Archive: Scimitar Smile : www.scimitarsmile.com
Category: Drama, Humour (so I've been told), shounen-ai, post series.
Pairings: None currently.
Disclaimer: Fullmetal Alchemist and all characters property of Square Enix and Hiromu Arakawa.
Rating: pg 13 for implications.
Spoilers: Minor mention of events that take place during the series, but nothing that unfamiliarity with the events mentioned would be detrimental to enjoyment of the series or the story.
Crossposted: girl_starfish fm_alchemist
Notes: This is an ongoing fic, and I don't want to remark on the pairings at this point for the very simple reason that stories change as you write them, and although I know what pairings I'd like to see, I have yet to see if there will be a point in the fic where that will be a possibility. Please bear this in mind while reading. As the pairing is not the main focus of this fic, I don't believe this will pose too great a problem for readers. If you're really concerned by this, feel free to e-mail me and ask about it. I will say that I'm not suddenly going to turn around last chapter and make it het. Similarly, although this chapter is rated PG 13, the rating will almost certainly go up for some later chapters. I'll mark these where appropriate.
Thanks also to Jenny and Sol for their constructive input and Elanivalae for some excellent beta-work.
Feedback: Thoughtful comment and constructive criticism welcomed, preferably as e-mail. ^_~ Thank you!
Edward spent the next morning practicing what he’d say to Colonel Mustang. He rehearsed arguments while being lectured on appropriate patient/health-professional relationships by the Ward Director. He debated the most persuasive line of reasoning while doing ward duties. By the time his shift in the laboratory took place, Edward had decided that Mustang could just go to hell.
“Bastard,” he muttered under his breath, taking his place beside his research project. “Complete and utter bastard.”
“You’re not talking about me, I hope?”
Edward looked up into the kindly face of Doctor Matthews, head of research, and felt his face relax into a smile for the first time that day. No one could stay angry around Doctor Matthews. He was old, his face lined with the wrinkles that come from hard work. In that respect he reminded Edward of Dr. Marco. They had the same friendly manner, for all their seriousness. No matter how busy he was, you knew that Doctor Matthews always had time to listen to a struggling trainee.
“Delighted to hear it. How are your results coming?”
Talking about the project always made him feel calmer. This was the part where alchemy came in. Although the trainees weren’t expected to know any alchemy, the laboratory had two alchemists on hand to transmute the chemicals into the nutrients needed inside the artificial wombs the laboratory had developed. Right now, the trainees’ jobs were to measure the reaction rates and consumption of the chemicals and monitor the growth of the foetuses. It should have been creepy work; the sterile glass ‘wombs’ used to keep the foetuses eerily like specimens in a chimera workshop, if it hadn’t been for the knowledge that each of these containers held what could potentially be a human life. Each one of them came from parents, desperately hoping for a child of their own, and if the project succeeded, that wish would be granted.
“Excellent work, Elisabeth. I wish all my trainees were so methodical.” Matthews added his stamp to the progress report attached to Edward’s particular responsibility, 196-MV-C. “I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but I recommend you continue in research. You seem much more suited to the laboratory than the ward.” He paused, a teasing smile on his face. “Although rumour has it that your bedside manner impressed a certain Colonel very much yesterday . . .”
“Doctor!” Edward reddened furiously. “That isn’t what happened! I would never--”
Matthews held up one conciliatory hand. “I was teasing. No one who knows your dedication to your work would believe that rumour for a minute. And if they did, I’m sure your boyfriend would put them straight.”
Edward gave up.
“Oxygen feed is at optimum levels, growth rate steady, and you’ve allowed for the increase in waste products. Excellent.” The Doctor made a note on the chart, then returned it to its position. “Have you noticed any irregularities?”
“Consumption rates of the different chemicals seem to vary, but that is consistent with the projected data,” Edward reported, regarding the tiny being he was in charge of. It was weird, not human yet, not in anyway like a human. “Recently there’s been an increase of unused oxygen in the waste.”
