Roy gives Ed a new lead
"Send him in, 1st Lieutenant," said Roy without looking up from the papers he was holding.
Riza did just that and, in a matter of moments, Ed had taken a seat in front of Mustang's office, waiting for the colonel to give him the command to speak.
Roy, however, didn't seem too eager in rushing matters. He just kept staring at the papers for many moments, something that made Edward more than annoyed. Just when he was about to start talking anyway, Roy's voice cut him off.
"Any problems with Sergeant Beregond so far?"
Ed blinked, momentarily taken aback. "None. He's adjusted smoothly."
"Too smoothly, I'd say," noted Roy, locking his gaze on Edward at last. "It's been circulating that yesterday afternoon he answered back to Lieutenant Colonel Fawcette quite rudely, and even went as far as to accuse him of bribing his way into joining the military."
"It was too little compared to what Fawcette said to him /first/," Ed said angrily.
"So you were there when that happened."
"Yes. And I approved of Beregond's actions a hundred percent."
"I'm not surprised," said Roy in a wry manner, making Edward smirk inwardly. After all, both he and the colonel had lost count on how many times they had exchanged rude remarks to one another.
Roy was far from finished though, because he shook his head, letting out a sigh. "Please make sure you explain to Sergeant Beregond that he can't go about insulting higher-ranking officers, no matter how wronged he feels or how correct his accusations are." At that point it became clear to Edward that Mustang had enjoyed what Beregond had said more than he wished for anyone to believe. "It's to his best interest, in fact, not to be provocative at all. There are already too many questions concerning his person and several people that want to find wrong in him and have him discharged dishonourably. Is that understood, Fullmetal?"
Edward nodded. He hated to admit it, but the colonel was right.
"Good. Now let's get on with your report, shall we?"
Opening his yellow envelope, the young alchemist stated every piece of information that he had managed to gather so far, including Beregond's previous rank and how he hadn't managed to find anything on the archives about any curious alchemic accidents in which Beregond, or any family he might have had, could have been involved. And as Ed kept talking, Roy was resting his back against his chair, his fingers knitted together and his gaze locked upwards, as though he was lost in thought.
Once Ed finished, he put all his notes and papers back on the envelope. "That's about it, Colonel. I'll probably have more to report next time." He was about to walk out when Roy's voice stopped him.
"Wait a second, Fullmetal."
Ed turned, surprised.
"You had mentioned in your previous reports that you had hit a snag on your alchemy lessons with Beregond," Roy said. "Have there been any improvements so far?"
Ed sat down again, shaking his head. "Yes and no."
Roy frowned. "Please explain yourself, Fullmetal."
"I can't explain it, Colonel," said Ed. "We've been working on those lessons hard, and Beregond's managed to master every theory that Al and I taught him. But, when it comes to performing any alchemy, he chokes." He heaved a sigh. "I wish I knew why."
Roy thought about it for a while. "It's understandable to some degree. He's probably afraid he might make a mistake. Let's not forget that, in many ways, he's still a beginner and he doesn't want to disappoint his teachers," he said, smiling a bit.
"But he can't just avoid performing alchemy forever! Then all these lessons have been for nothing!" exclaimed Ed.
"I'm aware of it, Fullmetal," said Roy. "That's why I believe it's high time we motivated him a little further."
Ed raised an eyebrow in curiosity. "Motivate him how?"
It was then that Roy held up the papers he had been looking at before his subordinate entered. "I have here a letter by a certain Miss May Shaughnessy."
Ed looked at Roy in wonder. "Is that supposed to mean something?"
"Actually, Fullmetal, it is. Her father was acquainted with a certain Hohenheim Elric."
Ed's eyes widened.
"Ah, I thought that might catch your attention. As I was saying, this Miss Shaughnessy found on one of her now late father's trunks a letter that belonged to you and your brother. Yes, Fullmetal, it was one of the many letters that you had sent in every direction in the hopes of finding out your father's whereabouts. Apparently, as it is explained here, by the time your letter had arrived in Mr. Shaughnessy's hands, he was suffering from a severe stroke and he couldn't answer it even if he wanted to. Seeing that an answer was necessary, even after such a long time, Miss Shaughnessy sent a letter to you back to your hometown. Of course, you were gone by then. She tried to hear news of you, but she finally gave up. That is, until at last she heard of a certain Edward Elric, whose age matched with the boy she had been looking for. So, she ventured to send another letter; this time here, at Eastern Headquarters."
