The Prince and the Pauper-ess: Ling Yao and Lan Fan

He was getting a little bored of his life these days.

Perhaps May was right all those years ago, that Greed had rubbed off on him. He was surrounded by riches and lavish and a harem of beautiful women and food and servants. And yet, he still found himself missing something. No. Wanting something. What more was there to have?

The avarice, Greed would say, always wanting something more.

"Emperor Ling?" he sat up, pulled out of his half-daze that he was in.

"Yes?" was the meeting over? Did he space right through it?

"My lord, we have one more issue that we would like to bring to your attention," his senior advisor spoke for the majority.

"Is it more politics?" he liked the idea of politics; not so sure if he really liked to discuss them.

There was some fidgeting around the table of advisors and councilors and it put him on edge. Apparently, this was about to be an awkward conversation, "It's not politics, so to say, my lord, but it is related politically."

Ling frowned, "Well then, out with it."

"My lord, you are not getting younger," younger? He was only in his twenty-first year… "And as your royal advisors, we would like to stress that it's about the time for you to begin looking for a wife… perhaps produce an heir, especially under the new structure you have organized the country under…"

But he was caught up on the word 'wife', "You want I should get married?"

More fidgeting, "You have a fine harem of beautiful women from established families…"

Ah, yes. The courtesans. All beautiful women, refined, primed and proper, straight backs and upturned chins, with plenty of finances supporting all of them. He hardly paid attention to any of them, frankly. Didn't even know their names.

Ling waved his hand at them, "Fine, fine, I'll consider it," not really.

"My liege, it could become a very desperate issue if not dealt with promptly…"

"I understand," Ling concluded, "I said I'll consider it," the tone of his voice was irritable, and his advisors took that as a hint to get the hell out of the room. They bowed to him and left. He sighed, sitting forward in his chair and resting him arms on his knees.

Marriage? He hadn't even considered it. He'd been busy up until lately. Reorganizing the government, restructuring the borders of the country, getting the clans together. Finding a significant life partner had been far put from his mind. What was he supposed to do, examine his choice of the harem girls and just point to one and say, 'You, produce my heir.'

That… was so wrong.

Ling heaved another sigh and stood out to strip out of his ceremonial robe and crown piece. Some people thought he was a little odd, to prefer to wear commoner clothes and mix with the lower members of the social ladder. But he had a lot of friends in low places and touring the country with them, dressed in his formal emperor wear felt weird.

He was out of the throne room and halfway down the hall when he paused, sensing another presence of chi behind him. He glanced over his shoulder and a small smile lit his face, "I knew you wouldn't be too far behind, Lan Fan." he called out, starting back up walking. Like a phantom, she made no noise behind him, his silent guard shadow, "It's probably never wise for me to leave the palace unsupervised," he continued to comment.

Lan Fan crouched lightly inside a secret passage between the walls next to the Young Lord's conference room. She listened intently to all matters of the meeting, needing to be well informed to best protect him. Many were resistant to the changes he insisted on making. She had to make sure he survived until the changes became permanent.

Then a topic came up which had her muscles tensing. The topic of producing heirs came up, and of choosing a wife. Ling...with a woman? She tilted her head down sharply and told herself to relax. This wasn't her concern.

But for some reason, her chest ached a little. She ignored it and focused her sharp gaze through the peephole once again.

Then the meeting was over, so she rose from her crouch and stretched her leg muscles. Ling stood up slowly, undressed from his official robe, and took off. She hurried after him, but shortly he stopped, forcing her to stop suddenly.

He spoke to her, and her heart jumped in her chest. A small smile lit her face, then disappeared like a wisp of smoke. He resumed walking, and she followed. But her steps became stiff when she remembered what he would be forced to do very shortly.

After some lollygagging around the closest town, Lan Fan in tow as his deadly shadow, Ling returned to the palace only to hear it from his advisors that he had a meeting with the harem girls in the morning.

Needless to say, sleeping that night had been a little bit fitful.

"Riches, money, beautiful women… dude, all you need is immortality and you're all set! Why are you so anxious about the broads?" in his sleep, Greed's voice was an able player.

