Everything had happened so fast.
The realization, getting chained to the wall, Eugene's arrival and stabbing, her haircut, Gothel's death...and Eugene's. And then his miraculous revival! Rapunzel had been filled with an overwhelming sense of relief...as well as grief.
She pulled back from the kiss, and stared into Eugene's brown eyes, letting them melt away her last nerve. All of what self-control she had left snapped, and while she seemed sort of far-off from reality on the outside, she was breaking new ground internally.
She ran a trembling set of fingers through what was left of her hair. Her head felt so light - was it from the final release of her massive length of hair that had dragged her down all these years, or was she going to faint? Black spots in her vision made her head feel fuzzy inside. Her mind, still recovering from the massive amount of stimulus she'd received in not only the past two days, but in the past twenty minutes, couldn't seem to stretch around all this.
Eugene's smile faded slowly as she tugged at her hair, sitting back on her heels. Her eyes darted around wildly - he knew she was probably frantic. She stood up, turning away from him, and with her free hand, she touched her cheek. It was burning up.
Her hair - her purpose - was gone. Her...mother, or whatever Gothel was, was gone as well. Sure, she had used Rapunzel since the girl was a year old to feed her addiction to staying forever young, but Rapunzel had loved Gothel as her own mother, even though the hag had held her back from her true self all these years. She was free now, but Rapunzel still was hurt. She didn't even notice as Pascal scaled her dress and settled into the crook of her neck, glad she was safe.
She dropped her hands and looked back to Eugene, who was getting up, still fumbling a little - he'd stopped breathing for at least two minutes, and that takes a toll on one's brain abilities, plus he still had a chain on his right wrist. He staggered over to her, getting his balance back, and took her hands. "Rapunzel..." he whispered, eyes worried. He'd never cared like this about how someone else felt, not even himself. He wanted to comfort her.
Her hands hung limply in his as she continued to stare off into space. Also, just to add more to this mess, she was a princess. No one had to tell her; it all made sense. Sure, most of it could be passed off as coincidence, like her resemblance to the Lost Princess and Queen in the mural, or even her birthday, but the suns she'd been painting were inexplicable. She had to be the lost princess. And Gothel had sort of half-admitted that she was.
But her real parents - the King and Queen, whatever their names were - wouldn't be able to see those suns, and what about her hair? Sure, there was an unmistakable resemblance between her and the picture of the Queen, and who else in the kingdom had such piercing green eyes? But Rapunzel wasn't convinced that they'd take her claim.
There were so many things wrong here, that could sent her world crashing down around her. Her mind raced, and it seemed that the room was spinning as Eugene let go with his left hand and stroked her cheek tenderly. "Hey...you okay?"
Speaking of crashing down...what about Eugene?
Her eyes dilated. He was still wanted. The guards were probably looking for him right now. How had he escaped? How had he got here? And how would they reach the kingdom, let alone enter the castle, without Eugene being caught and hung?
Rapunzel knew that Flynn Rider was little more than a mask he wore. Sure, certain antics had been embedded into his personality, perhaps forever, but his heart was different than what he showed on the outside. He'd only been Flynn Rider for a short time - he told her that he had escaped the orphanage at sixteen, ten years ago, and had been pursuing his dream of becoming Flynn Rider, the handsome rogue, ever since. That left many good years as Eugene still inside of him – more than half of his life. But how would a guard see that? A guard wouldn't know the difference between Eugene Fitzherbert and Flynn Rider, because on the outside, they were the same person.
Rapunzel put her hand on his, still on her face. "Eugene," she whispered, meeting his gaze, "there's something I need to tell you."
He cocked his head, troubled. Pascal climbed over her hand, down Eugene's forearm, and up to his shoulder. Neither of the two humans noticed the chameleon's activity. Rapunzel let out an exasperated sigh, and intertwined her fingers with Eugene's, and their hands fell down together. They held each other's hands tight, and Rapunzel dropped her head. Eugene leaned forward. "Rapunzel...what's wrong?"
The petite brunette burst into tears, leaping up and throwing her arms around Eugene's neck. He wrapped his arms around her, mostly because he wanted to comfort her, but also partially so she wouldn't strangle him.
