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Secret Santa for abarero, 4 / ?

Title: The Snuggly Duckling Finishing School of Romance
Written For: abarero
Fandom: Disney: Tangled
Request Written: Rapunzel/Eugene. Post-movie. Eugene wants to get an extra special gift for Rapunzel, but isn't sure what. Cue hijinks and the Snuggly Duckling Thugs helping out. (gift can be for their land's form of Christmas or her Birthday)
Rating: PG for language and mild sexual references
A.N.: I've been battling work and a cold, but I hope to finish this before the wedding short hits theaters.

You still with me here?

Okay, now that you've got yourself envisioning success, it's important to keep in mind that giving yourself time to feel fear is really a no-go. Seriously, if you let yourself dwell on the potential stupidity of what you're about to be doing, you're not going to do it. You're not that brave; I'm not that brave; no one is that brave.

There is something to be said for logical action and the serious weighing of pros and cons and stuff like that, yeah, but there's also really something to be said for sheer manly gumption and getting it done. Ever hear of a self-fulfilling prophecy? Basically, you make your thoughts real. Think too much about all the many different and dramatic ways that things can go wrong, and you'll screw up your mind and actually make them go wrong.

That's why I'm not dwelling on my many previous failures, oh no, absolutely not. I'm certainly not going to consider how little I know (and I'd really like it to stay that way, thanks) of the pub thugs' love lives. Instead, I am thinking of Rapunzel in her wedding gown, whatever that wedding gown may look like. Consequently, I'm thinking of Rapunzel in hundreds of different wedding gowns; they change every few seconds. That's alright though. I'll be awesome, and she'll say yes, and that'll be the end of that.

All this and more chases itself through my head as Max smartly marches up to the Snuggly Duckling. He stops expectantly, and I... well, I don't exactly flip off his back and burst through the door right away.

It's such a cute sprawling little building, you know, all oddly distorted and wave-like, lurching up out of the roots of an ancient twisted tree in the middle of idyllic sun-dappled greenery, otherwise known as The Middle of Nowhere. It's quirky, whimsical, not in the least menacing, even without factoring in the name of the place.

You'd never guess what's inside, which I guess is the point.

Coming up on it, I always feel like a kid who's just been presented with a Jack in the Box. Ever have one of those? It was one of the most popular donations to the orphanage, and can you guess why? Because mommy and daddy's precious little darlings turned out to be terrified of the damn things, and with more than ample justification. Most vicious toy on the planet: all cute little decorated box and cute little music that plays when you turn the cute little crank, all right up until the point it explodes in your cute little face. (We won't even mention the clowns and similar horrors that tended to lurk within.)

And if Max were a human, that would have been a very pointed clearing of the throat just now. I know this because he follows it by slamming his rear end on the ground, and I go tumbling out of the saddle down his haunches. Not really one for subtlety, is Max.

"Alright, alright, I'm going. You act like it was my idea to be here or something."

Okay. The Snuggly Duckling is not a Jack in the Box. Its friendly neighborhood thugs are not clowns, not even Ulf. Actually, Ulf would probably take offense to being called a clown. And I'm not a cute little kid anymore. I am a man! A man of valor and heroic deeds, a man who has won his fair maiden and now needs only to claim her!

...I am a dork.

Whatever. This will not explode in my face. I will not let it. I am going to marry Rapunzel, and I am going to ask her to marry me. Um, reverse the order there and you'll have something approximating my grand plan.

As an aside—because there just haven't been enough already—did you know that Maximus can smell fear? He totally can.

He takes a big whiff of me as walk by and lets out a snort of horsey laughter.

I elbow him in his big, honking, stupid horsey nose.

He trips me up with a crafty hoof around my ankle.

"What the heck? Your feet are the size of dinner plates! That's cheating!"

Max looks smug so I launch a kick at his knee.

Max decides to play Stomp-a-Eugene. It's a lot like Whack-a-Mole, if you've ever heard of that, but with certain necessary modifications.

