Sorry for the delay in the new chapter. I got *ahem* distracted off in smut-land writing about Eugene and Rapunzel doing some less than Disney things.
Anyhoo I'm thrilled to see I'm not alone in the adoration of Rapunzel's short hair! And aww for the general love of Rapunzel and Eugene. After what I made them do in my other piece I'm happy to get back to them being sweet here.
However close Eugene and Max had gotten in their effort to save the Princess, there was no doubt that the horse had a clear preference when it came to the two of them.
No sooner had he trotted into the courtyard and seen her than the white steed had raced forward and greeted the Princess with enthusiasm rivaled only by her own. If Rapunzel's parents thought it was strange that their daughter ran over to the horse and threw her arms around his neck, it did not show on their faces. Not even as Rapunzel's fingers easily found the spot behind his ears that made the horse loudly whinny his approval. Rapunzel laughed merrily and continued to scratch the horse as Maximus continued to enjoy being lavished with so much attention.
"Did you get all the posters of him down?" she asked the horse who made a sound of confirmation as she scratched harder, "of course you did," she continued, "you always get the job done."
Maximus's head flew up at that, his eyes locking of Eugene as if to accuse him of standing in between him and completing his mission. Eugene raised a hand in a wave which was met with a familiar glare from the steed. Eugene sighed and shook his head, even with the rescuing and the riding and the returning of the lost Princess he got the feeling Max still viewed him as a thief.
"Oh him? Well you still brought him back the palace didn't you?" she said, drawing Maximus's eyes back to her, "so you see you even did that. Its not your fault the King and Queen decided to pardon him. And then they made you run around and take down all of his wanted posters."
Maximus seemed to like that judgement much better and leaned into Rapunzel's touch as she scratched him under his chin. Finally the horse let out a huff of contentment, nudged Rapunzel affectionately and made his way over to where Eugene was standing. Eugene looked at the horse as Maximus walked in a slow circle around the former thief, his eyes inspecting every inch of Eugene's new clothing before it came back to his face. The horse's eyes narrowed as he leaned forward, tilting his head to the side as if trying to figure out some kind of confusing riddle.
"It's the nose isn't it?" Eugene said.
Maximus reared up, stomping his hooves on the ground, clearly having been frustrated the whole day by what the posters had gotten wrong.
"They always get it wrong," Eugene pointed out before Maximus's nose was suddenly against his, "got it wrong. Got it," he corrected himself, as the horse glared, "because I will not be doing anything to have a wanted poster up around the kingdom for me again."
Maximus held his eyes, as though trying to see if Eugene was lying and Eugene found himself desperately hoping that the horse would see gave a snort, seemingly satisfied at his answer before trotting back over to Rapunzel and lowering his head down so that she could continue to scratch him. The Princess laughed in delight and obliged the horse, scratching him behind his ears. Eugene looked over his shoulder to see the King and Queen trading bemused smiles. Though Eugene imagined that given what had happened the past two days seeing Rapunzel scratching a horse was probably the easiest thing to stomach.
"You're such a good boy!" Rapunzel commended the horse enthusiastically.
"Yes he is," the rubble of her father's voice agreed. Rapunzel looked over at him as Maximus followed suite. Instead of straightening up however for the King, the horse snorted and nudged forward, moving her father's robes aside. The King laughed at the horse's antics, sliding his hand over the horse's nose and pulling out a handful of small white cubes, "Maximus' sire is my prize war horse," the King explained at his daughter's confused but delighted expression.
"Really?" Rapunzel gasped.
"Yes," the King said, "here, hold out your hand," he instructed his daughter.
Rapunzel held out her hand and the King placed a few of the white cubes in it. Max leaned forward with far more care and took them from her, eliciting a delighted laugh from the Princess. Rapunzel reached forward and scratched at the spot behind his ear as he lipped her palm.
"is Maximus the first horse you've met?" the King asked his daughter.
"Yes," Rapunzel said, "I'd only read about them before," she looked at the King's face, "but I'd only read about men before too and Eugene turned out to be alright," Max snorted, "you're better than alright," Rapunzel said to the horse.
Eugene smiled and shook his head, folding his arms across his chest. He knew he should say something full of mock-outrage but the sight of Rapunzel standing with her father was enough to make him shut his mouth. Especially when she beamed back up at her father and the King gave a smile that Eugene was fairly certain he hadn't graced the King's face since his daughter had been taken.
At the feel of eyes on them, Eugene looked over his shoulders to see a few women standing nearby whispering to one another. Their jewel toned gowns were too fine for them to be commoners or maids and Eugene realized they were probably visiting royalty. That our the very rich looking to rub elbows with royalty in hopes of gaining a husband. Disgust filled him at their whispers and the slight giggled he could hear escaping their carefully painted lips.
