Beregond doesn't realise his enemies are closer than they appear to be
There was a small pause as though whoever it was on the other line was hesitating, and then Maes heard a familiar voice.
Maes beamed at once.
"Beregond! What's up?" Before the Gondorian had the chance to answer though, Maes continued on. "Did you call to hear about Elysia? You know she can count up to ten now? You should hear her saying the numbers as she picks at each cute little finger of hers! I have yet to get a good picture of her while doing that, but I will eventually! And she's going to turn four next month! My little girl is growing up!"
If anyone walked in on Maes now, they would be certain that there were winged hearts floating around the lieutenant colonel's head.
Beregond seemed to have created a mental image like that while listening to Hughes, because Maes could have sworn he heard a mild chuckle.
"Next thing you know, she's going to get married," Beregond said.
Hughes sobered at once. "What do you mean, 'get married'? She's just a baby!" he said defensively.
"So much for growing up, eh?"
And like that, he was caught in the same subtle way which reminded him of Gracia. Maes let out a small condescending laugh.
"Touche," he said before sitting more comfortably on his chair. "Now... what's the real reason you called?"
"Well, one of them is actually a favour," Beregond answered. Maes noted that the Gondorian's voice sounded nervous. "I know you have a lot of work though, so if you can't, it's perfectly fine."
Maes rolled his eyes. "First of all," he said in a teasing manner, "I've already told you it's perfectly okay to ask for help when problems present themselves. And second: I won't know if I can help you or not if you don't tell me what it is."
"Right," Beregond said, exhaling a breath.
Jeez, you sound as though you're facing the execution squad, Maes thought.
"Okay, here's the deal," the Gondorian finally said. "There's this librarian, an acquaintance of mine actually, whose name is Sarah Abbot. As of today, she's to check in at the State Central Library. The trouble is she got the notification of her transfer so quickly that she didn't have time to arrange much and..." Beregond suddenly stopped and cleared his throat. "To cut a long story short: is it possible to help her settle nicely there?"
"/That's/ what's been bothering you? And here I was thinking that you were to ask me something challenging!"
"So there's no problem?" Beregond asked, his tone clearly showing his relief.
"No problem whatsoever! When does she arrive?"
"Hang on a minute." There was the sound of shuffling papers for several moments, until Beregond finally answered: "5 o'clock today."
"Perfect," Maes said. "Gracia will be able to pick her up and show her around. And she can sleep at our place till I find some comfortable lodgings for her. I know just where to look, so it shouldn't take too long."
If Maes were able to, he would have seen Beregond gaping incredulously. "You really don't have to go through all that."
"I want to, no sweat," Maes said. "So, what does she look like? I'll need to give some description to Gracia if she's to pick her up."
"Well..." Beregond didn't speak as he thought hard for a couple of minutes. "She's in her mid twenties; long black hair, which she ties to a loose ponytail at times; green eyes; slender form. Her daughter, Alice, is about seven, turning eight this summer; blond, blue eyes..."
"She has a daughter?” Maes asked at once, smiling broadly. "That's wonderful! They can be friends with Elysia!"
"I was hoping for that. Alice was quite upset when she heard she had to leave, but I assured her she would find new friends."
"Then don't worry. Everything will be taken care of," Maes said reassuringly.
"Thank you, Hughes. I really do appreciate it."
"Anytime," Maes said. However, there was something in that tone that made him realise that there was something else. "Will that be all?" he asked, baiting Beregond.
"Um... no." There was another pause for quite some time. "I was wondering, really..."
"What about?" Maes said in the hopes that Beregond would open up.
"Did you hear from them at all?"
"Them? Oh!" Maes hadn't caught on at once. "I spoke with Armstrong yesterday. They're in Central and they're well, following a lead on the you-know-what; but I have yet to see them personally. The office is up to the ceiling filled with cases to be examined, and I can't get away not even for an hour."
Maes frowned when he caught the disappointment in Beregond's voice. "What's the matter?"
"There was something that I really wanted to talk to them about. It's all right though. They should focus on their own search first."
"If you say so," Maes said with a shrug. He didn't want to pursue the matter further when it was clearly something between Beregond and the boys. "Do you want me to send your regards?"
Maes smiled before he could help it. It looks like someone's been missing his friends.
"Then I will. Don't worry."
It was then that the door opened again and a private came in with more case files in her hands. Maes groaned inwardly.
