dedication: to rachel, because i deigned to insult cinderella's son chad, and without whom i never would have watched this dumb movie in the first place
notes: don't look at me just don't
title: party girls/bathroom stalls
summary: And they get older, and better, and worse. — Mal/Jane, Evie, Chad.
So, the thing is, Jane?
Once you got rid of the pale blue ruffles and weird hair accessories, anyway, and besides, Jane left those things behind for eleventh grade's leftovers to chew on; Evie saw to that. Red suits Jane better in the long run, turns her skin pale as milk and makes her eyes do this thing where they're huge and so blue they give the summer sky a run for its money. And she's magic, too (but it's not like that's a surprise, not with her mother being who her mother is), strong and fervent and not just the littlest bit dark. It's this whole thrilling mix of good-girl-gone-bad and burned-believer and—
And yeah. Okay. Mal likes it.
Mal likes it a lot.
Because what they don't tell you when you're sixteen is that one day you're going to look up and realize: oh, I think she's hot. That's what this is. Oh. At least, Mal never got that memo, and so the day she looked up and realized: oh, I think Jane's hot. That's what this is. Oh. was an interesting day indeed.
Evie had given her such an unflattering look of deadpan disbelief that Mal was almost insulted.
"Obviously," she'd said, and flipped her hair over her shoulder with a huff, "you've been into Jane since, like, day one. Are you telling me you only just figured that out now?"
"Are you mad?" and even a year and a half later, Mal still doesn't know why she asked that. She only knows that she did. That she had to know. That she would die if Evie was mad. That she wouldn't survive Evie's scorn.
"Please," Evie had said, and raised one perfectly sculpted eyebrow. How did she do that, it made her look like a proper villain, it was so unfair. "Why would I be mad? You're my best friend, M. I just want you to be happy."
"But it's Jane," Mal had said, like this was any justification at all. "I was horrible to her!"
"You're horrible to pretty much everyone," Evie had pointed out, pouting at the mirror on her vanity. Her lips were painted dark, that day. Black Cherry. It was almost fall, and Evie liked dark colours during the fall.
"Yeah, but… Jane."
"Let it go, Mal," Evie had said, and her voice went strange and gentle the way it always did when she actually needed to talk about her Real Feelings. It didn't happen often, and Mal was grateful for that; if she had had to hear Evie sound like this all the time, she would probably one day end up shooting a guy in the kneecap and then lighting him on fire, if only to make her best friend laugh again. "Just don't get weird."
"Excuse me, I do not get weird."
"Um, yeah," Evie'd said, shaken her hair out so it fell in perfect blue-black spirals all down her back, "you totally do. Don't you remember how you got with Ben?"
"That was different," Mal had told her, hurt, because it had been different.
"Yeah, yeah, love spells have reciprocity and crossover, I know, I wrote that treatise," Evie spun around to peer at Mal. Her mouth had been set serious, and the lip colour had been wiped away, leaving her bare-faced and naked with it; the smoke-dark colour of her eyeshadow was a foreign thing. Right then, there had been something very old about her, very knowing, and Mal—Mal had felt like she didn't know her at all.
It had only lasted a moment, but it had been a moment much, much too long.
"What do I do?" Mal had asked her, and there must have been something like misery in her face, because Evie softened.
"Just don't get weird," she said again, and then her lips had curled up. "She likes you, okay? She does."
"How do you know?" Mal had asked.
"Everyone likes you, M. It's impossible not to," Evie had said, so very quietly. It had hung in the air between them, sharp and hurting, and they had very carefully not spoken about Jay or Lonnie or Doug or anyone else that Evie had ever dated. There had always been lines that neither of them were prepared to cross, and that was one of them.
That conversation, that had been the start. It takes six months, but now Mal is standing in a coffee shop, waiting for a caffeinated pick-me-up and the girl she has a crush-that-isn't-really-a-crush-anymore on. People come in and out, laughter bouncing between them, their movements as predictable as the tide. There's slush on their boots, March's leaving a quietly vindictive lamb who clearly just wants to watch the world freeze to its dead bare bones.
And Jane's late.
Jane's never late.
It's things like this that give Mal trust issues. Not to mention the whole mom's-still-an-evil-lizard thing, but whatever, that has nothing on this. Cute girls who are late for maybe-dates are the real cause of trust issues, and probably also global warming. Nothing is okay and everything is awful forever and—
The bell over the door rings, and Jane blows in on a cool wet breeze.
OhgodMbecool, Mal tells herself, and she's pretty sure her face isn't doing anything weird (thanks, E), which is good because her breath catches a little in her throat. Jane's got a black coat and a scarf the brilliant red of arterial blood, hair tucked behind her ear, and there's colour whipped into her cheeks from the wind.
Suddenly, the weather doesn't seem so bad anymore.
Mal realizes she's grinning, and that she can't stop. It's hideous. She is a disgrace.
"I'm sorry I'm late! There was an accident, and my phone's dead, and I—could I have a peppermint tea, please? Thanks!—and then I missed the bus and I had to run forever, and I thought—"
"You talk too much," Mal says.
Jane goes the colour of ruddy cement. It's fascinating, actually, the way she goes through colours—her skin is super-sensitive, and when she flushes it crawls all the way down her neck to her collar of her shirt. Mal is aware of it in an intense, nearly counterproductive way, if only because she gets caught up in thinking about it and doesn't realize that the world moves on around her.
In fact, she's contemplating just how far down that flush goes when she realizes what she's said. And then it's like, backtrack, backtrack, backtrack. Mal has to fight not to lunge at her, to grab the lapels of her coat and stare her straight in those big blue eyes and scream NO NO NO I LOVE YOU I DIDN'T MEAN THAT PLEASE STOP LOOKING LIKE I KILLED YOUR CAT.
Instead, Mal croaks: "I didn't—oh shit, I just meant—words, I am so bad at words, why am I so bad at words, I didn't mean it like that, I just meant that you should, you know, breathe, I didn't, um, I like it when you talk!"
