I just saw Tangled again, on DVD, and this came to mind. I hope you enjoy!
Normally he loved hearing Rapunzel sleep.
The most beautiful girl that he'd ever met could make sleeping cute. The blissful look on her face as she dreamed, the way she flexed her toes as she stretched out into sleep, the slight music of her breathing as it became deeper and whistled as it came from her mouth. Rapunzel could even make snoring cute, the little snorts and whistles sounding like that of a curious piglet, and Eugene loved to hold her close and listen to the sounds as she sleepily burrowed into his chest.
Not that he'd ever been sleeping in her room before this night – even if he had let himself push those desires on her, he'd have had the king after him, and the queen, and Pascal, and Maximus, and the guards, and the Snuggly Duckling thugs…He laughed a little to himself and readjusted himself beside Rapunzel's bed before his face took on a serious cast. Sometimes after they'd been able to sneak out of the palace for pranks or horseback-riding or star-gazing, the two would pick a cool, shady spot and stretch out for a nap on one of the blankets that Rapunzel had accidentally gotten a soup stain on once when she was confined to bed with a bad cold. So he'd had plenty of time to hear the happy, contented sounds that his love made even as she slept.
Eugene brushed a lock of her short brown hair out of her face and frowned worriedly at the identical expression on her face. No one in the palace could understand it, but two weeks ago the normally cheerful and effervescent princess had been acting tired and sluggish, and her once-natural smiles seemed plastered on her face. Those who were closest to her, namely Eugene, her parents, Pascal, and Maximus, knew that the sluggishness had begun with a night of terrifying nightmares.
Through a surprisingly articulate argument from Eugene assisted with a liberal application of Rapunzel's pleading eyes had managed to persuade the king and queen to let Eugene live in the castle, and his room was on the same corridor as Rapunzel's bedroom, although several doors away. He'd been sleeping peacefully that night two weeks before when shrill, terrified yells jarred him from his slumber. With a swiftness that'd surprised even him, he'd torn out of his bedroom and down the hall, ripping her door open and running in, not caring about the protocol that people at the palace had attempted to drill into his head. His heart broke as he looked down at her, her face scrunched up painfully, pale and sweating profusely as she turned fitfully in her bed. Her parents had burst in just as he sat on the edge of the bed, gently shaking her shoulder to break her out of her sleep. Rapunzel had finally awakened, her eyes wide and frightened as she stared at him before letting out a relieved sob before clutching to him like a lifeline, shuddering. The king and queen had then quickly came over then, rubbing her back and whispering soothing words until she calmed. But she would not tell them what had scared her so much, only saying that it wasn't important and would soon be forgotten.
Despite her argument to the contrary, the dreams had not gone away, plaguing her every night for the past two weeks. Her mother had tried several times to help when they had tea and read together, but Rapunzel had only smiled and shook her head. Her father had tried to coax it out of her when they took their walks in the nearby forest, but she'd seemingly becoming distracted with birds or flowers or trees. Any attempt to ask at meals was simply answered by a bigger-than-normal bite and a compliment for the chef's latest masterpiece. Eugene had managed to get a little further on one of their stargazing trips when he'd gotten a weary sigh, a weak smile, and a "It's nothing I want to worry my parents with – they have enough to worry about, what with running the kingdom and all." He'd tried to coax more out of her, even attempting to use the smolder on her which made her laugh merrily, a sound that made his heart light, before kissing him goodnight and disappearing into her room. But the nightmares came again that night.
Rapunzel began shuddering, and Eugene rubbed a hand reassuringly across the smooth skin of her arm as he gingerly climbed onto the bed beside her. Eugene and the queen had managed to convince the king to let Eugene stay in the room with Rapunzel that night, given that he'd gotten the farthest out of the three of them and on the provision that if he tried anything the king had devised a creative punishment for him involving the stockades, a target, and a Maximus armed with apples. Eugene winced as Rapunzel's pained murmurs gave way to frightened whispers, and moved closer. Pulling the sleeping Rapunzel into his arms, he rested her head on his shoulder and began gently rubbing her back, murmuring soothing words in her ears. She'd begun to quiet and Eugene began to smile when she began to gasp out words fitfully.
