Flynn was having the dream again.
Oh, this was no warm and fuzzy happy-go-lucky dream, this was more like his worst nightmare. In fact, he considered it to be more than just a nightmare because unlike most nightmares, this one he had actually lived through first-hand.
He could still feel the sharp pain as Gothel stabbed him in the middle of his back, piercing his heart with the tip of the blade. He could still feel the blood pouring from his skin and the coldness of certain death sucking away his life instant by instant. He recalled the screams of Rapunzel begging Gothel to let her heal him with her magic hair (magic hair… even after all this time, the words still sounded odd to him.) He remembered using the very last of his ebbing strength to slash her beautiful blonde tresses before she could heal him and fulfill her promise to leave with Gothel, destroying the magic within. And then, Flynn felt the ice spread from his fingertips to his very heart, where he took his final breath in Rapunzel's arms.
Flynn awoke with a start and quickly sat upright, sweat dripping down his brow. It took him a moment to register where he was as his eyes flitted around the room, and then he relaxed. He was still in the palace. He was alive. He sat up in his bed, wiping the moisture from his forehead while taking deep breaths as Rapunzel had suggested he should do whenever he'd had the nightmare. Flynn concentrated on the sound of the air entering and leaving his lungs, thinking. It had been nearly a month since he'd last had the nightmare. That was some progress considering that three months ago, he'd barely been able to go a night without waking up in sheer terror, reaching behind to pull out the imaginary knife in his back.
Three months… has it really been that long? Flynn thought to himself as he lay back down. It had been three months since he had stolen the crown, climbed up that tower, and met the young woman who he would soon have the greatest adventure of his life with. Three months since he had helped her escape her "mother" Gothel's grasp and brought her home to her parents, the king and queen of Corona.
Three months since he had fallen deeply and hopelessly in love with Rapunzel.
Flynn felt a small smile form on his lips and he felt a little embarrassed despite himself. He had never pegged himself as the sappy type - in fact, ever since he had donned the title "Flynn Rider," he had worked hard to mold sweet little orphan Eugene into the rough, tough man who he'd always admired in his storybooks. But after meeting Rapunzel, even after that first day, Flynn felt his macho exterior melt away with one look into her beautiful green eyes. There had been short flings with other girls in the past, nothing ever serious enough to last very long. Flynn had taught himself long ago that the ones you loved would always leave - his parents' unexpected deaths being the deepest pain he had ever felt. As a child, he had forced himself not to put emotional attachment into anything as he grew up in the orphanage a lonely boy. Rapunzel changed all of that.
She made him feel like he mattered. He'd never felt important to anyone before, which was why he'd run away from the orphanage at the tender age of sixteen. As he'd watched all the little girls and boys leave with their new families, Flynn remembered sitting in the corner with his Flynnigan Rider book, knowing in his heart that no one would want him. So he'd run away, and no one came after him.
Flynn sat up in his bed again, pulling on a loose shirt hanging from the chair nearby. Looking around the palace room he'd been given, Flynn shook his head in mild amazement. The room in the orphanage where all the little boys had slept together had been smaller than this. He had more space in this one room than he'd ever had in his life, and very little to fill it with. In one corner of the room was a large closet with a few items of clothing the king's servants had fetched for him when he'd first arrived. In another corner stood a desk equipped with a few blocks of wood and some whittling tools along with some other stray tools used for sword-making. In the three months since Flynn had been living in the palace, he had become an apprentice blacksmith working in the King's royal armory. He wasn't exactly a master yet, but he had learned a great deal about the trade and was decent enough to undertake small jobs in repairing swords, knives, and spears for the king's soldiers. At first, the King and Queen had offered him the job as merely a hobby, but after much persistence, Flynn managed to convince them to allow him to work scheduled hours with minimal wage in which he would pay a monthly rent for his room in the palace. It was the very least Flynn could offer after the King had pardoned him for all of his crimes.
It had been no easy task, from what the servants had heard in passing and relayed back to Flynn during that incredibly stressful time. A few members of the royal court had been skeptical to allow a wanted criminal to walk a free man, and to live in the castle had been enough to set a few off in quite a rage. In all of Corona's history, there had never been the full pardon of a man who had committed as much thievery as Flynn Rider. Then again, there had never been a man who had rescued the King's daughter either. Nevertheless, the King worked extremely hard to sway the court, calling Flynn a hero for rescuing his lost daughter and daring anyone in the court to summon up the courage that Flynn had in his heart for risking certain death for Rapunzel. After much debate and the nearly unanimous vote for Flynn's release (save for the few who insisted he be locked up,) the King had declared Flynn a free man. Flynn felt unworthy of the magnitude of the King's praise and made a promise to never commit another crime, no matter how small, ever again. Saving him from the gallows was a debt Flynn was determined to pay back to the King for the rest of his life.
