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Rapunzel wasn’t exactly sure what had started the entire thing.

She supposed, in hindsight, that things had really begun to spiral out of control at Corona’s summer market.

One moment, she was chatting merrily at Euguene’s side, excitedly pointing out the different vendors and their wares, and joyfully exclaiming over the young children scurrying about at their legs, crowns of flowers woven together on their heads as they laughed merrily together.

And the next--

Eugene had been gone, quicker than Rapunzel had time to even realize that he had begun to move away.

He had a habit of that, if Rapunzel was being totally honest--sneaking away at random times, and hoping that nobody would notice. It was more of a talent, really.

After all, almost an entire lifetime spent professionally dedicated to what could more or less be considered “sneaking away” from various parties had certainly provided him with the right skillset.

But it still stung, on occasion, and this time had been no different.

Feeling a little bruised, Rapunzel had exited the market quickly, her mouth pinching into a worried frown as she scanned the crowds for any sign of her errant boyfriend.

It hadn’t taken long to track the man down, however--at least two years worth of learning each other’s quirks and habits made the task much easier than it had used to be.

Within ten minutes, Rapunzel had found herself turning into a small alleyway set far apart from the festivities, the raucous laughter and music somewhat muted by the walls of the buildings on either side.

And there, sat on an overturned barrel with his face buried in his hands, his shoulders somewhat hunched, was Eugene--apparently oblivious to her approach.

Rapunzel had hesitated briefly at the entrance of the alley, her stomach clenching in apprehension as she continued to survey the way Eugene’s shoulders seemed to be heaving slightly, almost as if he were struggling for breath.

The observation was enough to spur her into action and, shaking the last of her nagging doubts off, Rapunzel had rushed forward into the darkness of the alley.

“Eugene?” she had called softly, one hand reaching out to hover hesitantly over Eugene’s shoulder.

The reaction she received was instantaneous, and absolutely not what she had expected, at all.

Almost immediately, Eugene had sat bolt upright, his eyes widening in what seemed to be a blind panic, and his shoulders tensing to the point of being almost ramrod straight.

“Blondie!” he had cried, a somewhat choked sounding chuckle following the exclamation as he rose hastily to his feet, the movement effectively dislodging Rapunzel’s still outstretched hand. “What are you--Uh--The uh, the celebration, it’s--”

“Eugene.” Rapunzel greeted in turn, one brow raising speculatively as she watched Eugene continue to glance about their surroundings somewhat wildly. “Are you...okay?”

“Okay?!” Eugene had croaked back, too quickly to be considered quite natural, his face splitting into what looked like a painful sort of forced grin. “Wha-wha-Of course I’m okay! Do you want to head back now? To the uh--the...thing?”

And, the truth was, Rapunzel had opened her mouth to argue, to press--to at least figure out what on earth was going on, but--

But then she’d caught Eugene’s eye; caught on to the lingering desperation that was hanging just behind that almost fearful stare. Like--

Like he was silently begging to change the subject, and to do so quickly.

“Oh!” Rapunzel had replied instead, shrugging one shoulder and glancing away casually, well aware that her forced indifference was, more likely than not, completely obvious.

(Which was another potential risk in itself, if Eugene caught on, and felt that she was tailoring her answer to avoid touching on a potential “weakness” of his.)

(They were working on that.)

“I’m actually feeling kind of tired.” Rapunzel admitted with another somewhat exaggerated shrug. “I was thinking about just--heading back to the castle! I have a painting that I want to touch up, anyway, and--”

“The castle!” Eugene interrupted, something almost like relief coloring his features as he surged forward and began to all but drag Rapunzel down the alley, back toward the castle and away from the market. “Great idea, Blondie! You’ve been talking about finishing that piece for days, anyway! I’m sure that…”

And so he continued, chatting merrily, the tension in his shoulders loosening as the two got closer to the castle, the bustling crowds of the market growing quieter behind them as they continued on.

And, try as she might, Rapunzel couldn’t shake the nagging sense of fear and dread hanging at the back of her mind, even as she laughed at Eugene’s increasingly ridiculous jokes, and as his arm settled around her shoulders as they entered the palace courtyards.

Something still just felt...off, and Rapunzel made a silent pact with herself there and then to get to the bottom of things, sure that the image of Eugene hunched in the corner of the dark alleyway would continue haunting her until she did.

