Chapter 1: G r i e f
This is based on my three-storied series called "Union of the Crowns," which railroads Elsa and Eugene into a loveless marriage of convenience after Rapunzel's childbirth death and the Westergaard family's invasion. "Carry Me Anew" is a retcon of UotC's prime story, "Indentured." If "Indentured" is absolutely never finished because my Disney interest wanes, then at the very least, there's this divergent development to enjoy. I would suggest reading "My Dearest Cousin" before CMA to get a full gulp of the particulars therein, but such isn’t a requirement. CMA, which grazes those particulars, marinates in one alternate future of how the marriage could have unfolded emotionally.
(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 from her tearstained pillow. Gone were her parents, her uncle, her aunt, and her beloved cousin, but the beloveds whom she did not lose were two unnamed 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 will never fill. Her interest therefore lies not in the filling, but in the healing, and if not the healing, then leastways the trying.
Tonight, she tries to caress the back of his head with her compassion. She tries to drag syrupy strands off his moist eyelids to stroke his temple with her understanding. She tries to slide her hand up his wrist to fill in the blanks between his fingers with, "You're not alone." No matter how careful she is not to break his glass skin, he stays curled up on his side like a child sleeping in the snow. The tears begin to rain harder, drizzling down his cheeks and brining her wrist with their saltwater; the depressions in his pillow begin to sink deeper, molding themselves into the shape of his crying face.
Despair drops from her eyes and splashes on his cheek, leaving an Orion's Belt of tears in the shape of grief. She presses her cheek against his temple and curls around him until he is 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 breaking his bones. 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 and stroll down by the docks, where she'll find him placing primroses on the moon-kissed sea 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 star-kissed 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, or how strongly he'd prefer it if her high register sounded breathy instead of shaky when she sang. She used to wait for him to drunkenly insist that 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 used to pray for him to find love in the honey-blonde servant who loved him because she believed that he could never find it in their marriage of convenience. 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 to him after years spent in a desert with scorpions trying to poison him to death. She reminds herself that she is the cryotherapy he needs after years spent asunder in a queenless kingdom rife with strife. She knows 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, her inheritance, or even her obligation, the grinner with the chocolate fondue hair has outgrown the boxes that once defined the lines between them. He has become a whole person without classification or circumference, but he has also become transparent. She told him once upon a time that she was certain ― positively sure ― that he had lived his life in isolation until Rapunzel's frying pan 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 what it meant to be 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 (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 he is their universal 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'd 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.
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 that 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 been waiting ― desperately waiting ― to love something since he was a boy. She wanted his heart 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 love to fill and expand him like she had 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 sunshine emerges his daughter's fingers to 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 on 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 her 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," his eyes add.
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 another that is drawling from exhaustion.
The ending is lifted from Netflix's "La Luciérnaga." I used one plot device that would have been in UotC's 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 character names that were given by Tangled the Series have also been added to my UotC universe. Don't be fooled, however: Tangled the Series on its own, which is blatantly a canon-divergent retcon of the Tangledverse, is not canon to UotC...especially not with its grating misinterpretations of almost everything in the Tangled film, specifically Eugene Fitzherbert.
Chapter 2: A c c e p t a n c e
I made some adjustments. 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. This single drop of sunlight in his arms was proof of Rapunzel's immortality; he thereupon vowed to lay down his pain and pick up his strength for the preservation of that immortality.
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. Nevertheless, doom still loomed. Alliances broke. Trust thinned.
Day by day, Corona's throne room was renovated into a dungeon that gyved his sanity, but night by night, his daughter crayoned 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 as he rocked her in Rapunzel's favorite knitting chair, feeling his wife's arms in the sun rays. "If you're here, it's crystal clear, I'm where I'm meant to gooo~..."
Several warworn years later, he's still drinking her in like honey lemon tea on his loneliest mornings. He has gotten used to trying to make out the shape of her future as he stares at her profile against the sunrise that blonds her face. To the heavens her mother, grandparents, and both unborn and stillborn siblings have winged, defeathering her childhood. The deepest hole in her heart is carved into the shape of Rapunzel, and it is a hole that his tales will never fill, but the heart itself is expanding like a star with every 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 worship is her stronger grip on life. Her self-esteem is not as lean, and she no longer claws up the scar that punctuates her lip with a semicolon. She calls her cicatrix a gravure of her survival and an embossment of her strength. One carver of inspiration, according to her artwork, is Elsa.
Eugene looks at 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 smile droops. 'Elsa,' his mind whispers, remembering the gargoylish shape that their wedlock had taken.
What was then an unsightly explosion of watercolors is now a frameable portrait that tells a story about remarriage and rebirth, but 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 Corona fell. All had been a nightmare. On the altar, veiled and gowned, Elsa had hoisted her chin with the bravery of a prisoner facing her guillotine in the name of honor, but nothing in Eugene’s 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.
