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The Queen of Sunshine and Bright Things

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I.

Being the protector of the moors again, Maleficent rediscovers, is no easy task.

It had been easy to raise a wall of thorns and keep out trespassers by brute sorcery. It is not so easy a task to keep the moors safe from unwanted intruders, without disturbing the fragile peace forged with the humans of Aurora’s kingdom.

Where she had dealt with magical threats with force before, she must now compromise, so that any ire against the moors may not be misdirected against the neighbouring human kingdom. Where she had thrown out human intruders without a second thought for their safety, now they must be neatly carted off the face the Queen’s justice, lest there be resentment among the humans about who it was that really ruled them. Rumours of magical threats must be thoroughly examined, and meetings with dignitaries from other magical kingdoms must be attended ("without turning the visiting Ambassador's head into a pumpkin just because he looked at you wrong." Diaval reminds her sternly.)

All of it requires feats of diplomacy that leave Maleficent quite exhausted, and keep her away from home almost constantly, sometimes for months on end.

On the first year of Aurora’s reign, it pains Maleficent to keep away from Aurora for so long; to be constantly in terror that something might happen to her beastie, who she has come to love more than she thought she could love anyone ever again.

But Maleficent is willing to do what it takes to keep the moors and Aurora’s kingdoms safe.

Because, if it would ensure the safety of her beastie and her rule, surely a few journeys and compromises are nothing.

 

II.

“It is so beautiful” Aurora says contentedly for possibly the hundredth time that day, looking up at the midsummer sun going down. It is the summer of her second reign and perhaps it is her long absence, but everything seems bright and new; the wood elves sing softer, the water tastes sweeter and even the very air seems lighter.

“You’ve said that about everything you’ve seen today.” Maleficent replies, a slight hint of teasing in her voice. She turns to the raven. “Diaval, I think our young queen might be getting a little lightheaded from all this sun.”

Her teasing earns her a caw of admonishment from Diaval, and a gentle shove from Aurora.

“It’s not my fault everything here is so lovely!” Aurora says, blushing slightly.

Aurora loves summer. Summer is when she is given leave from her duties to join the fairy folk in their mid summers indulgences. Summer is when she can run free through the moors, free of any thoughts of meetings to be attended, or dignitaries to placate.

“You have no idea how good it feels to be back in the moors.” Aurora says finally, giving a small sigh.

Aurora loves the moors too, in all their wild abandon.

Her human kingdom is full of turmoil even in times of peace, with courtiers maneuvering for power and her subject restless in their discontent. They ask, ask, ask. For power, for wealth, for pardons, for mercy, for protection. The requests are endless and threaten to overwhelm Aurora with the sheer number of them sometimes.

“It’s…hard, sometimes.” Aurora says, and her voice is small, barely audible over the swaying of grass. “Rulings…takes a lot out of you.”

The moors are already safe under the protection of Maleficent, and need no ruler to guide them in their natural path. They ask for nothing of Aurora, save that she love them.        

“Sometimes it’s a little hard to bear everything.” Aurora continues, emboldened by Maleficent’s attentive silence.

“Come here, little beastie.” Maleficent takes her by the shoulders and holds her close, her wings enfolding them involuntarily. “If it ever gets too hard, remember that you will always have a home here.” Her words are underscored by Diaval’s soft cawing from above.

Lying here, safe in Maleficent’s arms, the offer is tempting, to leave the human kingdom to its disorder and run away to the moors. To take Maleficent up on her offer right now, and never have to return to her palace of iron and stone.

“I don’t think queens can just run away from their kingdoms, fairy godmother.” Aurora murmurs instead. “But thank you.”

Her father had ruined the human kingdom with his greed and envy. The least she can do is put it to rights again.

“I think a queen can do as she likes, beastie.”Maleficent must have recognized the gentle refusal in Aurora’s replying shrug, for she says again, softly. “The moors will never turn you away, Aurora. However you decide, please remember that.”

“I know you won’t turn me away.” Aurora smiles, lulled into contentment by the steady beating of Maleficent’s wings around her.

Maleficent doesn’t ask Aurora for anything at all, but the queen loves her regardless, with all the love her young heart can hold.

 

III.

It does not escape Maleficent’s notice that the queen who returns to the moors when the human kingdom can spare her, is a mere shadow of the princess who had left two years ago. The responsibilities of ruling are starting to leave their marks on Aurora; they live in the shadows under her eyes and in the way the girl clings to Maleficent whenever they have a chance to meet.

“I don’t understand why she cares about those ungrateful fools.” Maleficent grumbles to Diaval one day, as she watches Aurora ride away from the moors, flanked by her personal guard.

“Yes, why can’t we all putter about the moors and go pranking the wood elves like you did in your youth?” Diaval asks sardonically, settling himself on a nearby rock.

“Not my fault they were too slow.” Maleficent says, flicking a nutshell at him for that comment.

Diaval rolls his eyes. “God forbid we can’t all be the terror on wings that you were.”

“Why, thank you.” Maleficent preens, and then goes back to frowning when the mention of wings reminds her of Aurora’s departure. “I don’t see why she has to leave with them. I’d planned to fly her back myself.” She had been looking forward to a restful flight in the cool night, and perhaps a little fun teasing her little beastie, who is still quite timid about flying.

“Didn’t want to appear too tied to the fairy kingdom, I expect.” Diaval says. “There’s already grumbling among the humans that she visits too often with the fairies. Can’t expect they’d be too pleased to see her being carted back and forth from the palace by one.”

“Loathsome, suspicious creatures.”

“Does that include Aurora, or are you making a special exception?” Diaval inquires, disapproval clear in his voice.

“You know what I mean.” Maleficent huffs. “I just don’t understand why she feels so strongly about this whole queen affair.” She knows she’s being unfair, but she can’t help but feel bitter about the pleading look on Aurora’s face as she had refused Maleficent’s offer to fly her home, eyes silently begging her to understand.

“You protect the moors, she protects her kingdoms.” Diaval shrugs. “I don’t see a difference.”

“I protect the moors because I love them.” Maleficent argues. “They have always been my home. Aurora didn’t even set foot in the palace until she was sixteen!”

“Humans don’t feel the way you and I do.” Diaval looks away from Maleficent and up at the sky. “They care about things like duty. Aurora is a queen, so she feels a responsibility to rule her people well.”

Duty? Responsibility? Maleficent makes a face. “Disgusting concepts.”

Diaval sighs exasperatedly. “Humans need concepts. It helps them make sense of a senseless world. Maleficent, I swear, for an intelligent woman, you are quite dense when it comes to human nature.”

She almost turns him into a bloody wolf again for that.

 

IV.

By the third year of Aurora’s reign, it becomes clear that the young princess has more aptitude for ruling than her lord father ever did, charming the smallfolk with effortless grace, and keeping an iron rein on her courtiers, both through her own wiles and through Diaval and Maleficent’s counsel.

It is with a lighter heart that Maleficent journeys that year to find the eastern prince who has found a lamp worth more than any treasure of gold or silver. She comes back with neither lamp nor prince, but instead an agreement of trade between his kingdom and Aurora’s, and is pleased to find the young queen's reign still secure, and the moors safe under Diaval’s watchful eyes.

She always drops by the palace on her journey back, both to give Aurora a report of her findings and for a chance to see the girl again, before flying back to the shade and safety of her beloved moors, and to the sarcastic but concerned remarks of her faithful raven companion.

 

V.

“So I told him that I understood that it makes no sense for a kingdom of legend to suddenly rise up from under the water.” Maleficent recounts to Aurora, as they sit under the shade of the old tree. “But I couldn’t very well ask it to go back down now that it was up there, could I?”

Aurora laughs, having heard the tale quite a few times already, but enjoying Maleficent’s cantankerous retelling of it.

“I suppose he didn’t like that.”

“Well, he liked it rather better when he found out that there were large deposits of precious crystal on the island, just waiting to be mined by some ‘worthy adventurer’, as he put it.” Maleficent rolls her eyes. “Humans.”

“As you say, godmother.” Aurora says the words casually, and she has said them many times before, yet Maleficent immediately feels the wrongness of them.

“Aurora,” she begins, and then comes to a stop, unsure of how to proceed. There is no delicate way to approach this matter that has been weighing in her mind for a little while now. “Erm...perhaps it is time for you to stop calling me that, don’t you think?”

Aurora seems a little put out by that. “And why not, fairy godmother?”

She can’t really explain why, except that recently it seems to upset her whenever Aurora calls her godmother. The best reason she has been able to come up with is that the term fairy godmother has been traditionally reserved for sorceresses of quite...advanced age, and regardless of that, such a career choice had not been something the naturally solitary Maleficent had ever considered to fit her.

“It... doesn’t sound quite right for a queen to be calling an old fairy from the moors her godmother, Aurora.” Well, that is the truth, if a somewhat twisted one.

“You’re not old, and I thought queens could do as they want.” Aurora drily echoes Maleficent’s earlier words, and not for the first time, the fairy curses Aurora’s treacherous memory for details.

“Aurora…" she tries, and somewhat succeeds, in injecting a threatening inflection to her tone.

“It’s rather a long name, I’m not sure I can remember it all that well,” is the teasing reply she gets from Aurora in return for her trouble. “Maybe I can call you Mal?”

“Only if you wish to be in a coffin six feet under right afterwards,” says a snide voice to their left.

Maleficent doesn’t need to look around to know that Diaval would be perched halfway up the tree they were resting on. Even in human form, he has some peculiarly birdlike habits.

“Oh, it’s you.” She says, as Aurora offers Diaval a considerably warmer welcome, complete with a wave.

“Loving as ever.” Diaval sighs, coming down and balancing himself in a half-crouch against a nearby rock. “Isn’t she so sweet, Aurora?”

Maleficent leans into the warmness of Aurora’s body against hers, and closes her eyes, letting their casually teasing conversation wash over her without quite listening. As she drifts off, she is vaguely conscious of Aurora’s hand coming up to rest against her head, and the cool touch of fingertips ghosting over her horns. Maleficent only smiles faintly at this familiar touch, as ever indulgent of Aurora’s fascination with the external manifestations of her fairy nature.

“…is that not so, fairy godmo- Maleficent?” The name sounds dissonantly foreign in Aurora’s voice, and that wakes Maleficent from her light slumber more than the actual words.

“Hmm?” she blinks a little, coming back to the present.

“Diaval asked why we weren’t taking a dip in the river if it was so hot, and I told him you don’t like get your wings wet, is that not so?”

“Indeed.” Diaval says, and there is something new in his voice, that makes Maleficent’s eyes narrow. Her head swivels around to look at him, only to sees his eyes flickering between Aurora’s hand curled around her horns, and Maleficent’s own head resting on the queen’s shoulders.

He looks back at her then, a slight frown creasing his face. Maleficent looks away immediately, head casually lifting away from Aurora’s shoulders.

“Yes,” she mutters in reply, turning slightly away from the both of them. “I prefer not to drag myself through the water unless I must. I don’t see why you humans are so fond of doing that.”

The sound of Aurora laughing indulgently at that doesn’t quite take the edge off her discomfort. She can’t fathom why Diaval’s eyes shine with the light of some new knowledge, or why noticing this discomfits her so.

 

 VI.

It is the fifth year since Queen Aurora ascended to the throne, and Maleficent is far away in the northern borders of the Moors, inspecting their northernmost stronghold, when news of the human intruders reaches her on raven wings.

It seems a few humans took to heart the old wives’ tales of gold and jewels to be found in the moors, and had decided to take them by force, regardless of the strict laws enacted by Aurora against entering the moor.

“Weapons!” Diaval manages to gasp out in his human form, as Maleficent flies them both back at breakneck speed to the southern borders between her moors and Aurora’s kingdom. “Iron and fire with them!” He chokes on his words then, as the passing wind takes away his breath.

It is easy to tell where the disturbances in the moors is when Maleficent descends, for there is smoke and loud noises coming from near the river.

Maleficent strides ahead in the direction of the clearing, ignoring Diaval’s disgruntled mutters about the rough journey.

And then stops abruptly.

Neatly wrapped up on the ground at her feet are three human soldiers, their weapons piled up neatly near them. Maleficent looks up.                                                              

Aurora is there, flanked by a bevy of human knights. Her garb shines gold and red, miraculously untouched by the dirt of the moors. It irritates Maleficent. Aurora smiles at her, a perfect smile, and for some reason, that irritates Maleficent too.

“And why are we all assembled here on this fine day?” she asks, forcing her voice to be calm and her breaths even. “Are we all welcome to this party, or is it invitation only?”

“My soldiers rode after them the moment I heard word of this plan, Maleficent.” Aurora begins without preamble. “As you can see, we arrived in time to disarm them before they could inflict any damage. I cannot begin to apologize for their actions, Maleficent, but believe me when I say their punishment will be harsh, and well-deserved.”

“Their punishment?” Maleficent cannot help her eyebrows from rising in disbelief. “Their punishment will be decided by me.”

“I am their Queen, for better or for worse.” Aurora says and there is an implacability in her voice that brings up Maleficent short. “Will you undermine my authority, right in front of me?”

“These humans are unwelcome in our moors Aurora.” Maleficent moves forward and pitches her voice low, so as not to reach the ear of Aurora’s guard.

“These humans,” Aurora imitates her tone, drawing herself up. “are my people, now. I am one of them.”

She has grown in their days apart, Maleficent realizes with a start. She is used to looming over her opponents, but the girl who once had to stretch to reach her waist, is now a woman that meets her eye to eye, and the determination in her eyes is uncompromising.

“Am I unwelcome here too, then?” Aurora continues, and it takes Maleficent a moment to follow the young queen’s train of thought, so rattled by the new observation is she.

“The moors will never turn you away, Queen Aurora.” Maleficent reminds her softly.

Aurora looks away at that, somewhat shamefaced, but her reply still comes back strong and sure. “The moors have you and Diaval to watch over them. The humans have only me.”

“Aurora.” Maleficent hisses, and is only half-disappointed when the woman before her doesn’t cower. “These human were in my kingdom, with weapons designed to hurt my people!”

“I know and they will be punished for it, by me, for this is my kingdom too, and I haven’t forgotten.” Aurora’s voice trembles. Just for second, the girl of Maleficent’s memory stands before her, before the years of ruling assemble themselves back into the regal face of the queen of fairies and humans alike. “I know you don’t approve, but please understand.”

“I don’t think it matters to you if I approve or not.” Maleficent shoots back drily. She wishes she can take back the words the instant she says them, for the hurt that flashes across Aurora’s face is unbearable.

“Aurora-“ she begins, reaching out for the girl, who only moves away from her slightly, and stands up tall and straight.

“Yes.” Aurora says flatly. “Yes, I believe it does not. The human intruders are of my kingdom and by rights, they fall under the Queen’s Justice.”

There is a silence, as two implacable wills meet. Then the human breaks it, by laying a placating hand on Maleficent’s own.

“Would you deny me my birthright, the one you fought to return to me?” Aurora asks softly.

Maleficent looks down. The part of her arm where Aurora touched her seems to burn, as if the woman in front of her was made of steel and fire, instead of flesh and bone.

Sweet Aurora, I’ve never been able to deny you anything.

And so it passes that day that the protector of the moors bows in deference to the human queen, and lets the human intruders leave her realm unharmed.

And Maleficent is made uncomfortably aware of something taking root in the place in her heart where she thought nothing could grow again.

 

VII.

A few months later, whispers begin to reach the moor of a new undertaking by the human queen, something that is causing dissent within the soldiers and grumbling among the queen’s advisors.

The rumours intrigue Maleficent, but before long she is called away to deal with a trouble brewing near the western borders, where a renegade fairy seems to have taken up the unfortunate of habit of ensorcelling innocent wolves into ambushing human travelers.

By the time Maleficent returns home, the deed is done, and she can only stand and stare in wonder.

It stands at the edges of the human kingdom, an immense arch made of iron encased safely in wood; on one side showing a human with a sword outstretched to the sky, met on the other side by a statue of a fairy with cheekbones as sharp as glass, holding out a staff of twined vine.

There are public proclamations issued to every corner of the kingdom of what the arch symbolizes, but Maleficent receives a private note all of her own, waiting at her home and carried by the queen’s own three fairy counselors.

From the sword and shield of every soldier who would raise arms against you. From the arms born by every human intruder who crossed into the moors with the intention of violence. My fairy “aunts” have told me that iron on doorways was used in olden days to ward out the fair folk from human homes. Let this doorway be used, then, not to burn fairies, but to let them pass through into the human kingdom, welcome and unharmed.

With love and heartfelt apologies for my overbearance,
Aurora

As far as apologies go, it is magnificent. Maleficent flies to Aurora’s castle immediately to respond in person to the letter, and the thing that seems to be growing in her heart beats stronger every time she looks towards the arch.

 

VIII.

“Next time we go flying.” Aurora gasps as they land. “Remind me not to eat so heavily beforehand.”

“I can’t fathom,” Maleficent says, “Why on earth you insist on flying with me, when you hate it so.”

Maleficent knows that Aurora is not particularly fond of flying. She knows it from the way the queen clings to her whenever Maleficent takes her flying, and by the way Aurora prefers to either bury her face in Maleficent’s chest, or babble incessantly while staring at the fairy, rather than look down and take in the scenery around her.

“Gives me a chance to spend some time with you, doesn’t it?” Aurora shakes the dust off her regal cape before turning back to smile at Maleficent. “I get little enough of that as is, what with you flying away to deal with some magical trouble or other every few weeks.”

Maleficent looks away from Aurora then, and thinks of a boy with solemn eyes and overgrown hair, who had thrown away a coveted ring, rather than burn her with it.

Stefan had been fond of flying. His eyes had been full of wonder at the sight laid out below him, and Maleficent had loved him for it, had loved to see him glancing about the moors with boyish wonder, seeing so much beauty in the place she called home. And when she had flown him to the highest of the floating cliffs, she had loved him even more, for he had gasped out loud at the wondrous sight of the human castle framed by the shining trees of the moors.

Too late had she realized the greed and ambition that lay behind that love.

“Tell me what you’re thinking.” Aurora whispers, breaking into her thoughts. "You look far away."

“Just…old memories.” Maleficent replies, looking back at Aurora.

She is prepared for the look of heartbreak that comes over Aurora’s face every time Maleficent mentions the old hurt.

“Come here.” Aurora says softly, patting the ground next to her. Maleficent obliges by walking over and sitting down in the spot.

She is not prepared for the soft hands that brush away stray hair from face, or the warm breath of Aurora as she moves closer and pull Maleficent into a hug. “I am so sorry, Maleficent. I don’t know what to say.”

Maleficent’s first instinct is sheer panic at the feeling that Aurora’s hands moving over her face seems to incite in her. Lately, it seems to happen whenever Aurora touches her, something that had never been a problem before.

