Guys... I'm not going to kill the baby. Chillax.
Edward Elric cracked on eyelid open to look at his brother on the opposite bench. "Yeah, Al?"
"Do you… do you ever want to have a family?"
Ed frowned. "What do mean Al? We have each other."
"No, I meant… like, getting married and having kids. Your own family."
Ed sat up straight. "Why do you ask?"
The armor squirmed a little in its seat. "Well… you hate Dad so much," Ed's blood boiled at the mere mention of the man, "I wanted to know if you didn't want to be one yourself."
Ed scoffed and crossed his arms. "Family isn't leaving like him, Al. Family is staying and taking care of us like Mom. If I ever had a family, I would stay and be a proper father."
Ed nodded sharply and snuggled back down into his red coat for his nap.
Then he opened a gold eye again.
"Why did you ask me?"
"What, Brother?" Al asked innocently, even though Ed knew he had heard him.
"What makes you ask me now?"
Al didn't answer, but he involuntarily shot a quick glance down at the foot of the train. Ed craned his neck so that he could see what it was.
It was a small family. The woman had brown hair that was all falling over one shoulder with a baby held to her other shoulder. There was a young boy sitting next to her, probably about five years old, that was swinging his legs back and forth on the bench. There was a man next to the boy, who could only be the father, who had a girl in his arms that was sleeping peacefully against his chest.
As Ed watched, the father leaned over and whispered something in the mother's ear that made the woman blush and smile softly.
"They look really happy together…"
"Yeah… they do."
"Do you think we could have been like that if Dad hadn't left?"
"I don't know Al… But he did leave, and there's no point in dwelling on it. He left and Mom died because of it. We can only fix what's going on now. Which is why we're getting your body back."
"And your arm and leg."
"Yeah. And my arm and leg. Then we can think about other stuff like families, alright?"
"Yeah. Then Winry will be able to stop beating you up over breaking her automail so that you can tell her you love her!"
"WHAT?! AL YOU LITTLE—"
Ten minutes later once Ed ran out of breath, he huffed and settled back down for his nap. This time, he didn't open his eyes again. After a few minutes of watching his brother sleep, however, Al's eyes returned once again to the family in the back of the train.
"What do you think, Mei? Do you like my mustache?"
Mei didn't think she had ever heard anything so odd come out of her husband's mouth in her life. Eyebrows high enough they probably could have disappeared into her hair line, Mei turned around to wonder what on earth was wrong with him.
"I think it looks good."
Mei rolled her eyes.
Al was sitting there with a strip of blond hair laying on top of puckered upper lip. Nina, who was sitting in her father's lap and to whom the hair belonged, giggled.
"I'm not kissing you with that on your face."
"What? I think it makes me look dignified!"
"I think it looks like a young impressionable daughter letting her father be silly with her hair. You're supposed to be braiding it, Al, not using it as a mustache."
Al grinned, letting the hair fall.
"I think Daddy looks funny with a mustache," Nina confided in her mother. Al put on a fake pout.
"Fuhrer Mustang had a mustache like that."
"And Riza made him shave it."
Al grinned. "She did, didn't she? On public radio too, so he couldn't get out of it."
"That was an amusing broadcast to listen to."
"It was," Al agreed, before finally working on what his wife had told him to do twenty minutes ago— braid Nina's hair.
"Make it really pretty, Daddy!" Nina ordered.
"Your wish is my command, Princess."
"I'm not a Princess, Daddy, Mommy's a Princess."
"You're always going to be my little princess though."
"No, Daddy, Vien is the little Princess. She's really a Princess."
"Yes, I suppose she is. But she's your cousin, so she's not allowed to boss you around."
"She doesn't talk though. So she can't boss me around."
"She'll learn how to talk though. And if she turns out like her father, you have to remember that you don't have to listen to her when she's being bossy."
"She's learning how to talk, like Emily is learning how to talk."
Al's eyes softened as he twisted on of the braids into a larger plait. "Exactly. Emily's learning really fast, though, so it might be a bit longer until Vien is talking as much as Emily is."
"She said my name the other day!"
"Exactly. Vien probably won't be able to say your name for a while."
"Speaking of Emily," Mei said, adjusting the folds in Liwu's outfit so that they laid properly, "she should be waking up from her nap about now."
"You're right. She's been asleep for an hour and a half already. Usually she only sleeps for an hour or so."
"Maybe she's having a good dream," Liwu suggested.
"Maybe," Mei suggested, smiling slightly. "But it is her birthday party we're going to, so we'd better wake her up and take her along, don't you think?"
"I thought it was Vien's birthday party."
"It's a party for both of them. They were only born a few days apart."
"Oh. Okay. I don't think I'd want to share my party with someone else though."
"I don't think Emily is old enough to understand that it's not only her party, so we're okay."
Nina nodded solemnly, just in time for Al to proclaim that her hair was done. The seven year old leaped off the ground in front of him and hurried over to the mirror that Mei and Liwu were standing by. She twirled in front of it, making her dress flare out. Her hair had been carefully contained in an intricate plait down her head.
"What do you tell your father?"
"Thank you, Daddy!"
"You're welcome, Nin—"
Al's words were cut off by crying from the other room.
"I guess she's awake now," Al said, grinning slightly. Mei rolled her eyes at him and quit fussing with Liwu's outfit to go sooth the crying baby.
Well, almost not a baby now. When she returned with Emily in her arms a few minutes later, Al couldn't help but marvel at how much she had grown in the past year. You wouldn't be able to tell by looking at her how dangerously close she had been to not making it through her first month after birth. Her hair had started coming in very early. At only a year old, she already had a full head of hair, though it was still fine and short. It was very obviously black, though.
