Disclaimer: I don't own them! I'm just borrowing them for a bit. Take no offense and hire no lawyers.
From what he's gathered, Rapunzel's always been something of a quick study. Painter, composer, ventriloquist… to be honest, he's starting to think there's very little she can't do.
Her first day as a princess was kind of hilarious, in hindsight. After several minutes of just breathing together on the balcony floor, the Queen had tearfully stood, composed herself, and invited them in for lunch. Beaming, Rapunzel'd said, "That sounds wonderful! Where's your kitchen?" By sunset she'd known every member of the castle staff by name and profession, had made the Captain of the Guard promise to give her archery lessons, and had reorganized not only the lavish palace kitchens their cooks used, but the modest service kitchens reserved for the hired help.
Eugene's new favorite pastime is to sit in on Rapunzel's sessions with the court tutors, pretending to read this or that when all he's really doing is staring over the top of his book, watching as she shocks them, day after day after day. Everyone once in a while he considers pulling one of them aside, to remind them that she was raised by a crone in a tower and not a pack of wolves, but…
("Excuse me, sir? I think you made a mistake in your calculations."
A kindly smile. "Oh? Where do you see that, Your Highness?"
…you just can't find entertainment like this anywhere else.
It makes him feel proud, to watch her excel in this new life—which is ridiculous, because it's not as if he has any ownership of her, or any claim to her exceptional brightness. Nevertheless, he can't stop his heart from swelling or a stray 'That's my girl' from wandering through his head every time she impresses someone new. (Not him; never him. He's too used to her to ever be surprised by her talents—he's just kind of adapted himself into living in a state of constant restrained awe.)
But none of that changes the fact that there are some things she just never got to experience—hobbies and foods and the pure freedom of uncensored, honest conversation. He's yet to find anything unfamiliar that doesn't astonish her; make her eyes wide and her voice breathless. Every new experience, no matter how large or how small, merits the same amount of excitement. In the autumn, she sustains herself for days purely on the thrill of eating an orange for the first time—rhapsodizes about the taste, the texture, how the juice had dribbled down her chin and sunken into her skin. The scent had lingered on her fingers for hours, and she'd peppered him with citrus kisses in her delight.
Like he said: quick study. She only ever needs to be told once, and remembers each new experience in exquisite detail.
So does he.
One of the first things she learns about is scars, because she'd never seen one before, and it's not as if she can really study anyone's but his. (More to the point, it's not as if he'd let her.) So he holds out his arms and she maps them with gentle caresses, tracing the tiny bumps and ridges, noting the discolored skin.
"Do they bother you?"
He considers lying to her in the vague hopes that she might try and kiss it better, but decides against it. "Not really. I mean, they don't hurt or anything. They're just… stories."
"What do you mean?"
"They're… me. My past. A way to remember what's… well, take this one, for example," he says, rolling up his sleeve to show her a faint line on his forearm. "I got this one on my very first big heist—scraped it vaulting over the wrought-iron fence. It wouldn't stop bleeding, was the thing; I thought that the guards would be able to follow a trail of it all the way back to my hideout." Her eyes have gone wide with alarm, and he sputters and starts backtracking. "I mean, I was totally okay in the end; I was just being a big baby. This one," he says, arching his neck and pushing back his collar to show her another, "this one was actually nasty. Word of advice? Don't get into pub fights with broken bottles—you never know what they've… what?"
"Are they all like this?" she asks, unable to keep from staring—mesmerized by ropey blemish that scores his left clavicle as if it's underlining the bone for emphasis.
He doesn't bother to ask like what. "Um. Kinda."
"Hey, it's not all bad. There's always this one," he offers, holding out an open palm to her.
She looks up at him, apple green eyes searching his. "I don't…"
"This one time, I got caught in this cave and I cut myself trying to get out, only this really amazing girl I barely knew healed my hand with her magical hair. I kind of freaked out about it, but…"
She chuckles a little. "Eugene, there's no scar here."
"Sure there is, look. Right there. See the line?"
"That's not a scar, that's… your life line." She smiles softly, blinks, and then frowns, peering up at him. "You unbelievable—you just used a line on me!"
"What? No I didn't!"
"Yes you did, Flynn Rider. 'You're my life line.' Oh my god! People fall for that?"
"I don't get why my best moves never work on you—"
He's still laughing when she slams her door closed behind him.
(It hadn't been a joke, is the funny thing.)
"When did you know?" she asks out of nowhere one evening. They're sitting on the castle roof, where she's technically not allowed to be—no one is—but he'd 'borrowed' some rope and they'd climbed up, because he'd promised her a view more amazing than the one from her bedroom window.
He makes a strangled sound that was probably intended to be a laugh, and stares at her. "You can't just ask someone that," he says, voice squeakier than usual.
She blinks at him. "Why not?"
"Because—because—you just don't."
"That's not a reason; that's you repeating what you just said."
He runs an exasperated hand through his hair, and breaths out slowly. He doesn't even know why he's bothering to argue with her. You don't walk into a den of thieves and then ask the guy with a hook for a hand what his dream is; you don't start pulling people from the crowd without asking to get them to dance with you; hell, you don't trust the stranger who broke into your house to hide his stolen treasure to take you on a field trip for your birthday. The rules have never applied to Rapunzel, and it would be ridiculous for him to expect them to start now.
She's still watching him. "Well?"
"Okay, okay. I, uh. I dunno. I guess…" he trails off, staring into the middle distance as he thinks about it. "I think it was… no," he interrupts himself, and starts laughing.
"What's so funny?"
