Dedicated, once again, to my friend, TheLaughingStockOfPasserby. She seems to be my only muse these days xP.
Disclaimer: I do not own Fullmetal Alchemist, as I am not capable of making that awesome of a series.
She finds out five days before. Even worse? She finds out from someone else.
The maids are always clucking about some scandal, so she walks past them and almost completely ignores their conversation as they wash clothes outside. Al-sama is expecting her visit today, she really can't waste time...
"... Amestrian leaving in five days?"
Mei stops still in her tracks. Amestrian? What-
Her eyes widen.
"Excuse me," she calls sharply from the window. The woman who spoke jumps, spins to face Mei, and bows hastily. "Young Mistress, good afternoo-"
"Good afternoon," she snaps impatiently. Mama had taught her to be a lady, but that doesn't mean she has to sound as if she likes it. "Tell me: what is that about the Amestrian you were saying? Is it Alphonse-sama, I presume?"
The maid squeaks and laces her fingers together, ringing her hands nervously, "Well, supposedly- Elric-sama, yes- has been offered a job within Amestris' new government." She glances at her companion for help; no luck, her eyes have never left the cloth she's furiously scrubbing. "... Apparently he's taking it and will be leaving in less than a week, my lady."
Mei's heart drops in her stomach with a thud.
The maid tries to assure her (tries to plead with her) that she heard it from one of the other servants, that it is probably just a rumor, Princess.
But Mei doesn't hear her, her feet already numbly carrying her through the halls. Even if she did, Mei knows Xingese rumors usually have the unfortunate fate of being true.
She replays the moment in her imagination again and again as she approaches his wing.
Al-sama will passionately exclaim (or laugh; Mei will be satisfied with either) that he would never, could never leave, how could she possibly think that?
His room entrance is within sight.
Perhaps- no, she's almost sure- this will be the moment when he finally, finally gets down on one knee in that Western gesture that means everything, declare his undying love for her because he sees she is a woman (seventeen) now and grandly reveals an enormous diamond ring.
She is in front of his door now.
She will gasp and blush but also expect it (after all, hadn't she just imagined this?), and nod yes, of course I'll marry you. He will then sweep her off of her feet like all those Prince Charmings from the books he's given to her because he is her Prince Charming and then-
The door opens before she reaches the handle.
He almost walks into her until a split-second too early he sees her. The blonde man stops short, hand still grasping the shouji.
It isn't the visible suitcase behind him that makes her dream shatter. It's his eyes.
They are staring at her with a growing mixture of sadness and guilt, because they know that she knows. She can almost see her look of betrayal swimming in the sky blue.
It seems like time has stopped before he clears his throat to say something- possibly to invite her in- but Mei is faster. She quickly backs away, murmuring a curt "excuse me" and turns toward the direction she came from. Her chin wobbles a little, but she holds her head high and her back straight and will ignore the tears smarting her eyes for the reason that she is seventeen, too old to be disappointed now.
That night in a fit of rage, she takes one of his fairytale books down from her shelf- she doesn't even glance at the name, doesn't care anymore- and tears whole pages from the spine, one by one. "I though you'd enjoy this, Mei." His words and accompanying smile echo in her head (heart), driving her so mad she attempts to throw them in flames.
Xiao Mei convinces her not to, however, and she is left on a floor surrounded by scattered pages, crying helplessly into Xiao Mei's fur as the small mammal nuzzles her owner's head.
There are times Mei can't stand her brother. She has a feeling this was going to be one of them.
It is two days before he is set to leave- she hasn't noticed, she hasn't- when the emperor asks her to dine with him and some guests that night. It isn't as fancy as it sounds: the emperor prefers casual dinners in his chambers with a few close friends, tops. She finds it odd, as she had eaten with him only several nights before- but she tells the messenger that yes, she will attend, if he would just allow her to dress more formally, please.
When she arrives, it is her brother who greets her, dressed in simple trousers and a loose shirt similar to what he used to wear as a prince.
For the most part, they are on good terms, better than any of their other half-siblings. He teases and ruffles her hair, laughing when she huffs that she's seventeen, too old for this. But he is kind (if not aggravating), both to their country and to her family, proving their previous opinions of him false. She doesn't admit it, but she considers him her favorite sibling.