---

It wasn’t until almost 3 months later that Rapunzel would get her answer--and, as it turned out, it wasn’t one that she necessarily even wanted.

Rapunzel, her parents, and Eugene were visiting one of Corona’s (many, countless) political alliances on a nearby island kingdom, when things finally did begin to piece themselves together.

Despite it being only a few days of boat travel away, the climate on the island was considerably warmer than that of Corona, and Rapunzel had happily taken the opportunity to explore the island barefoot and in one of her lightest dresses, eager to learn as much about the culture of the new environment as she possibly could.

As it turned out, the first day on the island had been an absolute dream. The king and queen were incredibly inviting to their new guests, and had arranged a large feast in honor of their arrival, which had gone surprisingly well (especially in terms of an amiable political alliance, the details of which Rapunzel was still attempting to understand fully).

Afterward, she and Eugene had found a small bit of free time to themselves, and had taken the opportunity to walk the beach hand in hand, the warm summer breeze rippling around their ankles as the waves lapped at their feet.

“You’re doing really well.” Eugene had murmured to her, his arms wrapped loosely around her waist as they had prolonged parting for the evening. “Seriously, with all that--political--alliance type...mumbo-jumbo. I could never even hope to understand it, but you!” he paused to smile fondly down at her, his gaze taking on that soft edge it sometimes did, in a way that never failed to twist Rapunzel’s heart slightly. “I’m really proud of you.”

He reached up to tug softly at the end of her short hair, a small, unspoken inside joke they still shared between themselves.

Absolutely lit up with emotion, and a little overwhelmed with how smoothly the evening had gone altogether, Rapunzel had only been capable of offering a small and somewhat watery chuckle in reply, before standing on the tips of her toes to press a long kiss to Eugene’s already smiling lips.

They’d parted not long after that, their hands remaining tangled together a moment too long before they separated entirely, each glancing longingly back over their shoulders as they headed back to their respective quarters for the evening.

---

Of course, things couldn’t remain so simple forever and, less than 24 hours later, Rapunzel found this particular fact out the hard way.

There had been a second feast held, something that was somewhat unheard of as per Corona’s welcoming ceremonies, but was nonetheless welcomed by Corona’s royal family.

The two families had been chatting pleasantly, Rapunzel enraptured by a story that the Queen Sina of the Island Kingdom had been telling her about the early days of her reign, when Rapunzel had felt a shift of movement at her side.

She’d turned quickly, probably quickly enough to catch most movement, only to find the chair beside her suddenly unoccupied, Eugene having disappeared quickly from the space not moments before.

With a small gasp, Rapunzel glanced up, her gaze catching on what appeared to be the back of Eugene’s boot rounding the corner at the far end of the dining hall, appearing to be making a hasty exit.

“Which was when I finally began to understand the importance of diplomacy.” the queen carried on from behind Rapunzel, now. “In fact--”

“I--!” Rapunzel interrupted, turning swiftly in her chair and grimacing at the somewhat shocked expression she was met by. “I am sorry, Your Majesty.” she apologized, already beginning to stand from her seat. “But there’s something that I must attend to.”

“Oh!” the queen blinked, glancing briefly at the far end of the hall where Rapunzel’s gaze had been so steadily trained beforehand, before a certain kind of apprehension dawned upon her features. “Of course, my dear! Take as much time as you need. We’ve plenty of time to talk later.” she offered a small, warm sort of smile, before turning back to engage Arianna in conversation.

With a small sigh of relief, Rapunzel took a handful of her skirts and curtsied somewhat awkwardly at both royal families before turning and exiting the hall swiftly.

Outside the loud and somewhat boisterous atmosphere, the hallways of the castle were cold and dark, and Rapunzel shivered as the cool breeze from outside the open windows hit her bare arms.

The sound of her bare feet hitting the floor was loud and echoing in the long and dark halls and, after about 10 minutes of fruitless searching, Rapunzel was starting to fear that her hasty exit had been in vain.

What if Eugene had just needed some air? What if he’d been tired, and decided to retire early? What if--

No, Rapunzel reminded herself with a firm shake of her head.

He would have told her if he’d decided to leave in the middle of the festivities.

