Authors: JMetropolis and Jane McAvoy
Characters & Pairings: Rapunzel and Flynn Rider/Eugene Fitzherbert
Rating & Warnings: T
Chapter Word Count: 2,828
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 5 - The Journey Home
Eugene stared at nothing in particular. It was dark in the cave. The moon never bothered to show up and he knew that no matter how hard he willed it, the sun would come up eventually and it would only be a matter of hours before they would have to say their goodbyes.
He didn’t even try to force himself to fall asleep. He knew it was pointless and even though he had coaxed Rapunzel into an uneasy slumber hours ago, he wanted to remain conscious of her tucked into his side, to stay awake, to be able to remember these last moments with her.
Although they had slept in the cave for the past week without incident, the floor of the cave now felt uncomfortable -- unforgiving and hard, as if they were guests who had outstayed their welcome.
Rapunzel seemed to have been placated by the promise that they would meet again in a year’s time. Rapunzel also believed in things like fate and destiny. Eugene knew better, he was a realist. To him, the promise rang hollow and he took no comfort in it. Sure, she thought she loved him now, but she had only known two people her entire life and he hadn’t tried to imprison her and currently he was the only one of the two who was still alive -- so he handedly won that contest by default. He had lived long enough to know that she was something special, that he would never meet anyone like her and that he would long for her the rest of his life. But she had only just started living. He knew he was nothing special and that soon, maybe even tomorrow, she would meet other men, important men, noblemen who were rich and titled and perfectly suitable for marrying a princess. He was a thief, an orphaned one at that, who had nothing to offer her. He had done nothing to deserve her affections and was unworthy of her love.
She shifted in her sleep and he possessively tightened his arms around her, still unwilling to let go of her. Despite the uncontroverted truth that they weren’t meant for each other, he still marveled at how well they fit together. It just felt right. He had first noticed it earlier in the week, back when things between them looked promising and hopeful, back when she was just a girl who had saved his life and had given him a reason for living.
Eugene watched as the sun intruded on his thoughts and crept its way into their cave. It was morning now and he saw no point in delaying the inevitable.
“Rapunzel. . .” It was his turn to wake her from her dreams.
Eugene had been unconscious when Rapunzel had rowed the gondola ashore that first morning when they arrived on the mainland. He had been dead weight to her and she’d had her hands full dragging his limp body out of the gondola and across the beach.
He surveyed the area as they walked out of the woods and onto the clearing. It was an old habit he had picked up while thieving. He had practiced it for so long that it now seemed innate. There were small rocks, boulders, fallen tree trunks, actual trees, a million things to secure a small boat to but the fact remained that their small boat had not been secured and had probably washed out to sea with the first turn of the tide. He supposed it was for the best, the king’s men had been searching for him in the forest and a gondola tied to a tree or a rock would’ve surely raised the eyebrows of even Corona’s guards.
“What do we do now?” She asked, staring intently at a spot in the sand he could only assume was where she had left the boat before lifting her eyes across the water towards the horizon. The kingdom was not quite visible from where they stood on the beach, but he could still detected a slight longing in her gaze.
“How well do you remember those swimming lessons?”
“What?” She sounded alarmed.
“Kidding!” He smiled at her and playfully bumped her shoulder, she sighed in relief.
“We’ll just have to walk to the bridge. It would be easier if we could walk along the shore but that’s not really an option. It’s been a week but I’m pretty sure the kingdom and I aren’t exactly simpatico at the moment.”
“Come on,” he told her as he reached for her hand and headed back into the foliage, “we better get going if we’re going to get you home before sunset.”
He saw her face light up at the word home. It tugged at his heart and he knew he had to get her there safely.
They walked through the woods, checking from time to time to make sure they were still parallel to the shoreline. While on their trek, he noted that Rapunzel seemed a little at war with herself. There were moments when it seemed like she was talking a mile a minute. She was bouncy and cheerful and eager, it was as if they couldn’t get to the kingdom fast enough. Then there were those other moments, when she fell silent or started to cry, when she literally fell by the wayside or he practically had to peel her off a rock.
