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Fortitude

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The ceremony's festivities rumble up the hill. Mulan turns her back with a fond, close-lipped smile, stumbling through the dusty, old dirt with bare feet and undressing herself. She remembers carefully slipping together the hidden clinches and buckles to her father's Imperial Army uniform weighing her body. How the pieces of steel and hardened leather rasped together.

Mulan's fingers work as carefully as before, peeling off the silken, thick layers and then her moon-pale qipao beneath her robes, discarding her expensive clothing and the amber-colored jewelry into a gigantic berry bush along the river.

Feminine. Masculine. Ying. Yang. It needs each other to be complete. She needs to feel complete.

For a little while, she sits by herself with her legs drawn in. Plum and and ruby and honey colors silhouetting Mulan's chin-length hair and her nakedness in the dying light. By the time Shang finds her, Mulan finds herself with winged beetles and dragonflies crawling up her back, along her shoulders and neck. She does not move, eyeing him thoughtfully from a distance.

Her husband dismounts from his stallion, asking worriedly if she's alright, running his dark-gloved fingers through Mulan's fringe and cupping her jaw.

Mulan nods as a response, leaning into him, accepting the half-hug against Shang's broad chest. He's still in his commander uniform. She wanted to be in uniform as well, but her parents deemed it inappropriate — despite being the hero of China.

Shang… gods, he's known every side of her. Every piece rubbing together, making friction. Noise and heat.

"Did you love Ping?"

Shang's eyes meld into amusement. "I did," he admits. "Ping was Mulan. Mulan was Ping. It didn't matter to me if you were a man or a woman. I thought in the beginning it did, because I thought of my Father's disapproval. But I also knew he would loved you too."

"What if I could be… both?" Mulan's breathing stutters. The river gurgles and flows, splashing against her toes and Shang's boots. And they're alone, with their heartbeats out of sync. And all she wants is Shang's arm wrapped around her again. "What if now I could go between being a woman and being a man… becoming fluid… like the water? Would you love me then?"

"I'm sorry…" Shang answers, rueful, and Mulan gulps down the urge to cry. She stands, and he catches her upper arm gently. "I'm sorry you ever felt the need to ask me that. Of course I would love you. I would never stop loving you, Mulan."

A single, glistening teardrop rolls over Mulan's cheek.

She laughs, sweet and deep-pitched, pulling him to the water. Kissing him. Rucking off Shang's armor. He's covered in scars and bulging tendons and smells like the oats from that morning. Before they agreed to ride off to the nearest boat, sailing them to the Emperor. Shang couldn't resist himself, grinning and gasping to her throat, spending himself against Mulan's thighs during the long journey. Touching, worshiping, murmuring confessions of adoration.

They swim in the clear, dark blue waters, bobbing and playfully dunking each other. Velvety orange-and-gold flowers swirling black strands of hair. She glimpses him underwater, submerging further and claiming her lips against her husband's mouth.

Life doesn't need to be perfect. Completeness can be found in the tiniest of ways.

*