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The Phases of the Shadows of my Heart

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Varian was so young when his mother died. But he did remember her. He remembered that she had been very sick lately, but his very young mind could never have known how close she was to leaving him.

 

Dad had exhausted himself and had fallen asleep downstairs, so Varian had decided on that particular evening that he would help Mum tonight for Dad. He saw his Mum resting on her bed as usual when he crept into the room. She was so terribly pale. Her breathing was raspy, or crusty sounding as the child would have said if asked.

Dad had said not to get too close to Mum or else he might be sick too, so Varian stayed a ways back from Mums bed, hoping he’d been quiet enough not to wake her up.

 

“Varian.”

He had not.

“Varian... Come over here please.”
Varian obeyed despite his fathers previous warnings. The hoarse voice of his mother left a lump in his throat as he remembered how she used to sound before the sickness. When she would sing her lullabies to him.

 

“Oh my baby boy...” She coughed a few times before continuing.
“I’m going to have to leave soon...”

 

Varian felt his eyes blur. “Mum. Mummy no, you have to stay with us! Why would you want to leave? Did I do something bad?”

 

Her eyes crinkled with pain at his questions.
“Of course not little one, and I don’t want to leave. You didn’t do anything wrong... But I’ll have to leave soon.”

 

“Where are you going? Will you come back?”

 

The little boys lip was shaking as his mothers hand reached out to him weakly.
“I’m going to a place filled with stars. Where the sun and moon will be together again one day... I won’t be able to come back to you, but you’ll come to me someday...” She said this with such assurance that Varian didn’t know how to say that he didn’t understand.

 

She quickly turned her head away and began coughing harder again. Varian pressed his hands against his ears.
He didn’t want to hear this! He didn’t want to hear Mum so sick! He began sobbing to himself. Lips still trembling. He didn’t want to hear Mummy saying the things she was!

But he was frozen. As much as part of him wanted to run, he was rooted to this floor. His Mum still had things to say.

The coughing quieted, but Varian could see a bit of red that she was quickly wiping away.

 

She turned back to him with a small weary smile.
“Varian, I know you’re going to do great things one day. And I’ll be watching for you... I’ll be watching for when you take your place among the stars.”

 

Mum suddenly was hacking harshly once again. Tears spilled down Varíans cheeks. What should he do?? He didn’t know what to do!! The red was coming out of her mouth when she coughed. He wanted to cry out for Daddy to come and help, but his voice didn’t seem to be working right now.

Mums coughing calmed down a little, but she had stopped bothering to try to hide the red that was on her face and hand. Instead, she opted to try speaking a little more, though it was harder to understand her voice now, and she seemed so much more tired.

 

“Varian... I lo-... I love you...”

 

Varian seemed to find his voice again.
“Mum. I love you too Mum... Mum, are you sleeping?”

 

Indeed, it looked like his mother was asleep, but after all the coughing and red, Varian had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. Her rasping had stopped.
He began pushing her a little. She should wake up, Daddy would help her feel better. He would go get him. She just needs to wake up.
Wake up!

Varían wasn’t aware that he was speaking out loud until he was almost shouting.

 

“Wake up! Wake UP Mum! I can go get Dad! Wake up!” Varíans whole face was wet as he sobbed, and his legs could barely keep him up as they trembled.

 

“Mummy! MUMMY!! .... DAD! DA-AD! DADDYY!!!”
Varian was screaming now. His vision was tunnelled so he only saw his mother. His mother and the red on her sheets and pillow. His mother and the red. His mother. The red. Varians breathing became short and panicked. His head felt light, he couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t breathe.

He barely heard the shout of his father before everything went black as he fainted.

 

His

 

Mother

 

And

 

Her

 

 

Blood.

 

_____________________________________

 

Wind whipped through his hair as he sprinted through the streets in the dead of night. His heart pounded painfully in his chest as he pushed his body harder and harder. Once or twice he had crashed into a wall before changing direction.
He supposed maybe this wasn’t his most brilliant idea ever; running around Corona chasing a giant hot air balloon that could send this kingdom to Kingdom Come. But he wasn’t focusing on that right now.

 

KABOOM!!

 

He let out a horrified cry as the night sky lit up in what would have been a dazzling display in other circumstances, the ship was now nothing but a massive cloud of vivid green. He panting was harsh against his dry throat, but he didn’t let himself slow down for a moment, lest he be unable to continue.

Please be ok please be ok don’t let someone else pay because of me!

 

Varian had cried out when Rapunzel came into view. She was alive, and was unharmed from the looks of it. He almost collapsed with relief at the fact that another person had not been killed for his mistakes.

He stumbled to a stop a little ways away from her and Eugene, completely out of breath now that he’d caught up to them. His body found the wall to lean on for support. He had been running after the balloon since the princess had yo-yoed him down from it, and after the year and a half of either being alone, in prison, or trying to keep up with Andrews demands, he was admittedly not in the best shape.

The princess was running over as soon as she caught sight of him, but she seemed a bit hesitant now. Now that the kingdom-wide threat had been neutralized, neither of them knew exactly how to treat each other.
Despite his panting he tried to give her the tiniest of smiles in attempt to ease over the awkwardness of the situation. He knew though, that she no longer ‘needed’ him as she had put it.

 

“Y-you’re... o-kay!” He managed to gasp out between his breaths. “Don’t ever do that- again!”

 

She seemed a little confused, but also concerned. She reached out to him slightly, but didn’t touch him.
“What do you mean? Varian, are you ok??”

 

“Y-you can’t do that again! The quirinium, the- I-I could have killed you! You can’t do that again!”
Varian couldn’t stop himself from shaking now, no matter how hard he tried. He hadn’t wanted her to see him like this. How pathetic he must look right now. She had every right to hate his guts.

 

• • • • •

 

“Varian I-“

Rapunzel was shocked, speechless for a moment. This was the boy who had once tried to murder her and others for the sake of his pain and anger. And now, here he was; looking like he was about to pass out from the panic he had endured when he thought that she would die from one of his inventions.

If there was any lingering doubts that he had changed, they were all swept away now. This Varian was different than the one she had left behind, but he still needed the same things as last time she had seen him.
He needed help. He needed someone to be there for him now. He needed someone to push him in the right direction. And even after everything that had happened between them, she resolved to be the one to do that. Just as she should have all that time ago.

She let out a quick breath to recollect herself and threw all feelings of apprehension and hesitation out the window. She may not be what he wanted, but she would try her darnedest now to be what he needed. She put her hands on his shoulders, trying to keep him grounded.

 

“Varian listen. I’m fine, I’m ok, I’m not hurt. I had my hair to protect me, Corona is safe, you’re safe. Everything is fine.”
She tilted her head a little to be at eye level with him, trying to communicate her feelings to him.

He finally looked up to meet her eyes, looking almost ashamed of himself before he looked back to the ground.

 

“It’s my fault though. I should be the one to clean up after myself. You have people who would would miss you.”
The ‘I don’t’ was heard by anyone listening despite it remaining unspoken.

Rapunzel felt her feet go weak for a moment. He didn’t seem uncomfortable with her touch, but he was still shaking.

 

“I have missed you Varian. I’ve missed my friend so much, and I wish I had come to help you when I should have. I will never regret saving you Varian, and I’m here now.”
His shrunken form seemed to freeze for a moment as his eyes flew up to meet hers in surprise and uncertainty. He seemed to be searching for something. Perhaps signs of falsehood?
She tried to meet his gaze as steadily as she could. After a few moments he let out an unsteady breath and maybe he even relaxed ever so slightly.

 

Eugene seemed to think that that was a good time to come in. He was behind Rapunzel now, looking carefully at the young boy in front of them who looked like he hadn’t slept or eaten well in months.

 

“Well, I don’t know about you two, but I think it’s been a very long day for us all.” He said with a small smile and a hand on her back. “And after travelling for so long, all I’d like now is some nice food, a hot soak in the tub, and a cozy bed. Would you two like to join me?”

 

Varians lips twitched.
“Probably not for the tub and bed. Now, you couple on the other hand...”

Rapunzel couldn’t stop the snort that burst from her, while Eugene looked flustered or maybe surprised for just a moment before letting out a good natured chuckle.
“Not a word to a soul!” He jokingly stage whispered back to the boy.

 

Rapunzel has to laugh a little as the three of them turned back to the castle. Varian was still guarded, nervous, and uncertain, but she had seen it. The little spark of the boy he truly is. Though his voice had been quiet, his body closed off, the glimmer of light that shone however brief in his eyes as he joked with Eugene was there. It gave her a new refreshing wave of hope, one she’d not felt since before Cassandras betrayal.

She wanted that spark of his to show itself again, but she knew she had to be patient and help it along as much as she could. She just had to reach out and wait for that light to come out entirely.

_______________________________________

Chapter Text

Fog moved and swayed unnaturally around him. He knew he was dreaming again. He always dreamed of this place. Not every night, of course, but still consistently. He always was on a boat, white with black highlights, that never moved. Always standing firm on the still and strange waters beneath it.

