Authors: JMetropolis and Jane McAvoy
Characters & Pairings: Rapunzel and Flynn Rider/Eugene Fitzherbert
Rating & Warnings: T
Chapter Word Count: 3,468
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 6 - The Reunion
Rapunzel couldn’t sleep. She was up before sunrise and anxiously willing the hours to pass quickly. She sat at the edge of her window seat, staring out to sea even though it was still too dark outside to see anything, even though he was not expected at port until at least another six hours.
“Princess, you are up already?” a matronly woman sounded surprised as she entered the princess’ room holding a candlestick in one hand and a bundle in the other.
“Oh, Helga. It’s here. It’s finally here. He’ll be here today.” Rapunzel stood up to greet her governess.
The older woman frowned, drawing attention to the worry lines that had over the years etched deep grooves on her forehead.
Rapunzel knew this look well. It was a pitying look. It was the look that Helga assumed everytime Rapunzel mentioned him.
“Now, princess. I don’t want you to get your hopes up too high. No one has seen this Flynn --”
“Eugene,” Rapunzel quickly corrected.
“. . . this Eugene Fitzherbert in almost a year. I know that he’s made certain promises to you and while we were all shocked when he returned you and your crown, his reputation precedes him. He’s not known as a man who keeps his word.”
Rapunzel bit her lip in uncertainty. She knew that Helga meant well, that she only wanted to protect her from heartache, but the woman had a knack for unintentionally undermining her confidence.
Helga placed the candlestick on the nightstand and the bundle on the bed before walking over to her charge who had assumed a stiff, defiant stance, and was almost clinging to the leaded window.
“Now, princess, don’t be upset with me,” Helga said earnestly as she approached the young princess and placed a hand on her shoulder. “It’s my job to prepare you for life’s disapp-- . . . lessons. I’m not saying he won’t come, stranger things have happened, I suppose. It’s just that I’d hate to see you get your hopes up. Now come child, I’ve got a surprise for you.”
Rapunzel knew it was futile to argue with her governess. There was no point in explaining to Helga that Eugene was the love of her life, that the other men who visited court were dull and trifle compared him, and that it was impossible for her not to get her hopes up. There was not a single day that had passed that she did not think of him and of their short time in the cave. If she didn’t cling to the belief that he was coming back, she’d drown in grief.
She knew her governess was a practical woman and, despite her intelligence, she would never understand matters of the heart, so Rapunzel remained silent as she followed her governess towards her bed.
“I was going to surprise you when you woke up, but seeing as you’re already up, there’s no point in delaying this until morning."
Rapunzel eyed the lumpy brown package wrapped in wax paper, the kind they used to wrap fish down at the market, and tied with a simple white string. She raised an eyebrow, this gesture was so unlike Helga. Partaking in schemes and games was the princess’ domain and she had learned early on that Helga neither liked to give nor receive surprises.
“Well, go ahead open it.” Patience was not a virtue that Helga placed much stock in.
Rapunzel picked up the package with both hands and sat in the spot where it had laid. She pulled the string off and the paper opened up like a flower. Rapunzel beamed as she looked up at Helga.
“Oh Helga,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes as she carefully picked up the garment.
“Now princess, there’s no need to fuss over a ratty old dress.” Emotions were not Helga’s strong suit either.
“It’s my dress. You got me my green dress. And look it’s been re-hemmed and cleaned. It looks almost new. Oh, Helga, however did you manage it?
“Oh, it was nothing,” She waved her hand dismissively. “It turned out it hadn’t been lost at all, just misplaced in a donation box that never quite made it to the rummage sale at the orphanage. I handed it over to the seamstress for repairs. She was able to patch it back up for me. She did a pretty good job of it, I must say.
Rapunzel leaped off the bed and draped the dress over her body. Somehow, having this physical memento of their time together solidified her faith that he would keep his promise, that he would be coming back for her. Sure she had her crown and it had been responsible for bringing them together in the first place. But the crown did not factor in heavily when Rapunzel thought of their time together. It had remained, for the most part, in his satchel and tucked away safely in the cave that fateful week.
