Beregond and Havoc realise that some things aren't what they seem.
Havoc felt like hell. His head hurt and his breathing was so strained it wasn't even funny. He coughed to rid himself of that chocking feeling that had settled on his throat, but it almost seemed like it was of no use.
"Inhale this. It will make you feel better," said the old Ishbalan, offering a cup with some sort of steaming tea in it.
Nodding his thanks, Havoc took the mug and inhaled some of the vapours. The smell was foul, but Havoc had to admit that his breathing had become easier. He looked at his surroundings, still able to make out the tents and borders of the Ishbalan camp even under the swiftly fading twilight.
The old Ishbalan pointed at a large tent several feet away. "He's questioning the man you caught in the hopes he'll learn of Rick's whereabouts."
"Somehow I don't think the guy will say anything," Havoc said grimly. But it was then that Havoc noticed Leo hurrying toward the same large tent - followed closely behind by a large, limping form.
Havoc watched as both Ishbalans walked inside the tent, unsure what to make of it. At the next moment, bright red light shone within the tent.
Havoc stared in shock. Did Beregond just allow...?
But his thought was cut off when Beregond appeared, dragging a whimpering man in a military uniform and handing him over to two more Ishbalans nearby. Seconds later, the Gondorian had transmuted a cage from the ground, its bars already surrounding the captive.
"Make sure he gets comfortable," was all that Beregond said to the Ishbalans before turning on his heel and heading in Havoc's direction.
As he watched the Gondorian approaching, Havoc couldn't help but notice that there was something off. For Beregond's gait was listless. It wasn't very discernible, true; but it was disconcerting to someone who had become familiar with the Gondorian's steady, confident steps.
"You okay?" Beregond asked.
Whether the Gondorian was aware of Havoc's persistent stare at him or not when asking that question, Havoc wasn't sure; he was too busy looking at Beregond's paled face. And the lieutenant winced inwardly when he saw how violently the white skin contrasted with the black circles underneath Beregond's eyes.
So it is happening...
But Havoc knew that it wasn't the time to talk about such things; so he decided to let the matter be - for now.
"I'll live," he answered with a slight shrug. He nodded at the caged man's direction. "Well... I guess he talked?"
Beregond nodded wryly. "Scar is pretty persuasive."
Havoc could see that Beregond didn't exactly approve of Scar's method.
"Where do they have him?" the old Ishbalan asked.
"In a makeshift hideout, at the other end of the city," Beregond answered.
"Then what are we waiting for?" a young man said at that moment, overhearing the conversation. "Let's get them!"
"That's out of the question!" Beregond said at once.
"Beregond is right!" the old Ishbalan said. "These people are trained soldiers; we have no chance of fighting them."
"We outnumber them!"
"I know you do," Beregond replied. "And perhaps you would be able to win but for something else."
"What are you talking about?" asked an Ishbalan woman. "What else is there?"
"How about: why did they kidnap Rick in the first place?"
It was Havoc who said that, now standing up and taking his place beside Beregond. "That's what troubles you, right?" he asked the Gondorian.
"Yes," Beregond said. "Ransom hardly cuts it, since the Ishbalans have no money. A blind attack against those who have Ishbalan blood in their veins seems a more logical explanation but why kidnap when they could easily kill? And, lastly, why just Rick and not Leo, too?"
"You already had time to protect Leo,"another Ishbalan reasoned.
"Maybe. But we're dealing with trained men; men that managed to surprise us. If they wanted to get Leo as well, they would have. It seems more logical to me to say that Leo wasn't meant to be kidnapped at all. In fact, it looks to me as though Leo was meant to escape so he could warn you."
"That doesn't make any sense! Why would anyone want to do that?" a middle-aged Ishbalan asked.
Beregond didn't answer at once. But when he did, his voice sounded almost cold.
"I think someone wants you to retaliate. They're challenging you to make trouble in the hopes of causing ariot."
"And it could be an attempt to make Scar come out," Havoc seconded thoughtfully.
"That seems just as probable," Beregond agreed. "Still, both reasons point at the same direction: you," and with that, he pointed at the surrounding Ishbalans, "can't be involved in this."
"So what are we supposed to do?!" Leo exclaimed."Leave my brother in their hands?"
"I never said that," Beregond said.
"No... it's clear what you're saying."
Everyone turned to see that Scar was now amongst them, his arms across his chest and looking at Beregond with narrowed eyes.
"This is not your fight, Man of Stone. If it is me they want, it is me they'll get."