"Beregond, I'm afraid I have to go now. But still, call again some time, okay? Bye!"
And as soon as Beregond returned the farewell, Maes hung up the phone. He turned with a huge innocent grin at the private.
"You know... my daughter is turning four next month! Wanna see some pictures of her?"
It worked like a charm. The private vanished in the blink of an eye.
Beregond put the receiver down with a sigh. There went another chance for him to talk to Edward and Alphonse about what he had found.
Now he could only hope his luck would be better next time.
He caught sight of the paper on which he had written down the itinerary of the train Sarah and Alice were in. Picking it up, he threw it straight into the trashcan, since he didn't need it anymore. The woman and her little girl were gone, after all.
And that, incidentally, made Havoc less talkative than usual today. In fact, the only answer that anyone were able to get out of him was an absentminded "Yeah" - when Breda told him that there was a three-headed monkey hanging from the ceiling.
If that wasn't proof that Havoc's mind was elsewhere entirely, Beregond didn't know what was.
Then again, Havoc didn't know that Sarah had confidentially asked Beregond for Havoc's phone-number. And, of course, Havoc didn't know that Beregond gave it to her with a huge grin on his face, aware that the lieutenant would be in for quite the surprise in one of the days to follow.
It was then that a warm feeling settled in Beregond's heart and made him look out the window. He couldn't help it, but this situation brought back a lot of fond memories. Memories of a time when he and his fellow soldiers teased Meneldor, yet made sure their friend would get the woman of his heart's desire.
Exactly what Faramir did when Beregond's heart beat for...
He got up from his chair quite abruptly and stretched, scolding himself for letting his reminiscing run away with him. Surely there must be something to do around here to forget himself...
His musings were cut off when the door opened and Hawkeye stepped in.
"Lieutenant Hawkeye," he said and saluted politely, trying not to think that her timing was ironic.
"Am I interrupting you from something, Sergeant Beregond?" Riza asked after saluting as well. "I need to borrow some paperclips; I've run out."
Beregond smiled. "Edward keeps them in his desk. Hold on a second and I'll get them for you."
She didn't say anything this time, but she rewarded Beregond with a small smile as she waited patiently for Beregond to open the drawer.
The moment that he looked inside the drawer, Beregond froze.
That can't be right!
She spoke formally, but Beregond didn't fail to notice the slight tone of worry. He quickly smiled and reached for the paperclips.
"For a moment I thought I didn't have any after all," he said in a carefree manner, handing her the little box. "Will these be enough?"
"They will do," Hawkeye answered, nodding her thanks. She was almost halfway out of the door, when she stopped on her tracks as though remembering something. "By the way, there is something else."
Beregond raised an eyebrow in curiosity. "Oh?"
"Every Friday there is a small gathering of the unit at a bar not far from here. You missed last Friday, but the guys wanted me to let you know that you're more than welcome to join us from this Friday on."
Beregond was pleasantly surprised. "I'd really like that. Tell them it's settled."
"I will." And with that, she was gone.
Beregond still looked at the direction of the door for a few moments. And though he wanted to grin at the prospect of bonding with his new fellow soldiers, there were far more pressing matters at present. His gaze locked hard on the open drawer again.
Edward's large yellow folder was missing, even though Beregond was certain that he had seen it there only a few days ago.
He didn't move it, so who did? Without letting him know, no less?
It was then that a terrible suspicion crossed the Gondorian's mind and made him swallow hard.
Because Beregond realised that, if somebody did steal the folder, it meant there was something quite important in there.
If anyone had cared enough to look at the Headquarters' terrace, they would have noticed a lithe young man sitting in the most carefree manner at the edge of it. They would also have been surprised by the strange clothing that barely covered his torso and hips, not to mention the unruly long dark-green strands of hair. In fact, he seemed more like a street bump, which meant he shouldn't be near any military building.
In spite of that, a darkly-clothed and inhumanly beautiful woman walked up to him as though his presence there was the most natural thing in the world.
"Well, Envy?" Lust asked. Her high-heels made quite the loud clicking sound against the concrete floor as she walked towards the other homunculus.
Envy lifted his head just slightly, his face the epitome of contentment as he continued basking under the sun.
"Welcome back, Lust," he said. "What news?"
"I arrived with Gluttony at the State Central Library before the Fullmetal Boy as planned. But before we had the time to find Marcoh's notes for ourselves, we came across our other 'friend'. The fight was ugly, I can tell you that."
