Sweet Dreams Are Made of This
There had been a small debate as to where to hide Addison once they'd made their way into the Other Side unchecked. Zed was all for stashing her at his place again. Wynter had volunteered the wolves' den because Addison had never been there before and so had argued, fairly, that no one would think to look there, but Mal had overridden them all by pointing out that her apartment was best as it had zero parental interference and thus less witnesses to contend with. Everyone had finally agreed to Mal's idea, some with more grumbling than others, and so they had all begun to move through the shadows of the Enchanted area as quietly and swiftly as possible, fanning out their group in order to attract less attention.
Wynter, Jay and Carlos had dashed on ahead as scouts and to help clear the way. Wyatt, Eliza, Bonzo and Bree had lagged behind to protect their backs, while Mal, Evie and Willa stayed in a tight-knit group with the unconscious Addison in Zed's arms.
It was ironic and irritating that for all Mal's solid arguments about parentless interference that her group rounded a corner and ran smackdab into her father.
"Mal!" Hades called out with more enthusiasm than she thought was necessary. She cringed as he stepped out in front of their group, curious eyes appraising the situation with a telling gleam in his eye. "You run with quite the…eclectic group these days, Mali," he said, gaze lingering on Zed and Willa.
"Not now, Dad," Mal told him, trying to dodge around the much taller man but he easily side-stepped back into her path.
"Dad?" She heard Zed sputter in surprise. She winced as the Zombie teen caught Hades' attention and he spotted the unconscious girl in Zed's arms.
Hades' brows rose a fraction of an inch. "Kidnapping Humans are we?" He asked sardonically. "She's not a princess is she? I hear they fetch a hefty price but, hellfire, do they make a lot of noise. All that whining and complaining and crying about how much they want to go home and blah, blah, blah. They're more trouble than they're worth; you'd be better off setting her under some tree in the forest and let the woodland animals guide her home, trust me."
Mal scoffed. "Trust you. Right. Because you've had so much practice in kidnapping royalty."
Hades' eyes lit with an almost unholy fire, his smile grim. "Remind me to get you in touch with one of your uncles one day."
"Yeah, yeah, Hercules' son shouted all about it in the hallway last week." Mal dismissed her father with a wave of her hand. "You and Mom certainly share a thing about stealing and cursing babies, did you know that?"
Hades winced at the mention of his ex-wife, but eyed his daughter with interest. "Guess the rotten apple didn't fall far from the tree."
"We are not kidnapping her. She's…a friend." Mal scowled. "And she's a cheerleader, not a princess."
"Are those not the same thing these days?" Hades deadpanned. "All bright smiles and shiny hair and singing." He shuddered.
Mal gave her father an unamused look, refusing to let on how much she secretly harbored the same thoughts. Movement out of the corner of her eye told her that Eliza's group had caught up with them.
Wyatt let out a quiet growl as he eyed the situation with guarded enmity.
"Move it along, puppy." Hades didn't even spare him a glance.
Willa placed a placating hand on her brother's arm, giving him a sharp shake of her head. It was not their place to step into the middle of a family feud.
"You guys go on ahead," Mal told them, motioning to the others who had been watching the conversation like a tennis ball match. With reluctant nods and wary eyes, Eliza, Wyatt, Bonzo and Bree slid into place beside Zed and Addison and scurried past Mal and her father, Wyatt following his nose as he caught Wynter's scent up ahead.
Willa and Evie moved a little further ahead but stayed well within sight. Evie wanted to offer her friend her silent support; Willa remained to satiate her own curiosity.
Hades voice became quieter as he eyed his daughter. "They don't take kindly to someone kidnapping one of their own, Mal."
Mal raised a brow at her father. "Is that concern I hear?"
"A little friendly advice."
"We've got it under control."
Hades made a noise that was neither agreement nor disagreement. "Who is she?" He asked after a moment, curiosity getting the better of him.
"None of your concern."
"Anything to do with the rumors of rogue magic floating about?"
Mal smirked, reaching out to tap the metallic band around her father's wrist. "Missing our powers today, are we?"
He scowled, old frustrations pushing to the surface. "I used to be –"
"A god, yes, I know." She faked a yawn. "Get over it already."
"How're those daddy issues treating you?" Hades shot back. "Given your heart away to your prince yet?"
Mal growled, her hands bunching into fists as she glared at her father, their gazes locked in aggravation.
"Mal?" Evie's soft voice called, interrupting the bitter clash of words.
"I don't have time for this," Mal told her father, moving to push past him as he still stood in her way.
"Still running, Mali?" Hades' voice taunted from behind her and she whirled back around, her green eyes flashing bright in the darkness.
"You abandoned me," she hissed. "Not the other way around. You had seventeen years to come find me. You chose not to. Enjoy the solitude you craved. I have friends who need me." She turned sharply on her heel and stormed away without once glancing back, marching past Evie and Willa.
Evie and Willa glanced back at the deposed god of the underworld and saw something that might have been pain in his eyes as he watched his daughter storm away. It had certainly been in hers.
Mal glanced over the small invasion that had appeared inside her loft. The once open cement spaces were now covered in various bodies as this odd group settled on couches, chairs, and the floor. There was a part of her that wanted to shove everyone out the door so she could have some peace and quiet – some time to think. Instead they were tossing around ideas, pros and cons, discussing what had occurred and what to do about it now.
Addison hadn't woken since they'd arrived. She been laid out on a couple cushions on the floor, a ratty purple blanket spread out over her. Her Zombie guard dog still sat vigilant at her side.
Studying him now Mal could see that while he still exuded anxiety he wasn't as tensed for a fight as he had been the past couple hours. Part of it was probably exhaustion beginning to settle in, but the other might be that he felt comfortable with Addison being surrounded by a miniature army of Others (and one ex-cheerleader) who were more or less on their side.
It'd take threats of dismemberment, and maybe not even then, before Mal would admit that having so many people there was helping to soothe out her jagged edges as well. Maybe there was something to be said for that whole 'safety in numbers' thing after all. Despite her mother's claims to the contrary.
A small ding sounded through the room.
Mal looked toward the sound to watch Bree pick up her phone from where it had been lying on the ground beside her. "It's a message from Prince Ben," she informed them.
Evie perked up in interest. "What does it say?"
