Rating: PG ('cause Ed ain't Ed without a few choice words)
Spoilers?: If you know who Mei is, then you're fine.
Written For: hime1999
Disclaimer: Not mine, not for profit, not for sale.
Edit: Woke up to find that LJ had eaten the whole first third of my story. Gaaah. It's all fixed now. *bows to hime1999 for pointing it out*
Over the course of the past few days, Edward had learned to hate two things. One: conductors who asked where his mother was. Two: Armstrong’s plague of sparklies.
“Is it not magnificent?” enthused the Major in question. “This rustic charm must have been passed down in this village for generations!”
Edward squinted. “Village” was an exaggeration; this poor town was little more than a train platform and a tiny collection of buildings up the road. But then again, Riesenburg was hardly much better. “Yeah, sure,” he said. “Rustic charm.” If the place was as old as it looked, that charm hadn’t been passed down for generations--it had stayed in place. “How long’re we stuck here?”
“Until the trains are running again. Five o’clock,” replied Armstrong, his enthusiasm an eternal fountain of pink sparklies. “We have all day to explore this wonderful town!”
Squinting slightly, Edward glanced up at a small clock near the train platform. 10:45 AM. Which meant he had over six hours of wandering around in circles before they could finally get moving again. “Just want something to drink…” he muttered. His automail was starting to ache with both heat and exhaustion.
Ever the helpful one, Armstrong clapped him so hard on the back that he fell over. “Of course! I am sure they have milk passed down for hundreds of generations. And--” As he stooped to help Edward up, Armstrong’s tone suddenly grew serious. “You should avoid using your real name here, Elric. Not many know you are out here.”
Edward nodded wordlessly. The man had a point.
“Good!” Armstrong dealt a crushing blow to his back. “Have you seen the market? It’s just over that ridge.” As he spoke, one finger pointed towards a small collection of buildings over the next hill. “I could come along and use the bartering skills passed down--“
“No, thanks,” insisted Ed, and he hurried into town as fast as his legs could carry him.
Neither of them noticed another train approaching the station, nor the tiny girl and her panda that disembarked soon afterwards.
The market was busier than he’d expected, which was both a good and a bad thing. While the crowd made visiting here much less boring than he’d expected, it also meant that he periodically had to find a vantage point so he could figure out where the hell he was going.
“I’m not short,” he muttered on one such occasion, balancing artfully on the rim of a water barrel. “Everyone else is too damn tall.” Once again, he found himself wishing his brother were here. Navigating crowds was much easier when you had a suit of living armor keeping people at bay. And as much as Ed wanted to restore his brother, he had to admit that Al came in handy quite often.
But for now, he was alone. Mostly. The giant pastry in his left hand was practically a person in itself. After a quick glance at his watch--damn, it was only noon!--Edward took another bite of his pastry and settled down to watch the crowd. If only there were a bookstore here…
Edward blinked. No, that wasn’t a bookstore, but it did seem that something was happening across the street. With one quick leap (and an equally quick bite of pastry), he hit the ground running. Dammit, he couldn’t see--and there seemed to be some kind of commotion up ahead. “Hey,” he said, tugging on someone’s sleeve. “What the hell’s going on here?”
For a moment, the man looked around in confusion; then, almost apologetically, he glanced down at Edward. “Fire,” he said, pointing out a ferocious red line that had just appeared along the roof. “It’s gonna spread to the rest of town if we don’t catch it. You better get outta here, kid.”
Edward bit back a retort. Who the hell was a kid so young he looked like he shouldn’t even be out of diapers, anyway? “Lemme through,” he said through clenched teeth. “C’mon, lemme through. I’m an alchemist!”
There was smoke now, massive gray clouds that boiled out of the tiny shop. Now that he was closer, he could hear people shouting--“Fire!” “Oh god, somebody get help!” “It’s gonna explode!”--and spotted several men and women trying to haul water to the burn site. Shit, he thought. At the rate this thing was burning, it really was going to explode.
