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Cloaked Feelings

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“Ruddiger!” Varian called in exasperation. “Get out of there! You can eat your apples after we finish sorting through this stuff.”

With a grumbling chitter, the pudgy raccoon abandoned the bucket of apples he’d been rooting through and ambled over to where Varian was sitting cross-legged on the floor. The young alchemist gave his friend a quick scratch behind the ear before nodding his head at a nearby basket, and the raccoon dutifully clambered up the side and disappeared over the rim.

Satisfied that Ruddiger was doing his part, Varian went back to rifling through his own box, which was filled with an assortment of unclaimed goods that had been salvaged from the wreckage of Corona a few months back.

Rapunzel had told him that since no one had come forward to claim any of the items, he was free to sift through and see if there was anything he could use for his experiments. He may be a fully-funded royal engineer now, but he still had personal projects that he liked to work on.

Besides, he enjoyed the thrill of the hunt! Back in Old Corona, he and Ruddiger had spent many days together digging through scrap piles for hidden treasures, though Ruddiger was usually more interested in gobbling down the remains of someone’s half-eaten sandwich than extracting metal bedsprings from a mattress to be melted down later.

Lance had helped him haul half a dozen boxes and baskets full of odds and ends down to his lab in the basement of the castle, but he’d paid the price for the help by spending the next half-hour cleaning up the minor explosion the larger man had caused during the five minutes he’d spent in the lab, touching everything Varian told him not to. Once the exasperated alchemist had contained the globulous purple fire and sent Lance on his way, he had finally been able to start sorting his haul.

Varian had just dropped a dented pocket watch into his pile of useful objects when he heard a hissing sound from Ruddiger’s basket. Brow furrowed, he stood and leaned forward to peer inside.

An orange tabby cat lunged out at him, and Varian let out a startled yelp. “Gah! What the—?!” He ducked his head as the strange cat clawed its way up his vest and curled around his shoulders. Where had it come from?! And where was Ruddiger? Grabbing the edge of the basket, he tipped it towards him, searching for his friend.

“Ruddiger?” he asked, then winced when the cat yowled right into his ear. He reached up to grab it, but instead of fur he got a fistful of fabric. Baffled, he pulled at the material, and in a shower of sparkling light a dark piece of cloth slid off of the cat and revealed Ruddiger instead.

They stared at each for a moment, then both of their gazes darted down to the cloth hanging from the alchemist’s hand. What…had just happened?



To Varian’s utter astonishment, he discovered that the large piece of cloth was actually a cloak. A hooded cloak with a chameleon-shaped brooch that could change a person’s physical features and was apparently controlled by neural oscillation or…something close to it. Essentially—as he’d had to explain to Ruddiger when the raccoon had tilted his furry head in confusion—you think of the person you want to look like, and boom! Instant change! And just as astounding, the cloak itself shifted into whatever outfit the wearer willed it to, making it the perfect disguise!

Remarkably, the cloak wasn’t simply bending light to create an illusion; it changed the physiological structure of whoever was wearing it. While experimenting, Varian had shifted to look like Quirin, and his head had collided with a high shelf that normally wouldn’t have posed a risk. Aside from the forming bump on his forehead, it was an exciting discovery!

He’d also found that the cloak only functioned correctly if the brooch was attached. Separated, the two items lost their transformative properties, and even when Varian tried attaching the brooch to other materials, it never yielded any results. But if he could find a way to replicate the materials, the scientific possibilities could be endless!

To that end, he’d laid the cloak out on a workbench that he’d hastily cleared of beakers and books. One corner of the fabric lay under the lens of a microscope, while the chameleon brooch floated in a beaker of chemical solution that Varian planned to test to see what properties it contained. He also had a few stray pieces of thread from the cloak floating in their own solution. He was going to find out exactly what these things were made of!

Plucking the brooch from the solution with a pair of sterilized tweezers, he carefully cleaned it before reattaching it to the cloak. Then he took the two chemical compounds and poured them into labelled test tubes. Since the day he’d tried to test Rapunzel’s hair, he’d improved on the process and come up with an alternate method in the form of a chemical solution that could analyze the composition and properties of whatever he soaked in it.

Once he’d placed the test tubes into the chamber of a small centrifuge machine of his own design and set it to run, the teen alchemist placed his hands on his hips and took a step back, letting out a satisfied huff. That should do it!

But it would be a few hours until the results were ready, so now he had some time to kill.

Glancing around his lab, his eyes landed on his bookmarked copy of Flynn Rider and the Cursed Isle of Sairaag. He grinned. He knew just how to pass the time.



