Personally, he blamed the books. She had like, six books that she read for eighteen years. They were all (improbably) fairytales (he remembers--as the blood was rushing from his body and he was kind of zoning out, they were all happily-ever-afters. He had a moment of epiphany right before his vision started dimming too much for him to, you know, pay attention to this mortal veil of tears). Anyway, yes. It was clear to him: the books are to blame.
That was why she thought that to make everything perfect there should be a wedding. And a kid. Pretty much at the same time. Possibly twins.
Eugene was still transitioning back into, well, not stealing things from his girlfriend’s parents, who were willing to overlook his last infraction because it reunited them with their daughter and he died heroically.
He came off pretty well in that story, actually. Dashing. Bold. Daring. Devil’s own luck, and of course...smoldering.
So yeah, it was that week, they’re back at the end of the big celebration of “OH MY GOD OUR DAUGHTER IS NOT DEAD” that was supposed to be tasteful and like, involved unicorns.
But at the end of it she was watching the lanterns go up with shining eyes, holding onto his arm, and he was feeling pretty indulgent and really full-- Mr. and Mrs. King and Queen of Corona knew how to lay out a serious spread.
“We should get married,” she sighed happily, and he looked down at the top of her head, and then glanced over at Max, who was giving him a similarly panicked look because Max was a horse but he was a dude and he knew. There was this little filly--well, anyway.
“I just think,” he said carefully, curling his hand over hers so she couldn’t bolt because sometimes she did that, especially lately. “I think you should...you just got out of that tower and away from an overbearing hag who pretended to be your mother to gain control of your magical hair powers not that that’s unusual, of course--”
“I’m just saying...you kind of have to figure out you, right? I mean, I’m a mess, I gotta figure out who the hell Eugene is, and you...still have panic attacks and try to leave rooms by the windows.”
“I’m getting better about that!”
“But you see my point.”
“We are going to get married someday,” she told him mutinously, but she held his arm and he put it in the win column, kissing the top of her head before catching Mr. King’s eye and hastily looking out.
Max was giving him a hoof-up. Right on.
The second time he was kind of not expecting it and handled it like shit.
The second time was on his birthday, which he was enjoying by drinking hard cider with Max, who was enjoying a few too many fermented apples and listening to Eugene read from his brand new copy of The Tales of Flynnagan Ryder.
(He almost, maybe, teared up when he realized there was more than just that one book. But no-one can prove it and Max was sworn to secrecy under the bro code, and Mr. Ptrushka, his landlord and the guy who owned the bookstore downstairs where Eugene kind-of-sort-of works, thought Eugene’s huge book-nerdery was magic.)
There was the distinct possibility that at some point he was going to have to reevaluate his life because his best friend was a horse, but. You know. Someone thought it was a good idea to promote Max to Head of the Royal Guard, so Eugene wasn’t the idiot here.
Anyway, Rapunzel’d been getting princess lessons--history and diplomacy and taxation and all that stuff that made Eugene want to die on the inside. The frog-thing seemed to like it, though (where he got the glasses from, though...that’s troubling).
Okay, but, the point was, it was his 23rd birthday and he hadn’t really told anyone because it wasn’t ever a big deal, you know? Not to bore you with the details but in the orphanage they were discouraged from remembering they had birthdays (Eugene might, stealthily, have celebrated every kid’s birthday and made up days for the ones who didn’t know theirs. He was bad to the bone even at a young age).
She found him after the sun had set and he was doing a dramatic reading (he could have joined the stage--he still might. His future was a wide-open wasteland) and Max laughed and sauntered off a little unsteadily. That horse was so drunk. Drunk horse.
“Read me some,” Rapunzel invited, tugging him down so she could curl around him and rest her head against his shoulder. She’d never had a problem being close to him, and even now--when she didn’t like crowds and sometimes couldn’t stand to be around her parents she’d always touched him so easily.
He did, read his favorite story about Rider and the Hydra, only slurring over the words a little, and she smiled, pressed a kiss to his jaw and says, “You can read this to our children when we’re married. I was thinking soon?.”
He made a noise that he hoped was noncommittal and not absolutely incredibly terrified because no, no, no children. Not yet. Not...maybe ever. He felt that in order to have children one ought to be an adult, and while yes, he is an incredible role model and a positive male influence in the lives of many (especially the four Pillman girls), it was also possible he was not done growing up yet himself and children would end in tragedy.
He had the uncomfortable feeling that his face looked like he’d been hit with the frying pan and stabbed in the kidneys again.
“Let’s get you home,” she said after the pause stretches out into gross discomfort, and helped him up the rickety stairs to his apartment. She tucked him into bed, put water on the bedside table and...and she looked so hurt.
He didn’t know how to tell her that maybe...they needed to go slower.
