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Once Upon A Time

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i. infatuation

Mei Chang is twelve (well, almost thirteen, thank you very much) when she meets the love of her life.

Or, she thinks he’s the love of her life. No, no. Scratch that. Alphonse Elric was most definitely the love of her life.

He was charming, and kind, and it was thanks to him that she was alive. Sure, his soul was stuck in a suit of armour, but his assurances of how tall he was, and how handsome, were enough for Mei.

And so much better than those ridiculous fantasies she’d been indulging about his older brother. Who was actually a pipsqueak, without an ounce of charisma. Mei felt sorry for the poor woman who ended up married to Edward Elric, for the rest of her life.

Most importantly, however, she prayed desperately for her Alphonse; that one day he might get his body back, and they would live happily ever after.

But happily ever after would have to wait. First, there the secret of immortality – and it was dark and grisly one, as it turned out. She’d found what she’d crossed the desert for, but it didn’t seem to be worth the cost. Truthfully, it kept her up at night.

Then, there was the battle to save Amestris from destruction from its own. The nation was foreign, and decidedly not her home, but May still wanted to help in whatever way she could.

She was still twelve, but growing ever-closer to thirteen, (but still small, as her rude half-brother would later point out), when Amestris was saved, and her adventure seemingly done. It was time to travel back to Xing with said half-brother and his faithful bodyguard.

(Mei was pretty sure Lan Fan was more than that to Ling, but wouldn’t dare say anything).

So, at almost thirteen, Mei Chang left the love of her life behind. Her Alphonse; sweet, protective and self-sacrificing Alphonse, had his body back, though the time in-between his sacrifice for his brother, and his reappearance had been some of the worst moments of the young Princess’ life.

She clung to him tightly, as he laughed and promised that he’d come to Xing one day. After all, she still had to teach him alkahestry. His sincerity, and the promise he made was just another thing, Mei thought with puffy eyes, that she loved about him.


ii. reunion

Mei Chang was a few months’ shy of fifteen when she was reunited with the boy she’d once been sure was the love of her life.

She’d grown, in the past two years, both in height and maturity. It was in this that she could admit, perhaps, that she’d been a bit hasty to declare herself head over heels in love with Alphonse Elric, when she hadn’t completely known him.

Still, as she waited with Ling – now the Emperor – and Lan Fan (still his ever-present shadow), Mei felt a wave of nerves wash over her. Alphonse’s arrival was announced only minutes ago, and he should appear any moment now.

It was a trek through the Imperial Palace, rooms on top of rooms, and an easy place to get lost in. Though he was being guided, Mei knew she still had some time until they would come face to face.

They’d exchanged sporadic letters in the intervening years. He sent her funny anecdotes about his life in Resembool, as he recuperated, with Edward, Winry and a woman he referred to simply as Granny. Further investigation on Mei’s part, had her learn about Pinako Rockbell, Winry’s grandmother and guardian – Alphonse (and Ed’s) after their mother died, too.

In her own letters, Mei would regale Alphonse with stories of the power plays of the Imperial Court, and the improvements throughout Xing as a result of Ling’s (short as it may have been so far) impressive reign.

Mei became especially excited when, a few months ago, Alphonse had disclosed his intention to finally make good on his previous promise and come to Xing to learn from her – that was, in his own words, if she was still willing to have him as her student.

Though she’d insist that she’d grown out of her childhood infatuation, Mei still felt her heart leap at his words written on the page, and wrote back with all haste that she’d be more than happy to teach him.

She thought too, that he was still as charming as ever.

“Ow,” Mei said, as felt someone – Ling, of course it was Ling – nudge her arm. She reached up, and rubbed the sore spot just underneath her shoulder, and decided to scowl at him. “What did you-“

But Ling, smirking, and Lan Fan, with a subtle cough, made her abundantly aware.

The young Xingese princess had been so lost in her thoughts that she completely missed the formal introduction of Alphonse – along with Jerso and Zampano.

Though she was glad to see the chimeras she’d travelled with, so long ago, Mei found her attentions quickly drawn to the golden-haired boy stood in between them. When she’d last seen him, he’d just regained his body – he’d been bedraggled, and gaunt, and none of the things he’d claimed to be, not that Mei had cared.

Now, just over two years to the last time she saw him, he was dressed neatly, and his hair was shorter than before. He had put on a healthy amount of weight, and there was this sort of glow to his smile that reached his eyes and made them-

Okay, Mei thought, with a stern thought to herself. Maybe she hadn’t completely grown out of her schoolgirl-like crush on him.

