The first thing that he registered as he started waking up was that his head was heavy and his body was hurting all over. The smell of blood reached his nostrils, and it didn't take a great mind to understand that it was his blood he smelled. Then, the sound of movement made him prick up his ears and, suddenly, a warm hand was placed on his forehead.
This wasn't right. What had happened?
Only then did he remember. He had run... he saw Rick... and someone he didn't expect. Teeth clenched involuntarily as he recalled the fight - and how the Sergeant had beaten him at his own game.
And yet... why was he alive? What had happened in the meantime? Was... was he saved? Again? The Ishbalan camp was close, after all.
Scar's thoughts were interrupted as his head was lifted slightly, and then sensed a wet cloth moistening his lips.
He was saved. That was the only explanation Scar could come up with. Curious enough to see who was taking care of him and feeling himself alert once more, Scar slowly opened his eyes, grunting slightly as though even that small motion ached him.
"So you're awake," a calm voice said.
Scar's hair immediately stood on end. He knew that voice! And he certainly knew that face when he turned at that voice's direction!
"How dare you touch me?!" Scar practically snarled, baring his teeth in fury. At the next moment, blinded by hatred, he tried to lunge against the insolent man... only to be yanked backwards by what it felt like an invisible force.
No... not an invisible force. It was ametallic buckle that pinned his right arm by the wrist on the ground. Growling in dismay, Scar used his left hand to try and break the buckle open, but it was no use. There was no opening.
"Don't waste your energy. I've used alchemy," Beregond said calmly. "And only I can reverse the reaction."
Scar swore loudly and doubled his efforts to get loose somehow. Beregond didn't seem to be alarmed, though. He simply sat on his knees, mere inches out of the Ishbalan's reach, watching him without as much as blink; until finally, overcome by exhaustion and pain, Scar had to lie down again to catch his breath.
"I warned you," Beregond simply said, his tone neutral.
"Damn you," Scar managed to retort weakly. He looked at his surroundings, hoping he would find a way out of his predicament. Only then did he notice something very odd.
He was at Rick and Leo's tent. The same one in which he was taken care of the previous time.
But that could only mean that he was in the Ishbalan camp! How...?
"Where are the others? What have you done to them?" he asked, turning his gaze at Beregond.
"They're outside. And the only thing Idid was talk to them."
Scar snorted. "And they actually let you live, traitor?" He caught a glimpse of a frown on Beregond's countenance, but it was gone as quickly as it had appeared.
"You might not believe it, but not everyone thinks like you."
"If they knew what I know, they would," Scar said. "Did you tell them your /name/, Man of Stone?"
Beregond raised an eyebrow of curiosity. "So you did figure out my name. I was wondering about that ever since I learnt about your language. It doesn't exactly mean that, for your information, but it's close enough."
"Are you mocking me?" Scar said in alow growl. "I know the ancient writings!"
"Do you now?" Beregond said, hardly disturbed. "Do you know how 'ancient' those writings are? A mere two, maybe three thousand years at most?"
"What are you talking about?"
Beregond just smiled bitterly."Something that is far bigger than you or I." He sighed. "And to answer your previous question, I didn't tell them. They didn't ask."
"So what did you tell them?"
Beregond shrugged. "In a few words: that Rick has something my friend wants; whereas I want something from you. Once we get what we want, we'll be gone and this incident will be forgotten."
"Funny sort of arrangement, since you're prisoners."
"They're ideal, considering the threat the rest of the military will prove if they so much as suspect we got hurt in this area. Even more so if it is found out that one of the most dangerous serial killers has been hiding here - under the refugees'protection," Beregond said.
Scar arose at the best of his ability because of the buckle and shot an angry glare at Beregond's direction. "You wouldn't dare!"
Beregond merely returned the gaze without wavering. "It's not a matter whether I dare or not. It's a matter of how these people will be protected from harm."
"What do you care what happens to them?" Scar almost shouted.
"I'm a soldier; it's my job to worry about what happens to the innocent. How about you?"
Scar froze, still glaring at the sergeant. How dared he talked to him like that? He was nothing but a traitor, aman who wasn't worthy of the blood that was flowing in his veins, a man who...
A man who, unfortunately, had a point.
Huffing in dismay, Scar simply lay down again and locked his gaze upwards on the tent.
"Just say what you want and get out."
There was silence for a few moments, and then Scar heard Beregond say: "Do you swear on any honour that might be in you that you'll tell me the truth?"
Now that caught Scar by surprise. "It sounds to me like you want something important from me."
"As important as your revenge,"Beregond answered.
