Well this goes out to all the girls who have bugged me about writing this and encouraged me while I did it. Sylla, for the original link to Leap of Faith and the nagging to do a Mulan story of my own. La, for being precious, and always being around while I was writing, Penzie, Sai, Woodster, and all the other Genesis Awards ladles who have loved and supported me through this my most Disney of times. I love you alll, so here goes nothing.
The first day of the rest of Mulan's life did not go quite as she had planned.
Sure, she knew that once the officers saw her summons and listed her 'Fa Ping' there was no turning back or going home, but she had hoped to make a slightly better impression – not starting a fight and then publicly dribbling. She'd barely even been there an hour.
At least there was no way to go any lower if she hit rock bottom on the first day, right?
"This represents discipline, and this represents strength."
Day two was lining up to be even worse.
Yao, the unwitting volunteer, seemed to think that 'discipline' and 'strength' mostly represented very heavy weights, as the two combined nearly dragged him off his feet, and now he was expected to climb with them.
"You need both to reach the arrow," Captain Li Shang said sternly, glancing up at his arrow at the top of the climbing post in the centre of camp. His expectations weren't high – that way he had less to be disappointed in. Although he still couldn't help but feel horrified as the men lined up to attempt the challenge; he had completed this task when he was just fifteen years old.
Yao climbed about a metre and then and fell, nearly leaving his front teeth in the post. Ling didn't do much better, and Chien-Po very nearly got the arrow by knocking the whole post out of the ground. It was 'Ping's' turn next, and Mulan knew that it was important to do as well as the others, or else she'd start looking very un-manly for an alleged man, and a son of 'theFa Zhou' at that.
The weights were even heavier than she'd imagined, and her arms burned just to lift them; at home she didn't even had to lift the sacks of grain to feed the chickens, not with the dog around. She approached the climbing pole warily, knowing that everyone, the Captain included, was watching her and probably willing her to fail after her less-than-stellar start. She wouldn't let herself be humiliated, she just couldn't let it happen so soon.
So she grit her teeth and took in a deep breath, then grabbed onto the pole and brought up her feet, butting her toes against the wood and stretching out to reach up for a higher hand hold. She almost fell, but just about managed to get a grip and hopped up with her feet again; unlike her hands her lower body was unweighted and more flexible than the men's, so although she barely gained height struggling against the weights, her legs could compensate for that a little.
However her strength was a mere fraction of anyone else's, and she barely managed another movement upwards before she began to slide downwards, losing her grip completely taking the inevitable fall hard. The so-called 'discipline' and 'strength' probably weighed about as much as she did, but at least she'd got her feet off the ground, and everyone else seemed just as terrible too: perhaps she stood a chance at fitting in yet.
"We've got a looong way to go," she heard Captain Li groan as she walked past him, but didn't dare to look around for fear of his noticing and paying her any more attention than she'd already got. After all, he was talking about everyone and not just her.
Shang grabbed a handful of practising staffs, and threw them towards the lined up troops. Mulan reached out to catch hers, but Yao blind-sided her and snatched it away before she even got close, then spun it around to trip her up. It appeared that he hadn't let go of the little incident from earlier on just yet.
"Touch my behind again and I'll put that staff up yours, Ping," he growled as Mulan crawled to her feet, telling herself this was the last time she ever took advice from that glorified lizard Mushu.
Before she could even try to make amends with Yao, Shang had the troops' attention again as he began to demonstrate their exercises. Hooking the ends of the staff onto clay pots on either side of him, he threw them up into the air and then effortlessly smashed both as they fell back down.
"Show off," Mulan heard Yao muttering under his breath again, but she barely registered it as she was staring at the Captain hard enough to make her eyes pop out of her head.
He gestured that everyone hold out their staff horizontally at arm's length, and every man obeyed – Mulan was relieved to at last be able to blend into the group with some nice regimented exercises. Nothing could possibly go wrong now, she thought, breathing a sigh of relief.
Until Ling dropped a bug down the back of her shirt.
