Disclaimer: I own nothing. Disney gets all the credit.

A/N: Oh. My. Goodness. I have spent at least a year working on this, which is a bit ridiculous, but about half-way through this I lost all my motivation, and I then today I just really wanted to make something and be creative—so here we are. I realize about halfway through it becomes more of Eugene's perspective than Rapunzel's, but that's just how the story played itself out. Hope you like it!


A Walk to Forget

By Miranda Panda-chan

The walk from the tower to the castle was a long one indeed.


He was alive—living, breathing—Eugene's heart was beating beneath her fingertips, beneath warmed flesh from the blood pulsing beneath through veins and pumping the used-to-be deathly still, life-giving muscle somewhere within his chest cavity.

The tears wouldn't stop, she was so happy, so heartbreakingly thrilled to hear him groan in pain as she tackled him in a semi-hug and kissed him full on the mouth, his lips warm against hers. It was something instinctual, so earth-shatteringly simple and yet so wonderfully magical. So many emotions skating across her in so little time—the sheltered lost-princess was having trouble keeping track of them all—feeling unbearably happy, and yet so…sad.

Gothel was dead. Eugene was alive, and Gothel had manipulated her and kidnapped her and lied to her since she could remember, and she deserved everything she got. So why was it that viewing her empty cloak from the window above made her want to fall to her knees and sob?

Mother…

Gothel was the only one she'd ever known. Mother Gothel was her world; she and Pascal were the only two in existence as far as Rapunzel had been concerned until yesterday morning when a strange man had clamored through her window.

And now Gothel was gone. Forever.

That couldn't be a bad thing, with all the hurt she'd caused, and all the pain she'd deliberately inflicted on everyone, emotional or physical. In Eugene's warm alive, he's alive arms; Rapunzel's smile faltered…and fell.

What would she do now? Would Eugene still want her? Even if he did, where would they go? What did couples like them do? How would she live? She didn't know where to get food from, only how to fix it, same with cleaning supplies, fabrics, etc. Where did one go about obtaining the objects needed for those things?

What now? That's what it all boiled down too. They couldn't, wouldn't, stay in this godforsaken tower in the middle of the glen, and she supposed the Snuggly Duckling might be a bit crowded for a daily hang out.

"What's wrong?" It was the third thing he'd said since coming back from the dead. The first being her name, the second being a cheesy pick-up line (and a thin relative of an apology for giving her a terrible hair job without her consent). He was looking at her with worry evident in his eyes, eyes filled with love, not greed, and something in her hurt terribly because she'd never known the difference. How could she have been so blind? Was she that dimwitted that she needed it written out—needed to be shackled and gagged and dragged by her female role-model for her to get the picture?

She looked at him, knowing his concern, knowing there was little he could do to make her feel better. Her world was shattered—how could she convey that in a few words? She looked away from him, his gaze suddenly too much for her. She opened her mouth, prepared to try to spill her thoughts, emotionally vomit on him until she could do nothing but dry heave the remnants of feeling out entirely. Then she shut it, because nothing was coming to mind—no intelligible phrases or words, just raw emotion, half-baked thoughts.

"Rapunzel?" his voice was still a bit hoarse, and the dam broke—not that she was trying very hard to hold it together.

"Eugene!" she sobbed, clinging to him like a lifeline. He swayed backward a little, only to compensate and lean forward to balance them both. Hot tears bled through his vest (he really should get a new one), his shirt, and onto his skin, "What am I gonna do now?" her voice quivered, wavering between okay and so utterly devastated words just didn't describe. The former Flynn Rider rubbed her back, feeling his heart break a little for the girl who had unwittedly stolen it.

He realized, with no small amount of trepidation, that he had no encouraging words to give her. The world outside was a cruel place, in some ways crueler than the pseudo-home she'd lived in for the past eighteen years. Things weren't going to get easier for her. She'd been kept hidden from the culture, the traditions, the maturation of everything that should've and did, but wasn't as far as she was concerned. She'd have to learn so many things, she'd have to accept even more, and she'd have to finally live—something he doubted she had a true concept of.

However, another thought occurred to him—a bone-chilling and yet uplifting thought. One that didn't end well in one way, but did in another.

She was the lost princess. She belonged in the kingdom. She belonged in the castle. She belonged with the King and Queen under their tiered ceiling and waltzing across marbled floors.

That also meant that she had no place with him. He was a thief, a wanted criminal—he was headed for the gallows not but an hour or so ago. He'd just felt death's cold grip, and not to say he didn't appreciate a good dramatic re-entrance with true love's kiss (which was completely unmanly, but he'd cherish it in his own way forever), but he didn't really feel like insulting Fate and pushing his luck by frolicking back through the kingdom to see his Lady Love in her well-guarded castle after just so narrowly escaping it.

Of course, that was assuming she wanted to go back at all. Did she want to stay with him? Did she understand what that meant? The relationship that he wanted with her? Instincts only took people so far, and he highly doubted Gothel had informed her on the birds and the bees.

Finally, he said the only thing he could come up with—the only thing that didn't make him feel as if he was being a total ass, but still sounded like a death sentence, ironically.

