Not Alone

part 3 of The Unforgiveness Arc

Solitary was a three-meter by three-meter room furnished by a moth-eaten blanket. There were no windows. The door was thick and fresh air came from a small pipe in the ceiling. There was no light. There was almost no sound. And there was nothing to do.

Ed had a decent internal clock. He felt his stomach growl insistently as dinnertime came and went; he estimated supper was when his stomach was clawing his backbone. He spent the day scouring the cell for something to write with, anything, crawling on his hand and knee and stump—he couldn't, wouldn't escape, but anything to maybe let the light in, do something to alleviate the boredom. There was nothing. He considered using blood, but the last thing he needed was a damn infection. He tried sleeping, but he was so hungry that it was fitful.

By the time he woke up for good, his internal clock had completely lost track of time.

There was no food. There was still no food. No light. No food. No sound.

Ed began to understand why some people talked to themselves.

Instead, he talked to Al. He talked to Mustang, said all the things he wished he'd said. Reviewed, over and over, if there was any way he could have avoided prison. He ran through the alchemical principles, created two new arrays in his head for making food from basic ingredients, and dreamed up the first chapter of his book about how every theory about the Stone was basically wrong. He reviewed the fight that had ended with him here. What the fuck had that been, anyway!? Didn't a guy get a reputation? He'd been convicted for killing thousands of people, brutally murdering his little brother, and these people still wanted to mess with him? They must have thought themselves pretty badass.

His head pounded. Ed curled up by the door and watched his hand as it shook uncontrollably.

"I'm thirsty," he called. "For fuck's sake, just a little water."

No answer.

If he couldn't hear them, they couldn't hear him. He'd seen how thick the door was. He pounded on it, called out, curled up into a ball and moaned in agony when the headache grew worse.

"I'm gonna die, you fucking bastards!" he screamed.

No answer.

When he woke up he was choking as something scalding hot was poured into his mouth. Ed spluttered, coughed, swallowed hard. Liquid!

"Drink up, Elric, it's the best you're gonna get," laughed whomever was looming over him. Ed didn't wait for the invitation; he drank eagerly, tongue burned beyond taste. The cup was snatched away all too soon, and Ed made a motion to grab for it, weakly. Someone slapped him across his sore jaw for trying.

Ed swallowed hard and breathed slowly, getting his bearings. Despite the drink, his mouth felt dry; swallowing hurt. He coughed. People were grabbing his arm and shoulder, hauling him up to his foot. "We're gonna take a little walk down the hall," someone said.

"Can' walk. Leg would help," Ed slurred. His tongue felt thick.

"You won't need it just yet. Come on." He was pushed out into the hall, half-dragged.

The light hurt his eyes. Ed remembered, vaguely, having modesty, but there was something about prisons and nakedness. He would swear by it. Naked for inspections, naked for showers, naked for goddamn solitary—naked for whatever the fuck this was. At least there was ... stimulation, or something.

They half-carried him into another room, mercifully dim, that smelled vaguely of blood, although Ed wasn't sure of that. His own odor was more than pungent. But then he caught a whiff of—oh, was that toast? Butter—

"Good morning, Elric." Ed turned his head to see who it was, but the guard pushing him down into a metal chair blocked his view. His wrist was yanked back and tied down; someone lashed his foot to the leg of the chair. "Welcome back from solitary."

There was a table in front of him, set with buttered toast and sunny-side-down eggs and orange juice and milk—even milk. He would take anything now. The smell was heavenly. This had to be what the guards ate or something. "Foo'," he said. "Puh—" he swallowed again. His tongue felt swollen to twice its normal size.

The guard sitting across from him was someone Ed had never seen before. He smiled, but it wasn't a friendly look. Ed glared at him. "You want some of this? I'm not supposed to give it to you, you know. This isn't for prisoners." He paused. "But I know you must be hungry, so I'll make an exception." He leaned forward and tore off a piece of the toast. "Here." He pushed it towards Ed's lips.

Ed wasn't above accepting the food straight from the man's fingers, but as soon as it made contact with his gums, his tongue—it was like tiny knives in his mouth. He could barely chew. "Guh—" he wasn't going to be able to swallow it. He bent over and spit out the toast on the table.

"What's the problem, Elric!?" The guard's hand slammed down on the table, and he stood over it, grabbing Ed's jaw and forcing him to look up. "That's perfectly good food! You trying to starve yourself!?"

"Can' chew," Ed grimaced. "Water—" Cold. Something cold—

The guard let go of his jaw, but only to backhand him across the face. Ed's head whipped sideways. "Going on a hunger strike is against regulations here, Elric," the guard hissed. "That's three days you wouldn't eat, now."

"Fuggin' liar," Ed snarled, but he didn't get out another word before dirty material was shoved between his teeth and pulled back. He felt the gag being tied smartly behind his head, and he breathed hard through his nose as he rolled his eyes up to glare at the guard across from him.

"Refusing to eat is punishable by lashes," the guard said cooly. He held out his hand; Ed watched with growing horror as another guard placed a bullwhip in it. "Just consider yourself lucky we couldn't get the cat'o'ninetails. Get him up."

The guard who'd handed the first guard the bullwhip moved to help another untie Edward's hands and leg and haul him back out of the chair. Fury at the unfairness of this coursed through Edward; he struggled, catching one guard across the face before they managed to restrain him. "Remember," hissed one guard in his ear, "our agreement."