"It's not what I want…" Ling replied, tossing in his sleep.

The next morning, Ling, dressed to perfection of Emperor, entered the courtyard of the harem girls' residence, his advisors and bodyguards in tow. The girls had their own section of the palace where they slept, yet as his courtesans, they were able to freely walk about the palace.

His face impassive, he glanced around at all of them milling about. Holy shit. He had this many? Since when did that happen?

"Why are there so many?" he leaned over and whispered to one of his councilors. The chattering females nearest him giggled and then shushed up, bowing their heads in deference to him and folding their hands daintily in front of their elaborate robes.

"Noble fathers sell them into your custody, my lord, in hopes that you may find them suitable as heir-bearers."

Well, wasn't that convenient? Definitely going to make that change. No more girls. There were like, twenty five of them, varying in age from as young as May Chang to older than he was. And yet, they all looked exactly alike; intricate robes, artistic hair styles, painted faces like dolls. Beautiful, yes, but… uniform.

"Alright ladies, best faces now, his majesty is here," the matron of the courtesans clapped her hands together and the females flocked together like swirling, colorful birds, forming a line to face him, all with their eyes deferred and hands in front of them.

Ling dragged a hand over his face. This… was going to be a nightmare.

Lan Fan continued to follow Ling, as she always did. She traded off with other bodyguards when she needed sleep, usually when the Young Lord was sleeping. But when he was awake, she wanted to be following him.

And when she followed him in the morning, it became clear his direction. Her muscles tensed up once more and she walked stiffly into the hidden passageway next to the courtyard, and then up onto the roof.

But she was stiff. She watched with a rock in her stomach as the beautiful and graceful girls arranged themselves in the most beautiful display. She didn't look anywhere are beautiful or elegant as those girls. She had a metal arm, definitely unattractive.

And Ling was staring at them. Clearly, he thought they were beautiful. She looked away. God, this was so awkward. Why did she have to have fallen for him?

She sighed, and took another peek. But it was just as painful when some of the girls starting smiling alluringly, and Ling's eyebrows shot high with surprise. He liked it.

She settled back, and then slid down from the roof. She couldn't handle this right now. He was in little danger, but just in case, she summoned the next relief, waiting until he arrived before she slipped away.

She gripped her chest with her real arm and squeezed her eyes shut. She had to get over this. It was not meant to be.

She stumbled out of a hallway and into her bedroom, forgetting to shut the door and she moved over to the edge of her small bed and collapsed on it. She stared down at her metal arm. Her ugly metal arm...

May Chang, followed by her exuberant pet Shao May, skipped through the halls of the palace. She'd just had a lovely breakfast and intellectually stimulating Alkahestry lesson with Alphonse, so she was in high spirits.

The seventeen-year-old Xingese princess had some business with Ling, but upon arriving, the guards told her that his majesty was out in the harem courtyard. May knew what that meant… Ling was looking for a wife.

Which led to another thought. Lan Fan… that woman was so devoted to Ling it was disgusting, really. She'd throw her life away for him, had in fact, on many occasions nearly succeeded. May was curious about how the girl was coping.

The last thing she expected was to actually find Lan Fan in her suites. May was convinced that she would be out with Ling, guarding him from afar as always. But then, how was that surprising? She knew that if Al was out, surveying other girls for the sole purposing of producing an heir… she wouldn't be watching either.

May paused and leaned against the door frame, Shao May circling around her heels, "It doesn't surprise me that you're here while he's there," she jerked her thumb over her shoulder, "I know I wouldn't be able to stand it if Al was picking out a harem woman for the sole purpose of fornicating," she walked further into the room, shutting the door behind her and seating herself on the stool of an unused vanity stand, "Those harem girls are whores, you know," she continued, bracing her hands on the stool between her knees, "Their fathers sell them to the palace for sex, essentially."

Lan Fan looked up in surprise when May entered the room and closed the door, a frown on her delicate features. Why was she here? What did she mean? Could it be that...that she knew how Lan Fan felt?

Oh boy…

Lan Fan shook her head and looked down at her hands. "No... he'll just pick one and have beautiful children who will be worthy of being a prince or princess of this kingdom."

