33: College Daze
Eugene Fitzhubert couldn't help but be amused, pleased, and just plain happy to watch Rapunzel meander through Queen's College campus. The pale cream blouse and purple jeans suit her, as did the white treecat riding on her shoulder. Only the massive presence of Armsman Citron a few steps back betrayed her noble origins. The summer weather was as brutally hot as those days he'd spent on Corona, so she was probably loving every minute of it. But she loved the campus even more. "Oh, Eugene, isn't it all wonderful?"
"Of course it is." There was something about walking around the dear old campus with a beautiful woman and a treecat to re-open his eyes and make him remember his own experiences here as an undergraduate. He'd been deeply jealous of those with any sort of privilege: the sons and daughters of nobility, the lucky few with treecats, the ones whose parents hadn't had to think twice about writing a check for the whole thing. Eugene had come through the ranks the hard way, riding a wave of lucky scholarships, lottery draws and student loans to make his way into Queen's College, post-graduate work on Earth, and ultimately back into the Queen's service on Manticore. "But it's also going to be a lot of hard work, you know."
"Oh, I know," Rapunzel said. "I've never been afraid of hard work. I saw my class list, and the amount of catching up I have to do. But I'm not worried. There's so much to learn, and I'm so ready!"
"I believe you," he said. She looked up at him, and he laughed. "You're unstoppable when you want to be, Princess."
"Mmm," she said, acknowledging the compliment. She reached up and scratched at Olaf's chin. "I don't know how Elsa stands to have you on her shoulder all day long, Olaf. You're pretty heavy."
Olaf chittered at her, then leaped off to the ground. He signed, "Better?"
"I didn't say you had to leave, Olaf!"
"You deserve comfortable."
"I guess so," Rapunzel said. "But we're here for you too, Olaf. Where did you want to go?"
He gestured, then bounded off in a direction that led down a gentle slope between two brick-red buildings. Eugene smiled. "You're getting pretty good at reading the signs, Rapunzel."
"Oh, you know. Practice makes perfect. Let's go." They followed him toward a low building with a curved, glassed-in section that reminded him of a greenhouse.
As they walked, Eugene said, "Given any thought to taking classes in something else? What about your minor? Or your electives?"
"Well," Rapunzel said musingly, "Political science is considered a humanity, so technically my minor should be a humanity and my electives should be science. I was thinking about an art minor and programming as my elective."
"Programming? Like, computers?"
"Yes! Math was always my hardest subject, and I wanted to do something near it that would help me learn. I was studying computer art before we uncovered Gothel's treachery, and I'd like to get back into it." They ascended the red brick steps of the odd building. "Why, don't think I can hack it?"
"What? No, I'm pretty sure you could hack anything you put your mind to, Princess. That just seems like a pretty far-out subject for someone who's going to be a queen someday." He took a deep breath. "You're always bursting with energy, Rapunzel. I worry that someday you're going to be queen and it's going to start crushing you the way it seems to get to Elsa."
"It's not crushing my parents," Rapunzel said.
"Maybe not. Their kingdom is smaller than Elsa's. I have to wonder what will happen when it's much, much bigger. When you have to think about the economy of an entire star system, or even an interstellar empire." He gestured widely, encompassing the sky even as they entered the building. He reached out and touched her cheek. "You're so vibrant, Rapunzel, so beautiful and energetic. What will happen..."
She smiled at him, but they could both see the reserve behind it. "We'll find out when the time comes, won't we?" She grabbed his hand, kissed it. Her large eyes looked at him over his own knuckles.
"I guess we will. After you?" He gestured toward the door. She giggled. They both ignored the bodyguard behind them.
Inside, the building smelled of paper and old books, but also of dander and fur and the evident residence of dozens of tree cats. "Hello?" Rapunzel called.
"Hi." A man rushed out from an open door. Citron was giving the place nervous glances and Eugene realized there were no doors on any of the doorways. "Hi. Doctor Spiner." He had the oddest little laugh, more of a cough than anything else.
"Um, Hi! Rapunzel. Princess Rapunzel of Corona."
"Oh! Yes, we don't get many royals down this way. People want to visit the treecats all the time, hoping they'll be one of the lucky ones, but that cats have been very clear about their wish for privacy recently. Heh."
"Privacy?" Rapunzel's eyebrows narrowed. "We were following Olaf."
"Oh, you must mean the treecat who just wandered in. Well, I guess he came to visit my charges. Are you and he...?"
"No, no. He's, um, he's my cousins'. She's... she's not here today, and since I'm here on campus, Olaf decided to go with me."
