name: rest my chemistry
rating: T, for swearing and kissing and such
pairings: mainly LingFan although every scene but one is in Al's point of view (also contains minor AlMei and EdWin
author's note: the title of this is from the song 'rest my chemistry' by interpol but the song I listened to a thousand times while writing this was 'out on my own' by gabrielle aplin
another author's note: this one-shot has two main focuses: Alphonse and then Ling&Lan Fan.
disclaimer: the only FMA thing I own is Roy Mustang's gloves.
If Alphonse heard the words "dragon pulse" one more time, he was sure he'd fall into a frenzy that would put his older brother to shame.
Alchemy had been easy. Even though he was not named a prodigy like his brother, he was a genius when it came to constructing, deconstructing, and reconstructing matter. He had been researching human transmutation, equations even people twice his age didn't understand by the time he was seven. He was decoding alchemic text before his teacher even took the time to explain most of them and he could perform alchemy without a transmutation circle by fifteen.
And yet alkehestry made absolutely no sense to him.
"Can we take a break?" He stood up, stretching back on the balls of his feet as Mei Chang, imperial princess of Xing, glanced up from her scroll at him.
"Alright, but you do know you have to try it eventually," she chided and he shrugged. Really, he had all the time in the world. After all, he had only been in Xing a month and he was nowhere near ready to leave. The music, the food, the culture; each sensation was a burst of color against his new, human eyes. It had been two years since he was stuck in that hollow armor and yet he still felt like a newborn at times; fascinated with every scent or taste because he now had the chance to savor each one.
"I just…don't get it," he sighed, running his hands through his hair. Mei rested her hands on her lap, tilting her head.
"Alphonse, it's simple—"
"It's not! Not to me," he said defensively. "I don't understand how in the world chi is what redirects the alchemic current instead of tectonic energy. I can't sense chi like you can," he rubbed his hand, running his fingers through his hair. Mei rested her hand on his wrist briefly, smiling. She knew touch calmed him down, the feeling of another a soothing gesture after so much time without it. Although he did not regret his time in the armor, he was glad to finally be able to feel the sun on his skin.
And that's when he realized: he needed to talk to Ed.
"Mei, I'm sorry. Just give me a little time; I have to make a phone call," he said, smiling brightly and resting his hand on her head. Her cheeks dusted pink but he didn't notice, too busy bustling out of the room and trying to find the nearest telephone. Maybe if he explained the concepts Mei was trying to communicate to him; Ed would understand! After all, he had brushed up a bit on his alkehestry research in the time spent relaxing in the Resembool countryside. Alphonse was so preoccupied in his thoughts he almost didn't notice a walking figure ahead until he was right in front of it.
"Oh!" He jumped back, lifting his hands and dropping to a bow. He was too unfamiliar with the customs of the country but Ling and Mei were slowly teaching him the basics so he wouldn't disrespect any visiting court members.
"Alphonse," the figure said kindly and he lifted his head, smiling sheepishly. Lan Fan nudged her head upwards, a small smile framing her now mask-less face. Ling had insisted she keep it off when inside her own home, which was the entire imperial palace. He jerked up, smoothing down his vest, and shrugged.
"I'm still not used to the bowing,"
"You wouldn't bow to me; Ling is considering you an Amestrian diplomat," she corrected, shifting slightly so she could gather all the papers in her hands into one disheveled bundle. He figured this meant Ling was finishing off the final agreements for the opening of the railway between Amestris and Xing and him and Lan Fan had been spending the entire afternoon doing just that. It was Emperor Yao's first large project in his new position and he had been slaving over it for the past few months (which of course, meant Lan Fan had been fretting over it as well).
"You're no lower in station than me," he protested and she laughed under her breath. It was different seeing Lan Fan here, in her own country where she belonged, where she wasn't being chased by homunculi or constantly worrying about Ling's future prospects as ruler. She was still the same person he knew but much more relaxed, gracious with her smiles and graceful even off the battlefield. However, he knew from experience this didn't mean she wouldn't hesitate to draw a knife to your throat at the first sign of ill-intent. He had sparred with her enough times to know she carried at least three knives on her person aside from her long katana, currently sheathed on her belt.
"I am simply a vassel," she said before tilting her head to the side. The clink of her automail arm was enough to bring him back to the present and before she could say goodbye, he spoke up.
"Do you know where I could find a phone?"
