Authors: JMetropolis and Jane McAvoy
Characters & Pairings: Rapunzel and Flynn Rider/Eugene Fitzherbert
Rating & Warnings: T
Chapter Word Count: 4,486
Summary: A year from now, will you still remember me? Will you still choose me? Rapunzel travels to the kingdom on her own only to be discovered there by Gothel. Flynn saves her while trying to escape with the Lost Princess' crown, but will Rapunzel choose to stay and claim her birthright or go on the run with the wanted thief? Inspired by Tangled concept art.
AN: Written for the Tangled Big Bang writing challenge. Artwork for the story by Dinosaur Barbecue!
Chapter 2 - A Chance Encounter
It was quiet now. Most of the city’s inhabitants had gone to bed. It was dark now. Most of the lanterns that had illuminated the night’s sky for hours had floated out of the kingdom, carrying with them the hopes of a nation that a lost princess would find her way home. A few paper lanterns had remained behind. Like fallen stars, these stragglers were now silently sinking into the inky black water and collapsing onto the deserted cobblestone streets.
Alone on a rooftop high above the city, Flynn Rider had observed the whole spectacle. He had been patiently waiting for hours, waiting for the right moment. He knew it was almost here. He knew that he would not have to sit on the cool, clay tiles too much longer. The guards on duty had been at their posts for almost twelve hours. From his vantage point, he could only see the tops of their shiny gold helmets. Still, he did not need to see their droopy eyes to know that by now they had grown inattentive and tired. He could tell they were worn out from the way they were slumping over, relying on their spears to support their weight. He knew his best chance of success would come now. If he waited another hour, there would be a new, fresh set of guards relieving the old ones. They would be alert and well-rested.
For the first time since he had started his protracted, agonizing watch Flynn felt a rush. He felt the adrenaline pumping through his veins as he carefully lowered the rope through a gap in the ceiling he had created. There, resting between the two thrones, fittingly enough on a pedestal, and sitting atop a small velvet pillow was the object of his affection. He paused for a moment to admire its beauty. Even in the candlelight, the individual diamonds, sapphires, and tourmalines sparkled like fireflies.
This is it, he thought as he painstakingly began his slow descent into the throne room. He was about to attempt the biggest heist of his career. If he succeeded, he would be richer than he had ever imagined. He could retire, buy an island even. If he failed, he would most certainly face the gallows.
It wasn’t supposed to be a solo job. He’d had accomplices. They had planned this job for months in dark alleys and in the backrooms of disreputable establishments. The job was supposed to take place tomorrow morning. It was a national holiday and the inhabitants of the small island would be getting a late start. Flynn had gotten ahead of schedule and now that he was climbing down the rope, he wondered if he should’ve waited for his cohorts. He was the brains behind this operation but the other two were the hired muscle and they would’ve been able to lower his down and back out of the throne room with less effort and more swiftness.
He supposed he’d know soon enough if he’d made a fatal error in cutting his collaborators out of the deal. He was now in the thick of it: within arm’s reach of the crown but also within reach of the guards and their pointy spears should they detect his unwelcomed presence. Flynn’s breath was stilted and painfully silent. The guards’ backs were turned away from the crown, and away from him.
The deathly quiet of the room was abruptly interrupted when one of the guards sneezed. Flynn’s heart and lungs came to a sudden, concurrent halt. He did not dare breathe. If he had been with his cohorts, he would’ve probably made a flippant comment, confident in his ability to quickly be pulled out of trouble. But he was alone. He lacked the usual need for bravado he so often felt and displayed while in the company of others and he knew he’d never be able to climb up a safe distance if he taunted the guards now.
Realizing that his slim chance at success was dwindling along with the minutes, Flynn quickly swiped the crown. He was surprised by how delicate and strong it felt in his hand. It was a strange juxtaposition but he didn’t have much time to dwell on it. His life was still very much in peril while he remained tethered to the rope. He threaded his arm through the crown and used both hands to make his climb back up to the summit.
With the crown in tow he strangely felt lighter and he took less time in completing his ascent. Once he reached the safety of the rooftop, he took a moment to admire his new acquisition.
