"Brother," Alphonse implored, "Be honest. Do you have any idea where you're going?"
"Don't be stupid," the boy answered brashly, scowl declaring that the very notion was ridiculous. "Who the fuck could get lost looking at a map?"
His little brother chose not to answer the question, selecting another, less-likely-to-cause-physical-damage option instead. "Maybe if you let me see it for a minute, I could..."
Edward snarled, eyes flashing a sharp and dangerous gold. "I can figure it out on my own, dammit!"
But it was less than ten minutes later, when the legendary Fullmetal Alchemist began grousing about how it was impossible to read something that looked like it had been drawn by a five-year-old, that Alphonse intervened.
"There, now," the boy reflected, "I think I see where you went wrong, brother. This big squarish thing isn't the train station like you thought, is all. See? The forest starts here."
Ed glared spitefully at him, rubbing the newly-forming bruise on his cheek.
"Oh, don't be like that." The younger boy offered a comforting smile, rolled up the piece of paper and held it out as a peace offering. "You know we need to catch that train to Central, and you were being unreasonable. If we're late getting back again, General Mustang's going to have a fit." He paused, considering. "Well, as much as he ever does."
"He'll give us an even shittier mission next time, you mean," Ed scowled, snatching the map back. "What kind of scientist lives way the hell out in the middle of nowhere, anyway?"
"Well," Al answered, and fell into step behind the boy as they began to walk again. "I don't know, brother—Riesenberg is sort of out of the way, and father—"
"-wasn't even as crazy as this asshole," Edward declared. "Riesenberg isn't in the middle of a forest, Al. And whatever fucked up shit dad did, he never transmuted trees to look like melting wax."
"They are a bit creepy," Alphonse agreed, eyes sweeping over the twisted wood of the forest on either side of the path.
"You're taking this entirely too well," the smaller boy decided, eyeing his brother suspiciously.
Al smiled sweetly, leaned over to kiss him on the cheek. "Don't be paranoid, brother."
"You wouldn't have agreed to it any other way," the younger boy protested, bending down to scratch at the ears of a cat who'd stopped to rub against his leg. Another crawled forward on its belly, evidently wanting the same attention but too lazy to rise and walk the distance. "And General Mustang thought that maybe if you just saw how much they wanted to come home with us—"
"That bastard General was in on it?!" Small feline forms fled the path that his feet took as the boy began to pace. "You went to him to help you get a pet?" Abruptly, the boy skidded to a halt, whirled to face the man they'd supposedly come to investigate. "Kittens," he snarled, "Are not chimeras."
"Well, I can't help what your commanding officer told you," the alchemist offered mildly in response, sliding a gentle hand down the back of the cat that was cradled in his arms. "But in his defense... they are a combination of two creatures to make a third."
"That—that's shitty logic!" Ed sputtered. "By that standard—"
"Brother," Alphonse interrupted, so enraptured by the warm ball of fur that had curled up on his lap that he didn't realize he'd begun speaking in the middle of the boy's tirade. "You aren't really mad, right? I mean... we can take one home?"
"What kind of freak," Edward demanded, "Lives in the forest with a bunch of deformed trees and a small army of cats?"
"I happen to like gardening," the man responded, blithely calm. "And cats."
One of Ed's eyebrows twitched, and he turned a disbelieving stare out the window. "That's gardening?"
"Or sculpture," he acknowledged. "As you like."
"Brother," Alphonse tried again, and couldn't keep the surge of wonder from his voice. "It's licking my hand."
And if there was one thing in the world that Edward Elric could never quite resist, it was the promise of something that would make his little brother happy.
"Fine," he said at last, with the long-suffering sigh of someone much put-upon. "Waste of time to come all the way out here if we didn't end up doing anything." The boy eyed his brother, then the alchemist they'd ostensibly come to investigate. "We can take one home. But only one."
When they left, both boys' arms were full of soft, wriggling kittens.