A.N. Merry Christmas! The final chapter is up and the fate (and names) of the kittens will now be decided! Thanks for reading everyone!
Chapter Seven - The Fortunate Ones
Everyone, animals included, regrouped in the den where Ed regaled them all with the story of how he saved the kittens from the blizzard. Ed, Al and Nina all ended up seated on the floor during the narration, watching the black and gray kittens wrestle around. Nina had the orange tabby cuddled in her lap, looking very much the part of a nature princess with Alexander as her throne and a wreathe of flowers in her hair.
"You didn't have to keep them a secret," Al reproached when Ed was finished. "You know how worried I was about them."
"I know," Ed said apologetically, "but I just knew you would get on my case about it. Besides, I'm supposed to be setting an example for you."
Al tossed one of Alexander's toys into the fray and laughed when the kittens both tackled it. "Oh, don't worry. You're setting a very good example. Now I know it's alright to pick up kittens as long as you don't find out!"
"Who said anything about that?" Ed sputtered. "You can't pick up kittens period!"
"Can we name them?" Nina begged. "I wanna name them!"
"Absolutely not!" Ed snapped. "Naming them is just one step away from keeping them."
"I vote we name them!" Al said instantly.
"Me too!" Nina cried.
Shou smiled at Ed's confounded look. "There's certainly no harm in naming them. As long as everyone understands that they will not be living with us permanently."
Sensing that he was outnumbered, Ed huffed and leaned against the couch with his arms crossed. "Fine. What did you guys have in mind?"
Silence met his inquiry. Of course, no one had actually thought past getting permission to name them. After a moment, Al touched the gray tabby. "I think we should name him after Alexander."
Ed sized up the kitten in question. "Why's that?"
"He kind of acts like Alexander," Al replied. "A strong name for a strong kitten. You told me that he's the one who risked his life to get your attention, right? He can be Alexander the Second."
"Nina, what would you like to call that one?" Shou asked and Ed's heart took a plunge when he indicated the orange tabby. Because Nina was still a young kid and kids liked to name pets based on the obvious. And nothing was more obvious than the kitten's weak foot, which meant he might get saddled with Gimpy or Funny Foot or something equally degrading. Ed ran a hand up and down his automail leg absently. She probably wouldn't even understand why names like that were hurtful and what could he say to dissuade her?
Nina thought on it for a full minute. Suddenly, her eyes brightened up with an idea and Ed braced himself.
"Let's call him Cheese!" Nina proclaimed.
Even Alexander raised a furry eyebrow. Ed and Al stared at each other in shock. "Cheese?"
"Cheese," Nina said promptly. "Because he's the same color as the cheese that Mommy likes."
Ed nearly bit his tongue trying not to burst out laughing. "Cheese it is!" he chuckled.
"You should name the last one, Brother," Al said unexpectedly. "You saved them in the first place. Think of something good for him."
"Her," Shou corrected him. "That black one is a female, I believe."
There was a knock at the door and Shou left to answer it before he had a chance to see Ed's dumbfounded look. "A girl? I didn't even think to check…"
"How could you not check?" Al asked in disbelief. "We could have been giving guy names to a bunch of girls!"
Ed threw up his hands in surrender. "Alright, alright, I get it! Just let me think for a minute."
But once he got the silence he wanted, his mind blanked out. Aside from helping to pick a name for Den, he hadn't named a pet in his life. Ed scrutinized the black kitten as she pounced on another toy. Nothing really stood out about her aside from her color, but he didn't want to pick a name based on appearance. It had to go deeper than that...and then it hit him. Throughout this whole thing, the kittens had been together. But she alone had inadvertently ventured into the most dangerous part of the house and lived. That went above and beyond mere luck. She needed a name that would reflect that.
"Maybe we could call her Fortune," Ed suggested, feeling a little self-conscious. "They're all pretty fortunate to have lived through that blizzard, so it kind of makes sense. Right?"
Al nodded in approval. "I like it. It's a good name."
"Why Ed, I had no idea you were such a sap."
Ed's previous good mood took a nosedive when none other than Roy Mustang entered the den with Shou behind him. "Shut it, Mustang! What are you even doing here?"
Mustang brushed some snow off his coat and Ed felt a bit of satisfaction at how cold he looked just by walking from the car to the front door. "I'm here to make sure you're still alive. I heard you had an unfortunate incident with a rat. Or three, apparently."
"Still breathing," Ed said grumpily. "Can you go now?"