“Wow,” he quietly wolf-whistled. It was more beautiful and more complex than he had imagined. He’d never seen the crown up close. Few people had. The Lost Princess’ crown was an artifact so valuable it was not for public display. Outside of the royal family who commissioned it, the master goldsmith who crafted it, and the guards who protected it, Flynn couldn’t think of anyone who’d have the opportunity to examine it. He carefully placed the crown in a small satchel he’d purposely left on the rooftop and stolen for just this occasion.
Flynn felt light-headed and almost giddy as he removed the rope from his waist and began to untie it from the wooden support beam on the ceiling. His head was swimming with the things he would buy with his new fortune. He would head back to his stash and then sail to the next kingdom where he had already obtained an anxious and brash buyer.
Flynn knitted his brow and gritted his teeth as he tugged on the knot. He had already pulled up the rope and coiled it near his feet, but he was having difficulty detaching it from the beam. He had tied a very secure knot and he was having trouble undoing it. He reached for the small pouch attached to one of his belts and pulled out a dagger. As he was cutting the rope from the beam, he hand slipped and so did the dagger.
He tried to catch the dagger but it was too late. It was already out of his reach and he was relegated to the role of panicked spectator as he watched the whole calamitous scene play out in agonizingly slow motion before his eyes. Flynn watched as the small dagger fell, flipping several times in the air, missing the velvet pillow by mere inches before landing on the parquet floor with a loud metal clang.
The guards moved in unison, turning around to see the dagger on the floor and immediately looking up to see the silhouette of a man in lieu of a ceiling tile.
On the ground there was a mad scramble and a cacophony of frantic and confused shouts: “It’s gone!” “It’s him! It’s Flynn Rider” “Stop him!”
Flynn did not stick around to hear more of their frenzied declarations. He grabbed his satchel and almost tripped over the rope as he took to his feet and ran. Once again, Flynn felt the adrenaline coursing through him. He could feel his pulse in his ears as his heart raced a mile a minute. He vaulted, rolled, climbed and jumped across the rooftops of Corona with the guards on the ground in hot pursuit.
He heard the rhythmic clomping of hooves joining the guards' tumultuous clamor forming a disjointed and unholy racket which caused a chill to run down his spine. It meant the palace guards had already alerted the cavalry and that the captain’s relentless, homicidal white horse-hound was now part of the chase.
The guards’ loud and erratic shouts were threatening to wake up the entire island. Flynn could see lights being lit sporadically from the windows of some of the buildings and caught glimpses of the confused, sleepy inhabitants below as he ran for his life. They walked out of their homes and onto the cobblestone streets in their caps, nights shirts and robes with candlesticks in tow to see what all the pre-dawn commotion was about.
Flynn realized he would run out of rooftops soon enough and perhaps that’s why the guards had not bothered to climb up after him, preferring to keep their noisy pursuit of him on the ground instead. He knew the more people took to the streets the harder it would be for him to escape unnoticed.
He was pondering his next move when the thatched roof of the structure he was running on top of collapsed under his weight. Relying entirely on instinct, he was able to roll into his fall and lessen the blow. He recognized the strong, pungent smell and immediately realized he was inside the Tar Works Luckily he had landed on the floor and not in a barrel of the sticky, dark liquid. It was pitch black and he took advantage of his sudden, unexpected respite to catch his breath for a moment, feeling confident that he was the lone inhabitant of the tar factory at this late hour. He knew the guards wouldn’t be able to see the hole in the middle of the roof from the ground and so he sat underneath a shuttered window and listened for the sounds of the guards, the horses, and some of the residents racing past the factory on their way to what he supposed was the forest.
After a while it grew quiet again. The uproar he had caused had grown faint and distant. He stood up, squeezing his satchel to make sure everything was still in order and began to feel his way along the back wall of the structure until he found a doorknob.
He opened the door a crack and poked his head out. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw it led to a poorly lit back alley.
“Rapunzel! We’re going home!” said a stern voice.
“No! I won’t go!” responded a younger voice.
The sound startled Flynn who was expecting an empty backstreet. He stealthy stepped back inside and quietly shut the door behind him, leaning his body against it.
He didn’t catch a glimpse of the two figures but he could tell they were having an argument. He crossed his arms in annoyance and hoped the women would resolve their differences quickly because he needed to leave the city before daybreak.