"No…let me out…please…don't hurt him…how could you…no, no, no…Eugene…let me save him…Eugene…don't die…please don't die…DON'T LEAVE ME!"
Eugene forced himself to swallow over the lump in his throat, and continued his ministrations calmly. "It's okay, Blondie. You're fine…you're safe. I'm here now, we're all okay."
Maybe it was his words or maybe it was his touch but Rapunzel began to quiet and the tension left her body, leaving her limp in his arms. As he laid her back down on her pillows, tenderly brushing her hair out of her sweaty face, he watched her expression smooth out into some semblance of peace, although there was a tenseness in the skin around her eyes. Pascal looked at Eugene worriedly from the bedpost where he'd been keeping nighttime vigil over his best friend, a look that Eugene returned before walking out the door and closing it quietly behind him.
Rapunzel's parents were waiting anxiously outside her room, the hastily thrown robes concealing them a testament to how quickly they had sprinted to help their only child. The queen who looked regal even with her tired face and her untidy clothes, looked pleadingly at him with eyes that reminded Eugene painfully of her daughter's. The king, who looked kingly even with his hair falling into his eyes, noted her distress and wrapped his arm around her shoulders before looking at Eugene. "Well, Eugene?"
"She's asleep again, and seems okay for now." Eugene rubbed his eyes.
"And has she told you anything about what ails her?" The queen asked pleadingly. When Eugene shook his head apologetically, tears grew in her ears and trickled down her face. "How can we help her if she doesn't tell us?" She said, in a voice that was only just composed, "To see my little girl like this and not being able to help tears me apart."
"I'm sorry, your highness."
"It's not your fault, dear," the queen hastened to tell him, "I just wish she would tell us."
"She says she doesn't want to bother you –"
"Bother us!" The queen exclaimed, "Why would it bother us?"
"Probably some idea that witch gave her when Rapunzel thought she was her mother," the king growled, "We have to help our girl, but how can we if she keeps herself locked up like this?"
Locked up, Eugene thought to himself, and then his eyes widened. That's it!
It probably would have been possible for Eugene to get out of his guard training by telling the king why he was skipping in the first place and getting him to cover for him, but he personally got a kick out of having to evade the captain of the guards. It was like a taste of the adrenaline rush that he got when he stole as a thief without the threat of incarceration, execution, or worse, antagonizing his – probably – future father-in-law. Given his errand, he might have been able to talk Maximus into giving him a ride, but this time he preferred the walk; so he set out with his satchel stuffed with bread and cheese and Pascal perched on his shoulder. Hopefully, in Rapunzel's tired state, she wouldn't even notice the chameleon's absence until they returned.
They'd made pretty good time and Eugene was standing in a very familiar clearing, staring up at the isolated tower that had changed his life forever. As he walked closer, Pascal made a sound that could have passed for the hiss of an angry cat and pointed his tail at a spot right in front of the tower, at a bundle of sodden cloth. Eugene looked closer and his breath caught angrily in his throat. Rains had come and gone, washing away the dust once contained in the cloak, and the bundle of material was all that remained of the old witch. Eugene felt an overwhelming urge to burn the cursed cloak, but managed to shove back the impulse, instead grabbing it gingerly with the ends of his fingers and carrying it with him as he found the hole in the tower's wall that opened up to a staircase. Quickly he climbed up the dusty stairs and pushed open the trapdoor, shoving the cloak into the room before pulling himself and Pascal through the opening.
Pascal jumped up into the rafters and pulled a few levers with his tail as Eugene opened the main window, and both sets of jaws fell open. The place was a mess – golden strands of sunlight streamed through the windows, catching on the broken shards of mirror scattered across the floor, curtains torn from the window lay in heaps on the floor, and there a large, coppery brown stain on the floor to the left of the window – blood. He couldn't suppress the shudder that came with remembering that it had been his blood covering the ground, staining his tunic, coloring Rapunzel's hand red as she cried and tried to heal him…
He shook it off – there was work to be done. "C'mon chameleon, let's get started."
