After the argument, Rapunzel finds herself sitting in the rain.
She likes the rain. It is unforgiving, sweeping away whatever might have been left out; leaves, garbage, twigs- they all slipped into the little eddies that run through the castle grounds, miniature rivers streaming between hills and cobblestone paths. The rain is her unsympathetic friend, washing her face in one smooth motion and telling her to get up, go out, just do it.
But now Rapunzel doesn't like the rain. It's cold. She isn't sure if she's crying or not.
She finds herself sitting on a cold stone bench in the garden, feeling the rough texture of the tarnished gray stone underneath her, arms wrapped around the corset of her dress. It's green, like her eyes, a bright pea-soup green, but in the rain, it's only a faded shade of gray. Everything is gray under the storm clouds.
It's a stupid think to feel bad about. That's what the princess part of her is telling her. She wants to believe it, too; the princess part of her is brave and sophisticated. The princess knows what candy is and that it should be unwrapped before being eaten; the princess knows that there isn't a reason to smoke cigarettes but people do it anyway; the princess knows that sometimes even people who loved one another could still hurt them.
But the part of her that is still trapped in the tower by the waterfall knows that it isn't a stupid thing to feel bad about. Not at all. And the tower part of her isn't the smartest, isn't the most knowledgeable, but the tower part of her is familiar and friendly, someone who she could trust. And perhaps it is wrong this time- but Rapunzel knows that the tower part of her has been right once. Just once.
She shakes her head, trying to clear all of the sweeping, mothlike thoughts from her mind. Water falls from the tip of her nose, the curve of her lips, dripping onto her soaking dress and vanishing, as if it had never existed. It's fascinating, seeing the drops melt away like that, and Rapunzel wants to do it again and again- but somehow, she knows that it wouldn't be right. Now wasn't the time.
But she can't control it. She coughs. Again, the droplets fall from her face, disappearing into the cloth. She runs her fingers over the heavy ruffles and realizes that the dress has grown smaller in the rain, shrinking like the touch-me-nots that grew in the cracks between the grass and the road of Witcham Street. It weighs more. The water has soaked right through.
Rapunzel has almost entirely forgotten about being sad when he calls out.
And suddenly it all came crashing back, like a wave on the beach's sandy shore, rearing above her head and then collapsing on top of her, sharp and strong and salty. She forces herself to keep her eyes down on the raindrops.
She wants to look at him- oh, she does!- but she knows that if her eyes meet his, she will cry.
"This would be a good time to come inside," he says.
She fixes her vision on the tiny lines on her dress, just a shade lighter than the rest of it. A servant- Marie?- mended this dress.
"You're going to get sick if you stay out here too long."
She remembers that day. She had jumped. She had expected her hair to catch her when she jumped.
"Being sick is no fun. It's like... the plague." He pauses and winces. "Aw, shit, no, that's not... Well, you'll live. But you won't be able to see Max for a while."
Her hair hadn't been there when she reached for it. Her hand had sealed itself around empty air.
"And you probably won't be able to see the fr- Pascal, either. Colds are contagious. They spread."
Pascal had clung onto her neck, digging his tiny claws into her skin. It stung and bled afterwards.
"Jesus, Rapunzel, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to-."
She moves for the first time in those sorry minutes- a slight jerk of the head, an involuntary response to a cold raindrop splattering on her neck- but that's enough her to snap out of the trance. And it hurts to look at his face, the face of two different people in one, the face of a thief and a hero, the face of the life that always seemed just out of her reach.
Rapunzel had never seen a man before Flynn. All she had was Gothel's vile drawing of a fanged person with no hair and sharp teeth: an ugly person, but a person nevertheless, a person like her. Men had puzzled her. But then she had seen Flynn, and it had all made sense. Men were people too, but they were different; they weren't as shapely and soft as women were, but instead drawn and strong. Sturdy. Tall. At least, Flynn was. And there was something about him that made her feel funny. She couldn't place her finger on what it was, but somehow, he made her feel... different.
And she thought it was love, but apparently it was something else.
She stands up, finally. The crumpled folds of her dress fall to the ground like a moldy gray waterfall. For a second, Rapunzel's eyes wander wildly. They finally settle on Flynn's chin, wide and strong and covered in a wet goatee. It's a chin she has seen many times, a chin that she has run her fingers over, a chin that she has mapped out completely. It's a chin that now makes her cry.
She doesn't realize it until one painful shudder wracks its way through her.
Flynn reaches out towards her, but she raises her head over the hand, over the sound of the angry rain. And he steps backwards, and she can see apprehension in his eyes, as if he's expecting her to attack him. And the thought of this is so silly that Rapunzel can't control the sick sob that escapes from her throat.
