injured.

The blanket wrapped around the wand doesn't manage to stifle the blast of light at the end completely, and Pascal squeaks in alarm as he's abruptly woken nearby. Rapunzel quickly lets her hair darken and shoves the wand and book under her pillow again. Pascal chatters questioningly at her, and Rapunzel whispers back, "It's okay buddy. Let's go back to sleep."

Pascal chatters at her again, but Rapunzel rests her head back down and closes her eyes.

<<<<<♢>>>>>

6.

Waking up, Rapunzel hears the usual morning sound of Cassandra readying herself for the day. Rapunzel rubs her eyes and sits up to stretch, and Cassandra glances over.

"'Morning," she says to Rapunzel while making her bed.

Rapunzel yawns while answering, "'Morning," and Cassandra gives a small laugh at Rapunzel's typical overexaggerated sleepiness.

The laugh makes Rapunzel snap considerably more awake, and she wonders if Cassandra had gotten over whatever was bothering her overnight.

"How are you feeling?" Rapunzel asks, moving towards her bunk's ladder.

Cassandra steps back from her made bed and she answers without looking over at Rapunzel: "Worthless."

Rapunzel's head jerks up to look at her, alarmed, wondering if she heard right. Cassandra glances back and sees her expression. "Too blunt?" Cassandra asks with a raised eyebrow.

Rapunzel stutters wordlessly for a moment. "No," she's finally able to answer. "W-why do you say that?"

Cassandra looks away from her again, and she hesitates before answering. Looking at her gloved right hand, she says, "I thought after it happened, when I still could move everything and had my full range of motion, that it would be okay if I gave it time." She closes her hand into a fist and opens it again, and looks back up at the bed in front of her. "It's been weeks, and I still don't have the strength to even tie a knot properly."

Rapunzel realizes she's talking about the caravan's stoop falling apart yesterday, and she slips down her ladder towards Cassandra. "Hey, it's okay Cass, it's no big deal if you still can't tie something, that doesn't mean-"

"That's not just it, Raps," Cassandra responds, and she turns to look at Rapunzel. "It's everything. I can barely hold my sword, a single parry could send it flying out of my hand. I would be useless in a fight. I can't-'' She grimaces and looks away. "I can't even sew. I can't hold something as small as a needle firmly, so I can't even do lady-in-waiting duties. The bare fucking minumum and I can't even do that anymore."

Rapunzel watches with wide eyes as Cassandra speaks. She had no idea Cassandra was struggling so much with her hand - she had never looked like she was, and Cassandra never talked to her about it before. Rapunzel thought she just lost some grip strength that was coming back. "Cass…" Rapunzel breathes, feeling her heart break for her friend and completely at a loss for what to say.

Cassandra clears her throat. "Yeah, I know. I'm not- I'm not worth anything anymore, not to the team now or back in Corona. I could learn to use my left hand but mastering all the things I could do before again would take years. And that's just time we don't have right now." Rapunzel sees Cassandra's jaw flex, but whatever expression she was about to make she stifles and looks up with only her eyebrows slightly drawn together. "I know I haven't talked about this with you in a while, but uh, that's the update. Sorry for dumping it on you."

Rapunzel realizes she must have been referring to the new false memory, of the first time she'd opened up to Rapunzel about her hand. Rapunzel wonders if it had come to the forefront of her mind after Rapunzel placed it, as though she was actually remembering it abruptly, which then spurred Cassandra to follow up with her now.

Rapunzel internally scolds herself. She can think about the intricacies of the magic later - right now her friend needs her. She steps towards Cassandra, extending a hand to touch her shoulder. "Cass, you are worth so much more than what your hands can do," Rapunzel starts earnestly, distress across her face. "You're clever and knowledgeable and I wouldn't be anywhere without you, the things you've taught me and the guidance you give me. And you're a good friend. Your company alone is worth more than anything dozens of other people could offer."

Cassandra pulls away, just barely, from Rapunzel's touch. "I appreciate what you're saying and that you're trying to make me feel better, Raps, but it's not going to work. This is-" she turns away with a stricken expression again. "I don't think there's any way to fix this."

"There is," Rapunzel says intensely, and Cassandra turns back to her, surprised. Rapunzel continues: "Cass, if there's magic in the world that can keep someone alive for centuries, or cover a kingdom with spikes, or cause a deadly storm, or drive people crazy with hallucinations, or do this to your hand, there has to be magic that can heal you. We just need to find it."

Cassandra's expression softens. "That's fair," she says. "Although most of those things you listed are bad magic. The only good one was yours, and that power's gone now."

"I'm sure somewhere in the great wide world there's more good magic," Rapunzel tells her. "I won't give up hope. But…" she looks down, for not the first time feeling this grief fill her. "I'm sorry that my healing magic is gone. I wish I knew somehow to get it back. I wish I could heal you."

"Hey," Cassandra responds softly, and she touches Rapunzel's arm comfortingly. "It's okay. This wasn't your fault, it's not your responsibility to fix. And like you said, surely there's something out there, right?"

Rapunzel looks back up at her and smiles, feeling happy at Cassandra's display of tenderness. "Right. And we'll find it, or maybe your hand will get better on its own before we do. B-but until then, don't feel sad about what you're not able to do, okay?"

Cassandra gives her a small smile in return. "I'll try," she answers, and she pulls her hand back. "We should probably get our morning started, though. We've still got a kingdom to save and a destiny to fulfill, right?"

Rapunzel wants to hold Cassandra's hand in place to keep her from drawing away, but she refrains. "Right," Rapunzel answers. "And once the kingdom is saved, we'll find a way to heal you."

Cassandra nods and pauses for a moment. Glancing down she says, "Thank you, Rapunzel." She looks back up to meet Rapunzel's eyes. "You're a good friend."

I know, Rapunzel thinks to herself, beaming back at Cassandra. In her excitement, she steps forward and pulls Cassandra into a hug. Cassandra hesitates for only a moment before hugging her back.

Rapunzel feels on top of the world. It had been weeks since she got to hug Cassandra. And now she fixed Cassandra's problem and they can be back to being happy together again. For not the first time, she's so glad she took that wand.

"Don't wait up for me," Rapunzel says after they seperate. "I've still got to get dressed and all that, so…"

"Right," Cassandra answers, bending down to grab her boots. "I'll get the guys up and double-check the list for all the stuff we need to buy in town."

After Cassandra leaves their room, Rapunzel scurries back up her bunk's ladder to pull the book and wand from under her pillow. Pascal hops on her shoulder while she moves, and he chirps at her. Rapunzel knows he's asking about the book and wand, so she tells him it's nothing, just a trinket and something she was reading. She puts them back in her drawer's hiding space and readies herself for the day.

<<<<<♢>>>>>

7.

The caravan is fully functional two days later, and they're able to continue their journey along the road. The days pass smoothly, with everyone still in good spirits from their time in the town and now with a refurbished caravan.

Rapunzel hasn't felt this at ease since their time on Tirapai island, when they were all able to take a break from the stress of the journey and Rapunzel didn't even have to feel bad about it because they had to wait to be able to leave anyway. Even her current persistent worry about what could be waiting for them in the Dark Kingdom - and what her destiny will demand of her - is overridden by Rapunzel's happiness about how much better things are now than how they could be.

But her idyllic life is challenged again when Eugene makes one of his usual jokes at Cassandra's expense, and instead of just rolling her eyes or making a snide comment in return Cassandra snaps back aggressively at him and it escalates into an argument that even Rapunzel isn't able to resolve. She's finally able to get the two to drop it, but the day ends with a tense atmosphere.

"Cass, what was that about?" Rapunzel asks her when they're in their side of the caravan that night. "Usually you don't let that kind of stuff get to you."

"Well, maybe for once he shouldn't be rude first," Cassandra snaps back at her. "I'm sick of being expected to just deal with his bullshit instead of him being expected to not be a total ass."

Rapunzel blinks, taken aback. "Woah, okay, I didn't know you felt that way."

Cassandra sighs and puts a hand to her face. "Ugh. I'm sorry, Raps. I'm- It's not even really about him. I mean, he's a dick, but you're right that usually it doesn't bother me. Frankly, I don't respect him enough. But," she looks at her right hand. "My arm's been in a lot of fucking pain today. I don't know why, it's way worse than usual. So my bullshit capacity has dropped precipitously."

Rapunzel's shocked by her admission. "T-than usual? Your arm hurts you?"

Cassandra gives a short sigh through her nose and doesn't look over at Rapunzel. "Yeah."

"Cass, why didn't you tell me?" Rapunzel feels overcome by distress. Cassandra's been in pain and Rapunzel hasn't even known. She could have been helping Cassandra!

Cassandra shrugs slightly, still not looking at Rapunzel. "Not really anything to be done about it. It's not like there's a wound that can be cleaned or a broken bone that could be set. It's just... sharp pain, deep down. It doesn't even change based on the muscles I use, it's just… in pain."

"T-there's still things that could help that," Rapunzel stutters. "Like putting it in hot water, that could reduce the pain-"

"It's not worth the effort, Raps," Cassandra interrupts. "Like I said, it's usually not this bad. It's not worth all the time it'd waste, giving myself a damn spa treatment every day." She glances up at Rapunzel. "Seriously, don't worry about it."

Of course I'm going to worry about it! Rapunzel's panicked thoughts answer. "Cass, I really think that we should try to do something, especially when it's bad-"

"I'm telling you, it's fine," Cassandra interrupts again. "It'll probably be a lot better in the morning. Let's just go to bed, okay? And I promise I'll play nice with Eugene tomorrow."

Everything in Rapunzel is screaming, "It's not okay," but she doesn't want to push Cassandra away from her by arguing. She nods and says, "Okay… I really hope it does get better. And just know that if you want any help, I'm here for you, okay?"

"Yeah, okay," Cassandra answers, but Rapunzel knows she's just saying that and has no intention of ever asking for help.

Laying in bed that night, unable to sleep, Rapunzel feels increasingly frustrated. Why wouldn't Cassandra let her help? Rapunzel helped her a few days ago when she was feeling sad - she could help her again!

Rapunzel turns over in her bed, scowling. This is just like her, Rapunzel thinks. She's being stubborn for no reason. Now both of us will be sad and it's her fault.

But her spite dissipates. I can't believe Cassandra's been in pain this whole time. I'm sure that a hot compress would help her. Maybe I could convince her to try it by making it for her ahead of time and then offering it to her. I wouldn't even insist on being the one to hold it for her. Rapunzel frowns, considering this.

Another idea hits. Or… I could do what I did with her opening up to me, Rapunzel thinks. I could make her think that I already have helped her with her hand, so she'd be more likely to let me help again. It worked so well before, getting her to talk to me - better than I would've thought. It's almost like she wanted to talk to me, and just needed an excuse.

Rapunzel slowly becomes convinced of this. I'll just give her a new memory of letting me help her after she got hurt, so that she can feel comfortable letting me help again. Rapunzel has already started to sit up and edge towards her ladder.

It's even easier this time to retrieve the book and wand, wrap up the end of the wand (more securely, this time), coil up the hair she needs, and illuminate the strands. But when she has the small light in her hand, holding it to the book, she's interrupted by Pascal crawling onto her arm.

He chatters at her and tries to push the book out of her hands.

"Pascal, quiet!" Rapunzel whispers at him. "What are you doing?"

He chirps at her - quieter - and, frowning, taps his small hand against the page of the book she has open about placing false memories.

Rapunzel puts out her light and glances over towards Cassandra's bed, but she hasn't moved. "Pascal," Rapunzel whispers barely audibly, looking back towards him. "It's fine, I'm just doing this to help. It's not a big deal. She doesn't realize that she wants me to help her."

Pascal tries to chatter at her again, but Rapunzel interrupts. "You don't even know what it is I'm doing! It's not a big deal, and I'm doing the right thing. What, you don't trust me?"

Pascal looks distressed in response. He slowly and dejectedly crawls back up her arm towards her shoulder. "Thank you," Rapunzel tells him quietly. She looks back over at Cassandra's bed, but she seems undisturbed by Rapunzel and Pascal's conversation.

Rapunzel re-lights her hair, points the wand, and starts to whisper the spell. She places a memory that Rapunzel helped Cassandra with her pain after she was first hurt, making and holding a hot compress for her, and that Cassandra felt better after.

<<<<<♢>>>>>

8.

The first thing Rapunzel asks when she wakes to Cassandra readying herself for the day is how her arm is feeling.

Cassandra frowns and answers, "Let's hope Fitzherbert isn't too irritating today."

That means her arm is still hurting extra badly, Rapunzel thinks. One part of Rapunzel feels distressed for Cassandra being in pain, but a marginally larger part of her is excited that Cassandra will probably be more inclined to accept help because of it.

"You know," Rapunzel starts while she brushes her hair. "The guys are out fishing this morning, so there's some time before we have to get on the road. And I was gonna make myself some tea, so I'm already heating up water."

She pauses to see if Cassandra will fill in where she's going with this, but Cassandra just responds "Uh-huh" distractedly as she helps Rapunzel brush.

"Sooo if you'd like, I could put hot water in one of our basins and soak a towel to put around your hand to help it feel better."

Cassandra pauses mid-stroke. She sighs and lowers the brush. "Raps, that's really not necessary. I already told you I'm fine."

"I know," Rapunzel answers quickly. "I know you don't need it, but there's no reason not to, right? We have to wait around anyway."

Cassandra considers this for a few moments, her eyebrows drawing together. "Alright, but only if you were actually planning on heating up water already."

Rapunzel stifles an excited squee at Cassandra's response. She struggles to get the smile off her face as she answers, "You know me and my penchant for hot leaf water."

Cassandra snorts in amusement. "Well, keep your leaves in your mug, I don't want my arm to start smelling like mint or something."

"Are you sure?" Rapunzel asks with faux-thoughtfulness. "I could add lavender, the smell is very relaxing."

"Don't make me regret this," Cassandra says, but she's smiling at Rapunzel's teasing.

After her hair is brushed and she's dressed for the day, Rapunzel starts heating water over their campfire outside of the caravan. She makes a mug of tea for herself and then brings the kettle into their room, pouring it over a towel in a basin on Cassandra's dresser. She waits for it to cool slightly, and then calls Cassandra over from outside.

