If there's one thing Lee knows it's that seeing a twelve year old girl stand at the foot of his bed telling him about her imminent death is creepiest thing he's ever seen.
The small figure of Mei Chang smiled down at him and repeated herself. “I'm going to die soon. We all are.”
‘Oh yeah’, thought Lee. ‘The others.’ Surrounding his bed were the forty nine of the royal children of Xing, along with the late Emperor and the Yao wife. All were dressed in lavish, bone white outfits that seemed to glow in the dim light of the hotel room. They were packed around the bed, the youngest and smallest of the group halfway on the bed in an attempt to make room for the rest. However, some stood out over the rest.
Mei Chang was given a spot at the foot of the bed, closer to him than any of the others. Lee had no idea why she was so close to him. ‘Yes you do.’ a voice in his head whispered. ‘She was your best friend, the only sibling you trusted. How did you forget?’
On his right was the emperor, cold and aloof as royalty often was. He said nothing to Lee nor did he seem to care that Lee was there at all. ‘No change there’
At his head was the Yao wife, ageless, regal, and intimidating as all hell. She glared down at him, hard eyes burning into his. She had been as silent as the emperor, staring at Lee without a sound. She broke her silence with one question, “Who are you?”
As if they had been waiting for that question, the others closed in around Lee, each repeating the question posed by the Yao wife.
Who are you?
As if that hadn’t been the question on Lee’s mind for the past nine years.
His first thought was the obvious answer. He was Lee. A boy from Xing who couldn’t remember anything that had happened more than nine years ago. A boy who decided that going to Amestris with a street rat and her con man grandfather was a good idea. That was who he was.
But there was a voice in his head, one that had grown stronger with every passing day that said differently. It convinced him that he was not just Lee from Xing. No, he was Ling Yao, the twelfth son of the late emperor and the only child of the Yao wife. He was the only person in his family to have lived after an attack on the place. He was the last member left of his family and as such, he was the heir to throne.
The Yao wife- his mother?- placed a hand on his head and said, “I'll ask you one last time. Who are you?”
“I don’t know!” Lee cried out.
At that she yelled and lunged straight for Lee.
With a cry loud enough to wake the whole of Amestris, Lee jolted awake in his bed.
Next thing Lee knew, Lan Fan stood in his room: alert, disheveled, and holding what appeared to be a knife.
“Lee what is it? What’s wrong?” Her eyes scanned the room as if whatever had made Lee cry out was just hiding behind the curtains. The knife in her hand was pitifully small and without her prosthetic arm on, she didn’t look nearly as threatening as she wanted to be. That isn’t to say she wasn’t the fiercest fighter Lee knew. Back in Xing you couldn’t go three days without running into someone who had taken on Lan Fan and quickly lost.
The sound of her voice quickly broke him out of his thoughts. Realising that he still hadn’t given her an answer, Lee quickly shook his head.
“I’m fine. It was just a nightmare.” He watched as she slowly put away the knife. “Did you really bring a knife just because you heard me screaming?”
A blush spread across her face as she dropped his gaze. “I thought you might have been in trouble so of course I brought a knife.” She glanced up at him, eyes blazing. “I’m not like you. I don’t rush into conflict without a weapon like a certain idiot I know.”
Blushing tomato red yet still criticizing him. What more did he expect from someone like Lan Fan?
Lan Fan with her stubbornness and pride because what else does she have if not those? Lan Fan who couldn't lie to save her life and yet still managed to survive on the streets since she was ten. The same girl who could be as cold as a winter storm yet still tried to befriend any stray animal she'd come across in the street. The girl who tracked down a man who had stolen some of Lee’s food money and forced him to pay Lee double what he was owed. Lan Fan who refused to bow to anyone she didn't deem worthy -and if some traitorous part of Lee’s brain desperately wanted to know the one person who had been worthy enough for her once, no one needed to know. The same girl that for some reason, Lee thought wouldn't come running to save him the minute he started screaming.
Maybe he was an idiot.
“Lee, you’re shaking.”
What is she talking about I’m not…
He looked down and lo and behold, he was. Lee glanced up at her, laughing weakly. “What do you know? I am. I think I’m just gonna sit down…”
“Yeah that’s probably for the best.” She followed him to the bed, her presence comforting in a way Lee wasn’t ready to deal with right now.
They sat in silence for a long moment, the two trying to draw comfort from the other as best they can.
Lee was the one to break the silence first. Turning to face her, he asked,“Do you really think I might be him? Prince Ling Yao?”
