There's a certain set of unspoken rules on the Isle; a sort of, do and don't list. They're simple, easy to follow. Do lie. Do cheat. Do steal. Do kill. Do whatever it takes to survive. It's a short list. Easy. The Don'ts are even easier.
Don't show fear. Any weakness, really, but this one was crucial. They were meant to be feared. They were not the ones who should beg for mercy.
Don't apologize. Don't trust anyone. Don't get caught.
The last three were the most crucial, the ones you really needed most to survive. And it wasn't quite so easy, but then again, the Isle wasn't meant to be easy. But surely, it should have been harder, at least? They should have made it harder. Because sitting in the back of the shiny black car, as it sped along to what could only be their doom, Carlos couldn't help but think that maybe they should have made it harder. Maybe then he wouldn't have broken the rules.
Maybe then they wouldn't have been caught.
The back of the car isn't as cramped as he had feared it would be, when he'd first seen it pull up outside of Maleficent's castle. The seats were leather, but soft in an almost foreign way, and there was enough space that they could have completely stretched out if they'd wanted to. It doesn't take long for Jay to discover the secret compartments full of food, and Evie mutters something to Mal about looking unattractive, but all Carlos could think was that he'd never known food could be neon pink. And come on sticks. Jay was taking advantage of the room, stretching out so he was almost reclining in Carlos' lap, slurping some kind of sticky red rope as if he were in some weird Lady and the Tramp remake.
Carlos hesitates, unsure if they were even allowed to take anything. But the drivers were silent and stoic behind their darkened divider, and so he shoves a few small balls of something in his mouth before he can second guess himself. Instantly he melts, groaning as the taste hits him, and hits Jay a few times to get his attention. It takes the older boy a few seconds, but then he looks over, and Carlos swallows hastily a few times to clear his mouth, gesturing to the ball in his hand.
"These," he mumbles excitedly. "It's sssalty like nuts, but it's ssweet like I don't know what."
Jay's eyes narrow suspiciously, and he panics a moment as he realizes what he's done. But Jay doesn't comment on his slip up, just slowly chews his own treat a moment before answering.
"Let me see," he demands, and Carlos sighs in relief, sticking out his tongue and allowing Jay a full view of the remains of the food in his mouth.
Evie shrieks in disgust, but Jay glowers, and Carlos yelps as he's attacked, whimpering protests as the treat is ripped from his hands. Jay sits back in satisfaction while Carlos cringes, waiting for something more to happen. You never just win a battle on the Isle without taking something more in return.
It's Jay's turn to realize his mistake, and he grimaces, his mouth opening as he draws a breath to speak. Carlos thinks he might actually attempt some kind of apology, but then Jay thinks better of it and shoves the treat into his mouth, humming his approval with a grin. They sit back in relative silence, and he supposes it's not so bad.
Then Evie shrieks again as the divider goes down, and they catch a glimpse of the road before them. Carlos feels his heart plummet into his stomach, and Mal and Jay compete for the worst swear as they both curse rather crudely. They'd never been outside the main town on the Isle, and even on the outskirts they'd never ventured to the road. They'd never had need to. And even though they had wondered what exactly kept them all trapped there, Carlos had always assumed it was some kind of magic bubble or something.
There was a bridge. The stone cobbles were cracked and gouged out in some areas, stretching out and then breaking off about a quarter way out from the Isle. A literal dead end.
"It's a trap!" He yells, his voice strangled, and he thinks briefly that at least his last words had come out right.
Then they're all screaming, and there's no fear of slipping up when you scream. He feels arms wrapping tightly around his chest, a solid warmth behind him, and he clutches desperately at the arms, for once not caring about how weak it made him look. It takes a comically long amount of time to realize that they're not dead, and he sits up, blinking in Jay's arms as a gold light blinds him.
"Wh-what just happened?"
The bridge is solid, smooth and golden beneath the car, the light spreading out before them and forming the bridge bit by bit, while the rest falls away behind them once they've safely passed it. Evie is smiling and even Mal looks mildly impressed, as Evie says what Carlos only just realized.
"It must be magic."
He shoves himself away from Jay, who glares pointedly out the window, and he doesn't mind being ignored this time. Everything is bright here, so many colors swirling in patterns that Carlos had never thought possible. It was almost cruel, really, seeing just how amazing it all was, thinking on what they had just come from. But it was still incredible to take in, and he climbs forward a little, leaning on Mal to stare out even further.
"It's nnice," he whispers.
"Please," Jay scoffs. "It could be a wooden box filled with grass and you'd still say it was nice."
"What do you think the school will be like?" Evie asks quietly, before he can really protest.
"Well it can't be worse than the Isle," Jay grumbles, rubbing subconsciously at his face. "At least here no one can deck you for talking out of turn."
"Or ttalking at all," Carlos adds softly.
Mal shrugs. "I don't care what it's like as long as my life is being threatened every waking moment."
"I don't know," Carlos whispers. "I mean, any place that would set a tra-trap like the bridge…"
"Yeah," Mal chimes in, a smirk on her face that was only partially genuine. "Sacrificing their own guys to take out a bunch of Villain Kids…"
"But it wasn't a trap," Evie broke in, sitting up sharply and then wincing, leaning back against Jay's shoulder.