The boat never moved, the water only rippling in an undisturbed, unusual way when he touched it, and the deep, smoky coloured fog, that never touched him or the boat as it swirled around, but blocked out any further knowledge of his location.
Always the same. Had been for years. These dreams had haunted him most of his life.

The one thing that changed every time was what he saw in the fog. Most of the time, it was merely memories. Last time he dreamed, it had been the memory of his mothers death.
Other times, he would see things he had no knowledge of. Strange and unnatural fights between light and darkness. A song sung between two people. Peculiar, but wonderful dancing.

Tonight?
Tonight the fog became dark and ominous. It turned to the black that would always remind him of prison, churning as it did.

 

“No. NO! It’s not my fault! None of it is!!”

He knew where this memory was going. What a night to have this memory, I mean of ALL THE NIGHTS! He wanted to scream it into the fog. He didn’t want the reminder of this now.
But he could still remember that cold, bitter rage that consumed him that night. That night he turned to see the one who was happy, despite his pain.

 

“It’s her fault.”

____________________________________

 

It was hard to sleep that night.
Rapunzel tossed and turned in her large extravagant bed. It was comfy, sure, but she felt alone and strange, like the mattress was closing in on her. After the caravan, her room now seemed terribly enormous. It was comparable to how she had felt when she had first come to live here, except this time there was no Cass, and no parents to help her through things.

She let out a looonngg frustrated sigh, got up, and put on a housecoat. She had woken up several times already for absolutely no reason at all. She tiptoed out of her room, trying not to wake Pascal. Maybe a short walk would help her.

Choosing a direction at random she silently wandered through the halls, not paying any attention to where she was going. She thought about everything that had happened. Her parents had forgotten everything about everything. That was a big problem, she hoped to ask Varian if he had a way to reverse it. Varian had very slowly, very minutely relaxed that evening spent with them. They hadn’t spoken of anything serious or addressed the last years experiences, they just talked about this or that. Small talk quickly turning to alchemy talk, some of the adventures they’d been on... It was nice, maybe even peaceful.
Her talk with Eugene about Cass had helped a lot, she was so, so grateful to have Eugene here with her. Eugene always tried to be understanding, patient with her, faithful to her, she didn’t know what she’d do without him. She knew she wouldn’t be able to cope with Cassandras betrayal without him.

Which soon led to a question popping into her mind without signs of going away until she found the answer.
Who was there for Varian when his Dad was encased? Had he had anyone to talk to? To take care of him? She frowned as she remembered when he told her that he had needed to lay low because of the false rumours against him. What had really happened to him?

 

She was surprised, or perhaps not so surprised when she found herself outside the library. It was a clam and peaceful place that not many people cared to spend much time in, and was perfect for being alone and thinking.

And maybe that’s why she saw the person she did already in there, alone and thinking. The fire was going steadily, lighting a small portion of the otherwise black room, and there Varian was, sitting on the couch.
With a few books and a ridiculous amount of notes on the small table in front of him, he looked to be trying to figure something out.

 

• • • • •

 

That won’t work... no... no...

Varian ran a hand through his hair as he put several ideas into his mental trash can. Trying to find a way to reverse the memory wipe would be harder than he thought. Of course he had gone and combined science and magi- erm, texture to make this happen.
Dang it Clementine! Nothing could be simple for once! Nope! He had just had to try working with that cursed little wand didn’t he?

If he couldn’t fix this, surely they would see what a lost cause he was and throw him back in prison where he belonged. He let out a huff and put his face in his hands. He wanted to prove himself as useful as he could so they would at least keep him around for a bit.

 

“Varian?”

 

He startled at the new voice.
Once he saw who it was he forced himself to relax, it was the princess.

 

“It’s really late, you look tired Varian.” She spoke with the quiet softness one would expect from a mother. “Did you have trouble sleeping too?”

 

One might say that.

He remembered the nightmares as vividly as if they were real.

 

“I just thought I’d get a head start on trying to figure out a way to reverse the mind wipe... These are all my notes and studies on the wand and the quirinium.” He gestured to the chaos in front of him.
“But I haven’t had any ideas that will work so far...”

She sat on the couch with him and seemed to be trying to understand even one page of what was in front of her.
She could not.

 

“Wow.” She chuckled. “This is so complex! You actually understand all this stuff? Well, I guess you are pretty smart.”

 

“Too smart for my own good sometimes.”

 

She seemed to pause for a moment before she turned to face him fully. There was a seriousness in her face he could not quite comprehend, but he knew it was rare for her to have such a demeanour.

 

“Varian, are you ok with... could you tell me what really happened? Before, well, everything? I just want to understand.”

He froze for a moment.
Could he?
Could he even think about what had happened?
Could he tell her about it?
Did he want to?
No, no he didn’t want to.
He spends every waking moment trying to forget it.

He turned his head to blink at the fire.
She seemed to understand his inner retreat because she continued.

 

“Remember when we spoke in the prison? How I told you that I knew what it was like to be betrayed? It- it was Cass who... who turned on us in the end. I talked it out with Eugene, and sure he was there for it all, but to be able to let it all out made me feel a lot lighter.”

Varian blinked a couple times and attempted to calm his breathing down. It was not himself that made Rapunzel feel betrayed? Well, he probably did, but he was not the same as Cassandra. He would not have the same impact.

 

“She stole the moonstone, which controls the rocks, and left us. She was angry and sad that her Mother had abandoned her to steal me. She blames me for it and I still don’t know how to handle that.”
She fiddled with her hair a bit. She was clearly a little uncomfortable sharing it, let alone with him of all people.

He had wondered why Cass was no longer here, but he didn’t want to push their newly established trust. But in display of that new trust, she had told him a little of her suffering. It must have been a terrible blow to her, losing Cass.
She wasn’t pushing him to talk either. She was simply asking if he wanted to talk because it had made her feel better. She said she wanted to understand.
Talking... wouldn’t make it go away, but it might be nice for someone else to understand even a little bit. With a breath of surrender, he decided that he would try.

 

-

 

He very hesitantly started to speak. At first as if he were telling someone else’s story, until the feelings came back to him and he was almost experiencing it all over again. It all came out and he couldn’t stop now that he’d started.
It was the night of the storm where he had began the walk through his memories.

 

Walking through the deadly supernatural storm. Cold, darkness, chilling, creeping into his bones with each step through the snow. Nobody would help him. Every door he knocked on turned him away, threw him out. They all left him alone without a second thought.

 

Returning home to find his dad. He remembered his heart falling, his throat tightening, his legs and feet losing all feeling as he collapsed before what remained of the only person he had left in the world.
No, no!!
The despair he felt as he tried everything to break the amber. To free his dad. The belief and hope that the princess would come and help him as she had promised, slowly slipping through the cracks of his heart as the days and weeks passed on. No sight or sound of even another human being after the village had evacuated. They all left him alone without a second thought.

 

The rumours about him attacking the princess kept him from buying anything in the market without a disguise. Anytime he tried otherwise, he was shunned at best, or worse, he had to run from flying fruit or rocks. Why would they allow this? Everyone who was there knew that he was begging for help. Why would they all let the falsehoods spread to this extent? They all left him alone without a second thought.

 

Discovering his dads secret chest in his room. Finding the piece of scroll in it. The feeling of a rock in his chest as he saw for himself that Dad had been keeping secrets about the rocks from him. Dad didn’t trust him with his knowledge of them. If only Varian shown him that he was capable, if only he’d made him proud, then maybe Dad would have trusted him. Only a little new knowledge did he discover of his dads past secret life, but it was enough. His dad had left him in the dark without a second thought.

 

The fear pounding through his chest as he hid under the floor when soldiers invaded his home to find any evidence of his knowledge of the black rocks.
They wanted him silenced. As if he was a threat.
Varian was no fool, he could put two and two together. The scroll depicted the sundrop flower and the black rocks as opposing forces. It was clear that if the king knew of the scroll and his fathers knowledge, then the king must have known about the black rocks all along. He had known about the rocks, but tried to silence the princess and everyone who knew, and did nothing about it. He had left them all alone without a second thought.

 

The princess was only ever concerned about Corona, confused by why he suddenly didn’t. Why should he give a crap about the people who didn’t give a crap about him even when he begged? The princess clearly didn’t care about his father. Every time he brought up wanting to free him she got suspicious. Why was she only caring about ‘Corona’? Wasn’t Varian and his father part of ‘Corona’ too? The pain of betraying her was outweighed by the pain of his lost father. So he used her. After all, she had left him alone after the blizzard without a second thought.

 

If everyone saw him as a villain, then he was determined to be the very best villain he could. Luring the princess into his trap had been easy. Make the king believe that he wanted one thing, and while everyone was focused on that, go and take what you really were after. If the king had no qualms over sending guards after a 14 year old boy before he had done anything wrong, then it wasn’t hard to figure out he would probably need to keep an army busy while he used the princesses hair. Thus, the automatons. Ruddiger had killed two birds in one stone for him, distracting and weakening the army that would be after him.
The goal was to get the pricesses hair to the amber while having her cooperate. How to do that? Give her the same stakes he did. The plan was foolproof.

