Power Play

part 5 of The Unforgiveness Arc

It had been nearly two weeks since Ed's last public appearance when Ed left the infirmary, and he found that word had spread quickly. Some inmates thought Ed had actually left one of the skinheads impotent (although it was true that one was in a coma). Most everyone gave him a wide berth in the halls and when he got in line for food in the mess, or water during the long hours of pointless labor—chipping rocks, or digging holes.

Ed only punched two people for nearly three months, and both had punched him first. The worst they'd suffered was broken noses and the humiliation of defeat by a boy half their size (and sometimes their age), but on the whole, Edward gave no guard reason to lay a single hand on him. He kept an eye out for Foley, but he only caught glimpses. The man worked on the other end of the prison.

It was nearly three months later, when the weather was at its fairest in spring, that Ed had trouble again, and from a fairly new fellow. Ed didn't make it his business to keep track of the inmates, but it was pretty obvious which ones were new; they were the ones that smirked at him, or didn't give him room—and then they would be pulled aside, whispered at, and the altercation would end before it ever began.

It was mid-morning. Edward had stripped to the waist, as had most of the others—the work was hot, and the sun was more than enough to overheat the inmates. The sunburns had given way to dark tans. What Edward had once hidden, he now flaunted; the automail was an obvious show of power. Sometimes, it did Ed's work for him.

He leaned over his shovel and panted for breath, taking a short breather. If I added a stabilization line to the middle of the array, I could probably make all these stupid ditches at once. It was the twentieth such array that he'd thought of.

That was when someone stumbled into him so hard it knocked him off his feet. Off-balance, Ed fell on his rump with a grunt, his tailbone protesting. "Shit," he groused, rubbing the base of his spine.

"Oh, I'm sorry," mocked a voice over Ed's head. "Is ... is that Elric I bumped into? Oh, no, what's he going to do to me?"

Ed looked up into a sallow face framed by mousy, greasy hair. He'd never seen the guy before—or the two thin-shouldered, smirking men with him. He pressed his lips thin, gritting his teeth. "They've got showers in here, you know," he said, rolling to his knees to get up carefully. "Would it kill you to use them?"

He was utterly surprised when he was kicked in the seat of his pants. Ed toppled forward into his own ditch face first with an undignified squawk to the sound of laughter.

Okay, that fucker's going down, Ed thought furiously.

It took him a moment or two to right himself and scramble back up out of the ditch, but by the time he'd done so, the mousy-haired inmate had moved on—with Ed's shovel.

Ed gaped in horror. "You piece of shit!" he roared, about to take off after the miserable little wretch, when he saw a guard heading his way. He froze.

"Elric, where's your shovel?" the guard asked, trying to sound indifferent, but Ed hadn't forgotten his face. He was one of the guards who had mocked him as his hair was cut off.

Ed cleared his throat and jerked his thumb after the mousy-haired man. "It's that way, somewhere," he said. "Walked off on its own."

"Ha ha, Elric." The guard sneered. "Since you didn't see fit to have a shovel with you, I guess you can finish digging with your hands. And you so much as think about using alchemy and I'll have your ass in a cuckold, you got me?"

"Bet you'd like my dick in a cuckold, cocksucker," Ed snarled under his breath.

Edward was surprised to learn the guard had out his gun. He didn't realize it until he'd already been whipped across the face with it. He hit the ground, clutching his cheek and biting his tongue, stars behind his eyes. "Watch your tongue and get back to work!"

Ed eventually collected himself, and face burning with humiliation and frustration, he got on his knees at the bottom of his ditch and clawed at the clay.

It wasn't until after their water break at noon that the inmate next to Ed spoke up. "Hey Elric," he said. "Heard that guy's in Bloc C, supper at five," he said casually.

Ed massaged his blistered and raw fingers on his flesh hand. "Thanks," he said darkly.

It was the first time Edward had been out and not on his usual schedule. It was a simple matter to request the earlier supper, and as the guard currently on his beat had no real interest in Edward's wellbeing one way or the other he agreed readily, escorting Ed to the mess.

The advantage to being so distinctive-looking was that sometimes Edward didn't have to look for people; they found him first. Mousy saw him almost immediately and Ed looked up to see the rat of a human approaching, a smirk stretching his face wide. "How'd you get that bruise on your temple, Elric? Being a little prick again? I know how it is with the guards, you know," he sneered. "I hear they have a ... thing for you, Elric. Keep out a special eye."

"Yeah? You got big ears, dickhead," Ed growled, eyes sweeping over the mess hall. "If you think I'm going to kiss your ass 'cause you're in with the guards—"

"Oh, you're not?" said Mousy mildly. Then, quite suddenly, he bent over, folding his hands between his legs. "Ow! Fuck, Elric!" he screeched, managing a very realistic imitation of a man who'd just been kicked in the balls. "What the fuck did I do to you!?"

Ed backpedaled. "The fuck's wrong with you!?" he snapped, but already a guard was starting over. Ed sucked in a long, deep breath and set his teeth.

"All right, Nelson, what did Elric do?" the guard sounded a little exasperated. Ed wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not.