“Ah. That shouldn’t cause problems.” Matthews scribbled something in his notebook. “Still, we’d better keep an eye on that. As you know, this is the dangerous stage, where we lose most our foetuses.”
“Actually, Doctor, about that . . . I’ve been thinking. Shouldn’t it be possible to develop them faster, so they spend less time at risk?”
“Theoretically, it’s possible,” Matthews conceded, taking a quick look around the laboratory to check that he wasn’t needed elsewhere. As most of Edward’s peers seemed occupied checking the other glass wombs, he turned back to face Edward. “Although accelerating growth might reduce the danger in terms of the growth process, there is a lot to consider. Babies who do not go full-term often bear long-term effects.”
“I know premature babies often suffer health problems, but accelerating the growth shouldn’t mean that the development suffers. I’ve been working on a formula to account for the development of cardiac and cranial functions within an accelerated growth period,” Edward held out his notes. “If you could take a look . . .”
Matthews nodded, glancing over them quickly. “I’ll examine them after my lecture. Although, you must keep in mind that until we have determined the exact period the brain functions, and so forth, develop, any investigation into accelerated growth must remain mere speculat--” He broke off to look hard at Edward’s calculations, then gave him a sharp, suddenly piercing look, so different from his usual affable smiles. “Who came up with these?”
“I did,” Edward admitted, worried by Matthews tone. It was just a theory--
“We shall discuss this further later. Come to my office after the afternoon lecture.”
“But I have ward duties then--”
“You’re excused.” Matthews folded Edward’s notebook away inside his jacket. “For now, I strongly suggest that you don’t discuss this matter with anyone else. And I do mean anyone.” He regarded Edward sternly. “I’ll see you at four.”
By the time he reached the next trainee and her project, his manner was completely affable again. Edward watched him, wondering if he’d imagined the oddness of the exchange. Uneasy, he looked over the readings for his foetus once more. It was easier to concentrate on his project then to listen to the nagging feeling that something was wrong.
“And now, if you’ll turn to page two-hundred and fifty-nine of your textbook, we will examine the case for the liver being the centre of the body’s nervous functions.”
Edward felt like beating his head against the desk. Harving’s lectures were usually boring, but they’d never been quite so abysmally dull before. Then again, with the knowledge that Matthews was looking over his notes, even a field excursion to the Museum of Alchemical Marvels would have been agony.
He gave up any pretense of paying attention, leaning his chin against the desk. As an afterthought he opened the notebook he used for classes. Matthews had the notebook with all his research in it, but he could still make use of his time.
He was halfway through designing an array that would be able to interface between a glass womb big enough for Al and the chemicals when a sudden touch to his shoulder made him jump. He hunched over his notes on instinct, knocking his textbook off the desk.
“Sorry!” Olivia leant over to retrieve the textbook, sliding into place next to Edward. “I only meant to ask if you minded if I sat here.”
“Go ahead,” Edward said, taking his textbook back. It wasn’t like he could stop her at this point. He opened the textbook, watching Olivia warily. He’d learnt a few things about girls from the whole dormitory experience. When one asked if she could sit next to you, she really meant ‘I want to talk to you.’
Olivia opened her textbook but didn’t open her pencil case, confirming Edward’s suspicions that the lecture was not the first thing on her mind. He was sure he wouldn’t have to wait long to find out what she wanted to talk to him about. Olivia was both direct and blunt. On Edward’s first day in the South dormitory, she had taken him into a quiet corner of the corridor and informed him that he was going about stuffing his bra in completely the wrong way. Edward had been both humiliated and very grateful as she then proceeded to give him advice on how to do so more realistically. Dressing like a girl was bad enough, but dressing like a girl and doing a bad job of it ... well, that was another level of shame entirely.
“Elisabeth, you know that patient last night who everyone’s talking about . . . was he really a General?” Olivia asked carelessly, adjusting the light blue cardigan she wore over her uniform. Not strictly permitted, but as long as they didn’t wear them in the wards, the senior nurses didn’t object.
Edward blinked. He’d almost forgotten Mustang. “A Colonel,” he corrected. “A very irritating one at that.”
