So yeah, I'm not dead or anything ^^ I've been working on this story for a while now and I know everybody would rather have me publish the next chapter of Comfort Only but I hope this one will make up for it, at least a little ;) After the second movie, I have too many small projects and stories in my mind to continue Comfort Only so I'd rather work on the fresh ideas first.
Maleficent felt her throat tighten as she wiped the thick foam from her servant's mouth. Despite her best efforts in fighting the symptoms of the disease, his body had been shaking with slight convulsions since the morning, and he's been struggling to breathe properly for several days. His respiration had become so weak and shallow she didn't know how he managed not to choke or stop breathing altogether. The dark fairy drew in a shaky breath as she acknowledged he would most likely not last the night. She wasn't ready to find out how much dull and empty her existence could become without him around. She didn't think she would ever be…
It was a clear night and the first stars had started to appear in the sky. Maleficent leaned her head against the bark of her tree and averted her eyes from Diaval's sleeping form. She couldn't stand watching him like that without being able to do anything. She had worked relentlessly for over two weeks to find a cure when even he had given up on hope. She had brewed every curing potion she knew, read every healing book in the Moors and most certainly saturated his system with magic with all the spells she had thrown at him, but nothing had worked. Nothing she could do seemed to be able to prevent the disease from running its course and slowly killing him. Out of despair, she even went as far as to visit a human healer, but the only thing he did was to confirm her fears - further proof of the uselessness of humans. There was in fact no known cure, and Diaval would be dead in a matter of days.
It's been almost a week since then, and even though her spells and draughts had managed to slow down the symptoms, he was getting worse by the day. The only useful input she had gotten from the human was the origin of the disease. Infected animals could apparently spread the virus to humans by licking or biting them. Diaval had been bitten by a stray dog over a month ago. She swore she would have tracked down and obliterated the damn creature on the spot if it wasn't already dead. She swore the next time she was to come across dogs she would throw stinging hexes on sight and delight in their cries of pain. It would certainly please Diaval to know she had come to loathe dogs just as much as he did.
Unfortunately, she had learned from experience that revenge wasn't as sweet as it seemed to be, and while it would give her great satisfaction at first, it certainly wouldn't bring back what was lost, nor chase away the pain of missing something so dear to her. Because yes, she would miss Diaval. That much she had come to accept. Hell, if she was honest with herself, she actually had no idea how she was supposed to move on from losing him. He was the only one she knew she could rely on at all times. Her trusted confident. Her friend. Because that was what he had become to her, wasn't it? There wasn't much point trying to deny it, anymore. She had been so busy trying to keep out everyone else that she hadn't even noticed how much she had grown fond of him. And now, fate was taking him away along with everything else she had ever held dear in this world…
Without thinking, she let her fingers brush over his flushed cheek. "I tried everything, my pet. I failed. Forgive me," she whispered to him.
She supposed she would have to get used to talking to him without getting back any of his witty remarks or charming smiles, so she thought she might as well start now. He promised he would watch over her constantly if he could in the afterlife. She had never really believed in such things, but it made the pain bearable to think a part of him would stay behind with her. To think she could talk to the wind and he would be there, listening as always.
Her thoughts wandered to their last talk a couple of days ago, when he was still strong enough to stay conscious for more than a few hours at a time. She would always keep close to her heart the things he had told her that night. From his gratitude upon having spent his life by her side to what he really thought about her. She had never realised the extent of his reverence and adoration for her, and it was even more difficult to watch him slowly drift away from her after that. It appeared he had been able to see in her the kindness and loving nature she thought had been crushed along with her heart a long time ago. She wished he could have experienced it firsthand. She wished he knew how much he mattered to her. Hopefully, the way she'd been doting on him since he'd gotten sick was proof enough of her affection for him.
Maleficent stifled a yawn. She hadn't slept in days and was so exhausted her thoughts were getting increasingly foggy. She closed her eyes for a quick nap, but ended up falling into a deep slumber.