Her next instinct is to shrug off the hands, and she almost does, until her brain catches up to the fact that the feel of them is undeniably soothing and warm against her skin.

“Well, it seems you don’t have to say anything at all.” She breathes, closing her eyes as Aurora’s hands continue their exploration.

There is silence for a time, as Aurora idly thumbs over her cheekbones, and Maleficent listens to the far-off sounds of the moors’ inhabitants in yet another of their friendly bouts of mudslinging.

“Must you fly off tomorrow?” Aurora asks her, looking more beautiful than ever bathed in moonlight.

“Of course I must.” Maleficent replies. “Who else can stop the wicked witch of the waste from terrorizing the poor defenseless humans of the saltshore kingdom?”

“Do you think she is truly a witch?” Aurora asks curiously.

“In truth?” Maleficent rolls her eyes. “She is probably neither wicked nor a witch, but you know how humans are prone to exaggeration and overreaction.”

“Yes, a trait unknown to any fairy I can think of.” Aurora murmurs, looking quite innocent when Maleficent squints at her in suspicion.

“I am curious to know how she got such a name for herself, though.” Maleficent continues, getting a little lost in her contemplation. “The rumours are that her skin is quite uncommon for a human, and reacts very unusually to moisture.”

“That must make flying on the broomstick that she no doubt owns quite the trial then, on stormy nights.”

Maleficent chuckles at that. “You could come find that out for yourself, if you wish.”

“You know I cannot” Aurora sighs, “The tales of your journeys are enchanting, but not enough to stop me from wishing you won’t go away for so long.”

“It keeps your kingdoms safe, my queen.” Maleficent drawls out the last two words, putting a whole new level of sarcasm into them that makes Aurora eyes narrow.

“And who will keep you safe, my fairy?” Aurora asks, in kind. Her face creases into genuine worry as she continues. “Am I to keep fretting every time you go away, that you might never come back?”

“Why, are you that starved for company?” Maleficent means the question lightly, and is not prepared for Aurora sighing in melancholy.

“Diaval is busy courting his lady love, and how am I supposed to keep myself entertained if the two people closest to me don’t have time for me anymore?”

“I’m sure your ladies in waiting keep you entertained well enough while I’m away, and what about that Prince… Phillip?” Maleficent cannot help but inquire. Now there is a fellow that can't seem to get enough of Aurora, the last time she checked.

“Phillip?” Aurora frowns. “He seems rather busy taking over for his ailing father just now.”

Come to think of it, Maleficent hasn’t seen him hanging around too often recently.

“And in any case,” Aurora continues “He’s nice enough, but he’s not you.”

And there is it again, Maleficent thinks. How Aurora can make her heart soar with a few simple words, she doesn’t know, but the human is damnably good at it.

“I’ll always come back to you, Aurora.” The words fall easily from Maleficent’s lips. Words have always been easy for her, when it comes to Aurora.

“Sweet-talker.” Aurora murmurs, but she is smiling.

“Yes, I’ve been told I’m rather good at that.” Maleficent replies with a straight face, and is gratified by the sight of the smile broadening into a wide grin.

“You’ve always been sweet to me.” Aurora says, looking into her eyes in the way that has recently started to steal away Maleficent’s breath with the intensity of it.

Maleficent looks away.

 

IX.

The wind is cool as it rushes against her skin, and feel of it ruffling her feathers as it passes, is as enchanting as it has always been. It is getting into wee hours, and Maleficent knows she must press on soon, to reach the seaside kingdom where a young boy seems to have found a breed of dragons long thought to be extinct.

She takes a few moment to swoop through the clouds anyway, entranced by their glow in the moonlight.

It will soon be the seventh year of Aurora’s reign, and Maleficent has begun to be quite grateful for the chance of these long journeys away from home.

For her little beast has grown into quite the beauty, and it hurts Maleficent to look at her sometimes.

 

X.

When Maleficent returns from her trip to the seaside kingdom, she drops by Aurora’s palace before heading home, as usual. Aurora’s three fairy counselors are having a not-so-relaxing picnic at sunset on the castle rooftops when she lands, so she descends quietly and steps behind a gargoyle.

She listens to their inane arguing for all but five seconds before her mischievous nature gets the best of her. A few wiggles of her hand have Thistlewit and Flittle fighting over which of them threw the honeyflower at the other, with Knotgrass vainly trying to break up the fight. Maleficent laughs quietly to herself, and modifies the spell to keep pelting the fairies with food.

“I do wish you would not trouble my aunts so.” Says an amused voice behind her, and Maleficent cringes as a child caught stealing a sweet would.

Aurora - who is getting stealthier each day, damn her – is standing behind her, wearing a frown that is trying not to turn into a smile.

“Yes” Maleficent sighs theatrically and flicks away the enchantment. “It is cruel, I know.” She smirks.

“Indeed.” Aurora says, turning up her nose comically. “Especially when you prank them without me around to watch.”

“Mischievous little beastie.” Maleficent murmurs, her smug smile widening as Aurora makes a face at her.

“Come on.” Aurora tugs on her hand. “Come away on a walk with me, before they notice us.” Maleficent obliges, flying them down to the garden that Aurora has created in imitation of the moors. It is a work in progress – every time she visits, Maleficent sees something new here that reminds her of home.

“Quite extensive.” She motions to the lake that is now bubbling its way down the garden.

““I had it installed only a few months ago.” Aurora says. “It took a fortune to reroute a path of the main tributary, but the textile industry has been doing rather well since I revoked Father’s ban on spindles, and I thought it best not to leave the extra revenue languish around for generations without being put to good use.”

Maleficent makes a noncommittal noise. Aurora’s casual mention of Stefan makes her chest tighten momentarily, as if in anticipation of hurt from a fading wound.

“Well, what do you think?” Aurora looks at her expectantly, waving a hand over the shining lake.

“It's alright.” Maleficent acknowledges. This garden is not the moors, but she certainly feels more comfortable here, than in any other part of the castle.

“I’m glad you find it…’alright’.” Aurora says drily. Maleficent arches an eyebrow in return and the queen’s smiles widens.

“I really am glad you like it.” Aurora says. “I built it for you. Perhaps you’ll visit me more often, if you enjoy my palace a little more.”

It is the wistfulness in her voice that undoes Maleficent, and has her scrambling for words to assuage her guilt.

“I would visit you more if that’s what you want, Aurora.” She says hurriedly.

“I know that it’s …selfish of me, to want you with me so much.” Aurora says. Her hands are twisting her sleeves into knots, Maleficent notices absently. “I know you have things to do, places to be and-“

The thing in Maleficent’s heart is growing again, pulsing unbearably as she listens to Aurora’s hesitant words. She thinks maybe this is a bad idea, this walk is a bad idea, this entire journey is just the latest in a whole slew of bad ideas.

“-and anyway, how was the wicked witch?” Aurora finishes, jerking Maleficent back from her thoughts.

“Not as wicked as I hoped, unfortunately, but a witch at least.” She says, not quite sensible of what she’s saying.

Aurora smiles at Maleficent’s poor jest, and it is so beautiful, this whole night is so beautiful, and she is so beautiful-

“You are so beautiful.” This is a mistake. Maleficent realizes that the moment the words leave her mouth, realizes it anew as Aurora smiles again, a light blush darkening her cheeks.

“Thank you.” She whispers back in the quiet of the night, eyes crinkling. “Maleficent.”

The name sounds sweeter and more familiar each time Aurora says it and perhaps that is why Maleficent makes the second mistake. She draws the queen closer to her, nestling Aurora’s head against her shoulder blades.

“You’re always welcome, Aurora.” Maleficent cannot resist stroking her hair as she replies. She thinks she might be too far gone to care.

“You’re too good to me.” Aurora whispers, eyes closing in contented bliss.

Maleficent’s hands still in her hair. She pulls them away slowly, feeling that odd feeling of guilt in her chest again, the one that only Aurora seems to be able to conjure up.

What is she thinking, being so thoughtless to the only human who had looked at her face and seen something worthy of loving there?

“What is it?” Aurora asks, concerned.

I am beyond despicable.

“Good to you? I wish I could be better, beastie.”

She shifts to put some respectable distance between them, too focused on the turmoil in her heart to see the hurt that flashes across Aurora’s face.

 

XI.

Maleficent thinks she has learned something of the ways that humans love, from Stefan and Aurora.

She understands there are rules to their love, some which are meant to be broken, and some which are absolutely not.

Maleficent thinks of Aurora’s face smiling brightly at her, of her hair as its glints in the sunlight, of her face as implacable as marble when she is holding court.

She thinks of the red, red lips of her beautiful beastie, and she fears she may be treading quite heavily over the latter of those laws.

 

XII.

“So this is your great trouble?” Diaval asks laconically, during her next visit to his nest. “That you love Aurora? My, this is shocking news.”

“Keep talking.” Maleficent threatens, “And I’ll turn you into a worm and your hatchlings will eat you up before you can cry ‘wolf’.”

“The girl …no, the woman loves you, Maleficent.” Diaval says, waving aside the threat with a roll of his eyes.

“Of course she does!” Maleficent can't but snap back at him, irked by his lack of concern. “Don’t you think I know that?”

Maleficent is not blind. She remembers that way Aurora loves to touch her wings, how sometimes when Maleficent falls asleep in moors, lulled by their peacefulness, she wakes up to Aurora idly stroking her horns, or thumbing over her cheekbones.

“I was the first thing close to a human that she knew, besides those bothersome fairies.” Maleficent mutters. “Of course she loves me, in her innocent, human way. Don’t you see any problems with that?”

Stefan had loved her wings too. Loved them enough to chop them off and keep them all for himself.

“There you go again, with your blind distrust for human feelings.” Diaval says softly. “Don’t discount Aurora’s feelings so easily, Maleficent.”

Maleficent shakes her head. There’s a part of her that knows she could have Aurora, if she tries, in the way that she hungers for. Could whisper the right words in her ear, and put thoughts in her mind she’d never have had otherwise, and win her over.

“She doesn’t love me the way I’ve grown to love her.” Maleficent says, “And I don’t blame her for it, but how can I continue to feel this way and still look her in the face, knowing that I’m lying to her?”

For, of course Aurora would trust her – she has known Maleficent all her life, she would believe anything Maleficent tells her, would probably willingly go forward with whatever Maleficent gently pushes her into doing.

But it would be a short-lived victory. Some part of Aurora would know, and would come to resent her for it, as humans had a tendency to. Aurora would know, and Aurora's heart would break, and Aurora would stop loving her.

The thought of losing her love, in any form, makes Maleficent’s heart clench up in terror.

“I need to leave.” she says dully.

The part of her that remembers Aurora as a child wars with the part of her that wants to sink into Aurora’s embrace forever and never wake up, and the part of her that hates Stefan for his betrayal wars with the part of her that wants to protect his offspring till the end of time. There are too many parts of Maleficent that are at war with each other, and they confuse her, dulling her brain until she wants nothing more than to not feel anything at all, anymore.

“Leave?” Diaval asks, dumbstruck. “What, leave the mo-awk!! AWK!!!”

The last part comes out as a squawk, as he is turned back into a raven mid-speech, but Maleficent is already flying away, off to the old tree that she calls home, her mind whirring with the preparations she must take.

 

XIII.

Maleficent takes one final flight around the moors, as she always does before her journeys.

They are everything to her, the moors. They are Maleficent’s love and downfall and redemption, and the beauty of the roses hidden in their thorny undergrowth, is the beauty of Aurora herself.

“You’ll do fine, beastie.” She doesn’t know why she whispers the reply out loud.

(Perhaps the part of her that is the child who played in the moors believes that the wind sprites would find her words and carry them home to the intended recipient.)

“Awk! Awk awk awk AWKAWKAWK!!”

The sudden incessant cawing makes Maleficent clutch her ears instinctively. “Into a man.” She grits out between clenched teeth, waving two fingers briefly before covering her ears again.

“Leaving so soon?” Diaval asks from next to her, in a blessedly human voice, and she sighs in relief, taking her hands away from her ears.

She exhales softly. “I think you and I both need to know why I must leave.” The words hang thickly in the air for a moment, before snaking away into the nooks and crevices where all the secrets of the woods have settled themselves in over the years.

“I…” Diaval has a way of looking troubled when he is searching for the right words to say, and he has that expression on his face now. “Maleficent…I know that you think that – that your feelings are-“

“-are none of your concern.” Maleficent cuts him off sharply.

He pursues it nevertheless. “Regardless, don’t you think she deserves more than this? More than you sneaking away like a thief in the night, without even a goodbye?”

“I know that my…” she cannot get out the words at first, and tries again. “my feelings are…unwelcome. I do not wish them to be welcome. It seems decided, then, that the best of course of action is to leave. The moors are in good, capable hands.”

He waves away her indirect praise. “Leaving without so much as a goodbye. It would break her heart, Maleficent.”

And there it was. The one thing she could not bear – hurting her little beastie, her queen, her radiant Aurora.

And Diaval - who is so much better at this emotions things than her, damn him – Diaval knows it too.

“A letter.” Maleficent relents, at last. “I will write her a letter.” She puts up a hand to stall a protest that never comes. “It will be enough.”

She hopes it will be enough. She does not think she can face saying goodbye in person to Aurora.

 

XIV.

And so it is that a beautiful summer’s day sees Queen Aurora storming into the moors in full regalia, followed frantically by a dozen knights, as they try to guide their horses through the overgrown woods while keeping their queen in sight.

Maleficent, who had been speaking with Balthazar on some final preparation regarding the moors’ borders, looks away at the sound of the undergrowth being viciously crushed and ripped apart under the hands and legs of the livid queen.

She watches entranced, as Aurora advances closer and closer, her knights struggling to keep up (none of the fools having yet struck upon the idea of getting off their mounts, in order to better move forward, Maleficent notes in derision.)

“What.. is …this?” Aurora asks, her voice even though her breathing is coming hard. She waves the crumpled letter in her hand at Maleficent. Even from this distance, Maleficent can spot the words smudged almost beyond recognition, as if they had been twisted up over and over again by an unforgiving hand.

“A farewell.” She replies, staring directly into the flashing fire of Aurora’s eyes. The queen’s face is twisted in fury, and it strikes Maleficent as passing queer that she finds even this to be beautiful on Aurora.

Aurora looks mutinous, and Maleficent internally gears up for war or pleading or something, before Aurora seems to gather herself, and looks around her instead.

“Not here.” The young queen decides, her eyes landing on the curious eyes of knights and fairy creatures gathered around them. “Somewhere more private, please, Maleficent?”

Maleficent silently acquiesces, enfolding Aurora in her wings, as she has done a hundred times before, and taking them to her secret home above the clouds and treetops. There under the shade of the old tree, they face each other, as lovers coming together for a last farewell, or perhaps two great enemies facing off in one final battle.

“Don’t leave me.”

“I’m not leaving you.” Maleficent lies. “If you are ever in danger, if your kingdom ever needs protection, Diaval will act appropriately in my stead.” Maleficent does not think Aurora will need it.

The next thing she is aware of is her heart rate plummeting, as two arms bodily throw themselves around her, holding her in a grip that would have stripped her of breath, had she been capable of breathing by that point.

“And what if I need you?” The words are whispered tremulously into the air, and trembling hands latch on to her body, as if it is Aurora’s last hope for salvation.

For a moment, Maleficent dares to hope for something she cannot hope. For something that Aurora’s human heart, generous though it is, cannot possibly grant her. Then Aurora wandering fingers accidentally brush over her wings, and she remembers Stefan, and the moment passes.

“You’ll do fine.” Maleficent emphasizes her words with a gentle kiss on Aurora forehead. “You’re a good queen. Your people love you.” And they will love you even more, now that I’m gone from your life.

“I know how good a queen I am.” The retort is sure and swift, and despite herself, Maleficent feels a fierce pride for the golden lioness that stands before her, radiant even in her grief. “That is not the point here.”

“Diaval will come to your aid in my stead any time you need.” She promises Aurora.

“He’s not you!” Aurora cries. “And it is not your protection I want!”

“He would be a steadfast ally to you and truth be told, a better protector than I have managed to be.” The truth of the words tastes bitter in her mouth.

“What happened to ‘I’ll always come back to you?’”, Aurora asks, and the tone of her voice is wrenching. “What happened to staying with me forever?”

And Maleficent has no answer for that.

“Aurora-“ she begins.

But Aurora is already turning and striding away from her.

 

XV.

When the day of parting comes, it is quite anticlimactic.

“Don’t leave me.” Aurora fails to say, after the last of the preparations have been made.

Maleficent has not been hoping for a “Let’s run away into the moors and live together forever.” and is thus not disappointed, when Aurora fails to say that too.

Aurora also fails to throw her arms Maleficent, fails to run after the fairy as she alights into the sky, and fails to scream frantic protestations of love into air after her retreating figure.

Instead Aurora, the dawn, the sunlight of Maleficent’s life, bows to her slightly and bestows graceful wishes for a short and uneventful journey northward.

And as Maleficent turns away in farewell, Aurora stands tall as befits a queen, save for a slight hunch in her shoulders. (And perhaps that befits a queen too, for who but a fool would shoulder the burden of an entire kingdom alone without flinching?)

 

---TBC---

Chapter Text

I.

The sun, Aurora notes with some small degree of surprise, rises and sets as usual in the month following Maleficent’s departure. The stars still twinkle in the sky, and the birds sing as sweet.

And yet Maleficent, whom she has known for more than half her life, is gone, vanished without a trace. How odd that the absence of her doesn’t show, Aurora wonders, in some place other than her heart.

Futile hope urges her to skim the letter again. Perhaps, once read often enough, the words would rearrange themselves, and convey a message more meaningful than the nonsense they contain now.

Not enough yet, it seems. On her sixty-seventh reread, among other things, the letter still says Northern Kingdom and a matter of great import and cannot know when I will return.

(The letter also says forgive me, although Aurora wonders how Maleficent could realistically expect forgiveness for this.)

There are no great channels of trade between the northern kingdom and their own, and Maleficent has never shown much interest in such patently human concerns. Too remote for trade, too distant for war. And yet, the letter says a matter of great import. Which can only mean one thing: magic.

Aurora has heard of the northern queen, who can wield like weapons the ice native to her land. Has even written to her once, on some trivial matter, and received a brief reply.

She knows too, that, for all her complaints, Maleficent rather loves wandering in far-off lands, and learning of the different permutations of magic they have to offer. It is the insatiable curiousity of Aurora’s own heart mirrored in a different form, and for this reason Aurora has forgiven Maleficent for her many leave-takings, even though they had left behind an inconsolably lonely queen.

Then, she had been secure in the knowledge that the fairy would always return, eventually, to her beloved moors. To me.

