AN - This chapter takes place between chapter 17 and 18 of Freudian.

It was a balmy night. May. Rapunzel's first spring as a free woman. Her first spring as a woman at all. All her life she'd believed she'd be a child forever, that she was locked up in that house for one very good reason, and that if she held perfectly still, and stayed perfectly the same, her mother would be forever young and Rapunzel would be forever unchanged.

Now she knew it was just bleach and a whole lot of mental illness.

Her nose wrinkled, and she knelt down to admire some daisies. "They're so pretty when they're alive..." she murmured, touching the stems gently. She thought of the half-wilted bouquets her mother had sometimes brought home, how the petals would fall one by one no matter how much Rapunzel sang to them. "Don't you think they're so pretty?"

She looked up, but Mike was looking at his reflection in the buffed metal surface of the playground slide. He didn't listen to her very much.

She sighed and got to her feet, walking over to him. Maybe if she addressed him directly, he'd respond. "What's your favorite flower?"

It took him a moment, but he finally turned towards her. "What? Oh. I dunno. They're all okay, I guess."

She frowned. He didn't have many opinions. In fact, sometimes talking to him was downright pulling teeth. It made her miss talking to Flynn even more. Flynn wasn't always the most talkative, but he answered her questions without seeming too bent out of shape about it, and he listened to her like he was actually interested. Jones wanted her to believe it was all an act, but now that she could compare with Mike's obviously feigned interest, she wasn't entirely convinced.

"Okay?" she asked, shaking her head. "They're amazing. I mean, they are so beautiful, and they exist only to feel the sun and drink water and make life and die and be reborn again by the pollen that the bees spread. Isn't that interesting? I think humans are kind of like that too, we just don't realize it. We just get so caught up in our lives that we forget that we're flowers."

Mike was giving her one of his most common looks. The 'I think you're insane but I would like to kiss you later so I'm not going to say anything' look. It was one of Rapunzel's least favorite expressions. In fact, she'd rather he just called her crazy and expressed his own thoughts on the matter, so they could talk about it and understand each other. She sighed and shrugged, reaching up to catch one of the monkey bars, swinging slightly.

"Talk more about the pollen part," he said with a smirk, reaching out to touch her bare sides where her shirt lifted as she hung.

She giggled a little, his fingers tickling. It felt nice, being touched by another person. It was strange, but thrilling. "What about it?"

"Well," he said, smirking up at her. "If we're flowers..." he leaned in and kissed her gently on the mouth. She liked this part. His lips were soft. He smelled kind of nice, but it was strong. It wasn't like Flynn's subtle, clean smell. It stung the back of her throat if she was too close to Mike for a while, like standing in the candle store at the mall for too long.

Mike deepened the kiss, and Rapunzel wrinkled her nose a little, though she didn't pull away. She didn't like this part as much. She'd only shared one kiss with Flynn, but every kiss she'd had since then made her remember it with more and more longing and remorse. Mike's tongue was so... wet. It felt like there was more saliva between them than two people could possibly make. And his tongue was so floppy. It felt like when Rapunzel tried to eat too much pudding at once. Just this big... mass in her mouth, she couldn't even figure out how to swallow. And somehow the entire thing was lukewarm, almost clammy, like soup she'd let cool for too long before eating it. Congealed, somehow.

Still, someone was kissing her, and she guessed that was better than no one kissing her. At least it was a novel sensation, at least it was a new experience. At least someone liked her enough to want to share this strange encounter with her. So, rather than react negatively and pull away, she let her mind wander to that kiss in the bar. Flynn had chastised her for trying to buy it, but really it had been the best one hundred crowns she'd ever spent.

