A year ago I uploaded for the first time here at fanfiction.net, and this story was the first I ever posted here. I'm making changes to make it more interesting for you guys to read so I would suggest you to read it, since it isn't as it was before. Thank you very much to the people who read my stories throughout this year and the coming years, you make me feel my work of writing is worth doing. Merry Christmas!

Chapter 3 A Smile Can Make A Difference.

The journey to the Imperial Palace wasn't that long since Mulan and Shang talked to each other.

"Have you seen Yao, Ling and Chien Po lately?" Mulan began.

Shang shook his head. Why was she so fond of them? They had been really mean to her during the training. He was jealous. "No, I haven't seen them since the day you saved China."

Mulan nodded. "Neither have I."

They also talked about the training days, Shang seemed to be so into the subject and Mulan didn't mind as long as they talked.

The emperor waited for them in the front steps of the palace. It was not very common to see the emperor outside the palace.

Mulan dismounted her horse before the steps.

"What are you doing?" Shang asked.

"Just leaving my." She slapped her head mentally, how could she be so foolish in front of him?

"You can leave your horse in the stables," he said.

Mulan felt so humiliated, but well, she didn't know the palace as well as he did. 'Now he's gonna think I'm a stupid country girl.'

Shang led her into the stables and they walked together to meet his highness in the steps.

Mulan noticed the old man was smiling fondly at her, and to her misfortune Chi Fu was standing next to him writing notes.heavens she had prayed her ancestors to keep her from seeing the man again.

"Good day Fa Mulan," The emperor greeted, "Li Shang."

Mulan and Shang bowed with respect and said, "Good day your highness."

"It's great to have you here Fa Mulan," the emperor began, "It's been long since the last time I saw you."

"Thank heavens," Chi Fu thought out loud.

The emperor turned to him, his gentle features turned warning and the man shut his mouth. Mulan and Shang pretended they hadn't heard his silly comments.

"You must be tired," The emperor offered, "Come in."

The emperor lead the way to the dining room with Chi Fu walking by his side and Mulan and Shang were after them.

The dining room was enormous with a large table, dragon tapestries on the walls and fancy lamps all around.

"I'll go check if the food is ready," the emperor announced.

Mulan never thought she'd ever be inside the Imperial Palace let alone share a meal with his highness; she was born in a village and her family wasn't very wealthy so all this fanciness was new to her. Mulan surveyed the place with her eyes glowing with a mixture of delight and amazement.

While she looked around, Shang surveyed Mulan with care as if it were the first time he had ever seen her. She was still the same smart girl who invited him to have dinner in her house, her eyes sparkling with joy and that smile he'd never forget. Although, he had to admit he'd rather see her in a dress than armor for the dress made her curves able to be noticed. Shang turned his eyes in another direction when he noticed Chi Fu was eyeing him with despise and warn, as if Mulan were some evil woman hidden under those innocent childish features.

Chi Fu smirked. "I bet you haven't seen all this luxury before at home, Fa Mulan." He began, "Just make sure you don't break anything."

Mulan narrowed her eyes at him; they were burning firebolts about to be shot. She hated him at first sight and so did he, but she had never been so rude to him. His insult had offended her, but she tried not to show. What was wrong in being the daughter of a farmer? That didn't make her filthy. She despised being judged by appearances.

Shang glared at the scrawny advisor.

Chi Fu cowered as the young man moved towards him. "Easy," Shang warned lifting the man by his robes, "You don't wanna mess with me. So play nice."

Just then, the emperor arrived and Shang put the man back down immediately. Chi Fu smiled to himself.

His highness was accompanied by a woman, probably a servant. "Mulan, she's gonna prepare you for the banquet."

'Prepare me for the banquet?' She wondered. Things were going a bit far, it wasn't like she had no manners at all. Still, she nodded and followed the lady.

As they walked through the hall Mulan heard a whisper saying, "So now he defends you." Mulan turned to her shoulder and saw her little red dragon guardian. "What are you doing here?" she said lower than a whisper so the woman wouldn't hear.

