Uma glared across the yard at them. She remembered Carlos from the Isle. She’d grown up around him and she’d seen him when he came to rescue the prince—yet she hadn’t been prepared to see how different he was in Auradon—how different they all were.
Carlos laughed, lighting up, shoulder pressing against the girl next to him when he leaned over and whispered something in her ear. She blushed—actually blushed! The twit of a girl wasn’t from the Isle. Jane was the Fairy Godmother’s daughter. At first Uma had been sure the VKs were using her to get something, but this had been going on for months, ever since she and some of the others got here from the Isle.
Carlos held Jane’s hand like it was a treasure, eyes following her every move. The other day the stupid klutz had tripped, but he’d been there in a blink, steadying her and catching her bag. Uma noticed how careful he was with her, like she was glass. Why? Everyone on the Isle knew how Cruella De Vil treated her son. She liked to cause pain and when it suited her, she’d offered him up to her friends to be teased and burned and, if the rumors had been true, much worse. So how could he be there now, smiling like he was happy and walking hand-in-hand with that girl? Like he was one of them?
Jane couldn’t know the real Carlos—the reality of any of them. She couldn’t look that naïve and smile that sweet if she did.
Uma hadn’t planned to talk to the girl, but that day Carlos had bounded off with Jay for training and the halls had cleared and there she was—all alone, smiling like an idiot and stuffing her books into a locker wallpapered in pictures of her and Carlos.
Uma was sick of seeing the VKs pretend to be innocent little good kids. They weren’t. She knew it. She knew them.
“Oh, pigeon, the two of you are so cute,” Uma said with the sickly sweet tone that all the kids here mistook for genuine.
Jane turned, surprise changing her round features for only a moment, and then she was happy again, as if they were friends. “Oh. Oh, thank you.”
“You must be having those ‘first date nerves’,” Uma said before the girl could get anything else in.
Jane blinked, slowly closing her locker. “What? It isn’t our first date…”
“Oh? But I mean, it’s those first weeks of a relationship, you know? They’re always so exciting and you two are so cute.” She rolled the word like an insult.
Jane’s smile wavered. She was trying so hard not to see it, to only look for niceness in Uma. “No. We-We’ve been dating for five months now.”
“Oh. Really, pigeon?”
“Why do you keep calling me that?” There was some dread in her voice now, hushed though, like she knew what was coming.
“What? Pigeon? Oh, because you’re just one of those people, you know? Forgettable, gray, dime-a-dozen? Your background, pigeon. I mean, how else could you be dating a guy from the Isle for almost half a year and still just be holding hands?” She laughed cruelly. “That’s got to be weird even for Auradon guys, right?” Uma said, heart hammering when the girl’s smile snuffed out like a flame. “Aren’t you worried you’re just his good kid cover? How better to blend in with Auradon?” Uma pressed, soothing her own anger and fear with the momentary rush of hurting someone else.
Jane had tears in her big eyes already. It had been so easy. “I-I…”
“Don’t worry, pigeon,” Uma cooed. “Just enjoy it. It’s the closest you’ll get to anyone ever really wanting you.” She walked away then, slow enough to catch the sound of Jane’s first little sobs before she ran off in the other direction.
Uma turned the corner and almost jumped out of her skin, Harry leaning against the wall there, waiting for her and looking smug. “Oh, Uma, why did you do a thing like that?” he asked, smiling coyly even when she knew he hadn’t liked what she’d done. He was all for kidnapping, stealing, and general danger but he had never really been cruel.
“She was too happy. It was making me sick,” Uma snapped, starting past him.
He caught her arm, tugging her into his side and whispering, “It wasn’t her happiness that upset you. Maybe if Carlos can be happy here, we could too?”
She jerked her arm free and he let go. “He’s not really happy. He’s just pretending.”
“I don’t think so…” Harry said, rolling off the wall and following her.
“You watch. A few ripples in the water and they’ll break.”
He hummed in disagreement, keeping one step back and to her side, forever her first mate no matter where the wind took them. “Do you want to make a wager?”
A grin tugged one corner of her mouth, head cocking to glance back at him. “What sort of wager?”
“The dangerous kind.”
Carlos sat at their usual table in the courtyard with Jay, one of the rare moments it was just the two of them. And if he’d learned anything from the social interactions at Auradon, it would be short-lived. He caught his best friend flashing a smile at Lonnie as she walked by with her friends, the raven-haired girl returning the grin with just a little extra glint. They’d been not-so-secretly dating.
A shadow cut across him, someone sitting on the table beside him. Carlos looking up, expecting any one of a dozen possible friends but not Harry Hook. His easy smile pressed down into suspicion. “What?”
Harry grinned wider. “Been a while,” he said, the words rolling in his accent.
“Yeah. Maybe we should keep it that way…” Jay said from the other side of the table.
“I just had a question or two,” Harry said with an innocent pout. “You’re supposed to help us new villain kids acclimate to this good life, aren’t you?”