 

Until the amber remained unbroken.

 

He remembered falling before the amber, his purpose to all of this still petrified within. He would never free his father or make him proud. He was finished. There was nothing he could ever do. He had nothing left. It was his own fault.
No. No, it couldn’t be his fault! They had left him! It had started when the princess had left him to deal with the rocks, deal with his father, deal with everything alone because she had other things to do. It always came back to her. She was at fault here. She broke her promise.

He looked behind him to see the perfect scene. A daughter and her parents holding each other close. A daughter who had no right to be happy after all his suffering, with a father who didn’t mind him suffering so long as he had his family. Why does she get to be happy with a family when he- when he-
His anger had been steadily growing throughout the months. His grief giving way to it until he completely snapped. Anger hurt less than grief, and now, he had nothing left to lose. He would destroy this perfect scene before him.
A scene that was perfect because he was not in it. A scene that was perfect because they had left him, forgotten him, without a second thought.

 

He would have won too, if she hadn’t started using the rocks. He wasn’t even sure how he felt about that. He had been wrong, it was terrible what he did. He almost killed people! He would have killed Rapunzel! He deserved to be locked up.
Here he was, in prison, forgotten, alone, hopeless... He had all the time in the world to think now, and that’s what he had been doing after all this time here. Thinking. He thought about his whole life, the past months, and he realized that there was one consistency.
He had always, and would always be left for other things when he was inconvenient; higher priorities, bigger problems, I’m busy they would say, you’re fine.

And he realized, he realized that all the feelings of inadequacy, failure, loneliness...
All the times he had shoved down those feelings for the sake of pleasing others. Smiling through the pain he was in.
All the things he did in hopes that this time, they would be happy with him. This time he would get it right.
All the years he spent trying to help others, help people, help his dad, help Corona.

 

Was. For. Nothing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They all left him alone without a second thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the knowledge had destroyed the Varian he once was.

 

 

 

 

 

 

____________________________________

Chapter Text

 

 

Rapunzel listened to Varian with avid and uninterrupted attention. Not even the tears running down her face distracted her. He was pouring out everything that had been bottled up for that year and a half, and showed no signs of stopping. It was like he was no longer aware of her presence. As if it was just him and his pain in this room and nothing else.

Varian had not just been left alone by her, but also the whole kingdom! A fourteen year old boy, abandoned in a dying village with a father who was out of reach. Why did she never go to him? Why didn’t she find out about the rumours before it was too late? How had she not known what her father was doing?

 

The letter Varian had sent her had said that they would try to stop her, but she hadn’t really thought about in great depth. Now she was realizing what a fool she had been. Of course the guards were at Varians house before she came to it. Her father wouldn’t have just known about the split second decision she had made that day to go to Old Corona and send them. She had been so wound up in the facts that her childhood home was destroyed and her father had lied to her, that she hadn’t given thought to what had happened to Varian.

 

She had never known most of what he was telling her, even though it had everything to do with herself, her father, her guards, her people... She should have known about this. She should have found out. She should have-

 

 

No, no, stop. This is what you always do. You focus on yourself, and what you’ve done wrong rather than the actual people you’ve wronged.

 

Was that one thing Cass was upset with her about?

No, don’t go there. Right now, Varian needed her to focus on him. Now, more then ever, he needed undivided attention.

 

 

He had stopped now. Stopped before he started talking about his time in prison, and she didn’t dare ask about that. Not right now.

He was trying and failing to dry his face of the tears that had soaked it. He seemed as surprised as she was at the amount he had vented to her. He seemed ashamed of himself again, he was turning away from her.

 

She gently caught his arms and turned him towards her. Their eyes met for a moment before he hunched into himself slightly. She couldn’t stop herself before she pulled him into a hug.

With a cut off sob, he froze, not quite processing what was happening. She sobbed with him, gently pressing him closer.

 

 

“I’m sorry!” They both whispered at the same time.

When he realized what she said he burst into tears all over again and finally curled his arms around her, hugging her tightly in return. They needed this. They had needed to talk this out for so long.

 

 

“I’m sorry, Varian. I-I should never have left you like that.” She continued despite his cries. “I didn’t know so much of what you told me. I should have talked to you, I shouldn’t have left you for so long! I’m sorry!”

 

 

“Th-That doesn’t make wh-what I did right!” He stuttered through his trembling lips. “I’m sorry, I should never have hurt you like that!”

 

 

“I forgive you.”

 

 

   

 

As if the gears working in his head came to a stuttering halt, Varian froze. No stings seemed to be attached to this, but he couldn’t stop himself from the mistrust that began to rise.

 

 

“Why?” He couldn’t stop himself from asking.

 

   

 

 

“What?”

 

 

“Why would you forgive me? I... I don’t understand. I did terrible things to you and other people, I- You... Aren’t you going to put me back in the dungeons once I’m done helping your parents?” Varian was stuttering in attempt to find his words.

 

 

“No I- ...No, that doesn’t feel right. My father promised to help you, and it’s clear to me that prison isn’t going to be the best way to do that.” She wished she could speak with her father about what happened.

 

 

“But I don’t deserve that. I don’t deserve help or forgiveness.”

 

 

“You do deserve help, Varian. And you don’t have to deserve forgiveness for me to give it to you. I want us to get better from this. I want you to get better. I want us to be friends again. That takes more than just your effort. We can both learn together how to move on, how to trust again.”

She wanted to help him. This once sweet boy, broken by the cruel unfairness of the world. She wanted to keep her promise... Her promise to... make sure everything was ok...

 

They held each other for a little longer as Varian thought about what she had said. They pulled away now, but they still leaned into each other, shoulder to shoulder. Varian glanced, at her almost nervously before speaking.

 

 

“I want to forgive you... but... I’m still angry with you. I can’t just erase months left and forgotten from my mind.”

 

 

“Of course you can’t, and if you don’t forgive me now, that’s ok. Forgiveness is not forgetting... it’s more of a choice. People don’t always deserve to be forgiven, but you consciously choose to put it behind you. To free yourself from it. The feelings you had don’t always go away, but you choose to move on and not to hold it against that person.”

She paused to try and gauge his feelings before she continued.

 

“My father, he kept me from going outside, sent guards to stalk me and even attack me to keep me from the truth. He lied to me and locked me in a tower like Gothel had for all those years.”

Varian looked at her, eyes a little wider than before at her words.

 

“He and my mother explained it to me. He wanted to protect me, didn’t want to lose me like he had before. He loved me.

But what he did was still wrong.

I understood him. I forgave him. But he didn’t deserve it.”

 

This was difficult to admit to herself. Her parents loved her, and her father thought what he was doing was right.

But Gothel ‘loved’ her too, and ‘Mother knows best’.

She forgave him, but she would never forget needing to stand against him all those times.

 

 

Varian seemed to understand now if the slight nod of his head was any indication. He still seemed a little baffled at her story, but he didn’t ask anymore.

They sat for a while longer, just the two of them watching the fire that was just between the line of burning and starting to go out.

 

 

“Where do you want to go from here?”

Varian asked with a poorly hidden yawn. His head made its way to her shoulder as she briefly took in how exhausted he looked.

She wrapped her arm around his shoulders before answering.

 

 

“I think, that we should just take one day at a time, and see where we go.”

 

As fast or as slow as Varian needed now. Tomorrow she would ask Varian if she could try freeing Quirin again. She hadn’t told him about the plan yet, because she wasn’t sure how he would respond. Would he still be angry at her? Would he get upset? Would he hear of the risks and say no? Would he get his hopes up only for it not to work?

She didn’t want him thinking about it tonight, not after the very emotional conversation.

 

Her eyelids fluttered as she realized how tired she was as well. That evening had certainly taken a lot out of them both, and Varian already seemed to be drifting off.

Before either of them could though, Varian had one more thing to say.

 

 

“Rapunzel?”

 

 

“Hmm?”

 

 

 

 

“I choose to forgive you.”

 

 

 

He breathed his words out so quietly, but they struck Rapunzel deeply before she was filled with a peaceful warmth in her chest.

 

 

“Thank you, Varian. Thank you.

 

 

_____________________________________________

 

 

 

The single figure of a young man was silent as the dead from his spot outside the library doors

 

 

He hadn’t been able to sleep any easier than Rapunzel apparently, and he couldn’t help but listen in to the conversation. A bit of guilt gnawed at his insides as he remembered that it was he who had pushed Rapunzels worry for Varian to the side.

 

 

He’d seen Varian as trouble when they had first met. I mean, how much more trouble can you get when you have this kid with his stuff exploding the village while your girlfriend is strapped to what looked like a torture table. There had been a part of him that didn’t want Rapunzel to be around Varian, he was a good kid sure, he had great intentions, but his inventions were dangerous, he didn’t trust them.

