After the doctor strips Chang of her knives and threatens to remove Lan Fan's remaining arm if she uses it for any violence, they confine their war to petty battles of scathing looks and cruel tricks. Chang catches Lan Fan doing sit-ups in bed and snitches. Lan Fan shuts the bear-cat in a spare room until Chang finally locates the source of its muffled cries. One will leave the room if the other is already occupied in it, as if running from an unbearable stench.
The doctor enters the field when Lan Fan eats nothing for dinner for the third night in a row.
"What's the matter?" he demands. "I will not have you die on me, if I have to spoon-feed you myself." He turns his harsh gaze to Chang. "And if you poisoned her food, so help me—"
"Not poison," Lan Fan interrupts. "She will not allow me to eat." She points to Chang's fork, tines resting on her napkin. "She is of the royal house. Until her utensils are crossed on her plate, she has not finished her meal. I am of a lower class; I cannot eat until she has."
The doctor is silent. Then, he seizes one of the books scattered across the counter, and whacks Chang over the head.
The girl is so stunned that she doesn't even yelp. Lan Fan doubts she has ever been hit in her life; laying a hand on a princess could put a commoner in prison for decades. Her mouth is pursed in shock, wide eyes beginning to fill with tears, and it's so funny that Lan Fan laughs out loud.
The doctor hits her, too.
"Now, listen closely," the doctor snarls as Lan Fan clenches her teeth, feeling a lump start to throb on the crown of her head. "I'll say this slowly, because you obviously didn't understand me earlier. You are not in Xing. You are in my house. I don't care what class you are or how royal your blood is. I don't care what laws you follow in your country, but goddammit I will give you the bashing of a lifetime if you break any of my rules. My first rule? Patients will finish all of their meals."
He sits back down.
They clean their plates.
The nightmares are frequent and relentless. Lan Fan is plagued with recurring flashes of the creature hiding in an old man's body, killing the Young Master with one swipe of his sword. She awakens covered in sweat, gripping her aching shoulder.
She stumbles down the hall to the kitchen and manages to fill a glass with water with her remaining hand. There is a light in the back room where the doctor retired for the night, but the kitchen is bathed in shadow, sky cloudy and moonless.
She can feel Chang's chi in the living room, but Lan Fan stiffens in fright nonetheless when Chang's voice sounds from the couch.
"I heard you scream."
Even though she cannot see Chang and Chang cannot see her, Lan Fan flushes with embarrassment.
"If you're in pain, don't be a martyr," Chang says accusingly when Lan Fan doesn't answer. "Wake him up for medication, he won't mind, even if he does complain."
"It was a dream," Lan Fan grudgingly admits.
"Oh." She hears the rustling of blankets as Chang shifts on the couch. "Well, close your door, if you would. You woke me up."
Lan Fan leaves the empty glass in the sink and goes back to her room. She kicks the door shut, letting it slam.
Late at night, she is roused by the faint sound of crying.
In the morning, she doesn't mention it to Chang.
When she can stand the greasy ends in her eyes no longer, Lan Fan approaches the doctor.
"Could you help me wash my hair?"
The doctor looks at her and she feels like he was there in the room, watching her try and fail to make a bun with one hand. Her cheeks grow warm as he sighs quietly; she is ashamed that she will receive his sympathy through her pitifulness.
Her embarrassment and her blush fade when he hollers for Chang.
"Help her," he says, nodding to Lan Fan. "I'm no good at girl-sorts-of-things." He pushes them to the sink against Chang's high-pitched complaints and Lan Fan's clipped refusals. "And I better not find anyone strangled or drowned."
He slams the bathroom door shut, and they hear the lock click.
"This is degrading," Chang seethes, turning on the taps. "A princess washing a guard's hair!" Lan Fan doesn't reply.
Chang dunks her head into the sink none too gently; the water is too hot for her liking but Lan Fan remains silent, determined to get through this quickly. The girl's fingers knead at her scalp, roughly picking through tangles and knots.
"Your hair is full of blood," Chang says, splashing water on Lan Fan's nose. "Have you bathed at all since you came here?"
"No," Lan Fan answers curtly.
"Neither have I," Chang responds, but this time there is less of an edge in her voice. Soap bubbles fizz in Lan Fan's ears. "I'm probably as dirty as you are. We fought that monster in the sewers, ugh. Stupid thing, it wouldn't let me near the source of…"
Lan Fan stiffens. "You feel it too?"
Chang's hands halt. "The people? Beneath the earth?"
