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I'm Only as Strong as the People Around Me

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Varian was screaming again. It scared Quirin how this was no longer a cause for panic.

 

Varian often worked until late hours, so hearing him walk about, getting snacks, the occasional distant boom of an experiment gone wrong had once been common sounds. It used to be that Varian screamed only on two occasions: one, when he was an infant who needed his mother. Two, when something startled him and he squeaked like an exploding tea kettle. 

 

Now, there was a third reason: nightmares. 

 

Quirin knew a lot changed in his son in the months he was gone. Seeing a loved one trapped in amber, just out of reach, it was bound to traumatize him. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the only trauma Varian had gone through.

The first night after their reunion, Quirin awoke to Varian’s blood curdling screams sometime around midnight. He hadn’t heard Varian yell like that since a particularly nasty alchemy accident burned Varian’s hands so badly that he couldn’t write for a month. But Varian had gone to bed; so what was the cause for his son’s distress? 

The first time Quirin entered Varian’s room after being set free was terrifying. To find him clawing at his sheets, gasping for breath, tears running down his son’s freckled cheeks, Quirin feared Varian was actually dying. It’s not that Varian never had nightmares before. Varian was still a child, and children had nightmares, no matter how happy their life is (not that Varian had an idyllic childhood; it’s hard to have one without your mother). But this was different. Varian’s nightmares had always been quiet. He’d never screamed, only whimpered. And when he woke up, he’d quitely pad into Quirin’s bedroom and lay down with him. In the past, Quirin only realized his son had a nightmare when he woke up to Varian curled up beside him. 

This was not a childhood nightmare, with boogeymen and shadows and monsters. These were the screams of someone experiencing untold suffering, forced to relive past events in their mind, perhaps even worse. 

That first night, he desperately shook his son awake, demanding to know what was wrong, begging his darling son to tell him what horrible dream he had. Varian initially refused to say, they had yet to sit down and discuss everything that happened in Quirin’s absence. He only told Quirin the contents of his nightmare after he caught his father up on Varian’s misdeeds. 

“I dreamed that my plan worked too well,” He’d said, after finishing his story. “That I’d freed you, but I killed the queen and princess. You were so angry with me, you disowned me…” Varian had trailed off, tears streaking down his face. “Please, please don’t disown me. I know I can’t ever make up for what I’ve done, but I’m trying so hard.” 

Quirin remembers brushing his son’s tears away, pulling him close, and softly saying,

“There is nothing in the world that would make me disown you. I love you, and I trust that you’ve gotten over your anger.” He had pulled away, only to place a kiss on his son’s forehead. “I’m so proud of you for that.” Varian’s smile had been so bright that day. 

 

Now, as Quirin trudged down the hall to Varian’s room, he was at a loss. Varian’s nightmares had become so frequent; but only when home in Old Corona. 

He had visited Varian in the capital the other day. His research into the Demanitus scroll had unfortunately ended in disaster, but Varian was eager to clean up the chamber and start a new project. He stayed in the capital every other week, with a room graciously given to him by the Princess, who Quirin suspected Varian saw as a pseudo-sister. 

He spoke with the Princess, asking her if Varian was getting enough sleep when at the castle. Some nightmares could render Varian unable to sleep for days when home, and it worried Quirin to no end that his son didn’t have support for nights like those.

The Princess had raised an eyebrow, and said,

“I always find him sleeping in the strangest places, but once I or someone else helps him back to his room, he’s out like a light. Some days he’ll miss breakfast because he’s still sleeping.” Her face had etched into a worried frown. “Why? Do you think he’s sick?”

Quirin had assured the Princess that no, he wasn’t sick, but now, Quirin had a sneaking suspicion. 

Something about sleeping at home caused his nightmares.

Breaking out of his thoughts, Quirin finally rounded Varian’s bed. Just like all other nights, Varian was locked in some gruesome nightmare, his face echoing pure pain. As Quirin shook his son awake, taking him into his arms and shushing him, Quirin couldn’t help but wonder. 

 

Why can’t my son find peace in Old Corona?

-

It wasn’t that he was afraid to tell his dad the truth… No wait. That was exactly it.

Varian was afraid to tell his dad the truth.

He was afraid to tell his dad that his nightmares were no longer about him. They were no longer about failing to save his father from the amber, for Rapunzel’s decay spell to kill them both, or for the amber being broken, only to have the queen or king encased instead. They weren’t about Cassandra either; not about her dropping him where Lance couldn’t reach, or him failing to find the fourth incantation, resulting in Rapunzel’s death. They weren’t even about his time in prison, at the mercy of the Saporians as they beat him in their shared cell; dreams where they dropped him from a balloon, laughing about how easy he was to manipulate.

No. Now the dreams involve Varian himself becoming trapped in amber. They involve him struggling, desperately trying to beg someone, anyone . Telling them to go find Rapunzel, only for the people of Old Corona to walk away, or to jeer, or, like last night; to throw more liquid amber onto him. His father, the royal family, they were never there. The dreams never continued beyond Varian’s imprisonment, but he knew if they did, it would entail his loved ones mourning. Wondering where Varian could be, why no one in Old Corona knew where he was, but he was right there, I’m here, please help me, they did this to me-

 

The point is that Varian is now afraid of Old Corona.

 

It wasn’t like Varian wanted to be afraid of going into Old Corona! He’d grown up there, made some friends (albeit when he was 6 and not “that freaky kid with his magic juice”). But now, the fact remains that Varian, as much as he’s trying to make up for his misdeeds, did a lot of bad things to the people of Old Corona. He may not be in prison anymore, but there’s certainly a lot of people he knows would not mourn his sudden arrest. 

And it’s not like the people of Old Corona are hiding their anger either. They’re not outright jeering or throwing rocks at him anymore, he had been officially pardoned when he stopped the Saporians. But that’s not to say he’s been accepted back into the town. It’s not hard to notice how everyone moves out of his way whenever Varian goes into town. Or how parents will hide their children behind them whenever they see him. No one has confronted him head on, and for that Varian is greatful. He knew it’d either end with him bloodied on the pavement or accused of assault if he tried to protect himself. 

 

Which is why he plans on spending as little time in town as possible today. Just in and out of the glassblowers. Ruddiger had accidentally knocked over some of his glassware the other day. Luckily, they were empty, so the only loss were the glasses themselves. Stepping into the shop, he saw the glassblower, Karrin, talking to an elderly patron. Otherwise, the building was empty. Varian doubted his dad would be happy to hear that he was relieved at how no one else was around (it was kind of amusing how Quirin had once wanted Varian to lead Old Corona one day. That was about as likely to happen as his hair stripe turning into a snake.) It meant that no one could give him any trouble for continuing his alchemy after all that had happened.

Calmly waiting for the woman in front of him to finish her purchase, he looked down at his shoes to avoid the glare she gave him as she left. Now, it was just him and Karrin. 

“Hi Karrin,” Varin began, resting his fingertips on the counter. “Could I get a few glass jars, and 2 beakers?” He drummed his fingers lightly to the beat of a song he heard Rapunzel sing a while back. Hopefully, after he finished up in Old Corona, he could head to the capital a bit early. He hated leaving his dad all on his own out here, but he knew how happy Varian was to be working on projects with his friends. He had a few new ideas up his sleeve, and was eager to get them up and running at the castle before anything bad happened.

Karrin didn’t say anything, merely pulling out a damp rag and began wiping down the table. A few seconds passed, and still Karrin didn’t say anything. 

It was strange, to say the least. Karrin was a busy man, what with blowing glass and all. But Karrin was a real stickler about communication. The man would literally be breathing into a bottle and still pause to help a shopper. 

“...Karrin?” Varian tried again. “You feeling ok?” 

Still no response. Karrin didn’t even look up to acknowledge that Varian was in the room.

 

Then he realized.

“Are you… ignoring me?” Varian stepped back, letting his arms fall limp to his sides, clutching his hands into fists. 

 

Karrin looked up briefly, and then back down to his rag. The counter was spotless now, and yet he kept running the cloth over it absentmindedly. 

“I didn’t even do anything to you!” Varian exploded, raising his arms above his head in a fit of anger he hadn’t felt since he made amends with Rapunzel. “I’ve bought something from you like, once a month since I was nine!”

Karrin paid him no mind, and began rapidly rubbing the rag back and forth, as if there was a tough stain on the counter.

Varian’s arms dropped, and his shoulders sagged. He couldn’t do anything; if he tried anything remotely suspicious, Karrin would surely accuse him of a crime and leave him to the mercy of the rest of the town. What good was it to try and make amends, to try and return to how things used to be? Sure, he wasn’t liked by everyone before, but Karrin was always willing to help him. Hell, sometimes Karrin gave him special discounts if times were tough. He was the one person in town, outside of his dad, that actively encouraged his scientific endeavors for a while. And now, he refused to even acknowledge Varian’s existence. 

 

He felt the familiar burn of tears building up.

 

“Fine.” He sighed. “If you don’t want me as a customer anymore, that’s fine.” He rubbed at his eyes. He would not cry over this. Varian was a teenager now. He could handle rejection.

But this is rejection from an entire town, Varian thought bitterly. This isn’t some petty crush. 

Turning on his heels, Varian walked out the door, stalking down the road. He ignored the glares and whispers of everyone around him, angrily wiping the tears as they came. As he approached home, he saw his dad was in the process of filling barrels of apples for distribution. Ruddiger was at his feet, gladly accepting the scraps of imperfect apples that were tossed his way.

“Varian!” his dad called, raising an arm in greeting, a kind smile on his face. Varian didn’t stop, running up the steps into their house. He grabbed his overnight satchel, and some extra food for the road. Coming right back out the house, he missed the concerned look his father sent his way. Ruddiger scurried up to Varian, and the boy kneeled down to let Ruddiger onto his shoulder. 

“Where are you going?” his dad called, cupping his mouth with his hands to reach his son’s ears. 

“To the capital.” Varian responded, not looking back, but raising his arm in a wave, trying to appear as nonchalant as possible. “I need to get some stuff for my lab, and I can’t get it here.” Not a lie, but not the whole truth either. 

He didn’t dare turn to look at his father, for then he’d see the tears now freely running down his cheeks. 

-

At the bottom of the castle, where the criminals of Corona sat, in the farthest cell at the end of the row, a man was plotting.

He’d heard the miserable guards praise the newest addition to the castle staff, how he may have once been a criminal, but, like the Crown-Prince-to-be, has redeemed himself and is gladly helping the other members of the castle prepare against Corona’s greatest enemies. How he had stood up to the traitorous Cassandra, despite having his own invention used on him. 

Inventions, huh . He mused. Doesn’t that bratty behavior sound familiar. 

The man grinned and stretched as he rose from the cold floor. Sauntering over to the cell bars as the sentry strolled by, he wasted no time in shooting his hand out, grabbing the man by the face ,and slamming him up against the entrance to his prison. His smile was feral and borderline disturbed as he used his other hand to pry the keys from the guard’s waist, ignoring his muffled pleas for help. In one fluid motion, the man stepped out of the cell, swung his hips, and pushed the guard into the cell he once occupied. He locked the bars with a flourish, swinging the keys in time with his hips and he sauntered out of the room. 

“Perhaps I should pay my old friend a visit,” he muttered under his breath, slinking into the shadows of the palace walls, escaping so easily one could tell he’d done it before. 

 

“After all, traitors to Saporia pay with their lives.” 

Chapter Text

The sun shone down on the beaten path as Rapunzel padded into the town square. Even though it was barely Spring, the weather was perfect. She had other things she could (rather, should) be doing, like meeting with Nigel, or going over the new laws regarding cattle distribution, it was safe to say that it was too nice of a day to work. All of the mundane aspects of royalty could come later; for now, she just wanted to meet Eugene for a nice day in town. 

In the short time she’d been acting Queen, Rapunzel felt like she had gotten a pretty good knack for sensing trouble. So it was no shock that her attention was drawn to the sounds of a loud crash from down by Xavier’s.

Picking up the pace, Rapunzel rushed over to inspect the damage. Was there a burglary? Did someone get hurt? Is it Cassandra…?

Up- no wait, it’s just Varian.  

 

The young alchemist was struggling to fit several glass beakers into his tiny backpack, with little success. His tongue stuck out as he tried to rearrange the beakers in a pattern that would allow for him to close the bag, but the rigid structures made managing impossible. There were shards of glass surrounding his feet, indicating an attempt to just continue on without closing the bag entirely. Varian was muttering under his breath (mostly curses but a few “come ons”). After a moment, he groaned, and lowered his head on top of the pile of glass beakers. 

It was nice. Varian had gone from suffering through the loss of his father, finding the whole world against him, to his biggest problem being a storage space. 

Rapunzel grinned, unable to let her friend struggle any longer.

 

“Need some help?”

 

Varian jumped nearly a foot in the air, letting out a scream that was way too high pitched for his age. The vials he was desperately trying to wrangle flew out of his arms. Quickly, Varian reached his arms out to catch three of the vials, with the fourth bouncing off his nose and shattering on the ground. His arms flopped to his side and he dropped his head with a sigh of defeat. After a moment, he rolled his shoulders back and lifted his head to greet his friend properly.

“Hey Rapunzel,” He gave her a tiny smile. “You scared me.”

 

“Sorry!” Rapunzel held her arms up in apology, a guilty grin on her face. “I’ll buy you new ones. I was just wondering what you’re up to in Corona?” 

 

Varian turned back towards the road home, waiting for her to step into sync with him. “Just buying supplies for my lab back home,” he responded.

Rapunzel raised her eyebrows. “And you came all the way out here for that?” She asked.

Varian froze for a moment. “I like the quality in the capital better,” He finally said with an air of uncertainty. He was a terrible liar, they both knew it. 

Rapunzel bit her lip. She hadn’t seen Varian in about a week, and the dark circles under his eyes were so prominent they looked like bruises. Had he slept at all? She knew from Quirin that Varian had been having some trouble adapting to being home after so long without his dad. And if anyone knew how it felt to lose and regain a parent, it was her. 

But she also knew that while she wanted to know what was upsetting him and squash it dead on, he was the type to voice his problems when he wanted help. If he didn’t say it, he didn’t want to talk about it.

Maybe she could get him to speak though.

 

“Do you want me to come back with you?” She offered, taking two of the beakers from his hands. “I can call Max, and he can give us a ride to Old Corona.”

 

Varian blinked. “Are you sure? It’s an hour long with Max. Don’t you have things to do today?”

“Psh, no, not really...” Rapunzel rolled back and forth on her feet, trying not to think of all the paperwork waiting for her. 

She wasn’t a good liar either. Varian raised an eyebrow in suspicion.

“Ok yes. But I’d rather spend some time with you! It’s been a bit since you’ve been to the castle, and I don’t even see you all the time there.” She pleaded. “Come on, just indulge me?” She clasped her hands together and rested her cheek on them. Her lips pursed into a pout, laying it on thick more for Varian’s amusement than anything else. 

 

Varian laughed. “Ok, ok! You can come.” He waved his hands. “Just stop, please.” he wiped a tear from his eye. 

Rapunzel’s face softened. There he was.

-

“So, aside from work, what have you been up to lately?” Rapunzel asked, shifting her weight so that Varian didn’t bump into her back with Max’s every step. He was sitting sideways, his legs swinging absentmindedly but never kicking the horse. She had offered for Varian to wrap his arms around her, but he had gotten so flustered and uncomfortable she let it slide. Physical touch was something he was still relearning; it’s not like the guards gave out hugs to all the prisoners. 

Thinking about everything he went through, how it could’ve all been avoided if she kept her promise; it hurt her heart to think about. Rapunzel knew that she’d done the right thing, she had to put the needs of the many over the needs of the few. But, what if she had gone to check on him after? 

It’s part of the reason she’s been so worried about him. And why she plans on staying by his side when she can. He’s regained her trust (it’s been her downfall, she knows, but she can’t help it). Now, she has to regain his. 

 

“It’s been… pretty good,” Varian mumbled, shifting his back so that he can look at Rapunzel properly. “Dad and I decided no more secrets, but there’s some stuff we’re not ready to talk about. So we just talk about the easier stuff.”

“Like?” Rapunzel prompted.

“Apparently Dad has siblings,” Varian mused. “He said they’ve only visited once, when I was a baby. His brother acted like he wanted nothing to do with me, but the moment everyone left the room, he picked me up and fell in love.”

Rapunzel snorted. The idea of Hector gushing over a chubby baby Varian was too great to not imagine. 

 

“Oh hey, what’s that?”

Rapunzel blinked, accidentally jerking on the reigns, making Max stutter to a stop. They were just outside Old Corona’s walls, the people of the village already noticing them. She followed his gaze towards a scrap of paper posted to a tree.

“A wanted sign?” Rapunzel asked. “Is that new?” 

Varian grinned. “Maybe it’s one of Cass’s!” He slid down Max’s side. “We should probably take it down though. A lot of her wanted posters have the wrong information.”

Rapunzel squinted, slowly dismounting Max to follow him. As she stepped closer, realization hit her like an icy shock. 

“Varian,” she called, quickening her pace. “Hang on.” 

“Don’t worry!” He called, looking back at her as his hand gripped the sign and tore it without ever looking. “It’ll just take a second.” Rearranging it into both his hands, his eyes finally caught sight of the man on the poster. 

His face turned white as a sheet. The paper fluttered out of his hands. His arms remained frozen in place, but his eyes were as wide as saucers. 

Varian began to shake, regaining movement. He took a step back from the paper, as if distance would make the information less true. 

 

That was Andrew’s wanted poster.

 

“W...why is he wanted?” He breathed. Varian’s terrified blue eyes met Rapunzels. “Rapunzel, why is he wanted ?” His voice was now panicked. 

 

“Because he tried to take over this kingdom, that’s why!” a voice called from inside the town gates.

Both Varian and Rapunzel spun around to see an older woman glaring at him. Varian held his fists to his chest, breaths coming in rapid bursts. An involuntary tear slipped from his eye, but he made no move to wipe it away. His entire focus was dedicated to not collapsing in front of the Princess. “He.. he was locked up! I helped lock him up!” Varian cried, looking at the woman with pleading eyes. 

“After ya helped him escape in the first place!” The woman chided. “He did it once before, what’s to say he didn’t do it again?” She narrowed her eyes accusingly. 

Rapunzel gawked. “Are you suggesting he helped that man escape?”

 

The woman held up her hands in surrender. “I mean no harm, your highness!” She bowed, as if that proved her goodwill to Rapunzel. “I’m merely pointing out that the criminal escaped just a few weeks after you claimed he ,” she pointed at Varian, “Defeated him.”

