AU: So, I think I pulled half of this chapter out of my ass, so I'm sorry if it sucks. I got really busy and wasn't writing, but I'm not going to abandon this fic. To whoever actually reads this, please bear with me! Hope you guys enjoy this next chapter :)
Flynn had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach as he watched Rapunzel storm away from the mystery man from his window. He was pretty sure she was angry, even though he was too far away to make out any distinct facial features to prove this theory. Or maybe it was just wishful thinking. He didn't know why, but he felt incredibly nervous about seeing this stranger with Rapunzel and he wanted to get to the bottom of it.
Motioning to Pascal, Flynn stood and held out an open palm. "I think we should call it a day." He said. Pascal nodded and made a soft sound of agreement before climbing up his arm to perch on his shoulder. With that, Flynn cleaned up his workspace as quickly as possible, locked the cabinet containing all the weaponry he had worked on that day, and headed back to the main castle doors.
Something had definitely changed. As Flynn walked the halls, he'd had to jump back several times in order to avoid colliding with the servents or maids he came across. Everyone seemed to be in such a rush that afternoon. This wasn't exactly abnormal, but it was their expressions that really tipped Flynn off. Everyone looked worried, and several had given Flynn gentle looks of what he could only describe as pity. It made him all the more anxious to find Rapunzel and figure out what on earth had happened.
Flynn turned to see Rapunzel's chambermaid rushing towards him, holding her skirt out with one hand so as not to trip in her haste. "Margaret? What's going on around here? Where's Rapunzel?" He asked.
Margaret shook her head. "She's in her room, but the King has asked me to find you and send you to him. He has something important he needs to talk to you about." She said, her voice flustered.
Flynn turned his head slightly and gave her a questioning look. "Did he say anything else?"
"No, but you must see him as soon as possible. He's in his study. Shall I take you there?" Margaret asked.
Flynn shook his head. "No, no, I know where it is. Thank you." She turned to leave and Flynn took a moment to get his bearings before heading down a corridor farther along the hallway and began to climb a flight of stairs, his curiosity building and his nerves right along with it. He'd already had one serious discussion with the King today, and he wasn't sure if he could handle another one.
Flynn suddenly stopped halfway up the stairs as a horrifying thought occurred to him. What if the King and Queen had changed their minds about his proposal? What if they had realized a former thief wanted to marry their little princess and were now preparing to have him thrown out for his audacity? Flynn felt burning heat on his skin and his breaths grew short. The mystery man… what if the King and Queen had chosen someone else for their daughter?
Flynn debated for several minutes on whether or not to turn back, and then finally decided that he couldn't. Maybe he was overreacting. Maybe it was nothing bad at all. He turned his head to Pascal, who had been poking his neck with the tip of his tail to remind him of his presence.
"Go find Blondie." He said simply. Pascal nodded his little head and Flynn gently placed him on the ground where he immediately zipped away to Rapunzel's room. With that taken care of, Flynn climbed the remaining number of stairs and hesitantly pushed open the door of the King's study. He immediately saw William sitting in his large, red, velvet armchair with his head in his hands as a fire glowed softly behind him. Flynn coughed gently to alert the King to his arrival.
"Sir? You wanted to see me?" Flynn said, closing the thick door behind him with a gentle thud. As he neared closer to the King, Flynn saw with alarm that his face looked very downcast and his brow was lined with worry. He met his eyes, which had lost their normally bright and happy glow. The King looked terribly troubled, and Flynn was not put any more at ease from this.
"Flynn… thank you for coming." The King said softly. He gestured to the chair opposite him. "Please sit."
Flynn did so, lacing his fingers together nervously. "Sir… what's going on out there? Everyone seems really… upset about something." Flynn said.
The King did not respond, and Flynn took a deep breath before plowing headfirst into his fears. "Sir, I must ask, have you and the Queen changed your minds about what we talked about this morning?"
The King's head snapped up. "What? Oh, no, no dear boy, nothing like that!" He reached over and took Flynn's hand, greatly surprising him. "Flynn, we have not changed our minds about your wanting to propose to Rapunzel." He said firmly.
