Maleficent manages to avoid the conversation for a few days, but it's no where near as long as she wishes it could be.

It starts with Aurora asking a question, as she often does. "How did you two meet?" she asks Diaval as she sits with him and Maleficent in the Moors.

"My mistress saved my life," Diaval replies, stretching out next to Aurora as Maleficent watches them silently. "I was trapped under a net by a farmer and his dogs, and my mistress turned me human. They ran, and I've been in her debt ever since."

"What do you do for her?" Aurora asks curiously.

"Aside from watching over little beasties?" Diaval teases. "Mostly, I acted as my mistress's wings, back when she had none."

Maleficent can't help but shake her wings out a little at the words. It feels so good to have them back. To be able to soar through the sky, to fly to the places she used to be unable to reach…

She almost misses Aurora's second question, but she's just able to catch it. "Why do you always call Godmother your mistress?"

Diaval tilts his head to the side, a bird-like gesture that seems to stick with him no matter which form he takes. "Because that's what she is," he replies simply. "I'm her servant, and she is my mistress."

Maleficent is abruptly dragged out of her flight-related daydreams, and it takes effort to keep from gaping at Diaval. Does he truly feel like that? The two of them have been companions for nigh upon two decades now, and for a long time, Maleficent has considered Diaval not as a servant, but a friend. Has Diaval truly never seen them as such? Has everything he's done for her simply been the ministrations of a dedicated servant?

Aurora switches her focus and begins peppering Diaval with questions about his shapeshifting, but the previous topic stays in Maleficent's mind. There's a conversation with Diaval that she's been avoiding ever since she got her wings back, and although she'd rather keep avoiding it, she knows she can no longer. She'll have to speak with him tonight.

Aurora leaves the Moors before too long, returning to her human castle. Maleficent, as usual, turns Diaval into a raven before taking off and flying back to her nest. Diaval follows, and while Maleficent has always taken that to mean he wishes to come with her, now she wonders if he's only doing what he thinks a servant must. She dislikes this uncertainty. She dislikes the fact that they'll have to talk to resolve it even more.

When they reach the nest, Maleficent watches Diaval land on the ground and flicks a finger towards him, sending a golden shimmer of magic in his direction. "Into a man."

Diaval stumbles a bit as the change takes hold. "Mistress?" he asks, looking up at Maleficent. He normally sleeps as a raven, and his confusion at being turned into a human so late in the night is clear. He can already tell something is going to happen, and part of Maleficent wants to just turn him back into a raven and go to sleep, but she and Diaval have to have this discussion, and if she doesn't start it now, she doesn't know that she ever will. Diaval deserves better than that.

"There's something we must discuss," Maleficent says, hoping if she sounds grand enough it'll keep her voice from trembling. "You have been in my debt ever since I saved you from death."

Diaval frowns. "Aye, I know."

"In the castle, you saved me from King Stefan's net, just as I saved you from the farmer's," Maleficent says. "You saved my life as I saved yours. Your debt is repaid."

"Mistress," Diaval says slowly, "what are you saying?"

"I am no longer your mistress," Maleficent says. "You are free, Diaval. You are indebted to me no more. You can leave."

Diaval is quiet for a long moment. "I suppose you have your own wings now," he finally says. "You don't need mine anymore."

The words stab at Maleficent's heart, but she forces herself to nod. She's stolen enough years of Diaval's life. He deserves his freedom. She will keep him chained to her no longer.

"Be free. Go where you wish, and live with those you choose, unbound to anyone else. You need not stay with me."

For an instant, Maleficent thinks Diaval looks almost hurt. She's not quite sure why that would be the case, though. If that was the expression after all, it's gone almost as soon as it came.

"What form would I take?" Diaval finally asks, his voice quiet.

Maleficent swallows and stiffens her back deliberately to keep her shoulders from slumping. A part of her had almost hoped that Diaval would stay, even after being given his freedom, but that was selfish of her. She needs to let him go.

"I can give you the power to change your own shape at will," she says. The magic will be difficult, but she owes him that much, at least. "You can take whatever form you wish."

"Thank you, Mistress," Diaval murmurs.

Maleficent is hardly able to keep from flinching. "I am no longer your mistress. You are free, Diaval. Call me that no longer."

"And what shall I call you instead, then?" Diaval asks, sounding honestly curious.

Maleficent arches an eyebrow. "My name?"

Diaval's brow furrows into a frown. "Maleficent," he says slowly, as if tasting the word on his tongue. This time, Maleficent is unable to control her reaction, and she flinches at the word. It sounds like Diaval is speaking to a friend.

But apparently, that's never what they were.

