Chapter 1: G r i e f
This is an AU based on the fic series "Union of the Crowns," where Elsa and Eugene are railroaded into a loveless marriage of convenience after Rapunzel's childbirth death.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming.
All we can do is learn to swim."
He never looks at her on Rapunzel's birthday after sunset. She has gotten used to staring at his back in the dark, trying to make out the shape of his pain. Gone were her parents, her uncle, her aunt, and her beloved cousin, but the beloveds whom she did not lose were two children and a soul mate. The deepest hole in his heart is carved into the shape of Rapunzel, and it is a hole that she can never fill. Her interest therefore lies not in the filling, but in the healing, and if not the healing, then leastways the trying.
She tries to caress the back of his head with her understanding. She tries to drag syrupy strands off his moist eyelids to massage his mind with, "You're not alone." She tries to slide her hand up his wrist to fill the lonely gaps between his fingers with, "I'm here." No matter how careful she is not to break his glass skin, he always stays curled up on his side like a child sleeping in the snow. The tears will begin to rain harder, drizzling down his cheeks and scalding her wrist with their sunwater; the depressions in his pillow will begin to sink deeper, forging themselves into the shape of his crying face.
Her helplessness always drops from her eyes and splashes on his face in an Orion's Belt of tears, but she never tries to bring attention to her pain (she’s grown out of that...or so she’s tried). She'll lay her cheek on his cheek and curl around him until he’s wearing her like an armor. Sometimes, he’ll roll over and fit himself inside her life. At other times, he’ll sob until he's breathless from suffocating underneath her crown. Most of the time, he won’t stay to see the sunrise bronze the kingdom. She has to swim through blankets that are still warm from his body heat to find him down by the docks, where he can be seen placing primroses on the rippling moonlight from his gondola.
"This place is important, isn't it?"
"...Yeah," he once said in a congested little breath. "Very much..."
This place is their place. Their special memory. Their seascape for new beginnings and starkissed dreams of ever after. This place is their outer space to relive a cosmic moment that is forever frozen in time, unimposed upon by her. She used to be afraid that one day he would refuse to eat in the mornings, only using oxygen to croak about how much she looked like her when the sun hit her teeth just right, how miserably the pink blossoms in her braid reminded him of that night with the floating lights, how strongly he'd prefer it if her high register sounded breathy instead of shaky when she sang, and if she smiled humongously wide, he could blot out the rest of her and pretend that she was made of sun rays instead of snowflakes.
She told herself that she must have been an evil little substitution, this insignificant stand-in who breathes rime instead of sunshine. She tells herself that she is cool water after years spent in a desert with scorpions to him. She reminds herself that she is a key assistant in his cryotherapy, a kindred spirit who can also exhale love instead of frost. She beats into herself that she is a woman whose warmth from within can thaw others from without, because she is more than sleet and folded hands. He's told her that.
"I never wanted Rapunzel to feel like I defined her by her hair, her powers, or her tiara for that very reason; she doesn't need magic or tiaras to make her special. It takes the "human" part away, or more importantly, the "Rapunzel" part. The next time someone comes along who isn't interested in you because of your powers, your crown, or their definition of "perfection," you'll know that he's the better option because he won't be treating you like you're made out of magic. To that guy, you'll have cells, organs, and blood running through your veins. You'll just be "Elsa.""
To her, he is just Eugene. No longer her cousin's widower, her affine, or even her obligation, the grinner with the chocolate fondue hair has outgrown the boxes that once defined the lines between them. He became a whole person, without classification or circumference, but he also became transparent. She told him once upon a blood moon that she was sure, positively certain, that he had lived his life in isolation until Rapunzel's frying pan had banged against his bars. She was sure that he had made a deal with himself to remain smirking until he could no longer feel how it hurt to know that no one cared to peer deeper than his poreless skin, where a miner might find him trapped inside his childhood, alone and afraid of himself.
She is still sure because he still does not like to have what is left of his cakey mask peeled back by snollygosters. She intuits his need to withdraw into his safe place, which, as unbreathable as it sounds, is not nearly as small and unpeopled as it used to be. He comes off upbeat and charismatic when he's tolerating nobility, so honey-spoken and gratingly pithy if he forgets that glib speech is Flynn's shield, not Eugene's (alas, some defense mechanisms are unkillable for repenters like themselves). But he is sensitive, and will grant the type of kindness that actually means something if the grantee is short on kindnesses. He is a champion for the unseen society, the poor and the orphaned society, and loves children like an uncle.
He is a riverhead of experience, seasoning her fishbowl world with the unheard and the untaught. He is lusty for literature, and has appointed himself to the "Office of Broadening Her Majesty's Horizons with Underrepresented Authors," whom she had wagoned into her schoolhouses erelong. He supports her work in civil rights, foster care, children's disability programs, penology, and criminal recidivism because he understands what she understands. He can network with the gift of gab that she lacks, can chart his own stars on the map of politics if prospects aren't shining brightly enough in his spyglass, and dares to read her emotions with the perspicacity of a weather forecaster. He does not, unlike most men of the epoch, try to conquer and colonize her with his manhood.
His charm, patience, and ease, goldened with balanced perspectives on bigger pictures and a motto to make lemonade out of lemons, sometimes soothes her micro-thinking mind half as well as his foot rubs do. He has sacrificed himself and died in so very many ways for love, but what she loves is his love for Rapunzel and the family she has given him. She loves his capacity to love deeply, the endless enlargement of his great, once unused ― and once misguided ― heart that had probably been waiting, desperately waiting, to love something since orphanhood. She wanted him to let the world rush in, even if that meant being broken in, and become enveloped by not only its love, but his own. She wanted him to allow that self-love to fill and expand him, like she had been by loving Anna and life's allness.
On his best days, as he looks heavenwards with the sunrise haloing his crown, he holds the timeless beauty of a king. These are eleven of Eugene's strengths. It is when he is alone with his thoughts on his worst days that those strengths decay. She stays away on the nights that belong to Rapunzel, and he stays adrift. Closer to dawn, he reopens, inch by inch, letting a slit of sunlight fall onto her face as it widens.
Gradually, he steps out of his own shadow. A trembling touch on his knuckles unfolds into a firm squeeze on his hand, and then she pulls. Shadows and sunlight walk across their wrists in a pattern of bars as she guides him down the corridor and through another open door. From the entrance's sunshine emerges his daughter's fingers, which then fill in the blanks between his own.
Together, their feet alight on the grass of Rapunzel's burial ground, where lilies never die. Her effigy had been carved with a smile that sleeps between the effigies of her parents, for a smile is what she left the world in. Isolde rests a bouquet of white lilies on her mama's womb, and then hugs her mama even though her marble effigy is cold. Eugene rests a bouquet of yellow lilies on Rapunzel's heart, and then takes a breath to hold back the tears.
She conjures her own bouquet of frost lilies, and then places them by Rapunzel's head with care.
Eugene's hand finds the road back to hers. She reciprocates his grip as the wind stings their eyes.
"...I love you."
"I love you, too..."
He looks at her when she looks at him. They both smile at each other with the warmth of the breaking dawn, before smiling back down at Rapunzel. Eugene sighs, trembling. Isolde turns around and smiles at both of them. Her face is carved into the shape of Rapunzel's, and it is a face that fills them to the brim.
