Waaaaaarrrrk! Wow I'm sorry this took so long. It wasn't finished when I finished the plot and has since taken all this time to do. Good things come to those that wait, they say, so here you go.
Spring hadn't even ended in the time that Mulan had been away.
Pretty much everything she had ever known or been changed since she left these familiar walls, but back here the only difference was the peachy blossoms now slowly drifting down from all the trees. She felt like another person, but surrounded with everything she had grown up with and knew so well, it was almost as if everything outside these walls had been a dream.
How could she have run away from home, joined the army, destroyed the forces of Shan Yu and then killed the man himself, saving the life of her Emperor and all of China by extension?
It must have been someone else, she thought, as she perched below a tree and stared up at the heavy blossom-laden boughs, now dropping as Summer crept up on them. Surely she could not have accomplished all that herself, but here was the sword of Shan Yu on the bench next to her, and there lay the Emperor's crest too. It had to have happened, because there was no other explanation for these things.
Not to mention that if running away and becoming a soldier had just been a fantasy, then one of her hallucinations was currently walking around the compound, because there stood Li Shang; like he was perfectly comfortable and had always intended to be here. Like he'd planned it.
He had arrived no more than fifteen minutes after she had, so she knew that he must have left the Imperial City not long after her. She had ridden fast too, so he must have hurried if he managed to keep up with her, and the thought of Shang racing on horseback all the way here after her was as surprising as it was flattering.
He had chased her all the way from the capital, a ride that had been several hours in length, but all he'd had to say was 'you fight good' or 'you forgot your helmet' – she was lucky she knew Shang by now, or she might have thought that was really all there was.
Not showing his feelings was a good aspect for a Capt... a General, now, but as a man it was somewhere between infuriating and endearing. She knew something was there, but she just had to find out what it was exactly.
Shang himself was pacing up and down the gardens thoughtfully, and happened to catch Mulan looking at him; while a fleeting smile passed between them at first, it quickly morphed to that look of anxiety and awkwardness that he'd adopted around her as 'Mulan'... and possibly a little bit before, as a matter of fact. It was the same look he'd worn when 'Ping' had held himself over the Captain, or when he had saved Shang's life in the mountains.
Mulan wanted to know once and for all what his actions meant, and she wasn't going to wait when he was just a few paces away, so she caught his eye again and pointed to the bench beside her shyly, inviting him to join her rather than just share eye contact. After looking around only to realize that if anything Mulan's family wanted him to go and sit beside her, he made his way over.
"Your grandmother is..." he murmured uncomfortably as he came into hearing distance.
"Forward, I know," Mulan finished. "It's come with her age. Um, please don't let her make you feel uncomfortable."
"I don't," he rushed. "I mean... a little, but not because of you or anyth..." he mumbled, tripping over his own words, until with a sigh he stopped himself and sat down, propping his elbows on his knees and resting his face carefully in his hands.
"I'm still the same Fa Ping, you know," Mulan said gingerly as Shang covered his face with his palms, trying to ease his discomfort.
"That cannot be," he murmured through his fingers reluctantly. "Fa Ping as a woman would be..."
"I know," she interrupted, "an awful daughter. Even worse as a prospective bride, and I'm both." Shang turned his head slightly to look up at her over his fingertips, a look composed of both worry and confusion on his face. "Well put it this way," she elaborated. "My Matchmaker was... less than pleased with me when I visited."
Shang dared to smile, although it was behind his hands so she could not see.
"If your behaviour under my authority was anything to go by," he said warily, "then you injured and humiliated her?"
"Pretty much" Mulan admitted boldly – a heroine of China hardly needed to be embarrassed about a crabby old Matchmaker anymore. "I ended up throwing a pot of tea over her."
Shang didn't say anything, but his look suggested that he wished to know exactly what her reason was this time.
"Well she was kind of... on fire..." Mulan explained, at which Shang laughed loudly and then stopped just as quickly, dropping his chin back to rest on one hand.
"You set fire to her? Gods protect the poor woman," he chuckled.
"It was terrifying at the time," Mulan said nostalgically. "Well, until I arrived at the training camp and learned true terror." Shang looked up at her and raised his eyebrows, while half a grin twisted the corner of his mouth.
"Surely you don't mean me?" he almost teased, but with a threat of scolding in his tone.
"You were frightening at first!" she protested. "I'd never been so scared in my life than that first day of training."
"What? You meant when you hit me with your staff?!" Shang gaped. "That's not the usual reaction to intimidation, you know."
"It was after that," she countered, "it was because of that. You grabbed me and... well, I just thought you were going to kill me there and then." Shang laughed again.
