A/N: Posting this here at the request of a couple of people on Tumblr! It is now AU.
I thought that one quick moment
That was noble or brave
Would be worth the most of my life
(When My Time Comes by Dawes)
hon·or – noun – \ˈä-nər\
Good name or public esteem : reputation
"Your Highness," the man breathes, dropping onto his knees with a thud that surely violently jars the bones protecting the joints underneath—bones that Mulan would not have hesitated to break had he not prostrated himself before the princess immediately after his dash from the bushes. "Your Highness, you are—you are—"
Aurora rushes forward, and in a move Mulan could never have anticipated, kneels in the dirt alongside the older man, embracing him fully. In her peripheral, she observes the bewildered glances exchanged between Emma and Snow, but unlike the two outsiders, Mulan's hand remains firmly wrapped around the handle of her weapon.
"My dear friend," Aurora continues, pulling both herself and the man up from the floor. "This is—this is indeed a miraculous occurrence. How ever did you find yourself here?"
It's an excellent question, and one that Mulan can think of several possible answers to, the first of which has her grabbing the princess by the wrist and sharply pulling Aurora behind her back, drawing her sword in the same fluid motion.
"Have you forgotten, Princess, how easily certain enemies of ours might disguise themselves in the visage of others?"
Phillip had once spoken of Aurora as possessing a certain amount of naivety; at the time, Mulan could not understand the fondness with which he had uttered the sentiment, but as Aurora moves from behind the warrior, and turns to her with determined eyes—so convinced of the innocence of a man appearing under the most suspicious of situations—she can appreciate the past words of the prince. But she thinks that the quality Philip had spoken of is perhaps not so much naivety as it is faith.
"There is no one who knew me as Branson did. Test him if you must and ask him what you will. I will know the validity of his answers."
The solution is clever and comes quickly; Mulan has to hide a smile, though she is not quite as successful at masking the flash of affection that lights her eyes as she locks eyes with the princess for a second longer than is necessary, before returning her gaze to the man before her.
"Very well. How do you know Princess Aurora?"
"We—she lived with my wife and me, for a time."
"Details," Mulan demands, her sword unwavering, and the man hurries to continue.
"When the Queen—that is, Princess Aurora's mother, Queen Leah—learned that Maleficent had sworn vengeance against the royal family—for the Queen role in Maleficent's first fall— she was convinced the woman would attempt to harm her daughter. She sent Princess Aurora to live with my wife—Sibyl—and me. We lived a ways into the forest, and our cottage was well hidden, a fact helped by the magic of the same fairies who once hid Queen Leah herself from Maleficent.
"The princess was not much happy to be living with us, I'll say. She missed the castle and the royal life. And her prince, of course." Branson laughs, spreading the lines of his face. "When she first came to us, she tried to claim Sibyl's and my room for herself—said it was more suited for a princess, at least in size—but when Sibyl shut that down, Princess Aurora sulked in her room for the duration of her first week! And even after that, she wouldn't do chores or speak with us or nothing. Sibyl was 'bout ready to scream by the time Aurora came round, finally."
Mulan lowers her sword, because she can tell from Aurora's blush alone that the man's words are true, but he continues, undisturbed.
"It was when she heard me singing one day, in the woods, when I was pickin' some berries for dinner, and came out to investigate. Who would've thought it would only take the out-of-tune voice of an old man to get the girl to loosen up a bit?"
Moving forward, Aurora takes the man's hands with a smile. "You sang beautifully. And I'm sure you still do. Seeing you now—Branson, I have never felt so gladdened."
The man's face loses its happy glow, his eyes turning sorrowful. "I do not deserve such kind words, Your Highness. Not from you. Not after…"
Aurora's smile is sad, but not evidence of any bad will toward the man (as if her earlier actions were not enough). Still, Mulan feels a brief surge of irrational anger and protectiveness. It makes her words sharp as she demands her next answer.