It had been so... hot. There'd been nothing tepid about it. His mouth had burned hers, his soft lips contrasting with the firmness of his tongue, the surety of his movements. It had been a play between soft and hard, the tension of his neck and shoulders as he'd bent to press his mouth to hers, and the softness of his skin. Every stroke of his tongue against hers had been so deliberate, and behind her closed eyes she could almost see pleasure curling down her spine like the way smoke swirled from his cigarette when they stood together on the roof of the bar. His arms had been so tight around her, pulling her close, holding her like he was completely selfish and selflessly protecting her at the same time.

She moaned at the memory, letting go of the bar to run her hands over his chest. Right. Mike's chest. It wasn't fair to compare them. Flynn was much older than Mike. But still, Mike was so skinny, so lanky, there wasn't anywhere for her hands to find purchase, no intense spark between them, ready to ignite at any moment. The contrast left her cold, and she started to pull away, but Mike wrapped his arms around her, his hands roaming over her back in a way she didn't entirely like, in a way that was so much more like she was being felt up than held.

She felt something poke her face, and though she couldn't seem to pull her mouth away, she opened her eyes to see Pascal glowering at her, his tail ready to swipe again should she not cease this nonsense. Pascal didn't like Mike. He didn't like Flynn much, either, but he really didn't like Mike. Every time she was doing anything physical with Mike, Pascal got very uppity, chattering, or running around and being distracting, or even bonking her lightly with his tail. Sometimes he even stood on Mike's head and made obscene gestures, which always made her laugh and that offended Mike.

She tried to ignore Pascal, but he persisted, making a strange squelching noise that made the clamminess of the kiss even more unpleasant. Groaning a little, and not out of pleasure, she finally wrenched her hands in between her and Mike and pushed, getting enough leverage to slip away. She covered it up by dancing a little, scrambling up the slide and jumping down from the platform playfully. It had grown dark, and she was feeling a little uneasy. Sometimes when she was alone with Mike, she felt anxious. He'd never really done anything to hurt her, she didn't get the sense he was a bad person, she just... she didn't always like the things they did and sometimes being with him made her desperately want to be alone.

She never felt that way when she was with Flynn. She always wanted to stay by him as long as possible, as long as he would let her. And every conversation they had made her happy or made her think in a productive way or both. And every touch they shared was beautiful and too brief. Sometimes, like when they were sitting together on the couch after she'd made him dinner, she didn't always feel safe with Flynn. But it wasn't because she was uneasy... more like she was excited, and thrilled, and caught off balance in a way that made her feel very alive.

Mike caught up with her, walking backwards in front of her and giving her an appraising smile. "Playing hard to get?"

She looked away, swerving onto a paved path through the park. "What does that mean?" The guys at the bar had mentioned it a few times but she'd never really known what they meant. She could 'sound it out,' if she tried. She could approach phrases like one would a new word, listening to each piece and then putting it together to find its meaning. But her brain was frazzled from the kissing and her stomach was unsettled and she didn't want to puzzle over anything for a while.

"It means you're pretending I can't have you," Mike said, smirking. "It means you're pretending I need to chase you, work harder, so I'll want you even more."

No, that wasn't what she was doing at all. What was the opposite? If she threw herself at him, would he get bored and leave her alone for a little while?

Mike stopped abruptly, and she ran into his chest and blushed. His hands landed on her hips and he pulled her flush up against him. "It's working," he murmured.

Pascal hissed at him, and she frowned, swallowing. A sweet, sick taste kept rising in her mouth. "Oh, really?"

He nodded, pulling her over to a bench under a willow tree with many low branches, giving the area a semblance of privacy that she really didn't like. It was already dark, and on the bench she could only just see the street lights through the leaves. They felt so far away. It was quieter there somehow, her breathing felt so loud. His breathing was even louder, damp and urgent. His hands pushed her back on the bench and she thought of this one time when her mother had come home angry and acting oddly, using words Rapunzel didn't understand, tripping over things. Rapunzel had hid in the closet where they kept the bleach, shelves and shelves of bleach. She hated that smell, but she'd been in a hurry to hide. There'd been no point hiding, there were only so many places in the house to go, and her mother had known them all. But hiding made her feel like she had a choice, if only for a moment. Her breathing had been so loud in those long, dark moments. She'd covered her mouth, listening to the heavy creak of footsteps, waiting for the door to be thrown open, for what came next.