Flynn sighed with relief and felt his heart start up again. He gave William a small smile. "I just… I had to ask. It was the first thing that came to mind. Especially given my past."
William sat up and stared Flynn straight in the eye. Flynn normally would've looked away with discomfort at such scrutiny, but he found that he could not break the connection.
"Flynn Rider, I want you to hear something, and hear it well." William said. "I know very well that you were a wanted thief. It was I myself who placed the reward for your capture, and I would have taken you dead or alive."
Flynn gulped and felt his palms begin to sweat. The King had never spoken this way to him before, and frankly, he was terrified of where the conversation was going.
"But then, you showed up in my kingdom with the one thing I had never been able to find no matter how hard my efforts were." His face softened. "You gave me my daughter. And you handed your life over to me along with hers. I know what you did the very first night you arrived here, hours after Rapunzel was reunited with her mother and I."
Flynn's eyes widened and his mouth dropped slightly. "I… I don't know what you're talking about." He stammered.
William shook his head, cutting him off. "I know you were on your way to the prison. I know you were going to hand yourself back to the guards and have them lock you away for your past crimes."
Flynn felt his throat go dry. "How… how do you…"
"Because I found your letter - the letter you were going to leave to Rapunzel after you turned yourself in." The King stood and went to his desk, opening a drawer and pulling out a weathered piece of paper from the very bottom of it. He handed it to Flynn, who was stunned as his eyes tore across his scrawled writing.
I can't begin to tell you how much my time with you has meant to me. I know we haven't known each other long, but I feel like that doesn't matter. From the moment I met you, I've been changing. I'm no longer the man I was, and I have you to thank for that. However, that doesn't erase the things I've done in my life, and I can't let myself go unpunished for that. I'm turning myself in, and I don't want you to come after me. Please understand - I'm a criminal. I deserve to be put away, and you deserve better than me. Thank you for making me see the light.
Flynn looked at the King incredulously. He'd never even made it out of the castle that night. Almost as soon as he'd reached the massive palace doors, a guard had appeared out of nowhere and ordered him to see the King and Queen in their Throne room where he had immediately been pardoned for all his crimes. A shocked Flynn had meant to take back his letter before Rapunzel could get to it, but it had gone missing and she had never mentioned it. He'd never told anyone what he'd been planning to do that night.
"I found that letter when I went to make sure Rapunzel sleeping in her bed was not just a dream." William said gently. "We must've just crossed paths. I immediately sent someone to cut you off before you followed through with your plan."
"But why?" Flynn asked.
"Why? You still don't understand?" The King sat back down and looked at Flynn tenderly. "As soon as I saw you with my daughter and heard her tell me how you rescued her, I knew I had misjudged you. As soon as I read that letter, I knew you were no longer a man to be chased and captured. It's not who we were that defines us. It's what we do with the choices given to us that make us who we are. Flynn Rider, you are a man worthy of freedom, and don't ever forget that."
Flynn was at a loss for words. He cleared his throat softly, horrified that his eyes had gone moist. "Your Majesty… thank you." It was all he could say, and that seemed to be enough.
The King smiled, but it slid from his face almost immediately. "Yes… but we have strayed from my original topic. That was not the reason why I asked you here." He sat back in his chair and sighed softly.
"Flynn, there's something you should know about our kingdom. Since my great-great grandfather came to the throne, our law has been that once a princess comes of age, she may be courted by any prince that wishes to seek her out. Those closest to our borders are entitled to courting first. Since Rapunzel has been away for so long and we only just got her back, the Queen and I have made appeals to dozens of kingdoms both within our borders and far across the land. We've asked that they refrain from courting Rapunzel, and all have agreed. All but one kingdom. The prince of Tamarac will not yield to our request, and his father insists on the right for his son to court Rapunzel. If we were to deny him, he would very likely wage war with us."
It took Flynn a moment to process all of this information. His head spun as he tried to sort everything out, but it all made no sense.
"But…" Flynn stuttered, standing to his feet. "But you just told me I could marry her. That has to mean something. Whoever he is, he can't just walk in and - and take her away from me!" Flynn began to pace, the news starting to sink in.