Envy finally opened his eyes and faced the female homunculus. "So the wound the sergeant inflicted on his arm is healed. The question is: what is he doing in Central?"
Lust shrugged. "I don't know. He was probably looking for something. Not that it makes all that much of a difference anyway. Because of his meddling, the entire 1st Branch was burned to the ground."
"Was he taken care of, at least?"
Lust shook her head. "It took me hours to get through to Gluttony and tell him he can get him next time."
Envy clicked his tongue. "/That/ could have been handled better. Nevertheless, the mission was a success. We may not have gotten the files, but neither has the shrimp."
Lust nodded and sat down beside Envy. "What about your mission?"
Envy grinned as he patted a large yellow folder beside him. "It's going smoothly. Do you want to have a look?"
"Don't mind if I do," Lust said, smiling sweetly and taking the file. "It sounds a very promising reading."
"It is, though it's not complete," Envy admitted. "A very frustrated Lieutenant Colonel filled some holes here and there with his babbling, but I need a little bit more." An almost demonic grin formed on his lips as the idea that had already formed on his mind pleased him to no end. "And I think I know how I can get it."
"I'm sorry. Because they were so many, it took five days to complete."
Nevertheless, Scieszka seemed very happy to have finished her task. She had a very big smile on her face as she placed the notebooks and piles of papers down on the desk of her room.
"Here we are. The duplicates of Mr. Tim Marcoh's research documents," she announced, showing them proudly to her visitors.
Ed and Al couldn't do anything less but stare in wonder at the papers and the girl.
"She really did it," Al said, astounded.
"There are some incredible people in the world, aren't there, Al?" seconded Edward, his eyes widened. Both boys picked a notebook each, hardly believing that they had finally the object of their quest right before their eyes.
"You know, I begin to see why Marcoh didn't take his research with him," Al noted, checking the sheer volume of some documents. "There are just too many stuff."
"This is really Dr. Marcoh's?" Ed asked Scieszka.
"Yes, without a doubt," the girl said, still smiling. "Tim Marcoh's cook book - '1000 flavours for today's menu'."
That seemed to satisfy the young alchemists. However, it didn't satisfy the boys' escorts, who were looking at the girl incredulously.
"That can't be right!" Ross said. She instantly picked up a piece of paper to read it. "/Add a dash of water to one tablespoon of sugar.../" She looked up again. "This really is '1000 flavours for today's menu'!"
"Hey, you!" Bloch exclaimed, frowning at Scieszka's direction. "Just how are these important documents?!"
"Impor--?" Scieszka clearly didn't expect this. "Oh no! I only copied them as I read and remembered!"
Bloch blinked. "So this is something completely different, written by a namesake? Was this a waste of time?"
But neither Al nor Ed paid attention to what was going around them anymore. They were just looking at the papers, murmuring and finally coming to an agreement.
Ed turned again at Scieszka. "This is really what Marcoh wrote, word for word, without a mistake?" he asked.
"Yes, I'm positive!" Scieszka answered at once.
At that reply, Ed smiled broadly. "Okay. Al, let's take this back to Central Library."
"Yup, there are plenty of dictionaries there, too," Alphonse agreed.
The other three members of the party looked at the alchemists in a confused manner, feeling that they were missing something. Ed was far from finished though. He took out a small notebook and scribbled something on it hastily before giving it to Ross along with his pocket watch.
"2nd Lieutenant Ross, I have here my registration code, my signature and my silver watch; they will serve as proof of my identity. Go to the State Alchemist Division at the Fuhrer's office, withdraw from my annual research funds the sum of money that I wrote and then give it to Scieszka."
"Yes, sir," Ross said at once, taking the items carefully.
"Good." And with that, Ed picked up several stacks of papers and followed Bloch and Al out of the door. "Thanks a lot, Scieszka!"
Ross and the young girl looked at each other, now more confused than never.
"Hmm... from his research expenses..." Ross murmured. Before she could help it, she and Scieszka took a peek at the piece of paper on which Ed had written minutes before.
They both blanched at once.
"Why is there so much money?!" Scieszka exclaimed.
On the other hand, Ross wondered something different entirely.
"What kind of a kid can pull that kind of sum?!"
"I still don't understand what this stuff has to do with what you're looking for," Bloch said in disbelief. He looked again at the papers that were now at the table of the Central Library, scratching his head in a confused manner.