“Only a Colonel? Still, I suppose that’s impressive for someone that young--”
“Come off it, Liv. You were looking, just like the rest of us.” Helen leaned over from the row behind. Edward liked Helen, she was shorter than he was . . . and being a girl had no hope of a growth spurt. “And anyway, whatever happened to you and Scotts?”
Sebastian Scott was the junior doctor directly under Harving. Young, and passably attractive, most of the trainees had had their eyes on him at some point. A few weeks ago, when a rumour had spread that Scotts’ favourite colour was blue, the Senior Matrons had had to fight a hard battle against blue nail polish, earrings, gloves, and so on, and so on. The list was as long as a night spent in the girl’s dormitories listening to Maud and Alice complain about the lack of dating opportunities in the Maternal Clinic.
All this had come to a complete halt a mere two weeks since when Olivia and the Junior Doctor were observed going to dinner together. There had been further dinners, and coffee as well. Although both refused to comment, it was tacitly understood that Scotts was off the market.
Olivia looked at her textbook. “I’m not sure what you’re implying, but our relationship is purely professional--”
“Which is why you’re wearing a blue cardigan?” Edward asked slyly. Olivia blushed. Score one for Ed.
Harving coughed, with a pointed look in their direction. Helen sat down, and Olivia and Edward hastily looked at their textbooks. Satisfied, the Professor moved on. “Now, with regards to liver functions--”
Olivia let a few minutes pass. “So, what was your Colonel’s name?” At Helen’s look she added “There’s no harm in asking.”
“He’s not my Colonel,” Edward answered.
“Of course not. You already have a boyfriend.”
“He’s not--” Edward knew it was futile. “Colonel Mustang.”
“The Colonel Mustang? The famous Flame Alchemist?”
“Isn’t he supposed to be really good looking and romantic? And brave?”
“He’s not that great,” Edward said. He was ignored.
“To think we had someone that famous in the West ward!”
“He’s not what I expected someone so famous to look like,” Olivia said thoughtfully, twirling a finger around a strand of hair. “He was much more, you know. Unconscious.”
“He spoke to me, you know.” Karen leaned back in the row in front of them with an air of smug complacency and a uniform that was, as always, strategically arranged to display one white bra strap. That had been mildly interesting until Edward had walked in on her waxing her legs. He’d never managed to feel the same about her after that.
Karen had probably been waiting all day to tell her story. “His voice? So deep and gorgeous--I wanted to die.”
Pity you didn’t, Edward thought balefully as she continued in the manner of a popular romance novel. It was amazing, a mere twenty minutes ago he’d thought Harving’s lecture was bad enough. But no, Harving was boring, not nauseating.
“And he leaned into me, looking at me with his gorgeous, deep eyes, and I felt like I was going to faint! He was so close and--”
“What did he say?” Olivia sounded amused, tapping her pencil against the desk as she waited.
Karen pouted, obviously resenting the intrusion of reality into her narration. “Well, he asked me if I knew all the nurses here, and I said yes, and then he looked deep into my eyes--” Karen sighed dramatically. “And--”
Olivia raised an eyebrow.
“And asked what Elisabeth’s name was,” Karen surrendered to reality with growing resentment.
Edward blinked, feeling the attention of every girl in eavesdropping distance shift to him.
“You didn’t tell us that.”
“I didn’t know!” Edward protested, holding up his hands to stave off Helen’s look.
“Didn’t you tell him she had a boyfriend?”
Karen pouted. “Of course, I did. I said ‘Surely you don’t mean Elisabeth Rockbell? She already has a boyfriend. A very dedicated boyfriend.’ And he smiled and said ‘The short grumpy nurse with the blond ponytail? A boyfriend?’ And I said, ‘Yes, they’re ever so close.’ And he had this pleased expression and he thanked me, and I was going to ask him if he had plans for the weekend, and the Ward Director came by and wanted to know why I wasn’t doing anything. Of course, I didn’t know then that he was a famous Colonel.”
