The first time Mei met Paninya was both bizarre, yet in keeping with the Elrics, not a surprise. Al had warned her that people tended to just pop in on Ed and Winry though Mei associated that with the fact that Winry was running a shop out of her house so of course people were coming in.
Al had failed to mention that it wasn’t just customers who dropped by, nor did he tell her that they sometimes enter the house through things other than the front door. So she had been sitting in the upstairs sitting room chatting with Winry when all of sudden there was a tapping in the window, and low behold there was Paninya smiling.
Winry didn’t even blink at it and hurriedly let her friend in.
“That short tempered husband of yours locked me out again,” Paninya explained as if it was a common occurance (truth be told it was) and that her coming through an upstairs window was no big deal.
Once firmly inside the house, Paninya finally took notice of Mei who had been silent throughout the exchange obviously clueless to Paninya’s and Ed’s little feud.
“Whose this?” Paninya asked, her accent just a bit thick, that too Mei the words seemed to smush together.
“OH! This is Mei! Al’s friend,” Winry said and Mei blushed a bit on the implication. Paninya just smiled.
“OH wow! Aren’t you from Xing? What is that small rat that is with you?” Paninya asked and then after a pause she stuck out her hand, “I’m Paninya by the way!”
Mei nodded and shook Paninya’s hand while pushing Xiao Mei back so that her friend wouldn’t attack this new girl..
“Nice to meet you,” she said, “I’m afraid neither Winry nor Ed mentioned you. This is my companion Xiao Mei. She doesn’t bite…much.”
Winry looked sheepish at that, but Paninya just smiled.
“It’s okay, I have never seen an animal like that before and as for the other thing I’m not surprised,” she said and jokingly points at Winry, “that one is always lost in her work and forgets about anything not related to automail and well…me and shortstack kind of have a battle of wills going on.”
Mei laughed at that and Paninya smiled.
“I should take you out,” Paninya said, “show you around town? Maybe show you how to see the real Rush Valley.”
“You sound like you are asking her out on a date,” Winry said and gave a wink at Mei to let her in on the joke.
“Nah, just you’re busy, and I doubt this girl came all the way and just sit around while her boy and his brother re-solidify their bond,” Paninya said.
“That sounds like fun,” Mei said.
Winry smiles and offers to get more tea and just at that moment Ed walked in. He squats down and points at Paninya.
“You!” he said the tone of his voice sounding threatening, though going by his body language and Paninya’s face it was easy to discern that this was all a part of one elaborate game the two played with each other.
Paninya winked at Mei.
“Well best I be going,” she said, “see you tomorrow”
And with that she rushed out of the window leaving a perplexed but a bit bemused Mei and one very angry Elric brother.
Mei didn’t know if she really expected Paninya’s offer for a tour to pan out, but sure enough about noon, Paninya was walking through the door (which was unlocked due to Ed’s absence) asking if she was ready to go.
Winry wished her luck and reassured her that it would be fun, but Mei could tell that Winry just really wanted the house to herself for once but she didn’t say anything. They spent the early day walking through the streets and Paninya would comment on some of the shops, which ones were good, which ones weren’t and all the other sort of things that Mei probably didn’t need to know but it was fun to learn them anyways.
About mid afternoon Paninya took her up for the “scenic view” of Rush Valley which was basically just roof hopping and people watching from above. They settled above “The Rusty Nail” a little pub at the midway point of Main street and just sat for a while and watched the people mill on by. They talked a bit about themselves, their past, Paninya talks about why people will sometimes refer to her as a thief and she listens as Mei talks to her about her country. It was simple and light and fun and Mei couldn’t help but like Paninya.
“Man, I used to spend all my time up here watching people, of course at the time I was looking for easy tourists, but still this brings back old memories,” Paninya said.
“You were never caught?” Mei asked.
“Oh no I was caught all the time, and even when I wasn’t ‘caught’ everyone still knew it was me,” she said, “but it was part of the game and to be frank as long as I wasn't picking on any of the regular townspeople or whatnot they would just look the other way.”
“I mean I know it wasn’t right, and I am glad I have honest work now, but I kind of miss the thrill,” she said, “I may mock it for Ed, but that isn’t the same. He expects it now.”
Mei laughs a bit.
“Of course no one is or was as good as me,” she said, “but I guess that is something I shouldn’t be proud of.”
“Well maybe pride isn’t the right word,” Mei said, “but I think since you are ‘retired’ you can still look back with some fondness.”
“I guess, and like I said I wouldn’t go back for nothing,” Paninya said and looked out in the crowd.