Ed sighed. That was one of the reasons that he wanted Beregond here instead of Bloch as an escort. The Gondorian would have understood that this 'stuff' had everything to do with it.
Still, he was in such a good mood that he decided to indulge the man.
"Alchemists have a code to offer the fruits of their research to anyone who needs it without bias - /Be thou for the people/," he explained. "But we've also got to prevent non-practitioners from learning that knowledge."
"Oh, I see," Bloch said, his features brightening. "It would be a problem if alchemy were easily understandable and used for the wrong purposes."
"And how do they prevent that from happening?" Ed asked in the manner of a teacher giving a lesson to a small kid. "By coding their alchemic research documents." He picked up one of the papers and showed it to Bloch. "To a non-practitioner, this looks like they're only looking at recipes. In fact, they're highly advanced files on alchemy with many hidden meanings and metaphors that only the one who wrote them can understand."
"Someone that only the one who wrote it can understand..." Bloch echoed. "But then... how are you going to decode it?"
"By using a little knowledge and a lot of patience," Ed answered, settling down on the chair near him.
"Ugh... That seems to be daunting," Bloch said.
Al nodded. "But I think that parts that were modelled after recipes are still easy to decode. After all, there are people that say alchemy was born from the kitchen," he said. "Brother's research notes are written like travelogues; so even if I read them, I wouldn't be able to understand."
"While a certain someone's that I know are just the names of women," Ed said conversationally.
That earned him a very curious look from Al.
Ed huffed slightly at the memory as he told what happened.
"There was this time that Havoc wanted to see just how many girlfriends he lost because of /him/, but he 'borrowed' his alchemic journal by mistake instead. Don't ask me how I know all this; it's too long a story and not a pretty one."
By now it was clear that Bloch was getting too lost. "Do you mean that Sergeant Beregond?" he asked curiously.
Ed and Al laughed out loud as soon as those words sank in.
"No," Al finally answered. "But his code is unique and virtually unbreakable, too. He is the only one who can read it."
"Why? What is he using?"
"His mother language," Ed said with a smile.
"A foreigner, eh? That explains the weird name..." Bloch said in a mumbling tone before he could help it. "But that means that anyone else who happens to know his language can just translate his notes!"
"That's why it's unbreakable," Al said. "There is no one else."
"No one?" Bloch exclaimed, his eyes widening. "How?"
"It's kinda complicated and we wouldn't want to say anything more without his consent," Ed said. "Perhaps you'll get to meet him one day and you'll see for yourself what we're talking about." And with that, the young alchemist looked again at the notes.
This was it. The answer to their problems was in their hands. All they had to do was break the code and then...
Ed's heart warmed as he thought at the infinite prospects that would open before him and his brother.
"All right, Al!" announced Ed. "Let's decode this and take a look at the truth!"
"Right!" Al cried happily.
"Are you certain of this, Sergeant?" Roy asked. He was sitting behind his desk, looking hard at the Gondorian.
Beregond nodded. "The folder was there the last time I looked in that drawer."
"And there was no sign of forced entry?"
Mustang crossed his arms and remained for several moments lost in thought. "Do you know what was in that folder by any chance?"
Beregond shook his head. "Edward said that he was to work on this on his own, so I didn't touch it except whenever I gave it to him or put it back in its place. All I can tell you is that it was large and yellow."
Mustang's eyes widened slightly at this. "Yellow, you said?"
That was enough for Beregond to realise something. "Do you know which folder I'm talking about, Sir?"
"I think I have an idea..." Roy replied softly, but he didn't continue. He just nodded in reassurance. "I will look into this personally, Sergeant. Meanwhile, I think it's best if you should focus on your own search in order to find the answers you're looking for."
"Should I tell of this to Edward, Sir?" Beregond asked. "It was his file."
Roy shook his head. "There is no need to worry him for the present."
"Understood, Sir," Beregond said and saluted. "Have a good night."
After Roy had saluted as well, Beregond walked out and headed for his home, clothed heavily to repel the frosty cold of winter. Before he crossed the gate, he looked one last time at the direction of Headquarters to see a single light on the top floor and the figure of the Colonel pacing up and down the room.
It didn't take a great mind to understand that Roy was troubled. And it didn't take a great mind to understand that that sounded like bad news to Beregond either.
What was in that folder anyway?
But Beregond decided not to think about it anymore. There was nothing he could do anyway, even though he didn't like this turn of events at all. So, he just lifted his gaze at the stars, since their brilliance was a sight that always comforted him, and then moved on.
