Mulan: Wo Ai Ni

*Disclaimer: * Mulan is not my property. Li Shang, on the other hand, is a completely different matter.

A/N: This is my very first Mulan story. I absolutely love the movie! It came out like two days before my …tenth birthday, so I feel a kind of special connexion with it. Anyway, the title of the story is Mandarin for 'I Love You' so you can tell this will be a romance. Set right after the movie, this delves into the characters of Mulan, Li Shang, and their blossoming relationship.

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Mulan—Wo Ai Ni

Part I—Flowers

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Li Shang was left alone when Fa Zhou, with whom he was talking, was called away for a minute. He got up and looked around curiously. The Fas were a well-to-do country family, with a prosperous farm plus Fa Zhou's army bonuses. Their estate was not nearly as large as some of the families who were closer to the Emperor, but pleasant. Far more pleasant, Shang realised, than all of the fancy homes and compounds he had seen as a child growing up.

This is so…homey, so earthy, Shang mused, surprised and not a little displeased at this unexpected show of sentimentality. He'd had a good life: his father, being the Emperor's most prized general, had been rich, and he and his family had never had to suffer. But the thought of his father sent a sharp arrow of pain through his heart. His death was still recent, it still hurt Shang. Shaking his head as though to clear it, he inspected a small brazier on the wall to distract himself.

A piece of it broke away. Not wanted to be seen with the piece, he dropped it into a tall vase near-by before walking away quickly.

So this is where she lives, Shang thought, fascinated by his surroundings. It's so nice. I wonder if she'd be willing to leave it for my estates in the north… Shang stopped in his pacing, his eyes gone wide. What had he just thought? He'd just thought of Mulan and himself, living together, in his estates. That meant only one thing—marriage. But surely she won't want marriage, he told himself. A woman who runs away from home to fight in wars is not the type of woman who would want to be married. He couldn't explain why a sudden pain struck deep inside him at this thought. Even if she would, she would not want to be married to naught but an army Captain.

Shang told himself he didn't care. He was still young, only twenty, after all. He did not want to get married and be settled, even if it was with Mulan.

**

'But Ma, why?' demanded Mulan, as her mother and grandmother primped her. She had been scrubbed until she was pink, dusted with a bit of scent, stuffed into the finest kimono they owned, and her hair had been pulled and comped until it was shiny, even in its fancy up-do. Now they were painting make-up on her face, hurriedly but not sloppily, before the dinner was served.

Ma sighed. 'Because, Mulan,' she said in a low, urgent voice, 'this is a very nice boy who is also very close to the Emperor. You need to make a good impression on him. He has the choice of any woman in China. You want him to pick you.'

'That's right,' Grandmother added, finishing plucking Mulan's eye-brows. 'But,' she added in a conspiratorial whisper, 'if you don't want him, I'll take him!' Mulan sighed exasperatedly. Ma just glared.

Mulan wanted badly to tell them that she knew Shang, that he would not be impressed merely by a pretty kimono and heavy make-up. Shang already knew who Mulan was. There was no more need for disguise and deception. But she let her mother and grandmother make her up with only minimal complaint.

**

'Captain?' Fa Li called to him. 'Come join us. Dinner is ready.' Shang turned and saw the kindly, sweet-faced woman smiling at him, her arm outstretched. Shang returned the smile and strode into the dining room. The low table was set for a feast, with all manner of delicacies and meats.

'Madam, I thank you,' Shang said formally, bowing. Politeness was one of the Nine Virtues of Good Citizens…or so his tutor had said.

'Please, call me Ma,' she said to him, smiling and blushing a bit. 'Everyone does.' Shang nodded and took a place at the table. He glanced around, seeing Fa Zhou at the head of the table, then Ma, seated next to Grandmother…but where was Mulan?

He had just opened his mouth to ask when a slender figure glided into the room. She was dressed in fine linen robes, her sash of silk. Her hair was put up, and make-up was caked on her face. She looked beautiful…but then, she always was, Shang thought. Even disguised as a boy, she could not hide her delicate, fine-boned face, her large, almond eyes, her delicate mouth. But somehow, she looked less real all dressed up. Shang was gripped with the sudden urge to take her in his arms and wipe off all the make up, then rip off her fine clothes and replace them with simple ones if he replaced them at all…

Mulan drifted close, pouring hot tea for all, coming to Shang last. He could smell a faint scent of flowers coming from her—a pleasant smell, very feminine. And also very unlike Mulan.

'You make a better girl than boy,' he murmured as she sat next to him. She turned to him in astonishment, large eyes opening wider, a real blush showing through the rouge on her cheeks. Mischief was dancing in those dark eyes, and a slight, teasing smile lifted the corners of his mouth. So he was just joking…Mulan was relieved, but at the same time a small pinprick of pain pierced her.

'I'd hope so,' she muttered back, laughter in her eyes. She was glad his shyness from a few days before had disappeared. "You fight good," Mulan thought to herself, unable to suppress a grin, remembering his earlier words that night in the Emperor's palace. At the time they were painful, but now they were simply embarrassing and amusing.