"I shall cast the spell to give you control of your transformations now," she declares. Diaval nods, standing at attention, and Maleficent pools golden magic in her hands. When she's gathered enough, she raises her cupped hands to her lips and blows. The magic settles like a powder over Diaval's skin, leaving him glittering for an instant. He makes a noise of either shock or protest, she can't tell which, but the magic soaks into his skin in an instant, disappearing from view. He still glows slightly to Maleficent's eyes, but she thinks that's just the magic in him reacting to the magic in her. She blinks, and the glow dies.

"There," she says, crossing her arms over her chest. Her hands are trembling slightly, but she doesn't want Diaval to see. That was powerful magic, and powerful magic always takes a lot out of the caster. Even Maleficent is not so strong to be able to avoid a backlash from it.

"It's done?" Diaval asks, looking at his hands.

"You can change into whatever form you wish."

Diaval changes into a raven, then a horse, then back to a man. "Thank you," he says quietly.

"Your debt to me has been repaid," Maleficent says, nodding sharply. "Your freedom is yours once more."

Before Diaval can say anything else, Maleficent turns and climbs into her nest. She doesn't want to watch Diaval leave. She can feel his eyes on her back for a moment, then she hears a soft sigh, and then the rustle of feathers.

She knows he's gone the instant he leaves.

She turns back, scanning the skies for his raven form, but she can't see it. There's a strange tightness in her chest, but she ignores it. It was high time that she gave Diaval his freedom. All his years of service more than made up for her original favor. His debt was more than repaid, and she knows it's only right that she honored that. It's only right that he has his freedom now, to go wherever he wishes.

Maleficent only wishes his absence didn't hurt so much.

Maleficent spends most of her time in the Moors, of course, but occasionally, she visits the castle at Aurora's request. Aurora insists that the humans will never trust her if they don't see her, and Maleficent could never refuse Aurora anything anyway. She answers every summons, appearing every time her beastie calls.

The first time Maleficent shows up without Diaval in tow, Aurora peers around her and searches for a few moments before asking, "And where is Diaval? Off doing something for you in the Moors?"

"I granted Diaval his freedom," Maleficent says, careful to keep any hints of emotion from bleeding into her voice. "He left."

"Oh, Godmother," Aurora sighs, so perhaps Maleficent didn't keep her voice even enough after all.

"I'm certain he'll return to visit you," Maleficent says. "I doubt you could keep him away."

"And he'll visit you as well, I'm sure," Aurora agrees.

Maleficent doesn't answer. She's stolen enough of Diaval's life already. She doubts he will grant her any more. She hasn't heard from him once, after all, though it's been nearly a week since he left.

"Why did you call me here, Beastie?" she asks instead.

Aurora beams. "Prince Phillip wants to return. His message arrived just yesterday. He wishes to come in his father's stead to negotiate the new trade agreement between our lands."

"I doubt I'll be much help with trade agreements or negotiations," Maleficent says dryly.

Aurora shakes her head. "I didn't want to ask you about that. I wanted-" She ducks her head and looks up at Maleficent through her lashes. "I think he wishes to court me, Godmother."

For a second, ice-cold fear rushes through Maleficent's veins. The thought of Aurora - her little beastie - ever being vulnerable to a man like that is terrifying. But Phillip is not Stefan, and Aurora is not Maleficent. Things will not go so badly between them. Maleficent will not allow it.

"I want you to meet him properly," Aurora continues. "I wouldn't want to marry anyone you didn't approve of."

"Do you love him?" Maleficent asks softly.

Aurora blushes. "I don't know, but I think I might."

Maleficent swallows her warning to be careful. Aurora is smart enough not to make the mistakes that Maleficent herself made, and regardless, Maleficent will watch every interaction between Aurora and Phillip that she possibly can.

"All I wish for is your happiness, little Beastie," Maleficent says, doing her best to smile. "If you believe this boy will make you happy, I have no objections."

Aurora beams and hugs Maleficent tightly. "I'm so glad to hear that, Godmother! Phillip should arrive within the week. Will you stay at the castle until he does? Please?"

Maleficent dislikes the castle. There's still too much iron here, even though Aurora has gotten rid of much of it, and bad memories linger around every corner. Aurora's people still distrust Maleficent, despite all that Aurora has done to vouch for her, and Maleficent can barely walk down a hallway without sideways glances and muttered comments. If Maleficent had her way, she'd never visit the castle ever again.

But she's never been able to refuse Aurora anything either.

"If that is your desire, I shall stay."

Aurora squeals in delight. "Oh, how wonderful! And I'd rather hoped to throw a ball when Prince Phillip arrives, and I wanted to invite everyone from the Moors. Do you think it's a good idea?"

"You are the Queen of both your father's kingdom and the Moors," Maleficent replies. "You may invite its people to all the balls you wish."

"Do you think the Moorfolk will come?" Aurora asks worriedly.

"I believe they will," Maleficent says. "Perhaps not all, but at least some." The pixies, she's certain, will go, but she's not sure if Aurora will see that as a positive or not.