"He can't marry her. I love her - he… can't you do anything? Send him back? Make him see reason? His father can't bully you into letting his son do whatever he wants. There has to be a way to get out of this." His voice was beginning to raise to a dangerous level, and it wasn't until Flynn felt the King's hands on his shoulders that he stopped pacing and took a few deep breaths to steady himself. He felt like his world was crashing down.
"Flynn, I know this upsets you. Believe me, I'm upset too. But I can't face the possible threat of a war right now. Corona is not a war kingdom. We never have been. We've always been peaceful and our strength is in our crops. If Tamarac were to declare war… I would lose this kingdom. Many of our own would die." His eyes fell and his shoulders sagged with the weight of his worry. "Darin only has a thirty-day limit to court Rapunzel. At the end of that period, Rapunzel can reject his efforts and he will leave. And I promise you, this will not happen again. I just… I need you to understand, Flynn." The King said this so softly, so desperately, that Flynn saw for the first time not the king, but the man behind the crown.
Flynn sighed softly. "I understand, sir." He replied. A moment of silence passed between them before Flynn spoke again. "Is Rapunzel ok?"
William took his hands off Flynn's shoulders and rubbed the back of his neck. "She's not taking it well. Apparently her and the Prince didn't get off to the best start. I've only heard bits and pieces from my wife, but… I'm sure she wants to see you."
Flynn took this as a sign that he could be dismissed, and nodded. "I'd really like to see her too." As he turned to leave, he hesitated before facing the king again. "Sir, it seems like all I ever do is thank you, but I can't… I can't help but say it again, so… thank you."
William smiled warmly, his eyes showing much more care than Flynn could ever remember receiving before, and Flynn thought for a moment just how lucky Rapunzel was to have a father.
"It's going to be all right, Flynn." William said. "Go on now - she needs you."
Rapunzel paced back and forth in her room, arms crossed over her chest and seething with rage. The bright and normally sunny room was considerably darker with Rapunzel's furious thoughts swirling about. How dare that pompous, arrogant, selfish man speak to her that way! And the things he'd said about Eugene… her Eugene! The way he had poked fun at him made her want to break something, which was not in her nature. In the space of a few hours, Rapunzel had gone from a sweet, happy young woman to this unfamiliar raging animal that had awoken inside of her. It was unsettling to say the least, but her mind was too full to really think about her changed personality.
Rapunzel's room was large - much larger than the one in the tower had been. She'd been pacing for the better part of an hour and she was beginning to grow tired, although she suspected it had much to do with the heavy thoughts weighing down her mind. She had been desperately trying to think of a solution to her predicament, which simply put, was this: Get this Prince Darin out of her kingdom and out of her life. It was easier said than done, though. Based on what her father had told her of Corona's laws, there was nothing she could do to get out of this. Darin was a prince - he had the right to court her by Corona's law, and to tell him he couldn't was an open invitation to a war the kingdom definitely did not need. This king from Tamarac sounded like a stubborn and violent man to Rapunzel, and she wanted to help her parents avoid any confrontation with him and his kingdom if she could. She was torn between the love for her family and her kingdom, and between her own desires which included uninterrupted time with Eugene… alone, without interference.
Rapunzel growled softly to herself and flung herself onto her bed face-down, the soft mattress bouncing softly under her weight. She spent the next few minutes listening to the sweet sounds of the birds and the breeze outside her window, letting the melody fill her ears and soothe her worries. She had almost fallen asleep when a soft scratching brought her back to consciousness. Opening her eyes and sitting up slightly, she saw Pascal's little body hoist itself over the windowsill and into the room. Her stomach turned slightly because the scene was so very familiar to whenever Pascal would sneak in through the window of the tower. But the moment passed and she draped her arm to the floor for Pascal to climb up and situate himself onto the edge of her pillow. His huge eyes gazed up at her and she saw the question in them.
She sighed. Even though Pascal couldn't talk, he always seemed to know when something wasn't right. "There's a man here, Pascal. He wants to court me." She explained to the little chameleon.
