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Convergence

Chapter Text

Quiet was good. Quiet was safe. Rapunzel bent over her garden and smiled at the flowers blooming there- summer had finally come and it was so different to the city. There nothing changed and everything was so loud. Cars thundered along streets and people pushed past her without looking twice no matter what the season or the time or the weather. It broke her heart but then again so did many things. She had missed so much. When she had arrived, blinking and exhausted, into the city the noise overwhelmed her; she had never seen so many people in one place all at once. They shouted and pointed things at her, flashing lights in her face that made her eyes ache and vision blur. She hadn’t known what to say. She still didn’t. They had all desperately tried to get her to speak, to tell her side, to give them some great story and silence was the only deterrent she had. The focus waned eventually; no one wanted to take her picture or ask her questions when there were fresh horrors to expose. Her slow rehabilitation was of no interest to anyone.
Her parents, the people she had been told were her parents, cared of course. Shocked and amazed their missing infant had come home she had been welcomed with open arms, celebrations, wonder and amazement. However, a year on, the rhythms of their lives had returned to normal- they were busy and countries didn’t just run themselves. But Rapunzel was good at being independent. So she moved away, got a cottage in Scotland, far from anyone who immediately knew her parents. There she lived alone and in relative peace, going for walks in the forest whenever the feeling took her, swimming in the lake, growing what food she could and buying whatever else she needed from the nearby town. It was a good life.
Somewhere not far off, in between the birdsong and rustle of leaves, came the rhythmic thudding of hoof beats. She hoped the rider would pass her cottage- she liked horses, they always seemed so intelligent. Rapunzel crouched in the mud and began to pull weeds. Everyone in the town came to her for flowers. They were kind as well, no children pulled petals off her daisies or picked her daffodils, no farmer drove their animals too close to her fences, often she would have visitors just wanting to drop her in a cake or a bowl of stew they had made. It had taken a while to get used to the accent, as thick as it was, and the unusual weather but Rapunzel knew that Scotland had been thhe best choice. It was so far away from her old life that it felt like a different planet.
The hoof beats had gotten much closer. As far as she could tell they weren’t travelling along the asphalt but on the forest floor. Rapunzel straightened up, wiping her muddy hands on her dress, and hoped she would be able to catch a glimpse through the trees. It was as she was just about to give up and go back to her work when a scream froze the blood in her veins and frightened the birds into silence. The hoof beats had stopped. Quiet was good; quiet was safe. But not this time. Quiet meant pain, danger, someone who had fallen and hurt themselves so badly they couldn’t even call out. Rapunzel wanted to pretend that she hadn’t heard it and go back to what she was doing, she just wanted peace, but there was no one else around to help. Picking her feet and being careful of thistles she made her way towards where she last heard the horse.
There were clear tracks so she followed them. The scene unfolded before her; a makeshift jump, skid marks in the loose soil, a low hanging branch, and a figure on the ground clutching their arm and letting off a ceaseless string of swear words.
“Hello?” Rapunzel tried.
The person turned to face her. One blue eye bored into hers, a hood obscured the other. They were trying to be aggressive but it was hard to be threatening when your eyes were clouded in pain.
“I’m fine.” They said. The girl’s accent revealed her to be a local, though Rapunzel was sure she had had never seen her before.
“Are you sure? There’s blood.”
“Absolutely.” The girl spoke through gritted teeth. She then tried to get to her feet, hissed in pain as her injured arm jolted, and sat back down again.
“Don’t move.” Rapunzel knelt down beside her. “I think your arm might be broken.”
“No. No definitely can’t be broken.”
“It definitely can. My cottage is just over there, we could call for help.”
“Okay.”
With her help the girl struggled to her feet. She cradled her right arm in her left and winced as the bow slug across her back shifted and bumped it.
“Angus.” The girl had turned very pale and had turned back towards the horse. “Don’t forget Angus.”
Rapunzel scooped up the reigns and the massive horse followed with no protest. The short walk seemed to last a lifetime. With every step she was sure that the stranger was going to faint, or at very least throw up. Blood flowed freely from the wound and Rapunzel was sure she could see bone. Tying the horse up to the front fence was impossible without letting the girl go- she swayed on the spot and her eyes fluttered.
Once inside Rapunzel sat her down as fast as possible and ran to the phone, thanking the stars that she had agreed to get one installed only a month ago. It wasn’t as if she really had anyone she wanted to call but her parents were worried about her being too isolated. It only took a minute- the man on the other end was polite and efficient.
“It’s okay. Help’s coming.” She took a seat beside the stranger.
“Thanks.”
“Can I get you anything? Water? A blanket?” The girl was shaking.
“I’m fine.”
“My name’s Rapunzel. What about you?” The man on the end of the phone had warned her about not letting the girl go to sleep in case she had been hit on the head.
“Merida.”
“Why haven’t I seen you around? I thought I knew everyone here.”
“Been away at school.”
Why do you board? There’s a school in the town over isn’t there?”
“It isn’t a finishing school.”
“A what?”
“A place where you learn to be a lady. Mum made me go.”
“That sounds like a pretty strange thing to teach. So you’re on your holidays then?”
“Not exactly.”
“What do you mean?”
Merida smiled; it was thin and wan. “I ran away.”
In the distance sirens blared and Rapunzel breathed a small sigh. In seconds they were at her door. Noise was good. They put the girl on a stretcher and carried her out. She had her eyes closed and her jaw locked. They asked if Rapunzel wanted to come in the ambulance but she knew the hospital was in the city. It was only afterwards, when she pictured Merida alone and afraid, that she felt bad about the decision.

Chapter Text

Two knocks. Rapunzel grinned, setting down the buns she was just about to decorate. It was always when she was in the middle of something did someone decide to drop in. Not that she minded; it was lonely in the middle of the forest sometimes. She pulled the door open.
“Hi.” The girl from the day before was there, smiling a little, with her arm in a cast.
“Hello again.” Rapunzel was surprised at how pleased she was to see the girl again, it was nice to have company her own age. Plus the horse was still tied up outside and apart from getting it a bucket of water and taking the saddle off rapunzel had no idea what to do with it.
“Come in, come in. Do you want a cup of something?”
“I’d love one, just whatever you have.” She was taller than Rapunzel and had to duck through the doorway. “Something smells delicious.”
“I’ve been baking all morning, I had the idea of selling them in the little market but I’m not sure if anyone would actually want to buy the things I make.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.” Merida sat down and pulled her hood down. Rapunzel almost gasped. Bright red curls erupted around the girl’s head, exploding from where they had been contained and tumbling about her face. She couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to run her fingers through such gorgeous hair- but dismissed the thought immediately. It wouldn’t be proper. People had boundaries and needed space, everyone, it was the hardest thing to learn after she’d been rescued.
“Your hair is beautiful.” She said, setting down a freshly iced bun and a cup of tea in front of Merida.
“Thanks. It’s a pain sometimes, and I’m tempted to cut it short like yours.”
“I’ve had it long and believe me short hair is just as annoying.”
There was a pause, a lull that was filled with something unsaid. Although Rapunzel thought she wasn’t a bad conversationalist it still didn’t come naturally. Everything she knew she had learnt from watching other people. Merida sipped her tea and Rapunzel dusted flour from the table.
“How’s your arm?”
“Broken to bits.” Merida glared at her mug, “Mum is furious with me.”
“I’m sure she’s just happy that you didn’t break your neck.”
“Maybe then I’d have gotten a bit of sympathy. I’m not even allowed to leave the house!”
“Wait, did you sneak out again?” Rapunzel was beginning to enjoy how fearless Merida was.
It earned her a laugh. “Not this time, I was allowed out to come here to thank you and collect Angus.”
“You’re welcome. Really it was just what anyone would have done. I didn’t even go to the hospital with you.”
“I’m kind of glad you didn’t I cried like a baby when they were straightening it out.”
“I’ve never broken a bone.”
“Really? I’ve broken loads Never been shouted at for it before though.”
“It’s not as if it was your fault. If you didn’t like that school you didn’t like it and your mother shouldn’t have forced you to go to it.” Rapunzel couldn’t help but think back to how worried she was of upsetting Gothel when Eugene had found her, how much she cared about the woman’s feelings, and here was this girl with her real flesh and blood mum and she constantly disrespected her. It was hard to empathise with.
“Exactly! She just doesn’t listen.”
“Sometimes it’s hard.” Rapunzel said. She knew what it was like not to be listened to, and she also knew a few tricks to get what she wanted- it wasn’t all just about fluttering your eyelashes and smiling. When your only source of food and entertainment came through one person you learnt how to play them, and you learnt it well.
“Yeah you’re right.” Merida set her cup down, “I keep getting this feeling like I’ve seen you before. Are you the daughter of someone important?”
Rapunzel blushed deeply. Merida stared, apparently unaware of the discomfort she had just caused. Either that or she was so callous she just didn’t care. But Rapunzel didn’t think that was it. Underneath the brash exterior she knew the girl was genuine, she could feel it.
“I’m the daughter of the Coronas. Their eldest one. I’ve just moved here from Germany a few months ago.”
Several expressions crossed Merida’s face at once, the primary one being surprise. Rapunzel worked hard to keep hers neutral. If Merida was anything like the townsfolk then she was just about to ask awkward questions- ‘what was it like?’, ‘where is Gothel now?’, ‘did she rape you?’ were all pretty standard.
“I knew I knew your face. It was all over the papers last year.”
“Yeah that was me.”
“It was a cool story, that daring escape and the near miss. You must be brave.”
“Please don’t call me that.” It was a phrase Rapunzel was sick of hearing. Over and over people had told her she was brave when she had been paralysed with fear almost the entire time. “All I did was say yes, Eugene was the brave one.”
“Even so. Standing up to her like that.”
“Almost got me killed.”
“But you did it.”
“And so should you. Don’t lose your mother Merida, it’s the worst feeling in the world.”
Rapunzel hesitated. She’d never said anything like that before, not to her therapist, not to her parents. She’d never admitted that Gothel had been, in all respects she knew, her mother. She wanted a mother again. A proper one. She’d been independent for so long and now all she wanted was for someone to wrap their arms around her and take some responsibility from her shoulders.
“Don’t worry, I won’t.” Merida said in a low voice. She seemed sincere. “Would you like to come to mine for dinner sometime? It must get lonely out here.”
“I’d love to.”
Merida grinned, the movement making her hair wave, and Rapunzel couldn’t help but smile back. She’d always wondered what it was like to have a friend. Eugene didn’t count, especially after he tried to kiss her that time then completely disappeared. “And talking of my mother I better get back. I told her I’d only be a wee while.” Merida got to her feet, Rapunzel showed her to the door.
“Will I see you again soon?” She said, worried that the dinner invite might have just been manners.
“How about tomorrow? I’m going mad with this arm.”
“That sounds perfect.”

Chapter Text

“I brought a picnic!” Merida stood on her front step. Her jeans were loose and she wore heavy boots, hair wild about her face. There was something striking about her - the way she stood and held herself. It made Rapunzel never want to look away.
“Okay. Why though?”
“I thought we could go hiking.”
“Right now?”
“Are you busy?”
Rapunzel looked back at the book on the table. It was strange how she reverted to doing the same things as in the tower even though there was a whole world out there.
“What if we get lost?”
“Then we’ll follow a stream until it leads us back to civilisation.”
Rapunzel laughed. “Let me put shoes on.”
Usually when she went for walks in the forest she didn’t take shoes at all, preferring the feeling of dirt and leaves between her toes. It had been difficult to get used to wearing shoes. She never had to in the tower. Her hiking boots had only been worn a few times outdoors, they fitted and didn’t rub but they made her feet heavy and clumsy, she didn’t like them.
Merida was as excitable as a puppy. She led the way through the forest, seeming not to follow and discernable path, hopping over logs and scrambling around ditches. In the beginning Rapunzel followed slowly, worried about getting her dress muddy or embarrassing herself by falling, but it didn’t take long for her not to care. They hiked for hours. Rapunzel thought she knew the forest pretty well from all her walks but Merida was apparently an expert. It was lovely to know that there was still so much left untouched, there were trees that could have been there in the Dark Ages.
“What about here?” Merida said.
They had stopped beside a large river. The big oak trees made dappled shade and sound of rushing water was soothing to the ear.
“This is perfect.” Rapunzel settled herself on a rock and worked at her shoes. Her calves were aching. “How did you even find this?”
“Knew it was here. I used to come here a lot and practice because I knew no one would find me. Look.” Merida walked to a scarred old tree and ran her hand over the marks. “I hung a target up there.”
“A target?”
“Oh yeah.” Merida laughed. “Archery. When I’m not being a lady I shoot.”
“That’s amazing - you must be pretty good to hit a target that small.”
“That’s nothing! I used to ride Angus through here and hit one half that size at a canter.”
“Okay you’re really good.”
“I am. Or I was at least.”
Merida had sat down on a patch of grass not far off the river bank, leaving the rucksack beside her. Rapunzel didn’t know what to say her mood seemed to be flipping all over the place. It was so hard to judge what people were thinking. There were boundaries, cues, certain ways of doing and saying things. She had known Gothel better than she knew herself and even then that was hard sometimes. With this girl she didn’t know what to do. People were so confusing. But for Merida she would try.
“It’ll be okay.” She crossed, now barefoot, to where the other girl was sitting and rested a hand on her shoulder.
“They told me I might never shoot again.”
Rapunzel sat down. It seemed like the right thing to do. “Is it that bad?”
“If I’m lucky, they said, I’ll have sixty percent of strength and mobility that I had before. That’s just not enough to draw with.”
“You better learn to shoot with your other hand.”
Merida let out a bark of laughter. “You know, I hadn’t even thought of that.”
It was so nice to make someone laugh. Even just to have someone to chat to. Merida had been right, Rapunzel was lonely - it had just never been clear before.
“Are you hungry?” Merida was already on her feet and rummaging in the rucksack without waiting for an answer.
“I could definitely eat. What did you bring? Sandwiches?”
Another laugh; Rapunzel was beginning to adore them. “What kind of person do you think I am? I brought cake.”
“Much better.”
Somehow, despite the number of branches the rucksack had been slammed into, the cake had not only remained intact but almost perfect. Merida slid a thick hunting knife from a sheath just above her boot.
“Don’t look at me like that Punz, it’s clean.”
“But… Wait, Punz?”
“Come on, Rapunzel is a mouthful. Punz is much easier.”
“I’ve never had a nickname.” It made her happier than she’d ever admit. The way Merida said it, like it was a secret just between them, made her heart flutter.
“Cut me a big slice.”
“Just be glad it’s not wee devil. That was always what mum called me.” Merida passed over a slice that was almost a quarter of the cake.
“I thought you weren’t supposed to be out of the house?”
“She’s in Rome this week for some work thing. Dad’s a bit more lenient. They’re both still furious about me running away from school.”
“How will you get around that?”
“I have no idea. Actually I’m surprised they’ve let me stay home so long. The place must have thrown me out.”
“What was it like?”
“School?”
“Yeah.”
“It was just school.”
“I never went.”
“Oh. Of course” Merida took a bite of her cake. “Well it wasn’t a normal school where you learn English and maths. I’ve done all that already. This was one to learn how to be a lady. So no eating with your fingers, no hiking out in the forest, and absolutely no cake.”
“No cake!?”
“None. They just didn’t want us to be happy.”
“What did you study?”
“Pointless things. How to sit and stand in the most uncomfortable ways known to man, which forks to use out of a line up of about a hundred, when to smile and how much teeth you should show when you do. Polo was fun though- even if I couldn’t ride Angus. They threw me off that one for being too rough. She was asking for it though.”
Rapunzel giggled. “What did you do?”
“Knocked her off her horse with my mallet. Twice.”
“Did you get into trouble?”
“I was banned from riding. But the stable master liked me and let me ride Angus if I was there before anyone else.”
“You have had such an interesting life.” Rapunzel finished her cake and dusted her hands off. There was jam and cream all over them.
“Says you.”
“I was locked in a tower for eighteen years!”
“Yeah but you’re out now. And you get to see and try everything for the first time. If that’s not exciting I don’t know what is.”
“It’s terrifying.”
“Tell me something you’ve never done and we’ll do it now. I’ll show you how fun it can be.” Merida didn’t seem to be able to sit still. It was intoxicating. Rapunzel felt herself pulled along by her energy. People had been so cautious, so hesitant and tentative with that it was beginning to get annoying. They treated her like she would break at any moment. Yes she had spent all her life in a few rooms. Yes it wasn’t enjoyable most of the time. But there was so much to do and all people wanted to say to her now was no.
“I’ve never…” She thought back to all the books she’d ever read. All the things she’d wanted to do, “Been on a swing. It sounds great.”
“Really? That’s what you want to do?”
“Yes.”
“There’s rope in the bag. I’ll find a good tree.”
“Is it that easy?”
“Yep. Now go get the rope, this is a brilliant tree right here.”
It only took moments to construct. Just a rope knotted onto a branch with a stick to sit on. It didn’t look safe.
“Hop on. I’ll give you a push.”
“Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”
“What about I go first and show you how it’s done?”
“Yeah.”
“Just like this.” As if she’d done it a hundred times or more Merida pulled herself up onto the stick and kicked off with her feet. Her hair blew about her face and she grinned. Above them the branch creaked. “Okay your turn.”
“What if it falls?”
“Then you’ll break your neck, be paralysed for the rest of your life, and still you’ll never have been on a swing.” Merida held the rope out towards her. Rapunzel took it and sat on it just the way Merida had. It was harder in a dress. Her feet didn’t reach the ground and it was an odd feeling being suspended in mid air.
“Can I give you a push?”
“A little one.”
Merida’s good hand touched the small of her back, sending electric shooting from it, and pushed her what felt like miles into the air. Rapunzel would have sworn she was flying. Her stomach lurched and her heart was in her throat. It was wonderful.
“Again!”
Merida laughed along with her as she gave another shove. Over and over she pushed until her good arm was too tired to go any longer and Rapunzel was breathless from laughing. They lay in the sun beside the river instead leaving the swing where it was for someone else that might want to use it. The rest of the picnic was brought out from the bag and they ate like kings.
“You know what we should do?” Merida said.
“What?”
“Make a list of all the things you’ve never done. Then do them one by one.”
“Deal. When do we start?”
“Right now.”