A different man greets Elsa at midnight with one of those warm hugs she loves, trembling less this time than the nights before. She never means to sigh, but her breath, which is always much hotter than the average person's under this insolation, never abstains from blowing against his hair. Between their bellies burns a sun enwombed by his soul, and it is a sun that makes her entrails pulpier than it makes her magic. Try as she might to stay awake, she never does.
Eugene's fingertips leave her back to span across her shoulders, go down her arms, and squeeze her elbows. It takes him peeling Elsa off his heat for her to open her eyes and decrypt the message in his. "...Thank you." He smiles. "For always waiting for me, even though I don't have the most trackable lunar phase cycle."
Her eyes light up like fireflies as they smile at every part of his face. Sand-warm fingers creep up her nape and pull her braid off her shoulder, resting it on her back.
Elsa looks down, still smiling. "I made a promise to all four of us." She looks up at Eugene once she can, but her eyes are wearing tears, and her lips are wearing his eyes. "In good times and in bad, in sickness and in health..."
"I will love you and honor you all the days of―my―life," someone else trolls.
Elsa and Eugene part to find their soloist.
Olaf stands in the doorway with his clasped hands swaying from side to side. His giggle is a fat man's giggle as he squeals, "I love that part!"
"...Oh―laf..." The duet is pitched with one tone that is tearfully laughing from endearment and one tone that is drawling from exhaustion, but the fact that they always respond with a duet at all tickles Elsa pink.
What "Carry Me Anew" meant to do was explore an alternative future of what it could have been like if they fell in love within the confines of their situation. I realize that I used one plot device that will for sure be in the main canon, but I didn't spoil how it works, so I'm okay with that. If anyone's wondering, Elsa and Rapunzel are cousins via Rapunzel's dad and Elsa's mom in UotC, not Rapunzel's mom and Elsa's dad. The gifs are by FrozenxFairytale and xanticheese.
Chapter 2: A c c e p t a n c e
I made some adjustments. If Indentured is absolutely never finished because my Disney interest wanes, then at the very least, there's *this* alternative development to read. Perhaps this is therefore a "contingency" fic. Parts hearken back to "Stranger Than You Dreamt It" and "Indentured" itself. For those who are reading this for the first time, Isolde was born with a "cleft lip" deformity that was later sown up in an atrocious way.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"I don't think of all the misery, but of the beauty that remains."
He never looks at himself on Rapunzel's birthday. He had been working so long and hard to become a whole him, to finally wipe the fog from his reflection and see someone worthwhile. That man shattered after Rapunzel's hollow eyelids drifted shut on December 23rd. Left in his shaking arms were two pounds of fatherhood, the bloody ending of his ever after, and an entire lifetime of, "Why?" soaking his pillowcase. His only sunrise in this kingdom of brimstone was her.
"My little sunshine..."
The smile his tears brined on the first day they met still honeys his memory on the loneliest of mornings. He remembers how soft her amphibian fingers felt as they curled around his pinkie, how itty-bitty and unbelievably beautiful they were as they gripped for dear life. And when she smiled at him for the very first time, the slit in her lip smiled at him, too. Love dripped from his eyes and splashed on her cheek, leaving an Orion's Belt of tears in the shape of hope. Bedewed with innocence and purity, this single drop of sunlight in his arms was proof of Rapunzel's immortality, and thus he vowed from that hour forward to lay down his pain and pick up his strength for her.
Yet the shadow of death laid down with his sundrop every night that he laid down with her, and he had to fight to keep her light agleam. He won those fights with the help of Elsa's fidelity, though the battles to come were not so easily conquered. Day by day, Corona's throne room was renovated into a dungeon that gyved his sanity, but night by night, his daughter would crayon his whole world.
"Does I haf' Mommy's smile, Daddy...?"
"Right down to the very dimples."
His promise to always be her knight in shining armor was enameled with a song that he sung in the afterglow of one special sunset: "Now you're here, and suddenly, I know..." He wiped his tears off her smile while he rocked her in Rapunzel's favorite knitting chair, feeling his wife's arms in the sun's rays. "If you're here, it's crystal clear, I'm where I'm meant to go~..."
Several battle-scarred years later, he's still drinking in Isolde's beauty like honey lemon tea on the loneliest of mornings. He has gotten used to staring at her profile against the sunrise that blonds her face, trying to make out the shape of her future. To the heavens her mother, grandparents, and both unborn and stillborn siblings have winged, leaving her heart defeathered as a toddler. The deepest hole in that heart is carved into the shape of Rapunzel, and it is a hole that his tales can never fill, but the heart itself is expanding like a star with each moonrise that silvers the sea. On some nights, its luminosity outshines the Big Dipper's.
For all this light, time has forced him to accept that his daughter's health will never be what he's prayed for it to be. What he can hail is her grip on life, which has become so much stronger than it was when she first gripped his pinkie. Her self-esteem is not as lean, and she no longer claws up the scar that punctuates her lip with a semicolon. She calls it a gravure of her survival and an embossment of her strength. One carver of inspiration, according to her artwork, is Elsa.
Eugene drinks in the life-sized mural that guards Isolde's bed. Bowered by frost flowers, Elsa's pastel hands cradle a pink heart as she smiles with closed eyes and ruby cheeks from the bedroom wall. Loops and whorls curl her hair and gown into filigree, mimicking the shape of her magic.
Eugene's eyes smile before drooping with a frown. '...Elsa,' his mind sighs, remembering the gargoylish shape that their wedlock had taken.
What was once an unsightly explosion of watercolors is now a frameable portrait that tells a story about the process of remarriage and rebirth, though the first brushstroke to hit the canvas had not been the color of love. Famine, debt, war, primogeniture, and parliaments had mortared them up in a prison tower called "Marriage of Convenience" after Rapunzel's transition. All was a nightmare. Underneath her wedding veil, Elsa hoisted her chin with the bravery of a rebel facing her guillotine in the name of honor, but nothing in his blood told him that he would survive such a death sentence. He went on to shamelessly christen Elsa "a brumal replacement of Rapunzel's sunlight" ― an icy personification of the leg iron that would enchain him "till death do them part."
Yet the wider her fragile petals opened without politicial skulduggery blackening their marriage, the deeper she seeped inside of him like the cool water he needed after years spent in a desert with scorpions.
"Relying on what little information I have about your past, I understand that you lost your parents before finding two outstanding ones in Rapunzel's. I'm very familiar with that loss and how it shapes your way of thinking. I'm also familiar with the fear of letting in and letting go because of it. I only began healing when I decided to let others in after finally seeing what it meant to let go. By letting go, I'm talking about the fear of reconnecting with life that keeps us locked inside of the tiny rooms we call our minds.
The part of me who understands the part of you who has battled with years of disliking yourself wants to thank you for how much you've sacrificed for Rapunzel and her parents regardless. From the very bottom of my heart, thank you for all that you've done in the name of true love. It's you, Eugene, who made them whole again," she had written to him in a letter that he would find more than four years too late.