Giggles he knew were directed at Rapunzel.
A light throat clearing from the Queen, however, was all it took for the 'ladies' to disperse. Eugene watched them depart before turning to Rapunzel's mother. He looked back over at the Queen who turned back to him and folded her arms with an unexpectedly devilish smile in his direction.
"I don't often say this to royalty but I'm impressed Your Majesty," Eugene said.
"She will, of course, need to learn how to act like a proper Princess," the Queen said looking back at her daughter and husband, "but there is time enough for that later."
"Time enough for you to learn to act like a Prince Consort as well," the Queen said.
Eugene choked on his own spit in shock. Coughing he turned around, smothering the sound with his hand so as not to interrupt the moment between Rapunzel and her father. He felt the Queen's hand on his back, patting it as he fought to clear his lungs. Swearing he turned to look at the monarch who, until a day go, would have been more than happy to see him hang.
"A what?" he demanded.
"Prince Consort," the Queen said. He looked at her blankly, "Rapunzel is our daughter. She will be Queen regnant and you, as her husband, will be Prince Consort since you are not of royal blood."
Eugene was too stunned at her words to feel ashamed at the stab of blind panic that seized him at the term 'husband'. Eugene knew almost nothing of royalty but he seriously doubted that they got married within three days of meeting. Especially not when the pair in question consisted of a woman who had no idea how to act like a Princess and a man who had less claim to nobility than the horse he had ridden on. Not to mention that three days ago Eugene Fitzherbert would have laughed outright at the idea of even being in love, much less settling down with one woman for the rest of his life.
"Look, uh, Your Majesty," he began, "three days ago I didn't even know your daughter existed. And even if we, uh, you know," he motioned around vaguely before putting his hands on the banister, "isn't it a little early to be thinking about that?"
"No," the Queen said.
"No?" he repeated.
"No," she confirmed, "three days ago, as you so put it, you were a wanted criminal and while no-one can deny the heroism of your act the fact of the matter is that anyone else would have a lifetime of deportment lessons behind them by the time they even considered taking my daughter's hand in marriage."
The panic only got worse at the words 'daughter' and 'marriage'. Marrying Rapunzel? It seemed like something impossible. Looking over at her as she carefully hugged Max, Eugene wondered if it was even possible to get her to be a 'proper' Princess. What would that do to her? Would it change her past the point of, well, being her?
"This is a wealthy Kingdom, as you know," the Queen said, "even when Rapunzel was missing we had people attempting to forge alliances through the promise of marriage upon her return."
Eugene's eyes narrowed. There were other men out there vying for Rapunzel's affections? Other princely men? Who had lifetimes of manners training and titles and bloodlines and God knew what else? Men who would know how to woo her in ways that did not involve being stabbed by an immortally young witch and bleeding out on a tower floor after almost being hung by the people who now were thinking about calling him son-in-law?
His throat tightened inexplicably as he watched as Rapunzel turned to her father with a bright smile that made her jade eyes shine. A lock of her shorn hair had fallen across her nose and she reached up, brushing it back with an easy flick of her wrist. Watching her, Eugene once again was struck by how beautiful she was. But more than that by how real and warm she was.
"Now that she's back," the Queen continued, "I can only imagine what kinds of ideas those would-be suitors will have in their heads. Especially with her being unattached."
Eugene looked at the Queen who was looking at her daughter before looking back at him.
"Oh you're good," he said to the Queen, realizing that he was as good as sitting in the lessons.
The Queen smiled at him, both knowing that she had won. Of all the things Eugene expected out of Rapunzel's mother, her devious side was certainly not one of them. When they looked over at Rapunzel and her father she smiled and motioned them over. Together they walked over as Max snorted and shook his head, trotting off to join the rest of the guards.
Making their way indoors, the family plus Eugene found themselves in a room hung with intricate tapestries that had Rapunzel pressing her nose against the soft fibers, eyes wide with wonderment at the detail of them. The only rug she had ever had was the worn one in her room, which was nothing like the art that hung in front of her now.
"Oh dear," the Queen looked up as the sky greyed, "it's raining."
"It's raining? Really?" Rapunzel scrambled over to the window, pressing her nose against the glass.
The sky was grey and she could see dark spots on the pristine white of the marble. Twisting her head Rapunzel looked up at the grey sky, watching the clouds roll across the sky. Down below she could see people beginning to hurry inside, wanting to get out o the weather before it got worse. Rapunzel drew back from the window, one hand reaching up and clutching the fabric over her racing heart. It was raining and everyone was running inside to get out of the storm.
"Well it looks like we're not joining you for lunch," Eugene said seizing Rapunzel's hands. She looked at him, delight in her eyes, "our deepest apologies."
The King and Queen looked at each other before the King laid his hand on his wife's shoulder.