"Fascinating." Doctor Spiner was only as tall as Rapunzel, aged and stooped with a fan of hair that seemed glued to his head. He looked rumpled and sun-worn.
Olaf appeared at the door, beckoning to Rapunzel and Eugene. "Well, I think he wants you to join them. Interesting. They've been refusing guests ever since one of them got sick."
"Sick? Is it dangerous?" Eugene said.
"Oh, no, no, not at all. There's one, he's a bit of a runt. Caught a virus of some kind that weakened his immune system, and while he was fighting that off he caught a fungal infection in his fur. It's harmless, but... well... you'll see." He led them into a sun-lit room filled with shrubs. It was larger than it looked from the outside, and there were several hutches and shelves built around the perimeter. Almost two dozen treecats occupied the space in various poses of relaxation. They all perked up when Rapunzel and Eugene entered the room, glancing at one another, then back to the new humans. Olaf bounded into the room and gestured to the three of them.
Eugene said, "That's a lot of treecats."
Rapunzel nodded, then gestured quickly with her hands. Olaf replied. "Wow," said Dr. Spiner. "You do that pretty well. I couldn't get the hang of it. What did you say?"
"I asked if this was his clan. He said 'part of it. The parts that wants to go...'" She shook her head. "I can't read the rest of that. That can't be right."
"I would swear he wants this part of his clan to... to move to Corona."
Spiner made a snort. "That would be keeping with their behavior." He looked up. "Treecats score much higher on the sentience scale than we originally thought. They've started to figure out that we humans have the power to blow Sphinx up, and there were some serious threats to the homeworlds during the war with the People's Republic of Haven. They've been looking for suitable colonies ever since."
"But why Corona? Why not Arendelle?" Eugene asked.
Rapunzel said, "I don't know. Fewer people? More fertile land? From what I've seen of Olaf and Sven, treecats make up their own minds, and know a lot more, than we expect them to." She glanced around, then started walking toward a wicker basket left on a gridded shelf near the greenhouse window. The sun blazed directly down upon it. Eugene saw a green blanket resting in the basket, and a mass of differently shaded green inside it. Rapunzel's smiled beamed down at the basket. "Hey, there, little guy. Are you the sick one?"
A furry head poked up. "He's green!" Eugene said.
Spiner said, "I'm afraid so. The pelt of some treecat breeds has a hollow hair shaft. It's surprising how well it helps insulation. But if their immune system is weakened, they stop emitting an oil that keeps the shafts clean, and sometimes a fungal infection starts in. That one seems to have the problem a lot. He goes back and forth between green and white as the seasons go. Right now he's green again. Poor guy."
"He's not poor," Rapunzel said softly. "Hey, would you like a ride?" The treecat, barely 50cm long, swarmed up Rapunzel's sleeve with all the delicacy a treecat could muster. "There," she said with finality. "Can you see all right?" The treecat nodded. "Good."
"Is that..." Eugene began.
"I don't know," Dr. Spiner said. "Your highness, do you feel anything?"
"I have a treecat on my shoulder," she said, pointing. "I feel him." She flexed her shoulder to make her point. The treecat held on.
"No, I mean, emotionally?"
Rapunzel looked puzzled. "Not really. I mean, I've always gotten along with people and animals. He just seemed like he needed someone to be nice to him." She cast a wary eye at the other treecats, who seemed as confused as Dr. Spiner. "Have you been bullying him because he's green?" Several of the treecats looked away, ashamed.
"So they're not some kind of utopian telepathic society," Eugene said.
"Oh, no, of course not, they have their own personalities, and there are cruel and foolish ones among them," Dr. Spiner said. "Your highness, I mean, how would you feel if I suggested he stay here tonight?"
"He can if he wants. What do you think?" She cocked her head to take in the treecat. He shook his head. "There, see? I think he'd rather stay somewhere else. How about with me?" The treecat nodded. "Dr. Spiner, does he have a name?"
"We... we haven't named all of them. I don't have a name for him." Eugene got the impression that he did, he just didn't want to say it out loud in front of the princess.
"Oh. Well, he needs a name. How about... 'Pascal?'" The green treecat seemed to consider this, then smiled and nodded.
"Pascal?" Eugene said.
"Yes. Like the programming language." She grinned and scratched under his chin. He seemed to like that. "Olaf, do you mind if I don't carry both of you?" Olaf clamshelled his right truehand, then splayed open his fingers and waved the suggestion away: Nope. "Thanks. Dr. Spiner, if the other treecats in this clan want to emigrate to Corona, how do I go about making that happen?"
