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It was an accident. It was just an accident. Nausea rushes woozy and light in his veins.

He can’t draw in a breath. Everything has gone dark around them, and Varian blinks and tries to recall how the lights went out. And then the darkness shifts, groaning, heavy on all sides, and he remembers.

The beaker - it wasn’t supposed to react like that. He’d only put two drops in, not three, and yet the next second had brought a flash so bright purple spots dance in his vision and an explosion loud enough to make his ears ring. He thinks Eugene is saying - yelling? - something, and he rolls over on the ground to see his friend standing over him.

His heart jumps to his throat. Eugene has the weight of a chunk of the ceiling braced across his shoulders, face red with exertion and from blood streaming down his temple, knuckles white and bruised. It’s - it’s too heavy, it must be, because that’s nearly the whole ceiling-

It takes a moment for him to fully process the danger, and when he does, he scrambles to his feet. “Eugene, we have to get out of here, we have to go right now-” The rocks shift again. Eugene shakes his head rapidly, mouth wide in a grimace, but when he sees the terror in Varian’s eyes it twists into a desperate smile.

“You’ve gotta leave, kid. Go get help, I’ll be fine.” He can hear the I promise hidden in those words, meant to be reassuring, but only damning. There’s - there’s no way to come back from this one, if it’s broken. He won’t be able to. He won’t.

“I can-” His hands fumble in the dark around his knees, searching for anything that could help, but his fingers only scrape ash and grit. Fear makes him lightheaded, blood drips down the back of his neck, and his hands remain empty. “Wait, Eugene, just give me a second, I can fix it!” There’s nothing in his pockets. There’s nothing important strapped to his belt or abandoned under his table. There’s nothing for them here but the stone slowly threatening to crush them both, and sob bursts free from his chest.

The groaning gets louder, and Eugene shuffles his feet and hacks a cough. They’ve run out of time. The empty space between them begins to close as Eugene has no choice but to slowly slip to his knees, breathing grating and harsh. 鈥淚鈥檒l buy you as much time as I can,鈥 he rasps, “just go, go!” His eyes are wild, desperate, focused only on Varian, and Varian freezes.

“You…you can’t do this.” His voice is numb. “You can’t! This was - it was just an accident-” They were fine just minutes ago, laughing over another failure, dusting the debris off their goggles, mixing another set of chemicals, pouring beakers and cranking burners and waving off fumes. Everything had been fine! The realization of what will happen refuses to sink in. It can’t get past the unflinching belief children hold that bad things cannot just happen for no reason, that things can end between heartbeats and that fractures can split into fissures before their own eyes. Varian scoots backwards, intent on getting help, blinking back tears at the relief that spreads across Eugene’s face because of his movements. “I’ll be right back, okay? Just - just a minute, two tops, just hold on-”

He kicks his feet out, wiggling back and out from under most of the rubble. Shock threatens to freeze him again, lock his bones and muscles, but he fights through it. One, two, three. The seconds tick by too quickly - he moves faster, squeezing out past rock and metal. He’s almost there, almost free-

His eyes never leave Eugene’s face, not even when he’s out into the lamplight and blinking away stars, and so he sees the very moment the weight becomes too much to bear. It happens so fast. It happens before he can even finish seven.

He screams and screams until his voice is gone, throat choked with dust.

He cries until he can’t anymore, because Eugene is gone, too.


Rapunzel goes white at the sight of him.

He knows the picture he makes - blood down his temple, grey dust coating his clothes, grief in the tears on his face. He barely feels her hands on his arms, the one that comes up to skim a thumb over his cheek. 鈥淲hat happened,鈥 she asks, and it鈥檚 so serious and wary it鈥檚 barely a question.

