33. Heal

Pairing: Mulan/Aurora (Once Upon a Time)

Summary: Mulan is new, Aurora feels new, but Storybrooke High is still the same.

Words: 4320

Notes: I don’t know what this is! I have this insanely vast head canon for an OUaT High School AU, and this is sort of just the Aurora (and Mulan) part of it… because it’s Sleeping Warrior Week, and today is AU day! I think I’ll probably write another part to this though, because obviously this is just a beginning…  

—-

Come to – find the place

Where your heart can rest from this race

Of breathing in and out

There you can mend your ways

With no doubt

[Atlantic by Givers]

—-

There’s something about the new girl.

It’s just that Aurora cannot put her finger on what that something is.

It doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that no one has heard her speak, or that she’s practically the opposite of the typical Storybrooke student (who is white and rich and privileged, in one way or another), or that there’s an intensity to her that Aurora does not think can arise from a life without pain. It also doesn’t have anything to do with her apparent mastery martial arts (which had been clear when she had gotten into a very one-sided ‘fight’ early that day, but that’s a whole other story entirely).

Or maybe it has to do with all of those things. Aurora can’t say for sure, and perhaps that’s the ‘something’—that the ‘something’ can’t quite be defined. It’s a downward spiral of a thought process—exactly the sort Dr. Hopper had gently told her she should probably be avoiding, especially on her second first day of her sophomore year.

But that’s a whole other story entirely, too—one that she’d rather focus on Abigail’s customary lunch gossip/trash-talking session than contemplate too heavily (avoidance strategy, Dr. Hopper had called it), which is really saying a great deal.

“That new girl is a total freak.”

Aurora purses her lips, but says nothing. It’s unusual—out-of-character and atypical—another sign that she’s not exactly the girl she had once been. She’s lucky (in a sad way) that her friends are self-absorbed and shallow enough not to notice it, even after an entire summer spent awkwardly trailing along to old hang-outs in order to ‘make things go back to normal’ (Abby’s words, not hers). Aurora’s pretty sure nothing will ever be normal again, but that’s probably just her new-found sense of pessimism talking.

She’s working on it.

“Has anyone heard her say, like, anything?” Ana adds, her upper lip curled in a way that brings out the ugly mole on her cheek.

Aurora feels a strange twinge at the unkind thought, which is strange for reasons twofold; one, Ana is a bitch who doesn’t deserve the fleeting regret Aurora feels at thinking unfriendly thoughts, and two… well, two, Aurora’s kind of a bitch, too, and she doesn’t feel regret. Or didn’t, maybe.

And that—the shift from ‘doesn’t’ to ‘didn’t’; from ‘is’ to ‘used to be’—is sort of the crux of things she doesn’t want to be thinking about. Things like why she now sits at her lunch table and let’s Abby and Ana carry on, one ‘A’ short of a customary AAA Bitches (or A++, A to the third power, the isosceles of mean—the nicknames were endless) bashing session that had used to be the highlight of her day (and there it is again—that ‘used to’).

“No, she’s totes mute,” Abby replied, and the way her seafoam eyes flicker over to Aurora – full of judgment and accusation—isn’t exactly a subtle dig, but she’s not quite high enough on the social totem pole to express such things aloud (at least not to Aurora’s face—not yet).

“I seriously thought she was gonna shank Killian. I really did.”

“It’s not like he means any of that stuff. The pervy thing is part of his charm.”

“Nah. I think it’s just pure perversion.”

Aurora’s lips twitch into a smile (it’s slight, but more than what either ‘A’ has managed to produce from her in… well, for a very long time indeed) as a new voice joins the conversation, the owner of which slides into the seat next to hers.

Abby merely scoffs. “You’re just jealous, Phil. It’s probably the hair. He’s really got you beat in that department, boy wonder.”

“Oh, that hair,” Ana sighs wistfully.

“And those eyes.”

“Those eyes.

“And those—”

“I believe we understand your meaning, ladies.” Aurora cuts in, finally. “And I do not think Philip has any reason to feel jealousy.”

She nearly winces as she completes the thought. Because Philip beams—charming and boyish—at the compliment and Aurora has a feeling he’s reading into it far more than he should be (more than she wants him to, at least).

“Aw, aren’t you two the cutest,” Abby coos falsely. “Are you lovers official again, yet?”