But the wider her fragile petals opened without politicial skulduggery honeycombing 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," Elsa 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 over the years, and the palm itself, to his greatest surprise, never gave 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 was aerified by her touch. She spoke, 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 and setting them free with lanterns were the nights when they felt closest to her and one another. Elsa had made it her mission to unpack the muddy baggage that Eugene dropped onto her rug by loving her with him, even if that meant crying with him. Every teardrop that fell from her eye and bled through his vest thickened a connection that felt vital to their healing. The connection, at first, had been their love for Rapunzel, and trying in no small measure to love themselves in a society that did not collectively love them.
The orphan in Eugene canted until he could lay his heaviest secrets on Elsa's shoulder. She nursed his trust with featherlight strokes and petal-soft whispers, giving him the protection that his childhood had never ensured. 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 world inside you grind to a halt after its axis dies.
Elsa 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 both his past and his 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 assassins.
Elsa knew how heavy a mask weighed, how unbreathable it felt, and why he once preferred suffocation to oxygen. She 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 had feared that she 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 Corona's future queen. Don't make her responsible for yours. She'll suffocate."
"Suffocate" had been his golden word choice. "She'll suffocate." Eugene 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 his dedicatee, but he couldn't see the boomerang coming until Rapunzel 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 true 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. Watched her hug her allness. Watched her inculcate the importance of selfhood into Isolde’s childhood by giving her a sunrise to stand in. He saw Elsa surpass her sister's ebullience by miles, the caged bird she freed having had that much more pent-up vibrancy and passion 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 some serious swagger. She just was, all along. The confidence that charmed him was not ironclad, but the vulnerability that gowned her at night revived the man in him who had once made 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 when he would try to kiss away her fear of becoming queen.
The night that Elsa's gaze finally reciprocated the embrace Eugene's offered, a smile broke open across her face like clouds parting to reveal starlight, and he smiled back, feeling warmer than an oven on the inside. 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.
The matriarch enjoyed flexing her 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 glass ego with her dry comebacks. She enjoyed her disconcerting habit of keying into the anxiety he buries whenever he's gotten into a bind, which not unseldom resulted in her freezing all his escape routes.
Elsa enjoyed being Elsa.
In turn, Eugene began to like what "Elsa" looks like. He began to commend her prodigious book smarts, despite its unpopularity with most men from her class. He began to treasure her humility and selfless lean, despite 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. 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 affection 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 see eye to eye. He fancied 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 always made during some uppity dignitary's speech thoroughly amusing. He thought 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 was never 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 buried treasure. Flynn Rider affiliated this with the appeal of an unattainable jewel, but Eugene Fitzherbert simply admired her 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 a defender of Elsa's right to look foxy wherever she sailed. He mowed down any man who protested against her freedom to dress as she liked because he believed that a woman's body was her own business. After all, Elsa's garbs 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 Eugene hemmed into Corona's class structure, was fully behind that. The rogue couldn't have been more smitten with such rebellion.
Elsa is the master of her own womanhood, the queen of her own muliebrity, and no man captains her.
It is no exaggeration to call the two-edged queen Eugene’s little savioress on top of the superficial hang-ups he'd tried to iron out of Flynn. Many a battle, he would find Elsa risking her life for all that her cousin had bequeathed to her, including him. He would find himself blubbering against her dress about how afraid he'd been of never seeing her again when those risks greatened. Said paranoia had little to do with feeling responsible for her because she was Rapunzel's blood. Suddenly no longer just the Snow Queen, his wife's cousin, his affine, or even his debt, Elsa had grown into a whole person before Eugene's dewy eyes, and with every inch that they grew into themselves, their bond outgrew the boxes that once defined the lines between them.
"Elsa, 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 time. "The only thing I've been looking at this whole time is you."
He loved with her. He loves her. What he may love more than her is seeing her love herself. He also loves her capacity to love deeply, the endless enlargement of her great, once suppressed ― and once misguided ― heart that had probably been waiting, desperately waiting, to love “love” since she was a girl. On her best days, as she looked heavenwards with the moonrise impearling her gown, she held the timeless beauty of a fairy tale.
What he never loved was the hurricane it took for him to accept this earthquake after its seisms had overwhelmed him. He had to flail. 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 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 over whom he loves more, because to create one is to misunderstand love's true shape. 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 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 had formed.
"..." Eugene's smile broadens. Tears climb his eyelashes. He blinks them dry.
"What do you think we look 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 sun. His gaze wanders down the curve of her nape and splays across the wings of her back while she breathes lightly. Two of his favorite features 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 unimaginable responsibilities. 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 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. His lips walk on her wings to cross the road from her nape to her cheek.
