(A/N: Here's chapter forty four of 'The Flower Princess and the Alchemist'! Enjoy!)
Two children stood off, facing each other. The entire area they were facing off in was a wreck. Streets were thoroughly destroyed, buildings were damaged, severely, and cars laid scattered in demolished piles of heap. And there was blood. Blood everywhere. Mass of dead bodies and broken limbs were spread all over the place in a disorganized mess. Some of the bodies belonged to police and military officers. Others were just mere civilians.
Nina's blue eyes could only stare at the dark haired boy in an intense mixture of horrified disbelief, gut wrenching sadness, and absolute betrayal. He was her friend. They were friends. So, how…? How could he do this to her? He killed people. He hurt Big Brother Ed and Big Brother Al. How could he?
Her arms were spread, protectively in front of the brothers as she firmly stood her ground. Ed's automail arm was practically destroyed. Metal pieces were scattered in front of him in ruined shambles. Most of Al's body was destroyed. The only thing that remained of was most of his torso, right arm, and head. If he had a human body, he surely would've been dead. The brothers were both virtually helpless. No alchemy to defend themselves, and no legs to use to run.
The pig tailed girl ignored the Elric brothers desperate pleas to run. Adrenaline was pumping through her blood, her entire face was stained with dismally hurt and sorrowful crestfallen tears, and her heart had a metaphorical knife held above as she continued to stare down the young boy before her.
The boy had black hair, and the upper half of his face was shadowed by his bangs. He looked to be only a little bit older than her by two or three years, his age possibly ranging between nine or ten. His skin was almost an alabaster white color. He was dressed in a simple blue T shirt, black shorts, and black sneakers. Though, his entire outfit was stained with crimson red blood, showcasing him as the culprit for all these atrocities.
"W-why?" Nina managed to squeak out in a meek, trembling, heartbroken voice, her tone so full of dispirited anguish and tormented betrayal. "Why would you do something so terrible? Zero, why?"
Edward stood before Mustang, his hands shaking as he held the newspaper before him in disbelief. His golden eyes gaping in nonplussed shock at the headline. 'The Despicable Suspect of the Tragic Murder of Brigadier General Maes Hughes Has Been Identifited', that's what it said.
But this… This couldn't be right! This person in the photo… He couldn't have possibly killed Hughes!
He stared at the colonel for confirmation, only to see a dead serious look in return. He sighed, heavily, resisting the urge to grip his hair in frustration. When he first eyed the title of the newspaper, a sense of relief washed over him. They have finally discovered the culprit to Hughes's murder. He was ready, itching to spring into action to catch the criminal and bring him to justice for his crimes.
Now, all that relief and determination was gone. Not when he was so conflicted. In all honesty, he should be happy. Really happy. Doubly happy. This was a big moment for him to win Orihime's heart. He should be exhilarated.
But… But how could he? With something like this? He was...torn. Tormented by his conflicting emotions. Feelings of painful uncertainty and unpleasant discontent rushed through him. He didn't want to win her affections over something mind boggling twisted as this! It's almost as if the Truth was laughing, mockingly at him right now, giving him another painfully twisted trial.
One of Ed's hands flew to his hair, tightly gripping his bangs in agony. This was...messed up! So fucked up! He couldn't believe it! He was the one who killed Hughes? He didn't want to believe, but he couldn't deny that this was his face in the picture. What will he do now that he knows the culprit? What should he do? He was trapped at a crossroad, and both options seemed to lead to terribly disastrous outcomes.
He gazed at the newspaper once more.
One thing's for sure… He couldn't tell Orihime. No. Not about this. She would be absolutely devastated and heartbroken, if she ever found out.
The last thing Ed wanted to do was break Orihime's heart.
Over a week and a half has passed since they've been informed of Hughes's death, Orihime and Nina met his ghost, and the former has written and sent several different letters upon his request. As she was making breakfast, which consisted of lemony orange and grape jelly french toast, some red bean filled croissants, and a carrot, pork, and tomato omelette, the auburn haired girl wondered when the letters would arrive.
She wholeheartedly prayed that nobody finds the handwriting suspicious. She wondered how many people are familiar with Hughes's handwriting? Though, this is the second time Orihime's been grateful for taking English courses during her junior high and high school years. Still, a sense of anxiety and anticipation filled her. When will the letters arrive? How would they feel about the letter? About Hughes's last words? Would they be happy, crying tears of joy, or would be sad and heartbroken upon the cruel realization that they'd never be able to see or speak to a dear loved one again? And, most importantly, would someone familiar with Hughes's style of writing discover that she wrote the letters and not him?
That last one was the one that filled the ginger haired healer with anxiety. If she was caught, how could she explain herself? She couldn't tell them she met Hughes's spirit, and he told her to write the letters as a final request. They would just think she's crazy and delusional. But if no one's suspicious and nobody finds out about it, then everything would be a okay.
Although… She tilted her head backwards to check the others in the room. The unhappy and joyless atmosphere was beginning to suffocate her. It's been like this for a week now. Edward laid on the couch with a melancholic expression on his face. There was an aura of depression exuding from Alphonse as he read what was probably a book on bio alchemy. Winry appeared almost despondent as she checked and polished her tools and equipment used for automail. Nina was the only person in the room, besides her, who was bright and cheerful.
The healer wanted to cheer everyone up, but she doesn't know what to say without sounding insensitive. After all, they weren't able to visit Hughes's ghost like her and Nina. They weren't able to get closure. She could only hope that those letters would finally give them some. It hurts to see everybody so sad and depressed.
"What…? What are you guys planning to do now?" Winry's heavy voice cut through the silence like a hot butter knife. Orihime kept her eyes focused on her cooking, but her ears were still toned in on the conversation. Breakfast would be ready soon.
Ed stayed silent, shifting a bit from his position on the couch. The aroma of Orihime's delicious cooking wafted through his nose, but...that wasn't enough to cheer him up. He gazed, solemnly at his mechanic with a single, golden eye before averted away from her. He clenched and unclenched his metal fist. Finally, he spoke.
"What do you think?" he asked Winry in a tone that sounded so lost and unfocused. When he didn't receive an immediate response, he turned once more to witness his blonde friend shooting him a slightly surprised look. His face comically soured. "What's with the face?" he inquired, confused.
"I'm...I'm just shocked," Winry responded, pleasantly amazed. "You never asked for my advice before." If Ed was asking her for guidance, then he seriously must be at a standstill, unable to decide what his next course of action should be. She went to polishing her gear with a wistful look on her face. "I...I… When Mr. Hughes died, I didn't know what to think," she confessed, melancholically. "I was sad, so sad because I could possibly lose you guys, too. I mean, what guys are doing is dangerous. You guys are always getting yourselves into trouble. I'm just afraid that one day you guys would be gone, and not come back just like my mom and dad. And like the time with those mod souls. I know this journey is important to both you and Al, Ed. I just...I just… Sometimes, deep down, I wish you guys would just quit before you get yourselves killed. I do want you guys to get your bodies back, but I also want you to be happy and safe." She shot an uneasy and indecisive look towards Ed. "I'm sorry. I'm not really sure what you should do."
Alphonse's hollowed voice chuckled through the room. "You sure are being nice today, Winry," he mused, gleefully.
"What?!" the aforementioned girl shouted, indignantly offended. "Hey, Al! I'm always nice! Take that back, you jerk!" She kept comically whacking him with her wrench with Al trying his best to block her blows all the while still laughing.
An amused graced Edward's lips, and Nina giggled, cheerfully at the wacky scene played before her.
"Okay! Breakfast is done!" Orihime announced.
With that upbeat and uplifting declaration, everyone immediately scrambled to the dining table. Everyone sat down in their usual places, and Orihime set the table with some help from Nina. Soon they all were all seated, and enjoying a quiet, peaceful, flavorful breakfast.
Ed was the one who broke the silence after a few, short minutes. "What I do want to do is check out the library," he announced, chewing on a piece of french toast.
Winry's face scrunched up in disgust. "First of all, Ed, you're disgusting. Close your mouth when you chew, and swallow before you talk." The blond alchemist just rolled his eyes in response. "Second, what do you need to go to the library for?" she asked, curiously.
"And, brother," Alphonse chimed in. "Don't you need to report to the colonel? You still haven't turned in your report of Neshire."
The elder Elric scoffed. "I will turn in my report later. There's something I really want to check out at the library." His expression turned grim and serious. "Something that's been bothering me."
"Something's been bothering you, brother?" the suit of armor inquired.
The blond boy nodded, curtly. "It's Eria's talk about Hollows."
Orihime greatly resisted the urge not to take a sharp intake of air. Nina tried, desperately to keep her composure. She didn't want to make the same mistake as last time.
The auburn haired girl still couldn't believe they've been simultaneously attacked by a Hollow and a human with special powers like hers. Urgh! She felt ashamed and frustrated with herself. Edward would have been dead, killed by that Hollow, if it wasn't for Eria's interference. She was supposed to protect him from these things! Keep him ignorant, unaware, and safe. They all could have died that night because she was so weak. She had to thank this 'Eria' lady sometime. Whoever she is. Ed seems to really dislike her for some reason, despite her saving his life. Orihime, however, was grateful towards the woman for protecting him. For doing something, she herself failed to do.
