"Eugene! It is a gorgeous day! Come out of there! I want to show you something!"
Once upon a time, Flynn slept until noon. He spent his days gallivanting around, pilfering, and flirting with the ladies, and he passed out wherever was convenient - including barns, tavern floors, the bedrooms of farmers' daughters...
Flynn rarely saw morning light. Now he lived in a palace and awoke each morning to more enthusiasm than was warranted at such an hour.
But then, he spent his every day with a girl so full of life and wonder, it was a fair trade. He never thought he'd call his old life boring, but it was like watching grass grow compared to what antics this girl got up to.
That didn't mean he didn't miss lazy mornings. "Just... gimme five more minutes," he mumbled, rolling away from the light streaming through the enormous windows.
"You said that five minutes ago." Eugene heard her sigh even on the other side of the door. He could read her a mile away. Rapunzel was a lot of things, but subtle was not one of them. "You're going to love what I can do! Come see!"
"I'm sure I will, Goldie. Why don't you practice for a little while? Then I'll come out and you can show me."
"That's a great idea! I'm going to do that! See you soon!"
He heard her scamper off and smiled into his pillow. He should be getting up anyway. She couldn't really be left without supervision, and the palace staff still weren't used to just what kind of supervision she needed. Rapunzel was obsessed with new experiences. He couldn't blame her - she'd gone her entire life lonely and with little stimulation or opportunities to learn and grow. Eugene still caught her sometimes talking to inanimate objects... flowers, cutlery, whatever was at hand. The staff found this adorable. Eugene found it infuriating and depressing that she had had to resort to that. That her formative years had been spent in isolation, that no one had been around to respond to her thoughts and questions, and she that still had to rely on her own imagination for companionship.
Her parents tried everything - hired tutors, brought in princesses from neighboring kingdoms to be her friends, bought her puppies... The problem was that the tutors treated her like a child - she was not a child. The princesses treated her like any other girl raised in palace - she wasn't that either. And the puppies, well, they just encouraged her personification of friends that could never respond to her the way she needed.
Maybe it's because Eugene grew up surrounded by children that were just not quite where they were supposed to be in life, or maybe because he also didn't have a place he truly fit in, but he seemed to have a better handle on her than anyone else. When she wanted to go on secret adventures, he showed her the right way to tie the sheets and the safe way to wrap them around her torso and spotted her as she belayed down the battlements. He talked to her like she was an adult, but explained things without hesitation.
Then there was the side of Rapunzel that was much more mature than anyone was truly ready for. The side that was a grown woman who'd never known affection or closeness with another human being. Whatever Gothel had shared with her was not love, and Rapunzel knew that. She was sheltered, but not at all stupid. She thrilled at physical contact with Eugene, any physical contact. She spent an entire afternoon once playing around with his hands. She'd tried reading his palm, interrogating him about all of his calluses and little scars, comparing the lengths of their fingers, the shapes of their knuckles. She experimented with every possible way they could hold hands. They had more thumb wars than Eugene thought he'd have in a life time, and when they graduated to arm wrestling, and Rapunzel became fascinated with his forearms, Eugene tabled the anatomy exploration for the evening.
Rapunzel was fascinated with many things about Eugene. "I've only just been one person before. It's so different with two people! It's amazing. And you are not just a person, you're a man! I've never known a man before. Men are wonderful."
She had no idea. And Eugene was determined that that was a lesson for far later in her rehabilitation to society. She kissed him once in the tower, and it was something she was driven to do again and again, wanting the same thorough understanding of his lips that she had of his hands, but Eugene didn't think he could tolerate that without explaining a lot of other things about his body to her. And she trusted him. She looked to him to help her, not take advantage of her. Sometimes Eugene slipped up, and didn't realize he'd dropped the ball until they were in each other's arms. He'd push her away gently, trying not to watch in fascination as she licked her kiss-swollen lips, or the way her chest heaved with her breath, or the exhilarated desire burning in her green eyes.
Was Eugene a terrible person for finding her incredibly attractive and magnetic one minute, and completely in need of his care and protection the next? He often thought about this after an encounter with Rapunzel went just a little too far and he'd retreated to his room to... calm himself down. He decided that, though he might burn in hell, it wasn't fair to her to treat her like her hormones didn't exist or like her body wasn't craving what her mind didn't yet understand. To deny her age and her emotions was maybe the worst thing he could do for her. She was trying to have the childhood she never had and grow into her place as a woman at the same time.