This was something different. This was…

This was something a little less familiar.

The thought firmly in mind, Rapunzel squared her shoulders slightly before continuing determinedly on.

Another 10 minutes gone without any sign of Eugene, however, and Rapunzel was about to give up her search.

It was only when she stumbled across an empty guest room at the very far end of the castle, that her hope was renewed.

The door was stood ajar and the very faint, but still identifiable sound of hushed sniffling and very heavy, labored breathing could be heard from the other side of the wood.

Without waiting for an invitation, Rapunzel surged forward and burst into the room, her chest clenching in worry as she began to scan the dark interior for any sign of--

There.

There, in the corner, on the floor with his back pressed against the cool stone of the wall, sat Eugene, his face buried in his hands in a chillingly familiar posture, and his knees tucked tightly up against his chest as he seemed to shake with some unspoken, pent up emotion.

Eugene.” Rapunzel whispered, her heart breaking slightly as she took in the sight.

Somehow, she managed to stop herself from rushing forward immediately, and instead took a few hesitant steps closer, only leaning down when she was within about a foot from Eugene’s prone figure.

“Eugene?” she called again, swallowing past the somewhat large lump that had formed in her throat. “Is everything--Are you...okay?”

To her surprise, the reaction wasn’t quite as instantaneous, this time.

In fact, it was somewhat delayed. Eugene raised his head slowly, his eyes red and somewhat puffy, and seemed to take a long moment of processing before comprehension painted his features, and he sat somewhat sluggishly straighter, reaching up quickly to scrub at his face.

“Rapunzel!” he cried in a somewhat hoarse voice, his cheeks coloring a little. “What--What are you--”

“Eugene, what’s going on?” Rapunzel all but demanded, feeling a little guilty when Eugene practically flinched back at the tone. “What happened?”

“What!?” Eugene asked, cracking a somewhat wild and weak smile. “No-nothing happened! It--Everything’s--”

“Eugene.” Rapunzel interrupted firmly, raising a brow pointedly in a way she hoped brooked no room for argument.

In truth, Eugene was incredibly good at avoiding confrontation. There had been many times, years before and in the early years of their relationship, that he’d been able to slip out of certain conversations before Rapunzel had even fully caught on to his intentions to do so, simply because he didn’t want to have them.

They’d grown since then, however. Rapunzel had become much better at picking up on the (obvious, now that she looked back on it) conversation avoidance tactics, and they’d gotten a lot better about having the conversations that weren’t always necessarily pleasant, but always necessary.

That didn’t, however, mean that Euegene didn’t still try to slip away, at times.

It was, after all, a talent.

Now, however, when faced with Rapunzel’s dry and unyielding insistence, Eugene seemed to wither slightly, and glanced away to avoid her gaze with a small and somewhat tight sounding sigh.

“It--It’s really nothing.” he finally replied on a small (far smaller than Rapunzel was used to hearing him) murmur. “It’s just--It’s stupid. Forget it.”

“Eugene.” Rapunzel crooned, swooping forward to reach up and place a soft hand on Eugene’s cheek (which felt oddly warm, beneath her touch). “It’s not! Whatever you’re feeling, it--it’s okay! You don’t--”

“It’s not, though!” Eugene interrupted hotly, his features twisting into something a bit darker as he reeled back slightly, and swallowed thickly before continuing, “It’s not okay because--Because…”

He trailed off, his face softening into a somewhat lost expression when he paused to take in what was no doubt Rapunzel’s somewhat taken aback one.

“Oh, no. No--” he leaned back forward, and reached out a hand to cup Rapunzel’s cheek.

It was only then that Rapunzel noticed the shaking of the limb.

“I’m sorry. Rapunzel, I--”

“What’s going on, Eugene?” Rapunzel interrupted, fear making the words quaver as Eugene’s hand continued to tremble against her cheek. “Please. You can tell me!”

“Rapunzel--”

“Please!” Rapunzel begged again, irritated at the hot tears she could feel beginning to prick behind her eyes, now. “Whatever it is. Just--”

“Can we--”

“Don’t leave me in the dark?” Rapunzel pleaded softly, biting her lip and glancing down as she reached a hand up to clutch at Eugene's, still hovering uncertainly over her cheek. “Please.”