Jay raised a brow. “I don’t remember agreeing to that.”
“What do you want to ask?” Carlos said, uncapping his juice and watching the other guy wearily.
“It’s about your girlfriend,” Harry said. “She is, isn’t she? Your girlfriend, that is. Uma and I have had a bit of debate on the subject and—”
“Why?” Carlos said, voice lower now. “Stay away from Jane.”
“Aw,” Harry sang with a grin. “So, she is your girlfriend. You can’t blame us for being curious, you just seem somewhat—dispassionate. Not that I can blame you after all you’ve been through...”
Jay was on his feet first, grabbing up the other guy by the collar and dragging him off the table, dumping him in the grass. They got the attention of all the tables around them and Carlos flushed, first hot with anger and then chilled with embarrassment. Shit. He stood up, catching Jay’s shoulder to drag him back a step before he could pounce on the now laughing Harry. “Let it go,” he whispered and then took that last step forward and held out his hand.
Harry stared at it, laughter pulling down into confusion, waiting to be kicked or struck maybe. And then, uncertain, he reach up and slid his hand into Carlos’s. Carlos pulled him to his feet. “I don’t know what you’re trying to do, but leave Jane out of it. If you want to drag up the past—if you’re trying to start something with us or just humiliate me—”
Harry lifted his hands as though in surrender. “Not at all.”
Carlos sighed, jaw flexing with temper before nodding stiffly. “Fine. Just leave her alone.”
Harry walked away first, spinning on his heel.
Carlos felt too many people still watching, whispering. Jay hovered at his side. “I gotta go…” Carlos muttered before leaving.
It had been so easy to leave his dirty past right there—in the past. But it wouldn’t stay and he’d known that. He felt it sneaking up on him every time he was with Jane. The closer she got, the closer it got. But he had never felt happier than he did with her. He wasn’t sure he’d ever really been hugged before she wrapped her arms around him that day he asked her to cotillion—not really, not like that.
But he hadn’t thought this whole dating thing through, not really, because sometimes they kissed and sometimes he wanted things to go further, but he couldn’t do that. Not without telling her. And that just reminded him of what a piece of shit he had been so far, tricking her into a relationship with him, not knowing how damaged he was. She deserved better and he knew he’d have to tell her everything and it would be the end.
He’d run all the way back to his room, almost slammed the door before Jay burst in after him, winded. “Damn it. You really do belong on the track team…”
Carlos started, surprised his friend had followed. They usually gave each other space when they wanted it without argument. “What the hell?”
“I think we need to talk,” Jay said, still catching his breath.
Carlos looked around the room, suddenly feeling cornered. “I don’t want to talk.”
Jay nodded. “Yeah. I know. Me neither. That’s why we haven’t.”
“Then let’s not!”
Jay shook his head, leaning back against the door as though to underline that there was no escape. “Have you had sex before?”
“I know bad things happened to you. I don’t mean that. I mean…” He groaned, searching for words, cringing. It was obvious he’d practiced this conversation to some extent because Jay never pushed out this many words without a plan of some kind. “You and Jane haven’t…”
“No!” Carlos snapped, cringing, not liking the way the memories of his own sexual encounters on the Isle lined up with any thoughts of Jane. A part of him was terrified that THAT was what sex was, despite all logic and what he’d heard from his friends, he was afraid he’d be doing that to her. He’d sooner die.
Jay nodded steadily. “And you haven’t told her.” It wasn’t really a question, but Carlos shook his head stiffly anyway. “Okay. That’s okay.”
“Stop talking to me about this!” he groaned, starting to pace. He was going to have to tell Jane. She was going to dump him. There would be no more hugs, or those cute good morning text messages she sends, or holding hands, or snuggling and watching movies together…it would just be over.
“I can’t. We’re family and someone has to give you the talk.”
Carlos froze, pivoting to look at him. “The what?”
Jay crossed his arms. “The talk. We’re going to have the talk. You need to know about sex.”
Carlos cringed. “I know about sex.”
Jay wrinkled his nose skeptically. “I really don’t think you do, or you wouldn’t look that upset.”
“I don’t need to talk about it.”
“Then shut up and let me talk so we can get this over with.”
Carlos froze, dread welling in his stomach. This was really happening and he couldn’t get away.
Hours later, Carlos finally made a jump from his window and took a long walk around the campus. Jay had gone into graphic detail about how to have what he called, “a fun time for all”. He’d even thrown in a lecture about condoms and offered him one. That was when Carlos finally took to the window.
He didn’t go back to the room before dinner, deciding not to risk more of this conversation. Instead he went to Evie and Mal’s room. Only Evie was there, immediately asking him about the altercation with Harry Hook in the yard. It seemed just about everyone was talking about it, though most of the kids at Auradon were chalking it up to villain kid behavior.
“Oh, tell Jane I collected her homework from class. I hope she feels better soon.”