He had barely taken ten steps when he heard a small meowing sound quite close to him. Beregond stopped on his tracks and looked around, trying to determine from where the cat had called. A second meowing helped him pinpoint the location and he picked up a couple of carton boxes so as to look underneath them.
A pair of half lidded copper-coloured eyes looked up at him, and then the orange tabby kitten meowed pitifully again, shivering violently.
Beregond had to admit to himself that it was quite the heart-wrenching sight.
"Neithan tithen un," (Poor little thing) he murmured before he could help it. "Man cerich si?"(What are you doing here?)
He didn't expect an answer of course. So he simply extended both hands and tentatively placed them on the kitten.
"Avo 'osto. U-thelin uthaes." (Don't fret. I won't harm you.)
The kitten seemed to sense what it was told, because it didn't put up a fight as the man picked it up and put it on the inside of his thick jacket to warm it. Beregond winced at how skinny and weak the small creature was, but the kitten seemed to be much happier now. It started purring quite loudly and rubbing its head against the man's chin.
"U-'erich dartho mi ring," (You can't stay in the cold) Beregond said thoughtfully, rubbing the animal slightly behind its ears. "Ingon telithath go nin."(I guess you will come with me.)
The kitten didn't bother to respond in any way. It just closed its eyes and enjoyed the body warmth it was offered for the duration of the walk back to Beregond's house. As soon as Beregond unlocked the door, it jumped out of the man's grasp and hurried inside to settle on the couch, still purring and watching the man in a friendly manner.
Beregond couldn't help but chuckle. "Tegithon aes," (I'll bring food) he said, and headed into the kitchen. "Estelion 'erin nad an le." (I hope I have something for you)
All the kitten did was close its eyes in contentment. It had every reason to be happy, after all.
Still smiling, Beregond opened the refrigerator and took a peek inside. "Looks like it will be cold chicken for both of us, little one," he declared, slipping into the Amestrian Tongue out of habit.
He grinned broadly as the purring reached his ears even louder.
"I take that as a yes!"
A quarter of an hour later, Beregond had finished his dinner and it was time to see to some small chores around the house. He arose and went to the kitchen sink to wash his plate, followed closely by a very exuberant and playful kitten. It even managed to cling with all four claws on the man's trousers, enjoying the ride as the Gondorian walked about, something that made the man laugh heartily. In fact, it only settled down when Beregond picked it up and held it in his arms. To be precise, it went almost completely limb like a ragdoll, allowing Beregond to pet it to its heart's content, until Beregond settled cross-legged on the floor and picked up a book with his free hand.
"Time for work now. I hope you don't mind, little one."
But the kitten dug its claws on the man's sleeve, thus making it quite clear that it had no intention whatsoever of letting go of the man's arm. So, Beregond settled with holding the book in one hand, while the kitten kept sniffing every now and then at the pages as the Gondorian turned them.
At that moment, Beregond couldn't help thinking that the kitten reminded him too much of Edward: small, yet strong and lively - not to mention eager and curious and wishing to know everything.
And, of course, Beregond knew a certain someone who would have loved having the kitten around. Al had a really gentle heart.
The little creature's fur got ruffled as the man heaved a sigh, making it shudder involuntarily. The kitten looked at the man with what could only be labelled a reproachful look.
"I just wish my friends could have seen you," Beregond said, petting it a bit before turning his attention to the book again. "Now... where were we? Ah... the journey of the fairies and their realms..."
And with that, the Gondorian resumed with his studying. He never noticed that the kitten locked its copper-coloured eyes on his form, studying him/. Nor did he realise that it was listening on to everything the man mumbled under his breath as he still read on the book, as well as paying utmost attention to everything that was scribbled on a notebook nearby. Indeed, the only time that Beregond lifted his gaze was to look at the small clock on the table and so finally admit that it was /very late.
"No wonder I feel drowsy," he declared to no one in particular. He closed the book and placed the kitten down so that it would curl up and sleep in a corner, whereas he made all the necessary nightly rituals before settling on the couch with a blanket covering him. When he wrote one final thing on his journal, he flicked off the switch of the lamp beside him and covered the room in darkness. In less than ten minutes, his breathing had relaxed and he was fast asleep.
But the kitten didn't feel like sleeping. It just jumped on the small table that was beside the couch and settled there, watching Beregond in silence and its tail swishing back and forth.