"Well, you'll need to talk to the treecat division of the Royal Forestry Service on Sphinx, but even they can't stop the treecats themselves from leaving. You'll have to book safe passage, and the services is deadly serious about that, but there have been ways to arrange that."
"I see. Olaf, would you introduce me, please? Especially to the, um, miscreants." Rapunzel started moving around the room.
Spiner said softly, "Remarkable."
"That was a treecat pairing I just saw, right?" Eugene said.
"I think so. But if it was, it was the gentlest, quietest pairing I've ever witnessed. Usually they're tumultuous, with the two being physically inseparable for the first few days, or weeks even. Those two seem completely at ease already. I don't believe in reincarnation, but that looked more like a... a reunion than an introduction."
Eugene watched Rapunzel continue her clear rapport with the treecats and sighed. "Right."
Four individuals filled the hotel room when they got back. Pascal was content to be dropped off onto the spare bed, and Olaf was equally content to share the space with him. "You be nice to Pascal," Rapunzel told him.
Olaf signed something and Rapunzel giggled. "I'm pretty sure the Eight Day Queen disagrees with you." Olaf's next sign made her puzzled. "Maybe you're right." Olaf nodded.
"What was that?" Eugene said.
"He said he didn't know how not to be nice. When I pointed out his skill it taking down the terrorists, he said they made themselves prey and he didn't have to be nice to them. They weren't people."
"Well, that's certainly one way to look at it."
He smiled as he said it, but the melancholic fear that gripped him must have shown in his face, because Rapunzel tilted her head to the side, her eyes soft and compassionate. "You've been very quiet this afternoon, Eugene."
"I have? Maybe." He glanced over at Pascal. "Doctor Spiner said that if you just had a bonding with Pascal, it was the quietest bonding he'd ever seen. And you and he seem like... old hands already, not people in the grip of a new relationship with all the special energies that... that we had." He reached up to touch her medium-length sheaf of brown hair. "Treecats change the people they adopt, Rapunzel. I just wonder if, between Pascal, your education, and your duties, if you'll have time for me."
"I'll always have time for you, Eugene." She glanced back at the bed, where the two treecats had rolled onto their backs and were buzzing contentedly at one another. "Pascal and I already understand each other. I don't know how, but we do. And he understands that you belong here as much as he does."
She stepped forward until he was enveloped in her perfumes, until her warmth registered against his skin and her breath against his face. "Really. Let me show you."
He kissed her, their lips meeting and opening, tongues touching in the enclosed space they created. It always seemed to him that the world contracted until it was just him and Rapunzel, a world where nothing else could possibly matter. Rapunzel's body eased in his arms, and he relaxed into her until the two of them were swaying as they stood, stoking the fires of a now-familiar, still-astounding desire.
His attention was shattered by a loud treecat objection from the other end of the room. "What is it, Olaf?" Rapunzel said.
He made a series of complex hand gestures. Rapunzel laughed, signed back. Olaf repeated the gestures, including one even Eugene could read: the room number. He and Pascal flowed off the bed and to the door, closing it behind them. "What was that?"
"He was just telling me that he and Pascal were going to leave and give us room to do our boring, overly complicated mating rituals. I think he was telling me they were going to the restaurant."
"That's why the room number."
"Exactly." She turned to him. "Now, Eugene, where were we?" She reached up and held her arms toward him, and he bent toward her and kissed her. She sighed, kissed his well-trimmed goatee, kissed his neck. One hand was already caressing back and forth over the material of his trousers, and he hissed gently. She wasn't shy at all. Once she knew how much he appreciated her she was first to suggest they show their appreciation. "Rapunzel... what?"
Her hand pulled down his zipper quickly and efficiently, reaching through the convenience gap in his boxers to pull out the object of her quest. "Wow," he gasped. "I love the way you do that."
"I know," she said. "And I love how much you love it. Let's see how much you love this." She kneeled down before him, her eyes affixed on his cock, then eased forward with her eyes closed in a kind of benediction.
The warmth of her mouth enveloped him and he sighed in deep pleasure. "God, you are very good at that."
She giggled, and he felt every tremble of her laugh through the underside of his cock. She was stroking back and forth with determination and verve. He'd learned that she actually liked having his hands on her head, in her hair, sometimes even providing the motion himself. If he pushed her a little bit and "made" her hold it a few seconds longer her eyes would water and then she'd stare up at him with the most amazed, most worshipful eyes. She genuinely loved it when he was strong.