Scar contemplated matters for a moment."All right. But I want something from you as well. It's the Law of Equivalent Exchange, after all."
Beregond didn't answer at once. He's considering his options, Scar said in his mind. Not that he has all that many.
"You have my word. I'll give you what you want."
"Are you that desperate?" Scar said, turning at Beregond's direction and smirking. "For all you know, I will probably ask your life as prize."
"But you won't," Beregond said serenely. "Because I already know you want to know about your brother's arm."
If Scar was surprised before, now he was utterly dumbfounded. "How could you know this?" he exclaimed, unable to help himself.
"You talk too much while delirious,"Beregond explained, as though it was the most natural thing in the world. "Now, answer my question and answer truthfully. I'm already aware that you've encountered the Elric Brothers here in Central. However, I want to know what happened. From the moment you came across them to the point that you parted ways with them."
Scar stared at Beregond. "I see. So you didn't know what they were doing."
Beregond shook his head tensely. "So start talking."
"Very well." And with that, Scar began his tale. How he had found out that the boys were in an abandoned laboratory and came across the youngest of the Elric Brothers, fighting someone in a suit of armour just like the boy's; how he agreed with Al to enter the abandoned building to find Edward Elric's whereabouts; and how they came across creatures that, though resembling humans, were nothing like it. He also said how he tried to fight them back, and the woman-like creature made the wall collapse on him with the intention of killing him; and, lastly, how he managed to get out of the rubble and found the Elric Brothers in the main hall of the lab, threatened to create the Philosopher's Stone at the expense of prisoners that were brought there for that exact purpose. It was to Scar's intrigue to see Beregond's face becoming paler and his expression more concerned as he listened on; until, unable to help himself, he asked:
"Did they... create it?"
The tone was so soft that Scar barely heard the question.
"No. Fullmetal couldn't bring himself to do it."
A sigh escaped the man's lips - a sigh of... relief? Scar looked at the sergeant with mild incredulity.
But it was clear Beregond needed to know more. "So what happened?" he asked now anxiously, impatiently.
"Those creatures were ready to attack him - but I attacked them first. They fled, not wishing to be around when the building started to collapse, and I shouted to Fullmetal to take his brother and escape. That was the last I saw of them."
When Beregond spoke next, after many long moments, his voice was hoarse, and his features were etched with worry.
"So you don't know if they've managed to get out."
Scar frowned as he tried to remember. "No. I just ran and that was it."
Again, Beregond didn't speak at once. However, Scar noticed that the sergeant was clenching his jaw violently, and his hands were balled into fists that were doing their best not to betray their owner and start trembling.
"They're better off dead. Ishbala will receive them in his arms and forgive them their sins."
Beregond clapped and blue light surrounded them both. The motion was so abrupt and so fast that Scar froze, still staring incredulously until he finally registered that... his right arm was free. Scar turned to face Beregond, unsure as to what to say, but Beregond proved faster.
"Your brother's arm is an incomplete Philosopher's Stone, and a powerful one at that."
Scar's eyes widened. "Philosopher's Stone? The name is familiar and yet... I haven't heard it before."
"It's the arm providing you the knowledge. Within its arrays are some of the most important answers to life and death itself, and the arm is feeding them to you. But the arm also takes, obeying the law of Equivalence. When Marcoh used his stones against you, the arm absorbed their energy, making itself more potent. That's why it hurt you."Beregond locked his gaze on Scar. "But that's not the only kind of energy it feeds on. When you kill people, the energy that is their soul is absorbed by your arm. The more people you kill, the more powerful the arm will become until the stone becomes a complete one, ready to be used as you want."
"And you know this?" Scar asked, raising an eyebrow. "How?"
But Beregond stood up. "We both got what we wanted. There's nothing more left to say, except thank you." And with that, he turned on his heel and went outside. Scar could see the sergeant's outline under the grey light of dawn as he shivered, obviously not expecting the chill - and then Beregond was gone.
Scar remained still, his gaze still locked at the tent flaps that were gently swaying after Beregond walked through them. After many moments and before he could help it, he stared down at his right arm.
A Philosopher's Stone?
Damn it, instead of finally finding the answer he had been looking for, he had only become more confused.
And then another, darker thought entered his mind.
What if he lied? If Scar found out that that was the case, then he would hunt down the sergeant and have him share the fate of all his previous victims.
But, then again, who would claim his arm would be something like that and would be lying about it?
I need to find out more. And yet he had no intentions of asking Beregond again. After all, the sergeant was right - they both kept their word, made the exchange, and that was that. He'd have to look for his answers somewhere else, even if it meant learning more about this accursed science.
And he knew just where he could do that.