Jane is still the colour of ruddy cement, but she kind of—shifts, a little, peeks up at Mal. It's sound, fabric against fabric as she moves, her finger's coming up to brush against Mal's wrist, and the coffee shop's warm cream walls and darkly-tiled floor melt away. All that's left are those lash-fringed eyes, big as the whole world, blue as the whole sky.
Oh, Satan's asshole, Mal wants to kiss her.
And then Jane's laughing.
Why is Jane laughing.
"You're—god, Mal, please don't ever change," Jane says, and smiles. It's not a nervous smile, either, just a happy thing that makes her really, really pretty. She's got a face for smiling, Jane does, and Mal has to work not to trip over her boots. It's a spring sunshine smile, and when Jane tucks her arm through Mal's and drags her towards the door with her tea in her other hand, Mal goes willingly.
The day is watery-bright, sunlight filtering down through a patchy network of clouds
"So how are things?" Jane asks, sipping at her tea.
"Good, I guess," Mal says.
This is a lie.
Things are very, very bad, and that's exactly the way Mal likes it. Or, they're good, but they're bad. Because the thing is, even kingdoms full of Obnoxiously Good People get… crazies, sometimes. And, really, it's not like Mal blames the ones that go off and try to brew death curses—this place is so repulsively good all the time that there are days she wants to blow something up just for something to do.
Mal's job is to round up those crazies, and get them some rehab.
It also means she gets to blow things up, on occasion, and not get in trouble for it.
It is awesome.
Jane knows that she works with the Department, but Mal also knows that Jane doesn't know precisely what she does in the Department. Mal knows that Jane doesn't know that she leads raids on Auradon's worst places, the card joints and the back alleys and the underground opium dens still hazy with lingering cigarette smoke. Mal knows that Jane doesn't know that half the time when she disappears for weeks on end it's because she's undercover, insinuating herself into dark crevices and cracks where her mother's name is as good as gold. Mal knows that Jane doesn't know those things because she's not told her, because no one's told her, and that's—that's kind of the way Mal likes it.
With Jane, she's just Mal.
It's a little easier.
"Good?" says Jane. "That doesn't sound like you."
"Yeah, well," Mal grins, runs a hand through her hair. Damn, she needs another dye job, it's getting kind of out of control. "It's okay. Usually I work nights."
"Perpetually exhausted, huh?"
"Something like that," Mal tells her. She watches the way Jane tilts her head back to drink, the long pale line of her throat a sharp relief before it hits the depression of her collarbones, dark in the shadow of her scarf.
Mal swallows hard.
"Are you doing anything tonight?" she asks, before she has any idea that her mouth is moving.
"Mm," Jane hums, licks her lips clean. "I don't think so. Why?"
"I have a—thing, tonight," says Mal.
Mal does have a thing tonight. A work thing. A work thing where she is going to wear a short dress and stroll into a dance hall, smile with all her teeth, and then sashay past the bouncer at the VIP lounge door. That's the way these things work, when you've got business with the devil.
And she has no idea why she's invited Jane, but she has, and live evil this is terrible. There's no way she can bring Jane there, because Jane's—Jane's Jane, she's Fair Godmother's daughter, this may be the worst thing Mal has ever done and she didn't even mean to for once?
"I mean, wait, no, you know what—!"
"I'd love to!" says Jane. "It sounds like fun. Where are we going?"
And well, Mal can't take it back now, can she?
"Fancy, Mal," Evie says when Mal gets home. She's in her underwear and one of her ex-boyfriend's shirts, yawning like she's just woken up and couldn't care less about anything. This is Mal's life now. "Don't you have to work?"
"Yeah," Mal says, expels her breath out in one great sigh. "I, uh, may have invited Jane along."
"You didn't," says Evie, and when Mal doesn't deny it, she cracks up. She laughs and laughs and laughs, a high-pitched cackle that would grate at the ears except Mal's used to it and it means that Evie's actually amused. "Oh my god, M, that's great."
"I'm glad you enjoy my pain," retorts Mal, and retreats to the relative safety of her bedroom.
Relative, of course, because Evie follows her in.
"You didn't actually, though, did you?" Evie asks again. She leans against the doorframe, arms cross beneath her breasts, and Mal looks up for a second to shoot her a displeased kind of expression. It doesn't do anything at all, because Evie just shakes her head. "Oh my god, you're hopeless. You can't take her to one of you drug busts as a first date, that's weird! I told you not to be weird!"
"You say that like I had a choice!" Mal leafs through the dresses in her closet. Purple, purple, more purple, green sort of but really purple, why is there so much purple, she is not in high school anymore, she really needs to do something about this level of purple!
"No, it just came out! I didn't mean to, I didn't even think about it, we were having coffee and then—"
"You really are hopeless," Evie sighs, and there's something so fond and exasperated in it that Mal pauses to stare at her.
"…Are you going to help me, or what?" Mal asks, plaintively.
"Yeah, yeah, c'mon, let's get you something… not purple. You own way too much purple," Evie says, and comes over to throw her arm around Mal's neck. There's childhood in the gesture, childhood and safety and the security of her best friend's arms.
"All you own is black," Mal says. "Who are you to talk?"
"I own a lot of blue, too," says Evie judiciously, as she steers Mal into her bedroom. Their apartment is a tiny thing, and they've lived in it since college; they both could afford better, but neither of them are prepared to actually go through the motions of moving out. Besides, Carlos and Jay both already have keys to this place, and it'd be a pain to have to go get more cut. Mal's lazy like that.
"Blue? I don't like blue."
"Shut up, blue and red make purple. You and Jane are gonna make little purple babies, or I'll find and kill your myself!"
"Dark, Evie," Mal says, and Evie flutters her eyelashes.
"Isn't it wonderful? Now, here, try this," she says, and shoves a feathery mess of tulle and silk in Mal's hands.
