"All right, slugs, out of bed!"
Ed wondered how many insulting varieties there were to 'Wake up and get your ass in line for the showers' as he clutched the pillow over his head for a long moment, willing it to still be nighttime. No such luck; there was banging, and the sound of his bunkmate groaning to wakefulness. Ed winced and tried to remember the last time he'd woken up painlessly—to no noise except Al's armor clanking, without weary muscles from endless days digging holes to nowhere for nothing. It evoked a fond recollection of Al waking Ed up with coffee and waffles with syrup, and he happily entertained the fantasy for a moment until his bunkmate was poking him.
"Hey, Elric, don't give the guard any excuses."
Ed startled at first, almost hit Marley, but caught himself. He was jumpy about unwelcome touch since ... but he groaned unhappily and sat up, unaware of wild bed hair. "Thanks, Marley," he said in a decidedly unthankful tone. Truth be told, he liked Marley (relative to most of the inmates), and he would take Marley (in for grand larceny, robbing Central Bank at gunpoint) over his old bunkmate one hundred times over.
The door of their cell opened before Ed got a chance to finish using the privy, and he hustled out in time to be cracked over the head with a nightstick. "Ow!"
"Lost in a book, Elric?" the guard sneered, but he didn't wait for a reply, walking off smartly. Ed rubbed his head irritably. Matheson! Not his favorite guard by any stretch of the imagination. After Mason had lost a lot of his administrative duties and Greeson had been 'dismissed', the harassment wasn't nearly as overt as it once had been, but there were a few that would take any excuse to exact petty punishments. Matheson was one of those. Luckily, his rotation was almost up.
Ed's hair felt disgusting by this point—it was almost pointless to try to wash his hair with Matheson, whose idea of a shower was two minutes of getting wet while desperately trying to wash the night sweat out of your armpits, but Ed had had enough. His hair was at its shortest—cropped to just below his ears all the way around—and he scrubbed furiously at it with the soap.
"Elric! McCarthy! You trying to piss me off today!?" Matheson demanded as Ed struggled to wash the soap out of his hair, and Ed sneered quietly, just getting out the last of the soap before he was grabbed by his wet hair (his own head in one strong grip, and McCarthy's head in the other) and dragged back to the line. The showers shut off a moment later. "Guess you don't want your towels very badly," Matheson snarled as he thrust them into line—but Ed was surprised when the pathetic excuse for a towel was thrown at his face anyway. He caught it in midair. "Elric, you're excused from labor today. I hear you've got mechanical problems."
Ed jerked his head up at that, still toweling off furiously. "Foley's here to escort you. Don't keep him waiting! McCarthy, I guess you can air-dry today."
Ed hopped to it, and he told himself it was less out of the desire to be obedient and avoid getting hit for no good reason and more because he was eager. Mechanical problems—!? That meant Winly was here—! It was almost as good as seeing Al—okay, not really anywhere near as good as seeing Al, but it was Winly, and oh he'd missed her—his request had gone through—!
He was still hopping into his ugly gray, rough-woven prison pants when he almost bumped his head right into Foley. "Umph!"
"Finish getting dressed, Elric, for goodness sake." Foley's mouth twitched as Ed drew the drawstring tight. "Shoes."
Ed slipped on the provided shoes. "She's gonna make me take them off anyway," Ed grumbled, but his heart wasn't in it. He looked up at Foley expectantly.
Foley presented him with cuff-gear. "I've been ordered to put this on you."
Ed balked. The gear bound his arms to his sides rather than together to prevent him from using alchemy (a creative arrangement made just for him), cuffed his feet in case he tried to run, but he reluctantly stepped forward to allow them to be applied.
But Foley just looked at him for a moment. "Swear to me you won't run."
Ed frowned slightly, mystified. "I won't run," he said slowly. "I swear it."
Foley gave him a long, hard look, then slung the cuff-gear over his shoulder. "Good enough. Follow me."
Ed gaped for a moment at the sheer trust implicit there, then hastened to follow. It humbled him a startling amount. No one trusted him here, and well they may not—he was a mass murderer, had killed his own brother brutally—and even if Foley didn't believe that, Ed was still taken aback.
How pathetic is that? Ed had let himself get used to prison. But what other choice do I have? It's not like I'm leaving anytime soon. The implicit future of a life sentence—never again stepping beyond these walls, locked in eternal routine—was so depressing that Ed refused to think about it. Live one day at a time. Don't think about tomorrow, or next week, or next month—just today. There's only one today.
Foley led him into a section of the prison Ed had never been in before. Truth be told, he hadn't been through much of the prison that he was aware of, although solitary was purportedly underground. The walls here were clean and the air smelled fresh; Edward was grateful he'd had a shower. The last thing he wanted to do was reek in front of Winly.
"In here, Elric." Foley nodded coolly to the guard standing at the door, who raised his eyebrows at Ed's lack of cuffs. Ed slipped past him, the guard followed him in, and Foley led the way, and when Ed looked up all he could see was—
Ed stumbled a little when Winly plowed solidly into him, wrapping her arms around his neck and clutching him tightly. "W-Winly," he said, slowly wrapping his arms around her middle (soft, so soft, how long had it been since he'd touched a human without violence?) and pressing his face into the crook of her neck, breathing deep. She smelled like some light perfume and mechanic's oil.
