Mal would never have wanted to hurt Ben. She cared about him still, in the way you would care about your best friend. But she needed him. She needed him when she stole flirtatious glances with Audrey; she needed him when Audrey's hand slid its way into Mal's lap at a movie; she needed him so that no one would know what went down when Mal and Audrey drove to the Enchanted Lake so Audrey could give Mal swim lessons.
"Dykes," Chad said under his breath at a couple of girls riding by on a motor cycle, one's arms wrapped around the other, on one of the group's off campus adventures. Mal felt a knot build up in her throat.
"Come on, Chad, they're just two girls, riding a motorbike, that may like each other. It's no big deal," Ben said, taking a few more fries and putting them in his mouth to eat. Ben was so good about these things, so kind and accepting. That made Mal's activities hurt all the more. The rest of the group stayed notably, awkwardly silent, though Lonnie shot a harsh look Chad's way.
Chad rolled his eyes. "Sure, whatever." It was clear he dismissed what Ben had said, but the two being good friends, Chad didn't argue. Mal took a big drink of her strawberry milkshake to clear the tension in her throat.
"So, how goes R.O.A.R.?" She asked, changing the topic of conversation.
Lonnie smiled instantly. "Great! I think Chad might even be starting to develop some abs," She teased, causing everyone to break out into laughter, even Mal, who moments ago had been so tense. "I think we have a really great chance this season."
Mal relaxed against Ben. She felt guilty, immensely guilty. This wasn't the reason you dated someone, but Mal felt she had no other choice. She didn't want to lose the friends she had worked so hard go gain, the acceptance she never even had a shot of back home unless she wanted to spend her life terrorizing others and fighting on the streets. Mal knew she would break up with Ben eventually, they would go their separate ways, and perhaps then she could be more open. For now, though, Mal thought only of her safety and security, and to her, a relationship with Ben was necessary to maintain that.
A princess, in Auradon tradition, married a prince. Audrey had dated Ben, then Chad, hoping to find that special prince she could present to her parents, that would gain their approval and marry her and then Audrey live a happily ever after. Instead, she found her heart buried in the daughter of the fairy who had cursed her mother (originally) to death. Audrey doubted her parents would be so thrilled. Sure, they had come a long way in accepting Mal as a friend of Audrey's. But as a girlfriend? Audrey was certain she could already forget about it.
As the group laughed over fries and shakes and she occasionally met Mal's sparkling green eyes, Audrey, unlike her secret girlfriend, never intended to be open about it. They'd both satisfy themselves with regular, acceptable marriages, and either sneak off to see each other in secret or be done with it. Because, while Mal no longer had to fear disappointing her family, Audrey did, and she feared it with all her might.
"So, do you guys want to catch a movie after this?" Carlos asked, and Audrey finished off her cookies and cream shake with a big smile.
"Duh," She said, though fully knowing that the entire time, she'd be resentful of Ben being there, holding Mal while she could not.
Mal knew it was wrong every time she headed off to the Enchanted Lake with Audrey, not because of the nature of the little kisses and Audrey laying her head in Mal's lap, but because of who they were both betraying. Mal's boyfriend and first friend in Auradon, and Audrey's ex and dear friend. But to them both, it was a necessary betrayal. To prevent being abandoned by their friends, by family. To prevent Audrey being screeched at by Queen Leah and being called a traitor to the family. To prevent Mal from being told she was just some villain here to corrupt Audrey's pure princess soul.
They hated treating Ben like this, and it ate them alive almost as much as their desire to be together did.
But they both knew, in the end, they would keep having these little rendezvous. And they both knew, in the end, they would get caught, and it would tear their friendships a part in the exact way they were trying to prevent.