Author: Masquerading as Quality PM
Sixteen years ago, a wicked fairy condemned the Princess Aurora to die. A few days ago, defeated by Prince Philip and the Good Fairies, the wicked fairy Maleficent was confined to the dungeons of King Stefan's castle to await her own death sentence.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Angst - Aurora/Briar Rose & Maleficent - Chapters: 17 - Words: 116,313 - Reviews: 141 - Favs: 72 - Follows: 73 - Updated: 03-25-13 - Published: 06-29-12 - id: 8269174
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: Reworked! Not too, too much different in this chapter, just some little things about Rose and Maleficent's interactions. Your readership and feedback are, as always, much appreciated!
Chapter 4 – The Unknown
Queen Leah was devastated.
She knew very well why she felt so hopeless. For a few short weeks, she had dared to believe that everything would be all right, that everything had finally worked out, and that the whole affair was over.
She should have known better than to dream. She had been warned all her life not to deal with magical creatures. They weren't human—they did not play by the same rules that humans did. They did not show mercy as humans did. They did not forget, and, unlike most humans, they had the means to exact terrible revenge when their demands were not met.
And yet, at the time, it had been the only option.
Stefan was a kind man. Too kind. In another lifetime, Leah would have broken his heart. But in this life, where she had backed herself into so many corners and tried so hard to claw her way out, Stefan had taken her in as his wife. She was eternally in his debt, for she knew what would have awaited her had she remained in her own kingdom. She would have died alone, a disgrace to her family. No man would have taken her for any noble reason, even despite her legendary beauty. She had made too many mistakes. She would not have been given another chance.
The marriage should have been a favour to both of them. Leah could start anew with almost no chance of her shameful secret getting out, and Stefan could marry a woman of noble blood who was close to his own age and who could still bear children.
Good, gentle Stefan blamed himself. She saw the look in his eyes, the way they slowly lost their shine, the way his posture gradually sagged and slumped. One night, shortly after the two year anniversary of their marriage, as they lay together in the dark, Leah heard Stefan begin to speak softly. "I am so sorry, my Leah," he said. "I have failed you as a husband. I have failed as a man. You are so healthy and so beautiful...and I am defective. I cannot give you a child. I cannot give our kingdom an heir to the throne."
Leah began to weep and clasped a hand over her mouth, trying desperately to remain silent. His words caused her heart to ache, for she knew that it could not be his fault. She was certain that he could give any other woman a child with no trouble. The worst of it was that if he were any other man, he would have already done so. There were a fair amount of good-looking common girls working in the castle. She had even seen a pretty blonde tending the gardens the other day. Stefan's good friend King Hubert of the North would certainly not have waited for two years to call upon that blonde for assistance in this matter.
Stefan needed an heir. There were so few young people in the Kingdom of the East as it was. Stefan was, himself, relatively young, but it wouldn't do to have a child much later than now. Aside from that, what if something happened to Stefan? Leah was not fit to rule at all. One of Stefan's advisors would take over, or another kingdom would take over, or…heaven knew what would happen.
Leah felt Stefan's fingers stroking her hair, just the little bit at the temple, and her quiet weeping turned into wracking sobs that she could not contain. She curled up into a ball and all but threw herself at Stefan, who let out a small noise of surprise and obligingly wrapped his arms around her. "Shhh," he whispered into her hair. "You mustn't cry, my wife. I didn't mean to upset you. It is my shortcoming, not yours."
Leah wrapped her arms around Stefan's bare chest and squeezed him tightly, unable to control her sobs enough to speak the words she knew she must.
When she was introduced to Stefan a little over two years before, she had been ever so slightly repulsed by him. He wasn't particularly attractive—he had a plain face which he attempted to disguise with a lot of facial hair. Their wedding night had been awkward at best, and she had for some time avoided having marital relations with him when possible.
