There reaches a point where you believe it can't get any worse.
When you get past that point, they call it a nightmare.
When you pass that, well, then it must be called purgatory.
He had had a lot of time to think it over, and that's what he decided this was: Purgatory.
He felt something latch onto his automail foot and cried out, heart racing and hand flying to instinctively cover his throat as he kicked out. The creature let out a surprised yelp and its presence slinked back, away from his corner.
He had been dozing again, taking advantage of the brief snippets of peace between agonies, but he could never truly sleep. Not when he was so cold and so hungry. Not when he shared this tiny cell with three feral wolves that would much rather eat him than leave him to his rest. He thought he had gotten his bluff in on them in the beginning, thrashing them every time they so much as looked at him funny, but he had been told animals had a sixth sense for weakness.
Well, if he was anything right now, it was weak.
Not long after he had first arrived, he had fallen asleep on the floor and awakened with one of the animal's jaws wrapped around his throat. He hadn't slept quite as soundly since then.
He wasn't sure how long he'd been here, be it weeks or months or years. Surely not years . . . but he couldn't be sure. He supposed it was possible. Anything that horrible was well within the realm of possibility.
With a shaky breath, he pulled his legs up to his chest and curled up in a ball, pressing his face to his knee. Sometimes that helped with the pain and the hunger, helped to keep him warm and it kept the dogs' teeth from most of his vitals. Especially his neck.
He vaguely remembered what had led him to this; this broken, starving heap he was now, a shadow of a human being. Before everything had been stripped from him, when he still had his pride and his dignity and hope. It was a distant memory, almost seeming like another life.
He vaguely remembered he had been on a mission, something about locating stolen supplies in the north. Alphonse wasn't allowed to come with him for reasons of stealth, and now he couldn't have been more relieved. He had been abducted from around Briggs, ambushed before he even knew what had happened. He was taken back to their base, and that's around the time his memory started to get a bit fuzzy.
He knew the first thing they did upon finding out he was an alchemist was take his watch, and then they made the mistake of not realizing he didn't need a circle to transmute. After that particular revelation, they took his arm, and kicked him around for good measure. He was shown his cell, which was really a small, frozen basement in their sick and twisted hideout. They took his clothes and chained him to the wall by the neck, like a dog, then left him down there in the dark for days without food or water with only three starving wolves for company.
He had known that they were waging psychological warfare on him. That was why they were treating him like this, trying to humiliate him and destroy his sense of self. They didn't know who they were dealing with, though. They didn't know they were messing with the Fullmetal Alchemist.
He almost gave a small, weak laugh as he remembered, but his throat wasn't used to such sounds and he wheezed pathetically instead. What a fool he was.
After that, they dragged him out of the dark basement and asked him questions, mostly about the Amestrian army and their forces and a lot of things that he simply didn't know, and wouldn't have said if he did, not so much out of loyalty but out of sheer spite. He grasped at that small amount of control, reveling in angering his captors, tormenting them in his own way even as they tormented him. They stuck him with knives, shooting electricity up his shoulder port, tearing at his skin with blades and even burning him with acid and fire, but he had hope. He knew rescue would come, and it would be soon and as long as he kept it together, kept his wits about him and kept fighting, he would see Al again.
But no one ever came.
It had been weeks, long tortuous weeks stuck there in constant pain, starving on a rat's share of food that he had to wrest from the jaws of the wolves. He was running on next to no sleep, thanks to the same cell mates, and the constant, biting cold stole the last shreds of his patience.
He had decided to make a break for it on his own. He had been planning it for days, almost since his arrival, waiting for the opportunity to strike. He had broken off a toe of his automail and slowly but surely scratched a circle in the stone floor of his prison. It had taken hours upon hours to etch into the hard surface, and when he finally had it ready, he waited for the perfect time to strike.
His escape attempt was nothing short of a disaster. He had made it as far as outside, barely tasting the freedom in the frozen north air in time for them to run him down and drag him back, none too gently.
And to reward him for his hope, they poured acid in his eyes.
The last thing he had seen was their leering faces as they took his sight.
He had heard many people say that the Fullmetal Alchemist was too stubborn to break, too strong to shatter. He had been told that there was nothing he couldn't do if he put his mind to it, nothing he couldn't bear with his resolve.
But all it took was the removal of that predominant sense, and he felt something in himself break into a million pieces.
He wasn't human anymore, he knew that for sure. He was less than the animals he shared his cell with. He jumped at the slightest noise, flinched from whispers of air, cowered with every touch.
Eyesight was knowing. It was a grounding in the present and a safety net he didn't know he had possessed until it was gone.
