In the chilly northern air night watches clanged,
In the frosty moonlight armour and helmet glistened,
Generals laid down their lives in a hundred battles,
And valiant soldiers returned after ten years' service.
The Ballad of Mulan.
Shang takes a deep breath, eyes closed. He lets it go slowly as he turns, his sword moving with him, an extension of his arm, even as he twists the blade to lay flat against the air. A step to the right and the blade cuts through the air this time, him bending low with it. Another deep breath and--
"I'm telling you, it's going to be ok-A-AAAH!"
He stops the blade a breath away from Ping's neck, the soldier's eyes wide and scared, both hands up. Shang glances to the side, but whoever it was that came with him is not there.
"Who were you talking with."
"I... was talking with Yao and Ling, of course! Right guy--" Ping glances to the side, then his expression falls. "They're gone! And here I thought they were done playing practical jokes on me... a-ahaha..."
Shang frowns, noticing the lie, but he lowers his sword. Ping shudders a little, moving a hand to rub his neck as if to make sure that it's still intact, and there's something in the way that he makes it that is both endearing and annoying, two feelings that Shang is well versed on when dealing with this particular soldier, always wavering between pride and a more primal feeling that he does his best to ignore.
Ping keeps on talking. "--said something scary was going on and I thought I'd help them see that there's nothing in here only that there's you captain so I guess that the scary thing might have been"
The boy freezes and turns to see him. The wide eyed expression reminds Shang of his previous thoughts that perhaps the Fa son followed the male trend and that perhaps that was the reason that the honorable Fa Zhou had kept his son hidden instead of trained. Perhaps the boy had been prone to sickness during his childhood, and the love he had for his child made it so that Ping's honorable father hid him, trying to protect him.
It's not something he would think someone as Fa Zhou would do, but then again, his father has always told him that love makes you do very strange things that otherwise you might have not thought.
"Grab your sword and join me if you have time to spare."
Ping blinks and then he – smiles would be too small a word to say how his eyes alight with happiness, how he nods and almost runs towards his tent before he remembers his manners and he bows low, and Shang feels a quiet kind of amusement when he sees how the boy almost trips with his own feet on his rush to come back before.
Shang is kneeling down on the floor, hands on his thighs, clearing his mind by the time that Ping comes back.
"I'm her-- sir?"
Shang opens his eyes and stands up, slowly, picking up his sword and unsheathing it.
Ping nods, and at this he's fast and nimble, and soon his stance is prepared, expression collected though his breathing still translates the nerves he feels.
At the very least he knows that a sword is dangerous even when sheathed, twice when they're holding them nude. With a yell of 'kiai' Ping's sword meets his, and the boy takes advantage of his slight form to turn, press his elbow against his chest to try and drive him apart. It's not enough when Shang turns too, their swords sliding together, using the heel of his hand against Ping's shoulder to unbalance him, watching the boy stumble for a moment.
Their swords dance in the night, and Shang can't keep his thoughts to himself. There is something in the way that Ping moves that speaks of dancing, something in the beautiful twist of his wrists that isn't common for a boy, that makes him take too much notice of the way Ping flushes with exertion, the way his expression is focused in no-one else but himself, doing his best to learn from this, to follow his lead and at the same time not to bow down.
And Shang can almost see how it would be in private, not a subordinate but a friend and more. Even though Ping's ying might be more than his own, they would find the balance for Ping not to feel as if he's the only one that has to give, for Shang not to be an invader.
Their swords engaged together, Shang twists his blade, disarms Ping, and attempts to pin him down with the flat of his sword. Ping, however, bends low, rolls to the side that Shang is not protecting, picking up a thin, long branch from the floor.
Shang cuts the branch in to, but that doesn't stop Ping. After a moment of panic, he grabs both ends around his blade and twists, making him drop the blade to the floor.
For a moment, the two of them remain stunned, breathing hard, both of them not believing that it actually worked. But then Pings scrambles to kneel down, picking up his sword and offering it to him with both hands, head bowed.
"I'm sorry, captain! I shouldn't have done that!"
"No?" Shang picks up his sword, barely resisting the urge to touch Ping's head, glancing a moment too long to the delicate nape of his neck, at the way sweat slides down the back of his shirt. "And here I thought it was a clever trick."
"Captain?" Ping's eyes are hopeful and hesitant as he looks at him.
Shang doesn't smile, but he bows his head for a moment, then moves to the side to sheath again his sword.
"You are dismissed."
He hears Ping stand up, offer his thanks, before he picks up his sword and sheath and moves away.