"I'm going to a dance hall, E," Mal says, staring down at the dress. It's a concentrated effort—gorgeous on someone like Evie, who has hips and boobs to pull it off, and a downright horror on someone like Mal, who has neither hips nor boobs to speak of. "It needs to be… dancehall-ey."
"Slinky?" Evie asks, shrewd.
"Slinky," Mal sighs, because yes, slinky is precisely the word she's looking for. Evie makes a disgruntled sound, and dives back into her closet.
Clothes comes bulleting out.
"Try those!" Evie shouts, voice muffled like she's very far away. She might be; there's about three separate Expansion Spells on the closet, because there is not a single rule of physics that Evie hasn't cheerfully broken. There may be a portal to Hell somewhere in there. Mal doesn't know, and she doesn't really want to.
Evie's dresses come in black, black, and black. One shines fuchsia in the light, though, and Mal thinks: good enough. The skirt is flared short, the sleeves are long, the neckline is high, and the back doesn't even exist. Good enough, indeed.
She's in the middle of yanking it over her head when Evie comes back.
"If you ruin that, I end you," Evie says casually.
"You say that every time," Mal tells her, which is true. "And every time, I ruin them. Why do you keep trying?"
"Because I have hope that one day you'll be less—this," Evie says, waves her hands in indication of Mal's everything. "Mal, please, it's Zuhair Murad, have some respect."
"Expensive high fashion is your thing, E, and you're good at it. Me? I'm good at killing people. That's what I do best. I don't have time to expensive high fashion, okay? Okay."
"Hopeless," Evie mutters darkly. "Hopeless."
Mal struggles with the dress for another few minutes before Evie finally takes pity on her. "Stop," she says, "Mal. Just. Stop."
So Mal stops, and allows Evie to take over pouring her into the dress. It's a little loose in the chest and a little tight at the waist, but of course it is—for all that they're sisters, best friends, closer than is probably healthy and maybe a little codependent, they're not shaped the same. Evie's got a tiny waist and huge boobs, and it's so unfair, but Mal deals.
"There," Evie says. "You look… acceptable."
"That was almost a compliment?"
"Only almost," Evie grins, and nudges Mal with her elbow. "Anyway, don't you have somewhere to be? Your lady-love is waiting, isn't she?"
"Why are you so weird?" Mal asks, because she can't help it.
"I'm not the one who does that thing with her face every time she's around someone she likes," Evie says, and again indicates Mal's everything. It'd be insulting, except most of the time it's true. Mal does do weird things with her face when she's around people she likes, it's super unattractive.
"I hate it when you do that," Mal tells her.
"What, be right? I know, being me is so hard, you have no idea," she says in reply, and pats Mal's shoulder without sympathy. "Now out, Carlos and Jay are coming over and you have a date."
"Excuse me, are you having family time without me?!"
"Yup," Evie says, grinning with all of her teeth on display. "We're gonna watch bad movies and wait for you to come home so we can grill you about whether you finally kissed her or not."
"You're the worst," Mal says, smiling.
"That's the nicest thing you've ever said to me," Evie says, and sweetly pushes her out the door.
Jane looks like she belongs in Sanga.
This should not be a thing.
(It is very much a thing.)
She looks like old money with her hair done up in pin curls, some cross of Lady Tiana and Snow White except without all the glitter. Her knees are knobbly little things beneath her skirt. And they match, which is maybe the worst part: Jane's got a tight black skirt and tighter black blouse, and her heels shine with fuchsia-coloured justice. It's horrible. She looks good enough to eat.
Mal is not going to live out the night.
There are people lounging around the entrance, but when the bouncer sees Mal, he just nods them in.
"We're important, are we?" Jane teases. "We don't even have to wait at the door."
"You know it. Waiting is for normal people," says Mal, and tries to avoid breathing Jane's perfume in too deeply like a creep.
She also hasn't told Jane that she may or may not end up disappearing into the back for a couple of hours. There's a deal going down tonight, fairy egg trade, and Mal needs to be back there to get the details for her boss. They'll let her in with a waggle of magic-soaked fingers and a smile, but, well, Jane.
Mal tries to remind herself that she asked for this.
Inside the music is pounding, a low teeth-shaking pulse that travels up Mal's spine. Something settles inside of her—this is where she belongs, and singing with talking animals is for tools. Jane is a gorgeous dark shadow on her arm.
"Wanna grab a drink?" Mal says into her ear. "Or do you wanna dance?"
"I thought we were here for work," Jane laughs.
Mal jerks back, eyes flashing luminescent green for a fraction of a second. "Who told you that?!"
"You're Mal," Jane says. She reaches up to brush vibrant violet strands out of Mal's face. "You're always working."
"What if I just wanted to dance with you?" Mal asks, slips an arm around Jane's waist, but she's still reeling, and way too attracted to this girl for her own good. Satan, she is so done for.
"Mmm," Jane hums, and taps a finger against Mal's lips. "You would have just asked. You're not so great at cloak and dagger, you get it wrong every time."
Well, she's only a little incorrect. Mal does cloak and dagger pretty good when actual cloaks and actual daggers are involved. Subterfuge is her job, it's what they pay her for. If she wasn't at least a little good at it, she'd be out on the street.
"Okay," Mal says. She can feel her lips curling up into a smirk. It's been a long time since she played this game with anyone who knew the rules. "Let's work."
Her fingers linger at the small of Jane's back. Mal steers her to the back of the dance hall, weaving through smoky air and couples and trios and groups of people, all of whom stand too close, touch too casually. Something goes tight inside Jane, Mal can tell, when they pass a pair of women too busy wrapped around each other to pay attention to the rest of the world.
This is as far away from Good as Jane's probably ever been.
It's almost cute. Mal has to wonder what Jane would have been like if she'd grown up on the Isle of the Lost.
(Wouldn't that have been something.)
"Through here," Mal says in Jane's ear, when they come to a back wall. There's a dark-skinned man in a sleek-cut suit standing beside a door cordoned off with a thick velvet rope. He looks at them from behind sunglasses with all the loose-limbed grace of a practised killed, and then nods them through. His gaze, predictably, stays on Jane.
