Summary: They both had baggage, but Blondie's was of the psychological kind and his was lurking around every corner waiting to out him as the jerk he really was.
Disclaimer: Stolen characters in a story about a reformed thief, go figure. No profit here.
Rapunzel wanted to decorate the square for the upcoming festival. That involved hanging banners and stringing up flowers and using a lot of colored chalk. Eugene stood at her side, looking down at her as she worked furiously on a design that apparently demanded a great quantity of green chalk. Green for spring, he guessed, although he couldn't yet make out what she was drawing. Some of that green chalk had already ended up on her cheek and when she sat up to survey her progress, one blue sleeve dragged across her face smeared the streak even further.
It was an unusual way to bring out the green out in her eyes, but effective nonetheless.
He bent over and reached out to smooth his thumb over her cheek, but the color lingered just the same. It was only a little gesture, but it earned him a small smile nonetheless.
"Here," she said, depositing the almost used up, thick piece of green chalk into his hand as she fished in her bag for the next piece, this time blue. "Hold that for me," she said, her hands already back down on the cobblestones, stretching to reach untouched surfaces in need of adornment.
He tossed the chunk of chalk up, catching it and tossing it again, as his gaze wandered over the crowd of people here for market day. Despite their purpose in being here, which was decidedly necessary to their everyday lives, they were carefully skirting around the Princess' preparations, bestowing looks of bemusement and cheer on her when she bothered to look up from her task. He wasn't the only one that thought she was perfect and sweet and wonderful—there was a whole kingdom enthralled with Rapunzel.
And they didn't even know the hell she'd been through.
She wanted it that way.
And he didn't mind being the person with whom she could unburden herself. He rather liked it. It made him feel important in a way he'd never felt important before.
The idle tapping of his foot against the pavement stopped and his breath caught in throat as his eyes settled on her. She swayed through the crowd, tossing her dark hair over her shoulder as she balanced an empty basket on her hip.
He quickly looked down at his feet as the chalk in his hand fell to the pavement and shattered into a multitude of jagged little pieces. Cursing under his breath, he crouched down beside Rapunzel, hoping he wouldn't be noticed here in the middle of the square with a chalk smeared princess at his side.
Rapunzel paused in her efforts to sit back on her heels and give him a puzzled look. "You broke my chalk."
"Sorry," he muttered.
"Butterfingers," she teased, but her smile swiftly fell and turned into a slight frown. She had probably noticed that he was grinding his teeth. She was too perceptive sometimes. "What's wrong?" she asked with such evident concern that he screwed his eyes shut, angry with himself for being the kind of guy who would need to duck down in the square so his seedy past didn't waltz right up to them.
They both had baggage, but Blondie's was of the psychological kind and his was lurking around every corner waiting to out him as the jerk he really was.
Her chalked hand closed on his forearm, turning the white of his shirt blue he noticed as soon as his eyes opened back up.
"Sorry, it's nothing, Blondie. I'm fine. Golden."
She narrowed her eyes at him, clearly not believing him for one moment. She scanned the crowd and Eugene couldn't help but sneak a peek too.
There she was, pausing at a cart, hip thrown out, one hand wrapped around the basket, the other on her waist. He looked away just as quickly as before, but Rapunzel had already noted the direction of his gaze and was following it with her own.
"Turn those doe eyes on me," he suggested as nonchalantly as he could, tilting her chin back to him and giving her a wink that even felt fake.
"Is it that woman?" she persisted, pulling her chin out of his loose grip and directing her attention back where he didn't want it.
"Damn it," he muttered, running his hand over his face as the woman moved languidly from one cart to another. She was closer now by only a few feet, but the distance seemed exponentially threatening.
"Do you know her?" Rapunzel asked, rubbing her hands together and creating a little cloud of blue dust.
"A little." The less said about it, the better.
She shifted, as if she was getting ready to stand. "Can I meet her?"
