His shirt was too tight around the collar. Whatever Greed had done to his body, it had never fully gone away. He was bulkier now, stronger and healthier. A gift, he assumed, from the late homunculus. A sharp sadness struck him, but he forced it to pass.
He was alone in his head, and the feeling was both sublime and uncomfortable. He missed his old friend. Most especially on days like today. If he wanted to snark, he’d have to speak aloud.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many roses before. Winry really went all out, didn’t she?” Ed shimmied to the seat beside him. He held two tiny sandwiches on a napkin. “I think these are supposed to be Havarti and ham sandwiches.”
Ling remembered the feast he’d thrown in Xing. Al had attended with Mei and all of their strange friends. He’d been surprised at how voraciously Al had tried everything. Even foods Ed wouldn’t touch. He certainly didn’t take his body for granted. “I’m glad his taste has gotten less adventurous.”
“Winry told him he had to reign it in. Though, he does have a table he calls strange favorites. I haven’t been by to see yet.” Ed shivered. “What are you doing?”
Ling plucked one of the sandwiches from Ed’s hand. “Eating.”
“Why are you over here by yourself?”
Ling looked at all the townspeople. He’d never known these people. They had an entire history he’d never known. When Al invited him, he’d not even considered not coming. Now, he was wondering what he was doing here.
Ed followed his gaze and then laughed. “You don’t have to worry. We barely know them anymore either. We were gone a long time. Come on.”
Ling’s nice clothes didn’t last to the ceremony.
Lan Fan nearly fought a woman who started pulling at his jacket. She was commenting on the silk, but Lan Fan never quite outgrew her skittishness when Ling was around. Probably his fault, after getting captured and lost so often.
In the scuffle that ensued, Ling got doused with first the strange woman’s drink, and then Lan Fan’s. Neither had been aiming for him. In Lan Fan’s defense, what the woman said was quite rude. He was certain Al would not have approved.
Then Ed decided to show him some new alkehestry he’d learned. He was working with Mei and Al to combine alkehestry and alchemy to cancel out the weaknesses of both. Between handing him the vials and measuring the liquids, something orange and sticky got spilled on Ling’s pants leg. The flowers Ed made were worth it. They were bright and happy and smelled like sweet oranges. The technique Ed used was impressive, Ling was sure—though he knew little about any of it.
“Here. You looked like you needed a break from all the noise, to be honest.” Ed handed him a soda. “Plus, I needed to make Winry’s bouquet. She designed it herself.”
“What you do is incredible, Ed. To think you used to waste your time making giant rock walls and silly swords.” Ling laughed. “I see there’s no skulls on this one.”
“Winry forbade it. She said if she saw one skull in her wedding I’d be banned from her cooking for months.” Ed laughed and took a long drink of his soda. “I’m a terrible cook, so here I am. Besides, I know you liked that sword.”
Ling chuckled. “I wouldn’t mind having it. As a keepsake.”
Ed plucked a flower from the edge of the bouquet. It hung over the side, heavier than the others. The center was a bold, deep orange. The outside was lighter, almost pink. It didn’t fit in with the rest. “This one is yours. Give it to someone pretty.”
Ling accepted the gift. His cheeks felt like they were on fire. “I can’t accept this. What would Winry think if my flower outshined hers?”
Ed shrugged. “That you deserve a pretty girl.”
Ling frowned. He handed the flower back, wrapping Ed’s hands around it. “I don’t want a pretty girl. But you’re right, I would take my sword back.”
Ed shook his head. “You deserve to find someone. Lan Fan tells me you just… do your work and go home, back in Xing. She’s worried about you.”
“Lan Fan and I will always be close. She has her partner, and I have my duties. We are both content.”
Ed shook his head. “We just want you to be happy.”
Ling looked over at the flower in Ed’s hand. “Getting me a girl is not going to help me be happy, Ed.”
Winry came looking for her flowers, so they didn’t talk any more of Ling’s loneliness.
The wedding was beautiful. Winry had filled the aisle with a lot of roses. And she had gone all out on her dress and food. It was a party like Ling hadn’t been to since He’d become Emperor of Xing. Although, this was a much smaller scale. Everyone was thankful for that. He couldn’t imagine Al inviting all of Amestris to his wedding.
Though, all of Al’s old military buddies had decided to come. Armstrong and Riza cried through the vows, at different volumes. Mustang gave the largest gift in apology for his absence. Apparently, Ling was the only ruler who could manage schedule the day off. Mustang did have a country to rebuild. Xing had not been quite so devastated.
The biggest surprise for Ling came at the end.
A photographer asked for a family portrait. At first, Al and Ed and Winry were the only ones who stood for it.
Then Winry gestured to a strange man with frilly sleeves and unusual facepaint. Al pulled Mei to the front, and Hawkeye too. Ed was the one who pulled him, arm wrapped around his torso, to stand at the front with the others.
In the end, the group for the photo was quite large. Only Al and Ed were related by blood.
The camera clicked right as Ling realized that Ed was right.
He belonged here. He didn’t know everyone, but most families had estranged cousins and uncles. Most families had parts that didn’t connect. But he’d been with these people—connected by their shared roles and stories in all that had happened. He’d gladly die for Al and Ed, and if Riza or Armstrong needed help he’d provide every resource he could.
What was a family anyway?
Certainly not the brothers and sisters who’d tried to murder him all his life. Mei’s feelings appeared to have changed, and slowly the rest of theirs would too.
But this was different.
He was safe with Ed and Al. And they were safe with him.
Ling left the picture hastily and made his way to the back of the room. He needed a moment to breathe. His face felt like it would split in two with the stretch of his smile.
Ed found him a few minutes later, after he finally extricated himself from the group. “Hey! What’re you doing running off like that? They tried to make me stay for two more pictures!”
Ling laughed. “Well, that’s my reward for not being brother to the groom.”
Ed shook his head. “I made you something. Right after you left, I still had some time. So, I made this.”
Ed handed Ling something small. The hilt of it fit in his palm perfectly. The blade was crooked, but small. A skull grinned up at him from the end, gleaming orange and sweet pink. It was the flower, made into his sword.
“What’s this? It’s even uglier than before!” Ling threw his arms around Ed. “I love it, it’s perfect! Your taste is hideous!”
“Gee, thanks.” Ed crossed his arms, staring at some far away point on the wall behind Ling. His cheeks lit up bright cherry red.
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone such a great alchemist is busy making trinkets for old war pals.” Ling tucked the dagger into a pocket of his robes. “Better not let Winry see. She’d be furious.”
Ed snorted. “She’d be pissed, alright. But probably because her idea with the flower didn’t work.”
“What idea? Me getting a girlfriend. Come on. I don’t have a time for a girlfriend.” Ling ruffled Ed’s hair, purposefully sticking his bangs up in a nest on top of his head. “I’m too busy ruling Xing. If I got a girlfriend, when would I ever have time to bother you?”
Ed rolled his eyes, dragging his fingers through his hair. “You really are dense, aren’t you?”
“No more dense than you.”
“I gave you a flower, you idiot prince.”
“A flower to give to a pretty girl, which I gave to you.” Ling shrugged. “Who’s dense now?”
“You’re both giant morons. Just shut up and kiss or something.” Winry stood in her reception dress, all diamonds and lace, with her arms crossed. “God, we’ve all been waiting for you two to figure it out for months now.”
And, well, Ling didn’t think there was any harm in making his connection to the Elric family official.