Disclaimer - I don't own anything.

This was going nothing at all like Eugene had hoped. Everything he had done was to keep her safe, to keep her from getting involved with these guys and whatever they had in store. And he'd failed. Spectacularly. It was their plan this whole time.

Eugene was kicking himself mentally. Everything was playing out in the Stabbingtons' favor: Flynn was painted the criminal with everyone on the hunt, Rapunzel was sure to come looking for him alone so she wouldn't have to turn him over to the guards. On top of which, he had told her nothing about what was going on. Their ambush would be perfect and there was nothing he could do to warn her.

He tugged lightly at his bonds again. The way they had tied him made it hard to get enough leverage to attempt to loosen them. It didn't stop him from trying though. If he could get loose and escape, he could go to her, explain everything, and tell the guards the location of this hideout. If they would believe him.

He let out a frustrated sigh. All of this frowning and brooding couldn't be good for his face. The constant sound of Junior's knife hitting the table was starting to grate on his nerves. Every few seconds there was a dull thud as he tossed it, point first, at the table before pulling it out and repeating.

"Hey." Eugene spoke to him in an effort to get the noise to stop. "Where's your better half?"

"Guarding the door. No one is getting in or out without him knowing." Junior answered simply.

"Why go through all this trouble, eh? Why take me?"

For once, Eugene's plan worked. Junior thrust his knife into the table one last time before turning his attention to his captive.

"I mean, you guys have a lot of chutzpah to do this." Eugene elaborated. "Why go through me and not just take her when you saw a chance?"

Eugene could see Junior mulling the answer over in his head for a moment before he stood and pulled the knife from the table.

"We had a plan a while back, my brother and I." Junior said. "To take the girl with the magic powers, something worth a thousand of those." Junior pointed to the crown on the table with his knife. "And that wasn't even the best part."

Eugene frowned. "What's the best part?"

"Revenge on Flynn Rider."

Eugene scoffed. "What ever did I do to deserve that?" He asked with feigned indignance.

Juniors reaction was everything he expected. The stare he gave him was not unlike the ones he received when he first made off with the crown that day in the woods, leaving them behind to be arrested. Eugene could feel his pulse rising as Junior took threatening steps towards him, completely obscuring Eugene's vision of everything but the large man.

"Keep it up, Rider." Junior said, moving his knife dangerously close to Eugene's neck. He could feel the faintest touch of cold steel. "Keep it up and you won't live long enough to see your princess again."

"Now, now. There's no reason for that." Eugene said, wiggling his hands in the best 'shoo' gesture he could muster while restrained.

Junior backed down and returned to the stool, taking his seat once again. He quickly returned to his previous routine of attempted table murder. "Just you wait." He said. "When she gets here, you'll wish that I killed you before."

"Please."Eugene said, brushing off his threat. "I've died once before and it wasn't very fun. I don't think I'll be wishing for it again anytime soon."

A chuckle escaped Junior. A deep, rumbling sound that carried beyond the faint candlelight. Though he couldn't see it, Eugene figured that wherever they were keeping him, it was a fairly expansive place.

"The power comes from her tears right?" Junior asked, a smug grin on his face. "I'm sure we can think of some way to make a little girl cry."

Eugene swallowed hard. He didn't even want to imagine the things that they would do to her in this place to get what they want. He so wished he could warn her, tell her to stay away and not come for him, to escape a fate even worse than the one Gothel and brought on her. He could feel his stomach turning at the thoughts of what they would do to her.

"I swear, if you harm a hair on her head-" Eugene spoke through gritted teeth.

"Sounds like you've already taken care of that, I think." Ouch. Low blow. "You should be more concerned about yourself. You'll be dead long before we're done with her." Junior said.

Eugene stared hard into Junior's good eye. It was a simple gesture that delivered a simple message: Don't you dare hurt her or you'll regret it.

Maximus was pleased at first about the Princess coming to him for help but that quickly changed when he realized that she was hunting for Eugene and was not intending to turn him over to the guards. As much as he fancied himself a pillar of truth and justice, and as much as he hated it, he was not above a little bribery. A little sweet talking, an apple, and a scratch on that one spot behind his ear, and he would do just about anything for her. How could he say no?

"Maximus, I promise, it's not what it sounds like. I know he didn't do it." Rapunzel tried to reassure him. Maximus only snorted in response.

"He'll get over it." The Guard Captain said. "If you're wrong, we get him and if you're right, we find the real criminal here." Rapunzel nodded her head.

"You'd better get going, Princess." The Captain said as he turned to leave them. "The longer you wait, the higher chance they have of getting away."

Right. And this was probably the only head start she was going to get on him.

"Of course. Thank you, Captain." She said. "Let's go, Maximus."

Rapunzel and Maximus wasted no time moving into town and their approach was anything but subtle. All eyes were on them as they traced her footsteps that day. She talked to the same merchants and traders she spoke to on their little day off. Most admitted that they kept sharp eyes on Eugene during their shopping spree, knowing his past. It made her both happy and disappointed when merchant after merchant saw nothing out of the ordinary.

"You see?" Rapunzel said quietly to Maximus as they walked the busy streets, the crowds parting for the Princess and the palace horse. "He's changed, I told you. He's not that kind of person anymore. This doesn't make sense."