She wasn't afraid of beetles or insects, but that thing had sharp jaws and legs; it thrashed against her skin, scratching and tickling her at the same time. She yelped and twisted around, which only made the bug fall down to her waistband where it started biting her. Flailing wildly, she tried to shake it out of her shirt by jumping up and down, but this all only served to bring the roaming ends of her staff into contact with anything and anyone standing too close, levelling all the recruits in a circle around her.
The beetle climbed higher up her back again and Mulan bit her tongue hard to stop herself screaming as she tried to grab at it; maybe if she could smash the thing she'd be able to clean out the mess later, but right now she just wanted it to stop moving.
She barely noticed the Captain vaulting over to sort out the cause of this new trouble, and it wasn't until she threw back the hand that held onto her staff that she realized he was there at all. This was of course because she had swung clean through his guard and hit him hard in the stomach.
Shang hadn't been prepared for it, so the wind was knocked out of him and he curled over, dropping his staff and covering his abdomen with an arm, only just ducking a second sweep over his head. Mulan just managed to shake the bug out of her uniform with a full body twist, when she turned and saw the Captain standing there behind her. So much for keeping out of trouble.
She hadn't been here two days and she had nailed her commanding officer in the stomach, and he did not look pleased about it.
Shang snatched the staff out of Mulan's hands, her strength being no match for his as he was impressively built and she had no doubt that he could smash her head with about as much ease as he did those clay pots.
"Feeling those 'manly urges' again, Fa Ping?" he questioned, and Mulan simply cowered in her boots. Captain Li more or less absolutely terrified her.
Faster than her eyes could follow him he reached out and grabbed a fistful of her uniform, precariously close to her chest, so she had to quickly push herself backwards to keep his hands as far away from her as possible. However, for this he yanked her toward him and pulled her face up to his, seeming to be even more irritated that she shied away.
"Don't try my patience," he warned, his grip becoming tighter as he lifted her off her feet, his square jaw set in a scowl as her toes dangled helplessly a few inches off the ground.
"S-s-sorry, Sir," she whimpered, only just remembering to lower her voice and squirming awkwardly as she tried to keep the Captain's hand away from her chest.
"A bunch of children," he muttered as he dropped Mulan and stormed off. "Did they somehow send out for daughters of China instead of sons?" Unbeknownst to him, Mulan's face coloured at this – she was praying that he hadn't noticed anything 'daughterly' about her.
At least she had the fortune to not be a girl with any womanly charms to start with, although her ability to make anyone important like her still seemed to be perfectly malfunctioning as usual.
"Everyone will run around the encampment until sunset," Shang commanded. "Your friend Fa Ping has demonstrated that practice with weapons is still beyond you." A horde of angry faces turned on Mulan, but there wasn't much of a chance to act upon the threats the glares promised because the Captain hurried them along.
"Anyone caught walking will have to do an extra lap after sunset!" he barked. "Move it!" Everyone started to run, and they were no more than five paces out of the Captain's direct observation before a foot ended up curiously underneath Mulan's feet, tripping her up and sending her tumbling head over heels.
She got back up and carried on running, pretending that it had never happened, when the same thing happened again, and she heard a snigger behind her back. There was no way she could beat all of these men; there was no way she could even beat one, so she just had to bear it. This was her fault after all.
Although she kept up at first, Mulan soon fell behind the other more fit men, and eventually it was only the short-legged Yao and overweight Chien-Po who remained at the same place as her – Ling was only a little way in front of them, but even that distance put an obnoxiously proud expression on his face.
Yao turned his anger upon Mulan. "This is all your fault you little runt!" he snarled, and took a swipe at her. She jumped out of the way and took cover behind Chien-Po, who trotted merrily on without seeming to notice Yao at all. "Come back here! I'm gonna beat you so hard your children will be born bruised!"
"Now, now, Yao," Chien-Po said serenely as Yao tried to climb over him to reach Mulan. "Don't you find jogging relaxing? Doesn't it clear your mind of stresses and anger?" Yao didn't look like he agreed, but at the very least he stopped trying to chase down Mulan for the time being.