“Ha! You think a few scurvy pirates can stop the great Flynn Rider?” Varian goaded his invisible foe, brandishing his prototype electromagnetic sword. Wearing the face of one Eugene Fitzherbert, he swiped at the rubber ball that came flying towards him, envisioning it as a savage pirate charging him at the command of the Dread Pirate Ruby-Eyed Rick.

While Eugene might not be the Flynn Rider from The Tales of Flynnigan Rider, his was still the face Varian associated with his favorite fictional character. And with the help of one totally non-magical cloak, he now had the chance to be his childhood hero!

“Is that the best you’ve got, you flea-bitten rapscallion?” he taunted, hopping from one foot to the other in anticipation of the next round.

Dropping the ball he’d been about to load into the Varian’s homemade launching machine, Ruddiger gave an indignant chitter and planted his paws on his sides.

“No, Ruddiger—I know you don’t actually have fleas,” Varian reassured his friend with a touch of exasperation. “It’s just a line from the book!”

Ruddiger didn’t seem entirely convinced, but nonetheless, he picked up the ball and dropped it into the machine.

“Ha-ha!” Varian crowed triumphantly as he cut through the projectile. “Give it up, Ruby Eye! Your two-bit lackeys are no match for—”

He froze at the sound of the door creaking open. Shoot, he hadn’t been expecting anyone!

“Hey Varian, have you seen—oh there you are, Eugene!” Rapunzel stepped into the lab, a wide grin on her freckled features.

“O-oh, no, I’m not—” Varian stammered, his cheeks flushing at being caught in what was essentially an elaborate game of make-believe. Why did he have to give in to his childish impulses without locking the door first? And why did it have to be Rapunzel of all people to catch him?

But apparently Rapunzel had drawn a completely different conclusion, and she let out a light laugh as she approached him. “Were you playing with Varian’s inventions again?” She took the sword from his hand and placed it on the nearest table. “You know how he feels about people touching his stuff. Remember how you crashed his Flynnoleum-powered cart into the city fountain?”

Wait, that had been Eugene?! Varian knew he hadn’t forgotten to set the emergency brake when he’d—

The alchemist was jolted from his thoughts when Rapunzel gave his nose a light tap. “Don’t worry!” she told him, before leaning in close and whispering conspiratorially, “I don’t think Varian has it out for you the same way he does for Lance.”

With Rapunzel so close, her large emerald eyes and cute freckled nose mere inches from his own, Varian was finding it extremely hard to articulate any of the thoughts tumbling around in his head, and that gave the princess time to move on to the very reason she’d come looking for Eugene.

“Now, who’s ready for our date~?” she practically sang, bouncing on her heels.

“Date?” Varian echoed, before realization dawned on him and he held up his hands in alarm. “Rapunzel, I’m not—”

“Oh very funny, Eugene,” Rapunzel smirked. Then her fingers curled into the material of his shirt to pull him down—a foreign feeling for the normally short-statured teen—and she pressed a kiss to his mouth.

Time ground to a complete standstill for Varian, his every sense zeroing in on the feeling of Rapunzel’s soft lips pressing against his own. She—she was kissing him!

Then her lips began to move against his, and Varian couldn’t help himself.

He kissed her back.

He had no idea how long the kiss lasted—it felt like an eternity and a split second all rolled into one—before Rapunzel pulled away with that shining smile of hers.

As Varian slowly came back to his senses, he realized that his arms had wound around the princess and pulled her into a tight embrace. But it was unlike any embrace they’d ever shared before. It was intimate, and Varian could feel a hot flush creeping up his back and neck as his heart pounded fiercely, keenly aware of the feel of Rapunzel’s body pressed against his.

He wasn’t given too much more time to think about it before Rapunzel expertly twirled out of his hold and grabbed his hand. “C’mon, let’s go! We don’t want to miss the sunset!”

Before Varian could ask ‘what sunset?’ he was being pulled towards the door.

Turning his head to look over his shoulder, he caught sight of Ruddiger watching from atop his workbench. ‘Help!’ he mouthed to the raccoon. Ruddiger tipped his head, seeming to consider the idea before giving him a toothy grin and curling his small raccoon hands into double thumbs up.

What…that little traitor! Varian didn’t even have time to glare at the raccoon before Rapunzel towed him down the hall, chatting excitedly about their date.

Now, Varian’s first instinct was to protest and tell her he wasn’t Eugene and that she was mistaken. But the fresh memory of what had just transpired between them kept his lips sealed as his pulse thundered in his burning ears.

