The amber block loomed before them, Varian’s father twisted towards the ceiling in a permanent posture. The distance from the surface and the center was too far for Varian to make out the writing on the note...not that it had stopped him from trying. He had spent hours figuring out ways to position himself so he could get a better look. Adjusting and readjusting his goggles, waiting for the light to hit the surface just right…
But none of it seemed to work. No matter what he did, he couldn’t seem to figure out what his father’s last words were. The very thing he had spent his remaining moments scribbling down. If only Varian had been just a few minutes sooner...
He shook his head. There was no use thinking like that. He was minutes away from finding out the truth for himself. At least, that’s what he hoped would happen. It was almost foolish for him to wish for anything anymore. He had nearly destroyed just about every relationship he had left in his life trying to get his father free. Spent a year in the castle dungeons...the list goes on. Getting his hopes up now would not be worth it.
Varian did not look at his face directly, choosing instead to face Rapunzel with a solemn expression. It was hard to do so even on a good day. And those had been so few and far between.
“Once I start this incantation, I won’t be able to stop it,” she said in a low voice. He glanced up at her uneasily, a feeling of nervousness and excitement trading places with the dread in his stomach. “And it could seriously harm you and your father, so I’m trusting you to snap me out of it once your father is free.”
His blinked, eyes widening with realization at what she had said. Trust him? What he wouldn’t give…
He smiled and nodded, forcing back tears that had already begun to well up in his eyes. “You can trust me,” he said.
And he meant it. Every word.
She smiled in response, handing him the water bucket. There was no doubt in her expression, no sign that she didn’t believe what he said.
She spoke the incantation slowly, a river of black descending down her golden hair and her eyes shifting away until no green remained. Only a solid emptiness that looked nowhere and everywhere, her voice changing to song as a loud cracking echoed behind him.
He gasped, stepping back as bits of amber began to fall by his feet. His father’s hands were free. His hands...the first to become solid in the first place.
“It’s working!” He shouted. His instinct was to run to his father, to collapse into his arms and let his tears wash years of pain away. But his promise to Rapunzel held him in place.
Bucket in hand, he splashed at her hair, waiting for her to snap out of it. The water sizzled when it met her hair, but her eyes remained unchanged. Oh no. Her words still echoed in the back of her head. It could seriously harm you and your father.
He glanced back at his father, the upper half of his body still half-encased. He would never forgive himself if he harmed his father while trying to get him free. But himself? Well…
After everything that happened, would that really be the worst thing?
He bit back a grimace and rushed forward, reaching for Rapunzel with his gloved hands. They were eaten away quickly, his hands burning in response.
“You didn’t give up on me. I’m not giving up on you.”
Still, there was no change. Not that he had been expecting one. He reached forward again, peeling her hands away from her hair.
“...Not giving up on you…”
The only way he could describe the feeling that rushed over him was like a bolt of lightning, the walls around him growing closer and closer as he squeezed his eyes shut. Part of him knew that he was still holding onto Rapunzel’s hand, her black hair surrounding the both of them. And even though every voice inside his head was screaming at him to distance himself as far away from her as possible, he couldn’t seem to summon enough energy to let go.
There was another cracking sound behind him. That he knew--he could feel the ground vibrating beneath his feet as shards of amber cascaded across the floor. He forced himself to keep his eyes open, staring into her eyes as they slowly turned from back to gray to bright green.
“Varian!” She gasped. He could hardly hear her, the roaring in his ears only seeming to grow louder when she spoke.
He frowned. It wasn’t her mouth that moved when he heard his name, though the surprise on her face had not changed.
“ Varian! ” There it was again. He blinked a few times. Each time he opened his eyes again, the harder it was. His breath caught in his throat.
“Dad?” Maybe he said it out loud. Maybe it was just in his head. But the face clouding his vision was not Rapunzel’s, and the relief that filled his chest wasn’t seeming to reach his brain.
“Varian,” the voice repeated. It was unlike anything he had ever heard before, all choked and breaking. It wasn’t supposed to sound like that. It was supposed to sound tired and annoyed and disappointed .
But it didn’t. It didn’t sound anything like that.
“Oh no...oh no, son...stay with me. Stay with me!”
No, that wasn’t right either. He was fine, see? He could still see and hear. He opened his mouth to apologize to the looming figure, but nothing seemed to come out. Instead, his eyes rolled back into his head.
Unlike the caverns of Old Corona, the walls surrounding him were light. The sunshine was streaming through the windows beside his bed, birds calling to each other in the distance.
Varian groaned. Every inch of his body hurt. When he finally managed to crack open his eyes, he quickly shut them again. Although he was grateful for the warmth of the morning sun, it took a while for his eyes to adjust.
The memories hit him quickly. Rapunzel, repeating the incantation. The amber shattering around his father…
“Dad!” He gasped, struggling to sit up.
“Shh, you’re ok!”
The voice beside him was calm, reassuring, and definitely didn’t belong to his dad. He blinked a few more times, struggling to clear the blurriness.
“My dad...is he ok?” He rasped at the figure. After a few moments, the blurriness cleared enough for him to make out the green eyes and golden hair. It was Rapunzel, her eyes filled with worry. But something changed in her expression when he asked the question.