"She's with me, Monty, it's cool," Mal grins at him.
He just shrugs, and unhooks the rope to let them in.
"VIP?" Jane breathes. "Classy, Mal."
"You don't know the half of it, babe," Mal says, and can't resist nipping gently at the lobe. Jane doesn't make a sound, but her sharp intake of breathe is pretty much the greatest sound Mal's ever heard. "Do you know how to play poker?"
"Poker? Like, cards—?"
"Ay, 'Lificent, you made it! Lookin' good, kid dragon. Who's the girl?"
They enter a room, small even by Mal's standards. There's magic curdled in the air, the old kind that's sunk into the earth that gets kicked up when people trod on hallowed ground. There's a table, and shelves stacked with old books; they'd be worth on fortune on their own, but their all forgeries, though Mal's the only one who knows that little tidbit.
At the table sit eight people, five men and three women. They're all staring.
"Shut up, Kiva, she's not for sale," Mal says, and she's smirking but she knows her eyes are cold. Jane doesn't go tense again, which is a pleasant surprise; a cheer goes up when Mal directs her to the table. "This is Janey. Be good, or she might arrest you."
"I'd be down for getting arrested by her," says one of the girls sitting there. She grins at Jane. "Nice dress. Where'd you it?"
"Around," Jane says, and grins right back. "Deal us in."
"Oooooh, kid dragon's girlfriend wants to play!" hoots the eldest man. His hair is white, but he doesn't look a day over thirty; he'd been the one who spoken when they'd first shown their faces. Kiva's one of Mal's oldest contacts, and he knows she plays for the other side. It works out just fine; as long as he gets paid, he doesn't care who does what. "Wha'cha got t'bet, kid dragon's girlfriend?"
"How about we don't do this," Mal says.
"You know the rules, kid dragon," Kiva laughs. There are smeary lines beneath his eyes like he hasn't slept in a week. "You wanna play, you gotta bet. You played, too, remember?"
"Fine," Mal says, "I'll hedge her in—"
"How about this?" Jane asks, and unclips the necklace she's wearing. It's a tiny vial the colour of garnets that winks in the incandescent light as she lifts it over her head. "It's unicorn blood. That should cover it, right?"
They all go still, every one of them.
"Yeah," Kiva says, eyes on the vial. "That'll cover it. What do we call you, kid dragon's girlfriend?"
"Janey," she says, gives them the same moniker Mal had. It takes everything inside of Mal to keep from beaming in pride. This girl is a menace.
"Roadside, it is," Kiva flashes them his teeth, and deals them in.
Liquor sloshes diamond clear, the chatter of their tablemates a bright sound over the faint pulsing from the club. Soundproofed walls, maybe. Mal presses her knee into Jane's thigh.
"Introductions?" Jane asks softly.
Mal's face splits into a smile. Only Jane would ask for introductions at a time like this.
"Kiva," she says, nods a little at him. His gaze is zeroed on the cards, even though no one else is paying attention. "He's an old friend, doesn't do business too much, anymore. The woman at his right is Nyla, she has family in the lion packs in the Enchanted Forest, and her—" Mal pauses as she searches for the right word.
"Associates," Nyla supplies. Her smile is all teeth. "My hearing is very good."
"—associates," Mal gracefully allows, "Kenan and Keil. Say hello, boys."
They send Jane twin toothy grins. Their canines are very sharp. "Hello," they chorus.
"Hello there," Jane grins right back. There is a lot of really frightening grinning going on, a distant part of Mal observes. Everyone's been grinning all night. If it was currency, it'd be worth next to nothing. Inflation is the true enemy.
(She's not all that surprised.)
"Then you," Mal continues, dips a funny little bow, "and yours truly. Then Orion, he does import and export—" she neglects to tell Jane precisely what it is that he moves, because if she thinks about it too long she feels a little ill, "—and Keiko and Cordelia, they're married, and—"
She stops, because Jane already knows the last man sitting at the table.
For a moment, he and Jane look at each other, and Mal looks between them, nervous for the first time all night. He doesn't come out often, and there's a very good reason for that; Mal doesn't like him at all, and so usually she's pretty grateful for it. But Jane—
She hadn't warned Jane.
"Hello, Chad," Jane says, very quietly.
"Hey, Janey," he says. "Been a while. How ya been?"
"Oh, you know," Jane says. "Good."
"You two know each other?" Keiko says, leaning forwards. Her hair falls across the table like an oil slick, exactly that dark and twice as shiny. She and Cordelia have ties to the mob, but of all the people here, Mal would count them among her closest allies. They're not very fond of flesh trade, either. If it comes down to it, they'll back her. "How?"
"School," Jane says, watching Chad very closely. "We went to high school together."
"Yeah, we did," Chad says. His gaze flickers over Mal. "Didn't know you ran with this crowd."
"I didn't used to," Jane says. She's linked her hands together and dropped her chin to rest on them, elbows on the table. Mal has a moment of vertigo, thinking of all the layers to this conversation—Chad could blow the whole thing, but Jane's got him on the rails, but Chad could blow this whole thing, but Jane—
Jane's smiling. "I guess we all have to grow up sometime, huh, Chad?"
"Yeah" he says, "I guess we do."
"Any complaints?" asks Kiva. His fingers are bent around the cards.
"Nah," says Chad. "Janey's cool. She can stay."
"I'm glad I have your approval. Not that I need it, but, you know," Jane says and it's the way she says it, all sweet and slow and dark as molasses, that sends a shudder down Mal's spine. Across the table, Nyla shoots her a wicked smile. It's a near mirror for the look on Cordelia's face. They're all terrible.
Mal sits back, and slings an arm over the back of Jane's chair. It's nothing much, but in this place every single gesture is read and reread a hundred times; everything is analyzed to death.
"Kiva," Mal says. "Deal."
Ten minutes later, Jane grimaces. "I fold."
"I don't," says Mal. "I'll raise you a sovereign, O. Who's in?"