Rapunzel's sitting on Cassandra's bed with the basin in her lap when Cassandra comes in, and Rapunzel pats next to her on the bed in invitation. When she sits down, Rapunzel sees Cassandra hesitate when she has to take off her glove and roll up her sleeve.

Rapunzel hasn't seen Cassandra's hand beyond brief glances since the Great Tree. Cassandra kept it covered at all times except when bathing, and even then she'd be quick about it, keeping it out of Rapunzel's line of sight.

She's finally able to look at it now, and even having an idea of what to expect, Rapunzel is shocked. The skin is still blackened up to her elbow, and the arm looks gnarled and almost skeletal, as though she'd lost all the flesh under her skin except for bones and tendons.

"S-sorry," Cassandra murmurs. "I can handle this myself, you don't have to be here…"

Rapunzel internally berates herself for staring and making Cassandra feel badly. "No, Cass, it's okay." She reassures quickly, looking up to meet her eyes. "I just… I'm just so sorry."

Cassandra shifts uncomfortably, and Rapunzel reaches over to take her hand. "Here, let me help," Rapunzel offers.

She gently draws Cassandra's arm over the basin and wraps the damp towel around her arm. Since she has the basin in her lap, Cassandra is pressed up next to her while Rapunzel holds the towel in place.

"How does that feel?" She asks, turning her head to look at Cassandra. Pressed against each other, Rapunzel feels a thrill of excitement through her, being able to study Cassandra's face so close. At such a short distance, she's able to admire Cassandra's eyes and long lashes, and her gaze flickers between Cassandra's irises that are a color balanced somewhere between gray and green.

"Uh, g-good," Cassandra responds, leaning away slightly, and Rapunzel is confused by how she seems uncharacteristically flustered.

But Rapunzel smiles back at her to answer. "I'm glad! The longer it's kept on, the more the pain should go down… so if it starts cooling down too much, just tell me and I'll get more hot water, okay?"

"Yeah, okay," Cassandra says, not looking at her.

Rapunzel holds the towel with one hand and reaches over to pick up her mug of tea. She takes a sip, and then offers it towards Cassandra. "Want to try?"

Cassandra gives a small amused snort. "Yeah, why not," she answers, taking the mug with her left hand.

"What do you think?" Rapunzel asks.

"I think that it's interesting you'd go through all the work of making the tea, when you could go outside and eat grass for the same taste," Cassandra answers.

Rapunzel laughs. "You're ridiculous."

They spend over half an hour sitting together and talking on Cassandra's bed, Rapunzel getting up a couple times to heat more water. When Rapunzel asks if it's helping with the pain at all, Cassandra says that it is, and Rapunzel is delighted. Finally Cassandra admits that they should probably go do some prep work for getting back on the road, since Lance and Eugene should be back soon.

Rapunzel is disappointed, but she can't think of any excuse to stay sitting with her, so she unwraps the towels. Looking at the damaged arm, on impulse Rapunzel leans forward and brings it towards her face to place a kiss to the back of her hand. Cassandra pulls away quickly as though she'd been burned, and Rapunzel, startled, looks over and asks, "I'm sorry, did that hurt?"

Cassandra stutters a "no," quickly standing from her bed. Rapunzel sees that Cassandra's face looks red as she turns away and adds, "Let's get going, I'm sure the guys will be back any minute."

Rapunzel wonders if the heat from the water had made her face red, although it hadn't been the whole time they were sitting together. Was she… blushing? Rapunzel wonders, although she'd never seen Cassandra blush before, so that seemed unlikely.

"I really hope that your hand doesn't start hurting again so badly," Rapunzel says, getting up from the bed while Cassandra finishes drying her arm and puts her glove back on.

Cassandra hesitates stepping towards the door, and doesn't look back as she answers, "I-if it does, I wouldn't mind trying the hot water again."

Rapunzel feels excitement rush through her. "Sure! I liked this. I like helping you," she says, smiling at Cassandra.

"I'm going to go check on Max and Fidella," Cassandra says abruptly. "Make sure they're ready to go." She darts through the door.

Rapunzel's confused by Cassandra's behavior, but she's distracted by the happiness she feels that her plan worked perfectly. She can't wait for the next time she'll be able to sit with Cassandra and make her feel better.

<<<<<♢>>>>>

9.

The next morning Cassandra says that her arm still hurts more than usual, and that she would be okay with trying the hot compress again. They have to continue on the road early that day so they're not able to sit together as long, but Rapunzel is delighted regardless. The morning after Rapunzel asks if she'd like to do it again, and Cassandra agrees. It becomes part of their morning ritual, Rapunzel waking up earlier than she usually would to heat water for her tea and Cassandra.

Cassandra doesn't hide her arm anymore when the two of them bathe together, and she only puts her full suit of armor on when they're on the road or going into a new town. Rapunzel feels like the last barrier between her and Cassandra has disappeared, and she couldn't be happier.

Stopping in a town, the group has dinner in a tavern that has travelling musicians performing, and the staff has moved tables aside to make room for dancing. Rapunzel drags Cassandra out to dance with her among the crowd, and Cassandra laughs at her enthusiasm. The next day walking through the town, Rapunzel holds Cassandra's hand as she chatters about all the different shops and wares around them.

When back out on the road, their food storage is left barely open one night by mistake, and it's raided by raccoons. Knowing they're closer to the next village than the last one, they press on but have to hunt and forage to replenish their food supply.

Rapunzel, delighted at the excuse to go out together alone, excitedly volunteers herself and Cassandra to gather food from the forest. She drags Cassandra along, who is amused by Rapunzel's enthusiasm.

They enjoy a couple hours of each other's company. While walking along a cliff base, Rapunzel spots an herb she's familiar with, minne, high up the sheer stone face. Cassandra says she sees some edible mushrooms by a streambed, and while she's distracted Rapunzel decides to climb up and grab the minne to surprise her - she's sure that Cassandra would love the taste.

"Rapunzel!" Cassandra's alarmed voice comes from below a couple minutes later, with Rapunzel already a few stories up from the ground and still moving, as she's started to race a mountain goat also navigating towards the minne.

"That's my minne," Rapunzel growls at the goat, and they both pull on the plant. Rapunzel wins the tug-of-war, but she's thrown off balance and begins to fall with the minne in her hand. She hears Cassandra's panicked cry come again from below, and Rapunzel quickly undoes the tie holding her braid in place, letting her hair free. Biting the minne's stems so she has both hands free, she turns in the air to lasso a bush growing from the cliff. Holding onto her hair, she's able to catch herself about six feet off of the ground.

She drops onto her feet and tugs her hair loose from above. Taking the minne from her teeth, she's accosted by Cassandra grabbing her shoulders and shaking her.

"What were you thinking!?" Cassandra shouts into her face.

"Um, what?" Rapunzel answers back, confused at Cassandra's strong reaction. "I was getting this herb, it's called minne and it's so-"

"Why would you do that?!" Cassandra cries. "Rapunzel, that was so dangerous!"

"Why are you making such a big deal of this?" Rapunzel asks, starting to feel irritated. "I went up to get the minne, I got the minne, and now I'm back."

"You could have died!" Cassandra shouts again. "You- that was so pointlessly reckless, Rapunzel!"

Rapunzel scowls and pulls out of Cassandra's grip. "I can look after myself, Cass, in case you haven't noticed," she responds.

"You don't get it," Cassandra answers, gesturing animatedly with her now-free hands. "You can't just do risky things like that for no reason!"

"I can actually do as I please," Rapunzel tells her. "I don't need to check everything I do with you first, Cass."

Cassandra looks at her like she's insane. "This doesn't have anything to do with me! You're the princess, Rapunzel, and you need to take that responsibility seriously! You can't risk your life for no reason, people are relying on you!"

"I wasn't risking my life for no reason," Rapunzel responds, her irritation spiked by Cassandra's mention of Rapunzel's suffocating responsibilities and the implication that she doesn't already take it seriously. "I had it under control. What, you don't trust me to be able to take care of myself?"

Cassandra turns away from her with a frustrated "arhhh", putting a hand to her forehead. "I can't believe you don't understand what I'm saying," she answers, turning back towards Rapunzel.

"Then enlighten me!" Rapunzel cries in response.

"What if that bush hadn't been able to support your weight?" Cassandra asks, gesturing upwards.

"But it did," Rapunzel answers.

"But what if it didn't?" Cassandra asks intensely. "You would've smashed into the ground!"

"Or I would have lassoed something else," Rapunzel responds. "Or maybe my hair would've done that glow-y ball shield thing that it did when we jumped from my tower. Or you could've caught me. I wasn't doomed to die, Cass, despite what you seem to think."

"That's such a- such a naive way of thinking!" Cassandra explodes.

Rapunzel's jaw clenches at Cassandra's words. She remembers their argument in the Great Tree: Cassandra's voice asking, "are you really that obliviously naive?"

"I don't want to talk about this anymore," Rapunzel answers, knowing that her anger would just make the argument continue to escalate. She starts to walk past Cassandra. "Let's grab our plants and head back."

Cassandra lets out a sharp breath from her nose in irritation as Rapunzel passes. "Fine," she grits out.

As soon as they get back to the caravan, Cassandra snatches her bow and quiver without a word and trudges back into the forest. Rapunzel knows that she had no intention of hunting since holding the drawstring is still hard on her hand, but she seems to be willing to be in physical pain if it means not being in Rapunzel's company. Rapunzel scowls at her back as she disappears into the woods.

"Uh, what was that about?" Eugene asks, walking over to Rapunzel, and Pascal jumps from his shoulder to Rapunzel's. "I mean she's always frosty, but not to you."

Pascal chatters questioningly at her, and Rapunzel frowns. "We had an argument. It's nothing, it'll blow over." She'll see that I'm right.

But when Cassandra returns - without anything, and they all know better than to ask her about how the hunting went - she doesn't say a word to Rapunzel. Dinner is a tense affair, mostly Lance and Eugene talking loudly to each other and making jokes, trying to lighten the atmosphere.

By after dinner, Rapunzel's frustration has turned into depression. She doesn't show any sign of it, but internally she desperately wants to be back on good terms with Cassandra. Their current standoff reminds her of what their relationship was like after the Great Tree.

But Rapunzel is not willing to put aside her pride and extend an olive branch or admit that Cassandra was right. Because she isn't right, Rapunzel thinks to herself.

That night, Rapunzel feels more down than she'd felt since the weeks following the Great Tree. There's a wall between her and Cassandra again, both of them mad at the other and unwilling to apologize. Laying in the dark that night after they had gone to bed without a word to each other, Rapunzel is left alone with her misery.

She wouldn't be mad at me like this if I hadn't fallen and made her think that I was in danger, Rapunzel thinks. Or if she just didn't see me climbing at all.

Rapunzel's thoughts leap immediately to the wand. It can erase memories, Rapunzel remembers. And it fixed things between me and Cass before. I could just make her think none of this happened, and we would be back to normal.

But she knows that Pascal might try to stop her again, since he had been upset the last time she used the wand. So she waits in her bed for a long time - longer than before - until she's sure both Pascal and Cassandra are deeply asleep, and she slips down her ladder.

Rapunzel holds her light source under the covers so it'd be less likely to wake Pascal, and she flips through the book. She decides that it would be most straightforward just to erase Cassandra's memory of the incident.

So Rapunzel holds out the wand, barely breathes out the words, and lets the magic work.

<<<<<♢>>>>>

10.

The next morning, Rapunzel wakes to being hit by a thrown pillow. She hears Cassandra's voice: "Hey, Sleeping Beauty, I'd love to let you stay in your coma but we've got a schedule to keep, yeah?"

Rapunzel's eyes open blearily and she sees it's much brighter in their room than it usually is when she wakes. She sits up and rubs her eyes. "Wha...?"

She hears Cassandra snort in amusement. "Wow, this is some next level sleepiness. You've outdone yourself, Raps."

Rapunzel lowers her hands to look at Cassandra, standing next to her bunk. She has a half-smile on her face, and, remembering what the night before was like, Rapunzel's heart jumps at the sight.

That's better, Rapunzel thinks to herself, starting to smile. That's so much better.

"What time is it?" Rapunzel asks, stretching.

"Like, seven-thirty?" Cassandra guesses, looking out the window.

Rapunzel feels a rush of concern. Usually she'd get up at six-thirty so she's able to treat Cassandra's hand before they keep moving. "Oh no, I'm sorry Cass, do we still have time to do the hot compress?"

"Nah, we'll skip the spa treatment today," Cassandra tells her. "It's okay, my hand's not hurting too much. It's more important that we keep moving."

"I'm sorry Cass," Rapunzel repeats dejectedly. "And I'm sorry I wasn't awake to do other morning prep work."

"It's okay, Raps, really. I'm glad you got your sleep. Did you not sleep well last night or something?"

Rapunzel toys with a strand of hair by her head. "Uh, yeah." You could say that, Rapunzel thinks. She was up considerably later than usual, even for a night using the wand.

"Well, maybe you can nap after we've gotten on the road," Cassandra tells her. "I can cover your shift at the reins so you can sleep."

Rapunzel is stricken by how thoughtful Cassandra is with her, and she gives a warm smile. "We'll see. I should probably start managing this bedhead for now, though…"

"Right, come down here and we'll get started," Cassandra says.

Rapunzel smiles again, feeling excited for this daily moment of closeness. Even if she can't sit with Cassandra to hold the warm towel for her, she'll still get to enjoy Cassandra helping her with her hair.

She's thrilled, too, that she's able to have this closeness at all. If it weren't for the wand, she's sure that Cassandra still wouldn't be talking to her, or even looking at her. She's so glad she has her best friend back, and she didn't even have to wait for Cassandra to see that she was right.

When they've finished, Cassandra leaves the room to do other work while Rapunzel dresses herself. As soon as the door closes, Pascal leaps onto Rapunzel's shoulder and starts chattering at her.

She's sure Pascal is asking her about Cassandra's sudden change in mood. Rapunzel sighs, and steps a couple rungs up her ladder to pull the wand and book out from under her pillow. Pascal's chattering increases in volume, and he jumps onto her desk to yell at her.

"Listen, Pascal, it's fine. It was a pointless argument and we should just forget about it anyway. It's better this way, we're happy again," Rapunzel explains as she hides the wand and book in her drawer again.