The feeling of suffocating drove Diaval into a blind panic as soon as he emerged. He couldn't move. Couldn't breathe. He was going to choke to death, trapped in this defective human shell. Alone. Mistress!
He tried desperately to get some air in again, but could barely get enough not to die right here and now, let alone talk. He needed to call for her. Needed to live. Only for a moment longer. She would come. She would help.
Seconds passed like hours and he could feel his body shaking violently in anguish. Thick drool kept slipping from his lips and into his throat. He tried to swallow properly but even such a simple gesture had him coughing and whimpering pathetically in his struggle not to choke. He didn't have the strength to fight for air anymore. Despair was creeping inside him like a venom. He was alone. He couldn't breathe. He was dying. Mistress...
"I'm here, Diaval," she soothed as if answering his muted call.
Then he saw her. Looming above him like an angel. Skin pale as the moonlight. Features impossibly delicate. Cheekbones sharp as ever. It was really her. Relief went through him and somewhat eased his muscle spasms onto a slight quavering. She was everything he needed. He focused on the golden glint of her emerald eyes, hoping to drown his utter terror into them. Wishing they would be the very last thing he saw before leaving this world.
"Focus on breathing," the fairy asked resolutely while putting a thick leaf coated with a sticky mixture right under his nose.
Her voice startled him into realising he had stopped breathing for a moment, and his chest heaved with newfound vigor at her command. He would fight this for her. If only to stay by her side a little bit longer.
The magical properties of the paste she was holding under his nose seemed to help his breathing - at least to the extent that he was no longer choking to death. It was still weak and shallow, but at least the air was going in and out. She wiped his face clean with a wet fabric while he calmed down.
"H-hair", he gasped.
Maleficent raised an eyebrow at him but let her hand slide through his hair to fix it in the way she knew he liked best.
"Of all the vain creatures," she mumbled to herself.
"H-hair", he said again when she was done.
"Your hair looks fine, Diaval," she replied, exasperated.
She studied his face and noticed his gaze kept switching between her eyes and a spot in her hair. She reached to the place he was staring at - oh. He had noticed the raven feathers in her hair. She pushed back her blush and felt warmth invade her chest when he managed to smile, a trace of his old mirth in his eyes. He was actually teasing her. She couldn't refrain a chuckle at his antics.
"Well, I had to find a way to kill the boredom, didn't I?" she explained haughtily. "You've been asleep for days," she accused.
If anything, his smile only grew wider. She let her lips curve up in response, but a shadow passed over her eyes when she remembered it was certainly the last time she would ever see him smile. The last time they would banter over something totally unimportant just for the sake of keeping each other entertained... The thought tugged at her heart painfully.
"I guess I'd better get used to being bored," she murmured wistfully.
Diaval didn't like her tone one bit. She sounded hopeless. As if she had given up on life. He wanted to take her hand and tell her she would be alright - because his death meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. She was strong and fierce. She would move on easily. She would just have to find another bird to do her bidding and she would be just fine. At least that was what he was telling himself so he could die in peace.
He tried to reach for her, but his arm wouldn't move. Only his fingers wriggled weakly.
"H-h-hand," he managed to stutter.
Maleficent took a deep breath and reached for his hand resolutely. As much as she couldn't stand physical contact of any sort, Diaval needed her support right now. He was hiding it well, but she could see the fear in his eyes.
She had been bracing herself to refrain from recoiling in disgust, but the touch of his warm skin was in fact rather comforting. Especially when his fingers started to move against her palm in a slow motion. She never imagined she would one day be enjoying the feeling of such an intimate gesture again. Despite everything she thought possible, maybe her deepest wounds had started to heal after all. It was a shame his loss would certainly open them anew...
They spent a long moment like that, her fingers returning his soft caresses in a silence filled with so many unspoken emotions. Her chest couldn't help but swell with pride upon watching his brow creased with concentration. He wasn't giving up. He was fighting the paralysis with everything he had to keep breathing and stroking her hand at the same time. He was doing his best to please her, just like he always had, she thought fondly.