"This was Cri-kee's idea," Mushu replied, "but now that we're here, can we stay?" He made a sweet pleading face, by the way he looked someone could confuse him with an angel. "Please? I promise we're not making any weird stuff."

"All right," Mulan agreed, "Just be quiet and behave."

"Thank you," the dragon said a bit louder, "I guarantee you I will behave, but what about the cricket?"

The servant turned to Mulan suspiciously.

Mulan smiled at her and said, "It's just an old song my father taught me, I can't get it out of my head."

Nodding, the servant kept leading the way.

"See, you're already making noise," Mulan addressed Mushu, "Cri-kee behaves better than you do."

Mushu challenged, "Wanna bet?"

"No, thanks," Mulan replied, "I don't wanna make you lose."

"I wouldn't be so confident if I were you," said Mushu.

The woman stopped before a room at the end of the hall. "Come on, we need to fix you up for the banquet."

"Fix me?" Mulan asked looking at her clothes. Her dress was fine silk, maybe not as fancy as the concubines, empresses, princesses and courtiers wore but it was ok, and her hair was.a bit messy but that's how she liked it.

The servant giggled covering her mouth. Mulan couldn't understand what was so funny.

"The young man," She said, "Li Shang, he wants to see you nice."

Mulan was burning with rage inside, more than annoyed. How dare did she say that? All she wanted to do was to leave the palace and go home to save the shame. Mulan asked irritated, "Who?" Then she lowered her voice aware that she got a bit carried away, "I think you're mistaken. Li Shang and I are ." She had no clue of what they were, she considered him a good friend she could talk to, probably her only true human friend, but she was unsure if he shared the same feelings towards her; and certainly they were not betrothed, nor married. "Just friends," she finished.

The lady quirked her brow and said sarcastically, "So I heard."

The emperor's servants were in charge of cleaning her with soap and water, and put all kinds of perfumes. Then they dressed her in the finest silk dress Mulan had ever worn, it was aqua blue with a purple sash and a jade green scarf. They also had her hair combed and delicately styled like a princess.

Mulan recalled the dreadful day she met the matchmaker, she had gone through the same process that day, and it wasn't one of her best memories.

Finally came the worst part, the makeup. They put white powder all over her face that made her sneeze, cherry red paint so thick and sticky she could barely open her mouth, a scarlet blush on her cheeks, purple eyeshade and thick black paint on her eyelashes to make them appear more plentiful.

The servant peeked through the door; Shang was waiting outside to escort her. "He's here," she announced.

Mulan sighed and shook her head. There was a mirror before her. Slowly Mulan turned to the mirror and examined carefully her own reflection. She didn't look at all like herself, the mirror showed a brave girl whose face was hidden under layers of thick itchy makeup. She wanted to wipe it away.

Mulan frowned and tried to rub the makeup, but she was caught by the servant who led her into that prison of vanity.

"Don't you do that, it's taken us hours to get you ready," the servant said, "besides you look more pretty like that."

More pretty? What was worth in looking pretty with something that didn't belong to her?

Instead she left her face alone and walked outside to meet Shang.

Shang noticed she was upset with something, but he couldn't figure out what. He tried saying something nice to cheer her up, "Mulan, you look so b."

"Shang please save your words," she cut him off. The last thing she needed was him to agree with the servant girl.

He nodded silently. What had he done to make her upset? He supposed that a small compliment wouldn't hurt; then again Mulan was one of a kind.

As they walked through the hall, Shang asked hesitating, "Are you ok?"

"Yes," she replied softly. She regretted deeply for being rude to him for no good reason, it wasn't his fault she didn't like to be dressed like a princess. "It's just that I don't feel like myself," she confessed.

Shang asked, "Why not?"

Mulan let out a nervous laugh and answered, "All this make up. I feel as if I'm hiding under the paint and powder."

He looked into her eyes and assured, "I see the same Mulan, but you look prettier when you smile."

She could feel her cheeks warming, heavens she hoped the makeup would hide her blush; still she managed to smile at him. If it pleased him to see her smile, she would do it forever.

"See," He said, "that isn't so hard to do."