"You're gonna live," he spoke to her softly, trying to sooth the bundle of (ex-)Blondie cradled in his arms. She was so small, and she had stopped her rib-cage rattling sobbing to whimper pitifully in his chest.

"How?" her voice was no louder than a whisper, but the sheer uncertainty hidden there was enough to make him feel terrible that he didn't have a proper answer for her.

"You have to figure that out by yourself," she looked at him, wide-eyed, sitting up straight and backing away slightly.

"You-you're leaving me?" she asked, blood-shot green eyes staring at him accusingly, "How could you do that? I—!" She made a grab for her hair, a habit she'd formed when fighting with her mother-Gothel was not her mother, mothers were kind, they loved their daughters, mothers didn't use their daughters like Gothel had used her. When she reached and grabbed air instead, something in her broke. Something angry.

"That's not what I meant, Rapunzel," she didn't like him using her name: it felt fake, like she wasn't talking to Eugene anymore, he wasn't even Flynn—he was some stranger wearing his skin, an imposter, like Gothel.

"Stop calling me that." He looked at her, confused momentarily on what she referred too.

"Rapunzel? That's your name—what else would I call you-?"

"You never call me by my name," she stated, not facing him, now on her feet and averting her eyes from the window entirely, she examined the shattered glass amidst the brown, dead hair. Eugene paused, brow furrowing as he thought. She was right, of course, she tended to be right on many things he was finding out. "You always call me Goldie or Blondie or-," she cut herself off, realizing that she sounded like a petulant child.

She was hurt and sad and yet so furious, and there was nothing to be said or done to fix it. "What did you mean I have to figure it out on my own?" she asked softly, realizing that she wasn't mad at him; he'd done nothing wrong, not really. A bad haircut and an accident he'd had no control over whatsoever was no reason to want to throttle a recently come back from the dead man.

"I meant that it's something you have to figure out along the way. I'm gonna be with you every step that I can be," he said, feeling a little like a liar since he doubted she'd thought much about being a princess yet.

"…Eugene?" she asked after a moment, a hesitant wind brushing the back of her neck making her shiver as she turned to face him, "Will you take me back to the castle?"

"Ah," he coughed, this was what he'd been dreading. He stood, finally, slowly lifting himself off the ground, she'd unlatched him moments after he'd returned from the land of the dead, "I'm not so sure that's such a good idea…" the look in her eyes spoke of betrayal, but there was some things she just didn't understand, maybe if they met up a year or so later, maybe she'd have figured it out by then, but right now, the world outside was no place for the naïve.

"Moth—er…uh, she said that you were scheduled to be hanged for your crimes…" her voice still hadn't regained its full volume, and she wouldn't meet his eye. Of course the witch would tell her that piece of information! He sighed exasperatedly, running a hand over his face, trying to solve their problems without the least bit of divine assistance, it seemed.

"That wasn't a lie, Blondie," the nickname slipped out without his permission, but the look in her eyes and the way her shoulders seemed to lose a bit of the tension they'd been holding told him that it wasn't a bad thing. The nicknames were a comfort now, something familiar; he should've realized earlier, he'd remember it for later. "The boys from the Snuggly Duckling sprung me, with the…leadership of Max," he shook his head for a moment at the sheer fantastical image the recent events created. No one was ever going to believe him, "But the kingdom and I, we still aren't-."

"—exactly simpatico?" She asked hesitantly, vaguely recalling their first conversation ever. It was truly amazing what could happen in the span of a little over thirty-six hours. He gave her a half-hearted smile, knowing that she was trying to grasp the frayed bits of her reality while keeping her feet hesitantly planted in the real world. She looked down, fiddling with her skirt, the bloodstain near her knees made him cringe a little. He'd bled on her skirt: he would have to get her a new one to ease his conscious for that. She suddenly looked up, confusion and hope glazing her eyes. "But you took me there for the festival after you'd stolen the crown, why would this be any different?"

"Well, unless you want me to drop you off at the gates, wish you a nice life, and leave; we have a problem. The castle isn't someplace where I can stay out of sight. There aren't a lot of people; it's not a place that I can just waltz around. I couldn't go with you, and even if I somehow managed…I couldn't stay." He wondered if this was getting his just desserts for all the innocent travelers he'd mugged, the people he'd hurt and endangered while gallivanting across the world making a nuisance of himself. It was fittingly cruel enough in that aspect.

"Oh…" it was a small sound, and if he hadn't been so sure she'd spoken, he'd have assumed it was a bird outside, or the wind shifting something in the tower just right, "So…you have to leave me anyways…" it was such a broken statement.

He'd never been able to pass up a damsel in distress. Mostly because they always ended up in some dingy inn with him and his newly acquired spoils, but Rapunzel had been different from the moment he'd met her. Not even in the sappy sort of way, but in the way that spoke to the side of him that wanted to protect. He wouldn't lie and say it was love at first sight, he'd found her annoying when he'd woken up with knowledge that this skinny little nothing girl had gotten him with a frying pan, and if that wasn't embarrassing he didn't know what was. He had a reputation to protect, after all. Now, with her big green eyes and her too short brown hair (that was entirely his fault) and her bloodstained skirt (which was his fault again, but he couldn't take the full blame on that one, she'd been the one to lay him on her lap knowing he was bleeding out).