The timing was just right, she'd argued. Elsa's deathless empathy, in its purest shape, came to embody the tenderness of a palm on his tearstained cheek, and the palm itself, to his surprise, would not give him frostbite. It took on the personality of a breeze that kissed his skin with the healing effect her cryotherapeutic spells bring injured men, fountaining his consciousness into the clouds. For only a few seconds under his eyelids, he became aerified by her touch. She would speak, in due time, after believing their platonic bond to be secure and safe, of being solarized by his.
The two began to help each other mourn Rapunzel in healthier ways than either had embraced before their union. Writing letters to her, and then setting them free with lanterns, were the nights they felt closest to one another and Rapunzel. Elsa would unpack the muddy baggage that Eugene had dropped onto her rug by keeping Rapunzel aglow in Corona's sky and loving her with him, especially if that meant crying with him. Every teardrop that fell from Elsa's eye and bled through his vest thickened a connection that seemed vital to their recoveries. The connection, at first, was loving Rapunzel, and trying in no small part to love themselves in a society that resented them.
The lost boy in Eugene canted until he could lay his heaviest secrets on Elsa's delicate shoulder. She nursed his trust with featherlight strokes and petal-soft whispers, giving him the protection that his childhood had never insured. By sunrise, he was finally able to close his eyes and fall asleep against her warmth. She would tell him that she wanted him to feel that warmth because he had neither felt nor met it prior to Rapunzel's passing. She wanted him to know that she understood how hard it was to remain an open door after being taught from youth to keep it shut, to misthink that, "I'm so afraid of losing something I love that I refuse to love anything" is somehow a survivable slave code, and to have the Earth inside you grind to a halt after its axis dies.
She had understood, that when your parents don't walk back through the front door after a thunderstorm, you feel like you are, and therefore expect to be, facing society alone thenceforward. She understood why finding some corner of the world where he could be "rested and alone" made him assume that his past and trauma would magically disappear. She understood how impossible it was to trade freedom for a kingdom with the hope that others would forgive him for who he "used" to be, as well as who he will never become. She understood how terrifying it felt to be crowned in a chapel pewed with conspirators and exterminators.
She had known how heavy a mask could feel, how unbreathable it could be, and why he once preferred suffocation to oxygen. Elsa understood, above all else, what it meant to suddenly become an adult before you were ever truly a kid, and then realize, within the blizzard of an unforeseen breakthrough, how desperately you need to take care of the kid in you. He never fully learned how to care for "Eugene Fitzherbert" as Prince Eugene. He learned how to love "love" again by loving Rapunzel as hard as he could even when he feared that she had stopped loving him as hard as she could...
"But have you ever taken the time to love yourself as hard as you can?" his father-in-law once asked him.
Eugene's answer, in so many stammers, had been no.
"You can not depend on Rapunzel to make you whole. She's trying to overcome her own challenges and find her own peace of mind as future queen. Don't assign her yours. She'll suffocate."
"Suffocate" had been his golden word choice. "She'll suffocate." He felt like he wanted to die after hearing that, but die he didn't. He left to find and love his allness for Rapunzel. "Eugene" hadn't been written on the dedication, but he couldn't see the boomerang coming until she left in a bloody nightgown and a serene smile. Ripped open by the aftershock, "Eugene Fitzherbert" was declared dead, and "King Eugene of Corona" was swiftly enthroned on his bones.
Incomplete molecules of "Flynn Rider" materialized in place of “Eugene Fitzherbert” to help him survive his own death, but it never helped. King Eugene was a silhouette of his father-in-law's expectations, Flynn wasn't compatible with whom he needed to be for Corona, and Eugene's corpse was begging for oxygen, which he drew from Isolde's sunglow.
Elsa, like Rapunzel's father, challenged him to become his own oxygen. "Start building yourself up into a person you can love again," she imparted, "but you have to do it for yourself this time. Otherwise, you'll never find real happiness..."
Eugene sat on her words throughout their marriage. Her wisdom had fruited from her own mistakes and, of course, the fact that she was still paying for them. Still coping with setbacks. Still gauging her worth on adequacy and inadequacy ― on how much of herself she was giving to everyone else. But she was trying.
"Because for the first time, I finally know how to try..."
...And he couldn't help but smile at her profile in the moonrise as he watched her try. He watched her make the way she embraced her allness the scintillant statement she left in Arendelle’s sky. He watched her inculcate the importance of selfhood into his daughter's childhood by giving her a horizon to stand in. He watched her surpass her sister's ebullience by increments, having had that much more pent-up vibrancy and passion that'd been screaming to be expressed. This once dour duckling grew the wings of a shimmering swan after her eternal winter...and it made him feel...hopeful.
Unlike Eugene Fitzherbert, Elsa never needed to plagiarize someone else's extraordinaire to become a show-stopper with magical swagger. She just was, all along. The confidence that charmed him was not ironclad, but the vulnerability that gowned her at night revived the "therapist" in him who used to make a career out of comforting distressed ladies. Without ever catching the resemblance, he spoke to her in the caressing style that Rapunzel used to curl up against on nights where he would try to kiss away her fear of becoming Corona's queen.
Once Elsa's gaze had finally reciprocated the embrace his would offer,, an almost smile would break open across her face like clouds parting to reveal starlight. And he'd smile back, feeling warmer than an oven on the inside. This Elsa, in his opinion, had always liked herself, which put her ahead of him in this marathon for "self-love." Perhaps she had not liked what she did or became at the hands of her own hands, but there was no way that smug smirk she made while doing fancy handwork could appear out of thin air if she'd always hated herself. Enwomaned with the wisdom and grace of her parents before her, Elsa enjoyed being a lady of her own flashy design far too much to be a true self-hater.
The matriarch enjoyed forming and flexing blunt opinions as a queen with her own mind. She enjoyed sculpting her crown into a polyhedron of liberal ideas and egalitarianism. She enjoyed stomping snowflakes into the ground and summoning mega ice castles that blew Eugene's hair back. She enjoyed knocking the wind out of his ego with her dry comebacks. She enjoyed her disconcerting habit of reading the subtle body language that he thought he had been hiding when he'd gotten himself into a bind that resulted in her freezing all his escape routes.
Elsa enjoyed being Elsa.
And in turn, Eugene began to like what "Elsa" looks like. He began to like her book smarts, despite most men being unimpressed with studious ladies. He began to treasure her humility and selfless lean, despite always telling her how an uptick in selfishness would actually be healthy for her. He began to savor volleying repartees with her in multiple languages, despite losing rounds whenever she acted like a guileless imp who was incapable of naughtiness (oh, please). He began to prize her mild and rational temperament, despite not always being down for her more spontaneous outlets (he makes an awful ice-skating partner, and Miss Thing is a tugger).
He grew into his love for her stubbornness, regardless of how many times it burned him up. He grew into respecting her percipience, specifically because she wouldn't let him pull any wool over her eyes (or so he tells her). He enjoyed collaborating with her for Corona and Arendelle, even if they didn't always agree on campaigns. He worshiped her sophistication, even though he had a hard time keeping Flynn's vanity out of that reason. He cherished her womanlike purity, which encastled a coffer of innocence that made his trunk of experience all the more useful.
