It has been two years. Two years since she lost and gained her arm. Two years since she left Young Master to this country. Two years since this country ripped itself apart from the inside. As Xing threatens to do.
It has been two weeks. Two weeks since she returned to this country following rumors. Two weeks of searching for Young Master, for the Elric brothers if they yet survive. Two weeks in a dim lodging room in what's left of Rush Valley.
Lan Fan returns to her room again after another night of hunting. Another night of nothing. She returns to her room and retrieves her mask from her carefully packed belongings. Its familiar weight in her hands is almost painful. She slips it over her face and stands before the mirror in her room.
"Don't turn around."
Impossible. She fights breathe. She starts to turn.
"Don't turn around."
Lan Fan feels smothered. How could she not feel him? How is he here? She must do—She doesn't know what. But she doesn't turn. Half in obedience, half stunned disbelief, she doesn't turn.
A chuckle. "Good girl."
She hears him move behind her and then, slowly she can feel Young Master's spirit as if it were unfolding out of the dark. What had Edward Elric called it? A shield? Could that be what kept her from noticing him in the shadows?
"So you're the one," he said.
From the location of his voice, Young Master must be sitting on the floor. She searches the mirror before her. She can't see him.
That is not Young Master. Lan Fan's heart pounds. Her head feels stuffed.
"A whole country waiting for him, and the one he can't face if he fails is you."
Lan Fan says nothing. She counts her breaths.
Lan Fan knows Greed is talking to her, and she will not answer him as if he were Young Master. Her heartbeat falters. Where is Young Master?
"Hmm," says Greed. "You probably want to know if he's still in here."
"Yes." It is all she can say.
"Go ahead, then. Ask him something. Something only he'd know."
Lan Fan thinks hard. Something only he'd know. She asks in her language, their language. Something only he'd know. Something that happened a long time ago.
She hears only silence in response. Maybe Greed's lying. He doesn't lie, Alphonse had told her. Maybe Young Master doesn't remember.
"He says, 'we told her a story, and she fell asleep,'" says Greed.
Lan Fan struggles to keep her breathing even. And then she feels it. Feels him. His spirit just beyond her back.
"Take off your mask."
Lan Fan doesn't move.
"Go on," he says. "I want to see the face of the brave warrior who sacrificed her body for her master."
Slowly she slips the mask from her face. Slowly she raises her eyes. Her cheeks are flushed. She hears a chuckle.
"Well, now. You're quite pretty."
If Young Master had said it, with his teasing voice, with his teasing glance, her cheeks would be flushed with embarrassment. Lan Fan realizes he can see her front and back, now, and no matter how she searches the mirror, she still can't see him.
"He doesn't say much about you," Greed says. "He won't even tell me your name, you know. He says I've heard it before, but I can't remember."
Lan Fan isn't listening. Young Master is still there. She needs to think of what to do next.
"He wants to be the only one to say your name," Greed continues. "He wants a lot of things when it comes to you."
The next instant, he is in front of her, arm outstretched with one hand nearly at her throat. He does not touch her.
"But mostly, he wants you alive."
It has been so long, so very long since she and Young Master parted ways. The last thing she remembers of him was his voice begging a stranger to keep her safe. Begging for her useless life.
And now he stands before her, a demented grin pulling cruelly at the corners of his mouth, strange, glowing eyes and a steady, warm hand ready to crush her throat.
It is as if Young Master has gone mad.
If Young Master really stood before her, her life in his hand, she would lower her eyes, give up her neck.
But Young Master does not stand before her, and she catches herself before she can think it. She raises cold eyes to that much-missed face.
The grin fades into a speculative smirk, and just as quickly as he appeared, he slips back into the shadows behind her.
Her neck is still warm.
"So, tell me, why do you do it?" says the voice beyond her back. "And don't start talking about 'duty.' That's boring."
She thinks a little. She looks at her reflection as she answers.
"Young Master has said he will be emperor," she says simply, firmly, "and I believe him."
Greed takes a slow breath, and it sounds to Lan Fan as if he is trying to inhale her answer.
"All right then, if this all succeeds and this guy gets to be emperor, what's in it for you? It's been two years, and you're still trying, aren't you?"
She says nothing. There is nothing to say.
"Think he'll make you an empress?"
"No," she says.
"Not fair," he says, "is it?" He chuckles. "Cut your arm off for him, and you still can't touch him."
Lan Fan says nothing. She holds her mask a little tighter. She looks away from her reflection.
"Fifty other girls do, but not you." He sighs contentedly. "You do all the work, and they get all the fun. The Emperor's dog gets kicked off the bed."
"I am not from a noble clan," she says quietly.
"All the more! Wouldn't you want a chance to—what is it?—'rise above your station?"
"Why not?" Greed sounds genuinely puzzled.
"Because—" She has never been asked this question. Even so, she has an answer, albeit a strange one. "Because I hate sitting still."
There is a startled pause. And then Greed laughs, a surprised, friendly laugh. Lan Fan, too, is surprised and tells herself that Young Master's body makes the laughter sound easy.
"That's true, I guess." He sounds thoughtful. "It would be a shame to waste your skills lying in bed all day and night waiting your turn."
Lan Fan bristles at his coarse, but not untrue, assessment of the Emperor's wives.
"Besides," he says, "why be one of fifty when you can be the one and only who gave a limb for the emperor." His sigh sounds a little annoyed. "He owes you, doesn't he?"
"No," she says. "Young Master owes me nothing."