Bree scanned the message once before nodding to herself and beginning to read it out loud. "He says that Willa was right, that his parents had been worried about him after they got the news about the…uh, explosion."
"Is that what they're calling it?" Carlos exchanged a look of disbelief with Evie. "There is magic in Auradon, you know." Evie shook her head in exasperation.
Bree shrugged in answer, the foremost authority on the subject in the room who was conscious. "Sure, but it's discouraged. Some slip-up occasionally, but the last really big burst of magic before today was against Maleficent ten years ago. Before that it was the dome twenty years ago. And since no one really saw what happened today, I guess they're not ready to accept the possibility." Her eyes flit back to the screen. "Prince Ben says that he hasn't told anyone about Addie, saying it's her secret to tell. And he hasn't heard any rumors about her otherwise so we might be the only ones who know."
Willa looked at her packmates with raised brows, impressed despite herself. She really hadn't thought the Auradon heir would keep his mouth shut about something this important.
"Some people are throwing around theories about magic usage, but nothing's for certain. I guess since there weren't a lot of Others at the competition they're not jumping to magic or a spell as the cause." Bree shrugged, looking up to see most of the room's occupants watching her intently. "It looked like mostly Humans to me too, to be honest." She let her gaze fall on her best friend, her expression tense. "But I guess it's not always obvious, is it?"
"No," Evie murmured, her voice gentle. "Not always, but it's not something to fear."
Bree blinked and met Evie's warm brown eyes. "Of course not. Addie's a good person – a wonderful friend. She'd never hurt anybody."
Zed started, hearing almost the same words echoing in his ears from Addison herself not so long ago when he was exhausted soul-deep and hurting in more ways than he'd wanted to count. A quiet smile pulled at his lips as he brushed his fingers through Addison's hair. Her eyelids fluttered at his touch and he stilled, but she settled without waking. He felt disappointment and a rueful acceptance push through his veins.
He combed his hand through her hair, keeping the motion smooth and gentle, hoping it'd relax her and let her know she wasn't alone. Addison would wake when she was ready and not a minute before. No matter how much he wanted her to open her crystalline eyes and smile at him.
No, if he was honest with himself, he knew it might take a little while before Addie felt up to smiling like she used to – so unreservedly – again. But that was okay. They were all here for her, just like he'd told her amidst the aftermath of the interrupted competition.
Evie watched Zed's quiet, gentle attentions with a warm smile for a moment, her heart easing. She looked back at Bree, sharing that smile with her, hoping to soothe the younger girl. "You're absolutely right, Bree."
"Not everyone will think the same," Willa commented. Wyatt had to stifle a sigh; leave it to his sister to put a stamp of reality on everything.
"Not anyone who knows her," Bree argued, her eyes widening as she realized a moment too late who she was contradicting.
But Willa only conceded with a slight inclination of her head. "I…suppose that's true." Her eyes traveled over Addison's prone form, guarded over by her Zombie boyfriend. Even she had to admit that, despite Humans' nastier personality traits at times, there were few who would try to make the argument that the white-haired girl carried any malicious intent inside her heart. Her brother and Wynter were already warming up to the girl, and they were just as suspicious and wary around strangers and Humans as she herself. Though, now that she thought about it…
"So which of her parents isn't Human?"
Everyone in the room glanced at each other, giving small shrugs in answer.
"Not a clue," Carlos answered. "Her parents seem as Human as they come."
"Didn't she say her grandfather's ear was bitten off by a Zombie once?" Wynter asked with a curious tilt to her head. Zed and Bonzo winced.
"As opposed to twice?" Mal asked with a smirk that earned her an unamused look from the Werewolf girl.
Eliza studied Addison's slumbering form for a long moment before shaking her head. "Zombies were made from magic users originally, but we don't have the ability to use it ourselves. This isn't a Zombie thing."
Mal and Evie looked at each other with matching shrugs.
"She has to have magic in her bloodline somewhere."
"Maybe it's a latent gene?" Evie hypothesized. "Somewhere further back in her genealogy?"
"It's as good a theory as any."
Another ping sounded in the room and Bree glanced at her phone. She typed out a quick response before holding out the phone toward Mal who blinked at the girl in confusion. "It's for you."
"Me?" She took the warm phone in her hands and looked at the small screen.
New Message, HRH Prince Ben:
Hey Bree, could you ask Mal something for me?
I'll hand you over to her, hold on.
HRH Prince Ben:
Mal studied the device for a moment before sliding her index finger over the screen's keyboard to type a response, a small part of her afraid she'd break the damn thing. You haven't been locked away in the tallest tower of the castle have you? You'll have to climb down on your own. I'm busy watching over Sleeping Beauty here.
HRH Prince Ben:
That's quite the role-reversal.
Tell me about it. Kinda boring though. All she does is sleep.
HRH Prince Ben:
She hasn't woken up yet then?
She's not drooling yet, but Jay has a camera primed and ready.
HRH Prince Ben:
I've heard blackmail can be quite lucrative.
I admit to nothing.
Mal smiled to herself. She needed to get herself one of these, talk about useful. It certainly made contacting Ben easier instead of just running into each other in the halls at school.
HRH Prince Ben:
How are you doing? You used quite a bit of magic yourself today. I noticed your wrist looked red.
Mal blinked in surprise, touched that he'd asked though she shouldn't have been so surprised. Aside from Addison, Ben was one of the nicest people she'd ever met. She hesitated before pushing herself for honesty.
It's fine; smarts a little, but nothing to worry about. It wasn't a lot. Can't do much with these stupid things on.
HRH Prince Ben:
I know. I'm so sorry.
Not your fault. You were a kid, same as us.
HRH Prince Ben:
I know, but… Mal, there's something I should tell you. Something I haven't told anyone, not even Audrey.
Mal typed back quickly in response, her heart beating a little bit faster at the tantalizing mystery, her curiosity wide-awake and hungry for answers, but…
Maybe this isn't the best place to tell secrets. It's not even my phone.
HRH Prince Ben:
You're right. I'm sorry.
I need to get one of these things.
HRH Prince Ben:
We'll work on that.
Mal smiled, her heart warming and she sank further back into the lumpy cushion behind her. She heard the others chatting around her, but as the conversation was going in the same endless circles it had been all night she didn't pay much attention. She messaged back and forth with Ben for a while, listening in on the conversations in between texts. Eventually Ben got pulled into a meeting with his parents and Mal said goodnight before reluctantly handing the phone back to its owner.