He couldn’t let her know that he wasn’t Eugene now! What would she think if she found out she’d kissed him and…oh geez, he’d kissed her back! If he hadn’t been an idiot and gotten swept away in the moment he could probably play this all off as the huge misunderstanding it was.

But he had kissed her back and even wrapped his arms around her, which had just prolonged it. There was no explaining that away! She’d find out—she’d know how he…how he felt about her, and then what would happen? She was engaged! To Eugene! One of his best friends!

If Varian’s hands had been free he would have tangled them in his hair in frustration. What was he gonna do? The kiss had been wonderful, everything he’d ever imagined it could be, but he couldn’t let Rapunzel find out!

The best thing he could do now was escape before things got out of hand.

“Oh hey, um…s-sunshine?” The nickname tasted foreign on his tongue. He was so used to calling her Rapunzel or princess, but Eugene usually reserved the first for more serious occasions and never used the second. This was going to be tricky.

“Hm?” Rapunzel glanced back at him curiously.

“Uh, I forgot that I had a…a thing that I need to do. Y’know, captain of the guard stuff and…uh…” Varian trailed off as Rapunzel’s face fell, his chest constricting uncomfortably.

“Oh…does that mean we have to cancel our date?” Her large green eyes stared into his sadly, and suddenly Varian felt very small, despite his magically-enhanced height. Well…it wasn’t like one little date would hurt anything. It would make Rapunzel happy and—if he was honest—the idea of actually going on a date with her was pretty thrilling.

“No,” he finally said, giving her a lop-sided grin. “It can wait.”

The beaming smile that lit Rapunzel’s face effectively washed away all of Varian’s doubts about his decision, and he willingly allowed himself to be whisked down the hall.



Varian glanced around the docks uneasily, his doubts resurfacing now that they were actually here. Eugene had apparently made arrangements for a romantic sunset boat ride, which made the teen alchemist wonder where the real Eugene was. Shouldn’t he be here if he was the one who set up this date?

Rapunzel hopped down into the boat and held out an inviting hand. “Ready?” she asked, her smile drawing Varian in like a moth to a flame.

Well, the fact of the matter was that Eugene wasn’t here. And someone had to take Rapunzel on this date! “You bet!” he said, taking her hand and joining her. She untied the mooring rope while he grabbed the oars, and soon they were headed out towards the open water.

They found a spot where Rapunzel insisted they would have the absolute best view of the sunset. Already the darkening sky was turning a dusky pink, and Varian had to admit that it was probably going to be a spectacular view when the sun dipped below the horizon.

But until that happened…he had no clue what he was supposed to do. What were they going to talk about? What did she and Eugene talk about when they were alone like this?

Fortunately for him Rapunzel was a take-charge kind of girl, and she was all too happy to snuggle right up into his side, resting her head on his shoulder. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” she sighed, gazing up at the pink and purple streaks coloring the sky.

A response popped into Varian’s head and, emboldened by his concealed identity, he decided to voice it.

“Not as beautiful as you.” Then he held his breath, not knowing how she would respond. Was that too cheesy? Too forward? Too out of character?

Rapunzel pulled away from his shoulder, and Varian felt his heart jump into his throat. He’d messed up, he’d definitely messed up! Slowly turning his head, he was shocked to see Rapunzel looking at him with a soft smile, her cheeks lightly tinted pink. “Aw, that is so sweet!” she cooed, and this time Varian’s heart skipped a beat for an entirely different reason.

With his confidence boosted and nerves soothed by Rapunzel’s positive response, Varian committed himself to the task of enjoying his time with the bubbly princess.

Amidst amiable chatter, he gave her compliments, enjoying how she’d flush with happiness. He took her hands and softly rubbed his thumb over her knuckles, brushed her hair back from her face, gently pressed his forehead to hers. No matter how small, each touch was absolutely electrifying to him, charged with an emotion that Varian could only describe as…well, love.

This was a side of Rapunzel that only Eugene got to experience, and while it wasn’t like the couple hid their affection in front of others, there was just something about being the direct recipient of Rapunzel’s coy looks—how she would bite her bottom lip while looking at him from beneath her thick eyelashes—that stole his breath and made his stomach do somersaults.

He relished each small romantic gesture—both given and taken—that he’d otherwise never dare to indulge in, and committed each and every one to memory. 

This was both the best and worst idea he’d ever had.

Then Rapunzel leaned in, her eyes slipping closed, and Varian’s heart beat a million miles a minute. It was happening! She was going to kiss him again!

