Edward and Alphonse leave East City to repair themselves and continue with their research. Beregond remains behind, unable to follow them. But just how different will be the path the three will fol...
"Hey, Havoc. What brings you here?"
"Well, since I had the day off today and everything, I figured I could drop by and see you," answered the lieutenant, joviality evident in his tone. "And the guys at the office wanted me to give you this." He handed Beregond an envelope, smiling.
Feeling curious, Beregond opened the envelope and pulled out what looked like a piece of paper. The next instant, he was surprised - and touched - to see that it was a photograph of him and almost all his friends and acquaintances: Edward and Alphonse, Havoc, Hawkeye, Breda, Falman and Fuery. Even Hughes and Colonel Mustang were there, the one smiling broadly as always and the other posing with the dignity of a high-ranking officer.
Beregond remembered when that picture was taken. It was on the day that he got accepted in the army and he had taken all of them out to lunch as a gesture of thanks for the help they had offered. And Hughes, naturally, had brought the camera with him in order to immortalise the occasion. Of course, he had to immortalise the occasion /twice/, because the first time Beregond got so startled upon encountering the bright light again that he fell from his chair. He felt himself blushing at the memory of his embarrassment back then.
"I remember," said Havoc with a grin, clearly understanding where Beregond's mind had wandered off. "We all thought for a moment you got yourself a heart-attack."
The Gondorian laughed before he could help it. Just then, he caught glimpse of three words written behind the picture. Get well soon.
"Very thoughtful of you," he said, smiling warmly. He placed the photograph on the small table nearby, against his glass of water so he would be able to look at it more easily. "Thank you."
"I'll tell the guys you said that," said Havoc, exhaling the smoke from the cigarette still on his lips. He sat down. "Did the doctor pass by today?"
Beregond nodded. "He said I was doing quite well, and since my wound is already closed and there aren't any complications, I can leave in a couple of days."
"Just two days, huh?" noted Havoc with a frown. "Then I'll have to make the most out of it with the pretty nurses while I'm here, visiting you."
"And here I am, blissfully thinking that you were concerned about my health," Beregond said in mock annoyance, punching Havoc lightly on the arm. It was then that dark thoughts entered his mind and he sobered once more. "Have there been any sightings of Scar?" he asked worriedly.
Havoc shook his head. "It seems like the guy vanished without a trace. What's worse now is that the higher-ups have been breathing down on Mustang's neck, demanding an explanation as to why there hasn't been any progress on the case."
Beregond shook his head in a grim manner. "They aren't planning on going easy on him, are they?"
"No. Hughes would probably have been able to help, but he's already left for Central, escorting the Fuhrer."
"Perhaps he can help from a distance?" ventured Beregond.
Havoc shrugged. "Maybe. But he can still only do that much."
Beregond nodded his understanding.
Just then, there was a knock on the door. Understanding that he was about to get caught, Havoc extinguished his cigarette on the sole of his shoe; and it wasn't a moment too soon. A nurse came in, looking in Beregond's direction.
"Excuse me for bothering you," she said, her voice sweet and mellow. "There's another visitor to see you, sir."
Before Beregond could enquire as to who it was, a familiar girl rushed inside happily and, shouting out Beregond's name, jumped on the bed for a hug.
"Alice!" the Gondorian exclaimed in surprise - and in slight pain, something that would have made Havoc laugh out loud but for Beregond's subtle death glare at his direction. "How did you get here?"
"Mum brought me," Alice said. Truly enough, Alice's mother walked through the door, a smile gracing her features.
"Hello, Mr. Beregond. I'm awfully sorry to disturb you at this time of day, but Alice really wanted to see you."
"It's perfectly all right," Beregond said, smiling back. Remembering himself, he motioned his hand at Havoc's direction. "This is 2nd Lieutenant Jean Havoc. Jean, this is Sarah Abbot. She works as a librarian at the State Library of the East City."
"How do you do?" both Havoc and Sarah said, shaking hands.
"And I'm Alice!" cried then the little girl, giving also her hand.
Havoc couldn't help but grin. "Well, nice to meet you, too, Alice," he said, and taking her hand, kissed it like he would do when meeting any charming lady.