Beregond never got the chance to answer, because Havoc proved faster.
"Whether you like it or not, it hasn't only become his fight, but mine as well. If what Beregond says is true and there's someone out there who wants to move both the Ishbalans and the Amestrian soldiers like pawns, I don't want to give them that satisfaction."
"I'd rather be dead than ask the help of an Amestrian!"
"We don't need a murderer's help anyway!"
Beregond now stood between Havoc and Scar, arms outstretched to make sure neither lunged on the other. And both men could tell that the Gondorian was angry.
"You were ready to protect that boy when you could barely stand, Scar. Now you want to back out for such an inane reason as /place of birth?/" He turned at Havoc's direction. "He's amurderer, yes. But if he's willing to save a life this time, it's not in my place to stop him. Is it in yours, Havoc?" He straightened himself a bit and then lowered his arms, just slightly, still prepared for anything. "I don't know about you two, but I won't stay one minute here longer when a life, a /child's/life, is in danger."
Time seemed to stand still when Beregond spoke those words. Scar and Havoc had grown quiet, clearly contemplating matters and try to decide what the best course of action should be.
Finally, Scar spoke.
"We'll still be enemies tomorrow."
"We're enemies even now. But even enemies can show respect," Beregond answered, and then turned to Havoc. "We'd better get our weapons."
Havoc nodded and, after casting a cold look at Scar's direction, he followed the Gondorian. It was only after both soldiers were out of any Ishbalan's hearing range that Beregond spoke again.
Havoc stared at Beregond, eyes widened."Whatever for?"
"For snapping like that. I forgot my place, and I'll accept any punishment once we're through this."
"No," Havoc said then, understanding what was in the Gondorian's mind. "I told you, we're not in a military uniform, so ranks don't apply. And, let's face it, you've even been a Brigadier General in your world; you know this commanding business better than I do. However..."and at that Havoc clasped a hand on Beregond's shoulder, thus effectively stopping the man in his tracks, "I also know when a man is about to reach the limit of his strengths."
"What do you mean?" Yet it was clear that Beregond understood perfectly well. He had averted his eyes, a crimson hue of frustration finally colouring his wan cheeks.
Havoc sighed. It looked like Beregond wasn't going to make things easy for him.
"I mean that I'm worried. Are you sure you're up to this fight?"
Beregond snorted. "I'm not the one who took a few breaths of poison gas."
"That's not what I'm saying and you know it!" Havoc exclaimed. He stood in front of Beregond and grabbed both the Gondorian's shoulders, forcing him to look at him. "You haven't eaten or slept since we left East City; you constantly worry about Ed and Al--"
Beregond looked away, his voice barely a murmur. "Havoc..."
"Somewhere inside you you're grieving for your family, for your friends--"
"It's been ten months--"
"But only now you're absolutely sure that they've gone out of your life."
"So what of it?" Beregond answered, tensing so much that Havoc thought he was grabbing rock, not muscle. "Grief and worry don't serve anyone right now."
"Beregond..." Havoc said quietly, hoping that he would make his friend see reason, "Gondorian or not, Elven blood in your system or not, you're still human and those feelings are part of you. And if you keep them suppressed long enough, they're gonna fester you; even /I/can understand that."
"I'm fine, Havoc."
"But for how long?" Havoc asked again, exasperatingly.
"For as long as I have to be," Beregond answered with a shrug, his voice quiet and his face expressionless. And with that, he gently pulled himself away from Havoc's grip and walked away, not bothering to wait for an answer.
And so, all that the lieutenant could do was watch Beregond go, only one thought crossing his mind.
Beregond... you're already breaking.
"Will this be all, Lieutenant Hawkeye?"asked Roy. He had just finished signing what he hoped to be the last piece of paperwork on his desk, so that he could call it a night.
"Yes, Sir," Riza answered with a nod.
"Good. You may leave then," Roy replied, "I'll lock the door to the office on my way out. There's a phone call I have to make."
"Very well, Sir." And with that, Riza saluted and walked out, holding in her hands the papers in order to put them on her own office before leaving. As for Roy, he had already picked up the receiver and started dialling the number to Central Headquarters. A couple of minutes later, a woman's voice answered the phone. "Private Jamie Kinkard, reporting from the dorms, Sir!"
Roy smiled. "It's nice to hear such apleasant voice on the phone," he said smoothly. "It's usually Private Sommers Iconverse with on the phone."
"Private Sommers hasn't reported for duty yet, Sir," Jamie said in quite the business-like tone. "Do you want to leave a message to him?"