She only has to look at the moors, to know that her letter in her hand reads true; it won’t be so this time, or ever again. For Maleficent has left, and the very balance of the moors seems to have shifted, as if a great weight had toppled off one side.

It is easy to think something must have changed, something must have gone wrong. Maleficent has always been mercurial. It is easy to think that something in the moors turned them away from her favour, somehow.

(It is not easy, at all, to even consider the gut-churning alternative.)

Are you safe, wherever you are? Aurora wonders sometimes, staring into the sky and not understanding. Are you happy?

 

II.

She could stay here for a while, Maleficent thinks.

She had thought she came here in self-imposed exile, but even for someone who has known the moors all her life, the northern kingdom proves to be more wondrous than she could have imagined. The fjords are beautiful enough to steal the breath from one’s lungs; if that were not enough, ships dock at the port every day, filled to the brim with all manner of magical creatures from all over the world, eager to visit with the fabled queen of the frozen kingdom.

The queen herself seems to find her visitors more alarming than interesting, but more than once Maleficent finds herself deep in conversation with a sorceress about a spell, or a stone troll about the best herbs to aid one’s recovery from fights. If this is exile, it is an enjoyable one, filled with strange sights and new learnings.

(And if part of Maleficent persists in feeling guilty at shirking her responsibilities so easily, then so be it; where is it written that she had been one fit for the niceties of politics and diplomacy, anyhow?)

The queen, too, proves to be far more companionable in private, and quite interested in the knowledge that a sorceress well-versed in discretion would possess. Maleficent whiles away many a pleasant hour with her, discussing the finer points of fairy magic versus the manifestation of it in humans. (Privately, Maleficent suspects a past dalliance with some passing fairy on the part of the mother, but she keeps that thought to herself. Let the dead carry their secrets to their grave.)

She spends her days walking among the ports, and her nights flying around the land, taking in all the sights it has to offer. Interspersed between these pastimes are quiet hours spent in the library, conversing with the queen.

Yes, Maleficent thinks. She could be happy here.

For a while.

 

III.

It is in the small things, that the absence of Maleficent makes itself felt, in the summer kingdom. They creep up on Aurora subtly, so that it is some time before she registers the changes: more guards accompanying her on her morning walks, the increased frequency of human intruders caught at the border of the moors and marched back by Balthazar’s riders, the hastily hushed murmurs of the wealth to be found in the moors.

It all starts, perhaps, innocently enough, at one of the weekly meetings of the Queen’s Council. Aurora has just spent the last two hours going into the minute details of the castle ledger with the castellan, and she thinks the damn thing is just about close to winding down when-

“And of course.” Alexander begins, who is too ruthless by half for a justiciar, and who seems rich enough to have his hands in the coffer of every noble house in the kingdom. “There is the matter of the invitations.”

His statement falls like a stone over the heavy torpor that always accompanies the end of these meetings. Suddenly, sleepy eyes blink awake, and barely-concealed yawns turn into grimaces of distaste.

“Invitations?” Aurora blinks, and wets her tongue before she speaks again, directing her inquiry to the justiciar. “Did I hear you right, sir?”

“My Lord Chamberlain, if you would-“ Alexander begins, but the chamberlain is already walking to the window, having found something fascinating to look at in the autumn rain outside.

“What invitations?” Aurora grits out, gaze focused on Alexander. Almost out of her line of sight, she notes the castellan moving behind the mistress of the horse, in what he probably thinks is a casual manner.

Alexander himself, recovers remarkably quickly. He slides a sheaf of papers towards her himself, along with a list, signed by what seems to be more than half the members of the Council.

“It is proper that the chamberlain has taken care of replying to these for you, until now.“ A knife of a smile slits the justiciar’s face in two, as Aurora takes the list from him, memorizing the councilors’ signatures at the bottom before she reads the names written on it.

“As a council, we have decided that perhaps it is time for you to take these matters into your own hands.” Alexander expands, as she flips through the sheaf of letters. “You are a woman grown, now, and a queen besides.”

Aurora skims through the letters without the words really registering. Prince Armand invites you to visit the Royal summer lodgings in…Lord Charles would be most flattered if you would join him him…Prince Elan wishes that you would travel with him to the-

“Prince Malcolm wants me to join him in hunting in the King’s Forest?” she demands, glaring at the most egregious offender of all the invitations.

“Not every country forbids hunting in the crown lands.” Alexander replies, a hint of contempt creeping into his voice.

Aurora reins in the hand that threatens to clench into a fist. She would be well within her limits to throw him out, she knows, for the brazen familiarity with which he addresses her private concerns. Instead, she shoves the letters away from her.

“I don’t want them.” She regrets the words the moments they leave her mouth. How childish.

“It would be unwise to ignore them.” Alexander doesn’t frown as he speaks. That is somehow worse, because it means he expected her to react like this, like some child denied a dinnertime treat.

“Has the kingdom faltered in my rule, sir?” Aurora interrupts him, as he seems about to speak further. Her voice threatens to hitch, in the way that she knows it does just before the tears come. Blinking fiercely at the paper in front of her to stave them off, she starts again. “Has it fallen prey to drought, has it succumbed to invasion, have the people any reason to complain about the harvest?”

The silence that greets her voice is answer enough.

“Then what, may I ask, are invitations really about?” the words come smoother now, as she channels her anger into shaping them. With a start, Aurora recognizes the tone of her words, realizes she has heard it many times from another. Maleficent.

Perhaps the councilors hear it too, for their expressions grow tentative, and a chorus of uncertain “two kingdoms united” and “strength in numbers” is what she gets as a reply. Aurora listens to them for some minutes, painfully aware of blood rushing through her ears.

“Enough.” She raises her voice. The visiting Dean mutters about goodness me look at the time we really should be getting to bed.

Schooling her tone to something more moderate, Aurora continues. “I appreciate your bringing this matter to my…attention. I will see to it that these invitations receive a reply; when I like, how I like.”

Not moderate enough, clearly. The master of coin suddenly finds the ground very interesting to study in minute detail. The chancellor might as well be staring blatantly at Aurora, so ferociously is he looking at everything except her.

Only the justiciar is left holding her gaze, but his eyes meet hers surely, even in the wake of uncertain whispers and weak dissent.

“The kingdom needs a healthy line of succession.” The man who would be king in Aurora’s absence says, and there is enough conviction in his voice to stop glaciers in their path.

The rest of the meeting is conducted in terse quietness. Aurora seethes in silence through the discussion of the monthly ledger, almost boils over when the suggestion is made to cut the border patrol, and still has not gotten a proper hold on her anger by the time they wrap up the final discussion on how many guards to station at the castle ramparts.

And yet, underneath it all, lurks a sense of unease. Too easy.

It only intensifies when four guard members fall into step with her, as she exits the room.

“I hardly think I am going to get attacked in the short walk from here to my chambers.” She snaps at them, some ugly part of her enjoying the way they flinch away.

She is still breathing hard when the last of them leaves, but the initial flare of her anger has burned itself out, leaving a cold fury seething in its wake. Noticing that the captain of the guard is still stubbornly walking behind her, she turns on him and opens her mouth. And then shuts it again, unsure if she can form coherent sentences in this state.

Her face must have spoken volumes regardless, because the captain immediately lifts up his hands.

“You shame them by denying their protection.” His words are stated without judgment either way, and the same ugly part of Aurora is disappointed at that, for now she has no reason to scream at him, at anyone. “When your fairy…friend was there, of course they were not needed to accompany you. But now, it would shame the Guard if you are spotted walking alone without anyone to accompany you.”

Aurora has no answer for that, snarling wordlessly and gesturing for him to lead.

She is at least thankful that he holds his characteristic silence as she accompanies her. There are too many thoughts in her head for her to be holding a civil conversation at the moment.

She goes over the events of the night in her head, puzzling apart the words said, trying to piece together the most likely candidate to have set this particular matter rolling into motion. But her anger keeps interfering, making the pieces fly away, and Aurora growls in frustration, making the captain start and look at her oddly.

“The absence of your …friend, makes Alexander bold.” The captain’s words seem offhand, said more to make empty conversation than anything else. But this is the second time he has mentioned Maleficent, with an undertone that Aurora immediately dislikes.

“So quick to mistrust someone who has done nothing personally to you.” She comments, shaking off his hand and striding forward.

“Except terrorize the kingdom for sixteen years, and threaten the life of the royal heir.” The captain’s armor clanks as he walks to catch up.

“Have some respect for a crucial ally of our kingdom, sir.” Aurora says sharply, looking back at him.

“I saw men burn in their armor because of the fires your ally lit up when we tried to enter the moors, your Grace.” He says, his voice quiet.

By force.” Aurora adds, lest he forget that the fault runs two ways. “And if I remember correctly, at least you had the sense to pull them out of there before it was too late, despite my late father’s orders.”

His face twists, in what she thinks to be fury for a second, but then he lets out a short bark of laughter.

“It seems Owen’s line runs strong.” the Captain says, traces of amusement still remaining in the lines of his dark, weathered face, as he turns to face Aurora. “You are quite like your mother.”

Owen? Another name out of the past to haunt her, it seems. Aurora stores the name away in her head.

“Reasonable to a fault, she was.” The captain continues, his lips still turned up slightly. “How King Stefan hated it.”

He falls silent after that, and Aurora is too much in turmoil to ask him more on the subject, though she has long been curious about her mother.

Too easy, she thinks again, remembering the way Alexander had let the matter drop. The man is a lion; his family has laid claim to the position of justiciar since King Henry’s time, as much through grit as through the luck of noble lineage. If that weren’t enough, he had fought in the Summer War against the faerie kingdom, being one the few commanders to make it out alive. A greying lion now; but, she doesn’t think he is one to be cowed so easily.

She is still busy turning it over in her head, when the captain stops abruptly. Looking up, Aurora realizes they’ve reached the pathway that leads to her chambers. The captain bows slightly before taking his leave, and she smiles wanly at him, grateful more for his silence than the companionship.

There are flowers waiting by her bedside when she opens the door. River lilies. Aurora gently runs a hand over the markings on the petals. Perhaps her aunts have left them there. After all these years, they still seem to think Aurora will wilt, if left without some reminder of the countryside she had grown up in.

Of course, Aurora notes with a sigh, the flowers are placed exactly where no light will hit them during the day, and wonders if she’s rather too charitable in being grateful for their inept expressions of love. (She is not even sure if it’s love. More likely some misplaced sense of gratitude, for being allowed to return to the castle; or guilt, perhaps, for having ignored Aurora throughout her childhood.)

Moving the lilies to a better place absently, she crosses over to the window to let in Maleficent, who always visits her after these soul-sucking meetings. God knows how she finds out about them, but Aurora supposes that is why Diaval is insistent on visiting with Knotgrass as often as he does.

But when she undoes the latch, mischievous smile at the ready, there is nothing outside but a waning moon, and the cold air rushing in.

“Oh.” Aurora whispers, remembering.

She closes the latch and turns away from the window, shivering more from the absence of wings wrapped around her, than from the night chill.

 

IV.

She is walking in the garden, the one she had built for Maleficent. Aurora shivers and thinks, somewhere in the back of her mind, that she should be wondering how on earth she got here.

A noise farther on in the darkness disrupts her thoughts, however, and Aurora looks up with an answering smile, because only one person would be looking for her here.

Her smile dies as she sees a knight walking towards her, a steel mace in his hand and a golden crown emblazoned on his shield. He stumbles for a moment, in the thick undergrowth, and Aurora realizes they are not in the garden, but in the moors themselves.

Looking around her, she can see the wallerbogs hiding in the undergrowth, watching with fearful eyes. Above, the cheeps are flying away as fast as their wings can take them. And still the knight advances, the mace swinging with an inevitability that makes Aurora take a step back.

“Father!” she cries, but when the knight takes off the helm, a woman with sad eyes and a face like hers stares back at her.

“Aurora.” Her mother says, smiling and running forward, except that Aurora is now in a wasteland and there is a bird dragging itself on the ground in front of her, and its wings are broken.

Looking up she spots the smoking ruins of a castle. A young girl with overgrown wings and tiny horns is running away from it towards her, towards the bird, but before Aurora can take a closer look, there is a roar behind her, and green fire consumes her body.

 

V.

Maleficent rubs her eyes and places down the book she had been futilely trying to read, taking care not to slam it down on the table. Not for the first time, she wonders why she had bothered to come to library in her present mood. Even the tomes of the magic of the northern wasteland, available nowhere south of the ports, hold no particular interest to her this morning.

“No sleep?” the northern queen asks, looking up from the book she had been pursuing.

“Terrible dreams.” Maleficent says, looking anywhere but into the frowning face that stares up at her.

“Should I send for the castellan? I’m sure she knows of a suitable physician.” The concern furrowing the queen’s brow is more out of courtesy than anything, Maleficent knows. It does nothing to soothe her irritation, regardless.

“It is nothing.” she keeps her tone cordial, closing her eyes and lying back. “I’ll retire early tonight, though, I think.”

The queen acquiesces to her unspoken request for silence, and goes back to her reading. (Some dry tome on architecture of the past centuries. Maleficent can’t fathom why anyone with a library as extensive as this would resort to such a subject, but she supposes they are different people.)

She briefly considers picking her own book back up, then turns away and looks out the window instead, trying to put thoughts of green fire and flashing eyes firmly out of her mind.

 

VI.

Aurora sighs, and notes for the thousandth time, that the stories hadn’t mentioned ruling requiring quite so much strenuous reading.

But then, she supposes, the stories have been wrong about a lot of things. They have been wrong about princes, and true love, and they most certainly have been wrong about fairy godmothers, who aren’t supposed to look more like regal queens ready for war than kindly old guardians. (Stories never said anything about them being insufferably arrogant and stubborn, either.)

She refocuses her attention back to page at hand, growling in frustration when the words remain as opaque as ever. The book is written in an earlier dialect, extinct by the time King Henry had ascended the throne; some of the more complicated sentences are almost indecipherable due to the outdated syntax.

From what she has been able to make out, there is some mention of Henry’s relatives, but nothing conclusively linking anyone in relation to anyone named Owen, let alone find any link between him and her mother’s ancestry. It doesn’t help that Queen Leah is only ever mentioned as the ‘daughter of Henry, Sixth of his Name’ or ‘wife of Stefan, first of his Name.’ Figures.

She supposes she could just ask the Captain what he meant; save herself the trouble and frustration. On the other hand, reading her way through the histories of the kingdom had been Aurora’s main source of solace, during the times when Maleficent went away.

And so, it seems, they must be again.

“Auro-“

“Aurora!!!“

“AURORA!”

“Hey, I thought I got to greet her this time!”

“Not fair, you did that last time too!”

“Quiet down, both of you, she’s working!”

Aurora looks up at the commotion, and resists the urge to massage her temples again. Why me?

“Hello, aunts.” She manages what she hopes is an approximation of a smile.

Knotgrass looks at her worriedly. “You look wilted, dear.” She buzzes around nervously, still staring at Aurora’s face. Aurora has the strangest feeling that Knotgrass would rather plant her in grass if she could, and once again wonders just how different the faeries are from humans.

Knotgrass’ eyebrows crease further, and Aurora realizes she has yet to give an answer.

“Merely confused.” She waves a hand around at the books lying on her desk and at her feet. “I’m having a bit of trouble trying to figure something out.”

“Well, maybe we can help?” Knotgrass flies to look down at the page Aurora is poring over, and then looks disappointed. “It’s only words!”

Before she can say more, she is bowled over by Flittle and Thistlewit jumping over her shoulder.

“Funny words! Never seen the like of those before.”

“Maybe it’s upside down?”

Eager hands knock Aurora’s away from the book, and flip the pages on. “Oh, I can see pictures on this page!”

Aurora takes a deep breath, focusing on not screaming.

“Oh for heaven’s sake!” Knotgrass buzzes around, trying to shove the other two fairies out the window. “Can’t you see she’s busy?”

Aurora lets out the breath.

“Leave her alone!” Knotgrass bodily pushes Flittle through, Thistlewit hot on her heels, and then turns around to Aurora “I’m so sorry, dearie. I think it’s better if I see them off myself.” She doesn’t wait for a reply before getting herself through the window as well.

“Goodbye, aunts.” Aurora replies to the now empty room, and prepares to return to her task.

 

VII.

There is a bird lying on the ground with its wings broken and a young girl crying over it.

There is a girl and she must be Maleficent, except that Aurora has never known Maleficent to look that young.

And as always , there is fire; green fire that blazes down from on high, and threatens to roast Aurora with the intensity of it.

 

VIII.

The affair with the invitations doesn’t end at the council meeting. (Most things never do end so easily, Aurora has found.)

She is in the garden, despairing over whether the witchhazel seeds from Knotgrass would ever take root, when Alexander finds her, his son trailing him like an unwilling shadow.

Aurora draws herself up, knowing she must look a sight in her mismatched boots and oldest dress.

“I am surprised to see you working here.” Is all that Alexander says out loud, however. “It is almost winter.”

“The best season for the flowers to flourish in.” Aurora replies, relieved at finding herself on familiar ground. Gardening she can talk about, and rather well, as it happens.

“Yes, I’ve heard you don’t allow anyone else to tend to this place except yourself.” Alexander replies, eyes moving down her mudstained clothing and boots without expression. Aurora resists the urge to wipe them clean, suddenly wishing she hadn’t been so insistent on wearing her tattered old cape.

“It helps to pass the time.” She says, making to turn back to the plants. The envelope waved casually in her face gives her pause. Aurora freezes, eyebrows creeping upwards as she silently stares at the justiciar.

“We received another one of these today.” Alexander says, not seeming in the least fazed by her extended attention. “I was at the pigeon coops this morning myself, waiting for a message, and saw this one arrive.”

Behind him, the boy grimaces and looks away. Jonathan, Aurora remembers the boy’s name to be; an odd name, that, to give a noble of the summer kingdom. (A mother dead in childbirth and Alexander for a father; she wonders if his childhood had been as lonely as her own.)

“Leave them with the castellan.” Aurora replies briefly, going back to her work.

“I would suggest that-“

I would suggest that you hold your tongue, sir.” she speaks over him. “Give them to the castellan. He will see to it that I get them. I said that I would read the invitations, and respond to them as I see fit. Let that be enough for you.”

In the spirit of small mercies, it seems, Alexander decides to bow out.

“As you say, your Grace.” He says, gruffly clearing his throat. “It was merely going to be a suggestion. Come along, Jon.”

Except that they are never suggestions, Aurora muses, as she watches the son follow the father out of the garden. Not when Alexander makes them.

Jane has already brought in the supper to her study, by the time Aurora returns from the garden to her study.

“Thanks heavens,” Aurora says with fervent gratitude, grasping at the bowl of soup with an urgency that the maid pretends not to frown at. “I’m starving.”

