So, this has kind of been stuck in my head for a while, and I really needed to write it and give it to all us die-hard LingFan shippers, because there's really not enough LingFan in the world. Ling Yao doesn't actually appear in here until the climax of the story, but if you wait, it'll be soooo worth it! So please, bear with me. And enjoy! (P.S: I got the title from the Boys Like Girls song, which gave me a little inspiration. Look it up if you have time. :D )
Disclaimer: I do not own Fullmetal Alchemist.
Learning to Fall
A young girl emerged into the doorway, silhouetted against the brightness of the clear sky outside. But to a careful observer, one could note that something was off about her figure; where her left arm should have been, cold steel replaced flesh and bone. She was sweating; panting, but appeared pleased with herself nonetheless. In her right hand a small dagger of sorts was tightly clutched, but she flicked her wrist ever so slightly and it disappeared up into her sleeve. She began to walk calmly down the hallway, her heart rate decreasing with each stride, her pants relaxing into deeper and deeper breaths.
She was dressed in strange clothing for a female of her time and place; a warriors outfit, one would guess. All black, with formidable shoulder pads, an armored torso, a white belt (indicating the highest level of combat training, of course), and the traditional warrior's knot at the top of her head, with her damp, dark bangs plastered to her forehead and the sides of her face. She made her way through the long hallway and out the other exit, walking down a flight of ivory steps and eventually reaching a dirt road. She turned before setting foot on it and glanced back up at the Imperial Palace, with the blooming cherry trees swaying merrily throughout the grounds in the soft breeze and the wind pushing snow-white clouds through the blue sky. She sniffed, wiping a trickle of blood from her nose, and began heading south towards the small village outside the palace gates.
"I'm here!" she shouted, though judging by the lack of response, there was nobody there. Looking around, she saw a scrap of parchment lying on the table and snatched it up. It read:
Lan Fan, I'm out on important business at the palace. The Emperor has requested an audience with me. Expect my return around dinner. – Huang Fu
At first she scoffed. "Expect my return around dinner." After an entire day of training, her idiot brother still expected her to cook? Then she bit her lip thoughtfully. Emperor Yao had requested an audience with Huang Fu – and didn't tell her. Strange.
Immediately she shook her head. The Emperor didn't have time to discuss everything he did with her anymore. He wasn't…she wasn't…they weren't…She sighed, running a hand through her hair and glanced over at the portrait of Emperor Ling Yao, which every respectable Yao clan member had proudly hung in their homes, of course. She stood there, thinking, and rapidly turned on her heel making straight for the tub, suddenly unable to stand the smell of sweat and blood in her nostrils.
Twenty minutes later she was scrubbed, brushed, and dressed, and was tying her hair up in her bun when she heard the front door open and her brother stepped in. One look at him and she could tell that he was radiating with excitement. Which usually meant she was in for it.
"Mei-mei!" Huang Fu said eagerly.
Lan Fan waited, but he said nothing further.
"Did – did something happen?" she asked, slightly wary.
"Did something happen!" he said, practically glowing with happiness. "Did you get my note? What did you make?"
She deliberately ignored the latter inquiry. "Yes, you said that Emperor Yao called you for a private audience today. What did you talk about?" My lord and my big brother. Nothing good could have come out of this.
"Business, of course. Political strategies. Emperor Yao has offered our family a partnership with the overseas merchants – a merger with the Yu family! Lan Fan, do you understand the implications of this? We sell them all our goods – the paper, the wheat, the silk, the tea – and they ship it overseas to the western hemisphere. We'll be rich! So rich! Our family will be rolling in money well into the next century!"
"A merger?" Lan Fan repeated, bewildered. "He – he did that? For us?"
"Oh, Heaven has blessed us with a kind Emperor!" Huang Fu sang, nearly in tears. "He has arranged it all for us! Our sisters will be so excited to hear the news! Let's go write them, Lan Fan. I'll take Jun and Rui, and you can write Bao Yu, you were always closer to her anyways. They'll be so happy – do you think they'll start crying? My money's on Rui, she was always such an emotional little girl – Lan Fan, what's wrong?"