"He kicked me in the goddamn nuts! For no fucking reason!"

"You little piece of shit," Ed started furiously, but the guard grabbed his shoulder before he could continue.

"Seems unlike Elric," he said doubtfully. He raised his eyebrows at Ed, and Ed glared back.

"Why the fuck would I lie about this!?" Nelson was doing an excellent impression, really. Ed wanted to really kick him in the balls for this.

The guard scrutinized them both. "... All right, whatever," the guard threw up his hands. "Elric, back to your cell. Nelson, take it like a goddamn man."

Ed balked—no supper?—but he didn't say a word to the guard. He started forward, but the guard grabbed his shoulder again.

"Look, Elric," the man said quietly. "It's Nelson, and he's a weasel. But I heard about your little fight during labor today. You keep this up and I'll tell Mason, if he doesn't already know. You follow me?"

Ed nodded mechanically, and he saw Nelson smirk as he passed by.

Technically, it would have been easiest to just try to avoid Nelson, but over the next few days the man made himself a regular thorn in Ed's side. He spit in Ed's food, shoved him out of line for water and put up a fuss when Edward made a noise of protest, kicked him when no one was looking, and actually had the gall to attempt to pull his pants down (Ed got a hold of them before he was humiliated). If Ed so much as raised a middle finger, Nelson was opening his mouth to call a guard down on Edward's head. Nelson was exactly what Ed had been scared of: an inmate who figured out that Edward was the guards' bitch.

The torture was endurable, if humiliating, but more worryingly, he was starting to get ... contemplating looks again. Speculating looks.

Edward was supposed to be above such looks.

Nelson had to go. The trouble was, Ed had yet to figure out how to get rid of him.

Edward stretched his back one afternoon during labor, looking up at the clear blue sky and rubbing his neck, when something hard hit the back of his flesh knee. His knee buckled and Ed scrambled to catch his balance, then turned to shout furiously in Nelson's face—only it wasn't Nelson.

It was Mason.

"Feeling cocky lately, are we?" Mason asked, and Ed could feel his hand fist in the back of the neck of Ed's shirt.

"I haven't touched a guard and I haven't mouthed back, either," Ed answered quietly, standing very still. "Point in fact, I haven't touched that fucking retard Nelson either, so what's the problem?"

"At least fifteen almost-incidents," Mason said flatly, "All with Nelson. You have a problem with him?"

"..." Ed opened his mouth to reply, then thought better of it. "... no, sir. I'll see it doesn't happen again."

"See that it doesn't," Mason answered, shoving Ed forward. He stumbled, but Mason was already going.

"Thanks," Ed mumbled as he hefted his shovel again. "Mason, you just gave me a brilliant idea."

The third Sunday of each month was a free Sunday, and the inmates were allowed to do more or less as they pleased for most of the day. The first holiday, Edward had been in solitary, but the second holiday Edward had spent reading books furiously. This holiday, Edward had other plans.

Nelson had a little 'gang', if one could even call it that—a group of equally weaselly people that hung around him, clinging to each other in the shadow of the prison guards. Most of the prisoners treated them like shit, but Edward—whom no one messed with any more—never raised a hand against them, and that was what caused the speculation and contemplation that Ed didn't want. Nelson and his little group were huddled at the edge of a barbed-wire-topped cement wall that cut off the prison from the city on the other side.

Ed made no effort to hide it; he marched across the field, doing his best to appear filled with righteous anger. Apparently he was doing a damned good job, because Nelson's group began to scatter like rats with their tails on fire. Nelson himself smirked at Edward with what looked like a lot of bravado.

"I hear Mason's on vacation. That got you bolder?" Nelson sneered as Edward came close.

Edward raised his eyebrows. "I don't need Mason's fucking permission to do anything, you piece of shit," he said flatly.

He grabbed Nelson by the throat.

Nelson choked, his eyes wide. Edward smirked as coldly as he could manage as he squeezed the man's windpipe shut.

"They told me I couldn't do alchemy," he said in a low voice. "And I told myself that you were really ... beneath me. Not worth my gooddamn time. But then I thought, what am I thinking!?" Ed gestured wildly with his free hand; Nelson was turning red, his eyes bugging out, obviously terrified. "What do I care about whether you live or die? I'm a mass murderer!" Ed grinned psychotically. "It's not like anyone's giving me time off for good behavior." He leaned up to whisper in Nelson's ear. "So why shouldn't I have some good old ... fun?"

He waited a moment longer, holding Nelson by the throat while Nelson tore uselessly at Ed's shirt and automail, and then he suddenly released the weasel. The man fell to his knees, choking.

"Think I'll keep you alive a little longer. I like to see 'em spasm in their final breaths," Ed snarled. "So, please, come bother me again! I know a few great ditches where they'll never find your body."

"F-fugging—" Nelson wheezed, on his hands and knees at Edward's feet. "Nudcase—!"

"Hey, between the two of us, only one of us has been harrassing a cold-blooded killer," Ed answered nonchalantly. "See ya around, Nelson."

One of his best performances, he thought. Too bad he'd had to waste it on such a little prick.