Title: Fair Shares Of
Author: S J Smith
Summary: There might be something between them, if there weren't the strictures around them.
Disclaimer: Absolutely no money made on this.
…at her feet was her footloose man… You Can't Always Get What You Want, the Rolling Stones
Ling remembered the Promised Day of Amestris, when his body fought alongside the soldiers of the military, and his friend, Edward Elric. It had been horrifying, and strange, and, because he had no actual control of his body, almost dreamlike, albeit too intense for a dream. It had been long years since that day, though; when the usurper, Greed, vacated his body, and Ed and the military vanquished a creature that might have become a god.
Those memories come back at the sight of the group in front of him; a dark-haired man with a rounded face and narrowed eyes; looking almost as if he should be wearing Xingese clothing, considering his features, and a blond woman, her hair cut short like a cap over her skull. The rest were more familiar, though not dressed in Amestrian blue, but clothing far more suitable for members of the court – Alphonse Elric and his oft-time traveling companions, Jerso and Zampano, as well as Alphonse's wife, Chan Mei, princess of Xing.
Beside him, Ran Fan stirred, and Ling knew she remembered as well. He could hear the faint whir of the mechanics in her automail arm. That arm, and her own pride, kept them from being together. While Ling was more than willing to take Ran Fan as his wife from the Yao Clan, Ran Fan refused all approaches, warning him that she her body did not match the strictest qualifications of perfection, not with automail, and that she would rather be his guardian, a job she was more appropriate for than wife.
It had been a long argument between them, and, many times, Ling wished Fuu still lived, to help him persuade Ran Fan that he didn't care that her body wasn't perfect; he loved her, her ki, her quick mind, the way her smile always came as a surprise. But Ran Fan would have none of it, and pushed her younger cousin, Ah-Lam, his way, insisting she was a much better choice. When the escalating arguments threatened to destroy their friendship, Ling relinquished his own desires, and took Ah-Lam for one of his wives. She was too young for him to actual bed – or at least, too young for him to want to bed; Ling didn't consider himself a cruel man, after all – but she was well cared for, and a bidable creature.
Soon, he knew, he would have to pay attention to the other clans, and the girls they were putting forth to be wives. Right now, though, Ling didn't want to think about the politics of his own country. He didn't want to pay attention to the words that the black-haired Amestrian man said. His gaze lingered on the blonde at the man's side, remembering her fire and fury, and the protective streak that ran through her. Finally, when his guest ran out of words, Ling smiled gravely, spreading his hands, and said, "You are welcome within the country of Xing, Major General Mustang." And added, "Well met."
The guest rooms they were directed to were not adjoining, but next to each other. Mustang was given the more opulent of the two. Riza wondered if Ling – Emperor Yao – remembered how protective she'd been of the Major General when he'd been in Amestris, involved in the Promised Day. Probably; he'd seemed to be a rather clever boy back then, and had grown up to be a handsome young man, behind the artifices his royal court imposed on him. Riza thought she recognized the guard standing to the left of his throne as the girl, Ran Fan, who'd lost her arm to Bradley. Her devotion had sent her back to Ling's side within six months, something incredible, according to what little Riza knew of automail.
"Captain," Mustang said, calling for her attention as he stood in her open doorway. Riza turned toward him, unable, for a second, to keep her breath from catching. He looked…exotic, more beautiful than she liked him to appear, in the robes provided by the emperor. "You're not dressed yet."
"No, sir." Riza eyed the red and black gown as if it was a snake. "I think I'll stick to my uniform." She wasn't sure how she'd be able to hide any weapons in such a close-fitting outfit.
Some of Mustang's family, notably, his mother's side, could be considered expatriates of Xing, and he still remembered the language, though he hadn't spoken it in years. Alphonse had been reminding him of it, and they'd carried on conversations while their little group had traveled across the desert, so Mustang could converse with the Xingese in their own language.
Alphonse had grown accustomed to Xing, and seemed at home here. Jerso and Zampano didn't fit in quite as well, but they still seemed less awkward in the court than Riza felt. She took her place behind Mustang for their first dinner with the emperor. A prickling of her skin told her of someone's gaze on her. At first, she thought it was because of her coloring, but she realized that the emperor, himself, was eying her. The faintest tilt of the corner of his mouth made a strange thrill speed through her body.