Carlos looked up, surprised. “What are you talking about?” Now that he thought about it, he hadn’t gotten any of those cute text messages from her since this morning.
“She’s sick..?” Evie sounded less sure now, raising an eyebrow. “She missed class. I just figured… I mean, I tried to call her but she didn’t answer.”
His heart thudded in his chest, mind racing back to when he last saw her. This morning. They’d met between classes in the hall. She hadn’t seemed sick. She’d been perfect. “I have to go,” he said, out of his chair and across the room. Evie didn’t argue.
Jane was trying to convince herself not to sink into this pit of self-hate but it was proving impossible and with every class she missed, the more upset she was with herself and the worse it got. Was she really still just that insecure, frightened girl? She hadn’t changed at all? No. No. She was beautiful inside and that mattered. And she had friends. And she had Carlos.
Carlos. Uma said she was just his good girl cover but that wasn’t true. As much as Jane didn’t believe in herself, she believed in him. He wouldn’t treat anyone like that. He was kind and funny and she would know if he didn’t like her—wouldn’t she? She just needed to be alone and get herself together. Or, at least, that’s what she’d told herself five hours ago when she retreated to her room and locked the door.
Jane almost didn’t answer, standing in front of her door, hand hovering over the knob. She looked terrible, hair a mess from fretful pulling and her eyes rimmed red and swollen from crying. “Who is it?” she eeped out.
She held her breath, straining to hear if anyone was still there. She leaned closer, ear to the wood. She exhaled. No one. They’d gone away—she didn’t have to face the world just yet.
And then a heavy thudding came from behind her, making her squeak out a scream and whirl around just as a guy climbed in her window. She froze, deerlike for a second, gawking at Harry Hook in her bedroom. Did he have the wrong window? Did she really want to find out?
Her eyes bulged when he grinned at her, his boots landing on her floor with a solid thud and his lean body swaying—never quite still.
Jane whirled around, already pressed to the door and groping for the handle. Yes. She was going to flee her own room—a place that had been her sanctuary minutes ago. The door didn’t open. Stupid! She had locked it. She turned back the bolt but just as she began to open the door it slammed shut. A chest pushed to her back, pressing her up against the door and knocking the air from her lungs.
“Sorry, pet,” Harry cooed.
She elbowed him in the ribs and he let out a laughing cough. He pulled back but didn’t let her go—dragging her by the arms back into her room and shoving her away from the door.
Jane jerked free of his hold, already blocked from the door, and went for the window instead. For one, ridiculous, second she thought she’d climb out the way he had come in. She clutched the window ledge and stared down three flights to the cobblestones below. Stupid!
Harry laughed, a daunting and somewhat mad sound.
She spun around to stare at him, hands still gripping the window sill just below her rear. She pressed back, almost sitting in the window. “You can’t just come in here,” Jane said, trying so hard to sound strong. “G-Get out!” Her voice cracked, words jumping in her throat. Stupid! Stupid!
His laughter quieted, but his smile stayed. “I only wanted to chat.”
Jane relaxed a little. “Really?” she squeaked out.
His pale eyes glinted. “No, pet,” he confessed with a touch of pity. “I was thinking of kidnapping you.”
She whined. “Why?”
He rolled his shoulders. “Uma’s on her way. I think it best I get you first. Not sure what she has in store for you…”
Jane wrinkled her nose, painfully confused now. “Why?” she pressed. “What did I do to you two?”
He laughed loudly, like she’d said something really funny.
She eyed the door around him. There was no way she could run for it without getting caught. Why would Harry and Uma want anything to do with her? Why had Uma been so cruel this morning? She cringed at the memory, certain that she had no one but herself to blame.
Harry took a step toward her and Jane jerked back without thinking. Her body tipping back when her thighs pressed to the window sill. Panic lanced her heart but she couldn’t blink, couldn’t think beyond that shocking way Harry Hook’s expression changed. One second he’d been his smiling, wild self and then, in a flash, it was gone, replaced by fear and thunderbolt of seriousness. He leaped for her just as she was falling out the window.
Carlos opened her door, forgetting to knock in his panic. “Jane—” he started, works choking when he saw Harry’s back just as the pirate was lunging for Jane. And then Jane was toppling back, out the window. Out the window!
She didn’t even scream—just making a little surprised sound in her chest.
Harry grabbed her, one hand twisting in her sweater before his other arm hooked around her middle, dragging her back into the room. Carlos was there when he did, wrapping his arms around her and turning, pivoting her away from Harry and the window—away from all the dangers in sight. Her eyes were big, glassy and unseeing in a flush of panic. He backed her gently to the wall, looking her over quickly, hands sliding up the sides of her neck to cradle her face. “Are you okay? Did he hurt you?”
Jane blinked, jumping when she returned to herself, surprised to see him. “Carlos?” she jumped up onto her toes and wrapped her arms around the back of his neck, burying her face against his cheek.