She was only more sure of this when she realised she was running towards him at full speed, and had him wrapped up in a hug – much like she would, back when so many things, including both of them, were so different.

If Mei knew them as well as she thought she did, Lan Fan most likely sent an apologetic look Alphonse’s way, on Mei’s behalf, and Ling would be smirking again. She heard Jerso and Zampano laugh, but Alphonse did nothing.

Until he wrapped his arms around her tightly, before pulling away. He laughed then, but it was kind, and not at all mocking. Mei was happy, as well, to see that he looked glad.

“It’s good to see you too, Mei.”


iii. sparks

Mei Chang was just a day shy of turning seventeen when she found out that the once-proclaimed love of her life, had feelings for her too.

For just over two years Alphonse Elric was her constant companion, as she made sure to show him her beloved homeland. They saw the sights, together, and she taught him customs and traditions he took to with an ease she’d expected.

Under her tutelage he had come to some sort of conclusion about the melding of alchemy and alkahestry, but nothing concrete– at least, not for him, and his mind. Alphonse always wanted to know more. He wanted to see more and do more. There was no limit to his curiosity.

When she asked him, he told her it was because of all the things he’d missed out on while trapped inside the armour. Now, he had the chance to experience those simple things that other people took for granted.

Things he’d never take for granted ever again, as long as he lived and breathed, he said.

So his pursuit of knowledge continued. And continued.

Mei remembered blushed furiously during one meal when she’d relayed his hard work to Ling, and Alphonse had responded by insisting he couldn’t have done it without her.

He returned to Amestris only a handful of times, during his training, to compare notes with his brother, check in with Winry and Granny Pinako in Resembool, and catch up with the friends he and Edward had made on their journey.

Mei felt her feelings grow in regards to Alphonse – and especially when he left (that old saying about absence making the heart grow fonder was most certainly true, in her eyes) - but she was abundantly aware that he probably still viewed her as the naïve and childish princess from all those years ago.

It would only stand to reason, then, that he would never return her romantic feelings, given how she clung to him like a schoolgirl when she had been little more than a child.

They were friends now, very close friends, and that was good enough.

Well, good enough until she heard a conversation, casual as it seemed to be, between Alphonse and Ling.

“You should go,” Ling said. “Xing will still be here, if or when you decide return.”

Mei didn’t know what Ling was talking about. She placed her ear closer to the door. Xiao Mei burrowed closer, too, though Mei doubted her steadfast friend would be able to pick up on their words any better than she would.

Alphonse, as soft-spoken as he was, certainly sounded muted.

“…birthday…tomorrow…surprise.”

Mei stood back from the door. It was her birthday tomorrow; her seventeenth. A surprise?

Even Xiao-Mei seemed to understand this, her eyes widening much like Mei’s.

“Well, I can’t stop you, Al,” Ling said, as loud as ever, and easy to hear, even behind the giant throne room doors.

Before Mei could make herself scarce, the doors opened in front of her. Alphonse approached, and noticed her immediately. He stopped in place, while Ling laughed behind him. Alphonse had gone a dark shade of red. If Mei didn’t know any better, she would say he was…embarrassed?

Now, why in the world would he be embarrassed?

When he resumed walking, and was out of the throne room – Ling was still howling with laughter; Lan Fan looking as though she might find a way to snap him out of his hysterics soon – the doors closed behind him.

Mei studied Alphonse intently, when they were face-to-face, just the two of them.

He still looked embarrassed.

“You heard that, didn’t you?” he finally said, after a beat of silence between them.

“Only Ling,” Mei admitted. “He’s far too loud. You’re a lot quieter so…” She shrugged. “Nothing.”

Xiao Mei, perched on her shoulder, also feigned the same nonchalance. Or at least, as much nonchalance as the still-tiny panda could. Given it was Xiao-Mei, it was actually quite a lot.

Alphonse looked to almost sigh in relief at that.

“I did hear something about a surprise, a birthday?” She smiled. “Tomorrow.”

The relief disappeared almost immediately from his face.

She reached out a hand to calm him.

“Whatever it is, you can tell me,” Mei said, not adding ‘even if it’s bad’, though she hoped, even though she didn’t say it, she made it clear. “You can tell me anything, Alphonse.”

Her heart dropped. Now that she thought about it, maybe he was planning on leaving. His brother was due to get married and of course he’d want to be there for it, so of course Mei knew she’d be saying goodbye to him, again, anyway – and sometime fairly soon.

But maybe this time, he wasn’t planning on coming back.