Philip tugs at his collar and looks away, leaving Aurora to answer the question, which she does simply and perhaps harshly, but the aggravation she feels towards Abby is growing (as is her aggravation at feeling that aggravation in the first place), and she thinks she’s forgotten all the lessons of etiquette her parents had so painstakingly instilled in her throughout her childhood.

“No.”

“It’s… we’re taking things slow,” Phillips adds (optimistically) after an awkward pause. “Trying to get reacquainted as friends first.”

“…Cute,” Abby drawls. “The Prince and Princess of SHS, on their way back to true love.”   

Abigail is an idiot—a total moron—but she’s smart about one thing, and that’s figuring out just where to push (and how hard to apply pressure) to get someone to break. And she’s quickly figuring out exactly where those soft spots exist in this redefined Aurora (new and improved with 100% more weakness and 10000% more confusion).

It’s only a matter of time before the blonde does permanent damage.  It’s inevitable, and Aurora cannot find the strength within herself to rebel (or care).

“I have class,” she says in lieu of a returning jab.

And it’s another sign she’s broken—this weak response—Abby’s cruel eyes and Philip’s concerned ones reveal that both of them are quite aware that there’s been a few too many of those over the past couple months.

She’s working on it.

But for now, she’ll retreat.

—-

It’s sixth period by the time Aurora sees the new girl for the second time (the first being a hurried glance over the heads of the crowd that had collected in the hallways after first period—a circle of stereotypical teenagers huddled around a fight).

She would feel embarrassed about the odd surge in her chest—unwanted and unexpected—if anyone else were able to feel it. As it is, she focuses on not smiling when she spots the Asian girl speaking with Emma Swan, of all people, outside of her Trig classroom (and on not thinking about why the sight of the new girl makes her want to smile when so little does these days). 

The conversation is complete by the time she casually meanders over—the new girl sadly already moving away—but from the way Emma tugs at the already tightened-to-the-max straps on her Superman backpack, Aurora thinks it might not have been an incredibly comfortable discussion for the blonde.

She considers asking the girl about it, but restrains herself; the bell is about to ring, and Emma would likely not tell her anything. It’s not as though she and the blonde were friends, in any way—or at least, they hadn’t been. Aurora hasn’t exactly spoken with Emma lately, despite having been told so much about the blonde’s ‘busy’ year and a half from a practically gleeful Abigail (that’s all SHS had been missing after all—a proper teen pregnancy and ‘juvenile delinquent’ all rolled into one).

Either way, Emma’s back to school now—recent troubles (such as they are) behind her. And so is Aurora. She wonders if this makes them more compatible than they had been in another time (another life, it seems). It’s possible. Maybe Emma Swan is even the sort of person she wouldn’t feel like bashing her skull in around—wouldn’t approach her with the odd, but now familiar, mix of forced casualness, nostalgia, and overly careful wording.

 The bell rings, bringing an end to her thoughts and a halt to plans, as well as a glare from the trig teacher when Aurora follows Emma into the classroom a second later. Thankfully, the brunt of the look falls on Emma, who, in a move Aurora finds shocking, sneers right back. Clearly, the blonde is familiar with the instructor, whom Aurora only knows by name (Miss Mills) and reputation (‘young, ice queen sexy, and totally bitch-level harsh’)—the former bit of information had come from her schedule, the latter from Abigail.

“I am Miss Mills, and this is Trigonometry. If you are in the incorrect class, leave. If not, open the textbook I have placed on your desk and fill out the ownership cards you will find within.”

Aurora’s not a big fan of math. Numbers are sterile and boring to her; they do not speak to her in the way other things do—the vivid streaks of red in a painting of a sunset, the perfect metaphor in a sonnet, the subtle twitch of an eye in a person’s expression—these things reveal so much in so little, but numbers are stark, and unyielding in the supposed secrets they possess.

It thus is not an unusual occurrence when, after five minutes of listening to Miss Mills drone on about SOH CAH TOA, she’s finds her attention drifting to her fellow students. Abby and Ana had taken it upon themselves to (oh so graciously) give her a quick and dirty (too dirty, perhaps) recap of the gossip that a year and a half had brought, and while most of the information had been relatively useless, they had, at least, thought to bring the SHS yearbook from the last year and introduce her to the then-freshman that were now her classmates.

