This wasn't her.
He stood outside the door, forehead pressed against the wood. His fist stayed up, resting against the door as well where he last knocked. He was eating on her schedule, too, twice a day when the door would open, just a few inches, her hand darting out and getting the food. He caught it, once, and she dropped the food and shut the door, and did not eat again until the next meal.
The king and queen had been with him for a while, staring at the door. But they didn't know her, they couldn't tell if this was usual or not. All they knew was that she was here, she was home, and now she's not. Now she's behind the door and it's like she's as lost as she was a month ago. They checked in, before breakfast and after dinner, every day. But they had a kingdom to take care of, and they didn't know how to even begin with her, not yet. It was new to them, and as much as they had tried, they knew their little girl grew up already, without them. Away from them. He could see they couldn't decide if they should treat her as an adult or as a child, and the only time they ever seem comfortable is when they show her affection. The king and queen had that part figured out, set, and perfected, from where he stood. But from her point of view, he couldn't rightly tell.
He knocked, softly. "Rapunzel," he said quietly. He couldn't tell if she heard him or not, but it didn't seem to matter one way or the other. During the first few days he had even tried to climb down the side of the castle and enter through her window, but she had locked it shut and closed the curtains. He climbed down and knocked repeatedly, but after four days, he decided to stick to the door. "Rapunzel, your parents are worried about you." He paused, frowning at the door. "I'm worried about you."
The door clicked. He stared at the door knob, knowing that to be the sound the lock made as it slid out of place. Usually it was followed by her opening it just wide enough to reach her hand out for some food. This time, it remained closed. But unlocked.
Carefully, he pushed the door handle down and opened it slowly, allowing her to react to the sound it must have made inside the room. He paused, the door open an inch, but nothing happened. Carefully, he opened it more, until he could step inside. No opposition. He squeezed through the space he created and entered the room, closing the door behind him as an afterthought. In closing it he noticed the paintings around the door frame, and then on the door itself. It looked so familiar for some reason.
He scanned the room for Rapunzel, finding her sitting in the nook by the window, her forehead pressed against the glass and her knees brought up to her chin. Around the window there were patterns painted on the wall, just like around the door frame. Stepping into the room more, he realized why it seemed so incredibly familiar. It was her tower. Painted on all of the walls was an exact replica of how her tower was, and, now that he thought about it, how it still probably is. The mirror was intact in the painting, but everything else was exactly as he remembers it. Out of the window pane emerged a shining yellow streak, it went all around the walls and, in some places, it seemed Rapunzel had crudely painted her sheets yellow and fastened them to the wall, draping them across her bed chamber in the same way her hair had been draped all over the tower the first time he saw her. The day Flynn Rider had snuck in and she had snuck out with Eugene Fitzherbert.
There was something strange, something off about the room. Looking up at the ceiling he finally saw it, a painting that was definitely not in her tower. It was the golden sun, in the same brilliant yellow hues that her hair was painted with. Around it was the deep purple of Corona's flag, at first glance extending the reach of the sun's rays. But it seemed like a darker color, especially so close to the brilliant yellow of the sun in the center. Suddenly, those purple rays didn't seem so inviting anymore. It wasn't a warmth that was spreading, they looked instead like a predator, threatening to engulf the painted walls, the floor, the entire room itself, harshly cutting over where Rapunzel had painted hair and stairs the tendrils stretched from the ceiling all the way to the ground itself, thinning out in the process but also gaining a curve, making them look more and more like tentacles ready to snatch all of this away.
He was still staring up at the ceiling when she spoke. Immediately his head snapped down and his eyes focused on her, her words so quiet and soft that he took a few steps towards her to hear them properly.
"You see what I've done, don't you?" she said, not moving to face him. Her forehead was still pressed against the glass, and the reflection showed that her eyes were closed as she spoke. All he could manage was a sound at first, a kind of "eeeh?" before he coughed, to break the silence more than to clear his throat. He tried again.
"You, um, redecorated? It's nice.. to see you painting again." He kept inching towards her, slowly, keeping the side of her face in view. She turned to him and he stopped moving, being just close enough to be able to reach out and take her hand. He didn't, not yet. Instead, he stared at her face as her eyes opened to him, staring into his. She had been crying. Her cheeks still had tear stains on them, her eyes red and puffy and her face looked so... tired. "Rapunzel..." he started, unsure of what to say. She cut him off, sparing him the effort.
"I ran away. Or, I guess, I ran back." She looked around the room slowly, her eyes following what she could see of the golden river of hair. She very specifically avoided looking at the ceiling and the tentacles. She stopped at a spot on the floor, light from another window streaming in to hit the only purple-hued vine that had stretched as far as the floor itself, touching a garment laying there. Eugene recognized it in a heartbeat. It was the deep blue cloak that she had carefully picked up when they left the tower, accidently shaking the dust out of it in the process. After a moment's pause, she had carefully folded it and kept it with her as they walked back to the kingdom, as she told him that she was the princess, and that everything would be alright. She hadn't cried then.
She closed her eyes again and whispered, tired, reluctant, and disappointed. "I can't believe I did this."
He reached out to her shoulder, but she closed up upon herself even more to keep the same distance between them. He put his hands up, defensively, but she wasn't looking at him anymore. Her forehead returned to the window glass and her eyes were open, looking out at the kingdom. Eugene was stuck. He didn't know what to say, or how to make it better. After being shut in for all that time, the atrocities of the world paraded in her face as a scare tactic, when she started seeing them for herself Rapunzel had shut herself in again, built another tower and, what? Waiting for him to come in? Or waiting for Flynn...
"Do you promise?" she said. He came out of his thoughts, but she offered no help in understanding her context.
She looked right at him this time, and whispered hurriedly. "Promise to show me a new world, just like you did before?"
He stared at her for a moment, mouth slightly open in hesitation. He hated the answer, hated how hopeful she looked and how he couldn't say what she wanted. For a moment he even hated the world, hated that it couldn't be what she had so innocently expected out of it. "I...I can't promise that."
Her face showed the confusion, the disappointment, and, finally, defeat. It looked so foreign, so resigned, and he wondered if it was only foreign to him because he never saw her with Gothel, when she asked to leave the tower. He struggled to find the words, any words, that would change her expression. Being confined to the realm of truth has proven to be very limiting to him and his ability to twist words to suit his purpose. He wouldn't twist with her, though. Gothel had done enough of that.
"But," he said carefully, sliding her hand in his. She didn't pull away, instead she looked at him with that familiar hope in her eyes, and he smiled at her. "I can show you all the wonderful things about the old one."
She seemed to think this over, carefully, before she whispered, "what about all the rest?"
He pulled her in, holding her gently with her cheek to his chest and kissed the top of her head. "I'll be here, for the rest. Whenever you need me." He felt her relax slightly in his arms, and her hands started traveling around his waist until she could join them at his back, holding on tightly. For a moment, everything was quiet. Then the faintest of sobs came and, for the first time since he died, she cried in front of him again.
This wasn't the last time she'd do this, Eugene could tell. She continued to get overwhelmed by the world and everything it contained, and sometimes she'd lock the door of her room and paint the walls and stare out the window all over again. She'd build herself a tower.
And he'd climb it and save her.