"The drawing room is about two doors down," she said, gesturing to the other side of the hall. "Calling Ed?"
"How'd you know?"
"You were looking at the automail," she said and in the distance, they heard a faint whine of her name drifting into the hallway. Lan Fan ignored it and leaned against the wall, tilting her head.
"Isn't he already in the west?"
"Well, he was going to spend a few more days with Winry before leaving; help her move to Rush Valley," he said, an involuntary grin rushing to his face. The idea of Ed finally telling Winry how he felt was thrilling, even if he knew his brother would probably mess it up in the worst possible way. But that was the point of Ed and Winry: they understood each other, even if they were yelling and tossing things across the room. As long as they were happy, he was happy.
"Is it about your alchemy training?" Al rubbed the back of his neck, looking away. Suddenly, when faced with this girl barely a year older than him, he felt embarrassed that he was running to his brother for help.
"Um, yeah. I just…wanted to run some things by him," he said, shrugging. "There's a lot I don't understand about chi—" He was interrupted by a laugh bursting from Lan Fan's lips, which she smothered with her hand.
"Edward does not seem like he'd be much help with identifying chi. I don't know how he'd be able to, his is so huge it suffocates everything else in the room," she quipped and he laughed. Yes, that sounded a lot like his brother. But his brother was also daring and bold and much more clever than he was and if Alphonse was having difficulty understanding this, his brother would be able to help him. So he smiled but didn't comment and Lan Fan's smile slowly vanished. She took a step forward, bending her head slightly to whisper:
"It's alright to need your brother, Alphonse. But I recommend doing this on your own. I may not be an alchemist, but isn't something much more rewarding when you have completed it on your own?"
"Laaaaaaaaan Faaaaaaan," the steady whine was now loud enough to hear, unperturbed, from the hallway. She sighed, gently brushing her bangs out of her face.
"I'll see you at dinner Alphonse; say hello to the bean for me." He found it strange that she asked him to say hello to the very person she advised against calling but maybe he was simply much easier to read than he thought. He watched as Lan Fan walked a few feet and yanked the door open without as much as a second glance, curling her mouth into a scowl as she faced the Emperor sitting on his bed, shirt unbuttoned, holding papers at an arm's length. He looked up and smiled, gesturing her inside with an absent flick of his hand. She stayed at the doorway for a moment before her eyes softened and Alphonse quickly walked away, feeling intrusive for no reason at all.
Alphonse didn't call Ed after his conversation with Lan Fan. Instead of walking towards the drawing room he ended up wandering back into his room, shutting himself inside for the rest of the day. Dinner a few hours after was spent staring down at his food with Mei sending him worried glances but being unable to actually voice anything considering how many people were seated around them. Dinner in the Imperial Palace was more a delegation meeting than an actual meal, considering how many Xingese clan members came to discuss their problems with the Emperor. Today was one of those days: the highest member of the Lu clan sat to his left, trying to coerce Ling to open a station of the new railway on the borders of their region.
"I understand your concern but I'm afraid I can't do anything about it. We're nearly finished with the system and we can't afford to add anything into the plans," he said calmly, barely glancing at the up-turned nose of the middle-aged man next to him. Their daughter, Seraphina Lu, stayed silent, watching the proceedings with a gentle, if not exasperated, smile. It took Alphonse a moment to realize that this woman was likely one of Ling's future wives, once the clans got sick of him stalling the marriage contracts and pushed for the concubine system to begin. He wondered briefly if he had ever thought of simply dismantling the system entirely but really, Ling had likely thought about it hundreds of times. How much simpler would his life be without the future of 50 wives on his shoulders? Having to watch his sons and daughters battle for the throne just like he had? Was it really worth keeping up such a ridiculous notion for the sake of tradition?
"And you, Sir Elric? How long will you visiting our country?" He jerked his head up a beat too late, Seraphina looking at him with barely concealed amusement. Pink crept onto his cheeks and he shrugged.
"I'm sorry; I'm a bit concerned on my research right now. I don't really know when I'll go, but I love Xing, so I'll likely be staying for a while," he smiled.
Some nights, once Ling was in bed and she made sure the guards posted outside his door knew she was leaving for the night, Lan Fan and Alphonse would go into the training grounds to fight. This was partly due to Alphonse's unstable insomnia from his time in the armor and Lan Fan's need to release the tension she couldn't when she was fighting with her pupils. Tonight was one of those nights where Lan Fan's fists were clenched tightly, knuckles white and ready to slice a clean hit across his cheek.
