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Prompt and Circumstance

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Lilo’s first boyfriend, awkward and embarrassed to be seen with the weirdest girl in school, had told her he’d give her the stars some day. It had been in the bed of his older brother’s truck while he was fumbling with the tiny hooks of the bra she wore specifically to tangle his fingers. He had whispered this promise in her ear, his voice hot and wet and somehow delicious and disgusting at the same time. It seemed like something he’d once read on accident, because he took pride in his stupidity and wouldn’t read a book for pleasure or even to pass his classes. The words were like something that was meant to be romantic and poetic but they stumbled over his tongue before said tongue was shoved in her mouth.

While he fucked her she watched the sky above them, twinkling brightly because he was smart enough to take them a distance from town. It wasn’t to protect her dignity, that was for damn sure. It was all for him. But in the sea of blackness the stars glowed with promise, the promise he’d never be able to keep.

When he finished he dropped her off a mile from her house, muttering some excuse about how her sister’s husband had given him the evil eye and he didn’t want to go through it again. He hadn’t even turned the corner when she backed up against a tree and brought herself to orgasm with angry fingers and heat coursing through her veins. If she was going to be in trouble for breaking curfew she was going to at least get something out of it.

By the time she made it to her house she had come up with a dozen excuses for her sister but they all died on her lips when she saw David jumping in his car and speeding off into the night. Nani was right behind him with a heavy gun full of tranquilizers that could knock out a series of angry horses and a determined expression. The expression melted into confusion when she saw Lilo, still wearing her homemade prom dress and looking less like the fairy tale princess she’d been when she left and more like a scared child.

“Oh honey, I’m sorry we weren’t here when you got home.” Her sisters arms wrapped around her, the gun cold against the back of her head. “But you got our note, right? You didn’t have to go looking for him. We’ll find him.”

Stitch. “I just thought he’d have been following me again.” Lie. She didn’t even know he’d escaped the house. But she was probably right. Anytime her ‘dog’ left the house it was to follow her to school, to the beach, to her part time job.

“Go back in the house and we’ll take care of this. Besides, you don’t want to ruin your pretty dress. I bet you out shined the rest of those girls.”

As Nani took off on the floating bike Jumba had made years before Lilo settled for waving weakly, instead of telling her sister that her dress never saw the inside of the prom.

Years ago she would have gone chasing off after Nani, or through the back roads that she knew would lead to Stitch’s favorite retreats. She would have found him, she always found him, probably playing on a beach or racing against one of Jumba’s inventions. But not anymore. They acted like he was a wild animal who only hunted the boys who teased her because he had nothing else to attack but Lilo knew better. He wasn’t an uncontrollable beast dictated by his basic programming.

Stitch was nothing if not predictable.

On her way to her room she removed her dress, lazily dropping it onto the floor. Some dirt had been ground into the hip and she didn’t have the energy to try cleaning it. A quick stop in the bathroom to remove the flowery pins David had bought for her when her boyfriend ask her to prom. He’d been so excited for her, giving her advice about dealing with teenage boys and knowing when to say no. He’d forced a cell phone into her purse before she left with his number on the speed dial. Lilo dropped the pins into the sink, a little bothered when they weren’t washed away by the running water. Off went her makeup. Off went the flowers her date had put on her wrist. Off went the bra she had snapped back on after her boyfriend’s trial removing it. Nothing left but her white panties.

Under the too bright lights she looked like a little girl. The little girl who had just lost her parents, who didn’t have any friends, who didn’t know her place in the world. But she wasn’t that little girl anymore. She was eighteen, practically a grown woman, and soon she’d be going off to college in California. No more Nani, who had been lost in her role as Lilo’s sister and mother. No more David, who had married into a broken and barely fixed family. No more Jumba or Pleakley, who were both obviously longing to escape the tiny planet they’d made into their home. Pleakley had already began dropping hints he’d be returning to space and Jumba hadn’t been subtle about his plans to go with the stringy alien.

Thunder sounded outside the tiny window, rattling the glass. She could barely see the trees shaking in the distance and with a reluctant sigh she went to her room to put on her night clothes.

“No more Stitch.” She reminded herself as she pulled on the too large brown shirt and pink polka dot shorts that had been her sleeping clothes since she stole them from Nani’s laundry. If he could barely survive on an island how would he do in a big city? Even Jumba wasn’t sure about his destructive programming and if it had died or just gone dormant. No one wanted to test it.

Lilo pushed open the large window, settling on her bed with a raggedy doll that had been repaired so many times it was more stitches than fabric. She could have fallen asleep, already tired from misplaced anger, but she had to wait. Had to see him.

It wasn’t long, a minute or two at most, before he crawled into her window. He always did, trying to be sneaky and failing because he was just too big. Too much lumbering strength to rely on the stealth that had been his when he was smaller. She could see the rusty red that painted his muzzle and she wasn’t shocked. She wanted to be, but it was impossible anymore.

“Is he dead?”

Her monstrous best friend just snorted. Not close to a proper response.

“I told you I was going with him. You have no right following me and my boyfriend.”

“Boyfriend?” He growled, everything was a growl with him anymore. “He is worm. Take you to middle of nowhere? Promise you the stars? Then drop you off mile from home. Not boyfriend.”

Lilo didn’t even have the energy to be outraged that he had spied on them. It certainly wasn’t the first time. “I chose him.”

“To be date to dance. Did you dance?”

Her face heated but she tried to keep him from seeing. “It’s none of your business.”

He’d managed to lick away most of the blood staining his face, a requirement before he could get close to her. Lilo’s rules, no blood near her bed, no body parts brought back to nibble on later, no proof to bring anyone back to their home. And Stitch respected her rules. Most of the time.

A heavy head fell onto her lap and for a minute she could pretend he was her puppy-angel again. Misunderstood. Lost. Confused. Tiny. But when she opened her eyes it was her giant monster. Still her best friend. Possibly her only friend. But still a monster.

“You wanted dance and he didn’t take you. He hurt you.” That growling voice echoed in her chest and her heart fluttered like a bird trapped in a cage. “No one hurts my Lilo.”

“Nani’s going to send you with Jumba. When I go to college, maybe before, but she’ll send you back into space. Then how will you protect me?” She’d been making that joke since her freshman year of high school and each time he would come up with strange stories and scenarios. But Stitch didn’t seem willing to play their normal game.

No, this time he was serious. “Take you with me.”

Very serious.

---

On Lilo’s twentieth birthday Stitch left her on a beach covered with glass rocks in all the shades of the rainbow and trees that blew in the opposite direction of the wind. The waves crashed up against her bare legs, leaving multicolored bubbles behind. Over head two creatures that looked like the mix between a flying fish and a duck flew through the air, singing a mating call that could have been mistaken for an opera duet. As the twin suns set in the distance Lilo allowed the salty wind to sweep through her hair, ruffling the flowery crown on the town’s people had made for her just after her arrival on the planet.

Since leaving Earth she’d seen incredible things. Planets that were constantly on fire, planets that were covered in ice, spiraling towers that seemed to be made out of spun sugar and underground caverns with rivers that had glowing rocks under the slimy water. She had met amazing people, had seen amazing things. Once she had seen fish that could fly through the clouds like birds and she’d fed a flock candy from the palm of her hand. Once she had walked on water which was so salty it held her weight, so long as she ran. Once she had met a prince with three eyes, all the color of the sun, and hair so long it could wrap around his neck and be worn as a scarf.

Most of the time she only saw her ship, and it was hers no matter how much Stitch liked to argue otherwise. They would spend weeks or months traveling past the stars, looking for some kind of adventure. She named the ship Hi’aika and flew it on dangerous voyages through asteroid fields and past stars that were giving their last breath of life before exploding into black holes. They would dance across the universe, her beautiful ship and her best friend and her. It was Lilo who pulled up alongside the wealthy caravans, destroying their weapons so Stitch could steal their treasures. Becoming a pirate hadn’t really been part of the plan but traveling across the expanses of the universe was an expensive pastime.

Their lives were so entwined she couldn't imagine anyone else in her ship. No one else to make strange jokes about the food on whatever planet they were staying on. No one else to laugh at her strange jokes. They would curl up together in the bed in the top of the ship, inevitably waking with her stretched across him while the galaxies floated by their heads. It was always them, though Lilo had a habit for making friends at every port and Stitch's raw strength would impress even the most hardened of criminals. But at the end of the day it was always her and him, together in the too small bed of her precious ship.

Sometimes Stitch would take her to the most exotic planet he could find, leaving her in fancy hotels with piles of mysterious foods and closets full of beautiful clothes, and disappearing with her ship. At most he’d be gone for a week or two, but it was enough time for her to take in the local beauty, the fauna and flora and people, and visit the majestic temples and learn about the strange gods that still seemed similar to the ones she’d heard about back home.

Home. Two years in space and she still thought of the blue planet as home. Not many species knew about her world, though not knowing where Earth was didn’t make them think of her as a lesser creature. Not when Stitch had taught her about the languages of the universe and the science that allowed their travel among the stars. She had learned early that if one could at least mumble in the most common language most aliens would show some respect.

Sometimes she would speak to Stitch in English, like when there was danger or when they were plotting. It was their secret and they held it to them tightly, but every word made her ache for her island. There’d been talk of returning, long ago, to see Nani and David. But perhaps they had moved on with their lives, finally having the children they’d been considering. Perhaps they wouldn’t want her back.

“Why are you pouting?” Stitch crouched beside her, ears twitching and fur on end. He must have been running from the ship to find her. Some things would never change. Stitch always wanted to know where Lilo was hiding.

“Not pouting. Thinking. If I was pouting it’d be because you stole my ship. Again.” She lifted her sunglasses, remnants of her life before the endless freedom of space. She could see him grinning, a dangerous look on her best friend. “Did you get her shot up again?”

“Nah. Went to Jumba. He doesn’t shot at ship.”

That caused her to actually pout. “Why were you visiting him without me? Pleakley was going to show off the addition to the house. The one you almost blew up the last time you visited alone.”

Stitch shrugged awkwardly, a motion she adored seeing from her friend. It made him look more like the dog he had been during her childhood. From behind his back he presented her with a heavy chest. Inside there was only a single strange device, a small pendant on a chain with buttons and alien writing. It could have passed for a necklace if it weren’t for the odd buttons. A few clicks of a button and it whirled to life, flashing a hologram image of the mad scientist surrounded by tiny robotic dogs. A click of another button changed the image to one of Pleakley on a plush chair, the same dogs gathered on his lap while he sipped what she assumed was tea. He’d developed a fondness for the drink on Earth and Lilo knew Jumba would make the trip to gather barrels of tea leaves for the one eyed alien.

A few more clicks and the hologram changed to her friends, aliens she had met all over the universe. The barmaid who would let them hide in her attic when they were near United Galactic Federation’s bases of operation. The heavy set pirate who had practically adopted Lilo the first time she pointed her gun at him. The prince who still owed Lilo a life debt. They all passed by in a whirl.

But the image she stop on was one of her and Stitch. It had been taken not long after they fled Earth, when they first got their ship. The holographic Lilo grinning wildly from on top of her ship which was covered in seashells and ropes of seaweed she’d brought with her from Earth. Stitch sat behind her, one of his hands holding onto hers while he looked towards the horizon. She had paid one of the attendants at the ship port to take that picture, paying him with one of the shells which he said was the coolest thing he’d ever seen. At least that was what Stitch said he was gabbering on about.

“So you run off with my ship to get me a necklace?” She couldn’t stop the grin even as she tried making the words sound angry. Stitch didn’t care. He had already curled up against her side like he had when they were young. Without thought her fingers began threading through his fur, enjoying the deep purr that rattled through her.

“You like?” He asked after a few minutes of silence.

With the sun dipping below the sea, and the flying fish birds dancing through the air, and the waves with their rainbow bubbles, and a million amazing memories and a million more amazing adventures waiting, Lilo realized it wasn’t just the necklace she had gotten from Stitch. He’d given her strange planets. He’d given her alien friends. He’d given her incredible excitement. He’d given her a ship that she loved like it was alive.

He’d given her the stars.

“Yeah, I like.”

Chapter Text

When Colette was five she spent the summer with her father, her actual father and not just one of her mother’s boyfriends trying to be cute by encouraging her to call them “daddy.” It had been a surprise for both of them when her mother dropped her off with her backpack full of patched up dresses and an extra toothbrush, not bothering to stay long enough to see if Anton was home, let alone willing to take care of his daughter for three months. That first day she had spent with the house keeper and the fat calico who spent most of his time sleeping in the kitchen. It was the house keeper who settled her into the guest room, who fed her, and who reassured her that her mother would return soon.

She didn’t see her father until two days later.

He had summoned her to the parlor and then ignored her for twenty minutes while he typed out his latest review. Occasionally he would mutter to himself, or take a sip from his wine glass, but otherwise it was just typing and Colette wishing she was anywhere else. She’d even settle for being back at her granny house in the country where she would have to hold the boxes of bullets while granny hunted for the deer that had been eating from her garden.

After finishing his review Anton finally turned to his daughter, eyeing her the way her mother eyed the landlord or a new crop of bills. “When is your mother coming back for you?”

“I, ah, I don’t know. Sir.” Some of her mother’s boyfriends preferred to be called sir. One had wanted to be called Presto the Magnificent, but she didn’t think her father would like something that dramatic. “She, she didn’t say anything about, er, about leaving me. Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize for that woman.” Anton said crisply. He stood from his chair, reminding Colette of the spider that had lived in her window for a month. “Never apologize for something that isn’t your fault.”

“Yes sir.”

He watched her shuffle, his face forming a grimace. He was probably aware of the ragdoll she had hidden behind her back. He probably though she was being dumb for carrying a doll around. Her mother said dolls were for babies but Bibi wasn’t for babies. She was for protecting Colette when she was scared. And nothing was quite as scary as her father.

“I am not good with children and I will not alter my life to accommodate your mother’s foolishness. Do you understand?”

“Yes sir.”

“Good. Now come along. It is time for lunch.”

For the first few weeks the pattern was simple. Eat breakfast with the house keeper and the calico, find a way to entertain herself (quietly), eat lunch with the house keeper and the calico, look at the pictures in the books from father’s library, eat dinner with her father, and be quiet until the house keeper prepared her for bed. It wasn’t exciting but it kept her interaction with her father to a minimum which he seemed to like. And the house keeper was nice and didn’t disapprove of Bibi or Colette’s crayon drawings.

But then she made a mistake that stopped the pattern. She spoke with her father outside of dinner.

It had been while she was in the library, taking advantage of the fact that Anton did all his reading in the morning and none in the afternoon. He, like the house keeper and the calico, was a creature of habit and Colette liked that. Knowing what someone was doing meant knowing how to stay out of their way. But one day her father deviated from the pattern, entering the library at half after two.

Colette had been looking at the drawings in a heavy book about gardening, trying to figure out which plant was which and wondering if there was a strawberry patch nearby when a shadow fell across the yellowing pages. She hadn’t meant to gasp, but a tiny one escaped her.

“Colette.” He said as a greeting. Or perhaps just an acknowledgement. It was the first time she had heard him say her name since her arrival almost three weeks before. “Certainly you are not trying to read that.”

“I am.” She whispered, face flushing red.

“It’s in Latin.”

She shrunk back into the chair, trying to look as small as possible.

Her father lifted a thin eyebrow at the reaction. “Perhaps I can find you a book in French. Provided you can read French.”

If it was possible to melt into a puddle Colette would have been the first to try. Tears welled up in her eyes, threatening to pour down her cheeks. “I can read! I can read French! I’m not stupid! I promise I’m not stupid!”

It obviously wasn’t what Anton had been expecting, nor was he expecting his daughter to throw the book down and start bawling. His long fingers hovered over her dark curls for a moment before gently touching her head. It didn’t stop the tears but it caused the child to startle and begin hiccupping. Still better than bawling.

“What brought that on? You’re barely five. It doesn’t matter if you can’t read yet. True, it’s high time you learn but with the teachers in these schools it’s hardly a wonder if you can’t manage.”

“I don’t go to school.”

Anton stopped his tirade against the public school system at the soft comment. “Surely your mother sends you to school.”

“I’m too stupid. Mama says maybe next year.”

She wouldn’t have believed it if she hadn’t seen it but her father’s face paled further than its normal shade of white. He chewed on his cheek for a moment before kneeling next to the chair that she had adopted as her own. At this level Colette could see his eyes, perhaps for the first time. Her mother was right. She had inherited her father’s eyes.

“You are not stupid, child. Certainly not if you are my daughter. And I will give you a chance to prove it. Come Monday we will have a tutor here to teach you, but only if you promise to try and learn.”

She practically jumped from the chair, heart thundering in her tiny chest. “I can learn to read?”

“Among other things, yes.”

And thus the pattern changed.

Her father had hired three tutors. The first was her favorite, a college student with hair the color of the setting sun. Her name was Claire, and she came every day of the week, arriving just after breakfast and leaving just after lunch. She taught Colette the letters and their sounds and how to write and how to read. She would also teach her numbers and basic math, which Colette found she had a great skill in. Sometimes she would teach Colette to read from history books, teaching her about the rise and fall of great nations and the many different people around the world. Other times she would read from fairy tales, making sure Colette knew the moral of the story before sending her to lunch.

The second tutor was older than Claire, but not nearly as old as her father. His name was Pascal and he would come on Mondays and Wednesdays after lunch, usually just before Claire left, and would teach Colette about art. He would show her how to draw and paint and would sometimes take her to the museum near her father’s house so she could learn about the masters of art. If it was rainy he’d bring a plastic sheet and lay it down over the desk so Colette could sculpt with clay.

The third tutor was her least favorite, an old man name Henri who came on Tuesdays and Thursdays after lunch. He was trying to teach her music, to which Colette secretly believed she had no talent. Under Henri’s fingers the piano in her father’s second study sounded like a choir of angels. Under her fingers it sounded like a monkey banging on a rock. Henri didn’t believe in deviating from the planned lesson, which meant no trips to local concerts or listening to recordings of famous music. He would just loom over her, reprimanding her mistakes and patting her head at each success until the house keeper came to announce the hour was over.

Friday was the only day of the week where her afternoons were free. Mostly she would play in her father’s garden, although it was properly the house keeper’s garden since her father never stepped foot there. She would sometimes make mud castles for Bibi to live in, and mud subjects for Bibi to rule. Sometimes the house keeper would show her which plants were for eating and which were just to look pretty. Sometimes she would just nap under the lemon tree, surrounded by smell of herbs and fruits and flowers.

After about two weeks her father began reappearing in her life, having almost completely vanished after the tutors first arrived. He would show up at breakfast on Saturday, the shadows under his eyes heavier than she remembered them being, and tell her to get dressed for a day on the town. They would go to the shops where he would refuse to buy her treats even when she hadn’t asked. By the last shop he would ultimately buy her something, usually a candy or a ribbon for her hair. She would say thank you and never mention it again and he wouldn’t make a point about how spoiled children were anymore.

By early July Colette had learned all the letters and was begin to piece together short words. Her musical talents hadn’t progressed past the most basic of notes but she had managed to make a sculpture which the house keeper kept in the kitchen. She would still cringe when her father rushed by on his way to the study, muttering to himself about the latest review and what a good synonym for ‘nauseating’ would be but otherwise life in the Ego household had settled.

When July turned to August and her father began planning for the upcoming school year Colette realized she hadn’t heard from her mother in two months.

“Is Mama ever coming back for me?” She asked over dinner one night. It was a vegetable stew, carrots and potatoes from the garden with a loaf of artisan four cheese bread her father had bought from the town. And though her father didn’t eat a lot, hardly anything, he had helped himself to seconds of the stew. Perhaps the sign of a good mood.

When he put down his stew and pushed the bowl forward for the house keeper to take she realized it she may have ruined that good mood. “Do you not like it here?”

“Oh no, no, no. I like it here, I really do. It, well, it’s nicer than the time we lived over the bar. Or that time we lived with granny. Her house smells like moth balls.” Colette picked up her own spoon before dropping it into the bowl, ignoring the twitch of her father’s eye at the splattered stew. “Who’s taking care of Mama now that I’m here?”

“She’s a grown woman and doesn’t need a child taking care of her.” Anton muttered.

Colette shook her head gravely but otherwise kept quiet. When the house keeper asked if anyone wanted dessert Anton merely walked out of the dining room, leaving Colette to fret.

Three days later her father interrupted her music lesson to hand her a piece of paper. The only thing written there was an address and though it took a minute she eventually figured out it was somewhere in Spain.

“Your mother is there. Do you want me to send her a letter?”

Colette simply pushed the paper back into his hand and returned to her lesson, mind focused on the keys that refused to make proper music and nothing else.

Three weeks later, with two days left before Colette was due to begin school, her mother appeared on Anton’s front step, holding a crumpled letter and looking years older than when she left. For hours her parents argued while Colette sat beside the fat calico in the kitchen. They both watched the house keeper fret over the state of affairs with Claire who had been preparing to finish her last lesson. Eventually Claire had to leave for her second of four jobs. But before she left she dropped beside Colette and kissed her forehead.

“You were a wonderful student and a very smart girl. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.” She paused, as though there were something else she wanted to say. Instead she settled for what she needed to say. “People will tell you that certain things are impossible, but you can’t listen to them. If you want something you go and get it, no matter who tries to stop you.”

And with that Claire left. Colette would remember those word later, would cherish them for the rest of her life, even if she never saw Claire again.

Almost an hour later Colette was startled from her nap in the patch of sunlight normally reserved for the cat by her father crouching over her. His thin fingers carded through her hair and his lips turned into the smallest of smiles. Even half asleep Colette knew it was the best her father had ever looked.

“Your mother is taking you back with her. There is nothing I can do. I gave up any custody of you when you were a baby and cannot reclaim it now. Do you understand?”

Colette nodded and her father accepted that. There was no need to press the matter. His daughter was a smart one. “Will I ever get to come back?”

“Perhaps. I’d like it if you did.”

But as her mother pulled her to a waiting taxi Colette knew that summer would be the last she’d spend with her father. And she was right. She didn’t see him when her mother moved them to England where they lived with an up and coming band. She didn’t hear from him while she was enrolled in a boarding school outside of Bordeaux. She couldn’t contact him when she ran away from school with a pretty red headed girl who took her to Paris.

Sometimes she’d forget about him. When Michelle asked about her family while they were curled up on their ratty sofa Colette would have to pause and think about him. The thin, pale man from her memory who was so much like a spider and so little like a person. But sometimes when they were in a store she would recall the time her father bought her a candied apple after insisting she would ruin her appetite for dinner if she had any sweets. Sometimes she watch Michelle practicing with her flute and recall her father’s failed attempts at having a tutor teach her music.

Sometimes she would remember him.

And when Michelle left for America and Colette chose to stay behind for her career those fleeting memories of a summer in her father’s house left too. She didn’t have time for childish things. Not when she was studying under the masters and proving to them that she was as brave and as daring as they thought they were. She didn’t have time to remember the sun warming her as she napped under a lemon tree. The scent of lemon only invoked memories of recipes, not of the house keeper singing as she watered the flowers.

And while very little mattered while she was training to be a chef, nothing mattered after she was hired at Gusteau’s. She was too busy proving her worth, working twice as hard for half the respect. Some nights she would return to her apartment, body sore and mind blank, and she would feel like she hadn’t been born so much as created alongside the dishes she prepared. A fresh baked chef with no past and a very short future.

The one thing she truly remembered, in that way that some memories were a part of a person and not memories anymore, was her granny’s words as they sat on the bridge near her cottage. Even when she felt empty she would remember her granny’s wisdom, no matter if she hadn’t thought of it as wisdom at the time. “There are some people who come into our lives and change who we were. They create who we will be. But there are people who will never leave our lives. These are the ones who change us the most. These are the ones we change.”

It wasn’t her first memory but it was her clearest. And it was what she thought of the first time Anton Ego reviewed Gusteau’s. She had watched with the rest of the chefs as the dish was presented to the skeleton of a man. She had held her breath like the others when he lifted the fork to his mouth. But she hadn’t been thinking like they had when his face grimaced.

She had been thinking that her father was far too skinny.

While the rest of the chefs whispered about the looming review Colette had stood by the door, feet shuffling against the tile. Her motorbike was right there. She could catch him before he left. She could find him, could follow his car if she had to. Could find her father and…

…and nothing.

How could she explain the lifetime she had spent without contact him? How could she have explained the loyalty that made her cling to her mother until it was obvious the woman cared more about her boyfriends than her daughter? How could she explain running away from school with a girl and giving up a proper education for a chance to be happy?

How could she explain being a chef who couldn’t prepare a dish good enough for him?

The review was devastating. The fallout was worse. Losing Gusteau was like losing a father. One who had actually laughed with her, had praised her accomplishments, had been there when she felt adrift in the world. But she pushed on. They all did, despite Skinner’s attempts at destroying Gusteau’s legacy. They stood by their restaurant and they stood by each other.

And then he arrived. A noodle limbed boy with more talent than anyone in the restaurant. Linguini was awkward, he was clumsy, but he was brilliant.

He was also a pain in Colette’s ass.

But he improved, learning quicker than Colette had expected. He created the strangest mixtures and made them edible. Made them magnificent. And they flourished again. More patrons, better reviews, more praise. He provided the downfall of Skinner and the return of a proper Gusteau’s. And in the glow of it Colette forgot about the danger that came with success.

She shouldn’t have forgotten about her father.

And though his attention was only on Linguini, without a hint of recognition for his daughter, Colette stood beside the boy. She was ready for any insult, any threat, and challenge. Because in all of France she was the only one who wasn’t scared of Anton Ego. Not when somewhere in the back of her mind she could remember the thin man who took second helpings of vegetable stew and bought candied apples from street vendors.

Alone in her apartment, sprawled on the ratty sofa she couldn’t bring herself to throw out, Colette imagined a hundred scenarios for if her father recognized her. A hundred more for if he didn’t. Chance meetings outside the restaurant. Letters with no signature and no way for him to find her. Just approaching his table and revealing her identity. None of them were appealing.

In the end none of them were close to right. Not when Linguini finally revealed the rat. Not when all the chefs, her brothers-in-arms, walked out. Not when he somehow convinced her to assist with the mad scheme to run a restaurant with rats acting as chefs. Admittedly reconnecting with her father was less important once she was thrown into the madness that came with a kitchen full of rats.

And the rat, the one who had been secretly creating their success, decided in the mist of the madness to create a peasant dish and present it to Paris’ most feared critic.

She had been watching when he took that first bite. She saw it all. His shock. His amazement. His happiness.

The rat had impressed Anton Ego.

And she had to convince him that meeting the chef was not a possibility. Had to tell her father to wait for the chef who had done the impossible or leave without ever knowing. But he didn’t budge, didn’t leave. He waited patiently while Linguini provided him with glass of wine after glass of wine. Colette knew he would wait. He was a patient man most of the time. Worse when he wanted something.

The meeting wasn’t nearly as dramatic as she expected it. He was surprisingly calm. Calmer than Colette had been, at least. And when he left she felt, for the first time since Linguine had turned her life upside down, the emptiness again.

She hadn’t gotten to apologize.

The review was out in remarkable time and it was nothing short of magnificent. His best writing, if Colette was being honest. Since becoming a chef she had read every review her father wrote, pausing over the insults and abuse of metaphor. But this was amazing. Poetry in the form of a review. Which only made it more painful when they were closed.

But life went on. New restaurants to run, ones with better hiding places for their new rat army, and a new life to live. But even as the plans began for their new restaurant Colette would find herself reading the last review. Pondering over every word, wondering about every sentence. It was brave of her father to write so honestly. Brave in a way she wouldn’t have expected from him.

It was time for her to be brave too. After all, she hadn’t just inherited her father’s eyes.

The house was unchanged from her memory, though maybe smaller. The front step was just as daunting as when her mother had left her, so many years ago. The bell was just as loud. The door creaked just as badly.

The butler was new.

And though she was channeling a new bravery she still waited on the front step while the butler sought out Anton. Better to make a get-away. But the moment he pulled open the door her thoughts of escape disappeared.

As did most of her wit.

“Hello Father.”

“Hello Colette.”

The desire to escape reappeared before the wit, but ultimately they were both beaten by a desire she hadn’t felt in a long while. The desire to apologize. “I’m sorry I didn’t contact you. Or see you. After Mama took me we moved to England and by the time we got back to France-”

A pale hand lifted to cut off her words. “Colette, never apologize for something that isn’t your fault. It is I who should be apologizing. Come in for a glass of wine.”

They sat in the kitchen where she had spent her first and last day of the summer. The fat calico was gone, her father said he had disappeared a few months after she left and was never seen again. A dog had taken the cat’s patch of sun, a Scottish terrier that raised its head slightly to stare but otherwise didn’t seem to care about the humans.

“After your mother took you I hired a lawyer to see if I could gain custody of you. By the time a case could be made for negligence your mother had left the country. She didn’t respond to my letters or calls and I didn’t know you were in boarding school until after you had run away.” Anton allowed his shoulders to droop and his face looked older than it had just days before. “I have failed you in many ways over the years. Allowing that woman to take you back was simply the worst of it.”

Colette sipped her wine to allow herself a moment of thought. All the angry things, all the sad things that had been in her mind were gone and she couldn’t bother to reform them. “You did make a mistake in letting me go, but it’s nothing we can fix now. Besides, who’s to say I wouldn’t have been more screwed up living here.”

Anton chuckled, thin fingers reaching out to run through her hair. “I am sorry about your restaurant. And for not recognizing you.”

“It’s been a long time. Though thank you.”

“For what?”

She shrugged awkwardly. “The review. It was beautiful.”

“Oh, that. Yes, it was difficult writing. Harder still to admit being wrong. The hardest part may be the destruction of my credibility now that Gusteau’s has been closed.” He winced, reaching for the bottle to refill his glass. “I suppose you’re out of a job now.”

“Linguini and I have been talking about a new restaurant. That rat is talented, as much as I hate to even think those words.” She drummed her fingers against the counter, amused by how it made the dog tap its tail in time. “It will be hard though. Starting a business in Paris isn’t easy.”

A soft smile, the same one she had seen in the moments before her mother had taken her away, crossed her father’s face. “What you need it a business investor. Someone who knows restaurants. Someone who knows food.”

Colette sighed, eyes rolling dramatically even as she broke into a grin. “This won’t make up for all the birthdays you missed.” She teased.

“I realize. But it will be a start.”

Chapter Text

Someone was knocking on the door. A firm knock, a knock that didn’t invite questions about if it was a wrong address or any nonsense like that. The person on the other side of that door knew what they were looking for and knew where to find it. It was the kind of knock that was not ignored or told no.

That was probably why she answered the knock before realizing the door was hundreds of feet above the ground.

“Mrs. Gothel.” The man on the other side of the door said, not at all a question.

“I never married.” She shot back, indignant enough to forget that the man had somehow climbed up the tower she’d inherited from her own mother. Well, she inherited from someone’s mother. Still, it wasn’t the kind of tower someone casually approached. There were no steps on the outside of the tower, no way for him to get up without having climbed. And somehow he’d managed it, even without wrinkling his sharp black suit.

“My name is Cobra Bubbles and I’m here to look into allegations that you’re abusing your daughter, Rapunzel.” He lifted an eyebrow at the trail of golden blond hair leading to the girl’s room. “May I come in?”

In retrospect she really should have pushed him off the ledge and let gravity do its work. But anyone who managed to respond to allegations of abuse that hadn’t been formally made, or even spoken aloud, and who managed to hunt down her hidden tower, and had managed to climb to the door without losing his breath, couldn’t be mortal.

Gravity wouldn’t get the job done with this one.

--

Cobra Bubbles didn’t love his job. He didn’t wake up in the morning with a bright smile at the job he had ahead of him. Partially because he didn’t really wake up. He just went from having his eyes shut to having his eyes open. But despite not loving his job he did enjoy it, especially when he managed a success.

Moving Rapunzel out of her mother’s tower was a success. Moving her, and her pet lizard whom she refused to leave behind, to a foster home had been a success. Having that foster home become a forever home was less of a success.

“I didn’t set her hair on fire.” Rapunzel said for the third time. She had curled up on the passenger seat as soon as he pulled into the driveway. Didn’t bother saying goodbye to the three older ladies who clucked at him from the front steps about evil and being careful and finding somewhere defensive. The smallest one, who had been sporting a wig, mentioned something about dragon mothers being easier to deal with than witch mothers.

“I know you didn’t. They weren’t throwing you out, Rapunzel.” He resisted the urge to pat her shoulder, remembering how it had upset her lizard the first time.

She didn’t seem convinced, already turning back to the window to pout.

“They’re deal with a lot right now. Two adoptions at once is a lot.”

Rapunzel nodded. “Snow and Aurora are lucky.”

“We’ll find someone. Someone who can deal with...” He sighed a little.

“With my bad luck?”

Behind his sunglasses Cobra Bubbles rolled his eyes. “It’s not your bad luck I’m worried about.”

--

Hawaii, for a girl who had spent her life locked away in a tower, was nothing short of a dream come true. And even if he was due at the house in an hour he couldn’t help but stop by the beach so she could run barefoot through the sand and walk hesitantly towards the water. Even her lizard slipped from her hair long enough to dip a toe into the ocean before fleeing back to his hiding spot.

And he may have been half an hour late meeting with the family but her smile, the first he’d seen since removing her from her last house, was worth the damage to his reputation of always being on time.

--

Certain models of foster families were considered ideal. A father with a steady job, a mother who could stay home and cook and clean, and maybe some other children or at least a dog. Those were the ideal models.

Cobra Bubbles thought those ideals were stupid.

His ideal home was someone who could take care of the child’s individual needs while not being scared off by a witch mother. And sometimes an alien couple with part time custody over an imaginative girl and her pet alien science project was the most ideal family available.

While Pleakley served tea and questioned Rapunzel’s hair care routine he and Jumba were free to discuss the difficulties that came with a foster daughter with magic hair and a possessive witch mother. About twenty minutes into the conversation Pleakley had managed to braid Rapunzel’s hair into a complicated design which allowed her more freedom to move and Jumba had managed to pet the lizard without getting bitten.

Cobra Bubbles wondered if he’d found his success.

“You are not thinking this mother will be causing problems?” Jumba asked as he walked Bubbles to his car, all four eyes scanning the area for a potential threat.

“I’m knowing she’ll cause a problem. That’s why I picked you two.”

Jumba nodded, glancing back at the house where Rapunzel and Pleakley were sitting on a porch swing, chatting about the art center that had opened further into town. The smaller alien may have been gushing about attending a “Mommy and Me” course but that didn’t mean he wasn’t watching over his new charge carefully. “One Eye and I will be taking good care of the girl. This woman will not be scaring us away.”

“I knew I could count on you.” Bubbles said as he climbed into his car. “I’ll be back in two weeks for an evaluation.”

The other houses had, on average, lasted a month. When he returned for his two month evaluation Rapunzel excitedly showed him her room and her painting supplies while Jumba shook his head at the unasked question about any disturbances.

