Little more than a year's time had passed since Maleficent's reign of vengeance had taken hold of the moors, something she could not forgive herself for when every time she saw the way the creatures watched her in fear she was reminded of just how much damage she had caused. With the curse broken and a peace, albeit a wary one, struck up between the two kingdoms, Maleficent had devoted almost all her time to restoring the moors to what they had been when she was but a girl and her heart was free from hatred.

Now, as the protector of the moors that she so loved, she spent her time trying to remember how things had been before she had ever laid eyes on a human, when she felt nothing but a fierce love rather than a consuming hatred.

The moments just before the sun set behind the eastern mountains had always been Maleficent's favorite time of the day. From her perch on one of the sturdy arms of her oak tree she gazed steadily over the moors, her moors, and relished in the life that now flourished.

The air itself now felt lighter. It buzzed with the wild sort of magic that was woven into every living thing on the moors, and, as Maleficent had learned as a fledgling, even the air there was alive. It could decide whether to blow this way or that, be gentle or fierce, and whether to aid you or work against you

Just now it was warm, ruffling the feathers of her wings fondly. She pressed a blackberry to her mouth and savored the sweetness it granted her.

Along the riverbanks below her, Knottgrass, Flittle, and Thistlewit were zipping to and fro among the flowers, coaxing them closed for the night. Downstream, a fawn was stealing one last drink from the cool water before prancing after its mother into the trees where he regal Sentries stood proudly at their posts.

Just now, Maleficent found her attention drawn across the way by the sound of laughter towards the edge of the lagoon, where a certain blonde-haired girl and a raven-turned-man were engaged in a mudslinging war with a family of wallerbogs.

Plopping one last berry to her mouth, Maleficent shifted to her feet and to stand balancing on her perch. She unfurled her russet wings, humming in delight as the last rays of light warmed the feathers before disappearing entirely behind the hills, and plunged down the bluff as she had done so many times before.

Broad and sturdy wings gave one hard downstroke and she was carried over the surface of the water below her. The wind, in a particularly friendly mood that day, propelled her faster towards her destination as she wove between the rocky formations and the nocturnal water sprites that had come out to play and were flitting here and there over the water's surface.

The loud "whoosh" of behind Aurora told her that Maleficent was there before the faery had spoken a word. She retreated from her game with a squeal of delight, leaving Diaval to hold his own in what appeared to be a losing battle so that she could run to embrace the creature she had grown to love most.

"Honestly Aurora, as ruling monarch of two kingdoms I would expect you to at least try to appear more dignified," Maleficent chided fondly as Aurora pulled away, revealing the extent of the carnage their mud fight had wrought on her appearance.

Aurora's dress was smeared with the inky muck. Her usual wispy blonde locks looked as though they had been dyed and were matted to her neck and back. Streaks of the dark mud covered her face like war paint; at the moment it wore an expression of annoyance, but her blue and gold eyes betrayed her joy.

Blue and gold? Malefcent blinked once in confusion.

Sure enough, she could see a small ring of a shimmering gold on the edges of her pupils, mingling with the grey-blue there that she had always remembered.

Aurora's eyes had never been anything but blue. I, of all creatures, would have noticed.

At that thought Maleficent bristled, perplexed by what even she meant by that.

Aurora must not have noticed the faery's internal monologue, for she stood proudly and lifted her chin as she spoke, "And as your queen I declare that being stuffy and dignified at all hours of the day is an awful bore, and should be a punishable offense."

She met Maleficent's steady gaze and the faery couldn't help but notice the gleam of gold she found there again; she found her mind drifting to memories of the shimmering light the sunset had cast over the moors just moments ago.

Curious little Beastie... But Maleficent tucked this away for further reflection at a later time and turned her full attention to the waiting monarch.

"My apologies, Your Majesty." The faery smirked as she bowed low, wings extended out to each side. "I accept whatever punishment you deem suitable for my offense," Maleficent stated calmly, daring the little blonde to make good on her word.

With smug satisfaction, she watched Aurora falter in her mock authoritative stance. Before she could think of something to say, a fistful of mud struck Maleficent's cheek followed by a cackle that sounded strikingly similar to the cawing of a raven and the phlegmy laughter of the wallerbogs.

