Notes:

This is a fic I started writing many many years ago, during the hiatus between seasons 1 and 2. I intended to post it way back then, as a long one-shot. I continued to occasionally work on it over the years, however, it's proven one of the hardest fics I've ever written to edit, (mostly due to the amount of internal monologue).
I finally decided that probably the only way to get it actually edited and posted is to break it up into multiple chapters, despite the fact that it's essentially only one scene, and I feel like that messes with the format. Hopefully it'll help me edit, and end up making it easier for people to read too XD I might post the full version of this, unbroken up, too after I finish it. But I finally got fed up with my editing process and decided this was the only way.

I'm aware that plenty of other people have written Varian and Arianna fics over the years, but at the time I started this there weren't that many yet, and I worked so hard on this, I still wanted to post it, even if others have done things like it. Plus, I'm not sure how many people have written it this heavily from Arianna's perspective.

I hope you all enjoy it, either way! Please don't hesitate to leave a review to let me know, if so!


Sun splinters through the castle windows, designing reflections on the newly polished floor.

When she walks into the library, her mouth drops open; The entire room gleams. That Corona sunlight bounces between the tiles, tables, and shelves like a little boy full of energy, laughing as he leaps around the room.

It may be a royal library, but there's usually still a layer of dust draped over everything, sealing up the gaps, and clogging up the stories. The servants try their best, but it's hard to get into all the crevices between the shelves, the cracks between the pages.

The tiles glitter, the shelves look new, the books don't cough up dust when she lifts them, even a few of their bindings are mended.

She stays a while to admire it before heading back for her room, and as she does, Arianna smiles, her gait almost dreamy—so like her daughter's.

Who would take such care to polish her library? She appreciates the gesture more than words can express, but she would like to say 'thank you' at least.

A curious sight down the hall interrupts her wondering; a laundry cart, moving on its own.

A very full laundry cart, that is…Cassandra doesn't usually fill them so much.

"May I…help you?" she walks up to the cart, tilting her head, strands of hair falling to the side.

"Oh, no, it's fine! I got this!" the laundry cart replies.

The ventriloquist reveals himself: a boy steps out from behind it. She guesses he must be one of Rapunzel's friends, since she doesn't remember seeing him here before, and he doesn't exactly look like a royal servant, (despite the fact that he's performing one of their jobs).

He pushes back his hair—black, with a streak of turquoise at the front—and smooths out his apron. Upon seeing her, his eyes widen with shock.

"Oh!" he stumbles, attempting to bow too low, too quickly, "Your majesty! I-I am so sorry! I didn't realize—!"

She laughs, holding out a hand to steady him.

"Don't worry. Please. I'm Arianna."

"Oh—O-Okay. That…seems to run in the family," he mutters beneath his breath. "I'm Varian." He leans confidently against the laundry cart…which starts moving, so he pulls it back with all his strength before it gets out of hand.

"Oh! Varian! Rapunzel told me about you!"

He freezes, his eyes trailing back to her, like people talking about him is usually a bad thing. "She…She has?"

"Of course!" she steps closer. "You're the alchemist, right?"

He pauses, blinks, then his face breaks into the biggest grin. He clears his throat, rubbing fake dirt off his gloves, trying to hide his joy, as he looks back up at her. "Ten points to the lady in the crown."

She smiles.

"Are you here for the completion today?"

He nods. "I think I've got a pre-tty good chance of snagging that first prize if I do say so myself," he pulls on his apron straps, then pauses, realizing how arrogant that sounds. "Not to uh…toot my own horn or anything. But it doesn't seem like there's anything like my invention in the running, so I think once Master Doctor St. Croix sees it he'll be impressed! At least I hope so."

"Well, if your invention is anything like the ones Rapunzel has told me about you'll have no trouble snagging that blue ribbon."

"Oh stop," he flicks his wrist to wave her off, but is beaming from ear to ear.

She notes that she may be encouraging him a little too much. The experiments Rapunzel has told her about aren't exactly all blue-ribbon worthy. Or, perhaps they would be…if they all worked properly. At the same time, she isn't sure labelling him as dangerous, and reckless is really fair. She and Willow had tried out their share of inventions, which often failed in a grand array of explosions. If they had worked properly, growing up wouldn't have been as colorful. At least he was trying his best to help people with his inventions. Without the explosive failures, there was no room for fiery success either.

"Wait, shouldn't you be there with the other contestants now?"