A week before his six month evaluation he received a frantic phone call which cut off after a few panicked whispers for help. It took him less than ten minutes to arrive at the door frame, the bright teal door (Rapunzel’s first big project around the house) having been shattered. He found Pleakley sweeping up the mess of splinters while Rapunzel tried to help him, occasionally stopping to sob.

“Oh good, you’re here! My stupid husband chased the crazy head lady off towards the beach. She comes in through the window trying to kidnap our girl and doesn’t expect him to chase her?” The alien paused to pat Rapunzel’s shoulder, whispering kind words in a language Bubbles couldn’t identify. Once she had calmed enough to return to sweeping up the mess Pleakley turned back to the social worker, eye narrowing. “Either you deal with her or we will. This has gone on long enough.”

Cobra Bubbles didn’t need to be told twice.

Finding Jumba was easy, mostly because the scientist had tore down any tree unfortunate enough to get in his way. Getting him to calm down and return to his family was less easy, but he’d managed to talk an alien race into making the planet into a reserve for mosquitoes. Jumba wasn’t nearly as hard to convince. But finding the witch was surprisingly hard.

And all the more satisfying when he did find her, if only because it was suddenly obvious just why she was so determined to get her girl back.

“Mrs. Gothel.” He intoned as he approached her hiding spot in one of the caves that littered the northern edge of the beach.

“I never married.” She replied bitterly, licking at her thin lips. One wrinkled hand pulled the hood of her cloak further down but it did little to hide the white hair and half mad eyes.

“All those attacks were to give you time to refresh yourself with her hair.” It wasn’t a question. “Was wondering why you were so determined to get her back. Certainly wasn’t because you loved her.”

The withered woman just laughed, a dry sound that hardly qualified for laughter. “You knew. You knew it wasn’t about love.”

“That’s right. Someone who loved that kid would leave her with people who take care of her. Like that giant alien who’s still out for your blood.” His removed his sunglasses, it was far too dark in the cave for them to do anything besides make him look silly. “Provided you still have blood, or is it all dust now?”

He didn’t let her respond. Didn’t care about anything she’d say. It was obvious that she could barely move, not with how long she’d been away from her living fountain of youth. Still, at the mouth of the cave, he paused to look back at her.

“She deserved better than you, and now that she’s got it I won’t let someone like you take it away from her.”

As he left the cave the tide lapped at his suit, filling his polished shoes with salt water. The smell was crisp, making him feel invigorated, and in the distance he could almost hear Rapunzel’s laughter from the first time she’d encountered the ocean. It was a better sound to hear than the wheezing laughter of a defeated witch.

--

Rapunzel spent the morning of her birthday in a courtroom, curled up next to Cobra Bubbles who was doing his best impression of a bored rock. Across the room Pleakley fumbled around with a camera that was obviously alien in origin while Lilo took pictures of chairs and light fixtures with her dollar store camera. Jumba didn’t seem at all bothered until the court officer entered the room, at which point he began shuffling in what Pleakley would have called his “guilty dance.” Every one stood when the judge entered the room, except Stitch who had crawled under the chairs to take a nap.

“Miss Rapunzel, I’ve gone over all the records from your social worker and I’m very pleased to say everything looks to be in order. At this point it’s all formality, but do you have anything you’d like to say before we make it official?” The judge, a kind woman with heavy wrinkles and an open smile, motioned the girl towards the chair so she could be heard.

“Um, just that I’m really excited and I hope this all works out and I’m not really sure what else to say just that I’m so happy to have this family.” The blond glanced back at her Jumba and Pleakley who both smiled encouragingly. “It’s like I’m finally home.”

The judge chuckled warmly. “That’s wonderful, sweetie. Well, no point wasting this beautiful day. By the power vested in me by the state of Hawaii I approve this adoption and place this girl in the care of her new parents. Congratulations Miss Jookiba.”

Jumba was the quickest to engulf Rapunzel in a hug, lifting her well off the floor. Pleakley wasn’t far behind, though he was crying so hard he almost ran past Rapunzel to hug the court officer instead. In a flurry of motion the room erupted into hugs and kisses and pictures with the new family and the judge who sat through the commotion with a grin.

“Mr. Bubbles.” The judge greeted as family made their way out into the hall. “Your report was, as always, perfect. Though I notice there isn’t much follow up on the biological mother.”

He adjusted his sunglasses, still watching Rapunzel as she danced with her new cousin, the alien dog barking at their heels. “I’m afraid it was impossible to make contact with her to see if she opposed the adoption.”

“Ah. Well if she comes around looking for the girl it’s you who’ll have to deal with it.” The glimmer in the older woman’s eye seemed to say she knew perfectly well that Cobra would be able to deal with any mess that came with a missing, abusive mother and her potential reappearance.

Or maybe she knew that he already dealt with it.

“Mr. Bubbles, we’re going to do the thing! Are you coming?” Lilo pulled at the man’s heavy hand, not at all bothered at his refusal to move. She’d get him to follow her eventually.

“It seems I’m still needed. Until next time, ma’am.”

The patchwork family celebrated the adoption and birthday on the beach that Bubbles had first taken Rapunzel to, covering the sand with heavy blankets which in turn were covered with snacks and cakes. While Lilo continued her attempts at teach Rapunzel to surf, and while Pleakley fretted Pascal’s attempts to bury himself into the cake, Jumba and Nani chattered, already making plans for babysitting and dealing with school schedules.

And when night fell the family gathered together at the edge of the water, close enough that the warmth of the fire David had made would keep the night’s chill at bay. It was Cobra Bubbles who produced the paper lanterns, one for each family member, and an extra, bright green one for Pascal.

“Happy birthday, Rapunzel.” He said, offering a lighter so she could send her lantern into the night. Instead she hugged him tightly, crumpling the paper.

“Thank you.”

It was Rapunzel who released the first lantern, the others following close behind. And even as the wind pulled them out to sea they stayed together, a little group of lights floating through the darkness. And no one said anything cheesy, except David who was quickly shushed by Nani. Because it wasn’t a moment for cheesy. It was just a moment.

Chapter Text

Wishes were unpredictable at the best of times. Sometimes humans just didn’t understand what they were wanting, what their desires meant in the grand scheme of everything. They would just see something they wanted and begin wishing without regards for the plans already set out by the universe. And sometimes those desires, those oh so human wishes, resulted in disaster.

Luckily this wasn’t one of those times.

Oh, it could have been. He could have taken her wish, so raw in its wording, and turned the world on its head. He really could have created something horrible. But she had been good to him after his master was lost. Lost to both of them. She had even offered him a name, a position, a title. Maybe it was that offer, that look each time she called him by what he was and not who he was, that made him work slowly through her wish until it was perfect.

“I wish I could go on with my life.”

Humans thought they knew everything there was to know about the magic that surrounded them. They thought they could use logic and common sense to figure out the world and shrug away that which didn’t fit into their thinking. But they knew nothing about his kind. They didn’t know that he could wait, sitting on a wish so it was ready. And he waited, and he searched, and he waited some more.

It took him almost a year, probably longer, before he “accidentally” dropped the girl solider into his lady’s fountain. The girl, awkward and charming in her stumbling, was quickly saved from drowning in the two feet of water. Quickly freed from her strange clothes. Quickly enchanted by his mistress and her sad smile.

And of course he made sure he wasn’t around when they finally figured out Chinese girls rarely fall from the sky without magical intervention.

For two months he hid, ignoring her call. Since Aladdin’s final wish he had no reason to answer any call but his own. But old habits were hard to kill and she was his mistress. But he ignored, waiting for them to figure out what he had known from that first awkward brush of hands.

Luckily Jasmine was smart enough to figure out why a strange girl had landed in her fountain. She knew her Genie would always take care of her. So she and her new guest, her strange Mulan, began spending their time together. Jasmine would teach Mulan the ways of her kingdom, introducing her to new foods and customs. Mulan would teach Jasmine how to fight, how to take ink and create the beautiful curves and lines that made up her written language. And if a strange old man watched them from the shadows in the market Jasmine wasn’t bothered.

Her Genie had a reason for all he did.

After two months of watching shy touches turn Jasmine’s sad smile into bright laughter he returned. He made sure to make a show of his arrival, setting off fireworks and kissing the monkey until Abu finally managed to escape. And after the traditional chest pound with the magic carpet and the traditional threat from the bird should he so much as wink at him Genie turned to meet his mistress.

His mistress and her lover.

Later, while enjoying a last minute feast to celebrate his return, Genie found himself pulled behind a pillar. Jasmine glared at him, the softest and kindest glare he’d ever seen.

“You did this.” It wasn’t a question or an accusation. It was just what it was.

“For you, I’d do anything.”

And that was the end of it. He returned to pestering the animals and dropping the occasional batch of madness onto the palace. Once or twice he would catch himself passing the girl, the warrior, the Queen’s lover, and have to fight back the urge to ask if she wanted to go home. He should ask. He needed to ask. But then he’d see her resting her head on Jasmine’s shoulder or making treats for the Sultan who had fallen in love with the new recipes she had brought with her. He’d see her playing keep away with Abu’s midday snack or arguing with Iago about a new law or the value of gold.

In those moments he wondered if he had accidentally granted one of her wishes and not just Jasmine’s.

The days turned to weeks turned to months and almost a full year passed before Jasmine came to him with a second wish. He saw it in her face, the resolve and determination that made her a formidable queen. He’d been expecting it for some time but he hadn’t expected to see Mulan trailing behind her with the same determined expression. Nor did he expect their request.

“We want a baby.”

No, he hadn’t expected that at all.

“A baby?” He floated further away, trying to look more relaxed that he felt.

Mulan nodded, taking her lover’s hand in her own. “The Sultan,” She caught Jasmine’s raised brow, “Father, wants an heir. Jasmine is a wonderful ruler and everyone loves her but someday she’ll need someone to inherit the throne. There was talk of getting someone, a prince or something, but I want to have her child. Our child.”

“I hate when you use logic against me,” Genie grumbled. The magic was already gathering around him, and at least this would be easier than the alternative. Last time he’d given two men a baby he had to turn one of them into a woman for nine months. That made for a very unhappy master. “Do you want to set any specifics?”

Jasmine just smiled. “We trust you. Genie, I wish for a child.”

Magic was unpredictable but he was not. Okay, he was, but only to the humans he spent his time with. He knew the methods to his madness and he knew how to keep an eye on a magically conceived baby. So while Mulan’s middle expanded he kept an eye on his work, making sure it was all coming together the way it should. While Jasmine fussed and forced Mulan to spend her time in bed he would sit beside her, holding her hand and telling her how the magic was stitching together her baby.

“A little bit of Jasmine, the feisty bit. A little bit of you, that resourceful bit. Maybe even a little bit of me. We’ll have to see if the little one starts casting spells after learning how to talk.”

Stuck in bed most of the time did not make for a happy warrior. Not one who had spent her last few years running and jumping and swimming and fighting. She would try to sneak in stretching and walking. Mulan was an expert at convincing Iago to help her slip out to the gardens for a stroll. Genie suspected she had discovered his weakness. Gold.

But inevitably Jasmine would find her, all but carrying her lover back to bed. She had covered their bed with so many pillows there was almost no room for either of them. She filled the room with flowers from all over her kingdom. She made tea every hour and sent her servants far and wide to look for a treat that would remind Mulan of home.

Finally the time came. He knew the moment, felt it rushing towards him like a wave. The baby was ready. The magic was ready.

The midwife who delivered Jasmine came to deliver Jasmine’s child. Even in her old age she was strong enough to kick the Queen and Sultan out, leaving only him. He knew she only allowed him so he could solve any problems his magic had created but with Mulan’s hand clenching his Genie was grateful to have an excuse. Anything so he could comfort his new mistress.

Two mistresses. Had that ever happened to him before?

And finally the child came, wailing with such strength that even Iago was impressed.

“A healthy princess.” The midwife said, presenting the squealing mess to Mulan.

Only a second with the squirming newborn before Jasmine was at her lover’s side, tears falling like rivers. Carefully he pulled his hand from Mulan’s shoulder only to have it caught in Jasmine’s. Her free hand was playing with her daughter’s curly black hair and though she couldn’t look away from the baby he knew she was trying to form words for him.

“Thank you. Thank you so much.”

And he left the new princess and her mothers, knowing there would be time later.

They named her Amani. Royal families came from across the desert, bringing precious stones and gold to honor the new princess. They cooed over her, playing with her curls and commenting on her bright, wise eyes. Too wise for a baby.

They also took to whispering about the strange girl who held her. The Queen’s lover, they would whisper behind their hands. A girl warrior from a distant land. And they would sneer when she held the child, kissing her forehead and allowing the tiny fingers to curl around her own.

“She acts like the child is hers.” They would whisper. And he would watch them, waiting for just the right moment to force their glasses from their hands, covering their fine clothes with wine. Waiting for the right moment to make them trip over their own feet. Waiting for just the right moment to make their hair catch fire.

Well, that was just the one time.

Afterwards, in the baby’s room, he held her close. The little bundle of magic and love he had helped create. He could hear the Queen and her lover exchanging kisses and declarations of love from behind the door, each one interrupting the other before they could finish checking on their daughter.

“Going to have to get use to that.” He told the baby. She turned her head and sneezed innocently.

Whole kingdoms he had brought to ruin. He had seen emperors rise, had seen them fall. Had helped them with both. He had existed before mortals learned how to tame fire and would exist long after they fell to their own madness. But nothing to come would replace the light feeling in his heart or the heavy feeling over his soul.

“I really got this one right, didn’t I?” He asked, hearing the giggles behind the door turn into moans.

And the baby just yawned, unconcerned with anything more important than her nap.

Chapter Text

Miss Charlotte La Bouff was a lady of strange tastes.

When the young lady came into conversation the first thing mentioned would be this strange taste of hers. Most people gave credit to her daddy who had equally strange taste if rumor were to be believed. After all, being close personal friends with a seamstress, a seamstress of color at that, was strange indeed. And that friendship had been formed before Ms. Eudora’s daughter became Princess of Maldonia. Scandalous indeed.

But scandal or not, “Big Daddy” La Bouff was certainly allowed his peculiarities. And that trait seemed to have rubbed off on his high spirited daughter, because what Miss Charlotte wanted, Miss Charlotte got.

So when Miss Charlotte wanted to befriend the local mechanic who worked on her father’s car no one said a word. At least not to her face. And when that young mechanic was invited to Miss Charlotte’s elaborate parties everyone remembered to gossip behind their hands.

But perhaps even Miss Charlotte was pushing it when she attended dinner at her dear friend Tiana’s restaurant with the mechanic who couldn’t be older than twenty. And what a pair they made. Miss Charlotte in her newest, pinkest dress and pearl necklace and feathered hair piece. And that mechanic Audrey in her oil stained overalls and a button up white shirt and a newsboy hat. A pair indeed. And for all her peculiarities even Miss Charlotte couldn’t get away with giggling at the dark haired woman’s jokes and pulling her onto the dance floor. Because some things just weren’t done.

It was probably for the best that they didn’t know about how after dancing Miss Charlotte would pull her mechanic into the bathroom and allow herself to be pushed against the door. Her mechanic, yes hers because as soon as Daddy bought those new cars she was hiring Audrey full time if he liked it or not, would kiss along her neck and cup her butt to pull her close. And her mechanic would nibble and bite where she knew Charlotte wore her necklaces so no one could see the marks. And her Audrey would make her shutter with desire and make her gasp and whimper.

Yes, it was for the best that they didn’t know.

And so long as they didn’t know they also didn’t need to know that Miss Charlotte was spending less time having tea with her high class friends and that she was spending more time in her garage watching Audrey fiddle with this and that. They didn’t need to know that Audrey bending down to look at a gear or piston was a million times more interesting than listening to another story about shopping or trying a new tea shop.

And when she got bored of just watching, because she was still just Lottie under all her debauchery, she would wiggle her finger and force her mechanic to kiss her. And when Audrey got bored of just kissing, because she was only human and because her Lottie could always buy a new dress, the young mechanic would run her greasy gloves over Charlotte’s curves. Trails of gunk that shimmered rainbows in the light would mark the path up Charlotte’s hips and to her breasts. And two could play at that game because Charlotte would soon be unhooking Audrey’s overalls baring her to the world as naked as a jaybird and it wasn’t Audrey’s fault that New Orleans was so hot and sticky. Was she expected to handle the heat with a long sleeved shirt? No thank you.

But Charlotte wasn’t complaining because now her gloved hands could squeeze Audrey’s perk breasts and she could chuckle at the sharp comparison between Audrey’s dark skin and her bleached white gloves. And at the same time Audrey can smile at the delicate pink dress now ruined thanks to her oils and greases.

And they both loved it.

Sometimes Audrey would take her right there on the work bench. Her lips would drive Charlotte wild and her tongue would drive her over the edge. And sometimes Charlotte would drag Audrey to her room and surrounded by the toys of a little girl they would giggle and moan and scream. And sometimes if they were feeling very daring they would make love in the gazebo or against a tree or even in the kitchen because even the maids were allowed days off and sometimes it was just more fun in daring places.

But in the end Miss Charlotte would be allowed her peculiarities. And if her daddy had to buy a surprising number of new dresses so be it. Ruining them was half the fun. And if he had to pay for a full time mechanic to care for their three cars so be it.

Because Miss Charlotte always got what she wanted.

Chapter Text

Neverland was ever changing, much like other worlds it had its seasons of decay and seasons of rebirth. But Neverland’s seasons weren’t by logic. Its growth and death came from the whims of Peter Pan. His joy was the summer sun. His rage a winter’s storm. And some believed his apathy was the dying days of late autumn.

For almost three years, if Neverland bothered with things like years, it had been autumn.

The Lost Boys claimed Peter was sleeping, burrowed under a tree among the dying leaves and blankets brought by the nearby tribe. Tigerlily would bring the tributes, disguised as gifts, all the while watching the boys squirm uncomfortably when she asked if Peter was planning to wake up. Every time the tallest boy would shake his head, eyes sad and old behind his chipped glasses.

“Since the pirates left.” The elderly among them would whisper while the children huddled together under blankets. “No one knows why the pirates left, but that was when this started.”

Only Tigerlily had been there that day, when Peter Pan had gone to look for his new mother with a boyish smile and a quick laugh. Tigerlily had followed him to the banks of the bay, showing him the girl’s tracks and laughing at his jokes. But the tracks became messy with too many feet for just the Wendy girl and even Peter could see what had happened. He charged the pirate’s bay, screaming a giddy war cry and ready for a fun battle.

But there was no ship in the bay. The pirates were gone, and they had taken Wendy.

That day Tigerlily stood in the heart of Peter’s rage, her feet freezing to the ground as she cried out for him to stop before he killed her people. But Peter didn’t listen. He screamed and screamed and for one horrible moment Tigerlily saw child god for what he really was.

The next day her sisters found her in the snow. They carried her home and waited for winter to turn to spring again, as it always did when Peter found a new game. But winter became autumn and autumn never left.

Until one day the sun rose high and blossoms covered the trees once more. Birds began laying their eggs and silver fish filled the streams. The tribe rushed to plant seeds and to throw their nets and Tigerlily ran through the forest, sure she knew what brought Peter such joy.

There in the bay the Jolly Roger rocked among the waves and Tigerlily sighed with relief. The pirates were back and Peter’s games could start again.

--

The tribe and the pirates didn’t hate each other nearly as much as Peter’s games made it seem, if only because it was far more practical to trade with neighbors who had better access to fishing and food from outside of Neverland. Even if those neighbors had a bad habit of being rather rude. It was therefore hardly shocking when the tribe’s women gathered on the beach, waiting to see if the pirates had brought anything to trade.

Tigerlily sat at the further end of the beach, keeping watch on the ship as row boats were lowered to the water. Her arrows sat within reach, enough to kill each pirate if they so much as leered at the women gathered. The mothers and grandmothers stood closes to the water, their daughters huddling by Tigerlily and whispering about what treasures the pirates might have found while they were away from Neverland.

Three boats arrived on shore, each loaded down with fruits and root vegetables and dried fish. An old pirate began the negotiations, measuring out food for pottery while a young boy noted every exchange in a leather book. Daughters rushed to take the food from their mothers, running them back to the village and out of harm’s way if negotiations went badly.

Upon her perch Tigerlily almost fell asleep. The warm sun and soft chatter reminded her of a childhood sitting by her mother’s side as she watched over the same trades. But now she was grown, almost an adult by her own right, and someday she would need to teach her own daughter how to spot an argument growing or a dirty deal. She didn’t mind trading with pirates, but that didn’t mean she trusted them.

As the negotiations ran down and almost all the girls had returned to the village weighed down with goods, a small scuffle developed by the water’s edge. One of the mothers shouted at the pirates about their trickery, while the pirates shouted slurs back to her. Tigerlily marched forward, bow drawn, but she never made it to the argument. A loud shot was heard and the pirate fell onto the beach.

Tigerlily turned her bow to the ship but the elderly pirate moved in front of her, babbling about pirate justice and internal matters and please oh please won’t she take her villagers home. There was hardly a need as the shot scared the rest of the women away, back to the safety of the village. Only Tigerlily remained, her arrow pointed across the bay as though she stood a chance of hitting whoever had killed the pirate.

After a minute she lowered her bow and turned to the elderly pirate. “Why kill one of your own?”

“Captain’s orders.” He said, handing her the bag of sugared dates that had started the fight. “We ain’t supposed to cause trouble for your people no more.”

A month passed with no sign of spring letting up and Tigerlily was too busy to pay it much mind outside of the occasional worry that Peter Pan would go into another fuss and drag winter back. She focused her time on hunting and teaching her youngest sisters to tan and preserve meat. They began making their warm beer and berry treats once more, and celebrating after successful hunts. Sometimes they would join in Peter’s games, playing war with his Lost Boys and inviting them back for a feast.

They would gather around the fire, telling stories and laughing while they drank the tribe’s beer and shared their pipe. Peter never joined them anymore, the boys said because he was too busy trying to figure out how to beat those dirty pirates. The tallest one would tip his black hat to salute Peter in his absence while the others teased how he’d scare the pirates off just as soon as they had arrived.

It was at one such feast that the youngest Lost Boy turned to Tigerlily, tugging her to his side to whisper in her ear as though sharing an important secret.

“Captain Hook isn’t captain no more.”

The Lost Boys never mentioned little John’s secret to the rest of the tribe but Tigerlily began following after them during their adventures, watching to see who ran the Jolly Roger if Hook was no longer in command. None of the ruffians seemed like leaders, instead all following the command of an invisible captain. No matter how grand the battle the pirate captain never made an appearance.

Tigerlily did not like mysteries like that.

She considered slipping onto the ship. She’d once been in Hook’s quarters, sharing tea with him while they waited for Peter to remember she’d been kidnapped. Her legs were strong and she swam silently. It wouldn’t be hard for her to climb to the window of the ship and find out who was controlling the pirates.

But as she sat on the beach considering her half formed planned she realized how quickly a scheme like that could get her throat slit.

“Pirates aren’t the most considerate lot.” She told the empty beach.

“They really aren’t.”

Well, mostly empty.

Before Tigerlily could reach for her knife a strong hand gripped her wrist, pushing her into the sand. Thighs tightened around her waist, trapping her even as she squirmed and fought and cursed. She tried to kick, tried to claw, tried to bite but she couldn’t move.

“Look at you. Such spirit. I hadn’t realized.”

It was a woman holding her down. Long brown hair curled down from under a crimson tricorn hat, creating a curtain around Tigerlily. Blue eyes looked down on her and bright red lips twisted into a smirk. Something sharp pushed into her side before Tigerlily even realized she’d drawn her sword.

“Who are you?” The princess hissed, still struggling even as the blade pushed harder.

“Didn’t anyone bother to tell you? A shame. I know all about you, Tigerlily.” The woman moved closer, inhaling deeply. “I’ve thought about this for years. Do even know how greatly you’ve shaped me.”

“I don’t even know who you are!”

She laughed, a joyful and childish laugh. “Oh Tigerlily, you are a pleasure. Shall I reward you?”

Tigerlily glared, wishing she could get her knife. Or perhaps steal the woman’s and use it against her. Anything to be free of her grasp.

The woman seemed to know her thoughts, putting her sword away before she could grab for her. Leaning down she exhaled, hot against Tigerlily’s ear.

“Captain Darling.” She purred. “But you can call me Wendy.”

Something sharp pressed into Tigerlily’s gut, causing her to gasp for air. By the time she regained her breath the woman was gone and Tigerlily was alone once more.

--

“Who is Wendy Darling?”

Tinker Bell startled, wings fluttering aggressively and face turning red. Tigerlily let her ride her rage through, dulling to pink before settling on a dusty blush across her cheeks. Finally the fairy huffed and puffed and recalled the story of the Wendybird and her arrival in Neverland. Her brief and glorious reign as Mother to the Lost Boys. Her disappearance and the raging winter it brought about.

“Kidnapped by pirates.” Tigerlily said to herself, watching the night sky through the tree branches. “I wonder what they did to her.”

--

Something changed in Neverland. The pirates no longer cared about Peter Pan or his Lost Boys. They would raise a sword if the boys came charging but otherwise made no move to antagonize their once great rivals.

Tigerlily wouldn’t have cared much if it didn’t mean their attention had turned on her.

They were there when she left to hunt. They were there when she helped fix the torn nets. They were there at the end of the forest, watching and waiting.

They didn’t talk to her, didn’t threaten her, they barely even acknowledged she was there.

But at the edge of her vision she could always see a glimpse of crimson.

They weren’t there for her. They were there to protect their captain.

--

Someone was touching her hair, combing through it with their fingers and whispering into her ear. She couldn’t quite hear the words, just their tone. Her world was only the softness of the voice and the touch of fingers.

Reluctantly Tigerlily opened her eyes, no longer scared of the feel of ropes around her wrists. She had learned what it was to be tied up as a child. She recognized the depths of the Jolly Roger. But she no longer felt fear. Neverland loved her and would always send Peter to save her.

“Is that what you think?” The once Mother smiled down at her, mouth still red even as she bit at her lower lip. “Neverland adores you, that much is true, but it knows I won’t hurt you.”

Sharp nailed trailed along her cheek, tickling and leaving a sensation she couldn’t quite shake away. “You stole me away. How is that not hurting?”

“I found you.” Wendy huffed, looking insulted. “Sleeping on the beach like a child. Waiting for me.”

“You stole me. And for what purpose?”

The Captain shrugged, curling around her on the bed so they were nose to nose. Tigerlily tried to turn away but Wendy chased after her all the while laughing as though it were a game.

“Are you going to kill me?

Wendy’s blue eyes widened and she reached out to touch Tigerlily’s bound hand. “Why would I do that?”

“That night you were stolen, it was because you left the feast. You were mad Peter rescued me. Tinker Bell told me.”

“Tinker Bell’s a bitch.” Wendy said. “Besides, it all worked out in the end. I joined the pirates, I killed Hook, and now I’ll kill Peter.”

Tigerlily sat up, kicked at Wendy and struggling to escape the rope trapping her hands. As much as she struggled she had no luck escaping and Wendy, the monster, just watched from where she sprawled across the bed.

“You’ll tire yourself.”

“You won’t kill Peter!” Tigerlily screamed, hoping he would hear her, praying the Neverland would warn him.

“Of course I will. This world is tired of his whims and I am not letting him mistreat anyone else.” She sat up, hair tumbling down her shoulders and slips curled in a sneer and for a moment Tigerlily believed she would actually do it. “My brothers are still his playthings. They haven’t aged a day and when I finally found a way home our parents were already dead! Old age killed them while youth holds my brothers hostage!”

“They chose to join Peter.” Tigerlily whispered. But she thought of the lanky boy who clung to his chipped glasses and battered hat. She thought of the quiet child who would whisper secrets to her next to the fire, hiding away when anyone got to close.

“And you,” Wendy continued, crawling down so she was directly in front of her captive, “aging but still a little girl. You wait for him to save you but threaten me with an arrow from across the bay.”

She surged forward, pulling Tigerlily to her, mouth pressing angrily against her captive’s cheek. It wasn’t a kiss, more teeth than anything else, and Tigerlily could feel her lipstick smear against her skin.

“You could be so much more but he won’t let that happen.”

Tigerlily struggled, oh she struggled, but Wendy whispered such things to her. She whispered about seasons behaving properly and people not fearing the rage of a child wiping out their food. She whispered about children being allowed to play without the threat of steel cutting them. She whispered of Tigerlily’s sisters being allowed a proper childhood without fear of being kidnapped for someone’s game.

She whispered other things. Things that made Tigerlily’s skin heat and her heart race.

“I will do it, princess.” Captain Wendy said, sitting back and smiling down at Tigerlily serenely. In that moment Tigerlily realized why Peter had stolen her away. She saw what he had seen in her, what Hook must have seen in her. “I will kill Peter Pan, and I shall free this horrible place from him. And I will do it with you by my side.”

And in the Captain’s quarters of the Jolly Roger, Tigerlily smiled.

Chapter Text

They were beautiful predictable. Originally he would have never thought of her as predictable. Not when she walked up to his thorny throne, her pale bare feet covered with cuts and bruises and caked with mud. Her tattered robes exposing her thin frame, her sunken cheeks and dark eyes. He had expected her to fall onto her knees, tears creating rivers and revealing the pale skin under her dirty cheeks. He expected her to beg and plead and offer him anything if only, If only…

Instead she had called him an idiot and began to demand the soul of her boyfriend.

It was a beautiful first meeting.

And of course he couldn’t just hand over the rat’s soul. Not after he tried cheating death. Oh, he had been a sly one and Hades almost hadn’t managed to catch him. But in the end his pride had been his undoing. A loud boast fueled by mead and good spirits. A crowded tavern singing his praises. And of course he hadn’t noticed the hooded old man shivering in the corner from age. Nor had he noticed the same old man hobbling beside him on the dark road until it was too late.

No one cheated Death.

Not of course that he and Death were one in the same. But in the end it didn’t matter because it was his kingdom and Hades was not one to be cheated out of what was meant to be his.

So for this slip of a girl to stand before him, not quivering with anything more than cold and fatigue, was an insulting. But Hades found himself interested despite himself and so he invited her to his table. Pain and Panic, his most recent servants, rushed about covering the table in breads made from grain no mortal had ever planted and wine so rich it would make all other kinds taste like dust on the tongue. They added olives, fresh from a tree gifted to him from Athena herself. There were figs and wild boar and small birds. And when the girl sat in front of this bounty Hades placed half a pomegranate on her golden plate as a gift from a welcoming host.

“Please, dig in.”

But this girl was smarter than that. She turned her little nose up at his offering and drank only from a flask she had brought with her. She even rejected his offer of a silver goblet, throwing it at one of his imp’s head.

“My boyfriend’s soul. Give it to me.”

And if he were to be honest, which he never was, he would admit that any other bawling girl would have gotten her boyfriend if only to shut her up. Hades couldn’t stand crying, be it from a broken heart or a small child. Not out of sympathy. Such sounds annoyed him more than anything, with the possible exception of his oaf of a brother. But this girl didn’t do any crying or begging or pleading.

That had been her downfall.

One soul for one soul. Fair exchange. And the girl, this Meg, wouldn’t even have to pay until twenty years had passed. Long enough for a human to marry and enjoy the growth of their children. Wasn’t he a fair guy?

“But, if his eyes and heart wander towards another, you are mine.”

How was he to know how pure this firecracker’s heart was? He had never expected her to say yes. He had never expected that she truly loved the fool.

But gods are not known for their kindness. Only Hestia, goddess of the hearth and his prim and proper sister, would never backstab. But she wasn’t around and Hades certainly didn’t learn from big sister’s example.

She was too busy admiring the skeletons decorating his vault to notice the small pouch clenched in his bony hands. She was too busy marveling at the fact that those skeletons were guards as well as decoration to notice him sprinkling the powder into his prisoner’s eyes. And she was far too happy to be back in his arms to notice he didn’t hold her as tightly as before.

Hades thought it would take a few months, maybe even a year. Just long enough for the blinding powder to make him forget what he originally saw in her. Long enough that he forgot her deep laugh and sarcastic jokes and beautiful smile.

Meg returned to him after two weeks.

But she kept her word and for that he broke his own. Why waste such a lively soul in the dungeons, rotting away without thought or pity. No, he had many other things he could do with her.

First he hid away her mortality and taught her how to scam and cheat and lie. It wasn’t like she didn’t know how to originally, but he made it better. He made her better. Slowly and slowly he filled the hole in her heart with a bitterness and anger and skills that would make the greatest con artist jealous.

He made her perfect.

And at night when she couldn’t find pleasure in an empty bed she would sometimes slip into his bed and into his arms. Immortals don’t need sleep for anything besides pleasure, but when a thin and sharp human is curled against one’s body it’s easy to pretend. Anything for another minute watching her breath. And as the minutes stretch on even a god could forget how long he’d had her with him. How long ago did she stop aging? How many children would she have raised if he hadn’t buried her in his dark, cold underworld?

But she rarely seemed to care.

Until he came along.

Him, so young and fresh and alive. He would glow like the sun and for poor little Meg, so long in the dark, he was too painful to look at and too beautiful to look away from. And really, Hades should have known better. But she was his and there was no way his brother’s pathetic excuse of a son would steal her away.

But even gods could be wrong.

And now his bed, and his castle, and his kingdom was empty. No biting laughs. No mocking grins. No swaying hips or full lips or…or anything. He was alone again.

But not for long.

---

Sometimes he’s too perfect.

When his father first pulled then into Olympus, full of pride at his mighty and powerful son, Meg almost went blind. No one could be so perfect and yet he stood there, shining like the sun. And the gods and goddesses surrounding him were just as beautiful, some with colors in their hair she had never seen and in robes so beautiful no mere mortal could think of recreating them even if they had a hundred years just to cut the fabric. But in the middle of them he was the most beautiful.

And he gave it up for her.

Meg was secretly glad his father took that beauty away. He was still the knuckle headed farm boy she fell in love with and even if he could lift their horse with one hand he was still mortal. But sometimes she could see that bit of him again. That sun god who picked her over eternity.

When they walked through their little village just outside of Thebes Meg knew the other women were jealous of her. They would follow the couple with their eyes, all but swooning when he opened a door for her or playfully lifted her in the air. And she knew in those moments they could see the same god that she saw.

Hercules was, if nothing else, very easy to please. A kind word or a pat on the head and he would be in bliss for the rest of the day. And Meg, who had always been guarded with her affection, flourished in a relationship where he didn’t view her distance as dislike. But then again she never could stay far from him. Even if he had upset her it was just a boyish smile and she’d be pressing him against the nearest wall, his immortal strength useless against her passion.

And when she sat beside him and places his hand on her belly it was only a shock that it hadn’t come sooner.

“My child?”

“Our child.”

