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The Forgotten Children

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In one universe, all of the villains and enemies of the kingdoms were rounded up and banished to an island with no magic. In some cases, these villains were raised from the dead specifically so they could be banished. No one was concerned about what banishing any being made mostly, or entirely, of magic to an island without it would do to them. No one pointed out that placing so many cruel people all in one place could only result in horrible things for everyone living there. No one even seemed to care about the children these villains would inevitably have.

The Isle went mostly ignored and forgotten for twenty years until a sixteen year old prince, soon to be crowned king, decided that the children on the Isle should not have to pay for the sins of their parents. He declared they could be rehabilitated and made plans to invite a few of them, at first, to his own school, and teach them how to be Good and Just people.

In one universe, his father reluctantly listened, swayed by a queen whose heart was ever kind and who knew, more than most anyone, that sometimes even the grumpiest and most cruel person could turn into the kindest and fairest king in the lands.

So four children from the Isle, descendants of the four greatest villains Auradon had ever seen, attended school with the prince. They learned to be kind, not only to each other but to strangers as well. They learned to stand up for themselves without also maiming those who stood against them. They learned that though they feared their parents, they had people who would help protect them as well as walls to hide behind. The learned to be Good and Just and Righteous.

They learned that love was fair and never selfish, and that love was not finite but was instead infinite. They could love so many people so deeply, and they found that though their love sometimes changed, it never, ever ran out.

But that universe was a kinder place. It was place where happy endings were given out fairly and freely. It was a place where love was not determined by some higher power but by one’s own choices. The mark of a person’s love for another did not mar their skin and let the entire world know just where to hurt them. Love was not weakness because love was unseen except in deeds.

In that universe, soulmates were teenage fantasies and flights of fancy. Not facts branded across one’s skin. Or promises that turned out to be false. Or hopes and dreams that quickly burned to ash. Yes, people still had to deal with the loves of their lives dying or choosing others, but when it happened, they were sympathized with and maybe even pitied. They were not scorned and ostracized or blamed for things beyond their control.

In this universe, no one quite knew what Higher Power decided who deserved soulmates and what fate befell them. Most people did not even think to question it. Some children were born with Marks on their skin that never quite made sense until they were older. Sometimes, a teenager or young adult would suddenly find a new Mark on their skin, the lines always a simple, colored outline at first that, in the best case scenario, sprouted more and more color each day. The Marks changed, at times, reflecting the person the Marks represented, but always grew bolder and bolder until they seemed to almost glow.

At times, it took a bit for people to realize who their soulmate was. They did not know the person well enough to know if the raincloud and rainbow on their leg represented the heart and soul of the person they spoke to. If they were lucky, they would find out before the person died, and the Mark faded until it could barely be seen on their skin. (Or worse, the Mark smeared, the colors and lines blending together until the made a mockery of whatever the Mark had once been, signifying that the person’s soulmate knew who they were and had chosen to love another)

If a person was magical, powerful, or important enough, then even if they did not ever gain a Soulmate Mark, they would still gain a Mark of their own. This Personal Mark represented the person themselves and not their soulmate. Often, it matched the Mark on their soulmate’s skin, making it that much easier to find their match. In royal families, when a young adult gained such a symbol, then the whole kingdom knew they would one day have a great ruler. (And always, always in royal families, a Personal Mark resembled the family crest in some way)

Of course, as with anything else in life, Soulmate Marks could go very, very wrong. Happy endings were supposed to be assured if one had a Soulmate Mark. If a person was denied their happy ending in some way, then there must have been something wrong with them. They were wrong or bad in some way that made them undeserving of a soulmate, and any misfortune that befell them was punishment for their sins.

Perhaps the only way an unhappy ending was acceptable was when a Mark faded. This might have been because once a person’s Soulmate Mark faded, they usually followed soon after. Tragic love made for a good tale, after all, as Romeo and Juliet never had the chance to find out.

In a universe where happy endings were all but assured, and soulmates a fact of life and not a fantasy, the villains of the world were always people with stories of Marks gone wrong. No one wanted to face the truth of Soulmate Marks. Everyone wanted to believe that Soulmate Magic was perfect and absolute.

It was much easier to punish them for the vile deeds they’d been blamed for (though, to be perfectly fair, in most cases, they had unquestionably and mercilessly committed those deeds). Once the kingdoms united to create the United Kingdoms of Auradon, there seemed to be only one thing to do to the vilest people in all of the kingdoms. No one protested going so far as to bring some of the villains back to life in order to punish them. No one stopped to think about what placing beings made mostly or even entirely of magic onto an island completely devoid of magic might do to the beings in question. No one at all was concerned about any children these villains would inevitably have.

The votes had come in. The die were cast. The fates of the United Kingdoms of Auradon’s Most Wanted were sealed.

And they were banished to the Isle of the Lost. For almost twenty years, they lived on the unwanted cast offs of the people of Auradon. They grew more bitter and more hateful with every year that passed. They had children who learned to be just as bitter, just as hateful, and even more evil than their parents had been accused of being. They taught their children the most important thing of all. Love was weakness. Love was a brand on one’s skin, proof that only a miserable fate awaited them. Love was Soulmate Magic and happiness denied them. Love was the very thing they would destroy for all of Auradon once they were finally free.

Oh, how cruel and vicious and evil would their children be, when let loose upon the world? How could they not be more successful when their own parents and everyone else on the Isle told them of their own failures? Of course their children would succeed. They would know exactly what to avoid and exactly how to win. Their children would be better than they had been. Or they would just have to raise new children.

~*~

All universes were ultimately similar in some ways.

Prince Ben still petitioned his father to allow the children of the four greatest villains in the land to leave the Isle of the Lost and attend his very own school. He thought very carefully about what he wanted to say and stated his case as calmly as possible. His mother even nodded along during the more passionate moments in his speech and gave his father significant glances whenever her son made an especially good point.

King Adam, however, lived up to the nickname he’d never quite been able to shake. He shot down every point his son made, refused to listen to his wife, and ultimately decided that his son wasn’t ready to be king. Clearly, the young prince had more to learn, if he thought the children on the Isle could be redeemed. Those children were borne of beings gone wrong. Their own soulmates had either been ripped away from them, disappeared and never came back, did not share a Mark with their supposed soulmate, or their soulmate had simply chosen to love someone else. According to King Adam, the children of such people never had any hope of being normal, of perhaps earning their own marks or learning how to be good and kind people.

So the matter was decided.

Prince Ben would remain a prince (and perhaps take a few remedial courses to ensure he matured a little more). The children on the Isle would never be approached with an offer (more like order) to attend a school in Auradon. They would never learn that maybe the people in Auradon weren’t so bad. They would never learn anything other than the lessons their parents taught them.

Except for the one lesson the figured out all on their own. When pressed, all of them would say Carlos said it best. To be better villains than their parents could ever dream of being, they would need equals and not minions. They needed someone, or a group of someones, to have their backs, their fronts, and even their sides. Together, the could become greater than the sum of their parts.

And greater they became. Or would, one day. They still had lessons to learn, schemes to plot, and shenanigans to go through in order to become closer. But one day, they would be great. One day, they would pull of what their parents could never even dream of.

One day they would break free of the chains their parents placed around them, break free of the Isle itself, conquer Auradon, and most importantly, destroy the magic of soulmates itself. Then everyone would be equal, and no child would ever be banished to an island devoid of magic just because some supposed Higher Power made a mistake (or was just a complete asshole).

~*~

 

But even before Prince Ben told his father that the children of the Isle shouldn’t have to pay for the sins of their parents, Carlos still punched a tiny, mostly unnoticable and completely temporary hole in the barrier. The subsequent quest still brought Carlos, Evie, Jay, and Mal together and taught them the one lesson their parents failed to teach.

And Mal earned her Personal Mark on her right wrist. Two dragons cruled into the shape of a heart, one white and one black. (The black and white outline of which soon showed up on Prince Ben’s chest, right over his heart)

Prince Ben earned his own Personal Mark, a sight that made him frown at his right wrist every time he remembered it. (And the blue outline of a book with a golden outline of the silhouette of a wolf, tail raised high and head tilted in a curious manner appeared on Mal’s left wrist at almost the same moment)

And every few nights, the pair of them would dream. Sometimes of a lake or a garden or a vast and cozy library. Sometimes of Mal’s favorite places on the Isle and usually underneath storm clouds, the night sky with its blurry stars, or even both. And always of a person they’d never met but wanted to know desperately.

Often when they woke they would remember nothing but vague images of the surrounding landscape (sunlight glinting off of lake water, lightning flashing to reveal dismal streets and run down houses) and a sorrow that never seemed to go away.

And while they both waited for their happy ending, one waited with the greatest hope and the sincerest of faith while the other waited with a heart filled with despair, sorrow, and the kind of hope that burrows and burrows into a heart until it shatters it to pieces.

Chapter Text

Had anyone asked the Isle Four years ago, they likely would have said they’d much rather be on the Isle than anywhere near Auradon. Sure, the Isle was a horrible place to live, but it was their horrible place to live. They knew every nook and cranny. They knew just about everyone on the Isle and how to manipulate them. Their lives weren’t exactly comfortable, but they were familiar. Their parents put pressure on them, but at the time they were still in school, still learning, and still had room to grow into the types of people their parents wanted them to be.

Lying to and maneuvering around their parents might have been difficult, but it was practically expected. Hell, their parents probably knew what they were up to at least a quarter of the time and allowed it because being bad was a good thing. Following rules was something pampered kids in Auradon did. Kids on the Isle did whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. Or knew how to get out of the consequences (or just knew how to roll with the figurative and literal punches)

Some rules were too important not to follow. Like the whole not getting a choice in being evil thing. It was easy to be evil. At this point, the habit itself was practically engraved into their bones. As they grew up, they learned what evil meant to them. Their teachers and parents constantly told them stories about the good old days and the villainous deeds they’d accomplished (or failed at).

The one thing all the stories had in common was a goal of some sort. Revenge was a common goal, even if none of the adults wanted to admit to being common. Some wanted power. Some wanted fame or fortune. Mother Gothel wanted immortality and mourned every gray hair she found on her head. Loudly. For hours at a time.

The Isle Four spent weeks discussing goals. First and foremost, they did not want to disappoint their parents. If they did that, horrible and painful things would happen. It didn’t seem like a goal worthy of villainy for. Not really. It didn’t inspire the passion and effort needed to sustain a long term scheme of any sort. There was being bad for evil’s sake, of course, but that was boring, too. Revenge required a connection to another being that they all lacked, for the most part, and revenge also required betrayal. None of them wanted to betray one another. They were….

They weren’t friends. Friends, like love and soulmates, were weaknesses. They could never and would never have friends.

But they were more than something as simple as allies. The bonds between allies seemed too fragile for what they shared, even if they told their parents and everyone else on the Isle that they were allies and nothing more.

It took hours of discussion before they figured out what to call their relationship with each otherr. If family was blood and disappointed parents and knowing they were unwanted, then they would be Family with a capital F. Family (with a capital F) meant allies willing to fight with you, to fight for you, who would watch your back, sides, and front, and most importantly, would live for you. All the stories they’d heard about heroes talked about being willing to die for someone. All four of them decided that was ridiculous. Dying was easy; living was the hard part. And bonds forged in blood were easy ties to break.

So they forged bonds made of bone. Bone could fracture, break, and shatter. Bone took forever to heal, in comparison to mere flesh wounds, and the pain of the wound might even end up lasting the rest of a person’s life. Family meant being willing to live with that pain, being able to move past it, and still find one’s self able and willing to help the Family.

They were supposed to learn from the mistakes of the adults on the Isle, and the adults on the Isle rarely had allies, let alone Family. They stood alone in their rage and in their sorrows, and they’d ultimately failed.

The Isle Four would stand together. They would look out for one another and support one another without question. (….mostly without question) It would make them stronger than their parents could have ever hoped to be. Because together they would be able to conquer anything. Or destroy anything.

People quickly learned that the Isle Four took their position as “allies” extremely seriously.

If someone messed with one of them, retaliation rarely came from the one they insulted. Chasing Jay down a market street and managing to cut off a few inches of his hair with a pass of a sword was met with retaliation in the form of a poisoned food supply. The entire market’s food supply. Not just the idiot who’d tried to take off Jay’s head. Some idiot tried to make Evie feel less than perfect and suddenly found themselves with a goblin guard preventing them from doing anything fun (and always, the goblins stared at them as if moments away from deciding it was perfectly acceptable to make a meal of the idiot in question). They were also reminded of just how disconcerting it was to find themselves under Mal’s glowing glare.

Anthony Tremaine, the arrogant fool, once tried to take away Mal’s position as top dog in the school. Mal handled that challenge quite well, but the Tremaine boy quickly learned that even the smallest of explosions were not fun and that bombs could be placed pretty much anywhere. Someone tried to shove Carlos into a locker and/or picked a fight with him exactly once. Their entire household’s posessions went missing almost overnight, and the next day Jay reminded everyone that he was, in fact, extremely proficient with any weapon he could get his hands on.

Everyone quickly learned that when facing one of the Isle Four, they faced all of them, and at least one of the Four was always willing to take out bystanders along with their target.

To the four friends, the public shows of collective power meant nothing. Everything they did for each other behind the scenes were the things that really mattered. Those were the things that kept them firmly on their chosen path, content in the knowledge that if they stumbled, three people would rush to catch them before they fell.

Antidotes were often slipped into their bags or pockets without a word. They’d find their favorite snacks on their nightstands or in their lockers. Most nights found one or more of them sneaking into the room of whomever needed the most comfort that night, and they’d all sleep in a tangled pile of limbs, secure in the knowledge that at least one person was keeping watch at all times. Evie made them outfits and, when she had the ingredients, their favorite meals on special occasions (even if she claimed that every occasion was a special occasion). Carlos snuck into their rooms and cleaned everything until Boundaries were established. Then he gave up on the cleaning and started squirreling away various machine parts and anything electronic he could get his hands on. He either invented new things for them to use or repaired what they already had. (Jay spent more than his fair share of time stealing parts for Carlos because the de Vil boy never looked happier than when he was fixing or creating something)

The goblins learned to respect and follow Mal like they had her mother and, in turn, respected her friends as well. They were still nasty because they were goblins, but they were deferential. They asked if the four wanted help with their shopping and started saving Jay and the others a few of the better items that came in from the docks. (And they never, ever spit in their cofee again. Not after Mal actually added a snarl along with her glowing glare of doom)

Life became….(dare they think it?)…..fun.

It wasn’t perfect. It definitely wasn’t easy. But being together made each day that much easier to deal with. It made them a little bit less miserable every single day that passed.

The only snag in getting along was how each of the four chose to deal with their respective parent.

Once they decided they were Family, every time one of them interacted with their parent, it upset the other three. Actually seeing an interaction made them quietly seethe. Hearing about an interaction made them ask, very sincerely, if they couldn’t just poison that parent just a little. Or steal their most prized posession. Or just stab them. Just a little. Somewhere nonlethal. Their leg, maybe. Or their stomach. A nonlethal stab to the midsection would do wonders for whatever parent dared upset one of the Family.

It could have been a point of contention between the four of them. It could have driven them apart.

Except each of them felt ridiculously pleased that the other three cared. Sure, there had been times in the past when they’d felt like their parent treated them badly, but their parent just wanted what was best for them. Having not one but three people willing to hiss and declare that no one should get away with mistreating their friend? That did wonders for the relationships between the Isle Four.

So it was all too easy to decide on a plan on how to deal with their parents. They even made rules to follow. (And actually followed them, even if someone always ended up grumbling about them)

Rule One: No revenge without discussion and permission from the aggrieved party

Rule Two: If one of the four didn’t want to talk about it, no one was allowed to bring it up. Not to each other or to anyone else.

Rule Three: If at any time one of the four wanted to talk about anything that involved their parent, the other three had to drop what they were doing and find a spot to listen. It was not required to talk to all three at once or to all three of them at all. Speaking to just one of them was perfectly fine, if that person only wanted to speak to one of them.

Rule Four: If one of them only told one or two of the others about something involving their parents, the could not tell anyone left out of the discussion without the permission of the speaker.

Rule Five: If any of their parents were stupid enough to harm one of the other three instead of their own child, the child of the parent got to decide the punishment. And there weren’t going to be any arguments about whether or not whatever the parent had done deserved punishment. Harming Family that wasn’t family meant they had to pay. End of story.

Rule Six: At least once a month, the four needed to get together to discuss plans on how to deal with their parents. At first, these discussions involved elaborate plots to imprison their parents, but they quickly devolved into discussions of murder, how it should be done, when it should be done, and what might warrant such extreme actions.

Rule Seven: Their parents could never, ever know about the Family pact. If a parent found out, murder was immediately on the table. No questions asked. No discussions made. Just efficiency. And probably many arguments about body disposal versus displaying a victim to make a point.

Rule Eight: (a rule that only came into play once they finally decided on their Ultimate Goal/Scheme/Plot) Each of their parents would be dead before any of the Isle Four left the Isle of the Lost in order to enact their master plan. Fuck making their parents proud or proving they were better. Living parents would just get in the way and possibly endanger the rest of the group. No, the fate of their parents was sealed. Maybe, in their last moments, their parents would even be proud they’d raised such vicious, evil spawn.

As for their Master Plan to end all plans? Well, only one goal was deemed worthy enough for their combined talents and attention.

The complete and utter destruction of soulmate magic.

Soulmate magic was the cause of so much misery that their end goal could never have been anything else. Sure, they had little goals they needed to complete along the way, like finding out just how to destroy something so integral to Auradon society and how to get off of the Isle, but those goals were all small potatoes.

Once they decided on that, they didn’t even argue about it or change their minds. Not even after Mal admitted she had both a Personal Mark and a Soulmate Mark. Not even when she spoke of her dreams and sounded so….small. Not even when they each eventually found their own Marks, be they Personal or Soulmate ones.

Destroying their own happiness was a small price to pay if it meant destroying everyone else’s too. Besides, they were villains. They were descendants of some of the worst villains the world had ever seen. They were the forgotten children of the Isle. Happy endings had never been an option. Not for them. Not ever.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

Once it became known that Ben was stalwart in his efforts to champion a cause that practically no one saw the need in championing, he became……

Not less popular. He was still a prince and the son of the president of the United Kingdoms of Auradon. He was still awesome at tourney and a genuinely likeable guy. He still helped other people when they needed it, usually with no questions asked. Jane once solemnly told him that he was basically the epitome of everything the people of Auradon aspire to be. (Of course, then she’d added, “Except for the whole Isle of the Lost issue.”)

Ben disagreed with the epitome of all that the people of Auradon should be thing mostly because it was a ridiculous idea. No one could be that perfect. No one should even want to be that perfect. It sounded rather boring, actually, and not at all helpful to what everyone had quickly started calling his “pet cause.”

Jane’s comment did explain why so many people kept trying to talk Ben out of championing what they thought was a ridiculous idea. It explained why Audrey spent months side-eying him and pulling away until they broke up. Ben had to give her credit where credit was due. She was one of the few people who’d bothered with discussing his pet cause with him, instead of just telling him all the reasons he was wrong.

Trying to date someone who disagreed with something he believed in was difficult. At least he’d never made the mistake of telling Audrey about his Soulmate Mark. He’d been very, very careful to ensure no one ever saw his Mark. Unfortunately, because no one knew he had a Soulmate Mark, everyone expected him to be at least a little heartbroken when Audrey finally broke up with him. When he didn’t act even a little distressed, he was ambushed by his friends and family, and they all tried to get him to talk about his feelings.

Before his father shut down his plans for the children on the Isle, Ben was actually the type of guy that was okay talking about feelings. He still helped his friends (or anyone who asked, really) whenever they needed to talk about their own feelings, but he kept his own pretty close to his chest after the second lecture from his father.

And oh how Ben wished the only lectures he received came from his family. Or even just his close friend. Everyone seemed to have an opinion about the Isle that they just had to share with him.

Even the Fairy Godmother got in on it. She tried to explain that there was just something inherently wrong with the people they’d placed on the Isle, and it was extremely unlikely that their children escaped that legacy. Marks gone wrong were like a curse that trickled down family lines. It was a kindness, really, to leave them in a place with no magic. It meant they would never have to deal with Marks gone wrong because without magic, they would never have the chance to gain them. They would never have to know that there was something deeply wrong with them. They could just live their little lives and maybe even find their own versions of happiness. It wouldn’t be true happiness, but it would be enough.

Ben didn’t believe anything the Fairy Godmother had to say on that subject. It sounded sketchy, first of all, and every time she tried to discuss it with him, the tone of her voice made his hair stand on end. Sometimes even looking at her made the Mark on Ben’s chest burn.

Once, he’d pointed out that his own father had been cursed into the form of a beast because he’d been a horrible person who needed to learn how to be good. Why couldn’t the Isle children have the same chance to learn the very same lesson?

Apparently, the answer was no, so he pointed out that leaving them on an island filled with bitter, evil adults was also an extremely bad idea. In fact, leaving them there could be considered evil. (It probably should be considered evil, but even Ben wasn’t stupid enough to tell an adult that) Sure, there was every chance that the parents and other adults on the Isle wouldn’t mistreat their offspring.

But Mother Gothel had kidnapped a baby so she’d have eternal youth. Maleficent had cursed an entire kingdom into a coma because of a grudge. The Evil Queen had tried and almost succeeded in talking one of her subjects into bringing her the actual heart of a teenager. Every single story Ben had either heard of or read about the villains sent to the Isle was a horror story. Most, if not all of them, seemed to be cruel for cruelty’s sake. Every last one of them was so self involved, they’d ruined countless lives for mere whims. Why would they treat their children any differently?

Wasn’t it his duty as a good person, as a royal of Auradon, and a future king to right all wrongs he came across, to help anyone who needed help, and to protect everyone who could not protect themselves? Even if the people under his rule could help and protect themselves, it was Ben’s duty to at least try to assist them. It didn’t matter if the children on the Isle were actually bad people. They were still, technically, citizens of Auradon, and they deserved help. They deserved protection. If the government had failed them in some way, they deserved restitution. At this point, Ben was willing to pay restitution in actual blood and tears. Maybe even a little bit of torture to go along with it, if that was what they wanted, because no one was listening.

Well. Almost no one. Most people seemed perfectly content to ignore the plight of the children on the Isle. Certainly no one was giving Ben any public support.

So it certainly came as quite the surprise when he looked up one day and realized he’d become friends with the oddest group of people.

Lonnie made sense. Her mother was very big letting her make her own decisions. No one was allowed to tell Lonnie who to be or what to believe in except Lonnie herself. Though, to hear Lonnie tell it, her mother and father did appreciate it if she would ask for advice before she got in over her head. Lonnie had been one of the first people to listen to Ben and nod along with what he was saying. She agreed that leaving them on the Isle was horrible, but unlike Ben, she didn’t really think anyone was going to allow the children off of the Isle.

Doug was certainly a surprise. He’d invited Ben to a study session that turned into a wary question and confession session. Dwarves, as it turned out, did not get Soulmate Marks because dwarves did not fall in love. Not with people, anyway. Personal Marks were common among dwarves as they helped each individual dwarf figure out what their special talent was. Besides mining. It was how they gained a nickname. Because they didn’t fall in love, Doug had been told many, many stories of how baby dwarves came to be. His favorite was the time his uncles had tried to convince him dwarves hatched out of giant eggs.

Dwarves did not get Soulmate Marks, but when Doug was younger, he’d overheard a story about an eighth dwarf. This unnamed brother had a Soulmate Mark, and one day, he’d just gone missing. This was for the best, according to his uncles, because who knew what would have happened to a dwarf who couldn’t focus on their work? Ben got the feeling that Doug at least half believed his uncles had done something to their unnamed brother and was afraid they would do the same to him, should they find out about the Soulmate mark that had appeared on his left hip.

According to a very miserable Jane, fairies didn’t get Soulmate Marks, either. Dwarves and fairies were meant to serve and guide humans. It didn’t mean they couldn’t fall in love, but the overwhelming love of soulmates would get in the way of their duties. Like Doug, Jane wasn’t entirely certain where baby fairies even came from, but it probably wasn’t the traditional, human way.

Jane had not one, but two Soulmate Marks. She refused to say where they were or what they looked like, and Ben never pressed the issue because every time Jane thought about it, she started to cry.

Maleficent had had a Soulmate Mark. Jane didn’t know much of the story other than that Audrey’s family was somehow involved, that the Mark had faded, and that no one wanted to invite Maleficent to anything for fear of her bad luck and Wrongness transfering to them.

Perhaps the most inexplicable friend Ben made was Chad Charming. Not that he considered them friends, exactly. They were more like….allies? They both had very good reasons for wanting to hide their Marks.

The Mark on Chad Charming’s right side looked a lot like the crest of the Tremaine family. Ben did not blame him for not wanting to tell his mother that someone in her banished step-family was her son’s soulmate.

So Ben had weird friends, and most of them had Marks. None of them were happy about it, and they had no one to talk to about it but each other. Reading between the lines in the history book painted a horrifying picture for the Auradon teens. Villains were often people with Marks gone wrong in some way. Did that mean they were all just evil time bombs waiting to explode? Was everything considered true about soulmates actually false?

How were they supposed to find out the answers to these questions?

Chapter Text

It was entirely too easy for Evie to talk Jay into helping her shop for fabric. Carlos’ birthday was coming up, and she planned on making him the most fashionable and practical clothing as a gift. Jay was the best at figuring out which leathers could be worn comfortably and last the longest and had the most amazing suggestions about lightweight metals and where to sew holsters for knives or hidden pockets without making them too noticeable.

