My second ever fanfic! Yeah, it's Ling and Lan Fan again. I think these two might - MIGHT - be my favourite FMA pairing. But then Edwin, Royai and Almei are so close behind it's hard to tell. Anyway, this one is more about friendship than anything but it's definitely very sweet. I always wondered what happened to them after they got back to Xing. Yeah, we get the photo at the end of the manga, but that doesn't tell us much. I know I still haven't answered many (read: any) questions, but I just wanted to expand on the ending a bit. So... enjoy! Please leave a review if you like it, you have no idea how inspiring those things are.
Speaking of inspiring, this story was inspired by this awesome sketchdump by the talented RaposaBranca:
If FMA belonged to me then EDWARD WOULD'VE KISSED WINRY ON THAT DAMN TRAIN STATION. What is it with manga and meaningful hugs? Grrrr...
EDIT: I'll be putting dates up the top of each one so you can tell when it takes place. The manga starts in 1914 and it's not entirely clear when it ends, so I'm going to go with early 1915.
January 29th 1915
Mei had forgotten how tough the journey back to Xing was. Sweltering heat during the day followed by numbing cold at night, sand shifting beneath your feet and making you work twice as hard to go half as far. And the sheer distance… At least this time Mei wasn't attempting the journey alone. Her half-brother Ling – who was acting far more brotherly now that his victory was assured – and his bodyguard Lan Fan were with her. Ling was marching triumphantly back with the means to become Emperor, Lan Fan was loyally at his side, and Mei… well, Mei was just going home.
It was interesting, she thought, how the journey was never over, not even when they reached the journey's end. If this was one of her books, one of the beloved fairytales and adventure stories that lined her shelves back at the Chang manor, it would've ended by now. The good guys had won, the bad guys had been stopped and Amestris was finally safe. The tale had come to an end. The everlasting desert, however, begged to differ. She still had a long way to go until she got home, and then there was more waiting for her after that. She had to grow up, study alkahestry, fulfil her duties as a princess of the Chang clan. The excitement had passed, but her story was not over yet. Mei felt a smile tug at her lips despite the burning heat and the fatigue gnawing at her bones. Stories never ended, not really. They were just small snippets from the great, long tale that was the world. But for now, this snippet involved no fights or bad guys or princesses to rescue. No, she was just going home. Maybe not to all the glory and acclaim she'd dreamt of when she was still convinced she'd be the one to bring back a Philosopher's Stone, but home was home all the same.
It seemed like an age before they finally surrendered to their exhaustion and set up camp for the night. They unstrapped the saddlebags from the horses and rolled out their sleeping bags while the light faded quickly and the sun dropped over the horizon. With the sun went the temperature, and they were shivering by the time they'd found some scrubby-looking trees and started a campfire. They didn't speak much over dinner; they all had plenty on their minds. They hadn't exchanged more than a few meaningless conversations this whole journey, in fact. Mei couldn't blame them. Their cargo served as a constant reminder of what they'd lost in the struggle, and it was difficult to smile and chat with it less than ten feet away.
When Mei finally snuggled up under her blankets, her limbs aching with fatigue, she dropped off to sleep almost instantly.
She could never remember exactly what woke her up. She'd always been a light sleeper; maybe she'd sensed movement from the other side of the camp? Or perhaps it was just the sound of rustling fabric. Whatever it was, Mei found herself awake in the middle of the night. She closed her eyes again, determined to go back to sleep, but Ling's voice caught her attention.
Mei shifted under her blankets to get a better view across the campsite. Two figures were silhouetted against the firelight, completely oblivious to her. Lan Fan was sitting by the campfire and Ling, his hair hanging loose and ruffled around his shoulders, was pushing himself into a seated position.
"Yes, young lord?"
"I can't sleep."
"You should try to rest anyway. We have a long way to go tomorrow."
There was a short silence. Ling didn't move to lie back down again.
"You can't sleep either, can you?" he asked.
Lan Fan sighed and shook her head.
There was another silence before she spoke again. When she did, her voice was smaller and more vulnerable than Mei had ever heard it. It surprised her; Lan Fan was strong, stoic, undefeatable. Mei had never imagined that she was even capable of such a voice. "I miss him."
She hugged her knees to her chin, her huddled figure suddenly very small. Ling threw off his blankets and sat down next to her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "I miss him too."
Mei cast a glance over to their most precious cargo, being careful not to rustle the material of her makeshift bed. She didn't want to be caught eavesdropping, even if she couldn't help it. The small, plain coffin had been supplied by the Amestrian military. It was nothing special, but it was perfect for the task of transporting Fu's body back to Xing. Mei hadn't known the old man, but the details of his sacrifice were enough to bring tears to even her eyes. She couldn't imagine what it must be like for Lan Fan, his granddaughter and comrade, and Ling, who he had known for most of the young prince's life. For Mei, who was an emotional person at the best of times, the very thought of it made tears threaten to slip past her eyelids. Her half-brother and his bodyguard had acted cheerful enough, pleased that they'd managed to help save Amestris and procure a Philosopher's Stone, but she could see that they were hiding the pain of losing Fu.
