Family Maintenance

Author's Note

I swear I was going to update, but this weekend is truly my first weekend where I don't have to deal with the prissy customers and the stress of assignments being due at 11:59pm on the daily. ? Anyways, here is chapter 20, where our two favourite idiots finally decide to talk about it. Enjoy! After this, we have a final chapter (I think) and then the fluffy epilogues everyone deserves! Let's get into it.

Leave the comments and kudos! Love seeing them!


Ben was like a hummingbird hovering at the bird feeder with the way he followed Mal and Este around their apartment after Este was discharged.

The little girl was on the mend and feeling much better. She was tired of being stuck in bed, which Ben insisted she stay in until she was completely better, but more or less, she was doing just fine, keeping occupied with colouring books and FaceTimes with everyone else.

Mal had reluctantly allowed Ben to come over whenever he could, just to help out, whether it be washing the dishes while she was in class or watching Este when she needed to run out for groceries or return a textbook.

He was glad he was being helpful, but even more glad that they were spending time together, with her not running from his very glance at every moment.

Eventually, his things, a jacket here and maybe a tie there, began to make their way into a small space Mal cleared out for him in her closet. The last week, she had returned with a dark grey blanket and two extra pillows, and she had wordlessly spread them out on the couch.

He got the hint and started sleeping over for a few days.

He wanted to stay with them as long as possible to make sure they were doing fine and Adam had offered to take over his duties for a little bit until Este was doing better.

It was so nice, to say the least.

He learned a lot of interesting things about the two while technically living with them for a few weeks.

Este wasn't good at picking up her toys and Mal only had the time to clean at night, which usually led to her and Mal falling asleep while cleaning them up. So Ben had resorted to teaching Este how to organize her toys by color.

"This is purple."

"Like my hair!" she squealed, jumping up and down in excitement.

"Yes, like your hair," Ben tugged gently on one of her pigtails. "And purple things go in this box."

Este grinned. "That means mama goes in that box!"

"I don't think I'd fit in there, baby girl." Mal said absentmindedly as she flicked through her textbook. She was curled up on the couch, studying for a test, and she shrieked in surprise when she was lifted into the air by a pair of muscled arms.

"Ben! Put me down!"

Este was giggling wildly, pointing and falling to the floor. "Benjamin!" Mal exclaimed as he set her down in the box, her legs awkwardly hanging out of the square. Ben grinned at his handiwork, pushing her hair out of her face and stepping back.

"Oh, look, you do fit!"

"You absolute fu-"

"Fu!"

"Este!"

"Hey, you said it!"

It also turned out that Mal was a horrible cook. She could barely toast bread, and the day after the kitchen disaster, she was absolutely delighted when Ben presented to her some spaghetti one night.

"You made this?" she asked, her head tilted. Este was down for an afternoon nap, the medicine making her sleepy. She was rolled into a ball in Mal's arms, her thumb trapped in her mouth, and Ben sat down next to her, offering her the plate.

"Yeah," Ben said with a small smile. "My mom taught me what she knew, and Mrs. Potts filled in the other gaps. Try it?"

Mal's eyes widened when she finished swallowing. "This is… Amazing, actually. I'm terrible at cooking."

"Yes, I noticed," Ben deadpanned. "The fire in the kitchen yesterday clued me in."

"It wasn't fire."

"No, Mal, when you have to get an extinguisher, that's how you know there was a fire."

Mal laughed softly, her eyes glimmering when she met his gaze. "Food was scarce on the Isle. I never-" She paused slowly, her eyes flitting towards the floor and Ben's hand squeezed her knee unconsciously.

"It's alright," he said, not noticing how her glance lingered on where his fingers brushed against her as he continued talking. "I'll cook for you.. You guys. I'll cook for you guys as much as you want."

"Really?"

"Yeah. I like cooking, it's kind of calming for me. I don't get to do it often now that I'm… You know, king and all."

Mal huffed out a tiny puff of air and Ben was about to explain further, he knew he worded those words wrong, but Este started to stir.

And that was kind of how the whole thing was going. Little things here and there that he found out about the two of them, and little things here and there that she found out about him, which included how he had terrible time management (He had been late to almost half of his council meetings the past few weeks because he'd been playing with Este).

However, being with Mal constantly meant all he could think about was the kiss Mal gave him. It consumed all his thoughts. He wanted to talk to her, about the kiss, about everything he wanted with her, but every time he tried, Este was interrupting or she was busy doing other things or he was busy doing other things.

Which is why he decided to bring Belle and Adam by, especially since Este had been begging to see them both. The being able to be alone with Mal for once was an added bonus.

Mal had dressed up, nothing too fancy. She just changed out of her usual sweats and sports bras that a king really shouldn't be looking at too much (he absolutely looked at them too much) into a simple lavender romper.

She had even ventured far enough to curl her hair with the curling iron that Evie had smuggled into the bathroom for just-in-case. She looked beautiful and he told her so, and the blush on her face made him just a little bit smug.

"Mal! Oh, how we've missed seeing you and Este around," Belle exclaimed as soon as the door opened. She was carrying three filled-to-the-brim bags, with Adam having another armful of them. "We bought some stuff!"

"Did you buy the whole store?" Mal quipped, her eyebrows raised as they flooded the counter with their goods.