Evie was in the middle of an argument with Jay about whether or not she should stick with Carlos’ signature white or try to make him wear something black to help with all the sneaking around they’d been doing lately. Neither of them noticed Cruella until it was too late. They weren’t even certain which part of their conversation the woman had overheard.

Cruella was very obviously furious. All Evie could think of when she saw the sneer on the woman’s face was all the different ways she could have sneered and still managed to look both attractive and intimidating instead of just ugly. Unfortunately, she accidentally said this out loud. Cruella actually backhanded her for the insult, and the only thing that stopped Jay from retaliating was the Rules and the fact that it took Evie a few moments to stand on her own without any danger of falling over.

“How dare you,” Cruella hissed, uncaring of the crowd that had gathered to watch. “As if your designs could ever be worthy of my son. Just look at that outfit. Did it fall off a boat from Auradon? I don’t know why Maleficent ever let you out of that cave of yours. Even looking at you is simply dreadful.”

Cruella probably would have said more, but Jay decided the best thing to do was to get Evie as far away from the horrible woman as possible. Evie hated so much as tearing up in public unless she was putting on a performance, and if Jay had to listen to one more word come out of Cruella’s mouth, he just knew he was going to give in to the urge to stab her. Since he’d promised not to do that without Carlos’ consent, he just pulled Evie into the crowd.

And, okay, so he took all the stuff he and Evie had had in their arms and had actually been planning on buying, too, but he could only be expected to manage a certain level of “good” behavior a day. Not stabbing Cruella met his quota for the next twenty-four hours, at least.

~*~

Evie hadn’t planned on bringing it up, and she’d mostly talked Jay into agreeing with her. However, news travelled fast on the Isle. She and Jay had only been holed up in Jay’s room for ten minutes before Carlos slipped through the window. He kept a careful, blank expression on his face and very calmly asked what had happened.

Neither of his friends had ever heard his voice so devoid of emotion before. It shocked Evie into silence, and Jay barely paused before he answered. He didn’t even bother trying to obfuscate the truth or spin a tale that painted Cruella in a better light. Evie’s face was already turning alarming shades of purple, and judging by the way she hunched in on herself, that horrid woman’s comments had gotten to her.

Carlos listened and said nothing until Jay was done. He stared at Evie the entire time, his blank expression very slowly turning murderous. Jay half expected Carlos’ eyes to start glowing like Mal’s did when she was super pissed off.

“Here, V, follow my finger. I want to make sure you’re still tracking and don’t have a concussion. Jay, dig in my bag for the first aid kit and a penlight,” Carlos ordered. Evie gave a half hearted protest, but honestly talking sort of hurt and none of the four friends ever stopped their friends from trying to help, especially not when they were actually physically wounded.

“Jay will find you some of that face stuff so you can cover up that bruise, if you want,” Carlos said. He didn’t even glance at Jay for confirmation. He didn’t need to. “We’ll make sure no one says anything about it.” He tilted his head to one side, and for a brief moment his murderous expression turned thoughtful. Then he added, “She had no right to do that. I’ll take care of it.”

He left without another word, leaving behind bits of his first aid kit for Evie to take home even though they all carried their own versions of a first aid kit with them at all times. Jay and Evie silently watched him climb out of the window then shared a concerned glance. They had a wordless conversation that only close friends could pull of, and Jay finally nodded.

“Yeah. I’ll follow after him and drag him elsewhere if he gets in over his head,” he murmured, kissed Evie on the forehead, then climbed out of his own bedroom window.

~*~

The Isle Four knew Cruella would inevitably be the first parent they turned on. It was only a matter of time before she slipped up, and Carlos had always been the most patient of them all. Worst of all, he was the type of person that never really cared much about getting revenge against people who had wronged him in some way.

And he truly did love his mother. He just loved his Family more.

~*~

Much to Jay’s surprise, Carlos did not immediately confront his mother.

Instead, he went home and rooted around in his treehouse. Jay had no idea what he was looking for or what he was planning. It sounded like Carlos was working on…something. Jay would actually have to climb something and get a better vantage point if he wanted to know for certain. Carlos definitely knew he was there, and he hated it when they interrupted angry engineering sessions. So Jay decided it was best if he stood guard at the bottom of the tree. Carlos would tell him what was up eventually. Carlos kept humming or absently singing his mother's theme song, so Jay knew he was okay.

(He really wished he'd stop. That stupid song was catchy, and Jay really didn't want to think about Cruella right now)

Mal and Evie showed up a few hours later. Evie’s face looked perfectly fine, but it looked like smiling made her face hurt. Mal just looked furious. Her eyes glowed, and she kept turning her head to bare actual fangs at Hell Hall. Never mind that Cruella wasn’t even currently home.

“We brought food,” Evie announced and allowed Jay to take the containers from her arms without a word of protest. “Is he okay?”

“Am I-that is ridiculous. Are you okay, V? Do you need another pain pill? You should take it with food. Hold on. I’ll come down there.” Carlos must have installed those security cameras he’d been going on about a few months ago or had just been extra alert, even while fiddling with…whatever it was he’d been doing for the past few hours. It hadn’t involved any explosions so Jay hadn’t gone up to find out.

Evie spread a blanket on the ground and allowed Mal and Jay to set everything up. They gently prodded and nudged her into a spot on the blanket and left a space for Carlos next to her. If the spots Mal and Jay chose for themselves were better for standing guard than actually enjoying the meal, well….

Carlos settled in at Evie’s side. He handed her a few pills and a water bottle and frowned at her until she sighed and took the offered medicine. Jay shoved a plate full of sandwiches at the both of them and actually glared until they both relented and took a bite.

“I’m fine,” Evie insisted, but it was impossible to keep the small smile off of her face. She was close enough to Carlos to bump shoulders with him, and maybe she leaned against him more than she needed to. It made Carlos relax, and the glow in Mal’s eyes lessened a little.

“So you know how I’ve been researching ways to harness magic?” Carlos asked. He was smart enough to eat an entire sandwich first. Plotting was always easier when he didn’t have three people frowning at him when he went three words without taking a bite or a drink of water. Not that he currently had any room to talk. He kept handing Evie the apple slices Jay was so graciously cutting up for them and nudging her until she actually ate them.

“Think you’ve finally figured out a way to do it without powering up everyone on the Isle?” Mal asked. She tried not to sound too excited, but, well, magic was always exciting. She hadn’t realized how trapped she felt in her own skin until Carlos had punched a tiny hole in the barrier and let that tiny bit of magic in. Now on top of the ache she felt because of her Solmate Mark, she felt an emptiness inside of her where magic was supposed to be. Secretly, she thought it explained a lot about her mother. Life felt so much less vibrant and real without the buzz of magic agianst her skin.

Carlos’ answer was a toothy, proud grin. “I figure I’ll have Evie go over the calculations to make sure I have everything right. Then we’ll have to figure out a randomized schedule and start poking tiny holes in the barrier again. Allow them to…heal, so to speak, wait a bit, then repeat the process. It won’t be a lot of magic, but I’ve been studying and having theoretical discussions with Yen Sid….” He trailed off and shrugged a shoulder.

Jay snickered at the look on Carlos’ face, like he couldn’t figure out if he should be proud of bashful. (Proud. The answer would always be proud, but they still couldn’t quite convince Carlos of that) “You’ve already built everything you’ll need, haven’t you?” he asked, and if Carlos wouldn’t allow himself to be proud then Jay would just have to sound proud enough for the both of them.

“I…well…the idea was just there, and I needed something to do with my hands. And…I…might have everything ready. We really should double check the math, though. If we let in too much, people will notice.” Everyone winced at the image of the adults on the Isle realizing magic could be reclaimed. They didn’t need that kind of power.

Carlos explained everything and tried to ignore his blush when his friends stared at him with pride.

It wasn’t like it was difficult, okay? He’d punched a hole in the barrier on accident. Doing it on purpose was easy, in comparison. Plus, Yen Sid was all too eager to discuss the way different metals and things gathered and held magic. He seemed to like theorizing why iron kept magic at bay better than gold or why silver held magic but also allowed it to be harnessed so easily whereas bronze held magic like crazy but once the magic was in an item of bronze it became incredibly difficult to remove.

Yen Sid just loved comparing runes to the periodic table. Really, he just loved comparing magic to science in general, and Carlos thought it was because Yen Sid would always be a sorcerer first and a scientist second.

It would take a lot of trial and error before Carlos could create the perfect bracelets for each of them to wear. There was no doubt in his mind that he could do it, however, nor was their any doubt in his Family’s minds. They trusted him as much as he trusted them.

They spent all night figuring out what runes to etch into the bracelets and how to break into the Library of Forbidden Secrets. Evie checked over Carlos’ designs and hesitantly suggested things that usually turned out to be great ideas. (in theory, but they’d find out if those ideas worked soon enough) Jay was the one who ended up creating the brunt of the hesitant schedule for gathering magic and who they should keep track of in order to ensure no one else on the Isle knew they could potentially have access to magic.

Everyone completely forgot about Carlos’ fury.

~*~

No one knew how Carlos had heard the story, but they listened and didn’t interrupt when he decided to tell it to them.

Cruella de Vil had a soulmate, once. Carlos had a picture of her, and she looked young, beautiful, and happier than anyone could imagine. She wore an off the shoulder dress and had her back slightly turned so the camera could catch her Mark. The Mark was surprising, but it never could have been anything else.

Cruella’s Soulmate Mark was of a Dalmation playfully rolling on the ground, tongue lolling out of its mouth, with eyes crinkled in a grin that only dogs could give. Cruella’s soulmate was an animal trainer. She was famous for taking in the most ferocious of beasts, taming them, and teaching them tricks. Though she could tame any beast, she had a special place in her heart for dogs. Her favorite place in the world was the home she and Cruella shared. They had dozens of dogs, and all of them had come from horrible homes. They’d learned bad habits and that humans were not to be trusted.

No one ever said it to their face, but people always whispered that Cruella’s soulmate could never have been anyone else but a woman who tamed beasts for fun. Cruella wasn’t vicious, exactly, but she had very few soft spots and had no time for fools. She rarely smiled, and everyone was more likely to get an impatient huff out of her than an actual greeting of any sort.

But around her soulmate, she lit up. She smiled and laughed, and though she never gave anyone else a kind look, those were the only expressions she gave her soulmate. Cruella, for the most part, never really had any patience for animals (never had any much patience for anyone, really). However, the animals her soulmate loved so very much were tolerated and maybe even spoiled when she thought no one was looking.

Cruella knew how much her soulmate loved dalmations. So when she overheard a coworker talk about a pair of dalmations that needed a trainer, she immediately questioned the man about it. The poor man was not at all used to Cruella’s stare, her frown, or the way she practically growled whenever she asked questions and thought someone wasn’t answering her quickly enough. Still, it didn’t take her long at all to gain the pertinent information.

The man’s relative worked at some dog shelter. Two dalmations had been brought in, and the man thought it was such a shame that the two half feral beasts would have to be put down. They’d come from an abusive home and blah, blah, blah. Cruella really didn’t care about all of that. Her soulmate loved teaching feral things that humans could be kind instead of cruel. So she made arrangements for someone to pick up the beasts and take them home for her soulmate to deal with. Then she went back to work. Good fashion didn’t create itself, after all, and how could Cruella keep such wondrous creations from the world?

She was in the middle of a frustrating design when it happened. There was an itch across her shoulderblades that kept trying to get her attention, and the distraction made the shape of the dress design come out all wrong. No matter how many times she tried, she just couldn’t concentrate.

Then the itching was replaced with pain. It started in the place where her Mark was and quickly made its way to her chest.

She screamed and clutched at her chest. She practically tore off her shirt as she stumbled her way into a bathroom. She knew what had happened even before she turned around to check. The Mark on her skin was already fading. The beautiful, striking contrast of the white dalmation quickled faded to gray. The once vibrant blue eyes and red tongue also turned gray. Even the once shining black outline of the dog and the dog’s spots had faded to a boring black that blended in with Cruella’s skin tone far too much for her liking.

Cruella took great pleasure in personally euthanizing every last wretched beast on her property. She paid special attention to the dalmations that had killed her soulmate. No one dared comment when her fashion line, once full of faux fur and enviornmentally friendly materials, became filled with fur, fur, and more fur. She snarled at every dog she saw on the street (and every person, too).

But soon enough the whispers started. Cruella de Vil was a vicious, monsterous person. She didn’t deserve to have a soulmate, and so her soulmate had been taken from her. Cruella was so heartless, so soulless that her hatred alone kept her going. She should have passed on and joined her beloved in the afterlife long, long ago.

Cruella de Vil was an inhuman beast. She should have been locked up and never released. The world was such a wholesome place until….

~*~

“Carlos, I’m pretty sure your mother’s funeral is not the place to be singing that song,” Jay hissed. He nudged Carlos as gently as possible and shot Mal a glaring look. Mal clearly thought Carlos’ quiet singing as his mother’s coffin was lowered into its grave was absolutely hilarious. Even Evie, the traitor, had to bite her lip to keep from smiling.

It was a bright and sunny day on the Isle. It was brighter than normal, even, and though Carlos hadn’t actually had anything to do with the uncommonly bright and cheery weather, it was still suspicious. His singing turned into a quiet humming, if only to make Jay happy. Carlos’ face was carefully blank, and to other people he probably looked at least a little sad but was trying to keep a stiff upper lip despite himself.

His Family knew better.

It was a small service because even for an inhabitant of the Isle, Cruella was rather anti-social. Horace and Jasper were beside themselves with grief; Carlos suspected that part of it was show and part of it was the henchmen realizing they didn’t know what to do with themselves without Cruella there to tell them what to do. Their sons, Jace and Harry, looked bored and uncomfortable. Carlos’ cousin Diego looked even more bored than they did, and possibly a little pissed off. He must have realized that Carlos was the sole inheritor of, well, everything his mother had ever owned.

Yen Sid was in attendance as well, and he gave Carlos a very long stare when he approached him. “I am very sorry for your loss,” he said and waited, as if expecting….something.

Carlos stared at his feet and blinked a few times until he felt his eyes well up with tears. Then he looked up and offered his favorite teacher a brave and shaky smile. “Yeah. I told her the fuel from the goblins was shady. I j-just wanted to check it before……she never listened to me,” he said. His voice actually broke a few times, and he sniffed and reached up to scrub at the corner of an eye. He looked away from Yen Sid and huddled closer to Jay.

Jay wrapped an arm around Carlos’ shoulder and glared at Yen Sid. Evie pulled Carlos into a hug from behind, and Jay readjusted his grip to include her. Mal stood on Carlos’ other side and reached up to run her fingers through his hair. She gave Yen Sid the same kind of glare her mother gave people, green glow just daring him to say anything untoward.

“I see,” Yen Sid replied. His shoulders drooped, and he studied each of the teens in turn. Evie’s face was still slightly bruised, and she hadn’t bothered to hide the yellow and purple blotches today. Everyone had heard about the confrontation. Fewer people had heard about the fight Carlos and Cruella had had a day later. It was…suspicious, but….

No. Out of all of the children on the Isle, Carlos was the kindest. He never had more than a token bad word to say about anyone and wasn’t very subtle in his attempts to help others. His friends were….well, Yen Sid wasn’t going to judge them. He didn’t know them very well, and the Isle wasn’t exactly a good enviornment.

Carlos sniffed and made a noise that sounded like an attempt to hold back a sob. Jay pulled him and Evie closer and murmured something Yen Sid couldn’t quite catch.

“I can’t believe she’s really gone,” Carlos said and sniffed again.

Yen Sid awkwardly reached over to hover a hand over Carlos’ shoulder. He ignored the way Jay actually growled at him and how Evie actually tugged the three of them further away. “Yes…well…if you need to speak to anyone,” Yen Sid offered.

“Don’t worry, prof,” Mal said too quickly. She still looked suspicious, but she looked less likely to bite the science teacher for making Carlos feel worse than he clearly already did. “We’ll take good care of him. No one should have to mourn the loss of a parent alone.”

Yen Sid nodded and stepped away. He still felt somewhat suspicious about things, but these teenagers were so protective of one another. Carlos would be in good hands. Besides, the teens may be overprotective of one another, but they surely hadn’t killed Cruella for something as simple as her treatment of Evie.

“For fuck’s sake, Carlos, at least wait until the dirt is on the coffin before you start humming again,” Jay hissed once Yen Sid was out of earshot.

Chapter Text

Ben found himself spending far too much of his time at the enchanted lake.

It was the dead of winter, and it looked like the water couldn’t decide whether it should freeze over or keep itself warm. Parts of the lake actually had frozen over. Small frozen pathways led from one shore to the other and never melted despite the fact that the parts of the lake that weren’t frozen were so hot actual steam rose into the air. Ben would have worried for the fish, but he had bigger, more important things to worry about. Besides, it was an enchanted lake whose inhabitants could probably take care of themselves (if the lake didn’t take care of them first)

Enchanted lakes were weird.

Ben stood on one of the frozen pathways and absently hoped it didn’t dedcide to melt. Standing on solid ground was probably a good idea, but he couldn’t bring himself to do much more than stare at the spot he kept dreaming about. It was foolish, but he kept coming to the lake in the vain hope of finding the purple haired girl there, waiting for him. He could see her smile in his mind’s eye, sometimes shy and unsure but more often her smile was a smirk. Usually, glowing green eyes accompanied the smirk, and she would shove him into the water and laugh and dart away before he could pull her in with him.

He knew she loved to draw and was actually good at it. He’d spent more than one dream doing nothing more than watching her hands transform a blank page into something wondrous. Often, she would draw the things she loved best. She drew Ben’s Mark, a complicated looking braid her friend loved to wear, a silver bracelet etched with mysterious runes, another friend’s favorite knife, and so many other things. Once, she drew the night sky, and every time Ben remembered it, his heart broke just a little.

They didn’t always meet at the lake. Sometimes, they met under that night sky. They met at the top of a rundown castle, in dirty alleyways, or in a mausoleum of all places. The night sky was darker than it should have been, and the stars were blurred. Clouds tried to hide all the light from the stars and even the moon from view. The sky itself shimmered in an oddly disturbing way. Though neither admitted it out loud, Ben knew the places she showed him were on the Isle of the Lost.

At first, the dreams were rare, but after almost a year, they came more and more frequently. Ben had his suspicions as to why, but he never voiced them. He and his soulmate were careful to never say anything incriminating. They didn’t even know each other’s names. Ben just called her Dragon, and she called him Puppy.

Talking meant potentially giving one another information that could be used against them so they used their dreams together in other ways.

Ben taught her how to dance and how to swim. He dreamed up elaborate feasts and sat and smiled at her whenever she tried something new. Even though these were dreams, he could still tell she hated leaving any food behind, even the foods she hated. To pay him back for the lessons she taught him how to pick locks and pockets. He learned how to disguise himself in a crowd and more than one new fighting style. Dragon was a vicious fighter, and every attack was meant to disable or maim so that when she darted away, her opponent was unable to follow.

Ben showed her his mother’s library and his favorite place on the palace grounds (a little walled garden that seemed forgotten by nearly everyone, judging by the way the plants grew wild). Dragon was always hesitant to show him her favorite places after that. She liked the lake best unless she decided on spending the dream teaching him something she thought absolutely vital to survival.

Just last night, she’d allowed him to see memories of her friends. Apparently, the mother of the youngest of them had died. Ben had offered his condolences, but Dragon had only given him that little smirk of hers that meant she knew something he didn’t (and probably wouldn’t want to) know.

Her friends were amazing. They were definitely different from everyone Ben knew, but they were amazing all the same.

The youngest was a boy with black and white hair. Dragon called him Sparky (and sometimes C, when she forgot herself). He always seemed to have something in his hands, and Ben couldn’t figure out what it was the boy was working on until he let the clockwork bird fly out of his grip. Ben had no idea how the thing managed to fly without magic, but it was wonderful. Dragon certainly looked smug and proud and told Ben that Sparky could invent or improve upon anything.

There was another boy with long black hair and an easy grin that Dragon called Prince (and sometimes added ‘of Thieves’ or just called him J). Prince liked to climb things and kept distracting Sparky with magic tricks. (“Illusions, Puppy. No magic to see here. Just tricks.”) He kept careful watch over Sparky and the girl Dragon called Blueberry (or V) and seemed to pull an infinite amount of snacks and drinks out of his pockets to hand to them. He even allowed Blueberry to braid ribbons and flowers into his hair without a word of complaint. Though he did threaten to break Sparky’s camera when he snapped a few polaroids.

Ben could understand why Dragon might call the other girl Blueberry. Her hair was certainly the shade of actual blueberries, and her clothes were mostly shades of blue. She liked to sing along with the song Sparky kept singing, much to Prince’s dismay. The song was familiar, but Ben couldn’t place it. Blueberry also liked to dance, and Ben was more surprised than anyone when the dream/memories proved more interactive than expected. Blueberry tugged Dragon into a dance, and Sparky poked and prodded at Prince until the older boy gave in. Prince started singing, too, but was purposefully off key.

“I’m glad you’re not alone,” Ben admitted to Dragon later. The shared dream was starting to feel hazy, a sure sign that one or both of them would soon wake. “If I can’t be there, you should have friends to keep you company.”

“You mean to keep me safe,” Dragon said, but she was smiling a bit shyly. She seemed pleased that he cared. “We’re…..we keep each other safe. From everyone. We…..we’re Family.”

Ben frowned. Family. He could practically hear the capital F. “I don’t…quite understand. You don’t have to tell me-“

“No! I mean…it’s fine. We just….we never had anyone to look out for or anyone that looked out for us. Regular family, maybe they do that sort of looking out for each other where you’re from, but they don’t do that here. So we’re Family because Family means…means more,” Dragon answered. She looked frustrated at her inability to explain.

So Ben kissed her forehead and cupped her face in his hands. “It’s okay. I get it. I think. The bonds between all of your are different so you needed something new to explain it. To give it…meaning.”

“Yeah…that’s it exactly,” Dragon whispered. “I wish you could have been here. I wish you weren’t….”

“We’ll find a way to each other,” Ben promised, but his words made Dragon pull away.

“Maybe. Bet you won’t want me when you find me.” She gave him a small smile and shrugged her shoulders, backing away further before Ben could grasp at her again.

“You’re my soulmate. The other half of me. There’s nothing you could do that could make me deny you.” Ben hated the way his voice sounded, small and afraid. He hated how certain he sounded even more because the certainty in his voice made Dragon grimace and look away.

“What if I destroy the world?” she asked in a quiet whisper. She sounded almost sad.

“Why would you want to do that? Why would anyone want to do that?” Ben asked. He was genuinely confused and only partially able to convince himself that Dragon was joking.

“Can’t you think of a reason?” Dragon asked him, and when she finally looked up at him, Ben wished she hadn’t. Her eyes were dimly glowing green again, and the glow only made the tears on her face stand out that much more.

The dream grew fuzzy, and Ben tried to say something. His voice made no sound, and he found himself unable to move. All he and Dragon could do was stare at one another until Ben jolted awake.

 

Chad actually looked apologetic and winced when Ben sat up. “You were crying,” he quietly informed Ben. Then he glanced around the quickly filling room. Huh. That meant Ben’s free period was over.

“Yeah. Thanks.” Ben had gathered up his things and left without another word.

He’d gone to the lake instead of to class. He’d thought it might cheer him up, but it wasn’t working. His mother and father were soulmates. They hadn’t realized it until his father had almost died, mostly because his fur hid his Mark. Most, if not all, of the married royals in Auradon were soulmates. Soulmate Marks weren’t all that uncommon among the “peasants” either. Though, in comparison to royals and nobles, they happened far less frequently. Marks were things of joy. Marks guaranteed happy lives. Sure, things might be difficult, but ultimately, a person with a Mark would lead a happy life.

Ben reached up to touch the Mark on his chest. It ached with every beat of his heart. It always ached, but today it felt worse than normal. Despite the freezing air and the snow that had started to fall, Ben frantically tore off his school jacket and shirt. He had to tilt his neck at an awkward angle to get a good look, but his Mark was fine.

It looked a bit more vibrant now than it had when he’d woken that morning. The white dragon was a bit more colored in than usual, and the black dragon’s eye had started to turn green. Ben’s breath left him in a relieved hiss, and he fell to his knees. The ice was predictably freezing, and the wind made him shiver. He didn’t care. He just knelt on the ice and kept one hand spread across the Mark on his chest.

Soulmate Marks were joyful things. They were proof that a person was meant for a happy ending. Ben sat and thought of all of the happy stories his mother and father told him as a child. He thought about their curious and hopeful looks whenever they cautiously asked if he’d gained a Mark yet, as if it would be impossible for him to go through life without one. He remembered the look on his soulmate’s face before the dream had dissolved completely.

Ben curled in on himself, let his forehead rest on his knees and let his nails dig into his chest until they broke the skin and drew blood. The pain from the self inflicted scratches didn’t even come close to bothering him. The ache from his Mark didn’t intensify, but it was still there. It was always there, pulsing in time with his heart, reminding him of the happiness denied not only him but his soulmate, too.

The unfairness of it all was too much. Eventually, someone would come looking for him. Eventually, they would find him. They would have question after question that he would refuse to answer. He couldn’t find enough energy to care or to get up or to even put his jacket back on.

Instead, he stayed curled up on the frozen piece of the lake, ignored the feeling of his nails scraping into his skin, and screamed and sobbed until his throat could no longer make any noise.

Chapter Text

It really wasn’t a surprise when the other three gained their own Personal Marks. (Except for Carlos who still looked vaguely surprised whenever he found yet another article of clothing Evie had embroidered with his symbol.