After that it became harder for her to get things done. A walk to the market had to be done with at least Pegasus following protectively. He would hiss, somehow, at any who ventured too close and wouldn’t let her carry anything heavier than a fig. But it was easier than shopping with Hercules who would only let her walk half way to anywhere before lifting her onto his shoulders.

Meg learned to deal with it, and slowly the proof of their future progeny began showing from under her dress. The couple would sit together under their olive tree, talking about potential names and arguing about if it would be a girl or a boy.

“It has to be a girl. Otherwise you won’t get to scare off her boyfriends.” Meg teased, flicking a leaf that had fallen into his hair.

Hercules didn’t like that idea at all. “No boy is coming near our daughter. I’ll hide her. Under a mountain.”

“Of course you will, dear.”

Soon she was forced to waddle wherever she went. Not that she had many chances to waddle. Pegasus was always there to carry her any which place she desired. But soaking her feet in the small creek by their house was more fun than dealing with the wives of the village staring at her so it was a rare day that Meg left her home.

In fact, the day it happened was the first day she had left in almost a week.

“Hercules, at least let me walk through town. People are going to think things.” She tried wiggling but his grip was just loose enough that it tickled her thigh and defeated her own attempts.

Reluctantly he agreed. His sacrifice was rewarded with a kiss, she couldn’t resist his pouting after all, and soon they were off through the market. He would point out little pots that would be great for their house and the latest in robes and in those moments Meg forgot he was the son of a god.

Perhaps that was why she forgot he would be safe from the monstrous horses running towards them.

Wild screams filled the air as the horses, massive black beasts who created sparks with each stride, came running into the market. No one had seen horses so big, so mean. But Hercules was still a hero and his shock was soon replaced with action. Small children were gathered in his arms and hidden in open houses. Two horses were thrown away from the old merchant who couldn’t run fast enough. But he was so busy he didn’t see the biggest and meanest horse running straight for him.

But Meg saw it.

Perhaps it was instinct, or even habit, but she ran forward without thought for herself and pushed him out of the horse’s way. She only had a moment to celebrate her victory before heavy hooves slammed into her, throwing her to the ground like a ragdoll.

Her husband was the first to her side and the last thing she saw before her vision went black. But her hearing lasted just a little longer than her vision.

“Blood. Fetch someone, hurry! There’s blood!”

---

When she awoke, head still pounding as though the horses had begun to run through her mind, he was the first thing she saw. His strong hands clenching hers. But something was wrong. Why were his hands shaking? He was too strong to be scared of anything.

Her free hand reached for her belly and found nothing.

“Hercules?”

“Meg, thank the gods you’re alright! The doctor didn’t know if you’d make it!” His eyes, his beautiful eyes, were full of tears and painted with dark circles.

“The baby?”

And the tears fell.

Two weeks later, when she was strong enough to walk, they went to their little creek together. Hercules had built a tiny flower out of wood which could float like a boat. A flower for their lost daughter.

“Good bye, Antheia. I…I’m so sorry.” Her husband had to take the wooden flower from her shaking hands and light the candle in the flower’s center. A light for their daughter. And as the little flower floated away he was the one to hold her, his tears falling onto her like rain. And it was she who held her once immortal husband as he mourned for the one thing his strength could never fix.

And together they stood until the sun peeked out from behind the cliffs.

---

The water moved with purpose. It did not rock or wave. It simply pushed forward. Beyond the cities where the people went about their lives. Beyond the fields where the most pressing concern was the next rain. And on this water traveled the wooden flower with its flame that wouldn’t go out no matter how much time passed or how hard the wind blew.

Eventually it entered into a kingdom of darkness and cold and even that wouldn’t extinguish the fire. It floated, knowing its purpose when even the water didn’t.

And on the edge of his kingdom the Underworld’s master stood. His black steeds, bore of the moments before twilight and the dying embers of a fire, waited patiently behind him. Not one clicked it’s mighty hoof, least a spark ignite in the darkness of the cave. None made a noise, for even a sigh was like the crash of a great tree in a forest.

It was in this silence and before this audience that Hades scooped up the wooden flower. Beautifully made. He could even see the stains of tear drops.

“Look, Antheia. Your parents sent you a present.”

And the tiny infant in his arms, wrapped in silk and glowing like a star, cooed. Her little hands reached for the flower that had carried the flame of her parents’ love to the underworld. But Hades held it away from her, least her little fingers catch fire.

“Don’t fuss, Antheia. This business is over.”

He smiled, a strange smile of someone who had lost what he never though he could own only to claim something better in its place, and blew out the flower’s flame.

Chapter Text

The first time she let Spinelli kiss her was during her birthday party. The heavy pounding of the music vibrated through the floorboards of her father’s office, through the heavy carpets flown in from Europe. It pounded in her head like a second heart beat, her own loud enough that she swore her guests could hear it downstairs while they danced. She could imagine the others gathered around the table, sharing gossip and questioning looks at the door she’d left through, all wondering when she’d get back. Or maybe they were with their own boyfriends. Maybe they were distracting her boyfriend.

But Ashley T. didn’t care if she missed the rest of her damn birthday. When Spinelli had nodded towards the door she knew she’d be getting a better present than any damn car her parents could buy her. Because Spinelli, for all the roughness that just followed her like an armor or maybe like a sword, for all of that she certainly knew what a girl needed.

And what Ashley T. needed was more. More pushing against the lacy thong that had originally been meant for enticing her boyfriend. More grabbing at her bare breasts, because no bra would be hidden under the dress she’d been saving for her party. More nibbles that turned into bites about halfway to her neck. She needed that touch more than she’d ever admit.

Though the smirk Spinelli wore made it obvious that she didn’t need to admit anything.

“Shouldn’t you be getting back to your party?” The tomboy teased, even as she had the birthday girl pinned to the cold, smooth surface of her father’s desk.

“As if.” A hard push, almost as hard as the persona Spinelli wore to protect herself, came from above. “Do a good job and you can have two slices of cake.”

Spinelli just rolled her eyes even as she slid lower on the other girl’s body. “I already stole three.”

There was no time to reprimand, not as Spinelli began licking her through the lacy fabric of her panties. They weren’t the soft licks of her boyfriend who didn’t know when ‘hard enough’ crossed into ‘too hard.’ He was always soft with her, like she was made of spun sugar. Pretty but ready to break at the slightest touch. Spinelli treated her like she was strong. Spinelli knew how to make ‘too hard’ into ‘perfect.’

It wasn’t much to make her come. Mostly it was the hot breath against her belly as Spinelli rubbed her clitoris firmly with her thumb. Something about her breathing, the heat of it against the coolness of the smooth desk, was enough to make her see stars. Maybe that was why she liked Spinelli best. Spinelli didn’t need to sneak into her bedroom, didn’t need to be surrounded by the softness of her pillows and blankets. She could make due with a wall or a desk or on one occasion her father’s tennis court. She wasn’t soft, wasn’t safe.

And damn if Ashley T. didn’t almost orgasm again just thinking about it.

“Happy birthday.” Spinelli whispered against her lips before kissing her. It was the first kiss they’d ever shared, and possibly the last. Because downstairs Ashley’s boyfriend was waiting and Spinelli may be great to mess around with but she could never bring the rough girl home to mommy and daddy. She’d never want to.

But after Spinelli left to slip back into the party Ashley T. spared a moment to touch her lips with one finger, amused by the warmth there.

“Scandalous.” She sighed, straightening her skirt and leaving the office.

---

Detention was not cool. Nothing about having to stay after school was ever cool, because it just meant more time in the dumb building. And it was dumb, no matter what nerds like Grundler thought. Because spending a day learning about dead white guys wasn’t going to help anyone in the real world. Now learning about fashion, learning what colors went together and what shapes made people look like gods, that was a great way to spend time. Which was why Ashley Q. spent most of biology reading magazines. Some people didn’t agree with fashion. Some people chose to show this disagreement by firing spit balls at innocent magazines.

Some people deserved having a text book thrown at their face.

But apparently that was borderline assault and would have to be punished. Dumb school. Maybe they wouldn’t need to make misbehaving students clean if they hired a janitor who actually did his job instead of just perving on the under aged girls. Everyone knew that’s what he did, especially after Ashley’s boyfriend found the hole in the wall of the girls’ locker room. That old bastard needed to get off his ass and be productive if he was going to spend his time at work being creepy. Maybe then she could spend her detention copying lines or writing essays instead of washing off the chalk boards and sweeping the floors.

“Stupid Spinelli. Stupid bitch.” Ashley Q. grumbled as she stood on the tip of her toes to reach the top of the chalk board. What kind of cheap school still used chalk boards anyways? She should have just let her parents send her to that private school an hour away instead of choosing to remain with her fellow Ashleys. It would have gotten her away from that dumb tomboy.

“My ears are ringing. Thinking sweet things about me?”

Speak of the bitch.

“Don’t you dare try and waltz in here like this isn’t your fault.” Ashley hissed, wet rag at the ready if she needed to throw it.

“You threw a text book at my head. How does that make this my fault?”

Ashley Q. rolled her eyes. “Like, duh. It’s always your fault. You’re the one who always provokes me.”

Spinelli walked closer, somehow making her hips roll in a way that certainly didn’t steal all of Ashley’s attention. “And you’re the one who always responds. What should I make of that?”

Before Spinelli could say another word Ashley Q. spun her around, slamming her back against the still wet surface of the chalk board. She managed to pin Spinelli’s wrists above her head, though it wasn’t that big of an accomplishment when Spinelli wasn’t fighting back. Didn’t matter, not when Spinelli was shoving her knee between Ashley’s legs, rubbing her and pushing against her whole body.

“I thought I was the one who was suppose to do the provoking.” The dark haired girl teased, quickly silenced by a pair of determined lips.

“Just shut up.”

Not that Spinelli shut up when Ashley Q. began sucking at the spot between her neck and shoulder. Oh, she wasn’t talking at all, but she wasn’t silent. Her moans were unnerving in the otherwise quiet classroom but Ashley Q. wasn’t worried. She knew the teacher who was suppose to supervise her detention was busy watching the races, hoping a horse would pull ahead and free him from his job. He wouldn’t be back for an hour, maybe longer.

It wasn’t like this was the first time they’d done this.

Under her palm Ashley could feel Spinelli struggle, though she couldn’t tell it was for freedom or to reclaim her attention. A wandering mind made for lazy nibbles instead of the bites that were the closest thing to affection either of them could manage. Spinelli’s legs were still trying to give back as good as they got, one knee rubbing in determined circles under her skirt while the other trapped her legs at an awkward angle. An angle that gave her more room to work.

Ashley Q. tried to keep her groans quiet, not out of fear of being caught but because she never wanted to be louder than Spinelli. That would prove something, not that she knew what that was. So she bit down on her tongue when Spinelli managed to push firmly against her clit with her knee. She silenced the moan threatening to spill over her lips when Spinelli began thrusting their hips together. But she couldn’t hold back to groans from her orgasm that came unexpectedly when Spinelli whimpered under her grip.

Spinelli didn’t stay around to help her finish cleaning, which wasn’t a shock. What was a shock was the smear of half washed chalk that had been left behind when Spinelli walked away. No one who hadn’t seen the tomboy pinned to the chalk board would know what it was, but Ashley could see the pinned arms over a wiggling body.

“Scandalous.” She laughed, tossing the dirty rag into the bucket of lukewarm water.

She decided she had cleaned enough for the day, leaving the mess to confuse someone later.

---

“French is stupid.”

The library had been officially closed for half an hour, the librarians and their assistant having gone home and all the doors having been locked so no one else could enter. Officially the library should have been empty.

But officially didn’t compete well against final exams which were scheduled for the next week. That was why the librarians turned a blind eye on tutors staying late with their pupils, provided the last pair promised to turn off the lights before leaving. Most nights the last pair was Gretchen Grundler and whatever poor soul thought asking her for educational assistance was a good idea. But even the mighty Gretchen had to take time off for her extracurricular activities, which meant somehow an Ashley managed to be the last tutor in the library.

Ashley B. couldn’t help it if she was really good at French. And she definitely couldn’t help it if she needed the extra credit that came with tutoring.

“Le francais est stupide.” Ashley B. replied lazily as she flipped through the fashion magazine she’d stolen from the French class almost a week ago. While the others gushed over the innovative French fashion she would translate the interviews trying to figure out what inspired the designers. But now she needed the comfort of familiar glossy pictures.

“See, there was an ‘e’ at the end of that, right? But you never say it. Why do you never say the damn ‘e’?” Spinelli waved her text book angrily but Ashley wasn’t worried. Most of their sessions started with threats. Few of those threats were directed at her anymore which was a welcome change from their youth together.

“Cesser d’etre un bebe. Ii n’est pas difficile.”

Spinelli slammed her book down between them, the usual sign that her frustration was growing into a storm of rage. “It is so difficult! I’m never going to pass this class.”

“Not with that attitude.”

“Not with any attitude!”

Ashley B. just rolled her eyes, all attention back on her magazine. Every session started out the same way. And ended the same way, now that she was thinking about it. Because somehow there was one phrase Spinelli could always translate, which had certainly surprised Ashley the first time she used it.

“Baise-moi.”

It really shouldn’t have surprised her that Spinelli knew what fucking was in thirteen different languages. If Madam Dupont had a test on pick up lines Spinelli would get an A.

“Tu es belle. Coucher avec moi.” Spinelli’s accent was horrible and the wiggle of her eyebrows made her seem downright cheesy but Ashley B. knew there wasn’t much point of continuing their lesson. Mostly because Spinelli was already pushing aside her sweater and practically crawling onto her lap. “Tu me fais chaud.”

“I think that just refers to temperature, not arousal.” Ashley managed before Spinelli was straddling her lap, teeth nibbling at her bottom lip. One last long suffering sigh and Ashley was letting the smaller girl kiss her. It always startled Ashley when she thought of how much smaller Spinelli was compared to her. Maybe just shorter. But despite the size difference it was always obvious who was in charge.

When Spinelli began lazily grinding against her it was obvious. When Spinelli unhooked her cotton bra it was obvious. When Spinelli nipped at her ear it was obvious.

But there were moments when it was less obvious. It wasn’t Ashley who pushed her hands up Spinelli’s ratty tank top. It was Spinelli letting her. It wasn’t Ashley pinching her nipples. It was Spinelli letting her. And when she skimmed her fingers over the edge of Spinelli’s jeans it was only because of the slight nod that she slipped her fingers passed the fabric to play with the patch of hair there.

All too soon the gentleness of the touches, never so gentle that Ashley B. could forget who she was with, that gentleness would turn into something more. Something firmer. Something demanding. And Ashley would give herself over to it. Sometimes, when she was feeling especially cruel, she would think of her boyfriend. How he would pull her under the bleachers after football practice. How he would push her down onto the leather seats of his car. And she would compare him, because it was impossible not to compare him to Spinelli even if they were nothing the same.

He was great, but Spinelli was better. And if she knew she’d certainly never let him live it down. So Ashley had to hold back the praise. Had to let Spinelli lead her in their song and dance without saying a damn word.

“Vous etes formidable.” Well, she wouldn’t say anything in English. Luckily Spinelli was awful with French.

And when she came it was on Spinelli’s clever fingers, not her boyfriend’s fumbling hands and sloppy kisses. Spinelli would just smirk at her, like she was thinking of something clever and knew it would be worst to not say anything. And Ashley B. imagined she was right.

“Vous ne serez jamais passer cet examen.” She announced casually as she packed away her magazine and text books. Beside her Spinelli just chuckled, sparing a moment to kiss Ashley hard and fast, a flash of tongue and teeth and heat before she was gone.

“Please. French is stupid. I’ll totally pass.”

And as she walked out the library door Ashley B. felt her face flush.

“Scandalous.” She said to the empty room.

---

The clubhouse that had once been her second home was dark, illuminated by only a few scented candles and looking much less perfect than she remembered it. Maybe it was because years had passed. Maybe because no one had taken care of it after it left the hands of their baby sisters. Maybe because it wasn’t ever perfect.

Oh, it had certainly seemed perfect when she was in school. A hidden paradise in the wasteland that was the playground, home to fashion and gossip and the girls who were closer to her than anyone else ever had or ever would. But she had been a child.

Now she was becoming an adult.

And again she had a perfect world. Good grades, a scholarship to Daddy’s alma mater, and a boyfriend who loved her. A boyfriend she loved. A boyfriend she could see herself spending the rest of her life with.

So why was she hiding from him in a dirty cave in the middle of a school playground?

Beside her makeshift bed her pink cell phone vibrated, the illuminated screen informing her that he was trying to call. Again. This would be the third call. The third one she ignored. And eventually he’d realize she wasn’t going to talk to him. Eventually he’d back down because he knew that no one could make Ashley A. do anything she didn’t want to.

She really loved that about him.

Minutes passed, the flickering lights her only entertainment. They did little to drive away the smell of dirt and rubber but those smells were part of her memories so she didn’t mind too badly. Not when it reminded her of easier times. Of a childhood spent as a ruler. Of a childhood spent not worrying about anything besides what she was going to wear and who she was going to control.

The phone began vibrating again. This time it was a different number.

“Hello. Where do you think I am? As if. I don’t care. I really don’t! See you then, I guess.” She hung up without saying good bye, already regretting her decision to give away her hiding place.

But it must not have been that hard to figure out. Not if it only took two minutes before she could hear the loud thud of boots climbing into the dark club. She expected some kind of snappy comment. Maybe an insult. She didn’t expect the soft kiss to her forehead.

“How did it go?” Ashley A. asked, ignoring the rush of heat that came when a firm body curled around her.

Spinelli just shrugged, chin resting against Ashley’s shoulder. “Passed. I’m graduating after all.”

It felt like someone had punched her in the gut. “That’s good. It would suck to repeat your senior year.”

“Tell me about it. I was thinking of getting cake. You want cake?”

“You’re inviting me out for cake?”

Spinelli shrugged again. “I’m asking you out for cake. Unless you have plans.”

Ashley thought about saying no. Thought about saying yes. Thought about all the things she needed to say, she couldn’t ever say, she had to say.

“He proposed to me.”

Spinelli pulled away like she’d been burned. “He what?”

Ashley held up her hand, allowing Spinelli to pull it close and inspect the thin gold band around her finger. The diamond was big, the gold was real, and just wearing it made Ashley feel like throwing up. “After we graduate from school he wants to get married. That’s four years, but he thinks it’ll be enough time for our parents to plan a great wedding. Something classy. Maybe a destination wedding.”

“You can’t seriously be thinking about marrying him!”

She hadn’t noticed Spinelli had stood, but did notice how big she looked in the club. Once upon a time she’d been so tiny. She still was, but she made the club look small. Too small. “Was this place always so small?”

“You’re not answering my question. Are you marrying him?”

Ashley A. shrugged.

“You can’t marry him.”

“Of course I can. We’ve been dating for a year now.”

“We’ve been fucking for two years.”

Ashley sat up a little and studied the agitated girl who had taken up pacing despite the lack of room for such an activity. “And you’ve been fucking my friends for half that time. Now tell me again why I can’t marry my boyfriend.”

Spinelli just began waving her arms and grunting, like that would explain her point.

Unfortunately Ashley didn’t translate grunting.

“Mummy and Daddy like him. He’s got a future. He’ll get a degree and we’ll get married and we’ll have babies and…and it will be perfect.”

“Don’t be an idiot!” Spinelli practically collapsed in front of her, grabbing blinding for the hand that didn’t have a ring on it. “Marry me instead. Maybe I won’t get a degree. Maybe we won’t have babies. But who’s to say I can’t give you perfect?”

Her kisses her devastating, they always had been. In fact if Spinelli hadn’t kissed like she was giving away her soul through her lips Ashley wouldn’t have fucked her more than once. But Spinelli’s kisses were like a drug, making Ashley’s skin crawl and her eyes water and damn if it wasn’t the hottest thing she’d ever experienced.

One kiss, one wordless declaration, and soon Spinelli had Ashley pinned to the ground. The old carpet dug into her elbows and the smell of dirt was strong but Ashley couldn’t think of that for more than a second when Spinelli was kissing her. She couldn’t think of anything when Spinelli was kissing her.

It took her a whole minute to figure out that her cheek was wet and another minute to figure out they weren’t her tears. Though it pushed her neck into an awkward angle she leaned forward to kiss away Spinelli’s tears, trailing her lips between the paths of wetness down Spinelli’s cheeks.

“Don’t marry him. Please, please, please.” The whisper was soft, so soft she almost didn’t hear it. Soft enough that she couldn’t imagine it was her Spinelli saying it. Her Spinelli was loud. Her Spinelli was vibrant. Her Spinelli was never defeated.

So why did she look so defeated?

“I’ll do anything. Anything you want, just don’t marry him.”

“Can I call you Ashley?”

That caused Spinelli to pause and even in the dark she could see the jokes about to pour out of her lips. Jokes about being conceited as hell. Jokes about being a complete narcissist. But she stopped when she realized where they were. Stopped when she remembered all the times they’d been brought together because of their one shared trait.

“You can call me whatever the hell you want, just don’t marry him.”

“I think there are enough Ashleys in the world.”

“Does that mean you won’t marry him?”

“It means I won’t call you Ashley.”

Her thin fingers were running through Ashley’s hair, chewed off nails catching on the occasional strand of blond hair. Her breath was warm against Ashley’s neck and her whole body seemed to be shaking against her.

“We could run off. Elope in Mexico. They have awesome wrestling in Mexico.”

Ashley just rolled her eyes. “Scandalous.”

Spinelli looked up at her, eyes shining and lips turning into the most hesitant smile. “Very scandalous.”

And beside them the pink cell phone began vibrating.

Chapter Text

Everyone swings Mushu’s way. Even if they don’t know it.

And that jungle dweller certainly didn’t know it. At least not yet.

Mushu still wasn’t completely sure how he ended up in a jungle. Oh, a lovely jungle, to be sure. But it was still a jungle and a far cry from his ancestral home of China. Though, being a spirit guardian he wasn’t completely sure he had started his life in China. Or that any of his ancestors had. But one thing was for sure. Dragons did not belong in the jungle.

First off it was full of bigger animals who didn’t know when the be afraid of fire. At least not at first. It had taken him burning off all their hair before that pack of hyenas realized they should leave him alone. Unfortunately at that point he’d been so tired he’d passed out against a convenient tree stump, perfectly shaped for the swooning guardian spirit.

And then the voices came.

“Did you see that? This lizard can breathe fire.”

“All the more reason to not be here when he wakes up. More your fat self. We have other places to be.”

“But Timon, what if he was on our side?”

“Famous last words, Pumbaa.”

They were also the last words Mushu heard before actually passing out. Which was a shame because despite the fact that the voice was practically dripping with sarcasm and disgust it was a lovely voice. In its own, weird way. Luckily when he woke the voice was still there, and it had attached itself to a funny looking mammal.

“Oh look, it’s not dead.”

“For your information, I am not an it. I am a great and powerful dragon.” Mushu made sure to hiss in an impressive way, but the creature staring at him just rolled his eyes. “Oh, I’d like to see you do better.”

“Meerkats, which I am one of, do not hiss.” The meerkat, whatever that was, lifted his nose with a smug little grin. A grin which Mushu was sure he could singe right off the cretin’s face.

“And what is it that meerkats do?”

That had been the cue for the pig, or warthog as Mushu would learn later, to enter their conversation. “Dig holes, mostly. And eat bugs.”

“Pumbaa, how about we shut up, okay?”

“But Timon!” The warthog whined, looking like he’d been smacked instead of just reprimanded.

“Ah, well if I ever need advice on hole digging I’ll be sure to look you up.” And with a shake of his hips Mushu was off, still lost in that new jungle but not willing to ask for help from a snooty, and slightly attractive, jerk.

All in all it was an excellent first meeting.

After that he would run into the pair digging for grubs with their prepubescent lion, or chasing around birds just outside the foliage of the forest, or lazing around in the river. It wasn’t like Mushu wanted to run into the pair, and it was always a pair with the meerkat and the warthog even when their cub was about. He had just happened to build his tree home over their favorite watering hole which meant there was plenty of the duo wandering about underfoot. Or under-tree as it were. That’s the way bad luck goes when you’re a dragon lost in a jungle.

He didn’t spend a lot of time watching the pair. Not when he had a home to build. And it was a fantastic home, with windows and everything. Hidden by some leaves he could sit comfortably in his doorway until a bird landed in his tree and with some quick footwork he had dinner. And while he ate his roast chicken he’d listen to Timon and Pumbaa argue about bugs.

Disgusting.

And when he didn’t have his house to work on he had plenty of time scampering after the lion cub, who had a bad habit of endearing himself to unsuspecting dragons and getting himself in trouble. And if saving Simba allowed him something to lord over Timon that was just an unexpected bonus.

“Hey, Mushu!”

He didn’t have to peek out from his tree to know it was Simba whining. Everyone in the jungle knew that voice.

“Hasn’t anyone on this continent heard of beauty sleep?” Despite his complains he would still scurry down the tree, not at all to make sure the annoying cub was alright. “What’s chasing you today?”

“Nothing. Jeez, why does every one think I’m always causing trouble?”

Mushu was polite enough to not say anything, mostly because he’d tried explaining it to deaf ears too many times to count. “Shouldn’t your nanny be chasing after you?”

“Who?”

“The annoying one.”

“Timon?”

Mushu grinned. “Isn’t that what I said?”

Simba settled on the ground, brushing aside some dead leaves Mushu had swept out of his tree earlier that day. After all, a clean tree was a happy tree. “How come you two are always fighting? Pumbaa says you’re more alike than different.”

“He also says that the slimy bugs have the most protein. You know what has the most protein? Meat. Like from animals.”

“You’re so weird, Mushu.”

“Bet you say that to all your male role models.” Seeing that Simba was settling in for a long talk Mushu scurried over to sit on his head. “Now in all seriousness, where’d your nanny go?”

“He and Pumbaa are looking for a new ant colony. The last one’s disappeared.”

“You mean they ate all of them.”

Simba shrugged casually. “You didn’t hear it from me.”

“Well, guess I better entertain you. Stupid Timon owes me.”

“I’m sure he’ll find a way to pay you back. I mean, he’d deny it but I think he really likes you.”

And that innocent statement marked the beginning of Timon’s downfall.

The problem was Simba, sweet if not self absorbed cub that he was, didn’t realize that everyone swung Mushu’s way. And by everyone Mushu meant Timon did. Because once he was aware of it he began to notice Timon’s eyes following him as he crawled up and down his tree. He noticed Timon would stop talking if he was sunbathing nearby. He noticed how angry his mere presence would make the meerkat.

Oh yeah, Timon was hot for him.

And once he started thinking about how Timon was obviously in love with him (love, lust, it was all the same in the long run) he was stuck thinking about his own feelings. It had been a long time since he’d been force to think about feelings. Not since he lost Cri-Kee back in China. He knew he wasn’t immortal but a guardian spirit would outlast a small cricket, even one as brave and strong as his companion had been.

After that feelings didn’t matter nearly as much.

But when Timon caught his eye and lost track of whatever he was saying Mushu would have to think about those annoying feelings. And he found he wasn’t as bothered by them as he thought he’d be.

Unfortunately while he was willing to admit his attraction to the annoying meerkat, Timon was stubbornly refusing the call of nature. And it was pissing Mushu off.

Nothing was more productive than a pissed off dragon.

So he’d parade about, purposely brushing up against his target when he walked by. He’d stroll slowly, showing off his shiny scales which just happened to be polished. He’d be witty and sneaky and flirty every time he opened his mouth.

And it was obviously working.

Unfortunately a flustered Timon, while hysterical, was also prone to hiding.

So much for his brilliant plan.

And ultimately Mushu didn’t do plans. He never had before, back in China. Back then he’d just jump into a blind scheme, hoping for the best and settling for whatever came his way. That was how he got his job in the first place. Though ultimately that hadn’t ended well. Maybe this time things would work out better.

“You should just admit you’re in love with me. Save us all the time.”

Maybe.

In those first few minutes Mushu learned that his favorite look on Timon was stunned silence. It was probably the most appealing he’d looked since they’d first met. Slowly stunned silence turned into indignant silence and eventually it ended in horrified silence.

Yup, blindly jumping at something was the best way to go.

And since Timon looked like he wasn’t going to recover soon Mushu settled for licking his cheek in a, hopefully, provocative manner before sauntering off. His work was done. Now it was up to Timon to realize how lucky he was that Mushu was even considering him.

It took two days. Two days before Mushu left his tree to discover a pile of flowers that looked like they’d been stomped on before being left at the base of his tree.

Ah yes. Everyone swings Mushu’s way. Eventually.

Chapter Text

The bells in the castle had been ringing for three hours before the bride to be even arrived. Edward, the darling idiot, had wanted them to ring from sunrise to sunset to celebrate the upcoming marriage but Narissa cut that idea off before he could finish announcing his idea. Three hours had been a compromise. So had the dinner, and the music, and the guest list. All the wedding had been a compromise between the groom and his step-mother.

“Mother, don’t you think Giselle would have liked to have a say in the wedding?” Edward asked as the Queen brushed his hair. She had sent away Nathaniel who had previously been in charge of the Prince’s appearance. The portly man was useless in the realm of grooming.

“Nonsense, darling. Take it from me, your bride will enjoy having some time off before the marriage. To focus on…her love. …Of you.” The Queen laughed too loud but her son missed the force behind the action.

Edward nodded, focusing on buttoning his shirt. Couldn’t they make those buttons easier? “She looks forward to meeting you, Mother. She said she hoped we could be half as happy as you and Father.”

“How sweet.” Narissa said, putting down the brush. “And I’m sure she can’t wait to have my throne.”

“What do you mean? We don’t want to intrude on the kingdom. You rule so well.”

“Buwha?” The Queen raised an eyebrow in a way she may or may not have practiced in front of the mirror.

He turned and took his mother’s hands in his. “Dearest Mother, you are the most beloved ruler our kingdom has ever known. Giselle and I would want nothing more than our happiness.”

Narissa blinked once, twice and a third time before words returned to her. “Oh. Well, wonderful! I’d best go and make sure everyone is prepared for the wedding!”

With the door closed behind her Narissa laughed deeply. The little idiots just wanted to get married? How precious! Now she wouldn’t need to banish the girl to the other world. A complete waste though, considering the effort she put in reopening the link between her kingdom and her home world.

“Oh well. No one deserves to be sent to New York.”

---

The wedding was perhaps the greatest event to ever take place in the castle, and that was quite something considering the former King, bless his soul, enjoyed a yearly gala which lasted a week and never ended without at least five cases of over intoxication. Regardless, the wedding had been a hit and the guests were all torn between complimenting the beautiful new princess and their gorgeous queen.

“Such a wonderful day.” Giselle gushed, resting her cheek against Edward’s shoulder. And he was so handsome. And wise. And charming. And…what had they been talking about? Oh, the wedding! Yes, it was a truly wonderful day, even when the Queen kissed her cheek and whispered something confusing about watching her back. Such a kind woman to try and keep her safe.

“Truly, my dearest heart. Mother has set up our bed chamber. Are you tired at all?” Edward asked, leading his precious bride away from the overzealous party. Half way through the celebration Giselle’s furry friends arrived and insisted they be allowed to stay. It certainly changed the mood of the party and no one seemed to mind, with the exception of Nathaniel.

“Wonderful.” Giselle sighed, allowing her husband to lead her to their bed chambers. A good night’s sleep was definitely in order.

The bed chamber had been covered in roses, probably his mother’s work yet again, and the large bed looked so comfortable. Edward, the gentleman that he was, allowed her privacy as she changed in to her night gown. He returned in his own heavy night clothes and sat on his side of the bed. Actually, he sat on a book and yelped.

“What’s wrong, darling?” Giselle gasped, rushing to his side.

He held up the book with a sad pout. “This was under my royal…er, nevermind.”

“A book? From your mother as well?” The new princess titled her head to one side and wrinkled her brow. “The Joy’s of Sex.”

“Oh look, those two are kissing.” Edward sighed happily. He did like kissing, especially with his new bride. She giggled and kissed his cheek before sitting beside him. “Is this ‘sex’ another word for kissing?”

“Let’s find out!” She chirped, turning the pages slowly so they could read together.

An hour later the book lay on the floor. Edward was staring at the wall with a conflicted expression while Giselle chewed her pinky nail. Not a word had been shared between the two since they began reading though there had been the occasional breathless gasp.

It took another fifteen minutes before Giselle said, in a breathy way, “Should we…try it?”

“No!” Edward gasped, jumping away from her with shock and outrage. “Why would any man do something like…THAT, to the woman he loves with all his heart?!”

“It said quite a bit about love. The book even referred to it as making love!” Giselle felt her eyes watering at the idea that her precious Edward wouldn’t want to do something with her. Did he not love her? True, it looked odd but the book had insisted this ‘sex’ should be for those who loved one another with all their heart. Who better fit that category than her darling Edward and herself?

Her sad look won out over his horror and hesitantly he retrieved the book. “Something…gentle, for this first night. Would that work, my love?” He stressed the last bit in hopes it would remind her of his complete devotion to her.

Five minutes later found Edward lying over his new bride, eyes focused on the book which lay propped open beside them and hand hovering just over her…lady bits. She had agreed to keep her knighting gown mostly on for the sake of his princely dignity which was quickly fading.

“The little man in the boat? My love, this book makes no sense.”

Outside their door a breathless queen covered her lips lest her chuckles give away her position. Oh yes, happily ever after was a lot happier when your husband knew basic anatomy. Maybe it was a good thing she had kept the little forest rat alive. Nathaniel wasn’t half as funny as two fairy tale heroes trying to get down and dirty.

Chapter Text

The Master was sleeping in his chair, snoring in time with the clock that hung on the wall. The small mailman sat cross legged on the floor, trying to build his own compass while the radio played. The spot by Master’s feet should have been for Dug, but that spot was empty.

Alpha huffed. That was not right.

“Dug?” Alpha called up the stairs.

“Dug?” Alpha called out the window.

“Dug?” Alpha called under the bed.

“Alpha, stop yelling. I am focusing and cannot think when you yell like that.”

Alpha snorted and pushed the closet door open. Dug had been very particular about finding a good hiding spot for the puppies going back and forth from the pantry to under the porch for a week before finally deciding on the linen closet.

“You normally sleep by Master’s feet. You should be in the living room.” Alpha stated as though it was obvious.

Dug nosed at the smallest pup, whining when she continued to sleep. “I am naming the babies.”

Alpha’s ears perked. “Master always names the babies.”

“I want to name these babies. Master said I could.”

The pudgy pup, his eldest, yawned from the floor. “They sleep as much as you do.”

Dug’s tail began wagging ecstatically and Alpha knew he wasn’t going to win any arguments.

“What have you named them?”

Dug’s paw dropped gently onto the eldest, a boy with Alpha’s coloring and Dug’s wide nose. “Peanut Butter.”

Alpha looked at Peanut Butter who slept soundly, unaware of his parent’s conversation. He was lucky.

