What the title says
That didn't mean Beregond was willing to abandon his studying this time round. He was on the last two hundred pages of Syndow's Introduction on Mythology and he wanted to be done with it, because then he could start on the books he was interested in most - the myths themselves. So, he borrowed the book and went straight to his home. Once there, he kept reading it until he finally reached the last page.
That was around four o' clock in the morning.
What time was it now?
He turned on his side to look at the window. Pale sunbeams were bathing the room. It was clear that the sun had just started its journey.
/Time to get up/, Beregond thought wearily. And with that, he pushed himself off the couch with a sigh.
He was putting on his uniform amid a series of tired yawns, when the sound of a knock on the door startled him. Unsure what to make of it, Beregond buckled the sword on his side and rested a hand on it. As soon as there was a second knock, he opened the door.
The sight made his heart miss a beat.
When Havoc arrived at Headquarters in the morning, Hawkeye, Falman and Fuery were already in the main office. However, he was taken aback to see that they all seemed upset and angry for some reason. Looking at them curiously, he took the cigarette out of his mouth.
"What happened?" he asked.
"In the mood I'm in now, I would have shot you for not being here nine o' clock sharp," Hawkeye stated in a matter-of-fact tone. She pointed at the great clock on the wall to show Havoc that he was, indeed, five minutes late. "But someone is already more delayed than you and, second, you can consider yourself lucky that you missed the show."
"What show?" Havoc was completely lost now.
"Fawcette was here," Falman said.
Oh, that explains it, Havoc thought with a sigh. "Let me guess. This has something to do with Beregond?"
It was Fuery who answered this time. "Fawcette was looking for him. Apparently something happened at the training grounds two days ago that didn't please him."
"And...?" Havoc asked.
"And Beregond is not here. That made Fawcette start yelling that we were covering him," Hawkeye said.
What?! But there was also something else that bothered Havoc. "So why isn't Beregond here yet?"
"We don't know," Riza answered again. "We were actually hoping you would have an idea or two. He seems to talk to you the most since Edward and Alphonse left."
"The last time I saw him I was with you; it was when he wanted to talk to the Colonel," Havoc said with a shake of his head. "The only possibility I can think of is that he's gone to the library, his usual haunt. But he always checks in here first before going there."
"That's true," Falman said thoughtfully.
Fuery looked at his companions with worry.
"Do you think something... bad has happened to him?" he asked.
There was silence for many long moments, until Havoc broke it again.
"There is only one way to find out." In a matter of moments, he had grabbed his coat and was out again. Such was his hurry that he almost bumped onto Colonel Mustang and Breda.
Havoc instantly saluted, but Roy waved his hand dismissively.
"No time for that, Havoc. Breda has just informed me that there's been a commotion in the office because of Sergeant Beregond and I want to talk to him. Do you have any idea where he is?"
Havoc shook his head. "I was on my way to his house, actually. He hasn't checked in at all."
Roy nodded his understanding. "I see. Then I'm coming with you."
"Fawcette is looking for me too. I'm not willing to see him before I get all the facts straight," Roy explained before turning to Breda. "Lieutenant, do as I said. Go to the training grounds and find anyone who was there two days ago and saw what happened. Take them to my office and tell them to wait for me. They're not to talk to anyone else. Understood?"
"Yes, Sir," Breda answered.
Roy nodded. "Good." As soon as Breda was gone, he grabbed Havoc. "We need to hurry."
"Yes, Sir," Havoc said, following Roy closely behind. "What do you suppose happened?"
"I don't know," Mustang said. "But the sergeant should better have a good explanation as to why he didn't say anything."
Havoc sighed. He really hoped so too.
It didn't take long for Roy and Havoc to arrive at Beregond's house. As soon as the second lieutenant parked, Roy headed for the doorstep and knocked on the door loudly.
There was no answer.
"Damn it," Roy muttered. He knocked on the door again, but nothing happened.
"Sergeant Beregond, open the damn door right now!" Roy cried out angrily.
The only response he got was silence. There was no doubt in Roy's mind now; something was very wrong. He put on his gloves and kicked the door open. Turning to Havoc, he motioned with his head at the direction of the entrance. "Go."
Nodding his compliance, Havoc totted his gun and walked cautiously inside. He scanned the room thoroughly, until he finally deemed that the place was safe for now.
Roy walked in as well, his fingers in snapping position. Standing at the centre of the room, the two men exchanged only one glance, but it was agreement enough. Havoc walked towards the kitchen, whereas Roy went to the bedrooms.