She arrived at the memorial almost a hour early, taking off her shoes and leaving them just inside the entrance of the structure. It was daytime but the fire at the hearth of the shrine that honored the Lost Princess was still ablaze. It was attended to daily and had burned continuously for almost nineteen years, casting a warm amber glow on the walls of the circular building.
As her bare feet walked across the hard marble floor she recalled how she’d pleaded with her parents not to tear it down. The monarchs had been perplexed by their daughter’s impassioned reaction. They didn’t understand why she felt so strongly about preserving the shrine. It was a difference of opinion, they would soon come to learn. To them and the subjects of the kingdom, the memorial was a sad, outdated testament to a painful period in Corona’s past. To her, it was a testament to self-discovery, to new found love, and to a hopeful promise of someone else’s return. In the end, she had won out. Rapunzel grinned at the thought.
Her parents knew about Eugene of course. She talked about him every chance she got. It was a way to keep his memory alive and an opportunity to remind them that whatever his past misdeeds, he had single-handedly been responsible for returning their daughter and for restoring their happiness.
By now, she had told and retold the story of their week together countless times. She’d told her parents how he’d stood up to her captor, how he had been wounded while attempting to save her, and how he had ensured her safe return. But she was always careful to leave out certain parts of the story. She didn’t tell them how she had cried and begged him to take her with him or how he had agreed to come back for her. The latter was something she eventually divulged but had initially kept from them because they had been so overwhelmed with joy, she didn’t want to tell them that her return might not be permanent. The former would remain a secret because she didn’t want to hurt her parents’ feelings. For almost eighteen years they had released a single lantern into the night sky with the unwavering hope that she would find her way home and she had been willing to turn her back on their love and run off with a man she’d just met. Now that she knew and loved her parents, she felt ashamed that she had been so callously willing to let them go on with their broken hearts and their futile lantern ceremony, and live out their lives without her. Still, there was a tiny part of her, the same part that in moments of weakness entertained doubts about the possibility of a broken promise, that feared she might regret her decision.
It was when they discussed the fate of the memorial that she finally told them that Eugene would be returning for her and that she wasn’t sure what would happen when he did. After that, when she talked of Eugene, they gave her the same pitying look that Helga would give her, as if they couldn’t believe that he would keep his promise to her and they didn’t want to see her heartbroken. Soon after she had made this disclosure, her father signed pardon papers in absentia and on his own accord, eagerly removing any and all legal obstacles on the off chance that Eugene, and by extension his daughter, wished to stay.
She studied the different panels carefully, partly to pass the time and partly because, in truth, she had only been here once, that night on her eighteenth birthday. Despite the significance this memorial held in her heart and the fervor with which she fought to preserve it, she was afraid to visit it before it was time. Some irrational part of her thought that if she set foot inside the temple before today that he might not come back for her. It was a silly thought -- she knew this, she shared it with no one -- but even so, she didn’t want to jinx it.
On her first visit to the temple, the imposing center mural of her with her parents had commanded almost all of her attention. Although she had only seen it once, she had committed it to memory and recalled that mural often and vividly, but she had forgotten about the smaller murals that graced the walls of the circular structure. She recalled what she had notice the first time. That the smaller murals started with a magic golden flower and told a story. Her breath caught in her throat when saw that the last wall still laid bare, as if it was too soon to tell how the story would end.
He had made good time and had arrived at port earlier that morning. It was the day of the lantern festival and there was a shortage of rooms among the nicer establishments, but he’d had no trouble securing a room at an inn near the wharf. The innkeeper, an ornery old man, had given him an annoyed scowl, when he had truthfully answered that he didn’t know how long he’d be staying. Most guests preferred a view of the water, and so the innkeeper had been equally miffed when he'd had walked Eugene up four flights of stairs to his finest room only to have the young man reject it and ask for one with a view of the castle.