"Pretty much."

"But I want to be with you! You're the first person that's ever even met me aside from-," she still didn't know what to call her, but Mother just seemed like fire on her tongue every time she spoke it, "and besides that, I love you."

He stood still, staring at the floor, brow furrowed. He'd known, of course, his dying words hadn't been for the dramatic effect, hadn't been to lie his way to survival. They'd been truth, she was his new dream.

"And you were mine…" like that hadn't been fairly straight-forward. He wouldn't lie, though, it was still a little ground-shaking to hear, especially when it was so earnestly spoken.

"I know," was all he could come up with, not having the strength to muster up the courage to say it back, "But Blondie, you don't wanna live like that. You've got the chance of a life time. You have a family waiting for you, people that love you, a whole kingdom's worth of people who care for you, and you're not cut out to be a thief-."

"I could do it!" she shouted at him indignantly.

"Sweetheart, you remember those ruffians and thugs you keep worrying about, you'd be one of them." She looked at him, lip trembling, the dam threatening to break again after she'd so precariously reconstructed it. "You've hardly even been outside your tower, Blondie; a life of crime isn't something you want to be your first option." Dear Lord, he was such a hypocrite. The minute he'd gotten out of that orphanage he'd robbed a grocery store for food and money.

"I'll go wherever you go!"

"No, you won't."

"Yes, I will!"

"Rapunzel!"

"FLYNN!" she hadn't called him that since learning his real name, and he didn't truthfully appreciate it that she was now shouting his self-proclaimed title back at him. "You're so-! UGH! Stop acting like Flynn, Eugene is much easier to talk too." She told him, her voice holding a defiant note. "I am not a child; I can make my own decisions."

"Because waltzing off and becoming a wanted criminal is something every little girl dreams about," he snorted, suddenly angry that she was making this much more difficult. He didn't want to let her go, didn't she understand that? He wanted her to stay with him, and he was almost selfish enough to let her do it, but he had to get her to see. She had so much more than he did, and she'd live much more comfortably without him rather than with him.

"Fine, I'll go back to the Snuggly Duckling by myself, and ask Hook if he can help me." She started marching off to the stairs that she'd never known were there, feeling a bit dismayed at the idea that he didn't appear to be following her.

"Wait a minute, Goldie," but she was already out of his reach, disappearing beneath the stone floor. He sighed, feeling as if this wouldn't end well for him no matter what he did. She was so adamant about everything, and he was loathe to deny her anything these days. He rolled his eyes at his own lack of reason before following her.

She had picked up speed since she'd gotten out of the stone walls of her tower. She'd gotten half-way across the valley, and he ran to catch up to her, "Would you just wait one second?!"

"No, I have somewhere to be. Now which way was it…?" she paused just outside the wall of ivy hiding her little getaway tower from the world.

"Hook isn't really the best company, Goldie—." She whirled on him, the angry thing that had broken free rearing its ugly, something to do with the idea that she didn't have a good judge of character aka Gothel.

"Eugene, if you have such a problem with it, you decide on what we should so that WE can stay TOGETHER!" she said, enunciating each world clearly with obvious emphasis. He let out a frustrated sigh, she was becoming impossible. He opened his mouth, but she beat him to the punch, "I'm not leaving you, Eugene. I told you, I love you…and I'm not sure how…how to…" she stopped trying to figure out the words, just gave him a look that told him everything she wanted to say, all that she was feeling and didn't know how to express: the fear, the anger, the frustration, the confusion, the hurt and betrayal, and the love that she had for him. The latter being the same thing that was fueling her completely irresponsible actions.

He sighed.

"I'll go to the castle with you," he said, feeling his heart plummet. He was sending himself to the gallows, she was making him a masochistic, and he was just letting her. His reputation was doomed: it was never going to survive her. She held her hands behind her back, biting her bottom lip in that adorable fashion of hers that claimed uncertainty and hesitance.

"Are you sure?" she asked, eyes darting from the ground to the left of him and slightly behind to his eyes and back to the ground.

"Yea, c'mon Blondie, we've got a ways to walk." Because, it seemed, Maximus hadn't waited to see the end of the adventure. It would be a fair distance, and a good day's and half journey was plenty of time for Rapunzel to change her mind, become more than impossible (and therefore more than he could take), and for them both to think about the recent events. Thoroughly. He wasn't looking for to it at all.

She walked behind him silently, chewing her lip mercilessly. Her feet were starting to hurt, she was pretty sure the glass on the floor from her broken mirror had cut through the flesh on the bottoms of her bare feet. She hadn't noticed it until after she'd begun walking down the stairs…and by then she'd been so angry that she had been too proud to stop and check. As it was now, the anger had subsided, and the pain had firmly set. She wasn't used to such rough ground.

He noticed she was slowly falling behind, her gaze locked on her own two feet.

"You okay back there, Blondie?"

"Um…" he stopped, turning to face her, "Could we take a break for a little while? Please?" she asked. She hadn't ever really had to deal with cuts and bruises, magic hair that healed kept her from quite a bit of pain as a child, not that she'd had much to hurt herself on…Eugene nodded, silent as he looked her over for anything amiss. She walked quickly, jumping a little now with each step, not that it helped. Eugene was watching closely now, but really, she didn't figure hiding it from him would be of any use. She sighed, sitting down on a rock and lifting one foot up.

