The Flower Princess and the Alchemist @bloodpokemon101
Dance Lights Shine Silver and Gold

(A/N: Here's chapter thirty nine! *squeal* Edward and Orihime are going to a party together! I am bursting with excitement! Okay, I'm going to stop squealing, so I could get on with the chapter! Enjoy!

sacke110: Thanks for the review! Yeah, I always plan for Orihime to make ribbons for Nina for quite a while now. What I didn't plan for was the design. I'm not a fashionista, and I care very little about fashion in general. In my opinion, just throw on a clean shirt and pants and you are good to go. A dress or suit for those special occasions. Simple. I don't want to spoil, but Ling is actually a good character. I like him. That was just my first impression when I watched Brotherhood. And about Lust and Chloe... It's fine, if you don't know. Not everyone watched the anime. It's only be out for a year, so not many people know about it. It doesn't affect the story. It's just my inspiration.

Jascar: Thanks for the question! You know, I never quite got how the dragon pulse works. I'm well aware of its mechanism and the Xingese use it to sense people, but just how much does that entail. Are they only able to sense someone directly? Like if a person stayed in one area for while then left, would they still be able to sense the person's dragon pulse in that area even though they are long gone? Like how dog could pick up faint trances of a person's scent? Or how Bleach characters could detect remnants of a person's spirit energy? It's never explained. About them kidnapping Orihime, I haven't thought of that. And I highly doubt Edward would let them, seeing how fiercely protective of her he is. Plus, if they were to kidnap her, well, that would just ruin the chances of them becoming allies later down the line.

Cookie-the-Rookie: Thanks for the review! Your wait is finally over. And second, I could tell you that problem is going to cause some drama and angst down the line.)

Dance Lights Shine Silver and Gold

"Ah, Central… It's good to be back!" Edward sighed out in bliss, stretching his arms out. "I'm so beat."

After a half a day long train ride, the group of teens finally made it to their destination. Central. Orihime was already happily taking in the sight of city once again. She could not believe it had been over a month since she last step foot in her. The air was a lot cooler and crisper than in Rush Valley or even Dublith. The wind gently flowed through her hair and the gray skirt of her uniform.

"Big Sis Ori!"

The auburn haired girl curiously perked when a familiar child like voice shouted her name in the distant.

"Who was that?" Edward asked no one in particular just as puzzled as her. Alphonse and Winry both wore the same perplexed expressions.

Their curiosity was soon answered when a tiny figure pushed through the crowd of people either getting off the train or waiting for their ride. Soon, a young girl with chin length, brown hair and bright blue emerges. The pink and white dress she was wearing ruffling behind her. Her blue orbs lit up, brightly and with childlike glee when she caught sight of who she was searching for.

"Big sis! Big sis!"

With a swiftness of a freight train, the little pink figure glomped onto the auburn haired healer. The latter was so startled that she couldn't maintain her balance. She yelped in surprise as both she and the little fell towards the ground in a pile of heap, the resounding crash catching the attention of pedestrians.

She could hear the shocked, collective gasps of her friends, but her eyes were closed from the impact of hitting the ground, so she couldn't make out what they were surprised about.

"Big sis!"

The weight on her stomach snuggled up against her, joyously as her small arms wrapped around her so tightly she was afraid the older girl would disappear if she let go.

"Big sis! I missed you!" the little girl cried out, merrily. Her voice, though, sounded awfully familiar. She had it right at the top of her head. It was…

"Nina?!" Edward's shouted out the answer in complete utter disbelief.

Huh? Nina?

A gray eye cracked open. Once her vision cleared, the brown haired girl's features came into view. Her silvery orbs broadened slightly before a pleasant half smile spread across her face as the adorable, little girl contentedly snuggled up against her.

"Nina?! Where did you come from?" Alphonse's startled and perplexed voice rang out, loudly.

His question made Orihime wonder that, too. And she was sure Ed and Winry were both questioning the same thing. Nina certainly wasn't here when they arrived on the platform. Plus, they haven't informed anyone of their arrival, so it shouldn't be possible for the brunette to know they were here.

"Nina!" a woman's voice called out through the crowd. The distress and worry in her tone was very noticeable. Her voice was also familiar though. "Nina! Where are you?"

The presence of a brown haired woman with green eyes surfaced from the straying pedestrians. She held a small child in her arms. The tiny girl had the same hair and eyes as her mother, and her hair was done up in two small pigtails.

"Ms. Gracia?" Winry spoke in utterly baffled. A bright grin broke out and she waved, happily at the woman. "Ms. Gracia!"

The stunned surprise on Gracia's expression when her emerald gaze were fixed on the four teenagers and the young girl standing in front of a now departing train. "They're here just like Nina said," she muttered, the disbelief and shock were evident in her tone.

"Oh, Ms. Gracia! It's you," Al vocalized in a loud and clear tone, his expression brighten up.

The kind woman smiled walking up to them. As she came closer, her features were prominent. There were lines of tiny droplets of sweat plastered against her forehead, the tiredness in her eyes were visible, and her breathing was a little ragged. She stopped to take her in slow, deep breathes to rejuvenates herself.

"Hi, sis! Hi, sissy! Big brother! Little older brother!" Elicia chirped, gleefully waving at the older kids. Ed twitched at the mentioned of being dubbed 'little', but thought it best to let it slide. Good choice, though. He would come off as an complete and utter maniac, if he were to lash out on a three year old, especially in front of several dozen people. Although, that did not stop his eyebrow from twitching in annoyance.

"Hi, Elicia!" Winry greeted the tiny girl, sweetly.

"If you don't mind me asking, what are you doing here, Ms. Gracia?" Ed asked, raising a curious brow. By that point, Orihime rose up to her feet. However, Nina was still clinging onto her, so she opted to carry her in her arms. "We didn't exactly tell anyone we would be arriving in Central."

Gracia grinned, somewhat nervously and slightly unsure, offering the same slightly puzzled expression as the rest of them. Her eyes darted towards a blissfully happy Nina. "Truthfully, I did not know you kids would be arriving. Nina was the one who strangely knew you were coming. You should've seen her! She couldn't stop bouncing. And then she ran out of the house, screaming 'Big Sis Ori is back! Bis sis is here!' with all the excitement and joy in the world."

Ed, Al, and Winry all stared at Nina slightly bewildered and awestruck. Compared to their expressions, Orihime's was once laced with concern.

"Nina?" she spoke to the girl in a slow and deliberate tone. "How did you know I was coming?"

Loosening her grip on the older girl and slightly pulling away, blue eyes stared up at her, brightly, a buoyantly cheerful grin reached not only on her face, but shone in her eyes as well. "I just knew!"

Now, the three teens were twice as perplexed as they were before.

"You knew? What do you mean?" the auburn haired inquired, asking the question they were all thinking.

The young girl pursed her lips, her brows furrowed deep in thought. "The sun!" she exclaimed, her voice full of vigorous cheer and zestful euphoria. The indescribable happiness that gleamed in her sky orbs were almost contagious. "There was this warm and bright feeling! That's when I knew big sister was coming because big sister feels warm and bright! Like the sun!" Nina fondly pressed her head underneath Orihime's chin, trying to get in as much of the latter's warmth as she could, the lips beaming with pure satisfaction and content.

"Huh?" Orihime could hear her friend's confusion as bright as day, obviously the brown haired girl's strange words and description made no sense to them. However, she perfectly knew what Nina expressing, what her bizarre depiction meant, the significance of her idiom.

To say Orihime wasn't horrified by the prospect of Nina's spiritual energy was by an exceptional amount in such a short time would be a downright horrid and dreadful lie. She was frighteningly panicked by the scope of it.

Nina may not be aware of it, but she could already pick up other people's spiritual energy. The ginger haired girl honestly wouldn't be so, if the young girl vaguely picked up her presence. But to accurately pinpoint where she was that was a cause for concern. Even right at this very moment, Nina's spirit energy is blissfully seeking hers out, comfortably wrapping itself underneath hers, content with being under the cover of a warm blanket.

Right now, there was a million terrifying thoughts racing inside the healer's head. What if Nina gets attacked by a Hollow again? Last time she was ambushed by one was by mere coincidence and sheer bad luck. The Hollow at that time was after the ghost girl Nina befriended. However, this time, because of her high amounts spirit energy, a Hollow could target Nina specifically. Just the simple notion of it made Orihime's heart fill up with trepidation and dread.

What would the auburn haired girl do if such an instance were to happen? Should she send Tsubaki and Shun'o to constantly keep watch over her? That would work out all fine and dandy for now while she's staying in Central. Just the same, what would happen once Ed gets a new mission or that finds another clue and wants to leave Central to go searching for it? If that were to happen, then leaving parts of her Shun Shun Rikka to continue to keep an eye out the young, brown haired girl would be impossible. If that were the case, should she request for Nina to tag along just to be able to keep a lookout over her? Yet, what would she tell Ed? How would she explain herself? There's no doubt Ed would refuse because Nina is too young to travel with them. She's just a little girl, after all. He would never want to put her in any danger. What should she do? What should she do?!

While Orihime was internally freaking out over this new dilemma, she was totally unaware that Edward was carefully taking notice of her expressions and closely observing her reaction. He was completely clueless of what the implication of Nina's words meant, but Orihime did and she was bothered by it. Extremely unnerved and uncomfortably uneasy. Her lips twitched and there was a sense of agitated worry in her gray eyes. Her expressions were hard to decipher, however, it were these subtle signs of troubled anxiety that made him realize she knew something was up.

A frown formed on his features. He wanted to ask her what was wrong, but stopped himself. What if she brushes him off again like she usually does? There was no way he could come right out and it, if that were the case. He bit the bottom of his lip in frustration. He really did not like being kept in the dark of whatever it was that was going on. He felt useless and inadequate because he did not know how to ease Orihime's pain. Or that she had decidedly come to the conclusion that he would not be any help at all, which actually hurt quite a lot with her believing she didn't need him.

"Is something the matter, big sis?" Nina's concerned voice rang out, her blue, doey eyes gazing at Orihime, worriedly. So, he wasn't the only one who had taken notice of Orihime's . Nina's detected it as well. "Did I do something wrong?"

"Uh, no, nothing's wrong, Nina," Orihime assured, a grim forming on her face.

He could not explain it, but he could almost immediately tell that smile was fake. It was way too showy like she was trying act like she was happy. Her smile was tight and somewhat strained. He couldn't understand why or how, but he had become more acutely aware of Orihime's mood swings. He wondered if it was because of all the time they spent together, how close they've become over these past several months. Because just then, for a fraction of a second, Ed spotted a glimmer sadness in her silvery orbs. Sadness that made even the most depressing of rain showers seem tamed in comparison. And there was an underlying sensation of guilt when she stared at Nina. He knew that dark, self tormenting feeling because it was the look in his eyes every time he was reminded that he was the one who forced Al to become empty suit of armor he is today. Eyes that spoke 'I'm sorry', but had no way of expressing it. Eyes that held so much remorse and shame.

Orihime's brows furrowed into a stern expression. "But you shouldn't have ran off like that, Nina," she chided the little girl. "Don't you realize how worried and frightened you made Ms. Gracia feel? You should apologize right now."

Nina looked down with shame, her lips quivered, and glimmering specks of tears formed in the corner of her eyes. Her doe like eyes glancing over at Gracia, apologetically. "I'm sorry, Ms. Gracia."

Gracia just smiled, kindly at the young girl, waving her free hand, dismissively. "There's no need to apologize, Nina." Her green orbs gazed over at Orihime. "I could see how much Nina is clearly attached to you, Orihime," she spoke in a sweet natured voice.

The auburn haired girl's drifted towards a peacefully happy Nina before beaming back. "Yeah. I guess she is."

It was not hard to see why Nina had grown so immensely fond of her. They both share a secret that no one else in this world ever understand. Because of their shared burden that made them form a special connection. Thinking back on it, she could not help but to smile, tenderly at the little girl. She may not be able to undo the past, she may no longer be able to dismiss the possibility of Nina's increasingly spiritual potential and capabilities, but, from now on, she would always be there for her. Looking after her and taking care of her like a big sister should. Nina's big sister. And if Nina does grow so much as to develop her own spiritual powers, then she would be the one to train her to use them properly to the best of her abilities.

Having that set on her mind, Orihime felt a wave of relief wash over her. A weight was lifted off her shoulders, and her gray eyes burned with resolve and conviction. She was determined to keep an eye out for Nina and protect her at all cost.

Edward witnessed as the sadness and guilt in Orihime's eyes completely dissipated. Whatever inner struggles she had was easily solved. He guessed he must've been worrying for nothing. He frowned, feeling stupid at how insecure he was being. Lately, he always felt anxious over the idea of Orihime pushing him away. Was he really becoming that much of wimp that the mere prospect of her finding his help unneeded was enough to leave him feeling inadequate and insignificant? Was he that whipped to let a girl be easily capable of manipulating his emotions without even trying to?

"Excuse me," Winry spoke out. Her blue orbs darting between Ed and Orihime. "I hate to cut this reunion short, but you two don't have very much time," she informed them. "The dance is tonight, remember? You guys only have a few hours to get ready."

"Crap!" Ed cursed. Winry's reminder caused him and Orihime to nearly freak out. Bright red blushes of embarrassment spread across their faces. Their panicked heartbeats resounding inside their chests. They had forgot about the dance. The reunion with Nina and the Hughes made them lose track of time!

Orihime still needed to buy a dress for the dance. Not to mention she had to fix her hair, and find a pair of shoes to match. Her old worn out and hiking shoes just weren't going to cut it. She had to make sure she was more than presentable for the party. She did not want to embarrass Ed. But what type of dress would be appropriate for such an occasion? Should she go with something fancy and extravagant or elegant and simple?

Edward was on a similar boat as Orihime, but for a slightly different reason. He had forgotten he was attending a dance with Orihime. Just him and her. Alone. For hours. Well, they would not exactly be alone, but there would be no Al, no Winry, no Nina, no Mustang, and none of the Hughes. Just them and a bunch of strangers. The hammering of his heartbeats refused to cease its excessively pounding. The more he thought about it, the idea of being alone with Orihime inside a extravagant building with flashing lights, loud and soft music, eating delicious food, and dancing with her, the more it came off as the two of them going on a date.

He inwardly shook his head. He should stop kidding himself. It was not healthy. Orihime said so herself, they were just going as friends. The only reason she could not invite Al and Winry along was because she only had one spare ticket. A ticket she had gladly given to him. He should really stop deluding himself. Besides, she was in love with Ichigo. He was perfectly fine with just being friends. That's all they were, right? Just friends. It's all they would ever be.

The blonde mechanic shook her head at her friends' forgetfulness. She did not know what they would do if she wasn't here. They would be completely lost without her. She grabbed the ginger haired healer's arms, pulling her flustered self along. "C'mon, Orihime!" she urged her. "We have to get you ready for the party!" she squealed. "We have to pick out dress and do your makeup and hair! You are going to look great, Orihime!"

Was it just Orihime's imagination or did Winry seem way more excited than her about this dance? It figures. She was the one who insisted that she attend this party, even though Orihime herself decided to either throw the tickets away or give them to someone else.

Winry almost skipped over to the older woman. "Ms. Gracia, do you mind if we get Orihime ready over at your place?"

There was a slight look of confusion plastered on the brown haired woman's face, but she agreed, nonetheless. "Yes, you two are always welcomed any time."

"Great!" The blonde girl pumped her fist in excitement. Her blue orbs darted towards Edward. "We will be over at the Hughes. Ed, come pick Orihime up in the next three hours." She frowned at him. "Wear something nice!"

Ed scowled, feeling insulted. "Why wouldn't I wear anything nice? Do you think I dress tacky?"

A snort from Al and a merely raised eyebrow of disbelief from Winry was enough to make him growl in irritation under his breath.

The blonde mechanic glanced over at the suit of armor. "Al, make sure Ed doesn't wear something stupid, okay? Who knows what kind of ridiculous outfit he would pick, if no one is there to watch him."

"Hey!" Ed yelled, indignantly.

"I have to agree with Winry, brother," Al inputted. "You don't exactly have the best sense in fashion."

"Al!" the elder Elric squawked, appalled. "Why does everyone have a problem with my sense of style?"

"You have none," both Al and Winry deadpanned.

Ed paled, turning as white as a sheet when he was coldly shot down.

Orihime couldn't help but silently giggle at Ed's antics. Winry, on the other hand, merely rolled her eyes.

"Let's go, Orihime."

"O-oh, okay."

The mechanic pulled the healer along.

"Ms. Gracia, we are ready to go," the former informed the elder woman.

Gracia smiled at the boys. "It's nice seeing you again, Ed, Al." She waved them off and walked off, leading Winry, Orihime, and Nina away.

The two boys were left alone on the platform. The sound of a train screeching to a halt and its whistle buzzing reaching their ears. Passerbyers were shuffling their feet against the ground, trying to find their train.

Ed lifted up his suitcase. "Let's go, Al. We need to tell Hughes what we discovered in Dublith."

"You mean about Greed and the chimeras," Al inquired.

"Yeah. Hughes was also looking into information regarding Lab Five. I want to check with him to see if he discovered anything."

"What about getting ready for the dance, brother?"

Ed scoffed. "I can worry about that later. You heard Winry. They won't be ready for another three hours. I would already be ready in about a fraction of that amount of time. All I need to do a pick up a fucking suit. That could wait."

Al shook his head. "You know, Winry would kill you, if you are late, right?"

"Yeah, yeah, like I care what Winry does," the blond alchemist casually brushed his younger brother's warning off, already beginning to take a step forward.

"But what about Orihime?" the suit of armor questioned. "Imagine how she would feel, if you picked her up late, brother."

He froze in his tracks. A single trickle of sweat dripping down the side of his face. Oh, he could clearly imagine the look of disappointment and dissatisfaction on the auburn haired healer's face. Her eyebrows furrowed into a sorrowful frown, her lips quivering, choking back a sob, her silvery orbs brimming with tears. He did not want Orihime to cry or be disappointed in him. "On second thought, maybe I should start picking out a suit now. And I need to rent out a hotel room, so I can take a shower and wash my hair."

He dashed off towards the military barracks. That's where he usually stays while in Central.

Al shook his head in amusement. "Brother, you are so easy to read…"

"I see! You are going to a dance with Ed tonight, Orihime."