So, somehow, Eugene was no longer a thief or a rogue. He was the part-time boyfriend, part-time babysitter of the princess. It was incredibly awkward, incredibly exciting, and incredibly challenging at the same time. But most of all, it was all he wanted to be for now. He was up to the challenge, and he certainly wasn't willing to let anyone else step in.
Eugene finally rolled out of bed, stretching. He was sore all over. Sore in a good way. Sore from chasing her around all day every day, boosting her up so she could see over the crowd in the market, straining and keeping his own body in check when she pressed against him for a good night kiss. This was the kind of exercise a man could get used to. Or would kill him. It beat hanging.
He pulled his clothes on and was about to put on his boots when he remembered one of them was filled with sand. They went to the waterfront the day before and Rapunzel was so fascinated by the fine, white sand she begged him to take some home for her. Eugene tried to explain that sand is not a limited commodity, but she didn't really believe him. The world was so limitless to her now, but at the same time, she had a lingering fear that everything would be taken away from her. Eugene couldn't stand the desperation in her eyes. They didn't have any containers, so somehow he wore one boot and carried the other sand-filled one home.
Emptying a nearby vase of its flowers, Eugene decanted the sand from his boot and then pulled it on, tucking the vase under one arm and finally heading out into the hall. He found her on the grand staircase, about halfway down. She waved at him energetically. Even from a distance he could see how excited she was to share her discovery.
Eugene couldn't help but smile. "Alright alright, what have you got to show me?"
"Look at this! You know I've been walking down these stairs since I moved in here and I never noticed that this would make a great slide! It's like the one at the park!"
Eugene raised an eyebrow as she patted the wide marble banister. He took his time down the stairs, hands in his pockets. "That's not a slide, Darlin'. It's a banister. Didn't you have a few of those growing up?"
Rapunzel made a so-so gesture with her hand. "They were so much thinner - I couldn't slide on them. This is perfect! Much bigger, and so high up!"
Eugene shook his head, smiling. "Too high up. Wait a sec so I can spot you."
"Don't be silly. I was swinging from the rafters long before you came along."
"Mmhmm, and you had a natural blond safety belt with you at all times."
"I'm not helpless without my hair you know. I've been practicing from lower down, but it will be even better from up here! I was thinking if I can perfect it, it will be a lot faster way to get down to breakfast in the morning. Watch!"
Oh no no no. Way too high up. Eugene shot out his hands. "No, wait! It's not-" He raced down the stairs, but not fast enough to stop her from hopping up on the banister and sending herself careening down.
At first, she was thrilled. Laughing as she gained speed. It stopped being fun when she lost complete control, and her laughter turned to shrieking. Eugene dropped the vase and tried to beat her to the bottom and catch her, but she was going way too fast. Several guards across the hall on the bottom floor hustled to break her fall but they were also too slow, and she was flung off the end of the banister to the floor in a heap, letting out a strangled cry on impact.
Eugene jumped the last four stairs and raced to her side, swallowing his heart and trying to stay calm. "Rapunzel! Are you okay?"
She clearly wasn't, crying like a wounded animal. She was cradling her left arm, which had broken her fall, against her chest. Everyone in the hall noticed it was bent in a very odd, very unnatural way.
Eugene knelt beside her, fear and concern binding him to her like a vice. "Okay okay, let me see, just-"
But she was inconsolable, staring down at her wounded arm, eyes wide with horror and pain. She'd probably never had a serious physical injury before. Maybe she got splinters and skinned knees romping around her tower, and even then, wrap her hair around it and sing a few trills and it's all better. She had no idea how to cope with or even understand what was happening to her.
Eugene shouted at the nearest servant to call the physician and tried to concentrate on calming her down. Eugene knew the basics of setting injuries - but he would never risk it with her when he could very well make matters worse. "You're going to be okay. I know it hurts."
"Make it stop!" She looked at him as if she fully expected he could do just that. He could do everything else for her - answer her burning questions, cut off her hair, understand her requests, hold her when she was scared and set her on fire with a kiss - so why couldn't he do this?
"Doc Celeste is coming, he's going to make it stop, I promise. Just breathe for me, okay?"