"Oh, yeah." He says nonchalantly. "But I figured since I'm going second-to-last I've got a decent amount of time before I have to present. Cassi—Cassandra has agreed to be my assistant, so I'm helping her out with her lady-in-waiting duties first."

"Don't let her make you do all her work." She says in a motherly way. Then gasps, "The library!"

He winces. "Did I do something wrong? I-I can fix it, don't worry!"

"No, no!" she puts her hands on his shoulders, "So you were the one who cleaned it?"

"Yeees…?"

She pulls him into a hug. "Thank you so much."—his eyes widen with shock—"I've never seen the place look so beautiful." She releases him.

"Oh!" he rubs the back of his neck and the smile turns sheepish.

"That must have taken you hours!"

"It was no big deal. Nothing a little home-alchemy can't fix." He says like a salesman.

"How did you do it?"

"Just a compound of my own invention," he digs in his pocket and holds up a little, blue orb between his thumb and forefinger. "Most people don't understand the more practical uses for alchemy." he marches forward, hands on his hips, in a hyperbolic show of pride, making his voice sound deep, "that's why I make it a mission to show the world the value of alchemy! To boldly go where no man has gone before!" he laughs, his pose collapsing, "Or something like that."

No wonder Rapunzel had such nice things to say about him. There weren't a lot of people out there who were so…genuine. People who cleaned libraries because they needed cleaning, who created solutions for problems simply because they needed fixing.

"Maybe one day you can teach me."

"Really?" He drops the ball and it explodes into a sudsy mess on the already polished floor. "I mean, not that I think a queen should be doing housework! But…really?"

"Please," she waves him off. "I wasn't always a queen, you know. If Willow and I had had tricks like this maybe our house would have always looked like a pigsty. Sometimes I think we started going off on adventures just to get away from the smell." She leans in closer, whispering behind her hand, "One time, I set the kitchen on fire trying to bake a birthday cake for Frederic."

He laughs, then pauses like he isn't sure he's allowed to. "I guess not every queen is scared to get her hands dirty, huh?"

"Uh huh," she puts her hands on her hips, "You should have seen the look on his face."

"Happy birthday huh?"

"Now make sure to always send someone to Monty's for his cake…spare us all."

He fails to keep himself from laughing again, then pauses.

"Well… I really should be getting back to these chores. This laundry isn't going to clean itself, amIright?" he bobs his head and walks backwards to the cart. "But it was really nice talking to you, your Maj—I mean," he points, "Arianna."

"Let me help you! This cart is too heavy to carry on your own." she rushes over to the other end—he's so thin, she's afraid he'll snap in two if he does all the chores by himself.

"No no!" he comes dangerously close to slapping her hands away. "I mean," he smiles nervously, pulling his fingers close to his chest, realizing his outburst to the Queen. "I wouldn't want you to get your…er…royal hands dirty…Right?"

She smiles.

Well, if a little stubborn.

"As long as you're sure."

*
The scene shifts, smearing like a painting left out in the rain. The reflection becomes more sinister; a glowing tower of amber, and encased within, a man reaching to the sky as if trying to catch rays of sunlight; as if light alone can break himself out of his prison of stained glass. The curtain to this godforsaken show is crumpled at the bottom. A giant machine stands in the middle of the room, made of metal, lightning, and cold, haunting music.

The room smells like sulfur, and rust, and a lot of other chemicals she can't quite place. Things from the earth which don't smell natural at all.

The same boy stands before her. The same, and yet…not the same at all. Along with the light from the windows, so too has disappeared the light from his eyes. The blue is something akin to moonlight; less the gleam of day, the reflection of the sunrise, full of hope, instead, more an eclipsed glow, shrouded by darkness.

She feels that rusted metal, the cold in his eyes, wrap like icy hands around her ankles.

She looks quizzically from her cuffed ankles to him. Doesn't the warden usually cuff the prisoner's hands?

He seems to understand her confusion, because he answers her unasked question;

"Please," he scoffs. His eyes meet hers, and he smirks. The words, the smile, no longer contain compassion, they are manufactured with bite and scorn; "I wouldn't want you to get your royal hands dirty."

He tugs hard on the chain, showing that it's connected to the lab's floor, as if saying to a toddler You're stuck here, understand? He walks back over to his desk—littered with bottles, liquid bubbling and seething like his emotions, an array of colors that tell nothing of what they contain.

If the color green is sleep, then what color is death?

She looks up at the golden tower in the center of the room. She doesn't want to, but she can't look away.