Winry and Orihime had just informed Gracia of the latter's attendance at a fashion party. To say that brown haired woman was happy would be an absolute understatement. She was positively eager with excitement. She was almost as gleefully giddy as Winry.

Elicia was clueless about what was going on, but was happily her hands due to her mother's sunny disposition.

"You know, when I was a young girl I used to read fashion magazines all the time," Gracia spoke with a beaming smile. "Nowadays, I don't read it as much anymore. Too busy raising Elicia." She glanced over at the ginger haired girl, who was currently playing with Nina. "Orihime, if you would have told me you in one, I would have bought it right away."

Orihime laughed, sheepishly. "I wasn't planning on being a model. It...just happened." She tilted her head in Nina's direction. The young girl was playing with a couple of dolls. "Speaking of which… Nina, I got a present for you," she sing song.

"A present?!" Nina screamed out in absolute joy, her blue eyes brimming with giddy anticipation. "Where?! Where's my present?!" She was practically bouncing on her feet with exhilarated eagerness and euphoric anticipation.

Hearing Nina chanting enthusiastically about getting a present, Elicia ran up to Orihime and tugged on her arm. "Sis, did you get me a present, too?" she asked, lips jutted out into a small, cute pout.

Elicia giving her the puppy dogs eyes was just not fair. There was no way Orihime could possibly say 'no' to that. Luckily, she anticipated such a situation. It was good think she remembered stop by in a small toy store while in Rush Valley when she realized Nina was staying with the Hughes and that Elicia might want a gift as well.

She offered both of them a bright grin. "Of course!" She bent down until her knees touched the floor. Pulling out her pink bag, she unzipped it. She dug her hand inside until she felt something hard and smooth, soft and fluffy. She could still feel the little two girls' eyes, staring with anticipating delight. Wrapping her hands around the object, she gave them a tug.

"Ah!" both girls gasped, breathlessly. Their eyes twinkled, sparkling with gleeful joy and ebullient happiness. They stared in amazement at the teddy bear. It was so cute and cuddly looking with its fluffy, brown fur. It had a blue ribbon wrapped around its left ear.

Orihime handed the bear over to Elicia. The three year old practically let out a loud, joyous squeal. She hugged the stuffed animal close, basically smooshing it against her face and body. "Thank you, sis!" the tiny girl happily exclaimed.

She ran up to her mother, happily thrusting her stuffed bear forward to show. "Look, mommy! Look at the teddy bear sis gave me!" she proclaimed, proudly and beaming with joy.

Gracia's lips curled up into a small smile. She bent to down to her daughter's level. "It's a cute bear, Elicia," she spoke, sweetly, softly rubbing her head.

Nina wrinkled her eyebrows, feeling dejected. "Big sis, where's my present?" she pouted.

The ginger haired girl smiled at her, reassuringly. "Yep! And guess what? I made it myself."

The twinkle in the brown haired girl's blue eyes returned with twice the intensity. "You did?" she almost gasped with wonder and awe.

Orihime cheerily nodded at the girl. She handed her the tiny gift wrapped box she was holding. Nina stared at in fascination, a glimmer of anticipation in her blue orbs. With impatient fingers, she tore at it. She looked like a child eagerly unwrapping their Christmas present. When she finally opened, she stared in amazement at the pair of cute, pink and white ribbons inside.

"Ribbons!" Nina absolutely squealed in pure delight. Her tiny fingers picking up the small piece of clothes, feeling its soft texture between each digit. Her blue eyes stared up at Orihime, sparkling with sheer joy and happiness. "Big sis, you made these for me?" She glanced down at them again, giving them another once over. "Look! They even have my name on them!"

The auburn haired girl smiled, sweetly because of how much Nina enjoyed the present she made for her. "You want me to put it on for you, Nina?" she asked the young girl.

The aforementioned girl bobbed her head, eagerly. "Yes! Please!" She giddly handed the older girl the ribbons before scooting around until her back was facing her.

Orihime drove her fingers softly into Nina's hair, feeling the smooth locks between her fingertips. She carefully combed her nimble digits between her hair, diligently removing any tangles. She parted half of her short, brown hair on the right side, tenderly holding it in place. Grabbing at one of the ribbons, she delicately wrapped it around the parted hair she was holding, tying it off until it was firm and tight. But not too tight. She did not want to cause Nina any discomfort. Once she was satisfied with her work. She did the same with the other side.

When she finished, she grinned, adoringly at the young girl's new look. Nina was so cute! Her chin length, brown hair was tied into pair of pigtails with the ribbons she crafted for her. So adorable! It makes Orihime wish she had a little sister growing up back up, so she could do her hair like this. And seeing Nina beaming at her with starry delight and utterly overjoyed, made her heart swell with pleasure and pride.

"Thank you, big sis!" Nina cooed, adoringly, giving Orihime a hug.

The latter smiled and hugged. "You're welcome, Nina. Glad you liked it."

"Now, now," Gracia cut in. "Orihime has to start getting ready for the big dance."

Hearing the brown haired woman say that caused the aforementioned girl to blush in embarrassment. "Oh, right. Almost forgot," she laughed, sheepishly. Being reminded of the party prompted her nerves to return full force. Giving Nina and Elicia were good for a minor distraction from it, but now that her mind had returned to the subject at hand, a wave of crushing anxiety hit her.

"Yeah, Orihime," Winry agreed, hands on her hips. "We have to do your makeup and hair. Not to mention, you need a dress."

"I have a couple of my old dresses," Gracia offered. "You can try one of them, if you like, Orihime."

"Oh, no," the auburn haired girl shook her head. "I mean, are you sure?" she asked, tentatively. "I don't want to implore on you."

The matriarch smiled, sweetly. "Nonsense. This is a special occasion for you, after all. After everything's that happened here this past month, it's nice to hear a bit of good news."

She paused, wondering if she should inform the girls of her husband's death. Maes's death deeply devastated her. She remembered spending the first few days breaking down in tears. Elicia always asked her when's daddy coming back. Each time, her voice became more pleading and sorrowful than the last. Remembering how distraught her daughter was during her husband's funeral, she never had the heart to tell her that daddy was never coming back. That she would never see her father or hear his voice again. Elicia was just too young to understand the implications of death.

Nina was just as crushed about Maes's demise. However, being older than Elicia, she tried her best to put on a brave front whenever she was around. Always trying to find ways to distract her daughter from her father's perpetual absence. But when she was alone, she would become a sobbing wreck. She would often times find the young girl crying herself to sleep at night. When she did, she would do her best to comfort Nina to the best of her abilities, despite how heartbroken she herself felt.

Gracia was in deep torment, wondering if she should subject Orihime and Winry to the same misery and grief. Would she really break the pour girls' hearts like that by dropping such a distressingly tragic revelation on them? No, she would not. It did not take her more than a second to decide on that decision. This Orihime's big day. She wanted her to go out and enjoy herself. To be carefree and happy for the day. She wanted her to be able to go back to this night and be plagued with fond memories of it. She did not wish for it to be tainted with sadness.

That's why she decided...just for today...she would keep her mouth shut about Maes's demise. If the subject of where her husband's whereabouts ever comes up, she would try to find a way to discreetly change the topic. Just for today she would lie about his death. If the girls questioned her tomorrow, then she would tell them the dark, awful truth. For now, she wanted Orihime to have a night of fun without worry or stress.

"I'm going to go grab some of my old dresses that I don't wear anymore. Be right back." Gracia left, walking towards the back of the house, leaving Orihime and Winry alone with the kids.

"That's so nice of Ms. Gracia to lend you one of her dresses," Winry said. "Right, Orihime?"

Orihime smiled, appreciatively. "Ms. Gracia is also so nice and kind to us. I really like her." She reminisced about the time she was feeling deeply depressed and heartbreakingly crushed over Ichigo's supposed death. And how insecure and she felt soberly and morbidly disheartened because of it. All the guilt and shame she had washed over her, overwhelming her with dark, despairingly torments of misery. A sense of agonizing despair overtook her. She felt like she was stuck in the bottom of pitch black abyss with no way out, eternally tortured by her nightmares, of her own failures.

However, Ms. Gracia was the one to cheer her up. She was kind to her, even when she herself felt that she deserved no such kindness. That she was burden to everyone around her, and that they should stop worrying about her and move on with their lives. But still, she cheered her on encouraged her to make up with Ed and Al. Even if it was for a short time, Orihime really appreciated everything Mrs. Gracia had done for her.

"She has a mother's nurturing aura," the auburn haired girl continued fondly. "Sometimes I wished I had a mother like Ms. Gracia. Someone who is kind and caring. Someone who comforts when I get scared and who supports whenever I'm in a roadblock I'm struggling to get past. One day, I wish I could be as warm, caring, and motherly as Ms. Gracia when I grow up."

A sly smirk slithered its way across Winry's face. "You want to be a mom just like Ms. Gracia? You are already thought about having kids, Orihime? I did not know you were planning so far ahead into your future. Already thinking about having children. With Ichigo, I suppose?" she teased.

Orihime's face turned a beet red color. "Th-th-that's not what I meant!" she sputtered out, incredibly flustered and embarrassed. She could feel the thumping of her heartbeat pounding away inside her chest. She knew that was lie. She always dreamed, sometimes fantasized about marrying and starting a family with her beloved strawberry. "I just meant that Ms. Gracia is really nice mom!" The smirk on the mechanic's face wouldn't die down. Much to her horror, it just grew wider. The healer threw her hands up to cover the burning sensation she was feeling around her cheeks. "Stop teasing me!"

Before the blonde could tease the poor girl further, Gracia returned, carrying a few dresses in hand. A look of confusion crossed her face when she saw an embarrassed Orihime hiding her face behind her hands and a mischievously grinning Winry.

"Did something happen?" Gracia asked, puzzled.

"Oh, it's nothing," Winry responded with a laugh.

The brown haired mother tilted in puzzlement, but, otherwise, let the subject. She turned her attention to the shy girl. "Orihime, I brought out some dresses for you to try," she announced.

The ginger haired girl lifted her head up and eyed the dresses. Her gray eyes widened in amazement. The dresses were really beautiful. It wasn't anything extremely fancy, but the purity of their elegance stems from their simple and straightforward simplicity.

"They're really pretty!" she awed.

Gracia smiled, pushing the dresses outward and into Orihime's hands. "You go try them on in the bathroom to see if any of them fit."

"Okay!" The auburn haired grabbed the frocks and proceeded down the hallway and to the bathroom. Luckily, she remembered the pathway to the restroom from her last visit, so she didn't get lost so easily. She opened the door to the bathroom and quietly shut it behind her.

She examined each other dresses. They were all in a variety of colors and different designs and styles. She held out a dark blue, using the hangers to hang the rest on the curtain rails. The blue dress had an over the shoulder strap over its left side, leaving the right side bare. The skirt of the dress fluttered out in layers of ruffles. The ruffles were layered with white linings underneath. It was a really beautiful dress. The only problem was… Orihime grimaced. She eyed the waist and torso area of the dress. Would it be able to fit her in the chest department? Only one way to find out.

With her facial expression steeled into a determined state of mind, the ginger haired unzipped the zipper placed on the back of the dress. She shrugged of her school uniform and threw the dress on. This was bad. She could already feel herself being constricted by the dress. The bottom half of the dress was fine, reaching all the down below her knees. It's just… She can't...get close up all the way. She gave up, sighing, dejectedly, tears prickling in the corner of her eyes. She gloomily glanced down at her large chest. Why couldn't she be born with a more sizable bust? If this dress doesn't fit to accommodate her bosoms, then it's highly unlikely the other dresses would fit either.

She was fat!

She opened the door, shyly poking her head out. "Ms. Gracia?" she called out in a dispirited tone, hoping the woman could hear her. She could hear the sound of laughter and childish giggles down the hall. It almost made her want to smile, if it wasn't for the problem at hand.

"Yes?" she heard a matured, feminine voice reply back to hear. The noise momentarily ceased. Well, they did not disappear entirely. Just quieted down a bit, probably so the woman could hear Orihime more clearly.

"I don't think these dresses would fit me," she whimpered.

"What? Really?"

The sounds of footsteps softly padding against the floorboards became louder and louder as the approached her. Emerald green eyes landed on the flustered auburn haired girl, an expression of unexpected surprise flashed across them.

"Oh, my. I'm sorry, Orihime," Gracia said, apologetically. "I've forgotten how much...bigger you are than when I was your age."

Winry peeked over her shoulder, her eyes almost bugging out. "You're right, Orihime! No way in hell that dress would fit you, no matter how hard you try!"

Quiet sobs escaped the ginger haired girl as animated tears began to stream down her face in huge waterfalls.

"Aww! C'mon, Orihime!" The blonde girl patted her friend's back in a comforting manner. "This is no reason to cry!"

"Winry's right. So, my dresses couldn't isn't suitable for you. We could always make a quick stop at a store nearby and buy one," Gracia added, reassuringly. "There's still plenty of time."

"Uh, huh." Orihime nodded her head, somewhat poutingly with a hint of sadness.

"Al!" Ed cried out in panic. He gritted his in frustration as he tried his damndest to untangle the brush from his hair. It got caught in one of its many knots. A series of tick marks appeared on his forehead, his brow twitching in annoyance, his lips curled back into a deep, angry frown, and a low growl rumbled in his throat. How infuriating! This was the tenth time in the last fifteen minutes that the damn brush got caught in his fucking hair for crying out loud!

The past hour or so was spent finding and renting out a hotel room. Afterwards, he walked around the streets of Central to look for a store that sold nice suits. He tried to find a store that sold suits in above average quality. He wanted to look extra nice today for Orihime's sake. Normally, he would not care much for his appearance. He would often either scoff or ignore people that looked down at him for the way he dressed or presented himself, except when it came to his height...or, to a lesser extent, when his sense of taste is questioned.

But for some reason, what Orihime thought about how he looked mattered a great deal to him. He wanted her to admire his appearance. He needed to be viewed as, dare he say, handsome in her eyes. He fancied the idea of appearing attractive to her. He desired for her to not only see him as a friend, but just as a man in general. A good looking one at that. He wished for her to ogle him like a smitten schoolgirl. To be taken in him by his charm. Knowing that he was eye candy to her, his male pride would swell to unbelievable new heights.

He could already imagine how she would look. Her big, doe like, gray eyes shimmering with genuine surprise that he could clean up so nicely. A glimmer of adoration hidden beneath them. They would be glued onto him, unable to look away. Her face would flush, a tint of pink staining her cheeks, giving her an otherwise cute and, at the same time, enchantingly beautiful, a flawlessly angelic glow surrounding her. Her fist would shyly cover her mouth as she would struggle to try to avert her eyes away, her embarrassment at being caught openingly staring, skyrocketing.

She would be too stunned for words. Her heart would skip a beat. When she does find her voice again to speak, she'd become incredibly flustered, clumsily fumblingly over her words in that irresistible adorable way of hers. She would fist her hands into the ends of the dress she was wearing, her face turning several shades of red. They would be so red, he feared her head might gush like a ripe tomato, matching the color of her silky, auburn hair.

A cocky smirk would spread across his lips. "Like what you see?" he would tease her.

An embarrassed gasp would escape her as she would once again try to avert her eyes away, clearly bashful and awkward at being caught checking him out, the ever present blush on her face would continue to grow. "Um, y-you l-look very h-h-handsome, Eddie," she would reply back in that shy voice of her voice. The melodious sound of her voice of her admitting he was attractive would replay over and over inside his head like a soft, angelic chant. It would be music to his ears! He would longed to hear her say it again! He would never get tired of hearing it!

"Brother? Brother!"

Edward jolted out of his daydream. Unfortunately, he jerked his head backwards, knocking it against something steely and hard. "Fuck!" he yelped, loudly in pain, clutching the back of his head in agony.

"Brother?! Sorry! Are you okay?" Alphonse panicked, worriedly.

"What the hell, Al?!" Ed glared at his brother, still clenching his head. "What are you doing standing behind me?"

"Brother, you were the who called me here," Al said, offended. "What were you doing anyway? You were just standing with a goofy smile on your face."

Ed blinked at him, obviously confused before his eyes widened and cheeks started redden. "N-nothing, Al," he quickly replied, trying to cover up the embarrassment at having been caught daydreaming. He grunted, trying to pull the brush from his stubborn hair. "Just help me get this damn brush out of my hair."

Al stepped up behind his grumpy brother and took the brush from his hand. As best as he can, he meticulous untangled his hair from it. It was a slow and daunting task. It took approximately fifteen, maybe twenty minutes before he was able to carefully remove the brush from Ed's golden locks.

"Done," the suit of armor announced once he was finished.

Ed sighed in relief. "Thanks, Al."

"No problem, brother." He handed the brush back to Ed. "I have to say, Ed, you are taking quite a long time just fix your hair. Normally, you would be done after a quick brush."

Golden eyes narrowed at the armored giant. He could hear the sly grin in Al's tone. "Whatever you are thinking, Al, stop it," he said, suspiciously.

"I wasn't thinking anything, brother," Alphonse whistled, feigning innocence. Although, the teasing smirk was still in his voice.

"You are lying!" Edward accused him. "I could hear you snickering in your voice, Al!"

A few stifles of laughter escaped Al, causing his older brother to glower at him even more. "Sorry, brother. I've just never seen you…"

"Seen me what?" Ed glared, challengingly.

The animated armor tried his best to suppress his chuckling. "Brother, you sure spending so much time trying to get dressed up."

The blond alchemist immediately knew what his brother was getting at. "Whatever you are going to say, Al, drop it," he hissed, resuming brushing his hair, his face etched into annoyance.

Al raised his hands in an innocent manner. Ed glared at him for a few seconds before scoffing and turning away, continuing to brush his hair, this time being extra careful.

"Orihime would surely be impressed that you are doing your best to look nice for her."

It took a split second for Ed's face to immediately turn a crimson shade of red. He turned his body around so fast, almost with inhuman levels of flexibility. "Al!" he screamed in a mixture of indignant anger and extreme embarrassment. Furiously the nearest object on the counter, he flung it at his giggling armored brother. It missed him and hit the door with a loud 'thud'.

Edward's golden eyes shot daggers that were so dark and piercing, a hole could burn through the door. Finally, he huffed in annoyance and resumed brushing his hair, his fingers gliding through his golden locks, guiding the brush through his messy hair. "Stupid, Al. Don't know what the hell he's talking about. As if I'm doing all this to impress Orihime. Hmph! It's not like I need to because Orihime's…"

His expression began to deflate. There was the faintest traces of sadness in his eyes. A dull yet painful pang stung at his heart. The aching sensation in his chest would not go away. It kept gnawing at the core of his being with its vicious fangs.