He found her chocolate fetish ridiculously adorable, so long as she wasn't putting her paws on his fudge cakes. He found the agitated twitch her eyelid made during an uppity dignitary's speech thoroughly amusing. He definitely felt that her "dance moves" looked laughably cute whenever she leafed through paperwork with a ballad on her tongue, performing a graceful heel turn there or a lingering step here. He immediately liked the way she spiffed up his outfits with her own razzle-dazzle. He had never been a fan of winter, but he became a fan of whatever she made with it, as well as however she wore it.
He learned to enjoy the fact that there was always something new to learn about her, permitting him to thumb through pages of fresh content over the years like a book that never ended. Her mystique had much in common with the buried treasure that very few adventurers could find unless they were the best of the best. Flynn Rider affiliated this with the appeal of an unattainable jewel, but Eugene Fitzherbert simply admired the sparkle from the half-open vault. Both egos overloved the way she crossed her bare legs like a fancy œuvre d'art as she worked, or how the bend of her arm, when raising a wineglass to her red pucker, was as perfect as the curve of an expensive candelabrum's branch. Both hated the way her lipstick endowed her smirk with a sheen that could've distracted them from saving their own lives in a snowstorm.
And those sleek curves, glacéed with undeniable sex appeal, were quite something. Flynn was an unapologetic stan of Elsa's right to look foxy wherever she sailed. He mowed down any man who protested against her freedom to dress as she so pleased because he believed that a woman's body was her own business. After all, Elsa's garb of choice flaunted nothing more than a need to celebrate the parts of herself that society had hemmed in, and Flynn, having been the one to rip the stitches that kept orphaned Eugene hemmed into Corona's dogmatism, was fully behind that. The rogue couldn't have been more smitten with such feminine courage.
It is no exaggeration to call the two-edged queen his little savioress, either. He would soon find himself helplessly watching Elsa risk her life for all that her cousin had bequeathed to her, including him. When all was bandaged and bundled, he'd blubber well into the night about how afraid he was that he would never see her again. Such paranoia had little to do with feeling responsible for Elsa because she was Rapunzel's family. He was afraid because he would miss Elsa, which had almost scared him more.
Suddenly no longer just the infamous Snow Queen, his wife's cousin, his affine, or even his debt, Elsa grew into a whole person before Eugene's dewy eyes, and with every inch that they grew into themselves as people, their bond outgrew the boxes that had once defined the lines between them.
"Elsa...listen to me. I don't care if you have powers or if you can't keep saving my life with them anymore. All I care about is you," he'd confessed to a magicless, brunette-haired Elsa once upon a blood moon, holding back a waterfall of tears by smiling at her shocked face. "The only thing I've been looking at this whole time is you..."
What he never loved was the hurricane it took for him to accept this earthquake after the seisms had long overwhelmed him. He had to drown. He had to die. He had to lose her, and he still hasn't finished crying about that. He had to find Rapunzel at the end of the darkest tunnel and take her guidance into his arms, because he didn't know how much longer he could keep hating himself.
The answers he seemingly died to earn enriched him, and Eugene Fitzherbert's haggard walk towards inner peace commenced with Rapunzel's rays hugging him from behind. The cobbled road to the portal of his own light has not ended, but his limp lessens the more he walks. The ache is thawing. Hope is flowering. He's almost living again.
"Mommy would wanna see you happy..."
Eugene's feet sink off Isolde's bed to hover over the mural that swallows the floor. Bowered by frost flowers and Stargazer lilies, Elsa and Rapunzel are dovetailed into a folk dance among applauders from Corona's town square. Eugene is a smiling face in the crowd.
"Mommy picked Elsa out for us..."
Eugene smiles tightly as his burning nostrils throb, nudging the teardrop in the corner of his eye with his center finger.
One of Elsa's letters echos in his dome, "As it stands, finding healing doesn't mean that your wounds will magically disappear; it means that the wounds will no longer control the way you live your life. Once you can conquer your fear of living and feeling, you'll start to see that the suffering you're experiencing does have a counterbalance. You'll start to see that the people whom you called your life are still living through you. Most of all, you'll begin to understand that storms don't last forever. Getting out of bed in the morning is the first step to seeing all those things that living still has to offer, but it'll take blood and sweat to learn how to walk to that window again."
She was right, and he's still coping with this. Eugene Fitzherbert, in his almost-whole state, is still adjusting to the fact that Rapunzel's life and death are immense parts of who he is. He is still adjusting to the fact that loving the shape of himself is a fight for breath that he must win if he wants to live. But he has adjusted to the fact that loving one person doesn't detract from his love for another.
He has adjusted to the fact that love is not a scale with points, or a battle about whom he loves more, because to create one is to misunderstand love's true shape (and until now, he has). He has yet to adjust to the fact that intimacy with someone new will be hard for a very long time. He may never adjust to the fact that he will always, always miss Rapunzel's head on his chest.
"Mommy said she never left..."
No matter how many years pass, Rapunzel's rays will always be everywhere. She is the shape of the very castle in Corona. She is the shape of what his life became. She is the shape of Isolde's very soul. She is infinite.
However, memories made with Elsa are also everywhere. She is the shape of the union between Corona and Arendelle. She is the shape of what his life is becoming. She is the shape of Isolde's very future. She is iridescent.
The trick was becoming content with that intertwinement, and later smiling at the filigree it formed.
"..." Eugene's smile broadens. Tears climb his eyelashes. He blinks them dry.
"What do you think the shape of us looks like to Isolde?"
"Judging by her murals, I'd say, "filigree.""
Careful hands draw the blankets over Isolde's body and pull off the ringlets feathering her smile. Love drips from her father's eyes and splashes against her temple, leaving an Orion's Belt of tears in the shape of happiness. Eugene kisses the constellation without kissing it away. He stands up to cherish her for being his opportunity to raise a child the way his parents could never raise him. The sunrise carries his feet out of his daughter's room and into his wife's.
Elsa is bundled in sunlight with her head pillowed by her curls. One shoulder is bent around the shape of the breaking dawn as the sunglow whitens her flyaways. His appreciation for beauty wanders down the curve of her nape and splays across the wings of her back while she breathes lightly. Two of his favorite things on her body are her shoulders. She once hid these shoulders under suede layers and layers of insecurities on coronation day, and even then, he wondered what held them up.
These shoulders have borne the weight of an unimaginable responsibility that no one ever taught her how to nurture. They have borne the weight of isolation, loss, fear, hate, betrayal, death, and other people's lives, despite so many of their attempts to end hers. They have borne the weight of Arendelle. They have borne the weight of Corona. They have borne the weight of him.
These shoulders are pillars despite her minimization of their durability, and they still make him breathless when she bares their porcelain to the world without shame.
"Just don't forget that mine are also here for you to stand on."
"...It's a deal."
Peeling his feet out of his slippers, Eugene slips underneath Elsa's sheets to join her in the sunbath. His weight causes her to shift and wiggle, but the only body part that turns is her head. Her unpurpled eyelids don't lift. Her unpainted lips stand open.
Eugene's soft blinks grow slower. He traces the curve of her shoulder with his admiration, drags syrupy strands off her moist eyelids to stroke her temple with, "I'm here," and then slides his hand up her wrist to fill the gaps between her fingers with, "And it's far too late to be getting rid of me now."