"Maleficent." Branson states simply. "She found us—she tore apart the realm to find us. She was waiting at the house when Aurora and I returned from gathering roots one day. She had my wife. She—" Aurora squeezes the man's hands with affection. "She said she would kill Sibyl… unless Aurora agreed to a deal."
Mulan had kept Aurora in her vision for the duration of the story, though her attention had been on the man whose tale she was listening to, but at this, the warrior shifts her focus to the purple-clad princess; she can see the tightness of her jaw, even as the princess softly holds the hands of the older man.
"She said I only had to prick my finger—a tiny prick, she said." Aurora smiles humorlessly. "It was part of a spindle—a tribute to my mother, of course. And all I had to do was press it into my finger, and she would vow to leave Tom and Sibyl be."
Branson picks up the tale, swallowing heavily, eyes locked on the face of the young woman he clearly holds in the highest honor. "Princess Aurora did not hesitate. And then she was lost to us all—locked in Maleficent's Sleeping curse."
"But no longer," Aurora's smile turns genuine, but only for a split second. "Thanks to Philip." She swallows. "And Mulan." Her head twists a bit, and eyes flicker upwards to lock with Mulan's; the warrior can barely hold the gaze, awash with feeling.
"And your prince? Is he…" Branson clearly does know Aurora as well as he professes to, because he does not finish his question as Aurora's eyes harden and soften at once (it's the look the princess makes when she is struggling to hide her devastation behind a brave façade, Mulan has come to find).
Aurora licks her lips before asking a question of her own. "And Sibyl?"
"She is fine," Branson reassures her, and the princess lets out a sigh of relief. "But Princess Aurora… we are… we may be in trouble."
There is no hesitation in Aurora's response. "What can I do?"
The older man's hands shake with relief and his eyes shine in adoration.
Mulan understands the feeling, and steps forward, her shoulder brushing against her companion's. "What can we do?"
2. One whose worth brings respect; a source of credit or distinction.
It's ogres, apparently, that are the cause of trouble for Branson, his wife, and the small band of Aurora's subjects. The camp is destitute and pathetic and Mulan finds it miraculous that they've lasted as long as they have. Frankly, it's a hopeless situation, and if the princess insists on saving these people, she's going to get herself killed.
"We have to help them, Mulan."
Mulan sighs, but is unable to outright refuse Aurora's unasked plea.
"This is bad, Aurora."
"It is a wonder the ogres did not wipe them out in the first wave."
"Even with our help, they have no hope of repelling the second attack."
Aurora's eyes are lit with a glow that Mulan recognizes from the night of Philip's demise; it is persistence and desperation and determination rolled into one; it is the awareness that, even though she does not possess the skills to keep herself safe in a dangerous situation, she will do all she can to help those she cares for.
"Then what do you propose we do?"
The princess' lips spread in a smile that is sly and almost mischievous; Mulan feels a bit light-headed at the sight and wonders how long it's been since she last ate (too long, apparently).
Aurora plan involves a great deal of fire, several deep pits, the pellets from the odd weapon Emma still carries with her, a small army of songbirds that Snow seems to command, and an almost ridiculously suicidal run through ogre invested lands by one brave soul. It is this last position that Mulan immediately volunteers for—Aurora does not seem surprised, but she still argues against it for a length of time that they do not have to waste. The princess eventually gives in, but only, (she says with a fierce look) because Mulan will absolutely not take any chances whatsoever and come back to her completely unharmed.
Mulan is almost one-hundred percent positive that it won't work, so when Aurora stands in front of her people, face brave as she explains the strategy, Mulan allows herself to stand a bit closer to the woman than she otherwise might, because she figures she won't have to contemplate much longer why she enjoys the warmth and nearness of the princess, or why Aurora's life has quickly become more important than her own, or why, when she thinks about Philip she feels guilty for a reason that has nothing to do with her inability to protect him from the wraith.
So she ignores these heavy thoughts, and when Aurora presses her lips to Mulan's cheek and whispers a quiet good luck (and another stern warning of staying safe), the warrior does not bother to hide her fond smile.
