A Change to Grace
AN- I just wanted to thank ALL of you who read this story, my stats count for this story so far is over 1400 (490 unique visitors). Even if you're just a perv reading it for the smut, I sincerely thank you for bothering to read it at all. I'm sorry for any spelling errors and possible inaccuracies. I'm researching as I go, and I'm no expert in any of this culture. I just really wanted to write a good story for the grown ups, and while I won't ever call it good, it's nice to hear you guys say it!
Mulan had returned to the tent in the middle of the night, damp from rain but silent. Had she not seemed so upset, Shang would have tried to talk to her, instead, he remained "asleep" on his side. It pained him to be withdrawn for her, especially considering it was their first real fight. And considering what his mother had told him. But he supposed the next day would be just as good for making up. He woke before sunrise to meet his father in the General's tent at dawn, as promised, and kept the news of Mulan's possible pregnancy to himself. Especially considering Jiang was a smart man, and might put the numbers together.
When Mulan woke a couple of hours later, Li Mei had straightened up and made her breakfast. They chatted over the porridge, about why Mei was even there (something about a request from her husband) and then, before she knew it, her mother in law was off to do something else. Mulan dressed thoughtfully, tied her hair off like Ping's instead of letting it down as she had of late. Anything to keep her mind off the possibility of the person she suspected might be gestating in her womb. Leave it to Shang to tempt her into lust early and then impregnate her on the same night.
She shook her head as anger steamed her over again and took a moment to pray and meditate. She hoped that would pass that feeling. And it did, for the most part. She left the tent calmly and greeted Yao, Ling and Chien Po, who were eating their breakfast before going to practice with the arrows. She was surprised, when she reached the nearby clearing, to see Shang with a group of new recruits, all shaking in their boots as he sized them up for the first time. And it reminded her of her first day, and the disdain all over his face and the ripple of his bare muscles…
Her brow quirked, and inwardly, she dared any of those soldiers to be female, and to have any of those thoughts about him. Shaking her head, she sat in the grass and watched him repeat the first several basic training exercises before he left them to practice for the day. And as he turned to return to camp he spotted her immediately. For a moment they stared at one another, unsure if they were calm enough from the fight to speak, but finally, he approached. For a moment he just stared at the ground and then he finally looked up into her face. "You know I want you here, Mulan. I'm sorry." He cleared his throat. "And I understand that you just needed your space."
Mulan was stubborn at first but the sincere look on his face made her sigh and step forward to drape her arms around his neck, earning a pleased smile from him. "I'm sorry I was cross with you. I just didn't want…"
"I know." He told her gently, nuzzling her nose with his, earning a sweet smile from her. "You know I love you."
"I hope you do."
It was another several days before they received word that the Mongol attacks had all either been defeated or abandoned. It was another week before they reached the Imperial City from there, and at that point, Mulan was glad that the war was over. The Emperor threw a fantastic feast upon their return and afterward, Mulan slept for half the day.
When she awoke, Shang was not there, and her curiosity was sufficiently piqued. She dressed quickly and dashed from their room in the palace to tip-toe around from door to door. Mostly found concubines of the Emperor, and their children. She had been wandering for some time when she reached a quieter wing, and approached the only door there that was not completely shut. It was cracked, and the painted wood was almost all the way to the ceiling, and very ominous. Mulan crept up close, and immediately recognized her husband's voice.
"It's been a long several months, cousin. My father and I were tracking Huns before they breached the borders, I've had very little time to enjoy myself." Peeping into the cracked door she saw Shang take a sip of wine. "You may be aware that I was married recently."
"The whole palace is, Shang. The women are abuzz about the Hero of China."
Shang shook his head at the man, his eyes tired but his smile soft. "That's a very small part of her. I find she's very complex. I've been very surprised by her ability to adapt to being a loyal bride, what with her actions in the army." His cousin raised a brow but Shang continued. "Very pleasantly so."
"You'd best keep a good eye on her, things in the palace are not all well. The Empress does not approve of your choice of bride." The young man flinched slightly. "Things have been hostile here since Father announced that he had given you his blessing."
"His is the only one that counts."
"You know no woman would ever see it that way." The men laughed in unison at this, understand one another and Mulan huffed indignantly, her cheeks red. "I have to wonder how safe any of us in line are, what with his health declining."
"Is it serious?"
"He will not live out a full year," The cousin nodded. "And there's the three of us in line."
Shang's features were dark at that and he stared down at his glass. "I have no interest. You and Li Xong can argue over the throne when he dies."
"I sincerely doubt he'll leave me the throne. If you don't want it, Xong will be a shoe-in."