"No," he replied a little desperately. "I'd rather you didn't, okay?"
She bit her lip, looking from him to the woman, who was becoming a tantalizing mystery to her the more he tried to draw her attention away, he belatedly realized.
"You don't want me to meet her," she murmured.
A self-conscious swipe with the back of her hand at the cheek he'd attempted to wipe clean just a few minutes earlier alerted him to the fact that he had given her the wrong impression.
"You're perfect, babe." Covered head to toe in chalk, outfitted in a dress she'd outgrown by more than a couple of inches, epically long hair dragging through the grass, or hair awkwardly chopped off—it didn't matter. She was the last person in the world he'd be embarrassed by and she was more than just presentable. In his dream world, he'd walk around introducing her to everyone, full of braggadocio, Hey, this is my girlfriend, Rapunzel, because she was the kind of girl you wanted everyone to know you were with, and it had nothing to do with her being the Princess of Corona.
"I'd rather not talk to her," he continued, trying to convince her by looking as earnest as possible, his brows reaching for his hairline. "She knew a different me. She knew…"
"Flynn Rider," Rapunzel supplied.
"Yeah, she knew Flynn, and that's not me anymore. We've already established the Flynn isn't as great a guy as I am." Eugene was a freaking hero. Flynn was an unpleasant loser. Somehow he'd gotten that all backwards for years. Disposing with the illusion was one of the best things he'd done of late. "So let's not even go there."
"Was she your girlfriend?" she asked quietly.
He snorted. "Uh, no."
Rapunzel was actually his first girlfriend. There had been plenty of girls, but no one he'd ever call a girlfriend.
"She's pretty," she observed, cocking her head to the side as if appraising the woman with an artist's discernment.
Yes, she was. Voluptuous, long dark hair, almond shaped eyes, and a knowing smile that hid a sharp tongue—Flynn Rider once had thought her one of the prettiest women of his Acquaintance.
Rapunzel's comment coming from any other young woman would have been a trap, but she didn't deal in games and tricks. If she said the woman was pretty, she meant it. Even if she suspected something had passed between this woman and her boyfriend, she couldn't help but admire the woman's beauty.
That openness, that lack of dissimulation made his heart feel like it was being broken open.
Rapunzel had accepted that he was a thief with about as much fanfare as if the world was populated with hundreds of nice young men who had once made a living taking things that weren't theirs to take. As far as he knew, however, that was the only thing about his recent past that the Princess truly believed or understood. He lived on a knife's edge, waiting for someone to make public other unsavory details of his former life. For all he knew people were already talking, people in taverns and shady backrooms and alleyways.
"Come here," he said, sliding his hand into that choppy hair of hers and pulling her to him for a quick kiss. Her hands settled on his cheeks and he was fairly certain he was covered in blue now too. "Thank you," he mumbled against her lips.
"For what?" she whispered back.
She scrunched up her nose and he nudged it with his own before releasing his grip on her locks.
Pulling back, he let her return to her undertaking, as if nothing had ever disturbed her focus. He did not look up to see who might have noticed their unguarded, public display of affection. Not unexpected women from his past, not shopkeepers, not even a disapproving palace guardsman, who no doubt hung just out of sight armed with a frying pan in case of an emergency.
He sighed to himself, watching her grip the chalk in her hand, her tongue peeking out between her lips in concentration. Maybe they were talking in the palace about his exploits too and everyone was just too embarrassed to point it out to the Princess' unlikely hero and odd companion.
But he would try his darnedest to prove them all wrong. He'd try to prove that his one tragic gesture of heroism was not an aberration. That he'd truly changed.
For the love of a girl.
"Whoever she is, I feel sorry for her," Rapunzel mused absently, as she made a wide arc with her reclaimed blue chalk.
He drew a deep breath, not sure if he wanted to probe that statement. "Why's that?"
She paused to throw him a smile over her shoulder. "Because she never got to know Eugene Fitzherbert."