“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 sunlight shining through blue shards of glass, her orbs reflect the daybreak in his.
Without blinking or speaking, Elsa brushes the curtain out of Eugene’s eyes and tucks it behind his ear. She touches 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. One of them moans from being turned into water, but he doesn't know who. Elsa's hand snakes under the back of his hair to bring him closer so that she can melt deeper. Lips slip and grip, 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.
“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.”
Eugene's mouth sings from her laughing against his kiss. As they pull back, their lips peel off 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. Right.
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 eyes 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.
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 hold the arms of Arendelle's golden crocus. Her heart sighs under her other hand as she hopes for these star-kissed 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 is looking at her like it is the first and last time that he will ever see the crystals in her hair or the blue sky in her eyes.
Elsa's hand makes a soft bed for his cheek. "Eugene, what's wrong?" the question trembles off her lips as a half-laugh to keep him from reading it as alarm, which would 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. Lose it they may, but that is a lesson he must learn. "Happily ever after" is the man-made ending of a fairy tale. Real 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 gaze that is 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 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 open until he asks with a tinge of desperation, "Maybe...just a little...?"
Elsa smiles at the curve of his 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: "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, face smooth with love. Her smile hovers in front of his mouth.
Eugene lightly thrusts his lips against that smile, caressing the back of Elsa's hair as he does. 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 the 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 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 whimpers. 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 stand on 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. "I love you." The side of his finger catches a teardrop under her eye. His hand makes a soft bed for her cheek while his thumb cleans up the wetness glistening on her face. "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. This is about him and his journey to finding his comfort zone, which she can not take responsibility for. 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 if she does not need more than a chess game, banter, and two mouthfuls of 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 in the Council Chamber.
It is a mortifying mandate that Elsa can not read back to herself without holding her hot throat.
"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. His lips move against her temple while 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."
Elsa gasps, touching her lips.
"I want you to imagine me breathing my hot breath against your soft, sensitive skin."
She feels her fingers trickle off her lips as shallow breath passes through her teeth.
"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 alight on her collarbone, where a necklace of sweat beads her chest.
"You try your best to answer Solberg, but you just can't seem to hold a single thought. That's because your focus is on me...on my tongue writing the alphabet on those moist petals of yours." 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 achingly tight little bud like a pacifier...or that eye-rolling warmth running down your thighs. Of course, good ol' Eugene never misses a drop, now does he?" He kisses the heaving ramp of flesh.
Her legs cross tightly.
"That once inconvenient slit in your dress is finally serving an extra purpose. And now you can't catch your breath. Your body won't stop shaking. You want to growl out my name, but you can't."
Her throat is dry.
"Your toes are curling inside those sinfully sexy heels you've got on. Your muscles are so tense that you're desperate for me to take you to the edge."
The toe of her heeled shoe glides up her ankle.
"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 grunts in pain, peeling an eye open to grunt at her accursed desk. Taking deep breaths saves her.
"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 growl. "Everything's perfect!"
When the night does come for intimacy behind the doors of their private palace, 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 recompense 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 tonight. Apologies and reassurances fall on deaf ears. To bed they go, empty yet full in body and mind. 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 cold 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 tries to pet the side of her sweat-sugared throat with his remorse. He tries to drag syrupy strands off her moist eyelids to breathe against her temple, "I'm sorry, Elsa; I truly am." No matter how careful he is not to rip her paper skin, she stays curled up on her side like a child sleeping in the snow.
Elsa tells him quietly, with the softest, most unaccusing tone she can steady, that she wants to be alone. At the same amount of time it takes for an impaled man to die, Eugene peels off her and lays on his back. 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. 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―"
Elsa's hand goes up by instinct, the closed fingers trembling within. Eugene stops. He looks from her palm to her, heavyhearted and confused. Although she has persuaded herself to believe that she deserves his kindness, she knows 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 understanding in 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 husband 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 climbing 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.
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 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 abaft 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 touches is bowered by frost flowers and Stargazer lilies that intertwine. Between her hands hovers a heart made of sunlight. Loops and whorls curl her hair and gown into filigree, echoing the shape of her winter magic. She smiles at her admirer with closed eyes and ruby cheeks. Elsa smiles back.
Elsa's 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?" she 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 of her. 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 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; 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 for love 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 wrists 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 that she loves him.
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. Lovesickness drips into that amendment: "I enjoy every moment that I'm allowed to have with you, Elsa."
She chooses to say that she believes him even though he's choosing to look at their relationship through tunnel vision.
"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's. He makes a round of attempts to close it, but they come with his face trying to find a comfortable position in his palm. "Um! 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 his nonphysical outlets.
Eugene sucks in his lips before releasing them with a pop. "Yooou...didn't...?" His response implies that he has a hard time believing her.
