Beregond and Havoc arrive in Central. They get an unexpected welcome.
"Thus it was that Frodo the Ringbearer passed to the Undying Lands, and finally found that small measure of peace that, though all of us seek, very few are ever able to find. Aragorn, now known among his people as Elessar, ruled in the land of Gondor, bringing harmony and prosperity that easily matched the days of old. And though the Fellowship was broken, its members were forever bound with friendship and love; and the days that they fought against evil and defeated it were forever engraved in their minds."
"Mister, did the Elf-princess really become mortal?"
The other children that had gathered around in the seats that Havoc and Beregond occupied now looked at the Gondorian expectantly for the answer.
"Yes, she did," Beregond answered with a small smile, not in the least surprised at the small audience that he had acquired during his story-telling.
"But then... she died too!" one of the girls said, her large eyes widening.
"Eventually," Beregond replied. "But she never regretted her decision; because, as she told her husband, she would rather share one life-time with him than face eternity all alone."
"That's so romantic," another girl stated with a sigh.
"Pfft... only a girl would do a dumb thing like that," a boy said.
"Hey!" the girls in the group protested.
But Beregond just chuckled. "There will come a time that you won't believe that, my young friend. Trust me on it," he said.
"What about Legolas and Gimli? Did they die, too?" another boy asked then.
"Well..." Beregond started, but at that moment the loud voice of a conductor announcing that the train was arriving in Central stopped him. He shook his head and looked at the children. "I'm afraid, children, you will have to decide on that."
There were lots of moans of disappointment from the children; nevertheless, they started rising to find their parents.
"Dad, there was this man who said the best story ever!"
"Yeah, it had Elves... and knights... and wizards..."
"I heard him," one of the parents said, smiling at his kid; then turned to face Beregond. "You have quite the imagination. Have you ever considered writing that story into a book?"
Beregond blinked. "Well, no..."
"You really should," the man said, taking out of his pocket a small business card. "If you ever decide to put that or any other stories on paper, call me. I'll be happy to help out."
Beregond looked at the card, reading the name on it carefully. Gary Harper - editor.
"Err... thanks. I'll think about it."
The man just smiled and took his son from the hand and left. Whereas Beregond still remained looking at the card for a while, frowning.
"It wasn't a fairy tale..." he said softly in a hurt manner.
"No, it wasn't," Havoc said after being silent for so long. He had a strange, thoughtful look on his face as he looked at Beregond's direction. "I now understand what you left behind."
Beregond sighed. "It was home. What more can be said?"
Havoc nodded and started picking up his bags; but there was clearly something eating his mind. "Beregond..."
"This world can become home, too... if you want it."
"I know," the Gondorian said with afaint smile, his eyes reflecting the gratitude at the encouragement. "Thanks."
Havoc grinned and started walking out."Have you ever been to Central before?"
"Not really," Beregond replied with ashake of his head, following closely behind. "I mean, I've seen the station before when the boys and I had to change trains to head north on one occasion, but that's about it."
"Really? Good thing we're here now."
Beregond blinked. "Why?"
"Because Central really comes alive at nightfall. There are all kinds of places one can go to; clubs, bars, restaurants, dance floors, you name it," Havoc answered naturally. "Anything that two well-respected gentlemen of our age can go and have one hell of a good time."
"But..." Beregond paused so he could watch his step as he got out from the train. "But we've only just arrived!"
"Hey, I didn't say we should go /now/,"Havoc said, chuckling. "We'll report to Central Headquarters, find ourselves some temporary dorms where we can put our stuff and then I'll call Sarah..."
Havoc never had the chance to ever finish his sentence because, at that moment, a young street urchin bumped into him.
"'Scuse me," the young boy said, not looking up; then kept walking as though nothing had happened.
"Yeah, kid, sure," Havoc said, planning to continue on without looking back. "Now... what was I saying again?"
However, Beregond had halted abruptly, and was now looking at the retreating boy with eyes widened. "Havoc..."
He didn't get an answer, something that made the Gondorian turn around to see where the other man was. "Havoc!"
"What?" Havoc had already moved on, the sea of people almost swallowing him; it was a good thing that one could recognise their own name when called even in this uproar.
"That boy...!" Beregond attempted to call, pointing frantically to the said boy's direction.
But this time Havoc didn't hear. He pointed his ear and shrugged, signalling just that. And, to Beregond's dismay, the boy was about to disappear out of view too.
No. He couldn't afford that.
The boy flinched slightly; Beregond could see that only too clearly in spite of the distance between them. Nevertheless, he didn't stop, or even slow down his step. In fact, he was walking more quickly.
And the boy started running. Without thinking, Beregond dropped both his suitcase and basket and started giving chase, doing his hardest to avoid any passing people that happened to block his path. Being in Central Station though, Beregond quickly discovered that the best way to do that was shout every once in a while: "Military! Out of the way!" and people would instantly jump aside.
Just as well. The boy had gotten himself out of the station in no time; yet Beregond was still close behind, and soon he was out too.
