What the title says
"Sergeant Beregond speaking, how can I help you?" he said politely, the way Havoc had told him to. He immediately straightened his back when he heard the voice. "Sir. No, I'm sorry, Colonel. Edwa... Fullmetal's gone to the training facilities to spar. No, Alphonse isn't here either. He remained home to look at some new books they got from the library. Very well, Sir. I'll see you in a short while, Sir."
Beregond placed the receiver down, and he was surprised that there was a knock on his door. "Yes?"
The door opened and a familiar form walked in. "Why, Sergeant, you could say a 'hello', you know," said Hughes, the tease quite evident.
Beregond instantly stood up in attention. "Sir!"
But Maes only smiled and waved his hand dismissively. "At ease, Beregond. I came here as a friend."
That relaxed Beregond enough. "I'm just trying to adjust," he said. He sat down again, smiling at Hughes. "So what brings you here? It's been a while since we last talked."
"No particular reason - although don't say that to anyone," said Maes with a chuckle. He flinched when Beregond pressed on each of the papers on the desk the State Alchemist's stamp with a loud thudding sound. "Whoa! Easy! You're supposed to prepare the reports to be signed, not beat them to death!" he exclaimed, laughing.
"Very funny," Beregond retorted, bantering playfully. "I can't help it though. This stamp is all dried up. Look how this comes out." He showed a paper, and indeed the imprint was more than just faded.
Maes chuckled and, taking the stamp from Beregond's hands, he gently pressed it first on the ink box nearby; then at the paper. Beregond was surprised to see that the stamp was now as clear as day. He blushed when he realised how he blundered.
"Hey, it's only been two days since you started," Maes said kindly. "Just don't be afraid to ask for help when problems present themselves, okay? The guys here will be more than glad to put you back on the right track."
"I'll do that," said Beregond, nodding.
"Good." Maes looked around for a moment. "Are Ed and Al here?"
"Not right now, no."
"Aw, tough luck. I wanted to tell them how much Elysia has grown!"
Beregond smirked and he chocked down a small chuckle as he mentally pictured Edward sighing with relief at this... misfortune. On the other hand...
"You could tell /me/, if you like. I'd like to hear it," Beregond said seriously.
There was silence, and Maes looked Beregond in a curious manner.
"Did I say something wrong?" Beregond asked, uncertain.
"No, you didn't," Maes said reassuringly. "It's just... I'm not used to that kind of reaction. It's usually groans or 'No way, Hughes, I don't want to know about your daughter!'"
"Oh, you noticed that." Beregond gasped when he realised what he said. "I mean..."
But Maes only laughed. "That's okay. I can't expect everyone to appreciate how proud I'm of her or my wife."
Beregond nodded. "Yes, I know what you mean." His heart sank a bit as memories flooded through his mind. "It makes you feel whole and blessed and you want to thank that ultimate force that brought them in your life every single day that you share it with them," he said before he could help it.
"Exactly!" However, Maes noticed the change on Beregond's expression. "Beregond? Are you okay?"
Beregond snapped himself out of his reverie. "Yes. I apologise, I was thinking of something."
"Are you sure you're all right?"
Beregond couldn't help but smile at the concern. You’re a good man, Hughes. But I can’t tell you of my real problem.
"Quite sure," was all he said.
"All right." It was clear that Hughes more likely decided to drop the subject than felt assured, because a small, embarrassed pause followed.
"Here's another idea. How about you see Gracia and Elysia in person?" Hughes asked then, all of a sudden it seemed.
"What?!" Beregond said incredulously.
"I'm serious! When and if you're in Central, escorting Ed and Al, just call so we can meet. The invitation is extended to them, too, of course."
Beregond thought about it. It was true that he had seen so many pictures of Hughes' family that he had become curious enough to meet them.
"If my boss has it, then it's a deal," he finally answered.
"Don't worry about Ed and Al; I'm sure they'll want to see them again, too," Hughes said with a chuckle. "Well, I'd better let you be; I need to talk to the Colonel, too."
"Wait, we'll go together. The Colonel said he wanted to see me for something concerning Edward." Beregond looked a bit at the papers, making sure that he had everything, then put them in order on the desk and placed a pen near them for Ed in case the boy came while he was gone to Mustang's office; and left with Hughes. When he returned, Ed was indeed back, already signing the papers.
