It was midday when Alphonse returned, nearly tripping over the shoes that had been abandoned haphazardly in the doorway.

He'd bent to retrieve them by force of habit, turned to set them neatly aside before his mind had registered what their presence implied. But by that time, solid proof that his brother was home had come crashing through the little house they shared with the resounding crackle of an alchemical reaction. And then a bang, a curse, and a yowl that was barely human.

Al was sprinting down the hall bare seconds later, taking the stairs two at a time and then thumping his way down to the empty room at the end of second story. Because the noise was continuing, and loud enough that it was a simple matter to place it—a stream of creative insults, angry and protracted, and a violent hissing that sounded for all the world as though his brother had stuck a hole in something that had been previously filled with air.

Before he could pause to think, Al was reaching for the doorknob, twisting and pushing at the same time, and—


But none of their doors were ever locked.

With a sense of rising dread, Alphonse raised his fist to pound for admittance, worry tinging his voice. "Brother? Are you alright in there?"

For the fraction of a second, everything stopped—and then, quite distinctly: "Fuck." The sound of movement followed, a frantic shuffle; something tore; his brother yelped in pain.

But then the door was opening, just a crack, to reveal Ed's face, near enough to block his view of the rest of the room.

"Oh," the smaller boy managed, panting. "Hi, Al. You're back early."

For a moment, no words would come.

And then: "Shouldn't I be saying that?" Alphonse sputtered. "Why aren't you at work? And what was that godawful—" The boy cut himself off mid-sentence—took in a detail of Edward's appearance that he'd overlooked and frowned in concern. "Brother—are you bleeding?"

And Al reached out one questioning hand to wipe away the thin line of blood that had traced its way down his brother's cheek; more welled up in its place, instantly.

"Er," the Fullmetal Alchemist acknowledged. "Yeah. A little."

Baffled, Alphonse attempted to peer over that disheveled blonde head and into the room beyond. "What are you doing in there?"

"Something," Edward assured, "That will be well worth it." And with that ambiguous comment, the boy slipped the door open just a fraction further, stood on tip-toes so that he could press a kiss to his little brother's lips. It was a kiss as mischievous and full of promise as the light dancing wild through golden eyes.

And then Ed disappeared from the doorway, flashing a toothy grin that did absolutely nothing for Alphonse's nerves.

When the door closed, the younger boy heard the quiet click of the lock.

"Okay," Edward announced, interrupting his little brother halfway through the chapter of his newest book. "Now you can look."

And it was with a mixture of anxiety and expectation that Alphonse took the offered hand—because his brother's plans were seldom well thought out, and sometimes things to be feared. But the grin that touched the smaller boy's lips, that lit his face and made his eyes glow bright with pleasure, was enough to set Al's mind to rest—or at very least add a twist of anticipatory delight to the unease settled in his stomach.

The distance to the room seemed to take ages to traverse, but at last they were standing before the door, Edward beaming wide and proud and open.

And then the handle turned and it was laid bare: a basket in the corner, stuffed to overflowing with colorful pillows; a veritable cavework of carpeted cubby-holes and tunnels; a low box in one corner; the floor strewn with bright, intricate toys. And for a moment—just a moment—the younger boy stared, uncomprehending.

But then his brother's hands, one metal and one flesh, were pressing it into his arms, so tiny and soft and warm, and Alphonse was staring with mute wonder at huge green eyes and the downy fuzz dusting paws that were resting uncertainly against him.

"I don't think she likes me," Ed was saying, fondly. "Little fucker can scratch."

"Brother," Al managed, "You—" But the rest was caught in his throat, and the boy swallowed hard to try and clear it so that he could finish. "I can't believe you—"

"Yeah, yeah," Edward acknowledged, rolling his eyes in dismissal even as his cheeks flushed tellingly. "I know."

The flesh hand found its way to ruffle affectionately through hair of bronzed gold. "Now cut it out with the sap, Al. Play with your damn kitten."