"No, that won't be necessary, I think you can help me just fine, Private Kinkard," Roy said. "I wish to speak with Lieutenant Havoc. Is he in the dorms?"
There was silence for several moments. "May I speak freely, Sir?"
Roy frowned at this. Still, he decided to indulge the private. "Yes."
"Sir, you've been the third person who's been asking the particular lieutenant or his companion, and I'm afraid Ihave to say to you, as I've already told the others, that there are no such soldiers by the names Havoc or Beregond within Central dorms."
Roy tensed at once. "They should be. Isent them there personally."
"You did, Sir. They didn't arrive."
Yet it wasn't only that that made Roy sit up and grip the receiver even more tightly. "Who were the other two who asked for them?"
"The first one was Major Armstrong. The second one was Lieutenant Colonel Fawcette." There was a small pause. "Sir, are they in some kind of trouble? Lieutenant Colonel Fawcette said that he had orders to arrest Sergeant Beregond."
Now Roy knew, beyond any doubt, that things were very wrong.
"I'm afraid I can't answer you that, Private. Thank you, anyway." And without even waiting for a reply from the private, he instantly hung up in order to dial another number.
But, even though he let the phone ring more than enough times, Hughes never answered.
Damn in, Hughes! Roy thought, slamming the receiver down in frustration. You've picked a hell of a time to be gone from the office!
What the hell was going on?
Seeing that he was on the verge of losing his control, Roy decided to take a few deep breaths and try to consider matters with a clear head.
For whatever reason, Havoc and Beregond never made it to Central Headquarters. And, for the present, neither Armstrong nor Fawcette were able to find them. That meant one thing. Armstrong had to be the first to find the missing soldiers. It was the only way to ensure that Fawcette didn't lay a finger on them before Roy found out the meaning of it all.
With that last thought, Roy picked up the receiver and started dialling again. As the phone started buzzing, the man realised that this night would be a very long one.
Hughes, if I get my hands on you...
"Hello? May I help you?"
"Patch me through Major Armstrong's office."
"Happy birthday Elysia!"
That was what everyone shouted when Elysia blew out the candles on her own, amid much clapping and cheering. Indeed, there were lots of people - from relatives from both Maes and Gracia's side to several co-workers. And now everyone was enjoying a drink or sharing a joke or two with others; whereas the children were checking out all the gifts and toys, letting out exclamations of wonder and excitement.
That is, until little Elysia let out asmall moan of disappointment. She rushed to her father, holding a small toy-mouse in her chubby little hands.
"Daddy! The mouse I got from daddy isn't moving!"
"Oh?" Maes said, embarrassed. "I guess it was defective."
Winry, who was standing close by, heard that. She smiled, since she knew exactly what to do.
"Elysia, can you let me see it?" she asked, extending her hand in a friendly manner.
Elysia blinked a bit, uncertain; then handed the toy-mouse, eyes wide with wonder.
"Thank you," Winry said. She took out ascrewdriver from her pocket and opened the toy so that she could have a look inside. Her smile widened when she found the problem.
"I thought so. A gear's out of place. So I do this and..." Tongue slightly sticking out in concentration, she placed the screwdriver on the gear and made a couple of turns, securing the loose piece of mechanism. "...Okay!" As soon as she closed the toy again, she wound it carefully and put it on the table. The mouse instantly sprang to life and started making circles on the table.
All the children watched in amazement, especially Elysia.
"Wow!" she said, looking up at Winry. "A toy doctor!"
At that, Winry couldn't help but laugh and pet Elysia on the head. "Not really, but it's something close!"
"Gracia, is everything in order here?"asked Sarah, entering the kitchen to see Gracia filling some plates with more food.
"Yes, don't worry about it," the light-haired woman said, smiling. "Oh, you brought the dirty plates?"
Sarah shrugged a bit as she placed the empty plates she had been carrying in the kitchen sink. "No need to be in the way."
"Really, Sarah... You're a guest!" Gracia said, shaking her head.
"No, it's all right, I wanted to do it," Sarah insisted, nodding emphatically. She looked a bit back at the living-room, a smile crossing her features. "Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves."
"I sure hope so," Gracia said. "Where's Alice?"
"With the other children. She enjoys being the oldest one so she's taken up the task of babysitting the rest."
Gracia laughed. "Like an older sister, I suppose."
"Very much so," Sarah said, chuckling abit; then turned on the tap and started washing the dishes. "You know, I was quite worried when we came here. After the way Alice reacted on the news of our departure from East City..." she sighed, not continuing. "I'm just glad she adjusted." She turned to Gracia. "And, in part, I owe it to you and Maes."