Mal, of course, had her dragons on her wrist and often gave one or both of her wrists a pensive stare. No one was willing to bring it up so until she decided to talk about it, everyone found ways to distract her. She rarely let anyone see it and instead chose to cover up both of her wrists with a pair of leather bracers, mostly in shades of purple.

The red eyed cobra on Jay’s left bicep started out in shades of gray and black but quickly gained gold highlights. The cobra’s tongue, oddly enough, was silver and had the tendency to move when no one was looking at it. He mourned the loss of his sleeveless outfits and started wearing leather jackets or outright leather armor to cover it up.

Evie’s Mark was small, but that was a good thing. It was on her neck, and since it was so small, it was easy enough to cover up with chokers and scarves without it being too suspicious. The Mark itself was all silver and blue; a fact that Mal never let her hear the end of. Her Mark was a simple blue hand mirror, the top of which was shaped vaguely like a crown. The glass of the mirror as well as the crown bit had a crack in it, but the placement constantly changed. Unlike the mostly light to medium shades of blue of the mirror itself, the crack was a deep indigo. Sometimes, the mirror reflected things like strange runes, math equations, and once an actual blueberry. (Yet another thing that Mal would never let her forget)

It took Carlos longer to realize he had a Personal Mark. His Family all insisted he had one or would soon gain one, but he really hadn’t expected much. Helping his Family was enough, and if they had Personal Marks, he didn’t have to worry quite so much about people hurting them. Personal Marks were symbols of power, after all. One day, Evie made them all try on a few different sets of clothing as she’d made it her personal mission to figure out a personal style for them to wear at their graduation. (which was still two years away, but who could argue with an excited Evie?)

It turned out that Carlos’ Mark was on his lower back. He made the mistake of jokingly referring to it as a tramp stamp exactly once. Everyone had glared at him and made him promise to tell them if he overheard anyone else saying something stupid like that. They’d let Carlos get away with it (it was his Mark, after all), but that sort of disrespect wasn’t allowed from anyone else. The Mark itself was, in Carlos’ opinion, quite odd. It was two crossed bones. The left side of the bones was white, and the right side was black. The white parts were covered in tiny, black circuit pathways, and the black parts were spotted with white cogs and gears.

Mostly Carlos just pretended it didn’t exist. The others were content enough to leave things be for now. He suspected it was because they wanted to avoid talking about Soulmate Marks. Not that any of them had admitted to actually having them. (But they all knew, despite never talking about it. Keeping secrets between the four of them was just so difficult)

Sometimes Evie embroidered flowers into thinks when she wasn’t paying attention. She never finished them and always kept her version of a blank expression (sweet smile that made her look nonthreatening and approchable) until she’d removed enough of the threads to make the pattern unrecognizable. Everyone ignored the way she sometimes pressed her fingers to her right hip unless they were in public. Then they interrupted the movement as subtly as they could manage. No one else needed to know.

Jay and Carlos spent an entire two weeks avoiding one another’s gaze. They always managed to glance at the other one when he wasn’t looking. Evie and Mal came close to making them talk about it, but they always hesitated. One day, Carlos woke up with a present on his nightstand. Random presents weren’t all that unusual, but this present was just a stick. Closer inspection made Carlos grin. The mysterious gift giver had carved a pattern into the stick that only the two of them would recognize. (And, hopefully, a third and unknown person)

Jay and Carlos wore matching, fingerless gloves for exactly one day before Evie quietly replaced them with a different set so that all four of them would match. If they all started wearing arm bands and bracers as well…..wanting to look like a cohesive unit made perfect sense. It let everyone know where their loyalties lay and wasn’t any different than the way the offspring of the pirate crews or covens of (former) witches wore matching items.

~*~

Their experiments with magic and Carlos’ inventions should have frustrated them. Taking notes was impossible because they were terrified of someone finding out. Every time Carlos punched a hole in the barrier, they spent days trying not to look extra observant or ten times more way than they normally were. They waited with baited breath until Evie and Mal declared the barrier had repaired itself. Evie was better with the calculations that told them when the barrier should fix itself, and Mal was better at recognizing the magic buzzing against her skin.

They wrote notes in code while they discussed their progress. They memorized those notes very carefully before they burned every last page and combed through the ashes to ensure no scrap of information escaped. They taught each other their personal codes and created an entire code of words and phrases so they could discuss things in semipublic places, if need be.

It was a lot of work, but having a secret all to themselves was fun.

At first, they’d worn bracelets to help them access the tiny amounts of magic they introduced to the Isle. The first set of bracelets were wide bands of silver with runes etched on the insides. Wearing the bracelet underneath her bracers and armlets was a bit uncomfortable for Mal, but she never complained.

The second set of bracelets were made of silver and copper wires twisted together into a pattern that was pleasing to the eye. The twists also hid tiny runes etched into them. Apparently, it was better to have only certain runes touching the skin and for the others to “touch the air” so to speak. They’d found out copper could be used to help magic travel to a different place, even if it didn’t really absorb the magic quite like silver did. Carlos was intrigued by how much magic seemed similar and yet dissimilar to electricity and spent days questioning Yen Sid about different ways to collect energy. Though, he focused on solar, wind, and water as well as the standard coal, gas, and the normal ways Auradon society collected and stored electricity.

(He really wanted to know why silver conducted electricity better than copper, but didn’t conduct magic at all, just stored it and allowed it to be accessed. Magic as an energy source was fascinating.)

The bracelets went through several minute changes after that. Their final form, however, weren’t even bracelets at all. The gloves Evie had made the four had tiny, pointed silver studs on the knuckles. Their bracers and armbands had silver buttons with individualized patterns etched onto them with a rune hidden in each pattern. So long as they touched the buttons every so often, the collected magic wouldn’t go to waste. Not that any of their magic collecting items were in danger of that. Copper had been removed from the combinations long ago. There wasn’t any point once they’d found the proper combination of runes to store magic in the silver and their bodies had gotten used to harvesting the magic on their own.

Gems and stones had been added in the form of rings, necklaces, and earrings. Gems and stones generally didn’t store magic; they helped shape its use. Magic on its own was a neutral energy, so to speak. If one wanted to use it for a specific task, they had to learn to shape it on their own. The gems and stones made it easier to channel magic in a certain way. Rose quartz, for instance, made it incredibly easy to use healing spells, especially ones that focused on skin, whereas if you wanted to lessen the pain of an actual injury as it happened, aquamarine or rainbow obsidian were more useful.

 

Naturally, they all preferred different things.

Jay took to citrine and yellow serpentine like water. Mal and Evie insisted they all wore some sort of jade so he chose red and yellow. (Carlos gave him a pendant made of simple black onyx that he wore under his clothing at all times). Carlos accepted the black jade the other three all but shoved at him with a fond smile. Red jasper and white selenite became common items for him to wear, and he had a polished jet stone that he liked to play with while he thought about nothing and everything all at once.

Evie had blue jade earrings for obvious reasons. Her Family found a piece of snowflake obsidian that was more silvery white than it was black that she immediately became inordinately fond of. A piece of angelite found its way around her neck or into new circlet pieces more often than not. Turqoise annd blue quartz were switched out with a frequency that seemed completely random until one took into account the exact shades of Evie’s outfit that day.

Mal favored purples almost exclusively. Amethyst was the most commonly found on the Isle, but Jay managed to find some lepolidite for her. Evie gave her a bloodstone that she kept in her pocket, and she kept a piece of green jade held by a silver dragon around her neck. Everything else she switched out depending on her mood. Mostly they were items the others gave her for some reason or another.

 

~*~

Almost none of the inhabitants of the Isle noticed their things steadily disappearing. Ever since Carlos had declared he could make their dreams of gaining magic actually possible, Jay had made it his mission to rid everyone else on the Isle of anything and everything magical in nature. Fortunately, he’d spent most of his life already doing this. His father had an obsession with magical items for a reason.

The Four learned more and more about magic every day; Jay put this knowledge to good use. He learned how to remove small components instead of entire items. Silver anything, gems that could mean more trouble than not, pieces of wood carefully cut away from brooms that bore the runes they’d need for flight. He practiced for hours until he and Mal thought it safe enough to start etching runes into the trickier items to render them useless. Some days he’d bring Mal to inspect something before he carefully scratched a rune so the object would never quite work.

It wasn’t like anyone would check for such things.

The item they needed to check on the most was Maleficent’s staff, and the Dragon Eye on top of it. Evie started giving Mal things to spike Diablo’s food and water with so the stupid bird wouldn’t keep such a close eye on her or her friends. If nothing else, they learned to keep careful watch of the skies.

And slowly, so very slowly, their bodies learned to use the smallest bit of magic in order to achieve wonders.

~*~

Mal was the first to actually use the magic they’d been trying to store. She was on her balcony staring up at the quickly darkening sky when her mother strolled in without so much as a knock. That wasn’t exactly unusual, and she listened with half an ear so she could respond appropriately when needed. This mostly meant nodding or making a noise here and there to indicate she was interested and still listening to what her mother was saying.

Then her mother insulted one of the Family. Mal wasn’t even entirely certain what had been said. She just knew it pricked at her nerves until she had to duck her head so her mother wouldn’t catch her eyes glowing. She wrapped her arms around herself and clenched at the fabric of her jacket and took careful breaths so her mother never knew she’d said something upsetting.

Maleficent was annoying, but she was still powerful and intimidating. Not to mention vicious.

When Maleficent finally left, Mal slumped to the ground with a growl that sounded more inhuman than ever before. She actually froze at the sound and glanced around warily for a solid minute before she realized the sound had come from her. Her teeth bared themselves in a feral grin, and she grabbed her go bag before climbing down her balcony. Screw staying the night at their houses alone for once. Everyone needed to hear about this.

Hell Hall had become their usual hang out spot with Cruella’s demise. No one let Carlos spend the night there (or much time at all) alone. Evie had a schedule, and the other two were more than happy to follow it. Carlos hadn’t even attempted to protest it. He’d just blinked at them for a few minutes after Mal’s suggestion (order). Jay had his mouth open, ready to insist that they wanted to spend time with Carlos because he was Family and not just because he had a huge house all to himself, then Carlos grinned.

And blushed. The blush was the important part because it was adorable and resulted in a cuddle pile that lasted the rest of the night.

So Mal collected Jay from his house, they went to Hell Hall where Evie and Carlos were spending the night. They were all just as excited as she was to hear the story. Sure, an inhuman growl probably wouldn’t have been noteworthy in a place with more magic, but this was proof of Mal’s inhuman heritage that hadn’t shown itself before now. Glowing eyes were nice and all, but this…this was-

“Uh, sweetie, what did you do to your clothes?” Evie asked. She looked amused instead of concerned or irritated and gestured to Mal’s sides when Mal just gave her a confused look.

No wonder Evie looked surprised. Mal’s shirt was singed and even burnt through in small places. She checked her jacket and found much larger holes with singed edges. The staring clearly went on for too long, in Carlos’ opinion, because he started inspecting her sides without warning.

“You don’t seem burned, at least,” he said and gave Mal an unrepentant grin when she glared at him for the inspection.

“Fire cannot harm a dragon,” Jay managed to say with a straight face. His serious look lasted all of three seconds before he burst into laughter. Evie and Carlos held out a few seconds longer before they too started snickering.

Mal rolled her eyes and joined in. Fire and scary growling? Magic was a beautiful thing.

~*~

After that, everyone kept careful watch for magic.

Results came in sporadic bursts. Once their bodies became used to using magic, it became easier and easier to harness the miniscule amounts of ambient magic on the Isle.

Mal grew used to warming everyone’s drinks by cupping containers in her hands and concentrating. She had little access to actual spellbooks, but she learned to concentrate without rhyming spells or magic words. Speaking out loud was a weakness she could not afford; too many people would notice if she said strange things. So she concentrated and chanted, “Warmth. Warmth. Warmth,” in her mind until food and drink slowly started steaming. Concentrating in a slightly different way helped her keep the other three warm in Hell Hall’s cold spaces as winter approached them.

She knew how magic in general felt, and she learned what her own magic felt like. Her magic was heat and ferocity, easy to channel into anything involving fire and destruction. It became all too easy to complete tiny shifts to a more draconic form. If she wasn’t careful, her anger would transform not only her eyes, but her nails, teeth, and sometimes even her skin. Teeth and talons were sort of easy to hide. Hiding a peppering of dark and light purple scales on parts of her face (mostly around her eyes and over the bridge of her nose) was much harder.

Learning to use magic was easy in comparison to learning how to keep herself from using it. She had no other choice but to learn. Even the thought of trying to talk Carlos and Evie into researching and/or making a magic supression device made her queasy.

~*~

Jay didn’t notice anything weird was going on, at first. He picked pockets and nicked items from all sorts of places without even thinking about it. He concentrated on breathing more often than he actively thought about stealing something. Observing the actions of those around him was second nature. He knew where they were, what they were looking at, if they were paying attention to him, and…well, observation was a huge part of being a good thief. And Jay was an excellent thief.

Finding random items in his pockets or bags wasn’t all that unusual. Pulling out one of Evie’s earrings along with the random detritus he’d picked up throughout the day, however, was extremely odd. For a moment, he was horrified and extremely pissed off at himself. He hadn’t unconsciously stolen anything that belonged to Family in ages. His gut churned with guilt as he stared at the ring, and he grabbed it in order to return it.

Evie wasn’t at all upset with him and made him sit down and finish a warm drink. Any other time, Jay would have been amused at her insistence that everyone have a warm drink when upset. Her kindness made him feel horrible and better all at once. He didn’t say a word and allowed her to tell him a story they both knew he wasn’t paying attention to.

He was still miserable when he finally dragged himself away to patrol the outside of the house, switching off with Mal without a word. He’d only made his first circuit around the building when he shoved his hands in his pockets and found something else in them. Which was…impossible because he’d cleaned out his pockets, gone to Evie, and spent a few hours in misery before he’d decided to do something productive.

The sugilite he pulled out of his pocket was the only piece Mal owned. How in the….no. It could wait until his patrol was over. Maybe his Family would have ideas on how to keep his hands from wandering disrespectfully.

It took a few hours before anyone came looking for him. He was lucky they’d waited; it usually took less time before they found one another and just sat or walked in silence until the upset person relented and started speaking.

Carlos came bearing a plate of food. It was just a sandwich and an apple that was barely even rotten. Evie must have charmed the goblins into sharing the good stuff again. Jay was sort of hungry, but he still wasn’t in the mood for company. He wished Carlos couldn’t see him. Maybe he’d go looking or would just go back inside, and Jay would have more time to think (sulk).

Carlos frowned into the darkness, scanning the shadows for Jay. Which was ridiculous. The Four’s eyesight was exceptional in the darkness, and Jay was partially standing in a patch of moonlight for curse’s sake. Carlos definitely wasn’t the type to pretend Jay wasn’t there. If he decided to allow Jay more time to himself, he usually nodded at him, then left the food on top of something and backed away. He stayed until Jay grabbed the meal, then he left.

So the fact that he was so obviously pretending not to see him was pissing Jay off. Carlos even went so far as to start walking, as if going off to search for Jay in another sector of the grounds.

“Oh, come on, Carlos,” Jay snarled, and for a moment wished he could snarl just as frighteningly as Mal could.

It wasn’t just the sudden noise that made Carlos jump and drop everything he was holding. It was the snarling sound that pierced the air and seemed to echo around them. Even Jay jumped at that. He, like Carlos, drew his weapon and turned in a slow circle to look for whatever strange beast had found them. (Though he suspected it was just Mal messing with them)

Both teenagers were silent as they slowly crept toward one another, wary and alert for almost ten minutes before they relaxed just the tiniest bit. Carlos’ daggers glinted in the moonlight for a moment before he tucked them back into their holsters and turned to give Jay a stern glare. At least he waited for Jay to sheathe his machete before he actually said anything.

“If you didn’t want to talk you could have just said,” Carlos hissed at him. The only reason he wasn’t shouting was because he was still worried about the beastly snarl. “You should’t just…hide from us. Fr-from me.” He snapped his mouth closed after his admission and clenched his teeth together, arms crossing defensively over his chest.

Jay felt a little guilty for a moment before he bared his teeth at Carlos. The expression barely even came close to threatening. It was posturing more than anything else. “I wasn’t hiding. You were the one pretending not to see me, trying to force me to say something. I shouldn’t have to deal with shit until I want to-what?”

He stopped because Carlos looked slightly confused and extremely offended.

“I wouldn’t do that, and you fu-bloody well know it,” Carlos snapped. He and Evie were the ones in the group who had problems with cursing. Evie had been raised as a princess and so thought it was incredibly vulgar and rude and so it should be save for extremely important or extremely emotional events. Carlos also thought it was rude and hadn’t even been living without Cruella’s influence for an entire year yet. “You know I’m not as good as you and Mal are at seeing stuff in the dark.”

Jay felt another twinge of guilty like he did every time Carlos admitted any sort of weakness. If Carlos didn’t sound so damn sad and accepting of his faults, Jay wouldn’t have to deal with so many flashes of guilt. “I was half standing in the moonlight! It’s a gibbous moon, Carlos, you can’t possibly have missed me.”

“You were no-“ Carlos cut off suddenly, and his expression morphed from upset and almost angry to extremely curious. Jay could practically hear the gears turning in his head. “You’re sure you were standing in the moonlight?” He waited until Jay slowly nodded, then tilted his head to one side.

Jay hated waiting. There was never any way to tell when Carlos would snap out of a train of thought, especially when his face looked like that. He’d once lost an entire afternoon to contemplation. The only things that saved him from the others breaking his concentration was how adorable he’d looked doing it and how easily led he was when lost in thought. He followed everyone with the gentlest of nudges and ate whatever was put into his hands. They couldn’t hand him anything to drink because he inevitably tried to eat it, but if they held the glass to his lips and tilted it carefully enough, he’d drink it.

So Jay tugged Carlos along to the dropped food and let him stand there while he snatched up the sandwich and apple. He took a bite of both and stared at Carlos for a moment before he shook his head. Clearly this was going to take longer than he’d thought. He hoped he wouldn’t need to bring Carlos inside.

Jay finished the apple and most of the sandwich before Carlos blinked and shook himself.

“Magic,” he concluded. When Jay just stared at him and continued eating, he sighed. “You must have managed to use some form of magic, Jay. Maybe something mental to nudge my attention away. Invisibility. Shadow manipulation. Light manipulation. Could be a number of things, actually. What were you concentrating on at the time?”

Jay finished chewing the last bit of the sandwich and thought about his answer. “I didn’t want to be bothered. I sort of wished you wouldn’t see me and give up or go search somewhere else, but……..” He trailed off, thought for a moment more, then actually smacked his face with his palm. “Oh no.”

Carlos didn’t even have the decency to ask questions. No, he just waited patiently for Jay to say something and didn’t even smirk at him. It was very rude of him.

“I…sort of wished I could snarl like Mal. Just a little. And only for a second,” Jay mumbled as quickly and incoherently as possible. Once again, Carlos just waited silently for Jay to repeat himself.

Then he started cackling. Jay was both impressed and annoyed by the sound.

When Evie and Mal found out, they cackled, too. Jay was never going to live this down.

“Wish magic!” Mal exclaimed with the utmost glee. “You utter djinn!”

“It’s probably more focused than normal djinni and genies,” Evie murmured thoughtfully. She actually tapped her chin for a few moments she thought. “I suppose we won’t know what category your magic fits in until later. Things like the snarl might happen sporadically and without control so-“

“Don’t say it,” Jay interrupted. He tried to look threatening and like he might actually follow through on the implied threat.

“Careful what you wish for,” Carlos deadpanned. Mal actually fell to the floor because she was laughing so hard. Evie, at least, had the decency to cover her mouth and try to laugh quietly.

“You’re all horrible friends,” Jay muttered around a grin of his own. He nudged Carlos after he patted Jay’s arm in a slightly consoling manner.

“You love us anyway,” Carlos said. At least he was only smirking at him instead of laughing. He’d probably save all of his best teases for when Jay least expected it.

“Only because you’re all useful. There is no love left in my heart anymore. Because you’re all the worst.”

Carlos pulled out a bag of mixed nuts from his pocket. Jay accepted it with a sigh and ruffled Carlos’ hair.

~*~

Evie was twitchy for an entire twenty-four hours until she figured out what was going on.

At first she was well and truly creeped out so it took her longer than she’d have liked to figure out the pattern. It wasn’t entirely her fault! Hearing whispers everywhere was just creepy. The whispers didn’t even make sense the first two dozen or so times she heard them. They were just there, along the edge of her hearing, and whenever she looked around, no one was there.

Then the whispers had started to make sense. Sort of. They were flashes of conversations between seemingly random people, words and phrases that barely held any meaning, and eventually the whispers were accompanied by flashes of actual images out of the corner of her eyes. Seeing thing got really old, really fast.

It wasn’t until she brought a basket of supplies to her mother that she noticed a pattern. Their castle (cave) was covered in mirrors. Broken mirrors, mostly, but the entire place practically glittered with reflected light at all times. The mirrors were never anything less than perfectly polished, unlike almost every other reflective surface on the Isle.

She was idly flipping through a book that may or may not have been smuggled out of the Library of Forbidden Secrets in an attempt to search for a solution to her problem. She ignored the whispers, but when something flashed in the corner of her eye, her head jerked around so she could look at it.

It wasn’t her reflection she saw in the mirror. It was the cover of the book in her hands. She wondered what it was doing there and if the image might help in some way. As if in answer, the book started flipping through its pages until it landed on page number 113. Intrigued, Evie turned to the page, glanced down the page, then grinned.

Page 113 was the first page for the chapter on scrying. It was only a few pages long, but her mother was the Evil Queen. She closed the book, placed it in her bag, and decided it was time for a trip to Hell Hall.

“Am I allowed to ask why?” Jay asked when Evie handed him a list of things for him to acquire. “You don’t even like turqoise all that well. You have about three pieces of it that you never wear.”

“I need them as flat and thing as possible, or at least stones that can be reshaped easily,” she answered. She wasn’t even upset that Mal and Carlos were so obviously listening to every word. They would find out sooner or later; better that everyone found out now. “So I can start attaching them to the inside of my circlets. It’ll probably be best if they touch the skin, or at least my hair.”

Everyone frowned and thought about what this might mean.

“Protection against something?” Jay asked and stood up before the words were even finished coming out of his mouth. If it wasn’t for the fact that he might need more information, Evie was willing to bet he’d have already been out the door.

“Mind magic?” Carlos guessed. He’d practically memorized most of the uses for various stones, gems, metals, woods, and anything else they might end up needing.

“Someone’s not going back to her house of mirrors until she’s no longer having any problems with control, V,” Mal ordered. She had that stubborn look one her face that meant she would argue the point until the other person gave in if need be.

“Oh I definitely wasn’t planning on it. I don’t think anyone else can hear the whispers unless they’re standing close to me, but I’m almost certain they’d be able to see the images.” Evie held up her bag so they’d know she’d already thought about it and had brought everything she thought she might need. Not that the others weren’t perfectly willing to just show up at her castle and grab whatever she wanted or needed.

“Just turqoise or do you need everything else right this second, too? Because I’d rather just focus on emergency stuff now and gather the rest later,” Jay told her. He was already hopping from foot to foot, eager to go out and be useful.

“Turqoise for now. The rest is mostly for training so it can wait.” She tugged on his sleeve until he sighed and let her kiss his cheek. Then he was off.

~*~

Left to his own devices, Carlos would have never realized anything at all.

One day, he would be so assured of himself that the others could spend days teasing him for it.

~*~

“His family isn’t really known for their magical tendencies,” Evie felt the need to remind Mal and Jay. Judging by the sound of her voice, she believed it about as much as they did. Which was to say – not at all.

“He’s Family. He has something,” Jay insisted. He wasn’t even trying to look casual about the discussion. Every inch of him screamed stubborn.

“Lack of known magical heritage just means it might take a bit longer for everything to sink in,” Mal added. “And he is doing the exercises.”

“Because he’s humoring us,” Evie pointed out.

“Doesn’t mean he’s not giving it a hundred percent,” Jay huffed.

“It’s probably subtle. Carlos loves inventing and technology, and he doesn’t spend every second of every day flinching at his shadow anymore. We need to think about this. And watch him. Something might happen that he doesn’t notice, but other people would.” Mal nodded, indicating the discussion was over for now.

~*~

Carlos was taking apart the toaster on the kitchen table. Original parts and spare parts covered most of the table, but he’d remembered to leave at least a small portion of the table for people to set things on.

Mal made a beeline for the coffeemaker, absently ruffling Carlos’ hair on her way past him. His back was to the counter with the coffeemaker; he managed to make a noise that resembled a greeting that Mal answered with a similar grunt.

She went through the process of getting the coffeemaker ready to brew the precious, bitter giver of life in the morningtime. She knew for a fact she’d done all the steps correctly. She’d pressed the buttons in the right order. She’d even waited an extra ten seconds in case today was a day the stubborn machine had chosen to be especially irritating.

Nothing happened.

She whined at the thing and poked and prodded at it until Carlos let out an irritated noise.

“You didn’t check to see if it was plugged in, Mal,” he told her.

Mal could have chosen to be grouchy in his general direction, but that required too much effort. Besides, he was being helpful. Impertinence could be allowed from helpful minions.

“Stop referring to Carlos as your minion in your head,” Evie grumbled as she shuffled into the kitchen. She looked exquisite, despite the bedhead, but she soon slumped into a chair and made an incomprehensible string of noises that Mal interpreted as a query about coffee.

“Didn’t,” Mal mumbled. The machine still wasn’t working. At this point, Mal was very seriously considering filling a mug with coffe grounds and water and heating it up with her own two hands.