There was a long pause, following this, and Rapunzel was beginning to fear that she’d stepped too far, that Eugene might retreat and hide away again, before she heard a small, soft snuffle, and raised her head in alarm.

Before her, his features illuminated in the weak moonlight streaming through the nearby window, Eugene was biting his lip harshly, his eyes clenched tightly closed as two clear, crystalline tear tracks made their way down his face.

“Oh!” Rapunzel breathed, lurching up to reach out and place both hands on his face, now. “Oh, no, no, no. Eugene! Don’t--”

“Idon’tlikeit.” Eugene burst out, his shoulders hunching further as soon as he’d released the stream of words, almost as if he were ashamed.

“What--” Rapunzel began, her brow furrowing in confusion.

“I hate this, okay?!” Eugene cried, his eyes flying open to meet Rapunzel’s somewhat shocked gaze. “I hate it! I--I hate not--not having control and--and it’s stupid because I--and--”

“Okay!” Rapunzel interrupted, lowering her hands to rub at Eugene’s neck soothingly, his pulsepoint fluttering madly beneath her fingertips. “It’s okay! It’s gonna be okay. What--What do you hate? The banquet?”

There was a brief pause, before Eugene’s eyes fell closed again, and he bit his lip again before nodding his head miserably.

“Okay.” Rapunzel repeated, glad to be making some progress, at the very least. “Good. Is it, um--” she wracked her brain, searching desperately for a connection between this incident and the one before, with--

With the Market. Eugene hunched over in the alleyway...his similar shaking and hiding….

Rapunzel felt her eyes widen, and she tightened her hands slightly where the fingers were still rubbing at Eugene’s neck.

“It’s--It’s the people, isn’t it?” she questioned softly, making sure to keep her tone low and controlled. “The crowds! You--You don’t like them, do you?”

Immediately, Rapunzel felt Eugene’s shoulders tense beneath her hands,and she was quick to continue rubbing gently at the skin there.

“It--It’s okay! It’s okay.” she soothed hastily over Eugene’s already increasing sniffles, reaching down to grab a gentle hold of his wrists when he attempted to hide his face in his hands again. “That’s okay! It’s okay not to like things.”

“It--” Eugene hiccuped softly, his eyes still closed and his face almost impossibly downturned. “It’s just--It’s stupid.”

“It’s not!” Rapunzel chastised softly, her heart aching as she leaned down in an attempt to catch his gaze. “I promise. There are plenty of things that I’m afraid of! Like--”

“I’m not afraid.” Eugene cut in sharply, his tone held low and somewhat darker than before, though not without that miserable hint to it.

Rapunzel sighed softly, grimacing slightly at her choice of words. “Eugene…”

“I’m not. Afraid.” Eugene repeated stubbornly, his gaze held firmly downturned. “It’s just—I don’t get—“ he exhaled a somewhat frustrated sounding breath through his nose. “It’s nothing.”

“It’s okay to be afraid.” Rapunzel murmured, before she could even register her intention to speak the words in the first place, almost as if they had been ripped from her without her knowledge.

Immediately, Eugene tensed again, his hands beginning to tremble beneath Rapunzel’s gentle touch as his breath left him in short, shallow pants.

“But,” he whimpered, the word choked and wet sounding. “I’msupposedtobe--” he cut himself off with a desperate sounding inhale, then, the sound of it whistling in the otherwise quiet room.

“What??” Rapunzel demanded quickly, when it seemed that Eugene’s labored breathing was about to spiral quickly out of control. “Eugene, what--”

“I’m supposed to be the strong one, okay?!” Eugene cried, his gaze shooting up to meet Rapunzel’s, again. “That’s my job! This!” he barked out a somewhat harsh sounding laugh, and gestured a bit wildly at himself. “This isn’t strong!”

“Eugene—“

“Who am I without that?” Eugene demanded, his hands balling into tight fists. “Huh? What do I have?”

“You have me?” Rapunzel replied immediately, forcing a small and hopeful smile. “You’ll always have me.”

All at once, Eugene seemed to deflate, his brows furrowing together and his tight fists loosening slightly.

“Oh.” he breathed, “Oh no, Rapunzel. I--I didn’t—“

“It’s okay.” Rapunzel cut in, her smile becoming a bit more genuine as Eugene seemed to calm, somewhat. “I understand.”

