Author's Note: This really should have come after the multi chapter fic that I'm working on, but this one is much shorter. I will soon be posting the beginning of a fic entitled 'Becoming Flynn', so if you like this, look out for it! Reviews bring Eugene back from the dead.
"Did you have to drag me along on this particular endeavor?" Gene complained, halfheartedly letting his fiancé drag him alone. A few months ago, he had finally stated that he couldn't handle 'Eugene' any longer and dropped the first two letters of his name, explaining that 'Gene' was far more befitting of a handsome devil like himself. His bride-to-be was the only one who still called him Eugene most of the time. Her stance was that it wasn't a far cry from 'Gene, the handsome devil' to 'Flynn, rogue petty criminal.' While he objected to the implication that his crimes were anything but petty, he let the argument drop. "I don't want to do this."
Now she turned a playful emerald glare on him. "You need to, though, judging by the way you're acting the petulant child."
He put his hand over his heart in a dramatic gesture. "You wound me, Princess. You know, Blondie, I'm not sure I like everyone teaching you sarcasm. It's ill-fitting of royalty."
"Says the future prince." Rapunzel shot back dryly.
"Prince Consort, if you want to get technical. Low-born curs like me can't be real royalty."
"Particularly not ex-thieving low-born curs."
"You didn't have to agree so readily." Gene complained. He stopped suddenly, staring at the two story building before them. "I changed my mind. I'm not doing this."
"Eugeeeene!" Rapunzel turned, tugging on his hand to try and pull him along again. He stood his ground this time, and even her considerable (though surprising) strength couldn't budge him.
"Rapunzel, I can't." He said, and for the first time this morning, the playful reluctance he was wearing was real, his expression apprehensive. She stood before him, her head tilted to the side in curiosity. "Think about it. After all this time… after everything I've done…. How am I supposed to go in there and face the people who raised me? God, I must have been such a let-down to them. How am I supposed to go in there now?"
She stepped close, twining their fingers together and looking up at him steadily. "By placing one foot in front of the other." She replied gently. They shared a smile at the memory. He had said much the same thing to Rapunzel when they were standing in the city streets and she was afraid to be reunited with her real parents.
He tweaked her nose. "How did you get so wise, hmm?"
"Oh, this devilishly handsome rogue once said the same words to me. My, I must say that he was something else."
"A rogue, huh? You cheating on me, Blondie?"
"Well… there was the baker, the blacksmith, the carpenter…"
"Come here, you!" He demanded, pulling her close, his arms wrapped around her tiny waist. He tickled her ribcage mercilessly, reveling in her laughter, the way she gasped his name, her face buried in her shoulder, the way she depended solely on him to hold her up.
"Eu- Eugene! Stop!" She gasped, laughing. With a rogue's smile, he let her go.
"Truly, though, I don't want to do this." He said. He could hear the orphanage kids in the backyard, remembered being one of them.
"Eugene, you have to face your past. Isn't that what you told me?"
"That's different. I'm an orphan. You're a princess."
"And you're their hero. Flynn Rider."
Gene sighed. "You win, Blondie." Somehow, she always did. "Lead the way."
With a grin, she tugged him into the yard. He stopped her again before they reached the door. Those children who died in the orphanage all had gravestones here, to mark that they had once been here. He was stopped before one, gazing at it with an expression Rapunzel had ever seen on his face once. It scared her to recognize the same sadness he had worn when he was dying in the tower. "Eugene?" She looked at the name on the grave. "Who's Peter?"
"He was my best friend, like a brother to me, really." Gene said softly. "He died when we were fourteen, from sickness. After he was gone, I put everything into thieving, trying to become rich enough to live forever."
That shocked her, and she ran a hand through her hair nervously, dislodging her crown. Gene caught it before it fell without even looking. "Live forever?"
He smiled sidelong at her. "Funny, isn't it?" He asked. "Maybe I'm not so different from Gothel like that."
Rapunzel shook her head emphatically. "Don't even say that. You cut my hair to save me. You died for me, Eugene. You're very different from her."
"Thanks to you, Blondie." Gene said. "You never really met Flynn Rider. He was despicable. Shameless, friendless, selfish…"
"Then I'm glad I never really knew him. Eugene is a hero."
He laughed wryly. "Only in your eyes, Blondie. Come on. Let's get this over with." With those words he strode up to the door and knocked confidently. She watched him nervously shuffle his weight from foot to foot as they waited for it to open and knew that he was more apprehensive about this than he let on.
After a moment, the door opened. A pretty brunette stood there, maybe in her mid thirties, and she and Gene stared at each other. "Eu…gene?"
"Miss Sarah." He smiled nervously. "It's been a very long time."
