Summary: Sometimes the path to "happily ever after" isn't necessarily the easiest one. Post-movie oneshot, AU.

Writer's note: I remember the first time I saw Tangled thinking how very Disney the ending was; how the king and queen welcomed Eugene with open arms when more likely, he would've been hanged. And then I read Airplane's "Lying By Omission" and thought, yes! That's how it would've really been! So here's my version of how I think it really could've been. Warning: this is not dialogue-heavy and it's rather angsty. But as Wesley said in The Princess Bride, "Life is pain, highness. Anyone who tells you anything different is selling something."


A Different Path

Not long after the euphoria of their first kiss wore off in the tower, reality set in. Because to be frank, reality was never that far behind anyway.

Eugene sat quietly in the tower while Rapunzel told him everything. Well, most everything as she knew now, since Gothel had filled her in while she'd had Rapunzel tied up. How Gothel was not her mother. How she'd stolen baby Rapunzel for her magical ability. How Rapunzel was really the lost princess Corona had been searching so frantically for for the past almost 18 years.

The lost princess. The very one whose parents were the king and queen. The same king and queen of the kingdom Flynn Rider had robbed for years.

The same ones who would order Eugene hanged the second they spotted him within an inch of the city walls. Because to them he wasn't poor orphan Eugene Fitzherbert even if he happened to bring the lost princess back to them – he was still Flynn Rider, remorseless thief, and probably a gold digger to boot. Why else, they would wonder, would he suddenly re-appear with Rapunzel unless he intended to cheat them all with the ultimate con – asking to be with the lost princess, maybe marry her one day?

Eugene sat dazed as Rapunzel chattered on excitedly about going back to the kingdom to see the king and queen. The adrenaline from the last few hours of excitement had fueled her. Being the lost princess meant her world was suddenly full of possibility.

While for him, it meant something else entirely.

He sat waiting for her to finish what she was saying. It took a while. She was so caught up in everything that had happened, Eugene wasn't even sure if she'd noticed he hadn't really said a word since she'd started talking.

"Eugene?" Rapunzel finally asked him uncertainly. "What's wrong?"

Eugene got up slowly, running a hand through his hair. "Rapunzel…they were about to hang me."

"What? Who?" Rapunzel's voice grew several decibels as her face fell. She had been wondering how Eugene had just shown up at the tower when Mother – no, Gothel – had claimed he was about to be hanged.

It was Eugene's turn to tell her everything. Rapunzel's expression grew more and more grim as Eugene told her his story. How he'd gotten away from the palace dungeon. How the thugs were now considered accessories to his escape and would probably be arrested, too. Hell, even Maximus was probably in trouble for calling the thugs to help him escape. Trouble from which none of them would probably escape from if they went back to the palace, especially Eugene. Trouble in the form of almost certain death.

They sat in silence a few moments, Rapunzel growing more and more miserable at the thought of losing Eugene just as she'd gotten him back.

"Blondie," said Eugene quietly, looking more sad than he'd ever thought he could look. "I – I can get you safely to the kingdom border. But," his voice cracked slightly "I – can't come with you after that." This time, his voice choked as he took her hands gently in his. "I'm so sorry, but I can't. They'll hang me. They could hang you too if they don't believe you're the lost princess and they think you're an impostor trying to steal from them." He smiled at her sadly. "It's better if you go to the palace alone. They'll believe your story if I'm not with you."

Rapunzel gripped Eugene's hands tighter, her face a mask of consternation. "But – but what about you? I won't leave you. I can't leave you again! Don't leave me again, Eugene!" She launched herself in his arms again, almost in tears.

Eugene swallowed. What would he say to her? That the lost princess couldn't marry an orphan ex-thief anyway, even if he wasn't going to be hanged? That she had her own life to live now, a life of royal duty and responsibility to the kingdom where she rightfully belonged?

That, before long, she probably wouldn't even remember his name anymore because she would probably be married to someone else, a prince, the proper husband to a newfound princess?

He pulled away from her reluctantly but gently and looked into her eyes, which were now pooled with fresh tears. "I can't come with you, Rapunzel." He didn't need to add "ever", or the thought that they would probably never going to see each other again. Because she'd picked up on that quite well on her own, and there was no point in increasing their pain by vocalizing it. They both hung their heads, just as miserable if not more as when Rapunzel had agreed to go with Gothel willingly.

