I was watching Mulan yesterday in class, and when I came to this scene, I instantly thought: I have to write on this. I own nothing.
What to say?
Shang is not by nature a man who has difficulty finding words. Usually, the only situations that would render him speechless would be the ones that provoked anger; his eloquence flies out the window with rage.
Finding himself lost for words in a situation not involving anger is a new experience for him, he has to admit.
Mulan moves away from the others and that smile she flashes up at him has more of the mischievous and more of the knowing in it than Shang is entirely comfortable with. So what are you going to say to me? it communicates.
Yes, what am I going to say?
This is awkward. Twelve hours ago Shang would have had no difficulty speaking to the one who stands before him but twelve hours ago he was under the impression that she was a he.
Twelve hours ago Shang knew Fa Mulan as Fa Ping and when he discovered her deception she was left, still recovering from her wound, to die among the snowy mountains. He could have executed her outright but didn't, "I did it to save my father's life" ringing all too keenly in his ears and evoking the most unwanted of emotions: sympathy. Leaving Mulan alive on the mountain with provisions and her horse (despite the even greater need than before for such an animal) was the result of that.
Shang had been more merciful than he should have been, but looking at her now this all still feels so awkward.
There are things that make sense now. Ping didn't have the most masculine of appearances: feminine face, fine hair, the complete lack of even the slightest hint of facial hair, a rather high-pitched voice and he had, as Shang discovered firsthand, small, soft, uncallused hands.
These are things that make a great deal more sense when coupled with the development that Fa Ping is actually Fa Mulan and Shang was never dealing with a man at all.
Now, things are, as Shang has already emphasized, awkward. He could look at Ping's pretty boy looks with some measure of disdain. Now, said pretty boy looks evoke entirely different feelings within him and make Shang really, really wish he could get by without saying anything to her.
What to say to a girl you left behind to die then showed back up and essentially saved your skin?
Mulan's smile grows slightly and Shang's throat finally comes unstuck.
"You fight good," Shang manages awkwardly (Again with that word, he thinks frustratedly) delivering a rough clap to her shoulder like he would give a soldier who had just killed someone important. Come to think of it, that's what this is. Doesn't stop it from feeling all wrong though.
He knows immediately that this was the wrong thing to say when her face falls and she looks away. "Oh…" Mulan's grip on the sword of Shan-Yu tightens noticeably. "Thank you." She walks past him without another word, mounts her horse, and rides away to the ecstatic fanfare of the crowd.
Shang resists the urge to slap his forehead. Damn it. He may not be all that good with women but Shang knows when he's made a colossal blunder, and this is it. Things were so less complicated when she was a man.
Even without the Emperor's gracious guidance, Shang's thoughts only run in one direction after this:
Find out where she lives, and bring flowers.
No, wait; I'll tell her she forgot her helmet. At least that way it won't look like I'm there without a legitimate reason.