"Just..." Elsa looks for the words. "Give me a warning, next time, please? So that I'm not...stuck in my study, 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 cancels.
"Why not? It'll be a bonding moment! One for the books. A little adventure; a little―"
"You've completely 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 its inevitable end."
Elsa 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 gulps and licks his lips. "Oh yeah. That hit the spot."
"Was it good?"
"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 a crumb behind. 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 on his bed with his enlaced fingers.
"Would it be too much to ask for 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.
"I could lie here and...just stare at you all night....in a totally non-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 like mulled wine. "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 as his palm makes a soft bed for her cheek. He rubs the baby fat marshmallowing that cheek with his thumb. She keeps his hand in place for a kiss that says she'll miss him very much. Pressing his hand against her lips is like pressing the sun against her mouth. Lips find rest on Elsa's forehead for a spell; then her eyebrow, puckering harder.
Strong arms come around her and draw her into him. She can feel his heavy sigh tingling her scalp. His nose is deep in her hair. 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.
This small action is all it takes to lull him to sleep. She breaks away to lie on her back and frown at the ceiling, making a soft bed for Eugene's cheek with her breast. 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.
Perhaps now is enough.
Chapter 5: P e r c e p t i o n
*Republished thanks to a Tumblr anon and Metamorphiac! I made this mistake last year of deleting the wrong chapter during revisions. If I didn't cross-post on FF.net, this would have been gone and my energy would currently be devoured by rebuilding it from the meant-to-be-deleted-instead draft.
Back to what you’re here for: I meant for five to be my last chapter before I looked at the timeline. December's tribulations were going to be too heavy to condense. This means that there are two more chapters in the offing. If you're still reading, bless you. Please don't forget to review even though I understand that I'm in a very lonesome fandom.
Shout-out to kitsune6373 and Mangoshakes for being the newest readers to spend their precious time on UotC when they could have been doing anything else with it. And duh, shout-out to betagyre, MiraNova23, and Metamorphiac for keeping me company for as long as they have.
"When the heart weeps for what it has lost,
the soul laughs for what it has found.”
With time avalanched more constraints. Her Majesty the Queen had spent the damper mornings of her fall riding South, where she Novembered in the Republic of Båhus until Høsttakkefest bannered Arendelle's streets. By tradition, Høsttakkefest marks a period in autumn when her kingdom gives thanks to the land in exchange for a successful harvest. The festival overlaps the annual Buferdsdagen, which is a day that sees Arendelle's livestock being shepherded from highland farms to lowland valleys before frost can hit the crocuses. Eugene and Isolde were absent from Elsa's Høsttakkefest family service, but she writes to them in her nightgown about the hymns that she and Anna sang with a children's choir, the lutefish eating contest that Kristoff had won, and the mischief that Olaf and Sven had gotten into at dinner.
In requital, Isolde brings her northbound family up to speed with her lessons and her health. Art's historical romance with mathematics is written to have captivated her more than the story of whatever pheromones Romeo and Juliet died for. There levitates from her whole letter a happiness expressive of her high spirits, and in closing, of the November victory that inspirited them. "I've been hale all season because I did what Daddy said," she underlined, "so I'll be in fine fettle for Tristan's mud race one day." It is a blessing to Arendelle and a planter of laughter in Arendelle Castle's garden.
Eugene shares with Elsa his enslavement to his programme. Corona's harvest festival had ended on the first Sunday of October, catapulting him into less colorful commitments that introduced rusty tankards and wagon travel to His Royal Daintiness. He only enjoyed his interactions with commoners and their munchkins. Someplace between venting about face-slapping toupees and wig clips, he hints at the idea of endorsing another expedition next year. Lucrative trading schemes are married to Eugene's musings, but with the occupation of other virgin isles underway, funds for a concurrent voyage are better suited for inland projects from Elsa's vantage point.
Eugene lets Elsa have the final say on the matter because "a happy wife ensures a happy life." It is a recurring phrase that has gained momentum in bedeviling her. Time and again, her spouse takes to back-paddling at the first ripple of disagreement betwixt them by virtue of this gospel he sings. "You're right," he'll relinquish, as opposed to speaking his true mind like he did before they were intimate. "Rocking the boat is a no-go" for this honey-tongued pilgrim; he very much prefers smooth sailing without tsunamis, and may offer a cringeworthy candlelit dinner by the seaside just to get it.
When first "a happy wife ensures a happy life" had disturbed Elsa's circadian rhythm is a mystery, but once it was inside her blood, it nauseated her for days. 'He's implying that the burden of maintaining a happy life falls on my shoulders,' she believed. She did not want her manifold moods to make his life harder. She did not want to tire him with her twisters. They have rammed into more than their share of icebergs, but keeping the breeze in their sails had proven to be impossible.