Cordelia silently places a shining gold coin on the growing pile in the middle of the table, just as Orion rises to Mal's bait. Kiva seems to waver, for a second, before he sets his cards down and looks at them down his nose. The others all contribute, save for Keiko, who shakes her hair out, and stands.
"Janey," says Keiko, "let's let these children have their fun. Come get a drink with me?"
"I'd love to," Jane says. There's tenseness building at the base of her spine.
Mal reaches up to cup her hand around the back of Jane's next. "Relax," she says in her ear, "Keiko's a good dude. She'll keep you safe."
"That's not what I'm worried about," Jane whispers back, but straightens regardless. "Um, my necklace…"
"Take it, Roadside," says Kiva, and reaches into the glittering pile in the middle of the table to scoop the necklace up and toss it at her. "You ain't lost anythin' tonight. We keep count. Maybe next time, huh?"
Jane catches it. The silver of the chain glints tauntingly. "Thank you," she says, very quietly.
"Are you coming, Janey?" Keiko inclines her head at the door, and when Jane nods, together they head back into the club. They're a striking pair, Jane in black and Keiko in white, and they're gone all too soon. The door clicks closed behind them.
There's a collective exhale of breath when the lock turns.
"Down to business, then?" Kiva says.
"'Bout time," Chad says under his breath.
Mal eyes him. He's such a tool, she has no idea how he managed to finagle his way into this room. He's not got the balls and not even close to enough evil. "Don't be a pissbaby because all the ladies here are getting laid and you're not."
"Who says I'm not getting laid?!"
"Me," Mal says. She bares her teeth at him, flashes her eyes bright green. "Who'd wanna sleep with you? That'd be like fucking a dead fish."
"I'll kill you—"
"Princey, unknot yer knickers. Kid dragon, stop bein' a bitch," Kiva says. He collects up the cards and shuffles them, shuffles them, shuffles them again. It must be a nervous habit; he only does it when they start to talk business, like he can't quite stand to be still.
"I need the details for the egg shipment," Mal says, boredly. "Unless you don't want me there, Chad?"
"We want you there," Orion says. He's got a low, croaky voice. It suits because he looks sort of like a bullfrog, bulging eyes and all. "Princelings don't get a say."
"That doesn't tell me anything, O," Mal sighs dramatically. "Whatever shall I do? I suppose I'll just go home—"
"Next week," Chad says. "Tuesday."
"You would pick Tuesday," Mal says, all scorn.
"What's wrong with Tuesday?"
"Ugh, nothing, you're irrelevant," Mal tells him, and flicks her fingers like she's waving off like an irksome fly. He subsides, which says so much about who he is as a person, and again, she's not even surprised. "O, is it just eggs? Or are we moving bodies?"
"No bodies," he croaks. "I know how you feel about bodies."
"Fine," Mal says. "I want my usual cut."
Mal squints at him. "Why are you even here, little boy? Don't you have a bedtime in your castle?"
Chad jerks forwards. It shakes the whole table, and everyone except Mal looks at him with ominous expressions.
It's just too easy.
"Ya wanna fight, take it outside. I ain't got time f'r this," Kiva says. "Business or nothin', princey, we don't take shit pers'nal. Ya know that."
"Don't worry, we're fine," Mal says, idly wrapping a brilliant purple strand of hair around her finger. "He'd need balls to actually fight me, and he hasn't got any of those."
She silently relishes the ugly twist to his mouth, and especially that he hasn't contradicted her. He's not going to fight her because he can't win, and he knows he can't win, and he knows that she knows that he knows that he can't win.
He rises from the table, and heads to the liquor cabinet.
Coward, Mal thinks, viciously.
"Kid," Kiva shakes his head, "one a these days that boy is gonna gank you."
"He can try," Mal says, careless. No, she's not holding a grudge at all. Definitely not. She doesn't have five years of revenge fantasies bottled up and aged like fine wine because he hurt Evie. Not at all. That would be super weird.
(Her favourite is the one where she shoots out his kneecap and then leaves him to die in a burning building. Kneecaps don't grow back. Neither do burning buildings. It's great for everyone involved.)
"Another round?" says Nyla. She's toying with her glass, the cut crystal catching the light and throwing it in rainbow shards across the green velvet of the tabletop. It strikes Mal deadly, the same way thunderstorms or deep oceans are deadly: there's grace and beauty to it, but it'll still kill you all the same.
"Cards or booze?"
"Either or," says Nyla. Her mouth is a slow hot roll of tongue-lips-teeth, all violently red. She holds her glass by the rim, spider-fingers, and raises it in a toast. To what doesn't matter; they're all here, after all.
"Hey, Chad," calls Mal, trying not to laugh when the entire table turns to stare at her. Predictable, the lot of them. "Bring the vodka?"
He does, if only grudgingly.
"Cheers," says Nyla. She shoots the vodka back. All Mal can see is the line of her throat, and it makes her think of Jane. Jane, in her coat and her scarf with her cheeks pink, the soft curve of her waist and the sharp jut of her hip, the way she smiles and everything comes up rose-coloured.
"I'm going to find my date," she says
"Bring Kiki back," Cordelia says, calmly taking the deck from Kiva's hands and reshuffling them herself because she knows he cheats. "If you need bribe money to keep her from getting arrested, there's some in the jar. I don't want to have to go break her out again, it's exhausting."
"Don't worry, 'Delia," Mal says. "The Lost wouldn't know what to do with Kiki, anyway."
"This is true," Cordelia says. "Oh, and Mal?"
"Don't blow this. Your little Janey's got potential, and we can always use more estrogen. It unnerves Orion."
Mal has to laugh. Cordelia's right. But then, she always is. She's up and halfway out the door before she thinks to say goodbye—maybe she'll see them again tonight, maybe not. She has what she needs, she's got her details, the fairy egg shipment won't get much farther than it already has.
And leaving now will keep her from blowing her cover, which might actually be the most important thing.
It's dark and hot in the club.
