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I'm Only as Strong as the People Around Me

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The Snuggly Duckling was incredibly crowded, too crowded for Varian’s liking. He kept bumping into people, getting elbowed in the stomach right where he was still sore. So could anyone blame him when he needed to leave? He made sure to tell the others where he was headed, though. Just to get some fresh air, I’m not running away, I haven’t been kidnapped (again), I just need some space to think. Thankfully, since the attention was on Rapunzel (who was still being caught up on the whole “Cass destroyed the kingdom” situation), no one raised any protest as he stepped into the cool air. 

The whole Andrew thing had happened a scant 2 weeks ago and it was still fresh in his family’s mind. Pretty much the only time Varian had been alone since then was when he needed to use the bathroom. One part of him hated it. He was nearly 17, he could handle himself! He’d handled the whole situation pretty well, actually, considering he’d been the one to, you know, save the kingdom? In fact he was pretty much back on his feet and back to business before a week had passed. 

But the other part of him, the anxious, nightmare-ridden side that tried to claw its way to the surface and pull him down into panic, was only silenced by the comfort of family. 

(The princess and captain made it pretty clear Varian was a little brother to them, Rapunzel literally said “my little brother” when telling Corona what happened. His chest had felt so light he feared he could float off the ground.)

And they were just as anxious as him; his father, Eugene, and Rapunzel stuck to him like glue. 

The whole ordeal had been… stressful, to say the least, but he could only imagine how terrifying it must have been for the others. The princess filled him in on what happened while he was gone, the lengths they took to find him, how they’d just missed him and seen the fresh blood from that first attack. Not to mention the times Andrew put Varian in between himself and his opponents, using Varian to prevent the only people who could actually stop him from doing so. 

 

On one of the first nights after Varian woke up, he’d opened his eyes to find Eugene staring down at him while he slept. 

“Can… can I help you?” He had asked. Eugene jumped, clutching a hand to his chest in fright, before seeing it was just Varian and relaxing.

“Jeez kid, stop scaring me, my poor heart can’t take it.”

“I literally just woke up.”

Eugene had snorted, but his smile quickly faded. “Sorry for waking you. I just… had a dream. Where we tried to save you, back in the woods. But Andrew made good on his threat. You know. With the sword.” He mimicked a blade across his neck. Varian had been so tempted to roll his eyes at that, but he knew how Eugene worked. He was trying to remain light-hearted for everyone’s sake, including his own. They’d lapsed into an uncomfortable silence, the only noise coming from the insects outside the overhead window. 

Eugene sighed. “Sorry to wake you, kid.” His face had stretched into an uncomfortable smile, papery thin, and moved to stand. He was stopped when Varian reached out and grasped his hand. 

“Stay.” He’d whispered. 

Rapunzel had found them the next morning, Eugene fast asleep in the chair normally occupied by Quirin who had gone home to check up on Old Corona. He was still holding Varian’s hand. 

 

Varian shook himself out of the memory as he sat down on the grassy yard outside the pub. Stars were twinkling into existence and the moon was rising on the now destroyed Corona. The moon. The fucking moon. 

Pretty much as soon as he was off bedrest, Varian had begun reworking the weapon Andrew forced him to make. He was going to turn what could’ve been Corona’s destruction into its savior. Eugene, still clearly a little spooked, had been more than willing to help Varian with the idea Team Awesome style. 

Project Obsidian. What a great idea it was.

What was he thinking? Andrew wanted a weapon that could bring Corona to his knees, and he got his wish. He just got it a few weeks later than he wanted. 

Varian huffed, pulling his knees up to his chest and resting his chin on top. Corona was in shambles, again, and it was his fault, again. 

No, Varian, don’t think like that. He told himself. He destroyed Old Corona a few years back, he did not destroy Corona two weeks ago. Andrew tried to force him to, and he’d failed. Everyone hurt with that machine was ok, he was the only person who got seriously injured. All things Andrew did on his rampage Varian had tried to lessen. He did the right thing. He just had to keep telling himself that. That didn’t mean the current situation wasn’t his fault though. 

Varian bit his lip, worrying it between his two buck teeth. 

The discussions were winding down inside, he couldn’t hear any yelling anymore. As the moon rose higher, people were likely getting ready to sleep. He was a little anxious about doing the same. 

He was so caught up in his thoughts, he didn’t notice the movement of people in and out of the pub, or soft padding of bare feet on the grass, nor the rustling of a dress as its owner sat down beside him.