He bit the inside of his lips. A bitter aftertaste started swell up at the tip of his tongue. It was metalic and acidic, it left a rancid and stale taste in his mouth.


"You're in love with him, aren't you?" He felt a pin drop inside him as he spoke those words.

"Huh?" was her confused response. She probably didn't hear him. After all, he mumbled it out, so quietly.

He balled his fists. His golden eyes staring at her with a dark, hidden emotion. "Ichigo. You love that guy, don't you?" Just admitting those words made his stomach burning and left a bittersweet taste in his mouth.

Orihime's eyes widened, slightly. How did he…? She was completely caught by surprise. Her gray eyes then dimmed a bit with a twinkling warmth, a light pink blush adorning a cheeks. "Yes," she admitted, plain and simple, no tip toeing around the question. She must've figured there was no point in hiding it. It was blatantly obvious.


She's already in love with someone else.

He did not dare to say those seven dangerously deadly words aloud. What good would that do anyway? The dull throbbing in his heart would not cease. His chest felt tight and constricted, making him able to breath properly. A dark sense of nausea curled inside him. His grip on the counter tightened and he gritted his teeth. That foreboding sensation of sickening bitterness and antipathetic displeasure would not go away.

So what if Orihime liked another guy? It's not… It's not like she was his girlfriend or anything. He blushed a deep shade of red. O-Orihime as his g-g-girlfriend?! Where did that overly ridiculous and absurd notion come from? He did not think of her like that! Absolutely not! He furiously shook those raging thoughts out of his head to rid himself of any remainder of such stupidly abstract mental pictures.

Anyway, she should be able to fall for any guy she wants. He would only hope the guy was a good enough for someone as sweet, kind, and compassionate as her. Besides, Orihime seems to really admire that 'Ichigo' guy. He's seen the way her eyes shimmering with such overwhelming joy and mirthful exhilaration whenever she thinks of him that it was contagious. He was beginning to notice this twinkling glimmer of light that brightens up tremendously, shining as brilliantly as the stars of the night sky. Her smiles, those smiles that are reserved just for him, may be smaller than her usual ones, but they were always the most purest and heartwarmingly beautiful of them all. He could practically feel the aura of happiness radiating off of her. Everytime he sees that smile, he could feel a pleasurable sensation of warmth growing inside his chest, but also a tinge of sadness and longing, knowing that it wasn't for him and deeply wishing it was, that she would smile at him that same way.

That's why… When she smiled at him that day… He had never felt such happiness in life. He did not know the last time he felt that happy. He felt his heart soar as if he was floating on clouds. It was at that moment that he recognized she was breathtakingly beautiful when she smiles. Nothing in the world could compare to that fleeting moment euphoria he felt that day.

It made him realize how glad he was to have Orihime as a friend. He knew that their meeting was just chance, but he was ultimately sincerely happy Mustang gave him that mission many months ago. If it wasn't for that fateful encounter, he never would met her and they wouldn't be as close as they were now. It could feel their bond becoming stronger each and every day. He wanted this night to be special for her, for the both of them. She's always there supporting him and Al and helping them out of a pinch. It's the least he could is to give her a day she could fully relax and enjoy herself.

A night to remember is what he was going to give her! And maybe she would smile at him one more time.

Just once more, so he could engrave it forever in his heart.

After gently sliding the brush through the last strands of his blond hair, he set it down on the counter. Bunching his hair up with one hand, he grabbed his hair tie. Instead of braiding his hair and tying off in his usual fashion, he settled for a simply ponytail instead. After all, this was a special occasion. He wanted to look his best.

Once satisfied and without a strand of hair out of place, he marched out of the bathroom with a proud smile. His brother was busy engorging himself in a book he probably picked from the library while he was spending his time suit shopping.

Ed stepped into his room to change into the suit he bought. But first, he had to check the time. He had to make sure he was still right on schedule. Remember, he still needed to pick Orihime up from the Hughes'.

Digging into the pockets of his leather pants, Edward pulled out his pocket watch. Clicking it open, his golden eyes broadened. "Crap!" he cursed once he saw the time. It was five thirty! The dance started at seven! That means he only had ninety minutes left to get ready. And still needed to call a cab to pick them from the Hughes' house. Not to mention he had to get there before the cab does. Of course, there is always the option of just waiting here for it, but he wanted to leave with Orihime.

Ed frantically started to threw his suit on. He had to hurry! He had to hurry! Once his tuxedo and his hair, after reexamining it, was in order, he hurried out of the room and to telephone a cab. He just needed to leave enough time for him to make to the Hughes' before the taxi driver does.

He wanted this night to be perfect! He couldn't afford to screw it up!

"Orihime, are you done getting dressed?"

"Not yet!"

Orihime was busy checking herself in the bathroom mirror. She finally found dress that suited her tastes at a nearby clothing store down the street. And let's say that finding one that would accommodate for her...body type was no easy task. But they did it, they managed to spot one.

The dress was somewhat modest and lacked anything extravagant. It was a sleeveless, bright yellow halter dress, the collar wrapping around her neck and tied into a tight and sturdy bow. There was a reddish pink waistband with a small ribbon adorned the left side of it. The collar of the dress dipped slightly into a small V shape, showing off a little bit of cleavage and the upper part of her back was completely bare. Luckily, there was a black under cloth that covered any part of her chest that was exposed and also covered a bit of her back, so her bra wasn't showing. The skirt of the dress reached just past her knees and there was a white border around the hem, creating a miniature wave along with splashes of white dots.

Now for the rest of her… Orihime still wore the earrings Ed gave her. She never wanted to take them off. They were special to her. She would always treasure them. Her auburn hair was tied into a side ponytail with a yellow hair tie, showing off the earrings proudly. It reached just below her shoulders and became somewhat wavy near the ends. Her long bangs still framed her face, flowing just past her chin with the shine of her hairclips still perched in their usual positions on the sides of her head. Upon strong insistence from Winry and Gracia, wanting her to look her absolute best and with the latter doing her makeup, she wore some foundation to bring out more of her cheekbones and light touch of mascara to highlight her eyes. Nothing too much or over the top as she doesn't normally wear makeup, and she also didn't want to go well beyond her comfort zone. Even wearing makeup now makes her feel a little self conscious, that she's more exposed than she's usually is. She wore a white beaded bracelet with a single rosy pink flower shaped one off to the center to match her earrings. A black choker with a reddish pink bow sported around her neck. And finally, on her feet she adorned two fancy, strappy wedge, pink sandals. Gracia and Winry wanted Orihime to wear a pair of high heels of the same color, but due to the latter's clumsiness, they did not want to run the risk of her breaking her ankles when she's dancing, so they went for the safer choice. She also carried a medium size, dark pink purse to complete the look.

Checking herself in the bathroom mirror once more, examining every nook and cranny, making sure not a single hair was out of place or a tiny smear staining her appearance. Once completely satisfied, a shy grin graced the healer's lips. A feeling of apprehension and excitement swelled up inside her. Her mind wondered… What would Edward think? Would he think she was pretty in this dress? For some reason she could not fathom, just the mere thought of him complimenting made her cheeks stain a light pink color and her heart to start quickening up a bit. The reaction wasn't as heart stoppingly severe as having Ichigo praising her looks, but the light, feathery sensation she was feeling was still somewhat heartwarmingly elated, nevertheless.


This time it was Ms. Gracia calling her.

"Y-yes!" she shouted down the hall.

"Ed is here!" the older woman yelled back. There seemed to be a hint of amusement in her voice.

"Coming!" In one swift motion, she turned off the bathroom lights and shot out the door.

Edward was waiting by the front door. His fists was clenched into the pockets of his dress pants in anticipation. His heart would not stop pounding, no matter he tried to wield it to.

"Now, don't do anything stupid, Ed. Be on you best behavior," Winry lectured him, like a nagging mother. Gracia went off to start dinner. With her helping prepare Orihime for the dance party, she was already behind schedule. She wished him good luck at the dance before entering into the dining room.

"Yeah, yeah," he muttered, grumpily. He did his best to ignore her annoying admonishes. But eventually, he got fed up. "Why are you nagging me, Winry?" he grumbled in irritation. "I'm not an idiot, Winry. I know how to behave. You don't to lecture me like I'm a five year old."

Winry sent him a look filled with skepticism. "Because I know you, Ed. You always being trouble everywhere you go. Don't do anything that would embarrass Orihime. Don't do anything that could ruin her chances of being a model ever again."

Several tick marks formed at base of Ed's forehead. He could feel his body shake with anger and jealousy. Anger at what his childhood friend was implying. That his temper and foul attitude might ruin Orihime's life, if kept unchecked. However, the jealousy he was feeling was from the thought of other men ogling her, if she did chose to continue to be a model. The idea of other guys drooling over her, more than they usually do, made him utterly sick to his stomach. No one was allowed to look at his Orihime like that! Except for him!

Golden eyes broaden slightly and a hint of pink dusted his cheeks caused by his face growing hotter by the minute. Wait…! Did he just say his Orihime? He vigorously shook his head to get of those haunting thoughts. He really needed to stop! No! There's no way he thought of Orihime like that! He did not have any feelings for her! He just worried and concerned about her like any good friend would! Most guys are pigs, after all. Finding a decently nice guy was like looking for a needle in a haystack. And besides, Orihime likes Ichigo.

"I'm ready!" a soft, feminine voice announced, breaking Ed out of his train of erratic thoughts. "Sorry to keep you waiting, Eddie!"

As soon as Orihime appeared in his field of vision, Ed felt his heart stop. The world around him instantly disappeared. Words could not describe what he was seeing right before his very eyes. Beautiful would not even begin to classify Orihime's appearance. That dress hugged every curve of her slender body perfectly. Her creamy, silky smooth legs was laid bare for all to see. She was absolutely stunning! No, drop dead gorgeous! No, even that did not explain the wonderful, glorious feeling of euphoria that shot through him. He had never seen anyone look so magnificently beautiful. Such heavenly beauty should be illegal. He was not religious in any means, but if angels existed, then he must have died and gone to heaven.

He knew this was not a date. They were just hanging out together as friends. But damn! He wished it was just so he could have this divine angelic sight to look forward to every time. There's was one thing that he knew for sure, and that was Nina's assessment was off its mark. Orihime was not just as beautiful, bright, and warm as the sun. She shone more brilliantly and elegantly than it ever could. She was the sun.

"You… You look...pretty," Ed complimented, dumbly. He wholeheartedly want to slap himself for saying something so lame.

Winry snickered at the blond alchemist's lack of a coherent speech. Orihime, however, blushed at the compliment. She could feel herself becoming self conscious. Her hands fidgety with the purse she was holding.

"Thanks," the auburn haired girl responded back, nervously. "But… Are you sure? I don't look...f-fat?"

An expression of confusion etched onto the two blondes' faces. Orihime's face darkened as she was forced to elaborated. Her nerves were going haywire.

"I… I…" A hand went up to her chest. "They've gotten bigger. You don't think I'm fat?"

Edward's face turned several shades of red as he instantly realized what she was referring to. He was well aware of the size of her breasts, and he desperately tried not to pay any attention to them. He was not a pervert! He had more tact than that!

"Uh… Um, th-they are fine," he stuttered, averted his golden eyes away. He could feel his embarrassment skyrocketing. "You are fine. You look good. Very pretty." He sheepishly scratched the back of his, a nervous laugh erupted from him, despite his reddened face.

A small smile formed on the ginger haired girl's lips. Her cheeks stained a rosy pink color. "Uh, thank you. You look pretty yourself, Eddie. I-I mean, you look handsome."

Ed felt his heart soar. She said he was handsome! This night was beginning to start off on the right foot.

He was dressed in a simple black tuxedo with a red tie. Only a few buttons of the black jacket were done, so she could see the white dress shirt underneath. His hair was done up into a ponytail instead of his usual single braid. He stole wore his trademark white gloves. As soon as she saw him, her heart fluttered a little. He really did look handsome.

Winry watched the two interact so clumsily. A sense of giddiness shooting inside her. She resisted the urge to squeal in absolute glee. Their shyness and awkwardness was just so adorably cute. She knew she made the right choice by giving up her ticket for Ed.

The sound of a car horn blowing, startled the teens.

"Oh!" Ed spoke in realization. "That must be our ride."

"You ordered a cab?" Winry asked, surprised.

He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "Of course I did," he said, snarkily. "You expect us to walk there dressed like this?"

Before the blonde mechanic could offer an angry retort, the healer interrupted.

"You didn't have to do that, Eddie," Orihime said, frantically.

"Yes, I do. Unless, you don't mind walking the streets for about half an hour dressed like that."

Her face darkened. She tried hiding the redden of her face behind her purse. She was so embarrassed! "W-well, I can pay for myself," she offered. It was the least she could do. She would feel bad if Ed had to pay for her.

A small grin split across Ed's lips. "There's no need." He held his hand out for her take. "C'mon. We can't the cab waiting any longer."

With a hesitant bob of her head, Orihime's hand reached out and grasped his. Edward immediately felt a sudden jolt of lightning shot throughout every nerve of his body. He was acutely aware of the warmth that radiated through Orihime's hands. He could feel the softness of her skin through the glove of his flesh hand. Her dainty, slender fingers slipping around his. He did his best to ignore the fact that they were holding hands. But he did wonder for a second, did Orihime feel this same jolting sensation of warmth as he did?

"W-we better get going," Ed quickly said, doing his best to keep his embarrassment at bay.

Orihime could only nod, dumbly in response, too nervous and bashful to speak. Her face was heating up and her heart wouldn't stop pounding. She silently let Ed lead her out the door.

Winry chuckled and waved them goodbye as she watched the duo head out the door.

The taxi was parked just outside of the house. Edward opened the door and led Orihime inside. She wanted to say something, but stopped herself and just smiled in appreciation. He seemed to be awfully gentlemanly today. She scooted over to make room for him. He entered the car in the available spot next to him and closed the door.

"Where to?" the cab driver asked, his voice gruff and nasally.

Ed turned to her. "You got the address?"

"Yeah. Give me a minute." Orihime dug into her dark pink purse. After several moments, she pulled out the envelope containing the party's invitation. She opened it and handed the paper over the driver. "The address should be on there."

The man hummed a bit as he scanned the paper. A few seconds passed before he handed it back to her, which the auburn haired girl took, graciously. "The address is not that far. It should take about twenty minutes at most," he informed them.

Edward grinned at her. "Now, aren't you glad I ordered a cab?" he asked her, cheekily.

The ginger could feel her embarrassment rising. "Don't tease me!" she proclaimed, lightly punching him in the arm, and hiding the bottom half of her face behind her purse.

Edward laughed at her embarrassment. It was just so fun to tease her. She made the cutest expressions.

The engine of the car started. Revving up, the car took off.

The car ride was fairly quiet. Only the soft humming of the car's engine, and the wheels lightly pounding against hard ground could be heard. The atmosphere was nice and comforting.

Orihime gazed out the window, watching the city lights go by. It wasn't too dark out, but it was dark enough to prompt the streetlights to be turned on. She gripped her hands together, nervously, a feeling of apprehension flowing through her. She'd never danced before. This would be her first time. Aw! She's so nervous! What if she messes up? Or that she trips and falls due to her clumsiness? That would be embarrassing. She'd end up making a total fool of herself.

"What's wrong?"

Gray eyes glanced back at Ed to see his concerned expression etched onto his facial features.

"Oh, I'm just a little nervous, that's all," she answered, honestly. She saw no reason to lie.

The blond alchemist shot her a reassuring grin. "Don't be. I'm right here with you."

That reassurance calmed her down a bit. "Thanks, Eddie." She offered a shy smile in return, which Ed reward back with a goofy grin of his own.

Edward's golden orbs finally took notice of the rosy pink rose stud earrings she was wearing. "You're wearing them?" he asked. The surprise in his voice rang out clearly. There was nothing wrong with the earrings themselves. He just thought she would either choose not to wear them, or trade them in for a fancier pair. Ms. Gracia had bound to have some pairs that were more...attractive and stylish than the one he gave her. Although, it made him somewhat happy she was wearing them.

Orihime blinked in confusion before an 'oh' sound of realization blew past her lips. Her hand slide up the side of her face to subconsciously fiddle with the piece of jewelry. "I wanted to wear it," she spoke, softly, her now cheeks turning a slight pink color. "I like them."

That declaration caused Ed's face to form a small blush of his own. "You really didn't have to wear them," he responded, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible to hide the sound lightly tapping heartbeats. "I'm sure Gracia had better pairs than the ones I gave you."

The auburn haired girl shook her head. Her hand stopped playing with the earring. "I know, but I still wanted to wear them."


"Why? Because you gave them to me," she answered, sweetly, a joyful smile splitting across her face, her gray eyes twinkling with mirth. "They're special. I'm never taking them off. I'd always treasure them."

Ed was at complete loss for words. He did not know what to say. He was absolutely shocked and mind bogglingly stunned beyond all belief. He never considered she had thought that highly of the gift he gave her. Was he surprised? Absolutely. But it also made his heart swell up with happiness and delight that she consider the earrings he gave her as precious. Not to mention, that smile. That same radiant smile that made his heart skip. He was beginning to realize that beautiful smile of hers was one of the best things he likes about Orihime. Just seeing her smile at least once a day was enough for him to keep going. It was enough to convince him to push through any difficult or adversary he may come across, if only he would be rewarded with one Orihime's smiles in the end. He had not become this immersed in a woman's smile since his mother's. He wholeheartedly wanted to see that bright, happy, and loving smile on Orihime's face, always. It was one of the most beautiful things in this world.

"Are you two on a date?"

The driver's playful question snapped Ed out of his hypnotic musings, his face went tremendously red, and it caused him to almost choke on his own saliva. A dark blush formed on Orihime's face.

"What the hell?!" Ed screeched out, outraged and appalled. "What makes you think we are dating?!"

The driver simply shrugged, sending the two teens a sly smirk through the rearview mirror. "Well, with the way two are flirting with each other, can you really blame me for getting the wrong idea? You two remind me of how my wife and I used to be when we first met. Always dancing around each other, the playful banters, and the longing looks… Plus, the fact of how happy she is to receive a present from you. The expressions of young love."