Pascal chatters at her again, unconvinced. Rapunzel answers, "She wouldn't have dropped it, and she would've kept both of us miserable if I didn't do anything."

Pascal pauses before chirping back at her. Rapunzel continues, "I'm telling you, the argument was nothing. She got mad at me because I did something harmless that she thought was risky. It was really blown out of proportion and she shouldn't have been so mad. If she weren't so stubborn she would've come around immediately. But since she is stubborn it would've taken forever, and why should both of us be miserable all that time if I could just make it disappear?"

Pascal studies her for a moment, but then he sighs. He hops back onto Rapunzel's arm and climbs up her shoulder, chirping at her one more time. "I know buddy, I don't like it either, but it's the right thing to do."

She hears Pascal grumble but she knows how to shift his spirits. "Come on, let's go eat some berries with breakfast," she says peppily, and he perks up.

<<<<<♢>>>>>

11.

The guys don't comment on the dramatic shift in Rapunzel and Cassandra's demeanors that morning - Rapunzel thinks they must assume she and Cassandra had talked it out overnight, and Rapunzel is fine with not challenging that assumption.

And now she's back to her idyllic life: she and Cassandra get along amazingly again. Rapunzel insists that she doesn't need Cassandra to take over her shift at the front of the caravan that day, but sitting next to Cassandra before her turn she starts falling asleep on Cassandra's shoulder while trying to draw. Cassandra tells her to go nap and that she'll cover it, and Rapunzel reluctantly complies.

The next morning, Rapunzel's sleep schedule is back to normal so she's able to sit with Cassandra and treat her arm pain. They spend time that day going foraging again, but Rapunzel doesn't scale any cliffsides. (Not because she thinks it's dangerous, of course, she just doesn't want a repeat of their earlier fight.) Well away from West Rabbit Woods' piranhas, when Rapunzel suggests they go swimming in a creek while they're out, Cassandra agrees. They spend longer than they mean to in the water, splashing and racing each other, Cassandra at one point picking Rapunzel up out of the water to throw her back in, and then Rapunzel using her hair as a tree swing to carry both of them and drop into the creek. They lay in the sun to dry afterwards, enjoying the birdsong and the clouds overhead.

It's that night that Rapunzel dreams of her and Cassandra alone in the woods again, and while they're sitting together by the creek, Rapunzel leans in and kisses her.

The pounding of her heart wakes Rapunzel abruptly in the night. She tries to calm down, but since she woke during the dream it was still burning brightly in her mind. She could still feel Cassandra's soft lips and how their noses brushed against each other. Half of her wishes the vision would disappear from her mind, and the other half wishes she could return to the dream to see where it goes. Rapunzel puts her hands up to her burning face.

It never occurred to Rapunzel that her feelings for Cassandra were anything other than friendship, but the way her heart pounds thinking about kissing her, Rapunzel realizes she must have a crush. It makes sense the more she thinks about it: she had felt at least a little obsessed with Cassandra ever since she met her - and she had felt drawn to Cassandra immediately - and her desire to become Cassandra's friend was stronger than any other desire she'd had before, short of leaving her tower to see the lanterns. Once they had become friends, Rapunzel had an intense admiration for Cassandra as she guided Rapunzel through her first couple months out of the tower and in the castle, and even though they spent so much time together with Cassandra as her lady-in-waiting, it somehow never felt like enough to Rapunzel.

Rapunzel should have guessed that this experience was something other than friendship, considering how she has other friends and she never had such dramatic feelings about them as these. But she also didn't have any other girl friends, and she figured that things were just different between two girls.

Girl friends. Girlfriend. Rapunzel's breath catches as she's struck with an overwhelming and all-consuming longing to be Cassandra's girlfriend. She feels dizzy thinking about being able to do couple things together, like celebrate the Day of Hearts festival, and dress up to have candle-lit dinners, and go out alone together for dates, and kiss.

Rapunzel turns over in her bed to bury her face into her pillow. She can barely handle the emotions rushing through her with the pounding of her heart. She wonders if Cassandra's lips are actually as soft as they'd felt in her dream, and she feels another wave of lightheadedness, her hairs standing on end with the overwhelming desire to find out.

Ohhh this makes things complicated, Rapunzel thinks to herself. What am I supposed to do?

She wonders if it's possible that Cassandra feels the same towards her, and she can't figure it out one way or another. She just doesn't know enough about friendship and crushes and how different people behave with those feelings. Maybe I should just keep cool until after the journey, Rapunzel thinks to herself. It would be awful if I told her my feelings and she didn't feel the same, and then we had to keep travelling together in the caravan… It'd be so awkward…

Rapunzel flips again onto her back and takes a deep breath, trying to steady her heart. Yes, I'll just keep cool. I won't say anything. I'll tell her back in Corona. Despite her resolution, Rapunzel feels another wave of butterflies thinking about Cassandra saying she feels the same, and Cassandra cradling her head as she leans towards her-

Focus, Rapunzel, she scolds herself. You can fantasize later. You still have a kingdom to save.

So she tries to suppress her imagination, and somehow a while later, her heart has calmed enough that she can again fall asleep. But while she loses control of her thoughts slowly descending towards unconsciousness, she imagines Cassandra holding her, their faces close.

<<<<<♢>>>>>

12.

Rapunzel almost chokes seeing Cassandra the next morning as everything she felt in the middle of the night hits her in an instant.

"'Morning Raps," Cassandra says as her usual greeting, entirely unaware of the hurricane of turmoil happening in Rapunzel at that moment while she gets dressed.

Rapunzel mumbles some combination of sounds that might have been "Morning." Cassandra glances over and asks, "You awake?"

"Yes," Rapunzel answers more coherently. She takes a deep breath to steel herself against the butterflies trying to break out of her body, slipping down her ladder. She's able to keep herself somewhat normal through her morning routine, even when Cassandra touches her hair to help her brush it and electricity races under Rapunzel's skin.

When Rapunzel's sitting pressed against Cassandra to help her with her pain, though, holding her hand and positioned just like how they were in her dream, she's less put together. Cassandra seems to notice her nervousness and asks, "Are you feeling alright?"

Rapunzel turns her head to look at Cassandra and immediately wishes she hadn't, as Cassandra's face is now extremely close to hers and it would be so easy to lean in and kiss her. She looks away again quickly, hoping that she hasn't started to blush, and says, "Mhmm, yeah, I'm fine."

She can feel Cassandra's gaze burning into the side of her face. "You sure?" Cassandra asks, sounding entirely unconvinced.

"Ah…" Rapunzel knows she has to think of something plausible, since Cassandra certainly won't fall for denial. She knows me too well, Rapunzel thinks to herself, and feels torn between frustration of that fact and dizzying flattery that Cassandra knows her so well. "I, um, had a nightmare about the Dark Kingdom. Very scary. So I'm still a little on edge…"

"Oh, I'm sorry Raps," Cassandra's voice is soft. "Is there anything I can do to take your mind off of it?"

Rapunzel's brain short-circuits for a few moments at the thought of Cassandra taking her mind off of it. "Hhprobably not," Rapunzel answers. "It's okay, I'll get over it… I'm sure once we've started moving again this morning I'll forget about it…"

"Well, just tell me if you need anything, alright? And hey, Raps," Cassandra reaches with for Rapunzel's hand holding the towels around Cassandra's right arm. "No matter what we find there, we're going to make it out okay. I promise you."

Rapunzel feels warmth entirely unrelated to the damp towel she's holding spread through her at Cassandra's earnest words. She's so kind and faithful, Rapunzel thinks.

"Thank you, Cass," Rapunzel responds gently, looking back at her.

Cassandra smiles and then continues: "Let's go get started with the day so you can get your mind off of it."

In the afternoon, Rapunzel and Cassandra go into the woods again for food gathering while the guys continue with the caravan along the road. While in the forest they happen upon a large decrepit structure that Cassandra guesses must have been a fort of some kind once. It's largely nothing but a collection of standing walls now, and the interior is overgrown with vegetation, so they suppose it must have been abandoned decades ago.

Rapunzel's excited to explore it and Cassandra follows, as always amused by her enthusiasm. While looking through the fort, black rock spikes begin growing out of the ground and Cassandra sees it's about to destabilize a wall near Rapunzel. As it begins to collapse, Cassandra dives over and grabs her, throwing them both back to escape the range of the falling stones. With a loud crash, the wall topples over in front of them.

They've fallen backwards onto the ground, Cassandra holding Rapunzel from behind with her arms around her waist, both breathing heavily as they look towards the pile of rubble where Rapunzel was standing a moment ago, dust still settling.

Cassandra's grip loosens slightly as she asks, "Are you alright?" and Rapunzel's answer is to turn in her arms, put her hands on Cassandra's shoulders, and press her lips against Cassandra's.

Rapunzel's heart is hammering in her chest and adrenaline surges through her, in part from the danger she'd just narrowly avoided, but even more from the powerful impulse she followed without a second thought. Her feelings brought out just being in Cassandra's presence were barely disregardable, but Cassandra rescuing her from danger - reminding Rapunzel of how attentive and brave she is - in addition to feeling Cassandra's arms around her waist and Cassandra's body pressed against her back was too much for Rapunzel to ignore. She wanted Cassandra, badly.

Cassandra's lips are as soft as Rapunzel's dream led her to believe. She closes her eyes for the kiss so she doesn't see Cassandra's reaction, but after a moment passes and Cassandra hasn't thrown her off of her, Rapunzel pulls away, opening her eyes to look into Cassandra's face.

Cassandra looks alarmed. Her eyes are wide and Rapunzel feels a bolt of fear thinking that Cassandra hated it. But Cassandra blinks a couple times, and just as Rapunzel begins to stutter "sorry," one of Cassandra's hands moves from Rapunzel's waist to cradle the back of her head and she leans forward to kiss Rapunzel back.

Rapunzel puts her arms around Cassandra's neck during the second kiss, Cassandra holds her gently but firmly, and their noses brush against each other's.

When they separate again after what feels to Rapunzel like an eternity - a perfect eternity - Rapunzel is breathless and dizzy. Their lips are still just centimeters from each other's and Rapunzel knows that she should say something, but she has no idea what.

"Wow," she finally squeaks out. Cassandra's face breaks into a smile at Rapunzel's reaction and she starts to laugh, making Rapunzel smile and start to laugh too. Once she's started she can't stop, her lightheadedness making her feel giddy, and they laugh with their foreheads pressed against each other's.

"I, um, I like you," Rapunzel finally says, smiling at Cassandra and still curled up in her arms.

"I, uh... like you too," Cassandra answers her, her voice slightly breathless and sounding husky in a way that sends shivers down Rapunzel's spine.

"Neat," Rapunzel squeaks, not entirely convinced she's in the real world rather than a continuation of that wonderful dream she had been having the night before.

Cassandra laughs again at Rapunzel's reaction. "Yeah," she agrees. "Neat."

"I, um, I want to kiss you more," Rapunzel says plainly, unable to think of anything else but that strong desire burning in her.

"Okay," Cassandra answers in that quiet and husky voice again, leaning in towards Rapunzel to press their lips together again.

Rapunzel moves one hand from behind Cassandra's neck to stroke her cheek while they kiss. Her heart continues to pound in her chest so powerfully she's sure Cassandra could feel it through her arms where she's holding Rapunzel.

When they separate again, Rapunzel becomes seized by another desire beyond just kissing Cassandra, and she abruptly asks, "Can I be your girlfriend?"

Cassandra smiles and gives a chuckle at Rapunzel's continued enthusiasm. "Uh, yeah, if I can be yours," she answers.

Rapunzel's mind combusts with new chaos. She never even thought about how being Cassandra's girlfriend would also mean that Cassandra is her girlfriend.

Cassandra clears her throat, her eyebrows drawing together slightly in concern. "You okay?"

"Y-yes," Rapunzel answers, pulling herself together. "Yes, I am so okay."

"Okay, cool," Cassandra answers.

"Cool," Rapunzel agrees.

They sit in silence for a moment, still intertwined. Rapunzel, struck by her lack of romantic experience, admits, "I don't know what we do now."

Cassandra blinks, and then frowns in thought. "Well, we should probably get out of this structure that was just collapsing on us," she suggests.

"Oh, I thought you were going to say we should kiss again," Rapunzel answers, disappointed.

Cassandra laughs. "We'll kiss again after we get out of here," she offers.

"Okay!" Rapunzel answers brightly, and before she can even get up from Cassandra's lap, Cassandra has started to stand, still carrying Rapunzel in her arms. Rapunzel squeaks and tightens her grip around the back of Cassandra's neck as she's carried out of the crumbling fort.

As promised, once they're out of the range of any collapsing walls, Cassandra turns her head to kiss the girl in her arms again. When they separate, Rapunzel inclines her head forward again to rub their noses together affectionately.

Rapunzel is so grateful she followed her impulse. But it was easy, knowing that if Cassandra reacted poorly, she could just erase Cassandra's memory.

<<<<<♢>>>>>

13.

Rapunzel and Cassandra decide against telling the rest of their company about their new relationship. They're still figuring it out themselves, after all, and the last thing they need is incessant teasing from the guys.

So when they return from the outing, they act as they usually would - which still involves a lot of physical closeness, sitting with each other at the front of the caravan and next to each other at meals, due to their already tight bond. It's only when they go to their side of the caravan for the night that they embrace and finally kiss again. And again. And several more times.

Just when Rapunzel's about to climb the ladder to her bunk, Cassandra stutters from behind her, "Y-you can sleep over here."

Rapunzel turns at the speed of light to see Cassandra standing by her bed, gesturing to it. Glancing at Rapunzel, Cassandra hurriedly adds, "If you want."

Rapunzel struggles to keep herself from an extremely excited squee. "Of course," she chokes out, beaming, trying not to launch herself directly at Cassandra to take her down onto the bed.

Cassandra takes the side closest to the wall so that Rapunzel's hair could trail from the edge to the large coil of the rest of it in the middle of their room. As soon as Cassandra settles in, Rapunzel extinguishes their last lantern and leaps onto the bed, pulling the covers over both of them and immediately laying down facing Cassandra.