 

He had been out helping the King and Queen when Varian had come for help, and the thought that Varian had still needed help wasn’t real in his mind. What was real for him during those times was Rapunzels pain and fear, and so that’s all he focused on.

 

If he had told Rapunzel to go see Varian, or if he had just gone himself, would everything be different? Instead of that though, they had left the kid to simmer until he had exploded like the boilers. Only this time, the destruction that had come to pass was far more severe than anything even he had encountered before then.

 

 

And now, here was what was left of that smart, and well-meaning kid; a soul broken by his crimes, his losses, his life.

If Eugene had continued on the path of thievery, would he have gone too far someday and been as remorseful as Varian? This kid who had idolized Flynn Rider like him? This kid who had nothing and had thought being the bad guy was the better option, the only option, like he had?

 

Eugene closed his eyes as the guilt in him grew. He tried to tell himself that none of this was his fault, he was never really involved in it.

But if somebody, anybody, had done something different, had helped a little boy who had lost his father, lost everything ; all this grief and pain may have never happened. Varian would have never lashed out the way he did.

 

Eugene opened his eyes and silently moved his way into the room. His stealthy thieving skills serving him well when neither of the two sleeping figures stirred from their spot on the couch. He found a blanket and laid it over the two of them. He hoped that they would both finally get a good sleep after the stressful ordeals they had been through recently.

 

A single, gentle kiss he placed on Rapunzels forehead, and he smiled to himself at her relaxed sigh before turning to look at Varian.

Rapunzel was right, he was different than before, but the self sacrificing attitude was not exactly an improvement. Eugene knew what it was like to be a criminal coming back into the light. The only difference was that apparently, Rapunzel didn’t need to say or do very much to get Varian to turn back. Andrew was trying to make him cross a line he refused to cross, and that was when he was already remorseful over his previous actions and hoping for an out.

 

 

Eugene would be a hypocrite if he didn’t encourage this turn back, and he would also have to be sadistic if he wanted to leave this kid alone again and not help him. Eugene saw a little of himself in the kid, but he didn’t want Varian to turn out like him. He wanted Varian to become better than him. Coming back from being as far gone as Varían had been was something that Eugene was not sure even he could do, but something inside him was sure that Varian could.

 

 

Eugene resolved to do his best to be there for this kid, a friend for this kid who would be better than him.

 

 

 

Because Team Awesome, remember?

 

 

 

 

__________________________________________

 

 

 

 

He was in the Place again. The Place, as he had so fondly decided to call it.

This night was one of the rare nights that he saw nothing in the fog. It would only happen once or twice a year, but on these nights he would hear something, or someone on the other side of the fog.

 

A voice.

Calling him.

Speaking to him.

Familiar to him now, after all these years of him trying to listen to it.

 

It was an echo that he could neither understand nor answer, but everything in him wanted to cry back to it. To seek answers. What was this Place? Where was this Place? Why was he here? What was on the other side of the fog?

 

 

Tonight, the voice that usually called for him was shrieking in an unfathomable panic. Varían could only sit there in the boat, frozen in fear as the normally enticing but longing voice wailed and cried for him to come. To do something.

 

There was no way through the fog, this he had learned long ago already. The boat would not move, and an invisible force always kept him from jumping out.

 

 

So Varían could only sit with his eyes wide and tears running down his face. Sit there in the boat listening to the suffering of the person he had never met, but had somehow always known.

 

 

——————————————————

Chapter Text

“So there I was! Knocked to the ground! About to be shot right in the face by my own crossbow!”
It was amusing to watch as Eugene used large arm motions and funny expressions to tell his tale. Varían, who was eating breakfast with them that morning, had a little smile on his face that managed to reach his eyes as he listened.

 

“But when the guy tried to fire, he discovered that I, in my brilliance, had left the safety on!”

 

“Yes, in your brilliance.”
Rapunzel couldn’t help but tease a little now that things felt more comfortable.
“Nothing at all to do with the Captain telling you to do that.”

 

Eugene took in a long gasp and turned to her with an exaggerated look of offence and betrayal, eyes wide and hand to his chest. Varíans smile grew a bit wider.

 

“Shhhhhhhhhhh! We can’t tell him about that. He’ll never let me forget it! He fully intended to make my life a living nightmare!”

 

Varían let out a little huff of amusement before he quipped,
“And how is he doing with that so far?”

 

Eugene ‘hmm’ed in thought.
“Not as good anymore. I mean, after everything we’ve seen and everyone we’ve met, I’m pretty sure if anyone could make my life a nightmare it wouldn’t be him.”
He turned to them with a smirk.
“Cause like, what’s he gunna do? Make me marry Stalyan? Trap me in a house with mirror replacement monsters??”

 

“True.”
Rapunzel replied, while Varían could only say,
“What?”

 

“We got way off topic! Where was I?? Oh right! I left the safety on, and in the guys stupid confusion, in came Maximus’ back hoofs!” Eugene swung his fist to the side like he was acting it out.
“Ooh, that had to have left a big mark! But the painting! It was bouncing off of the boat! While Max dealt with the imposter, I leaped from crate to crate after this painting! It was going to fall off the edge and be ruined forever!”

 

“So wait...” Varian interrupted, stirring his eggs around as he did.
“This thing was bouncing across crates for several seconds without signs of stopping before getting near the edge? Isn’t that a little against physics?”

 

“Hey, the boat was still moving and the painting was light. And you weren’t there to calculate which way it should or should not have gone. So there!”
Eugene put his hands on his hips as Varían, still smiling, put his hands up in a bit of a surrender.

“Fair enough.”

 

“Anyway, I was leaping across crates after this thing. I grabbed a rope, swung down the side of the boat, and swiped the painting right out of the air just before it could touch the water!”

Varian clapped his hands and let out a little “Yay!”
Rapunzel smiled mostly to herself, she was glad that Varian was even more at ease with them today. It would make her asking him about his father easier.

 

“In the end, the guy was arrested and because of my amazing skills, I was put in charge of training soldiers in the basics of criminal thinking. But I mean, anyone who can speak Italian could have caught that guy. His fake Italian was terrible! Maybe we should get someone to start teaching the guards languages too.”

 

“Potrebbero non essere abbastanza intelligenti per quello.”
Varían said while holding his glass of milk to his mouth. While Rapunzel was confused, Eugene seemed to know exactly what he said.

 

“Oh, you are so mean!” He said with fake anger before folding his arms and almost managing to hide his smirk.
“But at the same time, I can’t exactly argue. Alcuni di loro sono senza speranza...”

Varían laughed out loud before catching himself and stopping. As if he were afraid of someone hearing him. Rapunzel stopped herself from frowning at him.
That was when she noticed Nigel coming in. Varían was completely closed off now, he showed no signs of response to his surroundings.

 

“Your Highness, pardon my intrusion, but there are many things that must be addressed now that you’re back. With the King and Queen having lost their memories, you are now to stand in their place until something can be done about the matter.”
Nigel spoke in his ‘official business’ voice to the Princess. Rapunzel had to hold back a sigh. She knew that she would be busy now that she had to be in charge of the kingdom again, but she wished she could have a little more time for Varian and to recover from her journey.

 

“Varían here has been working on the matter of my parents. I am sure he will come up with something soon.” Rapunzel hoped she wasn’t making a mistake by including Varían in the conversation while he looked so off.

 

Nigels attention turned to the silent boy, a disgusted scowl clear on his face.
“Your Highness. If I may say so, I would not trust that boy with doing anything. He should be where the rest of the Saporians have been sent. He will surely only make things worse.”

 

Rapunzel put her hand up to stop Nigel from any more.
“I will take that under advisement, Nigel.”

Eugene, who has been trying and failing to hide how much he was observing Varían, now had to try and hide how much that statement cracked him up. He failed.
Varían, who was still a blank slate, had twitching lips for a few moments.

Nigel spluttered for a moment and before he could gather himself, Rapunzel continued.

 

“This morning, Nigel, I will have some personal business to attend to, so I would appreciate you saving everything that specifically requires my presence for this evening.”

 

“Your Highness, what personal matter requires your attention so soon?”

 

“A promise I made a long time ago. I’ll be headed to Old Corona today.”

If Varian was an emotionless statue before, now his face was abstract art from the shock it had.

 

“...Very well, Your Highness.”
Nigel glanced disdainfully at the boy once more, before he turned around and walked out.

Varian was still frozen, but his mouth opened and closed several times, as if he couldn’t figure out what to say or do. He kept glancing at her like he wanted to ask, but wasn’t sure if he should.

“Princess?”
Was all he could manage.

 

“Varian, on my trip I learned a new incantation. It’s dangerous, but it may be able to destroy the amber... Only if you’re ok with it though, if you don’t want to-“

 

“Yes.”

 

“Yes?”

 

“I mean, yes I would like to... try that.”
Varian was still keeping himself rather closed off.
Rapunzel was surprised at how easily Varian was going with this.

 

“The incantation sucks life from everything around it, and I can’t really snap out of it without help... I can’t guarantee it will work either.”

