"An emperor," his mother once told him, "has no time to be a hero."
Lan Fan pretends not to see him practice an icy, imperial glare.
She will not let herself smile while watching him spar against invisible opponents before his formal training.
For a young prince, there is no fun in formality.
A guard's mask covers many things, but not everything.
He talks, and talks, and talks, and talks, and talks...and she listens.
Putting up with him, Ling laughs, is truly her talent.
She will not catch him, she tells herself, because he will not fall.
With her standing guard, Ling can blow out the candle and fear no darkness.
To give one's self up to another's dreams and desires is to burn with their fever.
He fights, and she fights, and together they are strength upon strength.
He would not trade armor for silk.
At this moment, in these streets, Ling's world is that which his sword can reach, that which he holds in his arms.
There is no shame in running; survival has its own glory.
She pushes herself up from his back, trying, she hopes, to ease her weight on his shoulder.
Lan Fan's weight suddenly shifts, and he goes cold.
Ling calls her name, fears only silence.
Her ragged breathing more than music.
Lan Fan looks to her left and sees nothing but Young Master's ruined jacket, ruined and red.
She has just enough blood to blush a little when Young Master is sent outside so the doctor can cut off her shirt.
One year, she thinks as she looks at her useless body in Dr. Knox's mirror and wishes time had wings.
"It's a bitter drink sometimes," the lieutenant tells her as they drive away from the fight.
To her, the Philosopher's Stone is blood and fire: his fire, her blood.
To him, the Philosopher's Stone is power and pure energy, a storm of possibility.
Alphonse explains further, but at this moment, there is nothing but the message in Lan Fan's hand, the ringing in her ears.
They are bound not by a guard's oath or a prince's declaration, but a promise between two young people.
Neither knew the searching would be easier than the finding.
In her dreams, he strides through the palace, grand as any king, though in the next moment, he melts away.
They disregard their own wait as they struggle toward each other.
He keeps the memory of her to himself, as much as he can in a place like this.
"Does she breathe for you?" Greed asks.
Greed may not tell lies, but Ling will if he has to.
He watches Greed watch her.
"Why not?" asks Greed.
"If there was no high road, no honor, no reason for restraint," Greed continues, "what would you do?"
There are promises he will not let Greed break.
She sees his familiar face, but does not know his eyes.
Whatever Greed says, she will not follow his lead.
The prince and his guard share a childhood memory that is neither spoken of, nor forgotten.
By the set of his shoulders, the rhythm of his breathing, she can tell who has eclipsed whom in Young Master's body.
She raises her face, determined that this journey will not end with a homunculus' grin.
And then, and then, Ling takes off her mask.
She does not know how to answer when he asks what she wants.
There are things she does not hope, even if they are offered freely to her.
They discover cages long locked with unspoken words and unshared smiles.
And although, what passes between them is only a whisper, it is nothing less than breath upon breath.
Now, he has forever, but she does not.
He doesn't think he laughs enough for both of them.
He will not think of the farewell he must one day say to her.
And one midnight, the emperor looks up to see there is no moon in his sky.