Chapter 13

As the days passed, Ed's life became a nightmare of bells, classes, meals, and nights where he couldn't sleep. Every morning he got up, washed, dressed, and had breakfast in the dining hall with Axel. Every day he went to classes where he didn't hear a word, and he did assignments that he couldn't remember completing. He studied books he couldn't remember opening, and he found lecture notes in his handwriting that he didn't remember writing. It was as if his mind was taking nothing in.

It didn't take him long to realize that the teachers were expecting a great deal of brilliance from him, but he had no motivation to give it to them. As long as he behaved and did well in those classes, Al would be fine, and he had no reason to push himself to the heights the teachers expected. All of his thoughts were centered on Al and not on making his jailers proud of him.

Alchemy class was a vision of hell on earth. The teacher had displayed a skill in alchemy that had actually enabled a plant to feel pain, and the vision of that writhing plant had still not left his mind. He knew that what they were doing was making plant chimeras, but he wasn't sure how they were able to make them think, feel, or learn. Somehow, he didn't really want to know. All he wanted was for it all to end.

He wasn't sure how long it was before food began to repulse him. The thought that he'd have to eat again only a few hours later made him want to scream, and a meal rarely stayed in his stomach longer than a half-hour before he'd have to rush to the nearest restroom to be sick. He began to lose weight, and his uniforms didn't fit him as well as they used to. He'd always been fit thanks to Izumi's training and sparring with his brother on a daily basis, but now he was whipcord and bone and little else. As Aunt Pinako would have said, he had no meat on his bones.

One day, he slid out of his seat in grammar class and was unconscious before he even hit the floor. When he came to, he found himself in a bed that was in a row with other beds in a large, white room. At the far end of the room there was a door that stood partway open, and Ed could hear someone moving about in the room beyond. As Ed fought to sit up, the door opened wider to reveal an older, weary-looking man with a kind face. He smiled at Ed, and Ed felt a smile twitch the corners of his mouth in response.

"I've had students that have come to me with stomachaches, headaches, backaches, every kind of ache, colds, influenza, pneumonia, and a few diseases I haven't heard of, and I even had one student who was convinced he was dying, but you're the first ever carried in here unconscious by a panicked professor," he said, going to Ed's side. "I haven't seen you before, and I know there's only been one new student lately, so you must be Edward Elric. Am I right?"

"Yeah," Ed said, fighting against his instinct to trust this man. "Who are you?"

"I'm the physician at this lovely prison they call a school," the man joked. "I'm as much a prisoner as any student here since Shaula finds me far too useful, so I have to say I'm very sorry you're here. I'm Doctor Cyrus."

Ed found a real smile starting.

"How long have you been feeling poorly?" the doctor asked, taking Ed's pulse.

"Since I got here," Ed said truthfully. "Don't wanna eat, sleep's impossible, and I can't remember doing anything, like reading or taking notes."

Dr. Cyrus nodded. "You're suffering from nervous exhaustion. Needless to say, you've been under a great deal of stress and it's manifested in physical symptoms."

Ed nodded. "They've got my brother. They won't tell me where he is or how he is."

"Your brother's important to you?"

"Well, sure," Ed admitted. "He's my little brother. Our mom's dead, so it's up to me to take care of him."

The doctor nodded again. "I see. Have you been getting sick to your stomach a lot?"

"Every time after I eat."

"Headaches? A feeling of being not-quite-there?"

Ed blinked. "How'd you know that?"

"It's common. You're going to be with me for a few days, so settle in for a good rest. I'll do what I can to help."

"Help me get better?" Ed asked, hoping that this man could help him get out and find Al.

"Among other things," Dr. Cyrus said, giving him an encouraging wink. "Do you know how long you've been asleep?"

"I've slept?"

"For two days," Dr. Cyrus confirmed. "Right now you're very weak. Is there anything you'd like to eat? Something special? Sometimes a little treat is as good for the body as medicine."

"No, not really," Ed told him. "I don't feel like eating."

Dr. Cyrus regarded him, looking concerned. "Well, you should be ravenous about now. How about I get you something and you try eating? Then, we'll take it from there."

"Do I have a choice?" Ed said, reluctant to try choking something down. The food was okay (it didn't taste terrible and they were allowed to have as much as they liked), but he just didn't want to eat something to have it come back up again like had been happening.

"No, you don't," the doctor said, still looking concerned. "You need food and fluids or you'll become even worse than you are now. Trust me, you don't want that. If you think you feel bad now…" He trailed off, and seemed to think. "Anything you'd rather not have?"

"Milk," Ed said promptly, certain that if he tried to drink milk now, he would be even sicker. "I hate milk."

Dr. Cyrus assured him that he would not be given milk and left, telling him that he would only be a few minutes. A few minutes he was, and he was back carrying a covered tray that he placed across Ed's lap after helping him to sit up. He removed the cover with a slight bow and flourish, revealing a bowl of dark broth, a few slices of bread, and a glass of fruit juice.