It wasn't as though Stefan ever forced himself upon her. He mostly just awkwardly made it clear that he was interested if she was, and more often than not she felt it would be rude to decline. What Stefan lacked in looks, he made up in goodness, honour, and kindness. Stefan was a man of strong morals. He believed strongly in the power of truth. He believed that good would always triumph over evil. Stefan was unfailingly gentlemanly and kind to Leah, and Leah seldom saw a reason to turn him away simply because she did not want him.
She had wanted all of those men in her kingdom and what had that gotten her?
One day, while they were speaking, Leah began to examine his eyes. They were nice—perhaps the most attractive thing about him. They were bright blue and they reflected all of the things he believed in. They were kind and strong and good. Leah did not remember what he had been talking about. She did not remember the specific day, what he had been wearing, or what the weather was like outside. But after that day, Leah had begun to love Stefan, and some time after she began to love him, she began to feel some desire for him. It was nothing like what she had felt before. It did not consume her thoughts or set her body on fire. It was borne of a great trust and respect for him that she desired closeness with him. And she decided that this feeling was in many ways more valuable than the other.
Now their nakedness did not feel awkward or disgusting to her anymore. She felt close to him, as close as she could be, given her long list of lies.
"Do you know Madeleine?" she asked, attempting to sound casual.
She felt Stefan's head shift to look down at her, "The little blonde maid? That Madeleine?"
"Yes, her," Leah swallowed.
Because you need an heir and I cannot give you one. Because it isn't your fault. Because I am not who you think I am. Because you are so good. You are too good for me.
"She's a quiet, lonely girl," whispered Leah. "No one would ever know."
Stefan pulled Leah up to face him, "Leah," he said, surprised. "How could you ever think I would betray you in such a way?"
Tears began streaming anew over Leah's nose and down her left cheek. She shifted so that she could put her hands on either side of Stefan's face, and she told him something she had never dared to tell him before. "Oh, Stefan, I love you so, so very much."
The next day, Leah had awoken feeling even more miserable than before. She had moped about the castle all morning long, unable to consider what Stefan had obviously accepted—they they would not have an heir to the throne.
Around noon, though, word had arrived that a band of criminals who had been terrorizing Hubert's kingdom had finally been captured, and that they were claiming that Mistress Maleficent, the wicked fairy who resided in the Forbidden Mountains about a day's ride away, had influenced their misdeeds. Maleficent had been summoned to the Kingdom of the North for questioning and had denied any involvement.
What the report had probably neglected to mention was that, upon being summoned, Maleficent had most likely piddled about her home doing whatever it was she did for a few minutes, dusted off her hands, snapped her fingers and appeared right in Hubert's sitting room accompanied by a puff of green smoke. She had probably brandished her staff while asking what the allegations against her could possibly be and waved her hand dismissively over it, conjuring the faintest aura of magic as she denied any involvement in such matters. She also probably politely expressed her shock at being accused of such a thing.
Leah knew this without ever having laid eyes on Maleficent, for Stefan had told her that this was the way every meeting with the wicked fairy went. She was exceedingly terrifying and also exceedingly polite, which only added to the general feeling of unease she engendered. Maleficent was very powerful and very smart. All the good fairies in the land couldn't defeat her, and everyone knew it. Maleficent made it very clear that she could do anything if she wanted to.
The most terrifying thing about her, though, was that she did not seem to want to do anything.
Few people had ever truly laid eyes upon her. If she did not keep to herself in the Forbidden Mountain, then she did a very good job of hiding. There were rumours that she was a shapeshifter and could assume any form, but this had not been expressly proven at the time (and indeed would not be confirmed until about seventeen years later). There were endless rumours that she was the cause of all the evil in the land, but even when a special committee of officers accompanied by a small army called on her simply to monitor her activity, she was invariably reported to be at home and engaging in some innocuous activity such as reading a book.
And this was why she haunted the nightmares of every person in the land. She was so powerful that she did not need to prove her power. She simply put on an act of spooking people, let the rumours fly, and then went about her merry way. Beware the sleeping dragon, as the saying went.
One of the rumours was that Maleficent could do anything with her magic. And on this particular day, Leah began to wonder if Maleficent's services could be bought.