Roy searched in Alphonse and Edward's rooms and found nothing. They were in fact quite tidy and taken care of while the brothers were away. The one thing that indicated the recent presence of someone in the house was the dent on the couch, where a heavy body had been resting there.
"Nothing here!" He called at Havoc. "How about there?"
"No, Sir!" sounded Havoc's voice from the kitchen.
Roy hurried into the kitchen, meeting a very troubled-looking Havoc.
"What's going on?" Roy wondered, running his hand through his hair in his frustration. "There are no signs of struggle or forced entry; so where the hell is he?"
Suddenly, the faint sound of a door creaking open reached Roy's ears and he stiffened warily. His eyes locked momentarily on Havoc.
Havoc nodded slightly. He had heard it too. Without a moment's hesitation, he aimed his gun at the door, whereas Roy readied his fingers again.
Havoc's eyes widened at this, something that caught Roy by surprise. But before he could signal for an explanation, the woman who called came in the kitchen. She didn't expect to see the two men, that was for certain. Nevertheless, her eyes shone in recognition.
"Mr. Havoc," Sarah said softly. "I never thought I'd see you here."
"That makes two of us, Mrs. Abbot," Havoc answered. Remembering himself, he motioned his hand at Roy's direction. "This is Colonel Mustang. Colonel, this is Sarah Abbot, an acquaintance of Beregond's. She works at the State East Library."
Both Roy and Sarah nodded their greeting. "It would appear that we're looking for the same person," Roy noted.
"You mean Mr. Beregond isn't here?" Sarah asked. Her tone of worry was evident in her voice.
Havoc blinked, not really understanding what the meaning of this was; so Roy decided to take matters in his own hands. "I'm afraid not. The place was empty when we arrived."
Sarah covered her mouth as she gasped involuntarily.
"Mrs. Abbot, what is it?" Havoc asked in a worried manner.
When Sarah answered, her voice was barely above a whisper. "Alice, my daughter, has been missing for the last two hours or so. I tried to look everywhere for her, until I came here. I was hoping that that's where she ran off."
"Ran off?" Havoc echoed.
Sarah looked at Havoc and then at Roy, clearly agitated now. "Yesterday I received a notification from the State Library in Central. I am to be transferred there in two days' time, because a fire destroyed one of its branches and extra personnel is needed to re-organize anything worth salvageable." She sighed sadly. "Alice didn't like that. She kept saying that she didn't want to leave, which resulted to a big argument between us last night. When I woke up this morning, she wasn't in her bed and the front door was open."
"So you believe she's come here," Roy said.
Sarah nodded. "I've already asked everywhere else and I know she's quite attached to Mr. Beregond. But... if Mr. Beregond isn't here..." She never finished her sentence. A violent sob escaped her lips, forcing her to stop.
Roy noticed that Havoc was watching Sarah with a very sad look in his eyes. It was understandable, really. The girl had gone missing and the mother was almost at her wits' end.
It was then that an idea struck his mind. Could it be that...?
Well, it was worth the shot, wasn't it?
"Mrs. Abbot, I think I know where your daughter is."
"At the library?" Sarah said, eyes widening in disbelief. She was now sitting on the back seat of the military car. "But, Mr. Mustang, when I went there before, I didn't find her."
"When was that?" Roy asked from the co-driver's seat.
"Half an hour after I realised she was gone. The library was one of the first places I went to search for her."
"I think we're going to be in better luck this time."
Still driving, Havoc looked at the Colonel thoughtfully. "Sir, perhaps I should let you both at the library. I can go and look for Beregond instead," he suggested.
"No need, Havoc," Roy said, smiling. "If I have come to learn something about Sergeant Beregond, it means that we'll find him in the library also."
Havoc frowned at this, not catching on at first; but then he smiled. "They're together."
"Well, this theory explains why the sergeant failed to show up for work. It had to be something quite serious, at least to him. And if your daughter managed to find him, Mrs. Abbot, it would only be logical that Beregond would want to return her to you."
"She's just seven and our house quite far from these parts," Sarah said, shaking her head. "I don't see how she could have done it. I just went at Mr. Beregond's place in my despair."
"It's amazing what children can do when despair leads them," Roy said enigmatically.
That earned him a curious look from Havoc. But whether the 2nd lieutenant was guessing about whom Roy was talking about, it was of little concern to Roy. What he said was still true.
