It's become very clear to Eugene that Rapunzel has little to no understanding of amorous affection.

She knows that if she holds Eugene's hand when she's scared he'll rub his thumb across her knuckles and she'll be filled with strength enough to clench her jaw and be brave. She knows from her mother – from Gothel – that you hug someone to say that you love them even though they're plain looking or silly or ask ridiculous questions. She knows that both Gothel back in the tower and now the king and queen kiss her cheek or her forehead to wish her sweet dreams. And she knows from a few stories she read (before Gothel had the inclination to read them more closely) that you should kiss someone on the lips when the sight of them makes your heat pound and your neck feel warm. She knows that when she kisses Eugene it feels like there's this warm joy inside her heart and it bubbles up out to her arms like fireflies dancing on her skin.

Rapunzel kisses like a child would kiss. She puckers her lips and presses them against Eugene's. She'll hold them there for a moment, then pull back and smile. There's usually a smacking noise at the end - mwah - one that really has no necessity to be there, one that she picked up long ago from Gothel. Her kisses are short and simple. They make Eugene feel like he's being tickled just beneath his skin. He knows that they shouldn't really leave him breathless, but they usually do. He knows that they always leave him wanting more.

Rapunzel thinks it's a nice feeling and she enjoys it. But it never occurs to her that there might be something more to it than that.

Eugene knows there's more to it. He knows that there is much, much more and he knows that it's fantastic, and he has this idea that with Rapunzel it would be even more fantastic than usual, but he doesn't know why he thinks that. He also knows that Rapunzel has no idea that there's a whole other world of sensation, and she is perfectly content to leave things as they are. The knowledge of these contradictory facts and the knowledge that there is very little he can do to make them meet somewhere in the middle is driving him crazy.

He could sit her down and explain it to her. He could explain it the same way he explained what a cup cake was, or why you would want to drink a beer even though it tastes "nasty," or why people stare at her when she splashes around in the fountain. He could explain it the way he explained more complex, abstract concepts like honor and moral relativism and unconditional love. The part of his brain controlled by Flynn Rider tells him that he could explain it quite easily by pressing her against a wall and kissing her soundly until she understood.

But that seems wrong, and he can't bring himself to do it, and he can't figure out why.

Maybe it's because she's so innocent. She's so sweet and perfect and he can't bring himself to sully that. It's one of the things that makes her the way she is. It's one of the things he likes about her. But on the other hand she's so innocent. Isn't it his job as the dashing, roguish vagabond to steal that innocence away, to fully embrace that part of her, to wrap himself up in it and breathe it in as she gasps and whispers his name in a way she's never whispered anything before?

It could be because she's a princess and if her father found out then his life would be forfeit. But wouldn't it be worth it? And didn't it seem like the king kind of liked him? And would it really have stopped him from trying a month ago? No. That would have been the part that made it dangerous and exciting. He'd had multiple experiences where he met a girl's father as the man barged into the room, shouting and cursing. The girl would yell, "Daddy, no!" and Flynn would grab one boot, pull up his pants, and escape out the nearest window. Good times.

Good times that he does not want to repeat with Rapunzel.

It could be because he actually cares about this girl and he wants to do right by her and he wants to protect her from everyone out there who would do such unspeakable things to her, even if he's included in that group. But that's just stupid. That would imply that he's falling for her and that kind of thing just doesn't happen to Flynn Rider.

He catches himself staring at her during dinner with an absent smile on his face. She's enthusiastically telling her father of her latest discovery that feral cats have claws and are easily startled. She grins and shoves back her sleeve to show off three thin lines that run the length of her forearm. The king laughs and Eugene realizes that he's been staring. He averts his eyes and takes a sip of whatever it is that's being served tonight. When he looks up again he sees the queen watching him. The corner of her mouth quirks and there's far too much understanding in her eyes for Eugene's liking.

The next day Rapunzel's wearing nothing but her corset and her petticoats as she explains to him that she and Pascal can't figure out how the clasps on her dress work. Scowling down at the green, velvet monstrosity that's laid out across her bed, she crosses her arms just below her chest, forcing her breasts to bunch and swell upwards. She pops out a hip and Eugene's fingers twitch at the thought of how that hip would feel if he grasped it.

He clears his throat and easily demonstrates how to latch the hooks and eyes that run down the dress' back. Of course he knows how they work. Buttons, clasps, zippers, ties, you name it and he has at one point figured out how to work it. Most likely he did it while drunk and in the dark.