The next born had been a daughter. Alpha sniffed her out, half hidden under the blankets Dug had taken from the tiny mailman during a visit. “Her?”

“Hufflepuff.”

Alpha sat back, stunned. “What?”

“It is from the book Master has been reading to us. I liked it.”

“Hufflepuff.” Alpha repeated, nudging his daughter closer to Dug. His second daughter bumped into her sister, whining in confusion. “And her?”

Dug sniffed her, as though to remember. “Honey Badger. From the nature show we’ve been watching. They are very strong. She is strong.”

Alpha remembered how his second daughter’s birth. How long it took before she started breathing. How loudly she yelped. “Honey Badger.”

Their second son had somehow wiggled behind Dug and took some time pulling him forward. “Sirloin.”

Alpha nodded. “A good name.”

“I thought so.”

His littlest daughter nudged up against his leg, whining for attention. Or probably for food. Still, he sniffed her over for any ills, reassured her he was there. “What did you name her?”

“Squirrel.” Dug looked far too pleased.

“You named our daughter after squirrels?”

“Russell said squirrels are cute and she is cute.” Dug said, obviously unsure of why that didn’t make perfect sense to Alpha.

Alpha sniffed each of his children. Their children. “Hello Peanut Butter. Hello Hufflepuff. Hello Honey Badger. Hello Sirloin. Hello Squirrel.”

The puppies didn’t acknowledge their father at all, far more content with their sleep.

“I shall tell Master their names.”

And a few minutes later the sound of laughter echoed from the living room, causing Dug to preen.

“Master likes your names.” Dug told the puppies.

If they had been awake they would have probably been thrilled.

Chapter Text

The moon was fat and bright, looking like she could just reach out and grab it, if only she was high enough. That was part of why Penny liked her room. As the very top of the boat she could sit at her window and see all the stars in the sky. It was much easier to see the stars in the swamp than in the city, though she imagined that the moon would be the same no matter where she was.

In the swamps the crickets played their summer song and the frogs sang back and forth in the reeds. There wasn’t any music like that back in the city, where it was just the cars and the construction and the chatter of a million people. Out in the swamp there was just her and Medusa. Oh, and Snoops. But he didn’t count.

Some nights she would just sit by her window, long after Medusa told her to go to bed, and make wishes on the stars. Wishes that she desperately wanted to come true.

“Please, please, please let me find the diamond.” She’d whisper to the night sky, clenching her hands together tightly and closing her eyes just as tight. “Please.”

“Penny, are you still awake?”

Her face paled at the soft voice. Of course Medusa would catch her when she was up late. Those alligators probably tattled on her. “I was just looking at the stars.”

“Oh, honey, but you’ll be exhausted in the morning.” The woman sashayed into her room, though she was dramatic enough to walk like that everywhere. Her hair had been wrapped up for the night but she hadn’t finished putting on her lotions. At the moment she only smelt of jasmine but come morning she would smell like a whole garden. Sometimes she would let Penny wear some of her lotion, though only the bottle that smelt like lilies.

With Medusa sitting close to her Penny couldn’t help the clenching at her heart. That feeling of grief that had been bothering her since dinner. “I was wishing that I could find the diamond.” She admitted in a rush, feeling better almost instantly. She just had to make Medusa understand that she was trying. She was trying so hard.

“Darling, sweet Penny.” Medusa sighed, wrapping her thin arms around the girl. “I know you’re trying. You try so hard. But I can’t let you get hurt down there.”

“I’ll find it tomorrow. I promise I will.” Penny whimpered, tears falling and making her feel like she was some kind of baby. She wasn’t a baby though. She was a big girl and she’d figure out how to get that diamond.

Medusa just sighed, petting her hair with her long nails. “I was thinking tomorrow we’d stay in. Maybe bake something. I’ve sent Snoops to get the ingredients for a cake. You like carrot cake, don’t you?”

“Yeah.” Penny sniffled, rubbing at her nose with her nightgown. “But the diamond.”

“Oh hush. It’ll still be there. Maybe we can go into town. Although I don’t think we’ll take Brutus or Nero this time.”

The laugh came bubbling out of the girl as she remembered the last time they’d taken Medusa’s pets into town. A woman had fainted at the sight of them and a few of the men had tried shooting them before they realized Medusa had a gun of her own and was a much better shot. “I don’t think they like going into town anyways.”

“Probably not. But you and I can go, maybe buy you a new dress and something for your hair. And we’ll make a cake and send Snoops on a wild goose chase around the swamp.” She leaned forward, rubbing her nose against Penny’s. “How does that sound, my darling?”

“I suppose one day off.” Penny muttered.

Before she could protest Medusa gathered her up in her arms and carried her to the bed, dropping her so she would bounce high. She even tickled her a little, careful of her nails, before kissing her on the forehead.

“Go to sleep and we’ll have ourselves an adventure tomorrow.” And with that Medusa left, making sure to close the door so the gators wouldn’t sneak into her room in the middle of the night.

As she drifted off to sleep Penny thought about how lucky she was. She may not have gotten the family she had always wished for, but she had gotten an interesting one. Diamond hunting, house boats, and gators. Yeah, she was a lucky kid.

Chapter Text

There was only one thing Chel loved. She liked a few things, she disliked a few more things, and she hated quite a bit. But there was only one thing she loved and that was treasure. Gold, silver, jewels. Anything that shined under the sun.

She loved it all.

That was what lead her out of El Dorado, that love for treasure. And that was what drove her away from her former companions. Sweet and foolish boys. But she had bigger things in mind. More than even they could imagine.

Maybe that was how she ended up wandering just outside the Inca kingdom. The villagers would wander by with raised brows at the girl scratching in the sand with a stick, but otherwise left Chel alone. Which was good, because she still wasn’t sure how to approach this con.

From what she’d heard the Emperor was a powerful, but self involved man-child. Normally she would have worked her way into the palace, maybe as a maid or dancer, and slowly work on seducing him. Problem was the Emperor wasn’t home. According to the guards Emperor Kuzco had recently built a summer home in the country and would be spending the next month there unless an emergency arose.

“That sucks!” Chel sighed dramatically, scratching out the pile of gold she had drawn in the ground. She also added a silly mustache to her drawing of the Emperor out of spite and flopped onto her side. How unfair.

No, no, no. She wasn’t going down so easily. Her eyes slid from her angry scribbles to a table full of cloth and jewelry. Wouldn’t do to go into battle without preparing first.

“Hey, how much for that poncho?”

---

Another beautiful day, another adventure. Today was hunting down acorns with Chaca and Tipo for an art project. With any luck he could convince one of them to make their picture of him. Because that would just be cool.

“Kuzco, you’re late! You’re late!” Chaca was already at his door, pounding her fists against the wood while her brother watched a bug with rapt attention. Kuzco caught sight of him from the window and rolled his eyes. Weird kid.

“I’m here. Calm down. Seriously, do you ever calm down?”

“Nope, not ever.” Chaca had already grown bored of whatever it was the Emperor was talking about and began dragging him towards the edge of the forest. “Dad says we can’t go past these trees and if we do none of us gets desert after dinner and TIPO ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME?”

Tipo, following a new bug, looked over. “The bug says I have to follow him to a mytical kingdom made of gold.”

“Dude, you’re brother’s weird.” Kuzco announced, picking the tubby boy up and carrying him on his shoulder. “Either way, let’s get to work.”

Kuzco rushed around, gathering acorn for all of five minutes before settling down for a nap. He’d found seven acorns. That had to be enough, right? Chaca and Tipo whined at him but it only served as a lullaby into a deep and restful sleep. The sun light slid through the leaves, creating a warm blanket. The wind whistled past the trees and the birds chirped softly back and forth.

Yeah, this was the life. Forget the palace, and the guards and even Theme Song Guy. Well, no. He liked Theme Song Guy. But this moment was pretty damn perfect.

“Help! Someone please help me!”

And moment over.

“Kuzco, there’s a girl in the forest!” Chaca screamed, pulling his poncho until it almost ripped. The Emperor ordered the kids to stay put and without thinking rushed into the forest.

Not too far in and he found her, a pretty enough girl in a modest poncho and a less modest skirt. She had managed to get half way up one of the taller trees and looked positively horrified. Tears were streaming down her face and her hands clung to the tree’s bark.

“How’d you get up there? I mean, are you okay?” Kuzco asked, feeling a little stupid.

“Of course I’m not okay!” Now he felt really stupid.

“Okay, okay, just try climbing down and I’ll catch you if you fall. But you won’t. You’ll be fine, just one branch at a time.” Angling himself under her Kuzco watched carefully for any sign that she may fall, face flushing when he realized just how immodest her skirt was. She made it a few feet down before slipping right onto him.

Wow, that was one immodest skirt.

“Sorry.” The girl chuckled, brushing her hair casually behind her ear. “Thanks for catching me.”

“Well, there are less interesting ways to meet people. Name’s Kuzco.”

“Pleasure’s all mine. Call me Chel.”

---

Her name was Chel, and she was amazing.

Pacha, the epitome of kindness, had taken her in after finding out she was an outcast. Forced from her village and chased by a variety of jungle predators Chel had been welcomed into Pacha’s family with open arms. She blended in well, acting as an older sister to the kids and an assistant to Chicha. They were all quite taken with the young girl.

But none so much as Kuzco.

Poor Emperor Kuzco who was always finding excuses to stop by for dinner or just for a chat. He’d shuffle shyly, worrying every member of the family who knew him before Chel’s arrival, before disappearing with nary a word.

And the whole time Chel would watch with a smile.

 

Their first official date was at the Mudka’s Meat Hut. Kuzco ordered them an appetizer to share and babbled about his plan to start a llama farm next summer while drinking a milkshake. Chel stuck with the salad which she poked at the whole meal.

This was the Emperor?

But she forced a smile and nodded as he listed the various benefits that came from llamas. “So why would you need to raise llamas? You’re the Emperor.”

He scratched the back of his head sheepishly and pulled out a box. A box with a bow. Finally, some treasure! “Well, to help with this.”

Chel practically destroyed the paper, flinging the lid off the box. And there it was! Treasure! Only it seemed to be covered by some fabric. Fabric that looked like a sloppy poncho. No wait, that was all in the box.

“It’s…a poncho.” She said, tugging at a loose thread.

“Yeah, I made it for you. It was harder than it looked.”

Chel wrinkled her nose. “You’re the Emperor and you made me a poncho? That’s, uh, sweet. I guess.”

Kuzco’s attention seemed to center entirely around his milkshake. After a minute he finally looked up. “Listen, a year ago I would have thrown some jewels at you and demand you pay me back with compliments. But I went through a lot and realized that’s not who I want to be anymore. So, this is a gift from the new me. But I couldn’t resist some of the old me.”

Glancing under the poncho Chel realized she’d actually been right. In the corner was a tiny gold necklace. It wasn’t elaborate, but it was pretty.

And even as she tried it on Chel found herself glancing at the poncho with a strange smile.

---

There was only one thing Chel loved. And that was treasure.

But every time Kuzco rushed after her in the market, offering to hold her basket she found herself smiling. Each time he told an awful joke she’d laugh. She’d almost lost her breath laughing the day he sung her a song and actually did lose her breath when he revealed he had ordered his Theme Song Guy to write it for him.

And with each homemade picnic and shared sunrise from his hill, Chel worried there would eventually be two things she loved.

But then he’d surprise her with gold and jewels and she wouldn’t mind that much.

Chapter Text

The first thing they had noticed about her had been the hair. Which, in retrospect, was kind of obvious. It wasn’t often one saw a girl swinging from her hair like it was a damn vine. But she did so it was very much the first thing they noticed. At the time both Stabbington brothers assumed she was a little piece Ryder had picked up. Poor thing probably didn’t even know who she was getting messed up with.

And then they met her mother.

Only five minutes with the broad and the brothers knew why the kid would want away from her. Dramatic and patronizing. A bad combination. But they could handle being talked down to. Act dumb, follow orders, get what you want at the last second. Yeah, they could work with that.

So they followed her, listening to her plan. They listened to her story about a daughter with magic hair who couldn’t be let out of her tower, for her own good. And wouldn’t it be a reward if they could catch her and sell her out every once in a while to the rich town folks? Definitely worth a thousand crowns.

“I’ll be back in a moment.” The old woman said as she left them among the trees to talk with her daughter. Even in the darkness the elder brother could tell what his silent sibling was thinking.

“You’re right. She definitely doesn’t take after her mother.” His brother’s shoulders shook with silent laughter and they returned their eyes (or eye) to the scene unfolding. “You know, it’s awfully unfair for that kid. Locked up with that old bat for eighteen years. And the best she can find to let her out is Ryder.”

His brother’s grimace mirrored his own thoughts. Without meaning to he began laughing, earning a strange look from the younger Stabbington.

“I say we give that girl a proper lesson in the outside world. Kid deserves it.”

He doesn’t need a mirror to confirm that his smirk and his brother’s were identical. And when the old woman returned, already graying from the time away from her living fountain of youth, he played his part. Impatient, cruel, vicious. But mostly stupid.

“Patience boys. All good things to those who wait.”

And behind her head the brothers smiled, knowing she was right.

---

Catching Ryder had been easy. And when they pushed the boat into the water and towards the kingdom both realized they were less satisfied with their revenge and more with what was coming next. Poor girl, all alone and probably scared out of her mind. They’d have to fix that.

“The mom?” The elder brother asked, knowing his ever vigilant sibling was still keeping track of her movements through the forest. Her plans had been full of so many holes it was a testament to how dumb she thought they were.

But his brother nodded somberly. They were clear.

“Eugene!” She cried, all innocence and trust. It was remarkable that eighteen years in a tower could leave someone so pure. “I thought maybe you ran off with the crown.”

Her awkward laugh died away when she saw the two figures instead of the one she’d been hoping for.

“He did.”

“No. That’s not true.” The girl said, already backing away from them.

The younger Stabbington prepared to go after her but his brother held him back. Not the right time. “Honey, see for yourself.”

Sure enough she came forward, awkwardly tripping over the occasional loose rock. It was a wonder she was still walking if she’d been barefooted the whole time. A quick glance at the one eyed twin proved that he too had been staring at her feet.

“Eugene? Eugene!” She yelled, startling silent when a heavy hand settled on her shoulder.

“Hey, it’s not your fault. Flynn Ryder? He’s not a good person. Sure, he acts like a nice guy until he sees something he wants. But it could be worse.”

Her wide eyes turned to him. “Worse?”

“Yeah, we could have accepted his offer.” He took a chance and slowly stroked her cheek. She didn’t withdraw, a good sign.

“What, what was his offer?”

The younger brother moved to her other side, lightly touching her hair. It seemed to draw her attention, enough that the elder could get a better look at her. Alone in a tower with her mother. What a waste. “We were looking for revenge, but he tried selling us something to keep him safe. He tried to sell us you.”

“What?” She gasped, pulling away and slamming straight into his brother’s chest.

“Said some craziness about you having magic hair. How it could heal wounds and glow.” His brother’s shoulders lifted in a silent shrug. “Crazy, right? We said he could keep you, and your magic hair. But no, guess he wanted the crown most.”

“No. No, he didn’t. He wouldn’t.” The younger twin began rubbing her shoulders, trying to comfort her but the girl pushed away. “He wouldn’t do that.”

“Darling, he did. C’mon, you seem like a sweet kid. Getting messed up with a crook like him ain’t the worse you could do. Let’s say we get you home.”

“But, you’re criminals too. He said you were.”

Ah, she was smarter than she looked. Both brothers shrugged as one at the accusation. “Yeah, not a charmed life but some have to live it. But even thieves don’t betray those they work with. Or their girls for that matter.”

Tears, true tears, had welled up in her eyes. But the girl brushed them aside and gave a deep, sad sigh. “I should get home to mother.”

“Good call.”

But before they could set off into the forest the younger twin stopped in front of her, stooping down. Her brow furrowed in confusion, not sure what he wanted.

“Oh, he says he’ll give you a ride. What, with you not having any shoes.”

“Thank you.” Any leftover fight had been extinguished as the girl climbed on the man’s back, arms wrapped gently around his neck. If tears fell on his neck, the younger Stabbington didn’t say anything about it. And if he heard sad whimpers, the elder Stabbington didn’t say anything either.

---

The old woman was following them. As the older brother paid for a room in an out of the way and mostly empty tavern, with an extra few gold coins for advance warning should the guards come poking by, the younger Stabbington shifted awkwardly to try and keep his arm from falling asleep. The girl has stopped crying and started sleeping about halfway through the forest. The one eyed twin had his suspicions that some of the wetness on his neck wasn’t tears but instead drool.

It was a simple room. For the price the brothers had been expect at least two beds, but were instead greeted by a single large bed. There was a small night stand, a bowl of fresh water, and a few candles but little else. And certainly no sign of a secret second bed anywhere.

“Well, it’s not like we’ve never shared a bed before.” The first brother said before remembering it wasn’t just the two of them. “Crap.”

The younger gently lowered the girl to the bed, even pausing to put her head on one of the not comfortable pillows. It was almost touching. His brother would have gagged if their attention wasn’t drawn to the window.

“Alright, I better go deal with mommy. You keep an eye on her.”

His brother made sure to throw a knife at the retreating red head, with the slightest hint of brotherly affection behind the murderous threat, though it did little more than make him laugh. Now alone with the sleeping girl the younger Stabbington found his eye drawn to her dirty and bloody feet. What kind of beast was Ryder that he wouldn’t take time to steal some shoes for her? Before he realized what he was up to he had gathered some warm water from the kettle next to the fire and a cloth.

It wasn’t hard to move her feet so they dangled off the bed. Girl didn’t even wiggle. With the now wet cloth he began washing off the dirt and blood, revealing the smooth skin underneath. At first she slept soundly, but one pass of warm water against her heel made her gasp.

His head shot up to see if he woke her but her eyes were still shut and her breathing was still calm. At least slightly calm. Another experimental swipe against the skin and she arched her back off the bed.

Interesting.

The dirt had all been cleaned off at this point so he began running his strong fingers against her feet, starting at the smooth heel and up to each toe. Her green eyes never opened but her breathing was no longer calm. Her chest was rising and falling in a flustered way and he was sure if she had opened her eyes they would have been dark with lust.

Eventually devious curiosity outweighed common sense and lifting a pale foot to his face the one eyed twin licked the full length of it. The sensation seemed to snap her from her sleep, forcing her up to stare at him.

“What are you doing?” She gasped, chest still betraying the difficulty she was facing with her breathing.

He didn’t answer, he never did, but instead returned to messaging the caught foot. Firm circles on the heel with his thumb earned breathy moans. Rubbing the toes would make her arch her back and grab the covers of the bed. And he had been right. Her eyes were very dark indeed.

“Nnnghh,” was the closest she came to actual words, and the sound went straight to his groin.

“What have we here?”

Both turned towards the doorway, the girl’s expression one of mortification and the thief’s of irritation. The elder brother stood against the doorway, stroking his chin and chuckling softly. Probably not what he had expected to return to.

“I…we…I” The poor girl had been reduced to awkward babbling while waving her hands as though it would better explain what had been happening. She probably wasn’t sure herself.

But his brother knew how to explain what he had walked in on. Again he began rubbing his fingers over her foot forcing her to bite her knuckle to keep from whimpering. A serious of eyebrow movements that could have been mistaken for an actual conversation passed between the brothers until the elder clapped his hands and laughed.

As subtle as he could the elder Stabbington locked their door, leaving behind a knife with more blood on it than had been there when he left. He circled the bed, crawling across it until her back pressed against him. Her wide green eyes turned up to see what she had bumped into and in one swift movement she managed to fall back onto the bed while kicking the younger Stabbington in the face.

“Oh no, I’m so sorry!” She gasped, trying to pull herself up to make sure he was alright.

“He’ll be fine. I’d be more worried about your foot, girly.” The elder brother teased, helping her sit up. She wrinkled her nose at him in a way that was far too cute.

“Rapunzel. My name’s Rapunzel.” She said, awkwardly squirming against the elder brother.

It did nothing to help him keep calm. In a swift move he swooped her into his arms, pulling her against his chest and resting his chin on her shoulder. “Alright, Rapunzel.”

His brother continued with the ministrations towards her feet. Gentle passed over her feet to draw out her breathy moans. Stronger passed to make her squirm. Occasionally he would blow on her toes and tickle the side of her ankle.

As she wiggled away from the younger brother she accidently pressed herself firmly against the elder brother. A hearty growl escaped him, his hand barely steadying him. The scent of flowers washed over him, fresh and fragrant. His pale blue eyes met the identical pair staring up from the floor. A brief nod was shared between the two.

“You know, he told us strange stories about you. Besides that magic hair nonsense, he said you lived in a tower.” He could feel her tense but pressed forward. “Was that a lie too? Did you really spend eighteen years locked up alone?”

“I had my mother.” She whispered, no longer squirming. At least not as much.

He planted a soft kiss on her cheek. It wasn’t supposed to be that soft or that comforting. It was supposed to be manipulative and tricky. Hopefully she wouldn’t think too much of it. “A lonely life, don’t you think?”

His brother was one step ahead of him, carefully unlacing her bodice. His fingers had always been the more delicate of the two. He could pick locks while his brother could break down doors. But plucking the strings keeping her body shielded from them was not a job for strength.

So he continued kissing her. The cheek, the neck. Occasionally his sideburns would brush her skin and force her to squirm deeper into his grip. His brother had managed to pull the strings away causing the bodice to fall open. Strong hands grasped her breasts at the same moment firm lips pressed against hers.

Anything she wanted to say was stolen by thin but determined lips. Her hands gripped onto whatever fabric she could find but if it was to push them away or pull them closer was impossible to tell. But when she pulled his shirt and forced him closer it was obvious what she wanted.

In a move that had to be rehearsed but defiantly wasn’t the boys spun the bewildered girl around. She suddenly found her lips assaulted by the quiet brother. What he lacked in speaking skills he made up for with everything else his mouth could do. Which was, well, everything. Her breath was coming inconsistently and she wasn’t at all upset about it.

While his brother pillaged her mouth, wasn’t that just the perfect word, the elder hitched her skirt upwards. His lips started on her ankle, kissing and nibbling up the inside of her thin legs. He didn’t have to worry about her struggling as all her attention seemed to be on his brother.

At least until she wrapped her free leg around the back of his head, pulling him closer. Not a bad development. Further up and he found to his great amusement she hadn’t bothered with anything more than a slip. Nothing else stood between him and his prize.

From above he could feel the younger Stabbington shift Rapunzel, spreading her legs to give his brother some more room. He offered a grateful grunt before nuzzling his nose against the soft blond curls. It was a sentimental moment he figured neither would notice. Especially after what he did next.

Sure enough the licks and nips and full bites he offered her drew out wanton moans from the girl. His brother had set about freeing her breasts from what was left of her bodice, pinching and twisting enough that pleasure bordered on pain.

“Oh, ah, ahahahaha!” She suddenly gasped, jolting up and flailing as best so could with firm hands still holding her. “That tickles!”

“What?” He asked, peeking out from under her skirts.

“Your hair tickles.” She said, turning to hide her bright red face. Both brothers rolled their eyes, the elder leaning up to kiss her. He was shocked when she pulled him close, tongue assaulting him and actually making his toes want to curl.

The younger brother lifted a thick eyebrow at him but took the opportunity to continue squeezing her breasts and kissing her neck. When she was too busy gasping for air to notice him abandon her mouth the elder brother slipped back down, returning to his earlier task.

Soft licks turned hard, soft kisses became firm. Fingers running over her skin and stealing shivers and moans and needy whimpers. Her hands would grasp and push at their clothes in time with their attempts to disrobe her. Harder and harder and faster and faster.

And it was during their most passionate moments that the tavern’s owner realized how lucky those dumb Stabbingtons were that there were no other customers. A noise complaint would have soured their moods, definitely.

---

As the sun peeked through the curtains Rapunzel wondered how late she had slept. It had to be at least midday for the sun to be so high. And when had her blankets been replaced with two large, breathing pillows?

Sitting up Rapunzel remembered everything. Her escape, the floating lights, Flynn’s betrayal. Oh, and why she stuck between two very large men.

“Girly, go back to sleep.” A deep voice sounded beside her and almost made her scream. But she remembered herself and settled for pouting.

“Do I have to?” She whimpered just seconds before finding herself pulled against the silent brother. Even half asleep he knew who’s messy hair he was nuzzling against. She also took a moment to wonder how she’d gotten out of the braid as easily as she did. Or had that been their work too?

“If you don’t we’ll have to make you tired all over again.”

Ah, an empty threat.

“Promise?” She said, wrinkling her nose in a way she hoped was less cute and more seductive.

And yes, it had been a promise.

Chapter Text

“This’ll make a man out of you.”

The boys pushed her through the door roughly, causing Mulan to fall face first into the large bosom of the brothel’s owner. She could feel the woman gasping, the sound radiating through Mulan’s flesh. Oh wow, that was a weird feeling.

“Little boy, are you lost?” The woman asked, running her fingers through Mulan’s hair. Her nails scratched against her scalp causing shivers to run all the way down her spine. The plump woman must sharpen them to get such an effect. A gaggle of girls, powdered and painted and peeking from behind fans, giggled at the sight of a scrawny soldier shoved in their lady’s chest.

Mulan didn’t blame them. It was probably hilarious.

“I…er..uh…my friends…and I didn’t…I don’t…”

The girls laughed louder but shushed at the sharp look their mistress gave them. “You’re friends were right to send you to us. Come, have tea with us little boy.”

It had all started when the boys, those rats, convinced her to come drinking with them. Mushu, the snake rat, had convinced her to join them to maintain her disguise. One drink lead to two drinks to three. That was the last drink she remembered. From there it was lewd jokes and some awkward innuendo. Oh, and she admitted she’d never had sex. That was the part that was really coming back to bite her in the ass.

After drinking a vile concoction Chien Po had forced on her (“Getting rid of a hangover and freshening one’s breath should not be combined”) Mulan found herself being pulled towards the sketchy part of the nearby town by her “friends.”

‘I’ll skin those bastards and hang them outside Shang’s tent and he’ll be like “where did those three guys go” and I’ll be like “did you look outside your tent” and then we’ll totally make out.’

Wow, she totally blanked out for a minute. Time to focus.

“I’m not here for what you think. I mean…those guys…they suck.” Mulan said weakly.

“I’m sure they do, darling.” The mistress said, patting Mulan on the head and leaving. A minute later she was replaced by a lovely young woman with skin pale as the moon and lips red as blood. Her dark eyes gazed mysteriously from under thick lashes and Mulan did not feel her heart flutter, thank you. Her dress, which reminded Mulan of the sea and the sky, moved only slightly when she walked towards her guest but when she sat her sleeve pulled back enough her smooth wrist was revealed.

Why did they keep the house so hot?

“Honored guest, would you care for some tea?” She asked, her voice like silk against skin and harps and all manner of things Mulan associated with beauty. Unable to answer with words Mulan nodded her head weakly. It earned a giggle, a light bubble of sound, and there went Mulan’s knees.

As she poured the tea the beauty introduced herself as Lifen. “Madam said you were cute. She spoke too softly, for you are truly the most handsome man to ever walk through these doors.”

“I…thank you.” Mulan whimpered, feeling more pleased than she should given the situation.

“Do you have a name, soldier?” She asked, brushing against Mulan’s fingers has she handed over the tea cup.

“Pi-Ping. My name is Ping.” Mulan lied easily. The last few months of training had almost made her forget her real name. Sometimes, in fleeting, she would miss her name but whatever was necessary to keep up her lie.

Lifen made that bubbling giggle sound again and Mulan wondered if she spent too much time with the boys. Girls wouldn’t get weak at the knees at giggling and fluttering of eyelashes, right? Right.

“And your friends must care deeply, wanting to send you to my mistress.” Lifen said, fingers brushing against Mulan’s again, this time on purpose.

“About that!” Mulan interjected too loudly. “They were just being jerks and I’m sure just…having tea…for an hour or so would be fine. I mean…if you’d just tell them we…that’d be great.” Her face turned bright red and her hands, which had been wiggling around in a vague way were shoved back into her lap. No need to make herself look like a fool more than she already felt.

Lifen’s pale moon face scrunched up and her nose wrinkled. She still looked beautiful. “Dear Ping, I can’t take your friends’ money in good faith if all we did was drink tea. Besides, this tea is junk.” She winked at him, like they were old friends who shared a hundred secrets and silly jokes.

As she reached across the table to take Mulan’s hand again the fake soldier knocked aside the tea pot. It had been an honest mistake but it was perfectly times.

“The tea! I’ll get more! No need to get up I’ll be right back!” She grabbed the tea pot and rushed out the door leaving the very stunned Lifen. Mulan turned back towards the door feeling proud. She could hide until later, even the next day, and return to camp a true man. It wouldn’t be hard describing the encounter. Plenty of the other soldiers would visit the tea houses in the red light district and none were quiet about their experiences.

Just as she turned to leave Mulan found she was facing the house owner’s back. She stood guarding the door and there was no way Mulan would be able to sneak out. Curses on that hawk woman. Before she could be spotted the fake boy turned and ran, colliding into the chest of a large man, almost Chein Po’s size.

“Uh…hi. I’m…looking for the kitchen?” She said, feeling stupid when she realized he stood in the kitchen’s doorway. “We’re out of tea and I told her I’d get it because you know, I was raised that way. To be a gentleman. Yeah.”

The burly man lifted an eyebrow, a task that probably took a lot of effort if the eyebrow’s size was any indication, as he took the tea pot Mulan had been clenching. As his back was turned Mulan noticed a basket of vegetables just inside the door. Oh, it was a bad idea even as it began to form but she was getting desperate.

She grabbed a cucumber, before replacing it with a smaller version. She wasn’t trying to break records, just get out with her secret intact. With her green lie shoved into her sleeve and the hot tea pot back in her hands Mulan returned to the room with a determined frown. She could do this.

A startled Lifen turned when she opened the door and Mulan wondered why her somber look turned to a bright smile at her return. “I…got the tea.” She offered, earning another giggle.

“I thought you were escaping.” The beautiful woman confessed, accepting the tea pot from her guest. Pushing it to one side of the table Lifen pulled Mulan closer. “You’re very charming, in a youthful way. May I kiss you?”

She took Mulan’s startled sputtering as a yes and pulling the false boy close she pressed their lips together. Her pale hands pulled Mulan close, digging fingers through the tied up hair with an intensity that frightened the other girl. Did Lifen attend to all her customers with the same vigor?

The feel of painted lips against hers was odd, but the feeling of nail sweeping past her earlobe more than made up for it. Lifen withdrew just slightly, black eyes gazing at her guest from under thick lashes. Mulan caught a glimpse of something, perhaps worry, from those eyes. Oh dear, that was her heart fluttering, wasn’t it?

Gently, so gently, Mulan pushed their lips back together. It was soft, tender, and everything she’d imagined for her own first kiss. The kiss Lifen deserved from her. “I’m shy. Can we turn out the lights?”

Lifen seemed to understand, though how could she ever understand the truth of Mulan’s deception? She stood and led Mulan to her private bed chamber. It was a simple enough room. The only reflection of the owner included a small chest opened to reveal jewelry all in shades of green and blue, as well as a painting. It was a woman who looked like Lifen. Her mother, or perhaps a sister? Before she could ask Mulan found herself pushed gently onto the bed and eager hands were trying to remove her shirt.

“No, no. I…I would like to undress you. May I?” She asked, careful that Lifen wouldn’t see her chest and the additional bits she tried to hide under bandages. Lifen kissed her cheek and nodded, her cheek rubbing softly against Mulan’s. It was easy removing her dress. The soldiers who complained about women’s clothing were simply lazy. There was no real mystery to removing a dress, just as there was no mystery behind pants.

“Your first time?” Lifen teased as Mulan pushed the dress off the side of the bed. She lay with complete confidence, showing every curve and dip in her body. The moon cut through the curtains and painted her skin with a soft glow. “Let’s not keep the poor girl waiting.” She teased, wiggling her finger and crinkling her nose.

Crawling over her curves Mulan leaned forward to kiss her on the lips. For a minute, not much longer, they kissed softly. After that Lifen pushed closer, using her teeth and tongue. Poor Mulan could only follow behind hoping she wouldn’t give herself away. Lifen didn’t seem to mind, her hands guiding each tough. They would pause at her collar, the peak of one breast, her navel. As the minutes passed her breath deepened and Mulan’s face turned a deeper red.

“What do I do?” Mulan asked feeling ashamed at her cluelessness.

Lifen chuckled, kissing Mulan’s eyelids. “Whatever you want. This is about you.”

Oh boy, here it came. If she pulled this off she’d be safe another day. Using a shawl hanging from the bed Mulan covered Lifen’s eyes. The soft laugh gave Mulan the courage to continue with her crazy plan. Her fingers rubbed down the beautiful woman’s body and hesitantly rubbed her clitoris. Her face felt like fire when she thought the word, let alone when she touched it. Oh wow, was it natural to make that needy whimper because if not Lifen might need to talk to a doctor.

“For your first time you seem to know what a girl wants.” She teased, reaching up to move the shawl. Mulan tapped her hand away and returned to work.

With the cucumber pressed against her own groin, around where she imagined males usually had their…stuff (Oh, she would die of shame from these thoughts) so Lifen wouldn’t get suspicious. Carefully, oh so carefully, she pushed closer and just barely entered the woman.

“OH!”

“It’s a medical condition!” Mulan gasped, unable to think of anything but getting through the night and going back to camp. She’d even pay Lifen to keep her silence, which may have been a better idea earlier in the evening.

Lifen ripped the shawl away and blinked at Mulan with a mix of confusion and irritation. She threw the cucumber aside without bothering to look at, hand shooting down Mulan’s pants. Her fingers twirled around the hairs there and pulled suddenly.

“You’re a woman.” She said. It wasn’t a question, just fact.

Yeah, it was time to grovel. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t want to lie to you but my father is old and I’m the only child so I took his place in the army and these guys found out I was a virgin and I don’t want to dishonor my family and—“

Before she could finish Mulan found her lips had been caught in a sharp kiss. The smaller girl pushed her down, straddling her with a surprising amount of strength. She slapped Mulan once before returning to kissing her. As she kissed her hands tore away Mulan’s clothes.

“Lying is bad, Ping.” Her eyebrow rose. “Not Ping?”

“Mulan. I’m sorry for lying to you, I really am. I didn’t mean for it to get this far.”

Lifen shrugged casually, as though she normally got customers pretending to be men. Did she? Maybe Mulan wasn’t the only woman in the army. Wasn’t that a thought. ‘Why am I thinking like this?’ Mulan wondered before finding her neck was being nibbled on.

“You’re taking this very well.” Mulan said, weakly struggling. Not that she really wanted to escape. Whatever Lifen was doing with her teeth, oh and her lips, wow her lips, was enough to make her forget her questions.

