The morning after that very hectic night, Princess Aurora had breakfast in the staff canteen, as usual, at 8 in the morning, eyes puffy with sleep, motions slow and jerky with tiredness, oblivious to the worried looks exchanged between Ariel, Belle and Jasmine.
Actually, the Sleeping Beauty merely noticed when the three princesses sat with her a few minutes ago. Apparently, the Arabian girl would have nothing of that.
"Hey, Beauty," she called Aurora in that suave voice that made her famous, "what's wrong on this bright morning?"
Aurora did not so much as flinch, and Belle shot an irate glance at the blue-clad princess, while Ariel simply sighed in her tea, causing her red bangs to fly above her forehead.
"What?" The golden-haired girl looked up, bleary-eyed.
"Aurora, are you alright?" Belle took it upon herself to wake the Sleeping Beauty soothingly and gently.
"Oh, yes, yes," Aurora waved her hand above her hot chocolate in a dismissive manner. "I just had a restless night, but apart from that, I'm fine."
"Alright, then." Belle simply nodded and returned to her book, under Jasmine's stunned gaze. And sure enough, Jasmine couldn't resign herself to give up just yet.
"Are you sure there isn't something troubling you?"
Aurora paused, her hand frozen above her beverage, and the spoon stopped twirling. She rose her head and her violet eyes, shining with determination, crossed Jasmine's dark eyes.
"In fact, yes, you're right, Jasmine. There is something troubling me."
"Ah. I knew it." The corners of Jasmine's crimson lips lifted into a satisfied smirk. "So, what is it, Beauty?"
"I know that something's wrong with Cinderella. I don't know what exactly, I just know that..." She looked around surreptitiously and lowered her voice. "I know that it has something to do with Lady Tremaine. Have you heard something about it?"
Aurora stared blankly as a dark eyebrow rose regally on Jasmine's forehead, Belle slowly detached herself from her book and frowned, and Ariel's eyes widened suddenly, her hand shooting up to cover her mouth.
"So you know." Aurora concluded grimly. "I see. So you can tell me, now that I suspect something anyway."
"There's nothing much to tell," answered Jasmine, arms crossed under her breasts, a grimace forming on her full lips.
"Even if there were," continued Belle in a reproachful tone as she laid her book next to her plate, "it wouldn't be ours to tell."
"Cinderella is free to do whatever she wants, but..."
Aurora immediately turned towards the owner of that melodious, yet insecure voice.
"But what, Ariel? She made a decision, and you three don't agree with her, am I right? You are worried about her. I can see it, in the way you're avoiding my eyes right now," she added as she pointed to the three princesses alternatively. "And I am worried too. I know that I'm new, but Cinderella was the first one to greet me so warmly, and I can see she's in trouble. I want to help."
"Look," started Jasmine in a sigh, "it's none of our business. But we know that Cinderella has been seeing Tremaine in a regular basis. We don't exactly know the true nature of this relationship, but—"
"Actually, we do." Belle cut her off as she locked eyes with Aurora, gleaming brown clashing with blue. "But we aren't supposed to know. We aren't supposed to tell either, for that matter." She sneaked a peek at Jasmine who rolled her eyes.
"Belle, Aurora is only trying to help..."
"Yes, and we don't know if Cinderella wants any help, Jasmine."
"Sometimes, people aren't seeking help, and when they realize they should have, it's too late." All eyes turned to Jasmine who was now entranced in the close observation of her cup of coffee. "Alright. So Cinderella and Tremaine have some kind of an arrangement. We don't know all the ins and outs of the deal, but from what we've gathered, Tremaine and Cinderella knew each other before joining Disneyland's staff. Tremaine must know something about Cinderella, something really dark and shameful I guess, enough that she doesn't want it disclosed, and we think Tremaine is blackmailing her with this particular knowledge. At the beginning, Tremaine would come to our table, require that Cinderella come with her, and they would leave. It would always happen like that. We asked Cinderella, she told us they would just go and have some tea in Tremaine's room, or play some cards game, it depended. It seemed very innocent at the beginning. But soon enough, we started seeing Cinderella less and less, and when we asked her, she became red in the face and started stammering. We thought Tremaine had done something very, very, very wrong. But..." She leant back against her seat and tilted her head towards Belle as her right hand naturally closed around her large braid, smoothing the dark locks.