It could seriously harm you and your father.
The dread was overwhelming. What if…
He couldn’t think of anything else. If something happened, it would be his fault.
He hadn’t tried everything to get his father free. He tried most things, of course, but not everything . Surely there was another mixture or element he could have explored further. Something that would have been safer. But instead he went for the easiest answer first. He bit back a sob. He always went for the easiest answer first.
“--he’s fine, Varian.”
He frowned, hesitant to feel relief in her statement. “Then where--”
His question was interrupted by a loud crashing sound behind them. Rapunzel flinched slightly, and Varian snapped his gaze back towards the door.
“--I don’t care if he’s awake or not, he’s my son! Let me through!”
Even though the voice was filled with anger, he nearly melted back into the bed in relief. He knew that voice. It was the same one he still heard sometimes, when he dared to dream of a future where he succeeded. When things turned out better than they had.
“Dad!” he called out. Rapunzel stepped to the side immediately, revealing his father in the doorway. His eyes were wide, and his face was filled with panic. But other than that, he looked...fine. He looked ok.
Varian let out a cry as he struggled to sit up. At the sound of his voice, his father snapped out of his panicked state, rushing to the side of his bed.
“Don’t move,” he said hurriedly. “I’m here son.”
“Dad!” he reached for his arm, the relief overwhelming. “You’re ok.”
He ignored him, searching desperately for any sign of wounds. He gasped slightly when he saw the bandages on his arms.
“His was burned pretty bad, but the physician said he will be fine,” Rapunzel said, her voice small. “I’ll--I’ll leave you two.”
“Wait,” his father hesitated, turning towards her slightly but not looking away from Varian. “Thank you. For saving my life.”
She smiled slightly and bowed her head, golden hair falling in front of her face. “Of course.”
Once Rapunzel left the room, Quirin’s attention was redirected towards his son, eyes widening again.
“I’m fine,” Varian said quickly, looking away from him uneasily, turning back towards the window. The scorch marks on his hands burned painfully, but he didn’t want to talk about that. He didn’t want to talk about what he went through. All he could think about was his father, trapped in the amber for years. And now he was here . Sitting in front of him with that look of worry in his eyes.
He shouldn’t have been that worried. Not for him. Not after everything he had done.
There was a beat of silence, neither father nor son speaking first. But Varian could feel it boiling up inside of him. All the guilt and shame rising like a tide in his throat. “I’m sorry,” he said, choking back the sob that tore through his throat. “I’m so sorry. For everything, I--”
“Oh son…” Quirin closed the distance between them instantly, circling his arms around Varian.
He sighed a breath of relief into his father’s chest, tears pouring from his eyes as he let out another sob. I just wanted to make you proud .
“You’ve been so brave,” he whispered. “I’m so proud of you.”
Varian felt his eyes snap open. He looked up at his father in disbelief. “But, I thought--”
This time, he laughed. But when he looked down at him, there were tears in his eyes too. He wasn’t sure which stunned him more. What he just said before, or the tears in his father’s eyes . He was never one for wearing his emotions on his sleeve, and he certainly wasn’t one for tears.
“There will be time for everything else later,” he said. “But I needed you to know that, Varian. I’m so proud of you, no matter what else you think.”
“Oh.” He didn’t know what to say to that. That’s all he ever wanted to hear, after all these years. The only thing he had to work towards.
He had been expecting the worst. Each threshold just became one he was forced to cross. The flower...there would be no forgiveness for that. Capturing the Queen? Certainly not. He had expected that capturing Rapunzel would have been the last of it. After all, it led to a few months in the castle dungeons when he was caught. And that was not something he was prepared to talk to his father about.
But this? Maybe it was ok to accept this. Maybe just this once…
But he couldn’t. Rapunzel had risked her safety to bring his father back. Varian had paid the price for it, and he would do it a thousand more times if he had to, but she still helped him when she had every reason to throw him back in prison. He couldn’t betray her by lying to the people he loved.
“But I...I did such awful things,” he said. “I don’t even know where to begin.”
But Quirin was already shaking his head. “I know, son,” he said. “King Frederick told me everything while you were...while you were asleep. But it’s ok . You were scared. I should have been there, but I--” Grief flashed over his face.
Varian was overwhelmed. He wasn’t expecting this. He reached forward, wrapping his arms around his father again.
“It’s ok dad,” he said. “I’m fine.”
His father returned the hug. Varian allowed himself to soak in the moment. He couldn’t remember the last time he had hugged him. He wanted to remember this moment.
But it couldn’t last long. Varian’s breath hitched in pain. The burns on his arms had been lightly wrapped, but they weren’t meant to be moved yet. His eyes watered slightly as his father immediately let him go. His panicked expression swam above his face.
“I’ll get the physician--”
“--I’m fine, dad. Really.” He didn’t want him to leave him here alone.
Quirin looked doubtful, but he slowly sat back down. “I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “Go back to sleep, son. I love you, and I’ll still be here.”
“I love you too, dad.”
Only then did Varian allow himself to relax. Only then did he allow himself to slip into a restful sleep. There would be time for nightmares later, but here he was safe. Here he was loved.