The Flower Princess and the Alchemist @bloodpokemon101
Two Way Street

(A/N: Here's chapter forty six! Enjoy!

LightJakRises: Thanks for reviewing! Spazzy Ed is always adorable, and a treat to watch!

TheEmeraldMage: Thanks for the review! Yeah, and that's the problem. Only if they are alchemist since alchemy is considered the norm of society, and anything that deviates from society are normally treated as weird and freaky, and with scorn, fear, disgust, and disdain. That's how humans are. They hate and fear the unknown. Zero's family thought he was doing alchemy, but when they didn't see him draw a Transmutation Circles or have tattoo or drawing of a circle on his body, they began to become paranoid with fear. They concluded that he was performing something that wasn't alchemy, and that freaked them out. And sorry, but no. The woman just happened to be someone who showed up at the wrong place at the wrong time, and was met with an unfortunate fate. Her death was meant to establish Zero as cold blooded, heartless, and twisted ten year old. Don't get a lot of killer children OCs in fanfics. Not counting Naruto.

Silight03: Thanks for reviewing! Actually, not I didn't. It's completely coincidental. Honestly, I haven't read the Elfen Lied manga in years. Your comment made me want to go back reread it, so I can work on my Elfen Lied fanfiction.)


Two Way Street

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.

"What's the matter, Fullmetal? You seem awfully pale," Mustang observed.

Edward nearly grimaced, opening and closing his mouth a few times, wordlessly trapped in a mental state of distressful torment. His feelings were in a complete, jumbled mess. His jaw clenched, his hand tightened, almost crumpling the newspaper up. Just how…? How was he going to explain this?

"Fullmetal!"

The blond alchemist virtually jumped out his skin at the colonel's shout. He tore his eyes away from the news to stare, discomposingly glazed at the Flame Alchemist.

"What's wrong?" Mustang repeated, brows furrowed in concern.

He snapped back into reality. "Oh? Um…" He was hesitant to speak, too tongue tied to get the words out. He clamped his mouth shut, forcibly. What could he say to his commanding officer? He couldn't let the colonel know about his clashing feelings of dismally nonplussed, tortured anguish, and mockingly cruel happiness. His tongue darted out to moisten his suddenly dry lips.

No, he shook with grim determination, shoulders rigid and hands curled into tight balls. He couldn't discuss his conflicted feelings on the matter to the older alchemist. If he did, then that would potentially get Orihime involved in this horrible mess. And if she gets involved, then it would be lugubriously disastrous. If she gets involved, then...then there would be no doubt this would positively break her. Utterly destroy her. Ultimately, overwhelmingly crush her.

An image of Orihime's anguish filled, soul crushingly shattered expression and devastated tears of dolor despair and agonizing heartbreak flashed before him.

No, he can't. He can't make her cry again. He promised himself he would never make her cry like that ever again! He can't tell her this! Her heart is already in an excruciatingly fragile state as is. If he alerts her of this heartbreaking news, it'll undeniably and mercilessly eradicate any progress and attempts Orihime made into returning back to her old self. His heart wouldn't be able to handle seeing her heartbroken, despair driven expression once again.

One thing for sure, and it may be a little presumptuous of him, is that he had to protect her. He couldn't reveal anything of this to the auburn haired girl until he was absolutely sure he was the one who killed Hughes.

"Do you have any leads, colonel?" he asked, his golden gaze landing on his superior, piercingly. He did his best to keep his voice hard and even, not attempting to draw the black haired colonel's suspicion.

Mustang shook his head, solemnly. "Unfortunately, no. All we know is that he's a young man with orange hair and brown eyes. Everything else about him is completely unknown."

Ed blew aggravated and frustrated breath. All of this was giving him a migraine. It's always one hell after another. He wanted to say something, but the image of Orihime's crying face resulted in him to smartly keep his mouth shut. He seriously needed to change this tense and dreadfully rotten atmosphere because it was practically killing him! It wasn't doing his conflicted heart any good.

His golden orbs widened, slightly when he remembered something. "Oh, yeah, I completely forget," he muttered, absentmindedly.

The colonel's back straightened. "Forget what?" he questioned in an almost eagered and hopeful tone. Does Fullmetal have a clue on the suspect? Although, he was left frowning in disappointment when the young blond simply pulled out a somewhat small box from his pant's pocket.

"Here. Cookies," he announced, casually dropping the box on his superior's desk.

Mustang shot him a scrutinizing stare laced with suspicion. Fullmetal handing him cookies? "What is this?" he asked, dubiously, doubtful, black eyes staring at the wrapped up box placed before him.

The Fullmetal Alchemist rolled eyes. "Like I said, cookies," he emphasized again. "Open it already!" he demanded, impatiently.

He opened it, unwrapping the light blue handkerchief around it, and, sure enough, there were cookies. And yet, he still didn't believe in what he saw. In fact, it just triggered his deep frown of distrustful skepticism to grow broader.

He narrowed his dark eyes at his youngest subordinate. Was this a prank? He must've poisoned them or something. There's no way Edward Elric is giving him cookies for free. The boy must want something! This is a bribe. A horribly despicable bribe!

"Alright, Fullmetal, what do you want?" Mustang asked, getting right to the point, voice laced with complete and total incredulity.

Ed glared at his superior, not liking the unfairly unwanted accusation in his tone. "Nothing!" he shouted, defensively, angrily flailing his arms about. "Stop being so paranoid, and enjoy the damn cookies! Orihime went into a lot of work making those, so you better appreciate it. Save some for Lieutenant Hawkeye and the others, too."

Mustang eyed the cookies once more, his doubts gradually diminishing and the alarm bells slowly ceasing their ringing. "Ah! I see. Your girlfriend made this," he smirked.