The skin had been torn in several places, the cuts themselves weren't very deep—nothing too serious, at least—but with the walking along the forest floor, which was nothing in the world but dirt and nature's compost…well, infection was definitely an option.

Eugene eyed her for a moment, knowing the thoughts crossing those emerald eyes of hers.

Flower gleam and glow

Let your power shine

Heal what has been hurt-!

The guilt hit him again for cutting off her hair—could he have found a way to save her without doing so? What had made him so earnest in cutting it? He shook his head—it was highly unlikely that they would've had any semblance of a happily ever after if he hadn't acted…he doubted that she'd even be here with him if he hadn't…and then where would he be? He had gotten semi-used to being Eugene—liked it, even—but there could be no Eugene without his Blondie, who wasn't really blonde anymore, but that didn't seem to stop her affection for the nicknames he'd called her.

"You should've told me earlier, we could've probably gotten some cloth from your…place." What was it exactly? A home? No, love was needed to make a home. A house? Too tall. A tower? Too sobering. He wouldn't mention the fact that he had noticed her stumbling over Gothel's name and former title.

He supposed that everyone dealt with things differently, even girls that had once had magical glowing hair. Especially girls with magical glowing hair. Not that he'd met many in his life, but really, once you've seen one magical girl you've seen them all, so he supposed it was alright. Besides, he preferred brunettes (hair color made little difference to one way or another, even before—when he was Flynn, all that had mattered was they wound up in his bed).

"I didn't notice it until after we were out of the glen…" she said, her voice small. Ah, of course, he thought, women who were angry ceased to feel much else, emotional or physical, and she'd been livid when she'd walked out of her former home.

"Ah, here," he said, walking toward her and kneeling down in front of her. He pulled out his canteen, he'd refill it at the stream he knew wasn't too much farther up the way. Pouring water on the bottoms of her feet stung, she wiggled her toes, clutching the rock beneath her fingers and trying to discreetly scoot away. He held her ankle, pouring the water on one foot, before switching to the next. The dirt and other things she'd walked through washed away fairly easily, her feet were still stained a light brown, but that's what she got for not owning a pair of shoes. He turned, still kneeling, after putting his canteen away. "Get on my back, there's a place we can rest for the night not too much farther—we'll pass the Snuggly Duckling, along the way. You can talk to all your…friends," she giggled at his obvious disapproval and disbelief, "and I can get us some supplies, specifically some bandages for your feet. Who knows, maybe once we're in town we can find you a decent pair of shoes."

"I don't like shoes." She said, scrunching up her nose, "They get all stuffy and hot and gross, and it's so much harder to walk with them on," she whined, hastily picking out a glittering sliver of glass from one of the wounds.

"To each their own, Blondie, but my feet aren't the ones blistered and bleeding." She stuck her tongue out at him at this as she climbed on his back, bunching her skirt high around her thighs. He blushed a little as she pressed against him, but he stood and managed to not lose his cool with her in such close proximity.

They walked on in silence for a little while, the girl on his back unusually melancholic, while he was unusually pensive. He had to find some way out of getting himself hung—perhaps by bringing her back he'd gain amnesty? He'd been told the King and Queen were very kind people—good rulers as opposed to iron-fisted tyrants. However, those had only been rumors…but if their daughter was any indication on their own dispositions...he wouldn't start crossing his fingers yet, but if he played his cards right…

He shook his head; he wouldn't try and con her parents. They'd do what they thought best, which is probably what he himself thought best as well—she didn't need him tagging along with her everywhere she went. She needed to find someone who could give her so much more, someone who could take care of her properly.

Something in him bristled at the thought that some pompous impertinent and impetuous little runt would be taking his place as her caretaker. Eugene bit back the urge to growl at the idea—if whoever she ended up with that wasn't him hurt her in any shape, form, or fashion, there would be serious hell to pay. The thugs at the Snuggly Duckling may not like him, but they'd defend Goldie's honor in a heartbeat, and some of them were known for their less than humane ways.

Rapunzel was simply muddled in her own thoughts and feeling still surrounding Gothel…and Eugene who was acting like Flynn at the moment, but she supposed she wasn't acting much like herself either, so she'd let it go this time. She yawned and closed her eyes, breathing in the scent of him—warm, alive, and wonderfully male.

The sun was still high in the sky when they finally reached the Snuggly Duckling. He sighed a bit in relief, she wasn't heavy, far from it—but she was still extra weight. He smiled as she shifted her head on his shoulder. She had fallen asleep from the sound of her breathing: he was glad, she had needed the rest. She'd been through a lot for someone who'd never been outside a tower for eighteen years.

She shifted her head again, whimpering against his vest—he felt the tears hot against his neck before he realized what was going on.

"No, Eugene…don't leave me…..moth…er….no." He shook her gently, the small pub in sight.

"Blondie, hey Blondie, c'mon," he said, feeling his heart tighten in his chest. She woke up, startled, looking around wildly before she realized where she was.

"Eugene," her voice broke and she snuggled against him as he sat down on a log not far from the dirt road.