“Because I did!” Varian yelled, taking a step forward. The woman’s frown deepened. Hearing the commotion, another villager, likely her husband, walked up and rested his hand on her shoulder, levelling a glare his way, only this one was filled with more dangerous intent. Instantly, Varian backed off, desperately grasping his forearms, with his head lowered. Shame colored his face along with the tear tracks. 

 

“I’d rather die than help him again,” He whispered, breath shuddering as a sob wracked his body. He tried to speak again, but tears overwhelmed him and his voice turned into gut-wrenching cries. Rapunzel was quick to shield him from the villagers, a quick glare sending them on their way. At least they looked a bit ashamed, though she assumed that wouldn’t be the case if she wasn’t here.

“He escaped,” Varian gasped. “He escaped, and he’s coming for me. Traitors never live in Saporia, and I know he’s done it before; he told me all about it in prison. Rapunzel, I don’t know what to do.”

Rapunzel placed her hands on his shoulders, and leaned down so they were at eye level. 

“Yes, he escaped, but I will never let him take you from us. He will never set foot in Corona without a battalion of guards chasing him at every turn. It’s gonna be ok.” 

Varian nodded, his head jerking with each breath. 

“Just breathe with me, ok? Follow my breathing,” Rapunzel coached. “In, out. In, out.”

Still shaking, albeit less so, Varian copied the movements, until he could finally take in a breath without it stuttering. “Thanks,” he breathed, giving her a tiny smile. 

 

She made sure to give a big one back. “Come on, let’s get you home.”

-

For a while, the only sound in the old house came from the creak of the floorboards and the crackling of the fireplace. 

 

Rapunzel stood by the doorframe, preparing to leave when Quirin asked to speak with her. He was seated at the dining table, dinner uneaten. After getting Varian home, he had gone straight to bed, with the emotional outburst earlier wearing him down significantly on top of his previous exhaustion. Rapunzel just hoped he’d be able to sleep tonight. 

 

She doubted it. 

 

“Your highness, I just first wanted to thank you, for everything.” Quirin sighed, placing his hands around the mug of tea he’d made for himself. It was now cold; it’d just been finished when the Princess came bursting in with her son shielded in her arms. “I don’t think I ever got to thank you properly for freeing me, and pardoning him. We are both in your debt.”

Rapunzel smiled sadly. “Of course. Varian’s a good kid, he was… desperate. And he was scared. I can’t blame him for that,” Her eyes averted, the guilt bubbling in her gut. “Did he tell you what happened the night of the Saporian takeover?”

Quirin raised his eyebrow. 

“He was ready to die to make up for his misdeeds,” Rapunzel said, eyes downcast. “He was so convinced that he was a monster. That’s when you know someone has changed for the better. Wanting to make up for what you’ve done.” She smiled hopefully at Quirin. 

To think , Quirin mused to himself. All of this could’ve been avoided if it didn’t snow on one day

 

“But,” Quirin let go of his tea, interlocking his fingers and placing his elbows on the table. “It seems not everyone has forgiven him.”

-

Andrew growled. The moon was beginning to rise, and he was no closer to figuring out a plan. Since all the Saporians were placed in solitary following their last prison stunt, he was on his own. No weapons, no allies, just him and his anger.

But oh boy, did he have a lot of anger. 

He sketched a crude drawing into the dirt of Varian, before grabbing a stick and stabbing it in the middle of the drawing. Huffing, Andrew swiped the drawing away.

-

“No,” Rapunzel sighed. “The capital didn’t forgive him until he saved it from the red rocks.”

“And knowing my people,” Quirin sighed. “Not even that could convince them.”

 

Rapunzel glanced back up to see Quirin hunched over, his eyes full of pain. “Princess,” He said, no longer looking at her. “Varian is so scared when he’s home. He’s stopped going into town.”

Her eyes widened. “That’s why he’s shopping in the capital.”

Quirin nods. “I want to help him, Princess, he’s so happy in the capital, and I want to support him every step of the way. I just…”

He looks up at her, nearly in tears.

“I don’t know how to help him.”

-

“I don’t even need to take Corona at this point,” Andrew muttered angrily, still sketching with the stick. It was mostly meaningless doodles, with the occasional stick figure of a certain alchemist. “I just need to get that kid back on my side, and he’ll do all the work for me,” he groaned, throwing his head back. “Too bad he’s too stupid to help me anymore.”

 

“I think you mean too smart.”

 

Andrew jerks up, wildly looking around. “Who’s there?” He grips the stick tightly in his hand. It’s no sword, but it’s all he has. 

The voice chuckles, and a small figure steps out from the brush.

She’s pale, unnaturally so. Her light grey hair is tied into two buns, with a lavish black ball gown trailing behind her, giving her the appearance of floating. She gives off the appearance of an innocent noble child, yet her cruel eyes and sinister grin say otherwise.

 

“A friend,” She croons. “Or at least, I’d like to be.” 

-

Varian doesn’t sleep that night. He wakes up screaming louder than he has in months.

Chapter Text

Rapunzel had asked Eugene to watch over Varian during his weekly stay at the castle, and frankly, he didn’t get it.

Varian seemed to be completely fine! A little spazzy, sure, but that wasn’t exactly new. He seemed more or less the same as last week. That being said, he didn’t hate being with the kid, so if Rapunzel wants him to keep an eye on Varian just in case, he’s more than happy to oblige. 

For now, Varian wanted to gather supplies for his newest defense mechanism. It was nice that Varian was focused more on defense than offense these days; sure, he made the occasional weapon, but always turned it over to the royal guards as soon as it was ready for use. 

Eugene had a sneaking suspicion Varian didn’t trust himself with weapons, and he didn’t blame the kid. He’d heard what happened in Old Corona.

 

Varian was bouncing from store to store, and, under instruction from Rapunzel, making Eugene carry the bulk of the supplies (and the tab, much to his complaint). At some point, he’d have to get a wagon, this was ridiculous! What was he even planning to do with all this junk? 

“Hey kid,” He called, trying not to drop the precarious mountain of scrap metal he was carrying. “Do y’think you could wrap this up in the next, like, now?” 

“We just have one more stop!” Varian called from ahead. Without anything to carry, he was easily 10 feet ahead. “Wow, you’re struggling under all that, huh?” Varian snickered. “Your age is showing,” He ribbed, not even glancing behind to know that Eugene was cursing and picking up the pace to prove him wrong. He fell into step next to the young alchemist.

“You know, you could be a bit nicer to me, I am the one carrying all your stuff. Don’t make me drop it on your tiny head,” Eugene sassed, though there wasn’t nearly as much fire in his voice as there was when he bickered with Cass. 

“You wouldn’t,” Varian deadpanned, patting Eugene’s back. Eugene stumbled ever so slightly, and the scrap metal screeched in complaint. He made a noise of panic and attempted to stabilize himself as Varian headed towards the door of his final stop.

“I just need to get some paint, and we’ll be all set.” He said. “Will you be ok out here?”

“Never better,” Eugene gritted his teeth, legs wobbling ever so slightly. “Just make it fast,”

Varian flashed a thumbs up and a cheeky grin, before stepping inside. 

 

Whereas the shops in Old Corona no longer gave him the time of day, capital shops were more than willing to help in any way they could. At first, they too had been wary of him, but not nearly as much as Old Corona was nowadays. At least the capital shopkeepers always served him, Varian thought bitterly. 

But now, after saving Corona from the red rocks and his attempt to stand up to Cass, the people of Corona were more than willing to give him a second chance. The difference between towns was so staggering Varian had a hard time considering them part of the same kingdom.

As Varian collected the last of his supplies, his mind wandered to the ex-con waiting for him outside. Out of anyone, he’d be the one to understand what Varian was going through, right? Varian bit his lip in thought, debating on whether he should worry Eugene. He already freaked Rapunzel out with his panic attack, and his poor dad was worried sick about him. 

He was fine, really! He just needed some time… and maybe Andrew’s recapture. But he shouldn’t be worried. Andrew’s bound to have other things to do than get revenge on a kid, right?

 

A kid who betrayed him… a kid Andrew tried to kill… oh boy. 

 

Varian felt sick as he thanked the vendor and stepped back onto the rocky pavement. His eyes faced the stones in thought, completely missing Eugene’s complaints about his back and arms. He only snapped out of it when Eugene’s arms gave out, sending the day’s purchases in every direction. 

Varian’s cheeks colored in shame. “Oh, I’m so sorry Eugene! I wasn’t paying attention, I’ll help you carry everything!” He knelt down and scrambled to pick up the fallen metal, hands shaking ever so slightly. 

Eugene frowned. He could see something had spooked the kid. Kneeling down gently to avoid the metal, he placed a hand on Varian’s shoulder. Thankfully, he didn’t jump, but rather his shoulders sagged in defeat. “Sorry,” He mumbled, letting the metal fall limply back to the ground. 

“Hey,” Eugene murmured, rubbing Varian’s circles into Varian’s shoulder in a comforting gesture. “It’s ok, we’ll grab a cart.”

Varian nodded numbly, steeling his expression back into something that didn’t look like he was about to burst into tears. Why was it affecting him out here now? Varian had figured the anxiety and fear would remain in Old Corona; he had no nightmares out here in the capital, where he was safe and everyone at least tolerated him. 

 

So why was he still scared?

-

Andrew let out a slew of curses as he batted away the twigs and branches that whacked his face. The air was far more humid than it should be, and the ground was too soft for fall. Whatever the little girl was leading him to was powerful magic; at least, he hoped.

Said girl was several feet ahead, unbothered by the trees high above her head. Her long dress and steady movements gave the impression that she was floating. 

“We’re nearly there,” She called, her voice hauntingly melodic, far too childlike for the situation at hand. She promised Andrew that the artifact she was leading him to had the power to destroy Corona. It was strange for someone so young to want to destroy a kingdom; Varian had initially wanted to destroy Corona, sure, but it was out of vengeance. He felt like he had no other options left, and that’s what made him so easy to manipulate as a cellmate.

The girl, on the other hand; if she had a motivation, she never said anything. To him, it just seemed that she wanted Corona to burn to cinders for her own satisfaction. 

 

Andrew could respect that. 

 

The girl stopped a few paces ahead of him, the path in front of her obscured by large leaves. She turned to face him, a serene smile on her face.

“Some leaves,” Andrew droned. “Great. Thanks.”

“Oh please, have some flair for the dramatic,” the girl grabbed a handful of leaves and pulled them aside.

A large, circular clearing stood in front of them. The ground gave way to stone bricks, carved with intricate runes. The bricks formed a large ring, in the middle of which was a small marble pyramid, reaching Andrew’s shoulders in height. The four corners of the pyramid each had a small spire sticking out, with more runes carved into them. 

On top of the pyramid, just at Andrew’s eye level, was an oval stone. The red rock pulsed faintly with a purple glow, tiny writing covering the rock so fully it was hard to make any of it out. 

 

"I'm shocked it's still here, honestly. But then again, I know how to hide the important things." The girl sauntered over to the ruin. “Go on,” she crooned. “Take it, it’s yours.”

Andrew cautiously reached his hand out, the purple glow growing in intensity as he inched forward. Finally, his fingers clasped around the rock, and the glow stopped abruptly. 

In his palm, it seemed like a normal rock. “What is this?” He asked.

“A weapon for destroying Corona.” The girl replied. 

“How?”

The girl walked over towards him, motioning for him to give the stone to her. She pointed it at a nearby bush, and with a flick of her wrist, the rock glowed that same deep purple.

From behind the bush, a small rabbit hopped out, seemingly unafraid as it marched ever closer. However, as it approached, Andrew realized its eyes were glowing the same purple. He gaped.

 

“The user has full control over anyone he uses it on.” Her smile grew till it appeared to hurt. She lifted her free hand up, and the rabbit stood on its hind legs. 

Andrew huffed. He was intrigued, sure, but he knew where this was going. “Tried that before,” he bit out, thinking bitterly back on the stupid alchemist’s betrayal. 

The girl nodded. “Yes, I know, but with this,” she turned back to him, reaching for his hand and placing the stone into his palm. “You can control him too. It's no matter if he wants to help you or not. That foolish child will have no choice but to obey.”

Andrew blinked. “So you’re saying…”

“Force him to help you,” the girl went on, her eyes alight with glee. “Make him see your plans through. And Corona will be yours.”

 

Andrew’s grin matched hers in intensity. 

-

“Hey Eugene?”

Eugene turned from where he was pulling the cart. Thankfully, it wasn’t big enough that they needed a horse to help them, but it was still a two person job. Varian was pushing from the back, freeing the cart from any holes or rocks. The whole trip back to the castle had mostly been Varian rambling about the project’s final outcome (something about a chicken? Eugene couldn’t follow) but around 5 minutes ago, Varian had tapered off, clearly lost in thought. It wasn’t unlike the kid to get lost in his head, but something about his current tone of voice put Eugene on edge. 

“What’s up, goggles?” He responded. 

There was a brief period of silence as Varian struggled to put his thoughts together. “How did you… when you… ugh, this is hard,” He moaned, throwing his head back in frustration. 

Eugene raised his eyebrows. “Are you… asking me for advice?” His face lit up like a Christmas tree. Oh. Oh this was priceless . Everyone said Eugene was a terrible role model (ok it was mostly Cassandra) but now the kid was coming to him ! Not Rapunzel, not Lance, not even his dad! Which could only mean one thing.

 

“You need some dating advice, don’tcha?”

 

Varian’s face lit up a firetruck red. “What!? No!” He dropped the cart like it had burned him. Eugene set the cart down just a bit more gently, before rushing over to crush him in a hug. 

“Oh, I never thought this day would come!” He cried, lifting Varian off his feet. “My little buddy, all grown up and talking to other teens!” He ruffled his hair, taking delight in how Varian squirmed. “So, who’s the lucky girl?”

Varian pushed against Eugene’s cheek, screaming like a wet cat. “There’s no girl !” He cried, kicking in an attempt to break free.

“Oh, a boy then? That’s great too! Boys are easy, you just gotta-”

“No!” Varian finally pushed Eugene’s face until he let go, dropping down onto the ground. “There’s no girl or boy! Even if there was, I wouldn't tell you. I just wanted to know how you dealt with being an ex-con!” He froze, realizing he managed to get out the question in his anger. Eugene’s eyes widened. 

Varian sighed, turning away. “It’s just… you make it look so easy. Everyone forgave you for all the bad stuff you did so easily! Why am I still so afraid of messing up?” He wrapped his arms around himself for comfort. “I’m so scared that people I upset in the past are gonna come for me. I can’t even sleep when I’m home! Everyone I knew growing up hates me.” His voice broke. “How do you live like that?”

Eugene’s whole demeanor changed. His shoulders dropped, his eyes turned soft, and his mouth downturned. Gently, he reached out and put his hand on Varian’s shoulder. 

 

“Hey,” He said, catching the teen’s attention. “I get it. It’s hard to get people to trust you after everything. But you can’t change the past,” Varian sighed, rubbing his eyes roughly. “What you can change is your current actions. Over time, people will start to see you as the person you are now, versus the person you were back then.”

“But all you did was steal! I tried to kill the royal family,” Varian groaned. “How will anyone forget that?”

“They won’t,” Eugene admitted. “But you regret it. That’s what people will see. That you’re sorry and are trying to make amends.” At this, Varian hesitantly looked up at him.

“This is about Andrew, right?” Varian flinched at his name. “I know what it’s like to be scared of your past mistakes. But you just gotta trust that you’re on the right path now, and that we’ve got your back.” Eugene patted Varian’s shoulder. “He’s not gonna hurt you when we’re here,” He grinned. 

Varian smiled slightly. “Thanks Eugene.”

“Anytime, kid.” 

-

As the sun began to color the world with red, Quirin decided it was about time to head home. 

When Varian was home, he usually stayed out much later, knowing his son would have dinner and a hug ready for him. But now that Varian was spending more and more time in the capital, Quirin found himself heading home to do his son’s half by himself. It didn’t help that he was beginning to get a smidge too old to constantly be lugging heavy weights all day long. As he wiped the sweat off his brow, he waved farewell to the woman he was helping, and began the short walk home. 

 

“Quirin!”

The large man turned to see a familiar face running up to his side. Gideon, the town’s butcher. He was only a few years younger than Quirin, with a large grin and an even larger belly. His blonde beard was streaked with only a few strands of grey. Gideon’s clothes were significantly newer than Quirin’s but not nearly as nice as Varian’s (which were a gift from the princess); it was clear Gideon had experienced financial success since Quirin last saw him before his imprisonment. “It’s been quite some time!” The man joked, patting Quirin’s shoulder with a little more force than necessary. 

Quirin smiled politely. “Yes, it has. Do you need anything? I was just about to head home.” 

“Oh, I figured we could catch up, I’ll walk with you!” Gideon stretched his arm out in front of the road in offering, ushering Quirin along. “We have a lot to talk about.” 

“We do?” Quirin asked, raising an eyebrow as he began to walk home. Gideon’s smile turned forced.

 

“We do, old friend.”

-

“Hey,” Eugene called, knocking softly on his girlfriend’s door before stepping all the way in. “Sorry I’m a bit late, Varian asked if I could help him with designing his latest project.”

Rapunzel hummed nonchalantly, not turning to face him as she was in the middle of painting. The canvas was large enough that she needed a stool to cover the entirety. 

“Did you actually help him, or just tease him until he kicked you out?” Rapunzel asked, sticking her tongue out as she stood on her toes to reach a high spot on her canvas. Eugene’s silence was enough of an answer and she snickered under her breath. 

“The kid feels really guilty about everything he did, y’know,” Eugene murmured. Rapunzel paused, finally looking at him. 

“Like, he should, and he knows that, but I think it’s really messing with him.” Eugene began to pace. “I tried to help him, but no one tried to kill me when I was his age! I was 19 before I had my first attempted murder.” 

“That’s not a good thing,” Rapunzel deadpanned.

“The point is,” Eugene thrust his arms in front of him. “Is that the whole Andrew thing is really stressing him out. He doesn’t feel safe anywhere but the castle.” 

Rapunzel frowned. “I was afraid of that.” She sighed, stepping down from the stool and padding over to her boyfriend. 

“He’s just a kid, Sunshine,” Eugene said softly, raising his eyes to look into Rapunzel’s. “I don’t want any kid to go through the same things I did.”

 

Rapunzel furrowed her brow in thought. “Me neither.” She wrapped her arms around Eugene in a hug. “We’ll talk to Quirin about this.” 

