Wherein older brothers, expectations, and pets are discussed. Al/Mei.
Of course, then Mei had actually met Edward Elric. He had golden hair, probably the most yellow she'd seen her entire time in Amestris, but that was where the resemblance to her dream ended. He was short and loud and rude, and not exactly a handsome gallant. And Xiao Mei hated him, which utterly ruined his chances; Xiao Mei was a very good judge of character. She had never been wrong once, and she had almost chewed Edward Elric's arm off. No, the Fullmetal Alchemist was definitely out as a prospective suitor. They might be friends, if he learned to calm down as he got older, but she was completely disillusioned with her old daydreams.
Xiao Mei loved Alphonse Elric. In fact, he was her second-favorite person after Mei herself. That was sort of weird, because Mei was pretty sure that her panda wasn't supposed to fall for a boy before Mei herself did. Not to mention that the boy in question was currently a soul tied to a suit of armor by way of alchemy that was absolute anathema in Xing. But Xiao Mei was a very good judge of character, and that was why Mei was about to have tea with the boy in the suit of armor. Or, well, what passed for tea here; everything was a bit lacking as far north as Fort Briggs, but the tea was definitely the hardest part to get used to. It was so… old. Old and dried-out, and that made it taste strange.
"I'm sorry I'm late!" Alphonse had a tinny voice— and wouldn't the pharmacy scholars back home like to study him and figure out where his voice was coming from, not that Mei would ever do such a thing as tell them about him— and it sounded even odder when he was out of breath. That was another thing that didn't make any sense when looked at scientifically (and it probably drove Amestrian scholars insane, since they were even more scientific than Xingese ones!), the fact that a suit of armor could sound out of breath when he didn't breathe. "Brother was fighting with the Major-General again, and I was afraid she was going to kill him this time." Mei liked Olivier Milla Armstrong, even though she was more than a little scary. For one, she was one of the few people who could put Edward Elric in his place.
"That's all right. I haven't been here very long." Mei shifted in her seat slightly. Was it strange to be nervous about having tea with a boy when the boy was, well, made of metal? It would be better to switch to a safer topic. "Why have you and your brother been looking for me?"
"Your alchemy," Alphonse answered immediately. "It worked underneath Central City, when ours didn't. Is it because it's from Xing, or were you doing something else?"
All right, so maybe that had been a mistake to bring up. Now Alphonse was going to want to know all about alchemy, and she wouldn't have any chance to get to know him better. Because she did want to get to know him, all nervousness aside. He was so much nicer and more mature than his older brother— and, well, Xiao Mei was a very good judge of character. And not having the short temper and nastiness must have meant that he'd been (and would be) taller than his brother! After all, that was probably why Edward was so mean all of the time, because he was compensating for his height. And if Mei could find some way to fix him, make him human again— it would be the most romantic story anyone in Xing would ever hear! Not to mention that it would be a feat of pharmacy so great that the Chan clan would see its status raised and maybe, just maybe, Mei would gain her father's favor to ascend the throne after him. Especially now that the forerunner from the Yao clan was gone; Mei didn't know exactly what had happened to him below Central City, and didn't want to know. But it must have been dire, if his dog had been so badly injured.
But she was digressing, and Alphonse was looking at her in expectation of an answer. Or, well, she thought he was. It was sort of hard to tell when he didn't have a real face.
"It must be because I'm from Xing. Xingese pharmacy is very different from Amestrian alchemy." Mei poured herself some tea and then did the same for Alphonse. But as soon as she began she realized, feeling flustered, that of course that wasn't necessary. He couldn't drink it— she'd been inside of the armor before, and it was empty inside. "We use it as a creative force, not a destructive one."
"…but what about Scar?" Alphonse asked. "His alchemy worked, too, and some of the things he does look like our alchemy, not yours."
"Isn't he your enemy?" Mei asked. Now she was wary, because she knew that the Amestrians hated Scar. But whatever it was that he'd done, he was her friend. She wasn't going to give him up— not that she could when she didn't know where he was, but even if she had she wouldn't have told Alphonse Elric. No matter how much Xiao Mei liked him.
"My brother hates him," he said immediately. "Because Scar tried to kill him once. But I… I think Scar is a good man. He does some bad things, but good people can do bad things. If my brother is a good person, or Colonel Mustang, or Major-General Armstrong, then Scar must be one, too. He… sometimes I think I can understand him, just a little. And he helped us— him, and you, and Ling." Mei put her teacup down against the saucer with a sharp clink (funny, that they had nice dishes here— she'd always thought that the Amestrian military would eat off of metal plates and with wooden spoons, like barbarians) at the mention of her half-brother. She didn't want to hear anything about the clans with positions over hers, and she wanted to hear even less about one who'd done so much at such a young age and thus always managed to get thrown in Mei's face. Alphonse noticed, and cleared his throat nervously. Boys weren't supposed to notice things like that, were they? "…oh, is that a common name in Xing?"