Ed huffed in annoyance and exasperation, and crossed his arms. "Well, we are not! So, drop it!"

"I'm just saying that you two are awfully close." After that, the driver did not say anything more, his eyes glued on the road, and his mind focused on driving. However, thanks his insinuations about them being lovers, left both teens too embarrassed to continue speaking. The atmosphere was now awkward, and the only sound was the gentle yet rough hum of the car's engine.

The driver's observation made the clogs in Ed's head turn. He and Orihime had gotten exceptionally close over these past several months. He won't deny that. In fact, Orihime was one of the few people he could wholeheartedly trust outside of Al and Winry. Orihime was someone he could to with his deepest, darkest secrets and his innermost turmoil. She was always there to lend an ear and comfort him when needed. That was another aspect of her personality that he liked that about her. Her patience, willingness to listen, and strong desire help anyone in need, no matter how small her actions may be was truly admirable and awe inspiring. She had a big heart and her kindness knows no bounds.

However, he was unsure if the feeling was mutual.

Ed was no fool. He knew that there was something Orihime was keeping from him and Al. The question was why? Why does she not tell them anything? He remembered the day she first started acting strange. How could he not? The aching pain in chest he was vividly sketched into the dull recesses of his mind. He knew something had slashed him that day. That much he was sure. But he just didn't know who or what tried to kill him. And he would've been dead, if it wasn't for Orihime. Even if it wasn't for her and by some miracle he was lucky to still be breathing till this day, at the very least, a permanent scar would have been left on Ed's body, going from his left shoulder all the way to the middle of his chest. However, every trace of what happened that day was going. All he had were his memories and the painful feeling of being struck down to go off of.

Orihime had informed him and Al that it was the work of a new homunculus that I never encountered. He bought that at the time. He never knew what sort of inhuman abilities those monsters have. Nevertheless, when he confronted Greed about it, he genuinely had no idea what he was talking about. He laughed, maniacally at the idea at a homunculi being able to turn themselves invisible. Although, he admitted to being out of touch with his Orborous gang for some time. So, either a new guy joined the group after he abandoned them, or Orihime was even lying about that. Ed was really starting suspect that it was the latter. Plus, Greed also informed him that a homunculus's body is, theoretically, the same as a human's. Giving that knowledge, then it would scientifically impossible for them to be able to turn themselves invisible because no matter how much they rearrange their atoms or manipulate their molecular structure, they could not cloak their appearance.

Edward will not deny the fact that something strangely abnormal was going on lately. Besides the fiasco with the mod souls and the outlandish phenomenon that happened in their encounter with Riku, there was something peculiar going on. Something baffling that he could not put into words. He still remembered Riku's idiom quite clearly.


"No Transmutation Circle," Reo mused. "I'm guessing you performed Human Transmutation. Even so, it's still incomplete. A man who looks at the world with closed eyes, trapped in his own illusions, could never see that which is in front of him."


Even so, Riku's words still left him utterly confused and perplexed. He could not make heads or tails of their meaning, no matter how hard he tried to comprehend them. No matter how much his brain hurt trying to decipher the hidden puzzle behind such observations about him. In the end though, Ed just chalked it up to meaningless, nonsensical drivel.

There was Edward had noted lately, and that was he started to get the feeling that someone was watching him. The hairs on the back of his neck would stand on end, and a cold, ghostly chill would slither down his spine. He did his best to ignore it. An ominous, oppression aura floating around, observing him, engulfing him in its dark presence. He concluded that it must just be a figment of his imagination. The crazed superstition of paranoid civilians getting to him. After all, there was no such thing as ghosts. That much he was sure.

But still… Was it wrong for use this opportunity to get close to her? He truly did want to know more about her as he was beginning to discern the fact there was a lot about Orihime he did not know. If she did not believe he was someone who was worthy to put her trust in, no matter how hurtful that statement sounded to him, then he wanted to prove that he was. Even when she was broken and bruised the other day, she still didn't have enough faith in him to confide in him. He did not know what to do. He was angry and confused. Though, mostly, he was hurt.

Was he that untrustworthy of a person? In the past, he would've been exploding with anger and displeasure. Now, he was just hurt more than anything. Hurt that she was hiding something from him. Hurt that she did not believe in him. Hurt that she did not think of him as someone to lean on when she's troubled. And hurt because what would've happened if she did die that day? Did she not think about how her absence would affect him or Al or even Winry and, perhaps Nina as well? If she was gone, what was he supposed to say to them? That she ran off somewhere and disappeared, and days later that found her lifeless body with nary a clue on how it got like that? He had never been so sacred, so terrified than he was that day. Not since he returned home one day to find his mother's body collapsed on the floor, and later discover the fact she was stricken with illness for some time. The thought of losing someone important to him was unbearable.

That is why he wanted to show her he could be reliable. He wanted to her to believe in him. She told him that she trusted him with her life. Well, she had a funny way of showing it. He often found himself constantly hung up on this, wondering why. The answer came to him in rapid, fleeting sessions. It was so painfully obvious, yet, at the same time, so irrefutably complex. The vision Orihime's bright smile began to take shape in the forefront of his mind. He just wanted to… He wanted to… Because he…

Gray eyes caught onto golden ones. A shy, sweet smile began to take shape. Ed's face quickly started to heat up in embarrassment at being caught staring. He swiftly spun his head away, looking out the window, hoping his bangs were hiding the reddening of his cheeks from Orihime's view.

At last, after a long slightly uncomfortable and somewhat relaxing car ride riddled with highly emotive tension, they finally arrived at their destination. Although, the alchemist and healer had a completely different and unrelated reason for their silence now.

Saying the mansion they found themselves at was huge would be an understatement. It was gigantic! The mansion stood at a good eighteen meters in height, approximately. There was tall white pillars on either side of the building. They could clearly see the balcony hanging from the last floor. The walls of mansion with sleek, black marbles with beautiful white streaks layered around the edges and borders. They could only catch a glimpse of the garden behind the black gates. And from what they could tell, it was gorgeous and lovely garden filled with vibrant flowers and luscious plants. In simple terms, the entire building was enormous and elegant.

"This is the place?" Orihime muttered out in awe.

"It's huge!" Edward agreed, dumbly.

The sound of a car horn startled them, greatly. Ed tilted his head to glare at the canb driver while Orihime gazed at him, wide eyed, a hand placed upon her chest to calm her rapidly beating heart. The driver held his hand out, and Ed resisted the strong urge to roll his eyes. Muttering profanities under his breath, he hastily dug into his pocket to pull out his wallet.

"You don't have to pay for me, Eddie. I can pay for myself," the ginger haired girl offered, opening her purse. However, he stopped her.

"Stop that," the blond alchemist refused. "Didn't I tell you I was paying?"

"But…" She wanted to protest, but was cut off.

"No 'buts'. I'm paying, and that's that!" he interrupted her, stubbornly, his face set into a determined scowl. Eventually, Orihime conceded to his demands, and victorious smirk materialized on Ed's features.

He pulled out the money from his the wallet and slapped it in the driver's waiting, outstretched hand.

"Thanks," the driver said. He then smirked at Ed. "Good luck with your date," he winked at him. "You would need it," he laughed, starting the car up again, and taking off, leaving a heavily blushing and perplexed Edward behind.

"I told you, Orihime's not my girlfriend!" the blond alchemist roared, angrily waving his fist in the air. He huffed, stuffing his hands in his pocket. "Damn, that guy…" He made his way at Orihime's side, sending her a half grin. "Ready to go?"

She returned his grin with a small smile of her own, and, despite her nerves acting up, gave hesitant nod in return.

The duo made their way to the large, brown double doors. With an encouraging nod from Ed, Orihime braved herself and loudly knocked on the door. A few moments of anticipated silence passed before the doors quietly creaked open. A man with a bulky build with short, black hair and stubbles on his chin came into view. He dressed in a simple and nice suit with a black bow tie. He must be one of the party's guests.

The ginger haired girl beamed, brightly at the familiar face. "Hi, Steven!" she greeted the man, happily.

Steven bobbed his head at her in acknowledgement. His dark eyes gazed over at her blond haired companion. She could see the confusion laced behind him.

"Oh, this is my friend, Edward Elric," she explained, politely. "He's my plus one for this evening." She glanced over at Ed. "Eddie, this is Steven, Elizabeth's assistant."

Ed greeted the man with a half hearted wave.

"Steve, who's at the door?" the sound of silky, feminine voice rang from within the building. The clicking of heels hitting the hard, porcelain ground. The silhouette of a tall, slender woman came into view. Ed took note that of the fact that she had long, lavender hair, most likely dyed, that cascaded all the way down to her waist. Her deep blue eyes were enrich and alluring. The evening gown she wore enchanting and matched the color of her eyes. There were slits on the sides of the dress that went all the way up to her upper thighs, allowing for easier movement. She would need it, if she was planning on dancing tonight. One her feet were pair of classy, white high heels. She wore a pure white pearl necklace with a matching pearl bracelet on her left wrist along with a pair of pearl earrings. She toted around a fancy, white purse in her hands.

When her blue orbs landed on the two teenagers, a graceful smile graced her lips. "Orihime! You made it!" Her eyes landed on Ed. "Who's this? Your date?" she said, slyly.

The two teens blushed.

The ginger haired girl waved her hands in front of face, frantically with a sheepish and embarrassed expression. "No, no! We're not dating! Eddie and I are just good friends!"

"Uh, huh," Elizabeth spoke in a vague sense of disbelief. She glanced down and observed the dress she was wearing. "That's a wonderful dress, Orihime. Elegant and captivating, yet simple and modest. Suits you nicely."

The auburn haired girl blushed, slightly. "Thanks, Elizabeth."

The elder woman smiled. "Well, that's enough for introductions. I'm sure you two must be tired of standing out here. You may follow me to the dancing hall."

The duo nodded, complying with Elizabeth's request. Steven closed the door behind them after they entered. The interior of the building was larger than they had imagined it would be. They didn't have time to marvel at the extravagant and stylish design of the inside of the mansion as they would led down the hallway by the lavender haired woman. They followed her down a few twists and turns until they finally arrived a creamy, white door with a bright golden yellow design and doorknobs.

"This is the dance hall," Elizabeth announced, slowly opening the door to unveil what was inside.

"Wow," Orihime muttered, breathlessly, her gray eyes twinkling in awe. The room was huge. It was about twice the size of her school's gym. The room was illuminated with flashing lights of vibrant colors. The was large space in the center, obviously for people who wanted to dance. And there were already quite a lot people dancing. Various tables covered in fancy, white sheets in different parts of the area. Off to the far right side laid the banquet area with all different types of delicious foods. Orihime could already make a several containers full of rice, spaghetti, pasta, salad, steak, and a few others she was not sure. Her tried to resist the wonderful fragrance that were beginning to waft to her nose, otherwise, she would embarrass herself by drooling. To finish it all off, the sound was ablaze with soft music.

Orihime could not stop marveling at everything around her. So, this was what a fashion dance party was like? The food, the decor, the music. Everything was just amazing! She imagined this was what her high school senior prom would be like, only better. Way better!

She was abrupted snapped out of her thoughts when a hand grabbed her risk and pulled her along.

"Don't just stand there. Let's go!" Ed urged her, a half grin plastered on his face, and tugging her along.

"W-wait! Eddie!" Orihime shouted in protest as the duo left a smiling Elizabeth behind.

The auburn haired did her best to maintain her balance as she clumsily stumbled along the dance floor. She gazed in wonder at the many people dancing, doing the waltz in conjecture with the soft, gentle music that was playing. She felt a bit anxious and unnerved being around these people, remembering the fact that these people are all models with their lovers, one time dates, or close friends or acquaintances. The way their feet tapped, softly against the ground with the beat of the music and their bodies swayed in perfect harmony with every tempo was a sight to behold.

She felt a somewhat forceful tug on her wrist. Her gray eyes glanced up to see Edward's concerned expression.

"Hey, what's wrong?"

She shook her head, offering a small smile to hide her uneasiness. "Nothing. I'm just a bit nervous is all. I never been to this type of...event before, so it's a little overwhelming," she said, honestly, a hand nervously playing with end of her hair. "I don't exactly know what to do."

"Don't be," Ed reassured her. He then let out a snort. "And besides, parties like these are boring! Just filled with overbearing and irritating people and snobby and pretentious bureaucrats talking about politics, business, or anything else they find annoying enough to catch their interest." His face sneered in disgust. "They do anything to line their own pockets. Well, in this case, they could be discussion fashion instead of politics, but, at the end of the day, the core motivation is still the same. A way to make money and boost their credibility and popularity within the community."

Orihime stared at Ed in slight amazement. "You have very strong opinions about these balls, Eddie. Have you been to them before?"

"Well, I guess. Only a couple of times," he replied, scratching the back of his head.

A moment of awkward silence was cast between the two. Neither teens knew what to say. They felt so nervous and out of place. With the chatty couples and a mood that supposed to spark cordial endearment and intimacy, they just felt slightly sheepish and uncomfortable.

Orihime was twiddling with handle of her purse. She felt so self conscious, embarrassed, and silly. She was the one who brought him out here. She should be able to talk to Ed easily, and normally she could. They were just supposed to mingle, hang out, and just enjoy being together as friends. But the atmosphere of the dance along with the music made everything so surreal and romantic. It was becoming increasingly difficult to speak when the air around them reeked with amorous charged passion and a glamorous style of sophistication. She wanted to say something, anything, but her bashfulness kept her in check. They were just hanging out as friends, but the entire feel of this place makes it seem like a date! She felt so silly and ridiculous. Every one of the her nerves to prick against her skin, her chest to tighten, and her stomach quaked with uneasiness. She was the one who brought Ed! Why couldn't she talk to him?

Edward, on the other hand, was facing similar problems. He just stood there awkwardly and anxious. This was utterly stupid! He had no problem taking down guys twice his height, give Mustang a piece of his mind, or solving highly intricate puzzles. But talking to a girl causes his tongue to become tied and his stomach to tie up in knots? He could feel the trinkle of nervous sweat gliding down the side of his face, his mouth becoming unbearably dry, and his fingers twitching with trepidation. He opened his mouth to speak, but looking into her brightly innocent, terribly alluring, gray orbs, his mouth immediately snapped shut, the words dying in his throat. The fluttering of butterflies in his stomach would just not go away.

They were just two awkward teenagers in a room full of refined fashionistas and elegant models and their cultivated and polished plus ones.

"So, um…"

"Would you…?"

They both started simultaneously, only for their lips to immediately slammed close and blushes to appear on their respective faces.

"Uh, you go first," Orihime offered, trying to dissipate the cumbersome mood between them.

Ed restlessly shifted from one foot to the other. "W-would you like to dance?" he asked, awkwardly scratching the back of his head. He could hear the quicken of his heartbeats threatening to burst from his chest. He swallowed the hard lump in his throat, and nervously waited for her reply.

Gray eyes blinked before a feeling of guilt and conflicted remorse washed through her. She had resolved herself with the prospect of her first dance being with Ichigo. She did not mean to sound crude or harsh, but she did not want to dance with any other man, except her beloved substitute Soul Reaper.

"Um, no thanks," she declined his invitation, politely. "Why don't you have fun without me? I'm going to sit down somewhere." Her feet twisted around as she started to maneuver herself the crowd of dancing couples. However, with her back turned, she didn't see the slightly hurt and disappointed expression on Ed's face.

Edward leaned against the corner of the way, sipping a glass of orange juice, an aura of oppression hovering above him. His face was set into a deep, bored frown, and his uninterested, golden gaze watching the crowd of strangers mingling, laughing, and having a great time. He felt like a social reject as he stood idly by.

"Hey, sweetie! Would you like to dance?" a sultry woman's voice asked.

Ed glanced from his melancholic depression to stare at a young woman giving him a seductive smile. She appeared to just barely be in her early twenties with a tall, slender figure. She was skinny, but did not the give the impression of being the healthy type of skinning, meaning she was one of those women who went on unhealthy diets in order to keep their body looking good. She had medium length, brown hair. The fringe bangs framed her face and she wore a French braid on the left side with a red ribbon tied at the back. Heavy makeup was plastered all over face. Her lips were colored with ruby red lipstick and she wore extensive amount of mascara and dark bluish purple eyeshadow. The dress she sported in was a prim and proper, shoulder less, dark red gown. The intricate, vine like, golden designs displayed across the skirt of the dress and the lighter shade of red bejeweled, indicates the gown must have been super expensive. She completed the look by wearing a showy, black shawl and a pair of gaudy, high heel, strappy sandals. Just one glance at her, and Ed could already tell this was a woman who dedicated her life to her looks and appearance.

Edward gave the woman an uninterested snort before glancing away, taking a nonchalant sip of his juice. "No, thanks," he said, dully.

A small pout took form on the woman's in an attempt to appear coyly disappointed at being rudely shot down. "Come on, don't be like that," she half whined, half seductively. She placed a lean and gracefully, perfectly manicured, red polished finger on Ed's shoulder, much to his annoyance.

"Don't you want to have a good time?" she uttered out in a sensual manner, ignoring the way Ed's eyebrows scrunched together, showing his growing irritation. He just wanted to be left alone!

"Look, lady," Ed bit out, trying to keep his exasperation and aggravation at bay. "I'm not interested, alright? Why don't you go dance with someone else? I'm here with someone."

"You mean that redheaded girl?" the woman practically sneered. The brown haired woman scoffed, her face smeared into disgust. "Why was an upstart like her featured on the cover of last month's magazine?" Her lips twisted into one of cruel mockery. "I wonder how many men she let go to town on her just so she could be the main attraction?"

Edward's brain short circuited for a second. Was this woman seriously suggestion that Orihime was a…? He did not dare to finish that thought. He could feel his temper flare to dangerous levels and his blood raging inside his veins. He grinded teeth together so hard, they might break from the pressure. His tightened so hard, his knuckles was rippling under the stress.

How fucking dare this obnoxious, despicable, jealous bitch suggest that Orihime was a type of girl who would put herself out like that?! She had no idea the type of person Orihime is! How truly kind, beautiful, and wonderful she is! How considerate and thoughtful she is. A compassionate, gentle heart that would make even the mightiest of warriors worship her. Alluring, forgiving, and caring eyes that would make even the most vicious of demons fall under her spell.

This contemptuous bitch should not even compare herself to Orihime!