鈥淚- I need help,鈥 he explains. 鈥淚t鈥檚 Eugene, and my lab-鈥 He tries to get more words out, better ones, but nothing can express the blur of what just happened. Her mouth draws thin as she nods and says something over his head to the guards. Her hands never leave him, steadying, and he can鈥檛 breathe.聽

鈥淚t鈥檚 okay, Varian,鈥 she reassures, 鈥渢hey鈥檒l find him. Okay? I need you to take a deep breath for me.鈥 He inhales sharply, the air stuttering in his lungs, but she only nods. He loses time, after this - he recalls being in the hall, but not leaving the room; stone fragments on the ground, but not racing up to his lab鈥檚 door. Her hand is warm. He doesn鈥檛 remember grabbing it, but her fingers lace tightly with his.

The guards are already throughout the room, carefully removing chunks of rubble. Rapunzel drops his hand, stepping forwards quickly to help, and he鈥檚 hit by a sudden dizziness. 鈥淚 tried…I tried to鈥︹ What? What did he do? What could he have possibly done that would’ve been enough? 鈥淚s he okay?鈥

No one answers, too busy calling directions and wrestling with stone pieces to hear his barely-audible voice over the noise. Maybe no reply is good. Maybe he can live in this world where he doesn鈥檛 know for sure either way for a few moments longer. He lands on his knees next to where he pulled himself from just a few minutes ago, the slowest minutes of his life. 鈥淓ugene?鈥 He calls, voice a little stronger, and paws at the rubble. His gloves protect his hands like they鈥檝e always done. He tears them off, casts them aside, and pulls with his bare hands. 鈥淓ugene!鈥

His own blood beads on his fingers, but he resolutely doesn鈥檛 look. He doesn鈥檛 have time to indulge the dragging fatigue, not yet. He鈥檚…so close, he thinks, elbow deep in rock, so close to where he last saw his friend鈥檚 face. Smaller stones fall away under his movements. That鈥檚 fine. His hands shake too badly to even think about disturbing larger pieces. The longest minutes of his life stretch on with every rock that doesn鈥檛 hold skin or cloth under it. He鈥檚 resorted to muttering pleas under his breath, inaudible prayers and offers and whatever else he can think of - he鈥檚 so caught up in the tears blurring his vision he almost misses it when he sees it.聽

The next stones reveal fingers, and then a palm, and then Eugene鈥檚 hand is warm in his, and he can鈥檛 even bear to think of letting go. He calls out for Rapunzel, maybe, or the guards, frantic and so, so happy, and holds tight.

And when they come and help him remove the rest of what was almost the biggest mistake of his life, he can鈥檛 do anything but smile. 鈥淗ey,鈥 he whispers, pulling gently at the few rocks still piled around Eugene鈥檚 arms and shoulders with his free hand. 鈥淚 came back.鈥

This time, the relief is bright on his own face.

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id like to preface this with 1) @woogwoo-wren鈥 is an enabler and 2) @finnoky is an absolutely fantastic source of inspiration. that鈥檚 all folks


Varian skitters across the cold stone floor, grappling for purchase and breath stuttering violently - he can鈥檛 believe it, at first, he can鈥檛 - and slides to a stop too far away. The gap between them feels enormous; not just in a physical sense, but in how Eugene鈥檚 fists clench at his sides. In how his eyes narrow, a complicated mix of raw anger and concern, in how Varian鈥檚 ribs bend and catch fire in his chest, forcing out the air rotting in the bottom of his lungs. His vision swims and cuts out altogether, a dizzying black - his head cracks against stone, lolling sideways, smearing red - before he blinks and the blues above him waver back into focus.

He鈥檚 quick to kneel, to reach. 鈥淟isten, please!鈥 Varian cries out, one arm outstretched, the other curled close. With anyone else - he might be composed. His voice might ring strong; he might have the upper hand, a fighting chance at changing their mind.聽

But this is his brother, and in this one moment, he has everything to lose.

鈥淵ou have so much to hold onto,鈥 he pleads. It鈥檚 not a scream, not a breath, but some rough mix of both, tearing and forcing its way up his throat. He鈥檚 right here in front of Eugene - is he not enough? Is he not worth casting aside the stone for? Tell me I鈥檓 right, he begs. But those words do not make it out. They die deeper in his chest, in the space below his heart.