Rapunzel tries it once and then excitedly practices on three more, her thin fingers running up the hooks like the wings of a moth. With a bit of difficulty, she pulls them all open again, and in a flurry of spinning fabric, she grabs up the dress and throws it over her head. For a moment she's completely obscured in a mass of green, then one hand appears followed by another. She pulls her head out and shoves the dress down to rest on her hips.

She grins up at Eugene, looking far too proud of herself considering that her many layers of skirts are all crumpled together so that the floor length dress barely reaches her knees. "I just learned to do that," she says. "I never used to be able to put a dress on over my head."

Eugene has to help her straighten her skirts, and before he knows it, he's on his knees in front of her, reaching under her dress to smooth one layer of netting after another. He's helped with this kind of thing before - usually after a fling in a broom closet. Usually the girl whose dress he's straightening tries to muffle her giggles and Eugene doesn't help at all by trailing little kisses along her thigh. He notes that Rapunzel has very nice thighs, but he resists the temptation to touch them.

She grins at him as he stands. It's not a come-hither grin or a grin flushed from the tingling proximity of his warm hands. It's a grin of gratitude for a job well done and a grin of triumph for their conquest over the dress.

He takes her by the shoulders and turns her around to provide assistance when it becomes clear that, even though she now knows how they work, she still can't fix all the latches on her back by herself. He marks the elegant column of her neck. It would be so easy to bury his face against the junction of her throat and shoulder or her jaw just below her ear, breathe her in, fill himself with her scent – warm and earthy and womanly. He imagines that if he runs the pads of his fingers along the bare curve of her shoulder blade, he'll be able to feel her shiver. He'll be able to hear her breath catch.

He pulls himself together and buttons up her dress.

A week later the door to his bedroom creeks open in the middle of the night and he sits up, alert in the dark. He's generally a light sleeper, having been on the run and having spent time with people who would stab him in the back just as fast as he would turn on them. Since he moved into the palace the guards have taken to patrolling regularly past his room. Their armor makes them clank as they walk and it wakes him up every time. But this intrusion on his sleep is different.

"Who's there?"

"It's just me."


She pads across the floor and slips under the blankets to snuggle up close to him, her skin cold from the evening chill. She presses her face against his bare chest and leaves a damp streak of tears against his flesh. Without thinking, he wraps his arms around her to comfort and warm her through her thin nightgown. The silk bunches as he caresses her back.

"What are you doing here?"

"I had a dream." Her voice is like a whisper, and she sniffs as she holds him tighter.

He's starting to feel a bit more awake now, and starting to realize that there's a certain danger to her being here. Regardless of that, he can't turn her away when she's in need.

"Tell me," he murmurs.

She shivers and hesitates. "I was someplace strange. It was all white. A bright white that stung my eyes. So white that I couldn't tell where the walls were or the ceiling or where they met the floor. There was just nothing. Nothing at all. And I called out for my mother, but she wasn't there. I called out for you, but you… you weren't there either. No one was. Not anyone, and I was all alone."

She didn't specify if his absence was because he was dead or because he had abandoned her. He has a feeling she knows which one it was. Either way it couldn't be pleasant.

"The place was big. It was so big. I felt like I would fly apart so that little pieces of me could fill the space. I was too small and I wanted to be in my tower. My tower would hold me together. It would hold me in. Like a hug."

Eugene's arms tighten around her.

"And then there wasn't a floor anymore. Nothing looked different. Nothing changed. But I was falling. I was falling and falling and I knew that if I had my hair I could throw it and catch myself on something, but I reached for it and it was gone too."

She had lost everything, and it was all his fault. He hadn't asked her what she wanted. He had just ripped everything away. Something tightens inside his chest.

"I'm sorry." He truly is, but the words seem empty.

She pushes closer against him. Her skin has begun to warm.

"For what it's worth," he says, resting his cheek against her hair, "I know it's a bad trade off, but I'm here for you. I'm here and I'm not going anywhere."

She pulls back and looks up at him, her eyes dancing with tears and starlight in the dark. "Promise?"


"Oh!" She shifts upwards and presses her lips to his. He feels that familiar tingle in his arms and the warm coals that light just beneath his navel. But then she's pulled away again to smile, and she shifts back to tuck her head under his chin.

For a moment he stares, blinking at the far wall in the blackness. It takes a moment for him to realize he's not breathing. He swallows and he feels the thick knot of his Adam's apple grind against her temple. The warmth in his navel smolders.