“Everyone gets coffee or no one gets coffee,” Jay hissed at her from under the table. Who knew how long he’d been laying down there. Judging by his quiet voice and chosen spot away from the light, he’d dipped into the wine cellar last night like an idiot.

“Ugh,” was Mal’s response, but she tried again. First she checked to make sure everything was in its proper place (like the plug), then she stared at the machine. Maybe if she gave it her best hopeless look it would start working. There was (had been?) an entire castle filled with enchanted furniture in Auradon. An Isle girl could dream.

“For the love of-press the thing, flip the switch, twist the knob, press the button, adjust the whatchacallit, tap the whozit, press the main gizmo, et voila!” Carlos cried from the table. He made a general, ‘It is not that difficult people,’ gesture over his shoulder.

Mal glared at him, eyes going faintly green. Mornings were horrible, and just because he was up all night trying to get the toaster to work before breakfast didn’t mean he got to snap at everyone and-

The coffee made a series of noises, gurgled, then started dripping coffee into the designated pot.

Everyone stared at the coffeemaker. Even Jay who had to partially crawl out from under the table in order to do it. No one said a word or stopped staring until the coffemaker finished brewing its pot. Then, they waited until Mal pour herself a mug (then sighed and poured Evie and Jay one as well. Carlos was getting no coffee until he’d had at least a two hour nap)

“Did you….?” Evie asked and trailed off after so she could continue to carefully sip and hiss whenever she burned her tongue.

“No,” Mal answered, downed an entire cup because the heat didn’t bother her, and poured herself another mug.

Under the table, Jay was hilariously attempting to drink his coffee without actually lifting his head off of the floor. The results weren’t pretty.

“Jay, for love of heroes dying a painful well deserved death, sit up and drink your stupid coffee before we have to figure out how to use magic to keep your face pretty,” Carlos sighed, sounding far too fond.

Jay snickered because he deserved that and very slowly sat up. He had to stay hunched over in order to remain under the table, but he really didn’t care. “I resemble that comment. Or would have had I not taken your advice. Whatever. Mornings.”

Everyone fell into a companionable silence as they finished the pot of coffee. Carlos finished piecing the toaster back together just as someone set a glass half full of milk a few hours shy of curdling next to him. He poked and prodded at the toaster for a few moments, stopping only when Evie choked on her coffee.

“What? Are you okay?” he asked warily, then blinked the sleep out of his eyes. How long had he been awake anyway?

“Eyes,” Evie squeaked, her own wide with surprise. Mal and Jay scurried to Evie’s position so they could see Carlos’ face. They just barely managed to get there in time to see the his sclera bleed back into the white color they should be.

Carlos blinked at her, too sleepy to properly process that. “I….yes?” he tried then added, “What?”

“You need a nap, buddy,” Jay decided and gave Mal and Evie a warning glance. “Come on. Bed.”

Carlos snorted and rolled his eyes, but he dutifully stood up. He swayed a bit and was glad he hadn’t decided to argue against needing a nap. He clearly did. “You just want hangover supplies.”

“And aspirin. And maybe to hide under your bed until the sun stops trying to kill me,” Jay agreed whole heartedly.

When they were gone, Mal gingerly poked the toaster with a wooden spoon. “Think we should risk it?” she asked hesitantly.

Evie frowned at it, then grimaced when her stomach made its decision on the matter known. Loudly. “Yes. I want toast. If it blows up or burns the house down, he only has himself to blame.”

Mal nodded. Then smirked. Carlos was going to freak when he heard about this.

Chapter Text

Many students at Auradon Prep had extra duties to attend to or extra lessons they needed to learn. This made for an interesting course selection.

Basic Kingdom Management and Advanced Kingdom Management were a required courses for all royal students. Basic Kingdom Management touched briefly on the differences between the kindgoms and focused on things all royals needed to know in order to rule. It met every day for two semesters and was really more of a refresher course than anything else. Advanced Kingdom Management only met once or twice a month; the teacher held mock events in order to help the students gain experience in a relatively harmless setting. Each student met at least one tutor from their own kingdom that told them anything else they might need to know at least twice a week and were expected to schedule their own meetings.

Court Etiquette was a requirement for nobles and royals as well as a few students who came from important and powerful families. Lonnie, for example, wasn’t of royal or noble blood, but her family was invited to many events in their own kingdom and others because of their status in their kingdom’s army so she had to take the course. Doug’s extended family was extremely important and well liked by their patron royals, but they were dwarves. They were builders, workers, and general helpers not leaders or businessmen or anything like that.

Gym class (called Physical Fitness in the course book) was divided into so many categories no one but the headmistress and the professors knew how to make heads or tail of it. Fencing was a requirement for nobles and royals, but everyone was allowed choose it as an elective. Anyone on the tourney team automatically met that semester’s physical fitness requirement. Dancing was mostly covered in Court Etiquette but anyone that wanted a refresher course, an easy grade, or was genuinely interested could attend to meet that semester’s requirement. There was an entire course for aerobics, one for roller skating of all things, several for various sports (and one that changed sports every weeks so students didn’t have to do the same thing over and over again), weight lifting, swimming, horseback riding, and more. The school provided all equipment, except in the case of the any equestrian class; students that took an equestrian class were required to provide their own horse (or talk a friend or patron into sharing or providing a mount).

Because a vast amount of students had other duties besides school to attend to, the school made sure to accommodate every student’s particular needs. This meant that many students attended school for an entire year longer than they would at a standard high school. Though, if needed, there was always the option to home school for a most of a semester or even an entire semester.

Like most students, Ben had never really minded attending an extra year just to fit everything in. These were the only years many of them had to just exist and spend time with one another without everything else getting in the way. Ben had no idea if no one else realized just how many responsibilities their lives would hold and how very little choice they would have in the matter or if they were just better at hiding the knowledge than he was.

Everything had changed when his sixteenth birthday had passed him by and his coronation had been denied him. His seventeeth birthday passed by without even a discussion about Ben’s readiness for the crown. Ben was torn between loving school and the chance it afforded him to get out of his castle and hating it because it was filled with bright and happy teenagers without a care in the world.

The student body wasn’t completely filled with happiness, of course. Ben was unhappy. Doug, Chad, and Jane were unhappy. Sometimes when Ben looked at other students he caught flashes of the same expressions he so often saw on his, Jane, Chad, and Doug’s faces. He never approached them. He didn’t want to run the risk of ruining what little peace he had. The entire student body had collectively seemed to decide to never, ever mention the Isle or his royal status and pretend everything was fine and dandy.

That was pretty standard. Auradon was all about keeping up appearances.

~*~

The school dress code wasn’t very strict. They wore no uniforms and weren’t even required to dress nicely. The students enforced their own version of the dress code amongst themselves. Display your house or kingdom’s colors proudly; wearing school colors was also acceptable. Dress nicely in adherence to your own (acceptable) style.

So when Jane started wearing elbow length gloves, none of the students had a problem with it. It was a bit odd, yes, but Jane had always been a bit odd. Jane’s mother, however, had other ideas.

It was not at all unusual to catch the Fairy Godmother lecturing Jane on her clothing choices. Jane always quietly agreed with her, but she never took the gloves off. Most students were of the opinion that Jane’s idea of teenage rebellion was adorable and should be helped along at any and all costs.

Lonnie may or may not have had something to do with that. She’d noticed Jane’s long sleeves and the way her maybe friend had hidden her hands in them for months until the weather grew too warm for such things. Jane had lasted a month before people whispering about her long sleeves had forced her hand (s into gloves). So maybe Lonnie had offhandedly mentioned how cute it was that Jane was dipping her toe into fashion trends. How adorable was it that she, like everyone else, wanted to rebel against her parents and instead of choosing drinking, outrageous shopping sprees, or breaking actual rules, she chose to wear harmless articles of clothing? Why, Jane was probably too shy to ask what sorts of gloves she should buy and likely didn’t know any good stores to purchase any from. Wouldn’t we be such good people if we helped her out?

Lonnie was an observer of humanity. Sometimes, she wanted to channel that into becoming a reporter or maybe to make documentaries of some sort. There were only two things she wanted in life: to help people and to know the truth about anything and everything possible. Manipulating the rumor mill was a excellent way to learn how to parse truth from lies. It was an even better way of helping out her maybe friends.

Lonnie had an almost sixth sense about school drama. She often found herself in a prime position to observe scandalously public break ups, secret meetings in the dead of night, and any other event that was sure to set the school abuzz.

So she wasn’t at all surprised when she collided with Doug and scattered everything in both their arms to the ground. She and Doug apologized profusely to one another and caught each other up on harmless topics as they gathered and sorted their things.

Jane stormed out of an empty classroom, made several attempts to adjust her messenger bag, and actually turned around to hiss at her mother when the Fairy Godmother exited the same classroom.

“It’s not like it’s breaking any rules! Why do you even care?!” Jane shouted. That was new. Jane had never shouted at her mother in public before.

The Fairy Godmother pursed her lips and glanced up and down the hallway. Lonnie and Doug concentrated intently on their task and tried to make themselves seem as small as possible.

“Please don’t use that tone with me, young lady,” the Fairy Godmother replied. Her voice was perfectly pleasant; she didn’t even sound upset. (Lonnie wondered how Jane hadn’t broken down and shouted at her months ago if that was how the Fairy Godmother always sounded during arguments)

“Tone?! What? I’m not allowed to be upset that you keep bugging me about something completely ridiculous?” Jane asked. She wasn’t shouting anymore, but she definitely didn’t sound anything less than upset. “They’re gloves, Mom. Not…..bra straps!”

Doug very quietly choked on a laugh and his his face in his hands.

“Jane. I would much rather have this discussion-“

“Well I’d rather not have it at all. Ever again.” Jane interrupted.

“Please do not interrupt,” the Fairy Godmother admonished. She actually frowned this time and took a step forward. “Now, as I was saying, you are my daughter and should set the utmost example to the rest of the students. These….fashion accessories are hardly necessary, and if you would just-“

“What the hell is wrong with you? You don’t need to control every last thing in my life. I’m perfectly fucking capable-“

“Language!” Fairy Godmother yelled. Actually yelled. Then let out a string of sounds that made no sense to Lonnie and Doug. They heard Jane’s name in there somewhere so maybe it was the fairy mom equivalent of yelling out someone’s full name.

“Whatever,” was Jane’s reply and she turned around, eyes widening briefly when she noticed Lonnie and Doug.

“Don’t you walk away from me, young lady. We are in the middle of a discussion.”

Jane turned around at the sound of her mother’s heels clicking on the floor. Her hands jerked outward in a general expression of teenage rage, and she yelled, “Just leave me alone!”

Lonnie and Doug had no idea what happened next. Not really.

But the lights in the hallway exploded, sending sparks everywhere. The school sprinklers went off, and the fire alarm let out an undending, shrill ring. The Fairy Godmother had been knocked back a few feet with just enough force to knock her over.

Jane looked horrifed and stood there, completely frozen.

Lonnie and Doug exchanged a quick look then scrambled to their feet. They each grabbed one of Jane’s arms and dragged her away into the quickly growing crowd trying to make it to the building exits.

~*~

Ben stared at the lessons his kingdom management tutor had left him with. He knew for a fact they were heavily edited. He’d completed the Advanced Kingdom Management course a few months before his sixteenth birthday; this was just an unnecessary refresher ordered by his father. Plus, he’d read every book in the castle about the kingdom by the time he’d reached twelve years of age. Every trade agreement, every ettiqette book, every updated protocol book, every law, and even pages upon pages of seasonly crop reports that dated back hundreds of years. He’d read them all.

So he knew what was in front of him was complete and utter bullshit. Looked like his eighteenth birthday would pass without a coronation as well. Sometimes, he wondered if he should show his mother his Personal Mark and let the chips fall where they may.

He was jolted out of his angry sulk by frantic pounding on his door. That was unusual.

He opened the door and was nearly run over by Lonnie, Jane, Doug, and Chad as the four of them scrambled inside. Doug looked concerned. Chad looked confused. Lonnie looked determined. Jane looked like she was in a state of complete shock.

“What happened?” Ben asked after closing the door behind them.

“Hide us. They were following us but we think we lost them,” Lonnie ordered. She had a tight grip on Chad’s arm, as if afraid to let him go. Jane was smooshed between Doug and Lonnie.

“What-“ Ben started, but he could hear a commotion from down the hall. His brain blanked for the briefest of moments before he nodded. “Right. Bathroom. All of you.”

Lonnie dragged a protesting Chad in the bathroom. Then, when Ben ordered them to, she dragged a still protesting Chad into the shower.

“Shut up,” Ben snarled. He wasn’t proud of how beastly he sounded, but Chad shut up and didn’t make a sound even when Ben turned on the faucet. “Adjust that so you don’t freeze or burn,” he ordered. He maneuvered everyone so he could stand in the spray and started stripping.

Another round of frantic pounding started on his bedroom door. Panicking wouldn’t help so Ben just concentrated on the task at hand. His (sort of) friends had asked for his help. He had a plan for this. Maybe.

He stripped of clothing in record time, shut the curtain behind him after he stepped out of the shower, grabbed a towel, and mostly shut the bathroom door before running to answer before the person knocking decided to come in without permission.

He opened the door soaking wet and held his towel so it hid both of his Marks. He was a bit out of breath by this point so he hoped that was enough reason to do nothing but stare at the Fairy Godmother and the three guards behind her.

“Sorry….was there something you needed?” he asked after a moment’s silence.

Fairy Godmother very carefully kept her gaze on Ben’s face and asked, “Have you seen Jane? Or possibly two or three other suspicious looking students lately?”

Ben frowned and did his best to look confused. It did not take much acting; he genuinely was confused about the situation. “Uh….” He lifted the towel to dry off his face and to hide his expression because an exasperated look would give them all away. “I was in the shower. I think I’d have noticed if a group of people suddenly found themselves in there with me. You’re welcome to search, though?”

One of the guards snorted and then coughed when another guard nudged them.

Fairy Godmother’s cheeks were bright red when she answered. “No, I do not believe that is necessary. In the future, Prince Ben, please take all the time you need to properly wrap yourself in towels or even to clothe yourself before you answer the door. That is all.”

And with that she left and took the guards with her.

Ben quickly shut the door and leaned against it. He was so relieved that it took him a moment to realize what she’d been talking about.

Oh great. He could mark answering the door and flashing his junk to the school’s Headmistress off of his bucket list. At least she’d been so distracted by accidental flashes of his junk that she hadn’t noticed any accidental flashes of his Marks.

Dragon was never allowed to find out about this.

He wrapped the towel around his waist more properly and threw on a random shirt before he entered the bathroom.

“All clear. You can come out now,” he announced.

“Thank fuck,” Chad hissed before he scrambled out of the shower. He did not look at all happy about what had just happened. “You ruined my phone, man.”

“I’ll buy you a new one,” Doug snapped. He and Lonnie helped a still shocked Jane out of the shower.

Everyone shivered slightly, and Ben winced.

“Er, I’ll get everyone something to wear until their clothes dry,” he told them. “Girls can have the bathroom.”

Once almost everyone was dressed in Ben’s work out clothes and/or pajamas, he sat them all down at his table to get some answers. Chad had angrily gone through his pockets and refused to wear anything except his mostly miraculously dry boxers. Instead, he kept tapping at his phone, as if that might spontaneously make it start working.

Jane curled in one herself for a moment before Lonnie wrapped an arm around her.

“It’s okay,” Lonnie told her with an encouraging smile. “Ben will help.”

“I can’t help if I don’t know what is going on,” Ben pointed out.

“Jane used magic and caused a small catastrophe,” Doug answered.

Chad dropped his phone. Jane flinched. Lonnie lightly kicked Doug’s leg.

“I thought fairies needed wands in order to do magic,” Ben said in an attempt to keep the conversation moving.

“Not all fairies,” Jane whispered. “Maleficent used a staff, but not all the time. I don’t think.” She looked more frightened and more miserable than Ben had ever seen her and remained so even after everyone had explained what had happened.

Apparently, what had happened was this: a small explosion of magic resulting in chaos and the evacuation of one of the buildings on campus. Doug and Lonnie had grabbed Jane and gotten out before anyone could catch them. They’d literally ran into Chad on the way and just sort of pulled him along mostly to avoid him telling anyone who looked for them where they were. Lonnie had led them to Ben because she had known Ben would help them. Ben knew the rest of the story and was never going to let anyone know about the bit where he accidentally flashed Jane’s mom. Ever.

Ben caught his lower lip with his teeth and thought about what he could possibly do to help. Other than hide the four of them for a short amount of time. It would never work in the long run. They’d need something. Some sort of excuse. But what?

Oh, Ben knew exactly what.

He grabbed a pen and began flipping a notebook to a blank page. “Doug, if I drew the schematics to a prototype for you, d’you think you could build it? It might not be complete, but I think I’ve got the basics down.”

“Um…probably?” Doug answered. He exchanged a confused look with Lonnie, but it seemed she didn’t know what was going on either. “What kind of prototype?”

“Just a small EMP bomb. No big deal.” Ben was already sketching and writing notes on the page. He didn’t seem to notice anything strange with what he’d just said.

“What?!” came the reply from three very surprised teenagers.

Chad stood up and started for the bathroom, intending on grabbing his clothes and leaving before he got dragged any further into the mess. “Nope. I am out of here. I refuse to be a part of this.”

Ben set his pen down and stood. He was exceedingly calm, unlike Doug and Lonnie who were both frantically trying to convince Chad to stay. Lonnie even stood up and followed after him. She grabbed his arm before he made it to the bathroom, and the two started arguing even louder. However, when Ben held up a hand, and they both froze in place.

“All right. Then you don’t have to be a part of this. But Chad? We stand together. You either stand with us. Or you stand alone,” he told him quietly. He didn’t even sound angry. He just sounded like his mother when she made an ultimatum. This was his line in the sand, and if a person chose to cross it, that was their right but he would not back down.

Chad gulped and glanced at the ground. These people weren’t his friends. He owed them exactly nothing. They barely spoke to one another, and when they did it was usually in secret so they could gripe about how unfair life was. Still. Griping to them was better than keeping everything to himself.

Lonnie wasn’t the one being scolded so she could afford to be curious. She tilted her head and gave Ben a thoughtful stare. After almost a minute of silence, she said, “You’re quoting something. Or paraphrasing. Whatever. Either way, you heard someone else say that. Who?”

Chad was actually quite glad Lonnie had spoken. It meant everyone stopped staring at him.

Ben’s cheeks grew pink, and he glanced at everyone. These people weren’t his friends. Not really. They shared a common cause that wasn’t even a proper goal. Chad never mentioned getting anyone off of the Isle, not even his soulmate. Jane never mentioned much of anything and seemed content to sometimes sit near someone who wouldn’t question why she looked miserable. Doug jumped at his own shadow and usually spent his time around Ben studying or talking about tourney or the marching band. Lonnie talked about anything and everything to each of them, but they’d all stopped talking about anything of importance before Ben’s seventeenth birthday. Nothing was ever going to change, and they’d all just accepted it. Ben included.

Something had to change. They needed a tipping point. They needed answers. More than that, they needed to be alowed the freedom to ask questions in order to know which answers they’d even need. They needed to trust one another.

So Ben lifted his shirt over his head and held his chin high. He took a deep breath, slowly let it out, let them all have a moment to get a good look at his chest, then held up his wrist so his Personal Mark and Soulmate Mark were side by side. It was a little uncomfortable for many reasons, but he could do this.

“My name is Ben. Sometimes I dream about a girl I call Dragon who wears my Mark on one wrist and her own Mark on the other. She draws things for me when I ask her to. She drew the EMP schematic just to have something to do with her hands while she told me about the time her friend actualled made and tested his new invention out. She’s never said it out loud, but she lives on the Isle. And, yes, she was the person I was…paraphrasing.”

Ben ended his speech and stared each of them down until they nodded at him.

“Why haven’t you told your parents?” Doug asked quietly. “You dream about your soulmate. That’s…that’s the stuff of legends. It’s ‘fated to change the world’ level Soulmate Magic and Destiny. That’s proof of True Love and unbreakable bonds. They’d have her off of the Isle in a heartbeat.”

Ben’s eyes narrowed, and he shook his head. He lowered his arm and tried his best to ignore the urge to cross his arms over his chest. “Or maybe they’d just remove my Mark entirely. An Isle teen with a soulmate from one of the most influential royal families in Auradon? And a Personal Mark of her own? No. I will not risk her like that.” He refused to be ashamed of the way his voice gained a growl at the mere thought of someone suggesting he willingly bring harm to his own soulmate.

He refuse to apologize when Doug flinched and suddenly found an interesting spot on the table to stare at.

“Removing a Mark is dark magic,” Lonnie pointed out with a frown. Still, she sounded like she mostly agreed with Ben.

“The side of Good has done it before,” Chad, of all people, said. Cautiously, he crept back to his seat at the table and sat back down. He gave Ben another nod and glanced over at Jane. He almost looked concerned. “They’d never take Ben’s Mark. The process usually ends up killing the person they removed the Mark from. They’d take it from her instead.”

Lonnie joined them at the table and sat down. She wrapped an arm around Jane again, tugging her closer until Jane rested her head on Lonnie’s shoulder. “We could….”

“Stop them? Do you really think we could?” Ben asked. His voice was softer, now, and he finally sat back down.

“Surely they wouldn’t-“ Lonnie started. Surprisingly, it was Jane who interrupted her.

“’Everything In Service Of The Greater Good’,” this time, she was the one quoting something. “It’s something my mom says a lot. Fairies protect and guide humans, and they serve the Greater Good. The needs of the many are always priorotized over the needs of the few. I could give you guys at least five different lectures on how Greater Good and Personal Sacrifice go hand in hand.”

Everyone shuddered. Jane and Lonnie huddled into a tighter ball. Chad clasped his hands on top of the table and stared sorrowfully at them. Doug slumped his shoulders and glanced at the others before he turned to stare at Ben, as if Ben would know what to do.

“Look. Right now, we need to focus on keeping Jane out of trouble. I’ll finish the schematic. Chad, maybe you could put on some of my clothes and get some food. Later, you and Doug can go get the things we’ll need to make this thing. Lonnie, Jane, and I will think of a cover story. Sound good?” Ben asked. He was amazed at how calm and sure of himself he sounded. Inside his head, there seemed to be nothing but endless amount of panicked screaming.

Slowly, the other four nodded and even began to look somewhat hopeful.

It was a start.

Chapter Text

When Mal opened her eyes, everything was different. The air was freezing, and for a few moments, she had fun blowing out puffs of air and pretending she had enough magic in her to control enough of her form and the enviornment itself to exhale actual smoke. The fun soon wore off when her shivers went from a mild inconvenience to body wracking shivers that made her teeth clack together hard enough to endanger her tongue.

She closed her eyes again and wrapped her arms around herself, concentratingas much as possible. Mal was never going to admit that Evie’s insistence everyone practice meditation was actually helpful instead of just boring.

’Warmth. Warmth. Warmth. Warmth.’ she mentally chanted. When that didn’t work she switched tactics. ’Heat. Heat. Heat. Heat…..Fire. Fire. Fire. Fire When in doubt, setting things in fire was a good tactic.

None of it worked. She just kept shivering.

She had no idea where she was, but it seemed familiar. Sort of. She stood on a bridge surrounded by trees. The bridge was bouncy and didn’t seem all that structurally sound. She glanced over the edge of it, her eyes widened, glanced from one end to the other, then she scurried to the closest bit of solid ground. Her mother’s rock bridge was bad enough. At least it didn’t seem like it would rain any time soon.

She growled as soon as she thought it and warily studied the sky. It was dusk, or around that time, but it was bright enough to see properly. The moon and a lone star or two were the only things in the sky; the sun had all but sunk below the treeline. She studied the sky for a few more moments, then let out a pleased sigh.

She wasn’t entirely certain it was cold enough to snow instead of pour down freezing rain or sleet. She did not want to find out. Hopefully, the sky would stay clear.

Strange pathway into the unknown woods or the shaky, wooden bridge of doom?

Yeah. There was no question.

The path led to a mostly familiar place. It looked like the enchanted lake she dreamed about. Except she’d never seen the lake like this. Part of the water was steaming with heat, and other parts were frozen solid. It looked kind of cool. She wasn’t stepping one foot on the frozen pathways, but her fingers itched to draw the scene all the same.

She smiled at the small picnic someone had set up on the stone circle. Only one person she knew would do that (okay so three people might do that, but she’d only ever seen the one at the lake. She nudged the blue blanket with her boot and bit her lower lip. There were several containers and thermoses; none of them had been opened. She wanted to peek inside, but….

She turned around in a full circle, searching for Puppy. He had to be here. The waterfall temporarily caught her attention. Parts of it were frozen solid, but water still flowed into the lake. The hot water touching the ice probably should have created far more steam than it actually did. It should have melted the ice, too, but instead everything looked picture perfect.

That pretty much summed up everything about the lake, actually. That and old. The whole place felt ancient. And magical. And welcoming. Okay so a lot of words could be used to describe the lake.

She shivered again and stared at the water. It was warm, and maybe if she actually had something warm to concentrate on, she’d actually be able to channel her magic. Her shivering had lessened, slightly, and she vaguely remembered a teacher or (more likely) Evie or Carlos lecturing Jay on wearing layers in the snow. Not shivering when cold was bad, right?

She moved to the edge of the stone circle, avoiding every spot the ice touched, and bent down to dip her fingers in the water that was hopefully as warm as the steam suggested.

“Dragon?”

Puppy’s voice startled Mal enough to almost send her flailing into the water. Thankfully, she managed to fall mostly on the stone circle. For a few moments, she was too flustered to say anything. Instead, she looked Puppy up and down.