"I want to bring Phillip to the Moors as well," Aurora adds. "He ought to see them. And if he truly wishes to court me, he needs to know how important they are to me. I don't think I could ever love anyone who doesn't like the Moors."

"I'll tell Balthazar not to scare him too badly," Maleficent teases, although she'll do no such thing unless Phillip impresses her beforehand.

Aurora claps delightedly. "Oh, I do so hope he likes the Moors! I think he will. And he'll have to meet you too, of course, and oh, I wish he could meet Diaval."

The name sends a stab of pain through Maleficent's heart. "I'm sure Diaval will visit you before too long, little Beastie," she tells Aurora with a smile she hopes doesn't look too fake.

Aurora beams. "I hope so! Now, come with me!" She grabs Maleficent's hand and drags her towards the staircase, bouncing on her toes. "I have a room upstairs prepared for you, without the slightest hint of iron. It has a lovely view of the Moors, and such a comfortable bed. Come, let me show you!"

Maleficent can't help but laugh as Aurora drags her up the stairs, all eagerness in her desire to show off the room. As Aurora chatters about rebuilding the castle and preparing it for balls and fun instead of war, Maleficent carefully takes any lingering thoughts of Diaval and locks them away. She will not allow him to dominate her mind while she is with Aurora. He clearly thinks little of her, so she will think little of him.

She will, she swears it.

While Maleficent promised she would stay in the castle with Aurora until Phillip's arrival, she still does visit the Moors most days, to keep an eye on things there. She's returning from one of those trips when she sees a raven fly away from the castle, and she knows with a visceral certainty that it's Diaval.

For a moment, she wants to fly after him, but she stops herself. She promised that she would give Diaval his space. He clearly doesn't want to see her, or he'd have visited her already. He at least would have waited in the castle, for Aurora would have undoubtedly told him that Maleficent would be back soon. Clearly, he's not interested in seeing her.

Honestly, Maleficent's not quite sure how she knows the raven is Diaval, but she does. Maybe it's the magic she gave him, reaching out to her. Maybe spending two decades with someone gives you this sort of bone-deep knowledge. Maybe it has something to do with the feelings Maleficent won't let herself think too deeply about, the ones that snuck up on her so slowly but somehow became so strong. It doesn't matter, she tells herself. Any relationship she might have had with Diaval is over. It was one-sided anyway, since Diaval apparently thought of it as nothing but the relationship between a servant and mistress. It does no good to dwell on thoughts of anything else.

Still, when Maleficent lands on Aurora's balcony, she can't help but casually ask, "Did anything interesting happen while I was gone, Beastie?"

"Godmother!" Aurora immediately runs forward to give Maleficent a hug. "Oh, you just missed Diaval! He came to visit, just like you said he would!"

"I'm glad to hear it."

"And he says he'll come back again for the ball," Aurora adds. "He wants to meet Phillip."

"I'm sure he does," Maleficent agrees, while her mind whirs. She's already agreed to attend the ball as well, so she'll have to see Diaval then. She wonders if he knows she'll be there. She wonders if he'll speak to her. Then she remembers her vow to think as little of Diaval as he seems to be thinking of her, and she pushes the thoughts from her mind.

"Have we had any updates on when Prince Phillip will arrive?" she asks to change the subject.

"Tomorrow, most likely," Aurora replies. "Or perhaps the day after."

"And are you excited to see him?"

Aurora smiles shyly. "I am. And I'm excited for you and Diaval to meet him."

Maleficent almost counters that she and Diaval have met the boy, then she figures that finding him and spelling him into sleep probably doesn't really count as meeting. This time, she will meet him properly, which means she can determine whether or not he's worthy of her beastie. Her immediate inclination is to think that no man could possibly be worthy of Aurora, but if she truly loves Phillip, Maleficent will give him a chance.

"I'm excited to meet the boy too," she says. "Have you made arrangements for his arrival?"

"I have," Aurora replies, nodding. "There's to be an official welcome, and then a private dinner for the three of us afterwards. Or four of us, if Diaval comes. I invited him, but he said he wasn't sure he could make it."

That is, Maleficent assumes, so he can back out if he decides he wishes to avoid her. He must be avoiding her, to leave the castle just before she returned. He has every reason to, of course, but…

Do not think of him, Maleficent instructs herself firmly. Do not dwell on him. He has made his choice. Respect it, and make your own.

"Either way, I'm sure Prince Phillip will enjoy it," she says aloud. "How long will he stay?"

"A week, I believe," Aurora replies. "I thought we'd have the ball on his last night. I'll ask him what he thinks, and then send out invitations."

"The Moorfolk are excited at the thought," Maleficent reports. "Many of them plan to attend. The pixies are especially enthusiastic about the idea."

Aurora beams. "Of course they are. I'll have to ask my aunties if they wish to help ready things for the ball. I imagine they'll want to help with preparations."

"Are you certain you wish to subject anyone to that?" Maleficent asks dryly.