Elsa's grip returns the message. Humming from the taste of her skin, Eugene's lips walk on her wings to cross the road from her nape to her cheek. The sunspot his kiss leaves seeps inside her pores and enwraps her with its warmth.
“Mmm~..." Elsa's body smiles.
Eugene can feel her body smiling by feeling her toes curl against his shins. The pink lips that petal her mouth curl into the smile of a kitten having its chin tickled. As her adorkable face turns toward him, his thumb strokes that smile. Elsa hoists her eyelids at half-mast to bare her heart to Eugene. Like someone has shone a ray of sunlight through blue shards of glass, her orbs reflect the daybreak in his.
Elsa doesn't speak. The sheen on her own grows as her understanding grows. Without blinking, Elsa brushes the curtain out of Eugene’s gaze and tucks it behind his ear, touching the corner of his jaw with her fingertips. Then she caresses. Shrinks the distance between their noses. Closes her eyes.
Eugene sits his lips between hers and bears down gently. One of them moans from being turned into water, but he doesn't know who. They're both past their melting points. Elsa's hand snakes under his nape to bring him closer so that she can melt deeper. Lips slip and grip, slowly suckling from bottom to top, and top to bottom, drinking the sun out of the morning.
The sensation of her fingers flowing down his arm is more seductive than anything flirtatious. When she gets to running those fingers, he never knows what to do.
“Am I corrupting you?” Elsa teases in her feline tone, the delivery almost shy around the edges.
"Yeah, I..."―smack―“...I-I might be"―smack―"might be in need of..."―smack―“holy water, or”―smack―“Father Niemöller”―smack―"and, and quite possibly..." Frowning, Eugene keeps his eyes shut for a moment. He shakes his head. “...I lost my train of thought.”
His mouth sings from her kissing him again. As Elsa pulls back, her lips tore from his like pages coming apart: slow, lingering, moist. One of them moans, and he's embarrassed to realize that it's him. A final 'smack' breaks the spell's bind for good, but he's left shuddering at the feeling of "Elsa" still glistening on his lips.
With a slow swirl of the tongue, he licks the trail and snatches it in, saving it, tasting it. Eugene opens his pleading eyes to her with his lips tucked under his teeth. Elsa smiles at him, sleepy-eyed and Rudolph-nosed. She lowers his chin to seat a kiss between his eyes instead of his lips.
It feels nice.
Eugene takes her love into his arms and tucks his face into the curve of it. Her hands rest on the wings in his back, pressing him against it. He draws in a breath. Inhaling her. Inhaling them.
A piece of his heart is carved into the shape of Elsa, and it is a masterpiece that he will forever treasure.
"Did Rapunzel paint this one, too?"
"Yes. She did. She spent every sunrise painting it until it was finally finished. I never saw her more proud of a mural than she was of that one."
"It most certainly is."
Chapter 3: P a t i e n c e
"Patience is not simply the ability to wait.
It's about how we behave while we're waiting.”
He never looks away from her on his birthday after sunset. She has gotten used to wearing his gaze on her smile while she reads to Isolde under the stars in his eyes. Gone were their ministers, their banquets, their papers, and their politics, but the priority that did not decamp was their attention to Isolde. Adventuring in bedtime fables is how they appease the princess who has sunned their marriage. Sleep will often reach her eyelids before Elsa can reach "The End," and Elsa will then shelve the fairy tale to kiss its princess, "Goodnight."
When Elsa pulls back this time, she finds Eugene smiling at her with love curled on his lips. She has stopped looking away from that love by smiling back instead of down. His hand finds her hand across the small knees that separate them. Together, their hands draw the blankets over those knees. They pull off the curls feathering the sleeper's smile and tuck Sir Jorgenbjorgen under her arm.Together, their hands draw the blankets over Isolde's body and pull off the curls feathering her smile.
Elsa plants a kiss on the back of her ear. Eugene plants another on the top of her scalp. Both stand up to cherish their redheaded opportunity to raise a child with the self-esteem that their parents could never give to them. Isolde rolls over, tugging the blankets with her, and happily nuzzles Sir Jorgenbjorgen's chest. Elsa blows out her candles with the swoosh of her magical hand, and then Eugene closes the bedroom door behind them with the carefulness of his.
Tonight, Elsa's hand touches the point on Isolde's door where Corona's golden sun rays embrace the arms of Arendelle's golden crocus. Her heart sighs under her other hand as she hopes for these starkissed nights to always be, though she knows that Isolde is outgrowing them by the inch. She looks to the sundrop's father for comfort, but he's looking at Elsa like it is the first and last time that he will ever see the twinklers in her hair or the blue sky in her eyes.
Elsa's hand makes a soft bed for his cheek. She rubs the bone of it with her thumb. "Eugene, what's wrong?" the question trembles off her lips as a half-laugh to keep him from reading it as alarm, which may only trigger him to dulcify her.
Eugene's smile tells a lie before his tongue does. "Nothing." He blinks wistfully. "It's nothing. I was just—..."
Elsa is patient.
Eugene's shoulders sink. His eyes are wet windows into the truth, yet still, he lies with the loveliest of smiles, "Taking you in..."
Elsa's smile lies about believing him. She looks down at his beard bluely, stroking the bib of hair with her fingertips. Eugene holds her hand in place for a kiss that says he misses her despite her having never left. Cupping his smothered breath inside her palm is like cupping sunshine in winter. Her smile now, no matter how bittersweet, is genuine.
Elsa turns Eugene's face towards hers. She uses her opposite hand to run the back of her fingers through his fringe, sweeping it away from his eyelashes without disrupting its freedom to be untamed. He takes his time with opening his eyes. The stars in their night sky flash and flicker. She searches those constellations for the firestarter of his mood.
"Your...expertise wouldn't lie in...freezing time by any chance, would it?" Eugene jokes under his breath.
Fear, Elsa pinpoints. He is afraid of losing what he thinks is a perfect moment in time because it is all too perfect to last forever. Lose it they will, but that is a lesson he must chin. Ever after is the man-made ending of a fairy tale. Life is capricious. What they can hold onto is the knowing that they had loved once upon a wrinkle in time.
Elsa hangs her gaze on Eugene's yellow sash. It is a wistful gaze—as wistful as his had been. "Nothing is meant to last forever," she starts, too unromantically pragmatic for her own good.
Eugene bends his knees so that he's looking into her eyes playfully. "But we can always dream, can't we?" he proposes, trying to ginger them both up.
The faint sound that Elsa makes is a cross between a sigh and a soft snort. She closes her eyes and turns her head, smiling from nothing more than endearment for him, as well as an ounce of pity.
Eugene draws her back to him by the chin, but her eyes don't butterfly open until he asks with a tinge of desperation, "Maybe...just a little...?"
Elsa smiles at the curve of his pink lips. Every beating vein in her heart tells her that she needs to tell him for the purpose of circling them back to what's important right now: "I love you very, very much, Eugene." Then she remembers that it is better to express her feelings than it is to verbalize them. Elsa lowers her eyelashes onto her rosy cheeks and cranes her neck, her face smooth with love. Her smile hovers in front of his mouth as she takes a moment to savor the magnetic heat between their nostrils.
