Ed and Al help their guest adjust to a new life.
Beregond still stood by the entrance, looking a bit apprehensively inside.
"Don't be afraid," Al said, still standing behind the man. "Go on."
Finally Beregond complied, yet he didn't sit down. He just remained staring at the scarce furniture and plain walls, his look a mix of interest, curiosity and timidity.
"It's not much," Al said apologetically. "But it's still a roof over our heads."
"No problem," Beregond replied at once in encouragement. "Like it."
That seemed to cheer up Alphonse a bit. In fact, if he weren't a suit of armour, he would have smiled broadly.
"Here, let me show you the rest of the house!" he said excitedly, practically grabbing the man from the hand and dragging him along with him. In a matter of moments, he had shown Beregond everything: the bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen, as well as everything within those rooms - lamps, cupboards, wardrobes, the stacks of books and much more. Suddenly, Al realised something.
"You and Brother must be hungry. Let's go to the kitchen so I can prepare something for you to eat."
"No need..." Beregond tried to say, embarrassed.
"Oh, it's no problem. I'll make something in no time!" Al said reassuringly, and opened the fridge. At the next moment, however, he exclaimed his surprise at what he saw.
"What the...? Brother!" he called. "There's nothing here!"
"No?" asked Ed from the living room; then came with heavy footsteps to the kitchen to see for himself.
Indeed, there were only a couple of apples, more than half-rotten, and something that, if one looked closely enough, they would be able to venture that it somewhat resembled a piece of pie.
Ed grinned sheepishly. "I knew I had forgotten to do something yesterday."
But Al was already shaking his head in disapproval.
"We'll get something tomorrow," the blond added, more in an attempt to appease his brother.
"We definitely will," Al said, determined. "I wonder what you'd do if I had to stay longer in the hospital with Beregond."
"Probably starve to death," Ed said, trying to lighten things up.
"Brother, that's not funny."
Just then, both brothers noticed that Beregond was watching their conversation with interest, something that made them feel quite self-conscious. They really had to get used to the idea that they weren't alone in this house any longer.
"Okay," Ed declared, clearing his throat. "Al, don't you think we should show Beregond where he'll be sleeping?"
Al, surprisingly, seemed unwilling to do so just yet. "I, uh... was actually hoping to show him the radio first."
That brought a smile to Ed's face. "Of course. I'll just have a shower and I'm going to turn in, all right?"
Al nodded his acknowledgement. As soon as Ed headed for the bathroom, the suit of armour dragged Beregond to see the radio.
With the day's tension washed away from his body, Ed wanted nothing else than sleep, so he slipped under the bed covers and closed his eyes. He had almost fallen asleep, when the creaking sound of a door opening made him open one eye in curiosity.
"Yeah. Can I come in?"
"Sure." Ed sat up wearily, rubbing the slumber off his eyes. "What is it?" He looked behind Al as the armour came in. "Isn't Beregond with you?"
"No, he's settled on the couch and he's sleeping now." Al's eyes suddenly flashed brilliantly. "You should've seen him when I turned the radio on. He kept looking around it to see where was the spokesperson!"
Ed couldn't help but chuckle. "Like a kid, huh?" He patted the bed to make Al sit next to him. "But that's not what you came to talk to me about, right?"
Al shook his head. "I was just wondering how long he's going to stay."
Ed pondered on the question for a couple of moments, contemplating on what the best answer to that would be. "Well, Mustang said that Beregond is to stay here for as long as it takes. In fact, he gave me orders that I should take down every bit of information I can get by observing him and leave it on his office once a week. This is a rather slow process and it could take quite a while."
"Oh." Al thought of that for a bit. "So our visit to Dr. Marcoh..."
"Yeah. I'm afraid it'll have to wait."
There was silence for a while.
"Does that mean I can keep teaching him?"
"Of course," said Ed, smiling.
"Yes!" In an instant, Al gave Ed a huge bear hug.
"Al... can't... breathe..." the blond said, half-teasing, half-serious.
"Sorry." Al let go of his brother and got ready to walk out. "Brother? What are you planning to do tomorrow?"
"I wanted to check some books at the library," answered Ed before noticing the body posture of his brother. Being acquainted with what kind of feelings Al could express even under that suit of armour, he grinned knowingly. "You and Beregond can come, too. Just make sure he behaves."
