How to Ask a Xingese warrior to Be Your Empress (without having your throat slit)
"You summoned me, your Highness?"
The Emperor's dark eyes squinted open and searched for his top bodyguard in the scant light. Well, he thought, summoning was quite a formal term for telling all of his aids and protectors to get out—his affairs were distressing enough without their advice on them.
That included Lan Fan, whom Ling had ordered to rest and meet him in the palace gardens later. The moon was only a sliver tonight, but the stars provided almost the equivalent.
Her mask had been removed, which had more to do with him hiding it than her forgetting to don it for once. Ling perceived well enough to see that Lan Fan's expression was annoyed, her mouth drawn into the tiniest of frowns and the disapproving glare reflected by the starlight doing more to amuse him.
One of Xing's most elite warriors, she was nonetheless adorable.
He relished her attempt to stay neutral when he locked eyes with her. Lan Fan did not appear impressed with the secrecy of his order.
Smiling sincerely, he said, "I apologize for my irritable behavior. Ruling this country has presented more challenges than I originally thought it would."
She nodded automatically. "Yes, my Lord. I understand."
The smile faded and he sobered. "Do you believe I am doing what is best for Xing? Tell me the truth." Ling eyed the clustered, sparkling heavens awaiting her response. His own frown, more pronounced than Lan Fan's had been, let her know that his inquiry was serious.
As if, he amended, Lan Fan was never not serious.
She spoke confidently. "Your decisions have been selfless. You have struggled and compromised over and over to keep peace and still maintain your promises. Your character has allowed for an alliance with a strong country in Amestris. Xing has longed for an Emperor such as you for generations."
His eyes softened, gaze trained back on her. "It certainly sounds like you've practiced that enough times. Your compliment was wonderful." He laughed when she stiffened. "Relax, Lan Fan. You resemble the Amestrian military too much. Don't stand at attention for me. We've known each other too long for that."
Ling stepped closer to observe her blank countenance. "Although, I'm flattered. You straighten yourself and maintain formality as Miss Hawkeye does with her Colonel. I'm glad I have inspired that degree of loyalty in you."
Before she could respond (she appeared too stunned to do so anyway), he whispered, "I will do everything in my power to ensure that Xing becomes a great and beautiful nation."
Two more steps brought them face to face, his hand on her shoulder. "But I am not immortal. The Stone can only do so much. If I am killed, there must be a suitable heir. You agree, yes?"
Lan Fan straightened again—this time she seemed tense and not merely formal—and averted her eyes. "Yes."
"What do you advise I should do to provide an heir? Or rather, who?"
She immediately began suggesting appropriate candidates, being very descriptive in their appearance, personality, and merit. Ling suppressed a sigh. This was not working.
Her breath didn't hitch when his face moved closer to hers; it stopped completely.
Ling smiled again and his eyes unveiled the boyish gleam that had been brimming beneath the surface all night. "Guarding the Emperor is guarding the wellbeing of the country. I see no better way in which you could honor Xing than to produce a security measure. For the future of Xing."
A blush would not be visible, but Ling noted a loss of light on her pale skin and concluded that was what Lan Fan must have been doing. Her face seemed to darken to the point that all of it except for her eyes disappeared. How cute! She was mortified.
"Y-young master, I assure you the role of an Empress will not suit me and will disallow for my protection of you!" Her voice was squeaking. Ling wondered if she knew that her feminine charm was showing.
He did sigh this time, purposefully overdramatic. "Perhaps you are correct. But there is no other suitable woman."
Ling leaned even closer, eyebrows raised playfully to match the mischief in his stare. "I will have to import one. The Xingese should not be so contemptuous of other peoples, anyway. It will do for me to set the example in that way. What about Miss Rockbell? Think of it! My son would be beautiful, with black hair and blue—"
Lan Fan was not listening anymore. In fact, her face was no longer near his. She had dropped to one knee and bowed her head. Erratic, breathy exhalations were escaping her lips.
So I can make her laugh.
Dropping to her level, he lifted her chin and murmured, "I thought I was asking for your hand. Have you taken to the Amestrian tradition of kneeling during proposals?"
The laughter had ceased, but a very amused smile highlighted her face. Ling decided he liked it. She did not need to smile to be pretty; he could not even remember her doing so. But Lan Fan being happy certainly did not detract from her beauty.
When she regained sufficient control of her breathing to speak, she could not keep the mirth out of her voice. "You cannot marry her! If all of Xing did not resent you, it would cause an international outcry! It must be someone else." Alarm had risen in her tone.
His groan of "Why?" was answered with no hesitation: "The short blond alchemist would kill you." He snorted.
Ling cupped her cheek. "Does this mean you will agree?" He said eagerly.
Lan Fan frowned in that delightful manner again. Returning to a guarded expression, she did nothing to betray her enjoyment. "I have your safety to think of, my Lord."