Varian was no stranger to physical affection from Rapunzel. She was the type to give out hugs like candy, and she had no qualms about holding hands with Varian or even snuggling up to him if they were sitting next to each other. But it was always platonic in nature, and while Varian enjoyed it, he hadn’t realized how different those innocent gestures of affection were compared to what Rapunzel shared with Eugene. Even if it was the exact same physical action, it was the emotion and intent behind it that made it special.

And none of it was truly intended for him.

Then her lips were on his, and Varian allowed himself to forget that crucial little detail and be swept away. One hand tangled itself in her hair while the other settled at the small of her back, pulling her closer. He could feel the light pressure of her hand on his chest, and the sensation of her thumb brushing along his jaw sent a delightful jolt up his spine. 

By the time Rapunzel pulled back, Varian’s head was buzzing pleasantly and he felt lighter than air, like he could just float away on the slightest breeze.

“Th-that was great, thanks…” he mumbled dazedly, a goofy grin on his face.

Rapunzel giggled at his dazed expression. Then she tipped her head to the side, studying him. “Y’know, you’ve been acting a bit funny, Eugene. Is something wrong?”

Panic sliced through Varian’s euphoria, and he quickly shook his head. “N-no! Of course not! Why would—why would something be wrong? Nope, ev-everything’s cool, we’re cool!” Chuckling nervously, he made to lean on the side of the boat, but his elbow missed and he nearly tumbled into the water.

“Woah!” Rapunzel exclaimed, grabbing his wrist and yanking him back before he could fall overboard. “Are you sure you’re feeling okay? Should we head back?”

Varian took a second to calm his rapidly beating heart, which felt like it was about to pound his ribs to dust. “I-I guess maybe that would be a good idea,” he conceded reluctantly, almost shakily. As much as he was enjoying spending time out here with Rapunzel like this, on an actual date, he was also painfully aware of what a charade it was. And the longer it continued, the more likely he’d be found out.

Taking both of his hands in hers, Rapunzel locked eyes with him, gazing at him so intently that Varian’s previous attempt to calm his heart became an effort in futility. “You know you can tell me anything, right?” 

Completely entranced by her soft tone and those vivid green eyes filled with understanding and concern, Varian’s mouth automatically opened to confide in her. But at the last second he caught himself and snapped it shut.

He loved her. He’d loved her since the day she’d offered him forgiveness and the chance of redemption, from the moment she’d refused to let him kill himself to clean up the mess he’d made. But he couldn’t tell her that, and he couldn’t tell her that he’d selfishly taken advantage of her to see how it would feel if…if she returned his feelings.

But it was a pale imitation. She thought she was with Eugene, not him.

Taking a deep breath through his nose, Varian gave her a weak smile. This was something he couldn’t share even with her.

So instead, he told her, “I think I might’ve had some…bad fish for lunch. Didn’t um…taste right, y’know?”

Sighing, he lifted his hand and cupped her cheek. Maybe it was wrong, and she certainly wouldn’t know the true meaning behind his words, but this might be the only opportunity he had to tell her without potentially ruining their friendship.

“I love you, Rapunzel,” he told her gently, combing his fingers through her soft brown hair reverently.

Rapunzel’s eyes lit with a warmth that made Varian’s heart ache, and she reached up to rest her hand on his cheek in turn. “And I love you, Eugene.”

It felt like she’d slapped him. Even with her tender touch, and even when she leaned in and pressed her mouth to his once more, Varian felt the sharp ache of Eugene’s name on her lips. He hadn’t even been expecting anything, he’d just wanted to finally tell her, but…it was too much.

The feeling of something warm and wet sliding down his cheek made Varian’s eyes snap open. To his horror, he realized that his vision was swimming. No, he couldn’t cry, Eugene wouldn’t cry!

Breaking the kiss, he was thankful that Rapunzel’s eyes were closed as he swiped his sleeve across his face. What was he doing, he’d known all along that he had no place with Rapunzel. Not like Eugene did.

“Eugene?” she asked, utterly confused when she opened her eyes to the sight of her fiancé vehemently swiping at his eyes with his sleeve.

“All-allergies” was his weak excuse. Leaning down, he picked up the oars and attempted a reassuring smile. “Let’s head back, we can…we can do this again some other time. When there’s less…pollen.”

A lie. She would do this again with Eugene, but not him.

Varian could tell that Rapunzel suspected something was off, judging by the concerned looks she kept shooting him as he rowed them back to shore. So he did his best to buck up and make light small talk, for her sake. He didn’t want her to worry…or to question Eugene about it later.

