“Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”
Two kids, a 4-year-old boy with golden hair and equally golden eyes and a 2-year-old girl with a slightly lighter shade of blonde hair and azure blue eyes, were getting impatient. Only a little while ago they had been so excited to get onto a train with their aunt and uncle who were spending the summer in Rush Valley as their family’s guests. However, based on the amount of seat kicking and bickering about the smallest things, they seemed to have forgotten about the excitement already.
The kids’ parents had seemed visibly relieved when Al had suggested he and Mei would love to take the kids with them to see “granny Izumi” in Dublith. It didn’t take Al too long to understand why; the two Rockbell-Elric children could be angelic when they wanted to be, but they were just as stubborn as Edward and Winry were, and also impatient. They had only been on the train for an hour, but this was probably the third time Emma and Alan started chanting the question that was familiar to a lot of traveling parents in unison. Al had hoped that maybe a good meal at the restaurant car would help, but it seemed to make the kids even more energetic than before. Two more hours to go. Thank goodness they didn’t have to travel to Dublith all the way from Resembool…
As the large buildings of Dublith finally started to show, both Al and Mei sighed of relief. At least when they’d make it to the Curtis household they could trust the kids to behave well because they seemed to respect Izumi in a way that neither them or Ed and Winry could never reach. Besides, Sig had a habit of sneaking an extra piece of the kids’ favorite sausage on the sandwich when they were acting nice (as long as they wouldn’t tell Izumi), and it seemed bribery worked pretty well on Emma and Alan too.
Once the kids had gotten their stomachs full (Al and Mei wondered how they could fit all those sandwiches there after the proper meal on the train), they went to take a nap, giving Al and Mei a good opportunity to go outside to see all the familiar places where Al had wandered as a child. Devil’s Nest seemed to be empty at that moment, and Al felt chills in his core as he remembered some not so happy memories from that place. Sensing what he was feeling, Mei squeezed his hand to pull him back from his thoughts, and he smiled at her gratefully.
Continuing their walk, Al noticed that Xiao-Mei who was sitting on Mei’s shoulder seemed to get irritated by something she saw. Her ears went flat and she emited small hissing sounds. The reason for the panda’s reaction became clear soon; Al heard a tiny “meow” behind a box someone had left on the sidewalk. The small furball peeked at them nervously, probably wanting to run away but not knowing to which direction it should go.
“Mei? Could you… make sure Xiao-Mei doesn’t run anywhere? I’m gonna… try to talk to this little pal.”
Mei wanted to protest but put the tiny panda into her bag and saw Al starting to approach the cat. He walked really slowly, not wanting to scare it away, talking to it in a calm and quiet voice. Somehow, he managed to gain the kitten’s trust and soon it was sitting on his hand while he was petting it with the other one.
“Alphonse?” Mei asked carefully. “You do know that someone might be looking for that cat, missing it dearly?”
“But look at it! It’s so small and alone, and it’s gonna be cold tonight. I can’t leave it here!”
“Fine,” Mei gave in. “But just for tonight. You will start looking for its owner tomorrow, will you not?”
“Sure thing, my princess. But just because she’s insisting,” he whispered to the kitten, lifting it close to his face so he could snuggle his cheek against the soft fur.
Some time later, the couple returned to the Curtises to find Al’s nephew and niece already awake. Alan, who was already good at reading people’s emotions, sensed that Al was hiding something, and asked:
“Uncle Al? Why do you look so funny?”
“Yes, Alphonse-dear, do you have something you would like to share with the kids?” Mei asked slyly, and Al had to pull the kitten from his pocket.
“Kitty, kitty!” Emma yelled excitedly. From very early on she had showed interest in animals. The new dog at home had gotten more pats from her than anyone else in the household, but for some reason her parents didn’t let her get a cat.
“Shhh, Emma, please don’t be so loud… If Izumi hears…” Al said, clearly very nervous about his old teacher’s possible reaction.