Carlos sighed, fingers in the back of her hair, turning to glare at Harry. “What did you do?”
Harry held up his hands innocently. “Nothing. You came before I had the chance,” he added with a wicked grin.
“What’s your problem?” Carlos hissed. Jane unraveled from him, fingers curled in the back of his training hoodie when he turned to face Harry.
“I only had a few questions…” Harry pouted. “I just wanted to see how this whole ‘villain kid and good girl’ deal works. And you two don’t seem to be going anywhere so maybe we could—”
“No,” Carlos snapped. “Why would you—No!”
Jane poked her head around Carlos’s side, nose wrinkled. “I don’t want to date you! And that’s not a good reason to kidnap people, you really shouldn’t do that.”
“Kidnap?” Carlos repeated before shaking his head hard and taking two big steps forward.
Harry barked at him but it didn’t stop Carlos from grabbing him up by the front of his jacket and shoving him toward the open door. “No. No. No.” He pushed him all the way out, taking one step to follow and jerking his collar to drag him in close. “I warned you.”
“I wasn’t listening.”
“I’m not joking,” Carlos said tightly. “Whatever game you’re playing, she almost fell out of a window.”
Harry’s smile faltered. “That was an unfortunate surprise… But technically I rescued her soooo—”
Carlos shoved him hard, sending him reeling across the hall and into the wall. “Stay away,” he snapped each word clearly.
Harry collected himself to bow with a flourish.
Carlos slammed the door and locked it. He found Jane hovering behind him nervously. “I don’t even know him! Why would he want to kidnap me?” she said.
He sighed and shook his head, catching her hand where it fluttered in the air between them. “I think he’s up to something. I don’t think it’s really about you… There’s something I need to tell you.”
Jane stared at him, forgetting all the oddities of the day. “Oh no,” she said quietly, tears coming up. “You really are breaking up with me?”
Carlos blinked. “What?”
Her eyes darkened with tears. “Uma said I was a good kid cover and that’s why we haven’t… done more… stuff…” She blushed furiously.
Carlos realized whatever Harry was up to must have to do with Uma. He sighed, closer to her, thumbing away her tears. “No, I’m not breaking up with you and you’re not a cover. But I need to tell you some things and if you want to break up with me after that, I’ll understand.”
Jane stared up at him, completely confused now. There wasn’t anything she could think of that Carlos could do that would make her want a day without him.
“Life on the Isle wasn’t okay,” he said softly. He’d never wanted to have this conversation, but he couldn’t let her hear it from someone else. And she deserved the whole truth from him. He reached up and pulled the zipper of his hoodie down.
Her eyes widened at first and he wanted to smile because it was so damn cute. And then her expression changed, gaze flicking around to take in the scars littering his skin over a tight network of muscles. He rolled his shoulders, always watching her face, and dropped the garment on the floor. Tears were gathering in her eyes, hands hovering in the air over his skin but not touching. Her gaze flickered down to the cigarette burns on his ribs. “Oh. Oh no.”
“You’re my first girlfriend. My first love,” Carlos explained, voice quiet. “But I don’t have a lot of other firsts to give.” Her tears spilled over and he winced, heart hurting. “I’m sorry. But I had to tell you.”
Jane shook her head, sliding her hand into his. “I want to know everything about you. You’re the nicest person I know and I like you so much.” She blushed. “I love you. And no matter what bad things have happened, I’ll always want to be with you.”
He smiled relief and leaned his forehead to hers. “Really?”
She was still blushing. “Really.”
Harry swung around the corner and marched across the yard. The sun setting, the campus hushing into another evening. He found his captain sitting on a table in that garden square, under the shadow of a tree as though she could not wait for the night to reach her in mere minutes. He sat on the bench, beside her boot and leaned back against the table, cocking his head up to look at her. He loved sitting below her—loved the angle it offered her. She looked right—above him. “I think I won.”
“It’s not done yet.”
He smiled. Eyes on her. Always.
Chapter 2: Midnight Revelations
They sat up most of the night talking, sitting in the corner under the window. Carlos realized only later that he’d somehow put them as far from the bed as possible. Did he always do that or was it just for this conversation? He told her absolutely everything. He hadn’t meant to. He had planned to give her the basics of his dark past, get dumped, and go back to his room to nurse his broken heart. She hadn’t dumped him, of course. Jane was too good a person for that. He shouldn’t have underestimated her. And then she wanted to know everything.
He stole glances at her where she sat beside him, back pressed to the same wall. She held onto his hand in her lap with both of hers, but they didn’t stare at each other. He only looked sometimes to gauge how she was doing. There were a lot of tears and he was blown away to know that they were for him. He told her things he didn’t want her to hear, things he didn’t think she’d even known people could do to each other, things he’d never even told Jay.