Cassandra turns to face her as well, and Rapunzel can just barely make out Cassandra's features in the moonlight coming through the caravan windows. On the small bed they barely have space between each other, and Rapunzel's about to ask her if she's comfortable, when Cassandra hesitantly puts her arm around Rapunzel to draw her closer.

Rapunzel immediately presses her entire body up against Cassandra in response, putting her arm around her as well, their faces just centimeters from each other's. Rapunzel can't believe she's actually cuddling with Cassandra. She squeezes Cassandra and notices that despite Cassandra taking initiative, she's tense in Rapunzel's embrace and even her arm around Rapunzel doesn't press against her completely.

Rapunzel studies the face in front of her, barely visible. "Are you okay?" Rapunzel asks quietly, nervous that she upset Cassandra somehow.

Cassandra clears her throat and answers, "Yeah, yeah I'm fine."

Rapunzel's eyes narrow in the darkness, fully aware that Cassandra is lying to her. And I couldn't even use the wand to fix this if I wanted to, Rapunzel thinks to herself. Since I'm sleeping in the same bed as her… I never would have expected this to have a downside…

"It's just-" Cassandra starts nervously, and Rapunzel perks back up immediately. Of course she wouldn't keep things from me now, Rapunzel thinks to herself. We're so close. I shouldn't have doubted her. We won't have problems like before again.

"I-I've never, uh," Cassandra continues to stutter.

"You've never… cuddled with someone?" Rapunzel fills in questioningly.

"...Yeah," Cassandra finally admits. "I don't- I don't really know what I'm doing," she confesses. "N-not just cuddling, all of it. I've never kissed or… been with someone before."

"Well, I've never done any of it before either," Rapunzel answers. "So I don't know what I'm doing too." A thought strikes her, and she smiles. "Maybe we could learn together."

In the darkness, she can just barely see Cassandra smile back and she knows that Cassandra picked up on her reference. "Well, it worked with learning how to be friends…"

"Yeah, we got really good at being friends," Rapunzel says. "Apparently too good."

Cassandra laughs, and Rapunzel can feel her becoming less tense in her arms. Looking at her lips illuminated by moonlight, Rapunzel leans in and kisses her again, and Cassandra's arm that had been so stiff around her finally conforms to Rapunzel's shape and holds her close. When the kiss ends they touch their foreheads together, and they fall asleep in each other's arms with their faces close.

<<<<<♢>>>>>

14.

If Rapunzel thought she was living an idyllic life before, she must be in heaven now. The feelings she has rushing through her at being able to be intimate with Cassandra are comparable to her feelings experiencing the world outside of her tower for the first time. At night they kiss and cuddle to make up for the time spent not kissing and cuddling during the day, and in the mornings Rapunzel wakes up next to Cassandra and gets to kiss her while helping her with her arm. And the rare times Rapunzel wakes first, she's able to study Cassandra's beautiful face up close, wondering what she did to deserve such happiness. During the day, the few times they're out alone away from the caravan, they're able to kiss and laugh together about the secret they keep.

Pascal and Owl are in the know on account of how much time they spend with Rapunzel and Cassandra respectively, often sleeping in the caravan with them. When Rapunzel asks Owl if he's surprised, he shakes his head "no" and Cassandra, embarrassed, insists that he's lying. Rapunzel learns that Cassandra had a crush on her for a while, and that she really was blushing when Rapunzel had kissed her hand.

When Cassandra asks Pascal if he's surprised, he looks uncomfortable for a moment before nodding "yes" and Rapunzel quickly interjects about how she didn't even realize it was a crush that she had until the day she first kissed Cassandra. Cassandra laughs and responds, "Never let it be said you don't address something immediately as soon as you're aware of it," and Rapunzel sheepishly agrees.

Days pass of their bliss until one day, Rapunzel overhears a conversation between Cassandra and Eugene, arguing about whether they had packed something. Rapunzel disregards this tiff while it's happening since it's par for the course with them, but Cassandra acts out of sorts for the rest of the day. When they're in bed together that night, Rapunzel asks about Cassandra's change in mood.

Cassandra frowns in thought as she answers, "I was certain that we hadn't packed up the supplies we got from town, so I asked Eugene to do it. He told me that he and I did it that morning, but I didn't remember anything like that so we started arguing. He finally showed me the storage and things were packed up, exactly as I would have done it. But I couldn't remember it at all."

Rapunzel stifles the immediate concern that enters her mind hearing about Cassandra having trouble with her memory. "Maybe you were distracted thinking about something else," she suggests. Playfully, she leans towards Cassandra, adding, "Something like…"

But Cassandra's mood isn't swayed, and she leans back from Rapunzel slightly. "But the thing is, this isn't the first time this kind of thing has happened. It feels like the last couple weeks, there are little things I keep forgetting. Like, I'm considering starting a notebook just so I can keep my thoughts in order."

Rapunzel frowns. "It's really that bad? I haven't noticed it…"

"Well, maybe you were distracted thinking about something else," Cassandra answers wryly, and Rapunzel laughs.

But Cassandra sighs through her nose, her amused demeanor dissipating immediately. "Raps, I…" she cuts off, looking away from Rapunzel.

"What is it?" Rapunzel asks, her concern rising again.

"I can't think of any reason why this would happen," Cassandra tells her. "I haven't had any head injury, I'm not on drugs or anything, I'm not sick… I- I've been wondering if it's something to do with my hand," she finally admits.

Rapunzel blinks in surprise. "What do you mean?"

"I mean… this has only started after I got hit with the spell, and we don't understand the nature of the magic but my arm isn't healing so what if-" Cassandra's voice falters for a moment. "What if it's still in me, causing pain and messing with my head? What if I'm still... decaying somehow?"

Rapunzel's breath catches in her throat. The thought of Cassandra wasting away slowly in front of her, with Rapunzel unable to do anything, is devastating and deeply upsetting.

Her mind races in the moments after Cassandra's words. Cassandra's initial mention of not remembering things had made her think of the wand. Could this be a side effect of it? Rapunzel has a vague recollection of a warning that it could damage the mind if used for full amnesia. But she hadn't done that - she'd only used it for altering... and placing… and erasing…

But it was only minor things! Rapunzel thinks to herself. Surely that wouldn't cause damage to Cassandra's mind.

Although if the memory problems aren't a result of the wand, Rapunzel has no idea what might have caused it, and that's possibly worse. The thought that Cassandra is right and Rapunzel's decay magic is still harming her somehow is too much to bear.

Okay, so the wand did it, Rapunzel decides. That's okay. I can fix that.

Rapunzel knows that the book mentioned that the potion in the back of the book would undo the effects of the wand entirely - which presumably would fix any memory damage it did, too. But that means that Cassandra would also remember all the ways she was angry with Rapunzel…

There's no need to use the potion, Rapunzel thinks to herself. We'll just find some magic to make her better, like how we're going to find magic to make her hand better. It's not like being forgetful is that bad anyway. I'll help her with it until we can cure her with some other magic.

"I'm sorry," Cassandra interrupts her thoughts. "I'm sorry for dumping this on you."

"No- no Cass, it's okay," Rapunzel insists, not wanting Cassandra to feel badly for sharing anything with her. "I was just thinking, you know, about what it could be… and I don't know, but I do know that we are going to find good magic to heal your hand. And if that doesn't fix your memory problems, we'll find something to heal that too. I don't have the answers, Cass… but we will find the solutions, together." She looks deeply into Cassandra's eyes. "I promise. I will never give up."

Cassandra's eyebrows draw together as she looks back, her gaze flicking between Rapunzel's eyes, and Rapunzel realizes that Cassandra looks scared. She takes Cassandra's injured hand in hers and holds it against her chest as she repeats, "I'll never give up on you, Cass. We're going to fix this."

Cassandra swallows and nods gently. Rapunzel lifts the hand she's holding up to her face and kisses the backs of her knuckles.

"I-" Cassandra's voice falters again for a moment. "I love you, Raps."

Rapunzel's eyes widen. She never heard Cassandra say anything like that before. She feels euphoria comparable to when they first kissed while she responds, "I love you, too, Cass."

<<<<<♢>>>>>

15.

The next morning, after their customary sleepy nuzzling and kissing, followed by readying themselves for the day and treating Cassandra's arm pain, Cassandra leaves their room before Rapunzel as she's going into town with Lance for purchasing fresh food at the market, since they'll be back on the road later that morning.

A couple of minutes have passed before Rapunzel reaches for the door, and she's interrupted by a bright red chameleon jumping onto her hand and yelling at her in wordless chatter.

"Woah, Pascal, what's going on?" Rapunzel asks, surprised at how openly angry and animated he is. Pascal jumps from her hand to climb along the wall towards her desk, grumbling to himself, and once he's gotten there he opens a drawer to pull out a quill. Sticking it in Rapunzel's inkwell, he takes the quill in his small scaly hand and starts scribbling on a piece of Rapunzel's stationary.

"Hey, wait, Pascal, that's expensive!" Rapunzel protests. She had indulged in nice parchment for writing letters back home and now Pascal is ruining one of the pages by drawing on it.

He finally steps away from his art, which depicts an almost skeletal face of a woman with high cheekbones and large eyes, accented with angry eyebrows and pointy teeth, and surrounded by a mane of black curly hair.

Rapunzel looks intently at the drawing. "Is that… Gothel?" She asks.

Pascal points his tail directly at Rapunzel.

"You're calling me Gothel?" Rapunzel gasps, and Pascal nods. "What- why?!"

Pascal points towards Cassandra's side of the room.

"You think I'm being like Gothel with Cass?" Rapunzel asks in disbelief. "What are you talking about!? I'm not anything like Gothel, I'm not keeping Cassandra prisoner, or using her-"

Pascal cuts her off with a series of chatters.

"Manipulating her?" Rapunzel asks, aghast that he would say something like that. "How?!"

Pascal gives her an are-you-kidding-me look. He walks to the edge of the desk, opens the top drawer, and points into it.

"I- I've hardly used that!" Rapunzel protests. "And that's not manipulating her, I'm just keeping her happy!"

Pascal chatters back at her.

"What does it matter if I'm happy too?" Rapunzel asks. "She's happy so I'm happy, because I love her. All those times I used the wand I did it for her, not me."

Pascal continues to reply in his wordless chirps.

"You've got it all wrong," Rapunzel answers, affronted by his take on the situation. "Cass didn't get it before, she didn't understand that things would be better for her if she opened up to me and let me help her. She would have figured it out eventually, I just sped things up."

Pascal doesn't respond for a moment, glaring at her as he looks back and forth between her eyes. Finally, he chirps a question.

Rapunzel sighs frustratedly. "Okay, fine, I used it to get her to stop being mad at me about the Tree too. But I only used it in the first place because she refused to talk to me! And it doesn't matter how her hand got hurt because it wasn't my fault, but she kept being mad at me."

Pascal chatters a criticism.

"You weren't with us, you don't know," Rapunzel tells him. "She didn't give me any other option. And I told you before, I'm doing this for her. I've only ever used the wand to make her happy again. This is better, okay?"

Pascal frowns intensely at her the entire time she's talking. He chatters again at her, unconvinced.

Rapunzel feels a flare of anger at Pascal not understanding her. "You just don't get it!" She cries. "And- and I can't believe you'd compare me to Gothel," she says, her upset from his first criticism catching up with her again. "You really think I would ever be like her? After everything she put me through? Put us through? That's so hurtful, Pascal."

Pascal tries to chirp at her, but Rapunzel interrupts him. "No, I'm done," she says. "I don't want to talk about this anymore. I'm leaving."

She crumples the drawing of Gothel and shoves it into her pocket to burn on the campfire outside and, ignoring Pascal's further protests, walks out the door.

<<<<<♢>>>>>

16.

Rapunzel's sitting on the back stoop of the caravan with her knees drawn up towards her face when Eugene finds her. He offers his usual morning greeting, and when Rapunzel doesn't respond, he steps closer and sees that she's crying.

"Woah, hey sunshine, what's wrong?" He asks, sitting close next to her and looking worried.

Rapunzel rubs the tears from her face aggressively. "It's nothing," she answers, sniffling. "I just… I had a fight with Pascal."

"...How do you have a fight with a fro-" he starts, confused, but he cuts off and asks the more productive question, "What was it about? You two never fight. You're like, the ultimate and oldest best buds."

"Yeah, usually," Rapunzel responds. "You're right, we never fight. Like, the closest were those times he thought I stopped caring about him, and that wasn't even really fighting. But this time he was trying to criticize me about something and he was really mean about it."

Eugene frowns. "What could he possibly be criticizing? You've been doing an amazing job leading the team. Like, this is the smoothest travelling we've had in months."

Rapunze sighs. "No, it wasn't about any of that…'' Her voice lowers. "He was mad at me about using the memory wand on Cass."

"What?" Eugene asks incredulously. "You mean like, way back after the Great Tree? That was ages ago!"

"I know!" Rapunzel cries. She refrains from mentioning that she has used it more recently - Eugene doesn't need to know about that, especially when she had told him and Lance directly that no one would be using the wand any more after the first time. "He thought I was manipulating her and he compared me to Gothel."

"Woah woah woah, no way," Eugene responds. "That's nothing like Gothel. You did it to make things better for everyone, and it worked! That frog needs a reality check."

Rapunzel sniffles again and wipes her cheeks. "That's what I thought, too."

"And I mean, it's not like you can do anything about it at this point," Eugene continues. "Like, there's no way to tell Cassandra the truth without a catastrophic reaction. Seriously, what you did was harmless, and it was a good idea."

"I'm glad that you agree with me," Rapunzel says. "And you're right. There isn't any way to talk to Cass about this, and things are better anyway, so it's the right choice. I just hope that Pascal realizes that too…"

"I'm sure he'll come around," Eugene tells her, putting an arm around her shoulders comfortingly. "He's probably just grumpy from being on the road for so long."

"I hope so," Rapunzel responds. "Thank you, Eugene. I feel a lot better."

<<<<<♢>>>>>

17.

Later that day, Rapunzel still hasn't seen Pascal. She's convinced that he's off sulking somewhere and he'll come back. Since he knows that they're set to leave at nine that morning she doubts that they'll accidentally leave him behind, so she's sure that he's around even if she doesn't see him.