The idiot was wearing nothing but swim trunks. Who wore swim trunks in the middle of winter? Screw that. Who wore swim trunks in probably freezing temperatures and sat on a path made of magical ice?

“You’re freezing,” Puppy said before she managed to speak. He scrambled to his feet and grabbed the edge of the blanket, none too gently letting everything fall off as he picked it up.

“You’re wearing shorts, it’s as cold as a witch’s tit in a brass bra, and were sitting on ice,” Mal pointed out as Puppy wrapped the blanket around her. She glared at him until he gave her a dopey smile and cuddled next to her so they could share the blanket. She graciously ignored it when he gave her most of the blanket. Hopefully, the heat would help warm her up so she could use her magic and then keep him warm that way.

“Your lips are blue, but you’re hardly shivering. Your skin feels like ice,” Puppy replied. The hand he placed on her cheek felt like fire, but at this point, Mal welcomed it.

“Magic isn’t working,” she admitted. She hesitated for barely a second before she practically climbed into Puppy’s lap. The boy was warm, and despite that, she was starting to feel guilty about hogging the blanket. They could share easier if she sat in his lap.

“Magi-“ Puppy started then shook his head. That was good. Mal really didn’t want to answer any magic questions. “This is a dream. It shouldn’t be cold at all. Feels like summer to me. I just…..wanted to show you the lake in the winter. If I’d known….” He sounded guiltier than Mal thought he needed to, and he was definitely leaving something out.

He more than made up for not telling the entire truth by wrapping around her. Neither of them spoke until Mal felt warmer. Puppy just hummed songs that Mal didn’t recognize. She thought they sounded nice.

“It’s beautiful,” Mal said after a while. Despite how softly she spoke, her voice still seemed to echo in the stillness. She wasn’t sure if it was the enchanted lake or the fact that this was a dream that made the waterfall quieter than it was supposed to be.

“Yeah,” Puppy answered. He sounded sad, but Mal wasn’t certain until he dropped his head and buried his face in her neck.

“Something’s wrong.” It wasn’t a question nor was it a demand for Puppy to tell her. It was just her, letting him know she could tell. If he wanted to talk about it, that would be great, but if he didn’t…she’d have to find something else to talk about.

Puppy was silent for so long Mal was afraid she’d actually have to think about a topic to use as a distraction.

“I have an ally. Friend? …something. It doesn’t matter. She was in trouble, and I couldn’t just…. I had another ally of ours build one of Sparky’s inventions. The EMP bomb.” Puppy rambled a bit, but he spoke slowly so that none of his words blurred together. He was tense and only moved his head so his words weren’t muffled against Mal’s neck. Even then he didn’t move much.

“They didn’t ask questions about where you learned it?” If Puppy endangered Carlos, Mal was going to find a way to kill him before her stupid Mark endangered her Family even more than it already was.

But Puppy shook his head. “No. None of them will. Not because they’re good people, but because we…we need each other. Some of them have soulmates on the Isle.” There was a short pause when Mal stiffened, but Puppy decided not to question it and kept talking. “The others are…I can trust them.”

“Can you?” Mal asked. Because if Puppy had even the slightest worriest that any of them would betray him…

Puppy was silent again. Mal could practically hear the gears turning in his head.

“We know too much about each other. They have just as much to lose as I do. Except for-“ he cut himself off and paused. Mal figured he was searching for something to call one of his mysterious allies. “Spirit. She’s…curious, kind, and driven. She makes a decision and sticks with it. She’s decided to stick with us. Probably because of all the interesting stuff we’re bound to cause or find out about. Plus, she’s the one that brought in…uh…Rebel.”

Mal covered her mouth with her hand to cover up the cackle at Puppy’s code names. Spirit and Rebel? Adorable. Besides, she’d chosen Sparky, Prince, and Blueberry. Puppy sounded utterly certain that these people would keep whatever secrets he’d told so she decided not to press. For now.

“All right. What did you need the bomb for?” she asked instead.

“Er….to frame someone else for something Rebel did by accident,” Puppy admitted. He barely sounded guilty at all. Mal was proud. Plus, he sounded incredibly embarrassed.

“What? You framed someone, Puppy? Who? Enquiring minds need to know.”

“There’s more than a few kids in school who are distantly related to…er…inhabitants of the Isle. Or their families were sort of close to them. We tried to frame the whole thing as an accident on their part, but….” He hid his face in Mal’s neck again. Mal thought he felt worse about how guiltless he felt over the whole incident. That was fine; he’d get over it.

“And it worked?” Mal asked, waiting for him to nod before she reached up and ran her fingers through his hair. “Good work, Puppy. All my hard work is paying off. Speaking of, your hard work is paying off, too.”

She felt Puppy frown against her neck for a moment before he shifted the both of them so he could look at her face. He didn’t say anything; just gave her a quizzical look.

“I’m way warmer now than I was before.” She waited for his bashful grin then continued. “And back home, there’s an actual class for that castle ball dancing kind of stuff you’ve been teaching me. It’s ridiculous, but I didn’t have to take it. None of us did after we’d proven to our instructor that we knew as much, if not more than they did.”

Puppy laughed at that and kissed her forehead. For once, Mal didn’t pull away or tense. She was too happy for that, and Puppy needed her to be okay with this kind of closeness. It still made her heart fill with rage and sorrow, but she could ignore it for now.

~*~

Jafar of Agrabah had a beautiful soulmate.

He was born with a Soulmate Mark wrapped around his upper arm. As a child, it was all black and blurry lines. Eventually, the blurred lines focused, and some days he spent hours admiring it. It looked like jewelry, a bracelet or a circlet or perhaps a much larger version of a ring. He thought the rounder lines in the middle were jewels of some sort. What colors would they be?

Were they sapphires set in silver? Rubies set in gold? Emeralds in bronze? Diamonds in iron? Some days he sat with a lovesick grin on his face and imagined his soulmate was a diamond in the rough. Diamonds and iron. Yes. He thought he liked that best. Except really, he’d like whatever colors his Mark turned out to be. The person they represented was meant for no one else but him, after all.

In his early teenage years, the black lines sprouted with color overnight. Silver for the lines of the metal of what was definitely jewelry of some sort (probably). What he’d always thought of as jewels turned out to be just that, and while they were not diamonds, they were brilliant blue sapphires. Who cared about his diamond in the rough theories? Though his Mark was just a bunch of colored lines, the metal and the jewels still shone and sparkles in the light.

He was almost twenty when the colors filled in. The silver still shone, and the sapphires still sparkled. Except now the whole thing looked that much more radiant. He took to wearing sleeveless shirts, uncaring of the harsh desert sun agains his skin. He’d learned magic from his mother, and he knew how to keep the sun from harming him. He and the sun were old friends, now.

Just look how the sunlight made his Mark sparkle, as if it were real and not just a Mark on his skin.

They met in the marketplace. She wasn’t much younger than he was, and she could not stay to chat for long. But she was beautiful. She was clever and had the most wondrous laugh. Her eyes were kind; no, she was kind. She filled her basket with bread and fruit then gave it all away to every last dirty, homeless child she and Jafar passed by.

They met often. She never let Jafar know where she was going or where she was from. Jafar quietly multiplied her breads and fruits, even though such magic exhausted him. He was used to pracitcing other magical arts, but the look on her face when she reached the end of the marketplace and found her basket still mostly full was worth it.

Jafar had been certain she was his. This Mark had to represent her. Sapphires for the hope she gave the children, and silver for the purity of her very soul. Gold tainted the hearts of men, after all, but silver?

But she bore no Mark on her skin.

It was one of the reasons she approached him in the marketplace. His Mark had filled her with wonder. Not many wore them out in the open; they were private things. Jafar had scoffed at that. Marks were beautiful gifts, and everyone shoud wear them proudly. Beside, what if seeing the Mark was what drew his soulmate to him? Jafar refused to risk meeting him or her for some silly superstition.

After the first few times they met in the marketplace, they never spoke of Marks again. Instead, she told him stories that had no ending. In each story, there was a problem to be solved, and she asked him how he would solve it. Jafar liked spending time with her, and the problems in the stories were always interesting. Sometimes, it took him days to think of a satisfactory answer, but she was patient and delighted in hearing his solutions.

This was how Jafar found himself a job in the palace, and not just any job. No. An advisor to the sultan himself. A lesser advisor, to be sure, but the sultan actually listened to him when he spoke and seemed to carefully consider his words. Some of the older advisors glared at him, as if he were a danger to their position.

It was glorious. (Even if he had to hide his Mark so as not to offend both tradition and ridiculous people)

The most surprising thing he learned, however, was that the woman from the marketplace was a visiting princess. While she was not, technically, engaged to the sultan, it was practically a done deal. The sultan was quite pleased with her already for finding him such a promising advisor. Jafar thanked both of the for their kindness and was pleased when his gracious words brought a blush to his friend’s face.

It was days before the wedding when he realized he’d fallen in love with her. It was ridiculous, really. He couldn’t be in love with her. She was Markless! (He knew this for a fact. He’d checked every inch of her when she’d come to him, terror in her eyes, and he’d taught not to fear pleasure. And promised that if the sultan ever harmed her, he would never grant him the mercy of a swift death. She’d laughed, thinking it a joke. He never corrected her.)

No one in the palace except Jafar and his friend (his love, even if he refused to admit it) knew what his Mark looked like.

She glanced at him only once during the ceremony, skin ashen as the blood drained from her face. The sultan paused his movements and asked if she was okay. In his hands, he held a circlet that perfectly matched the Mark wrapped around Jafar’s arm.

Jafar opened his mouth to speak, but she just shook her head. The movement was so small no one else noticed, and she covered it up by ducking her head and glancing away from everyone, a blush already on her cheeks. The ceremony continued.

When Jafar checked his Mark that night, he found that one of the jewels had….it looked as if someone had swept a finger through the jewel, leaving a smudge of blue that traveled past the silver and onto a part of his arm that had never borne the color of a Mark.

He refused to look at it again.

They still met. They still spoke. They were uneasy around one another, but they were happy. Sort of. Neither of them knew how to deal with this. Jafar began to suspect she was his soulmate, Markless though she might be. She, however, was insistent that the Mark represented someone else. Her daughter, perhaps. Jafar looked so horrified by this prospect that she actually laughed and suggested the person who’d made the circlet. (The circlet was a kingdom heirloom; neither of them spoke of it again)

Her pregnancy made her glow. Jafar had always thought that a ridiculous term. Magic made people glow. Pregnancy made them irritable and often quite sweaty. So if they glowed, it was a gross glow and no attention should be drawn to it. But she did. She was radiant and joyful; her smile lit up rooms.

During the last few months, the healers decided it was too risky to let her move around too much. She took to bedrest with very little grace unless the sultan or Jafar attended to her. As the sultan had far more important duties, Jafar was often the one by her bedside. They traded stories, both old and new, and played games. He wasn’t very good at healing, especially anything that involved birth, but he could manage the spell that told a mother the gender of her child.

“What will you name her?” he asked.

“Esfir,” she decided. “So you will be forced bring her all of the star sapphires you can find,” she teased.

Jafar rolled his eyes, and for a few days was willing to ignore the way his chest ached and his Mark itched. He began checking it every night, obsessing over any possible changes. He never found any, but the worry gnawed at him.

Finally, he pleaded with her.

“Leave with me, my love. Please. I know that you and I are meant to be. Just look.” He showed her his Mark and how it had changed, ashamed and hopeful all at once. “I checked it the night of your wedding, love. When we both knew yet shied away. Please.”

She stared at him with wide eyes for far too long, silent and horrified. (For him. Please. horrified for him and not of him.)

“Jafar. My friend, you know I am not,” she said kindly. Too kindly. He’d never heard her sound so full of sorrow before.

His Mark’s itch turned into a burn. He covered it with a hand and refused to check it. He twisted his body, making it impossible for her to see it. “If you are worried about the sultan, do not be. I will protect you. I will protect yo-our daughter. Or we could tell him. He will see my Mark, and he will agree. Not even he can keep us apart then.”

“I bear no Mark, Jafar.” Her eyes filled with tears, and she reached to cup his face. “I am not yours. I cannot be yours. I will never be yours.”

Jafar felt his Mark heat against his skin. It was not painful, not really. Not yet. There was still hope. There was still a chance, but he didn’t know what to say. What words could he use that would possible change her mind?

“Please,” he whispered, and he couldn’t hate how he choked on a sob. He couldn’t hate how small and quiet his voice was. He couldn’t hate any of it because surely she would understand. A man as proud as he, begging she understand? “Love. My heart. My soul, do not renounce me.”

“I swear by Magic, Jafar of Agrabah,” she said, and how could he be upset with her when she was crying? When she looked so determined to prove something? “I am not yours. I cannot be yours. I will never be yours. So I swear it, so shall it e’er be.”

She paused for a moment to wipe her eyes and sniffle. Jafar’s arm felt like it was on fire, but it was easy enough to ignore. His heart felt…nothing. He felt nothing at all. It seemed his body and mind were prideful enough to numb his pain, or perhaps they were saving her from having to see it. Yes. That must have been it. No one so gentle should have to learn the horror of what they had just done.

“Now. Let me see,” she demanded. She looked…excited? Yes. Excited and hopeful. But the way she breathed and the way her teeth immediately caught her lower lip meant she was trying to hide some physical pain. “ Show me your Mark, Jafar, and you will s-ah!”

Jafar let his sleeve fall to cover his arm and paid attention to nothing else but her. She clutched at her midsection and tried to insist she was fine. Jafar knew better, if only because he could smell the blood before he saw it. He could fix this; he could. He just needed enough power.

(And because he knew now that Fate was rarely kind)

Two things happened to his Mark that night. First, it burned and melted into unrecognizable slag. The colors swirled and blended together. It made him sick just looking at it, but that wasn’t even the worst of it. Parts of the Mark were faded gray. Once he discovered that, he covered his Mark and never looked at it again.

Jafar insisted the circlet join her in her final resting place. No one argued with him. No one questioned his behavior. His best friend had died in his arms, after all. The sultan had held her hand during most of the birth but had let it go to claim his daughter from the healers. Jafar was the one that heard her last words, said with her dying breath.

(“You’ll find your match, one day. Esfir will lead you.”)

“Ah! There you are, Jafar!” the sultan cried out from behind Jafar. He sounded incredibly pleased with himself and ignored the blank, slightly dazed expression Jafar gave him. That was just how Jafar looked these days. The sultan patted Jafar’s arm like one might a beloved child then tugged on Jafar’s wrist. “I should have known I would find you here. Come. You know it would upset her were she to find out you spend so much of your time near her resting place.”

Jafar made a noise that he hoped sounded vaguely like an agreement. Would it have upset her? (Yes. Of course it would. She was far kinder than he deserved, after all. So kind she’d destroyed them both)

“You must see the baby. She is as beautiful as her mother,” the sultan informed him. “You will appreciate her name, I am sure. I have named her Jasmine. After her mother.”

~*~

 

 

~*~

Carlos didn’t hear Jay tell him he was going out for a walk, and it happened often enough that Jay slipping out the window didn’t even register. Carlos just kept tinkering with….with…

What the hell was this thing anyway?

He studied it for a moment, fingers running over bits and bobs, circuit boards and gears, and copper wires that zapped his fingers. Oh, right. It was-

It was – the warmth of a fire against cold skin – | – electricity buzzing along wires – | – numbers glowing green in the darkness – | – buttons that change settings – | – a garnet etched with runes to collect heat – | – primary function: to keep warm – | – secondary function: monitor [unit_self]; shut down if temperature exceeds [1- –

He blinked and shook his head a bit to clear it.

Right. The heater he’d promised to make Mal for her room. In Hell Hall. Technically, it was the prototype for all of the heaters he was going to install in Hell Hall. If it was energy efficient and didn’t start any fires (and wouldn’t Mal just love testing that?), he’d rig up Hell Hall, then Mal’s room at Bargain Castle, then Evie’s castle, then-

Jafar practically kicked down Jay’s door and pointed an accusing finger at Carlos. “You!” he hissed. Iago let loose a stream of obscenities.

Carlos jumped and hissed when the machinery half in his lap sparked against his fingers. He jerked away from the heater, his hurried movement to shove his fingers in his mouth sending the entire thing to the floor. It let out another fizzling, popping sound then started smoking.

“What’d I do?” Carlos asked around a mouthful of singed fingers. His eyes were wide, and everything looked…undescribably weird until he blinked at least half a dozen times. It reminded him of all the times he’d had to shake himself out of-

Oh.

Jay had taken to calling it a tech trance, and it had sort of just stuck. Or would until someone thought of something better. They’d had to take an actual picture of his eyes before Carlos started believing them about all of that magic nonsense. Evie had tried holding up a mirror, but until Carlos blinked everything back into focus, the world was just off in some way. Things made sense and didn’t make sense, as if different parts of his brain kept having trouble synching up.

They’d burned the picture after Carlos had stared at it for thirty, uninterrupted minutes. His eyes went completely black when he became too focused on his creations (and when he concentrated on consciously manipulating them, but he wasn’t very good at that. Yet). He had been rather concentrating on Mal’s heater, but he’d expected Jay to be there. He’d been there…a few minutes ago? Crap. How long ago did Jay leave? How much had Jafar seen?

What the hell was Carlos supposed to do about it? Actually, no, what was he allowed to do about it?

This was Jay’s dad, and as far as parents went, he wasn’t all that bad. Then again, Carlos’ scale was rather skewed in that department. Should he pretend nothing happened? Should he attempt to knock Jafar and Iago out? Would Jay get mad at him for that? Carlos didn’t want to do anything that would make Jay mad at him. Sure, Jay would eventually understand why he’d done it, but even now picturing the look on his face was-

Distracting. It was entirely too distracting.

Jafar grabbed Carlos by the front of his shirt and dragged him off of the bed. Carlos could have struggled, but there were sensitive pieces of tech everywhere. Also, struggling might have wounded Jafar. Dragging Carlos off of the bed seemed too much for the out of shape, former sorcerer because while he may have slammed Carlos into the floor, it was more happenstance than anything else. Jafar fell over, too, and landed on top of Carlos.

Jafar’s fall shocked Carlos into movement. He managed to freeze midmotion and was grateful that Jafar was too dazed to notice Carlos’ attempt to hit him. Jafar was lucky Carlos knew better than to wear his gloves and, well, anything with actual silver or other conductive metals on it.

Besides, Jafar was heavy, and his fall had knocked all of the air out of Carlos’ chest.

Iago started laughing, and Carlos wondered if douchebag birds counted toward the whole ‘no harming the parents’ rule. Carlos’ lungs still lacked a proper air supply, so he just flipped the bird off.

“Where did you get magic, boy?!” Jafar hissed. The good news was, he wasn’t shouting loudly enough for anyone outside to hear. The bad news was that Jafar let spittle fly everywhere when he hissed at people. Gross.

“Haven’t you heard? There’s no magic on the Isle,” Carlos answered. Maybe he should knock Jafar out and beg Jay to forgive him afterward. At least then he wouldn’t have to worry about getting squished. Or worse, Jafar’s spit. In his mouth. Yeaugh.

Jafar snarled, but his snarl was nowhere near as frightening as Mal’s (or Maleficent’s). Carlos had no idea how he managed it, but Jafar managed to get to his feet, one hand still gripping Carlos’ shirt. Carlos scrambled to his feet in an effort to keep Jafar from (probably) accidentally choking him. It only half worked.

Jafar still jerked him around by his shirt, and any attempts Carlos was making to help him out ended when Jafar managed to guide his head smack dab into the door frame. (Not to mention all of the other bumps, bruises, and cuts. Falling on broken tech hurt)

Hopefully someone’s parent harming Family via potential concussion wasn’t going to turn into a pattern.

Carlos’ head was swimming too much to notice everything that happened next.

He remembered the pain in his head. He remembered blinking several times because his vision was a bit off. He remembered the room getting a bit darker than it really should have been. Iago’s screeched, then was cut off. Jafar slammed Carlos into the wall opposite Jay’s door, then there was blood spraying all over his face. It took Carlos a few moments to realize that. At first, he’d stupidly thought it was water.

Jafar fell to the ground, twitching and trying to press his hands against the hole in the side of his throat.

Jay stood behind him. His eyes had gone red and glowy. Not just the iris and pupils, like Mal, but every single bit of them, sclera, pupils, iris, and all. What looked like black tears dripped out of his tear ducts every time he blinked; the tear stayed in liquid form for less than a second before it dissolved into a black, smoky, shadowy looking…..Carlos was going to ignore that for now and focus on more important things.

Jay’s teeth were bared; his canines as well as the teeth on either side of them were sharp enough that he’d managed to cut his lips on them. One hand was raised and held a knife Carlos had never seen before in it. He couldn’t quite tell if the blade was made of obsidian or black onyx because of all the blood, but that wasn’t important. Jay was breathing heavily, and each time he breathed out, his breath escaped in a hiss that should have made some instinctive part of Carlos’ brain flinch and stand on edge.

It didn’t. Carlos slowly lifted his hands so the movement didn’t startly Jay (because startling him would just be rude), and gingerly inspected his head. He hissed in pain and moved his hand away from his temple. Huh. Jafar had managed to draw blood. That was unfortunate.

Jay’s hiss went from a quiet sound to a loud, engraged one. His fingers clenched on the blade, and he leaned forward over Jafar. His free hand slammed on the wall next to Carlos’ head, and he bent forward until he was barely an inch from Carlos’ face. He stared him in the eye without blinking for the longest time.

Finally Carlos reached out to gently pat Jay’s shoulder. Shoulders were safe. “There, there?”

This was not as awkward as Carlos expected, but his head hurt, they had a body to deal with (possibly two depending on what had happened to Iago), and he fully expected Jay to completely freak when his brain caught up with whatever magical instincts were messing with him.

“Put away the knife,” Carlos ordered and was grateful when the knife burst into weird shadow smoke. “Okay. We need to collect everything irreplacable from the house, then I’m going to rig it to set fire. Do you understand?”

Jay stared at him for a moment more, blinked, then shuddered. He buried his face in the side of Carlos’ neck opposite his hand on the wall and exhaled all the air in his lungs in one, long relieved sigh.

“I saw blood,” he said after inhaling a shaky breath. His voice sounded a bit off, and not just in an ‘I am freaking out’ sort of way. It was off in a magical way that Carlos was going to ignore until the crisis was over with. “I saw him knock your head into-and there was blood. And I-“

“It’s fine. Jay. Jay, look at me,” Carlos ordered. Once again, he was grateful when Jay followed orders. His eyes were still more red than not, but at least his pupils were visible now. “It’s fine. I promise. I’m sorry I- I should have been more careful. It’s my fault.”

“Don’t fucking dare,” Jay growled. Tried to growl. It came out half inhuman growl half human whine. “I know better than to leave without checking twice to make sure you’re actually all…” He made a random gesture that Carlos couldn’t really see. “And even if I had. Why the fuck are you fucking apologizing for? I’ve been wanting to kill him and that stupid ass excuse for feathers for weeks. He kept saying stupid shit about all of ou. This was the perfect excuse.”

“Right. Glad I could be of assistance then. Now. Our arson plan? I rig up the house. You pack. You carry me to my house and hope I don’t actually have a concussion because neither of us wants me to throw up on you right now,” Carlos said. He gave Jay a grin, then snickered when Jay rolled his eyes.

“Are you going to set all our parents on fire?” Jay teased and stepped away. He gave Jafar’s body a good kick out of pure spite.

“Only if they keep giving us near concussions,” Carlos very seriously replied. His eyes narrowed, and his lips curled up to bare his teeth. A bit of black bled from his pupils into bits of his iris for a few moments before he blinked and shrugged. “It only seems fair.”

“You and Mal are never allowed to plan anything alone. The result might just burn the entire Isle to the ground,” Jay mumbled, souding all too fond of the both of them.

“Can we burn it after we escape?” Carlos asked excitedly.

The good natured argument about when and for what reasons Mal and Carlos would be allowed to set things on fire/explode them lasted for quite a while.

~*~

Yen Sid stood at another funeral and watched the children of the four most dangerous villains on the Isle very closely. Well. Two most dangerous, now, he supposed.

Someone had found a chair for Jafar’s son to sit in. Maleficent’s daughter stood on one side of him, one hand gently holding his shoulder. Carlos de Vil stood on his other side, one arm wrapped around his friend’s shoulders and the other wrapped around the waist of the Evil Queen’s daughter. Carlos had arranged his jacket so that it hid the face of Jafar’s son. Jafar’s son had an arm wrapped around Carlos’ hips, and his other arm rested loosely on his own legs. He held a wilted jasmine flower between his fingers.

Yen Sid wondered how much he knew about his father’s life before the Isle.

Once again, they seemed appropriately respectful, or at least what passed around here for respectful.

The Evil Queen’s daughter still wore shades of blue, but she also wore a veiled hat that hid her face from view. She had a handkercheif that she periodically lifted up, as if to dab at tears in her eyes. Maleficent’s daughter was frowning but otherwise stonefaced. She kept a wary eye on the crowd, such as it was. Her gaze never lingered on Yen Sid, but she couldn’t seem to help glancing at him at least once every five or so minutes.

Yen Sid could not tell what Jafar’s son looked like, hidden as he was, but he supposed it did look like the teen was slumped over in exhausted grief. As for Carlos, well, the younger teen looked the saddest out of any of them. His eyes were mournful, and he looked…regretful. Yen Sid could not fathom why.

He straightened his tie, glanced around the funeral, and made his way over to the teens. They’d grown closer since the last funeral he’d seen them attend. It was evident in the way they all turned to look at him at the same time. The son of Jafar might not have been able to see Yen Sid, but his body tensed and tilted, as if he were trying anyway.