Rather than bottle up her megrim, Elsa chose to work into her anniversary letter an apology for the tempestuous nature she possesses. In it she neglected to mention the apology's provocation as to not appear as though she was crowning blame on Eugene.
Her dreamer was alarmed, and a little amused, by the sad little thing he read in his bed. "If anyone is stirring up twisters in this marriage, it's this guy," Eugene averred. "I think it's safe to say that you've been weathering my moods much more than the other way around, Elsa. Even if the roles really were as reversed as you think they are, I've been through it all, including dying...and somehow managing to still stay alive. There honestly isn't anything that you could do at this point to run me off.
It's me who's worried that one day you'll wake up and you'll realize that you've had enough. I worry about that day all the time. Being married to me never meant that you had to love me. Being married to you never meant that I wouldn't fall in love with you even though I was sure that I could never love anyone but Rapunzel. You and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best possible solution for us.
The "best" one we came up with to "deal" with how we felt turned out to be the worst, so we tried something better: we loved each other. As hard as it's been these past few years, I would much rather be with you than passing you by in the halls like you don't take my breath away when you smile. We both know "conceal and don't feel" has never ended well for us in life. And now that we're finally here, I don't want to go back to where we said we should've stayed. I want this moment in time to last me a lifetime.
But if that day ever comes ― the day when you realize that you deserve more than what I provide ― then I'll support your decision, and just pray that whomever you fall in love with sees you for who you really are. But when we're together and you're happy, it makes me that much happier, because I know you're still choosing to spend the rest of life with me in the exact same way that I want to spend the rest of mine with you. I love you, Elsa. Icicle heels and all. And whatever it is you choose to do down the line, I'll always be here for you."
What terrible relief, pain, and warmth his words had churned in her, and all of it written without him knowing his gospel's meteoric impact! This confession, she could believe. This fear, she could understand. This truth, she could trust. This letter...made her cry.
Elsa's written response poked fun at the irony surrounding their mutual positions to take attention off the bittersweetness. Then from him she borrowed the role of reassuring her spouse that her heart is steadfast.
"If you want my advice, it was never that deep," Kristoff muttered across a plate of lutefish after hearing Elsa read Eugene's letter to him. "When he said "a happy wife means a happy life," he was telling you that he's smart enough to know he can't win an argument with Queen Elsa, and since his main interest is...y'know..."matrimonial duties," or...whatever it is you highborns like to call them, trust me when I tell you that your husband? Is thinking about one thing and one thing only when it even smells like an argument is about to fumigate the room: "How does this affect my sex life?""
Elsa was appalled by Kristoff's impropriety.
Her brother had been enjoying his meal so fully that he'd forgotten to whom he was ranting until he opened his eyes. "...So that was gross," Kristoff finally digested, pushing away his plate to indicate his loss of appetite.
"You think?" Elsa mumbled to Sven between the gritted teeth of her awkward grin, before then realizing that she was gossiping with a reindeer.
Sven licked her.
Nowadays, the motto "a happy wife ensures a happy life" is an annoying botfly that buzzes around Elsa's head in place of being some onus that steps on her heart. Kristoff maintains the presumption that Eugene is purely playing the part of the everyday husband in his forties. Elsa doesn't care to espouse the fungus licker's nonchalance. She discountenances Eugene's toadyism because it still blocks him from really listening to her. He never disrespects their handshakes by doing as he pleases behind her back, but she would like to be heard. Sucking sensitive toes until they curl is not synonymous with listening to your partner.
However little understood by her the machinery of such a marriage may be, she's played her part by grounding her spouse without muting, pinioning, or snowing him. Anna will argue that she has a "kink" for nagging Eugene about petty things like finishing off her perfume, but in the right context, Elsa would have elected the word "guidance." She stopped herself from "over-guiding" him on how he could improve this, that, and the third about his ways for fear of wounding the precious orphan underneath. It was the business of allowing him to get off the hook with certain curiosities that just so happened to be non-negotiable. Eugene is a man who thinks outside the box and wants to do it all, chiefly the "extraordinary." Come what did from his astronomic ambitions, she couldn't deny that she envied his gumption.
Eugene doesn't pray for the best returns on his investments. He demands and expects them. Elsa organizes timetables of what must be accomplished each week so that she will never go astray or feel overwhelmed, but she is forevermore praying for the best and planning for the worst. Her advertence separated her regimen from Eugene's go-getter style, which nevertheless hamstrung his ability to keep his finger in one pie at a time. If nothing else, Eugene can now depend on Elsa to arrange the ingredients and flute the edges of the crust around his projects, and Elsa can depend on Eugene to add fruit fillings and whipped cream.
