Another Door Opens

Chapter Five

The Door to Discovery


AU: Quick warning: story rating is getting bumped for this chapter. You readers worrying about Eugene being standoffish to Rapunzel don't have to worry too much. ;)


Once she was in the sack, with no gag in her mouth, Rapunzel was free to scream as much as she liked, but her cries for help would fall upon deaf ears. The guards who had been posted outside her room had been knocked out by the Stabbington brothers, who had wanted to get their revenge on Rapunzel, and on the man they knew as Flynn Rider. It was not that the guards were particularly incompetent, no matter what Eugene thought; they were just not used to dealing with criminals, frankly, or with cruel people in general, and the Stabbingtons were both.

She struggled inside the scratchy burlap, but to no avail. The man who was holding her was strong, stronger than she could possibly be in spite of lifting Gothel into the tower every day, because he was simply larger than her. She remembered how intimidated she had been when she had seen them advancing upon her in the forest when she had been expecting Eugene. How she wished she had thought to grab the trusty frying pan on her bedside table to defend herself!

As the top of the sack opened slightly to reveal the lack of golden locks they had been expecting, the brothers stared at it in disbelief for a moment before looking at each other with scowls. As one of them was mute, the other spoke for both of them with his angry bellow.

"Her hair's gone! RIDER!"

As if speaking of the devil, Eugene appeared in the door at that very moment, his face set resolutely with a grim smile. "It's Fitzherbert, actually."

And then he whacked both of them over the head with the frying pan.

Rapunzel had fallen from their grip with a squeak as they fell to the ground, unconscious, and tumbled out of the sack to look up at her savior. "Eugene," she breathed gratefully, getting to her feet and leaping at him to wrap her arms around him tightly, nestling against his chest with a sigh.

He tensed for a moment before relaxing into her embrace with a little smile. "You have no idea how long I've wanted to do that." He twirled the frying pan by its handle before setting it down so that he could free up his hands and put his arms around her waist.

She looked up at him, green eyes wide in wonder and admiration. "You saved me," she whispered.

He shrugged, as if it wasn't really a big deal, even though he was inwardly terrified at what had almost happened.

"Actually, Pascal saved you," he admitted with a little smile. "He must have seen…"

He trailed off abruptly. What was he supposed to say? That Pascal had seen her dad putting him in jail? That wouldn't go over well.

So he skipped over the whole explanation of how Pascal had brought him the key to the jail cell, and decided simply on, "He made sure I could help you."

To be technical, he hadn't even known that the Stabbingtons would be in her room at that moment, let alone this night. But he did know that men who were that big usually had small brains and short attention spans, and weren't patient enough to wait much longer than they were freed to attack. It had probably taken the frog a while to get to him with the key, and by the time he got up to her room, the Stabbingtons were already there. The only way the timing could have worked was sheer dumb luck. Or Fate, as Rapunzel would have it.

"Oh, Pascal," she sighed, squeezing Eugene happily around his middle at the thought of it, not realizing that it was restricting his breathing. "I didn't even notice he was gone!"

Eugene took a breath as she slight eased up on her chokehold and followed her gaze to the chameleon, who he still would always call a frog just like he still called Rapunzel Blondie, who appeared to be preening.

"Yeah… he's a sneaky little rascal," he muttered, his gratitude to Pascal momentarily ousted by the fact that Pascal was definitely glaring at him. It appeared Pascal liked him enough to free him from a jail cell, but not if his freedom was going to be spent cozying up to Rapunzel.

Pascal was probably right. It wasn't a good idea to be this close to Rapunzel in the dark… Especially since she was looking up at him like that, and reaching up to brush her fingers across his jaw lightly…

Without really realizing it, he leaned into her touch, and his eyes fluttered closed as he tilted his head towards hers when she stood on tiptoe to kiss him.

But when she kissed him with more passion and a hint of desperation he wasn't prepared for, a kiss more than just the chaste and firm quick press of her lips to his, he found himself getting lost in it before he could stop himself and say no. This was exactly what he had been afraid of. He felt her quivering in his arms, and as he deepened the kiss, heard her little mewling noises against his lips, he knew he was getting them both in deeper than they should. She was the princess, not just some tart on the street. And she was Rapunzel. The girl he loved.