"I – I'm just a bit overwhelmed, is all." Lan Fan said, sitting down. She massaged her temples. "So the Emperor himself invited you to his palace and spoke to you in private, where you both arranged a business contract with the Yu family, the most influential merchants in the entire Yao clan, and you said yes?"
"What do you mean, 'why'? Why not?"
"No, I mean – why would he do that?"
"Well," Huang Fu sobered and became suddenly thoughtful. "I did wonder…I figured it was a thank – you. You know, for your services in Amestris, for Grandfather's sacrifice, and for safely delivering him and Princess Mei back to Xing. You are quite the heroine, Lan Fan. He's a good leader – he knows when his subjects need to be recognized."
Lan Fan thought about this. It was true, after all. Ling – Emperor Yao had said the entire way back that when he came into power, there would be changes. Starting with the way the peasants were treated. He had spoken so passionately about all his reforms, yet it still caught her off guard that he was actually putting them into play.
"One more thing," Huang Fu said, snapping her back into reality. "I've arranged for a dinner tomorrow, so that we may – may better acquaint ourselves with the Yu family. You must come, Mei-mei! It would make me so happy to have my sister there with me, as the honorary hero of Xing. Aaaanndd," he said, his countenance suddenly oozing nauseous arrogance. "Piao will be there. Hee hee hee."
Lan Fan flushed. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"Lan Fan, everybody heard about how he confessed to you before you left for Amestris. Everybody. It was the talk of the town. Poor kid, he must have missed you so much, and you didn't even give him a goodbye kiss-"
She stood up abruptly, glaring. "I'm going to bed," she snapped. She didn't feel tired at all.
Her restless mind kept her tossing and turning that night. Flashes of the young lord's face passed through her head, his voice filled her thoughts. All their memories, resurfacing themselves from repression began rising up into her dreams. Why hadn't he told her he was meeting with Huang Fu? Why did he meet only with Huang Fu? Why did he do it on the one day she chose to spend training, instead of guarding him? Did he not want her there?
And the last thought was enough to keep her awake for the rest of her life.
"No, no, no, that's much too casual. Wear that red one you had at the carnival last year, remember?"
"Since when does it matter how I dress?" Lan Fan mumbled angrily. "Isn't this your business dinner, not mine?"
"Just do it, stupid!" he said smiling, ruffling her hair. "Believe me, it never hurts to look your best."
No wonder he rejected the bodyguard apprenticeship, she thought, as he rummaged through her drawers and pulled out the red patterned dress. He's too attached to the stupidest things, like clothes and Father's precious business.
So two minutes later, (after having pushed him out of her room rather forcefully) Lan Fan emerged, decked in the fine red dress her mother had made for her, with its high collar and wide belt. She caught a glimpse of herself in the hallway mirror and started: she looked like some sort of Xingese nobility.
"Oh, good," Huang Fu said happily, looking her up and down when she came out. "Yes, much better, wouldn't you agree? No more plain little sister – Lan Fan, you look fit to be a princess. Now, take your hair out and brush it."
"Because you'll look better."
"I already put on this stupid dress for you and took the day off! What more do you want from me?"
"Come ooooon!" Huang Fu whined, and for a moment, as she stared into his pathetic little puppy face, she was reminded of the way Ling used to beg for things. He always got his way, around her. But it was so long ago now…
"Please don't make me," she said quietly, and Huang Fu immediately sobered. "Please. I really don't want to."
There was a pause. "Alright," he said finally, standing up straight. "I'm sorry. I didn't think it would mean so much to you." Then he rolled his eyes. "Father was right," he said, as he walked away. "Never try to mess with a girl's hair."
On the ride over to the Imperial Palace, (Emperor Yao had invited them to hold negotiations in his own palace, of all places!) Lan Fan stayed quiet, gazing out the window. Why didn't she want to take out her hair? What was all the fuss about? Maybe,she thought, I just wanted to keep some control over myself. I may be a servant, but even the lowliest servant deserves to be able to decide how she wants her hair to look. Right?
They pulled up in front of the palace gates, and Lan Fan was out before Huang Fu had a chance to come around and open the door for her. The Yu family was waiting there, huddled together in elegant coats and expensive hats. They greeted Huang Fu and Lan Fan with warmth and smiles as they approached.