As she turned her head to take in the scene around her, Al had to grin at one of her most obvious features. She had gotten the Xerxian eyes. While Al's eyes had always been a softer color of gold than his brother's, Emily must have gotten the gene directly from her grandfather because they were just as solid as a true blood Xerxian.
"Dada!" she cried out when she saw him.
Al grinned and held out his arms. "You heard her, Mei. Hand her to Dada."
"Betrayed by my own offspring," she said, rolling her eyes slightly, but handing her off. Al grinned and offered his finger to Emily to hold onto. She cooed happily and grabbed on, waving his finger around.
"She's my offspring as well."
"What does offspring mean?" Liwu asked, eyes wide as usual when he learned a new word.
"It means child."
"So… I'm an offspring?" Al and Mei both laughed.
"Yes, you are. But usually people use that word when they're talking about someone being someone else's child. So you are my offspring."
"Even though I'm adopted?" Al smiled and ruffled his son's hair slightly.
"Yes, even though you're adopted." Liwu nodded, but it looked like he was thinking hard about something. Mei cast Al a glance, which he returned, but then Nina asked another question.
"So I'm your offspring too?"
"Yes you are."
"And so is Baby Em." Al smiled at Nina's nickname for her little sister. The night that Emily had been born, both Nina and Liwu stayed at the palace with their cousins. They were only allowed to meet their youngest sister once before they were told that they would have to be very quiet from now on so that the baby could sleep and get the rest that she needed to be healthy and strong. Nina had nodded and proclaimed that she would be the quietest mouse there ever was for Baby Em.
The nickname had stuck.
"Exactly. Now, shall we go, Offspring?"
"Yes, let's," Mei said. "We're going to be late if we don't hurry up."
"Very well, let's go! Daddy's driving!"
They enjoyed the small little party. Thankfully, Ling had decided against throwing a large party in celebration of his only daughter's first birthday. So it was just the two families celebrating with some well cooked food. Mei even made a few jokes about the time they had gotten into a food fight in the chambers they were eating in. Jun-li, Quyi, Liwu, and Nina had been very interested in hearing that story. Fu had been horrified, which only made the rest of the children laugh harder.
The entire affair was thoroughly enjoyable, and they parted ways only when Nina started to dose off against Al's side.
It was fairly easy to get the girls to bed, and Liwu didn't fight it nearly as much as he normally would.
"We have a pretty amazing set of kids," Al said after they were finally all asleep and he was picking apart Mei's braids and brushing through them.
"We do," Mei agreed softly. "I don't know how we got so lucky."
Al chuckled slightly. "Maybe it's our payment for the first few decades of our life."
Mei laughed along with him.
Al began working on brushing through the now unbound hair.
"I never thought that I would be this lucky."
"I never thought I would be this lucky," Mei repeated. "I always dreamed about it. Getting swept off on a white horse to a castle where I would live with the man I love and have twenty four children that all loved me and I loved them… But I always knew at my heart of hearts that it wouldn't actually ever happen. That I would probably be married off to a man I didn't know and bare a child or two that I probably wouldn't even raise myself.
"To be here, married to you, with three children that I love to the ends of the earth and back… Even if two of them aren't biologically mine, I don't care. I love them with all my heart. I never thought that I would actually get it… or that I would be this happy."
"I never really thought about it that much when I was younger. My family was always Ed, maybe Winry and Granny; not some distant future with a wife and children. And then when I was finally old enough to maybe start thinking about it, I was too busy worrying about my body. Getting it back or getting it in shape.
"There were… moments, though… when I couldn't help but think of it. There was this one time, Ed and I were on a train and we were going somewhere to look for the Stone, and I noticed this small little family in the back of the train. A mother and father with their three children. They looked so happy together… I wanted to be that happy."
"And are you?"
Al smiled, and pushed Mei's hair over one shoulder so that he could kiss her neck gently.
"Yes." Mei smiled, but rolled her shoulder to displace his head and turned so that he could kiss her lips instead.
"I am… incredibly happy," he breathed, holding her around the waist. Mei smiled, but forwent kissing him again for leaning her head against his shoulder.
"You know… I spend so much time among the court every day that I think I would go crazy if I didn't have you all to come home to. Everything is always about power plays and money and corruption… Every day I leave wondering how the world is going to continue if that's all anyone ever cares about. That's what led to Father being able to take over in the first place.
"Them… you… my family… you guys are my source of hope for the future. I don't know what I would do without you. I love you."
"I love you too, Al. And I love our children."
"I love our children too."
Al and Mei both turned at the noise.
"Nina? What's wrong?"
"I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep. Liwu couldn't sleep either."
"What? You couldn't!"
The boy sheepishly shuffled into the view of the doorway.
"You couldn't sleep?" Mei asked, frowning slightly. Nina shook her head.
"No… could you… could you tell us a story?"
Al glanced at Mei and she nodded.
"Alright kids. Come on." They followed him to their shared bedroom upstairs where he tucked both of them in again. Mei appeared a few moments later with Emily in her arms and sat down in the rocking chair they still kept in the corner of the room for situations like this.
"Once upon a time, there were two brothers who lived with their mother. And they loved their mother very much…"
And here we end A Source of Hope, second installment of my AlMei Interconnected Oneshot Collection. Thank you so much to everyone who has come along with my on this incredible journey! Thanks to everyone who's reviewed! Thanks to everyone who's cared at all! This would not have happened without YOUR support. So thank you thank you thank you!
The third installment of the AlMei Interconnected Oneshot Collection, Refuge From Darkness, will be uploaded in a few weeks. If you're worried about your weekly AlMei fix, I am currently working on an AlMei Cinderella AU which will be updated on Sundays in this story's place until I can get RFD up.
And remember, AlMei will always be a source of hope! *didyoucatchthelametitledrop*