The pretty girl shrugged and purred. The sound went straight through her body. “Life is full of surprises, and I like this one.” Her nails raked over Mulan’s shoulder, unraveling the bandages that held back her breasts. The nails ran round and round, settling on the nipple. Her lips followed the path of her nails. She sucked on the nipple and there went all her thoughts and worries.

“Don’t worry, I’ll still make a man out of you.” She forced Mulan’s hands into her hair as she traveled down the tightened stomach. Mulan wasn’t one to brag but Shang’s drills had given her a great body. And Lifen seemed to agree if the breathy moans meant anything.

For the next few minutes Lifen focused on anything her lips could reach, taunting and teasing any needy sound she could get out of her guest. Her fingers flittered in a way that could only be described as teasing.

Gasps and moans filled the air as Lifen kissed and nipped and nibbled and licked. Mulan felt herself losing control. Her hips would thrust, her hands clenching the silk sheets under her, eyes fluttering shut because there was nothing she could do to keep them open. Each touch felt like a low rumble, gathering across her skin and causing her to shiver and whimper.

Just when she felt like she couldn’t contain it a wave of something overcame her. Lifen must have realized, as she reduced her touches to soft caresses. Mulan wondered if she had lost all her bones. Or if Lifen would charge her extra for staying the night. Nothing could make her want to move from the bed. A strange noise escaped her lips and Lifen chuckled, cuddling against her. “Want to stay the night, soldier?”

“You won’t tell anyone, will you?” She asked, startled at the feel of being shoved between the other woman’s breasts. She could get use to it.

“If you get found out how will you come back to visit me again?” Lifen teased as she settled under a blanket. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell on you.”

In the moonlight Mulan watched her fall asleep, feeling for the first time since starting her charade like everything would be alright.

---

“Think of instead, a girl worth fighting for!” Ling sang, completely off key. The other soldiers chuckled as they sang, thinking of beautiful women. They compared their ideals. They laughed. It was almost as though they weren’t going to battle.

“What about you, Ping?” Yao asked, wiggling his brows. They had been pestering her for weeks about her visit to the tea house. And the following visit a few days later. Luckily those were the only visits they knew about.

“How ‘bout a girl who’s got a brain, who always states her mind?” The others laughed and slapped her shoulder before returning to their jokes. As they left her behind Mulan reached under her armor and pulled out the string Lifen tied around her neck as she left that next morning. A blue and green bead hung there, reminding Mulan of the sea and sky.

“A girl worth fighting for.”

Chapter Text

Like all good gossip it was born as a whisper. A soft whisper between the neighbors who had first seen him. And this whisper spread until it encountered another whisper and that was how the gossip grew.

It started off as curiosity. The curiosity that grew when the crops didn’t need tending and the animals were well fed and happy. But after that little things happened. Someone would hear his voice floating over the wall. Someone would see him running to the house from the fields. Someone would sell him vegetables for his mother’s soup.

And finally the gossip made it to him.

“Oh, I thought everyone knew. My parents sent me to live with an aunt and uncle because they didn’t think they could support both me and my sister. Now she’s being sent to marry my aunt’s cousin and I’ve come back to help our parents.”

Of course it didn’t calm the gossip. It encouraged the whispers and stares and giggles and wondering.

And Ping was alright with that. Because at least they believed his lies.

And behind Ping’s smile Mulan rolled her eyes at how gullible her neighbors could be.

---

Once, during a time that seemed a life time ago, she had thought the Matchmaker was a demon. A fat little demon who had dressed herself in human skin and fed on the shame and fear of the girls she berated. Mulan wouldn’t have been surprised if she was right. But there was one big flaw in Mulan’s original thought.

The Matchmaker fed on the shame and fear of everyone.

“Ping, hm? Scrawny little thing, aren’t you?” She lowered herself gracelessly and narrowed her brow in a way that implied she practiced each day. It was a stern look. A mean look.

What a bitch.

“Oh, yes. That’s me. Haha.” The former soldier, hero of China and savior of the Emperor himself, suddenly found herself back before Shang for the first time. She wasn’t the advisor for the Emperor. She wasn’t the calm and clever soldier who walked through the world with confidence.

No, she was a scared girl in her father’s armor.

“Savior of China. That is what they call you.” She poured herself a glass of tea, leaving the pot beside her client. Somewhere in the back of Mulan’s mind she remembered the Matchmaker insisting to always pour tea for a guest. A voice that sounded suspiciously like Mushu responded to that corner of her mind by wondering if maybe she really was a demon.

A matchmaking demon.

“…so what makes you think you’re special enough to make requests of me?”

A matchmaking demon who was still talking.

Damn.

Putting on her best man voice, ‘Ping’ tried for sweet talking and modesty. “Madam, it would be presumptuous of me to assume I know better than you. They speak your name in whispered tones across the kingdom. The woman who can make a match for anyone.”

(‘with a few exceptions’ Mulan thought bitterly)

But it seemed to be working. The frown, the constant frown, was twisting up just slightly. Just enough that Mulan could mistake it for a smile.

“I don’t normally take requests, and she is very low class…” The Matchmaker pulled the paper close, staring at the name Mulan had written. “I will inquire with her mistress.”

“Thank you, kind and wonderful matchmaker.” Mulan almost tripped over herself bowing. But maybe, just maybe, her plan would work.

---

Unlike before this gossip was born in startle shouting. The kind of shouting between out of breath neighbors who had just heard it from the silk weaver who heard it from the Matchmaker herself. It was positive confirmation instead of just speculation and wondering. It was a fact!

And this gossip didn’t just simmer quietly. It ran over tongues and through mouths and into ears. It jumped and flourished. The fields were ignored for favor of this gossip. The animals left to wonder what their masters were talking about in excited tones.

But he was no help. He rarely left the house and when he did it was to the capital city to meet with advisors of the Emperor or even the Emperor himself. When he was among his neighbors he would laugh off their gossip with a charming smile.

With nothing to feed on the gossip withered away. They became bored of their guessing and arguing. Some claimed they had never cared, even when they kept an ear open each time they passed his house. Slowly the gossip died away, replaced with stories of marriage and death and gambling and living.

The gossip didn’t even return the day when the snow melt and three strange men arrived in the village. They were loud and they ate everything in sight and they laughed at strange jokes. But they were apparently also his friends. And two days after they arrived they left with him and with his parents.

It was one little girl, who had raced after them with a silk scarf that had fallen behind, who returned with more information than anyone else had managed to gather.

“Fa Ping is going to get married to a girl he met during the war.”

And the gossip was revived.

---

“Hello again.” Her smile hadn’t changed. Since their last reunion her eyes had lost some of their original sparkle and two shadows had started forming under her eyes. But when Mulan took her hand the playful smile was still there, along with its ability to make her heart flutter.

She was no longer dressed in green and blue. Mulan’s mother had dressed the young bride in red, painting her face and covering her with jewelry. Her hair had been combed and braided and laced with golden wire and red gems. And in all that red Mulan realized Lifen, her beautiful Lifen, looked like the sun rising and burning over the morning sea.

Mulan wore only one piece of jewelry to her wedding. A green and blue bead handing from a string. And when she saw it Lifen, who had been collected and calm through all the wedding proceedings, burst into tears.

The Emperor married them. A rare privilege for the Savior of China. And when the Emperor announced them as Fa Ping and Fa Lifen a chuckle ran through the small crowd. Mulan’s friends and family laughed and wondered when the bride would discover her new husband was also a bride. Lifen’s friends and sister, her only family, laughed and wondered when the groom would discover the skill the bride had developed in her time working at the brothel.

And Mulan and Lifen laughed to themselves, pleased that their friends and family would never know how much they knew about each other.

As the sun set their guests ate mountains of food, all prepared by the Emperor’s chefs, and listened to beautiful music, preformed by the Emperor’s musicians. Lifen found herself surrounded by well wishers, each with advise for her life as a wife. Mulan found herself surrounded by her fellow soldiers and the other members of the Emperor’s council, each teasing her for her beautiful bride.

Their first moment alone as husband and wife came just after the sun set as Mulan tried to escape the crowds. Lifen pulled her into a shadow between two pillars, kissing her new husband-wife. “Tricky girl. First you sneak into my bed thinking I wouldn’t notice what you lacked and next you sneak into my heart.”

“Lifen, I---”

But Lifen didn’t want to hear her wife’s excuses and she set about shutting her up with her lips and her hands and her needy whimpers. One hand, the more daring, reached for the treasure Mulan hid under her shirt and was instead rewarded with the feel of string wrapped around her fingers. The bead, cool as night, fell into her palm.

“You truly are the most interesting person I’ve ever met, Fa Mulan.”

“I could say the same to you, Fa Lifen.” It was Mulan who shut her wife up this time, capturing her lips with a heated kiss.

A sudden yell forced them apart, Mulan pressing Lifen further into the shadows to hide from Lifen’s younger sister. The girl called out with a worried pout but neither groom-bride nor bride felt the need to reveal themselves. It wasn’t long before the girl was off and Lifen figured a whole three seconds was long enough to ensure her sister could no longer hear the rustling of their clothes.

“You ran away from home, stole your father’s armor, impersonated a soldier, and saved China. And now you take in a shameful prostitute and her sister while advising the Emperor. Such a strange thing you are, my Mulan.”

She could have said any number of things to defend herself. She could have mentioned her father’s age. She could have said she hadn’t meant to save China. She could have said that her position under the Emperor gave her to right to marry whomever she wanted. But she didn’t. Because she had a lifetime to explain those things to her wife.

Now was the time to celebrate the beginning of their future. And even while their family and friends looked for them they couldn’t find the energy to care. Because they had much better things to worry about.

Like how to remove Lifen’s dress quickly, without having to rip it.

---

Six years after Mulan disappeared from their village and five years after her brother left to marry a former prostitute, a horse and carriage came up the dusty road that connected them to the Emperor’s golden city. A handsome man with a clear face and bright eyes lead the horse, waving politely at the children that played along the side of the road. He even threw them treats, laughing warmly at their delighted smiles. In the carriage a beautiful woman sang a lullaby to her dark haired daughter. Occasionally the lullaby would be interrupted by giggles when the infant hiccupped in her sleep.

The young family stopped in front of Fa Zhou’s house and one neighbor watched, her embroidery forgotten, as the couple hugged Zhou and his wife.

“Welcome home, my child.” Zhou laughed, the first time his neighbor had heard him laugh in years, and hugged the beautiful woman. “My children.”

“It’s good to be home, father.”

And as Zhou closed his gate his neighbor dropped her embroidery and hurried to find someone. And the gossip prepared to be born again.

Chapter Text

As far as troop outcasts went, he was probably the best.

Not, of course, that he really was an outcast anymore. After years and years of trying to get his father’s (step father’s) attention and love he had finally succeeded. Sure, it took killing one of the biggest threats to their family but in the end Tarzan seemed pleased with the scars that proved how hard to fought for those who had once rejected him.

Unfortunately the problems began almost seconds after his victory.

There weren’t a lot of females in their little family. At least, not a lot in their age range. Mostly just Turk and three or four others. But those three or four others weren’t going to just sit around while the new hero was praised. Suddenly those who had once bullied and ignored him were crowding around Tarzan with bright smiles and wandering hands.

Not on Turk’s watch they didn’t.

In less time than it took Tantor to run away from his own shadow Turk pushed the other girls away and wrapped an arm around her best friend with a casual air that was only slightly forced.

“Ladies, ladies. I know you all would love to make a nest with our future leader but please remember that you’re all floozies and have a nice day.” Without turning to see their reactions she lead her friend away from the girls, pleased when he laughed at her attitude.

“Turk, you can’t treat family like that.” He reprimanded once they were in the seclusion of Kala’s favorite tree. Both had noticed her trailing after her mate, probably to thank him for being so kind to their (her) son. But privacy was privacy and it was a luxury few gorillas got.

Snagging some fruit and totally not forcing an expression of calm and casual, Turk shrugged. “Sure I can. They’ve treated you like dung for years.”

The ugly gorilla looked like he was going to argue but in the end settled for keeping quiet. Ah, that was definitely her favorite thing about him. What he lacked in looks he definitely made up for in brains. No other gorilla had managed to learn the things he had and they never would manage it in the short time he had. Really, he was a pretty swell guy.

“---Don’t you agree?”

Uh, maybe? “Sorry, was focused on delicious…whatever I’m eating. What’d you say?”

He probably knew she hadn’t been listening based on his grin. “I said at least now I have a chance at getting a mate. Not like before.”

Ugh, she hated this argument. It happened at least twice a year, more when mating season came around. “Will you shut up? Of course this’ll get you some needy, attention clamoring girl. If Tantor did this he’d have to fight the ladies off with his trunk. Tell you what, this time next mating season you’ll be out of your mother’s nest for sure.”

Tarzan laughed his nervous laugh and Turk didn’t analyze how she knew what his different laughs meant. “Yeah, I guess. Petra’s kind of pretty. Maybe I could ask her.”

“Oh sure, right. Not like she never called you the ugliest thing she’d ever seen. Oh wait, that was just a few weeks ago.”

His laugh died off abruptly. “What about Ruka?”

“The one who pushed you that pile of gators when we were kids because she wanted to see if they’d eat something with so little hair?” Turk threw up her hands at his hurt expression. “That was a direct quote.”

“Moza?”

“Her…actually I don’t think she’d done anything worse than ignore you. Best of luck.” The fruit she’d been eating tasted bitter suddenly so she threw it aside. No point in eating something disgusting just because she didn’t feel like getting something else. And no use wondering why something that had just moments before been sweet suddenly made her want to gag.

Oh, and there was his deep thought expression. Turk sometimes watched the other troop members when they were doing thought based tasks and it was in those moments she realized no one else thought as much as her ugly friend.

“Turk, if I do ever mate, it should be with someone who’s been with me even when I wasn’t favored by my fath--- by Kerchak. Someone who’s at least tolerated me since I was an annoying little kid.”

“You’re still an annoying kid.” Turk responded without thinking. “But I don’t know if you’ll find someone like that.”

“Sure I will.” He brushed the back of his knuckles against her cheek before running off into the forest.

In the seclusion of Kala’s favorite tree Turk found herself without a thought or word. One was common, the other most certainly wasn’t.

---

For the next few weeks Tarzan began to behave very strangely.

First he would leave flowers in Turk’s napping nest. They weren’t very tasty flowers, but after she stopped automatically eating them she realized they were kind of pretty. Maybe it was Tarzan’s way of apologizing for not coming with her and the gang to the watering hole or the tallest tree or wherever they were off to. He had been busy slowly working with Kerchak at managing the troop and when he wasn’t doing that he was nowhere to be found.

So yeah, it was probably an apology.

When she could find him he was always fidgeting, and he refused to wrestle with her anymore. Sometimes she’d catch him whispering with Tantor, though she never got to know what their conversations were about because he would always run off and Tantor refused to share.

Finally Turk came to the conclusion that Tarzan was courting. Probably Moza, Turk thought with a disgusted taste in her mouth. The other gorilla was being quiet lately, though with Moza that wasn’t too uncommon. Tarzan was probably running around trying to set up a nest for his little lady love.

Absolutely disgusting.

But it also made sense. Tarzan was of mating age. He probably would have already taken a mate if he wasn’t so damn ugly. Though, when she was being completely honest with herself, Turk could admit that he did have nice eyes. They were very intense, enough to scare away a predator on their own. And he was very strong. Nice strong hands.

Yes, Moza really was lucking out with her catch.

Actually, the closer mating season got the more Turk noticed she had a few choices as well. Then again she had always had options. She just never accepted any of them. It wasn’t because she didn’t want to lose out on her fun once she was pregnant. No, no. Nothing like that. It was because…it was because…

Because she didn’t want Tarzan to be alone. After all, their mating season tradition had always been to go on an adventure and if she had a mate she’d miss out on that.

Shaking off her irritation like rain Turk made her way past the troop. She couldn’t think with all the noise they made. Another positive for Tarzan. Quiet as well as smart. And strong. And kind. And…

“No, you don’t get the think that way.” Turk reprimanded herself. Not when he was out building a nest for stupid Moza.

She was so lost in thought she didn’t hear the breathing behind her. Didn’t hear the snap of a fallen branch. Only barely felt the touch on her shoulder.

A quick and terrified turn and there was Tarzan.

“You scared me!” She yelled, pushing him away in horror. The cheeky brat was actually laughing at her. Jerk!

“Sorry, sorry. You didn’t answer when I called your name.”

“Yeah and that gives you the right to scare me?”

He had the decency to look ashamed. “Sorry, sorry. I actually had an important question. I mean, well I think it’s important. You might not. I don’t know.”

“Are you babbling?” Turk asked, not use to a string of words from her normally quiet friend. And his face was getting red. Maybe he was sick.

“No. Yes.” Sighing, almost dramatically, Tarzan took her hand into both of his. “Turk, I realized that if I were to ever mate with someone I’d want it to be with someone I cared about and who’s always cared about me.”

Turk found herself shifting in a nervous way she wasn’t use to. “Sounds logical.”

“Turk, I made a nest and I, I mean, if you found it acceptable, I’d like to be your mate.”

How did he keep managing to steal her words away?

The quiet stretched long and uncomfortable until finally she pulled her hand away to play with (no, adjust) her fur. “Oh, I would, I mean, I’m sure it’s a great nest cause you always put a lot of thought into everything and I, I…I’d love to see your nest, Tarzan.”

And only when she took his tiny hand in hers did she notice he had been holding his breath.

---

It was a beautiful nest.

Though what had she been expecting?

He had build it up in a tree so they (he) could have more privacy. It was certainly big enough, something a lot of the younger gorillas forgot about. And he had even threaded flowers into the weaving that made up the nest bed. Turk recognized them as the same kind of flowers Tarzan had been leaving for her and wondered if he had been watching to see which she liked and which she didn’t.

Tricky brat.

As she overlooked it Turk realized there was nothing she could criticize. If there was she could reject him without hurting his feelings (no, his feelings would still be hurt) but the more she looked at their (his) nest the more she felt like keeping quiet about any imperfections.

“It’s a great nest.” She announced, pressing at the bedding to make sure it wasn’t going to fall through. It was probably the best nest any first time mate could make. It definitely made up for how ugly he was.

When she turned to look at him Turk realized she’d have to stop calling him ugly. With that wide smile he was something else. Something almost beautiful. Sure, he’d never have the other girls clamoring for his nest just by looks, but Turk was alright with that. It would keep them away from her mate.

“Yeah, it’s a really great nest.” She admitted, brushing his cheek with the back of her knuckles.

---

When they left for his nest together just after sunset everyone knew what it meant. Turk was sure she heard her friends laughing, at least at first. Then one of them reminded the rest that Turk was officially off limits and they all shut up. Yeah, she knew they had wanted her. She could also hear the girls making angry sounds. Most of them had probably put off a lot of offers in hopes that the future leader would pick them.

“Dumb girls.” Turk muttered to herself. She knew Tarzan could hear her but he was smart enough to not say anything. Good boy.

Once they were up in his (their) nest Turk noticed he had built it far enough away from the other new nests that no one would be able to hear them. Sometimes his intelligence worried her. “You know, I’m not as smart as you.”

“What?” Crouched on the other side of the nest Tarzan obviously hadn’t been expecting that.

“I mean, I know I’m gorgeous but I’ll never be as smart as you are. Learning all those sounds, the vine thing, the tree sliding thing. This nest.”

Tarzan took that moment to place a finger against her mouth, effectively shutting her up. “I’m smart, because it’s how I’ll survive in our family. If I wasn’t this smart I’d never be able to get a mate as great as you.”

It wasn’t a declaration of love, though in a troop of gorillas that was pretty rare anyways, but it was enough for Turk. She nuzzled against his ratty brown fur inhaling the strange scent that was pure Tarzan. His knuckles brushed against his cheek and together the settled into their nest.

And the next morning if anyone asked Turk would have to admit that it was plenty awkward. Growing up with a guy didn’t make your first time any easier. And if the other girls asked she would have to be honest that he was ugly even under that weird cloth he insisted on wearing. But then she would say he was a good lover and if they did manage to have a child hopefully it would get her looks and his brains. If they didn’t manage, and in their troop that wasn’t all that uncommon, they wouldn’t hesitate to adopt. Tarzan had been adopted, after all, and he had turned out alright.

But that could all be dealt with in the morning. This moment, laying together with the moon peaking through the leaves of their tree, Turk didn’t want to think of anything else but her ugly, beautiful mate and how secure she felt in her best friend’s arms.

Chapter Text

The head librarian shushed his assistant as she slipped behind the counter with a loud thump. It wasn’t her fault. It was that stupid custodian who insisted on waxing the floor every day. It was completely pointless. And it made her fall on her behind every single day. Curse that custodian and his waxing.

“Did I miss it?” She asked, peeking out from behind the counter. The head librarian shook his head gravely, the stuffy bugger. Oh, she liked her employer plenty but he was just far too serious.

“Ah, Mr. Thatch has arrived, right on schedule.” Her boss began pushing around heavy tomes in an obvious attempt to be subtle. A sharp elbow to her side reminded her to be subtle as well. So she settled for slipping further behind the counter.

From her hiding spot she watched Mr. Thatcher bump and trip his way through the library, occasionally pausing to grab at an interesting book or to push up his glasses. He barely made it to his favorite reading corner without bumping into any other patron. He only managed to step on one pair of feet. A new record.

“And cue Miss Porter.”

And there she was, all petticoats and blinding yellow. If she wasn’t so darn pleasant the librarians would have banned her years ago. No one should wear that much yellow. But when the young lady waved at the librarian hiding behind the counter without an expression of judgment or amusement the yellow dress was forgiven.

“Miss Porter, a pleasure as always.” The head librarian nodded seriously but his assistant could see his mustache twitch in slight amusement. Luckily Miss Porter missed the ever so slight twitch and wandered off for her usual seat in the wingback chair under the large window.

“I just don’t understand.” The younger librarian moaned from her hiding spot behind the counter. “What makes you think this’ll work?”

“Because I have faith, my dear. Faith in a higher power. The highest of powers.” The light from the windows reflected off his tiny glasses almost blinded his assistant but she couldn’t look away. Not when he was being so cool.

“What power is that sir?”

“The power of matchmaking. Come, my dear. We have work to do.”

---

If Milo Thatch had been paying attention he would have noticed the head librarian stealing one of his books. It wasn’t like the man was being subtle. No, he simply walked up and took the book. But Milo never paid attention. Not when he was engrossed in knowledge.

Likewise if Jane Porter had been paying attention she would have noticed the librarian’s assistant stealing one of her books. At least she was trying to be subtle. Or at least sneaky. Crawling behind the chairs was sneaky, right? But Jane didn’t notice her book being stolen away. She was too busy being engrossed in knowledge.

As one the pair turned for their newest read, hands halting over the now shorter pile. “I swear I had another volume.”

“Weird how they both say the same thing.” The younger librarian observed from behind the desk. “And that they finish their books at the same time.”

Her employer shushed her with an elbow to the side as the two approached the desk. Both seemed moments away from tripping onto the floor. He’d have to talk with the custodian. Far too much wax for his uncoordinated patrons.

“Sir, I seem to have lost track of a volume on Russian grammar. Did you see it?” Mr. Thatch asked, all awkward fumbling and confused stuttering.

“Ma’am, I seem to have misplaced a book about wild African birds. Do you know where it might have run off to?” Miss Porter began twiddling her thumbs, despite the pleasant smile the younger librarian was offering her.

Both librarians shrugged. “So sorry. But I would like to tell you about a new volume we just received. Something about potential speech patterns in the sounds animals make. Allow me to get it for you.”

It was the younger librarian who returned first with the book, smiling far too brightly at Miss Porter’s excited expression. Her boss followed behind, pleased to see Mr. Thatch had an identical expression. He slowed his step, waiting until his assistant lowered the book to the table.

“Oh no, no, no. That book must go to Mr. Thatch, my dear.” He said, voice far deeper than normal.

His assistant wrinkled her nose in distress. “But I just got it for Miss Porter. And we only the one copy.”

Together the two spoke up. “Oh, I can wait!”

Their eyes met, both faces turning a dull red and lips rising in matching smiles. And that was all it took.

---

The head librarian shushed his assistant as she fell behind the counter with a loud thump. It wasn’t her fault. It was that stupid custodian who insisted on waxing the floor every day, despite her firmly worded letter asking him to please stop. One could not run in fashionable heels when floors were that slick. It was impossible. Unnatural even.

“Did I miss it?” She gasped, peeking out from behind the desk with wide, curious eyes.

“No, no. Just another minute now.” He glanced from his pocket watch to the grandfather clock with an irritated expression. Kids now a days, always being a bother with their tardiness.

And there they were. Mr. Thatch arrived first, having rushed forward so he could hold open the door for Miss Porter. His excited babble reduced in volume but not in quantity as he explained his newest research to the young lady. She listened politely, occasionally gasping and clapping in excitement over the concepts he was sharing. Together they walked through the shelves, pointing out interesting books the other had never thought to read. And when they gathered their piles the pair sat not in a corner or in front of a window but instead at a table across the room.

And for hours they would read together, occasionally pointing out interesting tidbits or giggling at academic jokes. And when their usual four hours in the library was over they left together, his hand lightly brushing against hers until she finally caught it.

“That was too easy.” The older librarian chuckled, smiling warmly at the pair before returning to work.

“Far too easy.” His assistant agreed, eyes traveling towards another pair of patrons.

“None of that. We have work to do.”

‘Oh well’, she thought sadly, ‘Miss Belle will just have to wait.’

Chapter Text

Twins ran in their family. Their mother had given birth to twins, their grandmother had given birth to twins, and their great grandmother had given birth to twins. That didn’t mean both twins lasted until adulthood, because violence ran in their family too. Their father had killed his brother, their grandfather had killed his brother, and their great grandfather had killed his brother. So even if two Stabbingtons were born only one would go on to have children. Perhaps that was the universe’s way of balancing everything out. Too much Stabbington and the universe would suffer.

But something had gone wrong with the birth of Ronald and Francis Stabbington. Something that had never happened in their family history. The brothers got along.

Oh, it wasn’t that they got along well. At best they tolerated each other. But after generations of brotherly teasing leading to brotherly slaughter, tolerating was a step up.

It helped that their father hadn’t raised them. The late Mr. Stabbington had been in prison all of his sons’ lives, and a few months before at that. With her husband locked away Mrs. Stabbington could raise her boys to be slightly less dishonest and slightly less vicious. Each day was a battle of wills but in the end Dorothy Stabbington won. Neither of her sons were in jail (this week) and they had even brought home a little friend.

“And they really are sweethearts under all that growling and snarling business.” Dorothy said, adding another ladle of steaming stew to the visiting lad’s bowl. Poor thing had almost no meat on his bones. Not like her boys who were already on their fifth bowl. Such hardy boys.

The charming young man politely ate the stew, all ears for any embarrassing stories. “Sweethearts, huh?”

The elder brother, Ron, growled from where he sat hunched over his bowl. “Don’t push it Rider.”

A wooden spoon connected with the more vocal twin’s skull. “That’s no way to talk with your guest. I won’t abide rudeness.”

Flynn tried, he really tried, to hold back his laughter but it useless. His bark of a laugh must have amused Francis because his shoulders were shaking with silent humor. Though, everything about Francis was silent. And angry. Flynn never did understand how the mute brother managed to be so angry in comparison to his twin.

“Ma, we didn’t just stop here for dinner.” Ron said once his mother’s rage had redirected to refilling his brother’s empty bowl. “We…we have an announcement.”

Dorothy nodded, more occupied with trying to fish out bits of carrot than with listening to what her older boy was saying. Francis didn’t get nearly enough in the way of fruit or vegetable. Not at all good for a growing boy. Not at all.

By the time she finished filling the bowl she remembered she was suppose to be listening. What was Ronald talking about now?

“So, you’re going to be a grandma.”

Oh. That’s what he was talking about.

“A grandma? You…you got some poor, innocent girl pregnant, didn’t you? Some sweet little thing who doesn’t know to be suspicious of thieves and criminals!” Dorothy grasped dramatically, hands covering her mouth and eyes widening as much as they could. Francis managed to save most of his stew, but as the cost of a few burnt fingers.

“Ma, you weren’t listening, were you?” Ron said, rubbing his forehead.

Dorothy blinked a few times, realizing he was right. “No, I wasn’t. What was the first bit?”

“Flynn is the one who’s pregnant.” The twins locked eyes from across the table while Flynn waved weakly. “It was magic. Probably.”

“Oh.” The matriarch of the Stabbington family nodded, no longer a bundle of panic. “In which case, congratulations. I suppose you should know twins run in the family.”

Flynn didn’t look as grateful as she imagined he’d be. What a strange lad.

---

Most days the Stabbington brothers couldn’t remember that their partner in crime wasn’t meant for child baring. Flynn would sit in their mother’s old rocking chair, patting the bump that had began forming under his shirts and thinking up names. Dorothy had declared her grandchildren, magically conceived or otherwise, must be raised in a stable house. No running through the woods, being chased by guards and the like. No, her grandbabies would have a house with a yard and an apple tree to climb in.

Ron had tried arguing with his mother. He’d even tried offering to leave Flynn with her while he and Francis continued the family career of robbing rich people blind. But Dorothy would have none of it. The babies would have a proper home and a proper family.

Or, proper enough.

That was how the Stabbington brothers found themselves back in their old room, their beds pushed together so Flynn could have somewhere to sleep. Actually Flynn had almost completely taken over the room, throwing his shirts where he pleased and whining about his feet hurting each time Francis pointed at the mess.

It was with three months left in his pregnancy that Flynn began developing urges. Not the urge to whine until one of the brothers brought him a snack. Not even the urge to have that snack include both jam and lamb. No, this was a very different urge. The kind of urge that had gotten them into this mess.

Because of it both brothers found themselves under a near constant assault. The moment their mother turned away a hand would creep up their thigh. At the dinner table a bare foot would rub up, higher and higher. They would wake up not because the sun had risen but because lips were trailing up their arms and chests.

Flynn Rider was one horny bastard.

Ron hadn’t minded, not after he realized it wouldn’t hurt the babies to indulge Flynn’s whims. But after so long it was impossible to focus when so much attention being paid towards his nether regions.

That was probably why he had jumped at the opportunity to go to market with their mother, leaving poor Francis to Flynn’s mercies.

And to make matters worse Ron hadn’t bothered to wake Francis and tell him before leaving. But he doubted it would be long before Flynn forced the mute brother awake.

And so it came to be that not long after his brother left Francis found himself being molested awake. He couldn’t think of a better term for it. Flynn’s fingers were ripping away his shirt, his good shirt, and his lips were traveling over the skin being revealed. If he could the younger Stabbington would tell him to knock it off, but with that option unavailable Francis glared in hopes the cocky thief would get the message.

He didn’t.

Or at least his acted like he didn’t. Instead he whispered needy things. Things that would make painted whores blush. Things that would have Ron tackling Flynn and slamming him against the nearest wall. By Francis wasn’t impatient like his brother. Not when he knew his children were growing in Flynn.

Carefully he pushed Flynn onto the bed, hands cupping Flynn’s handsome face. Dumb bastard could have anyone he wanted and still he settled for beastly Stabbington twins. Not that they were going to let him go now. It was far too late for that.

“Touch me. Touch me!” Flynn whimpered. It was such a desperate sound Francis couldn’t guess if he was being serious or being, well, Flynn. But he couldn’t say no, even if he wanted to, so Francis laced his fingers through Flynn’s mop of brown hair, petting at the spot behind his ear that may have started the whole pregnancy mess.

Careful of the thief’s expanding belly Francis found his target. No more belts to fumble with, not when Flynn could barely fit in his pants. And Francis wasn’t at all complaining. The one eyed twin found his target easily, though the frantic thrusts of Flynn’s hips weren’t helping. He distracted Flynn with a firm kiss that soon became a passionate battle of tongue and teeth.

Well trimmed nails cut into Francis, leaving red welts on his chest. He retaliated with firm strokes and teeth against Flynn’s throat. His moans filled the room, making up for the silence of his partner. Gasping, panting, cursing, and back to gasping. Flynn was painfully predictable.

The smaller thief didn’t last long under the strong touches and playful bites and adoring gaze. He cuddled up against the massive man, hand resting on his belly where his, their, children were.

“They’re going to ruin my figure.” Flynn grumbled, smiling when he felt the silent laughter.

---

But magic, it seemed, valued Flynn’s appearance as much as he did. Perhaps that was why one morning, nine months after their post theft mishaps, Flynn awoke to find two howling babies in his arm. And thank god, because there was no way he could have those brats naturally.

The new boys soon woke their fathers and grandmother. She rushed about, all smiles and cheerful clucking. The fathers did less rushing and more sleeping. They could greet their sons later in the morning.

And because they slept in they missed the chance to name the boys.

“Their lose.” Flynn said to Thomas, the larger and potentially older boy. Tobias slept in a basket beside his father and brother, already mimicking his fathers in loud snores and occasional grunts. Actually both boys took after their fathers. Short mops of red hair, angry eyes, and tubby faces.

“Poor bastards.”

By the time the Stabbington brothers made it downstairs Flynn had already started on teaching Tomas the basics of the smolder. With any luck their fathers’ looks wouldn’t distract from Flynn’s overwhelming sexiness.

And maybe they would manage to keep the tradition and not kill one another.

“Yeah, a guy can wish.” Flynn sighed as Tobias slammed his fist lazily into his brother’s face.

Chapter Text

Ping, no Mulan, was alone. The mountain wind sent her hair flying across her face blocking the sight of empty white. If she focused she could almost hear her father’s voice repeating an ancient wisdom while her mother reprimanded her for yet another accident. But her home was never this cold, this lonely.

Shang had left her a thin blanket, useless against the cold, and her horse. “How thoughtful. Spare my life so I can freeze to death.” An angry huff sent her hair out of her face for a moment. She was startled by how happy she was when the black curtain of hair returned. She couldn’t stay like this forever. Eventually she would need to go home. Mushu had already started out with her Khan and Crickee to find an shorter path back to her village. At least, that was what he said. Mulan suspected he was offering her a little time to gather her thoughts.

“What’s to gather?” She said aloud. “I’m a failure, both as a man and a woman.” With zero dignity left she allowed herself to collapse backwards. The cold didn’t bother her which was probably a bad sign. All she could think of was how useless her efforts had bee. As Ping she could defeat a whole army. As Mulan she could do nothing.

After even her shame couldn’t numb the growing cold Mulan realized she had to move. She didn’t have to go home. Not right away, or even ever. She could just tie her hair back up and start someone else. Call herself Ping. Whatever she did she’d need to do it soon before the footprints left by her horse were completely covered in snow.

Fate, or perhaps a higher power with a very sick sense of humor, decided to play its hand. From the corner of her eye came movement unnatural to a snow covered mountain. What was left of her self-preservation instincts kicked in and forced her behind a large boulder. ‘Keep breathing, you’ll be okay, just keep breathing and I’m sure it’s nothing, oh please be nothing.’

