Eugene always felt so awkward at these huge court events. He cleaned up nice, he looked the part, but he didn't really fit in. People reacted to him generally in one of three ways:
1) They sneered at him because they knew his past and they felt he was unworthy to share their breathing space, let alone bed their princess.
2) They looked at him like meat. This was generally the older court women who thought he was provincial enough to lap up any kind gaze and would return it with a romp out in the gardens. These women were always disappointed and ended up tossing champagne in his face and claiming he made a move on them. Rapunzel never believed them, but getting champagne in your face gets old anyway.
3) They just ignored him. This was the most typical.
He kept going because it was part of his job now, and because he knew Rapunzel needed him. Each one was easier for her than the last, as she got used to crowds and dancing in restricting clothing, but sometimes she still sought him out in the mass of people with a puckered frown and frightened eyes, and sometimes she still needed to lean on him until her dizziness passed or she stopped feeling anxious. He was glad those times were fewer and farther between, for her sake. On the other hand, that just meant the night was that much more crushingly boring.
Which is why it was so fascinating when Eugene saw someone spike the punch. It was one of the visiting princes – the ballroom was full of them, as it was the anniversary of Corona's founding, and the biggest diplomatic event of the year. This particular one was some lucky bastard whose culture allowed him to show up to formal events in billowy clothes and an enormous hat that looked like a cloud was perched on top of his head. Eugene sighed down at his extremely tight maroon pants and cream jacket with the funny tasseled shoulder pads. Having a huge hat like that would be way more fun, and more comfortable.
So, this guy looked left and right and then reached into his big billowy shirt and took out a flask, which he unscrewed and emptied into the giant pink punch bowl. Then he stood back and crossed his arms over his chest, trying to look innocent.
Eugene worked his way over to the refreshment table to stand by billowy man. He carefully pulled his own flask out of his jacket and nudged the man with it. "What's a little more?"
The man raised an eyebrow, and for a second Eugene thought he'd deny the entire thing, but then he broke into a grin and took the flask, discretely adding its contents to the bowl before handing it back with an approving nod. "Finally, someone in this country knows how to drink!"
Eugene humphed. "Please don't take these parties as examples of our drinking culture. How long are you in town? I know some great pubs."
"Only until tomorrow, but we'll be back, I'm sure. I'm Aladdin. And you're…?"
Aladdin's face brightened. "Eugene Fitzherbert? Soon to be crowned prince?"
Eugene's stomach dropped at the mention. You'd think becoming a prince would be a positive thing, but it was just so absurd an idea that he was sure something terrible was going to happen, that some kind of cosmic yeah-right-you-wish was in order. "That's me."
"You used to be Corona's most wanted thief, didn't you?"
"You know, before I married Jasmine, I was a thief, too. I dunno about most-wanted. I mean, I mostly stole food, but I was pretty awesome at it."
Eugene raised an eyebrow, looking at the prince in a new light. It never crossed his mind that he'd have anything in common with a guest at a party like this. "Oh yeah? And how's princedom working out for you?"
"It has its ups and downs. Less freedom, more food. More crap to do, but I have more friends, too. Anyway, that stuff doesn't matter. I did it for Jasmine, so… it is what it is." Aladdin looked out across the floor to where Rapunzel was being twirled by some elderly statesmen and trying to look happy about it. "Are you in this for the crown or the girl?"
"Good, because you look miserable and being a prince is like one enormous court party."
"I can't wait."
Aladdin elbowed him and offered a knowing smile. "Aw, c'mon. You'll get used to it. And it's worth it, right?"
Eugene watched Rapunzel spin and laugh, making her partner's face light up and everyone around watch them admiringly. She was a good person. She was good to her people. And she was good to him, too.
Aladdin waved his hand to someone in the crowd, beckoning. "Hey, Eric! Over here!"
A tall guy with wavy black hair and a jaw that could crack walnuts wove through the crowd. He was wearing the same stiff getup as Eugene, except he looked more comfortable in it.
He ducked his head towards Aladdin conspiratorially. "Did you do it?"
Aladdin nodded, the feather in his hat flip-flopping with the motion. "Yeah, and Eugene here added his own flask. Things are about to get interesting."
Eric straightened, looking Eugene over. "Soon-to-be-prince Eugene? Good man. Glad to know you like these parties as much as we do."
Eugene raised an eyebrow, already feeling a little better now that people were talking to him like a person. "You guys do this regularly?"
"Oh yeah!" Aladdin said with a laugh. "All the time. Peter Pan did it once at a gala and ever since we've made a tradition of it. The parties go by so much faster when everyone is making fools of themselves."
"Peter Pan is from…?"
"Never Never Land," Eric said vaguely. "Hell if I know where that is. Kid's like… twelve, and he runs the place. Puts me to shame."
Eugene was impressed. When he was twelve, he hadn't even managed to make it without the orphanage yet. "So, how many of you are in on this?"
