"Greeson." The way Mason said the word implied it was an order. Ed heard boots on the floor, approaching, and felt fingers in his hair, pulling his head back.
"I can see you're trembling." It was Mason's voice in his ear, a low snarl. "You're a fucking coward. You're not even facing death, you piece of lunatic shit—just some metal and leather."
Ed swallowed hard. At high velocity, he thought, beating back a hysterical giggle.
"You lucky bitch," Mason continued. "You should have been put to death. It would've been just a small favor to all the parents out there who lost sons to your miserable alchemical experiments—"
"Wait," Ed interrupted, clearing his throat to keep out a slight tremor. "Let me make sure I've got this straight. Are you whipping me because I missed labor for two days, or because you think I killed your son?"
There was a moment of dark silence. Mason released Ed's hair with a shove, and a moment later a gag was being shoved into his mouth. Ed couldn't help remembering the first time this had happened, fear sharpening his senses, making him feel the cold metal on his wrists and the hair rising on the back of his neck.
"Regardless, Elric ... you just remember you earned this."
Ed didn't hear the whip coming this time; he just felt sharp, blinding pain, and it didn't fade. He didn't even know if he made a noise or not. When he came back to himself, he had bitten down into the cloth gag as hard as he could and he was shaking, feeling as if something hot and wet was on his back.
"Give me that—"
There was another burst of pain. Ed's ears were ringing after this one; he had the sensation of spinning. He closed his eyes to try and get a grip on himself—
When he came back to, he was on the floor and very woozy.
"It's fucking blades on this thing!" Mason sounded like he was very far away, and speaking through layers of clothing.
"I told you that!" Greeson's voice.
"Shit. Shit, what a mess. For God's sake, get the doc."
"Thought you wanted Elric dead, you—"
"I also still have a wife and a daughter to care for, you damned—call the doc, that's an order!"
Ed didn't hear Greeson's response. His ears were ringing too loudly to hear much of anything.
"Elric!" People were patting his cheek now; he couldn't hear Mason or Greeson. "Elric, wake up!"
I passed out again? Ed tried to force his eyes open, tried to say something that would convince everyone to leave him alone. "'m fine."
"No, you're not fine. Lay still—!" Something sharp jabbed into Ed's flesh shoulder, and Ed jerked.
"N-no shots," he protested, delerious. His fingers felt cold, and his head pounded. Things were spiraling far out of his control. He moved to get up and push away, but his hands wouldn't obey him, and gradually the voices blurred to a buzz over his head, which he was only too glad to close his eyes and ignore.
Had time passed? Ed felt as if only seconds before he had been injected with something unwanted, but when he wearily blinked to wakefulness, he was on a bed he remembered all too well. He felt sleepy, a little dizzy. "Yeah?" he mumbled. His eyes wouldn't focus.
"Is he awake?"
"As much as can be expected." The infirmary practitioner. "I have him on painkillers. That lash is meant for one hit only—! How many times have I—"
"Yes, we know you consider it barbaric." Ed recognized the voice distantly. "But the threat must remain. Mr. Elric, please look at me."
Ed turned his head towards the voice, which was owned by a blurry, bearded figure. It couldn't be ... the warden? "This is very familiar," Ed slurred.
"I wish it was not," the warden said, his voice sorrowful, but also tinged with anger. "All matters cannot, perhaps, be addressed at this time, but events have occurred that I cannot ignore." He paused expectantly.
Ed made a weak motion for continuance with his flesh hand. His automail was unresponsive.
"Mr. Jeremy Mason had you admitted to the infirmary last night after supper." Ed saw him lean forward and fold his hands together. "You had recieved three lashes with the cat'o'nine tails, excessive by any count, but especially given that the crime you were accused of was simple failure to appear at labor." He leaned over, retrieving paper from a somewhere out of Ed's range of vision. "Ah, and also ... an unprovoked attack on a fellow inmate. Your cellmate, by the records." He paused. "According to the infirmary records, you were, in fact, admitted to the infirmary for both days that you had been absent at labor, were you not?"
Ed nodded and cleared his throat. "I was informed that my ... complaints ... weren't enough to warrant absence from labor."
"Yet according to this, you couldn't walk without assistance!"
Ed colored. "I could have—" he protested, but the warden raised a hand.