"Okay, I just need to check Max and Fidella's harnesses and we'll be good to go," Cassandra says after she's returned with Lance and restocked their food supply.

"Um, Cass, you already did that," Rapunzel reminds her.

"I did?" She asks, startled.

"Yeah," Rapunzel responds. "You double-checked, too."

Cassandra frowns. "Uh, okay. Then… I guess we're just good to go."

While they're on the road, Rapunzel can tell that Cassandra's out of sorts from her earlier confusion. She shuffles closer to Cassandra at the front of the caravan as Cassandra says, "I should have bought a notebook while we were in town."

Rapunzel knows she's referring to her memory troubles, and Rapunzel slips her arm under Cassandra's to press closer and hold her hand. "You know, you don't have to write things down, I could just remember it for you," Rapunzel tells her. "I already pay really close attention to everything you do, anyway," she adds, stroking Cassandra's hand with her thumb.

Cassandra gives a small amused snort, but she responds, "I don't want to ask that of you, Raps. It's not your job to help me function like a normal person should."

"It's not my job, but I'd still like to," Rapunzel answers. She rests her head on Cassandra's shoulder. "I like helping you."

Cassandra places a kiss on the top of Rapunzel's head and says, "Well, as long as I don't have anything to write in, I suppose I could ask you to remind me of things."

Rapunzel turns her head up to beam at Cassandra, who looks back at her and smiles, their faces close. They're interrupted by the small wooden window-door slamming open near them at the front of the caravan, Eugene poking his torso out and saying, "MAN is it a beautiful day."

Cassandra and Rapunzel jump at the sudden sound and quickly give each other a not-gay amount of distance. While Eugene starts prattling on about the weather, Rapunzel and Cassandra glance at each other and stifle a laugh.

<<<<<♢>>>>>

-1.

That night, Cassandra is woken abruptly by some cold, wet thing smacking into her ear.

"Ugh!" She cries, putting a hand up to her ear. "Rapunzel?" She says, wondering if Rapunzel was playing some kind of joke on her while coming back in from being on watch. But there's no one else in the bed, and she sees a small form climb onto her chest.

"Pascal?" She asks, confused, and a scaly tail is pressed against her lips to silence her. He looks over at the door for a few moments, the two of them frozen, before he slowly lowers his tail and gestures with one of his tiny hands to follow him, jumping off of her.

What the fuck, Cassandra wonders, sitting up. She hadn't seen Pascal all day - Rapunzel said he wasn't feeling well, which was why he wasn't at his usual perch on Rapunzel's shoulder.

She slowly gets out of bed and follows Pascal over to Rapunzel's side of the room. The full moon offers enough light through the windows that she's able to see when he hops up on Rapunzel's desk and, looking at Cassandra, points towards the drawers.

"Pascal, what's this about?" Cassandra asks him, quietly so that she wouldn't get hushed again. Pascal simply points more aggressively at the drawers, and Cassandra insists, "I'm not going to snoop through Rapunzel's things."

Pascal slaps his face with his tiny hand and opens the top drawer himself. He hops in and goes into the back of it, pulling out first a stick that he throws onto the top of the desk, and then a thin blue book. He climbs back onto the desk and points at the items.

Cassandra frowns. She hasn't seen them before, but that doesn't surprise her - Rapunzel is always collecting trinkets and things she thinks are neat, like a crow would. Trying to keep track of Rapunzel's collections would drive anyone crazy. Of course, she considers Rapunzel's bottomless enthusiasm for everything to be very cute of her. It reminds Cassandra to look for ways to appreciate the world around her.

But looking at the book, she sees a design on the front of it that she recognizes as the Saporian insignia. Her curiosity piques, and she picks it up and looks at the first page. In the moonlight she's just barely able to read the words, "Wand of Oblivium."

Realizing that the stick must be the wand that the book is referencing, she flips through the pages. She sees the titles of the four entries about manipulating memories and the potion to restore them. She turns back to the beginning and reads through the introduction.

"Pascal," Cassandra says quietly, concern escalating as she thinks about the trouble she's been having remembering things. "What's this about?"

Pascal doesn't respond. He just sits there, looking at her, sadly.

"D-" Cassandra stops. She's not willing to believe it. "Did Rapunzel use this wand on me?"

Pascal nods, and Cassandra feels a bolt of anxiety. "Th-that's not true," Cassandra responds.

Pascal sighs, and Cassandra starts to put the book and wand back in the drawer. He hops over to try to stop her, and Cassandra says, "This is just some kind of mistake, okay? This… this doesn't mean anything, Rapunzel collects things all the time. She's not using magic on me without me knowing. She'd never do that."

Pascal squeaks at her and Cassandra asks, "You haven't actually seen her doing it, have you?"

Pascal nods at her with a heartbroken expression, and Cassandra feels herself go cold.

"No… I don't… I don't care what you think you saw, Pascal, she wouldn't do that," Cassandra tells him firmly, and she tries to put the wand and book away again. But Pascal gets in her way, chattering.

"Y-you know what, I'll prove it to you," Cassandra tells him, her voice stuttering slightly. "I'm going to take these, okay? A-and Rapunzel won't even notice. This is just some junk that she's forgotten about."

Pascal sighs again and nods, apparently content with this compromise. Cassandra steps back, the book and wand clutched to her chest. She hides them on her side of the room, and she tells herself she's certain nothing will come of it.

But when Rapunzel comes in a half hour later after her watch and slips into bed next to Cassandra, Cassandra pretends to be asleep so she doesn't have to talk to her. Rapunzel kisses her cheek and forehead before snuggling up against her, falling asleep quickly. But Cassandra stays awake, and she stares at the ceiling in the darkness for hours.

<<<<<♢>>>>>

-2.

The next morning, Cassandra feels barely any better. When she turns her head to keep Rapunzel from kissing her lips as they wake up, she knows she has to come up with some excuse for her behavior.

"I, uh, sorry Raps. I'm just not feeling good," Cassandra tells her. "I think I might be getting sick, I've got a headache and a sore throat… I wouldn't want to make you sick, so we probably shouldn't kiss until I feel better…"

"Oh no," Rapunzel responds, disappointed. "I'm sorry you don't feel well, Cass…"

Cassandra is thankful that her sleepless night probably makes her lie more believable, if she looks as shit as she feels.

Rapunzel perks up. "But I can take care of you while you're sick! You should stay in bed, I can make you soup-"

"Thaaat's okay Raps," Cassandra interrupts her, sitting up. "I'm uh, it's not that bad. We've still got work to do while we're on the move, so…"

Rapunzel frowns. "There's not that much to do, Cass. I can cover it for you."

"Really, Raps, I'd feel worse just sitting around," Cassandra protests. "I- I like to feel useful, you know?"

Rapunzel's expression softens at Cassandra's mention of her insecurity. "Okay, I understand. But just know that you can come lay down at any time, alright? And I can get you anything you need."

I need answers, Cassandra thinks, but she's not nearly ready to confront Rapunzel with such an extreme accusation as what Pascal had suggested the night before. Cassandra frowns as she realizes that Pascal's accusation was probably why he hasn't been spending time with Rapunzel. She glances around the room but doesn't see him, and she suspects she won't see him with Rapunzel again today.

"...You sure you're okay?" Rapunzel asks, leaning forward to look at her, and Cassandra is snapped out of her thoughts.

"Yeah," Cassandra answers, looking back over at Rapunzel. Seeing her earnest expression with her big green eyes and the adorable freckles across her face, Cassandra's heart melts a little. A warm smile breaks across her face as she says, "Let's fix your bedhead."

Rapunzel smiles back at her.

<<<<<♢>>>>>

-3.

Cassandra's fondness is limited to the times she's looking at Rapunzel, her heart captured by everything her girlfriend means to her, but when she's alone the fears start creeping back into her mind.

Of course, she's not alone often. Between Rapunzel promising to be her memory and Rapunzel's attentiveness to Cassandra while she's "sick," Rapunzel sticks closely to her side.

But Rapunzel's presence begins to feel suffocating.

"Could- could you leave me alone?" Cassandra asks finally after Rapunzel's been hanging on her arm, talking at her for almost an hour while Cassandra's at the reins.

"H-huh?" Rapunzel asks, drawing back. "Cass, what-"

"I just want a moment to myself, please," Cassandra interrupts without looking at her. Internally, Cassandra winces at how blunt she had been. Rapunzel sounds so hurt.

"I was only staying so close so I could help you," Rapunzel protests.

"Yeah, and I don't need help, so please give me some space for a bit."

Rapunzel studies her face with a distraught expression. "I- why do you feel that way?"

"Do I need a reason?" Cassandra answers, still refusing to look at her. "I just want to be alone. There's nothing deeper to it."

"T-there must be," Rapunzel says. "Cass, if there's something wrong, I want to fix it."

"I'm just tired, Rapunzel," Cassandra grits out. "But if you keep pushing this there will be something wrong."

Rapunzel doesn't respond immediately, and out of the corner of her eye Cassandra can see Rapunzel staring at her in silence, upset. "I just don't understand why-"

"Leave it, Rapunzel!" Cassandra snaps. "For once, please, just leave it."

Rapunzel is still as a statue for a moment at Cassandra's reaction. Then, she doesn't say anything as she slips off of the front seat, catching the door to their room and closing it behind her. Cassandra sets her jaw, keeping her gaze forward, and she stifles her feelings.

Cassandra and Rapunzel don't speak for the rest of the day. When the caravan stops to set up for camp, Rapunzel volunteers to do jobs opposite of Cassandra. Usually they would work as two teams, Cassandra and Rapunzel doing one task while Eugene and Lance do the other, but tonight Rapunzel grabs Eugene's arm to go into the forest for firewood while Cassandra starts grooming the horses and cleaning their hooves.

Which means that Lance is with her for the task. "Hey, uh," he starts uncertainly. "Is there something up between you and the princess?"

"No," Cassandra answers curtly.

Lance gives her a doubtful look, which she barely sees from the corner of her eye. "Uh-huh," he responds. "Sure looks that way."

Cassandra ignores him.

When they've got their campfire set up, Rapunzel volunteers herself to cook dinner, and she pulls out the large pot they use for stews and soups.

"Hold on sunshine," Eugene protests. "We've got fresh ingredients right now, shouldn't we-"

"I'm making soup," Rapunzel cuts him off.

"Right, but wouldn't it make more sense to-"

"I want to make soup!" Rapunzel says rapidly and sharply. Eugene stares at her, startled, and in an instant her anger disappears and she continues more brightly: "And you're going to be my sous-chef!"

Seeing Eugene get his ass handed to him, Cassandra snorts in amusement on principle, and she hides her smile behind her hand. But Rapunzel looks over at the sound, and they catch each other's eye.

Cassandra is aware that Eugene is (somehow, for once) right, and that they usually reserve soups and stews for older ingredients where they can throw it all in a pot and don't have to worry about something past its prime having to take center stage in a dish. With fresh ingredients from being in town recently, it'd make more sense to indulge in a more customary entrée. But Rapunzel wanted to make soup for Cassandra's "cold," and Cassandra is charmed that even when she was so curt with Rapunzel earlier and they're not speaking, Rapunzel is still dedicated to helping her feel better.

Cassandra chooses to sit next to Rapunzel over dinner, and she leans over to speak quietly to her: "I'm sorry about earlier."

Rapunzel responds just as quietly, "No, it's okay, I understand. You wanted space. I was thinking maybe we'd sleep in our own beds tonight, both so you'd have your own space and so I wouldn't accidentally wake you up in the night by moving around when you're trying to recover from your cold…"

Cassandra feels warmth through her realizing that Rapunzel is being so thoughtful and accommodating of her. I can't believe I ever doubted her, Cassandra thinks. She's perfect.

She very badly wants to lean in to kiss Rapunzel's cheek, but she refrains knowing that they're both dedicated to space right now, and that they're near the guys. Besides, she still hadn't given a real apology for her earlier behavior, which she should probably do before acting cuddly again. "Thank you, Raps," she answers softly instead.

Since Rapunzel and Eugene cooked dinner, the clean up falls to Cassandra and Lance. They pile up the dishes and the cooking pot to bring down to the nearby stream to wash them.

"It was nice to see you and Rapunzel getting along again over dinner," Lance says while they start cleaning. "I'll be honest, it was weird seeing you two all frosty with each other."

Cassandra, in her lightened mood, decides to answer. "Yeah, it was just a little thing. We're fine."

"Damn, when was the last time you two even argued?" He wonders. "It must be weeks. The last one I remember is when our food stock got eaten by raccoons."

Cassandra frowns. "What are you talking about? Rapunzel and I didn't argue then."

Lance chuckles. "Not the way I remember it. It was even colder between you two then than it was today. Eugene said you and Rapunzel had fought about something while you were out gathering food together."

Cassandra pauses in her scrubbing and she desperately tries to recall that day. "Are you sure?"

"Yea, I remember it because while you were mad you grabbed your bow to go hunting, which you hadn't done since before the Great Tree. You were out for hours, probably to avoid talking to anyone. And I was really hoping you'd come back with some duck or rabbit because it had been a while since we'd had meat."

Cassandra has no recollection of that, but she feels like she could believe Lance's description. They certainly didn't have meat at that time, and he had been whining about it. If there was anything that could make Lance remember something, it's his stomach.

"I have to go," Cassandra says, standing from the edge of the stream. She walks quickly back towards the caravan, ignoring Lance's protests about leaving him with all the work. While walking she tells herself repeatedly that it's some unlikely coincidence, that this was just a usual instance of her memory being spotty, that this had nothing to do with Rapunzel and that wand. She tries to ignore that her memory lapses had never covered something as long as an hour, much less multiple.

Cassandra doesn't see Rapunzel by the campfire, so she opens the door to their room. "Raps, I-"

Cassandra cuts off as she sees that Rapunzel's side of the room has been torn apart, Rapunzel's possessions strewn about, all her drawers and cabinets open. Rapunzel stands among the chaos, holding up her mattress to look under it.

"Uhhh…" Cassandra starts. "What's going on?"

Rapunzel jumps, and she quickly turns. "Oh! Cass! I didn't- I didn't hear you come in, hi. You- you guys finished cleaning up already? Wow, that was fast. You two are really good at-"

"Are you looking for something?" Cassandra interrupts her.