Her survey around the classroom is thus not in complete vain; while she had not absorbed all the superfluous information the girls had thrown at her on this subject, she had at least caught a number of names and basic information. It makes people watching at least marginally more interesting, but as she catches sight of the pretty brunette a few rows ahead of her, and can only recall her name (Belle), where she was from (France) and an incredibly inappropriate and likely wholly inaccurate ‘fact’ about the sweet looking girl (she had been traded for a castle outside of Paris by her father, and was now the captive of an 80 year old pimp with a cane), she once again feels the urge to revisit the notion that she should perhaps find some new friends.

Which brings her back to the new girl. Andthat thoughttakes her to Emma Swan, who, in a rare moment of concentration, is still glaring quite purposefully at Miss Mills. Aurora waits until their teacher has turned back to the whiteboard before leaning forward to attempt to break that focus.

“Psst. Emma!”  

The blonde gives a start, banging her knee on the bottom of her desk; Aurora cringes at the sound, which is followed by the almost unnaturally loud clatter of Emma’s pencil falling to the floor. Both girls give Miss Mills their best innocent face (or, Aurora does; Emma just gives the woman another steely scowl), and the teacher turns back to the board, choosing to ignore the disturbance.

“What?” Emma whispers back after a moment.

“Do you know the new girl?”

Emma shoots her a truly bewildered look, and waits for a full minute (during which Miss Mills once again turns to face the class) before responding.

“Maybe you’ve forgotten, princess, but we’re not friends. We don’t chat. Unless you’re doin’ some sort of post-traumatic tour of forgiveness or something. If so, I’m all ears for your several apologies.”

With a wince, Aurora shakes her head. “I… well, I am sorry for… perhaps making your life harder than it should have been, at times.” She receives a snort in response, but presses on regardless, her tone low. “It’s—I am finding this… difficult. Coming back. Seeing how people have changed. And how they haven’t.”

Hearing nothing more from the girl in front of her, Aurora sighs and leans back her seat, resigning herself to another failed attempt to pay attention to the neatly printed letters on the board.

“Why’re you askin’ about Mulan?” Emma says out of the corner of her mouth, a few moments later.

Mulan. Aurora mouths the name without conscious thought, feeling the way her lips and tongue shape the two syllables.

“I’m curious. She seems… interesting. How do you know her?”

“I don’t. Not really. She was tellin’ me something about Hook.”

The nickname is cruel and inaccurate (and started by Abby during their sophomore year after Killian’s accident); Aurora is surprised to hear it coming from Emma’s lips, seeing as the blonde had at one time been involved with the good-looking boy with the prosthetic.

“I heard she broke his nose.”

“Everyone’s heard that,” Emma says, and there’s a grin threatening to break out on her face. “It was—”

Miss Swan!”  

Aurora jumps in her seat, but Emma just swears under her breath and calmly raises her eyes to a very irate Miss Mills.

“Seeing as you are the sole senior in my sophomore level mathematics class, I think perhaps your attention is best focused on me. Unless you wish to find yourself here again next year.”

Emma flushes in anger or embarrassment or both, and Aurora feels a surge of pity.

“Oh, no, Miss Mills, it wasn’t—it was my fault. I was asking Emma a question.”

“What a noble admission, Miss Rose,” Miss Mills sneers (Aurora doesn’t know how professional this is; she’s of a mind to report the woman to the school board). “You may join Miss Swan in detention after school. A proper hero’s sacrifice, wouldn’t you say?”

In front of her, Emma snaps the pencil she is holding in two—her grip on the writing utensil tightening to the point of its breakage seemingly without her notice. Aurora doesn’t think the blonde has any sense of self-preservation at all.

She responds to the rhetorical question, if only to distract Emma.   

“Of course, Miss Mills. What fairy tale is complete without one?”

The comment is just snarky enough to register as insolent, and Aurora immediately regrets it, as soon as Miss Mill’s eyes flash. Dr. Hopper has told her she needs to stop letting out her frustration with her situation in unproductive ways, and this is probably a pretty good example of that (of what not to do).

She’s working on it.

—-

Aurora gets another day of detention for her ‘lip’, and thus doesn’t feel too terrible about pulling the ‘my head hurts’ card to get out of gym during the next period. It’s a bit more effective of a play, coming from Aurora rather than any other student, and she ends up lying in a bed in the nurse’s office for the entirety of 7th period.

  

It’s not a lie, after all; her head does hurt—it always hurts. The pounding at her temples has been a constant for the past two months, and a full six periods of first day classes combined with the stares and whispers she’d received all day, had caused the pressure to build to the point of a truly throbbing headache. She’s not about to add gym—a class where she routinely makes a fool of herself—to that.