-

For the first half of the walk back to Quirin’s house, it was silent, save for the rustling of trees and the quiet song of distant birds. It was definitely awkward, as Gideon was clearly working up the courage to say something, but Quirin had no clue what. A favor, perhaps? 

“So… Quirin,” Gideon finally said. “How has it been, being home?”

“I never really left.”

Gideon hissed between his teeth. “Right, right… but. You weren’t here.” He clasped his hands together, touching the tips of his pointer finger and thumb together and pointing them at Quirin. “Anything… anything interesting going on at your place?” he started over. 

 

Quirn raised an eyebrow. “Varian’s in the capital right now, he’s been staying more frequently. The Princess has him working on a lot of projects for the kingdom.” He said.

Gideon’s face morphed into shock. “She trusts him to build weapons for the kingdom?” He half-shouted. 

“From what Varian’s told me, it hasn’t been weapons. More preventative measures.” He turned to face Gideon completely. “Why?”

“Well it’s just,” the two men were rapidly approaching Quirin’s house, and Gideon stopped before the front steps. “After everything that happened, I’d expect he’d be shipped off to who knows where.” 

The man continued, “He’s too dangerous to keep in Corona, after all. His old accomplice just escaped prison, yes? I heard he got excited when he heard.”

“He had a panic attack,” Quirin snapped, stepping up to his door. “Gideon, what do you really want?” He pinched the bridge of his nose between two fingers. 

 

“I, and the rest of the town, want you to keep that boy of yours in check.” Gideon dropped all polite facade, his face morphing into a scowl. “He was a menace before he was a criminal, and now he’s a threat to us all. You best send him off before he causes anymore problems!”

Quirin desperately tried to keep his anger in check, but he was furious. He knew that Varian was having difficulty returning to life in Old Corona, and he finally understood the gravity of it: the people who Varian grew up with, the people who once fawned over his chubby cheeks and cooed at his adoration for his mother’s work, now saw him as a monster.

“Listen to me,” he growled, turning to face Gideon from the top of his steps. “My son has learned from his mistakes. He is not a danger to you, or anyone else. He has been officially pardoned by the Princess, and is working on finding a way to save our kingdom. I am proud of him, and I am not sending him away!” With every sentence, he stomped his foot into the wooden steps, cracking it a bit. 

 

“Quirin,” Gideon pleaded. “You weren’t there. You don’t know how terrible he was when he trapped you in amber. He was a demon bent on destruction. You just… you weren’t there.”

 

Quirin turned away from the other man.

“But I’m here now. And I see the man my son has become.”

 

With that, he entered his house, and slammed the door.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure this will work?” Andrew asked, accepting the cloak handed to him. The young girl had led him to the outskirts of Old Corona. He knew from Varian’s rambling that he loved his town, despite how little the people thought of him. He’d grown up here, after all, and he’d requested that it be spared the brunt of the Saporian wrath. Andrew had been willing to agree; he needed any leverage he could get over that kid. As naive and willing he’d been to join the separatists, the truth was that they had needed Varian’s technical know-how in order to take down Corona. That meant leading the kid along for as long as possible. Promising him sweet lies. Keeping him angry at the royal family. Pretending to be his friend. It had all been working… until it wasn’t. 

Now, this relic had the potential to force Varian to work for him. As tempting as this was, his plan needed to be perfect. He was a wanted man, and Varian was constantly surrounded by the royal family. Or at least, that’s what he thought. The pale girl claimed otherwise.

“The people of this village fear the boy,” she steepled her fingers. . “They’ll be more than willing to listen to you. I picked you for this exact reason… you’re quite good at bending the truth, aren’t you?”

Andrew puffed up his chest. He liked to think he was. “If I can convince the smartest mind in Corona, I can convince a bunch of peasants.”

“Excellent. I’ll leave you to it.”

“You’re not coming?”

“My purpose was simply to guide you,” the girl hummed, gesturing towards the town entrance. “You will be instrumental in the downfall of Corona, I guarantee it. Just do what I told you.” Andrew took a step forward, before turning to thank her. But the girl was gone.

-

“Ok Ruddiger, ready to get started?” Varian asked, snapping his gloves into place. It was his last day in the capital for the week; he’d be heading home around sunset. He figured he’d spend the rest of the day workshopping a design he finalized during breakfast. Nice and quiet, just him and Ruddiger in his lab, hammering some metal together and mixing a few chemicals. 

Just as he prepared to hammer a nail into place, the door swung open with a thunk so loud he nearly dropped the hammer on his foot. He let out a squeal far too high to be natural. The alchemist whirled around to yell, only to see it was Rapunzel and Eugene grinning wildly at him.

 

“Morning!” The princess chirped, strolling over to Varian. “You got any plans today?”

“Yea?” Varian raised an eyebrow. “I’m building a prototype for the plans you approved of.”

“Bzzt! Wrong,” Eugene chimed in. “You’re spending the day with us.”

“I am?”

“Yup!” Rapunzel laid a hand on his shoulder. “Come on, when’s the last time I saw you outside of work?”

“This morning, at breakfast,” Varian grinned. She shook his shoulder jokingly. “What? It’s true!” 

“Come on, goggles! Just for today,” Eugene grinned. “Keep us company.”

Varian laughed. “Oh, so I can’t do the work I was assigned because I have to babysit you?” Eugene sputtered at that. 

“Indulge us? You deserve a day off,” Rapunzel said, letting go of his shoulder to clasp her fingers together. “It won’t be all work, we can all go get lunch in the village.”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Yes, but only if that choice is that you’re coming.” 

Varian grinned. “Well then, I’d be happy to keep you company,” Ruddiger scampered up his side and onto his shoulder. “I’m sure Ruddiger could use some fresh air anyway.”

“Great!” Eugene slid in between Rapunzel and Varian. “First up, lunch time! Let’s head up and get some food to go.” He pointed up at the ceiling before grabbing both the princess and alchemist by the hand and dragging them along. 

 

Varian’s chest felt warm, and his steps light. Even if he missed his dad when he was in the capital, he was never lonely. How could he be? Rapunzel and Eugene were like siblings to him. They were so busy with their jobs, and yet they always made sure to check on Varian at least once a day. Sometimes it was to check on progress or even lend a hand, but usually it was just a friendly visit that lasted only a few minutes. Regardless, each visit left Varian smiling so much it hurt. 

After everything he’d gone through, he was afraid he’d never be happy again. Those months in prison were the worst of his life; he’d spent the whole time stewing in anger and hurt. Andrew had made him smile during those months, sure, but it was never the pure joy he felt now. It was a malicious joy, addictive, all-consuming, mind numbing. He’d been so angry for so long he was addicted to any kind of joy, to the point where he was blind to how Andrew was manipulating him.

Looking back now, it scared him; how willing he was to listen to anyone who said the things he wanted to hear. Thank god Rapunzel told him the things he needed to hear. 

He was forever in debt to her; not just for pardoning him and freeing his father, but because she helped him see the peace he could find in changing his ways. 

So, he reasoned to himself as he was dragged around like a ragdoll, he could finish his prototype next week. Rapunzel and Eugene made him so happy, he might as well return the favor. 

-

In Old Corona, the townspeople were beginning to gather. 

Gideon was not one to keep things private, and word got out about his talk with Quirin. Concerned whispers and hushed curses quickly began to grow. It used to be that Quirin would take charge over his son, stepping in and apologizing when his menace caused too much of a ruckus. That all went out the window when he was imprisoned by his own son

“I heard he trapped Quirin on purpose, so that he could run free,” One woman whispered to her husband.

“Varian used a memory charm on the royal family to get back into their good graces. Did he use it on his father, too?” An old man asked his neighbor. 

 

It was only a matter of time before a large group of villagers decided to take action. It was a simple meeting, at first. Travelling through word of mouth only (so Quirin wouldn’t notice). The people decided to meet up that afternoon, and discuss their concerns. With other citizens keeping Quirin occupied in the orchards, the remainder gathered together in the village hall. It was slightly cramped, as the room was designed for formal meetings. Informal gatherings typically happened outdoors. But in this case, it was best to keep everything quiet, lest Quirin find out the villagers think so poorly of his son. 

“Now that he’s working for the royal family,” One man began the meeting, voice quivering slightly. “He’s gotten access to many more dangerous materials. With the money he’s stolen from the royal family, there’s no telling what he’s building!” He slammed his fist onto the rickety table that occupied most of the room’s space. While the elderly sat in the few chairs available, it was otherwise standing room only. 

“How did the King let this happen?” One woman gasped. “The boy kidnapped his wife! And now, he’s more than willing to let this terrorist work for him?” 

A man scowled, gripping his fists together and stepping forward. “It’s like everyone thinks he’s a normal child! He has no allegiances to anyone but himself!” he cried, and the people of the village yelled in agreement. 

“That’s not exactly true,” A voice from the back called.

The room fell silent as everyone turned to the figure in the back. His hair was covered by a hood, though his face was plain to see. A long beard, lush and well-kept, and piercing eyes.

 

Andrew smirked. That girl was right; this is where he worked best. People desperate for a plan, for a leader. Their real leader was on Varian’s side? Fine. He’ll just work around him.

 

“Varian was loyal to the Separatists of Saporia.” He began. “What’s to say he won’t break them out of prison and try again?” The room erupted in shouts of fear and anger. 

“Do you think he’s been simply designing defense mechanisms?” He raised his voice to be heard. “His specialty is explosives! How do we know he’s not planning a widespread attack?”

 

“That’s why there haven’t been any accidents lately!” A woman cried. Andrew stepped up onto the unstable stable. “He’s preparing something big!” With that, the room exploded with screams. Andrew held up his hand. “Everyone, relax!” The people continued to shout. Ok, this wasn’t good. He needed a mob, not a panic. 

“That boy needs to be stopped!” 

“What if he’s planning on harnessing that thing that stole Quirin?” 

“Maybe he’s working with the criminals locked up? He has access to the dungeons at the castle!”

 

“HEY!” Andrew yelled, stomping his foot. “EVERYONE BE QUIET!” He got what he wanted. The room fell deadly silent. Andrew crossed his arms “I have an idea, but we need to work fast.” The people stayed silent. Good, they were interested.

“When we’re done, that kid will never set foot in Corona again.”

-

“Hey Varian, do you want the crusts off your sandwich?” 

“What? Eugene, I’m not 6.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“...Yes please.” 

 

Varian let his head hit the table with a thunk as Eugene handed him his sandwich. The two adults had insisted on paying for Varian’s lunch (even though working for the royal family made him uncomfortably well-off). Rapunzel sat across from the two of them, sipping some herbal tea as Eugene began to chat about his new duties as Captain of the Guard. Right now, he was complaining about approving wanted posters, something he wishes he could’ve done back in his criminal days. The incoming clouds created a nice breeze, offsetting the heat of the sun. 

Varian was never a big fan of the heat. But after that blizzard, he hated the cold even more. 

“Hey,” Rapunzel said. Varian raised his head to see her looking at him. Her eyes were kind, but slightly sad. “Something on your mind?” 

“Just thinking…” he murmured. 

“About?” She tried.

Varian hesitated. He doesn’t want to concern Rapunzel with his problems, but her comforting smile was so reassuring, he felt like he was safe talking to her. It was the same kind of smile his dad gave him after he explained everything that had happened while he was trapped in amber. 

“I… I was thinking about Andrew,” he breathed, bracing for the gasps or angry cries warning him to stop. Nothing. Opening an eye, he saw Eugene and Rapunzel waiting patiently for him to continue. He relaxed, opening both of his eyes and looking down.

 

“I know he’s a really bad person. He tried to do an awful thing to Corona, to me . But…” he sighed. Ruddiger, who sat at his feet, climbed up his legs and onto his lap. 

“I can’t help but miss him sometimes. I was so angry and alone, and he was the first person after my dad was frozen that… that acted like he cared . I know, I know he didn’t. He was just using me. But he acted so nice, so understanding! He promised me no one would get hurt, and I believed him. I was so lonely, that I was willing to ignore every bad thing we did. He told me that it was justified… and a part of me still agrees.

“He encouraged me to let my anger out. And sure, in super unhealthy ways, but it was more than I’d been able to do in months! I thought he was my friend, but he just wanted to use me, and wanted me to be so angry that I was willing to do things I never should have done. I wanted to destroy Corona!” Varian looked up. Rapunzel was near tears, and Eugene was gripping the table so tightly that his gloves seemed about to snap. “I guess that’s why I’ve been so scared lately… he made me into a monster, more than I was before. I felt so powerful, but I was hurting so many people. If he tries to go after me… I’m terrified I’ll do something worse.” His ears burned red in shame. “Sorry, I shouldn’t feel this way,” he mumbled.

 

“No, don’t apologize.” 

Varian’s eyes snapped up to meet Rapunzel’s. She smiled sadly. “I miss Gothel sometimes too.” Varian gaped. “Even if you know that it was never real to them, it was real to you , and your feelings were real . You’re allowed to miss him. You know that what you had wasn’t healthy, and you’re trying to move on. That’s the important thing.”

“She’s right,” Eugene added, reaching over to grab Varian’s hand. “You were in a bad place, and he comforted you. You thought he was helping you, but he was just using you, making you into someone you’re not. But he convinced you that you were. You don’t have to feel guilty about missing that friendship, you just have to accept that it’s not real anymore. Not his friendship, and not who you were back then. Now, you have us.” He glanced over at Rapunzel. “And our friendship is real.”

Varian couldn’t stop the tear that fell from his face, but he smiled. Wiping the tear away, he tightened his grip on Eugene’s hand. “Thanks,” he breathed. “It means a lot to me.” 

-

The rest of the day was mostly peaceful. It was clear to Eugene that Varian needed to destress and forget, so they spent the day doing what he wanted. Provided that it wasn’t work. Luckily, Varian had a few ideas on how to spend the day; namely, he wanted to hang around the small businesses and touristy sites that surrounded the castle. 

“I’ve never actually done the touristy stuff,” He admitted, staring out at the sea ahead. “Whenever I came with dad to the capital it was all business. And now that I work here, I’ve been pretty business oriented too.” 

“We really should have more events down here,” Rapunzel agreed, holding her hand in front of her face to block the sun. “Festivals are fun, but it’s nice to just spend a day in town without any agenda.” 

Varian hummed in agreement, glancing around the town square. It was rare for him to see it without festival decorations, but that didn’t subtract from the place’s beauty. He sat down on the edge of the fountain, uncaring about stray water that splashed him. With all the craziness that had happened in recent months, what with Cass and all, he felt more relaxed than he’d been in a while. He should join Rapunzel and Eugene more often. It led to shenanigans a lot, but when it didn’t it was heavenly. The three of them spent the afternoon just people watching, occasionally getting up to check out a shop or cart, but always ending up back by the fountain. 

 

“Hey Eugene,” Varian pointed at the small cork board pinned to the nearby wall. “Those the wanted posters you worked on yesterday?”

“I approved them, yes.”

“Let’s say, hypothetically, I was interested in hunting down one of those criminals with you. Not Andrew, but maybe just… say, that boy wanted for theft?”

“No dating criminals until you’re 18.”

“Oh come on!” 

Rapunzel burst into laughter. “I didn’t start dating Eugene until I was 18, Varian. He’s got you there.”

“But I’ve been a criminal since 14! That’s gotta account for something, right? When did you start dating, Eugene?” 

"28."

"You're 26."

"You heard me!"

Rapunzel smiled as she watched the banter. She knew Quirin would be thrilled to hear how relaxed Varian was, too. Since that day a few weeks ago, they had been in constant contact about Varian. He’d been spending more time in the capital, finding excuse after excuse to spend the day on the island as opposed to in Old Corona. According to Quirin, he’d always be home for dinner, but unless Quirin needed his help in their village, he was in his lab working, or in Corona. 

Corona... An idea was forming in her head.

-

Quirin was quiet, lost in thought as he walked home. 

Varian would likely be back when he walked in, a dinner on the table, slightly cold. It was like that before Quirin was imprisoned as well, but nowadays it felt different. Back before, when Quirin wasn’t trying to be there for his son nearly as much as he is now, the cold dinner was a painful reminder of how much Varian loved him, and yet how often he went against his father’s wishes. It confused and saddened him to no end, and it always made him wish his wife, Ulla, was still here to help his son. 

Now, the dinner, while still cold, was a reminder of how their bond still remained, even after a week apart. No matter how long it has been since they last saw each other, they still think of each other everyday. Quirin was so glad he and his son had finally been able to reach that point in their relationship. Not afraid to show their love for one another, no shame or secrets. Just the two of them: father and son, with pasts they are scared to talk about, but willing to find comfort in one another. 

 

So it was jarring to see no dinner out when he walked in. There wasn’t even evidence that Varian had dinner himself. 

 

It wasn’t too odd, Quirin told himself. Maybe Varian had gotten dinner in Corona, or maybe he was in his lab, distracted. Hell, maybe he had just forgotten and gone straight to bed! There were a million reasons why Varian hadn’t gone into the kitchen. Don’t panic. 

“Varian?” He called, trying not to run up the steps. “Are you up here?” Reaching his son’s door, he knocked a few times. “Son? You feeling alright?”

No response. He opened the door, praying he was just paranoid. That Varian was just passed out asleep, surrounded by ideas that he had gotten lost in.

His son wasn’t there.

Fully panicking, Quirin rushed back downstairs to the entrance of Varian’s lab. “Please,” He prayed, his hand on the doorknob. “Please let him be down there.”

Quirin stepped into the lab, and nearly passed out.

 

The lab was destroyed.

 

Glass beakers, once full of chemicals important to Varian’s alchemy, lay shattered around his feet. The contents soaked the stone with dyes; some chemicals had mixed together on the floor and were bubbling. The table where Varian worked had its leg broken, papers soaked with the destroyed compounds. Even some of the bricks were cracked and removed, likely whoever did this was looking for something. The only thing untouched in all of the chaos was the damned amber that had imprisoned him. It had taken Varian so long to rebuild his lab to its former glory after everything that happened, and he’d been so thrilled. So ready for life to go back to normal, if not better than before. 

“No,” Quirin murmured. “No no no, god no.”

He ran back upstairs, and out the door, desperately looking for a sign that his son was safe, just coming back from Corona. 

 

There was nothing. He was alone. 

-

The sun was setting. With it came the end of Varian’s week in Corona. 

Rapunzel had hugged him tightly and made him promise to take care, while Eugene reminded him not to run after handsome thieves, (as great as an example he was) because there are better things to do with your time than mess with pretty boys . Rapunzel and Varian had shared a knowing glance. 

