So, I figured Valentine's Day would be a good excuse to try my luck at writing Ling x Lan Fan. I've only gotten into FMA in the past 2 months or so, but I've watched all of the original and Brotherhood (actually, I've watched most of Brotherhood twice), and I've read many fanfics with this pairing and done some research about Xing culture, and I'm going to pretend like this works out for representing their culture. If not, just pretend it does. And hopefully these two aren't too OOC, I found it rather hard to figure out what seemed in-character. Set during Brotherhood sometime, not sure when considering events I did/didn't mention.

So, I don't think there's anything else I have to say, so please enjoy!

Disclaimer: I do not own FMA.

Red Rose

Lan Fan never ceased to be amazed by the culture of Amestris. It was vastly different from the Xingese culture she had grown up with, but she found that she didn't mind. She thought it was exciting to try new foods, learn new customs, even celebrate new holidays that seemed to occur every other week…

That day just happened to be a holiday as well. It was a day during which festivities all centered around the expression of love, and it was known as Valentine's Day.

Initially Lan Fan found it strange, as she accompanied Ling around the Amestrian town, that they passed so many couples acting in varying degrees of intimacy. In Xing it was rare to see public displays of affection, and rarer to hear of two people who were truly in love. Xing's outlook on marriage was strictly based on status, and, in the case of the Emperor, trying to ease discontentment amongst the Clans (though it seemed to make things worse). But as the day wore on she started to find it somewhat annoying. Not to mention the 'knowing' looks she and Ling received as they passed by. As if they were a couple. Lan Fan's presence was solely for Ling's protection, and her devotion to him as his guard. Though she couldn't deny she had more of a reason to stay by his side than duty.

Well, she thought as her cheeks flushed beneath her mask at yet another 'knowing' stare, she could pretend.

She watched the couples she passed with what she could only describe as longing. She winced automatically as she imagined the slap she would receive from Fu if he knew her thoughts. To want to be more than just her master's bodyguard went against what she had been taught. She was to serve the prince with full loyalty and dedication, and willingness to do anything to protect him and further his goal to be future emperor. But as she watched a young man whisper in a pretty girl's ear, she couldn't help but envision herself and Ling in their place with a hollow ache.

"Lan Fan…" Ling's hushed tone reached her ears immediately, and her first reaction was to blush due to her previous thoughts. Luckily with her mask on it went unnoticed, and she couldn't stop the faint hope that perhaps her dream was a reality.

She turned to see Ling lying on the ground with a pained expression. "Food…"

She bit back a frustrated retort at Ling's behaviour. It was rude to voice her irritation towards the prince, even if it was the tenth time he had collapsed from hunger that afternoon. Instead she replied in a carefully even tone, "Very well, Young Lord. But we are running low on money, so please try not to go overboard with it."

Lan Fan handed him the small purse containing their money and instantly regretted it once she saw the wide grin on his face. There goes her lunch. Well, she could wait until they returned to the hotel they were staying at to eat something.

She began trailing just behind Ling as he headed to some vendor for food, but he quickly halted her. "There's no need to follow me, Lan Fan. I'll be fine for a few moments while I get food. Why don't you enjoy some of the festivities? You must be sick of going wherever I do." Reflexively her mouth opened to object, but the hand he held up silenced her, if only because it was instinct to obey his orders. "Please go, Lan Fan, I'll be fine."

She hesitated. Not only was it her duty to remain by Ling's side in case of danger, but he seemed to be acting strangely. She couldn't figure out why he was so insistent on eating alone.

"Don't make me order you," Ling threatened after she had been silent for a few moments.

Knowing he wouldn't give up on something he argued over so stubbornly, she decided it would be better to just comply with his demand, as confused and suspicious as she felt about it. "Yes, my Lord, forgive me for arguing, it was not my place," she apologized, accompanied by a low bow.

She stiffened as she felt his hands rest briefly on her shoulders, feeling her face heat up yet again. He had that affect on her whenever the two came in contact. "It's fine," he murmured in a gentler tone than Lan Fan had expected. Without thinking she rose from her bow and found her face inches from Ling's. The blush on her face increased until she was certain it would have looked redder than Edward's coat. She found she couldn't look away from Ling's narrowed eyes as his hand slowly reached out and lifted her mask. She felt her heart hammering quickly as his face seemed to come closer.

"You need to stop wearing this so often, it hides your beautiful face." His breath on her face felt cool, a welcoming sensation in contrast with her burning cheeks. His gaze was fixated on her intensely, and her eyes had become locked on to his. They were far closer than a prince and a commoner should have been.

Something, perhaps a breeze, brushed against her lips. Then the next moment he was gone. She was left to stare dumbfounded at the place he had just been. She found she didn't want to move, but knowing Ling would return to make her leave, she forced her feet to move in the direction opposite of where she assumed the young lord went.

Ling had told her to enjoy some of the festivities, but she couldn't bring herself to find any interest in them. Not without his goofy grin and cheerful demeanour. So Lan Fan settled for crouching in a nearby tree, hoping that she would be able to spring into action quickly if Ling was in danger. That is, if she could even find him. Fu would be disappointed in her for letting the prince vanish, and she felt shame flood her insides as she realized she had failed terribly in her duties as his guard. The least she could do was keep an eye out for any trouble.

