Shang walked into his and Mulan’s bedroom but stopped short, his mouth falling open,
“Mulan? What are you doing?”
Mulans eyes widened and she dropped the bandages she’d been using to bind her chest and scrambled to pull her robe up on her shoulders,
“I-I can explain!”
Shang blinked then slowly moved into the room and knelt down next to Mulan, taking both her hands in his, he smiled that soft, slight smile of his and shook his head,
“You don’t have to, just tell me what you need.”
Mulan’s eyes, already wide and stunned, filled with tears, “I- . . . I’m afraid to.”
Shang breathed out through his nose and gave her hands a squeeze, “I love you and I’m here for you no matter what, just tell me what you need.”
Mulan closed her eyes, twin tears leaked out and slid down her cheeks, reddened with shame,
“I need . . . I need to be Ping.”
Shang nodded slowly, leaning forward to kiss Ping on the forehead, “I thought that was it.”
Ping’s eyes snapped open and he bit his lip, “Do you hate me now?”
Shang laughed and used his tunic’s wide sleeve to wipe at Ping’s tears, “No, quite the opposite, I knew something wasn’t right and you were unhappy. I’m just glad you finally told me.” He paused and shrugged, "And I'm glad it wasn't me causing your unhappiness."
PIng looked down at his hand, still in Shang’s, “If you don’t want to stay, I would understand.”
Shang’s face hardened and his eyes narrowed, “I’m not going anywhere. Ever. I said I was here no matter what and I meant it,” Here his face softened, “Besides, I fell in love with who you are on the inside long before I knew anything about your outside.”
PIng’s eyebrow rose and he snorted, “I think I was meant to think that was touching but it sounded creepy.”
Shang rolled his eyes, “You know what I meant.”
“Yes, I do.”
They were quiet for a moment then Shang cleared his throat and pointed at the bandages, “Do you need help with that?”
Ping blinked and shifted, “If you don’t mind, yes.”
Ping leaned on the doorway while Shang spoke to Ping’s father, mother and grandmother. It was very quiet but then Fa Zhou was always soft-spoken even at his angriest he was a calm man with a powerful storm inside him so it was almost impossible to tell what was happening or how the new was being taken. Although he could distinctly hear Grandmother chuckling from behind the thin door.
The door opened, almost unbalancing Ping as Shang leaned out, he shifted and jerked his thumb toward the interior,
“They want to talk to you.”
Ping shifted, “I wasn’t this nervous when I was face-to-face with the Hun army.”
Shang smiled, “It’ll be fine, I’m here with you.”
He took Ping’s hand and led him in where his parents and grandmother were sitting around the table. Fa Zhou had a tea cup in his hands and was lightly blowing on the steaming drink before taking a slow, calculated sip while Fa Li had her hands folded in her lap with an expressionless face but it was Grandmother Fa that made Ping stop for a moment, the old woman’s face was creased in a wide, knowing grin, her thin arms engulfed in her sleeves and she sat with her head tilted back slightly, nodding every so often.
Fa Zhou looked up and set his cup down, he gestured to the far side of the table, “Sit.”
Ping quickly did with Shang settling next to him, “I-”
Fa Zhou held a hand up, “Before you speak, I have a few questions.”
PIng nodded, looking sideways at Shang nervously.
There was a pause then Fa Zhou tilted his chin back, “Are you unhappy?”
“In . . .In what way?” PIng asked, fighting the urge to fidget.
“In how you were. Before this.” Fa Zhou merely inclined his head toward Ping.
“Oh! Oh. I- . . . Yes.”
“Could have told you that!” Grandmother Fa laughed, earning a raised eyebrow from Fa Zhou and a sigh from Fa Li.
“Are you happy now?” Fa Zhou continued in a commanding voice.
“Yes.” PIng said immediately, sitting a bit straighter, his jaw set.
The corner of Fa Zhou’s mouth twitched in a slight smile, “And you intend to stay with Shang?”
“If . . . If he’ll keep me, yes.” Ping said a bit softer.
Shang sat up resolutely and took Ping’s hand, “I will. Do. That. Keep Ping, I mean.”
Fa Zhou nodded slowly and breathed out, “It is to be 'Ping' then?”
“Yes.” Ping said.
“I will not claim to understand this nor that I know better, you have always been a child that knows their own mind and to deny a mind freedom to be itself and know itself is like putting a cup over a candle, it’s brightness will be snuffed out and none will enjoy it’s warmth or light. And I know that I speak for the family when I say I would rather have a happy, living son then an unhappy daughter, and I am sure that kind of unhappiness might as well be death."
PIng’s eyes widened and he opened his mouth but Fa Zhou raised a hand,
“Now you know ours and Shang’s feelings on the matter but before we make any definitive answers or find the way forward, I require one thing of you.”
PIng swallowed and leaned slightly forward, “Yes?”
“You must go to the shrine and pray to the ancestors for guidance, convene with them on this matter. Once you have done so and have their counsel, we will decide what to do next.”
Ping nodded, “I will do that.”
They were quiet for a moment as Fa Zhou picked his tea cup back up and drank deeply now that his tea had cooled. Ping cleared his throat and looked around,
“So . . . you’re not mad at me?”
Grandmother Fa laughed out loud now, throwing her hands up, “‘Mad’? How can we be mad when you could see this coming from a mile off!”
“We aren’t nearly as surprised as you might think,” Fa Li smiled, “It is a lot to take in but then considering the kinds of things we’ve been through with you, this is the easiest to process.”
Shang smiled, “See? I told you it would be fine.”
Fa Zhou nodded, “I suggest spending the night in the shrine, in the morning we will discuss this further.”
Ping nodded and poured himself a cup of tea noting out of the corner of his eye that Fa Zhou and Grandmother Fa exchanged smiles and a wink.
The family were gathered at the foot of the hill below the shrine, it had never looked so far away or so imposing before, Ping swallowed and looked back at his family and Shang who gestured for Ping to go on already!
Ping squared his shoulders, set his jaw and started to march up to the shrine. Grandmother Fa leaned over to Shang and muttered behind her whizzend hand,
“Why is he walking like he has a stick up his ass?”
Shang shrugged, “I have no idea, he used to do that back in the army, not sure why.”