Authors: JMetropolis and Jane McAvoy
Characters & Pairings: Rapunzel and Flynn Rider/Eugene Fitzherbert
Rating & Warnings: T
Chapter Word Count: 3,358
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 4 - The Confession
They had fallen into a routine. An odd routine, but a routine nonetheless. The last few mornings she had awoken around seven. He knew because he was awake too. He only feigned sleep because he liked the way she woke him.
She would lean in very close, brushing her soft lips against his ear and she would whisper. “Eugene.” He liked the way she said his name, always stressing the first syllable and in that sing-songy tone that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up and take notice. He would try hard to keep his face still, to keep his lips from curving upwards and when he could no longer suppress a smile, he would turn his face away from her.
She was not easily deterred. He liked that about her, she was persistent. She would tug on his arm, poke him in the ribs with her small fingers and crawl over him to look at his face all the while he would pretend he was dead to the world. When all else failed, she would grab his leg -- the good one, she was always careful with him, always mindful to grab the good leg -- and she would try to drag him awake. He would add a well-placed snore here and there for good measure and when, inevitably, the jig was up, a rich and hearty laugh followed by high-pitched giggles would bounce off the walls of the cave. She would fall into him, into his ever ready arms and he would catch her in an embrace.
There, he would nuzzle her for as long as she would let him before she would start playfully hitting his chest with her balled up fists, accusing him of feigning sleep and he would protest, putting a hand over his heart in mock hurt at her unkind allegations. He had pleasantly noticed that the amount of time she would allow him to hold her had grown longer as the week had progressed.
Despite the near death experience and all the pain he had endured, it was quite possibly the best week of his life and he was anxious about it coming to an end. The herbs she had used on his leg were healing his wound up nicely. He was now able to walk with no limp and very little pain.
It would probably still scar but he didn’t mind that. He was looking forward to it. He would wear it proudly, like a badge. He had a few other scars that graced various parts of his body and they each told a story. This one would be by far his happiest scar, if such things existed, and he very much wanted to carry this story on him permanently.
He knew that they no longer had a use for the cave, that they should probably pack up soon and move on and while, on the one hand he didn’t know what moving on would entail, he had some very clear ideas about who he wanted to include.
He knew she had changed him and that he would never be able to go back to his old life now. He didn’t want to and although they had only known each other the span of not quite a week, he couldn’t imagine his life without her.
So it was during their morning charade, while her face was burrowed in the crook of his neck and the curve of her lips were faintly touching his collarbone, but before she had accused him of only pretending to be asleep, that he decided to speak up.
“Rapunzel?” He tried to keep the concern and apprehension out of his voice and evidently succeeded because all he got back was a dreamy, listless response.
“Hmmm?” She nestled into him further, pressing her lips to his neck and tickling the underside of his jaw with her thick, long lashes. He shuddered as he instinctively tightened his arms around her slight frame, drawing their bodies closer together.
He swallowed hard, his adam’s apple coming in contact with the inside of the arm she had draped over his shoulder. He dipped his head to kiss that small arm, her smooth skin instantly erupting in goosebumps in response to his scruffy chin.
She pulled her arm away from him rubbing the spot where his lips had just been. “That tickles,” she giggled as she sat up on his lap and beamed at him.
Eugene realized he must have looked worried because her face turned serious when she saw his.
“Is . . . everything okay?” she asked.
He could see the concern in her large green eyes as she tried to read him. It took him by surprise.
“Huh? Oh . . . yes. Yes, of course. I just . . .”
Eugene impulsively kissed her. Partly because he wanted to kiss away that little pout that was starting to form on her plump bottom lip and partly because he didn’t know how much longer he would be able to do this, to kiss her.
He reluctantly pulled back from her, even though her hands were now intertwined in his hair, even though her breath was starting to grow shallow and labored.
Her lids were still closed and her lips slightly parted when he spoke again. His voice quiet and determined.
“Rapunzel. I know we’ve only known each other a short time, but . . . ”
Her eyes snapped open and he lost himself for a moment in those impossibly large, deep pools of emerald. His train of thought, derailed by their luster. He shook his head in an effort to clear it and when he found his bearings, he continued.
“Until a couple of days ago . . . my life’s goal was to save up enough money to buy an island where I could live alone, like some hermit . . . I know what you’re thinking, that’s a pretty pathetic dream, right?”
He ducked into her line of sight and gave her a lopsided smile, but he was only met with concern.
He had hoped to get some clue, some sort of indication of how she would react when he finally stopped tripping over his words and said what he had been thinking. When he found none, he drew breath, releasing her waist and running his fingers through his hair.
“I’m not sure where to go from here . . . But I know that the way I feel about you, I’ve never felt about anyone. I guess . . . I guess what I’m trying to say is that I want you to come with me, Rapunzel.”