"Yes." Lan Fan runs her tongue across her teeth. "What do you think that is?"
"I don't know. But it's not natural," Chang muses, unplugging the drain. "I would have found it, if it hadn't been for that monster. But then again, if it hadn't been for that monster," Chang's voice turns sickly sweet, "I never would have met him."
"Oh you know," Chang continues, wringing her hair into a towel. "Mr. Elric, the Amestrian alchemist! He saved me!"
Lan Fan frowns, water droplet moving steadily down her cheek. "That rude little thing? I've never met anyone more short-tempered and uncivil in my—"
"Not him," Chang laughs. "Oh no, not Edward Elric! His brother!" She sighs with a far-off look in her eyes. "Such a gentleman! And so tall…"
She scowls when Lan Fan snorts.
"Go ahead, laugh at me! You Yaos know nothing of love."
Lan Fan could reply that Changs know even less; that's why their clan is so small. She could reply that it doesn't matter what Yaos don't know, they do know they're going to have the royal house next.
But though the door may be locked, the doctor is still on the other side.
Lan Fan replies, "At least I'm not the one in love with a suit of armor."
"He won't be a suit of armor forever!" Chang insists. "Besides, it's a fine suit of armor!"
"If you say so. Better than the other brother, I guess."
That launches Chang into a long tirade about the Fullmetal Alchemist; she does a perfect imitation. She seems to enjoy talking about the Elrics. Chang, Lan Fan thinks, seems to enjoy talking a lot.
In Xing, Lan Fan wouldn't hold conversations with Chang. Arguments, probably. Insults, certainly. Silence, most likely, because a person of the Chang clan and a person of the Yao clan aren't really supposed to talk at all. If they were in Xing, decorum and distance would prevent them from ever acknowledging each other.
But they are not in Xing. They are in the doctor's house. The doctor's house, where his rules are law and the law must say, somewhere, that patients have to get along, because how would it be possible otherwise, that a Yao would consent to converse with a Chang, that a princess would consent to wash a guard's hair?
Chang sets down the comb and knocks on the door. They hear the lock click again and the doctor nods approvingly from the doorway upon discovering that neither of them has strangled or drowned the other.
"Thank you." The drip falls from her face to the floor when she bows. "You didn't pull on my hair as hard as you could have."
"That's it," the doctor declares, "I've had enough." He hauls Lan Fan out of bed and walks her down the hall, supporting her right side as she wobbles unsteadily, weight uneven. "You are not sitting and moping around all night."
He dumps her onto the couch, disregarding Chang already seated on the opposite end. Lan Fan contemplates getting up and finding another seat, but the doctor occupies the only chair not buried in junk, and the floor is just as littered.
Chang doesn't move. So neither does she.
The doctor digs a radio out of the mess and twiddles with the dials for a while, cursing in Amestrian when each turn only yields more static. Finally, he finds a news channel and satisfied, leans back in his armchair, cigarette dangling lazily from his lips.
Lan Fan feels something warm against her leg and looks down to find the bear-cat there. Usually it hisses when she comes near, but now it only sniffs curiously at her knee.
"Her name is Xiao Mei," Chang supplies.
The tiny thing clambers into Lan Fan's hand cautiously, pink tongue flickering at her fingers. Coming to a ultimatum, it curls into a ball of fur in her palm, falling asleep.
"She likes you." Chang sounds as surprised as Lan Fan is.
The foreign voices on the radio drone on, and soon the doctor is asleep as well, snoring with his head drooping forward. Lan Fan watches him for a while, then finds her attention turning to Chang, sitting with her knees tucked under her chin.
"You have the Young Master's ears," Lan Fan blurts out without thinking, and grows red when Chang faces her.
Lan Fan nods, and Chang traces her earlobes thoughtfully.
"Hmm. I never would've known. I've never met any of my siblings before. Before I came here, the Yao family was only a name to me." Chang's eyebrows narrow thoughtfully, and again Lan Fan is reminded of the Young Master. "You're different than what I expected, though."
"So are you," Lan Fan agrees, and she finds herself smiling at Chang, the princess, the enemy, the little girl. Chang smiles back.
The broadcast changes from brusque Amestrian voices to a mellow, soothing tune, and for a moment Lan Fan knows of nothing but the doctor's steady breaths, the warm bear-cut tucked into her hand, the familiarity in her lord's half-sister's face. She knows of no war, no clans, no nation but the one under the doctor's roof.
Lan Fan doesn't recognize the song, but she hums along anyway.