"It won't be too taxing on your stomach," the doctor explained. "And I want you to eat slowly. I don't think you'll be sick again, but you can never be too careful."

While Dr. Cyrus busied himself with some papers at a nearby table, Ed took cautious spoonfuls of the broth and a few bites of bread. He waited for it to make an immediate reappearance and was surprised when it didn't. He was even more surprised when his stomach growled, demanding more.

"I thought that was the case," the doctor said, not turning around to face Ed.

"What?"

"I thought you would feel hungry after having a little bit to eat. Sometimes the stomach needs a jump-start."

"Like a car?"

"Mm-hmm."

Ed thought about this and sipped his juice. It was funny, thinking about the body like a machine, but it made sense. It needed fuel to work, and being sick could be a sign of needing repair. He smiled to think of a doctor as a mechanic. He could remember his mother back when he and Al had been sick with the chicken pox while they were kids. She'd said, "Well, this won't do. We'll have to fix this." When he'd been that young, he'd thought that she could fix anything in the world from a broken toy to two sick little kids. The only thing she hadn't been able to fix was herself.

"Why, Ed, what's wrong?" Dr. Cyrus asked, hearing Ed sniffle. He looked and saw the boy fighting tears.

Ed looked at him.

"Stupid question," the doctor amended quickly. "Everything's wrong, right?"

"I miss Al," Ed said, pretending that he hadn't been crying. He hadn't been, anyway. At least, he hadn't really been crying. Just a little choked up. That could happen, couldn't it, once in a while?

"Well, we'll have to see what we can do to fix that," Dr. Cyrus said, echoing Ed's memories. "If it has something to do with your health, then the headmaster will listen to me. I'll see if I can't get your brother brought here or you taken to where he is."

Ed gasped, grabbing the doctor's hand as he smoothed Ed's blanket. "Are you serious?"

"As serious as it's possible for one human man to be," he assured the boy. "Why don't you finish eating, and I'll go make a report to the headmaster. I'll suggest that you'll do much better if you could be with your brother."

Ed was willing to eat a twenty-course meal after that promise, but the doctor said that a little more broth and bread would be fine. He left, and for the first time since landing in that wretched school, Ed felt a tiny modicum of hope fluttering in his chest. If only he and Al could be together, then perhaps they could think of some way to defeat Shaula and free all those other kids.

Space

No one at Gutholz Schule could understand it. Alphonse Elric was not settling well. He did not want to attend his classes, he did not want to eat, and he showed very little interest in anything. Even though he was told that his brother would be punished if he did not start going to classes and eating, he did not seem to care. Most of what he did was stay in his room, and if one of the teachers tried to talk some sense into him, he quickly dissolved into tears and began wailing for his brother. Doing that upset all the teachers and a great many of the students, and it was impossible for them to calm him. It was as if he were determined to keep indulging in fits of hysterics.

Shaula was contacted after two weeks of this behavior and after the boy ended up in the infirmary, suffering from nervous exhaustion.

"One child and you can't control him!" she said sarcastically. "Is he really so formidable?"

"Well, ma'am, he doesn't appear to be settling well," the headmaster explained, sounding apologetic.

"We've had difficult ones before!" she snapped, not willing to accept excuses. "You just have to break him! It shouldn't be taking this long!"

"We've tried talking to him, threatening him, threatening his brother, isolation…" one of the teachers listed. "Nothing seems to work!"

"Oh, come now!" Shaula began, but the alchemy teacher cut her off.

"Do you know what he did a few days ago when I told him his brother would suffer if he kept behaving this way?" the man wanted to know. "He broke into the classroom and killed every plant we have! Weeks of work gone! Nothing deters him!"

That surprised her. "Did he say why he did it?"

"Something about keeping innocent plants from suffering," he answered, sounding tired. "We gave him the standard punishment for wrecking something, but he seemed happy about that. He's a very odd child."

"Let's see what he'll say after I visit him," Shaula said, rising from her chair. "Where is he now?"

"In the infirmary."

"Well, I'd better go and see the poor darling," she said, heading out the door and down the hall. "I won't be long."

She reached the infirmary and opened the door, but she received a very big surprise as an alchemical reaction struck her in the face. She screamed, she heard a child laugh, and then felt something brush past her. The other adults came running and manage to catch Alphonse as he tried to get outside, and together they pulled him back into the infirmary.

"Why did you do that?" Shaula demanded as a doctor tried to put the boy into restraints.

"You deserved it," the boy snapped. "I don't know where you have Brother, but I'm not going to sit around here and let you keep him locked up without a fight!"

"Ah, but you see, your brother's doing the exact opposite," Shaula said, giving the boy an icy smile. "He's being as good as we could wish. He doesn't dare get into trouble while we have you. Perhaps he doesn't care enough about you to try to get away to rescue you?"

"You don't know my brother," Al said, smiling. "He'd never do anything to hurt me. If he thinks that getting into trouble would hurt me, then he wouldn't do it. If he thinks sneaking out would help me, then he would do it. If I were you, Shaula, I'd let the both of us go. We're more trouble than we're worth. We'll end everything you're doing and all of your plans will be ruined by keeping us."