Chapter Text

The summer masterlist of things Rapunzel needs to do:

 

Swinging

Sleep out under the stars

A museum trip + art gallery (trust me you’ll love it)

The internet

Shoot an arrow

Fancy dinner (with more than two forks) –Oh this one will be easy, just come to mine, mum will force you to be fancy.

Ride a horse

Travel by plane

Get drunk -Do I have to? Punz it’s a rite of passage now shut up

Climb a tree

Sail a boat

First kiss

Sex Now you’re just being silly. Why not? It's fun. 

Learn to ride a bike

Go to the seaside

Rock-climbing

Bungee jumping  No Merida

 

Chapter Text

“What’s on the list for today then?” Merida jumped over the fence and landed just outside Rapunzel’s rose bed. “Hey look I’m getting better at that.”
“If you land on that again you’re pulling the weeds.”
“Worth it. So what are we doing?”
“Well I’ve got a wedding coming up.”
“Ooh who’s the lucky man?”
“Seriously? Every time.
“Still funny. Is it roses again? Please tell me it isn’t roses again, my hands were ripped to shreds last time.”
“Not this time, it’s the lilies.”
“Someone’s splashing out.”
“They really are and they’re paying better than they should. So I was thinking we could tick off fancy dinner soon.”
“Deal.” Merida ruffled Rapunzel’s hair on the way past. As always she leaned into the touch, it was just so comforting. And there was something about the way that Merida did it that always made her heart beat a little faster. Like a drug she didn’t realise she craved touch until it was offered. “Do you need any help?”
“Not right now but if you’re looking for something to do tomorrow you could help me deliver.”
“Does that mean getting up early?”
“If you can get up at dawn to ride you can get up at dawn to help me.”
“How did you know about that?” Merida let herself into Rapunzel’s cottage. “Tea?”
“Yes please. You stink and there is horsehair everywhere.”
“Must watch that. Dad would go nuts.”
“When does your cast come off?”
“Next Tuesday.”
“It’ll be fine, honestly, don’t be nervous.”
“What if it isn’t?”
“We can open that archery cake shop we were talking about.”
Merida disappeared into the cottage and Rapunzel continued her work. Not that she would get much done. When Merida was around they always seemed to forget the rest of the world existed and it was as if time just slid past instead of being dragged kicking and screaming like in the tower. It felt strange to think about it. Everything had changed and yet it had only been a year. Of course things were still hard and it wasn’t rainbows and butterflies all the time; Scotland was very far away from anyone actually related but then if she hadn’t moved she wouldn’t have Merida. And she knew which one she preferred.
“I talked to mum about school.”
“Yeah.” Rapunzel accepted her tea and the fact she was probably not going to get anything else done that day. “What was the reaction?”
“We argued.”
Rapunzel sighed. “She has to listen sometime.”
“At least I’m allowed out now. Come on, forget about work and let’s go down to the river, I don’t want to go home yet.”
“Do you promise to help me tomorrow?”
“Yeah.”
“Let me get my paints then. It’ll only take a moment.”
They finished their tea and headed out into the forest. They had been down to the river so many times and it had become one of Rapunzel’s favourite places. Often they would meet there; sometimes completely by accident. She had long discarded her hiking boots once an actual path had been discovered - the leaves and pine needles made a relatively soft carpet. Ahead of her Merida swung from branches and leapt over fallen trees- it was always the same when there had been an argument. Too much excess anger. It took a while for her to calm down again and actually talk about the problem.
When they arrived Rapunzel settled herself under the shade of one of the large trees and took out her art supplies; it was such a beautiful vista no matter how many times she painted it she never felt she captured it. The way the big old trees hung low over the shallow river, studded with rocks, and created pools of shadow in the water. Sometimes there were animals. Birds perched on twigs or fish glittering in the water and once a tiny green lizard Merida had to convince her not to take home and keep. There had been one just like it in the tower. There were so many wonderful things to paint it was a shame not to try every time. To her far left Merida sat on a tree stump and whittled a stick with a small red penknife. There was a glint in her eye, a certain expression of focus, that captured Rapunzel’s attention. The stick was shaved down to a twig but still the movement continued with force and determination. Rapunzel could watch her all day, never tiring of all the expressions that crossed her face or the sweep of her cheekbones or the wildness of her hair, it had to be captured even if it was a poor comparison. Rapunzel began to sketch.
The whittling stopped. Merida looked up, there was something off about her body language. Shoulders tight. Jaw set. Defensive? Definitely angry.
“What are you doing?”
“You caught my eye.” Rapunzel wasn’t sure anymore. It had seemed like a good idea but maybe it was some sort of strange social rule she had broken. “I’ll rub it out now.”
“Wait, can I see?”
She turned it around. Merida studied it for what felt like a very long time.
“If you don’t like it that’s okay. It was only a quick thing, I should have asked.” She made to take it away. A long fingered hand stopped her. It sent a bolt of electricity through her veins to join the rest already pulsing through.
“No I love it.”
“You do?”
“Is that what I look like?”
“To me it is.”
“I look… I mean…” For the first time since they had met Merida seemed to be at a loss for words. “You said once you only ever drew beautiful things.”
“I wasn’t lying.”
Rapunzel didn’t know what she was saying. This wasn’t a new thought, a new feeling, but something that had built for a while. Every sideways look that had lasted just a little too long or moment she’d caught herself staring at Merida’s lips as she spoke without listening to the words. Social cues were confusing yes but she wasn’t that slow - these were things Merida shouldn’t see. And now it was messed up and she’d spotted it. Rapunzel had promised herself that she would keep her feelings in check and keep Merida as just a friend. After what had transpired between her and Eugene she knew the effects of unrequited love all too well.
“You’re beautiful.” Rapunzel continued. The words kept spilling out and her heart rejoiced while her brain wailed. It was too much to contain. She couldn’t lose her only friend. Not over something as silly as love. She waited for Merida to say something, anything at all. A sarcastic comment. A witty remark. Anything.
Instead, hand that had been on her sketchbook cupped her cheek, Merida took a step forward, and their lips met. It happened too fast for Rapunzel to do anything but close her eyes. Her hands stayed where they were, her body rigid. She could taste the other girl’s breath- hot and sweet- smell the shampoo she used and the horsehair in her jacket. It was over too soon. She craved another.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me.” Merida blushed a deep maroon Rapunzel didn’t think she was capable of and stepped away.
“Don’t apologise.”
“You didn’t kiss me back.”
“Am I supposed to?”
“Do you want to?”
“More than anything.”The feeling of Merida’s hand was still on her cheek. It burnt white hot. Or maybe that was the electricity pumping through her veins in place of blood.
“Come here then.”
The hand returned to her cheek. Rapunzel didn’t know where to put hers, settling for the waist, it seemed safest. She noticed how blue Merida’s eyes were- the rings of darker around the iris’ and the depth of thought within them. She was drowning. And then their lips were together again. Who made the final movement she wasn’t sure but it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered anymore.
When they broke apart Merida was grinning.
“Hey Punz. Cross that off the list.”

Chapter Text

It was the smell that she hated. There was nothing natural about it just chemicals and metal; cheap disinfectant and alcohol hand wash. Of all the places in the world the hospital was the one Rapunzel thought she hated most. Not only did it stink it was bursting with people and machines all of them beeping and rushing and shouting. It was overwhelming. At least in the city she could move. Here she was trapped.
“You didn’t have to come you know.” Merida held Rapunzel’s hand in her good one.
“I didn’t want you being alone, not today.”
“Thanks.” Merida gave her hand a squeeze and smiled a little. She was paler than usual, the dark half moons under her eyes saying that she hadn’t slept, the lack of conversation conveying how nervous she was.
“DunBroch.” The nurse at the door called. “Merida DunBroch.”
“That’s me.”
“This way please.”
Merida made to let go of her hand as she stood but Rapunzel held firm. “I’m coming too.”
“Will they let you?”
“I don’t care.”
The nurse took one look at their clasped hands and hurried them both through a set of double doors. They passed rooms where people were lying in beds with tubes running from them and machines made them breathe. It didn’t feel right. Rapunzel wanted to run away back to the quiet and peace of the forest where everything was natural and good. The room they were lead to was exactly like every other one. Merida was made to like on a bed with a paper sheet she looked dirty in comparison to the sterile white all around.
“Ever had a cast off before?” The nurse said.
“Yeah.”
“Okay. Let’s get started then.”
Rapunzel jumped as the machine started up. It was just a rotating blade and it was going very close to skin and bone. She closed her eyes and waited for it to be over. It smelled like rotting flesh and dust. In all her life she had never broken a bone and she hoped she never would- this was too scary. It was quicker than expected though.
“Are you keeping this?” The nurse held up the cast. It had taken Rapunzel an entire afternoon to decorate it; on this one she had painted the constellations. On the one before she had done a wildflower garden. But it smelled and was in bits.
“No thanks.” Merida looked at her, “You’ll paint me another one though, right?”
“Of course.”
“Okay so taking a quick look here says everything has healed up nicely.” The nurse said in her bored voice. “Your notes here say you’re an archer.”
“That’s right.” Merida was practically vibrating.
“Let me go get the doctor. She’ll be able to tell you everything.”
The nurse disappeared out of the room, her rubber shoes making synthetic noises on the way down the corridor.
“It’s bad news. I know it is.”
“Don’t say that.”
“They never get a doctor if it’s good.”
“How do you know?”
“I just do. They’re going to tell me I have to give it up and, and, and…”
“Calm down.” Rapunzel stroked her cheek with her free hand. “Sure if you can’t shoot with your right you can learn with your left remember?”
“I want to go back to before.”
“I know but it’s not that easy.”
“Sure it is. You can teach me while you’re at it.
Merida nodded a little and stared at her arm. It was scaly and red from being contained for so long. She was sad and Rapunzel didn’t know what to do to cheer her up.
The doctor appeared in the doorway, a clipboard in her hand, her long hair tucked behind one ear, and Rapunzel almost sighed in relief.
“Merida is it?”
“That’s me.”
“I’m Dr Stone, can I see your arm?” Merida held it out. It shook. The doctor stared at it, running her fingers over and over, “Can you move it for me?”
Merida did. It was slow and jerky.
“Okay.” Dr Stone wrote something on her clipboard and pursed her lips. Merida swallowed heavily. “I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t use a bow again, providing that you anticipate for muscle atrophy and take it slow.”
“So I can still shoot?”
“Yes but go easy or you’ll damage yourself again. No competing. I’m referring you to a physiotherapist to help with the stiffness, you should get a letter in two to three weeks.”
Merida’s smile was infectious. Even the doctor couldn’t help but show a bit of emotion at the way she jumped from the bed and bounced on the spot.
“Come on, I'll show you how to shoot.”