With one final goodbye, he set off back home. It was two hours on foot, so he hoped to be back before the sun had completely set. His dad’s schedule was usually busier on weeks when Varian wasn’t home, so they’d likely only see each other when heading to bed. That wasn’t too big of a problem. As much as Varian enjoyed his friends’ company, sometimes it was nice to just have some peace and quiet with Ruddiger. 

He forgot to stop by the castle for his schematics, so this week would likely just be passion projects or more brainstorming. The latter was more likely. As much as he wanted to get back to his alchemy experiments, engineering and sticking to paper was much safer. After all the damage he did to Old Corona, he didn’t want to risk it. People had only just started moving back in while he was in prison, so a new explosion would not be welcomed. 

 

Humming slightly to himself, Varian let Ruddiger down from his shoulder to travel alongside on foot. The raccoon skittered in between his legs, before taking off down the path towards the house. Those random bursts of energy were gonna be the death of him, Varian mused, laughing under his breath as he took off after him.

“Ruddiger! Slow down!” He called. He was so used to his pet’s antics, he nearly collided with the raccoon that now seemed frozen in place. “Ruddiger? What’s up buddy?” He asked, his focus entirely on the animal at his feet. Ruddiger chittered in fear, stepping back behind Varian’s boots. He finally looked up. And froze. His eyes snapped wide open, the emotions he’d finally come to peace with earlier today slamming back in full force. Fear . Pure, unrelenting fear. 

 

“Hello, Varian,” Andrew said, stepping out of the tree’s shadows. The sun was cresting over the horizon, leaving the world in a darkness that mirrored the sinking feeling Varian felt in his gut. 

“It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

 

“Andrew,” he breathed, stepping back. From his feet, Ruddiger hissed at the older man. Right. He’s stronger now. He has support. Friends in Corona. He can do this. He straightened his back, chin up in defiance. “You’ve got a lot of nerve showing yourself here,” He managed without stuttering. 

“Really?” Andrew hummed, sauntering over to him. Varian held his ground. All of the talk with Rapunzel and Eugene about accepting his feelings didn’t prepare him to come face to face with Andrew now. He had expected to confront him when Andrew was back behind bars. Looking back, that was a stupid thought. Of course Andrew was gonna come after him. Traitors pay with their lives. It was something Andrew made abundantly clear, even before Varian betrayed him.

“If anything, you’re the one with nerve,” Andrew mocked, circling around Varian like prey. “With how much those villager neighbors of yours dislike you. Man, you should’ve heard the stuff they said about you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“They had a meeting today, you know. About how to get rid of you. You’ve done some nasty stuff to them, kid.” He moved until he was right behind Varian’s ear. “They were more than willing to help me out.”

Varian’s insides froze to ice. He knew Old Corona didn’t like him, it wasn’t new. Sure, they’d been getting meaner over the past few months, but that was to be expected, right? He’d gone from felon to friend of the Princess, that was bound to irritate some people. But this? 

“Man, they really had it out for you. All I asked them to do was grab your lab supplies, but they chose to destroy it in the process! It was nuts!” Andrew laughed, wrapping an arm around Varian. Fast as lightning, Varian threw the arm off him. 

“You’re lying!” He yelled. “They know who you are! Why would they help you?”

“Still as smart as ever. Well, conveniently, there were no wanted posters of me ‘round town. Wonder why that is.” Andrew tapped a finger to his chin.

Varian knew why. Rapunzel had them removed after his panic attack.

 

“I’ll never help you, you know that.” Varian growled. Silently, he looked down to Ruddiger and mouthed a single command: Run . The animal took off back down the path they came. As much as Varian wanted his dad, he knew he needed Rapunzel for this. 

“Not willingly, yes,” Andrew agreed, and dug into his pocket. Grinning, he pulled out a small stone, about the size of his palm. Lifting it up, the rock began to glow an unnatural purple. Varian took a step back in fear.

 

“Too bad you don’t have a choice.”

Chapter Text

“Know what this is?” Andrew hummed, twirling the stone around his finger. 

Varian stared at it. He’d studied geology before, it’s an offshoot of chemistry, after all. But he’d never seen a stone like it. “No?” He finally answered.

Andrew cocked his head to the side. “Oh? I thought you were doing research into magical stuff like this.” He pointed it at Varian. “Well, it’s called the Stone of Submission. And it’s your new best friend.” The rock glowed brighter and brighter, until it nearly blinded Varian just looking at. And then, the glow stopped.

At first, nothing happened. No one spoke, no one moved. 

Andew blinked, shaking the rock slightly. “How the heck do you work this thing?” He grumbled, pulling it up to his face.

 

“...Is that it?” Varian asked. He let out an incredulous laugh. This is what he was so afraid of? The man desperate for vengeance, but had no power to get it? He gripped his head in disbelief. 

“Oh, shut up!” Andrew snapped. Instantly, the rock began to shine even more vibrantly than before. He held it back in shock. Varian moved to speak, but no words came out.

He tried again. Still, nothing. That uneasy grin slid right off his face in sheer horror. Desperately, Varian gripped his neck in an attempt to get a noise, a scream, anything . He was soundless. Andrew looked over to see Varian’s distress, and a calm grin wormed its way across his face. 

 

“Ah, so that’s how it works,” He sauntered over. Varian made a move to run, but a quick “Stop!” by Andrew halted any ability to escape. He was trapped. Shaking violently, he looked over at the man who now controlled his every waking movement. Where did he find that thing? Surely it must have come straight from Varian’s nightmares. With this kind of power, Andrew could do anything. All he had to do was ask.

It was the kind of power he had over Varian back in prison. Only this time, there would be no Rapunzel to convince him otherwise. 

 

“So kid,” Andrew purred, circling around him. Varian would have flinched at the name normally reserved for Eugene, but he couldn’t fucking move . All he could do was follow the man with his eyes, and pray that someone came to help him. The cloak Andrew was wearing wrapped around Varian as the man swiveled closer around him, and Varian grit his teeth in fear.

Andrew stopped in front of him, and leaned down until he was at eye level with the alchemist. “You know, our plan was perfect, back when you were useful. Trick the king and queen, blow the place sky-high, rebuild Saporia on Corona’s ashes.” The man spoke of death and destruction like someone would speak of their dinner. “Heck, you even held your own against the Princess. You spooked her so bad, we actually would have won!” His glee morphed into a terrifying glare. “Too bad you lost your nerve.” Varian glared back. He hadn’t lost any nerve; in fact, he’d gained a lot since he and Rapunzel made up. When he first stood up to Andrew, he had felt the most like himself in ages. 

“But this time, there’s no nerve to lose. There’s no betrayal happening while I’m in charge. And I am in charge.” Andrew tossed the stone into the air and caught it, repeating the action 2 more times. “Now obviously we can’t do the same thing we did last time, not with the princess around.” Andrew hummed in thought. Then, he pointed the stone at Varian.

“Let’s test this bad boy out. If you were to take over Corona now , how would you do it?” 

 

Varian bit his lip so hard it bled. He refused to answer the question, let alone even think of a proper answer. This had to be like his truth serum, right? Refusal would be painful, but now that he had experience with it, he should be able to fight back. 

An electric shock fizzled through his body. His breath spasmed as pain unlike anything he’d ever known ricocheted through him. This was a million times worse than the truth serum! Still, he tried to hold on. He opened his mouth only to spit the blood at Andrew, who recoiled in anger. He rammed his fist into Varian’s face, sending him sprawling onto the ground. He attempted to sit back up, but a kick to his ribs sent him sprawling. Varian let go of his lip in order to scream in pain, but no scream came. Instead, to Varian’s horror, his answer to the question came out. 

 

“T-that! I’d control the royal family with that!” He cried, sitting up and gasping for breath as the words escaped him. A cough escaped his lips, and Varian prayed that no blood came up, but the pain was sharp enough that he wouldn’t be surprised. “B-but you’ll never- you’ll never get close enough to use it on them,” He managed to add the tiniest objection. And it was true. A normal Varian could easily get close enough to Rapunzel and her parents, but Andrew couldn’t. And there was no telling the specifications of this magic: if it wore off, if there was a range, how specific requests could be. 

“No,” Andrew agreed, with a face of dramatic disappointment. “So, what should I do then?”

Varian clenched his fists together, preparing for the new wave of pain, this one sharper than the last. He grit his teeth, letting a whimper of agony escape.

“I said ,” Andrew growled, kneeling down and grabbing Varian’s face, squishing it enough to be painful. “What should I do ?” 

 

Before Varian could respond, Andrew’s head snapped up. “Hold that thought.” He said, standing up. “Up on your feet.” He ordered, and Varian was forced to obey. He gripped Varian’s arm tightly, and dragged him over to the side of the road. Varian cried out as his body was twisted, feet stumbling. He definitely had at least a bruised rib. 

“Hide behind the tree, and don’t move.” The feeling of his legs moving without any input from his brain was disorienting, but morbidly fascinating. He felt like a puppet on strings, on the verge of being cut at any second. Though in all honesty, he’d probably have long collapsed in shock without the command. 

He was unable to see from his position behind the tree, but that didn’t stop him from frantically moving his eyes around in an attempt to get a glimpse of something, anything. 

 

“Excuse me, have you seen a teenager by any chance?”

Dad?

Varian’s whole body shook as he desperately tried to move. A snap, a scream, any kind of noise to tell his dad I’m here, please help me, don’t trust that man . His heart thundered in his chest from both the effort and fear. But it was like he was shackled to the tree, from his feet to his neck, and gagged with cloth. No matter how much he struggled, he couldn’t make a sound. To an outsider, it must’ve looked odd; Varian, standing completely still save for his shaking, eyes pooling with tears he wasn’t allowed to shed. 

 

“Teenager?” Andrew hummed, faking innocence. “I saw a few people on the way, could you describe him?” 

“Black hair,” Quirin sighed, sounding out of breath. “Blue streak. He’s very short, wearing a brown vest and apron. He was supposed to be home from the capital earlier, but our house was robbed and-”

“Woah, slow down,” Varian wanted to scream. How dare Andrew tell his father what to do! Was he using the stone on him? “If your house was robbed, maybe you should go to the capital and get the guard. On the way, you can look for your kid.”

“So you haven’t seen him?” His dad sounded hopeful.

“I can’t say that I have, no.” 

“Which means he’s likely still in Corona.” Varian finally let his tears fall. No dad, I’m here! I’m right here! He thought. 

 

There were a few more, quieter words exchanged, and the quiet footsteps indicating his father moving on. Varian couldn’t hear them over his crushing despair. His dad was so close, but yet so far away. And they were robbed , which means that Andrew had already been to his house. He likely made it look like his disappearance was the result of a robbery gone wrong. He was going to be sick. 

He almost missed the command to come out, mind still reeling. Unfortunately, it seemed he didn’t have to be aware of the command for it to work. 

“Now, where were we?” Andrew grinned. 

“You wanted to know how to take over Corona,” Numbly, Varian glanced up at the man’s face. “Bastard.” he added. 

“So?” 

“...If… if you localized the range, and connected it to a cannon… you could. You could use it as a weapon.” His face hardened into rage, mind racing for a way to work around the curse. Andrew patted his head condescendingly. He felt wrung out, weak. But the answer to resistance came as an icy shock. Maybe he couldn’t lie, and he couldn’t do anything except what Andrew told him…

But what if he could convince Andrew to say the wrong things? To make his commands just broad enough for Varian to wiggle around? You can’t dictate how to build a weapon like this, he needed Varian to build it for him. A plan was rapidly forming in his head. A dangerous, possibly life-threatening one, but he had to do it. He’d said it to Rapunzel back when he fought Andrew the first time: he would die to make up for his misdeeds. 

At least if he dies now, at least he can safely say he’s made for his past misdeeds. 

 

“Then I guess we just need the materials. Too bad your lab was destroyed.” Andrew shrugged, and Varian let out a sigh of relief. “Or was it?” At that, Varian snapped his head up in shock.

Andrew turned towards the deep woods. “Follow me, and not a peep!” He called, already walking away. He was a fast walker too; Varian was going to have a hard time keeping up.

 

Varian had a feeling Andrew knew this. 

Jerk. 

-

Quirin finally made it to the capital as stores were closing for the night. A few who knew Varian raised their hand in greeting to him, and he’d tried to smile back, but it was forced. Varian was nowhere to be seen on the entire trail home. And as curious as Varian could be, he knew better than to wander off the path for too long. The road was relatively safe, even at night, so it’s not like he was chased off of it. Quirin prayed that he was just being paranoid; that his son had just decided to stay an extra night, or lost track of time. 

His thoughts were cut off, though, when he approached the palace gate. There was a young guard holding a creature in one hand, holding it out as far as possible as the animal tried to swipe at him. As Quirin got closer, he could make out the figure, and gasped.

 

“Ruddiger?” 

The raccoon stopped its protests when it heard Quirin’s voice, and the guard let the animal down. He rushed up Quirin’s side, chattering animatedly. His stomach plummeted. If Varian was here at the palace, why was Ruddiger outside? Surely, his son wouldn’t have left his friend all alone. He looked up at the guard, who was trying not to be intimidated by Quirin’s imposing figure. 

“I must see the princess,” he said.

 

Rapunzel was preparing to go to bed when a guard came up to her, telling her she had a guest. That was odd, the townspeople knew they should wait till tomorrow. Unless it was an emergency? Knowing the city’s luck, she wouldn’t be surprised. 

Instead, she found herself staring at an increasingly distressed Quirin and Ruddiger. She blinked. “Quirin? Is something wrong?”

“Please, tell me you’ve seen Varian,” he breathed. 

Rapunzel raised a brown in concern. “Yeah, I spent the whole day with him! He left around sunset…?” Her insides frosted with ice when the large man slumped in defeat. “Quirin, what’s wrong?” She pleaded, reaching out with one hand. 

“Varian’s missing.” He sobbed, the fear finally taking hold. Ruddiger chattered urgently in his ear. “His lab in Old Corona was destroyed, he’s gone .” He covered his face with a gloved hand. Rapunzel bit her nail, turning to one of the guards. “Go get Eugene,” she ordered, and the man hurried to go fetch the new captain. She took a deep breath. Why do so many people want to kidnap Varian? The last time this happened, Varian had been bruised so badly he couldn’t move properly for days. A small part of her worried that Cass was once again behind this. Or rather, it did for a moment, before she remembered the conversation earlier today. 

 

She dropped her hand and whipped around to her friend’s father. “I think I know who took him.” Eyes blazing, she motioned for him to follow her out the castle, and into the stables. Eugene was already there, hastily dressed and hair askew. He looked exhausted, but his eyes were steel. The two of them shared a nod; he had put it together as well. Hopping onto Fidelity, she watched as Eugene hopped on Maximus, and Quirin onto another stable horse. 

“We saw him head home,” Eugene said. “So the road is the best place to start.”

Rapunzel looked over at Quirin. “We’ll get him back,” she said. “I promise.” 

 

“Then let’s go.” Quirin thrust the reigns forward, and the three headed off towards Old Corona.

Chapter Text

He had to give it to Andrew: he knew how to set up a damn good lab.

It was clear that he didn’t do it on his own, that had must have been the Old Corona villagers, but Varian hadn’t seen hide nor hair of anyone else. And even if they were here, he doubted they would be willing to change their mind and help him. 

 

He sighed, wiping the sweat off his brow for what must’ve been the hundredth time. This cave was nothing like the cool, dry setting of the demanitus chamber, safe for him to experiment as he pleased. While it wasn’t hot by any means, the place was damp; water dripping from the ceiling and onto his face. At first, the steady drips had been annoying, getting water in his eyes, shocking him whenever a droplet hit the crown of his head. Now, it was the only thing keeping him alert. 

A few times now, Varian has felt himself zoning out, wanting to sleep, but unable to. Whenever he closes his eyes, though, his body keeps moving. Which meant that the magic controlling him worked even if he was asleep. It might even work if he was dead , which would make his entire plan moot. 

So, Varian had decided to stay up the entire time, never letting himself fall asleep. If he was to sabotage the machine he was being forced to build, he had to stay awake. How could he stop a machine that he made if he doesn’t know how it was built? The sun was rising now, marking a new day, and the machine was maybe halfway done. He had the base of the weapon done, things like the trigger and barrel, but he still needed to connect it to the Stone of Submission (and find a way to destroy it). But as the hours wore on, he could feel himself getting weaker. It didn’t help that Andrew hadn’t let him stop to eat. He was smart enough to know that Varian needed water, but food was being withheld; likely until the weapon was done. 

 

As he put the final touches on the base machine, a plan began to form in his mind. It’s possible that Andrew would be willing to hand over the stone for the weapon, letting him experiment and figure out how to break the spell. Maybe if he was absolutely sure the magic was unbreakable…? 

 

Varian cursed as he stumbled ever so slightly, clutching the stolen table for support. After taking a moment to catch his breath, he stood tall and called out, “Finished,” to Andrew lurking in the darkest parts of the cave. If Varian could’ve, he would have stolen the stone while the man slept. But as long as the command to “build a weapon” was in effect, that was all he could do. The moment those words left his mouth, though, it felt like a ton of bricks was lifted off his chest, and moved to his arms. His whole being sagged, heavy with an exhaustion like no other. This wasn’t just from lack of sleep; he felt like a puppet with its strings cut. He swayed dangerously, stumbling slightly as Andrew walked over, inspecting his work. 

 

“What is it?” Andrew asked.

Varian felt his strength (what little he had before) return. It was so sudden and surprising that he almost didn’t register his mouth moving on its own. “It’s a miniature cannon. You pull the trigger, it fires a projectile.” When his words were finished, his strength petered out again. His stomach churned as the pieces slowly knit together in his head. That feeling of weakness… It was the sign that he was free of any command. 

 

At this exact moment, he had free will. 

 

Eyeing Andrew up, Varian waited until he turned around. His back was to the alchemist, thinking he was still in control. “I just need to connect the stone as a power source,” Varian added, silently moving until he was directly behind the man. 

As he was distracted, Varian grabbed at the arm holding the Stone of Submission. Andrew cried out in alarm as his arm was twisted back in an unnatural manner, but he didn’t let go of the stone. Varian hissed in frustration, tugging harder in an attempt to make him drop it.

He kicked Andrew’s back in frustration, but instead of stunning the taller man, he instead used the momentum to push forward, freeing himself from Varian’s grip. He let out a yell of pain, but he still held the stone. Shit .