Suddenly, the woman threw herself into his arms, hugging him tightly. "Eugene! I thought that the next time I saw you, it would be dangling from the gallows! You have a lot of explaining to do, young man!"
"I renounced that!" Eugene replied, watching her look him over.
"My, Lad, look how you've grown! I never expected to see little Eugene Fitzherbert so tall! You look like a man now, don't you!"
Gene saw Rapunzel glance at him. "I was a short kid." He explained. "The runt of the litter."
"Come in! Come in! Let me get Minnie and Annie. They'll be so happy to see you."
"I rather think that Miss Annie would take a switch to me as soon as look at me." Gene said, wincing at memories of his childhood. "After my history."
Sarah laughed and beckoned them inside, leading them into the kitchen. "I'll make some tea. Minnie! Annie! Come see who's here!"
Another moment found an even more awkward reunion. Minnie, a plump, motherly figure with her grey hair pulled into a tight bun pursed her lips at the sight of him. "You have a lot of explaining to do." She said.
Gene laughed nervously. "So I've heard. Ow!" The other woman, a severe looking blonde had reached for a measuring stick and, with a practiced movement, rapped it across Gene's hand.
"That's for Flynn Rider, young man!" She said heartily, and repeated the movement. Gene dodged the measuring stick, caught it, and tugged it out of her hand.
"Surely that's quite enough for the man who saved your princess, Miss Annie?" He asked. Annie tugged her measuring stick back and hit him with it again, making him yelp.
"And that's for your cheek, boy!"
Gene laughed now, a full hearted sound. "As I recall, my cheek got me into a lot of trouble when I was a boy."
"And those quick hands of yours almost got you hanged. You're lucky to be alive!"
The tension in the room finally vanished as Rapunzel laughed brightly, seeing Gene cowed by these three women. They and Gene all smiled at each other, and then all three of them were hugging him. "We're glad to see you safe, Eugene." Minnie said heartily, squeezing his ribcage. Gene laughed softly.
"I'm glad to see all of you well. Tell me, how is the place doing?" He asked as they released him as one. Together, they sat down to tea.
"Oh, the same as usual." Minnie said, waving a hand. Gene frowned.
"I'll talk to their majesties. Surely, we can assist somehow."
"What?" Rapunzel was confused.
"We live off of donations, dear, and money is tight these days." Sarah explained. "We get by, but there are always things that are needed, children with scrapes and bruises-"
"Broken arms." Gene threw in.
"That's only you, dear." Sarah corrected him. "And now we have a handful of ruffians to keep in line. It seems that all the boys want to be Flynn Rider."
"I wanted that myself." Gene said, smiling.
"Not Flynnegan, Eugene. Flynn." Annie corrected, giving him another severe look.
Gene's face lit with concern. "I'll talk to them. That's not a path I want any of them going down."
"You went down it." Minnie said, not unkindly.
"And I was wrong to do so. I'll make sure they know that before we leave." Gene replied, his voice hard.
An hour later saw him in a room with a group of boys, sitting on the floor with his back against the wall, looking very much like Flynn Rider in his street clothes, his blue leather vest much worn, a hole in it from where he had been stabbed. They were all clamoring for his attention, chattering over one another about Flynn Rider. It was obvious that they idolized him. Rapunzel sat nearby, perched in a chair, watching as he listened to them, somehow hearing individual voices where she couldn't. Finally, he held up a hand for silence and it was granted to him instantly.
"It seems very glamorous, doesn't it?" He asked, his voice strong and confident, with all the smug cockiness of Flynn Rider. It was a voice that Rapunzel hadn't heard in a while, and she knew that Gene was playing the part of Flynn for these boys. They all agreed, heads nodding in the overwhelming silence. "You get to go where you want, do what you want, have anything that you want. It sounds like a great life. Am I wrong?"
Again, he got a silent reply, every boy in the room nodding his agreement. "So why did you give it up, Mr. Rider?" One of the younger lads asked, his voice soft.
"Flynn." He corrected. Rapunzel started, and he gave her a quick, reassuring smile. It's only an act. That smile was pure Eugene, and she nodded her understanding.
"Flynn." The boy repeated wondrously.
Gene grinned, all the cockiness of Flynn Rider apparent on his face. "Because the life of a thief wasn't what I dreamed it would be."
"What do you mean, Flynn?"
Suddenly, Flynn was gone, and the look of Gene's face was painful, and Rapunzel knew that he was reliving every theft, every chase, every moment where he almost got caught. "It seems glamorous until wanted posters are all over the city, and your face is famous in the dead of winter, and it's snowing and you almost freeze to death sleeping on the ground because you can't risk going to an inn."
"But snow isn't so bad."
"No, it's certainly not the worst part of being a thief."
"Then what is?"