She looked horrified, gulping back disbelief and nodding her head stiffly. He hated himself for telling her, because he could see how it was already changing her—changing the way she saw the world—but somehow when it was done and she looked up at him, that was still the same. How could she look so hurt, so stunned and scared, and still look at him the same way? She was still holding on to his hand, sniffling and trying to pull herself together when he was done and they’d sat a long time in the quiet.
Finally, he realized he was going to have to say something first. “So, I’ll understand if you want to go back to being friends. It would be okay and I would still love you and—”
She turned, twisting around to sit facing him. “I don’t want to just be friends. Do you?”
She squeezed his hand, still holding on to it. She had clung to it like a lifeline this whole time and he was grateful for it. “If you don’t ever want to have sex,” her voice eeped a little over that word, blushing when she said it. “It’d be okay. We’d still be us and—”
“It’s not hat I don’t ever want to,” he said. It was important to be honest in this conversation, right? He’d promised to tell her the truth and she’d promised to be honest with him in return. They needed to talk about this stuff—at least that much of all that shit Jay had said was true.
“So, we haven’t had sex because…” Her voice was small, big eyes drifting down to his hand in hers. He could practically see her thinking behind them, those shadows slipping in. Of course, he’d known about Jane’s insecurities. She’d tried to steal her mom’s wand just to make herself prettier once. But he and any villain kid could understand that sort of desperation and how those little pains and fears can eat away at you.
“It’s not that I don’t want to,” he said quickly, staring back at her and trying to make her believe it. He wanted her. Of course, he did. “It’s just that I’m afraid that it would be like that… Like it was…”
Her eyes grew and for the first time she let go of his hand, both of hers flying up to her mouth. “Like I would be hurting you?” she whispered out in terror, sitting up on her knees now.
He almost laughed, tears in his eyes for how cute that was. She was worried he was afraid of her? “No. Like I would be hurting you. Like you might feel like I felt.” He sighed and shook his head, wanting to reach for her but not doing it—he couldn’t grab at her, couldn’t initiate contact when they were talking about this. He just couldn’t, no matter how much he wanted to. “But I swear I would never hurt you. I would never let anything like that happen to you.”
She sighed softly and pressed her palm against the side of his face. He exhaled relief and leaned his face into her touch. She had no idea how much peace she gave him. How safe she made him feel. “I’m not afraid of that,” she whispered, leaning over to touch her forehead to his. “I know you wouldn’t hurt me.” She kissed his cheek and then the corner of his mouth, lingering before looking up at him. “Thank you for telling me.”
Carlos smiled, tired down to his bones after all that truth. “You should go to bed. I’ll stay here and sleep just in case Harry comes back.”
Jane wrinkled her nose in a hybrid, pout/frown. “Yeah. What’s all that about?” She yawned halfway through asking.
He laughed softly and stood up, pulling her to her feet and nudging her toward her bed. “I don’t know but I’m too tired to figure it out now. I’ll take care of it tomorrow.”
She nodded sleepily, pulling back the covers on her bed and climbing in. She scooted over before Carlos could try to tuck her in or something else incredibly sweet. “Just sleeping,” she whispered, knotting the sleeves of her sweater in her palms.
Carlos’s whole body ached to curl up on that squishy mattress with her, knowing she’d snuggle up against him all warm and comforting. And she knew everything about his past now, every horrible thing that had ever happened to him, and she still wanted him there.
He shrugged off his jacket and kicked off his shoes, climbing into bed just as she tossed the covers over him and hugged him. She even hugged when she slept. She was perfect.
Uma tossed in her sleep. The wolf. She’d seen it in the streets of the Isle once. They all had. It was a myth even there—The Big Bag Wolf—but they had seen it and it had chased her. She’d run all the way to the docks and flung herself into the sea, the waves tossing her back against the rocky shoreline, but that beating was better than teeth.
But when she saw it tonight, in her dream, she wasn’t in the narrow dark alleys of the Isle. She was outside in the quad where all those bright, sweet students ate lunch and studied and flirted. She was under the bright sun, staring at the treeline across the tidy field. And there it was, like a giant living shadow, staring back at her and she knew—knew—that it remembered her. It remembered chasing her and not getting a taste. It knew who she was, who they all were, and it was grinning.
She woke with a start, the howl still echoing in her ears as she gulped for air.
“Uma!” It wasn’t the first time he’d said her name, she realized. His hands were on her, running up and down her back through the thin damp fabric of her nightshirt and cupping her face.
She panicked, for one horrible second forgetting who he was and where they were. She jerked away, arms lashing out. She might have screamed if she had caught her breath yet.
Harry had been asleep beside her when he woke to her tossing. He’d tried to wake her but she wouldn’t stir until she suddenly sat upright, eyes open. He’d been saying her name to try to call her back to him, trying to soothe. It wasn’t uncommon to have nightmares, not for any of them, but this was something else and he realized too late. His heart felt tight in his chest when she fought against him, sounding afraid. It wasn’t how he was used to her. It wasn’t anything he was prepared for. Suddenly he felt like an intruder, having to remind himself that he wasn’t—that she’d told him to stay tonight—that she’d always said he was welcome to stay.
