She wonders if Aurora feels it too.
The first time she feels it, it's like bird's wings; a fleeting, stuttered, fluttering movement inside hands too small to hold it.
She lets Aurora walk ahead of her, stopping briefly to try and steady herself. There's a lurch inside her chest, and she wonders if it's the after effect of Cora's dark magic; the sporadic beat of a heart not her own overpowering the pace of her own heart thumping low and steady. She remembers holding Aurora's heart in her hand only mere hours before and her fingertips burn at the thought.
It doesn't escape her notice that it all quietens when Aurora's a safe distance ahead.
Travelling with Aurora is a stark contrast to travelling with Phillip, though to be fair she hasn't been in the company of women as much has she has men in several years.
By the fire, Phillip wove tales of dragons and battle with eyes just as bright, til they grew heavy with sleep. Mulan felt a greater closeness to him with every story he told. They may have been from vastly different kingdoms, but he turned out to be not as different from her as she thought he'd be. He reminded her of flying arrows and clanging swords. Of the few that had been kind to her during her service to the emperor. Of Shang.
She lost track of when Phillip had become so important.
Tales of Aurora were more than frequent; they were Phillip's motivation. She had come to believe his quest so strongly it had become something to look forward to- Phillip's happiness. His love for Aurora was so pure and earnest that it hurt all the more when he was taken away from her. From both of them.
Aurora is a different creature entirely. She hasn't seen the heat of battle. She hasn't fought anyone really -beyond sacrificing herself to Maleficent to save her mother. She speaks of docile forest creatures, fairy godmothers and the small cabin in the woods that was once her home. Her stories remind Mulan of home. They remind her of expansive fields and colourful festivals. Of her grandmother and her belief in magic and the protection of ancestors.
Phillip and Aurora remind her of tales of fated love.
"Aurora, it is only a scratch."
"Mulan." Aurora chides, using a tone Mulan is quickly becoming accustomed to as being a warning. She takes Mulan's hand and turns her palm upwards, revealing a nasty gash. She frowns. "That is most certainly not a scratch."
"I am fine. We need to keep moving."
Mulan tries pull away but Aurora doesn't release her. She covers both their hands with her other one. "Just- let me be of some help to you. You've done more than enough for me and Phillip already."
Mulan's brow softens. It has become hard to refuse Aurora.
As they sit in silence, Aurora carefully wraps a washed strip of her dress around the wound. "Please be more careful," her voice trembles, "I...I don't know what I'd do if anything ever happened to you." Mulan looks away but nods, heart pounding.
"As would I."
At night Mulan dreams of bright blue eyes and a tangle of wild aubrurn hair.
She wonders if Aurora's dreams (or nightmares) involve her at all when she feels the princess reach for her under the blanket. Mulan always obliges, pulling her arms around Aurora until she feels her heartbeat still.
"Will you return to your kingdom once we save Phillip?" Aurora asks.
It's something she's never really thought about. Her brows furrow and her mouth twists as she searches for an answer that isn't completely definitive, settling on a quiet "Perhaps." She can tell Aurora isn't satisfied with the answer. "You could always visit if I do."
Aurora sighs in frustration, "You know how Phillip is. He thinks I'm a delicate flower. One he needs to keep his eyes on or-or cover with his hands to shield from the rain."
"I hardly think Phillip would keep you locked up in the castle." Mulan smiles in amusement when she catches Aurora's stern look. I hardly think Phillip could.
"Surely he'd want to come with me... but what if I wanted to see you alone?"
She feels it again -the heartbeat- only the pounding is dizzying. Her face flushes with heat at Aurora's words. It's silly. It felt silly to feel such things; selfish even. If Aurora were to know what a mess she made of her, or what her heart had been telling her lately, she'd scoff at the absurdness of it all.
"I would be pleased."
Aurora smiles brightly.
The night they nearly lose each other is her breaking point.
(Later, she'll tell herself that she had become careless- too busy enjoying Aurora's company to ensure their safety-that it could have been avoided).
There's a hungry ogre that hears them coming first. One swing flings the torch out of Mulan's hand and Aurora holding onto her tightly, nearly screams. The forest is in darkness apart from the slivers of moonlight peeking through the trees but they run anyway. She quickly pushes Aurora in another direction before drawing her sword. The noise of it leaving the sheath catches the ogre's attention and it approaches her, cracking trees in the process. Mulan keeps quiet, carefully dodging the ogre's massive swinging arms until one lands true, and she falls back. The last thing she remembers is blinding pain in her left shoulder and the ogre's howl. The last thing she thinks of is Aurora.
When she awakes it's still dark but instead of an ogre it's Aurora that looms over her, eyes fraught with worry and face covered in tears. They're safe under an overhang of ground. There's even a fire going.
"It's dead." is all Aurora says.
At dawn, Aurora busies herself ripping new strips from the underside of her dress to wrap Mulan's shoulder. Mulan winces with every loop she makes and tightens around her shoulder to stop the bleeding. She's never been more amazed at the princess' strength. "We will have to find a town soon before you're out of a dress."
It's meant to be a joke but Aurora isn't having it. "You're so stubborn," she presses down before tying the last bit of cloth, "do you know that? Do you know that I couldn't bear the thought of losing you too? I can't bear it Mulan." her voice breaks.
Mulan looks everywhere but at Aurora, eyes closing when Aurora traces the length and breadth of the scar on her chest slowly, purposefully. It's an old wound but not one without meaning. Aurora's the only one to have seen it since-
A lifetime ago.
Her heart pounds wildly. "You've felt it too haven't you?" Aurora asks, her other hand finding Mulan's. She places it over her own heart.
"Aurora I- " Just then Aurora leans forward and Mulan feels soft lips press against hers.
Once. Twice. Longer, a third time.
Aurora's head falls to her good shoulder, shaking like she doesn't believe this is happening. "What if we never get him back?" she asks into the crook of Mulan's neck. Mulan wraps her arms around her, face wet with tears of her own.
Come with me.
The reunion with Phillip is bittersweet.