She gave him the most condescending smile she could muster. It wasn't that she believed him. After all, he and his brother were just two children; how could they ever do anything to hurt her? How could they possibly ruin her plans? They were children!

"I doubt that very much, dear," she said. "Nothing you or your brother can do could possibly hurt me. You are children. What can you do? No, your job is to obey and be good and accept your new lives. That's all I ask, after all. Is that so hard? So difficult? If you did that, I would be very happy and I would love you both very much. Isn't that what you want? Someone to love you? Isn't that what all children want?"

"I have Brother," Al said obstinately. "We don't need a manipulative little witch like you."

She glared at him. "That isn't a nice thing to say, Alphonse. You should remember your brother. After all, how do you think he would feel if he was given a beating because you had been rude?"

Al thought about this. What would Ed say if he had been asked that question?

"He's a tough guy. He can handle it."

Shaula gave an inarticulate screech of rage and leapt from her chair. "We'll see about that!" she shouted as she left the infirmary.

Al hoped that he had been right about Ed, and he hoped that Brother could forgive him for doing that to him, but they couldn't allow Shaula to control them. They had to get away and find some way to shut her down.

Space

Dr. Cyrus was shocked almost beyond words when the headmaster arrived and said that Edward Elric was scheduled for a beating. After a moment of shock, he demanded that the man leave the infirmary. After all, Edward was not well and did not need or deserve a beating for being sick!

"It's happening on Shaula's orders," he said as Shaula walked in behind him. "Out of the way, Dr. Cyrus."

"I refuse to allow you to do this to the boy!" the doctor shouted. "I won't allow it!"

"Duly noted, Doctor, now, if you don't mind, we have a punishment to administer," Shaula said, sounding bored.

Other teachers kept the doctor from interfering and one hauled Ed from his bed and delivered the punishment. Ed knelt on the floor, gasping and refusing to cry aloud or even say "ow." He'd show this ugly cow what the Elric brothers were made of!

"The headmaster's told me that the doctor thinks you will do better if you could be with your brother," Shaula said, kneeling down in front of him and lifting his head by his hair. "That isn't going to happen. You have your brother to thank for that beating, by the way. Just thought you should know."

She was halfway to the door when a dry little chuckle stopped her. Amazed, she whipped around to see what the boy could possibly be laughing at.

"Nice to know," he said, getting to his feet, "that Al's not letting you push him around. He's got more guts than I do."

Shaula glared and rushed at him, intending to backhand him for such insolence.

"He said that we'd ruin every plan you have, didn't he?" Ed asked. That simple question stopped Shaula in mid-step.

"Wh-what?" she said, surprised.

"It's true, you know," Ed said, looking her in the eye. "You'd better let us both go and quit while you're ahead. You don't know what it is you're dealing with."

"I know I am dealing with two very stubborn children," she snapped. "Every child has a point when he can't fight anymore. You and your brother will reach your points eventually. I'm not going to give up."

"Well, then, neither are we," Ed said quietly. "Like I said, you don't know what you're dealing with."

She glared at him. "I think we both underestimate each other. Keep that in mind, Edward."

"Likewise."

The maddening child did not give up! Unable to speak again without losing her temper, she swept out of the room, determined to find some way to break the both of them. The sooner she did, the better.

Space

Edward woke up as someone crept into the infirmary. He could hear Dr. Cyrus in the adjoining bedroom snoring, so it wasn't the doctor. No, the footsteps were far too light. It had to be a kid. When he sat up, ready to either kick the kid out or punch him, he got a surprise. It was a kid he didn't recognize, and he'd already met everyone. "Who are you? You new?"

The boy shook his head. "No, I'm not. My name's Stephen. Axel might have told you about me."

"You're the one who runs away all the time," Ed said, remembering.

"And you're Edward Elric, the State Alchemist," Stephen said, sitting down on a bed across from him. "And they have your brother. What if I could bring him to you and you two could escape together?"

Ed stared at him, not certain what to think. "Why would you do that? Why not help me escape right off?"

"Well, if one of you disappeared, they would watch the other one much more closely to make sure he didn't. If you both escaped at the same time, then they would have more trouble finding the pair of you."

Ed looked at him, not quite certain to believe him or not. After all, this could be a trick of Shaula's. "Tell me what your plan is and why I should think it would work."

"I would run away again. You see, in the past, I've always run to the same place and they've always found me again there. This time, I won't go there, I'll go find your brother. I heard Shaula mention where he was, so I'll go there and help him break out. Then, two days after I leave, you'll break out and meet up with us. Then, I'll let them catch me in my usual place so they'll think that we were working separately, instead of together. Then you and your brother can inform the State about this place and Shaula and something can finally be done about her. Do you agree?"

Ed thought about this. Stephen sounded as if he were telling the truth, and it was a sound plan. Perhaps it would work. Perhaps this would be the beginning of the end for Shaula.

"All right," he heard himself saying. "Let's do it."