The moment that the three stepped into the library, Sarah hurried to the registration desk to ask one of her colleagues for any news of her daughter.
Her friend proved quicker.
"Ah! There you are, Sarah!" she said. "Alice is here, waiting for you!"
"Where?" Sarah exclaimed, eyes widening.
The other librarian replied by just pointing into a chair nearby. The blond little girl was really there, sniffing and wiping tears away from her eyes. At the next instant, Sarah had hugged her daughter tightly, raining her with kisses amid tears of relief.
"I'm sorry, mum," Alice said. She still sobbed, seeming unable to stop.
"And very well you should be," Sarah replied in a scolding tone. "Do you have any idea how worried you made me?"
As Roy and Havoc watched the reunion from a small distance, they couldn't help but smile. It seemed that everything had a good end.
However, Alice didn't stop crying. And what was worse, the soldiers noticed that there was no sign of Beregond anywhere. Roy exchanged a glance with Havoc, the same question entering both their minds.
Where is he?
"Mr. Havoc!" Alice cried suddenly, noticing the lieutenant for the first time. Leaving her mother's embrace, he rushed to the man and looked at him with tear-filled eyes. "Please, sir... Is Beregond in trouble?"
Havoc frowned at this. He looked at Roy, unsure what he should do. When Roy nodded and gave him the go, the lieutenant asked: "Why would you ask that, Alice?"
Alice fidgeted her fingers nervously. "Because some people were mad at him and it's my fault."
Havoc eyed Alice curiously. "What people?"
"People in uniform, like Beregond and you," Alice said. "I remember a man with a long pointy nose, but there were others as well. They were very angry with Beregond and they didn't let him stay with me while we waited for mum."
Havoc quickly looked at Roy. "It must have been Fawcette."
"Yes," Roy said. He sat on his heels to face the girl. "Alice, do you know who I am?"
Alice hid herself meekly behind Havoc. "No."
Roy just smiled in a friendly manner and extended a hand. "I'm Colonel Mustang. Lieutenant Havoc and Beregond are working for me."
"Oh! I've heard of you!" she said brightly. She stepped forward again and took Mustang's hand in hers in a handshake.
"Have you now?" Roy said, slightly amused. At the next moment, he sobered again. "So you must also know that it's my job to make sure that the people that work for me are okay and no one hurts them. I'm not going to lie to you; Beregond is in trouble. I can help him but, to do that, you'll have to help me first."
Alice nodded her understanding. "What do I have to do?"
"Nothing difficult, don't worry," Roy said reassuringly. "I need you to tell me exactly what happened."
Alice looked troubled for a few moments. She looked at her mother, who gave her an encouraging smile, and then started telling her story.
Alice was quite angry the previous night. All that she could think of that it was unfair that they would have to leave; especially when her friends and everything she knew was here. She tried to make her mother understand but, after that fight they had, she figured that she was considered too young to be taken seriously. So, she needed an adult to speak with her mother. However, all the adults she knew had already talked with her mother and they all said it was a great opportunity for both of them to go to Central.
All the adults except one, that is. He didn't even know about them moving away.
And that was how Alice decided to go find Beregond first thing in the morning. Beregond was her friend, after all. He would understand and try to help out.
She had planned everything carefully while she lay in bed. She knew Beregond always left for work at a quarter past eight. That meant she had to wake up and go to his home much earlier than that. Finding the house wasn't too much of a problem. She had been at the house with her mother a couple of times and she remembered the way quite well.
And so, early the next morning, Alice found herself at Beregond's doorstep. She was slightly dishevelled and she was breathing heavily because of the running she had done. She had almost overslept and she wasn't sure if she would find Beregond on time.
But she was lucky.
Beregond, on the other hand, was quite surprised to see her there.
/"Alice? What are you doing here?" Beregond asked with eyes wide-open in shock.
"I'm sorry," Alice said, trying to catch her breath. "I had to see you."
Beregond looked around and then stared at Alice incredulously. "You came here/ alone?"
/Alice tried to answer, but her legs gave way under her; the strain they went through was too much for her young body. Thankfully, Beregond grabbed her before she fell to the ground and carried her inside. He placed her on the couch and gave her a glass of water.
"I got my answer," he said. He helped her drink the clear liquid. "Small sips, Alice."
Alice didn't say anything. She merely drank till she had emptied the glass down to the last drop. "Thank you," she finally said gratefully, smiling.
