Disclaimer: I don't own Descendants or any of the wonderful elements that belong to the Descendants franchise.
Author's Note: I haven't written a story in a couple years, and, after watching Descendants and falling in love with Keegan Connor Tracy's Belle, I decided to give myself and other Belle lovers a little something. This is set a few weeks after Ben's coronation. I hope you all enjoy!
"I'm here to see the queen," Mal stammered out in a faint whisper, tugging on her collar.
Her stifling lilac get-up with an abundance of frills, sequins, and lace was much different than her usual distressed leather ensemble, but she couldn't possibly wear that to an afternoon tea with Queen Belle. It would be an insult, an atrocity even, to the always regally-clad queen, and Mal was certain she didn't want to be an even bigger annoyance to Ben's mother than she already had been.
Yes, Mal's attempt to take over Belle's kingdom and destroy all goodness within Auradon's realm must've royally ticked off the former queen. Such actions might not have been the best first impression to make with her boyfriend's mother, but there was always room for redemption, right? Besides, she chose to lead the life of a hero in front of Belle and thousands of their closest friends and loyal subjects. That had to count for something.
Mal hadn't seen nor spoken much to either of Ben's parents following the coronation. From what she gleaned from bits of conversation with Ben, his mom and dad were occupied with legal junk that came along with his inheriting the throne. When she received a text from the queen herself (Mal still wasn't quite sure how Belle was able to obtain her number; she suspected her mischievous boyfriend had something to do with it) inviting her to an afternoon chat over tea, Mal was mildly shocked.
It wasn't that she and Belle were on bad terms, per say; she could tell Belle was at least a little pleased with her choosing good. But the few conversations they were able to have, always with Ben encouragingly planted at Mal's side, were short and a tad awkward. Nevertheless, Mal readily accepted the former queen's invitation. Her accepting the invite wasn't because of her thrill at sipping tea and nibbling on tiny sandwiches. She just really wanted Belle to like her, to gain Ben's mother's favor. Mal fervently desired a chance to show the queen that she wasn't rotten to the core, to even perhaps prove that Mal was worthy of Ben's affections.
The servant who greeted her regarded the violet-haired teen, obviously deeply in thought, with an upturned sandy brow, and Mal was certain he could sense her anxiety.
"Right this way, Madame; Mistress Belle is expecting you in the library," said the young servant, ushering her down one of the castle's many expansive corridors.
Mal followed in close suit, examining the features of the hallway, all the while wringing her hands nervously. She observed the many portraits gracing the wall, depicting various snapshots of the royal family's life. A wedding portrait of a blushing Belle and a beaming Beast here. A painting of a young Ben perched upon a rocking horse there. It made Mal's tight-lipped scowl melt into a small smile, but her frown soon returned. The portraits' depictions of utter bliss unnerved her even further. What if she could never properly blend into this happy family? Evil ran in her veins, after all. She was the offspring of one of the most malicious (pun, not intended) villainesses to ever walk the earth. Mal was merely jesting with herself if she thought she could possibly fit into a family of heroes.
The girl shook her head from those thoughts.
"Stop it, Mal, you're just wigging yourself out about this," Mal mentally chided herself.
A mere few months ago, something frightening her was a rare occurrence. She was the one to be feared, the terrorizer of any who dared to cross her path. She could vividly picture terrified faces gazing up at her, praying that she'd choose to wreak havoc elsewhere. And look at her now. The former heiress to leadership on the Isle of Lost was quaking in her purple pumps because of a tea party with the benevolent Queen Mother of Auradon. Perhaps this fear that she felt attested to the change she'd undergone since she'd been enrolled in Auradon Prep. Before, believing her fears to be a sign of weakness, Mal would suppress her fears. But now, her teeth were publicly chattering with fright.
The servant stopped in front of a large set of wooden double doors, surrounded by two golden lamps on each side. He placed a hand on the golden handle, and Mal's heart began to thrum violently in her chest.
"Stay calm. Stay calm," Mal muttered under her breath.
The servant gave her an amused glance, and he chuckled lightly.
"The mistress speaks very highly of you, Mademoiselle," he assured her.
Mal gave him an artificial grin as he opened the doors, revealing a sight that made Mal's jaw drop. It was the largest library she had ever seen in her entire life. The dingy, musty library on the Isle of the Lost paled in comparison to the magnificent library before her. Shelves upon shelves upon shelves of books covered the walls from floor to ceiling. Spiraling marble staircases with gold-laden handrails led to even more shelves of tomes. Glass windows decorated with green velvet curtains allowed the afternoon sunshine to spill in, illuminating the creamy marble floors.
"Wow," Mal exclaimed, jade orbs scanning the grandeur before her.
"Breathtaking, isn't it?" came a voice from one of the plush armchairs in front of a roaring fireplace.