He arm had just missed Pascal, who nestled himself in-between the embracing couple. Rapunzel's feet dangled a few inches off the floor as she cried into Eugene's shirt vest. After a few seconds, he heard a muffled sound coming from her lips, pressed into the nook of his neck. At first, he wasn't sure what she said.
"Rapunzel? I can't..." He shook his head lightly. "I can't hear you."
Her grip loosened, and she slid down him until her feet were on the floor. Her cheek mashed into his chest, she muttered, "I love you, Eugene."
The words struck him like a bat. He felt like he'd been kicked behind the knees, and almost fell over. He eased them into a sitting position, his knees pointing to the ceiling, Rapunzel in his lap. He stroked her silky chocolate hair. "Rapunzel," he mumbled, "It's all gonna be okay."
He paused, letting her wipe her nose on her hand, allowing her to look up into his eyes. "I won't tell you that you won't miss how things were. I mean, your hair, your power, your, um...mother." Rapunzel hiccupped. Obviously, he could tell that Gothel had simply been using her, and wasn't her true mother.
He continued, "Odds are, you will miss those things. But, if it makes you feel any better, I'll always...be here for you." She let her head drop back onto his shoulder. He looked like he was going to say something else. And, he did.
He stared contently into her eyes. "You'll always be my princess."
Several more tears ran down her cheeks, and her lips twisted. She shook her head, her shoulders rattling. He held her tight, his worried frown deepening. Tears and hair were smeared all across her face. She searched his troubled brown eyes.
"I am," she whispered. "I am your princess."
His worried look turned to befuddlement. "What...what do you mean?" he stammered. Rapunzel's grip on his vest tightened as his eyes went glassy, his mind searching for an answer. Her face had been serious as a stone. What was she talking about?
And then it hit him, like a slap to the face.
The lost princess.
Eighteen years ago, the Queen had been healed with a magic golden flower and had a child that bore the same golden hair. Seventeen years ago she'd been stolen, at the age of one. "A baby girl with long, beautiful golden hair and green eyes," he'd heard from the orphanage headmaster. "That shouldn't be too hard to miss."
So far, Rapunzel was the only girl he'd ever met in this kingdom under that description. And recalling the mural with the Queen holding her baby, the baby looked just like Rapunzel. Well, when she had blonde hair. But now...
It was as if he was holding the Queen in his lap. The taste of awkwardness filled his mouth. Those green eyes - the Queen's eyes - the hair, the magic...Rapunzel needn't say another word. He knew.
"Eugene, I'm the lost princess."
His eyes came back into focus. "I know," he said solemnly. And both of them collapsed into a huge hug, smashing poor Pascal between their chests. They squeezed their eyes shut tight, as if this were all just a bad dream and that they'd wake up in a fantasyland where they could just live happily ever after.
But this was reality, and Rapunzel had to be returned home.
Rapunzel stared blankly as Eugene picked the lock on his handcuff, the chain eventually dropping to the floor, the clang of metal against concrete echoing painfully through the tower. He smiled hopefully at Rapunzel, trying to get her to smile back. In a feeble effort she pursed her lips into a tight grin, and reached out for him. She took his hands in her own trembling ones.
"Eugene," she mumbled, looking around the room. It was a mess. Broken shards of glass and a winding dark snake of nearly seventy feet of hair littered the room. It was awkward for Rapunzel to look at something that had been such a big part of her lying dead and detached on the floor. "We can't just leave it here..."
Eugene tried to understand. He nodded, and walked over to the nearest length of the dark coil of hair. He gently lifted it. "What should we do?" he whispered.
Rapunzel looked around. As much as she had always longed to get out of here, she knew in her heart that she would come back someday. Her heart felt cold; she shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. And then she made a decision as she looked up into the rafters where she'd always hang painting, her hair tied about her like the longest rope.
"Here," she whispered, gingerly taking the hair from him. She reluctantly took what seemed like a severed limb from Eugene and oh-so-carefully swung her hair up. It was harder now that it wasn't attached to her head, but after years and years of target practice, Rapunzel was still a professional hair-lassoer, if there was such a thing.