What followed was a story anyone could guess. When the witch gives you instructions, you follow them to the letter, or else you end up with a tragedy on your hands.
But it wasn't all that simple. How does one explain to one's husband, oh, darling, we simply must invite the scourge of the three kingdoms?
Why did Maleficent even want to be invited to the child's christening? Was she really that lonely? She must have intended to curse the child from the start, invitation or no. At least, that was what Leah had tried to convince herself for about seventeen years.
Leah had tried. She and Stefan had been called in to approve every single person on the guest list, which was the entire kingdom, most of Hubert's, and the important people from Gavin's kingdom in the West, from whence Leah hailed. And after the man writing the list had read every last name, Leah had asked quietly, "What about Mistress Maleficent?"
The man's jaw had dropped. Stefan's would have, too, were he not so well-versed in etiquette. "Leah, why would you say such a thing?"
"I…" she tried to think of something reasonable to say "I only think…well, we've invited everyone in the kingdom, and everyone from Hubert's kingdom, and even some people from Gavin's kingdom. And…and you cannot deny that Maleficent is a very…powerful person. It would be quite a slight simply not to invite her."
"We most certainly can deny that Maleficent has any power at all. The only reason she holds any power is because we allow her to. As far as I can tell, she has never done anything to demonstrate that power."
"But—but wouldn't not inviting her to such an important event only serve to make her angry? She might do something terrible."
Stefan shook his head firmly, "Leah, as I have just said, my opinion is that she does not actually have the capability to do anything truly terrible. I will not allow that fiend near our child. I will not allow her to ruin our happy day."
Leah even went so far as to ask that Stefan consult the three good fairies who advised him, Mistresses Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. Surely they would have some insight into the true nature of Maleficent's power—that is to say, they would validate her fears. But the fairies agreed with Stefan. Maleficent should not be allowed near the child. They understood—or thought they understood—how precious baby Aurora was to Stefan and Leah. As far as they knew, Aurora was a miracle from God, not from the Devil, herself.
But Leah had trusted the judgement of the three good fairies. They were centuries old and had never steered Stefan wrong before. Leah would have trusted them with her life. She did trust them with the life of her daughter. If they said that taking Aurora and hiding her in the forest was the only way to keep her safe from Maleficent, then it was the only way.
Everything seemed to have gone according to plan. Aurora had come down the stairs on Philip's arm just as planned. Every eye in the room had turned to her to witness her ethereal beauty for the first time. Leah had loved her just as though she had known her for sixteen years. Aurora did not seem like a perfect stranger to Leah. Leah felt her presence, as though Aurora brought back with her a piece of Leah which had been missing all those years. And she had thought perhaps Aurora understood it, too, for Aurora had embraced her as though she knew.
Over the next few days, though, everything had begun to come apart.
Aurora was quiet. Soft-spoken. She was polite, certainly, and kind, but she did not always seem to know what was going on around her. She sometimes did not understand what was said to her, or drifted away from the material world mid-sentence.
People began to whisper and Leah became concerned. But the good fairies assured her that Aurora was only recovering from a bout with very powerful dark magic. She needed her rest. She could not have too many visitors. She must recover. And as she always did, Leah took them at their word.
As the days went by, Leah noticed that when Aurora was paying attention, which was not very often, she had a sort of pained expression. She looked uncomfortable, unhappy. Leah wanted to reach out to her. She wanted to know what her daughter's life had been like. She wanted to know what the past few days had been like for her. But when Leah expressed these wishes to Stefan, he replied, "I know, my love, and I do, too. But the Good Fairies insist that Aurora cannot have too many visitors. Leave her to Philip for awhile longer. He's a fine boy. I'm certain that he has talked to her about her life and her time here."
Leah was not certain at all. Philip was Hubert's son, and Hubert…Hubert was not as good of a man as Stefan was, to say the least, especially where women were concerned. But Hubert was Stefan's best and only friend. Stefan would hear no ill of him.
