part 4 of The Unforgiveness Arc

Ed was vaguely aware of shouting and anger when he was dragged back out of solitary, although he had no real idea how long it had been.

When he woke up again, it was on a cot (heavenly soft, it seemed), and laying on his stomach (he never slept that way). He blinked slowly. His back throbbed, but distantly, and when he moved, he felt pulling—-dressing tape? He was dizzy. Cold metal was looped around his wrist; when he jerked his arm up, it stopped short with a rattle. Handcuffed.

"Mr. Elric."

Ed grimaced a little at the voice and craned his neck to see who'd spoken. "Yeah?" his voice was scratchy.

"I'm Warden Marshal Grisham. You're in the infirmiary. Do you know why you're here?"

"... not ... not really." Ed remembered the beating just fine—it was the last clear thing in his head—but he'd honestly not expected anything to be treated afterwards. He could see the warden, a stocky but well-built man with a thick black beard sitting at the side of his bed. Beyond the warden, he could see one of the guards that had watched his beating and snickered.

"You were feverish and dehydrated when you were taken from solitary confinement. I'm told by Mr. Mason that you resisted being fed, and he had you punished for that." He paused. "Is that true, Mr. Elric?"

No. No, I would eat anything at all you put in front of me. I was so thirsty I would have drank my own fucking piss.

"Yes, sir," Ed said thickly, swallowing hard.

"You know that hunger strikes are against regulation, and Mr. Mason was fully within his rights to have you lashed?"

"... Yes." Ed closed his eyes again. "It won't happen again."

"Glad to hear it, Mr. Elric." The warden stood. "Your automail will be returned to you upon your discharge from the infirmiary and you will return to your usual cell. I hope we can trust we will not hear about any more alchemical incidents?"

There was something about the way he said it, nervously, that told Edward the warden believed everything he'd heard about Lior. Cogs turned slowly in Ed's head and ground to a halt. He was definitely drugged.

"No, you won't," Ed agreed. He wouldn't give them that kind of oppurtunity again.

From now on, he'd win his fights before his opponents had a chance to even think.

"Mason was out of line."

Ed jerked fully awake when he heard the voice over his bed. "What?" he asked, voice still thick and scratchy. His eyes were glued shut.

"Here, sit up." A gentle hand guided him to his knees, and a cold glass was pressed to his lips. Ed felt water on his lips, and he drank obediently and eagerly. His aching, burning throat immediately felt better.

"Thanks," Ed said, letting out a hard breath, and bent over painfully to scrub at his eyes with his cuffed hand. He blinked rapidly and straightened again, still feeling dizzy, and found himself looking up at the guard he'd hit, Foley. "Er—"

Foley turned away, putting the glass of water back down on a table several feet away. When he turned back, he was solemn. "Mason was out of line," he said again. "He took that much further than I expected."

"Uh ..." Ed swallowed, momentarily unsure how to approach this. Foley had been there and hadn't done anything to prevent it, but ... he had commuted the beating, and in the face of this unsettling kindness Ed couldn't find it in himself to be furious. I'm like an attention-starved dog, he thought disgustedly. "What ... what was that all about?"

"Surely you can guess." Foley's smile was sardonic.

Ed thought back. He remembered the fight Foley and Mason had ... something about ... "Someone die?" he asked—and then he paled. Oh, shit. "Lior. Someone he knew died in Lior?"

"Good show. You killed his son." Foley watched him intently. "Of course, I suppose that doesn't mean much to you, as you killed your own brother at the time as well."

Ed felt like he was being stabbed. It wasn't as if he'd actually done the murders—it wasn't as if he should care what thousands of people thought of him—but it still hurt to be their scapegoat. "I'm sorry for his son," Ed said slowly.

"Are you?"

"Yes," Ed answered fervently, looking up to meet Foley's eyes. Scar ... Ed couldn't be sorry for the final result—he would never be sorry that Al had a new body—but if he'd had the power to stop Scar, he would have in a heartbeat. I missed my chance because I'm a fucking idiot.

The look Foley was giving him wasn't one of accusation, though; he was scrutinizing. "Are you really in here for a massacre?"

Ed quieted. "Don't you read the newspapers?" he asked flatly.

"Do you believe everything you read?"

"What do you want me to say?" The words were bitter. "Whether I'm innocent or not, it doesn't matter. I'm here, and nothing is going to change that." Unless Mustang keeps his promise and gets me out!

"You're not a murderer," Foley said simply.

Ed blinked. "Um ... what?"

Foley looked at him. "I'm just looking at this logically. You do that ... thing with your hands." He pressed his hands together the way Ed did when he performed alchemy. "And then you can do instant alchemy. Doing alchemy will get you in solitary again, don't mistake me, but ... when you were fighting the skinheads ..." Foley paused thoughtfully. "You used alchemy. But not lethally. If you were going to use alchemy anyway, what's four more deaths? What would that be to you, a mass murderer?" His gaze was intent when he turned back to Ed. "You used it in self-defense only.

"You're not a murderer, Elric. I don't know why the hell you're here, but now that I've thought about it, it's not for killing anyone."

"Then why did you just watch Mason beat the shit out of me?" Ed asked immediately, unable to help the bitterness lacing his tone.

Foley looked pensive. "You put one of those skinheads in a coma, and ... well, he was my beat," he said slowly. "I got my pay docked for a week, and I've got kids and a wife. I was pretty angry, and I still thought ... but afterwards, I got to thinking again." He pressed his lips thin. "I owe you an apology, Elric."

Ed looked down. "Yeah, well." He wasn't sure he could accept the apology, but it hadn't crossed his mind that beating the shit out of people affected the guards. "I can't say I won't do it again," he said. "People mess with me, I'm going to make sure they never so much as think about doing it again."

"Mm." Foley also seemed to have no answer to that.

"Well, you got your revenge, so I'm not sorry." Ed slid down to lay on his side.

"I am," Foley said, but then he retreated back to the door and assumed his post.

Foley was the guard at the infirmiary every third shift. Ed's sleep schedule quickly came to revolve around that, so he was awake when Foley was there but dozing or asleep when the other two guards were present. They talked sometimes, uneasily. Ed would be released from the cuffs long enough so he could eat. It was evident that Foley was a low man on the totem pole of prison guards; he'd only been stationed at Third Central for three years, while many of the others had been around for five years or more. Mason was the most senior.

Four days of this passed before Edward woke up with his back smarting more sharply than it had since solitary. Foley was nowhere to be found; instead, another guard was unlocking his cuffs, and his automail was being laid out.

"You're off your painkillers, Mr. Elric. How do you feel?" said the infirmiary practitioner.

"Hurts. I'm going back to my cell?" Ed asked.

"Yes. You'll recieve new dressings for your weals each day, but otherwise you'll be returning to your usual schedule."

Ed almost asked where Foley was, but he caught himself.

He didn't see the guard again for months.