For a while all was quiet, save the gentle clanking of chopsticks against each other. Shang's shoulders once accidentally brushed Mulan's, and she ducked her head, wishing her hair was unbound so she could use it to hide the heat that flooded her face.

Shang too felt an electric pulse shoot through the place where their shoulders had met, entirely by accident. He fought to repress the urge to accidentally-on-purpose brush her knee, her shoulder again, any part of the lovely woman next to him.

After dinner, Shang bowed to Fa Zhou, and asked, "Honourable Fa Zhou, will you give me permission to accompany your daughter on a walk in the garden?" Fa Zhou noted the young man's polite accent with a slight curving of his mouth that he quickly straightened.

'If my daughter will agree to accompany you,' he replied, also formal. Shang turned hopefuly to Mulan.

She smiled and nodded. They walked together out of the compound into the garden. It was dark outside, the sky black as Khan's velvety fur, with only tiny pinpricks to suggest stars and a nick to show evidence of a moon.

'Thanks for dinner,' Shang said at last, though he knew the line was lame. But who could blame him? He had lived a military life, with little time for women.

Mulan glanced up at him, flashing him a quick smile. 'I didn't make it,' she said, shaking her head. 'I'm worse at cooking than I am with bo,' she added.

'You're excellent with bo,' Shang said quickly, turning to her. They stopped walking and now they were face to face. Shang was easily a head taller than her, his strong but lean and triim physique contrasting with her lithe form. Her white make-up obscured her face however, and Shang gripped her shoulders, pulling her in closer.

'Shang…' Mulan whispered, her dark eyes wide with surprise and a bit of fear. But all the captain did was to raise his sleeve and wipe away the paint on her face. Mulan breathed an inward sigh of relief.

'Much better,' they said at the same time. They exchanged quick glances, not knowing what to say, uncomfortable in their awkwardness.

Mulan broke the silence, looking down at the ground. 'Do you have anywhere to go to? Can you return to your home?'

Shang wanted so badly to say he could go home if she were with him, but he shook his head. 'Now that my father has died, I have no family left,' he said. 'I've inherited his estates…but it's so empty. I like being in places with lots of people.'

Mulan nodded. 'After…the war…even my house seems uncrowded and dull.' She snuck another glance at him, strong profile obscured in the dark, not understanding why she sometimes went tongue-tied around him. 'Shang, if you don't want to go back north, you're welcome to stay here. For as long as you want,' she added on an impulse, watching to see his reaction.

He turned to her gratefully. 'Thank you.' They sat in comfortable silence for some while longer, until Mulan shivered slightly and got up.

'Come, let's go inside, where it's warm,' Mulan said, smiling warmly at Shang. He nodded and got up, and they walked inside together.

'Baba, I've asked Captain Li to stay with us; he's no where else to go,' she told her father. Fa Zhou nodded and smiled.

'Daughter, I am glad,' he replied. 'His father, General Li Tsai, was my great friend in the old war. He comes from good family, and his son is a good man.'

'Baba, I'm not planning on marrying him,' Mulan said dismissively as she gathered the bed linens.

'Why not?' her father returned.

'Because…because…' Mulan faltered. 'Because,' she said with finality, leaving with the bed linens in her arms.

She made up a futon in an empty room, and turned to find Shang already waiting. She caught her breath in surprise.

'Do you make it a habit to watch people make beds?' she asked, hands on hips. Shang looked startled for a moment before laughing.

'Yeah, it's my hobby,' he said jokingly. 'It's simply fascinating.' Now it was Mulan's turn to have a laugh surprised out of her. 'What?' he said, not sure why Mulan looked so surprised when she laughed. 'I can be a funny guy too.'

'I know,' Mulan replied, sober now. He'd had a quick but firm tongue during training at Wu Zhong, and his sarcastic remarks were rather funny—except, of course, when they were directed at her. 'It's just…you seem so relaxed. Not like Captain Li Shang.'

'A person can't be stuffy and proper all the time,' was his easy reply. 'Else they'd get a stiff back.'

Mulan grinned back, and left. 'Good- night,' she said.

'Good- night…Mulan,' Shang said, but only after she had left.

I'm so glad he's staying, Mulan thought to herself as she put on her pyjamas. And I'm glad he's no longer Captain Li Shang…just Shang. Shang… His name was the last thought in her head before she drifted off to sleep.

**

'I'm happy Mulan has found somebody,' Fa Li said to her husband and mother-in-law.

'He is a very good boy,' Fa Zhou agreed.

'Very good-looking boy,' Grandmother Fa added, drawing exasperated glares from both her son and daughter-in-law.

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A/N: well, what did you all think? First chapter down…this is a complete romance fiction, just to let you know. Anyway, I hope I didn't make Shang too out-of-character. It's just that since we don't get a complete picture of him from the movie, I took some license. Also, I thought it'd be interesting to note how his Captain self is different from his normal self, which we never got to see in the movie except for 'You fight good.' (that line, by the way, still cracks me up.) Anyway, I'm working on the next chapter: Three Welcome Guests. It's not too hard to guess who they might be. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed.