“Oh shit, you love her.”
The first time someone says this to her, it's enough to give Mal whiplash.
“What?” Mal questions, halting in her tracks to stare at the boy walking beside her. Jay has been her friend for a very, very long time, and it’s possible that he knows Mal better than anyone else on the Isle. This still doesn’t change the fact that what he’s just said has come from seemingly nowhere, a sudden exclamation that has Mal’s head spinning.
They’re on their way to Jafar’s shop, just the two of them, hoping to grab a few last things and sneak them back to the group’s hideout. Evie and Carlos will be waiting for them in their pajamas, excited for the sleepover they’ve been planning for the past few days. All they need is a few blankets— it was Carlos’ idea to make a cool “pillow fort” tonight, though the others have never heard of such a thing. He said he saw some people make one on TV, so what is there to lose? And Evie’s face had lit up in fascination when he’d mentioned it, her eyes twinkling faintly as she pictured it all in her mind. Mal agreed to the idea almost immediately.
“Evie,” Jay says simply. He keeps walking, as though the conversation is something casual and perfectly ordinary. “You love her.”
Mal just looks at him as thousands of emotions flood through her brain. Confusion, denial, realization, shock— the gang is all there. For some reason, this thought had never even occurred to her as a possibility, but a part of Mal feels like she already knew. Everyone loves their best friend, right? It means sticking up for each other and always having someone to support you when no one else on this hell of an island will. What it doesn’t explain is the lingering touches and rapid beating of her heart. Nor does it explain how Mal’s eyes are always drawn to her best friend’s lips, overcome with the unusual desire to kiss them and run careful fingers through Evie’s hair. Loving your best friend means none of those things. Being in love with your best friend does.
“I'm in love with Evie?” Mal mumbles just above a whisper, not quite to Jay but a question for herself. A light breeze brushes by when Jay finally slows his walking to a complete stop, and the smell of seawater reminds them that they’re almost at Jafar’s place. Her words need no affirmation, mostly because they both know the answer already, but the question itself brings Mal’s world crashing down around her. Jay watches her carefully, knowing and understanding in the way he always does yet never knows what to say.
And that's okay, really, because Mal is so deep in thought that she wouldn't be able to hear him speak anyway.
The two of them continue on and grab a stack of multi-colored blankets from a display table in Jafar’s store; Jay whispers something about how they’ll probably bring them back before his father finds out, but their journey is silent otherwise. It isn’t until Mal and Jay return to their hideout and greet Evie and Carlos that Mal puts on her best facade and pretends to be absolutely, perfectly fine, despite how hyper aware she is of every subtle movement Evie makes. Together the four of them construct a stable (albeit messy) pillow fort with string lights hung up around the inside, all of which most likely serving as fire hazards. They talk and joke and play games and eventually everyone knocks out after a few hours; everyone but Mal.
Listening to the light breathing of her friends, Mal lays down on the cold floor with a makeshift jacket-pillow under her head and does her best not to let emotions get the best of her. She stays up much later than the others that night, lost in the ever confusing maze that is her thoughts. Some things start to make sense and some things don’t, but the puzzle pieces are slowly coming together.
She’s in love with Evie.
The second time someone says it to her, she tries to deny it. To push it down and lock it away somewhere never to be found or discussed, just as Mal did with the rest of her emotions.
“Hey Mal,” Carlos begins softly, looking up at the night sky from their rooftop spot. His knees are hugged close to his chest, wrapped securely by his scrawny arms, and his eyes admire the stars; the stars that shine as brightly in the sky as his own eyes do. It's just the two of them, stargazing in what had been a comfortable silence until now. “Can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” Mal says, unaware of the weight that will come along with Carlos’ next inquiry.
“Are you in love with Evie?”
...It's not what Mal was expecting, not by a longshot, and her heart practically stops beating for a split second.
He shouldn’t be asking this. In fact, Carlos shouldn’t even have a single clue about her feelings for Evie. It would be better for everyone if no one knew, even though there’s already been a giant Jay-shaped wrench thrown into that plan.
“What?” Mal replies with a laugh, trying to convince him (and herself) that the thought is absurd , but the laugh comes out more shaky and nervous than anything else. She doesn't look at him, can't bring herself to, and keeps her eyes trained on the stars above. Lying there, hands positioned comfortably underneath her head, Mal clears her throat to get a hold of herself. “I have no idea what you're talking about.”
But Carlos looks directly at her then, eyebrows furrowing with a frown painted across his features. He’s a kind and considerate boy, Mal thinks, much too kind for a place like the Isle of the Lost. “I've known you long enough to figure out when you're lying,” Carlos says. He nudges her a little, and Mal thinks that maybe he’s too smart for the Isle, too. “You don't have to lie to me, Mal.”