"I thought you were closer to killing me," he remarked. "Jumping out of trees onto-"
"Falling out of trees, then. Not to mention you passed out up that cliff later in the week and I had to throw myself half way down it to catch you." Mulan's face coloured with embarrassment. Shang noticed and then deliberately continued, thinking that it was only fair play considering what she'd been doing to him since Tung Shao. "I had to carry you up the rest of the way on one arm." She now looked away and bit her lip.
"I'm sorry," she said humbly.
"You were lucky," he stated, "and... you also redeemed yourself in the end."
"I would've gone home if I hadn't," she reminded him. "It was climbing that got me out of that mess in the end." They both thought of the arrow, and the huge turnaround that came from that night.
"I would've dismissed you sooner if I had known it would transform you into a great soldier," Shang baited. "I genuinely wondered if you existed purely to antagonise me after that." Mulan shifted in discomfort, and in spite of his better conscience Shang was pleased with himself.
She'd made him feel like this plenty of times, most distressingly so when he still believed she was a man. He would be a liar to say there wasn't some feeling of relief when he learned of her true gender; then again, didn't that mean he had feelings for her that were meant only for women?
Wait, who was he kidding. He hadn't chased her all the way back from the capital at breakneck speed on horseback because he felt nothing but the ties of male friendship between them. Even if the Emperor himself had to point it out to him before he would act on the impulses he had been trying so hard to ignore.
"Mulan.. I..." he muttered, and suddenly her gaze was straight back on him, intense and definitely expectant, if he didn't say so himself. She knew damn well what he wanted to say, he was sure of it.
Shang pursed his lips. He tried to make the words come out, but he'd never spoken a word of love or affection to a woman in his life. It was like trying to make a war horse climb mountains like a goat.
"...I was wondering... uh... if... if you really killed Shan Yu's guerillas back at the camp," he asked in the end, failing to speak his feelings to her as per requirement. Her eyes widened suddenly, and instead of warmth there was fear and panic in her expression.
"Why do you ask?" she responded sharply. "Why ask now? Does it matter anymore?" While she could tell him about her disastrous attempts to be a suitable woman for marriage, there was still some reflex that desperately wanted to hold back from anyone how she had killed directly, with her own hands. It seemed too brutal.
Shan Yu and his army she had ended indirectly, not actually striking them with the death blow herself. The guerillas had died right before her eyes, in her hands. There was still a part of her that wanted to keep that a secret because what woman, what decent, honourable woman, had that kind of blood on her hands?
"I was curious to know how a girl could kill four men I was unable to even track," Shang said coolly.
"Exactly," Mulan said bitterly. "That is exactly it, Shang. A girl."
"Well what does that mean?" he retorted equally sharply.
"They would never reveal themselves to a man," she confessed with a wince. "They didn't... I mean they wouldn't suspect a girl on her own in the woods at night."
Shang realized instantly the trick she had played; it was the same thing she had done to get their men past the guards of Shan Yu into the Palace. How simple but deceptive it would have been – he was certain himself that if he'd met a girl like Mulan wandering around on her own, he never would have suspected an attack.
"So you did-"
"What if I did?" she snapped. "Would you think me murderous, as a woman, to have killed men with my own hands?"
"Then it was blood on your face," he spoke softly against his fingertips, his mind back on the night before they left, so that he barely even considered her question to him now. "You had wet robes..."
"Yes, all right," she sighed, covering her face with her hands as she turned her head down, knowing that she'd have to be a fool to think she could keep the reality from Shang any longer. "I washed out the blood of their watchmen. The rest I... shot from afar. The first had told me where they were camped."
Shang glanced over and realized that she had slumped over and held the expression of someone disgusted with their own actions. He realized that he had taught her those skills she had used to kill men, and wondered if she blamed him for it.
"Hey," he murmured, reaching out and gingerly putting a hand on her shoulder in comfort. "You did what you had to do."
"I did my 'duty'," she parroted back to him unsympathetically. "Hardly the duty of a good woman..."
"But the duty of a good soldier," Shang insisted. Mulan dared to look over at him; to her surprise, he didn't seem horrified at all, like she was herself.
"It's not over, you know. The Emperor will need you again," he said. "You are a great soldier, Mulan." His hand lingered on her shoulder, reluctant to move now that he had made contact.
"You... really think so?" she said shyly, not yet sure if she could dare to think that perhaps things weren't so bad as she was supposing.
"Yes," he replied, "I am sure of it. I would not be surprised if we met as equals one day."
"One day?" Mulan repeated with scorn, her face brightening as she felt her confidence returning with Shang's kind words.