Chapter Text

Rapunzel was early. The DunBroch manor was huge and imposing, rising out of the ground like some sort of monstrous beast. It was nothing like her little cottage, there were no flowers in the pots, no grass growing between the cracks in the driveway. Everything was meticulously and rigidly controlled. Gray stone and black slate. It reminded her of the tower. Smoothing out her dress she took a deep breath, it was going to be okay, she knew how to behave, and Merida’s mother couldn’t be as scary as Gothel when she was in a foul mood. No. Nothing was as scary as that. The doorbell was shrill and pierced the still evening. Inside there was a muffled exchange and the door was thrown open to reveal Merida, curls everywhere, shooing a doorman away.
“You came!”
“Of course I did. ”
“You look gorgeous.”
Rapunzel felt a blush start somewhere around her collar bones and crawl its way up her neck. “Thanks. So do you.”
“Now you’re just being polite I’m not even dressed for dinner yet.” Merida turned and led the way inside. “Come on upstairs now you can meet the rest of them later.”
Rapunzel let out a breath. She was nervous enough about this dinner without Merida disappearing and leaving her alone with not only Merida’s parents but their important guests as well. What they did for a living appeared to be obscure and vague- but it involved bringing home people for dinner and flying off to faraway countries a lot. Merida had assured her that it was the best possible time to come as her parents would be far too busy entertaining to interrogate her. Rapunzel wasn’t so sure.
The interior of the house was just as rigid as the exterior. Ruthlessly clean and precise everything seemed to have a place. It was hard to imagine that there were children living there. The décor was plain but obviously expensive, marble and wood, chosen specifically to express wealth but not be flashy. According to Merida her family was descended from Scottish royalty and could be traced back to the Dark Ages. It showed. Their house was almost a castle.
“In here.” Merida ducked through a large oak door, “My sanctuary.”
A massive four poster bed dominated the room. The materials were luxurious, silk and velvet. An open fireplace sat opposite it- scorch marks indicating it was still used in the winter. The walls were decorated in various posters, pages of magazines, and photographs. But most impressively, on the far wall, hung the weapons- ranging from a handmade longbow to a custom built, Olympic standard, recurve bow; there were seven in total, all lovingly cared for and maintained. Although a big part of her life Merida didn’t talk about archery too much, at least not to Rapunzel, for fear of jinxing herself. Before her fall she had been one of the best shooters in Europe. It was just a matter of time to see if she would still be.
Rapunzel sat on the edge of the bed, noticing all the little things that indicated Merida’s personality. The way there were cups strewn all over the room with that last mouthful of tea that she never drank. How the posters were carelessly ripped in the corners but all the photographs were still in perfect condition. A younger Merida smiled out of them; on her father’s shoulders as a baby, arm in arm with two girls as a child, the moment before firing an arrow as a teenager. She hadn’t changed a bit.
It was only when Merida pulled off her shirt did the photographs lose their interest. The blush that had lingered around Rapunzel's neck shot its way into her cheeks.
“It’s rude to stare you know.” The corners of Merida’s mouth twitched at the corners like she was hiding a smile, her voice low and soft.
Rapunzel didn’t know what was happening. She looked away and to the floor, face burning, palms damp.
“Some warning next time would be nice.”
“I thought you liked surprises. ” Merida gave her a coy smile and slipped a dress on over her head. It was dark indigo blue, the colour of the sky just before the last rays of light disappeared, and came to just above the knee. Obviously tailored it swept across her body like it was a part of it, accentuating her curves and showing off her legs.
Merida leaned in for a kiss and Rapunzel was happy to oblige. No matter how many times it happened it still made her stomach churn but in the nicest way possible- was that normal? She didn’t want it to ever end but the dinner bell was ringing.
“Ready?”
“Ready.”
Merida kissed her forehead and straightened up, taking Rapunzel’s hand in hers and giving it a squeeze.
“Don’t look so worried. It’s dinner, not a trial.”
She led the way back through the corridors, down the sweeping staircase, and towards the dining hall. What sort of house has a dining hall? Before they could get there they were intercepted by a huge man, six foot high and what looked like at least six foot wide with a wild ginger beard. Merida's father. It had to be. His suit was perfectly tailored, his beard just a little too wild for the occasion. He had a thick accent and a glint in his eye.
“Ah you must be Rapunzel. I’ve heard a lot about you.” He winked.
“Ach dad don’t embarrass me.”
“Hello sir.” Said Rapunzel, briefly considering curtsying.
“Sir! I like her. Just Fergus dear. I’m glad you’re here I wish I didn’t have to work so I could interrogate you properly.”
“Almost like I planned it that way. No one should have to sit through your stories dad.”
He grinned, “Has Merida told you how I lost my leg?”
“Not yet.” Rapunzel lied. Though if she didn’t already know she never would have guessed Fergus had only one leg.
“Brilliant! You’ll have to hear it all,” he glanced over his shoulder, “some other time. They’re arriving.”
He strode off and Rapunzel let out a breath she didn’t realise she was holding. Merida nudged her.
“See, not that hard at all.”
“What have you been telling him?”
“All good things.”
They moved into the dining room where the other guests were gathering, milling around, drinking wine and brandy out of sophisticated glasses. No one paid them the least bit of attention. The conversation was dominated by Fergus. Merida tended to get on well with her father- but they were both under her mother’s thrall. She wasn’t around. Or at least she didn’t appear to be. Rapunzel was looking for an older version of Merida. They waited at the edges of the room, half listening to the conversation, half observing everyone who was there. Merida disappeared for a brief moment and came back with two drinks.
“Just try it. Champagne is quite sweet.” She said in response to Rapunzel’s expression, “plus it’ll help if you’re nervous. Not that you should be, this is about as exciting as it gets.”
“I’ve never been to a dinner party.” She accepted the glass.
“Well I’ll show you how it can be fun. Then later we can cross it off the list. Okay?”
“Okay.”
They took their seats. There were three sets of cutlery that she recognised along with strange looking utensils Rapunzel couldn’t even identify. She had been prepped for this- the trick was working from the outside in and keeping a close eye on what everyone else was doing. At the head of the table sat Merida’s father, and to his left side sat her mother. Elinor was nothing like the devilish pictures Merida had painted, no barbed tongue or cruel mouth; in fact she was slender and fair, graceful in her movements and soft in her manner. There was no symbol, no sign or indication, of power it just emanated from her body. The room was hers to command the moment she walked in. Against a personality like that Merida didn’t have a chance. Rapunzel could see how they would clash.
Dinner began. The first course was soup. It smelled delicious, and probably tasted as nice- Rapunzel could barely eat. The champagne wasn’t doing anything to quench her thirst and there was no water. She took another glass from a passing tray and Merida shot her a quick smile. Conversation was subdued and polite. It was only after the third course did attention turn to her.
“Merida says you’re not from around here Rapunzel.” Fergus set his eye on her for the first time since they’d met earlier. Under the table Merida clasped her hand and squeezed.
“No I’m not sir, I was born in Germany.”
“Germany! How did you end up here? You don’t have the accent.”
“I had an…unusual upbringing.” Another squeeze.
“Your surname isn’t Corona by any chance?” Another guest asked.
“That’s me.”
“Ahh. Terrible business that.” There was a murmur of agreement from around the table. Everyone looked at her. None of them seemed to be wavering. “Your parents are wonderful politicians; a real efficient pair.”
“Thank you sir. I’m sure they’ll be glad to hear that.”
“So what do you do?”
“I’m a flouriest for the local town. I do weddings, birthdays, anniversaries that kind of thing.”
“Yes you did Diane’s second wedding I think, the flowers were beautiful.” A guest smiled at her and she felt herself relax just a tiny bit.
“Thank you for saying so.”
“Who was her second husband again?”
“He was related to the Burnsons. A cousin of Bart’s…” The conversation quickly trailed into an area which Rapunzel knew nothing of. Merida was still holding her hand, as sweaty as it was.
“Not so bad right?.” She said just loud enough for them to hear.
“That was terrifying.”
“But you did it didn’t you?”
The rest of dinner went smoothly. For the most part the two girls were ignored, or only consulted on the most banal of subjects. They entertained themselves. Guessing things about the other guests, making up nicknames for them all and imagining what they looked like in the shower; kicking each other under the table and giggling. The food was good and Rapunzel felt pleasantly full by the time they were excused. Business talk was about to start and they weren’t to be a part of it. On their way out Merida took a detour, disappearing down a flight of stone steps Rapunzel hadn’t even seen on her way in. They led to a dark and draughty wine cellar.
“I think a little celebration is in order.”
Maybe it was the champagne, maybe it was the stress of the evening that was now over, but Rapunzel nodded- stepping forward as Merida turned her back to reach for a bottle and slipping her arms around her waist.
“In that kind of mood are we?”
Rapunzel didn’t trust herself to speak- she turned Merida towards her and kissed her, hard. The reaction was just as good as she’d hoped. Hips pressed against hers, hands in her hair. She couldn’t believe she had been so daring, so bold, and it actually worked out well.
Merida bit down on her lip and pulled back. “Not here. Upstairs.”
“Here.”
“Punz please don’t tell me you’re drunk.”
“I’m fine.”
“Then you’ll know that someone’s bound to come down here and catch us. And if they do it kills the mood dead.”
“You’ve been caught before?” Rapunzel giggled.
“Let’s just say I don’t want to repeat the experience.” Merida pulled her by the hand back up the stone staircase, champagne bottle in hand, leaving the rest of the dusty wine bottles where they were stacked.

Chapter Text

They fell into the bedroom laughing. One of the catering staff had seen them in the corridor and they had ran the rest of the way. Rapunzel felt light and floaty, not really part of her body any more but not so far gone she couldn’t feel the fingers clasping her wrists, or the lips on hers. She kicked the door shut as Merida guided her towards the bed, hand on her waist. Human contact was an indulgence, an almost unbearable one; once she’d had a taste she wanted to gorge herself. Ever since Merida had kissed her back in the woods she hadn’t been able to stop thinking about how much she craved touch. Of course it was much different than before. So much different. But knowing that there were so many people out there almost made it worse. It made her hate herself for not being brave enough to approach them. So when Merida pushed her flat out and climbed on top it wasn’t just lust she felt, it was wholeness. Like being with another person was what she needed. Because until Merida came along it felt like she was surviving and nothing more. Now, well, now she was living.
The kiss became deeper, more intimate. Rapunzel was hyper aware of every part of her body- every cell it seemed. Who knew being naked didn’t mean taking your clothes off? Merida’s hair tickled her bare shoulders so she grabbed a handful of it right in at the roots. It was just as gorgeous to hold as it was to look at. Heavy breathing and dilated pupils, her heart raced along - Merida’s skirt was hiked up around her thighs but she didn’t seem to want to change that. Rapunzel wanted to see her shirtless again. She wanted to do whatever would make Merida happy; make her writhe and moan in pleasure like the people in the books. Her nimble fingers peeled open the zip to the cocktail dress. It earned her a laugh; a deep chuckle that was at once intoxicating and exciting.
“You’re bold when you’ve had a few.”
“Is that a good thing?”
“Oh it’s a great thing.”
It gave Rapunzel enough confidence to continue. In moments the dress was in a crumpled heap on the floor and Merida straddled her, thighs on either side of her ribcage, wearing only her underclothes. Rapunzel couldn’t stop staring. There was such elegance in the way she held herself, the way her collarbones swept down into her breasts and how her stomach was effortlessly flat, complementing her figure in the best possible way. Goosebumps erupted across Merida’s arms and thighs, but she didn’t think it was anything to do with the temperature.
“Nervous?” Merida said, eyes soft.
“I’ve never done this before.” Rapunzel’s fingers were still tangled in red curls and it felt amazing,
“Relax: just do what feels right.”
Before she had time to think Merida’s lips were on her neck, her hands working at the ties of her dress. It was like nothing she had ever prepared for. The quick kisses in the kitchen of the cottage, the long days spent in the shade of the forest just the two of them, they were nothing compared to the feeling of delicious helplessness she felt as her layers were slowly stripped off. Where to put her lips? What to do with her hands? There was too much to think about and Merida seemed to already be so good at it. The dress was pulled off to join the other one on the floor. They had never been like this before, not even close, and it felt so good.
Do what feels right. It felt right to press herself against the other girl, to run her tongue over the contours her bones built, to listen to the soft sighs that accompanied it. It felt right to be pinned. To laugh and kiss and struggle, pretending she wanted power when it felt too good to have Merida on top of her.
There was no reading that could prepare for this kind of thing. No book even mentioned ladies together. Always men, why was it always men? Rapunzel became more adventurous, letting her hands roam across skin instead of clamped to one place. The result was a flash of lighting in her stomach and a fervent kiss. She clutched at the other girl, pulling her closer, pressing their skin together as if she could fuse it forever. But the more she pulled towards the more Merida pulled away, sliding backwards and further from her grinning a sly grin that Rapunzel had never been privy to before.
It took until Merida was kneeling between her thighs, one hand on the edge of her waistband, grinning did Rapunzel realise what was happening. For a moment her heart stopped, her lungs constricted and all of the oxygen in her body fled. Here? Now? She pulled out of the kiss, palms on Merida’s chest, almost gasping. The effect was instantaneous.
“What’s wrong?” Merida knelt back on her heels and dropped her smile.
“I just realised… realised what’s about to happen.”
“Not if you don’t want it to.”
“But… But I do. It’s just scary”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.”
“Absolutely?”
“Yes.”
“Okay.”
They kissed again, slower this time, more tentative and gentle than before. Her panic dissipated by the reassurance she could stop at any time she craved more. Biting down had the desired effect. Merida ran her skilled fingers towards Rapunzel's waistband again, toying with it just to tease her. There was a question asked and answered in a brief moment of eye contact. Then Rapunzel lay naked. It was simultaneously the nicest and most vulnerable she’d ever felt. Merida’s lips pressed against her neck, her jaw, her cheekbones and finally her forehead; ecstasy pouring off her in waves. Her fingers fumbled with the other girl’s undergarments, the fact the kisses were trailing down her chest made the whole thing a lot harder, but before long she slipped her out of them. Merida laughed and she felt the vibrations through her. The kisses reached her breasts and a warm tongue traced her nipple. Rapunzel hadn’t thought a single patch of skin could be so sensitive. She pulled the other girl closer, wrapping her legs around her waist.
It ended too soon. She tried to drag her back, she moaned and tugged but nothing worked. She satisfied herself with running her fingers through the red hair instead, enjoying the way it made her bones jolt when she did. Merida shifted her weight, moving herself into position for something. She seemed to have so much more confidence. Her tongue traced Rapunzel’s pale stomach, her navel. Where was she going with-?
Oh.
Rapunzel couldn’t help the strangled gasp or the arching of her spine. Everything was Merida’s tongue, nothing else mattered. Fingertips bit into her hip bones hard enough to bruise and held them down. It was hard not to twist and jolt in an attempt to get away from the source of exquisite pain. It was gorgeous. It was wonderful.
Merida paused, looking up from between Rapunzel’s thighs and grinning the sly grin again. Her lips glistened.
“Having fun?”
“Don’t stop. Please, don’t stop.” She could feel the flush staining her cheeks but she didn’t care.
It was apparently the right thing to say. Merida went down on her all over again and for a moment it was as if she might pass out from happiness (or possibly the lack of air getting into her lungs, as furious as they were working). One hand was buried deep in the red curls between her legs and the other held one of her own breasts in her palm, pretending it was Merida’s. The small sun building up behind her spine exploded into her bloodstream. It was like nothing she had ever felt before. Panting and trembling it was almost impossible to speak.
“Shh.” The other girl crawled close again- meeting in a fierce kiss. Rapunzel could taste herself in the other girl’s mouth and it was enough to drive her wild. She ran her hands through Merida’s hair again and again. The sounds were music, lilting sighs and short sharp moans; it was a symphony that lent confidence. She trailed a fingertip down Merida’s back and across the skin of her thigh, etching her name into the white diamond of the other girl’s body. It was easy to slip two fingers between her legs and enjoy the gasp that accompanied it- they moved in the same small circles she enjoyed herself. Rhythmic and steady.
It was strange to learn another person’s body in the way she knew her own but Merida was a good teacher, vocal in her praise. It didn’t take long to discover what she liked. A certain twist, a certain spot, and she would moan, her body bucking away and her breath hitching.
Who knew doing it for someone else would feel so good?
Eventually she couldn’t take any more. Mid-kiss her back arched, pressing her chest against Rapunzel’s deliciously, her breathing stopping for a split second. The expression was one that Rapunzel had never seen before; complete bliss and peace. Warmth spread from her chest knowing that she was the cause of it.
They slowed down, starting to memorise the rhythms of each other’s bodies.
Discovering the places to kiss to chase insecurities away (Rapunzel’s were her shoulders, Merdia’s her upper thighs) and the different ways in which they could lace their fingers into each other’s hair. When the birds were beginning to wake and the effect of a sleepless night was beginning to catch up on them, Merida lay on her back and tucked her arm around Rapunzel. Sleepy and pliable she rested her head just above Merida’s heart and listened to the steady beat; their legs entwined. It felt as natural and simple as breathing.