There were some days when Rapunzel really wished that princesses could lean their elbows on tables – she needed all the help she could get keeping her head up and her eyes pen today. She managed to stifle a large yawn behind her hand as her tutor turned back to the blackboard. Rapunzel loved learning – the girl whose reading matter had once been limited to three book now had bookshelves upon bookshelves of new things to learn and she devoured them greedily. History, literature, dancing (which she loved even though she have preferred to do so without the strange shoes), politics, deportment, languages – she loved taking them all with the notable exception of mathematics. It wasn't so much that she disliked the subject as the tutor was particularly boring, and his monotone wasn't helping her stay awake.
Rapunzel yawned again. It had been so long since she had gotten a good night's sleep, and all because of the nightmares – she didn't know what had brought them, but for the past few weeks she hadn't been able to close her eyes without traveling back to the tower, and the night when Eugene had died. The tower was dark, shadowy, and menacing, the broken mirror shards littered the ground like poisonous, jagged teeth, Eugene's body heavy against her lap, so warm and yet so cold, and his blood thick and coppery between her fingers.
She shuddered violently and blinked back her tears as she looked at her mercifully bloodless fingers. Why couldn't she get the tower out of her mind?
Her math tutor had just picked up a new book and taken in a deep gulp of air to begin a new monotone when a balled-up sheet of paper struck him squarely in the center of his forehead. He whirled around sharply, glancing at the princess whose jaw was hanging slack in surprise and then at the open doorway just before he was hit by a second paper ball. He sputtered angrily as the silhouette of the culprit filled the doorway. "Mr. Fitzherbert!"
"Present," Rapunzel's boyfriend smirked as he entered the room, a wadded ball of paper in his right hand.
"What is the meaning of this?"
Eugene quirked an eyebrow, the smirk never leaving his face. "How else was I going to get you to stop talking so I could get Rapunzel?"
The pompous, fussy man was puffed up and drew himself up to his full height. "And on whose authority do you steal my pupil, Mr. Fitzherbert?"
"Mine," the king said as he stepped in after Eugene, barely holding back a smirk of his own as the expression of the tutor immediately became more docile and he bowed. "I apologize for Eugene's unorthodox strategy for gaining your attention, but he has my full permission to take the princess away from her lessons earlier today." He put a hand on the tutor's shoulder. "Go rest, my friend, I know that you haven't gotten much sleep lately."
The tutor softened slightly, and Rapunzel and Eugene slipped out of the room and to the stables where Maximus had been saddled, with a picnic basket tied to the saddle. He neighed merrily in greeting to Rapunzel, who stepped forward and began stroking his mane in the manner that the horse liked best. She was so absorbed in what she was doing that she didn't realize that Eugene was coming up behind her until a bandanna was tied around her eyes. She giggled. "Eugene, what are you doing?"
"How is this going to be a surprise if you see it, Blondie?" Eugene answered, grinning shamelessly. He helped Rapunzel onto the saddle before climbing on himself and with a few whispered words in Maximus' ear they headed off.
There were several questions running through Rapunzel's mind but she pushed them aside as she tightened her arms around Eugene and leaned into the warmth of his back, closing her eyes blissfully. It was so easy to forget her nightmares of the tower and a dead Eugene when alive, wonderful, laughing Eugene was safely within her grasp. Cool air and birdsong flowed past her face as they galloped towards wherever they were going, almost hoping that they'd never get there.
Eventually, Maximus' hoof beats slowed and the rush of air around them became gentle as Maximus came to a halt. Rapunzel felt Eugene jump off Maximus and then felt his hands around her waist as he helped her down. She beamed in expectation as he undid the blindfold only to frown in horror as her vision cleared to see the subject of her nightmares right before her.
Eugene took advantage of her shock and guided her to the staircase through the hole in the wall before she began pulling back. "Eugene, I can't…I can't do this…"
He swallowed past the desire to just let her go, to have her hug him tightly to forget all that she feared, and relentlessly guided her up the stairs. "Yes, you can, Blondie."
"Please," she began to struggle, "please don't make me, Eugene."