Turns out, she should have been a bit more careful. Not with the implementation of Aurora's plan because that (somehow) works perfectly, but in her displays of affection.
Because afterwards, Aurora, sporting a lengthy but shallow cut on her cheek and covered in a thick layer of mud, rushes to her and throws her arms around the warrior, who does not mind the transfer of dirt, or the pain that comes from the princess' tight arms around areas of her that are now bruised, so much as the fountain of emotion that threatens to burst from her chest. Because that is something she's not sure exactly how to deal with.
"Your plan worked, Princess. I am amazed."
Aurora is not deterred by Mulan's tone, but instead loops their arms together and pulls her towards the camp. Apparently, Mulan is not the only person who is a bit astounded by the plan's success; villagers who had seemingly thought themselves lost crowd around Aurora, dropping to their knees and kissing her hand and wailing in exaltation. Mulan thinks it's all a bit much, but Aurora receives the attention gracefully—the perfect princess even in dirtied trousers and a tunic.
The warrior feels rather out of place.
But in-between the princess being asked to bless some infant with a kiss to the forehead and the call for three-cheers-for-Aurora, one of the villagers rushes forward and kneels before them, his face jubilant.
"You bring honor to your line, Princess Aurora!"
Mulan feels the frown tugging at her face, and her response slips out before she can think of the implications. "No."
It puts a bit of a damper on the celebration, but Mulan cares for little other than how it makes Aurora's face fall, almost imperceptibly.
"It is more than that," Mulan elaborates. "She is…An honor to herself."
Because maybe it does not make sense (and the man's creased forehead attests to this), but Mulan understands better than anyone that it is much more important (and often times, much more difficult) to find worth within yourself—for yourself. And she feels the distinction must be made for the woman beside her; she is worthy of it in a way few people are.
Aurora smile returns, her expression knowing, and her hand slips down to squeeze Mulan's.
3. A keen sense of ethical conduct : integrity
"This is wrong, Mulan."
She's not sure why Aurora has singled her out (with her words and an intense stare that does not waver). It's not as though Mulan is the only person present, and it had been Snow's suggestion in the first place. The warrior had simply seen the unfortunate wisdom in it. But it is Snow who replies to Aurora, making any response on Mulan's part thankfully unnecessary.
"He tried to kill Emma, Aurora!"
"Yes." Aurora's eyes flicker to the unconscious Hook, a frown marring her delicate features. "And he should have justice brought upon him for it. But we cannot kill him in cold blood! Not like this!"
"Isn't that a bit of the pot callin' the kettle black, and whatnot?" Emma receives two blank stares in response, and she sighs. "Didn't you try to stick a knife through Snow just a few weeks ago?"
Aurora has the grace to look abashed. "That was… I would never have been able to kill her! Not even when I thought… And wasn't it you, Mulan, who told me then not to confuse vengeance with justice?"
Taking a reflexive step toward the princess (it's become instinct, whenever the woman is in any kind of distress), Mulan interjects. "Then what do you propose? We do not have many options here, Aurora." She finds her voice coming out surprisingly gentle; another odd tendency of hers when it came to dealing with the princess. "There are no true prisons or dungeons. And we cannot leave him here—he will undoubtedly reunite with Cora and cause us trouble once again. This is not a risk we can take."
Aurora seems older than Mulan can ever remember her appearing; it's in her eyes—in the pain of a past Mulan is only learning about bit by bit. "I would rather risk that than have the execution of this man on my conscious."
Another step brings Mulan almost close enough to feel the breath of the princess on her lips. She tries not to think about it, or let her momentary distraction at the thought show.
"And I would rather risk the taint on my soul than allow for the potential of this man causing you any harm."
"Have you thought that, perhaps, that is a greater sacrifice than I wish for you to make?"
Aurora's eyes are dark—much darker than their typical light blue—and Mulan does not think before replying. "Do you not realize, Aurora? When it comes to you, there is no sacrifice too great."