For a moment she was perfectly still as she sat there gazing at him. His mouth was slightly agape, his brows high as he waited expectantly for her to say something, anything in response. And then he saw it, a grin spreading across her lips and it didn’t stop there. It continued, pushing up into her eyes. It was as if her whole face lit up, it was as if her smile was shining down him and then she threw herself at him. She did not have far to go to close the distance and she threw herself with such force, with such excitement that she knocked him over and he laid there, flat on his back under a siege of kisses. He wasn’t exactly pinned to the ground by her slight weight, but he still felt unable and unwilling to move out from under her, nonetheless.
“So, is that a yes?” He asked, his voice muffled by her tight embrace.
She pulled back to look at him and balled her hands into the collar of his vest.
“Yes! Yes! A thousand times yes!” she exclaimed in between kisses. The certainty in her response took him by surprise before his buried his fingers into her hair and answered her short, rapid kisses with long, languid ones.
* * *
Eugene had been in a daze since that morning. He was sure she had caught him more than once smiling at her like the lovestruck sap he had become but he didn’t care. She hadn’t called him out on it and she had agreed to go with him. Life couldn’t be more perfect as far as he was concerned.
In the evening, he started a fire, crossing his arms as he casually leaned back on their fallen log. Before nightfall, she came over to him and he opened his arms up to her. It was a cool night, even sitting next to the fire, but he no longer needed the pretext of supplying warmth to show her unmasked affection. He ran his fingers through her short hair as she wrapped her arms around his torso and laid her head against his chest. He thought it was an unfortunate resting spot. Here, at close proximity, she did such strange things to his heart, but perhaps that was why she had chosen to place her head there. Perhaps his heart told her things, things he felt deeply but wasn’t quite ready to say. He gently pressed her ear closer to his chest as he leaned down to kiss the crown of her head.
He stared at the waxing fire but his thoughts were elsewhere. He had never been this happy, he thought as a smile crept over his lips.
He knew his thieving days were behind him. He’d had a successful run but the crown job was always meant to be his swansong. He had dreamt about it for years, planned it for months and now that he had pulled it off, he was ready to retire.
They had agreed to set out early tomorrow morning. They would go back to his stash before heading north to the next kingdom.
The money he had accumulated over the years was enough to provide for them until he could lineup another purchaser for the crown. A week’s wait was enough to drive away even the most interested buyer and the one he had previously secured had been skittish about the transaction, at best. It would take time to find a new buyer, someone with vast resources and no morals. It was not an uncommon combination of traits, as he had come to learn in his near decade of thieving, but these things required a certain amount of discretion and he needed to be patient.
Eugene reflected upon his lot in life for a moment. It wasn't something he dwelled on often. It was unpleasant, it made him uncomfortable, and he knew it wasn't what his parents would've wanted for their only child. But then again, they weren't here. And their absence had been the catalyst that had sent him on this crooked path in the first place.
He thought about the crown again. It was his ticket out of this disreputable profession and once he got rid of it, he could start a new life. They could settle down somewhere. They could buy a house, a large house, an estate and maybe there, when she felt ready, they could even start a family.
“Eugene?” She sat up as she spoke his name, interrupting his thoughts and undoubtedly catching him with that dopey grin splashed across his face again.
He scrambled to rearrange his features into something more dashing and roguish and less reminiscent of a besotted schoolgirl.
“Yes, Rapunzel,” he responded, keeping his voice husky and deep. It was his attempt to compensate for being caught with such an unfortunate countenance, but the tone of his voice had made her blush and avert her eyes towards the fire causing him to take note of her response for future reference.
They sat there in silence as he patiently waited for her response. When she spoke again it was in a small, shaky voice. “There’s something I need to tell you. There’s something about me you need to know.”
The hesitancy in her voice was not lost on him but he wasn’t worried. He felt he knew everything he needed to know about her already. He knew that he loved her, that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, and that she had agreed to go with him. And so he purposely responded in a breezy, almost disinterested manner in an effort to allay her fears and put her at ease.
“What’s that?” he asked casually, a contented smile forming over his lips as he met her gaze.
“I’m the Lost Princess.”
Her words cut through his heart, his hopes, his dreams like daggers and he felt like he had been stabbed in the gut as he balked at them. It was as if she had pulled the rug from under him and didn’t stop there but proceeded to unravel its fibers until everything that just moments earlier had propped him up, had sustained him was now eviscerated.
He sat there in silence. Unable to form words, he said nothing. He felt numb and then he felt sick. He felt like he might empty the contents of his stomach right then and there.
She sounded distant, as if she were far away. He wasn’t sure how long she had been calling him because his world had fallen deaf to everything but the sound of his own heart pounding in his ears.
When her voice finally got through the dense fog, it spurred him into action.
He took her by the shoulders. “Are you sure?” He implored her.