Leah wished she had spoken ill of Hubert. What did it matter now? Aurora was gone. And this time, she was not safe in the care of the good fairies. She had been taken captive by Maleficent. As Leah understood it, Maleficent had, bound and chained and with limited magic, manipulated Aurora into freeing her. And then she had disappeared, taking Leah's daughter with her.
What good was anything now? What were the last sixteen years of anguish? Had Aurora really been safe at all? Was Aurora doomed to a life of secrecy, of constantly being chased and imprisoned? Did Aurora even know? Did she understand why all of this was happening? Had Maleficent told Aurora Leah's shameful secret? Did Aurora believe her?
Or had Maleficent already killed Aurora as she had planned to do all along?
Not knowing was agonizing.
If Briar Rose had hoped she might have made some sort of a breakthrough where Maleficent was concerned, she would have been sorely mistaken.
On the contrary, she seemed to have taken a step back. Rose didn't think Maleficent could be any more stiff or formal, but on the morning after what Rose had believed to be a beautiful moment of connection and understanding, Maleficent had somehow managed it. She barely spoke at all, and though she did not go so far as to address Rose as Princess Aurora, she settled upon calling her Your Highness if she called her anything at all.
The next day and on all of the days following, she began leaving before Rose awoke and returning after nightfall, obviously hoping to find Rose asleep. Once she caught on, Rose did not know what to make of this. Was Maleficent truly avoiding her? At worst, Rose had expected to be thrown out into the wild unknown for her actions. At best, she'd dared to hope for grudging tolerance. This was baffling.
Loneliness quickly consumed her. After Maleficent's words regarding the questionable safety of the outside world, Rose hesitated to disobey, and she was absolutely certain she'd never find her way back to the cave where the baby dragon lived. Rose began to wait up for Maleficent. To pass the time, she selected the least threatening book she could find and spent her evenings stumbling over the unfamiliar words—many of which were gibberish magic spells she could never hope to understand.
Maleficent always entered through the kitchen door, which did not make the ear-splitting screech of the front door. Upon seeing Rose, she always said some variation of, "It's rather late. Don't you need your rest?" No comment on the book Rose was attempting to read, no information about her day, and her tone was cold. She did not want to talk.
It made Rose's heart ache, so much that she did not have the wherewithal to offer up any conversation in response. She simply nodded her agreement, clutched her book to her chest, and went upstairs to bed. Apparently there was no pleasing Rose. Would she truly prefer Maleficent's imminently dangerous and terrifying volatile to her innocuous absence?
Some time passed in this way. Since she had so much time to do so, Rose finally found a book she could actually read. She had overlooked it at first because the title was so long and because she didn't know one of the words in it: The Biography of Mistress Acacia of the Kingdom by the Sea, written by Mistress Kinsale of the Kingdom of Hill and Valley. Rose supposed that a biography must simply be a story of a person's life, or in this case, a wicked fairy's life, for that seemed to be the only purpose of this book.
Acacia was born to Mistress Cordelia, who, legend has it, was born from the sea when the world began. The author noted that that was unlikely, but that she could not find any records to disprove the legend. Mistress Cordelia wanted the people of the Kingdom by the Sea to believe in the legend, and so it was more likely than not that she had destroyed any evidence of her parents.
At any rate, Mistress Cordelia had lived for a very long time. She had scores of children scattered about the earth, most of whom died rather young. Acacia was her last child, for only a few years after she was born, a band of good fairies led by Mistress Sara enchanted all the beasts of the field and forest to rise up against Cordelia.
Cordelia was defeated, but at a great cost—the battle had killed almost all of the animals in the kingdom. The author noted that no one blamed the good fairies for this misfortune.
When Rose grew weary of reading the story, she read about the author, Mistress Kinsale. Mistress Kinsale was a wicked fairy, herself, who resided in the Land of Hill and Valley. Her mother was Mistress Dalia, and she had—these were the actual words—"no sisters, only four brothers." Rose found that bit to be very odd.
