The showers at Third Central Prison were three minutes long, no more, no less, but afterwards, it was enough time to get his hair wet, soapy, and rinsed before the water stopped.
It stung more than Edward was willing to admit that the guards were right. He would have been forced to chop off his own hair within a week, surely; it would have grown ratty, he would have gotten lice, and the braid was ... too convenient a handhold.
I was a real dick, Ed thought as he tried to rub life back into his flesh shoulder. His whole shoulder would be black and blue by the next day. Mustang watched my back and I never even noticed.
No one here to watch his back. He missed Al so intensely that he'd wake up with wet cheeks, shivering, and thanking whatever god was out there that he hadn't woken his bunkmate. It was both a comfort and a bitter pill to know that Al didn't know him, couldn't know him, couldn't worry about him or fight for him—he was safe, tucked away in a little town not unlike Risenbourg, probably living a pleasant, easy life.
Ed was selfish. He wanted Al right here, next to him, fighting at his side.
When Ed reappeared with short hair he wasn't sure what to make of the muttering about weaknesses and sexuality, but it pleased him that the general belief was that he'd cut it off himself. That was fine. Eventually there would be no hiding the fact he was the guards' bitch, but until then, he had a reputation to create.
Ed knew a lot about building reputations.
The brig had a far different atmosphere than this civilian prison; everyone mostly minded their own business, if someone got into an altercation with someone else, the guards were quick to intervene, and for the most part, there was a sort of military decorum. There was no such thing here. There were gangs, and they had 'territory', and fights and squabbles and ... it was all very stupid, in Ed's opinion. Who cared where you were in a shithole like this? The moment they stepped outside their confined little life, they'd realize how petty and stupid everything was. But Ed was the only one of this opinion, and his opinion didn't matter at the moment. He was forced to play their game simply by existing in it.
Fortunately, breaking the skinhead's leg had already earned him merit points.
The only advantage Ed could see to being in a gang was that everyone looked out for their own. The skinheads were no exception. Two days after he'd flattened the guy, one day after his hair had been chopped off, he was in the showers again when four of the skinheads filed in the door.
Ed watched them come in, and slid towards the wall fluidly. "What the fuck is with you guys and bugging me when I'm naked?" he asked, trying to appear less jumpy than he felt.
"Poetic justice, bitch," grinned one of them. He had the right to be cocky; somehow he'd gotten hold of a knife. "Gonna slit you from navel to nose."
"You should use that thing to cut off your buddy's cock," Ed shot back, "So he doesn't embarrass you when he's caught with a guy."
There was a sick pause in which the water stopped running, then the four skinheads started to snicker. One of them, a stocky guy with a tattoo on his bald head, sneered. "We seen you with long hair. You pretty fuckable, cunt."
"Just try it," Ed snarled, falling into stance on the slippery floor, his automail arm out in front—a show of power. Four grown men; his best bet was if one of them ran away, or they were taken completely by surprise.
"Nah," sneered the knife man. "We'll just give you back to him when we're done." He lifted his chin, jerking at Ed.
The other three fell on him almost in unison. Tattoo Head was first within range, though, and Ed wheeled around and whipped him in the cheek with a high roundhouse kick—with his automail leg. He fell like a stone, but the guy next to him grabbed Ed's leg and jerked it. The floor was slippery and Ed had no purchase; his flesh leg flew out from under him and he cracked his head on the wall behind him.
Stars erupted behind his eyes. A fist slammed into his solar plexus and Ed lost his breath in a whoosh of air; he flailed blindly with his right arm and hit flesh and bone, getting a satisfying grunt of pain. Another fist slammed into his jaw though, and Ed's head whipped sideways even as his vision began to clear. He gasped for air.
They were grabbing for his arms. The quarters were too close; Ed couldn't get in a good punch. Melee fighting was a bitch, he remembered belatedly, elbowing one of the skinheads in the stomach and biting the arm of the other one. "Ah, fuck!" screeched the bitten one. "Get your fucking teeth out of my arm!" He grabbed Ed by his hair and slammed his head back into the wall again with his free hand.
Ed was still dizzy from the first crack, but he was only vaguely aware of it when his mouth slackened and the man he'd bitten punched him across the mouth. "You piece of shit!" He punched Ed again.
"Fucking relax!" snapped another voice. "Get his arms back." They were pulling his arms behind him.
Ed panted for breath, looking up through unfocused eyes to see Knife approaching with his weapon up and a sneering grin on his face. Tattoo was on the floor, groaning and trying to get up. "You're all talk," Knife laughed.
"You think so?" Ed felt a loose tooth; he hoped it didn't come out. "Come here, I'll show you the difference in skill between us," he grinned, still breathing hard.
Knife pressed his box cutter up into Edward's throat. "I think our initials would look damn good carved right here," he whispered in Ed's ear.
"Talk to me about it tomorrow, fucker," Ed whispered back.
He brushed together his crossed fingertips behind his back and pressed them against the wall.
The familiar crackle of alchemy followed, and the tiles erupted outwards, slamming into the sides of the two skinheads holding him down—-just enough to unbalance them. Just enough. Never let it be said the Full Metal Alchemist couldn't fight without his alchemy, Ed thought bitterly as both of them stumbled and their grips loosened.
"Fuck!" Knife's eyes widened, and then he made a squawking, sick sound when Ed kicked him shamelessly in the groin. He tore his arms free of the two men holding him down and shoved his shoulder into one of their chests; he slid a couple of feet on the wet floor in his boots before losing his balance and falling backwards. Ed toppled with him, still dizzy. He grabbed the man by the forehead and slammed his head back against the tiled floor once, twice, three times—the man went limp, just as fingers closed in Ed's hair again, yanking back.
"Fucking hell, what is with you people and my goddamn hair!?" Ed yelled in frustration as he was dragged back off the limp skinhead.
"Goddammit, Fullmetal!" The man who had him by the hair forced Ed to his feet. "Take his arm—put him in solitary-!"
Ed looked up and found himself face to face with a guard.
".... oh," he said belatedly.
By then, though, it was too late.