There was something about the princess that wasn't completely foreign to Maleficent. It was the dazzling, mind-boggling ability to embrace anything and everything. This readiness was shocking and the fairy's pale skin seemed to spark at every open touch, but nothing about Aurora could have been in any way repulsive. She was so innately wonderful, 'wonderful' being uncomfortably existent in Maleficent's horned head.
Maleficent watched Diaval and Aurora roll about in a mire. They were sinking into the mud and resurfacing just as their bodies were nearly completely submerged. Diaval had, apparently, abandoned his snotty ways and now somewhat secretly enjoyed the uncouth ways of the mutt. Maleficent remained a spectator, regal and elegant in posture with just a hint of playfulness to her quirked red mouth. The water fairies danced about her and a few tugged at her cloak. They invited her to move with them to the comfortable, rhythmic drumming of the moors. She let them spin about her and rest upon her shoulders, but did not budge, her eyes trained only on the princess' feet sticking out from the mud.
It had been three hours since their lunch (thank goodness the three guardian fairies had been reacquainted with cooking with magic; their human cooking had always been inedible) and Maleficent felt sufficiently prepared. Of course, she worried some more, because Maleficent was anything but clumsy and imperfect with her works. She considered the coming feat to be an important work of her life. A theatrical introduction was most likely necessary. Theatrics, however, never seemed to coincide with Maleficent's relationship with the princess and she thought better of them quickly.
“Will you not race us to the end of the river?” Aurora emerged from the mud with a challenge, “the winner takes the crown!”
Maleficent's dark brows moved upwards slowly, hoping that the irony would set in soon. She was met with nothing but a bright smile and a muddy princess waving a flower crown at her. Diaval shook himself off just at her feet.
“We can do that later. Clean yourself off and come with me; I'd like to show you something.”
Maleficent rose from her spot beneath the trees and let the black cloak fall from her shoulders. The sprites and moor creatures moved from her path and she couldn't think to revel in their wariness any longer. She could feel Aurora following behind her, though, the princess pushing off dirt as she came.
“What is it?” the child's excitement was overwhelming again, “what do you have to show me?”
Maleficent watched the blonde girl dive into a lake and push herself from it clean and wet to meet her opposite. The fairy caught Aurora's arms to steady the eager child. Her hands then moved to Aurora's side and knelt to wring the water from the blue dress that shone under the returning afternoon sun. When she was done, she stood again and removed the last speck of mud from a fair face.
“We're going flying.”
“Flying?” Aurora gasped, “are you feeling well enough to fly again?”
“I should think so. I don't feel the ache or the scars disturbing me any longer,” Maleficent said cautiously, turning away and heading for where the denser forests began in their land.
“Is that why you were missing on some nights when I came to look for you? Did you go flying? How was it?” the princess asked quietly, growing more enthusiastic by the second.
Maleficent thought about the nights she had spent by the riverbank and the nights she had actually gotten it into herself to go flying again. She thought about flying properly in her mind again, how it was like shaking an old friend's hand, how it was like an apology to herself, to her wings which had once and now were an important part of herself and she nodded in Aurora's direction.
“Why are we going flying, Maleficent?” Aurora skipped by Maleficent's side, hopping over rocks and leaping over the stone wall to reach the woods that seemed to remain dark whatever the weather, “I have nothing to fly with.”
Maleficent nearly tumbled over from delirium at Aurora asking the question she had thought the girl would ask. She had prepared her answer as she had prepared for every moment of her life. She cleared her throat.
“I thought about this for a bit. Little humans think about flying, don't they?” Maleficent mused, her hands coming up for gestures, “they think about things they cannot have, things they wish they had. If I were human I would think about flying. That sort of envy I do understand. Flying is a wonderful thing. You can go where no one else will be and you can be alone with your mind.”
“The sky seems to be inherently yours. I don't see why you'd like my thoughts with yours.”
Maleficent chuckled to herself and instinctively took the princess at the waist to help her through a thicket of thorned bushes.