That thought sent a jolt of horrified realization down his spine. Eugene. There was no way Rapunzel wouldn’t mention the date to him later, probably to ask what he’d been hiding from her. Stupid stupid stupid! They were going to find out!

It took a lot of effort to not let his panic show as he helped Rapunzel out of the boat, a wide smile plastered onto his face that probably looked a bit manic, if Rapunzel’s raised brow was any indication. “Eugene…maybe you should go see a doctor?”

“No!” Varian exclaimed hastily, before clearing his throat. “It’s just that I uh…I need to…need to go.” He stood there for a brief moment, his overly wide smile still in place. Then he ducked away and booked it down the street.

“Wha—Eugene!” Rapunzel exclaimed in surprise, reaching after him. “Where are you going?!”

Somewhere he could take off this stupid cloak and try to figure out a way to salvage this whole situation! But Varian thought back to his ‘bad fish’ excuse and decided to roll with that. “Bathroom!” he shouted back.

As he disappeared around the corner of a building, Rapunzel’s hand slowly lowered. Well that was…weird.



Back in the relative safety of his lab, Varian took a moment to lean against the door and catch his breath. Initially he’d wanted nothing more than to rip off the cloak as soon as he was out of Rapunzel’s sight, but had thought better of it. He couldn’t risk someone seeing him go into a building as Eugene and come out as himself, especially while carrying such an incriminating piece of evidence.

So instead, the citizens of Corona got to witness their illustrious captain of the guard tearing through the streets like his tail was on fire. Which…really wasn’t all that rare of an occurrence, but still.

Varian grabbed the cloth at his shoulder and pulled the cloak off, his body returning to normal in a sparkling flash of light. With a heaving sigh, he ran his fingers through his bangs. He had a lot to think about.

Dragging the cloak with him, he sat down at his desk and let his head fall on top of the scattered blueprints and schematics with a thunk.

On the one hand, he’d never imagined he’d get the chance to be with Rapunzel like that, and it had been amazing. But any joy he might derive from the memory was tainted by his gnawing guilt at the false pretense those stolen moments had been under. And he still had to figure out what he was going to do when Rapunzel inevitably talked to Eugene…

A knock at the door nearly made Varian jump out of his skin, and he frantically stuffed the cloak under his desk, kicking it against the wall and nearly tripping as he scrambled from his seat. He’d locked the door this time, but it’d be suspicious if it took him too long to answer it.

“C-coming!” he called, heart pounding as he undid the lock and cracked open the door.

A cold sweat broke out on the back of Varian’s neck when he saw who it was.

“Rapunzel?” he squeaked, before clearing his throat and opening the door fully. “I mean uh, h-hi!”

“Hi Varian!” she grinned, then tilted her head as she took in his frazzled appearance. “Are you…busy?”

“Busy…um, no!” Varian stepped back and gestured for her to come inside, making a valiant effort to keep his hand from shaking as she moved past him. “What—” He paused, wetting his suddenly dry lips as he struggled to maintain eye contact. “What brings you here?”

“Well, I wanted to ask you something.” The princess twirled a strand of brunette hair in front of her ear while Varian held his breath, dreading her next words. “Earlier, I went on a date with Eugene and…he was acting kind of funny.”

Varian’s mouth went completely dry. She knew. 

“But,” Rapunzel continued, clearly not reading into Varian’s wide-eyed expression. “it turns out he was  just having indigestion from eating some bad fish for lunch.”

Varian’s fight or flight instinct had been about to kick into overdrive, but just like that it vanished, leaving him somewhat numb as he tried to comprehend this turn of events. “…what?”

“Yeah, I think he came here earlier to see if you could help him, but you weren’t around and I might have dragged him off before he could get something to fix it,” Rapunzel explained sheepishly. “So I was wondering…do you have anything that could help with an upset stomach?”

Varian blinked. “Upset stomach?” he echoed. That’s why she was here? Not to force him to give her an explanation for his actions, or chew him out for tricking her, or kick him out of the castle? “Uh I…don’t really do much with medicine, though I could probably whip something up if you need me to.”

It’d have to be something with no potency whatsoever, since he doubted Eugene—wherever he was—had actually had bad fish for lunch.

Rapunzel’s smile was dazzling. “Oh, thank you, Varian!” she said, grabbing his hand and giving it a quick squeeze that made the young alchemist’s heart flutter. Then she was out the door, giving him a lighthearted wave. “I’ll be back once I find where Eugene went!” And she was gone.