The nurse—a charming brunette who introduces herself simply as Astrid—comes in to check on her at least five times in the 40 minutes she’s there. Aurora fakes sleep but presses her thumbnail into her index finger to keep it from turning into a true slumber; her exhaustion makes it difficult to keep herself from drifting off once she shuts her eyes, but fear is a strong deterrent.

It’s a relief when the bell rings, even though it only adds to the pain in her skull—or at least, it’s a relief until she remembers she has detention. She spends a few minutes debating what lie to employ to explain her continued absence from home (she settles, rather unoriginally, with ‘hanging out with Ana and Abby’) before heading to the designated detention room. A sigh of relief passes through her lips when she finds Mr. Booth sitting behind the desk, his feet propped up on the table and a book in his lap.  

“I thought there was a mistake with my list. You were never one to find yourself in detention, Aurora.”

Aurora shrugs and drops her phone in the bucket on the table, labeled as it is with a sign designating its purpose in large bold lettering.

“You’re normally too clever to get caught, at least. I still haven’t managed to figure out your freshman year note passing system, even after all this time.”

“That’s because it was a rare occurrence, Mr. Booth. I actually enjoyed your class.”

“Well, I hope I continue to hold your interest. This is my first year teaching sophomores, but I do think you’ll all enjoy what I have in store for you. But for now—” He gestures to the empty classroom. “Pick your seat, and pick it carefully, you have to spend an hour and a half in that unforgiving plastic.”

“Is one better than the others?”

“No, but I thought the illusion of choice might console you slightly.”

An amused puff of air leaves Aurora (not a snort, because ladies did not ‘snort’), and she takes a seat in the middle of the room, placing her Coach backpack neatly on the floor next to her. There’s little in it, aside from the Trigonometry book Miss Mills had insisted they carry at all times (and assigned homework from, already), and she dreads the upcoming time that would undoubtedly be spent battling boredom without a phone or computer to distract her. She has a feeling that detention on the first day of classes is not a particularly common punishment, and it’s likely she had little to look forward to in terms of people watching, aside from Emma Swan, who Aurora imagines will not arrive until the hands of the clock set on 3:00 PM precisely.

An especially painful throb at her temple has her putting her head down on the desk, forehead resting against the cool plastic. She focuses on breathing –on counting her breaths. They’re almost exactly in sync with the thrumming of the air conditioner (one of those old units that are speckled with unidentifiable strains). She finds herself reflexively adjusting her breathing the match the sound (hrmm hrmmmm hrmm hrmmmmm) and the chill of the desk, the stillness of the air, the…

The blackness.

It creeps in, over, around her.

It’s nothing and infinite and without break.  

It’s torture and she will never escape—never see, never eel, never hear, or taste or touch or breathe or think or live.

It is drowning—not in an ocean or lake or river—but into nothingness, into oblivion, into—

Terror. It floods the space and fills every pore. It slips down her throat and clogs her lungs and she is—

Screaming. She is screaming or crying or hyperventilating and there are strong arms around her, securing her—keeping her from flailing about—and they are solid and real and there is light and she is blinking and she can see the blurry shapes and images.  

“Breathe,” a voice is saying in her ear. It is calm and confident and it is telling her to breathe so Aurora does, sucking in a great gulp of air—gasping into the solid and warm form she finds herself pressed in to. ‘Pressed’, because she is practically fully leaning on the… girl—it is most certainly a girl—a girl who is supporting her weight, gripping her firmly and telling her to breathe.

She’s shaking, she realizes, and her inhalations are sharp, her exhalations shaky, but she manages to pull away slightly, pulling her face out of the crook of the girl’s neck leaving behind trails of moisture that has escaped from her eyes. It’s unclear to her how she came to be there—out of her seat and up against her unknown savior, but the questions die on her lips as she catches sight of the girl who’s hands are still grasping her biceps securely.   

“It’s—you’re—”

The new girl.   

It’s the first time Aurora’s seen her—really seen her—because despite spending a good portion of the day contemplating her and what, exactly, made her stand out in such a significant way, Aurora had only gotten a glimpse of her earlier in the day. And that glimpse (over the shoulders of a crowd of curious students) hadn’t given her a view like this—hadn’t allowed her to see the darkness of the girl’s eyes, the warm undertones of her light brown skin, the surprising occasional strand of light brown in hair otherwise nearly black in color.