"Every time I think of something, I think of something else that happened earlier. I was going to say when you handed me back the satchel, and I realized I'd completely forgotten about it, but then I remembered the lanterns."
"That was the lanterns."
"No, no, no, the lanterns I… look, when you were in the square borrowing chalk off some of those kids, I snuck away and I got those two lanterns for us to bring on the boat. I bought them."
She blinks at him. "And…?"
"And… that was the first time I'd used my own money to actually buy something for someone else, no strings attached, in… um. Ever."
She reaches out and twines her fingers with his; he gives her a little half-smile and squeezes her hand. "What about you?"
To be honest, she can't remember a moment when she wasn't at least interested in him, from the first time she saw him. She'd pushed back his bangs to examine his eyes and checked his teeth, and had felt a rush of something tingling through her body that Mother had certainly never mentioned when talking about men. But she just laughs and smiles and says, "That's easy. When you first told me who you were."
She doesn't say that she isn't talking about when he told her his real name—that she'd met Eugene Fitzherbert a bit before he introduced himself properly. Doesn't say that she can still remember exactly where he put his hands on her when they heard the guards catching up in the tunnel: grasping her upper arms, right by her shoulders. That sometimes she can still feel his sure grip, a burning just under her skin, and has to fight the ridiculous urge to pull up her sleeves and make sure his hands hadn't branded her forever.
It wasn't the first time he'd touched her, but it was the first time he'd done it without thinking—and it had been to put himself between her and danger, shouting at her to run.
She doesn't mention how much it meant to her that he was with her in that flooded cave; that he'd never tried to blame her, even when she was insisting that it was her fault. That the one thing that had been able to cut through her panic was when he grabbed her once more—always the same spot, on her arm—and had brushed her hair out of her eyes, so unexpectedly tender and honest that she probably fell for him right then and there.
He likes to complain that no artist has been able to properly capture the line of his nose, but when she finally offers to just paint him herself, it's his eye color that gives her trouble.
"Can't we just leave it at light brown and call it a day?" he asks, wriggling in his stool.
"Don't be silly. And stay still, Eugene, or I'll make you."
He turns back from his pose to stare at her, the old Flynn Rider smolder melting into his smile. "Oh yeah? How?"
"By physical force, if necessary," she informs him, turning up her nose in an attempt to look dignified and intimidating.
"What, all ten pounds of you?"
She raises a single, cool eyebrow. "I've still got my frying pan, you know." His jaw shuts with a click and he turns back to the window. "Amber, maybe," she mumbles, mostly to herself.
It takes her almost a week to solve the mystery, and when she does, she's in his arms. There are the tiniest veins of green in those amber-or-light-brown eyes, but you have to get close to see them—closer than she'd prefer anyone not-her to be near Eugene, really. She grins like a cat on the prowl when she figures it out; her smirk makes him adorably anxious, and he asks her about it all day. ("No, seriously. Is there something on my face?") She doesn't tell, though; she decides his hazel eyes are her secret.
The thing is, it's kind of thrilling that she can see a little of herself in him. Invisible green in his brown eyes. She thinks of how one color can hide and take root in another, brown earth and green plants and the way things grow—people. Ideas. Emotions.
(He catches her the next evening staring at herself in the mirror, marveling at the minute halo of brown that circles her own pupils. "Still admiring my handiwork?" he laughs, reaching out to tousle her hair. She smiles and kisses him, because she can.)
Anyway, she doesn't tell. It feels almost like it belongs to her, and she thinks it might be okay for her to be selfish, just this once.
And besides, she does manage to get his nose right.
No one's ever called him by his real name before during… well, during. Flynn Rider had always been popular with the ladies, and while he's never been one to kiss and tell, it's no secret that he's seen… a decent number of bedrooms in the kingdom.
Eugene Fitzherbert, on the other hand…
(Here's a secret that isn't a secret: Eugene Fitzherbert died long before Gothel stabbed him, and Rapunzel brought him back to life long before she cried for him. The fact that it happened twice… well, he's always had a bit of a lucky streak.)
The thing is, a man remembers the first word spoken to him when he comes back from the dead—and she named him. He can still hear it ringing in his ears, the way she'd gasped out his name as if he were the miracle. Even now, every time she says it, it feels like he's breathing for the first time.
It's made him mindful.
He has a thousand nicknames for her, some sarcastic and some affectionate—Blondie (which baffles the castle staff to no end) and Beautiful (to make her blush) and Princess (because he knows it annoys her). But when they're alone together, it's only ever her name. "Rapunzel, Rapunzel," whispered softly against her ear, like a fairytale.
"I've been reading your book," she informs him afterwards, head pillowed on his chest, fingers playing against the scar on his collar bone. He blinks, uncomprehending, until he sees his busted up copy of The Tales of Flynnigan Rider on her bedside table. His book. As if it were something he wrote and not something he lent her. He chuckles, kissing the crown of her head.
"Well, it's wonderful, but… there's something I don't understand. Every single story ends with Happily Ever After, but then you turn the page and… there's another chapter. Another story. How do you know when you've reached the end?"
"I…" He wants to tell her that there's no such thing as a happy ending—that happy right now is as good as it gets, and that there's nothing wrong with that. He wants to tell her that the next adventure is the happily ever after; that they don't have to stop, not ever, because they're the ones telling their story. He wants to tell her that he never believed in forever until he met her; that he gave up a storybook name for a storybook life; that he'll never, as long as he lives, understand exactly what happened to his heart on her eighteenth birthday.
"Well, that's the good part, I guess," he finally says, offering up a ghost of a smile. "You don't."