They hold off on publicly announcing Rapunzel's return that first day so the royal couple has a chance to get to know their little girl again after all this time. Supper is a quiet affair served in the innermost rooms of the royal suite, not that any of them are all that concerned with the food that night. The Queen can't let go of Rapunzel's hand, watching her raptly, her other hand pressed to her heart while Rapunzel tells them all about her childhood, about Gothel, about how she found Pascal and about her painting and about this really spectacular thing she tried once with puff pastry that she definitely has to explain to the head chef sometime, they all need to try it, not that she thinks she's any kind of amazing cook or anything but she'd had a lot of time in her tower to play with new ideas and she thinks they'd like it, that's all. Eugene is busy trying to sort out which fork to use for which dish (Flynn Rider might have been a scapegrace nobleman but his tales had never been big on the exposition so far as formal etiquette was concerned – except for this one story where he was trying to seduce the daughter of some rich lord and he'd been mistaken for a visiting prince so he'd had to pretend to be from a foreign court and Eugene thinks Flynn had to start from the outside and work his way in but maybe the point of the story was that it was supposed to be the opposite, and this is not even remotely helping, why is he even thinking about this). As for the King, well, he's so focused on his daughter's face, drinking in the sight of her, he keeps missing his mouth with his spoon.
"You've got something," Eugene says, looking up from the array of cutlery laid beside his plate, "just there, sir," and he gestures.
With effort, the King transfers his attention to Eugene. "Eh?" he says dazedly.
"Never mind," Eugene says. He coughs and picks up the outermost spoon. No one contradicts him or gives him a funny look so he decides to go after the bisque as the least complicated dish on the table. He's never been one to turn down a good meal, Eugene, and there's no occasion he can't rise to (keep telling yourself that, Fitzherbert, and maybe someday it'll be true), so he just tries to eat with spilling all over himself while he listens to Rapunzel talk. She looks over to him mid-sentence, eyes bright and happy, smile wider than he's ever seen it, still chattering away, and Eugene has to put down his spoon and just watch her, he is suddenly so achingly full.
Ye gods, look at what she's done to him.
(This never would have happened to Flynn Rider.)
The King and Queen take Rapunzel on a tour of the castle – her home – once they're all done pretending to eat. Eugene trails behind, feeling a little sheepish; he's not going to admit that he knows the layout better than she does having found himself in here on a job or two or three or ten, but he's not going to bring that up right now, is he.
"This is all a little overwhelming, isn't it, my dear?" the Queen says contritely after about an hour. Rapunzel does look more than a little lost, but she smiles and starts to shake her head. The Queen cuts her off. "No, that's enough for today – and we two aren't used to this much excitement anymore, I'm afraid. Can you find your way back to your rooms, do you think?"
"I can help her," Eugene says.
The King gives him a warning look. Eugene smiles innocently. "I've got an excellent internal compass, sir," he says, and he salutes.
"Don't stay up too late, darling," the Queen says, "we've got a big day tomorrow." Impetuously, she squeezes Rapunzel into yet another hug, and the King drops a kiss on his daughter's cheek before they turn back towards their rooms.
"That," Eugene says, watching them go, hand in hand, "was remarkably subtle of them."
"What was?" Rapunzel says.
"Nothing," Eugene says. He takes her hand and tugs her through a nearby door. "Look, the library! You said you wanted to see the mural, didn't you?"
"I'm never going to find my way around this place," Rapunzel says a little despairingly, but she follows, and her whole aspect brightens when she sees the painting that takes up the wall above the main fireplace, a large-scale copy of the family portrait that occupies the throne room. She gasps, fingers rising to her lips; "Isn't it gorgeous?" she says, spellbound.
"It is," Eugene says, looking at her.
"Don't think I can't find a frying pan in this place," she says without taking her eyes off the mural.
He raises his hands. "I didn't say anything," he says, but he's already lost her attention.
Eugene wanders the shelves and shelves of books, half-hoping to find some Flynn Rider stories but not really expecting to. He'd lost his copy more than ten years ago, not that it was in any great shape when he'd found it, with its dog-eared pages and collapsed binding. It would be nice to have another copy, he thinks, though he's had them all memorised since the age of twelve; still, it would be good to have on hand for the children.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, scratch that thought.
"Are those dinner rolls in your pocket?" Rapunzel demands from across the room.
"Maybe," Eugene says, swallowing the last of his second roll in the past five minutes.
