Mulan thinks that she should have known better than anyone. But she too hears the stories of the fearsome, fearless Captain Li Shang, and like the others, she builds an image in her head, of height and bulging muscles and a distinctly deep, very male voice.
So when the woman strides out in front of them, Mulan lets her eyes catch on braided hair for too long, drawing Captain Li’s attention and sharp words. She refuses to be cowed, but there is something in those eyes, the arched brow, that almost seems to dare her. Mulan settles her shoulders, lifts her chin.
It isn’t until later, much later, when Mulan’s hair is long again and her wounds scarred, that she thinks to actually ask. “How did you do it?”
Shang doesn’t pretend to not know – it’s not in her nature. Instead, her eyes look beyond the troops they have been watching, the men they are expected to lead (it sends butterflies fluttering around Mulan’s stomach to think of, and this, this is much easier), and her smile grows softer, sweeter. “My father,” she says eventually. “He cared only that his child could carry on the family tradition, our honour, in the ways that mattered most. And no one argued with the general.” Her smile doesn’t change as she turns towards her, and something catches in Mulan’s throat.
“It gets easier,” Shang promises. She claps Mulan’s shoulder like she was still the boy who’d joined her ranks, and when she walks out to meet her men, Mulan is at her side.
(It’s months yet before Shang kisses her.)