Chapter 1: Something About Her
Harry Hook gave up taunting him almost as soon as Uma walked away. The pirate boy swung around the mast and Ben, took two great steps and dropped himself into a lounge on the deck. His expressions softened when no one was looking, the king realized. Relaxing when there was no one to flash those mad smiles at.
He kept his eye on the busy deck, watching the crew move about behind Ben. The king couldn’t see them himself, only hear them laughing and rough housing. Harry’s gaze was following someone, he realized, slowly moving from one side of the ship to the other. And then he heard Uma’s voice over there, in the direction of Harry’s attention.
“What is it with you and her?” Ben asked, voice low to keep the conversation between them. Those predatory eyes snapped to him, mouth pulling into another mad grin as he remembered the king and realized who he was asking about all at once.
“She gave us something to believe in,” Harry answered easily. “Hope is a wildly powerful thing in a place like our Isle. She’d have us sing her name like a prayer and a curse until we believed in it. She wanted more than to climb to the top of that stinking prison--she wanted freedom and she promised to take us with her. And until then, she kept us together. She can be cruel, everyone that angry can be, but I’ve never seen her leave anyone behind. We were children, lost and afraid and hurt. We came to her broken and crying and she would bundle us up, tuck us into her bed, and promise to hide us from anyone that might chase. Eventually our own parents stopped trying, leaving us to her.”
“Is that what happened with you? Did Hook leave you with her?” Ben asked carefully, studying his reaction in case he pressed too far. He wasn’t so worried about more threats of violence, or even actual violence, so much as he worried about causing these kids more pain. They seemed like pincushions with too many holes.
Harry spun the silver hook in front of his face. “It’s his, you know. We took it from him.”
Ben looked at the weapon with new wonder. Not a replica but the real thing—the thing of nightmares.
“He used to cut me with it.” Harry sat up, leaning forward and striking the hook down into the planks between them, dragging it back toward himself and carving up the wood in a jagged line. At the same time, the front of his tattered shirt hung in such a way that Ben could see a matching scar on Harry’s chest, running long and thick over his heart. He smiled, that cold smile of his.
“Then why did you turn down the invitation to Auradon?” Ben asked, voice hushed now.
Harry’s smile vanished in a flash and he shot to his feet. “Shut up.”
Ben pressed his lips, pushing his chin up to stare back at the other teen. “I won’t tell anyone. I haven’t. But you were invited with the others. You turned it down to stay with her, didn’t you?” It hurt him to know it, to see how hard their lives were and know that he hadn’t helped as many as he could have. If he’d understood their dynamics, maybe he would have known.
Harry was close to him now, face near his, and he could see the wild panic and pain in those eyes. “Shut. Up,” he ground the words between them. “Name your price. Just shut it.”
Ben stared at him, realizing then that he could use this information as a threat. He could demand Harry free him—take him to the VKs even. “No.”
“Harry?” Uma sang, her boots clicking across the planks on her way back to them. “What are you boys up to?” she grinned but the question was very real.
Harry had gone too still, staring back at him, not sure what move to make.
“Nothing,” Ben said, turning his head to look coolly at the captain. “I was thinking when you and your crew come to Auradon, we should start a yacht club for you.”
Uma let out a laugh and swung an arm over Harry’s shoulders. Her head leaned against his, looking at Ben. “Oh, king, you’re getting ahead of yourself. You might not even make it back.”
Ben gave a little shrug, as though anything were possible and he wasn’t worried.
Ben had almost fallen asleep, on his feet and tight to that mast, when the ropes went slack around his shoulders. Firm hands held his arms, still bound behind his back, and steered him across the deck. He blinked, surprised to see that it was still night.
“Shhh…” a voice sang.
For a second he thought he was being rescued—snuck off the boat in the dark—but when he looked up, it was Harry Hook pushing him and they didn’t leave the boat. He turned him and guided him down the stairs, deeper into the ship and out of sight. Ben stayed quiet until they were down in a storage room. Harry gave him a little shove and Ben stumbled in the dark, landing on a pile of ropes and kicking to turn around, his back to a wall. “What’s going on?”
“You’ll be fine,” Harry said.
Ben raised a brow. “I’m kidnapped.”
Harry laughed under his breath, lighting a lamp. “Yeah, well, there are worse things.”
The boat rocked suddenly, creaking and groaning as though something slapped the sides and pulled at it. “Where is he, girl?” came a booming voice. It sounded like it came from the ocean beneath them.
Harry held up a hand, one finger to his lips and deadly gaze piercing Ben.
Ben didn’t speak. There was a ruckus on deck. Uma was shouting at the irate voice with the same level of annoyance. She claimed not to know what the booming monster wanted—who she was talking about—where to find a king or why would ever come to this awful island. “It’s a rumor, you hag!”
The ship rocked again and things on deck went crashing. A girl screamed and Harry flinched, eyes closing and jaw flexing.
When the ship settled and silence returned in long drawn seconds, Ben could hear his own heart hammering. “Was that Uma?”
Harry leaned against the wall by the door but didn’t answer.
“Is she okay?”
Harry smirked then. “Always.” His belief was startling.
“Why would you hide me if it gets you in trouble? You want to mess with Mal that bad?” He kept his voice low.
Harry shook his head, as though Ben were missing something so obvious. “We took you and until we trade you back to Mal, you’re ours. We never leave our own behind.”
Ben wasn’t sure that logic held up, but he certainly wasn’t going to argue it.
“There’s a difference between first generation and second generation on the Isle, King,” he went on. “They did the crime and we were born in the prison. We might have street wars with other second generations, but we never betray them to the original villains… Kids don’t always survive that and sometimes even when they do…” Harry shook his head and Ben’s stomach knotted.
“I’m sorry,” Ben said, knowing he would always be somehow responsible. “Why did you do it? Why did you stay here even when I’d sent you the invitation to Auradon?”
“You came for Mal, didn’t you? Knowing what this place is really like, if you could leave tomorrow but she would have to stay—would you leave?” Harry asked, sounding honestly curious rather than like he was leading him to an explanation.
Ben didn’t have to think long. Yes, she’d chosen to come back and she was better equipped to survive the Isle than he was—but no, he wouldn’t be able to leave her to that fate. “I want us to have the same fate, whatever it is, wherever it is. I want us to leave together.”
Harry smiled slowly. “And you will, no worries there, King. My Captain and your evil fairy play this game often. Mal will make the trade and you’ll be on your way.”
“I will get you off this island, Harry. Whatever happens, I’ll make sure you get your chance in Auradon. You and Uma.”
Harry laughed shortly and nodded like it was a bad joke.
“Why don’t you want her to know that you stayed for her?” Ben asked.
Harry was quiet for so long that Ben wondered if he’d answer. “She would have wanted me to go. She would have ordered it if she’d known. And the year since you took the VKs has been…worse. The villains have been angrier, almost getting free does that I guess?”
Ben nodded slowly, realizing there were events there he wouldn’t give him in details. “Okay. I won’t tell her. But next time… you should come to Auradon.”
A thumping of heels came down the hall outside the door. They both went quiet, waiting. Hook opened the door when the steps reached it, recognizing the sound of her by her walk. Uma leaned in, blood dribbling from one corner of her mouth and cheek bruised.
“Are you okay?” Ben asked, honestly worried. These kids were playing at being villains in a truly dangerous place. He couldn’t blame them. These had been the only role models they were given, raised in a place where nothing else had been possible. And he’d left them here.
She raised a brow, looking at the king skeptically.
Harry touched the curve of his hook under her chin gently, tipping her face up to look at it before leaning in to lick the blood from her face, kissing the wound gently until she deepened it and bit at his lip. He was laughing in that mad way of his when she shoved him back. “Tomorrow morning, King,” she said before nodding to Harry. “Leave him down here until dawn. We have an escape to pull off tomorrow.”
Ben watched them go, leaning back onto his pile of ropes and considering everything he’d learned today. Mal would save him tomorrow, he was sure of it. But he was also sure that he wasn’t in as much danger from these teens as he had thought before. In fact, he was quietly deciding to save them all just as soon as he got home.
Chapter 2: Adjusting
“How are you adjusting?” Ben asked.
Harry smiled slowly and it was worth a thousand words.
Ben laughed and nodded. “Okay. That sounded stupid.” The pirate kids had been in Auradon for a month. Remedial Goodness was being followed by Theory of Goodness because some of the students needed a little more time with the concept. And this time around, they had all been required to see a counselor—now that Ben was more aware of the abuse many of them had endured growing up.
“I hear Uma’s not doing well…” Ben tried carefully. He and Harry had been fast friends, though admittedly a strange pair. Mal still didn’t like him but they understood each other—perhaps because they both loved the same sort of women.
Harry’s smile changed, gaze a little more dangerous now. “Do you now?” he drawled in that accent of his. “And who said that?”
Ben shot him a look. He wasn’t going to tattle. “She kicked out her roommate.”
“She goes to her classes,” Harry countered easily.
“She doesn’t seem to be sleeping or eating. And neither do you,” he added quietly, worried.
Harry tossed him a smile. “Nonsense.”
“It’s big outside,” he said suddenly, distantly, but Ben stopped talking to listen instead, studying his friend. “The island was big but it was packed with people. We were practically crawling all over each other. Sometimes it’s too…much.”
Ben nodded slowly. He could imagine that change being a lot. “Have you talked to the counselor?”
Harry’s face screwed up in that laughable way that suggested Ben were the one who was insane.
“Okay,” Ben laughed. “Well, just keep talking to me.”
Harry started for the door and Ben stood up, taking a step toward him. “She is okay, isn’t she?” he asked again.
Harry paused to look back at him, honestly surprised then, his smile blooming—the real one. “Are you worried?”
“Yes,” Ben said. He didn’t hide his feelings the way the villain kids did. He wasn’t afraid of honesty. He didn’t know how that could hurt. “Mal says some of the other kids aren’t being friendly.” He cringed. “She said they harass Uma. I tried to talk to her myself but she laughs me off.”
Harry’s smile changed, a fraction in the corner, something lethal. “You don’t ever have to worry about my captain. She’s defeated villains. She’s survived the Isle. There’s nothing here that can scare her.”
Ben heard the lie in there, something that not even Harry quite believed, but he let him leave.
Harry was sure he’d have lost his mind in Auradon if he’d gone without her back when the first invitations had been sent out—aside from being a traitor, he would have been so utterly alone. This place was so different. People were nice, food was plenty, and everything was so welcoming. He saw the way they watched him, of course. He made them nervous, all the new villain kids did. But he also saw how easily they had taken to the VKs and knew that the rest of them would be folded in with time.
Still, he couldn’t have gone without Uma. He would go back to the nightmare of the Isle in a second if she did. But he knew she wouldn’t—perhaps because she knew he’d follow. She wanted her crew to do well out here. She wanted better for them. He saw how she tolerated the smiling, sweet people out here. She even did homework, to set a good example to the younger kids that looked up to her.
He came around a corner, shoulder rolling along it as though his body swung after. Jane said he should join something called ballet. He had leaned close and said he’d go if she went with him. The cute thing blushed wildly, sputtered, and ran back to her boyfriend, clutching at Carlos’s arm with her big blue eyes bulging. He really did enjoy the reactions these kids had. It was like they’d never seen or heard anything naughty in their lives.
He stopped just outside the open doorway of the gymnasium when he felt her—his captain—before his eyes found her in the quiet room. She wasn’t alone. The boys circled her, a handful of princlings. They were made of hero blood that had spoiled. They loomed around her, thinking their height and lean muscles were intimidating, that they had stalked her like wolves and cornered her. She stood there like a god, unimpressed, and it only made them angrier.
Chad pressed in closer, leaning down to push his face close to hers. “You don’t belong here, sea bitch. We know what you really are. We all saw it.” His hand crept up her collar, thumb pushing at the middle of her neck and hand shoving her suddenly back against the wall.
Harry slid into the room behind them, but he saw her smile and stayed back in the shadows. His hand had gone to his side, where a knife used to rest in his belt. It was gone. No swords. No hook.
“Oh, and here I thought you’d missed it,” Uma said so casually that it surprised them. And then her palm came forward and her hand fisted around whatever Chad Charming had in the crotch of his pants. She squeezed and used her whole body to push forward, shoving him back a step. His knees bent and legs shook, a strangled sound in his throat and mouth open wide. The other boys backed up before gathering themselves, new anger, but she shot them all a hard look before they could move. These weren’t villains. These weren’t monsters. These were just angry boys playing what they thought would be hero. “If you saw what I could do, then you better remember it. And next time you forget, I’ll remind you.”
She shoved Chad forward hard and he landed on the ground, squirming and curling in on himself. “I will remind you ever time, boy.” She stepped over him and walked away.
Harry slid out of the shadows to open the door for her, tossing the surprised boys a mad grin and soaking in their added alarm. He’d appeared as though from nowhere. Hopefully they’d think he was always with her. He wished he could be.
She flashed him a smile when she passed him. She wouldn’t thank him for holding the door. They hadn’t grown up saying ‘thank you’ and the only time anyone said ‘please’ was if they were begging. Harry tried to forget the few times he’d ever heard her say please. It had never been for her own life—only for theirs, once for his.
“Is that the first time they’ve touched you?” Harry asked all too casually as he walked with her down the halls, always one step back at her side.
“Hm?” She glanced at him, pretending to forget what he was talking about before laughing. “Oh, they’re just fighting the villain, you know? Nothing I can’t handle.”
He knew that was true, but it didn’t make it okay. Not out here. She wasn’t the villain. That was something no one out here understood. They hadn’t been villains on the island. They had been pirates, sometimes adventurers, sometimes thieves, and sometimes heroes in their own rights, but villains had always been something darker and cruel.
“The king is worried about you,” Harry said, following her up the stairs toward the private dorm halls. Everyone else was making their way to the dinner hall.
Uma paused, looking back at him with a flicker of worry before brushing it away. “I haven’t done anything.”
He smiled at the bite of her voice. Defensive. “I think he’s worried about your happiness. Or your sanity… If he weren’t so sickeningly in love with Mal, I might think he had eyes for you,” he joked.
She barked a laugh at that and threw open her dorm door. He followed her in. He hadn’t the first day. The room had been so bright and frilly and new. He had followed her everywhere before—nothing that was hers had ever been off limits to him. But he hadn’t been sure if that would be the same here. Maybe she’d want something for herself? Maybe she’d want a different life? She’d given him an odd look when he’d just stood there in her doorway before nodding for him to enter. After that he’d followed her every time, just like on the Isle. So far, his captain had not changed so much.
The room wasn’t as frilly or bright anymore. Minimalistic with heavy curtains. Her bed was pristinely made. At first he’d thought it curious, wondering if she’d made it in the mornings, then he realized she’d never slept in it. He’d felt an instant pang of panic. Where was she sleeping, if not in her own bed? But almost as soon as he thought the question, he knew. The bed was in the open, in this big empty room with its big windows. It wouldn’t feel safe. The others had roommates to make that stillness less, but not her. He suspected she’d taken to sleeping in her closet, but he hadn’t checked and she hadn’t kept him around at night.
Something had changed between them since they came to Auradon. He had never wondered what their relationship was exactly before, because everything had come naturally. There had been no soft words like ‘friends’ or ‘family’ or ‘love’. But he’d been watching these people in Auradon and he knew she was too. Had they been more than friends, then? What were they now?
He couldn’t be entirely certain why his captain didn’t seem to be sleeping, but he knew why he wasn’t. She was too far away. They had never been allowed to be soft on the island, but over the last few years, they’d shared a room. It had been platonic at first and then something different. Sometimes one slept while the other watching the door and sometimes they both drifted away together. They’d had a nest of a bed in a corner of a room and he’d become used to hearing her heart beat at night, to having her pressed against him.
“Do you miss it?” he asked quietly.
She dumped her bad on the floor and flung herself into the chair near her desk. She had a way of sitting in chairs that made them all look like thrones—like something greater than they were. She had that effect on him too—making him feel like something greater than he was. “Fighting and starving and running? No.”
