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The first time is a little shy and a little clumsy. Mulan hears her heart hammer in her temples when Aurora's hands search for a way beneath the armor. Out of reflex she grabs her wrists--it feels like too much. It feels like if Aurora touches her, if Aurora sees her, she may burn alive. Her skin is hot and her breathing is ragged when Aurora looks up into her eyes, questioning. Mulan swallows hard. If she sheds her armor now, then what's going to protect her?

What if her armor is the only thing that's holding her together after years of dying gradually? What if Aurora peels Mulan's skin right off with it? What if she really burns alive? But she leans back and decides to trust. She closes her eyes, and breathes in, and leads Aurora's careful fingertips to the buckle of her belt. She's not being subtle, and she knows it. Aurora knows it, too. She smiles when she presses a kiss to Mulan's knuckles.

The heavy garment comes off piece by piece. And each part creates a loud thud that reminds Mulan of falling bodies, cracking bones and shattering skulls. They're ghosts, and she's shaking them off. She presses her eyes shut and focuses--she focuses on wet lips placing soothing pecks and kisses on every inch of newly revealed skin. She focuses on Aurora's little whimpers--until she doesn't have to focus any more. Until Aurora's palms pressed to her waist don't burn dangerously but only hot.

Until she remembers her scars and the bandages around her chest. Until she freezes yet again. And again her hands find Aurora's wrists. Panic hammers in her temples now. What if she will fall apart after all? What if she won't burn but drown? She hears the soldiers' laughter after they had dragged her out of her tent. They pointed fingers and they stared. She feels their eyes on her, and she gulps. She wants to sink away like quicksand--disappear before Aurora can look too closely.

Aurora waits, and doesn't move. She doesn't touch, she doesn't even breathe. When Mulan finally opens her eyes, glistening with unshed tears, Aurora's expression is calm and warm and comforting. And when Mulan raises Aurora's palms to her face and kisses them each before letting go, Aurora kisses her lips--once, twice. She doesn't ask because she doesn't have to. She knows Mulan like she knows herself. She'll wait for her until all war cries have vanished from Mulan's mind. 

She'll wait until the burning fire is replaced by loving warmth. She'll wait forever if she has to. And she'll never regret a thing. But Mulan swallows again, and kisses her back--once, twice. And then once more. Again she takes Aurora's hands. Aurora's fingers tremble when they trace up a taut stomach. Her gaze remains on Mulan's face. She won't stare, even though she wants to. Oh god does she want to. She wants to see every inch of skin. She wants to map every scar.

She wants to learn Mulan by heart, so that when she closes her eyes, she'll be able to drown out the sizzling of her own fire. She wants to be closer, and then a little closer still. They close their eyes together when Aurora's hand travels up Mulan's thigh. Mulan doesn't feel like quicksand now. She feels like boiling water. She feels like if Aurora isn't careful she'll burn herself. But Aurora doesn't burn when she dips into her wetness. She dives beneath the surface and she doesn't die.

It's like a miracle. Aurora draws out little moans and whimpers until Mulan feels like she's floating. Until Mulan has to press Aurora close to her, and then a little closer still, to make sure they don't drift apart. It's like water, not boiling hot but warm like the sun on a summer day in the Enchanted Forest, is washing over her: wave after wave, like tides on the shore, one stronger than the other. And when her breath hitches this time Aurora is there, clinging to her like an anchor.

They hold tight to each other. Aurora peppers Mulan's neck with kisses, and she whispers in her ear words of encouragement and love. She dives deeper and deeper, and causes the waves to grow until the force becomes irresistible. Until a tidal wave finally catches Mulan and pulls her under water. Again it's a miracle that even in the depth of the ocean she can breathe. Mulan's body quakes. She buries her face, burning hot, in Aurora's neck. And she buries her fingers in Aurora's shoulder blades.

Aurora stays with her. They drown together when Aurora pulls Mulan deeper into comforting blackness. And she's there when Mulan comes back floating to the surface. There are tears, but there's also a smile, shy and questioning. Aurora strokes away a strand of hair that was sticking to Mulan's cheeks. And she kisses each of her lover's eyes. And she beams. It's like pride and love form bubbles in her throat that take over her body. She giggles until Mulan's smile is only joy.