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fic: (tangled)

title: dark come soon (I’m almost there)
fandom: tangled
characters: Rapunzel, Mother Gothel
rating: K
words: 1,533
warnings: very vague child abuse (neglect, slight verbal; not explicit)
summary: Rapunzel grew up in relative isolation, with a woman who brushed off every question at every turn. That didn’t really stop her from asking them.
notes: Written for femgenficathon 2011 using prompt 104: Maybe I wanted to hear it so badly that my ears betrayed my mind in order to secure my heart. -- Margaret Cho (born December 5, 1968), Korean-American comedian, fashion designer, actress, author, recording artist and activist for LGBT rights.
Title from "Dark Come Soon," by Tegan & Sara.




Well. If it hadn’t been one thing: it would have been another.


Even though Mother doesn’t encourage critical thinking, Rapunzel isn’t stupid. She knows she’s being groomed. Most of the time it feels like love, or something like it.

*
The older Rapunzel gets, the less Mother remains in the tower. It makes sense: her room is small, the world is wide and dangerous, and Mother knows her way around and through the paths of darkness. Rapunzel has no doubts regarding her mother’s fierceness, drive, and will. Besides: hanging baskets aside, Rapunzel’s suspended garden doesn’t flourish enough to feed the two of them. She still can’t figure out how to grow parsnips, and the tower is too far above the trees to gather whatever they grow.

*
Mother teaches Rapunzel how to read, mostly so she can leave her notes—Don’t forget to brush your hair! You don’t want rats to make a nest in it, my flower, because they’d eat up your silly little ears—but eventually she starts bringing books to the tower. Never very many, and never very exciting ones, but Rapunzel loves them anyway. She rations the time she spends staring at the pages, traces the letters with her fingertips; she carefully sounds out the words she doesn’t know: Bromeliad. Longitudinous. Suture.

A lot of the books are about plants and forests and creeping things, as if to illustrate how lovely, dark, and deep the world beyond the tower is; after a while, Rapunzel starts to draw sprawling vines on the lowest walls of her room, twining dusky streaks of pigment around the legs of her bed and mirror.

After Rapunzel has copied all of the pictures and is getting started on the topographical maps, the books disappear overnight. Mother says something about appreciating the things you have, and something else about cleaning up after yourself, which Rapunzel takes to mean that she didn’t shelve them properly after each use.

She’s not sure, but it does get awfully dusty in her room, and she’s still too small to really wield a broom with any effectiveness; maybe that’s why she can’t keep nice things.

*
Mother does bring her more books, after a time; but they are full of stories about girls who get eaten by wolves, and about ladies who stay at home and live happily ever after. In sort: they’re kind of boring, and the adventures, coupled with Mother’s shadow puppets, give her nightmares.

But she doesn’t have much else to do, and so she reads the stories a seventh, a thousandth, and millionth time: she thinks about what the characters do, and what she would do instead.

(In the worst story, a girl talks to the wolf and promptly forgets about him, and then he eats her and her grandmother up. Rapunzel thinks she would have kept him talking, asking question after question until the wolf got annoyed and stalked off, or until someone else came down the forest path. It’s a path, after all: the little girl couldn’t have been the only one to use it.)

*
She’s almost seven, and her hair has grown so long that she can wrap it all the way around herself (like Mother’s cloak, but brighter, or like the girl in that story, but not red) and still have enough left to trail behind her; sometimes, she uses the very ends of her hair as a paintbrush. When mother catches her at it—sometimes Rapunzel’s arms get tired before she reaches the end of her hair, and she doesn’t brush out all of the pigment—she sighs, deeply. Rapunzel feels an instant coil of shame deep in her belly, and hangs her head so that her hair falls across her face. At the same time, she can feel tension in the nape of her neck from where Mother is still holding onto her hair.

“Rapunzel,” Mother says, and the reproach is tangible (another word from another book; Rapunzel thinks it’s pronounced with a short a and a soft g, like the word tangled). “I know your hair isn’t as pretty as mine—teasing, pet—but there’s no need for you to color it.”

“I was painting,” Rapunzel says reluctantly. She probes an empty space in her jaw with her tongue; she lost another tooth last week.

“Don’t mumble, Rapunzel. It’s particularly unattractive.”

“I was painting,” she tries again. “My fingers didn’t make the lines right.”