 

“Hey.”

He looked up to see Rapunzel smiling softly. “You doing ok?”

“Yea,” Varian mumbled, shifting slightly. “Just needed to clear my head.” He stared back up at the sky, wondering if he should say it. The guilt was bubbling in his stomach, rising through his body until it finally flowed through his mouth.

“I’m sorry,” He whispered. “I thought I could rework the weapon. But it backfired, like all my other inventions.”

Rapunzel raised an eyebrow, eyes full of concern. But she didn’t say anything, and that was all he needed to continue. 

“Project Obsidian was supposed to be me taking back my work. People-people keep using me for my stuff, yknow? Cass kidnapped me, Andrew attacked me, they wanted to use my inventions for themselves. But I never wanted my inventions to be used for that. Even… even back then,” Those words were a whisper. 

“I told myself I was using them not for revenge, but for the people. Y’know, for my dad. For the people the rocks hurt. But it’s like, everytime I try to help people, either it gets twisted into something selfish, or it blows up in my face! Everytime I try to help someone I just hurt another!” 

He ran a gloved hand down his face. “Sorry.” He murmured. It felt good to get it out, but Rapunzel was dealing with enough already. She didn’t need his self doubt right now. 

“I feel the same.”

Varian’s head snapped over to her. 

“My whole life, Gothel used me for my hair. But now I have a whole kingdom to look after. When you try to help someone, sometimes… it means hurting another.” She looked over to her ruined kingdom, the unspoken who she meant was ringing. 

“It can be frustrating, when you try to do good and it gets twisted by others, or it backfires. Trust me, I know. But all we can do is accept it. We can’t help everyone.” She sent him a hopeful smile. “But we can help each other.”

He smiled back. Silently, she held an arm out, and he gladly slid into a hug. To think, he used to hate her more than anyone. Now, she was family. And family supported each other. 

“Is there anything I can do to help you?” He asked. She hummed, hugging a little tighter.

“Come inside?”

-

The lights inside the pub had dimmed, only a few candles still lit. A good chunk of the people were either asleep or falling asleep. Some Varian recognized, like Lance, Angry, and Catalina, who were all asleep in a big pile. Others were people who Varian had only seen in passing, or other citizens of the capital he hadn’t met. While not everyone in the capital was here, obviously, the pub was still crammed with sleeping bodies and helpful folks keeping watch. One of the latter was Quirin, who brightened considerably at seeing his son. He walked over, checking Varian over for signs of distress and smiling when he saw none. 

“Are you ok?” He asked. Now that he’d permanently moved out Quirin made sure to thoroughly check on Varian every time he visited. It was overwhelming in the best kind of way, and Varian knew it likely would die down in time, but for now he was more than happy to let his dad fret over him. It was the kind of relationship he’d always wanted with his dad growing up. The kind they hadn’t had since his mom died. 

“I’m fine, just a little anxious,” He admitted. Because honestly, everyone had to be a little scared right now. 

“You sure?” Quirin asked, placing both hands on his shoulders, taking up all of Varian’s vision. He seemed a little more on edge than he was when Varian stepped out. 

“Pretty sure, I mean as sure as you can be when your invention is indirectly responsible for Corona’s destruction… again.” He laughed awkwardly. “Why, what’s up?”

His dad looked like he’d eaten a lemon. “Well, some folks from neighboring villages are helping out the injured, is all, and…” 

He was cut off when a familiar hand landed on Quirin’s shoulder, butting into the conversation. Varian’s heart sunk into his stomach. 

 

It was Karrin. 

He knew Karrin had turned himself in, but since Varian never pressed any charges, it makes sense that he'd be set free. There was no crime to turn himself in for, after all. Still, it was jarring to see the man who tried to kill him just a few weeks ago. There's a reason why he'd never go down and see Andrew, after all. 

 

“Quirin, we just finished patching up Mrs. Sommers, is there anyone left?” His eyes strayed to the young man in front of him, and his face drained of color. “Varian! What… what are you doing here?”

Varian raised an eyebrow in silent annoyance. “Same as all of you.” He responded, and Karrin fiddled with his thumbs. 

“Right, right,” He laughed awkwardly. “I’ll just… go ask around.” With a blink of an eye he’d vanished back into the deeper parts of the building. Quirin’s head hung low in defeat. He sighed. “There’s only a few from Old Corona, I can ask them to stay away if you want.”