But she could hardly breathe with all her crying, and just looked confused and devastated. Eugene held her as best he could until the doctor came and she was ferried off to her room, Eugene holding her right hand the whole way. The bone had to be set immediately to heal properly, and the best Celeste could offer was some brandy to numb the ordeal, but she sputtered and coughed when Eugene tried to give it to her and screamed bloody murder as the doctor pushed and pulled her arm back in order. Eugene's heart broke a little every time she yelled and there was nothing he could do, and it took all his self control not the throttle the doctor for causing her more pain in the process of fixing her.
Once her arm was wrapped and in a splint, Celeste had the time to get herbs and make a sleeping draught, which she gulped down and then promptly passed out.
"I tried to catch her, we all did, but she was just too fast."
The King held up a hand, anxious eyes trained on the sleeping form of his daughter. "Mr. Fitzherbert, I understand. This is not your fault. She has a nose for trouble and you can't always be there to keep her from it."
Eugene wanted to stubbornly refute that, but even he wasn't that full of himself. He was a hell of a guy, but there was only one of him. He couldn't be at the top and the bottom of the stairs at the same time. But he should have been next to her to begin with, should have held her and walked her down the banister if she was so intent on sliding. He should have gotten up when she called him the first time. She gave him the chance to keep up with her, he was just too lazy.
The King sighed. "Whatever you are thinking, I advise you to stop. Guilt is not a fitting expression for you."
Eugene couldn't help but snort at the king's observation, and he shrugged it off by reaching out to brush a strand of dark hair from Rapunzel's forehead. He liked teaching her about delight and surprise a lot better than teaching her about pain.
The king cleared his throat. "You'll be glad to know that I've already invited a few people in for interviews to be her caretaker."
Eugene snapped to attention, unable to contain his unhappy surprise.
The King kept on, "Of course, her mother and I consider ourselves her primary guardians, but we are not quite spry enough to be always keeping an eye on her."
Eugene frowned. "Your majesty, I admit I could have been more alert this morning, but Rapunzel does not need a nanny. I can take care of her. It won't happen again-"
"This is not a criticism of you. You are a young man with your own life to be concerned with. You shouldn't be held down by raising a princess."
But Eugene didn't feel held down. He felt liberated. Having a purpose was freeing. It meant he didn't have to run around like a chicken with his head cut off, stuffing random objects of value in his pockets in pursuit of a goal he wasn't even sure he wanted to achieve. Helping Rapunzel fit into her own skin was his goal, now. Eugene swallowed. "Are you kicking me out?"
"Not at all," said the King. "I hope you will still be a dear friend of my daughter's. But it shouldn't be necessary for you to be her constant supervisor. You can't be everything for her. You shouldn't have to."
But Eugene wanted to. He liked his new identity - Rapunzel's everything. It made him feel good about himself, and not in the inflated, trumped up way. He actually felt good about himself as a person. Was that too selfish? Should he be backing off?
"Well, I am off to meet with a few prospects. Why don't you come by later? Perhaps you can help me choose, you know her better than anyone."
Eugene watched him leave, glad for the invitation but dreading it at the same time. He got to choose the person who was going to take his place at Rapunzel's side, and cluck and scold her, and tell her what was appropriate and ladylike. An escort. Something told him he wouldn't have to worry about curbing Rapunzel's kissing instincts as much. It would be easier, but a lot less fun.
Eugene looked up to see Rapunzel blinking awake, her hand searching out his immediately.
He held her tiny one in both of his, scooting his chair closer to the bed. "Morning, Princess."
She glanced down at her arm, frowning. It was tucked neatly against her in a sling.
"You had quite a spill there, huh? You feeling okay?"
She nodded. "It just feels numb."
"Yeah, Doc Celeste gave you something for the pain. Let me know if it starts to hurt again, and I'll call for him."
"I don't know if I like feeling things."
He couldn't help but crack a smile at the silly, simple way she stated her thoughts sometimes. "What do you mean?"
"Pain... it comes from nerves, right? My tutor was telling me. We have senses and those senses tell us when something hurts."
"That's true. But feeling things is great. Look what else your arm can feel." Eugene reached over to her good arm, tickling his fingertips up her wrist and the inside of her elbow.
She laughed, squirming a little, a carefree, open smile curving her lips.
He plucked a stray feather from the comforter, tracing it along the back of her hand and her arm, eliciting more laughter.