Pascal's eyebrows shot up and then he glared, baring his little teeth in what was meant to be menacing, but was more adorable than anything else. Rapunzel felt a little smile form on her lips and she chuckled. "Don't worry, it's going to be all right… I hope." She felt her eyes prick with tears and she gently stroked Pascal's scaly side, trying to will them away.
"Oh, Pascal… what will Eugene say?"
What would he say? She honestly didn't know, and was a bit afraid to find out if she was being honest with herself. She knew how Eugene felt for her, and she knew she felt the same way, even if she couldn't say it to him. She wanted to tell him more than anything in the world. She wanted to tell him how her heart skipped a beat when he walked into the room, how his smile made her feel warm inside and out, how his kiss had awoken something wonderful and brand new deep inside of her that made her feel more alive than anything ever had. She wanted so desperately to tell him these things, but something always held her back. Gothel and her harsh words that had left deep scars that would not easily be removed. She wondered if she would ever be free from her, even though she was nothing more than ash and dust.
Rapunzel felt her heart begin to break all over again, as it did whenever she would spend too much time thinking about her "mother." Why hadn't she loved her? Really loved her, and not just for her hair? What about her had not been good enough?
Rapunzel shook her head quickly and forced those thoughts from her mind. This was no time for that kind of thinking. She had other things to worry about - things in the present that must be dealt with, not foolish thoughts of the past, long gone. The two friends were silent as the minutes ticked by. Almost twenty minutes passed before a knock at the door brought Rapunzel out of her musings and jolted upright.
"Who is it?" She called.
"It's me." A muffled voice from the other side said. Rapunzel shot out of her bed in an instant, knowing full well who "me" was. She hastily smoothed her dress and stumbled slightly in her rush, but regained balance quickly. Feeling her tears start to grow, she unlocked the latch, threw open the door, and launched herself into Flynn's arms as the first tear began to roll. He held her and gently walked her back inside, shutting the door behind him and whispering soft, soothing words to calm her.
"Eugene, I need to tell you something." Rapunzel said, her face pressed against his chest.
"I already know." Flynn replied. "Your father just told me."
Rapunzel sniffled, squeezing him tighter. "I don't want to marry him, Eugene. I don't want to be anywhere near him. He's just awful."
"Did he hurt you?" Flynn asked sharply, pulling back to scan her face for signs of abuse.
"No, no," Rapunzel said quickly, quelling his fears. "Nothing like that, he's just… so rude, and conceited and horrible."
"Oh." Flynn said before a tiny smile appeared on his face. "So kinda like me, then?" He joked.
Rapunzel laughed roughly before pulling away to look him in the eye. "No. You're nothing like him. You're…" A slight blush colored her cheeks as her eyes fell. "You're wonderful."
Flynn smiled, pushing her chocolate strands from her face. "It won't be that bad. He'll do his little thing, you'll get rid of him in a few weeks, and it'll be like it never happened." He said, trying to lighten the mood. "It's not like you're being forced to marry him."
Rapunzel nodded, suddenly feeling very silly for being so emotional. She wiped her cheeks and nodded. "You're right." She said, straightening up. "It's not the end of the world. I'm being so overdramatic, aren't I?" She asked, her face sheepish.
Flynn chuckled, but didn't reply. To be honest, his feelings almost exactly mirrored her own. He was only putting on a brave face for her - inside, he still felt uneasy and nervous despite what the king had told him. He knew he shouldn't feel this way, but he couldn't help feeling that he was about to lose the most precious thing in the world to him, and the feeling was terrifying. He did his best to push those thoughts away, channeling the carefree nature of Flynn Rider into Eugene.
"You know what I think you need?" Eugene said cheerily. "I'm feeling a trip to the bakery. Being the princess and all, you'll probably get the best of the best."
Rapunzel giggled. "Yeah, and I'm sure you wouldn't mind a few cupcakes yourself." She walked back to her bed to pick up Pascal and place him on her shoulder.
"Hey, everyone's got their weaknesses." Flynn said, putting his hands up in mock surrender. Rapunzel giggled again and took his hand, gazing at him with her emerald green eyes.
"Thank you." She said softly. A quick kiss on the cheek was his reward and they began their walk towards the town, each of them doing their best to forget their worries and focus on the only things that really mattered - each other.