The Door of the Tower
"You know, I've always had a thing for brunettes."
These were the first words out of Eugene Fitzherbert's mouth after he was resuscitated by a tear. Not Gee, thanks for saving my life or Hey, I'm alive or even The light was so pretty, why'd ya bring me back? Just that. But it was so characteristic of the man she had grown to know and love (at least as far as she could tell, if two days' time was enough to even say that) that Rapunzel wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry.
Instead, she kissed him.
After staring at him in utter joy and disbelief for a half of a second, her face breaking into a radiant smile, she nearly tackled him in her embrace before neatly shifting, her hands fisted possessively into the collar of his beloved blue vest, the material worn and yielding in her hands as she drew him closer as her closed lips met his.
Though he tensed at first in surprise, Eugene, for his part, relaxed in an instant, his newly reopened eyes fluttered closed from their widened state, his hand cupping around the choppy tendrils of brown hair at the base of her skull as he gently coaxed her mouth open. Her lips were like velvet on his, soft and compliant, and he broke the kiss gently, pulling back to look at her for a moment in wonder before she impulsively threw her arms around him once more.
He exhaled in contentment and relief, breath warming the tender flesh where her shoulder met her neck, exposed for the first time now that her vast expanse of hair was gone. Never before had he thought to be grateful just for the ability to breathe at all.
Perhaps his words had been pronounced in a lighthearted tone, but both of them were well aware of the gravity of what had just occurred. He had died. He had felt the blackness creeping in on the edge of his consciousness, and had been aware of his life slipping away from him. His pain had been one of startling intensity, and then it had been gone, when it was too late to even notice it.
He couldn't remember now what it had felt like, to be dead; and he found that nor could he recall any loner what it had been like to feel alive before this. Had there been life before that kiss, or before Rapunzel at all? If there had been, it was just an unsatisfactory imitation of the real thing.
Before he could remember that Flynn Rider never got choked up, he found a tear run down the length of the nose that no artist could capture. It was a good thing he was no longer Flynn Rider. As he nestled closer to the girl who had saved him and held her more tightly to him, he whispered, for he was too overwhelmed to speak, "I love you."
Carefully extracting herself from his grip so that she was settled loosely in his arms, Rapunzel answered, her own eyes gleaming, "I love you too, Eugene Fitzherbert. I have since the moment I met you."
She did not realize, until afterward, that the familiar phrase I love you more had not leapt to her lips; and she was grateful for it, for she suspected that if it had, she would have bit it back anyway.
Unsure what to say to that, other than that he felt the same way – and he wasn't about to do that, seeing as how he'd felt quite enough emotion for one day, or possibly for the rest of his life – Eugene just smiled at her and lightly played with the ends of her hair with his fingertips. He hadn't been lying; he really did like it this way. He was a pretty good hairdresser, for having just had a piece of broken glass as his mirror.
"There's something else I have to tell you," Rapunzel said, shifting a little as if in discomfort. She bit her lip a little and then, without any other preface, mumbled, "I'm… I'm kind of the lost princess."
She winced and looked at him, anticipating his shock, but she was the one surprised when he just sat there, a blank expression on his face. Perhaps he was still in shock from the blood loss, or from what she had just told him, and he was trying not to freak out while he was probably internally combusting.
"…Eugene?" she asked, concern edging into her voice.
"I didn't know being a princess was just a 'kind of' thing," he said breezily, entirely unfazed.
The princess looked at him, seeming rather exasperated. Perhaps a little bit of freaking out would be nice. After all, she'd just found out the story behind the past eighteen years of her life, she'd had an entire epiphany, and a little empathy would be nice.
"Relax, Blondie. I already figured it out, all right?"
The self-satisfied smirk on his face made her realize it was true, even though before she might not have believed him. After all this, she wasn't as trusting as she had once been. But she trusted Eugene Fitzherbert. Flynn Rider, not so much, but she found it easier to trust a hero than a thief. It was nice, too, to have her suspicious validated by someone else other than her memories and Mother Gothel. The thought of that made her shudder a little and she forced herself out of her thoughts.
"I'm glad I don't have to explain it to you then," she said with a small smile. "I didn't want you to freak out. Magical hair that glows and heals and keeps young is one thing...being a lost princess is another."
"Lucky thing, that, or else the surprise might have killed me – again," he joked, lamely.
"Oh," she said simply, unable to laugh. She looked at him intently."H-how…?"
Putting up his free hand to spare her the stammering, he began, "Well, I remembered when I was an orphan and the palace guards used to come by the orphanage every once in a while to see if the lost princess was there. The whole kingdom knew everything about you – your age, your birthday, your name… And it just all added up."
"My name?" Rapunzel repeated softly.
"Well, yeah. It isn't like you exactly have a common one." Alright, so he was a bit of a hypocrite on that one. He moved on quickly before she could point it out. "Your parents named you Rapunzel, after the flower that healed your mom. Everyone knew the name of the princess, because there was all this excitement when you were born, so either Gothel used it too, or had the same idea about the origin of your… magical-ness," he explained awkwardly. He shook his head. "I can't believe I didn't connect it all sooner! It's so obvious!"
Rapunzel was crestfallen, her eyes misty as she glanced away. "My parents gave me this name," she whispered, almost reverently.
Realizing that was the only thing of her parents that she had, Eugene gave her a little sympathetic smile. "Of course they did. They named you as soon as you were born. And they loved you even before then." He cupped her jaw lightly to direct her face back towards his, the pad of his thumb tenderly stroking her cheek as her eyes fluttered back to meet his. "Why else would they put on a festival just for you every year, and have a whole library of books about you, and have murals painted of you?"