“It’s just—but—“ Eugene sighed, his gaze dropping, and he reached out to take Rapunzel’s hands where they’d dropped to rest on his knees.

He hesitated, however, his own hands beginning to tremble slightly, hovering just inches above her own.

Understanding, Rapunzel’s gaze flickered briefly between the hands and Eugene’s face, before she reached up to gently take his hands within her own.

“What happens?” she questioned suddenly, hastily continuing on with the thought when faced with Eugene’s curiously quirked brow. “I mean. When you—when you run? What exactly are you afraid of?”

At the words, Eugene’s expression darkened slightly, and Rapunzel grimaced before hastening to add, “You don’t! Have to talk about it. If you don’t want.” she paused, glancing briefly down before continuing, “I just—I want to understand.”

So it doesn’t happen again, was the unspoken end of the sentence.

“Right.” Eugene murmured, the word sounding a little tight, and he cleared his throat before repeating, “Right. Of course. Um…”

“You don’t have to—“

“No! No, you’re right.” Eugene shot her a somewhat rueful glance, his eyes still slightly red and puffy. “We should—should talk about these things. Even—“

“Even if they’re uncomfortable.” Rapunzel finished for him with a small chuckle.

It was a mantra they’d repeated back and forth between each other many times, when they both knew that they needed to communicate better than they were; when Rapunzel fell back on her tendency to hide her emotions behind a sunny facade, or when Eugene became overwhelmed by highly emotional scenarios, and tended to run and hide, rather than face them.

“Right,” Eugene chuckled now. “You’ve taught me a lot, Blondie.”

Rapunzel felt the tightness that had taken up residence in her chest loosen slightly at the familiar nickname, and she grinned a bit wider. “Not as much as you’ve taught me.” she replied easily.

“Wouldn’t say that.” Eugene scoffed, before sobering slightly, the silence of the room and that between them suddenly stifling.

“It’s—“ he began, sighed, and tightened his hold on Rapunzel’s hands before trying again, “I don’t really know when—it started, I guess? Probably right around the time you became princess, and I became—well, I became whatever I am now.”

Rapunzel nodded silently, biting her tongue to stop herself from voicing the argument that wanted to rise against the quick, self-deprecating dismissal.

They’d work on that later.

“I adapted fantastically well to palace life, of course.” Eugene quipped, a bit of his usual sparkle coming back with the words.

“Better than I did.” Rapunzel joked back with a small, amused giggle.

“Well, we can’t all be naturally made for royal treatment.” Eugene offered her a small wink, the corner of his mouth quirking slightly.

“You definitely are that.” Rapunzel laughed.

Oddly enough, Eugene seemed to sober again at the words, his mouth turning down into a small and contemplative frown.

“See, that’s kind of what I thought.” he finally admitted, quietly, “I thought it was gonna be the life I’d always pictured for myself. Pampered, more money than I knew what to do with! No more running or stealing, just...somewhere I belonged, I guess.”

Rapunzel frowned slightly, but remained silent, forcing herself to wait patiently, and watching as Eugene’s eyes flickered over where his hands were fidgeting uncomfortably beneath her own.

“And it is!” Eugene cried suddenly, startling Rapunzel slightly as the exclamation shattered the growing silence. “It is! What we have together, Rapunzel, it--it’s wonderful. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.” he insisted, his eyes wide and earnest, trained unwaveringly on hers.

“And I wouldn’t either.” Rapunzel reassured, her heart fluttering slightly, in spite of the circumstances, as she tightened her hold on Eugene’s hands.

Eugene’s features softened a bit in the cool darkness of the room, though the expression dropped quickly back into one of solemn contemplation.

“But?” Rapunzel prompted, when it seemed that he wasn’t going to continue.

“There’s—but—“ Eugene grit is teeth, his jaw tightening visibly.

And in all the time that she had known him, Rapunzel reflected distantly, she had never seen him struggling quite so badly to open up to her.

“It’s...different, too.” Eugene finally admitted, his voice so low that Rapunzel had to strain to hear him. “It’s—sometimes, there are times when everything feels like. A lot. Not even everything! It’s—“ he grunted slightly, clearly frustrated by his inability to articulate exactly what he wanted to.

