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Secret Santa for abarero, 5 / ?

Okay, so I fail miserably at deadlines. And multiparts.

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

Parts I | II | III | IV

You know, I've heard people say that trials build character, that those who fight the hard battles come out on the other side stronger, wiser, more worthy of all life's little happinesses. Let's be honest here: if trials really build character, there ought to be far greater public approval for criminals. You see my point? (Says the thief who would be king. Or queen's consort, whatever they want to call me; I'm not picky.)

So here we are again, Max and me, just hanging out beside one crazy-wavy pub, waiting for its occupants to get themselves in gear, stumble outdoors, rock my life, and change my world.

We've been here for hours. Okay, minutes. Long minutes though, very long minutes.

I'm really starting to think that maybe I should have gone with the palace guards or the king himself after all. No doubt they would have been more punctual than these nightmares of mankind. One of the things that isn't often mentioned in the various tales of infamy is how a life of crime impacts all the teeny tiniest details of said life. Living outside of the law (okay, okay, on the fringes; the pub thugs are law abiding when it suits them) has made them less than respectful of time. It just sort of happens to you when you make your own rules and keep odd hours. I used to live like that. But you know what I did? I moved into a castle. New housing, complete change of perspective.

Also, I've got a deadline. Said deadline looms significantly closer than I had been expecting, too, and it is something approaching horrifying. After I threw myself upon their mercy, the lovely folks of the Snuggly Duckling spent the next three days arguing amongst themselves about how exactly this extravaganza (ugh, just the word is enough to make me shudder) that they've got planned for me is going to pan out. And maybe one day soon, they'll tell me how it'll all go down.

There are only two handfuls of days remaining before Rapunzel's birthday, and to my mind I've more than emphasized the importance of getting every done, set, in place, perfect by that date, so what could possibly be taking them so long?

“Guys? Hey, guys!

Huh, I didn't know I could roar so well. Damn, I am manly.

Oooh, and it's effective too. Here they come.

No good can come of the faces I see marching towards me. Less good will come from the bodies attached to those faces, especially the shortest one. Do I even want to know why Shorty's in a dress?

The giants file in around me, cutting off any chance of escape barring leaping atop Max and convincing him to vault them. Attila's brought apples, however, so that seems a fairly unlikely scenario.

Yep, Attila's got apples, Hookhand is carrying a stack of papers from which Big Nose pulls random sheets, scribbles enthusiastically, and then showcases them to his compatriots to soft oohs and ahs. Shorty's just in a dress and more than a little tipsy, as always.

I'm really, really second-guessing the wisdom of my choices. Repentance, remorse, regret, various other things that start with re-, those are all things that I try not to feel, yet here they are creeping up on me as I await to be acknowledged as the romantic lead in this little story.

I want some help with the thing, yes, but I'm not so sure I really want someone else planning the entire process! Not like I'm going to speak up—much—about it though. Would you want to be on their bad side? Didn't think so.

"I hope you've got some grand plans to help me propose successfully to Rapunzel on her birthday, which I would like to note is not quite so far away anymore."

"Do we ever!" Hookhand and Big Nose chorus, Big Nose staring lovingly and starry-eyed down at the paper mountain, Hookhand grinning like a maniac.

The guys are getting into this way more than I expected. Maybe that means it won't be so bad?

Shorty reels into the circle and staggers against my leg, giggling in his lovely purple gown. "You, my boy, will become a prize fighter of love! Winners only here!"

Scratch out any positive thoughts. This is going to be awful. I don't know why I came here. Here, out of all the places I could have gone! I could be ensconced in great fluffy armchairs before a roaring fire, getting drunk and strategizing with the king with my most pressing concern not to get too sexual when talking about his baby girl. I could be in the guardhouse getting drunk and downright bawdy with Conli and associates. Hell, I could be inside the Snuggly Duckling getting rip-roaring drunk right now and maybe that'd make things more bearable. All those could haves, yet here I am: expecting at any moment the horror of being stripped of my dignity and most of my clothing and then thrown into a ring into which they'll take turns pounding me.

"You know," I venture, eying the infinitesimal spaces between their bodies for cracks of escape, "maybe this is going to be a bit more involved and time consuming than you thought."

"Oh, we've definitely got our work cut out for us. Fortunately, Big Nose here has a master plan."

Hookhand is enjoying himself way too much, and there are no cracks. Why are there no cracks? They shouldn't fit together like a bricklayer and a stone mason got together and decided to have a contest to build the most solid wall of human flesh ever known.

"Ok, what about gifts? 'Cause that's my main concern. I think maybe we should go do some shopping. You know, in town, in smaller groups, maybe individually?"

I have a horse with me that can jump ridiculously high and ridiculously far. He's one step short of Pegasus, and he is eating their traitorous apples and wrinkling his nose at me in traitorous horse glee. Max and I will have words later.