“Maron brought up the books you wanted found.” Her personal maid mentions, pointing derisively at a discreet corner of the study.

Aurora blinks, looking at the pile of books that had evaded her casual glance around.

“Seems these were quite hard to find.” Jane continues, sniffing disapprovingly as if the very sight of them stacked up offends her. “The tapestries you asked for were quite tore up, but we did manage to find the books you wanted in the east tower attic.” Her mouth twists in disgust. “Rotting with mildew, the whole lot of them, although Maron managed to scrub off most of it.”

“Thank you, Jane.” Aurora puts the bowl down and moves over to the books neatly stacked on the table, next to a pile of torn tapestries. For a moment, she feels overwhelmed. Here it is, in front of her; a large part of the history of the nation, written out for anyone who bothered to go looking.

“They left all this to rot in a corner?” Aurora can’t help the slight of twinge of anger, as she runs a finger down a grimy spine. She supposes it isn’t too surprising. Neither Stefan nor Leah had been great readers, and from what Aurora has read in Leah’s letters to her parents, King Henry had been more fond of hunting and Queen Mary of knitting, than books.

“Can’t blame them.” Jane replies to Aurora’s rhetorical question. “Can’t see why you’d want to be digging up old history, plenty of stories hanging around as it is, setting everyone’s tongues wagging when they should be working. Why, just this morning at breakfast, our Julia was telling old John that-“

She is still mumbling about whatever the cook’s daughter has been up to this time, when Aurora spies the fresh new pile of letters placed conspicuously on her writing desk.

“Jane?” Aurora asks slowly, “Was the castellan here?”

The other woman pauses in the middle of her diatribe. “I don’t believe so. He has been out riding with the mistress of the horse all afternoon.” Her sniff tells Aurora volumes of what she thinks of that.

Aurora frowns. The castellan only deposits her messages every morning, regardless, unless it is an urgent matter. The presence of these here could only mean that Alexander had seen fit to bring them to her study himself.

Aurora casts a longing look at the books, and purses her mouth, to stop the sigh that wants to make itself heard.

“Please refill the inkwell, Jane.” She lays down her boots and cloak by the door, pretending not to notice the maid’s scandalized glare at her soiling the carpet so.

Jane stops in the middle of laying out the tapestries. “But I thought you would want to look at these right away.”

“Later,” Aurora sighs, shaking the dried ink off the quill lying on the table. “It seems I need to write some letters.”

The other woman is almost at the doors when Aurora calls after her. “And please ask the chamberlain to dine with me tonight; we need to discuss adding a new wing to the library.”

 

IX.

Flittle likes to go on about painting sometimes; about reds and blues, and darkness and light. Aurora listens patiently enough when subjected to the rambles, content to let such phrases as balance and negative space float entirely over her head.

She has never thought they would apply to things other than art until near the end of the winter, when Diaval comes in Maleficent’s place to give a report on how well the moors have fared.

At the sight of him, striding through the castle in human form, Aurora’s heart does a queer jump. He cannot be-if he is here like this, surely it means-

It seems Diaval reads what she is thinking plainly on her face, for he is shaking his head sadly before he even reaches her.

“She gave me the spell before she left,” he says, without being prompted, and something inside Aurora curls up and dies. “Thought it would be of some help.”

“Thoughtful of her.” Aurora replies, smiling twice as eagerly at him to make up for it. “Very useful.”

She leads him inside, plying him with a hundred questions about the moors. How is Balthazar? Are the water fairies still as mischievous as ever? Is Puck still slinging mud at anyone who makes eyes at him?

Diaval for the most part, seems faintly amused by her questions, though a faint ting of sadness underscores it.

“Perhaps you should come see for yourself?” he asks, when there is a break in her barrage of questions. “We missed you at the midwinter festival.”

He doesn’t mention who else was missed, and there is no accusation in his voice. Aurora flushes nevertheless, heart dropping like a stone.

“It would be nice to go home again.” She admits feebly, after a moment. “How is Desdemona?”

“Driven to distraction by our youngest.” Diaval rolls his eyes fondly. “I hardly get her to myself these days.”

With the pleasantries over, they launch into the real purpose of the visit. It seems the moors have had a quiet winter, further underscoring the decade long peace following Stefan’s death. Even the northern wilds have been silent, not a single renegade fairy to be found rampaging. .

“Promise you’ll visit soon?” Diaval asks, as he prepares to leave at the end of their meeting. “Balthazar misses you, and the wallerbogs are raring to have a rematch with you over the last mudfight.”

Suddenly the world blurs and Aurora blinks fiercely, trying to keep the tears at bay.

“Too bright.” She mumbles. She misses them too; the play fights and the long nights and perhaps most of all, the comforting shadows to hide in; the darkness under the stars, that had made it so easy to forget her responsibilities, until it was time to return to the human kingdom.

Diaval puts one hand on her shoulder, looking concerned. “The sun?” he asks, puzzlement creasing his brow as he looks up.

Aurora puts her hand above his own, patting it slightly before bringing it down and clasping it with her other arm too.

“I promise I’ll visit soon.” She says, the falseness of it settling heavily in her heart.

(The stars shine still, and the nights are as long as ever, but it seems Maleficent has taken all the comforting shadows with her, leaving behind a blazing brightness that hurts Aurora to go near.)

 

X.

There is a young girl and she’s crying, except that Aurora has never seen Maleficent crying.

“Don’t hurt it.” The girl cries” Don’t hurt it!” and a man with flashing green eyes laughs.

 

XI.

Aurora awakes with a start, cruel laughter still ringing vividly in her ears.

Her gaze falls on the toppled stack of books in front of her, and she groans. Another night of falling asleep by lamplight, it seems; neither beds nor sleep hold any particular interest these days.

Wistfully, Aurora remembers how she had once had been willing to spend hours like this, side by side, with Maleficent engrossed in some book of the magic in faraway lands while Aurora enjoyed some book of stories or other. Words had been even harder to figure out then, but it had been much more enjoyable to piece the puzzle together with someone nearby to bounce ideas off of, with a warm body to snuggle against.

Yes, it has always been there, this feeling of wanting to be as close to Maleficent as possible.

How unkind, Aurora thinks, rubbing her eyes to stave the tears that are already forming. How unkind that she should feel it most keenly when Maleficent is gone.

Queens have little time to grieve, though, and the brief knock on her door underscores that thought.

“Come in.” Aurora says, after clearing her throat and straightening out her cloak.

The Captain stalks in, cloak soiled with dust and face streaming with sweat.

“Alexander is gone.” He says, and she knows from the set of his face that the matter is far more serious than the words signify. “His estate is empty; all the servants seem to have been let go.”

“When?” Aurora asks, rubbing her eyes hurriedly, only managing to stain them further with the ink marring her sleeves.

“Near dawn.” The captain says, turning to his second-in-command for confirmation. “His carriage left alone, but we’ve searched the city, and not a single one of his men can be found.”

Aurora resists the urge to sink her face into her hands forever, a hundred thoughts flashing through her mind. Grimacing, she pushes aside the immediate responses of panic and fear, and considers the immediate things to be done.

“Send for the riders.” She addresses her instructions to the guardsmen arrayed behind the Captain. “I have warning messages that they will need to need to take to the westlands, and the moors. Fetch the chamberlain as well.”

They stare blankly back at her, as if awaiting further instructions.

“Well what are you waiting for?” the Captain barks. “Go!”

Aurora watches them leave at a dead run, and turns to the captain, eyebrows raised.

He lifts his hands and rolls his shoulders. “Your calm unnerves them. They are used to a little more reaction than that, upon hearing that one’s rule is under siege.”

“It is too early to claim such things.” Aurora eyes him askance, gathering herself up on legs that threaten to turn to water any minute. “Perhaps I should swoon to the floor, or do a spot of spontaneous crying? Do you think that would set them at ease?”

The captain’s mouth quirks up. “Time enough for crying later, Queen Leah would say.”

Aurora wishes she could return his smile.

 

XII.

It is by sheer coincidence that Maleficent happens to be in the library with Elsa, when the messenger arrives, bringing the news straight to the queen instead of leaving it to the housekeeper. The queen opens the letter immediately, concern marring her face. Maleficent merely returns to her book, Practical Magic for the Practical Witch, after a cursory glance at the exiting man.

What on earth does manipulating the wind have to do with carrying your voice? She frowns at the instructions written in the book, making the required hand movements nevertheless. The only result is a slight fluttering of the papers on the desk. Maleficent snaps her fingers again to still them, resisting the urge to growl.

“You might wish to take a look at this.”

She looks up to find the queen still scanning down the letter, eyebrows disappearing nearly into her hairline.

“Aurora?” she asks, hardly daring to ask it, heart torn somewhere between hope and disbelief. It is the only reason Elsa could possibly have to asking her to read it, having learned quite fast of the fairy’s disdain for human politics.

Elsa shakes her head absently, lips moving silently as she reaches the end of the letter. She reads it one more time, from the top, before passing it to Maleficent, who takes it with hands that threaten to tremble.

It isn’t Aurora’s handwriting, she sees immediately, chastising herself for being disappointed.

The letter is written in flawless script, and reads like some farce of a towncrier’s proclamation, denouncing the young queen of the summer kingdom for consorting with witchcraft and sorcerers, in order to bring about the downfall of the humans. The writer cites Aurora’s less-than-lofty parentage and the troubles of her beleaguered father, to question her fitness to rule, touching on her close relationship with the moors in the process.

Maleficent’s first instinct is to laugh and throw the paper the fire, until her eyes catch the signature at the bottom of it. Her blood runs cold, then. Alexander. Aurora’s right hand, the man who would rule as viceroy in her absence.

“He is sending this to every nation that the Summer Kingdom trades with?” Maleficent asks, turning the letter over, and running her fingers over the seal.

“It must be so, if he bothered to send one all the way here.” Elsa replies, a thoughtful look entering her face. “It might signify nothing at all.”

“It signifies treason.” Maleficent grinds out, hands clenching despite herself. The seal bears a rampant lion in the center, the sign of the royal family of the summer kingdom, restricted to be used only by the same.

Elsa’s reply is a mild shrug.

“We receive at least a couple of petitions a month, mostly young men trying to ‘stop the witch from keeping residence on the throne’” A thin smile reaches the queen’s mouth, but not her eyes. “A couple of days in the tower cells are usually enough to cure them of the spirit of the revolution, as it were.”

“The Summer Kingdom is far less forgiving of things out of the ordinary.” Maleficent murmurs, glancing out the window at the courtyard, where a red-haired woman is leading a gaggle of laughing children around a skating rink. “And this one is no callow youth.”

“Well, I suppose it merits further investigation.” The queen accedes, fingers steepling under her chin. “What will you do this with this…this-” She leans over to look at the letter, searching for the name.

“Alexander.” Maleficent supplies, remembering the man scowling at her during the many times she had interrupted Aurora’s council. She scans the letter again. It reads just like him - a man of few words and many judgments. Aurora had thought him cruel and proud, a justiciar fit more for an overreaching empire than a small summer kingdom.

Maleficent imagines him roasting, screaming for mercy; she fancies that she can almost hear the rasping of his breath as she drags him across to Aurora, the hatred in his gaze as she makes him beg forgiveness for taking up arms against his queen.

Elsa regards her quizzically, reaching out to take back the crushed remains of the letter. “What are you smiling at?”

 

XIII.

When Aurora writes to the westlander king for aid in her cause, she certainly expects him to send an army, in respect for their long-standing tradition of mutual defense. She does not expect Phillip to arrive at the head of that army, wearing a grin like the proverbial cat with a taste for canary.

“Your father allowed this?” she asks. She knows Phillip’s father is quite generous with the liberties allowed his son, but this beggars belief.

“Oh, he was dead set against it.” Phillip’s chin tilts up in a disconcertingly confident way. “But I could not pass up the chance to see an old friend, could I?”

Aurora doesn’t fool herself into thinking he is doing this only for her – he is a prince, after all, and this would win him credibility with his men- but her heart fills with warmth nevertheless.

“Come, you must be tired.” She embraces him and leads him to the castle doors. “Rest first. We can talk later.”

She learns during their rushed breakfast that Phillip’s father has sent a letter of sanctions against Alexander’s action, denouncing him and cutting off all ties with the man; a sensible action, considering a civil war in the summer kingdom would most certainly impact the westlands negatively.

“What does he hope to accomplish by challenging you, though?” Phillip asks distractedly that evening, as they take their supper in the library, surrounded by old maps and guttering candles. “What does it all mean?”

Aurora looks down at the map in front of her, hands tracing the winding path to the stronghold where Alexander has cloistered himself, right at the edges of her kingdom. It is a nigh-impenetrable fortress; used as an outpost for the border guard in olden times, and all but abandoned for more than a hundred years.

“I already know what it means.” She looks northwards, willing her voice not to shake and hoping she is utterly wrong in her pronouncement. “It means war.”

 

XIV.

To Maleficent, it seems the days pass by in a blur, after she takes her farewell of the northern kingdom and speeds southwards. She eats but little, stopping mainly to gather news from passing fairies. Each one confirms the worst of her fears; there is indeed a war brewing in the summer kingdom, and Aurora seems poised to throw herself in the middle of it.

When her wings are sore from flying, Maleficent buys herself time by taking refuge in passing carts along the highway, asking for passage in return for protection. More often than not, her offer is accepted, although her human hosts eye her curiously – perhaps even fearfully - taking in the armored garb and ever-spread wings. Maleficent can almost hear the questions that die before they make it past their lips. Who is this fairy? What is she planning to fight? Where is she off in such a hurry to?

Maleficent wants to reply with a laconic. “Love”, but she supposes that would sound silly. For all their much-vaunted codes of chivalry and romance, humans are oddly disdainful of such fallible emotions.

The latest of her companions is a warrior from distant lands, traveling to rejoin her army. Would she think such answers silly too? Maleficent wonders idly, eying the solemn face in front of her. Her companion is unusually reticent, though it seems more out of practice that fear; she is a rigid solider, bound by codes stricter than even Maleficent had come to expect of humans. Not unpleasant, though, as far as company goes, and generous with sharing what little of her food Maleficent needs. Would she sneer, and laugh, or would she keep on remaining silent?

“It isn’t silly.” The warrior - who goes by the name of Mulan and hails from the house of Fa- replies, though, when Maleficent tests out her theory. “Love is always worth fighting for.”

 

XV.

“It is windy.” The Captains frowns at the bowed trees as he speaks. “Not good for the bowmen.”

Ranged against the treeline where the moors fades into the forest, Alexander’s men look pitifully dwarfed by the royal army Aurora commands, but every one of them is armored to the hilt in shining steel. Even the untitled ones hold swords and shields. Alexander’s wealth truly had not been underestimated by her informants.

“I hope it won’t come to that,” Aurora replies, managing a modicium of calm, though her heart threatens to hammer itself out of her chest.

Not for the first time, she curses herself for not reigning in the laws that allow nobles to have standing armies. They have been preparing for this for months, that much is clear; though outnumbered, Alexander’s men are far more ready for this than her hastily-gathered band of soldiers, who have gotten used to the decade-long peace.

“And if it does?” The Captain asks, tone neutral.

Then we’ll have to prepare for a battlefield full of corpses. And it won’t end there, Aurora knows. Sooner or later, it is the innocents who will pay the price for the arrogance of nobility; the blood of untried women and children to wash away the guilt of royal hands.

“He’ll listen to reason.” She clutches her cloak more tightly to herself. It is awfully windy. Odd, that, in this squelching summer heat.

“Alexander?” A rueful smile crosses the Captain’s lips, even as he inspects his shield. “He would run himself through his own sword before listening to something as common as reason.”

Aurora shrugs, letting the words wash off her; she cannot afford to listen to them. “He can’t possibly hope to defeat us and earn the ire of the westland kingdom, all in one fell swoop.” She prays that Phillip’s missive of sanctions has reached the man.

It is a waiting game now, and Alexander seems to know it too, by his restless pacing on his horse back and forth across his cavalry line. Even from this distance, Aurora can make out the rigid set of his shoulder. Good. Let him rage; let him know what it means to court a war.

The captain continues, speaking more to himself than to her.

“…does have close ties with the westlands; his grandmother is descended from one of the ruling families…”

Perhaps it is because she has known the moors all her life, that Aurora realizes something is wrong. It really is too windy for the moors in high summer; the air usually gets so stagnant around this time, that even a gentle breeze is hard to come by.

“…they might not dare to act against a direct order of the westland king…”

As her soldiers face forward, focused on the army before them, Aurora looks up, shading her eyes.

“…damn this wind, it's blowing entirely against us-“

“It isn’t the wind.” Aurora interrupts him. There is something flying towards them. A mere speck in the horizon, but Aurora can just make out its wings, which are driving the air before them in great big gusts.

The Captain, following her gaze, notices it too, for he immediately puts away his sword and reaches for his bowstring.

“I don’t think that’s going to be of any use-” Aurora begins; the thing seems to be getting bigger by the second. Any hopes she might have had, that it is not headed for them, rather withers when its trajectory begins to make a gradual decline near the treeline.

There is confused murmuring behind her, as her own men notice what has distracted their leaders. Before her, she can see the horses of Alexander’s cavalry rearing nervously as well, as their riders turn behind and point as one to the sky.

Alexander himself does not seem to have noticed the disturbance among his men. His patience seemingly snapped, he is instead urging his horse towards the middle of the field, no doubt headed for Aurora herself, and entirely oblivious of the creature behind him that is hurtling towards them at breakneck speed.

He looks quite gallant, charging forward at the head of the cavalry, his coat emblazoned with glittering medallions and entirely aware of the looming terror behind him. Aurora watches, somewhat fascinated by the incongruous pageantry of it all, as he approaches her at a gallop.

And then stops quite abruptly.

Because charging forward gallantly is quite dashing and all, but one doesn’t really get too far when a great big dragon has swooped in from the sky, and is standing quite forebodingly in the way.

 

XVI.

There is baffled confusion for a time, as both sides stare at the draconian creature that has situated itself in the middle of the field, rings of sulphuric fumes floating almost laconically out of its cavernous mouth.

Aurora looks up, silence ringing deafeningly in her head, though the field is a mess of noise and confusion. Her gaze travel quite a long way up, brows furrowed in confusion. She knows of dragons, of course and she remembers vividly the fiery creature that Diaval had turned into. But this, for all the smoke and scales, doesn’t quite look anything she had associated with the species. There is something oddly sinuous about this creature, almost snakelike.

It looks brittle for all its size, Aurora realizes suddenly, noting the tapering thinness of its chest, the fragility of the ridges along the spines, which look more like thorns than anything. If a plant were instructed to imagine a dragon, she thinks absently, this is probably what it would have come up with.

“Do we attack?” the captain asks, his voice pitched low for her ears alone.

