"There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have been altered."
Darkness had fallen hours ago when Flynn and Rapunzel finally reached the tower, and he couldn't help but feel a little apprehension at leaving her all by herself in the middle of the night. He glanced at her, but she was staring up at the tower and in the dark he couldn't read her expression. Maybe she was trying to figure out how she'd get back in? He had no idea. "So, I guess this is it," he said. Something felt very final about it, yet the happiness and relief he thought he'd feel at finally being free of her wasn't there. Instead, he felt…the slightest twinge of regret at leaving her here.
She looked over at him now. "I guess so," she said. "You can come up with me, you know, and get your satchel."
He blinked slowly. His satchel, the object that had started this in the first place. "Oh, right." Why did it feel like he'd almost forgotten about it?
Somehow, and he wasn't sure how, but somehow they both made it up to the tower. A tower that had been somewhat strange in the daytime, but was totally eerie at night. And he wondered how she'd stand it there, all by herself. He pondered it when she made him turn around while she found the satchel. He guessed she wanted to keep her hiding place a secret. Well, whatever. It's not like he had any intention of ever coming back here anyway.
Right? He heard the sound of her opening and closing something as she found it, but she soon spoke to him again. "Here you are, Flynn."
He turned around to see her holding out the satchel. "Uh, thanks," he said, and took it from her.
She tried to smile, but it turned out like more of a grimace and she ran her hand over her hair. Then she frowned.
He didn't like her frown. It was akin to a cloud passing over the sun- all the brightness was gone. He found himself wanting to bring the smile back to her face. "What's the matter?" he couldn't help but ask.
"Well, it's my hair," she answered, the frown not leaving her face. "Mother will easily know I've been gone if it stays in this braid."
He hadn't thought of it, but she was right. The braid in her hair was intricately done, with flowers woven in throughout. There was no way she could have done it herself. "Do you want me to help you?" he said, the words coming out before he could stop them.
Her expression immediately brightened. "Would you?"
"Um, sure," he said, feeling incredibly awkward now that he knew what he was about to do. "Just sit down, and I'll….take it out." She sat down obediently, and he stared at the back of her hair, wondering where to start. He decided to start at the bottom, and he began undoing the knot there. He managed to get it out, and then he unbraided it. When he reached the first flower, he held it out to her. Maybe she'd like it. Girls liked flowers, right? "Do you want these?"
She stared at them for a moment, and he noticed that her cheeks were a little pink. Was she warm or….maybe it had to do with the fact that he had his hands on her hair? Oh, he knew this was a bad idea!
"I do," she finally said. "But Mother might find them, and then she'll want to know where I got them."
"Oh, okay," he said. Inwardly he wondered what kind of mother Rapunzel had. She sounded way too overprotective to him. But he said nothing as he continued to work on her hair. He couldn't help but notice how soft and silky it was, yet he didn't let himself think about that too much. Instead he focused on finishing her hair, and he soon did. All seventy feet of it was now out of the braid, and it coiled around the tower. It was beautiful, like there was suddenly a ray of sunlight in the room with them. But he knew he'd never tell her that. "There," he said finally. "I think you're done."
"Thank you," she said, turning to face him.
"You're welcome," he said.
She smiled, and his heartstrings (which he didn't even think he had anymore) felt tugged again. Would she really be okay in the tower all by herself? "So, uh….. you think you'll be all right here?" he asked her. Part of him didn't even know why he was asking this. After all, he did have his crown, and that was all he wanted.
"Yes, I think so," she said. "I mean, Mother will be home soon, and everything…." She shrugged.
"Does your mother stay in the tower a lot?"
Rapunzel seemed surprised by the question. "Sometimes. But not all the time. Often, she's gone during the day."
"And you're all by yourself?" He didn't like the sound of that one bit.
She nodded nonchalantly. After all, this wasn't anything new to her. He looked almost horrified though, yet she wasn't sure why. "But it's no big deal, really." She gestured toward the frog on her shoulder- at least it looked like a frog to him. Yet she'd insisted it was a chameleon. Whatever. A green thing with a slippery tongue was a green thing with a slippery tongue. All distinctions were superfluous. "I mean, Pascal's here."
Somehow that didn't make him feel much better. What could a frog do to keep her safe? Part of him wanted to stay until morning, just to make sure she was okay. But he wasn't going to. That would be silly. He moved toward the window before he could change his mind again. "Well, bye then," he said awkwardly.
She walked over toward the window as well. "Goodbye, Flynn," she said. "Thanks for everything." She let her hair down, and he guessed that meant he could use it to leave.
"Bye," he said again, and resisted the urge to look at her again.
After all, goodbyes were easier when you never looked back.
Rapunzel watched Flynn disappear into the darkness, and then she sighed. She was happy to be home, but part of her would miss being outside. She looked over at Pascal. "Well," she said. "I guess everything's back to normal now."
He chirped and turned blue. She supposed that meant he wasn't happy to be back. "Oh come on, Pascal," she protested. "Mother will be back tomorrow. It's not like I could have stayed out and run off with him or anything." Besides, he hadn't asked anyway. But he had offered to undo her hair, which had been rather kind of him and she tried not to think too much about how nice it had felt when he'd touched it.
Pascal just did his imitation of a glare.
"Whatever," she said. "I'm tired and I'm going to bed. It's been a long day."
It had been a long day, she thought when she was finally curled up in bed. But it would be a day that she'd always remember.
Rapunzel didn't have a good night. For one, she'd gotten home so late that she hadn't slept nearly enough. For another, when she had slept, her dreams had been haunted by a man with brown hair and hazel eyes- a man that looked like Flynn. But dreaming about him was silly, of course, because he wasn't anything special to her. Right?
Right. With that decision, she pushed him out of her mind and preceded with her normal morning chores. She finished them quickly, and so she decided to do a little baking and knitting.
By mid-morning, she heard a familiar voice calling for her. Mother was back. She thought she'd be happier about that, but she wasn't. She'd forgotten the way Mother made her feel like she was only two feet tall, even though she was now eighteen. And although, she loved her new paints, she didn't like the ribbing that Mother had given her upon her return, about how she'd traveled so far and done so much for her over eighteen years. And not a mention of her birthday. Yet she stood it like she had for her whole life.
The days passed, like they had before, yet she began to notice things that she hadn't before. Like how incredibly quiet it was, and how tiny the tower was. How she longed to leave again. Before, she thought it might be easier to be here now that she'd been outside, but it wasn't. It was even harder because she knew now how wonderful the outside world was. And she realized that she still was waiting for her life to begin.
She flopped down on her bed, and did what she always did when she felt sad or upset: She drew, not even completely conscious of what she was doing. Time passed quickly and hours later, she finally looked at what she drew.
It was a picture of Flynn. It was good too, and it looked just like him. She'd even captured that smug smirk on his face, like he'd just had a private joke at the world's expense. He'd worn that expression since she'd met him, except for a few moments that she'd caught here and there when he'd actually smiled.
She suddenly felt like crying. Her heart ached like she'd lost something precious. Yet that was ridiculous. It's not like she and Flynn were….anything. She wasn't even sure she could classify them as friends. Oh, sure, there were a few times when he'd acted friendly to her, but it hadn't been particularly often. Besides, he was long gone now, selling the crown to do whatever it was he'd wanted to do.
Yet she still felt like she'd lost something when she looked at him and for a moment she didn't know why. Yet she soon figured it out. He represented freedom to her, the freedom that she didn't have any more. The freedom she might never have again.
She realized then that she had thought that seeing the lanterns would be enough for her, and she could easily go back to life in the tower.
She'd been wrong.