“It’s not the expectations, or the new home. It’s not even the people! It’s just. Sometimes there are...things.” he finished lamely, his shoulders drooping slightly, as if this were the best way he could describe things, but was still disappointed by it.

“Like banquets and markets?” Rapunzel supplied helpfully, watching closely as Eugene’s eyes widened slightly, and he turned back to meet hers.

“Ye-es.” he admitted slowly, blinking a little. “It’s—It’s like you said earlier…”

“The crowds.” Rapunzel nodded understandingly, and squeezed his hands slightly. “You don’t like the crowds.”

“I—yes.” Eugene finally confirmed, and heaved a long exhale as he seemed to hunch further in on himself. “The people are--are fine, but then--when it’s all at once and they’re all--all there, it just--” he grimaced bitterly. “I told you it was just stupid.”

Immediately, Rapunzel began shaking her head. “It’s not—“

“And you know the funniest thing?!” Eugene barked out a harsh and totally humorless laugh, his mouth twisting into a wobbly frown as he inhaled another wet sounding breath. “I didn’t used to be like this! Oh no, not good old Flynn Rider!

“Eugene—“

He could attend parties three days long in pubs packed elbow to elbow without breaking a sweat!”

“Please—“

“Have to blend in with a crowd of commoners in an unknown, faraway kingdom? No problem!”

“You need to—“

“Would his chest get tight and hands get wobbly and sweaty if another person even looked like they were going to come closer? No! He wasn’t afraid of—“

Stop!”

Anything!”

Eugene’s last shouted exclamation echoed through the empty room, and he blinked, as if taken aback by his own vehemence, eyes wet with tears that seemed perilously close to spilling over again.

“Being--” Rapunzel swallowed, and rose so that she was knelt on her knees, closer now to Eugene’s miserable expression. “Being afraid of something doesn’t make you weak.”

“But--” Eugene murmured, his voice thick with unshed tears, and heartbreakingly small, “But it does--”

“No.” Rapunzel cut in firmly, and shook her head sharply. “It makes you human. You’re human, Eugene. And you know what?”

There was a beat, before Eugene shook his head in a movement almost too small to catch, his brows knit tightly together as something like a distant hope began to flicker behind his eyes.

Rapunzel smiled softly, before continuing, “You are strong. You’re one of the strongest people I have ever met.”

Eugene blinked, fresh tears rolling onto his cheeks as he reeled back slightly. “But--”

“It takes strength to talk about the things you don’t necessarily want to talk about.” Rapunzel interrupted, before he could continue (and potentially spiral further). “It takes a strong person to leave the life they know, move into a new home, and meet a set of expectations they may not be ready for.”

In the thin moonlight of the room, Rapunzel could just make out more fat, heavy tears spilling onto Eugene’s cheeks, and she quickly reached up to cup his face between her hands.

“And Eugene,” she murmured softly, her thumbs swiping gently at the still falling tears. “Anyone can hide. But only the very strongest are strong enough to admit to their fears.”

It was as if a dam was broken. At the words, Eugene inhaled a tremulous breath, before exhaling it on a small, barking sob.

A little surprised, but prepared for the reaction, nonetheless, Rapunzel opened her arms and caught him as he all but collapsed forward and buried his face against her neck.

“I--” Eugene hiccuped, his arms reaching up to wind tightly around her waist. “I--”

“Shhh.” Rapunzel whispered, wrapping her own arms around his shoulders, one hand already rising to stroke through his hair, the way she knew was sure to calm him.

“I love you.” Eugene murmured, and coughed wetly before continuing, “Rapunzel, I--I love you. I--”

“Shhhh shhh shh.” Rapunzel shushed hastily, burying her face in the soft hair at the crown of his head. “You’re working yourself up. It’s gonna be okay!”

“B--But--”

“Shush.” Rapunzel admonished lightly, frowning slightly as she felt Eugene’s warm forehead brush her neck. “It’s okay.”

When Eugene didn’t reply beyond another miserable sniffle, Rapunzel simply tightened her hold and sighed softly.

“We need to get you to bed.” she finally murmured, gently jostling the prone form draped against her when Eugene seemed to be slumping forward.

Immediately, Eugene shifted, the arms around her waist tightening slightly in an unspoken plea.