Raising a hand to wipe the slime from her face, Maleficent chuckled. "Well," she said curtly, "I suppose I deserved that." She thought of retaliating, remembering the night so similar to this one when she had smacked Diaval with a wave of mud. Though slightly annoyed she couldn't help but smile when she saw the light in Aurora's eyes, those strangely golden yet blue eyes, and all thoughts of retaliation vanished from her mind.

"Come, Beastie. It's time you returned for the night. Your time left here on the moors before you return to the humans again is running short, and I must say that I feel as though I've hardly seen you," Maleficent spoke warmly but did not hide the note of disappointment in her voice.

She noticed Diaval smirk and she stiffened. She had waved her hand and restored him to his true raven form before the snarky bird could say anything in protest.

Aurora retrieved her crown of golden branches and flowers, bid the wallerbogs farewell and thanked them for the fun she had with them before taking the arm Maleficent offered her and walking with the fairy along the banks of the water. Diaval flew just behind them, making his annoyance with the uncalled for transformation known with every croak and caw he dared make.

They stopped their peaceful (after Malficent had bound the bird's beak shut with magic) walk just at the base of the cliff where Maleficent's tree was rooted and a small waterfall trickled down from a lower bluff and emptying into the large pond where several water sprites were frolicking

Another wave of her hand and Diaval was sputtering on the ground as a human once more. When he stood he made as if to start arguing but a stern look from Maleficent and a flash of a dangerous green in her ever-changing eyes shut him up.

"My apologies, Mistress," he said quietly, though annoyance still plain on his face.

"Hm." This was her only acknowledgement of his apology before she followed it with an order to be obeyed. "I need you to bring me the reports from the Sentries of anything important by tomorrow morning." She paused, waiting for his acknowledgement of her request. Once received, she waved her hand once more and glittering golden magic swirled from her fingers. "Into a bird."

The two watched his figure disappear into the forest in silence. It was Aurora who spoke first.

"I assume we'll be heading back home now?"

"No, not yet."

"Not yet?" the girl asked, confused.

Maleficent smiled. "I would not let you within then feet of my tree covered in mud like that. You should see yourself, absolutely filthy!" the faery really laughed this time, not the controlled laughter she used around other creatures but the kind of easy and laughter she reserved only for when she was with Aurora.

The blonde laughed as well at her foolishness, and then again when she went to view her reflection in the water of the pool. She tried in vain to scoop water with her hands and wash the mud off herself, looking up at Maleficent in exasperation when her efforts did little to clean up the damage.

"Silly girl, do you not think I would have tried that myself if I thought it would have worked?" The faery fluttered her feathers in amusement at the girl's naiveté. "That mud is imbued with the slime of the wallerbogs; no simple water will be able to wash it off."

"Then how do you expect me to wash it off?"

Maleficent did not answer her, but rather knelt by the water's edge and beckoned to the three sprites who had been skating over the surface. She spoke to them in a language that only Fae people understood, not noticing when Aurora's eyes flashed with recognition.

The three sprites wove around their queen before she could say anything and began to coax the water to do their bidding. They washed away the mud from clothes, hair, and skin. Though Aurora found herself clean of the filth, she was fascinated by the control they had on the water; not even a drop of water was left on her once they had finished.

As Aurora stood and admired the sprites with an unashamed awe, Maleficent was watching, or rather studying, the girl carefully, unable to comprehend what she was seeing. With the mud gone, Aurora glowed. Not in the way her personality lit up her features; Maleficent was used to that. This was a very faint ethereal light, a dim pearly radiance that emanated from the girl's physical being.

It was normal for faeries; the sprites glowed with jewel toned hues, the garden faeries radiated a faint green or gold, even Maleficent herself had a dim opalescent glow that hung about her, though it was almost impossible to see in anything but complete darkness. Never in her life had Maleficent seen it on a human.

She knew that something very strange was occurring within the girl very quickly, and not knowing what it was or what had caused it frightened the faery more than she cared to admit, even to herself. An unknown magic wasn't something she could easily protect Aurora from.

At the sound of her name spoken by the young monarch, Maleficent's stomach leapt as though she had been caught doing something she should not have been. She felt a heat rush to her face and wings and tried to suppress the urge to adjust the way her wings were folded at her sides.

