A History of Violence

chapter 1.

In a cell block, you learn not to dream. Nightmares get you into trouble; twitching implies no defense. If you start screaming, someone will be sure to let you know about it, so over time you just train yourself to wake up before it ever starts happening. It is better to shake full-alert in the darkness than helpless and vulnerable, just asking for someone's fist to come crashing down.

Edward snaps awake at precisely three thirty-one in the morning, safe in a bed next to his one and only brother, and for the life of him he cannot imagine why.

He closes his eyes and waits as his body just shudders, without any input from his more developed brain; clamps his teeth together tightly to keep them from chattering. The nightmare is just that, the evening's vicious animal, and the shakes trample over him residually even though he is perfectly awake. Of the dream itself, he has little memory. They are never substantial, just individual pockets of fear working out of his system. They have to come out sometime, he figures; better it natural than the way some people work it.

His brother stirs only slightly beside him, makes a curious burbling noise that he almost thinks he remembers, somewhere in that great once upon-a-time that used to be their lives together. His silky hair flutters impressively in the moonlight as he squirms beneath the comforter; only the very crest of his head visible at all. Edward is fascinated by the sheer resolution of it, how every last strand is crisp and not blurred into a matt. He had forgotten what "clean" meant until he was physically confronted with it.

Practically assaulted. His goddamn breath even smells sweet, he can tell it from here. Edward cups his hand to his mouth and exhales into it, practically spits his own tongue out at the awful result. Garbage. He shouldn't even be in the same room as his brother, just yet. He rolls out of bed and stumbles toward the bathroom, still reluctant to let his eyes leave his sibling's golden hair. Alphonse is perfect. He is everything they had ever prayed he would be.

At least Edward could settle for taking a goddamn shower.

He almost forgets to turn the light on when he slips into the tiny room, so disoriented by the scene change; the toilet actually sprouts from the floor like a civilized stool. There is an actual door to close behind him. And there is a bathtub. A bathtub. Edward nearly weeps. He hasn't sat down and had a soak for almost six years, and he can't begin to imagine how good it will feel. He feels momentarily guilty when the pipes start to clank, but when the water comes out hot he ultimately can't be arsed to care. They can both sleep as long as they want tomorrow; if he wakes Al up now he can surely be forgiven.

The moon seems to be staring at him judgmentally, though—it reflects off the creaking pipes like a bright little eye. He shifts uncomfortably and looks at the door again, wonders if Al can sleep through this. If perhaps he won't be able to sleep again. Something inside of him is acutely concerned that he's doing something Wrong, that it goes against the order of things for him to be in here on the sly. His brother will wake up and this whole dream will end, and it will be nobody's fault but his own.

He shuts the water off before it's even filled half-way up, but for as dirty as he is, he reasons, that should probably be enough. No sense in wasting an entire load. He strips and slips a foot in with a low hiss—jerks it out again with a yelp. Pins and needles; cold feet on a cold floor don't work well with sudden warmth. He tries again with the automail first and manages to lower himself this time. The water turns instantly cloudy, but that's exactly as he expected. It is a welcome sight to see, because it means he is going to be clean.

He sighs and relaxes as far as he can against the unyielding porcelain, which digs into his shoulder blades ever so slightly. The warmth around his back is nothing short of exquisite, releases a tension he didn't even know he was holding. And there's a real bar of soap, not just a messy ball of soap-scraps.

A bit hard, though. He sneers at it in annoyance as it refuses to work up a lather despite his very best efforts. If Matheson were on duty, he'd have his ass for being so slow. Showers were supposed to be three minutes, but the way THAT fucker ran things it was really more like two, and if you didn't have your final rinse done by the time that second hand swung around again—

He pauses to consider the very real possibility that he will never see Matheson again, so long as they both shall live, and decides he is infinitely, infinitely blessed.

Just to spite the Mathesons of the world, he stops soaping immediately, and just sloshes back and forth for a bit, rolls the heat up and over his chest. Bliss. Absolute. Bliss. It is like books on a Sunday, or ice cream at Christmas; the most sinfully indulgent extravagance he could never dream big enough to think of. Just a bit of water. Amazing, how perfect this is.

Perfect gift, from his perfect brother, who has hair like fine threads and soft, delicate skin.

He skates the tips of his fingers over his own calloused, skinny body, the cleft of his collarbones. Jutting lengths of his ribs. It is just is anatomy, same as it always is, but it was clear in Al's eyes that this was not what his brother was expecting. It is vaguely discomforting to realize that he, too, was once just as stocky as Al. He flexes a bicep and watches it ripple with satisfaction; it pops right out and stays there. His muscles are the marks of his physical prowess, and it bothers him that Al cannot see that. Everyone's bones show. Not everyone's muscles do.

He realizes with a growing discomfort that the water has taken a turn for the chilly side; it has gone cool around his flanks and is working on his groin as well. He turns automatically toward the towel at the wall, but it is so far away (over frigid tile!!!), and all he really wants is to just wrap himself up in that earlier warmth and let himself soak until he damn well pickled. He eyes the spigot warily and thinks about turning it on again, but the clanking would return; only way out is alchemy. He whips his head around, paranoid, but of course no one watches—no one is THERE to watch. His brother is asleep. His parole officer is hundreds of miles away. He can put his goddamn hands together (transmuting or not!), and nobody is going to give a shit at all.

Better be careful. He tells himself. Maybe you got too used to being a celebrity.

He chuckles softly to himself, harshly, as the reaction cascades and the steam starts to rise again. The silvery moon shines on through the solitary bathroom window, and all Edward can think is how strange it looks to have glass that's not covered by bars.