Harry smiled a little because he knew it was a lie, just a little one. A little part of his captain missed being wild. And then his smile faded. “Why don’t you tell me to stay?” he asked. Her head turned, staring at him. “Why don’t you touch me anymore?”
Uma stood up, looking at him as though deciding if he was friend or enemy. He was used to that look. No matter how much she trusted someone, she sized them up on occasion. He imagined she was checking, making sure they were still hers. It sent chills down his spine and a thrill to his gut.
“If you don’t want me anymore, you can say it,” he interrupted, insecurities rushing up now that they were actually talking about it.
She sighed in her easy, annoyed way. “Don’t be stupid. You have options here. I saved you there and you were mine.”
His heart sank so low when she said ‘were’ that he almost got sick, swaying on his feet.
“But here… You don’t owe me for anything from before, Harry. You don’t have to be mine to survive.”
“You think I worshipped you, so that you would protect me?”
“Isn’t that why a god is worshipped?” she snapped.
He hissed and slid closer. “Not you—”
“Stop,” she ordered, and he jerked straight where he stood. She hadn’t used that tone since they arrived. “We’re not doing that anymore, Harry. I want more for you. You’ve seen how the VKs adjusted.” She nodded as she said it, as though agreeing with her own words. Yes, this was right. Yes, this could be done. She looked away though, like seeing him hurt her now.
“Are you leaving me?” Harry demanded, voice hushed.
Uma cringed but forced herself to look at him. “You’re my best-friend.”
His knees quaked at the words. She’d never said that. Never used the word friend. His heart hammered in his chest, racing in delight. They were friends. They were something real, even here. And he was the best of all. He inched closer, wishing she’d reach for him, touch him, or tip her head in the way that told him to kiss her. She didn’t, but she didn’t move away or wave him off either. So they stood there, probably too close for anyone else to be comfortable with. Her gaze lingered on his mouth and he was sure she’d grab his jacket and drag him in to kiss him.
“You have options here and I want what’s best for you,” Uma said thoughtfully, painfully.
He didn’t understand and his expression said it clearly.
“Have you noticed the way those Auradon girls look at you?”
He didn’t at first, and then he remembered all his casual flirting. Had he been disloyal? He’d always been a flirt and she had never cared before—but this was a different place. Did it matter here? “I didn’t—”
“They’re beautiful, Harry,” she interrupted to clarify. “They’re sweet and soft and full of dreams.” She turned away from him, twisting in that small space between them and walking toward the corner with her closet. She shrugged out of her jacket and draped it on the back of a chair. For the first time since they had come to this place, she opened her closet while he was in the room. She pretended it didn’t matter, but he saw the nest of bedding rumpled on the floor there, confirming his theory that she slept in the dark space. She pulled off her shirt, throwing it on the floor before plucking a sweater from high in the closet. He’d seen her half-naked before, usually when bandaging her up, but this time he stared—wondering if she was trying to make a point with that show today, because she hadn’t undressed in front of him since they came to Auradon.
A deep slash curled over her shoulder. A few small scars here and there from swordplay. On her hip was an ugly curving line that matched the one over his heart, from the day she fought his father.
“I’m full of nightmares and covered in scars, Harry,” she said, sounding tired, and pulled on the big sweater. “You can do better.”
When she turned around, perhaps expecting to send him on his way, he was on his knees. He tipped his head back, long neck exposed, and tears in his eyes. “My eyes have always been on you—only you. You know it.” These were words they’d never used before, never dared use. Soft and full of emotion, begging to be used against him. But this place was confusing and she really thought he’d wander, or be better off if he did. “You’re not the only one with scars and nightmares, Uma,” he breathed her name because he knew no other way to say it.
She inched closer to him, as though remembering who they really were to one another. He held his breath when she reached toward him, her fingers sliding into the wide collar of his shirt, curling to run the backs of her fingers against his chest, over the hook scar that matched hers. “Harry…”
“Don’t leave me,” he begged. “If you want to change or if you want to be with someone else, okay,” he said but she was already shaking her head. “But don’t leave me because you think it’s what I want or need. I need you.”
She sighed and curled her fingers in his shirt, hauling him up to his feet and jerking him forward to crash into her. Her mouth sealed his. The first time they’d kissed since they left the Isle. Maybe Auradon could become home. Any place could be home if he were with her.
Chapter 3: Pasts
That night had been darker than most, the stars hidden behind clouds and the sea rolling and crashing against the Isle, rocking the pirate ship Revenge.
Harry had run away again and it had been the best month of his short life. Uma shared her food with him and snuck him into her bunk in the kitchen at night. They’d always known each other—running in the same circles—but now they were friends, even if they wouldn’t say something like that. Uma liked the idea of them being pirates together and had even started calling the other kids hanging around the Chip Shop their crew.
“We could be captains!” she whispered one night when they were falling asleep while talking about their dreams.
“There can only be one captain,” Harry explained. He knew it for a fact, having grown up on a ship. He’d done everything he could to be the pirate his father wanted him to be—cruel and merciless. He had been brutally serious as his father said childish things were for the weak and only fools smiled.
He’d forgotten all of that when he was with her. Uma thought a pirates life ought to be fun and that one should always smile when being wicked—how else would others know you enjoyed it?
It had been a good month.
And when it ended, he was sure he’d be killed.
One of his dad’s goons had grabbed him up off the rocks near the docks and hauled him back to the ship. He’d taken the beating of his life that day and woke up below deck, cheek pressed to the floor and listening to the furious ocean through the ship. “You’re my heir, boy. Ye’ll not be running about with that sea witch,” Hook snapped. “Don’t forget that I can replace you.”
The ship rocked, the storm building. It was so loud that Harry hadn’t heard the footfalls of the crew until his door was thrown open. He couldn’t gather the strength to get up on his own, hands taking his arms and hauling him to his feet—dragging him up through the ship and to the deck. Were they going to throw him overboard? Somehow he doubted he’d be that lucky.
He cringed against the wind, the salt water burning open wounds.
Lightning flashed, making a giant silhouette of his father just before Harry was shoved to the man’s side. His legs gave out, landing him on his knees. One his shoulder’s throbbed viciously where the pirate’s cut had cut into him, the slash open down the side of his chest. He couldn’t lift his left arm.
Someone was standing there on the gangplank between the dock and the ship straight ahead.
“I think the witch came for you, boy,” Hook said in his gruff voice.
Harry blinked against the rain, heart pounding. No. No. It can’t be.
Another flash of lightning and he saw Uma clearly. She took a step closer, half way to the ship now.
Joy and terror mixed in his chest, choking him. She had come for him? Why? She couldn’t win. She couldn’t save him.
“I will kill you if you board this ship, girl,” Hook called, a little too much eagerness in his voice.
She took another step and flicked her sword at her side, spraying rain drop from metal. “You stole from me,” Uma called.
Hook laughed darkly. “He is my son and I’ll kill him before I let him leave.”
“He’s my first mate and I will have him back,” Uma shouted and the waves slapped the boat. Was she doing that? Could she control a storm?
Harry wanted to shout for her to run but he couldn’t, staring at her in shock and wonder. He had never even imagined this happening.
Hook bellowed a laugh that challenged the thunder. “You are no Captain, girl! You’ve no ship!”
Uma grinned, close enough now for Harry to see it clearly. She smiled, but it was full of fury and violent hunger. The lightning flashed and this time the dock behind her wasn’t empty, but full of kids drenched in the rain and holding swords. “I mean to take yours. I came for my first mate and your ship tonight, but seeing what you’ve done to him…I think I’ll take your hook too.” She burst into motion, running at Hook—a man easily three times her size.
And the kids on the docks exploded into action, howling and hooting as they swung across the docks on ropes to jump aboard. The storm raged on, the ship hurling from side to side while the gangs fought the pirate crew. If the adults thought they fought dirty, they were in for a surprise.
Uma went straight for Hook, sword swinging. The Captain drew his and they clashed.
Harry could barely breathe. It was a nightmare and a dream tangled together. She grinned madly and suddenly Harry realized what a pirate life with her would look like—why she wanted to be one. She thought it was wild and free and that a crew was loyal. She had come for him because he was her first mate. He had grown up an heir to a pirate throne and never wanted to be a pirate before today.
Uma was faster than Hook, though not as strong. There was no way she could win—Harry was sure of it—but why did she believe that she could? What trick did she have up her sleeve? Who was she to defeat a villain?
Hook used his sword to push her blade hard to the side and slashed up at her with his hook. She twisted away but too late. He ripped her open from thigh to rib. She screamed when she fell, still clutching her sword and trying to crawl to her feet again.
Hook laughed loudly. “You’re just a child!” he roared over the storm and stalked after her.
Uma laughed too, breathy and pained but full of amusement. “Wasn’t it a child that beat you before, Hook?”
Hook growled, stomping on her sword arm. She screamed when a bone broke and finally let go of her weapon. “You’re going to regret those words, witch…”
“Father…” Harry tried but he knew there was nothing he could say. Hook would kill her and there would be no more escape, no more dreams, no more hope—he would be alone. His father’s son.
Hook grabbed Uma up from the deck, lifting her into the air with one hand around her neck. She clawed at his arm, trying to get air and when she did, she grinned and wheezed out, “You can’t have him.”
Hook squeezed, yelling in her face. “Who are you to take him?”
Who was she?
Harry stared. He’d picked up the sword she dropped and climbed to his feet.
Who was she?
He cocked his head to the side, staring past his father’s shoulder at her. His mouth pulled into a smile to mirror hers—mad and full of pain, but unrelenting all the same. What had been her secret weapon? What did she have that made her so bold to challenge Captain Hook?
Her eyes met his, and he knew. He knew what she expected to happen—how she planned to win.
Who was she?
“Uma,” he breathed her name, a prayer and a curse. His own personal Hallelujah.
He swung the sword, slashing at his father’s back and bringing the man to his knees with a wail of surprise and pain. Pain. The adults didn’t know pain the way the kids on this island did. They hadn’t grown up with it. No, they had known a world outside with comfort and softness. Their kids could stand with broken bones and smile through busted lips.
Uma landed on her feet, body shaking with a horrible laugh that made his soul sing.
She held up her hand and Harry tossed her the sword.
Hook growled and tried to stand but Harry kicked hard at the back of his knees to keep him down, one hand reaching out to fist his fingers in his father’s hair. It would have been betrayal, if she weren’t his world now—if every loyalty he had didn’t belong to her and her alone.
Hook shouted fury and swung his hook back to slash at his son.
Uma cut down through the air with her sword, the blade close to his face but not touching him, instead catching the hook and pulling it away, all the way to the deck. She was impossibly fast, bending and twisting and when she came up in a twirl, she had removed the gleaming metal from Hook’s wrist.
The ship had been taken—the old pirates driven off or made to walk the plank, and when the storm settled in the morning, a new crew wore old hats and set about playing pirates the right way.
“That can’t be true…” Lonnie gasped, one of many surprised faces in the common room. It was pouring rain outside and a group of them had decided to eat lunch there.
Jay laughed from the couch beside Carlos. “No, that’s exactly how it happened.”
Mal nodded and Ben shifted his attention to her, eyes growing a little. “You were there?”
“Uma needed numbers. She offered to pay us 25% of whatever loot the pirates had on the ship when we took it,” Mal explained.
“And if she didn’t get the ship?” Ben asked.
Mal blinked at him, hesitating to say.
“If I didn’t get the ship, I would have been killed and Mal would have had one less competitor on the streets,” Uma explained with a shrug. Harry sat on the floor beside her chair, head leaned back against the side of her thigh.
Ben had noticed how she expertly pretended not to listen to Harry’s story, attention on the book in her hand. But he’d caught her smirking once or twice as he flung himself around the room—reenacting all the parts himself. He had ended up on the floor, leaning against her chair. If the story were true, and Ben had no reason to doubt all his friends, he wasn’t surprised Harry was so obsessed with Uma.
Both had seemed to be doing better this last week. He’d even caught a few almost sweet moments between the two. He’d asked Harry if they were dating. Harry had coyly pretended not to know what dating was but his happiness suggested they were.
“That’s just horrifying,” Jane finally burst.
Carlos turned toward her where she sat in the chair nearest his, leaning toward her. “It wasn’t so bad,” he lied.
“So, it didn’t happen like that?” she pressed hopefully.
Jay laughed. “It happened exactly like that but with more bloodshed. I still remember Evie having to sew up that gash in her like she was making one of her dresses…”
All the none villain kids in the room cringed. Evie noticed and cringed too. Mal laughed quietly at her friend.
“If it’s true then show the scar,” Audrey snapped from the corner of the room where she’d been sitting with a table of her own entourage. They’d gone quiet like the rest of the room to listen to the story.
Uma continued to read her book in her chair, but Harry was eyeing Audrey.
The princess hopped to her feet. “It’s not hard to prove is it? An injury that bad would have to leave a scar…” She started across the room, straight for Uma.
“Audrey,” both Ben and Mal said at once, though Mal’s was more of a snap and Ben’s more of a gentle warning.
Neither stopped her advance.
Harry shot to his feet just before she reached Uma, in that sinewy elegant way he always moved. Suddenly there in that little space in front of her chair, eyes crazy and fixed on Audrey like she were something particularly foolish.
Audrey jerked to a stop, nose wrinkling angrily at the pirate. “Get out of the way!”
Gil had left the table where he’d been playing cards and inched closer to the scene, now leaning over the back of Uma’s chair. Somehow, she was still pretending not to notice.
Ben stood and came over, gently grabbing Audrey’s arm. “You’re being rude,” he said quietly.
Carlos and Jay had both gotten up, nudging Jane away from the growingly tense scene. Carlos tossed an arm around her shoulders and walked her out of the parlor, saying something about how they needed to take Dude for a walk despite the storm.
“Uma…” Mal called in that strange tone of hers. Ben couldn’t tell if she was somehow blaming Uma for what was happening or pleading with her to defuse the situation.
Uma snapped the book in her hand shut and tossed it on the floor angrily. “Harry, let’s go.” She grabbed his hand and that seemed to snap his attention from Audrey. For a handful of seconds he seemed to completely forget about the angry princess, smiling at the little gesture and lifting her from her seat. He even gave a flourished bow over her hand and kissed her knuckles.
She cracked a smile but rolled her eyes and led him toward the door.
“Just admit, your crazy boyfriend is lying,” Audrey pressed, turning to stare after them, twisting her arm from Ben’s hold.
Uma jerked to a stop and the room held its breath. Finally, she swiveled around and stared at the princess with a raised brow and a funny expression. “What part of that was the insult?”
Uma looked at Harry beside her thoughtfully. “We’re all crazy and we all lie.”
Audrey heaved a laugh like she’d won. “So, you admit it? The story was bullshit.”
Harry ducked his head low, whispering something against her ear, but she shook her head slowly, staring at Audrey the whole time. Finally, she reached up and lifted her sweater. Ben thought he should have looked away, but it had happened so quickly. One long, thick, scar carved up from the hem of her low jeans all the way to her first rib. “We don’t always lie.”
Harry smiled, biting his bottom lip.
Uma rolled her eyes at Audrey and turned, leaving with Harry’s hand still entwined with hers.
Audrey stormed off not long after, her friends following.
“She really does know how to ruin an afternoon…” Mal commented before jumping up and grabbing her bag and Uma’s book off the floor.
“I don’t think it was Uma’s fault…” Ben said gently, offering her his arm to walk her back to her dorm.
Mal took it and they left the room for the long quiet halls. “I didn’t mean Uma. She’s actually doing pretty well. I was sure she’d punch someone the first week.” Mal smiled, like maybe that would have been fun.
Ben smiled at her. She had a wickedness in her that somehow didn’t counteract her kindness.
She squeezed his arm. “Okay, I’ll admit that Harry seems more…stable, here. But I’m not convinced that’s because of Auradon and not just his friendship with you.”
“I think that’s still a compliment to me either way,” he grinned and then sighed, remembering that scar on Uma. “That was a pretty intense story…”
“That? That was a cool story. The one where Hook came back for his ship was way worse.”