"Why did you rescue me from that tower?" she asks suddenly.
"I-" Suddenly, he closed it again, puzzled. "What?"
"Why did you save me, Flynn?" And now Rapunzel is whispering, and her gaze has fallen to his belt buckle, which is new and palace-made and glitters even in the rain- but she can hardly see it, because her eyes are tearing up.
Flynn gapes at her, and Rapunzel hopes that, for once, he has nothing to say, but it turns out that he does. He always does. That's one of the things that she loves about him, but right now she's thinking of a different word than love. What a silly, sick word, love is.
Her eyes crawl from the buckle to the chest right above them, strong and flat. It makes her feel funny, though it's nothing but his stomach, really. Why does everything have to be so complicated? Why does Flynn have to make things so complicated?
And Rapunzel can't help but think that, even when she was locked away in the tower, things were simple- and she was happy. Because back then, she didn't know what was out there, and yes, she was oh-so-curious!- but innocence was bliss, and the biggest problems of the day back then consisted mostly of how many chocolate chips she had for baking and finding new spots to paint on those crowded walls and hiding Pascal from Gothel's swiveling silver eyes.
"It didn't happen," he says finally, squinting as the rain picks up speed.
"Wh... what?" It is supposed to be indignant, but it comes out cracked, with the Wuh and the att staring at each other from opposite sides of the bridge.
"I never rescued you."
Flynn looks odd standing in the rain. The clean, pale shirt underneath his new black vest is soaked; she can see right through it. And though the vest is fine, spitting out the rainwater as it falls on the rough blue cloth, his pants are drenched, too, and stick to him tightly. It's not handsome but it makes her stomach churn.
"Yes, you did." Rapunzel chokes on the words, clutching her arms tighter around the corset that's already too tight. Breathing grows difficult. "You came and made her go away, Flynn, you took me to the lights and then you brought me to my family- if that's not rescuing, then I-" –she hiccups- "...then I don't know what rescuing is!" She jabs the air in front of her.
And though she hates him in this moment, she's trying to convince him that he's done something good. And it just makes her hate him more that he denies it.
Suddenly a silver shield seems to go up behind Flynn's gentle brown eyes. Something that Rapunzel hasn't seen before. It's frightening. When he speaks, his voice is hard, like steel, unbreakable and so very different. It is not Eugene Fitzherbert, not even Flynn, but someone else entirely.
"Let me tell you something." Those eyes are unfamiliar. And that voice isn't the kind he usually uses around Rapunzel. Not the gentle tone, like a caress, but something hard, like stone. Even when she hadn't known his name, even when she had tied him to that chair, he hadn't spoken like this.
Rain streams from his forehead.
"Not all princesses are rescued by heroes, Rapunzel. Not every girl who's locked away in a tower gets a prince in shining fucking armor." His eyes narrow. "Sometimes, the beautiful princess gets someone else."
I'm that princess, she thinks softly to herself. I got someone else.
"In my world, there's no such thing as a happy ending. Because I'm a thief. And I climbed into that stupid tower so I could hide the Crown of Corona. Because I stole it. By cheating some people who trusted me."
You're a thief.
"I took you to see those lanterns for the crown." He spits out the word, like it's poison. "Not to save the beautiful lost princess."
I am the beautiful lost princess, but I wasn't meant to be saved.
"I'm just... selfish," he says finally, and suddenly realization creeps into his eyes and melts clear through the shield. His hands, once in the air, drop limply to his side, and he stares at Rapunzel with a tired expression in his eyes- not the quick eyes of Flynn, but the weary, honest eyes of Eugene.
Rapunzel can't help but note how bizarre the entire situation is. How it all is. How she had magical hair. Hair, not magical eyes or a magical voice but magical hair. On her head. And how Flynn decided to spend hours climbing a tower that the guards would never find in the first place- and how everything just kept on rolling from that, like a log that picks up speed and goes faster and faster until it hits a stone and then splinters into a thousand pieces of wood.
And now she's trying to convince him that he's a good man, and he's trying to convince her that he's a bad man. And Rapunzel realizes that they're both wrong.
"I'm just a thief," Flynn says, looking at the castle looming in the background. Mist hangs heavily from the ground, rising like a moat of smoke. "A thief who doesn't give a damn about anything or anyone." She watches his eyes trace the ups and towns of the towers and passages- places that, just a few days ago, they had been exploring. "And I don't belong here."
Rapunzel doesn't look away from his shoulders. "Where?" She squeaks; and it's not Princess this time but Tower Girl, meek and small.