"They're having a meeting," Mal informed the group. "The Royal Family and their advisors. They're talking about what happened today. Ben'll let us know more in the morning." She glanced at the cracked clock on the side table with three of its four legs intact. "Later in the morning," she corrected herself.
They all glanced at the clock, noting how late it was.
Bree let loose a heavy sigh, glancing over her sleeping friend with regret in her eyes. "I've got to go, guys, it's getting late."
"We'll go with you," Eliza volunteered as she and Bonzo pushed to their feet. "Our folks are probably getting antsy themselves." She looked to Zed, studying the protective way he hovered over the dozing cheerleader. "I'll let your dad know," she told him, knowing without asking that he wasn't going to leave Addison's side until she woke up.
Wyatt traded a look with his sister, waiting until she gave the smallest nod of consent before he stood. "I'm going with you."
"What?" Eliza looked nonplussed. "Why?"
Wyatt grinned at her, flashing his canines and Eliza refused to acknowledge the weird feeling it put in her stomach. "Safety in numbers," he reminded her. "We'll be better as a small pack than just a couple high schoolers wandering around after midnight."
Eliza scoffed at his attempts at chivalry. "We don't need an escort."
Wyatt shrugged, unruffled by her abrupt mannerisms. He'd had a lifetime of them with his sister. "It's on the way," he pointed out reasonably. "I'll stick with you guys until we hit Zombietown, after we drop off Bree, then I'll return to our den." He glanced at his sister and Wynter. "I need to tell them what's going on anyways."
"Don't say anything that'll put Addison in danger, wolf." Mal's face was smooth but the warning was clear in her eyes.
Wynter scowled, offended on behalf of her packmate. "Werewolves are loyal," she snapped. "We don't betray our pack."
Mal sent her a raised brow of inquiry. "And you consider Addison one of your pack now, is that what you're saying?"
The Werewolf girl looked startled, unsure how to respond exactly when Willa came to her rescue.
"We do not wish her ill."
"Oh, yeah," Carlos muttered under his breath to Jay. "That's encouraging." Three sets of werewolf eyes shot in his direction with matching glares and Carlos flushed, belatedly remembering the acuity of their hearing. "Sorry," he muttered.
"We are…allies," Willa continued with affronted dignity. "We have the same goals. We would not seek to jeopardize it by putting your friend in danger."
"Good, because you'd have to add Zombies to that list in regards to who's looking out for Addison's welfare," Eliza tossed out unrepentantly, her arms crossed over her chest and her jaw set.
Zed grinned. Eliza was slow to accept other people into her circle, but once she did she was as fierce as they came, never mind that she stood at least a full head shorter than most of the people in the room. She was small but mighty, and had a determined streak a mile-wide.
"She's my friend too," Wynter muttered with a pout and Wyatt's mouth curled into a wider smile. His sister could spout all the words about alliances and common goals she wanted, but the openly friendly and honest white-haired cheerleader had already begun to weave herself into the fabric of their lives. Even if it would take some time yet before she'd admit it out loud.
"Well," he laughed. "This has been truly inspiring." He ignored Willa's glare, considering it his sibling duty and right to antagonize his sister whenever possible, future alpha or no. "But while our elders encourage us to be out and about in the moonlight, I doubt Bree's do." He waved Bonzo and Bree forward. "Lead the way."
With a confused but mildly amused smile Bree nodded, murmuring her goodbyes before allowing Bonzo to usher her out Mal's door.
Just a few steps behind them Wyatt held out his elbow to Eliza with a mischievous grin. "Care for an escort, my lady?"
True to form Eliza simply scowled, rolled her eyes, and shook her head in exasperation before marching out the door, muttering under her breath about werewolf boys who thought they were so charming. Wyatt couldn't help but chuckle as he followed her out the door.
Evie watched the quartet go with a knowing sparkle in her dark eyes and a meaningful lift to her ruby-red lips. She glanced at Mal to see her friend shaking her head in mild amusement.
Mal turned to Willa with an impish smile. "So, just how open are wolves to interracial relationships, Miss Future Alpha?"
Willa gave a shrug that gave the appearance of nonchalance, but the pull between her brows suggested she was curious about what she too had seen. "The heart wants who the heart wants."
"I'll be sure to remind you of that."
From his quiet corner with Addison Zed shook his head in amusement, a wondering expression on his face as he contemplated possibilities. He had no argument against a Human and Zombie; if Bree and Bonzo ever worked up the nerve to start a relationship Zed would be the last person to interfere. His relationship with Addison had started exactly the same, no matter that she had turned out to be at least half-Other in the end. His Addison was still Addison, he loved her for exactly who she was – it didn't matter to him what the "what" ended up being.
As to the possibility of a Zombie and a Werewolf? Well, he still didn't necessarily see a problem. It all came down to Eliza and what – or whom – she wanted. And that was the end of that story. He'd support her either way.
Eliza hadn't initially been supportive of Zed's crush on Addison, but that was more out of her fear for her friend being hurt by Humans than Addison herself. Well, that and Addison's positivity clashed rather spectacularly with Eliza's irascibility at times. But the two girls had worked it out, and now Eliza would fight anyone who tried to hurt Addison.
A small, soft smile lit upon his face as he brushed the back of his knuckles against Addison's cheek. It was crazy how life worked out sometimes. With a small murmur Addison leaned into Zed's touch before settling back into her deep slumber. Zed felt his heart turn over in his chest at the small noise she made, the absolute trust she had in him. It was as awe-inspiring as it was humbling.
Addison made him feel like there was nothing the two of them couldn't accomplish together. That there was nothing in the world that could separate hearts as intertwined as theirs. Addison was as easy to love as a clear, sunny morning and just as glowing with warmth and compassion.
Today hadn't been easy – their days of late often weren't, but they'd gotten through this one, and Zed was certain they'd get through tomorrow too, and all the days to come. There was precious little that could come between them once Addison's heart and mind were set.
Rubbing at his scratchy eyes with the back of one hand Zed stifled a yawn with the other. Sliding down to lay more comfortably on Mal's hard flooring, Zed turned his head to watch Addison doze, her eyes moving behind their lids in dreams.