Edward had stopped listening by this point. He was watching, horrified, as his mind replayed exactly how that would have sounded to Mustang, complete with superior smirk and acid commentary. “That smug bastard--”
Olivia patted his shoulder sympathetically. “Don’t feel too badly. Everyone falls for the ‘Ministering Angel’ line.”
“. . . huh?” Edward blinked at her.
“So you reminded him of his mother then? Or his childhood sweetheart?”
“I hate when they say ‘sister’. They mean well, but it’s kind of creepy.”
“And ‘mother’ isn’t?”
Edward held up a hand to stop them. “Can we go pause a moment? Okay, what are we talking about?”
“You don’t know?”
“Of course!” Olivia was looking at Edward with sudden understanding and sympathy. “You hadn’t done any nursing before this. So you wouldn’t know.”
Karen straightened. Helen leaned in.
“Everyone falls in love with his nurse.”
Edward waited for the punch line, but there was only a complacent satisfaction. “What?”
“There’s a word for it. A kind of complex,” Helen straightened her uniform absently. “You get used to it.”
“You’re not serious--”
“They’re exaggerating,” Olivia said, ever the voice of reason. “But you have to look out for that type. Then there are the ones that like the uniform.”
“I’m so glad we’re in Maternity.”
Edward was wondering why no one had warned him. “And this happens often?”
“What I don’t understand,” Karen said, sounding aggrieved. “Is why Elisabeth. I mean, of all the girls in the ward--well, no offense, Elisabeth, but you’re not exactly the most--” she gestured, “--developed.”
“Karen!” Helen hissed, darting an anxious look towards Edward.
He blinked, unsure whether he should be shocked, relieved or embarrassed. This wasn’t a situation he’d ever expected to be in. “That’s not--”
“Don’t be such a mother, Helen. Elisabeth must know that she has no hips to speak of and legs like tree trunks,” Karen was on a roll, centre of attention. “The only explanation I can think of is that the Colonel must have been woozy with pain when he saw her, because obviously, if he’d seen her mouth--”
“What’s wrong with my mouth?”
“Nothing,” Helen said, a little too quickly for Edward’s peace of mind. “Karen!”
“And don’t get me started on her jaw! There were soldiers here last night that looked more feminine than she does--”
Warm fingers closed around his shoulder. Edward glanced up at Olivia in surprise. He’d never seen so cold an expression on her face. “Karen, I think you should apologise now.”
The other girl looked startled a moment, then laughed. “Come off it, Liv. I’m not saying anything that anyone here hasn’t thought. You know, the only thing more mysterious than this boyfriend of hers that no one ever sees is what strength glasses he needs--”
“Telling, isn’t it, that despite all Elisabeth’s so-called flaws, she has a steady boyfriend whereas you’ve never even been asked out for coffee.”
There were a few muted giggles at that, and Karen’s cheeks had an angry flush in them when she replied.
“I suppose you think a couple of dinners with Scotts makes you an expert?”
“It makes me more of an expert that someone who’s first kiss was her cousin.”
The balance of power had definitely shifted. Edward wasn’t sure exactly when it had happened, but Olivia was smiling now, cool and collected, and Karen was growing whiter and whiter.
“It’s not as if Scott’s is much of a catch. He’s what, 24? And still a Junior--”
“That didn’t stop you trying for him, though, did it?” Olivia was triumphant. “A pity he doesn’t go for girls with more make-up than personality.” She paused. “You know, you’ve answered your own question. The reason the Colonel chose Elisabeth was that he had a good look at you.”
Karen’s jaw tightened and she glared at Olivia, but could not reply.
Edward blinked. How long had Harving been trying to get their attention?
The professor tapped his watch meaningfully. “I appreciate your interest in the subject matter, but we need to clear the hall for the next lecture.”
The time! Edward glanced at the clock, shovelling his books into his bag and standing in one movement. He couldn’t be late--
Olivia caught up with him just outside the door. “Elisabeth--are you all right? Walk with me to the wards.”
“Thanks, but I’m fine. I have to go talk to Doctor Matthews about something . . .” He was going to be late.
