Author: KisstheRain14 PM
Women are supposed to be made of softness and delicacy. Mulan, however, is a trainee at the prestigious military Academy, and nothing - especially sexism - is going to get in the way of her success. Not even her weird feelings for Li Shang. /modern/Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Drama - Mulan & Shang - Chapters: 3 - Words: 4,359 - Reviews: 27 - Favs: 53 - Follows: 100 - Updated: 01-31-12 - Published: 12-18-11 - id: 7649616
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Thank you for the reviews, particularly the constructive criticism! Thanks to psychotropics especially for bringing up great points - I hope you find satisfaction in this chapter.
There's swearing. It is a modern day fic, and this is a mostly male-oriented area. Also, come on: can you honestly tell me that 18-24 year olds generally don't swear?
Point is, if you're offended, this is a good place to bow out.
Mulan made sure to wake up at least ten minutes before the general alarm rang, sliding her door open and slipping into her place before anyone else even got out of their beds when the annoying blare sounded. Even Chi Fu didn't beat her to the hallway, something he noted with a bitter sniff and icy glare. Ling smirked at the adviser's expression, and even Shang gave her a barely discernible look of amusement. Her facial muscles immediately moved to grin back, but she reined them in just in time.
Shit. I have to remember we're not children anymore.
Once upon a time in a land far, far away, the Li family and the Fa family had been allied noble bloodlines, the friendship dating back to the Northern Wei dynasty when Mulan's ancestor saved Shang's from death on the battlefield. The two families had continued their friendship ever since, bolstered by a tendency to produce only boys for both sides. Mulan was the first girl to be born to either family in the last twenty generations, and expectations for a marriage between her and one of the Li boys had encouraged their mothers to set them up for frequent playdates as children. Unfortunately, Shang and Mulan had always gotten along better as friends, and Shang's cousins were all the wrong age, already married, or simply unsuitable. The disappointment of both pairs of parents made the atmosphere awkward at times, but Shang and Mulan had always been comfortable around each other.
Everything changed when she took an interest in martial arts. The two children took this as a sign to deepen their friendship further, but it had only divided them as time passed. Mulan was first and foremost a woman, and a woman simply could not afford to take interest in such a masculine hobby. Practicing together became socially unacceptable after they reached puberty; Mulan had fought to continue training and Shang had left home to attend a high-class military school. They'd kept in touch as the years passed, but now she was here, at the Academy, where he was a high-ranking officer and she his subordinate.
It had been difficult for her to obey him in the beginning, pride welling up in her throat and threatening to choke her. She had managed to control it since, but the hyper-awareness of what had been, as well as what had happened to the relationship, had made both of them jumpy. Sometimes she objectively questioned herself about the cause of her nervousness - was she attracted to Shang, or was it genuine awkwardness? So far she'd been able to assure herself that it was the latter, although the former had always been a shapeless, unacknowledged theory in the back of her mind. She also wondered if Shang was having the same battle.
No one at the Academy knew of their childhood relations. That was an unspoken agreement between them, that no one would find out. It would lead to complications, with cynics like Chi Fu openly speculating about favoritism and how Mulan had been accepted into the Academy; Shang could also be kicked out for supposedly showing this blatant favoritism, so it was a closely-guarded secret. It became harder to keep inside whenever they were alone, however - they'd both slipped several times and mentioned past events, eyes widening as they caught the mistake. It was an uneasy secret, but one necessary to keep.
Mulan's mind snapped back to the present as Shang ordered everyone out for their usual jog. Chien Po waited patiently for her to join him so they could walk to the track together, something they habitually did so Ling and Yao could be loud and annoying without them getting dragged into it. She smiled as she joined him, cool air puffing against her face as they stepped out.
Her relationship with the three men was much less complicated: the first day of classes, Ling had attempted to hit on her (as he did with every woman), Yao had sneered at both her and Ling, and Chien Po had intervened regularly to keep the tension at a minimum. Over time, when Mulan had proved that she wasn't just a pretty face, she'd been absorbed into their group as a fourth friend to expand the trio. She was glad they'd found her - without them, she would have been extremely lonely.
"Chien Po," Mulan whined, tugging at her short hair, "I need to employ your bitching buddy skills."
He gave her a good-natured smile. "Okay, what's wrong?"
"I don't have a cultural whatever performance thing to do for the special women's interview to join the army. It's not even necessary."
Chien Po made a sympathetic sound. "I heard about that. Are you still going to apply?"
