I never knew what to say to him when he was in one of these
moods, the kind that made him so damn difficult to talk to. He would stomp and
glare and hiss in his frustration, and I would patiently wait for him to calm
down with a whisper of "Brother" in hopes of getting through to him. Most of
the time, he would just start ranting to me then, and I would sit with open
ears until he was done. Often, I had to try to outtalk my brother, to raise
my voice a little just so that his indignant yells could be drowned out by reason.
Today, he wasn't any of these, to my surprise. Today, he was sitting on the
edge of the river that I usually sit at when we fight, staring at the water
as if it housed all the answers I often looked for. I knew why he was upset,
why he was sitting here with his short golden hair swaying in the summer wind,
glowering, frowning, sniffling here and there.
It was the small ball of fur twining around his feet,
purring loud enough for me to hear it back here, over the current of the river.
I walked to him, to them, and sat down on a patch of soft
grass, toes wiggling in the blades. I didn't need to ask what Mother had said
when brother asked her if we could keep it; he spoke better with action, and
his sulking, down demeanor was the answer itself. I sniffled a little, wrapping
one arm around his small shoulders while grabbing the kitten and pulling it
into my lap, fingers scratching one pointed ear.
I felt like crying, too, felt the tears burning my eyes.
After all, I had been the one that begged brother to talk to mom, to ask her
if we could keep it after we walked down the road and found it in a farmer's
discarded barrel. I had asked him, thinking she would say yes, that everything
would be okay, that no one would tell my brother no because I know I never could.
Mother did, though, and that surprised me. Our hopes dashed,
I laid my head on his shoulder, cuddling close, waiting for his hitching chest
to stop. The color blurred through the world as I blinked heavy tears away as
well, trying to be strong, strong for my brother, my sweet older brother.
Time ticked and we calmed down, wounds healing as that
happy little kitty rolled onto its back in the grass and batted pleasantly at
my drooping fingers. Brother had long since fallen silent, staring at the water,
at the reflection of the orange sun that was starting to set; I was content
to listen to the sounds around us rather than prod him and make him speak.
"We'll take it anyway," he said on his own, and I stopped
playing with the object of our joy and dismay long enough to look up at him.
"She just doesn't have to know."
The kitten had bitten my fingertip, back legs kicking
wildly in the air, but I hardly noticed; my eyes were on my brother's determined,
willful face. "What do you mean?"
"We'll sneak part of our dinner here every night," he
started, words slow at first, then building, quicker, quicker until they were
tripping over one another. "We'll build him a cage, get him a couple of those
bowls mom puts in the back cupboard because they're chipped for his water and
stuff. We can make him toys! We'll come play with him every day, Al! We'll do
it! We'll do it!"
No one could deny my brother anything when he was this
happy, certainly not me, not when I wanted the same thing. I smiled, felt it
crack my face, and I wrapped my arms around him, held him tight. The kitten
stopped playing with my fingers long enough to stare at us, blinking wide, black
eyes, and then meowed right on cue.
We had our own little child. We had our own little family.
After days of arguing over the name (everything from "Cat" to "Mini" to "Ferocious
Tiger of Terror"), we settled on something simple, something that meant something,
something that made us smile every time we spoke the name.
We called him "Ours".
It took a lot more effort than either of us had planned
to care for something: building the pen was a lot of work, especially with sneaking
off the wood, nails, and hammer. When Winry or Mother asked us what we were
doing, we proudly said that we were "building a fort" and "it's no girls allowed".
They seemed to buy it, though Winry was far more vocal about her disdain and
disappointment than Mother was; brother sported a bruise on his cheek for a
week from it.
Sneaking food was an art; we didn't know the slight of
hand skill including forks and napkins until about two weeks in, so our pockets
were constantly being filled with meat juices, smashed green beans, and ketchup.
Water was fetched down by the river, carried by shaking hands in chipped bowls,
and we made balls and sticks with dancing strings for Ours to play with.
The weight of its warm body as it crawled under our shirts
to play was softer, kinder than anything I had ever known. It would purr when
it was happy, sulk when it was sad, but stare at us always with those big black
eyes, loving us.
We were a happy family. For awhile, everything was perfect.
I turn my eyes down, smiling to myself as I see Nina asleep
beside me; I'm glad she decided to go under before I can get to the dark moments
of my story, before I can tell her how we found Ours a few months later, cold
and stiff in the cage, ravaged from some disease we never knew it had. I never
get to tell her how we had taken its small body to Mother, held it up to her
as if she were a god and we were begging for a miracle. I don't tell her about
how we cried, sobbed, and how Mother held us in warm arms and whispered about
how death could come at any time, that Ours time had just come to an end, that
it didn't suffer and we had made it happy and loved in the final moments.
I don't tell her about how we dressed in our Sunday best,
holding our own little funeral in our backyard, Mother gently pushing the dirt
over the shoebox we had slipped it into, our flowers swaying in the cold wind.
Tiptoeing out of the room is near impossible when one
is a giant suit of armor, but Nina doesn't wake during the height of thunderstorms,
so there's hope for my clanging body. I quietly close the door behind me, smiling
as she curls around a stuffed bear on her bed, small, plump arms cradling it
against her chest.
"That was really nice, Al," you whisper, startling me,
and if I could blush, I would have. You're not wearing much, just a pair of
black pants and your socks; your arm gleams in the candle you're carrying around,
wax dripping over the slick metal. Winry would have a field day with you. "I
didn't think you remembered that."
"I heard you talking about it to Winry last time we saw
her," I admit. My memory isn't what it should be, I know this, but I
don't feel up to telling you yet.
You nod, a small, "mm" leaving your lips as we ease into
our rooms. We climb into separate beds for a moment, mine against one wall,
yours opposite, and as always, it only takes a few moments before you're crawling
into mine. I can see the mattress shake as your shiver against my cold steel,
and I feel the sadness, the loneliness over never feeling your actual flesh
breaking out in goosebumps, chilled until you can heat that metal up with your
"You didn't tell her the end," you breathe, reaching up
to draw my heavy arm over you. It brings about another shivering fit, but both
of us don't remark on it, though guilt fills me.
"Everyone deserves to believe in a happy ending," I whisper.
I can see the telltale sounds of you starting to drift asleep; I've memorized
every one, from the heaviness of your breath to the shifting of your muscles
as they relax. I wonder if you know how beautiful you are then.
"Even us?" you murmur, your final words of the night.