"Thank you for staying with me all this time," she told him softly.
Diaval looked up at her words and their eyes met. He could see her usual mask of indifference slipping away. She looked sad. He managed to give her hand a squeeze, hoping that would bring her even a semblance of comfort. He hated seeing her like that. Although a part of him was pleased to note she seemed to care for him much more than he thought.
"I'll remember you," Maleficent added in a whisper.
Diaval squeezed her hand again and shook his head slowly with an indulgent smile.
"What do you mean, no?" she snapped. "I will." the fairy insisted.
The indulgent smile remained, but he didn't shake his head this time, although Maleficent assumed from his previous wincing that it was simply too difficult for him to do so.
Deep down, she knew he was right. A fairy could live hundreds of years, sometimes even more. How long before she would forget his face? The mischief in his eyes. The lopsided smile that told her she wasn't alone in this world. She fought back the lump in her throat at the thought. Time would inevitably make him fade from her mind a little more every day, but his devotion would be remembered, the fairy vowed to herself. She would grow a tree filled with powerful magic on his grave. It would feed on his essence and become just like him. A black, gnarled one. With feathers. A beautiful one. To anyone who would see the tree, its magic would share the tale of Diaval's unfailing loyalty. Of how a simple raven had been able to coax affection out of the broken heart of the darkest of the fae. While everything lived and died, his memory would last forever. That would be her parting gift to him. A fairy's gift to her beloved raven.
Her fingers froze for a split second when his caresses stopped abruptly. She missed his gentle touch at once. He closed his eyes in concentration and the fairy could feel his finger moving ever so slightly against hers. They shared a long, meaningful look. The paralysis was spreading. Soon it would reach his lungs - or his heart - and he would fade away without being able to do anything but witness his own doom. Maleficent berated herself. No one deserved such a death. If she wasn't so selfish, she would end his suffering. Clinging to him when the battle was already lost made no sense - especially when it caused him nothing but pain and distress - but she couldn't bear to take his life.
"I can't do anything more," the fairy murmured apologetically.
He blinked slowly in acknowledgement and focused on getting the air in and out. He knew even fairies couldn't alter the cycle of life indefinitely. Everything lived and died in this world, and he was no different. She had already managed to keep him alive much longer than what he had expected, and only for that he was grateful. He just wished he could have had more time to spend with her. Wished he could have made her happy. At least as happy as he had been during all those years by her side.
A gentle squeeze on his hand made him look up to his Mistress. He tried to reciprocate, but of course his muscles wouldn't obey. Her eyes were sad and loving, a combination he never thought he would see in her, even less for him.
"I'll miss you," the fairy admitted after a long silence.
Diaval's breathing went erratic for a few seconds, then he could feel tears rolling down his face. Maybe he'd been mistaken after all. Maybe she really did care for him as much as he cared for her. His heart was soaring at the thought. If only he'd been brave enough to tell her he loved her, she might not have obliterated him on the spot. Maybe it would have helped her heal to know she was loved. Even by her lowly servant.
With this one final regret settling on his soul, he looked up at her, wishing his eyes could somehow convey the extent of his feelings for her.
"I'm here, Diaval," the fairy soothed, brushing her thumb over his hand comfortingly.
She wasn't sure what exactly had triggered his tears, but she knew that at this rate, it wouldn't take much for her to cross that bridge as well. It killed her inside to think that as of tomorrow, he would be dead in the ground and she would well and truly be alone. No matter how hard she tried to keep her feelings buried, to stay calm, regal and proud, the pain of seeing her dear companion an hostage of his own dying body was too much to bear. She couldn't even bring herself to care if he was to read the pain on her face. He was dying. He had every right to know how much she had grown attached to him. How much her stone heart had softened for him.