Eugene lightly thrusts his lips against that smile, caressing the back of Elsa's hair as he does so. His kiss is closed and peaceful. She leans into his warm caress by cocking her head, content to feel his sunglow bleeding through her bone marrow and goldening her heart. Such heliotherapy can only be described as an astral projection that fountains her into the cosmos, which is the mother of both her and a certain sunflower's gifts. Before she is no more, she pulls back her blushing lips and exhales a hot plume of breath against his throat.
Elsa's forehead finds rest on Eugene's cheek for a spell, her own pair dewy and red from an onrushing fever that soothes her instead of burning her. Her fingers tremble down his bobbing chest to settle on the location of his legendary knife wound, where vestigial sunglow still flowers. Through telepathy, its residual energy plants in her mind a heartbreaking image of Eugene's death at the hands of Mother Gothel. Elsa throats her whimper. Startled fingers grip his doublet.
Elsa feels beefy lips moving against her hair as her name falls into her curls like a secret. The sound of it is so deep and seismic that it makes goosebumps hive her skin.
Eugene's thumb rubs her knuckles. "Elsa, listen to me..."
Elsa peels her sticky forehead off his jowl to gaze into his face with runny eyes.
Eugene's touch travels up her arms to hold shoulders that are petite enough to be swallowed by his palms. He clamps her short forelock between his finger and his thumb, pulling it away from her countenance without disrupting its freedom to be untamed. "I love you." The side of his finger catches a tear under her eye. His hand makes a soft bed for her cheek while his thumb cleans up the leftovers glistening on her other. "And I swear to you that I'll make up all those nights you spent alone if you'll allow me to."
Shame infests and skews Elsa's perception of what he is saying. On cue, she believes that she is to blame for having made him feel guilty. She hastens to amend these familiar thoughts by telling herself as lovingly as she can that this is not about her. It is about him and his journey to finding his comfort zone, which she can not take responsibility for. Now headlocked by two different perspectives, she is only vaguely aware of him elevating her chin to tell her:
"That's a promise that I intend to keep."
It is a loaded promise, as it's always been, but she knows what it means, in spite of her request for him to retract it. She knows that he yearns to chocolate their nights with the intimacy July and August have eaten even though she does not need more than a chess game, banter, and two mouthfuls laughter between sips of cider. She also knows that tonight won't be the night. Tonight will be for staring at the canopy that skies her bed while the moon feeds on her face. It will be for breathing in the memory of Eau de Cologne while the wearer is holding audience with Red the Piratress in his study.
Then that wearer will see Elsa off to Arendelle at first light, where their marriage will be reduced to perfumed letters for the weeks to come. They will write at length about "Operation Smile," and how popular Isolde is among the organization's children. They will debate at length about the fertilization of their colonies on Motunui Island and her sister holms. They will discuss the merits and demerits of upcoming state dinners with little verve. What she neither expected nor calendared are the instructions she receives from his latest letter, wherein he asks her to entertain a fantasy of him pleasing her under her council chamber's table.
It is a mandate that Elsa can not read back to herself without holding her pink throat and closing her thighs in her chair.
"I want you to sit back and try to picture me on my hands and knees underneath that long birch table at eleven o'clock sharp," Eugene has shamelessly written down.
Elsa's flustered mind projects an apparition of him standing over her from behind with his palms on her desk and his lips moving against her temple. His voice lends to the written words an erotic breathlessness, "Now I want you to picture my face between your thighs while Minister Solberg is running his mouth about Immigration Acts. I want you to imagine me breathing my hot breath against your soft, sensitive skin."
Elsa ejects a shuddering sigh against her will, either out of titillation or mortification. Her chest is moving up and down, gaining a sheen around the neckline.
"That's it, Sweetheart." The transparent Eugene behind her sighs against her hair before husking throatily, "Now imagine my fingers stroking your calves while I start to kiss your spot like how I kiss your mouth." The tip of his nose follows the ski slope of her shoulder. "Feel that? That's you opening up like a flower that hasn't been watered in ages, and I'm here to amend that at this perfect moment in time."
Elsa's fingers tic one by one―like a ripple effect―before gripping her armrest harder.
"You try your best to answer Solberg, but you can't hold a single thought. Your focus is on me...on my tongue writing the alphabet on your innermost parts." The flat surface of Eugene's teeth sit on her shoulder as his lips continue to move to the letter's words, "On my mouth sucking that tight, sensitive, pulsating little bud like it's a pacifier...or that eye-rolling warmth running down your legs, soaking you wet. Of course, good ol' Eugene never misses a drop, now does he?" He kisses the heaving ramp of flesh.
Elsa's eyelashes can't stop throbbing as she trembles ever so subtly in her chair. The ink feather in her hand is shaking, too.
"After all, it's my royal duty to drink you dry, Your Majesty. That once inconvenient slit in your dress is finally serving a purpose. And now you can't catch your breath. Your body won't stop shaking. You want to cry out my name, but you can't."
Shallow breaths pass through Elsa's teeth.
"Your toes are curling in those sinfully sexy heels you've got on. Your muscles are so tight that you're desperate for me to take you to the edge."
Elsa stifles a groan as the toe of her heeled shoe glides up her ankle.
"You still with me, Sweetheart? God, I sure hope so. Because I can't stop thinking about―"
Elsa's gasp is companioned by a thump. She holds her throbbing shin and hisses in pain, peeling an eye open to grunt at her accursed desk.
"Is...everything alright, Your Majesty?" Kai inquires behind her study's door.
"A-Ah...!" Elsa scrambles to get herself together. "Ahem. Yes." Papers crackle. Drawers yawn. "Everything's perfect!"
When the night does come for intimacy, Elsa knows it's too soon. She knows because Eugene's lips roam the kingdom of her breasts, ribs, hips, legs, and sliding ankles with an absent heart. She knows because his softening arousal sinks like a ship that can't dock in Arendelle City's fjord due to a crack in the hull. Elsa's confidence drowns the more he attempts to explain that no part of her is at fault; he simply has too much cargo on his mind. He does his best to compensate her by making love to what remains of her self-esteem with a feverish mouth and a moist tongue, but she can only stare at the canopy that skies her bed while his brown head bobs between her legs.
There is no fulfillment that night. Apologies and reassurances fall on deaf ears. To bed they go, empty yet full in mind and body. Elsa lies curled up on her side in the nude, having rejected Eugene's need to embrace her from behind by staying as still as water in those sun-warm arms. She can't be moved to let go when her pessimism is on top of her; habit wires her to shut down for self-preservation, the pearl inside the clam evermore vulnerable to her ocean's ebbs and flows.
Eugene tried to pet the side of her sweat-sugared throat with his remorse. He tried to drag syrupy strands off her moist eyelids to whimper against her temple, "I'm sorry, Elsa; I truly am." No matter how careful he was not to rip her paper skin, she stayed curled up on her side like a child sleeping in the snow.
Elsa told him quietly, with the softest, most unaccusing tone she could steady, that she wants to be alone. At the same amount of time it would take for an impaled man to die, Eugene peeled off her and lied on his back. Even now, he stares at the canopy that skies her bed, letting the moon feed on his broken face. She feels the bed seesaw as he maneuvers around to sit on the edge of it. His sigh is louder than her heartbreak.