Lan Fan's voice was quiet, and she schooled her features.

May rolled her eyes, "Oh sure, he could do that, but…" she shrugged, "He could have beautiful children with you too, you know… don't sell yourself so short. And don't think I'm the only one that knows that you have some serious feelings for Ling," she smirked, twisting around in the stool so she faced the vanity.

She glanced at Lan Fan from the reflection of the mirror and started pulling open drawers. Unopened boxes of makeup and eye kohl and concealer greeted her eyes, "It's all about the makeup, you know," she continued, pulling out the boxes and carefully selecting some colors and shades, glancing up at the bodyguard female every couple of seconds as if analyzing her, "Those courtesans… they wear so much of it because they are so ugly. The uglier you are, the more makeup you wear. Fortunately, you are very pretty and don't need much," she spun around again, "But, a little bit of enhancement makes a whole face brighter and fresher!" she smiled and clapped her hands together, reminiscent of Al getting ready to transmute, but she was all business.

"Come on, let's give it a try. The worst that can happen is we boost your self-esteem a little."

*****

After about ten seconds, he was done.

These girls didn't do it for him. He asked every single one their name, asked some a couple of questions, hell, he wiped the makeup off some of their faces, just to see what they really looked like. They were just a bunch of obedient house pets; trophy wives, born and bred to make a pretty family portrait with him and do everything he wanted. He couldn't live with that. He wanted someone with a little more spunk, a little more character and maybe a little more figure. Half of these girls would die in childbirth; their frames were so small.

Ling looked up and around, ready to leave and seeking the one person who he could leave with and go anywhere and she'd never question him. But… Lan Fan was gone, her post replaced by another one of his guards. He found that surprisingly disconcerting. She went everywhere with him, shared every waking hour with him, all his meals, all his side adventures, every day. Even when he became Emperor, her shadow behind him never wavered.

And yet… she wasn't here. Was she ill? He'd never seen her cough, let alone get sick.

"We're done here…" he announced, turning his back to leave.

"But, sire…" his advisors chased after him, "Have you…?"

"Nope. None of them do it for me, sorry," he was so casual about it that he heard some courtesans sniffle behind him.

His advisors looked like they'd been slapped, "We can acquire more women for you…"

"No more, I'm done," Ling insisted, marching straight into the palace, "Leave me, please."

Where was Lan Fan? Was she in her suites? He'd just go make sure she was alright before heading out to the town or something.

Lan Fan scrunched up her face before she peeked at herself in the mirror. What she saw had her mouth fall open a little as she relaxed in the chair, openly staring at her reflection. She was...well...pretty. Maybe as pretty as those girls. Maybe…

"Wow…" Lan Fan said, reaching up to lightly touch her dusted cheek.

She glanced at May, who was smiling at her, and blushed, darkening her cheeks even more as she looked away, back to the mirror.

And May's words came back to her. "They were whores."

Her fingers curled in shame. She didn't want this. She didn't want to woo him like this. She didn't deserve him...and she didn't want to be this painted doll. She looked...silly.

Lan Fan shot to her feet, mumbling, "No... no…"

She turned away from May, towards the door, and hurried towards it. "I need to get this off. I can't... I can't be this."

She pushed the door open, and bolted down the hallway, seeking the nearest restroom. But, to her horror, she ran right into Ling, who was headed her way. She gasped, falling back a step or two, and cursed inside. She didn't have her mask! She needed her mask for than every right now.

May sat on the stool for a minute, staring after Lan Fan as she darted out of her room. But, the woman didn't get too far when May heard a distinct "oof" of two bodies colliding.

She scurried to the door, peering her head around it to see that Lan Fan had run into the one person May was betting she didn't want to see. Ling.

She smiled and decided that she should probably take her leave now. She could talk to Ling another time.

****

Ling walked headlong into Lan Fan as she came barreling around a corner. Automatically, he reached out to catch her shoulders, to steady her and immediately, she took two steps back from him and shielded her face with her hand.