"My, is this it?" Mr. Yu asked, glancing back at the car. "Just your sister and you? I was sure you had more family…"
"Oh, yes, we do!" Huang Fu said brightly. He tugged Lan Fan's arm and pulled her close to him, putting his own arm around her shoulders. "But all three of our sisters are married already, and probably haven't even received our letters about this yet. They moved quite far away – we do miss them terribly."
"I see. And your parents? Surely you can't be more than twenty five, Huang Fu."
"Dead. Died years ago, in service of the Emperor," he said, and he and all the men removed their hats, holding them to their chests. The women looked somber. "Our grandparents were caring for us for a while, but Fu died heroically in Amestris, and when Grandmother heard, she died too, of a broken heart. But by then, I was twenty, plenty old enough to take over the family and our business."
"Oh, how tragic," one of the women crooned. They all shot Lan Fan sympathetic glances.
"Why don't we go inside?" Lan Fan suggested, uncomfortable. "After all, I'm sure all of us are extremely hungry, and the Emperor always has astounding banquets, no matter who his guests are."
"Yes, let's!" Mr. Yu turned to the palace eagerly. "We can't stay out here – it's beginning to darken."
They went inside, and sure enough, there was extravagant table all set for them. Food dishes covered every square inch save for where the plates and goblets were. Lan Fan stood in open-mouthed amazement for several moments, before turning around to ask her brother where he would like to sit. The trouble was, she was impeded by Yu Piao, whom she collided with rather un-gracefully.
"Um – sorry," he muttered, turning red and avoiding her gaze.
"No, it was my fault," Lan Fan said, feeling her cheeks flush. "Hello, Piao."
He smiled in response, his handsome face still tinged pink. "I – I can help you to your seat, if you want."
She actually didn't want, but felt that it couldn't hurt. They were business partners, after all. Nodding, she followed him towards the end of the table, and her eyes widened in surprise when he pulled out the head chair and looked at her expectantly.
"The head of the table?" she inquired, and he nodded. "Yes, of course. And I'll be sitting at the other end." He gestured towards the opposite end of the table.
Skeptical, she shot her brother a look that clearly said Am I supposed to listen to him? He responded with an eager Go on! look, and she hesitantly settled herself in the seat at the head of the table. Huang Fu resumed easy conversation with the Yu's, and she snuck a glance at Piao, who was laughing at something her brother had said. Something wasn't right. Why would they seat her and Piao as the heads of the table? This wasn't about them, after all. Was Huang Fu making fun of her and Piao? Was he trying to embarrass her further? It didn't sound like something he would do, but…
"Okay," Huang Fu said, clinking his knife against his glass for attention. "I have a confession to make; Lan Fan doesn't know about tonight's circumstances."
Lan Fan's head shot up. Tonight's circumstances? What was that supposed to mean? Suddenly she felt extremely nervous. The Yu's and Piao were looking at her with amused twinkles in their eyes. She met Huang Fu's gaze, giving him a questioning look. What was he up to?
"Lan Fan," he said, turning to her. "Yesterday, when I met with the Emperor, we didn't just talk about business. Well, we did, but I suppose I shouldn't include this in the category of politics. I was waiting until this moment to tell you – to see that priceless look on your face. You see; we agreed that merging both our businesses would benefit both our families and greatly increase Xing's influence overseas. But, Emperor Yao suggested going a step further. He suggested we combine our families, too, to increase our power and ensure that this business lasts for a long, long time."
"Combine our families?" she whispered, paling.
"Yes. You see, Emperor Yao cares so much for our family, he even arranged a marriage between you and Piao so that our business will prosper."
Lan Fan sat there, stunned. She felt numb. She tried to speak but her mouth wouldn't move; she tried to look around but her neck was paralyzed. She couldn't breathe. The Emperor – had arranged this? The Emperor…had prepared this entire banquet – her engagement banquet – in his own home for them. Had given her away to a man she barely knew. Had sent her away from him. She would never see him again once she was another man's wife. She felt suffocated. The world was spinning all around her, her brother and the Yu's faces becoming blurry. She would be leaving. She would be parted from him.