Rapunzel smiles nervously. "Uhh, yeah," she answers without elaboration. "I'm sorry about the mess. I'll clean it-"

"Are you looking for the wand?" Cassandra asks.

It even surprises her, the question coming out so plainly. She didn't intend for it to. But she so desperately wants answers. She desperately wants Rapunzel to confirm to her that she's innocent.

Cassandra watches closely for Rapunzel's reaction to the blunt question. She sees Rapunzel's eyes widen for barely an instant before Rapunzel laughs and says, "What? I'm looking for… my journal," she responds. "Must've put it somewhere and forgot about it…"

"It's not in your bag?" Cassandra asks, spotting the blue bag hanging on a wall hook. Rapunzel always keeps her journal in it - both of them know that. The bag being closer to Cassandra than Rapunzel, she steps over to it and opens it herself.

The journal is there.

Cassandra wordlessly lifts Rapunzel's journal for her to see.

"Oh, wow, I can't believe I missed that!" Rapunzel responds quickly. "Gosh, it's like those times you're like, 'where's my quill? I can't find my quill' and you're looking all over for it and then you realize the quill is in your hand." Rapunzel laughs again. "Phew, thank you for finding it, Cass."

Cassandra looks back down at the bag, frowning while she puts the journal back.

"Hah, well, I better get started cleaning all this up-" Rapunzel starts.

"What's the deal with the wand?" Cassandra interrupts her.

Rapunzel freezes, looking at her with that same nervous smile. "Wh-what are you talking about?"

Cassandra walks over to her storage chest and pulls the wand and book out from under one of her tunics, straightening and holding them up for Rapunzel to see.

"Huh, you know, I don't recognize that-"

"It was in your drawer," Cassandra cuts her off.

"Y-you were looking through my desk?" Rapunzel asks. "I must have picked the stick up somewhere while we were out because I thought it was pretty and I forgot about it. What's the book?"

"This is a wand," Cassandra tells her. "It's a wand that can erase memories, and the book is instructions on how to use it. I just thought it was odd, for there to be memory magic in our room, when I've been having problems with my memory."

"Oh, you know what," Rapunzel starts, putting her hand to her head as though she'd just recalled something. "I actually do remember picking that up! It was in the apothecary cart in the destroyed village, I thought it would be a neat souvenir. I had forgotten all about it. I don't think it works. You said it only erases memories? That's a shame, if it had other magic maybe we could've used it to help you."

Cassandra watches Rapunzel in silence for a couple moments, and she lowers the wand and book. Rapunzel's behavior was very suspicious, and the coincidences were too many to feel like chance. But Rapunzel had given her just barely believable enough answers for Cassandra not to be sure. There's only one way she could think of to see if Rapunzel's being honest...

"Do you promise me that you're telling the truth?" Cassandra asks her.

"I do," Rapunzel answers immediately. "I promise. I didn't even know I had that."

Rapunzel promised. Promises are so important to her, she wouldn't lie to me, Cassandra thinks to herself. But then again, if she'd been messing with my memory secretly for weeks, who's to say she wouldn't lie about this too? Do I even know Rapunzel anymore? Did I ever know her? Cassandra feels distraught. "I-" Her voice falters. "I want to believe you, Rapunzel, but-"

There's just too much incriminating you, Cassandra thinks. But there is the chance that everything really was a coincidence, and Rapunzel is telling her the truth. Cassandra's heart desperately clings to that slender possibility, especially with Rapunzel's promise.

"I wouldn't lie to you," Rapunzel interrupts Cassandra's thoughts with a distressed expression, stepping towards her. "I love you, Cass, and I wouldn't lie to you."

Cassandra stares into her eyes for a few moments, caught in their beautiful green. "Okay," she answers in a small voice. "Okay. I believe you."

Rapunzel's expression changes to a soft smile, and Cassandra continues: "B-but I'm going to keep this, okay? A-and I do still want some space… we'll sleep apart tonight but…" Cassandra's voice falters again. "I- I love you too, Raps."

Rapunzel nods gently, and Cassandra turns to put the wand and book back in her storage chest.

"I guess I'll get started cleaning this all up," Rapunzel says, looking around her.

"Do you want any help?" Cassandra asks. Is it suspicious if she doesn't want help? Are there any more magic items she's hiding? Cassandra wonders immediately, and she internally scolds herself. Rapunzel wasn't hiding anything. She's innocent. Pascal must have been mistaken.

"Sure, if you want," Rapunzel says. "But it is my mess, so…"

"That's alright," Cassandra answers. "I'm used to cleaning up after crazy princesses make a mess of my room."

Rapunzel smiles at her reference, and Cassandra smiles back at her.

It's so much easier just to go along with what she's saying, Cassandra thinks. And accusing her of using magic on me, I must sound like a paranoid lunatic. How the hell am I going to make this up to her…

Well, she can start with helping Rapunzel clean their room. She gets to work.

<<<<<♢>>>>>

-4.

That night, Cassandra finds herself unable to sleep. Her mind still races after the bizarre 24 hours she'd experienced.

Despite Rapunzel's assurances, there are still pieces of the story missing. Where is Pascal? How did he mistake Rapunzel doing magic on her? Does Rapunzel know Pascal is mad at her and that's why he's avoiding her? What's the deal with that argument she couldn't remember from weeks ago? What really is going on with Cassandra's memory?

Cassandra's fears, too, wouldn't stop creeping up on her. She's sure if she fell asleep she'd be tormented by nightmares of Rapunzel turning into some kind of monster.

She lays in her bed awake for what must be hours, which is why she's able to hear when Rapunzel gets out of her bed.

Cassandra stays motionless. Is Rapunzel having trouble sleeping alone, since she got used to sharing a bed? Is she going to ask to sleep together? Cassandra starts debating what answer she'd give to the question.

But Rapunzel doesn't come over to wake Cassandra. Instead, Cassandra hears the sound of the latches on her storage chest.

No, no this isn't happening, Cassandra thinks to herself in a panic. She's not trying to take it back. She wouldn't. She said she'd never used it. She has no reason to want it back.

Cassandra hears the shuffling of clothes in her chest and she stays frozen. She realizes that if the wand is able to manipulate memories, maybe Rapunzel will use it to make her forget about everything they'd talked about. Maybe Rapunzel will make her forget about the wand entirely.

Cassandra's heart starts pounding. But she had never used it! She insists to herself again. She has no reason to want me not to know about it!

She continues repeating internally to herself that Rapunzel would never use magic on her, Rapunzel had promised that she'd never used magic on her, Rapunzel wouldn't lie to her - until she hears Rapunzel stand and start whispering something.

Fear bolts through Cassandra and she lunges out of her bed towards Rapunzel, who is just barely visible in the full moon's light through their windows. She seizes the wand in Rapunzel's hand as Rapunzel cries out in alarm and slams it into the wall, snapping it in half. Rapunzel yelps as her hand is hurt in the blow, and she immediately clutches it to her chest with half of the broken wand in her hand.

They stare at each other in the darkness, breathing heavily, and Cassandra finally chokes out, "You… you were trying to use it." Her voice breaks as her adrenaline-fueled anger crashes into anguish. "You tried to mess with my memories? Rapunzel, how could you?"

Rapunzel stutters wordlessly. Cassandra can see the distress and fear across her face, and at her lack of explanation, Cassandra feels her anger flare again.

"Out of my way," she grits out, pushing Rapunzel away from her storage chest. She pulls the book out from her clothes, and then grabs her sword and the pack she uses for scouting trips. Rapunzel stays silent and motionless, as though in shock, while Cassandra pulls her boots on and throws open their room's door.

She's walked a short distance from the caravan before Rapunzel snaps out of her haze and Cassandra hears her cry, "Cass, wait!" as she runs after her.

In one motion Cassandra turns, draws her sword, and levels it at Rapunzel. "Don't," she hisses. "Don't you dare come near me."

"Cass, wait, please," Rapunzel begs. "I- I only wanted to make things better between us. You- you know me, I would never do anything to hurt you-"

"I don't know you at all," Cassandra says, her voice hoarse. "Stay the fuck away from me."

"Please, don't-" Rapunzel says as Cassandra backs away. "Don't leave. I- I need you, Cass."

Cassandra stares at Rapunzel's heartbroken expression for a moment, but it hardly phases her. She doesn't even recognize the person in front of her.

Cassandra turns and bolts into the woods. She hears Rapunzel call after her again, but she doesn't stop or slow down. She knows that surely Max and Fidella have been woken, and it's possible Rapunzel will chase after her on horseback.

So Cassandra runs, climbing rocky bluffs and throwing herself across streams, anything to make it more difficult to follow her. She's travelled miles away before she starts to slow, and she realizes she'll need a place to rest.

A couple more miles and she finds a decrepit barn at the edge of an untended field. Good enough, she thinks, completely exhausted. Good enough.

Reluctant to let it be too easy to find her - Max has a nose like a bloodhound, and she's sure he'd be able to track her if Rapunzel asked him - Cassandra climbs onto the loft of the barn despite the structure's instability. Well, if it collapses on me in my sleep and I die, that solves all my problems, Cassandra thinks. She passes out with her head on her pack.

<<<<<♢>>>>>

-5.

When Cassandra wakes, she has no idea where she is. It is also bright.

"What the fuck," she mumbles to herself, raising a hand to shield her eyes. Sitting up, she sees that she's in the run-down barn, with enough holes in the walls and ceiling to let the morning sunlight stream in directly onto her.

"Oh," Cassandra mutters, the memories of the night before hitting her. She falls back onto the floor again. "Oh."

Unfortunate I didn't die in my sleep, Cassandra thinks. She rolls onto her stomach and opens the top of her pack, pulling out the small book she had taken from her storage chest.

She opens it, flipping quickly to the last entry. "Potion of Spell Undoing."

She glares at the list of ingredients. It's fucking long. But at least they're all botanicals native to the region.

Cassandra's thoughts are consumed by the word "fuck," over and over again, as she realizes she'll have to spend the whole day at least putting the potion together. And she'll have to go out looking for the plants. And she has no friends and her girlfriend was a lying snake.

Cassandra starts to feel a tightness in her chest, and she knows she's about to be consumed by despair thinking about Rapunzel, so she directs her thoughts back to her frustration with the potion, and the word "fuck."

She drags herself upright. Those ingredients won't gather themselves. She winces as a sharp pain shoots through her arm, and she realizes that she'd been using hot water on it every day to reduce the morning pains, but she won't be having that today. "Get over yourself," she growls to her arm.

It does take her all day to find the plants required, and she keeps moving away from the direction of the caravan during her search. She has to keep checking her pack, too, to make sure of what she already has before searching for something. This task is not shit memory friendly.

At one point she's sitting against the trunk of a large tree, resting, when she hears a "hoo" from overhead. She doesn't even look up as Owl descends and lands on a large root protruding from the ground next to her.

"Owl," she says hoarsely, still not looking at him. She raises the book in her hand. "Did you know about this?"

His questioning hoot and shuffling closer to look at it makes Cassandra feel marginally better. "It's a book about memory magic," she explains. "Rapunzel's been fucking with my mind for… I don't know. I don't know how long. Maybe since West Rabbit Woods. Maybe before that. I don't fucking know."

Owl lets out an alarmed hoot, his feathers slimming in surprise. "Yeah. She's not… she's not what either of us thought. I'm trying to make a potion to undo all the magic she's used on me." She flips the book to the list of ingredients. "Have you seen any of these? Can you get any for me?"

Owl leans close to peer at the page, and he nods. Before leaving, he flies to Cassandra's shoulder, and he runs his beak through her hair comfortingly.

"Thanks Owl," Cassandra says, still largely dead inside even with her friend's preening. He takes off.

By sunset, she has everything she needs. She uses flint and a tin from her pack to make a campfire and start brewing the ingredients together.

The book says it will take a couple hours to complete, so Cassandra spends the time laying on the ground next to the fire. Throughout the day she had become more and more convinced that none of this was possible. It all happened so quickly and she didn't even give Rapunzel the chance to explain anything. She feels like she's lost her mind and ruined all of her relationships over nothing.

Of course, she has difficulty coming up with ways it could have been a misunderstanding. She knew that she had started experiencing unexplainable memory problems; that she had no recollection of an argument she and Rapunzel had weeks ago; that Rapunzel had a memory wand among her possessions; that Pascal said she had used it on her; that Pascal hasn't been with Rapunzel at all since before he told Cassandra this; that Rapunzel was searching for something in their room after Cassandra took the wand and had an argument with Rapunzel that day; and that after Cassandra put the wand away again, Rapunzel tried to take it back while Cassandra was asleep, and started whispering something while holding it.

Cassandra scowls. All of that is very damning. But what would Rapunzel stand to gain by manipulating her memories? It doesn't make any sense.

"I think I'm going insane," Cassandra says to Owl perched overhead, the dusk sky behind him. "I think I've been hallucinating, or I'm in some vivid fucking nightmare, or my memory problem has turned into something much, much worse. I think I should go back to the caravan and fix everything I just ruined. Or at least give Rapunzel the chance to talk to me."

"Hoo," Owl responds, flitting down to land on her chest. His head spirals around to look at the potion over the fire.

"Okay, I'll drink the potion, and after nothing happens I'll go back," Cassandra responds. She covers her face with her hands and continues to wait.

She pulls the tin off the fire a couple of hours later and waits for it to cool. Staring at it, she thinks to herself that soon she'll have confirmation that Rapunzel hadn't lied to her. She starts to plan how she'll explain her mental breakdown and beg for forgiveness.

Finally, she's able to drink it. She picks it up and scowls into the weird green color, thinking it'll likely taste like one of Rapunzel's teas.

She's entirely wrong. It doesn't taste like grass, but rather some indescribably terrible flavor, and she badly wishes it did just taste like grass. It takes all of her willpower to swallow it rather than spit it out, and her stomach immediately lurches.

Christ I hope I don't have to drink the whole thing, Cassandra thinks to herself, feeling severely nauseated and wiping at her tongue. She badly wants to rinse out her entire mouth and eat something, anything else to get the flavor out, and she doubts she'd even be able to drink more of it without vomiting.