“What?” He stopped just outside her door, turning to look at her.
Mal blinked in that way she did sometimes when she took a second to backtrack and decide if she’d given away a secret. He was comfortable now with her secrets, because he realized she was giving them out to him a little at a time—mostly just shadows in her past she wasn’t comfortable with or feelings she didn’t know how to put into words. “I mean. We weren’t there, but everyone heard about it,” she said, looking serious and a little haunted. “Some things didn’t seem as dark there as they do here…”
“What happened?” Obviously, they were okay.
She touched his arm and he realized he’d crossed them over his chest. “Ben, they’re safe now. They’re happy. I actually think they might be dating…”
“Right?” he smiled a little. “I mean, they were on the Isle, weren’t they?”
She laughed. “No. I mean, I guess, but no.”
“I saw them kiss.”
She raised an eyebrow but then giggled. “Yeah, they did that but I mean, no one dated and it’s not like they were having sex…” she stopped walking when she said it, the word dragging out of her before she could stop it. And then she was blushing bright pink.
Ben smiled at her curious reaction and even more curious knowledge. “How could you possibly know that?”
She chewed her bottom lip and then glanced around the hall before grabbing his hand and tugging him into her room. “Okay, but if I explain you can’t say anything to any of them.”
Ben stared at her before nodding. “Yes. Okay. I promise.”
She heaved out a breath awkwardly and paced a little. “Okay, well, pretty much none of the villain kids have… you know…”
Ben blinked. “Had sex? What? But they do everything! They steal and get in sword fights over pirate ships and kidnap kings!” he added the last bit, pointing at himself for example.
“Yeah… But sex is…” she struggled to explain this in a way that an Auradonian might get. “Well, aside from not wanting to get caught with your pants literally down—it’s just not something that we thought would be fun.” She was still blushing, eyes pleading with him to understand.
Ben started to laugh before he choked on it, feeling stricken and taking an actual step back. “You mean… You were…”
She rushed forward, shaking her head. “No. No. No. I wasn’t. I was the daughter of Maleficent and everyone was too afraid of her to touch me. But some of us were and so we were all pretty much afraid of it. There’s a reason we were in gangs early on. Safety in numbers, you know?”
Ben’s mind raced. He’d just thought with everything going on, that he and Mal had been taking things slow. He hadn’t thought much of anything about why because being with her in any way was enough to make him happy. In Auradon, everyone loved love. Romances were often brightly burning things. He was far from a virgin himself and he’d never expected Mal to be.
“So… You’re afraid to…” he tried to ask as softly as possible.
Mal blushed again. “No! I just… That wasn’t the point…”
He caught her hand when she flailed it, running his thumb across the back of it. “Do we need to start a sex-ed class at Auradon for you guys?”
She swatted his chest. “Don’t you dare! And anyway… We pretty much sent Jay out to investigate the whole situation and he says sex is great.” She tried to sound smug.
Ben grinned, tugging her in close and hooking an arm around her back. “Great, huh?”
Her blush stayed, eyes big and staring at him. How could someone so powerful and commanding, look so surprised and tongue-tied? “You’re in charge of this, Mal,” he whispered. “You know that, right? I’m never going to push, so when you want me you’re going to have to take me… Or tell me.” He did love the idea of her saying exactly what she wanted from him.
Her blush grew, spreading down her neck. “Maybe you and Harry are a lot alike…” she mumbled, breathy.
Chapter 4: Conflict Management
“What is this?” Harry demanded almost as soon as he walked into Ben’s office.
The king looked up in time to see the invitation the pirate waved in the air. Harry had made a fantastic habit of barging into his office whenever he liked—ignoring protocol and the shouts of Ben’s secretary. Ben loved it. Even his friendships growing up had been shadowed by his crown. No one forgot who he was or even the people that loved him most bent over backwards to respect royal protocol. Mal tried so hard to be a good influence and take her own position seriously. He could never explain how much comfort it gave him to have one friend that didn’t give a shit about his crown or protocol.
“That,” Ben pointed at the mistreated invitation. “Is an invite to my 18th birthday party.”
Harry stopped, halfway into the room. He cocked his hip to one side and his head to the other, waiting like a disgruntled bird.
Ben laughed. “Don’t pretend you don’t know what a birthday is…”
“I don’t know what a birthday is. And I asked Uma, and she hasn’t the foggiest. Is this a Cotillion thing? How many times must people celebrate you being king?”
“You didn’t go to Cotillion or my coronation,” Ben reminded.
“Because you left me on a prison island…”
“Well you could have come if you hadn’t ignored your first invitation to Auradon,” Ben countered.
Harry rolled his eyes and tossed the card down on the desk, throwing himself into the chair across from Ben and kicking his heels up onto the edge of the polished wood surface. “What is with you and invitations?”
Ben laughed and then shook his head. “You really don’t have birthdays?”
Harry shook his head.
Ben sat upright. “Is this why Mal won’t tell me when her birthday is?” he suddenly put the pieces together. He thought she was being coy…
“Probably,” Harry sounded bored now. “What is it?”
“It’s a celebration of the day you were born.”
“I knew this was about you again…” Harry smirked.
“Everyone had a birthday. How else will you know how old you are?”
Ben gawked. “You’re joking. You don’t know how old you are?”
Harry shrugged. “Same as you, probably. Why are you obsessed with this?”
“None of you know?”
“Well a handful of years there in the beginning were foggy, mate! You try counting your age before you can count!” Harry snapped but his fury was all for fun.
Ben supposed no one had asked any of them. Auradon was the royal academy. The students ranged from early teens to twenty-five when they finished their specialized educations with the world’s best tutors and moved back to their respective kingdoms. The kids coming from the Isle took entrance exams and were placed in classes like anyone else. Age had never mattered as far as that.
“I’m sure Fairy Godmother can figure it out. Might take a little magic but it should be worth it.”
Harry had gotten comfortable, wiggling down into the deep leather chair. “Why bother?”
Ben opened his mouth, paused, and then closed it. He had to think for a reason this particular pirate would care about age and just saying that Ben thought it was something a person should know about themselves seemed flimsy. He smirked when he knew how to answer. “Well, when you’re eighteen you can share a dorm room with your significant other.”
“The person you’re dating. The one you share your life with. The one you kiss…”
He had expected Harry to jump on this, instead he looked very still—the way he did when he wasn’t sure what to do or say. Ben laughed. Harry hadn’t realized this was a rule at all! “You’re already moved into her room, aren’t you?” Everyone knew Uma had kicked her roommate out on day one.
Harry put his boots on the floor and sat upright. His expression pinched bitterly and Ben could practically hear his friend’s thoughts. First he would wonder if there was any proof he’d broken any rules, then he’d wonder what sort of punishment there could be, and then he’d worry about any of that falling on Uma rather than himself.
“Stop it. I’m not going to tattle on you. But if Fairy Godmother finds out, she’ll definitely kick you out.”
“Of Uma’s room…”
“That’s stupid,” Harry snapped. “I can’t sleep without her.”
Ben let out a little laugh and shook his head. “Riiiight.”
Harry blinked at him and for a second they just stared at each other. Ben hadn’t expected him to be honest or romantic so he’d just assumed it was euphemism. Harry didn’t seem to know why. “You’re not having sex,” he realized aloud.
Harry’s eyes flared. He stood and started for the door, about to leave without a goodbye as usual but this time on almost a reflex to escape.
“Wait!” Ben jumped to his feet and followed, mind racing over what Mal had told him about the island. He should have found a better way to talk about this but it was something he wanted them to talk about. But Harry wasn’t stopping, almost to the doors now. “Have you ever had sex?” he blurted out—going straight for the core of this conversation.
Harry swung around, gawking at him, eyes glinting with the madness he was known for. “Why?” he snapped. “Is that something I was supposed to report before leaving the Isle?”
Ben shook his head, moving slowly closer still. “No. No, of course not. But we’re friends and I’m trying to look out for you.”
Harry curled his lips in a snarling laugh. “I don’t need anyone looking out for me but her.”
“Has Uma had sex?”
Harry changed in a flash, closing the space between them and shoving the heels of his palms into Ben’s chest—pushing him back a few steps. The king realized his mistake in the wild look in Harry’s eyes—like he was far away in another place and time. He had heard it as a threat and it made Ben’s stomach drop. There was too much about their lives on that island that he didn’t understand.
He held up both hands, a show that he meant no harm. “Harry,” he said his friend’s name, calling him back to here and now. “Harry.”
Harry shook, turning away and forcing himself to pace a circle in the large space of the room. He dragged his hands through his hair and shuddered out a breath.
“I know you think we’re a bunch of prudes here, but when it comes to this topic—Auradon is pretty open. We don’t have to talk about this, but I need you to think about it. Things are different here and I think this is something important.”
Harry shook his head but kept pacing, looking a lot like one of those tigers prowling Jasmine’s castle. “What do you want?” he said, and Ben stood very straight because he wasn’t sure Harry was really talking to him and not some ghost of his past. He had a wicked slyness to him now, gaze shifting around and never landing on Ben’s face. His fingers curled and uncurled and he never stopped moving.
“Liar,” he hissed. “What is it? You want me? Or you want her?”
Ben took a step back and then another, shaking his head. “You know that isn’t it. You know I’m your—”
“Friend?” Harry snapped and jerked to a stop, staring at him. “You forgave me for kidnapping you pretty quick, didn’t you?” he stalked across the room, straight for him. Ben backed up, hitting the wall and Harry jumped forward, arms out and hands slapping the wall on either side of his head, caging him in.
Harry swayed in front of him, face leaning in close and Ben remembered just how wild those eyes had been on the island. “Yeah. And then you brought me here. Saved me. And you… You have the power to send me back, don’t you? The power to do anything you want with me.” His shoulders shifted, body leaning in closer until there were only inches between them. His voice dipped, sultry and flirtatious and for the first time Ben understood that when Harry flirted, it wasn’t real—it was dangerous, meant to push people away rather than bring them close. But he imagined it would work just fine on the wrong sort of person. And he knew it had. He knew this came from something horrible. “So, what do you want?” Harry purred, teeth glinting in his wild smile.
Ben did the only thing Harry wouldn’t be ready for—he didn’t cower or yell. He didn’t hit or push or take that terrible bait. He pushed off the wall, closed that tiny space between them, and locked his arms around the pirate. He hugged him. “I’m sorry,” he said firmly. “I shouldn’t have pushed. I shouldn’t have said any of it. I’m sorry.”
Harry froze and Ben could feel his heart pounding. He was wound so tight that it was like hugging a statue.
Harry jerked back suddenly, expecting to be held in place and have to fight his way free, but Ben let go immediately.
The pirate staggered back, dragging in breaths like he’d been in a fight and looking painfully confused.
Ben didn’t know what to do now. “Harry—”
Harry turned and bolted, leaving the doors open in his wake and vanishing down the halls.
Uma closed her locker, turned, took one step and got a bucket of water to the face.
She hoped it was water.
She looked down at her drenched front and the ruined books in her arms. Yeah. It was water. That was something, she supposed.
Chad and his friends from the other day let out peals of laughter.
“What the hell?” Mal shouted, stomping up from down the hall behind Uma.
Chad pressed back his laughter but kept his smile. “Just wanted to make the sea witch feel more at home.”
“You forgot the salt…” Uma muttered.
“Get out of here!” Mal yelled, her temper was fast and Uma was grateful. She’d been holding hers down hard since they came to shore. She couldn’t let them be sent back to the Isle because of her and she knew, if she slipped, her whole crew would slide down with her. It had been near impossible in the beginning, but she was getting used to it. Now, it was almost laughable. What passed for harassment in Auradon would have been affectionate on the Isle.
She shook out her books. “I’m starting to think they hate me reading...”
Mal turned to look at her only when the boys had gone. She pressed her own wicked smile into the corner of her mouth. “We should probably get you cleaned up…” She looked around for a bathroom.
“Forget it.” Uma started down the hall. She had finished her classes for the day.
To her surprise, Mal walked with her. “Do those guys usually give you a hard time?”
Uma huffed a laugh and gave the other villain kid a look that suggested she’d gone soft.
Mal smiled back knowingly. “Okay. A bucket of water is hardly as bad as sewage…”
“Or that time your mom threw broken glass at you.”
“Yeah, but I dodged that way better than you dodged the water…” she said, enjoying the dark memory. It was hard to joke about something that messed up with her friends in Auradon. They didn’t understand. And Auradon had made her soft, but she had come to terms with that being okay. They needed a little soft sometimes. “You should talk to Fairy Godmother about Chad…”
Uma laughed. “Why? He’ll say he didn’t do it, and she’ll believe him. He’s Charming, after all.”
“Yeah, well, despite the name, he’s not very charming,” Mal commented before they came to the stairs up to Uma’s dorm floor. “You’re sure you don’t want to talk… or something?” she screwed her face in that “this is lame and soft but I’d do it” sort of way.
Uma was honestly surprised. She hadn’t realized they had that kind of loyalty. She supposed they were kind of the last of their kind here. Everyone else had been followers and followed them to Auradon—taking queues from them. “Yeah. Thanks.” The word came out awkward and they both smiled knowingly before going their own ways.
Uma went up the stairs and down her hall. Water had dripped down her front and into her boots. Fuck. She slowed when she noticed her bedroom door was open. Harry never forgot to close it. She nudged it into a wide swing and scowled at the princess. “Oh, for fuck’s sake. Are you inbred idiots teaming up against me?”
Audrey didn’t even look bothered to be caught snooping. She put her hands on her hips. “I knew you were a freak,” she hissed and nudged her head toward the closet. It was open.
Great. She’d gone through her things. That wasn’t creepy or a complete invasion of her privacy. Luckily, a life of creepy and invasive had prepared Uma for this and just about anything else. She smiled. “What? You don’t have a nap in your closet sometimes?”
Audrey stalked toward her. “Just tell me where you’re hiding it and I won’t tell the whole school how big bad Uma hides in her closet at night?”
Uma laughed. “Tell whoever you want.” She walked into the room, putting her wet books on a table and frowning at their instant puddle. “And what exactly do you think I’m hiding? It looks like you went through everything…”
“Bullshit!” Audrey snapped, stalking toward her.
Uma smiled, a little impressed by her language and temper. She might have made a great villain kid if she’d been born on the Isle. “Sweetheart, I don’t know what—”
Audrey slapped her.
Uma dropped her jaw, surprise running over her colder than any bucket of water. “Oh, you did not…”
“Where is it?” Audrey shrieked.
“Where is what?” Uma screamed back.
“I know you have magic. A charm? A potion? A book?”
Uma pinched her brows together in confusion. “What are you talking about?”
And then Audrey’s eyes locked on the shell necklace Uma wore. Her arm shot out for it and Uma jerked back, catching the other girl’s wrist.
“Give it to me!” Audrey shouted, pushing forward until Uma’s thighs hit the table. She kept pushing until they fell over onto it, her back hitting hard and that crazy princess on top of her.
“Get off of me!” Uma yelled, catching her other wrist too, unable to get a hand free without letting go of one of Audrey’s and, right now, those long pink nails were looking particularly unsettling. Maybe pink could be a scary color…
“I knew you were bewitching them! I knew it and I’m going to prove it,” Audrey snarled.
Uma tried to shove her off but found herself awkwardly pinned. “It’s not what you think! Just get off—”
Suddenly Audrey was off of her, lifted into the air with a new shriek. Uma sat up on the table, watching Harry haul the crazy princess toward the door, one hand fisted in the back of her dress and the other in her hair. Shock and embarrassment settled her by the time he dropped her outside the door. She stumbled but gathered herself, turning to glare past Harry at Uma. There were a dozen threats in that gaze and Uma had no idea where they’d come from.
Harry slammed the door and locked it. “You making friends, sweetheart?” he drawled, returning to her.
Uma groaned, flicking her still wet braids over her shoulder. “I seem to be popular.”
He came to stand beside her, tipping her chin up to get a look at her. No scratches or bruises today. He flashed a smile. “That princess had you pinned…”
Uma frowned. “I might have underestimated manicures.”