She tilts her head as he comes back over to her. She is standing under herself as a baby, sunshine-curls traced in what looks like gold leaf; no, Eugene, stop appraising, it's painted on the wall, you wouldn't be able to steal it anyway.
"Is there a reason you stole dinner rolls from my parents' table?"
Eugene starts emptying his pockets. "I didn't know whether they'd send me home after supper, and since, you know, I wasn't going to be so gauche as to demand a reward for bringing you home – "
"Oh, please – "
"Shut up, I wasn't – so it was just, you know, a healthy precaution. Against starvation. And death. Are you really going to judge me?"
Rapunzel picks up one of the rolls and begins tearing it apart. "Oh, don't, they're stale now," he says, "honestly, that bit has lint on it – look, I'm sure if you went downstairs right this minute you'd have a full kitchen staff willing to bake up a year's supply of bread in five minutes just for you."
"You're probably right," she says, and she sighs and sits down in a near window casement and pops another piece of bread into her mouth and adds, "Isn't that absolutely terrifying?"
"And really amazing," Eugene says, sitting beside her. He brushes the rest of the rolls out the window onto the bushes below; a bird squawks indignantly. "You know, Blondie, you're in a plum position right now. Everyone's going to be falling all over themselves to take care of the lost princess. If I were you, I would abuse that power with a vengeance."
Rapunzel draws her legs up against her chest. "Don't remind me," she says, resting her cheek against her knees. Eugene, who has been busy watching the moonlight delineate the curve of her back, wonders what it is that makes her look so strangely vulnerable, and then the mild harbour breeze off the water ruffles her hair and he realises what it is.
He leans in and tucks her hair away from her face behind her ear, letting it slide away through his fingers. She lifts her face, startled, and he says ruefully, "Good thing hair grows back, huh? I kind of made a mess of the job."
"It won't, though," she says. He raises an eyebrow and she adds, "Remember that piece of hair that was cut when I was a baby? Never grew any longer. I think I'm stuck with this."
"Auuuugh," he says, appalled, pulling away. "Oh, God, I'm so sorry, I would've cut it neater if I'd known."
She smiles sunnily. "I don't really think you would've had the time, but I appreciate the thought."
He pauses and then asks, "How does it feel?"
She reaches up and runs a hand along the new blunt ends of her hair. "Good," she says. She shakes her head experimentally, self-consciously. "I think? Really weird, but – liberating. It's a good kind of weird. How does it look?"
"Cute," he says. "So cute. I think it's going to start a trend! Let me tell you, a few weeks from now, haircuts like this are going to cost a month's wages – "
She stops him, pressing a finger to his mouth. "Shh," she says. "It's okay, Eugene."
He breathes in and then out. "I'm sorry," he says finally, quickly, lips moving against her soft fingertip. "About your hair. I mean, it was kind of an all-or-nothing moment there, I wasn't really thinking about the other options, not that there were all that many options, and I just couldn't – I couldn't let – "
"You couldn't let me die," she finishes, and he drops his head. Her fingers curl around his chin and gently lift his face so he is looking at her eyes, steady and patient and loving, when she says, "You were dying and I was going to give up and you couldn't stand to see me throw away every dream I ever had because agreeing to go with Gothel meant I was as good as killing myself. Right?"
"Something like that, yeah," he says, trying for a grin. It doesn't quite make it there but she sees the effort and she grins back.
"I would've done it, you know," she says. Her eyes are glinting now, but she's still smiling fiercely through her tears. "I don't care about my hair. But I meant what I said and I'd do it again in a heartbeat if it meant saving your life. And if my parents had kicked you out after supper tonight, I would've followed you right out onto the streets without a second thought. Okay?"
"Okay," he says. "Okay, Rapunzel."
She lets her hand fall away from his face. "Okay," she says, nodding firmly.
Eugene tries to speak, can't, and then makes an exasperated noise and just pulls her into his arms. Rapunzel hugs him so tightly he thinks she might've cracked bone; she breathes out shakily into the collar of his shirt and he can feel a tear or two dropping wet and hot against his throat.
"I have the same colour hair as my mother," she whispers, voice muffled. "Did you notice?"
"Yeah," Eugene says. He smiles. "I did. Pretty neat, huh?"
"Pretty neat," Rapunzel echoes. He kisses the top of her head and after a moment she draws away from him a little so she can kiss him for real, still holding him like she's never letting go.