"Hey, I was just looking for you…" he started, but his voice drifted when he noticed her hand covering her face a little, "What're you doing that for?" he frowned, pulling at her wrist to remove it from her face. Granted, she always wore her white mask around him, but at the times when she didn't have it, he'd never seen her shy away like this.

He managed to pry her hand a little, just enough to catch himself. Was that…? "What the hell is on your face?" he caught her chin and tipped her face up, noting with a little shocked amusement that she was dusted with makeup. Her eyes were thinly outlined and colored a light purple and her cheeks were rouged, her lips glossed. It was faint compared to the shocking contrast of the harem girls with all their dolled white faces and pouty lips, but it was still baffling. Lan Fan wearing makeup? Since when did she care so much about her appearance?

Though, he had to admit, it did flatter her a little.

"What are you wearing all that for? You look like a silly courtesan," he chuckled, pulling his sleeve over his hand and wiping at her face. All he did was smear the eye kohl a little, but it cleared away most of the blush and the lip gloss, "You don't need all that. You're pretty enough without it."

Lan Fan gasped as she stared up at him. Though he called her a silly courtesan, she couldn't pull her eyes off of the appraising look in his eye. He said she was pretty. He was staring at her, soaking her in. She blushed madly, sucking in her breath and ducking her head.

This was so embarrassing! She was blushing like a silly girl. She told herself it shouldn't matter.

But her heart was pounding in her chest and warmth was spreading across her cheeks.

No no no…

"Excuse me, Young Lord," Lan Fan said hurriedly, turning and hurrying away, disappearing up into a crevice hidden in the wall, vanishing from sight as she hurried far away from him.

That night, Ling tossed around in his bed again. Despite the fact that his alter-ego self had long since been gone, when he had self-arguments, it was always Greed's voice he heard for the counter argument.

Images of Lan Fan swam through his head; he couldn't let go of her face, seeing it with a touch of makeup seemed to be unraveling him. He knew how he felt towards her; he harbored a great deal of respect for her, relied on her to watch his back, put all his trust in her and watched out for her as much as she watched out for him. They were a team, less now than when they travelled to Amestris many years ago.

He remembered the day she lost her arm. Stupid girl, she cut it off at the shoulder, insisting that a broken arm was useless and that she'd failed him. He'd been so mad at her, only because he was afraid she would bleed to death before he could get her to safety. He'd had to leave her in the alley, shivering from her own fever so that he could get her some help. He'd promised to come back. He didn't remember if he did.

There was that time when Greed tried to hit on her, lowering her defenses because Greed was using his façade. She'd blushed, not realizing that it was Greed doing the talking and Ling remembered the fierce argument he'd had with the Homunculus. Ling chuckled. Damn that Greed, always wanting everything that was Ling's…

Wait… Ling rolled over his in bed, letting his arm dangle over the edge. His? As in, possession, ownership, territory? Did he just consider Lan Fan as part of his possessions? He supposed that could be true; she was his bodyguard…

But that wasn't what that thought meant.

Was he confusing his feelings for her? Respect, protectiveness, loyalty… what did those translate into for him? Her face filtered through his mind again, makeuped, unmakeuped, masked, unmasked… stuffing her face with rice… practicing her martial arts… an image of her in her bathing suit from a couple of summers ago appeared and it blew him away thinking about all her curves, hell even her automail was a little hot. Sleek, strong; deadly assassin meets slim, flattering design.

Greed's voice snuck into his head… "You and me, we ain't so different. We know what we want and go after it. We suffer and enjoy it, the avarice…"

Ling rolled out of bed, pulled on some pants and a robe and padded out of his suites. It was the middle of the night; he was probably asking for an ass-whooping, but he had to get this out. Normally, he wasn't so damned impulsive, but his memory of Greed was right; he knew what he wanted. It made so much sense it was overwhelming him. Why hadn't he come to this conclusion like, five years ago? He supposed in some way he had, but maybe just pushed it back.

He pushed open Lan Fan's bedroom door without so much as a preamble and flicked on a light. He hoped she slept with clothes on, "Lan Fan, be my empress."

Lan Fan nearly jumped out of her skin when the door to her room slammed open and the Young Lord was standing on the other side. She was sitting cross-legged in the center of her meditation area, shirtless and pant-less, wearing only her undergarments.

