Eugene Fitzherbert sprawled across the bed in his room in the palace. It still felt strange being here without having to run or hide or be afraid. Nevertheless, he was starting to get used to it, which, frankly, felt a bit strange too. He had a few minutes until he had to be downstairs, so he pulled out his journal and inkpot. He'd never written in a journal before, but Rapunzel's constant desire to paint pictures of everything they'd seen together had inspired him to start one. It never hurt to put these things down somewhere besides your own memory, after all.
Dipping his pen in the ink, he started writing, biting his lip. He'd learned to read and write in the orphanage, but he was a little out of practice and it was harder than it used to be to keep the ink from splattering all over the page in messy splotches as he tried to write, especially since he didn't have a desk. He just hadn't gotten around to asking for one.
Tonight is Rapunzel's first ball as a real princess. All the celebrations after she figured out who she was and came home were pretty informal, so the details weren't such a bit deal. This one's a big court function, and she's supposed to be the perfect princess. Her etiquette teacher keeps saying this isn't going to end well, but I think she can do it. If I don't screw it up for her. She's dragged me into the whole mess, of course. I'm pretty sure the whole court thinks I'm her boyfriend. And maybe I am. It's just a scary thing to admit. If anyone can't do this, it's probably me, not her. I mean, who ever heard of an orphan being a courtier? And thieves are hardly expected to learn social graces. But the original Flynn Rider would be able to do it, so I can, too. I guess. Even if I am going by Eugene now.
As he put his pen down, leaving it in the inkpot on the nightstand and blowing on the page to dry the ink faster, Rapunzel burst in through the doorway. "Eugene, I can't do this!" she said, her big green eyes looking scared. She wore a long purple dress he'd never seen before, one that flowed all the way down to the floor and hid her feet. It had long sleeves and green embroidery, and it made her look instantly older, more like a real woman of 18 than the stunted, naïve little girl he'd met in the tower.
Gone were the puffy sleeves, the lace, and the adorable bare feet beneath slightly-too-short skirts. They even had her in makeup. She looked beautiful, but she didn't look like herself. Not really.
"Of course you can do it!" he said, "You'll be fine! I mean, what are all those princess classes for if you're not going to use them?" Rapunzel sighed, sitting on the side of his bed. Sitting up, he slid beside her and put his arm around her waist, one eyebrow raised. "You'll get to meet a bunch of new people. That'll be fun, right?"
She rested her head on his shoulder. "But what if I don't want to? What if I'd rather just stay up here with you?" As much as he loved the idea of having Rapunzel all to himself for a bit, Eugene couldn't quite let her do it. Rapunzel was his dream. He wanted her to be everything she could be. He wanted her to have the life she was supposed to have had all along. Besides which, he'd seen her with people before. She liked people, and she was sure to love a big party like this, with lots of dancing and music and company, if she could just get over her nerves.
"What if you were down there with me?," he asked. "I'm supposed to go to this thing anyway. Hence the monkey suit." He waved down at his clothes vaguely. He'd always liked the idea of being rich and fancy and wearing nice suits with gold cufflinks. But in reality, green velvet was hot, stuffy, and annoying. He felt like a carnival clown, or a little girl's doll, shoved into clothes that fit but didn't suit him. He was pretty sure someone in charge of these things might actually be trying to make him look ridiculous, but he had to do it for Rapunzel. Though now that she was having second thoughts, the idea of not being seen dressed like a fluffy leprechaun was a pretty tempting one.
Rapunzel leaned back, took a good look at him, bit her lip and said, "I think you look nice."
He rolled his eyes. "Right. Nice."
She laughed. "Well, at least your shoulder's comfortable in all this fluff." Suddenly, her eyes widened. "Oh no! I got makeup on it!"
She started rubbing his shoulder, but he took her hand instead, holding it away from his shoulder. "That's ok. I've been wanting to get out of this thing anyway."
Letting go of her hand, he took off the jacket, feeling instantly better without the warmth of the thick velvet overheating him. Wearing just a crisp white shirt and green trousers, he felt instantly more like himself. Struck by an idea, he walked over to the basin in the corner, dipping a washrag into the cool water. "Rapunzel, come here a minute." She did, eyebrow raised. "What are you doing?" Squeezing the washrag until it stopped dripping, so he wouldn't get her dress wet, he started washing the makeup off Rapunzel's face. She didn't need it anyway. She was beautiful the way she was. "I bet the party would be a lot easier if you felt more like yourself."