Not for the first time Mulan was wrong. It was something much worse than nothing.

Bloodied and battered warriors were pulling themselves out of the snow and though she couldn’t hear them over the wind she saw their mouths spilling out angry sounds. Probably cursing her, or China, or other things she couldn’t imagine. Even if Shang and the others had abandoned her she couldn’t abandon China. She needed to find Mushu and get to the emperor.

Her head turned in time to escape a large hand which smacked against the boulder. Another hand slammed loudly on the other side of her, two large arms trapping her.

“Soldier.” Up the long arm her eyes traveled until she reached the face of a man she thought she had killed. “You seem lost.”

---

Shan Yu had never thought much about death. As a boy he had been told stories of the afterlife but he had never thought it would be so white. So much white around him it was blinding, even with his eyes clenched shut. The air in his lungs began to burn but he couldn’t exhale. As spots of light began flickering under his eyelids Shan Yu decided he was not going to fall like this, and not to some child in a warrior’s armor. On instinct and determination alone he pulled himself from the snow and gasped for fresh air.

A white field surrounded him, spears and shields cluttering the area. His army was gone, washed away by a wave of snow and bad luck. What cruel god sent that child soldier to intercept him? The growl that began in the back of his throat turned into a scream which he couldn’t contain. It echoed back into his ears, only furthering his rage.

A few of his men, those with determination that matched his, had managed to escape the white tomb that took their cohorts. They were all examining the snow with the anger and regret their commander felt. But Shan Yu didn’t have time to focus on that. His hawk was staring at a large bolder with a look he recognized. ‘Someone is watching us.’

And there he was. As though the gods were apologizing for his defeat they had offered the shivering boy. Huddled in a blanket, hair free to flutter in the wind, the boy truly looked like a young child spying on the bigger kids. His armor was missing but Shan Yu recognized the face and the delicate hands that had lead to his failure.

The child’s breathing increased causing his chest to rise and fall erratically. He was a panicked little thing, far different from the soldier who stared into his eyes not long before. But under the terror came stubborn will. “You will never reach the emperor.”

Lazily Shan Yu slapped the child across his face. There was the fire from before. He had seen strength on the battle field. He had seen power and determination. But rarely did he see the same intellect as this boy displayed. How rare were those watchful, thinking eyes that waited for a chance to escape or even fight back. Most soldiers were bags of meat made to follow orders and little more. To run into this cunning youth was interesting, and a threat.

Behind the thoughtful eyes there was also strength, proven when the young boy aimed a kick at Shan Yu’s groin. It wasn’t hard to anticipate and slap away the attack. He was shocked at the sudden punch against his ear. The hit stunned him long enough for the boy to dash away.

Only a short dash away Shan Yu’s hawk dove at the young soldier, claws digging through the blanket and drawing blood. It only resulted in a weak stumble before he was back to running. Not for the first time Shan Yu found himself grateful for all the training that his hawk had gone through. The bird circled back and caught the soldier’s hair.

With the boy kept in place Shan Yu could casually walk over. His men wandered over sluggishly, but his larger soldiers, the twins, didn’t pause before grabbing the Chinese boy’s arms. Shan Yu slapped the boy across the face, enjoying the sound of flesh against flesh. The boy glared at him but remained firm and stubborn against the warlord.

“Behave yourself, child. I have no desire to hurt you.” He tilted his head, enjoying to confused look on the boy’s soft face. “Not yet.”

His archer made his way over to their small group, holding a Chinese helmet and sword. “Found these. There are tracks leading to the city. The army survived.”

The boy looked away from the weapon, perhaps ashamed. What had happened after the snow fell?

“They left without you? After you killed all my men did your commander decide he would be a better hero than a child like yourself?” Shan Yu grabbed his chin, pulling the boy’s face close. “Such a coward to relay on a child’s strength to make him powerful.”

“Shang would never do that!” The boy growled, spitting in Shan Yu’s face.

His men prepared to attack but Shan Yu lifted his hand to calm them. His fingers traced down his face, catching the boy’s saliva. He caught the boy’s eyes and licked away the spit. A deep chuckle escaped him at the boy’s startled expression. “How childish.”

Walking away Shan Yu picked up the sword and inspected it. “You call your commander by his name. How intimate. And yet he leaves you to die.” He turned quickly and punched the young soldier in the stomach, his men forcing the boy to stay up through the attack. Shan Yu closed his hand around the boy’s throat and for a moment he mused over how delicate his victim was. Under his thumb was a panicked pulse and he doubted it would be long before a dark bruise appeared under his grip. A smile, twisted and wicked, appeared on his face.

“Sir?” His archer’s voice was anxious, and his men appeared confused to why they were still playing with this scrap of a child.

“The emperor can wait.” His hand moved from the delicate neck to scratch down the child’s check. Four red welts appeared on his pale skin. Another pass on the skin and he found blood on his sharp nails. He took a moment to lick the blood away, enjoying the look of fear that appeared on the boy’s face. “Set up a fire. It would be rude to let our new friend get cold.”

As his men rushed to do his bidding Shan Yu moved closer to his catch. It was odd that his commander would leave him alone in such a cold mountain pass, especially after the destruction of their enemy’s army. Perhaps he was merely a ploy to keep them occupied. Perhaps he rebelled against his commander, this Shang. What was the boy’s crime?

Grabbing the front of his shirt Shan Yu forced the boy to follow him onto the field, the white tomb that trapped his army. It wasn’t long before he found a body, a thin youth about the same age as the boy he was forced behind him. He reached for his sword and realized it was missing. Was it lost in the snow or had his enemies taken it with them? He resorted to pulling out his dagger and cutting through the dead man’s arm. Reaching into the wound he covered his hand in blood which earned a startled gasp from his captive.

“This man is dead because of you. Not because of your army, but because of you.” He smeared the blood across the boy’s face, covering the wound his nails had made not long before.

“You’re sick!” The boy yelled, flinching as Shan Yu lifted his hand. Tempted as he was Shan Yu decided against slapping the child.

Dragging his nails over the boy’s shoulder wound resulted in the boy trying to wiggle away and gasp in pain. It was almost worth his army dying to see the boy’s agony. “All these men dead and your commander left you behind to join them. What did you do to upset him?”

As his hand dipped lower Shan Yu noticed the boy’s face turn bright red. Embarrassment? He continued lower and saw him begin to squirm worriedly. He noticed the cuts in the shirt caused the front to fall open revealing bandages and…

“Oh. Oh.” Shan Yu felt, for the first time in a long time, shock. He pulled the bandages away, free hand catching the child’s arms to keep his captive still. The bandages fell away revealing perky breasts and just below a large cut. He remembered the cut, but not the breasts. “You’re a woman.”

The squirming increased and if he wasn’t so much bigger the boy, or the girl as it was, would have easily escaped. It made sense. Her injury must have revealed her gender. How fortunate he had managed to hit her. “A girl pretending to be boy, probably to protect your family. Does your family appreciate what you’ve done for them? Or was it for another reason?”

She jerked away as he twisted her nipple between two fingers. “Monster.”

Digging deeper in the dead man’s arm Shan Yu covered a finger in blood and forced the girl closer. Painting her lips with the blood made her look more feminine and for a moment he wondered how he thought she was a boy at all. Before it hadn’t been a question. A soldier was a boy. A threat came from a boy, at least in China. Back home a prostitute had tried killing him once, rising his awareness of the threat that came from women. But in China they were all weak, delicate things. The girl in front of him wasn’t weak.

“Did you love him? This commander, your Shang. Did you want to impress him? How impressed was he before he found out about these?” His whole hand gathered the breast, squeezing it uncomfortably.

“Because I’m a woman I had to be in love?” She hissed, spitting at him again. She missed, but didn’t fail to impress him yet again. How fun to have such a spirited woman biting back against him.

Waving his free hand Shan Yu gave the sign to him men that he wanted privacy. Most of them had already left to build a fire behind the large rocks but a few had been watching intently. It wouldn’t do to give them a free show.

He gathered the rope he always carried to tie her hands together. It was harder than he thought holding her still. And besides, it would be more interesting with both his hands free. Dragging her to her feet was easy but keeping her upright was harder. Eventually he settled on holding her close against him. It caused her to stop struggling and instead she focused on blushing.

“A new sensation for you, isn’t this? Do you feel the difference between men and women?” Thrusting against her firmly he was rewarded with her sounds of worry. Under his hands she was shivering, either from cold or something else. He hoped it was both. “Did you watch your fellow soldiers and ponder how different they are from you?”

The girl resorted to hissing angrily. “You’re disgusting.”

Shan Yu laughed deeply. “And all this suffering could have been avoided if you had just stayed home and married some lucky farmer. Did you do it for your Father? Was he old? Dying? No son to honor your family, I suppose. How tragic they had only you.”

“They love me. I honor them as best I can.” She spat back.

He caught her face and pulled it close, enjoying her tiny gasp. “Can a daughter honor a father?”

And with those soft words her face fell. She refused to look him in the eye, staring to the left with a stubborn pride he admired. It wouldn’t do to have her ignoring him though. He licked away the drying blood on her cheek, earning startled sounds and weak struggling. “What’s your name, little girl?”

“…Mulan.” She whispered so soft he could barely hear it.

“And what’s your name, little boy.”

Her eyes, finally locked with his and widened. “Ping.”

Shan Yu chuckled deeply and bite her lip. “I believe I’m going to keep you, Ping-Mulan.”

---

Two weeks passed quickly. Mulan hadn’t realized how fast the days went by until Shan Yu’s archer, Gudu, told her what day it was. The small band had set up in a forest just outside the Emperor’s city. She wasn’t allowed to leave the camp site and most days found herself chained to Shan Yu’s tent. They treated her well, except when she tried to escapes. The bruises on her arms had mostly faded, though her desire to escape hadn’t completely faded.

At first she had been afraid for the emperor. Each day all but the twins would leave their camp. At night fall they would return with food and various other necessities. They would never return covered in blood and according to their angry words over the nightly fire the emperor still lived.

After the nightly meal the men would stay up talking or practicing their weapon crafts. Shan Yu would allow her to fight with the men, but being chained to the tent always allowed them the advantage. After a few minutes of mostly defending herself Shan Yu would growl softly and tug her chain. “Come, Ping-Mulan.”

“I’m not a dog you can order around.” She hissed, eyes narrowed in anger and face flushed bright red. Behind her the men laughed though her glare quickly quieted them.

Each night would end with the cold ushering her into his tent with his lumbering form patiently following behind. She refused to undress though he had either bought or stolen her night clothes. Instead she would lie as far away from him as possible and the cold night air would eventually force her to move closer and closer to her captor until he grew tired of the game and pull her close against him.

“I hate you.” Mulan would hiss each night, ignoring the spark inside her when he chuckled loudly.

“I’m glad. It will be upsetting when I eventually have to get rid of you.”

And while China was safe, its savior remained trapped.

Chapter Text

“My name is Mulan.”

The war had made heroes of them all. His company returned to their villages with the praise of the Emperor. He still heard rumors of their various exploits. And every few months Shang would even get to see the more rowdy of his soldiers. Usually while bailing them out of whatever jail they were being held in.

As the captain that saved China he had been granted many favors. In honor of his accomplishments he’d been granted the hand of the Emperor’s youngest daughter and a plot of land. His family’s power grew and most of the city watched him in hopes he would be announcing the his wife’s pregnancy soon.

But while he made small talk with his neighbors and had dinner with his wife and helped train the young soldiers there was still a voice in the back of his mind. A soft voice that repeated the same words over and over.

“I did it to save my father.”

Sometimes his wife would force him awake. She would stare at him with wide eyes that only reminded him of her. He remembered her gentle touch, hesitant and shy. He remembered her strength and her smile.

Some of his dreams were different. Instead of memories he would dream of her coming into his tent late at night. She would let her hair down and prove she was no man. Those dreams were harder to explain to his wife. But Su asked few questions while he offered no answers.

“I didn’t mean for it to go this far.”

Occasionally the Emperor would call him for dinner. Beside his delicate wife Shang would retell the story of the Shan Yu’s defeat. But his voice would always hesitate when he arrived at her part of the story. But Su would pat his hand, nodding encouragingly.

“It was the only way.”

After the first dinner Shang left the city for a month. When he returned he didn’t say where he had gone. But Su didn’t ask. Su was the perfect wife, obedient and quiet. She’d only ask questions when necessary, and no matter the answer she’d accept it. Shang should have been grateful, but something about her left him cold.

“Please believe me.”

“Shang, my sisters stopped by for tea. They brought up baby names. Do you have any ideas?” Yes, she was kind and sweet. She was even tempered and a good chef. If he needed something she would be first to offer him help. But it was like something was missing.

“Ping. I like the name Ping.” She was still looking at him with those too wide eyes. “Maybe Mulan, if we have a girl.”

There was that smile. Too bad it meant nothing to him.

“My name is Mulan.”

---

The air was alive with excited chattering. Old women whispered fiercely while their husbands gambled with lose change and steamed dumplings. The younger women split their time between buying various necessities and yelling at their children. Shang politely passed a pair of new mothers comparing stories of their time pregnancy. The taller mother had been jumping back and forth making it impossible for him to pass without knocking into her child.

Once further down the road Shang realized to his great shock that there were a lot of new mothers. Maybe he just hadn’t been looking. He wondered about trying harder with Su. The Emperor was a nice enough father-in-law but at least once a month Shang would get letters from him with less than subtle references to grandchildren.

A commotion down the road broke him from his thoughts, and thank goodness. He followed the sound of arguing, pushing through the small crowd to see what was going on. The owner of the fruit store was shouting for guards, complaining about a thief. But to Shang it didn’t look like a thief. It looked like a young woman.

“Mulan?”

Her dark eyes were still as bright as he remembered. But that was all that was the same. Her hair had grown but it was unwashed and tangled. There were dark bags under her eyes and bruises all along her arms. Shang didn’t know if he was imagining things but she even seemed to be wearing the same clothes he had left her in years before.

At the sound of her name she froze, turning with a terrified look. While she had only been tugging to free herself at first she now gasped and used all her strength to flee the stand’s owner.

“Wait, don’t run. What happened to you? You look awful!” He gathered her in his arms but it didn’t take much to keep her still. “Mulan, what’s going on?”

“Don’t you mean Ping?” There was that fire. The same burning that she showed with each of his challenges.

“Wu, how much do you want. I’ll pay it.” The stand’s owner gave him a strange look but agreed to take his money. Shang wrapped his arm around Mulan, leading her out of the crowd and towards his house. She made weak attempts at getting away but either she didn’t care enough or she was too tired. He hated that the word entered his mind, but it was like she’d been broken.

What had happened to her?

Shang’s housekeeper, a fierce old woman named Jingfei who came with Su after the marriage, met them at the door. Her heavy brow narrowed at the sight of her master approaching with a scared and battered girl but she didn’t say a word. That didn’t mean the Emperor wouldn’t be hearing of this soon. Jingfei was a horrible gossip which probably explained why she had been sent to live with the Emperor’s youngest daughter.

“Clean this girl up and feed her.” Shang ordered, pushing Mulan into Jingfei’s arms and regretting the action as soon as he did it. But the frail girl settled into his housekeeper’s arms and allowed herself to be lead away.

Something seemed to clench in Shang’s chest. His whole body hurt but he didn’t have time to focus on it. He needed to send a message to Mulan’s parents. Tell them he had found her. They would be so happy!

But halfway to his study Shang stopped. He couldn’t tell them about Mulan’s return. He had told them she’d been lost in the mountains. He had called her their son. If he reunited them would the former soldier tell of what he had done? Not that anyone would care about him abandoning her in the mountain pass, but she would reveal how the battle against Shan Yu really went. People would learn he had been saved by a woman.

Shang shook his head and all but ran to his study. It didn’t matter what she said. No one would believe the word of a woman. And he could reunite her with her parents. They’d be so grateful they wouldn’t care that he had been the one who left her behind.

With no one around the captain dropped his head against his door. “I am an awful person.”

---

“Shang, there seems to be a girl in our bath. Uh…did you know about this?”

Su, sweet and delicate Su, peeked into his study with a wide, startled look on her face. She seemed to have at least thirteen different ways to express worry. This was look eleven, proper cause for alarm. No, this would not end well.

“I’m sorry, what?” He asked, trying for innocent and confused.

“A girl? In our bath?”

“Oh. OH! Yes, she…that is a funny story.” Su was down to worried expression seven. “See, remember when we defeated Shan Yu’s army? Well we met this girl who disguised herself as a boy for…reasons and she was lost during the avalanche. But turns out she’s fine.”

His wife wrinkled her nose cutely and she opened her mouth a few times before nodding. Su wasn’t the type to make waves, even in her own home. Technically speaking she had far more power than him. Her father was the Emperor after all. But rarely did she take advantage of such power. Instead she would let her housekeeper take control, calling out orders and challenging Shang.

For an hour Shang tried to compose a letter explaining the situation to Mulan’s parents. Almost a year had passed since he met them, looking to see if their “son” had survived. A letter wouldn’t appease them. And if she talked.

“I won’t tell anyone.”

If anyone asked in the future he didn’t jump back. No, he recoiled but not out of shock. She hadn’t startled him.

Yeah, he could believe that.

“Mulan. How are you feeling?” She gave him a flat look in response and he realized it had been a stupid question. “Please, come in.”

Jingfei had put her in one of Su’s bigger white dresses. It swam around her, doing nothing to hide how skinny she was. But her ink black hair against the white was stunning. Of course that thought only made his blush painfully. Better to avoid such thoughts in the future.

“I meant it. No one has to know what happened in the mountains. Just let me recover and I’ll return to my parents.” That cheerful tone was gone, replaced with bitterness.

“What happened to you, Ping.” Their eyes widened at the same time. “Mulan! I mean Mulan. Er, what happened to you?”

She shrugged, flipping her hair over her shoulder with an air of confidence that he hadn’t seen in her before. “Shan Yu survived. He found me after you left, and he got his revenge. Are you going to eat that apple?”

With Shang stuck opening and closing his mouth, for no words managed to form, she casually reached over for the red fruit. Her movements caused her dress to slip, revealing pale skin. But she sat back and said nothing about where his eyes had wandered.

“A handful of his men survived and for the last few years they kept camp outside the city. He was waiting for something. I’m still not sure what. Probably a celebration where he could kill the Emperor. But the others got tired of waiting. About a week ago they got into a huge fight. Shan Yu killed his men and I used the opportunity to escape.” Her brow raised elegantly at his startled expression. “Something wrong?”

“You…you’re just so calm about all this.”

“I wasn’t while it was happening, but now,” she shrugged, “now I know I’m not in danger anymore. Not like I was. Shan Yu chased me as I was escaping and we both fell off a cliff. I’m sure he died. It was nothing short of dumb luck that I didn’t as well.”

Shang furrowed his brow. “I’ll have to send a message to the Emperor right away. Can you remember where this was? Without his body there’s no way to know for sure that he’s dead.”

“Too bad you didn’t think of that last time.”

“You will not speak to me like that.” Shang growled, slamming both hands on the table that separated them. She didn’t flinch, but did draw back. “Many mistakes were made that day.”

The loud, crisp sound of Mulan biting into the apple seemed to be her only reply. She didn’t even look at him until he sighed in defeat.

“I’m sorry. Do you remember where you fell?”

“Next to a river. That was the only reason I survived. But other than that I can’t really help you. Now, if you’ll excuse me I’ll be retiring to my room for the evening. Give me a few days, a week at most, and I’ll leave.”

Shang sighed but nodded. “Jingfei will lead you to the guest room. We’ll take care of you as long as you need.”

Mulan paused at the door. “It is the least you could do.” And in a flutter of white she was gone.

---

The days passed at a snail’s pass Shang. Each day he waited for response for the Emperor while watching his wife slowly become friends with the soldier he had left to die. It was agonizing. Mulan had become Su’s life sized doll. She would comb her hair, styling it with clips and ribbons. Mulan would sit through it quietly, allowing Su to babble on and on. The only times she would move would be to smirk at Shang in a way that made his stomach tie in knots.

Rarely would he be alone with her, which he imagined was his wife’s plan. If Su saw them alone in a room she would slip away with Mulan. Even Jingfei was getting in on the act, distracting Mulan with little chores should she lack a place to be.

The day after her arrival Shang shared only one conversation with his guest. It was awkward and strained and afterwards Shang locked himself in his study until well after dinner. If she was bothered by the distance he put between them Mulan didn’t show it.

The next day he caught her in the garden feeding some birds. They flocked around her without fear but scattered when he walked onto porch.

“They like you.” He said, feeling awkward.

She turned her head delicately and for a minute Shang was stunned that he ever mistook her for a boy. “They’re afraid. A hawk is sitting on your roof and they don’t dare pass him.”

Shang moved to her side, looking to where she pointed. “So there is.”

Mulan threw another handful of grain to the birds and smiled. “They’ll be fine. Oh, and I sent a message to my parents. You don’t need to tell them what happened.”

And with that she was gone again. In that moment he was reminded of water, slipping out of his grasp with an ease he could barely comprehend. Or perhaps air, brushing against him for brief moments before disappearing.

But he still caught himself looking for the fire she once had.

 

“Mulan? Oh, there you are!”

“Hello, Su.” Mulan turned slowly, but not slow enough that the hawk resting on her wrist wouldn’t startled. He took off leaving behind three deep cuts.

“Oh no! Here, let me get you cleaned up.” Su carefully pulled Mulan back towards the house, clicking her tongue at the blood that stained her guest’s white dress. That would never wash out.

But Mulan didn’t seem bothered by the pain or the dress. Instead she was focused on the hawk flying away.

---

After three days the Emperor’s reply came. It was simple and short. He agreed to send out scoots to look for Shan Yu’s body and would send the results of the search to Shang as soon as he had them. He said nothing about wanting to interview Mulan. Nothing about sending message to her parents. In fact it was as though Shang hadn’t said a word about the girl in his original letter.

Shang took it as a sign that he could just send Mulan home once she was ready so he filed away the message and went about his business. Everything seemed to be going well for the captain, ignoring the intense stares he received each time Mulan saw him.

Two more days passed, however, with no sign that Mulan was preparing to leave. Once or twice he’d try bringing up the subject but each time Su would start babbling about the happenings in the market and what the neighbors were up to. She still tried to keep Mulan and her husband separated so he had little time to talk with his guest.

His opportunity finally came while Su was out having tea with a neighbor and Jingfei was shopping. He waited at the window for five minutes, just to make sure neither doubled back for anything, before approaching the guest room he’d been avoiding for the last week.

“Mulan?” He called after a light knock yielded no answer. Another knock and the door opened, just slightly.

She was sitting next to the window in the same white dress. A pile of dresses sat on a chest, proving she wasn’t limited to just the one choice. He realized in the moment that he hadn’t seen her in anything else. As he entered the room he noticed drops of red on the dress that hadn’t been there before.

Lazily she turned away from the window, chuckling a little at the sight of him. “Hello, Shang.”

“Mulan. I was wondering when you’d be leaving. I have a horse ready for you to use.” Unconciously he closed the door behind him. As soon as he did Shang began fumbling in an attempt to reopen it.

“Oh, any day now. Come, sit with me. We haven’t really talked since being reunited.” Her smile reminded him of a doll’s. Pretty, but empty.

Reluctantly he sat by her side. “I don’t want to be cruel, but you need to return to your parents. I’m sure they’re worried about you.”

“I’m sure they are. Tell me, Shang. Did you worry about me?” Before he could consider her question she leaned down, her head laying on his chest. The movement knocked her from where she had been sitting, forcing her on top of him. “Whoops.”

“Mulan, get off!” He gasped, attempting to push her away. His attempts fell short when she reached out and ran a finger along his jaw.

“You say my name a lot, don’t you? Is it to remind you that I’m not him? Can’t have this for Ping.” Her hand fell from his face, tracing his chest and settling against the bulge that wasn’t there when he entered the room. “Probably not proper to want this from Ping.”

Shang’s attempts at escaping her grasp didn’t last long as her hand wrapped about his cock. Crafty black eyes watched, studying the gasps and moans he made as she stroked slowly. Her dress fluttered open, had she done that, and revealed her pale body to his eyes.

He had expected her to be thin, but he hadn’t expected all the scars. They traced up her body and his years with the army helped in identifying what had caused each mark. Swords, whips, fists. They had all left a reminder of her time with Shan Yu. Unconsciously he followed one mark with his hand, starting on her hip and looping up to her neck. The touch caused her to shiver and speed up her stroking.

In a flurry of movement she pulled off his pants, revealing him to the cold air of the room. In his embarrassed attempts at covering himself he ended up thrusting against her. She didn’t seem to mind. Instead she leaned down, forcing him to cup her breast.

“Is this why I couldn’t join your army? Or was it this?” Without any preparation she forced herself on him. Both gasped, Mulan tightening around him which caused him to clench almost desperately to thin frame. For a minute neither moved. In fact they stayed still for almost three whole minutes before Mulan began shifting.

“It…was the law…” Shang whimpered as she moved. “I did what I could to save you.”

She slammed down against him making him arch painfully in turn. “You left me to die! You left me to Shan Yu! How was that saving me?”

In one swift move she pinned both his hands beside his head, trapping him with surprising strength. Her hips slammed down in angry retaliation. He tried struggling, tried pushing her away, but each time she slammed him back to the ground.

“How does it feel now that you’re my bitch?” Mulan asked, releasing his hand so she could slap him across the face. Shang tried in vain to push her away but she struck him again, almost lazily.

“I didn’t mean for any of this to happen!” Shang cried. She tilted her head in consideration before nodding.

“I believe you.”

And with a final thrust she reached to one side, pulling out a blade. It dug into his chest in a white hot flash of pain. He tried to say something, anything, but words failed him. He tried pulling the knife out but his hands refused to move.

“Sorry, sir.”

“Oh, you devious little girl. I thought you’d never stop playing with him.”

And in his last moment of life Shang realized Shan Yu had been watching them the whole time.

---

“Jingfei, are you home? The neighbor gave me some tea leaves that you have to try. Jingfei?”

Su wasn’t always aware of her surroundings. It came with living in a palace. In the palace servants made sure everything was perfect, which meant the princess didn’t have to pay attention to her surroundings. But she wasn’t a princess anymore, not really. She was a wife.

“Well, a wife and mother.” She chuckled, laying a hand on her belly. It was still too soon for her to show, but as soon as Mulan went home she’d tell her husband. He was going to be so surprised.

“Congratulations. How long until the little bundle of joy is born?”

He leaned casually against the doorframe, as though it was his house and not hers. His yellow eyes were focused on something behind her, which she soon realized was a man. A man who had rope to tie her up.

“Shang! Jingfei! Mulan! Help!” Su cried, struggling to escape the rope. She had little luck, though she did manage to drive her heel into her assailant’s foot. It did little, but at least she tried. Her screams were cut off by a gag, but once she was forced to the ground she realized it would do her little good. Her wood floors were being stained with blood, and it didn’t seem to be from the men.

“Ah, you see that? Your housekeeper came home early and we couldn’t have that.” The man leaned down so she could look him in the eye. “Do you know who I am? No? I’m sure your father told you of me at least once.”

“Shan Yu, stop teasing the poor girl.”

They both turned to the woman. Her white dress, once stained with only a few drops of red, was now covered in splatters of blood. And Su doubted the blood belonged to Mulan.

“I’m sorry for this Su. You know how men can be.” Lazily Mulan slapped the back of Shan Yu’s head. It earned an angry snarl but little else. “She is to be left alone. That was my order.”

“Sorry, my little soldier boy. I was just playing.” His massive hand cupped her chin, and leaning over her he looked like he could break her with a sneeze. But her black eyes didn’t weaver and he eventually backed down. “Gather the girl in the cart. I’m sure daddy will want to see her. Especially now that she’s a widow.”

As the man carried Su away she caught a glimpse of Shan Yu leaning down, his lips lightly touching Mulan’s. And just before she lost consciousness out of fright she heard Mulan laugh for the first time since they met.

---

Rumors flew about the assault on the Emperor. Official sources would confirm that Shan Yu, the fiend, had slipped into the castle with the Emperor’s youngest daughter. For an hour his men turned the castle into a prison, killing those who tried to flee. And after that hour passed they left, never to be seen again.

The Emperor lived, but lost his tongue and a finger to his old foe. His daughter was left alive as well, but after the incident took to her childhood room and rarely left. Briefly she emerged to present her daughter to kingdom.

Su named the girl Mulan, but refused to say why.

No one ever found Shan Yu or his men. There were rumors of a sighting in a small village past the mountains, but by the time soldiers were sent to investigate they were gone. Those who claimed to have seen Shan Yu mentioned that a young woman in a white dress had been with him. Others claimed the dress was only slightly white, but red-brown. They said that she rode her horse like a man, with a hawk on her shoulder.

Those who passed between the Mongol wild lands and China would bring with them more stories. They would tell of Shan Yu’s return to his people. They would tell of Shan Yu’s black eyed lover who would wear both the clothes of a man and the clothes of a woman. Their stories told of how she would take in orphaned girls and train them, raising an army of women. She would challenge Shan Yu to his face. She ruled as firmly as he did. When they fought she would win more than she would lose.

But these stories rarely merged with the tales of the young woman who fled across the Great Wall with Shan Yu. So few people ever were left to wonder if Shan Yu’s lover had once been a daughter of China.

But some nights, when the girl soldiers gather around a fire, they would be granted a story no one else knew. They would be told the story of Mulan, who dressed as a man to save her father. And during those nights they would come to know more about their mentor than her own people could imagine.

Chapter Text

Some days were easier than others. The days where the marble walls of the palace didn’t seems quite so tall. The days when the grass under his paws was just long enough to make him feel like he had a field stretching out before him instead of just a garden. The days when he could only remember his girl’s smile, could only remember her petting his fur, could only remember the palace as his home.

But other days were harder.

The days when he could remember, distantly, the smell of the jungle. The wet heat seeping through his fur until he could find a cool stream. The call of monkeys as they jumped through the towering trees. The song of the birds as they called for friendship, family, or mates. The days when he could remember his mother’s scent, washing over him as she carried him. As she ran from the old den where his brothers and sisters were lost to hunters.

He couldn’t remember much after that. Not of the jungle that had been his home before the hunters took him. Before he’d been presented to the princess, just old enough to stumble after the “kitty.” It was with her chubby hands pulling at his whiskers that his new life began. With her words that he left behind his jungle and became a fixture in the cold, marble palace.

“Rajah. His name is Rajah, Daddy.”

And thus he became Rajah, pet for the princess and protector when the nightmares came for her. He became a friend, the only friend allowed a princess who had no companions her own age. Oh, other royals would come and bring with them the spoiled youths who would one day make a bid for the girl’s hand. But she didn’t like them. His Jasmine only liked him.

And her birds. But he could stand them.

Plus they were the only prey available for chasing in the beautiful garden that was too neat to mimic nature properly.

But manicured grass didn’t fit properly under his paws. Not on the days when he could remember the wild grass that grew freely. The white marble that managed to remain cool even under the midday sun itched under him when he thought of the paths made by the elephants and the other cats of the jungle. Even his girl’s favorite tree, though impressive in a desert, wasn’t the same as the trees that grew wild and tall in the jungle.

The longing, which had been fleeting before, developed into an all consuming need. The clean water of the fountain no long cooled the itch under his fur. The kind words of his human meant nothing when there was a hum of songbirds just outside the palace walls. She had her mate, that strange boy with a quick smile and the ability to make his girl laugh.

It was time to return to the jungle.

---

In the jungle three days walk from the kingdom of Agrabah there had once been twelve tiger families that would mix and mingle regularly. But the hunters came and for all the strength that allowed them to rule the jungle the tigers couldn’t compete with the weapons the humans carried.

Well, most of them couldn’t.

But Shere Khan wasn’t like most tigers. He had never been a mere tiger, always crafty and clever and strong. Always strong. And when he was young and his mother was the last of the tiger families she had hid him away in a cave. She had fought them each day until the sun set and he was allowed to come out from his hiding. Under the moon she would teach him about strength and tell him to never be afraid. And when morning came she would push him back into that tiny cave and return to her daily battle.

Until the night she didn’t come for him.

That night Shere Khan knew he was the last tiger and he would never let them take him from his jungle. He’d never let the humans take the jungle from him.

Sometimes the jungle was lonely. The birds would stop singing when they saw him prowling, at least until it was obvious he wasn’t in the mood for a chase. The monkeys pretending to be human would stop their songs if he was too close to their crumbling palace. Not as much noise in the jungle as when he had been a child.

Except that annoying snake. Kaa was probably the only creature who wasn’t afraid of Shere Khan. Oh, he knew to watch his tone, but the slippery bastard wasn’t completely terrified and didn’t that just drive the tiger mad?

The days seemed to be shorter without humans to chase and the heat made him tired instead of invigorated. He could barely be bothered to wander towards the river, let alone to splash about like he did as a cub. Most days he would just settle near his den, yawning dramatically just to have something to do. It must have been something to do with his age. No other explanation for why he couldn’t be bothered to go around striking fear into the hearts of the other jungle inhabitants.

Truly life had become boring, something he never would have imagined in his magnificent home.

One day just after the spring flowers began to bloom Shere Khan found himself waking to the sound of careful footsteps not far from his home. If it had been the elephants off their path he wouldn’t have cared. Not unless their steps brought them too close to his home. Even if it was just the wolves practicing hunting with their cubs he wouldn’t have woken. But this was the sound of someone who didn’t want to be heard, which only made him more interested. Slowly, and much more quietly than whatever had woken him, Shere Khan followed the sound until he found its source.

Jumping from tree limb to tree limb was the leopard Bagheera. The clever beast knew he was near Shere Khan’s den and must have been trying to be secretive. Unfortunately he didn’t realize he would have been ignored if he’d just walked on the ground like any other creature. But Bagheera was one of the more interesting creatures to live in the jungle and sometimes would lead him to a lost sheep from the human village not far away. So what was Bagheera hunting this day?

Shere Khan followed below, careful to not alert the smart leopard that he was being shadowed. It wasn’t long before he found what the leopard was after. In cool water of the river was another large cat, purring happily. But it wasn’t just any cat. It was a tiger!

“Well, this would explain why everyone things Shere Khan has lost his mind.” Bagheera laughed from the tree branches, jumping down to inspect the newcomer. “But you’re not Shere Khan.”

From his hiding spot the actual Shere Khan had to resist the urge to make an irritated noise. Of course that wasn’t him. At least he was smart enough to eat anything that caught him frolicking in the river.

The new tiger seemed far too trusting of the approaching leopard. Cautious enough to back away but not standing his ground or fleeing. The creature was incredibly clean, though his fur was just starting to ruffle from lack of care, and he carried the scent of flowers, as though he’d been rolling in desert flowers. He also seemed to be holding back delight. What an odd beast.

“Are you from another jungle? We don’t have tigers around here. Well, ignoring one.” Bagheera paused thoughtfully. “You may want to avoid that one.”