Ed oh, so desperately wanted to lash at the brown haired woman, to rightfully put her in her place. But, begrudgingly, he didn't. He did not want to start a scene, and, subsequently, get him and Orihime kicked out of the ball. No much he craved to give a her verbal assault full of obscure profanities that would make even a sailor blush, Orihime's sad, disappointed face was no something he could bare to see and he wasn't willing to risk seeing it. Orihime's happiness outbeats any ill feelings of loathing and disdain he was experiencing right now.

He gave the obnoxious woman one of his most darkest and deadliest glares. A glare so intense with hatred and venom that it make even a snarling bear run away with its tail tucked between its leg. A sick sense of satisfaction hit him when he witnessed the woman shiver in fear, her face schooled into one of terror. "You don't know shit," he growled, icily. "So, fuck off."

He glared at the fearful woman one last time and stomped off, his mood a hundred times fouler than it was before. He angrily through the crowd of dancers. As he made his way past the dancefloor, off to one corner, he could hear the sneering voices of women talking crap about somebody. The tones were laced with icy disdain and bitter resentment.

"Look at her! I bet those breasts of hers are fake!"

"They've got to be! No woman could have breasts that big. It's physically impossible!"

"I wonder if she uses them to seduce men? That's probably how someone with no experience like her was able to be featured on the cover."

He tried not to pay too much attention to the gossiping of angrily, envious women. After all, as long as it wasn't about him or his friends, why should he care? However, each description of their spiteful words began to take shape inside his head like pieces of a puzzle. It take him long to figure out that, like the woman who tried to seduce him into a dance, they were all malicious and nasty women speaking shit about Orihime.

"Maybe she just stuffs her bra in order for them to appear overbearingly large."

"Look! I bet she's enjoying the attention those men are giving her."

Ed gritted his teeth, angrily, his brow twitched in aggravation, and he could the vein in his forehead almost pop. It was becoming increasingly difficult for him to control his already, by this stage, murderous temper. "Don't start a fight. Don't start a fight. Don't start a fight," he inwardly chanted to himself in an excessive, survival mantra.

The way these ladies talked down about Orihime, making rude, snide remarks behind her back, terribly reminded of how he started out in the military. Because he was passed the State Alchemist at such a young age that gave him a military rank equivalent to a major. And predictably, lower ranked officers were not too happy about that. They belittled him, reject him, and, all around, make shitty comments about him. But when they started insulting his brother, that's when all hell went loose.

Adults don't like it when kids or young teenagers upstage them. They have years of blood, sweat, and experience under their belt, but that's nothing in the face of natural talent. They become jealous because even after years of training and studying they could never become nearly as gifted, and they loathe people who do. Although, that resentment, haughtiness, and bitterness are just ruses to hide major insecurity issues and is stemmed from their inferiority complex.

Edward seriously contemplated if it was a good idea for Orihime to come here. Was she unhappy? Should he just drag her out of this dump if it's making her feel miserable? Maybe he could salvage the night by taking her to a nice restaurant to uplift her spirits. He was sure they past a few on the way here. First, he needed to locate her.

He continued to twist and swerve through all the couples. He was pretty sure he saw one pair making out in the corner of his peripheral vision, causing his face to turn a deep shade of red at such public displays of affection.

Nothing could prepare him for the vein popping, teeth grinding, red induced visioning sight before him.

What the fuck were those guys doing with Orihime?!

They were flirting with her. That much was obvious. Or, at least, trying to. He was too far to make out any the words that were being said, but the cocky, flirtatious smirks plastered on those three men's faces pissed him off to no end. The savvy and arrogant way they presented themselves was enough to make his blood boil.

It seemed like every second he is at this damn party, his mood just gradually becomes worse and worse. Couldn't those smug bastards keep to themselves?!

It should be established that Edward had set up some ground rules between men and Orihime. One, don't flirt with her. He could not stand to see guys trying to hit on her, feeding her pretty words in order for her to fall into their lap. Trying to win her over with lies and sugary sweet compliments. Of course, he knew Orihime was eating up every word that were spewing out of those bastards' mouths. She was too forgiving and too polite to simply walk away. They were obviously just talking out of their ass in hopes for a date. Pathetic!

Two, don't leer at her. He had seen the way guys who would ogle her, drooling like complete idiots. He hated the way guys stared at her as if she was just a piece of meat. For god's sake, stop staring at her chest, damn perverts! She had a fucking face! She was a goddamn person! Show her some respect! It was not that hard to look someone in the eye. They had no idea what type of person Orihime is, nor did they care. All they care about was that she was pretty. Such superficial reasons for liking someone. It made him sick to his stomach. It was disgusting pigs like them that give sensible guys like him a bad name.

Lastly, three, don't touch her. Ever. They needed to learn to keep their filthy hands to themselves. Every time he saw their hands lingering far longer, even a second longer, the green snake coil itself inside the deepest reaches of his heart. He could see nothing but red, and the all familiar taste of great displeasure and in his mouth. A sickening sense of wrathful loathing and savage fury swirled through him, a raging tsunami was crashing and drowning any sense of patience and restraint he had left. Haven't they heard of personal space? They were invading her privacy, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. It ticked him off to no end. They were way too touchy and grabby for his liking. He knew where their hands wanted to be, and that single thought was enough to make him see red.

And these bastards were breaking all three of his 'Orihime boundary' rules! In retrospect, he never established any ground rules, so, of course, strange guys won't know about it. They were just unofficial regulations. But still… This was unacceptable!

Smug aristocrats! How the hell do they think they are?

He quickened his pace. He noted how some of the other women shot envious, disdainful glares Orihime's way. He almost wanted to laugh at the petty jealousy these spiteful women displayed. For so called 'mature' and 'proper' adults, they acted like spoiled brats who . Don't get mad at Orihime for being so undeniably nice and sweet. Next time, they should try controlling their men better.

Ed stepped closer and closer to where Orihime was inch by inch. She was smiling as she was conversing with the perverts. Her innocent eyes trained on the men, taking in everything they said. Her nodding head, indicating she was listening to whatever flirty nonsense they were spitting out of their mouths.

However, he could instantly spot and was acutely aware of her discomfort. Even though she was smiling, her lips were strained. Her smile was forced and unrefined. It wasn't the usual cheerful grin she shoots him or any of their friends. It wasn't even the modest, adoring one she has whenever she thinks of Ichigo. It was simply an awkward, uneasy smile, showing off how uncomfortable she was at the moment. Her legs were restless, her feet itching to just high tail it and run. Only her overt courtesy and politeness was keeping her glued there, listening to the men rave on with absolute boredom and apprehension.

A pleasantly placate feeling of smug satisfaction coursed through him. Orihime did not like any of those guys. The fact that she found their presence a nuisance, though she didn't voice, encouraged him to do a happy dance in his head. Though he didn't do anything, a victorious smirk was plastered across his lips. Just the sight of Orihime rejecting other guys was oh, so satisfying. A sense of inflated and misplaced pride swirling inside him. The raging storm inside calm down a bit into a mild rainstorm, but the annoyance and anger he was feeling was still there. He could blatantly see Orihime turning down an offer with a somewhat barely noticeable troubled expression on her face, but they were either actively ignoring her, obviously refusing to listen, or are annoyingly persistent.

Well, he would set those bastards straight!

With fiercely determined and intense facial expression, Edward continued to march over Orihime, his legs picking up speed by the minute. If those bastards don't know when to back off, then he would make them. His golden eyes were narrowed into a deadly daggers, his eyebrows furrowed scrunched down in anger and irritation, and his lips formed into a deep scowl.

Ed noticed how Orihime perked when she noted his footsteps advancing closer. Her uneasy smile brighten up to pure joy when she spotted the blond alchemist's approaching form. Her tense shoulders becoming more relaxed. "Eddie!" she shouted out, happily.

Ed cocked his head in her direction, acknowledging her presence. His golden gazed remained fixated on the three men who were all shooting him scornful looks. He stepped closer and closer, deciding to the best course of action was just ignore the three perverts. He should just take Orihime to get something to eat. So, he did just that.

"Orihime, you hungry? You want to eat?" he simply asked her, an edge of aggravation and hostility with an underlying taste of jealousy directed at the men, daring them to object or try anything.

Orihime rejected Edward's offer to dance. However, after making a good distance away from him, she promptly stopped, a horrible feeling of shame washing through her. She realized what she was doing was terribly rude. Just because she denied Ed's request, doesn't mean she had to walk away from him. They don't have to dance. Maybe they could sit down and chat the night away. She was just avoiding dancing with him. She wasn't avoiding Ed himself.

Although, when she spun her feet around to return to him, he was nowhere to be found. He must've already left. She felt the dark essence of guilt weave its way inside her heart. She just stood there, contemplating to herself if she should search for him through the crowds, or just leave him be.

Being alone in the crowd, a feeling of trepidation swept through her. Orihime's shyness out winning any sense of equanimity and composure she had. Anxiety hit her as she realized she was amongst strangers. What should she do? She should go mingle? Start up a conversation? Normally, she was very friendly and conversational, being able to easily talk to anyone. But that was mainly with her peers or teachers or kids younger than her. She had no idea older folks. She does talk to adults, but it's really no more than a simple greeting. The auburn haired girl did not know where to begin for a prolonged, extended conversation. Even worse, a discussion about fashion, a topic she lacked any extensive knowledge about. Sure, she was in the sewing club back in school, however, they never do anything about knitting simple outfits and designs. None of that professional stuff.

Her nervously played with the end of her ponytail, twirling the hairs between her fingers. She timidly licked her suddenly dried lips. Maybe she should sit down somewhere? An air of humiliation was gnawing as she stood there, like a deer in headlights, wondering what her next course of action should be. At last, she opted to just find herself a spot to sit. Frankly, the ginger haired girl truly desired to go searching for Ed, but more shameful and remorseful side of her was reluctant to. What if he was mad at her for blowing him off like that? If he was mad at her, it was best to leave him alone to cool off.

Orihime finally continued on her, but this time at a more sluggish and disheartened pace. Ed would come and get once it's time to leave. Just that melancholic thought was enough to make her chest tighten. She wanted to spend time with her blond friend. The awful consideration of not being able talk to Ed for the rest of the evening caused her heart to hurt. Somehow, being away from Ed longer than necessary struck an arrow through her heart.

The auburn haired merely sighed, dejectedly as her legs mechanically continued to move. She could instinctively hear the voices of the party goers around her. Some were full of merrily joy and mirthful laughter while others were toned with condescending scorn and bitter disdain. Her ears alerted her when her name was whispered out, echoing through the crowd in a harsh, icy tone. She tilted her hand towards the group of scowling women. Their voices were to low for her to hear, they were muttering to each other in such hushed tones. But she knew they were talking about her as a couple of them were pointing their fingers at her, and whatever they were saying was not pretty. Their eyes were cold and sharp, full of bitter anger. She could see the underlying thread of envy that was blatantly visible.

When one of the women caught her staring, she simply sneered. Her friends caught on and joined in on the harsh ridicule as well. All of their eyes glaring jealous filled daggers at her. She witnessed their eyes trailing down, probably taking note for the dress she was wearing. Almost instantaneously they erupted into a fit of mocking giggles. Orihime could feel her face flush red in embarrassment.

This situation reminded her an awfully, too well fact of how she used be bullied back in middle school. Before she befriended Tatsuki and got acquainted with Ichigo. The cold, harsh taunts, the sneering laughter, and, if they really wanted to get physical, the vicious beatings. She recalled coming home with scraps and bruises. Her brother would fret over her, but she would merely laugh, hiding her pain behind a cheerful facade or simply brush off his concerns. She would constantly tell herself that she had to be strong or to merely endure the bullying for her brother's sake. Sora was already doing everything he could to make sure she had a roof under her head, clothes to wear, and plenty of food to eat all by his lonesome. The ginger haired girl didn't need to add another baggage to the already truck load of responsibilities he had under his belt. She simply thought it was a good idea to hide the fact that she was getting picked on at school. She did not need to be more of a burden to him than she already was.

But then came the fight… And she never heard from her brother again.

A cloud of depression was now floating above Orihime. Thankfully, she found a spot to sit, so she could gloom the night. When she gets lonely like this, her thoughts turn somber, dark, and melancholic. Another troublesome and worrying matter struck her when she still hadn't decided what to do with Nina. Well, first and foremost, Nina needed protection at all times. With her growing spirit energy, no doubt she could potentially become a prime target for random Hollow attacks.

Orihime perked up when she heard the tapping of feet near her. She glanced up to see about three men grinning at her. And it wasn't a casual grin used for greetings. This one was the sickeningly sweet one, horribly disfigured kind. A crooked smile that lacked any sense of joy or laughter. A dark essence of delight was embedded in their twisted smirks.

Her option quickly became clear to her. Should high tail and run or just play it cool and hope that they don't try anything? She systematically weighed both options in her head. She knew the safer choice was just to run. Her anxiety and apprehensiveness was telling her to.

Unfortunately, her decision was decided for her. The three men took upon themselves to proceed getting comfortably situated around her. A little too obnoxiously comfortable for her liking.

"Hello, my dear," one of the spoke in a horrifically gentlemen like tone. He took her hand and kissed it. Unlike profound surprise when Ling did it because it was just so unexpected, she felt a shiver of disgust claw its way up her spine. These were grown men, and they were hitting on her! An underaged girl! For a half a minute, a thought struck her, wondering what was the legal age of consent in Amestris. She had almost forgotten that Amerstris was about a century back compared to her world. Was the legal age still eighteen? Or was it a bit younger? Whatever it was, that still didn't stop the ginger haired girl from feeling extremely uncomfortable and terribly self conscious at the moment.

The auburn haired girl just sat there, frozen, listening to them ramble on about their businesses, riches, and any other aristocratic subjects that they perceived to be compelling to talk about with mild interest. She just smiled, robotically, and mechanically nodded her head along when deemed appropriate. She did a great job hiding the fact she stopped listening some time ago. She was beginning to become increasingly bored by the minute. She was not interested in the political affairs or big corporations, or how much money they have in their bank accounts. Truthfully, she was partially offended by the last one. Were they trying to buy her? Did they think she was a gold digger? A girl who only dates men for their money?

Orihime tried to conceal the frown that was beginning to take shape. Luckily, she had always been a good actress, so the smile was still plastered on her lips. However, it was more strained than before. By this point, she was nearly on the verge of making up an excuse, so she could get up and leave. She did not want to be here any longer.

Unexpectedly, the ginger haired girl heard the harsh pounding of footsteps approaching in her general direction.

It was Edward!

Her smiled immediately brightened at the familiar face. She was so glad to see him! Finally, someone she could talk to and felt comfortable with.

"Eddie!" the auburn haired girl chirped, happily.

He nodded his head in her direction, and for a second she could see his lips twisted into a pleased half grin.

When his gaze returned to the three men, he scowled, deeply, his brows furrowed, and his forehead was creased with angry, frown lines. A tinkle of concern etched inside Orihime. She wanted to ask him what was wrong. Before she could voice her worries, Ed spoke up first.

"Orihime, you hungry? You want to eat?"

His question caught slightly by surprise. She didn't notice, but now since he brought it up, she was kind of hungry. Maybe they could get some food at the food stand they saw earlier, and find some place quiet to eat away from all the noise.

"Yes," the ginger haired girl agreed, softly, partially happy to finally get a chance to be away from the now angrily sneering men. She climbed her way out of her chair and carefully maneuvered herself towards Edward.

"Wait a minute…!" one of the men hurriedly called out, stopping the teenagers in their tracks. Ed and Orihime gazes drifted to the glaring men, their faces plastered with furious displeasure and unpleasant uneasiness, respectively. "Don't you think it's a little rude to interrupt our conversation?" He spoke in such a haughty tone that it greatly aggravated Ed.

The blond alchemist breathed through his nose, doing his best calm down and control his growing temper. He had to pat himself on the back at how much restraint he was displaying through the evening. He didn't realize he had this much latent self control. Although, being near Orihime's calming and serene presence definitely helps as well.

He stood, protectively in front of Orihime. "From what I was seeing, she was clearly bored and interested in whatever crap you guys were spouting out," Ed replied, sharply, his tone as piercing as a knife.

The three men reeled back, shocked by the harshness of his tone.

"My, what foul language," one of them jeered, regaining his composure. "Didn't know they allowed hooligans to be invited to this party." His dark gaze pierced into Orihime's own, causing her to duck her head further behind Ed. The guy either doesn't notice how uncomfortable she was, or was just blatantly ignoring it, probably for the sake of his pride. Obviously, not wanting to think that a hot girl was finding his presence most unfavorable.

Orihime could tell that it was taking every fiber of Edward's being to notice pounce and bash the arrogant man's face in. His fingers wouldn't stop clenching. His hands were constantly shaking with such unbridled fury and his frown was worsening by the minute. She didn't want him to get into trouble by starting a fight. And even moreso, she would guilty if he got kicked out because of her.

Taking matters into her own hands before the situation escalated, the ginger haired girl braved herself. "Um, thank you for your time," she spoke in a casual and modest tone. "I really must be going now." She hurried tugged Ed away before the dumbfounded men could speak.

"What's with them anyway?" Edward grumbled, irritably as he was dragged along the dance floor by his arm sleeve. "Arrogant, obnoxious pricks." The anger in his golden orbs transformed into one of concern as he inspected her. "They didn't do anything to you, right?"

Orihime momentarily stopped in her tracks, taken aback by his question. She grinned, slightly, and shook her head. "No, not really. They just talked."

Ed frowned, not buying her explanation. The nervous shifting of her feet was a dead giveaway of her uneasiness. "Orihime," he said in a reprimanding tone.

She merely laughed, sheepishly, scratching the back of her head. "They didn't do anything. Honest." She lowered her hand, her expression taking on a more somewhat perturbed form. "They were just kind of rude, that's all."

His brow furrowed. "Rude?" he growled, his protectiveness showing. "How rude?" Did he actually need to go back and kick those three guys' asses?

She flinched a little, rubbing her arm, anxiously. "Well, they were...just unpleasant to be around."


A bob of a head, her ponytail swinging a little. "They were disrespectful ad they made me feel uncomfortable, is all. They didn't listening to anything I had to say. They made feel like some cheap girl they could buy off the street," she finally uttered out, crossing her arms over her chest in an uncomfortable manner. "They were looking at me, but they weren't exactly seeing me. I...I was just a prize in their eyes. I think they just wanted me as a trophy wife and nothing more. I don't matter. Just my appearance." She was on the verge of crying.