“I merely came to offer my condolences,” Yen Sid said, glancing at each of the standing teens before looking down at where Jafar’s son’s head should be. Roughly.

Carlos reluctantly moved the edge of his jacket so his friend could see their science teacher. Jafar’s son looked exhausted, but considering his entire home (and a few other dwellings) had burned to the ground, taking away not only his only family but most of his posessions as well…..

“We…appreciate it, sir,” murmured the son of Jafar.

“If you need a place-“

“He’s staying with me,” Carlos interrupted harshly. A moment later, he flushed and ducked his head. “Er. I-I’m sorry, Professor Yen Sid. It’s just…everyone’s been asking that, and Jay is…”

“It is completely understandable,” Yen Sid replied. He gave his favorite student a small smile. “My offer still stands. For both of you now, Carlos, ….Jay. If you ever need anything….”

“We appreciate your offer, sir,” Jafar’s so-no, Jay answered. He attempted to give Yen Side a smile, but only managed the smallest of smiles for a few seconds before he sighed and let his head thud against Carlos’ hips again.

“I believe that, should the four of you decide to leave early, everyone will understand,” Yen Sid told them.

Maleficent’s daughter was the one that tilted her head, stared at him for a moment, then smiled at him. Her smile wasn’t kind, but it wasn’t threatening either.

“We’ll take that under advisement. Probably best not to let the sharks smell blood in the water, though,” she said. It was a clear dismissal.

As Yen Sid turned to leave, Carlos spoke.

“Pretty sure sharks would turn up their noses at cooked meat,” he joked. From under his jacket, Jay gave a quiet snort. “Hey, guys, what do scientists do with dead bodies?’ he asked, then paused. He waited long enough for his friends to indicate they’d heard the joke, though Yen Sid heard nothing as he walked away. “They barium.”

“Carlos!” Jay hissed from under the jacket. “Seriously? I think I preferred the humming to the science nerd jokes.”

If there was any response, Yen Sid was too far away to hear it.

Chapter Text

~*~

The cafeteria was too crowded for Jane’s liking. There was a foot of snow outside, and the snow just kept falling from the sky. The pathways and roads that connected the school buildings were spelled to prevent snow from piling up, but it was much too difficult to reach most of the outside eating areas. Not to mention the cold.

Jane wondered who had spelled the roads and sidewalks. Had it been her mother? How did the woman justify that when the school could have just hired someone to shovel the walkways and plow the roads? Maybe they’d hidden the magic with some technology or other, like they hid how magic translated the sound of sentient animals or comments from people speaking in a foreign language.

“Magic corrupts, darling. We know that now,” her mother had told her time and time again. Ridiculous.

Her mother had no problems going along with King Beast’s rhetoric. Why would she? The Fairy Godmother had a cushy job as Headmistress to a school full of nobles and royals. As the unofficial head of the fairy godmother organization (an organization that only barely existed now that all the villains had been banished and no new ones had reared their ugly heads), she was present at most of the coronations, births, christenings, and other important events across the United Kingdoms.

The royals of Auradon had absolutely no problems using magic when I was convenient for them. They used it to translate their animal friends (sidekicks) chatter. They used it to keep the roads and sidewalks of major cities free of ice and snow. They allowed their patron fairies to bless their children and heal their sick. (In secret. Always in secret, but Jane knew how to be quiet enough that her mother forgot she was there)

Technically, magic wasn’t outlawed, but the fear of being sent to the Isle for using magic in improper ways kept the rather small population of magic users in line.

Jane stabbed a piece of steamed carrot with her fork. The steady buzz of normal cafeteria sounds flowed around her. She caught snippets of conversation here and there, but she wasn’t interested enough to catch more than a few words. There was a school dance coming up, and most of the chatter seemed to center around that.

She wasn’t at all hungry, but she nibbled on a piece of carrot anyway. If she didn’t eat, he mother would inevitably find out. Ben had asked her to avoid a confrontation with her mother until she’d gotten better at the meditation exercises he’d tried to teach her. He wasn’t a bad teacher, considering he’d learned everything from second hand reports, but he still frustrated her. She should be learning how to control her magic from an actual magic teacher. Not some prince whose information came from an island without magic.

Jane was so lost in thought she didn’t notice the person who sat down at her table. She shook what was left of the carrot back onto her plate and set her fork down. She still had most of a roll left and tearing it to bits and eating it would at least keep her hands occupied.

“Your gloves are really lovely, Jane,” said a voice across from her.

Jane dropped her roll onto her pile of carrots and looked up. She stared for a moment, blinked, then gulped. “Er. Thanks. Audrey,” she replied. What in the world was Princess Audrey even doing here? She wanted something. She had to want something. Audrey and Jane weren’t friends. Oh, they might nod to one another or say hello as they passed in the halls, and sometimes if they were stuck in one another’s company for too long they struck up a conversation or two.

But they weren’t friends. Only friends and people who wanted something sat at random tables.

Audrey gave Jane a smile that was kind but still just this shy of predatory. Her hair was done up in a perfect princess bun, and she wore a pale pink turtleneck dress covered in light blue rose petals drifting slowly into the large pile at the bottom hem of the dress. It wasn’t magical; just a fanciful design coupled with the graceful movements of a princess.

There was a thought. Convince the royals to indulge in magic by suggesting fashion ideas. They’d love it.

“Jane? Sorry. Were you busy?” Audrey asked. If she’d asked more than once, she didn’t comment on it. She waited for Jane to nod before her smile widened, and she leaned forward a bit, shoving her tray to the side to avoid any wardrobe mishaps. “Brilliant. Listen. You and Ben still talk about that…that Isle project of his, right?”

Jane’s eyes widened, and she barely choked down a surprised squeak. For a moment, she had no idea what to say or do. Should she deny it? But what if Audrey knew something and had something sneaky planned? Should Jane listen and try to subtly figure out Audrey’s plan?

She found herself nodding slightly before she could stop herself. Where was Ben? This was clearly his problem and he should deal with it.

“Brilliant. Listen, your mother is worried about you,” Audrey changed the subject and didn’t even bat an eye when Jane’s eyes narrowed. “She asked for my help. I don’t really understand why; other than the gloves you haven’t done anything even remotely worrying. Your grades are fine. You have…a few friends, Lonnie and Doug right? And you and Ben spend time together.”

She shrugged a shoulder and waved a hand in a dismissive gesture. “So the only thing I can think of is she thinks you’re not socializing enough. Making the best of your high school years as it were. So I’m going to help. I think she’ll leave you alone more if your gloves match your outfits. You’re the Fairy Godmother’s daughter, Jane. You’re allowed to dress like you have at least a little status. Join one or two clubs, and I’m sure she’ll get off your case.”

She paused and smiled at a very confused Jane until Jane warily nodded.

“Good. Then you can set up a meeting with me and Ben. There’s something I need to discuss with him.”

~*~

Flynn Rider Fitzherbert, prince of Corona, son of the Lost Princess (now Queen) Rapunzel and her husband Eugene was bored.

He wasn’t used to boredom. Normally, whenever he felt the faintest hint of boredom, he did something interesting. He sang. He sent out a mass text to let people know his fingers itched to cut or style someone’s hair. He allowed his sister to fingerpaint pictures on his back. He let his sister draw elaborate designs on his arms and only half regretted it when she switched from washable to permement markers when he looked away. He did cartwheels or stood on his head or a million other things. The world was too large and busy for boredom.

Unless one was confined to bed with strep throat. Talking hurt. Swallowing hurt even more. Worst of all, his sister was still expected to go to class. The Fairy Godmother had shown up in the school’s infirmary herself to shoo her away. So unlike the past two days when Ophelia had been around to keep him company, today Flynn was alone.

Being sick was about a hundred times more horrible without her sitting beside him.

Fortunately, she’d hidden his tablet beneath his pillow. Had the headmistress confiscated it, Flynn might have attempted to break out of the infirmary. Music videos on YouTube were out; if he watched even one, he’d inevitably forget about his throat and try to sing. He still glared at the homepage for a minute before he clicked his bookmarks. There had to be something online that would entertain him.

Wait a minute.

Be good Auradon. You never know who’s watching.

He’d heard about this. Ophelia had mentioned the videos offhandedly. Only two or three had popped up over the past few days, and Phel had been too preoccupied with his sickness to pay much attention. So he’d learned exactly three things about the videos. Someone had secret, hidden cameras hidden around the school. They edited the footage the cameras picked up and posted videos on YouTube. And whoever posted them was smart enough to use an electronic voice that sounded extremely similar to Miri’s, the voice of smartphones.

Intrigued, Flynn plugged his headphones into the tablet, made himself comfy, and pressed play.

The first video showed an aerial view table in the smaller cafeteria, the one that also doubled as a sort of study hall. The room was across the hall from the actual cafeteria and was often filled with students carrying actual lunch trays. The room itself was filled with tables, comfortable chairs, and more vending machines than was probably necessary.

Text popped up on the screen that read, “The Secrets of Auradon.” The narrator sounded familiar when she (he?) spoke, but Flynn couldn’t quite figure out who it was. That was probably for the best. Two students sat at the table, huddled together, and started speaking in hushed tones. Their voices were slightly distorted, and their forms were blurry, as if the editor was at least attempting to protect their privacy.

When they started talking about using the next school break to rent a cousin’s boat and take pictures of the Isle, Flynn understood why the editor took great care. One of the students admitted they were actually related, however distantly, to a pirate banished to the Isle. That alone was a secret no one would want found out. (Okay, and getting caught so close to the Isle was probably considered at least somewhat of a treasonable offense; Flynn was certain it was against the law, at least)

There were actually five videos, and they were all short. The camera never showed up in the same place, and everyone’s forms and voices were distorted to protect their identity. The videos didn’t only show bad things. One of them showed two girls at a locker whispering ideas for a surprise part for a bummed out friend, and another was just a series of video capturing people around the school secretly doing nice things for one another.

But the other three videos showed the teen distantly related to pirates, someone deliberately dumping a soda into someone’s open backpack, and some dude who was dating at least five girls at once. Actually, that last one had been interesting. The edited texts had popped up on screen, complete with sound effects.

Some part of Flynn felt uncomfortable at the breach of privacy and the thought of someone spying around the school. Whoever the spy was, they were careful to keep everyone’s identity secret as best they could. Hopefully nothing completely horrible was revealed before everything backfired.

And it would backfire. Flynn was certain of it. There was no way something wouldn’t go horribly wrong.

He ignored the way the narrator’s whispered warning og, “Be good, Auradon. Someone’s always watching,” made his hair stand on end. Surely the narrator sounded smug and not ominous. Right?

~*~

Ben hadn’t spent much time at home since….

Since.

To be fair, he didn’t really get that many invitations to come home. His mother used to invite him, but after the first three shouting matches, she gave up and started showing up at Auradon Prep or just invited Ben to join her for lunch in town.

It was easy for Ben to stay angry with his father. King Beast was stubborn, and Ben seemed to poke at his nerves until the king was shouting or close to it. They couldn’t seem to agree on anything these days. The more his father treated him like a stupid and/or naïve child, the pricklier Ben became. The more Ben disagreed with his father or tried to prove his point by pointing out his father’s flaws, the angrier his father became. The end result wasn’t pretty. At least they hadn’t stooped to throwing things at one another. Yet.

As easy as it was to stay angry with his father, it was impossible for Ben to stay angry at his mother. His mother actually listened, and even if she didn’t always agree, she at least respected Ben’s right to his own opinion. Belle wasn’t entirely certain that all of the children on the Isle deserved to leave, and she’d even told Ben as much when he’d asked. Unlike her husband, however, she believed it was entirely possible for at least a few of the Isle born to gain Marks if they were exposed to magic.

In Belle’s opinion, if any of the children had a Soulmate Mark, they should be allowed to stay in Auradon. Her faith in Soulmate Magic was absolute.

Ben was grateful she was on his side, but he never felt comfortable enough to show her his Mark. Either of them. Every time he even thought about it, his heart leapt to his throat, his mouth dried out, and he was filled with a sense of dread that was somehow worse than the pulsing sorrow that came for his Soulmate Mark. The dread always seemed to originate from the Mark on his hand, and though Ben was dubious of Mark Magic, he figured it had to mean something.

He kept his hand covered with gloves or makeup at all times, even when in his room. Personal Marks were easy to hide until a person turned twenty-one. Coincidentally, twenty-one used to be the age one had to be before they could be crowned king or queen. Make up or even magic could be used to hide the Mark without any problems, but after their twenty-first birthday, a Personal Mark started to show through makeup and magic.

It made sense. The olden days, which really weren’t that long ago, were full of people attempting to kill heirs to kingdoms. Rightful heirs were easily found via their Mark. In some cases, it used to mean younger siblings would flee the kingdom only to come back after their twenty-first birthday with an army from a newly allied kingdom.

Soulmate Marks could almost never be hidden. Sure, covering the Mark with clothing worked, but using magic or makeup to hide the Mark on one’s skin? At best, it lasted an hour or two, at worst, it lasted a few seconds. Marked skin never scarred and would, in fact, heal faster than normal skin. If anyone cut it off, it grew back within a few days. If need be this included actual limbs, as some poor Marked in history had found out.

Villains of the distant past had quickly learned better. Horrible, painful, and humiliating things had happened to those who dared cut off a Mark.

~*~

Ben stared blankly at the letter in his hands for several minutes.

He turned it over, inspected either side, grabbed the envelope and studied it in order to make sure it was genuine, then reread the letter.

My dearest son,

It has come to my attention that you might be ready to undertake a few of the many responsibilities of a young man befitting your station.

You have shown a great concern for those born on The Isle of the Lost. As you know, King Beast’s Fireside Chats have done wonders for both morale and rehabilitation for all Isle residents. Since you are so keen on helping Isle residents, it has been decided that you will host your own segment for the students on the Isle. It will air during class, and I am certain you will have the chance to impart many lessons for the students to learn.

For now, you will record one thirty minute segment a week. Please feel free to write your own script and submit it to the committee in charge of your segment for approval. I trust you will treat this honor with all the respect and seriousness it deserves.

King Adam/”Beast”

Ben read the letter several times before tossing it on the table. This was….

His father was delusional if he thought this would appease Ben. Clearly, he though…what? That this tiny scrap of duty and responsibility would make up for over a year’s worth of keeping him out of anything and everything to do with running the kingdom? Ben wouldn’t even be allowed to make any decisions about his segment. He’d likely just be expected to rant and ramble about goodness and how much better Auradon’s morals were than the Isle’s.

To make matters worse, Dragon was going to see this. She’d never said a word about his father’s propoganda, but if she ever did, he doubted she would have nice things to say. He might not even get a chance to warn her about his new segment. Even if he did, whatever he was told to say would undoubtedly be…boring and annoying, at the very least.

Worst of all, Ben would inevitably be introduced as King Beast’s son. Dragon didn’t know that. Not for certain. They both likely had their suspicions about their heritage, but neither had ever brought it up. Dragon knew he didn’t agree with the continued banishment; she might even believe him when he insisted he was doing everything in his power to free the teens and children on the Isle.

But what if knowing, without a doubt, that her soulmate was the son of one of the Isle’s greatest enemies was too much? What if she renounced him? He’d heard that the pain of rejection never really stopped. Was that true for both parties, not just the rejectee but the rejector as well? Ben might believe he deserved the potential pain; he’d lived his life in comfort, believed the same things as his parents for most of his life, and had done so little to help Dragon and her friends. Dragon didn’t deserve any of that potential pain. Not even if she grew up to be even worse than the villains Auradon had banished.

Hopefully, Ben would dream and have a chance to warn her. She might be slightly less angry if he told her in person, so to speak.

~*~

“Why would I be mad, Puppy?” Dragon asked from her perch on the balcony’s railing.

Ben had spent the entire dream standing across from her, leaning against the closed double doors that led into her room. He’d managed to keep eye contact during the entire conversation, but Dragon’s expression had remained carefully neutral until he’d finished.

Then she’d smirked at him, shrugged, and asked her one ane only question.

“Because….” Ben trailed off and blinked. She should be angry, right? Or hurt or….something?

Dragon laughed at his confusion and slipped off of the railing. Her bare feet made no sound when they hit the ground, and she turned around and patted the railing beside her. She waited until Ben stood beside her to say anything.

“You’re more useful than I expected,” she told him and sounded pleased.

Pleased? Ben tilted his head and recalled everything he knew about Dragon. Yes. She definitely sounded pleased and almost….villainous. There was a purring undertone to her voice that promised nasty things for the general population.

Ben supposed he should be hurt or scared or upset or…something. He wasn’t.

No matter how much Dragon tried to sound like he was a means to an unpleasant and nefarious end, her actions spoke volumes. As soon as Ben stood next to her, she leaned against him until he was forced to wrap an arm around her in order to support her weight. She rested her head in the space between his chest and arm which could not be very comfortable so he pulled her closer. That was normal. (She knew how to force him into cuddling without saying a word; he knew the second he pointed it out, she’d stop. They had a silent agreement)

Best of all, Dragon was purring.

Okay. It wasn’t traditional purring, like a cat’s. It was more of an inhuman, rumbling growl that probably should have made Ben at least a little uncomfortable. He thought it was adorable.

They were content to stare at the city in silence for a while. Dragon was the one that finally broke the silence.

“I’m not telling you my name, my Family’s name, or anything about anyone’s parents,” she decided. “Not yet. Maybe not ever.”

Ben thought about that for a moment then nodded. That was fair. He probably wouldn’t have either, had his father not changed the rules on them.

“Fair enough. I won’t ask if you promise not to tell your Family my middle name.”

“You think they’re not going to find out when they watch the special during class?” Judging by Dragon’s tone, she had a positively evil grin on her face.

“I….can talk them out of putting it in the program.” He hoped. Prayed. Dreamed. Oh, no.

Dragon was silent as Ben attempted to think of ways to convince those in charge of cutting out his entire name. He did not need some announcer introducing him as His Royal Highness, Prince Benjamin Florian of Auradon, First of his name, son of……… They’d spend at least five minutes on his name and titles alone.

“My middle name’s Bertha,” Dragon said, jolting Ben out of his planning. She tensed a little then relaxed when Ben’s immediate reaction wasn’t a snicker.

It was a good thing she couldn’t see the sappy smile on his face. He doubted she’d like it when he told her that he thought her middle name was adorable.

Chapter Text

~*~

Jay continued to find seemingly random items belonging to his Family in his pockets more and more frequently these days. He stared at the small collection each night and tried not to fret. He collected each trinket with shaking fingers and very calmly (he hoped) gave them back to their proper owners. He could have given them back in ways that ensured his Family was none the wiser. He could sneak into their homes and place the objects in a drawer, on a table, or on a bed. He could just slip things back into their pockets during a hug or when lightly shoulder checking them while passing by. He could have done many things.

Instead he found each Family member one by one, and turned over his hand to show them the pilfered object (objects on the worst days). He wasn’t brave enough to hand them over with any witnesses and always waited for one of them to confront him, to yell at him, to accuse him, or to…something. But they just accepted the object, gave him a forgiving smile, nodded, and went on their way. Sometimes they even gave him a hug.

Somehow, their responses made him feel worse about the entire thing. Every time he emptied his bags and pockets only to see yet another item he’d clearly stolen from his Family, he felt sick. It felt like everyone else was a small piece of a pie that fit together to make a circle, and he was this weird triangle trying to fit in but never quite managing it.

He was starting to dread his nightly ritual of inspecting the day’s haul.

He’d tried to modify his behavior, to no avail, and he knew his Family was starting to notice enough to worry. He’d started paying careful attention to his hands so they kept twitching and tapping in his efforts to keep from snatching anything from some unsuspecting person or unguarded table. He’d stopped sitting too close to his Family and trying to avoid them entirely was out of the question. They needed each other. He even tried to avoid hugs and was less successful at ththat than he would have bee trying to avoid them outright.

This last part was through no fault of his own.

Carlos, of course, was rather tenacious when it came to hugs, and most days Evie was just as bad. Jay hadn’t expected Mal to care quite as much as the other two. Okay that wasn’t quite accurate. Out of all of them, Mal was the most likely to respect one’s space and never enter unless invited so he’d expected her to give him the space he obviously desired because she was still a bit strange about physical contact of any sort that held no ulterior motive, be it for reward or punishment. She rarely initated anything more than a shoulder bump or a ruffling of someone’s hair. (She’d gotten better at implied invitation by way of a lack of rejection, serious complaint , or frightened/uncomfortable body language – which was an improvement that totally counted)

On the one hand, Mal’s sudden and continued hugs and her sudden desire to walk arm in arm with Jay made him feel better. (As did Carlos and Evie’s extra attention) Sure he’d done something wrong, but they’d made it absolutely certain that he had nothing to worry about.

On the other hand, when Mal was the one attempting to reassure someone with extra, blatant physical contact, something was seriously wrong and someone was going to bring it up sooner than Jay would have liked (never, Jay would have preferred never).

It wasn’t any surprise when Mal burst into Jay’s (technically new since he’d just ‘moved’) room at Hell Hall. The miscellaneous objects that had found themselves in Jay’s pockets were spread in a semi circle around the five objects he’d found in his pocket that belonged to his Family. Jay knelt on the ground in front of them, facing the door.

Carlos peeked around Mal and Evie peered over Mal’s shoulder. Their expressions were carefully neutral. Looked like it was time to face the music. Jay frowned at his traitorous hands and debated getting up before anyone ordered him to. It might delay their angry accusations, and he wanted to delay that for as long as possible.

He guiltily blinked at the mess on the floor, then attempted to rearrange his expression into something vaguely blank before he raised his head to look at his Family. He was mostly certain he’d failed, but he really didn’t care. The matching netural expression on their faces were slightly terrifying. He couldn’t tell if they were upset with him, but they probably were. They had to be. Right?

“I can explain.” The words were out of his mouth before he could bite them back. He hoped he didn’t sound half as frantic to them as he did to his own ears.

“Meeting room,” Mal decided, and as one, they turned and left without another word. Leaving Jay to glare at his hands. This was all their fault.

Then he snatched up the items he’d stolen from his Family and followed them down the hallway, sometimes rushing to catch up with them and sometimes dragging his feet as if going to meet his execution.

His gut certainly thought he was.

~*~

Technically, the Family had two meeting rooms.

One was an old study near the kitchen. It had a fireplace that kept the room warm, soft rugs covered the floor, and the Family had spent weeks arguing about and then setting up the best blanket fort on the Isle. (For all they knew it was the only blanket fort on the Isle) Jay had stolen so many pillows and blankets for that particular extravagance that they were all surprised no one complained about it. (And then he’d gone and stolen even more to leave in Carlos’ room so that for weeks Carlos had found an ever increasing pile of blankets and pillows until they were spilling off his bed)

The blanket fort was tall in certain places to allow Jay both stand comfortably and to pace the length of the room. At some point, Carlos had gotten creative (or stubborn) and convinced everyone to help him build a weird loft type thing. Jay suspected he’d solely done it because both he and Mal preferred high places when they were twitchy or emotionally overwhelmed, respectively. Needless to say, it was the Family’s favorite room on the Isle.

The second meeting room was less welcoming. No one intended to use the old dining hall as an actual eating place ever again. So the Family used it as a place to discuss strategies (and homework) instead. They jokingly called it their war room. It was filled with serious looking wooden furniture and despite how many lights Carlos set up, it maintained a gloomy atmosphere. It even had its own Broomba to take care of the dust.

Jay was surprised when his Family led him to the study room and not the war room. The other three sat together in a corner of the room and let Jay stand away from them, arms crossed over his chest. His hands gripped his elbows, and he tried to keep his gaze on the ground. He kept glancing up every few seconds, looked from one Family member to the other, then looked back down.

Mal started a fire in the fireplace when she entered with an absent wave of her hand. The fire and the rustling of Jay’s clothes (because he was too nervous to stand still like he really should be doing) were the only noises for the longest time. Just when Jay was about to open his mouth, Mal spoke.

“Okay, Jay. You wanted to explain. Explain.” Her voice wasn’t kind, exactly, but it lacked the growl and the hard edges Jay deserved. She’d never speak that way to a goblin or a classmate. Hell, Jay was certain she’d never speak this softly, like she was being…understanding or something, even to her own mother.

“I….” Now that Jay had been ordered to explain himself, he found the words dissolving in his brain. He could feel his mind….whiting out was the best way he could describe it. There had been many horrible snowstorms on the Isle, but only one of them had turned into an actual blizzard. Snow tinged slightly gray from the barrier (or the smog and coal smoke trapped in the barrier) had fallen from the sky normally at first, then more and more snow had fallen until the world disappeared in a white blur. The snow had fallen too quickly to even change color.

That was what Jay’s brain felt like, complete with the impression of howling winds blowing around the words Jay tried desperately to grasp at.

“Empty out your pockets, Jay,” Carlos said softly. He spoke as if trying to keep a skittish, feral animal calm. Later, Jay might even be annoyed at that. Assuming they even bothered to give him a second chance.

Jay’s shoulders drooped, and he did as ordered, squeezing his eyes shut so he didn’t have to look at his Family’s faces. He didn’t know where to put the items in his pockets so he just cupped them in his hands and refused to look at them. His hands felt too full for the five items he’d stuffed in his pockets before he’d left his room.

“Look at your hands, Jay.” Evie ordered, her voice just as soft as Mal and Carlos’.

Jay opened his eyes because what else could he do? He wasn’t going to yell at them or disobey them. Maybe if they’d yelled or acted angry, but… They were his Family, and he was the one stealing all their stuff. It wasn’t technically a rule of theirs, not an official one, but it was an unspoken, unofficial one. Probably. It had to be. If nothing else it was a rude, horrible, and continuous act of betrayal.