"You know we don't mind helping out,"Gracia said, smiling kindly.
"I know... I suppose I've gotten used to doing a lot of things on my own."
Gracia turned to look at the young woman, who was still busy with the dishes. She didn't speak for some time, torn between curiosity and discretion. In the end, however, she decided to speak her mind.
"You don't have to answer if you don't want to, and I hope you'll forgive my asking," Gracia said softly, "but... how old were you when your husband--?"
Sarah sighed. She answered before Gracia had the chance to finish her question. "Eighteen."
"Oh," the light-haired woman said, saddening. "I had figured you were young, but not this young."
Sarah smiled ruefully. "In truth, I was together with Geoff - my husband - a lot longer than that. Since school, in fact. He proposed to me when I became seventeen... and the very next day we were married." Her expression changed, becoming almost cold at the memory. "And then he died."
Gracia nodded, taking in what her friend said. "It must have been difficult for you."
"At first. But I had Alice to think of, so I couldn't fail her. She gave me the strength to carry on with my life and understand that lingering in the past never helps."
Before realising it, Gracia turned her gaze, just briefly, to her husband's direction. Sarah turned as well. She guessed what was going through Gracia's mind.
"We don't have war. And even if we did, we married our husbands because of who they were," she said, clasping Gracia's arm; then returned her attention to the dishes once more. "And you're not so afraid of what you'll face if it is to happen again."
Gracia arched an eyebrow. "Are you talking about the lieutenant you like?"
Sarah didn't answer in words. She just nodded, and that made Gracia smile a bit.
"Did you tell him that?"
"No," Sarah admitted, "But I might."
"Did you always want to be a mechanic?"Maes asked Winry. They were both sitting on a couple of chairs close to the window, enjoying a good conversation while Elysia was busy playing happily with the toy mouse.
Winry nodded. "Ever since I could remember myself actually. Ed used to make fun of me because of it, but Al always said that I'd become the best mechanic ever."
"You three grew up together like siblings, right? You must have caused a lot of trouble!" Maes said, grinning widely.
Winry couldn't help it. She laughed.
"I guess you could say that, though /I/was always the one getting worried. And that has hardly changed. Just when Ithink they've returned to stay in Resembool, it turns out Ed totally busted his arm!"
It was then that her laughter died on her lips, and her expression saddened.
"Ed is hospitalised for some major injuries, and Al is worried about something."
Maes said nothing, but he had sobered too.
"Ed's automail... I attached a new one just around a month ago, but taking a look at him today, it's damaged all over the place. Even his body has taken quite the beating." She turned at Maes, eyes almost welling up with tears. "Just what kind of life are they having?"
The only answer she got was Elysia's joyous laughter as she still played on.
"But no matter what happens, they barely say anything about it. And when they left to restore their bodies, they decided that by themselves without getting any advice." She sighed. "If I were really their sister... I wonder if they would have talked to me about their leaving or what happened with those wounds I saw today."
"It's not that they didn't ask for advice. It's that they didn't need any advice."
Winry looked at Maes, not really understanding. "There are times that things have to be said to be understood though, aren't there?"
That made Maes chuckle. "You can't do anything about that." Still smiling a bit, he took off his glasses and started cleaning them with a cloth. "Men are the type that speak through actions rather than words. If they're going to suffer, they want to avoid making other people support them as much as possible; and they don't want other people worry about them either. That's why they won't say anything." His green eyes, now clearly visible without hiding behind the glasses, now locked their gaze on the window. That's how Maes remained for some time, little knowing that, at another part of the city, a Gondorian soldier was assuring an Amestrian lieutenant that he was fine, and he would be fine for as long as he had to. He turned to Winry again.
"But when those brothers start giving up... at that exact time, you stop them. Isn't that enough?"
Winry didn't answer. She saw Maes's point, and yet she still wasn't sure what to make of things. Nor would she have the chance to, because it was then that all the kids rushed toward Elysia, shouting: "Elysia, let's play!" Especially the boys seemed very willing to play with the little girl, and even started arguing amongst themselves who would get to play with her first.
"Your daughter's popular!" Winry said, laughing.
Maes, however, didn't seem to share the humour of the situation. In one swift movement, he put on his glasses and towered over the boys with the austerity of a father wishing to protect his daughter's purity. "Hey, punks! Don't you dare touch my baby!"
At that point, Winry decided that Maes was letting his actions speak a lot louder than his words.