And, what, he just wants her to be truthful about this? To act like what's going on with her is normal? That it's perfectly fine that she's in love with her best friend and her stupid feelings could very well ruin everything that they have? If there were no repercussions, and maybe if Mal weren’t so horrendously emotionally stunted, this conversation could be going differently. Instead, she sits up abruptly and throws her hands up into the cool night air.
“What do you want me to say, Carlos?” Mal snaps with more frustration than she'd intended, finally glancing at the boy beside her. Almost instantly does she regret lashing out, noting how Carlos flinches at her sudden outburst. The words continue to spill out of her chest, though, flowing out while they can before Mal inevitably shoves them back down. “Yeah, I'm in love with Evie! But it doesn't matter, okay? She's not going to find out. I don't…”
She closes her eyes, listens to the quiet of the night and inhales deeply.
“I don't want to mess everything up. So as far as you know,” her eyes meet his, and it almost surprises her how understanding his gaze is, “I'm not in love with Evie. Got it?”
The air is silent once more except for some distant shouting. Here on the Isle, arguments and conflicts are frequent on a nightly basis. For once, though, Mal just wished there would be nothing but her thoughts and the steady heartbeat within her chest.
Carlos nods slowly. “Okay,” is what he says, gentle and anxious. “Okay.”
And, really, this is good. He's on the same page. Now if only she could convince her heart to be, too.
The third time someone says it to her, these words are full of pain and anger. This is something she should have seen coming from the start, really, but instead she let this happen.
Mal had started dating Uma here on the Isle because, well, first of all, she's hot and powerful. She's badass and together with Mal, they were an unstoppable duo to be feared by anyone that dared to cross them. Getting close to each other was a challenge with how unbelievably hard-headed both of them are, although things moved a lot quicker once their relationship had begun rolling. Kissing someone and being able to hold them in her arms was a brand new concept to Mal, and entirely welcome at the same time. New wasn’t always terrible, not when her lips were getting acquainted with every inch of Uma’s body. Especially not when she had someone to sleep next to at night, listening to the slow breaths of another person and feeling the warmth Uma had to offer. The relationship was nice in its own peculiar way, not because of its challenges but because of how different it all was.
But in the end, Uma was just a distraction.
“So, what? You're breaking up with me and you're not even going to be honest?” Uma shouts, her voice loud as it reverberates in the empty restaurant that’s owned by her mother. It's nearly three in the morning by this point. They’ve been arguing for, god , how long now? An hour? More than that? Mal finds it hard to keep track when her throat is aching from how much they’ve been screaming at each other, arguments going in hopeless circles.
“This isn't going to work!” Mal yells back, frustrated and angry and so beyond pissed off that she can feel the raw emotions boiling in her veins. It has always amazed her how much she can feel all at once; the way her anger threatens to erupt from beneath the surface. She waves her hands around with emphasis on every painful, molten word that spews out of her mouth. “This was never going to work, Uma!”
“You don't know that. You don't know anything,” Uma seethes, her dirty work apron bunched up in a fist as she fights the urge to throw it across the restaurant at Mal’s stupid face. The end is approaching for them and she is fully aware of it; yet, somehow, that just makes this whole situation more unbearable. Their relationship was always far from perfect, sure, but never once would Uma call it a bad one. Only… difficult. Mal just doesn’t seem to care as much as she does. “You never even tried to make this work, did you, Mal?”
“Of course I did!” Mal keeps shouting, and the anger swirls around within her like a brewing hurricane, and maybe she feels hints of something else. The underlying hum of untapped magic, fueled by uncontrollable emotions that drive her to wit’s end. Her eyes sharpen and brighten into the same hue as an emerald; this is a spark of power that disappears as quickly as it was fueled, and something she won’t understand for years to come. Taking a large step backwards, overwhelmed, Mal continues. “There's only so much I can fucking do to fix an absolute trainwreck like this—"
“Yeah, it's a little hard to make a relationship work when you're in love with someone else,” Uma hisses. The words are enough to shut Mal up and freeze her in place, rooting her feet into the wooden floor beneath their boots. It stings in many ways, like a stab in the back and a tear of her heart all in one blow.
“What?” is all she can manage out, stunned.
“I could tell. Every time you looked at me, every time you kissed me or touched me, you were right there, but your heart?” Uma pauses, leaning forward just so with tension in her movements. “Your heart was always somewhere else. With someone else.”
Mal shakes her head in disbelief. Everything she's hearing is true, so absolutely true, but it isn't something Mal ever wanted to hear. All she wanted was to pretend that for once in her life she wasn't hopelessly in love with her best friend. That, just maybe, she was able to find somebody else who could make her happy and fill that empty, lurking void in her chest. But as always, things don't work in Mal’s favor. They never do.
“You don't know what you're talking about,” Mal says, quieter, fists clenched tightly at her sides.