“If she hears what?” Sig asked, entering the room at a critical moment. Al felt like a school kid again when he tried to push the tiny cat into his pocket, but not before Sig saw what he had in his hands.
“Alphonse, aren’t you a bit too old for that already? You know how Izumi feels about cats. Especially after your brother managed to talk her into keeping that one when you lived here…”
“Did daddy have a cat?” Alan asked curiously when he understood they were talking about Edward.
“Well, he helped me get one when we were little…” Al answered, still looking a bit awkward.
“It was quite a funny story too. Do you kids want to hear it?” Sig asked, smiling at the memories.
“YES!” they shouted in unison.
“Fine. Once Edward and Alphonse found a kitten on our neighbor’s backyard and overheard the neighbor wanted to get rid of it. When she left the house for a moment later that day, the boys snuck the cat into their room even though they knew Izumi would be mad if she found out. Apparently she had had bad experiences with cats as a kid. The neighbor was of course very happy when she couldn’t find the cat anywhere, but my wife got suspicious when she heard they had disappeared. You just don’t keep secrets from her, especially if you’re living under her roof.”
“Anyway…” Sig cleared his throat. “Not much later, she found the boys hanging out in their closet instead of doing their homework, and… it was pretty scary, even for me. But Ed didn’t budge. He had seen how important the cat was to Al, and he wanted his little brother to have this one nice thing, even if it meant he’d get his, um, butt, kicked for it. So, when Izumi asked, why the boys had hidden a cat in their closet, Ed looked her straight into eyes with a very serious expression, and said: “All is one, one is all, that’s what you taught us. We are learning about the circle of life by making it eat the mice in the closet.””
Emma looked a little bit upset when she heard the cat ate other animals, so Sig continued quickly: “Anyway, Izumi just stared at him for a while, before bursting into the loudest laughter I had heard in a long while. Then she just shook her head and mumbled something about the nerve the boys had, but after that the cat was never talked about again. It got to stay in our garage until the boys left back to Resembool. After that we searched a new home for it.”
“Sig? Why are you telling them about the only soft moment I have ever had?” a woman’s voice suddenly said behind the group, and Sig’s ears turned bright red.
“No reason, honey!”
The kitten in Al’s pocket decided to start meowing in that moment, and Izumi rolled her eyes.
“Alphonse, have you still not stopped picking random cats from the streets? Who knows what illnesses they might carry…”
“But teacher… I mean Mrs. Curtis… It’s so small, and it’s gonna be a cold night…” Al stuttered. Mei wondered what exactly had happened during the brothers’ apprenticeship that made an adult man so nervous. He hadn’t been that nervous in front of her father, the previous Emperor of Xing, when she had introduced Al to him.
Everyone was surprised when the little Alan stepped in: “Granma Izumi, it’s not…” he struggled with the words a bit, “… eqi… equivalent exchange if we get to sleep in our warm beds but the cat has to sleep on a cold street!”
It was the first time anyone had ever called Izumi a grandma (the kids had called her that at home but never in front of Izumi herself), and that alone was enough to soften her heart. But she also realized how much the boy reminded her of his father, using alchemy phrases and all, and couldn’t help but smile a bit when she answered:
“You know what, Alan? I guess you’re right. He may stay here tonight. Just tonight, though. Tomorrow you will try to find his home, right?”
“Alright,” Alan agreed, and Izumi patted him on his head.
Watching the kids (and Al) having fun with the kitten later that day, Izumi felt the weird kind of happiness in her chest that she didn’t remember feeling after the boys had left Dublith. Finally, she managed to name the feeling; she was grateful and proud that Ed and Al had managed to go so far in their lives; Alphonse was back in his body, living with a girl he would soon marry, still loving kitties as much as he always had. And Edward’s two children were happy and healthy (and dare she say, quite nosy already), and if they were anything like their parents, they would do well in this world. And that was all she could hope for.