“Don’t worry.” Rapunzel whispered, pressing a long kiss to his forehead. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“But,” Eugene muttered, his voice cracking slightly, despite being held so low. “The banquet--”

“I think my parents have it handled.” Rapunzel interrupted, squeezing Eugene’s shoulders tightly before releasing her grip and making to stand. “Come on, there’s a bed in here. We can manage to get a little rest before we’re expected anywhere else for the evening.”

“You mean,” Eugene croaked, looking a little bereft at the loss of contact, and standing immediately to begin following Rapunzel’s lead. “You’re expected anywhere. They won’t even know I’m gone.”

Rapunzel hummed noncommittally at the comment and, by means of an answer, simply waltzed over to the bed in the corner of the room and sat, glancing up at Eugene with a wide and pleading expression before patting the space beside her expectantly.

“You’re sure this is okay?” Eugene questioned, though he’d already begun to move toward the opposite side of the bed. “They won’t be looking for you?”

“Ah, it’s nothing a bit of diplomacy won’t handle.” Rapunzel teased, immediately curling around Eugene’s form as he laid tentatively down on the bed beside her, one hand already rising up to direct his head onto her shoulder, her fingers tangling in his soft locks.

“If--” Eugene paused to shift, already burying his head into the side of her neck and cuddling closer, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. “If you’re sure that--”

He cut himself off with a deep yawn, then, and Rapunzel chuckled fondly at the sound.

“That’s enough worrying for one day, I think.” she chided lightly, her arm draping across Eugene’s broad shoulders. “We could both definitely use a rest.”

“Hm.” Eugene hummed, seemingly melting beneath her hand in his hair. “Rapunzel?”

“Hm?” Rapunzel hummed back, her eyes already drooping closed, despite her previous promise to herself that she would stay awake, the comfort of Eugene’s warmth pressed against her side already lulling her to sleep.

“I’m sorry.”

Rapunzel felt her eyes shoot open, then, and she jostled Eugene slightly in admonishment as the words registered.

“No.” she chided. “No apologizing. You don’t get to apologize for this.”

“But--”

“Eugene!” Rapunzel insisted, frowning sharply and leaning down to catch Eugene’s eyes, which were already trained on her, wide and tentative. “I’m being serious. You have nothing to apologize for.”

The dismissal seemed to be too much for Eugene, for his face seemed to crumple again and, moments later, he moved to bury his face back against Rapunzel’s neck.

“I’m sorry.” he whispered, almost too low to make out.

With a small sigh, Rapunzel resumed petting at his hair, and leaned down to press a long kiss to his head.

“If I say ‘okay’,” she bargained, “Will you at least try and sleep?”

“Nnh.” Eugene grunted, and Rapunzel knew from experience that he was clearly half asleep, already. “Not really tired.”

“Ha ha.” Rapunzel replied drily, before frowning slightly and leaning down to press her cheek against his rapidly warming forehead. “Seriously, Eugene. I think you may have made yourself sick.”

“Not--” Eugene was interrupted by another long yawn. “Not possible.”

Eugene,” Rapunzel warned.

“Mmmkay.” Eugene finally relented, his head bobbing heavily against her shoulder. “Just 15 minutes and--and I’ll be great.”

“Okay,” Rapunzel agreed readily, knowing full well that Eugene wouldn’t stir until she woke him again, and she didn’t plan on doing that for at least another hour. “15 minutes.”

“Hmmm.” Eugene sighed softly, leaning into Rapunzel’s touch where her fingers were still carding through his hair. “Love you.” he murmured sleepily.

“I love you, too.” Rapunzel whispered, dropping one last, lingering kiss to Eugene’s head, before his breathing began to even out in the telltale sign of a long avoided sleep.

They’d have to finish talking about things later, of course. Rapunzel knew that she wouldn’t be satisfied until she was certain that they could take whatever precautions necessary to avoid anything like this happening again.

She also knew, however, at the back of her mind, that some fears weren’t always rational, and that they’d inevitably have to face more incidents wherein this particular fear flared up again, no matter how hard they tried to avoid it.

But that was just life, Rapunzel reasoned, as she snuggled comfortably against a now soundly slumbering Eugene’s side.

And, no matter what life decided to dish out, at least now they knew that they could face it together.