Snarling, he raised the stone up and yelled, “Stop!” Varian froze in place. He glared at the man, who was gripping his shoulder in pain.

“Who taught you how to do that?” He grumbled, rolling his shoulder and wincing at the cracks of air. 

“You,” Varian grumbled. The question was rhetorical, but he had no choice but to answer.

“Oh yea,” Andrew snickered. “You were so eager to learn how to be just like me, it was so sweet ,” His voice dripped with sarcasm. 

“I didn’t want to be like you, I wanted to be equal ,” Varian corrected, face twisted with disgust at his past self. 

“Yea, that wasn’t gonna happen.”

Varian rolled his eyes. The more he was stuck with Andrew, the more his fear morphed into annoyance. Why did Varian think this guy was all that again?

Oh right, because he was the only company he had in prison. 

 

Andrew sauntered back over to the machine. “So. Obviously I can’t give you the stone for you to mess with…” Suddenly, his face lit up. “Or can I?” He glanced over at Varian, grinning like a cat that got the canary. Reaching over the lab table, he grabbed a beaker, and with one hand, threw it down on the table. Glass shattered everywhere, shards falling off the table. Varian managed to move his head slightly in a flinch, but was otherwise powerless. 

“Don’t move.” He ordered, grabbing a particularly sharp shard. It gleamed in the light of the rising sun, getting in Varian’s eyes as Andrew approached.

Panicking, Varian attempted to move. The extra strength from both adrenaline and the spell spurred Varian to give it his all. His heart sped up the closer Andrew got. Finally, as he approached, Varian felt a single tear fall down his cheek, and pure panic overtook him. 

Smack .

 

Varian gaped at Andrew, whose head was pushed to the side with the force of the slap. He had been able to break free.

He could break free

Andrew seemed to realize the same thing, and his face turned dark with anger. Scowling, he grabbed Varian’s arm, pulling him close.

In one fluid motion, he plunged the shard into the flesh of Varian’s shouldder. He pulled it out with flourish, blood splattering onto the floor. He then inserted the shard again, this time in his abdomen. The alchemist gasped for breath desperately, realizing with a mounting panic that he felt no pain. A quick glance down showed no blood beyond the initial splatter either. 

“Interesting,” Andrew mused. He circled Varian like a hawk. “Very interesting.”

That hope he had for escaping, for breaking free, was vanishing fast. Varian was now completely at his mercy. He had to obey every command and do everything Andrew said until he could get help. There was no chance of saving himself.

 

Because the moment the spell was lifted, Varian would die.

 

“Let’s wrap this up, kid ,” Andrew sneered, shoving the Stone of Submission into his hands. “Finish the weapon. We make our move at noon.”

-

Even though they had reached Old Corona long before dawn, the point remained that no clues could be found this late at night. Even if someone had seen Varian, no one in the village could be questioned until morning. So for now, the three adults were staying at Quirin’s mansion in Old Corona. Quirin had offered Varian’s bedroom to them, but Rapunzel couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t help but feel she was abandoning the boy who had become like a little brother. And after the snowstorm, she never wanted him to feel alone again. 

Eugene seemed to feel the same, judging by the lack of snores from his side of the room. Instead, the two seemed to lay in uncomfortable silence. How often does Varian do the same? Unable to sleep in this room, awoken by nightmares and struggling to go back to sleep? How many nights did he spend here alone, crying himself to sleep? Yes, he had his dad back. But there was no telling how many sleepless nights were spent in this room. It only made sense that they couldn’t sleep here, either.

 

Quirin had gotten up at dawn. As long as the sun was up, he was going to be looking for his son. The townspeople could get along fine without him. His mind was racing as he cooked breakfast, leaving an apple for the raccoon. The animal usually ate with Varian, eating scraps that he sneaked, but he wasn’t here to do that. His absence was looming over both of them. 

“Morning,” Rapunzel sighed, circles prominent under her eyes. Eugene followed shortly after, looking not much better.

 

Quirin nodded in greeting, taking the food off the fire and handing it to the two. “You’ll need your strength.” He said, looking out the window. “I can go speak to the others in the meantime.”

Rapunzel nodded, swallowing a bite. “Ruddiger,” she addressed the raccoon. “Were you with Varian last night? Can you take us to the last place you saw him?”

Ruddiger chittered anxiously. If only he could tell them everything he knew. For now, all he could do was provide what little clues he had. He scampered up to the window, waiting for them to finish eating before heading out. 

 

The day was warming up fast, and the people of the town were already moving for the day. Rapunzel and Eugene headed back down the path for clues; they promised they’d bring back any information they gathered. 

His best bet would be the direct neighbors; folks who could have heard the commotion. If his memory served him correct, only a few villagers were in the field with him yesterday. 

“Claude,” He called, approaching the older man. The man flinched in shock before turning to his leader. 

“Quirin,” He responded, raising a hand in greeting and weakly smiling. As Quirin approached, he noticed the man seemed almost guilty. 

“Is there anything I can help you with…?” Claude asked hesitantly. His eyes shifted from side to side, looking for a way to leave the conversation.

“Have you seen Varian lately?” The village leader asked, getting straight to the problem.

Claude raised an eyebrow. “I saw him last week?”

“Nono, I mean in the past few days. He never came home last night.”

“No, I haven’t. Doesn’t he do this often?”

 

Quirin frowned, eyes narrowing. “Do what?”

“You know, disobey you, go off to who knows where, get into trouble.” The man waved a hand. 

“Maybe we’ll get some peace and quiet!” his wife called as she walked by. Claude made a stop motion with his hand, before turning back to Quirin. 

“Your boy hasn’t been home since last week, Quirin.”

“How are you so sure?”

Claude startled at that. “I’m… I was out late last night, and never saw him enter the village.” 

“Out late? Doing what?”

Around him, several villagers hissed in discomfort. A few shared knowing looks, others glanced at the floor in shame. One of the younger mothers came up to the two. “Claude,” She intervened, gripping the man’s arm a little too tightly. “There you are. Your wife needs you.”

Quirin tried to argue, “But, she was just here, she could’ve said something.” 

“Nope!” The woman said, steering Claude away. “She forgot. Come along now.” Under her breath, she hissed at the old man, “Don’t break, that man promised we’ll never have to worry about that boy, all we have to do is keep our mouths shut.” Claude glanced back at Quirin, shrugging helplessly. He didn’t lie, technically. 

Sighing, Quirin turned to the other villagers watching. Seeing his gaze, they all bustled to look busy. The leader couldn’t help but shake a feeling of unease. The guilt in the air was palpable, but clearly wasn’t strong enough for anyone to tell him something. 

If there was anything to tell. 

-

Elsewhere, Eugene and Rapunzel weren’t having much luck either.

Ruddiger had easily led them to the spot he had left Varian, but there was no evidence of any kind. Any footprints had either been blown away or stepped over. Thankfully, they had brought Max, and were hoping he would be able to track the boy down. 

The horse picked up a trail, and the three were off. Carefully stepping over fallen logs and brushing aside leaves, Rapunzel noticed a trail of scrap metal littering the path. Bits of metal, bolts, and screws were strewn about. At some point, Eugene nearly stepped on a broken vial. Quirin had shown them the destroyed lab before they headed out. The destruction reminded Rapunzel so much of the condition it was in back during the Battle for Old Corona. However, this destruction wasn’t the tornado of work that Varian had created. This lab was completely trashed, stripped down to its bare bones, only bits and bobs of projects left. It had hurt her heart to see the lab he had so painstakingly recreated reduced to rubble in a matter of days. 

The further they headed into the woods, the more it became clear where his lab went. Larger pieces were being left behind. At some point, Max had veered slightly off the trail, but the humans had marched straight down the path of destruction, and so Max followed. 

Finally, after nearly an hour of walking, the trail led them to a small alcove. The cave up ahead was lined with red clay, sandstone swirling around the rocks. Cautiously, the two humans stepped inside.

Eugene whistled. “Well, that explains the trail.”

 

All of the major pieces of Varian’s lab were fully on display. The table, littered with unused scratch paper, was balanced precariously on the untidy ground. All around them, wood, metal, and beakers scattered across the floor, moved directly from Varian’s shelves.

“You think he just moved everything?” Rapunzel asked, eyeing the supplies. “Maybe he just wanted a change of scenery.”

“Do you really think he moved all this out here in one night?”

“Point taken.”

Eugene picked up a piece of discarded wood. A strange shape was carved out of it; it appeared to be a long tube with a triangle on one end. “Wonder what was being made out here, though.”

He startled at his girlfriend’s gasp. Dropping the wood, he ran over to see what concerned her, and his heart shattered.

“Whatever it was, it wasn’t good,” Rapunzel murmured as the two stared at the still wet blood splattered across the limestone. 

-

Varian stared despairingly at the village ahead. He could’ve sworn he’d heard horse hooves on their walk back to Old Corona, but he’d been forced to march straight home before he could truly investigate.

“It’s showtime.” Andrew grinned.

Chapter Text

“Follow me.” Andrew ordered. 

“Like I have a choice.”

“Just making sure you don’t bleed out on me.” Varian froze at those words. “Unless… you think there’s some other reason you’re not spewing blood out your stomach?” He smacked Varian upside the head. “Don’t forget. I’m the only reason you’re still alive. Do as I say, and we’ll keep it that way.”

Honestly, Varian thought, this is worse. His anxiety’s been building the entire walk to the village, and now that they’re here, his vision was swimming, and his hands were shaking. He was terrified of what everyone would say, how they’d feel. He knew they had a hand in this, Andrew was sure to gloat about that, but did they even know what that was? What they had condemned Varian to do? Varian was the villain again, and he didn’t even want to be. He’d been so angry the other times, blaming everyone when the one person he should’ve blamed is himself. Of course the day he finally came to terms with that anger was the day Andrew would whisk him away, and force him back into that role. He didn’t even want to help Andrew this time, and he knew what he was doing was wrong from the get-go. And yet, unlike last time, he was completely powerless. He had to constantly be under command, or the blood would begin to flow from his wounds.

 

Walking out into the town square, Varian shut his eyes, but he heard the commotion. The cries of protest, anger, and fear. Bracing himself, he opened his eyes to see the people he once called neighbors surrounding him. One woman hid her child from his eyes, another grabbed a pitchfork from the cart of hay nearby. Glancing around, he couldn’t help but remember all the times in his past each of these people interacted with him. He had grown up around them, some had even babysit him! But right now the one thing that united them all was the cold, steel gaze penetrating Varian’s very being. Even those who had ignored him before, like Karrin, were now glaring at him like he was nothing more than a rat scurrying across their floors. He couldn’t help but duck his head in shame. 

“Stop moving,” Andrew muttered, sneering down at Varian. His feet stopped in their tracks, and Varian clasped his hands in front of him in a display of submission. 

 

Yes, Varian didn’t want to be here. He wanted to deck Andrew square in the face and run as far away as possible. But here he was,  doing the same things they’d always hated him for. Varian had tried so hard to move on from his criminal days, tried so hard to avoid anything that could get him in trouble in Old Corona, kept everything dangerous in the capital, and yet here he was, back at square one. 

“What’s going on here?”

Varian’s head snapped up at his father’s voice, eyes widening and a gasp escaping his lips. He should have expected to see Quirin here, he was the leader of Old Corona after all, but Varian had prayed his dad wouldn’t show himself, hoped he wasn’t here to see what Varian could do, what he had done. The thought of Andrew using the weapon on his father made him sick to his stomach.

Quirin made his way through the people that had gathered, muttering quick apologies as he tried to find the source of the commotion. His face froze upon seeing his son, and his eyes flitted over Varian, looking for injuries. The boy was pale, with dark bags under his eyes. There were a few tears in his outfit, and a smattering of blood on his shoulder, but otherwise he seemed unharmed. Quirin’s shoulders slumped with relief. 

“Varian,” He called, moving towards his son with the intent to sweep him up and hide from the world. 

However, Varian seemed only more panicked now that his dad was here. He began to shake, taking a tiny step back. His eyes frantically glanced around, looking for an escape. Cautiously, Quirin slowed to a stop.

“Varian?” At this, the bearded man growled.

“Stay back!” He cried, Varian flinching as the man in front of him brandished his weapon. With a scowl, he pointed it at Varian, and Quirin gasped. 

When riding into Old Corona, Rapunzel had admitted to Quirin that Varian’s old cellmate had escaped, and that was the source of his recent anxiety. It hurt Quirin that Varian didn’t want to tell him about it, but he knew why. Just like how Quirin was anxious talking about the brotherhood, Varian didn’t like thinking about his time in prison, ashamed of who he was back then. It was becoming increasingly obvious that Varian had yet to come to grips with what had happened behind those bars, and he doubted Andrew escaping helped. 

But now, Varian was standing beside that man… why? He looked downright miserable just being there, muscles tense and eyes bulging, like he wanted nothing more than to vanish, yet he didn’t move a muscle. 

 

“People of this town,” Andrew drawled, glancing back at the people glaring daggers at the boy, as opposed to the man pointing a gun at Quirin’s son . “I cannot thank you enough for all you’ve done to help me, and as thanks, I’ve decided I’ll spare you when the capital burns.”

Quirin’s blood turned to ice, and his legs to lead. Varian? Burning the capital? Then, he realized what the man said.

“Help...? Who helped you?” Quirin glanced around, and with a mounting horror, noticed the town people didn’t deny anything. No one was denying involvement, nor was anyone stepping forward to join him. Instead, the people shuffled their feet, looking everywhere but Andrew. A few anxiously coughed.

Finally, one man (Gideon, Quirin noted) stepped forward, a trace of fear mixed with the burning hatred. “You- you said the kid would never step foot in Corona again!” Varian didn’t even seem shocked at that, merely watching his companion with clouded eyes. 

“I did, didn’t I.” Andrew mused. “Well, good thing this isn’t Corona anymore! Welcome to your new home, New Saporia.” His smile turned razor sharp. 

 

Quirin’s fist clenched as the people around him gasped in horror. Their anger was quickly melting, being replaced with terror and guilt, finally realizing who this man was, how dangerous he was, and how foolish they were for listening to him. The crowd began to thin, people backing out, ready to run at a moment's notice. Any sense of mob mentality had long gone out the window. 

But all Quirin could hear was his heart thudding with anger, the rush of it drowning everything else out. 

Reaching for the dagger on his belt, the village leader approached the two. “What is the meaning of this?” He demanded, more speaking to Andrew than Varian. He tried not to look at his son, who was staring at the ground in shame, frame shaking almost imperceptibly. Varian wasn’t even acknowledging that the people of Old Corona tried to have him killed, he was more concerned with what he was doing at this exact moment, how it was affecting others. There had to be something deeper going on, something other than a desire for revenge or power. 

“What do you think?” Andrew hummed, raising an eyebrow and staring into Quirin’s eyes, nonplussed. “I’m taking over Corona. Figured we’d start here, not like any of these people care about who’s in charge.” Varian flinched, but remained in place. Why wasn’t he moving? 

“Oi!” A voice called, and Karrin stepped out of the crowd with a sword and pointed it at Andrew. “What makes you say that?”

 

“Well, you know, you all were so willing to get rid of your leader’s kid… the kid that works for the royal family.” Andrew shook his head. “So willing, in fact, that you were perfectly happy to move his lab so he could make this for me.” Quirin whipped his head around to see the shame dripping off Karrin’s face. A single tear fell down Varian’s cheek; the implications were finally sinking in. His form shook for a moment, before Andrew clamped his hand down on Varian’s shoulder in mock comfort. Varian stopped shaking, eyes widening in fear. Quirin growled. He had seen enough. He rushed at Andrew. He was out of practice, sure, but the man had no sword, only that weapon he seemed unwilling to use. 

 

The Saporian turned sharply on his heel, and pointed the weapon at Varian. “Stop him!” He barked. The stone at the end of the weapon glowed purple. Varian leaped forward, throwing his weight onto his father, sending them both to the ground.

Quirin grunted and the wind was knocked out of him as he hit the ground . On instinct, he held his dagger up to his assailant’s stomach, poised to strike. He looked up, mouth open as his son sat on his chest. Varian was heaving, both from exertion and from holding back tears. His eyes were misty as he pressed his elbow into Quirin’s throat. The man wheezed, dropping the dagger.

Varian let out a choked sob. “I’m so sorry dad, I don’t have a choice.” He whimpered, pressing ever so harder. 

Both he and Quirin knew that Varian would easily be overpowered, he could easily restrain his son at any time or hell, even kill him. But the only reason Quirin wasn’t moving was out of fear of hurting his son. He’d never fight his son unless he was forced to, but it seemed those feelings were reciprocated. “Varian…?” he whispered, eyes searching for an explanation. 

Slowly, Varian rose up from off of Quirin. The man didn’t get up, back aching from the impact. None of the villagers moved, paralyzed by fear. 

 

“Now,” Andrew gripped the machine tighter. “I’d gladly show you all how this lovely machine works, but if you all comply, we won’t have to do that. And you know what happens when we don’t comply, right Varian ?” Andrew pressed the trigger, and a beam of purple lightning engulfed Varian, causing him to cry out, he trembled, trying to suppress a response and biting his lip hard. Quirin screamed in anguish, tears nearly falling as his son’s face tightened in pain and his muscles spasmed. 

 

Finally, it seemed to be too much. “Yes!” Varian yelled, and the light dissipated. He crumpled, gasping for air. Andrew hummed, eyeing the weapon with morbid fascination. Seems like extending the range of the Stone of Submission also intensified its power. Varian could try and resist all he wanted, but it’d just hurt him more. And we don’t want that; He needed Varian alive as long as possible. 

“Restrain him,” he barked at Varian. Varian pulled one of his signature goo bombs out of his pocket. Looming over his father, he threw the bomb down, and Quirin was now pinned to the ground. Varian was shaking like a leaf. As the dust settled, Varian slumped in defeat, watching with misty eyes as his father struggled to break free, fingers flexing in an attempt to reach his son. 

A cry of fury came from the townspeople, and Varian’s head snapped up to see Karrin charging at him with his sword. “Release him!” Karrin boomed, swinging the sword down onto Varian. 

“No! Stop!” Quirin yelled, desperately trying to fight his restraints, but it was too late. The downward slash sent Varian stumbling back, but Andrew barely reacted. 

 

Not a single drop of blood hit the ground. 

 

Karrin dropped his sword in shock as Varian remained standing. Some of the women screamed, and some even began to run. Clearly, this wasn’t natural; all of their fears of Varian’s alchemy being disastrous were being confirmed all over again. All Quirin cared about was that his son was just attacked, and yet the only sign was from the rip in his clothes. His skin remained unblemished. 

