Chapter Seven

"I hate this," Ed grumbled, draped lethargically over his bed.

"You're wrinkling your suit, brother," Al said, trying not to roll his eyes. "Put your tie on."

"Damn noose." Ed didn't budge off the bed.

"Edward, how long do you think Winry will put up with your slovenly ways?" Al asked tartly, giving his own long hair a final brush before twisting it into a tail.

"All her life so far," Ed returned glibly.

"And you call Qiang an asshole."

That unaccustomed invective coming from Al's mouth made Ed sit up, eyeing his brother in surprise. "Al!"

"Am I wrong?" Al simply crossed his arms, his golden eyes flashing with dark fire. "You can be very selfish sometimes, brother."

"Okay, okay, I'll wear my tie," Ed grumbled. He put the black strip of fabric around his neck then got up to assess his appearance. Ed eyed his reflection as Al brushed off imaginary lint. His brother was so ridiculously fussy. Ed pulled his ponytail tighter. "I don't look bad."

"If we ignore what you've done to your buttons and cufflinks"

Scrutinizing the dragon-faced hardware, Ed raised an eyebrow loftily. "They're cool."

Al just rolled his eyes. "Xui-Li is joining me for dinner. I trust that's not going to be a problem."

"No. Eira, Winry and Gracia would kill me."  The sigh that escaped him made it sound like maybe that was preferable. 

"I'll kill you," Al said in a tone that suggested he wasn't kidding.

Ed snorted, not worried about his kid brother. "Let's go. If we're late, we're both dead."

Al executed another perfect eye roll, having been ready to go for some time. They headed into the lobby, still very curious. The one thing they knew would happen on this trip was this party. Gracia had been rather mysterious about it when she had invited the boys to visit.  Ed hadn't been thrilled by the idea of a formal dinner. He hated dressing up but now he was glad for it. Ed could tell Al enjoyed this sort of thing. His brother liked fancy clothes for some unknown reason. Al just liked to look his best. Ed knew he should be more like that but he wasn't and couldn't really pretend he was.

Or maybe he could, Ed thought, seeing Winry in the lobby. She was so damned beautiful in a dress of several layers of burgundy lace, cut low to catch his attention. He was luckier than he deserved. How had he managed to ignore her beauty for so long? Yes, saving his brother had been a powerful motivator but he now regretted the lost time. Ed thought back to what Qiang had said. Damn, the bastard was right about that.

"Wow," he stammered out.  "You look beautiful."

A rose hue touched Winry's cheeks. "Thank you, Ed. You are very handsome." She ran a hand down his chest before ticking a finger against one of the transmuted buttons. Her gaze shot up to meet his then she just gave him a look.

"Do you know where we're going, Winry?" Ed was desperate for something less embarrassing than publicly acknowledging his feelings.

"No, I don't." Winry turned to Al with a grin "You look very handsome, too. Are you taking Xui-Li with you?"

Al bobbed his head. "I'm surprised she isn't here yet."

"You know women, Alphonse," Havoc said from the door. He hobbled in, also well dressed in a charcoal suit. "They like to take their time to get pretty."

"They're not the only ones." Ed rolled his eyes at his brother.

Al shot him a vinegary look.

"Ignore him, Al," Winry said, recognizing the look and knowing the trouble it meant.

"And Xui-Li is here," Havoc continued. "I saw her out back with Gracia."

"We're here," Gracia called, coming into the room in a gold silk dress with subdued, abstract purple flowers that highlighted her eyes. "I was just making sure Elicia was tucked in for the night and she wasn't bothering Mrs. Lui."

Al clearly wasn't hearing Gracia, his eyes on Xui-Li who wore a dress in a deep stunning shade of violet with a fire bird in paler purple flying against the backdrop.  Much like his brother, "Wow," was the closest he could get to words.

"Well, thank you, Alphonse." Xui-Li sashayed over and gave him a bold kiss.

"I see my sister is saying…hello to your brother, Fullmetal," Qiang said, coming into the room with Eira on his arm. She managed to look elegant in black silk crepe decorated with tiny gold beads, in spite of her huge belly.

"With total disregard for the laws of nature," Ed said then yelped as Winry pinched him. Ed shot her a wounded look, rubbing his side.

Eira shook her head ruefully. "You have a little polishing to do on your diamond, Winry."

"I suggest heavy-grit sandpaper and I can suggest a few places to start," Qiang said.

"I see your diamond has edges still," Winry said to Eira.

"After a while you realize there is only so much clarity that you can get."

Qiang snorted at her. "Imperfect diamonds are more interesting for their flaws."

"Keep telling yourself that, brother," Xui-Li said, linking arms with Alphonse. "I think our ride is waiting."