Flynn was too awake to try to go back to sleep. Kicking the soft covers off his body, he pulled on a pair of pants and quietly left his chambers. His light footsteps were the only sound in the castle, as everyone else was surely fast asleep. Flynn turned down a certain corridor and began to climb the large fleet of stairs. When he reached the top and pushed the door open, he smiled. He'd been hoping she would be up here tonight.
Rapunzel turned her face to look at the cause of the sudden sound and rose from her seat when she saw that it was Flynn. A smile reserved only for him spread across her lips and she went to him quickly, folding herself against his chest in a deep hug.
"I was hoping you'd come up here tonight." Rapunzel said as she sighed contentedly.
Flynn's arms encircled her and he chuckled. "I was just thinking the same thing. I couldn't sleep."
"Why?" She asked.
Flynn hesitated. He didn't want to worry her, but he hated lying to her too. "I… had the dream again."
Rapunzel's eyes grew wide. "Oh no… I thought it had stopped. It's been so long since the last one."
Flynn gave her a little smile. "I know. I think it'll be over soon though. They grow farther and farther apart each time." He threaded his fingers through her cropped brown hair, trying to ease her worry.
Rapunzel nodded, her eyes downcast as she raised a hand to touch his chest. "I guess you're right. It's just… I worry about you."
Flynn gave her a crooked half-smile. "You don't have to worry about me, Blondie. I'm a free man now. No one can touch me, except for you of course."
Rapunzel blushed and hid her face in his chest so he wouldn't see. "The stars are really beautiful tonight." She said after a short pause.
Flynn kissed the top of her head. "Really? I hadn't noticed."
Rapunzel felt herself grin as she took his hand, pulling him to their spot along the castle wall. They sat side by side, their legs dangling over the edge as their fingers entwined. They spent a few minutes gazing at the pinpoints of light, Flynn pointing out certain constellations to her and guiding her finger across the sky to trace their patterns. On these nights, they talked about everything and nothing. Most nights consisted of Rapunzel doing most of the talking as she would chatter on about what she had learned that day from her private tutors or what she was planning on painting next in her room. Flynn was more than happy to listen and let her trail on, sometimes talking herself to sleep. Then there were the nights when she would be very quiet, and Flynn would hold her in his arms as the tears fell from her eyes. He would wait until she began to tell him of her life in the tower, how locked up she had felt, unable to enjoy the simple pleasures of grass beneath her feet or the feel of summer rain on her skin. She would tell him how often Gothel would put her down, calling her naïve, gullible, and immature, and how alone she had felt growing up without a friend in the world besides her beloved Pascal. She always cried very gently in front of him, almost as if she were still holding back her true emotions, and Flynn tried as best he could to comfort her. His life hadn't exactly been a picnic either, but at least he had been free. Rapunzel, his sweet, beautiful Rapunzel had to grow up looking out of a window with the world just within reach and yet too far away to grasp. No one deserved that.
After an hour or so, Flynn heard Rapunzel yawn and felt his own eyelids growing weary. He swung his legs around, standing up and stretching from sitting on the hard rock for so long. "I think it's time for bed." He said as his joints popped.
Rapunzel nodded sleepily. "Yeah… guess so." She took his hand and they went back inside the castle, shutting the door softly behind them. Flynn walked her back to her room, her warm hand loosely in his as she became more and more lethargic. When they reached her door, Flynn pulled her in for a soft hug. "Goodnight Rapunzel." He whispered. She smiled at him and opened the door, which Flynn knew was his cue to leave. After a few steps, he heard the door squeak open again.
"Eugene?" Rapunzel said softly.
Flynn turned around. Rapunzel suddenly looked very awake, her eyes flitting nervously to the floor and back up at him. She was biting her bottom lip nervously.
"Eugene, I…" She stopped, the words catching in her throat. "I…"
Flynn slowly walked back to her, taking her small hands in his. He smiled as she sighed, frustrated with herself. "It's ok. You don't have to say it."
Rapunzel made a soft noise of anger that was too adorable for Flynn to put into words. "But I want to say it - I really do. It's just… the last time I said it to someone… she betrayed me." Her eyes looked up at him with what almost looked like shame.
Flynn cupped her cheeks with his palms, forcing her to look directly at him. "Rapunzel, it's alright. I understand. We agreed to take our time here, and I'm happy to take as much time as you need." He paused with a little grin. "So don't worry. Ok?
Rapunzel nodded gratefully, her eyes shining. "Thank you." She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him gently. Flynn had to force himself not to respond too enthusiastically, but he managed.
"See you in the morning." Rapunzel whispered, and then she closed the door.
As Flynn crawled back into his bed, the little smile was still plastered to his face. He would wait as long as it took. But someday, Flynn thought as he drifted off to sleep, someday I won't have to wait anymore.