“Alone at last,” he breathed after the man left and he had shut the door behind him. He walked over to the window and felt a pang of nervous anticipation as he stared at the lonely white dome on the hilltop. He maintained his gaze as he divested himself of his weary traveling clothes, before retreating to run a hot bath. On his way to the washroom, he looked down at the faint white scar on his thigh and smiled.
Eugene’s heart was in his throat as he raced through the hilltop and up the marble steps of their meeting place.
He saw the familiar green dress and the short, chocolate locks. He recognized her instantly, but when he called out her name it came out like a question. It was as if he didn’t trust his eyes enough to believe she was actually here.
The small figure turned around instantly.
“Eugene!” She cried out as she closed the short distance between them and wrapped her arms around him.
The force of her momentum knocked him back a few paces before he tripped over her shoes and they both tumbled to the floor. He’d forgotten how strong she was despite her slight frame, but he hadn’t forgotten how beautiful she was. He’d thought about her every day since they had parted. She was the first thing he thought of when he got up in the morning and she was his last fleeting thought when he drifted off to sleep at night.
His body had cushioned her fall, but his hands had been unwilling to let go of her waist to break his own. He landed hard on an elbow, instantly feeling the tingling, prickly sensation run up his forearm and into the fingers that continued to greedily cling to her.
“You’re here,” he said with a smile, as his eyes quenched their thirst in deep pools of emerald. His fingers tightened their grip on her midsection as he sat them both up, afraid she’d move off of his lap in response to the change in position but she made no such effort.
“Of course I’m here. I made a promise and I always keep a promise.”
Eugene’s dropped his gaze as his heart sank to his stomach. He couldn’t help but feel disappointed at the reason she had given. She was here to fulfill an obligation.
He felt a small hand under his chin. She tilted his head up to meet her eyes. He’d always thought of green as a cool, crisp color. It was the color of spring and the color of newness. At this moment however, as she firmly pressed her soft lips to his, it appeared to him that green was also the color of hope and the color of happiness.
They sat on the smooth floor of the shrine for almost an hour. She told him about her parents and about her life as a princess. She also told him how much she had missed him and how she had been looking forward to this day. Eugene had teasingly pretended he hadn’t heard that part, just so she would repeat it. She indulged him while at the same time making clear she wasn’t falling for it. She went on to talk about all the people she had met and the friends she had made, the palace guards and the white horse, whose name turned out to be Maximus. He’s nothing but a big sweetheart, she explained to a skeptical Eugene. When she finished, he asked her to go back to the part about how she couldn’t resist his devilish charm or live without his devastatingly handsome face, which earned him a playful shove on his shoulder.
When it was his turn to speak, he barely got to the part about the ship when she shot up, grabbing his hand and tugging him up with an enthusiastic squeal, “It's here?! Come on, let's go see it.”
Eugene appeared nervous, his hands behind his back, as he walked wordlessly behind Rapunzel. She took her time inspecting the minutiae on the top deck. She ran her hand along the freshly polished wood noting the sturdiness of the railings and tugged the coils of ropes that had secured the sails to their spars before they’d arrived at port.
“Well, how will with this work, exactly?” She blushed when she realized the forwardness of her question which was laden with assumptions and felt immensely grateful that he could only see the back of her head at the moment. Her heart sank as she considered the possibility that he might not be staying or planning to take her with him. It dawned on her that he might’ve just come to fulfill a year-long promise or to wish her well and to show her what he had made of himself.
Eugene must not have picked up on the meaning of her words because he responded in nautical terms, explaining how the sails fit into their riggings and how the tiller functioned. He seemed proud of his ship. When she looked out to the surrounding boats in the harbor, his appeared larger, sturdier than the others. She felt her heart swelling up with pride for him. It bubbled up inside her until it spilled over into a wide grin. Her eyes watered as she realized he’d accomplished a childhood dream.