 

“That’s ok. I’d like to try... Are you comfortable with it?”

Rapunzel blinked at the teen. Varian, simply put, looked tired and stressed. With his old clothes back on, he looked a lot smaller and younger than he had yesterday.

She wanted to try and free his father. She wanted to keep her promise and make everything ok. And if it didn’t work, if his father was still stuck or dead, she would continue to be there for him until he was ok.

 

“Yes... I would like to go and try it.”

 

——————————————————

 

Varian was fine. Yep! Everything was ok!
Here they were, the Princess and himself, on their way to the place where everything happened. The scene of the crime. The room that could very well be his fathers grave. They were going to try to do what he has failed at doing even after all this time, and Varian was definitely not on the verge of panic.

He tried to hide his shaking hands and twitching head by pretending he was just a little excited. He tried distracting himself with his surroundings. Look at that tree over there! Yep, nice tree. Lots of leaves. Cool. Look at that boulder! That is a nice boulder.
See? He was perfectly alright. Not at all about to pass out from sheer stress or cry from the memories this was bringing up. Nope! That would be waaaayy too dramatic... Ok, he had to admit, he had always been dramatic. The time when he, Cass, and Rapunzel first met comes to mind.

 

“Varian, are you ok?”
He turned to see a concerned looking Rapunzel. She always seemed to look like that nowadays.

 

“Yep! I’m fine!”
Gosh darn it Varian, your blank expression mixed with that just begs ‘I need help’. He wished once again for Ruddigers calming presence, but the guards had gotten rid of him when they had realized that the raccoon was capable of getting things from the outside for Varian.

Rapunzel didn’t seem to want to push though, so she nodded and remained silent. He had to be fine. If he didn’t do this with Rapunzel now, he would never bring himself to do it ever. He was determined to see this through, no matter the outcome.

 

As they entered Old Corona his eyes traveled every which way to survey the change in the landscape. Last time he had been here it had been covered in rocks and wrecked automatons, and before that it was almost a maze of sky high black rocks devastating the land. He had memorized all the possible paths through them in case he would ever need to hide or get someone off his tail.

Now?
Now they were all gone, and people had started to come back and rebuild. He could see houses that were fixed up, holes that had been filled, debris cleared away... Everything seemed to be coming along nicely even without his father, and probably much better without their local alchemist going around and messing stuff up.

 

Walking through the village, Varian could see and even feel people stop what they were doing to look at him. If it weren’t for the Princess of Corona herself by his side he was sure that they would have gone after him in some way. The intent of chasing him out for good, imprisonment, hurting him, and other things was something he would not put past them, even after growing up among them.
He felt as though with each step he took, another pair of eyes began staring at him. Judging him. Hating him. He deserves it, he knows, but it still hurt.

He felt the Princesses hand gently and discreetly hold his. Offering her silent comfort and support. He squeezed his hand in thanks, but kept his face carefully neutral, since he really didn’t want any of the people looking at him to get the wrong idea. If he came across too strong or confident then they might think him a threat, if he seemed too weak then he was easy pickings, if he looked at Rapunzel wrong they might think of him as dangerous to their princess.

Years of needing to calculate people’s responses to every move he could make were in overdrive now. These instincts had been needed to be used substantially since the time after the blizzard and even more with the prisoners and Saporians. He had needed it to survive before, but now it didn’t always know when to turn off.

 

They walked together with an uncharacteristically calm appearance, despite what was soon to take place. Not one of the people they passed challenged them as they made their way to his house, his old house, the place he grew up. The front of his lab was still smashed up, the front door was nothing but a large hole.

For a moment, they stood in front of it.
Varian wasn’t even aware that he wasn’t breathing until he had almost passed out from lack of air.
His heart was pounding, and just being back here was making him shake.
Rapunzel held both his hands now, facing him with the same worried look in her eyes that she had had the whole walk, she looked like she wanted to say something but was deciding it was better to be quiet. For that Vairan was grateful.

He took in a deep, slow breath of air, gave the Princesses hands a little squeeze before he let them go, and he walked in himself. In reality, it was merely a few steps, but in his mind, he was jumping over a mountain.

 

Inside was a complete wreckage.
Kind of like himself at this point he thought wryly.
Glass and house debris were all over the place, dust was everywhere, and his tables of alchemy looked like they had been cleared off. Though disappointed that his experiments and familiar alchemy supplies was gone, he was glad that they had had the sense to get rid of those dangerous chemicals. Any one of them could be deadly to an uneducated fool trying to steal stuff or a curious animal, and not to mention just leaving them all unattended for a whole year was probably unwise. Bad combinations, bad reactions.

With Rapunzels bare feet in mind, he found his old broom and began to sweep all the broken glass away. He was diligent and careful with each sweep. He needed to make sure that not a single glass shard remained.
This also provided the perfect distraction from the the encased body over there. He swept all around the amber, but kept his back to it and did not once look at it. He couldn’t. If he truly started looking at his father again he was sure he would break like the glass he was sweeping up. What little composure he had was already crumbling from just being back here with Rapunzel.

Once the floor was clean, Rapunzel came in and wordlessly began to wrap her hair around the solid material that stood between him and his dad. Varian, still avoiding the amber, began to tidy up what he could in the lab. If this actually works and Dad comes out alive, he probably wouldn’t like one of his first sights to be the ruins of his lab.

 

“Varian?”
It was the first word spoken between them since Varian had told her he would clean up the glass for her.
She was now holding a bucket of water in her arms. He guessed that she had gotten it while he had been sweeping. She gave it to him before she picked up and held tightly a clump of her hair.
She seemed nervous as well, but also determined.

 

“Once I start this incantation, I won’t be able to stop, and it could seriously harm you and your father. I’m trusting you to snap me out of it.”

‘Learn to trust again.’ His mind briefly flashed back to that moment.

 

His sad expression finally changed. He gave her the smallest of smiles and replied.

“You can trust me Rapunzel.”

 

She began her chant.

 

Wither and decay

End this destiny

Break these earthly chains

And set the spirit free

 

Varian watched in uncertainty as her hair and eyes turned to a deep and ominous black. His grip on the bucket he held tightened. When he finally turned to look at the hairs effects on the amber, he gasped.

 

“It’s working.”
He could barely hear or comprehend his own voice. All he could see was the black hair melting the amber, melting his dads prison.

 

“It’s wORKing!!”
His voice cracked as he raised his voice. There was his dad, being freed from the amber Varian had trapped him in so long ago. His dad was limp, but... was he? .... yes, movement! He was alive!

He’s not dead. He’s not dead!!! You didn’t kill him! He’s going to be ok!

“Ah! Dad!!”
And Varian would have run to him right then and there. Run into his arms to hold him like there was no tomorrow, had it not been for remembering who else was counting on him.

Rapunzel was still singing the eerie song. She needed to stop now. He flung the water from his bucket at her, but it instantly evaporated upon impact! He threw the bucket away.

 

“Wake up! Ahh!!”
He jolted back when the attempt to grab her arms resulted in his gloves melting right off his hands! Why wasn’t his hands effected when his gloves were?

 

“Rapunzel! Snap out of it!”
He tried yelling at her, but she did not respond! What should he do? What could he do?? He didn’t work with magic!

 

“Rapunzel!”
It was horrifying to see the once happy princess reduced to a mindless, uncaring shell of a human. Seemingly only meant to sing until everyone and everything was dead and gone. And there was nothing he could do.

 

“Rapunzel?”
No. He couldn’t give up! She was counting on him. She trusted him. This was his fault again, if she wasn’t trying to help him she wouldn’t have used this incantation. He placed his hands on her cheeks to try and reach her. They steamed a bit, but didn’t burn like his gloves. He pushed away any discomfort. He needed to get her out of this now because- because-

 

“You didn’t give up on me. I’m not giving up on you.”

 

• • • •

 

Rapunzel couldn’t even remember where she was when she was singing the terrible song. The feeling of something briefly touching her arms and speaking to her did not make her aware of anything but her song.
That was, until something rooted her back to reality. The feeling of hands on her cheeks and the sight of a worried young boys face in front of hers.
He was touching her.
She had to stop.

Suddenly she gasped as if just coming up for air after being underwater. He caught her as she collapsed to the ground in exhaustion. He let go and inches back a little when he seemed sure she could keep herself upright.

 

“Are you ok?”
Was the almost breathless question she was first greeted with upon waking up. She looked at him, surprised that he would think of her wellbeing before anything else, and she was warmed to the heart by it. She assured him with a smile of her own, before he suddenly wrapped his arms around her.

This was unfamiliar to her, usually she was the one to initiate the hugs, but she welcomed it. She welcomed the boy she had hurt and the boy who had hurt her back into her arms, her heart, her life.

 

“Thank you.”
Was all he said to her before they let each other go. She couldn’t stop the cheek hurting smile she had when Varian rushed, almost falling, to where his father sat recovering.