Eugene supplies ideas. Elsa secures completion. Together, they've baked perfection ― and sucked the results off their fingers after painting each other's noses with them. Mercy for the other's modus operandi, as he would say, has matured from their vow to strengthen their reversed weaknesses by dint of ample communication. To be without is to be asunder, and asunder they have been.
How laughless those months were. Back there is where "a happy wife ensures a happy life" may have been born. Before autumn recedes from Arendelle's hairline, Elsa asks Eugene at once and altogether if the phrase belies resentment from that dark age.
Eugene's sworn statement discloses that he simply wants to preserve the privilege of spooning his "foxy lady" in bed. He doesn't want to talk politics till three in the morning on the night of their reunion. "I rather enjoy cuddling with my meltable wife, thank you very much," he spells out in Kristoff's language.
Heavens, his wife. The title is still fraught with foreign baritones. Tremors are not strangers to Elsa's lips when she utters the four-lettered thunderbolt in the dead of night. Eugene learned to love on it, nuzzling the implications and kissing his way down the complications until it felt moist between her thighs, though never quite moist enough. The weight of its responsibilities and unconventionalities are still stuck in her stomach.
Elsa closes out their November epistolary with lighter news: her "Tradition and Inspiration" exhibition in Arendelle Castle's art stable was a sensation. Timeless royal costumes, both national and magical, had been donated to the museum as staples of Arendellian culture. Elsa and Anna proudly wore their mother's bunads to the opening. None so ready as Anna to give his stamina to every demand from the press, Kristoff itched to peel off the interviews and his stuffy attire. Eugene apologizes to Elsa for missing his chance to see her in a bunad and Kristoff in a tizzy, but he wishes her a night of sweet dreams and counting sheep.
December brings Elsa neither. Before dawn halos across the horizon on December 1st, she cracks her eyes open and sees grey. The color is not the color of her bedroom or the world beyond; it is the color of her mind. She looks over her shoulder for a silhouette of green and ginger. Anna is not in bed with her, but there's Olaf.
Innocent and joyful little Olaf. He's trying to block out the grey with his head and his eyes and his precious smile. Elsa wishes she could smile as big as Olaf does. He shakes her with the reminder that December is her and the Yule Bell's birth month. Hearing him is hearing nothing more than a muffled voice behind a glass window.
Olaf pulls Elsa up by her wrists and slides her toes into her blue slippers, caroling, "This December is gonna be ALL about looove and family traditions! And it kicks off the celebration of the best day ever: your birthday! Hooray!"
With an anvil for a heart, Elsa touches her snow-powdered window as ice crystals dance outside.
"…It can...still be the best day ever…right?" Olaf hopes, feeling the weight of her heart pancake his. He is standing in her shadow because he is waiting for her to turn around and suffuse him with the light in her eyes.
Elsa looks at her shoulder and greyly reminds Olaf that December 23rd is also Isolde's birthday. Olaf doesn't answer her by gasping or berating himself for forgetting. His thoughtful silence tells her that he had not forgotten. He merely wanted to give her permission to smile first and cry later. She promises him that she would cry first and smile later.
Ink eats through the paper that Elsa tables in her study because the pen it seeps from has stood lifelessly in her hand for countless seconds. The blanket sheet of her mind grows moist with tears and memories. A sunny hand warming her shoulder, though having no visible arm or body appended to it, revives her. Swooping pen lifts and loops ligature the words that pour from her heart, but they do not flow with confidence. There are sharp pains needling her chest, and intense tremors terrorizing her wrists, and all this due to the childbirth images that bludgeon her to death.
It is towards the suturing of the tenth paragraph, and while Olaf pokes his sad head out from behind her study's door, that Elsa succumbs to covering her face with her hands. "..."
Her shoulders shake as she snivels.
When Elsa can part her hands, discovered by her dripping eyes is a face veil made from pink lace. It rests unashamedly on her desk, put there by Olaf himself. Isolde had worn the veil in her toddler years to hide her so-called defect from Arendelle. Olaf doesn't provide commentary; he allows Elsa's bright memories of Isolde's growth from fear to fortitude to outshine her dark memories of Isolde's birth. Olaf’s efforts are rewarded by her with one of those warm hugs he loves.
Elsa resolves to let Olaf help her finish her letter and has it rowed to Corona together with Isolde’s birthday card. Rowed back to her is a merry reply from Isolde, but Eugene’s arrives a week late on a stormy night. His wet letter captures the heartache and ray of comfort that December brings both daughter and father every year. As he had the December before, he tells Elsa that they were more than blessed to have her brought to them by Rapunzel. Elsa tells him, as Northern Lights rainbow her face from her bedroom window, that she has been no less blessed by the same guardian.