Aurora had seen something in this girl from a distance—from a glance—but up close it is blinding (overwhelming); it is impossible to miss and she wonders if she will ever be able to look at the girl in passing without being struck dumb by that something Aurora still finds herself unable to describe.

“I’m—” She tries again, sucking in another breath. “I’m sorry. I… have nightmares.”

The girl (Mulan) blinks, but her hands do not lose their grip; probably because, Aurora realizes suddenly, her own hands are clutching at Mulan—the folds of the girl’s simple white tee are crumpled in her fists.

“So it would seem.”

“I’m—working on it,” she says, willing her fists to open—trying to step away from the stranger whose eyes are searching hers with quiet inquisition.

She finally succeeds, taking a tiny step backwards, her hands falling to her sides. Mulan steps back as well, but even with both movements, they are probably closer than two people unfamiliar to each other typically stand. Which is fitting, really, because this is about as close to anyone Aurora’s been emotional in a very long time—stripped bare of her quiet smiles and simple shrugs by her involuntary reactions to the things that plagued her unconscious mind.

“I’m Aurora,” she says finally.

“Mulan.”

 She’s always been good at reading others—on picking up on the things that made people tick (and too often, using this against them), but Mulan is a mirror, and Aurora can only see her own desires reflected back upon her in the girl’s blank face.

“Thank you for… waking me,” she adds, after Mulan says nothing further.

“You are welcome.”

Mulan does not ask any questions, and Aurora feels a wave of gratitude for it, regardless of the reason for the lack of curiosity (though she finds herself hoping it’s not a lack of interest in her in general).

“Did—” Aurora glances around the room, taking her eyes off Mulan for the first time. It breaks some kind of spell, and Mulan blinks again before lowing herself into her seat. Aurora does the same, smoothing down her skirt as she sits. It’s reflexive and soothing. “Did Mr. Booth leave?”

“Yes. He did not seem to think we would be any trouble. He said he would return at the end of the detention period. I did not think this was protocol, but I have never been in detention before.”

“Well, neither have I.”

“And this time was—what? Caught passing notes one time too many?”

Aurora’s not sure if Mulan is teasing, judging, or both, but she does catch the quick once-over the girl gives her, from her Louboutins to her diamond earrings; it leaves her feeling wanting—as though she should strip herself of her fineries and give them to people more deserving, right then and there.

“Talking in class,” she admits. But after a short pause, continues, feeling unreasonably hurt about Mulan’s quick and critical assessment of her character. “It’s not exactly physical assault, I know. But it was enough to land me in here.”

“You know why I’m here.”

“I guessed,” Aurora admits. “I was in the hall when you did—whatever it was you did to Ho—Killian. What’d he do?”

Mulan’s face twitches. “You assume it was he who was at fault?”

“Killian’s an ass.”

Another facial twitch distorts her features briefly. “Nevertheless, I struck him in error. I thought he was threatening me at the time. But apparently his comments were meant in jest.”

“He’s an ass,” Aurora says again. “I don’t think anyone blames you for what you did. I even heard a few cheers.”

“It was dishonorable—to strike him. I should not have done it. Sometimes I—I do not think before acting. I am—” She pauses, her eyes flickering to Aurora’s face.

“Working on it,” Aurora finishes, and when Mulan nods in response, there is almost a smile in place.

But the smile (such as it is) disappears quickly, though Mulan’s gaze does not waver.

“What is it you fear so greatly? That gives you such nightmares?”

The question is strange and intrusive; the sort Dr. Hopper would have to wait hours to receive a direct response to. But Aurora does not hesitate with her answer now.

“Oblivion. And not being able to escape it.”

Mulan’s expression flickers, and for the first time, Aurora is able to identify the emotion revealed in it beneath the calm—surprise. “I had not thought—you should not know fear such as this.”

“And why not?”

“Most people here do not.”

“And you know this in a day?”

The girl does not shrug, but she conveys a similar meaning in a tilt of her head. “Perhaps.”

“You should not judge so quickly. Or dismiss so easily. People wear many faces here.”

“So I am coming to find.”

Mulan stares at her for a long moment, and Aurora feels as though she should be holding her breath—as though some pivotal instant in time is occurring, with consequences that will be far reaching.

But the door opens and Mr. Booth strides in, his customary half-smile in place, and the moment passes.

For now, Aurora thinks. Just for now.


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