It does not occur to Mulan how it must look, this stand-off between she and the princess (for Aurora does not back down, even after Mulan's admission), until Emma clears her throat in that rather awkward way of hers. Aurora's eyes flicker over to Snow and Emma for a moment, but they return to Mulan with no decrease in intensity and she does not move away. The warrior allows the gaze to continue for a moment longer, before drawing her sword and stalking toward the man on the floor, several paces away.
A sharp kick to the ribs awakens Hook; his hands are still tied, but he uses his feet to scramble back away from the angry warrior, as soon as he gains awareness of his surroundings. Mulan does not allow him to get very far; grabbing his collar with her left hand, she pulls him towards her until her sword points into his throat. A droplet of blood collects under the point, coating just the tip of the steel.
"Mulan! Don't!" Aurora is at her back now, her warm hands gripping the arm that holds Hook, but Mulan ignores her, eyes ablaze as she stares down the squirming pirate.
"If it were not for the mercy of this woman," Mulan growls. "You would already be dead." The point of her sword digs just a bit deeper into the man's flesh. "I swear to you, if any harm comes to her because of you, I will not rest until you have felt the worst pains imaginable—whatever pain you may have felt in your lifetime will pale in comparison to what I will do to you if you have even the slightest role in causing her harm. Do you understand me?"
The grip Aurora has on her arm loosens during her tirade, and by the time she has finished, it's more of a reassuring touch than anything. Hook, for once in his life, is without a snarky comment, so Mulan releases him, practically throwing him on the ground before stomping off, hoping the distance she places between herself and the conniving pirate will prevent her from unleashing any of her anger on the man.
Aurora comes to stand next to her, remaining silent as they watch Snow offer Hook a few threatening words of her own (the petite brunette can be rather intimidating when she wishes to).
"Thank you." Her hand nudges against Mulan's closed fist and the warrior's fingers peel back like petals of a blooming flower; the princess takes the opening, and slips her bare hand into Mulan's gloved one, her thumb stroking at the back of the warrior's hand. "You are an honorable woman, Mulan."
Mulan shakes her head, because she had once thought that, maybe, but life had a way of twisting one's perceptions of oneself, and she is not sure what she is anymore. And she hates the uncertainty—the questioning of her honor and her loyalty and her strength; she hates not understanding what she feels or why she is feeling it, and she hates that it is causing her to make decisions that are based more in feeling than tactical sense. But she especially hates the way that Aurora's hand in hers makes her not particularly care about any of these things at all.
So she pulls her hand away from Aurora's, and attempts to ignore the hurt look she receives. "You give me more credit than I deserve, Princess."
Mulan is already waking away when Aurora's response catches her ears. "No, Mulan. You do not give yourself enough."
She finds it hard to keep her steps from faltering.
4 (a): Chastity
The middle shift is the worst of the night; it breaks sleep into two distinct and all-to-short blocks that allow more time wasted attempting to fall asleep at the beginning of each. Mulan consistently volunteers for the middle shift—though perhaps 'demands' is a more appropriate term, because her unyielding expression does not allow for much argument. Over time, the protests mainly only come from Emma (who feels she has much to prove in a world unfamiliar to her), and even these are weak and easily ignored. Much harder to ignore is the knowing look that appears on Snow's face, without fail, after Mulan declares her shift preference.
Mulan respects Snow (especially after the tackle at the beanstalk) so she makes an effort to not wipe that shrewd little smile off of her face. And what does Snow White know about anything, anyways? Such looks are completely and utterly off their mark because the reason Mulan volunteers for the middle shift is because she is the most vigilant of the group, and the least likely to fall under the drowsy spell of sleep the night casts. It has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Aurora coincidentally is awoken by nightmares at this time of night, shaking and sweating and needing someone to lean on as she drifts back to sleep.
Absolutely nothing at all.
"I've figured it out," Aurora says on one such night, her head nearly buried in Mulan's shoulder. "The dreams—they all have to do with regrets. Aside from that one—the one with the room—they're all about my regrets."