That gesture was certainly appreciated by Alice, who blushed and giggled. "So, you're a friend of Beregond's too?" she asked him naturally.
"Alice, that's not a way to address somebody you've just met," her mother reminded her.
"It's fine," Havoc said, smiling. "And, to answer your question, Alice: Yes, I am."
"Are you also from far away?"
"Alice!" Sarah was getting quite mortified by her daughter's indiscretion.
But Jean just chuckled. "No, I'm not. I met Beregond about nine months ago."
"Oh! Like Ed and Al."
"Yes," said Havoc with a nod.
Alice rewarded Havoc with another smile; then turned to Beregond. "Did the bad man hurt you a lot?"
At that, Beregond and Havoc looked at Sarah, troubled.
"We heard everything from the news on the radio. That's how we knew where to find you, Mr. Beregond."
Beregond nodded. "I see." He faced the little girl. "He did, Alice. But, as you can see now, I'm fine."
Alice nodded; then took a bag from her mother's hands. "I brought some new books for us to read. They don't have any here,” she said, and Beregond could have sworn that he heard a disapproving tone in her voice.
"'Us'?" echoed Sarah, raising an eyebrow. "Alice, we had agreed that we wouldn't stay for more than a few minutes, because you would help me with the groceries. Besides, Mr. Beregond needs all the rest he can get."
"But, mum, you always say that books help us rest!" said the girl. "And... I like how Beregond reads," she added, blushing.
"I had a very nice teacher," said Beregond, tickling her a bit on the ribs. Alice let out a squeal of laughter.
Sarah shook her head, but it was clear that she was willing to relent this time. "Very well. I'll go get our groceries. But," she added, "you'd better be on your best behaviour."
"I promise!" said Alice.
"Don't worry, Mrs. Abbot. She'll be fine with me," said Beregond.
At that, Havoc stood up at once. "Mrs. Abbot, I can go with you if you like."
"Really, sir, I wouldn't even dream of it!" Sarah said with a shake of her head. "You must be quite busy and I wouldn't want to inconvenience you!"
"No inconvenience whatsoever," Havoc said, smiling. "Besides, I wouldn't want to bother Beregond and Alice in their reading," he added. Of course, Beregond knew what Havoc meant was: "I don't want to be bored to death," so he chuckled softly.
Sarah contemplated matters for a few moments; then nodded. "Well, in that case, I accept."
"Good." And with that Havoc picked up his overcoat. "We can go by car. I have it parked outside."
Sarah smiled at this. "Probably for the best. I've quite a lot to get." She turned to Alice. "Now, Alice, just like we agreed. You won't tire Mr. Beregond, all right?"
"Okay, mum," was all that Alice said, before settling herself on Beregond's side and showing him the first book. "Mum got this one just yesterday. It's about a sailor who travels around the world with his wife."
"Is it now?" asked Beregond with a tone of intrigue. He waved Sarah and Havoc a brief farewell, and then opened the book to start reading.
"Mrs. Abbot! It's so good to see you again," cried an elderly woman, putting down the apple she was polishing and rushed to greet the familiar face.
"Hello, Mrs. Hersey," said Sarah, smiling. "Are the fruit fresh?"
"Right out of my own orchard," said Mrs. Hersey proudly. She immediately started putting some oranges on a bag for Sarah. "But where is Alice? I don't see her with you," she asked.
"Yes, I'm afraid that a friend of hers is at the hospital and she wouldn't budge from his side today."
"Oh, that's so sweet of her," said Mrs Hersey. "And I hope her little friend gets better soon enough."
Havoc listened on to the conversation with only some mild interest, being more mindful of the large paper-bag he was holding; but as soon as he heard that it took all of his will power not to burst out laughing. Little... I'm sure Beregond would be really pleased to hear that! he sniggered in his mind. He looked at Sarah, and something in her eyes made him realise that she was thinking the same thing. Her lips had tugged to a small grin.
"Well, at least you have someone to help you," said then Mrs. Hersey, as though noticing Havoc just then. "And quite handsome one, too!"
Havoc was torn between feeling complimented or embarrassed at that comment. Sarah, meanwhile, had blushed furiously and murmured something to the likes of: "Really, Mrs. Hersey."