There was still much for him to learn in Xing, but she knew he missed his family so. He’d told her so himself.

Still, it was the day before her birthday. Maybe he simply didn’t want to disappoint her on the day before. But if that was the case, she would take it gracefully, just as a princess should, and-

From his pocket, Alphonse presented a pair of tickets. He passed them to Mei, and it was enough to knock her out of her reverie.

“What’s this?” Mei asked, though her heart beat rapidly against her chest.

“Train tickets.”

“Well, I can see that,” Mei replied. “I meant there’s…two.”

Alphonse balled up his fists, as if he was steeling himself. His face, once more, had turned that beetroot shade of red, and he seemed to struggle with his words until-

“I’m going back to Resembool for the wedding,” he said, quickly. “And I wanted you to come with me, this time.”

Mei was taken aback by the forwardness of the statement, though it wasn’t unwelcome. She’d wanted to visit Alphonse’s home for almost as long as she’d known him. Though her fantasies were highly watered down, now, from when she’d first met him, she was still a romantic at heart.

“And this is my birthday surprise?”

He looked at her, almost a little dejected, until Mei realised how that must have sounded. She gave a high-pitched yelp, and held her hands up, the tickets waving wildly. So much so, that she had to make sure not to drop them.

That would only make the whole thing worse.

N-NO, that’s not what I meant,” she said, quickly. “It’s a wonderful surprise, Alphonse! Yes, I would love to go with you.”

At her clarification, his eyes widened happily. Without warning, he picked Mei up, and spun them around in a close hug. She felt her cheeks blush at the contact, and she was still blushing when he set her back on the ground.

A moment passed between them, then another, and Mei cleared her throat to break the silence. There was an important question she just had to ask, and Alphonse – as perceptive as he was – looked almost ready for it.

“Can I ask you a question?” she asked, her heart beating even faster than before, if that was even possible. “Why now? Why do you want me to come home with you?”

Maybe it was her (not quite as bad, but admittedly, over-active) imagination talking, but she swore he was looking at her in a way she’d never seen before. And when he’d arrived in Xing almost two years ago, and started their training, she’d made it her mission to catalogue every one of his looks – even before she’d realised she was doing it.

“Well, u-um, you see,” he said, stuttering over his words, and adorably so. “G-Granny said she wanted to meet you, and I want you to see where I grew up. Winry wants you there. Brother too – of course – though he didn’t say so in as many words.”

He closed his eyes, and looked as though he was about to curse. For as intelligent as Alphonse was, words weren’t exactly his strong suit. He was actually similar to his brother in a few ways, and this was one of them.

“You always say you want to come with me,” he continued, finally, “and I-I think there’s something. Something between us, and I want to - you know, if you’d like - c-court you?”

Mei could barely believe what she was hearing.

“Xiao-Mei, pinch me,” she whispered, furiously; all the while Alphonse looked at her, utterly confused.

The panda obeyed quickly, and Mei was delighted to find that she didn’t wake up. This wasn’t a dizzy daydream or fantasy. It was real.

She answered Alphonse’s question by throwing herself into his arms, and clinging tightly to him.

He laughed, and tentatively wrapped his arms around her waist.

When they pulled away, she laughed too.

“Can I take that as a yes?”

Mei nodded, eagerly.

“Yes, yes, yes!”

In the joy of the moment, it was just them, and Mei wrapped her arms around his neck, and pulled him closer to her. He responded in kind.

And then-

He kissed her.


iv. family

Mei Chang was roughly eighteen and a half when she left Xing for the third time in her life.

The first was a trek through the desert with only Xiao-Mei for company, a journey that changed her life forever.

The second was a fairly quick, but wonderful, visit to Resembool with Alphonse for Edward and Winry’s wedding, where she also finally had the pleasure of meeting Granny Pinako, a spry woman with a sharp wit, who told Alphonse to ‘take care of her’, and, quietly, asked Mei to keep him safe too.

Mei promised she would, always.

This third time, her journey – their journey, she reminded herself joyfully - was far more expansive. They visited Mr and Mrs Curtis in Dublith, Paninya and Mr Garfiel in Rush Valley, as well as a Mr Dominic and his family. In Liore, Mei was introduced to Rose, and so on. There were people she had met, and those she hadn’t, before, and Mei soaked it all in.

Without the impending doom of trying to save her family’s honour, or fighting a battle against super-powered Homunculi, Mei found she could actually enjoy their adventures together.

Even better was Alphonse’s hand in hers, and the smile reserved especially for her, too.