"Do you—would you like… to talk about it?" She's not the best with emotions, and the words come out sounding clumsy. As soon as Aurora speaks, however, she finds herself wishing that she had not even made the effort.
"I—I never…with Philip… we never…"
Mulan is not one to blush (a combination of dark skin and nerves rarely rattled) but in that moment, her ears feel hot in a way that is atypical and strange, and she prays to whatever deity may watch their land that this does not mean a flush has spread across her face now. She also prays that the princess will stop talking immediately, because this line of conversation has already passed the point of providing more information than she ever would have hoped the Aurora would ever, ever impart.
"Oh! I wasn't… That's not what I was dreaming about!" Aurora's pale skin shows her flush quite easily, especially after her head shoots up from Mulan's shoulder. "I only meant—I was thinking how I—how I hope that Philip knew… that he knew how much I loved him."
This is a more familiar, but oddly no less painful turn to the conversation. Mulan feels the sigh slip out of her lips, but her expression is earnest as she looks at Aurora's pained face. "Of course he knew. Your kiss was that of True Love. It broke your curse. You didn't need to… to…. How could he not know?"
"True Love." Aurora sighs and Mulan cannot decipher the expression she wears. "What does that even—Mulan, I was not conscious for that kiss! How could I possibly have expressed love while unconscious?"
The question startles the warrior; it is not one she had ever thought to ask, even to herself. "It is… true. Innate. One does not have to consciously think to make it so. You loved Philip—you can say that now, can you not?"
"I… yes. I did. But I—I think… Feelings are fluid. They change from day to day, from hour to hour! And love—yes, love is lasting, and falling in love with someone may not always be a choice, but there is a choice in accepting that love—and that is something that must be done every moment of the day! We must look at a person and choose to expose ourselves to them! Because… well, that is a love that is true.
"So what made the kiss Philip and I shared so powerful, when I could not, with every part of me—even those fickle, ever-changing parts—express the conscious thought that I loved him, in that moment in time?" Aurora looks confused, but contemplative as she continues, and it is as though Mulan is being given unfiltered access to her thoughts. "Because, really, only Philip was expressing his love—and that's beautiful and wonderful and the greatest gift I have ever received, but… perhaps one person's love is true enough to break any curse. And if that's the case, can True Love be unrequited? Is it lessened in any way by not being reciprocated?"
Mulan shifts on the ground, uncomfortable in every way possible. "I… I do not… This all has to do with magic, Princess. I cannot comment on your questions. And you say so yourself now, that you loved Philip, so what does it matter?"
Aurora smiles, and Mulan does not understand the meaning behind it until the princess speaks. "You only call me that when you're trying to put distance between us, Mulan."
"I do not know what you are referring to."
The smile grows soft, and Mulan feels herself start to crumble. It has been a very long time since she felt as frightened as she does in that moment.
"Of course you do. And this is exactly what I was talking about." Aurora's eyes flash with challenge. "You have feelings for me, but you constantly deny them. Does that make them less true—until you make the choice to express them?"
Mulan's jaw drops. It's not an expression she's worn. Ever.
"And do not say you do not know I returned your feelings. I know you are perceptive, Mulan."
Not about this, Mulan thinks, but she can't quite pull the words out of the mess of thoughts that are jumbled in her brain. "But…but… we were just talking about Philip!"
She regrets the words instantly, but Aurora does not appear angry or upset; sad, yes, but only in a wistful way. "I loved Philip. I will never deny or regret that. But Philip, he… he was a man who believed in love in general—not just ours. And he believed in trusting in the things your heart tells you. This was a lesson he taught many people, including me. It would be a disservice to ignore this wisdom now, even if it might be easier to do so."
Aurora smiles, and it's as though she understands the feelings Mulan is attempting to decipher better than the warrior herself does.
"You don't have to say anything now, Mulan. Just think on what I've said. Please?"
Mulan nods, but as Aurora moves to stand, her arm reaches out to grab the princess gently by her wrist.