Varian slowly let out the breath he didn’t even know he’d been holding as he closed the door behind her. He meandered over to the cabinet where he kept his alchemical supplies, absentmindedly plucking a few colorful vials before moving to his workbench.

So he hadn’t been found out. And really, if nobody knew he had the cloak, they couldn’t possibly pin him as the fake Eugene, even if Eugene and Rapunzel did talk. But the thought of Rapunzel worrying about who the stranger in the boat had been, touching her, kissing her—Varian didn’t want to imagine the distress that would cause her.

…should he come clean? Before Eugene could confirm that he hadn’t been the one in the boat with Rapunzel?

The very idea made Varian’s gut twist into an anxious knot. Telling Rapunzel would keep her from worrying about being molested by a stranger, but would she forgive him? Be able to trust him again? Understand why, in his prolonged moment of weakness, he’d done it?

Well. She’d been able to forgive Cassandra but…somehow that felt different. Cassandra hadn’t tricked Rapunzel into kissing her. And he hadn’t had an ancient demon manipulating him.

The sound of squeaking door hinges jerked Varian from his spiraling thoughts, and he whirled around. Then he let out a sigh of relief when he saw it was just Ruddiger coming through the special door flap he’d installed for him. “Oh, it’s just you,” he breathed. Then he noticed the raccoon had something in his mouth, and he kneeled down to get a better look. Was that…an empty vial?

Ruddiger deposited the vial into his waiting hand, and Varian’s breath caught as he read the label.

Quirinian 2.0

Ironically, in his attempt to help Rapunzel’s parents regain their memories, he’d actually managed to create a weaker version of what the Quirinian was originally supposed to be: a memory-erase serum. The effects of the serum caused whoever drank it to forget everything they’d experienced in the last 24 hours. But since it didn’t help people regain their memories, and the king and queen had managed to remember their lives without his help anyway, he’d shelved the serum and moved on to other projects.

His eyes darted back to Ruddiger. “Did you…” He swallowed weakly, afraid of the answer. “Did you give this t-to Eugene?”

Ruddiger nodded, looking immensely pleased with himself.

Varian’s heart dropped. So this was why Eugene hadn’t shown up? Because he’d forgotten about the date altogether? Varian had no idea how recently they’d made their plans, but apparently it had been fairly impromptu, probably something they’d decided last night or this morning.

Oh no. Ruddiger must have interpreted his plea for help when Rapunzel had taken him from the lab as asking for help with the date, not getting out of it! No no no, he hadn’t wanted this!

“Ruddiger…no,” Varian said, his voice cracking as he clutched at his hair with both hands. “No, you went too far! I—” Slowly, his hands fell to his lap. “No…I went too far,” he admitted miserably.

Dimly, he was aware of Ruddiger’s concerned chitter, how his friend patted his leg in a gesture of comfort. But that left Varian to wonder just why he was so upset. Was it because he’d tricked Rapunzel? Broken her trust so he could live out a fantasy for a few hours? Indirectly drugged Eugene? Or was it because…

He swallowed thickly. Because he knew that he’d never experience that sort of happiness, that sort of thrill, with Rapunzel again?

Varian’s eyes darted to the cloak, and he chewed his lip, torn. There was a chance, just a small one, that he could experience that happiness again. But it wouldn’t be right. It wouldn’t be fair. To Rapunzel, to Eugene, to himself.

All he had to do was get rid of it and no one would ever know. Rapunzel might even blame the bad fish thing for Eugene’s memory. But…

Shaking his head, Varian tore his eyes away from the shimmering fabric. He shouldn’t even be tempted to use it again. He should just move on, cherish the memory of his short time with Rapunzel, let everything go back to the way it was.

But there was a dark, desperate part of himself that wanted to experience being with Rapunzel again, regardless of the cost...and it scared him. If he kept the cloak, the temptation would be too great.

He couldn’t let that happen. He’d made enough mistakes in his life—he had to get rid of the cloak before he made any more.

Resolve hardened, but afraid it wouldn’t last, Varian moved to where the cloak lay crumpled on the ground and snatched it up. “C’mon Ruddiger, let’s get rid of this thing.”

With a chitter of agreement, Ruddiger climbed to his shoulders and the alchemist strode from his lab to dispose of the magical cloak.

Not a moment after the door shut behind them, a high-pitched ‘ding’ echoed through the lab as the centrifuge machine came to a stop, and the spectrometric press hooked to it printed out two sheets of data.

The test results were ready.