There is only Ran Fan in the chamber other than themselves, and she nods in greeting to the older woman. They too have gotten along quite better now, respecting one another even through their contrasting personalities. She likes to think that perhaps Ran Fan considers her a younger sister she never had- how being sparring partners became more sisterly than braiding one another's hair is beyond her imagination, but still. They were about to become legally "part-sisters" anyway: Ling has already asked for her hand in marriage, and although the royal counselors objected now, Mei knows he will ultimately win the argument. Yaos have an irritating habit of getting their way.
Ling cheerfully clarifies the guests will be here shortly, so Mei joins Ran Fan and purposely brings up a subject that makes the other chastise her so it can take her mind off-
He's standing right there.
It's not just him, of course- Zampano and Jerso are towering from behind- but it doesn't matter because he is bowing solemnly to both her and Ran Fan in traditional greeting and her brother is behind him with this grin so infuriatingly big that she believes that if he didn't have the Philosopher's Stone she might kill him then and there.
His eyes meet hers once he straightens, and she thinks her breath hitches for just a second. She mentally notes to scold herself for that later.
The dinner is... Awkward, for the two of them at least. It's the first time they don't speak to each other, the first time Mei is unusually soft-spoken. Instead, they start their own conversations- hers with his bodyguards (they've always held a soft spot for her, buying her whatever she wants when she shows them Xing outside of the palace... But she never takes advantage of it. Really.) and his with Ling and Ran Fan. She occasionally feels him glancing at her, yet refuses to look back. At some point he says his job will be an international diplomat, and although someday he'd like to be one strictly for Xing (their eyes meet again, but hers just as quickly fall to her plate), his position will be so low he won't have much of a choice as to where he goes.
After this, it seems every time she looks in their direction he's looking back with a gaze of... She doesn't know, yet it makes her swallow thickly. But Mei doesn't like to lose a battle. She eats her dinner quickly and excuses herself before bidding them all goodnight.
The night before he is set to leave, he visits her in her room.
A servant announces his arrival, asking whether she will accept him or not. She scrutinizes herself in the mirror: she is wearing a simple beige tunic- not exactly what a princess should wear- but she decides this will show him she's mature and feels comfortable in her own skin. She nods, only because there's a small part of her that admits wanting to talk to him one last time.
He enters and moves to the table after she politely (stiffly) tells him to have a seat as she pours tea. They share an tense silence, the only sounds of her pouring the liquid and clinking the cups filling the room. When she joins him, presenting the tea, she can see him slightly smile- there is a sugar bowl next to the traditional green tea, a symbol of her outrageously sweet tooth. The hostess doesn't smile back, choosing instead to lift her nose higher.
Just as she puts the tea to her lips, however, she hears him utter a gentle "I was going to tell you that day."
The girl (woman, woman, woman!) doesn't say anything, just continues to sip her tea; but at least she's looking (glaring) at him now. He sighs and stares back just as unwavering, albeit kinder.
"Listen to me, Mei-" the way he says her name is just... Different this time, and her eyes widen- "I've had five incredible years here. Truly. I think I'm in love with everything here: the culture, the sights, the smells, the tranquility, the people... But you have to understand that Amestris is my home, regardless of the other lands I go to. Unfortunately, it still has its share of problems with other countries, so... I want to help my country in any way I can. I want it to have the peace it deserves, Mei."
Throughout his explanation her eyes fall lower and lower to the fists gripping her pants, to the point that her knuckles go white and she can't stand to look at him. He stays for a couple of minutes until he finally doubts she'll respond, regardless of how long he's there. The young man slowly gets up and walks to the door.
"... I don't want you to leave."
She feels like a bumbling ten year old all over again, but right now she doesn't know his heart just broke for this girl whose bubbly energy fills the room, this girl who is perhaps even more adventurous and daring than his brother, this girl whose cheerfulness makes him smile every day...
This girl he's quietly fallen in love with.
Suddenly Mei is pulled against a warm chest as he murmurs "I don't either" against her hair, and this... Well, this officially brings her sobbing into his shirt, ladylike worries of disgusting snot be damned. Al sits there and rubs her back until her tears subside a little, when all are left are hiccups.