Flynn tried to mind his own business. As a matter of course and self-preservation, he didn’t get involved in other people’s problems. But it was dark inside the tar factory and there was nothing else for him to do but sit and listen to the conversation that was escalating outside between these two strangers.
He picked up bits and pieces, overprotective mother, forbidden roadtrip -- not that that he was remotely interested.
“Oh speak up Rapunzel. You know how I hate the mumbling!”
Flynn rolled his eyes. He didn’t know how much more of this he could take. The mother was starting to grate on his last nerve. Her voice made his stomach churn. It was so manipulative, so deceitful and dripping in false sweetness. He was starting to feel bad for the younger voice.
“It was you! You took me from my real parents, didn’t you? . . . Did I mumble Mother? Or should I even call you that?”
Flynn smiled. The daughter’s finally sticking up for herself, he thought as he mentally cheered her on.
“Oh Rapunzel, do you even hear yourself? Why would you ask such a ridiculous question?”
And now the old lady’s getting nervous, Flynn noted, furrowing his brows in concern.
“I’ve spent my entire life hiding from people who would use me for my powers.”
Flynn’s ears perked up at the word powers, perhaps he had heard wrong, something was definitely not making sense. He couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a critical piece of information he just wasn’t getting. He knew it was a preposterous notion since both these women were complete strangers to him and of course he was missing something -- he was missing whole swaths of information about them.
“Rapunzel -- ”
“All this time I should’ve been hiding . . . from you!”
“Where are you going? Get back here! Rapunzel!”
“No! You were wrong about the world. And you were wrong about me! And I will never let you use my hair again!”
Flynn was becoming increasingly concerned for the younger voice, the girl. She sounded so hurt, so . . . vulnerable. For some inexplicable reason, he felt protective of her. And he could tell the mother was growing desperate. It was a somber thought. Flynn had been around desperate people. Desperate people tended to lash out and take matters into their own hands. Desperate people were . . . dangerous.
They could suddenly turn violent, he grimly recalled as he thumbed a line of ropey, raised skin that ran along the inside of his exposed forearm.
“You want me to be the bad guy? Fine. Now I’m the bad guy.”
“No! Let go of me,” the younger voice struggled.
Before he even realized what he was doing, Flynn was on his feet and out the door.
“Let her go! Now!”
Both women jumped at the commanding voice of the unexpected intruder but the older woman quickly tightened her grip on the young girl’s wrists before the girl resumed her protests, pulling against her captor.
Flynn did a doubletake. He couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw her. Even with her hair in an elaborate braid, the girl’s golden tresses were impossibly long.
The older woman’s cold, grey eyes narrowed as she appraised Flynn in the dim light of the alley. “Well, what have we here? Flynn Rider, the wanted thief. Now that you’ve overheard our little secret, I suppose you want her for yourself, don't you?”
“I said, let her go!” He demanded.
The woman let go of one small wrist but she kept a tight grip on the other, forcing the girl, who was still struggling, to stay by her side as she cautiously approached the thief.
Flynn instinctively reached for the small pouch on his belt, but it was empty. His eyes widened with realization as his mind flashed back to the parquet floor of the throne room and to the events that had led him to this back alley in the first place.
“Agh!” Flynn squeezed his eyes shut and sucked in air through gritted teeth. He felt a sharp, stabbing pain on his thigh and grabbed hold of it, feeling the hot liquid pooling in the palm of his hand as he tried to apply pressure to the now throbbing wound.
“Now look what you’ve done Rapunzel. Don’t worry dear. Our secret will die with him.”
Before Flynn could makes sense of those words, his legs went out from under him and he hit his head hard on the pavement, knocking himself unconscious.
“No, no, no, no! Flynn! No! Look at me!”
It was the voice of the young girl. Her face was coming in and out of focus in the fleeting moments he was able to force his heavy eyelids open. Her hair was different, choppy and a warm chestnut brown, but he knew it was her. He recognized her kind, gentle voice and he hadn’t trusted the first glimpse he’d caught of her -- the preternatural blonde locks. He knew his normally sharp eyes must’ve deceived him in the dark alley.
He felt her soft hands framing his face and pushing his hair back, away from his forehead.