Rose had lost track of the days, but some time must have passed, for she actually began to enjoy reading. She was reading about how, after a few years had passed, "for humans are very forgetful in their transience," whatever that meant, the people of the Hill and Valley kingdoms had begun to blame Acacia for their barren lands. She did not quite understand this bit—Acacia was still living in her mother's home, but she had not taken the title and responsibilities of Mistress of Evil…something…Rose had so many questions she would like to ask Maleficent.
"Good evening, Briar Rose," said Maleficent, but Rose was distracted by her book.
"What does transience mean?"
After perhaps a few minutes passed without response, Rose looked up. Maleficent stood closer to her than she had in over a week, which was still halfway across the room. Her hands were folded in front of her atop what appeared to be a staff with some sort of glass ball on the top of it.
"Something that is transient is brief, fleeting. It does not last."
Rose felt uncomfortable. Awkward. She wanted to go up to bed and hide under the covers. She had spent all of this time alone and in silence, and she had, in her desperation for company, managed to forget how intimidating Maleficent was. What was more, she had forgotten how unreadable her expression was, how intense her eyes… But hiding would be the move of a cowardly child. Perhaps Rose had lost ground with Maleficent, but if that was the case, she must simply start all over again.
She decided to focus on the book, since she was too cowardly to make real conversation. "'Humans are forgetful in their transience.' Humans are brief and fleeting and don't last and so they are forgetful? I still don't understand."
"Is that Mistress Acacia?" Maleficent asked, taking a step forward. Rose nodded. "I remember being fond of that phrase. The humans forgot all about the great war between Mistress Cordelia and Mistress Sara's enchanted animals and they blamed Acacia for their food shortage, though she was only a young girl who had barely even learned to use her magic."
"Right, I understood that bit."
"But…how could everyone have forgotten?"
"To the humans, it must have seemed like a very long time passed. Almost three decades. The lifetime of a human seems very short to a wicked fairy—humans are transient."
"Oh," Rose breathed as she considered this.
"It's an interesting phrase—quite diplomatic. Many wicked fairies villainize humans in their writing. They're always very careful about how they portray good fairies, but humans are usually portrayed as stupid, cruel, brutish creatures. Mistress Kinsale is a fascinating woman. Perhaps in part because she had no sisters."
"I meant to ask about that, as well," said Rose. She consciously tried to relax her shoulders as she spoke—it appeared that Maleficent was finally willing to talk to her again. Perhaps they could continue as though nothing had happened. "The way it's written, it's as though brothers are…I don't know…unimportant. As though having no sisters is unusual…maybe bad."
Maleficent surprised her by coming to sit down in the chair across from her sofa. She leaned her staff against the chair as she spoke. "One key difference between humans and fairies is that men are not regarded as the pillars of society. They aren't scorned or treated as second-class citizens, but they are nomadic creatures and rarely stay in one place for very long. As such, they rarely hold dominion over anything, keep records of themselves or their travels, et cetera. Do you follow?"
Rose nodded. "But then how do all of these wicked fairies have so many siblings? Are they all-" she gasped as the thought occurred to her and whispered it, for she didn't dare to say such a thing aloud. "…are they all of different fathers?"
Maleficent chuckled and her features brightened, "That would make sense, wouldn't it? Obviously people like Mistress Cordelia had many men in their lives, but most wicked fairies can't be bothered. They mate when a male catches their fancy and the male often stays around for a few years. Inevitably, though, he feels the need to move on, and the woman is left to raise however many children they've had in their time together."
"He stays around? I thought you said you never knew your father."
"I was the youngest. My oldest sister remembered him vaguely, but he left before I was born."
"And you never met him? Never wanted to meet him? Surely your mother could have—"
"That was not an option," said Maleficent sharply. Rose flinched and Maleficent's eyes softened. "My apologies—your situation slipped my mind. Family ties in the world of fairies are…not what they are in the human world, to say the least."
"My parents haven't said two words to me," said Rose softly. The reasons for this weren't entirely clear to her. She thought they might have been instructed to leave her to her rest, because of the Sleeping Curse, but another part of her thought they avoided her because they felt uncomfortable talking to her.