Eugene stopped and turned her to him, gently moving her face so that she was looking right at him. "Rapunzel, you're better than this. You can do this. I'll be here with you all the way."
Even so, she kept her eyes scrunched tight as he guided her up the stairs and lifted her through the trapdoor. She sat there waiting and blind as he pulled his way through the trapdoor and closed it. "Come on, Blondie," he coaxed, "open up those beautiful eyes of yours. Just a quick look and then we can leave."
Against her better judgment, Rapunzel could feel her tight grip on her eyelids loosening, and her eyes slid open. As the room came into focus, she gasped. It all looked so…normal.
The sunlight poured in from the windows and the rafters, giving the room a golden glow. She saw the stacks of candles she'd made to light the tower at night, the three much-read, dog-eared books sitting in the bookshelf, and the chessboard sitting on the small circular table near the staircase. Looking above the fireplace, she was entranced by the painting she had done of her long-haired self gazing up at the mysterious lights; moving closer, she drew her hand across the wall, smiling as the rich colors shone with the removal of the dust that clung to her fingertips. I painted this the day I met Eugene…
"Nice painting, Blondie," Eugene remarked, and Rapunzel staring at one of her earliest paintings, only to sneeze violently as the dust from the wall came loose and floated into his face.
Rapunzel giggled. "Looks like the place could use some sprucing up."
Eugene playfully scowled at her. "I'll leave that to you – I'm not much for that sort of thing." He chose not to mention the mirror shards he'd swept up, the curtains he'd hung back up, or the cloak he'd burned in the fireplace before tossing the ashes out of the window. He certainly wasn't going to tell her about the two hours he'd spent on his knees scrubbing the blood stains out of the floor, with Pascal skating across the stained area on a block of soap.
Rapunzel was starting to really smile when she stopped in front of the mirror Eugene had managed to replace and froze.
Oh, look you're here, too, hahaha…sloppy, underdressed, immature, clumsy…
Eugene came over and grinned. "Overcome by the beauty, huh? That's what happens every time I see you, too."
Rapunzel looked down and bit her lip. "I'm not."
Eugene frowned and walked up behind her, forcing her to turn around and face the mirror as he wrapped his arms around her. "Do you know what I see?" He asked, as he tilted her chin up to look at the mirror. "I see the most beautiful girl I've met, who's funny and smart and brave, and who saved my life at the risk of sacrificing her own. She's perfect," he concluded, turning her to him, "and don't ever let anyone tell you different."
Rapunzel's eyes genuinely sparkled for the first time in weeks as she jumped up into his arms and kissed him fervently, which he was only too willing to reciprocate. They were really getting into the kiss when the sound of a teasing laugh broke them apart. Both looked down to see Pascal give them a sneaky look, laugh, and then take off for a dark corner of the tower. Eugene scowled down at the floor, irritated at the interruption of their kiss. "What's that frog up to?"
Rapunzel, however, recognized the look in Pascal's eyes, and leaned up towards her boyfriend. "Well…" she crooned gently, and Eugene's eyes slid shut in anticipation. "Tag!" she cried eagerly as she poked him in the shoulder and tore off, "You're it!"
Eugene grinned before chasing after her.
Even though both the king and queen trusted Eugene, they'd become increasingly uneasy as night fell and their daughter hadn't returned. They took their dinner out in the garden where they could see and hear all those approaching, and as the stars began blinking into the sky, both were relieved to hear the familiar pounding of hooves. However, when Maximus galloped up to them, he bore no riders save for Pascal perched on his head like a jaunty cap. The chameleon squeaked with excitement at seeing Rapunzel's parents and began pointing at a scroll tied to the saddle. The queen quickly snatched it up and read it, her face becoming relieved as she handed her husband the scroll. He read the short missive and smiled.
Dear Rapunzel's parents,
Sorry that we didn't come back tonight, but we spent a lot of time running around the tower and it really wore her out. She fell asleep and I haven't had the heart to wake her. I moved her to her old bedroom, where she seems comfortable – don't worry, your highness, I remember your apple-target threat, I'm in the living room.
No nightmares. See you in the morning.
That's all. I hope you enjoyed!
Thanks for reading and please review!