Aurora almost answers in the positive, only half-listening to him, when her eyes travel far enough upwards to rest on iridiscent green eyes, blazing bright even from this distance. And Aurora knows; she knows because dreams often lie, and visions aren’t always what they seem, but Maleficent has only ever been Maleficent.

“No.” her answer is instinctive.

“Negative?” The Captain’s tone indicates a request for clarification rather than outright defiance, but Aurora hears the sound of metal being unsheathed behind her, by soldiers unsure of what to do.

Without looking behind her, she lifts one arm loosely. The Captain mirrors her action and as one man, the army lowers its weapons in a deafening clangour. (Good, a distracted part of Aurora thinks, even then. They know their leader.)

The opposing side is not so disciplined. Alexander shouts something, too far off for Aurora’s to catch, and a few arrows are shot haphazardly into the air in the rough direction of the new arrival. Most of them ricochet harmlessly off the gleaming scales covering the dragon’s hide. One is caught out of the air and snapped quite theatrically in half; both halves are flicked back with unerring accuracy at the bowman, as if they were mere toothpicks.

Aurora sighs, and rides forward into the middle ground. She turns to face the dragon, willing herself to keep from quailing, as gleaming eyes turn to face her.

“That’s enough, then.” She says, looking up and summoning all the courage she has left to force out that simple sentence.

The nostrils of the dragon flare and for a moment, Aurora feels as frozen in time, or perhaps merely in fear. The smell of burning sulphur threatens to make her faint dead away altogether, and the acrid smoke makes her eyes water. Still the dragon above gives no sign of having heard her, or even noticing her presence.

“You’ve made your point.” she tries again. “Enough, Maleficent.”

Slowly, alike to a glacier descending a slope, the dragon inclines its head. One moment there is a fearsome draconian creature towering above Aurora, and another, there is a tall sorceress shrouded in green smoke walking towards her.

“You knew it was me.” Maleficent says in greeting, as she nears Aurora, and it is more a statement than a question.

“You always did like to make an entrance.” Aurora keeps one eye on Maleficent as she approaches, but most of her attention is one Alexander, who has gotten back his bearings, and is riding towards them as fast as him stallion can take him. She has to give it to the man; traitor though he is, he is fearless.

“So you’ll align yourself with dark magic.” Alexander says, the moment he draws within earshot, pointing at Aurora and pitching his voice to be heard across the entire field.

So that’s how he plans to turn this around. Aurora opens her mouth, ready to contest the statement, but is forestalled when Maleficent steps forward, the mere reminder of her presence causing Alexander to snap his mouth shut.

Maleficent laughs then, and her voice doesn’t simply carry across the field. Rather, it flattens every other sound in its path, until the entire field rings with her cruel mirth.

“Dark magic?” she asks Alexander, lips curled in contempt. “Only a fool would pigeonhole sorcery into such inaccurate, human definitions.”

She walks towards him, heedless of his horse rearing away as she draws inexorably nearer.

“And if you don’t think that I’ll use my dark magic to prevent you from playing out your trivial human disagreements in the vicinity of the moorlands, you are dead wrong.” She seems to reconsider her words. “Well, just plain dead, really.”

“Brave words.” Alexander spits back, hands going to his hilt in one fluid movement. “But I didn’t survive two wars to quail at threats from a puppet queen’s pet sorceress.”

Maleficent’s grin at hearing that is positively gleeful. “Let’s hope third time is the charm, then.” She murmurs, raising her hands, as he moves to draw his sword.

“No.”

“Aurora, if you think to stop me again-“ Maleficent begins, simultaneously turning on her and freezing Alexander mid-draw, without so much as a backwards glance at him.

Aurora lifts her hand in a staying gesture.

“I’m not stopping you.” She says. Maleficent’s brows draw together.

“Because I can’t stop you.” Aurora continues. “In fact, I doubt a thousand-man army would even slow you down.”

Maleficent, of course, has the temerity to look pleased at that, though the smile withers quite satisfactorily from her lips as Aurora continues.

“But if you do kill him,” the queen says, leaning forward and making sure Maleficent catches every word, “Everything he said about me would be true. I would be a puppet, pulled about by your whim, my fate determined by you.” She waves a careless hand in Alexander’s direction, but her eyes are fixed on Maleficent’s face, which seems to be steadily draining of blood. “Go on, then. Do as you please.”

I am your subject.” Alexander turns away from Maleficent and glares at Aurora. She is a little baffled at how genuinely hurt he looks, as he continues. “I fought to keep safe the throne you sit on.”

“Yes.” Aurora replies, frowning as she tries to work out what sort of mental gymnastics the man must be doing, to expect any measure of protection from her. “The very throne you were willing to oust me from, mere moments ago. And here is an odd thing I have found out about fighting – one doesn’t survive a war, let alone two, by being bold or brave.”

“It was my job to lead my soldiers, not to fight on the frontline.” He argues, face taking on a mulish set. “Who are you to question me? You, the brat of an up-jumped commoner, who would tie up our kingdom’s resources rather than trade them for alliance; who would waste away our proud lineage, on the whims of these creatures. You have no right.”

Maleficent laughs then, as if at some amusing joke. “Such long memories.” She murmurs, seemingly to herself, “For such short lives.”

Her words pass unnoticed by Aurora, who can only stare at Alexander, because good heavens he really does believe what he is saying; he well and truly means it.

“Look behind you.” She advises him. “And tell me what right I have.”

He turns, and Aurora sees the exact moment when the brunt of the matter hits him. Behind his distant army, a sentry of wood trolls have emerged from the woods to stand at the treeline, flanked by the every denizen of the moors, it seems, who can fight. Even from this distance, Aurora can make out Balthazar in the lead, conversing to a tiny speck of a raven.

“You’ll doom your army by continuing to fight.” Aurora drives the point home, even though she knows Alexander see it already – the futility of continuing to fight - when caught in between two armies with a joint purpose.

Alexander turns to her then, a ferocious light entering his eyes. “My men would fight to the last man than surrender.”

“Unfortunately, I am far more selfish than them,” Aurora replies, aware of the roof of her mouth suddenly going dry. “And not predisposed to look kindly upon any threats made to the peace, regardless of how noble a cause it stemmed from. Let us see how well your men fare, without you to lead them. ” Odd, her voice seems to carry across the pitch without much effort on her part.

“You wouldn’t dare kill me before witnesses.” Alexander interrupts, lips curling into a derisive smirk.

A quick glance at Maleficent confirms Aurora’s suspicions. Maleficent, for her part, merely shrugs, as Aurora’s eyes fixate on her hands.

“You are queen.” she tells Aurora in a murmur. Twirl, point, a snap of her fingers and sudden sparks. “Pass your sentence for all to hear, then.”

And so Aurora does.

“A queen protects her people and in return, they grant her their loyalty.” She looks down, toying with the pommel of the ceremonial sword at her hip. A quick intake of breath, a long exhale, and her head is raised again, high and proud. “Let one human assembled here tell me what mercy I should afford a traitor.”

The ringing silence that greets her words is the only answer she needs. Aurora’s blood is pounding in her ears, and sweat threatens to burst out of every pore in her body. But Maleficent moves closer, the smell of burning sulphur wafting from her body, and the nearness of her is an anchor.

“So this is your mercy?” Alexander asks, eyes tracking Maleficent’s every move, as she stalks closer. “Death by the witch’s hand?”

Aurora stares at this man, who was willing to begin another war and let children die, for no other reason than his foolish, blind pride. Again, she lifts a hand. Mercifully, Maleficent stops in her tracks.

“A quick death is far too much mercy for you.” Aurora tells the justiciar. “I know something more fitting.”

She meets Alexander’s gaze properly then, and whatever he sees in her eyes make him lean away, hands tightening on the reins of his horse, as fear finally enters his eyes.

“Justice.” Says Aurora, and her words are unsheathed steel.

 

XVII.

It is not strictly necessary, but Aurora joins the Captain as he places Alexander under formal arrest, reads him his rights, and marches him to the most expansive of the castle cells. It is not so painful a journey as she had anticipated; with his army disbanded, the deposed justiciar seems silent, a shadow of what he had been only a few hours ago.

“We can’t keep keep him there forever.” The Captain murmurs to her when the deed is done, and Aurora nods without making a response, because that is a trouble for another night.

“See to it that his soliders can be tried in court by the end of the week”, she advises, before turning to leave. The guardsmen who move to accompany her do not question it when she waves them away, merely disbanding in the direction of the captured soldiers instead. Curious. She thinks on that, as she makes her away alone across the courtyard to her private chambers.

“Your Grace.”

Aurora blinks, looking down at the shadow that has fallen across her path and interrupted her thoughts.

“It is dangerous to be walking along at night, Jonathan.” She tells Alexander’s boy mildly, fully aware that the boy would joining his father in chains, were it not for his age. “Especially tonight.”

It seems Jonathan knows it too, for he looks down, seems to gather himself, and looks back up. “Nan told me about d-…my father.”

Aurora resists the urge to sigh. She’d hope not to have to deal with this until some time.

“My father doesn’t mean half of what he says.” Alexander’s son tells her earnestly.

She studies his face closely before responding, seeing the marked resemblance to Alexander. What else of him is in the boy?

For a moment, Aurora pities him. He looks so young, no older than seventeen; a child should not be forced to apologize for his father, should not have to plead on his behalf.

“Your father broke the law.” She says, rearranging her features to show nothing at all. “My duty is to dispense justice, even to traitors. Mercy does not come into it.”

The boy only looks at her, his jaw working uselessly. For a moment Aurora wants to flinch, because he stares at her as if she is something out of the night-tales, told to frighten children around bright fires.

Who would want to be queen? Aurora wonders, as she gives him a noncommittal smile and moves on. She tries to think of anything in the world that could be worth receiving that look from a child, and comes up empty.

“You scared half a lifetime out of him.” Maleficent murmurs at her side, and Aurora starts. It seems her silent shadow is back, after a long absence.

“He’s only a child.” She replies briefly, turning away, because she doesn’t want sympathy; not now, not from Maleficent.

“Older than you were, when you took the throne.”

Stop it.” Aurora whispers. She wants to screams at how her voice trembles, how it threatens to break.

“You haven’t properly said a word to me since my return.” Says Maleficent, and the bile rises to Aurora’s throat, because how dare she look stand there looking so hurt who does she-

“How dare you.” Aurora grits out, and Maleficent’s eyes widen.

“I would apologize,” she begins. “But-“

There it is again, the red raw hurt of it, growing stronger with every moment Maleficent continues to look at her. The urge to cry, to scream, to strike out; anything to end the way her stomach wants to turn itself inside out.

“There are no apologies needed.” Aurora interrupts, a flat tone in place of screams and tears. “You are your own person; you have the right to go anywhere you like.”

And if her voice falters, if she cannot bring herself to smile as she says it, she does not think she can be blamed for that; and Maleficent has no right to look so hurt, either, has no right to move forward and circle her arms around Aurora’s own.

“Tell me what’s troubling you.” Maleficent’s voice is soft, and her touch is warm; Aurora wants to sink into it, to forget her troubles. That only makes her angrier.

They thought I would fail without you. But I proved them wrong. I fought back. I won.

But the words stick like ashes to the roof of her mouth, and so she shakes off the hand, and walks on.

 

XVIII.

It isn’t until much later, when the last of the maids have gone, leaving Aurora alone in her room, that her legs buckle, and she falls to the floor, and the tears come, hot and fast.

 

XIX.

The Captain does not mince words when he finds Aurora in her garden at twilight, inspecting the flowers she had so fiercely willed into bloom.

“Sooner or later, we need to figure what to do with that bastard.” He begins without preamble. “I’m all for letting him stay in the dungeons forever, but that boy of his is relentless in petitioning for release, and some of the high lords are starting to mutter.”

“That’s not good.” Aurora murmurs. She smiles to see that the honey flowers from the moors have taken well to arid soil of the castle grounds. “I suppose they find it undignified that the justiciar rots, in a fully furnished cell with all the comforts of home, while greater men have languished in far less.”

The captain snorts. “You can say that twice.”

“You don’t have to worry; I don’t plan to keep him there forever.” She inspects the lone flower that is fully bloomed, and plucks it out without thinking. “I only want to keep him there long enough to flush out any supporters fervent enough to take rash action in freeing him. The next time that boy of his sends in a petition, tell him to see me directly.”

The Captain nods in approval. “I’ll feed the rest of them some drivel about bureaucracy, then; keep them distracted for now.”

Smile. Nod. “I would appreciate that.” She turns her attention back to the garden.

“Your mother liked them too.” The Captain says with a trace of a smile, watching her idly twirl the flower in her hands.

“The roses?” Aurora remembers the overgrown bushes she had faced, when she had first decided to have a proper garden built here.

The captain nods. “She liked to spend evenings by them. Often had sharp words with the king over having to be guarded even there.”

He touches his knuckle to his forehead at that, and Aurora echoes him absently in the timeworn gesture of paying respect to the dead. She remembers the last time he mentioned her mother, then, and frowns.

“My father…he did not like my mother?” she asks, some part of her heart sinking at the thought of it, though she sees no good reason why the lives of two people, whom she’s never known, should bother her so.

“Queen Leah was a fine lady, worthy of the greatest respect.” the Captain says, and his words are flat. “The King trusted her counsel, and acted on her judgment more often than not.”

“Succint.” Aurora says. Respect. Trust. The presence of such words, in the absence of others, is descriptive.

He bowed his head slightly, in what she supposed he thought to be a show of respect. “Would you have me lie to you, your Grace?”

“You’re going to have to work better on the deference thing if you think this poor show of it is fooling me. ” She murmurs, and the mischievous part of her wants to giggle at how chagrined he looks.

“Queen Leah liked to get under people’s skin too.” Is his equally dry reply to her. “His Grace was driven to exasperation by it more than once, but I think it soothed the more tense parts of him too, to have someone who challenged him in that way.”

“How was she like?” Aurora asked, curiously. The queen wasn’t a subject the handmaidens had ever been willing to discuss with her, and it’s refreshing to find someone who doesn’t flinch at the topic. “I was once told that I look like her.”

“A bit withdrawn, and she could be acerbic if you annoyed her, but a fine woman once you got her talking.” He studies her face. “Whoever it was, they told you true. Your father left little of himself in you.”

She thinks he is talking about her face this time, but isn’t quite sure.

“As I said, she was a reasonable lady.” The captain continues, clearing his throat roughly, “She stayed the late King’s hand more times than I can remember, on his more …ill-advised ventures. Of course, once she passed away-”

He shifts uncomfortably at that, and again, Aurora hears the unspoken words.

“Is that so?” She stares down at the ground. “Perhaps I have some of my father in me, after all.”

“Or perhaps you are just you.” He counters wryly, and Aurora flushes a little. Of course it must have sounded like a melodramatic, young thing to say, to this seasoned soldier in front of her.

“Forgive me.” She murmurs, looking away. “The heat makes me rather insensible at times.”

 

XX.

Maleficent stays back in the shadow after the captain leaves, only partly because Aurora seems to want nothing at all to do with her these days. Most of her just clamors to enjoy the view, drinking it in with the thirst of starving seamen sighting port. In the gardens, as she does nowhere else in the palace, Aurora looks like she belongs; cosseted amidst the moor-borne flowers, streaks of dirt accenting her face, she looks wanted, a child of summer.

A summer lady. Maleficent smiles, a touch of rue in the thought. My summer lady in steel and crimson.

“How long have you been there?” Aurora asks, turning to face her. Maleficent schools herself to not start, surprised as ever by the eerie sense of homing that Aurora seems to have, when it comes to her.

“Only long enough to catch his parting words.” She replies, crossing into the light. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Ruling.” Aurora says, as if that is any answer at all, and then turns her attention back to the roses.

“I see. And letting that fool live in his gilded prison while you stall, is that ruling too?” Maleficent thinks she should probably try to keep the skepticism out of her words, but the neglect hurts, the turning away of the head hurts, the refusal of Aurora’s eyes to meet her own hurts.

“The only thing I can think of is to strip him of his titles and estate.” Aurora’s words surprise Maleficent with their quietness. “Execution would mean nothing at all to Alexander; it is probably what he is expecting. I would surprise him.”

She is not wrong, Maleficent admits grudgingly. It would be easy to kill the fool of an usurper; easy for Aurora to sweep it under the rug; easy for the nobles to forget that this inconvenient episode ever happened.

“You would make him a living martyr instead.” Says out loud, coming to the natural conclusion of Aurora’s decision.

Aurora shrugs. “I am sure one of his well-to-do relations would be glad to throw him a bone – a job, perhaps, or a small house in the country, for his son and him to live out the rest of their days in peace.”

Stripped of his titles, his land and his estate; forced to serve under those whom he had lorded over all his life; nothing would break a peacock like Alexander more effectively. The very sight of him, so bowed, would serve as a reminder to all, on what the queen was capable of dealing out in return for treason.

It is effective; Maleficent sees that with crystal clarity. Cruelly, heartlessly devastating in its effectiveness. It seems Aurora has become a queen, with all the trappings that such a heavy word entails.

Maleficent wishes she could be happier about the fact.

“The boy.” She says suddenly, remembering the one thing that sticks out like a thorn in this grand design of Aurora’s. “That young boy is without a father every moment you stall your decision, and he is the one that stands to lose from this.”

“How could I prevent that?” Aurora looks away, voice cracking. “I didn’t force his father’s hand in attacking.”

Maleficent frowns, thinking back to the lad that intercepted Aurora’s path on the night of his father’s arrest. “He is very young.”

“Now you want to talk about how young he is?” Aurora asks, indignant disbelief coloring her voice, and Maleficent wants to flinch. “He is sixteen. I was only a babe, and you thought I could handle a killing curse just fine.”

“And look what it almost cost me.” Maleficent whispers, striding forward and staring into the face that she had once feared she would never see again.

Aurora seems to calm down, if not at her words, then at her touch.

“If I grant him leniency, they’ll mock me at every turn.” She argues. Her face twists up, the mask slipping away. “Alexander would be right; I’m weak, I don’t deserve the throne; everything he accused me of would be true.”

“No, they will not be.” Maleficent says, after thinking a while. “Because there will be long-term consequences to any choice you take. Each has is pitfalls, and what Alexander thinks is the better choice is not the be all and end all of what is true.”

“What does it matter to you?” Aurora asks, looking up to face her with brows furrowed.

The question throws off Maleficent for a step. Pursing her lips, she tries to get her thoughts in order.

The humans keep their infighting to themselves. The fairy kingdoms, protected from the carnage by magical intervention, generally tend to enjoy unprecedented levels of peace when the humans busy themselves by turning on each other.

Then Maleficent looks at Aurora, takes in the taut face, and the way her hands tremble even as she clenches them to keep still.