By the way, that thought terrified him.

He pulled back to break the kiss, breathing hard, and lowered his gaze. "I can't believe I'm saying this… but I think we should slow it down a little."

"Slow…down?" Rapunzel echoed, and the breathless, confused way she said it made him freak out a little, but he quashed it quickly. She appeared to be even more affected than he was.

"Yeah…" he said, reluctantly. "I mean, it's been a long day, and you should probably get some sleep. Take it easy and all."

He certainly didn't feel like sleeping after the way they had just kissed, and she probably didn't either. But she relented.

"Okayyy," she murmured, though she was still holding him tight. "But will you stay here and protect me?"

He smiled and shook his head in wonder at her. Maybe he should be a little insulted that she didn't seem so affected by the kiss after all if she could move on from it so fast. Maybe he should kiss her again—

No. No, no, no.

"Of course," he said, keeping the tone of his voice steady with some effort. He attempted to calm them both by stroking the choppy ends of her soothingly, but found his fingers fit so nicely tangled in the texturized waves that he was just distracting himself. "Hey, Blondie… Maybe you shouldn't tell your dad—"

"About the kiss?" she interrupted, and the brightness in her eyes that made him know she liked the thought of having the kiss stay a secret between them made him swallow hard.

"Uhh…yeah, don't tell him about that, either," he said, rubbing the back of his neck with an awkward cough, wondering if she could see the heat spreading over his face and neck. "But I was referring to those guys." He thumbed towards the unconscious brothers, wondering what they were going to do with them now. He hadn't really thought about it before whacking them over the head. Seeing the girl you loved about to get kidnapped didn't tend to put a guy in the most logical of mindsets.

Rapunzel followed his gaze to the giant men sprawled out face down on her plush pink rug, and her brows furrowed into a frown before she kicked their unconscious forms with a little "hmph!"

At the sight of this, Eugene would have smiled if he had been less bothered. "We don't want to worry him, do we?" he prodded, causing Rapunzel to nod slowly in agreement. "It would really blow to get out of that tower just to have your old man lock you up in here for your own safety."

She chewed on her lip thoughtfully in a way she probably didn't realize was keeping him from being able to take his eyes off of it, and then she smiled weakly. "You can protect me."

"Better than the guards did, anyway," Eugene muttered, trying to keep his heart from melting at the amount of faith she put in him even though he hadn't done a whole lot to deserve it. …besides dying for her. That probably would do the trick.

"You can be my bodyguard!" Rapunzel was saying, wringing her hands excitedly as she worked it out in her head. "I'll ask Daddy right now."

"Whoa, whoa, maybe you should wait till morning," Eugene hastily interceded, putting his hands out. He was mostly just trying to figure out how to stop her from asking about that, period, seriously doubting it would help his case. He didn't think that was going to go over well. The king wouldn't be a fan of him being in close quarters with the princess, and with her enthusiasm and innocence – which he was beginning to realize made her do some unwittingly not-so-innocent things – he wasn't so sure it was a good idea either, if he was going to be able to keep his head on. The king already didn't seem to be a big fan of him.

Not that he could really blame the guy. But still. He had saved his daughter's life at least three times now; you would think that would negate stealing her crown.

"Look, Blondie, there are probably going to be a lot of people who don't like the idea of me hanging around," he said gently, trying to figure out how to best put it without upsetting her.

Her large green eyes widened and wrenched his heart strings. "But why?"

"Well, I was a wanted thief, for one thing," he said simply. "For another, you're a princess, and there are probably gonna be other guys, guys who aren't thieves, who want to…spend time with you."

"That would be alright," Rapunzel mused, her nose scrunching up thoughtfully. "As long as I still get to spend time with you."

"Yeah…" Clearly, this was a conversation not meant for the middle of the night, when they were both exhausted, and they had two guys lying around who might not be unconscious for much longer. "Whaddya say we talk more about this later?"

"You've been acting weird," Rapunzel accused lightly. "What's wrong, Eugene?"