That didn't clear away the uneasiness and guilt that was creeping inside her now. The fact that Hollow was after him and not her or even Nina was immensely worrying in of itself. Although… Although, that was just part of the reason for her anxiety. The main reason she was so unsettled and tense was that Ed's...spirit energy is growing!
Ed could see spirits now!
It was just barely, but he was starting to see them! Even if he was a little iffy and uncertain about being attacked by near intangible claws of a beast, she immediately and horrifically understood that he was describing a Hollow. Beads of disquieting trepidation and troubling fear began to glide down the side of her forehead. What should do now? Should she confront Ed? Or should just ignore the problem, and hope that another incident like that doesn't happen again?
Hughes's words and advice echoed inside her head
Hughes turned his attention on Orihime, sitting up straighter on the bench. "Orihime, let me say one thing… I don't approve of you keeping all this Hollow business a secret, especially from Ed and Al."
The ginger haired healer opened her mouth for a rebuttal, but a hand stopped her.
"You've been fighting these monsters all this without a word to the boys. What would have happened, if you were to someday die?" he questioned her in a stern and deeply concerned voice. "Do you have any idea how they would feel? How broken they would be, if you just...disappeared one day? They would be devastated. Especially Edward. That poor kid would have his heart broken."
Orihime looked down at her lap with an expression of guilt and shame. "I know that," she quivered. "I know that, but I just can't tell. I can't."
The bespectacled man looked at her, pensively. "Then let you ask you this… Are you keeping Ed and Al in the dark because of some rule? Or are you keeping them in the dark out of a misguided attempt not to burden them with your problems?"
Stunned gray eyes stared at him, absolutely speechless.
"I've known you for quite a while to know how you behave. I worked in the Criminal Investigations Department, after all. I pick up on these things. You look out for other people's happiness, but, at the same time, you neglect your own happiness. You're kind and selfless, Orihime. That's a great quality to have. However, in the long run, you would get nothing but suffering, grief, and pain, if you keep holding yourself back all because you fear you might make others unhappy. The more you try to make others happy, the more miserable you become." He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. "It's okay to wish for the happiness of your friends. Just don't forget about your own happiness. You come first. Don't bottle up your feelings. If you want to explode, go ahead and explode. If you want to get angry, get angry. Don't be afraid to show your more...uglier sides. Don't think these things are bad because you might end up hurting someone else's feelings in the process. Nobody will think any less of you when you do. When something's troubling you, talk to your friends. Ed and Al would be more than willing to listen and help you out. We all have the right to be a little bit selfish. There's nothing wrong with that. It's what makes us human, after all." He playfully winked at her, causing a sweet smile to grace her lips as she took his last words in. "Don't. Ever. Think. You're. A. Burden. To. Anyone. Okay?"
He was satisfied when he received a hesitant nod from her. Hughes facial features softened a bit, turning both heartwarming and teasing. "Ed needs you, Orihime."
Orihime felt all the blood rushing to her face. He needs her? Edward needs her? She placed a tentative hand on her heart. That funny, subtly warm feeling in her chest was back again.
(END OF FLASHBACK)
His words echoed, deeply inside her. It touched her soul. It was the first fatherly advice anyone's ever giving her. She would always cherish his words. But… But… She wasn't sure if she could follow through with them. There was so much of herself she was insecure about, and she was afraid people would see these insecurities as 'weaknesses'.
She often wondered whether it would be a good idea or not to inform the boys about ghosts and Hollows. Was she being misguided in her attempts to keep them in the dark? She never questioned herself before, but now she was uncertain if what she's doing, what she's been doing is right. His words cut her deep. It got her thinking about the future. How long will she be able to keep Ed and Al in the dark? The Hollow attacks were becoming more frequent now. There were times, multiple times that Orihime thought it would be better to just confess the truth. She would have heeded Mr. Hughes's advice.
But asking for help… Asking for help...would just prove she hasn't changed at all.
She tried to stay on her ground, despite the rapid waterworks flooding down her face. "That's enough!" she yelled at her captor. My friends aren't dead!"
Ulquiorra scoffed at her pathetic figure. "What'd you want me to say? Want me to tell you that your friends would be alright? Humans are such weak creatures. Always need to be reassured. And why should a traitor like you care about them?"
Orihime gasped in utter shock. "I'm not… I'm not a traitor…," she retorted, weakly.
Ulquiorra's soulless, green eyes just stared at her, blankly. "A person who serves Lord Aizen is considered a traitor from their perspective. Am I wrong?" The way he looked at her caused her blood to freeze and her breathing to become hard and labored. Traitor? She wasn't a traitor. She wasn't a...traitor…!
The auburn haired girl stared down at herself to see that her school uniform had changed into her white Arrancar gown. Her gray orbs widened in shock and horror. A silent, panicked scream filled her head.
This can't be happening!
Hot tears gushing down her face with the force of the mini flood. Her throat burned, uncontrollably. It became unbearably raw and dry. Her vision was blurry. Her heart heavy. Her chest felt tight and constricted, and her compressed stomach ached and churned, the muscles beginning to clamp so it felt like she might throw up. The world became spinning around her. Her body wouldn't stop shaking.
"Orihime," a familiar smooth and muscular. She instantly recognized that voice. The voice of her beloved.
However… A shiver of fear ran down her spine. His tone was dark and distorted. It caused a torrent of guilt to bubble up in the pit of her stomach. He sounded disgusted and hateful, and it was directed at...her.
The ginger haired girl didn't dare to look him, in fear of him giving her the same look his tone portrayed. But alas, she did anyone. And when she did, her gray eyes broadened in guilt stricken horror and gut wrenching despair.
Ichigo stood before her in broken form, glaring down at her. The way he looked the moment Ulquiorra blew a hole in his chest His body beaten and damaged. The only piece of his shihakusho covering his waist and legs laid in a tattered mess. The only difference was that his skin was pure white and he wore his transformed Hollowfied mask.
His black eyes were almost lifeless yet they were shooting her an accusatory glare. "You did this to me." His voice was cold. So icy cold. "Because of you…! Because of you, I ended up in this mess! Because of you, I lost my powers! You ruined my life! YOU KILLED ME, ORIHIME!"
He didn't have to tell her twice. She… She hated herself, too! She was weak, pathetic, and useless. A day hasn't gone by where she hasn't blamed herself for what happened.
Her eyes fixed on him with absolute horror and her blood ran cold when a sickly familiar red liquid oozed out the hole in Ichigo's chest. She could only stare, half frozen and unable to speak, too terrified to do so. She felt the blood hit the palms of her hands. Each warm drop that hit her caused her stomach to twist, uncomfortably and her throat to tighten as she frightfully held back her tears. The smell, the smell of Ichigo's blood burned her nose, making her sick and nauseated. She wanted to scream in anguished filled agony, but her mind was left numb, her eyes vacant with an ugly amount of guilt and despair. An apology was so desperately needed, but the words died in her throat. She was drawing a blank, not knowing what to say. How could she even begin to apologize? This was her fault! Ichigo got hurt because of her! All of it was HER fault!
More faces came into view. They were all shadowy and distorted, but there were some she recognized and caused her heart to squeeze and her body to shake. The faces of Rukia, Tatsuki, Chad, Uryu, Youruichi, and Mr. Urahara gave off various expressions of coldness to disappointment to disgust.
"Why are you so weak?"
"I told you to stay off the battlefield."
"Do you realize what you've done, Orihime?! Ichigo's lost his powers because of you!"
Their voices were all jumbled and incoherent, warped and deformed. She couldn't figure out who's was who's. But all their tones were filled with such bitterness, resentment, and loathing that each word was a painful stab to her heart. It was hurtful, built her guilt ridden mind said that she deserved it, and she couldn't agree.
She couldn't take it anymore! She desperately covered her ears with her hands, hoping to block out their hateful, contempted voices, all the while screaming in demoralizing remorse and crushing misery. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm so-!"
Suddenly, Orihime threw her body forward, lurching up the contents of her stomach, her breakfast going to waste. A disgusted splosh hitting the ground. Her face marred with unending, broken tears with each drop mixing with the chunks of vomit. A maddening, despairing chant of 'I'm sorry' and 'my fault' swirled inside her head.
(END OF FLASHBACK)
Orihime couldn't ask the Elric brothers for assistance. It was unthinkable! Ichigo lost his powers because she asked him to help her. Because she was too weak to help herself. She ruined his life! Was she really willing to go through that again?
Requesting for support from the boys, would be no different than subjecting them to a life of ruin. A life of constant unsettling disquietude and neverending restless disconcertment. A life of nonstop battle. They would be watching their backs almost everyday for the rest of their lives.
Besides, if she asked for help, then she would just be admitting to how weak she is. That nothing has changed. That she was still walking in the shadows, unable to stand up on her own. She was weak. Useless. A burden. Inadequate. Spineless. Pathetic. Everything that would just be a detriment to her getting stronger.