"How do you do that?" she gasped. "It doesn't feel like that when I do that."
"Tickling is weird," he agreed, setting the feather aside. "You can only feel it when someone else does it to you. I don't know why. Anticipation, maybe?"
"Can I tickle you?"
"I'm not very ticklish." A complete lie, but if she knew, he would never be safe again. She'd find out, in due time.
"Oh. What other sensations are there like that? That you need two people to feel?"
Eugene bit back a thousand words, a thousand different ways he would love to make her feel. Instead, he picked up her hand and pressed his lips gently to her knuckles. She stared, unabashed. He felt her watching him as he carefully kissed the inside of her wrist, taking his time, varying location and pressure, and ever so lightly scraping his teeth over her pulse point before withdrawing and meeting her gaze.
She was wide awake now, unblinking, an unmistakable heat in her eyes. "Eugene," she said, softly.
"I have that feeling I was telling you about, in my stomach. I think it means I want you to kiss me."
Maybe the mood should have been ruined by her childish verbalization of her confused feelings, but Eugene was increasingly immune to that, damned as he may be. He leaned forward, bracing his elbow on the sheets, careful not to touch her injury, and pressed his lips to the corner of her mouth, feeling her go still beneath him, strung like a bow. When he started to withdraw, she reached her good hand up and grabbed the front of his vest, pulling him closer to her as she took the lead and deepened the kiss.
He was glad she was taking control, it meant she was getting comfortable and confident, more familiar with her desires. On the other hand, it made it very difficult for him to relax, it would be so easy to let go completely and kiss her thoroughly , and the better she got at this the more difficult self control was and the more on guard he had to be. When she hesitantly parted her lips and snuck her tongue out to meet his, these thoughts were completely abandoned. His free hand rose to cup her jaw, angling her for better access as he took the lead, penetrating her mouth more deeply, stroking his tongue along hers . She moaned, low and throaty and needy, and the sound was like an electric shock, sending him packing back to his own chair.
Eugene screwed his eyes shut, only opening them again when his heart rate slowed to a more controllable speed and the tightness in his groin dissipated slightly. Rapunzel was touching her lips with her delicate fingertips, studying him quizzically. "Why do you always stop like that?" she asked between heavy breaths. " You always stop when it feels so good."
The way she said good made him clench the arms of the chair to keep from pouncing on her. He paused, taking a few deep breaths until he felt confident his voice wouldn't come out strangled. "You know... have you..." she worked best with clear, fitting analogies when it came to abstract concepts. Like sexual hunger.
Hunger. He could work with that. "Have you ever had a really amazing dessert, and you take one bite and it's so good you just want to devour the entire thing?"
Her eyes lit up. "Yes! Yes. The mousse we had, the day before yesterday, it was delicious!"
Eugene nodded helplessly. "It's like that."
"You're afraid you'll devour me?"
"But it doesn't hurt. Wouldn't being devoured hurt?"
Eugene stifled a groan, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "Hopefully not, in this case. Actually, no, never. I won't hurt you. I promise."
Well, contextually, some pain is good but he wasn't going to get into caveats with her at this point.
She perked up. "Does that mean you'll devour me someday? Soon?"
Eugene laughed the laugh of a tortured man. "You know what? That was a bad analogy after all. Let's just say you're not ready for what happens after good."
"I feel ready."
"Yeah... trust me. You're not."
And with that, she seemed completely content, settling back into the pillows. "I do trust you, Eugene." She peered over at him. "I trust you. But I'm not going to stop bothering you about it."
Eugene smiled, letting just a little drop of the smolder hint through. "I can accept that."
She giggled and blushed, sitting up a bit as Eugene reached for the book he'd brought in, something about modern art, which he found boring but she found fascinating and all he wanted to do for the rest of the afternoon was read to her and distract her from bad feelings with good ones. Especially if it was his last afternoon as her everything.
A/N - This was in response to my friend Qwi Xux's prompt: "Pillow. Sand. Bannister." Thanks for the inspiration! *hugs*
Huge thanks to Sekihara Tae for beta-ing! You are a lifesaver. You are also my idol. How can I con you into writing Tangled fic?
I have a couple other ideas for vignettes about Eugene that are loosely tied to this one... maybe what life would be like once this caretaker comes in, etc, so this may or may not be a one shot.
Any and all feedback is appreciated!