He laughed and she noticed then that he sounded worn thin. “Hey.” She grabbed his collar and pulled him closer, between her legs where she sat on the table so that she could look up at him. “What happened?” His eyes were darting, unfocused, and he was still swaying even though she had him close. Usually he went real damn still when she got his attention like this. He was unsettled.
He looked down between them, plucking at her wet top. “You go swimming?”
“I might have fucked things up…” he confessed quietly, and she heard a tremor of fear in his voice.
“What did you do?” she demanded. It wasn’t that she minded him messing things up, but she needed to know what they were dealing with—because it was always them together dealing with it.
He sighed and looked away. His jaw jumped tightly. “I might have threatened the King… I don’t know. I just. He was. I don’t know.” He growled at nothing—probably himself.
Uma frowned. “What did he do?”
“I think he was just trying to be friends…”
“That does sound awful,” she said, not entirely joking.
He laughed a little and dropped his head forward to touch his forehead to hers. “I think I really messed things up.”
“So, you had a fight? What’s he going to do?” she said and then quieted while they both thought about what King Ben could do. “If he sends us back we’ll make a run for it.”
Harry sulked and then plucked at her soggy top again. “Seriously, why are you wet?”
She shrugged. “New fashion.”
He raised a brow. “Chad again?”
“I have it under control.”
She smiled and leaned up, kissing him. It wasn’t a battle of tongues. He always submitted to her. She was the captain. They made out, her hands in his hair, making it even messier than usual. She was about to break the kiss and ask him to join her in the shower—bold new territory the very idea of which made her heart thud wildly. Harry made her want things she’d never even thought about. He made her want peace because he made her feel content.
And then some son of a bitch knocked on her door.
Harry groaned and pulled back, hands still on her sides and her legs around his waist. “How many friends did you make today?”
She laughed dryly and pushed him back, hopping down front the table. His hair was a mess, his lips swollen, and her shirt was still sopping wet. She unlocked and opened her door, looking annoyed but swinging it open to look back at Harry when he saw Ben standing there. “Looks like it’s one of yours.”
Harry lost his steam, looking bitterly at the floor.
Uma turned back to look at Ben in her doorway. He didn’t look angry either. “Are you going to banish us again?” she demanded, temper short today.
Ben’s eyes widened with enough alarm to tell her he would probably never send them back to the Isle. He actually cared. “No!”
“Good.” Uma left the door open and marched back through her room to the bathroom. “I’m showering. If you’re going to fight with your fists, do it outside.” She went into the tiled room before either of them could say anything and slammed the door. Within a minute the shower was on.
Ben sighed, hesitating at the door. “Can I come in?”
Harry wrinkled his nose but nodded. Ben took two steps, not too close to Harry this time. And Harry cringed, remember how he’d behaved. Why he had done that? Of course, Ben hadn’t meant anything like that when he’d asked those questions. He wasn’t a villain.
“I just wanted to bring you this…” He held out an envelope.
Harry took it. “Another invitation?” he joked thinly.
Ben smiled with relief at the small normalcy. “I went to Fairy Godmother and had her do some of her bibbi bobbiding to figure out your birthday.”
Harry looked up at him, surprised. He would have had to go straight to the headmistress to have this already. Harry had taken a long, stomping walk around the grounds but that hadn’t taken him more than an hour.
“You’re eighteen, congratulations, we’re the same age,” Ben joked just as thinly as he had, nerves raw. “Your birthday was actually a couple weeks ago. And Uma’s nineteen. Her birthdate is in there too…”
Harry held the envelope tighter, suddenly it was precious. What the hell? Why would he do this after he’d been such a jerk?
“And the paper is in there to file for your room change if you want. I mean, you don’t have to. I don’t mean to be pushy. I just…”
“Thank you,” Harry said, the words surprising him almost as much as Ben.
Ben stared and then smiled. “You are coming to my party, right?”
Harry smiled at last. “Another chance for everyone to celebrate their king? I wouldn’t miss it.”
Ben sighed in relief. “So… We’re okay?”
Harry was stunned. Was Ben asking him for forgiveness? Wasn’t it supposed to go the other way. “Yeah. I mean I was the one… Yeah.”
Ben shook his head. “It was my fault.” He sighed, looking back toward the door behind him. “I have to go. I’m supposed to meet up with Mal…”
Harry nodded, moving closer to see him out. Somehow they went back to normal quickly—and no one had to punch anyone. “Ben,” he said just before the other boy left. “We can talk about it sometime. Just not now.”
Ben smiled that easy way of his and clapped Harry on the shoulder, like he wasn’t a ticking time bomb or a crazy dangerous flirt. And Harry realized they really were friends.
Harry closed the door after he’d gone. He locked it and then opened the envelope, thumbing through the papers inside. He found Uma’s birthdate. He’d have to wait almost a year to surprise her with it, but he could definitely wait that long for her and then his grin grew wicked when he found the application for changing dorm residency. It required her signature. Luckily, he was an expert at it. He signed more of her papers than she did.
Chapter 5: Feelings
A dancefloor had been put out in the garden for Ben’s party, tables glowing with lights and stacked with cakes between the trees and music thrumming through the crowd at just the right volume so they could still talk to each other, but everyone bounced with the urge to dance.
Harry wore slacks and a black dress shirt, sleeves rolled up and collar unbuttoned. Gil’s eyes practically bulged at the sight of the table of food. Months in Auradon and he still looked at buffets like the starving kid he’d been when Uma found him on the streets. He’d been such a runt back then. It felt like a lifetime ago. And somehow Gil managed to still be innocent, despite everything.
She knew Harry adored him.
Uma sat at the table, sipping punch and frowning at it’s lack of a kick.
Harry slid into the seat beside her, taking the glass from her fingers and trying it himself. His press of lips suggested he felt the same way. He put the cup down. “Do you want me to put rum in the bowl?”
Uma tried not to smile. “Why waste it on these losers?”
He leaned forward, elbows on his knees and one hand sliding into hers. “Wanna leave?”
She shrugged. “We’ll stay for a while. Wouldn’t want King Ben to think you didn’t show.”
“Well, in that case,” he stood and pulled her up to her feet. “Dance with me?” he lowered his voice, body already swaying and backing up, drawing her toward the floor and the music and the lights.
She wrinkled her nose like she didn’t want to, like he wasn’t a complete temptress. Why did she do that? Why did she pretend she hated the party when she liked it? Why did she pretend she didn’t want to dance when all she wanted was to be close to him under those lights? Because it was soft and stupid, that’s why.
She bit the inside of her lip to keep from smiling with her spun her onto the floor and then pulled her up against his chest, one arm easily hooking behind her back. His fingers ran lines up and down a short stretch of her spine, her blue dress smooth silk between them.
His smile smoothed out the way it did when he was thinking something sexy. He didn’t know she knew about those thoughts, but it hadn’t been that hard to figure out that he only got that dark, glassy eyed look when they were close and he was looking at her. His breathing deepened and that lazy smile curled one corner of his lips. His hand slid from her spine to her hip. His head dropped forward. “Uma,” he whispered her name and it sounded like the first note of a song.
She swayed with him, one arm curled behind his neck. The moment was strangely perfect and a dozen thoughts streamed across her mind, screaming to be said—to be whispered. She looked away instead and choked on all those feelings. Why couldn’t she just say them?
Someone bumped into them from the side, forcing them apart with a flood of giggles and apologies.
Uma caught the hand trying to snatch the necklace from her neck, that hand with those pink nails wrapped around the gold shell. Uma held tight to Audrey’s wrist, the girls standing still and staring at one another. “Don’t try to steal from an Isle kid, princess…” she hissed.
Audrey tried to pull but Uma held tight to her wrist.
Harry’s attention was on them again and the others on the dancefloor slowly came to a stop too, staring.
“Let go,” Uma said lowly.
Audrey held fast. “I know what you’re doing.”
“You don’t know anything.”
“What’s going on?” Ben said, cutting through the crowd to see what was happening. He stood beside Harry, a hand on his shoulder, and looked at the odd scene. “Audrey?”
“She’s spelled him,” Audrey accused, not taking her eyes off Uma.
Uma stared back. “What? Who?”
“Harry,” Audrey bit out before laughing bitterly and looking around at the gathered crowd. “Think about it! Son of Hook! But he let her play captain and took the role as first mate to a waitress?”
Harry growled and started forward but Ben held fast to his shoulder.
Audrey turned her gaze to her king. “Ben. Think about it. She’s spelled you once! She’s using the necklace to control him, just like her mother once did to someone else! She’s bewitched him. Think about how he’s always looking at her, following her, obsessed with her.”
“Shut up,” Uma snapped angrily. Those weren’t the right words for it. She hadn’t done anything.
“Ben!” Audrey pressed, still clutching at the necklace.
“Let go!” Uma yelled.
“You can’t let her do this to him!” Audrey continued, voice cracking in waves of false pity.
“Since when do you care so much?” Uma growled.
“Uma,” Ben said, voice gone steely.
She didn’t look at him. Everyone was staring. This couldn’t be happening. They thought she’d spelled Harry? Of course, they did.
Ben stepped closer. “Audrey, let go.”
Audrey hesitated a second long before releasing the necklace, curtseying apologetically and stepping back.
Uma wrapped her own fingers around the shell necklace, glaring at the floor.
“Uma,” Ben said quietly. “Give me the necklace.”
She winced. She’d known he would listen to the princess over her, hadn’t she? Why wouldn’t he?
Harry growled and started forward but Uma shook her head once and he stopped where he stood. She looked up at Ben. He looked honestly conflicted, but decisive none the less.
She sighed and reached up, unhooking the chain. She hadn’t taken it off since she was a child. It was the only thing her mother had ever given her.
Ben held out his hand, waiting.
She glanced at Harry. If she had to give it away, at least it would prove she hadn’t bewitched him.
“Happy Birthday, your highness,” she muttered and dropped the necklace in his hand.
“Ben…” Harry warned.
“It’s fine,” Uma said. How else could they know?
Ben’s hand shook, but his jaw clenched and he dropped the necklace on the floor. She looked away when he stomped on it, breaking the shell and setting free wisps of old magic.
They all waited, watching.
Nothing else happened.
Ben turned to Harry for any signs of change.
Harry was still watching Uma, brow creased with worry and Ben sighed, feeling the fool for ever believing he was spelled. But it had been so easy to imagine, hadn’t it? No one was that in love with someone and Uma gave so little back—so little encouragement or affection that they could see. And she had done it before. He just couldn’t take the risk with his friend’s life and happiness.
Uma was still looking down at the shards. Her arm lifted, hand out to the side and before Ben could wonder why, Harry slid his hand into hers and led her away.
They walked far into the shadows before she drug in one shuddering breath.
“Why did you let them do that?” Harry whispered.
“Because if I didn’t they would think it was true.”
“Who cares what they—”
“Ben would have saved you from me and I can’t…” The words cut off and she swallowed hard.
He stopped, in the shadows near the buildings and far from the music and voices of the party. He turned her toward him. “In our story, you’re the hero, not the villain. No one is ever going to save me, but you.”
The next morning, she still couldn’t shake it. People had accused Uma of bewitching Harry long before they left the Isle. Hook himself had said it. Somehow, the little sea witch, was using magic on the island. Somehow, she had bewitched his heir. How else could anyone explain the way Harry looked at her? Like there was no one else. He sighed her name. He leaned toward her. He reached for her without looking, knowing right where she would be. He knew when she was hungry. He knew when she was feeling angry or cagey or even just sad. And then he knew what to do about it.
She had started to wonder herself, if she had spelled him somehow. She hadn’t been able to understand then, what it was.
They called it obsession. They said he worshipped her.
The truth was something harder for the people on the island to understand. He loved her.
And Uma was madly in love with Harry Hook. It was only the mad part that had kept everything from falling apart. They were both insane, she was sure of it, but she wouldn’t change anything about him.
When she got out of the shower Harry was in a pair of sweatpants, legs up over the arm of the chair he sat in and eyes closed. A big pair of headphones cupped his ears and she could still hear the music thrumming through his skull. Despite the no doubt deafening sound and having his eyes shut, his mouth pulled into a knowing smirk when he sensed her watching him.
She dropped her towel on the floor, wearing only one of his old threadbare shirts and her underwear. She stalked over to him, his smile growing the closer she got. How did he do that? How did he know?
He was pale like a star that had fallen from the sky, shining bright. The sweatpants clung low on his hips and as long as his eyes were closed, she could stare at him as much as she wanted. Lean muscles, a handful of tattoos, and dozens of scars—each of which she knew the story of. He was a map of her life and all of the treasure her pirate soul could want.
A tingle crawled up her spine and she knew she’d been caught. Sliding her gaze up his torso she stared back at him, his eyes half-lidded but fixed on her, music still blaring against his ears and smile wolfish.
Uma took a step back, and then another, willing him to know what she wanted without saying a word.
Harry’s grin grew, eyes twinkling as though realizing a game was afoot. He sat upright, all feline grace, and then slid to his feet. They never broke eye contact.
She took a step back and he took one forward. She moved to the right and he was in time with her. Left, and he was there. She stepped forward and he stepped back. The game went on for a few minutes, faster and faster, as she tried to trick him—tried to fane right but step left. It never worked, until she took a step forward and instead of sliding back, he stepped forward too. For one tiny second she thought she’d won, inhaling to crow victory, when his grin told her otherwise.
They were only inches apart now. She could hear the music blaring in his headphones and feel his gaze piercing hers, studying her. She was certain that no one in the world had ever looked at her—not really. No one but him. No one else ever saw her. No one ever could. It was why she’d never been shy with him either—not that it was in her nature, but she supposed if she would have been shy with anyone, it would have been Harry. But it had never mattered. He saw her so deeply that no scar or stretch of skin could compare to the dark bits of her soul he studied.
Without thinking, she said something she’d never said, when she knew he couldn’t hear her. “I love you.”
The game ended. His smile vanished and his hand shot up, pushing his headphones off. “Uma?”
Heat rushed to her face, eyes widening. She hadn’t meant to say it out loud. She back pedaled away from him but he caught her hand, his thumb automatically stroking across the back of her knuckles. “Uma…”
She hissed and ducked around him, darting for the door.
He let out a laugh and just as she was opening the door to run, his palm hit it, closing it.
Uma growled then, twisting around in what little space his body had left hers in front of the door and glaring up at him with the full authority of his captain. “Move!” she shoved at his chest.
He smiled but didn’t move, head dipping down to look back at her. “You’re not wearing pants.”
She narrowed her eyes on him to keep from looking down at herself. She wasn’t. She couldn’t go running off through Auradon at breakfast hour without pants on. Her heart thudded in her chest. Why was she running at all? She’d meant what she’d said. Why couldn’t she just claim it? “I’m not weak,” she said lowly.
His hand slid off the door, falling back to his side. “No, you’re not.” Those eyes were studying her again.
“Everyone thinks you’re in love with me,” she said quietly, voice hardened.
Harry shivered at the sound of the word on her tongue without sarcasm. Oh, she was trying really hard to act like she didn’t have feelings right now, but she was saying the word—she had already said it. He would never forget the way her mouth moved around that ‘I love you’ or the way her eyes had gleamed when she said it.
“That’s because I am,” he agreed and she looked up at him in surprise. She knew. He knew that she did. But it seemed hearing it might mean as much to her as it did to him. “I have always loved you.”
She tried to back away from him but bumped into the door.
“Uma?” Harry asked, voice low.
Tears gathered in her eyes and her shoulders shook, jaw clenched as though to bite down all those feelings. Everyone knew he loved her—even on the Isle when they didn’t know what it was exactly, they still knew—she still knew. “You knew right?” she whispered, haunted.
“That I loved you?” His brow pinched, confused and leaning closer to make out her choked words.
Her jaw clenched, head shaking once and she wouldn’t look at him.
Harry smiled slowly, so close to her cheek that he could feel the heat coming off of her and watched one of those tears slide over her lashes and vanish. “That you loved me?”