“Sometimes I hate to be with my own thoughts, princess. Sometimes I don't like my own thoughts. They've become so dark and discoloured in nature that I don't want to have them with me. And sometimes I am subject to their presence when I fly. I will take you with me.”
Aurora's fingers pushed through the gaps of Maleficent's and she looked up at the high cheekbones, bloodless face and olive eyes that looked just right in Maleficent's face. At sixteen, Aurora was growing rapidly and always stood taller, disliking the way the fairy sometimes shook her head at her, as if she were still a child.
“I don't suppose I could find my own wings? I must be pretty heavy. Have you done this before?” Aurora rambled to herself, “I don't wish to be a burden.”
All the while, Maleficent's magic stirred within her, thumping and throbbing and pulsing from her body. Maleficent now understood that the eagerness swelling within her was mirrored in the girl beside her. Her grip on Aurora's dainty hand tightened; she leaned in to kiss Aurora on the temple, letting her mouth linger there for the first time after the one that woke the girl.
“You would never be a burden,” Maleficent smiled rather kindly, having practised this in a mirror and multiple times with her silverware, “and you could say that I have done this before.”
That was a bit of an untruth. Maleficent had taken a few unfortunate victims with her on her flights, the first being a water fairy and the second Merryweather, who was the worst flight partner imaginable, since she had never been at such altitudes. Maleficent could only hope that Aurora was not to be utterly violent in expressing her feelings. Deep in such thoughts, she did not look to see Aurora's face fall a fraction from the blinding brightness it had been before.
“You are the first human to fly with me,” Maleficent smiled again and her cheeks lifted with the genuinity of her slowly realised joy, “and I will ensure your safety. Flying is good. Most humans cannot fly.”
“The most foolish of your kind have tried to steal and capture dragons in their caves to harness the power of a flying beast. They've gotten their flights, these men, and I hope the short-lived flights, or what I call a dragon's thrashing, were worth their lives.”
Aurora shuddered to think of death, the black word. She also bit her lip at Maleficent's hatred for humanity.
“They could've been nice men trying to make friends,” she looked up, grinning again.
“I'm sure they must have been that,” the fairy replied patronisingly and they pushed past the last branches to reach the familiar clearing; Aurora could see the deserted cottage from here.
Stepping in front of her princess, Maleficent held out a hand. Aurora took that hand tentatively and matched her steps with Maleficent, who moved backwards surely. With her free hand, Maleficent removed Aurora's golden crown, tossing it upwards and catching it again in the form of a necklace, which would be put around Aurora's neck.
Aurora said nothing at all and moved willingly into Maleficent's arms when beckoned to do so. Their beating hearts met and the beats of different hearts thumped to an orchestra's violin section. Everything, it looked like, had been building up to this moment, everyone else having been calefare on the grand stage of their story. The protagonists had come to their moment and there were no lines in the script, nothing that had to be said or done.
“Hold me tightly.”
Aurora failed to say that she would have held Maleficent tightly regardless of the occasion and dug her fingers into Maleficent's dress after having wound her arms around a thin waist. She shut her eyes and first felt the tempo of their song heighten with the strength of harmoniously beating wings. The wind whipped around her and she breathed in the ticks and trembles in the whirlwind encircling their embrace. Aurora could taste the anxiety in the air. Maleficent smelled of the wood and the air and the earth and Aurora could taste the anxiety tainting these features. Reaching upwards bravely, Aurora put her palm to Maleficent's cheek and her thumb caressed the outline of the fairy's sharply beautiful face. Aurora's face remained buried in Maleficent's shoulder and her eyes shot open as arms came around her and they shot into an ochre sky and a setting sun.
They had set off with Aurora's small shriek and Maleficent's cry of victory; she had felt that victory in her back and in every stroke of her feathered extensions, the same stability experienced with every flight in her youth. She looked down to see that Aurora's eyes were still shut tightly and that the girl had bit into her shoulder to muffle any sounds.
“Open your eyes, Aurora. The sky is wonderful this evening.”