Anger flashes across Eugene鈥檚 face, brittle and offended as if perhaps - perhaps he thinks this is holding. As if he believes he is the one in control. As if the stone does not glitter like a shard of glass on his chest, ready to cut its holder into pieces, ready to prick the finger of the hand that dares to touch it. And Varian realizes…he can see. But Eugene can鈥檛.

He needs Eugene to think. He needs Eugene to-

Choose!鈥 he screams, voice tearing through the cavern. Varian gains ground in his desperation, stepping forwards and fisting his brother鈥檚 tunic and reaching, reaching, reaching - but his arms aren鈥檛 strong enough, fingers not steady enough, and he can鈥檛 manage anything but lunges far too weak to accomplish his goal.

The moonstone gleams in the center of Eugene鈥檚 chestplate. It鈥檚 a bright, bright blue. It calls, and for a second, he almost wants to answer. But there is a haze in Eugene鈥檚 eyes that not even his little brother鈥檚 frantic, sobbing pleas can get past. There鈥檚 a struggle under the surface of that unfamiliar electric blue, violent and twisted. There鈥檚 a disjointed mess to the logic his brother is weaving for himself, a tightening in the noose his brother has slipped his head into.

His broken choose still echoes louder than the other words he鈥檚 breathed. He needs Eugene to choose. He needs Eugene to think. And Varian fights, shaking, pushing, pulling. He grits his teeth, snarls and tears and bites out words until he can barely make out his own voice, jumbled together in a panic-

鈥淭hat鈥檚 enough, Varian.鈥 The grip on his wrist latches on, tightens impossibly. Varian can鈥檛 breathe. His chest burns.

He stretches his fingers, reaching out for the stone, but Eugene鈥檚 hold doesn鈥檛 flinch. It merely shifts slightly, twisting, and Varian resists the instant urge to fall to his knees.聽

Yes, sir,鈥 he chokes out, hopelessly small. It is all he can say.

Please, he thinks.聽

I can鈥檛 lose you, he thinks.聽

The tension builds in his lungs. It writhes under his skin, coiling around his spine and blurring his vision with tears.聽

It鈥檚 time to choose. And Varian knows he can鈥檛 stop fighting. Not until he has his brother back. Not until he can yell and chip away at the pocked marks in his brother鈥檚 soul; not until brown eyes stare back.

And when Eugene forces him away, watches him stumble on feet caught unaware and twists a cage of rock around him, something in his chest fractures. It鈥檚 to keep him safe and nearby, he reasons with himself, frantic in the face of Varian鈥檚 horror. His brother鈥檚 eyes shutter - the fear melts away, the determination rears its ugly head. Can鈥檛 he see that he shouldn鈥檛 fight? That this is for him, not against him?

But a part of Varian closes off, in its own defense, and Eugene is left colder than he鈥檚 ever been. Now I have nothing left to lose, he whispers to himself. Because - he鈥檚 lost Varian. He鈥檚 lost his brother鈥檚 trust. He鈥檚 lost his brother.

The murmurs in his ear ring too great to ignore, silvery and soft and everything the black rocks he鈥檚 twisted for himself aren鈥檛; strong where he is fragile, venturing where he hasn鈥檛 thought to go. The mindtrap, they tell him in impressions, in feelings that aren鈥檛 words at all, but somehow slipped past his defenses and strung his fears into thoughts. You haven鈥檛 lost anything yet, not at all.

He could get his little brother back. If Varian wouldn鈥檛 see鈥

Well, Eugene could just make him, couldn鈥檛 he?

There is a shard of light in his hands, jagged and blue, etched with the same symbol emblazoned on his chest, the same one printed neat and small behind Varian鈥檚 ear.

There is a boy he needs to protect held tight in the cage he created, broken and fighting, scrabbling against the rocks with an unrestrained fury and weakening by the second. There is red dripping from the corner of Varian鈥檚 mouth, a color that would shine bright scarlet if the rocks surrounding them didn鈥檛 leech all the warm tones from the cavern. There are tears tracking down his face and cutting deep fractures. There are bruised fingers clenched around the sharp spikes.