“Uma, please!” he called, having to catch her wrists. He held them both in one hand, pressed to his chest and straddled her, using his weight to pin her down as gently as he could. He couldn’t let her go like this, not when he wasn’t sure what she was thinking or what she’d do.
He cringed when she struggled under him, tears in his eyes and gulping air at the way it made him feel. Like a traitor? Like a monster? Like her monster? “Please,” he begged against her neck. She was flailing but he hadn’t given her enough room to knock their heads together or heat anything with her legs. Luckily, in whatever state she was in, she’d forgotten all of her fighting experience. “Please. Please. Please.” He’d never said the word so much in his life. “Wake up, love. Please, wake up. It’s me. It’s just me.”
She bit into the base of his neck and screamed into his skin, and then she finally stopped kicking. He felt her fall back, panting for air, shaking and slowly relaxing under him. Slowly. He held on, his face still in the curve of her neck, his tears on her skin. He didn’t say anything, didn’t move either.
Finally, she drug in a less shaky breath and he heard her swallow hard. “Harry?” Her voice was hers, commanding but still uncertain.
He released her wrists and sat up. He was shaking almost as much as she was. “You were—”
“I know. I didn’t realize you were you…” she said, staring up at him. Her eyes grew when she saw the blood trickling down his collar. She sat up on her elbow and reached for the bite mark. “Shit. Shit, I’m sorry… I’m—”
He kissed her to make her stop. He needed her not to apologize to him, not after she’d sounded so afraid of him. When he pulled back she looked calmer, more like herself, and he felt more himself too.
“I saw the wolf,” Uma whispered in the dark. “I think it’s outside the barrier.”
Chapter 3: Into The Woods
Harry had spent the better part of the morning trying to convince Uma, and himself, that the Wolf had been a dream and only a dream. He almost had her by lunch too. She poked at her sandwich on the tray, sitting at a table under the biggest tree in the courtyard. Harry had already taken a bite of it. He always nibbled at her food. She knew other students thought it was a quirk of his—to snag food off other’s plates. But it was her quirk, not his. Magic might have been banned on the Isle, but no one could stop all those villains from playing with poisons. Her mother had worked on poisons for years and used Uma as a test subject, slipping gods-knows what into her food.
Even when Ursula stopped, Uma struggled to eat, to trust even the food she went out and stole for herself. She hadn’t ever told Harry about why she hesitated to take the first bites of her food. She hadn’t asked him to do it. He just started one day, plucking food off her plate—tasting everything like he was curious and then losing interest and nudging the rest toward her.
That was how it started and here they were, years later, in another place far from the Isle, still sharing plates of food.
Gil was telling a story about something dumb from chemistry class—turns out Gil was smart at science, something no one was expecting—and Harry laughed beside her, watching the other guy flail around the grass as he reenacted someone falling down. Uma hadn’t been paying attention and it was way too late to ask question now, so she cocked a smirk at his antics and took a bite out of her sandwich.
She spotted the VK’s coming across the field, settling at another table. Carlos was looking particularly tense this morning and Jane’s eyes were swollen and teary. Still, they were holding hands and sitting together. Uma frowned.
“Told you,” Harry muttered beside her, looking smug.
“Hmm,” Uma hummed. “She’s too nice to dump him,” she decided.
Harry laughed. “Or…”
“Or she’s worried about retaliation and falling out of their gang.”
“They’re not a gang, love…” Harry whispered, shoulder pressing against her.
“I underestimated social pressure. But if everyone knew Carlos’s secrets then she might not—”
“Oh no, that’s just sloppy work,” Harry said. “You said a few bumps in the sea would break them up, not a sledgehammer to the face. No cheating.”
She looked up at him. “Since when do we have rules?”
“All accords have rules. No killing anyone—”
“I’m not the one that almost pushed her out a window,” Uma interrupted.
“A miscalculation. And I saved her,” he countered, though a little deflated. It had been a low blow. She knew he hadn’t liked that that had happened. He had no personal grudges against Jane and, if Uma was being honest, Harry had grown soft in Auradon. She would never say it out loud though, because she was sure it was good for him and knew if she pointed it out, he might very well go back to being callous and mean like her. “No killing anyone. No ruining any lives. And no getting us sent back to the Isle.”
Uma groaned. “So many rules!” Still, that left her with kidnapping, spelling, and poisoning… She could make Carlos fall in love with someone else. Or Jane? She sulked. “Do you think he really told her? All his secrets? All about the Isle?” she asked, maybe a little too quietly.
Harry twisted sideways, curling over her side to see her face clearly. “Yes, I think he did.”
She watched them, laughing and whispering. Carlos sighed in that heavy, happy way people did when they were completely unburdened, and Uma believed that he had told Jane everything about his past. Why were they still happy? How could that table of VKs look so…normal?