His own eyes grew heavier with each blink until the quiet murmuring coming from the other side of the room turned into white noise that washed over him as he slid into his own sleep, Addison's quiet breathing beside him the last thing he consciously heard before slipping into slumber.
She woke in darkness, confused by her surroundings.
This wasn't her room. This wasn't the guest room at Bree's house either. Looking around it took her a long few minutes to place it given she'd only been there once before.
Awakening in Mal's home wasn't as shocking as the dark shapes of bodies curled up in scattered places around the room in sleep. She rubbed at her tired eyes. The sleepover? No, she could have sworn that had been a few days ago at least. She'd stayed at Bree's since then...hadn't she?
Shoving her fingers through her mess of hair Addison squeezed her eyes shut and tried to remember how she'd gotten here, but no memories came forth and she felt a jolt of alarm race through her veins. Why couldn't she remember?
A small noise beside her had Addison starting, and she looked down in shock to see Zed asleep next to her on the floor. She reached out with a tentative hand, half-convinced that she was dreaming, but the cool, soft skin on the back of his hand was startling real. She sat up straighter, her fingers lightly tracing the bones in the back of his hand she couldn't see in the shadowed darkness, puzzling over her circumstances.
It was as she looked closer that she noticed a series of nicks and scratches upon Zed's skin, the tears and rips in his well-worn but well-kept clothing, that it all tumbled down upon her at once and she froze.
Images crashed through her mind one upon the other in a torrent that left her heart hammering, her fingers trembling, and her breathing uneven. She jerked her hand away from Zed's, terrified that she'd hurt him again.
Stumbling to her feet, the blanket falling from her lap into an untidy heap at her feet that she nearly tripped over in her haste to put distance between them. She looked up and around the room, recognizing a few faces in the shadows, counting her friends, seeing the damage she had caused, and knew that it could have been infinitely worse.
She felt that surge inside her again, that power that she now realized must be some kind of magic, and watched in stunned horror as her hair began to dance around her face. Recognizing the sign for what it was she made for the door as quickly and silently as she could.
She shouldn't be here – couldn't be here. Not like this.
Zed had promised she'd get help, that they'd figure it out, but she couldn't wait that long. She needed to get herself and, she shuddered, her magic contained – safe. Now.
Breaths coming in panicked, shallow gasps that she tried to stifle so as not to disturb anyone she fumbled at the door, all but throwing herself down the stairs in her haste to put distance between her and her friends. Tripping on the last step she landed on her hands and knees on the gravel-strewn ground where she took a moment to breathe, knowing her anxiety only made things worse.
She tried to focus, listening to the sounds of deep night around her. The sound of crickets chirping against the distant sound of waves crashing upon the shore. Struggling to her trembling feet she looked up to the sky strewn with a scattering of stars that managed to shine brighter than the glow of the streetlights, trying to focus on a single one brighter than all the rest, allowing her mind to be lulled by its shining face and the steady, distant waves until she felt herself drifting.
Addison felt like she was moving in a haze, conscious of only one thought, one goal, and moving inexorably toward it though she barely felt her feet as they moved one halting step at a time away from those whom she loved toward a terrifying unknown.
"Where do you think you're going?" A voice drifted out of the darkness and Addison's forward movement halted, floating in her twilight state.
"I'm turning myself in, Mal."
The violet-haired teen stepped out of the shadows and into the silver moonlight. Her expression was dimmed by the darkness of night, but her eyes flashed clear in alarm and displeasure. "They'll tag you, you know. Force you to wear one of these for the rest of your life." She held up her arm in front of her, silver and amber light reflecting off the band around her wrist.
"I know." Addison didn't need to turn to see, her voice quiet. "I think it would be for the best." She glanced over her shoulder and Mal was hit with the full force of the anguish in the other girl's eyes, the silent tears that ran like silver down her cheeks, the locks of her hair dancing in the moonlight with no breeze. "I can't control it, Mal. Next time I could kill someone."
Mal pressed her lips together tight. She wanted to deny it, but even trying to lie out of some warped sense of kindness wouldn't help any. Besides, she had a feeling the other girl would see right through it. But still, Addison had never lived this life. As out-of-control as everything felt now it would be nothing compared to what was to come should she expose herself as Other to the rest of Auradon – the rejection, the isolation, the sidelong glances, whisperings, pointing, and sneers from those who had never taken the time to understand. Mal knew intimately – painfully – how deep such bitterness could steal inside. They all knew, Mal and her friends. Especially Others like –
"He would never wish it on you, this life."
"Zed," Addison whispered and it was both a sigh and a wish. She turned her gaze to the stars, lost in some memory for a long, quiet moment as her silvered locks continued to dance playfully about her shoulders. Mal watched with apprehension as Addison's spine straightened and her eyes flashed like blue steel.
"I won't let him be hurt by this – by me." Her words were like her voice – adamant and fierce. "I can take whatever punishment they dish out."
"But can he?"
Addison's lips lifted into a quiet, mournful facsimile of a smile, filled with too many shocks in too short a period of time. "He might be better off without me – all of you would." Her eyes traced over the angry scratches upon Mal's exposed skin and the tears in her once artfully-torn clothing. "I'm a danger this way to everyone – Human and Other alike."
"Without this band on my wrist I'm fairly certain I could take you," Mal countered. "You're not the only one in Auradon with power, Cheerleader."
"Perhaps." Addison's smile was faint, tinged with a melancholy that went deep, that went beyond just the disaster of the Cheer Competition. "But I don't even know what I am, Mal. I don't know who I am."
"You're Addison Wells, ridiculously peppy cheerleader. A not-so-Human girl who's falling for a definitely-not-Human Veg Head despite being the daughter of the Chief of the Patrol Guard and whatever committee it is that your mother runs. A white-haired, magical being with two startlingly self-obsessed cousins," Mal told her.
But rather than being amused as Mal had intended Addison had been shaking her head from the moment Mal began her recitation. "Do you know what Audrey told me today?"
Mal cursed. "I knew one of your cousins had to be involved." Her eyes narrowed as Addison's mouth shifted into a crooked smile that didn't reach her eyes.
"I'm not a Wells." Addison dropped her bombshell and Mal froze.
"What do you mean?" she asked, leery as to what Addison would say next, suspicious of everything that came out of Audrey's mouth.