There is a moment, between them - there is a second where Varian鈥檚 eyes land on the power in Eugene鈥檚 hands. There is a flicker of recognition. A flicker of grief. The rush of blood in Eugene鈥檚 ears is too loud to hear past - but he can read the no on Varian鈥檚 lips clear as day. He can time the beat of his heart with the repetition of that one word, as if by speaking it Varian could delay - could delay -

Eugene doesn鈥檛 know what to call it. How to think about it. He needs to do this, he insists. You must.聽

He must.

There is a second moment, between them. Varian fights even harder, but they both know his bonds are unbreakable. There is nowhere to run. From Eugene? From his brother?

No, from his own fear of what he does not know. Why would he be afraid of Eugene? This is for protection. This is their only option.

Eugene is sick of helplessness. He鈥檚 taking what鈥檚 his.

His hands tighten around the mindtrap.

Varian鈥檚 struggling ceases immediately. He slumps against the black rocks, cradled in their curves, and goes frighteningly still.

Varian, he whispers. Varian?

There is doubt, sour in his gut. Hesitation. A what-if question so painful he can鈥檛 put it to words. Then Varian鈥檚 head lifts so slowly, eyes blinking open, fingers raising to curl loosely against stone. Gentle. Every move he makes wavers and softens; Eugene remembers early mornings, shaking him, watching him wake. It feels much like that.聽

The sourness won鈥檛 fade. The haze in his thoughts thickens. He waves a hand, dispels the cage. Now that he has Varian; well, there鈥檚 no need. His brother spills limply onto the ground at Eugene鈥檚 feet.

Varian, he whispers. It鈥檚 okay. It鈥檚 okay.

The boy shudders and trembles and pushes himself off the ground with unsteady hands. He tucks his legs under him, looks up with wide and blank eyes; and he is kneeling before Eugene, head drifting forwards, neck arched. He does not speak. He barely breathes.

Eugene holds out a hand, bracing their forearms together and pulling. Varian comes up easily, fine movements still weak but supported by the steel in his bones and the magic in his blood. It is so easy to pull his brother closer. It is so easy to press a hand to the top of his head, protective, possessive.聽

He can鈥檛 help the dry, small smile. Varian tilts, just barely, nudging into the palm of Eugene鈥檚 hand. See, kid, he says. I knew you鈥檇 come around eventually.

He leads. He pushes forwards. Varian follows, always at his side.

Eugene shifts his hand to Varian鈥檚 jaw, lifting his head with a gentle, firm nudge. Relief trickles cold down his spine, a feeling adjacent to pride rising at the blue glow that casts a highlight on Varian鈥檚 cheeks, the unburdened and quiet expression, the slow and steady beat of Varian’s pulse under his fingertips.聽

This is how he will protect them. This is how he will keep them together and keep them safe. This is how he takes power; claims it for himself.

(He remembers life in these eyes, just minutes ago. A fire he hadn鈥檛 wanted to put out. But this was necessary, just so Varian could understand. Just for now.)

(But Varian never will - never would - never gets the chance. Because the mindtrap will never be shattered and his eyes will never clear, not so long as the stone has a grip on Eugene’s mind.)

And it is those two - one standing tall, unable to see the world for what it is; the other leaned forwards, drifting, unable to see the world at all - together with the black stone that rises around them-

It is them that cuts a tragedy into the dark of the night.

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softgreysweatersbutwithfanfic4 months agoAnswer

(Finally got tunglr to work for me that was a MISSION anyway) uuuh gimme in the snow with New Dream you decide how angsty and/or fluffy you wanna make it given Eugene's feelings re: snow

2. in the snow

“I’m sorry…what.”

Rapunzel laughed sheepishly, crouching down to bury her bare hands in the snow like some kind of monster. “I’ve never made a snowman before!” She called to him over the light wind and the sound of the kids laughing, her voice teasing. “Of all the things to surprise you…”

Eugene grabbed her hands before abruptly letting them go, shivering and capturing her wrists to brush the leftover snow off her palms. Then he took her hands and pulled her further from the castle’s shadow, out into the grey light of the day. “We’ll just have to fix that,” he muttered. “Remember I’m braving the cold and the horrible, horrible snow to provide you with a comprehensive education.”

