A/N: An old thing I never posted; I found it the other day and decided to revise and share. Haven't posted much in a long while, so I just decided to touch my toes in old, forgotten fandom. Hello, you few Mulan fans. How I've missed you so.
Warnings: A little Shang-angst. Your favorite.
Ping was perhaps more of a man than he would ever be, and for this Shang supposed that this was the fate of all men—this, the final punishment for his own folly.
He was his best fighter, his best soldier; truly, a man of his country, even as the deciding blade makes an arc to take his head. Shang knows that never will there be a man like Ping, which was why it seemed appropriate that Ping was a woman—a girl, a war-torn little girl with nothing to offer but her own two hands.
And now, she is kneeling before him, this nameless girl, this once-man named Fa Ping. She covers her chest and hides her face, but he could tell her jaws were set, her eyes still.
A soldier, truly.
For an idle moment—that one single moment, of the sword rearing, its thirsty jaws opening wider, wider—Shang wonders at her dignity. She bows her head and bares her neck, obediently as a woman should, brave as only a man could be.
A small, fine crystal drops from her cheekbones, making barely a scratch on the crusted snow, and with startling reality Shang sees centuries of history in the reflection of his sword as it falls, heavy and suddenly alien in his firm, calloused hands.
An electric jolt clambers up his arms when he makes impact. With a crunch, sharp edges meet ice, piercing the place where women's tears fall, deep into the heart of snow.
If he had closed his eyes, he might have imagined the sick crack of her spine as it snapped, the sharpness of instantly frozen blood spattering across his knuckles, the coldness of his soul when he beheads her.
He feels the blood drain out of his face, bile choking his throat; he turns away, disgusted.
With himself? With her?
In truth, Shang doesn't really know, and doesn't want to, because he has failed his task of being a captain. He has failed his role as a man to protect his people, failed to protect this young girl's honor, failed to behead a traitor of the traditions that dictated all that is sacred, failed his Emperor, failed his father, failed himself.
He saves her life, only because he is too weak to take his own.
Ping was more of a man than he could ever be, saving Shang's life then offering his own, with only one shard of frozen sorrow to declare his legacy—the girl who was his finest soldier, the first woman to break his heart.
In the night, Shang screams into the howling, strangling wind.
The snow, quiet and cruel, is the only one to bear witness to his tragedy.