She turned her attention back to the two figures on the other side of the campsite and was surprised to see that Lan Fan's head had dropped onto Ling's shoulder. His head was resting on hers, his arm still around her. Their faces were obscured by darkness and no matter how hard Mei squinted it was impossible for her to see if they had finally succumbed to tears.
"He died a hero's death," said Ling suddenly, his voice steady and uncharacteristically solemn. "Without him, Buccaneer could never have killed Wrath."
"I know. He died honourably in battle; that's what he would've wanted."
"When we get back to Xing, I'll make sure he gets a proper send-off and the highest commendation there is. His sacrifice will not be forgotten. Him and…" Ling's voice wavered and trailed away.
"Greed?" asked Lan Fan quietly.
"You miss him too, don't you?"
Another nod. "When you share a body and mind with someone, you get to know them. I know Greed wasn't exactly a paragon of virtue, but he came through for us. He saved my life. But then, after you've shared every moment of your existence with them for what feels like forever, they just disappear… It's an empty feeling, Lan Fan. Like a part of you is just missing all of a sudden and you know you'll never find it again."
Lan Fan was quiet for a moment. "I think I might know what you mean," she whispered. Mei's ears struggled to catch the words over the crackling fire. "But I got my part back."
Mei watched as the two of them just sat there, two silhouettes merged into one, leaning on each other emotionally, mentally and physically with no words needed. She almost felt jealous; she had never been as close to anyone as these two clearly were to each other. She'd never experienced a bond of friendship as tight and unconditional as the one wrapped around the two people next to the campfire. She'd had bodyguards, of course, but they'd always been much older than her and very cold and professional. All her time had been spent studying and learning Alkahestry, and she hadn't had the time or the freedom to make friends. She smiled at the tiny panda sleeping next to her pillow. Xiaomei had been her only companion for as long as she could remember. That was, until she decided to travel across the desert by herself to find the secret to immortality. People had been shocked to find such a small person travelling alone, but to Mei it was nothing new. She was always alone.
That was, until she met Mr Scar. He was gruff and distant and didn't talk much, but Mei had taken an instant liking to him. She found Yoki too, a funny little man who always seemed to have fate conspiring against him. He didn't have much of a sense of humour but he always managed to make her laugh, whether he meant to or not. Dr Marcoh had been sad, very sad, never cracking a joke or a smile, but his disfigured face hid a deep, warm kindness that always made her smile even if he wouldn't. Others had come after them, most notably Alphonse-sama. Mei felt a big, stupid smile split her face at the thought of him. He was her knight in shining armour – literally – even if he didn't know it yet. Even Edward, the hot-tempered, angry little alchemist who had broken her heart and had the indecency to not be the charming, handsome young man she'd expected, could be counted among her friends by the end of her journey.
Mei smiled and closed her eyes. She'd managed to make more friends in the past six months than she had in her entire life. It was a strange feeling, knowing there were people out there who cared about her as more than just the princess of the Chang clan. Strange, but wonderful.
"Lan Fan?" asked Ling. Mei opened her eyes again to see them in exactly the same position they'd been in before, leaning on each other with Ling's arm around his bodyguard.
"Yes, young lord?"
"You don't have to call me that, you know."
"I know," she sighed. "But don't you think we've broken enough rules about appropriate bodyguard behaviour? I'd like to leave at least one tradition intact."
"Fair enough," said Ling, and Mei could've sworn she saw him smile. "But, Lan Fan…"
"What next? What happens when we get back to Xing?"
"You will be hailed as a hero of the Yao clan. You will present the Philosopher's Stone to the Emperor and, if all goes well, he will name you his heir. His health is fading fast; you should become Emperor in a matter of weeks."
"Right," said Ling. To Mei's surprise, his voice was subdued, almost disappointed. In her head, Ling had always been her rival for the throne, someone associated only with the thought of competition. To hear him doubt what she always judged to be his most important characteristic – his desire for power – was entirely unexpected. She didn't know what to make of it.
Lan Fan seemed to be as confused as she was. "Second thoughts, young lord?"
"No, of course not," he sighed. "Really. I've always known that I'd be Emperor someday, and now it's so close I can taste it. It's almost surreal."
"You'll be the best Emperor Xing has ever seen, young lord. I'm sure of it."
He laughed. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, Lan Fan. But I don't need reassuring; I'll make this country even greater than it already is, I've always known that. I'll make a great Emperor. It's just, the thought of ruling an entire nation, with millions of people all depending on you… it's a bit intimidating, that's all…" his voice trailed off for a moment, but he quickly snapped back to attention and continued. "But I already know exactly what I'm going to do. There's gonna be some big changes once I'm in charge."
"Really? Like what?"
"Well, for one, all this clan segregation is just ridiculous. How are we supposed to advance as a country if we're all separated into fifty different factions all fighting for power? Whose stupid idea was that, anyway?"