He attempted to rise, but he had to sit back down again as the pain that coursed through him numbed his very core. Biting his lower lip, he quickly looked down at his leg - the source of his pain - to assess its condition.
It was heavily bandaged, especially at the area of the ankle; and his foot hurt him whenever he tried to move - though less than before his encounter with the sergeant, admittedly.
It was at that moment that Scar noticed that there was something odd.
He could smell disinfectant.
But Rick and Leo didn't keep any. In fact, they didn't have any medicines at all. That was what made Rick venture out to steal money in the first place, even though Scar wouldn't have it.
What was the meaning of this?
And then he remembered something else; something very important.
Beregond's palms, though hidden as the man kept his hands in fists, were stained red.
Stained with blood.
You talk too much when you're delirious, that's what the sergeant said. But the only way he could have possibly known that was...
Yet for all his denial, Scar knew that there was only one answer to that. And that's what made Scar wonder just who that man was; for he was the strangest one he had encountered yet.
Keep walking, his mind commanded him, but it was of no use. After several steps to a direction that he wasn't even sure why he was taking it, Beregond found himself turning abruptly to land a fist against a nearby stone wall; then fell on his knees. His head bowed as cold claws of worry and frustration clutched his heart and squeezed it so hard it hurt. And all the while, one thought after another shook his very soul, so very much like prayers to the sky above.
I don't need this... Not now...Please, let them be alive... Please, let them be okay... Why couldn't they wait a day longer? Why didn't I come sooner...?
"Mister? You okay?"
Beregond stopped at once at the sound of Rick's voice. In fact, he barely moved, resembling at that moment a strange statue under the grey light of dawn. He was torn whether he should tell the boy off for intruding in what was a moment of weakness... or feel relieved for helping him snap out of that dark spell of despair on time.
He went for the latter option.
"I'm fine," he said, gritting his teeth to sound as normal as possible; then turned to face the boy. "I'm sorry, did you want something?"
The moment that Beregond locked his gaze on him, however, Rick lowered his own. And Beregond was mildly curious to notice the boy's face was crimson red; whereas his shoulders were slumped forward.
This is too familiar.
"Is it about the wallet?"
He got a slight nod for an answer and, at the next moment, Rick dug out of his pocket a small, leather wallet, with the initials "J.H." on it. He stretched his arm to offer the wallet, but he still didn't look the man in the eye; not even when Beregond took the wallet and said "Thank you."
Beregond sighed. "You don't have to be afraid of me," he said gently. "I apologize if I gave you reasons to be."
Only then did Rick finally look up. "No, it's not that! I just..." He suddenly looked around; then added in a small voice."I just don't want my brother to see me with you. He doesn't like you."
"Oh?" Beregond asked. "Why is that?"
Rick blushed even more. "Because you're... that."
"That?" Beregond raised an eyebrow.
Rick actually stuttered. "You know... An alchemist."
Beregond smiled a bit sadly. "I see. Because of the war, right?" He sat down against the wall, and patted the place next to him in a beckoning motion to Rick.
"Yeah," the boy answered; eyeing the motion and clearly hesitating. But, eventually, he sat down as well, picking up a pebble in his hands and tossing it slightly in the air like some sort of game.
"Doesn't it bother you?" Beregond asked then, looking at the boy thoughtfully.
Rick shrugged and made a noncommittal click with his tongue. "I don't know. I mean, you bought medicines and helped Mr. Scar... so you can't be all bad, I guess."
Beregond only half-smiled. "That's reassuring."
There was silence between man and boy for many long moments. Yet it wasn't as uncomfortable as Beregond would have expected, and something told him that it wasn't uncomfortable for Rick either.
"Were you there?"
Beregond didn't have to take a wild guess as to what Rick was actually referring.
"No," he replied with a shake of his head. "And after hearing so much about it, I'm glad I wasn't."
Rick was certainly surprised. "Really? But... you're a soldier, too." The curious look that Beregond gave him made him add:"I mean, you fight like one and alchemists are military - right?"
Beregond chuckled. "Not always. But you're partly right. I am a soldier."
"So," Rick said, looking at the man in mild wonder, "You're a soldier and you don't like to fight?"
"I fight to safeguard those that need my protection, not to serve some selfish cause," Beregond explained. "Otherwise there's no honor in it."
Rick's expression saddened, and the boy looked down on the ground. "The soldiers that killed my parents weren't protecting anyone. They just killed them for no reason."
Rick just shrugged. "You weren't there. You didn't kill them."
"I'm still sorry," Beregond said, taking in the sorrowful countenance of the boy next to him. "So your brother is your only family now?"