Aurora laughs. "Oh, my aunties aren't that bad! I do love them, even if they weren't the most attentive guardians. I believe they love me too."

"Oh, they do," Maleficent replies. "They're very proud of you. And they insist on taking credit for how you turned out, as if they had any role in it at all."

"Oh, Godmother," Aurora scolds. "They weren't so bad, were they?"

Maleficent curls her lip and doesn't respond. The pixies were awful, and Aurora knows it, but she always prefers to believe the best of people. If she wishes to pretend the pixies weren't negligent, incompetent guardians, Maleficent will rest easy knowing that she knows the truth.

"Will you help prepare for the ball?" Aurora asks eagerly.

"I know nothing of such things," Maleficent replies. As Aurora's face falls, she adds, "But if you wish, I will do my best."

"Oh, good," Aurora says, beaming again. "I think this is all going to be quite lovely, Godmother."

Maleficent smiles, unable to do anything else in the face of her beastie's joy. "I think it will be too."

The only thing that could make it better, she thinks, would be if Diaval were here; and then she banishes the thought from her mind and strictly forbids it from ever coming back.

Phillip arrives the next day, just on schedule. Maleficent remains in the background during the official welcome, but afterwards, Aurora drags Phillip over to her with a wide smile.

"And this," she tells him, "is my godmother, Maleficent."

"My lady," Phillip says, bowing. He looks back up at her, a slight frown on his face, and adds, "Have we met? You seem… familiar."

"You would have seen her at my coronation," Aurora says. "Remember?"

Maleficent has the feeling that Phillip is remembering something different, but she doesn't make any mention of the time she put him in an enchanted sleep and brought him to the castle so he could kiss Aurora on the off chance that he might be her true love. "It's lovely to meet you, Prince Phillip," she says. "Aurora has told me a great deal about you."

"All good, I hope," Phillip says nervously.

Maleficent arches an eyebrow and doesn't respond, just to watch him sweat.

"Of course it was good," Aurora interjects. "The three of us will be dining together tonight, Prince Phillip. Maleficent is as a mother to me, you see, and I want you two to get to know each other."

"Of course," Phillip agrees, inclining his head. "I'm honored."

"Diaval might join us as well, if he arrives," Aurora adds. "He's my… well, I suppose if Maleficent is my godmother, Diaval would be my godfather of sorts. He and Maleficent raised me."

Maleficent wonders how much of the story Phillip knows. He must know of the curse, of course, given that he was pressured into attempting to break it, but Maleficent wonders if he has any inkling of how the curse was cast and who cast it upon a helpless baby in the first place. How much of the story leaked past their borders? How much of the tale that did is true?

If Phillip knows what Maleficent has done, there's no sign of it on his face. "I would be happy to meet any family of yours, Queen Aurora."

"And we are all very interested to meet you," Maleficent says, her voice just sharp enough to make the comment almost threatening.

Aurora shoots her a look that says she knows exactly what Maleficent is doing and doesn't approve. "I'm sure you want to freshen up, Prince Phillip. I'll have someone escort you to your chambers, then you can meet us again later. Does that sound acceptable?"

"It sounds perfect," Phillip says, bowing deeply. "Thank you, Queen Aurora."

"You can just call me Aurora, really," Aurora offers. "We're all friends here, aren't we?"

"Then you may call me Phillip," Phillip says. He takes Aurora's hand and brushes a kiss across the back of it. "Until later, Aurora." He nods to Maleficent. "My lady."

Maleficent hardly waits until Phillip has left the room to share her opinions on him. "He seems rather sure of himself."

"I don't think it's that, Godmother," Aurora replies. "I think he's just happy to be here, and I do think he likes me. And I think he can tell I like him. Is it obvious?"

"Perhaps a bit," Maleficent allows. "I'll reserve my judgment about the prince until after dinner."

"Do you have any first impressions?" Aurora asks tentatively. "Are they good ones?"

"He doesn't seem… awful," Maleficent replies. Truth me told, she can't think of anything about the boy that she particularly dislikes, but that doesn't mean she trusts him. She's going to need to get to know him much more before she trusts him with her beastie.

"Well, I'm glad you don't hate him," Aurora says. "I think you'll grow to like him. He's a lovely man, after all."

"If you love him, I will grow to love him as well," Maleficent says. "He'll be family, after all."

Aurora beams. "I think the four of us will make a lovely family."

Maleficent's smile becomes a bit fixed, but thankfully, Aurora doesn't seem to notice. "I'm sure we will be," she replies mildly. She knows, of course, who the fourth person is, and she's not sure if she and he will ever be family to each other, but she can't deny that they're both family to Aurora. "Is dinner prepared?"

"It should be being prepared right now," Aurora replies. "Perhaps I should go to the kitchens and check. Do you think I should?"