Ed's growl turned into a complete snarl. The blood in his veins rushing in angry torrents. The boiling feeling in the pit of his erupted into a gushing volcano. He was greeting his teeth so hard they were on the verge of cracking under the pressure.

The hell?! Those damn perverts! He should've smashed in their faces in when he had the chance. So, he wasn't the only one who found something wrong with those smug bastards. However, Orihime's displeasure was far more worse than his. Those creeps made her feel uncomfortable and violated. Not to mention they made her cry!

He was absolutely shaking in fury, but, more importantly, he was angry with himself. He shouldn't have left her alone. He was supposed to stay by her side to protect her from creeps like that. He was such a fucking idiot. He should be doing his job right. This is the reason why he wanted to come to shield and guard her from the leering eyes of perverts.

Orihime gasped when Edward twisted his feet around, and angrily stomping back in the direction they came from. She hastily grabbed the sleeve of his arm, forcibly preventing him from going any further. The rage emitting from him was coming off in waves. She had to find a way to calm Ed's anger. He shouldn't go picking fights because of her.

"Where are you going?" she asked, worriedly.

"Where do you think?" he snarled, not even bothering to hide his vexation anymore. She flinched, slightly at his fiercely harsh tone. "I'm going to go smash those bastards' faces in!"

"No!" the auburn haired girl objected, holding onto his automail arm tighter. "Don't do it!" she cried out of panic.

"Why not?" he growled out, harshly. The ginger haired girl did not flinch because she knew his anger wasn't directed at her.

Her gray eyes stared at him, relentlessly, her face set into a stubborn pout. She could just be as headstrong as him if she wanted. "Because you don't need to go pick a fight, Eddie," she chastised him. "Besides, I'm fine. See?"

"But-" She shook her head, cutting him off.

"No 'buts'." She frowned at him, clearly upset. "You would get in trouble, if you start picking fights. And I would feel bad, if you got hurt because of me. So, don't do it, okay?"

He paused, his golden orbs searching her face, intensely, looking for any sign of doubt or indecisiveness. He found none. His face softened a bit before he begrudgingly yielded to her demands. He almost sighed. She was way too forgiving. That soft hearted nature caused him to worry about her, greatly.

A hand made its way to the top of her, tenderly rubbing it. "Fine. You win," he half grinned. "However, the next time those bastards try anything, there would be hell to pay," he promised, a malicious glint in his eyes.

Orihime's usual cheery smile made its way across her lips. "It made me happy that you were thinking of me though," she admitted, giggling, softly.

Ed could feel his face heat up, his heart skipping a beat. Recently, that smile had always been a weakness of his. No matter how hard he tried, he just could not fight it. He admitted only to himself that this girl before him has a hold on him that no other person did before. Well, besides from his mother. He realized he would not be able to fight that smile. It was merely impossible to resist it. That smile was truly a weakness of his. A very good and pleasurable weakness.

The auburn haired girl loosened herself from her blond friend's arm, but not enough to let go off it completely. She softly tugged at it, beaming at him, brightly. "Come on, Eddie. Didn't you say we can eat?"

Edward watched with a shocked, breathless grin as Orihime gorged herself in her food. She had a plate spaghetti, which she was currently eating. Two plates of rice, and a salad at the side. She always managed to grab two bottles of water because one was not enough to hold down all the food she was eating. It always amused him to watch her eat. She had a ravenous appetite. Her body was so slim, he wondered where does it all go? Her stomach must be a black hole or something.

Granted, he shouldn't be talking because was he known for feasting quite a lot as well. But never nearly as much as the happy auburn haired girl sitting across from him. All he had was a plate of rice and a couple of burgers. A glass of orange juice laid before him as a beverage.

They managed to scout out an secluded area away from all the dancing and noise. They could still hear the soft music playing in the background. They were finally alone together. Just the two of them. After what happened, they both came to silent agreement that it was better that they stick together instead of going off on their own. They could both just forget about the last couple of hours of disheartened awkwardness and displeased disposition, and just enjoy the rest of the night.

"Slow down," Ed smirked, teasingly. "Your food isn't going anywhere."

The ginger haired girl blushed, using a hand to cover her mouth, embarrassed. "Sorry. But it just taste so good!" she groaned, almost in a comedic tearful fashion before popping another fork full of spaghetti, however, eating it this time in a more slower pace.

Ed grinned, cheekily. She was always just so cute when he teases her. Her reactions were adorable that's why he enjoys it so much.

Now that they were alone together, he had the massive urge, an unquenchable desire to get her to know her better. There was a lot he wanted to ask her. What was her country like? What her culture was like? Normally, he wouldn't care about that type of stuff, but since Orihime was born and raised in Japan, he wished to know what kind of place would be able to a wonderfully compassionate, beautifully enchanting, big hearted girl with boundless energy. He even wished to know the little things about her. Her favorite color, what she likes and dislikes, her hobbies. Although, that last one he kind of already knew. But maybe cooking and sewing aren't her only hobbies. He felt what ashamed of himself that he never bothered to ask her these things before. Of course, he was busy researching and hunting for the Philosopher's Stone, but that's no excuse.

All that was going to end tonight. This was the perfect opportunity for him. Al and Winry weren't here to tease him for being a sentimental moron. A whipped fool. How a single girl could effortlessly control and subdue the great Edward Elric, the renowned Fullmetal Alchemist, famous Hero of the People. But he could not help himself. Every time he gazed into her gray eyes, he was immediately under her spell. That combined with her alluring smile was a terribly surprising combination to beat. No wonder Al and Winry dubbed him as a bumbling spazz.

But every time Ed opens his mouth to speak, he becomes tongue tied, at a loss for words. His nerves were going haywire, preventing him from conversing with her. His face would heat up and palms would suddenly get all clammy with sweat, making the glove he was wearing disgustingly sticky. He cursed himself for thinking that this was a date. Maybe that's why he was so nervous. The atmosphere plus the fact that were alone combined with the soft music made the situation enticingly romantic. Damn, Al for getting to him.

He sighed, feeling like a hopeless idiot. He took the glove off his flesh hand, and grabbed a napkin with his, still covered, automail hand. He wiped away the perspiration that was beginning to form on the palm of his hand. The blond alchemist was momentarily startled when he felt something lightly kick his leg. It wasn't hard enough to hurt, but it was simply enough to grab his attention. He heard the faint whispers of soft giggles across from him.

Ed glanced up at Orihime, quirking a blond eyebrow The aforementioned girl nonchalantly continued to eat her food as if she did nothing odd of the ordinary. He wondered if he should question her or just ignore it. Eventually, he just shrugged his shoulders and put his glove back on.

He felt another subtle tap against his foot this time. The initial surprise gone, his golden orbs gazed up at the ginger haired girl. She was casually sipping her bottle of water, making it appropriate to hide her lips. However, he could still observe a ghost of a smile forming.

He was quickly starting to catch on to what she was doing. Was she playing with his feet? Why? He didn't understand the implications of her actions, and that left him confused, weighing his options. Should he move his feet away, or keep them placed where they currently were and let her enjoy her fun? She was having an awfully a lot of fun just touching his legs, weirdly enough. Though, Orihime was an eccentric girl. This oddity suits her charm and personality.

She tapped the base of his shin again. This time he was his automail leg. Ed couldn't feel the leather of her sandals, but he noticed when his left leg jerked a tiny bit. He made it apparent to survey her reaction carefully. When her lips threatened to twist into a gleeful simper, she swiftly tried to hide her growing smile by hiding it behind a napkin, pretending to wipe any crumbs of rice off her face. However, the joyful fits of giggles still managed to quietly escape her.

Shyly, her gray eyes peeked at him over the white cloth. She almost let out a small squeak, quickly averting her eyes away. Faint traces of a rosy blush manifested on her cheeks. He knew that she knew that she was caught red handed. Becoming increasingly flustered because her antics were exposed, she embarrassingly bit the inside of her lip.

A few moments of silence passed between the two teens. Ed noted that Orihime stopped kicking his legs for a while. He regarded her features. That bashful, modest smile was still plastered on her lips. She would timidly gaze at him, expectantly before turning her eyes away. Was she anticipating his reaction? Her fingers started to become twitchy as she grew gradually flustered and impatient by his lack of response. Until, finally, her lips formed into a small, disappointed pout.

Confused, Edward merely rose an eyebrow. What's gotten her upset? He blinked. Maybe she did want him to respond.

"You're not playing!" Orihime finally voiced out in a frustrated, sad, and discouraged pout.

"Playing what?" Ed responded, genuinely confused.

"Footsie!" she exclaimed in both sheer exasperation and utter excitement.

Now, he was more baffled than ever. What's footsie? He's never heard of it. It sounds like a such a sappy name to a children's game.

Seeing his utterly bewildered gaze, Orihime almost gasped in realization. "You never played footsie?" she cried out in shock. The confused glint in her golden orbs didn't vanish in the least.

An enthusiastically happy smile made its way back on the auburn haired girl's features. The excited sparkled returning to her gray eyes. Her legs were bouncing with boundless energy. It was amazing to see her mood do a complete one eighty.

"Footsie's a game you play under the table!" the ginger haired girl shouted in absolute glee.

A half grin formed on Ed's lips, her giddiness becoming contagious. "A game?"

"Yep!" she nodded her head. "It's when couples lightly kick each other's legs. See?" She playfully kicked his leg again as a demonstration. "It's a sign of flirting."

When Orihime witnessed Edward's face turn red, it wasn't long before she quickly realized her mistake, a blush taking shape on her cheeks.

"It's not just for flirting!" she swiftly retracted her earlier statement, her arm flailing in front of her, frantically, trying to save herself from her embarrassing mistake. "B-but it's just playing! Flirting doesn't have to be involved!"

Oh, dear! What was she thinking bringing up and playing footsie with Ed? She just wanted a way to start up a conversation with him. One thing led to another, and she just couldn't help herself. She got caught up in the mood. She was just so happy to be with Ed again.

Now she felt incredibly embarrassed and completely flustered. The redness of her cheeks wouldn't go away and her heart wouldn't stop pounding. She was afraid it might burst out of her chest. Why was she feeling this way? Why did she had the intensive urge to be by Ed's side? Her chest would tighten and her heart would hurt. She would constantly worry about whenever he was gone for a extended period of time.

These unexplored, yet vaguely familiar feelings were new and confusing for her. It's almost similar of how she feels towards Ichigo. This anxiously giddy and benignly heartfelt sensation, though, less intense and more fleeting. But that can't be right. Ed and her are only friends. It was wrong and strange for her to feel that way. However, her heart just wouldn't stop pounding.

Edward quietly watched as Orihime went silent. The light blush on his face still present. She nervously twiddled with her food, making it apparent to not look him in the eye, probably too embarrassed to, her own blush still staining her cheeks.

He tried processing the concept of footsie. He had most definitely never heard of it. Not because he had never been on a date before, but because he had never heard of any couple of playfully kicking each other's feet as a sign of flirting.

There that word was again. Flirting. Steam was practically coming out his ears as he became awkwardly embarrassed by the implication. Any romantic subtext always made him meekishly shy. He understood that Orihime had no intention of wooing him in mind, she was merely playing, but his brain was too hung on the intimate undertones of such a playfully coy act.

After his brain recovered from its temporary meltdown, Edward's mind reeled back to what Orihime was trying to do. She was lightly kicking his feet because she wanted to play with him. It was so obvious that he felt stupid for not realizing it sooner. And she had to go on and explain it to moron like him in a clumsy manner, much to both of their embarrassments. No wonder she became a little upset and disappointed when he wasn't responding to her advances. Well, he could easily undo his mistake right now.

Very subtle, Ed lightly tapped his foot against Orihime's leg. The ginger haired girl squeal and almost jerked in surprise. Her gray eyes stared up at him, wide eyed and shocked. He merely shrugged his shoulders at her bewildered expression, doing his best to try to suppress the mischievous smirk that was beginning to form.

Gray eyes fluttered a little before a wide, happy smile broke out on the auburn haired girl's face. She giggled, playfully kicking Ed's leg back. Ed grinned back at her in his goofy fashion.

They both eventually devolved into childish fits of laughter, playing footsie under the table.

"You see? This is how you write my name in Japanese."

Edward stared, intently and with great interest as Orihime wrote her in name on a piece of paper. After loosening up a bit, he finally gathered the courage to ask her about her homeland. Something he wanted to ask for quite a while now. He wanted to know everything about her. What makes her tick. She was shocked at first, but happily obliged, nonetheless.

His golden gaze trailed the way her hand moved across the page, taking note of every flex of her fingers and twitch of a muscle as she dragged the pen along. He scrutinized the paper, confused. All he sees is a bunch of lines mushed together to form some sort of abstract shape.

"There!" Orihime announced, proudly, lifting her hand off the page to let him see her completed work. Ed was right. It was just of a bunch of random lines put together. He couldn't make heads or tails of what he was supposed to be seeing. "This is how you spell my name, Eddie," she giggled, finding his state of confusion amusing. "This is called 'kanji'. Is one of the form of Japanese writing."

A blond brow quirked, quizzically. "One of the forms?"

She nodded her head. "Yeah. There are three different forms. Besides kanji, the other two are katakana and hiragana."

"What's the difference?"

"Well, for starters, out of the three, kanji is the hardest. Hiragana and katakana are basically very generic characters for different sounds and characters. The only difference is that hiragana is mainly used for Japanese words while katakana is used for foreign words. But kanji is the hardest, almost having over eight thousand characters compared to the other two's fifty."

Ed's eyes almost bulged out of his, absolutely appalled. "What the…?! Why so many?!" he shouted, flummoxed. The Amerstrian language barely had thirty alphabets. He couldn't imagine eight thousand. Just think of the chaos that would bring. It almost sounded like someone was just trying to make up letters just to prove they had more words than the average person. It was so ridiculously stupid!

The auburn haired only laughed, sheepishly. "I don't know. It's just how it is."

The blond alchemist gazed in skepticism.

"Anyway," Orihime continued. "The various characters of kanji represent an abstract idea, a general word, or name. Even a single character could have many different meanings depending on how its used," she explained as simply as possible. "People's names are often spelled in kanji. But sometimes hiragana works, too," she added.

She trailed her pointer finger across the page to one of the characters. "This character is 'hime', which means 'princess'. And this one is 'ori', which means 'to weave'. So, my name Orihime basically means 'weaving princess'."

Ed looked at her in the new light. Remembering how Ling was a prince of Xing. He wondered if Japan had a royalty system, too. "Does that mean you're…?" he trailed off, too stunned to finish the question.

Catching on, the ginger haired girl giggled and shook her head. "No, I'm not really a princess or anything, Eddie. It's just a name."

He didn't know whether to sigh in relief or not.

Ed continued to listen on in interest as Orihime delve into explaining the different formalities and customs. It was fascinating to hear that there were specific pronouns boys and girls have to use when speaking instead of the gender neutral ones in the Amestrian language. Though, he found the excessive politeness unbearably ludicrous. At some levels, it seemed nonsensical and unnecessary at points. Taking off your shoes when enter a home? Calling people by their last names, even using suffixes for it? And always announcing when one enters or leaves their home?

As ridiculous as all that sounded, the blond alchemist couldn't help but be intrigued, fixated at the animated Orihime talked. The excitable way she uttered out every word. The joyfully delighted in her gray eyes whenever she tried to teach him something new. The bright, cheerful smile that formed across her lips. She was really happy to be teaching him all this, that much he could tell, even though he could barely grasp anything else. Forgive him, but it's a lot take in.

His nose twitched when her ponytail bounced in front of her, making him catch a whiff of her familiar, intoxicating strawberry scent of her hair. He had to stop himself from subconsciously breathing deeply into the arousing smell. He blushed at the absurdity of his thoughts. He was not a pervert! She just good!

Though, he noticed the soft sheen of her hair. Suddenly, he had the urge to touch, wondering if her hair was as soft as it looked. He did try to resist the compulsive longing to give in to his impulses. He really shouldn't give in, no matter how much he desperately wanted. And he so badly wanted to. One little touch wouldn't hurt, would it?

No! He shouldn't! He really shouldn't! He needed to resist! Must resist!

"Um, Eddie? You're playing with my hair."

Orihime's flustered voice snapped Ed out of his inner debate, and, much to his horror, strands of auburn haired were gently tucked between his fingers. He was absolutely frozen. The world became still. She just stared at him, puzzled and bashfully with a slightly blushing face. He could feel the waves of humiliation crashing through him. His own face turned a deep scarlet red.

"S-sorry!" he squawked, instantly letting go of her hair, a whirlwind of embarrassment and mortification hitting him. What was he thinking? He was such an idiot!

Orihime just stared at him, eyes unblinking. Ed could feel the ripples of fear, shame, and anticipation swirling inside him, wondering what was going on inside that head of hers. She was thinking he was weird, right? Some kind of perv for caressing her hair like that.

She opened her mouth, and Ed could feel the beads of sweat pouring down his forehead. His blood viciously rushing through his veins, and his heart hammering inside his chest. All he could hear was the sound of the erratic beating of his heart. His brain was too busy having its circuits cut to help him at the moment. He wanted to curse himself to death. The stupidity of his actions ruining his chances with the auburn haired girl.

Wait! Ruin his chances? He needed to stop thinking such weird thoughts! He and Orihime are only friends! Nothing more!

Orihime finally spoke, but her words weren't at all what Edward expected. "Eddie, what are you planning to do once you get Al's body back?"

Ed just stood there, shocked. He was dumbfounded. He had absolutely no idea where that question came from. It was so out of left field, and certainly doesn't have anything to do with him touching her hair. He was well aware that she noticed him touching it. Hell, she was the one who called him out on it. So, why change the subject? Unless, she was deliberately avoiding the matter. That was fine by him. They could both just pretend that the last few minutes of awkwardness never happened.

A childishly, happy grin made its way onto her face. "There's lots of things I want to do," she continued to speak, excitable. Ed could only blink, perplexed. She really wasn't talking about the incident.

A smile of relief crossed his features, his tense shoulders relaxing now. "No. What?"

Her lips twisted into a thoughtful pout. "Well, I haven't really decided. I know what to be school teacher. But I also want to open up my own bakery. Maybe even a cafe or a small diner."

Ed's mouth watered at those last three options. Just imagine a place filled with Orihime's incredibly delicious. He would go to that place any day of the week, maybe even stop by twice. "I don't know about that first one, but those last three sound great!" he exclaimed with an exhilarated glint in his golden eyes. He knew his answer sounded self serving more than anything, but he didn't care. Good food outbeats all!