"Well, Beregond? Any news so far?" he asked.
"Lieutenant Colonel Hughes was here a little while ago, he wanted to say 'hi'," Beregond said as businesslike as it was appropriate for a sergeant. "I've also just got back from the Colonel's office and I've arranged a meeting for you tomorrow at ten o'clock. He said he wanted to speak with you."
"Ten?" echoed Ed.
Beregond grinned. "Not too early, not too late; you can consider yourself done with it and have the day to yourself should you be spared from any missions this time."
Ed chuckled before he could help it. "Good thinking." He signed the last report and put them all in one pile aside. "Just finished."
"Wait, there's also this one," said Beregond. He opened the drawer and took out a large yellow envelope. "It's the one you wish to work on personally. You said you wanted to have a look at it today."
Ed swallowed a bit, hoping that Beregond wouldn’t notice. "Ah, yeah... thanks."
Beregond looked at Edward curiously. "Were you actually hoping I'd forget about it?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
Ed seized the chance. "Yes."
Beregond laughed. "Not in a million years. I don't want to be discharged, you know."
Ed forced a laugh, too before handing the signed reports to Beregond. "Will you give these to Lieutenant Hawkeye? We might as well hand them in since they're ready."
Now it was Beregond's part to swallow uncomfortably, but he tried not to show it. "Yes, Sir."
Ed looked at Beregond. "Were you actually hoping you wouldn't have to today?"
"Yes." Sorry for the deceit, Edward.
Ed grinned. "Well, look at it from the bright side. You won't have all that many things to do tomorrow."
Beregond nodded slightly. "Well, I had better go then." He was about to walk out, when Edward's voice stopped him again.
"And, Beregond? I won't be needing you for the next hour or so, so you can do whatever you like." He smiled again.
"Okay," replied the man; and he exited, now determined to get over his meeting with Riza as soon as possible.
He never saw Ed taking out from the yellow envelope a report with his name on it, looking at it thoughtfully.
Beregond knocked a couple of times at the door of Riza's office, but there was no answer. Apparently there was no one inside.
And, frankly, he didn't know if he should be relieved or disappointed at that. On one hand, it was painful - too painful at times - to see such a familiar face looking at him with no sign of recognition whatsoever. On the other hand, to see his wife - or rather, a version of her - alive, made him happy. It gave him a false sense that he wasn't among complete strangers. That he wasn't alone and maybe, just maybe, this was a gift for him; a second chance to make up for what his heart had been missing for more than ten years.
He cursed himself mentally.
You delude yourself. Hawkeye is not Almiel; no matter how much alike they are to one another. And, whether he felt it difficult or not, the fastest he came to terms with that reality, the better.
Now wishing more than anything to see his task done, Beregond rushed inside; placed (dropped, more likely) the reports on Riza's desk; and hurried out.
Only to come face to face with the very person his soul was torn about. Beregond subconsciously registered the familiar, bittersweet pang within his heart that he felt upon meeting Riza the first time.
"Sergeant Beregond? What brings you here?" Riza said, smiling politely.
Valar, not that smile. Yet, if he could afford the luxury, Beregond would have simply closed his eyes and savoured the sound of her voice.
Fortunately, he reminded himself that that was precisely what he should avoid and, controlling himself, he saluted cordially - hoping that she wouldn't notice his face turning crimson as he spoke.
"I've brought Major Elric's reports to be handed to the Colonel, 1st Lieutenant Hawkeye."
"Oh, I see," she replied, her expression unreadable. "Thank you."
Beregond nodded back. He didn't realise that he had remained looking at every part of Riza's face and taking in her every movement, until he noticed that she looked at him puzzled.
He really wished that he somehow vanished at that instant.
"Well, um... okay then. I'll take your leave now," he said in one quick breath. He turned on his heel and, doing his best not to sprint away, he headed down the corridor.
He didn't see Havoc until it was too late. As a result, the two men bumped quite forcefully, thus ending up on the floor and the papers that Havoc had been carrying falling on their heads like large confetti.
Seeing what happened, Riza hurried at them.
"Are you two all right?"
"Yeah. I can't say the same about the papers though," Havoc said, bringing himself to a sitting position with a wince on his face. He looked at the one responsible for that mess. "I mean, honestly, Beregond, where was the fire?"