She watched the town like a predator waiting for their next meal, taking note of anything that seemed unusual or suspicious and deducing if it was a threat. Nothing out of the ordinary happened, so she ended up watching the couples parading the streets and celebrating Valentine's Day. There was a twinge of guilt in her stomach as she still couldn't get rid of the hopes that she and Ling could be like that one day. But she knew that a servant like her was not worthy of even dreaming of being so close to the future emperor.

The sun slowly sank toward the distant horizon, and it hit her that Ling had not yet returned. He had only been grabbing some food, surely he wasn't that picky? Lan Fan had seen him eat almost anything, so long as it satiated his immense appetite. What if he had gotten into trouble? Never mind Fu, she would kill herself if she ever let something happen to the prince. Or what if he just couldn't find her because she hadn't stayed put? Panic was building inside her, until she felt like she was drowning in it. But what could she do? If she tried to search for him now, they might end up crossing paths without realizing. If he was indeed searching for her, going to look for him would likely only make things worse. If he was in danger he would need the help, and it was her duty to go after him—"Hey, Lan Fan!"—but if she found out he was only being picky—wait a minute…that voice…

"Young Lord!" she cried out, spotting him leaning against the tree she crouched in. "My apologies for leaving, I should have stayed where I was so you could find me. I mean, if you had been in danger—"

"Lan Fan!" Ling interrupted, and she quieted. "It's fine. I was the one who told you to enjoy the festivities on your own, wasn't I? Besides, I didn't take so long because I was in trouble or anything"—she let out a breath she didn't realize she had been holding—"I took so long because I was looking for something…special."

Something special? "My Lord, were you searching that long for a certain kind of food? You could have just let me do it instead of wasting your energy on—"

"No, no, it's not that. Oh, speaking of which, here."

Without warning he tossed something to her, and she only caught it out of instinct. She looked down at the object she held. It was an apple, nothing special about it, but a warm feeling built up inside her as she realized Ling had gotten her something to eat. "Young Lord, you didn't have to—"

"It's fine," he interrupted, waving it off, "just don't forget that you need to serve yourself sometimes, too, Lan Fan."

"I…" The protest died in her throat. "…Thank you, my Lord."

Ling gave her a wide grin, and she blushed as she bit into her apple. She saw that he had an apple as well, and they ate in silence for a while. Lan Fan realized that Ling's presence had calmed her, and allowed her to take more interest in the festivities around her.

"Lan Fan?"

"Hm?" She had closed her eyes after finishing her apple, and she opened them to see Ling crouching directly in front of her. Lan Fan was so shocked she nearly fell off the branch. "Y-Yes, my Lord?"

He said nothing, simply held out a hand. He was holding a single red rose, and she could have sworn she was seeing things but his cheeks seemed tinted a pale pink. Lan Fan felt herself shaking slightly, whether it was from excitement, fear, joy, she had no idea. She tentatively reached out and accepted the rose, careful not to prick her fingers on the thorns.

"I-I, er, wanted to get you something," he stuttered. "In honour of the holiday spirit…You know, in Amestris, a solitary red rose symbolizes—"

"I know."

She had heard of the different coloured roses that grew in Amestris, and what they all meant. One red rose symbolized…It meant…

"M-My Lord, I couldn't possibly…This is…We could never—"

"Lan Fan." Her cheeks flushed as she fell silent. "I…wanted to show you how much I appreciate you always being by my side…I figured this holiday was as good an opportunity as any to show you…how much I care about you."

Lan Fan felt her throat constrict, making it hard to breathe let alone speak, but she forced the words out anyway. "Young Lord…You mustn't…not for a lowly servant like me…"

Ling gripped her shoulders tightly, effectively bringing the two of them closer. "Lan Fan, this rose is also a promise. I swear that when I am emperor I will abolish the ridiculous rules of social standing in Xing. Not to mention that ludicrous harem. Who would want so many wives when I've got someone like you by my side?"

She wanted to object, she really did, but any form of protest died in her throat at the look he gave her combined with his words. Instead, her blush merely intensified as she remained silent.

He took a deep breath as he continued. "I know the rose may speak for me, but I want to say it myself. Lan Fan, I love you." He spoke in Xingese, so there could be no confusion as to whom he was addressing. It was meant for her ears only.

Lan Fan feared this would all turn out to be a dream, and she would awaken to feel a deep hole in her heart. But the faint scent of the rose, the sounds of murmuring townspeople, Ling's deep gaze that held hers firmly in place…that couldn't all be imagined, could it?

"I love you, too," she responded automatically, also in Xingese, before realizing what she had just said. Her face turned a deeper crimson than it had been all day, and she opened her mouth to take it back, but stopped. She would likely be severely punished if anyone ever discovered what had just passed between her and the prince, but she couldn't take back her words. They were the truth, her deepest feelings finally voiced. She couldn't, wouldn't, take them back.

A gentle smile formed on Ling's face, and she returned it with a small smile of her own. Ling slowly leaned forward and placed his lips gently on hers, and she returned the tender kiss just as softly. They stayed like that for a moment, until Ling pulled away. It was far too brief, in Lan Fan's mind. But she knew all too well the boundaries that separated them.

Ling broke the silence between them first. "When I become emperor, everything will change. For the better. And there will be no rules and walls and social ranks that separate us."

Her smile grew wider. "I'd like that."