"Uh, Rapunzel?"

She shifts again, giving him a look of curiosity, a look of innocence.

He's going to do it. As much as he fights it and as much as one look from her can turn him into a fumbling idiot, there's no denying that he wants her in a way that makes him think that he's never really understood what it was to want before.

He runs a hand up her spine, over the back of her neck, up to cup the base of her skull and tangle his fingers in her hair. Her face is so small, so delicate that he can reach his thumb to her lips in a caress that tingles with anticipation. Her eyes widen, then flutter, and she purses her lips against the calloused digit.

He holds her tight as he lowers his head to hers. He holds her because after a moment she'll try to pull away, and for this to work he has to hold her still, keep her close. He swears he'll let her go if she struggles. He swears. He'll count to three and he'll release her. He will.

He presses his lips to hers and he pushes away the lightheadedness that follows. He has to be careful, gentle. Controlled. Two heartbeats and she pulls back, only to be held firm by the strong hand against her neck. She sucks in a breath through her nose, causing her chest to swell against his own. But she goes along with it and stays still, waiting and wondering what he's up to and why they're still pressed together like this.

He starts slow, a subtle puckering of his lips, a purposeful movement of his jaw. She's never felt such a thing before, and she quickly mimics him, deciding she likes the caress and the tension in her back and the shallowness of her breath.

His tongue drags across her lower lip. It's firm and damp and it sends a jolt through her so strong that she gasps and jerks away.

The room is deathly still as she stares up at him in shock, one hand covering her mouth. He's trying to control his breathing, he's trying to control the lust burning in his eyes.

"I-" He can't find the words to apologize. He can't clear his throat enough to speak. He's crossed the line, and he knows it, and he's sorry. God, he's sorry.

But the guilt dissipates as he watches her test her lips with the tips of her fingers. It's a tender caress that has him fascinated. The tip of her tongue appears, tentative, enticing as it traces the trail he so recently marked. He thinks his heart may have stopped as he's never in his life seen anything so painfully seductive.

She has that look in her eyes that she gets when she gathers her courage, when she tries something new, when she feels a thrill of novelty, and Eugene holds very, very still as she leans into him and, in hesitant imitation, draws her tongue across his lips.

A deep groan is ripped from his throat. All his logic and reason disappear. There's only her, and open mouth kisses, and hot breath, and the weight of her as she wraps her arms around his neck and pulls a leg around his waist. He grabs her tight, just wanting to feel her, to be closer to her. Closer. Closer. These aren't the cool and experiences movements of Flynn, but the passionate groping of Eugene. And he doesn't care.

And suddenly she gets it. It's like the shock she felt when she realized she was the princess - more pleasant, but just as terrifying. The way Eugene looks at her. The meaning of the smolder. The sensation she gets when his hand brushes her skin and when his touch lingers. She understand that now. It's all just leading up to this. To this magnetic feeling in her stomach that begs for her to press against him and has her digging her fingers into the muscles of his back. The feeling that she's on fire as he sucks and nibbles at her neck and runs a hand up her thigh, bunching up her nightgown. The writhing longing as he strokes her back and her side and her waist. The frustration that makes her want to whimper, that coils and tightens in her stomach, because he's not touching her enough and if he shifted just an inch more she knows – she knows! – it will feel wonderful! And after too many frantic heartbeats, his touch finally, determinately slips that last inch-


She jerks away as a shock snaps through her, her entire body going rigid, her eyes going wide, and he freezes knowing that he didn't cross the line before, but he's definitely crossed it now.

Everything comes to a screeching halt as reality and consequences settle over him like a suffocating fog. He tries not to pant. He tries not to let her feel how strongly his heart is pounding, but her hand is splayed against his chest to keep him away and there's not a chance she can't feel it. He tries not to let the shock and fear and disappointment show on his face.

"I'm sorry," he gasps.

"No, I'm sorry," she whispers.

"Don't be."

For the first time she blushes, and he sighs, the burst of warm air causing her hair to flutter. Cautiously, he pulls her close again, tucking her head under his chin, placing his hands unobtrusively against her back. He works at slowing his breathing. He works at showing her that this is a comforting embrace, and not one of desire, but the tension in his arms and the stiffness of her spine prove that that's a lie.

Eugene lies awake and curses himself for taking advantage. He curses himself because now he wants more.

In his arms Rapunzel can't even think of sleep. Her mind is racing with thoughts of fear and love, of sensation and desire.