A Late Blossom
When they were married, Mulan had graciously accepted her duties as a housewife. At least to the best of her abilities. They only went on a half dozen missions before she finally agreed to stop butting into the country's military operations. After all, by that time it had been over three years since they had wed, and Shang was at his wit's end between praying for a child and trying to keep her safe so that his prayers were not in vain. Only at that point, with a huge empty home and servants at her beck and call did she finally begin to mimic her husband's prayers.
After another year, they were invited to the palace to celebrate five years since defeating Shan Yu with their comrades. Yao, Ling and Chien Po brought the Princesses and their children, totaling 13. When they had entered the banquet, and Shang dressed handsomely and well decorated for his bravery, she could feel his posture sink ever so briefly at the sight, and she had bowed her head and gone off to talk to the Emperor's daughters, all blossoming with happiness at their wonderful families.
And Mulan suddenly longed for that happiness. Sitting alone, with her third glass of wine, she watched her comrades play with their children, and she watched the little girls dote on their mothers and she wished for that, more for Shang even than herself. Ting Ting had been watching her for a while, and finally, the eldest princess approached. She was as always, the epitome of her status. Dressed in sleek violet, she was the only sister to employ nurse maids, but still doted on her five young ones. She sat beside Mulan with a wistful sigh. "Seems only yesterday that Mei told us she was expecting."
The warrior smiled next to her, waving her fan delicately, her face hot from the stuffy room and the thick makeup. "I remember. You and Su looked like you were going to faint."
"I thought I was," Ting Ting admitted with a laugh. "Before I knew it all of mine were born and running about the house."
"But you all make Ling very happy," Mulan said softly, unable to disguise the ache in her voice.
Ting Ting frowned, but reached over to gently pat Mulan's hand. "Don't worry, Li Mulan. Everyone doesn't conceive right away." They both ignored the giant elephant in the room that was proclaiming that four years was hardly "right away". And Mulan even smiled a little to herself before she nodded.
"Thank you, Ting Ting."
The night was long and Mulan dreaded it all. She was glad when they were allowed to retire to their room there in the palace. Shang went straight to bed and she tried to, but didn't even make it to getting undressed and wiping the makeup off. He was upset and the air in the room was thick so, with a heavy heart, she approached him. "Shang, listen…"
"You know my brothers have been bringing up lately that men usually take on another wife, when the one they're with can't conceive." His words were sharp, and piercing. "Or doesn't want to."
Mulan frowned at him, her eyes welling with tears. "I do want a baby, Shang, I…"
"I can't do this with you right now, Mulan. I never should have let you fight all these years. Who knows what damage it's all done to your body. And you could have died out there, for what? To prove you're equal to all the men?"
And the young woman was reminded of the night she ran away from home, and Shang's words seemed like the striking thunder that night. She straightened from nearly slumping over, turning her back to him. "I would have died doing what was right, and protecting my family."
She didn't let him argue any more. She was past arguing. A storm was brewing outdoors as well but at least the air there was cool and the breeze was steady, and soft. After she had been gone for an hour, Shang finally gave up on sleep, and stormed outside. He didn't really bother to dress, but rather, tossed his tunic on without fastening the front.
He found her in the palace garden, crumbled under a Magnolia tree. The rain had washed away most of her white makeup but her lips were still red, if just half the shade they had been, and the black around her eyes was now in drops down her face, although he did not know if it were from the rain or tears. He instantly felt horrible, and walked over to kneel in front of her, mindless of the damage the mud did to his pants. "Mulan, I didn't mean it. I couldn't ever take on another wife. No matter what anyone said. I just…" He sighed. "They're all just so happy. I want us to have that."
"But you don't think we will," She continued, her voice soft, but more broken than brass.
Shang shook his head and reached to cup her chin in his fingers, frowning at her. "I have to hope with my all that some day we'll have a child, Mulan. I have to hope that all this love we have can create a baby." He smiled down into her face sadly. "Perhaps we've just been adding to his or her soul in installments all these years. It just means we'll have a wonderful child when the day does come."
And that was all she needed to feel better, and she flung her arms around his neck to hug him, much the way she had hugged the Emperor when he had proclaimed her a hero in front of all the Imperial City. His arms tightened around her in a way so he could lift her up from the mud and carry her indoors. He helped her change into her sleep clothes, and dried her hair before cuddling up with her in bed.
Spring arrived for a fifth year since their marriage, and today, Fa Li was in their household, finishing up delivering laundry to a maid before she found her husband in the Li family temple, bent before the names of Shang's ancestors. He was startled when she touched his hand, and one look into her eyes and he smiled up at her. She helped him stand and gave him his cane before they slowly made their way back inside the Li family home.
There was a calmness in the air as they entered the bedroom, and Fa Zhou's heart swelled with pride at the way Shang was bent over his wife's side, staring down into her arms. It reminded him of the day Mulan had been born, when all his male relatives had told him there was no use for a man in the house, and he had stayed to pray until his mother-in-law had come to get him. Shang wasn't the same, he had stayed in the very room for two whole days at Mulan's side, helping her fight a whole new battle.
Fa Li had delivered her grandson on what would have been Granny Fa's 92nd birthday. Just shy of six years since Mulan had left home to take his place in the army, and less than a year after she and Shang had attended the banquet in honor of the pair having kept China safe for five years. As they approached the bed, Mulan looked up at him with the most beautiful expression he had seen on her face in all of her life. And it made his heart nearly stop in his chest before he sat on the end of the bed.
Mulan and Shang exchanged loving smiles, and her eyes sparkled as she let Shang scoop the little tyke from her arms. For a moment she was suspended in a sitting position, just making sure Shang had a good grip before she plopped back against the pillows, watching as her husband carried their baby over to where Zhou was sitting. With careful and delicate motions, Shang transferred the baby to his maternal grandfather.
"Oh my," Zhou whispered, smiling down at the warm little bundle. "Hello there, my darling." The baby was so much of his mother, with the shape of his face and the shape of his nose, but when his eyes opened, Zhou found his son-in-law there, too. "What a perfect child."
Fa Li and Mulan both cried, and Shang settled his hand on his father-in-law's shoulder. "He certainly took his time, but I think he's all the more loved because of it."
"He's a late bloomer," Zhou cooed, smiling down at the baby. "Like his Mama." Li bent over him to touch the baby's little cheek with her finger and he nestled into Zhou's arms, comfortable for the time being. They both sighed.
"What are you going to call him?" Li asked, gazing up at the children with a drunken smile.
Mulan and Shang answered in unison, without even looking at one another. "Ping."