Beregond stopped in his tracks at once, looking incredulously around him. Never before had he seen so many people in one street at once, nor had he heard such racket from passing cars and carts!
Beregond suddenly felt very, /very/small - and lost.
"Did you get him?"
Beregond almost jumped at the voice that sounded so suddenly close to him, but it only turned out to be Havoc.
"No," the Gondorian answered. Squinting and doing his best to look above the crowd, he scanned his surroundings for the small form, hoping that he would somehow manage to spot him. "But we have to. He..."
"I know, I know, he got my wallet."
Beregond faced Havoc, surprised, and it was then that he noticed it. His friend was positively fuming and clenching his hands into fists.
"But you said you had your money in..."
"My identification papers were in there."
It was Havoc's turn to face the Gondorian just as surprised.
"Wait a minute... if you weren't chasing him because of the wallet, why did you...?"
But at that moment there was the sound of a loud crash near them, soon to be followed by the very gruff, angry voice of a vendor.
"Damn kid! Watch where yer going!"
The boy did scamper off as quickly as possible, but not before Beregond and Havoc had caught sight of him and started chasing him again. And this time, they mentally shut out all the other human forms and kept their eyes locked on the boy's, very much like predators in the hunt.
Beregond never realised how the streets started becoming narrower and darker; nor indeed that the people were getting fewer with each block of buildings he passed. He just kept running, years of training and the hope that the boy would just have to give it up one way or another giving him the energy to keep going.
The boy, realising that both men were hot on his trail, turned left to a narrow alley, hoping that the darkness in there would cover him and keep him safe. Havoc sprinted ahead in the hopes of catching the young urchin, but Beregond stopped.
"What are you doing?!" Havoc exclaimed, noticing the Gondorian's abrupt halt.
But Beregond merely clapped his hands and then placed them on the ground. In a matter of seconds, there was a great wall at the end of the alley, thus blocking the boy's escape.
Havoc just stared at the newly created wall; then grinned at Beregond's direction. "Nice work."
"Thanks," Beregond said, stepping at the lieutenant's side; then leaned closely so that only his companion would hear him. "I suggest we move with caution. The boy will be certainly scared and I don't want him to be intimidated any further."
"Agreed," Havoc replied, and both men started approaching the child, who was looking at every possible direction for any exits out of his predicament.
It was of no use. Beregond's work was too good.
"Wh-What do you want with me?" he finally asked, turning to face his hunters.
"Easy, kid. Just give me back my wallet and everything will be peachy," Havoc said, holding his palms upwards in agesture of peace.
"I don't know what you're talking about!" the urchin said.
"Don't lie! I had it with me up until the moment you bumped into me!"
"So what's your point?"
"Child," Beregond said, "What's your name?"
The boy glared at the Gondorian for many moments, unsure what to make of the question, but he decided to indulge the man. "Rick."
"Rick, listen to me for a moment. There's nothing in that wallet that you can either use or sell; but there are some papers that, to my friend, are very important." And with that, Beregond took a couple of steps forward.
"Stay back!" Rick almost shouted.
"If we had wanted to harm you, Rick, we would have hurt you already. I know you understand this," Beregond reasoned."You saw what I can do, and my friend has a gun which he can use very efficiently. Trust me - he shot me once."
"Hey!" Havoc said defensively.
But Beregond just shrugged in a "Well, it's true" manner; then sat on his heels so that he could make eye contact with the boy. As for Rick, he was darting his look back and forth from Havoc to Beregond. It was clear that his mind was in turmoil now.
"Look, Rick," Beregond finally said,"If it's money you're after, I've already told you there isn't any in the wallet. It's pointless holding on to it. So, please, give the wallet to my friend and we'll just let you..."
"Leave my brother alone!" echoed another voice all of a sudden. Havoc fell on his knees, gritting his teeth as an iron pipe fell sharply on his back.
Beregond turned abruptly. His sword, hidden meticulously under his overcoat, was already in his hands and he had blocked the iron pipe before landing on his shin. Another swing of his sword later, Beregond had sliced the pipe in two and brought himself face to face with another boy.
Did he say... brother? That was the first thing Beregond thought. At the next moment, he noticed that the older boy was breathing heavily, looking frightened at the blade.
Is he really thinking I'm going to harm him?
"Watch out!" Havoc cried out and, springing immediately to his feet, tackled Beregond on the ground.
The blonde's force and speed was such that he knocked Beregond's sword out of his hands; even so, it was fortunate that he had reacted so fast. There was a gaping hole where the Gondorian had been standing only seconds before, and debris was flying at every direction, barely missing the two soldiers.
And then Beregond noticed it. There was a faint smell and a mist filling the air that the Gondorian had come to know quite well ever since ending up in Amestris.
Both men sprang to their feet. Havoc reached for the gun that he had strapped underneath his own coat, whereas Beregond, unarmed yet still willing to fight, placed his body in a defensive stance. They both knew what they were up against.
After all, there was no mistaking that alchemic technique.
"Interesting," Scar said, stepping out of the shadows. "I was told you had remained in East City; yet here you are, terrorising children."