She shot to her feet, her brain not really grasping his words as she scrambled to grab her robe. It was a silk robe, one of the few luxuries she allowed herself, because Ling had gotten it for her as a gift a few years ago.

She slid it over her frame hurriedly, her back to him. Finally she tied the sash, her eyes locked on the ground. And his words filtered into her brain.

Be...my empress?

Lan Fan's eyes grew round with surprise and she whirled around to face him. "Young Lord! Why...why would you ask that of me? I have no place as an empress…" she told him, fidgeting with the sash as her heart ran away from her in her chest.

What kind of question was that? Why wasn't he with one of the harem girls?

She stared up at him, feeling bare and exposed to him, not just because she had no mask or any real clothes.

He stopped short, his brain finally catching up to his mouth and the realization of what he was asking sunk like a rock in his stomach. Stringing two words together to form a sentence became a difficult task, not helped of course, that he stormed in on her half-naked. He blinked for a moment, shocked with himself, watching as she hastily threw on a silk robe and cinched it at her waist. All that did was accentuate her curvy figure.

He gave her that robe, many years ago as a birthday gift.

Ling smiled, his whole face flushing and reached his hand back and rubbed the back of his neck nervously, "Ah, well, you know, it makes sense… I mean, as the Emperor, I should have an Empress that I can live with and get along with and I get along with you just fine and I really respect you and…" he stopped for breath, fidgeting his stance a little awkwardly. He sounded like a blithering idiot. Edward Elric had more grace than he did right now.

He approached her and grabbed her hands, one soft, warm skin and the other cool, sturdy metal. The joints of her automail clinked and whirled, perfectly symmetrical with her real hand. He tapped a finger against the metal knuckles, the smooth metal a perfection of practical application.

"It makes sense," he repeated, trying again, his thumbs equally brushing over skin and automail, "You're in my life already and as far as I know, always will be. Well, unless you leave to have a family or something and I don't really like that idea. I know I have a great deal of feeling towards you; respect and loyalty and I'm pretty sure that I want you all to myself," he gave her a burning once-over, reminiscent of Greed, but Ling bit back the mischievous, slightly maniacal smile.

"Just… say yes and make my life infinitely more enjoyable…"

She felt herself starting to freak a little as he approached her, and then when he took her hands, she let out a breath of surprise. Of all the years she was with him, she was always in the shadows, always following, but never in front of him, never the sole focus of his attention like this.

His touch made her skin prickle with warmth, and his proximity made a shiver race down her spine.

Oh boy...this was...too much.

"It...makes sense?" She asked, frowning a little. She...didn't think she liked that. She has dedicated her whole life to him, to protecting him, to being with him. But to become his empress because it makes sense?

On the one hand, she couldn't stand being the center of attention. On the other hand...to become his WIFE because it makes sense?

Her heart rebelled at that. And she just couldn't bring herself to do it for him.

"No. Young Lor-" she cut herself off, shook her head, and looked down, blushing deeply. "Ling…" she said his name slowly, hesitantly. "I...I don't want to be your wife just for...ease or for logic...I don't want to be a sensible solution to your aversion to having to pick one woman out of many…"

She was shaking a little from how inappropriate it was to be talking like this, but she couldn't help it. May had given her the strength to say this.

He nodded sagely at her comment. He really wasn't making sense. In his head, he worked everything out, but what was coming out of his mouth was just a garbled mess.

"I don't want all of them," he waved his hand as if to indicate 'them', "I want you."

As if to further convince her that she was THE sensible solution to everything, he leaned down and kissed her, softly, her hands trapped by his between their bodies.

This… was it. This was what he wanted. He wanted her, Lan Fan, by his side, not lurking in the shadows. He wanted her all to himself, and it didn't occur to him that he did until he thought about the fact that if he could go out and get married, that someday she might want to too. And he couldn't stand that idea; no one would ever be good enough for her…

Except him, of course.

He harbored some deep affection for her, probably potent enough to be love. He definitely loved her platonically, but there were some other feelings that shaped that into something more than basic friendship. Respect, jealousy, possessiveness – she was his, damn it – okay, and maybe a little bit of lusty appreciation for her tight, voluptuous figure.