Olivia looked at him carefully. “Look, what Karen said was completely out of line. You can’t let her get to you--”
Edward blinked. She thought-- “I’m fine,” he repeated. “I really do have to talk to Doctor Matthews. I have an appointment and everything.” Olivia still looked like she thought he was waiting until he was completely alone to burst into tears so he added, “Look, fulfilling the ideal of womanly beauty is not exactly a priority of mine’ -- and that was the truth and a half -- “so I’m not going to let the opinion of someone who relies on her bra strap to pass her classes upset me.”
Olivia smiled and squeezed his hand. “Good. You know, you can come by my room any time to talk--”
“Thanks.” Edward was surprised how much he meant that. “If I don’t go now, I’m going to be late--”
“See you later!” Olivia waved, and Edward ran.
Matthews’ office resembled a small library with a desk and easy chair. Books covered all the available surfaces, in piles where there wasn’t shelf space. Some of the titles Edward recognised, volumes on biological theory that the National Alchemists Library didn’t even carry. There were more that he didn’t recognise. His fingers itched.
“Now then,” Matthews waved him to the easy chair, and lent against his desk. “We can talk.”
“Yes, Sir.” On any other occasion the chair would have been comfortable. So why did he still feel like he was about to be told off?
“Elisabeth, I’ve read over your notes thoroughly. Before we discuss them, I’d like you to tell me a bit about them. How did you come up with the idea to accelerate growth in the first place?”
“Well, it made sense,” Edward admitted, hesitantly. He had Elisabeth’s shy personality to keep up, after all. “Babies aren’t designed to be made in a glass womb. The very atmosphere puts them at risk. There are airbourne germs, temperature fluctuations, risk of contamination. The sooner they are able to survive outside of the made womb, the better for the baby.”
“How did you make the transition from that thought to accelerating growth theory? Someone must have suggested it to you?”
Edward shook his head. “No one did. It seemed the logical progression.” Actually, the progression had been in the other direction. Alphonse would need a full sized body, after all. Edward would never hear the end of it if his brother had to go through childhood twice.
“But you must have had help with the formulas. One of the teaching staff? Or perhaps one of the trainee doctors--”
“I’ve been drawing heavily on Peterson and Heller’s previous studies, but not completely. I wasn’t satisfied with their governing principle.” Edward’s tone grew more enthusiastic as he warmed to his topic. “You see, I hoped that by replacing the root of the equation with the law governing organic matter, growth could be accelerated safely--”
The Doctor nodded occasionally, but didn’t interrupt. He regarded Edward closely.
“And that’s it. Sir.” Edward drew in a breath and waited. It was the only thing he could do.
“You didn’t mention you had a history in alchemy in your application,” Matthews said thoughtfully, his chin resting on one hand. “I’m sure I’d have remembered a student from the alchemist’s college.”
“Ah--” He had deliberately left that off his application. “I’m self taught. Mostly.”
“I see.” Matthews raised an eyebrow then. “This level of familiarity is rare in someone with no practical talent for alchemy.” The challenge was clear; a non alchemist would have difficulty in producing such formulas.
“What should I demonstrate on?”
“How about the beaker in the corner?” Matthews suggested. “That is the chemical feed we use in the laboratory. Separate all of the chemicals into their different elements.”
Edward nodded, his chalk already in hand. So, yes, he didn’t need the array, but this was the first time he’d tried something so precise with chemicals. Why not do it by the book?
The smell of the chalk reminded him of Al, and he couldn’t help but smile as he finished the last symbol. His brother might complain about the inconvenience of being reliant on arrays, but Edward couldn’t say he minded. Far better than the alternative of Alphonse paying the cost of knowing . . . He set the beaker in the middle, placed his hands either side of the circle and pushed.
Mere seconds later the chemicals floated in neat layers in the beaker.
“It won’t last long,” Edward said, handing the beaker to the doctor. “The reactive rate of some of these chemicals goes without saying.”
“Of course.” Matthews held the beaker up to the light, studying it carefully. “A remarkably fine separation. You broke everything down to molecule form and then rewove them into their respective elements?” At Edward’s nod, he set the beaker down. “A result in keeping with the mind which could produce these formulas.”