Chapter Text

When they woke they woke slowly. Neither wanted to break the spell that the night had cast. It just felt right to be where they were. Rapunzel was perfectly happy to miss the day’s work if it meant she could lie where she was for another few hours in perfect silence. She hadn’t slept so long and so well in forever. Not even a single dream never mind nightmare.
“Are you awake?” Merida said softly.
“I am now.”
“Guess what we can cross off the list.”
A laugh bubbled up and spilt out of Rapunzel’s mouth. In her ear Merida’s heartbeat thudded along steadily.
“We might have to add it again. I’m not sure once will be enough.”
“And here’s me about to start the ‘your first time can be scary’ spiel.” Merida stroked the hair at her temples, her touch was cool and soothing. Rapunzel leaned into it not trusting herself to speak. It was still so much to process. People were so complicated. What did it mean? What were they to each other now? What would others think? She wanted to stay there just the two of them forever.
“Scary can be fun though.”
“I’m glad I won you over.” The soothing touch continued. Rapunzel never wanted to move. “You’re okay though?”
“I’m fine.”
“I didn’t hurt you did I?” Merida traced the places where her teeth had left smudgy marks.
“Nothing serious.”
Rapunzel was very aware of her body, drawing the fine sheets around her like a barrier. They were both still completely naked. And it was much harder to pretend that was totally normal now it was light enough to see. It was still so much to process. People were so complicated. What did it mean? What were they to each other now? What would others think? She wanted to stay there just the two of them forever.
“You seem off. What’s up?”
“I don’t want this to end.”
“End? I’m not going anywhere.”
“Let’s just stay here forever.”
“But what about breakfast?” Merida laughed a little but stopped when it wasn’t reciprocated.
“That’s not what I meant.”
“We can’t stay here forever so why don’t you tell me what’s really bothering you, I can make it better. Or I can try at least.”
Rapunzel sat up. It wasn’t fair. Why did they have to slink about and hide and not be caught? Merida grabbed her arm.
“I had a really great night last night.” Said Rapunzel.
“Yeah?”
She broke free of Merida’s vice grip, scooping up her dress and pulling it over her head. It was crumpled from the night on the floor. It made her feel worse. Tears welled up under her eyelids and she blinked them away. Merida put on a silk dressing gown. It was easier to think when she wasn’t looking.
“I had a really great night and now I’ve got to go back alone. I’m lonely. I’m lonely and being here with you only means it’ll be worse later.”
She sat down on the edge of the bed, facing the door.
“But-”
Rapunzel cut her off, “At least in the tower I was trapped, I didn’t have a choice. My imagination and books were all the company I needed. Now? Now it’s like there’s this whole world of things I don’t even know to miss because I’ve never had them. And no one at all cares. There’s too much to do, to feel, to see. Gothel was awful but at least she looked after me. It’s like I’m drowning.”
Merida didn’t speak. She moved around so they were sitting side by side, not looking at each other, almost close enough to touch. The silence seemed to stretch. It could have been three seconds or three hours before she spoke.
“I care.”
“And that hurts. Is it supposed to hurt?”
“It can.”
“Can you make it stop?” Rapunzel reached out, desperate for a touch, something to reassure her that everything wasn’t falling apart. She found Merida’s hand. It was cool and steady, a rock. Something to hold on to when everything else seemed to be constantly melting and reforming. The world moved so fast she couldn’t keep up.
“We can try.”
“We. I like the sound of that.”
“It’s not so hard when there’s two of you.”
“Is it not?”
“I promise. The world is easier to carry when there’s someone there to shoulder some of the weight with you.”
Rapunzel felt a smile tug at the corners of her mouth. The weight in her chest, the one that spread to her arms and down her legs, that left her powerless, had lifted. Just a little. But it was enough to get by on. Merida noticed and kissed her knuckles.
“What about breakfast?”
“Looking like this?”
“Good point.” Merida rummaged in her drawers. The dressing gown left very little to the imagination. Her legs stretching endlessly. Rapunzel looked away, embarrassed. In the cold light of day it was hard to be as fearless as she had been before. It was hard to be anything when the sun shone. “Try that.”
It was a tee shirt of some band Rapunzel had never heard of, so large it completely swamped her. It smelled of washing powder and deodorant. Of Merida. Discarding her crumpled dress she pulled it on and felt safe again. This was the armour she had needed.
“Better?”
She nodded. “What if someone sees us?”
“And?”
“They’ll know.”
“And?”
“It’ll be embarrassing.”
“What we do in privacy is none of their business, they can think whatever they want to.” Merida skipped down the stairs, “Plus, I’ll bet they’ll just be jealous.”
The blase way she said it gave Rapunzel strength. Who cared what everyone else thought? Merida didn’t.
The house was still and silent. Eerily so. It was almost more lonely than her cottage. At least there felt like a home. This was a shrine built to money- nothing more.
“Where are your brothers?” Rapunzel asked.
“The triplets?” Merida’s jaw tightened. “Boarding school.”
Rapunzel cursed herself, her brothers were a touchy subject at best but Merida loved to talk about their latest trick or exploit. Being so much older than them she had almost taken on the role of mother to them- albeit a mother than often encouraged and engaged in their mischief. Rapunzel had hoped to lighten the mood not bring it down further. Why couldn’t she just be good with people? It wasn’t a topic to be pushed. As entertaining as Merida’s rants were they were best confined to the forest; where she could rage and shout as much as she wanted without it gracing powerful, and potentially detrimental, ears.
The kitchen was empty. The staff had the day off after the festivities of the night before it seemed. Rapunzel was forced to sit at the granite breakfast bar and not cook. Everything gleamed, polished within an inch of its life. She wrapped her arms around herself and tried to pull her thoughts from the black, with little success. Merida pressed a cup of tea into her hands. It was comforting but she still felt wrung out, exhausted- not just physically but mentally. What had she done? Why couldn’t she just be happy?
So when the plate was set down in front of her, filled with fresh pancakes and maple syrup, all she managed were tears. And as soon as they spilled there were gentle arms around her and a shoulder to hide in until she was ready to face reality again.

Chapter Text

“Is this right?”
“Almost. Stand a little straighter, pull your shoulders back .”
“What about now?” It was harder than it looked. Much harder. She yawned, the concentration was taking it out of her.
“Here.” Merida stood behind her, fixing her position with a steady hand, the warmth of her body was immensely distracting. “Pull back like this. Now release.”
The arrow just about hit the target. The first one to do so. The rest had clattered short or thudded into the wall. Really they should have been out practicing in the forest but the rain had forced them inside.
“See. I told you you could do it.”
“Cross it off the list!” Rapunzel turned her head, reaching out for a kiss, and Merida was happy to comply. Neither of them noticed the face at the door until it was too late.
“Rapunzel and Merida sitting in a tree.” A high voice started, two more joined in quickly, “K-i-s-s-i-n-g”
“Boys!” Merida broke away and yelled.
One appeared, easily identified by his shock of red hair, with a cheeky grin and a mouthful of stolen tart. Two more peered around the doorway. They couldn’t have been more than eight.
“You’re not due home until tomorrow.”
There was the same glint in their eyes that Rapunzel had seen in their father’s. It was impossible not to smile at them, despite the fact they’d been spying.
“I’m telling mum about this.” He grinned and danced on the spot.
Merida scoffed. “I’m so scared.”
“You should be.” He giggled and ran off, making sure to snag another tart on the way past. The other two followed them. Their footsteps rang in the direction of the kitchen.
“They’re going to drive the staff insane.” Merida smiled after them. “Wee devils.”
“What did he mean though? About telling your mother?”
Merida’s spine straightened, her shoulders drooping. “They’re trying to annoy us.”
“Is that all?”
“Yeah.”
“Really?”
“Not quite.”
“Knew it.” Rapunzel grinned but it fell immediately at Merida’s expression. It was cold. There was a hardness to her that vary rarely came out.
“She doesn’t approve of the way we are.”
“What do you mean?”
“The fact neither you nor I are male.”
“What difference does it make?”
Merida smiled. Apparently it had been the right thing to say. “Exactly. But some people can’t see that.”
“Why not? It’s perfectly obvious.”
“Everyone should be more like you Punz.”
“They’re not?”
“There are nasty people out there. Ones that’ll decide to make your life not worth it because you don’t fit into the way they think.” Merida’s expression darkened. She turned her head away and fiddled with the bow, pretending to fine tune it when it was already perfect.
“Well they’re not here anymore. I am. And I think you’re amazing.” Rapunzel lent a hand on her arm. She was pulled into a rough hug.
“Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Now let’s go find your brothers, I want to see if their tricks are really as legendary as you make them out to be.”
By the time they found them the cook was on the verge of screaming. He had chased them from the kitchen so many times but they just kept returning to terrorise them. Their nanny, their keeper Merida called her, was nowhere to be found. They had the run of the house and they took full advantage. It was almost impossible to keep track of all three until they had the idea for a game of hide and seek. But not just any hide and seek- the one that involved chasing the hider down and an awful lot of running. It gave Rapunzel ample opportunity to explore the house properly and to steal kisses while she should have been hiding, there were plenty of alcoves and corners just big enough for two. It lasted hours, only ending when the triplets were all curled up on the sofa in the big TV room. Tired out and watching a movie instead of hiding like they should have been. Rapunzel accepted an invitation to stay the night and they sneaked from the room, she was grinning as Merida led her by the hand to her bedroom.

Chapter Text

The wind howled like a wounded animal, it blew through the house, rattling the doors and windows as if begging for shelter. With it came the rain. Huge heavy droplets that pelted the cottage and wormed their way in through the roof and dripped onto the floor. Rapunzel cowered underneath her blankets with her hands over her ears and her knees tucked up to her chest. She wept. It wasn’t the storm- storms hadn’t hurt her before- it was nightmares. Because they were real, they had happened, and they were perfectly capable of hurting her.
Caught in their grip before she had kicked and thrashed, thrown and smashed things. Her therapist had given her tablets. They had helped for a while. They stopped the sleepwalking completely, but the nightmares were coming back. Pitch black they slithered through her subconscious during the day but it was the night when they really came out to play. They were at their worst they had been in a long time. Rapunzel hadn’t slept for days, afraid of what she might see. Exhaustion was not an easy thing to outrun however and now she paid the price.
The clock beside her bed flashed 4:36 am. There was someone who could help. Someone who would know just what to say to chase the bad dreams away. But she lived over a mile and a half away, and the storm showed no signs of stopping. But at this point even just to hear her voice would be a refuge.
Rapunzel sat up. She picked up the phone and dialled the number on the notepad beside it, it was obscured by doodles and tea stains but she made it out as best she could. It rang. There was something dangerous about a phone; and a phone at four in the morning seemed absolutely deadly.
“Hello?” The voice on the other end was husky from sleep.
“Merida it’s me.”
“Punz? Is everything okay?”
She couldn’t reply. Just the sound of Merida’s voice was enough to choke her throat up.
“Rapunzel? Rapunzel say something.”
“I’m sorry.” She forced it through cracked lips. “I can’t sleep again.”
“Is it nightmares?”
“Yes.”
“Okay, it’s okay.”
“It’s Gothel Merida it’s her again and she had the chains.”
“Stay on the phone.” There were sounds in the background, interference from the storm probably. Rapunzel shivered under her blankets. “Remember what we talked about last week? When we found that cave?”
“I remember.”
“She can’t hurt you Punz. Not anymore.”
“But they haven’t caught her yet.”
“They will, just you watch.”
“I’m scared she’s coming for me. I’m afraid that I’ll wake up in there.” More interference, louder this time. “Merida you’re breaking up.”
“…I’ll be there soon.”
“What?”
The line went dead.
“Merida? Merida are you there? Hello?” Rapunzel set the phone down and stared at it. She was alone. And dawn was still a lifetime away. The storm beat at her cottage but she refused it entry; placing buckets under the leaks and blankets to stop the draughts. She wasn’t hungry but she ate. She wasn’t thirsty but she drank. Being exhausted was like being in a constant dream- nothing seemed to be quite real. So when there were two sharp knocks on her door that always announced Merida’s arrival she ignored them. A hallucination. Wishful thinking.
They came again. And again. Eventually, just to prove to her fractured mind that there was no one there, she threw the door open. On the doorstep stood Merida, soaking wet and peering at her like she was the one standing in the rain. Rapunzel blinked at her. It wasn’t real. It was her mind playing tricks the nightmares were bleeding into reality. Would they ever leave her alone? Would she ever be safe?
“It’s okay I’m here.” A gentle hand took hers. It was Merida. It was her. “They can’t hurt you now.”
“You came.”
“Of course I did.”
The rain blew in through the door, making the floor glisten in the fluorescent lights of Rapunzel’s living room. The rug was dark with water. Merida stripped off her raincoat and hung it up, her curls hung limp around her head. It made her look smaller. Underneath her coat she wore her pyjamas with a sweatshirt over the top of them and boots pulled onto her feet. She closed the door behind her and led Rapunzel to her own sofa. A blanket from nowhere was draped around her shoulders.
“You’re shivering.” Merida’s hands rubbed heat back into her arms.
“It keeps me awake.”
“You need to sleep Punz.”
“Please. Please I can’t.” She pulled the blanket around tight. It was security. They couldn’t find her if they couldn’t see her. Drops of water wet her shoulders and face. “There’s rain getting in. There’s rain inside again.”
“Shh babe, shh.” Merida pulled her hair back off her face. “It’s only my hair.”
“I’m so tired.”
“I know you are. You need to sleep.”
“I can’t.”
“I’m going to make you a drink, it’ll help okay?”
“Alcohol doesn’t work.” Rapunzel’s eyes drooped and she rubbed them with her fist.
“You’ve tried?”
“I’ve tried everything.”
“Well this is going to work I promise.” Merida got up from the sofa.
“Don’t go.” Rapunzel grabbed her hand.
“I’ll just be over here.”
“Okay.”
The cottage shook and it seemed that the storm was relentless. With a towel that was blocking the draught Merida dried her hair and tied it back. Her movements were reserved. How she had gotten to the cottage Rapunzel hadn’t asked. She ran? No, no one would run in boots. How? Angus? Her thoughts swam and the image of Angus squashed into her greenhouse made her laugh. It was wrong, twisted, a sound coming from somewhere else. Merida didn’t join in. There was a nice smell of something soothing and warm.
“Here. Drink.”
“What is it?”
“Milk and honey.”
“Doesn’t work.”
“It has a secret ingredient.”
“What?”
“It’s a secret. Drink it.” Merida smiled and Rapunzel felt peace for the first time in days. They sat together on the sofa, sharing a blanket, not needing to speak. The other girl was a furnace and the drink was sweet and hot. It didn’t take long for her exhausted body to start to shut down. She tried to stand. Bed. If she was going to sleep she should sleep in a bed. But her legs weren’t working, they crumbled and splintered. The floor didn’t come. Strong arms and stumbling steps. Whispered reassurances and a soft pillow.
“Okay wee lamb just you sleep.”
“Don’t go.”
“I’ll be right here.”
The mattress sagged as it took the weight of another body. Arms wrapped around her, a duvet wrapped around them both.
“I’m scared Merida.”
“I know you are but I’m here. I’ll keep you safe.”
And then she began to sing. A sweet sad song in a language full of sibilance and caesura. Her voice was cracked from disuse, but strong. It was easy to forget everything; the tower, Gothel, the nightmares. Nothing else seemed to matter but Merida’s hair on her neck and her song in her ears. Her body was heavy. She was too tired, it was too much. Rapunzel closed her eyes and kept them closed. It was too much.
When she woke she woke screaming. But it wasn’t shackles around her wrists, they were long cool fingers. The voice in her ear wasn’t Gothel’s but a thick Scottish accent. She was safe. She was home.