He wasn’t surprised that she knew his name. The entire kingdom knew the exploits of the notorious thief even if his libelous wanted posters did not do his handsome face justice. Flynn attempted to straighten his lips and push them up into a dashing smile but ended up bearing his teeth and wincing. He might have frightened her with his grimace, but he didn’t stay awake long enough to gauge her reaction.
“Oh! Are you alright? Flynn?”
No, he wasn’t surprised that she was calling him by name, what was striking was the way she said it, with compassion and concern. He knew better than to expect kindness from anyone, least of all a stranger. It made the whole situation . . . bizarre. Before he could follow this train of thought, his lids gave out on him again and he plunged back into darkness.
“I’m so sorry, Flynn.” He heard her voice. He didn’t know how long she’d been talking to him but he’d only just started hearing her anew. “This is all my fault. I should’ve never left that tower.” She was sobbing now and her warm tears were falling on his face, forcing him to resume his losing struggle to pry his eyes open and remain conscious.
She’d drawn herself closer to his face now, their noses and foreheads both touching.
His eyes closed on him again and time stood still. When he opened them she was cradling his head, rocking back and forth, holding his right hand over her short brown hair and softly singing a tune he’d never heard before.
“Huh?” It was all he could think to say. The whole situation was strange to him and growing stranger each time he came to.
He turned his head to the side, away from her lap, and recognized where he was, lying on the cool cobblestone floor of the alley behind the tar factory.
He heard a horse whinny in the distance. It startled him to action like a bolt of lightning. He gave a squeeze to the satchel that still clung across his torso like a sash and jolted straight up only to have his face come crashing back down on the hard pavement.
“Gah!” He was now on his side and writhing on the floor, the pain in his leg was almost blinding.
“No. You mustn't try to get up,” she said with concern, resting her cheek on the dirty floor so she could meet his eyes. “It will be daylight soon and then we can find someone to tend to your wound.” She punctuated her statement with a little smile. Flynn supposed it was meant to comfort him; he scowled at her instead.
Feeling a bit remorseful, he decided to explain. “You don’t understand. If they find me here, they’re going to kill me,” he managed between grunts.
He made another heroic attempt to stand up but hit the ground almost immediately. He rolled onto his back, turning his gaze to the lightening sky above him. He sighed as he ran his fingers through his thick hair, tugging at his scalp until he realized this too was painful thanks to the bumps that were already starting to form on the back of his head. He tried to think, tried to figure a way out of this mess. He needed to run and with only one good leg, he couldn’t even walk. He pounded his fists on the ground and growled in frustration.
"It's hopeless," he finally declared, not bothering to take the bitterness out of his tone.
"I'll help you," she said quietly as she sat back up and folded her hands on her lap.
“What?” He rolled his head to the side eyeing her in disbelief.
“If you need to leave here, I will help you,” she repeated slowly.
He’d heard her statement the first time, he just didn’t understand why she would offer to help him.
“You’d do that for me?” He asked incredulously.
“You stuck up for me. No one’s ever stuck up for me before," she mumbled, absentmindedly running her fingers through her short hair, her eyes once again welling up with tears.
He heard that hell-horse again in the distance and instinctively tried to get up, momentarily forgetting about his leg.
“Wait here,” she said.
“I got nowhere to go,” he muttered humorlessly as she quickly took to her feet and walked over to a charcoal riding cape that was lying a few yards away from them. She shook it and an absurd amount of dust fell out of it making Flynn wonder just how long the cape had been there.
“Here,” she said. “Put this on.”
Flynn hesitantly took the cape from her, giving it a once over. Something about it made his skin crawl.
She gave him a stern glare, apparently she wasn’t going to take any backtalk from him. He quickly threw the cape over himself, turning his head to the side so she wouldn’t see him smirk.
She crouched down next to his bad leg and put his arm over her shoulder. Acting as a crutch, she helped him stand up. Despite his best efforts to project a calm, manly exterior, a yelp escaped his lips. Flynn frowned in annoyance. Now that he was exerting pressure on his wounded leg, it was throbbing once more and the hardened, caked blood surrounding it was starting to flow again.