Rick nodded. "He's okay. He knows how to take care of me. Although sometimes I wish he could trust me a bit more."
Beregond made a small face as though thinking hard. "Hmm... like telling you not to talk to me?" A chuckle escaped his lips before he could help it and, surprisingly enough, Rick laughed a bit as well. "By the way... why would you want to talk to me?"
Rick flushed again and faltered before actually saying: "I'm... I'm not sure. I was just curious, I guess. You're not like the other soldiers."
Beregond looked at himself and smirked."Well, I'm dirtier and I don't have a uniform..."
"No!" Rick answered with a small laugh, finally looking up. "You're... nicer. More polite. Calmer. Honest and straightforward... and..." The boy sighed in frustration. "I can't explain it really. Gramps said it best: your eyes and soul are clear."
Beregond thought about this for amoment. "That explains why you felt you could talk to me; not why you /wanted/to."
If Rick's face was red before, now it had assumed a crimson hue. He looked down, embarrassed, and mumbled: "Because you're different in other ways too. You... you speak a language I've never heard before and... that name the other soldier called you is weird... and... I want to know more about you." He turned his head slightly, but he didn't look at the man in the eye. "Is that okay with you?"
Beregond was actually amused by this. "Why wouldn't it be?"
"I... I don't know..." Rick faltered, only to exclaim in sheer frustration immediately afterwards: "Damn it, you know how to make someone nervous!"
The Gondorian blinked at this; then stifled a smile, snorted... and started laughing hard.
"What?" Rick said, his tone indignant -yet he was smiling, sharing the humour. "What?" he said again, acting offended.
It took a lot of strength of will (and a few failed attempts), but Beregond finally managed to suppress his laughing fits and sobered once again.
"It's just... you're the second one who's said that to me," he finally said, wiping a tear from the corner of his eye.
Yet the truth was far darker than he cared to say.
Because for a brief moment I thought you were him; that you didn't just have his face.
And Beregond couldn't for the life of him decide whether he was laughing in joy that he managed to be with /him/even like this... or in self-mockery at his attempts to delusion himself even now, even after all he had learned about his world and this one - even after his encounter with Riza and Dr. Thornlace.
"Who was the first?" Rick asked.
Rick's eyes widened slightly at this. "You have a son?"
"Had," Beregond said quietly.
There was again silence for a while.
"What about the other two?"
Beregond stared at Rick, not really understanding. "Who?"
"I heard you saying to your friend about two other boys that Mr. Scar might have known too. What are they to you?They can't be your sons if I understood things right."
Beregond finally caught on, mouthing asmall "Oh" with his lips. "No, they're not. They're friends of mine. Good friends. They were the reason I came here, actually. I wanted to see them."
"Are they alchemists, too?"
The Gondorian nodded.
"How come Mr. Scar knows about them?" Rick asked then, bemused.
Beregond winced. He wasn't sure how much he ought to tell Rick about this. "It's kind of a long story. All I can tell you is that neither I nor the boys are at the best of terms with Scar."
Rick threw again his pebble in the air and caught it. "I thought it would be something like that. Did Mr. Scar hurt them? Is that why you're worried?"
Beregond looked at the boy incredulously, unable to believe that Rick was able to read through things so easily. On the one hand it was unnerving and on the other... reassuring. It meant Rick understood him and his actions a little bit better than others might have.
"He didn't hurt them - this time,"Beregond said truthfully. "As a matter of fact, whether by accident or by intent, Scar might have saved their lives."
"But you're still worried," Rick said.
"I did say might."
"You talked like Leo just now," the boy commented, grinning broadly.
Beregond couldn't help it. He grinned too. "Did I now?" he asked, teasing slightly.
Rick nodded his agreement and leaned against the wall, resting his hands behind his head. "You must care for them alot, too."
Beregond didn't reply. He just leaned his head against the wall as well, looking up at the sky.
His smile was enough answer.
"I'm glad the matter has been settled,"the old Ishbalan said. He was standing a few feet away from the Gondorian and the boy, watching them with a pleased expression on his face. "Your companion has a way with children that I have seen in very few people."
Havoc, who was standing beside the old man, nodded. "Yeah, he does. He knows how to make people trust him." He smiled. But that smile only lasted for a moment, before he shuffled his legs and placed his hands on his pockets, his countenance now slightly indignant. "That fugitive you've been protecting doesn't."
The old man put his arms through his sleeves to keep them warm, all the while smiling knowingly. "You don't understand why your friend took care of Scar."
Havoc kicked a pebble away and watched it as it skid the ground several times before disappearing amid the thickets that surrounded him and the Ishbalan. "I do... in part. That doesn't mean I have to like it. Or that Scar will appreciate it."
