Title: Synthemata

Author: Tiamat's Child

Rating: G

Fandom: Fullmetal Alchemist – Mangaverse

Pairing/s, character/s: Knox, Ran Fan

Disclaimer: Not mine.

Notes: Spoilers for chapter 47 on up – though I haven't read 62 yet.

Summary : Ran Fan has not had time to re-learn everything.

Synthemata

"Doctor Knox?" Ran Fan finally asked.

She had successfully wriggled her arm through the sleeve of the shirt he'd lent her, and got the other side set on her shoulder. She'd even managed to maneuver the collar down and straight, and buttoned the front up properly, but it was, she had discovered, more or less impossible to put your hair in a proper bun one handed. She had, after several tries and numerous trapped fingers, managed a loose and sloppy knot that was annoyingly off center, but she was not going to meet this mechanic friend of Alphonse and Ed's like that. Leaving her hair down was out of the question. She intended to look like a respectable and healthy prospective patient, not an invalid who shouldn't be out of bed.

"What is it?" he answered, without looking up from the paperwork spread across his kitchen table. Ran Fan sat down in the chair across from him and carefully did not shiver. Knox kept his kitchen in mildly less decrepit condition than the rest of his house, but the room still did weird things to the ambient energy patterns. They couldn't, she was sure, be helping his recovery.

"Would you put my hair up for me?" she said, holding out the comb he'd lent her, and her pins.

He looked up then, staring at her with the particular twist to his usual cynical expression that meant "You must be joking, because no one would say something that stupid in a non-ironic fashion". She kept her face still. She wasn't as good at that as she'd like, but she didn't have her mask anymore, so her face would have to do. "Don't you want to do it?" he said, "I haven't done a woman's hair in years. I'll muck it up."

"I tried," she said, "You can't do worse than me, with one hand."

He snorted. "Don't be so sure."

"I won't believe you until you actually do make it worse," she told him, and dropped her comb and pins onto the piece of paper in front of him.

"Watch it – the ink's still wet on that."

"The pins have had worse, and it might be a mercy to the comb." This was true. The comb was old, and missing two teeth. If Knox's wife had been in this house with him, she would have thrown it away and got him another long ago. But she had left, and even after only a few days with Knox Ran Fan wasn't inclined to judge her for it.

"But will it be a mercy to your hair?"

"The ink is black. So is my hair. Where's the trouble?"

He shook his head and laughed a little – a short, harsh sort of sound, like he'd forgotten how to laugh at anything that wasn't wholly inappropriate. "You're really not a girly girl. All right. There's a stool over by the stove that ought to put you at the right height."

She tugged it over with one of her feet. Bending over far enough to do it with her good arm would probably hurt a fair bit, since her bruises from her bad landing were just starting to get to the nasty tender stage, and despite what Knox might have suggested, she didn't actually enjoy hurting herself more than she had to. She sat down next to him, and held still.

His hands were more tentative than they were while bandaging her injuries. There was never any hesitation in his body language then, only steady competence, a little rough, but sure. With this he seemed tense, as if he was afraid he couldn't do it, as if it were one thing to be asked to heal, and another to be asked to offer care this way.

Ran Fan couldn't have said she was entirely comfortable with the situation herself. It had been a very long time since anyone else had touched her hair. Normally she twisted it into place herself, deftly and surely. It was the easiest thing in the world, and among the most familiar. But that had been when she had two hands, and the motions she was accustomed to required both. It was clumsy, with only one hand, and no matter what she did she pulled her hair too far to the right without the left hand to counter.

A piece of her hair snagged on one of Knox's calluses, and his hands pulled nervously away. "Sorry, sorry," he said, "I haven't done this."

"It's all right," she said, amused. He was never that apologetic when he hurt her tending her wounds. "You didn't hurt me."

"Heh," he said, gathering her hair and starting again, "I suppose I didn't, hmm? Tough girl like you."

"I have calluses on my hands too," she said, and was grateful when he just hummed.

"My daughter always said I pulled too hard," he told her, after a long stretch of silence. He'd put up her hair and taken it down again three times.

Ran Fan felt her heart's rhythm shift, just a little, against the skin of her throat. "Is she very young? Young girls always say these things."

"Ha. Not so very young anymore. She's twelve now."

"Young enough," Ran Fan said.

Knox snorted. "Funny thing for you to say. How old are you? Fourteen, fifteen?"

"I will be sixteen in a few months," she said, and smiled to herself.

"Too young for this."

"Mm."

"Damn it." He twisted her hair too tight. She didn't react. It took a moment, but his grip relaxed, and he tucked the ends over and around each other, threading the long pins through to hold it close. "That's the best this is going to get. You'll have to ask the kid if you want it done better."

Ran Fan snorted. "I would only let her at my back if I wanted my throat cut."

Knox stood, the chair scraping and then clattering as he pushed it back. Ran Fan listened to it. One of the legs was too short. "It'll have to stay that way then."

Ran Fan turned and smiled up at him. "Thank you."

He shrugged, and swept the papers on the table into a pile. "I've got to get these in the mail. If I come back and find either one of you kids bleeding out in a puddle there will soon be another one to match it, got it?"

"Yes, Doctor!" She saluted, as she'd seen Amestris' military do, just to see how he'd react.

He tapped her on the head with the stack, now safely stuffed into an envelope. "Don't get cheeky, kid. I haven't had a rank in years."

"As you say," she said, and inclined her head instead, without thinking, baring the back of her neck to him, a gesture she hadn't made since she was a very small child, standing in front of the doctor who'd bound and healed her master's wrist, when he fell and failed to turn into the fall, didn't roll and bounce and come out laughing, diving for her throat, trying to bring her to the ground, but tumbled and crumpled and lay very still for a moment. She'd been so afraid, she hadn't been able to breathe for a space, just as he hadn't, and then he moved and her movement rushed back to her, and she was demanding to know if he was fine, and he was saying that he was, but his wrist hurt. It had happened so fast, and she had been so grateful to the doctor who made things better – a hard old woman with eyes like rivers.

Knox's eyes were nothing like rivers, but she was grateful anyway.

Knox stood very still in front of her. "Don't bow to me either," he said, his voice even gruffer than usual, hoarse, as if all those years of cigarettes had caught up to him at once. She stayed where she was.

She could feel the floorboards give as he turned and strode away, a little too firm, a little too deliberate to be easy. "Thank you," she called after him.

She could hear the front door click shut.