More silence followed.

Then…

"No." Rapunzel.

Eugene raised his head to look at her. "What?"

"No," she added fervently.

Eugene looked at her, agitated. "Blondie, I'm afraid I don't understand—"

But Rapunzel just returned his sad smile, covering his lips with her finger. "No," she added softly once again.

The tears in her eyes had faded into resolve. A resolution that no one would ever take Eugene Fitzherbert away from her ever again.

And suddenly, Eugene understood exactly what she meant.

No amount of trying to talk her out of it worked, no matter how much Eugene tried. No number of stories of how distraught the king and queen were at having their daughter stolen or how she was the only heir to the kingdom did any good, nor did anything else he had to say to her. Because once Rapunzel's mind was made up, it was made up. Just like her promises.

And making sure Eugene didn't die again was a promise she intended to keep, Eugene's guilt at Rapunzel's throwing away her future as a princess be damned.

They had to figure out how and where to live. Going back to Corona was out of the question. The neighboring village was farther away, but not too far on horseback and close enough for earning their living. Once Eugene explained to Maximus the trouble a palace horse could get into for helping thieves and thugs escape, the horse was only too happy to stay with them (and also because Eugene suspected that Maximus had grown fond of Rapunzel). Ironically, it made sense: he was a palace horse after all, serving his true mistress, the princess.

They got married at a church in the next village. As Eugene slipped the plain copper band on his bride's finger, his mind contemplated these turn of events. A wedding of the lost princess of Corona, a wedding that under other circumstances would've been attended by royals and nobles with more gold and silver treasures as gifts than Flynn Rider would've stolen in a lifetime, was instead a low-key, completely private event attended by a horse and chameleon in which the groom's present to his wife was a new frying pan.

The only place they had to live in was the tower which, despite any bad memories, was at least a place where they could be together. They scrubbed the entire place of anything that belonged to or was even remotely reminiscent of Gothel. It wasn't easy at first, but once it was cleaned, repainted, de-cluttered and completely redone, the tower was more bearable. Less so were the nightmares that Rapunzel had at first about Gothel and the day she had died, but those stopped eventually. It appeared that the cliché was true. Time did heal all wounds.

Eugene found work apprenticing with a silversmith in the nearby village, Rapunzel working as an inn maid. Being outsiders was a welcome change to them both – no one suspected Rapunzel of being Corona's lost princess, just as no one suspected Eugene of being that kingdom's most notorious thief. Anonymity meant a welcome privacy. No one threatening to run to Corona to reveal their true identities. They could ride Maximus to the village during the day to work or shop (Pascal came along when he didn't keep watch at the tower), ride back to the tower in the evening, and no one was the wiser.

It wasn't easy to forget what might have been for Rapunzel, but they'd moved on.

Well, mostly.

For the first few years, they watched together from the tower window with a bittersweet silence as the king and queen kept sending up lanterns on Rapunzel's birthday. Both Eugene and Rapunzel had come to accept that they'd never go see them again the way they had the night before everything had changed. It wasn't easy watching the lanterns on the first birthday following Gothel's death, the once-hopeful event now being tainted by the promise of a life that would never be Rapunzel's. And this was why, time after time, Eugene wondered why she'd made the choice she had that day.

The kingdom moved on eventually too, in more ways than one. The lanterns were released for a final time on Rapunzel's 25th birthday, with the king and queen finally resigned to the fact that their daughter, if at all she was still alive, was never coming home. Rumors spread that the queen was pregnant again so many years after the birth of her first child. Royal physicians were naturally very concerned that the queen would have a difficult time having baby at her age, but this was not to stop the birth of the child that would be the new heir to Corona. A healthy baby boy named Arthur was born, and the queen lost her life in childbirth. Some still claimed that in truth, it wasn't the difficult labor but heartbreak that had killed her, heartbreak that she would never see her complete family together. Rapunzel cried when she learned of the queen's death, mourning for the mother she had never known and now would never know.