There were more than five items in his hands. The three stones (one from each Family member), a random cog or gear or something from Carlos, and Evie’s necklace (the hanging one and not the choker – again) were the original items he’d pulled out of his pockets earlier; they were still there. Except now they were joined by another one of Mal’s stones, a tangled bit of wires that had to have come from Carlos, and a dried rose petal. (Jay had no idea where the rose petal had come from. Maybe Evie?)

“I-I….what?” Jay stuttered. He stared at his hands for a moment before he finally looked at his Family.

Carlos was smirking at him (okay all three of them looked smug in their own way, which usually invoved smirks). Carlo’s skirk wasn’t mean like the way it was when he smirked at Anthony Tremaine after dropping a bunch of heavy books onto a table soon after the bombing incident. (Tremaine had flinched, made a choked sound, and quickly patted himself down to check for wounds or small fires. It had actually been pretty hilarious) No, this was a smirk Jay was used to. It was Carlos’, “You’re adorable when you think you’ve messed up but you really haven’t,” smirk that Jay usually only received when he poked at random things in Carlos’ workshop only for them to smoke or spark threateningly at his fingers.

Unsurprisingly to everyone, Carlos’ smirk calmed Jay down. He didn’t feel quite as tense as he did before, and, better yet, he finally felt brave enough to look Evie and Mal in the eye. Evie had the same, kind smile on her face that she always did whenever Jay (or any of her Family really) was uneasy about something and she wanted to reassure them. Mal was grinning that feral grin she got whenever she was excited about something.

Three minutes passed in silence before Jay realized they were content to just sit there until Jay figured this out on his own.

Whatever “this” was.

Since he was still half stuck in panic mode, Jay figured it might take a while. So he sat down and placed the items in his hands in a row on the floor. He stared at them for…actually he wasn’t entirely certain, but however long it had been, he still had yet to figure anything out. He’d spent most of the time dwelling on the fact that he was still stealing from Family. And that they had clearly realizedsomething he hadn’t.

He let out a frustrated sigh and attempted to resituate himself into a more comfortable sitting position. One of his legs was going numb.

He froze midmotion and gave one of his pockets a suspicious stare. A suspicious lump of something was poking him in the leg. He stared for a few moments before he pulled the….whatever out of his pocket.

He pulled the largest piece of jet Carlos owned out of his pocket and just stared at it. Because what? How? What?

Carlos pulled his pockets inside out and grinned. He looked entirely took smug.

“I haven’t gotten near enough to even take anything out of your pockets!” Jay shouted at no one in particular.

“We know, sweetie,” Evie said. Jay ignored the tone of her voice. She sounded soothing but with a touch of, “I’m trying not to laugh because you’re in a delicate emotional place but later I will laugh in your face because this is hilarious.”

Jay let out a stream of incomprehensible sounds mixed with random curse words quickly followed by, “Magical pickpocketing theft!”

“Took you long enough, bro,” Carlos said. He sounded smug. And proud. (Jay hoped everyone ignored the fact that a proud Carlos made for a blushing Jay; they did – probably because Jay’s current predicament was hilarious)

“It’s unsporting and an insult to thieves everywhere,” Jay declared with undigsuised disgust and a little dismay. His voice was stil a pitch or two higher than normal, and he may or may not have sounded frantic on top of everything else. (He totally knew he was panicking, but he hoped he was either hiding it well or the others remained polite enough not to mention it until the panic had passed)

“It’s clearly the best thing ever, oh prince of thieves,” Mal decided. Jay could practically hear her attempting not to bounce in her seat like an excited five year old. “Think of what you could steal!”

“I can already steal everything I want or need. This is just…overkill. There’s no skill. No finesse. No….I don’t even know. It’s just wrong,” Jay grumbled. He glared at the jet in his hands for a few moments before he tossed it back to Carlos. (Carlos, the punk, wasn’t even attempting to muffle or hide his snickers)

“Then I guess you’ll have to learn how to control your new ability as quickly as possible, won’t you?” Mal asked. She sounded smug and far too gleeful.

Oh no. This meant more meditation practice, didn’t it? Sitting still and trying to concentrate on things instead of moving and actually doing something.

Ugh. Magic was the worst.

~*~
Carlos had long since moved his workshop into Hell Hall, but he still moved the barrier machine to the treehouse before turning it on and off. At first, the treehouse had been the only place they knew they would remain uninterrupted (or at least they’d have enough warning to hide things), but by now, moving the box to and from the treehouse had become a sort of tradition. (and maybe a bit of superstition)

Mal was guarding Carlos that evening so Jay and Evie were left alone in the study room. Jay hung upside down from a bar they’d put up because, supposedly, it helped with his meditation. More likely, it gave him an excuse to move around more than he would during more traditional meditation. The other three supposed it didn’t really matter. Jay’s improvements on his control had gotten better results during upside down meditation than traditional.

Evie liked keeping busy. It made her feel useful. She spent most of her time (not counting time spent in public) making clothing, checking the calculations for that week’s Barrier Schedule, checking someone’s homework, helping someone with homework, doing her own homework, cataloguing anything and everything in Hell Hall, cooking, cleaning, and, well, anything else she had time for before one of the Family threatened her into resting.

More often than not, if Evie wasn’t doing homework, then she was sewing, knitting, crocheting, embroidering, or was otherwise occupied with the making or mending of clothing. She tried her best to keep track of the conversations around her, but sometimes she missed something. Her Family was always happy to repeat something or to nudge her when needed. She liked being included and was rarely upset at the interruption in her work.

While Jay meditated, or at least attempted to do so, Evie very carefully sewed together everyone’s next set of gloves. They still had their spares, but certain people’s gloves (Mal and Carlos) were a bit more singed than Evie preferred. They were still testing out runes to make everyone’s clothing flame resistant if not outright flame proof, but so far, nothing had really worked. She bet Maleficent knew how to keep their clothes from catching on fire. Maybe she’d even written those ideas down. One day, they’d get their hands on her spell book and find out for themselves.

Evie hummed Cruella’s theme song as she worked. It was a catchy tune, and Carlos’ habit of absently humming or outright singing it when he was distracted had started to rub off on the rest of them. (Much to Jay’s dismay)

“No,” Jay groaned, and Evie tried not to smirk. “The last thing I need is that song stuck in my head.”

Evie’s response was to start singing. Jay needed to learn control despite destractions. This would be a safe lesson. Plus he might decide to start pacing instead of hanging upside down. Evie lived in fear Jay was going to fall too deeply into meditation and fall on his head. Pacing was much safer; at least he’d have a chance to catch himself and/or fall properly. Sitting down would be even better, but it probably wouldn’t help Jay much.

“We need to update those lyrics,” Jay mused instead of meditating. “Wait. What was it that freshman Carlos stuffed in his locker was singing? Carlos de Vil…something something….if he doesn’t…..no….none of that quite fits….Hm…Oh, I’ve got it!”

For someone who disliked the tune so much, Jay was quick to sing his new and improved alternate lyrics version of it.

Oh, Carlos de Vil.
Our Carlos de Vil.
If he doesn’t scare you, his Family will.
His schemes and plots show sheer unbridled skill!
Oh, Carlos.
Sweet Carlos.
His traps set up our rivals for the kill!
Look out for our Carlos de Vil.
At first you’ll think dear Carlos is an angel,
But when the time comes to reveal his act.
You come to realize. While facing your demise.
We’ve been there guarding Carlos’ back.
Such a clever mind.
Trust and loyalty.
He’ll never betray us.
That’s a certainty.
He looks like such a wholesome boy until…
Oh, Carlos.
That Carlos. De Vil.

Evie found Jay’s spin on the freshman’s lyrics adorable. She doubted Carlos would find it anything but annoying, but he would inevitably warm up to it. Of course, it could take weeks of Carlos and Jay singing over one another before Carlos finally admitted he liked Jay’s version better. Evie and Mal would have to practice silencing spells. Or join in. Whichever was more amusing at the time.

And Evie would have to make certain she snapped a picture of Carlos’ bright red face. Really, by now he should have been used to compliments. Especially from Jay.

Evie let Jay sing the song a few times before she ordered, “Jay, stop singing and start concentrating.” She didn’t even look up from her stitching. The stitches didn’t have to look perfect, but that wasn’t going to stop Evie from trying. (And succeeding)

Jay fell silent for a few moments before he spoke again. “I….wasn’t singing, V,” he slowly replied. He sounded suspicious.

Evie just rolled her eyes. Right. If he didn’t want to admit it it, she wasn’t going to make him. So long as he stopped and started concentrating like he was supposed to. Jay lasted all of a minute before he started singing again. This time, the song was louder but also more…tentative? No, that couldn’t be right.

Evie sighed and looked up. “If you’re done meditating you could at least-“

Jay’s mouth was closed, but he was smirking at her. And singing. Evie could still hear singing, and…

“Oh, no….” Evie groaned.

“I’ll go get Mal and Carlos for the Family Meeting. You might as well clean up a bit. You’ll want to pay attention to this conversation.” Jay dismounted the bar with a completely unecessary backflip. He even managed not to tear down the entire blanket for like he had the first few times he’d tried that move.

 

Evie had everything put away by the time Jay returned with the others. She’d taken her circlet off and was glaring at it. The circlet was silver, of course, and the inside was lined with tiny pieces of turqoise and angelite. She barely even noticed how uncomfortable it was these days. (Though really it wasn’t all that uncomfortabl). Her mother had made her wear more uncomfortable things in the name of fashion and beauty. These stones were rounded, polished, and carefully set in the metal (thank her Family’s combined talents for that) to make it rest as evenly and comfortably on her head as possible.

“Don’t worry so much, V,” Mal told her before she curled up in her favorite spot by the fire. “You’re better than all of us at this control stuff.”

That was true, but only because Evie had spent her entire childhood (and then some) doing what basically amounted to modified meditation and control practices. Meditation reminded her of staring into a mirror and focusing on making only one expression for hours on end.

Mal’s magic was intricately linked with her emotions, and she was easily frustrated. Evie thought that some part of Mal still thought these things should come more naturally to her, and maybe they would have if they’d been born in Auradon. Mal was also impatient and wanted to be the best now because her magic was the one thing that made her feel worthy enough even think about calling herself by her true name. Maleficent. (Her Family thought she’d long ago earned the right, if she wanted it, but Mal….)

Jay lacked concentration, but it wasn’t his fault. Staying still for long periods of time just wasn’t his thing. He preferred movement, and they had yet to find a way to allow him the freedom to move and meditate at the same time. Jay was perfectly capable of staying still for hours on end when on guard duty or a stake out (or when he was hiding from someone or even just people watching), but he hadn’t quite figured out how to blend meditation with that sort of focus.

As for Carlos, he had a bad habit of slipping into a tech trance instead of actually meditating. It helped him explore his gifts, but it wasn’t that helpful in figuring out how to hide the eye thing. Which meant he couldn’t do much classwork in class these days. Plus, he still lacked the confidence the others felt in regards to their abilities. He hesitated and second guessed more than they did. It didn’t hinder his progress, exactly, but it did slow him down a little bit and made actual results rather sporadic.

“I’m not….worried exactly,” Evie said slowly. She turned her circlet round and round in her hands and focused on her Family. She’d had a lot of time to think while Jay had retrieved the others. “I just…I’m….wary for the same reasons Jay was wary of the pickpocketing thing. I don’t want to take anything from you unless you say it’s okay first. It’s….wrong. Using this sort of power on Family.”

The other three nodded and looked thoughtful. Privacy of the mind was just something they were used to having. Sometimes, their minds were the only safe places they could go. No matter what their parents had done, they’d been able to retreat there and keep at least a part of themselves safe. Now….

They weren’t upset by it. Not really. Evie could see it on their faces. They trusted her whole heartedly, but she was very clearly felt disturbed by her new gift. So they gave the situation the consideration it deserved. Evie was thankful for it.

“So we’ll modify Rule Four,” Carlos decided with a nod. “If you hear something, you don’t mention it to anyone else without permission.”

“Unless it seems like they’re in danger from others or even from themselves. I’m okay with you telling me you overheard something, even if it’s stupid,” Jay added. “I don’t think any of us would ever think about harming ourselves and not mention it, but…..” He squirmed in his seat for a moment, obviously uncomfortable with the topic. Finally, he stood up and started pacing.

“Better safe than sorry,” Carlos finished for him. He gave Jay one of those smiles he never gave anyone else. Contingency plans were the lifeblood of engineers and thieves alike.

“And you’ll learn to control it,” Mal said with absolute certainty. “You learned how to get the creepy mirror thing under control.”

Evie smiled proudly at that. She had gotten the mirror thing under control. The stones had certainly helped as focus tools, but she’d learned to instinctively channel the scrying energy to her Mark. Since it was on her skin and so close to her ear, the voices could whisper things all day long and no one else would ever hear them. Plus, anything shown in the mirror was covered up by whatever accessory she wore that day. She’d practiced and practiced until it became second nature, like checking and reapplying her make up or fixing her facial expressions. It didn’t always work; sometimes the voices were insistent enough to use other reflective things (of which there weren’t many on the Isle – not clean ones anyway) to get her attention or she focused too intently on something else.

“I did,” Evie agreed with a nod and a small smile. It was true, for the most part. She gained the most consistent control faster then the others had, anyway. “I’ll practice and figure out the difference between….mind speech and real speech. Just…..I might say things without permission until I learn the difference…”

The other three just shrugged. Like it was no big deal. Like she might not accidentally reveal some big secret to the entire Family. (Not that they had many secrets. Just everything left unspoken on the topic of Soulmate Marks, their own especially)

“Can’t be helped. We didn’t get mad when Jay kept finding our stuff in his pockets. And then freaked out about it,” Mal said.

“Or whenever Carlos’ stuff zaps us for mishandling it or turns on before we can even touch it. It still does that,” Jay added.

“Or when Mal warms us all up without asking first. Even when the room is already a furnace,” Carlos said with a grin.

Evie grinned back. “Yeah, who can we be weird with and make mistakes around, if not Family? You guys are the best.”

~*~

It didn’t take Evie long to discover another twist to her new ability. She was halfway through her first round of meditation when a thought struck her. It was interesting enough to jar her back to a more conscious state of mind.

If she could hear what they were thinking, why couldn’t she let them know what she was thinking, too?

~*~

Carlos was wary of the new silver and angelite earrings (since he was the only one with unpierced ears), but the idea was intriguing enough for him to agree to it. If Jay held his hand through the entire process and the girls learned a spell to numb pain just for the occasion, well….they were Family.

It really didn’t hurt or bleed half as much as he’d expected it to.

~*~

Mal called a Family meeting a few days later. She claimed her usual spot near the fire and waited until the others had made themselves comfortable before she spoke.

“I have an announcement to make,” she said, then waited. Someone was bound to say something.

“You finally agree that it’s time to get rid of Maleficent?” was Carlos’ immediate reply. He leaned forward in his seat, half grinning and far too excited about plotting the murder of the most powerful villain on the Isle. Mal thought it was adorable, and judging by the expressions Evie and Jay had on their faces, they did as well.

“No,” Mal answered and felt a little bad when Carlos started pouting. Seriously it was adorable. “I have a soulmate.” Bluntness was the only way she’d get through this. Besides, it wasn’t like the whole soulmate and Mark issue wasn’t a secret they all pretended not to know.

The other three straightened, ready to take this conversation seriously. (Not that they weren’t before, but the topic of soulmates, especially the Family’s soulmates, deserved a seriousness that was generally put aside when discussing other things – like murder or magic updates)

“All right,” Jay said because of course Jay was the one to speak first. The other two would waste far too much time trying to be delicate, but Jay lacked the patience. (Sometimes his Family thought all of his patience was reserved for thieving efforts) “What do you want to tell us?”

Mal smiled at Jay for a moment before her lips pressed into a thin line. None of them were body shy, not even Carlos (but only after his mother’s accident before….well, the thought of it made Mal want to kill Cruella all over again) She didn’t doubt they’d seen her Soulmate Mark and pretended not to. Just as she’d seen theirs and carefully locked the information away to be willfully ignored.

“I dream about him. A lot,” she admitted. Her Family was polite (and curious) enough to do nothing more than widen their eyes and lean forward. When they said nothing, Mal took a deep breath then continued. “More than I’ve sort of admitted to. Almost every night, actually, even if neither of us actually remember most of our dreams half the time. We don’t really talk about our lives or who we are, not usually. We just….we teach each other stuff. Like the dancing, and I taught him how to pickpocket. Useful skills, you know…..”

She took another deep breath and glanced back at the fire. The room was probably already plenty toasty to the others, but she shivered anyway. A wave of her hand made the fire roar, and she scooted closer. Only the fact that her clothes weren’t flame proof (yet) kept her from outright sitting in the fireplace.

“I know his name now, and who his parents are,” she continued. She watched her Family frown at this and knew they were wary at the sudden change in pattern. It made her smile, satisfied that their silence meant they were worried about her, not angry at her. “He told me so he could warn me ahead of time.” She watched the others tense and raised a hand to calm them. “Not about anything bad. He warned me because if I reacted in front of anyone….”

She trailed off, and the other three nodded. She waited until they relaxed a bit, taking the time to shift into a new sitting position. Her butt was starting to fall asleep; no need to make the conversation more uncomfortable than it already was.

“He’s going to be on the Auradon channel. The good King Beast has or will make it mandatory for all students at the Academy to watch his little tv appearance,” she told them, rolling her eyes and lifting her lip in distaste at the mere thought of King Beast. She disliked him now more than ever. “His name is Prince Ben.”

Evie’s eyes widened, and she let out a closed mouthed shriek. She was an avid watcher of anything on the Auradon channel that involved princes so Mal had expected her to know exactly who she was talking about. Evie was kind enough to let out a mostly silent, “Oh my gods,” instead of piercing their eardrums with an excited shriek. (She was still making quiet squeals of excitement, but they weren’t that loud so everyone let her get away with them without comment)

Mal hugged her arms to her chest and waited for her Family’s judgment. She wasn’t worried enough to stare at the floor, but she did catch her lower lip with her teeth and start nibbling, an outward sign of nervousness that she normally didn’t allow herself to show.

“You really dream about him that often?” Carlos asked. He had his thinking face on, but he was still in information gathering mode so his eyes remained intent and focused.

When Mal nodded, everyone fell silent for a few moments.

“That’s….” Jay said and trailed off with a frown.

“Well he definitely won’t be betraying you, then. Not with a Bond that strong,” Evie remarked with a satisfied nod. “And his position makes him useful. And worthy of you. I can still threaten to poison him, though, right? Nothing lethal, of course, and just a little warning.”

Jay perked up at this. Slowly, his frown turned into a feral grin. “Think of the scare tactics I-we can use on him to ensure his good behavi-ow! I mean….uh…..” He corrected himself when Carlos nudged him sharply in the side with his elbow.

“He’s a prince in Auradon,” Carlos said, looking thoughtful. This time, his gaze grew distant, and he leaned on Jay so he didn’t have to bother with concentrating on keeping himself upright. (He was either too lost in thought to notice or just chose to ignore Evie reaching over to scratch the top of his head)

Mal wasn’t sure whether to relax or tense in preparation for…..she wasn’t sure. Probably something uncomfortable that would involve feelings she’d much rather ignore, thanks very much.

“Trusting a random prince is one thing,” Carlos said, and Mal knew to tense (and she wasn’t the only one. Jay might not have known exactly what it was, but he knew game changing news was about to be revealed/pointed out) “Trusting King Beast’s son is another thing entirely.”

Evie, of course, already knew this information and just shrugged. “He’ll have more useful information, given how important his father is.”

Jay frowned at her over Carlos’ head. “That’s not necessarily an adequate reason not to seriously think about renouncing him….or figuring out a way to block the Bond.”

“Soulmates with dreaming compatability don’t betray one another. It’s a documented fact,” Evie pointed out.

“Oh, yeah? It’s a documented fact that all soulmates pairings, triads, and etcetera are Marked. One Mark on a person for each soulmate that person has. How many people on this forsaken piece of rock had soulmates who weren’t Marked?” Jay countered, thinking of the sad, angry, sometimes drunken tale his father had told him time after time.

Evie raised a delicate eyebrow and tilted her head to one side. She wasn’t sure if she agreed or disagreed with Jay (probably both), but they needed to argue both sides. Mal needed to hear it or she wouldn’t have brought it up. Making Mal choose a side was…cruel, somehow. Arguing about soulmates, their soulmates, with Family felt odd, but Mal needed them. So she steeled her shoulders and responded.

“The intel will be useful, regardless, and Mal is always careful about how much she shares with non-Family.”

“Until the bond makes the two of them so familiar with one another he starts to feel like Family. Then he could ruin all of our plans by informing the Royals. He’s a security leak we can’t afford.”

“And run the risk of his soulmate being killed? He won’t admit knowledge of her unless he absolutely has to; and probably not even then. Not to the Royals.”

“You say that of a person you barely know? He’s a prince from Auradon. Not only has he been brainwased, but the shame of having an Isle soulmate is probably worth the death of the Bond to him.”

“He’s probably known for almost two years, now, and he hasn’t done a thing. If he was truly worried about that, he’d renounce her and let Fate run its course.”

“And this is Soulmate Magic we’re talking about. The ‘Ultimate Force for Good’. What if the Bond starts to affect Mal and sways her to their side? It’ll ruin everything we’ve planned. Not to mention once they find out about our magic, they’ll kill us.”

“Killing us counts as a betrayal to Mal. And that ultimate force for good thing is a bunch of bull and we all know it. If anything, Soulmate Magic and Soulmate Bonds are a source of balance. Each person balances out the other, which is why most pairings are just that, pairings and not triads or anything like that.”

Mal’s eyes flicked from Evie to Jay to Evie and back and forth again and again; it was like watching a tennis match. She wasn’t entirely certain who she wanted to win. Mostly she was just glad they were both voicing summaries of the arguments she’d been having with herself for years.

“I don’t want to give my soulmates up,” Carlos admitted quietly and refused to look at anything except his hands in his lap. He’d chosen his moment to speak carefully. His voice, though soft, seemed loud in the few moments Evie and Jay took to take a breath. He sounded so frightened and guilty it shut them both right up.

“Destroying the magic doesn’t have to mean giving them up,” Mal responded. She straightened her back and held her head high. If her eyes glistened with tears, well, no one else noticed due to how blurry their own eyes were. (What if she was wrong? Would it be worth it? Of course it would)

“We will destroy Soulmate Magic. It might take a while, but we will do it. To make all of them pay. Our parents, the assholes in Auradon who forgot about us and left us here to wither, for those of us lost to the remnants of dreams and old glory, to avenge everyone who’s ever been afraid just because some old, stupid story wasn’t as true as they thought..….we’ll do it. ”

As on, the Family straightened and nodded, each of them ignoring how troubled the others looked.. Jay grabbed Carlos’ hand and held on so tightly Carlos was afraid he might end up with broken bones. Evie scooted closer to the pair of them and snuggled with Carlos, taking his free hand in hers and resting her head on his shoulder. Mal finally moved away from the fire and grabbed Jay and Evie’s free hands. She stood proudly, and maybe her chin wavered a bit, but they couldn’t back down now.

“We’ll make them judge everyone by their actions and not just some terrible twist of Fate. We won’t let them use Destiny as an excuse to destroy children’s lives, to leave them in squalor and pretend they don’t exist. We won’t let them trap anyone in a life they don’t want just because magic made a mistake. Because someone has to, and we’re the only ones willing enough, the only ones strong enough, stubborn enough and smart enough and evil enough to make it happen.”

~*~

Jay paced the corridor outside of Carlos room for hours that night before a sleepy and grumpy Carlos threw open his bedroom door and glared at him.

“You’re making the shadows….loom,” he told Jay and motioned behind him.

The shadows in the room were indeed looming. They’d climbed up the walls, absorbing the light of the full moon instead of reflecting it. They clawed at the windows, monstrous mockeries of hands or perhaps branches that covered a few panes, leaving very little light left to see by. The entire floor was covered in about six inches of pure darkness that sort of misted like smoke or fog.

(When Carlos had walked through the shadows, too irritated to worry about potential consequences, the shadows had felt warm and had tickled against his skin. The shadows had parted as if the movement of his legs had caused great gusts of wind and were rapidly filling in the space they’d so helpfully cleared so he wouldn’t trip and fall on his face. Not that he would. His room was spotless. Mostly. Except for a few unfinished repair projects here and there)

For a brief moment, fear flickered across Jay’s face. His eyes were leaking that shadow stuff again, and his irises had tinged red, just a tad. He stared the shadowy lair that was now Carlos room for a long moment before he backed away from the door and made a few gestures with his hand. His mouth fell open and closed a few times, desperately trying to make noise, to say something – anything, only to fail.

“I….should go,” Jay decided, already backpedalling down the hall. If he thought that would help the shadow situation, he was very wrong. Instead, it made it worse.

Carlos ignored the shadows spilling out into the hall and glanced down at the little wisps of shadow stuff clutching at his ankles. He wasn’t sure if they intended to pull him back into his room, pull him down the hall after Jay, or keep him in place. Mostly, they just tugged, insistent and contrary, as if none of the tendrils could quite decide which direction the sleepy, grumpy teen should go.

“Don’t you run away from me, young man!” Carlos yelled. He grabbed the doorway, the shadow covering the wood darting out of the way only to hesitantly return and carefully cover his hand. It was soft, like silk, but still tickled, and after a few seconds it scooped itself under Carlos’ hand as well. Which was. Odd. Holding hands (sort of) with a shadow was odd.