It was a compliment, but Edward still didn’t feel at ease. “Thank you, Sir.”
Matthews turned over Edward’s notes again, the thin rustle of paper the only sound in the room. After a considerable pause, he spoke, his tone much more like the kind professor Edward was used to. “You’ve been working on these a long time.”
There would be little sense in denying that. “Yes, Sir.”
“The theory is sound. There are a few errors, of course, in application, but your process is well thought out and balanced,” Matthews tucked the notes away in his jacket again, giving Edward a measured look. “I think we’ll take this conversation to the lab. After you, Miss Rockbell.”
At least he hadn’t said it was outright impossible, Edward reflected. Still, he’d blown his cover. Even if Matthews didn’t know who he was exactly, he knew he wasn’t a normal trainee. That thought alone was worrying enough to keep Edward in silence the walk to the lab.
“Ladies first,” Matthews said, opening the door.
Edward suppressed the reflex to kick him in the shins and stepped through the door. The hardest part about being disguised as a girl was remembering he was disguised as a girl. He tugged on the edge of his uniform as he waited for Matthews to turn on the lights and follow him into the room.
The lab looked different at night. True, there was little natural light in the lab during day, but now the shadows seemed longer, the light a little more false. It was strange to see the lab so empty, and somehow wrong. You wouldn’t leave a baby alone in a darkened room. These weren’t babies yet, and there was a chance they would never be, but it still felt wrong. Out of habit, he stopped in front of his project, checking the readings. Not much had changed since the lab session that afternoon.
“These are human lives. Not just experiments.”
“I know that, Sir.”
Matthews rested a hand on the thick glass wall of Edward’s project, studying the growth within. “We are barely sure of safely bringing these babies through gestation. You think that experimenting with a procedure that is untried and could have unknown impacts on these lives is justifiable?”
“If it works, it could make it possible to develop every one of these foetuses fully and safely!” Edward insisted. “That’s why--”
“You’re prepared to try something that might result in the death of your charge?”
Edward looked at his project. It was really kind of ugly, all pink and swollen. All the same--
“Have you been to the incubator room, Elisabeth?”
“No, Sir. Trainees aren’t allowed in their without the Matron’s permission, and we don’t begin premature birth until next week.”
“Come with me. I think you’ll find it enlightening.”
If the nurse on duty in the incubator ward was surprised to see Doctor Matthews show up out of duty hours with a trainee, she was too well trained to show it, or indeed express any reaction whatsoever. She nodded as Matthews asked her to wait outside while they talked, taking her knitting with her as she left.
Alone now, Matthews ushered Edward over to the nearest incubator. “Look.”
To be honest, his first reaction was revulsion. The little thing curled up amongst the tubes and feeds looked like a bright, overcooked sausage. Its face was all scrunched up, and bright pink fingers clutched at a blanket. It was sleeping, and it had to be one of the ugliest things he’d seen in his life.
Then the baby yawned, wriggling slightly, caught up in the wires. Edward found himself reaching instinctively to free it. It was so little, smaller even than a regular baby, and so fragile--
“Can I ... ?” he asked, looking to Doctor Matthews.
“You can touch, but try not to disturb her. She needs rest.”
The pink skin was warm and soft, and she sighed again, seemingly soothed by the touch of Edward’s fingers. She was still ugly, her face set in an expression of distinct disapproval, but ugly in a way that only made it all the more necessary to protect her.
“Is this the first time you’ve seen a newly born baby?”
“Nah. When I was 12 I saw a baby being born. Of course, she was bigger and more wrinkled . . .” He hadn’t seen Elicia in ages. Maybe Al and he should drop by on his next free afternoon. She must be starting school soon . . .
Matthews smiled. “Is that how you got into nursing?”
“No, I’m doing this for my brother.” The response was automatic, lulled out of him by the presence of the baby. He realised immediately after of course, but by then it was too late.
“Your brother?” The Doctor waited.