She stayed very still, but finally looked up at him and he saw all the pain and worry in her eyes.
He sighed and cupped her face in his hands, leaning his hips forward to pin her to the door. “You came for me, Uma. You always did. You offered me everything and took nothing.”
She started to shake her head and he kissed her, one hand sliding down to brace the side of her neck while the other stroked his thumb across her cheek. Her hands found his sides when she kissed him back and he purred in delight.
“I knew,” he whispered against her lips, reassuring her. “I knew it every time you shared your food with me. I knew it when you would run your fingers through my hair at night to make me sleep. I knew it every time you held out your hand, knowing I would take it. It was right there, in every smile and every kiss. I can’t remember a moment in our life when I didn’t know it.”
She shivered and curled her arms up around the back of his neck, tugging at his hair when she stole another kiss, pulling herself up his body and onto her toes. “Good. Because I’m never saying it.”
Harry grinned. “Yes, you will.”
She kissed him again to shut him up and they made out against the door until they were both panting. Uma hopped up and he caught her thighs, lifting her so that she could wrap her legs around his waist. “Bed,” she ordered.
His head pulled back to look at her seriously, brow lifting.
She nudged her chin in the direction, over his shoulder, and he spun around, walking across the room with her wrapped around him. “Uma…” he breathed a question in her name, kissing her neck. His knees hit the edge of the bed they’d never slept in, never even sat on.
She nodded, fingers clawing at his back lightly.
He bent forward, lowering her onto the bed and then following, crawling over her while she crawled back, higher onto the soft surface. She smiled slowly and it was something new. He smiled back. “What?” His voice was breathy and deep.
“You’ve got that look again… Like you’re thinking something naughty.”
“Oh, aye…” he grinned and rubbed his hips down, her legs still spread. She moaned and he drank in the sound, watching in awe when she squirmed under him. Oh, they’d made out plenty but they’d never done this. “I was thinking of ripping that shirt off of ya.”
“Don’t you dare. It’s the last one I have from the Isle…” she arched when he rubbed his hips down against her again. He was hard and pressing right against her, thin layers between them.
She bit her lip and pulled the shirt off, tossing it safely away from his reach.
His jaw dropped in a groan, seeing her laid out now, all smooth skin and scars. He dipped her head, kissing and sucking at her neck.
Her hands slid down his back and then around his sides. Suddenly she flipped them over, sitting on his lap. Her fingers touched the waistband of his pants and his heart jumped into his throat. His head fell back against the pillow when she pushed his pants farther down his hips and dipped her hand inside to guide out his hard on. He moaned under her, feeling her gaze running over him. She stroked and he arched. “Say it…” his captain purred.
“Uma,” he moaned.
She let go only long enough to wiggle out of her panties, straddling him again. Her breath came in tight with nerves when she rubbed against him, moaning in sharp surprise at the sensation with nothing between them. He caught her hip just before she could lower herself on him and she met his gaze. His eyes were glassy with want and his lips swollen, but he held her hip for a minute to get a look at her, to make sure this was okay. Sex had been so scary on the island—something done to people. But this wasn’t the island. “I won’t hurt you and you won’t hurt me,” Uma said.
He shivered, nodding, thumb stroking a circle against her hip.
“I want you and you want me,” she continued, voice husky.
He moaned darkly and nodded.
She smiled slowly, knowing what would make him give in and suddenly all too willing to say it. “I love you.”
His head pressed back into the pillow when he groaned at those words mixed with his lust, lean body squirming. He let go of her hip and she slid down until he was inside of her and they were both gasping.
Chapter 6: Aftermath
Harry lay on his side, watching her sleep in the bed beside him. It was the first time she’d slept in a bed since they left the island. He touched her cheek, thumb tracing under her bottom lip. He’d always known she loved him, but she’d never been able to say those words. He hadn’t expected her to, hadn’t thought he needed her to.
His hand ran down the side of her neck, tracing her collarbone and then down her sternum. She’d worried he didn’t know that she loved him. How could he not have known? After everything they’d been through—all the times she’d come to save him, all the times she’d bled for him, and the time she begged for him…
He cringed, hand stopping at a scar on her chest, against her ribs. He’d sewn that wound shut himself. He closed his eyes, trying not to remember that night—the one where she threw down her sword, tossed aside her hat, and surrendered for him. She’d begged. She’d said please. She’d knelt and offered up everything.
A knock cut through the quiet of the room, and Harry’s gaze shot to the door. It was almost noon. There had been no classes today, so no reason for anyone to care that they’d gone missing. Still, his heart raced, old panic and fear—that they’d been cornered by an enemy, that neither of them were ready for a fight.
The knock came again. “Harry?” Ben’s voice was quiet on the other side of the door.
Uma growled in her sleep, rolling onto her side toward him. Harry curled over her, kissing her head. “Sleep,” he whispered before crawling out of the bed, pulling the covers up over her to hide her.
He padded quickly and silently across the floor, his sweatpants hanging low on his hips. He unlocked and opened the door, one hand pushing Ben two steps back into the hall so that he could step out and close the door behind himself. He wasn’t going to invite him in, and he wasn’t going to leave the door open either—even if the bed wasn’t directly in line of sight.
Ben backed up hurriedly and Harry folded his arms across his bare chest. Mal was standing down the hall, far enough to be out of earshot, but leaning against the wall and eyeing them like a guard. Harry smirked. She had tagged along because she wouldn’t trust sending her king to a couple of pirates without backup. At first Harry didn’t remember why the VK would be so protective, and then he remembered the party and Uma’s necklace. That felt like weeks ago, not last night.
“Hi,” Ben said first. “Is Uma here?”
“No,” Harry lied easily.
Ben sighed, dragging a hand through his hair. He wasn’t as pristinely put together today as usual, a thin sweater hanging on his shoulders and hair a mess. Harry smiled almost smugly. Ben was looking more like Harry than himself. “What do you want?”
“We didn’t see you at breakfast and I need to apologize to Uma,” Ben said.
“It would be better if you didn’t bring it up.”
“I’d feel better if I talked to her. Do you know where she is?”
“Yes,” he said and then just stared flatly at Ben, unamused. Harry wanted to go back to that comfy bed right now.
Ben sighed heavily. “I’m sorry, Harry, but I had to make sure you weren’t spelled. You understand how it—”
“No, I don’t,” Harry interrupted. “I’m not spelled. I haven’t changed. I haven’t—”
“But how would I know? How could I know if you had been different before you met her? She has a history of…”
Harry’s eyes narrowed. “I did change when I met her. I was meaner before.” His smile grew, sideways and wicked because he knew these people thought he was something sinister now. But that was nothing compared to who he’d been when he was Hook’s son. “I never smiled. I never laughed. And I never showed mercy.”
Ben stood straight, taking in the information and his mistake with a hard nod. “And I was wrong about the necklace and Uma, but I couldn’t risk it.”
Harry laughed darkly. “And what did Mal say? Did she think you did the best thing?”
Ben blanched, resisting the urge to look down the hall where his VK girlfriend stood watch. “She was pissed. She said Uma could be a terror but she’d never wrong you.”
Harry did glance down the hall to meet her gaze then, impressed she knew them that well. He supposed it made sense. Just as he knew she wouldn’t wrong her own crew.
“We’re friends, Ben?” Harry asked.
Ben brightened a little from his gloomy guilt state. “Yes.”
“And if I tell you something, you’ll keep it to yourself?”
Ben stood straight, like a soldier. “I promise.”
Harry sighed. Uma believed Ben had been doing right by Harry when he demanded the necklace, and she’d believed if she didn’t give it over then, he would have tried to save Harry from her. He could tell she was impressed, even if she was hurt. But he needed Ben to understand how things worked if they were really going to be friends.
“My father let me play pirates with Uma for a year. And then, without warning, in the middle of the day, he had me snatched up. I think they’d been watching us for weeks, waiting for the right opportunity. My old man was holed up in the remains of the Jolly Roger. It crashed against the rocks on the other side of the Isle and they turned it into a bar and a brothel. None of the gangs go over to that side. No one goes into the Jolly Roger and gets back out—unless Hook lets them go. When they dragged me in, I was sure I’d never come back out. I thought he’d kill me for turning on him…But he didn’t kill me. He locked me in a room and sold me by the hour.”
Ben’s whole body jerked back, face twisting, the parts of his heart claimed by the beast clawing upward before he could push it back down. He’d been asked to listen. This was important. Harry was sharing something with him and he needed to know it to understand.
“And then Hook waited. He waited because he knew, just like I knew, that she’d come for me—even there. No one comes into the Jolly Roger and gets out, Ben. No one. But she walked right through the front door and into the bar. She took off her hat and her sword and her knives and dumped them on the floor at his feet. And then she knelt and begged for my life.”
Ben swallowed hard. “So, she saved you—”
Harry laughed and it was a dark sound. “No. She knew she couldn’t but she still came. She offered him back the Revenge. She offered never to pirate again. She offered her mother’s necklace. And when none of it was enough to sate the fury of Hook, she offered her own life for mine.” He hated that memory. He’d been held back, badly beaten already, and unable to do anything but yell and struggle and watch her surrender.
“It was unheard of, to sacrifice for someone else on the Isle. I think Hook was almost moved. Almost. But you see, she’d walked into the Jolly Roger. There was no making deals because he could just take everything from her. And he did.” Harry’s vision blurred and for a second he closed his eyes, memories he’d scrubbed from his brain right there beneath the surface. Harry still remembered when he finally found her the next morning, when most of the pirates were asleep. She was beaten half to death but managed to smile when she opened her eyes and saw him. Her hand found his cheek and he cried into it. “Why did you do that? Why did you come here?” he’d whispered miserably. “Because you’re here,” she’d said with one of her flippant shrugs, like it didn’t matter even when it meant the world. Like her reasons were obvious—she’d go where he went, even if it was hell.
“But you escaped?” Ben whispered, waiting.
Harry forced a smile and nodded. “She hadn’t gone without a plan. She wouldn’t let me die in a place like that.” A part of him used to think that’s what Uma was always fighting for—a good place for them to die. Now, having seen her sleep so soundly in that bed, he hoped she was looking for a place they could live instead—but either way he’d be following her to it. “She poisoned them. She smuggled it in and spent the whole night dosing their drinks and their food between beatings and…” Harry wrinkled his nose and shook his head.
“So, she killed them?” Ben asked quietly, trying to keep all of his emotions in check.
Harry stared at him, wondering if he’d try to judge her for it if she had. He shook his head. “She made the poison from one of the Evil Queen’s apples. They’re probably still asleep in that ship,” he lied because it was smarter than telling the King how he and Uma had burned that ship as soon as they left—his father and all the pirates still inside. They were in the sea now, littering the rocky cliffs under the waves.
“I like you,” Harry admitted easily enough. He had never been afraid to say anything. “And I think I like this friendship thing. But if it hurts her, I’m done. If you ever become her enemy, you will be my enemy.” He couldn’t be more clear about it than that. There was one person in this world that had followed him to hell and back, one person that had always come for him, one person that he could count on until the end—and he would die before he betrayed her.
Ben nodded. “I can respect that. Will you tell her I’m sorry, about the necklace and the party?”
Harry shrugged. “It’s forgotten.”
“Are we still on for practice tonight? Swords? You were going to teach me ‘dirty pirate moves’.” He smiled when he said it, obviously Harry’s choice of words.
Harry smiled back, nodding and slipping back into the room. Ben waited, hands in his pockets. The door locked and his smile faded, weighted down by all the things Harry had told him. At least they weren’t angry about what happened at the party, but he didn’t feel any less like an asshole for allowing the show to take place—allowing the idea that Uma had spelled Harry to be planted. It had been whispered everywhere since and Audrey hadn’t let the idea go even after the necklace was destroyed.
Uma was in there, he was sure of it. But he also got the sense that she wasn’t hiding from him, so much as Harry was guarding her. Maybe she was sleeping?
He walked down the quiet hallway. Mal was still leaned against the wall, waiting for him. “Looks like everything went okay,” she said. She’d been really upset when she heard what happened at the party. Ben had been surprised, since Uma and Mal had a history of fighting.
“Yeah. I’ll talk to Uma when I get a chance…”
Mal huffed at that. He offered her his arm when she kicked off the wall. She softened a little and took it, letting him walk her toward the main corridor.
“Is Hook dead?” Ben asked before thinking long on it. He hadn’t doubted anything Harry said when he was telling the story, not until Ben had asked if Uma had killed the pirates. He’d realized his own mistake as soon as he said it. It was in the wording and his own position in Auradon. Harry couldn’t have told him the truth if the answer was anything but what he said.
Mal almost lost her step, looking up at him. “He told you—” she cut herself off, swallowing hard and looking away. She must have heard a story at least similar to what he now knew about the Jolly Roger, to react like that.
“Have you ever been there? On that ship?” Ben asked quietly. He’d never felt this angry and this powerless before. What a disaster, to have left all of these kids on that island of monsters. What had they expected? Why had they ignored it so long and so easily?
“No. We didn’t go on that side,” Mal said stiffly.
He nodded and sighed a little relief, but the tension stayed in his chest. Harry had been there. And Uma had gone willingly just to be with him—just to save him or die with him.
“And yes, Hook’s dead,” Mal whispered. “The ship burned. It’s gone.”
She didn’t explain more, didn’t say when it happened or who did it. Ben knew and he was relieved. He would never ask about it again and he would never tell anyone he knew. It had happened and with his dying breath he would defend that no one living was responsible.
Harry padded across the floor but stopped beside the bed, looking at it and her asleep curled up under the covers. He couldn’t quite convince himself to take that last step, to crawl in at her side. Doubt clawed at his heart. He shouldn’t have slept with her. Did it make him like the others? Did it make him his father’s son? Would she hate him when she woke? Should she?
The night she begged for his life had haunted him every day since. He would endure anything if he could take back what happened. She’d never understood that guilt. She hadn’t experienced anything that he hadn’t. She had joined him in agony and to her that made sense—she belonged where he was, and she should experience his pain. But she was his captain, his queen, his Uma. And he had brought her to her knees.
He cringed, fists balled, and eyes squeezed shut for a long minute, while those memories swallowed him up. She hadn’t screamed or begged for mercy when they hurt her. She hadn’t said anything, biting through her own lip to keep from making sounds for them.
Harry had lied to Ben about the poison—she hadn’t slipped it into their drinks and their food. She’d spit it in their faces in her own blood, they’d soaked it in through their knuckles and their hands, and their bodies against her poison painted skin. They’d taken it willingly with every stolen kiss and punch.
She’d made the poison from one of the Queen’s apples years ago and made the antidote too. She and Harry had even played with it enough to make themselves immune. At dawn, their crew had busted the front door in just as she’d told them to. Gil went in first, to make sure the plan had worked and when he saw that it had, he’d whistled for the others. They’d dressed Uma and Harry and together they finished off anyone not poisoned inside the Jolly Roger, and then set the whole ship on fire.
“Harry,” Uma said his name.
He opened his eyes. She was still curled up in the bed, cheek to the pillow but eyes open to look up at him. It was like she saw what he was thinking, saw right through the now and into the past and there they were again—sitting in that dark, terrible ship surrounded by sleeping monsters. “Why did you do that? Why did you come here?” he heard himself saying, crying, in their past. “Because you’re here,” she’d said.
Now, far away, in another world, he hesitated. Harry stared back at her, waiting for her to tell him to leave, or to look at him with the contempt and fury they had felt toward others. But she didn’t. She just lifted the covers and waited for him to climb back in.
Harry did, and she wrapped her arms and the covers around him, holding him to her.
“Is everything okay?” Uma whispered in the dim stillness of their room.
Harry curled an arm around her and rolled onto his back, laying her on his chest. He exhaled, pushing away his memories and fears for the now that they’d fought for—and the future they’d bled for. “Everything’s perfect.”
Chapter 7: Violent Night
Uma had thought she was alone in the library. The term was ending and most of the students went home to their respective kingdoms on break. She kind of liked this place when it was mostly empty, finding a nice corner with a stack of books. There hadn’t been a lot of books on the Isle. Here, they just let you borrow as many as you wanted.