It was then that both Mei and Paninya spotted the thief. He was really obvious tin a green cap and bulky jackeand even Mei could tell what he was doing as he mysteriously bumped into several different people, and Paninya with her experience could instinctively tell what exactly was going on.
“What an amateur,” Paninya said a bit disgruntled, “does he honestly think he is getting away with it.”
“We should probably tell somebody,” Mei said.
“We can…” Paninya said, “or we can handle it ourselves.”
“Look, the guy is asking for it, and to be honest I don’t think the cops need to spend their time wasting on some two bit pickpocket. And we can’t do nothing, people might think it is me!”
“So what do you think we should do?”
“Winry told me you are good with alchemy or whatever that is, right?”
“It’s called alkahestry.”
“Whatever, well what we need is to block off all of his escapes, I will tail him and you will block off all the alleys, and then I will back him into a corner and we seal the deal.”
“That sounds dangerous, what if he has a weapon?”
“I have been watching him for a while and I don’t see anything, besides, I doubt that guy would even know how to wield a butter knife.”
“Ok got it,” Mei said, “I’ll do it, for justice!”
“Yeah justice, and maintaining my reputation,” she said, “I am the only one who will ever pickpocket in this town.”
Mei headed off with Xiao Mei and the task of blocking off exits wasn’t that hard, creating fencing and other barriers wasn’t that difficult a task for her and she quickly met back with Paninya to finish the plan. She found her on the side of the road staring into the crowd.
“You still see him?” she asked.
“Yep, he is still working it, everything is set?”
“Yes, how are you going to corner him,” she asked.
“Well I am going to give him a taste of his own medicine of course,” she said, “we’ll need hard evidence after all.”
With that Paninya walks into the crowd with Mei following her from the distance. When Paninya “bumps” him the pickpocket looked up and when he makes eye contact with Paninya she smiles and winks, and with that he bolts.
Mei blocks him off before he can make it to the open street and so he quickly bolts to the left, and then backed out when he finds it is sealed. From then it is a quick chase and Mei quickly takes the chance to dodge into a building and make her way to the roof to chase him from above while Paninya deftly tails him on the ground. When he finally reaches an alley back towards the middle Mei descends quickly and he stops and when he turns to retreat back into the crowd Paninya is there blocking his path.
“What the hell?” he yells in frustration.
“Look did you really think you were going to get away with it, you were as plain as day,” she said, “I can’t believe it has come to this. Some of us used to take pride in our work. What has the world come to.”
“What do you want?”
“Nothing much,” Paninya replied, “just that you return all the stuff you lifted and that I never see your face around again and nobody else has to know.”
Mei nods to back him up. The man was still young and it was obvious to both her and Paninya that this was probably due to youthful indiscretion as opposed to malice.
“Why should I.”
“Because if you don’t, I would take it that you wouldn’t want to have a run in with my friend. She is an alchemist and can turn you into a frog.”
Mei has to sustain a giggle. She couldn’t and wouldn’t and do that but she had to maintain Paninya’s bluff.
“She…can’t do that, I don’t believe you,” he cried though his voice conveyed his doubt.
“Oh yeah, are you so sure, see that little cat on her shoulders, that used to be a robber before she got to through with the likes of him.”
Xiao Mei growled, and Mei couldn’t quite tell whether it was aimed at the pickpocket or Paninya, but it didn’t matter as it had the same effect.
“Alright, alright,” he said, “you got back most of it when you bumped me,” he said as he handed an assortment of watches and jewelry that he had knicked.
“Good, now go and look for work,” Paninya said, “believe me, getting stuff using a paycheck is way better then taking it from someone’s pocket. Believe me I should know.”
He nods though at that point it was obvious he was just trying to get away and on with his life. Paninya steps aside and when he is off and running, her and Mei snicker a bit.
“How do you know he won’t go back and do it again?” Mei asked, “me and Xiao Mei aren’t going to be here all the time.”
“I will keep my eye, if not I will send Ed after him. That will be good for him and entertainment for me,” she said.
Mei nods, and they begin making their way back to the police station to return the stolen items.
When they finally make it back to Ed and Winry’s they are laughing and to the casual observer it would seem as if they had known each other forever.
“I like her,” Paninya tells Winry when they walk in, “can we trade the pipsqueak for her?”
“I heard that!”
“Well whatever,” Paninya said and turned to Mei, “we make a good team, you should come around again sometime.”
“I’ll make sure of it,” Mei said, “today was fun.”
“Well I better go before that one blows his top,” Paninya said and just as quickly as she entered for the first time, Paninya leaves.
And as bizarre as the first encounter was, based on the second, Mei hoped that it wouldn’t be the last.