"I'm not their daughter." The words came out quiet, full of disbelief and a pain so acute that Mal felt it in her own heart. "Audrey and Bucky," and here tears started to well up and over, her voice tremulous as she relived the moment Audrey had revealed the truth of her birth. "I don't even know if we're cousins. I don't know who I am, Mal. Where all of this," and she tugged at her hair, "even comes from. They're not my family." Her voice cracked, face wet with tears because despite the arguments, bitter words and sour feelings between her and the people she had always believed were her family, she had held out hope that things might change some day. That they would come together, haltingly and awkwardly at first, but that there was real love there.
But it had all been a lie. Every word, every gesture.
"My mom and dad – the people who raised me – they hate Others, Mal. And I'm Other." She gave a wild, bitter laugh. "So very, excruciatingly Other. And so they hate me."
Mal flinched because while her own mother had never been exactly loving she had never said she hated her only daughter. Disappointed in her, oh yes, she had said that often, but never hate. "Maybe they didn't know –"
"Of course they knew!" Addison laughed, sharply and with no joy. "They just tried to hide it for sixteen years under a wig."
"We care, Addie." Mal's voice was soft, wishing she could find a way to reach out to her friend, to show that she wasn't as alone as she felt. She nodded toward the apartment where everyone slept, oblivious, and felt a panic begin to stir below her ribcage at the thought that she might fail.
No. She was Maleficent's daughter. She didn't fail at anything. But she'd also never been taught how to help heal a wound this big, especially when she still wrestled with her own inner demons – her mother's bitter disappointment, her father's absence. But at least she had always known exactly who and what she was. Part dark faerie, part former underworld god, all attitude.
"I know you care, Mal." Addison's eyes were as gentle as her voice. "It's because of you and Zed and Bree and everyone who helped me today that I have to do this. I could never live with myself if I hurt you again – or worse." She shook her head. "I'd never forgive myself."
"We can change it," Mal blurted out, surprised at the desperation laced behind her words. "We can change this world, Addison. Make them take off our M-bands, let us learn about our powers – how to control them so that we can be who we're meant to be without hurting anyone."
Vibrant blue eyes softened at her friend's entreaty. "That's a beautiful dream, Mal." She looked up at the starry sky, the moon just past full. A real smile touched on her lips, as soft as the gentle breeze that tugged and teased at them. "Someday," she whispered, her voice quiet in the night air.
A wild gust of wind caused Mal to throw her arms up in front of her face to shield against its intensity. By the time her ears stopped buzzing and she'd shoved her tangle of hair out of her face she realized she was alone on the pavement. Mal whirled around in a full circle, her eyes scanning every shadow for a glimpse of silver and blue. Seeing nothing but dirty concrete and rusting metal she let out a curse.
They'd never catch her in time. She'd taken a gamble in clueing the cheerleader in on her plans and instead it had been dismissed as some kind of childish fantasy. Mal growled beneath her breath. Little Miss Blue Eyes was going to ruin everything if she told anyone about Mal's scheme.
Swearing quietly but profusely Mal marched back towards her apartment and its narrow flight of stairs as the dark night edged toward navy blue. Dawn was approaching, and with it, their one chance to take back what was rightfully theirs to begin with.
It was time to wake the other members of her core and the werewolves so they could set their plan into motion now before everything was ruined. And she was feeling just spiteful enough to wake the little pixie's boyfriend and send him running to the Center after her if it meant delaying the melancholy sprite enough to finish what she'd set out to do in the first place.
Enough with all this talk of unity and harmony and let's-all-be-friends nonsense. The future of the free world rested on Mal's shoulders and she didn't intend to blow it.
And no pastel-colored, wig-wearing little cheerleader was going to stop her.
Because Mal was her mother's daughter – rotten to her very core.
Zed was suddenly and abruptly woken from turbulent dreams by a kick in the leg. He flailed about wildly as he tried to recall where he was and why to find himself blinking owlishly up at enraged emerald eyes. Rubbing the grit of sleep out of his eyes, he groaned as the events of yesterday and the long night caught up with him. "What time is it?"
"Past time," Mal answered, her words as sharp as her smile. "Your little girlfriend is gone, Brainless."
Zed started, as surprised as by the slur as her announcement. "What?" He looked wildly around him to discover that he was indeed alone in the little corner he had slept in at Mal's apartment. "Addison –?"
"Is gone," Mal repeated, her lip curling. "Guess she caught you sleeping on the job and decided you weren't worth the trouble of waking." Mal could hear the sharp, biting tone she was using but her anger and something else she refused to acknowledge overrode her reservations.
"Where'd she go?" Zed scrambled to his feet, throwing aside the moth-eaten blanket he'd been curled up in. Mal now had to look up to meet his eyes but he felt entirely as if she were looking down upon him as she sneered.
"Lucky for you I was standing guard, isn't it? Or where would we be now?"
"Where is she, Mal?" Zed's irritation began to leak out, his brows beginning to furrow over his eyes and his words coming out more snappish.
She felt a perverse sense of satisfaction that she could needle this optimistic fool enough to break him out of his stupid, eternal positivity. "How much are you willing to pay for the answer to that question, No Brain?"
"Mal." They heard Evie's soft voice speak up in caution and concern but ignored it as the two stared each other down.
"Where's the cheerleader, Maleficent's daughter?" Willa asked in what her brother deemed her 'alpha tone.' It worked wonders on their packmates, not so much on the girl whose mother had been dubbed the Mistress of Evil.
Mal broke eye contact with Zed long enough to through a heated glare at Willa. "Why don't you sniff her out for yourself, wolf?" Willa's lips tightened and Wynter, who still looked mussed from sleep began a light growl of warning.
"Mal," Evie tried again, stepping beside her friend and placing a warm hand on her arm. She felt a flash of surprise to feel how rigid Mal's muscles were beneath her hand and felt her anxiety rise. "What happened? Where's Addie?"
"She left," Mal spat out, her tension coiling.
"Did she sleepwalk out of here?" Carlos asked, a bit tentatively. He considered himself to be pretty close to Mal, the same as Jay and Evie, but she was still prickly when she wanted to be. Or had reason and need to be. They'd learned over time that it was Mal's way of putting up her defenses – to keep people at arms-length so that they couldn't hurt her. Snapping, poking and prodding at Zed, Willa and Wynter now when they'd finally become, well, if not friends then at least allies meant that Mal was worried. And if Mal was worried, then they all had reason to be worried. And as Mal had not only privately but publicly claimed Addison as a friend – in front of her father no less! – then it meant Mal's worry was quickly edging toward something akin to fear. And that set him on edge.