Tears streamed down Varian’s face. A man he had grown up with, who he had shared in hardships and joy with, tried to kill him .

Strolling over, Andrew brandished the weapon and fired in a broad arc. The beam swept across the crowd gathered, and everyone it hit cried in pain as a purple light enveloped them all. Both Quirin and Varian could only watch in horror as the villagers suffered. Sure, they caused this disaster, and they deserved some punishment, but not like this. A few of the elderly collapsed to the ground, the surge of pain too much for them to bear. 

“What have you done!?” Quirin cried. Andrew paid him no heed, turning to Varian for an explanation.

“Without a command, they’ll just suffer,” Varian whispered, eyes pleading. “They don’t deserve this, please.” 

Andrew raised an eyebrow. “Even after all they’ve done to you, you still don’t want to hurt them.”

“I never wanted to hurt anyone!” Varian yelled, clenching his fists. “Everything I ever did was to help my home,” He gestured to the people still suffering. “But everytime I try, people just get hurt.” His voice wavered.

Unbeknownst to him, a few of the men heard Varian’s words, and their eyes widened at the admission. The kid wanted to help them, and they tried to have him banished or worse. 

 

Andrew stared at Varian for a moment, before turning to the people still suffering. At least one person had fainted by this point. “Get us two horses and a sword, then leave us.” Andrew ordered, grin reappearing as the people rushed to obey, scattering to the winds. He looked down at Quirin, his smile turning feral at the man’s anger. 

“Concerned about your boy?” He teased. “Don’t worry, as long as Varian is a good boy who does what he’s told, he’ll be fine. In fact, he’ll be one of my most trusted advisors.” The words were dripping with satisfaction, like a cat who caught the mouse that they’d hunted for weeks. Quirin saw red and thrashed in the alchemic solution. 

A few of the villagers were loading up the horses, casting guilty looks at Quirin as they worked. Even if they wanted to free him, they couldn’t. The destruction of Varian’s lab meant that there were no antidotes in the house; and even so, no one knew which one was the antidote. Approaching his dad, Varian gazed down with eyes full of sorrow and fear. “Son,” Quirin said, trying to appear as calm as one could while being held down. “Are you hurt?” 

Varian shook his head. “I’m sorry,” He said. A yell from Andrew had Varian jolting, hurrying to the man before he used the weapon on him. In one smooth motion, Varian reached into his pocket, pushing a vial out as he turned. It looked harmless, as if it merely dropped out of his pocket, inconspicuous and unassuming. The liquid inside sloshed around as the vial rolled over to Quirin, and he grasped it in his hand. 

He watched helplessly as his son saddled onto the horse, gripping the sword provided to him. Andrew eyed the villagers, and held up the weapon in warning.

“Follow me, and you’ll see what happens when I order you to stab yourselves .” With that, he spurred the horse into a gallop, Varian following shortly after. He gave one last apologetic glance to his neighbors, and a hush settled over the town as the pain finally subsided. 

-

“What on Earth is going on here!?” 

From the brush came the Princess, Captain, and their horse. The town must’ve been a sight to see, with the people pale as a sheet, rushing into their homes with a guilty glance back and their leader glued to the ground. The couple raced over to Quirin, Rapunzel gasping as she recognized the substance.

“Did Varian do this?” her eyes searched Quirin’s for an explanation. Quirin sighed, nodding. Eugene’s face hardened in anger, but Rapunzel’s only scrunched up in confusion, glancing around to see the square nearly empty. 

“That doesn’t make any sense,” she murmured, noticing the vial in Quirin’s pinned arm. 

“No, it doesn’t.” Quirin agreed, letting her take the vial. Rapunzel sniffed at the vial, face lighting up in realization. She poured it onto the goo covering Quirin’s chest, and it dissolved like wet paper. 

Quirin sat up, the last of the alchemy melting away. “He said he had no choice.”

“There’s a difference between ‘I’m being threatened and therefore I have no choice’ and, ‘I’m saying I have no choice even though I have weapons and can fight back ’.” Eugene huffed. 

“No.”

All three jumped in shock, Eugene letting out a girlish scream. Turning, Quirin found himself face to face with Karrin, the very man who tried to kill his son moments ago. He hoped his glare got the message across. Karrin gave him a nervous smile, clearly scared of the retribution, but he held his ground.

 

“That weapon. The one he used on all of us. It forces you to move of your own accord.” His smile faded, a haunted glaze overtaking his eyes. “I wasn’t in control of my body, and I gave that man my sword. Your son… Quirin. He didn’t bleed when I hit him.” He winced as the Princess and her boyfriend cried in outrage at the news. “I don’t think he’s in control of anything.”

“Sounds like magic,” Eugene said, glancing at the others. “Andrew likely has him under some kind of mind control spell.” 

Quirin frowned. “He dropped that antidote on purpose. I saw him push it out of his pocket.” 

“So he’s conscious, but he can’t control his body?”

“Most likely.”

Rapunzel shuddered. “That sounds awful.”

“It is,” Karrin muttered. He turned to face Quirin. “I am… so sorry, I didn’t know.”

“You thought you’d kill him when you attacked him.” Quirin hissed. 

“I thought he was trying to hurt you!” 

“Enough!” Rapunzel barked. “Where did they go?”

“Towards the capital. If that weapon controls your body, there’s no telling what he plans on doing to your family.” Karrin said. “Or to Varian.”

Rapunzel glanced down at the road. “They’re one in the same.” 

 

She couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride at those words. She meant it. Varian was family now. And she’d do anything to save her kingdom, her people, and her family. Eugene placed a comforting hand on her shoulder in silent agreement. 

“Come on, Sunshine.” He said. “We got a brother to save.” 

Chapter Text

In the first weeks Varian worked in the castle, a bit after the red rocks incident, Ruddiger had come to Eugene in a frenzy, running up his pants and yelling in his ear. Eugene was extremely annoyed, and had marched down to Varian’s lab fully prepared to beg his friend to shut the little guy up PLEASE. His tirade was cut off before he started, though. Curled up in a ball underneath the table, teeth digging into his glove to muffle his sobs, hid the young alchemist. His eyes were screwed shut, face streaked with tears. A few garbled words slipped past his lips, but cut off abruptly when he looked up and saw Eugene’s concerned face staring back. Stunned and sad, Eugene had let Ruddiger off his shoulder, letting the raccoon curl up to Varian as he kneeled down. 

“Hey kid,” He had said, offering a hand in both comfort and support. Varian eyed him warily, but didn’t protest. “You wanna talk about it?”
“...Not really.”
“That’s ok. You want me to stay close?”

Varian shifted around, eyes moving side to side in thought. Finally, shyly, he reached out and took Eugene’s outstretched hand. “...Yes please.”

For the good part of an hour, Eugene had sat across from Varian, holding his hand, talking about anything and everything, prompting Varian with simple questions. Slowly, Varian had uncurled, letting Ruddiger into his lap and stroking his fur, even asking questions of his own. 

 

It was the first time Eugene had seen one of Varian’s panic attacks. Looking back, it was probably also the first time he considered Varian a little brother. Not sure when it happened for Rapunzel, but if he had to guess, it was probably around the same time. 

-

There was no time to grab the other horses, no time to help Quirin and the townspeople get back on their feet. Quirin reassured the princess and captain he’d follow as soon as possible, but as much as it pained him, he had to help his people (the people who betrayed him and his son and were partially responsible). The people who had been shocked into unconsciousness needed help, and since Quirin was the only one unaffected by the energy, he had to lead the recovery effort. Rapunzel and Eugene took only Maximus and Ruddiger, sharing the horse as they pursued Andrew. Quirin estimated they’d left 15 minutes ago, so it wouldn’t be hard to catch up. 

Rapunzel was in front, with Eugene clutching onto her back, and Ruddiger perched on his shoulders. The wind whistled in his ears as they zoomed down the path at breakneck speeds. With any luck, they’d catch up to Varian and Andrew, save the kid, and wrap this whole thing up before sunset. In any other situation he’d be impressed by Max’s strength and speed, but right now he was just grateful. Ruddiger chittered anxiously in his ear, breaking Eugene out of his trance, and he ruffled the raccoon’s fur in comfort. 

“Don’t worry, little guy,” He whispered. “We’ll get him back.” 

The creature was way smarter than the average raccoon, that was for sure.

Up ahead, the sound of hoofbeats were getting closer. Sure enough, Max crested over a hill to reveal Andrew and Varian, both on separate horses. Andrew had a strange device that he thought looked like a cannon strapped to his back, while Varian had a sword at his hip. Odd, the kid had no experience with swords. If you gave him a sword, he’d just melt it down for his own crazy alchemic weapons. 

Eugene would know. He gave one to him for his 16th birthday. It was repurposed in a week. 

Andrew turned his head ever so slightly, seemingly unsurprised by their approach. He motioned for Varian to stop, and turned his horse around. 

 

“Oh, hey Raps, Fitzherbert,” He joked, leaning over his horse and grinning his signature smug grin. Eugene fought the urge to roll his eyes. Using Cassandra’s old nicknames for them? He said that last time. God, did this guy have any original ideas? As much as he wanted to waltz over and smack that grin off Andrew’s beautifully bearded face, the situation was more delicate than last time, in the sense that they weren’t for Varian’s wellbeing last time. 

Speaking of, Varian seemed no worse for wear, other than dark circles under his eyes and a general aura of defeat and desperation. From what Quirin described, Varian was under Andrew’s control, but he seemed perfectly with it and responsive. When Andrew (and Varian) had messed with the King and Queen, their eyes were duller, and they didn’t even respond to anyone who wasn’t Andrew and company. 

“Do you need something? Because my buddy and I,” the word buddy rolls across his tongue like it’s something taboo. “Have business in the capital.” Varian was doing his best to burn a hole through the saddle with just his glare. 

“The only business you have is with the Captain of the Guard.” Rapunzel snapped. She was in no mood to play his game. 

“Oh hey! That’s me!” Eugene added, keeping his tone light. Varian had been in this position before, and if he’d been a bit freaked when it was Cass, no doubt being Andrew’s prisoner was terrifying. At least he knew Cass wouldn’t kill him. Probably. I mean she could’ve, but she didn’t so that had to mean something, right-

He’s getting distracted. The point is Andrew hates Varian’s guts and wants him dead. So he’s gotta put on a brave face. Let Rapunzel be the bad cop. 

Andrew hummed in thought, before reaching behind his back. “You’re right. I do have some business with you…”

He pointed the machine at Varian, and before either Eugene or Rapunzel could protest, fired it directly at Varian’s chest. “Varian, show our friends where that sword will go if they don’t cooperate.”

Electric sparks fizzled around Varian, sending some hairs shooting up and revealing a bruise forming on his cheekbone. He grabbed the sword from its hilt and sent a desperate look over at his family. A silent apology? A plea to listen? Eugene wasn’t sure. His heart, which may have been thundering before, now fell silent and maybe even stopped as Varian lifted the sword to his own neck. 

 

It gleamed in the afternoon sun, light bouncing off and hitting a nearby tree. The reflection wavered as Varian’s arms shook. 

The sword was cold against Varian’s throat, but his insides were on fire.  His eyes glistened with unshed tears, and he bit his lip. If he cried, he risked cutting his neck. 

The raw, unadulterated fear of losing his life at what was technically his own hand swallowed Varian whole, pulling him down, deeper, deeper, deeper into that murky abyss he’d clawed his way out of just a few months ago. He knew he could pin the blame on Andrew. Tell himself over and over that he’d never do any of this of his own accord, not anymore, not to his family, never to his family. He’d managed to convince himself he was free of fault, over and over as it got worse and worse. But as the wheels in Varian’s head spun, gears falling out of place in his panic, a small, treacherous voice in the back of his head whispered, What if it is your fault?  

He built the machine, he wasn’t strong enough to fight back against the curse. He knew Andrew was running free, and he didn’t even think to arm himself? 

“It’s ok,” He managed. “I won’t die.” Was he telling that to Rapunzel and Eugene, or himself? 

“Won’t die? Kid, I know you’re a scientist but your neck is kinda vital,” Eugene held his arms out, longing to grab Varian and hide him away. He’s starting to see why Frederick acted the way he did. 

“I won’t bleed as long as this spell is on me.” Varian clarified. “Don’t really know what’ll happen when it’s… not.”

Rapunzel’s face drained of all color. “How do you know that?” She barked. “How does he know that!?” Her voice shook with rage as she glared at Andrew. His cheshire cat smile said it all. 

She spurned Max to step forward, hand inching towards the frying pan at her side.

The sword dug just into Varian a smidge more. Right. As long as that body-controlling weapon was in his hands, they would lose. If only she had brought Pascal with her when they left the castle. 

“Up-bup-bup,” Andrew chided. “I’m the only reason this kid is alive right now. If you cared about him, you’d leave us alone.” 

“You know we won’t do that.” Eugene growled. He had heard enough. That kid had been dragged around like a pawn for far too long, tricked and hurt and used by several people. “You have no right to force him, or anyone, to do anything!”

“Oh, don’t I?” In one swift motion, without ever looking down at his arms, Andrew pointed the weapon directly at the horse and two riders and fired. Ruddiger, sensing the danger, leaped off Eugene and into a nearby bush just in time, but the others weren’t so lucky. As the rescue party cried out in pain, Varian yelled alongside them, as if their pain was his own. 

“Stop! Please!” He begged, arms trembling. He willed every molecule in his body to fight the command holding the sword in place, gripping the hilt with both hands as if to drag it away. He looked over at his captor, eyes pleading. “Just tell them not to follow us.”

“And why should I do that?” 

As much as Varian wanted to give up everything to save his friends, offer his life for theirs, he had to be careful. Andrew was using him more as a human shield at this point. If he lost use to Andrew, he’d die, and Corona would fall because of him. 

“If you kill them, they’ll just be a martyr. You want power? You have to make them give it to you.” 

 

Andrew blinked in shock. “That’s… a good idea.”

“I have them a lot.” Varian snapped.

“You betrayed me.”

“I stand by my words.” 

Andrew rolled his eyes, before reaching over and snatching the sword from Varian. Without the sword, the command from earlier failed, and he could finally move his arm down. Thank god, it was starting to really ache. Andrew turned back to the still pained royal couple. 

“Off the horse. And don’t follow us.” He barked, and turned his own horse around. “Come on, kid, we gotta make up for lost time.” The horses broke into a gallop, and the Saporian and his captor left the royals in dust.. Eugene hissed at the use of his nickname for Varian, but he was still smarting from the electrocution as he slid off Maximus. Rapunzel followed suit. 

“Come on. We got a lot of ground to cover.” She said, beginning to march towards the capital. Eugene blanched. How was she able to do that? 

“Uh, Blondie, we can’t follow them, remember?” 

She turned back with a smirk. “I’m not following them. I’m going home. Crucial difference.” 

Eugene’s mouth stretched up without him even realizing it, and he jogged after her. God did he love this woman. “Max, go get Quirin and meet us in the capital.” The horse whined and took off. They were about an half an hour from Corona on foot, but with Maximus’s speed he suspected Quirin would catch them at the city gates. 

-

Unbeknownst to them, there was someone who’d catch up to Varian and Andrew. 

When Ruddiger escaped the beam, he’d immediately climbed into a nearby tree, and scampered across the treetops in an attempt to get a head start. Varian had saved him from the wild, and now he wanted to repay the favor. His ears twitched at the sound of horses approaching, tail puffing up in preparation. He had a bit of experience dive-bombing people; when Varian was younger they’d jump from the apple trees into Quirin’s cart as it rumbled by. Every time Quirin would scold them, yelling that it wasn’t safe, but he’d smile when he thought Varian wasn’t looking, sometimes even laughing to himself. 

But now, his skills wouldn’t be used for hunting fruits or the occasional mouse. Now, he’s hunting the source of Varian’s nightmares, the man who took Varian from him after their prison escape. 

Speak of the devil. 

They were moving a bit too fast for Ruddiger’s liking, but he only had one shot at this. He wiggled his lower half in anticipation, and just as Andrew began to pass, he jumped. 

Unfortunately, his jump wasn’t perfect. Ruddiger had planned on jumping onto the back of the horse and pushing the machine off of the horse. Instead, he landed on Andrew’s face.

Oh well, he could still make this work. 

The raccoon outstretched his claws, dragging fire down the man’s face. He shrieked, jolting his head, but Ruddiger clenched the man’s bushy beard and held on tight. His whole attention was placed on making this man hurt, a feeling he’d never really experienced before. He’d been a monster before, sure, but back then he wasn’t really in control like this, and he wasn’t nearly as mad. Was this how his Varian felt back when he went to jail? 

“Ruddiger!” Varian gasped. The horses were still moving quickly, and the capital was fast approaching, but all he could do was stare in shock as his friend tore up Andrew’s face like his life depended on it. 

Andrew let out a screech of anger and pain, eyes burning with hatred as he finally pulled Ruddiger off by the scruff of his neck. The animal took a good chunk of his beard with him, hissing wildly as Andrew held him away from his face. 

“Lousy pest!” He yelled, throwing Ruddiger with all his might off the horse. Varian screamed as the raccoon hit a tree hard, before slumping over to the ground. Pressure built in Varian’s eyes, wind rustling his hair. He gripped the reins and pulled, sending the horse to a screeching halt. 

He whipped his head around, calling “Ruddiger, buddy?” and for a heart-stopping moment, the raccoon didn’t budge. Then, the creature shook and let out a weak trill. He slowly stood on all four paws, glancing down the path at Varian with sad eyes. 

Varian sighed with relief, wiping the budding tears away. When was the last time he had something to drink? He had to be running out of water to cry now. 

“It’s ok buddy,” He cupped his mouth so Ruddiger could hear. “I’ll be fine. Thank you for trying, go home.” Ruddiger let out a sad chitter, before limping into the bushes. 

Andrew growled. “I wouldn’t thank that rodent if I were you.” His horse trotted up to Varian, getting Andrew close enough to smack Varian across the cheek, harder than before. Varian hissed, but merely glared back.  

 

“Consider yourself lucky we have stuff to do, or I’d skewer your little friend.” the man huffed, breaking eye contact and turning his horse towards the looming capital. He spurred the horse, and Varian followed suit, sighing. Small mercies. He just hoped Ruddiger would listen to him and make it home. 

He didn’t want any of his family in the capital right now, staring ahead as the sun was setting on the bay, illuminating Corona in a golden light.