"That doesn't mean you don't want anything, though," he says. "If you don't want to be an empress, what do you want?"
Lan Fan is silent, her lips press together in a hard line.
"Everyone wants something, pretty. What is it, huh? Something else you can't have? Maybe you want to be free of—"
"No!" she says too fast. She can feel his smile crawling up her back.
"All right," he says, "how 'bout a bargain, then? I made one with him, maybe I can make one with you. I can be generous, you know. And I keep my promises too."
She doesn't answer. Alphonse said Greed doesn't lie.
"Tell me what you want," he continues, "and I'll tell you what I want. And then it's yes or no. All or nothing. No haggling."
"I want Young Master to return home," she says quickly. "I want to see Young Master to achieve everything he wants for his clan and country. In a way that will not shame him. I want you to do everything you can to make this happen."
Greed whistles. "You don't ask for much, do you? I like that."
"Tell me what you want from me. I will give it to you if you give me that."
Greed is silent. Lan Fan wonders if she is a fool to make a deal with this devil. She tries not to think that Young Master can hear this shameful transaction. She can hear him moving toward her.
"I want everything you'd give him even if you had no duty," says Greed. "Whatever you'd do for him—" He pauses. "Out of the generosity of your heart," he finishes theatrically. "If you'd fight, if you'd bleed, if you'd die for him, do it for me."
Lan Fan waits. She raises her eyes to the mirror, to the image of Young Master standing behind her. Looking at her. At her. Not her reflection.
"If you had no duty, no obligation," he murmurs, moving close. She watches him, his reflection, lean in over her left shoulder, feels his whispers in her ear, "If there were no restrictions, no rules." He pauses, but does not move away. "It's up to you what you'll give and what you won't. You've got my word, pretty, I won't take any more than that."
She can smell Young Master's hair. Feel his stolen breath on her cheek. He looks up, straight into the mirror at himself, at her. Lan Fan looks away.
"Do we have a deal?"
Lan Fan can still sense Young Master's spirit still in his body, but Greed's predatory restlessness is nearly overwhelming. Behind her, that endless, enormous desire looms, barely restrained by a careful courtesy.
It is a courtesy nonetheless.
"If I had no duty," she says finally, "I would still fight. I would still serve. That, I will give until I die."
Greed has not moved. Lan Fan feels the warmth of his body—of Young Master's body behind her.
"If there were no rules..." She cannot finish.
Lan Fan closes her eyes. She will not watch herself answer.
She lays her mask down. Grandfather will be furious.
She does not want to hear what she is about to say. All she has to do is reach back. He is so close. Lan Fan understands Greed's question. Hates the weakness that taints her answer. She slowly raises her automail arm. For that imperfect moment, she thinks, perhaps she will reach back, touch his face even if she cannot feel it. After all, she can say the arm moved on its own.
And that would be a lie.
She closes her hand into a fist. "I could give you this body," she says finally. "But my selfish affection that breaks every rule is beyond my control, or I would give to you as well." Or she would have cast it away long ago, she thinks.
Greed does not move behind her.
"This body is yours to use," she says, "as Young Master never has. But if you want all of me, I can only promise that my shameful affection is yours to drag from me, as Young Master has. He did not mean to, but he has." Lan Fan lowers her arm and waits. Should she have lied? Could she have lied? With her words, with her body? She should have lied, like an Emperor's wife, for Young Master. For Xing.
Greed laughs softly. "Well then, pretty." He takes a step back, and Lan Fan breathes a little easier.
"I accept your terms," he says. "There's nothing so boring as a girl who can't refuse, and you're not as boring as I thought you'd be." He laughs suddenly. "Ah, I should've asked for your name while I was at it. Ah, well."
That can't be all, she thinks. It can't be so easy as that.
"But, I have to say, it's a shame for you both."
Lan Fan doesn't understand.
"It was up to you, pretty," Greed says, circling around to stand before her. "No matter how much he wants to, he'd never ask plain what he wants from you."
How much he wants to. Lan Fan does not want to hear any more. What he wants. Her breathing quickens. She cannot find an answer to that.
Greed shrugs and grins his stolen grin. "You didn't know, pretty?" he says innocently. He takes her hands, one flesh, one metal. "Loyalty and honor and all that goes both ways." He stands there, touching her, holding her for the first time. His looks straight into her face, his expression now something like pity. Slowly he lifts her automail hand and kisses the unfeeling knuckles.
"You're too obedient," he murmurs against her fingers. "Won't even raise your eyes to your prince."
Lan Fan tries to pull away.
"And he's too honorable," Greed says, kissing her other hand. This time she can feel his lips, his breath, light and warm on her skin. "Another noble bastard who won't go after a girl who can't refuse."
Lan Fan tries to pull away.
"Humans are strange." He looks thoughtful. "I gave you the perfect opportunity to take what you know you both want, just to see what would happen."
No, she thinks. It was only what Greed wanted.
He suddenly leans in close. "So, let's just call this a favor, pretty," he whispers. "Don't forget it."
Before she can answer, he presses his lips to hers in a most
Angry, flushed and frustrated, she kisses him back anyway. As hard as she can. How much he wants to. What she wants, too. Greed doesn't lie, and Young Master is still in his body. Maybe if she kisses him hard enough—maybe if she holds him tight enough, he can feel, he can feel—maybe—
He pulls away.
"Enough," he says, his voice rough, his voice weary.
His voice familiar.
"Enough, Lan Fan..."