The next day he told her, that it wasn’t just about him figuring himself out--which he still was--or her figuring herself out--which she still was--it was also about...being ready.
And he wasn’t.
And she looked sad and it killed him, it did, because this was the right thing but it sucked.
He forgot to tell her it was his birthday.
Two years later he bought the bookstore. Well, Mr. Ptrushka was getting older and wanted the books to go to someone who loved them and Eugene just...did. So he got sort-of apprenticed and then took over the business parts and then they were--doing really well.
“I think you’re figuring yourself out,” Rapunzel said, smiling at him, crown forgotten somewhere behind the counter, hair a mess (because it always is. Poor André, the Royal Hairstylist--her hair refused to grow and it wouldn’t stay managed). “I’m proud of Eugene Fitzherbert.”
“Well, it was really only a matter of time before my magnetic charm and rugged good looks manifested into a legitimate career,” he acknowledged, and she laughed, resting her head on his shoulder.
“Are you ready to be married yet?” she asked, light. He could see, objectively, that her eyes were dancing and yes, okay, he could also see that she was kidding a lot, especially with the last four, like it was a joke, but still.
“Uh,” he says, panicky. Pascal glares at him from her shoulder, and Eugene wanted to say that he was going to say no.
She laughed at him and he abandoned her for Hanna, Jutta, Karola and Meta, who were all under age ten and wouldn’t tease him.
Okay, this one he should have seen coming. She’d just turned twenty-one and had straddled him in the bed he’d bought when the store started turning a significant profit (importing fairytales and travel books--who knew people had such a yen for these things?), kissing him, and he’d rested his hands on her hips, careful, because it’d been two years and yes, he was going to die of blue balls, but she was the princess and kind of an innocent and dear God, he was so afraid of cocking this up.
But she didn’t stop, didn’t pull back, kept murmuring “I’m sure, I’m sure” into his ear, breath catching as he touched her carefully, and it was...
Well, it was virgin sex, but there was something heady about being the first. About trying to make it all so good, because even if he wasn’t going to be the guy who got to do this forever he wanted to be the guy who showed her how good it should be so that she knew--you know. If she found another dream.
It was the first time since the second proposal that she looked a little hurt when he shrugged it off the next morning, smiling and asking her what she wanted for breakfast. He had to kiss an apology into her neck, but he just--
Not yet. He liked the way his life was--he liked his job and he liked his apartment and he didn’t--he wasn’t ready to give it up to be her Prince Consort.
Hey, he never claimed to be the good guy here. She was his dream, but her life wasn’t.
So they did dinner with her parents every Thursday night after he closed up shop at 7:00. He sometimes skipped lunch on Thursdays so he’d be extra hungry because the food was to die for. Literally. He would have died for that food.
And Gertraud and Niklas, they were good people. They seemed to approve of the whole taking-it-slow thought process, seeing as it’d been three years, now, and Gertraud sometimes showed up at the shop and curled up in an overstuffed chair and read fairytales imported from far-eastern kingdoms, and then told him that he should speak with Hans at the bakery and Matilde at the cafe and see if the three of them couldn’t work something out.
Eugene had the sneaking suspicion she was going to go behind his back any day.
Hans, Hans Eugene could handle. Matilde terrified him, though he did love her daughters. The Pillman family was his favorite, and he had become the unofficial after-school babysitter.
Anyway, he and Gertraud were arguing about the import tax (it was kind of making his life a pain in the ass, but there was an exemption for food products that really, was unfair), when Niklas cleared his throat and Gertraud’s eyebrows hit her hairline.
Eugene turned warily to find Rapunzel on one knee.
“I’ve been asking you to marry me for four years now,” she said. “And I thought maybe the time was right, so...”
He didn’t hear the rest because he was too busy panicking and realizing that if he said “no” Gertraud would absolutely hang him by his toes and Niklas would burn down his bookshop and Max probably wouldn’t get a band of ruffians to save him and this was unfair because he liked his life and he loved their daughter and he shouldn’t be punished for wanting to take things very, very, very slow!
He manfully passed out.
He woke up to everyone laughing, because apparently the Royal Family shared a cruel sense of humor and he was going to write a strongly-worded letter.
Actually, he woke up to Pascal’s tongue in his ear, goddamnit.
“You should have seen your face,” Rapunzel told him gleefully, kissing him in apology.
“I hate you,” he sulked.
“Rapunzzzellllllllllllllll knows best,” she sang, and he felt a twinge around his kidneys.
“You remember she killed me,” he said.
“I admit I did not think this proposal through,” she admitted far too cheerfully.