Shere Khan couldn’t suppress the snort that came from that comment.

At the same time the hiding tiger and the leopard noticed the confusion from the newcomer who was still sitting in the river. His head had tilted and he seemed to be fascinated.

“Can you…do you speak the language of the jungle?” Bagheera finally asked.

The tiger lifted a paw, rubbing at one of his ears in a gesture that reminded Shere Khan of the humans who would gather water by the edge of the river. After a minute or two of silence the tiger shook his head.

“But you understand what I say.”

He nodded, water flying from his fur. With a great effort he managed a few words. “No one…talks in home. No one to…talk with.”

Bagheera grinned with delight. Even if it took him a few minutes to gather a short sentence he could at least make sound. “I know a few who would provide you with conversation. I am Bagheera.”

“Rajah.” The tiger said, though the name seemed to stick on his tongue.

From his hidden spot Shere Khan smirked. “Hello, Rajah.”

---

Three nights travel hadn’t managed to calm the burn Rajah had felt in the palace. If anything it seemed to burn stronger. Being in the jungle which smelt of home had turned him back into a cub, chasing after birds and jumping over logs and even letting the wolf pups chase him. The pack Bagheera introduced him to were happy to meet a tiger that wasn’t interested in stealing their hunting grounds and the pups loved the idea of having a big cat they could play with.

A part of him knew he should be happy now that he was free from the palace walls. Bagheera was helping him regain the language he had lost while among the humans. He had even set up a little home in a low tree. He should have been free of the heat that had clouded his mind before.

Something just wasn’t right.

Actually a few things weren’t right. Like the feeling that he was constantly being followed.

“Bagheera?” Rajah rasped one day while they sat under a tree heavy with fruit. Bagheera had been teaching him which fruit he could eat and which he should avoid but the feeling, that constant feeling, had distracted him from the lesson. “Do you ever feel like someone is watching you?”

The leopard, realizing his pupil was lost on today’s lesson, shrugged. “Only when someone is. The jungle is full of eyes. Sometimes those eyes will watch you.”

“It feels like I am always being followed.”

“Perhaps you just aren’t use to the jungle yet. It will take time, my friend.” A heavy paw nudged his chin, a now familiar gesture from his wise companion. “It’s almost midday. Why don’t you take some time to yourself and we’ll return to our lessons tomorrow.”

That Rajah could do. Even the feeling of eyes following him couldn’t distract from his enjoyment of the river, where he could be found almost every day when the sun was directly overhead. Even the water couldn’t calm the heat he’d been feeling since fleeing the palace, but it was fun.

What was the point of being free in the jungle if one couldn’t have fun?

For once Rajah didn’t feel like just flopping into the water and letting the current carry him. In fact when he drew closer to the river he realized he wasn’t as excited as he had been before. The burning had grown stronger and the feeling of being watched was driving him mad. Along with the feeling had come a buzzing in his ears, worse than the sounds of the bugs that pestered him in his tree home.

“Who’s spying on me?” He yelled at the trees, scaring away a flock of birds that had been resting there. There were no screams from the monkeys, which meant they were probably back with their king. No sign of any of the wolf pups. Just him, along and confused and full of a heat he couldn’t calm.

“I wouldn’t say it’s spying if you know I’m there.”

Rajah turned sharply, drawing away from the tiger who had emerged soundlessly from behind a thick tree. The tiger flicked his tail and prowled closer, a smirk obvious on his face. “You’re Shere Khan.”

“And you are Rajah, the tiger adopted into a wolf pack. I guess that means no need for introductions.” Shere Khan stopped in front of him, close enough that either could strike out and hit the other. But it didn’t seem like Shere Khan wanted to attack, even if he made a show of inspecting his claws. “How are you liking my jungle?”

“I wasn’t told it was your jungle.” Rajah said with a puff of his chest.

“And I wasn’t told there were tigers who act like dogs, but then we have you.”

Rajah snorted, ears flattening against his skull. “I didn’t realize it was a rule that tigers can’t have fun.”

“Oh, I have plenty of fun. I just don’t equate fun with making a fool of myself.” The self proclaimed king of the jungle moved closer, sliding past the younger tiger and brushing under his nose with his tail. “But you seem to have that aspect covered.”

In a flash Rajah turned, claws ready to strike the other tiger but it was useless as Shere Khan had already jumped to pin him. Even if he was younger, and slightly bigger, Shere Khan had more strength and experience. Claws and teeth held him down and each time he tried to overpower the tiger on top of him it was only a few moments before he was repined. On instinct alone Rajah bit down on Shere Khan’s paw earning him half a second to push the older one away with his back paws.

Shere Khan wouldn’t be defeated so easily. His teeth wrapped around Rajah’s neck, just strong enough to remind him which was the stronger of the pair. And with that they were scuffling, cutting and biting and growling until Shere Khan had thrown Rajah into the river he’d been planning on swimming in earlier.

When Rajah emerged Shere Khan was gone, the only reminder he’d been there at all being the spots of blood he’d left behind.

---

The only two tigers in the jungle would run into each other at least once a day. Shere Khan made sure of it. He would allow himself to be seen in the trees while the younger tiger played with his wolf siblings. He would make sure to pass the river when he knew Rajah would be floating peacefully. He would interrupt Bagheera’s lessons with a rude comment and a clever smirk.

All because he knew it was driving the new tiger crazy.

The heat from their first encounter had cooled quickly, or at the least within two months time which was quick enough for Shere Khan, but a new heat had formed in its place. A heat that only encouraged him to pester the newcomer more.

Selfishly it was also because Rajah had awaken something in him. He had brushed away the age that had been slowing Shere Khan down, clearing out the creaking in his bones and the weight on his spirit. He had created a curiosity that wouldn’t leave Shere Khan alone. And even if curiosity killed the cat it had nothing on a tiger.

At first it had obviously bothered Rajah that he was being stalked by the self proclaimed king of the jungle. His nose would scrunch up and he’d make a show of running off. Which didn’t bother Shere Khan in the slightest because chasing after Rajah was easier than chasing after that herd of elephants. The younger tiger had no idea how loud he was, or how obvious his path was. And Shere Khan wasn’t going to mention that.

Besides being annoying he didn’t really do anything. At least nothing Rajah could prove. No one had seen anyone drop a bunch of bananas on Rajah’s head while he was practicing hunting with Bagheera. None of the pups would admit Shere Khan had put them up to trailing him and scaring off any of the game he was trying to hunt. Oh, Rajah had no proof Shere Khan was the one behind his torment.

And that was just the way Shere Khan liked it.

But he had made a miscalculation in his pursuit. He had never taken into account that the younger tiger had youth on his side. Even with the cobwebs of age brushed away Shere Khan’s limbs would still protest if he pressed too hard. His midday naps would last until the sun had almost dipped to the horizon. And all the while Rajah would be running around like a kitten.

He ran circles around Shere Khan, both figuratively and literally.

When the stalking became too much he would appear in Shere Khan’s lair, rushing about and messing up the nest of leaves he had set up just the day before. He would scare away Shere Khan’s prey, most likely in retaliation for his own prey being frightened off before. As much as Shere Khan annoyed the younger tiger he never managed to strike fear into his heart the way he could with the rest of the jungle.

Some nights Rajah would settle into his den, watching the nightlife running about with a content smile. He would run into the den like he belonged there, claiming a storm was keeping him from returning to the wolves. Sometimes he would sleep right next to the older tiger and tell him about the palace where he had lived before, surrounded by the cold white and trapped in a garden that was too tame. But he would also tell him about the princess he called his.

“Almost like she was your cub.”

Rajah would laugh at the idea. “A sister. But she mated. May even have cubs of her own.”

“I’m sure she would have loved to have a tiger running around her children. Humans don’t like the creatures of the jungle.” He wouldn’t move closer to Rajah, mostly because of the heat that came just before the rainy season. But he would let his tail brush against his companion. “Man is a truly interesting beast.”

“She loved me.” If he could he would have been pouting.

“I’m sure in her own way she did. But you don’t belong in the world of man.”

“And where do I belong?”

Those dark eyes were regarding him with an openness that made Shere Khan’s skin itch. He could have said a variety of ridiculous things. Things about how Rajah belonged in the jungle, belonged with those annoying wolves, belonged in his den where he wouldn’t shut up about how the rain sounded fantastic against the leaves. He could have said any of those things.

Instead he batted at Rajah’s head. “You talk too much, did you know that?”

“My whole life was spent with humans. I’m just making up for lost time.” And of course, because it wouldn’t do to let Shere Khan get away with hitting him without being hit back Rajah would take the opportunity to tackle him.

And outside their den the rain would prattle against the leaves while the crickets chirped their night song.

Chapter Text

Bruce had been inside his boyfriend’s house twice. Five years they’d been together and he’d been in Marlin’s house twice. Once was checking in on Marlin when he had the flu, inadvertently presenting himself as a complete creep because he had to get the address off the internet and had tried crawling through Marlin’s window so he wouldn’t wake the man if he was sleeping. Somehow he managed to talk his way out of being dumped and managed to talk Marlin into letting Bruce make him soup and talk to him until he fell asleep. The second time was when Marlin locked himself out of the house and, like any awesome boyfriend, Bruce had stepped away from work to do a repeat performance of his earlier breaking and entering. The borderline illegal act had earned him a fierce kiss and his second chance to peek around his boyfriend’s house.

That had been a year ago.

All his mates thought it was strange that Marlin never invited him over to the house. It wasn’t that he was ashamed of their relationship, at least as far as Bruce could tell. Whenever he dropped something off at the bike shop he let Bruce give him a kiss for his trouble. At their dates he would hold hands with Bruce, even initiate the touch. And he even introduced Bruce as his boyfriend the few times Bruce had met with his friends. So it certainly wasn’t shame.

It couldn’t have been because of some secret double life, which was Chum’s favorite theory. Within months Chum was convinced Marlin had a wife, or another boyfriend, or was a woman, or was a cannibal. And the worst bit was Chum never shut up about his dumb theories. It was always “did you check for a ring?” or “how sure are you that it’s his real penis?” or “he says it’s hamburger but you’re a vegetarian and can’t readily identify cow meat from human meat.”

It was a nightmare with Chum.

And even if he had only been in the house twice, those two times were enough for him to confirm there wasn’t a wife or other boyfriend or human remains. And he trusted Marlin not to keep something like that secret. Mostly because Marlin was a terrible liar.

Bruce knew the real reason he wasn’t allowed in the house. Because no matter how long they were together Marlin couldn’t find the strength to tell his son that he was dating.

Even if Bruce was a secret that Nemo couldn’t know about Bruce knew all about the boy. He knew about the mangled leg he’d been born with and how it had turned Marlin into an over protective father. He knew about how Nemo was making friends with older kids who may or may not be part of a gang and how worried it made Marlin. At least once during their dates, held when Nemo was at swimming lessons or being watched by their scatterbrained neighbor Dory, there would be a story about Nemo’s latest adventures, successes or even failures.

Sometimes Bruce felt like it was his own son for all he knew about the boy, even if they had never met. He’d seen the kid before, sometimes if he lingered after dropping Marlin off he’d catch a glimpse of the kid running to hug his father from the neighbor’s porch. Alright, he’d have to watch from around the corner, since Marlin wouldn’t let him stop in front of the house. He had talked with Nemo once, when the boy had answered the house phone and politely asked if he was a telemarketer because he certainly didn’t sound like a telemarketer. They had a lovely conversation about the proper way for a telemarketer to sound before Marlin had snatched the phone away.

And though he would have been happy meeting the boy, explaining to him how much he cared for Marlin and how he wouldn’t ever steal Marlin’s attention, he understood why Marlin wanted that distance. A boy with a bad leg, whose mother had died giving birth to him. That boy was Marlin’s world and Bruce wouldn’t dare intrude on that world.

“That’s cause you’re a great sap.”

“I am not.” Bruce growled, clenching tightly at the handle of his pint. The bar next to his motorbike shop was usually his favorite place to either drown his sorrows or celebrate his successes. No need for his so called friends to interrupt him in his deep thoughts, even if it was their favorite bar as well.

“You are though, ain’tcha?” Anchor, so named for his bike which was meant to look like a hammerhead shark and failed at the attempt, had pushed into the seat next to Bruce about five minutes before and like a good friend had listened to Bruce’s bellyaching. But he was done listening, and done with his own pint of beer which made him more honest than normal. “You meet this guy who, and I’m just being honest, has no business dating someone like you, and he makes you think all these things about a house with a yard and a dog and now you’re all put out cause this guy who makes you want the fairy tale ending won’t give it to you. That makes you a sap.”

Something jeered his arm, causing him to slosh his beer onto his lap. Of course Anchor’s unneeded wisdom would be the cue for Chum to slide away from his latest pick up and slide up next to him. The living pin cushion was a complete ball of energy and, unlike Anchor, rarely thought before he spoke. “You gotta tell him, Bruce. Tell him you want to be part of his kid’s life. Like a super cool biker step dad. Man, if I had a biker step dad I would be so much cooler than I am now.”

“You’re cool now?” Anchor asked with a cheeky grin.

“It’s his kid and I’m not going to overstep my bounds.” Bruce said with a forced smile. It was the same old conversation that always seemed to happen when Bruce got moody about his position in Marlin’s life. “Besides, I’d be an awful step dad. Never even knew my father.”

His friends just rolled their eyes on either side of him.

“You’re the one who’s always telling us to be upfront in our relationships.” Anchor waved his mug for emphasis, sloshing more onto Bruce who just took the abuse with a sigh. “Like that time I was dating that butcher and you told me to be honest about being a vegetarian.”

Bruce lifted a heavy brow at him. “Didn’t she break up with you?”

“Unrelated.”

Chum nodded thoughtfully. Like he ever thought about anything besides what on his face needed piercing next. “Tell you what, have another pint, on us, and pour your sorrows out and all that nonsense. It’ll be good for you.”

“Therapeutic.” Anchor said.

“We’re your mates and we’re here for you.”

He never should have trusted the little rat bastards.

If he hadn’t trusted them he wouldn’t be that special kind of drunk where he would trust them to get him home because he couldn’t possibly drive his baby home drunk. No, his bike was an angel and he wouldn’t let anyone impound her because he was driving drunk. Besides, while Chum was a complete lightweight Anchor could drink both of them under the table and still drive himself home. So yes, he trusted Anchor to get him home.

Bad idea.

Because somehow they had talked Marlin’s address out of him. And somehow they managed to get him to the front door of the two story house without him realizing where he was. And somehow they managed to ring the doorbell and run off before he figured out there was something very wrong with the way the night was progressing.

Before he could do anything brilliant like jump off the porch and hide behind a bush the door opened revealing a curious ten year old with bright orange hair and too large sleepwear. He clenched his crutch closer and peered at the drunk man before him. “Hello?”

“Oh, um, hi. Er, yes well, is your dad about?”

“No, Dory got lost so he went to pick her up from the police.” The boy made this announcement like it was normal for his neighbor to be gathered from police stations. Though based on what Marlin had told Bruce about the woman it was probably very normal. At least if the police picked her up she was likely to get home safely. “He left about an hour ago but she made it all the way to Newcastle so it’ll be a while.”

“Better than Melbourne.” Bruce tried to mutter to himself, though in his mostly drunk state it was less muttering and more of a soft roar. The one time Dory had made it all the way to Melbourne Bruce had been the one sent to get her since he had the weekend off and Marlin couldn’t find anyone to watch Nemo. It hadn’t been the first time Bruce had met Marlin’s strange neighbor but as far as she knew he was a complete stranger. Probably the reason Marlin had sent Bruce in the first place. Even after nine hours in a car together she wouldn’t be able to remember him long enough to tell Nemo.

He had gotten so caught up in his own thoughts he didn’t realize Nemo was staring at him. Almost like he was waiting for something. “Did you just ask me something?”

“Yes. I asked how you know my father.”

“Oh.” Bruce thought over his possible answers and decided he was drunk enough for the truth. “I’m your dad’s boyfriend. Name’s Bruce.”

“Hello, Bruce.”

“Now, as a concerned adult I must know why you’re at home alone while your father goes chasing after Dory.” Even drunk he sounded like a voice of reason. Or at least in his head he did.

Nemo just shrugged. “He’s only going to be gone for a little bit and I’m supposed to be in bed anyways.”

“But you aren’t.” Bruce pointed out.

Nemo’s face turned red. “I was reading.”

Bruce lifted his heavy eyebrow, the one that was scared from a knife fight he’d gotten into as a teenager. It always managed to make him look stern. Or at least threatening.

“I was talking to some friends online.” Nemo admitted, his face doing an imitation of a tomato.

“Not those delinquents. Your dad would be pissed if he found out.”

“Gil’s not a delinquent.” Nemo argued with a stubborn pout. “And besides, won’t he be more upset about his so called boyfriend coming here in the middle of the night completely drunk?”

Bruce opened his mouth, thought about it for a moment, and shut his mouth. With a move that could only be performed when drunk enough to not worried about getting hurt Bruce collapsed onto the porch, cradling his head with one massive hand. He was single. In a few hours he would be a single man because Marlin was certainly going to break up with him over this. Hell, he may even been a dead man.

“Dad won’t kill you.”

Oh fuck, he had said that out loud.

“Well, he might if he finds out you were cussing around me.”

Double fuck.

“I’m sorry kid. And I’m not nearly as drunk as I smell so I don’t even have an excuse.” He sighed, rubbing his face with both hands like it would help him think. It didn’t. “I just…damnit, I just want your dad to stop being ashamed of me. What other reason is there for him not wanting me to meet you?”

Nemo lowered himself onto the ground beside Bruce awkwardly, hiding his leg as best he could during the movement. “He’s probably not ashamed of you.”

“Kid, we’ve been dating for five years. Did you even has a suspicion your dad was dating anyone?”

He was decent enough to not lie. “If it’s been five years and I didn’t know you exist, I think dad has a lot of explaining to do.”

“Nah, he’s right to raise you how he sees fit. And if I’m not part of that it’s his call.”

“No, it’s not.”

Bruce stopped trying to rub his face off long enough to stare at the red head next to him. “Come again?”

“If you’re part of his life you’re part of mine. He can’t just go hiding this stuff. Is my dad important to you?”

“Yeah, I…” Bruce hesitated before realizing there was no point in holding back. When Marlin got back he’d have to put it all on the line anyway. “I love him. Fuck, I love your stupid father. He’s the most neurotic, ridiculous, stubborn, amazing person I’ve ever met and I’m completely in love with him. I want to settle down and buy a dog, a big one not one of those stupid toy dogs, and plant a garden in the backyard and have arguments about why we can’t plant corn in our garden. And he…he must not want that with me.”

For a few seconds Nemo let Bruce wallow in his own self pity. Then he punched the older man in the arm. “That’s dumb. You’re dumb. He’s dumb. Just talk to him, okay? Besides, you seem pretty cool. Bet you’d make a great step dad.”

“Ha, don’t let him hear you say that. He’d think I’m planting ideas about marriage into his head.”

“Five years, dude. He married my mom after six months. He owes you at least a drawer in his dresser, or some space in his closet.”

Bruce wrinkled his nose. “Is that a some kind of gay joke?”

“No. At least I don’t think it is.”

“Oh. Okay, cool. Can I pass out on your couch? My mates dropped me off here and I’ll probably be needing to talk to your father sooner or later.”

Nemo agreed, if Bruce promised not to tell Marlin about his late night chats with Gil and in exchange for the hospitality Bruce waited an hour before pulling himself off the couch to force Nemo off the computer and into bed. Afterwards he promptly fell asleep, too tired to poke around the house he’d only been in twice, and that he may never be in again.

It was the sound of the morning news that woke him, along with an angry pain in his neck that felt like it’d be with him the rest of the day. He could barely make out the smell of bacon cooking, the sound of the sizzling meat covered by two voices. He made his way off to couch and to the kitchen. It wasn’t hard to find thanks to the mostly open floor plan of the house. Somewhere in the back of his mind he could remember Marlin telling him about how much he loved his house’s design since he could watch Nemo doing his homework in the living room from the kitchen.

Right now all he could see from the living room was Marlin, talking in an aggravated tone to Nemo who was pouting like it was a sport. The sun light filled the room, lighting their hair like it was on fire. Bruce realized Marlin was starting to grey around the temples and to his complete shame he found the sign of aging to be a total turn on.

“Morning Bruce!” Nemo yelled, obviously happy for the distraction. “Are you joining us for breakfast?”

Marlin didn’t look up from the stove, though Bruce could tell he was frowning. “I can never remember if you’re one of those vegetarians that eats eggs or not, but we have toast and fruit.”

“Sounds, um, sounds great. Just gotta hit the head and I’ll be right back.”

As he retreated to the safety of the bathroom he could hear Nemo hissing at his father in the same tone that he had just been enduring. It was kind of cute. After taking care of the incredible urge to pee that came with drinking he spared a moment to wash his face and mess with the spikes of his hair. If he was going down in flames he was going to do it looking nice. Or at least decent.

Back in the kitchen Marlin has set out three plates, two with an egg over a bed of spinach leaves and the last with just the leaves and an egg on a tiny plate to the side. Nemo had taken most of the bacon leaving Marlin with a toasted piece of spam. Bruce sat down next to Nemo, ignoring the way the boy was openly staring at him.

After Marlin settled down with a cup of coffee they began eating in silence, the only sound being provided by the too perky news caster on the tiny television Bruce remembered had been a Christmas gift for Marlin three years before. It had been so Marlin could watch cooking shows and the news while he puttered around the kitchen. When he presented the gift to Marlin almost a week after Christmas, because it was the first time he could get away from the house considering how hectic the holidays were, it had been meant to be a quick thing. Something small and slightly stupid. But Marlin had recognized it as Bruce encouraging him to cook more for his son, something he’d been upset about in the weeks leading up to the holiday. And Bruce had realized it as the first time he’d wanted to be a part of that family life.

And now, sitting awkwardly next to his boyfriend’s son and barely tasting the home cooked breakfast, Bruce was getting his chance at the life he’d been wanting.

“So, did you manage to get Dory home alright?” He ventured when a commercial for some new car came on.

Marlin glanced up from his coffee and nodded. “She had been looking for whales.”

“Wales?” Nemo said. “Like in England?”

“Wales is part of the United Kingdom, bordering England.” Marlin said, sounding like he was reciting out of a text book. “And no, whales like the sea animal.”

“Oh. That’s weird.”

Bruce shrugged. “She thinks she can speak whale. It’s kind of cute.”

Both the red heads turned to stare at him, causing his face to flush to the same shade as their hair.

“It came up once.”

“You let Dory meet your boyfriend and not me?” Nemo hissed, waving his fork for emphasis. “That’s low, Dad. Real low. Just cause she can’t remember you let her meet him!”

“No, I let her meet him because I trusted him to get her back home safely.” Marlin argued.

“So why didn’t I get to meet him?”

Bruce dared to glance up at Marlin even as he wanted to continue staring at his food. His food couldn’t turn big doe eyes on him and make him want to melt. His food couldn’t say that he shouldn’t be near Nemo. Shouldn’t be a part of his family.

“Because I was afraid he wouldn’t want to meet you.”

Bruce and Nemo made identical noises of confusion. It would have been cute if Bruce wasn’t so busy having a mental break down.

“How could you possibly think that?” Bruce asked, hand shaking so hard he had to hide it under the table.

“Because I’m an old man with a kid and you’re this cool biker. I though you wouldn’t want to have anything to do with my boring family life. I mean I already bored you with every little thing my son was up to and I just didn’t want to you to leave me for something more exciting.”

The mindless chatter on the television couldn’t cover the sound of Marlin’s heavy breathing. The bright sun couldn’t hide the shine of tears in his eyes. And all Bruce could do was roll his eyes.

“You can be really dumb sometimes, Marlin.”

He could see the man recoiling but managed to grab his hand before he could run off. Under his hand he could feel Marlin shaking and he wouldn’t deny how it made his heart clench.

“I love your boring family life. I love your stories about Nemo. I love you. I wouldn’t spend five years being your dirty secret if I wasn’t completely in love with you.” He could sense Nemo shifting beside him, probably wanting to flee from the sight of someone confessing love to his father. It would have been nice if he just let the kid run off, but he never claimed to be nice. “Nemo, I love your father and I want to be part of his life, but that means I’d be part of your life. I won’t ever try and steal his attention from you and I know you’ll always come first. Okay?”

Nemo nodded, a wide grin covering his face. “Feel free to take his attention anytime. Like now. I’m going to check in on Dory.”

Automatically Marlin turned with an order to stay at Dory’s until he was called back to the house and to not even think about running off to play with that delinquent Gil. Even as he yelled after his son he clenched tightly onto Bruce’s hand.

Together they finished breakfast, watching the morning news without hearing any of the stories. When they finished eating they washed the dishes together, or at least tried to until Marlin shooed Bruce because he tried to use half a bottle of liquid soap. As he watched Marlin he realized they’d need to talk soon. They would need to talk about their desires for the future, about Bruce possibly moving in with Marlin and Nemo, about if they would be raising Nemo together and how much power Bruce would have over his upbringing. They would need to talk about a lot of things.

But that could wait because right now Marlin was telling a dumb story about Nemo’s newest after school program and Bruce was loving every word.

Chapter Text

It was all his fault.

The words played over and over in Flynn’s mind. No amount of cheap ale or cheaper whores could distract him. Though plenty of credit to the redhead who was trying her hardest to gain his attention. Eventually even she gave up and left in disgust. He didn’t care. Ale was his friend.

Because he had probably just lost his only two friends. All because he was a moron.

It had been such an easy job too. Flynn had even made plans for dinner, knowing they’d be done before night fall. But he had failed, ruining everything. If it had just been him it wouldn’t have mattered. Ladies love scars and he could have easily escaped with his life.

But he wasn’t the one who took the blow.

The elderly mother of the innkeeper shuffled towards him, clenching a basket full of blood soaked bandages. She reached for her pipe, pausing dramatic in front of him. For a good two minutes she focused on lighting her tobacco until Flynn’s patience dried up.

“Well? What’s the news? Is he alright?” Flynn demanded.

The wrinkled crone gave up on her pipe and gave Flynn a dry look. “Aye, he’ll live. Won’t have use of that eye ever again. His brother has already left, should you be wanting to see him.”

“I doubt he’d want to see me.” The thief moped, already reaching for his next glass. The sharp rap of wood against his knuckles stopped him short.

“That one is not like his brother. Go talk to him.” She started hobbling towards the bar but stopped with a smirk. “He drank quite a bit while I was working on him. I’m sure that improved his mood.”

Figuring the next time he saw the brothers he’d be on the sharp end of a sword Flynn took a swig of ale for courage and walked to the back room that served as the impromptu operating room. Twice he raised a hand to knock and twice he dropped his hand dramatically. Finally he settled for pushing the door open.

“Hey, you.” Flynn called into the mostly dark room. The old woman must have blown out all but a scattered handful of candles which did nothing to raise his confidence. The mute brother, now the one eyed brother, turned to stare at him before turning away as though he hadn’t heard a thing. That wouldn’t do.

Plopping down on the stool next to the bed Flynn tried to think of something to say. He was drawing a blank and the red head wouldn’t be able to help expand the conversation.

“I’m so sorry for what happened today. I should have noticed the guards. I should have distracted them. It’s all my fault.” He wouldn’t cry. He wouldn’t cry in front of one of his partners in crime. No matter how much ale he’d had there was no excuse for crying in front of him.

A heavy hand settled on his. Their eyes met and Flynn realized how hard it was to have conversations with the Stabbington who couldn’t talk. Normally his brother would translate his expressions into words, a talent Flynn couldn’t imagine.

“I really am sorry.” Flynn offered, but the one eyed Stabbington was having none of it. Ignoring the fresh bandages and the lingering pain he pushed forward and slammed their lips together. It wasn’t a happily ever after kiss like in the stories he use to tell the other orphans. It was a kiss that could be translated directly into ‘shut up.’ The hand cupping his cheek was saying ‘it was just as much my fault, don’t take all the blame.’ His other hand, squeezing tightly onto Flynn’s hand was saying ‘but don’t get too cocky or I’ll lose more than an eye.’

When Flynn pulled back he noticed the hand on his cheek was slipping down his neck. He couldn’t focus on that, not when the bandages were slipping. But as Flynn tried to adjust the cloth without causing more pain. The younger Stabbington didn’t seem that bothered, if his hand was any indication.

“Yeah, she said you had a lot to drink. Maybe you just want to get some sleep.” Flynn’s chest felt colder as the red head drew his hand away. The now free hand focused on shooing Flynn from the bandages. The remaining eye narrowed angrily and Flynn didn’t need a translator for that.

“Sorry. Just worried about you. I mean, your brother, who cares? He’s an ass.” The dull stare turned into a rare smile. The fact that he hadn’t just been punched spoke volumes to Flynn. “Don’t get hurt again. I won’t forgive you.”

The words did their trick, distracting him from all of Flynn’s mothering. But after a minute he realized what the brunette’s trick was a returned to his goal of removing Flynn’s clothes. The verbal protesting didn’t bother him. Flynn may have been babbling some nonsense about drinking too and needing to recover but his body spoke of the same need. And that was the language he preferred.

Their lips met again, this time less comforting and more forceful. He wrapped his fingers in Flynn’s hair, dragging him closer. Flynn responded with needy moans which in any other situation would have embarrassed him. As he was otherwise occupied it didn’t seem a problem.

Twice he asked if the younger brother was alright until he realized that the red head was reassuring him through touch. Tight grabbing to Flynn’s arms told him when to slow. Light touched to his neck encouraged him to speed up. In the corner of his mind the rogue wondered if he’d eventually be able to understand him better than his brother.

Sharp bites to his neck and nails against his back soon became the only thing he could focus on. Each bite he repaid until the red head would have no choice but to hide his neck. A firm hand reached into his pants, stealing away any words Flynn would be able to conjure. He tried returning the favor before realizing he’d never be able to get the same results. It only upset him for moments before he tried to fill the thief with so much lust he’d be forced to make noise.

At one point Flynn’s passion gave way to a less exciting emotions. The tears he’d been fighting fell and the one eyed Stabbington took him into his arms with a look that Flynn would never be able to translate.

“I’m just glad you’re okay. Don’t read too much into it.” Flynn sighed, settling his head on the vast expanse of chest. “And don’t you dare tell anyone about this.”

The chest under him shook silently and a hand began petting his hair comfortingly. Shouldn’t Flynn be comforting him? But it was comforting to know his partner in crime was still going to be around to give him disbelieving looks each time to made an ass of himself. It would just be with an eye patch in the future.

And as he drifted off to sleep Flynn realized there was more than one way to communicate, and he may have just found his favorite.

Chapter Text

Three fucking days of undercover work ruined because of an overgrown lizard. If he survived, and considering the fate of his predecessors it was a pretty big if, he’d be the laughing stock of the Society. How many undercover agents get caught because of a fucking great lizard?

Well, Jake for one.

It had been almost four hours since he’d originally been found out, three since he ended up chained to a wall in a room that certainly smelt like it’d been previously occupied by poached animals. There were makeshift cages littering the room, some of them looking high grade, some looking like they were once from pet stores and most of them looking like something cobbled together in a moment of need. Certainly not comfortable for the animals, not that there were any occupying the cages now because that bastard had finally moved them to his buyers. And of course Jake wasn’t there to get the buyers’ identities because that bitch of a lizard had to blow his damn cover.

“I get out of this I’m cooking you into stew, you hear that?”

Joanna, weird name for a poacher’s pet lizard, just grinned up at him from her spot as guard dog. Or whatever the lizard equivalent was. When the bastard originally chained him to a wall and walked off he’d figure a ten minute escape. Maybe twenty since he wasn’t as spry as he’d been when he first joined the Society. But he’d underestimated the dumb lizard who managed to thwart all his attempts. She’d even sat on the keys at one point, which raised a series of questions mostly regarding why the bastard would leave the keys in the same room as a captive and why his lizard knew how to taunt captives.

The feeling in his hands was completely gone and his eyes were starting to blur but he couldn’t use those as excuses to give up on his escape. Maybe if he could strangle the lizard with his feet and get the keys with his toes. Just as he began plotting how to lure the lizard to her death the heavy door opened, light flooding the previously dark room.

Bugger.

“Well, well, well. Looks like the Society agent didn’t manage his escape. And here I was expecting to chase you across the desert. Ain’t right of you to cheat me out of my fun.”

“McLeach.” Jake spat, literally spat at the man. He didn’t seemed bothered, still grinning from the doorway.

“Joanna, I brought you back some nice eggs. Some Turquoise Parakeet eggs. Your favorite.”

Jake hissed, mouth already running away with his thoughts. “You bastard, those are endangered.”

McLeach just crackled, pushing his pet out the door with the tip of his boot. “Just in Australia. Figures a Society agent would also be a hippy. Now the bigger question is what makes you think trying to sneak around with my operation won’t get you a world of hurt?”

As he closed the door behind him he also turned on a string of lights. The room was haphazardly wired for light, mostly through extension cords and almost burnt out floor lights stapled to the wall. And while it was nice to have more light than he’d gotten during his captivity the flickering brightness didn’t improve the decor. Or his captor.

“You’ve been operating illegally for years, you bastard, and the Society’s gonna have your head, just you wait.” He was tempted to spit at him again now that he was closer but it seemed a little over dramatic, even for someone chained to a wall.

McLeach didn’t even bother with his routine of fake panic, just laughing at Jake. “If any of you had anything on me I’d be in prison by now. But look, here I am, free as a bird. Whereas you are less lucky.”

The dagger he wore on his hip was unsheathed in a dramatic display of just who had the power. Unfortunately Jake had worked with the best, and had tangled with the worst. “Like you have the stones to do me in. I know your type. Twisted fucks who get off playing games. So what’s it gonna be this time? Tie me up and dangle me over some crocs?”

The bastard just laughed, tapping the dull side of his dagger against Jake’s cheek. “You’re right, I am a sick fuck. But what does that make you, agent? This makes the third time we’ve tangoed over these poor, helpless animals and each time I win. But you keep coming back for more.”

As he spoke he drew his knife down, cutting Jake’s less than brilliant disguise away. A bumbling park ranger wanting to get in on the illegal dealings may not have been his best disguise but it had been working, damn that lizard. Now it just made him feel silly, especially as the each button of his shirt was cut away.

Once the buttons were gone a callous hand reached out, pressing firmly against his chest. Against the scar that traced from his hip to just under his nipple.

“Healed up nicely, didn’t it?”

“Fuck you, McLeach.” Jake spat.

He just chuckled, heavy fingers running over the healed flesh. “First time the crocs couldn’t get you. Second time my knife couldn’t get you. Wonder what’ll take to finally stop you from chasing after me.”

