Disclaimer: I do not own Disney's Mulan or any of its various characters, plotlines, etc.
Part II: Effect
"Oh, Shang!" Mulan looked down at her feet and blushed. "Thank you so much for letting me be the one to get the Emperor's crest. It really should have been you."
"You are worth it," said Li Shang, gazing dreamily into his beloved's chocolate brown orbs. "I am only sorry that I wasn't able to look out for you."
She smiled shyly at her lover. "Your promise of marriage made it all worth it."
"Your father was very pleased."
"Yes." Tears formed in Mulan's beautiful eyes. "I am only sorry that—that—"
Shang looked anxiously at his beloved, panicking at the thought of this delicate flower weeping. "What is it?"
"My beautiful hair is all gone," she sniffled. "And so is my reputation. Now people will look at me in the marketplace and whisper! Killing thousands of men was one thing, but people saying mean things about me? I can't help being shaken to the core of my being! They're saying I was your mistress!"
Shang blinked. "Weren't you?"
She nodded sulkily. "But it wasn't like that. You know! They make it sound so awful!"
"Mmm." Shang's gaze had drifted over to her lips. As the sobbing beauty trembled before him, Shang held her in his strong arms. Mulan sighed, glad she was home and that Shang was here to protect her from any and all...
Zhang whirled around, startled. There, standing before him, was a lithe young woman with short hair. She didn't look awkward in the least; the same could not be said for the scribe.
"I'm sorry to interrupt you," offered the girl. "You were whispering something...something about protecting?"
Zhang gave her a curt nod. "I didn't hear you enter. Who are you?"
She gave him a lopsided smile. "Oh, just a disinterested third party."
It didn't take Zhang very long to work out who was standing in front of him.
"Who let you in here?" he asked. "Not that it isn't an honor to meet you, and all that," he added hastily. "But..."
"One of your servants," said Fa Mulan, smiling genially. "He told me that you would be delighted to meet the object of your study." Her brow creased slightly. "I am still unused to being the topic of so much discussion..." Her expression cleared. "It doesn't matter. I am honored to make your acquaintance, Mr...?"
"Shun Wei-Zhang," said Zhang, somewhat unsteadily. His fine manuscript suddenly seemed a little less eloquent than before.
"Sir, may I see the work?" Mulan ventured. She peered over his shoulder. "Is that it?" She pointed to the scroll taking up most of the table.
"Uh..." Zhang trailed off. "I haven't finished yet. It has to be, um, edited, and—"
"Don't worry." Mulan beamed at him. "I'll only correct you if the scroll says something untruthful about me. Now, who was I protecting?"
"I...beg your pardon?"
"You know. What you muttered under your breath about 'protecting from any and all harm.' Did I misunderstand you?"
"N-no, but—" Where was his confidence? This girl managed to unnerve him without showing the least sign of bad temper. Perhaps it was her quiet self-assurance that discomfited him.
"I'll just take a look, then, if you don't mind." Before he could invent another excuse, she had leaned down and snatched the scroll from the table, unrolling it all the way so that she could read from the beginning.
"Master," interrupted a servant timidly while Mulan was perusing the scroll. "Three men are here to see you. They claim to be friends of the heroine."
"Humph." Zhang folded his arms across his chest. "So does everyone, these days."
Mulan looked up, her face slightly less friendly than when she had first started reading. "Three? Sir, I believe they really are my friends. Would you mind if I invited them in?"
Zhang found that he was speechless.
"Thank you." She gave him another smile, though this time, there appeared to be a bit of a predatory gleam about it. "Since you know so much about me, I'm sure you've guessed their names already."
All of a sudden, there was a commotion in the hallway. Zhang felt a headache coming on.
"Ta-da!" exclaimed a short, burly soldier. "Are we late, Mulan?"
The young woman glanced at her friend, who was backed up by a lankier young man dressed in yellow. From the doorway, the large blue-clad belly of the third man was visible, but nothing more. "It's all right. I've just started reading."
"Yeah?" The soldier that Zhang assumed was Ling tried to steal a glance at Zhang's work. "What's it say?"