Beregond sat up also, ashamed for what happened and averted his eyes. "I'm sorry," he said softly.
The sight that Beregond presented at that moment must have been quite pitiful, for Havoc prodded gently the sergeant to look at him and see that he wasn't angry. "It's okay. Just help us pick them up and put them in order."
Beregond rewarded Havoc with a half-hearted nod, and he arose to assist. He never looked toward Riza as he picked up the papers and, when his hand accidentally touched hers as they reached for the same piece of paper, he drew it back as though he got burned. And when the papers were finally picked and placed in order, the salute he gave before walking away was a rushed one.
Exchanging a look, the two lieutenants came into a silent agreement. While Riza was taking the papers in her office, Havoc went after Beregond.
He didn't have to go very far. The moment that he turned the corner, he saw Beregond hitting the wall with his fist, muttering repeatedly: "Alhand." (Stupid)
"Hey, stop that!" Havoc cried, grabbing Beregond's hand. Gripping the man's shoulders, he made the man look into his eyes. "Easy now," he coaxed. "Everything is all right."
"It isn't," Beregond kept saying, shaking his head.
"Then it will be," Havoc replied in a soothing manner. "Just calm down."
It took several moments, but Beregond finally took a couple of deep breaths and managed to compose himself. Feeling drained, he patted Havoc's shoulder in a tired manner. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." A small pause followed. "Are you gonna tell me what upset you or do I have to figure it out?"
Beregond sighed, and pulled himself gently out of Havoc's grip. "It's no big deal."
Havoc looked at Beregond hard. "Tell that to Riza." He nodded when he saw Beregond breathing in sharply. "She's not blind, and neither am I; or anyone else in the same building for that matter. You only behave in that irrational way whenever she's near. So you'd better start talking."
Beregond bowed his head. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
Beregond closed his eyes momentarily. He wasn't going to get away that easily from this one. "All right. But, please, can we go somewhere else?" He remembered himself. "Sir?"
Havoc nodded. "Okay. Let's go to the canteen; it's almost lunch break anyway."
A quarter of an hour later, Havoc was looking at Beregond incredulously, trying to find the correct words to say and failing miserably.
A nod gave him the answer.
"That's heavy," Havoc said finally, lighting a cigarette. "Riza actually thought that you don't like to have a woman as superior."
Beregond laughed. "Nothing further from the truth." Even though there were no female soldiers in Gondor, that didn't mean soldiers wouldn't take orders from their lords' wives. Beregond knew this best, since he served lady Eowyn. "And what did you think, Havoc?" he asked, eyeing the lieutenant.
"That you have a huge crush on her," Havoc said, smiling embarrassedly. "Do you want to know what the others thought?"
"I'd rather not." Beregond dug a bit on his food with his fork. "I suppose I've made myself a complete fool, haven't I?"
"Well, love makes us fools." However, Havoc soon sobered again and looked at Beregond thoughtfully. "Has it been long since she died? Your wife, I mean."
Havoc almost dropped his cigarette at this. "Thir--? Didn't you ever think of getting married again?"
Beregond raised an eyebrow of curiosity. That was enough answer.
"Fall in love with another woman?"
The expression of curiosity changed into a frown.
Beregond shook his head.
Havoc couldn't believe it. How could he, when he knew for a fact that even Lieutenant Colonel Hughes had his share of dates before settling with Gracia? Heck, even Fuery, who seemed to think only of animals?
"Please tell me that you at least looked at a woman and you thought that she'd make good company?"
"Of course!" answered Beregond. But before Havoc could feel relieved, the man just had to add: "I always enjoy a good talk."
Thus Havoc felt like collapsing from his chair instead.
"So, what you're telling me is that you haven't been with a woman for thirteen years? How about before that?"
"I had Almiel."
"No! I mean before her."
"Oh!" Beregond finally understood. "No."
The cigarette finally dropped and landed on the table, but Havoc hardly paid heed to it. "Wow... you really loved her."