Gene shook his head. "It's different for everyone. For me, it was really different. You all know that I stole the princess's crown, right?" Again, heads nodded all around. "Well, I had help. Two twins, who are currently in the castle dungeons, waiting on their trial. I betrayed them, and stole the crown for myself."
"But why would you do that, Flynn?"
Gene laughed. "Because there is no such thing as honor among thieves, and because I wanted it for myself. But then, just after that, I met the princess, and I was bringing her back. But the two I betrayed wanted revenge, so when I tried to give them the crown, they wanted her instead."
"Why'd you try to give them the crown?"
Gene smiled. "Because after I met her, I didn't want the same things. I didn't want to be a thief anymore, and I didn't want to be rich. I just wanted to be a man like everyone else." The boys all looked confused and Gene laughed. "A woman can change you like that, you know."
"So you gave up being a thief because of a girl?"
Gene raised an eyebrow. "Is giving up crime for a princess such a bad thing?"
"I mean, the princess, is of course, the princess, but women are everywhere." One of the older boys said disdainfully.
Gene laughed bitterly. "One of those women will be all you think about one day when you're trapped between two people who are a lot bigger than you with knives."
"Still, hardly a reason to give it up."
Gene stared him down. "They say that for a thief to change his ways, he has to hit rock bottom. I did that."
"Princess?" Gene watched all the boys turn to look at his fiancé. "Would you like to tell the tale from here?"
Rapunzel's smile was weak. "He died." She looked up when she felt a strong hand on her shoulder. Gene was standing there, silent and supportive.
Gene smiled. That memory wasn't as strong for him, and he didn't really remember much, being in a dull haze of pain and impending death. He knew though, that those few moments where his memory was blank had been agonizing for her. She smiled gratefully at him and placed her hand over his. When she continued, it was in a stronger voice. "The woman who captured me stabbed him so that he couldn't take me away. I promised her that I would go with her if she let me heal him… But when I tried, he cut my hair short with a piece of glass. The woman died, and then Eugene did too. I was lucky enough to bring him back, but he was dead for a few minutes there." She smiled when he squeezed her shoulder.
"You got stabbed?"
Gene fingered the hole in his vest. "Right here. It hurt like you can't imagine."
"So that's why you changed? Because you died?"
Gene laughed and shook his head. "No. When the twins I betrayed caught me, they turned me in. I knew that I had to change when I was being taken to be hanged." He said. "I saw the two of them in jail and they told me that Rapunzel was with that woman. I escaped and went to save her. She ended up saving me instead. There's nothing in the world like that moment, believe me. When they come and get you… they don't even have to tell you what's in store for you. You know when you're to die." His hand touched his throat, as if imagining a hangman's noose around it. Rapunzel touched his arm.
"That's not something you really need to talk about, Eugene."
"It is, Rapunzel." Gene disagreed. "Because they need to know. It looks so glamorous, so wonderful. I certainly thought so, which is why I started thieving. I learned differently. But none of you will be as lucky as I was. There is no other lost princess. I was lucky to be granted a pardon. No one else will."
The boys stared at him silently, and Gene spoke softly, his voice quiet and intense. "I don't want any of you to live through what I have. It looks wonderful, but no matter how good you are, it ends at the gallows and a hangman's noose. Being a thief isn't anything to brag about. It's something to be ashamed of. I would know. I am."
His face was serious, his hand tight on his fiance's shoulder. "Every. Petty. Theft. Everything I've ever done, I regret it now."
"Really, Flynn? You really regret it?" That was the youngest of the bunch, a boy who couldn't be more than nine years old. Gene grinned and knelt, ruffling the child's hair.
"You know… my real name is Eugene. Gene for short." He said quietly. "Why don't you call me that?"
"Gene?" The boy asked. "But what about Flynn Rider?"
Gene smiled. "I was trying to be Flynnegan Rider, and I think we all know how hard it is to be him. I decided that I want to be Gene Fitzherbert instead. I think that I like him better."
"But it's not going to be Gene Fitzherbert for much longer, is it, Eugene? Soon it will be Prince Gene." Sarah was standing in the doorway, and Gene smiled at her.
"Prince Consort Gene." He corrected. The boys all look confused and he chuckled. "I asked the princess to marry me, so when spring rolls around, there's going to be a wedding."
The King and Queen ruled Corona with kindness and wisdom, like the queen's parents before her. One thing they were famous for, however, was that they did away with hanging thieves, instead giving them the opportunity to start over. Often, the King could be seen with his arm around the shoulders of a young man, talking quietly to him. The Queen was within earshot one day and smiled at the conversation.
"You really never heard about Flynn Rider? He was the best thief there was in my time, and he changed his ways."
"Why?" The young man asked, looking surprised. The King chuckled.
"He met a lot princess." Gene smiled. "She changed my life."