Uma looked at her own friends. They sat about the grass and table around them. Some were studying, some talking, all of them eating their new favorite treats. By all accounts, they were happy too. And every day she saw them shed more of their old defenses and hard exteriors and lean in to the things they enjoyed—the things they loved. Love. She tossed her sandwich back down.
“Uma?” Harry said her name in that knowing, careful way, like he could read her thoughts—or maybe just feel her mood like a storm in the air.
She glared across the yard at Jane’s back. She was so bubbly. So bright. So loved and ready to love.
Did Uma really want to break her heart? No. But she wasn’t ready to let it go either. Jane could be bright and bubbly and loved—but Carlos was like her. Carlos couldn’t be. This was all a show—fake and demented and—
The howl burst across the yard, making her jump to her feet—her heart pounding in her chest, against her throat. She twisted to stare at the woods across the field where the howl was coming from, but to her surprise, no one else had moved.
“Uma?” Harry sounded worried now, standing beside her, studying her. His shoulders were pressed back, hands free of his pockets and ready for a fight but everyone else was still eating their lunches and talking and laughing.
The howl came a second time, deafening, tears pricking her eyes. How could they not hear it? Was she going insane? Just when she wondered if it was in her head, she spotted Mal standing at the other table, looking around for signs of reaction too.
They locked eyes, the same terror reflected and knew that they’d both heard the wolf—but no one else had.
There had only been two howls, and then the yard fell back into silence.
It seemed Mal’s friends were just as surprised by her reaction as Uma’s. She waved them off, but Harry wouldn’t be dismissed, not even when she walked away saying she had to get a book from the library.
“I heard it. How could you not hear it?” she whispered when they were away from the others, back into one of the empty hallways.
Mal and Ben ran after them and Harry scowled when they joined Uma in the hall.
“You heard it too?” Mal said in a rush.
“Heard what?” Ben demanded.
“The Wolf,” both Uma and Mal said at the same time.
“No one has seen it since Maleficent made her escape,” Uma said. “Maybe it slipped out…”
“No one had seen it long before that,” Harry countered. “You know it’s a shapeshifter. It’s probably wearing it’s creepy man skin and drinking away it’s sorrows in the bars by the docks like everyone else on the Isle.”
“The wolf?” Ben said before laughing awkwardly. “No. That’s a rumor. It never really existed.”
All three of the villain kids turned to look at him before looking at one another like they weren’t sure how to explain. Finally, Harry turned his back toward the king and Uma lifted his shirt.
Ben blinked, ready to laugh at their odd behavior before he took in three, long slashing scars across the side of Harry’s back, down to his waist, disappearing where they curved over his hip into his jeans. “Big. Bad. Wolf,” Uma said clearly and then put his shirt back down.
Ben swallowed hard. “I’ll tell the guards…”
Uma laughed. “Good luck with that.”
“Where are you going? We have to come up with a plan!” Mal shouted when Uma walked away, Harry going with her. She groaned and rolled her eyes. “She’s probably going to run…”
“Is it really that bad?” Ben asked quietly.
Mal looked at him, surprised. “Yes. It’s sly and always hungry. It was starving on the Isle. It only eats those with love in their hearts—the more love and innocence the better. There wasn’t a lot of that on the Isle. It used to chase us as kids but eventually it got weak and slow and we got less innocent.”
Ben sighed, taking her by the arms and promising to protect her. But all that promising and goodness was exactly what worried her. Auradon would be a buffet.
Harry followed Uma all the way back to her room. “What are you doing?” he finally asked.
She took out a bag and dropped it on the bed. “Leaving.”
He smirked. “Liar.”
She put her hands on her hips, turning to look at him—daring him to doubt her.
He still did, but he didn’t say anything, ready to play along though he believed she was better than leaving, better than abandoning everyone here to a horrible fate. “Grab that other bag,” she ordered, pointing up high in the closet behind him.
Harry rolled his tongue over his teeth but nodded, ready to play this out with her. She wouldn’t be able to walk away. He went to the closet and reached up to pull down the bag. Her hands pressed to his back, sending a jolt of surprise through his spine. And then she shoved him in and closed the door. In the dark, he heard the lock turn. He tried to open the door but it wouldn’t budge.
“Sorry, but you know how the wolf loves hearts. I can’t have you distracting from my bait.”
“Uma!” he shouted, kicking hard at the door.
“Stay put! I’ll be back.”
He growled, never being more pissed about being right in his life.
Mal and Ben had taken off suddenly. Jane hugged Carlos’s arm, leaning her cheek on his shoulder. “What’s that about?” she asked, watching them chase after Uma and Harry of all people.
He followed her blue eyes and then soured, glaring in the direction of the pirates. “Who knows. Maybe we’ll get lucky and Mal will turn them into tiny lizards like her mom…”
Jane giggled, though she tried not to.
“Hey,” Carlos started, turning toward her.
Jane sat up, releasing his arm to look back at him.
“Do you mind sleeping in my room tonight?”