"We'll make sure there are some dry clothes for you when you get back," she said.
"Thank you!" Rapunzel cried, tugging Eugene out of the room and down the hall.
Rapunzel ran with him outside, stopping and turning to look at the sky as raindrops splattered her face. Sucking in her breath, Rapunzel stretched out her arms and watched as the rain began to splatter the rose colored fabric of her dress, turning it shades darker. Just like the rain had done with the marble banister. Spinning around, Rapunzel looked at Eugene with a huge grin on her face.
"I can't believe we're in the rain!" she cried with an exuberant laugh, "we're outside and it's raining and this is amazing!"
Twirling around, Rapunzel faced Eugene.
"Don't you think?" she asked.
He was watching her with the same smile she had seen on his face. Not a smolder, not a grin, just a simple curve of his lips that sent her heart racing whenever she saw it. Because she had seen him with tons of other people and she had come to realize that the only time Eugene ever smiled like that was when he looked at her. The idea that he had a smile only for her made Rapunzel's heart beat quicker because she both adored the idea and had no idea what it meant.
"I think," Eugene said stepping forward, "that we never got to dance back at the festival."
"But there's no music," Rapunzel said taking his offered hand.
"Sure there is," Eugene said, one of his hands sliding easily around her waist.
Rapunzel placed her hand on his shoulder as he began to move them, seemingly only to the sound of the raindrops splattering on the ground around them. Rapunzel quickly caught onto his rhythm, following his lead as he moved them around the balcony, heedless of the rain that splattered on both of them.
"You're a really good dancer," Rapunzel blurted out finally as Eugene spun her and pulled her back.
"Surprised?" he asked with a devilish grin and a raise of his eyebrow.
"Yes," Rapunzel said before she could stop herself.
Anyone would have been offended but Eugene laughed at her innocence. It was a fair question, after all. He was a thief and he had been an orphan before that. Dancing probably wasn't something she thought of as what he could do. Even though they had joined into the dancing with the rest of the people at the festival.
"Do they have dances at orphanages?" Rapunzel asked him innocently.
"Nah," he said, "but they do have them on holidays. Like christmas or feast days-"
"Or the birthday's of Lost Princesses?" she offered before smiling widely, "I suppose next year they'll just have to call it my birthday."
"I suppose they will," Eugene agreed.
"I hope they still do the lanterns though," Rapunzel continued, "I loved going to see them."
"Just think," Eugene said with a charming smile, "next year you can send up the first one with your parents."
Rapunzel looked up at him. It was true. She knew that when she had been out on the water with him the first lantern that had been sent up was by her parents. Would they expect her to be with them the next year? Rapunzel looked at the man who held her so carefully and danced so easily with her out in the rain even though it seemed everyone else had the sense to stay indoors.
"Well, yes," Rapunzel said slowly looking down before looking back up at him, "but I'd much rather be out on the water with you."
Eugene's eyes widened at her confession, though he quickly smothered the expression when he saw her cheeks flush with embarrassment. He could not, however, help that his fingers tightened against her, drawing the Princess's slight frame closer to him. The sight of her when they had been out on the water, with her eyes full of wonder at the lanterns floating all around them, Eugene was sure that was the single most beautiful sight he had ever seen. Even now as he held her against him he found himself wondering what it would be like to see her surrounded by the lanterns again, this time with her cropped brunette hair instead of the thick braid she had sported last time.
"I'd like that," he said, his voice soft.
The rumble of thunder suddenly echoed across the sky, the loud boom drawing Rapunzel's attention away from Eugene. Lightening split the sky moments later, sending bright light crackling across the heavens. Spellbound, Rapunzel moved forward, looking up at the light and listening to the sound until she reached the edge of the balcony. Laying her hands on the wet marble, Rapunzel blinked the rain from her eyes and watched the lightening dance across the sky.
"You know most kids are scared of storms," Eugene said.
"But it's so beautiful," Rapunzel said, "I tried to paint it once," she added looking at him, "but every time I'd hear the thunder I'd run to my window and the lightening would've already passed," she shrugged, "and I never had the right colors either."
"Hey maybe this can go up first?" Eugene suggested, "for your new walls. I happen to know for a fact you are the proud owner of several shades of grey and four different shades of blue."
Rapunzel beamed at him, happy beyond words that Eugene realized that clouds were not just one color.
"You should help me," Rapunzel said.
"Me?" Eugene failed to keep the surprise off his face.
"Yes," Rapunzel said with a laugh, "I never painted with anyone before!" she sucked in her breath, "I can paint with you. Or with the King. Or with he Queen. Or with-with anyone!" her eyes lit up, "I don't have to paint alone anymore!"
