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velvet mace

Pawns

chapter 7. Solitary

Jail wasn't just bad. It was worse than he had ever imagined.

He was steeled for the taunting. He was fine with the
occasional shove or even light punch. That he expected. What he hadn't expected
was how thin his tolerance was for sheer unadulterated stifling boredom, or
that the utter lack of privacy and respect would crawl under his skin and drive
him crazy.

And the rules. So FREAKING many rules.

Ed was not supposed to throw spoons at the guards. Even
when they insulted his size.

He was not allowed to tell them their flies were down
when they weren't, or call them out on duels, or ask to spar, or complain about
their body odor. He wasn't even allowed to scream "NYAH NYAH NYAH!" at the top
of his voice when they gave him orders. Frankly, Ed thought, they could have
just told him to stop. They didn't need the gag.

He wasn't allowed to use the soap to make alchemy circles.

He wasn't allowed to use his hair to make alchemy circles.

He wasn't allowed to use his food to draw alchemy circles.

"Unless you want to be shaved bald, fed and scrubbed by
a guard I suggest you cut this out," Midnight had told him on the second day.
"They are losing patience with you. I'm not sure how long I can keep you from
getting really punished."

Midnight was all chummy, pretending to be a friend, but
Ed remembered the thumb in his automail port, and wasn't buying it.

The next day he was told he wasn't supposed to practice
kicks against the walls, or do summersaults, or hang by his knees from the sink.
They had taken away his leg. When he pretended to hang himself with his shirt
in protest, they'd taken away his clothes as well.

Apparently the only thing he was supposed to do was lie
in his bed and stare at the empty grey walls.

"How many weeks have I been here," he called out the door
when a guard looked in.

"Three days," the guard replied back sounding very tired.

Handler

Roy heard Ed before he saw him.

"Don't touch me. I SAID don't TOUCH me! I don't know where
your hands have been, you pervert."

The door to his cell opened and Fullmetal was pushed unceremoniously
into the room. Roy met eyes with the guard. All yours they telegraphed back.
Let's see you do something with him. The door shut again as Ed spun about and
gave a one fingered salute to his escort.

Ed was a mess. His hair was a loose matted haystack. His
face sported a fresh bruise on one cheek. His clothes were rumpled and there
was a faintly sour smell of the unwashed about him. Ed sat down on the floor
then looked around, suddenly focusing in on him.

"Colonel?" he gasped.

"Good morning Ed," said Roy, smiling. "Call me Roy. I'm
not a Colonel any more."

"Oh, freaking hell, so are they trying to torture me now?"
But the words were an empty formality. The look in Ed's eyes was of... what...
relief?

Roy went along with the charade. "Apparently both of us,"
he drawled. I've missed you, too. "So are you going for the wild man
look these days? You always were so careful with your grooming."

"Well, they pulled my hair down when they strip searched
me. I couldn't put it back up on my own since they took the arm. And they took
away the rubber band when I, uh, snapped it at one of the guards."

Roy raised an eyebrow.

"I had a brush for a little while, but one of the guards
took it away."

"Why?"

Ed flushed and looked uncomfortable. He stood up and scanned
the room. His eyes hit on the books piled around the desk. "Well, hey, these
look familiar. Been reading up on me, eh? So what's the task that they want
me to do?" He opened a book at random and flipped through the pages.

Roy walked over to the desk. Ed skittered a couple steps
away, leery. But Roy smiled and opened the small drawer. He pulled out the brush.
"Come sit down a moment." He passed by close to Ed and whispered as softly as
he could "We are being listened to." Ed straightened up.

Roy patted his bed and motioned Ed to sit. "Your hair
is offending me."

"I can brush my own hair."

"But can you pick out the tangles?" Roy tapped his lips
with a finger, and rolled his eyes meaningfully at the door.

Ed sat down and turned his head away. "Don't expect me
to jump through your hoops anymore," he grumbled. "You aren't my boss."

Roy sat as close as he thought Ed would let him, as close
as he trusted himself, and began methodically to detangle Ed's hair. Ed stiffened
for the first touch, but then began to relax. Roy found the first snarl and
started separating the strands with his fingers, carefully, so as not to pull.
Just like untying a knot.