"Of course." The thought of leaving hadn't even crossed her mind. "I just... I don't know what to do. I was terrible at anything even remotely feminine, like pouring tea or staying silent. I can't do any cultural, pretty things. I can't dance or sing or do gymnastics or anything."
"Didn't you have a matchmaker ritual thing when you were sixteen? Our town did, but I don't know if that was just because our town was really rural..."
Mulan winced. "I literally failed that. I spilled tea, tripped her, set a cricket loose, and set her on fire. She threw me out."
She remembered that day quite vividly: the scandalized neighbors, the screams of the matchmaker, and the shame that tugged at her shoulders until she felt like she could no longer walk. She'd collapsed underneath the magnolia tree in her backyard, crying bitterly and wondering why she couldn't just pursue a career in the martial arts. Her father had found her a few minutes later, but she had been too ashamed to even look at him. He'd left, and only a few minutes later, she'd felt another person sit down next to her.
"It's not important." Shang's seventeen year old voice had been awkward, deep. "It's just a ceremony, Mulan, it doesn't even mean anything - "
"Yes it does," she'd managed to say through her hiccuping sobs. "I'm a girl, and nothing's going to change that. I can't do anything but keep house and raise children. I'm not allowed to."
"Don't be stupid," he'd told her, patting her back as comfortingly as a boy his age could. "You'll get to do what you love. Your father supports you, and you have talent. Who knows, you might even get into the Academy. Don't pay attention to ignorant people like the matchmaker. You're better than that, you know."
Looking back on it now, Mulan admitted that it had been a pretty decent attempt for such an unemotional person as Shang. It'd certainly helped in that moment as well. She grinned, not sure if she felt bitter or amused, and gave Chien Po a shrug. "I'm glad I didn't try harder. I wasn't cut out for that life. I like my current one much, much better."
I hope that training is going well. There have been no negative reports concerning your skills, but we have been receiving quite a few demerit notices. Should I be worried?
How is Shang? I know you two cannot communicate freely, but if you could manage to send him my regards... His parents tell me that he is perfectly fine, and that he writes about you occasionally.
I love you, Mulan. Your mother sends her love as well. She has been feeling slightly ill as of late, but her stubbornness refuses to allow me to schedule a doctor's appointment. We're both sure that she will be fine in no time. Don't worry, and focus on success. You'll get there one day, flower.
The Academy is fine; as good as we expected and more. I'm receiving demerits from an incredibly sexist official, but I'll get through it. You know I will. Don't worry about this issue.
Shang says to tell you hello. Well, he said, "Give him my warmest greetings," but you know what that means when it's translated from Shang-speak. His formal style has gotten worse, what with the amount of time he spends here. I hope his parents are in good health as well?
Give Mother a tight hug and a kiss from me, and tell her to get better quickly. Old Chinese medicine won't help her as well as prescription medications will - you will try to persuade her to go to the doctor's, won't you?
I love you.
Shang happened to be next to her in the cafeteria line the following night; his brow furrowed slightly when he saw her. "Given any thought as to what you'll do for auditions?"
She sighed, reaching for the salad tongs at the side of the buffet. "Yes, but I can't think of anything. You, um, you know how badly I did with the matchmaker."
Shang cast a quick look around them to make sure no one was listening, then scoffed quietly. "She's an old bat. There has to be something."
She grinned slightly as Shang took the tongs from her. "Well, even if there is, I don't have time to get lessons or such. I'm going to have to work with what..." She trailed off as an idea hit her. "I... wait, Shang, I - "
"What's going on down there?" Chi Fu's nasally voice came from behind them, giving a split-second warning before his bony hand grabbed at Mulan. "Holding up the line, you insolent - "
"That's my fault, sir," Shang said authoritatively, putting some bite into the last word. "I was just having a word with her about her running times."
"Unsatisfactory, are they?" Chi Fu sneered, but his hand withdrew. Mulan's body, having tensed instinctively at his grasping, felt unnaturally stiff. Chi Fun gave both of them a suspicious glance, eyes narrow. "Captain, follow me. You and I have some reports to read over."
Shang gave Mulan a stern look as he followed Chi Fu, looking for all the world to be reprimanding, but his eyes flickered to the direction of his office. Mulan nodded imperceptibly; she'd be there, much later when Chi Fu wasn't sniffing around. She had some explaining to do, and the bubble of satisfaction in her chest demanded to be shared.
I'm going to ace that interview.