“Oh you poor thing,” Rapunzel reached up to squish his cheeks playfully, fingers biting cold, and he yelped. Moments like this convinced him she wanted to see him suffer. “Whatever would I do without you to show me?”

“I’d be in the nice, comforting warmth and you’d be out here getting chased by Lance’s horde.” In the distance, Kiera took Varian out with a flying tackle. The poor kid oomphed and landed facefirst in the snow, laying still until she kicked him aggressively in the knee. Eugene turned away from the screeching and wrestling, eyebrows raised. “You’re welcome.”

Rapunzel turned from watching Lance swing Catalina around by her ankles to shoot him a look. “I think it’s sweet,” she chided, before looping an arm through his. “Now what’s the first step?”


“I- sunshine, please-”

“There is absolutely nothing about this that could go wrong!” Rapunzel hollered from the top of the hill. “Varian says it’s okay!”

“Oh, so if he says it’s okay it’s full steam ahead but if I dare to show an ounce of concern, guess who’s a killjoy,” Eugene muttered.



“AWW, EUGENE-” Varian rolled his eyes and elbowed her. She exchanged words with him that Eugene couldn’t overhear - probably for the best - and turned back to stare down the very tall, very snowy hill. “Incoming!”

It was that love and support that motivated him to graciously not rib them (too hard) after their crash landing at the bottom of the hill. Neither looked daunted, giggling together in a drift and throwing snow at each other until he stepped in. “While I’ve gotta give you points for creativity, trying to harness a snowball and sled it down the hill just isn’t as stable as hand-rolling it- hey!”

Rapunzel grinned over him, holding his hands against the ground using the same grip on his wrists she’d yanked him into the snow with. “Sorry, did you say something? Got distracted watching you talk.”

Eugene didn’t do flustered. But she leaned further over him, brown hair backlit with pale sunlight, eyes sparkling, nose and cheeks a fierce red under her freckles from the cold, and his heart perhaps stuttered a beat. Innocent until proven guilty. He grinned and flipped them, hands at her waist. “Then I’ll keep talking,” he replied, voice lowered.

“Eew.” Varian stuck his tongue out, breaking the moment and scrambling back to his feet with all the grace of a baby deer. “I’m going back to Lance and the girls. Gross. Good luck on the snowman without me.”

“Try not to lose too hard!” Eugene yelled after him, snickering at the rude hand gesture waved back. “Now. Snowman?”

“Snowman,” she agreed. “Hand rolled.”

“Good, you’re learning!” He definitely deserved the scarf shoved in his face.


“Like this?” She held a small snowball above the two they’d already stacked. Eugene frowned and waved his fingers. She shuffled a half-step.

“Little more.” She tilted it slightly. “Perfect. Right there.”

“I’m gonna name him Snowy Man,” she proclaimed proudly. Eugene groaned.

“Just. You know what. Mr. Man has my utmost respect. Time for the carrot.” He plodded through the snow, drawing the vegetable from his pocket with a flourish. “Ready?”

Rapunzel took it, squinting at the snowman’s head to position it correctly. Eugene leaned back slightly - seeing her safe and happy like this, learning all the fun little things in life for the first time, brows furrowed and tongue stuck out the corner of her mouth in concentration - it was a pull he couldn’t resist. It was a warmth that would hold him even here, braving the cold all day long. It was everything he’d ever dreamed of. It was-

“I think it’s off balance.” She looked back at him with a small frown. “What do you think?”

Eugene moved closer and placed his hands over hers, adjusting them slightly. She hummed and leaned back into him, the two of them pressed flush. “Beautiful,” he murmured, and her frustration melted to confusion before she realized his eyes were fixed on her.

“Was teaching me worth standing out in the snow all day?” Rapunzel spun in his arms, and he closed them around her and held her close.

