Disclaimer: I do not own Fullmetal Alchemist
It is routine that makes him wake early, routine and the haphazard splash of sunrise across his face. He lies still for a moment, letting the light burn red patterns over his closed eyelids, then lifts himself from the uncomfortable bunk with a huff of breath. He scrubs sleepily at his remaining eye and resists the urge to scratch at the itchy mess beneath his eye-patch. As ever, the simple T-shirt and loose pants that he wears for sleep are clinging to him, musty and unpleasant with stale sweat, and he is gripped by a momentary, fervent wish that shower day had fallen today rather than yesterday.
A series of clanks and squeals from down the hallway alerts him to the approach of breakfast. He rises, padding over the freezing concrete floor to the simple, rustic toilet (slightly better than a hole in the ground, but only slightly) and dipping his hands in the washbasin when he is done- this sort of fastidiousness is what singles him out from his fellows and has attracted much amusement from the guards. His nicknames range from 'Toff' and 'Lord Fauntleroy' to 'Sparky' and 'Dog'.
The rattle of the trolley distracts him from what might laughingly be called his 'ablutions' and he turns, wordless, to the front of his cell. He is always the last to be reached at feeding time, yet today his bowl of unspeakable crap is conspicuously absent. Beyond the bars, the guard grins at him.
"Mornin'. Nice day for it, huh?"
He doesn't reply, merely twitching an eyebrow up in the sardonic manner that used to make Fullmetal so angry.
"Still a miserable bastard then. Mind, its not like I blame you, today of all days. Warden says you can have a shower, if you want it. Gotta be all prettied up for the 'appointment'."
"Hands out, then, you know how this works."
Indeed, he does. He offers his wrists, his shoulders slumped in obedient submission. The guard unlocks the door and steps in. Metal gleams in his grip and is fastened with efficient expedience that the prisoner can only approve off. Thus shackled, helpless even had he wanted to resist, he walks ahead of the guard to the communal showers- a grey-and-limescale room of tiles and steam and grunting, cursing, pinkening bodies. The soap is as grudging in offering foam as ever. The water is lukewarm, but he knows to be thankful of the thin, dreary trickle. He no longer thinks about the grime infesting every surface or the multitude of wildlife that must inhabit the shower room. It is better not to think, better to finish up as soon as possible so you can dry tepid water off your crawling skin with a towel that looks as if it could walk to you of its own accord.
In the chamber next door, a cramped and claustrophobic space where they are expected to dress, he discovers his old uniform laid out for him. The thick blue material is under his fingers before he can fully register it, and he buries his face in it, drawing deep breaths through military-issue fabric. The braiding and decorations are exactly as they had been before his incarceration and his fingers discover each and every one of them. It is so incongruous, this glimpse of his former self, that for a moment he feels his old confidence and arrogance flicker in his chest. Here and now, in this place, he is alive, and he is whole and…then, heavy as a death-knell, the now-familiar apathy descends. He quickly dons the uniform, fumbling with clasps that were once customary. It is weighty, so so weighty and uncomfortable, ill-fitting over his thinner body, but he feels his shoulders come up in an attempt to fill the empty space within the cloth. His back straightens automatically, rising to the challenge, making him draw up his chest and raise his chin to fill his lungs with air as if he was breathing for the first time.
The guard whistles appreciatively when he emerges, hands out to be cuffed. "Not bad at all," the man leers, eyeing him up and down. "Now all of those rumours about you make sense, Sparky."
He almost smiles at the nickname, but catches himself before his lips twitch and makes his impassive way back to his cell, ignoring the jeers and mocking catcalls that follow him. The bars clang closed with unwavering finality. It is something he has learned to ignore, along with the desperate voice of his humanity.
Time passes. He plays idly with his sleeves and stares at the wall.
For a while, he toys with the idea of straightening his messy, overgrown hair, but dismisses the notion as idle fancy. One uniform does not a former persona make. The artfully-spiked bangs and immaculate grooming belong to a man he has not been for some time now. A similar urge almost makes him stand and hail the guards with a request for a razor, but his legs do not even tense to allow him to rise. They would not grant him the blade. Not again. His wrists itch.