It was almost enough for Eugene to leave forever to finally find that island that Flynn Rider had vowed to secure for himself. But it wasn't even his wife that stopped it so much as yet another unexpected event – Rapunzel was pregnant. Their daughter was delivered by a midwife in the same neighboring village. They named her Anastasia – a fitting name to give the daughter of a lost princess who was now a lost princess herself. A few years later, another child, a boy named Dean would join them and make the Fitzherbert family complete.

More years passed. And then the inevitable news came – the king had stepped down, leaving Arthur to be crowned king of Corona later that week. Not only would there be a crowning ceremony and celebration, but the celebration would include the revival of an old celebration custom – the releasing of lanterns to acknowledge the kingdom's new ruler.

Enough time had passed that Corona had forgotten about the lost princess and Flynn Rider by then. Or so, hoped Eugene, as he insisted on taking his family to Corona to be at the coronation. What was even more surprising was that Rapunzel immediately agreed to go see the brother she would never meet. Eugene could've sworn that reminding her of the throne that once belonged to her would be tantamount to pouring salt in her wounds, but of course Rapunzel was never after a throne. Just a family who loved her. Something she knew she already had. And it was finally this knowledge that eased Eugene of his guilt, of the painfully heavy burden he'd carried around for years.

The day of the coronation, they walked to Corona together, Eugene, Rapunzel, Anastasia, Dean and a very old Pascal (Maximus had died some years ago). Waiting in the castle's enormous courtyard, Eugene spied the blue green-roofed tower he'd dropped down from to steal a certain crown one fateful day. Rapunzel noticed his staring and caught his eye and smiled, taking his hand in hers.

The trumpets blared. The newly-crowned king appeared with his queen, a princess from a far away kingdom he had married. Standing almost imperceptibly next to the pair was a young girl who had Rapunzel's green eyes. Given what had happened to Corona's lost princess so many years ago, this young girl was very sheltered her whole life, the knowledge of her birth and usual whereabouts fiercely guarded from outside Corona as much as possible. Not even Rapunzel and Eugene had been absolutely sure of her existence till now.

Anastasia frowned, nudging her mother and gesturing to the young princess. "Who's that?"

Rapunzel exchanged glances at Eugene. For a second they were both silent.

"Your cousin," admitted Eugene, whispering quietly to make sure no one else would hear.

"What?" whispered Dean and glanced at Anastasia, who merely shrugged. They were well used to their parents' peculiar behavior by now.

Rapunzel smiled wanly. "We'll tell you all about it one day," she said, reaching out her free hand to take her daughter's, who in turn held her younger brother's hand. Out of the corner of his eye, Eugene noticed Pascal turning a subtle shade of blue.

"But how can she be our cousin?" demanded Dean later the next day once they were safely back home in their tower. "We don't know the king of Corona. We've never even been there!"

Eugene sighed wearily. "It's a very long story." He smiled at Rapunzel, who came to sit by him. "What do you think? Should we tell them, your highness?"

Anastasia groaned. "That's even worse than when you call her blondie. Why do you call Mother that anyway?"

"Because she is my princess, and my blondie, and she always will be," said Eugene firmly.

Rapunzel kissed her husband's cheek and smiled lovingly back at him. "And you're my prince, and the thief who stole my heart, and you always will be."

Eugene turned to his confused children. "And you're both old enough now to know the truth, so I guess I'll tell you."

He took a deep breath. "This is the story of how I died. But don't worry, this is a very fun story! And it isn't really even mine. This is a story of a girl named Rapunzel…"

So he told his children the story of a thief blackmailed into taking a lost princess to see the floating lights. "But I know what the big question is: did Rapunzel and I get married? Well, I'm pleased to tell you that after years and years of ask, ask, ask…I finally said yes." He grinned.

"Eugene."

"All right. I asked her."

"And we're living happily ever after," added Rapunzel.

"Yes, we are," said Eugene warmly.

And the truth was, they were. Because, realized Eugene as he took a look around the room at his family, there was more than one path to get to happily ever after - even if it wasn't the one they had expected it to be.


Writer's note: Arthur is obviously not THE King Arthur, I just chose to give him the name Arthur. And obviously the end to the story Eugene tells won't be the same ending as the movie since this is AU. Thanks for reading!