It matters because of how terrified you’re looking right now. It matters because no one with as good a heart as yours should be forced to make that decision.

“It matters because you showed me there were better ways.” She says, after a while, trying to put it in words that Aurora would be most receptive to. “You taught me that fairies and humans could live in peace. Surely the same could be said of this matter.”She moves forward, willing her steps to be calm, willing Aurora to not step back, willing her words to remain calm. “I can understand…what this decision must be costing you.”

“Oh, now you’re offering comfort?” Aurora asks, tears shining silver in the darkness.

The bitterness in the words startles Maleficent, though she knows she is not ill deserving of them.

“Where were you when I stayed up nights agonizing over this?” Aurora continues. “Who are you to come storming in at the last minute, commanding two kingdoms to act as you wish them to?”

“I did what I thought was best at the time.” Maleficent says, but her insistence is weak, as she slowly begins to untangle Aurora’s words and understand the source of her anger. “I was trying to protect you.”

I don’t need your protection.” Aurora all but screams. “How many times do I need to tell you that?”

A rather vociferous part of Maleficent wants to continue the argument until she wins, because she knows she did the right thing. A tiny part insists that Aurora is getting more upset with every word she says. She falls silent.

“Do you think when I accepted the crown from you, that I did not know how heavy it would become?” asks Aurora, turning to Maleficent again. “That I would not know the responsibility that came with it?”

Maleficent shakes her head, clears her throat. “You have always been wiser than me, Aurora.” Wiser, kinder, better by far.

“I did not.” Aurora whispers, and Maleficent looks up, surprised.

“The stories made it seem so wonderful. “ Aurora shrugs helplessly. “A queen, and of two kingdoms, no less. An easy life. A beautiful crown. As many books and as many people as one could wish for. What young girl would not want that?”

Maleficent searches for words, and settles on the obvious. “You were a young girl, Aurora. Who could fault you for that?”

Aurora shakes her head at that. “I don’t think queens ever get to be young, not really.”

But you were, once.

“What kind of queen am I, if I can’t even protect myself?” asks Aurora, folding her arms around herself. “What right do I have to ask a kingdom, let alone two, to believe in me?”

The words cleave through Maleficent’s heart effortlessly, pull at all the strings of guilt she’d never realized she had before she met Aurora. She wants to take this bitter woman by the shoulders, wants to hold her close to heart like she had held the girl Aurora had once been. Wants to stroke her hair until the sobs come, quite and heartfelt, and to hold her until they die out.

“What can I do?” Maleficent asks helplessly. “What is your wish?”

“What is my wish?” Aurora repeats her words in a dull tone, “Will wishing make that my choices clars? Will wishing make my responsibilities go away?” She wipes her face savagely with her hands, as if to claw away the weariness. “Will wishing make my nights sweeter, or my days easier, Maleficent?”

Aurora, the dawn; the queen of bright, sunlit things.

Maleficent has forgotten the sun can be as harsh as it is beautiful.

“Oh, Aurora.” There is nothing more she can think of to say, no words she knows of that can staunch that kind of wound. She reaches out a hand, wishing to do something anything.

Aurora only turns away, shrugging off the hand, her dismissal another knife clean through.

The girl who would have been soothed by soft words is long gone. In her place is a young woman bowed under the weight of the duty fallen on her, and Maleficent wonders if she can ever do anything to ease this burden.

Chapter Text

I.

“It’s a pity you don’t have a tail,” Diaval observes when she returns to the rowan tree. “Or I could make a joke about you returning with it between your legs.”

“One word.” Maleficent growls, gracelessly flopping onto the nest she had built between two branches. “One more word and I will fly out of here, and you can explain to Desdemona why I won’t be there to watch your youngest, while you two fly off on your moonlit jaunt.”

“Well, someone is in quite the mood.” He quirks his head to the side, then winces as his human body objects to the movement that would have been effortless for a raven.

“She essentially told me not to interfere in her affairs regarding the human kingdom.” Maleficent pulls down a rowan branch as she replies, gathering the berries that seem ripe. “I have to respect that, don’t I?” She tosses a berry to Diaval’s hatchling, Oberon, and pops another into her own mouth.

Diaval eyes her speculatively. “Since where are you interested in the affairs of the human kingdom?”

Since they seem to be tearing Aurora apart from the inside. “Because anything that befalls the nearby human kingdoms affects us.” She says.

“Is this about the moors, or is this about Aurora?” Diaval asks and Maleficent falls silent then, because he knows he always knows.

“I want you to know something.” Diaval says, looking ahead now instead of at her.

“Spare me.” Maleficent spits out a berry pit. “I’m not particularly in the mood for more remonstrations tonight.”

He continues regardless, because of course Diaval would. “In truth, I didn’t like it when I found about what you felt for Aurora, and for much the same reasons you brought up when you left.”

A fleeting memory comes to Maleficent’s mind, of a summer several years ago, of sunlit days filled with beautiful smiles from Aurora and odd looks from Diaval.

“How could you know my heart before I did?” she wonders.

“You’re not very good at accepting your own feelings.” He replies, and Maleficent firmly stays the hand that twitches to push him from the tree for that.

“But I saw the way you loved her and protected her.” Diaval continues quietly. “And the way she wanted to protect you.” He inspects his hands, creased in places where there would be no creases on human hands. “And my thoughts on it changed.”

“You weren’t wrong to doubt it.” Maleficent says, thinking back to the pain on Aurora’s face, the pain she had contributed to causing.

“No, don’t say that.” Diaval looks at her with brows furrowed. “There is only time that I truly doubted your love to Aurora, and that was when you left her.”

“You know the reasons I left her for.” Maleficent grinds out, unwilling to have this argument again.

“Was it truly to protect her?” he asks her bluntly. “Or you?”

Enough.”

Diaval backs off and there is silence for a time, as Maleficent moodily munches on her berries. Oberon cheeps uncertainly, looking from his father to Maleficent, and making them both start.

“Do you know that Aurora has never eaten meat, not once in the ten years since she returned to the castle as queen?” Diaval asks abruptly then.

“What?” Maleficent asks, annoyed at this non-sequitor question. “She was raised on nuts and berries and spiders for sixteen years in the forest by those idiots, of course she doesn’t-“

Even after ten years, Maleficent.” he emphasizes. “Ten years living in the castle, surrounded by humans, and meat is not allowed in her presence, though the others are free to do as they want privately. Furs in the castle are also absolutely forbidden, and hunting for sport has been all but abolished.”

Maleficent frowns. “I always thought we never saw those fools hunting around because of what happened the last time they tried to enter the moors by force.”

“Perhaps, but she has also given express orders to that same effect.” Diaval replies. “It’s another cause of grumbling in the castle, another cause of rift between her and the other humans. But Aurora does it anyways, out of her respect for the faeries.”

Out of her respect for you. She bows her head, properly chastised, though there is no reproach in his voice.

“She tried to hold on to you, even when you tried to push her away.” Diaval leaves the rest unstated, but she hears them anyways.

There is silence for a time, as Maleficent inspects her staff in intense detail.

“The moon is bright tonight.” she says eventually. “You should go before your love misses you.”

“I suppose so.” Diaval straightens and dusts his hands. “I’ve said all I came to say.”

She waits until he is jumping halfway from the tree branch before waving her hands and murmuring the transformation, watching in fascination as he struggles with his wings mid-fall.

Lying back as she hears the familiar squawk of outrage, she eyes the makeshift nest stationed carefully near her cot.

“I suppose I can’t just not ask?” She posits the question to Oberon, and almost smiles when the hatchling tilts his head and looks at her disapprovingly, in a perfect imitation of his father. “Well, I suppose the worst she can say is no.”

 

II.

“No.” says Aurora, for the third time that day. “I have enough on my hands sorting this mess with Alexander out. I can’t just abandon everything and run off into the moors to play.”

“Tell me again,” Maleficent says, “What exactly that has to do with us spending a fine summer day pawing through your grandfather’s book collection?”

“Us?” Aurora lifts her head from Lives and Lineages of the Great Kings “No one asked you to stay.”

“I tried to leave.” Maleficent’s tone is dry as she replies. “Alas, I could not resist the allure of Common Tips for the Green-thumbed Castle Gnome, when I saw it on your to-be-read shelf.”

“Enjoy.” Aurora says in brief repartee, before turning her attention back to the page in front of her, which details the fickle fancies of King Henry’s youth, in somewhat ear-burning detail.

She hears a quiet intake of breath, barely audible and quickly stifled; Aurora refuses to notice it, as she refuses to notice the guilt stinging her heart, or the sudden tears that threaten to escape her eyes.

“I would enjoy it with you.” Maleficent replies, and her voice is the most brittle Aurora has ever heard it be.

“First Knotgrass, then Diaval, now you.” Aurora blinks, looking down and fiercely ignoring the stinging in her eyes. She can’t seem to remember anymore how bright the moors are, how sweetly the birds sing there.

(She desperately wants to remember.)

Maleficent watches her struggle silently for some moments, her own form as stiff and foreboding as ever.

“No one can be one thing all the time, Aurora.” She says. Her tone is not harsh, but neither is it gentle. “There has to be balance. The Midsummer Festival is very important to fairykind. They would like to see their queen there.”

Aurora rubs her eyes and leans back in her chair. “Jonathan.” She says briefly, eying the tome in front of her with deep loathing. “He’s the reason I’m here.”

Maleficent’s eyebrows lift ever so slightly. “That fool councillor’s boy? What does he have to do with anything?”

Aurora sighs and resists the urge to crush the paper in front of her. “I know he’s related to me, and I’ve managed to piece together enough to know that he’s related to me through a common ancestor of ours called Owen.”

Maleficent seems to accept that without comment; Aurora supposes she is used enough to the ways of nobles, by now.

“The problem is,” she continues, frowning as the memory of the torn tapestries and stowed-away books come back to her. “Either the books don’t go back far enough or I’m missing something here, because I can’t figure out how.”

Maleficent eyes her curiously. “Why is that important to you?”

Because that boy looked at me like I was a monster, the monster I seem destined to become. Aurora looks down instead of replying, flipping the pages of the book and trying to find something to focus on.

There is a pause, and then Maleficent hands gently close around Aurora’s own, moving them away before closing the book shut.

“It’s clearly not helping you.” She says, as Aurora looks up in irritation. “You’ve done nothing but grit your teeth at it for the past hour. I don’t think the book can hear you.”

Aurora grits her teeth again, then frowns as she catches herself doing it. “What do you suggest I do, then?”

“Perhaps you should ask your westlander prince?” Maleficent asks,

“Philip?” Aurora asks, frowning. “I don’t think he is overfond of reading.”

“Philip’s late grandmother would have been a direct cousin to Alexander’s own, on the maternal side.” Maleficent shrugs. “Perhaps she would be willing to shed some light on the matter?”

“Queen Mary?” Aurora looks at her curiously. “I had already figured that part out, but how do you know that?”

Maleficent only rolls her shoulders again, turning away to slot Aurora’s book back into its allotted space on the shelves. “Humans nobles do have a tendency to keep it in the family, don’t you? It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out.”

She is lying, Aurora knows immediately. The shrug, the turning away, the downward angle of her head; Maleficent is lying to her, the same way her councilors had lied, the same way Alexander had lied. Strangely, Aurora doesn’t feel anger at the revelation; only a flat, aching emptiness.

“So that’s it.” she speaks to the ground, but Maleficent whips her head around at once, eyes wide open in uncharacteristic consternation. “Ten years, and this is where we have ended up; lying to each other about even the little things.”

“Aurora…” There is a pause, a drawn-out exhalation, and Maleficent starts again. “It has nothing to do with you, believe me.”

“Lying to me has nothing to do with me?”

Listen to me-“

“You have my permission to leave.” Aurora informs her coldly.

Maleficent’s eyes turn hard, and for a moment, Aurora forgets to breathe. Fool girl, a voice in her head clamors, scorning the most accomplished sorceress of your time.

Maleficent only bows briefly, though, and walks to the door, her bearing ramrod straight. Aurora forces her breathing to even out, and has somewhat managed to get it under control when the fairy turns, hand on the doorknob.

“What about the festival?”

Aurora glares at her, eyebrows rising in disbelief. “Do you really think that after everything-“

“Diaval will be there with his new hatchling.” Maleficent cuts in frostily. “He was looking forward to showing Oberon off to you.”

Aurora grits her teeth, forces back the tears. “Fine.

 

III.

“Isn’t this fun?” Diaval looks expectantly at the women on either side of him, and refuses to deflate when he is met by stony silence on one side, and sulkiness on the other.

The midsummer festival is in full swing, and there is nothing Diaval wants to do more than circle in the sky with Desdemona to the singing of the water fairies. It appears he is stuck here instead, between a sulking fairy and a restless human who seems to want to be anywhere but here.

“Well, the sun is quite bright.” He offers. “Even the water fairies are out in full force today.”

Aurora relents enough to give him a small smile, tinged with weariness.

“It is wonderful.” she says, glancing wistfully at the celebrations around her. For someone who has spent the largest part of her life growing up in and around the moorlands, Aurora looks lost, as though stranded in uncharted territory.

“You should enjoy it.” Diaval says encouragingly. “The wallerbogs want a rematch with you for last time.” He smiles at the wicked smirk that escapes her lips, before she feigns false modesty. Some people just need a little push.

Then he looks to the other side of him, and the smile dies. Some people, on the other hand, are quite impossible altogether.

Maleficent is still moodily staring off into the distance, as if Diaval, Aurora and possibly the very air itself has offended her. It is possible, Diaval reflects. If anyone could take offense to the necessity of breathing, it would be Maleficent.

He looks down and digs his toes into the soft earth, fighting the urge to sigh. This is a quite a bit harder than I thought it would be.

There is a small cheep and Diaval lifts his head to see his youngest flying towards them on unsteady wings. His heart swells at the sight.

“Meet Oberon,” he tells Aurora, unable to keep the pride out of his voice.

Aurora visibly melts at the sight of the chick waddling towards her.

“Come here.” She kneels and holds out one arm, grinning in delight when he clambers eagerly onto it. For a moment, Oberon wobbles, and Diaval prepares to lunge forward. Then there is Aurora’s other hand curled protectively around the chick, steadying him, and Diaval relaxes.

He leans back and surreptitiously watches Maleficent instead, noting the way her eyes soften at the sight of Aurora playing with Oberon. The queen grins as Oberon rubs against her hair, chirping away at her as if he had known her all his short life. As if by instinct, an answering smile curves Maleficent’s lips, and Diaval dares to hope.

“Hasn’t anyone told you it’s impolite to stare?” Maleficent murmurs suddenly, her attention still fixed straight ahead on Aurora.

Diaval raises an eyebrow because good grief the dissembling self-righteousness of it all.

“And I suppose no one has told you that the wallerbog shouldn’t go around calling the mud troll dirty?” he asks. “You could go talk to her, you know.”

Maleficent looks away abruptly then. “And why would I want to do that?” It comes out as a snap, and Diaval freezes, fighting the instinctive urge to draw back.

“You were the one who got Aurora to come here.” He says, feeling his way around cautiously. Regardless of how long he has known her, Maleficent is mercurial at the best of times. Continuing to prod at her feels rather like flying willingly into a hornet’s net. “Now you sit around sulking and won’t even meet her eyes.”

“Fitting, then.” Maleficent says, looking positively martyred as she frowns at the grass. Perhaps it has joined forces with the air, and offended her too. “Considering she has refused to say a word to me since I brought her here.”

Out of the corner of his eyes, Diaval spies Oberon flying off with his siblings, while the wallerbogs draw Aurora away to join them.

“Has it occurred to you.” He says, “That she might waiting for you to say something to her?”

Maleficent looks at him as if he’s taken leave of his senses.

“Then she can walk over and tell me that.” She says, as if stating the obvious.

Diaval sighs, and barely stops himself from rolling his eyes. “Yes, if only we all just said what was on our minds.”

Maleficent lifts a hand threateningly, and Diaval throws both of his up in resignation. “You know what? Don’t even bother, I’ll do it myself.”

“I taught you that spell for use in emergencies.” Maleficent hisses in indignation, as he mutters the words for the transformation.

Shaking his feathers, Diaval only caws scornfully at her, and flies off to join Desdemona’s chat with one of the stone faeries by the riverside.

You try to help someone out, he grumbles.

 

IV.

Standing here, amidst the singing and dancing, Aurora feels a little sheepish at her churlishness towards Diaval and especially, Maleficent.

A stubborn part of her wants to argue about how overbearing the faery could be; no queen should feel less than irritated, after all, at being browbeaten into attending gratuitous festivities in the aftermath of an almost-war.

And yet, secure in the knowledge that Diaval is circling in the sky overheard and Maleficent is watching her somewhere from the shadows, Aurora only feels one thing; the joy of coming home after a long and tiring journey. How could she have forgotten?

The problem, she supposes, is that she knows exactly how. It isn’t home, not unless Maleficent is there; Maleficent, who is also the source of the anger that seems to bubble up in Aurora almost constantly, lately.

As she stands there, stilled by her conflicting thoughts, Puck slings a well-aimed handful of mud at Aurora, and croaks in disbelief when she dodges most of it involuntarily. Before the wallerbog can blink, she has thrown a handful back at him.

“Too slow.” She teases, dancing out of his reach and grabbing another handful as he stands there dripping in mud.

Puck visibly gulps, and the smile that leaves Aurora’s lips then, is not entirely nice.

“What shall we do with you?” she muses, tapping her right cheek in mock thought. “Perhaps an…- oof!”

Wiping off the mud that seems have teleported from her hand to her face of its own volition, Aurora hears a deep intake of breath from the assembled fairies, punctuated by a tentative croak from the wallerbog in front of her. She turns around slowly, catching sight of the sparks dancing around the outstretched hand of the figure under the tree.

“Do you think I won’t get you back for that?” she asks Maleficent, after wiping away the worst of the mud from her mouth and eyes.

Still seated under the shade, Maleficent eyes her with a bland expression. “Do you think you can?” she asks; she is not quite smiling, but there is an odd tilt to her lips that Aurora recognizes, and it sets her own heart beating faster despite itself.

Aurora walks slowly to her, stopping only when she would have to fall over to be closer. The faery is crouched low enough that she has to look up to meet Aurora’s gaze. Every movement deliberate, the queen brings up her mudstained hands and places them on each side of the perfect face that stares up at her, with its eyes uncharacteristically wide in consternation.

“I think,” Aurora says, stroking her fingers down the cheekbones and watching in fascination at the streaks of dirt they leave behind. “I just did.”

The clearing goes deathly still then, and it occurs to Aurora that even now, no one here would dare to do the simple thing she has just done.

“Well.” Says Maleficent finally. “It seems you always do.” And Aurora knows that she means more than this.