“I’m never cold when I’m with you,” Eugene grinned. She suppressed a smile, looking up at him with her chin against his chest. “My sunshine.”

“Dumb.” He shugged, unapologetic, and they fell into a quiet moment - it was home, holding her, being held by her. “I love you,” she whispered.

“Love you too, Rapunzel.”

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softgreysweatersbutwithfanfic4 months agoAnswer

Team awesome with number 11?

11. can you hear me

Varian hadn鈥檛 expected his little shortcut from his lab to the kitchens to get interrupted by older brothers falling from the sky, but he supposed that鈥檚 what he got from attempting the wrong staircase at the wrong time. One second - an apple safely in hand. No signs of trouble. The next - a wobbly figure at the top of the stairs, an unsteady misstep. His heart leapt to his throat, and he lunged forwards. 鈥淓ugene? Eugene!鈥 The sudden impact and weight sent him reeling backwards, reaching out frantically to snag the banister and keep them both from tumbling all the way down the stairs.

鈥淒izzy, sorry,鈥 Eugene mumbled, bracing himself on Varian鈥檚 shoulder before tipping sideways and crumpling against the railing. Varian hovered over him instantly, patting his cheeks, but he only blinked and let his eyes slip closed.

鈥淣o, no, wait - can you hear me? Hey!鈥 Varian shook him aggressively, voice cracking with desperation. 鈥淲hat鈥檚 going on- if you pass out on me I鈥檒l聽kill聽you, I swear I will-鈥

Hazy brown eyes opened a crack, slanted with amusement. 鈥淭hought…thought y鈥檞anted me awake,鈥 he slurred. 鈥淐an鈥檛…be awake if 鈥榤 dead.鈥

鈥淔lawless logic,鈥 Varian snarked back, fumbling with the hem of Eugene鈥檚 shirt. Under the fabric - well, he didn鈥檛 know what he鈥檇 expected, but a wide swath of sickening bruises came pretty close. 鈥淢ind explaining what on earth聽happened聽to you?鈥

Eugene craned his head to look too, as if he鈥檇 already forgotten, but after barely a second he let his head drop back against the ground and squeezed his eyes shut. 鈥淒emonstration.鈥 Varian sputtered with confusion before Eugene could clarify. 鈥淭raining?鈥

Varian鈥檚 worry faded to mostly exasperation. Bewilderment. A thin layer of fond annoyance. 鈥淎gainst what? A聽bear? Did you pick a fight with an army when I wasn鈥檛 looking? One of my boilers?聽How many fingers am I holding up?

Varian waved a hand in his face, wiggling his fingers and hoping to get a more drastic response, but Eugene only squinted up at him. 鈥淢鈥檋ead is聽fine,鈥 He replied crossly, swatting Varian鈥檚 hand away and wincing at how the motion pulled at his side. He groaned lightly and curled inwards, and Varian kept him from shifting too much with a hand on his shoulder.

鈥淐learly not, if you thought stumbling around with internal injuries was a good idea,鈥 Varian muttered mutinously. The bruises - he pressed down gently, and the tender feeling under them made his vision waver. He sat back on his heels, sucking in deep breaths to chase off the sudden lightheaded feeling, and tore his gaze away from Eugene鈥檚 side. 鈥淵ou really did a number on yourself, huh?鈥

Eugene nodded absently, pain beginning to settle deeper into his frown. Before, he鈥檇 seemed mostly out of it with dizziness, but after his time on the ground, it looked like the shock was starting to fade. 鈥淗elp me t鈥檛he infirmary?鈥

鈥淵eah, of course,鈥 Varian replied, hooking one of Eugene鈥檚 arms over his shoulders. 鈥淎nd then you鈥檙e gonna let me have a nice,聽long聽look at the armor you鈥檝e been using, with no complaints about style. If you protest once I鈥檓 dumping you back down these stairs.鈥

鈥淒uly noted,鈥 Eugene grinned, slumping over Varian, who squawked and clung to the railing once more. The several inches Eugene still had on him made maneuvering them together infinitely harder than it should鈥檝e been, what with Eugene鈥檚 half-lucidity and the treacherous nature of the stairs.