"You know the rules; we don't fight when we're angry," he said, crossing his arms.
"I'm not angry."
"You're going to pop a vessel scowling like that." Lan Fan stomped away and just when he thought she was leaving, she whirled around and kicked the sand that littered the main ring. The training grounds were a combination of lined walls of weapons and a center circle created especially for hand-to-hand combat. Alphonse watched as she glanced around for a moment, helpless in her gracefulness, before sitting down on the floor.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"Not really." Alphonse stayed silent after that. What could he do if he didn't know what was wrong? And even if he did, was there really anything he could say to make things better? Ed knew Lan Fan better than he did and even Ed didn't know too much about her. She was an enigma wrapped in warrior clothing, even if he considered her a close friend. She was too secretive, too quiet, too willing to let her emotions simmer to a boil rather than blow the lid. He was unaccustomed to that kind of restraint and the idea that she could be feeling so many things at once and he couldn't even notice startled him.
"Seraphina came to see Ling." Ah, that explained a lot. It explained the knowing look in her eyes, the slight sag in her shoulders. It explained why she looked defeated but also complacent, because that was the kind of in-between she was used to. Alphonse nit-picked each expression that passed on her features before she finally settled on a sigh, leaning back against the raised walls.
"Are you willing to sacrifice your own happiness to stay by his side?"
"Yes," Lan Fan didn't hesitate. "I always have been. It doesn't even matter if he does love me or if I love him. We both have a duty to our country that is much more important than our duty to ourselves."
"Please," she said, holding up her hand, and Alphonse worried for a moment he had overstepped his boundaries, asking her such a personal question. Lan Fan was nothing if not private and reserved in her emotions and this was likely not something she enjoyed talking about, especially with him.
"I'm sorry, Lan Fan, really." She smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes.
"It's fine Alphonse, I just don't see the point in clinging to something that is out of my realm of possibility. I am perfectly content with what I have now."
"But will you be content forever?"
"Probably not," she said, idly tracing patterns in the sand. Her porcelain skin looked pale, dimly lit by the moon above them, cutting shadows across her face that made her seem much older than she actually was. The only noise that passed between them was the creak of her automail; likely in need of a proper oiling. Finally, before Alphonse could work up the courage to say something, Lan Fan stood.
"Did you talk to Ed?"
"No," his voice turned small and he kept his eyes glued to the ground, sighing.
"I Mei have said what I did yesterday; but it's not wrong to want your brother. Especially not after what you two have been through," she said, placing a hand on his shoulder.
"But the whole point of this was to expand my horizons! You were right; I won't feel as happy with his help as I would figuring this out by myself."
"Sometimes what you want is in confliction with what you need," she said sagely, smiling once before turning to walk away.
"Talk to him; I'm sure he misses you already."
Alphonse didn't know why he didn't want to make the call. The sensible part of him said he should call before Ed left for Creta, considering there was no stationary number he'd be able to get a hold of. So he picked up the phone and twisted the cord in his fingers, swallowing as it rang.
"Rockbell Mechanics; Winry Rockbell speaking," a cheery voice greeted him and Al nearly jumped. He shouldn't have been surprised; Ed hardly ever answered the phone if he could help it. Even when they were traveling, it was Al that took calls and updated Mustang and made sure that Ed remembered he still worked under the Colonel's (General's, he corrected in his head) command.
"Winry, it's Al!"
"Al, hey! How's Xing? More importantly, how's Mei?" Winry had made it no secret she entertained the idea of Mei and Al together and Al honestly couldn't say he was opposed to the idea. He had come to love the small Xingese girl over the past month and the two years he had spent recuperating from the Promised Day had involved frequent letters traveling across the desert. But he could play this game as well and Winry was infinitely more exciting to hear flustered than he'd ever be.
"We're both fine; how are you and Ed?" The line was silent for a few beats and Al wasn't sure if it was because they had gotten into a nasty fight or because she was blushing like mad.
"I think he proposed to me." More seconds of silence passed until Al managed to find his voice.
"What? Winry, what do you mean you think?" Leave it to his brother to make a girl confused when trying to confess; although he was impressed Ed had managed to actually get some semblance of a proposal out.