I roll bravely into the fray, screaming like a man at the slaughter.

You get the idea.

Dust rises and stays risen for several long minutes while I remain locked in hand-to-hoof combat with a trained warhorse. And then, just like that, it's over.

Hey, we're buds, just two guys bonding the way guys do, even if one of them happens to be a horse. It should also here be noted that the Snuggly Duckling patrons are absolutely unconcerned about sounds of slaughter right outside their door. I guess it comes with the territory.

Enough with the horsing around though—aren't I just the wittiest man ever? It's time to get down to business. I stand up, dust a few horseshoe prints off my clothes, and Max swings his head in a clear directive: "there's the door; open it."

So I do.

Just once before I die I'd like to burst into the Snuggly Duckling dramatically and startle them all. (And that would probably be the point at which I died.) I'm probably never ever going to do it, however, because that would be an amount of foolishness on par with suicide with that whole "skewer first, ask questions later" mindset they've all got. It’s just… the thought is really, really tempting.

I inhale as shallowly as possible the delightful brown-scented air as I step into the pub. (Someone really should take an occasional bath.) Ah, yes, the comforting, familiar smells of sweat and decay, caressing the insides of my nasal passage—how I hadn't missed them. Ah, men, manly men. Great, hulking, armed-to-the-teeth brutes of men with their really bad man-smell.

And the best and only guy friends I've got, at least the kind that go around on two legs... most of the time...

I sweep a glance across the dim, smoky interior. The standard cauldron of chameleon parts is boiling away merrily, stirred by the loveliest and most gracious of hosts. Really, I'm kind of surprised that they still cook the little buggers, seeing how popular Pascal is across the kingdom. (And how could anything that grumpy taste good anyway?) Since Rapunzel's return, it's become quite en vogue to have the little critters as pets. Of course, the Snuggly Duckling gang does give a completely new meaning to lizard du jour; I doubt they've ever stuck to the standard ways of following a trend. It's really just as well that I made Pascal my point-critter-slash-diversion back at the castle, seeing as how the thugs apparently still think chameleons are a delicacy, or at least a staple. Poor Pascal can never come here again, for his own sanity.

My guys are just hanging out, doing their thing, completely oblivious to me standing in the doorway in desperate need of assistance. It's maybe just a little bit insulting. I mean, there's being engrossed in your activities, and then there's ignoring me. Two very different things there.

Hookhand is busy tormenting that poor, chained minstrel, waving around sheet music with all the enthusiasm of a broadsword in open field combat. Ulf and Attila hunch in absolute absorption over a game board loaded with tiny, armed figures. Vladimir sits cross-legged in the floor with a significant portion of his unicorn collection scattered around him as he polishes the figures piece by piece (and they'll definitely need some polishing after being on that floor). Yep, same lovely atmosphere as always. There's Gunter's little shrine to questionable taste—I mean cozy domesticity!—with Killer, Tor, and Bruiser arguing away with him over some aspect of the decor. Big Nose plucks flowers dreamily at the bar. Shorty is, of course, deep into his cups, leading most of the rest of the pub's inhabitants in a drinking came that he's probably a shoe-in to win. Meanwhile, one pig, three goats, and five surely foolhardy chickens stroll about underfoot.

You know, looking at my options, I think Max definitely should be my best man. I also probably should invite him inside. He'd fit right in.

I cannot believe they're still ignoring me. How long does a guy have to stand here to get some attention?

"Hiya, fellas! Shouldn't you be pillaging somewhere?"

Just like that, I am the center of attention once again, and all is right with the world. And here we go with the looming, always the menacing looming. Yes, it's been awhile, a month or so maybe, since I was last out this way, but the whole imposing, put-upon show really needs to stop. And I hate my knees, because they still want to quiver, even after all this time and various instances of male bonding at Rapunzel's instigation. Fortunately, I am no mere mortal, being Flynn Rider in my previous life so I just flash my winning-est grin as Hookhand marches forth to greet me.