Ling was more than agreeable to reaching a treaty of peace with Amestris. His best friend still resided in that country, after all, and he'd learned so much from that land. His counselors could find no way to disagree with the idea of reaching an agreement with the land across the desert, and, if they had, Ling had no doubt Chan Mei would have threatened and bullied them into agreeing to something with the country that had birthed her beloved husband.
If that meant he had to endure countless frivolous celebrations for the treaty, well, he'd put up with that, too. The first of many happened today, a kite-flying event, where the beautiful war kites rose in the sky, swirling and twisting around each other like so many amazing birds. When strings were cut, the kites either sailed higher, or crashed to the ground. Ling had no aptitude for flying kites, but found himself amused that Major General Mustang took to the skill as if he were Xingese born, rather than Amestrian.
Sitting in the shade of a pavilion, Ling watched the ongoing sky battles with a jaundiced eye, pretending delight in awarding points to those who won, and subtracting points to those whose kites were lost.
It surprised him that the blond woman from Amestris was nearly as quiet as Ran Fan when she moved, something to take into consideration. Ran Fan bristled beside him, but Ling held up a hand to contain her rage. "Let my guest speak. Yes, Captain Hawkeye?" Captain Hawkeye flushed ever so slightly, realizing she'd made a social error, but Ling smiled at her, indicating she should go on. The blush on her cheeks made her appear more approachable, more lovely.
"I was asked to pass a message on to you from a friend in Amestris," she said, not even slightly discomfited by Ran Fan's hard stare.
"Which friend?" he asked, his smile broadening. If Ed thought to send a message, it would've gone through his brother.
"Winry Rockbell-Elric," Hawkeye said, and then turned slightly to include Ran Fan in the conversation. "She specifically requested I ask about your automail, Ran Fan, and pass along a new type of oil that is being manufactured, for you to try."
Ling couldn't help but pout. "That message isn't for me," he said.
"She also asked me to tell you that she is pregnant - "
"What, again?" Ling asked, wondering if Ed was trying to populate all of Amestris on his own.
Hawkeye went on as if he hadn't interrupted, but for the amused glint in her eyes, " – and that you are not to send another jade dragon as a child's gift. She believes she has enough of them now."
"I will keep that in mind, Captain Hawkeye," Ling said, smiling at her, "though now I am unclear as to what Winry might want as a gift for the child."
"Perhaps something practical might be in order," Hawkeye offered when he continued to stare at her.
"Practical," Ling said, considering. He leaned closer. "Just how practical should I be?"
"I am sure you have advisors who could help you with that sort of question, my lord," Hawkeye demurred.
"Oh? But they would know gifts for a Xingese woman and her child, not an Amestrian," Ling countered. "Would you assist me on this quest to find an appropriate gift?"
Hawkeye's eyebrows twitched, and she glanced away, toward the field of competitors, and Major General Mustang, laughing at Alphonse Elric as his kite tumbled out of the sky in a flutter of silk and balsa wood. "If it does not take time away from my duties," she said finally, turning back.
"I will endeavor to make sure you have plenty of time to fulfill all your duties, Captain," Ling said, inclining his head to her.
"Thank you, my lord," she said.
"Please. When it is just us, call me by my name. After all, we did drive a homunculus all over Central City together."
Hawkeye's eyes widened fractionally, but she said, "Agreed…Ling. But only if you use my name, as well. Riza."
"Of course, Riza."
Her smile made him think of apricots, and dates, and other sweet things, not of soldiers in blue.
"You were talking to the emperor earlier today," Mustang said.
Riza continued making her personal report, barely looking up as the pen skimmed over the piece of paper. "Yes."
"What was that about?"
"Edward's wife wanted me to deliver a message to the emperor." Riza spoke diffidently. Edward's request for a discharge from the military remained a sore spot for Mustang. He hadn't expected it; much less Edward's return to the small farming community on the eastern border of Amestris, to raise a family there and in Rush Valley.
"Oh, so she'd met him?" Without waiting for an answer, Mustang asked, "What message did she want delivered?"
"It concerns her current pregnancy, and the emperor's choice in baby gifts," Riza said, catching sight of the faint flicker of annoyance on Mustang's face. She wondered what he'd expected from Winry, then decided that wasn't her question to ask.
"How do you find the emperor?"