"Oh, you do not agree?" Shang said, his eyebrows cocked and the humour back in his voice. "I am a General now."
"And I have the Emperor's crest," she countered, and a crafty idea occurred to her when Shang held his position. "Not to mention... actually, I know just how we can settle this," she said sternly, and then stood up, leading him by the sleeve towards the front of the house, where he saw just what she had in store for him: an Xiangqi board, what else?
"Oh, so you propose a rematch?" he challenged, and she nodded with a secretive grin. Something told Shang that he was going to have to work a lot harder to secure this victory.
Unfortunately for him, not only was her game stronger this time around, but Shang did find himself watching her when he should have been watching the game, and it finally led to a tiny mistake on his part, when he rushed a move because he had not wanted her to think he was staring. She made him pay for it mercilessly, of course, and flipped the entire game around, securing her victory within minutes of his error; finishing with a proud smirk upon her face.
"You took advantage of me," he professed, speaking too quickly for his sensibilities to catch up with his words. "Womanly charms are unfair in a game played by men." He only caught himself after he had spoken, and slammed his mouth shut in horror, gritting his teeth even harder when Mulan laughed at him.
"I don't have a single womanly charm in my entire body, Shang," she said with a chuckle.
"I beg to differ," he responded stiffly, forcing the words even as they resisted being spoken. "You can be perfectly charming."
"When?" she proposed more for fun than anything. "Even dressed as a woman, I still managed to fall and knock you down after jumping off the Emperor's palace."
"That itself is charming now," he said sardonically. "Why, it's happened so many times."
"Not that many times."
"More times than anyone else I've known," he pointed out, "and not all men find the same things appealing, either." At this some manner of interest began to sparkle in Mulan's eyes – she wasn't a fool; she knew that the way Shang felt for her must have changed or developed since he learned she was a woman, or he wouldn't have followed her here.
It was different for her because she had always known him as a man, so she'd never had to adjust how she felt about him. For her things could progress slowly, shaping as they went along, but Shang's confrontation had been much more dramatic. That didn't mean, though, that she knew exactly how he felt, or how strongly he felt it.
"What do you find charming, then?" she asked, sounding much more nervous than she meant to.
"Strength," he answered after a pause, his eyes riveted on hers and not moving away for even a second as he spoke. "Bravery... intelligence... loyalty... and devotion," he listed, "to country, as well as family."
"Such a woman is rare to find," she pointed out, thinking back to her lessons prior to matchmaking, or any of her comrade's list of good attributes for women.
"I'd say she is," he replied bluntly, his implications barely disguised. "Such a person might also be unpredictable, unconventional and outright crazy at times."
"You react as if I were speaking about you," he goaded.
"Aren't you?" she countered. "You did call me the craziest man you've ever met in Tung Shao."
"So I did," he said coolly, rubbing the back of his neck. "But that was Ping, not Mulan."
"We're one and the same," Mulan insisted, but saw that Shang wasn't going to agree, and part of her feared that he'd never be able to get over her lying to him and reach the same stage of trust that he'd given her in the mountains.
"Not so," he said, as she predicted. "For one, Mulan does not speak in quite such a ridiculous way as Ping." Mulan only scowled at him. "Ping was small and weak for his age, and Mulan is strong for hers. Ping is endearing, but Mulan is charming." He gave her a quick look, sizing her up in some way. "Sometimes." Mulan rolled her eyes.
"They are both still me," she pointed out.
"Ah, but one I have only recently met," he replied coolly.
"I was Mulan all along," she said resolutely. "You just didn't know which parts were Ping and which were Mulan. I just... made Ping up."
"Oh no, Ping is definitely real." Mulan began to worry that her family might overhear their conversation now, and far from thinking their converse was inappropriate, they might just think she was developing a split personality disorder.
"How do you mean?"
"Fa Mulan would not have brought down an avalanche on Shan Yu's army, or killed his spies," Shang explained his reasoning soundly. "Ping is the soldier in you, the one who developed throughout your training."
"So you could say that you made Ping?" she proposed.
"Yes... I suppose so," he answered, and his brow creased as he thought back to earlier concerns of Mulan resenting him for making her into that. "You don't regret it, do you?"
"What? No," she said unhesitantly. "I was unhappy before I left home too. I hated who I was, I didn't know the person I saw in the mirror," she confessed to him. "But I managed to become something I recognised, something I was proud of. I have you to thank for that," she hushed. "So thank you, Shang."
It was then that he became absolutely sure that his feelings were real. There was no way around it. He wanted her desperately.