Considering this silently, Rapunzel's expression was thoughtful as she leaned into Eugene's touch.
"And I'm so glad they did," he continued, "or else I would have experienced a short drop and a sudden stop, and you would be in some godforsaken…" He trailed off, clearing his throat. No need to go down that trail of tears.
"You would have… what?" she asked, finally coming out of her mute state.
"Been hanged. From the gallows," Eugene replied, matter-of-factly. "Most wanted thief in the kingdom, remember?"
Rapunzel lowered her eyes. This was all too much. He had almost died once today, and then he really had died, and she'd brought him back to life – she could barely even comprehend how. Nor could she comprehend what would have happened, anything other than what actually happened. She didn't want to.
"How did you escape, then?" she asked curiously.
"A little help from a certain noble steed and a gang of lovable ruffians," he grinned.
"Maximus!" she cried happily, smiling widely.
"The one and only. We can go and see him, as soon as…" He grimaced and arched his back, straining against the manacle that held him, and twisting until he had maneuvered so that his wrist, though still encircled by iron, was no longer chained to anything.
Rapunzel looked at him in wonder. "How did you do that?"
He just flashed his best Flynn Rider grin. "Most wanted thief in the kingdom, remember?" He gave Pascal a nod of gratitude as the little lizard trotted up proudly wielding a key and unlocked the cuff. Rubbing his wrist for a moment, Eugene continued, "I'm Flynn Rider. I've gotten out of situations stickier than this." And by "this", he meant being chained here, not death – that had definitely been a first. Though he'd cut it pretty close with the gallows thing.
"No," Rapunzel said, smiling at him, "you're Eugene Fitzherbert."
He returned the smile. He had said Eugene Fitzherbert wasn't a good name for a thief. But he was no longer a thief. Rapunzel had said she had liked it better than his fake name. And perhaps it was a good name for the rescuer of the lost princess.
"Well, come on, then. Max is probably eager to see you. He did gallop all the way to the Snuggly Duckling to find you after the Stabbingtons knocked me out and sent me to jail…" He winced. "I guess I should probably explain all of that. How did you get out of their dirty paws, anyway?"
"You first," she demanded; she had a right to know why she had been betrayed, though she knew now that she had not been.
"All right, all right, your Highness," he relented, putting up his hands in mock defense. "It's not like I can say no to you now." Of course he never could have said no to her, but that was obvious enough. "I should warn you, it's a long story."
"It's a long ride to get to the castle," she pointed out.
"Touché." Yes, they would have to go the castle, and she couldn't stay here forever; she wouldn't want to. He was just kind of surprised that she had been the one to propose the idea, after everything she'd been to – but then, after everything she'd been through, it made more sense than ever.
"I want to meet my parents," Rapunzel said, less forcefully than she had spoken before.
Eugene understood this. He had never had a family, and she understood why she would want to meet hers – her real family. Perhaps he was a bit hurt that he wasn't good enough for her, but he was a thief, and she was a princess; he would never be good enough for her. And at least there was her implication that, if he was to tell her the story, that he would be going with her. If he had the opportunity to meet his parents, he knew he would take it.
"Then what are we waiting for?" he asked, forcing the cheer back into his voice and handing her a frying pan as he glanced out the window towards Maximus. "Your hero awaits!"
Rapunzel looked at him for a moment before taking the frying pan, her expression softening as she touched his cheek lovingly. "He's right here."
He smiled at her before clambering down the hole that Gothel had planned on using for her escape, and Rapunzel watched him nervously. She turned around to take one last look around the place that had been her home for eighteen years, at all of the murals she had painted, at the mannequin she had used to make dresses, and thought of all the memories she had made.
Then she closed her eyes and imagined all of the new memories she would make: meeting her parents, spending her life with Eugene...having children of her own. Her resolve strengthened, she held Pascal in one hand and the frying pan in the other. She sat on the edge of the passage and swung her legs experimentally before scooting herself forward to drop down and feeling Eugene's strong arms catch her safely.
He held her hand as they walked over the pile of stones that had once served to bar the entrance to the tower, where a door never was. He put his arm around her shoulder while she cried tears of horror and relief over the cloak of Gothel, the only remains of her captor and her guardian. He was her guardian now. He helped her onto Maximus, who whickered in greeting, and held her to him as the horse lurched into a bouncing trot. She didn't look back as she sung softly, "Now's when my life begins..."
AN: Things will get more exciting soon, I promise; I just needed to fill in a couple plot holes, and there will be more of that in the next chapter with explaining the reality behind her "betrayal" after the floating lanterns scene, what happened in the jail.
I personally believe that Eugene knew that she was the lost princess before the Tower scene, or else why would she have believed that she was in trouble when the Stabbington brothers said that she was "with the old lady"? If Gothel was really Rapunzel's mother, he wouldn't have been worried. A shoutout to miss Sunshine. Flower (take out the spaces, it wouldn't let me type it otherwise - weird!), who believed Eugene subconsciously realized Rapunzel's true identity during the library scene.
Also, when wondering how Eugene would get out of his chains, Kairan1979 reminded me that he had knowledge of such things, as a thief, which goes well with my prologue, and also makes me smile thinking of that thing Flynn did in the jail where he leapt and got his hands out from being cuffed behind his back. /mental picture of Flynn
And a question: do you prefer long chapters that you can really sink your teeth into, or short and sweet that you can get through quickly without getting bored? Just curious.
Thanks for reading! I write for enjoyment, not reviews, but all the same, thanks to LunarBasket and AIOFanNCRM for their encouragement!