The browned-haired girl seemed to catch the unspoken invitation and pursued the explanation.
"But in the end, it turned out that she did not. We confronted Cinderella about it, asked if she was alright, if Tremaine had done anything inappropriate — or worse, unwanted — and she got utterly mad. She yelled at us, saying that we had no right to attack Tremaine while she was not here to defend herself, that the woman had done nothing that Cinderella hadn't wanted her to do. And thus, we understood." As she spoke, Belle clamped her book against her chest and stood up, holding her plate in her free hand. "Those meetings might have been forced upon her at the very beginning, but now... We do not know what they do when they are together, but what is certain is that Cinderella does no longer go to Tremaine against her will. Now, girls, I must go. I will see you later."
And the three princesses watched the chestnut-haired girl as she went to throw her garbage into the can and left the cafeteria. Then, almost automatically, all gazes focused on Ariel, the last one who had remained silent.
"It is a very unhealthy relationship." The red-haired girl said, bowing her head in misery. "But if Cinderella wishes to keep seeing Lady Tremaine, there isn't anything we can do, is there?"
"Well, we surely tried and talked to her out of it, but we failed." Jasmine scoffed. "But I agree with Ariel, this is highly unhealthy, and yet it seems everyone can see it but Cinderella. It almost looks like those kinds of sado-masochistic relationships..."
"Jasmine!" Ariel's eyes menaced to pop out of her head as she cried out in shock.
"Oh, come on, Ariel. You've thought about it, too. Don't lie."
Ariel's red lips twisted into a sad grin as she rested her chin into the palm of her hand.
"Yes, we all thought about it. Even though we never said it at loud."
"Well, I did."
"So," Aurora interrupted the petty argument with a firm tone, "aren't we going to do anything about it?"
"About Cinderella, you mean?" Jasmine asked, looking rather surprised. "But what more can we do? She doesn't listen."
"Well, I don't know." Aurora shrugged. "You were three trying to get her back to her senses, maybe if we're four, she—"
"Oh, my." Jasmine cut her off, black eyes transfixed on a far-off point above Aurora's shoulder. "Aurora, Ariel, don't move. They're coming."
"What?" Aurora half-yelled, half-whispered, not daring to move. "Whom are you talking about, Jasmine? Who is—"
"Shhhh." Jasmine pressed her index finger on her lips, all the while winking at a dumbfounded Aurora. Ariel did not move an inch, which certainly meant she knew what was going on, even though it was happening behind her back as well.
However, soon enough, everything became clear to Aurora. It was only one voice, a deep, hoarse voice, and yet, Aurora understood immediately, and her blood turned to ice.
"Good morning, ladies."
Jasmine raised fiery dark eyes to the tall woman who had just appeared on the side of their table.
"Hello, Lady Tremaine." Ariel answered, daring a shy smile, despite Jasmine's fuming eyes on her.
"How are you on this fine morning?"
"Relatively well, thank you." This time Aurora spoke, neutral, ignoring Jasmine's furious gaze. "And yourself?"
"My, if it isn't our new Sleeping Beauty..." Tremaine drawled, and as she took a step to the side, Cinderella appeared, coming out of the shadows, offering a terse smile to her princess friends. "This one is also a friend of yours, isn't she?" The older woman turned to her young companion.
"Yes, she is."
"Well, then." Tremaine's electric eyes pierced right through Aurora, as a cold smile reached her thin lips. "I shall treat her well. Come, now." She extended an arm towards Cinderella, who simply curled her hand around it, and with a last apologetic look towards her friends, she left, arm in arm, with her villain.
When the two women left, Aurora let out a shaky breath. She almost startled when Jasmine rose to her feet and slammed her plate on the table.
"Are you kidding me?"
Her dark orbs were throwing lightning bolts at Aurora and Ariel, who could do nothing but stare at her in awe as she puffed and stormed away, braid swinging in her trail. Then, Aurora turned to Ariel.
"We were being too nice, weren't we?"
"Probably. But it wouldn't help Cinderella if her friends were unpleasant to Lady Tremaine, now would it?"
"Fair enough. Besides, I don't know how to do unpleasant when people are talking nicely. It's a blessing I've not been hired as a villain, really," Aurora chuckled as she got up, readying herself to leave.