 

“Dad! Dad, you’re alive!!”
She put her hands to her chest as the boy threw himself into his dads arms and sobbed into his shoulder. She started to back away as they spoke to each other, only really hearing that Quirin was proud of his son.
Before she left, she gave one last look to the perfect scene behind her. The father and son holding each other while a small beam of sun, finally without the amber to hinder it, cast its light upon the two figures.

 

She made her way back home with a skip in her step and a warmth in her heart.

 

——————————————————

 

Varian learned from years of experience that is fathers word was law.

He was the leader of the village, everyone listened to him, everyone respected him. Varians problem was that he always loved to question things, question the world and how it worked. But never was he allowed to question his father.

Perhaps his dad saw it as a lack of trust? Perhaps Varian bothered him too much? Either way, when Varian did not find logic in his fathers decisions, or thought them wrong, and sought to understand them or argue, he was quickly shut down.

“You’re just going to have to trust my judgment.”
“I know what I’m doing, Varian.”
“I will handle it.”
“If you need to know something, I will tell you.”
“Not again Varian...”

It was a never ending cycle of being brushed away or put down. It was as if he was being trained to take orders like a soldier.

 

Today was different though! He would prove to his dad that he could really help!
Varian grinned to himself as he prepared to finally show off his new invention. He knew he couldn’t help a whole lot on the farm with his puny, weak ten year old body, but with this machine he had built surely his dad would be happy.

He had built it in secret, and was now setting it up outside, hoping it to be a surprise. Of course, having one of his inventions outside meant that he was noticed by people from the village. Not usually good attention, but hey, attention nonetheless.

 

“Hey freak!”

Varian sighed at a couple of village boys who had appeared to see what he was preparing.

 

“Whatcha got there wizard?”
Not magic. Alchemy.

“A surprise for my dad.”
Varian hoped his unwelcoming tone would tell them to go away, but Owen and Stefan were boys who liked to mess with him a lot. He knew deep down that they were not just going to leave him alone.

 

“What’s it do? Explode? That’ll be a good surprise.”

“No! It’s going to help spread the seeds we plant this year. The turning wheels will power this-“

“Blah blah. You need stuff to help you cause you’re not strong enough. We don’t need your tricks because we’re not the ones too weak to even hold an axe.”

“That’s not fair! You’re bigger and older than I am!”

“I could do it when I was your age!”
Even though he had still been bigger than Varian at his age, he couldn’t quite remember if Stefan actually had. He hadn’t paid any attention to that.

Before Varian could come up with a response to any of this, Owen seemed to be trying to pick up a large rock from the ground. He smirked when he stood and held the small boulder in his arms.

 

“See? I don’t need your stupid little tricks to lift this up. Unlike you, I can do THIS.”

And with that, he chucked the heavy rock straight into his invention. It broke into a few pieces before his very eyes, he could only stand there and watch as his hard work to please his father was to nothing. Varians heart sank and cracked.

Stefan marched towards the remains, seeming to intend to finish what was left of it. Varian ran between him and the pieces, only to be shoved away. Then they continued shoving him back and forth.

 

“What are you going to do?”
“He can’t do anything!”
“Do you need your magic to help you?”
“This is what you get for being such a freak!”
“Stop it with your stupid stuff! It only causes trouble for everyone!”

 

The little alchemist was scared now. They were hurting him! They hit and kicked every now and then! He was being pushed from one hurtful insult to the next. He wanted it to stop, he wanted out. He reached for anything in his apron that might be of use. His hand closed on something metal. When he felt a hand grab his hair and pull, he reacted. The wrench he had swung at his tormentor and hit its mark.

A cry. Then everything froze. What had he done?? He had hurt someone! It was an accident! He didn’t mean to!

And the scene that his father and several other adults walked into was Stefan on the ground, holding his badly bruised head, with Varian standing over him, holding the wrench.

Owen and Stefan claimed that one of them had accidentally tripped and fallen on Varians invention, and Varian had retaliated.
He tried to explain. He tried to talk to Dad. But he had seemed more concerned about the parents who were on top of him about his ‘dangerous child’.

He had tried again after they got home. But Varian was interrupted each time.

 

“Dad, I-“

“It’s fine Varian.”

“No, I mean that what they said wasn-“

“No more, son. Go upstairs.”

“But you don’t-“

“That’s enough Varian!”

Varian went still as his father raised his voice and faced his son entirely, both of which were rare. Varian stayed silent and stared up with wide eyes.

 

“I want to hear ‘yes sir’.”

Something that Dad often told him he needed to say whenever something was asked of him. If it wasn’t ‘yes sir’, then it was the wrong answer.

 

“Yes sir.”

 

 

••

 

Varian stared sadly at the fog from his spot in the white boat.. He hadn’t been worth his dads time. He had messed up so badly. But he also learned things.

Varian learned to submit with a “Yes sir.” Every time there was a hopeless, one-sided argument. Never cross Dad.
It was better to keep the peace and be wrong than have conflict and be right.

He also leaned that even when Dad was wrong about something, he was right. He was always right.

 

Varian laid back and sighed. He remembered when he had not listened to his dad when he said to stay away from the rocks. Dad has been wrong to lie to the King and the village. He was wrong to ignore the rocks, right?

Varian had tried to do something about it without his dad finding out. But dad was right. He should have stayed away from them. He shouldn’t have created the amber.
Dad was wrong... but he was, right?

Varian places his hands on his face. He wasn’t that innocent little boy anymore. He had to live through and deal with so much, and he had to do it on his own, without Dad.

 

When Dad got out of the amber, he said he was proud of me, but that didn’t last. I knew it wouldn’t. How could he be proud of me now? What even would make Dad proud now? What now could he ever do to earn favour in his fathers sight again?

Varian slid his hands off of his face and took a deep breath.
Take it slow, Varian. He thought to himself. One day at a time. You’ll figure it out. You always do.
For now, just one step after the other.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Daughter! Please stop this!”

“NO! It is my birthright!”

 

A large, black army watched from the outskirts as three figures fought. Or was it two figures? A gold figure, a blue figure, against a black figure. Though the gold and blue figures melded as one figure too much to know whether they were really separate beings.

The clash of magic shook the terrain to its core. The sky was slowly cracking as if it were glass, and the normally tranquil water beneath them churned and raged like a violent tempest. The magic each figure tossed at the other was a breathtaking spectacle in and of themselves.

 

“You have ignored us for too long! I will rule our land better than you ever did! I will NEVER ignore our people as you have!”

The blue and gold figure(s) dodged more large tentacle-like vines furiously whipping and whirling around to slash at them. They knew that after fighting the large army they would eventually lose the battle to the black figure. It would be better to live to fight another day, to be wiser about their opponent for next time.

They began to form a portal back to the world they had just come from. The black figure saw this and shot themself like a bolt of lightning at the retreating figure(s). They did not hope to dodge in time, before the most blinding flash happened. The figure(s) were fused no longer.

 

And Varian could only watch through the fog, hopelessly confused.

 

_______________________________________

 

 

Quirin had been weary and sore, but well enough to go to the festival in Corona. They were celebrating the Princesses return from her... journey? He wasn’t sure what all went down at this point, but apparently it had something to do with the rocks. The Kingdom of Corona certainly knew how to celebrate. So much so that he couldn’t even question the oddness of the sight that was a guard horse and a frog chasing a tiara, though Varian seemed to have questions judging by the look on his face.

He had noticed that Varian had changed since the blizzard. He was a little taller, more filled out, more reserved. How long had he been stuck in the amber? It was winter last he checked but now it was summer? He must have missed at least a few months!

He also didn’t like the looks people were giving them. The people who knew who he was looked at Quirin like they were seeing a ghost. But what surprised him more was the sheer venom in the gazes aimed towards his son. Hatred and sometimes fear interrupted almost every celebration they passed, and even people that Quirin didn’t know seemed to have a loathing or even terror of his son.

Varian didn’t seem too surprised by this treatment somehow, or if he was he didn’t show it. It was like he was expecting it, or felt he deserved it like when the village would sometimes give him a hard time after a failed experiment. Shrugging it off, giving space when he felt it was needed, chuckling nervously, even avoiding people altogether.

His son stuck close to him the whole time, a sign often indicating that he was anxious. This clinginess was new as well, though given the fact that he had been stuck in rocks for a while, he would have been more surprised if Varian wasn’t desperate to be close. His sons eyes wandered the market, but they always came back to look at him, as if assuring himself that his dad was still there.

 

“Varian! You’re here!”
The Princess of Corona and her boyfriend were coming over. Varian seemed to open up a little more at their presence. He turned to them fully, dropped the arms that were holding each other, and became less tense.

 

“Hi Rapunzel! Hi Eugene! I saw you guys doing some insane flips and tricks there while you were singing! That was cool.”

 

“Thanks Varian!” Rapunzel replied enthusiastically while Eugene chuckled nervously when he thought more carefully about all the stunts they had just pulled.
“We’re so glad the two of you could make it out here for the festival! Atilla has some sweet pastry that he’s giving away, do you want to come and try some?”