He pulled his cock out of her mouth. "Up, princess," he said. She grinned and stood, and he pushed her onto the bed. He quickly unbuttoned her pants and peeled off those lovely jeans, looking at her lovely, soft-furred sex. He pushed her completely onto the bed, still wearing her shirt, then manhandled her over onto her belly with one hand while trying to push down his pants with the other. He stepped out of them. "Now then, Rapunzel..." he grinned as he pounced on her, his cock nosing between her thighs, down into the already wet furrow.
She giggled. "What?"
"This position is called 'the amplex.' I looked it up."
"I'm not surprised, given how much you like it."
"Yes," she sighed as his cock slipped inside her. Her ass made a wonderful fulcrum for his own hips to rock against as he drove himself in and out of her. "It's a lazy position for me. You're so good at that."
"And you feel wonderful." He kissed her hair, the back of her neck, her cheek, as he made love to her. He'd gotten over the fresh relationship energy, but still they enjoyed each other and the act. Rapunzel didn't climax from intercourse but she loved it, and Eugene was old enough he'd learned that she didn't have to have an orgasm to really enjoy herself, that lots of women just liked sex, climax or not. He took his time, and when his own climax finally washed over him it was with a few hard thrusts that pulled gleeful groans and broad smiles out of her before he filled her. "Wow," he said.
He rolled over and looked at her. She was still lying face down, her eyes closed in a kind of shivering bliss that made him smile. When her eyelids finally fluttered open, she grinned and lunged at him and kissed him. "I always wondered, though... don't you have to pee afterward? I read that men do. Some of my old boyfriends did."
"Most men do," he said. "And yeah, sometimes I do. But it can wait. I hate being rude."
"Oh, go pee, Eugene. I understand." She bapped him playfully on the arm.
He did his toilet, catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror on the way out. "Not bad, Doctor Fitzhubert," he said to his reflection. He sat down on the bed next to Rapunzel. He was naked; she still had her blouse on, although all the buttons were open, revealing her lovely skin. "Rapunzel..." She giggled. "What?"
"I love how you say all of my name. You don't shorten it like some guys. No 'Punz', no 'Punzie' or whatever." She rolled her eyes. "You don't minimize me."
"You're a lot of woman to keep up with," he said. "Minimizing you wouldn't be fair."
"Although," she said teasingly, "You do get a little... plosive with my name. Some of the time."
"Plosive?" Eugene said. "I don't know what that means."
"Oh, you know. 'Rapunzel! Rapunzel! Rapunzel!'" she said, making the 'p' sound as hard as she could. Eugene blushed mightily. She put her arm around his back and pulled the two of them closer. "It's all right."
She seemed about to say more, but hesitated. Eugene said, "Rapunzel, when you said Pascal understood that I belonged here, did you mean, I mean, just for now, right?"
She looked into his face, and he could see worry and sadness. "Yes, but, do you not like me that much?"
"God, no. I mean yes. I mean, I like you very much. You're smart, and witty, and amazing. You're hard to keep up with, but I do my best, and I enjoy keeping up with you. And in bed, good god-- why do you like going down on me so much?"
Her fingers reached down and found his cock, now soft and unlikely to resurrect so readily. "I just fits. It's the perfect size. It fits in my mouth, and down there, and," she raised her eyes to his, "it fits like your body fits. And your voice. And you. You, all of you, makes me incredibly happy, Eugene. If you like me so much, why do you think this won't last?" She made a gesture with one raised finger, encircling the room.
"Because you're a princess, and you're so much younger, and I'm just this guy. A member of the Queen's Private Auditors, sure, but that's hardly a glamorous job. An adjunct professor at King's College, a nobody."
"A nobody who saved my life, Eugene. My schooling here is for two years, but then I'm going back to Corona. I wanted to know if, if we're still together then, if you'd like to come with me and--" She hesitated. "If you'd like to come and be my consort."
"Consort? You're serious," he said softly.
"Yes. I think you belong in my life as much as Pascal does. And as long as he does."
"Two years is a long time. But if we're still together, well, I think that's a fine idea. I can hardly turn down an offer like that from a princess." He turned over onto his back and stared up at the ceiling. "I thought that it would be a nice story someday for my grandkids. I could call up pictures of you and say 'See that fairy princess? I dated her once upon a time.'" Rapunzel giggled. He turned his head. "You really want them to be our grandkids?"
"I do," Rapunzel said.
"Then let's see if we've got what it takes." He rolled closer to her, kissed her gently. Their legs intertwined, and for that evening Eugene Fitzhubert had a world in his hands.