He could easily be in love with her forever.

His words drew her gaze up to him, just in time to see his face, and read the intent there, as he leaned down to kiss her.

She froze, shocked. She could feel the warmth of his lips against hers. She could smell him. Everything about him enveloped her senses and she was overwhelmed with it.

A small sigh escaped her lips, and her eyes slid closed. Heat suffused her cheeks, and her mouth parted as she forced this moment to be etched into her mind. Ling has kissed her. Holy crap, he wasn't kidding.

He had a serious air to him. He was speaking lightheartedly, was smiling at her even, but his gaze was serious, he was serious.

He wanted to marry her?

"You want to marry me?" She squeaked, staring up at him in disbelief. Her gaze shot down to their linked hands, then back up to him. "To be wed...to me?" Her face flushed with more heat.

Would he want to kiss her again?

"It would be spectacular," he told her, turning and positioning his body so that she was under his shoulder and his other arm out, as if to paint a picture for her, "We could invite everyone, even all the Amestrians and have food… lots of food…" he fisted his hand, miming capturing said food.

He was probably going to catch some heat from his advisors for not marrying nobility. But really, what the hell did that matter? A dowry? More money? A subservient female? Not when he could have Lan Fan in all her kick-ass glory. It was already all there with her; so… uncomplicated. Even now, mid-proposal, it was still smooth and easy, felt like the total right thing to do.

"So, whaddya say?" he asked her, turning his head to look at her, putting his chin on her shoulder, "You'd have to retire from being my bodyguard…"

His closeness, the smell of him, everything was extremely overwhelming for someone who usually only followed in his shadow. She glanced at him as he placed his chin on her shoulder and asked her once again.

Her eyes sharpened and she glared at him. "I will never give up guarding you." Her voice was flat, unmoving, and it was obvious she felt very strongly about that.

"But…" she hesitated, and her interjection spoke against any outright refusal.

"I could...still guard you, as your wife…" she said, blushing madly and looking forward. Was she really having this conversation? It was extremely surreal, but her gut was telling her that this was okay. His chi was clear, honest, and though she didn't really know how he felt about her in particular, the idea of her as a wife pleased him, for some ridiculous reason.

"I suppose...if that's what you want...I would be honored to be your wife...Ling," she told him quietly, hesitantly.

She said yes.

Okay, well, it wasn't exactly "yes" but she agreed and he was ridiculously thrilled. He smirked and wrapped his arms around her, giving her a tight squeeze, lifting her right off her feet for a moment.

He knew it was the right thing, but it appeared strangely backwards to him. Shouldn't he have tried to court her first before dropping the whole "be my empress" bomb? Even though she agreed, it wasn't like he was going to just skip her into his room and move all her stuff in there. He had the distinct impression that she would probably faint if he did that, despite that he never saw her black out for any reason, not even blood loss.

Was he is a rush? Nope. He had Lan Fan. The empress thing was just a formality, him being the Emperor and all.

"Alright, well, now that that is all settled," he concluded, placing her back on her feet, "We should probably start from the beginning," he backed her up against the nearest wall, "I'll have to announce it to my advisors first, then maybe take you on a few dates, you know, give you a chance to like me before I marry you," by this point, he had his arms on either side of her head, caging her against the wall with his frame, "Maybe kiss you a few more times before I ask you to move into my room with me…" he leaned his head down so that the whisper of his voice brushed over her lips, "Then we'll get married and… well, you know the drill after that…" he captured her mouth, softly at first, then more insistently, as if to seal the deal.

She tasted like trouble – probably because he was going to be frowned at by his councilors – but he liked it.

A/N:

Up Next: Alphonse and May!

This oneshot will contain spoilers from Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Read at your own risk.

This story is written in a roleplay format, meaning I played one character and my co-author played another. In order to preserve the raw, genius material, little editing has taken place other than what needed to be adjusted for sense.

Fullmetal Alchemist – Ed, Ling, Roy, Al, Win, Lan Fan, Riza and May – belong to Hiromu Arakawa.