"I promise!" Al assured him. "Goodnight, Brother."
And with that small matter taken care of as well, Ed finally settled on his bed and let peaceful slumber claim him.
The next day Ed arose to notice that both Al and Beregond were already awake; he could hear voices outside his room. Rising, he went up to the door and took a peek through the opening.
Al and Beregond were sitting on the couch, and Al was holding up the man's hand.
"Hand," Beregond quickly answered.
"Right. Thumb, index, middle, ring and small finger," Al said, gripping slightly each of Beregond's fingers. "Can you show them in my hand?"
Ed smiled at the scene, for it was a long time since he had last seen his brother so enthusiastic. It was a welcome change, to say the least, and he felt bad for interrupting them by walking in.
Both Al and Beregond looked at his direction.
"Good morning," said Ed, stretching his limbs and scratching the back of his neck. "What time is it?"
"Half past eight," Al answered. "There's breakfast for you on the table, if you want."
"Eggs, pancakes, juice and s... sau..." Beregond frowned, as he couldn't remember the last word.
"Sausages," Al gently helped. "I've been teaching him some words of food, while we were at it," the armour explained to Ed, who was looking now at Beregond with a raised eyebrow.
"It's not that," Ed said. He looked at the table, where there was indeed everything that Beregond had just recited, and then at Al again. "When did you get all this stuff?"
"Just before you woke up."
"Beregond was with me. He was kind of bored in the house and I didn't want him to disturb your sleep." Al's fingers twitched nervously. "Did I do something wrong?"
Ed immediately shook his head. "No, Al, it's just..." A sigh escaped his lips. "You could at least let me know where you were going."
Alphonse bowed his head. "I understand."
Edward shuffled his legs, but soon huffed to rid his nervousness away. "Well, I had better eat. Did Beregond have anything?"
"Yeah, don't worry," answered Al.
"You do remember we have to go to the library though?" the blond asked.
"That's right!" Al exclaimed. He turned to Beregond. "Do you remember what a shower is?"
Beregond looked uncertain for a moment. "In bathroom?"
"Yeah. Do you remember how it works?"
The man nodded. "Wash body."
"Right. So I'll give you some fresh towels and then you can go in to wash."
Beregond nodded his acknowledgement. When he got the towels, he went into the bathroom, and in less than a quarter of an hour he was out again, refreshed, his hair dripping with water and, to the brothers' puzzlement, with soap all over his face.
Beregond didn't seem to notice the odd looks he was receiving though. He just walked up to the table, where Edward was now reading today's newspaper after finishing his breakfast.
"Take it?" Beregond asked, pointing towards the plate and cutlery.
Edward and Al looked at the man for a moment, not understanding. Then, after both of them figured that Beregond simply wanted to be helpful and clear the table, they gave their consent.
"Thank you." And with that, Beregond grabbed the knife and headed back to the bathroom.
"What do you want the knife for?!" Ed exclaimed with eyes widened.
"Shave!" And the door was closed once more.
Ed made a face that could only be described as a mix of realisation and utter disgust.
"Al... we're getting a new bread knife."
"Okay," was the embarrassed - and immediate - answer.
Half an hour later, Ed, Al and Beregond entered the library and walked along the corridors of books. Or, at least, tried to, since Al had to retrace his steps every once in a while and retrieve a wide-eyed, gawping Beregond. "Many books," Beregond kept offering as an excuse, which, of course, kept resulting to Edward's usual answer: "Yeah, that's why it's called a library."
In spite of that, the three of them finally reached to the section Ed was looking for. Knowing by now the library like the back of his hand after so many visits to it, Ed immediately headed for the book he meant to read today, and grabbed a book for Al as well.
Beregond looked at them for a moment; then at the books; and reached for one, too. He couldn't read yet, of course, he was aware of that, but perhaps he could look at the illustrations. If anything, that would be more helpful than not.
Beregond immediately placed his hands on his sides, as though caught red-handed doing something bad.
"Look at any book you like," Al said, a trace of a smile detected in his words. "Just don't walk too far away."
And with that, he resumed his studying.
Beregond nodded a bit, and then let his gaze drift on all the titles in front of him. He looked at them, recognising the letters one by one, slowly and surely. It was an achievement that he could identify the letters; but it was frustrating not to be able to understand what words these letters were forming. He hoped Alphonse would teach him how to read soon. After all, being able to speak the new language might have been a breakthrough to him, but he still felt like blind, trying to fumble his way through things.