"And what's in this letter?” asked Ed impatiently. Damn it, he really hated the way Mustang toyed with him at times!
Roy smirked. He was clearly hoping to get Ed annoyed, but he finally decided that that was as far as he would push it this time.
"Your father's last known address. Close to Miss Shaughnessy's house there is a small cottage where your father had been living till seven years ago, cooperating with Mr. Shaughnessy in a research concerning the philosopher’s stone." The colonel waited a bit in case there was any kind of change in Edward's expression.
There was none. "Where's that house?"
"In a quaint little village, near the northern borders. You and Alphonse can go whenever you like," said Roy. "However, I must insist that Sergeant Beregond goes with you. He's still one of your missions, after all. Besides, this is his first assignment outside an office and it has to do with Alchemy as well; it might give him the confidence he seems to be lacking for the present."
"Right," was all that Ed said. He quickly stood up and, after saying a brief thanks to the colonel, he walked out.
As Ed and Al found out, however, being escorted on a long trip by Beregond was easier said than done, because lack of confidence in performing Alchemy wasn't the only thing the man was suffering from. When Beregond saw the sea of people pouring in and out of the train station, he clung on Al's arm and didn't let go for one instant, except to jump in fright at every train that whistled its departure. Worse still, Beregond couldn't understand a thing that he was told since the racket kept deafening him and distracting him, something especially inconvenient when Beregond attacked a man and the brothers had to explain to him that that man was the porter and it was his job to take other people's bags.
Yet the worst thing was saved for last. The moment that Beregond saw just where they would get in to travel, he refused to get on board, no matter how gently Alphonse coaxed him or how harshly Ed threatened to turn him into a fish. Not seeing any other way and at Ed's word, Al grabbed the man from the waist and tried to carry him inside. But, being acquainted with carrying Edward and only when it was absolutely necessary, Al didn't realise that a desperate, struggling man could make him lose his footing and fall over Edward, thus all three ending up in a tangled heap on the tiled floor of the platform.
In the end, after a few angry looks from the conductors, apologies from Al and taking care of Ed's bruises, the three had boarded and found their seats. For the most part of the journey, Al sat completely still, not saying a word in his embarrassment for what happened; Ed kept glaring at Beregond; and Beregond rested his head against the window, his face ashen-grey and looking as though he would at any moment let out his last gasp of breath. He had become so nauseous and weak, in fact, that when it was time for them to change trains in Central, he only whimpered his protest in a soft tone as Al dragged him along and placed him on their new seats. Such a pitiable sight finally made Ed's temper ebb away, and he even took turns with Al in rubbing the man's back in the hopes of soothing him.
It was true Beregond appreciated the gesture, but he was more relieved when they had finally arrived at the last station of their trip and got out of the train. And he certainly didn't mind at all when Ed and Al told him that they would have to walk six miles in the evening darkness to reach the village where Miss Shaughnessy's house was. In his own words: "I would have walked here even from our house if I had known in what kind of monstrosity you would put me."
Yet walking wasn't necessary after all. Ed spotted just outside the station a cart with a broken wheel and the owner beside it looking quite downcast; so, by using alchemy to fix the wheel, he earned for all three of them a free lift to Miss Shaughnessy’s house. Ed sat beside the villager, whereas Beregond and Al were to sit behind, beside an enormous and ferocious-looking dog. Because of this, the villager warned the man to be very careful and not try to do anything that might anger the dog; on the other hand, he advised Al to be ready to help should the dog decide to bite anyway.
Nevertheless, everyone was surprised to see that not only the dog didn’t attack Beregond, but it started wagging its tail with abandon as though it greeted an old friend. And as the cart moved on, Al was even more surprised to see that the dog had settled next to Beregond, its eyes half-closed dreamily while the man kept talking to it in his unique language and rubbing its ears in a loving way. It was strange, but Al couldn't help remembering the time Beregond had managed to calm down Ed back at the hospital; and he decided that, the similarities between that incident and the scene before him now were too many to be dismissed as coincidental.