"Hey, hey, it's okay, Blondie, it's okay," he pulled her around to face him, cradling her in his arms as she clung to him, sobbing without tears. He'd been dead. In her dream, she had held him as he died, watched the life fade from his eyes, the warmth disappear from his hands and face. In her dream, he hadn't woken up again.

"Sorry," she said, apologizing softly. She was shaking, her limbs feeling heavy and detached. It had been so vivid, Mo—Gothel, stabbing Eugene as he came to her rescue, Eugene dying after cutting her hair for her own sake, M—Gothel falling out of the window…and turning to dust, and Eugene—he'd woken up, he'd awakened…he hadn't stayed dead, hadn't left her to figure out life on her own. She let out a shaky breath, one filled with unspoken and rational fears.

"Wanna talk about it?" he hoped not, because he had an idea of what her nightmares consisted of, and he'd lived through death and hadn't stopped to think it through that much since they'd begun this little journey, hadn't stopped to think of the cold finality he'd felt shaking through him as his heart had stopped and his brain had stopped sending out signals to the rest of him and then the inky blackness that had spread from there.

"You didn't wake up," she said, shrugging and wiping her eyes, though there wasn't anything really there, "You just…didn't wake up, and I was…so scared," she was hugging herself, feeling cold all the way to her bones. She was trying to keep it together, and that was taking more effort than she was truthfully willing to admit. He hugged her, silent because he didn't know what to say. He'd been scared, too. Scared because he hadn't known what was going to happen, scared for her because she was so…trusting of everyone and everything and someone was bound to take advantage of her in an irreversible way if she kept that business up, and he wouldn't be there to stop it…

"…but I did wake up," he said quietly, his mouth moving against her shortened brown hair, "I woke up because of you, and I'll keep waking up, I promise." Death wasn't something he could really stop from happening, but he'd do his best to avoid it. He did that already when it didn't involve her…or shiny things. She sniffed a little, breathing deeply and trying to stop shaking because really it was becoming ridiculous.

Shock did funny things to people, trauma did even more.

"You wanna go inside and talk to your…uh…friends, or do you want to wait here? It shouldn't take long," He figured if he'd ordered her to stay where she was she would argue; better to let her decide than to make her angry. She smiled, but shook her head.

"I don't think I want them to see me like this. Maybe later." Funny thing later was. It was so subjective, and he still didn't believe she truly had a grasp on what exactly she was walking into the minute she had decided (with a little help from him) to return to the castle. He nodded, though, walking to the door and disappearing inside.

She sighed, wondering if this sick, cold feeling would ever disappear. She wanted to throw-up, everything consistently reminded her of times with…Gothel (she would not call that—that imposter!—her mother any longer!) or her adventure and its tragic end with Eugene. She should've been boiling with the summer heat, but the icy chill that kept skating across her flesh made the sun's warm rays an unlikely blessing. Just like when the wind blew through the tower during winter, it made her want to bundle under every blanket she could find and hide from the world until she burned up underneath them all.

"-die? Blondie?" Eugene was waving a hand in front of her face, and she noticed her grip on her arms. She'd been digging her nails into them, holding herself to try and rid her flesh of the cold, desolate feeling.

"Sorry, what were you saying," she asked, looking up at him with bright green eyes that seemed lifeless compared to what they had been the day before, watching the lanterns meant for her.

"I got the stuff, but this is gonna hurt, you've got some shards stuck in," he explained, examining the bottoms of her once fairly smooth feet.

"Just do it quickly, please," she said, clenching her teeth as she felt the pull of the first shard. When it was finally out, she breathed a sigh of relief, though her foot throbbed, it felt better than it had. The endless sharp pain was gone and the dull ache that had replaced it was much more tolerable and pleasant.

He pulled the rest of the shards out, pouring disinfectant over them (aka a bottle of wine that had been on the house for Rapunzel), and wrapping them up in bandages. She wiggled her toes as he let her stand up on the other side of the log she'd sat down on. She flinched just a little at the stinging sensation, but it wasn't as bad as it could've been.

"Alright, you ready to head for the castle?" he asked, a hint of something completely utterly doomed lacing his voice. She looked at him apprehensively, averting her eyes when he noticed.

"I was thinking…why is it so important to go to the castle, anyway?"

"Blondie," his tone was scolding, but the undertones held gentle understanding, something purely Eugene without a trace of Flynn, "C'mon, the King and Queen, they're supposed to be great, I mean, I've never actually met them, probably for the best, but everybody else seems to really like them." He was babbling, he realized as he looked at her, her eyes taking on the same wavering fear he'd in them earlier when he'd first taken her away from her tower.

"But…but…what if they don't like me? What if-?"

"Like you? That's what you're worried about? Blondie," he put a hand on her back reassuringly, "Everybody who meets you likes you. You think what happened in the Snuggly Duckling is a common thing? Anybody else would be…well, er, not friends." They'd be dead, but he didn't necessarily want to start that argument right now. She bit her lip, weighing the pros and cons of believing or not believing him. He grabbed her hand, a sheer involuntary motion that he hadn't fully thought out before acting on it, and began walking. She walked behind him without a word, her feet not bothering her anymore (the stinging was more of a numbing now anyway), allowing herself to be lead without much verbal argument…but the rebellion was in her eyes. He could tell, she would try and make a break for it the minute she thought his grip had slackened. He didn't know what she'd do or where she'd go, considering the entire point would be so that they could, 'stay together,' as she had so earnestly put it earlier.