Boarding Fairhair on December 16th requires brave mettle from the gut. With her tearful yet mighty Anna enthroned as her regent, Elsa sails to Corona to support Eugene's memorial week for all who had died at the talons of the Southern Isles during the Great Famine. No Coronian era had ever been so horrific, or so hopeless. King Ragnar officered the fusillade by planting corrupters in Corona's government and spreading disease by boat. The Bovi Fever's late incubation stages served to cause the most harm to Corona's devolution. Death was rife long before the kingdom had seen itself seized by Southern Isler fleets.
Elsa knows not whom she will meet on the island kingdom's pier at dawn this December. Either a frayed king or a king who has been sown back together by duty awaits her there, but it is her duty to be strong for that king. She surfaces from the mouth of Fairhair on a snowless sunrise, lifting the hem of her dress off the gangplank as she glides. All on the island is still for her. Seeing Eugene, cloaked in fur and still golden despite the weather, makes her want to close the gap that the Corona-Arendelle Union has widened between them.
Eugene is too ensorcelled by the sunrise she is gowned in to process her progression, but he dimly realizes that two skinny arms have pulled him forward. A whimper gushes from Elsa’s smiling mouth. She perches her moist chin on his capelet and holds his shoulder blades with her palms, squeezing him against every crystal of magic on her body. Her heart stutters when she feels the dimple in the corner of his mouth smile against her braid, the sigh leaving his piping hot nose as he buries his face into her shoulder, and the hand squeezing her other as his arm presses her against him by her back. She feels all of him—all of him dissolving into saltwater and Stargazer lilies and pollen-drunk summer mornings ripe with rebirth—like the hug has just allowed him to breathe, to be.
Warm from chest to hands, Elsa peels her cheek off Eugene's neck. He looks all over her parting form with a strand of her hair pasted against his wet nose. Like a sunset shining through shards of glass, his eyes unleash a kaleidoscope of emotions onto her. She cups his jaw and smears the tears on his smile with her thumbs. The mucus that cottons his nostrils skates down the groove of his mouth and settles inside the cleft.
Elsa inches closer, holding Eugene's eyes like a breath. Her smile presses against his forehead the way a cloud presses against the sun. He holds the hands holding his face to anchor himself to her. The sunrise that blinks between their chins feels freeing.
Elsa remembers telling him so very long ago at a time when she could not console him after King Ragnar’s invasion, "I sincerely wanted to be the one running down that dock to pull you into my arms, Eugene." Now she is that person.
Corona’s parade purples the town square upon their horse-drawn homecoming. Children wave sun banners while soldiers ride through the snow with memorial flags on their shoulders. There are pennants, there are suspended lanterns, there are pageant wagons, there are decorated barges, there is music, and there is love pulsating within the kingdom’s bones. Without is Corona's once legendary fear of Elsa's winter magic. It's a vision, this unity.
At the foot of Corona Castle's ramp, Big Nose summons to Elsa's presence a band of timeworn friends from the Snuggly Duckling, and with them presents a bouquet of snowdrop flowers to her hands. The smile she shines on the gift and then its givers is so warm that Hook Hand asks her to be careful not to make spring bloom too early, though he would very much appreciate it.
Attila, muffled by his own horned helmet, takes Elsa's hand between his large mittens and mumbles something close to, "Your raiment is nice. Do you have one in menswear?"
Elsa's awry grin and back-leaning posture pries amusement and sympathy out of Eugene. She punctuates her dragged-out "thank you" with a question mark that flies over Attila's head.
Hook Hand spoons in, “What he meant to say is that we’re all very happy to see Your Majesty again.“
"And she’s very happy to see YOU gentlemen again, trust me,” Eugene pipes up, preparing to save Elsa from her own shyness, but four munchkins bolt between his legs like knives cutting through butter. "Wha-ho! Where's the war?"
Big Nose's quadruplets call themselves vying for Elsa’s attention by insisting upon carrying her furry white train to the castle’s portico. A breathy giggle pervades her modesty. The sisters are eager, sprightly, and squeezable, and rejection seems more a punishment than a courtesy to them. Elsa humbly cedes herself to the nymphs as a mere servant to their girlish whims. Behind her they dance, gushing over their fluffy new plaything.
The doors of Corona Castle moan at being pushed open. Big Nose and his fellowman pull them back wide enough for Elsa's view of the castle's allness to stand uninterrupted. Here died Rapunzel. Here Isolde was born. Here she will sleep.
Elsa drifts through the doors of the castle with her dress rippling and lapping against the shore of the sunlit floor. Her face, greyed by grief and rue, is palled with a wistfulness that waterfalls from her demeanor. Her eyes, so heavy and hot, carry the unshed tears of a sad woman, owing their sadness to the fact that her cousin is still dead.