She giggled. "I do hate the makeup. I look like a mime!"
He pretended to be shocked. "Hey!" he joked, "Don't let Ulf hear you making fun of mimes." She giggled again. That was more like it. This was the Rapunzel he'd fallen in love with.
Faint music began playing, echoing up the stairs from the ballroom below. "Oh no!" Rapunzel gasped, "Now we're late!"
Wiping the last of the makeup off the side of her nose so that the new freckles she'd been developing out in the sun were visible again, he shrugged. "Doesn't matter. They love you down there. They won't care if you're late." Kissing her forehead and ignoring the music, he added, "Feel any better?"
She smiled, leaning into his shoulder again and making a slightly damp spot on the front of his shirt. "I guess. I'm just scared I'll mess this up."
Putting down the rag, he took her hand, weaving his fingers between hers as he wrapped his other arm around her waist again. "How could you mess it up? It's really just a party. It's not that different from when you first came to the city for your birthday, really. You just know more about manners and court dances and all that now."
She sighed. "What if I fall down the stairs? I still can't walk in these shoes."
He shrugged, glancing down toward her feet for a moment. "So don't wear them. Your dress covers your feet anyway."
She bit her lip, looking downward thoughtfully. "But then the dress will be longer. What if I trip on it?"
He shrugged again. "I guess I'll just have to catch you before you fall."
The questions just kept coming, but Eugene had answers for all of them. He hadn't felt this suave and confident since he'd stopped being Flynn Rider. If she forgot her dance steps, he'd pretend it was his fault, or he'd do something so dramatically wrong that no one noticed her screw-ups. If someone scary showed up, he'd hit them with a frying pan. If she forgot what you were supposed to call an earl as compared to a duke, he'd just do the talking for her – and probably screw it up just as badly himself, since unlike Rapunzel, he hadn't been taking etiquette lessons. Eventually, she ran out of things that could go wrong. Mostly.
"But . . . what if I'm just unlucky? What if something bad happens anyway?"
Eugene grinned. This question, he could answer. The kids in the orphanage had felt unlucky all the time. "It's ok," he said, just like he had to the younger kids all those years ago. "I'm magic. I know how to ask the luck fairy for a favor."
Her eyes lit up. "Really?"
He winked. "What, did you think only people with magic hair could call up the fairies?"
She giggled. "I've never even seen a fairy!"
He laughed. "Well, obviously." He looked over his shoulder like he was afraid he'd be overheard. "They're invisible," he whispered, "but don't tell anyone."
She giggled again, eyes gleaming with excitement. "So, how do you call the luck fairy?" Walking over to the window, he pointed up. "First, you pick your lucky star. You know lots about the stars, right? You've probably got a favorite already! Then you look up at it, and you say 'I wish I had better luck.' You have to mean it, though."
Looking at him curiously for a moment, Rapunzel turned to the window and did what he'd told her to. "I wish I had better luck," she said decidedly.
Then he let go of the hand he'd been holding and looked her straight in the eye. "Now here's the really important part. You've got to cross your fingers." He demonstrated with his own fingers. "Like this. And then you hold it until you get to whatever you need the luck for. When you stop crossing them, that's when the luck fairy shows up."
In the orphanage, he'd always had to add "If she can make it." No matter how much you wanted to believe in a magic luck fairy who solved all your problems, the kids in the orphanage had always known that sometimes things didn't go your way. In fact, they usually didn't. The luck fairy had made them feel better, but they'd known not to depend on her.
With Rapunzel, he didn't have to say that. She'd be fine even without luck. She'd found her parents, she had a home, she had a family, she had everything. She didn't need luck anymore. She just thought she did. And there was no need to make her think good luck was anything but a guarantee. At least, not tonight. She crossed her fingers, squinting in concentration for a moment as she twisted her hands into the new and unfamiliar position. "Are you ready to go now?" he asked.
She took a deep breath, let it out, and nodded. "I think so. Let's do it." Holding his arm out, he watched her wrap hers through it, her crossed fingers resting on his wrist as they walked out the door and down to the party.