鈥淗ave you considered replacing the dangerous bits of guard training with more cardio,鈥 Varian wheezed, trying valiantly to find his footing. 鈥淲hat have you been eating, rocks?鈥

Eugene only snorted, holding tighter. It took a few steps before he rolled his head to press his face into Varian鈥檚 hair, taking in a slow, steadying breath. 鈥淚鈥檓 gonna be fine, kid. Trust me.鈥 Varian felt some of the adrenaline fade off and he swallowed thickly. Eugene always saw to his heart, no matter what.

鈥淵ou鈥檇 better,鈥 he shot back, but there was no heat to it. 鈥淚 can鈥檛 raid the kitchens at night alone, can I?鈥

The laughter he got in reply was well worth how it unbalanced Eugene and almost sent them both sprawling again.

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1. chocolate

2. in the snow

3. rhythm

4. irresistible

5. hold my hand

6. tongue-tied

7. blue

8. with you

9. grinding

10. not wearing that

11. can you hear me

12. believe

13. in the storm

14. first kiss

15. shooting star

16. broken wings

17. last dance

18. bite

19. at the edge

20. breaking the rules

21. good riddance

22. books

23. weight of the world

24. my child

25. sunlight

26. tactile

27. happy birthday

28. waiting

29. fading away

30. all I ask

31. blame me

32. open your eyes

33. hope

34. good enough

35. eternal

36. that hurt

37. meant no harm

38. blood

39. secret admirer

40. separation

41. diamond

42. flying

43. pool

44. puppy love

45. under the influence

46. fever

47. throne

48. shackles

49. coming home

50. odds and ends

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An evening breeze rustled through the orchard, gentle and soothing, and Quirin breathed deep. The young autumn had crept easy and slow over the hills, bringing with it cool winds and early evenings; today was no different. The sun鈥檚 last few rays of light slanted through the leaves, barely warm, and he reached up to pluck another apple.

A few trees away, Ruddiger screeched and dug his claws into crisp fruit, clearly enjoying his time outside. Drawing both his son and the little raccoon from whatever project it was they were working on at the moment was fairly difficult, usually. Good thing the promise of time spent together still worked as an effective bribe.

鈥淒on鈥檛 forget to-鈥 check for rot died in his throat when Varian poked his head out from behind a tree, one eyebrow raised. On a good day, it would probably look sarcastic, but with the dark circles under his eyes, he only looked exhausted. Quirin knew about the nightmares, knew how Varian buried himself in his work and passions to avoid them and napped in the light of day, but…he looked even more pale and drained out in the fresh air, surrounded by the vibrancy of nature. Like a strong wind could knock him over.

The pause stretched on for a moment more before the eyebrow raised higher. 鈥淵ou okay, Dad?鈥

鈥淐ould ask you that,鈥 he replied. 鈥淲hy don鈥檛 you sit down for a second?鈥

Varian faltered, a little taken aback by the sudden concern. 鈥淲e鈥檙e almost done, aren鈥檛 we? I鈥檓 fine! Perfectly fine to help.鈥 He heaved his basket of apples into his arms, spinning abruptly towards the house - which was a mistake, clearly, by the way he swayed and stumbled a step. Quirin crossed quickly to him, holding Varian by the shoulders and easing the basket from his too-tight grip.

鈥淪hh, sit down. I鈥檒l take this load. I鈥檓 sure Ruddiger could use a break.鈥 Quirin gently helped Varian sit against the tree and shot the animal a look. Ruddiger froze, his excited frolicking jerking to a halt before he caught on and flopped dramatically into Varian鈥檚 waiting hands. Varian snorted quietly, eyes glazing over as he ran his fingers through Ruddiger鈥檚 fur. 鈥淕ive me a minute.鈥

He scooped up the basket, placing it out of Varian鈥檚 reach by the next closest tree. Harvesting a few more to fill up what Varian hadn鈥檛 managed to finish only occupied a few minutes, but that was all it took. Quirin tossed in the last apple, and glanced back over at his son. Varian blinked drowsily in the dying sunlight, head nodding every few seconds towards his chest. He was clearly, slowly losing the fight to stay awake, jolting back upright once before scrubbing at his eyes and yawning.