Yeah? Where's my automail now!? Ed thought furiously as he was hauled backwards. At least three men had a hold on him. He snarled at the man through his gag.

"Or," the guard continued, "You won't get back the automail at all."

Ed clenched his fist, hissing, but he was had. It didn't matter at this point, anyway; his arm was hauled up, stretched over his head, and he was lashed to a hook hanging from the ceiling. It was just low enough that he could put down the balls of his foot on the ground, but he had no purchase. He watched with uncomfortable anticipation as the guard with the whip went to the guard Ed had caught in the face; he was wiping blood off his lip. "Here," he said calmly, a thin, frightening smile on his face. "Do the honors, if you wish."

Ed turned away. He counted guards, trying to memorize faces. The guard in charge of this, obviously, had sandy hair and brown eyes, a medium build. Two guards he couldn't quite make out standing on either side of the door in the dimness. The one with a bloody lip. And he could hear another one moving around over to his left.

The guard with the bloody lip looked at the bullwhip in his hand, then up at Ed, and a small, unhappy frown crossed his face. Ed swallowed against the gag.

He pressed the whip back into the first guard's hands. "Ten lashes, Mason. That's it," he said quietly. "Don't forget."

"You're so legalistic, Foyer," Mason rolled his eyes. He took the whip with a flourish. "Don't worry—he won't get any more or less than he deserves." He met Ed's eyes, and Ed barely kept himself passive in the face of the utter hatred there. What the fuck was this guy's problem?

Mason moved out of Ed's range of vision. His arm was beginning to go numb.

The first whipcrack arched his back from the sheer noise as much as the sudden, lancing pain across his back. It faded to a throb quickly, and Ed panted through his gag, squeezing his eyes shut. He doubted this lashing would end at ten strokes, but he counted down anyway, fighting to hold himself against the ground with his toes. Nine. Eight. Seven—the whip curled over his shoulder and tore against the muscles between his automail and neck. Six. Five. Four. Three—he bunched the muscles in his arm, chewing the gag in his mouth to catch a cry. Two. One.

The lashing stopped. Ed panted through his nose, waiting, but when nothing came, he slowly began to relax, muscles trembling.

He heard the whistle of air before he felt the whip cross his back again. It hurt even more for the surprise of it, and he made a sound for the first time. "Nngh!" He didn't relax again, holding himself tremblingly still, slitting his eyes open cautiously.

"Mason!" cried Foley. One of the guards at the door nudged the other and snickered.

"Relax, Foley," Mason sneered. "I'm just going to see if Elric's still feeling obstinate about eating." A hand pressed into his back, and Ed grunted, wincing, but fingers were picking at his gag. It fell loose and was roughly pulled from his mouth. "How're you feeling, Elric?"

"Fugg you," Ed panted, shaking. His lips were cracked; he could taste blood. "I can' chew! I wan' food, bu' I can' chew!"

"If you can chew, why don't you?" Mason said smugly, going to the table and ripping off another piece of toast. He tried to force it into Ed's mouth; Ed bit his fingers instead. "Ow! You piece of shit!"

"Chew on dat, fugger!" Ed snarled, spitting out the toast.

Mason hauled back and struck Ed across the face with the butt of the bullwhip. "I don't think you want your automail back very badly!"

"I jus' wanna drin'!" Ed's voice cracked. "I jus' wanna goddamn drin'!"

Mason grabbed him by the jaw again, digging in his fingers. "You'll get your drink when I'm good and ready, and not before. Now, assaulting a guard ... I think that's twenty lashes, if I'm not mistaken ...? And you've assaulted two of us, now."

Ed felt himself go pale, but he set his jaw. He could endure this. They didn't want him dead, after all. Flogging a dead body wasn't interesting.

Mason forced the gag back into Ed's mouth furiously and tied it so tight Ed wasn't sure it wasn't cutting into the corners of his mouth. "I'll be nice, drop the punishment to only one assault," he said as he tied off he knot. "We'll make up for it with some more time in solitary, all right?" He walked around Ed smartly.

Ed fixed his eyes on the far wall and braced himself.

By the tenth lash he could barely catch his breath, his teeth digging into the gag. His ears were ringing, and the far wall had blurred. His arm had cramped. His back ... it felt as if it was on fire.

"Mason, stop," he heard. It sounded as if it were from a million miles away. "Mason. For god's sake, he's going to faint."

"Oh, we should worry about that. Foley, he hit you in the mouth!"

"He's not your personal punching bag! Get a goddamn grip."

"This piece of shit here—"

"Mason! He's not gonna come back even if you beat this kid into a pile of broken bones!"

There was moment of silence. "You have no right to talk about—"

"Don't make me go to the warden, Mason. There's going to be questions as it is."

"He's right, Mason," agreed another voice. "Give it a rest for today. It's not like he's going anywhere." There were some snickers.

".... fine. Let him down."

The hands letting him down were not gentle, but Ed choked back any reaction. Everything hurt, but his back was nearly unbearable. Every move, every brush made him wince and suck in a breath. "Get him some water," someone said as they picked his gag off, and then he was being forced to sit up properly and a glass was jammed into his mouth. The water poured over his tongue and spilled out of his mouth and down his chin, and Ed drank painfully but as fast as he could before it was snatched away again.

He never remembered the trip back to solitary, but at least he didn't have to try to entertain himself this time. The fever-dreams were more than enough.