Rapunzel let out a strangled, desperate moan, her legs twitching, trying to run. Mike was smaller than Flynn but he was heavy enough, and she was stuck, the cold metal of the bench pressing into her back through her sweatshirt and her t-shirt under that. Pascal crept onto the back of Mike's neck and bit, but Mike didn't seem to notice or care, he kept shoving his thick, floppy tongue into her mouth. One of his hands inched under her shirt and she froze, a strange mix of apprehension and curiosity and fear and anticipation gripping her, binding her still.

His hand was sweaty, fumbling across her belly and over her ribs and up, settling on her breast. For a brief moment it was almost a pleasant feeling, but then he squeezed, harder than she supposed she should be squeezed there, because her eyes widened and teared up a little and she yelped.

At that moment a light swept over them, and a gruff voice barked. "Hey! What are you kids doing here?"

Mike leapt off of her, shoving his hands in his pockets nonchalantly. She sat up slowly, shaking a little bit, as Pascal came to curl up on her shoulder and nuzzle against her neck. It felt like there was still a weight on her chest, and she placed her palm where her heart was, wincing slightly at the strange, uncomfortable ache.

She finally looked up to see a slightly overweight cop, shaking his head at them. "Park's been closed since dusk. You know that, Penderson," he fixed Mike with a glare. "How many times do I have to smoke you out of here? I've had it. This time, you're coming in. Both of you." He gestured for them to follow to where his car was parked near the perimeter of the park.

Mike tried to talk back, but the cop would have none of it, and Rapunzel numbly got to her feet.

"C'mon man," Mike whined, slouching. "Can't we have a little fun? We weren't hurting anyone."

Pascal hissed at him and Rapunzel stroked his scaly neck. "Shh, Pascal. It's okay."

"Stop," Mike said to her under his breath. "You're going to freak him out."

"He's already freaked out," Rapunzel said crossly. "He doesn't like you and he's agitated."

"A cop? Not like me? Ya think?" Mike crossed his arms over his chest.

Oh, she thought they were talking about Pascal. Mike never talked about Pascal. It was very strange.

"Alright, get in," the cop said, opening the back door. Rapunzel took one look at the cage-like window separating the front from the back and nearly barfed right onto the officer's pressed uniform. Not this again.

"Are you shitting me?" Mike whined. "You're taking us in for trespassing? Can you even do that?"

Flynn would know if that was allowed. And he'd know how to get out of it. He'd hold her hand and tell her how to handle this. Or not, not at all. She just wanted him to, she just wished for him.

"Quit testing me, you little shit. I say get in the car, you get in the car. Get in."

Oh, there it was. Rapunzel's stomach gave a mighty heave and she threw up. She narrowly missed the officer's shirt, but it did get all over his shiny black shoes.

"What the!" the cop cursed, stepping back. "God damn it! What was that? What are you on? Damn it, Penderson, what did you give her?"

"Nothing!" Mike snapped. "She just does that sometimes!"

It was true, she did do that. She'd met Mike through community service, and her first day she'd thrown up, too. She'd been very nervous.

The cop groaned, shaking his foot as if that would get the vomit off. It didn't really work at all. "Just get in, both of you. I don't have time for this crap. They don't pay me enough to deal with teenagers. This is the last straw. I'm making you pay for this one, Penderson. Damn it to hell."

He continued to grumble while Mike copped and attitude all the way into the car. Rapunzel was pushed gently in after him, and she leaned forward and let her head fall into her hands. Maybe if she shut it all out she could pretend she wasn't locked up, she could ignore where they were going. She could imagine the hesitant hand on her back was Flynn's, and he was taking her home. Somewhere she'd never been.