 

Quirin saw Varians eyes go back to his own in a slight hesitation before shaking it off with a smile towards the other two.
“S-sure! Sure, of course! Um, I’ll be right back Dad.”

With a nod to his son, Quirin watched as Varian was led away by an excited Princess, leaving him with the boyfriend. Varian called him Eugene? The younger man looked at him for the first time since he was freed, and he too, seemed daunted at the sight of him.

 

“How long has it been?”

 

“What?”
Eugene seemed thrown off by the question.

 

“How long was I in that amber?”
Quirin needed to know, but with the strange way Varian had been acting, he thought it better to give his son a bit of time before he started asking questions.

 

Eugenes eyes widened.
“So he didn’t... it has been a year and a half.”

Quirin did a double take. Eyes wide as his head jerked down a bit. Did he hear that correct? A YEAR and a HALF?? His little fourteen year old boy would almost be sixteen by now! Had he missed all that? What has Varian been doing this whole time??

He voiced his last question to Eugene who pursed his lips in nervous and uncertain thought.

 

“He might want to be the one to talk to you about that. I wasn’t there for most of it.”
He paused before continuing.
“Whatever you hear, take it carefully. Varian has been through a lot, and people will see what they want to see.”

Quirin blinked in bewilderment at the young man, who was called over by a large, darker skinned man. What did he mean? Was this why his son was getting cruel looks?
He stood where he was left, looking around at the festivities. Life had gone on without him, Varian had gone on without him, things had changed, and still his subconscious brain couldn’t stop from feeling like it was still two years ago...

 

“Quirin! Is that you?”
Quirin turned to see his old friend Phil approaching him. The tall, well built man had a look of shocked relief on his face.

 

“It is you! Wow, it’s so good to see you doing alright again!”

 

“You as well Phil. Though it’ll probably take a while to catch up on everything I’ve missed I’m sure. How are you and your family?”
It was nice to see a familiar face that hadn’t changed since last he had checked.

 

“My family is... good. Especially since the Princess stopped the... Saporians. But tell me, how is your son?”
Quirin pauses at the mans cautious answer and question.

 

“I haven’t spoken a lot to Varian since I got out. He seemed rather shocked and emotional by my return, so I thought I’d give him a day to maybe calm down.”

Phil gave him an odd look.

 

“Yes, I’m sure... But what I meant was, is he alright... in the head?”

Quirins eyebrows raised at the question again. Why was everyone talking to him about Varian like this? Why was everyone treating Quirin like he was made of glass?

 

“Of course he’s alright! Sure he’s always been into alchemy and engineering, but his head has always been in the right place.”

 

“Just wanting to make sure. I know the Princess has pardoned him, but if you ever feel uncomfortable with him you can stay with my family for awhile. He did nearly kill you.”

 

“What do you mean pardoned? He didn’t mean to encase me, I pushed him out of the way! It was an accident!”

 

“Given what he was doing while you were gone, him killing you wouldn’t have been a surprise.”

Quirin was in shock at Phils words. Everything and everyone was pointing to Varian doing terrible things while Quirin was gone. It wasn’t- no, it couldn’t have been that... Quirin would get to the bottom of this. Now.

 

“What happened while I was gone?”

 

_________________________________________

 

Varian munched on his pastry. Soft and sweet. Wonderful.
People had gone from casting him dirty looks to simply ignoring him once the Princess was around. She wouldn’t stop talking either. He tried to listen to her, but stuff about weather, the sights of the celebration, some reminders of her journey, it went through one ear and out the other.

He was too consumed by his thoughts. Everything had been happening too quickly. Just yesterday he had been helping Andrew, and now he was sitting with Rapunzel on a bench watching the lanterns. He felt overwhelmed, and that was one reason he had not told his Dad about his time without him yet. Another reason was that he had wanted to savour the pride that had appeared in his fathers eyes. He knew it wouldn’t last, but it was nice while he could see it.

 

“Varian?”

He blinked. Oh right, Princess talking.

 

“Huh?”

 

“You alright?”
She had that concerned look again. Gah, will she ever stop looking at him like a chipping porcelain doll?

 

He waved off her concern with a hand gesture to the side and what he hoped was a smile.
“Oh yeah, yeah. Just lost in thought. Things have happened rather fast.”

 

“Oh yeah. You’ll have to have some time to relax with your dad and stuff.”
Rapunzel smiles as bright as the sun she embodied.

 

“Uh huh. Once I get some new gloves, I’ll work more on getting your parents memories back.”
He felt incomplete without something covering his hands. Rapunzel looked down at his hands in surprise.

 

“Oh right! Sorry about your gloves. I can get you some new ones. In fact, how about I make you some new clothes too?”
Rapunzel seemed to get brighter and brighter as her idea formed.

 

“What? No no, you don’t have to do that! These are fine.”

“Why not? Those look a little small now, I burned your gloves, and what better way to openly show your fresh start than with a new look?.”

“But you’ll be busy with the kingdom and your duties, there’s no need for me to take up more of your time!”

Rapunzel looked... fondly exasperated with him?
“If I just do Queen duties day in day out I’ll go insane. I would welcome having something else to do, and what better thing to do than spend time with a friend?”

Varian opened his mouth to argue again, but stopped. She had called him a friend. Were they friends now? It was what he had wanted, and she was perhaps one of the only people in the Kingdom forgiving enough to be friends with him. He softened and relented.

 

“Alright, you win. When would be a good time to come?”

Rapunzel grinned and wiggled a bit in victory.
“Anytime you’re ready! You can come tomorrow or the next day if you like!”

“I’ll have to see how my dad feels tomorrow, or the next day.”
Varian gave her a warm smile, touched by her effort. It had used to be him giving all the effort into making friendships, and now here was someone finally doing the same back. The thought of trusting her completely was not in the picture yet, but if Rapunzel would put in such effort to make things better then he would too.

 

“Varian!”
It was his dad coming over with a swift pace. Varian felt cold dread at the strange expression he had as he strode up to them with firm resolve. He felt himself begin to shake as he had to remind himself that this was Dad and not another large man coming to get him.

“We’re leaving.”

Brunt. Firm. To the point.
Quirin spoke with no room for argument.
Varians dread did not waver as he observed his fathers tight expression that barely graced him with a glance. Rapunzel seemed more confused than anything else.

 

“Is something wrong Quirin? Varian and I were jus-“

 

“Now, Varian.”

 

“Yes sir.”

The response was automatic and immediate. Varian rose from his seat beside the princess, thanked her once again for her kindness and the nice visit, and followed his father. Rapunzel looked as though she wanted him to stay, but she wished him a good evening without protest.

As they walked away, he couldn’t help but look back at her. He looked at her and wondered how she could be so willing to reconcile with him. How she could be so ready to spend time with, and hopeful for a wreak like him.

 

———————

 

“Varian.”

He hunched over and sat on his bed. He could hear the heart thumping violently in his chest.
He was starting to hate his own name now. People had been saying it out of fear and hate his whole alchemy career, but to hear the voice of his father say it in such a dangerous tone was more than he could take at that moment.
Dad had taken him to his room and stood before him with a large frown on his face. It was like when Varian would mess up and was told to go to his room before Dad comes to punish him. It was painfully familiar, even after all this time without him.

 

“Varian, I heard some news about what happened while I was... not here. I really don’t want to believe a word of what was said to me, but I don’t have any way to know what’s true without you telling me.”

Varian began to shake a little, he couldn’t hold still.
Dad knew. His dad knew. He had heard, of course he had heard, who wouldn’t be talking about everything he did at this point. He knew that nobody was happy that he was roaming free right now.

His eyes carefully moved to meet his fathers. Dad looked serious and expecting. This felt terribly like an interrogation. While he had learned from his time in prison how to be careful of his words and verbally spar better, his dads gaze was always enough to destroy his defences and render his offences useless. With his focus zeroed in on nothing but Quirirns face, Varian knew that once he was finished his story, his father would never look at him the same again.

 

——————————

 

He sat on his bed, numb, trying to process what had just taken place.

Of course Varian knew he had to tell his Dad what he had done the year and a half he’d been in the amber. Of course it came out all at once when it was time to tell. A complete mess of words and feelings that had been bottled up for so long spewing out like a broken dam once again. Varian had felt like he had tunnel vision the whole time, nothing but them had existed in Varians mind in those moments. Just like when he spoke to Rapunzel. He hoped that this would be the last time he would ever have to talk about these events.

His Dad.
His Dad had stared at him at first with that disappointed look that he always gave him when he was explaining his mistakes, but as the story went on a different look developed.
It was difficult to describe, but Varian would say it was... Harder? Resigned? Hurt? Angry? It was hard to figure out the core emotions of someone who always kept his feelings to himself.

He knew he had basically just confirmed what Quirin had already heard, just from his own perspective and experience. But he felt ashamed now that he couldn’t have refuted such terrible tales. Tales that he wished he could have told his dad first.