"Yes, me! I have missed you guys so much, you just don't even know how glad I am to see you now!"

Hookhand is joined in his disregard of my personal space by Big Nose, who makes a show of looking to either side of me before circling around behind me.

"You came alone?" Big Nose asks, apparently not one hundred percent sure that I haven't shrunk Rapunzel down and am hiding her in a pocket.

"Yes. Ineedyourhelp." It escapes all in a rush, before I can second-guess the wisdom of my decisions.

"With?" Hookhand's every bit as bad as Pascal. Geez! Does no one in the country realize I've gone on the straight and narrow? And if any of these guys dare to get hypocritical about my former lifestyle, I'll...

"I need a mercenary mind," I exclaim brightly, looking back and forth with overly wide and eager eyes, like a puppy plopped between two dangling steaks. "You guys were, of course, my very first thought!"

Hookhand and Big Nose exchange glances over my head, shrug, and turn away. "We don't do that so much anymore."

No, no, no, no, that isn't how this is supposed to go!

"I want Rapunzel to marry me!"

A blink. I've got the attention of the other guys now too, as in the blinking of an eye they abandon their individual tasks and reappear in a tight circle around me. I cringe a bit in spite of myself. Don't get me wrong—I love being the center of attention; it's one of my few but tragic character flaws—but the looming and the stench... which come to think of it may be due in large part to the neglected boiling chameleons.

"Those might be getting a teensy eensy bit overcooked," I point out helpfully, but Hookhand knocks my arm down and leans over very, very close to my face.

"You want Rapunzel—the princess—to marry you," he repeats slowly.

"Yes."

We stare intensely into one another's eyes, and he is about as readable as a water-logged, fish-chewed piece of parchment, and his breath smells a bit like one too.

I grin again, a painful stretching of the corners of my mouth up into my cheeks. "That's what I need your help with."

"So just ask her," Big Nose responds with a rolling shrug that spreads out across the other inhabitants of the room, and they all start drifting back to their own tasks.

Wait, wait, wait!

"But that's not really my style," I exclaim, clutching at Hookhand and Big Nose simultaneously. If I can get them on board, the other guys will follow.

With a drunken cackle, Shorty pops up between us, breaking my hold. I would like nothing better than to kick the little geezer as he waves a tankard at me and points out, "You don't have a style."

Oh, that does it. I draw myself up to my full, gallant height, unsubstantial as it is among this roomful of giants. "What do you mean? I was Flynn Rider, the most dashing and distinguished—and, let me point out, Most Wanted, which I don't think any of you can lay claim to—thief for hundreds of miles. I was the epitome of style. Just look at this face!" I ran one finger down the ridge of my perfect nose, such a thing of beauty that criminal profilers struggled to capture it.

And I am back in the center again, although those are some distinctly scornful admiring looks. Under the pressure of their combined gazes, I deflate.

"Besides," I mumble, "I can't just ask her. I've tried that and it didn't work."

I seem them exchanging concerned glances from beneath my downcast eyes. Attila pushes through and awkwardly claps me on the back with his giant oven mitt. I'm sure it's meant as a comforting gesture, but the execution could use some work, seeing as how I am now sprawled in floor at their feet. (My shoes are a lot nicer than any of theirs are though. Point score for me.)

I down here and dirty already, guess I might as well stay for awhile. With a sigh, I roll to my back and fling my arm over my eyes, sighing again more loudly. A very pointy and uncomfortable pair of toes nudges my ribs. Growling feels good. Moaning feels better though, more expressive and pathetic. Can't I just be left alone to my pity party in peace?

"What is it? Can't you see I'm a miserable failure?"

I try my best to glare at them all simultaneously, but it's hard. It's so much easier just to focus on looking at them one at a time, particularly given how much of the field of view just one of them tends to take up even when they're not spread out in every direction. Really, what did their mamas feed these guys? Elephant steaks?

