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Stolen Time

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Eugene tried to hurry without breaking into a full run. He still had the feeling everyone regarded him with a heavy amount of suspicion, and running through the corridors of their gracious host's castle would only reinforce that further. Eugene was not oblivious to the fact that he was still a bit of a thief — but the only thing he really stole these days was time with Rapunzel, and he considered that kind of theft to be mostly harmless, even if it did land him in hot water occasionally.

She was in the library, as he'd known she would be, and luck was on his side — her tutor was yet to arrive. Agna treated Eugene with double the amount of suspicion of everyone else, and it was made even worse here in the northern kingdoms, where tradition and sobriety were strictly upheld.

"Hey," he whispered, "come with me."

"Good morning," Rapunzel answered brightly. "Eugene, I'm supposed to be having a lesson with Agna, and then we're to meet with Prince Phillip and talk about the —"

Eugene tutted her into silence, and she let him pull her gently out of her chair, his fingers twining with hers. He tugged her after him breathlessly, urging her to hurry.

"Where are we going?" Her eyes were bright with the sudden possibility of secrecy and adventure.

"It's a surprise," he said with a grin.

She gave a delighted little skip as they raced through another corridor. "I love surprises!"

"I know you do." He stopped at a set of doors which opened out onto a balcony, glancing around to make sure they were alone. "This is a good one," he promised, and he opened the door and pulled her after him.

"Oh, I like all of your surprises," Rapunzel said. "I know sometimes you get into trouble for them, but—" She broke off in alarm as something soft and wet lightly kissed her cheek. She turned and watched a fat snowflake fall past her to melt on the stone parapet.

"What is it?" she asked, dropping his hand and holding hers out in an effort to catch more of it.

"Snow," he said, unable to take his eyes off her. He couldn't stop smiling; watching her experience new things was an enchantment he'd never grow tired of.

"Snow? I thought snow was different," she said, turning in a circle, still chasing the drifting flakes. "In all of the paintings it just looks like white grass."

"It's not sticking yet," he explained. "When it settles, it'll build up and cover the ground, but it never gets cold enough in Corona for that to happen. You have to come north, where it's colder."

"Oh, it's gone!" She blinked down at her palm and then raised both hands for more. "It's wet."

"It's just rain, really," Eugene said. "This is what happens to it when it gets cold."

"This is nicer than rain," Rapunzel said. She smiled at him, her cheeks rosy. "I've never seen it before."

Eugene smiled back at her. "I've heard stories about places where it snows so much, it builds up and you get stuck inside. It traps you in, and everybody has to build big fireplaces and share blankets, and they read stories and play music to pass the time."

"Oh," Rapunzel said, sounding disappointed. "I hope not. Time starts to pass so slowly when you're trapped inside."

"It doesn't last," he promised, inwardly cursing himself for bringing it up in the first place. "It wouldn't be like the tower. I'd be with you."

She smiled at him. "You hate being inside as well."

"It doesn't seem so bad when I think about sharing blankets with you," he said, giving her a devilish grin.

She giggled, and her breath misted out in front of her. She gasped and immediately tried to do it again, her freckled nose wrinkling adorably.

Eugene watched her, the magic of the falling snow paling in comparison to the light in her eyes. The snow was less wet now, and the flakes were bigger and starting to gather on the stone, catching on his shirt and settling in Rapunzel's dark hair. She held her hands out expectantly, a delighted smile on her face as it fell upon her and slowly melted.

"What in Heaven's name do you think you're doing?"

They both jumped and turned around to face Agna, Rapunzel's tutor. Eugene immediately tried to look contrite, but Rapunzel only laughed and raised her face to the sky.

"Catching snow," she said.

"You'll catch your deaths," Agna answered, glaring at Eugene to make it clear he'd be personally responsible. "Inside, both of you."

"Is it dangerous?" Rapunzel asked curiously. She made no effort to move out of its path — just squinted down at the flakes slowly piling up on the sleeves of her dress.

"Well it certainly isn't sensible to be cold and wet," Agna said, steering Rapunzel indoors, her mouth pressed into a thin, disapproving line. "You'll have to dry off before our lesson."

"Oh, it's disappearing," Rapunzel said, sounding disappointed. She ran her fingers through her damp hair, trying to pull it in front of her eyes to inspect it. "Is it all gone?"

"Rapunzel, hurry now," Agna said, almost shutting the door in Eugene's face. He squeezed through just in the nick of time.

"Better do as she says, Princess," he said, edging away from Agna and her elbows, which often liked to dig themselves into his ribs in lieu of a proper lecture.

"We've lost all this time because you can't help playing the fool," Agna snapped at him. "You're not allowed to simply do as you like. You're to act with a little decorum, especially when we're guests in this kingdom."

"It's just a bit of fun," Eugene said defensively. "She's allowed to have fun, you know." 

Rapunzel bounced towards him and gripped his shirt in her hands, pulling him down for a warm kiss to cease their argument. Her nose was cold against his cheek and she fell against him as she lost her balance on her tiptoes. He steadied her with gentle hands and she broke away and beamed up at him, her smile bright as the Coronian sun. "You always give such nice surprises, Eugene."

"I'm glad you think so," he said with a grin.

"Do you think it will trap us in here?" Rapunzel asked, reaching for the door handle to see outside again. "I'm not sure I'd like that."

"I don't think it'll get that bad," Eugene said reassuringly.

"If you're with me it might be fun," Rapunzel said. "You could read to me." 

Agna tutted and gently seized her shoulder, steering her back towards the library.

Rapunzel craned her head back to smile at Eugene again as Agna led her away. "Will you promise to read to me if it does trap us in? By the fireplace?"

"You got it, sweetheart." He grinned at her until she was out of sight, the slightest trace of water left on the stone floor behind her.

Eugene shivered, finally feeling the wet snow melting through his shirt. It was worth it, he decided. And it wouldn't matter if the snow stopped and there were blue skies for the rest of their visit to the northern kingdom — he would read to Rapunzel anyway, and use every excuse he could to share a blanket with her in front of the fire.