"Not the whole store." Belle insisted.

"No, I'm fairly certain we did." Adam muttered and Belle whacked his shoulder. "We didn't, promise. There's still some stuff in the aisles for other people." Belle waved a hand in the air and she hugged Mal, her rosey perfume flooding Mal's senses.

Ben's lips turned up as he began to unload some of the groceries and then Este came barging in from the bedroom.

"Belle!"

"Oh, Este, darling!" Belle gushed as Este rammed into her legs, bending down to hug the girl. "How are you feeling? Ben told me you weren't feeling well before."

"Good," Este had turned to inspect some of the colorful toys she saw buried in the bags on the floor. "The doc'or gave me an'botics."

Belle smiled. "Well, that's good! It's pronounced antibiotics, sweetie."

"No, the doc'or called them an'botics."

"An-ti-bi-otics." Belle spelled out and Este shook her head, jutting her lower lip out.

"You should give up, mom. She's just as stubborn as her mother." Ben flicked Mal's shoulder, who yelped and swatted him away.

"I am not stubborn."

"Right."

Mal pouted, making the almost exact same face that Este had done, and Ben laughed, causing Este to squeal in delight and flop into Belle's arms. "I stand by my point." he said and she threw an orange at him.

He caught it.

Because of course he did.

As Mal and Ben unloaded everything else Belle and Adam brought, Este chatted the two's ears off about everything. It had been a few weeks since her diagnosis, and she was no longer sick, and Ben had upgraded her to letting her roam around the apartment.

"You're being overdramatic."

"Am not."

"She's fine, Ben."

"Her immune system could be sensitive!"

"To the apartment she's lived in for almost two months?"

Ben huffed, knowing he'd lost the argument and Mal grinned smugly, popping a grape into her mouth. She was perched on the counter, swinging her legs back and forth, while Este watched a film in the background.

"I've lost too many arguments with you."

"That means you shouldn't argue with me!" she said cheerfully and he sighed again.

"Fine."

"Good! I can bring her out to see Ev-"

"No! No going outside just yet. She can stay inside, in the apartment."

"Ben!"

Lots of little arguments like that. One about apple juice versus orange juice. One where she prodded at him for only ever wearing blue and gold and he had retaliated by saying she only wore purple he remembered distinctly, but only because she had harrumphed and practically stomped away and he had wanted to run after her and pin her to the wall and prove his point.

It made things interesting.

Exciting.

The air was heavy with tension, but a light tension. It didn't feel like they were treading a tightrope anymore.

Ben was brought back to the present when Belle dumped a few discs onto the coffee table. "Alright, little princess, I bought DVD's!" she announced.

"Little princess?" Mal murmured to herself and Adam chuckled.

"That's what everyone's been calling her," he explained. "Castle staff, some royals and dignitaries, most of the media. She's Auradon's little princess."

Mal still looked confused.

"'S 'cause daddy's the king." Este explained as she rolled off of the couch and onto the floor.

Oh, and Este was still calling Ben daddy.

It made Mal turn extremely red and she usually went into the bedroom and locked the door to avoid Ben, so the two were left to their own devices, which was usually giggling over Mal being locked in said room.

Meanwhile, it made Ben feel tingly inside and he'd always pick the little girl up and shower her cheeks with loud kisses.

Este was still talking. "And Belle said that the daught'ah of a king is called a wittle prin'ess!" she finished and her attention immediately turned away as Adam popped the DVD into the player.

"Well, that, but in more technical terms, Ben takes care of both of you. Never seen him like this. He's much happier, Mal, and I suppose that's thanks to you and Es." Adam squeezed Mal's shoulder before turning back to Este.

Mal was lost in her thoughts, watching as Belle and Adam interacted with Este, and sensing how proud Ben was that they were all getting along. He was sitting on the floor, while Belle and Adam sat with Este propped between them in the coach.

Like the perfect family.

Because they were the perfect family.

Well, maybe not so perfect.

They were missing one thing.

"Ben, can we talk?"

Ben twisted his head towards her in confusion. "What?"

"Can we talk?" Mal repeated softly and Ben's heart started thumping.

"Of course," Ben racked his brains for somewhere private they could go. "Want to go for a walk on that trail you've been mentioning?"

Mal chewed her bottom lip, trying to stop the gears in her brain from overthinking this. She wanted to do this.

Needed to do this.

"Yeah, there shouldn't be anyone at this time of the day."

"Okay. Am I in trouble?"

"No," Mal sized him up, a small smile coming to her face when his brown eyes crinkled at the corners in amusement. "More like I'm in trouble." she murmured and he hummed.

"What did you say?"

"Nothing, let's go."

"But you said something!"

"I did," Mal grinned as she threw on a light sweater. "I said let's go."

Ben groaned and mumbled something under his breath as he followed suit. The Auradon weather was still sunny, but crisp. The winds were cooler, signaling the start of fall.

Belle and Adam exchanged knowing smiles as Mal and Ben left, the two of them hugging and kissing Este's cheeks before they went. They could still hear the two bickering as they left the hallway and Belle leaned into Adam's side as she smiled.

Hopefully this little talk would sort their feelings out.

After all, feelings weren't that hard when they're genuine.