"Of course I did, we're talking about my wife!" Beregond exclaimed huffily. He dropped his fork in resignation, deciding that he couldn't eat anything, and heaved a sigh. "And now that I saw Riza, I..." He didn't continue for many moments; his fingers twitched slightly as though they were ready to caress something invisible. "I look at something that could fill my heart again and I know all I have to do is reach out and take it." His hand clenched violently into a fist. "But I also know that it's too far away and not mine anymore." He locked his gaze on the other man. "I'm not blind either, Havoc. I've seen how she looks at the Colonel, and it's precisely the way Almiel used to look at me." He sighed again, a melancholic expression settling on his features. "Don't get me wrong, I don't blame Riza for any of this. But I can't help thinking that it's unfair."
At that moment, Havoc truly felt for him. "So what are you planning to do?"
"What else is there to be done?" said Beregond with a shrug of his shoulders. "I'll just grit my teeth and get over it. It won't be easy, but I'll make sure I won't fail."
Havoc nodded. “Good idea. But you wanna take my advice? I think it's best that you also talked with Riza about this."
Beregond snorted. “She'll think I'm an idiot - or, worse, a pervert."
"She won't. Trust me on this, she may look like your wife, but I've known her longer than you. She's straightforward with everyone and she expects from everyone else to be straightforward with her. She wants you to be honest with her. If nothing else, she'll know how matters stand and deal with the situation - she might even help you out."
Beregond pondered on that for a couple of moments. "I understand. I'll follow your advice."
"The sooner the better," said Havoc.
"I'll go now." Beregond quickly stood up and saluted Havoc in respect. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. Now go," the lieutenant said, smiling.
Beregond left, and Havoc remained sitting at the table. He wasn't surprised when Breda came to him a few moments later, for he had noticed him watching his conversation with Beregond long ago.
"So it's not a crush?" Breda asked.
"No. And he's not picturing her in miniskirts either, so the bet's off."
Breda just shrugged indifferently. "Where's he going now?"
"To talk to her."
Breda instantly beamed. "1200 cenz say she'll shoot him."
Havoc smirked. "1500 say she'll get dumbfounded, and then so touched she might even cry."
Breda eyed Havoc. "Do you know something I don't?"
The lieutenant nodded. "And I'm still dumbfounded and touched by it myself."
Later that afternoon, the moment that Mustang lifted his head to get the papers Riza was handing him, he was surprised to see that her eyes were red.
"Lieutenant Hawkeye... have you been crying?"
Thus Havoc made the easiest 1500 cenz of his life.
Meanwhile, Edward was still in his office with the yellow envelope in his hands and writing down anything worthwhile considering Beregond, when he lifted his head; he had heard the sound of footsteps getting closer. Suspecting who it could be, Ed quickly placed the yellow envelope back in the drawer, grabbed a random piece of paper that he caught sight of and waited for Beregond to appear.
Sure enough, Beregond came in after knocking at the door politely, and Edward was surprised to see that the man's eyes were glistening with… those couldn’t be tears!
"Is everything okay?" the young alchemist asked.
Beregond smiled. "It will be."
And that's all the man would say, so Ed decided to let the matter be for the present. He placed the paper he was supposedly looking at down in a dismissive way and then stood up, stretching himself.
"Well, I don't know about you, Beregond, but I'm beat," he declared. "And I don't find it nice to leave Al at the house on his own, waiting for us."
Beregond smirked. "I take it you're leaving then?"
"Aren't you coming?" asked Ed, puzzled. "I thought you had finished with the paperwork."
"I did, but..." Beregond stopped, as though realising something all of a sudden. "Right. I forgot myself." He picked up his overcoat and handed Edward his own, thus earning a nod of thanks.
Still, Ed just couldn't help himself. "Forgot yourself how?" he asked once exiting the office.
Beregond took out a set of keys and locked the door. "My previous duties were far more than they are now; I have still to get used to finishing this early."
Edward looked up at the man as they both started walking. "Seriously? What kind of duties did you have?"
The man pondered on it for a few moments. "It depended. On a typical day, I would wake up at dawn; organise the patrols for the day; decide which route each team should follow, and then I'd pick one of the teams to lead - I always supervised the patrols personally. Upon my return in the afternoon, I'd instruct the young ones in honourable combat; I'd supervise their sparring; and then I'd meet with my second-in-command to schedule drills, inspection days and shifts for the soldiers. In the evening, I'd report to my l... superior about the day and after that, I'd make one final round around the place, revise my schedule for the next day to make sure everything was in order and I would go to bed."
