Summary: Eugene contemplates the surrealness of his new life in the castle. Rapunzel can relate.
Writer's note: Aaaaaand, yet another philosophical Eugene/Rapunzel fic for people to ignore. Well, c'est la vie. By the way if at all anyone cares, I finally got a Tumblr account – you can find the link in my profile. If you're ever in the mood to read my boring rambling, mostly non-fandom related posts, knock yourself out.
Eugene Fitzherbert turned over in his bed one more time. It always took him so long to fall asleep. Too long.
The bed was too damn soft. The pillows constantly smelled of goose feathers. The lilac canopy above, while attractively decorative during the day, always felt like the covering of some puffy, overly exotic tent.
What kind of bed was that for an orphan who'd gone most of his life without any bed at all? And why now, why so long after so many years of sleeping on cold, hard orphanage floors and wet forest grass?
How had he, an orphan nobody, ended up here exactly, asleep next to the princess of a kingdom in a castle he never thought he'd see the inside of? (Well, except when he was robbing it, of course).
Not wanting to sit there for hours in his reverie and risk waking Rapunzel, he quietly slipped out of the enormous bedchamber and headed toward the kitchens. Raiding the icebox in the kitchen of a castle was nowhere as fun or adventurous as stealing leftovers from the orphanage's tiny kitchen, but it would have to do.
There was no more of the layer cake Eugene loved so much (marrying into royalty definitely had some nice confectionary perks) but there were more than enough ginger snaps left in the gold-plated tin. The tin was so elegantly shiny, he was almost tempted to steal it, except that a) technically, it would no longer be stealing and b) it reminded him too much of an urn he's once seen at a wake at the orphanage.
The palace cooks had given up locking the kitchens once they figured out that Eugene could pick every single lock with a table utensil or toothpick and one of Rapunzel's hairpins. There was no point anyway. Eugene wasn't stealing the food – it belonged to him now.
Belong. Yet another completely foreign word. He'd never had anything belong to him before in his entire life, short of his reputations as the orphanage's chief troublemaker and kingdom's most notorious thief.
Eugene wasn't one to begrudge his good fortune or look a gift horse in the mouth. But truthfully, he'd been thinking about his circumstances more and more lately. Change was change and even a good change was not something everyone took to lightly. Just because he was no longer loner orphan-turned-thief didn't mean he could process everything that had happened since the day he'd met the girl with the impossibly long blonde hair.
Survivor's guilt. So many of the older boys in the orphanage had had those feelings: not sure why they alone had survived the great plague that swept Corona while many others, families and friends and loved ones, hadn't lived. It made no sense to them. It wasn't the absence of gratefulness so much as the presence of guilt. Guilt that they alone had overcome.
Eugene raised his eyebrows slowly, contemplating. Do I really feel guilty because out of all the ways my life could've gone, out of all the people who could've stumbled across Corona's lost princess and married her, I turned out to be the one who did?
While so many of the boys he'd known over the years – friends and his fellow orphan partners in crime – were who knew where now? If most of them were even still alive.
It was too much to think about.
Then there was Rapunzel. No way would he ever not be glad she'd come into his life. She was, as he'd sang in the boat, the light of his life. And no matter how weird he felt about being called "your majesty" by personal servants or found the bathwater too hot after years of bathing in freezing cold streams, he could never forget that.
He could hear the kitchen door being opened. Who else would be up and around at this time of night?
"Blondie?" Eugene looked over at her, concerned. She'd been asleep a few minutes ago. "What's wrong? You got the munchies?"
Rapunzel walked into the kitchen in her pale pink silk nightgown. "I couldn't sleep. What are you doing up?"
Eugene shrugged, too. "Oh …couldn't sleep myself much, really." He wrinkled his nose. "The bed's so, I don't know…"
"Soft?" said Rapunzel knowingly.
Embarrassed, Eugene shrugged again. "I know it's strange but I'm not really used to it. I never really had a bed at the orphanage. Too many of us there. Whatever beds there were, were for the sick kids."
Rapunzel watched him quietly, her expression a mixture of mild sympathy and curiosity. Eugene had talked with her about his life before. But it was never easy for him.
"What about you, why can't you sleep?"
"Oh, um…" Rapunzel waffled. Never a good sign. Normally he couldn't get her to stop talking about her feelings.
"I, well, I had another dream about the tower."
