Fear hangs to crisp night air.
Somewhere on the borders of the Enchanted Forest, their little group tramples across a lone village tucked away.
Well-made huts collected together, and in the distance, timber-built dwellings. Cattle and other livestock roam freely, and all of this on three acres or so of land. Grime-smudged faces and twisted frowns, the inhabitants huddle with their children and loved ones. Emma glances around at their displeased faces, eyes traveling over her.
"I'm guessing they don't like strangers?" she asks, eyebrow raised.
"You're not wrong," her mother points out, and Mulan can see her knuckling her bow a little more tightly for reassurance. "Probably haven't seen new faces in a long time…"
Not too far off from the dust path, a shadow-stretch of crudely made barn and several men banded together. One of them holds a lit torch aloft. As soon as the situation registers, Emma races over, legs pumping, yanking out her gun out of her holster. She levels it at the forehead of the ragged, dirtied man, eyes narrowed in deadly concentration.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"I must cleanse our village of this beast," he says, numbly. "I have no choice."
An overpowering impulse comes over Mulan—to snatch at the edge of Aurora's cloak, to prevent her from running forward, breathing hard and joining Emma. But it is only an impulse, fleeting at best, and Mulan's hand closes around hilt of her sword. "Can you not see there are people inside?" Aurora says, horror etched to her face.
Fury drifts into the man's own face, lining his weathered, sun-burnt face.
"You have not seen the horrors that plague our land!" he roars. "Whole families disappeared! Hearts gone missing! And now this monster comes, flying overhead, stealing in in the dead of night! Terrorizing us, screeching and flapping its wings like an ill omen!"
Emma turns her head to the dark silhouette of the barn, and then glimpses white feathers. Everyone's ears pick up a soft hooting.
"…An owl? Seriously?" she says, dryly. Her fingers loosen slightly to her gun when Snow and Mulan stand at her back.
"My own daughter is trapped within."
Fresh tears stream down the man's face. "Her weeping pains me," he says. "I can hear her… my Giselle…"
"It's an owl, it's harmless. There's no need for this insanity, please."
"That surely must a fearsome beast indeed," Aurora speaks up, eyeing the barn with some apprehension. Emma and Snow give her an mildly exasperated 'not you too' look. "But at the cost of their lives? Your family? There has to be another way to save them!" she pleads.
The dirtied man begins mopping under his nose with a sleeve, arm and voice trembling, "God forgive me, there is not." He jerks in place startled, and the other men whisper harshly around them. Aurora has pushed her hand to his, staring firmly with all of the royal conviction up at him she possessed.
Despite her nerves being on edge, blade-sharp, Mulan's lips unconsciously twitch at the lovely defiance.
"I am ordering you to stop this."
At the same time, another bigger man grabs at Aurora's sparkling circlet, intending to throw her off. She cries out loudly at the sudden agony and tug on her scalp, rhinestones cascading from her hair. The princess falls onto her side, whimpering and clutching at her head with her fingers.
A burning, quick anger sweeps over Mulan.
"Don't touch her!" she yells, drawing out her sword and parrying a hit when one of the villagers lunges at her with his own dull, rusted sword.
They are willing to fight. One of Snow's arrows pierces his ankle, causing a howl, and Mulan turns and slices him across the chest, his blood flowing. It's her version of a curse.
How her emotions both aid her in strength—protect Aurora, I must do this—and cloud her senses. This is most clear when Aurora crawls on the ground and shrieks her name, causing the hairs on the back of Mulan's neck to prickle. She recognizes the cold swimming through her body. Mulan's gloved hand discovers the spearhead embedded in her abdomen.
She's a warrior. She is meant to take risks, to bleed, to seek honor.
And to also lose everything, in time.
The others pace around. Aurora cannot. She refuses to leave Mulan's side.
Their little group made camp a good distance from the village, leaving the villagers to their creeping guilt and now left with increasing panic. None of the women mention the smell of burning wood, riding along the breeze with faded screams that couldn't be real. None of them acknowledge the burden or heaviness of carrying a wounded person.
"What's the plan?" Emma whispers, and Aurora fights down an eye-roll to the fact that she's attempting to keep secrets. It matters not. Snow peers over in genuine sympathy at the princess determinedly ignoring them. "Is there anything?"