"What if they don't recognize me? What if they think I'm evil?" she gasped, the thought having just occurred to her. Bad company corrupted good morals, did that mean Gothel had corrupted her? What if they thought she was like Gothel now? Evil, despicable, and untrustworthy just like Gothel…what if they threw her out, deciding that she was no longer their child with such a wishy-washy upbringing. She felt something else in her boil angrily.

For all the evil Gothel had done…she'd taught her well. Don't talk to strangers. Drink your milk. Eat your vegetables. Don't play with your food. Hygiene is a daily sort of thing. Don't lie. Don't cheat. Don't fight (because Gothel had always threatened that instead of a spanking, she'd merely toss the poor child out the window and be done with her if she continued behaving in such a way—she'd have no miscreants in her house). Don't argue with your elders. Accept compliments, always say thank you and you're welcome, please, yes ma'am, and never ever put your elbows on the table. Chew with your mouth closed.

She figured life lessons like those, as small as they seemed, were still important…no one purely evil would have such impeccable manners…right? Or were impeccable manners actually a sign of evil?

She shook her head fiercely, hoping that she'd stop her thought processes briefly. She was beginning to confuse herself, and other people did that so much already—her nerves were frazzled as it was, she didn't need herself adding to it.

Eugene kept looking back at her, thoroughly concerned over the now very much melancholic girl that had been so full of life up until several hours ago. He hoped she understood…understood why he was taking her back, understood that he loved her, and that was why they couldn't be together, that things weren't as simple as she'd like to think. He hoped she'd start to understand life in a less hostile environment, one where she was loved because of who she was, not for what she had to be taken from her (not that she had it anymore…he didn't really know if her tears were the new magical hair or not).

He pondered what made him so powerless around her. She didn't hardly know her way around a paper-bag outside of that tower, didn't know so much—she was so naïve, so…childlike. That kind of innocence normally bothered him, made him feel dirty, evil, unclean. He'd taken great pleasure in dirtying and corrupting the few girls that had been similar to her before he'd actually met her. He cringed slightly at that thought…there was a lot about him she didn't know, either. He wasn't entirely sure she'd understand the concepts of what he'd done in the past. He was a thief, plain and simple. Someone opposed to the law, opposed to the order that society had set down before him and expected him to just follow along mindlessly. It wasn't like he'd purposefully set himself against the world, the world had merely set itself against him. It'd been a war to survive since leaving that godforsaken orphanage.

"What if they think I'm…bad?" she asked quietly, refusing to call herself evil. He looked back at her, deciding that this uncertainty had gone on long enough. He pulled her to him, in a tight embrace, and she snuggled her face deeper into the material of his vest, his scent something familiar, something calming. He rested his head atop hers, rubbing her back, and talking softly.

"Goldie, if you're bad the rest of the world doesn't have a chance," he smirked a little, feeling the distinct creep of irony up his spine, "It's not your fault…she's the villain here, she kidnapped you, and she manipulated you. You're not bad, and you're definitely not evil. You can't help what life throws at you, you just have to deal with cards that get laid out. The Ki-, you're parents," he said, exasperated with himself for not knowing the right words to put her mind at peace, "They won't think that about you, they love you, and they haven't given up hope on you yet, even after all this time…" she sniffed slightly, feeling comfort in the light pressure of his arms wrapped around her, and the warmth that came from it.

He pulled away from her just enough, silently thanking God that she wasn't crying again. He hated crying women…he didn't know how to handle crying women, especially not a crying Rapunzel.

The sun had gone down while they weren't looking, the barest hints of light allowing him to take a good look at his surroundings. They were about a half day's walk from the castle, and the area seemed to be fairly safe looking. He pulled out a blanket he'd grabbed at Snuggly Duckling…the things they had in that pub astounded him even now. She didn't have her hair to cuddle up next too this time, and even with a fire the nights were chilly, more so, he assumed, since she was in a dress. A sick princess was the last thing he needed to add to his karma.

"C'mon, let's set up camp," he said boisterously, clapping her on the shoulder and humming lightly to himself. She gave him a watery smile, sniffling and wiping away half-formed tears that hadn't fallen yet. She nodded, deciding that she'd had enough dwelling on fear of the unknown for one day. Not that that would stop the nagging feeling in her gut that made her want to vomit and cry and huddle in her tower and pretend that…

She stopped. Her thoughts coming to a sudden halt as she stared into the fire that Eugene had just made. The flames flickering back and forth, snaking in the air, lulling her with its warmth as one of Eugene's arms snuck around her waist, the firm yet gentle pressure against her providing whatever it was that she needed at that moment—and so she let the darkness take her into a dreamless sleep.

Eugene watched her for a moment, the lump of woman snuggled into his side, pressing against him for warmth and comfort. Her face was calm at the moment, no tear-filled eyes or furrowed brow. Just sleeping without worry—probably the first peace she'd had all day. He leaned his chin against the crown of her head lightly, not really putting any weight on her at all, but wanting the closeness nonetheless.