“Yes. He--uh, well--” Of all the times to forget. “There was an accident.” Edward took a deep breath. “And my brother was dying. There was an alchemist. He was, uh, experimenting with um, soul transmutation and well, my brother--” He swallowed helplessly. He couldn’t tell, but Matthews must see, must know he was lying --
“Soul transmutation?” Matthews was stern. “That’s impossible! It’s never been successfully documented. All the research shows that the displacement of the original soul has an adverse affect on any transfer. No one has ever survived--”
“You assume he used a live body.”
There was a lengthy pause.
Matthews drew the Night Nurse’s chair out from her desk in the corner and ushered Edward toward it. “All right, Miss Rockbell. Explain.”
Edward took a deep breath. “I--I wasn’t there, but he -- the Alchemist -- connected his soul to--” Armour was too recogniseable. Shit. Think, Ed!
Edward remembered a fading country village and a figure who’s steps weren’t quite natural. “He’d been researching soul transmutation. He had these puppets--” He hated using Majihal’s obsessed actions as an excuse, but it did make sense. “Human sized. He used that.”
“Well, that does away with the resistance of the original soul,” Matthews conceded. “But a soul is -- or at least, is presumed to be -- living matter. To bind it to an inanimate form would take a powerful binding agent--”
“Blood. His blood.”
“My god.” Matthews swallowed. “The cost must have been enormous.”
Edward could hear his voice speaking clearly, as though someone else’s. “It took his right arm.”
The Doctor took a deep breath. “I’m presuming this Alchemist taught you what you knew? And as Soul Alchemy is a forbidden science--”
“Obviously, I couldn’t list it on my application,” Edward said. “Yes.”
Matthews let out a deep breath. “Sucessful soul transmutation. My word. Well. That does explain your familiarity with advanced Alchemic principles--”
“But not yours.”
Matthews blinked. His response was a little too rushed. “My dear child, what do you mean? My research relies on alchemy to such an extent that naturally I must be familiar with the basic tenements--”
“But the symbolism of the blood bond isn’t a basic tenement,” Edward met Matthew’s eyes unflinchingly. “You realised that not only did the blood fit symbolically, but it breached the gap between soul and matter on a physical level as well -- and only an alchemist would understand the cost of working in blood.”
Silence stretched as they measured each other. Edward met Matthew’s eyes unafraid. He knew he was right--
“Well,” Matthews said at last. “I don’t think we need to tell the Board of Directors about this.”
Matthews let out a breath, polishing his glasses on his sleeve. “Now, then. From what you’ve told me and what I already know of you, Miss Rockbell, it’s clear you have your own agenda in enrolling here?”
“I want to create a new body for my brother,” Edward explained. “In a way that won’t harm anyone else, or take anything that isn’t ours.”
“And you chose this maternity clinic because . . . ?”
“I’ve been researching the possibility of creating an entire human body for a while now,” Edward admitted. “That led into Medical Alchemy. When methods of accelerated healing and growth were mentioned, two names always came up. The research pioneered by the team of Matthews and Zimmer.” Matthews’ face was grave, forbidding. Edward pressed forward anyway--he’d come too far. “I read all of the research the two of you came up with. It looks like you were on the edge of a breakthrough when the war happened and . . .” Edward shrugged. “No one seems to know what happened but Zimmer disappeared and you went into a research position at a quiet Maternity clinic attached to a Nursing School.”
“So you enrolled here,” Matthews’ voice was cool. “And then what?”
“I thought that if I enrolled, I’d at least get to learn your methods. I was hoping that if I learnt enough here, I could apply them to the research you’d done and understand what you meant to do with it. Then I could develop my own method --”
“Your own method?” Matthews asked sharply. “You do not intend to ask me for my research, then?”
“You obviously have reasons for not continuing it,” Edward explained. “And this is my brother. He’s my responsibility. I must find a way to restore him with my own research and work. It’s Equivalent Trade.”
Matthews was still looking at him, but this time something had changed. “You,” the Doctor said slowly, “are the most remarkable young woman I’ve ever met.”
He had no idea.