"You ever been in love before?" That's Big Nose, gently, coming to kneel beside my shoulder.

"...Point," I acknowledge with another sigh. He better not be feeling superior over his successful acquisition of his ladylove. Mr. Hopeless Romantic may have been in puppy love plenty of times before and longing for it all the rest of the time, but how long did it take him to get lucky? Come on here. However, even I am of the mindset that you shouldn't insult someone when you're begging, so I keep those thoughts to myself.

"And you came to us?" Vladimir inquired with an almost academic curiosity.

"I don't know a lot of men to a—"

"You've come to the right place, my boy!" Shorty leaps in, literally. I glare at him where he's now perched on my stomach. "With our skills combined, you will be a suitor fit for the daughters of kings!"

I see heads nodding. Heads nodding is good, right? Agreement, advice, assistance to be forthcoming, yes?

"Err, I know a man should have goals and dreams and all, but I'd really be content with just the one, guys."

Looking at them, no matter how much I like the guys and how much I already owe them, I have to say that their assurances ring a little hollow. All in all it seems safer not to comment on what I know of their own appearances and general lack of personal hygiene and female attention, Big Nose notwithstanding. I do these guys a lot. If things go well, I'll end up owing them more, and at the moment, I'm a beggar. As we all know, beggars can't be choosers, at least not super duper discriminating choosers.

"You said you tried before and it didn't work. What'd you do?" Hookhand asks bluntly, apparently as eager to get the process started as I am—or at least eager to mock me at my own expense as soon as possible.

The others inch closer, tightening the circle. Oh no. They want story time. Oh, no, no, no, why me? Really though, what choice do I have? So as I did with Pascal earlier in the day, I now do with the Snuggly Duckling gang. I tell them everything, running through the litany of my many failures.

Once they're finally done laughing—and it takes them quite a bit longer than it took Pascal, the sons of hyenas—they haul me to my feet. Attila gets out some parchment for note taking, and Big Nose rubs his hands together briskly as they swarm and start in on an assessment of my current abilities.

"Clothing's fine. Posture?"

"Stand up straight. Straight!"

"He's got good bones, decent musculature. How are his teeth?"

So help me, I will bite off fingers.

"Could use a breath mint, I see"—What? Look who's talking!—"and a sweeter disposition."

"How many fingers am I holding up? Okay, now balance on your right foot and touch the tip of index finger to your nose. Left hand! Left hand, right foot!"

"Looks like coordination is better than intelligence."

Oh, grrrrr. Just... grrrrrrr...

"Alright, what wooing skills do you have? Show me your suave."

Aha! I've got this one! One sexy beyond belief smolder, coming right up!

"Good heavens, man, I said your suave! What do you call that monstrosity?"

"...the smolder?"

At their looks of disbelief and what I can really only call horror and disgust, Rapunzel's distinct lack of impression when we first met comes to mind.

I'm an idiot.

With a snap of his fingers, Big Nose sends my tormentors away from me. He marches back and forth in a tight half-circle around me, hand to his chin in deep thought, as Hookhand and Shorty consult Attila's notes. The four of them go into a huddle, waving Vladimir over to join them after a few seconds.

What are they saying? I can't make it out, too low and growly, but they're so intense, and they're waving fists around and throwing elbows out and stomping feet. Is this about to devolve into a brawl? Over my matrimonial suitability? How is this my life?

"Well?" I demand, feeling panic setting in like a tidal wave chipping away at the delicate sandy beaches of my confidence and self-control. "Are you going to help me?"

Big Nose looks up, a slow, thoroughly terrifying smile dawning on his face. He thrusts one fist into the air and roars, "Help you? Princess Rapunzel won't be able to resist you. We are going to create an extravaganza!"

"An extravaganza!" The other men quickly take up the call.

Help.