Mrs. Hersey just shrugged her shoulders. "I'm just saying the obvious, dear, no offence. I'm glad to see that you decided to put back your sorrow."
Sarah's grip on her wallet suddenly tightened for a moment. It was nothing but a small twitching of the fingers, but Havoc had still managed to notice it and he couldn't help but feel puzzled by it. Was she a widow then? That seemed the most logical explanation.
"How much do I owe you, Mrs. Hersey?" asked Sarah.
"That will be 170, dear," the elderly woman said with a smile. "Goodbye."
"Goodbye," Sarah answered swiftly, and took the basket without looking back. Havoc followed closely behind, and he could tell that she was angry. So he decided not to say anything, before she addressed him first.
He didn't have to wait long.
"I'm truly sorry that you had to witness that kind of indiscretion, Mr. Havoc. There are always some people who see a woman with another man and assume the most inappropriate thing first."
"I wasn't offended, Mrs. Abbott." It was true, Havoc wasn't. If anything, it was good to be in the company of another woman - especially since Havoc didn't have the fear that Mustang could steal the said woman away from him. He had concluded Sarah was far too serious for light, one-night amorous adventures and not even Mustang's charms could change that. Besides, it was the matter of Alice to be considered. The presence of a child always complicated matters.
Those were, of course, the reasons why he himself didn't attempt anything either.
What surprised him was that he didn't mind at all. If anything, it was a nice change and, furthermore, it gave him a sense of confidence. Since he wasn't trying to woo Mrs. Abbot, he wasn't self-conscious and careful on what to say or do. He was himself.
"Still, it wasn't in their place to judge anything," Sarah said. "How I lead my life shouldn't be their concern," she murmured again, huffily.
Havoc didn't say anything this time. He simply watched the woman, intrigued to see how her face had reddened and her eyes glared ahead at nothing in particular. When she finally regained her composure, she turned toward him with a small smile.
"Would you like to go to a cafeteria for a short while? I really need to get some tea."
Havoc was certainly surprised at this sudden change of mood, but in the end he decided that that was probably Sarah's way of dealing with frustration - occupy herself otherwise, as pleasantly and relaxed as possible at that. A good strategy, Havoc had to admit.
"I'd like that," he said.
"Good. And whatever you get, it's on me. No, I insist," Sarah said, seeing Havoc's shocked expression. "I know it's probably against your best manners to allow such a thing, but you've already done enough for me and I wish to repay you. This is the least I can do."
"Very well," Havoc faltered, still trying to recover from that kind of boldness.
"Are you feeling better now?" Havoc ventured to ask as soon as they both got several sips from their tea.
"Yes, quite fine, thank you," Sarah replied. A ghost of a smile appeared on her lips. "You have been really kind. Mr. Beregond chooses his friends well."
"I was just about to say the same thing," Havoc said, a smile of his own tugging on his lips. "And Alice seems a wonderful child, too. Her father would have been quite proud of her."
Sarah just nodded and sighed. "My only regret is that he never saw her born."
"May I ask what happened?"
"Ishbal," was all that Sarah said.
Sarah shrugged. "I am, too. That doesn't bring him back though. Don't worry, it doesn't mean that I'm not content with my life as it is now. I have Alice and my friends." She looked at her watch. "We should be going soon. Alice might be expecting me." Getting a last gulp of her tea, she asked for the bill and waved her hand dismissively when Havoc tried to at least pay for his share.
"Like I said, Mr. Havoc: my treat," she said with finality as she gave the money to the waiter. "After all, you will be giving me a lift back to the hospital."
Havoc didn't have anything to say to that. Raising his hand in a gesture of peace, he carried the paper bags and led Sarah to the car. After putting the groceries in the trunk and opened the passenger side door for Sarah, he settled himself also in the car and set off. No words were exchanged between them during the whole time, as Havoc caught himself lost in thought.
The words that Sarah told him had made quite the impression on him; because, frankly, he couldn't understand how one could be without a husband or a wife and still be fine with it. It was obvious now that, since the woman didn't have someone by her side, she gave all the love she had to her daughter and the people she considered friends.
Now he understood Beregond a little better, too, and how he had managed to cope with his wife's death.
Havoc smirked. Life is just full of surprises, isn't it?