The sky was beautiful that evening. The clouds had gathered for a feast and they were now, as a pair, pushing past billowing cotton and wisps of moisture. The hues of the sky were running into each other, colliding and softly blending themselves into an even crimson. The yolk of the sun dipped into another land and Aurora woke to the comfort of a sunset. Maleficent now lay on her back, her wings beating with her breath's rising and falling; everything around was only Maleficent at her best, amplified.
Aurora loved it with every fibre of her being.
Maleficent only hummed in agreement as Aurora began to unwrap herself from her. Aurora's palms were pushing hard into her abdomen as the girl moved to sit upright to watch the world of nothing and everything go by her at a wonderful, wonderful pace. Aurora watched seamless beauty and Maleficent only looked at her princess.
“I wanted so badly to show you this. You will not believe how many times I debated with myself over bringing you.”
“I am glad you decided to bring me here. And I am glad that you thought about it before deciding to. It's everything I thought it would be. Perhaps you'll say that my dream of flying was a petty human one, but it was nice that it was realised all the same. Thank you. It's a fantastical, whimsical gift.”
“A gift,” Aurora responded softly, “and I'm going to have it with me to think about when I want to.”
“Well,” frowned Maleficent, who was not accustomed to giving good gifts, “that's good, then.”
“You mean, 'you're welcome',” Aurora laughed to herself.
“Welcome to what?” Maleficent frowned further, the crease in her brow deepening into a confused expression which Aurora decided she would keep too for an eternity.
Aurora laughed again, “it's just something you say when someone says 'thank you'. Flora had me read many ettiquette books. My aunties weren't very good at ettiquette, but they tried to give me classes every Saturday. Those mostly ended up in arguments over how knives and forks should be used and I never knew why I needed them. I know the reason now, of course.”
Maleficent moved them upright, hovering now, and caught Aurora in her arms to kiss her forehead, “we don't care for 'etiquette' here. We do what we want. I'll say 'you're welcome' if it so pleases you. I've never had a 'thank you' and I certainly haven't been very welcome anywhere, but we'll do what the queen of the moors likes.”
“I'm not queen,” Aurora said flatly, “I don't want to be queen. I want to be a princess. Your princess.”
Maleficent watched the evening darken behind her and far away, looking to the stars and the moon coming out to greet them. She let out a cool breath against Aurora's forehead and began their descent. Maleficent was careful to remain upright and not to rocket downwards as she was used to on her wild trips and quick flights.
“Wait,” Aurora whispered against her fairy's jaw, “take us back up for a minute, please.”
Aurora had asked. Maleficent was not one to decline. She had, however, prepared a snide remark for the princess's bluntness after the explanation on human etiquette. She bit her tongue and kicked them upwards again, into a dense network of grey clouds. Maleficent couldn't tell if she had been ready for the conversation, but she was certain that she had expected it.
Aurora's eyes were blue, mild and sometimes piercing. They were piercing now, and rivalled the strength in Maleficent's. Maleficent longed to have them, to look into them for a long time.
“Maleficent, we're putting off my marriage, aren't we? We've been avoiding the subject. I know that princesses are supposed to marry to be queen. The people of my father's land have spoken so much about Phillip and I marrying. He did wake me from my sleep with True Love's kiss.”
“Right,” Maleficent said stiffly, “do you want to marry him quickly?”
“Do I want to?”
“Right, do you want to,” Maleficent repeated, words uneven, “you must know, little beastie, that you are entitled to choices now. You are sixteen and, I've heard, sixteen-year olds have minds of their own and do things as they must.”
Aurora leaned backwards as Maleficent swooped about. Her great movements were gentle and gradual and Aurora's tongue ran up and down the roof of her mouth as it always did when she thought about things she considered important (like what flowers made the house look just right and what dinner should be).
“I don't suppose we could marry?”
The pair dropped ten feet almost instantly. Aurora's shrill voice stained the clouds along with Maleficent's great shock.