The bars rattle. He looks up to see the central slot being unlocked and a metal plate being pushed through. He stands to take it, accepting with some confusion the knife and fork that accompany, wrapped in a white napkin. This is a far cry from slop in bowls and wooden spoons.
The guard (a different one? He never can tell) offers him a grunting explanation of "You asked for it. Fuckin' weirdo."
Scrambled eggs on toast, dusted with pepper. The smell is rich, fresh and buttery, filling the cell like lazy sunlight through barred windows. His mouth is watering, a sensation that startles him. It has been a while since he had appetite.
He settles on the edge of his bunk, awkwardly pushing the sheet aside, and rests the plate on his knees. He looks at his meal; the eggs are sloppy, barely cooked to solidity, just the way he likes them. The toast, what he can see of it, is blackened. Just as he requested.
As he unwraps the cutlery with care, a white cloth drops from the napkin. Curious, he puts the food to the side and lifts the item from the floor- a white glove, its fingertips gritty and coarse, emblazoned with a bright red array. His breath catches in his throat and his face heats, tears blurring his vision. Slowly, reverently, he tugs the glove on. The fabric is rough and unforgiving against his skin, but it fits perfectly, unlike his uniform. Raising it to his face, he scents flint and ashes. Its white is pure and unmarked, nothing like the washed-out, grimy grey of his flat pillow. He presses his fingertips together and rubs them, gently, feeling the potential sparks plead to be released. Thoughts of oxygen and water, the speed of reaction, combustion, explosion, extinguishing, they rush into his brain, filling every corner of his tired, tired mind until he finds himself standing, lifting his arm into the air and snapping, snapping like he's the man he used to be, snapping and delighting in the delicacy of tiny flames that result, all snuffed out in an instant by his power.
Panting, exhausted by his efforts after only a few tries, he sinks back into a sitting position and tugs the glove off, overwhelmed. Too much, right now it is too much to even consider, even as adrenaline continues to howl in his veins. It is too much, this heady rush of power.
He drops the glove to the floor and retrieves his plate. Methodically, he works his way through the meal. The toast crumbles into ashes on his tongue, and he remembers how he learned to like it this way- in the early days, chalking arrays into the floor and sacrificing slice after slice of bread to his alchemy until he could no longer justify the expense of not eating them. A lesson in control that he has never looked back from, even if he now eats his toast charred and blackened. The eggs are, by now, cooling, congealing and sticky and he savours every last bite of them, recalling hours of study with ten minute breaks to grab food that would then lie forgotten until he'd finished a chapter, or copied out and coded a thesis. The pepper burns on his tongue, reminding him of desert heat and the unrelenting grit of sand and human ashes.
Full now, satisfied in a way he cannot remember being, he feels able to face the glove once more. He turns his back to the bars, hunching his shoulders as he slips it back on and focuses and snaps, working up slowly until he can control a tiny spiral of flame with exact precision. It takes some doing, with his depth perception as skewed as it is. A smile tugs the corner of his lips and he snaps again. The glove, treated to be spark-resistant, takes some burning, but at last it crumbles, powdered and useless, to the floor.
The prisoner stands to rinse out his mouth and splash water in his face, then stretches out on his bunk to contemplate the ceiling and the fullness of his belly. The ferocious burns on his hand stand out stark and red. He ignores them.
The daily battle of lunch is announced by distant clangs and the rattle of the food trolley, once again. He idly wonders if he will receive a second meal.
Once more, a guard stops at his cell with an empty trolley, this time with a pinched, suspicious air. "I can smell burning, Dog, what you been up to?"
He gestures silently to the charred remains of his crusts. The guard moves on.