Chapter Text

The storm had broken overnight and the morning dawned clear. Birds perched on branches and wires to rejoice, their song loud enough to wake the dead. And still the two girls slept. Merida stirred first; the habit of rising at dawn was hard to break and it was well past that time now. As careful as she was Rapunzel was a light sleeper. The moment there were no arms cradling her the feeling of security fled and her eyes opened.
“Go back to sleep babe.”
“Don’t leave.”
“Just getting something to eat.”
“Okay.”
She promised herself that she wasn’t going to sleep but her body had different ideas. Somewhere in between the noises of the day and Merida in the kitchen were clear but they were distorted, uneven. Pictures that didn’t belong joined them. It wasn’t a dream because surely she was awake. No? What difference did it make?
Sleeping curled up with Merida had been the most wonderful feeling, she wanted to do it night after night. With a body pressed against her and arms protecting her from the fierceness of the world she was safe. Nothing could hurt her; not even Gothel, not anymore.
When she woke again there were fingers toying with her hair. Beside her Merida held a book of poetry that she seemed absorbed in, not looking up as Rapunzel rolled onto her back. Her lips moved silently to the words.
“What time is it?”
Merida looked up and smiled. “They should call you sleeping beauty. It’s ten past ten.”
“I didn’t sleep that long.”
“Ten past ten on Tuesday.”
“What? I slept through Monday?”
“Like a log.”
“I’m starving.”
Merida grinned. “I knew you’d be. I went shopping while you were out, I was thinking we could make something together.”
“That sounds lovely.” Rapunzel sat up, feeling more refreshed and more rested than she had in a long time. “Just let me get dressed.”
Merida smiled again and kissed her on the forehead. There was just something so natural about the movement and it made her blood feel as if it were being set alight. In a nice way. In a really nice way.
“Maybe you don’t need to get dressed.”
“I need a shower.” Rapunzel let her hands wander.
“After.”
“Now.” Rapunzel stood up, pulling the other girl along with her. The smile she received was enough to make her pull harder.
The bathroom room was a kaleidoscope of deep blues and greens designed to look like the user was at the bottom of a lake. The towels were pristine white and the mirror, just like everything else in the cottage, was spotless. It was one of Rapunzel’s favourite rooms. Her bathroom in the tower had barely the facilities to warrant the name. The first time she had experienced hot running water she had wanted to cry- her first bubble bath had been an event the hospital staff wouldn’t forget for a long time.
So as she led Merida into it, thinking of what was to come, her stomach turning somersaults. There had been too many dreams where she had watched everything she loved dissolve into ash; where Gothel came with the chains and locked her up for days; too many where she died screaming and alone. To let even a moment of Merida’s company to slip by seemed blasphemy.
The shower turned on with a click. It was big enough for three if they wanted to- specially designed to be so large after the incident back in the sheltered housing with the shower door. Merida’s eyes flashed. Rapunzel found herself drawn to her; it was impossible not to. If there was a god this was their way of saying sorry. There was a symphony she could write using only the tip of her tongue and the contours of Merida’s hard body, it was etched into the marrow of her bones and burnt onto the palms of her hands, it made their muscles relax and their bodies melt from diamonds to burnt steel to liquid silver. It was confidence. Security. Safety. But it was also excitement, unmitigated joy, and unabashed pleasure. When Merida threw her head back and arched her spine, grinning, Rapunzel couldn’t remember anything else but the need to make her do it again. And again. And again.
The water was cool. Cooler than she usually took it but the burning skin against hers made up for it. Soap had appeared from somewhere. Merida massaged it into her skin with easy grace. Every touch set Rapunzel alight. There was a time when she didn’t acknowledge her body, didn’t think about it other than keeping it working, but as she grew she explored. There were sources of information even Gothel couldn’t police. And there was a lot of spare time in which to experiment. Merida however, her childhood spent with nannies and in boarding school dorms, didn’t have the same knowledge. Everything she had learnt had been fuelled by alcohol and arrogance; on sofas and alleyways, the backs of cars and wide open fields. She was raw, uncontained: a quickie in a lift, a hand job at dinner. Everything hard and fast and dirty, broken smiles and ribbed condoms. Rapunzel was soft, gentle. A summer afternoon spent under an oak tree, satin sheets and lingering smiles. But she had been sheltered too long. Romance was out of date. It belonged only in books and even then it was a story told too many times in too many ways. She bit down on Merida’s lower lip. Real romance wasn’t pink and cream, covered in rose petals and lit by candlelight. Rapunzel groaned as she was backed against the tiles. It was blood red and gilded in gold, a thousand velvet skies and a million stars to light them. Hands torn from the body in front of her to be pinned above her head. Romance was pain. It was handing someone your deepest fear and most secret desire and closing your eyes. Love was when they made the right decision.
Arms pinned, hips pinned, feet spread apart. Rapunzel revelled in the gorgeous feeling of having no control, of being completely at the other girl’s mercy. Water flowed through Merida’s hair and over her stomach. All she wanted to do was bury her hands in that hair. But the other girl didn’t seem happy, her hands shook and she wore an expression somewhere between hesitancy and reckless abandon.
“Punz we haven’t talked about this.” Her grip loosened.
“We don’t need to.”
“This is serious.”
“I trust you.” Rapunzel squirmed.
“I’m keeping you safe. What if I cross a line? What if I hurt you?”
“I’ll say stop.”
“Just like that?”
“Exactly like that. Now kiss me.”
“You don’t get to tell me what to do.” The hand on her arm pushed back again. Merida flashed a sly grin that sent Rapunzel’s stomach somersaulting. She grinded her hips and the response was instant. A hand on her thigh, working its way upwards. No time for teasing. No time for gentleness. Foreplay was never Merida’s style. Rapunzel gasped, tensed, and relaxed as two fingers curled inside her. It was safe. Lips brushed her jaw line as Merida pressed her body into her. Frantic and breathless she still moved with a grace that couldn’t be learnt, it was elegance that only came when your body was hewn from rock by countless hours of dedication. Every time Rapunzel’s body jolted without her permission she received a laugh. It was only when her skin didn’t feel like her own any more, when the waves of ecstasy threatened to rip her bones apart, that she began to moan. It did nothing to stop the relentless force. Teeth sank into flesh and left behind smudges of blue-green. Her arms were released from where they were being held only to be occupied with Merida’s hair, the back of her neck, the curve of her waist. The fingers were retracted from inside her and strong hands pressed down on her shoulders, bending her knees and making her kneel. There was a moment of confusion. A second of eye contact and a hesitation. Long cool fingers brushed her cheek, Rapunzel smiled.
It was easier than it looked. She closed her eyes and let her tongue work it out, listening to Merida’s body and deciding what it liked most. Small quick gasps were her reward. The shower had turned cooler, the steam that had swirling and blocking out the glass disappearing. Goosebumps erupted across Merida’s thighs and stomach. Rapunzel traced her name in them over and over until hard fingers dragged her upwards again. She wasn’t finished. Oh she was just getting started. Her hand continued her good work as their lips met, the arm hooked around her neck kept her close, the thigh between hers gave her something to release against. Everything was either burning hot or freezing cold; blistering orange or ice blue. Nothing made sense. Merida’s hair was everywhere and Rapunzel was free to do what she pleased with it.
It was too cold. Towels briefly returned heat to their bodies. They stumbled, laughing, from the bathroom. They headed towards the bed but didn’t quite make it- falling together onto the sofa instead. Well it wasn’t as if anyone would interrupt. Merida squirmed under her, winding their legs together and kissing her hard. It made sense. It felt right.

Chapter Text

“You wander around like that Punz and I’ll get distracted, might cut a finger off.” Merida stood in front of a chopping board, wearing only her underwear and one of Rapunzel’s shirts. One that was far too small.
“Eyes on what you’re doing.”
“That’s not what you were saying an hour ago.”
Rapunzel felt a blush dye her cheeks and darted into her bedroom. “Shut up.”
“Oh come on.” Merida laughed as she slammed the door. “Like I haven’t already seen everything.”
She dressed quickly, not wanting to waste any more time. She’d spent too long asleep. There were much better things they could be doing. One of Merida’s shirts fitted nicely. Their clothes, despite being so different, had started to mix together. It was still always easy to tell them apart; Rapunzel loved the different band shirts and heavy plaid, so different from the pastel dresses and light fabrics she usually wore.
“Anything I can do to help?”
“Just sit there and look pretty.”
“Do I want to know why the knife is in the wall?”
“Target practice.” Merida turned with a grin. “I’m getting better.”
“What exactly are you making?”
“French toast with bacon.”
“What?”
“Oh you deprived child.”
It was delicious. Like nothing she had ever tasted before. It had never seemed something like bacon and sugar would go together so well. Merida was either an amazing cook or Rapunzel just didn’t know the difference. Too many days spent eating nothing but soup- it was practically all Gothel knew how to make. Now she could barely look at the stuff. They cleared their plates in minutes.
“So what will we do today then?” Merida lent over and grabbed another piece of bacon with her fingers. “I’m sure there’s something we could cross off the list.”
Rapunzel had things to do. Not that it was anything particularly important. Really it could be done any time. There wasn’t anything coming up.
“I have work to do.”
“You can definitely blow it off. Another day growing isn’t going to kill those flowers.”
“No but the weeds might. Help me and we can go do something later.”
“Fine.” Merida stuck out her tongue. “But I’m going to complain the whole time.”
Merida disappeared and reappeared in a pair of jeans covered in paint she had left there weeks ago and a shirt that fitted. No shoes. Hair down and about her face. She grinned and Rapunzel was reminded just how lucky she was. How easy the company was. How different, more interesting, everything seemed when there was someone else there.
The garden, like the house, was kept pristine. Neat rows and careful labels. It was extensive, everything from apple trees to exotic flowers difficult to keep alive in the meagre Scottish sun to a tiny oak sapling that never seemed to get any bigger. The greenhouse was more of the same. The first time she had realised that greenhouses were a thing Rapunzel had been so thrilled - somewhere just for tiny seedlings to be protected and grow. In fact her favourite place to go while recovering in the city had been the botanic gardens. Whole swathes of space just filled with heat and green it was like walking into a book. The botanists had been tortured with questions. Not that they’d minded really. It wasn’t often they met someone as enthusiastic as her. Merida scorned the order and claimed that nature should be wild not contained. But she stepped around the borders carefully nevertheless. When the apples fell she could be counted to pilfer as many as she could and when there was weeding to do she was always happy to get her hands dirty despite what she said. The botanic garden was on the list. Merida had never been and Rapunzel was excited to be the one to have something to show for a change. They had added it after they realised just how many things needed done. There were tiny ones like walking a dog or trying makeup, eating a steak or going to the cinema. Then there were big ones; learning to drive, going to Paris, scuba diving. Every single thing got written down and the list had spread into a small notebook. Scraps and ideas and bits all went into the book. If ever they were bored or looking for something to do they just had to look at it - everything ended up in the book.
It wasn’t a bad day. Dry at least. They knelt side by side at the edge of the worst bed. It had been just a little too long since the last weeding and there was a lot to get through.
“You know you can get chemicals that do this.” Said Merida.
“They’re expensive though.”
“If I never have to do this again I’ll pay for them.”
“You love it stop lying.”
Merida tugged at a difficult patch of grass. “When I said I like getting dirty I didn’t mean playing in the mud.”
Rapunzel blushed. “You do have a filthy mouth.”
“You looking for a demonstration.”
“This morning was more than enough.”
Merida’s phone began to ring. Shrill and insistent it was clear even from back inside the cottage. She strode over to it and pulled it out of her coat pocket, making a face at the caller id.
“It’s dad. Do you mind if I take this?”
“Go ahead.” Rapunzel leaned back into her work, wondering if she had ever felt so comfortable before. It was good to know that not everything had to be a struggle.
A crash from inside made her jump. But the thing that made her stomach drop wasn’t the breaking crockery- those things barely mattered- it was Merida’s voice. It wavered and cracked.
“A what?” She held her mobile to her ear. “How is that even possible?”
A pause.
“Which hospital is she in?”
Another pause. She was pacing, the kettle boiled over and stopped.
“At Rapunzel's. Of course. Yeah.”
The pacing stopped.
“She said what?”
The next words were muffled. What by Rapunzel didn’t know, but she guessed a hand.
“She didn’t mean that,” Her voice lowered to almost a whisper, “Dad. Please.”
There was a crash and a crunch. A few footsteps. And silence. Merida stood in the middle of the kitchen as pale as death with her arms hanging uselessly by her sides. Her phone halfway across the room. A mug in pieces on the floor. Not knowing what to do Rapunzel hovered in the doorway. Merida didn’t seem to notice; she didn’t seem to be able to notice anything, swaying on the spot and staring blankly. When she looked like she might faint Rapunzel quickly sat her on the sofa.
“What’s happened?”
“What?”
Shock. Clear symptoms. Rapunzel had bit her tongue against the first phrase that came to mind: who died?
“Merida what’s happened?”
“Mum had a heart attack.” She shook her head, curls flying everywhere, “Just collapsed in the office.”
“What?” Rapunzel held back, now was the time to put everything aside. Merida didn’t admit defeat like that, she didn’t give up or stop or cry- she just did whatever needed done. But right now there were tears welling.
“Isn’t it strange that all I want to do is call her and ask what to do?”
“You’ve had a shock. Stay here I’ll make you a cup of tea.” That solved everything right?
“How very British.” Merida half smiled. It didn’t reach her eyes.
When the kettle was boiled and the mugs clasped in their hands everything seemed a little more manageable. Trying to flatten her hair was impossible so Merida had pulled it back into a loose ponytail. Rapunzel hadn’t even looked in a mirror, knowing how unkempt she must have been. There was still mud caked on their hands.
“What should I do?”
Rapunzel forced her mind to work. She had done it before and she could do it now.
“I’ll phone a taxi. We’ll go down there right now.”
Merida hesitated for just a second too long. “You hate the city.”
“Don’t worry about me.”
“Oh Punz.”
Rapunzel left her tea and went to dress properly. Merida probably needed a few moments alone, isn’t that what people did? A hand caught her and pulled her back, fingertips biting hard.
“It’s my fault.”
“Don’t say that- it couldn’t have been your fault, you were here.”
“Exactly.”
“What?”
“She was worried about me, thought I’d run away again, maybe hurt myself.” Merida stared at the floor.
“You didn’t tell anyone?”
“No. We had been arguing and I was angry.”
“You’ve been here for ages!”
“I know.”
“She didn’t try to call you?”
“I blocked the number.”
“Merida you can’t do that.”
“I was angry. I still am a bit”
“It couldn’t have been that bad an argument.”
Merida looked up sharply. “We argued about you. Again.”
“Oh.”
There was a hardness, a fierceness, that Rapunzel didn’t often get to see in Merida. Everything changed; the way she spoke became clipped and terse, body hard but full of wild energy, eyes flashing.
“She really got stuck on the whole disgusting lesbian thing. How I’d never find a husband if I only dated dykes, that kind of thing.”
Rapunzel took a breath.
“I didn’t know she felt so strongly.”
“Yeah.”
“When were you going to go back?”
“I wasn’t. I’m surprised they even noticed I was gone.”
Rapunzel steeled herself. It was no time to start getting angry when the woman was potentially dying. And it wasn’t the first time in her life she’d been called names. Even hurtful ones. There were people out there who just liked to make things harder. The world was a beautiful place but it was filled with bitterness and stupidity and cruelty. To hear it in that way though had cut her deep. Eleanor had always been distant before, a sort of nemesis in a book, shadowy and far fetched, easy to demonise but definitely nothing really to think about. Now it was clear just how much of their fights Merida had held back on.
“I shouldn’t have said that I’ve upset you.” Merida said.
“She’s still your mother. We have to see her.”
Another pause that lasted a beat too long.
“Do you think I should go by myself?”
“Do you want to?”
“Absolutely not.”
“Then no. Go get dressed I’ll get the taxi.”
Organising them was something to focus on and feel like she was helping. Step by step it was simple enough. Call a taxi, get the keys, lock the back door, get to the hospital, then - what? Wait? Cry? Force themselves into the room together in an act of defiance towards a very sick woman. It didn’t matter. Nothing really mattered but getting there.
Merida reappeared in clean clothes. She looked younger and for the first time Rapunzel appreciated the difference in their ages. The thought of going to the hospital made her stomach lurch but she smiled anyway. There wasn’t much more to say. The rest of the day dissolved ahead of them as they both prepared what they’d say to the dying woman who didn’t really want to see either of them.