Before heading for their ultimate destination of Resembool, they stopped at Central, where Alphonse was highly sought after by a number of military men and women, who wished to catch up with him.

Major Armstrong wrapped them in a tight hug that Mei thought she would feel the after-effects of for a few days, sending along well wishes from his sister, General Armstrong. Alphonse had muttered that they probably weren’t all that ‘well’.

They had an audience with General Mustang and the now-Captain Hawkeye, and even Fuhrer Grumman himself.

Mei was especially surprised when the older gentleman shook her hand furiously, and thanked her, tears in his eyes, for saving his granddaughter’s life during the events of the Promised Day. She hadn’t expected that, at all.

Alphonse too, had been stunned – as General Mustang laughed, and Captain Hawkeye stifled a giggle – to find out the Fuhrer and Captain Hawkeye were related at all.

Before they left, Alphonse made a point of visiting a Mrs. Hughes, and her daughter, Elicia, explaining to Mei that they, along with the late Mr. Hughes, had taken he and Edward in during their journey, always extending their hospitality as far as they could.

Mei saw a quiet strength in both women, who had lost so much and yet remained so loving and kind. She couldn’t deny, too, that Mrs. Hughes’ quiche (and apple pie) were as delicious as Alphonse, Edward and Winry had previously described.

Finally, stop after wonderful stop, Mei and Alphonse stepped off the train onto the platform; they’d arrived in Resembool at last. Ed and Winry met them off the train; Winry carrying an excitable bundle squirming in her arms.

This was the real reason for their visit, Mei thought, as Alphonse immediately bounded over to his brother, sister-in-law, and nephew. He’d been so excited, Mei recalled, when he’d received the letter, and told her that Edward and Winry were expecting a baby, and now he could finally meet him.

As welcoming as Winry, Granny Pinako, and even Edward had been on her last visit, Mei still dragged her feet towards the family reunion, suddenly feeling as out of place as ever.

“Where’s Granny?” asked Alphonse, while Edward rolled his eyes, and Winry laughed.

“The old hag wanted some peace and quiet, apparently,” he replied.

When at first, Mei had heard the eldest Elric refer to his and his brother’s caregiver that way she had been shocked. Of course, then Granny Pinako had given as good as she got, and Mei thought it might be just how they expressed their affection for each other.

“You’ll see her soon enough,” Winry promised. Mei watched, in awe, as Alphonse cradled his nephew protectively.

“He’s wonderful,” he said, brightly.

Mei didn’t think she’d ever heard him sound so happy.

Still on the periphery, she remained quiet. That was, until Winry stunned her momentarily by pointing at her; Mei wondering, at first, what she had done wrong. The blonde had a determined look on her face, and her other hand on her hip.

Hey, don’t think you’ll get out of holding your nephew just standing there,” she said, both forcefully, and teasingly. “He’s been waiting to meet his Auntie Mei, too.”

Edward nodded, laughing slightly. Alphonse looked to her, and smiled.

Mei felt herself blush. All the while she couldn’t help herself when she felt her face break out into a huge grin. She looked down, nervously, and then across to her boyfriend. Alphonse gestured towards her with the baby.

“Well,” he asked, without any hint of pressure, “do you want to hold him?”

Wordlessly, Mei nodded, and Alphonse transferred the baby to her arms. The young boy, who looked remarkably like his father, looked up at her.

“Hi there, little one,” Mei said, quietly. “Well, I guess I’m your Auntie Mei.”


v. forever

Mei Chang had been twenty years old for a month, on the day she knew she’d spend the rest of her life with Alphonse Elric.

Simply put, she knew this, because he asked her, and she said yes.

On this particular visit to Amestris, they’d travelled to Rush Valley, where they were visiting Ed, Winry, and their two children – their toddler son and baby daughter. Paninya and Mr. Garfiel had also been eager to see them, and it had been on the latter’s insistence that they all get a picture together.

Winry agreed readily.

“It can go on the board at home!” she’d decided, on the spot, and that was what the picture turned out to be too.

Mei barely had a chance to gather herself, and Xiao Mei, as she hastily passed the youngest of the Elric children back to her mother.

She noticed, from the corner of her eye, Alphonse laughing at how she preened herself. She stuck her tongue out, at his teasing, and he rolled his eyes playfully.

“Okay,” the passer-by who had been cajoled by Mr. Garfiel into being their unofficial photographer, said, “say cheese!”

Mei thought it was a weird expression, but she smiled anyway, as the shutter clicked.