But honestly, what was Varian supposed to do? Say no to their help? Of course not. He shook his head. While the others were a bit more nervous about Varian returning to Old Corona, the point remained that it was his home, where he’d grown up. Rapunzel said it herself, not everyone was going to like you. Varian had been well aware of that growing up, but this was a bit different. Some people were likely still untrusting of Varian, afraid of Andrew and the royal family but still secretly wishing Varian had gotten his comeuppance. But others, like Karrin, were nicer to him growing up, and likely felt the same guilt he did a scant year ago. Besides, if he didn’t speak to them now, there was no telling when he’d have the courage to try again. 

“Nah, I need to talk to him anyway.” Varian said, sliding his dad’s arms off of him and heading in the direction Karrin went. 

 

The floorboards creaked under him as he approached the part of the pub sectioned off for the injured. While there weren’t many, getting cut with an impenetrable rock was bound to hurt like a bitch and they still needed stitches. Karrin was whispering quietly with a woman Varian recognized as Martha, the one who mocked him for having a panic attack.

That felt like a lifetime ago. 

At his approach, their conversation died off. Martha sent him a glare, before retreating, mumbling something about helping another. 

Any and all courage he had was now dangling, about to fall out the window. What if Karrin was one of the people who still disliked him? Or the rest Karrin was supposedly with? They couldn’t hurt him here, at least he didn’t think so. Not when the royal family was right here to stop them… right?

He shook his head. No. Rapunzel had trusted him when he wanted to make amends. He owed these people the same. Martha could be an outlier. 

“Hi Karrin” He gave an awkward wave, and Karrin gave a small smile in return. God this was a disaster already. “How… how are you?”

“I’m… fine.” Karrin managed. “And you are…”

Varian waved his arm up and down faster. “Oh! I’m good, I’m good! The doctor fixed me right up, no problem!” Karrin’s face fell, and he winced. Why did he even mention that? Varian frowned. He’d kind of been hoping this would go the same way his and Rapunzel’s make-up had. At least then he’d had a template. 

“L-look. I don’t… I…” The words were stuck in his throat. He was desperately trying to find a way to sugarcoat it, but it wasn’t working. Karrin, sensing his struggle, held up a hand.

“Don’t bother, son.” He gave Varian a sad smile. “You don’t have to say anything. We were in the wrong, and I can’t apologize enough for my part in all this.” 

His head hung slightly. “I don’t expect you to forgive us, either.”

“But I do!”

Karrin raised his eyes to his, confused at the outburst. Varian swallowed. “Forgive you, that is. All of you. I did some really bad things in the past, even before I was arrested. And when I was pardoned, it felt like you guys… it felt like there wasn’t really any justice, right?”

Karrin bit his lip, debating whether to tell the truth. “Yes.” He finally admitted.

“That’s how I felt when I turned on Ra-the princess. And she forgave me anyway.”

The older man relaxed his shoulders, letting out the breath he was holding. “You really have changed, haven’t you?”

Varian gave a sheepish smile, and extended his hand in peace. Karrin grasped it and shook it firmly. 

“If you ever decide to visit again, feel free to stop my shop, boy.” 

He grinned. “Gladly.” 

-

He returned to his family feeling lighter than he has since the whole debacle began. 

Rapunzel was speaking softly to her parents about a possible plan, waving as he walked by. He got a head ruffle from Eugene when passing him, the older man busy handing out blankets to the rest of the people still awake. He tried to offer his aid, but Eugene clearly had it covered, and he argued Varian was still healing and therefore needed sleep. Varian only backed off when Eugene promised he and Rapunzel would get some sleep as well.

“Thanks for looking out for us kid,” He said. “But we got it covered for tonight. We’ll come bother you in the morning.” 

“Looking forward to it.”

Satisfied, Eugene pointed him to where Quirin was sitting, eyes dropping as he waited for his son to join him. Hurrying over, Varian was more than happy to join his dad on the floor. 

“Are you going to be ok for the night?” Quirin asked.

Varian grinned. His dad here beside him, siblings not too far off? He had nothing to worry about. 

“I’m great.” He said. Satisfied, Quirin offered Varian a blanket, and the two laid down for the night. 

 

Sure, tomorrow would be chaotic, but Varian felt more at peace than he had in ages. 

They were gonna be just fine.