“Your theory is sound,” Matthews drew Edward’s notes out of his coat. “Your grasp of alchemy far exceeds your age.” He shuffled through the pages. “What you propose is not only sound in theory, but I venture to suggest, possible on a practical level.”
Edward couldn’t help the sudden rush of hope. Al! “It’s possible?”
Matthews held out Edward’s notes, now covered in corrections, side notes, and complicated formulae. “There’s a lot of work you’ll have to do before we’re anywhere near approaching this. You’ll need to make allowances for the nutrient feed. Amount of oxygen needed will increase exponentially with the rate of accelerated growth, and I suggest you start again from scratch with your growth formulas.”
Edward accepted his notes, mind spinning. So much to take in and surely he’s heard wrong. “Before we’re near . . . ?”
“As it happens,” Matthews said. “I have an opening for a research assistant.”
Edward gaped. The most he’d thought he could hope for was Matthews’ silence, but the Doctor was offering to help him? “You mean--”
“I’ve not created an adult before, just applied the acceleration process successfully to an infant. We shall have to do a great deal of reseach, I think. I’ll arrange to have your ward duties reassigned to time working on my project, and I’ll rearrange your courses to the bare minimum of what you’ll need for this project. Do you think you could handle a second year paper?”
“If it will help Al,” Edward said, scarcely believing his luck. The break they’d been wanting for --
“I must, however, urge strictest secrecy.” The severity in Matthews’ voice was strong enough even to cut through Edward’s exhiliration. “If it became known, or indeed, even suspected, that it was possible to produce a fully functioning human in a matter of weeks, there are certain ... shall we say, parties, that might take an interest in it. An undesirable interest.”
Undesirable . . . ? “Does this have something to do with the reason you discontinued your research?”
“It does.” Matthews sighed. “As you’re no doubt aware, Zimmer and I were the pioneers in accelerated healing processes. Our reasearch created a lot of interest among fellow medics and alchemists alike, even the military.” He shook his head. “And then the war.”
His expression forcibly reminded Edward of Doctor Marco.
“Medics were drafted into field duty. I won’t go into details in front of a lady,” Matthews continued. “But I will say that the suggestion was made to use our research to craft a ‘better’ soldier. We protested, of course, but it was wartime . . . Zimmer’s death was almost a godsend. He handled the alchemy, and he shared his workings with no one. Without him . . . well, the military lost interest and I was able to take up a quiet life here.” He looked closely at Edward. “You see, of course, what would happen if word got out that I’d started research into accelerated growth? It would not be long before experiments began into the possibility of crafting more exceptional babies. And why stop at infants? Someone might make the jump you did and realise that someone with the right resources could create a human adult.”
Edward could see the implications of that. “You’re afraid that someone will start mass producing humans--improved humans--an army--”
Matthews’ grave expression was at odds with his normally cheerful face. “You see why no one must know?”
“I see.” And he’d just blurted his own research out to Mustang without any thought for the consequences--he was an idiot! Still, Mustang wasn’t exactly your average officer; he did have some qualms. Ambitious though he was, there were some things he wouldn’t stoop to. He hoped.
“Don’t look so dispirited, my dear.” Edward looked up in surprise as Doctor Matthews patted him on the shoulders. “I believe that we can develop your idea without anyone being the wiser. I’ll talk to the Director about transferring you to my research project tonight. In the meantime, I suggest you take a look at these texts--” Matthews scribbled some names on the top of Edward’s notes. “There. Now, if you hurry, you might still have enough time for your ward duties.”
At last. Edward kicked off his heels before the door to his room was even finished closing, dumping his headscarf a moment later. The ever-anal Ward Director had decided that, permission from Matthews or not, Edward should not be allowed to leave the ward until he’d made up for the time he was late, irrespective of the fact that with the other trainees having finished and the patients napping, nothing remained to be done. Edward’s temper was frayed enough without adding the trainee uniform to it, and it was with relief immense that he undid the crisp uniform dress.
It wasn’t until he had an arm free and most of the chest undone that he realised he had an audience.
“Please,” Mustang drawled, comfortable and amused in the sitting chair. “Don’t stop on my behalf.”