Ariel followed her suit, giving her the most radiant smile. "Obviously. Plus, if you had, you wouldn't have your Maleficent, then. And that would be a shame, wouldn't it?"
Without waiting for a retaliation, Ariel flipped her hair above her shoulder and went away, leaving Aurora in the middle of the cafeteria, jaw dropped in shock.
My Maleficent? Is that what people here think?
That she is... mine?
Her mind still stuck on Cinderella's mysteries, Princess Aurora did achieve her morning routine without any mishap. Two hours spent at the Princess Pavillon smiling flawlessly and posing for pictures, and she was already weary for the whole day. She came back to Sleeping Beauty's Castle dragging her feet and sighing deeply every five minutes.
Her weariness reached its peek however when, nearing the Dragon's Lair, she heard a commanding voice behind her.
Like she did a hundredth of times, she sighed again. "Phillip. What is it?" She didn't bother to turn around.
"I think we need to talk."
"And I think we don't."
"Come on, love, we had a fight. We can't just leave it at that. We should talk about it."
"Don't call me "love" ever again." Aurora's voice cut through the air, cold and sharp, as she finally whirled around. "We broke up, Phillip. We're not together anymore. There's nothing else to say."
Apparently, it was Phillip's turn to sigh. He shook his head on top of that, before he raised warm, hope-filled brown eyes to his former girlfriend.
"Look, I know I acted like a jerk yesterday night. I didn't want to frighten you, like the first day we met, remember?" He let out a small nostalgic laugh. "I frightened you and I said—"
"I remember what you said." Aurora interrupted him mercilessly, violet eyes boring into him. "I was there. This is not the point. You did frighten me yesterday, but that's not the reason why I decided to break up with you."
"But... you said that because you were angry — and I can't blame you, you were absolutely right! — and afraid, and very upset. But now that we both had time to think this over, to cool off, I think maybe we should reconsider. It would be a shame to make such a final decision on the spur of the moment, considering all we've been through together. We were happy, and—"
"Yes. We were. That's the point, you see. We were happy. I don't know about you, Phillip, but I am not happy anymore. Not with you anyway. It's been quite a while since I've been wondering about this relationship. That's why this needs to end. For our own sakes."
Phillip answered by an odd high-pitched, mad chuckle, as he stepped forward. "You can't be serious, Aurora. What we had, it was beautiful. You can't give up on it on a whim!"
"That's what I'm trying to tell you, Phillip," replied Aurora, progressively losing patience, "I did not decide it on a whim. I thought about it for quite some time, and I've come to the conclusion that it was for the best. Now, you ought to respect my decision."
Without waiting for a retort, Aurora lunged forward, intent on leaving the Dragon's Lair path and going back to the Castle, where she would find some peace. However, when she passed near her ex-boyfriend, the latter grasped her forearm rather harshly.
"Aurora, you can't do that." He almost pleaded, sounding half miserable, half out of his mind. "I know I hurt you, but I'm gonna make it up to you. I swear, I won't do this ever again."
"It doesn't matter, Phillip." Aurora snapped between gritted teeth. "No matter what happened yesterday night, I would have broken up with you all the same."
"But... why?" The grip on her arm tightened and she restrained a groan.
"I don't love you, Phillip. I'm not sure I ever did. Now please, let me go."
"What? You don't love me? Is this some kind of a sick joke?" Now Phillip's tone was going more and more frantic, and he started to shake Aurora's forearm, as if to bring back some sense into her.
"No, it's not. Now let me go, Phillip, you're hurting me!"
"No, no, wait." He dragged her towards him with a fierce tug on her arm which caused her to cringe. "I want you to tell me that you don't love me, while looking at me straight in the eye."
"I told you, Phillip," growled Aurora as she fought to free herself from his grip. She raised seething violet eyes towards Phillip's face. "I don't love you."
"What the fuck?!" He howled suddenly, his nails digging into Aurora's flesh, his enraged eyes and curled mouth looming over Aurora's twisted traits. "We've been together for five fucking years! I saved you! I saved your life when you were sixteen, just after we met! How can you forget about that?"
"I didn't forget!" yelled Aurora in desperation. "But I don't love you anymore. I can't help it. Let me go, Phillip. It's painful. Stop it!"
