Ben paced the length of the waiting room. It was too quiet. Nurses spoke to each other in hushed whispers, sneaking nervous glances at the infamous villain kids and the king-to-be.
The hospital was different than the rest of Auradon. The calm yellows that Ben grew up with were replaced by a cold, sterile white that scared Ben more than he would like to admit. And so he paced, back and forth, waiting for news he didn't even know if he wanted to hear.
The others opted to sit in the hard, plastic chairs that lined the walls, and, for the first time since their arrival in Auradon, their bored contempt was replaced with a frozen, unadulterated fear. Evie stared into empty space - unless there was something she could see that Ben couldn't - her knuckles white as she gripped Mal's hand in her right hand and Jay's in her left. Tears tracked down her cheeks, her makeup uncharacteristically smudged. Mal and Jay were sending worried glares over her head, engaged in another one of their silent conversations. They all sat, rigid, clearly shaken in a way they had never been before.
Ben couldn't make sense of it in his head. These were some of the scariest kids on the Isle (as far as he could tell, anyway. As much as he hated to admit it - he knew that they really were good kids, deep, deep down - he couldn't imagine much worst than them). Shouldn't they know how to take of themselves?
A nurse rushed in and up to Ben. She had a stonily neutral face, and the seconds before she started speaking were definitely the scariest he'd ever experienced.
"Everything went smoothly." She said, giving a small smile to Ben. It froze on her face when she considered the others sitting there. "He'll make a full recovery."
There was a collective sigh of relief in the waiting room. Knowing that Carlos was okay seemed to jumpstart the kids back to their normal selves, because Mal hopped up with a clap of her hands and demanded in her most passive aggressive, "I'm threatening you but when I use this tone you're stupid enough not to notice" voice to be escorted to his room. At least she asked nicely, even if the 'please and thank you' was probably sarcastic. Hey, Ben would take any kind of improvement.
The nurse scowled, but led them down a corridor and pointed them into a room.
The good mood was squandered when they saw the still-loopy-from-blood-loss Carlos was handcuffed to the bed.
Mal's glare went murderous and Ben couldn't even count on Evie and Jay to hold her back -they were just as mad - as the nurse explained. Poorly.
"He's dangerous." She declared, as if she knew anything at all. "He's a criminal."
"He's a guest." Ben insisted, feeling his own blood boil a bit. "And he's-"
"And he's not nearly as dangerous as me." Mal interrupted in a low growl, her eyes blazing green. The nurse stepped back, her eyes wide. Ben winced. Not the best way to handle the situation.
Ben laid a hand on her shoulder to calm her down, not realizing what a potentially suicidal move it was until Mal turned on him. He held his ground, reminding himself that Mal was just scared and lashing out. Like a caged animal. Wow. That analogy sounded worse than he meant it to.
Looking past Mal, he noted with more than a little irritation that the nurse made a successful escape. Ben was on his own.
That seemed to be the case a lot, lately.
"Look, this sucks. I know. People don't understand. Some people aren't willing to. But we don't have time to worry about right now, right Mal?"
And just like that, the fire was gone from her eyes. She turned on her heel to where Carlos was peering up at her, and the straps that tied his arms to the sides of the bed came apart untouched.
Magic was terrifying sometimes. And Mal used it so sparingly.
Carlos tried to sit up unsuccessfully, his fall broken by Jay, who always seemed to be there to catch him. "What happened while I was out?" He asked conversationally before swooning a bit. Everyone rushed forward at once. "Woah. Head-rush. That's never happened before."
Ben liked to think of himself as a cool guy. He rolled with quite a lot of punches. His father shedding on the couch, taking the responsibilities of king on his shoulders at just 16, helping a bunch of maladjusted kids realize how good they are, dealing with Chad on a daily basis. But he couldn't take how nonchalant Carlos was in this moment. He couldn't stand the idea of there ever being a 'before'.
"What are you talking about?" His voice wasn't quite a shout, but all the kids spun around defensively in response. He cursed himself for feeling guilty. "Carlos, this is serious! You could have died!"
Evie, Mal, and Jay cringed. Carlos just looks at him, his face blankly confused. "Well, yeah. Didn't I?"
Carlos doesn't remember the first time he died, but he's sure that it happened. He can feel it in his gut. He must have been a couple months old. He likes to think he made it that far before his mother forgot to feed him, or stepped on him, or drowned him during a psychotic break. It was optimistic, really.