"Princ—Aurora. You shouldn't… don't leave simply because of all of… this. It does not change anything. I—I will still watch over you as you sleep."
In the back of her mind, she feels a bit of smugness at having apparently rendered the eloquent princess speechless, but the emotion is quickly overcome by something that feels like overwhelming fondness as Aurora responds with the softest of looks, and nestles into the warrior's side.
"Thank you," she breathes, her words hot on Mulan's neck.
"Rest, Rory. I will be here."
4 (b): purity – being free from what vitiates, weakens, or pollutes; containing nothing that does not properly belong
They don't speak on it again for weeks.
Mulan had thought the multitude of confusing and distracting emotions would just… go away if she ignored them for long enough. It turned out, however, that this line of thinking had been innately flawed. Because with every moment of every day the feelings grew.
They grew with each day, because Aurora kept smiling, kept touching, kept talking. She kept being selfless and kind and brave and absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. She kept making Mulan fall further and further in love with her without talking about it at all.
And Mulan, one of the fiercest warriors in the land, was powerless against it—powerless against a force invading her mind and thoughts and actions and deeds—against something she could not face with a blade or a set of armor. She was powerless against it all. But she was just as powerless against the creeping notion that, if Aurora was the cause of the sensation, then perhaps—just maybe— it was something she could accept.
She just hadn't found a way to tell Aurora any of this.
There was protocol, Mulan knew, when wooing a woman; there were rituals and flowers and a progression of steps that the warrior could not list, let alone list in order. Worse, Aurora was a princess, so the courtship was infinitely more complex, and Mulan simply did not know where to begin. She would have asked Snow or Emma, but the former was already insufferably smug about the whole situation (the woman was too perceptive about these sorts of things for her own good) and the latter… well, Mulan was sure the latter would prove to be even more clueless about the situation than Mulan herself was.
So Mulan waited.
She waited for the right moment… or the proper sign… or some kind of magical intervention. Or something. There were plenty of other things to focus on after all; a world full of ogres just waiting to crush them and a connection between worlds that need to be forged and a crazy woman with too much magic in her possession.
It's not until after they've bested Cora and taken her magical portal concoction, however, that Mulan realizes how foolish she's been.
"Come with us."
Snow's words (accompanied by a kind, benevolent expression) should not catch Mulan off-guard as they do—they should be expected and reasonable. Nevertheless, she does not have to think about her response.
"I—cannot." Mulan answers quickly, before anyone else can speak and sway her. "This is my home. I cannot leave it to fall."
The looks she receives from Emma and Snow do not reveal any surprise on their part, but she is gratified to see they are saddened; Mulan had never been one to connect well with others, but in these two women, by some miracle or another, she had found two very solid friends. It strikes her, quite suddenly, that they will miss her, and she, in return, will miss them. It is an odd sensation, and one the warrior is not used to.
She is not given much time, however, to dwell on the feeling.
"And you, Aurora?"
Mulan has never felt panic until that moment.
Her heart drops and she feels light-headed and dizzy and nauseous and it's quite possible that she has forgotten how to speak or breathe or function. And Mulan wonders how people deal with these kinds of feelings on a regular basis.
The sudden onset of paralysis may be for the best however, because Mulan is pretty sure that if she could have moved at that moment, she would have gone for innocently smiling Snow White's jugular.
"I… had not considered it."
Mulan is afraid to look up and view Aurora's expression, but she does, regardless, because the warrior has always been brave in all the ways that matter, and this is no exception. She expects to see the princess' true desire written across her face –Aurora has never been especially talented at hiding her own emotions (one of the many things about her that Mulan found so enchanting)—but the woman's expression is blank. It leaves Mulan without any direction in a place where she has always needed a map (and compass and sextant and—hell—one of those mind-boggling GPS devices Emma was always blathering on about); a place that is the frightening and foreign realm called emotion.
So Mulan does something she has never before done, and takes a blind step forward—trusting the advice Aurora had passed on from the man whose memory she hopes she is not desecrating—and goes with what her heart tells her.