Chapter Text

As the sun set on Corona, the end of the day came with it. The people of Corona truly belonged to the Sun kingdom; they were up only as long as the sun was up. Actually, that wasn’t very accurate. It was still fairly early, so no one was going to bed, but shops were closing for the night. That was fine by Varian; no one out and about meant no one would have to suffer.

As the day wore on, Varian could feel his desperation growing. It was reaching 24 hours under Andrew’s control. He’d had plans at first, ways to sabotage the weapon or Andrew. But that had all gone out the window and into the street when Andrew first stabbed him, and even more so when he’d forced Varian to hold himself hostage. 

 

Honestly, Varian was frustrated with himself. The lack of sleep and food was really starting to mess with his thought process. He’d been trying to take notes about how the stone functioned, how the weapon reacted to it, and how to stop it. Unless wood and gears could explode (he wasn’t nixing that idea, but it was just unfortunately unlikely), he had to target the power source. But the Stone of Submission never left Andrew’s hands and even if it did, what would he do? Andrew would not shut up about how his existence kept Varian alive, and as much as Varian hated it, the bastard was probably right. He didn’t bleed beyond a bit at the initial contact, his skin frozen at the exact time he was injured. That meant if the stone’s power was disrupted, he’d start bleeding again. 

Let’s see. He knew Andrew’s weakness; the guy was not the best at thinking ahead. He acted on the knowledge he had in the here and now. That’s why he needed Varian, at least until the takeover was complete. He just had to lead Andrew slightly astray, get him to think it’s a good idea at that point in time, even if it bites him in the ass later. That was fine and dandy, but how could he use that to stop Andrew from taking over the whole kingdom?

Even if he got the stone away from him and the man was locked up in prison, what’s to say someone else wouldn’t use the stone? He felt and saw firsthand how it can be used for evil. Is there even any way to use it for good?  Probably not. 

So it was decided, then. The only way to end all of this was to destroy the stone, even if it meant he died.

It scared Varian. A lot. He didn’t want to die, not now, not when he’d come so far! He had his dad, friends, his work, a real cause… Was Varian willing to die to make up for his mistakes? Yes. Did he want to? Not if he could help it. And he really couldn’t at this exact moment. That is, die. Or make up for his mistakes. 

 

Ok Varian,  he told himself. Strategize. Lead him Astray, get the stone away from Andrew, and worry about the rest later.  It was the same tactic he’d used when kidnapped by Cassandra. Worry about others before yourself and you won’t even think about the danger you were in.

Man, if Rapunzel or Eugene heard him thinking like that, they’d flip. 

He shook himself out of his reverie as their horses approached the castle entrance. There were two guards at the gate, both looking relatively bored. 

He tensed up, straightened his back, and clutched the reins so hard his knuckles turned white. Andrew followed his line of sight and patted Varian in mock comfort. He reached into the horse’s satchel and pulled out a cloak, putting the hood up. 

As they entered the main courtyard, he dismounted the horse, motioning for Varian to follow suit. And then fired a bolt of the weapon at him. “Do everything I say.” He reminded as the sparks rocketed down Varian’s spine. The alchemist couldn’t stop the yelp of pain that escaped his lips. 

“I’d rather not have to use this on you, but I won’t hesitate if you piss me off.” Andrew fixed him a dark look. “Whether you like it or not, you’re working for me again. For good.” Varian bit his lip, and the Saporian’s face softened. It was fake kindness, Varian knew from experience. 

“You know...” Andrew towered over Varian and gave a smile that could only be described as mocking. “You would’ve been a great Saporian, you know. Remembered as a hero.” he wrapped an arm around Varian’s waist, leading him towards the guards. “And you still will be… if you cooperate.” The words were whispered into Varian’s ear, and he shuddered. “Now go convince those guys to let us in.” He pushed Varian forward. The boy stumbled slightly, looking back warily before approaching the men posted at the castle gates. They perked up at his presence, seemingly not noticing Andrew behind him. 

 

“Hey, guys…” Varian slid up to the guards, waving ever so slightly. “It’s me, Varian. Totally normal Varian, just asking if me and my uh. Friend? Can come inside?” He sheepishly grinned, leaning to one side. 

The first guard blinked the sleep out of his eyes. “Oh, Varian! The Princess was out looking for you.”

“Yea, I know, I ran into her earlier.” Understatement. “She’s on her way back. So if you could…”

“Oh yeah, sure!” The guard gestured towards the castle, a silent invitation. Varian walked forwards, signaling Andrew to follow suit. 

He kept his steps small. “Listen,” He hissed. “I’m doing everything against my will. You have to go warn the others, protect the king and queen.”

The guard’s eyebrows shot up into his hairline. “Varian, what on Earth are you talking about?”

Before Varian could explain farther, Andrew walked up. The guard regarded the tall man, eyes straining to see under the cloak. He gasped.

“Wait, you’re-!”

 With a flourish Andrew pulled out the weapon and fired it at the guards, cutting them off. Both the first man and his comrade dropped their weapons in shock and pain. “Don’t let anyone in or out of this castle!” Andrew called, his fast pace easily overtaking Varian’s.

Great. So much for no one suffering. 

“What the heck was that!?” Varian cried, feet tripping as he tried to keep up with Andrew’s long strides.

“Well. They were going to have to follow our command at some point.” He said.

“Your command.” 

“Eh, close enough.”

-

The rest of the castle seemed to follow suit. They’d run into a guard, who’d recognize Andrew, prompting him to fire at them and force them to obey him. A few of them he ordered to keep the kingdom out, but some were forced to trail behind them. 

“Varian,” One guard hissed; Varian vaguely recognized him by his mustache. “Did you give him that?”

“The framework, yes.” Varian snapped back. “I’m on the same boat as you, man.”

“Oi,” Andrew called, letting the weapon rest on his shoulders. He was confident this would work now, and didn’t want Varian around anymore. If he could’ve forced the kid to slit his own throat, he would have like, 6 hours ago. But the kid was smart, dangerously so. When he’d been a Saporian, he was so eager to please Andrew and the other Saporians, gladly pointing out flaws in their plans, thinking one extra step ahead. He’d been the one to suggest Rapunzel would come back for her family, and he was really the only reason Rapunzel took back her home. As much as he hated it (and the feeling was definitely mutual) he needed Varian, and the kid needed him. At least this time he didn’t need to keep a friendly facade. He could express how irritating he found the kid.  

He pointed at the guard Varian was speaking to. “You.” He said. “Go to the dungeons. Tell the guards some prisoners are being… relocated.” 

“What?” the man gasped. “You can’t just expect me to let your fellow Saporians-”

Andrew levied the machine at his eye level. “Do. It.” He sneered. 

Varian raised his arm to stop him, but let it drop after a moment. He needed to think fast, keep Andrew from letting the Saporians out. If they joined Andrew, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to try and get the stone from him at any point. Take it from Andrew, another Saporian could easily overpower him. He clenched his fists at his chest, grimacing. 

“Wait!” he cried out. Both Andrew and the guard stopped, and turned around to look at him. Andrew looked incredibly annoyed, the guard more relieved but anxious. “You… they shouldn’t join us.” His eyes searched the room, looking for any kind of explanation. Finally, they landed on the window. Where is Eugene when you need him? He was always good at acting…

It hit him like lightning. Rapunzel and Eugene!

“You need someone to keep the princess distracted. The captain can easily deal with the guards, but not the Saporians.” He managed. It was a totally bullshit excuse, Rapunzel could easily take the Saporians. “Besides, what if she beats you? Someone has to finish the job.” Also bullshit. If she beats Andrew, it’s game over. And Andrew would never be able to handle Cass when she inevitably comes knocking. But it was all technically true, and just believable enough for Andrew to trust him. 

Andrew cocked an eyebrow, but said nothing. The alchemist felt a cold sweat run down his back as he stared the man down. 

Finally, Andrew smirked, and crossed his arms. “Alright, I’ll take your word for it. You haven’t been wrong yet.” Yet was really the key word there, wasn’t it. He pointed the weapon at the guard and fired. “Set my friends up, would you? Let them know the situation.” The guard saluted, grimacing at the pain before taking off. Varian let out a sigh of relief, his entire body deflating. 

 

As they approached the throne room, Varian could start to see faces he recognized throughout the crowd. People he’d once tried to hurt. Now, he felt a pang of anguish each time a guard tried to break free, only to flinch at the pain and be forced back into line. This had to be at least 3 quarters of the guard. It didn’t help that Andrew sent a few to capture their fellow soldiers to join the ranks. The maids had made themselves scarce; while Varian didn’t doubt Crowley would easily try and kill Andrew, it was too risky to try and fight back. This all felt so familiar and yet so foreign. How was Varian so willing to do all this just under a year ago? 

The last remnants of the sun were filtering through the windows as the throne room’s doors loomed. The royal family was likely just wrapping up for the day, ready to retire, completely unaware of the danger at their doorstep. If Varian glared any harder at the entrance, it may explode.

“Are you ready?” Andrew asked, turning to look at him expectantly. “Cuz I’m ready.”

“Fuck off.”

 

Andrew thrust open the doors with gusto. “Hello Corona!” He called, paying no mind to the remaining guards, King, or Queen. “Did you miss me?” The guards under his control fanned out into the room, all with guilty or nervous expressions. Varian couldn’t blame them. Just like him, they were being forced to fight those they cared about. Friends, family, even country. 

The guards still under the King and Queen’s rule prepared themselves for a fight, but were clearly outnumbered. And it didn’t help that Andrew was pointing the Stone of Submission at them. Varian could only look away. He so desperately wanted to help the King and Queen, who wore matching expressions of fear and anger. He’d caused those expressions before, and he never wanted to again. 

Yet, here they are. Back at square one. Against his will. 

He just had to buy some time and stacks the odds against Andrew until Rapunzel and Eugene got here. With newfound resolve, Varian cried out to the royal family, “Run! Get out of here!” He would’ve yelled more, but Andrew quickly fired at him, and his vision turned purple. 

He let out a screech, muscles seizing up momentarily, before he collapsed like a cut puppet. “Oh, knock it off!” Andrew barked, and Varian wheezed in dismay. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the royal family huddling close. Frozen by fear. Andrew took the time to attack the remaining guards, and with a quick cry of “Get them!” The royal family was quickly subdued. 

“What is the meaning of this?” Frederick cried, and his men whispered apologies as they tied their King and Queen’s hands together in front of them. With a flick of Andrew’s wrist, they were forced on their knees in front of the Saporian.

 

Varian slowly stood on shaking legs. He just hoped the King and Queen knew he was sorry. 

God, where were Rapunzel and Eugene? 

-

It felt like a lifetime, but Eugene and Rapunzel had finally made it back into the capital.

“Man, I never realized how long that bridge is until you try to run across it. Who thought it’d be a good idea to put your capital on an island? ” Eugene grumbled. Rapunzel didn’t respond, marching ahead of him silently. The only sound were Eugene’s boots on the pavement. 

As they approached the castle entrance, he tried again. “Quirin’s probably gonna be here soon. He said he was gonna help the villagers but like. How much help do they need anyway?”  

Rapunzel sped up. “I know what you’re doing.” 

“Oh? What am I doing?” 

“You’re trying to stay positive. I appreciate that but I really can’t take it right now.”

God damnit, it was worth a shot. Usually Rapunzel was the one keeping things light and optimistic, but she’d been fuming since their... encounter with Andrew and Varian. Clearly the righteous fury of a woman whose family was in danger. It’d been brewing for a while now; started around when Quirin first told them Varian was missing. Eugene couldn’t blame her, he was worried about Varian too. The image of Varian poised to take his own life was one neither of them would forget anytime soon. Thank god Quirin wasn’t there to see it, the man might’ve tried to kill Andrew then and there. And Eugene wasn’t supposed to encourage that now that he was Captain of the Guard, but… he probably would have helped, if he was honest with himself. 

But that was neither here nor now. They needed to free Varian as soon as possible, before it was too late. 

He put a hand on his girlfriend’s shoulder, and she slowed, sagging ever so slightly. “We’ll get him back.” He said, and she turned to face him.

“This is the second time he’s been kidnapped in the past few months,” She sighed. “He’s like a little brother to me now. I told Quirin I would watch over him, and I failed. I let Varian down, again. When all this is done… how am I supposed to let him out of my sight?”

“Who says we have to?” Eugene shrugged. “The people of Old Corona turned on him, right? Quirin said it’s been brewing for a while now.”

“It has.”

 

Both let out a cry of surprise, turning to see the enormous shadow of Quirin, sword in hand, atop Maximus. Eugene could actually see him as a member of the Brotherhood now, as opposed to “the dad of my friend”. “My people never hid their contempt for him, but it’s gotten out of hand.” He slid off Max and patted the horse in thanks, who trotted off. He could only imagine the pain his son was in, unable to feel safe in his hometown. “I’ve been thinking the same thing, Captain.”

“You-you have?” Eugene sputtered, eyes bulging out. He recollected himself. “You have! Right! Because great minds think alike, and all that. Hey, quick question I’ve been meaning to ask you. How come my dad didn’t ask you to take me in?”

“Eugene!” Rapunzel cried. She faltered. “Wait, that’s actually a good question.”

Quirin rubbed his forehead. “Can we focus?” 

“Right, right.” Rapunzel sent Quirin an apologetic glance. “Any idea what Andrew’s plan is?” 

“Take over Corona?” Eugene offered.

“Aside from that.”

“Oh. No.”

They were cut off by shushing from the tall man, and Quirin pointed up at the grand doors. There were guards stationed out there as normal, but they weren’t alone. A short, round woman paced in front of them, braids fluttering in the air as she spoke to the dark-skinned woman beside her. Said woman was resting against the castle walls. Rapunzel hissed between her teeth. “The other Saporians,” She muttered. Of course Andrew would let his cronies out, why did she expect otherwise? Thankfully, they both seemed unarmed and unaware. They could easily take the guards and women, but it was a sign of a bigger problem. The castle was under Saporian control, including the royal guard. Loyal as the men were, they’d have no choice but to fight their princess and captain. And Rapunzel really didn’t want anyone else to get hurt. They’d have to find another way into the castle.

What would Varian do… Wait! Varian!  

“I think I know how we can get inside without being detected.” Rapunzel grinned. 

-

Despite all the damage a certain ex-handmaiden had done, the underground tunnels were still in pretty good condition. 

 

“So this tunnel…” Quirin ran his hand along the rocks, letting it drag across bumpy surfaces. “This is where Varian stopped the red rocks?” 

“Yes!” Rapunzel nodded fervently. “He was a real help, saved the day and everything. He’s been a big help here in the capital.” Quirin smiled fondly at that. 

Varian had told him all about that particular adventure, overjoyed that he’d been able to save Corona at least once to make up for the times he’s tried to destroy it. Quirin was never one for displays of affection, not like his son or even the princess, but Varian had bounded back and wrapped his dad into an overwhelming hug that night. It had been like he was a toddler again, running home with a story of his time in the woods with his mama. It was the first time he’d seen his son’s eyes light up in a long time; his crimes had dulled his spirit significantly. After Quirin was freed he’d told himself he’d do everything to help his son in the ways he’d failed before. So it pained his heart to see him suffering in ways that Quirin couldn’t help. He couldn’t fight his boy’s inner demons; he could help, but he couldn’t just spook them off with a story and some candlelight like he could when Varian was young. All he could do was be there for the man his son had become, try and do what was best for Varian.

He shook himself out of his reverie as they approached a large chamber. In the center stood a broken down machine, full of cogs and bolts and far beyond Quirin’s comprehension. He did, however, understand the lab setup in the far corner. 

So this was Varian’s castle lab. It was about the same size as his setup at home, if not a bit bigger. With how Varian’s lab back in Old Corona was completely destroyed. He’d likely be working exclusively in the capital for a while. 

 

“You said he’s a big help here in the capital.” Quirin approached Varian’s lab, eyes roaming over schematics and test tubes. 

Rapunzel’s eyes softened. “I think we all have the same idea.”

“About what to do when this is all over?” 

“Yes. Are you… ok with it?”

Quirin laughed. “I’ve been trying to stifle my son for so long because I was afraid he’d be hurt. But I realized I was only hurting him myself. He needs a place to safely explore his true potential.” He nodded at the princess, who’s eyes brightened.

“Hey guys?” Eugene called, at the steps towards the palace. “We should get a move on.”

Right. Work it out after. The two bounded after him. 

-

The castle at night was always a bit quiet, only the occasional passing of the guards and maids, but tonight it was practically vacant. That was not a good sign.

Still, the trio took no chances and crept silently through the hallways until they reached the throne room. Candlelight spilled out from under the doors, muffled shouting behind the thick oak. 

Quirin stepped back, before charging at the doors. They groaned but gave in, revealing the scene at hand. 

 

Nearly 3 dozen guards stood in various locations around the room, all shocked but joyous at the sight of their princess. The moonlight shone through onto the center dias, where the King and Queen were on their knees in front of Andrew. On the floor in front of them, a piece of parchment, ink, and a quill. Andrew looked completely at ease, twirling the weapon around the trigger like a rifle or flag. And by his side, a very miserable Varian. He perked up significantly at the intrusion, light returning to his eyes. 

“Guys! Dad! ” He cried, his entire being relaxing with relief. He moved to approach them, only for Andrew to stop him with his hand. He shrunk back, clutching his arms to his chest in defense. 

“So nice of you to join us, princess.” Andrew’s sleazy grin only grew. “You’re just in time to see your father sign over the kingdom.”

“No…” She gasped. She ran towards her parents, only for a few guards to hold their spears out in warning. They nodded at the princess, and that was all the permission she needed. Untying her hair, she threw a strand to trip the guard nearest to her. He went down, spear clattering to the floor. She levied the strand at Andrew in challenge. “Let. Them. Go!” Her order rang through the oddly silent throne room. 

With a silent command from the Saporian, the other guards charged. The odds weren’t in their favor, but these men were loyal and sharp. All they had to do was try just hard enough to satisfy the magic, give their bare minimum. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to even the odds. 

Rapunzel sent a long strip of hair flying towards a group of guards, and they went flying. At her side, Eugene parried with the men. “Nice form, Greyson!” He said to one, before sending him sprawling with a kick.

“Thanks Captain,” The guard wheezed from the floor, before struggling back up onto his feet. 

“The stone’s magic won’t let them stop fighting!” Varian called. “It works even if you're unconscious.”

Quirin, locked in a swords dance with another guard, let out an inhuman cry. “How do you know that!?” 

“Don’t ask!” Rapunzel let out a cry of frustration at that. 