"Mulan... I..." he tried once more, and then crumbled as usual. He'd need to find a different way of doing this. "You're welcome," he murmured, and they sat in a barely comfortable silence for a few minutes.
"What is it you want to say?" she prompted eventually, realizing that if left to his own devices Shang would probably never get it out by the end of the day.
"Uh..." he hummed, his hands knotted tightly together and his eyes in the distance. "How do I..."
"Just say it?" she suggested innocently. "What've you got to lose?" How wrong she was he thought; he had plenty to lose. His dignity for one, or what remained of it now.
"I've..." he mumbled, and then with a sudden movement looked right at her. "I've thought about this, Mulan, and I've come to some conclusions," he said firmly, his hands folded tightly together.
"You have?" she said presumptuously, edging around the board to sit closer to Shang's side.
"Yes... and I've realized that... well, if any matchmaker were to find favour with you..." he trailed off for a moment, and then resumed. "I... wouldn't be comfortable with you... marrying..."
Mulan's breath hitched in her throat, and she didn't dare speak for throwing him off.
"I mean, the threats to China are by no means ended, and if you were to be married off to someone..." else he thought to himself but did not say.
"My first duty will always be to China," Mulan stated. "Even if I married." She tried to emphasise to Shang that she wasn't about to go running back to matchmakers – she'd done more than enough for her family for one season, all she wanted now was a nice rest.
"Even so!" Shang, however, didn't seem convinced, and continued to press at the issue. "The thing is..." he scratched the back of his neck and then with one heavy breath let his hand drop back to his lap and spoke clearly. "I've thought about it, and I.... wouldn't be happy with you belonging to another...." He swallowed, and Mulan felt her heart beating hard in her chest. "I just couldn't abide by it," he confessed, and she saw the relief at having shed this burden in his face.
"So... what does that mean?" she questioned delicately. "Why must I belong to anyone at all? Can I not simply own myself?"
"Well, I could not go along with that either," he said very softly, and folded his hands together in his lap tensely.
"Why not?!" she challenged; if she had done all this, surely she had earned the right to be her own person and not just the property of a man. "I have proven..."
"It is not that," he interrupted. "It's that... for me to not have you would be almost as bad as seeing another have you." Mulan's temper quickly subdued.
"Oh," she gasped, saying nothing but flapping her mouth like fish until Shang reached over and took her hand in his.
"I could live my life twice over never find a soldier like you.... like Ping, I mean," he explained. "I could live it ten times over and never find such a woman. My career in the army has always been my highest priority in life, and marriage has not been something I concerned myself with," he paused, "until now."
There was plenty that Mulan wanted to say, but she thought to hold her tongue at least until Shang finished first; she was also quite interested in what he was saying too, so there was no rash reason for her to interrupt before he was quite done.
"I considered it long and hard as I followed you here, and I realized that if I were to let you go I would regret it for the rest of my life." Now a shade of happiness began to show under his serious expression, and he continued slightly humorously. "I mean, pass up the chance to try to make a wife out of Fa Mulan? I'd have to be mad not to."
"You'd have to be mad to as well," she pointed out seriously. She was overjoyed that Shang really did feel like this towards her, but she felt duty-bound to let him know just what he was trying to get himself into.
"As I mentioned before, I am not exactly well favoured as a bride to anyone, let alone a General." How odd it seemed now that they were talking so trivially about something as important as marriage. Perhaps the fate of all China hanging in their hands had diminished the magnitude of it.
"My rank and your favour have little to do with it," he insisted to her surprise, as they had both been raised accepting that marriage was not meant to be a matter of the heart; however, then he moved his hands away from hers and cupped them around her face firmly. "What I mean is, when is China ever going to see another Fa Mulan? When would I ever see another? So why would I ever let you go?" his voice became softer and softer, until slowly she felt his arms begin to move and bring her face towards his.
Her heart pounded and she barely took a breath, too stunned to do anything but close her eyes and lick her lips nervously.
"YOW!" Shang bellowed in Mulan's face all of a sudden, whipping his hands away from he burning cheeks and bending down, his forehead cracking against her chin rather alarmingly in the process.
"Oow!" Mulan yelped, grabbing her face and looking around for whatever had disturbed Shang so much.
"Something bit me," he hissed, holding one calf in his hand and glancing around suspiciously on the floor. "You don't get any poisonous snakes around here, do you?" Mulan's eyes narrowed and she glanced around crossly, just catching sight of a red tail disappearing through a window.
"Mushu..." she growled, and then placed her hand on Shang's arm consolingly. "No, we don't have any snakes... a few rats, though."