Luckily, she doesn't have to figure out whether to try to drink more or not, as her vision starts to black out. She staggers, suddenly experiencing vertigo, and she feels overwhelming dread thinking she's just poisoned herself.

Her last thought before hitting the ground is sharp regret that she'll die alone, away from and on such horrible terms with Rapunzel, because of some paranoia that had driven her insane.

<<<<♢>>>>

-6.

When Cassandra wakes, she's surprised by two things: 1) that she's alive, and 2) that it's still night. Her campfire is even still burning, which means she couldn't have been out for long at all.

She's also surprisingly lucid. Cassandra pushes herself up from the ground and feels pain in her right arm. Glancing down at it, she feels the associated customary flare of frustration with Rapunzel, knowing that she had been hurt by Rapunzel's magic when Rapunzel refused to trust her in the Great Tree.

Cassandra goes cold. Her hand had been hurt by Rapunzel. She remembers Hector, possessed, grabbing their friends and keeping her constrained. She remembers the spear, just barely out of her reach. She remembers shouting at Rapunzel, begging her to trust her and help her out of the vines so she could take the spear and stop Zhan Tiri's magic. She remembers Rapunzel looking back at her and choosing instead to use that awful spell, the one she knew she couldn't control. She remembers the Tree falling to pieces around them, and Rapunzel frozen, unable to move. She remembers grabbing Rapunzel to save her, to get her out of danger, and how her arm immediately burned up and withered in the horrible magic.

She can recall the other version - the one where their friends hadn't been grabbed. Where she fought back at the vines, but they wrapped around her hand and burned her. Where she took the spear and sent it through the Tree's heart. Where she was lauded by a hero by her friends for saving them.

As the moments pass, that version starts to fall to shreds in her mind, like a nonsensical dream assessed by an awake mind.

It all starts to fall to shreds. Adira had been with them in the Great Tree from the start, and Rapunzel chose to trust her over Cassandra, despite Adira's myriad of untrustworthy behaviors and withholding of information. Rapunzel told her to just be okay with Rapunzel's decisions, no matter how foolish they were, since Rapunzel is the future queen. Rapunzel kept harassing her to talk about her hand and the events of the Tree, even when Rapunzel made it readily apparent that she thought she'd done nothing wrong, so the conversation would just be forcing Cassandra to say that everything's okay.

Cassandra goes pale and starts to sweat, the whirlwind in her mind causing an onset of shock.

The dominos continue to fall. She had fought with Rapunzel the night they were alone in West Rabbit Woods. She had been manipulated that night, led to be friendly with Rapunzel the next day.

She had never spoken to Rapunzel about her feelings on her hand being hurt in the Tree. She had never left Rapunzel help her with the pain. The memories were false, and she decided to open up to Rapunzel based on those lies. Rapunzel used magic on her memories to control her into being vulnerable with her.

Cassandra turned to Rapunzel for comfort when Rapunzel was the one responsible for her suffering. She told Rapunzel her insecurities, and even let her look at and touch her injured hand. Rapunzel kissed the hand she cursed. Cassandra clutches it against her body.

She thought Rapunzel was perfect. She thought that they hadn't fought for months and that they were the ideal team together. She thought they always had fun together, worked together, and supported each other.

And because she thought Rapunzel and their friendship was perfect, she kissed her back. She confessed her feelings and they became a couple. Rapunzel had kissed her and cuddled her and comforted her when all along she was responsible for Cassandra's pain and fears, and she did whatever she pleased with Cassandra's mind.

The realizations - combined with the disgusting taste in her mouth - cause Cassandra to feel an overwhelming wave of nausea, and she vomits.

Coughing and shaking, she sits back up again. She remembers how frustrated and hurt she had felt with Rapunzel after the Great Tree, how she didn't even want to be in the same room, harshly contrasted against the way she became intimate with Rapunzel under Rapunzel's manipulations.

She told Rapunzel "I love you." Rapunzel had kissed her lips and her hand and held her and nuzzled her and pressed their bodies together in her bed to fall asleep intertwined. Rapunzel knew that Cassandra would never do any of that in reality, so she created a false reality where Cassandra would. Cassandra wants to throw herself into a river or set herself on fire to get rid of the feeling of Rapunzel's touch lingering on her skin. She feels deeply violated, both mentally and physically, and she's filled with an intense despair at how helpless she had been through it all. Her vision blurs as tears rise to her eyes. She had been completely at Rapunzel's mercy, and if it weren't for Pascal she still would be.

Cassandra feels another wave of nausea as her heart shatters in her chest. She had loved Rapunzel. And none of it was real. She made a fucking fool out of me, Cassandra thinks, crumpling.

It doesn't even stop there. Rapunzel pretended she didn't know anything about Cassandra's memory problems when Cassandra was terrified. Rapunzel used the damage to her mind as an excuse to make Cassandra rely on her more.

Rapunzel lied again and again to cover her actions, and not even well. She must think I'm a fucking idiot, Cassandra thinks. How the fuck could I not have seen through this?

Cassandra hugs her chest as she feels the despair make her feel hollow, her heart torn out. She loses her sense of time, sitting on the ground in her shocked state, everything still tearing through her mind. Owl returns to her at some point, hooting at her and running his beak through her hair while she stays there, crying and seeing nothing.

The sky has begun to lighten with the onset of dawn when Cassandra finally pulls herself together enough to move, getting water from her pack. She's still slightly shaking when she hears a voice.

"I'm sorry that happened to you, Cassandra."

Cassandra jumps, and she immediately draws her sword, looking around. She couldn't tell where it had come from.

"There is a way to get back at her, you know."

"Who the fuck are you?" Cassandra demands, her voice hoarse from how long she had been crying.

"A friend," the voice answers, and Cassandra sees something in the corner of her eye. She whirls around to point her sword at the apparition of a blue ghost child stepping out from the undergrowth. "At least, I'd like to be."

 

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

End Notes

(Which were, unsurprisingly, too long for the actual "End Notes" section offered by Ao3.)

I don't think the story would continue down the same road the series did. From a meta standpoint, it would be cruel to let an abuse victim escape her abusive situation of being used and manipulated and then put her right into another one. But regardless of how the story goes, I can't imagine a scenario where Cassandra and Rapunzel would be any closer than casual friends after this. This is just too awful to ever forgive her fully, and Cassandra wouldn't let herself become vulnerable around Rapunzel again.

In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow's redemption hinges on how her descent was driven largely by an addiction to dark magic that made her increasingly selfish and callous. After Tara learns that Willow has been manipulating her mind, she insists that Willow stop using magic. (She probably would have left Willow at this point, except 1. they had been together for years, 2. they were acting as Dawn's parents together, 3. Willow had just become extremely depressed learning that she had torn her best friend out of heaven and Buffy considered being alive again to be like hell.) Willow says she will stop using magic, and then uses the spell again to erase Tara's memory of her discovery and their conversation. It goes awry during Tabula Rasa, Tara learns what Willow tried to do, and Tara leaves her.

I transcribed their conversation early in Tabula Rasa - the first time Tara confronts Willow - for my own reference, so if anyone wants to read:

T: Do you think I'm stupid? I know you used that spell on me.
W: Tara, I'm sorry, I-
T: Don't. Just… Don't. There's nothing you can say.
W: Tara, I didn't mean to-
T: To what? Violate my mind like that? ...How could you, Willow? How could you after what Glory did to me?
W: Violate you? I- I didn't mean anything like that. I- I just wanted us not to fight anymore. I love you.
T: If you don't want to fight, you don't fight. You don't use magic to make a fight disappear.
W: But, I- I just wanted to make things better- better for us.
T: But you don't get to decide what is better for us, Wil. We're in a relationship, we are supposed to decide together.
W: Okay. I realize that I- I did it wrong.
T: You did it the way you're doing everything. When things get rough, you- you don't even consider the options. You just do a spell. It's not good for you, Willow. And it's not what magic is for.
W: But I- I just wanna help people.
T: Maybe that's how it started. But you're helping yourself now, fixing things to your liking. ...Including me.
W: Tara, no.
T: ...I don't think this is gonna work.
W: H-hey, it is, it's working.
T:
W: Tara, please. I- I need you, baby. I need you. I- I don't need magic, I don't. Let me prove it to you, okay? I- I will go a month without doing any magic. I won't do a single spell, I swear.
T: ...Go a week. One week, without magic.
W: Fine, fine, that's easy.
T: Go a week, and then we'll see. ...I- I don't know, I just… I think we both need some, I don't know, space? I can't believe I'm saying this.
W: Are you saying you're gonna leave me?

(Yes, she is)

Tara only comes back after Willow truly quits magic, and has been clean for months. Willow shows that she's really changed.

That isn't really possible for Rapunzel in this scenario. She didn't have an addiction. Like most abusers, she's driven entirely by a desire for control - even if she's unaware of that fact. She continually justifies her actions to herself and convinces herself that she's right. I'll roadmap her behavior here...

1 & 2.
The story starts with Rapunzel having the same problem that she did in canon: she blames Cassandra for what happened. She says at the start of Rapunzel: Day One that "[Cassandra] didn't want me to use the decay spell, and I did, and she hurt her hand."

This is both victim blaming and turning the situation around. It's not, "my spell hurt her hand": Rapunzel says "she hurt her hand", implying Rapunzel was just a passive party and the fault lies entirely on Cassandra. And Cassandra is the one literally hurt in this scenario, but Rapunzel acts like she (Rapunzel) is the one wronged, a victim of Cassandra's unjustified anger.

(Rapunzel: Day One ends with a kind of weird apology scene where we never see Rapunzel take accountability or apologize to Cassandra. We only see the tail end of Cassandra explaining why she's mad, and then an apology of sorts from Cassandra about "I never should have touched that wand". And then an assurance about how she'll get over her anger towards Rapunzel.

When Cassandra accidentally uses magic to hurt Rapunzel, she 1. immediately recognizes her fault, 2. immediately works to fix it, and 3. takes accountability after. And this was for an accident that had much less direct cause by Cassandra - she says she never should have touched the wand, but it literally fell onto her, and it wasn't a decision on her part. Meanwhile, Rapunzel hurts Cassandra through an accident much more directly driven by her decisions, and we don't get any of that list.)

Also during Rapunzel: Day One, we see Rapunzel try again and again to get Cassandra to talk to her, even when Cassandra constantly refuses to say that she's upset. Sure, "friends have a way of knowing" and it's obvious Cassandra is upset, but Rapunzel's need to fix their relationship on her (Rapunzel's) terms at her (Rapunzel's) pace is selfish, especially when she's not the victim. She gives Cassandra no space.

Back to the Tabula Rasa story...

We keep seeing Rapunzel's mentality that night. She thinks that the problem is that "Cassandra's angry at me and won't talk" and not, yknow, "my decisions resulted in accidentally mutilating my friend's hand."

Rapunzel's actions are driven entirely by this mentality: Rapunzel did nothing wrong, Cassandra just needs to get over it and forgive Rapunzel, Cassandra isn't doing that fast enough so the solution is to change her memories so her behavior changes immediately.

I like to think that Rapunzel refuses to confront the reality of what she did because if she admitted to herself what she did to Cassandra, the guilt would destroy her. Rapunzel's already under enough stress from the journey and her looming destiny, so her mind resists taking that accountability as a defense mechanism. (This is an explanation but not an excuse.)

In the story, Rapunzel mediates that repressed guilt by thinking that she can help Cassandra with her hand, which is another reason Cassandra needs to get over her anger: so she'll let Rapunzel help her. Never mind that Cassandra wouldn't want Rapunzel's help in normal circumstances due to her nature (which Rapunzel knows from when Cassandra broke her leg), and that she would never want Rapunzel's help with this particular injury due to the circumstances - Cassandra's desires simply don't matter to Rapunzel. All that matters to Rapunzel is her own. (This stems from a lack of capacity to consider other perspectives and an overdeveloped sense of self-importance rather than active malice against Cassandra.)

Rapunzel sees how immediately and effectively the problem is "fixed" by using the wand. She feels extremely justified in her actions, and legitimately thinks that she's done the right thing. She sees that Cassandra is happier, that their relationship is better than ever, and that their journey can continue with the caravan and her friendship fixed.

3 & 4.
The guys don't really do anything to challenge Rapunzel's thoughts. They (well, Lance) think it's kind of messed up to start, but after Rapunzel talks for a while they agree with her. This is somewhat driven by how the guys already have a bias towards the sweetheart sunshine princess over the abrasive moody warrior woman. Rapunzel repeats several times that she didn't think that the wand would work (implying it wasn't really her fault that it did work, since she had no reason to think that it would), but if she truly, fully thought it wouldn't do anything, she never would have bothered to try it. She used it not in spite of thinking it wouldn't work, but because a small part of her hoped that it would work.

5 & 6.
Rapunzel's so delighted by how well things are going that as soon as Cassandra's mood dips, Rapunzel feels like she has to do something. She "fixed" things before, after all, and she's sure that she can help Cassandra. She wants emotional closeness and doesn't like being pushed away, so she views it - Cassandra having boundaries - as a problem. It is 100% on her, this desire for closeness and lack of respect for Cassandra's emotional space, but she doesn't see it that way. To her, it's a simple truth that things would be better for Cassandra to open up to her. So she views Cassandra's reluctance as a problem similar to the first one: Cassandra is preventing things from improving, so Rapunzel needs to change that.

A big part of this is how Rapunzel grew up alone so she has limited capacity to recognize other people's needs and agency. In "Big Brothers of Corona" we see Rapunzel try again and again to help Cassandra, even after Cassandra's repeated refusal and explicit statements of what she (Cassandra) wants from Rapunzel. It ends with Rapunzel learning a lesson about only offering help when it's asked for. But I think that this lesson gets eroded from her mind through season 2 as she gets closer to Cassandra emotionally, and they don't have any physical space from each other, so Rapunzel's unable to step away to help her remember that Cassandra needs emotional space.

So Rapunzel places a false memory to lead Cassandra to open up to her in reality. Pascal sees part of what she's doing, but he doesn't understand what's going on yet.