Without waiting a moment longer, Edward clapped his hands together. Alchemy sparked from his fingertips, sending an electric jolt up both arms. From there, it was a simple matter to translate that energy into pavement, to envision each tiny speck of stone colliding and rebuilding until a wave of sand roared into life. He fought, as always, to keep control; even he felt the temptation to continue feeding the reaction until it consumed everything he had.
It only took a quick glance to confirm his success. The building lay half-buried in cool sand, smoking but no longer in danger of explosion. Here and there a townsperson stepped forward to inspect the place, but most of them now gaped openly at Ed. “Alchemist?” asked the man he’d spoken to earlier. That word spread through the crowd as quickly as the fire had.
Despite his best efforts, Edward grinned. “Yeah. Alchemist. I’m Ed--“ He cut off abruptly. Shit, Armstrong had told him-- “--mund,” he finished hastily. “Edmund. Pevensie.” It was the first name that came to mind; he’d known someone back home who’d had that surname.
“Edmund Pevensie?” This time, a tiny girl with black hair spoke up. Although kneeling, Ed was almost at eye level with her. She seemed to be foreign--was that a panda on her shoulder?--but perfectly friendly. Adoring, even. Edward had the distinct feeling of being a mouse that had been caught by a particularly loving cat.
The word fangirl came to mind, but Edward tried not to think about that.
By now, most of the crowd had started moving again. Edward half got to his feet, but was forced to pause at the tug of someone holding onto his coat. “Could y’let me go?” he said, trying his hardest not to sound like a jerk. “I should help ‘em get that sand cleared.”
“Edmund Pevensie?” repeated the girl. Oddly enough, she seemed disappointed in his choice of names. “I’m Mei. Nice to meet you, Edmund Pevensie.” Her braids jingled lightly as she bowed.
“Same.” She was staring at him intently. Very intently. “Look,” he said, irritation creasing his features, “I’m kinda busy.” And stop gawking at me like I’m a bean who’s shorter than a raisin left out to dry for two hundred years.
But as Ed finally finished scrambling to his feet, Mei gasped with delight. “You’re…you’re so </i>tall!</i>”
“WHO’RE YOU CALLING--tall--?” Edward nearly choked on his own words. “I’m tall?”
Even the little panda nodded. “Yes!” she exclaimed. “Tall, well-spoken, long blond hair, alchemist…” With each attribute listed, she grew increasingly blissful--and then suspicious. “Are you sure you’re not Edward Elric?”
For the second time in five minutes, Ed choked. “Y-yeah,” he sputtered. “I’m sure.” Of course, the one time someone did recognize him properly…
Mei studied him thoughtfully, as if weighing some crucial matter in her mind. “Then,” she said after a moment or two, “you’ll just have to be my concubine.”
“WHAT?! Why the hell--”
“Because I can’t have two husbands, and I’m going to marry Edward Elric!” And with that happy thought, Mei executed the technique passed down by fangirls for generations. She glomped him.
Ed didn’t stand a chance. Despite her small size, the girl was quite an expert at glomping; he hit the pavement so hard that he was too dazed to put up much more of a fight. “Ow! Hey!” he yelped. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Amazingly enough, Mei was already standing. She looped both arms around Ed’s automail limb, tugging him gently to his feet. “It is traditional,” she informed him. “It is an embrace only for an esteemed concubine.” Her fingers dug deep into his shirt; if his limb hadn’t been automail, he might have yelped with pain. “Won’t you accept?” she said, pleading at him with her wide black eyes.
Despite all his struggling, Edward found himself relaxing slightly. Only slightly. In the back of his head, a little voice was putting together quite a persuasive argument: why not? “Whaddya want me to do? If--“ he added this next part very quickly, “--if I say yes.”
“Shopping, talking, going out to eat…” Mei’s expression grew more and more blissful with each addition to the list. But it seemed that the girl wanted something less…well…sexual and something more like companionship. Someone who cared, even if only for a day. That panda was cute, but surely it could not compete with human affection.