Mal's been to a lot of clubs, in her time. They're different in Auradon than on the Island—they're less about being baddirtywrong and more about getting as close as is physically possible to another living being without actually putting your hands down their pants.
It's very strange. Mal isn't even going to pretend to understand it. Like, what's the point? Making out in the bathroom stalls in only hot the first time. After that, it's just sleazy and time consuming. There are times and places to put your face against someone else's face in a non-platonic manner, and none of them are a club bathroom.
But it's late, almost four in the morning, and things are winding down. The DJ's playing old-school, classics from when King Adam and Queen Belle had been teenagers, love songs pumped through with basslines that don't drop.
Mal doesn't know the words, but she's still humming along.
(It feels like a metaphor for her entire life.)
Jane and Keiko aren't hard to find. Rather, Keiko isn't hard to find; she's a beacon beneath the strobe, her hair an ink-dark arc cutting through the glow. She and Jane are laughing, dancing, laughing again—Mal can't help the sudden jealousy, nor the not-so-foreign warmth in her soft squishy parts.
"Hey, Kiki, can I have my date back?"
"It's Keiko," Keiko says. Her arm is around Jane's waist. "Only Cor gets to call me Kiki."
Mal tips her head back and forth. "Okay. Keiko. Can I have my date back?"
"Sure," she says. She looks down at Jane, flashes teeth so white they shine in the blacklight. "Remember what I said, doll. If you ever get bored with kid dragon over there—I'm here. Cor knows to share, especially when she gets to watch."
"I—I think I'm good," Jane says, face screwed up. She smells like—no, there's too many people, here, too many scents all piled one on top of the other. Mal can't parse them apart in this form, and as it is she's got enough dragon roaring in her chest to be going on with.
"She's so cute, Mal," Keiko says, fond, as she passes Jane to Mal. "Don't break her, we'd have to find another one, and that would take effort."
"Aww, thanks Keiko, it's good to know you care," Mal says. Jane's gone liquor-soft, limp and warm, and there's sweet-smelling blood humming just beneath her skin. She'd die so easy. Dial it back, Mal, that's fucked up.
"You know I do," Keiko says. "Cor wants me, doesn't she?"
"Mhmm," she hums. Jane's burrowed close. Mal doesn't much care about anything else.
"Ah, young love," Keiko says. "It never gets any less disgusting. Mal—"
"What," Mal says, but it's not so much says as it is snarls, and she's pretty sure her eyes are green as summer meadows without her consent for the first time since she was a kid, that's embarrassing as anything, she's going to have to apologize later.
"We're all leaving," says Keiko, and her voice is quietly somber. "Business is done for the night."
She doesn't say anything else. Mal looks at her, perfect makeup and mirror-black gaze, and wonders how much this woman knows.
"So?" Mal says.
"So try not to die, yes?"
"What makes you think I'd do something as stupid as that?"
Keiko shrugs. It's a crow's shrug, half-careless, half careful, all amused. "I want to see where you end up, kid dragon. We're not done yet. Anyway…" she trails off, regards the way Jane and Mal have wrapped themselves around each other, and then smirks. "Have fun, dollies. I'm going home."
"Is she gone?" whispers Jane.
"Not yet," Mal murmurs. The world's a little hazy, but she has—there was something she was in the middle—
"Mal," Jane says, shakes her a little, "Mal, someone's coming out."
The world comes rushing back.
"Shit," Mal breathes out. "Okay, I'm going to back you up against the wall, I need you to keep watch, alright? I need to—oh boy—to know who comes out. Can you do that?"
"Okay," Jane says, nodding into Mal's shoulder.
And so she walks her backwards, backwards, backwards, until the hit the wall right next to the bathroom. There's a steady stream of people and Jane and Mal are obscured by the sheer volume of them. Drunk girls in too-high heels and too-short dresses wave, giggling with their friends, their boyfriends and their girlfriends and their designated drivers steering them into waiting cars and cabs.
"Just watch the door. Please."
"There's—there's someone coming out—oh god, Mal, please—"
"Who?" Mal asks, and thinks: keep it together, keep it together, keep it together, just a little longer, Evie and Carlos and Jay are waiting and home, and Jane—Jane—oh, Satan, Jane—
"I dunno," Jane breathes the words out the softest, tiniest moan. It's the kind of sound Mal's only heard out of girls she was about to make scream, and hearing it now, out of Jane (who, let it be said, Mal is definitely down with hearing scream, but maybe in a more private place?), is wreaking havoc on Mal's brain stem.
"Can you see them? Are they going?" Mal manages to ask Jane's neck. Her voice comes slow, because the air's thick like mud, and she can't breathe, but god, it doesn't even matter.
"Yeah," and Jane's throat works hard around the words, Mal can feel it, "they're all—Keiko and Cordeli-ah! Mal, stop—but I don't see Chad—"
"Dicks, he's probably still in there, why me, I just want to to—"
"Mal," Jane says. "Please don't kill anyone."
"You ask so much of me," Mal sighs.
"When I ask something of you, Mal," Jane murmurs, "you'll know it."
Yeah, okay, that's really hot. And yeah, Mal's not sure how to deal with it. And yeah, she likes it a lot. And yeah, she's totally not surviving this.
"So what do you want me to do?" she says, instead of word-vomiting something like YOU'RE HOT AND AWFUL PLEASE MARRY ME, because that would be weird, and Evie would be so disappointed.
"For now, don't kill anyone. And if you can't manage that, just don't tell me about it. Plausible deniability, you know."
"You are so hot," Mal says, because she can't not say it.
Jane flushes all over. "We're next to a bathroom."
"Isn't it disgusting," Mal says. She presses her knee in between Jane's, and then it's soft hot skin against hers, and she sort of stops thinking of anything beyond the blue-eyed fairy girl who's grill she's all up in. Slave trade, what's that, who cares anyway, Jane's prettier—
"Yeah," Jane says, "kinda. Are you going to go, or what?"