The old man chuckled. "Scar can be many things that you don't approve of, but he's not ungrateful. Whether you believe it or not, he has morals as well. He will return the favour, if only so as not to feel indebted to an enemy."
Havoc snorted. "He seems to forget his morals when he goes after a fifteen-year-old boy who just happens to be a State Alchemist."
The old man sighed. "I never denied that Scar is blinded by hate."
"You're still willing to protect him."
"He shares my blood and also the blood of the rest of the surviving Ishbalans. To betray him it would be like betraying myself."
"So you don't think he deserves punishment for committing murder?"
"There is someone far wiser and older than any of us. When the time comes, He will hand out his judgment upon His child."
Havoc caught himself shuddering; those words were too familiar.
"My friend told me something like that some time ago."
Havoc nodded. "He told me that his god looked upon people not merely as his creations, but as his children. He loved them, but he still punished them for their misdeeds."
"That's not very different from what we believe for our own god," the old man said with a small smile. "Where is your friend from?"
Havoc didn't answer at once. He looked at Beregond's direction again, and watched the Gondorian still talking with Rick - this time with some concern. After all, Beregond had told him of Rick's resemblance to Bergil and Havoc couldn't help but wonder how would that affect the man.
I am fine, Beregond had told him, when Havoc asked him just that.
Jean hoped he was. He really did.
"A place he'll never see again," he finally said to the old Ishbalan's question, taking out his packet and lit one of his cigarettes. "It's ironic. Beregond's one of the kindest men I've met. And yet here he is, away from his home, because he tried to protect his son. Where's the justice in that?"
The old man turned at once, locking his gaze on Havoc. His eyes were widened, and he was looking the soldier in disbelief. "What did you call him?"
"That's his name," Havoc answered, raising an eyebrow in answer to the Ishbalan's reaction. "I know, it's strange, no last name and such but... I guess it wasn't that odd in his homeland," he added, shrugging.
"I see," the old man said thoughtfully."Do you know the name of your friend's homeland? It's not Ishbal, is it?"
"What? Of course not!" Havoc exclaimed, surprised. "He... He's not from Amestris," he answered, trying to evade telling the truth the best he could.
It was then that another voice echoed; a child's voice.
"Hey, Gramps! Check this out!"
It was Rick, now rushing at the old Ishbalan and Havoc's direction. He was sporting a broad grin, and he was holding in his arms a sword - Beregond's sword. As for the Gondorian himself, he was following the boy closely behind, also smiling. But Havoc could see that it was a regretful smile. Not that Beregond regretted giving Rick the sword; Jean was sure of that.
It was regret because... the sword suited the boy. Like it might have suited Beregond's son.
"Pretty neat, huh?" Rick said to the elder Ishbalan. It was amazing to see that he had come to appreciate a weapon he had dreaded only a few hours ago. "Just like those stories you've been telling us!"
Havoc and Beregond exchanged glances at this.
They too...? Havoc thought. And it seemed that his thought was reflected in his expression, because Beregond nodded discreetly.
"Careful with that, Rick," the old man warned gently. "Those things can be very heavy."
But Rick shook his head emphatically. "This one's as light as a feather! Even you can hold it!" And with that, Rick handed the sword to the old man, who took it with a small smile. He seemed to have been satisfied by simply testing its feel on his hands and was ready to return it to its rightful owner, when he saw the engraving on the pommel - the tree and the seven stars.
He dropped the sword.
"Sir?" Havoc asked, just as surprised.
But the old man didn't answer them. He turned to Beregond, who, though at first was just as taken aback at the reaction, he was now looking at the old Ishbalan apprehensively. He didn't move when the old man approached him, nor when the Ishbalan started scrutinising him from head to toe. Nor did he move when the Ishbalan placed both his hands on each of Beregond' shoulders, looking at him straight in his eyes.
"What...?" the Gondorian started.
"I'll ask only one question. Don't lie to me or I will know," the old man said, his gaze never wavering. "Tell me where your home is."
Beregond didn't answer.
"Tell me!" the old man repeated.
There was again no answer. Havoc was about to interfere and stop this; but then, Beregond spoke, his voice soft yet still able to cut through the air like a knife.
"Beyond your reach or mine. That's what the One decreed."
Enigmatic though the answer it seemed, the old man seemed to understand, because he nodded knowingly.
"So the old tales were true." At the next moment, he had released Beregond and picked up the sword. His eyes were still locked on the man as he finally gave it back to the Gondorian.
Beregond could only bow his head at that; whereas Havoc and Rick just stared incredulously.
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