The stranger passed the camera back to Mr. Garfiel, before hastily speeding off. Mei almost laughed; he probably didn’t want to be forced into any other requests by people he didn’t know.

Paninya continued to coo over the children with a proud Edward, while Winry talked automail with Mr. Garfiel.

Mei felt Alphonse take her hand in his, and smiled up at him. He cocked his head to the side, to say something along the lines of ‘would you like to go for a walk?’. Mei watched as the others continued to speak around them, and figured they wouldn’t be missed for at least another half hour or so.

They walked the dusty streets, starting to quiet down as the sun set on another day, when Mei felt Alphonse stop in his tracks, just on the outskirts of the small town. The hand that wasn’t in hers, fiddled with something in his pocket, and Mei turned, narrowing her eyes at him.

She knew when he was nervous.

The look on his face looked exactly like the day he had first asked her to come back to Amestris with him. She would never forget it, for as long as she lived.

What had prompted this expression was the question she didn’t have an answer for. While Alphonse kept his eyes trained on the ground at his feet, Mei exchanged a look with Xiao Mei, who stood on her shoulder.

Even her steadfast companion had no idea either.

“I wanted to wait to do this,” muttered Alphonse, “but I feel as though I might burst.”

“Well, that wouldn’t be good,” Mei replied, to make it clear she was still standing there. Her boyfriend appeared to be so lost in his thoughts that he’d forgotten that fact, almost.

His eyes widened, and in a strange flashback to the day they first kissed played in her mind. Was he going to give her bad news? Was that what this was about? One last perfect memory, and then no more?

Not Alphonse. Surely not. If so, not like this.

Mei felt her worry faded, almost as quickly as it appeared, only to be replaced by Mei’s heart and mind racing a million miles an hour.

Because, in front of her, Alphonse knelt, holding out a small jewellery box, and gulping down what Mei assumed to be a lump in his throat. If he cried, then there would definitely be no hope for her – and certainly not for Xiao Mei.

“What are you doing?”

 “I think you know,” Alphonse replied. “I think you know me better than anyone; apart from Brother and Winry. Better than I know myself, sometimes.”

He laughed, and Mei shook her head.

“I’m not going to assume anything,” she insisted. “Who knows? Maybe my imagination will run away with me again.”

She tried her best to keep an even face, but it was becoming tougher with Alphonse on bended knee in front of her, especially when he continued to laugh. At least, Mei thought, he didn’t look as nervous as he did before.

“What? You might have visions of my brother as a prince again?”

Mei scoffed.

Hardly,” she said. “I put those daydreams aside years ago. Besides, he’s Winry’s problem now,” she added playfully, and with a roll of her eyes.

“True,” Alphonse said, in agreement. He shuffled a little on his knee.

“You should stand up,” Mei said, softly. “It can’t be good for you to-“

“I have a body,” Alphonse interrupted. “So, I’m going to do this properly, or not at all.”

“Do what?” Mei asked, in reply; he shook his head at her feigned ignorance.

“Ask the love of my life to marry me.”

When she was twelve years old, Mei had imagined this moment over and over (and over) again, even in spite of the mortal danger she faced on a regular occurrence. These daydreams involved at least a dozen or so roses, a white horse, fireworks and a whole procession in honour of she and her betrothed.

Now, eight years later, none of that mattered. Not in the slightest.

She was standing outside a small town in Amestris, as the sun took its leave for the day. The roads were quiet, and dusty, but the sound of the townsfolk still travelled.

But somehow it felt…right.

More than right; it felt perfect. Even more perfect was when she nodded, letting tears pool in the corners of her eyes, and shouted – as loudly as she could, and surely some of the inhabitants of Rush Valley would wonder what on Earth was going on – that yes, she would marry him.

A hundred times yes.

Alphonse stood, and opened the box to show the modest ring. He said it was given to him by Granny Pinako, the last time they’d been able to visit her in Resembool.

Alphonse said that it belonged to his father, who’d always meant to give it to his mother. But Hohenheim hadn’t returned in time, and so never had the chance.

Mei welled up, even more, at the history of the ring, and felt honoured when Alphonse slipped the band around her finger, and smiled down at her.

“A perfect fit,” he said, sounding surprised. “Winry and Brother had me worried.”

Mei looked up at him questioningly, but Alphonse shook his head.

“A story for later?”

He nodded.

“They tell it better anyway.”

Mei laughed, and placed a hand on his cheek. She mumured in agreement to his statement, as she felt him lean into her touch.

“This is our story, after all.”