He looks down again at the little pile of ashes and wonders, briefly, how the glove had come back to him. A pang of regret hits him, metallic like iron and blood, and he ruefully considers the expense and personal danger of delivering a weapon into a high-security facility. Faces flicker in front of his mind's eye and he snuffs them out with clinical coldness that he has learned from endless yards of concrete and steel. Those faces have no place inside these walls. He has been so careful to forget. Fire fights, has always fought, even when all he wanted was to watch it birth in his palm and dance in the air, so he is used to controlling his emotions about those under his power.
Seconds later, he uses the napkin from his meal to dab wetness from his cheek. The damp material is then put to good use, increasing the shine on his already-shiny boots.
He is not even halfway satisfied when they come for him.
The shackles are tightened, as usual, and he walks with the shuffling pace that the leg-chains demand. Voices bellow around him- he tunes out the words and focuses instead on the tones, on the inflection and emotion that life brings to voice. He feels like he's forgotten how to speak, somewhere along the way, but with all that he has lost, it seems unimportant.
Bright, bright and burning like a phoenix in his eye, the sun blinds him. He blinks rapidly against it, then allows himself a tiny tiny sigh of relief when thick black material is bound about his head, shielding his only vulnerable eye from the cruel sunlight. A light breeze wafts about him, tickling in his hair, which he wonders at- it has been so long since he felt his physical presence being affirmed by a breeze. He is so entranced that he does not notice his hands being pulled behind his back and tied about a post. He leans, unthinkingly, on the support. It feels sticky and splintered, but he has had less comfortable supports.
A military voice calling soldiers to attention draws him back to the world. He can hear the click of boots on ground, and the slick snapping of rifle parts being snicked into place.
A crackle of energy and the faintest smell of copper awakens the himself buried within him, and his lips form an 'F' before he is even aware of it. The energy sounds distant, it has gone unnoticed and it will come too late.
Should he be disappointed? It seems unreasonable.
Gunfire fills the world. Bullets thud into him, he jerks with every impact, feeling each agonized, screaming nerve ending, then, with a shocking suddenness, there is nothing.
He awakes confused. Hell should not smell like lilies and motor oil.
He opens his eye, sluggish, bleary. Pained. He is in lots of pain- it was something else he had forgotten, but he had never truly appreciated the numbness of not having it.
Points of icy cold brush his forehead and he gasps, sinking back into heavenly softness- pillows? He remembered pillows distantly, how good of the Devil to provide some…
"Oh, thank fuck."
The language mildly disturbs him and he is not sure why. Satan must, by definition, have a dirty mouth, but he had always wanted to believe in the eloquence of Paradise Lost.
"You put me through proper hell this time, asshole."
This offends him. He is the one who has just died, thank you, he is the one newly arrived to hell, to suggest a turnaround of blame is entirely unjustified. Indignation, how he'd missed being having the dignity to be indignant.
"…Never thought I'd hate you being silent." Warm flesh replaces impersonal metal, which makes him almost smile, and he tries opening his eye again. The flesh is golden, tanned with the robust tan of someone who is outdoors as often as possible. He squints, trying to look into the Devil's face. His head spins. Obligingly, Satan moves closer. Big wolfcub eyes of amber and gold survey him, critically.
"Knew you'd be too stupid to keep the glove. You're an idiot. Always said so. Dunno why everyone thought so much of you."
The hand isn't moving from his face.
How long has it been since he was touched for the simple sake of touching?
He opens his mouth to speak, his breath catching, then remembers that he has forgotten how to, and closes it again. The excitement and reawakening pain (where he remembers bullets impacting) exhausts him and he is a little bit pleased to be ashamed at not covering his yawn. Politeness had not been necessary for a while, it was a joy to rediscover it.
"Ah, you going to sleep on me again, bastard? I never rescued a less thankful person."
Warm again, wet, on his forehead, neat in a gap between his unkempt fringe. Lips, he realises, belatedly. A kiss.
"You better not have lost your memory, Mustang. You said you'd always remember how I looked when you came inside me. Alchemists should keep their promises."
As he drops back into sleep, he does remember. At long last, he remembers exactly why he isn't supposed to die. Ah well. It only took him five years on death row.
And Edward's kiss.