"You ruined my life! YOU KILLED ME, ORIHIME!"
She frowned, sadly, and the corner of her eyes burned. She did her best to hold back her tears. That twisted illusion openly reminded her of her sin. Reminding her that she has yet to be absolved of her crimes. Was she really willing to take a chance to possibly adding another sin on her conscience?
No! She has to get stronger. On her own. She was done relying on others. She doesn't need help from others. She could do it all on her own. She could fight Hollows on her own. It wasn't a big deal. It's not like they were Arrancars. Handling Hollows isn't that much of a problem. If she couldn't do that, then what good is she?
The girl in question snapped out of her despairing reflection by an echoing voice calling her name. She tilted her head in Alphonse direction, hiding her forlorn depression behind a cheerful, bubbly facade.
"Are you okay, Orihime?" Al asked. "You've been staring at your food for quite a while." Even without any facial expressions, she could hear the concern in his voice just by the sound of his tone.
She beamed at him, shielding her inner turmoil. "Nothing's wrong, Al," she assured him. "I was just thinking that's all."
Winry and Al seemed to accept her answer as Orihime went back to enjoying her meal. The only two people who weren't as convinced were Edward and Nina.
Her smile was a...fake. The latter stared at her big sister figure in discomfiting worry, and the former frowning, feeling helpless. No matter how good she tries to hide, they could clearly sense the auburn haired girl's struggling agitation and dejecting hopelessness.
They both wondered what they can do to get Orihime to smile again?
Soon after, breakfast was done, and the table was cleared.
Ed yawned and stretched. "Well, me and Al are headed to the library," he stated. "I want to see if we can find anything on these Hollows."
"We are going to see the colonel immediately afterwards, brother," Al chastised him. "I won't let you ditch this time."
The elder Elric waved him off, nonchalantly. "Yeah, yeah."
"Oh!" Orihime brightened. "Wait one sec…" The brothers watched with confused looks as she opened a drawer. She pulled out what was a small box wrapped in a light blue handkerchief. She closed the drawer with a tiny smile, and walked over to Ed. "Here." She handed the box over to him.
He held out his hand, so he could take it from her grasp. "What is it?" he asked her, curiously.
"I made some cookies for Colonel Mustang and Lieutenant Hawkeye!" she proclaimed, happily, clapping her hands together. "They are peanut butter and red bean cookies!"
The blond alchemist's face soured in mild annoyance. "Urgh! I understand the lieutenant, but why the colonel?" he asked, clearly displeased at the prospect of giving food to Mustang.
She pouted. "Don't be like that, Eddie," she lightly scolded him. "There's plenty for you, too."
That seemed to lift up his mood somewhat, but he didn't show it and responded, uncaringly. "Whatever."
She giggled, knowing he was secretly happy behind his nonchalant guise.
"What are you doing, Orihime?" Al asked.
She hummed a bit, deep in thought. "I think I might do a little shopping," she replied. "We're running out of food. I need to stock up."
"In that case, I want to go to the park!" Nina chirped.
Three of the older teens were unsure about letting a seven year old go to the park alone.
"I can go with you, Nina," Winry volunteered. It's not like she has anything better to do.
"Okay!" the little girl agreed. Even though she was a big girl, she would be too apprehensive to go alone. This way she could be at ease a little knowing someone was watching over her.
"Let's all meet back here before dinnertime," the healer advised. There were nods of agreement, and she smiled.
The group of five headed downstairs and into the lobby, casually chatting away. They weren't prepared for the hell that awaited them once they opened the front doors of the hotel.
Once the doors burst open, they were blinded by flashes of bright light right away. They could barely make out the sounds of small 'clicks' before they were bombarded with more flashy lights. They were people, perhaps dozens of people talking all around them all at once. They were all talking at once, besetting them with impatient questions, awestruck compliments, jealous sneers that seemed to be directed at Ed, and eager remarks.
"What the hell's going on?" Edward shouted, getting increasingly irritated by all the lights and yelling. He was finally able to crack an eye open, and was shocked by the vast amount of people surrounding the five of them, all with cameras, microphones, and notepads and pens.
"What's going on? Who are these people?" Winry questioned, apprehensively.
Orihime fidgeted, slightly, her face expressing her obvious discomfort at the situation they were in. Nina hung closely to her, greatly uncomfortable with all the people surrounding them. Winry looked at with dumb confusion, wondering what's with all the cameras? Are they reporters? Edward was growling, his annoyance and aggravation rising with every click of a camera and subsequent flash. Alphonse was sputtering, utterly bewildered the dozens of civilians swamping them and talking all at once.
"Orihime! Orihime! Orihime!" one of the reporters shouted, persistently, shoving a microphone in the auburn haired girl's direction. "Is it true? Is it true that you are dating Edward Elric, the Fullmetal Alchemist?"
"W-W-W-WHAT?!" Ed bellowed, golden eyes bugging out as he stared at the reporter, shockingly flabbergasted and alarmingly embarrassed, both his and the healer's faces flushed a deep crimson red. They were both completely flustered.
Al, Winry, and Nina could only stare at the reporters in utter astonishment and puzzlement. Why are these journalists here? What's with all the personal questions? Why are they so interested in Orihime's dating life?
"Edward, what makes you think you're good enough to be dating the Princess of Amestris?" one male journalist demanded, shooting Ed envious looks. He was chubby and somewhat gross looking.
Edward growled, lowly at the blatant insult. Before he had time to hurl back an irritating and mocking counter in return, he was interrupted.
"Orihime, Edward, how long have you guys been in a relationship?"
Orihime became flustered, embarrassed, and uncomfortable with all the questions. "I-I'm not...I'm not in…," she started, shyly and self consciously. However, she was ignored.
"Orihime, why did you pick the Fullmetal Alchemist to be your boyfriend? What about him made you fall in love with him?"
"E-Eddie's," she tried once more, feeling apprehensive and licking her dry lips. Her gray gazed at Ed, who was scowling, deeply. He was probably angry and upset that they were falsely accusing them of being in that kind of relationship. She had to clear this misunderstanding. She didn't want them to get the wrong idea about their relationship, nor Ed to be mad at her.
"Eddie's not my… He's not my boyfriend. He's just a friend," she admitted, honestly, gently trying to diffuse the situation. She glanced at her blond friend once more. She was slightly confused when she noticed the hurt and sad expression on his face. She didn't understand. Why was his countenance twisted in pain after she said that?
Ed frowned, sadly, his feelings were hurt, his heart twisting in affliction and woe. He was just a friend to her. Of course he was. After all, she was in love with Ichigo. It would be an insult to her, if they believed she would ever think of him as more than just a close friend. Besides, he was way out of her league. A kind and gentle girl like her would never fall for a brash and short tempered guy like him. It was nothing...personal. It was just a fact in life. Hints of envy and jealousy seethed within him, but he promptly kept the emotions at bay.
Some of the reporters seem to be in awe at Orihime's response. "Are you implying that you're dumping Edward, Orihime? What about him disgusts you? What about him do you find unpleasant that caused you to break off your relationship with him?"
The ginger haired girl was appalled by this. Why are they twisting her words to make her sound so cruel, mean, and cold? "That's not…! That's not what I said!" she cried, desperately trying to persuade them that she had no ill feelings towards the blond alchemist.
Winry was beginning to lose the last of her patience. She would have struck some of the journalists with a trusty wrench by now. The only thing stopping her were the flashing cameras continuously taking pictures. She didn't want them taking any nasty pictures of her assaulting them. It would ruin her reputation. Her automail engineering career would be over. After all, who would want their automail checked by a savage girl who beats people half to death with her wrench? She shuddered at the thought.
Alphonse was doing his best to placate the frantic reporters. The result? He was having little to no success. The reporters were just too obnoxiously steadfast in their twisted beliefs.
"Orihime, why did you pick someone who is far below your league? Surely, they are better men out there. What makes Edward so special?"
Edward could feel his anger increase by the minute. Who the hell do these people think they are? Why won't they fuck off and leave them alone? Fuck it! He had enough of this.
The blond alchemist clapped his hands together and angrily slammed them on the ground. Sparks of blue lightning flashed and, soon enough, a giant wall emerged, blocking the group from the obnoxious reporters. "Let's get the hell out of here!" Ed shouted out to his friends.
They all nodded and made a break for it, going off in different directions. However, that didn't deter the noisy reporters though. They quickly scrambled around the rocky barrier to catch the young teenagers, more specifically Edward and Orihime.
Orihime panted, heavily, stopping to take a break from running. She stopped to take deep breaths of air, her body bent over and her hands pressed against her knees. Her legs ached from running so long, and her throat felt hoarse whenever she tried to regulate her breathing by getting air back in her lungs.
Her gray eyes glanced at her surroundings, wondering where she ended up. Judging by the benches, the large open space surrounded by grasslands and trees, and the sizable water fountain in the center. She must've ended up in a park, she concluded.