Blindness was the dark and fear and pain and the unknown. It was vulnerability in a way he had never thought existed. It was everything terrifying, magnified a thousand times.
And perhaps the worst thought of all was that even if by some miracle he did get out alive, he would never see his brother again.
He wasn't sure how many days after that incident it was before he couldn't take the fear anymore and tried to kill himself. He laid there, waiting for the wolves with throat laid bare, hyperventilating as he heard their paws whisper across the floor, the soft huff of their breathing just out of reach. He could almost smell their hunger, and when one of them eagerly latched onto his bare stomach, he couldn't help but instinctively kick it away with mindless panic and try to staunch the blood pouring from his gut with his only hand.
That had only driven the starved animals mad with hunger and they fell upon him, ripping and tearing and he fought. He fought with everything he had left in his broken, bleeding body, despite how his mind screamed for him to stop, to let it end there.
But though he wasn't even human anymore, he was still alive, and it was hard to shoulder past the instinct to keep it that way.
Somehow he had fought them back, somehow they had retreated from him. He had screamed at them, straining at the end of his chain until he choked, slashing the air with his only arm, trying to reach them, to tear them apart, to make them understand that, if nothing else, he still had control over this, and he had suddenly decided that he couldn't die. Not here, not at their jaws like a mindless sheep.
And then he realized that he was too much of a coward to die. He couldn't even end it on his terms.
As far as he could tell, that had been weeks, maybe months ago.
And it had been too long since someone had been down here. Too long since he and the wolves had eaten anything. He wondered now if his captors were gone, had abandoned him to die here with the rest of the animals.
The wolves were growing braver, their hunger making them try things they hadn't since he had let them have it. He knew that he was starving to death, and that they had the advantage over him in strength and numbers. It wouldn't be long before he would be too weak to fend them off, and then he would be slaughtered like a deer in the woods.
He suddenly became aware of sounds from the house above, thunking and stomping that he hadn't heard in days. Had they come back? Maybe there were here to get him, or maybe they were here to finish him off, tying up all the loose ends before moving out.
His breathing accelerated, dangerously fast. He heard the dogs shuffling nervously, one even uttering a soft growl that made him flinch away, pressing his broken body even closer to the wall, his heart pounding in his throat. He smelled fear, a scent he didn't even know existed until his sight was gone, but was now all too familiar with. It hung thick in the air, and he wasn't sure if it belonged to the wolves or to him.
Footsteps, at least four sets, maybe more, stopped outside the basement door. There was the heavy rattling of tumblers rolling and the door swung open, grating on squeaking hinges to bounce on the wall behind it.
He remembered it was dark, whether the door was open or not, and he pressed himself as far as his chain would allow him, cramming his small frame into the corner and trying vainly to slow his breathing as the collar around his neck chaffed and choked him.
Feet thudded down the steps, all thirteen of them, before halting. Probably because at that time the wolves let out a chorus of vicious snarls, their voices rolling thunder in the tiny basement.
"Dispatch them," a baritone voice ordered, sounding weak and brittle and terribly familiar.
Shots rang out, impossibly loud and it was all he could do to keep from crying out in terror. He heard surprised, pain-filled yelps and the sounds died.
And for a moment, he was terrified for the wolves, sad they were gone and that he was alone in his purgatory, facing the end by himself. Because even if they were part of his torment, possibly the instrument of his death, they had been there, and that was more than anyone else had done for him in this wretched place.
The basement stank of death.
Then the steps approached and he fought to keep his body still. Maybe they had forgotten he was there, maybe they wouldn't see him. Maybe this was another nightmare.
He buried his face in his knees and prayed they wouldn't see him.
"Ed?" a voice whispered.
His heart stopped.
Ed? That was his name . . . a name he hadn't heard in weeks, months . . . that was his name. Who here knew his name? That was something he had refused to tell them, refused to let them defile with their coarse tongues and vile lips.
"Ed, can you hear me?" a different voice, a tenor, murmured. It was so soft, but so terribly loud only feet away from him.
This was a dream. It had to be, because reality wasn't this kind.
Words weren't something he could wield right now, some part of his mind so detached from such complicated language all together. He smelled sweat and anxiety and smoke, and smoke meant fire and they were going to burn him again. He was choking on his heart. He could only stay still and stay quiet and pray that they left without killing him.
He felt the air pressure move and a feather-light touch on his shoulder.
He was trapped against the wall, the chain pulled taught and already almost choking him. If his heart beat any faster it would probably stop, but something was touching him, only seconds away from hurting him, and he had to get it away.