"No, she didn't –" Mal cut herself off, remembering the almost dreamy atmosphere that had surrounded Addison, her magic leaking out all over the place as she'd moved. "At least, I don't think so," she amended. "Not by the end."
"The end of what?" Jay prompted as Mal bit her thumbnail, her eyes scanning back and forth as she studied the ground before her though it was obvious she wasn't seeing it. He shifted closer to lay a placating hand on Zed's shoulder, his teammate's body language signaling a coiled tension ready to spring.
"I don't know what woke her," Mal admitted. "By the time I found her she'd already left the loft. I tried to convince her to stay, but –" She shook her head at the memory, a scowl fixing itself in place. "The little pixie wouldn't listen. Kept going on about not wanting to hurt anyone, about wanting to get control –"
"That's understandable," Evie interrupted, soothing a hand over her friend's back. "She most likely feels like everything in her life is out of control. She'd want to regain it somehow." She paused, glancing at Zed who was watching Mal with an intensity that made her uneasy. She thought she heard a faint humming sound coming from his Z-band. "Did Addison happen to mention how she was going to try and obtain this control?"
"Oh, she told me alright." Mal let out a bitter laughter that was devoid of all humor. She locked eyes with Zed. "Your little girlfriend is marching straight to the Center to turn herself in." She folded her arms over her chest and smirked at him as his features paled. "And after all that hard work we did to spirit her out and avoid all this. Ungrateful little thing, isn't she?" She scoffed. "Typical Human."
"Mal." Her name on Evie's lips was a reprimand but Mal refused to apologize. She glanced at her friend, jaw set in stubborn refusal.
"Addie," Zed whispered and they all looked to see his dark eyes widen, pain and fear etched across his gray face before he was whirling around and shoving his way across the room and toward the door. Mal heard it slam shut with a decisive bang that made Carlos and Wynter jump, but Mal felt a small sense of satisfaction in it.
A small, quiet part of her hoped he succeeded where she had failed. A larger part hoped the pixie snuffed out his attempts as smoothly as she had Mal's. An even larger part refused to examine these thoughts and the feelings that accompanied them, pulling on her anger and frustration and seventeen years of suppression to keep her focused on the matter at hand.
"Will someone open a window?" She asked. "It reeks of the Brainless in here." Willa sent her a pitying glance that set Mal's hackles rising. "Problem, wolf?"
"My concerns are for my people," Willa answered with a calm dignity that made Mal grind her teeth. "They are my first and only priority. What one Enchanted does will not deter me from my path unless she interferes with my plans."
It made them all blink in the quiet that followed Willa's statement at hearing Addison referred to as an Enchanted though they'd all known about it for some time now.
Mal shrugged with a nonchalance she didn't feel. "The cheerleader's actions don't concern us or our plans, so long as she doesn't let slip about them."
Wynter gasped. "You told her?"
Mal spared her a bored glance. "I may have hinted at it."
"Did she indicate she was going to tell the Humans about it – about us?" Willa asked with a calm Mal couldn't help but envy.
"No, but it's better not to take our chances."
Willa nodded in ready acceptance of this answer. "We need to get the wand today. Now."
"Exactly." Mal appreciated working with people who could follow her line of scheming so well. "You round up your brother and Eliza. We'll get the supplies ready. Be ready to meet us at the museum in an hour."
Willa nodded and beckoned Wynter to follow. While the young alpha looked coolly collected, her friend's face was riddled with apprehension. Before the door closed they heard Wynter asking if they were really just going to let Addison go to the Center to be banded.
"She not one of us, Wynter," Willa reminded her with a sharp tone. "She's one of them. An Enchanted. It's not our concern." The door snapped shut behind them, cutting off the conversation before Mal and her friends could hear more.
"Their loyalty leaves something to be desired, doesn't it?" Mal remarked without expression. She gestured to her friends as she made to move toward her kitchen and grab something to eat. It was just past dawn – way too early to be dealing with this kind of nonsense on an empty stomach.
"They seem rather loyal to each other?" Carlos tried but Mal just gave him an unamused look and continued to her tiny, battered fridge.
"We need to find her, Mal," Evie began, an edge to her voice that Mal studiously ignored. "Before she –"
"Ruins everything, I know."
"No, before she gets hurt."
Mal blinked, a sharp bark of disbelief tumbling from her lips. "Don't tell me Pixie Hollow got to you, too?"
"I know you care about her, M." Evie studied her friend with growing concern, her rosy lips pulling into a frown.
"I care that she's going to skip over to Candy Land and have her powers put under lock and key before we get a chance to use them."
"Do you want these to be permanent?" She held up her band before making a sweeping motion toward theirs. "Do you want to live like this for the rest of our lives?"
"Of course not," Jay reassured her, exchanging a troubled look with Evie and Carlos. "But, Mal, she's our –"
Mal whirled around. "Our what? Our friend? When has anyone from that Side helped us out? They've always looked out for themselves. It's past time we stopped waiting for someone to help us. We'll do whatever we need to be free. She's been skipping around unfettered for sixteen years. It's our turn. If she wants to chain herself up, if she wants to live this life, that's her choice. I've already made mine. Now, are you with me or not?"
"We're with you, Mal, of course." But they glanced uneasily at one another as Mal turned back to her mostly bare fridge and stared at the contents, feeling just as empty.
Evie kept a careful eye on Mal as they trekked closer to the Museum of Cultural History and Fairy Godmother's wand, every step taking them closer to a shared destiny that Evie wasn't convinced Mal was certain about anymore.
She knew without a doubt that Mal was worried about Addison. That Addison's disappearance had pushed her to do this again; to try in her own misguided way to stop Addison's plans before she imprisoned herself in the chains of society's fearmongering and misjudgment.
No one wanted that for the sweet younger girl, least of all Mal who had forged a friendship with her despite the odds – the daughter of two villains and the daughter of the Guard Chief whose job it was to control villains and Others. It was as improbable of a relationship as a Human cheerleader and a Zombie or a young dark faerie and the crown prince. But happened they had.