He wondered when he'd become so wrapped around her finger that he was willingly putting himself in the middle of some place dangerously guarded for no real prize in the end…of course, that last part was a lie…he would get a reward, not a physical one, maybe—but knowing she safe and in the hands of someone that should be (he'd never met the King before, but for all intents and purposes, what with being her father and all as well as ruler of the kingdom, he figured he must have a pretty good grip on things…) far more capable than himself. That was the important thing—so long as Rapunzel got to live out the rest of her life happily and in semi-peace, he'd be alright with whatever came his way.

At least, that's what he would keep telling himself until that 'whatever' part actually happened, then he'd decide if it was all worth it, then he'd decide whether or not the moral gain from it all had justified the means…and the end. His preferred ending, one that consisted of him and Rapunzel and a lovely little hovel somewhere that she'd still get the freedom and beauty part of the outdoors, but still be secluded enough to escape wandering eyes, and possibly giving up thieving and becoming someone respectable…someone worthy of her. His preferred ending was obviously…well, common sense told him it just wasn't feasible by any means. He was a wanted criminal, and not only that—but what if it had been some other random thief who had stumbled in upon her tower—would she have fallen in love with him instead? Was it just circumstance that had brought them this far? Coincidence?

He yawned. The panic beginning to set in making him even more tired than when he'd first sat down. He pulled the blanket out of the pack and threw it over the both of them, scooting down against the log, ending up with her more laying on his chest than just precariously leaned against him as he moved his arm up from around her waist to around her shoulders, holding her close to his heart. The heart that was only beating because of wish…and magical tears, apparently, but hey, with hair that had once glowed, he wasn't all that surprised with what she could do anymore. He doubted she would ever cease to amaze him. She twitched suddenly, and he pulled her closer to him, holding her a little bit tighter, before closing his own eyes while trying not to think about what the morrow would inevitably bring them.

The sun rose early the next morning, or at least that's how Eugene felt when he opened his eyes to find the remains of the fire barely smoldering still and his favorite female sprawled on top of him. His initial reaction was to wake her up, because the thoughts suddenly filling his head were things he'd been trying to avoid since meeting her and getting hit in the head with a frying pan. However, as he laid there, feeling her every breath and the warmth that wasn't just physical, he decided to let her get her sleep, not having the will or the want to wake her. The sunlight that poured through the trees made the planes of her face look ethereal, her hair shining even without its magical power and blonde coloring. She was going to go through so much in the next 24 hours…so much in the next life time that her new found freedom promised. He didn't know how—if—she'd handle it, but he knew her, even for as little time (it felt like a lifetime, like he'd known her since forever, his life had only mattered for as long as he'd known her anyways…) as he'd known her, he knew she wouldn't back down without giving her all. Knew that even if she couldn't do it, she still wouldn't back down even if it took everything she had and then some—his girl was a fighter like that.

The image welled in his mind's eye before he had a chance to stop it—her chained and gagged and trying to warn him, but it had been too late. Her with her wide eyes and desperation in everything and promising, and she never broke a promise, to never try and run away if only she could save his life…if he hadn't acted…hadn't cut her hair…she might not be here with him. She could've been anywhere by now, trapped and enslaved and used as nothing more than a fountain of youth.

What Gothel hadn't known was that the minute he'd heard her, he'd had two options, cut her hair and hope for the best or let her save him, and if they got away—hunt for her until the day he died to save her from Gothel's clutches once and for all, no matter the cost. He'd only mattered, had only done something worth doing after he'd met her, and he'd be damned if he'd see her willingly give up her life, her life that meant so much more than his, to save his own.

Besides, it went against everything in him to let the damsel in distress save the cunning and debonair thief turned good guy.

All jokes aside, though, he was a lucky guy, lucky to have her, lucky to be alive, lucky to have tasted death only to taste life immediately after. God help him, he loved her for all of that.

She stirred, bleary apple green eyes fluttering open slowly but surely.

"Good morning," she mumbled, a slow smile spreading as she nuzzled her head against his chest, not awake enough to realize what she was doing, only knowing that she enjoyed the warmth her not very soft, yet oddly comfortable, pillow provided. It was enough to make him smile, the unidentifiable warmth inside suddenly flaring proud in his chest.

"Morning," he said, running a hand through her short brown hair. She made an appreciative noise at the growl she felt through his chest and the hand now caressing her scalp.

"Why didn't you wake me up? I thought we were supposed to head out early…?" she muttered, rubbing her eyes, wondering why she'd never taken the chance to sleep in before…of course, she'd never had a man as a pillow before…

….!

She shot up, embarrassment coloring her face. He couldn't help but chuckle a little—she was so darn cute when she wasn't getting him killed. He decided that she wouldn't be returning to her place on his chest, so he began getting up, laughing to himself all the while.

"We were, but I knew how tired you were, and I knew your feet could use the rest," he nodded deftly toward the appendages in question, and she followed his gaze. They didn't hurt, not as much as they had, at least, in the tower—or rather outside of the tower, in the tower she'd been too mad to notice it, "Besides, we haven't lost that much time, we'll still make it in broad daylight, we just might be an hour or so later than I'd planned."