"Come with me."
Her head snaps up (luckily it only misses his chin by an inch), not quite believing he's serious. Although his face is a little red, it seems he is. Her heart flutters at a hummingbird's speed, but... Leave Xing? Xing is where she was born, Xing is where she lives, Xing has-
... Gotten boring now.
He doesn't seem to notice the realization, and continues quickly. "If you find you don't like it, then it's fine: you can come back here anytime you'd like. It might not be as, well, nice as your life is now, but please-" she wonders if this look of sheer determination will always be shared among the Elrics-"Just try it... With me."
Her mouth twists and her eyebrows furrow, but she's long ago made her decision.
The princess pulls out of his reach, stands up, and walks to her patio door, opening it to reveal Xiao Mei (who is earnestly listening in). She haughtily tells him she hasn't quite forgiven him yet, so he has to help her pack and by the way, she will absolutely not leave without her panda.
It takes him a second to register that what she's saying is quite different than her tone, and he chuckles out "Of course," before rising as well.
Though she's seventeen and continually tells herself she's too old for this, his smile makes her believe in those old fairytales again.
The emperor receives a note the next morning.
"Annoying Yao Brother! Left with Al-sama this morning. Will be back... Well, actually I don't know when I'll be back, but tell Ran Fan we'll see which of us gets married first, hm? -Mei Chang
P.S. Took one of the shipping carts from the kitchen. Al-sama said we needed something to put Xiao Mei in on the ship because apparently animals aren't allowed to be outside of confined cages during transportation... As an emperor I think you should change that law. Just saying."
Ling grins and puts it in one of his drawers- as a keepsake to make Al blush the next time he sees him, of course.
When he remembers to tell Ran Fan several hours later, she nearly has a heart attack planning how the hell he's going to explain to the Chang family that their royal daughter ran off with the foreigner.
"You're sure you still want to do this, Mei?"
She giggles lightheartedly, the wind blowing through her loose braids ever so slightly. "It's a little late for that," she nods her head in the direction of the quickly disappearing port, "Don't you think, Al-san?" He laughs as well. He has insisted on her calling him just "Alphonse", but he understands what a large transformation it is for her- on so many levels. (He doesn't realize that she can't wait for the day when she can say it as carefree and comfortable as she's feeling right now. Alphonse.)
Zampano and Jerso are nowhere to be seen, animal instincts telling them when three and four's a crowd. Xiao Mei has been let out of her cage on the firm condition from her owner that she was not to get caught. They themselves are leaning against the rail of the deck, leisurely listening to the waves roll beneath their feet. She starts again, more softly. "It's just as you said about Amestris. Xing will always be a part of me, a part of who I am... But it has no opportunities for me. What will I do, just wait around the palace, simply 'The Emperor's Sister'? Or wed a random lord, locked in a room as a living doll?" She shrugs, then winks playfully at Al. "This isn't just about you, Al-san. It's about me setting my own future, too. Besides, we'll be back, won't we?" She cocks her head, beaming, and he concedes that yes, of course they'll be back.
When the port is finally as thin as the horizon, she flexes her fingers in a small stretch. "So what's our first destination when we get there?"
He chuckles again (she thinks she can get used to that too: that warm, honeyed laugh) and offers her his arm, proceeding to walk her downstairs as he explains that first they must go to Central Headquarters, but then they'll be able to go to Rush Valley for a bit, since he has yet to meet his new niece...
Later that night, she finds a book on her cabin's desk. There's a note on top of it.
I found this on your writing table while we were packing last night- er, what remained of it. For some reason I have a feeling I was the reason for its poor... Demise, so I repaired it using alchemy. If you just didn't want it anymore, well, I'm sorry for that too and forget I did anything! Haha.
She smiles affectionately, fingertips barely grazing the cover before she decides to put it away- for a long time. She'll save it for her children, certainly; but although she still believes in fairytales, it dawns on her that she's never really wanted one.
Because she's been waiting seventeen years for her prince not only to come, but to stay with her. And she can think of one that does that now.
Author's Note: Not much to say, except I really enjoyed writing this :) Hope you enjoyed it as well!