But, unfortunately, Al didn't have much time to ponder on it. At that moment the villager gave the soft "whoa!" command, and the horse that drove the cart came to a gentle halt right in front of Miss Shaughnessy's house. After thanking the villager, the three travellers went up to the doorstep and rang the bell.
A young woman, possibly in her late twenties, opened the door, and she looked at the three of them quizzically.
"Can I help you?" she asked Beregond. A man in a suit must have proved a less strange sight in her eyes.
Beregond looked a bit embarrassed towards Edward, who gave him with a small nod the 'go ahead'. So Beregond cleared his throat and addressed the woman. "Am I speaking to Miss Shaughnessy?"
"Yes." The woman raised an eyebrow of curiosity. "And you are?"
"Sergeant Beregond, Miss. I've been escorting Major Elric and his brother, who wish to speak with you." He motioned his hand to the brothers.
"Oh, that's right! The letter!" exclaimed Miss Shaughnessy. She extended her hand to Ed first. "Hello. Welcome to the Shaughnessy mansion."
"Thank you," Ed replied, taking the hand after some small hesitation.
"Yes, my father was an alchemist. One of the best ones in the area in fact," said Miss Shaughnessy, taking another sip from her tea. "He was doing alchemic research to make the plantations produce more goods in the hopes that it would boost the economy of the village. If he could manage to create a philosopher's stone to help him in that, then he would consider himself successful."
"Did he succeed?" asked Ed with interest, holding his own cup with both hands. Al and Beregond simply watched on, waiting to see where this conversation would go.
"He had made quite some progress," Miss Shaughnessy answered. "But, admittedly, most of his breakthroughs were owed to Mr. Elric – that is, your father."
"What was his work here?"
Miss Shaughnessy considered matters a bit. "Frankly, I don't know what brought your father here. The both of them just happened to meet and, seeing that they shared the common goal of creating a philosopher's stone, they decided that they should work together. Their partnership lasted for a bit more than a year."
"How come it ended?"
"I'm not certain. From what I can tell, they fell out and so Mr. Elric left without a word. My father never saw him again."
Ed sipped his tea thoughtfully. "Did he leave anything behind upon his departure?"
Miss Shaughnessy shook her head. "Not much. Some notes here and there that I gathered and took them to the cottage he used to live. I figured that, should Mr. Elric return for them, he should find them safely in his own house."
"Is this cottage far from here?" asked then Al.
"A half hour's drive with the car. I will take you there personally, if you like."
"That would probably be for the best," said Ed, standing up. "Can you take us there now?"
Miss Shaughnessy smiled a bit. "Such eagerness! But it's really quite late for that now. You can stay here for the night and I can take you there tomorrow. Besides, it seems that you need some rest before going anywhere." She looked at Beregond, who was presently doing his best to stifle a yawn.
Though Ed didn't care to admit that he or his companions were tired, he decided to accept Miss Shaughnessy's suggestion. So, soon enough, the brothers and Beregond had settled in the guest room to where Miss Shaughnessy led them. In a matter of moments, Ed had laid down his weary body on one of the beds and fallen asleep... in a position that dismayed Al.
"I can't believe he fell asleep with his stomach exposed again!" he exclaimed in a whisper (dismayed or not, Al didn't want to upset his brother's sleep) and placed a blanket over Ed. When he turned to see why Beregond didn't reply to him, he discovered that the man had fallen asleep on one of the chairs.
Sighing and grateful for the strength that went with his suit of armour, Al picked up Beregond and placed him on the second bed, covering him with a blanket also. He watched the two sleeping forms for some time and, without realising it, he lay down on the only other vacant bed in the room.
/It makes you wonder who’s looking after whom/, he thought. The one was his older brother and the other their escort, for crying out loud!
And with that last thought, he sighed and remained staring out the window. The faint snore of his companions and an owl hooting somewhere outside where the only sounds that could be heard through the night.