"Ling Yao was my half-brother," Mei said shortly. "I hate him and his clan. Everyone in Xing thinks they're better than my clan. And I don't want to talk about him anymore."
"All right. Er… " Alphonse trailed off, as if he didn't know what to say. He was quieter than his brother, too. "I—" He was cut off when Xiao Mei climbed out of his armor and crawled onto the table. She went straight for his teacup and lapped at it as if Mei had poured it for her and not out of absentmindedness. "Is tea bad for… whatever she is? And I've been wondering, what does her name mean? Or is it just a name?"
"No, she has some of mine all the time. And she's a panda. I don't think you have anything like them here." Mei paused. "She really likes you. She normally doesn't like strangers. Well, she thought Scar was all right, but nothing like she likes you. And her name can mean either small Mei/, since she is like me, or /little sister if you write it differently."
"She tried to eat my brother." Alphonse sounded amused. "Poor brother, he couldn't get her to let go of his arm! He's not very good with animals. I keep trying to have cats, and he keeps scaring them away." He looked down at where Xiao Mei was lapping at the tea with all the dignity of a court lady. "Little sister, I like that. It's a good name for her."
"He should let them stay. Cats are good luck." Xiao Mei had effectively diffused the situation, which might have been what the little panda had intended to do all along. She was a very good friend, after all. "And your brother seems to need more good luck than most people."
"Are they, really? Maybe he'll let me keep one if I tell him that." Judging by his tone, Mei guessed that Alphonse would be making a face at her if he'd been… normal. "He probably won't believe me, though. Especially not when the cat bites him." He sobered after that, though, and went on in a much more serious voice. "I don't want to do anything to make him mad, though. He's working so hard to help me. I think that's why he wanted to find you so badly, to see if your alchemy could help me."
"I don't know," Mei admitted. "To do what he did to you is forbidden to us. Anyone who did it would have been put to death. I think… I think that helping you is beyond what I know right now. But I don't think it's impossible, especially for someone not limiting herself with Amestrian alchemy."
"But what's equivalent trade for a human body? Trying to make one with all of the component elements is what got us into this mess in the first place." Alphonse idly stroked a finger over Xiao Mei's head.
"What's equivalent trade for a human soul? Edward managed to attach your soul to something. Equivalent trade doesn't explain everything, because not everything has a value. Your brother used to know that, even if he seems to have forgotten about it now. We know it in Xing, and that is why we can do things you can't here in Amestris. Scar knows it, too— I bet that's why our pharmacy worked before and yours didn't. There isn't much difference in our pharmacy and your alchemy except philosophy."
"What would they say about me in Xing? Besides that my brother was wrong to do this to me?" Alphonse asked, sounding genuinely curious. Maybe it was better that they stuck to talking about alchemy; the conversation seemed to go badly when it was steered onto personal topics. "About what I am, I mean."
"Working pharmacy on a human soul is anathema. We have a saying in Xing, that for a man to sacrifice to a spirit not his own is flattery. He was wrong to sacrifice a part of himself to your spirit. Either he had too much faith in your continued existence, or too much confidence in his own ability with alchemy." Mei was careful to call it alchemy, because what Edward Elric had done was not pharmacy in any way, shape or form. She could only hope that pharmacy could undo something so fully wrought by alchemy. "Some of them would probably want to destroy you, too, but I don't agree with that. It's not your fault that it happened."
"You make it sound like my brother did something bad in saving me!" Alphonse jerked his hands away from Xiao Mei, lest he hurt her in his anger. No wonder she liked him so much; few people would have consideration for a tiny animal in the midst of being upset.
"You said that sometimes good people do bad things. Well, sometimes bad people do good things. He did do something bad, and he does many other bad things. I didn't know that when I came from Xing— all anyone ever hears about outside Amestris are the good things that he's done for people. He is a bad person who does good things. I think you are one of those good things, regardless what he did to save you." Mei balled her hands into fists under the table, her tea forgotten. "Most people in Xing wouldn't help you, but I want to."
"My brother is not a bad person," Alphonse said quietly, standing up. "I don't think you are, either, but please give him a chance before you say things like that about him."
"I…" Mei bit her lip. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to… it just makes me mad, that you get ignored like he's better than you, and then you encourage that." It reminded her of back home, except that Mei never did anything to encourage it like Alphonse Elric did.
"I should go." Alphonse surprised her by bowing. Had he asked someone how people bowed in Xing? Or maybe he'd learned from Ling Yao. "Hopefully the Major-General hasn't thrown my brother out of the fort yet. But… I'd like to do this again. We can talk more about alchemy." He paused then, and continued shyly. "Or about other things. I'd like to hear more about Xing."
When he left, both Mei and Xiao Mei were blushing.