"We'll need…" Snow's pale, willowy fingers rub at the bridge of her nose. "Uh, something with healing properties to help her…" she explains, slipping her bow and quiver of arrows off her shoulder. "There was, um, a lake. But it's been dried up for as long as I can remember. I'm…"
Emma shook her head, features pinching.
"There's gotta be something! We can't just—" she says, a bit more loudly, and her mother shushes her, grasping at Emma's wrists and squeezing kindly, smile forlorn.
"And we'll find it. We will."
Aurora's teeth grit together inside her mouth. She dabs at the perspiration gathering over Mulan's fever-hot cheek, using the edge of her thick, wool cloak.
"Why did you…?" she whispers, sullen. "My protection was not worth this."
A muddied, black-leather palm falls over Aurora's, holding gently. Mulan's eyes flutter open, hazy and dark and beautiful.
"You're very… headstrong, my lady."
Respecting titles or not, Aurora's still furious with Mulan for endangering herself. But she keeps it at bay, her relief outweighing the chaos inside. Aurora catches herself grinning a little. "Is that improper?" she asks. The grin vanishes as her companion withers to the forest floor, groaning and choking on air. She presses down hard at the stomach wound, already had discarded the useless padded armor that couldn't stop an enchanted spear of all things, feeling Mulan's warm blood soak through the rag.
"You're not…" Aurora sets her mouth into a grimace, tears glimmering in her eyes. "You're not leaving me, are you?"
"Despairing isn't necessary. I… made a promise," Mulan tells her, face thin and graying. But she feels the sincerity in Mulan's words—even if they were her last.
"One… I would not break."
A hiccupping sob passes Aurora's lips.
She can't lose her. She can't.
Aurora had lost everyone she had loved with all her heart. This could not end the same. Her forehead drops, softly against Mulan's head. "I understand," Aurora says, whispering, mouth ghosting a temple. She moves Mulan's gloved hand to stanch her own wound, letting out a tremoring breath and reining in her despair.
And finally, stares up.
Death stares back with calm expectancy.
The other two of their group freeze up, unsure of what they are seeing but knowing deep down, but Aurora bravely stands. She guards Mulan lying helpless, arms outstretched.
"You cannot have her," she says, unblinking, heart pounding.
Out from the veiled thicket, what sounds like rattling and low gasping, neither man nor beast, mingle and shape to create Death's voice. "Many have tried to defy me for the sake of getting what they want, princess. It is futile. You are of the living, not the dying."
Aurora's blue eyes quickly search at nothing in particular.
"Even if… you were to take my soul instead?" she asks after a long, silent moment.
"Aurora—" Mulan grunts out, trying to sit up. "No."
"My soul for Mulan's life. This is my agreement I give to you."
Emma snaps in the background, taking a step forward, "Someone still dies, you idiot! What are you thinki—?" Death holds out a hand to silence her, just as Aurora does the same, sternly. Little did they understand that Death was a curious, greedy thing.
"A bargain has struck," Death announces. "Now you must uphold your end."
"Do not assume I am a coward," Aurora says, frowning, throat dry. She shoulders her traveling, feathered cloak roughly and unsheathes a silver dagger from her belt, holding it steady. They are begging her, protesting, no, please, Your Highness, don't do this, please—
Aurora removes one of her slippers, dainty-looking but worn and soil-caked. She jams the dagger under the lining of the sole and peels it apart from the slipper, methodically. Her group goes strangely quiet, confused, as she holds the lining out.
Death laughs, deep and bellowing. And the world shivers in anticipation.
"Very clever," it says, congratulating her. The item in Aurora's hand disappears as if it had never been there in the first place. "For this, your true love will live, princess." And then the night air settles, no longer electric and heavy. Aurora's knees give out, and she checks over Mulan's wound, finding the blood flow lessening.
"Thank heavens," she murmurs, eyes closing, touching her other hand to her bosom and curling her fingers to dig into her the material of her dress.
Snow visibly gapes.
"She gave her 'sole'… for a soul." The words come out slow, as if it's unable to completely process. "Emma, she just beat Death."
Emma grins stupidly big, grabbing Snow's arm and shaking it excitably.
"That was awesome. Nobody is gonna believe this back home!" she crows out.
There is indignation to how Aurora seems to puff up at them, the gray-brown feathers adding to the effect. "If you are through with this nonsense," she says, coolly, chin lifting primly. "We still need more kindling and water." Snow nudges her daughter's shoulder, tilting her head to signal her agreement.