How Chien-Po actually managed to stay so calm was beyond Mulan, who was already sweating, sore, aching and felt like her legs had turned into wooden stumps. She could barely keep pace with these two, let alone anyone else, and the Captain wasn't even worth mentioning.
The sun wasn't very low in the sky, so she knew there were still a good few hours more of this torture before she could rest, so even though she fell behind and her body screamed for rest she had to push on... she had to keep on going... she had to...
When she opened her eyes she was lying face down in the mud with an irate dragon screaming in her face.
"Mulan! This is no time to be napping!" Mushu screeched. "If Mr. Muscles over there catches you asleep on the job it'll be laps until midnight! Get up! Get up!" When she didn't move, he slapped her on cheek with a clawed hand. "Wakey wakey!No one's seen you yet so you might just get away with it!"
She struggled to her feet, feeling dizzier than ever, but somehow managed to force herself into a jog.
"Atta girl, now off you trot," Mushu urged. "Run along and no one needs to know about you sleeping on the job."
"I wasn't asleep, I passed out!" she protested.
"Potatoe-Potato," Musu replied, clinging to her shoulder as she ran along. "Now if anyone asks, you're so far away from the group because you've lapped and overtaken them all."
"No one is going to believe that," Mulan said wearily. "Just look at me." She did have a point, as she was covered in dirt, drenched in sweat and wheezing with every breath; she sure didn't look like she was winning the race.
"A little mud and sweat'll just make you more manly," Mushu consoled. After a few more minutes of running he suddenly climbed down Mulan's sleeve and bounded to the ground. "Ooh! I've got an idea! Here you keep this up and I'll go make up something special for you." He raced off into the undergrowth and left Mulan alone once more.
Although not for too long, as Ling came up behind her for his first overtake – he managed to find a shortcut and was taking full advantage.
"What's the matter, Ping?" he taunted. "Don't you like laps?"
Mulan said nothing; for one because she didn't have the breath to.
"I was the best at running in my school," Ling boasted, "...because I was always running away from gymn class." He grinned, not seeming to understand his own irony, and accelerated past Mulan, but not before trying to trip her up for good measure. Thankfully she knew it was coming, and managed to jump over his leg as it came out under her feet. She slowed down deliberately and let Ling get ahead, but unfortunately he was eventually followed by the rest of the recruits, who – although they didn't try to push or trip her – did snigger and mock her as they went by, calling her a weakling and troublemaker.
Mulan didn't have enough water left in her body to cry, but she almost felt like it as she tried to shrug off their words – she couldn't fit in anywhere, it seemed.
She forced herself to think of her father, and about what might have happened if he'd been sent out to war; at least this way if she was killed it was only a useless unweddable daughter who died, not a great man like her father. It was better this way regardless of whether she succeeded or failed.
She wouldn't give up just yet though, she'd known it would be hard, and there was no way out even if she wanted to leave. It couldn't get any worse after this, at the very least.
So at long last the sun set, and the troops were released from their circuit training. Most of them went to the mess to get something to eat, but Mulan was too exhausted and felt far too sick to stomach anything, so she crawled back to her tent and collapsed.
"Now now, you won't build up your strength if you don't eat," came the voice of Mushu from underneath her pillow, and he snaked out carrying a soup bowl full of a foul-smelling steamy soup. "Here you go. It's an ancient ancestral recipe! I made it myself," he said proudly, pushing the bowl in front of her face. "Passed down through our family for generations of soldiers! Inside this bowl are all of the nutritious vitamins and herbs you need to to grow big and strong!"
"It looks like a bowl full of garden trimmings," Mulan said unenthusiastically.
"Don't talk smack about the Fa family's treasured recipe!" Mushu scolded. "You haven't even tried it yet! One bowlful of this and you'll wake up feeling as right as rain tomorrow: Dragon's honour." He pushed the bowl at her again, and without much else to do Mulan took a tiny sip of the soup, and then pulled a face.