"Actually, Colonel," Al spoke up. "Now that you're here, do you know anyone who might be willing to adopt these kittens? Brother saved them from the blizzard last night…"
"Not helping with the sappy image, Al!"
"Anyway, do you have any ideas? Or maybe you could take one!"
Mustang opened his mouth to say something, but was interrupted by Fortune jumping on his foot. He looked down at her with a grimace and gently shook her off. "I'm not really a cat person. Although…"
"Although?" Ed pressed.
"The other day, Hughes was going on about getting Elysia a pet," Mustang said thoughtfully. "He was pretty fixed on getting some cats from the shelter, something about teaching her responsibility."
"She's two weeks old!" Ed said in exasperation. "Someone needs to give Hughes a refresher course on child development."
"Would he really take them?" Al asked eagerly.
"I don't think he'll take all three," Mustang cautioned them. "At best, he might take two. But I can already see that those things are going to distract you from your studies, so I might as well take them all with me now. I'll find someone to adopt the third."
"They have to go now?" Nina wailed. "I don't want them to go now!"
It took nearly ten minutes for Ed and Al to calm Nina down, which gave Mustang plenty of time to prepare a box lined with thick blankets to transport the kittens. Ed stood back awkwardly while Al and Nina took the time to say goodbye to each of them. Once they stepped away, Mustang hefted the box in his arms and offered it to Ed with a mocking smile. "Aren't you going to miss them, Ed?"
Three pairs of brown eyes stared Ed down. Cheese and Fortune didn't seem to understand what was happening, but Alexander the Second glared at him accusingly. Like he had known the whole time that Ed was planning to get rid of them again.
Ed turned away sharply. "Nope."
He waited until after Mustang left and flopped down on the couch with a sigh. He shouldn't have any reason to feel depressed. Ed had planned to get rid of them from the start, after all. This was exactly why he hadn't wanted Al to bring them home! As it turned out, his little brother was having an easier time with this than he was. Ed gazed out the window behind him to watch Mustang walk toward the military car with the box safely in his arms. Before he could reach it, the front door opened and Shou called him back. They began having some kind of discussion which had Mustang looking a little uncomfortable. Ed cast a shrewd look at Al, who was still comforting a sniffling Nina, and cracked the window open. Chilly air rushed inside along with a faint conversation.
"…would only need one, sir. You see, my assessment is coming up so fast…"
Mustang shook his head, but it wasn't a firm refusal. "There are plenty of stray animals at the shelter, aren't there?"
Shou sighed, his breath clouding thickly in the air. "But those are usually older animals, too old to be of any use. I rarely get a chance to use subjects that are so young and healthy."
Ed almost had a heart attack then and there. Shou wanted the kittens as subjects! Even after knowing how hard Ed and Nina worked to help them. Was he really that desperate?
Mustang looked down on the box, up at the mansion and back at Shou. "I don't feel right about going behind Ed and Al's backs. I need to establish some form of trust with them and if they find out…"
"I'll be discreet," Shou promised.
With only the smallest hesitation, Mustang offered up the box reluctantly and Shou reached inside. A flashback of the horrid creations that lived right below their feet raced through Ed's mind as his heart pounded in his chest. Which kitten would end up like that? When Shou's hand reappeared, Fortune was hanging from his fingers by the little red ribbon Nina had given her. Ed bit the inside of his lip. Not her, he thought childishly. Please not her! I named her, she's mine!
Mustang opened the car door and stowed the box in the passenger seat while Shou came back into the house with Fortune. Ed, unable to stop himself, jumped to his feet and caught up with him just inside the front door. "Mr. Tucker, wait-!"
Shou started at his appearance and Fortune slipped out of her ribbon, vanishing through the door almost faster than Ed could blink. Shou almost made to go after her, but something changed his mind and he quietly closed the door. "Yes, Edward?"
"I-I just…wanted to say goodbye to the kittens," Ed lied quickly. "But they're already gone, so never mind."
Feeling Shou's eyes on him, Ed retreated back to the den and resumed his seat on the couch. He took another furtive look out the window, following a trail of tiny pawprints with his eyes all the way to the car. Fortune was just a little black speck in the snow as she yowled up at the windows, demanding to be let in from the cold. The driver door opened and Mustang leaned out to scoop her up one-handed. But instead of putting her in the box with the other two, he set Fortune in his lap. And maybe it was his imagination, but Ed thought he saw Mustang scratch her ears a little before he shut the door.
"Not a cat person, huh?" Ed muttered smugly. "You better take care of her, Mustang."