I always swore I'd go back to Disney after my Mulan fic, and what goes around has finally come around. I loooove Tangled and a small tingle of an idea grew to a fairly significant chaptered fic, which is how these things tend to go. I can't decide on the genre, so let's call it adventure with a lot of drama, or a drama with a fair bit of adventure to it.
The title is based off a song on the Tangled OST which is beautiful and everyone should own.
Doors, as far as Eugene Fitzherbert is concerned, are highly overrated – everyone uses doors. They're dull, unimaginative and clearly unworthy an entrance for a hero such as himself.
That, and they often have guards outside them, or near them, or patrolling past them; considering he is sneaking around a place he definitely should not be in the middle of the the night, it's enough to set any sane-minded individual on edge. So he's pretty keen on avoiding both doors and the guards that lurk nearby.
Instead, he crams his hands and feet into spaces far too small for them, finding holds between stones on the palace wall. The chill of the coming winter numbs him, and he struggles through the pain, nearly losing his grip more times than he cares to count as he hauls himself up the tower. He's climbed too far to turn back now, and is definitely too high up to even think about looking down. So he keeps his eyes on the star-pitted sky, and pushes to the back of his mind all the imaginary sequences of falling and flick-flacking all the way down to the cold, hard ground.
At last – at long, long last – he makes it to the top, wraps his corpse-cold fingers around the edge of a small balcony, and heaves himself up over the balustrade. It's not exactly heroic, the way he slumps into a quivering heap on the tiles, shaking with the cold and adrenaline, but he's alive and it has been proven that's what counts. He sags like a burned out lantern, panting steam into the night air, while warm, golden light pours over him through a set of glass-paned doors. From inside, a slim figure silhouettes across the doorway, pauses, and then the panels burst open.
"Eugene!" cries Rapunzel, and before he even has time to speak, his arms are full of girl. He breaks into a smile as he catches her, holds the no-longer-lost princess close.
"Heeey," he lilts, attempting to fold her mess of arms and legs into an orderly state – always an uphill battle. She eventually curls half-across his lap, loops her arms around his neck, and at the risk of sounding cliché, he'd happily keep her there forever.
"I can't believe you climbed all the way up here again," she cajoles, but still sounds very glad that he did. Each time he braves the life-threatening climb up to her room, he swears it's the last, but here he is, and chances are he'll be back again.
"Neither can I," he replies with a slight wheeze, brushing his icicle fingers slowly up her side, allowing the sensation to slowly return with her warmth. It hasn't been more than a day since they saw one another, but it's been several since they had any privacy. Although Eugene is an ex-criminal, he isn't amoral, he does understand the laws, he just doesn't always abide by them them.
So he can see how climbing up the walls late at night to be alone with the Kingdom's most treasured princess might be against the rules – he's even clearer on the amount of trouble he'd be in if they got caught – but it's worth it a hundred times over, if it gives him the chance to do what he's about to do.
Reaching out a hand to her face, he lays his cool palm against her warm cheek, his fingertips just sitting on her hairline, and draws her into a kiss. She tightens her grip around his neck and gives back just as good as she gets – she always has.
However, she soon notices his frigid hands, and pulls away suddenly, on her feet before he can so much as close his mouth, let alone open it again to object. He has absolutely no idea how she manages to move so quickly; tracking her movements is like trying to watch a butterfly beat its wings.
"You're freezing!" she declares, and seizes him by the collar. "Come inside, I've got a fire going."
Eugene tenses up at once – although he's been up to the balcony a good few times, he's never set foot across the doorway, and with good reason. If someone were to surprise the treasured princess in her bedroom, at least if he's on the balcony he can drop over the side without being noticed; however, if he's actually inside, there isn't much time to hide from any potential guards, family or servants who feel like dropping in to see their beloved Rapunzel – all of whom would not take to his presence there very well.
Whether he's the saviour and love interest of the princess or not, he knows that he might as well bring his own rope for the hanging if he got caught alone in her bedroom; impropriety isn't even the word for it – treachery would be closer on the scale – so if he wants to stick by the girl he's fallen head-over-heels for so many times it's a miracle he isn't permanently dizzy, he knows he has to at least appear to play by the rules. He needs to court her correctly, and climbing up her tower late at night to steal kisses in secret isn't hot on the list of acceptable practices.
