The bunk above Ed's was empty when he was marched back to his cell four days after his beating. He was forbidden from labor as well—-nothing Ed was particularly complaining about, but if whomever was on his rotation wouldn't let him have a pen and paper, it would leave him with nothing to do all day. He sat heavily on his cot—the pain in his back was still muted by painkillers—and closed his eyes. He could probably manage to sleep as much as he had in the infirmary ...
Ed looked up.
"No shit ..." Ed's eyes widened, then a smile—the first one in what felt like a fucking eternity—cracked across his face. "Foley."
"Rotation started last night," Foley said through the bars. "Don't try any funny stuff, Elric." But a smile twitched on his lips as well.
"Thought you'd never get put on this beat," Ed confessed. He looked down at his hands. The closest thing he had to a ... well, Ed didn't know if he'd call the guard a 'friend'—an ally, perhaps. "You didn't ask for it, did you?"
"Who'd ask for a mass murderer on their beat?" Foley smirked. "I got your bloc by draw." Ed heard the sound of keys, then the door began to clank open. "Mail for you."
"Mai—" Ed didn't finish his sentence as he stared at the three-inch stack of letters in Foley's hand. It was tossed in his lap. Ed stared at them, some yellowing, others crisp and fresh.
"Hale was telling me you like pen and paper, so I took the liberty of bringing some up," Foley continued, neatly placing a thick stack of paper and two pens on Ed's bunk. "And don't get too comfortable with a room to yourself; you'll be getting a new bunkmate soon. We hear he's in for grand larceny." He crossed his arms.
Ed stared at the paper, then again at the letters in his lap; he ran his fingers reverently over Winly's penning hand. There were even oil spots on the envelopes—oil spots! He swallowed, and bowed his head.
"Thanks, Foley," he said in a low voice. "Just ... thanks."
"Just doing my job, Elric," Foley said. He turned and walked out the door, shutting it with a heavy bang behind him.
Ed wiped his eyes (I'm not crying) and pulled off the rubber band holding together the collection of letters. He reverently opened the first one, yellowed from three years of languishing in the mail room.
March 23rd, 1917
I don't even know how to start this letter. I just I can't believe they convicted you! There was an article in the newspaper about your transfer to Third Central Prison, and I wrote right away.
What happened to Al? He's not really dead, is he? They keep saying that, but. Anyway. I don't think he's dead. I wrote a letter to Brigadier General Mustang, but he never answered. Does he know? Who should I go to? I can't stand the thought that Al is gone forever, or that you'll be locked up forever, when I know you didn't do anything!
Ed, please write to me. Please, please write to me. I know you don't like writing letters very much, but I'm so worried about you.
Ed hadn't written for months.
He read reverently through the letters in sequential order, marveling.
Dear Ed, I got your first letter today. It doesn't seem like you're getting any of my letters, but I'll keep writing, just in case.
Dear Ed, Brigadier General Mustang finally replied to my letter. He said Al was in a better place now. He doesn't mean heaven, does he?
Dear Ed, you never mention your automail. Is it holding up okay? They didn't take it away from you, did they?
Dear Ed, everyone in Risenbul agrees: you aren't a mass murderer. We're arranging a protest and demanding a retrial. I wish you could see everyone here; we're all so excited. I'm sure there's lots of people out there that know the truth, and will stand up for you!
Dear Ed, I was surprised when I received a letter from the Brigadier General the same day I recieved a letter from you. Did you get my last letter? I was wondering because you said not to do anything rash, and then Mustang wrote to say that if we did anything to excaberate something that was over and done with, the military would be forced to take action. Can you believe that? He directly threatened us just for trying to tell the truth!
No, he was warning you, Ed thought, feeling dull and sick. It was a mock trial; I'm just a scapegoat. Old hurts and frustrations rose to the surface as he remembered the trial, and he wished, briefly and hard, that Mustang would follow through and keep his promise. Wishful thinking, Elric, Ed told himself. Hunker down and get used to it. He steeled himself and opened the next letter.
Dear Ed, we didn't protest. I feel like we failed you. those ba Could you ever forgive me?
Dear Ed, are you sure your automail is okay?
Dear Ed, I would love it if you sent your story to me. You could write anything at all and I would be thrilled, because it means you're still you're doing okay.
Dear Ed, The first chapter of your story is lovely. Al would love it. I bet you know that, don't you? Please tell me Al is alive. Please just ... just write and tell me that Al is alive.
Dear Ed, I think you should publish this! Who knew that you had such a literary side?
Dear Ed, are you writing this story for Al?
Dear Ed, happy belated birthday! I can't believe you're twenty already—I mean, I'll be twenty soon too, but I guess it's because it's been so long since I last saw you. I sent an automail care kit that was supposed to arrive on your birthday, but the kit and the letter came back. I guess they don't let you have those things in prison. Are you sure your automail is okay? And when is your next chapter coming?
The thing that was conspicuously absent from every letter was 'how are you?' Winly knows I'd never tell her the truth. Instead ... she asked about the automail.
Something clicked in Ed's head.
He reached for the paper at his side.
I finally got all your letters, just now. I spent all afternoon reading through them. There's a lot to tell you, but you want another chapter, so I'm going to write that instead.
You know how tough your automail work is, Winly! Stop being stupid. Even your old model held up fine for four years before Scar blew it up. But you know, I could really do with a tune-up.
I don't know how visitation rights work or anything, but I'll find out and write you.
The story is almost finished. If you want to try to publish it, I wouldn't mind would like that, but you can't put my real name on it 'cause people will freak out. I guess I need a pen name.
Ed paused, tapping his pen against his cheek, and looked up as Foley passed by Ed's cell again at a rapid, heel-clicking pace.
He nodded to himself, smiling slightly for a brief instant.
Call me 'Foley'. 'Foley James', I guess, so it looks like a real name.
Ed reached for another sheet of paper and squeezed his eyes shut, rubbing his eyelids. It was getting too dark for writing—the sun was on the other side of the prison, and the lights in the cells didn't click on until sundown—but Ed didn't want to stop. His back twinged; soon more medication would be sent. Soon, he would be sent off for his three-minute shower, and his torn back redressed.
He put his pen to the paper.
Lost and Found Again
There were a lot of words for how he felt when he saw his brother, standing on the train platform, but none of them were adequate. All he knew was that he had to catch him before the train whisked him away ...