He frowns at the guard standing in front of the ornate wooden door, and the man moves aside without a word. He feels a smidge of self-satisfaction, and resists the urge to say something sarcastic about a thief (former) ordering a guard around. He takes a large step towards the door and knocks once, briefly, before opening it.
"I don't want to try on any more dresses, Erica, please." Rapunzel is sitting before her great fireplace in a plush looking chair with rounded armrests. She has a book open in her lap, but from the wispy look of her brown hair and the paintbrush she failed to hide he can tell she just took up the position to make it appear that she had been studying the etiquette book her manners tutor had recently given her. Without looking up she continues, "Nor do I wish to dance at the moment, or learn needlework, or hear about the princes from the neighboring land. I am currently busy and have no time for such things."
She's been working on her princess-tone. It still sounds a little too nice, like she could be pushed over with a well-placed argument, or breath. He smiles and shuts the door behind him. "So you don't have time for me, then?"
She looks up. "Eugene!" She drops her book in a heap on the floor and springs at him. He picks her up, light and small in his arms, and swings her around once before setting her back on the floor.
"Your father finally finished his lecture. And we have free time before dinner." He presses a kiss to her neck and waggles his eyebrows, but the overall effect must be rather less sexy than he imagined it because she pushes him away with a laugh, turning back to pick up her book from the floor.
"Stop it, you know I have to study."
"You don't have to do anything," Eugene frowns, disappointed that his plan failed. He sits down in the small chair across from her. The fire is on, despite the fact that it is a warm afternoon, and within a few moments he is sweltering. "You were ready to tell Erica that—I'm glad I'm not your lady-in-waiting."
She snorts, shutting the book and setting it gingerly on the table before her. "You'd make a better one than her." She rises again, stretches, her fitted purple dress swishing around her feet. She begins to move, and for one moment he thinks she is going to the bed but he is sorely disappointed once more when she heads to the bay windows, opening the doors and walking out to the balcony. He follows her.
She puts her chin in her hands and stares out at the kingdom. It's much cooler out here, a slight breeze coming up from the lake, the buildings and people looking like ants beneath them. He stops beside her.
"Sometimes," she says at last, squinting into the sun, her short hair tossed by the wind, "I wonder how this is different from the tower."
He's about to ask what she means but then he stops. He rubs his neck and leans down on the railing next to her. He doesn't want to play stupid, he knows exactly what she means—she has a schedule. She can rarely paint, or read what she wants, or go riding. She has lessons and more lessons and balls and dinners and all the while she has to learn to be someone she has never been.
"I love them," she says, "but I love them like I feel someone would love a favorite neighbor." He knows she is addressing her parents. Her real parents. "They don't feel like my mother, or my father—not yet, I mean." She sighs and rubs a hand across her eyes.
"Looks like you traded one prison for another," he says it half-jokingly, but as soon as it leaves his mouth he can sense the truth in it.
She smiles brightly at him, and his stomach does a little flip. "But I got to save you in the deal, so it was worth it."
"I guess," he says, though he doesn't really think so. Something begins to stir at the back of his head, an idea, and he waits patiently for it to grow as Rapunzel continues to speak.
"We have the ball tomorrow, to welcome the prince from Lune. I think my parents are still trying to get me to want to marry someone respectable."
"I heard the prince was horribly ugly." He says automatically.
"Oh, that's horrible." She agrees seriously. "But I'm sure he has a better reputation than you."
"Hey, my fake-reputation was doing just fine until I met you."
"Wouldn't want anyone to question that now, would we?"
"A fake-reputation is all a man has, you know." He smiles, but it fades quickly. She stops talking and returns to staring.
They stay like that until someone knocks at the door. The sound faintly resounds out to where they stand, listening to life go on below them.
"That would be Erica," she sighs. "To help me get ready for dinner."
"Oh." He fingers his new, dark blue tunic with its fine embroidery, scuffs one of his new black boots on the stone.
The knock comes once again, louder this time.
"We could ignore dinner."
"Eugene," she sing-songs exasperatedly.
"No, listen. We could ignore dinner. And those lessons tomorrow. The diplomatic meetings. The ugly princes."
"What are you talking about?" she straightens to look at him. He straightens to look at her.
The knock again, twice this time, and louder, accompanied by a muffled, "Princess Rapunzel?"
"We could go someplace and paint. Travel the countryside. See places. Go on an adventure."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying," and he can feel the twinkle in his eye as he looks down at her, "that the kingdom has waited eighteen years to find their lost princess. I think they can wait another few."
She stares opened mouth at him. "I couldn't—I couldn't just leave them, that'd be horrible!"
"It'd be like a sabbatical."
"But Eugene, they'd be devastated!"
"We'd be back." He holds out his hand. "Think about it, Blondie. For once in your life, do something that you want to do."
She stares at his outstretched fingers.
The knock. Then: "Princess Rapunzel, may I please come in? We must be getting ready for dinner!"
She grins sharply, suddenly, excitedly. The prospects lie before her and she can see them all, beautifully and gloriously free.
She takes his hand.
a/n: it's been a long ride, everyone. if you've been with me through most of it, some of it, or just a little bit of it-thank you. :) my readers and reviewers kept me going. this is it for Unbraided, and i only hope that everyone enjoyed it-through the good times, and the bad times, and confusing times. i hope to hear from you as to how you liked it-drop a review, they make me happy :)
my reviewers-i can't thank you enough. i'm only sorry i couldn't respond to everyone personally. thankyouthankyouthankyou
now i can branch out. maybe work on Knots. i'd love to collab with someone, or read other fics-if you have a good recommendation please let me know!
anyway, that's it for now, folks. i hope you enjoyed it, thanks for reading, and leave a note :)