"I don't want to make you sad," he said, flatly. "Or worried. You're going to have a hard time sleeping as it is."

"Just talk to me!" she entreated, taking hold of his hand so he couldn't go – he didn't have the heart to shake her off. "Please?"

He sighed. "Fine. It doesn't have to be a big deal. It's just… Gee, Blondie, I dunno, I just don't really…fit in here."

She looked at him sympathetically before hugging him close again. "Oh, Eugene, it's alright. I don't either – and I'm the princess!"

"Yeah, well… they'll fix that up soon," he promised, rubbing her back absently. "I'm sure you have all kinds of etiquette lessons to go to." Maybe not being with her all the time wouldn't be such a bad thing if he was going to have to suffer through those with her.

"Like princess classes?"

"Exactly."

She made a little hum of acknowledgement as she nestled against him.

"This is fun and all, but I should probably go…before your dad finds me in here…"

"See? This is what I mean! You treat me like a hot potato," she complained, pouting impressively.

"It's for your own good, Blondie – trust me."

"But I like this."

He had to suppress a groan. "Believe me, I like it too." Could she get any more naïve? Even if she didn't know why he wasn't supposed to be here, she should at least know that he wasn't supposed to be here.

"Then what's the problem?"

The problem is that you can't get too attached to me because I'm scared of commitment and your dad would probably murder me personally anyway and because you're going to get married to some rich, charming, handsome, honorable fuddy-duddy prince.

"Let's just not get ourselves in too deep here."

"But it feels good!" she protested.

"Yeah, that's the problem," he muttered under his breath.

"Why is that a problem?" she persisted, giving him the desire to smack his forehead.

"Because you're not supposed to… kiss someone until you're married to them."

She considered this for a moment; marriage was something of a foreign concept to her. The only time she'd seen it in action was by witnessing her parents interact, and she had not seen that enough to have a full comprehension of it, other than it seemed like her parents worked well together, and they loved each other.

"Then let's get married," she chirped, as easily as she might suggest going for a stroll in the gardens or putting on a green shirt to match her eyes.

Eugene blanched. "Uhh…"

"What else do you do when you're married? What does it take to get married? Do you just have to love each other? Because we already do—"

"Let me cut you off there for a second," he interrupted, fighting the instinct to bolt from the room. "Ya know, Blondie, you don't have to marry – literally – the first guy you see. There are plenty of options out there – princes, diplomats, lords – who are better than me."

She frowned in confusion as she looked into his eyes. "Eugene… there isn't anything better than you."

Warmth spread through him, and he started to smile, though he was arguing against himself here. Half-seriously, he replied, "Ya sure? 'Cause there are still a lot of people you haven't met—"

She shut him up with a kiss.

He didn't resist this time, just kissed her back tenderly as he held her close.

"I love you," she murmured softly as their lips parted.

He tried not to sigh. It was going to be harder than he thought to let her go when a prince asked for her hand. He told himself it would happen eventually… but he was going to enjoy this while it lasted. There was no harm in that, right? Maybe at least he could teach her something about the world. "I know."

They looked at each other as one of the guards who had been posted outside of her room and knocked out by the Stabbingtons got to his feet with a groan as he rubbed his head. "Hey! What are you doing in there?" he demanded, stomping over to Eugene.

"Easy, big guy. He's the one you should be interrogating," Eugene said, taking a step back and putting his hands up, gesturing to the eye-patched Stabbington. "And it's Eugene Fitzherbert! What is with you people?"

"They came into my room to kidnap me and Eugene saved me," Rapunzel put in, that puppy dog face that could give the smolder a run for its money working its magic.

There was a moment where the guard looked between Eugene and Rapunzel for a moment before huffing, grudgingly giving in. "I'll deal with you later, Rider," the captain grunted, as he and the other woken guard dragged the still-unconscious Stabbingtons away (that frying pan could really do a number on a guy – Eugene knew from experience).

"I think that's my cue," Eugene said, as the two guards left; he was sure more would be on the way after hearing the commotion, and he didn't want to be seen in Rapunzel's room and prove what some people were already thinking.

"Okay," she finally relented, kissing him on the cheek. "Thanks again for saving me."