"You could send someone else to do it for you," Maleficent suggests. "You're queen now, after all. You don't need to do things yourself."

"Oh, I don't mind," Aurora replies. "I'll pop down and check. Do you want to come with me, Godmother? Or you could go out to the gardens, and I'll meet you there!"

The gardens are still struggling after years of Stefan's cruel treatment, and Maleficent has been doing her best to help them blossom again. "I believe I'll go to the gardens, unless you wish me to accompany you."

"No, I can do it myself," Aurora replies. "I'll meet you soon!"

Maleficent goes outside while Aurora delves deeper into the bowels of the castle. The gardens are doing better, and today, they only need a few tendrils of Maleficent's glowing gold magic. She sends them out to the worst spots, then she sits down on a bench under a tree and sighs.

A raven lands on the arm of the bench, looking up at Maleficent with curiosity. Her fingers twitch automatically, but this bird isn't Diaval, and the spell doesn't leave her lips. "What is it?" she asks, her voice a bit sharp. "What do you want?"

The bird looks at her, tilting its head to the side. Maleficent hisses at it and it flies off, leaving her both relieved and unaccountably lonely. Normally, she likes her space, but right now…

She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and slowly lets it out. Forget about him, she tells herself sternly. It's not the first time she's given herself this instruction, and she doubts it'll be the last. He left. Let him go.

But that's exactly the problem, of course; she let him go, and he left, and now all she can do is hope that someday, he'll come back.

Dinner with Phillip goes smoothly, but Diaval doesn't come. Most things with Phillip go smoothly, and Maleficent is forced to begrudgingly admit he might actually be an acceptable partner for her beastie. She has to return to the Moors sometimes, of course, and on a few of those occasions, she comes back to the palace to find out that she's just missed Diaval. She wonders how he always knows just when to leave to avoid her, and her heart hurts that he wants to avoid her so much at all. Aurora can clearly see that something is wrong, although she doesn't say anything explicitly about it. She does mention multiple times that Diaval has promised to go to her ball, so Maleficent will be able to see him then.

To be honest, Maleficent isn't sure if she's eager for that or dreading it.

She doesn't have much time to decide; the week seems to pass unfathomably quickly, and almost before she knows it, the ball is upon them. Maleficent dresses in one of her grander gowns, and Aurora preens in a new dress, and Phillip joins them in an elegant suit, and Maleficent is almost able to forget who she's going to see tonight.

The ball, once she arrives, is an effective distraction. The Moorfolk are excited to visit the human palace but completely ignorant of how things work here, and the humans seem suspicious enough that Maleficent doesn't want to take her eyes off of them. She spends the first half of the ball keeping a wary eye on the proceedings, and somehow, despite that, Diaval manages to arrive without her noticing. It's not until she sees him dancing with Aurora that she realizes he's there at all, and not until Aurora deliberately deposits him next to Maleficent when the dance is done that she has a chance to speak.

Of course, she has no idea what to say.

"Where did you learn to dance like that?" she finally asks, in lieu of anything better.

"I spied on the humans for a long time," Diaval replies. There's an absence in his sentence, and Maleficent knows it's where he would have said Mistress. She purses her lips to keep from making any other sort of reaction.

"Well, Aurora seemed to enjoy your dance well enough, so you mustn't be too awful at it."

"Aurora doesn't seem to know much about dancing either, to tell the truth," Diaval replies. "We were both just hoping for the best out there."

"She seems to be doing well enough with Phillip," Maleficent counters. Diaval follows her gaze to where Aurora is dancing with Phillip for the fourth time that night, laughing in his arms as they waltz around the room.

"What do you think of the boy?" Diaval asks. "He wasn't her true love before, but that doesn't mean much. He's got time to become it, if they want."

"He's not awful," Maleficent says. "Aurora could choose worse."

"She surely could," Diaval agrees. "I like him. He's kind, and he's not easily spooked. He'll need to be unflappable, if he wants to help Aurora with the Moors."

"Is it so strange?" Maleficent asks, arching an eyebrow.

"To humans, yes."

"And to you?"

Diaval gives her a curious look out of the corner of his eye, then shrugs. "It was strange at first, I'll admit that. I got used to it after a while."

Used to it or not, he must never have learned to love it, because he's left. Maleficent must simply be imagining the almost wistful way he speaks about it now. If he wanted to come back, he could, so he must not want to.

"I'm glad to see you here," Maleficent says after a moment. "It means a great deal to Aurora."

"Of course," Diaval agrees. "I'm not about to disappoint her."

"I'm glad to hear you're visiting her as well," Maleficent adds. "After you left, I wasn't sure we'd ever see you again."

Diaval's lip twists slightly, almost into a sneer. "I'm not going to abandon her either."

"Of course not," Maleficent replies, a little taken aback by the sharpness in Diaval's tone. "I'd never ask you to."

"You dismissed me," Diaval reminds her. "I don't need to follow your orders anymore."