And now that Zombie was racing after his cheerleader as the heir to the throne was…
"Hey." Evie's hand came to rest on Mal's forearm, halting her, turning her friend to face her. "Is this really what you want?" She searched her friend's eyes, saw the flicker of doubt despite the stubborn set to her jaw.
"It's what's best for everyone."
"Is it?" Her tone was soft, inquiring, but Mal flinched anyways.
"We have to, E. You know that."
"No, we don't. You can find another way. We can find another way," she corrected, her smile gentle but firm. She hesitated, wrestled with her words for a moment. "We can choose differently from our parents, M."
Mal let out a shaky laugh and pushed some hair out of her face. "Do you know I said nearly the exact same thing to Addison the night of your Girls' Night?" Evie shook her head, quiet, waiting. "She told her parents she was ashamed of their choices, calling them to task on all the spiteful, biting things they've said and done." She bit her lip, looking over her shoulder at the quiet museum where it sat in the unassuming light of early morning unaware of the visitors creeping up on it like thieves in the night.
"I know what my mother would choose, what she would tell me to do. What she felt was the way to ensure our future – to be evil and awful and free… I think I've always walked the line until now. If I do this – if we do this, there's no going back." And she felt the weight of that pressing down on her shoulders, the passing of time like sand slipping through her fingers.
She let her gaze travel over their assembled group as they waited near the edge of the tree line, waiting for Mal and Evie with mixed looks of anticipation, caution and unease. They turned to look at her, awaiting her signal, her decision.
"What do you want to do, M?" Evie murmured, watching her friend struggle with the weight of indecision and consequences.
A million thoughts were racing in Mal's head. What was wrong? What was right? She couldn't decide. All she knew was that with every step, every word, with every hour lately she seemed to be changing into someone new, someone she'd never been before and it left her confused as to which way to move forward now.
If only she knew what exactly it was her heart was telling her. If only she knew what it was she was feeling – the way to go from here. If only she could find the way to whom she was meant to be. If only…
And suddenly she felt with a yearning that made her heart squeeze in pain with just how much she wished her parents hadn't chosen this road – hadn't let their pain and loneliness and jealousies and anger turn them into whom they'd become. She wished with a fierceness that almost left her breathless that they'd chosen differently.
And she? What did she want?
An image flashed before her eyes of warm blue eyes and a shy, hopeful smile.
Mal glanced down at her hand where Ben's golden ring still sat upon her finger, sitting warm and comfortable despite the fingerless gloves she always wore and the fact that her fingers were so much smaller and slimmer than his. She had a moment to wonder if it was enchanted to fit its wearer or if Ben had just somehow known that it'd be a perfect fit for her despite all the odds that said otherwise. A small, quiet smile graced her lips at the thought.
"Are you coming or what?" Willa's voice interrupted Mal's musings, breaking the small moment of tranquility she'd found. Mal frowned.
Clenching her fingers into a tight fist, Mal closed her eyes, breathed deep and on the exhale turned to face the cross and impatient wolf. "No."
"No?" Willa couldn't have looked more flummoxed than if Mal had knocked her upside the head with a tree branch. "What do you mean no?"
"I mean," Mal stated as calmly and clearly as she could despite her tension and that little voice of doubt that whispered insidiously in her head in her mother's mocking voice. "I'm making a different choice."
Willa scowled. "You're choosing cowardice." She bit out, her eyes flashing.
"I'm choosing happiness," Mal shot back, her heart giving a leap in her chest, and Mal felt as astonished that she was listening to it as it was to her. "And doing this," she swept her hand toward the museum, "this won't bring us happiness. It's wrong, Willa."
"It's our freedom. Do you want to be bound for the rest of your life? Are you choosing to sentence all of us to this fate for the rest of our lives? For generations to come?"
"Of course not! But stealing the wand, threatening the lives of everyone who lives here, destroying everything – they'll only every see us as monsters, Willa. Is that what you want? To be seen as a monster for the rest of your life, regardless if we succeed or not? Because that's exactly what happened to my mother. She chose to do the exact same thing and was vilified by everyone on both sides of the barrier!"
"Because she failed."
"Because she made the choice for everyone instead of making a choice together!"
"We're making a choice together now. No one's doing this alone. We're representing all our races here."
"But is it what everyone wants? To be free of these bands, yes, but at what cost? We were kids when our magic was taken from us – we'd barely discovered we had it, learned how to use it, how to control it. But if we release everything at once – Look at Addison! She grew up without that knowledge – without any control – and it became chaos. It caused havoc, destruction; it hurt people, people she cares about because she had no warning, no support, no time learn.
"Could you do that to everyone, Willa? Can you guarantee that we are all safe from each other? From ourselves? Are you completely positive that not one single wolf pup isn't going to freak out when a change is forced upon them and lose control and hurt someone they love? Because that's what we'll be doing today if we take that wand and smash everything to pieces out of a desire for revenge. And there will be no coming back from that."
"…Our freedom" Willa tried again though she was staring at Mal with wide, startled eyes.
"There's gotta be another way." Mal continued, panting a little from her impassioned speech. "There is another way. We just have to find it." Her voice grew quiet, her face flushed from her exertions. "I still want to do this – get rid of the bands, see the barrier shatter into a million little golden pieces, but let's do it the right way. A way we can all be proud of."
"Who here would even listen to us?" Eliza asked, stepping into the conversation for the first time. Her face was a study in seriousness and open contemplation.
"Ben would," Mal said with a certainty she felt in her bones. "He wants it all gone – wants to open and reunite Auradon."
Eliza blinked but revealed no other reaction to this new bit of information. "He told you this?"
"And already said the king will not allow the bands or barriers removed," Willa cut in. "Don't deny it, I was there."
Mal sent her a glare. "I wasn't going to deny it, only point out that the king was against all of it to begin with, but he still allowed Ben's plans with the high school, didn't he? That proves that there's a chance. If," she added, "we don't screw it up like we're trying to do now."
"There's no guarantee –"
"There's never a guarantee," Mal countered. "Nothing is for sure. It all comes down to trust."
Willa stared hard at Mal for a long moment. Her eyes flit to something behind Mal and she stared long and hard at that distance before meeting Mal's eyes again. "And do you trust him?"
Mal flushed but she didn't try to refute the statement this time. "I trust Ben." Her voice was soft but firm, without a trace of doubt or hesitation.
