Lan Fan yawned. She opened her little mouth wide enough for everyone to see that one of her front teeth was missing. She had totally panicked when it had fallen out. She had been running around, her tiny fist around the tooth, and had shown it to every person she'd met, regardless of the interest they'd shown. The only one sharing her terror had been her master. Ling Yao, six years old at the time, immediately had tried to shove the incisor back in. In the end Lan Fan had been crying even more and the prince had yelled at the tooth 'to go the heck back in there'.
"It's not that tiring. Now sit up and focus." The teacher reprimanded her. The young girl nodded and corrected her body posture. She sat down cross-legged again and rested her elbows on her knees, forming rings with her thumbs and forefingers. She closed her eyes and breathed slowly in and out. As she slipped into a quiet state of mind her tutor began to tidy up the small court in the mansion's backyard. The second the tall man turned away from her, Lan Fan's eyes opened again. She usually was a good student and learned quickly but today she was unable to concentrate on her training. The flow of Chi had to wait for now someone else required her undivided attention. A gangly boy came her way. He was very tall for his age, it seemed his body was growing too fast. His hair already reached down to the small of his back and recently he had started tying it back in a messy ponytail. She had liked the way his hair had fallen loosely over his shoulders but in his opinion he looked cooler now. A wide grin stretched across his lips when he saw her. She didn't move, just followed his every move with her eyes, not even trying to fight the smile that was building up in the corners of her mouth.
"Hey, Lan Fan." Ling greeted her. "Are you done with your training for today?"
He squatted down in front of her, his face just inches away from hers. She nodded and relaxed at once.
"What do you want to do today?" she asked her master. The two children thought about that for some moments. Before the bodyguard-to-be could utter her idea Ling threw his arms over his head with exaggerated excitement and shouted: "Let's play 'King'!"
You could see the girl's face fall. When in doubt the prince always wanted to play 'King'. It was a game he had come up with one rainy afternoon. The rules were simple. He was the king of Xing and had to defend it while Lan Fan was the hostile army that tried to take over the nation. She didn't like his game.
"Let's go!" he yelled and took her hand.
The two children scampered through the estate, Ling laughing, Lan Fan rolling her eyes. She didn't mind putting up with his ideas for Ling was her dearest friend. And every once in a while he let her have her will, but not as often as she would have liked.
"I already stole the food supplies!"
"No, you didn't. I guarded them. See!" the prince pointed at two stones lying in front of the three apples that represented the royal stores. Lan Fan doubted that those two rocks had been there all the time, but didn't say so. It was almost impossible to win an argument with Ling, mostly because of his stubborn attitude. Even though she liked him, a lot, she often was frustrated by his natural assumption that he was right just because he was the heir to the throne. The young girl shook her head and looked at her feet grudgingly. Her playmate climbed on the small wall again from where he gave his orders and looked down at her with a princely expression.
"Again!" He commanded. At her cue Lan Fan jumped from the tree she was squatting in. She crouched lowly in the high grass, changing her original plan in a split-second. She would teach Ling not to cheat. The boy was still waiting on the wall and so had the advantage of height but Lan Fan always had been better at sneaking up on someone. She hid herself in the shadows of the apple trees and silently crept closer, holding her body near to the ground. Ling didn't pay attention to his surroundings, he was busy following the flight path of a bee. Now she was right below him. How could he still not be noticing her?
Grinning evilly she leapt out of her hiding place and crashed into her master. She could hear his surprised gasp as they collided and fell to the ground. She pinned him down mercilessly. Ling was more than stunned to see himself nailed down by his own bodyguard and friend.
"Lan Fan!" he complained, trying to push her away. She didn't let him go. Deciding that she had shocked him quite well she smiled down at him.
"You didn't guard yourself well enough, didn't you, Master?" she sneered.
"That was mean. You cheated."
"You do it all the time." She replied, still smirking. She enjoyed herself to the fullest. She was squatting on Ling's chest and didn't intend on letting him sit up. He struggled but the girl was stronger than him, a fact he would never ever admit in public.
"Fine!" he puffed. "What do you want? I am your hostage."
"I know, Master. I know." She nodded dutifully. She held up her index finger and said: "I want that you stop cheating and I want to play a king, too…and I want to win a game every once in a while."
"You can't play a king." Ling interrupted her. "You're a girl!"
"So what?" she retreated, greatly offended by his words. She knew many people who were that conservative and sexist, people who never stopped complaining about women holding an important office. She never had thought of Ling being like that.
"You can't be a king." He said again. "You just can be a queen." The prince jumped to his feet, smiling reassuringly. He took one of the apples from the trees and cleaned it. The red fruit in his hands reflected the sunlight a bit and, frankly, looked beautiful. With wondering eyes she watched him taking the apple and placing it on her head. She squinted upwards questioningly. Ling took another apple and sat it on his own head, staggering a bit to keep it in place.
"See? Now you're the apple queen and I'm the apple king." He laughed.
"The apple… queen?"
"Yep. Queen of Apple Land and empress of all apples." Ling smiled gleefully. For a couple of seconds Lan Fan was silent and he feared she would think of him as childish.
Then she squeaked: "That is awesome!"
Ling was happy that Lan Fan was happy again and grinned. "Can I win the next game?" she asked quietly; releasing the unlimited force of her puppy-eyes. That was a martial art she had brought to perfection.
He tried to fight back the urge to agree and lost. "Yes, you can win the next one." He sighed in defeat. He would really miss her face when she would be forced to wear a mask all the time. But right now Lan Fan was still nothing but his best friend and that wouldn't change for some years.
Ling grinned and asked: "Do you want to play now?"
"Yes, Master. I'd love to." She chuckled and stood up.
Then the Apple King and his queen ran off together, trying to balance the fruits on their heads.
Ling takes another bite from the fruit in his hands and looks over the roofs of Central City thoughtfully. Greed growls in the back of his mind. He is upset because the prince has the control over the body for now. The apple wasn't as good as the Xingese ones but at least it was better than the tasteless food Envy brought him yesterday. It can't be compared to the sweetness of a red, juice fruit like this one.
'Why do you like apples so much, hm?' The homunculus sighs. He fails to understand the prince he is forced to share his body with. Ling smiles sadly, looking at the apple in his fingers and seeing Lan Fan's face. Then he explains:
"They remind of happier times. When I had a queen."