鈥淭ime to go inside,鈥 Quirin said, low and easy. Anything louder than a soothing tone and Varian would be up and going once more, determined to finish whatever task he鈥檇 fixated on and disappointed if he couldn鈥檛. 鈥淟et me help you, son.鈥

鈥淣o, I can鈥︹ Another yawn interrupted Varian鈥檚 protests. 鈥淚 can get up…one second鈥︹

鈥淚鈥檓 sure you can,鈥 Quirin murmured, amused, but Varian had already drifted off once more. The way his face softened reminded Quirin so much of younger years - of the gentle grip of a small hand around his finger, of a little boy falling asleep on stacks of books, of a young man who still sought out hugs and came bounding to show his dad everything.

And when he picked up his sleeping son to bring him inside, there was a quick moment of tension - remnants of a pain he hadn鈥檛 been there to shield Varian from, a time spent far too alone - before they both relaxed. 鈥淏ut I鈥檝e got you, now,鈥 Quirin finished. Ruddiger scampered up to his feet and tugged at his pant leg, chirping. 鈥淎re you coming or staying?鈥

The raccoon clawed his way up Quirin鈥檚 clothes as if he could understand what the man had said, curling neatly against the back of his neck. The basket of apples sat abandoned at the base of the tree, where he鈥檇 set it down.

It鈥檚 fine. He could come back and get it later. Some things were far more important.

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鈥淗ey, I-鈥 Eugene swung open Rapunzel鈥檚 door, arms heaped with blankets, before faltering. 鈥淥h. That didn鈥檛 take long.鈥

On the ground, surrounded by all the blankets and sheets from her bed, Rapunzel and Varian curled up together. She鈥檇 stretched out in the makeshift nest, mouth open and snoring lightly, while Varian tucked quietly into her arms, face peaceful. Her tall windows cast sunbeams over them both, the late light warm and inviting.

The nap had been Rapunzel鈥檚 idea - none of them had had much downtime lately, caught up in projects and demands and responsibilities, but they鈥檇 managed to clear this afternoon and (somehow) drag Varian up from his lab for a few hours. (A few hours was the plan, but if he happened to not wake them - well, who was paying much attention to the time, anyways). Eugene tugged another blanket free from his bounty, draping it gently over them before sitting on the ground beside them and flopping onto his back.

All the tension bled from his muscles and he exhaled softly. Yeah. Taking the time to relax every once in a while was important, he maintained, just as important as remembering to spend time with family. Two birds, one stone. He let his eyes drift shut, listened to the quiet breaths at his side, melted into the blankets under him.

Eugene only cracked one eye open at a small whimper. Varian shifted, breath stuttering, a frown wiping away the peaceful look. Aw, man. He knew the kid suffered from nightmares - enough nights finding him up and about, enough nights sticking his head in when he passed Varian鈥檚 room to check on him, just in case - but even now? The middle of the day? He couldn鈥檛 catch a break, huh.

Eugene rested his hand on Varian鈥檚 head, carding through the boy鈥檚 hair and humming. 鈥淵ou鈥檙e okay,鈥 he whispered. 鈥淲e鈥檝e got you.鈥

鈥…Eugene?鈥 He blinked blue eyes open, hazy and confused, one hand fumbling with the blanket that hadn鈥檛 been there before. 鈥淒id I fall asleep?鈥

鈥淵eah, but it鈥檚 naptime. I said so,鈥 Eugene joked, and this was apparently a satisfying enough answer, because Varian nodded and rolled over to squeeze himself under Eugene鈥檚 arm. 鈥淪hh. Just relax, okay?鈥

And as he held his little brother close, all three of them snuggled safely under blankets and content in the mid-afternoon sunshine, he figured it didn鈥檛 get much better than this.

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