She jumped in her seat, head whipping to the side to see Gil happily running across the library floor toward her. She sat up, boots to the floor, and snapped her book shut. “What the hell don’t you understand about a library?”
He stopped only when he reached her, grinning. “What’s to understand? Room of books.” He pointed.
She glared. “You’re supposed to shut your trap in here. That’s the rule!”
“Then why are you yelling?”
“Because you started it!”
He shrugged like none of it made sense but he didn’t much mind.
Uma laughed despite herself, pressing her lips to try to stop.
Gil tipped his head to the side, watching her for a minute before his own smile grew. “You’re in a good mood.”
Uma waved her book at him. “What do you want?”
He sat down on the floor in front of her chair, looking up at her, his smile growing goofy. “Read to me?”
She forced a frown. “Forget it. We haven’t done that since we were kids.”
“That wasn’t that long ago…” he countered.
She sighed, leaning back in her seat and considering him. He’d been eating well, but they never had trouble getting Gil to eat even back on the Isle. The trouble had always been stealing enough food. She knew he was doing well in school, shocking everyone, and excelling in sports. Gil could do just about anything if you pointed him in the right direction and kept him from getting distracted—no small accomplishment. But he had a tell. He paid attention when he was worried. When he was happy, he was very much in his own thoughts, blissfully far away. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
His eyes widened. “What?”
“What’s wrong? Why are you here?” She leaned forward, narrowing her eyes as though she might see the answer write itself across his forehead.
He squirmed, like he too was worried it might. “I just… I like it here in Auradon…” he said.
She nodded. “Yeah…”
He was fiddling with something in his pocket now and she finally saw his emotions bubble up. “But that wasn’t nice—what Audrey said about you. You didn’t bewitch Harry! And then King Ben broke your necklace!” He jumped to his feet, shaking his head and pacing. “So, if we’re leaving it’s okay.”
Uma blinked. “Leaving?”
He nodded like she’d agreed. “We could go at night. This place has bad security. But we should take some of the food… And maybe some of other things. They have a lot of nice things here. Maybe we don’t have to go back to the Isle? Maybe we could just go someplace else…”
Uma laughed and stood up, shaking her head and reaching out to put her hands on his arms, stopping his pacing. “Wow. Okay. No. We’re not leaving.”
He stared at her for a second and then his face crumbled. “You’re going to leave me behind?”
“What?” Uma shook her head.
His shoulders sagged.
She gave him a shake, trying to pull him out of it. “Gil! Snap out of it! I’m not leaving and neither are you. We’ll stay here as long as we like and someday, when we leave, we’ll talk about it.” A part of her was rolling her eyes at how much she’d changed in Auradon. She was soft.
He took a deep breath and then let it out, looking down at her. She always forgot how tall he was until she was standing this close. There was a reason Gil had been their muscle on the island. “Okay?” Uma pressed.
He nodded. “Just don’t leave me behind. I’d leave with you.”
She sighed, hands dropping from his arms. He meant it. He liked it here. He was happy—practically spoiled—but he would run away with her if she decided to go. “Okay.” If she ever did leave, she would talk to him first. She wouldn’t vanish in the night on him. She took a step back and started gathering up her books. “I’ll walk you back to your room.”
He let out a funny laugh. “Shouldn’t I walk you to yours?”
She raised a brow. “Why?”
“That’s what they do here… You’re a girl…”
Uma laughed. “But you’re more likely to get lost.”
He nodded. “That does make more sense.” He had his hand in his pocket again, fiddling with something.
They left the library and she waited patiently for him to get the nerve up to show it to her—whatever it was. She was hoping he hadn’t stolen something. She’d have to find a way to put it back or take the blame or just get rid of it.
He was talking about the other students in his class. His new friends. The mashed potatoes he had for lunch. Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore and reached into his pocket and pulled out the little wad of paper he’d been playing with.
His eyes went big and he jerked to a stop, twisting toward her.
“What is it?” Uma snapped. Okay. She still needed to work on her patience. She held up the crumpled paper.
He hesitated before nibbling his lip and finally reaching out to take it from her, opening it up. “I put it back together but I couldn’t make it like before. Not really…” he confessed, before taking the necklace out from the paper and holding it up for her.
Uma blinked at it. Her shell necklace. It was whole again. It spun on the chain and she saw the fine seams of cracks. It would have been almost impossible to put it together again. “How?”
“I picked up the pieces after Ben smashed it…” his voice dipped, unapproving, when he remembered that. “He shouldn’t have done that.”
He’d collected the pieces off the dancefloor? He’d put it back together?
Uma threw an arm around his shoulders, leaned up on her toes, and hugged him. Gil tensed for a second before hugging her back, lifting her off her feet. “Thank you,” she said and when he put her back on her feet he hurried to put the necklace back on her.
She walked him all the way to his door. It was late. Most everyone was asleep. “Breakfast tomorrow?” she asked. She didn’t usually, she realized. Other people usually came to her—often when they needed shelter. But that was the old ways and maybe her crew were really friends. Maybe she needed to show that affection—not completely different from how she had to learn to show Harry her affection for him. People thought she didn’t care and suddenly the idea of Gil thinking she didn’t care was acutely unpleasant.
He lit up, throwing open his door.
She frowned. “You should lock that…”
She blinked, not sure why. Auradon was different. People knocked. Still. “Just do it?”
He nodded with a shrug. “Okay. Goodnight!”
She smiled and gave him a wave before turning and starting back down the hall. Her fingers found her necklace. She could feel the cracks and found, to her surprise, she loved it more this way.
Harry showered in the locker rooms after training with Ben, Lonnie, and Jay. Ben had left first and he and Jay and Lonnie had stayed to train longer. Harry was next to leave, sensing that Jay and Lonnie enjoyed sparring more than the average couple.
Harry had never much liked sparring with Uma. It was contrary to how he usually fought—which was always on the same side as her. Though he did love watching her spar with others in gym. He could tell when she was playing around, her movements slower and lighter, even if she still kept most of the Auradon kids on their toes.
He rubbed a towel against his hair as he walked out of the showers and back down the aisle of lockers, stark naked in the dimly lit room. Even when it was packed, he had never been shy, not even with the scars and the tattoos, dragging more than a few eyes. He used to strut around on the Isle to keep attention on him, he’d flirt and grin and make strange lewd comments to draw the focus of the more dangerous villains—to keep that attention off Uma and the rest of the gang. He was bait. But this bait had fangs and claws.
He reached his locker, flipping the metal door open. But before he reached for his clothes, or tossed away his towel, he heard the scuff of a shoe. His skin tightened. Logic told him it could be Jay. The dreamer in him wanted it to be Uma. But nothing soothed the pin pricks of his nerves clawing over his spine. He turned to his left just as she slid around the corner, close.
Audrey appeared first unmoved, a sentinel standing there, four lockers down at the end of the metal cavern. And then her gaze slid over him, from top to bottom, lingering in the middle against muscles and tattoos and his sex, before dragging back up to his gaze—her own darker now.
Oh, Harry knew that look. He grinned coldly, sideways and mean, and finished rubbing the towel in his hair before tossing it on the floor. “Didn’t know the locker rooms were coed. Very progressive…” he muttered.
She smiled, heels clipping on the floor as she came closer. She must have been walking on her toes to sneak up on him. “I wanted someplace private for us to talk.”
He laughed, the sound echoing. “Is that so?”
She grabbed his wrist when he reached for his pants, sliding into that tight space in front of him, between him and his locker. He froze, staring back at her. Her hand slid up his arm, curling over his naked shoulder. “I’m a princess,” she said, like maybe he hadn’t heard. “I get what I want and I could give you things you’ve never even dreamed of before.”
He continued to grin down at her, though the gesture was empty. She didn’t realize. They never did. “You want to buy me?” he cooed, as though it were laughable.
“If it’s what works.” Her other hand trailed smooth nails down his chest, over his hip. “You’d be untouchable if you were with me—at the top of society rather than scraping along the bottom. You have no future right now, Harry. What do you think’s going to happen after Auradon? You have no kingdom to go home to. No one will want to bring isle rats back with them. Be mine, and I’ll take care of you. I’ll be your queen.” She rolled her body against his, expecting a reaction, heat coloring her cheeks when he gave none.
He rolled his tongue against the inside of his cheek, looking bored. “Is that all you have?”
She darkened, nails digging into his hip. “Don’t make me break you.”
His smile was almost real then, wild and insane. “Oh, lass, you don’t have what it takes to break me.”
“Really? Because all I have to do is get rid of Uma.”
He snarled, shoving her away from him hard enough to have her staggering to the side. Her eyes widened in shock. “If you hurt me, I’ll say the pirate boy attacked me and you’ll be on a one way trip back to the Isle…” she hurried to remind him of the stakes, like he’d forgotten.
“Leave me alone,” Harry said harshly. “And leave her alone. I’m not interested in trading queens.”
Audrey’s teeth gnashed. “She isn’t a queen! She isn’t even royal!”
“But she’s my queen!” Harry snapped.
“No! We have a connection,” Audrey pressed, she came at him again, this time grabbing his hair and pulling. He cringed, trying to stay away from her without striking at her. She turned him, slamming him up against the lockers. “She’s a witch. She’s a villain. She’s nothing.”
He snarled, looking away from her stubbornly.
She pressed against him, but he didn’t move, didn’t react. Audrey pulled harder at his hair, dragging his head to the side. “I still can’t decide if I like you… Or if I just really hate her,” she confessed in a snarl, mouth close to his. “She has a power over you and I want it.”
Harry laughed darkly, lips still curled in a snarl. “Villain,” he purred.
She crushed her mouth against his, the back of his head thumping against the locker when he tried to get away from her kiss, her fingers ripping at his hair and the nails of her other hand digging into his shoulder—latching on to him.
“Hey!” Jay shouted from the other end of the long aisle of lockers, dropping his gear and starting to run toward them in the dim locker room.
Audrey shoved herself off of Harry and vanished around the corner. She was gone by the time Jay reached him, Harry still leaning naked against the lockers.
“Who the hell was that?” Jay demanded, brow pinched.
Harry spit on the floor, trying to get the taste of her kiss out of his mouth before rolling his shoulders and turning back to his locker. “An admirer,” he said, deadpan, and fished his clean clothes out.
Jay grabbed his shoulder and Harry jerked away from him, shooting the VK a glare that had Jay holding his hands up, but his gaze still went to the crescent cuts on Harry’s shoulder before following them down to the ones on his hip. “Whoever it is… You should report them.”
Harry laughed, pulling on his pants. “To who?”
Harry’s smile darkened. Ben would care—of course he would. He had a soft heart. But something like this would put the word of an Isle rat against the word of a princess. “Don’t be stupid.”
Uma was walking the quiet night halls back to her dorm when she got the feeling of being followed. She kept walking, eyes ahead, but listening intently. It was there. The soft padding of shoes. She took a corridor toward the windows, watching the dark glass ahead to spot the two figures tailing her. Blue sweats with yellow piping. Gym clothes.
She tucked her necklace under the collar of her sweater and turned another corner, books hugged to her chest, and ran. Ran hard enough to get around the next corner before they turned to follow. She swung around it and then ducked down a staircase. She heard their voices now, swearing to one another and then heavy footfalls when they went running past the stairs down the hall.
For a second she thought she’d lost them, smirking to herself when she pushed open the emergency door and stepped out into the cool night. She got two steps before someone lunged at her from the dark, a fist clipping her cheek and sending her whirling back into the wall. She swore, jaw throbbing. A hand grabbed her shoulder, pulling her from the wall and she turned with it, swinging the book to crack it against Chad Charming’s face. She followed it with a knee to the soft inside of his thigh, hitting a nerve and sending him to the ground.
She tried to jump over him and make a run for it—last thing she needed was to be caught standing over a prince in the dark. But the two boys she’d ducked in the halls came bursting out the emergency door behind her, chasing her onto the midnight field. She had dropped her books, running hard. Where the hell was she even going? The woods? That seemed bad. She almost wished she’d just stayed put and taken the beating. She’d probably be on her way to her room by now—books in hand.
A body hit her from behind, the boy tackling her and knocking her shoulder so hard into the ground that she cried out, feeling and hearing it pop from the socket. He was laughing in triumph, the others catching up. He got up and she rolled onto her side. Yeah, her left arm was definitely out of the socket. She looked up in time to see Chad, nose bleeding, just before he kicked her hard in the stomach, throwing her onto her back and heaving the air from her lungs.
“I just wanted to talk and you attacked me,” Chad said before he sat on her chest, knees digging into her shoulders and forcing another groan of pain up from her throat before she bit it back. “I think I could get you thrown out of Auradon for this,” he continued.
She clenched her teeth, growling up at him. “Then why haven’t you?” Her heels dug into the soft grass, kicking and squirming, trying to get out from under him.
He swung his fist down, knuckles clapping against the side of her head, bouncing her skull on the grass and making her see stars, and in those stars, she thought of Harry—her pale star with all the beautiful scars. She smiled, vision still blurred for a second.
“I think you knocked her out,” one of the boys said, sounding nervous.
“Nah, just knocked her crazy,” the other, the tackling one, laughed.
“Audrey wants to know how you do what you do,” Chad went on, grabbing her jaw and turning her face up toward him. “She wants to know your secret. But I don’t care about your secret. You’re a danger to Auradon and to all of us. You’re a witch.”
He stood up, taking two steps back so be out of kicking range. They were far enough from the building that it was a big shadow with square lights from the windows of those still awake at this hour. Her heart pounded in her ears when she sat up, one arm limp and hanging. Blood dripped down the side of her face and she realized he’d split her temple with his knuckles.
“Aren’t you going to ask what I want, sea witch?” Chad taunted in the dark.
Uma almost laughed. “I don’t care what you want.” She barely got it out before liquid splashed over her, making her cough in surprise and the harsh chemical smell. Panic turned her heart into a wild bird and she looked up at him, finally seeing him clearly. Oh, she had underestimated Chad Charming.
“I want to burn the witch,” he said darkly, and she believed him.
She reached out, like maybe she could stop him, when he held up a lighter and flipped the lid. It had a royal seal on it. The sky rumbled, clouds clapping, but the boys didn’t notice. No rain would save her. No waves close enough to rescue her.
Before Chad could thumb the flame to life, a shadow barreled down the field and hit him hard, knocking him to the ground before turning on the other boys, throwing a punch before he’d even stopped moving.
Uma kicked hard at Chad on the ground, grappling the lighter from his hand and snapping it shut. He groaned, crawling to his feet and swearing.
Gil punched one of the other boys, sending him falling into Chad and within seconds all three were making a run for it, back to the safety of the buildings.
Uma blinked up at Gil where he stood, watching them run, body caught between wanting to chase but the unwillingness to leave her there. “What are you doing out here?” she asked, voice thinner than she would have liked. Her eyes were burning from the lighter fluid but she didn’t dare rub them, vision blurring at the edges.
He spun toward her then, his eyes going big and his expression changing from hard to soft when he took her in. “They say you’re supposed to walk girls to their rooms here…” he repeated before his brow pinched in disgust. “Is this why?”
She honestly didn’t know. But she suspected most guys didn’t treat girls like this—at least not Auradon girls. “You followed me?”
“I was going to be quiet. You weren’t supposed to know so I was far behind…” He came over to her, looking her over, his frown deepening. “Uma?”
Everything hurt. “Yeah?”
“Maybe we should leave Auradon…”
She sighed but shook her head. “No.”
She smiled a little. “Yeah?”
“Can I pick you up?”
She groaned because she always hated being carried when she was hurt. It was one thing to be carried because she demanded it, or because she’d jumped on his back—but this was different. “Yeah,” she conceded and he came closer, curling one arm under her thighs and the other around her back, lifting her easily against his chest when he stood. Gil was strong. It was one of his many, many qualities.
Chapter 8: Invitation Only
Lots of drama brewing.
I might be leaning into an Uma/Harry/Ben romance now...