"Ehh– I'm not so sure if that's a good..." he begins, but for a girl who looks like she could blow away in strong wind, Rapunzel has a surprising amount of strength in her little frame.
"Relax, everyone's asleep already," she says nonchalantly, and pushes open the doors without the slightest semblance of worry. The weather is turning colder now, which seems to have unwittingly sealed his fate, and he is guiltily welcoming of the warm rush of air from inside.
"Look, seriously... I really shouldn't," he protests. As well as the dangers of being caught in her bedroom, there is also the issue of being in her bedroom, alone... with her. He's as much of a man as the next fellow, and doesn't need to be given any more ideas than he already has.
"It's just not – I mean, I'd love to but... you know, what with you being a princess and... I'm not sure it's a– Right... okay," he relents pathetically, his best efforts collapsing like a card house as she drags him inside and sits him down by a sickeningly picturesque fire. He knows that all hell would break loose if he was caught, and he probably wouldn't see Rapunzel again – not like this, at least – for a long time.
However, as much as the rational, freaking-out side of his mind protests, its counterpart has a warm fire, comfy chair and the girl of his dreams close at hand; it is perfectly content, and not planning to go anywhere in a hurry.
"Now, isn't that better?" she challenges, propping a hand on her hip and cocking an eyebrow at him; reluctantly he nods, albeit while casting an edgy look over his shoulder. Eventually – when the door doesn't fly open to reveal half the King's guard ready to haul him straight to the gallows – he relaxes, and takes the chance to look around her room.
He guesses it must be the place meant for her as a baby, judging by the suspicious amount of toys strewn around. When he looks up, he sees some more recent additions, her painted murals, which crawl across the ceiling and flow down the walls. In the flickering of the firelight, they almost look alive.
"Wow," he admires. "You painted all of these?"
"Uh-huh," she answers, green eyes dazzling with pride. She's new to people noticing her art – or anything she does – and even less used to being complimented for it. "Paintings make me feel more at home. It just... doesn't seem like my room without them."
Eugene silently understands; regardless of the way things turned out, she did still live for eighteen years – and for the most part happily – in Gothel's tower. That small space was her entire world, and there's no way she can leave all of it behind without abandoning a part of herself.
"Seriously, they're amazing," he says quietly, hardly even registering he's talking at all, awed past the point of eloquence. Each piece of the mural is its own tiny masterpiece, impossible to take in as a whole; some parts are made up of wild, impressionistic daubs and slashes of colour, others sketched out to the tiniest detail, down to every feather on a bird's wing.
Then he spies a picture almost directly above her bed, slightly more defined than the rest. It's of familiar structure, a tall slender tower, and an even more familiar figure scaling it.
"Now, who's that handsome devil up there?" he asks suavely, dropping his grin into a sultry, smouldering smirk, and Rapunzel's cheeks colour as she realises exactly what he's talking about.
"Eugeeene," she says shyly, squeezing her fingers together as her eyes try to settle anywhere but his face. He chuckles, and then lets her off the hook, craning his neck to examine the rest of the room; she's cute when embarrassed, but slightly less so when beating her tiny fists against his head for teasing her too much.
"You''ll have to paint my portrait some time," he concludes at last, striking a pose as he props his chin on his fist and gives her the infamous smoulder; Rapunzel decides to herself that she'll paint him with a goofy expression he apparently has no idea he makes.
"Maybe I will," she replies enigmatically, and shifts her weight from one foot to the other; it isn't deliberate, but draws his attention all the same. There's only one armchair in the room – there shouldn't need to be more than one in the princess's bedroom – and he currently occupies it.
"You wanna sit? Come on then," he tempts her, and holds out a coaxing hand; Rapunzel lets herself be led onto his lap, curling up on top of him like a doormouse, arms wrapped around ankles, by which point it feels like there isn't enough room in Eugene's chest for his heart any more. She seems tiny coiled up and tucked away into the crook of his arm, but he knows all too well how quickly she can unfurl and turn into a sprawling mess of limbs, with twice as many hands and feet as she reasonably ought to have. When she turns her head, her hair tickles his face, so he presses closer til his nose and mouth are against her neck – of which he is not complaining.