Eugene was feeling conflicted himself. Although he masked his own struggles and internalized his emotions, he was having a difficult time dealing with their impending separation. On the one hand, he was grateful for the short reprieve the missing gondola had provided him -- even if it came in the form of a handful of stolen hours with her. On the other, listening to her talk animatedly about her plans once she reunited with her parents was painful and only served to underscore the awful truth that she had her whole life ahead of her and he was still trying to figure out what he would do tomorrow when he woke up and she was no longer beside him. He was still trying to figure out how he would manage living without her.
It wasn’t any easier on him when the pendulum of her emotions swung the other way. He took no solace when she expressed fear and anxiety about leaving him because he wanted her to be happy. He wanted her happiness more than he wanted anything else in life, more than he wanted his own happiness.
They reached the end of their journey much sooner than he had expected, much sooner than he would’ve liked, and it appeared she was equally unprepared because she started to panic. They stopped just before reaching the clearing in front of the bridge.
They remained hidden in the thick vegetation that surrounded the clearing and he couldn’t help but think they’d reached the kingdom at the worst possible time as they stared out onto the bridge. It was late afternoon and the bridge was laden with foot traffic. All the laborers that had toiled in the fields on the mainland during the day were headed back home for supper. Eugene cursed under his breath as he realized that this was it, that he couldn’t travel any further with her.
“What if they don’t like me?” she whispered. Her voice was small and shaky, much like her frame.
Eugene chuckled at the absurdity of the question, but when he glanced down at her and saw her eyes full of worry he stopped short and turned to face her.
“Hey, you don’t have to worry about that,” he told her, stooping down to meet her gaze and place a hand behind her ear.
“They’re going to love you. It’s impossible not to love you Rapunzel.” He spoke those words with absolute sincerity, having never been more certain of anything his whole life.
Eugene reached for the strap of his satchel, when she interrupted him with her next question.
“But, what if they don’t believe me? What if they think I’m not telling the truth?”
“They will,” he assured her matter-of-factly but the question sent a chill down his spine and caused a new worry to loom over him like a dense fog.
It hadn’t occurred to him before, but it was possible that they wouldn’t believe her. They were probably expecting a princess with long, golden tresses and it was equally possible she might not even reach the King and Queen. After all, the guards were not known for their intellectual acumen, he had run circles around them even in his younger years, when he was long on daring and short in stature.
His hand still lingered over the satchel. He had planned to give it to her when they reached the bridge but now he wasn’t so sure. The guards might jump to conclusions, they might look at her as an accomplice and rather than strengthen her position, possessing the crown might undermine her claim.
It was too late now to cobble together a contingency plan in case everything fell apart and he didn’t want to frighten her by sharing his concerns, she was having second thoughts already. There was only one thing left to do, let her go.
He took both her hands in his and he crouched down so he could be eye level with her.
“Okay, Rapunzel. Listen to me. Once you get on the island you need to hurry. I want you off the streets before it gets dark. Go find the guards. They start their evening patrols along the perimeter of the island at seven, you can’t miss them. Look for the guard with the mustache and the tall shiny hat, the one with the stern, relentless, legalistic white horse. That’s the Captain. Never mind him you go straight to his horse. Believe me, he’s the smartest man . . . er, horse they’ve got. You need to tell him you’re the Lost Princess and demand that he take you to see the King and Qu --”
“A year from now Eugene, you’ll come for me?”
“Yes, Rapunzel, I promi--”
She didn’t give him a chance to finish his answer, or close his eyes for that matter, when she threw her arms over his shoulders and her lips came crashing onto his. As soon as he regained his composure he tangled his fingers in her hair and deepened the kiss. He realized that this could very well be their last kiss and if it wasn’t, it was certainly the last kiss he would give her in a very long time. He wanted to make it memorable, he wanted her to think back to this kiss every time some inexperienced, fumbling blueblood tried to plant one on her while sitting on some stone bench in a gazebo at the end of a ball.
When he let go of her, they were both panting. Without further words, he watched her walk out onto the clearing turning back once to look at him before disappearing into the crowd.
