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Always on My Mind (It's True, I Never Thought of Anyone Else But You)

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The king of Ulstead's second daughter has a ring with a sparkly stone on it. Diaval watches the way it catches the light when she smooths her dress. He's a raven turned into a man; he knows better than to try and snatch it away from her simply because he likes it.

He thinks he might ask her where she got it later, though. That seems like something a man might do.

She might even know where to get sparkly stones in a different color - green, maybe. Blue, for Aurora, although of course Aurora should get her sparkly stones from Phillip, who is still practically a nestling.

Of course, Aurora is still a nestling, too, so there's plenty of time for people to -

"Diaval."

Maleficent steps on his foot. Human feet are sturdy - much sturdier than a raven's, but that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt, especially since she clearly did it on purpose, which doesn't make any sense. If he'd been a raven, he'd have cawed at her indignantly; as a human, he can only frown and whisper, "What?" which is far less satisfactory.

"Pay attention," she says, adding, before he can object that he was, "to King John."

Diaval sighs and shrugs by way of saying, 'You're the boss'.

 

" 'She was wearing a sparkly stone,' " Maleficent repeats. She sounds half-annoyed and half-amused, which is better than all-annoyed or all-amused, Diaval supposes.

He likes making Maleficent laugh, but he doesn't particularly enjoy her laughing at him.

"Humans like sparkly stones, too," Diaval says defensively. It occurs to him, a little late, that he has no idea if faeries do.

"I didn't bring you here to look at sparkly stones," Maleficent says. "I need you to be my eyes and ears."

Not her wings, Diaval notes. She's got her own back again, after all. "To see and hear what? These people are friendly. They like us. They like Aurora." Unsurprisingly; everyone likes Aurora.

"Perhaps they do." Maleficent glances at the door. "Perhaps they don't. Either way, there is little point in having you around if all you're going to do is stare at some girl."

Diaval shuffles his feet a bit. Hopping feels strange as a man; his body is too heavy. "All right."

"All right," Maleficent echoes. "Well, good. Glad we got that straightened out."

 

There is, of course, a feast in their honor, as Aurora's official representatives, which means lots of food.

Diaval spends most of the evening keeping a wary eye on the dogs. They can't truly harm him as long as he is in the shape of a man, of course. He feels as if they're watching him, though; as if they know he's really a raven and are only waiting for the right moment to pounce on him.

"They must have raided the treasury," Maleficent says.

Diaval takes his eyes off the nearest dog. It takes some effort; it's probably the meanest-looking one in the room. "Sorry, what?"

Maleficent pointedly glances at the head of the table. "Quite a lot of sparkly stones."

"Oh." Diaval knows how dogs think. They wait until you're distracted, until you think you're safe and settle down to eat. Then they pounce. "Yeah. Sure."

"You hadn't noticed." Maleficent sounds pleased rather than annoyed.

"They have dogs," Diaval says. He's not sure why she sounds pleased now.

"Don't worry. I won't let them hurt you."

Diaval considers pointing out that he's quite capable of not letting them hurt him himself. "I know," he says instead. "Thank you."

 

Even in the shape of a man, Diaval finds it hard to sleep in a bed, in a stuffy room. He's not sure how anyone can, unless they've been trained to it from birth.

He wonders how Maleficent manages, if she manages. He wouldn't put it beyond her to stay awake, thinking and planning. Worrying, too, probably. She's spent the past eight months all but glued to Aurora's side, making sure the transition from mad king to innocent queen goes smoothly.

Trust is not a thing that comes easily to Maleficent. Humans, Diaval thinks, are to Maleficent what dogs are to him - except that Aurora is a human, too, and Diaval wears the shape of one as often as not.

It's useful, sometimes, he supposes. Humans can open doors, walk down a hall and knock. Quietly, it goes without saying. Not a creature in the world likes to have its sleep disturbed, after all.