She looked at him, weighing his words carefully, trying to find the trick in them that would separate them, because that's what he seemed so intent on doing. She found none, and beamed at him, trying to crush the vague sense of insecurity that was becoming more pronounced and possibly self-aware.

"Did you sleep alright? I didn't crush you or anything?" he stared at her like she'd sprouted two heads, eyeing her up and down in a way that made her a bit self-conscious and made butterflies flutter around in her stomach.

"Blondie, if you crush anything more than a blade of grass with all your weight, I'd be surprised." She quirked her head, confused, but decided to let it go. He watched her shift her weight, something in her stance making the warning bells in his head go off.

"Eugene…do we haaaaave to go the castle?" He paused, searching her eyes for an answer to the question his expression asked for him.

"You still worried?" She nodded her head a little, biting her lower lip as she stared off to the side of them.

"I'm just…scared. I believe you, but what if they don't like me? Just me. And I know…I know I don't know a lot…like not knowing what a lantern was, for instance. Three books and hearsay from someone who doesn't…who doesn't want you to wander outside…and I just don't want to be a disappointment. I was there…I heard about how precious the princess was, how everyone was so devastated at the loss of her, how the King and Queen would do anything to get her back…and I don't want to make even more unhappy by not being what they…what they want." She finished confidently. He quietly finished putting away their things into the pack, and wrapped his arm around his shoulder, pulling her to his side as he propelled her forward.

"Like I said, Blondie. They're gonna love you." She looked at him in what could be described as awe at the complete and total confidence in his voice. He could feel himself give her a beaming smile that she returned half-heartedly. He didn't blame her. Everything she'd ever known had been thrashed to nothingness around her in the span of hours. He knew that, he respected the fact that hadn't completely fallen apart, not really. She was still pushing herself forward when he could see in the way she stood that she wanted nothing more than to run back to her perpetual prison.

They didn't talk much after that as they closed in on their final destination. He could see the tips of the castle's tallest spire over the horizon, so that was something. They'd get there within the next hour, and he'd face the music that would accompany their return so long as she got to be safely tucked away with her parents that could make sure she didn't hurt herself or end up being hurt worse by someone cruel enough to play off her naivety and kindness.

She'd tried to coerce him into not taking her back several times, citing her reasons that were becoming more and more convincing as she continued talking. That, or it was the sound and feel of his resolve breaking.

Quite possibly, it was a bit of both.

So when they reached the kingdom gates, he was almost a bit perturbed by the sudden jerk that his arm gave as it was stopped mid-motion. He turned around to question her, but she stared at him with steely determination.

"I'm not gonna turn back, Eugene…but, will you promise me something?"

"…depends on what it is."

"No, you have to promise me this, Eugene. You have too. If you don't, I'm not going back. I'm going to head straight back to my tow—the Snuggly Duckling." She said, her voice shaking a bit. She wouldn't meet his eye, and that worried him a bit. But he ducked his head and tapped her chin up to force her to meet his gaze, mostly because if this was the last time he got be around her in form or fashion, he wanted to make sure he remembered what those eyes looked like. Those eyes that trusted him from the very bottom of her heart and soul and thought he could do no wrong. Those eyes that were looking shiftier by the minute in the silence that had followed her ultimatum.

"Fine, I promise. Now what do I get?" he took a step back, crossing his arms over his chest and looking a bit too smug for what he would have coming to him in roughly twenty minutes.

"I'm going to go in there. And I'm going to face my fears and see if I have a family that actually…" she couldn't get the words out even as she mouthed them, so she backtracked until she could find something to say that would audible, "and see if I have a family," she straightened her stance, looking at him with that same determination, "But if they try to take you away from me, I'm not going to let them. We'll run away together…we can go wherever you want. Just so long as you let me stay with you." Her words sliced through him, cutting away the last remaining shreds of Flynn Rider to fully display the regular insecure man underneath.

She was far too good for him. He nodded wordlessly, too in shock by her words to do much else. People didn't say things like that to him. He wasn't good. He wasn't kind. He wasn't much of person, to be honest. He had all the makings of one, but he rarely acted like it. And she had just…she was willing to throw away riches, security, and a life of luxury and love for him if that's what he wanted, if the life of luxury she'd been promised didn't accept him as well.

The woman before him amazed him at every turn.

Eugene Fitzherbert held out his arm with the air of a man who knew what he wanted. Which he did. He wanted the woman who had taken him arm with a bit more confident smile than she'd been presenting for the past day and a half. He wanted her more than anything.

And if her parents tried to steal her away from him…well, he was a thief. And he'd just agreed that he'd steal her back if it was necessary.

Walking to the castle, Rapunzel with her arm laced through his, he'd have never guessed he'd be as confident as he was right now. The walk between the tower and here had been somewhat of a nightmare, filled with too much raw emotion…the walk here was something he could forget.

It was the here and now that he was interested in, anyways. It was the here and now that Rapunzel was his and only his.

So he'd forget the raw moments, the bad times, just for a little awhile, while they went on a different type of walk. A walk that wouldn't end in ultimatums and insecurities…a walk that could possibly, have a happy ending.


A/N: Love it? Hate it? Tell me in a review! Also, I think the ending might be a bit cheesy, but I don't know…I thought it was oddly fitting for them.

Panda out.