And all of a sudden, she was angry. Quite overwhelmed with fury. It coursed through her veins and flowed through her body, giving her fists enough strength to clench, her lungs the power to inhale oxygen and push it to her brain, and her muscles seemed to move of their own accord as she stood from her chair and addressed the party.
"I won't be marrying anybody today. Brother, please apologize on my behalf. I'll see you at home."
And she leapt out the window into the starry night, and sprinted across the grounds, her figure fading into the darkness.
It took her about a minute of hardcore galloping across the palace grounds to reach the Emperor's quarters. She stopped, panting, and stared up at the grand building shining in the moonlight. She took a deep breath and leapt up, easily scaling the wall by finding nooks and irregularities with her cloth shoes and bare hands, and slipped into an open window on the third floor. His window. His father's before him.
It was empty. Breathing heavily, she strode across the room and forcefully pushed open the sliding door, coming out into a hallway. Her ragged breaths filled the silence as she looked around, and suddenly, she could feel him. His presence flooded her mind, filled her up, and she knew that he was on the top floor, on the roof. He always did like rooftops. She turned on her heel and began to walk towards the stairs, her heart beating against her chest as if it was trying to escape. She ascended two more flights before finally reaching the top floor, and looking around, saw no more stairs. So, she walked into the nearest room and slipped out its window, pulling herself upwards until she reached the top of the building. She stood, and stared. He was there, facing away from her, standing on the edge with his arms crossed and his feet apart. A soft breeze seemed to be pushing her towards him, and she followed it, slowly approaching him until they were side –by–side.
Nobody spoke. Not for a while. They just stood there, looking out over the countryside, and the rolling hills and the blooming cherry trees, all bathed in starlight. A sudden movement caught her eye and she tensed, but realized that it was only a single meteor, streaking across the sky and disappearing in a split second. Then, Lan Fan heard him sigh.
"Do you remember," he said, still not looking at her. "When we were kids? How we sat on the roof of your house every single time there was a meteor shower and whished out hearts out?"
"Yes," she murmured, her voice soft. "We'd stay out all night sometimes, and end up falling asleep there."
He chuckled. "Yeah, and get lectured by Fu about 'proper conduct' or whatever. At least, you would."
She snorted softly. "You were always getting me into trouble. Every single stupid idea of yours ended up with me taking the blame for you."
He turned to her then, his eyes meeting hers. She felt she couldn't look away for the life of her.
"That's true," he said softly, taking a step towards her. "And I never gave you any form of thanks, did I? I've always been such an ungrateful, selfish being. That's why, when I took the throne, I vowed to change that."
Her mouth was dry. "Is that why you've done this? To make up for everything? You thought it was repayment for everything we've gone through?"
He sighed, and reached out, brushing a strand of hair from her face. Her heart palpitated, and goose bumps erupted where he touched her skin, but she remained stock-still, her eyes never leaving his.
"I arranged a marriage between Yu Piao and you because I thought it would make you happy. I figured that you and your family would be rich, prosperous, and respected because of your status. You would be able to have a husband, a family, and security. And I was so tired of seeing you in danger every day, Lan Fan. I wanted you to have a good life. I wanted you to be happy."
Her anger had returned, full force. "Happy?" she shrieked, stepping away from him. "You thought it would make me happy if I married a total stranger? If I left behind my brother, my home, my job, you – if I became someone's little wife and never stood by your side again? I took an oath," she said, prodding him in the chest. "An oath written in my blood that I would never leave you and always protect you. And to have you send my away-" she trailed off, cursing the tears that had sprung in her eyes and looking away.
"Do you see this?" Ling shouted, grabbing her left arm roughly and shaking it. "I hate it! I loathe it! Every time I see it I want to break something, or throw something against the wall. I hate seeing it on you, attached to your soft, white skin where it shouldn't be. I see it, and I think 'I did that'. If it weren't for me and my selfishness, you would be whole and unburdened. I don't want anything like that to happen to you ever again, Lan Fan! That's why I wanted you to go. Because sooner or later you'll end up dead because of me, and I can't be in a world where you're not. I'd rather you were with – with someone else who'll treat you right, than with me and constantly in harm's way, don't you understand?"