Chapter Text

You’re not smart enough.
You’re not strong enough.
You can’t handle yourself.
The mantra of Gothel pounded against the bone of her skull like a heartbeat. It invaded every sense, every moment, every movement, with one phrase. You are not good enough. Not for me. Not for anyone. All her life she’d been shackled to the phrases. Bent and fractured over time they distilled into a single word: worthless. And, as she stood in the corner of the hospital room, Rapunzel felt it more keenly than she had in months. Every bit of brisk energy that had carried her this far had dissipated. Chains weren’t just for the body. And since Eugene, Since Merida, things had changed. But it took a lifetime, more, to cultivate a mind that thought only constructive thought. The therapist had been expensive and their techniques tried and tested. It was working but only when she wasn’t thinking about it. Not like now, now she felt about as useful as a dead weight.
It was hard not to look as frightened as she felt. The place stank of pain and death and betrayal. Everywhere there was noise and silence and constant, incessant, beeping. Merida wept. There was nothing that would comfort her. The body on the bed lay as still and cold as if it were dead, yet the machines hooked into its veins said different. Rapunzel couldn’t decide which was worse: having the person you thought to be your mother ripped away, or to be ignored by the woman who birthed you. Probably the latter.
In time Fergus came. His shirt was crumpled, his immaculate suit creased, and the evidence of a sleepless night written across his face in stubble and blue-black half moons. He didn’t speak. All he did was place a hand on the hand of his wife and took Merida into his arm.
Rapunzel hovered like a bad smell.
It was a long time before either of them looked up. Heavy breaths were taken, teeth were gritted, and they broke apart. An entire conversation was had with a moment of eye contact and a twitch of the lips. It was a secret language Rapunzel was yet to learn. She toyed with the hem of her dress and tried not to make a sound. This was her doing. When she picked up the phone she knew Merida would come, she knew it. And now this. She should have stayed in her tower; at least there was no one to hurt. Fergus met her eye, the light in it that was so like Merida’s had been extinguished and it made him look frightening. This was it. This was where he would point the finger of blame to her and chase her from his family’s life. Where would she go? What would she do? It didn’t matter, she had done enough.
And then he smiled. It was a curl of the lips barely above a twitch and for a moment she thought she had imagined it. From the little she knew of the secret language it could mean anything. Her head told her it was a grimace, her gut told her it was an outstretched hand. An invitation. She ducked and broke the stare. Whatever it was she didn’t deserve it. The machines continued to beat out the rhythm of the body on the bed’s heart; harsh and metallic. Footsteps echoed along the corridor. Every breath seemed too loud and it seemed wrong to be still. Fingernails dug at skin, pulling and digging and trying to create a feeling. Anything was better than this. They dug far enough to find blood and that was good. Something to focus on. Bright red, sticky. A hand covered hers before Rapunzel had a chance to dig deeper- Merida’s. She knew it without having to look. She knew callous, the weight she put on each fingertip, the roughness of the skin. It was another sentence in the secret language- a show of solidarity. Maybe. Hopefully. It was like being in a foreign country where everyone spoke too fast and words slipped past her ears like water, everything but the most basic meanings were lost in the chaos.
You’re sloppy.
Clumsy.
Immature.
Why did everyone else know how to do this? It was like when the reporters would snap her picture and dissect every single thing about it to reveal emotions she hadn’t even realised were there. It was a puzzle that had to be learnt. And she couldn’t do it: there were lost pieces, broken rules, a missing manual. Bits had fallen into place but at a time like this it all came apart.
She looked down, locked her body, and stayed in place. If they wanted her to leave they would have to tell her in words she understood. Fergus looked at the girls, fused together by interlocked fingers, and opened his mouth as if to speak. For a moment, just one moment, the light came back. And Rapunzel realised he knew. He understood. It was why Merida was allowed to visit so often, why she hadn’t been sent to a far away school again, why they were able to spend uninterrupted nights tangled in each other’s arms. He knew everything. And he accepted them. It made her heart swell, her throat clogging with its size.
It was a silver lining on a thundercloud that threatened to bring her world to its knees.

Chapter Text

“Punz I can’t today. I don’t like leaving her here alone you know?”
“That’s alright.”
“Come round here sure. I could use the company.” Merida sounded tired.
Rapunzel thought of the stale air in the house and of Eleanor convalescing upstairs while Merida shot in the basement. The tension hasn’t eased. In fact it had almost heightened.
“I’ve got a wedding coming up this weekend so I’ll call later if that’s alright?”
“You can’t get away at all?”
“Without you I’m down to only two hands.”
“Okay definitely call me later though.” The strain was evident in Merida’s voice.
“Definitely.”
“Okay. Take care.”
“Bye.” The line was dead before she had a chance to add the end. She said it anyway, “I love you.”
Rapunzel went back to work and gathered up the flowers in silence. Merida always insisted on listening to the radio but the disembodied voices and random noises always made Rapunzel jumpy. The music was nice, if repetitive, but silence fitted better with the mood of the day. Quiet was good. Wasn’t it? Just the breeze and the leaves and the birds. There was comfort in that if nothing else. And the work was enjoyable. Cool soil and soft earth. The customer had allowed her a choice in the arrangement which was a refreshing change. With Merida spending so much time at home the garden was pristine with not a single twig out of place. She tugged at the stems a little too hard, crushing them, and breaking the delicate structures. It felt good. As the day wore on her mind wandered. It was almost time for the apples to come down off the tree and Rapunzel thought about how nice it would be to make a chutney for Christmas. And the day passed mostly in the same way. Steadily the workload dropped as the clouds gathered overhead and threatened rain as they often did in Scotland. By half four it was almost getting dark. When the last pieces of twine were tied the first fat drop of rain turned soil to mud. Rapunzel hurried inside.
The downpour started immediately and beat against the windows of the cottage like it was demanding sanctuary. Within it was warm and dry. The leaks had all been fixed and the doors resealed to keep out draughts. So many little things she was able to achieve without a red-headed distraction bounding about. But Rapunzel would have taken the constant dripping and whistling wind if it meant Merida was there instead. Of course it was a good thing what she was doing, looking after Eleanor on her own, but Rapunzel couldn’t help but feel sad about the whole thing. If she hadn’t been so damn stupid none of it would have happened and everything would still be like it was before. They were just dreams and she was an adult. What kind of adult was scared of nightmares? But there were still things to be done.There were a few blooms that hadn’t survived her heavy handed-ness as well as the others and they would have to be ordered in - a convoluted thing that involved a catalog and strings of numbers rhymed off to someone on the other end of the phone. All, normally, fairly simple stuff. But the
whole thing took longer than expected and with everything else it was late until she was able to call Merida back. There was no answer. Not on her mobile or the house phone. Rapunzel thought little of it though - it was past eleven and Merida could be doing any number of things. She left a message, even though it felt weird talking to a robot and she was never sure Merida could actually hear it, and went to bed.
The next few days slipped by quite without Rapunzel noticing. There was a lot to busy herself with while Merida wasn’t around to distract. Fixing the leak in the cottage roof, organising someone to come look at the drainage of the vegetable garden, all while setting up an elaborate arrangement without anyone to help. The same as always the trick was to stay busy. Bake bread. Clean. Make something. Paint. Read. Don’t let the oppressive weight of time settle. Her old routines allowed her to simply step outside of it all and stop acknowledging the passage of days. It did seem a little weird that Merida hadn’t called but she simply pushed it to the back of her mind. There was nothing to be sad about there was nothing to be upset about there was nothing wrong. Merida was only a short while away and was busy with her own life, her own problems. No one was coming to care for poor little Punzie anymore. She’d taken that opportunity and crushed it into the dirt hadn’t she? Her fault. Her fault. Her fault.
The wedding was beautiful, particularly beautiful, and the bride glowed brighter than the north star when she saw the arrangement that had been set up for her. The thanks was profuse, the pay too much. Rapunzel smiled but it was a movement of the lips and nothing more. Not that anyone noticed of course.
The money was lodged and food bought in for her dinner. She slept. She woke. She wandered around her house like a lost thing and cursed herself for doing so.
A knock on the door: unexpected. Three sharp raps. Not Merida. Rapunzel stood up, unsure what to do with her book. It was late, too late, for casual visitors. What day of the week was it anyway? It didn’t matter. Time without Merida felt like a blur of endless minutes. And it had been days since she had even heard her girlfriend’s voice. It was almost like the tower again where every task melted into the other and they all seemed to be one formless conglomeration. It was silly.
“Rapunzel?” A voice that she didn’t recognise, thick with the local accent.
“Is this her house?”
“Yeah this is the one.
“You sure?”
“It has the flowers doesn’t it?”
“Lots of houses have flowers.”
“Come on. It has to be wrong.”
“Let me try one more time.” Another knock. “Rapunzel please, are you in?”
She didn’t want to move. It would mean opening the door and smiling, pretending like everything was okay. The night time was hers and hers alone. It was where the nightmares were free to roam and she didn’t have to smile any more.
“Harris, come on now. It must be the next one.”
Harris. The name. Oh the power of a name. It thawed the ice in her veins and sent her heart pumping. The door handle almost came off in her hand she pulled it so hard.
“It’s me. I live here.”
The red headed boy turned on his heel and grinned. It was uncannily like his sister’s.
“Told you guys this was her house.”
Two more identical heads faced her. The triplets.
“Why are you here? Is everything okay?” Her breath came too fast. It had been days since another person had come to the door.
“Because Merida is too stuck up to come herself.” They nodded between themselves and looked at Rapunzel sternly. “You’ve been ignoring her calls.”
“No I haven’t!” Any communication from Merida would have been a blessing. Why on earth would she ignore calls? “I haven’t.”
“Yeah? Then why has she been calling and there’s no answer?”
“There has to be something wrong with the phone. Is she angry? Oh I thought she was ignoring me, blaming me, oh this is terrible.” Rapunzel ran her hands through her hair. “This is terrible.”
“Blaming you?”
“Your mother. The night she got sick Merida was here.”
“Ooohh so that’s what all that was about.” One of the triplets, the leader, nodded.
“So have you and her…” A pair of red eyebrows raised and were quickly lowered again by an elbow to the stomach.
“Not the time Hubert.”
“Never the time Hubert. I never want the image of Merida… Oh well thanks a lot, now it’s all I can think about.”
“So she wants to see me? She’s not angry?” Rapunzel could barely contain her excitement.
“Angry? She’s been moping around all week now. It’s getting annoying actually.”
“I thought she was looking after your mother?”
“Nah. Doctors do that. So will you come see her? If I hear her sighing one more time I’m going to rip my hair out.”
“What, now?”
“Why are you busy?”
“Not at all.”
“What about your mum?”
“What about her?”
“She doesn’t like me.”
“She doesn’t like anyone much. Don’t let her scare you. You coming or what?”
Rapunzel looked down at herself, the mud under her fingernails and the dirt on her dress. Merida wouldn’t mind. She liked it when Rapunzel smelt like the earth and the wind.

Chapter Text

There was a knot in her stomach that the sight of slate and steel didn’t soothe. It was the tower, too much like the tower. It was only the thought of seeing that head of red curls again that kept her walking- well that and the three small men serving as her honour guard. They didn’t go in the front door or even the back, but through a small side door that must have been built at least a hundred years ago. The stone steps were worn smooth by countless comings and goings and the walls were slick with green slime. Rapunzel wanted to ask why they hadn’t just gone in the front door but remembered the way the marble gleamed and how every speck of dust seemed like an abomination. The triplets probably liked it just as much as she did. When they finally reached the top of what felt like a mile long climb. It hadn’t seemed like a tower from the outside but it clearly was. Two large wooden doors greeted them. The triplets took the left and motioned her to the right.
“Just down the corridor is her room.”
“She knows where it is Harris.”
“How do you know?”
“You didn’t see?”
“What?”
“Shut up!”
Rapunzel hesitated. “What if someone sees me?”
“And?”
“Won’t they throw me out?”
“You joking? They’ll probably bring you some cake to fatten you up.” The three boys disappeared through the door, leaving behind only the echoes of their laughter and a faint smell of hay.
Rapunzel took a deep breath. It wasn’t such a big deal, she was just going to see a friend. That’s all. A friend. People did that all the time didn’t they. Even little children could do it so why couldn’t she? Too long had she cowered before Gothel if there was even a hint of anger in her voice, doing everything she could to stay away and hide until the anger had passed. Now she had to work it out for herself and that was almost too difficult. But what had her therapist said? To be scared wasn’t the thing to be scared of; things will be better if you do it anyway. And she’d be damned if Merida wasn’t worth a little fear.
The door opened noiselessly. Probably the work of the triplets. It was the corridor that led to Merida’s room, she recognised the painting on the wall and the lush carpet. It felt even better barefoot. Barefoot! She’d forgotten shoes in her rush, why had none of the boys mentioned it? She’d look so underdressed. It was almost enough to make her turn on her heel and run all the way home. Almost.
When she approached Merida’s door the first thing she noticed was that some of the paint had flaked off and the handle was lopsided. The second was that it was dark in the room beyond despite the fact the sun still shone wanly outside. She knocked twice- their secret code. But there was no answer. Again she tried.
“Go away.”
Rapunzel’s throat was too choked up to try to answer. Why was this so hard? Merida wanted to see her. The triplets had said so and they wouldn’t lie. Would they? She tried the handle and found that it was locked.
“I said to go away!” The lock clicked. The door was flung open in such a way that explained the missing paint. Merida’s thunderous expression was enough to make Rapunzel flinch. “It’s you.”
She nodded.
“What do you want?” There was a coldness in her tone that Rapunzel only knew from the times she had tried to escape from her tower. It meant something bad was coming. Something really bad. “I came when you called. I came the moment you called and you don’t even have the grace to pick up the phone?”
“It was…”
“I don’t want your excuses. I needed you Rapunzel and you weren’t there. So fuck you.”
She expected the door to be slammed, almost wished it would, but nothing happened. There were blows coming and Rapunzel prepared herself for them- there was always a beating after something like this. What had she done? How had she gotten it so wrong? But Merida just stood there, staring. It was worse than anything.
“Say something.”
Rapunzel shook her head- eyes fixed on the floor. It was a trick. The moment she spoke she would say the wrong thing and it would be used against her.
“Okay then I will. Mum’s had another one. Another fucking heart attack and I needed you. I needed you and you weren’t there. So fuck off.”
Merida went to turn away. It was her last chance and Rapunzel knew it. Last chance to say something that might just pull this all back. Something. Anything.
“I’m here now.”
“You’re too late.”
“I didn’t know. Please, believe me; you’re all I have.”
Merida looked at her with those steady blue eyes for what felt like a lifetime. She didn’t blink, didn’t show any emotion.
“You didn’t know?”
“I think my phone is broken.”
“Then why are you here?”
“The triplets. They came and got me, said you’d been calling and calling. I came straight away.” Rapunzel gestured at her feet with muddy hands. Merida looked too and a ghost of a smile passed across her face.
“You didn’t do it to spite me?”
“Never.”
“Even after that day I said I couldn’t help with the flowers?”
“I barely remember it.”
“You better come inside then.”
Merida’s room was a mess. Two of the bows on her wall had broken strings, another lay across the bed, a third had been dismantled and parts were lying everywhere. The bedsheets hadn’t been changed and there were dirty clothes strewn from one end to the other. On the floor were various screwed up pieces of paper and Rapunzel spotted her name on a few but decided not to question it. Not now. There was a half smoked cigarette on the window sill, the heavy smell of it and mixed with coffee. Merida threw herself down on the bed.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Rapunzel stared at her muddy feet and suddenly became very aware of the marks she must have left on the carpets.
“I was so angry.”
Rapunzel tried for a smile, something to lighten the mood. It sometimes worked with Gothel and they’d both laugh and everything would be okay. For a while at least. Until it came up again and was used against her. She’d read about blackmail one in a book; funny how hard it was too connect that back to real life.
“That’s not unusual for you.”
It worked. The smile she received wasn’t quite the cheeky grin she was used to but it was so close that it didn’t matter.
“Shut up, I thought you were dead.”
“Really?”
“No. I was just pissed you wouldn’t answer my calls. I just wanted to talk about mum with someone who wasn’t dad or the boys.”
“I’m sorry.”
“You don’t need to keep saying it, it wasn’t your fault if your phone was broken. And,” Merida looked away, “I thought you might still be upset about, you know, what I told you she thinks of us.”
“The whole disgusting lesbian thing?” Rapunzel fought and lost with the hurt in her voice. “I was, I am, upset. But what we do in private is no one’s business, right?”
“Of course.”
“Then it’s fine.”
“It’s not. What does it matter anyway if you don’t have a dick?”
“Exactly!”
Merida smiled a little. “Sorry for being angry. I should have just went to your house when you didn’t pick up.”
Apparently all traces of anger were gone. It was hard to remember it wasn’t some sort of trick or manipulation technique. All that therapy, those pills, the fact Rapunzel knew Merida well enough to know she’d never do that, and she could still barely understand it. In the past anything that had gone wrong, be it her fault or not, had resulted in days if not weeks of anguish. It had turned her into a perfectionist- never late for an appointment, always sure that nothing in her house would break, constantly assuring herself that everything was going to go smoothly. It was too easy to think that it was all her fault. Everything that had happened. Everything that might happen. It was exhausting.
“Another heart attack though? Is she okay?” It wasn’t something Rapunzel wanted to talk about but it was a change of topic. It would stop Merida pushing the blame subject any further.
“The old bear won’t die.” Merida laughed darkly. “But it was only small. She’s on the mend. There’s nurses that come in sometimes.”
“Well that’s good isn’t it?”
“Yeah well I suppose. To be honest I just want to take my mind off it now. It’s still my mum no matter how much of an ass she can be.”
“Well I’m here now. I can help you worry.”
“Aye you better.” Merida let her head fall back down and all traces of a smile fell from her face. “I just don’t want to lose her you know?”
“Yes. I do.”
“Aw shit, sorry Punz.”
“No, I mean I get it. I really do Merida. But you have the chance now to make it up to her don’t you?” Rapunzel could barely hold onto the feeling of swelling in her chest. Everything was okay. Actually okay.
“We just never agree that’s all. She has this idea of what she wants me to be and I just don’t want to do that.”
“Maybe she’ll listen now?”
“She can barely sit up never mind have a heart to heart.” Merida snorted, “what a pun. But maybe you’re right. She’s going to be off work for a while.”
“You should take her to the forest.”
“What part of ‘really sick and now recovering’ are you not getting Punz?”
“Shut up.” She grinned. “You could take the path. Go to the river and do a little fishing, she’d like that wouldn’t she?”
“How do you remember things like that? Seriously I told you that like once.”
“I like details.”
“I’ll give it a go. Maybe when she’s a bit better though.” Merida knocked the bow off her bed with her foot. “Until then I’m stuck here looking out for the boys. Should we do something from the list?”
“I’d love to!”
Merida opened a drawer and rummaged around, eventually pulling out a beautiful little leather bound book that was more than familiar.
“You use that?” Rapunzel grinned. It had been her first try at working leather and she’d only given it to Merida after a lot of persuasion.
“Of course I do. You think I’m just going to ignore your gifts?”
“They’re just bits of rubbish.”
“What did I tell you about putting yourself down like that? Look what I found yesterday.”
She handed Rapunzel the, rather tatty, list they had made together so long ago. A few things were scored out in thick black pen and a few more circled in red pen. There were a few new things written across the page, scraps of poems, and ideas for days out. They made her smile.
“I was thinking the seaside soon?” Merida didn’t make eye contact, which was strange for her, “We could go for a while, stay, get away from everything.”
“Just us?”
“Just us.” Merida grinned her wicked grin and Rapunzel’s stomach turned over. She shot a small smile back, still expecting the other girl to yell ‘surprise’ and come out with a nasty remark. Their first proper fight and it was over in minutes with hardly a raised voice. Okay she’d been sworn at but that was nothing and it was all okay, it was really all okay. It didn’t make any sense but to hell if she was going to ask. Not all people were like Gothel. And Gothel herself was an entire sea and continent away- she couldn’t do any more damage.
“Sounds amazing.”