“Tell me, Mal. How long have you been in love with Evie?” Uma asks in a tone of fake innocence, as if her eyes aren't burning with anger and that signature blazing fury that Uma seems to possess of her own. She feigns a smile, hiding the broken heart and shredded feelings behind it as she carries on. The smile dissolves almost instantly. “How long did you pretend to be in love with me ?”
“Get out.” Uma demands before Mal can even attempt to say any more, teeth clenched in subdued anger. She tosses her apron onto a nearby table, opting finally to exert the force in a direction that isn’t where Mal stands. Uma’s fury leaks further into her words, dripping off of every spoken syllable. “If you set foot here ever again, I'll make sure Harry tears you apart.”
Mal storms out of Ursula’s restaurant that night and never looks back for the fear of what she might find. An angry, broken heart and the weakness of Mal’s own, all laid out on display.
She cries on Evie's shoulder that night, but doesn't tell her the details.
The next time someone tells her, they're in Auradon and Mal wishes that all of her feelings would just... disappear.
Ben is a nice boy, such a nice boy and so sweet, and maybe in another universe Mal would fall in love with him the same way he falls for her. But here and right now, she can't, and she doesn't think she ever will. That isn't to say she didn't try, though. After the love potion incident and the VK’s proclaimed their goodness, Mal really did give Ben a chance. They went on a few dates and she could see the way his eyes lit up around her, as if she meant the world to him.
She just wishes she could feel the same.
Despite how happy Ben made her, Mal knew damn well that she didn’t love him in a romantic way. He was able to make her laugh and smile and actually have a good time in situations she’d despise otherwise, but that was simply a result of his company. Mal’s heart didn’t flutter around him, and she most definitely didn’t want to kiss him for hours on end until the sun went down. When it truly came down to it, there was one conclusion to her lack of attraction to Ben: he wasn’t Evie.
“Ben, you're amazing, and any girl would be lucky to have you,” Mal tells him as they stand in his office, an unfortunate tension filling the atmosphere. The two of them were supposed to have a date last night; a big, fancy dinner planned by Ben. Their dates were always planned by Ben.
“But not you,” Ben finishes for her. He smiles sadly, but he shows no signs of anger or dismay. Almost as if he was prepared for this moment. Perhaps this should tell her something, that Mal is easier to read than she may believe. Those thoughts are for later, however, because Ben’s sad eyes are watching her as her shoulders slump in defeat.
“Not me,” Mal nods. It hurts her to do this to him, to reject Ben and break his heart when he's been nothing but amazing to her and the others. Inevitably, though, she can't force herself to love him back. And that's okay. “Things are— things are complicated, you know? Love is complicated. Terrible, actually.”
She tries to joke, laughing in that slightly nervous way that she does, but Ben sees right through her. He possesses something that many people lack, especially those of the Isle— empathy comes natural to him, making it easy for Ben to understand. He doesn’t just understand, he feels and knows Mal’s fear and does not mock or scold her for it. For this, she is thankful.
Despite the fact that she has broken his heart, Mal can see the curiosity that lurks in his eyes. An unspoken question that is on the tip of his tongue, hanging onto the very edge of a cliff as Ben silently debates on whether or not he should ask. If it is even his place to ask, really, although whether Mal will answer it or not is a completely separate question. Eventually he will break their silence, creating the foundation of a new relationship between them.
“How long have you been in love with her?” He asks cautiously, wringing his hands. “Evie.”
Mal stares at him, wishing she could be surprised right now despite this actually being a common occurrence. People always know, the ones who are close to her and know the difference between Mal and Mal with Evie. If only the one person that mattered most could know— if only Mal could tell her and feel many years’ worth of weight become lifted from her shoulders. She feels unwelcome tears well up in her eyes and she shakes her head.
“For as long as I've known her.”
And he gets it, he truly does, so he walks over and pulls her into a tight hug that helps keep both of them from falling apart.
The first time she tells Evie, it's different.
“Are you okay, M?” Evie questions in that concerned tone she reserves for Mal and Mal only, looking up from the dress she's been sewing. They’re in their dorm room and the sun is setting outside, rays of orange seeping into the room between open curtains. Mal is sitting on her bed, eyes glued to her feet. Things have been off for a couple of days; Mal avoids Evie’s gaze and tries not to hold conversations out for too long. None of it makes any sense, not even to Mal. A sigh escapes the girl’s lips. “You've been acting a little weird lately. If you're not feeling well, I get it, but you've been distancing yourself.”
“Yeah, so?” Mal responds, and she knows it isn't the right reply, but being snarky is her first wall of defense.
Her heart is screaming to confess her secrets, and it has been for the past week and a half. God, how Mal wants to just tell Evie everything and tell her how much she loves her even though being in love with your best friend is a horrible idea. She wants to, but as always, Mal finds herself running away instead. Because despite how far the VK’s have come, she still falls into the same old habits.