* * *
He looked up at his target and she looked beautiful. There, brushing her hair and gazing out the window towards the vast dark ocean. She seemed serene and happy, well almost happy. He could tell she was only almost happy because the corners of her eyes didn’t crease the way they always did when he looked at her.
He threw pebbles at her window until she put down her hairbrush and walked out onto the balcony to investigate the noise. When she looked down she gasped in surprise and he put his index finger to his lips motioning her to keep quiet.
He scaled the outside wall of the castle and before long he was right under her balcony. He pulled himself up over the balustrade and she reached over the railing eager to embrace him.
“Eugene! You came back for me!” She exclaimed waiting until his boots were firmly planted on the ground before embracing him again.
“I had to make sure you were alright. They seem nice, your parents.”
“You saw them? How?”
“I watched you guys earlier today, when you met them out on the balcony. I kept my distance; hid behind the large planters. I had to make sure you were alright,” he repeated.
He felt her warm fingers interlace with his own as she pulled him into her bedroom. That small gesture was enough to make his heart race. He thought back to the nights they’d spent by the campfire, when she would sit on his lap and place her ear over his heart. It was only yesterday, but it felt like another lifetime.
She let go of his hands as they crossed the threshold and Eugene looked up taking in his surroundings. It was a large room with high ceilings and fine furnishings. It was a room fit for a princess. It was a room fit for her.
And then he lowered his eyes to take her in. He saved her for last because he wanted to savor her. He wasn’t disappointed. She looked resplendent in a lilac colored dress and she had been scrubbed clean. She was so clean she practically gleamed, smelling of lavender soap. Eugene shook his head in amazement, it had been less than six hours since he saw her walk to the bridge but here, surrounded by luxury and clad in silk taffeta, she already looked like a different person. He couldn’t imagine what a difference a year would make. He felt his pulse quicken at the thought that the girl he knew was already vanishing into this polished version, into this princess.
Suddenly his fingers twitched, he wanted nothing more than to find that green dress -- the one she had clearly outgrown years ago and despite its age had only recently become tattered and sullied after a week with him -- and take her away from here. But instead, he appeared calm as he stood beside her, complimenting her on her new accommodations and making a half-hearted joke about getting used to a view like this. Despite their proximity, he didn’t dare hug her because he couldn’t trust himself to let her go, and kissing her, well that was out of the question.
“I couldn’t leave without giving you this.” He pulled the strap of the satchel over his head, careful not to muss up his own hair and placed it on her dresser, retrieving the crown in one continuous motion.
He held it up teasingly above her head, expecting her to reach up and grab it from his hands.
Instead, her gaze dropped to the floor, to where her feet would’ve been if she were still wearing her green dress instead of a floor length gown.
“It’s yours now,” she mumbled, “I want you to have it.”
“Rapunzel, I can’t take this,” he said placing the crown unceremoniously on her dresser. “What’s wrong?” He asked.
“How . . . how will you survive, if you don’t take the crown and sell it?” She bit her lip in worry.
Eugene smiled as he gazed at her in awe. He was wrong. He’d been so quick to jump to conclusions, so easily fooled by the regal veneer. She was still the same girl. The girl that fretted and cried as she cradled a stranger in a dark alley. He realized at that moment that it had been her compassion, it had been her unselfish kindness that had succeeded in breaking down long-standing walls, where others had tried and failed.
He was touched by her concern for him, for his well-being, and at the same time he felt ashamed of how quickly he had dismissed her feelings for him, of how little regard he must have for them if he thought that they would change with the hours, or wind, or the tides, or the seasons. For the first time since he had learned of her birthright he felt hopeful. Hopeful that if he turned it all around, that he might be worthy of her after all.
“Rapunzel, this,” he picked up the crown and despite its weight he was feeling a lot lighter, “belongs to you. As for me, well I’ve been taking care of myself a long time before the crown and I crossed paths.”
He gestured for her to turn around and face the mirror above the dresser, their eyes meeting in the reflection.
“May I?” He asked and she nodded in assent.
He stood behind her as he carefully placed the crown on her head. He let his hands rest on her shoulders and he crouched down to whisper in her ear.
“Same time next year?”
He saw the crease in the corner of her eye before he looked up to see her beaming smile in the mirror.
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