"See, that's the thing," Attila's oddly metallic voice echoes earnestly from inside his ever-present helmet, "she's a princess now so she's used to having extravagant gifts bought for her. Something handmade with love would be better."


So this is what it means to grasp at straws. I think I may black out any second now. Just keel over into blessed unconscious and be spared this whole experience.

Big Nose's mouth purses with disapproval as he eyes me over the top of his so-called master plan. "Guess you never did any honest work, huh?"

Oh, no, he didn't.

"Oh, look who's talking!" I'm snarling so hard I think I may be spitting. It would serve them right to end up covered in my Saliva of Rage, acting all superior just because they're big bad mercenaries and I was a measly little thief. "Like you have!"

As one, the denizens of the Snuggly Duckling draw themselves to their full heights with fearful dignity. Oh, shit. I'm not going to back down on this, I'm not, even if melting down into a puddle of goo suddenly seems like an awesome idea and transforming into a groveling, wiggly, doe-eyed puppy an even better one.

"We! Have! Hobbies!"

The ensuing mass bellow blows my hair and clothing ever which way plus back, since I am unfortunately still standing in the middle of the huddle. Max trumpets a protest and promptly springs himself up and out, and just like that, I am left alone and at their mercy. Of which we all know they have none.

Hookhand shoves the papers in Vladimir's general direction, grabs the collar of my shirt, and hauls me off my feet to dangle eye-to-eye before him. The guy really looks rough close up. His eyes are not only bloodshot; they're bloodthirsty, too.

He snarls into my face, and I can smell the remnants of the chameleon stew he must have had for lunch three days ago. "You're going to construct the perfect romantic evening, and we are going to help you."

Unspoken goes the accompanying "whether you like it or not." No point in wasting words when the intent is perfectly clear, right?

I sigh and release my two-handed grip on his one massive wrist. "Fine, whatever. You can let me down now."

He does, slowly, and as I find solid ground safely beneath my feet again, I spare a few thoughts for the scolding I'll get later over the damage to my royal-supplied wardrobe. It's going to be a lot harder to keep my absences inconspicuous if I start showing up to the castle rough-upped regularly.

"I know it's probably considered counterproductive for you guys, but have you ever considered some anger management? Our association can't continue like this." I gesture at my rumpled clothing, the red lines across my neck, their perpetually scowling faces. "I think Rapunzel's going to notice."

"We're trying to help you, and you act like we don't have any transferable skills," Big Nose explains. "It's insulting."

Did I... just... hurt their feelings? Really? Really? I'm the one who's been kept waiting forever, surrounded, loomed over, insulted, yelled at, and manhandled, but I'm the bad guy here?

Winning's not going to be possible; that's fairly obvious. They're the ones with all the bulk and the weapons. Too many of them, not enough of me. I guess I might as well try to get this ordeal over with as quickly as possible, and hope I'll have the time left to pull something together on my own.

I sigh and shove the hair back from my forehead, unobtrusively checking for any throbbing veins. I can feel the pressure building. "Show me your plans."

And... that perks them all right back up! Yay. Not.

One thing I can say for the guy, Big Nose is definitely a thorough planner. He has it all laid out right here: staging, gifts, etiquette, romance. Nine rounds of "education" that will turn me into a worthy paramour and prepare me to ask that most important of questions. Nine rounds of metaphorical battle against myself and each of the men standing around me, with Big Nose basically directing the operation.

And Shorty? Oh, Shorty's going to pretend to be Rapunzel. Yep, that explains the dress.

Someone kill me now.

"We'll go one at a time for the most part." It sounds like Big Nose is talking to someone else far, far away. It's hard to hear him over the inland sea I've suddenly got in my ears. "We don't want to overwhelm you. You're looking pretty sick as it is."

I feel as green as Pascal on his calm days. Emptying my stomach on top of my shoes—or better yet, theirs, although I'm not confident in my ability to move that far right now—seems like a pretty reasonable idea. It's certainly as reasonable as the plans I see before me.

The first laugh catches me by surprise as it bubbles up out of my gut and blasts open the backs of my lips in order to escape from my mouth. The second one is more expected, as is the third when my legs fold beneath me and I sink to the ground.

This whole ridiculous experience is like the boxing match of loooooooove and around me are the suddenly anxiously hovering thugs who will make me a prize fighter (as Shorty so aptly put it) and teach me how to score a knockout. Said knockout is, of course, one Princess Rapunzel of Corona. Yowzah!

That is so bad and so corny that, even in the midst of hysteria, I am ashamed to admit I thought it. So you just pretend that the last twenty seconds didn't happen.

And now you've forgotten, and it never happened. Get it, got it, good.

And so begins my great time of trial.