"Dismissed you?" Maleficent repeats, the turn of phrase sitting poorly on her lips. "You chose to leave, Diaval."

"After you told me to," Diaval counters, a bitterness in his voice Maleficent wasn't expecting. "I'm sure you never meant to see me again, but we can't avoid each other forever. We can go back to doing our best after the ball."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Maleficent replies haughtily, trying to sound imperious instead of confused. "If you wish to leave again, then by all means, do so."

Diaval looks at her for a moment, then he shakes his head, an expression almost like disgust on his face. "I should never have come."

"As I said, you're free to leave if you wish," Maleficent snaps. "I'll make your excuses to Aurora."

"I'll make my own excuses," Diaval retorts, and he storms over to Aurora. She's just finished dancing with Phillip, and he takes her by the arm, has a quick, murmured conversation with her, then turns into a raven and flies out the window. Aurora looks crestfallen, and it doesn't take long for her eyes to seek out Maleficent in the crowd. There's sympathy on her face, a sympathy Maleficent can't help but think she doesn't deserve. She should have kept her mouth shut. Now, she's brought unpleasantness to Aurora's ball and cast a cloud over it that it doesn't deserve. If she didn't need to keep an eye on the ball to make sure there was no more unpleasantness, she'd leave immediately.

Unfortunately, the Moorfolk are still ignorant and the humans are still suspicious, so Maleficent stays where she is, watching over everything to make sure the rest of the ball goes well. Her own evening is ruined, but that doesn't mean everyone else's has to be as well.

The ball feels as endless as the past week did fleeting, but finally, things draw to a close. Unfortunately, this gives Aurora the chance to speak to Maleficent as she's been trying to do all night, and the lack of other people there makes it much more difficult for Maleficent to try to avoid her. She ponders starting a conversation with Phillip, but he's far too likely to betray her to Aurora, so she doesn't even bother trying.

"What did you think, Godmother?" Aurora asks. "I think things went well. The Moorfolk and the humans seemed to get along well enough, didn't they?"

"They did," Maleficent agrees. "I doubt this will end all conflicts, but it ought to help."

"Good," Aurora declares. "But, Godmother… What happened between you and Diaval?"

Maleficent flattens her lips. "An argument. Nothing to worry about, Beastie."

"Is there anything I can do?" Aurora asks. "You both seem so upset by this."

"We'll manage," Maleficent replies. "Now, I ought to return to the Moors and check on the folk there, to see what they thought of the ball. I expect I'll sleep there too." She kisses Aurora's forehead. "Goodnight, Aurora. Sweet dreams."

"Goodnight, Godmother," Aurora replies, the shadow of concern still on her face. Maleficent does her best to ignore it as she returns to the Moors. Everyone there is still buzzing over the ball, and according to Maleficent's quick survey, no one had any trouble with the humans. She's glad to hear it, but she still feels tense from her fight with Diaval. A flight, she decides, is just the thing to fix that.

Perhaps, if she flies high enough, she might even be able to leave her problems behind.

Maleficent flies for at least an hour before finally giving up and landing. Her problems refuse to leave her alone, and even as she tries to fly away from them, she keeps thinking about how little she and Diaval got to fly together and how much she wishes they could have. Clearly, this isn't helping, so she returns to her nest and decides she'll try to sleep away her problems instead.

Before she can, though, she's accosted by three pixies. "Oh, Maleficent!" Thistlewit cries. "We found you!"

"Thank goodness!" Flittle gushes. "We've been looking everywhere!"

"What do you want?" Maleficent asks, aware that her voice is harsh and entirely uncaring. She has little patience for the pixies at the best of times, and right now, she has no patience at all.

"Girls, calm down," Knotgrass scolds. "We're here to give Maleficent a message, remember?"

"What message?" Maleficent asks tightly.

"You're needed at the palace!" Thistlewit tells her. "Aurora asked us to get you as quickly as possible!"

Maleficent spreads her wings immediately. "How long ago?"

The pixies look at each other. "Not too long?" Flittle finally says. "I don't think?"

Maleficent growls in irritation, then takes off with a gust of wind that sends the pixies sprawling through the air. She doesn't care, though; she has to get to the palace, and she has to get there now. If Aurora needs her help, she needs to be there.

She viciously silences the voice that tells her that, considering how long it took the pixies to find her, it may be too late. She doesn't know what Aurora needs, but whatever it is, it has to be something she can fix. She refuses to allow for anything else.

She lands on the balcony outside Aurora's bedroom, and Aurora rushes to her, tear stains on her cheeks. "Oh, Godmother, thank goodness!" she cries. "Phillip and I have done all we can, but he's so badly hurt and there's so much blood-"

"What happened?" Maleficent asks, pulling in her wings and letting Aurora throw her arms around her. "What do you need?"

"It's Diaval," Aurora sobs, and Maleficent's heart stops.