"No paperwork?" asked Ed, slightly surprised.
"No need for it," answered Beregond.
"You were lucky," Ed muttered. For Ed felt that he could handle any kind of task, no matter how difficult, challenging or time-consuming it was, except working on reports. That was one more reason that he had come to appreciate Beregond as a secretary. "What rank were you, anyway?"
"I'm afraid there's no word for it," said the man, scratching his head in embarrassment. "Something between colonel and brigadier general, I'd say."
Edward stopped on his tracks and looked at Beregond incredulously. "No way!"
Beregond stopped too and regarded Ed in confusion. "I have it wrong then?"
Ed found himself uncertain as to what to say next. "I don't know... It's just... I mean you... Well, you aren't..." He groaned inwardly at his hesitation. "You don't look like it!"
On second thought, Ed figured that it was best he hadn't said anything at all. He had just practically insulted the man!
Beregond was anything but offended though. He laughed heartily instead, and winked at Ed. "You also thought I looked too young to be forty," he reminded the young alchemist. With another chuckle flowing out of his lips, he continued on walking.
Edward regarded Beregond for a few moments as the latter still walked away; then shook his head and caught up with him. And as they still walked, Ed couldn't help but cast sidelong glances at the sergeant, who was now humming to himself a tune.
It was just as Ed thought. Beregond seemed too down to earth and gentle to have been a commanding officer, certainly of such importance as a brigadier general. Most of the commanding officers Ed had met were cynical, calculating and cold-blooded, qualities regarded as necessary in the army. After all, how would those officers be able to see even to the most horrible task as killing hundreds of people in times of war if they weren’t exactly that?
Beregond was anything but that.
On the other hand... he still remembered Beregond's face when Guyton held him at gunpoint as hostage. Beregond was really calm and collected, even though his own life was at risk; Ed had to admit that. And the way Beregond handled the situation - Ed had approved of the man's quick thinking - showed how much in control he was of everything; much like an officer is expected to.
Well, something more to add on his report to Mustang tomorrow.
"Well, well, look what we've got here. I half-expected that they'd keep you in a cage in case you ran off."
Ed and Beregond turned at the sound of such a sarcastic voice. To their indignation, it was someone they both hoped they would never have to face again.
Fawcette looked Beregond from head to toe, looking at the uniform the latter was wearing, and it seemed like he was quite displeased with what he saw. "Then again, I see that you've been exceptionally well-trained, ape. You almost look human now."
The moment he heard this, Ed hands clenched his hands into fists. "You have no right to speak to the sergeant like that!"
"And why not, Major Elric? Because you will defend him? How touching." Fawcette curled his upper lip in distaste. "An adult hiding behind a kid."
"And I see a coward hiding behind his rank!" spat Ed angrily.
Fawcette smirked. "Watch your mouth, Major, or I could have you reported. And then, not even Colonel Mustang would be able to cover your ass."
Before Ed had time to retort, Beregond's voice stopped him.
"Requesting permission to speak for myself, Sir!"
Surprised, both Ed and Fawcette turned to look at Beregond, who was now standing proudly in attention, waiting for Ed's answer.
Though it was difficult for him, Ed relented. It was obvious that Beregond considered it a matter that he had to deal on his own. "Go ahead, Sergeant."
Beregond bowed slightly his head in respect; then faced Fawcette.
"I don't think I need to hear anything that an ape might have to say to me," was all the lieutenant colonel said.
Just then, however, Beregond leaned close and spoke in a soft, yet very angry tone. "Ever since you've seen me, Sir, you've done nothing but keep calling me an ape. Personally, I wonder how you are supposed to call a man who had to give the military exams three times before finally being accepted - through /bribery/." And with that, Beregond saluted again, an evident smirk of triumph on his face. "I'm done, Sir," he said to Edward; and resumed his walking.
Edward followed him, grinning broadly. Neither of them bothered to look back at Fawcette, who was now beside himself with fury and kept shouting: "You will pay for that, ape! If I find just one word wrong about you in any records, you"re going down!"
"By the way," Ed asked, as both he and Beregond exited Headquarters, "How did you know that about Fawcette?"
Beregond, surprisingly enough, blushed. "I didn't. But I can't see how else he got to be in the army."
Ed was still laughing when they arrived at the house, making Al look at him quite puzzled.