"Only if you let him, Qing." Shang's eyes raised to where Mulan was peering into the door and she gasped, taking off down the hall. He pretended not to have noticed, and finished his drink. When he and Qing were done, he walked down the hall calmly until he reached the other corridor and he walked to their room. He found her sitting on the bed, combing her hair, and her hands were shaking despite her best attempt to remain calm. "You've been quite nosey today."
She glanced up at him hesitantly. "Are you angry?"
Sitting next to her he sighed softly and reached to stroke her hair, shrugging slightly. "I mean, a little. But you had every right to know those things, I just wish you hadn't felt the need to snoop." But it was easy for him to forgive such a thing. He leaned to press a tender kiss to her temple. "You've been so tired. I was worried."
It was her turn to shrug. "So much traveling."
He nodded, listing her hair to kiss her neck. "I love you, have I ever told you that?" When he pulled back she was smiling proudly, her cheeks rosie with happiness. "You just…you make my life complete. Really. It all comes together when I'm with you." She blushed more and they met in a soft little kiss.
"Then we'd be foolish to ever be apart."
"Or to keep secrets from one another," Shang said softly. She caught the tone of his voice and looked at him with a raised brow before her face fell and she sighed. He shook his head. "Would you have told me before you'd given birth?"
"I don't know anything for certain," She reminded softly. "And I don't want to find out from a court physician or an army doctor that will tell people that the child were conceived before the wedding. I want someone who doesn't know anything about us."
"I suppose that's fair," He said softly. "We can stop somewhere on the way home." She nodded stiffly in response and Shang reached to cover her tiny hand in his, his brows creased with concerned. "What's wrong? You seem distant about this."
Sighing she shrugged, but turned her hand to lace her fingers through his. "It just, it happened. Fast. I didn't plan for it to happen this fast. I'm not sure I'm going to be a good mother." She looked up at him with a hesitant smile. "I guess there's only one way to find out, though, isn't there?"
"Don't be silly, Mulan. You'll be great." He kissed the top of her hair, one hand settling uncertainly over her womb. "They won't know how lucky they are to have you as a mother." They exchanged cheesy grins before Mulan sighed, squirming to wrap her arms around him, and Shang lifted her gently to settle her on his knee so he could more easily wrap his arms around her. "Not to mention I'll be there with you. Every step of the way."
Mulan suddenly tensed and she popped her head up to look at him. "But not as Emperor, right?"
He sighed but smiled down at the curiosity in her face. "Not as Emperor. I don't want to be an emperor."
"But why are you third in line?"
Shang shifted them and plopped back against the bed with her held tightly so she fell back with him, and he cuddled against her warm body. "My father renounced his place in line when I was young. I can do the same, eventually. Looks like I'm going to have to do it after the baby is born. Which will ruin their chance of ever being Emperor."
"If there's a baby going to be born, I think it will thank you one day." She said softly, a little smile creeping over her face. "It'll be hard enough being born into such decorated military lineage, much less to stick royalty on top of that." He smiled in understanding and she studied his face before she settled in closer. "I'm sorry about your uncle though."
Shang nodded. "It's very sad. He's a good man. It'll be interesting to see what happens. Qing is the elder of his sons, but he's become a bit of a notorious uh, heartbreaker. Whereas Xong is the younger, fiercely dedicated brother. And when I say fierce I might mean 'scary'."
Mulan blinked. "And then there's you. Decorated military captain…"
"Who is not any sort of politician." Shang reminded with a little annoyance.
"That just makes you a shoe-in, Shang."
Shang laughed a little at her insistence. "Well you better hope not, because that would make you Empress. The cross-dressing, sword wielding empress of the Li Dynasty." Mulan looked at him with a scowl and he grinned at her, scooping her close to him. "I just don't think I could do it. And like you said. It would be an awful lot of responsibility for any sons of ours."
She smiled knowingly, and he cringed inwardly. Something about women and motherhood made them know everything, and he much preferred Mulan as the careless young girl he had met her as. "I know. But I'm only saying, I think it would be very honorable. Maybe you should just let your uncle decide."
"Who are you?"
She laughed as he started to kiss her neck and smacked his shoulder, although she was thrown into the wonderful feeling of his embrace anyway. And in that moment she realized that life was going to be okay. They lie there for a long time, just enjoying one another's closeness before there was a knock on the door, and Shang sat up, pecking her head with a kiss before going to answer it.
In the doorway stood the younger of the Emperor's sons, Xong. He was short, tiny, even, compared to his cousin, and Mulan was surprised by that. Even Qing had been equal to Shang in height. She stood up and folded her hands in front of her and bowed her head respectfully as Shang offered him a half bow. "Xong."
