The towheaded youngster stomped a foot on the floor in a mini-tantrum.
“But Daddy, I wan’ a kitty!”
Edward Elric was equally determined to not give into her 18 month-old son’s demands, “No, Allan, we’ve already told you you’re too young to have a pet.” He turned away from his desk and bent toward his son when the tyke’s gold eyes quickly filled with tears.
“But I like kitties!” the little boy threw out the plea, still hoping to sway his father’s decision.
Ed only smiled in return; it still amazed him how self-assured and stubborn his son could be despite his youth. While that trait could have come from either him or his wife, there were times it could try one’s patience.
‘Was I like this when I was little?’
“What’s the problem?” asked a feminine voice. Ed glanced up to find Winry standing in the doorway, a frown darkening her face. For an instant his gaze flickered down to his wife’s abdomen; Ed was still expecting her to show even though she was only three months along. Her coveralls were still flat, but it would only be a matter of time before the new member of their growing family would make his or her presence known.
“Allan wants a kitten,” he said over their son’s broken sobs, scrubbing a gentle hand through his son’s soft hair, “What brought this on? He hasn’t shown any interest in having a pet until now.”
“He’s wanted one ever since he was out in the barn playing with the Miller’s kittens when we went to buy eggs yesterday,” Winry told him with a sigh and crouched beside the now sobbing boy. She took him into her arms and hugged him when he turned to her for comfort. “Come on, little man, don’t cry. Besides, soon you’ll have a little brother or sister to take care of and you won’t have time to play with a kitty.” She stroked his tears away with gentle, affectionate fingertips as her son clung to her like a lifeline.
“Doen’ wan one! I wan a kitty!”
Ed grinned when Winry grimaced at their son’s obstinacy, although she chose to let his stinging words slide.
“Someone needs a nap,” she announced, scooping the boy up and heading for the door, “You always get cranky when you’re tired.”
“No!” the boy cried out with renewed outrage, “Not tired!” A yawn promptly preceded his outburst and he nuzzled into his mother’s shoulder.
“I’ll lay him down and make us some tea,” Winry remarked to her husband as she carried Allan from the room.
“I’ll get the water started,” Ed told her as he rose from his chair.
The couple relaxed at the kitchen table, sipping their afternoon tea, a practice they started shortly after their son was born; Allan’s afternoon nap was the only chance they had to be alone together during the day.
At the moment, they were discussing their son’s latest crisis.
“I remember Al doing the same thing once when he found a stray kitten out in the garden. Mom wouldn’t let us keep it and Al cried for days.” The young man smiled at the distant memory, “But Allan’s just too young to take care of a kitten.”
Winry nodded in agreement and finished the last of her tea. “Maybe someday, but not now. If Den were still alive, he’d have a pet, but … Her voice trailed off and she stood.
Ed watched her set the cup in the sink and lean on the kitchen counter as she wistfully contemplated the view outside the window.
“I really miss Den— ALLAN!I” The look of horror that came over her face and the way she screamed their son’s name immediately struck terror into his heart even though he had no idea what had frightened her so. Before he could ask, Winry bolted out the back door, yelling the boy’s name as she went.
‘What the hell? Isn’t he supposed to be taking a nap?’
Ed scrambled after her. When he arrived on the scene, Winry was standing at the edge of the garden, frantically calling to Allan, who was walking along the edge of the flowerbed with arms stretched out and chubby little fingers making grabbing motions. He was completely ignoring his mother’s pleas to come to her, a wide smile brightening his face as he pursued his own version of happiness.
“Here, kitty, kitty!” the youngster called out as he toddled along.
‘Great. Why the hell isn’t he in bed and why is Winry freaking out about a stupid cat?’
When Ed approached his panicking wife, what he saw chilled him to the bone; there, looking rather put out, was a mother skunk and her three young, waddling along the colorful bank of flowers, trying their best to keep ahead of the little boy that was still tagging along only a few feet behind.
“ALLAN ELRIC! GET OVER HERE, RIGHT NOW!” Ed barked in his most authoritative tone, jabbing a finger at the ground in front of him.
The boy paid no heed to his father’s booming command and merrily trailed after the black and white ‘kitty’ and her young.
“Edward, do something!” Winry yelped.
“Just what the hell do you want me to do, woman?!”
Winry’s stern glance in his direction indicated now was not the time to talk back or use foul language in front of their son. “I don’t know! Distract the skunk so I can get Allan away!”
Finally, the mother skunk lost her patience with the crush of people surrounding her and her young. She stood her ground, stomping her feet as she lifted her tail to aim at the nearest impending threat--Allan.
In that fateful instant, Ed knew the situation wasn’t going to end well, at least not for him, but he would protect his family with his very life, if necessary.
Now, Ed had never regretted losing is ability to use alchemy, knowing it was a fair trade for his brother’s soul and that he had set right his sins. Yet, at this very instant, he wished for nothing more than to have his abilities back, if just long enough to be able to place a wall between his son and the locked and loaded animal.
‘Here goes nothing’, a timid little voice squeaked at the back of his mind as he leapt forward.
Allan squealed with glee as he watched his father pour yet another can of tomato juice over his head then scrub a washcloth saturated with the turbid substance over his torso. While Ed was elated that his son had avoided the chemical onslaught from the angered animal, he hadn’t been so lucky. Now he was in the backyard, sitting in an old oval trough that had once been used to hold water for the plough horses, trying to remove the foul odor from his skin and hair by bathing in tomato juice.