"Well when he was getting on the train he started going on about equivalent exchange and he said…I said…oh god it was," she breathed. Al grinned until the words processed themselves fully in his head and his smile faded away.
"Yeah he left yesterday morning; we finished up early and you know how he is, can't sit still for too long, even now." Al made a small noise of affirmation in the back of his throat, his hand gripping the telephone against his ear. Ed was gone. His brother had left for the West and he had no way of contacting him until Ed let him know where he was and what were the chances of that? Ed could hardly remember to dry his automail or call every once in a while and now he was off researching. Burying himself in his studies was always the best way for Edward Elric to become a social recluse and now he had no Al to make sure he went out every once in a while, ate, interacted with people.
But Ed could take care of himself.
Was that really what he was afraid of? He was kidding himself. His brother was a lot of things but none of them included the word dependant. Al, however, suddenly became terrified. The sound of Winry's voice became a unclear buzz and he picked out a few sentences to stop himself from thinking.
"I know you probably really wanted to talk to him"
"He said he'd call as soon as he found a town he'd be staying in"
"Although if he forgets I won't be surprised, damn bastard"
"How's the alchemy training going?"
"Winry, I have to go," he finally managed to whisper, loosening his grip on the phone. He heard something fall on the other line and Winry swore.
"Oh, of course Al, I'll talk to you soon! Bye!" He stayed for a few moments after the click, staring at the wall. This had been his idea. He and Ed had talked about this for months; traveling on their own and researching alchemy in pursuit of a way around equivalent exchange. He was the one who first mentioned traveling to Xing, the first one who said Ed should go towards the West when the boy made wistful comments about being restless, the first one who boarded the camel that would take him across the desert and away from the family he had. So why did he feel panicked; the tight feeling in his chest thumping painfully against his skin. He sighed, sliding down the wall and landing on the floor with a soft sound, his knees bending and holding up his chin.
"Alphonse? Are you in there?" The door pushed open and Mei stepped inside, swathed in her imperial robes. She looked beautiful, Al noted absently, her hair running down her back, a simple crown resting on her head. She had likely just returned from a meeting with Ling with one of the high clans; the kind that didn't happen over dinner and made Lan Fan's teeth set on edge. The kind of meeting that brought some of Mei and Ling's bitter and violent brothers and sisters to court. She looked exhausted, strung-out, and when she had a small gasp of surprise, he wondered if he looked the same.
"Oh Alphonse, what's wrong?"
"Nothing...nothing. I just…I don't think I'm used to not having Ed around," he smiled ruefully and Mei sat down next to him, moving her silk away from her feet.
"Did you talk to him?"
"He's already gone to Creta." Mei took his hand, gently rubbing her thumb across his palm.
"I'm sure he'll call you the minute he gets stationed somewhere," she reasoned. "Besides, you're a brilliant alchemist and I know this is why you're freaking out."
"He's not here to help me; he's the prodigy."
"You give your brother too much credit," she scorned, lifting her finger. "You're both prodigies. Did you think alkehestry was going to be easy? I've spent my entire life mastering this." He looked up at her skeptically, raising an eyebrow. After all, he had met her at the tender age of twelve and she was already a skilled and talented alkehestrist.
"Alright, Maybe I have a natural affinity for it," she laughed, squeezing his hand. "But it's supposed to be hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it! Sure, alchemy might've been easier because you had Edward around to help you but you're both moving on with your lives," she stood up suddenly and cling to his hands, tugging him forward. He let her pull him up, surprised at her strength, before staring down at their linked hands.
"That hardly means you're going to stop being brothers. And it also doesn't mean you're not as good without him. You're both strong on your own as much as you're strong apart. That's why you decided to travel separate ways," she reminded him and he remembered having this conversation with her at his arrival. Over dinner, one of the rare times it was just the four of them, he explained how he and Ed were going to overturn the law of equivocal exchange. How he and Ed were going to travel the world, see new things, meet new people, find themselves and then come back and compile their research together. They were going to take the world by storm and even if they were doing it apart, they were doing it together. Alphonse let out a long sigh, pressing his forehead against Mei's and smiling. He didn't have Ed with him but he had people he loved supporting him, surrounding him. The Elric brothers had always been lucky in that sense.
"You're right," he mumbled. "As usual." Mei nearly grinned and pushed him towards the door.