"Ed, I ... I've been so worried." Winly's voice was muffled by Ed's shoulder, but she sounded choked up. Ed swallowed hard, unsure of what to say. He just held his arms around her, lightly.
It was a long, long moment before Winly began to pull back, and Ed let her go a little reluctantly. She gripped his shoulders and held him at arm's length. She was ... mature. She had what Ed supposed was an 'hourglass figure' with a small waist and filled-out hips; she pulled her hair up into a twist the way Lieutenant Hawkeye always had. It seemed to Ed that she was running out of places to pierce her ears. "You got more piercings," Ed said helplessly.
Ed watched with a numb dismay as her smile wavered a little upon her survey of him, and he drew up his shoulders a little. "You cut your hair," she said, sounding a little disappointed.
Ed fingered the short strands. "It's a rule here," he lied, dropping his eyes for an instant. He looked up hopefully; they were almost identical in height.
"Oh, Ed." Winly swallowed; her cheeks were dry, but it was clear that was just barely. "There's so much to talk about."
"Well, maybe for you." Ed flashed a reluctant smile. "It's pretty much the same thing day after day here ..."
Winly looked up at the guards. "Do they have to be here?" Neither Foley nor his companion twitched a muscle.
Ed nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, they do." He indicated the seats at the table in the middle of the room. "Er, siddown."
Winly snorted softly, and suddenly planted her hands on his chest, pushing him down. "No, you sit. You're the one getting the examination, you know. We can talk while I work," she said authoritatively.
Ed could see she was trying to move them into familiar territory—to bridge the gap of nearly four years of experiences miles apart. To bridge Al's conspicuous absence. He sat down, although even caught slightly off-balance, he by no means stumbled into the seat. He was far too honed for that now. "Um, my leg is ... it's a little short now," he said slowly.
Winly brightened a little when Ed played along. "I thought so," she said firmly. "I've been working on setting up shop in Central, you know—not enough automail mechanics here. I've already moved the materials to make you a new arm and leg, since I figured you'd need them." She positively glowed.
Ed ducked his head. "I ... I can't pay you back, you know," he said. He hadn't even considered the price when he'd written back to Winly, but he'd always paid her full price for her services—two different levels of their relationship, business and friendship, and they never mixed the two when it came to the automail.
But Winly was kneeling and drawing Ed's legs out in front of him, pushing his loose pants leg up, and she banged on the automail leg with a fist. "I—diot," she rolled her eyes. "You never were good with finances. Do you know how much you bought for me every time I visited? I think a new set of automail would be an equal gift."
Ed licked his dry lips; he'd forgotten about breakfast, but his stomach rumbled a little. "That's great," Ed said slowly.
Winly smile didn't reach her eyes. "Of course." She ducked her head. "Yeah, your automail is four centimeters short. Ed, I'm so excited! You're going to love the new model, it's much lighter, made with a titanium alloy—it's the best! And your arm, you're not going to believe how light you feel, Ed—but it's still the strongest stuff on the market."
Ed halfway tuned her out, but he basked in the nostalgia of it. "Yeah, yeah, you just make it already."
Winly sobered, though, and got to her feet. "Ed ... Ed, I just have one question." Ed looked up at her, but her head was bowed, hiding her eyes behind her bangs. "Please tell me ... please tell me ... Al's alive, isn't he? He didn't die. He didn't ... please tell me he's okay ..."
Ed opened his mouth, and closed it wordlessly, looking at the ground. The prison answers directly to the military. Ed had let the world think he'd created the Stone and killed his brother in the process to protect Al—Al, who would be made a living human test subject as the first human body 'created' by a Stone—and why, dammit, why did that other guard have to be in here!? Foley wouldn't tell. Foley didn't believe him. But the other guard ... if even one person heard him say Al was alive ...
"Winly ..." Ed got to his feet, and carefully reached back behind her head to draw her face down into the crook of his shoulder. He turned his head to whisper. "I can't tell you." He smoothed her hair down, sick. "He was there when the Stone was made. That's all I can say." He heard Winly's breath catch, and he felt a stab of guilt. I'm such an ass. "Just ... give me your new address, Winly. I'll ... write you."
Winly's eyes were bright when Ed released her, and Ed couldn't decide if it was conspiracy or betrayal on her face. "F-fine." She sniffled a little. "Ed ..." she hesitated.
"Yeah?" Ed waited awkwardly.
"... The automail should be done in two weeks. Will they let me visit that soon?"
Ed shrugged, looked helplessly towards the guards. Foley lifted his head. "It'll have to be cleared by my superiors," he said in a professional tone Ed had never heard him use before.
Ed offered a pathetic snort. "I'm kind of on high security," he said, lowering his gaze.
Winly shook her head slightly. "Ed ... I'll be back. As soon as possible. And I want the truth about Alphonse." She gave him a brief knowing look. "You're a terrible liar."
"I've gotten away with it often enough," Ed called after her, but already the guard Ed didn't know was pushing him back towards the door he'd entered from.
Labor was somehow more bitter, now that he'd tasted something sweet.