Did she finally lose those reporters? She hoped she did. She couldn't stand how uncomfortable their questioning and remarks made her. They twisted her innocent responses into cruel jeers and snide mockery. She made her into a horrible person. Her lips quivered as her eyes stung with fresh tears.
Ed was probably mad at her now. First they insinuated that she and Ed were dating. He might be upset at such accusations. Not only that, but they made him into someone unpleasant. He was really furious!
She should… She should apologize to him. She doesn't want him to be angry with her.
Subconsciously, the auburn haired girl's hand reached up to teach her rosy pink rose bud earrings. She felt calmer knowing it's there, and a gentle smile graced her lips.
The sound of children's joyful laughter filled the air. She tuck a strand of auburn hair behind her ear, and her tongue darting to moisten her chapped lips. The children were having fun and playing around. There was a group bouncing a ball back and forth, and another having a race. Moms were sitting on benches, watching their kids play with sweet smiles on their faces. She saw a couple sharing a quick kiss, which caused her face to quickly heat up, and she averted her gaze. A vision of her first kiss with Ed flashed inside her mind, and she hastily shook it away, trying to ignore how her heart sped up for a bit.
The healer shook her head and inhaled. If she lost those reporters, then this was a good chance to head to the grocery store.
The only problem was… Which way was the store? She wasn't really familiar with this part of Central. She's only been in Central a few times, and hasn't stayed long enough to familiarize herself with the overall layout of the city. Her stay has always been fairly short each time. A week or two at most.
Orihime didn't have time to contemplate which direction to go when she heard Edward's angry yells nearby, and the sound of his heavy and rushed footsteps. She spotted him in the distance. He was coming around the corner of an alleyway.
"Eddie?" she called out his name in concern.
He instantly stopped, his entire body perking up. He must've heard her. He turned every which way until his golden orbs landed on her form. Then his head seemed to dart behind him, and his brow furrowed in anger and annoyance. He ran in a hurried fashion in her direction.
"Eddie, what's wro-?"
Before the worried filled question could leave her mouth, she was tackled into the ground, letting out a surprised 'oof'. The somewhat rough impact kind of knocked the air out of her lungs. When she finally managed to crack a gray open, she felt all the blood in her body rush to her face.
Edward's face was dangerously close to hers. And he was straddling her!
The blond alchemist seemed oblivious to their close proximity. He was more focused on something out in annoyance, his forehead creased in annoyance. The auburn haired healer did her best to remain calm, but that was hard to do when she could practically hear the sound of her heartbeat pounding against her eardrums.
His masculine, spicy aroma with a hint of oil wafted through her nose. She tried to shove down the pulsing feeling of heated pleasure that electrified some of the nerves in her body. She made out of every detail of his face this close up. The way his nose scrunched in irritation. His golden eyes that, despite being narrowed in aggravation, shone as bright as the sun. His roughly silky, golden hair that framed his face. His braided ponytail slipped to the side, and over his right shoulder. With each breath he took, she could see the muscles on his chest ripple through his black leather jacket. And was it just her, or did his shoulders become broader?
Her gray orbs eventually drifted his lips. The same lips that she kissed on the night of the dance a couple of weeks back. Her slightly darted it to moisten her suddenly dry lips. His lips were soft looking and pink. She remembered how sweet they tasted, and the sparks she felt in every fiber of her being as if fireworks lit up inside her.
He was so handsome.
No! She needed to move away from him because it was getting harder and harder to breathe now. She could feel his lower region pressed up against her flat stomach. Her mind was going into unwanted territory, and she needed to stop before it's too late.
"Um? Eddie?" she shyly whispered out, trying to get his attention without startling him. She chastised herself for sounding so raspy. They really needed to move before someone spots them in this compromising position behind these bushes.
"Uh?" That did the trick as Ed perked up at the sound of his name being called just below him. The instant his golden eyes locked onto her gray ones, he froze.
The blond boy's eyes went wide when he finally took notice of Orihime laying underneath him. His throat immediately began dry pretty damn quick. And let him say… The sight was enticing!
Her beautiful auburn hair was sprawled out in a glowing, red halo. The intoxicating, strawberry scent of her hair relentlessly invaded his nose. Her long eyelashes fluttered, gently, making her gray eyes even more beautiful. Her hooded eyelids casted a dark shadow underneath, causing her orbs to sparkle like two majestic diamonds or have the enchanting, silvery glimmer of a full moon.
With the slightly rise and fall of her chest whenever she inhaled and exhaled, he was painfully aware of her large bust brushing against his chest. The blush on his face intensified into a crimson hue. However, he was more concerned, petrified with growing heat around his lower waist. He desperately hoped Orihime wouldn't be to feel his...desire otherwise, he'd die of embarrassment.
Doing his absolute best to ignore it, his eyes couldn't help but slowly stare down to her slightly parted lips. And once his golden orbs locked onto them, he was hooked. He couldn't avert his gaze. Not when they looked so pink. So soft. So irresistible. So kissable.
God, she was beautiful.
The two teens seemed to be blind to the world around them as they kept their eyes glued to one another. The only thing that mattered at this moment was them, and...who would make the first move. They were just inches away from closing the gap. Hearts pounding. They were left breathless. Faces flushed. The only sound they could hear was the sound of their warm breath brushing against their faces.
If they just leaned in… They would… They would…
Their faces burned a crimson, bright red.
The sound of a camera flash startled Edward and Orihime.
"Found them!" a gleeful voice cheered. Another loud 'click' rang out nearby followed by the subsequent flash of the camera. "They're about to make out behind the bushes!"
More flashing cameras.
Edward hurriedly scrambled away from her. Orihime hastened up on her feet. Both teenagers quickly fixed their clothes, sporting huge, crimson blushes. Their faces deeply flushed out of embarrassment, albeit along with anger and frustration on Ed's part.
"So, Orihime, you are dating Edward!" one woman exclaimed, excitedly as if she caught the biggest gossip news of the year.
"Didn't I tell you they make a very cute couple?" another woman squeaked. "I mean, you can just see the romantic tension between them."
If the Orihime and Edward wondered if there was a limit to their embarrassment. By now, their faces were about to explode with the eruption of a volcano.
"Annoying, persistent bastards! Stop taking those damn pictures! Leave us the fuck alone!" Ed spat, venomously as he stood, protectively in front of Orihime. Realizing he was being ignored, if more shots were being taken was any indication, several tick marks throbbed against his forehead. "That does it…!"
The young alchemist clapped his hands together and slammed them on the ground. Crackling sparks of electricity lit up on the ground, and the ground soon began to quake and shake, roughly. Soon enough, the ground lashed, and the surprised screams of the gossip reporters flew across the sky in every direction in a comedic fashion.
Their moans and groans of pain echoed throughout the park, and Orihime winced when they roughly landed on the ground. Their equipment connected, harshly to the ground, breaking upon impact. She had the strong urge to run over to the nearest reporter and check them for injuries.
The blond alchemist silently tugged on her gray sleeves, grabbing her attention. He frowned and shook his head, wordlessly telling her to leave them be. He was overly mindful of how much she wanted to help anyone in need. That was how gentle and compassionate she was. But now isn't the time since they were using this opportunity to escape.
Plus, breaking their cameras was a bonus. Now, all the embarrassing pictures of him and Orihime were gone! Heh! Serves them right!
She pouted, not liking how she was going to leave injured people laying in piles of heap on the ground in pain. Though, she knew Ed was right. So, with great reluctance, she let him pull her away from the scene. They didn't have time for anymore delays.
Edward and Orihime made it to the grocery store. They panted, heavily, feeling extremely relieved that they managed to ditch the obnoxious reporters.
"Damn. What is their problem?" Ed fumed, still aggravated with the infuriating reporters. "Annoying bastards." He was still angry, and rightfully so, at the pesty reporters.
What the hell were their problem anyway? What gave them the right to bug them about their lives? Honestly! Him and Orihime dating? In what twisted delusion of theirs caused them to jump to that utterly ridiculous conclusion? They were disgustingly irritating and obnoxiously nosy pieces of shit looking for the next huge gossip to spread nonsense about! They seriously have some fucking screws loose!
He clenched his fists, seething with anger. Bastards need to get a fucking life!
"I'm sorry." Golden eyes turned their attention to the anxiously fidgeting girl next to him. She had a guilt ridden, downcast expression on her face. "This is my fault. If I had better my words then-"
The blond alchemist cut her off. "It isn't your fault, Orihime," he reassured her. He gently patted her head, only to witness her unconsciously stiffen and her breath to hitch. He had forgotten how his white gloves make Orihime incredibly uncomfortable.
He ignored the twinge of sadness that panged his heart as he quickly retracted his hand. Although, she tried her best to hide it, her slightly frightful gray orbs immediately locked onto his hand as he pulled it back. "Sorry," he muttered, quietly and remorsefully.
The silence between them was dreadfully awkward and dismally tense. The ironic city buzzing with mothers going shopping with children, and fathers off to work. Some of the women were happily gossiping with their friends.