“Only when it comes to you.” She replies briefly, aware of Maleficent’s discomfort at saying things like this in public. “And it goes both ways. Thank you.”

Having added that, she disentangles herself from the faery, and walks forward into the sunshine, aware of Maleficent trailing back into the shade. Slowly, the joy seeps back into the place, and the dancing and festivities start up again.

Aurora looks up and waves to Desdemona, laughing in delight as she watches Diaval and his lovebird fly around each other in slow tandem. Then she is swept high into the air by Balthazar’s gentle limbs, and for a time all she sees is the bright sky and clouds, as they waltz in tune to the tweeting of the skyborne cheeps. She is breathing as hard as she is smiling, by the time she tumbles back down to earth.

Aurora turns and spies Maleficent then, still sitting under the same tree, and munching on some nuts as she watches the celebrations. Her cheeks are still stained with mud, and perhaps if there isn’t that faint smile on her face, Aurora would not be walking over to her. Perhaps if doesn’t seems remote even now, removed on some level from the revelry all around her, Aurora would not be extending a hand to her, an eyebrow raised in expectation.

Maleficent looks back and forth from Aurora’s outstretched hand to her face for what seems like an eternity.

“You want to dance?” she asks, and Aurora blinks, because that could not have been hesitation she saw, not from Maleficent. “After everything?”

“Later.” Aurora says, softly stroking the fairy’s cheeks again, and only succeeding in making them more stained. “Because you were right; there will be time enough for such things later.” Right now, she just wants to enjoy this moment, for the brief time that it lasts.

And suddenly there are soft pops all around the clearing, and a gentle rain of petals fall down on them. The plants are blooming, their flowers bursting into the forest air with wild abandon. Aurora gasps, more in wonder than surprise.

“The moors miss you.” Maleficent says, watching her instead of the flowers around them. “They cry out for their summer queen.”

Aurora marvels in the riotous display of colours, reaching out to catch a red flower as it floats by. They have missed her.

“They have missed us both.” She says, noting the way the roots of the tree have wrapped around Maleficent where she is seated, as if soaking in the warmth of her presence.

“Better than a night spent in council?” Maleficent asks her then, her eyes softening.

“Much better.” Aurora says quietly. She reaches down, tucks away the flower behind one pointed ear, where it sticks out comically against the dark of Maleficent’s hair and garb.

The fleeting expression crosses Maleficent’s face again, and Aurora is sure of it this time. She is uncertain.

“What did you thank me for?” the faery asks.

Aurora blinks for a moment, and then remembers.

“For this.” She says, gesturing to the clearing. “For dragging me here.” She looks up at Maleficent. “This is the first place that loved me. It’s good to be reminded of home again.”

“The moors will always love you.” Maleficent tells her. “Always here, waiting to welcome you home.”

Aurora thinks that perhaps Maleficent doesn’t quite understand what she had meant, but she lets herself be enfolded in dark wings without protest, as the water faeries begin the next song.

Maleficent leads her into the clearing, and they dance, under the shade of the great trees with petals floating all around them. It is wild and wonderful, and when Aurora tires and lays down on the ground, her hands are still holding on to Maleficent’s, and her sleep is dreamless.

It is not until morning comes, and she is riding away accompanied by the Captain, that Aurora wonders whether she didn’t fully understand what Maleficent meant, either.

 

V.

“My grandfather sent me the documents you asked for.” Phillip tells her by way of greeting, when Aurora enters her solar after her evening council gathering, followed some paces behind by Maleficent. Seated at the edge of her writing desk, he idly waves the papers in question at her. “What did you want to look at fusty old birth certificates for?”

Aurora moves to take them from him, scanning over the stamped certificate bearing Alexander’s name, before folding open the ancient parchment that holds an elaborately decorated family tree.

“You were right.” she murmurs over her shoulder, her fingers stopping halfway where “Owen” is written in neatly, next to a “Gared” that is written in much bigger and bolder letters. “He’s on here.”

“I always am.” Maleficent replies, her breath uncomfortably warm against Aurora’s ear, as she too peers down at the document.

“It’s a dotted line.” Aurora says suddenly, tracing out the line that connects King Gared of the Westlands to Owen of the Summer Kingdom. The thinness of it stands out in stark contrast against the bold lines that connect Gared to his wife and children. “Why is that?”

Phillip shrugs, mystified. Maleficent, however, smiles.

“Isn’t it time you took your supper, Your Highness?” she directs the question to Phillip.

“Oh I already ate-” Phillip begins, and stops at the look on Maleficent’s face. “Come to think of it, that was an hour ago.” He rubs his stomach unconvincingly. “I’ll go see what the kitchens have in store.”

Aurora watches bemusedly as the prince beats a hasty retreat. “What is so secret that you had to get him out of here?”

“Not particularly a secret.” Maleficent turns back to her, a faint smile on her face. “More that he might object to learning some unwelcome truths.”

“Such as?” Aurora draws out.

“Owen was not called the First of His Line for nothing.” Maleficent replies. “That’s why you won’t find much about him in your libraries. I expect King Henry didn’t want his shaky ancestry heralded about. And with good reason too.” She sweeps a hand around her absently. “Considering what was about to happen here.”

The self-doubt ever present in Aurora’s brain rears its head again, at this casual comment. “Yes, who knows what would have happened if you had not arrived in time to save me?”

Maleficent freezes. “I apologize.” She says tightly. “I did not mean to imply that you were to blame for anything.”

But I was, wasn’t I? Aurora shakes off insidious thought. Self-pity and remonstration can wait for later. She has to take care of this now.

“No, I am sorry. That was completely unfair of me.” she murmurs, sighing and rubbing her temples. “Please, go on with what you were saying.”

“Not much to say. Many decades ago, a powerful fairy and the human king had a …disagreement, a tale that has repeated itself many times during the history of your realm. When that disagreement had run its course, King Everard of the summer kingdom lay dead on the battlefield, with naught to succeed him but an infant son, and the sixteen year old Princess Eliza. ”

“Queen Eliza.” Aurora corrects, remembering the name from the tomes she had pored over, but Maleficent shakes her head.

Princess Eliza, at that time. Among those left alive on the battlefield that day was Owen, half-brother to the westlander king Gared, who had given charge of his army to Owen to aid Everard’s forces. As Owen was the highest-ranking commander left alive on the field, the faery gave Owen a choice between death or defeat.”

“How kind of them.” Aurora murmurs absently, mentally doing back the math as a faint suspicion blooms in her head.

“Owen bent the knee.” Maleficent continues. “And so the faery let him have the throne of the summer kingdom, a change of matters that King Gared was not at all opposed to, as you can imagine. And with the throne came Eliza, who gave birth to a girl, Victoria I, and much later, a son; Henry the Sixth of his Name. Who was really the first of his name, but Owen thought that bestowing the child a name taken from the old royal family would legitimize his bloody ascent to the throne.”

Aurora remembers the stowed away tapestries; the books hidden away to rot.

“So when King Henry…my grandfather… came of age, he married the westlander king’s youngest daughter, Mary.” She says, mind working furiously to integrate this new information with what she already knew. “In…in order to strengthen the ties between their two kingdoms?”

“Perhaps.” In the fading candlelight, Maleficent’s shrug is barely perceptible. “Owen might have feigned peace against the moors, but he wasn’t stupid enough to think he could win on his own, if they turned against his rule.”

“That would explain my late grandfather’s stupidity over the moors, somewhat, then.” Aurora muses. She leans back, trying to put together the revelations of the past hour into some semblance of order. “But where does Alexander fit into this?”

“The infant son.” Maleficent reminds her.

“The usurped prince?” Aurora frowns, remembering the burns on the tapestry. “Wasn’t he the heir of the dead king? I presumed Owen had him killed for that.”

“I would have, if I was him.” Maleficent replies plainly. “King Everard’s son did survive, however, through the pleas of his sister Eliza. And when he came of age, a lesser house of the westlands , an offshoot of Gared’s line, were glad to marry him to their second daughter. They lived in peace, for a time.” She shrugs. “The king who would have been never did forget, however, the fairy from the moors who had broken his father’s crown and thrown Owen the pieces, as one would throw scraps to a dog.”

“And neither did his offspring, it seems.” Aurora murmurs finally.

Maleficent nods. “Did you never wonder why Jonathan shares the same name as Phillip’s father? It is one of the ancestral names of westlander royalty, passed down through Alexander’s maternal line.”

“I did wonder, actually, and now I know.” Aurora looks up suddenly, her suspicions deepening further when she finds Maleficent avoiding her gaze. “But you still haven’t told me how you know so much about this.”

“I was not born at that time, but rest assured I was not allowed to forget the story.” Maleficent is still resolutely looking away from Aurora as she replies. “That faery was my father.”

The Red Cap. Watching her, Aurora remembers the oft-told whispers among the fairy folk of Maleficent’s infamous lineage, and feels again that curious mix of pride and pity, that only Maleficent seems capable of engendering in her.

They are both children of maligned ancestry, and yet, how unfair that Maleficent had it much worse in than Aurora, shielded by her ignorance, ever had. Aurora wonders, as she has often, what Maleficent’s father must have been like in the flesh.

“Does this help you make a decision, then?”

Aurora snaps out of her thoughts to see Maleficent looking back at her now, eyes slightly wide and lips pursed tensely. Aurora supposes she had been staring at her for far too long without saying anything, when Maleficent speaks again.

“There must be some reason why you went digging up all this past history.”

“You ended a war.” Aurora says suddenly.

Some part of her feels too warm from the expression in Maleficent’s eyes, as the faery stares back at her, raised eyebrows giving away her discomfort at Aurora’s extended attention. “Your father might have begun a war, but you ended one.”

“My father ended a war, too.” Maleficent says in reply, and Aurora’s heart aches at the quiet resignation in her voice. “And not much differently from how I did.”

Aurora watches her, this woman who has cast a magnificent shadow through the largest part of her life; who has been a creature to be feared and admired even in love. Aurora cannot count the amount of times when she had stared transfixed at Maleficent in her youth, and wondered if she would ever look so stately, as though born to rule a throne.

And yet Maleficent stands tall before her now, haughty and regal, and Aurora wants to look away, because she can only think of that bird with its wings broken, trying to pretend it was not hurt.

“Is this why you lied to me?” she asks softly. Maleficent only closes her eyes and looks down, but it is answer enough.

“I think intentions count for something, if not much.” Aurora says eventually, into the silence. “And I think I have made my decision. Thank you.”

“It is nothing.” Maleficent says, and the fragility in her voice is overwhelming.

 

VI.

It is almost dawn by the time Aurora sets down her pen, the proclamations neatly laid out in front of her accented by a dozen crumpled balls on paper haphazardly scattered on the floor.

Taking a deep breath, she throws a dubious look at the guttering candle, and skims through the letters once more, ensuring that they all read identical.

A quick knock on the door, and the Captain slides in at her short “Come in.” Behind him shuffles in Alexander's son, his defiant eyes belying his hesitant gait.

“You’ve said that the boy be brought to you if he petitioned again.” The Captain explains, briefly, before bowing out of the room. Aurora nods at him as she takes his leave, grateful for his solemnity; for the fact that he does not crow at the boy in malice, or triumph.

Jonathan remains standing by the door, eyes flicking between her and the letters on her desk, something like dread written on his face. Aurora gestures to him to take a seat, and he moves forward, when his eyes land on the stamped pages on her writing desk.

“Is that,” His tongues darts out, licks his lips. “Is that …about my father?”

“The whole kingdom will learn of my decision soon.” Aurora follows his gaze to the letters on her desk. “You may as well learn it before they do.”

The boy stiffens, as if bracing himself.

“I am going to exile him.” Aurora says, meeting his gaze. “Do you understand what that means?”

For a second, as his face falls and brows furrow, Aurora thinks he is disappointed. His reply dispels that idea, however.

“It is …kinder than I expected.” He says eventually, seeming to get the words out with great difficulty.

“Kinder?” Aurora regards him quizzically. “Without your father, you have nowhere to go.” She leaves the unasked question hanging in the air.

“I know that.” Jonathan looks his age then, suddenly; a lost and lonely boy. “Don’t you think I don’t know that?”

“And yet you have don’t quite well in your father’s absence.” Aurora says, watching him with fingers interlaced under her chin. “The castellan has nothing but praise for how efficiently you have taken over his duties in your household.”

“I had to learn.” The boy shrugs, looking wary and embarrassed at this unexpected praise. “Father was away quite a lot and Mother…well-“ He trails away, looking down as if he’s aware he’s said too much.

“Your father never remarried after her death, did he?” Aurora asks, rescuing him from his embarrassment, although she knows the answer to her question already. An odd footnote, that, in the life of a man like Alexander.

She studies the boy as he nods. He is solemn-faced, where his father had been proud, quiet where his father had been loud. Yet, there is something in him, in this long lost cousin of hers, that reminds her of Alexander; the way he holds himself as if ready for war, perhaps, or how he stands before her, stubbornly ignoring the seat in front of him.

“Sit down, Jonathan.” Aurora says finally. “I have something to tell you.”

 

VII.

“I will admit that exile is not my first choice.” Aurora confides to Maleficent after the matter had been discussed with the courtiers, and announcements sent out to her subjects. “But, you were right. To keep Alexander here would have made him a martyr, a constant reminder of nobility brought low,” Her face twists in a grimace, as she forces out the next words. “By an upstart commoner’s whelp.”

Maleficent nods, though her heart sinks at hearing Aurora word her reasoning in such cold, political terms.

“And the boy?” she pitches her question carefully, mindful to keep any judgment out of it, but Aurora looks at her sharply nevertheless.

“I have talked with Phillip, and he has requested that I send the boy back with him to his kingdom, to get to know his relations.” The queen reels off the answer as if by rote. Maleficent absently wonders if there’s a royal proclamation lying around, somewhere, with that exact same answer written on it. “His lands will be held in trust for him until he returns, instead of being amalgamated into the crownlands.”

“He’ll be provided for, then.” Something in Aurora’s voice gives her pause, and Maleficent looks up. “Is that the only reason?”

“Did you expect a grander one?” the queen asks, gazing back with eyes narrowed. “Perhaps I should not keep the boy frozen out of his birthright because it’s not right? Because it’s not just?”

“Because it’s not what you would have done.” Maleficent whispers to this creature in front of her, who wears Aurora’s face, but talks of people as if they are pawns moving along some great chessboard.

“What I did was almost lead my kingdom into a pointless war.” Aurora retorts. “What I did was to let a fool manipulate me into complacency.” Her gaze drops to her knees. “Alexander was right. Without you, I was as weak as my father ever was, in the end.”

Comprehension dawns on Maleficent then, all the broken pieces of what Aurora has been trying to tell her falling into place with startling clarity.

“Is that what this is about?” She strides forward and cups Aurora’s face, gently tilting it up until their gazes meet. “Aurora, I don’t know who you think your enemy is, but it’s not me.

Aurora wrenches away from the grip.

“I know that.” She hisses, but face is turned away from Maleficent as she says it, and her fingers are almost ripping apart the seams of her sleeves with their incessant twisting.

“Please.” Maleficent begs, throwing pride and dignity to the wind. “Please listen to me.”

Aurora turns to look at her at that, though it seems to be more out of shock than anything else.

“You told me once that I wasn’t like my father.” Maleficent continues, regardless, and catches Aurora’s hands when she makes to turn away again.

“You aren’t.” Aurora replies softly, holding on to Maleficent, though she still won’t meet her gaze.

“Neither are you.” Maleficent tells her, wanting Aurora to believe this even if she believes nothing else she is told.

You’re not your father, she wants to say. And I’m not mine. We’re more than the sum of what other people said we were made of.

Aurora only sniffles quietly, and the sound is enough to undo Maleficent.

“You made me better.” She says to Aurora. “Stefan broke my heart, but you made me see the joy in life again, you made me realize again that the moors were my home, and that I wanted to protect them forever, regardless of what anyone said for my father. I was so jaded, unloved, lonely. You changed that. You changed at least one life for the better. Mine.”

She takes a deep breath, and thinks of every time she had sat in the shade and Aurora had dragged her out into the sunshine, of every dance they had shared together, of every flower Aurora had woven into her hair despite protests, and comes to the final part of her confession.

“Because you have been the one protecting me all along, guiding me in the right path, and I was a fool to run away from that. I was a fool to turn away from your love.”

Maleficent falls quiet after that. She has said all she came to say, and so she waits with head bowed, for the queen’s judgment.

Aurora reply, after what seems like an eternity of silence, is voiced in a barely audible whisper.

“I was lonely too.”

Maleficent looks up. “What?”

Aurora looks small in the moonlight, clutching her hands to her body as if to shield herself.

“My aunts treated me like an obligation.” She says, blinking fiercely. “My father saw me as a means to prevent an end. I always wondered what it would have been like to be loved unconditionally, just for who I am.” Her voice chokes on a sob. “Until you came along, and then I thought I wouldn’t have to wonder anymore.”

Maleficent feels her heart clench at that, the guilt surging back tenfold.

“I thought you’d gotten sick of me.” Aurora says, voice cracking as she admits it. “When you left - I thought maybe you’d gotten tired of –of always looking after me, cleaning up my messes-”

She stops, another strangled sob coming out, and Maleficent feels nothing more keenly than the aching need to reach out and touch the vulnerable woman in front of her; to wipe away the tears and hold her close, until she never sheds another.

“Please don’t think that.” She whispers instead, keeping her distance. “You must never think that. When I left I was only trying to protect you, but I was wrong. I know that now. I was so, so wrong.”

She reaches out a hand and lets it rest on Aurora’s hair, the gesture growing bolder when Aurora sinks into it, instead of pulling away.

“Please just hold me.” The queen whispers, “And let me pretend for one night to be a girl again, without a care in the world.”

“Always.” Maleficent replies briefly, moving forward when Aurora lifts her head and reaches out for her. She is shivering, perhaps from the night air, so Maleficent enfolds her, wings and all.

“I missed you.” Aurora says. In the safety of their private cocoon, her defenses seem to wither away, until there is no queen and no girl and no pretenses.

Just Aurora, who clutches Maleficent and lets her tears flow with wild abandon as the faery presses a tentative kiss to her hair.

 

VIII.

It takes hours, and a hundred tales of the fjords, before Aurora smiles again; a tentative, watery smile, but to Maleficent it seems the light has returned to the world. The sun sets in a terrible splendor before she stops her tales of the northern lands and their frozen queen, taking note of the way Aurora’s lashes have started flickering open and closed.

“Time for bed.” Maleficent unfolds her wings slowly then, taking care to be gentle in taking hold of Aurora and pushing her towards her florid monstrosity of a bed.

“But you’ve only just started to tell me about the library.” Aurora protests, unsuccessfully trying to hide a yawn behind her hand.