“ So , distancing yourself is only something Mal of the Isle used to do whenever she wanted to avoid emotional conversations,” Evie says matter of factly. Fuck. She knows Mal way too well for Mal to avoid having this confrontation for much longer. Evie gets up and walks over to Mal’s bed to take a seat beside her, not noticing how she stiffens. The mattress dips as she shifts to get comfortable, fingers brushing blue strands of hair out of her face and tucking them behind one ear. Raising a perfectly arched eyebrow, Evie looks at her with a special warmth in her eyes. “You know you can tell me anything, M.”
And, seriously, that's a lot easier said than done.
“I don't know if I can,” Mal replies, her voice wavering only a little bit. Green eyes lock onto her own hands that rest in her lap, unable to tear them away for the sake of looking in Evie’s direction. If she looks into Evie’s eyes for even a second, Mal knows her resolve will fail to exist.
So when Evie reaches over and tilts Mal’s head towards her with a tentative finger under her chin, eyes softening upon finally seeing Mal’s face, she single-handedly solidifies how the rest of this conversation will go.
“No matter what's on your mind, it won't change a thing between us,” Evie says. The words aren’t quite the right choice in this exact moment, but Evie doesn’t realize this, and Mal feels her heart sink further into the depths of her chest. It beats rapidly, pounding against the cage Mal has kept it locked away in all these years, threatening to break loose and expose itself.
Mal scoffs. “Yeah, okay.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Evie questions, shaking her head slightly in confusion. Orange light streams onto her face and along her jaw, all because she’s sitting in a perfect position across from the open window. Her eyes are so brown, sparkling in the sunlight and gazing at Mal with so much emotion, so much love—
The cage falls apart in just a matter of seconds and Mal can feel everything; she feels the air leave her lungs as she speaks and the way a heavy weight is finally lifted from her chest.
“It means I'm in love with you, Evie,” she blurts out. Her heart is right there, now, laying in Evie’s hands for her to do what she pleases. She can break it, she can crush it, or perhaps she can keep it— not that it will change anything. Mal’s heart has always belonged to Evie, whether she was aware of it or not.
Still, the words slip out of her mouth much too easily and much too quickly and before Mal can process it, the truth is out there. Evie stares at her for a long, agonizing moment with a mouth that hangs slightly agape. Brown eyes dart between green, searching for answers that Mal can’t figure out for herself and quickly she wishes that she’d never said anything. The urge to get up and run creeps over her, motionless feet itching to move and get out of this room that all of a sudden feels too small for her liking.
“I know,” Evie says finally. The pause between her words seems to last for centuries, Mal thinks, and she isn’t surprised by the statement, either. Apparently everyone with functioning eyes has been able to see it— the way Mal loves her best friend in more ways than one. Evie’s mouth opens, shuts, and opens again. “I love you too.”
She loves you, too.
“Huh?” Mal breathes, and it’s hardly even audible but apparently Evie hears her. She always does, somehow.
“I said,” Evie offers nervous smile, “I love you too, Mal.” She slips a hand into one of Mal’s, which has been laying there dumbly in her lap during this entire conversation. It reacts quickly, grasping Evie’s hand in a sign of understanding and affection. They’ve held hands countless times before, Mal knows this, but the swelling in her heart is a brand new concept. It’s new because Evie loves her back. Because Evie, her best friend that she’s dreamt about holding in her arms for so, so long, loves her back and is looking at her as if she means the world to her— as if she is her world— and for once Mal feels the same way.
“You love me,” Mal repeats, her head spinning. There is a smile on her face, one that she cannot control or fight back, and she’s okay with that. The tears in her eyes are just slightly embarrassing, but Evie has more in her own eyes as she giggles and nods in response. Nothing else matters in this moment. Nothing but Evie’s eyes and her smile and laughter and genuine happiness. Evie .
They lean forward and meet in the middle, foreheads resting against each other as they grin together in a way they never have.
“Mal?” Evie whispers, voice lower. The following words are going to be a simple request, and judging by the way wandering eyes glance down at her lips, Mal already knows what’s to come.
Her voice is breathless and airy in a way Mal has never heard it before. The sound is soft, softer than anything Mal from the Isle had ever sounded like, but it is not softer than the way Evie smiles just a few inches away. Finally, these things are making sense. There are many factors that can be explained by loving your best friend: supporting them through the most challenging of times, sewing them the most beautiful dresses for events that will be shared with their new boyfriend (who is a king, no less), or holding them at night when the nightmares appear. What it does not explain is excited cheek kisses or the way fingers caress Mal’s skin any time they’re together. Evie being in love with her best friend does.
“Kiss me,” is what Evie tells her.
People have told Mal for years that she’s been in love with Evie, but no one was ever bold enough to tell her this important fact: Evie loves her, too. And, in a way, she’s thankful for that.
It makes this moment so much better.