Life as Li Shang's new wife is somehow both completely strange and oddly familiar to Mulan. The tent they share is barely any bigger than the one she used to have to herself (well, not counting Mushu), which is comforting, in its cramped way; waking up in it next to her husband -- her husband! -- is still strange and new.
"Good morning," she says, nudging Shang's broad shoulder.
He turns over and smiles at her, sleepy-eyed. "Good morning, Ping."
Mulan is kissing him before she realizes what he actually said. When it does occur to her, she doesn't really know what to do -- besides what Grandma winkingly called her "wifely duties," that is.
It always feels like they're getting away with something when they make love in the mornings, like naughty kids banding together to steal sweets, only better. Shang laughs against Mulan's throat as he slides into her, hiking her leg up over his shoulder. She winds one hand in his hair, holding his mouth where it is, and welcomes him in.
Later -- much later, when Mulan has lost count of the crests of her waves of pleasure, and Shang has spent his seed, she opens her mouth to say something about his calling her Ping, but is cut off by a polite cough from outside the tent.
"That must be Wei," says Shang ruefully. He puts on his pants before opening the tent flap a crack -- enough to see the face of his camp assistant, but not enough for the same to see Mulan in her current state of undress. She has such a considerate husband.
As she dresses, she hears a rustle from her luggage. "I heard that!" hisses a voice that is not as quiet as its owner seems to think. "Did you hear that? Because I heard that."
"Hush, Mushu!" Mulan bops him on the snout. "Of course I heard. I'm going to talk to him about it."
"Well, good." The tiny dragon huffs and preens himself. "That's all I wanted to say."
"I'm sure," Mulan says dryly, as Mushu dives back into her things.
"What are you muttering about?" Shang asks, wrapping his arms around her from behind.
"Something you said earlier," Mulan says, and she really does mean to continue that thought, but her curiosity gets the better of her. "What did Wei want?"
And they're off, talking about the logistics of their next movements. Mulan feels like a bird swooping through the sky beside its mate: free, and strong, and happy.
There's a lot to do that day, and even Mushu popping up at inappropriate moments to give her his best disapproving scowl can't make enough time for a proper break. It's not until they're getting ready for bed that Mulan and Shang have a moment alone.
"Shang," she says, putting one hand on his solar plexus to keep him from distracting her with a kiss.
"Mulan," he replies, imitating her tone. "What's up?"
"This morning, in bed, you called me Ping." She watches his face. It goes instantly into the mask he wears when someone suggests that he won't live up to his father's legacy, and Mulan's heart aches for him, even though she doesn't understand. "It's okay," she hurries to say. "I just wanted to know -- why?"
Shang sits down and puts his head in his hands. "I didn't know how to tell you," he says.
Mulan kneels behind him and hugs him tightly. "I want to hear it, whatever it is. I love you."
"I love you too," Shang says. "I always have. That's the problem."
She blinks. "That's not a problem. That's sweet."
"No," he says. "I mean -- always. Before I knew you were -- you."
Before he knew she was -- "So it's Ping you love?" Mulan asks slowly.
"No! I mean, yes. I mean --" Shang turns awkwardly in her arms, then pulls her to sit in his lap. "I love you, Mulan, but before I found out, I also -- I also --"
"Well, Ping was still me," she says, stroking Shang's shoulder.
"Yes," Shang says. But the way he says it, he doesn't sound convinced.
"That sounds like 'no,'" Mulan says. "Why not?"
"There are..." Shang clears his throat. "Things. That I thought about."
When he doesn't say anything else, Mulan prompts him. "Things?"
"Things that I don't know how to -- talk about. Not with you." He turns his face away from her.
Mulan turns it back, taking his chin in her hand. "You can talk to me about anything, remember?"
"Not about things between men," he says.
Stubborn ass! She laughs. "Because I'm so delicate and feminine? I am Ping, don't forget that, Shang."
"Not in the ways I used to think about, Mulan," he says ruefully.
"You mean you wanted me to..." Mulan makes a hand gesture, because words have deserted her.
It must get the point across, because Shang actually blushes. "I thought about it," he admits. "Kind of... a lot."
"Is that all?" Mulan punches him in the chest, not as hard as she can, but close. "I thought it was something horrible! That's easy!"
Shang looks at her, bemused. "But... Mulan, you don't have..."
She climbs out of his lap and goes over to her luggage. "That's what you think!" she calls back cheerily.
It only takes her a minute to find it, carefully wrapped in silk. Mulan brings the bundle over to her husband and deposits it in his hands.
Shang unwraps it, big hands gentle, then looks up at her. "Is this... this can't be what I think it is."
Mulan sits in front of him. "It was a gift from my grandmother," she tells him. "She told me that I might, uh... want to 'do my wifely duties' when you weren't around, and this could help."
He traces the shaft of the bronze dildo with one finger, as if it might break. "Does it?" he asks.
She grins. "Yes, it does." Just thinking about the last time she spent a lonely night with it makes her squirm happily. "So I thought maybe I could..."
Shang breathes out. "Yes," he says. "I mean -- could we? Please?"
Mulan leans across the space separating them and kisses him. "Yes," she says.
"We need oil," Shang says. "I can --" He gets up and half-runs to the tent flap.
"Shang!" He turns back. "Pants."
When he comes back with a pot of oil, Shang undresses again immediately, and kneels on the bedroll in front of Mulan. "I want to -- like this," he says, bending forward to put his weight on his forearms. "Is that --"
"However you want," Mulan says, and kisses his forehead.
The oil makes it easy to slip her finger into Shang's body, and if she was a little nervous at first, the noises he makes give her confidence. He groans and pushes back against her fingers, and when Mulan says, "I think you're ready for it," his yes sounds like he's been waiting for years.
"That's right," Mulan says, deepening her voice like she used to when she was Ping. "I want to put it in you."
Shang laughs, a little desperately. "Thank you, Ping," he says.
Mulan nudges the head of the dildo, slick with oil, against his opening, and he arches back against it. "Don't rush me... sir," she says.
"Ping, please --" and she can't hold back; she pushes in, in, and Shang takes it for her. He gasps, and Mulan strokes his back with her free hand.
"You're doing a good job, sir," she tells him in her Ping voice.
Shang cries out wordlessly and spills his seed. Mulan is surprised; she expected this to go on much longer. "Oh, Mulan," he says.
"Not Ping?" she asks. "Do you want me to take it out?"
"Yes, I think that's -- enough for now." He groans as she slides the dildo out of him and sets it aside. "And no, not Ping. Or -- not only Ping."
"I don't mind being Ping for you," Mulan tells him.
Shang gets up on his knees and kisses her. "You really are a once-in-a-dynasty kind of woman."
Mulan leans her forehead against his. "I love you," she says, because really, that's all that matters.
"I love you, too. All of you."
Life as Li Shang's wife is strange, but Mulan wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.