After Cassandra opens up to her, Rapunzel thinks that she's "fixed" Cassandra's problem by comforting her and saying they'll search for a cure together. Obviously this is not remotely fixing Cassandra's problem. Her hand is still mutilated and she still feels worthless being unable to do many things. But it fixes Rapunzel's problem, that Cassandra had been drawing away from her. Now Cassandra is opening up to her, Rapunzel is feeling useful, and they're on good terms again - so to Rapunzel, everything is fixed. She doesn't have to worry about Cassandra's actual problems - as long as Cassandra is being friendly with her, they don't matter. (Well, they matter as far as Cassandra having problems serves as a way for Rapunzel to feel useful/needed and closer with Cassandra by comforting her.)

7 & 8.
The same situation occurs with Cassandra's hand pain. She's hurt and out of sorts, she doesn't want Rapunzel to help her, Rapunzel considers Cassandra's reluctance to be an obstacle preventing things from getting better for both of them so it's a problem Rapunzel needs to fix. Rapunzel even directly blames Cassandra for her feelings, thinking "now both of us will be sad and it's her fault" for not accepting Rapunzel's help.

Then Rapunzel convinces herself that Cassandra secretly wants her help, further justifying her decision to use the wand again. She thinks that she'll make a scenario where Cassandra "can feel comfortable letting me help again" with regards to her hand, but Rapunzel never had helped her in the first place. Rapunzel is already convincing herself of the new reality she's creating.

Pascal sees Rapunzel pull out the wand and gets upset with her, but she uses it anyway. She tells Pascal "Cassandra doesn't realize she wants me to help her." Rapunzel guilts Pascal about not trusting her in order to make him stop criticizing her.

In case anyone couldn't already tell that Rapunzel's being exceedingly selfish without actually caring about Cassandra's needs/desires, Rapunzel is more excited than sad about Cassandra being in pain, because it means that Rapunzel can feel needed and be more intimate with Cassandra.

9 & 10.
Rapunzel and Cassandra get a lot closer after Rapunzel manipulates her into opening up both emotionally and physically. But then they have an argument, and Rapunzel is depressed that Cassandra pulls away from her again.

Having used the wand three times now for selfish reasons that she has convinced herself aren't selfish, she has no problem using it again. She fully believes that Cassandra not being mad at her is necessary for both her and Cassandra's happiness, and she doesn't see any reason to entertain thoughts on why Cassandra might be mad at her or have boundaries in general. They simply don't matter to Rapunzel. She doesn't see any purpose for enduring the difficult and confusing task of conflict resolution with a person dramatically different from her when she could just make the conflict disappear.

What she doesn't realize is that the conflict doesn't disappear - neither of them have made any compromises or experienced any growth, so the same conflict is bound to occur later. She also doesn't realize that, obviously, Cassandra is her own person who deserves not to have her life and mind manipulated. Rapunzel waits until Pascal is asleep as well before using the wand, because she knows that he would judge and try to stop her.

When Rapunzel wakes up to Cassandra's changed behavior being friendly again with Rapunzel, she thinks "that's better." She insists she wants to make things better for both of them, but really it's for herself.

Pascal confronts her, and Rapunzel talks again about how Cassandra was the one responsible for the argument and making them both miserable, assigning the blame entirely to her again. It was the same "problem" as the first one: Rapunzel did nothing wrong, Cassandra just needed to get over it and forgive Rapunzel, Cassandra wasn't doing that fast enough so the solution was to change her memories so her behavior changed immediately.

Rapunzel claims that it was necessary for her to use the wand and that she didn't like using it but "it's the right thing to do." Obviously it is not remotely the right thing to do, and she is lying - she loves being able to control Cassandra into acting the way she wants, especially when she can convince herself out of feeling guilty for doing it.

11 & 12.
Using the wand to erase their argument so Cassandra is nice to her again is solidly in "entirely selfish and manipulative" territory, but when Rapunzel kisses Cassandra knowing that she can get away with it because if Cassandra reacts badly she can just erase the memory, that leaps into "completely morally abhorrent" territory.

It's not even a conscious thought at this point. She simply feels no empathy around Cassandra anymore. She doesn't have to consider what Cassandra would want, because she's created a situation where she (Rapunzel) can do whatever she pleases.

13 & 14.
They get into a relationship with Cassandra being under the impression that they've had months of perfect friendship. She thinks that it was her decision to open up to Rapunzel emotionally and physically. Obviously, this never would have happened without Rapunzel's manipulations.

Cassandra gets even more vulnerable with Rapunzel when they start sleeping in the same bed. When she starts having problems with her short-term memory, Rapunzel is the first and only person she turns to. Rather than actually solving that problem - creating the potion to restore Cassandra's mind - Rapunzel lies to her, saying that she doesn't know what it is but they'll do everything they can to find an answer and magic that could cure her.

Rapunzel thinks to herself, "It's not like being forgetful is that bad anyway." Rapunzel ignores how Cassandra's scared of her problem and has been struggling with it, and she justifies her refusal to fix it with "it's not that bad" when it obviously is bad to Cassandra. Cassandra thinks that she is literally dying. Further, Rapunzel thinks, "I'll help her with it until we can cure her with some other magic" - she uses the problem as an excuse to make Cassandra rely on her more, and she convinces Cassandra the next day to trust Rapunzel to remember things for her.

Certainly part of it is that Rapunzel's dug herself into a hole so deep that from her perspective, she can't do anything but dig deeper - she knows if the wands effects were undone, Cassandra would be catastrophically angry at her, much more so than if she had come clean immediately - but she's also just delighted for Cassandra to need her more. Rapunzel thinks she feels this way because she loves Cassandra and loves helping her, but really Rapunzel loves the control she has. Rapunzel hasn't experienced a lot of control in her life - imprisoned for most of it, then thrown into princess duties, then thrown into a journey to save her kingdom - so she finds this ability and situation addicting. And as a princess she could have any material item she could want, and she could even have Cassandra's constant companionship as a lady-in-waiting, but she could never simply obtain emotional closeness. It was always a struggle of understanding other people and navigating interpersonal relationships - very hard for a girl who'd been locked up for eighteen years. But now she has a way to Cassandra's heart entirely on her (Rapunzel's) terms. She no longer needs to deal with things like conflict resolution, as she has the power to make conflicts "disappear." She has exclusive control over their relationship.

This is all terrible. This is why she falls so quickly into her descent and all of it is terrible and abusive.

So Pascal sees how Rapunzel will not stop, will not get better, not even when Cassandra is in danger, and he fucking snaps.

15 & 16 & 17.
The majority of the story is from Rapunzel's point of view to see her descent. But as she gets more terrible, Pascal is used as another perspective, and he tries to get through to her. Like how Owl judged Cassandra in Rapunzel: Day One for Cassandra's lies, Pascal tries to stop Rapunzel and then confronts her.

Their "argument" (sometimes Tangled characters can just understand what an animal means to communicate without any explanation of how, so I just let Pascal squeak at her - which is convenient, since it doesn't actually matter what Pascal says, the only important thing is seeing Rapunzel's reaction) follows a pattern often used by abusers:

1. Rapunzel insists the things she does are for Cassandra,
2. She insists that Cassandra doesn't know well enough to make her own choices so Rapunzel should do it for her (aka "Rapunzel knows best"),
3. She blames Cassandra for her (Rapunzel's) actions, saying she had no other choice,
4. She derails the conversation by bringing up her own abuse, insisting that she'd never be abusive because she'd suffered from abuse before, and
5. She plays the victim, saying that Pascal was being hurtful for no reason and so now she's mad at him.

After this argument, Rapunzel immediately seeks external validation. She knows she's right, but someone just tried to criticize her, so she needs another person to tell her she's right. So she tells an edited version of the argument to Eugene. She doesn't mention her continued manipulation of Cassandra's memories, knowing it would sound bad (because it is bad). So she removes that from the conversation, changes the narrative, so he'll tell her that she's right.

Later that day, Rapunzel has not seen Pascal at all, and Rapunzel convinces Cassandra to let her act as Cassandra's memory. Rapunzel is delighted for Cassandra to need her more.

-1 & -2.
The POV changes to Cassandra, who's bullied by a frog into learning her girlfriend is a lying snake. Cassandra resists believing that Rapunzel would do something like that to her because she's in love with Rapunzel and she trusts her. But Cassandra is torn, knowing Pascal wouldn't lie, so she takes the wand and book.

She can't shake the fear that Rapunzel's actually done what Pascal says, so she acts distant and uncomfortable. She lies to Rapunzel about being sick, similar to how Rapunzel lied to her about Pascal being sick to explain his absence.

-3 & -4.
Cassandra asks somewhat rudely for Rapunzel to leave her alone. Rapunzel reacts poorly to Cassandra wanting space, which is a natural reaction to her as she's already decided that Cassandra has no right to it. Cassandra isn't allowed to do anything Rapunzel doesn't want and Rapunzel feels completely entitled to her. (This still isn't conscious on her part, but it is very much present.) Rapunzel protests many times until Cassandra snaps "leave it," which is what she said to Rapunzel before they became friends when Rapunzel had been angering her during the Contest of the Crowns.

As the day goes on and they're still not on good terms, Rapunzel decides to use the wand that night to make the argument disappear, so she tells Cassandra that she thinks they should sleep separately. Cassandra thinks this is sweet. It is not sweet.

Lance reveals the argument that Rapunzel had erased from Cassandra's mind, and Cassandra leaves immediately to confront Rapunzel. She finds Rapunzel in the caravan searching desperately for something, which is not quite damning. It's suspicious as hell, obviously, but Rapunzel comes up with something barely believable enough that Cassandra's not completely convinced of her crimes. Knowing how much Rapunzel values promises, she asks Rapunzel to promise that she's telling the truth.

Rapunzel promises, immediately. She breaks one of her deepest values to cover her lies and doesn't even hesitate. She even lies further after that. It's a signal that Rapunzel's fully lost. She's willing to sacrifice anything to maintain her control.

Cassandra can't sleep from stress, so she's awake when Rapunzel tries to take the wand back and use it. Devastated that her deepest fears were confirmed and knowing she can't trust the one person she thought she could trust, Cassandra flees.

Rapunzel begs her to stay, and she tries to insist that she was trying to make things better and would never hurt Cassandra. Cassandra does not (nor should she) believe her.

That's the last we see of Rapunzel, so it's the end of the roadmap for her behavior. She had hit rock bottom. I can think of several different directions she could go after Cassandra leaves. It's possible that Cassandra fleeing acts as a wake-up call to Rapunzel about how terrible she had been - but that doesn't seem realistic. (In Willow's case, Tara leaving her did not change her behavior. She became convinced that Tara would realize that she was wrong, and come back.) It's more likely that Rapunzel would feel narcissistic anger about the situation and retain that she's in the right, being wronged yet again by Cassandra, who is trying to make them both miserable. She likely wouldn't get the wake-up call until, at the earliest, Cassandra steals the Moonstone and confronts Rapunzel, at which time Rapunzel sees how badly she had hurt Cassandra. (That is, assuming that Cassandra ends up seeking the Moonstone as revenge against Rapunzel, rather than just straight up fleeing even farther away to start a new life somewhere and never speaking to any of them ever again.)

Regarding whether Rapunzel loves Cassandra: I think she does on some level, but not remotely as much as she loves control and feeling needed. Rapunzel would need to undergo a fuckton of personal growth before she could have a healthy relationship with anyone.

I mentioned in the beginning notes that this story takes all of Rapunzel's existing and potential flaws and maximizes them. Here's a list of those flaws:

  • Rapunzel desperately needs people to like her,
  • Relatedly, Rapunzel cannot handle any sort of unresolved conflict or tension - particularly involving her - so she needs to address it immediately, which means that the resolution is always done on her terms in her time,
  • Rapunzel is convinced that her way of doing things is always the best way,
  • Rapunzel seeks control in her life wherever she can find it because she has never really had it,
  • Rapunzel is extremely prone to denial,
  • Rapunzel's desire to help people is connected to a desire to feel needed, and she's willing to exploit circumstances to be needed, and
  • Rapunzel has trouble empathizing with other people so she struggles to understand other perspectives, experiences, desires, and boundaries.

Of course, it would be shorter to write "Rapunzel is a denial-prone selfish narcissist with no concept of boundaries." The apple doesn't fall far from the woman who stole it from the tree.

Someone might ask "why would you write an abuse fic between two characters you ship" which is a valid question.

  1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and specifically Willow and Tara) was the last thing I was obsessed with for years, so the fact that magic-induced memory loss exists in the Tangledverse and the fact that I see similarities with Willow/Rapunzel and Tara/Cassandra had given me the basic premise for this story, which my mind wouldn't let go of because it existed in the intersection of my two obsessions. But as noted earlier, while Willow gets a redemption, as I was developing this fic I couldn't come up with a realistic way to make Rapunzel or the situation better, so I instead took it to what felt like the natural conclusion - which is the deeply upsetting end that this fic has. (I actually came up with roughly a dozen possible directions to take the fic as I approached the end, and this end was the least upsetting of the options, somehow.)
  2. While I love Rapunzel and Cassandra together as a couple, I read them to have feelings for each other in canon, and in every other scenario I come up with ways to bring them into a healthy and loving relationship; I also love their characters individually, and this fic is mainly an exploration on Rapunzel's character and specifically how terrible she could be if all of her flaws were taken to extreme. (We already saw this - to an extent - for Cassandra in canon, but the Mouse wouldn't let the princess be called out for things or openly depicted as flawed, so we didn't get to see Rapunzel's worst case in canon.)
  3. I'm interested in how abuse cycles can perpetuate through generations, and with Rapunzel's extremely limited experiences with other people, it seems natural that she would fall back on behaviors learned from the only person she spent 18 years with, without being conscious of it. (These tendencies can be unlearned, but she would have to want to improve - and as long as she's in denial and can continue to justify herself, that won't happen.)

I didn't make this fic into a multiple-chapter work despite its length because I wanted all of it to exist together, including the full notes at the end, on one page.

I recommend the book "Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men" by Lundy Bancroft for reading about the nature of abuse in romantic relationships. (The title is from the question that abused women most frequently asked him about their abusive partners, in order to draw the attention of any abused woman who might see his book in a store or library.) The book largely uses examples of abusive men and heterosexual relationships because that's where most of his experience lies, but he notes that his analysis applies to abuse from other genders and in other relationships as well (which I'm inclined to agree with). It's a really worthwhile read.