He looks back at her. And she can see him more clearly now, because the raindrops are spaced out more. She glances at the sky. It's clearing up. Clouds are lightening from black to gray.
"Here," Flynn says simply, gesturing to the inch-deep puddle he's standing in. His boots dig into the mud. Rapunzel knows how much he likes those boots; he won't accept a new castle-made pair. They're old and falling apart, and she's tried to mend them more than once, but Flynn wouldn't let her.
She takes a step towards him, still not meeting his eye. The hem of her dress drags a swirl over the thick brown layer of wet dirt and grass. It's almost its true emerald-green now, glittering in the sunlight like the jewel itself. "The castle."
"With the princess." He says it flatly. Straightforward.
The words are supposed to hurt, Rapunzel knows, but she can't feel any pain- the only thing she can feel is a place where pain is supposed to be, a place that's empty now, replaced by the weak rays of sunlight that dribble from the cracks between the shady clouds to the soggy, crumpled gray earth underneath. She takes another step closer, until she's standing in front of him, within an arm's distance.
"Well..." She reaches out for something to say, and finally grabs it. "I agree."
From the corner of her eye, she can see Flynn exhale- an exhalation of melancholy relief, a breath that's been let go because the terrible truth was the truth after all, a pocket of air whose only consolation is that its expectations had been in the right place. Because Flynn's known it all along, that he doesn't belong here, and Rapunzel's just confirmed it.
She reaches a hand out and clasps the small ridge of ringlets and spikes along the edge of Flynn's vest. Most of them have been clasped shut, but the top two are open: one hanging casually splayed, from Flynn's own intentions, and the other wildly ripped open- the rain's doing. They're cold and wet and metallic against her fingers.
Flynn looks uncomfortable, like he want to stop her, but when Rapunzel speaks again, her voice soft as a cat's purr, his shoulders fall back. Rainwater trickles from the creases on the black vest.
"You were selfish," she says, seizing the lower clasp and closing it. She avoids his eyes. "You were a thief and a liar."
He twitches as her fingers brush the soaked white shirt underneath the thick black cloth. She can feel his eyes on her, unknowing and silent. They don't know what she's doing, what's going to happen next, and she loves it, loves the thrill of being the one who's in the know- just for once. Just once.
"And you wanted nothing but the crown and money. You didn't have any friends, Flynn Rider, nor did you want any."
He swallows. She can feel the heavy knot of his Adam's apple bob against her small hand. She reaches down and seizes one of his hands, which have nothing to do at the moment- oddly, they're not trying to pick a lock or steal a wallet or pinch Pascal when he thinks she's not looking. They're just hanging there.
"You came into my tower- not to save me, not even to be true to your promise to me, but for that crown."
Carefully, gently, he squeezes her hand, running his rough thumb over her soft skin. She resists the warm shudder that crawls up her neck. She is not going to let herself go like she usually does with Flynn, not now. Rapunzel lets him place his left hand on the small of her back. She lets him press himself against her. And he's warm in all the right places, in all of the cold around them, in all of the pale pink-silver mist rising from the dripping earth.
"And I'm sure that, if you'd seen a chance to get the crown before I was home, you'd have grabbed it and ran."
And suddenly she's much too close to him, so close that she can smell his musky scent, like tree bark and cologne and fire all mixed into something deep and dark. So close that she can feel his warm breath on her nose, curling over her lip. So close that she can see him perfectly, so close that she might as well be standing in the mirror next to him.
"You're selfish." And the word is a whisper, slipping from between her lips like a breath of smoke. Rapunzel looks up into Flynn's eyes. They aren't bottomless; there's an end to them, at the end of those eyes is her reflection, obscuring anything else that might be lurking there.
"And I guess that makes me selfish, too." She's crossed the line now, far too near to him. It's wrong, just plain wrong, but it feels right. Like leaving the tower. Like befriending the thugs. Like helping Flynn escape from prison. Like everything that has just happened in those last few days, everything that has ever happened. Nothing has ever gone right for Rapunzel except for this, and somehow, it feels wrong- but maybe that's just because she's not used to it.
Rapunzel hovers just out of his mouth's reach, staring up into his face from below, her hands in his.
And for the first time in Flynn's life, he doesn't know what to say.
It's a sad win, a consolation prize; something that makes her hurt on the inside. Flynn is not suited to silence. He needs to speak; he needs to do something with that mouth of his, because if he don't, he will go crazy. So she gives him an excuse not to say anything at all and kisses him instead. It's a cold kiss, a sad kiss, a kiss sprinkled with wind and stray raindrops. But it doesn't matter. She likes the rain.