Willa's lips curled into something that made Mal's brows scrunch together in confusion, her shoulders tensing. "Let's put that certainty to the test," Willa murmured so quietly her voice didn't carry beyond their tight grouping. She raised her voice as she spoke again. "Is she right to put her trust in you, little prince? Are we all?"
Heart leaping in her chest, her stomach twisting with something akin to both joy and fear, Mal spun around to see Ben's set face as he stood some distance away, his eyes locked with Willa's. How long had he been standing there? She wondered.
"I don't know," Evie breathed, and Mal realized with a jolt that she'd spoken out loud. Evie's eyes were just as wide as Mal's but Mal was certain that her friend's hands weren't trembling as hard as hers were. She clenched her fingers into fists in an attempt to quell the shaking.
"You're right," Ben called back, his posture rigid, his shoulders pulled back, looking every inch the royal he was. But his gaze, when he looked at Willa was not of a future king gazing down at one of his subjects but rather as one leader appraises another. "My dad didn't want to open the barrier again – for anyone. And he's even more reluctant to get rid of the M-bands. He'd be furious if he heard what was happening right now. He might even see it as justification for his arguments on why the barrier should remain affixed forever, and the bands even more so. As his heir, I'm duty-bound to listen to his words."
The pressure surrounding the Others grew, each one tensed to fight and grappling with the idea that their futures were looking very bleak indeed.
"But," and here his eyes cut toward Mal's, and something in them made her heart flutter with that ridiculous thing called hope Addison was always spouting. "I am also my mother's son, and I choose to be a different ruler than my father. Instead of teaching responsibility and control we've been encouraging anger and resentment – teaching to fear what you are instead of celebrating the differences. It's time things changed. And we are changing it." He dropped his gaze, a small frown forming. "It's slow and frustrating, but I promise you things are changing."
Ben raised his head again and trailed a long, slow gaze over everyone present, assessing them where they stood, taking their measure. "I know it hasn't been easy, that I have a lot to learn and a long way to go, but I'm hoping you'll trust me – trust in me to help do right by you – by all of you. By everyone in Auradon." His mouth turned rueful. "I hope you'll help advise me along the way; there's a lot of people to look over and after."
Mal's heart swelled with something new and exciting and terrifying, almost blinding her in its rush as it swept through her veins. She felt a wobbly smile lift her lips, her eyes filling with unshed tears and she blinked them back before she could do something to ruin this moment like cry.
Deliberately planting one fist on her hip, she thrust her other out before her with what she hoped was a confident, saucy grin. "Our parents aren't going to know what hit them. I want to do better, you guys. I think I choose good." She locked eyes with Ben and something wordless was communicated between them that warmed her from the inside out. "I trust you."
Evie's fist joined her. "I choose good." Her smile was wide, her eyes dancing as she met Mal's. Something sparkled in their dark depths that felt distinctly like pride and Mal bumped her hip against her friend's in a rush of gratitude.
"Let's do this." Jay's fist joined theirs followed closely behind by Carlos who looked as nervous about going against his mother's mandates as he was eager to do otherwise.
With an excited wiggle Wynter sidled over but just as she was about to join she looked over at her shoulder at Willa and Wyatt with an imploring look. Glancing at her brother who grinned, Willa released a quiet huff of breath before joining her brother to stand beside Wynter in the circle.
"Well?" They all looked to see Eliza staring hard at Ben. "Are you in this or not?"
Taken aback by the inclusion, Ben's smile was slow in coming but smile he did as he strolled over to join the tightly packed group as Eliza did. Squeezing in beside Mal, Ben's arm brushed against hers and she leaned her head against his shoulder in some unsettling combination of elation, hope, and anxiety.
With Ben's solid, warm body on one side of her and her friends pressing in from the other, Mal let out a long, slow breath of relief as she looked around their odd circle. She felt calmer than she had in a long time; more certain of the path she was walking upon.
A warm smile lifted her lips. If only Addison could see them now; that girl would be over the moon with – Her head jerked up and she took a stumbling step back from the group with a gasp. All eyes turned to her, but her heart was thrumming too fast to notice their concern.
"Mal?" Ben asked. "What is it?"
"Addison!" She gasped, clutching at his sleeve, the starched white linen wrinkling beneath her fingers. "We have to stop her. She –"
A sound like the harsh crack of lightening rent the peaceful morning air followed by a thunderous rumbling.
Mal spun towards the sound, her features tightening as she caught sight of a trail of smoke pluming in the air further into town, startled birds scattering in all directions by the noise. She felt the blood draining from her face, heart screaming at what it already knew.
"Mal?" Ben's arms were around her, gripping her tight as if afraid she might faint. "What is it?"
"Ben," Mal's voice was tremulous. "What's in that direction?"
Ben glanced at the smoke, the sounds of shouting voices and the beginning of sirens. His brows furrowed. "The Rehabil –"
"Addie!" Mal yelled, heart in her throat, taking off before Ben could finish his sentence, before he could unleash his unknowing portent of doom. The startled yelps of her friends sounded behind her, each calling her name before they followed swiftly behind.
Mal's feet churned beneath her, running faster than she was sure she ever had in her life. Each pound of her booted heels seemed to thunder in her ears an unrelenting mantra of no, no, no, no!
The closer she got to the scene of the explosive noise and the haze of smoke, the more Mal had to dodge around other people. Some were rushing in the opposite direction, some were dashing about with no idea where to go, others were standing still in shock, but all were buzzing about an explosion. An explosion at the Center.
Addie! Mal's heart screamed, hoping against hope, though a sick, twisted feeling in her stomach told her that no matter how fast she ran she was already too late.
Skidding to a stop on the graveled pavement she shoved her way through a line of onlookers to the edge of what must have been ground zero. Not that Mal could tell from any visible sign at first besides a wall of people. It wasn't until she tripped over a chunk of charred rubble, Ben catching at her arm to prevent her from stumbling to the ground did she realize they had arrived.
Without warning she felt Ben's hand tighten around her upper arm in a grip that was almost painful. She winced, turning toward him to ask him to let go when she caught sight of the hideous shock on his face. With growing trepidation she slowly turned to face what would surely be the Center on fire or missing a wall and some windows.
What she saw instead was infinitely, excruciatingly worse.
What she saw she couldn't believe – didn't want to believe.
But no matter how much she tried to blink the image away she knew she'd never un-see it.
The Rehabilitation Center…was gone.