Picking up his night shirt, he stands on his bare feet and faces her bare back. He reminds her that he loves her, and proves as much by respecting her space. She is so preoccupied with the magnification of her self-reproach that she misses her chance to remind him that she loves him, too.
Chapter 4: C o m p r o m i s e
"The real metric by which we can gauge the authenticity of love
is not how close we want to be,
how merged and intermingled,
but how far we can stand apart and still be together."
Midnight finds Elsa at Eugene's bedroom door. Exhaling anxiety and inhaling courage, she beseeches the heavens above the chandeliered ceiling to give her strength. Around she turns, unclasping two nervous hands and knocking on the embossed sun emblem with one. Anxiety arises when she sees the ceramic doorknob rotate. The door opens.
Bravery promotes her gaze to the door's opener.
The widening gap reveals Eugene's kind face in the soft blue darkness. "...Elsa," he whispers, short-winded from surprise. His relief is audible.
Eugene's fixed, uncompromising kindness rekindles in her heart a familiar flame of shame, and candled within that shame, thoughts of insignificance. Elsa tries to remind herself that she is deserving of his kindness.
Eugene goes to her, overtaken by emotion. "Elsa, I―"
Eugene closes his mouth slowly, blinking with an understanding softness to his eyes.
Elsa's hand goes up by instinct, the closed fingers trembling within. Eugene stops, standing only half a step outside his bedchamber. He looks from her palm to her, heavyhearted and confused. Although she has persuaded herself that she deserves his kindness, she believes that she must earn his forgiveness.
Elsa slips her hand back inside its sister's grip and looks up at him. "I owe you an apology," she states as if she is her own parent.
Eugene closes his mouth slowly, blinking with an understanding softness to his eyes. Eyes that make her seek an escape from them.
The words that step out of Elsa's mouth are not clumsy, but they wobble like the legs of a newborn fawn: "I didn't mean to be so distant tonight..."
"I just...made you feel like you weren't wanted by me," Eugene finishes for her, changing the apology into a smite against him, "and haven't been wanted by me more times than when you were sure that I did."
Shock dews Elsa's eyes, glistening from the corners of them. Her sightline shifts from being of her closed hands to being of the openhearted man before her. Eugene gazes at her like a puppy who's desperate for love, shelter, and a warm hug. He steps closer. She beholds him.
Boot spurs are heard at the end of the hallway, pulling Elsa out of the moment and back into the present. She and Eugene study the hunchbacked shadow spidering the wall. A body made of flesh and blood slugs around the corner with a torch in hand. Upon seeing Their Majesties, the identified guardsman clicks his heels together and salutes them. His address is ungainly, as inelegant as his interference, but neither throne bearer crucifies him.
Somewhere between enquiring about the wellness of his night, Eugene asks the man how "the wife and kids" are doing, addressing him by first name to billboard his way of flouting classism. The man's reply is styled formally. Elsa wishes him a safe night and good health, blessing his family with the same. He accepts her corsage of kindness with his fancy.
Eugene knows to tolerate such fancy because deifying Elsa was not a widespread movement in Corona for many years. On the partroller's way back to the corridor whence he came, Eugene lowers his face to whisper longingly to Elsa's profile, "Come inside with me."
Elsa's eyes widen by a fraction. She touches the front of her sky blue peignoir, debating.
"Elsa?" Eugene's hope for rapprochement peters out. "Is...that alright?"
Elsa closes the petals of her sheer robe's collar. She finally turns her head to him, but she concentrates on the unlaced strings hanging from his night shirt. "I think it would be better if we slept separately tonight."
Eugene clarifies his intentions: "Elsa, I don't have any expectations for tonight. I just want to talk about what happened."
Elsa mellows. Concentrated communication has always been their linchpin. She nods in approval. Needing nothing more than her body language, Eugene honors her assent by stepping aside. He waits for the entire length of her sparkling sheer train to slither inside his room before closing the door after her.
Elsa's slippered feet wrinkle the sun rugging Eugene's floor. Shadows and moonlight walk across her face in a pattern of bars. Aglitter with ice crystals from curl to gown, she drifts into the glade of moonglow produced by his window. His library calls to her. Between a star map and a mounted globe, she spots the scintillant cover of an adventure novel that's been sleeping on his davenport desk for days.
The female protagonist whom Elsa's fingertips touch is bowered by frost flowers; her hands cradle a golden flower as she smiles with closed eyes and ruby cheeks. Loops and whorls curl her hair and gown into filigree, mimicking the shape of her magic. Affection softens Elsa's lips. Her palm balances the book by the spine as she opens its adventure to the first page. She turns to Eugene without tearing her attention off the heart-warmer.
"...You never were able to find a sequel for her, were you?" Elsa bittersweetly dredges up.
Eugene nervously presses on the skin between his thumb and his forefinger. His posture perks up, but Elsa knows by the music of his voice that his buoyancy is an act: "Actually"―he presents his bookshelf to her like a showcaser―"I've got a whole odyssey lined up for the next saga to come. Of course," he adds behind the back of his hand, "an author never leaks his own spoilers."
Elsa's eye roll is sweetened by her smile. Pages flutter as she opens the book wider for Eugene to see all the illustrations that share her likeness. Turning her head back to him, she cocks her eyebrow and flavors her teasing remark with a smirk, "Not even to his own muse?"
Eugene takes her chin. "Especially...not to his own muse."
Elsa's slow blink is followed by a weak smile. Shyly, her smile falls to the novel's spine, whose face she has pressed against her heart. The smile dies like a drooping rose as the silence waters her shame. She doesn't initiate eye contact with Eugene when she laments, "I really ruined tonight, didn't I?" The sight of Eugene's hand peeling hers off the novel's spine moves her not.
"Elsa, you?" Eugene pauses to heat her knuckles with a kiss, and then strokes their porcelain crowns with a caress that is as loving as his gaze. "Couldn't have ruined tonight if you tried." A hint of hamming lights his eyes as they roll over her shimmery appearance. "Especially not in this stelliferous ensemble..."
Elsa remains uncharmed, if not inconsolable. She is wound too tightly around herself to be pried open by Eugene's persuasions.
Eugene, taking note of such, decides to meet her on her level: "I'm the one responsible for ruining tonight."
This, Elsa isn't quick to combat, but she drums up one million pardons in her head―"Eugene, you needed more time to yourself and I should've respected that; it's not my place to be selfish; I apologize for putting us both in this position from the beginning"―and immediately, she's left stomping on the brakes to stop her thoughts from bicycling into a dangerous direction. She reminds herself, before she can bike down the rabbit hole and break her neck, that they can never crawl back to how and who they once were to one another. She reminds herself that Rapunzel has begged her to fight instead of run, because―
"I swear to you that Eugene needs this."
"I had it all planned out," Elsa suddenly hears Eugene mourning. He's sitting on the edge of his upholstered bed with his wrist dangling off his knees. "The scented candles, the Lerkekåsa wine...rose petals in the bathtub and...massage oil sitting next to the ceramic strawberry bowls and chocolate fondue," he just about whimpers.
Elsa manages a sympathetic smile. She takes her place beside him to listen.
The face that Eugene gives her belongs to a man who is just discovering his own clockwork. "But I wasn't there....my head, it...just wasn't in it..."