"It's awful!" she griped, sticking out her tongue in disgust.
"Well of course it tastes bad. That's how you know it works," Mushu responded, and then took a big spoonful and stuck it in Mulan's open mouth. "Here comes the the Emperor's carriage!"
"Bleh." Mulan tried not to gag and forced herself to swallow the horrible stew – she needed to eat something at least. Besides, judging by the quality of the food they were serving in the mess it wasn't going to taste much better than this. Even if there were clumps of dirt in it.
"Mushu is there a pebble at the bottom of this bowl?" she asked sceptically.
"Well... yeah..." her guardian responded, "to make you... strong and... hard... like a rock." He laughed to himself awkwardly "Anyway! If you have the energy to complain you should be eating! You have to get a full night's sleep for this to work properly... now, now, don't look at me like that! You haven't even seen the results yet. Trust me when you wake up in the morning you'll feel like a million gold pieces, and it'll be all down to this secret Fa family soup. It's over a thousand years old, you know."
It sure tasted like it was a thousand years old, but Mulan realized in the end that she better just do as Mushu said and eat her horrible soup and then go to sleep, which wasn't much to ask because the moment she laid back in on her bedroll she was out cold.
The next day was no easier than the one just ended. Captain Shang ordered more circuit training, and only those to finish a hundred laps before noon could move on to practising techniques. A few of the men made it, but even Ling who had been doing okay yesterday was wrecked with muscle fatigue and couldn't keep pace.
Surprisingly, Mushu's mystery potion seemed to have had some kind of an effect, because although she woke as stiff as a board and in chronic pain, once she had warmed up, her limbs did not hurt so much and she was able to almost keep pace with Yao and Chien-Po, even if she did have to occasionally dodge Yao swinging a punch or trying to trip her.
"Stop followin' me, ya creep!" Yao snarled.
"I can't help it, we're running laps!" she protested as she hopped over a branch he had thrown in front of her path.
"That ain't no excuse," the stocky man growled. "I can tell you're just sayin' that so's you can follow me around. What are ya some kind of fairy boy?"
"No sir!" she yelped, veering to the other side of Chien-Po and hoping he'd act as a buffer for her again.
"Come on, Ling," Yao taunted the new addition to their stragglers group. "Not so speedy anymore?"
"Short-legs!" Ling countered.
"Heeeey, guys!" Mulan said in her best impression of a man's voice. "Let's not fight like this."
Unfortunately she did not have the same soothing effect upon the men as Chien-Po did, and instead of beating one another Ling and Yao decided to go for her instead.
She leapt up as Yao dived for her legs and landed on top of his back, then quickly ducked down and jumped forwards as Ling came at her from higher up.
She may have landed face-first in the now-dusty running track, but at least managed to roll out of the way of Ling as he was kicked backwards after her by Yao, who was not pleased at being used as a launchpad.
"Stay still you little shrimp!" Yao roared, charging after Mulan who scrambled to her feet and dashed off. A little way ahead she spotted some bushes and a tree, and with Yao and Ling hot on her tail and her ability to outrun them severely in question, she rolled into the bushes and out of sight, hoping they would miss her.
She heard them running by, but the footsteps stopped as they obviously realized 'Ping' had disappeared, so before they could turn around and discover her Mulan jumped up and grabbed onto one of the lower branches of the tree overhead. She was much better at climbing without two heavy weights on her wrists, and managed to hide herself up the tree before Ling and Yao could pull up the bushes in search of her, fuelled on adrenaline alone.
"He's gone!" yelled Yao. "Damn that Ping!"
"I just don't get it," said Ling. "He must be here." Afraid that he'd look up and see her there, Mulan started to climb out on one of the branches farthest away from them.
"If the Captain sees you standing around he'll give you more laps," Chien-Po reminded the two gently. "Let Ping watch out for himself. We better press on."