"Diaval." Maleficent doesn't look like she's been sleeping. "Something wrong?" She sounds like the answer she's expecting is 'yes'.

"No," Diaval says, feeling the tiniest bit silly. "Just having trouble sleeping, that's all."

"I see." Maleficent's expression is thoughtful. "A cat, perhaps? You might go hunting for a late night snack."

Diaval likes cats better than dogs. Still. "Too many dogs." He'd smell them, as a cat. Much moreso than he already does as a human.

Maleficent grimaces. "A mouse?"

Diaval grimaces back. "No thanks." Her room is much like his, except that he can tell by the look of the bed that Maleficent hasn't even tried to sleep in it. "And not a mealy worm, either."

"That was going to be my next suggestion."

"I know." Diaval perches on the edge of the bed (or, well, sits. Humans can't perch properly.)

"Am I really that predictable?" Maleficent asks, smiling a little.

Diaval shrugs. "Sometimes. I know you pretty well." Longer than anyone else, probably. Many fairies know of Maleficent, naturally, only it's far from the same thing.

"Good thing you're not the one I'm negotiating with."

"Hey, you know all my weaknesses as well as I know yours," Diaval says.

"Sparkly stones and tasty bugs," Maleficent says and then, after a pause, "What weaknesses?"

Diaval considers. "None, really."

"There are many things I would do to keep Aurora happy, and safe." Maleficent stares at something that is not actually here, as far as Diaval can tell. "Possibly not in that order."

"Me, too," Diaval says. He can picture Maleficent surrounding all of Aurora's kingdom with a wall of thorns. Her castle, too, probably. It would still not be enough. There are too many humans in Aurora's castle, too many strangers. No dogs, though.

Maleficent looks at him, one eyebrow arched. "You do think highly of yourself, don't you? But yes. I do not have so many friends that I can afford to lose one."

"I didn't mean - " Diaval starts. His face feels warm, in that weird way only human faces do.

"Ah," Maleficent says.

"Still, thank you. I am honored to be your friend."

"Some friend, if I can't even figure out in which shape you might get some rest tonight."

"Maybe rest is overrated. Anyway, what about you? Don't fairies need sleep, too?"

Maleficent glances at the bed, and Diaval thinks Ah!. It's comforting, in a way, to know he's not alone in being ill at ease when it comes to human furniture, human-made resting places.

"I can do without for one night," she says.

"One," he says, trying to sound stern, the way Maleficent tries with Aurora on occasion, and about as successful. "You're not going to do anyone any good if you fall asleep at the table."

She won't, of course. She might get cranky and turn someone into a dog, though, which would be worse. Ulstead is not a kingdom where humans live together with fairies - or ravens, for that matter.

"I wish I could talk to Aurora," Maleficent says.

"She'd tell you the exact same thing," Diaval replies, knowing that this is true, as well as knowing that this is not what Maleficent means. "She's fine. You worry too much."

"Well, some of us are less easily distracted by sparkly stones."

"I thought I might ask her where I might find some," Diaval says, before he can really think about it. "For you. Green ones. Don't fairies like sparkly stones?"

"Less so than we like impertinent ravens," Maleficent says. Her expression is hard to read - a human might have managed it, perhaps, but Diaval has no idea what she's thinking or feeling.

"Well," he says, "who doesn't like impertinent ravens?"

"Conceited impertinent ravens." Maleficent's lips are very soft on his. Gentle, too, and a little uncertain, as if she's the one who wasn't born with them.

Diaval feels dizzy, off-balance in this shape that will never quite be his own.

As a raven, he might court her by bringing her sparkly stones and tasty bugs, tempt her by boasting of his skills at building a nest; as a man, the only thing he seems able to do is kiss her back, and that rather clumsily, like he's never kissed anyone before (true enough, but still).

"Would you rather we go outside?" Maleficent asks.

Diaval looks at her and tries to imagine her as a raven. His mouth feels dry. "Yes," he says.