"How dare you? How dare—"
"I suggest you let go of Princess Aurora right away, Ô nefarious prince."
The deep, threatening voice echoing from the Dragon's cave commanded the prince's and the princess' silence. Both of them became perfectly still, waiting for the owner of the voice to show themselves, which they did without further delay. From the shadows emerged an infamous tall figure all wrapped in black and purple, staff knocking on the ground as she took a step into the light, headdress almost brushing the stone at the top of the cave's entry.
Maleficent was never so terrifying as she was right now, dark in the sunlight, black eyes blazing, knuckles turned white around the scepter she was holding as if to prevent herself from lashing out.
"Maleficent..." Aurora's voice was so soft she was not sure even Phillip would be able to hear it.
Speaking of the latter, Aurora looked back at him and was stunned to see him mouth opened, wide eyes staring at the dark fairy, all limbs trembling.
"Leave, now. And pray that I never see you again." Maleficent's powerful voice was enhanced by another kick of her staff on the floor.
And Aurora was flabbergasted when her unbelieving eyes followed Phillip's every move as his hand finally freed her arm and he simply walked away, head down, shoulders hunched. She merely frowned when she noticed that he did not head towards the Castle nor the cafeteria, but towards the exit of the park. When he was out of sight, finally Aurora could turn towards her saviour.
"Maleficent." She managed to breath as she took a step towards the older woman, but stopped herself as she felt her whole body shaking.
"I suppose you shall sleep on both ears from now on," commented Maleficent in a sombre voice.
"Yes, I—" Aurora couldn't help but sigh again, relief and exhaustion suddenly washing over her. "Thank you. Again. I don't know what to say, I—"
She was about to lose herself in more gratitude and apologies when a cold hand posed on her arm ripped all words from her mouth. Hesitantly, she raised her gaze to Maleficent's face, which was directed straight forward. Deadly slowly, she followed Maleficent's impenetrable eyes and restrained a gasp.
Before the two women was a large group of young toddlers, all aged from eight to twelve years old, and before them stood a tall, stern-looking middle-aged woman who was staring at the two Sleeping Beauty characters with an aghast look on her face and an open mouth.
"Hello everyone," Aurora tried to sound cheerful and confident. Judging by the tightening of Maleficent's fingers on her arm, she concluded that she had failed miserably.
"Look, children, this is Princess Aurora and the Wicked Fairy Maleficent, in the flesh." The chaperone of the group, who must be a teacher, Aurora thought, seized the opportunity of normalcy which the Princess had just offered her. "Don't you want to come closer and speak with the heroins of your childhood?"
The children shared uneasy glances, until finally, a young boy who must be nothing more than eleven years old rushed forward and stood right in front of Maleficent, who glared down at him with twinkling black eyes and one disdainful arched eyebrow.
"Maleficent, I'm such a fan of yours!" The boy squealed excitedly. "I love your powers, and your class, and your looks, and... Oh, when you turn into a dragon! Wow! This was awesome! Boom, and bam! Fire everywhere, woosh! It was... Wow. Would you sign this for me?"
Maleficent used all her self-control gathered during all these years of pretending not to laugh at the teenager's face, and instead she simply looked down to the poster he held dearly to his chest, which represented no other than herself and her dragon form, accompanied by the epic title of "Maleficent, Mistress of All Evil". Title that brought a content grin to her thin red lips.
"Of course." She answered icily, never departing with her regal elegance as she bent slightly to grab the pen she was given and add her signature, right under the word "evil".
As the young boy was following all Maleficent's moves with mesmerized eyes, a girl stepped forward and came face to face with Aurora.
"You broke up with Phillip," she started quietly, looking down in clear disappointment. "Is that how the fairytale truly ends?"
Aurora struggled to swallow her saliva as she stole a glance at Maleficent, who looked at her from the corner of her eye, and nodded almost imperceptibly.
"Well, yes," the princess confessed, reluctant to lie. "Sometimes the prince reveals to be a bit different from what we expected."
"But..." The girl dared a sideway glance at the wicked fairy. "Why Maleficent defended you?"