They were in the middle of some farmer's market, and the grocery store was just right around the corner. The tastefully fruity and delightfully inviting smell of fruits and vegetables filled the street. It could make anyone caught in the scent of it crave an apple or something.
Except the two teens had no sense of appetite at the moment.
Orihime remained silent, and Edward, concealing his hurt, hated Amelia more than ever now for somewhat straining their relationship. He hopelessly lost on what to do to help her, and his heart stung every time she flinched, away from him. It was painful.
What did that conniving, lying bitch do to Orihime? When she looks at him like that, with lightly veiled fear and revulsion every time he touches her without taking off his gloves, it hurts. It really hurts. It was so horribly painful, it felt like a jagged knife was being wedged in his heart. It felt like the auburn-haired healer was drifting further and further away from him, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He was pathetically helpless on how to relieve her pain.
Of course, no one could tell. Any stranger would think the healer was chipper and bubbly. However, they wouldn't be able to spot the subtle signs. Not like he could. They wouldn't detect the lingering, unbearable sense of woeful sadness that surrounded her.
Orihime's gray orbs don't shine as brightly as they used to. Her eyes lacked their usual cheery glint. The mirth filled happiness that always brought a smile to his face, and easily made him so serene. And her smiles, her once beautiful smiles, doesn't reach her eyes anymore. The radiant smiles he loved the most about her. That always captivated him in an angelic, alluring glow, and caused his heart to skip a beat every time it's directed at him was gone. It was gone. All gone.
The pleasant, warm sun was being blocked by a gloomy, dark cloud.
"Thanks for bringing me, Eddie," Orihime smiled in gratitude. But, again, it didn't reach her eyes. "Do you still have the cookies I asked you to give to Colonel Mustang and Lieutenant Hawkeye?" she asked, politely.
Edward nodded his head. He knitted his eyebrows, unsure if it was a good idea to leave Orihime alone like this. An image of her frightened and terrified face when that man accidentally bumped into her will always be engraved in his head. What if another incident like that happens again?
His golden orbs glanced over the building. White… She hated that color, and the walls of the grocery store, if he remembered, are all white. He could never forget the fear in her gray eyes as she flinched away from him when he reached out to her with his white gloved hand. Nor the time she freaked out and panicked when the white suited man bumped into her by accident.
"Want me to come with you?" he asked, concerned. He was hesitant and reluctant to leave her alone in there. What if she has another episode? The thought of Orihime breaking down again was something he couldn't take. The heartbroken anguish that smeared her expression... The agonizing, despair filled tears that wouldn't stop overflowing and coating her face… He never wanted to see her like that again!
The auburn haired girl's smile twitched just ever so slightly. Oh, no… Was she becoming a burden? She wasn't trying to. She promised herself that she would become stronger. She didn't want to worry him. She can… She can take care of herself. She can rely on herself. No one needs to worry about her.
She finally shook her head, silently answering his question, not trusting her voice not to crack if she spoke. She inwardly reprimanded her weakness. Especially in front of Ed. She didn't know why, but she wanted to remain strong in front of him.
Even though she said she was fine on her own, the blond alchemist was still wasn't entirely convinced, hesitant about leaving her alone. It was only the barest movements, but he eyed her hands shaking at her side. She wasn't as fine as she claimed to be, and he was already acutely aware of that. He wished there was some way to help her. Then he recalled how his red coat was able to calm her down yesterday. How comfortable she felt wearing it.
Without a word, he shredded his coat, and gently draped it over her shoulders. Her reaction was instantaneous. The trembling stopped. A cute blush spread across the bridge of her nose. She shyly averted her eyes away from him, but he could see the pleasant warmth and soothing relief it brought her. A tiny, soft smile, the smile he loved so much, graced her lips. Despite the apprehensive anxiety and restless nervousness in her gray orbs, he could see how her eyes brightened a very tiny bit and that made him happy.
On instinct, he affectionately rubbed her head, being mindful to use his ungloved, flesh hand. The soft, auburn strands of her hair felt incredibly nice between his fingers. The pleasantly, silky goodness of her captivating hair sent sparks of tender satisfaction through the nerves of his hand. If he wanted or had the choice, he'd run his fingers through her oh, so beautiful hair all day. Plus, the sweet, intoxicating strawberry scent of her hair was a marvelously, delightful bonus! That's why he let out an inaudible, low growl when he begrudgingly pulled his hand away. Damn, and he was enjoying that too. He wished he didn't have to turn in his report to Mustang just so he could stay like this a little longer.
Orihime breathed out her own sigh of disappointment when Edward stopped tenderly stroking her head. She doesn't know why, but her heart thumped with every motion of his uncharacteristically gentle motion of his hand. There was an unexpectedly pleasant feeling of gratifying content and calming relief. Her face and the tips of her ears heated up. It, along with the spicy, oily aroma of his signature coat, momentarily soothed her of all her fear and anxiety. Over time, she had come to really cherish Ed's unique scent. His hand left her, and she was already missing it.
She shyly locked her gaze on his sun colored eyes from underneath her eyelashes, temporarily too self conscious to speak. She smiled, faintly, clenching his coat tighter to his person. "Thank you, Eddie," the auburn haired girl finally whispered, so quietly and gently he could barely hear it. But he could discern that appreciation and content in her tone loud and clear as she lightly gripped his coat closer to her. A bashful, tentative smile graced her lips. "Well, I guess I'll see you later."
He returned the smile with a slight grin of his own. "See you later, Orihime." He waved as she waved back as she began to walk towards the store.
Just wait, she'll come around. No doubt Ed could hear people like the deceased Hughes and Winry advising him to just wait for Orihime to come to him. She'll talk when she's ready. Her heart's been horribly damaged. There was nothing he could do, but to give her time to heal.
His golden gaze hopelessly watched Orihime's retreating back as she entered the grocery store. Waiting… That's nearly, painfully impossible to do. He was glad to give her a bit of solace. For now. But how long would it last?
Edward clenched his fists tightly. There was one thing for sure though… He never wants to see Orihime cry like that again. Never again would she shed another heart wrenchingly harrowing tear! Never!
Okay… It was official. Nina was completely lost. Utterly, hopelessly lost.
The little girl was so busy running around, desperately evading the cameramen, because they made her so uneasy and caused Big Sis Ori to become very upset, that she wasn't paying any attention to where she was going.
She found herself in the middle of an alleyway after all that running. A small hand was placed against the brick wall as she steadily tried to keep her balance. She took big gulps of air to regain her breath. Each breath of air running down her throat, reminded her of how dry it was and how parched she was. Sweat was pouring down her face, causing her bangs to grossly stick to her forehead. She was so thirsty. She needed water badly! The sun beating its threateningly hot rays down on her just made it worse!
Why were those people causing trouble for Big Sis Ori anyway? Nina couldn't really understand what was going on. There were too many people asking questions that clearly made the auburn haired healer to feel disconcertingly , and Big Brother Ed frustratingly angry. The whole ordeal was rather...disturbingly troubling for the little girl.
They were rude. Very rude. Unpleasantly rude. The brown haired girl didn't like them one bit. The completely undesirable situation made her really uncomfortable. She didn't know nor understand what was going on. The flashing cameras, the persistent and awkward questions… It was all distressingly confusing. She didn't like it. She didn't like it because somehow...in some way...it was hurting Big Sis Ori's feelings.
"Big Sis Ori has been feeling really sad lately," Nina thought, sadly to herself. "I wonder… What can I do to make her happy again?"
Once she was able to steadily regain her breathing, Nina glanced around the empty alleyway. Her heart began pounding with anxiety. She was all alone with no idea how to get back to the apartment. A nervous shiver ran down her spine and all the way to the tips of her fingers.
The little girl turned every which way, deeply contemplating which direction should she go. If she went the wrong way, then she'll get even more lost.
"Where did you go, Big Sis Ori?" Nina muttered to herself, tentatively stepping out of the alleyway. She retraced her steps far enough until she entered the busy streets. The streets were over filled with people. There's no way she can find Big Sis Ori or Big Brother Ed or anyone in this crowd.
She could feel the corner of her blue eyes begin to burn. She swiftly used her fingers to wipe any tears away, her face transforming into determined expression. This was no time for her to cry! She may not know where she ended up or the name of the hotel, but she does have a vague idea of the landmarks. She'll just follow them until she reaches the hotel, and wait for her friends. Or she could just head to the park, as she said she was going this morning. Either way works fine.
After deciding her next course of action, the pig tailed girl proceeded to walk, still wary of her surroundings. She has to be cautious of not only bad people like her father, but also bad monsters, Hollows. She did her best to remain cheerfully happy and deceptively calm, and not to let any growing sense of uneasy fear overtake her.
She took careful, tentative steps as she walked along the sidewalk. Her best option was to just keep straight. She was bound to end up somewhere familiar. The best she could do was just hope that she miraculously turned up at the park, or, better yet, at the hotel they were staying at. If she ended up at the hotel, she'll just wait in the lobby until Big Sis Ori, Big Brother Ed, Big Sis Winry, or Big Brother Al came.