Sighing, he walked a little further away to look up at more titles, checking out the letters and their colouring, finding thus a way of passing his time. Soon enough, he had read some more titles, farther away from the brothers, and at the next moment even more and even farther...
Beregond almost jumped to hear someone so close to him. To his surprise it was only a little girl, no more than seven years old.
"Hello," Beregond said with a little smile.
"What's your name?"
The man hesitated momentarily. "Beregond. What's your name?"
"Alice. My mum works here in the library, so I can help you, if you want," answered the girl in a friendly manner. "What book are you looking for?"
Beregond shrugged. "Any. Show me."
The girl blinked a bit. "I don't know what you like!"
Beregond thought about it a bit. "Books you like."
Alice giggled. "You're too old for children's books!"
"No problem," Beregond said, grinning.
"You're weird," Alice concluded, cocking her head. Nevertheless, she showed him one of her most brilliant smiles and beckoned him to follow her. "I'll ask mum to give us my favourite ones."
"Okay." Yet somehow Beregond didn't feel comfortable agreeing to this. Alphonse did tell him not to wander off. His curiosity proved stronger, however, so he just hoped he would be back to the brothers before he was missed.
Edward looked closely at a page on the book he was currently reading and was about to take an important note down in his journal, when he realised that there was something wrong. Then again, anyone would have realised that there was something wrong when a seven-foot suit of armour that was till then sitting quietly next to them suddenly jumped up and startled them enough to make them fall off their chair.
"This is a library!" hissed a librarian nearby, glaring at Ed.
"Sorry," Ed said at once, getting back on his feet. "Al, what is it?" he asked, keeping his voice down.
Edward looked around to see that indeed the third member of their party had vanished.
"Where could he be?" Al wondered, worry evident in his voice. "I told him not to go too far away!"
"All right, just don't panic," said Ed. "He has to be around here somewhere. Let's search, okay?"
Al nodded. Still, it was clear that he would only be comforted once they found the man.
Ed huffed his annoyance at this turn of events; then, followed always by Al, he started looking at all the corridors. No luck. Giving up, he decided to ask one of the librarians at the registration desk.
"Excuse me, Miss?" he said. "We're looking for a man that was with us; dark-haired, green-hazel eyes, tall, but not as tall as my brother here..."
"A foreigner, he can't speak very well..." piped in Al.
"Oh, you must mean Mr. Beregond!" said the librarian with a broad smile. "He's at the children's books section with my daughter. I can take you to him, if you like."
Ed and Al didn't need to be told twice, of course, and so they followed her.
"Is he a friend of yours?" asked the librarian casually, as she took them to a flight of stairs on the upper floor.
"You could say that," Ed answered, not wishing to go into much detail.
"He hasn't been causing any trouble, I hope?" asked then Alphonse, wringing his hands nervously.
"No trouble whatsoever. He's one of the sweetest people I've met," the woman said, smiling. "Alice took an instant liking to him, though she's usually wary of strangers." She turned to them. "It's hard to explain it really. It's like he's a... child."
Ed mentally smirked. It seemed that everyone was falling for that childlike behaviour. He hated to admit it, but he did too at times, because it reminded him in many ways of Alphonse.
Now, however, he couldn't afford to do that anymore, for Beregond was now an assignment - nothing more, nothing less.
"Oh, we've arrived," said the librarian. "Alice!"
"Over here, Mum," sounded a voice from a far corner of the room.
At the call, all three walked into the room. Ed and Al were amazed to see that the place was filled with colourful posters and small cushions on the floor so that the children who happened to be there would be more comfortable. And they were certainly surprised to hear a child's voice, reading something that sounded like a poem.
Soon enough, they found the source of the voice and, of course, Beregond. Alice was by his side, reading to him children's poems.
"So which one did you like so far?" she asked then her new friend.
"Alice, don't you think you have tired out Mr. Beregond enough?" asked the mother. "Besides, these gentlemen were looking for him."
"Aw, Mum... can't he stay a little while longer?" the girl pleaded, her blue eyes glistening with tears ready to fall if she was denied.
"Alice, don't be selfish," her mother warned. "Mr. Beregond isn't a puppy to keep him all you like."