"We'll find out," Mal mutters darkly, and the heavy silence that fills the car is thick and painful.
Carlos fiddles with his dog tail, his classic black and white this time, unable to keep the one thought of his head. "What do w-w-e do if it is w-worse?"
He mentally curses whoever invented the letter 'W,' but Jay just rolls his eyes dismissively.
"It can't be worse. It's impossible."
"I can think of several w-ays in which it could be possible," Carlos counters carefully.
"How? These people aren't allowed to do half the stuff they do on the Isle," Jay insists.
"Definitely more than half," Evie put in from his shoulder.
"See?" Jay grins, but there's something about it that has Carlos thinking he's trying to convince himself more than anyone else.
"We're almost there," Mal says after a moment, and there's a tremble in her voice that he knows by the grimace she makes that she'd been trying to hide.
There's fountains and bushes that are carved into weird shapes, and he realizes only after a second glance that some are animals. A third glance reveals one as a dog, and he shudders, fighting the panic that the silhouette brings. Mal is shaking, too, and on an impulse he slips his hand into hers. He sees Jay grasp Evie's hand as well, and he can't help but think that they hadn't done something like this since they were kids, and that Jay must have been feeling the tension too because he hadn't tried stealing anything.
The car stops with only the tiniest squeal, and he doesn't dare try to offer any comfort because he knows if he opens his mouth, he'll slip. He only vaguely registers the noise outside of the car, the blur of color and cheering and maybe laughter. Welcoming sounds, he thinks, but it's hard to feel welcome when it's your jailors who are doing the greeting. He's pretty sure they've broken all the rules at this point, but it doesn't matter because the door is opening and he isn't entirely sure what will come of this.
Mal is crushing his hand and there's people in uniform everywhere, and a voice right in front of him is saying:
"Welcome to Auradon Prep."
The first thing that goes through his head is that the villain kids are smaller than he'd thought. The next is a wish that he'd studied their folders just a bit more, because he couldn't for the life of him remember all their names.
"Welcome to Auradon Prep," he says cheerfully. And of course, it is cheerful. Being the son of Beauty and the Beast, he'd had certain expectations to uphold. Being their sole heir also meant lots of training on being diplomatic, and always having an open mind despite any reservations on his part. And boy, were there reservations!
"I'm Ben," he continues, extending his hand to the closest kid: a large, tan muscular boy. He had long, dark hair tucked under a ratty red beanie, but enough of it hung down to partially conceal his face. He knew this one-if the gold and red coloring of his clothes hadn't given it away, the wicked gleam in his eye did; one he'd heard about and seen all too often reflected in the eyes of a certain former street rat's son.
But the son of Jafar was a different matter entirely, and what was his name? The boy is taller than he is, so he has to raise his head a little to look him in the eyes as he takes his hand. He might not be able to remember his name, but he could at least afford him the respect of looking him in the eyes.
The boy's grip is firm, almost too firm, and he shakes in a way that leaves Ben feeling like they were meeting in a dark alleyway instead of broad daylight. It was a handshake that could easily be turned into an attack, and it's short; the boy backing away quickly with a toss of his head that gives Ben the faintest glance of a black eye before it's hidden again behind a curtain of hair.
"Jay," he says shortly, and Ben has to keep his frustrated sigh internal. He'd known it, he really had.
He turns to the girl with purple hair next. She's small, but not the shortest in the group. That position is reserved for the boy behind her. The girl's jacket is patterned in scales, purple and green that hangs off her shoulders like it's too big for her petite frame. She's pale, with piercing green eyes that he only just catches before she shoots them to the ground.
Must be Maleficent's daughter, he thinks to himself, but she jumps when he offers his hand, and it's unsettling to see the child of the Mistress of All Evil so…nervous.
"Mal," she says, and her voice is level, and echoing with a hidden authority, which makes her slow awkward shuffle that much more out of place.
Next is the girl with blue hair, and he manages to remember her name before she says it. "Evie." She doesn't shake his hand for long, and he thinks he sees it tremble as she takes it back and clenches it by her side.
Neither girl looks him in the eye, and neither does the boy he'd seen standing behind them all. Hiding, almost. Ben extends his hand to the boy, but he just closes his eyes, his whole body stiffening like…like he doesn't know what.
"That's Carlos," Evie says briefly. "He doesn't talk."
Carlos, yes. Cruella's son. 14, 15 years old, maybe. (He wasn't quite sure. The records hadn't quite been clear on that.) Doesn't talk. He'd known that, too. It was part of why Ben had chosen him. He had hoped that despite his silence, Auradon could help him find a voice. Help all of them, really.
But they were all silent now. Even the band had stopped playing in the background, though Ben couldn't begin to guess when they had stopped.
He glances to his left, meeting eyes with Audrey and finding a weird expression on her face; that look she gets when something is very wrong, but she can't break her 'princess' face to show it. He knows if he stares too long, he'll start breaking too, so he returns his gaze to the four kids in front of him.
"Let's start with the tour," he says, but it sounds more like a question than an actual statement. They don't respond other than to give muted nods, and he can't help but exchange another anxious glance with Audrey.