"Do I have to," Mal whines, actually whines.
"Yes," says Jane. And she's sort of detangling them from each other but also not, at the same time, like she knows they both have responsibilities but she'd much rather they stay exactly where they are. Mal knows the feeling, it's kind of a bummer.
She holds onto Jane a moment longer, but pulls back to look her in the face. There's a trembling to her, and Mal can feel the way it travels to Jane's fingertips, her ankles, her lips.
She really is gorgeous.
"I'll be right back," Mal says. "Okay?"
"Don't die," Jane says. "Or I will be very, very angry."
"I know," says Mal. She chucks Jane under the chin like an old-timey gentleman with his girl because she knows if she doesn't she will end up smooching her and now is really not the time for smooches, and then she pulls back to flounce off towards the back room. It's a move swiped straight from Evie's How To Graduate Magic School For Fun and Profit: Fashionista Bad Girl's Edition—look as prettily empty-headed as you can, and everyone around will underestimate precisely how smart you are. And when they underestimate how smart you are, they don't expect you to upend their shit and ruin their lives.
(The book sold pretty well, and Evie's richer for it, literally richer. Bitch.)
The guard is still at the door.
"Hey, Monty, is anyone else in there?"
"Chad," he says. His lips barely move. Maybe that's standard for a guy in a suit that looks like once upon a time it was a razor, but he's always been prone to having some facial expression. Apparently, Three-Card Monty doesn't like Chad. Does anyone like Chad? Mal just doesn't know.
"You want me to deal with him?" she asks. Monty looks her up and down, from the shiny sharp patent heels to the dark flared lace of her dress, and seems to contemplate this for a minute.
And then he nods.
"Fine. Don't get blood on the table, it's worth more than we take in a year. Kiva will yell, and I hate that," Monty instructs, and then he leaves. Just like that, he's gone, and there's only Mal and the red velvet rope, and the pound of the bass.
Mal thinks: huh.
So that's a thing.
She has a moment of bizarre knowing, right then. Kiva knows, Kiva's always known, but now Monty does, too. Because the thing is, Good and Evil aren't all that different, when it comes right down to it—it's just the methods that people go about using to get what they want. Mal's mother had been the worst of the worst, had honestly enjoyed ruining things for other people, and it would be a lie to say that Mal hasn't taken her fair share of enjoyment out of other people's pain, too. Schadenfreude is her thing, okay, even though she's one of the good guys now.
And maybe, in the end, they're all working for the same things.
People just wanna live.
So she shoves through the door, hands splayed wide, and comes face to face with Cinderella's son, Chad.
He's holding a torch. There is fire.
What a tool.
"Seriously, dude, a torch?" Mal says, so unimpressed that she's actually circled all the way back around to completely fucking impressed. That level of douchebag just doesn't exist anymore, she thinks, a little fond, not since Jay learned that crushing people on the playing field was much more fun than stealing shit from the already broke, and certainly much more profitable. "That's so fourteenth century. Get real."
"I know what you're up to," Chad says.
"What," says Mal, flat.
"You want my place," he says, and there's something weird and fevered in his gaze; too much liquor in too little a time, or maybe he's just lost the plot entirely. Mal would bet on both of these things being the case.
"Okay, crazy," she says, "chill out. I don't want anything of yours."
"You think Kiva likes you best—" he barks a laugh, and Mal very carefully doesn't tell him that yes, Kiva does like her best, she is his favourite except for maybe Evie, but that's because Evie is everyone's favourite "—but you're wrong! After this, it's gonna be me!"
"You don't know how to listen, do you," Mal asks him, but it's not a question. She has to squint at him, because the torchlight sketches him out strange, all flickering shadows and not-quite-there's. "I said I don't want anything of yours, okay? Have Kiva, I don't care. I don't even life him that much, he's an idiot."
"So I know what you're planning," he says again. Wow, he is really bad at listening. Why did Evie ever like this guy, he is an utter whack. But there's this click, like a door locking, even though the door's behind her, so it can't be that—
And then Mal realizes what he's got in his other hand.
"Aw, Chad, come on," Mal sighs when the light shines off the glossy black barrel of a handgun. How had she not noticed that? Blargh, she'd been distracted by the torch; it's the immediate threat, with so much paper in here. Sanga will burn in a hot minute, literally. But the gun… She has no idea what kind it is, but that's not in her repertoire, she doesn't need to know. She has magic. What kind of evil fairy needs bullets? "Are you for real? Like the torch wasn't enough?"
"It's the principle of the thing," he says, and he's watching her like a starving animal, slavering for it. "They took torches for Frankenstein."
"Dude, I can turn into a dragon," Mal tells him, slowly, as though she's talking to one of her mentally handicapped bosses who think she needs to be faster. "Fire can't do shit, and I don't think bullets are gonna be much better. Seriously, put that down."
He doesn't. Why is Mal not surprised.
"What about Jane?" he says.
"What about Jane?" Mal says, pleasant as you please. She doesn't go tense, which is what he'd likely been expecting—Satan, good guys who tried to be not good had no clue what they were doing, it was a spectacular testament to her level of patience that she hasn't wrapped a tendril of emerald magic around his throat and choked him out yet—and he's not sure how to handle this development, she can tell.
"What if I burn her? You might not, but her…"
"Please, you say that like I'd care," she shakes her head, rolls her eyes skyward. "You know, Chad, it's funny. It's like you forget where I was raised. Do you think I brought her here because I care about her?"
Chad stares at her mutely. There's ash on his nose.
"You're a disgrace," she tells him, almost kind, "and I don't mean that as a compliment. Put that gun down, get your head on straight, and go home. You're out of your league, princeling. This is no place for you."
What he doesn't realize is that slowly, so slowly, Mal is moving. She's got her hands up, and he thinks that's a gesture of surrender, because of course he does, he's never been in dock fights on the Isle where the only way you give up is if you're dead and even then your corpse is expected to keep fighting anyway. Don't let him get you on your back, Mal chants to herself, but her hands are up and it'll only take a second—
Chad goes down like a bag of potatoes.