His reasons didn't matter at all as Orihime brightened up at that. "Really? You think I should open up a bakery?"

The blond alchemist vigorously nodded his head with great enthusiasm. "Absolutely! Your food taste great, Orihime! Why wouldn't you?"

Her face flushed, flattered by the compliment. "Wow…!" She truly was at a loss for words. "No one has ever said that to me before. I-I don't know what to say." The light fluttering began to sway its way inside her heart. She knew how much Edward enjoyed her cooking and that made her, for the first time, really enjoy cooking even more, even if was just for him, but she never thought he considered it good enough for her to open her own bakery. The butterflies in her stomach started gently buzzing away.

Ed paused, quirking a brow. "Really? No one has?" He wondered why. Orihime's cooking is delicious. Sure, it might the presentation might be a little...odd, for lack of better words, but, hey, don't knock it until one tries it. Her meals are a representation of don't judge a book by its cover.

The ginger haired girl sadly shook her head. "My friends back home never really liked my cooking. Whenever I try to share it, they gently turn it down. I know they mean well and they aren't trying to hurt my feelings, but I'm not that stupid. I understand what they're really saying is 'Orihime, your food is weird' or 'Who in their right mind would want to eat this stuff?' It...hurts, you know." She stared forlornly into her lap. "I really do want to open my own bakery when I grow up. But when there's no one supporting me in my dreams, it becomes really disheartening and discouraging. It makes me wonder if I really can do it." She quickly shook her head, sending the blond alchemist a crooked smile. "That's not to say they think I can't cook," she hurriedly added. "They just think I should make something more...normal, more ordinary and standard, and I have thought about that. But it just doesn't feel right. It just doesn't seem like-"

"Your cooking," Edward finished for her. His brow furrowed in anger. What kind of callous people would stomp on their friends dream like that? Yes, there were times he insulted Winry for being a 'crazy gearhead', but he always supported her career in automail engineering. He had the itchiness to punch each and every one of their faces in. If they don't like it, that's fine. No one is forcing them to eat it. But don't go telling their friend that her dreams are stupid, no matter how politely they try to make the rejection sound.

"Yeah," Orihime agreed. She wiped the tears that were threatening to spill. Gosh, why is she so sensitive? Her saddened, crestfallen expression transformed into pure, delighted happiness. "But I'm glad you like it, Eddie. It makes me really happy!"

Ed felt his face heat up. He played it off, crossing his arms, and putting up a blithe confident and nonchalant bravado. "Well, I say, to hell with what they think. If you want to open up a bakery, you should just do it. Don't let anyone bring you down. If they really are your friends, then they would support you. No one is asking them to try to food. Everyone has their own taste. Just because they don't like it, that doesn't give them the right to say nobody else will! Hell, there are some people out there would try anything. Even some who are into the more unusual. Nobody's taste is the same, and they are stupid for thinking that!"

The auburn haired girl blinked, amazed at his rant. Her face flushed even more, her cheeks lining with embarrassment, though, her heart was swelling with happiness. Her gaze drifted to her lap, using her bangs to conceal her incredibly blushing face from his view, her hands fidgety with the skirt of her dress. "Th-thank you, Eddie," she muttered out, softly, her heart hammering.

Awkwardly, he sheepishly scratched the back of his head, his own face having already turned a light shade of pink. "D-don't mention it."

A moment of awkward silence passed by. Neither of them knew what to say next, how to begin another conversation. The blushing teens too embarrassed to speak, their minds reeling with jolts of electricity, sending electrified vibe to every nerve in their body.

Orihime's gray eyes peeked at Ed through her bangs. She gazed at his face, taking every note of his features. His sharp, golden eyes, his broad and straight nose, and his squared and muscular jawline. There were still some traces of baby fat, but they were slowly going to away to reveal strong cheekbones. She never took great interest in his looks before, but he really was handsome.

She blushed even more, feeling greatly embarrassed by her thought process. Steam were blowing from her ears. The chiming of fictional bells were ringing followed by a loud siren, alerting Orihime that her crazy imaginations were going to far and needed to be reeled back a bit. She didn't know why she thought that. It just slipped out!

Hearing the soft music playing in the background didn't lighten the mood though. It just made thumping of her heart worse. It was romantic. Too romantic! She wished now more than over that would play something more...casual. Light hearted and happy.

There was one thing she was curious about though… His hair. How did he get to become so long like that? Most guys she knew always had short hair. Or, at least, their hair never becoming longer that touching their shoulders. Of course, she knew of some male Soul Reapers with long hair like Captain Kuchiki or Captain Ukitake, but that's only because they were really hundreds or perhaps thousand of years old. Men back in Feudal Japan had super long hair, some even longer than a woman's. That was mostly to symbolize status, power, or royalty, she believed. She wasn't entirely sure. It was tradition.

Now, since the tradition was lost to time, boys often cut their hair maintain their short structure. She heard that, if they don't do it themselves, they even go to a barber to have cut and trimmed, at least, twice a month. She wondered why Edward doesn't cut his hair? Oh, it's that she doesn't like his long hair. It looks nice on him. She was just curious, that's all.

Her gray orbs were glued to his hair now. She could swear that it grew a few inches since she last time she checked it, inspecting it closer. Last time his hair just reached his upper back just below his shoulders, but now it reaches half way down his spine, even in a ponytail. It was a vibrant color. It wasn't just blond, it was pure gold. Shiny and sleek. He had beautiful hair. She could tell that, despite Edward's appearances, he takes really good care of it. She wanted to touch his hair to feel if it's as soft as it looks. Her curiosity was overwhelming her. There was no harm in asking, right?

"Can I touch your hair?" Orihime blurted out.

Edward almost choked on his saliva. "W-what?" he stammered out, incoherently, obviously caught off guard by the random question.

The auburn haired girl quickly discerned her mistake, feeling flustered for spouting that out all of a sudden. "Your hair, Eddie, can I touch it?" she repeated, shyer.

Ed was slightly baffled. "Why?" he questioned, more curious than anything.

"Because I'm curious," she replied, a little embarrassed. "It looks soft. I want to feel it."

The blond alchemist was a little surprised at her bluntness. At least, she was honest about her intentions. She was actually asking for permission to touch his hair compared to his impulsive urges. But wow… Great minds think alike.

"Uh, yeah, sure," he finally responded, awkwardly.

Her lips twisted into a small, appreciative smile. Her gray eyes twinkling with childlike glee. She scooted closer to him, not noticing Ed blushing at their close proximity. Her hand stretched out and tenderly stroke his hair. It was soft! She easily became fascinated by his silky, bright golden locks.

Completely still, Edward watched as Orihime continued playing with his hair. She could become enticed by the weirdest things. It was endearing. She giggled, delightfully. She was like a child playing with a new toy. It was both amusing and charming.

"You could be a princess, Eddie!" she suddenly exclaimed.

"A princess?!" Ed shouted, comically offended. "Why the hell would I be a princess?"

"Because I'm the knight," Orihime replied as if it was most obvious answer in the world.

Ed frowned, angrily, but there was no bite to it. It was more playful than anything. "Wait! How come you're the knight? I'm a guy! I should be the knight! You be the princess!"

The auburn haired girl pouted, childishly. "But being the princess is so boring! How about you be the prince and I be your lady knight who comes to rescue from the evil wizard?" she tried compromising.

He was humorously unamused, still not satisfied. He went from being a girl to a weak guy who couldn't protect himself. He racked his brain for a clever counter strike.

It funny how hard he was trying so hard in conversation that was odd and nonsensical. Just plain bizarre. However, it still had its own whimsical charm, and it's Orihime's joyful enthusiasm and endless energy that keeps him compelled. Seeing her happy made him happy. It was always so easy to talk to her, and, without realizing it, he would find himself wrapped up in the conversation. That doesn't mean he could allow himself to lose in this argument, no matter how irrelevant it was.

"But it's more traditional for the girl to be the princess and the guy to be the knight," Ed argued, heatedly.

Orihime's brow furrowed, challengingly. "Well…" Her gray eyes darting every which way, trying to conjure something. She didn't want to lose. "I'm older, so there!" she finally yelled out with childish stubbornness. "I get to decide first!"

Ed's jaw almost dropped when the ginger haired girl pulled out such a dirty tactic. Well, he could be just as stubborn. He wasn't planning on backing down. "Then how old are you?"

"I'm seventeen," she replied, grinning, trumphiantly.

He blinked, confused. Last time, he checked she was sixteen. When did her birthday pass? "I'm sixteen," he said, defeated.

"Oh?" It was now her turn to be puzzled, the light hearted argument completely forgotten. "When did you turn sixteen?"

The blond alchemist pursed his lips, contemplative. "I think it was a couple weeks ago. Probably back in Dublith."

"What?" she gasped out, comically horrified. Grabbing Ed's shoulders, she shook him. "Why didn't you say anything? We could have thrown a party with cake and everything!"

"Hey, hey, calm down!" he fumbled out, holding her wrists to keep her from shaking him anymore. "We were so busy, it just slipped my mind, okay?" His golden eyes stared into her own gray ones. "What about you?"

"Eh?" She tilted her head, perplexed.

"Why didn't you tell us your birthday passed?" he elaborated.

"Oh!" She laughed, sheepishly. "Guess, I must've forgot."

The blond alchemist sweat dropped. Great minds do think alike. He decided to just change the subject. "So, Orihime, what compelled you to touch my hair?" he asked, almost smirking when the ginger haired girl's face immediately went a light shade of red.

She nervously twiddled with her fingers. The embarrassment she was feeling coming back full force. "Your hair's pretty," she muttered out, shyly.

He had to strain his ears to hear her. But when he did, he could feel his own face heat up, the pounding of his heart increased. He felt his brain turn to mush. Her candid nature was going to be the death of him one day. "Y-you thought my hair was pretty?" he uttered out. He cursed himself for stuttering.

The auburn haired girl could do nothing but bashfully nod her head. She shyly peeked at him through her half lidded eyes, nervously chewing on the bottom of her lip. "W-what about you?" she questioned, feeling a bit frustrated that she was the one enduring this humiliation. "Why did you touch my hair?"

Edward instantly froze, appalled, his earlier screw up coming back to haunt him. His face flushed, tremendously. He knew he was going to pay for teasing her. "No reason," he responded, casually, though his voice was cracking a bit. He tried sound confident and unaffected, but it wasn't working. Not with the streaks of embarrassment pushing through.

Orihime pouted, not the least bit pleased. She lightly hit his arm. "That's not fair! Meanie! I told you!"

He laughed at her frustrated outburst. Well, he supposed it wouldn't hurt to come clean. After all, she did.

"I-I like your hair," he admitted, quietly, adamantly turning his head away, unable to look her in the end to save himself the embarrassment of reading her expression. He wondered what kind of expression she wore? Was it disgust? Anger? Or maybe she was laughing at how lame he was? He was dying to know, but he was afraid to look. He couldn't deal with her thinking he was a creep.

When the blond alchemist finally gathered the courage to face her, what he saw actually surprised. There was no disgust or anger in her features. She wasn't even laughing at his idiocy. No, her gray orbs were staring at him, wide eyed and unblinking. Her mouth was formed into an astonished 'O', and her cheeks was greatly flushed. The shockingly amazed and stunningly dumbstruck was not last on her expression.

Recovering from astounded frozen state, Orihime almost squeaked. She shyly started playing with end of her ponytail. She darted her eyes away from his, feeling slightly inhibited and meek at the moment. The place her other hand over her pounding heart, willing it to try to calm down, but to no avail. "You are the third person who complimented my hair," she spoke, softly.

Ed felt something swell at the comment. There was a mixture of surprise that rarely anyone complimented her hair before with a bit of underlying jealousy, wondering who did. "Who were the other two?" he asked, curiously, trying to hide the envy he was feeling.

A small smile graced her lips as she beamed at him. "My brother was the first one, and Nina was the second," she answered, brightly. "You are the first boy to say that you liked my hair."

There that smile was again. That modest, heartwarming smile, which caused his heart to soar. That smile he always longed to see. That smile that he was alchemized mountains over just to bear witness to. This feeling of euphoria coursed inside him. That smile that caused his stomach to twist into knots. That smile that would give his life to see everyday. That smile that made him feel.

He was at a loss for what to say, his brain was melted. He could only gaped like an idiot, his face a deep shade of red. Orihime giggled at his dumbfounded and awestruck expression.

"Can I tell you something?" she asked out of the blue.

Ed blinked, somewhat puzzling. "Yeah, sure," he said, uncertain.

She grinned at him, her eyes dimming a bit and become somewhat melancholic. She lightly touched her hair. "You know, I used to hate my hair."

He was surprised, stunned by that statement. "Why do you hate your hair?" He had no idea Orihime felt such contempt towards her hair. In his opinion, it was so beautiful and well kept. The alluring color of a setting sun. He could stare at all day, trying to memorize each and every strand. But most of all, it was gorgeous because it belonged to her. Everything about Orihime is enchantingly stunning in his eyes.

So, hearing her say she hated her hair was shocking to say the least. This another aspect of Orihime's personality that he would thought to see, and somehow it made him feel genuinely happy that she was opening up to him like this. It pleased him because it's confirmation of how strong their bond had grown these past several months.

She nodded, solemnly, her mouth set into a grim line. She stared, forlornly at her lap. "I used to be bullied because of hair."

Ed opened his mouth to say something, but opted to just close it. He understood that she just needed him to listen to her. It was already taking a lot of willpower for her to confess to him like this.

"My hair was...different," the auburn haired girl continued. "Other kids used to pick on me because of it. They mocked me, calling my hair weird and ugly." She could feel her eyes begin to sting, however, she tried to will the tears away. "I could never tell my brother I was being bullied at school. I knew he would always worry when I come back home with cuts and bruises, but I brush him off, telling him not to worry. He was already do so much for me. The least I could do was try and endure it. Then one day when my hair grew and he told me how much he loved my hair was absolutely ecstatic. I never felt so happy. I felt proud of my hair. But then a few girls chopped off the long hair my brother loved so much. That's when I started hating my hair." Her hands clenched the skirt of her dress, her eyes staring, intently into the fabric. "It was odd, disgusting, and strange. It got me into so much trouble I couldn't stand it! It was frustrating! I always thought if only more hair was normal, I wouldn't be bullied as much. Then my birthday came, and my brother bought my hairpins. And you know what I did?"

She lifted her head, and he was astonished to see the streamline of tears running down her cheeks, ruining her mascara. "I told him they were stupid and childish and that I hated it!" the ginger haired girl confessed, sorrowfully and full of regret. "I lied to him! I couldn't tell him that I was afraid of drawing even more attention to my hair, terrified of giving bullies another reason to torment me. I hurt him! I hurt my brother's feelings! I was horrible and ungrateful! If I knew that would be the last conversation I would ever have with my brother, I would've taken it all back. I would've told him the truth, and be honest about how much I loved the hairpins." She cried into her hands.

Edward's hurt to see her in so much pain. Instinctively, he awkwardly wrapped one arm around her, pulling her close with his other hand gently stroking her hair, trying to soothe her pain. He knew her tears and makeup were probably ruining his tux, but he didn't care. This was more important.

"Orihime, it's okay," Ed whispered in an uncharacteristically gentle voice. "I'm sure your brother doesn't hate you for some silly reason like that." He should know. He was able to sympathize with her anguish and guilt. For years, he thought Al hated and despised him for turning him into a walking, talking suit of armor. An empty life form, who couldn't eat, sleep, or feel. But now he knew how ridiculous it was to keep his guilt and remorse all bottled up. Al had already forgiving him a long time ago. Of course, the guilt was still there, however, some of the burden, the baggage of bearing his brother's grudge on his shoulder was lifted off.

So, the blond alchemist completely understood what the auburn haired girl was feeling. The guilt and remorse was unbearable, wasn't it? "You don't need to cry, Orihime," he muttered, caringly, stroking her hair. "I'm sure whatever your brother is, he's proud of you."

Orihime smiled through his shirt, despite her tears, knowing how true his words are. Sora had already forgiven her a long time ago. Even though her brother turned into a murderous Hollow, if it wasn't for that day, she would have never gotten the closure she needed. She was touched Ed was trying to cheer her up in his own clumsy and awkward way.

She lifted her head away, offering a tearful smile. "Thanks. I needed that." She took note of the darker shade of black stain on Ed's jacket. "I'm sorry. My makeup ruined your suit," she apologized, ruefully.

Ed looked at her, lugubriously. "Doesn't matter. You feel better?"

"Uh, huh." The auburn haired girl slowly nodded her head. Her eyes searched the table. Knowing what she wanted, he grabbed a spare napkin off the table since it was closer to his side, and handed it to her. She smiled and took it from his hands. "Thanks." She carefully wiped her tears and stray mascara away, delicately avoiding getting any in her eyes.

"This might be bad timing, Eddie," Orihime began, setting the napkin down. She felt the mood was just right, so she had to ask this now. It was utterly important. "But can Nina come along with us?"

Edward cocked his head, his golden eyes lit with confusion and denial. "You know it's too dangerous for Nina to tag along with us, Orihime."

She eyed him, dejectedly. "I know, but Nina really missed me. I thought if she could travel with us, she could spend more time with us." She had also deliberately left the part of her other motivation for wanting Nina to come along.

Ed stared at her, suspiciously, mouth forming into a small frown. His mind was reeling. He was debating with himself if whether or not he should question her about her strange behavior. Although, he understood that she would probably just brush him off or derail the question. But when thinks about what happened back in Dublith, he was filled with hurt and anger. Sure, he was a little angry at her for lying to him, though, mostly, he was hurt. He pondered to himself over and over again what could he say to make Orihime trust him? What could he do? He understood now that whatever she was doing she was putting her life in danger. Her ending up in the hospital that day should be proof enough. He never wanted to see her hurt like that again! But how could he make her understand?

"Orihime," Edward muttered out. "Can I ask you something?"

The aforementioned girl glanced at him, noting the fierceness and intensity of his eyes. She quickly realized that whatever he was going to ask her it was serious. Her face turned grim and stern, not a trace of peppiness was left. She had a vague idea of what he was going to ask her, an she was already racking her brain, preparing for responses to his questions.