For a moment, just the smallest second, he sounded awed by Jake, instead of infuriated. And for that moment Jake felt awed with himself. When facing down death the body takes over, at least in his case. Even afterwards he was more focused on recovering than marveling over how he beat McLeach and death. But as he watched Jake’s chest rise and fall, as though mesmerized by the scar and the proof of what he had survived, even Jake managed to be impressed with himself.

And then the moment ended.

“I escaped you twice and I’ll escape you again.” Jake hissed.

McLeach just grinned. “You ain’t escaping me. I’m letting you go. You’ll walk out that door and return to your precious Society to fight the good fight again.”

That was not what he’d expected, nor was he expecting the firm hand to travel down his scared flesh to rest on his hip. But then he leaned closer, warm breath washing over Jake, and it made sense. “You really are sick.”

“And you love it.”

It wasn’t a kiss, even later he’d argue it wasn’t a kiss. It was McLeach slamming his lips against Jake’s. It was McLeach biting down on his lips until he gave in and opened his mouth wider. It was a painful grip on his hip and firm hand against the back of his neck.

It was not a kiss.

When McLeach pulled away Jake took the chance to both gasp for breath and kick angrily at the bastard’s knees. None of his hits landed, not when McLeach crowded up against his body. He was practically plastered to his captive, leaving no room to even wiggle. That wasn’t completely true, as Jake certainly tried wiggling. It just had an adverse effect on the situation.

“I’ve already promised to let you go. Won’t even chase you with a shot gun this time. And in exchange you could at least show some gratitude.” He was too close for Jake to see but he could practically feel that smug grin.

“You’re sick.”

McLeach shrugged lazily. “Oh yeah, plenty sick. But I’m also not the one who started our little song and dance.”

Jake didn’t mean to stop his struggles. Didn’t mean to completely reveal the truth, the agreement, the acknowledgement. Because the rat bastard was right. The hand against the hip, the initiating of the kiss, the hungry looks, they were all part of him only months before. Back when he thought he could bring a poacher to justice with a coy smile and a little wandering hand. Back before he realized just what he was messing with.

“Stop all that pouting. You want me more now than you ever did before.”

His lips were taken again in a harsh show of force. The hand that had been stroking his hip tightening, thumb digging into the end of the scar. Despite the damage his flesh had sustained he could still feel the press, could still feel the pressure of that callous digit. He tried pushing away only to slam his head against the stone behind him. His arms, numb from their imprisonment, began a fresh bout of struggling but there was no give in the chains. Instead the metal cut into his wrists and he could only tell there was blood trailing sluggishly down his arms when McLeach licked it away.

When he pulled away from licking and nibbling on Jake’s arm he has only a moment to grin before his lips were claimed, harsh and firm and wet. And Jake could appreciate the confused but pleased groan. That appreciation trailed down from his belly, a warm ball of something he didn’t want to interpret, and fuck if it didn't go straight to his dick.

Somewhere inside him there was a protest, a deep disgust. He was an agent of the Society for fuck’s sake! He had promised to stop bastards like McLeach. But then there was a tug of his belt and the protest died in favor of need and burning desire. Because McLeach may be a bastard but he certainly knew what he’s doing when he pulled down Jake’s trousers.

“Best damn thing I’ve ever caught.” He growled against Jake’s ear, a hot puff of air following his words and causing the agent to groan. Jake didn't really care about the sentimentality behind McLeach’s words. The words were soft but the meaning was razor sharp.

One large hand wrapped around his dick, pulling slowly as the other hand fumbled with McLeach’s belt. Jake, in a show of defiance, wrapped one leg around the poacher to make the struggle that much harder. He was punished with a hard squeeze, enough to make him back off and allow McLeach to finish with his clothes.

Even as he pushed against the taller man Jake managed a few angry growls and angrier words. “Fucking bastard. Such a bastard. Hateful asshole bastard.”

“We’re already exchanging pet names?” He chuckled, leaning down to inhale deeply at the point between Jake’s neck and shoulder. Jake had half a second to panic before he bit down. Hard.

His teeth were still deep in Jake’s neck as his hand began moving around his cock, firm and callous from hard work and like a goddamn wet dream come to life. His whole body was pushed against Jake’s and he rolled his hips almost lazily, even as Jake’s legs wrapped around him to pull him closer.

Faster and faster went his hand as he pulled away from Jake’s neck to pepper smaller bites down his chest. McLeach even took the time to lick at his scar, practically purring at the taste of sweat and skin and if he could taste it he would be drowning in Jake’s fury.

Their grunts and moans filled the dingy room while the flickering light made them look like ghosts or monsters. And as Jake jerked his hips, coming into the bastard’s hand, he felt like a monster. But the exhaustion of the day caught up to him quickly and he could only groan weakly as McLeach finished against his belly. One lazy hand rubbed their combined fluids onto Jake’s stomach, into his scar, and he realizes with a humorless chuckle that the sick fuck was marking him.

“Bastard.” He whispered as the world goes dark.

When he wakes he’s propped outside the door to McLeach’s disgusting hideout, wearing just his trousers and his hat. The poacher is nowhere in sight, but Jake doesn’t wait long for proof he’s not watching. He grabs for the bag beside him, ignoring the pain of his arm regaining feeling, and he runs. Not because he’s afraid. Not because he thinks McLeach will drag him back. He knows the bastard won’t.

It isn’t until the compound is out of sight that Jake admits to himself he was merely scared of the desire he felt before running.

The desire to stay.

“Fucking bastard.” He groans with a tone that was too close to affection.

Chapter Text

The Heavens may have once smiled upon the Middle Kingdom, but Shan Yu and his men stole that smile and forced the Heavens to look away. Their rule didn’t extend much further than the walls of the Emperor’s golden city but Shan Yu didn’t much care. With the Emperor’s head displayed on a pike he had reason to smile each morning and with his walls defended by quick to action warriors had had little to worry about.

Well, that wasn’t completely true. Because in the western wing was his greatest prize and damn the soul that would consider looking upon his treasure.

His former nemesis’s palace made for a cozy home, at least when his men weren’t busy chasing the maids and getting their weapons stuck in the walls. It didn’t help that there was little forbidden of the Mongol army. They could, and sometimes did, set fire to the court yard trees and their leader would merely chuckle and remind them not to let the embers hit the roof. They could, and often did, get into fights over the prettier maids and their leader would just laugh unless they started raising their thick fists towards the girls. That was because she insisted the maids never be struck.

Shan Yu could never say no to his treasure’s rules. But in exchange she never said no to his demands.

Each night he would shoo the maids from her wing of the palace. They would always hesitate, torn between wanting to flee and wanting to protect their mistress. But in the end their fear would win and the girls would flutter away like frightened birds. Each time he would have to fight the urge to chase them down. His lady was waiting.

“I hate you.” It was the same every night. Those words were her greeting each time he pushed open her door. And each time he believed she meant it.

His greeting was a kiss. It hadn’t been, not when he first caught her. But now he would respond to her angry words with gentleness. Nothing made her madder.

When his men teased, joking about his lady prisoner, he wouldn’t answer. His mind would fill with thoughts of her gasps and moans. Her nails against his back and his nails through her hair. He would think of her shivering form and her lust filled black eyes.

But when his men were gone he would think of her thoughtful expressions and her soft whimpers as she slept. He would think of the smooth skin under his fingers. He would think of her wistful smile, fleeting and distant. He would think of her gentle voice when comforting the scared maids and her firm voice when reprimanding his men who dared break her rules.

“I hate you.” She would whisper. His little bird, so angry and so easy to break. Some days he wasn’t sure if he wanted to snap her or keep her safe. “I hate you.”

“I know you do.” He would reply, kissing her forehead. Because it didn’t matter what he did with her, as long as she was his.

Chapter Text

They were beautiful.

He’d never, not in a million years, say that out loud. Not now while they’re drinking and laughing and slapping each other on the shoulder. It would kill the mood. And certainly not later when the elder brother passes out and the younger keeps an eye on him (haha, he just made a joke) because the younger one was always aware. And the next day it’d be the same routine. Steal and fight and curse and kill.

Because they were men, and goddamn if it wasn’t the greatest thing he’d ever seen.

Neither brother could remember why they allowed Flynn to work with them. They’d never needed partners before. But Flynn remembers. He remembers that for all their muscle and sneering they couldn’t charm a woman into willingly giving over her gems. But he could. That was his use and even if it was all he brought to their little team it was enough.

And thank God, because otherwise he’d never get to hang out with them.

Like now, in the most run down pub available in the Kingdom. The elder was on his thirteenth glass of ale (damn he could drink) and the younger was still slowly sipping down his first glass. Flynn didn’t mind. Because each slow gulp allowed him to watch.

“What’d you say about my mama!”

And they were off. The elder beating the poor idiot while the younger punched and kicked and head butted the idiot’s friends away. They were a team of strength and power and rage. Oh damn, that rage. And Flynn would love to help, really he would, but he was otherwise occupied with stroking himself under the table and moaning so quietly they’d never hear him.

Because Flynnagin Rider may have inspired Flynn’s life of crime but that was all. He never inspired the feelings of need and want in him. Not the way the Stabbington brothers did.

And when the last of the bar patrons had disappeared the elder would turn to him, cracking his neck in a way that should not be sexy. “See you didn’t want to get your hands dirty, eh Rider?”

“You guys seemed to have had it under control.”

Damn, did they ever.

Chapter Text

“So basically you’re saying my baby brother turned you into a lesbian.”

The red headed woman, or at least usually red headed as her carrot orange hair was doing its best to appear brown at the moment, rolled her eyes in a gesture that was nothing short of dramatic. But then again most of the Parr family was dramatic so maybe her partner, her girlfriend, wouldn’t be offended by the action. Kari had never met a family before that could be so completely dramatic and over the top while being equally calm and unflappable. It was probably why she enjoyed them so much.

Some member of the family more than others, as was evident by the lingering touches she directed at Violet as they swam under the full moon. Violet had found the clear river about a month before and had been saving it as their anniversary surprise. Not that she needed to. Kari was surprised any time Violet remembered their anniversary.

Violet must have been expecting a vocal response because she wasn’t about to let the subject drop. Not if her almost aggressive pokes were any indication.

“Your brother didn’t make me gay, Vi. That’s just stupid. He made me never want to have kids.” Not, of course, that she was completely telling the truth about that. Yes, Jack-Jack and his laundry list of super powers had forced her to retire from babysitting, and it had lead to a very expensive bill from her therapist. Oh, and her memory got wiped out.

Fun times.

But by the time her memory returned she had spent enough time with toddler Jack-Jack to realize that he wasn’t such a giant terror when he was in control of his powers. She also was able to rethink her policy on never having sex with a man for fear he would impregnate her with a super baby, because even with her memory erased (or repressed as Mr. Incredible explained to her later) she still managed horrifying baby related nightmares.

Ultimately it didn’t matter one wink about her decision that she could start dating men because at that point she was completely in love with Violet Parr.

So yes, Violet was slightly right. Her baby brother had turned Kari into a lesbian.

Sort of.

By the time she pulled out of her reflections Violet had swam off towards a willow tree with branches so long the brushed the edge of the water. Privately Kari thought it made Violet look like a mermaid, her inky black hair almost purple under the moonlight and her eyes shining with mischief and love. She swam like a mermaid too, all quick turns in the water and smooth movements. Kari was more like a crocodile, floating silently until she was ready to pounce.

And who better to pounce on than her girlfriend?

Not that Violet seemed oppose to pouncing. She giggled and struggled just enough to keep from getting water in her nose. And under the branches of the willow tree they forgot about baby talk. They forgot about super powers. They even forgot that they were both blowing off studying for finals so they could be together in a chilly river with the moon as their only company.

Instead they focused on each other, which was just fine with both of them.

---

The gurgling sound of her coffee maker, which Kari suspected was older than she was, couldn’t cover the sound of Mr. Whitmore next door mowing his lawn, or Danny playing with his band in his parents’ garage across the street. It could, however, cover the sound of her children, for which she was only slightly grateful. Oh, she loved them plenty, but sometimes a girl just needed her coffee without the reminder that she hadn’t started laundry or lunch.

The door connecting the kitchen and the garage opened and with an unnecessary skip Violet made her way to her wife, overly elaborate bouquet of flowers in hand. “Happy anniversary.”

“Wow, you actually remembered.” Kari observed, chuckling at Violet’s offended expression.

“You say that every year.” She pouted, head turning towards the nursery. “Are they sleeping?”

Kari rolled her eyes. “Please, like they ever sleep. I was about to make lunch. Think you can stay around long enough or is the boss going to be summoning you back?”

“I took the rest of the afternoon off, and I hired Jack-Jack to babysit. Starting at five you’re all mine.”

That actually was a shock, not like the false shock that came with Violet remember their anniversary. “Oh?”

“A nice dinner, a play, maybe even a hotel room with our name on it.” Violet wiggled her eyebrows in an expression that would have looked more at home on her brother’s face. But Kari let it slide without comment. This time at least. “Jack-Jack’s old enough to watch them for a night and I want my wife back.”

“Stop being jealous of your own children.” Even as she teased her feet had started the path to the nursery where the giggling hadn’t stopped once since breakfast.

Violet peeked her head in, proud to see her son’s eyes light up when he noticed her. One pudgy hand reached through the bars of his play pin, thick vines moving out of the way so he could reach for his mother. She noticed less flowers littering the floor of the pin, but she wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad sign. Kari would know. She kept a better eye on the patterns of their son’s powers.

Luke’s gurgled sounds drew his sister’s attention and she too gasped happily at their mother’s return. Her hands reached through the bars that went from her crib to the ceiling, floating towards the latch that allowed her to leave her cage. Violet stopped herself from thinking of crib as a cage, knowing it was best that Hannah only be allowed to float over the soft pillows of her bed, in case she dropped in her sleep.

Kari was already off to pick up Luke, brushing away the vines that twirled around his chubby feet. She left Violet to get Hannah, only helping when the floating baby made her way to the window. Neither baby could open the window, but it was better not to permit any outdoor flight.

“Hi, Hannah-Banana.” Violet cooed, kissing her daughter’s forehead and delighting in her laugh. Oh, super babies could be a handful but they were usually a lot cheerier than normal babies. At least until puberty, if Violet was any indication. Though her bout of super power related sulking hadn’t lasted too long, and hopefully her own children wouldn’t inherit that.

“She’s been floating her toys around the room.” Kari said, breaking up Violet’s musings. “Dr. Gail says it could be that she’s psychic, but at this age you never know.”

Wasn’t that the truth. Violet thought briefly about her youngest brother and shuttered, glad that at least her children didn’t shape shift or set themselves on fire.

At least, not yet.

As they settled in the kitchen, Violet entertaining the kids while Kari began making sandwiches and pudding, the part time superhero allowed herself to think of how lucky she was to have married the most levelheaded non-super in the world. When the twins started to show their powers Violet had been a heartbeat away from a full panic attack. Kari had simply adjusted their cribs and started carrying a fire extinguisher around with her. Hannah and Luke were going to grow up to be mature supers, with a full grasp on their powers thanks to their mother.

And in a few hours Kari would finally get back at Jack-Jack for what he had put her through all those years ago.

“Vi, why are you laughing maliciously?”

“No reason.” Violet replied, fooling no one. Except maybe the kids who hadn’t yet learned about forced innocence.

But Kari just rolled her eyes and returned to making lunch while her son scratched at the flowers growing in his hair and her daughter floated towards the ceiling. Just a normally afternoon in the Parr-McKeen household.

Chapter Text

Her girl’s father was mad again.

Not that mermaid was particularly bothered by the ranting and raving of the plump little man. He wasn’t at all like her own father who both controlled the impossibly powerful sea and was in turn controlled by it. When her father ranted the waves crashed, drowning the humans who thought they could pass through his domain. When her father raved the storms raged with him, thundering in time with his bellowing yells and throwing the world into chaos.

No, her girl’s father was at most adorable when he was mad. At worst he was irritating.

Ariel couldn’t hear his words from under the crash of the fountain. Under the wave of water she didn’t have to listen. She didn’t need to listen. It was the same argument she’d been listening to for years now. In fact if she squinted her eyes she could tell exactly what bits of old ammunition they were using.

“You can’t keep her here. She needs her own kind. What about when you marry? You have to marry!”

“She doesn’t have anyone else. We don’t know where she came from. Her family may have moved on and she’ll be alone again. I don’t want to marry!”

Same old, same old.

And eventually he would throw up his little arms and huff his little huff and off he’d go. Probably to play with his toys. She’d never seen them but her girl had explained that he had whole rooms filled with toys. Once, back when she was first moved from the tub in her girl’s room to the fountain, Jasmine had stolen a few of the toys so Ariel wouldn’t be lonely her first night in the courtyard. The water had ruined the toys but her father never seemed to notice.

Her Jasmine was so good to her. And now she was crying and it was all because of Ariel.

Pushing through the wall of water that she had been hiding behind Ariel peeked out from the edge of the fountain, hand brushing gently against the darker hand. The one that wasn’t trying to brush away tears. Poor princess, craving something more. Something she couldn’t get from behind the palace walls.

But at least Jasmine was safe. Ariel hated those thoughts. The ones where she agreed with her girl’s father. After all, it was the longing for adventure that got her separated from her family. That longing for adventure that got her trapped in a fisher man’s net. That longing for adventure that found her in a dirty tank of water, half starved and all alone.

Her girl smiled down at her through the tears, fingers threading through her wet hair. Jasmine loved her hair. Use to brush it every day. Still did when her duties in the palace didn’t interfere.

She may have lost her family but now she had her girl. And if that wasn’t an adventure she didn’t know what was.

“I just want something new. Something amazing.” Her girl sighed, resting her head against Ariel’s hair. She didn’t seem bothered by the water that dripped onto her lap. Maybe she wasn’t anymore. In the beginning the young princess would sit on the other side of the room, refusing to get too close to her new treasure for fear of ruining her clothes. But Ariel was quick to fix that aversion. The first time Jasmine got close enough to the large tub Ariel pulled her into the water, cuddling her until the girl stopped struggling.

Actually, that was her preferred way to stop her girl’s pouting. So with a firm pull she had a lap full of wet, irritated princess.

“Every time!” Her girl growled, splashing at the mermaid. Ariel didn’t mind. They were already soaking wet and the childish attack kept her girl from being angry. Her girl was never angry at her for long. Especially not when she traced her fingers up her girl’s side, enjoying the warmth that came from all her time under the sun.

Eventually the pair settled down, tickling touches having been reduced to just touching. Just feeling. Her girl’s tears had been washed away by the clear water of the fountain and for a moment they were fine. There was no worry about the past, about Ariel’s family, about the call of the ocean that was so strong some days she just wanted to scream. There was no worry about the future, about the princes that would come from miles around to court the beautiful and untouchable princess, about the fate of the mermaid who lived in the Sultan’s fountain.

Because as long as she had her girl in her arms Ariel knew her adventure had been worth it and someday soon she would take her girl to see the endless stretches of sea and the mysteries she had only dreamed about.

Adventures could be dangerous, but Ariel couldn’t deny that they were also amazing.

Chapter Text

“There’s a man in my closet. There’s a man in my closet.” Green eyes met an identical pair in her mirror and Rapunzel realized with great joy just what she had said. “There’s a man! In my closet! Haha! Too weak to handle myself on my own, Mother? Well, tell that to my frying pan.”

And as she fumbled around with the man’s satchel, and while she talked her mother into getting her white shells, and even as she waved good bye the words kept playing in her head.

“There’s a man in my closet.” Rapunzel gasped, rushing from the window with an excited gasp.

---

He was in a closet. And his head hurt a lot. And…that was about all he could deduce. Somewhere behind the cloud of confusion and pain he knew he was in trouble and he was beginning to suspect he wouldn’t be able to charm his way out of it this time.

“I hope you’re not talking about the stars.”

“Floating lights, mother, and I’m leading up to it.”

Voices? Which, thinking about it, would make sense considering he was in a mostly empty closet. Probably the tower’s owner. Wow, was he stupid to think no one lived in the mysterious tower. As best he could with the pounding headache Flynn crouched down to look through the key hole. All he could see was blond, a lot of blond, and a flash of red. The red seemed to belong to the angry voice. The very angry voice.

“YOU ARE NOT LEAVING THIS TOWER, EVER!” The voice screamed and he could see the hand reaching for the door fall. Wait, did that mean someone was trapped up here? Had he stumbled on a hostage?

Just his luck.

“All I was going to say was, I know what I want for my birthday now. The paint, from the white shells you once brought me.” This speaker, a girl, sounded scared. And, based on his years on the streets, sounded like she was lying.

The first speaker sighed dramatically. Maybe an actor? No one else was that dramatic. “That is a long ways away. Nearly three days.”

“I just thought it was better than the…the stars.”

The more he listened the more Flynn worried he was invading something intimate. Something he shouldn’t be eavesdropping on. But on the other hand there wasn’t much to do in the small space of the closet. Not unless he wanted to try on a dress. But it looked way too small for him.

By the time he returned his attention to the matter at hand (Really, that was some tiny embroidery. How hard was it to do all that?) the first voice was gone. And someone was opening the door. Crap, Flynn really should have paid more attention.

Oh so slowly the door creaked open, revealing a scared girl hiding behind a chair. Yeah, not what he was expecting. As soon as she noticed he was conscious she lifted her frying pan defensively.

“I know who you are, and I…I’m not afraid.”

Yeah, and he wasn’t on the run from the whole Corona army.

“What?”

“Who are you, and how did you find me?”

Carefully, and hopefully handsomely, he stepped down from the closet. “I know not who you are, nor how I found you, but let me just say, hi. How you doing?”

“I…what? Who are you!” She demanded angrily.

“Sorry, sorry. My name’s Flynn Rider. Famous thief. Dashing rogue. Maybe you’ve heard of me?” Her blank look gave him the answer he needed. “That’s a no, isn’t it? Seriously, how hard is it to become a world famous rogue?”

The girl gave him a confused look. Then it became an angry look. “Who sent you? What do they want with my hair? To sell it? Cut it?”

“Your…hair? Why on Earth would I want your hair?” Seriously, this was one weird chick.

“You…don’t want my hair?”

“No, I was being chased so I climbed up here and next thing I know I’m in a closet with a pounding headache. So, I don’t know, maybe you could offer a guy a glass of water?”

She still seemed suspicious but she walked to the small kitchen and got him a glass. The whole time she kept her green eyes on him. Also, her lizard was watching him. In fact the lizard’s stare was more intense. Unnerving. Really, each time he moved the green thing would twitch defensively. To keep the thing calm he settled on the chair and tried to look as non threatening as possible.

The girl reached out the pan, having balanced the glass on the pan’s surface, trying to maintain maximum distance.

“Er, thank you…”

“Rapunzel.”

“Really? Cute name.” She shook so hard the glass fell off the pan and shattered. That wouldn’t be good for her bare feet. Flynn, the gentleman that he was, jumped up to sweep the glass. They both fumbled for a moment before the girl remembered she was trying to defend herself.

“Sorry. I guess…I don’t get a lot of guests.” Rapunzel said awkwardly.

“Yeah, it’s kind of out of the way. But I’m sure you can get out via incredibly long hair. You know, paint the town red.” He raised a brow at her sad look. “Or not?”

“Mother doesn’t let me leave. I’ve never…I’ve never been out of the tower.”

The silence was quite possibly the most awkward thing he’d ever experienced. Worse than the time the Stabbington brothers found him alone with their drunk and clingy mother. Even the frog thing seemed uncomfortable. Finally Flynn settled for a companionable pat on the shoulder. “That sucks. I mean, especially since you’re like, what, twelve?”

“I turn eighteen tomorrow.” Rapunzel shot back, shrugging his hand away.

“Wait, you’re eighteen, and you’ve never been out of this tower? And you don’t get guests.” Never mind, this was the most awkward thing he’d ever experienced. “Gee, your mom would not be happy if she found out about this.”

“Yeah. I really shouldn’t have a man in my tower.”

Their eyes met and Flynn realized he would have to shove that lizard in a closet or something. No way was he going to be able to give this poor girl an early birthday present with that thing staring at him.

---

“Rapunzel, let down your hair! Rapunzel?”

Oh no, oh no. She was gone. They had found her and she was gone. No, no, no, this couldn’t be happening.

Mother Gothel started towards the entrance she had sealed years before but was stopped by the sound of the doors creaking open. A spot of yellow appeared in her vision and that sweet voice floated down to her almost breathlessly.

“Mother, are you alright? Did you get hurt?”

“No, I…I thought I saw someone coming to the tower. Are you okay?”

Rapunzel laughed her little girl laugh. So sweet and innocent. “I haven’t seen anyone, but I’ll lock the window if that makes you feel better.”

“Do that. Don’t let anyone in until I come back.”

Yes, it was silly of her to over react like that. Her Rapunzel wouldn’t open the door for a palace guard. She wouldn’t let anyone into their sanctuary. Such a good girl.

“That was scary.” Rapunzel gasped, having spent all her breath jumping down the stairs before her mother had to call again. No need to raise suspicion.

“Tell me about it. Now, I believe we were in the middle of something.” The rogue gave her a strange look, one he’d been describing as a ‘smolder’ and it made her want to giggle. But then she noticed he hadn’t bothered to put his pants back on and the giggle died in her throat.

There was a man in her tower, and she needed to make up for eighteen years without knowing what it felt like to have a man rake his nails down her back and through her hair. Eighteen years without knowing that the side of her neck was horribly sensitive to light nibbling. Eighteen years without realizing just what she could use her hair for if she had a willing participant.

Happy birthday to her indeed.

Chapter Text

There was always some kind of condition for paradise, and Neverland was no exception. The rules were never spoken, but everyone knew them. The pirates, the mermaids, everyone. Because Never Neverland was very strict about those rules and no one wanted to risk breaking them.

So when the Wendy-Girl kissed him Peter obeyed the rules and pushed her away. Oh, he felt bad, especially as her eyes filled with tears but it was against the rules. He could feel eyes watching them, even when those eyes weren’t real. He could hear the Death Beetle clicking its warning.

“We don’t do that here, Wendy.”

---

The mermaids regarded her with horror before she could finish her question. They couldn’t think of pranks, not when she was wanting their Peter to break the rules. They swam around her, yelling and screaming and pleading that she never try kissing their Peter again because though he was forever a boy he was still just a boy. Boys were so easily tempted to break the rules.

“We don’t do that here, Wendy.”

---

Next to her father’s fire Princess Tigerlily should have been warm and happy. But the Wendy-Girl was there asking her questions that made her cold. Questions that no one should ever ask. The princess wondered if the girl had been asking Peter these questions. Was that why he hadn’t been playing with them? Was he at least smart enough to hide from her? But she couldn’t ask because the Wendy-Girl wanted answers.

“We don’t do that here, Wendy.”

---

He imagined she only asked him because no one else would tell her. Brave girl, rowing up to his boat and politely requesting an audience. And politeness had to be rewarded with like. The captain liked to think that was why they were sitting in his private cabin, drinking tea and not at all threatening one another.

But really it was because he knew no one else would answer her question.

“This land has rules, my dear. It’s a beautiful land, don’t you think?”

She looked out his window to see the lush forest and tall mountain and the sky so blue it seemed unnatural. “Oh yes.”

“That is because this is an eternal, innocent paradise. Everyone here must obey the rules or Neverland will kill you.” He reached for his pipe and amused himself with the notion that violence and tobacco wasn’t considered taboo by the unspoken rules but something so intimate was wicked. “Peter doesn’t want to kiss you because kissing may lead to sex. I know your both very young but he’s good reason to fear such a thing. If you lose your virginity in Neverland, you die.”

The color drained from Wendy’s face and the tea cup fell from her hand. But Captain Hook wasn’t concerned. It was a natural reaction.

“We have no control of the rules and they apply to you as long as you’re here. Be wary, my dear.”

When she returned to Peter, shy and scared Peter, she hugged him close. She apologized and swore to never do it again. And when he relaxed in her arms Wendy decided not to mention the kiss she’d left with the Captain. It had been a chaste kiss upon his cheek, a thank you for actually telling her the truth.

And she certainly didn’t tell him that the sound of the Death Beetle’s clicking had been following her since.

No need getting him panicked.

Chapter Text

Fairies didn’t need sleep. That was why they could hear any whispered wish or plea. Some would sit in the sky and wait for someone to call them out directly. That pretty young fairy from up North, for instance. She never came unless it was her star the humans begged with. Some only came for parties, special events where they could throw around their magic in exchange for praise and food.

But she didn’t have reason for who she picked. It was all on a whim and that suited her just plenty.

“Please, just let him find a good girl.”

Not being tied to specific pleas or specific dates freed her to be there when he sent out his prayer. She was there to pat his bald head and give him what he wanted.

“Who are you?”

“Your fairy godmother, dear. Now, tell me more about your wish.”

He told her more than just his wish. He told her about his son, handsome and fair but unable to pick a bride. He told her about his wife, bless her soul, and his kingdom. He told her about his dreams for the future. He shared with her things she doubted he had told another soul and each confession was locked away inside her.

It was her idea to host a ball. “Think of it! So romantic and then he can met all the girls in the kingdom.”

There had been worse starts to royal marriages and with no nearby royal families there was no reason to not have a commoner as a princess. So he agreed, taking her advice in everything from the music to the food.

But her work didn’t end when the doors to the palace opened. She was off, helping some poor girl who hadn’t realized she had been wishing for a fairy’s help. A little wave of her wand and all the destruction from her horrible family melted away leaving the perfect answer to her king's wish.

And when the prince began to dance with the mysterious woman in silver no eyes were on the king and his companion.

“A perfect match for your son.” She said, taking his hand in hers.

He wanted to say a hundred things. Thanks for all she had done. Compliments on the dress that flattered her and helped her blend into the ballroom’s crowd. Worries about the possibility of his son not seeing the girl’s perfection.

But in the end all he did was pull her towards a secluded corner of the dance floor. “You are a wonder, aren’t you?”

And for the first time in a long time the fairy who called herself a godmother wondered if she had granted his wish for selfish reasons. But then he was tripping over his feet and she was too busy laughing to care.

Chapter Text

Above the city the moon was merely a sliver, a hint of silver in the sky which did little to illuminate the streets of Agrabah. The stars may have helped but heavy clouds had covered them hours before. It was strange that the glimmer of moon hadn’t been covered as well. So, alone in the sky, the moon tried to make the night bright. It failed, but at least it tried.

In that darkness the foreign born man could only feel, his eyes failing to adjust to the darkness. He could feel the cold stone under his knees as he knelt in the alley. He could feel the soft silk of the heavy trousers before him. He could feel the hot flesh that seemed the throb beside his cheek. Seeing was overrated anyways. It was feeling that mattered. Hearing wasn’t that bad either, not when he was listening to the man above him gasping on the air that seemed too hot for the middle of the night.

“Already panting? And I haven’t even done anything yet.” He teased before a handful of thick hair was caught in the other’s hand.

“So do something.”

If his majesty insisted.

The silk trousers slipped down easily, probably for the best because even after months traveling the desert Gaston hadn’t completely figured out the local clothing. Or maybe it was just that he didn’t care. Hadn’t cared about anything for a long time. Not until the dark prince entered the tavern Gaston had claimed as his whenever he wandered into Agrabah. From the shadows of his usual seat he had watched as the man’s servant gushed over the incredible Prince Ali, trying to awe the locals with tales of strength and bravery while the dark prince drank quietly. Strong as ten men, he had said, recalling the battles his prince had gotten into. Stories about invaders with knives and spears and even magic. Stories that were certainly impressive.

Impressive but unlikely to be true. After all, Gaston had been praised before. Had once been the one drinking while others recalled his battles and hunts. He had once been strong, before losing everything to a beast pretending to be a man.

But this Ali was different. He had proof of his strength. When ten bandits tried to attack him he had defeated them with no weapons. He had faced their daggers with his bare hands, protecting his servant and the bar patrons with an ease that almost spoke of boredom.

All without a single stain on his shirt.

For that Prince Ali deserved respect.

Though his neck protested at the angle Gaston pushed forward, tongue darting out to lick at the head he could barely see. He could feel it though, with one large hand wrapped around the cock, not tugging so much as petting. Feeling, and seeing. Gentle pulls as he licked the underside and down to the patch of curly hairs. The prince’s hand pulled sharply at Gaston’s hair, not protesting so much as directing. A tug to push him further down, a harsh pull to lead him back to the tip. And each time Gaston replied with a deep, throaty moan.

But he didn’t want to be the one moaning. Regaining his balance, and easing the discomfort in his neck, Gaston swallowed the whole of the prince’s dick, sucking and licking obscenely. Above him came the sounds he had been waiting for. Gasps, groans, and profanity. All of it fell to his ears like perverse praise. Each sound spurred him on until he was gagging around the prince’s cock. Ali didn’t seem to mind, or at least he had forgotten how to boss Gaston around through hair tugs. For a while they fell into a pattern of Gaston’s bobbing head and the prince alternating between curses and wanton moans. A brushing of teeth, just the lightest brushing, caused the hand in his hair to remember how to control him, tugging so hard he had to pull back or else risk biting off something the prince would rather not lose.

“Something wrong, sir?” Gaston asked with a cheeky grin the man above him could only barely see. His hand reached up to continue his mouth’s work, stroking slowly while his second hand trailed across Ali’s leg to grab just under his ass.

“The fact that you haven’t finished could be what’s wrong.” He groaned, thrusting into Gaston’s grasp. For an agonizing second he released Gaston’s hair, nails stroking against his scalp before grabbing a fresh handful. His other hand grabbed the back of Gaston’s neck, forcing his mouth back around his cock.

For the first few seconds he tried returning to his old tricks involving tongue and teeth but Ali was having none of it. The pressure on his neck increased until he just allowed his jaw to relax under the man’s rapid movements. His knees ached and his eyes watered but Gaston allowed himself to get lost in this prince fucking his mouth with strength he had never experienced before. His own cock pressed urgently against his trousers but he ignored it, too focused on pleasing, on praising, on worshiping the man before him.

Both strong hands wrapped into his hair, pulling so hard Gaston was convinced he was going to lose actual chunks of his scalp. A heated groan came from above him along with one command. “Swallow.”

He gagged when the bitter taste hit the back of his throat but did as commanded, fingers clenching to the prince’s thighs so hard he would have bruises in the morning. After a few seconds Ali pulled away, allowing Gaston to return his silk trousers to their original state. He even grinned down at Gaston, his smile beautiful no matter how hard it was to see with the shadows around them.

The prince dropped down, callous hand rubbing against Gaston’s dick. “Tomorrow, same place. I’ll show you what the strength of ten men can do once I have you bent over your dirty little bed.”

And with that he was gone, lost in the dark of the night. And for a second, just one second, Gaston wondered about his former plans to leave the city come morning.

But that second passed and Gaston chuckled to himself. Another night in Agrabah couldn’t hurt. Though it may leave him a little sore.

Strength of ten men. He’d be very sore when it was all said and done.

And ultimately that thought, and the hand pressing against his dick, was what brought him to a shaky orgasm.