Maleficent was silent for some time, and Rose looked down at her hands.
"What would you have me say?"
Rose looked up to see Maleficent gazing at her quizzically, a hint of a challenge in her eyes. Rose swallowed. "The truth," she said, and then as a bitter afterthought, "Unless you think me too weak to handle it."
Maleficent lifted her chin ever so slightly. "The truth is that I'm certain they love you in their way. They are very misguided people."
"The good fairies say that you don't understand love and are incapable of feeling it."
Rose had honestly expected Maleficent to lash out. She was feeling very uncomfortable and upset—it was as though everything she had ever known was suddenly being proven untrue. She wanted a fight. She wanted to yell. She wanted to be angry, or anything except vague and uneasy.
Instead, Maleficent had to bite back a smile. "Charming," she said, and Rose let out a little giggle which surprised her. Maleficent tilted her head, studying Rose. "They think very highly of me, you know."
Rose's smile surprised her, and she found it surprisingly easy to push away her troubling thoughts. When Maleficent returned that smile with a small, subtle smile of her own, a warm feeling flooded through Rose's veins and she shivered. She wanted to embrace Maleficent for how blissfully happy that smile made her, and she barely restrained herself from doing just that.
She decided instead to press her advantage and keep the light-hearted conversation going. "So, has a man ever 'caught your fancy'?"
Maleficent chuckled and looked down, "No."
Rose pouted and pressed on playfully, "Really? Never? Not one?"
Maleficent looked up, still smiling, but there was something very serious shining in her eyes. "Not one."
Rose got the sense that there was something about this conversation she did not understand, and so she considered for a moment how to continue. "Well, men must have fancied you, then."
Maleficent laughed openly and the action seemed to surprise her. "Oh, yes, I have to beat them off with a stick. What is it your prince likes to call me best? It? That Thing? Beast? Monster? I assure you he isn't the only one who refers to me as such."
Rose flinched involuntarily at the mention of Philip. "Please tell me you don't take that nonsense seriously."
Maleficent raised an eyebrow. "Don't you?"
"Philip refuses to believe a woman could have bested and captured him, so he refuses to refer to you as a woman. At least, that's my theory."
Maleficent nodded, "An interesting theory."
Encouraged by Maleficent's approval, Rose nodded and continued speaking, "He'd have to be mad to actually think you a hideous beast. You're the most beautiful person I've ever seen." Realizing what she had just said, Rose suddenly found a spot on the floor very interesting as she felt heat rising on her cheeks. Maleficent did not respond, and after some time, Rose dared to peek up at her. Her head was tilted slightly to one side and both eyebrows were raised slightly. This quizzical, studious expression, in Rose's opinion, made her look particularly beautiful. "It's quite…quite overwhelming, actually," Rose murmured as an afterthought.
"Why, thank you, Briar Rose," said Maleficent stoically. "Coming from the Princess Aurora, who walks with springtime wherever she goes, I take that as quite a compliment."
If it were possible, Rose's blush deepened. "Are you mocking me?"
"Of course not. It was part of Flora's gift incantation. I believe it went 'One gift, beauty rare; gold of sunshine in her hair; lips that shame the red, red rose; she'll walk with springtime wherever she goes.'"
"When a prince or princess is born, all the fairies in the land may bestow a gift upon the royal child. Flora's was beauty, Fauna's was song, and Merryweather's was a rather clumsy attempt to circumvent a certain curse of which I'm sure you're aware."
Rose's stomach began to twist as she considered this, and she avoided the obvious question. "What if Flora hadn't given me the gift of beauty? What would I look like?"
"Much the same, I'm sure. Queen Leah was very pretty in her youth and you share most of her features. What Flora gave you was a certain magical quality about your beauty which draws people to you. A rather useful quality for a royal. If you were of a mind, you could learn to use that magic to ensnare the heart of anyone you pleased. I daresay Philip has used his handsomeness to that effect."
Rose's eyes widened. "Did he use it on me?"