Elsa feels her inheritance from Rapunzel taking his place by her side. He is looking at what she is looking at, and sees what he always sees looking back. Sunlight bleeds through the windows, illuminating the dust that orbits them in schools of white.
To him Elsa speaks like one in a dream, "I had a dream last night that we were all together..."
"…Well," Eugene whispers through his stuffy nose. His fingers trickle down Elsa's wrist and slip into her hand.
Elsa looks at their interlocked margins before looking at him, searching for the placement of his heart.
“At least one of us still gets to see Rapunzel in our dreams." Eugene's eyes are pinker than the morning sky and soggier than her own two eyes, but her smile is feebler than his. In his face she saw suffering that had been accepted by his body for a long time, like a wound made into a scar. The growing pains that come with coping have not stopped, though.
Years have flown, and their bones are still moving to make room for their new selves one rib at a time.
"But, as of right now,"—Eugene leads Elsa to the sunlight ribboning the staircase—"there's a certain special someone who's absolutely dying to see your face."
Elsa's heart regrows its wings. Big Nose scoops his nosy daughters up into his arms and reddens their cheeks with kisses to distract them from the couple heading upstairs. Elsa opens the door to a room of murals that stretch from the floor to the ceiling. Puddles of rainbows paint the floor underneath the vestibule's wooden A-frame beam. One is still being made from the droplets that leave the ceiling.
Elsa looks up. Mounted on the wooden beam in a yellow nightgown is Isolde with her paintbrush. Shrieking, Eugene orders his adventurer to get down from there right this very moment—
—but seeing Elsa's face is the deciding factor. Isolde corkscrews down her rope and runs to her guardian. Elsa holds her arms out for her lifeline. The child nosedives into her embrace, pushing out from Elsa's chest a breath of uncontainable happiness. Elsa sits on her haunches and presses her cheek against Isolde's scalp to deepen the hug. Rapunzel's last drop of sunlight feels so dissoluble in her arms.
Sighing, Elsa holds Isolde's head between her hands to look down at her when she looks up.
The sunbeam speaks as well as she can about her new mural despite her shortened top lip, little head bobbing with every run-on sentence due to the embedment of her chin in Elsa’s bosom. Her chocolate fondue eyes are framed by eyelashes long enough to brush the skin beneath her eyebrows when she blinks them. She doesn’t notice the tear falling from Elsa’s smile until it taps her on the nose. “Your eyes!“ Isolde squeals like a piglet. “They’re all wet! Why’re your eyes all wet, Elsa?”
This time it is Elsa's finger that taps Isolde on the nose. "Because seeing your smile makes me very happy, if not more than."
“Happy people don’t have wet eyes,” Isolde educates, irritated by her own confusion. “Only sad people and all the cookie-pushers—”
“Cookie-pushers?” Elsa echoes, suspiciously eyeing the father.
Eugene's shrug is overly theatrical.
—”whose toes you step on during those boring ol' waltzes. Huh, Daddy? That’s right, isn’t it?”
Elsa's quizzical face makes way for a smirk. She opens one eye to Eugene without turning her head away from Isolde.
Eugene clears his throat and stretches his collar for air. “Um. Cottontail?”
"See?" Isolde returns to making Elsa her priority. She places her hands on Elsa's bare shoulders and orders, "So you have to tell me why you're sad because I said so, alright?"
"..." Elsa's astonishment breaks into peals of healthy laughter.
Eugene steals this chance to excuse himself with his daughter. Elsa watches him hunker down to Isolde's height to remind her about the number of times he's asked her to paint in hazard-free zones. The lecture is verbose and all over the place. His strokes of her long hair become increasingly frantic the deeper he dives into the types of accidents that could have happened. "Because Sunshine," he's saying now, "when I tell you that sky's the limit, I mean metaphorically, not literally. We've been over this."
"But I wasn't going ta' get huuurt," Isolde whines, adding the musical lilt that all prepubescent negotiators do.
Elsa sits beside Eugene on her knees, hands positioned elegantly in her lap. "Your father's right, Isolde," she contributes with a voice that's softer than cotton, yet its softness doesn't sting Isolde any less. Elsa melts for her. "But..."
"What?" Eugene exclaims, emphasizing the "t" in his pronoun. "Since when did you start condoning but's?"
Elsa's fancy handwork forms a spinning wheel of blue snow dust that leaves Eugene speechless. "I think we can find a way to bend gravity's rules just this once."
"...Oh, now you're just showin' off."
Isolde jitters with excitement from seeing Elsa's magic snake under her feet and levitate her off the ground. She turns her body around as the snow dust flies her to her unfinished sky lantern.
Eugene watches his daughter paint from her new safety booster. It is not the first time that he has seen Elsa win his daughter over with magic, but it is the first time that he's pleaded, "You have got to stop amputating my reputation as the cool dad."