Ed sighed impatiently.

Roy leaned closer and breathed into Ed's ear "You can
fight them stupidly, or you can fight them smart."

Ed pulled away and turned around. "Who are you calling
stupid!"

"You. Now sit back, I'm not done." Ed did. Old habits,
Roy knew. Resistance, and then acceptance. It was the way they had always related.
Ed was used to following orders from him, but never without at least a little
grumbling.

Roy parted another section with his fingers and began
working on it, starting from the tips and working his way upwards, picking apart
the snarls, then finally running the brush through the lock. The strands were
soft and fine between his fingers. Roy couldn't suppress a grin. There
had been many, many, times before when he'd positively ITCHED to touch Ed's
hair. Back when there was no appropriate excuse to do so, he'd suppressed the
urge. How ironic that here in jail, with everything else taken from him, Roy
was allowed to partake of this forbidden fruit.

Ed was relaxed again. His eyes had closed and he'd actually
nestled closer to his former boss. Roy took a risk and drew up his knee to slide
it onto the other side of Ed. He didn't seem to notice he was now settled between
Roy's legs.

"How do I fight smart," whispered Ed.

"Do you trust me?" asked Roy, starting on a new lock.

Hesitation. "Yes. But I don't like guessing. Don't keep
me in the dark."

Roy put his mouth directly over Ed's ear. "Discretion
here is important. I'm not worried about your ears, but they aren't the only
ones listening."

Ed jerked away. "Tickles," he said. Roy noticed goose
bumps on the back of Ed's neck. He resumed pulling the snarls apart.

"What do you think I should do?"

"Calm down. Stop fighting the guards."

Ed stiffened up again. "You don't know... If I stopped
fighting them, they might get ideas."

"Ideas?"

"The one who took away my brush. He first offered to braid
my hair, in return for me doing something for him. I told him anything he stuck
in my mouth would be bitten off. He took the brush to punish me, but he didn't
ask again. That was less than two hours into my sentence."

Roy gritted his teeth. "How long are you in for?"

"Six months. No, five months and 23 days."

"You think a week was bad... I've been in here twelve
months. Trust me, you don't want to stay a day longer than you absolutely have
to. Keep fighting the guards and they will tack more time onto your sentence."

"That's not fair."

"They aren't fair. Did you stand before a judge?"

Ed's shook his head.

"Hold still," Roy retrieved a particularly dense mat at
the base of his neck. "Then they can pretty much keep you here as long or as
short as they like. You aren't on record. You've fallen into the 'grey' zone
of military justice."

Ed slouched. "How do we fight them when they don't fight
fair."

Softly, in his ear: "We fight smart. We give them what
they want and keep our eyes open until they slip up." Ed shivered involuntarily
but didn't pull away.

"And what if they never slip up?"

"They already have, three times now. With any luck they
won't know how badly until it's far too late."

Promise and Threat

Midnight was there to escort Roy to work the next day. Ed had stood up, too
but Midnight had shaken his head. "Not you. Not yet." Ed sat down again. The
kid looked a hell of a lot better this morning. Clean, groomed, calm. Amazing.
One might even mistake him for a normal healthy youth and not an insane chimera.
Midnight snorted, and waved Roy out of the room.

They walked out into the hall for the familiar, short
journey to the labs a floor above.

"The guards are impressed," said Midnight. "He's been
a thorn in their sides for a week, then inside of fifteen minutes you have him
eating out of your palm. I'd like to know how you did that."

"I treated him with respect and dignity, like a human
being."

"Maybe."

"We have a history together. He's used to taking orders
from me."

Midnight shrugged. "In any case, our time table is pretty
pressed. I'd like to put him to work. Can I trust him?"

"I'll keep him in check."

"You better, because if he starts acting up in the lab,
it won't be him we'll punish. It'll be you."

Roy nodded. "Understood."

Midnight hesitated. "Three days. If he can keep his cool
for three days I'll let him work. If you can't get him civil in a week, I'm
sending him back to his own cell and he can spend the rest of his months in
solitary. You can tell him that, too."

Roy's mouth tensed but he said nothing.