Maleficent nodded, "Most likely. But after a point it would become useless on you as you share the same magic. It's doubtful you were under the influence for very long."
Rose sat in stunned silence for a moment, but then it occurred to her that it might be more useful for her to speak her mind to Maleficent. Where, in another life, speaking her thoughts would most likely get her in trouble, Maleficent did not seem to care if she said or thought wildly inappropriate things, and, when it struck her fancy, she had very helpful information to offer. "I feel as though my entire existence has been warped by magic. I feel as though without it I would have had a completely different life. I would not have had all of this heartache."
Maleficent nodded, "Perhaps. But you cannot simply wish away the magic in the world."
"I wish I could," Rose replied, frowning. "I wish it all away. I wish away my fake aunts and the house in the cottage and all those sixteen years of lies, lies, lies. I wish away my parents who abandoned me to the care of strangers. I wish away my royalty. I wish away my beauty and my voice and Merryweather's spell and your curse. I wish to lead a normal life as a normal, simple, peasant girl. There is nothing extraordinary about me that was not given to me by magic, and so I wish it all away."
Maleficent was silent for some time, and Rose faintly heard the rustling of her dress. She supposed Maleficent was abandoning her again. She didn't blame her. Maleficent wasn't obligated to deal with Rose's unnecessary outbursts of nonsense.
To her surprise, however, Maleficent sat next to her on the sofa. She put a hand lightly on Rose's shoulder—so lightly that she barely felt it, so lightly that it gave her chills. "You must know that isn't true."
Rose, who had curled herself into a ball, lifted her head and met Maleficent's eyes in a challenge. "Name one thing."
"You are extraordinarily kind. No fairy gifted you with your kind heart."
Rose scoffed and looked away. "What good has that ever done me?"
Maleficent chuckled mirthlessly and withdrew her hand. "Fair point. It did me quite a bit of good, though."
Rose whipped her head back up to look at Maleficent and a wave of intense relief washed over her. She gaped at Maleficent for several seconds and all she could think was You could have died. They could have killed you. No magic would mean no you.
What would her life have become if she had not saved Maleficent from her fate? She felt she would have driven herself mad, trying desperately to cling to a life everyone seemed to want to forget. It was not lost on Rose that this other life was caused by Maleficent's curse, and yet it was all Rose had ever known. Maleficent was the reason that Rose was Rose. Twisted though it was, Rose wanted to cling to Maleficent just as desperately as she wanted to cling to the life Maleficent had made for her.
"You're also incredibly brave," Maleficent said quietly, apparently politely ignoring her odd expression. "Personally I would never put my life in the hands of someone like me."
"I'm very glad you're here," Rose said without preamble. It was as close as she could come to making any sense without throwing her arms around Maleficent and most likely getting herself thrown across the room.
Maleficent glanced uncomfortably around at nothing. She did not understand. And Rose could not explain. Finally she said, "It's very late."
Rose reached out impulsively and grasped Maleficent's arm. Maleficent's eyes lit up with panic, but Rose tried to ignore it. "Please promise you'll be here when I awaken."
Maleficent was staring so intently at Rose's hand that she finally had to remove it. Maleficent immediately and visibly relaxed. "As you wish," she said quietly.
Rose nodded and stood, clutching her book to her chest as she quickly made her exit.
"Sweet dreams, Briar Rose," said Maleficent softly, stopping her in her tracks.
Briar Rose dared to look back at Maleficent, who was standing the way she had when she entered, hands folded atop her staff. Her face, though, held the same tiny smile she had revealed earlier. Rose's heart leapt and she smiled back. "Sweet dreams," she replied and then quickly continued her journey up the stairs.
When Rose was safely hidden under the covers in a room that belonged to someone else's ghost, she felt completely overwhelmed with all that she had learned. She wanted to consider each piece of information one by one, make note of questions she still had, things she was not certain she believed, things that made sense and things that did not…but she was far too tired for such a venture and almost immediately succumbed to a deep, dreamless sleep.