Carlos does remember all the times he died when he was a kid, though. His childhood was mostly working around the Manor. He remembers brushing down ratty fur coats, scrubbing the floors and windows and dishes until his fingers bled and he had to clean up the streaks of red that he left behind. He remembers taking care of his mother, cleaning up the blood and vomit from the bathroom when she killed herself in fits of madness. When she scratched her skin until it ripped and then she moved on to his (he'll never forget Mothers' Day again).
He remembers a thousand deaths, the closet that was his whole world fading out as his stomach ate itself. As he passed away quietly in the gaping jowls of Hell Hall. He remembers waking up the next day -his stomach painfully, but not mortally, empty- and getting back to his chores.
The walls were painted red with the blood of the de Vil's.
Jay was five years old when it first happened. Jafar trained him to be the greatest thief the world had ever seen, and he had been practicing since before he could speak. It didn't always work out for Jay when his little fingers were too clumsy to hold tight and his tiny legs weren't strong enough to carry him very far or very fast.
It was always blood loss. A chopped off hand, a slit neck. It was never permanent, of course, but it still hurt like hell, and when he was choking on his own blood it always took so long to die.
If there was ever any motivation to get good at what he did.
So Jay grew up, got more careful, stealthier, stronger. If he ever got caught -and he never did - he would be the one to walk away from the altercation.
Jay hated dying, and he was prepared to do anything to keep it from happening to him again. And, when he finally grouped up with the others – his… friends – he made sure he did everything in his power so that nothing would happen to them, either.
Mal had only died twice before she learned better. Being the daughter of the most powerful, most evil, villain on the Isle, and working hard to inherit the same reputation, put a bounty on her head. When she was older, she was intimidating enough that only the truly stupid, like Uma and her packrats, messed with her and her crew, but as a twelve-year-old she was cocky and careless, and a lucky shot from Ronnie Ratcliffe had her on the ground and out for the count. Ronnie got what was coming for him, Jay made sure of it. It was slow. Very slow. And very painful.
Mal had been miffed at the dent in her reputation. Ratty Ronnie, of all people! The kid was a weakling with nothing to his name but a big gun - which was definitely overcompensating for something. Her mother though, had been furious.
Her second, and final death, had been much slower. Much more intentional. She still shudders at the memory of her mother's gaze. Her stern posture and condescending words. The bloody switch in her hands - she couldn't use magic on the Isle, but that didn't hamper her... creativity.
Mal didn't let herself get killed again, after that. She didn't let herself disappoint her mother ever again. Not now that she understood the consequences.
"After we all got close, we protected each other." Evie whispered to Ben, not meeting his eyes. She had taken him out to the hall after a silent conversation between the four, closing the door behind her. "Of course, there were some things we couldn't stop - illnesses and such - but we kept each other as safe as we could. Even if it meant tearing everyone else apart."
Ben was speechless. There was a beat of silence in the hallway, before Evie, not one to let the moment linger, turned on her impossibly tall heels and headed back into the room, leaving Ben alone with his horrified thoughts.
When Ben had met up with the kids - he refused to call them VKs, even if that's what they called themselves - earlier that day, Carlos had been bleeding out from a rather nasty wound to his arm. Ben had thought it so strange that the kids were so relaxed, with their friend - one of their own, laying passed out in a pool of his own blood. Or, he had thought that until his brain had kicked into overdrive with calling an ambulance.
No wonder the kids had looked to shaken up. How were they to know that mortal wounds really were life or death in Auradon?
How was he to know that death wasn’t nearly as permanent in the Isle of the Lost?
He barely made it to the bathroom before throwing up.
A twelve-year-old Evie watched from her tower window as a sudden surge of people crowded around the Son of the Governor and the fallen body of the Daughter of Maleficent. She turned to her mother, who was preoccupied at her mirror.
"Mother, they killed her! They killed the daughter of Maleficent!"
But the Evil Queen didn't even look up.
"You needn't worry about such trivial things, fairest. I will ensure such a thing never happens to you."
Evie wanted to believe her mother, but the daughter of Maleficent had been the most powerful of all of them. If she couldn't keep herself safe, how could Evie expect to survive?
Little did Evie know that she would someday grow to be the only person to ever live on the Isle without paying for it in blood. Her mother would stay true to her word, make deals with villains to keep her daughter safe, and once Evie got old enough, she would have her own powerful alliances to protect her. And, one day, she would be the only person in history to leave the Isle in the same, beautiful body she was born in.
But in that moment, she could only trust her mother, who finally turned away from her mirror with a sardonic smirk to look at her daughter in the eyes. "After all," she said "Red isn't your color."