"I don't think it was anyone's idea, it just-"
"Rhetorical question, Lan Fan. What I'm trying to say is that the clans themselves aren't a bad thing, but the animosity that they cause is. When I'm Emperor, I'm going to take steps to bring the clans together. It doesn't matter if we're Yaos or Changs or Hans or anything else, we're still Xingese."
"That… was uncharacteristically wise of you, young lord."
Ling laughed again and squeezed Lan Fan's shoulders. "I'm glad you think so. But I don't care how wise I am, I still want twenty-four hour access to the palace kitchens."
Mei couldn't keep a grin off her face. So it was still Ling in there after all.
"Do you have any other radical changes planned?" asked Lan Fan. "Or is that it?"
"Oh, plenty," said Ling, raising his free arm in a sweeping gesture. "That whole thing with the fifty wives will have to go. I know I'm handsome, but fifty might be a little too many."
Lan Fan lifted her head off his shoulder and stared at him in surprise. "But that's one of our oldest traditions, young lord! People won't like to see it go."
"But I'll be the Emperor," he pointed out. "Ruler of Xing. They can't stop me!"
"It doesn't work like that," she muttered.
"I don't care. It's a stupid tradition anyway, I'll just make them see that. The most ambitious kid isn't always the right one for the throne. They could be cutthroat and cruel for all we know; eliminating the competition doesn't guarantee a good ruler. Besides, I have selfish reasons for changing it too."
So Greed really had rubbed off on him. Or had he always been like this? Whatever the answer to that question, Mei had to admit that his new ideas were reasonable. Radical, just like he'd said, and certainly controversial, but she had a feeling that he could make people see things his way. And the more she thought about it, the more she realised there were two different ways to think about Ling's intentions. Bringing the clans together meant that there would be less quarrelling and more co-operation, less tension between people with different surnames and more peace and serenity in which Xing could grow and flourish. Of course, it also meant that they would be less a group of clans ruled by their respective leaders and more a single country ruled by an Emperor. He was unifying Xing and with that came even more power and authority. Mei couldn't help but crack a smile. Which particular motive had been at the front of Ling's mind when he'd come up with this idea?
Changing the tradition about the wives was the same. By raising only one family, he would be able to closely select the wisest and most benevolent child to succeed the throne. The Emperor would come to power by proving themself the best person for the job, not by eliminating the competition. Of course, this rule could be seen as selfish too. There was no way anyone could find any kind of meaningful connection with fifty different wives. He was sacrificing an ancient tradition for his own personal happiness.
"What would those be?" asked Lan Fan. Mei's thoughts drifted away as her eyes wandered back over to the two silhouettes by the fire.
"Oh, you know," said Ling casually. "Fifty wives would be a lot to keep up with. You know me; I'd lose them and forget their names and piss them all off somehow."
"How many wives would you prefer, young lord?" asked Lan Fan. Mei was surprised she could keep a straight face while asking such a ridiculous question. But then again, she had been Ling's bodyguard for a long time now. She must be very good at keeping a straight face.
"Just one," he said. "I think I could manage one."
They lapsed into another silence. Mei felt her eyes grow heavy and flutter closed. The moon was high in the sky, a brilliant white circle amongst so many stars… She felt sleep creep up on her like a warm, heavy tide, washing over her and dragging her slowly out into the blackness. It had been a long day and there were many more long days to come, and Mei knew she needed to sleep or she'd never make it. But even as her eyes were closed, her ears picked up the last minute of Ling and Lan Fan's conversation.
"You should rest, young lord, or you'll be too tired to travel in the morning."
"You should get some sleep too, Lan Fan."
There was a rustle of fabric as they climbed back under their blankets. Mei smiled and rolled over, snuggling down into the warmth of her makeshift bed. Desert nights were as cold as the days were hot and she was glad of the warm, comforting fire crackling next to her.
"Are you alright, young lord?"
The words were distant, barely reaching Mei's ears as her mind floated off into unconsciousness.
"I'm fine. Like I said, it's just a bit intimidating. That's all."
"Are you sure?"
Mei awoke the next morning with a strange memory. She couldn't be sure whether she'd woken up again during the night or if this was all just a dream concocted by her own subconscious after all she'd seen and heard. Whatever it was, the details were fuzzy but she still remembered it clearly. The rustling of fabric was what made her open her eyes, whether for real or just to observe the dream. The sky was still an inky black sprinkled with millions of stars and the fire was still burning, if perhaps a little weaker than before. Mei shifted under her blankets to look for the source of the noise.
Ling's bed was empty. Her hazy, sleep-filled eyes wandered over to Lan Fan's bed and saw two lumps under the covers. She wasn't awake enough to feel surprise. From what she could see, Ling was curled into a ball, clutching Lan Fan to him like she was the last pillar holding him up. Like if he let her go, he'd fall into the unknown and never find his way back again. Like he was terrified of what was to come and she was the only thing keeping him safe.
"How did you end up here, young lord?" whispered Lan Fan, her voice slurred with sleep.
"I didn't," he murmured. "You're dreaming. Now go back to sleep."
There was a short pause. "Dreams aren't supposed to be warm."
"Back to sleep, Lan Fan."