"I'm not interested in your pride, Mr. Elric." The warden coughed self-importantly. "Ahem, yes. So, you were concussed and ... sexually assaulted by 'that rapist'—your cellmate. Yet you did not file a complaint with the infirmary?"
"I ..." Ed hesitated. "I couldn't let it happen again."
"He would have been removed from your room, formal hearings would have been held, and if he had been found guilty of assault he would have recieved proper punishment." Ed's vision was clearing a little, and he saw a smile quirk on the warden's lips. "Although I would not argue that impotence isn't a fitting punishment."
Ed was floored. He turned his head to stare up at the ceiling. Had the warden just cracked a joke about him attempting to kick a man's balls into his throat!?
"Mr. Elric? What made you think you had to take this matter into your own hands?"
I got sucked into this world, Ed thought distantly. He remembered, when he'd first come here, how petty everything had seemed, how stupid the gang life and the fight for top dog had appeared ... but now, here he was, fighting for the same thing. And yet ... it was impossible to go back to thinking the way he had. How could he explain it to someone who had never been there, had never fought that same, stupid, water-treading fight? "If I didn't do it myself, it would have been license to ... everyone else." Ed turned his head towards the warden. "Maybe not my bunkmate. Someone else. Someone gets away with it once, and then someone else wants to try, like it's some kind of fucking game!" Ed's breathing grew harsh, and suddenly he felt as if someone had stabbed him in the back. He arched his back up from the bedding with a wince.
"Easy, now!" Ed's eyes flew back open as hands gently pressed him back down towards the cot. It was the practitioner. "Relax."
Ed closed his eyes obediently and took deep breaths; he could almost feel the drugs taking hold of him again, pulling him under, but into a blessed fuzziness that hardly hurt at all.
"All right. He's all right." He felt the hands let up.
"Good. Mr. Elric, please look at me."
Ed slowly turned his head back to the warden, feeling drained. Warden Grisham's face was impassive; Edward couldn't read his emotions at all.
"We've gotten away from the point a bit." The warden's tone was neutral. "It's clear the attack was not ... utterly unprovoked. It is also clear to me that you were incapacitated for those two days spent in the infirmary and unfit for labor." He bowed his head and sighed aloud. "Mr. Mason attested that he hit you once with the cat'o'nine tails, but the practitioner indicates three strikes with the whip and a series of circular burns down your spine. Mr. Mason would not take responsibility for the two strikes or the burns, but nor would he tell me who was responsible. Mr. Elric, would you happen to know?"
Greeson, Ed thought furiously. What a fucking weasel. Mason was bad enough, but at least he hadn't left Ed to die. He felt a momentary, grudging respect that Mason had stood up and taken his hits—and on Edward's behalf, even if it had been to save himself from worse trouble—before he quashed it furiously. If he hadn't done this in the first place, he wouldn't have had to take any hits at all!
But isn't that awfully hypocritical of me, to even think that ... if I hadn't wanted to ressurrect Mom, would I have been in Lior, trying to gain my brother's new body? Isn't all of this my fault? If he went back far enough, with any event in his life, it seemed Edward had always laid his own bed of troubles.
Ed grit his teeth. The least he could do was make sure Greeson went down with Mason—faster than Mason, really. "Greeson," he said. "He did everything else. I remember clearly up until the third hit." It was a lie—Ed hadn't even known he'd been struck a third time—but how was Warden Grisham to know that? It was close enough to the truth.
The warden nodded, then nodded in the direction of the infirmary door. Ed jerked up his head, causing a momentary dizziness, but he caught a—was that a military uniform? "Huh?"
"This is a civilian prison, but the military is at the head of police force." The warden spoke matter-of-factly. "I answer directly to the Warrant Officers."
Ed frowned. He felt worn out. "What are you going to do?"
"That's not your concern." The warden stood. "Recover, Mr. Elric. Your debt to society should not be so easily paid." He didn't wait for a response, but walked smartly out the door.
Two days later, the practitioner was redressing Edward's torn skin when he said casually, "I just heard Greeson got fired."
Ed jerked his head up and instantly regretted it. "Wha—ow! Ugh, wh-what?"
The practitioner shrugged. "It's just a rumor."
But Edward never saw Greeson again.