Title -Flower that Smiles Today
Author D M Evans
Disclaimer - Arakawa owns them.
Warning - major character death
Summary - Just one bullet changes everything.
GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying. - Robert Herrick
Al couldn't breathe. His vision darkened as he swayed on his feet. This couldn't be happening. His mind played the scene on an endless reel. Mei stepped forward with her usual self-confidence in her abilities to handle any foe, but what good were kunai and flowing kata against a sniper with distance and a gun? She was gone before she hit the ground. Al knew that even before he stumbled toward her, screaming her name, completely heedless that a bullet could shatter his skull as easily as it had hers.
Al fell at her side, scooping her, as he pictured healing alkahestry in his mind. It didn't matter that he could feel there was nothing left to the back of Mei's head as he cradled her. He refused to accept it. Before he could muster the energy to begin something taboo, someone grabbed his shirt, hauling him back, trying to get him to shelter. He clung to Mei and his would-be savior grunted, trying to budge their weight. Out of the corner of his eye, Al saw automail fingers entangled in his clothing.
He twisted free of Lan Fan's grip but rolled to his feet, clutching Mei to his chest. Al struggled toward the pagoda where Lan Fan had been trying to drag them. Lan Fan spun on one foot and Al followed her gaze. The muzzle of a gun glinted in the sun from the roof top next door. Nearly dropping his wife, Al clapped and the terra cotta tiles became a coffin. Revenge had been as simple as that.
Afterward, Al didn't remember much. His world narrowed to the smell of blood as he rocked his wife's body, curled into a corner of the pagoda as a battle that wasn't even his raged around him. How much more could he give up? Al almost believed in a god at that moment. Nature was indifferent. Only something sentient could be as cruel as life had been to him. His mother struck down by disease when he was but a child. His body had been stolen. The man who could have been a father figure to him died in a phone booth. His real father died just as Al was getting to know him. And now his own children, just about the age he and Ed were when their mother passed, would have to learn to live without their mother.
Mei shouldn't have had to die. Slowly, the realization sank in that Ling hadn't been forthright about his invitation to come back to Xing. Al and Mei had been on alert because her half-brother had made it clear the kids should stay back in Amestris with their aunt and uncle. Ling obviously had been expecting some kind of trouble. It was part and parcel of Xingese politics. Even though he knew Ling couldn't be open in his letters, Al felt a cold rage building inside him over the fact that Ling hadn't done more to warn them.
Mei was dead. Al was lost. He didn't remember being taken back to Ling's palace, had idea that time had passed so radically until finally the fog lifted and he saw the moon out, full and calm as if nothing had happened. Words from earlier slowly trickled back to him and he remembered someone telling him that Mei had been taken to be prepared for a funeral. Her clan would take care of it or Ling's. All Al knew was he had been shut out – probably not intentionally – of making his wife's arrangements. He didn't know Xingese customs beyond the rudimentary. Part of him didn't even care, almost relieved to have the burden removed. He wasn't up to thinking about it, but he might feel otherwise come morning.
How was he going to tell his children? Ed, someone would have to tell Brother. Phone service still didn't extend across countries, but the telegraph did. Someone from Ling's vast array of servants and courtiers might have already done so. They might even have informed Fuhrer Mustang that there had been an attempt on Emperor Yao's life.
Al needed to see Ling but just outside his own door were guards. He didn't have the strength to argue with them when they said he needed to stay put. If he had three guards in the hall – and four more that he could actually see and probably a few he couldn't outside his window in the courtyard, Al could only imagine that Ling had an army wrapped around himself. There would be no getting through tonight.
Sleep was impossible, but he wanted to try. Al couldn't curl up in the bed he shared with Mei so he pulled off a blanket and tucked himself up on a chair. He'd been wrong about the impossibility of sleep.
Ling woke him when he arrived at dawn, Lan Fan tight to him as skin. Over the years, Ling had grown close to his half-sister, the pain of that closeness gleaming in his dark eyes.
"Al, I'm sor-".
Al's fist knocked the rest of the word out of Ling's mouth. "You knew how dangerous it was when you asked us here," he snarled, only half surprised that Lan Fan didn't get between them, almost as if Ling knew this was coming and wanted it.
"I didn't think it would get this bad this fast," the emperor protested, rubbing his chin, smearing the blood leaking from his split lip.
"But you knew there was a threat," Al said but the words lost all power in repetition.
"And I was going to explain it all to you once you and Mei settled in."
"She's gone, Ling. Mei's gone." Alphonse broke, tears flooding down the valleys of his face. He covered his mouth with one hand, trying to hold in the tide of emotion. "How? How do I tell my babies their mother isn't coming home? What do I do now that half my heart is gone?"
"I don't know," Ling admitted, putting a hand on Al's shoulder.
Al collapsed against his brother-in-law and Ling embraced him, letting him cry. Al felt Lan Fan's arms go around him as well. He should have felt safe, but he merely felt empty and alone in spite of the crush of bodies. Another summer flower in his world had met the bitter winds of autumn, taking its color from his life. Spring might never come again.