 

Chapter Text

Cars. Rapunzel just couldn’t get used to cars no matter how many times she rode in them. The speed! The power! Why didn’t people just use them all the time? It was amazing just to watch the world fly by through the window. In just a few hours they had travelled halfway across the country and it felt like nothing. An adventure, a real life adventure. When Merida had pulled up in the battered old excuse for a truck she had known right there and then that it was going to be a great trip. They were going to lie on top of it and stare at the stars - oh the stories she could tell about the stars, every constellation and every movement. The North Star was as steady a presence as the sun or moon.
It had been an eventful trip; between them they had gotten lost twice, ended up stranded in the middle of a roundabout, and deposited a duck back into a pond. Rapunzel hadn’t stopped smiling for the entire time. And when Merida had pulled out the mixtape created especially for them both she thought she might cry from happiness. It was like something straight out of one of her books- the ones where birds sang and rainbows meant that everything was alright. The sun shone and it almost felt like it was June again as they drove down the deserted track that Merida swore was the road. Apparently the map said it was a shortcut but Rapunzel felt like they were going to end up in the ditch before they actually got anywhere.
“Remind me again who taught you to drive.”
Merida just flashed a grin and said nothing. The chauffeur had taught her once she reached about fourteen- it didn’t mean that she was any good though, or that she actually held a proper licence. Quad bikes and ponies were a lot easier to control than the steering wheel of the truck apparently. There were threats that she would hand the wheel over if she got tired and Rapunzel would drive, even the idea of being in control of such a machine made her mouth dry, but it didn’t come to anything.
“Hey, Punz close your eyes quick.” She did as she was told. “We’re getting towards the sea, I can smell it.”
“I can’t smell anything.”
The windows were promptly rolled down and saltwater and sunshine hit her like a slap on the face. It was cooler than the forest despite the sun and there were birds in the distance with shrill, demanding, voices that she couldn’t place.
“Keep your eyes shut.”
“Okay.”
Eventually the car stopped and Merida’s door slammed. Hard fingers tugged at her arm and the other hand covered her, still obediently closed, eyes.
“Step down.”
The ground became slidy and soft, Rapunzel almost tripped, and it was only the hand on her arm that stopped her going straight down. The sound of water was like the river but not at all at the same time; louder, more rhythmic– just like the white noise she sometimes used to help her sleep.
“Can I open my eyes yet?”
“Kick off your shoes.”
The sand was warm and soft. It felt like nothing else. The books she’d read in Merida’s library one rainy day said that sand was broken up shells and rocks but who knew it would be soft! There were pictures as well of long stretches of gold peppered with sunbathing people and facing the vast blue ocean but she had always wanted to see for herself. Now they were here. Actually here.
“Okay, now.”
Rapunzel opened her eyes and the shock of what she saw almost sent her to tease. If she had words they were stuck in the pit of her stomach somewhere. If she had her paints in her hands she would have thrown them on the ground and never looked at them again. Beautiful wasn’t enough – that was like saying that the sky at midnight was beautiful, it was, but it was also massive and dramatic and terrifying, it made you feel big and small at the same time. And so much blue! The beating of the waves against the sand, such raw power, pounded in her very bones, through the soles of her feet, and all she wanted to do was throw her body into it and be swept away.
And the sand. Closer to the water it was darker and thicker but under her feet it was golden and ran through her fingers like nothing she’d ever felt before. She looked up at Merida and grinned, only then seeing the camera and the small red light that told her it had been recording for who knows how long.
“What do you think?”
Rapunzel didn’t, couldn’t, answer. She just ran towards the water. Behind her somewhere Merida was laughing and footsteps indicated she was following close. It was only now that she realise why she’d been persuaded not to wearing her best dress like she was going to but a pair of ratty old shorts and a tank that Merida had forgotten was hers. Rapunzel hesitated at the edge of the water, almost afraid of the vast expanse of blue that lay in front of her. She knew how to swim now and she was pretty good at it but diving in here and diving into the river was completely different. One wave reached further than the others and grabbed at her toes. It was cold. She let out a yelp that made Merida laugh again. And so, without taking off a stitch of her clothes, she jumped in. Salt got in her eyes and down her throat but she just spat it out and kept swimming with the grim determination of someone who knows that if they stop flailing their limbs they’ll sink. When she stood up again Merida was gone and for a moment the sun seemed to darken but then something tugged her leg and she screamed, kicking away from it.
Merida appeared from the water with her hair dripping and a grin plastered all over her face. The camera in her hand still blinked.
“As good as you thought it would be?”
“Better!” Rapunzel pushed aside the camera and went in for a kiss. She could feel rather than see Merida’s cheeky smile and realised that she was still being filmed. Two hands on her chest sent her girlfriend backwards into the water.
They swam until the cold got into their bones and the sun was threatening to disappear below the hills in the distance, until Rapunzel was breathless from diving and holding her breath and Merida couldn’t feel her toes. The waves that had tumbled them over and over had been subdued and they walked out of the water together. Merida ran off to get the car, shouting over her shoulder to grab as much driftwood as she could, and Rapunzel was left alone. Quiet was good. Quiet was safe. But this time she wasn’t straining through the silence for some indication that there were people around, she was content to be alone in this moment in the knowledge that she’d hear the rumbling growl of the truck soon enough and they would sit under the stars until they were too tired to sit anymore. Then they’d lie down. Maybe even sleep outside. She gathered up as much wood as was easily collected and left it in a pile in front of her, not sure where Merida wanted her to put it. It was cold in her wet clothes and she was excited to get out of them and into something warmer. Somewhere out of sight the truck roared into life and the sound of it was enough to warm her right through for a second.
Merida came into sight skidding over the sand with the headlights cutting through the gloom and the white of her skin almost glowing. The car almost stuck in the soft sand more than once but she made it eventually, turning off the ignition and hopping out.
“Here,” Merida threw a towel and some dry clothes, “I’ll light the fire.”
“We’re lighting a fire?”
“Of course. I have marshmallows too.”
“Have you thought of everything?”
“We don’t actually have a tent. So if it rains we’re sleeping in the car.”
“Are you serious?” Rapunzel dumped her wet things in a pile on the sand. It really did get everywhere. She’d deal with them later.
“There’s plenty of room in there.” Merida lent over the kindling, “If you don’t mind cuddling up though.”
“You know I don’t.”
“Ah ha!” Merida looked up from the, now lit, fire which caused Rapunzel to quickly cover herself with the towel in her hand.
“Oh Punz you’re such a tease.”
“Like you haven’t seen it all already.”
“Doesn’t mean I don’t want to see it again.” Merida stood up. In the firelight with the sound of the waves, hair accentuated by the salt she looked wild - some sort of warrior princess of old. Not for the first time it occurred to Rapunzel to be a little afraid of her. Merida, if she wanted to, had the strength both physically and of will to do anything she wanted. They were alone here. Only Merida’s family knew they were gone and even then they didn’t know exactly where they were. Anything could happen.
“Punz?”
It broke the spell. Suddenly Rapunzel was aware that she had been staring in silence for longer than was acceptable. Merida wouldn’t do that. Of course she wouldn’t do that. What was she even thinking? She pulled on her dry clothes.
“Sorry.”
“Don’t worry.” Merida moved over to the truck. “Marshmallows or actual food?”
“Marshmallows.”
They came flying out of the dark right at her head. And Merida never missed. They sat together in the darkness until the fire became low enough to roast over and used sticks that were whittled expressly for the purpose. With much giggling, nudging, and burning sugar they made their way through half the bag. The night was cool but not cold, it gave them an excuse to huddle together more than anything. The sunny day had given way to a clear night. The moon was full. Merida lay down, her head on Rapunzel’s lap, and pointed to the stars.
“What constellation is that?”
Everything was perfect.

Chapter Text

Cars. Rapunzel just couldn’t get used to cars no matter how many times she rode in them. The speed! The power! Why didn’t people just use them all the time? It was amazing just to watch the world fly by through the window. In just a few hours they had travelled halfway across the country and it felt like nothing. An adventure, a real life adventure. When Merida had pulled up in the battered old excuse for a truck she had known right there and then that it was going to be a great trip. They were going to lie on top of it and stare at the stars - oh the stories she could tell about the stars, every constellation and every movement. The North Star was as steady a presence as the sun or moon.
It had been an eventful trip; between them they had gotten lost twice, ended up stranded in the middle of a roundabout, and deposited a duck back into a pond. Rapunzel hadn’t stopped smiling for the entire time. And when Merida had pulled out the mixtape created especially for them both she thought she might cry from happiness. It was like something straight out of one of her books- the ones where birds sang and rainbows meant that everything was alright. The sun shone and it almost felt like it was June again as they drove down the deserted track that Merida swore was the road. Apparently the map said it was a shortcut but Rapunzel felt like they were going to end up in the ditch before they actually got anywhere.
“Remind me again who taught you to drive.”
Merida just flashed a grin and said nothing. The chauffeur had taught her once she reached about fourteen- it didn’t mean that she was any good though, or that she actually held a proper licence. Quad bikes and ponies were a lot easier to control than the steering wheel of the truck apparently. There were threats that she would hand the wheel over if she got tired and Rapunzel would drive, even the idea of being in control of such a machine made her mouth dry, but it didn’t come to anything.
“Hey, Punz close your eyes quick.” She did as she was told. “We’re getting towards the sea, I can smell it.”
“I can’t smell anything.”
The windows were promptly rolled down and saltwater and sunshine hit her like a slap on the face. It was cooler than the forest despite the sun and there were birds in the distance with shrill, demanding, voices that she couldn’t place.
“Keep your eyes shut.”
“Okay.”
Eventually the car stopped and Merida’s door slammed. Hard fingers tugged at her arm and the other hand covered her, still obediently closed, eyes.
“Step down.”
The ground became slidy and soft, Rapunzel almost tripped, and it was only the hand on her arm that stopped her going straight down. The sound of water was like the river but not at all at the same time; louder, more rhythmic– just like the white noise she sometimes used to help her sleep.
“Can I open my eyes yet?”
“Kick off your shoes.”
The sand was warm and soft. It felt like nothing else. The books she’d read in Merida’s library one rainy day said that sand was broken up shells and rocks but who knew it would be soft! There were pictures as well of long stretches of gold peppered with sunbathing people and facing the vast blue ocean but she had always wanted to see for herself. Now they were here. Actually here.
“Okay, now.”
Rapunzel opened her eyes and the shock of what she saw almost sent her to tease. If she had words they were stuck in the pit of her stomach somewhere. If she had her paints in her hands she would have thrown them on the ground and never looked at them again. Beautiful wasn’t enough – that was like saying that the sky at midnight was beautiful, it was, but it was also massive and dramatic and terrifying, it made you feel big and small at the same time. And so much blue! The beating of the waves against the sand, such raw power, pounded in her very bones, through the soles of her feet, and all she wanted to do was throw her body into it and be swept away.
And the sand. Closer to the water it was darker and thicker but under her feet it was golden and ran through her fingers like nothing she’d ever felt before. She looked up at Merida and grinned, only then seeing the camera and the small red light that told her it had been recording for who knows how long.
“What do you think?”
Rapunzel didn’t, couldn’t, answer. She just ran towards the water. Behind her somewhere Merida was laughing and footsteps indicated she was following close. It was only now that she realise why she’d been persuaded not to wearing her best dress like she was going to but a pair of ratty old shorts and a tank that Merida had forgotten was hers. Rapunzel hesitated at the edge of the water, almost afraid of the vast expanse of blue that lay in front of her. She knew how to swim now and she was pretty good at it but diving in here and diving into the river was completely different. One wave reached further than the others and grabbed at her toes. It was cold. She let out a yelp that made Merida laugh again. And so, without taking off a stitch of her clothes, she jumped in. Salt got in her eyes and down her throat but she just spat it out and kept swimming with the grim determination of someone who knows that if they stop flailing their limbs they’ll sink. When she stood up again Merida was gone and for a moment the sun seemed to darken but then something tugged her leg and she screamed, kicking away from it.
Merida appeared from the water with her hair dripping and a grin plastered all over her face. The camera in her hand still blinked.
“As good as you thought it would be?”
“Better!” Rapunzel pushed aside the camera and went in for a kiss. She could feel rather than see Merida’s cheeky smile and realised that she was still being filmed. Two hands on her chest sent her girlfriend backwards into the water.
They swam until the cold got into their bones and the sun was threatening to disappear below the hills in the distance, until Rapunzel was breathless from diving and holding her breath and Merida couldn’t feel her toes. The waves that had tumbled them over and over had been subdued and they walked out of the water together. Merida ran off to get the car, shouting over her shoulder to grab as much driftwood as she could, and Rapunzel was left alone. Quiet was good. Quiet was safe. But this time she wasn’t straining through the silence for some indication that there were people around, she was content to be alone in this moment in the knowledge that she’d hear the rumbling growl of the truck soon enough and they would sit under the stars until they were too tired to sit anymore. Then they’d lie down. Maybe even sleep outside. She gathered up as much wood as was easily collected and left it in a pile in front of her, not sure where Merida wanted her to put it. It was cold in her wet clothes and she was excited to get out of them and into something warmer. Somewhere out of sight the truck roared into life and the sound of it was enough to warm her right through for a second.
Merida came into sight skidding over the sand with the headlights cutting through the gloom and the white of her skin almost glowing. The car almost stuck in the soft sand more than once but she made it eventually, turning off the ignition and hopping out.
“Here,” Merida threw a towel and some dry clothes, “I’ll light the fire.”
“We’re lighting a fire?”
“Of course. I have marshmallows too.”
“Have you thought of everything?”
“We don’t actually have a tent. So if it rains we’re sleeping in the car.”
“Are you serious?” Rapunzel dumped her wet things in a pile on the sand. It really did get everywhere. She’d deal with them later.
“There’s plenty of room in there.” Merida lent over the kindling, “If you don’t mind cuddling up though.”
“You know I don’t.”
“Ah ha!” Merida looked up from the, now lit, fire which caused Rapunzel to quickly cover herself with the towel in her hand.
“Oh Punz you’re such a tease.”
“Like you haven’t seen it all already.”
“Doesn’t mean I don’t want to see it again.” Merida stood up. In the firelight with the sound of the waves, hair accentuated by the salt she looked wild - some sort of warrior princess of old. Not for the first time it occurred to Rapunzel to be a little afraid of her. Merida, if she wanted to, had the strength both physically and of will to do anything she wanted. They were alone here. Only Merida’s family knew they were gone and even then they didn’t know exactly where they were. Anything could happen.
“Punz?”
It broke the spell. Suddenly Rapunzel was aware that she had been staring in silence for longer than was acceptable. Merida wouldn’t do that. Of course she wouldn’t do that. What was she even thinking? She pulled on her dry clothes.
“Sorry.”
“Don’t worry.” Merida moved over to the truck. “Marshmallows or actual food?”
“Marshmallows.”
They came flying out of the dark right at her head. And Merida never missed. They sat together in the darkness until the fire became low enough to roast over and used sticks that were whittled expressly for the purpose. With much giggling, nudging, and burning sugar they made their way through half the bag. The night was cool but not cold, it gave them an excuse to huddle together more than anything. The sunny day had given way to a clear night. The moon was full. Merida lay down, her head on Rapunzel’s lap, and pointed to the stars.
“What constellation is that?”
Everything was perfect