The sun was rapidly moving through the sky, shifting from morning, to midday, and to afternoon. They were no closer to finding anything out than when they started, other than that Eugene had been on his best behavior. While not proof of him being pressured into theft, it only served to cement Rapunzel's belief that he wouldn't do it of his own accord.

Rapunzel lead Maximus to outside of the art supply store where they would find their last person to question. She told Maximus to wait while she went inside. The door creaked as she pushed it open, the sound of a small bell ringing was followed by a faint "I'll be right with you!" from somewhere in the back.

It wasn't long before a slightly disheveled and exasperated looking Leonardo emerged from the back room, his smock covered in black finger and hand prints.

"Good afternoon and welcome to my-" Leonardo stopped mid greeting when he realized who was standing in his store. "Princess! Welcome!"

"Hello, Leonardo." Rapunzel said as she approached the counter.

"I must truly be blessed to have the Princess visit my humble shop twice in one week." He bowed his head.

Rapunzel's cheeks turned a light pink color. "Stop it. You don't need to be so formal."

Leonardo nodded. "So, what brings you back, Princess? Have you brought me your sketchbook? I would still love to see it."

"No, not today." Rapunzel said, shaking her head. What Rapunzel didn't know was that he was particularly manic that day. She barely had time to open her mouth again before Leonardo launched into a whirlwind of questions. Had he forgotten to get her something the other day? Was there something he was out of that she wanted him to order? And a whole host of other questions, his brain working overtime.

She raised a hand to silence him. "It's nothing like that. I just need to ask you something."

He raised an eyebrow at her. "Very well. Ask away. I'd be happy to answer what I can."

"When Eugene and I were here the other day, did you notice him behaving strangely? Nervous or jittery?" Rapunzel was careful and deliberate in her questioning, not wanting to sound like she was pinning anything on Eugene.

Leonardo rubbed his chin, leaving black fingerprints. "Strange? Not really." He answered. "He and I spoke briefly but he seemed calm. From what I remember, he was just watching you shop." Rapunzel sighed softly. Just like the others.

"He paid for your things and then you left." Leonardo finished. "Has something happened?"

"If only you knew." Rapunzel said. "Let's just say that he might have done something that I can't understand and now he's vanished. I'm just trying to get some answers."

Leonardo looked a little surprised. "He's gone?" Rapunzel figured that he must not get out much. The irony of the thought made her laugh inside. "Well, I hope I helped you out, Princess."

She smiled at him. "You did. Thank you."

"Well, it sounds like you have your hands full, Princess. I won't keep you." Leonardo said.

Rapunzel nodded her head. "You're right. I should get going." She said. "But before I go, you've got a little spot." Rapunzel said, pointing to her chin. Leonardo wiped his hand across, making the spot that much worse before looking at his blackened hand. "Gah! Charcoal." Leonardo said, wiping his hands on his smock.

"Goodbye, Princess." He said as he finished wiping his hands. "I hope you find him."

Rapunzel turned and left with a barely audible "Me too."

Stepping outside, she found Maximus patiently waiting for her with Pascal resting on his saddle, anxiously awaiting news. She shook her head slightly at the pair. "Nothing." She said, the disappointment evident in her voice.

The afternoon was fading into evening with orange light casting strong shadows from anything and everything. Rapunzel had made he way to the center of town, sitting on the edge of the fountain that she and Eugene visited just the other day. Maximus and Pascal shared a glance, they hated seeing their Princess like this.

Rapunzel tilted her head back, gazing into the sky, the faintest sparkle of stars beginning to appear behind the sunlight. None of this was making any sense. All the testimonies from today point to Eugene making a real turn around, but the evidence from the palace was suggesting otherwise. The crown missing, the only one of the palace guests missing. She couldn't wrap her brain around it. With a sigh, she hung her head in her hands. She was no closer to finding anything out than when she left. What more could she go on?

She was broken from her reverie when Maximus nudged her head with his. The Princess looked up to find the white horse standing there with a black cloth in his mouth. Maximus gently dropped the cloth into her lap, an excited look on his face

Rapunzel picked it up, the soft, delicate fabric felt good between her fingers. She stood from her seat and gave it a shake, unfurling it. It was wrinkled and a little dusty but clearly a cloak of some kind.

"It's pretty, but why bring it to me?" Rapunzel asked, looking towards Maximus. The horse touched his nose to the cloak ever so faintly and inhaling before plastering his nose to the ground and walking away. Rapunzel frowned. It couldn't be.

"Maximus!" She called out. Maximus stopped in his tracks and brought his attention to Rapunzel. "Is... is this Eugene's?" She asked. She couldn't believe it.

Maximus responded with a nod and an affirmative snort before returning to following the trail.

Maximus had never led her astray before, why would he now?

Rapunzel was closing in on the truth at last.

AN - Ha! Turns out I can get things done when I set my mind to it. I wanted to try and get an update out before the end of the year and here we are. A couple of rather unpleasant real life issues came up that sort of led into the holiday season and it's been keeping me pretty busy and with not as much drive to write as I would like. Some good news however is that I have already started working on the next chapter and that should take less time to update again.

As always, I love seeing the review/favorite/story/author alert emails, so keep doing what you guys do best!

And as a special note, I hope everyone had a very merry/happy [insert holiday here] and I hope you all have a great new year!

See you in 2012.