“Well, aren't you the most precocious, presumptuous princess;” Maleficent exhaled, “your lineage has had no such custom of two women marrying. There will be no such marriage. It would be taboo.”
Aurora almost raised a brow at her fairy, “must I remind you that you like taboo? You like things that go against things. It's not about the evil in this world. You just aren't meant to fit.”
Aurora had said this in the most guileless, charming way possible. It was likely that her heart had not meant to insult Maleficent, who did not, in any way, feel insulted. Maleficent only feared for herself and worried about the monster little harmless beastie would grow to become. Aurora had already grown into an attractive, lovely young lady; what else could all the magic of the earth wish to test her patience with?
“I don't like bindings of convenience,” Maleficent said sharply, the marriage of Stephen to his queen bitter on her lips.
“I don't either, which is why I will not marry Phillip. True Love's kiss was wrong.”
Maleficent nearly stuck them into the ground with several broken bones to show for it at Aurora's bold words. She had never heard the princess speak with such sureness. She almost laughed to herself again.
“Wrong, was it? Not so, I think. I must tell you something.”
“Tell me, then, tell me what you must.”
The princess began outlining the sinew on her fairy's back. Inevitably, her fingertips laced the softness in the sprouting of two majestic, powerful wings. Aurora loved Maleficent's wings so, and she occupied herself with them as Maleficent stalled for time.
Maleficent took a breath and then spoke clearly, “Phillip didn't wake you, child. I did.”
Aurora's stillness was unsettling. Maleficent moved her mouth to Aurora's temple again to placate the girl who must, she thought, have become angry. Maleficent wondered if the wish of happiness extended to anger. She hoped it did and imagined that Aurora's anger would have been far more impressive than hers, though hers was often punctuated with echoing evil laughter and green smoke.
“I was not awake for our first kiss?” Aurora pushed herself upwards to face startled Maleficent, looking slightly disgruntled as only a sixteen-year old princess could have.
“Well, I did curse you to a sleep like death;” the fairy smiled at the irritation in Aurora's pretty face, “but I kissed you on the head, Aurora. It was nothing passionate and certainly nothing to be remembered.”
“I still dislike not remembering it,” Aurora sighed, over her fit of quick annoyance already, “but I'm glad you informed me. I would have been upset, if I could even be upset, if you had decided to keep it from me for my entire existence.”
They lay in the thickness of clouds and the dim lighting with the rhythmic beating of wings lulling a tired princess to sleep. Maleficent basked in the fascination with Aurora's body fitting well with hers. Aurora turned, eyelids heavy, and tucked her nose into Maleficent's. She placed a shy kiss on the fairy's lips, adamantly pressing their lips more firmly together when she received no response.
Maleficent pushed back with the calmest of what she could conjure as a response.
“Well, there's that;” Aurora smiled and put her head into Maleficent's shoulder once more, “we'll marry tomorrow. The opposing forces will face your wrath.”
“And have no heir.”
“I am positive that you are hiding a stowaway ruffian that can magic up a baby, Maleficent.”
Maleficent smiled into blonde tresses, “just a spell-book or two.”
They were left with an unassuming silence for the next five minutes. Everything expected nothing of them here in the sky and the winds were loud and masked the voices and the people down below. Maleficent felt the darkness of her entity fall away into night.
“Will you ask me?” Aurora asked, “will you please ask me?”
Aurora could hear Maleficent's breaths turn shallow at her ear. The feared witch of the moors was listening. She wanted to fall apart. She wanted to say no. She wanted so desperately to let Aurora help her find flight again.
“I do not ask;” Maleficent whispered into the air, “I command you to join me in marriage. Together we will throw princes climbing our towers to an endless graveyard of thorns.”
“That's not very nice.”
“I am not a very nice fairy.”
“It's a bit of baggage, but I come with it, making all of that hugely worth it.”
“I know that too,” Aurora twisted herself from Maleficent as their feet touched grass again, “and I think I'm good with that. I do housework and everything, you know.”
Mouths met once more and Maleficent silenced her princess with a single 'I know'.