While Shang did not look particularly thrilled with the idea of a rat any more than a snake, after checking his leg and seeing that whatever had nipped him didn't break the skin, he straightened up again.
"Oh, where... were we?" he said awkwardly, and Mulan looked away bashfully. However, before she could answer him or before they could naturally resume where they had left off, the sound of footsteps and wood on stone caught their attention.
"Ah ha, there you are," Mulan's father announced as he slid back a screen door and came into their view rather abruptly, so that now Mulan silently thanked her still-acting Guardian; she did not expect her father would have been pleased to see her embracing any man at this stage.
"Your mother is preparing tea," Fa Zhou told her. "Invite your guest indoors, I expect the ride from the Capital was tiring for you both."
With that he turned back on himself and disappeared back indoors. Mulan got to her feet with a sigh, quite disappointed that events had conspired against them like this; she had been sure Shang was going to kiss her, and now the moment had been completely ruined. She reminded herself that she probably should not have expected any better from someone such as herself, but it still left a slight sting.
She had not taken a few steps when she heard Shang's footsteps behind her.
"Mulan," he called, taking a few large strides to catch up to her and putting a hand on her shoulder.
"Yes?" she replied innocently, turning to look back over her shoulder. However, she had not expected him to suddenly turn her around with a gentle push, and even less for him to tip her back against his arm. In moments he had pulled her close and leant down, twisting his own face to meet hers and raising his free hand to loosely clasp her jaw.
She barely had time to take in a shocked breath before he finished the movement and pressed his lips against hers.
She was much too stunned to be able to do anything – it had taken Shang the best part of an hour to tell her that he had romantic inclinations towards her, and now he had spun her into some kind of picturesque kiss scene just like that.
While it didn't last that long, as there were plenty of eyes about to spy on the, it was more than enough to let the warmth of Shang's mouth linger on her own lips when he calmly pulled back and set her upright again.
Her brain had fallen somewhat behind her body, so it took a while for Mulan to register that Shang had let go of her she wobbled on her feet unsteadily, swaying to the side and almost falling over in her giddiness, if Shang hadn't happened to catch her.
"Whoa," he chuckled as she toppled and he caught her in one arm again. "Easy does it." He looked at her for some sign of acceptance, or failing that disgust in case he had just made the biggest error of judgement in his life, but he couldn't find a trace of anything in Mulan's expression. "Uh, Mulan?" he probed, and slowly some appearance of mental function returned to her eyes.
"Huh," she gaped, blinking heavily and then standing up with a jerk and a shake of the head. "Wuh... I'm sorry," she muttered, putting her palms to her head and massaging her brow. "I think you should warn me before you do something like that again," she murmured shyly. "You took me by surprise."
Shang smiled, and then with little steps began to lure her in the direction of the room that was awaiting their presence.
"I thought I ought make my intentions completely clear," he explained with a subtle grin. "I didn't expect such... dramatic results." Mulan nodded along dumbly; Shang had punched, struck and thrown her into a lake before, but it only took one little kiss to throw her so far off the track she couldn't even stand on her own two feet afterwards.
"Wait your 'intentions'?" she echoed as they drew closer to their destination. He stopped, taking her hand and clasping it between his.
"Simple," he stated. "I'm going to marry you. Maybe it won't be right now, and with the state of China being what it is, it may not even be for some time, but know this, Fa Mulan; the only woman I'm ever going to wed is standing right here, and I... pray to the gods that she feels the same way."
Mulan looked up at Shang and examined him closely, her lips eventually curling into a smile. Throw honour and respectability out the window, she had done her duty to China and her family, and she could at least be the master of her own heart. She stood up on the tips of her toes to make her face reach his, but being somewhat inconveniently shorter than him by a long way, she changed tactics and raised his hands to her mouth instead, pressing his fingers to her lips and kissing them humbly.
"Of course," she told him lovingly, and hand in hand, they walked on.
FAQ - No I am not intending to finish the rest of the movie in the context of this story, the deal was for me to tell something that is shown only briefly within the movie timeline - the song 'Be a Man' - while there was a little bit of material that happened after, taking us up to the beginning of the next musical number, I never intended to make a story that was just an original re-write of the film.
No I am not planning a sequel. However, what I MIGHT do is write and publish some shorts of various different little ideas that have come through to me that are in the world of this story, some before and some after.
If you want to hold out for them then pop me into your author alert, I'd say there's a really good chance that I'll be putting out SOMETHING for Shang and Mulan in any of my new writing, but nothing in the near-near future if you get my drift.
Yes this is the end. No 'please updates' or anything because it's OVER, babies! XXX Leave a review though. X