“We can’t kill them, we gotta keep them from following the command another way,” Eugene huffed. “As long as that stone’s intact, they’re just gonna keep coming!” 

“Then we just gotta keep them distracted until we can get close enough to destroy it.” Quirin was now by their side. The three formed a circle, keeping guards at bay as they approached the throne slowly. 

 

Andrew was unimpressed. Without looking back, he fired the weapon at the king, who gasped and hunched over in pain. “Sign.” His voice was monotonous. With shaking hands, Frederick scribbled his signature. Arianna gripped his shoulder in support. 

One of the windows to the outside world shattered, sending glass everywhere. One guard dropped his weapon in shock, landing at Andrew’s feet. A blur of grey zipped past the Saporian, scratching him across the cheek, leaving a single drop of blood. 

The raccoon at his feet let out a hiss. 

“Ruddiger!” Varian gasped. “You’re ok!” He ran over and embraced his pet. 

The Saporian growled in frustration. “I thought I left that pest to DIE!” He snapped, a withering gaze directed at Varian. Varian glared straight back. He’d had enough. Standing up to his full height, Ruddiger on his shoulder in support, he stared down the source of his nightmares for the past several months. 

“I’ve been pulled around as a puppet by so many other people. The last time I took control of my life, I ended up in prison. But not this time. This time, I’m not going to hurt those who wrong me, because I’m not like you. I never was a Saporian and I never will be.

“I have friends and family who love me, and I have a home here, in this castle! Everyone and everything I love is right here, in this room! And I’m not going to let you take it away from me! Not now, not ever!” 

 

Andrew’s face morphed into a feral rage he’d never seen before. “You lousy pest. I should’ve dropped you off that airship when I had the chance.” He raised the weapon up. “Say goodbye, kid.” 

But Varian was ready. He wasn’t going to let that machine control him anymore. With a snarl, he launched himself at Andrew, tackling him to the ground. The man tried to hold the machine up above his head, but it was no use. Varian crawled up to grasp at the stone, and with one powerful tug, he ripped it free of the machine. 

But before Varian could stand up, Andrew grabbed the fallen spear from before and plunged it straight into Varian’s side. 

Varian didn’t even flinch. He stood up, one hand keeping the spear in place. 

Andrew blinked in shock, before he realized the effects of the stone’s spell. Varian felt no pain except that of its magic, and with the Stone of Submission in his grasp, Varian was in complete control of the entire situation. 

The Saporian scooted back, holding a hand out in an attempt to plead with Varian. “Listen, kid,” He said. “I-I didn’t mean any of it, you’re a real good pal of mine! Really! More so than any of the other chumps, like Clementine? You made the right call sending her elsewhere, man I can’t stand her.” He laughed nervously. “Come on kid, you can call the shots if you want, I won’t even use that thing on you!”

 

Varian glared down at the groveling man. To think, this was what he was so afraid of. 

He threw the stone down with all his might. It shattered into a million pieces on the shimmering floor. 

The spell broke instantly across the room. The guards stopped mid action, one falling over. They turned towards the throne, where Andrew was trapped, a sitting duck. The king reacted with a start, ripping up the paper he was forced to sign. His wife helped him to his feet, and they glared at the Saporian.

 

Varian staggered, feeling the familiar weight of exhaustion and pains of hunger finally settle over him. That was followed by overwhelming, all encompassing pain in his stomach, chest, shoulder, and side. He winced, reaching a hand down to press against his chest, and shakily pulled it away.

 

Blood.

 

He crumpled.

Chapter Text

Varian felt as if he was floating. 

 

His thoughts blended together into a mess of half-formed ideas and muffled voices. Warily, he opened his eyes. The ceiling was moving, why was it moving? He felt motion sick.

Two faces entered his line of sight. He knew them… oh. It was Eugene and Dad.

“Hi daddy,” He mumbled. His mouth felt like it was full of cotton. He tried to cough it out, but all that came up was liquid. His dad’s face stretched into an uncomfortable smile.

He was crying. So was Eugene, actually. 

“Hey kid,” Eugene said, hair bouncing. His hair was always bouncy, he worked hard to get it that way. It was mesmerizing. “How you feeling?”

He tried to shrug, but his shoulder was tucked into his dad’s stomach. He was tired, but otherwise felt… numb. Honestly he just wanted to go back to sleep. “Sorry bud, but you can’t sleep now.” Eugene gently tapped his cheek. Oh, did he say that out loud? 

“What you did was so brave, and we’re so proud of you.” Dad added, smile shaking. “We just need you to stay awake a little longer.”

“Five more minutes dad…” Varian slurred. He felt his strength slipping away. He couldn’t remember the last time he was this tired; had he gone too long in his lab again? His father’s arms were so warm, so comfortable, he couldn’t help it. The cries of his brother and dad faded as he fell back into a deep sleep.

-

“...king up.”

“Varian? Can you hear me?”

His eyes fluttered open. The ceiling wasn’t moving anymore, thank god. He wasn’t floating anymore, either. He squinted, and the blurry picture cleared to reveal Rapunzel and a man covered in white and red. A doctor…? He wasn’t sure, the man’s face was covered. 

“We’re about to put you under for surgery, you’re gonna be just fine.” the princess smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. She continued on about something, but Varian couldn’t focus. His head tilted to the side, eyes trailing to the infirmary’s door. Someone was standing there… short, big dress…?

That was all he could make out before the anesthesia took hold, and his vision went black.

-

He never had the strength to open his eyes after that, only able to hear bits and pieces.

 

“...a lot of blood, lack of food or sleep, there’s only so much we can do…”

“There has to be somet… You can do!”

“I’m sorry princess, he needs….”

 

“We’re losing him!”

“Varian! Varian you have to stay strong! I know you can…”

 

“...Transfusion is risky, but-”

“Do it. Take as much as you need, I don’t care. Just save him.”

 

“.... a success, but there’s no telling when he’ll wake up. He’s lucky the only organ damaged was his liver, those can heal themselves.”

“He’ll live, though?”

“I do believe we’re in the clear.”

 

“...not waking! It’s been three days!”

“I know, Sunshine we just gotta…... he’s a strong kid.”

 

“Brain damage possible…”

 

“..ian, we love you. Come back to us.”

“Come on kid, I know you’re stronger than…”

“Varian, son… wake up, please. I can’t lose you. None of us can.”

-

Debris from the fight was cleaned up before the new day came. Well, almost all of it. 

A small silhouette peeked through the rubble thrown out just a scant few days ago, the trash swept up in piles of dirt and dust. At last, she found it. Speckled with blood and slightly shoddy, the wooden framework remained, ignored after its power source was destroyed. With a delighted hum, she swept it into her arms and left the room. 

She had no use for the weapon. It was useless, just a scrap of wood and gears and metal. But it worked beautifully as a miniature cannon, and she doubted the little alchemist would ignore his handiwork. The boy was curious and determined to a fault. No doubt, he’d try to rework it in Corona’s favor to try and stop Cassandra.

Peeking into the infirmary, none of the present were awake. Just the boy, still asleep as the fourth day neared. His father had been reading to his son religiously, likely a tradition when the boy was sick as a child. The princess and her boyfriend joined him in between duties, checking in on their dear friend. It was only now she’d been able to get into the waste room at the same time everyone was asleep. She entered silently, letting her soft shoes muffle any sound. The moon shone down on the young boy in the bed, the quiet whistle of his breath the only sound.

Oh, little Demanitus, she thought. It’s a shame you forgave this foolish city. We would’ve done great things together.

Oh well. She could still give him that little push. She set the weapon on the table by his bed, and floated to the door.

“Sleep well, alchemist,” she whispered. “Your father won’t be here to protect you much longer.”

-

The sun filtered through the blinds, dust suspended in air. Ruddiger twitched his tail from the windowsill, sending more dust spilling onto the bed. A few landed on Varian’s nose, and he sneezed. 

Bleh. Everything hurt. 

Varian let out a groan, reaching up to pinch his nose with two fingers and stop another sneeze. It didn’t work. He sneezed the second he let go. Finally, Varian pried his eyes open, one after another, and squinted at the bright morning sun. He shielded his eyes, and glanced up at the ceiling. Was this… the castle infirmary? Why was he here? Did he cause another explosion…

 

Andrew!

 

Varian sat upright, and then regretted being born. 

“Ow ow ow ow…” He whined, clutching his stomach in pain. Gah. Right. He’d been stabbed a few times. Glancing down, Varian recognized the striped blue-and-white frock of a patient, and lifted it up. His stomach was completely wrapped in white gauze, from his abdomen all the way up to his chest. Feeling around proved it even wrapped his bad shoulder. 

The early morning rays indicated the new coming day… had he only been out for that night? He felt like it’d been much longer. His musings were cut off by a loud snore to his right, and he jumped. Gah, that hurt too. He looked over and his pain vanished, being replaced with a fond warmth.

His dad was asleep in the chair beside him, head tilted down and mouth slightly parted. His shoulders were crossed and a book lay on his lap; a quick glance showed it was an older Flynnigan Rider book. Was it one of Eugene’s or did he get that from home? 

His stomach grumbled, making its presence loudly known. He was starving. In a way he kind of missed the stone, at least he wasn’t hungry or really in pain then. 

Slowly, Varian scooted to the edge of the bed away from his dad, and set his feet down on the floor. He rose onto unsteady legs. Why was he struggling to stand, he wasn’t stabbed in the foot! He reached over onto the desk for support, but managed to remain upright. Nice. He knew from experience that the infirmary food wasn’t the best. It was healthy and fulfilling, sure, but it wasn’t, say, the castle’s cinnamon buns or pancakes. Both of which sounded really good right now. And judging by the sun, it was the tail end of breakfast, which meant there were likely some leftovers in the kitchen. He just had to get there.

Easier said than done. 

 

His legs stumbled like a newborn deer’s, buckling and shaking as he trailed the castle corridors. A few of the maids giggled or grinned as he walked by, one even calling greetings to him. He would’ve preferred to do this in pants, but the cries for food won over dignity, and so off he went. Luckily, the corridors were bare enough that Varian could keep a hand on the walls at all times. Varian thanked every god he could think of that the kitchen was on the same floor as the infirmary. Any attempts at stairs would likely get him sent right back to square one. But finally, after what felt like an eternity, the smell of syrup and fresh bread reached his nose, and his shuffling picked up in speed. The pangs of hunger became more apparent but at last, food! The kitchen was empty, as the cooks and maids were likely still clearing the dining room, and Varian wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. He dropped both of his arms onto the counter, only taking a moment to catch his breath before grabbing the pastries and shoving them into his mouth. He let out a small moan of delight. Totally worth getting stabbed, if he did say so himself.

He was so focused on the food he didn’t hear the yelling from down the hall, nor the frantic footsteps. He didn’t even notice someone running past the kitchen, skidding to a stop, and turning back in to stare at him. 

“Varian!?”

He finally looked up to see Eugene, face white as a sheet. “Oh my god, do not give me a heart attack like that! What the heck are you doing?”

Varian looked down at his meal, and then back at Eugene. “Eating?”

“No I got that. What are you doing out of bed?

“I just said. I’m eating.”

“There’s food in the infirmary?”

“I didn’t want that food.”

Eugene smacked the palms of his hands together in mock prayer, raising them to his face. He took a deep, calming breath. Honestly, why did he even try. 

 

Varian frowned. He could see the dark circles under Eugene’s eyes, the disarray of his hair, the rumple in his uniform. Clearly Eugene wasn’t faring well himself, and he hated to upset him like that. But…

“I needed to do this.” He admitted. Eugene lowered his arms, a silent invitation for him to continue. “I was forced to do what Andrew said when he said it. I wasn’t allowed to eat or sleep or anything, and I… I just wanted to take back control as soon as possible.” He smiled sheepishly. “Sorry if I scared you.”

Eugene’s shoulders dropped, and he let out a dramatic sigh. “That’s an understatement.” He walked over to Varian, wrapping an arm around his good shoulder. “You really freaked us out back there, kid. We weren’t sure if you were gonna make it. Your dad had to donate some blood cuz you lost a crazy amount.” Varian bit his lip. “And then you just wouldn’t wake up… the doc said it might’ve been too late. So when Quirin woke up and you were gone… we assumed the worst. That you’d died in your sleep and they moved you.” 

Yikes. Well that’s a terrifying thought. “But isn’t that like. Illegal? Wouldn’t the doctor have said something?”

Eugene barked out a tiny laugh. “Oh yea, you shoulda seen it. Blondie was ready to tear him to pieces, but since he didn’t know where you were, there wasn’t anything she could do.” 

“Sorry.”

“It’s ok.” He pulled the short alchemist into a one armed hug. “How about we head back, but you take your little buffet with you? I’ll help you carry it.”

Varian’s smile could have rivalled the sun. “That sounds perfect.”

-

Eugene filled him in on what happened after he collapsed as they made the slow trek back to the infirmary. 

With the stone destroyed, Andrew’s hold on the castle folded like a deck of cards. He was immediately pinned to the ground and hoisted back off to prison, this time with much more security. His fellow Saporians fared no better, quickly overpowered by the freed guards and sent right back where they came from. Everyone who was forced to act under the spell was declared not guilty, and the guards were treated for any minor injuries the fight caused.

“What about Old Corona?” Varian had one arm wrapped around Eugene for support, the other holding a plate of treats for both himself and his dad. As they walked, any guards they passed saluted, but it felt like they were saluting Varian in thanks just as much as they were saluting their commander. It felt… awkward, but nice. 

“They seemed ok when Quirin visited.” He didn’t elaborate further. It’d probably be best to get into the nitty gritty when he was in the infirmary. Speaking of, they were rounding the corner to see a very distraught Rapunzel pacing back and forth outside the door. She looked up upon hearing their footsteps and her taut expression relaxed. 

“There you are,” She padded over and pulled Varian into a gentle hug. As much as she loved her bear hugs, she doubted it’d be good for him right now. “How are you feeling?”

“Sore, but otherwise ok now that I ate.”

Rapunzel eyed the food the boys were carrying. “I can see that. Hey, do you mind if I…”

Varian laughed, brushing past her as she pounced on the tray Eugene was carrying and ignoring his squeaks of protest. 

 

His father was staring out the window into the town square below, deep in thought. His brows furrowed, but glanced up at the door and smiled. 

Varian couldn’t help but tear up a bit. The last time he’d actually spoken to his dad face to face, he’d been forced to hurt him. After the amber, the last thing he ever wanted to do was hurt his father either on accident or on purpose. And yet, here he was. They were both safe, his dad still loved him despite it all. He rushed forward on unsteady legs, launching himself into his dad’s chest. Quirin let out an “oof” but gladly wrapped his son into a warm hug. He pressed a kiss into Varian’s hair. 

“You’re getting too big for that, you know.”

“Do you want me to stop?”

“...No.” 

Varian laughed and dug his face a little deeper, inhaling the familiar scent of apples and smoke. He could stay here forever. Vaguely, he heard the door swing open, likely Rapunzel and Eugene, and reluctantly lifted his head to see their grins tinted with sadness. 

“I hate to break this up, but we should talk about some things.” The princess said softly, and father and son parted. Quirin helped Varian back into bed, wincing when Varian hissed as his stitches were pulled. It didn’t hurt as much as it did earlier, but it was a clear reminder he still needed rest.

“We need to talk about the… Old Corona situation.”

Varian tilted his head. “I thought you said they were fine?”

“They are!” Eugene hissed between his teeth. “But, it’s unclear which things people were forced to do and which things they did on their own. Their stories keep conflicting, and Andrew won’t cooperate. Karrin turned himself in.”

That shocked Varian. He was more concerned about the people he’d hurt, completely forgetting the fact that they’d been the ones who delivered Andrew to him. It was such a far cry from the kid he was two years ago, who focused exclusively on the ways people hurt him. His fists clenched into the bedsheets and he kept his gaze on them. 

He understood why they acted the way they did. Varian had caused problem after problem in Old Corona for years. Sure, he didn’t really mean to cause them, but it hurt people and property all the same. The capital tolerated him, even liked him, but to the people of Old Corona, he was a problematic child who got away with his crimes by cuddling up to the princess. To them, the royal family was playing favorites and were ignoring their suffering.

It was the same mindset he’d had when his dad was imprisoned.

How can he blame them?

 

“I… I don’t want to press charges.” He couldn’t. He didn’t want anyone to go through what he did. The others seemed surprised, but made no comment. “I grew up with them, they’re still good people, they just felt ignored and made a bad decision. A decision that hurt a lot of people, but it came from a place of… of…” His voice wobbled. Quirin placed a hand on his back for support. He understood. 

“Ok, fair enough. But I’m not letting you go back.” Rapunzel’s voice had an edge of fire. “It’s ultimately your decision, but… I don’t feel safe letting you go home just yet. Maybe in a few months, but...”

“No, I agree. I uh, I don’t really. Wanna go back.” Varian stumbled. Any and all maturity he’d felt in his decision went right out the window. His cheeks flushed. 

“Right, well we were thinking… you could, stay here?” Eugene reached over and patted Varian’s knee. “You’ve got a room already, and it’d take awhile for your lab back home to be rebuilt anyway, you know, with the whole raiding it and moving it to a cave so we couldn’t find you.” Eugene winced as Rapunzel smacked his arm and whispered “Too soon!” Directly into his ear. But honestly, Varian didn’t really mind. It was true; even if he went home, there wasn’t much waiting for him. And he’d be able to work on his experiments freely, without any worry of them causing damage to the people around him. Still, he couldn’t just leave his dad alone! He looked over at his dad guiltily. 

Quirin ruffled his hair, reading his mind. “Don’t worry about me, we can just switch.”

“Switch?”

“I’ll come to the capital, not the other way around.”

Varian couldn’t stop his excited grin. “A-are you sure?”

“Varian, don’t let me get in the way of your dreams.”

Varian wrapped his arms around his dad’s neck. “Thank you!” He squeezed just a bit, before letting go to see Rapunzel and Eugene had started quietly bickering. 

 

“I’d really like that,” He called over the noise, and the two stopped, faces lighting up at the same time. Rapunzel couldn’t help it, she rushed over to the bed and wrapped him into a big hug. Varian’s arms flailed slightly, before relaxing, resting one hand on her back and gripping his dad’s hand with the other. Eugene walked over a bit slower, but joined the hug nonetheless, more careful of Varian’s injuries as he hugged his girlfriend and brother. 

 

Varian’s whole family were all right here and ready to support him through anything. 

His heart swelled. 

 

I don’t think I’ll have to worry about nightmares for a while.

Chapter Text

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.