After finishing his story, Dad had not said anything. Part of Varian did not want him to.
Dad had gotten up and left with neither word nor glance to Varian. He had shut the door behind him leaving Varian to just sit there, empty and numb after crying his way through the tale that he’d had to tell.

 

What now? What does Dad think of me? What should I do? Does Dad hate me?

 

Varians thoughts were running wildly around his head. His body though, was limp and slightly hunched over, he felt like he was bearing a large invisible weight that made him want to never move again.

When Dad has said that he was proud of him, Varian had known that it wouldn’t last. He just wanted to relish it for as long as he could manage.
Now? Now his fathers words of pride were like a poison to his soul. Every time he thought of them he would feel terribly sick.

Dad would never be proud of him.

Varian just had to accept that fact.
Dad would always be ashamed of his son.

All his efforts to please his father was for nothing.

 

 

No.
He got up and started walking circles in his room.
No, Varian had never accepted this before! It was what always drove him to do the things he did! To invent! To experiment! To make the lives of the people around him better, so that his Dad would look at him and see that Varian, and everything he had done had accounted for something!
That his mistakes, in the end, were worth the trouble when they made way for his successes.

Though now, he had to admit that making up for his crimes was a great motivation to invent and help. He knew he would need to help and serve Rapunzel and the Kingdom for years before he had paid for everything, but that wouldn’t stop him from trying.

 

 

Maybe his dad wouldn’t be proud of him, but perhaps, someday, he could forgive him.
He wondered if the Kingdom would ever forgive him.

He sighed and rubbed his face, which was probably still red from breaking down. He needed some air. He slowly opened his door and listened around. When he heard nothing he shut the door behind him and tip toed down the stairs and to the front door. His father was nowhere to be seen. Varian counted that as a good thing for now. He was able to go outside without any interruptions.

Once outside he breathed in the cool and sharp night air. Nighttime was always a nice time to go out for him. No people with their looks, no responsibilities that needed him until the next day, no sounds but that of the rustling of leaves in the wind and the humming of bugs... Just himself. Himself and the dark that hid him and the stars that lit his way.
It was a time he could relax. It was a time he had used against the guards that had been hanging around when he was alone. The thing about those masks they wore, it was hard to see out of them. Seeing a darkly clothed, black haired little boy hiding amongst black rocks at night with those masks? Forget about it.

 

He walked. Not knowing where he was going. Not thinking, no more thinking. Just walking and letting his mind drift with the silence around him.
His peace was broken the moment he heard a bush rustle. He slowly began to back away.
Oh yeah, he had almost forgotten. After the black rocks left, surely the animals came back. Against them, he was the one at a disadvantage at night.

The creature that came from the bush was small though. Varian stopped and stared eyes wide. The creature stared back with a mirrored expression.

It was a raccoon.

No, it can’t be him.

And yet, Varian was desperately hoping that it was. He had missed his friend. He missed the friend that had never left even during his darkest hours.

He crouched slowly onto the ground.

“Ruddiger?”

 

• • • • •

 

One of the last things that Varian had said to Ruddiger before the boy had become terribly angry, had stuck with the raccoon to this very night.

“Never give up Ruddiger.”

It was those words that had carried him through all the pain of being the only one there for Varian. His good, happy, determined boy had told him to never give up. Never give up Ruddiger. And he hadn’t. He hadn’t given up the hope that his boy could let his anger go, could be helped, could be happy again.
Even when Varian was alone for months, even when he wouldn’t eat or sleep, even when he started having terrible ideas, even when Varian turned him into a monster, even after everything leading up to his arrest, the raccoon did not give up on his boy, nor his goal to help him.

Yes, he had assisted in Pascals escape which in turn saved the Royal Family, but that was to make sure that Varian didn’t cross a line Ruddiger knew he would regret and could never come back from.

Ruddiger was there for his boy because he knew nobody else would.
Even when they were in that scary place. The prison.
Those prisoners were terrifying, angry, and willing to hurt people for sheer enjoyment. Like that Andrew character who thought it would be fun to twist his broken boys mind more.

How he had wished he could talk to Varian. To refute all the things this man said to him. To correct all the wrong thoughts in Varians mind.

But no, he had been caught. All he had wanted was to get more food for his malnourished boy, but apparently if he could smuggle food, he could smuggle other things that could assist in escape. He wouldn’t have put it past Andrew to have suggest that next. He was caught and taken away from his boy.
He remembered Varians screams for him. Screams that the guard not hurt his friend, let him stay,
“No, stop! Please! I’ll do anything, just please don’t hurt him!! I need him please no!! RUDDIGER!!!”

Ruddiger had not been hurt, but rather sent to the forest. He had tried to get back, but all his tricks and sneaking were for nothing. He couldn’t break into that castle. Into that prison.

 

“Never give up Ruddiger.”

He had failed.

His friend was now alone. Alone with monsters who would encourage the terrible feelings Ruddiger had sought to chase away from his mind all this time.

He had failed his boy, his friend, his Varian. Varian was lost to him now.

 

 

Then one night, everything had changed. His face had whirled around towards the castle as he heard a resounding explosion. The sight of bright green and the loud noise was familiar to the raccoon, and there was only one thought in Ruddigers mind at that very moment.

Varian.

Ruddiger knew it was him. Only one person could illuminate the sky so extravagantly. And these thoughts are what kept the raccoon running all night. He booked it towards that castle, because if Varian was there, that meant there was hope.
He couldn’t give up.

He had looked all over for his boy, and yes he was pretty sure he passed out from exhaustion at one point, but he kept looking. He was not in the town, and neither was he in one of the places he could sneak peeks into at the castle.

That left one place Ruddiger could think of. He made his way to Old Corona at a quick, but more even pace. On his way there, he began to worry. What if Varian has changed? Would he still want him around? Was he still angry and in pain? Did he listen to that bad mans words?

“Never give up Ruddiger.”

The raccoon shook his head to get rid of those thoughts. It would be enough for him to see Varian happy once again.
It was nighttime when he arrived at the village. It had changed since last they had been here.
Ruddiger heard somebody coming, and crouched in his hiding spot, hoping to keep away from trouble.

That’s when he saw him.
Varian.
His friend was right there in front of him!

He looked to be doing nothing more than one of his evening walks he liked to do every now and then to clear his head. He remembered fondly that it was how he had come up with the invention he made for the Science Expo. He had stumbled upon those first blasted rocks during that walk.

Varian seemed peaceful, as he usually did when going for his stroll. But Ruddiger could see the red on his face telling of recent crying, and the hunched way he walked.
His boy was still in pain, but he was no longer angry. And his boy still needed his Ruddiger to be with him.

Hoping not to startle Varian, Ruddiger shook the bush he was hiding under. Varian was wary and backed away from it until he saw his raccoon come out.

Varian looked like he couldn’t believe it was him, and to be honest, Ruddiger could hardly believe that he had found his boy after all this time. His eyes were as wide as Varians.
They were frozen, staring at each other, until Varian crouched down and broke the spell with a single word.

 

“Ruddiger?”

And that was all it took before the raccoon couldn’t stop himself from launching at his boy, who fell back on his rear laughing and crying at the same time.
Ruddiger felt his friends arms wrap around him once again, and shove his face into his fur. He nuzzled Varian in return, and in those moments everything felt right. Everything was fine now that they were back together again.

After several minutes of holding each other, Varian pulled away slightly and Ruddiger wished once again to be gifted with the speech necessary to tell him how much he missed him. He wished he could ask Varian if he was ok, what had happened after he had been taken away, tell him how much Varian clearly needs to eat and sleep more...

Instead, he could only place his paws on his boys cheeks and touch his nose to Varians. He could only chitter and purr his happiest to try and convey all he could to Varians intelligent mind.
Tears still rolling down his face, Varian let out a few sporadic, stuttering laughs before calming down enough to speak.

 

“I missed you! I missed you so much every day! I’m so sorry Ruddiger!”
Ruddiger whimpered his disagreement to the last statement and leaned forward once again to snuggle against Varian.
Varian still continued though.

 

“I’m sorry! I was so angry and hurt and I put you through so much and you didn’t deserve that and I’m so sorry! I should have been more grateful to you, you stayed when there was nothing for you to stay for.”
Ruddiger whined louder from his spot against Varians chest.

You were more than enough reason to stay.

Even if he could talk he knew Varian wouldn’t understand that, given the fact that Ruddiger was the only one who stayed. But Ruddiger continued to have hope. He would stay with Varian no matter what. One part of the hope he held had already come. Varian was no longer angry. And Ruddiger would never give up until Varian was happy again.

He gave Varian a nuzzle on the face, which Varian returned, before he couldn’t stop a yawn.
Ruddiger had spent at least a whole day on an adrenaline rush, and now that they were together, he realized how utterly drained he was.

Varian stood up, still cradling his Ruddiger, and started walking back home. The raccoon was joyed to see a truly happy smile on Varíans face looking down at him.

Ruddiger snuggled into his boys chest and arms. His boy. His Varian. Who he would never give up on.