Elsa's mind alters "head" to "heart."
Sensing her distance, Eugene panics. "And I, I owed it to you to be there, Elsa. I did." Squeezing the folded hands on her lap is his way of keeping her spirit there with him, in the room. "I wanted to be. I thought I was. And I had already spent weeks upon weeks upon weeks building us up to that one, perfect moment in time that...turned out to be...not so perfect because of me..."
Elsa's heart goes out to Eugene. He is so preoccupied with the magnification of his self-reproach that he forgets her presence for a moment in time.
Eugene retracts, and she misses the warmth from his sunset hands. More time is taken before he can speak again: "I should've just talked to you before I tried to make up for checking out tonight," he realizes at long last. "You've been through a lot with me, and I wanted to prove in any way that I could that it hasn't all been in vain. Doing "us" things ― doing them with you, I want that back."
Like a cloud, Elsa's cool hand rests on his warm knuckles, creating the perfect temperature. "Eugene..."
He raises his head, gazing back at her like a puppy who's desperate for love, shelter, and a warm hug. .
Ever the soft speaker, Elsa tries to explain to him that she understands, and always has: "If you know you're not ready for something, there's no reason to pretend with me that you are. I don't need rose petals and massage oil to feel closer to you for a night," she levels. "Consummation isn't the be-all-end-all of our time together."
"Well, no...it's...sort of in the contract," Eugene lightly jests. "Of course, not that I don't enjoy making love to you," he amends. A teaspoon of dripping gratitude is ladled into that amendment: "I enjoy every moment that I'm allowed to have with you, Elsa."
She believes him, which is evidence of her own growth.
"And I wanted...." Eugene can't find his voice anymore. He's lost in her face.
Elsa hopes that her expression prompts him to continue.
He does so by sighing dramatically. "I just wanted to make tonight last both of us throughout the months. That's all it really boils down to."
A breathy laugh bubbles up from Elsa's chest.
Eugene is clueless to the source. "What's so side-splitting, if you don't mind my asking?"
Elsa clears her throat to share, "Speaking of that..."
Elsa shuts her eyes tightly before sliding one open to him. ""That once inconvenient slit in your dress is finally serving a purpose?"" Though smiling, her entire expression embodies a cringe.
Recognition floods Eugene's as his mouth opens like a Koi fish. He makes a round of attempts to close it, but they come with his hand trying to find a comfortable position for his face. "About that...! That was...um..."
"A bit much, don't you think?"
Eugene tucks his hands under his armpits. "I was just, t'ah...exercising a little bit of creative tongue verse, so to speak! Was tryna spice things up a bit till I got back in the picture frame, which, to my knowledge, has officially been shattered and burned."
"...I never said I loathed it," Elsa confesses, not wanting to restrict their nonphysical outlets.
Eugene sucks in his lips before releasing them with a pop. His response implies that he has a hard time believing her: "Yooou...didn't...?"
"Just..." Elsa looks for the words. "Give me a warning, next time? So that I'm not...stuck in my office, subjected to―"
"Envoys with impeccable timing. Got it."
They both smile at each other before looking down at their hands. His fidget. Hers lay still.
"So," Eugene recommences, "you and birch tables, huh?"
"...Eu-gene, it's not happening in the Council Chamber," Elsa dryly sasses.
"Why not? It'll be a bonding moment! One for the books. A little adventure; a little―"
"You've lost your mind, haven't you?"
Eugene chuckles. "I was joking, Your Royal Majesty. Besides!" He slaps his thighs and stands up, lighting a candelabrum on his fireplace mantel. "It's always the fantasy that's the appeal, rarely the actual act. Trust me, a critically acclaimed author would know."
One of Elsa's eyebrows climbs higher than the other when he faces her with a different demeanor.
"But, t'ah...there is something that I have in mind for us before the night comes to an inevitable end."
Elsa's curiosity shows caution. "What's that?"
Eugene wags his eyebrows.
"That was perfect," the next hour hears Elsa sighing. .
"Mm," Eugene moans, going cross-eyed. "Mm-HM." He swallows and licks his lips. "Oh yeah. That hit the spot."
"Good? It was spec-TAC-ular. It was unreal! It changed my life."
"Didn't it?" Elsa breathlessly agrees. "Anna's been raving about it for months."
"Everyone's been raving about it, and I thought, "This is ut-terly ridiculous!" But tonight, we debriefed." Eugene holds the half-eaten pastry in his hand. "Now, I can't vouch for every other flavor, but I can tell you that this was like...if two fairies made love...and gave birth...to a pastry? Up high, in the heavens? That would be what this was."
"....I think what you just said was highly inappropriate, but completely fitting."
They clear the glass-domed pastry platter on Eugene's one-legged table, not leaving behind a single crumb. The silence that breeds from two bellies full of satisfaction is pleasant. Elsa dabs the corners of her smile with a pleated handkerchief while Eugene relaxes his back on his bed and rests his enlaced fingers on his chest.
"Would it be too much if I asked you to stay here with me tonight?"" Eugene murmurs to the ceiling, unsure of the sensibility in his own request.
In the background blurred by his peripheral vision, Elsa is shedding her sheer robe.
Eugene keeps babbling to the ceiling, "We could...just hold each other, or..."
Elsa drapes her robe across his chair and peels her feet out of her slippers.
"Or I could lie here and...just stare at you all night....in a totally not-creepy fashion. Okay, so that sounded a little if not highly creepy, but you get my point, right?" Eugene stops talking once he feels the bed sink and shift. He turns his head, lifting it off the mattress to stare at Elsa lying beside him with love curled on her lips. "Oh." He rolls over and props his head up with his hand to drink her in. "Ello, dawling. Fancy meeting..."―he tapers off as she touches his lips with the bridges of her smile―"...you here..."
Elsa quiets Eugene with a kiss that is closed and peaceful. Before he is no more, she pulls back her blushing lips and strokes the bib of hair on his chin with her fingertips. She watches the candlelight bob against his face, gingering his complexion and setting his soft pupils on fire. Unlike other nights tinted blue by the memory of Rapunzel, he doesn't look down at her hands and stroke the bridges with his raisiny thumbs as he reels off an appreciation speech. He doesn't tell her through a spate of stammers that he's beyond grateful for her commitment to him even though he's, "never been an expert at keeping people."
Eugene holds Elsa with his eyes, and she holds him back. His palm makes a soft bed for her cheek. He rubs the baby fat marshmallowing it with his thumb. She keeps his hand in place for a kiss that says she'll miss him very much. Pressing his palm against her lips is like the pressing a warm rag against her mouth.
Eugene's lips find rest on her forehead for a spell; then her eyebrow, puckering harder. Strong arms come around her and draw her into him. His nose is deep in her hair. She can feel his heavy sigh. He's desperate to cling onto this moment in time because nothing for them lasts forever.
Elsa helps Eugene dream a little by reciprocating the embrace. That simple act is all it takes to lull him to sleep. Elsa breaks away to lie on her back and frown at the ceiling, making a soft bed for Eugene's cheek with her bosom. Perhaps she could have been more honest by admitting that she still wants to be alone tonight. Perhaps she could have confessed that she's still, rather clumsily, learning how to love and be loved by him.
So many "perhap's" with no "how's."