Still though… No matter how much she tried to painstakingly reassure herself, that didn't stop the silvery specks of anxiety that was coursing through the cells of her body. Can anyone really blame the poor guy? She's never been alone like this before. Normally, someone was always with her. Whether it was Big Sis Ori or Big Sis Winry, someone was always watching over her. When she used to live with her father, Alexander was right by her side. And now, no one was here! She was so scared and lonely!
Nina inhaled and exhaled, slowly. She took restless, almost unsteady steps forward, her tiny feet 'clicking' against the paved walkway. She staved off a grimace at the irony of the scene around her. The lighthearted, happy atmosphere contrasted heavily with her crippling apprehension. It was almost teasing, mocking her. It may be her anxiety taking control, but that's what she felt at the moment. The shimmers of uneasy trepidation of something dreadfully unpleasant waiting to happen.
Fresh tears began to prick the corner of her eyes. Where was everybody?
Winry, for her part, was frantically searching for Nina. After shaking off the pesky cameraman and women, the blonde haired mechanic immediately did a U turn when she noticed the little girl wasn't with her.
Panic instantly coursed through every fiber of her being. She was supposed to be watching over for today. How could she lose Nina in the crowd of frantic, gossiping reporters? The blonde haired girl didn't waste a second to head back to the hotel.
Once there, she hastily rushed inside. Wildly glancing around the lobby, hoping to spot Nina somewhere waiting for someone, waiting for her, she greatly dismayed at the fact that the little girl wasn't here. In a frenzied, fraughtful state, she briskly marched up to the receptionist.
The woman at the receptionist must've noticed her distressingly overwrought state because facial expression scrunched up in weariness and concern. Winry must have looked like a hysterical madwoman to the receptionist. Her face was probably drenched in sweat a little from all the running around she did.
"May I...help you?" The woman's hesitant question trailed through the young mechanic's ears with an air of caution and suspicion.
Winry took a second to catch her breath before answering the lady in a restless, perturbed tone. "Excuse me, ma'am, but has a little girl, around seven years old with short brown hair tied up in pigtails, stopped by here?" She nervously bit the inside of her lips, desperately praying to any higher power of being that Nina was here. That maybe she went back inside their hotel room with the help from the receptionist and her spare key.
"A little girl with brown pigtails, huh?" The receptionist pursed her ruby red lips, deep in thought. Loads and loads of people come in and out. This is a hotel, after all, so it's hard to keep track of them all. Eventually she shook her head, much to the blonde girl's fear and disappointment. "Should I call someone to help you?" the black haired lady asked, politely, now relaxing since the young girl before her wasn't a threat.
The blonde haired girl thought about it for a second then shook her head. For every second she stood there was a second wasted not searching for Nina. She was ready to turn and dash out the door until the dark haired woman stopped her.
"Are you sure you don't want to clean yourself up, ma'am?" the woman asked, concerned about Winry's disheveled and sweaty state. "You can take a drink of water at the water dispenser." She pointed at the water dispenser sitting at the corner next to the bookshelf.
Now that Winry was looking at it, now she realized how extremely thirsty she was. Her throat was dry, and she was parched. She wanted to search for Nina right away, but the rational side of her pointed out to her that she wouldn't be able to find the little girl if she collapses in exhaustion.
In the end, she decided to listen to her logical side, and stop for a few minutes to take a drink of water. It would really help if she cooled herself down a bit, and got rid of her thirst.
She took one of the disposable cups. She brought the cup to the water dispenser, and pushed the button to let the water pour into the cup. The sound of the cool, refreshing water filling the cup was heavenly to her. She didn't waste any time guzzling it down, not bothering to savor the taste. However, she did take extra delight as the cold water hydrated her dried throat.
She let out a blissfully content sigh before refilling the cup once more. This time she took her time to enjoy the taste of the cool water. She pleasantly felt her body being cooled down with every drop of cold water hit her tongue. The sense of relief it brought her reenergized her. She could feel every cell in her body being recharged. She disregarded the pitter patter of footsteps behind as people walked around the lobby and up and down the stairs as they entered and left their rooms, or guests visiting their friends. The carefree and jovial chatter of people gave the atmosphere a very relaxing and friendly feel.
After she filled up the cup for the third time and drank it, she was now fully rejuvenated and readily prepared to look for her young friend. With renewed vigor, she sprinted out the door, narrowly dodging visitors on the way.
There was just one thing she was forgetting… Which way did Nina go? Where was she supposed to look for her?
Realizing that, Winry abruptly came to a halt. She could faintly hear the door closing behind her. Although, she was refreshed and her energy was restored, she was left in a state of confusion and indecisiveness.
That's right. Which way did Nina go when they impulsively split up and ran away from the crazy, gossiping reporters? Where would she even begin to look for her young friend? She could be anywhere in Central!
The best thing the blonde haired girl could do at the moment is narrow down her choices at where her little friend could be. Her first idea was to check the busy areas. Places near shops and grocery stores. And if Nina isn't in any of those locations, she'll check the park since the little girl wanted to go there to play. If she's not at the park, then she will head to Hughes's house in case she ended up there somehow. After all that and still no luck with finding Nina in any of those places in the end, Winry would head back to the hotel, and inform Ed, Al, and Orihime that Nina is missing.
That was her plan. She could only pray that Nina wasn't kidnapped by some psycho or creep.
The blonde haired girl deeply wished that wherever Nina was she was safe.
Winry walked, quickly and in great strides through a busy street near a nearby clothing store. She fast walked instead of running because she didn't want to attract unwanted attention. It would be embarrassing.
Unfortunately, she wasn't having any luck. Nina wasn't anywhere to be found, but she was not giving up. The brown haired girl had to be somewhere in the city.
The blonde haired mechanic tried asking around, but she had little success. That meant either two things. Nina never passed through this part of Central, or the civilians weren't really paying any attention to a lost, little girl. After going deeper down this road, perhaps she should check the parks next. If she recalls, there are about three parks in Central.
The blonde haired girl continued on her way until something caught her eyes. It was a couple of young women, probably in their early to mid twenties, sitting around a table outside of a small restaurant as they giggled and gossiped to themselves while holding a magazine. She was going to ignore it because if it wasn't about the latest models of automail, she wasn't interested.
However, those ladies weren't the only ones who were enjoying the magazine. There were a few teenage girls and several men were also reading those same magazines.
"Why are they so interested in that gossip column?" Winry curiously thought to herself. She ignored her curiosity for now. Finding Nina was more important.
Although, that thought process didn't last long until she spotted a couple of mags on a rack outside a clothing store on full display. Now she knows why so many people were enticed by the magazine, and why they were chased by crazed cameramen and women.
It was neither a very large picture nor the top of the headline, but right there on the lower right corner was a picture of Edward covering Orihime with his signature red coat. Her blue eyes widened at the semi small caption written in bold letters.
"Does Orihime, the Princess of Amestris, have a secret lover?"
A hand immediately flew to her lips to cover up a somewhat horrified and stunned gasp. Was this the reason why all those insensitive gossipers were hounding on the auburn haired healer and the blond haired alchemist being an item? Without wasting a second, she hastily snatched the magazine off the rack. She hurriedly flipped through the mag to see if she can find more scandals about Orihime and Edward being in a relationship.
The blonde girl found it! An entire page focused on her two friends' apparent relationship! The article showed pictures of them entering the hotel together, and another that featured Orihime kissing Edward on the cheek!
Normally, her first reaction would be to tease both of them about this. They told her nothing was going between them. She always knew they would make a cute couple. She could almost giggle in glee at the picture. All of that would have been her initial response to the photos of the two of them together.
Conversely though, she was mortified! Absolutely mortified! Who the hell did this?! If there were pictures like these, then must mean someone was secretly stalking them with a camera. Were they spying Orihime just to get some juicy gossip on her?! How disgustingly disturbing and terrifyingly creepy! These would mean that Orihime has stalkers following her everywhere she goes!
She better show Ed and Orihime this. Knowing the two of them, Orihime would be extremely embarrassed and utterly humiliated that pictures of this were plastered on gossip mags all over Central. She would be so horrifyingly mortified that she wouldn't want to leave her hotel room for weeks. She'd cover herself in a blanket in her little corner of self conscious embarrassment. And Edward, for his part, would become incensingly enraged. She could clearly imagine Ed raging hell, screaming bloody murder, and alchemi a warpath to the culprit who framed private pictures of them. His whole face being as red as an erupting volcano throughout his rampage.
Like she noted earlier, the entire ordeal would've been amusing, if it wasn't plastered on magazines for the entire fucking world to see. She understood their feelings because she felt the same way. Just looking at this made Winry feel wrathfully infuriated, embarrassingly uncomfortable, and upsettingly discomfited. She had the ridiculously strong urge to find the culprit, and give him the beating of a lifetime with her mighty wrench. What right do these people have to eavesdrop on their personal lives, and of it?!
Sigh. Only one thing was keeping her from doing that, and that was finding Nina. She takes first priority.
She went ahead and bought the magazine to show the time because this...this is going to be a problem.