It just wasn’t working. He still reeked to high heaven.
“Daddy looks funny! You’re all red!” the small boy pointed out with no small measure of enjoyment, “An’ you smell bad!”
Ed threw his son a dark look. Allan had an apparent gift for telling the obvious. “Ha-ha, boy. You’re hilarious.”
“I know,” came the simple and very confident answer, which sounded very mature coming out of a toddler. In that instant, Ed recalled Granny Pinako’s words from a very long time ago.
‘Someday you’ll have kids and they’ll be little terrors just like you. It’s called payback, for giving all us adults grief when you were little.’
“Chalk one up for the old hag,” Ed muttered under his breath as he grimaced even deeper.
“Wha’s a ol’ hag, Daddy?”
Ed flinched; he really needed to watch what he said around his young son. Allan was good at parroting back whatever he said, and Winry was the one he usually repeated everything to.
“Um…it’s nothing you should be saying. Especially not to your mother.”
The boy blinked in confusion and stuck a finger into his mouth. “Why naw, Daddy?”
“Because if you do, we’ll both get in trouble.” He scowled at his son for good measure. “Mommy will get really mad at us, and we don’t want that, right?”
Understanding dawned on Allan’s features and he nodded. ‘Kay, Daddy, I won’t tell.”
Ed grinned at the determined look in his youngster’s gold eyes; it was the same as Winry’s when she set her mind to something. “Good boy! Next time we go to the store I’ll buy you a peppermint stick.” He leaned toward his son and squinted as if noticing something on his face. “Hey, let your Dad wipe that smudge off your nose.” With a quick swipe of his finger, Ed left behind a red spot of tomato juice on the tip of the boy’s nose.
The youngster giggled with delight and pawed at the wet substance with both hands. Ed laughed and flicked more juice off his fingers, spattering Allan and leaving flecks of color on his face and hair. Allan laughed again and danced in place.
“I’ll get you, Daddy!” Allan threatened, reaching into the trough to try and toss a handful back. Ed retaliated by painting a stripe down his son’s forehead.
Just as it was about to escalate into a full-blown juice fight, a very annoyed voice broke in. “Don’t you dare, Edward Elric, unless you plan on giving Allan a bath afterwards. And what is it you don’t want Allan to tell me?” The pair froze in place at her words, and Allan backed away from the tub as his mother approached with a bucket in hand, a wide smile still on his face.
Ed did his best to not wilt under his wife’s suspicious glare. “Nothing.”
She then waved a hand in front of her face. “Ugh…the tomato juice just isn’t working very well.” Winry nodded at the pail dangling from her hand. “This is the last of the tomato juice the general store had in stock. If this doesn’t work, you’re going to have to sleep outside in the old horse shed.”
“WHAT?! No way!”
Allan squealed again and began to run in a tight circle as his mother lifted the pail to slowly pour its contents down his father’s neck and back. “No way! No way!” he repeated over and over.
“Sorry, Ed, but I can’t have the entire house smelling like skunk. You understand, don’t you?” Winry leaned in to place a delicate kiss on his forehead. “You were so brave today.” She took the washcloth from him and began to wash down his back.
Ed harrumphed and crossed his arms over his chest. After a long pause, he reluctantly answered, “Yeah. Doesn’t mean I have to like it, though.” A smirk cracked his face. “You did pretty well yourself; you managed to catch Allan when I threw him to you. I didn’t know you could run that fast, though.”
“Let’s just say I had a great incentive to.” She scrubbed at his scarred shoulder next.
“Did you ask anyone in town how long it’s gonna take for this stink to wear off?” He bent his head down so she could work the thick juice into his hair.
“I went to Den’s old veterinarian. He said it could take at the very least a couple of weeks, or even as long as a month.”
“You don’t think Granny will let me sleep in the basement, do you?” Ed asked with a sigh, hoping against hope that he could find better accommodations than a cold, drafty animal shed. “She’ll be gone for a few days and I can at least open the windows to keep it from smelling up the whole place.”
Allan chose this moment to change his chant. “Ol’ hag! Ol’ hag!”
Ed froze as he felt her short fingernails dig into the nape of his neck.
“Ed? Where did Allan learn those words?”
Cold fear struck his heart and he stammered for an answer that wouldn’t leave him severely injured. Curse the boy, anyway!
Finally he blurted, “I meant Pinako! Not you!”
“EDWARD ELRIC! YOU…YOU…!” She sprung to her feet. “You’d be sleeping in the shed even if the skunk hadn’t gotten you! Honestly, Ed, sometimes I think you have no common sense at all! Don’t call Allan’s great-grandma that in front of him!”
In the next instant the washcloth smacked him square in the face as Winry flung it in anger. For a long moment he waited for the other shoe to drop, to feel a sharp pain along his skull, but it never came. He heard Winry’s heavy footfalls as she left his side, then his son yelp a protest. When the cloth fell away, Ed saw his wife towing the youngster toward the house by an arm. “Bath time for you, young man,” she declared, “And a long lecture about words you shouldn’t say! Especially when your father says them! And don’t forget to oil your leg when you rinse off, Ed! The acid in the juice will play havoc with your automail!” she threw over her shoulder for good measure just before she stepped onto the porch.
Ed watched until they disappeared and slouched into the trough until his arms, which were hanging over the edges, prevented him from sinking any further.
He groaned in defeat. “It’s gonna be a long month.”