She glared at him, yanking her arm out of his grasp. "If you truly wish for my happiness, then let me stay with you, because I can't be in a world where you aren't either!" She felt her anger rise like a serpent in her chest, overpowering her as she raised her voice. "You speak of safety and security for me – of riches and status. You have piled them onto me without my permission, without my wishing it. But all the riches, all the power, all the security in the world means nothing if I'm not with you! I would rather be with you, by your side, than with anybody else, rolling in something as trivial as wealth and status, can't you understand! You-"
He didn't let her finish. Before she knew it, his lips were on hers and he was kissing her, and she was melting into his arms, her hands wrapped in his stupid long hair, his around her waist, crushing her closer to him. She never wanted to leave, never wanted Ling's arms to untangle themselves from around her, never wanted to stop touching him.
"Lan Fan," he whispered between kisses. "Lan Fan."
"Ling," she whispered back. His name felt wonderful to say. It was supposed to be there, on her tongue, in her heart, where it had been already for thousands of years. She kissed him again. "We can't do this."
He kissed her back. "Definitely not."
"It's forbidden." Another kiss.
"So forbidden." And another.
"I'm your bodyguard. A simple peasant."
"And I'm your Emperor. A simple king."
"Ling." She said it with such seriousness that he stopped and pulled away, his eyes surprised. "I mean it. We can't."
He stared at her, and the burst out laughing. Disconcerted, Lan Fan tried backing away, but he wouldn't let go of her hand and waist. She met his eyes and saw that they were happy, so happy. She wondered if hers looked the same way.
"Lan Fan," Ling said, calming down. "Listen. You know how greedy I am."
"Master, you are not-"
"Wait, let me finish. You witnessed my greed, my hunger for power in Amestris. You saw that I just took what I wanted, whenever I wanted, sometimes with the cost of sacrificing others for my own selfish gain." His grip on her left hand tightened. "The fact of the matter is, nothing has changed. And I want you. I've wanted you my whole life, from the moment I knew you. And now, knowing that you want me too, you've made me the happiest man on the face of the earth. So I'm not letting you go, Lan Fan. Not unless you ask me to."
She stared at him, utterly befuddled. It was more than enough that he was holding her, wasn't letting her go, but he hand just downright – she gulped – confessed to her. Imagine that. The Emperor of Xing, the ruler of their entire nation, the boy she had known her entire life, her best friend…and she felt the same way. She smiled at him, softly stroking his cheek with her thumb.
"Stupid boy," she said, pulling him into a hug. She felt his arms circle her once again, felt his hands in her hair, pulling her bun out of its knot and letting her tresses cascade down around her face. He buried his face in the crook of her neck, and she closed her eyes, thinking Yes, I could. I could do this forever. "I'm not going anywhere."
The abolition of the Imperial Harem was the talk of the country. For the first time in thousands of years, Xing's Emperor was taking a wife. And only one wife. Many people frowned, saying that the balance of power between all the clans would shift to the Yao tribe, but this would not be the case, for even a hundred years later, Xing still prospered and throne succession was never to be an issue. As for his wife, no one really knew too much about where she came from. Some said she was a peasant, and that he had married her because he fell in love with her. Others disagreed, saying that the Emperor's wife had been a witch, and seduced him with black magic. After all, people had seen the metal arm that moved like a real one. And yet others argued that she had been a fierce warrior, who had saved the Emperor numerous times, and that they got along so well they had decided to wed, so as to be together forever properly.
But whichever the story, all were in agreement that it was a rather romantic one.
Okay! So, in the battle with Scar vs. Wrath, Lan Fan comes out to speak with the dying Bradley about his regrets, and they end up talking about his wife. Bradley tells her, "Your trivial words of sorrow, of love guilt mean nothing to me, young lady. My wife understands. She is the one that I chose to let by my side. There are no more words that need to pass between us now. That's what it means to be the wife of the Fuhrer." So, I was wondering what the significance of that was? Arakawa must have put it in for a reason, and my guess is that it was foreshadowing Ling and Lan Fan's future. Plus, did you see Lan Fan's reaction to that? She tensed up. Meaning it had meaning to her. Heeehehehee :D Any ideas?