“Ahem!” A man cleared his throat as he walked up from the ship’s galley.
Rapunzel turned around and gasped when she saw the imposing figure. She looked over to Eugene who appeared surprisingly calm standing beside the stranger.
“Princess Rapunzel, may I present to you Captain Hook!” Eugene gestured towards the man.
“Hookhand,” the portly man correct, “Captain Hookhand. It’s an honor to meet you Your Highness.”
“I still think Captain Hook sounds like a better name,” Eugene muttered to no one in particular.
Rapunzel smiled when she realized that despite the man’s sneer he was quite friendly. She shook his good hand enthusiastically.
“I will be taking over this ship and overseeing the others.” The man declared, ignoring Eugene’s comment.
“Others?” She asked bewildered.
“Well it’s not much of a fleet if you’ve only got one ship.” Eugene added.
“You’ve got a whole fleet of ships just like this?” Rapunzel was stunned, gripping the railing for support. She had been impressed that he’d been able to purchase this vessel alone. She never imagined that he’d been able to amass a whole fleet of merchant ships.
At that moment Rapunzel realized that the deck was filling up with other burly men who were making their way up from down below. A motley crew of what a year ago she would’ve described as ruffians and thugs. The one behind the captain had a goiter that was outsized only by his nose. He gave Eugene a thumbs up gesture to which Rapunzel only heard Eugene respond with a groan. There was one wearing Viking horns, one dressed as a mime, and one who was carrying a potted plant and pruning shears. The one with the large metal helmet was inexplicably wearing oven mitts. Despite outward appearances, they were all friendly and cheerful.
After making their introductions, the crew made flimsy excuses before retreating back down below deck. A fashionable man with long sideburns and a fur vest, bent down to pick up the smallest crew member who seemed to have fallen asleep face down at the top of the stairs before she could properly make his acquaintance.
They were alone again and Rapunzel resumed her careful inspection of the ship for a few more minutes, trying to gather her thoughts.
“It’s beautiful!” She finally declared as she turned to face him and leaned back on the railing.
Eugene breathed a sigh of relief but there was something else in his eyes.
“I could take you out for a spin in the harbor,” he offered as he drew nearer.
Rapunzel shivered in nervous anticipation when he placed his hands on either side of her, gripping the railing, but not quite touching her.
“What if I’d like to go farther?”
“. . . That could be arranged too.”
“And if I wanted to stay put . . . would you stay with me?”
“I would, if you wanted me to,” despite his tone, it was a question, not a statement and it wafted between them for a moment before she answered it with her lips.
“Eugene?” She asked winded, when she finally broke the kiss.
“Yes, Rapunzel?” His voice sounded distant and dreamlike as if he were in a daze, or maybe she was the one in the daze, it was hard to tell at the moment.
“. . . I don’t understand. You no longer had the crown . . . where did you find the money for all these ships and for your crew? I mean, how did you manage to accomplish all this is such a short time?”
She heard the admiration in her own voice and noticed the corners of his mouth twitch upward in response. She realized her hands had migrated to his chest when she felt a soft, nervous chuckle reverberate against her open palms. It made her feel like she’d swallowed a kaleidoscope of butterflies.
“Well, after I left your room, I did what any guy would do in my situation. I went to go drown my sorrows in the bottom of a tankard of beer. That’s where I met these guys. It turns out they were looking for a career change too. As for the money . . . let’s just say your father unintentionally loaned it to me a while back. I used it to buy my first ship. I can afford to repay him now with interest, of course. The rest as they say is history.”
“Come on,” she said shaking her head in mock disapproval as she laced her slender fingers in his thicker ones, “mother and father can’t wait to finally meet you.”
She heard a sudden rumble of cheers erupt from below the deck.
A few months later, the entire kingdom celebrated as the former rogue married his no longer lost princess.