"Yes, Beastie?" She cringed at the way her voice betrayed her unease.

"Why are you staring at me like that? Is something wrong?" The genuine concern and love in Aurora's voice spurred another wave of unwarranted heat through the faery.

She cleared her voice, embarrassed. "I was just admiring the work of the water sprites. They are quite talented at what they do," she lied, closing the space between them as she walked forward to meet the girl. "Though they did miss a spot."

"What? Where?"

Aurora began examining all of her visible self she could see before Maleficent stopped her with a small step closer. "Right here. On your cheek," the faery said, wiping away the spot with her thumb.

Aurora leaned slightly into Maleficent's touch, taking the faery by surprise, but when the girl sighed contentedly she continued to stroke the girl's cheek lightly with her fingers. Later that night she would scold herself for allowing her to indulge in the human girl's affectionate ways, but in that moment she allowed her eyes to rest on the peaceful face of the girl who had stolen what was left of her heart.

Her eyes followed the slow circles she was tracing on the girl's face, then fell to land on something that made her heart stop beating for a moment.

She prayed that it was only her imagination playing tricks on her, that the vaguely pointed shape of Aurora's ear was only a strange manifestation of her fears. But as she blinked quickly to get rid of any illusion and examined more closely, there was no denying that the queen's ears had decidedly become more tapered than they had been a week ago.

Curious little Beastie.

"What?" Aurora asked airily, slowly drawing herself out of her trance to look up into Maleficent's face, who looked right back at her fondly as she tried to reign in the paranoia eating away at her resolve when she noticed the gold in her eyes flare with her emotions.

Maleficent, now sufficiently confused and trying to make sense of everything she had seen, looked down at the girl with a quizzical expression. "What do you mean?"

"Just now. You spoke, out loud? You said 'Curious little Beastie,' in that far off voice you always use…" Aurora let the question die on her tongue, knowing Maleficent knew what she was asking.

Not realizing she had spoken out loud her thoughts, Maleficent once again cleared her throat in embarrassment. "Ah. Yes, well…never mind that. Let us say our thanks and be on our way."

She dropped her hand to her side and tried to ignore the shameless hope she felt as she noticed the look of disappointment in Aurora's face a the severance of their contact. There were too many things going on for her to wrestle with those emotions as well.

The water sprites danced around the two for a moment longer, bidding their own farewells to the pair before flitting off elsewhere. Maleficent tried to hide the way her feathers bristled and entire body stiffened when Aurora replied in the same language she herself had used earlier.

She also tried to hide the way she shook as she wrapped her arms tightly around Aurora's waist and flew them both to the top of the bluff and into the safety of her oak.

Not until Aurora was tucked away snuggly at her side, sleeping with one of the faery's wings drawn over her for warmth, did Maleficent reflect on all that had happened in such a short time.

The golden eyes.

The way they swirled and flashed and churned as though the colors had minds of their own.

They have always been blue. I am sure of it. Not that gold doesn't suit her. In fact it only makes her that much more beautiful…compliments her golden hair, and heart of purest gold….But that's not the point! She scolded herself for getting so easily distracted by her own selfish musings. Why are they so decidedly gold now?

The pointed ears.

Her hand trailed down to stroke the outer shell of the girl's ear as she so often asked her to do, noting the physical change with her fingers. She lifted her hand to her own ear and felt its shape; she shivered at how very much like her own Aurora's now was.

The affluence with which Aurora spoke in the most ancient language of the Fae.

No human has ever defiled our language with their tongue. She spoke it so easily, though. It was not soiled in her mouth as it would be in another's. But I haven't taught her. Diaval couldn't have; he doesn't speak it himself. No creature on the moors would even speak to her with that language; they know she wouldn't understand a word of it. Even if humans are around to hear it, it should sound to them like birdsong and whispers if anything at all.

And of course, Maleficent could not forget the radiant glow.

Especially not when, as the girl slept at her side, it cast its eerie and persistent light on the two of them, mingling with her own.

The faery turned her head slightly and pressed a gentle lingering kiss to Aurora's temple in the same place she had pressed her lips to once before, just after vowing to protect the girl from anything and everything as long as she lived.

Curious little Beastie, indeed.