Carefully laying aside her pen, Riza considered the question. "He is not the boy we met in Amestris," she said. "He has matured, and come into his own. The commoners appear to love him. I'm not so sure about his actual court, but considering what we know of Xingese politics, that probably should be expected. He seems to be genuinely concerned about his people and his country."
Mustang came to the table where she worked, leaning his hands on it. Scars marred the back of each of his hands, one a familiar transmutation circle, scraped into the skin during a time of need, but both hands bore the explosive reminder of Wrath's stabbing him through the palms. "I think he's interested in you."
Riza cocked an eyebrow. "I'm almost old enough to be his mother."
"Men don't always take that into consideration," Mustang told her, his expression softening slightly. "Hawkeye…Riza."
"Sir?" She met his gaze unflinchingly.
"You should find yourself some happiness."
"I should say the same to you, sir."
Mustang stared at her for a few seconds more, then turned away, leaving her room.
Ling studied the royal gardens as if through the gaze of a stranger, knowing how strange they must appear to Amestrian eyes. The thick green grass, at least that would be familiar, though the stunted trees, trained to grow in a particular way; the aesthetics of a path that wound around a pond with an arched bridge over it and multi-colored fish that rose to the water's surface at anyone's approach; the weeping cherries and willows, reflected in the still ponds and trailing limbs like fingers through the cool waters. "Do you like it?" he asked Riza.
She turned slowly, and Ling wondered if it was because she was unsure of the clattering shoes she wore, so different from the military boots she normally wore, or because she was trying to take everything in. "It's lovely, my lord."
"Ling," he reminded her.
"Ling," Riza said, and he caught a hint of her smile as she buried her nose in the throat of a flower. When she straightened, golden pollen, nearly the color of her hair, dusted her nose. Reaching over, he smoothed the pollen off her face. Riza flushed as his fingers continued over her cheekbone, then fell away.
"I apologize," Ling said, "I didn't think. That was inappropriate."
"No," Riza said, "it was," she hesitated, her eyes searching his.
When it seemed she'd lost her words, Ling asked, "Will you walk with me?" He turned, giving her a little space.
"I should get back to the major general." Riza glanced around, as if she expected Mustang to appear out of no where.
Ling swept his hand out, indicating she could do as she wanted. "As you wish." He watched her as she walked away, her shoes clattering over the paved walkway.
She is like Ran Fan, Ling told himself as he stared at the expanse of his kingdom from a balcony in the palace. She is like Ran Fan, and devoted to her major general. She is like Ran Fan, he reminded himself again, and just as much in love with him as he was in love with Ran Fan.
Court meetings could be tedious and annoying, and Ling had learned to hold his tongue and at least appear to be interested. He forced himself to listen, to pay attention, because otherwise, if he didn't, he could lose the string when someone asked him a question.
Roy Mustang sat across from him at the table, listening to Counselor Hua, nodding slightly as Alphonse translated for him. The overlay of words upon words was intriguing, and that helped Ling keep his attention focused. Mustang waited until Hua finished speaking, then repeated a more abbreviated version of the counselor's ideas. Hua's eyebrows rose and he inclined his head slightly in agreement.
"Perhaps," Ling said, "rather than reiterate everything that is said, we can agree that, at this time, everyone is speaking the truth as they see it. I know my people are writing everything down; I'm sure you and your adjutant are as well, Major General." Riza's mouth twitched slightly and Ling wished he could smile at her for it. "I know personally how remarkable Alphonse's memory is, and I would like to propose, rather than us working so hard, perhaps we should relax, somewhat. Be less ostentatious. Perhaps have a meal, a simple meal, to get to know each other a little better, and we can continue this meeting over food and drink."
His counselors – aside from Hua, who'd become resigned to Ling's outlandish ways – seemed horrified, but Ling smiled broadly, encouraging them to agree to his request.
"I agree that it would be more practical, sir," Riza said, and Ling couldn't help but see the twinkle in her eyes at the word.
"If you agree to it, Captain, who am I to disagree?" Mustang asked. "Is there anything we can provide, my lord?"
"No, no, I'll take care of everything. I'll send messengers to you to let you know where we are to meet." Ling beamed at all of them, ignoring the dismay in some of his people's faces. The quick grin Riza shot his way made it worthwhile.