Eric shrugged. "It depends. Aladdin and I, always. Naveen usually will help out but he's often already drunk when he gets to the party so he can't be counted on. In fact I think I already saw him puking into the bushes tonight. Sometimes Adam joins in, but it depends on his mood. He gets grumpy. The only guy who you really don't want to talk to about it is Phillip." Eric jerked his chin of chins towards a tall, dashing type across the room. He was standing ramrod straight, and on his arm was the skinniest, blondest woman Eugene had ever seen. "He's a t-totaler," Eric said sourly. "Guy fights dragons in his spare time. For fun."
As if the girls had male conspiracy sensors, Rapunzel, Ariel, and Jasmine made their way over to the refreshment table at just that moment. Jasmine was a knock-out, all silk bedecked curves and flat, bare midriff. Ariel had flame-red hair that flowed around her in waves, and a laugh that could stop a man in his tracks. But it was Rapunzel's sweet smile and enormous, haunting green eyes that made Eugene's breath catch, made this entire circus feel worthwhile.
Then she reached for a cup and the punch ladle, and he started to stop her. "Wait, you don't-"
But Aladdin stopped him with an outstretched arm and a wink, and Eric said "Ladies! Enjoying the party? The punch is delicious."
The girls all said something about how the party was fun, or how so and so had an ugly dress, or how they boys all looked so handsome standing together, or whatever, and they filled up their glasses and went on their way.
Aladdin must have noticed Eugene's concern, because he said "Don't worry. Trust me. Rapunzel is going to have a great time."
Eugene grimaced thinking about the various ways Rapunzel could respond to alcohol. "I don't know… she's kind of unpredictable."
Eric snorted. "I feel you. First time Ariel came over for dinner, she started combing her hair with a fork. You never know when she's going to do something totally ridiculous at a function like this."
Eugene started. That sounded like something Rapunzel would do, if she had any hair long enough to comb left. "Really? Was your wife raised in captivity, too?"
Aladdin chimed in. "Mine was! Sort of. I mean, in her own house."
All traces of amusement left Eric's face as he shook his head. "No, my wife was a fish."
Eugene squinted, wondering if he heard correctly.
"Well, a mermaid," Eric said.
"The rumors are true?"
Eric groaned. "You have no idea. She had fins."
Aladdin laughed, clearly pleased to have the most normal spouse among them. "You guys have a lot to talk about! Eric should give you some pointers for the wedding night."
Eugene crossed his arms, some of his old swagger returning. "Oh, I don't need any help in that department."
"You do," Eric said, completely grave. "You really do. If Rapunzel is anything like Ariel, you're going to be completely unprepared."
Eugene searched the dance floor for his fiancée, finally spotting her over near the wall, crouched down on the floor besides Ariel. They were both laughing, their skirts hiked up a little to their knees.
Eugene blinked. "Are they… counting their toes?"
Eric grunted his confirmation. "Ariel can't get enough of her damn toes. She's got a major foot thing."
"Why the fixation?"
Eric shrugged. "I dunno, it's probably because she didn't even have legs when I met her. Imagine her surprise on her wedding night when she discovered what all came with those legs."
Eugene blanched. He'd been with virgins before, but Eric had a point. Their better halves were particularly novice in this arena. As he watched them, he could tell the booze was beginning to take effect, because Ariel was leaning over her feet with unusual concentration while Rapunzel took advantage of her distraction to touch her long red hair enviously, her free hand tugging at her own choppy locks. Jasmine was a few feet away, dancing to her own drum, mixing in some kind of feline moves with clawed air-slashes.
"How do you cope?" Eugene said, his strained voice betraying his anxiety.
"You count your blessings," Aladdin said, scooping himself some punch. "You remember why you married her in the first place, why you picked her over ever ordinary girl out there. Jasmine can be a royal bitch. She's pretty controlling and she's always correcting me about every little thing. But she's so determined to help her people, and she really puts herself on the line for people she loves. And she's gorgeous."
"Exactly," Eric said with a firm nod, reaching for his own libation. "Ariel is a maniac. But she's also extremely brave. She knows what she wants and she goes after it. She sees the best in people."
Eugene watched the three women gather together in a circle, swaying their hips and throwing their own dance party in the middle of the floor, each to their own rhythm, throwing in their own signature moves, looking ridiculous but at least like they were enjoying themselves. Eugene could hear Rapunzel's laugh all the way across the room, and he thought that it was true – he could easily count Rapunzel's virtues. But more importantly, and what he wouldn't tell the guys, was that he also liked her weirdness. He liked her flaws. He loved her.
Eugene reached for the punch and smiled at his new comrades. Even the best obligations are easier to get through when drunk and in the company of friends.
AN - I wrote this oneshot on a whim for the HellYeahTangled April contest. I'm still working on my other stories, but I hope this amused you for now!