Mother pulls Rapunzel’s hair away from her face. Rapunzel is, as always, struck by how pale and sharp her mother’s features are, compared to Rapunzel’s own round pink ones. “Rapunzel,” she croons, “ask and Mother will provide for you.”

Rapunzel feels even worse for her transgression: of course Mother would have given her a paintbrush, if Rapunzel had only thought to ask for it.

She actually doesn’t give her a paintbrush, after all that, and finally Rapunzel uses her sewing scissors to snip off a bit of the short, dull, brown hair at the nape of her neck. It works perfectly once she fastens it to a spoon handle.

*
Mother does not bring her any books about stars (it doesn't occur to Rapunzel that this is because not very many books like that exist, and the ones that do are locked up in places that Mother doesn't dare tread). But Rapunzel has a good mind and a skylight, and she starts leaving the windows open at night. Pascal stays up with her, sits on her shoulder and licks mosquitoes out of the night air with his long, sticky tongue. Rapunzel watches the way the world turns around her; when she's fifteen, she starts drawing the patterns on the walls.

She'll never say this to anyone, unless perhaps she can find the words to tell Eugene, but the reason Rapunzel never thought about leaving her tower was that she spent so much more time thinking of things getting in. Once a bird had tried to nest in the rafters and Mother had gone after it with a basket; they'd had sparrow soup for dinner, and Rapunzel had wept into the broth.

Later, Mother had given her a necklace made from the eggs--she'd pricked them with pins and blown out the yolks, and the shells twirled on a cord she'd braided from stray hair caught in Rapunzel's hairbrush. Mother had pressed the egg-beads into Rapunzel's hands so fiercely that one shell cracked. (The interior fragments were still tacky with remnants of yolk.)

“Hold tight, my flower!” Mother had laughed, ignoring the look on Rapunzel’s face. “Don’t let Mother’s present fly away!”

She kept the eggs wrapped up in scraps from her baby clothes, tucked in the bottom of her empty jewelry box. Eventually, after Mother stopped laughing over the bird’s stupidity, Rapunzel buried the eggs in one of her potted plants.

*
Rapunzel lives within a fixed point, and does not move; the sky whirls around her. At night she can see the stars; she traces their movement. (Sometimes she creeps out the skylight and perches anxiously on the sloped roof of the tower, her hair tied tightly around the spire and twisted through the crossbeams. She can see for miles and miles and miles.)

The moon spins around, winking in and out of sight, and Rapunzel wonders if it is hiding from something. She makes a chart of the moon’s disappearances; when she’s almost seventeen, she notices that its absence in the sky corresponds to her own monthly bleeding (which Mother assures her is normal, although she doesn’t seem happy about it. Well, Rapunzel isn’t too thrilled either).

The moon-month chart makes her think harder about the rest of the night sky. She goes back to the star patterns she drew at fifteen, and draws them again; then she stares at them, and watches the sky, and sees the pattern: they move as well, with the seasons.

The lights on her birthday do not fit in with any of the patterns she discovers; even the odd, intermittent streaks of light across the sky (“Falling stars, Rapunzel, honestly, you’re such a bumpkin—you know I love you, darling!”) are a different kind of light, a different type of movement. The birthday lights lack any pattern whatsoever; they are dimmer in rain, they move faster in wind, the number is not constant. Sometimes they flicker, like a candle placed in a draft.

Mother took away Rapunzel’s last notebook and hasn’t said anything about either giving it back or replacing it, so Rapunzel writes her observations on the wall, underneath her sky charts and behind a curtain. The curved stone holds the sky surprisingly well, and Rapunzel wonders if the heavens have a shape. If the world has a shape, if it’s the world moving or the sky itself.

The questions burn more at seventeen than they did at seven, and Rapunzel feels an itch start inside her, one that makes her long to run to the window ledge and topple over the side of it, to get out. Maybe if she runs away just once, she can come back as if nothing has ever happened. At the very least, she knows what not to do if she meets a wolf.

Rapunzel starts counting down the days until her eighteenth birthday, to the floating lights, and thinks: this is it.

Comments

Oh wow, this is lovely. You have Mother Gothel's voice down scarily well, by the way. *shudders*
Thank you!
Mother Gothel is terrifying on so many levels.
This is amazing. Amazing. I love the slow burn of it, as the questions rise inside of her, and you have the voices down so perfectly. Seriously one of my favorite fics ever. <3
Wow, thank you so much! I'm so glad you liked it!