Thankfully the footsteps of the men started up again and moved away from Mulan's hiding place; what she didn't bank on, though, was the branch she was clinging to being so very weak.
"Where are the men who completed the circuits?" below her sounded the unmistakable voice of Captain Li, questioning their attending consul Chi Fu. In her surprise Mulan wobbled a little, swaying the branch she was on and causing several worrying cracking sounds to come from it.
"Uh oh..." she murmured, and quickly tried to climb to safety, which only shook the branch more, and she had barely moved before the whole thing snapped off completely.
Shang barely had time to look up at the source of the noise before Mulan, a branch and a birds nest all came flying down on top of him, sending the whole lot tumbling to the ground.
"Waaaaaah!" Mulan screamed, or Ping, as the Captain so supposed. "Oof!" she sounded as she landed, bouncing off Shang's body onto the ground, making for a slightly softer landing than she had expected. However, it was at the cost of what was about to follow,which was probably more unpleasant overall.
"PING?!" Shang yelled in shocked anger, recognising the 'boy' who had fallen on him.
"Sir!" Mulan yelped, scrambling to her feet. "I have an explanation... I mean... I can explain this... well... I can't, but if I could then I would... explain, you know..."
"Is that how you greet a commanding officer?" he snapped, and Mulan jumped to attention and saluted him. "That is not what I was referring to," he said coldly. "Jumping out of a tree? Really, Ping?"
"I fell," Mulan mumbled.
"It hardly makes a difference," he countered. "You have been ordered to do laps."
"Yes sir! And I am!" Mulan gushed. "Well I was until..."
"Until you decided to climb trees instead?" Shang interrupted. "This is an army, Ping, not a boys club. You cannot treat any part of it lightly, my orders first of all." He was stern, but tried not to appear too furious now, because it was plain to see that Ping was just a boy: sixteen at most. This probably all seemed like a grand game to him still, but Shang too had been like that once, so he had a little empathy. A little.
"I am being serious, sir," Mulan said humbly, her eyes fixed permanently on the ground.
"Then why are you here and not running circuits?" he asked coldly.
"I was hiding, sir..." she replied.
"You cannot hide from orders," scolded Shang.
"I can hide from people though," she answered back under her breath.
"No excuses!" he snapped cruelly. "You can go and relieve the cook from cleaning up tonight for your insubordination. Until then, I don't want to see you again unless you are running around the camp boundaries." Mulan lingered still, as if she hadn't quite got the message, or like she was avoiding returning for some reason.
"Dismissed!" Shang barked, and with this Ping scampered back through the bushes to the running track.
In truth, the Captain had an ulterior motive in having the new recruits circle the camp – his father had left him word of suspected guerilla activity from the Huns in these parts, and to have the troops doing circuits gave a fair warning system for anyone approaching the camp, and from afar made it appear as if they were sending out regular and heavy patrols. Something like that at least.
Shang heard Ping's footsteps fade away, and let out a heavy breath. The child hadn't even been here a week and he had managed to hit him with a staff and now ambush him – he didn't even have hair growing on his face! Shang could hardly be fit to defend himself from a guerilla if an upstart like Ping could take him by surprise.
He assured himself that Ping was simply an exception – an unpredictable factor, who just got lucky a couple of times. He would straighten him out, there wouldn't be any repeats of this kind of behaviour.
It wasn't going to be easy, but he'd make a man out of him... somehow.
Points for people pointing out the song lyrics, as most of this story is set within the musical number 'I'll make a man out of you', so I slip in a few bits now and again. This isn't exactly a buzzing fandom, so reviews aren't really my object here, but goddamit if you READ it and ESPECIALLY if you know me, I'm looking at YOU Sylla and La, leave some frakkin words down because YOU ASKED FOR IT AND NOW HERE IT IS ARE YOU HAPPY?! ARE YOU FRIGGIN HAPPY NOW?!
Ah ha. I kid I love you all.
Oh and I've not read it through on the DM so if it smushes any of my words or you hate me and all my words do point it out.