Update: After some thoughtful reviews I've decided to keep this fic Uma/Harry, since they'd be romantically taking over the show anyway. I might do a different fic for a Uma/Harry/Ben romance someday though.
Gil had carried her back to his dorm room and straight into the bathroom. He put her down inside the shower, doubling back to flick on the lights and grab the towels. He sent his roommate, Jonas, to go find Harry and bring him back—and no one else. And then he locked his bedroom door for the first time ever.
When he came back to the bathroom, Uma was still sitting in the corner of the shower where he'd put her. Her eyes were closed against the lighter fluid splashed over her and in the glaring lights here he could see the gash on her temple seeping blood down her bruised cheek. She kicked off her boots blindly, skull tipped back against the tile wall and waiting. It didn't even occur to Gil that she wouldn't have been okay sitting blind and patient for just anyone to fix her up. No, there were only two people in the world she'd rely on like this.
Gil wouldn't let anyone but Harry near her when she was hurt. He wouldn't take advantage of her. He wouldn't even see her as weak when she was so painfully vulnerable.
He moved her boots and turned on the shower, cool water falling over them both while he took out a pocket knife and cut down the back of her sweater, peeling if off her and mumbling about her dislocated shoulder. It had happened before. Always the same shoulder. He tipped her face up, rinsing it off. He didn't even ask if he should take her to the infirmary—she would have told him to if she wanted to. But it was in their nature to hide their own when they were injured, to patch them up fast and guard them until they were well. Gil had fallen back into Isle instincts and Uma was silently grateful.
He stripped her down and she let him. She didn't even open her eyes until he forced her shoulder back in to the socket, purging her throat of a scream she'd been hanging on to. She swore in long, drawn out breaths between clenched teeth and he mumbled apologies—all routine. They'd done this before. He had a skill for it, actually.
He turned off the shower, toweling her dry. "Your ribs are bruised…"
"Got kicked," she said bitterly, embarrassment finally setting in. She'd been beaten up by Chad Charming. Maybe she needed to stop ignoring the bullying. It was turning into something much worse and much more familiar. But what choice did they have? At least it was her and not Gil or Jonas or one of the other kids. She could take it. She remembered the lighter, in her pocket somewhere now. Could she really handle this or was that kid going to kill her?
He took some kind of glue from a box and made the split on her head stop bleeding.
Gil carried her back to the bedroom. It was darker here. She liked it more. He put her into clothing, not hers but school blue. Gym clothes. At least they were clean, even if they were too big. They had to be Jonas's because they weren't quite falling off her the way Gil's would have. He turned her gently and tucked her into a bed. As soon as her face pressed to the pillow she knew it was Gil's. She looked up at him, eyes still burning and no doubt puffy as all hell. "Gil?" her voice was quiet but still authoritative.
He hurried to crouch down next to the bed, staring back at her. "They have ice here. I can get it as soon as Harry comes," he explained. In the winter they'd used snow and icicles to bring the swelling down but in Auradon they had ice all year round.
"Don't worry about it. Just don't tell anyone, okay?"
Gil leaned his arms and his chin on the mattress, staring back at her. "I wouldn't…" he sounded hurt that she'd told him. Keeping your mouth shut about crew business outside had always been the rule on the Isle, but this wasn't the Isle.
She sighed, tired, closing her eyes. "Hey, Gil," she thought aloud, a little surprised even as she said it. "I think you saved my life."
He let out a puff of air, like that was unlikely, but at the same time swelling his chest with pride.
She fell asleep, another thing Gil had no idea she wouldn't have done with just anyone in the room. She could sleep because he was there—because he wouldn't let anyone but Harry in and he wouldn't budge from his post until her first mate did arrive. She was safe.
Harry was just coming down the hall to his and Uma's room when he heard someone drumming on a door, whisper yelling his name at it. He picked up his steps and then he recognized Jonas in the night hall, jogging toward him. "What the hell?" he asked, panic rising because no one had answered the door. Uma would have if she was back. She would ignore a lot of people but not her own crew, not in the middle of the night.
Jonas whirled toward him and then grabbed his arm and started pulling, leading him down through the building and into another wing. "Gil told me to bring you," was all he said—all he needed to say.
When they reached the room, Jonas knocked a few times and then sunk back, making no move to go into his own dorm room.
Gil opened the door, big body blocking the entrance until he saw Harry and stepped back, swinging it open. "She's fine," Gil said and Harry heard Jonas curse in relief in the hallway. The door closed and Harry crossed the room toward the lump in Gil's bed.
He could see the bruised side of her face and leaned over to see that the other half, pressed to the pillow, looked okay. He lifted the covers and felt the blood drain from his face. She was wearing someone else's clothes. "What happened to her clothes?"
Gil looked confused and then blushed. "Oh! No. I took them off her," he explained, doubling back to the bathroom and coming back with an armful of wet sweater and pants as though he needed to show Harry proof.
Harry exhaled and nodded, scrubbing a hand over his face. "What happened?"
Gil dropped the clothes on the floor. Something metal in one of her pockets thudded against the thin carpet.
"Her shoulder was popped out again, I put it back," Gil rushed, his words bumping together. "Her ribs are bruised up but her breathing sounds okay."
Harry nodded, crouching down to go through Uma's wet pockets. "What's that smell?"
Gil blinked and then heaved out a breath when he had the answer, a little smile on his lips. "Some chemical they threw on her. I rinsed it all off though. But it's on the clothes."
Harry found whatever had made the clunking sounds, tugging the metal rectangle from a pocket and standing. He turned the lighter over in his hand, the royal seal gleaming up at him. The smell was lighter fluid.
"Tell me what happened," he said smoothly, gaze fixed on Uma where she slept.
Gil explained in his winding way, starting at the library and Harry patiently nodded along until the part where Gil started apologizing for following the captain even though she'd walked him to his door because in Auradon they say you're supposed to walk ladies to their doors. Gil seemed really upset about this point, mostly disturbed by the thought now that this was what happened if you didn't.
"It's got nothing to do with that," Harry assured darkly.
Gil nodded and continued. He almost lost her when she started running down the halls, boys chasing her. He didn't know why. But he found her again out on the field.
Gil gave them and Harry nodded, not exactly surprised.
"Okay. Have Desiree go over the crew's class schedules tomorrow. No one goes anywhere alone anymore."
Harry dragged a hand through his hair, thinking, nodding. "And we'll move her now, while everyone's still asleep. I'll carry her, you two follow." It was like old times.
"She can stay. I don't mind," Gil offered.
"No. She'll just walk back to her own room when she wakes up."
Gil nodded gravely.
Harry bunched the blanket around Uma and picked her up in it. She woke a little, face pinching in an immediate frown before wincing at the pain it caused. "Shit…"
He smiled for her. "Morning, love," he said. "I hear you had a fun night…"
She looked around for a second. Gil and Jonas's room. The stink of lighter fluid. Oh yeah. She thudded her good temple against his shoulder and just let him carry her, head still throbbing. "Stupid Auradon…" she mumbled.
Harry chuckled and she sighed at the sound of it. Music. Everything was going to be fine.
Gil opened the door and Harry carried her down the hall, Jonas a step or two ahead and Gil a step or two behind—all the way back to her room.
"The pirate kids have closed ranks," Mal said at dinner the next night.
"What?" Ben lowered his fork, surprised. He hadn't seen Uma in their gothic lit course but everyone was pretty much just studying for finals at this point. Plenty of students had been excused from class.
"A few came down, got food for at least a dozen at lunch, and then went back upstairs," Jay confirmed.
"We've barely seen any of them all day and when we do, they're always in at least pairs—always someone with muscle in the mix," Carlos added.
"What does that mean?" Ben tried to smile, confused. Lonnie and Jane looked just as unconvinced as he felt.
Evie sighed. "It means something happened. No one's seen Uma and Harry all day, and Chad and his friends are all sporting bruises but won't say where they got them." She bit the apple she'd been twirling, sitting back in her seat and looking uncomfortable.
Now that Ben really took notice, all of the VKs looked uneasy. It had been raining all day. He just assumed the storm had bummed them out.
"I saw Gil and Jonas out on the field this morning when I was jogging. They were picking up books," Lonnie offered, unsure but obviously the sight had left a strange impression.
Ben nodded slowly, not sure this was anything but guesses but he trusted his friends intuition. "Okay. I'll go by their room and check."
Mal looked even less happy about that. "Maybe you shouldn't. I know you're friends with Harry but…" she trailed, not sure how to say it. "They're still pirates, Ben—in their hearts even if they don't have a ship."
Ben stared back at her gently, holding her hand. "But they are my pirates," he insisted. He was the king. He was responsible for them.
Mal smiled but it was burdened by worry.
"I'll go with him," Jay offered.
Everyone at the table was surprised, blinking at one another for a minute before Ben smiled and accepted the offer.
It wasn't until they were alone, walking the long halls after dinner, that Jay cleared his throat. Ben knew it as the sound Jay made when he was trying to say something he didn't really want to say. Ben slowed his pace to give his friend time.
"When I went to the locker room last night, there was someone there with Harry," he said, voice low and words steady. "Some girl. She had him pushed up against the locker. It didn't sound like a nice conversation and she'd scratched him up."
Ben's brow creased. He couldn't imagine Harry letting someone push him around. And then he remembered the Harry he'd seen in his office, the one that used himself like a weapon, and realized there wasn't anything Harry couldn't do or let me done.
"He didn't want to tell you," Jay said tightly and Ben realized why his friend had hesitated to tell him, it was straining likes of trust. "But I don't think that would cause them to close ranks like this."
They were turning down the hall to Uma's room. Gil and Jonas were in the hall, playing cards and laughing. They laughter stopped almost as soon as they noticed them. They both stood up. Gil casually thumped his knuckles back against the door twice and smiled thinly at the other boys. "Hey Jay. King Ben."
Ben noticed that he'd been given less of a smile, less familiarity and suddenly he was remembering Harry's warning from the night before—If you ever become her enemy, you will be my enemy.
Ben smiled at them both. "Hey, is—"
The door opened and Harry stepped out, smiling his bright, false grin. He looked like a tiger again, edgy and mischievous.
"Fuck," Jay swore under his breath. It seemed he recognized that smile too. They might not have spent much time together on the Isle but he'd seen Harry enough.
Ben didn't waver, smiling gently back. "Jay, thanks for walking me, I'll see you at practice tomorrow morning," he said casually enough.
Jay hesitated at the dismissal, looking again at Gil and Jonas—seeming not to want to look at Harry too much. But the sharp edges of Harry's smile softened a little and Ben could swear he could see his friend remembering himself—remembering Ben.
"Boys," Harry said, and Gil and Jonas stood taller. "Take a walk."
Ben might have felt a sense of relief if the whole situation didn't feel so much like unallied kingdoms meeting. Reluctantly, Jay walked away and Gil and Jonas went the other direction.
There was laughter inside the room, more people in there, Ben guessed. Harry hadn't moved from his spot in front of the closed door, so Ben hadn't been welcomed in just yet.
"You know, she wanted me to call you," Harry said, voice sing song when he rolled the words.
"But you didn't," Ben pointed out casually. He wanted the familiarity back between them but Harry was uncomfortable—interesting how Harry's discomfort looked like he was completely at ease, too languid, too smiley, too eager. His hip pushed out to one side, head tipped the other way, expertly offering the view of his pale neck and a flicker of his waist where his shirt tugged away from his waistband. It came so naturally, this defense of his, that he didn't think about it—didn't even realize he did it. Ben's gaze stuck on that flash of skin, pale and shaped by the curve of muscle and hip, and marred by small crescent cuts outlined in bruises.
Ben took a step closer and reached out, lifting the hem of Harry's shirt more. Harry made a sound, something between a purr and a growl that was so low he wouldn't have heard it at all if he hadn't come closer. "Harry…" he said softly, gaze lifting to be met by those pale blues, studying him. "Tell me what happened."
Harry's grin pulled wide. "Maybe I like it rough."
Ben shot him a doubtful frown and let go of his shirt. "Has Uma seen them?"
"I don't keep things from her," he was quick to reply, a little frightened maybe?
"I wouldn't have used it against you if you had," Ben reminded just as fast.
Harry wavered in his anger and his madness and finally Ben felt him coming back to him. "Why did you come here?"
"Because I'm worried about you and Uma. No one has seen you two today."
"Well, you're seeing me now," Harry smiled but it was a softer imitation of his mad one, tired.
Ben wanted to reach out and touch him, but resisted. He'd wanted to run his thumb over that wound on his hip too—but it wouldn't have made the bruises and cuts go away and he wasn't entirely sure Harry wouldn't react badly to that familiar of a contact in this mood.
"Tell me what happened," Ben said quietly.
Harry glanced up and down the hallway. It was empty. Still he hesitated and Ben realized it wasn't just because he was checking to see if anyone was listening—it was because he wasn't sure about telling Ben. Mal had explained how the crews worked. They were tight knit and didn't let just anyone in on private matters. He'd understood that, having spent some time just getting close to the VKs. Even now, years of dating Mal, and he was still barely inside their confidence as a group. When Carlos had a fever last year, they'd hidden him—making up wild excuses for where he was to explain his absence without admitting he was sick even to him.
Mal had made a habit of telling him things afterwards, but he couldn't help but notice how even she didn't let him near her VKs when they were hurt or sick or sad. They were hers, and she trusted no one else with them.
He'd worried it would be a problem, that he'd be jealous, but it never happened like that. He supposed he could thank the tangled and often freeform romances of Auradon for that. He and Mal had developed a loyalty to one another on top of their love.
"Some guys attacked her on her way back from the library last night," Harry said, tone perfectly flat like he was informing him about some boring movie he watched.
Ben blinked, suddenly cold with shock. "What?"
Harry's smile began to return and Ben realized it was because he was ready for Ben to doubt him—to question him. Oh shit, that's what this is? They think he won't believe them? "Don't worry about it. We're not going to do anything. There's a break after finals, yeah? And those are just about done. We'll be back to normal in no time—"
"Stop it," Ben snapped, voice harder than before and Harry blinked in surprise. "Is she okay?"
Harry stared at him like he didn't understand the question.
"Is Uma okay?" he asked again, urgent, suddenly afraid she was dying inside her room because they were too afraid to trust anyone.
"Always," Harry said, and Ben remembered their first meeting, the time they'd hidden him in the ship from Ursula's wrath and Uma had taken the brunt of it. It broke his heart to think that things were the same here in Auradon. She took the worst of it and they hid him from it. Or worse, they were hiding from him, thinking he'd take someone else's side? Or pressure them to act like normal? Was that why Harry was making it so painfully clear they wouldn't cause any trouble over it? Of course, they didn't want to be sent back.
"What happened?" he found himself asking again. Attacked. He thought of the scattered books on the field that Lonnie had seen Gil and Jonas picking up this morning. Some guys. He thought of the dark stories of their lives on the Isle. Would Harry even tell him?
Harry wasn't smiling anymore. He wasn't shifting like a cat or looking around uneasily. He was standing very still and staring at Ben, studying him as though for the first time. "They flushed her out of the building. Chad hit her in the face and she hit him back before making a run for it. They chased her down. Knocked her shoulder out of the socket and kicked her on the ground—bruised some ribs. Chad pinned her down. Hit her some more."
Ben had to remember to breathe, swallowing hard and nodding once.
Harry took a deep breath and reached into his pocket, pulling out a silver rectangle. "Then they threw lighter fluid on her."
Ben's gaze snapped up to Harry's even when he held out the object. No. "Did they…" he barely got it out in a whisper. No. They would have had to take her to the infirmary then, wouldn't they?
Harry shook his head once. "One of the boys tackled Chad and gave them a thrashing before they ran off."
Ben took the offered metal and turned it over in his hand. A lighter with a royal seal on it. Auradon's seal. He felt sick. Chad was going to burn her? He'd been ranting about the sea witch ever since Ben brought them to Auradon but he'd never let himself imagine… No. He'd underestimated the situation—and how much the kids from the Isle would take in silence.
"Who tackled Chad?" Ben asked, mind still racing.