"I haven't gotten far enough to tell." Mulan's expression clouded suddenly. "There's one thing I would like to ask you, Sir," to Zhang. "Why am I always referred to as a girl trying to be a man?"
Of all of the things she chose to criticize, she selected that? "I don't understand, Fa Mulan. Aren't you a girl?"
She put one hand on her hip. With the other, she indicated Yao. "What's he?"
"A man," said Zhang, nonplussed.
Now she pointed Ling's way. "And he is...?"
"A man, of course," said Zhang impatiently.
"And if I were disguised as Ping, I too would be a man?"
"That's right." Zhang utterly failed to see what she was getting at.
Both hands were now on her hips. "Then I am interested to know why I am not a woman among men."
Mulan raised an eyebrow. "They're not much older than I am, Ling especially. Why don't you refer to the recruits as boys?"
"I...uh...well, 'men' sounds stronger."
"So, what does 'girl' sound like?"
Zhang gulped. He hadn't thought about it that way before.
"I'll...I'll try to rectify that," he told her.
She inclined her head graciously. "I was also wondering..." She indicated the parchment. "You seem to think that I succeeded, and I quote, 'in spite of her inferior fighting skills.' May I ask why?"
Zhang didn't have to answer, for at that moment Ling grabbed at the scroll. "Let me see that!" he said indignantly.
"You'll smudge it," Zhang began weakly, but Ling wasn't listening.
"'Shang, not being able to see a woman suffer, helped her along?' 'He tried to shelter her, even when the last cannon misfired?' 'The Emperor's consul struggled against this sympathetic feelings to maintain his IMPARTIALITY during the mission!'"
Yao laughed uproariously. "Way to use the sarcasm, Mr. Shun!" he guffawed.
"Yeah," chortled Ling. "You weren't telling us you were doing a parody! Look, Yao, it says that we treated 'Ping' extra-gently during training!"
"And that once you got home, Mulan, you felt so insecure that you had to be encircled by Shang's strong, protecting arms to feel safe while you cried into his shirt!"
"Um, guys—" Mulan began.
Ling waved the parchment in her direction. "You want it back? It has some beautiful battle strategy—apparently, we outnumbered the Huns ten to one, since the General's army had already finished most of them off!" He laughed as he handed her the parchment.
This time, there was no mistaking the displeasure on Mulan's face. "Guys, I really don't think he was joking."
There was dead silence. Soon to be followed by a dead Shun Wei-Zhang, if the looks he was getting from Mulan, Yao, and Ling were any indication.
"He...he can't be serious! Anyone who knew anything about you would know that you were nothing like that whining, passive, man-dependant ninny he described! And he's done all of his research!"
"I did speak to Chi Fu, among others," said Zhang defensively. "He told me everything I needed to know!"
The three glanced at each other. Yao started cracking his knuckles.
"First of all," said Mulan sweetly, "While I do get teary-eyed on occasion, I never cried in front of anyone the whole time I went to war. Second, I do not need to feel 'safe' in Shang's arms. In fact, he taught me to feel confident and safe within myself. That said, he did indeed visit me after the war; however, he was the one who needed comfort. His father recently died, in case you've forgotten. Not," she said tersely, "that I ever 'surrendered to his kiss' or any of that hogwash. If I want a kiss, I think I can get it for myself...and I don't. Speaking of which, we're an unmarried man and woman, and while I've certainly broken with tradition to save my father's life, that doesn't mean that I have in any way cheapened myself. Grant us a little self-control, if you please. Finally..." She brought her face very close to his. "Chi Fu squeals when someone damages his slippers. I only scream when a Hun leaps at me through the roof."
Eep, thought Zhang. He backed away rapidly—
— And, very much like Mulan once had, smacked back first into Chien-Po.
"Going somewhere?" said the soldier pleasantly, when Zhang started.
Zhang mumbled something vague about needing more ink.
"Oh," said Chien-Po amiably, "I'll be happy to help you get it." He lifted Zhang clear off his feet with one hand and deposited him outside his house. As Zhang hurriedly brushed himself off, he heard Chien-Po asking, "Do you need us for anything else?"