She’s a lot like Al, Ed realized with a start. Helluva lot.
“…and then, when I find Edward Elric, you get to be in the wedding,” she finished at last. “That is what it means. Therefore, I think you should be my concubine.” As that last phrase passed her lips, both Mei and her panda executed a low bow. “Please…?”
If her wibbly expression couldn’t melt steel, Edward would have been sorely surprised. “Alright, alright,” he said with a soft groan. “One day. I have to keep traveling after that. And you wanna find…uhh…” Feign ignorance, feign ignorance, thaaaat’s a good alchemist…
Thank god, she didn’t catch on. “Edward Elric.”
“Yeah. So we can’t stay. But I can give you today.”
It was as if the clouds had parted and shone a beam of sunlight right at her face. “Wonderful! Mei-chan, did you hear?” she said, turning to chatter excitedly to her panda. “Hurry up! Quickly!”
Helluva lot, Edward thought, and he followed her.
The train rolled in just as the clock struck five. “Wonderful!” exclaimed Armstrong, causing a startled bystander to trip over his own feet. “Perfectly on schedule. A testament to efficiency.” He nodded approvingly and wished he could pay his respects to fate. Armstrong had enjoyed his day quite thoroughly. Now, if only he could locate Edward…
Something metallic shifted behind him. Ah, there he was now. But as Armstrong turned to greet his young ward, he realized that sound was not the usual clunk of metal hitting pavement. In fact, it had barely been a clink at all; Edward couldn’t possibly be walking like that.
Employing the secret technique of searching passed down by his family for generations, Armstrong surveyed the area. Behind him, somewhere…aha! After a moment’s searching he spotted someone small and blond sitting on a nearby bench. Or rather, sleeping on a nearby bench with his head lolled back against its wooden frame. His left leg slumped limp against the pavement; it must have fallen against the ground just moments before.
As Armstrong drew closer, however, he realized that someone else was enjoying that bench. A tiny Xing girl lay with her head in Edward’s lap, her braids fluttering gently at each exhalation from Edward. And cuddled between the two lay a tiny panda whose claws dug delicately into the girl’s shoulder. From the way they had curled into each other, it was clear that they’d been lying that way for over an hour.
“Young love,” murmured Armstrong, his tears flowing like waterfalls, “is such a beautiful thing.”
Edward chose that moment to stir, stretch, yawn a bit. “Eh?” he said groggily. “Major? What time is--oh.” He had remembered his pocket watch. “Five o’clock already?”
Now it was the girl’s turn to yawn into consciousness. “Five o’clock…?”
Armstrong nodded. “Yes, Major Elric, esteemed paramour,” he said, punctuating the second title with a nod to Mei. “And our train is ready to depart.”
“Great,” replied Edward, who was now attempting the tricky task of pushing Mei away. “I’ve gotta go,” he continued. “Time to move on. Sorry.”
Although disappointed, the girl hid that behind a thoughtful expression. “Major Elric…?”
Once again, Armstrong nodded. “Major Elric. If you would excuse us, madam, Edward and I must be on our way.” That said, he bowed briskly to her, ignoring the pale and frightened expression that suddenly dominated Ed’s face.
“Elric?” repeated Mei. “Edward…Elric…?” She cocked her head to one side, as if doing so would afford her a better understanding of what she saw. “Wait, I thought you said--“
“Five o’clock, right. Can’t keep the train waiting!” And with more speed than Armstrong had ever seen in the boy, Edward flung himself at the railway car. Such a wonderful young lover, he thought as he boarded the train. He does not want to prolong his departure.
“Edward!” yelled the girl, now waving her arms wildly. Although her surprise kept most other emotions at bay, Armstrong spotted a glint of water on her cheeks. “Edward Elric, come back! I need to marry you!”
“Sorry! Later!” Ed waved but made no move to exit the train. Did he look apologetic? Surely that was what such a grimace conveyed. “Seeya!”
And so the train rolled away, leaving the tiny town and an equally tiny young girl in the dust.