Alice sighed, defeated and downcast. "Yes, Mum." She turned to Beregond. "Will you come back tomorrow?"
Beregond looked apprehensively at Edward and Alphonse and then at Alice. "Not know, Alice. But soon... yes."
Alice pondered on the answer for a moment. "Okay. Don't forget."
"No," Beregond said, smiling weakly.
Ed watched the scene and he caught himself remembering a similar goodbye he had to say once to another little girl. He looked at Al, who looked on the scene with the same interest. Was he thinking of Nina, too? Ed wasn't sure.
It seemed that Al was thinking of her, for his next words were spoken softly and kindly.
"Beregond, you can visit her whenever Brother and I come here. And, trust me, we come pretty often."
That certainly brought Alice and Beregond a smile on their faces, and they followed the others downstairs wholeheartedly.
The rest of the day was uneventful. Once Ed and Alphonse had finished with their studying in the library and borrowed the books they wanted, they decided that Beregond should have a new set of clothes that didn't quite stand out as foreign. The shopkeeper was naturally happy to oblige and, soon enough, the brothers and Beregond (who was now in completely new attire which consisted mainly of a shirt, trousers and shoes) returned to their house with several boxes in their hands.
Though Ed and Al expected Beregond to immediately open the boxes and look at the clothes again, it was clear that Beregond was saddened about something.
"I thought you liked them," Al said, perplexed.
"Yes, but..." Beregond sighed. "Unfair."
The brothers briefly exchanged a look of confusion. "What's unfair?" Ed asked.
"The money. Give you back. Promise."
Only then did Ed and Al realise what was the matter. Beregond felt uncomfortable that the children had to make expenses on his account.
"Don't worry about it," said Al. "Think of them as 'welcome' presents."
"But--" Beregond started.
"No buts," interrupted Ed, placing his flesh hand on the man's arm. "If you want to repay us, fine. In the meantime, try not to worry too much about it, all right?"
Beregond locked his gaze on Edward's for many moments. "All right."
"Good." Ed smiled a bit; then quickly turned to Al. "Let's go prepare something in the kitchen. I'm starving."
Al hesitated to answer. "Sure."
"Want help?" asked Beregond.
"No, everything's under control. Just open the boxes and put the clothes in a drawer," said Ed, and quickly pushed Al into the kitchen.
"What was...?" started Al, as soon as the door was closed behind them.
Al caught on. "What was that about?" he asked again, this time in a whisper.
But by now Ed was covering his mouth with his hand, doing his best to keep the sound of his laughter down.
"Nothing," Edward finally managed to say amid his laughing fits. "I'm just thinking the look on Mustang's face when he sees how the military money for this assignment was spent!"
Al didn't share the humour though. He just shook his head, clearly thinking his brother could be very evil at times.
It was at that moment that the doorbell rang. Al instantly rushed to see who it was, but Beregond proved faster and opened the door slightly. In the next instant, the man had opened the door widely and welcomed Lieutenant Colonel Hughes with a broad smile.
"Hey, Beregond," said Maes, looking at the man from head to toe. "I see that you've settled down; you look nice."
Beregond actually blushed as he nodded in embarrassment. "Ed and Al kind."
Maes smiled. "I don't doubt it." He quickly caught sight of the suit of armour. "Hey, Al!"
"Hello, Mr. Hughes!"
"Yo, Hughes," Ed said also, coming out to see what the commotion was. "What brings you here?"
"I just dropped by to see how are things with you and Beregond. And also to give him this." He showed Beregond a bag that he had been holding. "Can I come in?"
But he didn't have to ask; all three were more than happy to see him.
"I'm going to put another plate on the table," offered Al, and he quickly went into the kitchen. Meanwhile, Maes, Ed and Beregond settled on the couch, where Maes handed the bag to the man, something that the latter accepted gladly. As Beregond was checking out the gift, Ed faced Maes.
"So, Hughes, what news do you have about that Guyton guy?"
"Nothing much. He's being kept at Headquarters for the time being and soon we'll start the recreation proceedings. The bad thing is that there was a situation with the victims' relatives. As soon as they found out that the culprit was arrested, they gathered in front of the main building of Headquarters, wanting his head."
"Not surprised," said Ed grimly.
If Maes meant to say something, he never had the chance. At that moment, Beregond let out an exclamation of surprise, holding in his hands a couple of notebooks, a pencil and a large book; a book with illustrations that taught the reader how to write.