Maleficent smiles involuntarily, gazing into the face of the world-weary woman Aurora has become, and sees something of the girl that had wanted to run away and live in the moors with her; the girl with the incessant curiosity to know everything.

“We can talk in the morning. I’m not going anywhere.”

“So you say.” Her beastie mutters, stopping in the middle of slipping into bed and looking at her sideways. Maleficent winces.

“I did say I was sorry.“ About half a hundred times now.

“Hmm. Stay with me.” It is a plea disguised quite effectively as an order.

“As my queen commands.” Maleficent says ironically, but her hands are already smoothing the covers over Aurora, as she settles herself in a seating position at the edge of the bed, wrestling a bit to fit her wings comfortably against the bed post.

“Closer,” the human mumbles sleepily, and Maleficent can’t help but give a sigh and shift forward until they are lying down face to face. In the haze of sleep, Aurora’s eyes seem gentler, more innocent than Maleficent can remember them being in a long time.

“Stay with me.”

“I will,” Maleficent promises. “As long as you want.”

The words seem to sooth the young queen, and she smiles. “We can start with tonight.”

“Sleep well, beastie.” Maleficent says softly, placing a gentle kiss’s on Aurora’s forehead. “I’ll keep you safe.”

“Is that a promise too?” Aurora asks, stifling a yawn.

“Yes.” Maleficent tells her, because it is a promise, and one she can keep.

Aurora goes to sleep with a slow smile spreading over her face. By habit her hands come to rest upon on Maleficent’s head, fingers curling around the horns and finding purchase there.

She watches Aurora sleep for a little while, to make sure the night terrors don’t act up again. As she waits, Maleficent thinks of the boy Stephen used to be, and the woman Aurora has become, and before she is lulled into sleep, a final thought escapes the fairy.

I’ll be good to you. I swear it.

 

IX.

It could be that the memory of Alexander’s exile is still fresh on the minds of the courtiers. It could be that the six foot tall fairy glowering at them, from the shadows behind Aurora’s throne, helps.

Regardless, it is Aurora who stands alone on the dias to inform her courtiers that, in the absence of Alexander’s protection, the guardianship of his young son would be turned over to the Crown.

It is Aurora who replies to concerns from the nobles about sending the boy to be fostered in Phillip’s kingdom, to grow up with the half-cousins he had never known. It is Aurora who expands on the valuable experience and ties to be gained from such a mutually beneficial agreement. (Perhaps he will even find love and acceptance among them, thinks the lonely girl who had grown up with birds and flowers for company, but Queen Aurora does not voice that thought aloud.)

And when she leaves the throne room that day, Philip and Maleficent trailing behind, it is Aurora at whom the smiles and frowns, the fear and approval, are squarely aimed at.

“They didn’t question you?” Philip asks in an awed voice, as a great doors close behind them. “What did you do back there?”

“Not cast a spell, if that’s what you were wondering.” Aurora replies, half-amused.

“You didn’t even raise your voice, but none of them bothered to argue.” There is undisguised admiration in Phillip’s voice, and Aurora softens at hearing it. “You were a queen.”

“Someone told me there are better ways than anger.” She looks back at Maleficent, and is startled to see the faery watching her, with an expression that Aurora would have called fond on anyone else.

“I can’t tell you what you taught me.” Maleficent replies briefly, her eyes shifting away away the instant Aurora’s gaze meets hers.

Aurora only feels her own smile widen at that, aware and uncaring of Phillip looking back and forth confusedly between them.

When they reach the end of the hallway, Phillip clears his throat and turns to Aurora. “Well, why don’t we go prepare the official papers now?”

Aurora blinks at his eagerness. “Right now?”

He nods enthusiastically. “If we make an early start, we could have the whole thing tied up by sundown.”

“Perhaps later.” Aurora replies, smiling at him to take the sting out of the refusal. “We can look over them tomorrow. I have something more urgent to take care of right now.”

Phillip looks more disappointed than the matter warrants, but takes his leave respectfully, leaving Aurora alone in the hallway with her ever present shadow.

“What is so urgent?” Said shadow asks suddenly, in a tone so casual that Aurora knows she is dying with curiosity.

“Something of great import.” She replies, with as much gravity as she can muster. “Come on, we should hurry.” She picks up her pace.

What is it?” Maleficent demands, and Aurora congratulates herself on not giggling at the expression on the faery’s face, which is veering dangerously close to disgruntled. “Where are we going?”

“Desdemona wants to visit with some friends, and Diaval is accompanying her.” She smiles at the memory of their conversation. “Apparently, Oberon has grown quite fond of me, and expressly requested that I look after him in their absence.”

A lift of an eyebrow is Maleficent’s only visible reaction to this news. “You’re playing hooky to go watch over a baby raven?”

“Please, Maleficent.” Aurora replies, with mock severity. “I am the queen of the moors, after all. And a queen has duties.”

“Duties that include babysitting?” Maleficent’s skeptical tone is spoiled only a little by the tiny smile threatening to fight its way past her lips.

“We really should hurry if we want to get there before sunset.” Aurora says, glibly ignoring that last question. She looks back to see Maleficent watching her with a curious expression, shifting her weight from one leg to the other.

Aurora smiles. “Do you think Diaval’s boy will be sufficiently impressed to see me riding in on a dragon?”

 

X.

Aurora laughs and shivers in turns, holding tightly to the spinal ridges even though she is sure of not falling.

“Faster!” she shouts, as the wind flies past them; Maleficent must have heard, because there is a roar and suddenly they are racing through the clouds. Aurora barely has time to brace herself before they begin a steep descent, ending with a feathersoft landing at the edge of the moorlands.

“Again!” she gasps outs, as tumbling off just in time for Maleficent to transfer in a plume of green smoke and magic “We need to do that again.”

Maleficent takes her time responding, absorbed in straightening out her robes. “I take it you enjoyed it?”

Another round of breathy laughter is the only reply Aurora finds fitting to give her, and Maleficent raises an eyebrow at that. “Better than flying with me?”

Aurora rolls her eyes. “It’s still flying with you.” She pauses, thinking back to the wonderful feeling. “It felt …safe. I knew you wouldn’t let me fall.”

“I would never let you fall.” Maleficent looks alarmed, and a little offended, at the very thought.

“I know you won’t.” Aurora tells her soothingly. She moves closer, running her hand up Maleficent’s arms . “Although the few moments through the clouds were…exciting.” She can’t help the widening of her smile. “I liked it. I want to do it again.”

“Of course you do.” The words are caustic, but Maleficent’s eyes are soft when they look at her. “You won’t fly with a fairy, but you want to ride a dragon. You never have been afraid of the things you should have been afraid of.”

Aurora reaches up and embraces her then, aware that even now Maleficent’s reciprocation is hesitant, hands tentative as they rest on Aurora’s hips.

“You won’t let me fall.” She tells Maleficent again, the protective urge rising within her.

Maleficent eyes her quizzically, but says nothing. Aurora merely leans against her, as they walk slowly in the direction of the moors.

 

XI.

“Aurora.”

Aurora has been expecting Phillip to press his suit soon, but she is still startled when he corners her in the balcony at twilight, only alerting her to his presence when he speaks her name.

He has a habit of doing that, she notes in slight annoyance, moving to the left to widen the space between them, and then softening, when he keeps his distance after that.

“Perhaps I’m too hasty in pressing for this, Aurora” Phillip begins, his stance awkward for someone who carries himself so surely. “But recent events have taught me nothing more than that our time is fleeting.”

Aurora listens with a feeling like ice dropping into her stomach, recognizing this opening parley.

“When I first met you, I thought you were the most beautiful girl I had ever seen, and even now, I think the same.” He continues, shifting his legs as he continues to stare intensely at her. “But more than that I’ve come to know you; your courage, your wisdom, your strength.”

He launches properly into his suit then, complete with the grandiose flattery that always seems to accompany these things. It is quite eloquent and in proper form; Aurora cannot help the flush that rises to her cheeks, as she stands there listening to him.

It makes sense, she supposes. She knows that Phillip hadn’t come to help her against Alexander sheerly out of respect for their friendship, or due to the tradition of camaraderie between their lands. It makes sense for two small neighbouring kingdoms to come to each other’s aid. It makes even more sense, Aurora knows, for the young rulers of those kingdoms to be united by stronger ties than friendship and tradition.

And so she listens to him, blushing, but her hand is limp in his.

Philip finishes by putting his other hand over the one already clasping hers, and looking earnestly into her eyes. “I would be true to you.”

And he would be, Aurora thinks, looking at Philip, who is kind and sensitive and somewhat interesting when he chooses to be. Phillip, who has been told all his life that one day he would marry a beautiful princess and settle down to a fairytale life. Phillip, who still thinks Aurora is the most beautiful girl he has ever seen.

“I don’t pretend to know your heart.” Philip says, smiling warmly at her, more confident now. “I only ask for a chance to win it.”

Not like Maleficent, who is tempestuous and stubborn and entirely unreasonable at times. Maleficent, whose own father hadn’t even trusted her to have a speck of good in her heart.

Maleficent, who should have hated Aurora by every law of nature and narrative, and who had instead chosento love her, with a love true enough to break a curse to the end of time.

“Philip,” Aurora says, disengaging her hands from his gently, as his face falls. “There has never really been a chance.”

She remembers a long night several years ago, when she had woken up from a sleep like death, and saw Maleficent’s shadow falling over her. Looking at Maleficent that night, armed with knowledge of what she had been willing to do to Aurora as a baby, Aurora had made a choice, and though the form of it may have changed, she has made that same choice many times over the years.

And if she is perfectly honest with herself, Aurora knows she will make that same choice again, soon.

“In truth, my decision was made years ago and it is not one that is likely to change.” And perhaps it is queer to feel that way about Maleficent, who is not only a woman, but a fairy besides. But that, Aurora supposes, is that.

Philip looks like he might want to press his point. Aurora internally sighs, and gears up to go through a familiar list of platitudes.

But the prince watches her, and perhaps he sees the weariness of his own face reflected in hers, or perhaps he is just as tired of battles as she is. Whatever it is makes him give her a small smile, and touch his hands briefly to his head in playful salute, before turning away.

Aurora watches him take his leave, half relieved that he seems to have taken this disappointment much easier than her other suitors have, and half annoyed that she has to keeping going through this at all. If only all battles were so easy.

It is only a movement in the far corner of her eyes that distracts Aurora from the morbid turn of her thoughts. She turns around, warmth spilling into her heart like sunlight, destroying all evidence of annoyance.

Twilight hoods almost entirely in shadow the tall figure slowly picking its way through the gardens, headed in her direction. Even from this distance, Aurora spots the way children scatter from the trajectory of Maleficent’s path; can see the rush of adults scooping them up, and hurrying out of her way. Were she closer, she knows that she would hear the backhanded whispers too, initiated by those wily enough to have noticed that Aurora’s presence shielded them from Maleficent’s backlash.

The faery would never be loved, not in the human kingdom.

Maleficent walks straight to her nevertheless, unheeding of their jeers, and something inside Aurora’s heart catches at the sight of it. Her defiance is wild and beautiful and proud, and Aurora has no words, for words have always failed her, as easily as they come to Maleficent.

It is not words, though, that bring out the smile on Maleficent’s face, when Aurora turns to look at her; words are not needed for Aurora to run to her; and Aurora says nothing, nothing at all, as she holds tight the woman who tries to be stiff and unyielding, even in embrace .

“I’ll keep you safe, too.” She hears someone say, and perhaps it is her or perhaps it is the wind. Whatever it is, it makes Maleficent bend at last, and clutch her tighter, as if Aurora is the last mast in a storm.

They look at each other, and in this moment here, shielded in the cocoon of Maleficent’s wings, there is nothing but them, and their love, and the feel of coming home.

 

XII.

It is raining when Phillip leaves on his journey back to the westlands, but Aurora feels no sadness as she sees him off . The prince himself is somber in his farewells, but his hand is warm as he clasps Aurora’s own, and his promises of protecting Jonathan are heartfelt.

The boy himself says very little as Aurora waves him off, but she has been expecting that, and so contents herself with a “Be well.”

“He won’t thank you for this.” Maleficent murmurs, as they watch the twin ships disappear into the mists.

“It isn’t his gratitude I want.” Aurora replies in an equally low tone. “His reticence is enough for now.”

They make the walk back from the pier alone, Aurora having professed a sudden inclination to walk through the woods rather than take the direct path through the castle.

“What are you planning?” Maleficent asks, almost idly, as she steps over a fallen tree trunk.

Aurora smiles. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“The boy.” With a dramatic sigh that even Diaval would be envious of, Maleficent expands. “What are you planning, shipping him off with Phillip?”

Aurora sobers then, taking some moments to gather her thoughts before replying.

“He’ll make strong ties in the westlands; political ones, and hopefully, ones of friendship too.” she looks westward, wondering what the boy is doing now.

“Do you think he will learn what it takes to make a good ruler, so far from home?” Maleficent asks, following the direction of her thoughts as easily as she follows her gaze. Perhaps she has known all along, Aurora realizes.

“Maybe he will.” She replies, linking her fingers with Maleficent’s. “He might even have learned to be happy again, by the time he returns.”

“And what will you do, then?” Maleficent asks, her face taking on a mischievous expression. “Play the queen mother to the young princeling, and lord over them all?”

“It is tempting.”Aurora says, a thoughtful look entering her face. “Incorrect and unfeasible, but tempting.”

“I knew it.” Maleficent sighs in mock-defeat. Aurora shoves her lightly.

“But, alas, I seem to remember making some old fairy a promise, that I would live in the moors with her one day.” Aurora smiles to remember how young she had been then. “I am a decade late, but I’d like to see it through.”

There is a sun bursting across Maleficent’s face, but her eyes remains shadowed, unsure; and that is how Aurora knows, without words being said.

“I will live in the moors.” she says, absolute certainty in her voice. “With you.”

“With me?” Maleficent’s words seem to come faintly, as if from far away.

Aurora steps back and takes a closer look at the woman in front of her, takes in the haughty features and ramrod straight bearing. Aurora remembers how much she had admired that, had loved to see that haughty stride making its way through the wilderness of the moors, regal without trying.

“You supported me when no one would.” She says, hands trailing down Maleficent’s horns and shifting soft tendrils away from her forehead, aware of the faery’s breaths growing shallower. She takes her time tracing the features of the perfect face, the face that haunts those waking dreams that leave her aching, You loved me when no one would.

She stands so tall, this lonely woman, who loves so strongly that the betrayal of that love was once her downfall. Who has been told all her life that she is unworthy of love, and who dared to love Aurora anyways, without any hope of being loved back.

Maleficent says nothing, only looks at her with wide eyes, her breathing uneven enough to be erratic now. And it strikes Aurora then, that they have lived together, fought together, ruled a kingdom together, they have almost died together.

It doesn’t seem so queer, suddenly, that Maleficent is a faery, or a woman.

“I understand now that you have concerns about this.” Aurora says pleadingly. “But I’m not the same child who learned of love from the story books. I’m a woman now. I’ve learned to lose, and I’ve learned to choose. And most importantly, I’ve learned what it is to love.

Because, somewhere over the years, the two of them have got too tightly tied up in each other, too caught up in their giving and taking and giving back; the spaces between them far too cramped to do anything but suffocate whoever tries to come between them, be it man or woman, faery or human.

Aurora stops, and there is silence for a time. The whispers inevitably begin plaguing her mind, that she’s mistaken about this too, that she has read the signs wrong, this is all going terribly wrong-

“You’re not saying anything.” Maleficent whispers.

Aurora looks up, opens her mouth, then closes it, wets her lips, and finally speaks.

“I was waiting for reply from you.” She whispers back.

“To what?”

“I love you.” Aurora says, marveling at how steady she sounds, and at how strongly she means the words.

She gathers the last shreds of her courage and moves forward to embrace Maleficent, half of her braced for being shoved away.

Maleficent suffers her embrace, and hesitant hands even come to rest softly on the small of Aurora’s back. She still says nothing, though, gives no other sign, and some part of Aurora curls up inside itself.

“Maleficent?” she asks tentatively, and hears a soft ‘hmm?’ in return. “You haven’t given your answer.”

Maleficent pulls back and stares at Aurora for what seems like an unbearably long time.

“Well?” Aurora prompts, and curses her voice for sounding so hoarse.

Maleficent’s reply, when it comes, is to lean forward again and press her lips to Aurora’s, fleetingly. She pulls away then, lightning fast, but Aurora grabs a handful of hair before she can move away.

“Tell me when you want to stop.” She frames her hand around angular cheekbones and draws them in gently.

She means to be soft, gentle, to show Maleficent that she can wait an eternity before they go farther than this. Then Maleficent’s lips are on hers, and her mouth fits entirely too well against Aurora’s own, and the small groans she’s making at the back of her throat are so not helping.

So this is true love’s kiss, Aurora thinks, dazed. Maleficent’s hands are painfully gentle on her waist, but she can feel her own fingers digging into the small of the other woman’s back, scrabbling in desperation at the sensitive flesh where wings meet skin, and she is so lost, utterly lost.

Aurora is gasping by the time they pull back, breath coming out in labored pants. Unfair, she thinks, running a tongue over her swollen, oversensitive lips. Entirely uncalled for, she thinks, remembering the unbearably soft press of hands against her clothing, and almost doesn’t hear the quiet words spoken muffled against her hair.

“I want to stay by your side, Aurora, as long as you’ll have me.”

“You’re not afraid?” Aurora asks, in between breaths. She feels lost and rattled and found again, but Maleficent sounds so calm, as if they hadn’t just taken an irrevocable step forward to …something.

“I’m finished with running away.” Maleficent says, pulling back to look at Aurora. Her eyes glint bright in the failing light; only then does Aurora see the wetness shining on her cheeks. “I ran away from you once, and look where that led.”

Aurora has to smile at that. “Well, I ran away from you once, too.” She says, reaching up to stroke one tear-stained cheek. “So I suppose we’re even now. “

Maleficent makes no real answer to that, only gathers Aurora close and plants a soft kiss on her face, teasingly close to her lips. Aurora clutches her tighter at that, savoring the way she shivers.

Their love is not one of heated declarations and fervent promises, but it will do.

It will more than do.

“I want to be sure of one thing, though.” Aurora says suddenly.

Maleficent regards her questioningly.

“The next time you go anywhere.” Aurora emphasize the words by gently tilting down Maleficent’s face, until their gazes meet.” You will not go without me.”

“As my queen commands.” The words are dry, but there is a tentative smile playing around Maleficent’s mouth, giving the lie to her tone.

“Yes, she does.” Aurora smiles and touches her forehead to Maleficent’s, closing her eyes in contentment. “Jon will be a worthy successor.”

The sky is bright, a lone robin is singing, and she knows that the future she dreams of will come to pass. The sun will never set, not on them.