"Because Maleficent is a badass, duh!" intervened the young fan boy, rolling his eyes, as if the question condoned no other answer. "And nothing or no one's completely black or white, you know." He added in an insufferable know-it-all tone as he retrieved the poster Maleficent had just signed, holding it to his heart. "Besides, we don't know her past. Maybe she had good reasons to curse Aurora."
"What?" The young girl almost yelled, now turning frankly towards her classmate. "But Aurora was just a baby! She had done nothing wrong! No one can have a good reason to curse a baby!"
Aurora watched speechlessly as the two classmates started to argue on the goods and bads of both the Disney villain and the Disney princess. One glance to the side confirmed that Maleficent was just as astounded as she was. When she met the teacher's shining brown eyes though, she found pride and amusement in her gaze as it was focused on her pupils.
"You don't know." The boy objected, shrugging his shoulders. "Maybe Aurora's dad or mother did something terrible to Maleficent, and so she just wanted to get revenge."
"Even so," the girl crossed her arms on her chest, lifting her chin in defiance, "the parent's wrongs can't justify a curse cast on their child, who was innocent. If she wanted revenge, she should have done so on the parent, not the kid!"
"Maybe she hates Phillip." The boy suddenly changed tactics, reflecting on his new theory, a hand scratching his chin absently. "So she cursed Aurora to prevent him from getting his happy ending. And to complete her revenge, she decided to steal her from him."
"Steal her?" repeated the girl, frowning in incomprehension, and by doing so, mirroring Aurora's thoughts exactly.
"Yeah. Maybe she decided that she deserved the princess, not the prince."
"That's bullshit!" The girl clenched her fists dangerously. "The prince deserves the princess, he saved her from the dragon!"
"But sometimes, being saved is not enough." The soft voice of Princess Aurora interrupted the argument, and all eyes converged towards her.
"What? But why? If he saved you then, it means that he loves you, right?" The little brunette asked, uncertainty barely concealed in her voice.
"That's a possibility, if we consider that he did know me beforehand. And nothing is less sure, isn't it?" A sad smile graced Aurora's features, and Maleficent took a step towards the princess unconsciously, but that did not escape the young boy's attention, who winked at the fairy, though the latter remained oblivious. "Do you think that one single afternoon of dancing and singing in the woods is enough to truly know someone?"
The girl looked down, defeated. "No, I guess not." She looked up again, a whole new challenge dancing in her eyes as she met Aurora's gaze. "But he kissed you and you woke up. So that means he loved you!"
"Yes," Aurora admitted in a strange melancholic smile. "But that doesn't mean I loved him. I was nothing but a passive actor in this scene, don't you think?"
That definitely stole the words from the girl's mouth, for she could do nothing but stare at the princess, blinking in difficult recognition. Prisoner of silence, she turned on her heels and joined the group, under the teacher's worried gaze.
"That doesn't explain why Maleficent just saved you from Phillip, though." The boy kept on wondering, which caused Aurora to take a deep breath, hoping it would bring about the patience that she lacked to deal with such an eager boy. "She's evil. She's supposed to want to kill you, not to save you."
Reaching the end of her professional kindness, Aurora stepped towards the boy, halting as her face was hovering five centimeters above his.
"You look like you know everything. But the truth is, there're many things you don't know yet, kid." She said, very slowly, and the boy could only widen his eyes at her. "You may think the prince is nice and brave because he fought for me and woke me up. But when you learn to truly know him, you can see that behind the mask, there's no warmth nor bravery. Likewise," Aurora cut herself off to steal a glance at Maleficent above her shoulder, and the fairy was eaten alive by the fury and passion flowing in those purple orbs, "Maleficent wears black and horns. She casts spells on innocent children, and yet..." Her voice lowered to a whisper, so that only the young boy could hear what she had to say next, "behind the mask hides the most ardent and beautiful creature. And I've learnt to love that creature, not some insipid prince."
Eventually, Aurora straightened back and looked around, glad to see her audience was still focused on her every word and move.
"The truth is, kid, the song was right." She continued, a sincere smile gracing her rose lips, violet eyes glowing with victory. "Visions are seldom all they seem."
Before the toddlers' mystified eyes, the teacher's dropping jaw, Aurora simply threw a look behind her back and towards her companion. "Maleficent, if you would." She extended her bent arm towards the fairy, who did not wait to walk forward and lay her hand in the crook of Aurora's elbow.