"Diaval?" she repeats, her voice little more than a croak. It sounds almost like a raven, some part of her notes with bitter irony.

Aurora nods and pulls away, grabbing Maleficent by the arm and dragging her over to the bed. Sure enough, Diaval is lying in it, far too pale, with clumsy attempts at bandages wrapped around his torso. They're already stained with blood, and although Phillip seems to be trying his best to staunch the bleeding, there seems to be little he can do.

"What happened?" Maleficent asks again, her voice sounding strangely distant.

"I don't know," Aurora sobs. "Phillip and I were speaking, and then Diaval practically fell through the balcony! He turned into a man and collapsed. We tried our best to bandage his wounds, but they're so awful, Godmother. I sent the pixies out to find you, but I didn't know if they'd manage it in time."

"He's still alive," Phillip reports. There's blood on his hands and on his elegant suit, and when Maleficent glimpses behind her, she sees there's also blood on Aurora's pretty dress. "But it looks almost like he's been attacked by some sort of wild animal."

Maleficent peels away the bandages and examines the claw marks. "A wolf, I believe," she murmurs. She summons all of the healing magic she can and presses it into Diaval's wounds, pouring so much into them that they glow gold. Slowly, they knit closed, and while Diaval will undoubtedly come out of this with a few more scars, at least the wounds aren't bleeding anymore.

"Will he be alright?" Aurora asks desperately.

"I believe so," Maleficent says, pulling her hands away wearily. There's blood on her hands too now, but she doesn't use magic to clean them. Her magic is powerful, but it's not limitless, and she won't waste it on simple things like washing her hands when Diaval might need it to survive.

Aurora bursts into tears, and Phillip offers her an embrace. She collapses into his arms, sobbing. Maleficent wants to comfort her, but she can't quite tear her gaze away from Diaval's too-pale face. The knowledge of how close he was to death sits heavily in Maleficent's stomach. If he hadn't reached Aurora and Phillip, if the pixies hadn't found Maleficent in time, if Maleficent herself hadn't had enough magic to save him…

If he died, the last thing Maleficent said to him would have been born of anger.

"You should get some rest, Beastie," Maleficent says quietly, when Aurora finally stops crying and steps out of Phillip's embrace. "I can bring Diaval up to my quarters."

"No, I'll sleep somewhere else," Aurora replies. "Diaval call stay here. He doesn't look like he should be moved."

Aurora is correct, so Maleficent just nods and allows it. She doesn't say a word as Phillip leads Aurora out of the room, though she does shoot him a warning look. She doesn't say a word as she washes her hands the best she can in the basin by Aurora's bed, and she doesn't say a word as she drags a chair over to the bed to sit in.

She doesn't say a word as she takes Diaval's hand and gives it a gentle squeeze, but she wishes he would.

Diaval wakes slowly, his eyes fluttering open just past dawn. "You're in Aurora's room in the palace," Maleficent says when she sees his brow crease in confusion.

Diaval whirls around to face her, or at least he tries to. He doesn't have much of a chance to move before he hisses in pain and puts a hand to his side, where his wounds are healing but far from healed.

"You're still injured," Maleficent tells him unnecessarily. "I was able to stop the bleeding, but if you pull at your wounds too much, they may reopen."

Diaval gingerly lays back against the pillows. "Thank you," he says, a bit warily. "So I made it back to the palace, then?"

"You did," Maleficent agrees. "You scared Aurora half to death, from what I heard. She sent the pixies after me, and I arrived in time to heal you before it was too late."

Diaval hums in acknowledgment but offers no explanation for his condition. "What happened?" Maleficent asks after a moment.

"A wolf," Diaval says shortly.

"Why didn't you transform?"

Diaval scowls. "I did, but not until after it clawed me the first time."

Maleficent wonders at that. Wolves aren't particularly quiet creatures, and Diaval normally has a keen sense of his environment. Then again, if he was as distracted in the aftermath of their argument as Maleficent found herself, perhaps the wolf's ability so sneak up on him isn't so surprising after all.

"And I think transforming made the wounds worse," Diaval adds. "They weren't bleeding as badly until after I turned into a bear."

That's possible, Maleficent supposes. Transforming alters his body, stretching some parts and contracting others, so perhaps that could worsen wounds. "Well, at least you were able to make it to the palace."

Diaval peeks at her out the corner of his eye. "Aye."

For a few moments, they're both silent, then Maleficent lets out a long sigh. "I believe we ought to talk."

"What do we have to talk about?" Diaval retorts. "I think we both made ourselves clear enough earlier."

"I don't," Maleficent replies, because there are things that Diaval said that she still can't quite wrap her mind around. "You said I dismissed you and told you to leave."

Diaval scowls. "You said you were no longer my mistress. You told me to leave and be free. You told me I need not stay with you." He says the last few words in such a scathing tone that Maleficent hardly recognizes her own words. She did say that, but she didn't mean it that way. Surely Diaval knows that?