"Thanks, Hughes!" To claim that Beregond smiled as he said this, it would be an understatement. His whole face seemed to light up.
"You're welcome," answered Maes, smiling broadly. "I figured you might like them."
Just then, Al's voice sounded from the kitchen. "Dinner's ready!"
So, in a matter of moments, all four had sat down and were enjoying a warm meal. And though Al couldn't eat and only sat by the table for keeping the others company, the rest ate and drank to their hearts' content, and soon they were sitting in front of empty plates, congratulating Al for his cooking.
"You're getting almost as good as Gracia now," Maes said, grinning.
"By the way, any news from her and Elysia?" asked Ed.
"I phoned them yesterday. Gracia sends you her regards and Elysia wants to see you guys again soon."
Beregond looked at them, puzzled. "Phoned?"
"He means that he talked to them through the telephone; that small box-like thing I showed you yesterday," explained Al.
Maes's face lit up as he remembered something at that moment. "Speaking of showing, have I shown you guys the latest pictures of Elysia?" He instantly took out from his pocket a whole stack of photos. "I swear it, she's so cute in some of them!"
At this, Ed made a face that plainly said "Why didn't I keep my big mouth shut?", whereas Al was too polite to say anything. Beregond was the only one of the three who not only didn't mind Maes's constant talking, but he was also enjoying it. That was something that naturally caught both Ed and Al's attention.
"Either you are one of the most patient persons I've met, or you haven't been exposed to Hughes' babbling for too long," commented Ed after Maes had left, as the three of them sat on the couch. "So, which one of the two is it?"
Beregond laughed. "Have friend like Maes."
Ed's eyes widened. "You're kidding! There's someone out there like Hughes?"
The man nodded. "Has wife and son. Talks always about them."
"Shows you pictures, too?"
"No. No pictures."
Ed smirked. "That's not half as fun," he said sarcastically.
But Beregond wasn't sharing the humour anymore. He was eyeing both Ed and Al closely, something clearly in his mind.
"Want to ask. Where your parents?"
At those words, Ed's face seemed to darken; all signs of mirth had vanished in a heartbeat. That made Beregond bit his lower lip.
"Sorry. Should not..."
"They're dead," Ed answered quickly. "Both of them." He looked hard at Al; then let out a sigh. "Well, I had better head for bed; I have a long day tomorrow. Goodnight." Before anyone had the chance to answer him, Ed had gotten up and headed for his room, closing the door behind him.
Beregond was about to go after Ed, but Al stopped him.
"He'll be fine. He just doesn't like to talk about it."
"And you?" Beregond asked, cocking his head.
Al shrugged. "Mother died five years ago. We don't know where father is. He left us some time after I was born."
"Why?" Beregond was certainly surprised at the answer.
"I don't know. But Mum always said that he'll be back one day."
Beregond nodded his understanding. "How old you and Edward?"
"Brother is fifteen, I would be fourteen now."
The man didn't speak at once. He looked at Al in wonder for many long moments.
"Only each other," he said, more to himself than to Al. He faced the suit of armour again. "So strong love."
"What do you mean?" asked Al, his turn to feel puzzled.
Beregond thought hard to explain things the best he could. "You two alone. So look after the other."
Finally understanding, Al nodded.
"Edward sad when you and I go for food."
"What? Oh!" Al hadn't caught on at once. "Yeah, Brother can be overprotective at times. After our failed transmutation..." But it was clear that Beregond was getting too confused now, unable to comprehend what he was told. "Never mind."
Beregond blushed. "Sorry. I try, but..."
"No, you're doing fine!" Al assured the man. "We're just still at the beginning, that's all!" He clasped a hand on Beregond's shoulder. "I'll keep teaching you, and soon enough you'll even be able to read and write!"
"Good. Want that," said Beregond, smiling. That smile was quickly interrupted though, for Beregond suddenly yawned.
"I'm not surprised, it's late," said Al, laughing a bit. He arose and went to turn off the lights. "Goodnight, Beregond."
"Goodnight, Alphonse," replied the man, settling on the couch and closing his eyes.
There was a small pause.
"Hm?" Beregond opened an eye in curiosity.
"Do you have a family?"
The answer didn't come at once. And when it did, it was a saddened one.
And both man and armour left it at that.