"Ah." A Gothel nightmare. No wonder she couldn't sleep.
Eugene put the gold tin down and gently pulled her into his arms. "Bad dream? Are you okay?"
Rapunzel looked up at the kitchen ceiling, thinking to herself. "No…it wasn't actually a bad dream. It was just…it was the tower, Eugene."
"Um, okay." Eugene frowned. "What about the tower?"
"I just dream about the tower sometimes. About what I did in the tower every day." Seeing Eugene's frown deepen, she added, "You know. What I did there every day before you came in. Getting up, doing my chores, making breakfast, painting, reading, brushing my hair, sketching, darts, candle-making, playing chess with Pascal, whatever. That's what I dream about sometimes." She looked up at Eugene apprehensively.
"Do you – I mean – I know it sounds crazy, but do you ever miss the tower?"
Rapunzel pulled out of his grasp and perched on the countertop alongside him, looking fidgety. "I did, a little at first. Sort of." Her tone sounded almost guilty. "I know it sounds crazy but the castle's just so…so-"
"Different?" It was Eugene's turn to sound knowing.
"Yes! It is. I mean, it's not like I miss being in the tower or miss her" (Rapunzel visibly shuddered) "but I do think about the tower sometimes and how weird it is to be here now. With my real parents. It's hard to remember sometimes this isn't all a dream." Rapunzel paused. "Do you know what I mean?"
Eugene smiled. "I'm starting to."
Rapunzel hopped off the counter and started pacing around the kitchen. "I mean, it's so hard sometimes to remember how I'm a princess! And this is a castle! And no one's going to yell at me for getting crumbs all over the floor or expect me to climb up my hair to light a burnt-out lamp or ask me what I'm making for breakfast the next morning. It's just…"
"Strange," finished Eugene softly.
"Strange," agreed Rapunzel. "I don't know how I feel about it all sometimes or having people help dress me or carry my things for me. I was sad before because I had a dream to see the lights but I didn't think mother – I mean Gothel! – would ever let me and I was in a rut and wasn't sure when my life would begin. But now, it has begun. And it's like…it's like I'm a whole new person sometimes. Like I'm not sure, if, if I'm still me."
He took her hands in his. "I know what you mean."
"Pretty much exactly. It's what's been keeping me up, too."
"Really. I mean, not that I grew up in a tower, of course but I was wondering too how it is I of all people ended up here. I mean, not that I'm not thrilled to pieces I'm here," He amended quickly. "But I know just how you feel."
Rapunzel looked at him hesitantly. "Do you – do you miss the orphanage?"
Eugene blew out his breath. "I don't miss it. It wasn't the happiest place to grow up in, you know? But I do think about the people I knew there and what's happened to them." He shrugged again. "I'm not sure if I'll ever see them again. I mean, I'm pretty sure some of them managed to leave and have decent enough lives. I think one of them's a farmer and another works for the silversmith and a few left Corona some time ago. I think about them but I'm glad I'm not them."
He smiled. "I'm glad I'm here with you." He teasingly touched her nose with a sugar-dusted finger.
Rapunzel pushed his finger away good-naturedly, giggling. "I'm glad, too. I mean, I'm glad I'm here with you." She snatched the tin away from him and pulled a pastry out of it. "And we should get back to bed before the head cook comes in here and chases us out. Come on." She grabbed Eugene's hand and nudged him out the kitchen door.
"I thought the whole point of the kitchen was to eat whenever we felt like it?" Eugene grumbled, grabbing the tin on his way out the door.
"Hmm, Blondie?" He took his free hand in hers as they walked back to their room.
"We will be okay here, won't we? I mean, it'll get, I don't know, less weird being here?"
Eugene squeezed her hand comfortingly. "Of course it will. It'll just take some time."
"I know. It's just that sometimes I feel like, like I should be happier about being here. Not that I'm not happy, but-"
Eugene looked her squarely in the eye. "It's a big adjustment for both of us."
"It's not going to happen overnight, you know? There's a far cry from being an orphan or trapped in a tower than being the future ruler of an entire kingdom."
He put his arm around her waist. "Tell you what: we can help each other through it. What do you say?"
Rapunzel snuggled closer to him. "Mmm. I say yes. As long as you say yes, too."
"Oh, I say yes, definitely, I do." Eugene smiled. "To you, I always do."