She sighed. “I want to believe you're the little boy I saw long ago.”
“I don’t understand. You saw me?”
“Once. It was June, I was ten.” She paused, a small, wistful smile on her face. “There was a parade, the kind where everyone comes out to see it. And I mean everyone. It was a crowd of thousands that day. Just for one person.”
Lee cocked his head. “What do you mean?”
She looked at him quizzically, as though he had asked a question that he already knew the answer to. “It was the birthday of the twelfth prince. I can still remember how it all looked. He sat straight, like a king. Only eight but so proud and calm even with cheering crowd. I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off of him.” It was here that Lan Fan looked down into her lap, a blush on her face. “The parade was about to leave so… I ran. I called out his name and looked up. And he smiled.” She sighed. “Next thing I remember, the sun was in my eyes and the parade had turned the corner and I lost sight of him. But if I’m being honest? If I was there again, I’d find him.”
Lee let out a little laugh. "I feel like I was there too.”
She smiled. “You might have been. Why not make it part of your story. For the Dowager Empress.”
Lee felt his smile falter. The Dowager Empress. She was the late emperor’s mother and if Lan Fan and Fu were to be believed, she was his grandmother. She was also the most important person they had to convince about Lee’s identity as Ling Yao.
“Do you think it will make her believe me?”
Lan Fan shrugged. “It might. Here try to tell me the story. This way you’ve got it down.”
“Alright.” Lee cleared his throat. “Let’s see. There was a parade, passing by. It was a hot day in June. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I had just turned eight and I remember looking at the crowd, mesmerised.” He chuckled. “There were so many people I didn’t really take any of it in. Except for this one girl in the crowd. She was short, thin too. Not that clean either.”
At that, Lan Fan pushed him, knocking him to the bed. “Watch it, Lee.” She was laughing though, so he counted it as a win.
Picking himself up off the bed, he continued. “I see this girl on the street and I couldn’t look away. She was dodging between all the guards on the road and when she got close enough, lifted her hand to me. She called out my name and I don’t know what it was but something about her just. Made me smile. And she got closer to where I was and then…” Lee cut himself off with a gasp, turning to look at Lan Fan. “She bowed.”
Lan Fan stood quickly, wrapping her arms around herself. “I-I didn’t tell you that.”
Lee -not Lee, Ling, definitely Ling this proves it- followed her. “You didn’t have to. I remember.”
He would like to say that they ran towards each other without difficulty but in reality, they stumbled and had to clutch at each others arms to keep up right. Lan Fan stared at him as though she had never seen him before. “You were there. It really was you. The parade keep going and I couldn’t- I never-”
Ling pick up where she left off. “I couldn’t see you after that. The sun was in my eyes and you were gone after that.” He laughed brokenly. “I remember telling my mother about you. The girl from the parade. I swore I would find you again, even in a crowd of thousands.”
Lan Fan smiled at him. “I promised myself the same thing. I would find you again. And I did.”
It was only then that Ling saw how close he and Lan Fan were. He could see the little freckles across her nose, the almost invisible scar on her temple, the happy tears in her eyes. He could see her and if that wasn’t enough to make his brain shut down, he didn’t know what would.
Ling realised right then and there that it didn’t matter if he was Lee the street sweeper or Ling Yao the heir to Xing’s throne. He had always been a little in love with Lan Fan. At first, with the conflicting idea of this young girl on the street with enough defiance to yell right at him and enough respect to bow. Then with the chance of freedom she gave him and the hope that went with it. Now though? He was in love with her kindness, her fierceness, her strict moral code that should have been broken by the streets she lived in but only seemed to grow stronger. In love with her freckles and scars and her weird sense of honor that made it okay to bow to an eight year old in a parade but made it reprehensible to show even the barest hint of respect to one of Xing leaders- past or present.
Ling Yao, twelfth prince of Xing, was a little a lot in love with Lan Fan and he was probably about to kiss her in the next, oh say, three seconds.
It seemed Lan Fan had the same idea. She was closer than she had been and Ling had just enough time to think, ‘Shit, hope I don’t have morning breath.’ before she was suddenly gone.
He blinked. That wasn’t how he thought that was going to happen. Ling looked around until he realised that Lan Fan was still there.
Apparently having Lan Fan bow to him could shut his brain down even faster than the thought of her kissing him. Who knew.
Lan Fan had dropped into a kneeling position with her arms crossed over one knee. Her head was down low enough to touch her hands and when she spoke, it was almost reverent.