"I really shouldn't be here, you know," he warns guiltily, moving against her skin so his voice hums against her throat
"Mhm," she mumbles inattentively, squeezing herself further into the non-space between his torso and arm, like she can tuck herself into his pocket if she tries hard enough.
"No really," he mutters, and somehow a kiss finds its way to the space just below her ear. "I could..." Another kiss, this time a little further down her neck. "...get in..." Another kiss. "Serious trouble if..." One more, and then she breaks only seconds before he would have, and her mouth crushes against his – that is, until he hears something that sounds to his mind suspiciously like footsteps outside the door.
"Ohfortheloveof-justasIwasgetting–" he babbles in a single, unintelligible sentence and leaps from the chair, hurling Rapunzel off his lap in the process and throwing himself across the room to skid-dive underneath her bed, all while making furious shushing sounds.
"Yeowch!" yelps Rapunzel as she tumbles to the floor. "Eugene! Do you mind," she berates, only to find herself addressing only the whites of his eyes, as they peer out from under her bed.
"Shhhhhhhh!" he hisses. "Iet-quay on the ame-nay."
"What? Oh calm down, there's no one here," she huffs in exasperation, and then storms over to the door and unceremoniously rips it open. There's nothing behind it, and Eugene's eyes blink disbelievingly a few times. The noise wasn't anything more exciting than the nocturnal creatures in the old castle's rafters. "You probably just heard rats under the floorboards," she points out, trying to assuage his fears.
"Ohh," Eugene gasps, and heaves a deep sigh; however, it only takes one lungful of dust and floorboard smell before he realises just where he's putting his face. "Eugh!" he yelps, scrambling out from under the bed and brushing himself down compulsively.
Rapunzel simply laughs, and shuts the door again. He follows her and resettles in the chair; she perches on the arm instead, her bare feet balancing on his knee. It isn't often they get the chance to be totally alone, so it can be a little overwhelming when they are. Sometimes it's better to maintain a little space, or they can get too easily carried away. It's only Eugene's abject fear of getting caught that keeps them in line at times, as it appears to miss Rapunzel completely.
He doesn't expect her to share his peril, though; she is still too young and impulsive – finally unleashed on the world she has hungered for, greedy for everything she can grab from it. She doesn't fully understand the way the world is yet; if she had her way, she'd piggy-back ride him around the palace, hike up her dress and sit on his shoulders to see over crowds, and kiss him when- and wherever she damn well pleased – and while he'd like nothing more, he knows better, and will stop her if she endeavours to try. Because he is a little older, and a lot more experienced, he has to take responsibility for them both sometimes.
As a former wanted criminal, he has to tread the line so carefully he could moonlight as a tightrope walking act. One slip-up on the wrong side of proprietary with The Princess and he can kiss goodbye the chance to ever kiss her goodbye – and he wants more than sneaking around stealing affection, hiding under her bed and feeling his heart clear-stop every time he hears a sound. However, even though he wants it all – and he could probably have it, if he asked the right question – he holds back, because he refuses to take her from one tower just to put her into another.
Rapunzel is used to having only one person in her life, one single all-encompassing relationship that her whole world revolves around – her tower was emotional, as well as physical, and he can feel her seeking out that familiarity again. She wants that safety, letting one person whom she loves unconditionally look after her, protect her from the rest of the world; of course, she likes to leave, but it is where she wants to come home to, and he will not let her.
Because it doesn't really matter how different he and Gothel are if the end result is the same; if he is just going to become a replacement in the same closed system. So he won't give her what she wants, because she needs something greater – the chance to be free. And she needs it far more than he needs her.
They sit by the fire and talk; he regales her with tales of his stupid youth, an entire history of bad decisions and getting into trouble, seeing and exploring the world with his own eyes and hands, almost losing both in the process. She reads obsessively, and often tells him of things she's learned from the magnificent palace library – he has little education to speak of, so often she's teaching him – but he never feels stupid in her presence, because he talks to her about being there, not just reading about it.