"Of course I am. Now come on, let's go practice some more."
THREE MONTHS LATER
"I'm just…I'm angry! That's it, I'm so damn angry and all I've ever wanted is to be emperor and yet I'm fucking miserable," Ling said, collapsing onto his chai. Alphonse stayed standing a few feet away, surprised to see the cool, collected composure Ling had been wearing for months suddenly slip away. He had always been funny and charming and Ling but seeing him like this, wavering and confused, knocked Al off-kilter.
"Because you love Lan Fan." Ling stilled his tapping and sighed.
"And she knows?"
"And she's pretending it never happened."
"You two spend a lot more time together than I thought if you could guess all of that," he whispered and Alphonse shrugged. It was less that he and Lan Fan spent a lot of time together and more that she made a lot more sense to him than anyone else did. After their incident in the training grounds, Lan Fan hadn't mentioned Ling besides the occasional complaint of his laziness or comment on the state of affairs of the country. Alphonse sensed the change but said nothing, knowing that Lan Fan would prefer to pretend the night had never happened.
"Have you…tried talking to her about it?"
"Yes! …Not really. I try, I really do, but she's right," he dropped his elbows to rest on his thighs. It surprised Alphonse how casual Ling could be when his imperial guard and constant gaggle of an entourage wasn't behind him. It reminded him of their days in Amestris, plotting inside cramped hotel rooms and fighting homunculi. "I will be marrying 50 women in a few years and it's not fair to keep her as a closet wife. I want to do right with her but I want her," he smiled ruefully. "It's a greedy idea but I'm a greedy man."
"And you can't eliminate the concubine system," he questioned reluctantly, knowing that the idea might be a preposterous one to Ling. But instead of adamantly refusing, Ling stayed silent, staring at the wall. He suddenly looked tired instead of angry; shoulders sagged and a knowing look in his eyes.
"Lan Fan would never let me do that. Not for her. And she'd know it was for her." Alphonse knew he was right. After all, who knew Lan Fan better than Ling? They'd spent their entire lives together; their fates as intertwined as twins at birth. Lan Fan's purpose since she was a child was to protect the future emperor of Xing and Ling had spent his entire life making that purpose as difficult as possible.
"But you love her," Alphonse said again, trying to grasp a solution.
"You can repeat it all you want; it doesn't make a difference to her."
It doesn't matter if I love him or he loves me; we have a duty to our country that is much more important than our duty to ourselves.
"She loves you," Alphonse said softly, leaning back in his chair. Ling pushed his bangs back, careful not to topple the crown perched precariously on his head, and swore.
"You know? Then isn't it worth the time you can spend together?"
"What and make her my 51st wife?" Alphonse set his jaw and looked up at Ling.
"Look," he said and the tone of his voice caused Ling to sit up straighter, "both of you are going to have to compromise. You both want too much or too little and both of you are too self-sacrificing for your age," he scowled when Ling tried to open his mouth. "And don't go telling me it's because you're the emperor because the Ling I know works for what he wants. And Lan Fan will not make any movement until she knows that you," he jabbed his finger, "are sure."
"I'm not the one you need to tell that to."
And because of that, he did. He knocked on their adjacent doors and asked her inside and sat her down on the ornate chairs by his bed, grasping her hand in his. Ling would make it work, they'd make it work, he swore it. And so, Lan Fan did not stop Ling when he pressed her against the wall of his bedroom, tipping her head upwards so he could lower his head and meet her lips. She didn't stop his roaming hands, his fumbling fingers, usually firm but now shaking. And in return, he didn't stop her tears, didn't stop the slow, smooth fingers that undid his robes, didn't stop the hands that suddenly pushed him in the direction of the bed.
"My Lord," she breathed, cheeks reddening as his lips dipped into the curve of her neck, smiling.
"T-That's not very—oh," she squeaked when his hand dropped to her thigh. "Ling," she whispered.
"We'll make it work," he mumbled, suddenly stopping his advances, resting them so that her back fell against the bed sheets, pressing his face into her shoulder. "We'll be fine."
"We're already fine."
"Better then," he grinned, nuzzling her neck. Her cheeks darkened and she groaned, pushing him away and turning over to bury her face in his pillow.
"If you say so." He could hardly hear her muffled voice but he smiled regardless.
"I swear it."
tada! alright everyone, be sure to review or favorite or whatever done below if you liked it!