Both strange, other-world women vanish into the black thicket. Aurora then grips at Mulan's bloodied, limp hand between hers.
There wasn't any home waiting for her. But she would wait nonetheless.
The next time Mulan regains consciousness, dawn peeks through the ceiling of leaves from the treetops. And she is sure Aurora has not slept a wink, as usual.
"How are you feeling, Mulan?" she asks, worry lacing her girlish tone. There's a clod of ground-dirt to the inside of Aurora's mouth that Mulan's eyes cannot tear from. But would like to. Everything feels warm and drowsy and pliant. She could bet a handful of gold that Aurora's mouth would feel the very same against hers. "I have water if you need it…"
The wound has closed. She feels it, unnaturally ridged and cool to her fingertips when Mulan strips off a ruined glove.
"Thank you, but no, I am well."
More than well, it seems. She is burdened with terrible, wonderful clarity.
A loud swallow. She meets blue, widening eyes as Mulan goes upright smoothly and reaches out, thumbing the side of Aurora's face. The princess is so much softer, her rosy skin. Mulan's warrior-driven instincts order that she cease this—this is not her princess. Phillip had loved her. And caring for her might, truly, end her life or Aurora's one day.
"True love…?" Mulan asks, quietly. "Or did the fever deceive me?"
A stain of dark colour rises to Aurora's cheeks, under Mulan's thumb, flushed and eager, but her expression cringes.
"Did you hope it was?" she asks back, dread seeming to overtake her.
Mulan answers, face softening, "I suppose I'll know when you tell me truthfully, princess."
"My heart aches. It is bruised and hurt because Phillip is gone." A shuddery inhale catches her. She appears somewhat frantic at the spark of disappointment in Mulan's eyes, face no longer cradled. "But it is not impossible for love to grow again." Aurora insists, smiling. "I know it isn't for me. I want to love again, for someone else."
To enforce this, she grasps at Mulan's hand and flattens it above her chest, allowing the other woman to learn its secret language.
The bold action heats and consumes, like a whirlwind building, and Mulan gladly takes the sweet, closed-mouth kiss. She tastes the bitter clod of dirt and perfumed skin, and needing, wanting more selfishly. Aurora's fingers seek up Mulan's neck, trailing and holding the back of Mulan's head in place. Mulan's hand slips down without her mind, resting upon a clothed breast, reveling in the familiar curve beneath and softness against her palm. An audible, surprised noise escapes out and Mulan pulls away, hand removing.
"Then… I will treat your heart with care," she mumbles, avoiding Aurora's eyes but glimpsing a brilliant shining smile.
"Because Phillip told you so?"
Mulan snaps her head up, dark eyebrows furrowed. "No man tells me who to love, Aurora," she says, determined. "As no man tells me I can't fight as them. You have defeated an embodiment of Death. For someone like me. If you are not worthy of my affections, then I doubt many others would stand a better chance."
"This is really adorable and everything, but," Emma interrupts, coming around them, and Aurora glares outright, "We've got a schedule to keep. How are you doing, by the way?"
"I am healed," Mulan says, blandly. She stares back indifferently to the other woman's prying eyes.
"…Okay, I believe you." Emma adds, cautiously, "But you tell us if anything changes." As the blonde woman goes to help Snow dismantle their camp, and spread out the ashes, Aurora huffs, crossing her arms under her cream-white traveling cloak.
"When this journey is over," Mulan says, casting a knowing look at her now attentive companion. "We'll find our purpose."
"We'll find our home," Aurora corrects, but without an ill heart. Her lips twitching upwards.
OUaT is not mine. I've been binging like crazy on episodes before Season 3 airs. And I pretty much can't get these two out of my head. So voila! If you want an exact setting for the fic, it's still early Season 2 but after figuring out Lancelot wasn't really Lancelot. (So Phillip being alive season 3 has got nothing to do with this plot, okie dokie?) I added in more fairytale elements besides then just what the prompt wanted: loosely based on Grimms' "The Owl" and a French fairytale about a girl tricking the Devil from getting her soul she had promised by giving him her shoe sole. I guess the spelling of 'sole' and 'soul' is fairly similar. Anyway, MORE FEMMESLASH. MORE. MORE FOR THE FANDOM. I've never been in a fandom that had so much appreciation for it and I'm sooooo happy. Any comments/questions are deeply appreciated! Hope you enjoyed!
"Aurora/Mulan, Aurora tending to Mulan after battle"