Mal snapped her gaze towards the ground and bent into an awkward curtsey (curtseying being against her very nature) when she realized it was the very queen herself who had spoken. A heated blush rose to her cheeks as the pterodactyls within her stomach began to violently beat their wings against her ribcage.
"Y—your majesty," she stuttered out in greeting, still bent in her ill curtsey.
She heard the rustle of fabric as the queen rose from her armchair and gingerly walked over to her. Mal felt the queen hook a gentle finger under her chin, causing Mal's green eyes to meet with soft amber ones. She was taken aback to see the queen donning a simple blue frock under which she wore a loose-fitting cream peasant blouse. She wore her cropped chestnut tresses loose, and there wasn't a trace of makeup on her gentle face. Such attire was more seen on a royal subject than on royalty itself.
"There's no need for you to bow to me, dear," Belle said with a tender grin.
Mal felt somewhat more at ease than when she had first stepped foot in the intimidating castle, and her heart rate returned to its normal pace.
Belle turned to the servant who had escorted Mal to library and gave him a beaming smile.
"Thank you, Chip, for escorting my guest. That will be all for now."
Chip gave the queen a low bow, sandy locks falling into his mischievous eyes. He turned to the visibly tense Mal and gave her a reassuring wink.
"Good luck," he whispered to her as he exited the library.
It was just the queen and Mal now. Legendary hero and offspring of villain. Crème de la crème and pond scum. What joy.
"A little over-dressed, don't you think?" Belle chuckled, making her way back to her seat.
Mal responded with a nervous laugh. Belle motioned with slender, manicured hands towards the armchair facing hers. Swallowing, Mal took her place. Instead of gazing at the figure opposite her, she chose rather to observe the silver cart holding platters of sandwiches and teacups that separated them.
In the corner of her eye, Mal spotted the familiar symbol of King Beast's royal crest, and she turned her gaze towards it. The symbol, a stately head of a Beast, atop which sat a golden crown, was emblazoned in red velvet and mounted above the fireplace. It was as if the king was silently watching her every move, and Mal, with that pleasant thought in mind, shrank deeper into the plush velvet chair.
Her eyes wandered to where the queen sat, still watching her expectantly. With shaking hands, Mal attempted to grab a teacup from the cart, only to have the cup slip from her fingers and shatter into a thousand, tiny, porcelain pieces on the extravagant marble floors. She bent down to retrieve the fragments but refrained at Belle's behest to leave it be. Sitting back down in her chair, Mal chuckled anxiously and offered dozens of apologies.
A small, amused smile stretching across her lips, Belle gazed intently at the girl in front of her as she stated plainly, "I can tell you're nervous, dear."
A furious blush rose to Mal's cheeks as she brushed a violet strand of hair behind her ear. This was turning into an awfully epic failure. Goodness, why couldn't she just breathe for a second and articulate the thoughts racing through her brain. She tried to deny the queen's statement by plucking a plump, ruby-red strawberry from a china dish on the cart and stuffing said berry into her mouth, but Mal's actions only served to further amuse the queen.
With a frustrated sigh, Mal admitted, "Very, your highness."
"Why ever would you need to be nervous in front of me, Mal?" Belle inquired.
Mal sunk back into the armchair, eyes closed in defeat. "I don't know; I just," Mal opened one eye to gauge the queen's reaction, "am."
From her birth, Mal was destined to be ostracized by those around her. It was her fate to wickedly attempt to quash all goodness in her path. Her sole purpose in the realm was to be cruel, to destroy, and to murder. Such a destiny didn't make her the "most approachable of them all." She especially felt left out when she first came to Auradon. Yes, many, like Doug and Lonnie, were kind and accepting of her, and yes, bad apples, like Chad (not-so) Charming and Audrey, existed. But the hero children, regardless of their willingness, or lack thereof, to befriend her, all had one thing in common. Every time Mal happened upon them, whether in the classroom or hallway, a fear filled their eyes, as if Mal would vaporize them on the spot.
Mal didn't want Ben's mother to be afraid of her (like she must have been after the croquet escapade on Family Day); the girl just wanted Belle to like her, to accept her.
"Being from the Isle of the Lost, not a lot of people liked me when I first came to school," Mal admitted, a tinge of sadness mingling with her tone. "I've always been left out, now that I think about it. Not every little villain child is willing to play hopscotch with the Mistress of All Evil's kid.
"It gets lonely, being left out all the time," Mal could feel the start of tears pricking her eyes, "and I just really, really want you to see I'm not my mom."
Mal didn't know why she was telling the queen all this stuff she'd been repressing from her friends and even Ben. It was as if the gentle queen had an effect on her; it was as if Mal could tell her anything without fear of being judged for it.