Eugene leaned against the banister with a smile at her joy at the notion that she did not have to paint alone anymore. Watching her he realized he didn't have the heart to tell her that he was not actually artistically talented. But he figured he could hold the ladder for her or something. Rapunzel laughed aloud at the idea before wrapping her arms around herself.
"Okay," Eugene said, wrapping an arm around her shoulders, "it's time to go inside."
"How come?" Rapunzel asked, a pout on her lips even as her teeth began to chatter.
"Because you're freezing," Eugene said.
"No I'm not," Rapunzel protested.
"'Punzel the last thing that you want to do is spend the second of your first days outside of the tower with a cold-" he realized Rapunzel had stopped dead in her tracks, "Rapunzel?"
Rapunzel looked up at Eugene with wide eyes. He raised an eyebrow, feeling as if he had missed something. Especially since she was looking up at him as though he had said something that she had been waiting a very long time to hear.
"You lost me here. What's wrong?"
"You called me 'Punzel," she said, looking up at him with wide eyes.
He looked down at her, still unsure.
"No-one's ever called me that before," she said.
Eugene looked down at her, his eyes softening. Blondie wasn't the most creative nickname in the book and it also failed to have her look up at him like she was currently doing. He smiled down at her, his fingers squeezing her shoulder as he felt her shiver against him.
"Okay 'Punzel," he said, "now it's really time to go inside before you get sick and your parents get angry at me."
"It's strange though," Rapunzel said abruptly as they made their way back to the palace, "to think of them like my parents. Two of them," she said holding up her fingers, "I mean i knew i had two-or that there were two sometime-but still. It's strange."
"Hey you've got a lot to get used to," Eugene said, "new kingdom, new parents," they crossed into the palace, "new hair."
Rapunzel nodded absently. Eugene frowned as he looked down at her. Her cropped hair was plastered around her ears in a look that, while adorable, was a far cry from the 70 feet of blonde silk that she had dragged around for most of her life. Though he knew he should let her think things over, the knowledge that it was his hand that led to her hair being so short forced him to open his mouth.
"Say, 'Punzel," he said, "tell me something," she looked up at him, "how do you feel about the, you know, not having seventy feet of hair thing?" she looked at him blankly, "do you mind not having it?"
Rapunzel looked up at him. She could see why he'd want to know. He had, after all, been the one to cut off the hair that had defined her for her entire life. Even now as she looked at him, knowing that Gothel had wanted her there because of her hair, she wondered if she would still have kept the length, though she supposed now it didn't matter. But the way Eugene was looking at her, like he had done something wrong, made her head spin.
"Are you kidding?" Rapunzel demanded looking at him as if he had grown a second head, "no!"
"No?" He asked, his eyes wide with surprise.
"No! Look at me," she laughed stepping away from him, "I can do everything now and my hair doesn't get in the way! I can run and jump and there's no hair to trip over! Look! I can spin and not get tangled!" she said throwing out her hands and twirling as if to demonstrate.
Something purple came flying out of her sleeve and skidded to a stop at Eugene's feet. Bending down the thief picked up the square of fabric, unfolding it to see the gold sun crest. The crest already had creases in it from where she had folded and unfolded it what seemed like many times. His brow furrowed. She knew now that he hadn't betrayed her, but back then she hadn't thought that. But she had still kept the flag.
"Eugene?" he looked up to see her standing there, watching him with her wide green eyes, "what's wrong?"
"You kept this?" he asked, confusion naked in his voice.
"Of course," Rapunzel said, "you took me to see the lights! And even if I was going to go back to Mo-Gothel," she continued, "I wanted to have something so that I could remember them forever."
Eugene looked at her and then back at the square of purple cloth.
"But you thought I had left you," Eugene said, unable to comprehend why she had kept the cheap tourist toy he bought her on a whim.
"Yes," Rapunzel agreed, "I did. But even if it ended badly it was still the best day of my life and you were still the first person I'd met beside Gothel," she blushed, "and I wanted to have something to remember it, and you, by."
"Of course," Rapunzel said, smiling at his confused expression, "it was the best day ever, remember?"
Eugene almost smiled at the memory of the mess of emotions the girl had gone through when they first left her tower and he had been trying to convince her to give him the crown and head home. He had a feeling up until the it was the best day ever, but the idea that she had still kept the paltry souvenir he'd bought her made his pulse stumble. Especially when she looked at him with innocence in her eyes, as if it would have been crazier to get rid of the present than keep it.
At the shiver that worked it's way across her slight frame, Eugene forced his paralysis aside.
"Yeah," he said, "I do," he held out her flag, watching as she quickly folded the fabric and slipped it back into her sleeve, "come on," he said, "lets get you warmed up."
Okay I split this chapter up which will make this a, uh, five shot? Except that I wrote a very cute little story about Rapunzel's next birthday which I might put at the end here.
Reviews are Love!