He promises to take her away to see it all, but he also tells her to go without him, has sometimes insisted that she go away with the King and Queen, leaving him behind. Sure, he doesn't like to be apart any more than she does, but she deserves a life outside of him – outside of anyone. He encourages her to be independent, to be her own person and not an attachment to anyone else – the King and Queen's daughter, the Kingdom's Princess, even his lover. She needs to be Rapunzel – only.
He is in effect, cooling off his own romance just at the stage where he wants to be heating it up, but he tells himself that just being around her is enough. Even if it isn't.
He tells himself there are more important things at stake, that he will fight for her right to be free – even if it means fighting himself. Even if it means resisting the urge to sweep her off her feet and kiss her senseless every minute and a half. Well, most of the time at least – he never claims to be perfect.
The night is a painfully short one, and dawn bleaches the sky too soon for them to say and do all the things they want to; Eugene wearily, reluctantly rises from his seat. His eyes tingle, and a dull throbbing in his head tells him he needs desperately to sleep, but these are the only hours he doesn't risk being discovered, even out on the balcony.
"I really oughta get going..." he groans, rubbing his red-rimmed eyes. He wanders outside to the balcony and looks over, wobbles a little, and then leans back against the rail, breathing the damp smell of the gardens as it carries up on the morning breeze.
"Hold on," Rapunzel rushes, hopping to her feet with more energy than she should rightfully have; although there are tell-tale dark circles under her eyes, she's still bright and bouncy as a sparrow, pattering over to the cupboard and running back out with her arms full of hair.
It didn't seem right to leave all eighty foot of Rapunzel's hair in the tower, in spite of its lacking magical qualities any more, so she and Eugene brought back. Then to stop it tangling and make for easy storage, she and some uniformed accomplices braided it tightly, the end product a long and ludicrously strong rope. She has been known to be seen swinging from the palace's highest tower on the thing, much to the despair of Eugene and her parents, who regard her fearless daredevilism with heart-stopping worry.
"Here you go," she says perkily, slinging her hair around one of the pillars to the balcony, then kicking off one end so that it spirals all the way down to the ground and lands with a dull thud. Eugene climbs over the ledge and steps a foot through one of the tightly-bound loops at either end of the rope, then grips the other ready to slide down. Finally, from the other side of the balustrade, Rapunzel puts both hands up to his face and pulls him close. They kiss for as long as possible – or stop as soon as they're able to, the two being more or less the same, and part reluctantly.
"Til next time, princess," he breathes softly, pulling her back for one last peck, and then drops off the ledge, abseiling toward the ground and waving up at her with his free hand.
She watches him all the way down, until both feet are safely on the ground, and only when she sees him darting through the castle gardens does she allow herself to go back inside.
She yawns almost theatrically as she slowly crosses over to her bed, and falls face-down into the covers, slowly rolling onto her back and kicking herself under the blankets. She looks up to her ceiling, to the spot right above her bed where she painted the tower and Eugene climbing it; she put it there for a reason – it's the last thing she sees before she falls asleep.
When a furious knocking rouses the princess only a few hours later, she's less than welcoming of the disturbance, and wakes with a scowl. Bleary eyed and feeling as if she only closed put down her head five minutes ago, she stumbles to the door, grumpily tugs it half-open. On the other side stands her mother, looking similarly rumpled in her bedroom gown, but that isn't what she notices – what she notices is the fear and sadness in the eyes so like her own.
"Mom?"she questions: always mom, never mother – mother was someone else, someone who was thankfully never coming back.
"Darling, it's... I don't know how to tell you," says her mother, her voice soft and still hoarse from sleep. A cold stone drops in Rapunzel's stomach; she imagines all of the terrible things that could have happened to Eugene in the few hours since he left her sight – imagines all of the them happening simultaneously.
"What?" she pleads, throwing open the door and grabbing her mother's hands, crushing them in hers as she tries to swallow the lump in her throat, though it won't budge. There are plenty of other things that could merit bad news, but Rapunzel instinctively knows it is about Eugene, and her heart feels like its being shredded. "What is it?"
"Last night," her mother begins solemnly, finally raising her emerald eyes up to her daughter's face. "Last night... Flynn Rider committed a terrible crime."
To be continued, of course...