"I won't purposefully hurt Ben," Mal continued, tears freely flowing now, "I won't curse any baby princesses to sleep for a thousand years. I want to be good, your majesty. I want people to like me because I'm good now."
Wiping her tears with the back of her hand, Mal looked to Belle for her response. The queen had a solemn look etched onto her beautiful features. Her brow creased, and her amber orbs had a watery shine glazed over them.
The queen rose without a word and stepped to one of the enormous windows overlooking the palace grounds. Mal feared that she had said something wrong or said too much. Perhaps her comfort around the queen was unmerited, and she had unknowingly overstepped her boundaries.
Before Mal could profusely apologize for her outburst, however, the queen began a sober tale.
"Once upon a time," Belle said, a faraway look in her eyes, "in a little, provincial village, a girl loved to read."
Mal cocked her head and regarded Belle with a confused yet inquisitive gaze. She was quite puzzled as to why she was telling her this tale; nevertheless, Mal listened intently.
"This girl read anything and everything she could. The words breathed life into her empty soul and, for a time, slaked her thirst for adventure. Through her books, she could go anywhere. She could be a thief in Calcutta or an heiress in Japan who always had her silk made from her own flock of silk worms. The girl appreciated the varying perspectives her books taught her, and she was able to aptly think for herself.
"But," Belle sighed, a forlorn haze entering her eyes, "not everyone thought of the girl's books that way. Everyone in her village thought the girl's love of books, in fact, made her odd. No one really talked to the girl because of what she loved, or, least, they never talked to her. Talking about her, however, was an entirely different story. Yes, her neighbors would talk on and on about how different the girl was from the rest of them and how she was perhaps not all right in the head.
"The girl never gave up on her love of books though, even if it did cost her many friendships. She continued to read and learned from her stories that beauty is always greater if it is found within."
Mal's brow creased, and her heart ached for that girl. She too had known what it was like to be betrayed, gossiped about, and ostracized. Being alone was a harsh punishment for anyone, and no one understood that greater than she did.
"Your highness, what did happen to that girl?"
Belle turned to Mal, a beaming grin on her face. She laughed a knowing chuckle and stated, "She grew up to be queen of Auradon. Quite an odd occupation for a mere peasant girl, don't you think?"
For the second time today, Mal's jaw nearly hit her collarbone. She waited for the queen to laugh condescendingly at Mal for believing the tall tale she had spun. Belle was beloved by all in the realm, and her beauty was unparalleled by any other. She couldn't possibly have been rejected by her own neighbors for something as simple as loving to read. Yet, the queen's condescending guffaw never came, and Mal understood that she had told the truth.
"You? But, your majesty, it couldn't . . ." was all Mal could manage before slumping into the plush of the armchair in utter shock.
Giggling lightly, Belle also returned to her seat. "As you can see, I never really grew out of my love of reading."
Mal nodded, mouth still slightly agape. Mal just couldn't fathom that the regal, almost ethereal entity in front of her was once despised just as she was. It seemed utterly preposterous.
"Mal?" Belle inquired, leaning forward to catch the girl's attention. "Mal? Earth to Mal?"
Mal's eyes snapped to the queen, and she blushed in embarrassment, "Sorry, your grace, it's just that you being left out of anything is a little hard to believe. I mean, I understand what it's like, but. . ."
"You and I are more alike than you believe," Belle said with an assuring smile, placing an encouraging hand over Mal's. "We share a common ground, dear. We both know what it's like to be rejected by those who should've supported and cared for us."
"But," Mal muttered with downturned eyes, "you were destined to save the Beast, destined to be the heroine of the story. I grew up on the Isle of the Lost, for crying out loud. I'm no heroine!"
A flash of remorse flickered in Belle's expression, and her jaw tightened at the mention of the Isle of the Lost. The Isle of the Lost. . .the place she and her husband had thought was such a good idea twenty years prior. During that time, many trials had arisen because of the villains that ran afoul when it should have been happily ever after. A prison of sorts to keep the bad segregated from the supposedly good seemed like such a good plan to the young couple, but, gazing at the broken, young girl whose life was destroyed because of Belle and her husband's decision, Belle felt foolish. She could have done more for those children on the Isle; she could've done something in her power as queen to give those children a better life. And yet she had done nothing, choosing rather to focus her efforts on bettering the lives of "heroes" and their families. Villains and their offspring were distant thoughts in the back of Belle's mind (or perhaps she'd always thought about the fate of those on the Isle, perhaps she'd always wanted to reach out, but she'd been too satisfied with the life she'd been blessed with).
Brought back to the present, Belle gazed at the teen in front of her. Mal's eyes were filled with fresh tears, and her expression was despondent, almost hopeless, and Belle felt entirely to blame.
"I'm no heroine, Mal," Belle admitted, a tremor in her voice. "I'm a human as well as you are. I make mistakes; I'm fallible and prone to selfishness."