"Now, if you'll excuse us." Aurora said politely as she started forward, without once turning back, Maleficent at her side.
When they left the Dragon's Lair road and returned to the Castle grounds, Maleficent allowed herself to smirk at her partner.
"Now, what was that again?" asked the tall woman as her hand snuggled more comfortably around Aurora's arm.
"What are you talking about?" retorted the princess, easily averting the fairy's questioning gaze.
"Why, your little life lesson about appearances and pretences, of course."
Aurora sighed lightly as she stopped dead in her tracks to look at Maleficent. "It's just, I'm tired of everyone thinking that Maleficent is nothing more than the villain of the story, because we needed a villain, and so she became one. It's more complicated than that. The villains are not always those we expected. But people — especially children — can't seem to see past the appearances. It's... annoying, really."
"Now, now, look at that." Maleficent sneered down at her, while sliding a hand under Aurora's chin, lifting it so that her dark pupils could eat at the girl's pure purple eyes. "The princess defending the villain. Isn't it humorous?" One slim green finger stroked the younger woman's jaw almost affectionately. "Tell me, princess. Who are you fighting for? All the misunderstood villains in the History of fiction, Maleficent included, or... myself?"
"I..." Aurora suddenly found herself at loss for words as the treacherous finger caressed her bottom lip languidly. "I don't know." She put an end to the dangerous dance of Maleficent's fingers by capturing the icy hand into her own. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I don't care for the others. Maybe I care for no one but you. But tell me, Maleficent," her newly confident eyes locked with Maleficent's endless black orbs as she lifted the green hand to her lips, murmuring against them with delicious slowness, "if I don't fight for you, who will?"
The corners of Maleficent's lips twitched into a satisfied smile as she reached up with her free hand to put away one of the princess' golden locks behind her ear.
"Oh, but that much is certain, princess. For I would let no one fight for me, but you." Taking one last step towards Aurora, thus breaking the distance between them, Maleficent let her free hand move down the girl's hair until it nested on her pale neck. She leaned forward, enough to whisper into her ear, her voice heated and alluring, "Your wrath ignites a fire inside me that no knight in armour could ever extinguish, for the use of the Sword of Truth would only confirm that I was thrown into the burning fires of Hell because of you."
Aurora held her breath as the hot, mesmerizing voice filled her ears with sinful words, and she squeezed the fairy's fingers against her mouth, her lips closing around them, thus kissing them violently, as the other green hand was drawing sensual circles against the back of her neck.
When Maleficent finally pulled away, Aurora let the hypnotizing hands leave her body reluctantly, unable to perform the slightest gesture to hold on to them. She exhaled the breath she did not remember she was retaining, and, before Maleficent's arched eyebrow and blood twisted lips, she simply smiled in return, already regretting the loss of contact and warmth.
"Well, I shall see you at the Parade, then," Maleficent declared neutrally, never parting with her lecherous smile. "If by any chance, you are looking for me, just remember this, princess." She whirled around to head towards the Castle, walking past a frozen Aurora in a wrinkling of silk fabric. "I will always be behind you..."
This last sentence had been murmured into the hollow of her ear, and Aurora gathered all her strength not to shiver shamelessly.
When the dark fairy was finally out of sight, Princess Aurora let herself fall on the sidewalk, indifferent to the concerned looks she was getting from both the staff and the clients of the park. All that mattered was the woman who had just left her defenseless, cruelly deprived of what her body craved the most, and utterly bewitched.
God damn those woman villains!
Who am I to judge Cinderella? She let out a rasped laugh. I am worse than her. She at least has the excuse of gaining something out of this. What am I getting?
Nothing. Nothing but madness.
Madness, and this uncontrollable, unleashed, raging need. A need I can't fulfill on my own. A need that was initiated by her, and must be satisfied by her.
God damn it. Now that I'm finally rid of Prince Phillip, I desire the only person I shouldn't. The Forbidden woman.
Princess Aurora lusting after Maleficent. What kind of Sleeping Beauty tale is that?
She sighed deeply as she got back to her feet, deciding that only a meal in the canteen would keep her mind off disturbing thoughts and feelings, all the while knowing that those very cursed thoughts would come back at night, in the loneliness of her room.
So much for my beauty sleep.