On some remarkably mysterious coincidence, Alphonse arrived at the library. It was what he intended to go in the first place, so he had no complaints. He was only wary of the fact that gossipy reporters might've followed him. Once that thought reached his mind, he turned every which way to make sure he wasn't followed. He let out a metaphorical breath of relief when there were no crazed cameramen that followed him.
With metal shoulders straight, Al entered the library. It's a good thing he remembered what he came to the library for. Ed said he wanted to do some research on Hollows. He had never heard of Hollows before. Were they a subspecies of homunculi?
The mere idea of it caused a shiver of alarming unrest and discomposing dismay to run down his nonexistent spine. Just imagine other creatures that were closely related to homunculus. That sounds horrifying! And these things attacked them the other day? They are capable of creating such vividly, terrifying illusions?
He recounted his time in that nightmarish dreamland. He could still remember how morbidly realistic everything was. The deceptively happy fantasy almost immediately turned into a baffling, traumatizing nightmare. He was thrust back to the time of his failed Human Transmutation with his brother. The thing that was supposed to be his mother was disgustingly grotesque. That molten flesh of bones and agony was supposed to be his revived mother?!
A whole swarm of emotions filled him at the time. Horror. Guilt. Sorrow. The dark sea of emotions was overflowing him in a torrent of torment and misery for what he did that day. It caused him to wonder if this was what it felt like to have nightmares again? He hasn't been able to have one in years since his metal body lacked sleep. In a twisted sense of irony, it made him feel human again.
However, the suit of armor could never forget the despair driven state it pushed Orihime into. If his illusions were bad, then what hallucination terrible did it put her through? She was left in a ball of panic and misery until Ed was somehow able to comfort her and cheer her up.
Though, while he, Nina, and Orihime were under the unbearably frightful influence of those illusions, Edward was kidnapped and nearly killed by the Hollow. Luckily, he was saved by Eria. He knew that Eria was supposed to be their enemy, by the venomously distasteful way his older brother said her name, but he was grateful to the woman for saving his brother's life, even if that wasn't her intention. Although, he couldn't help but to take notice of how Ed seemed to omit some things. And whenever he brought it up, his face instantly flushed a deep, crimson red and his facial expression would twist into a mixture of revoltingly offensive and flustered embarrassment, and he would either swiftly change the topic as if his life depended on it or stubbornly not talk about it. Al eventually just dropped it. If it was important, Ed would have said something.
"Where would I find a book on Hollows anyway?" Al muttered, softly to himself as he searched through various books, looking for anything on the subject of Hollows. He noted to himself that he should seek out anything on mod souls, too. It picked up any book with the barest amount of information on artificial humans, hoping for the best.
"Hollows, you say?"
Alphonse let out a startled yelp at the unexpected feminine voice right by his metaphorical ear. He quickly whipped his whole body around, feeling tense and alert, although, mindful not to drop the book he was currently reading. His red, glowing eyes landed on a blonde haired, lime green eyed woman, who was smiling at him, sweetly. Her fringes were parted on the left side. She appeared to be in her mid twenties. Her skin was beautifully, wintry pale color. A pair of small, gold hoop earrings decorated her ears. Her lips were painted with ruby red lipstick. She wore a yellow, button up blouse, black slacks, and black heels adorned her feet.
"Um, excuse me, miss…," he said, awkwardly. His emotions were still reeling from the sudden surprise.
"Please, call me Liza. Liza Patterson," the blonde woman introduced herself, her smiling widening. There was something about that smile that kind of creeped Al out. She gave off an off putting vibe that caused the fictional hairs on the back of his neck to stand on end.
"I'm Alphonse Elric," he greeted back. "Or you can just call me 'Al'.
"I heard you say something about Hollows, Al," Miss Liza inquired, snapping Al out of his preoccupied thoughts.
His mind rewinds the woman's words, and his interest piqued. "Do you know something about Hollows, Miss Liza?" Alphonse asked in rapt wonder. Has he found someone who could provide him with the information that he needed?
"Hmm, I never met another person with an interest in Hollows," the blonde haired woman stated in a near giddy and excited tone. It was almost as if she was rejoicing. "Let's take a seat, shall we?"
She gracefully strode over, and took a seat at a nearby, empty table. After some hesitance, the seven foot suit of armor took his own seat across from her. The woman crossed her right leg over her left, and placed her interlocked hands on the table. Her posture screamed business like.
"Why do you want to know about Hollows?" she started, curiosity and amusement twinkling in her lime green eyes. "Excuse my blunt rudeness, but it's hard for me to believe that you have any actual interest in Hollows. There's rarely anyone who does."
Alphonse sheepishly rubbed the back of his helmet. He was contemplating with himself of whether or not he should tell this stranger of what happened to them a few days ago. All those illusions and nightmares were just too personal to discuss with a person he just met. "My brother was attacked by a Hollow," he opted to say, tentatively. It was the only thing that was truly relevant.
There was a tiny flash of a thrilling and creepy sense of eagerness in the woman's lime green orbs before she expertly masked it. She kept her face completely blank and serious. Although, it was hard not to turn her lips upward in elated avidity. "Are you sure he was attacked by a Hollow?" she questioned with a hint of incredulity. "Perhaps it was an alchemist. Or he was under a lot of stress, and his mind was playing tricks on him."
If Al had a face, he would be frowning. Was this woman implying that his older brother was a delusional liar? He knows Ed, and he would never lie or joke about something as drastically serious as their lives being threatened.
Liza seemed to notice his displeased and disgruntled demeanor. Despite being entirely covered in armor, which was weird in itself by the way, his body language thoroughly revealed the aggravated exasperation he was feeling. She must've said something to, unintentionally, upset him.
"I'm sorry if I angered you in any way," the blonde woman said, genuinely apologetic. "You see, it's actually quite rare for anyone to survive a Hollow attack, so excuse my skepticism."
Confusion and shock overtook Al's features. "Why is that?" he asked, an unpleasant sense of dreadful unease in his voice. People who are attacked by Hollows have nearly zero chance of survival? The fact his older brother got through the ordeal was a miracle? That was not something the suit of armor expected to hear, and it caused him to feel like the whole situation was more balefully dangerous and ominously discomposing than he originally thought.
And was it just him, or did the atmosphere become darker, colder, and more sinister?
"There has always been an urban saying about the cycle of life, death, and rebirth," Liza mused.
Alphonse fidgeted nervously with his hands. "The cycle of life, death, and rebirth, huh?" he muttered, cautiously. He felt like he heard that somewhere before. His mind reeled back to the time they had to travel on foot to Rush Valley. They pass by several small towns on the way. Then it clicked. Riku had said the same thing! "Someone else told me and my friends something similar!" he shouted in a very low voice, as if he hit an eureka moment.
The blonde woman raised an intrigued eyebrow. "You heard of it before?"
Al nodded his head. "A while back we met someone who's brother was an alchemist. His brother was studying about the balance of life and death," he answered, honestly.
Liza hummed in interest. "There have been people in ancient times, who have believed such things. 'When one person dies, another disappears' as sort of a sacrifice you could say. That was the dictum that used to go around a long time ago."
"What does it mean? And does it relate to Hollows?" the suit of armor asked, curiously.
The woman shrugged, a fond smile on her face. A kind of smile a person has when about their passion. "A long time ago, there have been incidents of people mysteriously missing. After someone dies, a person close to them, whether a family member, a close friend, a significant other, or a pet, would suddenly disappear without a trace a few years later."
"That's what's been happening these past couple of months, and why the Colonel sent brother to Neshire to investigate," Alphonse reflected, feeling appallingly horrified at the similarities of the situation. If he had a stomach, it'd be twisting in knots of perturbed consternation.
"People used to believe it was some sort of curse or divine punishment," she continued, unaware of Al's disquieted apprehension. Or was she secretly fueling it? It was hard to tell with that eerily ardor smile of hers as she talked. The younger Elric has only known her for over half an hour, and she already seemed like the type of person who greatly enjoys disturbing horror stories and old, creepy folklore.
"Most of the time, however, they do find the bodies later on, but they could never figure out the cause of death. Of course, back then, they didn't really have the proper technology to discern the cause of death. Similarly, to how people strongly assumed fire was the work of god's wrath. Some religions are even based on legends and myths that have happened in the past. Conversely, as people grew more intelligent and science and technology started to develop more, those stories gradually began to be dismissed and debunked as old lores and folktales."
Al stiffened with uneasiness, trying to get his thought process together. The more the blonde woman talked, the more he was reminded of the conversation they had with Riku over his deceased brother's, Reo's, research. Although, he was more open minded than Ed, he'd be lying if he didn't say he had his fair share of doubts, incredulities, and disbeliefs. Reo's theories and Riku's stories being one of them. However, he can't deny that Orihime's kidnapping and disappearance by Reo's 'ghost' was...beyond bizarre, for lack of a better word. He merely chalked it up to a very strange type of alchemy.
"What does all that have to do with Hollows?" he inquired, warily with an odd mixture of grim interest and genuine fear of the response.