He ignored that, put it in the back of him mind to think about later when he wanted to do things other than finally get some sleep, and leaned around the door frame. It was easier to glare at Jay this way. At least his words seemed to have their intended effect. Jay was still visibly upset, to be sure, but the corner of his lips twitched into a weird smirk/grimace combination.

Carlos waited until Jay stopped moving and actually looked ready to listen to him instead of just bolting outside to freak out before he spoke again. This time, he his tone was softer (and fond, but geeze, the fondness was sneaking into his tone more and more these days – to all of his Family – but okay maybe it happened to Jay, specifically, more often than Evie or Mal).

“We need to make a rule about talking with Family instead of just assuming and running off to fee miserable and panic,” he decided, then yawned. “First, this shadow thing. It doesn’t bother me. Really, really doesn’t. I’m not some pampered Auradonian. Shadows aren’t the thing of nightmares, Jay. They’re the things that protect you from nightmares, from the monsters. Now for Lucifer’s sake, will you please just come to bed? I’ll sleep better knowing you’re not going to spend all night fretting over nothing. ‘Sides you sleep better when you can hear peoples’ heartbeats.”

And really, how could Jay argue with that?

~*~

Just when Jay was almost ready to fall asleep, his head resting against Carlos’ chest, he heard Carlos speak. The words were mumbled and sleepy, and Jay wasn’t entirely certain Carlos meant to say them out loud.

“The Mark doesn’t mean anything. I already know I love you. Nothing will change that. ”

Jay glanced up at Carlos, but his eyes were closed and his breathing was steady. He was probably asleep, now but if he wasn’t he was doing a damn good job pretending.

The shadows finally retreated to allow the proper amount of moonlight back in the room. They seeped back into their proper positions, and though they didn’t make the room darker, they still seemed…thicker somehow, almost solid. And they moved (maybe? Jay was too tired to study them. Perhaps it was a trick of the light)

Jay fell asleep with the sound of Carlos’ heartbeat in his ear as the squirming shadows stood sentry.

Chapter Text

~*~

When Ben opened his door and saw Audrey’s smiling face, he bit back a sigh. Jane had warned him, of course, and she’d dutifully acted as the go between in order to set up the meeting. Jane’s desire to protect her soulmates as well as her own hide meant she just did as ordered and asked no questions. Ben almost wished she were more like Lonnie; Lonnie would have at least found out why Audrey wanted to meet.

But he couldn’t be mad at Jane for trying to lessen the attention she drew to herself. She had the fate of two others to worry about and since magic was essentially banned, she had little to no power and/or influence.

(Not that the forbidden nature of magic made any of them worry about figuring out ways to control and/or help Jane use it. It just made them more cautious)

Ben gave Audrey a smile and knew right away that whatever she wanted was going to disrupt the rest of his day. It was there in the way she tilted her head and let her smile melt from amused to pleading damsel.

“Princess Audrey,” Ben greeted. “What can I do for you this morning?” No one was in the hallway to witness their encounter, which was probably a good thing. They stood a respectful distance away from one another, and Ben was careful to center himself in the doorway.

Audrey waited a few moments for Ben to invite her inside, which was the general protocol in these situations. His rudeness might have been forgivable and even understandable had they not known each other so well. Ben just blinked when Audrey’s eyes narrowed slightly, and her chin lifted in that stubborn, determined tilt he was all too familiar with.

“Prince Ben,” Audrey greeted, then actually curtsied. She even bowed her head a bit in deference to Ben’s supposed (and mostly theoretical) higher political position. A shortened version of his name and a respectful and deferential curtsey? It was suspicious, to say the least. With no audience to perform for, Audrey must want….something.

They stared at each other in silence for longer than Ben expected. A few years ago, Ben would have fidgeted and asked Audrey what she wanted before ten seconds had even passed. These days, Ben was used to staring contests with Dragon. (He never won, but he always lasted longer than Dragon expected.)

Eventually, Audrey gave in and spoke first. “Your talk of your intention to petition for the betterment of those born on the Isle has gotten quieter, lately,” she pointed out. It almost sounded as if she were testing the waters, so to speak.

As for Ben’s talk of the Isle… Had it been that long since he’d publicly spoken of his opinion on the matter? No wonder his father had made a peace offering. The King must have thought Ben’s interest had started to wane. Ben’s actions, or lack thereof, might have been proof of a lack of interest in other teenagers, but it wasn’t like Belle and Adam were known for their tendencies to do anything other than stand firm and stubborn in their beliefs. (Though Belle, at least, was better at giving in just enough to allow her freedom to forge ahead and do what she wanted regardless)

Audrey seemed to be waiting for some sort of response, but she hadn’t actually told Ben what she wanted yet. So he kept his polite, blank expression on his face and stared at her, waiting. Audrey shifted uneasily, gaze darting up and down the hallway before she frowned at nothing in particular. When she looked Ben in the eye she straightened and stubbornly lifted her chin. She was silent for a few more moments and studied Ben, as if looking for something. Finally, she nodded, clearly having reached some sort of decision.

On what, Ben didn’t know, but he figured he was about to find out.

“Are you interested in the Isle because you think your soulmate lives there?” This time, Audrey didn’t bother trying to wrap the question in pretty words, just stated it bluntly and silently dared him to deny it. The expression on her face was the most stubborn she’d ever shown Ben. When he, once again, said nothing, she actually let out a frustrated hiss of breath.

Ben dropped all pretense of a friendly expression. His eyes narrowed, and the polite smile on his face turned into the slightest hint of bared teeth. (Dragon would have no doubt been proud). Fear and panic were for when the crisis was over. Right now, anger would suit him well enough.

“I think we’re done here, Princess Audrey. So terribly sorry I couldn’t help you,” he said abruptly and started to shut his door.

He wasn’t expecting Audrey to step forward and slam a hand on the door. She wasn’t actually strong enough to keep him from shutting the door with her hands alone, no matter how much power she put behind the shove. The foot she stuck between the door and the door frame, however, helped matters along. Ben wasn’t willing to outright break her foot just to shut his door and avoid a conversation.

Besides, he had to admit, to himself if no one else, that he was a little bit curious.

“Fuck you, Ben,” Audrey hissed and struggled to shove the door open so she could gain entrance to his rooms. It wasn’t working, but she was making an admirable effort. “You’re not the only one!”

That last sentence could have meant anything, but it came out in a frustrated and slightly frightened hiss of breath. Ben doubted she’d meant to say it at all, but Audrey never had been good at holding her tongue when her temper got out of control. The slight tremor of fear in Ben’s tone startled him into a decision.

The fact that the sudden lack of resistance made Audrey stumble and nearly fall over was just a bonus. What? He was allowed to be a little vindictive and petty. He was a teenage prince.

“Right,” he said and took a deep breath. He stepped aside to let Audrey into his rooms, watching her every movement as closely as possible. He compared the young woman who’d knocked on his door to the girl he’d dated so very long ago. At least, it felt like so very long ago.

She’d had always been so sure of herself and confident of her place in the world. She’d known where and how she fit in to the grand scheme of things, and unlike Ben, she’d neither wanted nor needed to question or change any of it. She’d worried about nothing and her smiles had come so easily. She’d been arrogant, certainly, but it was the quiet arrogance of someone who had never been questioned or outright denied in their entire life.

The young woman standing in Ben’s parlor was tense. Her entire body looked stiff no matter how much she tried to appear relaxed and mostly carefree. It could have been excused on the stress that comes with teenage royalty finally feeling the weight of responsibility on their shoulders. The fact that Audrey was meeting Ben meant it was something else.

(Ben remembered Audrey’s carefree smiles and wondered when they’d changed into courtly smiles that showed nothing more than their owner wanted them to)

For a moment, Ben thought about just shoving Audrey out into the hall, politeness and attempts to keep up the cover he and those with ties to the Isle tried their best to maintain be damned. Then she looked him in the eye. He’d never really seen that look in her eyes before. Until this moment, he’d mistaken it for a capable princess pretending to be a damsel in distress in order to get her way.

But Ben knew that look, had seen it more often than he’d care to.

Doug wore that look when he finally ran out of things to occupy his attention or received letters from his relatives. Chad wore that look for split seconds between his attempts to ignore everything except finding another heart to break. Jane wore that look nearly all the time, but almost no one noticed since she’d been such a skittish and slightly miserable teen before this whole mess had started.

Ben saw that look in the mirror every day. Audrey probably did, too. He wondered how long it took her to hide it behind a courtly mask each morning. Did she stare into her own eyes, reapply her make up, and ask herself how long it would take for someone to call her out on it? Did she lay awake at night wondering which was worse – someone asking about the look in her eyes or no one ever asking?

Ben knew, instinctively, that no one could fake that look. His Personal Mark felt warm against his skin, as if magically confirming a truth he’d already known.

So he stepped aside and bowed ever so slightly. “Would you like some tea, Princess Audrey?” he asked and gestured toward the seating area. He didn’t think he was risking everything, but even if it turned out he was, he didn’t have it in him to say no to that haunted, desperate look.

“Still trying to solve everything with a hot beverage, Ben?” Audrey asked, sounding a bit fond. She smiled but didn’t try very hard to make it look anything other than tired, distant amusement. Her shoulders drooped just a bit, as if Ben’s agreement to at least talk was enough to make at least some of her tension go away.

“No,” Ben admitted as he shut the door behind her. “But I figured it was a good place to start.” They could remain polite and waste hours saying everything and nothing at all. Or Ben could purposefully set aside the manners he’d spent his entire life learning.

It was a tough decision, and he waited until after Audrey was seated and the tea service had been placed on the table before he spoke again.

“We might not be friends, as such, but I’m still fond enough of you to warn you,” he said and gave Audrey a perfectly pleasant smile as he poured her favorite tea blend into a cup. “If you’re planning on trying to blackmail or do anything that betrays my trust in you, Audrey, you’ll find out exactly why my perfect match lives on the Isle and not in Auradon.”

Instead of looking intimidated, Audrey just smiled. Unlike her previous smiles, this one was all teeth and satisfaction. (And relief. And a bit of amusement) “Look at you, Benny Boo,” she practically purred. She was teasing and not flirting, but Ben still blushed. “Figured out your purpose in life after all? Figured out just what kind of person you want to be?”

Ben grinned and knew that if he looked at his reflection, his grin would look much like one of Dragon’s grins, all teeth and feral amusement. “Maybe. I have an idea, but…I’m not the person I need to be just yet. And you? What sort of person do you think you’ll eventually be, Audrey?”

Audrey gave his question the consideration it deserved. For all of two seconds. She took a sip of tea and sighed happily. “A queen with a worthy soulmate to rule at my side. Assuming I don’t burn down my kingdom in order to retrieve and then keep whoever they might be.”

Ben thought about this for a moment, sipping on tea that he wasn’t really all that fond of. Honestly, he should have expected this from Audrey. Her father killed Maleficent in revenge and defense of his own soulmate. Her mother had been instrumental in the decision to bring Maleficent back to life in order to punish her for the things she’d done. A very distant and dying part of himself felt a bit disturbed by her declaration. The rest of him was amused and overjoyed.

“I am, of course, willing to render aid to any ally, in both peace and war. Traditionally, our kingdoms have been allies for centuries. Why ruin tradition?” he asked. His teacup made a quiet clinking noise when he set it down. Both of his Marks warmed against his skin as he held out a hand for Audrey to shake.

“Well, who am I to break tradition,” Audrey replied and took his hand.

Her eyes widened when Ben’s Personal Mark appeared in the air above their clasped hands. The Mark was translucent and seemed to almost glow. It hovered in the air for a few moments before it settled into their hands. A golden and blue shimmer spread from their hands until the warmth of the magic was all they could feel.

The words they’d used weren’t traditional, but the Ally Oath had been invoked and settled into their cores. The magic of an Oath, any Oath, was older than even the magic of Marks, but unlike Marks, no Oaths had been seen or invoked in centuries. At least not any that anyone had written down in the history books. People and kingdoms could still promise things, of course, but none of these things were backed by Fate and Magic.

Whatever held sway over Oaths, be it Fate, Magic, or anything else, had clearly decided to stand up and pay attention to Ben and Audrey’s alliance. Only time would tell if that attention was a blessing or a curse.

~*~

Most Oaths were simple. They were promises made by a group of people to support the same cause. They kept allies from breaking each other’s trust. The simplest of Oaths were weak, but they bound people together and were responsible for creating the kingdoms of Auradon.

Normally, an Oath was felt rather than seen. It was always there, a magical presence beneath the skin, a constant reminder of a promise made. Some said it felt warm when they did things that fulfilled their Oath and others said they merely felt joy, appreciation, or even simple approval.

A parent might hold their child for the first time and swear, with a true and honest heart, to do everything in their power to protect them from harm and ensure their happiness. In the old days, the Oath would settle around their heart, warm and happy to assist the parent in their lifelong goal.

Or a person might kneel in the ruins of a village, too angry and too full of grief to even make the smallest of sounds. They might swear with a true and vengeful heart to ensure the end of whatever had destroyed their home.

The magic of an Oath did not care about right or wrong, good or evil, or anything else. It cared about stalwart hearts overwhelmed with emotion. And once an Oath settled, Magic, Fate, and every other power in the universe would do its best to see the Oath fulfilled.

An Oath was a powerful thing. A villain with an Oath settled around their heart could be defeated by nothing except an even stronger Oath. Should the villain waver in their determination, they might be defeated. Should a hero’s determination and emotion spark their own Oath to settle around their heart and should that hero’s determination be even stronger than their foe’s, then the villain would be defeated.

Strength of the spirit was no laughing matter.

Breaking an Oath entirely was worse than losing the will to fulfill one’s Oath. An Oath might fade away if one’s heart found itself no longer able to go through with its plans. Going against an Oath entirely usually ended in death. If one were fortunate, they would drop dead where they stood. If one weren’t….

The Wild Hunt’s only purpose was to find Oath Breakers. They had not been seen for at least a hundred years since the last documented Oath. When the Wild Hunt had gone, so too had many magical creatures. The Furies, who were Oaths of Vengeance made flesh. Naiads, dryads, and sylphs, spirits whose Oaths were the very things that kept them alive, had disappeared soon after.

No one knew why proper Oaths had disappeared from the world and taken so many beings with them. So long as the magic of Soulmates stayed intact, not many people had cared.

~*~

Poor Cogsworth had the honor of helping Ben with his segment. Ben wasn’t sure if the former clock had been talked into it by Belle or if he’d merely drawn the short stick. Either way, it was hilariously easy to talk him into taping a live segment for the first airing.

They practiced things, of course. The script was laughable and full of self-righteous, arrogant sayings that considered no one’s viewpoint except King Adam’s. (And at least half of the royalty across Auradon) Among other things, a few paragraphs about conscientious buying had been slipped into the pages upon pages of scripts Ben was allowed to pick and choose from.

He’d been assured that everything was a mere “suggestion” and that he didn’t actually have to say any of it. “Think of the scripts as….er….guidelines!” Cogsworth had said, trying to be helpful.

Ben thought telling the Isle kids that they should watch their carbon footprint was incredibly rude and insensitive. Some pages were peppered with ads, as if anyone from Auradon watched the Isle channel. (Okay maybe they did. How was Ben to know?) Because it wasn’t like anyone on the Isle had the luxury to pick and choose what products they used/bought. (Did they buy things on the Isle? He wasn’t certain if Dragon’s many, many lectures on proper stealing techniques, some of them refined for marketplace use, were a product of her social upbringing, her own brand of mischief, peer influence, of familial influence.)

During the practice runs, Ben read things from scripts just so he’d have a chance to memorize them. Later, he’d try to dream and let Dragon know just how ridiculous some of these things were.

Cogsworth seemed pleased with his performance, or perhaps he was just tired of practice runs. Ben didn’t need to do anything at all to get Prince Ben’s Club House ready to record and air. Or whatever the proper terms were. (Neither Cogsworth nor Ben knew, and none of the crew seemed inclined to tell them)

(Prince Ben’s Club House was a far cry better than Prince Ben’s Special Hang Out Time or….other names he would end up telling Dragon eventually. Assuming she ever stopped laughing long enough to hear them)

Ben had been quite adamant that no fireplace find its way into the scene. Instead, the stage (well, room) had been designed to look like one of the club rooms at Auradon Prep. There were tables along the outside edges of the room, motivational posters and Ben was going to do his best to ignore for the rest of eternity covered the walls, and the room was so filled with comfortable places to sit that there was hardly room for anything else. At first, the centerpieces for the table had been floral arrangements. Ben had somehow managed to talk Cogsworth into using various stones and crystals instead.

He didn’t know as much as Dragon’s Family about the magic, and he was mostly limited to blues and golds/yellows. Still, the jars filled with stones and the jagged crystals that almost seemed to shine with magic, despite no one else noticing the odd glow, reminded him that there was more at stake than placating or pissing off his father.

A smart son would placate his father, but an angry one would try to do as much damage as possible to his father’s image during the live airing. Right now, Ben was both things.

Cogsworth cleared his throat, drawn Ben out of his thoughts. The servant dressed in all brown and gold merely stared at him for a moment, his expression subserviently neutral. He waited for Ben’s nod, then cleared his throat again. The cameras centered on Ben who was perched on the back of one of the couches. A mass of motivational posters that said ridiculous things lined the wall at his back, and he smiled kindly as Cogsworth introduced him.

“Hello,” Ben said once the long, long introduction was over. He gave an awkward wave and then used the same hand to reach up and rub the back of his neck. The laugh he let out was half real and half generated to fool…well…everyone. He had no doubt he sounded like an embarrassed teen who had no idea what they were doing.

Unlike Dragon, Ben knew he could play the fool when he needed to.

“I am King Adam – er – Beast’s son, if you did not already know. It is my honor and my privilege to carry on his legacy of bettering the lives of those around me. Not that the rest of Auradon has not also taken it upon themselves to help any and every one they can. I suppose you could say I have set my sights a little higher than my own castle and kingdom.” He paused to chuckle and shrugged a shoulder. He was blushing, now, and hadn’t planned for that at all.

Didn’t mean he couldn’t use the natural reaction to his own advantage.

“Sorry. I am unused to such wide audiences for my speeches. I may be a prince, but I have yet to make school wide declarations of anything, let alone kingdom wide. I guess that makes all of you my first, captive audience.” He had to fight to keep his lips from twitching into a smirk. Captive audience. Punny.

“I should probably say something from one of those scripts they handed me. Apparently I am horrible at writing my own speeches,” he laughed and sounded more self-deprecating than he’d intended. He rubbed at the back of his neck again and tilted his head to one side.

“I do not think I will. This is our first meeting, after all. It should come from the heart and not from some old guy who thinks he knows how to talk to teenagers. I am pretty sure he is the same guy who writes the speeches for my own school’s assemblies. Between you and me, he is not very good at them.” Ben leaned forward and glanced off to the side, lowering his voice as if sharing some great secret. He laughed a little at his own joke and hopped off of the couch.

He moved to stand next to a beanbag chair and turned around to view the room. He kept his face amused and cheerful but otherwise blank as he stared at the motivational posters, just in case one of the cameras caught his expression. Once he’d turned in a full circle, he plopped down into the beanbag, arranging himself so he looked like a giant, harmless puppy that had been turned into a human.

“You will be hearing a lot from me. Someone apparently thinks there are many lessons I can teach you. Maybe they are right. I have loads to say about Loyalty. About Trust and Friendship. About every day acts of Kindness and about Family. Kingdoms are a bit like a family, you know. We are kind to one another and we watch each other’s backs. We protect even the seemingly weakest member and remain loyal in both peace and war.”

Almost lazily, he reached out to pluck an amethyst geode from the ground. It must have fallen and been kicked to the side during the arrangement of the room and no one had noticed. The geode was small, just barely half the size of Ben’s palm, and had been cut in half in order to better display the purple crystals within. He supposed it was supposed to belong on the table with the geode centerpiece. He smiled at it for a few seconds, turning the geode round and round in his hand before he started tossing it up in the air and catching it, letting it go from one hand to the other with each toss.

“Maybe they are wrong. I mean, I am just a prince, and a young one at that. I doubt I know much about anything, really. I thought that helping people meant grand gestures and huge, sweeping acts of kindness. Maybe I know better, now. I mean, helping a thousand people is awesome, sure, but helping just one? If I could help just one of you? That would be enough, I think.”

He laughed again and blushed when he realized his gaze had grown distant and fond. The sheepish grin on his face turned apologetic.

“I guess if I have to give on ‘lesson’ today it would be this,” he said and almost smirked because he knew he would be made fun of for actually using air quotes. “We are stronger together than we could ever be apart. It is time we worked together to make this world a better, safer place. We will do more together than we ever could working against one another. “

He paused long enough to stand and give the camera a regal bow. “It was nice meeting you, Children of the Isle. I hope you will come to see me as a friend and not an enemy. I suppose only time will tell.” He paused for the shortest of breaths and then stared straight into the camera, a serious look on his face. “Stay safe.”

Then he turned and left the room without another word.

~*~

Flynn and Ophelia had set an alert on their phones so they’d know when the next Secrets of Auradon video had been uploaded. They both thought the entire ‘show’ was a charming and brilliant idea.

It was also a bit terrifying.

So far, nothing too horrible had been revealed. Marks of any kind were never discussed on camera. The narrator refused to even mention soulmates even though at least one pair had already made its way into a video. (Wedding planning at sixteen? Seriously?)

Honestly, it should have been easy to tell who some of these people were. The twins considered themselves fashionistas so the muted and blurry colors of a person’s outfit should have been enough to clue them in on just who certain people were.

But every time they came close, their brains went a bit fuzzy and they forgot what revelation they’d had. It should have been worrying. They should have reported it to the Headmistress. Actually, at least one student should try to report the videos to an adult. They were a security risk if nothing else. (And probably a violation of the student charter to boot)

Instead the twins were relieved. Technology alone could keep no one safe, but tech and magic mixed together? Surely that would protect people. As long as the person or persons behind the videos continued to protect the identities of people whose secrets they stole, neither twin would worry about the outcome.

This week’s video was interesting. Most of Prince Ben’s speech had been used to narrate the captured footage. A few quotations and the footage that went along with them stuck out to the twins.

”Someone apparently thinks there are many lessons I can teach you.” The quote was accompanied by old footage of Prince Ben trying to get students to sign his petition to allow Isle teenagers to attend school in Auradon. This footage was mostly unedited; it blurred out the faces of everyone except Prince Ben. It also jumped and sped through days until Ben’s hopeful and proud look turned into desperation then resignation.

”If I could help just one of you? That would be enough, I think.” Someone bent down to pick up a pencil another had dropped. Two people helped another hobble down the hall. One student with patient body language helped another, frustrated student with their homework.

”We are stronger together than we could ever be apart.” The tourney team. The cheerleading team. The marching band. Art club. Math club. Chess club. Culinary club. Equestrian club. A scene from last year’s Field Day – a tug of war contest where everyone was covered in mud and trying to pull a rope in opposing directions.

” I hope you will come to see me as a friend and not an enemy.” A blurry person who never showed their face and wore only dark colors set up a multitude of cameras around the school. It could have been several people, for all Flynn and Ophelia could tell.

”I suppose only time will tell.”

”Stay safe, Auradon. Someone’s always watching. Instead of the screen going dark like it normally did after this statement, the video showed a multitude of cameras. These ones weren’t the hidden cameras from the videos; these were the school’s cameras. The ones in the halls and one light posts and on ceilings. Everyone knew they were there, but they forgot about the school’s security systems so easily.

More than a dozen cameras flashed across the screen before the screen went dark.

~*~

Ben didn’t dream of Dragon for days. When he finally did, he was too relieved to be even the slightest bit annoyed that she spent the entire dream cackling. Honest to magic cackling. He didn’t think people even did that.

She was even kind enough to show memories of her Family cackling at him, too. (Not in class, thankfully, but in the safety of the weird blanket fort room)

“He didn’t declare war on his entire kingdom,” Prince insisted in one memory. He crossed his arms over his chest and seemingly had no problems giving everyone a stubborn look, despite the fact that he was hanging upside down.

“It was sooooo heavily implied,” Sparky disagreed. His latest project was spread out on a small table, and despite how quickly his hands moved, he clearly had no problems following the conversation.

Blueberry smirked and nodded her agreement. “It really was. Implications of allying with the Isle of the Lost is practically a declaration of war. Except with more flair and entertainment value.” Ben knew that tone. It was the ‘I have royal blood so I know best’ tone.

“He’s not going to get into trouble, is he?” Prince asked. His brow was furrowed, and there was a look on his face that Ben had never seen before. He thought Prince looked….worried and protective? It was difficult to tell since this was a memory, Prince was hanging upside down, and Ben didn’t know enough about Prince to know for certain.

The memory faded as Dragon turned to him. She was still snickering, a sound that was more like a quiet cackle than anything else, but she raised an eyebrow and waited impatiently for an answer.

“I haven’t gotten in trouble yet,” Ben assured her. “I doubt I will, but I will definitely have my allies keep their ears to the ground. I’m supposed to record a couple more shows later this week. They won’t be airing live, but….”

“You should listen to your own advice, Puppy,” Dragon said, her cackles finally silencing. “Stay safe. It’s hard to be friends with a dead guy.”

Ben couldn’t help but chuckle at that, and he nodded. “Yeah, all right. Just promise me one thing. Never, ever let me know how anyone except you Family thinks about these stupid shows. My confidence can only take so much.”

He grinned at her and let the dreamscape shimmer around them until they were back at the lake. It only took two seconds before Dragon shoved him into the water and started cackling again.