His mind's eye drifted back to the time soon after Fullmetal, Alphonse and Armstrong had left for Resembool, when Mustang told everyone within the unit - Hughes included - about Beregond's real identity and why it was imperative no one else found out about this. After all, Beregond proved himself to be more valuable as a soldier within their ranks than as a guinea pig in a laboratory.
Then again, as Havoc reasoned to himself, who would believe that Beregond was, in fact, from another world entirely, and was brought in Amestris after some freak alchemic accident, very much like the one which cost the Elric Brothers their bodies? He had difficulty believing it himself, even though he found Beregond; heard him speak; and kept watch over him when the Gondorian was charged with murder.
He sighed. His thoughts concerning Beregond's person back then were unflattering, to say the least. Far gone and out there, that was how he always described him to others. Now he knew why he felt that way. Because Beregond was from out there literally.
The irony was biting, to say the least.
"Mr. Havoc, are you all right?"
Sarah cut into his train of thought, snapping him out of his musings.
"Yes, everything is fine," Havoc assured her, and began his parking manoeuvres. He had barely registered the fact that they had arrived at the hospital.
"Let's hope Alice has kept her promise," Sarah said, getting out of the car. As for Havoc, he couldn't help but smile at the mental image of a hyperactive kid running around the room and a tall man in the prime of his life knocked out that formed in his mind. Now that would be a sight to see.
But, it turned out that Havoc was wrong and Sarah didn't need to worry. Alice was still at Beregond's side, resting her small form on the man's body frame, sound asleep. As for the Gondorian, he had placed an arm over the girl's shoulders in a protective way and was now reading silently one of the books Alice had brought. What concerned Havoc, however, was the intensity with which the Gondorian was reading the book, hardly blinking and barely noticing the door opening. And, what made things quite unsettling was that Beregond was frowning.
"Why, Mr. Beregond, I've known you for several months and you never seize to amaze me!" said Sarah, smiling. "I never thought that the story of the Ancient Mariner and his lady would interest you so much!"
Beregond snapped his head up to look at the newcomers, his face betraying how startled he was before it settled to a calmed expression once more. "It's quite... intriguing," he finally said, closing the book and settling it down on his lap. "Can you tell me on what were those stories based?"
Sarah was surprised at the question, that was clear. Havoc was about to say something, but a discreet gesture from Beregond asked him not to interfere yet.
"Why, on mythology books," Sarah answered, as though she was stating the most obvious thing in the world. "Stories of old that our grandfathers and forefathers used to say before Alchemy was developed; it was their own approach on how this world works." She pointed at the book Beregond was holding. "This is just an oversimplified version of one of the volumes, along with illustrations for the children to follow the story better. They make a good bed-time story," she explained.
Beregond's frown deepened. "I see. And are those... mythology books available anywhere?"
Sarah nodded. "We have several volumes of them at the library. You can come and have a look at them whenever you like."
"All right. Thank you," was all that Beregond said, handing Alice to her mother. He caught sight of the book again. "May I keep this for a little while longer?"
"Yes, no problem," Sarah answered, smiling, doing her best to carry her daughter. Havoc and Beregond exchanged a look, and they both silently agreed that she needed help; so Havoc offered his help once more. In less than half an hour, he had driven Mrs. Abbot and her daughter back to their house, earning his thanks again from the grateful woman. When he returned, he saw that Beregond was again stooped over the book.
"I know you like books, but I've never seen you like this," he finally ventured, raising an eyebrow. "What's so interesting about this one, anyway?"
Beregond gave his answer by handing the book and showing Havoc an illustration on the page he was currently on. "Is this familiar to you?"
Havoc looked at the illustration for a few moments. "There's a ship with oars and white sails. Why should this be...?" He froze as he noticed the sails again. There was the image of two trees; one had the sun over it, but the other one had...
"... seven stars," he breathed out before he could help it. He looked at Beregond, shocked. "This one is identical to the image on your armour!"
Beregond nodded. "And I can tell you that the whole ship is identical to the ship of Earendil, a mariner of my people."
"But you are from a different world! Middle-earth or whatever it's called! How's this possible?"
"I intend to find that out as soon as I leave the hospital," Beregond answered, his eyes seeming alight with determination.