Beregond frowned, not just at hearing Scar's words, but at seeing the Ishbalan's appearance as well. Because the man looked like he had come out of a battlefield, hardly unscathed. There were abrasions and cuts all over his body; his clothes were bloodstained; and he was limping quite badly.
And then everything fell into place.
"You weren't trying to get money for yourself," he said, turning to face Rick. "You were hoping you would be able to buy medicines for him."
Though scared, Rick still had the courage to nod at the Gondorian's direction.
"Makes sense," Havoc said with a shake of his head. "Support between countrymen and all."
"Enough talk!" Scar declared. "Release the boy or die!"
Beregond locked his gaze on the Ishbalan, looking at him intently. "So you are actually willing to protect someone even in the state you're in?"
The only answer he got was Scar's attack. The man lunged forward at his direction, arm aglow.
"Beregond...!" Havoc opened fire, but it was of no use. Scar was too fast and the bullets only whizzed past him.
Surprisingly enough... Beregond did nothing. He simply watched his attacker coming onto him, eyes reflecting nothing but calculation. And then, just when Scar's hand was ready to grasp the Gondorian's head, Beregond clapped and placed his right palm on Scar's own glowing one in the blink of an eye.
At that contact, a terrible shockwave reverberated through the entire alley. Havoc flinched and tried to cover himself, whereas both Gondorian and Ishbalan were thrown backwards at the sheer force of their alchemy.
"You okay?" Havoc cried out, seeing how painfully Beregond had landed on his back.
"Yes." Beregond stood up with a wince.
"What was that?" Havoc asked, scarcely believing his eyes.
"Counter decomposition," Beregond explained, massaging his throbbing hand. "Scar tried to make my insides explode; I tried to do the same with his."
Havoc swallowed hard. "So you fought fire with fire." His gaze drifted on the torn sleeve that surrounded his friend's arm and he bit his lower lip. "That was dangerous."
Beregond didn't answer. He merely nodded slightly, not looking Havoc in the eye; then picked up his sword to place it again under his overcoat and stepped close to Scar. The Ishbalan had remained where he had fallen, not moving and eyes closed no matter how hard Rick tried to shake him awake.
"Keep away!" Rick cried, seeing what was Beregond doing. But when he saw the Gondorian wasn't complying, he grabbed a stone and got ready to throw it at the man.
Beregond was hardly daunted. He simply turned a serene gaze at the boy, raising his hand in a gesture of peace.
"Estelio nín, chen." (Trust me, child)
His words seemed to have reached Rick's heart, because he never threw the stone. In fact, he remained looking at Beregond with eyes widened and mouth agape, even as the sergeant knelt close to Scar, placing a hand on the injured man's chest.
"Is he alive?" Havoc asked.
"Yes," Beregond answered. "My attack never meant to kill him, but with his body in this shape... I was afraid it would anyway."
"Then it looks like I'll have to do it." And with that, Havoc raised his gun. "Move away, Beregond."
Beregond turned at his companion."Havoc...?" He was certainly surprised now, and he didn't even bother to hide it.
"'Next time we see him, we take him out.' Those were the Colonel's own orders; he gave them while you were in the hospital."
The Gondorian still stared at Havoc for many long moments, clenching his jaw. He didn't want to deal with this now, but he knew he had to.
"I understand. Nevertheless, /I/need him alive."
"What?! Why?" Havoc asked, blinking.
"Didn't you hear him before?" Beregond said. "He was told I was in East City. Only four people here in Central know me well enough to tell Scar that, but there are only two that Scar would bother asking. The ones he'd expect me to be with."
Havoc breathed in sharply. "The Elric brothers..."
"But if something had happened, Lieutenant Colonel Hughes would have informed the Colonel."
"Then the Colonel would have told him we were coming and someone from the military would have been expecting us, Iagree," Beregond said. "But... what if the military doesn't know? Edward and Alphonse always work alone, after all, and they prefer it that way even now that I'm supposed to be their escort. And just look at the shape /he's/in. What if this happened because they had to fight? What if he actually...?" He didn't continue, feeling his voice betraying him.
It was then that Havoc's eyes widened, finally understanding what was Beregond's true worry.
"We don't know that," he said reassuringly. "Maybe he's in that shape exactly because they managed to fight him back!"
"Like you said, we don't know that." Beregond looked once again at Scar, checking at the numerous wounds. "But I intend to find out." He faced Rick again to address him, but he froze midway.
Neither Rick nor his brother were anywhere to be seen anymore.
Frowning, the blond followed Beregond's example and looked around as well; but it was of no use. The boys were gone.
"Damn it..." Havoc hissed through gritted teeth, "They must have left during the commotion."
"And they came back," Beregond added, his eyes locked on the shadows once more. "But not alone."
It was at those words that the crowd of Ishbalans, brought by the boys for assistance, stepped out into the light of the lampposts and surrounded the two men. All Beregond and Havoc could do was exchange glances, the same thought crossing their minds.
They were in big trouble.