Harry was quiet and Ben looked up, the air gushing from his lungs like he'd been punched.
"I'm not going to threaten him or tattle. I just need to talk to him. He's a witness."
Harry shook his head. "We can't do that."
"He says he saw a prince attack Uma, and then what?" Harry shook his head again. "We only have another year before the rest of the crew is over eighteen, and then we can leave, right? We'll just take better care of each other until then."
Ben's heart sank. "And then what? Where will you go?"
Harry shrugged. "We'll figure it out."
It wasn't right. He meant to give them more of a chance then that. They were supposed to get the best educations possible and the time to make connections and find places to live in the kingdoms—to make lives for themselves. They weren't supposed to be hiding. They weren't supposed to be afraid even here.
"Harry," Ben said, voice steady when those blue eyes met his. "I gave you my word on the ship and I kept it, didn't I?"
Harry's jaw ticked but he nodded.
"And I haven't lied to you since, have I?"
Harry considered it but conceded once.
"So, trust me with this. Just once."
Harry's shoulders pressed back, jaw clenched while he thought. "It isn't just my life," he said, and it sounded painfully final.
Ben was ready to continue arguing but then Harry did the last thing he'd expected him to. He opened the door to the dorm room and stepped aside, inviting Ben in. Ben didn't hesitate, sure the offer would vanish if he did, and walked in. The room went quiet. Desiree, Gonzo and Bonnie blinked up at him from where they sat on the floor. It looked like they'd taken all the blankets and pillows from the bed and the closet and spread them out on the floor. Playing cards, coins and handfuls of snack foods from the cafeteria were collected in the middle, the kids still holding cards in their hands.
Uma sat farthest in, leaned into wall of pillows and somehow Ben thought it looked like a throne just for having her against it. He let out a breath, relieved that she wasn't on her deathbed.
She looked almost as surprised as the other kids playing cards, her gaze sliding from Ben back to Harry. Finally, she huffed a little laugh. "Damn Harry, I told you to call him, not bring him over…"
The other three looked uneasy, not sure what was happening.
Harry smiled his easy grin and shrugged. "He was here."
Uma nodded and then flicked her hand at her friends. They didn't hesitate that time, gathering up armfuls of snacks before standing and slipping out of the room.
Ben watched Uma. The room was dim but he could see the taped gash on her temple and one side of her face, the side she tactfully tried to keep turned away, was colored in bruises.
Harry stayed standing, beside Ben but a step closer to Uma, as though ready to stand between them at any second. He was waiting to be signaled in some way to get Ben out of the room, he realized. Having spent so much time trying to be accepted and trusted by Mal and her VKs he knew this was a huge step—one not even they had taken with him. Harry had let Ben into a room with Uma when she was weakened.
Uma tossed the cards in her hand into the pile forgotten on the blanket in front of her. "Can you play?" she asked the king.
Harry sighed a little relief into a laugh and locked the door before coming over to sit on the floor to one side of her, the hurt side, Ben noticed. He scooped the cards toward himself and started gathering them into a deck.
Ben sat across from Harry, on her other side. She was only using one arm, the other tucked against her chest—the one that had been dislocated. Who put it back? They played a few hands, Harry making casual conversation and doing all the dealing. Ben wasn't sure if that was how he liked it or if he just didn't pass the deck because he knew Uma couldn't shuffle with one hand.
Soon Ben stopped trying to analyze their behavior and just started playing cards and talking to them, eating snacks and laughing at Harry's odd jokes like this was something they did every weekend.
Chapter 9: Public Affairs
After some thoughtful reviews I've decided to keep this fic Uma/Harry, since they'd be romantically taking over the show anyway. I might do a different fic for a Uma/Harry/Ben romance someday though...
“You attacked Uma,” Ben said.
Chad looked shrugged, sitting in the chair on the other side of the king’s desk. “I don’t know where you heard that… I was with Audrey.”
Ben tossed the lighter on the desk between them.
Chad looked at it, his nose busted and his eyes bruised. He cocked a half-smile at his childhood friend. “Her word against mine. She probably stole the lighter from me.”
“Were you really going to kill her?” Ben asked, voice low.
Chad stared back at him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He was barely even trying to hide it. No pretend alarm or offense. Just flat, stubborn lies.
“There was a witness.”
“Oh? And Audrey can say I was with her.”
The prince looked at him and then finally grinned. “Come on, Ben. Stop playing around with that trash. You’re going to let them ruin Auradon.”
Ben sat stiffly in his chair, staring at the boy he’d known all his life. And it was because he knew him, that he knew he’d done the things everyone said he’d been doing—tormenting the Isle kids. Picking on Uma. Ben couldn’t quite forget how casually she’d sat with them last night, playing cards and laughing like she wasn’t beaten up—like it was normal.
“You’re banished, Chad.”
The blond blinked at him before heaving out a laugh. “You’re joking? You can’t kick me out of school, Ben. You don’t have that authority—”
“I’m not kicking you out of school. I’m banishing you from my kingdom.”
Chad’s smile sunk away, dragging all amusement and cruelty from his eyes, leaving only shock behind. “Over a witch?”
“Over a person. A woman, that you hunted and beat up and tried to burn.”
Chad shot up from his chair. “A witch! I was trying to save you! You’re going to lose your throne if you don’t get things under control, Ben!”
Ben’s eyes narrowed. “Is that a threat?”
Chad laughed madly. “You can’t do this. I am the son of—”
“I called your parents. You need help, Chad. They’re sending a car for you. You’re going home to your kingdom where you can get the care you need. You’re not thinking straight.”
The door opened before Chad could argue, guards stepping inside.
For a long minute they stared at one another and Ben was sure Chad would jump the desk and try to throttle him. But finally he curled his lip in a snarl and stormed out, the guards on his heels.
Ben waited in the quiet of his office. A panel in the side wall opened and Harry stepped out. He wouldn’t usually have had an audience, but he thought Harry should see it—to know that something had been done.
The pirate walked over to the desk, glancing once at the seat where Chad had sat but not touching it himself.
Ben stood up, grabbing one of the folders from a stack on his desk. “Before you go, you should sign this.” He held out the folder.
Harry took it, flipping it open and frowning at the papers.
“It’s your inheritance,” Ben explained. “Captain Hook had a substantial amount of treasure, as well as property, outside the Isle—both from before his pirating days and during.”
Harry laughed a little. It wasn’t too shocking to find out his father had been wealthy. Wealth never meant the same thing to pirates as it did to other people. Pirates loved their treasure, but rarely used it—preferring to find it and hide it.
“Look it over if you want and sign that document,” Ben pointed it out. “Stating that Hook is dead, and the holdings will be transferred to you.”
Harry’s cold blue eyes slid off the papers to Ben, going still. He hadn’t admitted that Hook was dead to Ben—he’d only admitted that the old pirate had been poisoned into a long sleep and left on his ship. But Mal had told him that ship burned with everyone inside. Hook was gone.
“The Isle is a dangerous place,” Ben said carefully, no intention of accusing anyone of murder. “Ships sink. Bad men burn.”
Harry stayed still a moment longer, seeming to calculate what could go wrong. Ben knew he’d decide to sign the document. He could lie if he had to—say he was guessing or hoping. He could say someone else had burned the ship. Or, if push really came to shove, he could take the blame on himself and keep Uma safe.
He put the folder down, picked up a pen and signed.
Ben smiled. “There’s a boat…” he had, of course, peeked at the properties. “Do you want me to have it brought to the docks here in Auradon?”
Harry grinned wide.
When Audrey returned to her dorm room, the door was open. She pushed it open, scowl set and ready to be furious, and then she saw Harry. He lounged on her bed, boots on her silk bedspread but she was willing to overlook that for the way his shirt rod up and the waist of his pants rode down, clinging to the curve of his hip and fleshing the bruises she’d left on him. It was a thrill she hadn’t expected to find in herself. She dropped her back and kicked her door shut, walking toward him with a growing grin.
“You’ve come to surrender?” she hummed, excited.
Harry grinned, feline and crazy. Everything about it said she should run but her chin pushed higher. She was in charge. She was a princess. She had him cornered. What could he do? His word against hers. And then his pale gaze slid past her shoulder, behind her, and his smile changed into that ethereal thing that set her jealous heart on fire.
She froze just as a hand slid into the back of her hair, tightening into a fist and pulling until her neck strained, a body against her back. “Say my name,” the voice purred in her ear.
Audrey wanted to snarl but panic choked her into whispering, “Uma.”
Harry shot up from the bed as though the name brought him to life, dancing around them and landing with his back to the door—to her exit. He hummed a tune, like this was a pleasant moment. She’d never quite seen him like this before.
Uma drove her forward by the grip in her hair, all the way to her desk where she slammed her forward into it. Audrey hissed then, trying to get up but Uma had her arm, twisting it behind her back and bending her over the desk. She gasped, crying out when a sharp pain shot through the limb. “W-Wait… You can’t.”
Uma laughed but the sound was cruel. She ran her thumb over the manicured, pink nails of the hand she held twisted behind Audrey’s back. “I can’t? Oh, you stupid girl. I played nice. I didn’t fight back because I thought you’d get over this… But you touched him.” Her voice darkened, grinding out the words and her thumb pushed at one of those nails, pushed until Audrey screamed and the fake nail ripped up from her finger. “You left bruises and cuts…” She pushed another nail until it tore up. Audrey kicked at her own desk, losing a heel, thumping her head against the surface. “You kissed him, Audrey.” Another nail.
Harry was still humming pleasantly, leaned against the door behind their scene.
Uma leaned over her, some of those blue braids falling over the table. “I think we got off on the wrong foot, princess. You thought I was a dock rat to be pushed around, or a sea witch to be burned…” She thumbed back another of Audrey’s nails, purging her of a shaking scream. The princess might be angry and dangerous, but she was new to pain. “But I am a pirate—the captain. And I’m done playing by your rules. The next time you look at one of mine, I’ll come for your eye. And the next time you touch him…” She twisted the arm harder, straining her shoulder in the socket. “I’ll take the hand.”
She let her go all at once, stepping back.
Audrey fell off the table onto the floor, kicking at the rug and backing into the corner against her bed, tears dragging her mascara.
Uma stared down at her, unimpressed. “Welcome to life with pirates, princess. Rethink your villain plans while you can.”
Harry smiled, opening the door and holding it while Uma walked out. He didn’t even look at Audrey, his gaze following his pirate Queen like every move she made was enthralling, the door left to swing shut in their wake.
Uma knocked twice, frowning because that was her go-to expression when she had to talk to Mal—which was almost never. Sure, they saw one another plenty in the halls and classes of Auradon, but they didn’t speak much. Uma had definitely never been to her dorm room before.
The door swung open and Mal’s nose immediately wrinkled, old grudges rearing up before both girls could set them aside. This was a new world, after all. And, strangely, they were the most alike in it. Mal dragged her gaze over Uma, considering the bruises on one side of her face and the arm Uma had casually pushed into the pocket of her jacket, bent and pressed to her chest to hide that the soreness of her shoulder kept her from using it. But Mal saw it for what it was. “You’re looking nice,” she said with a cocky smirk.
Uma smiled a little at that familiar acid. “Thanks. Still better than you.”
Mal held the door tight, trying to convince herself to invite the other villain kid in, no doubt. Finally she managed it, wrinkling her nose again but stepping back.
Uma stepped inside.
Mal glanced out into the hall, spotting Gil standing there waiting, and laughed once before closing the door.
“I paid Audrey a visit,” Uma said.
Mal raised a brow, wondering why she would confess something like that to her.
“I found something,” she continued. She hadn’t been sure if she’d tell Mal or not. They were far from friends but now, in Auradon, they weren’t quite enemies either. She pulled the journal from her jacket and tossed it on the table. “I thought she was obsessed with Harry… You know how you girls get crushes on him sometimes,” she smirked, gaze cutting sideways at Mal to remind of a childhood infatuation that had proven most embarrassing.
Mal growled lowly but ignored the jab, picking up the envelope.
“I gave her a warning, but I’m worried she’s after something more than what’s mine.”
Mal flipped the journal open, ready for some frilly pink ink and rants about all the girls Audrey hates. The ink was black and the lettering tight and small, filling the pages. Just skimming them, she found her name and Ben’s mentioned as much as Uma and Harry. The rants that filled the pages went on about the future of the throne, in jeopardy with the infectious presence of the villain kids. Pictures of Ben and Mal with Mal’s face scratched out. Old pictures of Audrey and Ben. And dozens of crowns doodles madly into the margins.
“She’s been obsessed with knowing how I got Harry to be, well, Harry. She thinks there’s magic or a spell. And, let’s face it, we’ve both spelled Ben at some point or other…”
“You think she wants to spell him?” Mal said, but it wasn’t a question. Flipping through the journal, she could see it. “She wants the throne.”
Uma hummed, managing to sound disinterested and annoyed that she had to be involved in this at all.
“Why did you warn me?” Mal asked.
Uma looked back at her, surprised. Why had she done it? “This isn’t the Isle.”
Mal nodded slowly. “I heard Harry brought Ben to see you last night.”
Uma shrugged with her good shoulder, like that was nothing special when they both knew it was. Neither of them liked to be seen when they were hurt, it was a huge show just to have Uma walking into her room in this state, and Harry wasn’t one to trust others around his Captain in that condition either. “They’re friends.”
Mal laughed a little because that was the ridiculous truth of the situation. Finally, she groaned, looking dramatically displeased. “Does that mean we have to be friends?”
Uma grinned. “Nah. But I suppose we could be allies, as long as the boys are involved.”
Mal was surprised how much she liked the idea. Having Uma as an ally could be worthwhile—the journal in her hand already proof of that. “Allies, then. We’ll work on the Audrey situation together, then?”
Uma nodded in agreement and then started for the door. It wasn’t like they were going to start painting each other’s nails or some shit.
Gil was in the hall waiting for her where she’d left him. He looked anxious at being left outside while his Captain went in alone to talk to Mal. “Everything okay?” he asked, voice low when he fell into step beside her.
Gil nodded but then blinked in surprise when Uma went downstairs rather than continuing down the hall. “Wait… Uma. We’re supposed to go back to your room.”
Uma laughed lowly. “Says who?”
“Says Harry… He said to walk you to Mal’s because he had training and then back to your room.”
Uma’s grin turned sharp. “Who’s the Captain, Gil?”
Gil whined. “You are, of course, but—”
“Is Harry the Captain, Gil?”
“What was the problem again?”
“You’re supposed to go back to your room…” Gil mumbled.
Uma laughed because some things never changed. She walked through the school, not missing the surprised looks of other students at the bruises on one side of her face. She flashed them smiles. She wasn’t going to hide. She wasn’t going to pretend anymore. They wanted to hit her? Then they’d have to look at it.
She walked all the way to the gym, coming in on the upper floor looking out onto the training floor below. She walked to the railing, looking down at the dozen students in their school sweats and fencing helmets, jumping over obstacles and slashing capped blades at one another.
It took her no time at all to spot her first mate. He had learned their rules of conduct enough to get to play but couldn’t conform enough to lose his own style of fighting, his own excess of turns and wide swings. The whistle blew when they were done and Harry threw his sword away from himself, turning and running in her direction. Uma smiled. Of course, he knew she was there.
He jumped up onto the nearest platform and then launched himself up. The onlookers gasped, his teammates laughing below. He caught the railing right in front of her and pulled himself up enough to hook his arms over the rail.
Uma lifted his helmet off, dropping it onto the floor far below.
Harry smiled at her and she used her fingers to push his sweaty hair back from his face. His eyes sparkled at the intimate gesture in front of everyone. “You’re supposed to be resting, Captain,” he said, breathless from training.
Her hand slid along his jaw, tipping his chin up. “I missed you,” she said and his eyes flared with surprise and delight. Of course he knew she loved him—that she wanted to spend all her minutes with him—but she didn’t say soft things. Especially not in public with eyes on them and ears prying.
“Uma,” he purred her name, low and just for her even then.
She leaned forward and kissed him, right there in front of everyone.