The room was well-lit, and more common than a lot of his counselors expected, from the expressions on their faces. Through the windows, the sun was setting, the colors of the sky beautiful. Ling set up the seating arrangements himself, wanting to frame Riza in hues lovely enough to enhance her incredible coloring. What was it about Amestrians, all in shades of gold? He wondered if Riza found his people to be as exotic as he found her.
Mustang wasn't nearly as interesting to look at, but then, his features were too similar to the Xingese people.
"My lord." Ran Fan's familiar voice came from behind him, and Ling turned, smiling at the mask she wore. Still, he could read the expression in her eyes as she picked up the marker for Riza's place at the table. "Are you sure about this?"
He cannot tell her everything in his heart; Ran Fan has heard him talk of these things before, his love of his clan, his love of Xing, his love for her. She reciprocated on some level all these things, but her devotion to him did not extend far enough to bring her to his bed. Ling knew he could order her to him, but he cared too much for her to do such a thing.
"Yes, I think I am," he said. Yes, his counselors would be upset with his seating arrangements, though the highest-ranked were seated in places of honor, closest to him. Mustang and Riza were to sit at a diagonal across from him. It was a position that would keep his people from being too insulted. He hoped, at least.
Ran Fan's dark eyes probed his. "You are interested in her, aren't you?"
There was no way to lie to her, not when she was his closest advisor and friend. "Yes," Ling said, "I think I am."
"You know what she is," Ran Fan said softly, and her abbreviated gesture at herself told him how much she worried, that he was setting himself up to be hurt. Again.
"The guardian for Roy Mustang, yes, just as you are my guardian." Ling reached over, taking Ran Fan's flesh hand. Even the leather glove couldn't disguise how delicate her hand was, and how strong. His life was held between her palms. "He will eventually leave Xing, and she will follow him back to Amestris."
Ran Fan twisted her hand, not to pull away, but to twine her fingers with his, squeezing them before she let go.
The breeze caressed Riza's face and she closed her eyes, imagining for a few seconds – then she stopped that train of thought.
"What is it?"
His voice startled her. He wasn't supposed to be here, and he wasn't supposed to be able to sneak up on her like that. "My lord." She bowed her head to Ling.
"Please, Riza." Ling smiled his reminder. "You are my guest. I would like to say my friend." He joined her, encased in his robes that made him seem alien. The rich colors made his ivory skin almost glow.
She couldn't help but smile back. "You're right, Ling." Taking a breath of the flower-perfumed air, Riza held it. "I wanted to thank you for making the major general and me your guests."
"I suppose that means you will be leaving soon," Ling said. He tucked his arms inside the voluminous sleeves of his robes. His gaze swept over the gardens before them, the vining plants twisting up over the gates and walls, trellises guiding them in artful displays. Flowers peeped up, their brilliant colors reminding her of the forest that grew wild behind the house she'd grown up in.
"Yes," Riza said. "The treaty has been reached, and it is time for us to return home."
"You could stay," Ling offered.
Riza turned to face him, taking his hand. Hers felt so calloused in comparison, though she wondered, remembering his ever-present sword when he'd been in Amestris. Strength, despite the lack of calluses, was present in his grip. "I'll miss you," she said.
"And I, you." Ling's thumb moved over her knuckles, and he raised her hand, kissing the tips of her fingers. "I will remember you, Riza Hawkeye."
"And I you, Yao Ling." Riza stared into his dark eyes, so like and yet unlike Mustang's.
He lowered her hand and gently released it. "Fare you well, Riza Hawkeye."
For a second, she considered staying here, in Xing. With Ling. But his eyes would always remind her of a promise she'd made to watch his back. "Fare you well, Yao Ling."
From high within the palace, Ling watched as the travelers left the Royal City. He insisted Ran Fan guide them out, despite Alphonse's and Mei's attendance. From where he stood, their caravan appeared like a ribbon, reaching back into the palace, and then, they wended their way out of his sight. Somewhere, buried in the packs of presents, lay one for the Elric-Rockbells, something Riza had suggested as not being too ostentatious, and even practical.
Also tucked in those gifts was something for Riza, a jade bracelet, intricate carved, a dragon that would circle the wrist, its jet eyes staring always ahead. The note, translated into Amestrian by Alphonse, read, A reminder that it is good to be impractical, some times.
The gift she'd left him with was far less tactile.
Ling turned away from the balcony. Amestris lay to the West, across a desert, and far, far away. His life was here, and it was time to get back to it.
- end -