No, Maleficent thinks, her heart sinking, Diaval doesn't know that at all.

"You told Aurora you were merely my servant," Maleficent protests, falling back on the original assumptions that led her to offer Diaval his freedom in the first place.

"Because you never let me be anything more!" Diaval retorts. "Every time I tried, every time I said something you didn't want to hear, you turned me back into a raven. You made our positions very clear."

"You agreed to leave, when I told you you could!" Maleficent cries. "You couldn't leave fast enough!"

"Well, you clearly wanted me gone, and I wasn't about to stay where I wasn't wanted," Diaval replies with more derisiveness than Maleficent has ever heard in his voice before. "I was tired. I still am."

"Tired of me?" Maleficent asks, finding even as she asks that she's terrified of what the answer will be.

"Tired of pretending," Diaval replies. "Tired of this. At first, I thought you never let anyone close, but then you let Aurora in, so I knew it was just me." His mouth twists. "If over sixteen years wasn't long enough for you, I didn't imagine any longer would be either."

Maleficent stares at Diaval thinks, unbidden, of the vow she made to herself after he left, the vow she was completely incapable of keeping. And yet Diaval, apparently, thinks he doesn't matter to her at all.

"Diaval," she says, her voice unaccountably hoarse, "I…"

"It's alright," Diaval says, and he sounds just as tired as he professed himself to be. "You can leave, and we'll just keep avoiding each other. If we both need to attend the same party again, we'll just keep our distance."

"I don't want to," Maleficent says.

Diaval turns his head, looking over at her with confusion in his eyes. "What?"

"I don't want to avoid you," Maleficent says. "When I told you to leave, I didn't want you to go."

The confusion only deepens. "But you told me to leave."

"I thought it was what you wanted," Maleficent replies. "I didn't want you to feel tied to me if you wanted your freedom."

"You turned away," Diaval protests. "You told me I could leave, then you turned away from me."

The raw honesty almost sticks in Maleficent's throat, but she knows Diaval deserves it. "I didn't want to watch you go."

Diaval swallows visibly. Maleficent watches the bob of his throat while she waits for him to speak.

"I didn't want to leave," he finally says in a voice so quiet she almost doesn't hear it.

"Then stay," Maleficent says, hoping her voice doesn't sound as desperate as she feels.

Diaval looks over at her, a small smile spreading across his face. Maleficent didn't realize how much she missed that smile until she sees it again.

"I suppose I will."

Maleficent manages to heal Diaval's wounds the rest of the way before Aurora comes to them, leaving nothing but thin scars along his side. It's a good thing too, given that Aurora lets out a shriek of joy upon seeing Diaval sitting up and awake and immediately throws herself forward into her arms. Diaval holds her tightly and strokes her hair, murmuring comforting nonsense into her ear as she clings to him.

"Thank you, Godmother," Aurora says, looking up at Maleficent with tears sparkling in her eyes. "You saved him."

"I wasn't about to let him die," Maleficent replies. "I refuse to lose him like that, especially now that I have him back."

Aurora looks from Maleficent to Diaval quickly. "You mean… You're not fighting anymore?"

"It was a misunderstanding," Diaval explains. "We talked it through."

"Oh, thank goodness," Aurora gasps, finally letting go of Diaval and sitting back at the end of the bed. "It's been awful with you two not speaking to each other."

"It's been awful for us too," Maleficent says quietly.

"We won't do it again," Diaval promises.

"Good," Aurora declares. She looks at both of them tentatively. "Phillip was hoping to have breakfast with all of us this morning, before he leaves. Would you two mind terribly?"

Maleficent looks over at Diaval, raising an eyebrow. Personally, she thinks the thought of a breakfast for the four of them sounds lovely, even if she's still not entirely sure about Phillip, but she won't assume she knows what Diaval wants. That's what got them into this mess, after all, and she'd prefer to avoid it happening again.

"That sounds good to me," Diaval says. "What do you say, Maleficent?"

Hearing him say her name is so much sweeter than hearing him call her mistress. Maleficent doesn't quite smile at the sound, but the way Diaval's lips quirk tells her he catches the fondness in her eyes.

"It sounds lovely," she says. "Lead the way, Beastie."

Aurora claps in delight, then pulls Diaval into another hug. To Maleficent's surprise, she also grabs her and pulls her in.

"I love you," she whispers. "Both of you. I love our family."

Maleficent hugs Aurora back, aware of Diaval pressed up against her side. They are a family, she thinks with satisfaction, and she's so grateful to have them back together.

"I think I speak for both of us when I say we feel the same," Diaval says, kissing Aurora's forehead. He makes eye contact with Maleficent over her head and raises an eyebrow. "Don't we?"

And this time, Maleficent smiles, unable to help it. "We most certainly do."