"I've been asked to inform you that dinner is prepared." His voice was very nasally, and rasped slightly.
"Thank you. Allow me to introduce my wife, Li Mulan…"
Mulan bowed more, trying to poor her manners into her voice. "It is an honor to me-…"
"I have no interest in being introduced to you, Li Mulan." He turned on his heel and left, leaving Mulan reeling with shock, and Shang staring after him with his hand still holding the door open. He finally turned to his wife and they shrugged to one another before they left the room to follow him down to the dining hall.
There, the Emperor and many of his concubines were seated. Qing and his sisters were also present and Xong was just sitting down as they walked into the room. Feeling greatly outnumbered, but obligated to play nice, Mulan bowed to them all with Shang before they were seated and serving had begun.
Everyone made light conversation for a while, eating and enjoying one another's company. Everyone but Xong, who sat there and complained about every single little thing he could. Finally Shang groaned, and Qing shot him an oddly approving glance. "By the way, Xong, I'd like to thank you for the way you disrespected Mulan earlier."
The Emperor looked at his soon, who sighed. "I'm not going to bow to a peasant."
Everyone at the table gasped, especially Mulan. All her young life she had known that her family didn't amount to much, but no one had ever put it to her so plainly. Shang was fuming, gripping at the table. "Don't you call her that…"
"Xong I'm surprised at you. Li Mulan is no longer a peasant."
Xong glared at his father. "Marriage does not change the dirt she bathed in for all those years."
Mulan stood, slamming her fist on the table. And Shang looked up at her with a pleading face. As much as it hurt, she knew that telling Xong off would only disgrace him. So she walked away, leaving the meal unfinished and everyone staring after her.
"I'm going to beat you to hell," Shang growled, getting up and moving to his cousin, who stood defiantly before him.
"You can try."
"You pompous son of a bitch!" Shang leapt at his cousin but barely got a punch in before the Emperor's guards hauled them off of one another. Still swinging he grunted in disappointment and took a few deep breaths, coming down from the urge to kick his scrawny butt.
"Both of you!" They both looked at the Emperor at the same time, blinking. "Into the other room!"
Mulan was so angry, it felt like her skin was on fire. She felt feverish, and yet she didn't feel ill. Even sitting outside, it was almost too hot for her to stand. When Qing found her, she was sitting in the garden, fanning her face, and trying desperately to calm down so the hotness would go away, but he could tell just to look at her that she wasn't having much luck. He approached slowly, offering her a quirky little smile.
"Don't mind Xong. He's incredibly uptight." She didn't respond at first, just continued to wave her fan around, trying desperately not to boil over. So Qing approached even closer, stretching a bit before he, too, sat on the bench. "It's clear how Shang feels about you, and in the end, that's all that matters."
"That's not what bothers me. What bothers me is that Xong is right." Qing looked like he was going to argue and Mulan waved him off. "No but…if he wanted to. He could be Emperor. I've lived on a farm all my life."
"Farms are lovely places. You raise all the animals I plan to eat," Qing remarked, and they shared a brief smile.
"I just don't want him to give up everything he could have for me." She said softly. "I want him to realize that he could have it all. Me, China, thirty concubines, if he must."
"Well maybe he will. He'll have to figure that out."
They sat for a moment, Mulan had calmed down and stopped fanning herself, and Qing just sat with his hands on his lap, staring at the ground until someone cleared their throat and they both looked up at Shang. Qing smiled. "Ah, we were just talking about you. But I'm afraid I have a date tonight."
Qing stood and Shang moved to take his place. "You always have a date."
"And I'm not ashamed of that." Shang's cousin winked at them before darting off into the night. Mulan and her husband exchanged glanced and she sighed deeply, wringing her fan between her hands as she tried to think of what to say to apologize for the way she had acted. Shang, however, had other plans. And he spoke up before she had a chance.
"I almost beat his face in."
She looked up at him with wide eyes, and it made Shang's heart churn a little. He scooped her hands up to kiss the backs of both, shaking his head. "No one will ever disrespect you in my presence, Mulan." He leaned forward to kiss her face. "You deserve more respect than any lazy bastard, you put your life on the line for your country. Twice."
Mulan nodded, but did not agree verbally. Because she didn't, really. Her parents had always been firm on her place in life, and how lucky she (or any girl in her village) would be to marry a man with wealth. But she was grateful for everything Shang was giving her, including his wisdom. She moved to kiss his cheek and reached to take his hand. "How long do we need to stay here? I'd very much like it if we could go soon."
"We can leave in the morning." He offered softly, looking up into her face and the way the moonlight surrounded it, like a glowing, silver halo.
"Then let's go pack. And think of other ways to pass the night until dawn."