"That was pathetic," Mal says, because it kind of was. She's got his stupid gun in her hand. The metal's cold.
"Hey," he says, laughing now, sudden nervous sweat. Mal can taste it it's so palpable, tastes like fear, tastes like dinner, gross, he'd probably just give her a stomach ache. Dragon or not, there is a line, and that line is Cinderella's son, Chad. He doesn't have half the brains he would need to actually outsmart her. "Hey, c'mon, I was kidding."
"Were you?" Mal asks. "Were you really? Or were you threatening to hurt someone I care about, again? Because the last time you did that, my mother ended up a lizard, and I nearly lost my best friend."
"Again? I never—"
"This isn't a fairytale. No one dies in those. So get fucked, Chad," Mal tells him, quite cheerfully. "This is for Evie."
—pulls the trigger.
He screams and screams and screams, and Mal thinks she feels hot wetness splash across her face, but that's probably only be the placebo talking; she's already running for the door. Damn, Monty's gonna be mad, she probably got blood on the table. What a waste, they'll never get it out. There's an ominous eldritch crackle-pop! behind her like kindling catching, but she ignores it and slams out as fast as she can.
And then there's Jane.
"What did you do?!" Jane squeaks, but Mal's got her hand around her wrist and she's already moving.
"Shot his kneecap out. We needed to be out of here, like, yesterday, this place is gonna blow in thirty seconds. Roast Mal is not the way I want to go. Have you ever tasted cooked dragon? It's not nice."
They move like hell. The place is chaos: apparently, gunshots can send a frothing group of people into a mob! They're all screaming and ducking and streaming for the doors, so much purchased flesh, and everything inside of Mal has settled into that crystal clear place where the entire universe makes sense, and she knows exactly what she needs to do. She's not—used to having to factor someone else in, but this is Jane.
Jane's running, too, right beside her, keeping perfect time.
Honestly, it's enough to make a girl's heart flutter.
They hit the asphalt outside. Already the patrons have scattered; this place isn't safe anymore. From far away, there are already sirens screaming towards them. There's something burning, woodsmoke on the breeze. Mal takes a breath, and then:
There is a long moment of shocked silence.
"That was… well, okay," Jane says. There are flames, suddenly, crackling hungry tongues licking along the edge of the building. The place is deserted; all the people that had been inside have scattered on the wind.
"Yeah," Mal says, crossing her arms over her chest. She closes her eyes for a little longer than a standard blink. A job well done; only one casualty, and it'll hardly take any cover-up. "This is… what I do."
"Set buildings on fire?"
"Set buildings on fire," Mal agrees. She shivers, because she's still wearing this stupid dress and it's still March and it's still nighttime, and, frankly, it's still cold. The blaze gives off heat, but there's only so much, and it dissipates into nothing. The night is an empty tomb, except for the snap-pop! of wood on fire, and Mal knows that this is the end. Whatever she and Jane could have been, it's over. Just like that. You don't see someone shoot a guy in the kneecap and leave him to burn to death and still want to kiss that someone's face. It's just not done.
(Hey, she had a fantasy like that, once.)
"That's… pretty cool," Jane says. "When do we do it again?"
Mal swings around to stare at her, because, um, what.
"We don't," Mal says. "We get out. We go home. We deal with dead Chad."
"You didn't blow your cover," Jane says, instead of something rational like oh god, Chad's dead, what now?
"Well, yeah, but—" Mal stops to contemplate this. "How did you know I was undercover?"
Jane rolls her eyes. In this light, they look dark, and there's a weird moment of knowing where Mal thinks that maybe Jane's eyes are just always a reflection of the sky, like the universe has leaked inside of her and its' only escape is through her gaze. It's gross and romantic and Mal feels a little like she might be sick.
"Mal," Jane says, kindly, "I'm not stupid. You work in the Department. Everyone knows what they do. It was this or paperwork, and you? Doing paperwork? I don't think so."
"I'm gonna ask my boss for a transfer," Jane says. She reaches for Mal's hand, spreads her fingers out and stares down determinedly at her palm. "I think we work pretty good together. Maybe as good as you and Evie. And I don't… I know it's… I know, Ben, and things, and wow, Chad's probably dead, and even though you might think I'm pretty, you don't—I don't even know if you like me, but I…"
She trails off, and for a long moment (a second, a minute, several fire-lit days), she doesn't say anything at all. And then:
"But I like you. I really like you. And I don't want you out here alone. Is that okay?"
And like Mal's gonna say no.
"Yeah," Mal says. She doesn't know when they started holding hands, but they are definitely holding hands, her fingers laced through Jane's in a flesh-and-bone lattice that is somehow really lovely, more for being so honest. "Yeah, it's okay."
They stand like that, grinning at each other, for a really long time.
"Hey, Jane," Mal says.
"Yeah?" Jane says.
"For the record? I like you, too. I really like you, too. I was hitting on you all night. And yeah, there's still Ben, and things, and Chad is definitely pretty dead, but they don't—matter, you know? I thought I made it clear, but maybe not. I like you a lot."
"Oh," Jane says. She's coloured brightly enough for it to be visible in the relief of the firelight. That's hideously endearing, Mal has no idea how she's going to handle this. "Okay."
Mal bends down the inch and a half she needs to be at perfect eye-level. Jane's looking at her, and she's so close, nose-to-nose, and in the glow of the firelight Mal can count the flecks of silver in her irises. Oh boy, this girl is going to wreck her.
"I'm going to kiss you now," Mal informs her.
"Yeah," Jane says again, and she's giggling, very softly, biting at her lip like she's sixteen again with a crush. Maybe she is. Everything's going a little hazy, warm with heat from the burning building and too busy being into each other to take note. "I know."
"Good," Mal says, curls her hand around Jane's face, closes that last inch between them, and does.
notes2: fuck cinderella's son chad
notes3: mal was wrong. this is a fairytale, and no one ever dies in those, right?