Chapter Text

It had taken months. Fucking months. A new passport, a new face, even new hair. Why the girl had chosen Scotland she would never know. In the end it hadn’t taken long to track her movements – hospital records were too easy to get in to, people were almost begging her to find her. Well, now it had all worked out. There was only one hitch. The same hitch that had caused her all this trouble in the first place. Rapunzel hadn’t went to live with the one who rescued her and it had been foolish to think so. If she saw the bastard again she’d kill him.
She walked calmly but quickly. Appearances were everything and she didn’t want to be stopped, or worse, recognised at this point. Not when she was so close she could practically smell the flowers her girl used to grow. To a passerby she simply looked like an over-zealous hiker. Albeit one with a stony expression and, if they looked close enough, an ornate dagger tucked into her belt. But no one cared that she passed and no one really paid any attention to her as she asked directions to Rapunzel’s cottage, citing the excuse she was lost and that the accent was so terribly confusing sometimes. Eventually her charm began to work. She needed the girl’s touch to make her feel young again, her face was beginning to sag and her bones felt heavier than usual. She needed the magic.
“The flouriest? You want to follow that road there for about two minutes then take a left until the forest is on your right. You can’t miss it, just look for the flowers!”
A job? The girl had the audacity to get a job? She thanked the local and he moved on with a slight feeling of unease. She was gone before he could question it further. Smiling to herself she came across the cottage, separate from all the other houses and the garden covered in flowers, it was easy to spot Rapunzel’s touch. There was no car but she didn’t expect one. Despite it being early afternoon there was a light on inside and a radio, or people talking. She would have to wait until they were gone.
Gothel smiled to herself. The little bitch was going pay for her insolence.
*
“Do we have to go? Could we not just stay here forever?” Rapunzel dragged her feet across the sand. The sun was already setting and three days outside had made her automatically sleepy when that happened.
“Unless you feel like eating sand then we need to go.”
“We could run over to that town and get supplies.”
“I need to go home Punz, I need to see how mum is.”
With that Rapunzel stopped complaining. She hadn’t forgotten about Merida’s mum it had just slipped her mind for a moment. By the crease in her forehead Merida hadn’t forgotten at all.
They had talked, in length, about the whole thing. Rapunzel still insisted on thinking it was her fault and Merida did everything she could to assure her it wasn’t. The heart attack had just been a symptom of what was already there. Too much work, too little time relaxing, and an awful diet was what had put Eleanor in hospital. In the dark Merida had talked, more than she ever had, about exactly what they fought about. The constant questions of boyfriends and marriages and the future. She never used the word hate but Rapunzel could feel it in her voice. It troubled her. If Eleanor wasn’t such a formidable woman she would have tried some sort of reconciliation. At the very least her illness meant that Merida was getting private tutoring in the Autumn instead of being sent away to school again. That, at least, had eased some of the tension in the DunBroch household. Whether Merida’s father had talked to Eleanor about them Rapunzel didn’t want to ask. She didn’t want to know the answer.
They packed their things listlessly. A cold wind blew off the sea and sand was everywhere where it wasn’t supposed to be. Without their campfire and the soft glow of the lights they had brought the beach looked eerie in the dark. Rapunzel was glad when the truck’s headlights flashed on with the roar of the engine. Within moments the mixtape was playing and the mood lifted. Hadn’t she had a lovely time? Hadn’t they swam until they couldn’t any more and lay together listening to nothing but the waves and the seagulls? The ocean. She could barely believe it. A year and a half ago she would have laughed at herself thinking she would ever see the ocean, called it unbelievable and asked for another book. Now, well now she was excited for each day. Maybe she would go back and say thank you to everyone who had helped her properly, the hospital staff, the people in the sheltered housing, her therapist. And Eugene of course. Merida told her that he went by Flynn to avoid the press; Rapunzel knew he was avoiding Gothel. Someone would know where he was. They had to. Even though they had parted on uneasy terms (at least she thought it was uneasy at the time. It was hard to tell) she was sure he would be happy to see her again. She’d take him some flowers or go out to dinner and maybe even Merida would come along too.
“What are you thinking about?” Merida said.
“Just the past.”
It was something else they’d discussed. There was something in the isolation and the privacy that induced long talks. Of course Merida knew parts of the story, mostly from newspapers and guesswork, but not the whole thing. Rapunzel was able to fill in the gaps. Like explaining why she was so pedantic about cleaning or how she knew what every single constellation was without even having to think. There were darker parts too, the emotional blackmail, the relentless loneliness, malnutrition, and the chains. It wasn’t hard to piece together the rest, it felt like it happened to someone else. Sometimes Rapunzel forgot that she had parents and siblings. Ones that sat around a table for dinner, spoke German, and probably didn’t miss her. She’d never met her brother and sister and had no plans to – they were as alien to her as Gothel was.
“Good thoughts or bad ones?”
“Good ones. I was thinking about Eugene.”
“Yeah? What’s pretty boy up to these days?” Merida smirked. She was watching the road with intensity, her knuckles tight around the steering wheel. It was not hard to remember she didn’t officially have a licence.
“I don’t know. I was thinking of getting in contact with him.”
“What? Why?”
“Just to say thank you. I never did.”
“I reckon he probably doesn’t want to see you.”
“Why not?”
Merida didn’t look round. “From what you said he was crushing on you pretty badly and it doesn’t sound like you let him down so gently.”
“That’s his fault though.”
“He might not see it that way.”
“That’s not fair.”
At this Merida let out a bark of laughter, cruel and short. “No it’s not.”
“How was I supposed to know?” Rapunzel didn’t want to drop the topic. Eugene had barely entered her head in the last few months but now, at the suggestion that he would hold a grudge against her for denying him what he shouldn’t have asked for in the first place, she was annoyed.
“Boys are dumb.”
“And you’d know.” It came out sharper than she’d meant it. They’d talked about Merida’s past too. Something that had been surprisingly painful to discuss. There had been boys as well as girls in Merida’s bed.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing.”
“What’s wrong?”
“I don’t want to go back.”
“I know. But I have to.”
“Why? You don’t even like your mum.”
Merida winced. “That’s the problem. Dad’s set up for us to go fishing. Apparently we’re going to bond.” The image of Eleanor in her suit and heels, mobile in one hand and PA at her elbow, trying to catch a fish was an insane one. She’d never agree. “Believe me I’m not looking forward to it. But I have to try don’t I?”
The silence was easy between them as it always had been. The radio chattered in the background as they were both lost in their own thoughts.
“Try not to miss me too much.” Merida called out the open window as Rapunzel pulled her things from the car haphazardly.
“I will.”
“It’s just a few days. Don't set your house on fire or anything.” She leaned forward for a kiss. Rapunzel had to stand on tiptoe to reach through the car window.
“Bye.”
The battered old land rover sped off in the direction, Rapunzel knew, of the off road track back to the DunBroch manor.

Chapter Text

Merida missed Rapunzel. There was no getting away from it; she missed her like a limb had been cut off. The fishing weekend had been organised in good faith and a few months, a year, ago Merida would have been overjoyed to be able to spend so long uninterrupted with her mother. But now, after the fourth time she had been told to tidy herself up, Merida was at the point of snapping. She craved Rapunzel's steady presence. Her relentless kindness, her ability to say the right thing without overthinking it. Because, as it appeared to turn out, Eleanor and her daughter had little in common despite their blood bond. Merida took after her father in spirit and her mother in stubbornness and she had her jaw already clenched against the onslaught against her girlfriend. Her jaw had been clenched for a full day. Yet nothing had come. Either Fergus had said something or Elenor was just refusing to acknowledge the subject it was hard to tell. Merida was reliving past arguments under her breath, blowing a smouldering flame in her breast ready to release it when the time came. But they'd both agreed to be there and they had both came. It was a ceasefire.
The stony truce between them lasted until Eleanor caught her first fish. The silence was broken with the simultaneous shriek from both of them as the silver ribbon leapt into the air.
“Reel in. Reel in don't let him get.”
“The net!”
“Not yet not yet give him some slack now.”
It was a salmon. Huge and glittering it was as solid as a brick from swimming against the current for so long. Merida had caught them before, shot through with her arrows, and she knew that it could take a while on a line. She could feel her mother’s resistance to the order. Feel the stubbornness almost win. But then Eleanor swallowed her pride.
“Like this?”
“Exactly. Let him out as far as he wants then reel him back, tire him out.”
They worked together, a team focused on a single task, to get the fist. It took a good portion of twenty minutes until it was tired enough to try to get into the net. Merida kicked off her shoes and waded in, net in hand, ready to help.
“It's coming!” Elinor was breathless with excitement. Merida hasn't seen her so relaxed. “Get ready.”
The fish was huge. Almost a meter long. It thrashed and shook once it's head cleared the water, wild to get back to normality. Merida was taken aback by the vicious way it moved. Her net slipped as she tried to force it under the animal. She pushed too hard and lost her footing on the loose gravel of the riverbed. As she fell her free hand caught line still on the rod and tugged it hard. Elinor, not wanting to lose the fish, had been holding the rod right. Together they went into the brackish water, coughing and spluttering, as their dinner swam triumphantly past them.
When Merida surfaced, pushing her hair out of her face and blushing furiously, she waited for the telling off. How she should have been more gentle, more graceful, better. But it didn't come. Instead she was faced by something much better. Her mum was half-lying, half-sitting in the water laughing like it was the first time she realised she could.
“Oh Merida we almost had him!”
Her long hair was damp and had come loose from its bindings. She looked younger. The illness had forced her to lay still and quiet so her cheeks had filled out a little to soften her expressions.
“So close!.”
Meridia shook herself like a dog. It always made Rapunzel laugh when she did that, swatting the water droplets away like it made a difference. Eleanor didn't purse her lips as expected but watched with a half-smile. The truth was, she was tired. Tired of fighting her daughter, tired of being so in control all the time, just tired. Her stay in the hospital and the long hours spent in quiet recovery prompted some insane burst of maternal feeling first true burst of maternal feeling in a long time. It was her only daughter no one else could love her like a mother.
"Towel?" Merida offered. Although it was sunny it was still September and there was a bite to the air.
"Please."
They sat side by side on the riverbank. Meridia's rod twitched once in a while but neither of them really noticed. Silence wasn't a thing Merida knew how to deal with when it came to her mother - there had always been some sort of noise between them. It was sticky. It stretched uncomfortably to the point neither wanted to speak. Strangers to each other, Merida had been raised by nannies and teachers and coaches. Trotted out like a prize pig on the few occasions she saw her parents to perform. She had been the best shooter in Europe before her fall. In time she would be the best again. She was one of the few people who could hit a target at a hundred meters on horseback. But her mother hadn't cared about that. There was always something wrong; the way Merida stood, walked, ate. There were old fashioned rules to be prescribed to on how 'ladies' should be and Eleanor had always been disappointed her only daughter was the way she was; brutish, wild, wilful. Gay. The subject of suitors, as Eleanor still put it, had always been touchy between them. They were a wealthy family with power and it made sense that the power that would pass through Merida should go to a suitable family. She had lined them up and all Merida had to do was choose. It hadn't went well, of course. Then the reports had come back from the various schools. Breaking curfew, sneaking into dorms, being caught in the tennis shed. Elinor did what she thought was best and ignored the problem, hoping it would go away as her daughter grew.
It never had. And it had simply forced them apart.
Merida shifted where she was sitting "Are you hungry?"
Elinor considered for a moment, it was only noon but breakfast had seemed a long time ago. "Yes I think I am."
"It's time to catch lunch then."
She couldn't resist showing off even just a little. And although she would never admit it she wanted her mother to be impressed with something. The car door was already open and she rummaged inside.
"I thought I said no weapons."
"Come on mum it's just my bow."
"And what are you planning to do with that?"
"Catch lunch of course."
"No you are not."
"Watch me."
It was a simple thing really, almost like spear fishing. The trick was to compensate for the refraction of the water when watching the fish. Merida hiked up her wet jeans and waded in to the slow-moving water. The air was heavy with the gentle lull of the forest sounds and between her legs darted small scraps of silver. She drew, took aim, and waited. Her arm was still weak despite the physiotherapy and she had chosen a bow to match - simple, elegant, a longbow. Her favourite. Yew with small carvings from when she was much younger hewn along it. The key to hunting like this was patience. Behind her Eleanor’s presence made itself known but she didn't lose focus. She stood as if stone until her quarry darted in front of her. It was a split second decision to loose the arrow. Merida never missed.
The salmon was heavy. More than enough for two. She held it by the gills with the arrow still sticking from it.
Elinor had her hand at her mouth and she was smiling. "Well, I am impressed."