Once her hair was hanging all about the ceiling and just the shaggy tips where it'd been cut brushed the floor, Rapunzel took a deep breath, and let it out confidently, clearing her head of the fog. "Okay, Eugene," she said boldy. "I'm ready."
They held hands as they went down through the newly-revealed door in the floor, clibing down a short ladder to a dusty, spider-webby spiral staircase. Rapunzel thought deeply as they walked through the dark. Comparing her new life to her old, Gothel's false affection had been traded for Eugene's true, undying love for her, and her magical golden tresses had been turned to a normal brown, nearly the same shade as Eugene's. Everything was so different.
Trying to lighten the mood, Rapunzel joked, "I guess I should've questioned how she got in and out of the tower when my hair was too short for her to climb." Eugene laughed politely. "Yeah, but even if you knew you'd been walking on a way out this whole time, knowing you, you wouldn't have taken advantage of that anyways."
Rapunzel giggled slightly. "That's probably true," she admitted sheepishly, her mood starting to soften. "Plus, using my hair was much more fun than going down these stairs." Eugene felt a pang at his heart - she'd never get to use her hair again. She would always have to take the stairs.
They stepped over a crumpled pile of vines and flowers that had been torn away to reveal the exit, and entered the increasing sunlight. It was almost noon now, and the sun was climbing higher and higher into the sky. There was a slight breeze that balanced out the sun's intensity, and Rapunzel rolled up her sleeves. "Look, Eugene," she teased. "Now my sleeves look just as sloppy as yours."
He gave her a playful deadpan expression, and she laughed, beginning to skip off to the cave tunnel, feeling as light as air without her tresses to weigh her down, when she heard a whinny. Maximus, who'd been nervously pacing the perimeter this whole time and had seen Gothel fall, making him even more anxious, raced up to Eugene. Rapunzel whirled around and gasped.
"Maximus!" she cried, the tears on her face completely dried off now. She rushed at him with open arms, but he backed up nervously. He shot a look at Eugene like, "Who is this chick?" but when Rapunzel was close enough that he could distinguish her features, he saw those big green eyes, what made him ever trust her in the first place.
She looked just like the Queen.
As Rapunzel rubbed his neck and scratched behind his ears, Maximus cocked his head and grunted at Rapunzel, trying not to whinny in delight. He was seeming to ask Eugene, "How'd that happen?". She looked at her love, waiting for a reply for the horse. "Eh," he said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Long story. But Max, seriously, we need to get back to the kingdom. She's..." He looked at Rapunzel's wide eyes, then back at Maximus. "She's the Lost Princess."
Immediately, Max jumped back and looked her up and down quickly. She did look just like the Queen, but with shorter hair...and then Max rose on both legs and let out a huge neigh of excitement, and then galloped back around to Rapunzel, lowering into almost a bow, letting her climb onto his back.
Eugene almost laughed. He'd never seen a woman straddle a horse, especially not in a dress.
Max made Eugene climb up himself - no royal treatment for the bandit. As he did so, Rapunzel asked coyly, "So...is this how the great Flynn Rider managed to escape having his neck in a noose?"
Resisting the strong urge to make a very Flynn Riderish comeback, he rubbed the back of his neck instead. "Yeah, well, that and the fact that Max rounded up a couple of your pub friends." Rapunzel grinned as Max began to trot towards the cave. "What a good horsie," she cooed, scratching behind his ears.
While she fussed over Maximus, Eugene noticed the dark green cloak, spattered in ashes, lying nearby. With Rapunzel distracted, he quickly hopped off Maximus and dashed over to it and, though he dreaded to touch it, threw it into some nearby bushes, and then just as fast scrambled back to where he'd been sitting before. He didn't want her to see that thing...she'd probably start crying all over again, and she didn't really understand death, he figured, so it was definitely best to keep her focused on the positive.
"Now, off to the kingdom!"
And with that, Eugene put his hands around her waist gently as Max broke into a full sprint. "You might want to hold on," he advised with a laugh as she leaned back into his chest, a bit startled. She smiled up at him, her face full of anticipation, and they headed off to Corona to return the Lost Princess.