“Marry her, or I’ll put the hurt on you,” Igor growls at him, flexing his fingers. It’d be more threatening if Eugene hadn’t been to the concert and seen him perform twenty minutes ago. It had been...sublime. He really had followed his dream: it was beautiful.
“You’ll...okay, no. We need to discuss this, because I feel you are out of the vernacular as you have been touring,” Eugene says, gesturing to the bartender for another round. “There’s been a big shift in thuggish vocabulary in the last year or so.”
Igor sighs. “Of course there has. Do you know how hard it is to stay current?”
“Let me help you,” Eugene says.
The less said about thirty-seven the better. Suffice to say they’d been joking about it for four and a half years now, the last six months with extreme regularity, so it slipped out.
During a ball for the Rugriech Ambassador and her husband.
In two seconds it was around the room that Princess Rapunzel was going to marry Eugene Fitzherbert, that boy who argued with Baron Nerdovich for forty-five minutes about the excise tax and then another hour about the current trends in modern literature.
That one took...a lot of explaining.
“You know if we get married you get to try all the different flavors of cake.”
“That is not a compelling reason.”
He pinched the bridge of his (aristocratic, thank you) nose and looked at her. “I don’t understand why you can’t fund this.”
“Because it was a bad year and we can’t raise taxes.”
“But they’re kids.”
“We’ll have to rely on private donations,” she said.
“And when does that ever work?” he demanded.
“I--just because it hasn’t doesn’t mean it won’t,” she said, avoiding meeting his eyes and he got up and went to find Max, because he couldn’t argue about this. Intellectually he understood, and he’d spent the last week staying up with her all night trying to find a way they could cut corners and stay solvent, working on the national budget but--
There had to be another way, because people should be able to look to their governments to protect them, and protect the most helpless among them. It was part of the social contract, for crying out loud.
“I know it’s her job, okay?” he said, leaning against the stable wall and inhaling. “I know. I understand. I just...think it sucks.”
Max gave him an unimpressed look.
“Fine, yes. I know it was a shitty year, with the blight and everything and I know everyone’s making sacrifices but those kids have---we sacrificed enough.”
Max raised and eyebrow and snorted.
“No, I’m not projecting. I’m empathizing. I happen to have the full spectrum of emotion, just because you’re an emotionally-constipated wreck doesn’t mean all of us are.”
That was how he got kicked out of Max’s.
She found him later, doing inventory at the shop. “Max kick you out?”
“He says I’m not manly enough to be in his presence,” Eugene muttered.
“That is true,” she agreed. “We’ll find the money,” she said softly, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing his cheek. “But first we’re going to sleep.”
They did, and the next morning they went back to the palace and into the accounting rooms and they shaved bits and pieces off of the various budgets--enough to keep the current services in place.
“This is why I want to marry you, you know,” she said as they drank hot chocolate and watched the snow fall. “Because they all have faces to you.”
“They do to you, too.”
“Yeah, but it’s different. I grew up in a tower where I always had food and clothes and heat and now I live in a palace where I always have everything and...there are just some things I can’t know. And I like knowing that you know them. We’re a good team.”
He smiled. “Yeah. We are.”
“Are you ready yet?” she asked. “I’m getting tired of asking, and it’s been five years.”
“Almost,” he said, and he...meant it. Which was kind of funny.
He and Max agreed it shouldn’t be off-the-cuff because she might dismiss it and Eugene had an ego like a delicate flower and might never recover (Max was a dick).
Gertraud gave him her mother’s ring, and Niklas had hugged him for a minute straight, which was kind of uncomfortable, but also weirdly nice.
They were kind of the closest things he had to parents which...was weird, but...but nice.
He did it the day after her birthday, because that whole week is just a week of celebration--these people knew how to throw a party and keep it going, fingering the ring in his pocket and dropping to his knee on the balcony in front of, oh, the whole world.
“What are you doing?” she asked, stepping back and glancing at her parents, then at Pascal (who had squeaked at him for an hour, and it had all been weirdly threatening).
“I’m asking you to marry me,” he said, holding out the ring. “I figure six years is long enough.”
“I asked you yesterday and you told me you were feeling too bloated to get married,” she pointed out, raising an eyebrow.
“Are you seriously doing this to me right now?”
“You have tortured me for six years.”
“So that’s a no.”
“No! It’s a yes!” she said wildly, and then paused, the smile spreading over her face a little sheepishly. “It’s a yes,” she repeated, laughing as she held out her hand so he could slide the ring on her finger (it fit, which was such a relief).
He picked her up and kissed her, and all the lanterns went up at once as everyone went to clap, and the noise was enormous.
“Why now?” she whispered.
“Because I couldn’t think of reasons not to anymore,” he admitted.
She beamed, and then went to go show her parents the ring, and he smiled and rode that good feeling right up to the moment she started talking about babies.