They slowly began their trek out of the alley. He was panting now, his breaths coming in shallow and labored as he tried not to lean too much on her. She was significantly smaller than he was and so slight.
He’d stood up to humor her and had expected to fall back down almost immediately. He had expected her buckle under the pressure, the way he had done when he’d tried to stand up on his own, but he had misjudged her. She was stronger and more resilient than her slim frame had suggested.
She gracefully stepped over an object on the ground that looked like a log. He had first noticed it when she went to get the cape and he had followed her with his eyes. The two objects had been lying in close proximity to each other, but he had forgotten about it, becoming distracted by his own thoughts, wondering if he would be discovered or if he would bleed to death first.
When his boot became entangled in the soft object, he realized it wasn’t a log at all and looked down to inspect it more closely.
He felt her tugging on him, sensing that she was in a hurry to move past it. Thankfully it had ensnared his good leg and he was able to kick it free with little effort, and more importantly, little pain.
“Is that . . . hair?” He asked her as he looked back at the now coiled, remnants of an enormous brown braid that snaked across the ground.
“Shh!” She tried to silence him but he paid her no heed.
“Um . . . Rapunzel?” He said her name cautiously, he knew from experience that women could get very testy when he got their names wrong. He’d heard the name from the old woman, the one he hadn’t thought about until now and who earlier had seemed so determined to take her daughter home but now had evidently and conveniently split. Flynn didn’t miss her.
He wasn’t entirely confident in his ability to recall the girl’s name considering that he’d passed out more instances than he’d care to admit and had hit his head several times in the process. When she didn’t correct him, he shrugged and continued. “Look. I know you mean well and you want to help but this isn’t going to work. Sure the streets are empty now, but there’s no way we’ll make it over the bridge and into the forest before daybreak at this pace, even if you can keep holding me up.”
She glared at him, evidently annoyed at his lack of faith in her abilities and he couldn’t help but chuckle a little. He supposed she was trying to appear menacing but it had the opposite effect -- it reminded him of an angry kitten.
His reaction made only made her more cross with him and so he cleared his throat as a means to conceal his amusement.
“We don’t need to make it to bridge,” she said curtly. “We just need to make it to the canals.”
Flynn’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped as he looked at her in astonishment. All those months he’d spent meticulously plotting and re-plotting the crown heist, their escape route had always remained the same. They’d run across the bridge and into the forest. He’d never thought of using the canals to leave the city, a much more discrete and faster exit. It was brilliant, really and for the second time that day Flynn realized he’d underestimated the small girl.
They walked, or in his case limped, in silence until they reached the edge of nearest canal. It was daybreak by the time they arrived. This being the day after the lantern festivals, the narrow waterway was littered with small boats tied to the posts that ran along the edge of the canal. Flynn shook his head in amazement. We wouldn’t have even needed to look for a getaway boat, he thought. He had been pretty confident in his heist plotting abilities, but hers was indisputably the superior plan. Flynn smirked to himself, he should’ve been plotting heists with her.
She got out from under him and jumped into the nearest gondola. He slowly lowered himself into the boat holding onto the edge of the seawall for support and mindful to put all his weight on his good leg. It wasn’t a particularly attractive way to get into a boat and he thought it was unfortunate that he wouldn’t get to impress her with his athletic prowess. A few hours earlier and she could’ve witness him leaping across buildings.
It’s a shame, he thought to himself. Years from now, if they’d survive this ordeal, she would probably remember him as the gimpy thief and not the agile bandit his carefully crafted reputation rightfully suggested. He scowled and banished the thought because for some unexplained reason he very much wanted to impress her.
He grabbed the only oar on the boat, but she took it out of his hand before he got a firm grip. He frowned at her in protest but she silently pointed to the guards on their morning patrol near the mouth of the canal.
Flynn begrudgingly took to the floor of the boat, trying to flatten out as much as possible given his stinging, throbbing leg. Using the riding cloak as a blanket, he covered himself from view.
There, with his nose pressed against the wooden floor of the gondola, he noticed her bare feet for the first time. It was his last coherent thought. Whether it was all the bloodloss, the exertion it took to walk the few blocks from the back alley to the canal or mere exhaustion from the constant, throbbing pain, Flynn passed out on the floor of the boat.
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