"So it is."

Ed was surprised to see a limousine waiting for them. They let Eira get in first then settled around her. He had no idea where in this little town they could be going in such a fancy vehicle. The driver didn't take them far. Ed was fairly sure he had never seen this place before, a small and unimposing building. He had to assume it was a restaurant. Helping Winry out of the car, Ed tucked her hand into the crook of his arm as Qiang led the way inside the intimate restaurant. Their table dominated the room, glittering with crystal glasses and flowers. Armstrong and a petite redhead Ed had never seen were waiting for them.

"Good evening," Armstrong said. "This is Alison and these are my friends," he added, introducing everyone. Introductions over – Ed still a bit stunned that Armstrong had a date – they sat down and a waiter swooped over.

"My name is Matthias and I'll be serving you tonight. The menu is set with a duck mousse appetizer with plum wine, salad with quail eggs in sherry hazelnut vinaigrette. The entrée tonight is a saddle of rabbit stuffed with hazelnut mousse and truffles with gingered carrot puree in an artichoke cup and green beans. Dessert is a custard filled crepe with caramel sauce. What will we be having to drink? I have the wine list here." He held it out to Armstrong.

Armstrong passed it to Havoc. "It's your night."

"Better let Qiang do it. He's the expert," Havoc dithered.

Ed leaned in towards Winry. "I think I've finally been intimidated by food."

"Just eat daintily," she hissed back. "And I'm not sure how we're expected to make it to dessert."

Qiang made a wine selection while Matthias coordinated the filling of glasses with water since no other drink choices had been made. When the waiter was gone, Qiang leaned back in his chair, giving Havoc a look. Ed wondered distractedly why Havoc went suddenly red and why Gracia was smiling a little too much. His mind was on trying to figure out exactly what was duck mousse and could he eat it in a way that wouldn't make Winry pinch him.

"Well, um, I'm…" Havoc somehow found a deeper shade of red as he fumbled for something under the table. "I'm glad you all could make it here and for Qiang for suggesting coming here to do this." Havoc glanced over at Qiang as if for support. "Why is this so hard?"

"Always is," Qiang offered unhelpfully but the exchange made Ed forget about scary appetizers for a moment. Matthias returned with the wine.

Gracia gently nudged Havoc. "Let's just show them. It'll be easier that way."

Havoc nearly deflated with relief. "I like the sound of that."

Gracia lifted her hand to show off what Havoc had been fumbling with. A ring glinted on her finger. Next to Ed, Winry sucked in a breath so hard, Ed was afraid she'd inhale the tablecloth. She, Al and Xui-Li were all up on their feet congratulating the happy couple before Ed knew what was happening. He got in line to give Gracia a hug and waited until Armstrong was done breaking one of Havoc's shoulders with a celebratory slap before giving the man one of his own.

When everyone settled, Qiang raised his glass, "To the happy couple, may you find great joy in your love and your life together."

The glasses were still clinking when the appetizers arrived. The evening passed in happy conversation and rich food. Much later, Ed found himself too restless to sleep and he headed out to the porch to look up at the moon through the pine trees. The views here were beautiful and he did miss them when he went home. He found Winry was sitting on the bench doing what he planned.

Ed sat next to her. "I see we had the same idea."

Winry leaned against him and Ed draped an arm around her. "It's so pretty here and I'm still too full to sleep. I'm so happy for Gracia and Havoc. Elicia really adores him."

"I know," Ed said, sighing a little.

"Problems?" she asked, tilting her head to look up at him, surprised.

Ed shook his head. "No. Just thinking I don't really want to leave in two days but…" He shrugged. "But I'm glad we came. There were some great things that happened this time. Gracia and Havoc, obviously, but even more so I'm glad you know the truth now about Qiang and Eira. It was really hard on me and Al keeping that secret."  He nuzzled her hair, saying in a low voice, "I hated doing it."

Winry squeezed Ed's hand. "I know and I'm glad I know, too. It hurt thinking they were dead."

"I know. Hell, even the villain sighting turned out to be nothing, so even more to be happy about." Ed trained his gaze at the silver orb overhead. "There were pitfalls, too, like Eira allowing that bastard to procreate and Al falling for the bastard's sister." Ed laughed.

"Edward!" Winry pinched his side.

"Ow." Ed chuckled more, not regretting a word of it. "But you know what the very best part of this trip was?"

"Tell me."  Winry turned a little to face him, her eyes more luminous even than the moon. 

Ed locked both arms around her, giving Winry a soft kiss. "You." He kissed her again. "You and me becoming us."  Winry just melted against him, murmuring her agreement and Ed thought he would be content to stay like that forever.