Liza's lips twitched into a morbid grin. "In some religious passages, there are some very rare and few select people who claim to see demonic entities. They were often revered and worshipped as godly beings because of their superhuman abilities. Though, later on, people began to fear their powers, and they were eventually cast aside by society. To this day, no one knows if people like that exist anymore. For all we know, they probably died out hundreds of years ago. We still don't know what those 'demonic entities' were referring to. All we can understand is that it's some sort of supernatural, unworldly monster of sorts."
The younger Elric cocked his head in careful regard, being very attentive to every word Liza uttered. People with superhuman powers? Were they supposed to represent alchemists? The science was considered to be a groundbreakingly, extraordinary phenomena until the Philosopher of the East came in and educated the locals of Amestris in alchemy. Some people who can't do alchemy still sometimes think it's the work of magic and miracles, if his experiences in Liore taught him anything. However, there are so many people who are familiar with alchemy, it lacks the awe inspiring rarity it used to have, and now it's just viewed as the norm of everyday life and society. Maybe those alchemists just integrated themselves into today's culture and civilization because people got over their disdain and fears.
Liza stole a quick glance at the clock then gave Alphonse an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry, Al. It was nice chatting with you, but I got to run."
"Oh? You have work, Miss Liza?" Al was kind of saddened by their conversation being cut short. He was hoping he could learn more, so he can go back to the hotel to discuss with his brother. Though, the information and stories he gathered from the blonde haired woman was good enough for now. Gives him more insight in the world's history.
There was an unfamiliar glint in her lime green eyes. "...You can say that."
"Will I see you again?" he asked, trying to keep his eagerness at bay.
She pursed her lips, mischievously. "Maybe. We'll see."
She carefully climbed out of her chair and left, leaving him alone to reflect on the discussion they just had.
When Liza left the library, she was met with a red haired man with brown eyes and a magenta haired, teal green eyed woman.
"Liza! What the hell took you so long?" the redhead growled in irritation.
She frowned, waving him off, dismissively. "I wasn't gone that long, Kazuya. Stop overacting."
He clicked his tongue in annoyance, and angrily crossed his arms.
"Did you find what you were looking for?" the magenta haired woman asked.
The blonde woman shook her head. "Not necessarily, Sophia, but…" Her lips twitched upward into a mischievously fond smile. "...I did have an interesting conversation."
Her companions, Sophia and Kazuya, quirked inquisitive brows at her, but decided not to comment.
"C'mon, it's time to head back to our rooms," the magenta haired woman, now identified as Sophia, announced. "I don't like the forbidding feeling I get every time we step in this city."
The red haired man, now known as Kazuya, threw his arm behind his head. "I can't wait till we can get the hell out of this disgusting city," he sneered, despising the fact that they had to stay here in this crappy city any longer than what he deems necessary. "Why the fuck are we here anyway?"
"There's a potential new recruit," Sophia replied, calmly.
Kazuya grunted, but bit back his complaint.
The duo followed the magenta haired woman back to their hotel room.
By some miracle… Some gracious miracle, Nina arrived at a park. At this point, she was simply too tired and too agitated to run anymore. At this rate, it's not like she's going to find the place they were staying at anyway. Maybe she should stay here, and hope that Big Sis Ori, Big Brother Ed, Big Brother Al, or Big Sis Winry pick her up. They knew she wanted to go to the park, so maybe they were visiting all the parks in Central looking for her.
The brown haired girl collapsed onto a nearby bench. Her blue gaze landed on the water fountain. The gushing water seemed so inviting and tempting right now. The beautiful, thirst quenching liquid was mocking her. She wanted a sip, only a small sip to satisfy her thirst, but the weird looks she'd get were too embarrassing to think about. The deathly, beating heat of the sun wasn't helping her at all!
She slowly moved her languish body to sit up straighter. She eyed the other children her age joyfully playing with their family and friends. She envied them. She wished she could play, too, but her body was too exhausted to move. She merely watched them play while she rested. It's all she can do at the moment. She was worn out and she was nervous, but she did her best to keep her anxiety at bay. She was a big girl! Her friends would come for her soon. All she had to do was be patient and wait.
As Nina was quietly watching kids play, something amazing caught her eye! Was there really a tiny bubble of water floating in the air? It was only there for a few seconds before it popped into miniscule showers. However, those showers were swiftly replaced with even tinier bubbles of water. It was the most awe inspiring, breathtaking sight she has ever seen!
The little girl smiled, happily, completely entranced at how the bubbles danced in the air. She glanced around to see if anyone else had noticed the floating bubbles. Unfortunately, either everyone remained oblivious, or they just ignored the magical sight before them. How can they not see it? It was wonderful!
She stared in childlike excitement as the water mixed and formed into random shapes. She was mesmerized by the brilliantly fascinating display. There was just...no words to describe it other than awesome! She has never seen anything like it!
At first, she thought it was some kind of alchemy, but the strange feeling it gave off told her it wasn't. She couldn't really describe it. It was like a weird type of energy. It wasn't an ominously dark or menacingly foreboding sensation like what she felt from those soul sucking monsters. She knew it wasn't alchemy because the science doesn't produce such force. It was like the power unknowingly causes her sixth sense to become alert. Whatever that means.
The energy wasn't sinister, but it wasn't inviting either. It was just...there. She felt the pressure in the air become thicker because of the supernatural force. It was cold, yet not in an evil sense. More in the lonely and sad kind of way.
Nina's blue eyes traced the source of the energy. She was giddily excited and understandably nervous to meet the person who was effortlessly controlling the specks of water from the fountain. Her mind and senses were telling her to simply follow the same kind of power that's emitting from the magic waters. With eyes trailing along, they landed on a young boy with dark hair and icy blue eyes sitting alone on a bench adjacent from her.
Hey! Wait…! Wasn't that the same boy from the train?
(A/N: That's the end of chapter forty four! I hoped you enjoyed it! Oh, I'm sorry for the half a year hiatus this story's been on. Working on it has been an on and off thing because life's been...hectic. I really, really, really appreciate everyone has favorited, followed, and reviewed this fanfic while it was a vaguely short break. Although, I did get some reviews and PMs that piqued my interest, but kind of forgot where they came from, and/or there were several people with the same critiques. Thank you by the way.
Hollows are ruining the story? I'm sorry if they are for you for those who didn't like the inclusion of Hollows. What can I say? Hollows are a big part of Bleach. Why would I not put them in? However, I also think you are forgetting the lore of Bleach. And where do Hollows come from and how are they created again? Though, I can also understand the confusion… As people seem to think that Orihime transported into another universe entirely rather than just another world. I thought I mentioned that, in this FMA/Bleach crossover, both universes are two sides of the same coin. No different than how the Soul Society is separated from the World of the Living. It's all in one universe. If I didn't explain it in one of the earlier chapters, then my bad. I'm explaining now. So, no more complaining about Hollows shouldn't be here because they are not part of the FMA universe, even though you are forgetting the fact that this is a crossover.
Truth is the god of the Fullmetal Alchemist universe? I always perceived this to be sort of misconception. Yes, it's easy to identify Truth as the god of FMA because it's the only god we see, but I think people are forgetting when do we ever see the Truth. I used to believe this, too, but the more I watched FMA, the more I got to thinking that Truth is less of the FMA's world's god, and more of a god of alchemy. A personification of the Law of Equivalent Exchange. I mean, we only see the Truth when people enter the gate. And if Truth really was the god, then did he disappear when Ed sacrificed his alchemy for Al's soul and body? If it was really the god of the world, there would be no need for that. This goes further into my theory that Truth really isn't necessarily a god, and more of a personification of the Law of Equivalent Exchange, of alchemy.
This story would be better if it was Edward/Winry instead of Edward/Orihime? Okay, this one I am most offended by! This isn't constructive criticism like the other two points. This is pure flame. Pairing flame with a flimsy disguise of criticism. And this is the type of flame that fucking pisses me off the most! If you don't like the pairing, don't read! IT'S THAT SIMPLE! IT'S NOT THAT DAMN HARD! Don't fucking tell me to restart this whole fucking story just because it doesn't have your OTP pairing! This is merely a roundabout way of saying you don't like story because of the pairing. If you like Ed/Winry better, okay, fine. I don't care. Go read some Ed/Winry stories and crossovers then instead of this one. I'll take offers to help improve the Ed/Orihime relationship. Not to change it. And hell no! I'm not going to make the next FMA crossover an Ed/Winry fanfic just because it would be, quote on quote, 'better' because you fucking said so! Hell, even if I wanted to, don't you think I would have done it a long time ago? I don't need you telling me what kind of pairings I should be using for my stories! Don't fucking tell me to do this or that pairing because it would the fanfic 'better'. No, it won't! That is merely your opinion, and not an actual fact. If you want an Ed/Winry crossover so bad, then make it yourselves! This story is an Ed/Orihime fanfic, and it's staying that way!
*takes deep breaths* Sorry about that. Anyway, that's really it. Leave any comments, suggestions, and questions in a review, and thanks for reading!)