But Beregond didn't return the smile. "Can you please tell me what happened?"
Alice did, trying to be as concise as possible. However, when she told of her decision to come at his house, Beregond frowned deeply. That made the girl more than just nervous, because she had never seen Beregond like that before.
"What's wrong?" she asked apprehensively.
"You mean what's/ right /in all this," Beregond said in a low tone.
"I don't understand," she said again. Tremors washed through her body as she thought Beregond would start shouting at her at that moment.
Nothing of the sort happened. Beregond sat next to Alice and wrapped a large arm around her shoulders.
"Alice, I realise you wanted to talk to someone older about this and ask for their help. But the way you handled it couldn't be more wrong. You ran off to the streets when it was practically still darkness; when you should have taken under consideration that it's most unsafe for a girl of your age. Do you have any idea how many dangers you would probably have to face if you were a bit less fortunate?"
"Alice, let me finish," Beregond said firmly, even though its gentle quality wasn't missed on the girl. "I can also understand that your young, eager mind made you forget the dangers that might linger out there. But there is something else that really disappointed me. How could you have forgotten your mother? True, she angered you when she said that you would have to leave. Still, does it make it right that you have her worry with your disappearance? Did you even stop to consider what will happen when she wakes up and sees you gone?"
Alice didn't attempt to say anything this time. She merely bowed her head in shame.
"I suppose not," Beregond concluded with a sigh.
"Are you mad at me?" she asked in a murmur.
Beregond's lips tugged to a weak smile. "More than you can imagine."
"So we're not... friends anymore?"
A deep chuckle was the answer she got. "I didn't say that." He cupped her chin, prodding her in this way to look at him. "You know what the best thing about friends is? True friends, mind you? They can be mad, scolding or fighting one another at times, but in the end they always forgive each other."
Understanding what the man told her, Alice buried herself in his arms with tears flowing down her cheeks.
"I just wanted... to ask your help," she said, her voice hitching violently. "I didn't mean..."
"I know," Beregond said kindly. He lifted her up in his arms and kissed her cheek. "Why don't we go talk to your mother, okay?"
Alice nodded slightly and rested her head on the man's shoulder. "She'll be angry with me, too."
"Yes, but she'll forgive you," Beregond said. With Alice still in his arms, he walked out and locked the door behind him. "She loves you, don't forget that."
"Then why is she doing this? I don't want to leave."
"Yet she's doing this for you. If she goes to the State Library in Central, she'll get better paid so that you can both live in a better house and she can send you to a better school."
"What about my friends? What about you and Ed and Al?" Alice insisted.
Beregond sighed. "It is always sad to say goodbye. But think about it this way: you're not losing your old friends; you're making some new ones instead." While they still walked, Beregond rubbed Alice's back soothingly. "You know, I have a friend in Central who can help you and your mother settle down nicely. He also has a daughter that you'd like to meet."
Beregond nodded. "Her name is Elysia, she's about four years old. She loves to play all kinds of games, just like you."
Alice smiled. "That's nice."
"I thought you might like it," Beregond said.
"So what's your friend's name?"
"Maes Hughes. I can give the name to your mother so she can call him up."
When Alice and Beregond arrived at the library, her mother was nowhere to be seen. One of the colleagues explained to Beregond that she had gone out in search for Alice - and at that she glared at the little girl. Thankfully, Beregond still held her protectively, and she was glad at his decision to stay with her till her mother showed up again. As Beregond reasoned, Mother would have to return at some point to the office, if only to make phone-calls concerning her missing daughter. While they still waited, Beregond played with her, showing her tricks that he had learned from fellow soldiers from his country.
It was just when she felt perked up again that the men appeared. The one with the long nose seemed so terrible that Alice hid behind Beregond. Her friend, on the other hand, didn't seem afraid at all. He smiled and knelt beside her.
"Alice, I know one last game. I want you to shut your eyes and cover your ears. Don't open them until you have counted up to fifty. All right?"
She complied, trusting him. When she had opened her eyes though, neither Beregond nor the other men were anywhere to be seen.
It was then that Alice understood. The men wanted Beregond and so he went with them. She still remembered the pointy-nosed man's angry face and guilt started sinking within her, because she suspected what was that about.
She had kept Beregond from work. Which meant Beregond would be punished or even lose his job and it would be her fault.
It was at that realisation that she started crying again. She didn't stop but only when Mother, Havoc and Roy appeared.