“Yes,” she responded.
“. . . But how?”
“That night, the night of the lanterns, I walked up to the memorial for the Lost Princess. That’s where I saw it. The mural. I recognized my parents. And the sun symbol . . . as crazy as it sounds, I remembered the sun symbol from my nursery. I’ve been drawing it my whole life. That’s when I knew those lanterns were meant for me and that’s where she found me. The woman who said she was my mother. I managed to get away from her . . . but then she caught up with me in that alley.”
He began rapidly examining her face, frantically searching her features, desperately looking for something, anything to convince him otherwise, to refute this odious fact.
But he searched in vain and found nothing. To the contrary, he saw for the first time the strong family resemblance. A moment, that’s all it took for him to know it was true, to know it was hopeless, and to resign himself to his cursed existence and her sovereign future.
“You have to go back.” He choked on the words, his voice harsher than he had intended.
“No!” she said, holding back tears, “I’m still going with you!”
“Rapunzel, you can’t --”
“Eugene, no! You said I could come with you. You said you wanted me to come with you,” she was sobbing now, pounding his chest with her fists as if his heart weren’t already broken.
“Rapunzel, you can’t stay with me. You have to go back.”
“Then you’re coming back with me --”
“Rapunzel,” he said sternly, having already grown weary of the conversation, “I stole the crown. The guards saw me do it. If I go back now, they’ll hang me. I can’t go with you.”
Despite his firm words, his treacherous arms betrayed him as he pulled her into a hug and she crawled onto his lap. He held her there against his chest, against the fragments of what was once an intact and happy heart, not because it stopped her from hitting his chest but because he needed to hold her.
She urgently placed her ear over his heart like she had done earlier, like she was searching for something, like it would contradict his words and tell her otherwise, but to his further dismay it only made her cry harder.
He was certain of what he needed to do next. He knew now that he had to persuade her to return to her parents, he knew now that she was not his and never would be, he knew now that after tonight, he would never be able to hold her.
They sat like this until she calmed down. They sat like this mostly in silence, her breath occasionally catching in her throat when she could no longer suppress a sob.
When he finally spoke, his voice was gravelly.
"I remember when you were born," he told her.
He heard her gasp in surprise. She tried to pull back to look at him, but he placed a hand on her head, gently keeping her in place. It was easier this way. It was easier to get through this, to convince her to leave him, to let her go if he didn't have to look at her, at those tear stained cheeks and those sorrowful eyes, now pools of grief.
"You do?" She responded quietly.
"Well . . . yeah. Everyone does. You’re kind of a big deal.”
It was his attempt at lightening the mood. He was feeling humorless but he desperately wanted to cheer her up and he thought it might be working because he could've sworn he heard a soft chuckle, so he continued in this feigned playful tone.
"I was eight. It my first year at the orphanage and I was having . . . a hard time adjusting. Every night we had to be in bed by seven, crazy right? But then you were born and there was this big . . . celebration. Everyone was there. We were all excited, even the older kids, the ones who walked around pretending to be disinterested in everyone and everything, and --”
“Were you one of those disinterested older kids?” She interrupted as she pulled back and looked up at him. Their eyes met and they shared a small smile.
“. . . Well, I guess you could say that . . . yeah, I was,” he admitted as he rubbed the scruff on his chin, feeling a bit sheepish.
“Anyhow,” he coughed, trying to disguise an embarrassed chuckle, “they took us to the village square, the one that faces the palace balcony and has that painted sun emblem, and they gave us each our own lanterns. That was the part I was looking forward to the most. Sure having a newborn princess who would one day rule the kingdom was great and all, but the lanterns . . . they were actually going to let us light the lanterns. That wasn’t something we did everyday. Back at the orphanage they wouldn’t even let us light the candlesticks at night. I guess they must've been worried we would burn the place down or something, can’t imagine why.”
“Did you see the princess? Did you see me? What about the King and Queen? Did you see them? What were they like?” She asked with building enthusiasm, each question interrupting the one prior.
“Well," Eugene chuckled at her eagerness, "at sundown, the King and Queen walked out onto the balcony. The Queen was carrying you in her arms and you had all this golden hair and they, your parents, looked very happy as they released that first lantern into the sky. . . . Rapunzel, they love you. They’ve been doing this for you ever since. Every year, without fail, on your birthday. Rapunzel . . . you, you have to go back.”
“Okay,” she responded quietly, “I’ll go back, but you have to promise me that a year from now . . . on my birthday . . . if you still remember me, a year from now if you still choose me, that you’ll come back for me. And if I still want to leave, promise me that you’ll take me with you.”
“I promise,” he said, his voice thick with emotion as he took her in his arms again, grateful that the once roaring fire had been reduced to embers, grateful that in this position, she couldn’t see his face.
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