He smiled crookedly. "You did the same for me."

"And I'd do it again," she promised, squeezing his hands. "Good night, Eugene."

"Good night, Blondie."

She closed the door with a little wave of her fingers at him as he stepped back through the doorway, and he turned around—

– to walk right into the king.

"Mr. Fitzherbert," he said flatly. "Why am I not surprised that you are to be found where there's trouble?"

Eugene smiled nervously. "Wrong place at the wrong time, I guess…?"

The king frowned. "This isn't the time to joke, Mr. Fitzherbert."

Eugene coughed uncomfortably. "Of course, Your Majesty."

"I'm not even going to ask what you were doing in my daughter's bedroom—"

Gulp.

"—because you and I both know that if you convinced the princess to let you do anything untoward, the captain would have my permission to do unspeakable things to you to ensure that you would never have the capability of doing something of that nature again."

"Yes, Your Majesty." Eugene tugged at his collar; the room had suddenly gotten hot and his vest constrictive. "But I promise, I was only saving her from the Stabbingtons."

"Hmm."

Sufficiently encouraged, Eugene went on, "I know it probably doesn't look good that I escaped from jail, but to be fair, it's not like I haven't done better... and anyway, the point is, the Stabbingtons knocked the guards out, and they were trying to kidnap Rapunzel."

The king considered this. If Eugene was still working with the Stabbingtons, then he had either just stabbed them in the back, or he was in a really twisted scheme. Or he wasn't working with them at all, and love had really changed him. That was the most logical possibility, even though it was one that he wasn't sure he was ready to accept.

"Perhaps I have… misjudged you, Mr. Fitzherbert," he said slowly, the confession coming painfully, as it was a difficult and unusual thing for a king to admit that he was wrong.

Eugene wisely did not display his feeling of triumph. "That takes a big person to admit it, your Majesty. …thank you."

"And you have my permission to say 'I told you so' about the guards."

"Now, that wouldn't be the gentlemanly thing to do."

The two men smiled at each other tentatively – the king because he thought there might be hope for Mr. Fitzherbert after all, and Mr. Fitzherbert because he knew it.

"I have not been acting like a gentleman myself, Mr. Fitzherbert. Forgive me."

"Already done, Your Majesty."

"It's just that… I just got my daughter back, and I would do anything to protect her."

Nodding, Eugene murmured, "I understand."

"Perhaps you will, someday, when you have a daughter of your own."

Eugene choked. "Uhhh…"

The king cracked a smile. "I agree – it's better to wait." Better not to have a child at all, if Eugene was planning on that child being with Rapunzel, in his opinion. "Thank you for protecting Rapunzel. I was wrong to think I should have been protecting her from you."

"Really – no harm done," Eugene insisted, feeling a little awkward about the king apologizing to him, and rather guilty that the king actually should be keeping Rapunzel away from him, given what they'd just been doing, and what he'd wanted to do but knew he shouldn't, and the type of person he'd been not that long ago.

"Well… I'll let you get to sleep. We've got a big day tomorrow," the king said after a moment.

"Etiquette classes?" Eugene guessed.

The king chuckled. "Of course not! Rapunzel deserves a little more adjustment time than that. What kind of fogey do you think I am?" (Eugene wisely did not answer that.) "We're going to have a celebration for the whole kingdom to celebrate the princess' return!"

A smile spread across Eugene's face. A celebration? That meant fun! And fun meant alcohol!

"That sounds amazing, Your Majesty," he grinned. "I can't wait."

"Would you expect any less?" the king asked, though he was smiling. "Now get some rest, Mr. Fitzherbert."

"Yes, sir. Good night, sir."

They parted ways, and it wasn't until Eugene was back in his guest room that he realized what else a celebration meant: eligible young bachelors. Bachelors who would want to marry a princess.


AU: Thanks to Liz McCallus and Orangefox1 for your suggestions! The king is indeed slowly warming up to Eugene. But what would you think if a thief and womanizer seemed like he was shacking up with your daughter, hmm?

Thanks for reading, guys! I love getting your comments and constructive criticism, so let me know what you think!