"Don't." Mulan takes a deep breath. "Don't go."
She can feel Emma and Snow's eyes on her, but it is only Aurora's expression she cares to see at that moment; the princess looks…expectant; her head is tilted slightly and her eyes are bright with an emotion of some kind. Mulan, not for the first time since meeting the woman, wishes she had a better grasp on deciphering the manifestation of emotions. She figures, however, that if Aurora has not started a vehement protest of the warrior's plea, then it is safe for her to continue.
"If you wish to go… If that is what you truly desire, then… then you should go. You should go to the place that makes you most happy. But I… I cannot allow you to leave without my informing you that I… that I wish you to stay."
There's a glint in Aurora's eyes when she responds, and her head tilts a bit further to the left. "Why?"
Despite the simplicity of the question, Mulan finds herself floundering for an answer; she has one, of course, but 'to be with me' may not exactly be the best response.
"Because you were made for this. This world—it is falling apart. It needs a leader, and you possess all the proper qualities to be that person. Events have shaped you; have made you regal and poised, but from your challenges you have also learned compassion and strength and honor. Without you, I do not believe this world will exist long enough to allow for the return of Snow and her people. Someone must unite the survivors that hide throughout the land, and I can think of no one else fit for the task. This world needs you."
Nothing changes in Aurora's expression, but Mulan suddenly feels as though if she doesn't speak the full truth now, she will never be able to.
"And because… because I need you." She is less sure now; rousing troops to battle or inspiring the monarchs who command them is one thing, but openly and verbally exploring the less sturdy arena of her feelings is another. But it's better than the alternative—Aurora leaving without ever hearing the words Mulan so desperately feels, stumbling and confused as they are.
"I need you… for all the reasons that will make you a leader in this land, but also… also because you—you balance me. And—and for the first time I feel… I feel out of depth and… frightened… but I also feel—it feels right; when I'm with you—it feels right. You're strong where I am weak, and… and perfect the opposite applies as well. And… and I do not care for the prospect of living in this world without you." Mulan swallows and takes several steps towards Aurora. "Please. Stay."
And Aurora—with eyes that can apparently see the words Mulan can only imply—bridges the last space between them and presses herself into the warrior's chest, her hands coming to rest on soft cheeks.
"Okay." She nods, and her fingers stroke the dark skin they rest on. "Okay."
Mulan grips her like a lifeline, and breathes the softest sigh of relief.
Typically, Emma interrupts them. "Um. Yeah. Good. I mean… Take good care of the place—this world, I mean. I think Henry wants to come here, so… um…"
"Thank you—both of you." Snow finishes with a roll of her eyes that somehow manages to look like a display of affection for her daughter. "I don't know when or even if we'll ever be able to return, but I am glad you two will be watching over things. Even if I will miss you terribly!"
Aurora pulls away to give the short-haired brunette a hug, while Mulan exchanges nods with Emma.
"Take care of each other," Snow says as they switch partners for what Mulan hopes is not a last goodbye.
It's all happening at a speed greater than Mulan had expected, and there are emotions she had not thought would be present, so Mulan merely nods, not trusting herself to speak. She is thankful when Aurora returns to her side and gives her hand a soft squeeze, because even if everything else is confusing and uncertain, the princess only needs to squeeze her hand and Mulan knows that the most important things has started to sort itself out.
Emma holds the compass tightly in her hand as Snow pours the potion on the floor; the ground opens up before them like a purple, glowing sink-hole. Mulan is willing to bet Aurora finds it pretty, and a smile steals onto her face at the thought.
"God, I hope this works," Emma mumbles, before taking the plunge.
Snow follows shortly after, but not before winking at Mulan, her face bright. "You're welcome, by the way. I knew you just needed that last little push."
Aurora laughs as the woman drops into the beyond, and Mulan feels her own smile widen; maybe she should be bothered by the subtle manipulations of the sly Queen, but right now, with Aurora's hand in hers, she's a bit too full of happiness to focus on anything else.