I was surprised by how much I loved the source, and how resilient and keen Rapunzel was, despite living in an environment that was so restrictive and stunted. (I have this headcanon where Rapunzel is basically Penelope from Brothers Bloom.)

Also, mutual appreciation moment: I read your BBT fic where it's AU and everyone is in the circus and I loved it, the way I love things that make my hands shake and my heart break. But I didn't comment because I actually can't abide the show and I feel weird for loving the fandom. Still: I love your writing, and it means a lot that you commented on this! I'm honored!
(In the worst story, a girl talks to the wolf and promptly forgets about him, and then he eats her and her grandmother up. Rapunzel thinks she would have kept him talking, asking question after question until the wolf got annoyed and stalked off, or until someone else came down the forest path. It’s a path, after all: the little girl couldn’t have been the only one to use it.)

This whole fic is absolutely beautiful. You wrote their voices and Rapunzel's thoughts perfectly. The simplicity of the actions (Rapunzel had wept into the broth) is gorgeous.
Thank you so much! I'm so glad you liked it. The movie super-glossed a ton of Rapunzel's backstory, but the insinuation of how her whole childhood was twisted up with love and fear hit me so hard that I knew I wanted to write about it for femgenficathon.
This was so lovely and well written. These are the kind of fics I live for - the rare, small fandoms that are done so well.
Thank you! I'm so glad you liked it, and I really appreciate your kind comment.

"the sky whirls around her"

This is lovely! I enjoyed reading it, and it makes me feel like seeing the movie again. The tone here seems to capture Rapunzel's canonical character excellently.

One of the things that you lightly touch on here, I feel, at just the same not-quite-talking-about-it level as the source material, is that Rapunzel does love Mother Gothel, and has believed that Mother Gothel loves her. Her natural exuberance overcomes a lot, but that fundamental conditioning on the nature of love will follow her always, putting her reactions out of step with other people's from time to time.

(The songs in Tangled were not quite up the classic level I'd hoped, but everything else about it delighted me on the big screen; snazzy new computer graphics aside, it seemed to come right from the richness of the "silver age" heyday of fairy tale movie storytelling circa Beauty and the Beast.)

These are some of my favorite lines in this piece:
  • Mother teaches Rapunzel how to read, mostly so she can leave her notes
  • Rapunzel lives within a fixed point, and does not move; the sky whirls around her.
  • The questions burn more at seventeen than they did at seven
  • At the very least, she knows what not to do if she meets a wolf.


Thank you very much for sharing!

Re: "the sky whirls around her"

Thanks so much for your comment! I'm glad you liked it (and I totally agree about the songs, although I kind of appreciate that they aren't so memorable! I hate getting Disney songs stuck in my head).

The main thing about Rapunzel is that she wants to see goodness, which is interesting for a character raised by a villain. It calls to mind the character of Penelope from the Brothers Bloom, who says the following (forgive me, long quote is long):

"The trick to not feeling cheated is to learn how to cheat. So, I decided this [...] was a story about a girl who could find infinite beauty in anything, any little thing. And even love the person she was trapped with. And I told myself this story until it became true.

Now, did doing this help me escape a wasted life, or did it blind me so I wouldn't want to escape it? I don't know. But either way, I was the one telling my own story, so... No, I don't feel cheated at all."
This is an excellent story. The characterisation is perfect, like others have pointed out, and the writing is simply beautiful. A worthy successor to the film. I'll recommend this to my friends.

Spelling nitpick: I'm sure the chameleon's name is spelled "Pascal".
Thanks very much! I'm so glad you liked it, and thanks for catching my spelling error--I totally missed that.
Here by way of rose_griffes. This is actually the first Tangled fic I've read, but it was a wonderful way to start. Your writing style is beautiful and this fic is a little bit heartbreaking, but still filled with the love and life that Rapunzel is filled with. Thank you so much for sharing it.
Thanks! I'm glad you liked it.
Very nice, a lovely read. I particularly enjoyed the way you captured Mother's voice in her appearances. :)
Thank you! Glad you liked it.
That was great. You pulled me right back into the Tangled world so well I could see the moon out of Rapunzel's skylight.

And was a skillful job capturing Mother Gothel's brand of cruel comments made with a smile. "My flower." That's her to the inch and I can see her sharp features before me as I type this.

I'm so glad I read this! And that you shared it with us. :-)









I'm so glad you liked it!