However, having to prepare lies to his inquiries didn't make the ginger haired girl feel any less guilt. She felt remorseful for every fib that uttered out of her mouth, lamently terrible for every fabrication of the truth she had to come up with, and regret for always hurting her friends' feelings, especially Ed's. She completely understood how much they were about her when she inconspicuously go off to fight Hollows without their knowledge.

But she couldn't disclose anything about ghosts, Hollows, or Soul Reapers. It wasn't her right. They were all supposed to be kept secret from the human realm. If it wasn't for her powers, she would've been locked out of the loop, too. Blissfully unaware of the supernatural happenings around her. And with everything Ichigo and the Soul Reapers did for her, she owed it to them to keep their secret, no matter what. No matter how painful it might be or how much of a rift in her relationship with Ed it might cause.

She decided to just stop him before he could voice his question. "Sorry, but I can't tell you."

Edward's face immediately turned into one of frustration, intense and angered at the rejection. "Why?" It was only a single word, but he said it with so much sharpness and intensity that she strongly resisted wincing under his scrutinizing gaze.

This was hurting her as much as it was hurting him. She needed to settle this once and for all. She needed to cut him off from asking any further questions now or in the future.

Ed could feel his anger rising. Orihime was doing it again. She was refusing to let him in again. That feeling of hurt and was swelling inside him. She kept her face guarded, so he couldn't tell what she was thinking.

"I can't tell you because we live in two different worlds, Eddie, that's why. You are only human. I want you to live an ordinary, human life."

The blond alchemist frowned, not getting her reasoning. "You're human, too," he countered.

She smiled at him, but it was filled with forlorn acceptance. "That's true. But I already entered a path you can't follow. I'm sorry, but that's the way it is."

Without thinking, Ed gripped her hand with his automail one, holding it, tightly. He was confused. He didn't get her what she was saying, what her baffling riddles meant. But he was known for being incredibly stubborn. This wasn't going to stop him! "Then why can't you let me join you?" he asked, fiercely. "Why can't you let me protect you?"

Orihime gasped, lightly. She was memorized by his powerful glare. It was heavy and determined. Those confident, unfaltering words, his striking and purposeful gaze, his strong and driven resolve, and his intense passion… They overall resolute conviction… It reminded her so much of… They reminded her of...


Her face flushed. She couldn't move. She couldn't make a sound. All she could do was stare. She wondered if Ichigo were to ever be reborn, would he be reborn inside of Ed? She internally shook her head. No, that couldn't happen. However, for a split second she must've imagined gold turning to brown. She blinked and the gold returned.

Just her imagination...

Ed, for his part, was lost in his own thoughts as well. He was currently freaking out. What did he just say? Why did you say it like that? His face heated up to new levels it almost felt like his head might combust. He'd protect her? He didn't have any underlying motives for his words. He didn't have any feelings for her. He wanted to protect her because they were friends. He needed to lookout for her. That's all!

He realized he was still holding her hand and instantly let go as if his hand was burning. But that couldn't be nothing more than a ghostly feeling because it was his automail hand. He had to do something to save face, to keep his embarrassment from exploding any further!

"You…? You want to go dance?" he hesitantly blurted out. He cursed himself for his stupidity. That wasn't going to stave off his embarrassment. It would only make it worse. Though, some tiny part of the back of his head told him that if Orihime agreed to dance with him, then the embarrassment was worth it.

She paused, smiling, sadly. "That's okay, Eddie. You go ahead and dance without me."

He frowned a little, momentarily forgetting his embarrassment. This was the second time she rejected his offer. What's wrong? Did he smell? He'd made sure to take twice as long as in the shower this afternoon to thoroughly get rid of all grime and dirt and the built up stench of his musty sweat. It wasn't enough?

"Why?" Ed asked, curiously and almost pleading with underlying feeling of hurt in there.

Orihime almost recoiled at that, her face becoming flushed. "I-I never danced before," she admitted, shyly. "Plus, I wanted my first dance to be with…" she trailed off.

He scowled, a ripple of that dark essence of jealousy coiling inside his heart, poisoning him with its covetous venom. He doesn't need to hear the name to know who she was talking about.

Ichigo. That guy again?

The foreboding sense of displeasurable bitterness was churning inside his stomach again. He was in a whirlwind of emotions. The wretched salty taste on his tongue wouldn't go away. The ghostly mouth of spiteful malevolence muttering of balefully malicious suggestions against his ear. That feeling of raw anger was returning. That ill willed, covetous twisting sensation gripped at his heart like an wrathful vice filled with loathing and animosity. The cold, phantom hands sickly caressing tauntingly devilishly against his skin, sinfully. The ghastly, contemptible mockery in it was making itself blatantly obvious. And the overall immense feeling of gluttonous possessiveness had overtaken him.

"Orihime, you shouldn't waste away your life thinking like that!" Edward argued, heatedly. He grabbed her wrist once more, and almost forcibly dragged her along before she knew what was happening. This was her night, so she should be making the most of it, despite how badly it started.

"W-wait! Eddie!" Orihime shouted out, fruitlessly. Her protests fell on deaf ears as she was forced to clumsily stumble along after Ed.

Orihime could only cry out, helplessly as she doing her best to dodge the many obstacles in her way all the while she tried to avoid bumping into people as Edward dragged her along. She didn't know where she was going. All she knew was that the wistful and gentle music was getting louder by the minute.

She made a small 'oof' sound as she was stopped by something hard and muscular. She glanced at the object she bumped into and quickly realized it was Ed's chest. His golden orbs were staring at her, amusingly, making her comprehend the fact that their faces were just a few inches apart. She could feel his hot breath against the skin of her face. The blush was slowly starting creep up her cheeks and ears.

"S-sorry!" the auburn haired girl squeaked out, flustered, trying to pull away. However, Edward stopped her by pulling her back, albeit gently.

"Where are you going?" he smirked. "Come on. Let's dance."

That statement made her swiftly discern that she was in the middle of the dance floor. The blaring of soothingly sweet and majestically mellow music rang throughout the room. She could clearly see other couples getting into the slow dance. Her face burned even more. Knowing that she was in the midst of dancing made her feel embarrassed and self conscious. She couldn't dance. She was way too clumsy and ungraceful and uncoordinated. She would just end up embarrassing herself and Ed in front of all these people.

"But I...don't know how to dance," she responded, timidly.

"Don't worry," he assured her. "I'll lead you."

He placed his arm around her lower back, and his touch instantly burned her. She was wearing a dress and his hand was touching that, but it felt as if he were touching skin instead. His hand was sensitively warm. She was acutely sensitive to everything she was feeling.

"Put your arms around me," the blond alchemist instructed. The ginger haired girl could only nod, dumbly, too afraid to speak in fear that her voice would sound squeaky and shy. She did as informed. Slowly and almost tentatively, she placed her arms around Ed's neck, bringing herself somewhat closer to him.

She was intimately aware of how close they were. Their proximity making her flush. She keenly made sure to keep herself about a foot away from him. Any closer and she might explode into a pile of mush. The hammering of her accelerating heartbeats were already torturous enough. She was so hot she wondered if her body was on fire.

Orihime's gray eyes glanced at Ed. When she did she saw his goofy grin plastered on his face. She resisted the urge to gasp as she pulled a bit closer.

"Eddie!" she muttered in surprise, her face redden extremely quickly.

"You're too far away," he replied, both hands on her waist now.

It was silent and they both swayed, gently to the music. The auburn haired girl's blush wouldn't go away. Her heart was beating fast, her skin felt hot, and her brain was turning to mush. She was so embarrassed!

No sound was made between the two. Orihime did her best to follow Edward's graceful steps with her clumsy ones. She actively made sure to not accidentally step on his feet as she moved. Always looking down, anxiously on occasions.

"Just relax," Ed reassured her, keeping her steady.

She nodded, feeling a bit more confident, thanks to the reassurance. Her body was flushed against his, so she could feel his hard and muscular abs and chest through his suit. That caused her to reminisce about the time in Rush Valley when Ed was stripped to his underwear, causing her face to blush even more. The image of it wouldn't go away. Their faces were just a couple inches apart. She could feel his hot breath against her face.

Eventually, the auburn haired girl had gotten used to their close proximity and took a long look at his features. His pronounced nose and chiseled jawline were coming in nicely. Her gray eyes slightly widened when she realized how tall he was. He had gotten...taller. Huh. She never noticed that. Granted, he wasn't at her height level yet, but he was getting there. Of course, she was wearing wedge heels, so that boosted her height for about two or three inches. Though, without the sandals, Ed would be nearly as tall as her, perhaps just an inch shorter.

"You've gotten taller, Eddie," she commented.

Edward blinked before his cheeks stained a light shade of pink. "Thanks for noticing," he smirked, playfully smug. "You didn't think I'll be short forever, did you?"

She just smiled in return. "Have you danced before?" she asked, curiously.

"A little," he answered, cockily. "Since I've joined the military, I've been two a couple of balls the colonel forced me to attend. So, I have some experience."

She almost giggled in return.

Minutes passed by and Orihime was starting to become more and more relaxed. Her foot work was becoming more precise and elegant. The slow and soft music was blaring, beautifully throughout the room. She was getting lost in this tender flow. She was getting lost in this atmosphere. And she liked it.

Part of Orihime was debating that this was wrong. That she was breaking her own self vow. That she shouldn't be doing this. That she was betraying her heart. That this was the ultimate betrayal of her feelings for Ichigo. That she should stop before she makes an unforgivable mistake.

But it felt...right. Being here. Dancing. With Ed. Deep inside, she wanted to just stay like this. In her partner's arms. Forever.

Just that thought made the butterflies in her stomach swarm, gently, and the nerves in her body to become prickly, crackling with tiny, electrified sparks. The blood rushing through her head caused her cheeks to become inflamed, and the thundering of her heartbeat could be heard hammering away against her ears.

Likewise, Edward was finding himself in a similar situation. Despite his confident demeanor belies a spazzing fool. Their closeness was making it hard for him to think, hard for him to breathe. He could acutely feel every curve of her smooth and slim body pressed up against him. Her breasts brushed up against his chiseled chest with every movement. He had to keep himself calm, keep himself from freaking out and causing a scene. He had never been this close to any girl. Ever. So, pardon him for sounding like a prude. Don't blame him. He wasn't good in romantic situations like this. They make him awkward and jumpy.

He couldn't freak out though. He was supposed to be the self assured, confident one that was to lead his dance partner fluently through the rhythm. The reliable and poised lead that guided her smoothly through the dance. He was the one with the experiencing, he shouldn't be so...irrational. But when the blond alchemist was trapped in Orihime's presence, all sense of self was lost. He was hypnotically trapped under her spell. She always had the power over him, the power to make his brain turn to mush and any sense of reasoning to fly out the window. Without a single word, she could control him. Effortlessly. And without fail.

He did his damndest to ignore his quickening beats of his yearning heart. He tried to distract him by taking in her features. His gaze drifted to her earrings that shined in her the dimly lit room. He smirked, proudly when he remembered she told him that she loved it because it came from him. It made his male pride to swell with new heights.

He took in the rest of her. Her heart shaped face plastered with a smooth, pale skin. They looked so soft and flawless, lacking any sign of blemishes or imperfections. Her thinly, perfectly arched eyebrows that were delicately perched slightly underneath her forehead. They appeared to be well trimmed and groomed. Her tiny, button nose that appeared so twitched, adorably every so often. Her sunset colored hair that swayed occasionally with every gentle movement she made. Her beautiful, alluring, expressive gray eyes that lit up with every vibrant emotion she was feeling. Her lightly pink...kissable...lips. They looked so damn irresistible. His eyes were practically glued to them. They were

His face flushed at where his thoughts were leading. A chorus of singing birds flying above him as his embarrassment took full frontal stage. No, no, no! Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! He was too busy mentally berating himself that he had fought the urge to suddenly yelp in surprise when he unexpectedly felt something press against his right shoulder. His golden eyes darted over to see that it was Orihime's head. Her body was pressed even closer to his, practically locking the gap between them . Her arms were fully wrapped his neck and her face was completely buried that he could almost barely see any traces of her features. Her intoxicating strawberry scent was invading his nose. The lovely fragrance making it hard for him to breathe. This woman was going to kill him one day.

"Uh, Orihime?" the blond alchemist called, hesitantly. "Could you lift your head?" This closeness was becoming unbearable. It was good for his dangerously beating heart. Any more and it just might burst. He didn't know how it would look to others to see a taller girl leaning against his shoulder.

"No," she refused, softly. Her tone was no more than a whisper in the breeze. "I'm embarrassed." Her shy voice was muffled by his jacket, but he could hear her loud and clearly. He could clearly see the outer reddening of her cheeks, and instantly understood she was trying to hide her own embarrassment. What he doesn't realize was that the cause of her bashfulness were similar to his own prior thoughts.

A small, half grin made its way onto Ed's features. It's looks like he wasn't the only one who was embarrassed. They were both shy and awkward teens. Clumsy and flustered adolescents who were easily embarrassed by the smallest provocation. But somehow, he wouldn't have it any other way. It signified them. It was normal and natural for them. It's what made them us. And he liked that.

There was no rush.

No rush.

Relaxing a bit, he completely enveloped her in his embrace. A small grin plastered on his face as they gently swayed back and forth in perfect harmony.

The soft music continued as Edward and Orihime danced to their heart's content.

Both Edward and Orihime decided to take a break from all the dancing. They sat on the bench outside of the building. All the city lights looked very pretty at night. It wasn't that dark out though, so they could still see part of the roadway and citizens going home for the day.

"Thank you for coming with me, Eddie," Orihime said, gratefully with bright smile on her face. "I had a great time!"

With a light blush on his face, Edward tried acting coolly by scratching the side of his face. "Yeah, well…" He crossed his arms. "I didn't want you going alone."

"No, thank you, really," Orihime reaffirmed, gray eyes shining with sincerity. "I never went dancing before. I mean, I was asked a few times, but just never went because I was, uh, waiting for Ichigo." She gripped the end of her yellow dress tightly. The breeze was whipping the ends of her ponytail about. Her face was dusted slightly pink as there was small, joyful smile on her lips. "Thank you for showing me a great time! I'm glad you came with me!"

Ed's face turned slightly darker as he sheepishly rubbed the back of his head. "Think nothing of it. I just don't want wasting your life away, that's all. If you want to do something, you should just do it."

"Oh!" the ginger haired girl brightened up, a light bulb shining above her head as if remembering something. She took out her dark pink purse and dug her hand inside.

"What's that?" the blond alchemist asked, curiously as he watched her pull out something wrapped in a blue handkerchief. She opened it up to reveal delicious cookies inside. Edward's mouth instantly drooled once the yummy aroma of the cookies reached his nose.

"I made cookies for you as a gift for coming with me," Orihime explained, smiling. "You're welcome to have some, if you like."

Edward didn't need to be told twice as he snatched one and popped it in his mouth, humming in delight, the softness of the cookie melting in his mouth.

Orihime softly smiled at Ed's delighted, pleased expression. It was always a nice feeling when someone enjoys her cooking. She took a bite of her own cookie, absolutely loving the texture and taste.

Both young teenagers stayed in relatively silence, just enjoying Orihime's cookies and the quiet night air. When they both reached for the last cookie, their hands instantly touched, sending a jolt of shock through their entire beings.

Edward glanced, his face flush a deep scarlet red, not realizing how close their faces were. He could make out the smooth skin of Orihime's heart shaped face. Her enchanting, gray eyes shining as bright as the moon under the starry night sky. The light was making the lovely gray turning into a mesmerizing sliver. They were just alluring and captivating as ever. They were hypnotically beautiful. There was so many emotions behind those eyes. Such tender and care, warm and joy... It was so ridiculously easy to get lost in them. It never fully registered to him just how much attractively dazzling her eyes were.

Ed involuntarily leaned in closer.

Orihime was simply lost in Edward's own divine, golden orbs. They were so majestic and powerful. The determination in them, reminded her so much of Ichigo. She simply couldn't look away! She didn't want to look away! She was entrapped, completely under a spell. Such fiery determination with small glimmer of tender warmth beneath it… They were as bright as the sun. Ablazed with the intensity of a burning inferno. They were hot. They were captivating. They were beautiful. Like the sun.

Orihime subconsciously leaned in closer.

Their hands unconsciously interlocked as they were completely locked in each other's eyes. Their faces were flushed slightly red, the throbbing of their heartbeats pounded against their ears in a symphony of music. The electric jolt of adrenaline coursed through their entire bodies, sending butterflies to flutter around in their stomach.

The world around them completely disappeared. It was just the two of them and this moment as they leaned in every so agonizingly closer. More and more, perfectly drawn to one another, like two magnets. They could feel their hot breaths slapping against the other's skin. They could hear the faint sound of soft music playing. However, they were not sure if it was real or just their imagination. The tension in the atmosphere becoming intoxicating as they leaned in, slowly nearing the gap centimeter by centimeter.

Until finally…

Their lips touched.

(A/N: That's it! The end of chapter thirty nine! Hoped you enjoyed it! *squee* Yes! Yes, yes! Orihime and Edward have finally kissed! *squee* This was the secret I was keeping from you guys. Would this mean they are now boyfriend and girlfriend? I don't know. You would have to find out next chapter. But as usual, there are some things I like to say.

First, fuck! Just fuck! I know I said chapters would be long, but this one was super long. Over thirty one thousand words. Thirty one fucking thousand words. One hundred pages! For a single chapter! That's new record in my book. This is what happens when I don't limit myself. But, hey, I'm proud of it. I enjoy writing it, so I'm not complaining. Hehe… I honestly thought this chapter would be done a week ago, but it took longer than I thought.

Second, I was planning to make a rival in fashion for Orihime, but decided to drop it since it was just a one off thing. Orihime isn't going to pursuing a career in design or fashion or modeling, so there's no reason for a rival. Instead, I just replaced the rival with a bunch of jealous bitches. Not everyone is envious that Orihime took the spotlight in the magazine though. Just a few, snobby ones.

And third, it was funny and adorable how Edward and Orihime go on and on about keeping a friendly atmosphere. To keep the situation completely platonic. But every time they get too relaxed and comfortable they immediately start flirting. Best thing though, they have no idea that they are flirting. They are like one of those people who are in love without realizing how affectionate and attracted to each other they are. They haven't completely come to terms with their feelings with one another, especially Orihime, who's still in love with Ichigo, mind you.

Well, leave any comments, suggestions, thoughts, or questions in a review, and thanks for reading!)

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