He snarled, a purely animalistic sound, and perhaps if he had time to think about it, he would have been ashamed of that fact. He kicked out with his automail leg even as he pressed tighter against the wall, pressing his face into his flesh leg. His foot connected with something solid and he heard a surprised oof! as his attacker was driven away from him.
"Fullmetal!" The baritone barked. "Stop this right now!"
That voice . . . that tone . . . he knew it. It brought back memories of sitting in the office with the sun shining behind that grand desk, of almost friendly banter and snide comments and teasing and safety.
He wanted to say something, to beg for confirmation, but he was so scared, so terrified that if he uttered a single syllable, the dream would shatter and he'd be in that chair with electricity sent up his raw nerve endings, or knives slid between his ribs.
"Fullmetal, look at me," that voice ordered, now only inches from his face.
He slowly, so slowly, lifted his head, careful to keep his delicate throat protected as he looked ahead. "Mus. . .tang . . . ?" he dared to whisper, his parched throat grating out the foreign sounds of human language. He didn't even recognize his own voice anymore, but that didn't matter, as long as he was sure.
He heard a sharp intake of breath, a startled gasp from the man before him. Then a deep, shuddering breath. "That's right, Ed. It's me. We're taking you home."
He felt a sudden heat to his sightless eyes, smelled salt and felt tears roll down his face. He was crying, his body shaking as his mind struggled to process what was just said to him.
Home? They were taking him home?
They had come for him.
Part of him knew he shouldn't let his guard down; that he still didn't know enough to be sure yet if this was some trick or a hallucinated dream born of desperation.
But if this were a dream, he didn't want to wake up again.
"I have Hawkeye, Havoc, and Breda with me, Fullmetal," Mustang's voice murmured again, a gentle balm to his raw nerves. He could sense the others, one near the stairs, one just behind the Colonel, and one just a few feet to his side. "Falman and Feury are both outside, standing guard. I'm going to take that thing from around your neck, then we can go. Is that okay?"
His neck? Touch his neck? That wasn't okay, not at all. Didn't he know that it only took thirty-three pounds of pressure to crush a trachea?
He must have seen his hesitancy, the protective way he wrapped his hand around his collared throat. "Ed, we have to get it off to get you home. Don't you want to go home and see Al?"
See Al? He could never see his little brother again, but that wasn't what the Colonel meant. Yes, he wanted to be with his brother again! Of course he did, but his throat . . . it was all that kept him here, grounded in the world, keeping his soul on this side of the Gate.
"It's okay, Ed. I'll get it off, then I'll take you to Al."
It was for Al. He would do anything for Al, no matter how scared he was.
He gave a shaky nod and slowly dropped his hand from his throat.
"Very good, Ed," Mustang said approvingly. "I'm going to touch the lock now, okay? I have the key. I'm just going to unlock it. If you hold very still, I won't even touch your neck. Does that sound fair?"
Another shaky nod and he felt the air shift, the hairs on the back of his neck raising as he sensed the hand closing in on him. He tried hard not to hyperventilate. "You're doing fine, Ed," Mustang complimented, but he could hear the strain behind the amiable words. He felt the weight on his neck shift and it took all he had not to jerk back, to kick out and keep it away. A small whimper escaped his lips. "Shhh," Mustang whispered, the collar jingling. "It's okay, Ed. Almost got it."
Suddenly the tightness was gone, the weight falling away to clatter on the ground. The chaffed skin around his throat chilled in the frigid air, burning with sudden sensation. He whipped his only hand up to wrap his fingers around it protectively.
"Very good, Ed. You did well," Mustang praised. "I'm going to pick you up, okay? I'll carry you out of here."
He couldn't have protested it if he wanted to. It was just too much, too many sensations, too much fear, too many unknowns. He wasn't sure when he was in Mustang's arms, but he was just coherent enough to hear the older man's string of soft, quiet apologies as he carried him up the stairs and out of purgatory.
Okay, so I know I haven't finished Heart yet (only one more chapter, which will be posted this week/weekend) but I've been planning this fic for seems like forever and inspiration struck me last night. I wrote this almost all in one go haha xD I couldn't stop myself :'D Self-control = zero.
So, I give you the first chapter, not even posted on deviantart yet :D This is practically an exclusive! I'll put it up there later, if you're following me there. I like to space out my literary submissions there, so I don't spam the people that are watching me more for art.
This one's a bit darker than my usual line, but it's not going to get too graphic or anything. This chapter is about as bad as it's gonna get. I know I'm known for being more of a "family friendly" writer, and I want to keep it that way lol.
Hope you like the way it's starting! If you have the time, drop a review and I'll see you next chapter!