She blinked and then blushed.
“I mean, Jay will be there,” he added suddenly and then his eyes grew. “Not in a weird way just like, he sleeps there too, because it’s his room…” he started to babble and realized it, pressing his lips shut and then starting again. “I think it would be safer for now, since we don’t know what the crazy pirates are up to.”
She laughed a little but nodded. “Yeah, of course. I just have to get some stuff from my room.”
Carlos smiled. “Done.”
After classes and practice, Carlos swung by the gym to catch up to Jane on her way out of cheer practice, walking her to her dorm to get her things.
He liked walking with her. She usually held his hand or curled her arm around his and hugged it. He remembered a time, in the first of dating, where she’d suddenly worried she was too clingy. It had been embarrassing how quickly he told her she wasn’t and that he liked it. Now it was just normal, and he reveled in that normalcy.
She was telling him about her final project for one of her classes when they went up the stairs. The hallway to her room was almost empty, a couple other dorm residents slipping in or out of their own rooms, smiling and waving at Jane as they went. Everyone knew Jane. Carlos had heard that they used to pick on her, or just kind of ignore her, but it wasn’t like that anymore. Jane wasn’t a wallflower, no one forgot her and no one pushed her around—not that she would stop them herself but enough people loved her to keep it from happening.
They were almost to her door when someone called, “Carlos!” from behind.
He turned while she dug her keys out of her purse.
Lonnie jogged toward them, smiling but winded.
Jane waved at her and then leaned up on her toes to kiss Carlos’s cheek. “I’m just gonna grab a bag and some pajamas,” she said before opening her door and slipping inside. Carlos caught the door to peek into the room after her, glancing around just to make sure no one was hiding in wait. Damn pirates.
He turned and smiled at Lonnie when she reached them. “What’s up?”
“Oh my gosh, so Jay says you’re having Jane sleep over but it’s not a sex thing,” she said.
Carlos straightened, blushing and silently cursing Jay.
“Does that mean we can make it a sleepover?”
“What? It is a sleep over…”
“No! Like, a party but where you sleep…” she lost steam as she tried to explain it, frowning for a second and then laughing and shaking her head. “Okay, that sounds lame, but I swear it’s a thing! We’d make popcorn and hang out in our pajamas and watch movies and stuff. Jay says if you say yes, that I can come.”
Carlos blinked at the girl, completely at a loss.
Lonnie laughed. “Okay, I’m just going to ask Jane…” she squeezed by him and into the room.
A party where you sleep? These Auradon kids really were dull…
“Hey. Where did she go?” Lonnie asked.
Carlos followed her into the room. “What?” he looked around but there was no one else there. “Jane?” he said her name loudly, opening her closet. Her overnight bag was on the floor. He looked around but there was nowhere else she could be. He even checked under the bed before throwing open her window and leaning out, looking straight down to the ground and the around at the quart yard, the sun setting and shadows creeping in. “Damn it!” Carlos swore before running out of the room and going straight for Harry’s dorm room. It was across the grounds, but he was fast.
“You sure ‘bout this, Captain?” Gil asked, an edge of worry in his voice. He carried the trunk, following Uma out toward the edge of the Auradon fields and putting it down when she stopped right in front of the dark woods. “I can come with you.”
Uma looked back at him. “No. You go back up the hill and keep an eye out. When she comes running back, you make sure she gets to the school safe and sound.”
He nodded once but still didn’t look like he approved of the plan. Luckily, Gil had never been part of making the plans—just carrying them out. “And you?”
She flashed him a toothy grin. “I’ll be back when I kill the wolf.”
Gil frowned at that, not moving to leave. “Captain… If the wolf really is coming, maybe we ‘ought to just leave.”
She sighed, hands on her hips and turning her back to him again, studying the thick shadows between the trees. “And leave these idiots to be eaten? And then what? Keep running? Hope it never catches us?” She shook her head. “No. We’ll stay here.”
Uma shooed Gil away when she turned toward the trunk and found him still lingering. He whined and even kicked the ground before turning and marching back up the hillside toward the school.
Uma unlatched the trunk and lifted the lid.
Jane was crouched down as small as she could be inside, lips pressed in a tight frown and pale eyes already shooting Uma a disapproving glare.
“You can’t kidnap people!” Jane whined.
Uma laughed and took a step back, pulling the sword from her belt.
Jane’s eyes grew.
“Oh, this is much worse than just a kidnapping. Now, get up.”
Jane whined but rose to her feet. She looked around, surprised to find that they were near the woods.
Uma nudged her chin toward the trees and told the girl to start walking. Jane did.
Uma reached into her bag and pulled out the cloak she’d brought, tossing it to the other girl. “Here, pigeon, it’s cold out.” She grinned because the offering had nothing to do with kindness.
Jane whined but put on the red cloak. “What are we doing out here?”
Uma followed her, the two disappearing into the dark woods. “Just keep walking.