"No, that's all," said Mulan. "Thanks for coming, though. I wanted to make sure I had people with me who could corroborate my version of the story."
"The real version?"
"That's the one."
Zhang didn't wait to say his farewells to the guests. He scampered down the path and made his way along the road as quickly as possible.
"At least I won't get beaten to a pulp out he—OOF!"
Very suddenly, his face was in the mud. Zhang blinked and tried to clear his head, but found his arms pinned and his legs kicking uselessly from his prone position. A pair of hands reached down and relieved him of his string of money, while another yanked off his embroidered shoes.
"Nice catch," said a rough voice. "Turn him on his back—see if we can't steal that silk robe."
A moment and several unpleasant shoves later, Zhang found himself looking up at the three thieves from the day before.
"Wha...?" he managed to say before he was cuffed on the head.
"Thought you could escape us, couldn't you?" said one, sniggering. "Listen, just because those four soldiers followed you home—"
"No talking, you ass. They might have been looking out for you yesterday, but since we didn't get their comrade, we decided to wait for you."
Somehow, Zhang's brain caught up with the situation. When it did, it nearly imploded. The man with the dragon tattoo hadn't been robbed, after all—Mulan and her friends had saved him! Then, they had followed Zhang home...why? The answer was obvious, and of course, extremely uncomfortable. It was the duty of every soldier to protect the citizens of the Middle Kingdom from harm. That's how Fa Mulan had found out about him and his project!
Thinking back to his once-precious document, Zhang felt a very rare twinge of guilt. Some revising was definitely in order...if he lived to return to his house.
"YOU SCUM!" bellowed one of the thieves. Zhang cringed for the final blow.
"Who, us?" asked a voice innocently. There was the sound of footsteps approaching. "I thought we warned you about prowling around for victims."
The criminal sneered at his opponent. "No girl will—"
"Woman," muttered Zhang from his position on the ground.
A boot kicked him in the ribs. Suddenly, there was a war cry, followed by what sounded like a flurry of blows. Zhang forced him to sit up and watch Fa Mulan—alone—taking on the three thugs.
It was, he admitted grudgingly, nothing short of inspiring.
When she was done, Mulan motioned to Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po, who lifted the badly bested robbers one at a time onto their shoulders. Meanwhile, Mulan walked calmly over to Zhang and offered him her hand. "Need some help?"
Zhang grasped at the hand, which was surprisingly strong. Also, callused. He wasn't expecting that...foolish of him, really. Her hands wouldn't be silky smooth after all of that rough soldiers' work.
As Mulan helped Zhang to his feet, he gave her a scrutinizing glance. "You might have left me."
The woman warrior shook her head. "It wouldn't be right. I believe in second chances."
"Why didn't you ask those three to step in? Not that I'm doubting your abilities, it's just that—that you shouldn't trouble yourself."
"They're my friends, not my henchmen," said Mulan simply. "I could handle it, so I did. Besides, you need to finish writing your account of me."
Her eyes sparkled with mirth.
Zhang felt his face turn red. "That dreadful story?"
"Oh, I don't know." She was laughing now. "I spotted a sentence or two that was accurate." She shrugged. "If you really wanted to know what my life was like, you could have asked me."
That took him aback. "But—but I didn't think you'd actually tell me what happened!"
"And now?" She glanced at him meaningfully. "Would you allow me an interview?"
"You mean..." Zhang gaped at her. She was still willing to associate him...even better, to help him write a real account of Fa Mulan. Suddenly, Zhang pressed his hands together and bowed to this extraordinary woman. "I would be privileged to be in your presence."
"Tomorrow, then, mid-afternoon? I'm in the Imperial City for a week. The Emperor has invited me...well. I'll tell you all about it." Her eyes narrowed, though her tone was still playful. "After all, women are such gossips...we'll say just about anything to get some attention."
So...this is my first attempt at Mulan fanfiction. Bad? Good? Mediocre? Send a review, if you wish. Only, please be more honest than Shun Wei-Zhang. Thanks!