Her eyes traveled to his body thoughtfully. If only she could have given him another form that wasn't affected by the disease he would have healed, eventually. Unfortunately, all the animals she had tried to turn him into seemed to only worsen the symptoms. Anything smaller than his human form would make him choke from the remaining fluids in his body, and there weren't many animals she could think of that were bigger than a human.
Her eyes suddenly grew wide. What about magical creatures? She wasn't even sure it would work, but a dragon would certainly be big enough. No, his decaying body might not be able to go through that kind of strain. The smoothest transformation would be a Dark Fairy, like her. But how was she supposed to accomplish that? It wasn't only about reshaping him, it was about altering the very core of his being. It would require to give him an enormous amount of magic, which would split her magical essence, if not worse.
The seconds passed, and her crazy plan somehow seemed more and more appealing. No. She couldn't possibly be considering this. He was just a bird, she tried to convince herself. He wasn't worth risking a part of her magic! It would regenerate. Would it? In how long? She would be left vulnerable in the meantime, risking the safety of the Moors in the process. Diaval would help if necessary. She couldn't let him die without trying. He would leave with her magic, just like Stefan left with her wings! Would he? Diaval had been by her side for 15 years when Stefan had never stayed more than a few days at a time. The bird was her servant. He didn't have a choice. He could have left whenever he wanted. He never did.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath against the headache she could feel coming over her inner struggle. When she opened them again, Diaval was looking at her in utter terror. Her heart skipped a beat when she realised his body had gone deadly still. The paralysis had won and he couldn't breathe anymore. She didn't even blink as her hand flew to his chest.
"Don't you dare die on me, Diaval," she snarled, while pouring all the magic she could muster into him.
The dark fairy couldn't help a cry when her magical essence had to be torn apart to go into him. It was alright, she was expecting this. What she had not expected, however, was fainting in the process. She barely had time to word the spell before blacking out from exhaustion.
"Into a fairy."
When she woke up on top of his cold and inert body, utterly exhausted and with most of her magic gone, Maleficent knew for a fact that her plan had gone terribly wrong. She had gambled half of her magical essence to get him back, and in the end, it seemed she had lost them both. She couldn't remember a time when her magic had been so low. It would take months for it to regenerate to an acceptable level, and until that she would have to endure that awful feeling of helplessness. A shiver ran down her spine at the thought that without wings nor magic, she had become an easy target. A prey. What had she been thinking?
She foolishly gave him everything she had, and it hadn't even been enough to save him. Tears escaped her eyes as she grabbed his shirt in despair. Her only companion was now gone. She didn't want to believe it. Didn't want to look up at is empty eyes. The fairy shifted to curl up better against his body, unable to get up and face the truth just yet. She would just go back to sleep. This had to be a nightmare.
However, the minute she leaned her head against his chest, she almost jumped away in surprise.
"D-Diaval?" She breathed, barely daring to believe it wasn't her own heartbeat trumpeting in her ears that she was hearing.
It couldn't be. He was as cold as ice, yet his heart was beating. She slapped him hard.
"Get up this instant!" she snarled fiercely.
He didn't respond, and she put her head back to his chest. It was faint but steady. He couldn't be dead. His heart was beating, she tried to reassure herself. She couldn't be imagining it. Her hand flew to his face, inches from his nose. He was breathing. Her fingers automatically wandered to the back of his head, looking for the feathers that never failed to soothe her. And then she felt it. Right inside his skull. Magic at work. Her magic. Intense work. So intense it had put him into a deep state of hibernation and would explain why he was so cold and unresponsive.
She let out a shaky breath and finally relaxed against him. He would live.
The fairy looked up to his face, watching him sleep peacefully. At least, her gift hadn't been in vain. It was just then that she noticed his sharp cheekbones, pointy ears, ebony horns and… wings. She didn't know how she hadn't noticed the feathers beneath her. They felt just like hers. It was oddly comforting, almost as if she got her wings back.
Well, in a way she did...
As usual, many thanks to DancingKitKat for making sure the story is written in proper english and for her precious advices and comments xx