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Too Many Cooks

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"I could have sworn we had servants to do this."

Ling leans back slightly from the stove as the wok spits at him and gestures with his spatula. "No true leader asks something of his followers which he is not prepared to do himself. Besides," he adds, snaffling a bit of the rice and mushroom mixture, "shuumai are fun."

"I have never met any food that I wouldn't rather have someone else make for me," Greed says, propping his chin up in his hands. Alongside him Lanfan is cautiously kneading the little ball of dough that Ling assured both of them is made (more or less) to the correct recipe. She's only using her right hand, the fine bones undulating under the skin, her short fingernails catching the light.

"It certainly looks as though someone else is making these for you," she says fatly.

"I'm helping!"

"You could help more by finding the ginger." Ling glances over his shoulder and manages to time a dazzling grin with an impressive toss of the wok, little oil-coated grains of rice glinting as they turn in mid-air. Greed rolls his shoulders back and straightens up slowly.

"What does it look like?"

Ginger, it turns out, has spent all this time looking like the bastard child of a wart and a tree root. He hands it unwillingly to Ling, who begins gleefully grating it into the cooling rice mixture. "Any other unsightly ingredients you need me to find?" Fuck's sake, the mashed tofu looks bad enough. At least the ginger smells good.

"We need soy sauce and vinegar for the dipping sauce," Ling says, sprinkling some unidentifiable spice into the wok, "though I don't seem to recall them being particularly hard on the eye." Three strands of his hair have slipped out from behind his ear, spilling forward across his face.

"Right." Greed pulls his eyes away to contemplate the shelf full of bottles. They're all labelled but most are very faded, and while he's made some headway with the ludicrous Xingese writing system it still takes him far longer than it ought to read anything. He takes down one likely-looking bottle filled with dark brown liquid, flips open the stopper and takes an experimental lick at the droplet that dribbles down his thumb.

He would say it's like having his tongue set alight, but he tried fire-eating once and it was not this bad. He drops the bottle and hears it smash on the floor as he scrabbles for the little flask of chilled wine they had drunk from earlier. It goes down like a balm.

"There is a saying," Lanfan says archly, turning the narrow rolling pin between the fingers of her left hand as he leans back against the counter, gasping, "that three monks will have no water to drink at all."

"Good job none of us are monks then, sweetheart," he replies, running his tongue along his top lip after the last of the blessedly cold wine, and she blushes fiercely. She had better never stop doing that.

"Here," Ling says, jabbing a lump of spiced, rice-studded tofu into Greed's face on the end of his index finger, "tell me that's not better than an Amestrian takeaway."

Greed leans over and takes it very delicately with his teeth, enjoying Ling's sharp intake of breath. "Hmm," he says, chewing slowly, letting the flavours turn and settle in his mouth, "it's not bad."