Mal was taken aback and shook her head in shock. This woman in front of her was perhaps the kindest person in the kingdom. Aliens were much more likely to crash through the palace ceiling than the queen to indulge in a moment of selfishness.
Mal half-expected to see a bright red rocket ship with furry blue aliens racing across the skyline when the queen said sincerely, "I'm sorry, by the way."
"Sorry?" Mal asked curiously. "Sorry for what?"
Belle sighed. There was so much she had to apologize for. The girl didn't know how much pain Belle had caused her, and it made the former queen even a wee bit nervous to admit her wrongs to her. "For the Isle of the Lost, to begin. If I had done more, you might not have suffered the pain of rejection you grew up with. I know an apology like this won't erase anything you've endured, and I don't expect you to forgive me for my hand in your pain.
"I would also like to apologize for not believing you had the potential to be good. I suppose I forgot no one is born a hero, as seen with many of your classmates," Belle leaned in close to Mal, as if confiding a close-kept secret, "Just between you and me, dear, but that Audrey is a bit of a kiss-up."
At that, Mal couldn't help but let out a deep, hearty chuckle (even a little snort escaped the hand clasped over her mouth). Wiping tears from her eyes, Mal turned to the queen with a content smile.
"Apology accepted, your highness. I really don't blame you for what happened. If anything, the Isle of the Lost brought me here, brought me to Ben, most importantly," Mal placed a gentle hand over the queen's, "Thank you for letting Ben and I be together. He's . . .pretty amazing to say the least."
"And you make my little boy very happy," Belle grinned, a nostalgic expression gracing her features, "All my life one of my greatest desires for my baby is to find someone to love and who will love him in return, a love like what his father and I have shared for twenty spectacular years."
"I've never really known what it was like to love," Mal admitted, twiddling with her violet-polished thumbs, "but, with Ben, I'm learning. He's so good to me; he's shown me love and respect that I don't even deserve. You and the king have raised him to be a good guy."
A quiet yet comfortable silence fell over the two, free from the formerly tense atmosphere that had plagued the beginning of their conversation. Belle sipped her lemon tea as Mal feasted on chocolate-covered strawberries (Auradon chefs were geniuses).
Placing her teacup back onto its saucer, Belle said, "Perhaps this is far too early a topic to discuss, but I think you'll make a fine queen one day."
Mal giggled, shaking her head and swiping a smudge of chocolate from her chin. "I don't really think I'd make a great queen, not like you, at least. I barely squeaked by Remedial Goodness, and public speaking isn't really my thing, anyways."
"We know what we are, but know not what we may be," Belle said with a wink. "That was from Shakespeare, one of my most favorite authors."
"Hamlet, right? That was from Hamlet?"
Now it was Belle's turn for a jaw drop. "You read Shakespeare?" Her eyes sparkled with ignited interest.
Mal gave a nonchalant shrug. "We don't have much to do where I'm from; between tagging concrete walls and taking candy from babies, I had a lot of free time on my hands, your majesty."
"If you have the slightest possibility of being my future daughter-in-law and queen, please call me Belle," Belle chuckled lightly. "And, if you ever have any time-off between schoolwork and picnics at the Enchanted Lake with my son, it'd be a great pleasure to have you over again to discuss Shakespeare over some chocolate-covered strawberries."
Mal gave Belle a sincere beam. "It'd be my honor, your m—Belle."
"Mal? Mal, are you in there?" Ben laughed good-naturedly, waving a hand in front of his girlfriend's lovely green orbs.
She was currently focused onto her cell phone, scrolling through a chain of many messages, occasionally tapping in a quick reply. She swatted Ben's fingers away from her eyes and gave him a mock-unamused glare.
"Texting here, Benny-boo!" she exclaimed with a roll of her eyes.
"Let me guess; you're talking to my mom again."
Mal gave her boyfriend a cheeky smirk, "Good guesser."
Ben chuckled as he watched his beloved Mal eagerly chat with his mother over book recommendations, embarrassing stories from his childhood (much to his chagrin), and life in general. He was so glad to see his favorite girl in the entire world bonding and growing close to his favorite woman in the entire world, even if Mal's and his mother's texting sessions often interrupted their date time.
The young king snatched his girlfriend's phone from her mid-text and dangled it precariously above her. Mal attempted to grab it, to no avail, and crossed her arms at her boyfriend's shenanigans. He gave her his signature lop-sided smirk and pressed a gentle kiss to her cheek, earning him her dazzling smile.
"I'm glad you and Mom get along," Ben brushed a strand of hair behind her ear. "It's a relief that the princess in my life and the queen in my life are able to be friends," he laughed, giving his princess a mock bow.
"Like mother and daughter," she chuckled, giving her king an equally exaggerated curtsey.
Her statement, however, held no exaggeration.