"Well, then, follow me."
They do, but if he hadn't been glancing behind him every few feet, he never would have known. They moved quietly and quickly, the only one who seemed to be openly taking in anything was Jay. He moved with a bit more confidence than the others, who barely raised their heads to sneak glances at what Ben showed them.
He had elected not to give them the long and boring version of the tour, instead keeping it simple; here's the dorms, there's the gardens, over there is the tourney field, the stables, the school itself. He can almost pretend like it's a normal tour; that these aren't villains behind him, just regular kids, and that there isn't anything wrong with them.
He's proven wrong yet again, when they reach the statue.
He pauses, and they hover anxiously as he explains the purpose of the statue, and why his father had thought it important for it to be the first thing new students see. A symbol of happy endings, and second chances. But when he claps his hands to demonstrate his point, they flinch, and Carlos lets out a strangled yelp, practically throwing himself in Jay's arms. It would have comical to see the larger boy, gripping the smaller boy's shoulders with a slightly disgruntled look. But the sheer terror in Carlos' eyes, mixed with the fact that Jay seems to be subtly placing himself between Carlos and the perceived danger, nulls any amusement he might have found at the situation.
"Carlos, it's alright," he assures quickly, as Jay works to untangle the boy from him. "My father wanted the statue to be able to transform from Beast to man; to show that anything is possible."
Carlos nods jerkily, but his eyes are on the ground again, and Jay doesn't quite relinquish his grip on the boy's shoulders. Ben clears his throat, forcing himself to maintain an air of calm and assurance as he leads them inside. He thinks he hears Mal muttering under breath, something about his dad and shedding, but when he turns to face them all again, there's nothing but silence. He's saved from further awkwardness by the appearance of Doug, who's so engrossed in his book that he doesn't seem to realize he's approaching the stairs.
"Doug," Ben calls, and his friend's head lifts, and he makes his way normally down the steps towards them.
"This is Doug," he introduces to the villain kids. "He'll be helping you get settled into your school schedule and anything you need to know about the dorms."
Doug doesn't make any move to shake the kids' hands, but he does smile politely and introduce himself. "I'm Doug, Dopey's son," he says.
He starts to list off all the dwarves' names, but Ben stops him before he can get going. He always forgets Sneezy, and they could be standing there all day waiting for him to get it. Doug smiles at the villain kids one more time before leaving, and Ben continues with the tour.
"There's a map of the whole school and the grounds in the main entrance here," he explains. "And you guys are in the North Tower, rooms 13 and 17. 13 is for Mal and Evie, and Carlos and Jay are in 17."
They seem surprised that he'd addressed them by name, if the slight lifting of their eyes is any indication. Even Carlos raises his head, but he quickly looks away again when Ben meets his eyes.
"Do you guys want any help finding your rooms?"
They don't answer, but he hadn't really expected them to. It scares him just how quickly he'd tuned into their nervous behavior, but he forces himself to press on.
"Just follow the maps, and if you do get lost, the suits of armor will tell you where to go if you ask. Do you have any questions?"
They all shake their heads, still not speaking, and Ben shuffles his weight nervously. "Well I'll give you guys time to get settled. I'll come by and get you for lunch and explain some of the afternoon classes."
More silence, and Ben swallows quickly. It prickles at the back of his neck; that sense of 'wrongness,' but he manages to maintain his composure enough to speak.
"Ok, I'll see you guys then. Come on, Audrey."
He winds his arms through Audrey's and turns away, heading back outside and across the grounds toward the tourney field. Outside in the warm air, the oppressive atmosphere diminishes, but he still finds himself glancing back over his shoulder. He almost trips over the bleachers, and Aubrey lets out an exasperated sigh.
"Ben! Please, look where you're going," she says, and he forces his gaze back to her, blushing slightly.
"Sorry," he respond. "I was distracted."
"Clearly," she says, but it's not coming out as sharply as he knows she can be.
"Something's wrong," she finishes for him, and he's surprised at the fierce glint in her eye. "They're not acting right; none of them."
"I'm sure they're just nervous about coming to a new school," he responds carefully. "And, I mean, we did kind of exile them."
"Only Jay would even look you in the eyes, Ben!" Audrey cries. "And they've been hurt. Recently; couldn't you tell?"
"I saw the black eye," he hedges.
"You didn't see the mark on Mal's face? Or how the other girl- Evie?- was wincing every time she breathed? And Carlos wouldn't even let you touch him!"
He knew he'd have to stop her before she went off on a tangent. "Hey," he says soothingly, "We'll figure it out, and we'll help them, ok?"
He had known something was off, but he hadn't wanted to say it out loud. Afraid that it might make it real. But there was no denying that something was wrong.
"It's going to be ok."
It's more to reassure himself, but Aubrey nods anyway, taking a deep breath. "I'm gonna go see if Jane or Lonnie noticed anything off about them."
"Ok," he says, to appease her. "Just give them some space, at least until lunch? This is a new place and I want them to be comfortable."
She nods again and heads off toward the school. He watches her go in, and then heads for the gardens. He needed to find Doug.