—Look away…like Frederic did, when people like Varian were crying out for his help against the rocks. Look away, like Rapunzel had to when the storm was coming, and Quirin was being imprisoned. Look away, like they all did after the storm passed.

She still couldn't believe her husband would, could do something like that. That was the reason she was here, the reason the boy was hurt, the reason…the mistake, the poorly made choice.

No, she couldn't think that way. Besides, she knew he had his reasons, that he wanted to make sure people didn't panic, and he wanted to keep Rapunzel safe. It wasn't his fault he didn't fully understand the situation.

And she would never blame Rapunzel. Rapunzel had had to make one of the most difficult choices of her life that day, had had to learn too much about being queen, too soon: that it was about choices, and sometimes those choices would be leaving behind the one, for the sake of the many.

And the amber was the other reason, and that wasn't Frederic's fault...The amber Varian himself had mistakenly made.

Still, it would have been so easy. So easy to come back to him once the storm had ended. So easy...

So where did the fault lie, really?—

Was it amber? Was amber the color of death? Or just another kind of sleep?

The boy's eyes shift, glaring at her with nothing more than bitterness.

Or was it blue? The color of the moon, a well-timed strike of lightning, an icy landscape. Was blue the color of death?

"What are you going to do?"

"Yeah," he scoffs, "I'll reveal my whole plan to you. Let me go into the tragic backstory of Varian," he waves his hand grandly, "The poor boy, who lost his father to an experiment, a few rocks, a storm, and a princess' broken promise." He leans on the desk, resting his cheek in his hand in some mock-loving fashion, his eyes aimed on her like gunfire. "It's simple; Rapunzel broke her promise." He stands back up to his full height—which, admittedly, isn't very high, but it's more impressive from her place on the ground. "I tried asking nicely for her help, and I was denied." He jabs a finger on the table to emphasize his point; the first sign of violence. "Now I'm going to ask" he smirks, tilting his head to the side, his eyes half-lidded in the dark, "not so nicely."

He pauses a moment, glancing at the chemicals on his desk.

"I once said I'd teach you the ways of practical alchemy." He reaches forward and takes up a flask. "Well, this isn't exactly what I had in mind, but I will show you something."

He walked over to her, holding the flask full of something green and frothy that smells like dog breath.

Was it green? Was death's color the same as sleep? The colors of leaves and grass and everything everyone thinks is a sign of life. ...It would be a cruel joke.

"This is a little solution I like to call…Varium." There's something hurt in his eyes when he says the word. "You see, when it reacts with the rocks," he runs his fingers along the black spire jutting through the wall between them—one could be fooled into thinking in an intrigued way, but there was something harsh in his touch, resentful in his eyes, "it has this tendency to—" he held it over the stones, the liquid trickling slowly downwards in the flask, teasing her breath to catch itself and fall. He turns the bottle upright, and bites his lip, closing his eyes, willing himself not to turn around and look at what this has done before.

What he's done.

"Well, you get the idea," he mutters, returning the flask to his desk.

She doesn't have to ask, and he doesn't have to finish.

"You think if you threaten me Rapunzel will work with you?" there's a bite to her words.

"Ten points to the lady in the crown."

She pauses as he returns to work, her eyes trailing along the chain, the floor, jumping onto the windowsill—the rocks interrupting her gaze at every bend and break of the room—searching for any way out, any chance at rescue, anything her husband and daughter could use against him.

Was death black? The color everyone thinks it is. The black of these rocks, the low blue glowing beneath them, destroying his home, destroying their hearts, their chances at friendship and…It surely seemed like it.

"She won't, you know."

He raises an eyebrow as if to say oh, you think?

"Rapunzel." She tries to urge her confidence, like a stubborn pet, to come out, but it shies away by the second. "She won't help you."

He smiles. "You make your hypotheses, I'll make mine."

"And what are yours?" her own eyes are half lidded.

He thinks over his words. "She can't…help but help. She always had this sick compassion about her." After a moment he adds softly, "…but only for her kingdom."

Anger, injustice, bubble within her chest.

"You don't have to be like this, you know."

"And she didn't have to break her promise," he tilts his head, "ya know."

She grits her teeth, clenches her fist. "I met you once. What happened to that boy who—"

He laughs a little, cutting her off. "Yeah, well, he learned a couple things about the real world."

For a moment, just one brief moment, there is something there. Something in his eyes, a memory, a reaction, like the chemicals. Something real, something lost, something hurt, something…something not this. Incased within a prison of blue—

And then that moment ended.