"She is not my girlfriend, you bastard! Stop listening to those tabloid magazines!" Ed fumed, heatedly, facing turning a cheery red from both anger and embarrassment.

The older male snickered, clearly amused by his subordinate's comically indignant temperament. He gingerly reached his hand and plucked a cookie from within. The baked, doughy dessert was a reddish brown color. Nothing out of the ordinary. He took a bite out of it, experimentally, slowly chewing the sugary substance in his mouth. He eventually swallowed it down his gullet.

"It's kind of sweet with a savory aftertaste," the colonel evaluated, giving Edward his honest opinion. "It's good." He did his best to hide his pleasing grin by turning it into a teasing smirk. "You're right. Your girlfriend is a really good cook. Those macaroons she gave us last time were really good as well." He found another reason, beside his height complex, to rile Ed up.

The blond alchemist clenched his fist, vehemently deciding to ignore that comment. Although, he seething on the inside. Lashing out in a spazzy outrage is exactly what the bastard, and he would not play into his mind games.

Besides, he had...other...things to worry about.

His golden eyes stared down in the suspect report in his hand. He had a cheerlessly grim, mirthlessly stumped expression on his face.

"Oh! Fullmetal." His superior's stern and serious voice snapped him out of his hopelessly wretched musings as he lightly pushed the box of cookies to the side. His lost and saddened appearance dissipated into a solemn and very attentive one. He was keenly acquainted with that grave tone from the Flame Alchemist. It was the tone he used when he had crucially pressing matters to discuss, or terribly somber news to deliver.

"There have been a series of murders these past couple of weeks," Mustang notified Ed. "So far, six families have been killed."

"And let me guess, you want me to capture the person responsible?" Ed responded, not in a tired and exasperated way, but more in a hardened and serious tone at the notion. So, there was another psychopathic creep on the loose causing chaos and destruction? Great. This guy is going down!

The older alchemist nodded, soberly. His elbows were propped on his desk, and his hands folded together to hide the bottom half his face. His dark, stony disposition conveyed to Ed how serious the matter is.

"We don't know who is committing these crimes or what they are after. The military decided to step in when it became obvious ordinary police couldn't handle it. Not only were a few families killed in their homes, but several police officers as well. For all we know, it could be the same suspect who killed General Hughes. Your job, Fullmetal, is to investigate these murders, and take whoever's responsible into custody," he ordered, his tone as hard and steely as stone, most likely at the possibility of finding Hughes's killer.

The blond boy had an upsettingly grim scowl of unrelieved certainty on his face, nodding his head, stiffly in understanding. He glanced at the news one more time, hopelessly conflicted. This has gotten distressingly complicated.

Ichigo Kurosaki… He will find the guy! He had to keep this a secret from Orihime until he was one hundred percent sure Ichigo was involved in Brigadier General Maes Hughes's murder.

And kill the people responsible for this issue's magazine.


Chloe silently observed the interaction between Lust, the palm tree, and the three newcomers. A woman with reddish brown hair, a man with blond hair, and a child, who was a little older than her, with black hair.

She was half interested yet couldn't fully grasp what they were saying because they were discussing...adult things. Something about a Third Lab or whatever and needing guards and lookouts and plans coming into fruition. It was all too complicated for her childlike mind to handle. She was only ten, after all.

Gluttony was assigned to keep watch over her and to guard her, but since he was a man, a very dumb man, if she may add, she was wary of him, making sure to keep a respectable distance from him. The very notion of being stuck with a boy left the brown haired girl feeling nervous and disgusted. The chubby homunculus may look simple minded and childishly silly, but that doesn't mean he wasn't dangerous. All men were inherently abhorrent, vicious, savage animals. Humans or homunculi… Men are all unrepentant monsters. And she'll do her best to never forget that. Let her guard down, and men would destroy her without any remorse or hesitation.

She leisurely took a bite out the mango she bought, her mind losing focus on the conversation and drifting elsewhere. She pondered over her encounter with that lady she met in the grocery store a few hours ago.

(FLASHBACK)

Chloe's initial intention was to swiftly walk in and walk out of the store without drawing too much attention to herself. She used to live on the cold streets, homeless and alone, so she was familiar with the concept of moving around discreetly. The life of savanging and stealing food for survival in a cunningly sneaky and pragmatically underhanded fashion does have its perks.

Thanks for the female homunculus, she'd never have to live that horrid life again, but still… Without that life, the little girl wouldn't have known that the world isn't as sweet and innocent as she thought it was growing up with her mom. Before those demons came in and ruined her whole ingenuous and unworldly perception of life. She wouldn't have the observant, cautious, and wary mindset she possesses now, nor would she have met Lust. A blissfully naive ten year old is what she could've been without that rotten life.

The uneasy presence of being in an unknown environment caused an essence of apprehension to consume her. In her old town, she overly familiarized herself with the ins and outs of getting around, swiftly, efficiently, and unseen. However, she was completely out of her comfort zone in this new territory. She did her absolute best to stay as far away from the crowds as possible. The less attention she draws to herself, the better.

She knew Lust advised her against talking to strangers, warned her to keep her head down, and she did her best to comply with her rules, restrictions, and wishes. Lust was the nice, non human who took her in. The first person who didn't shoot her unwanted, nasty looks of scorn or false sympathetic looks of pity. The kind of stares people give her when they either deem her a worthless, dirty street rat, or they feel sorry for her, but taking her in would be too much of a hassle for them. She didn't need any of that! She doesn't need any liars or fakes or men!

That's why… That's why, when Lust didn't shoot her any of those aggravated stares, it prompted Chloe's heart to jump in surprise. She was the first person to gaze at her with utter indifference. She doesn't know why, but it was kind of...refreshing. At the moment, she was hypnotically and enchantingly compelled to follow the cool and mysterious, and here she was.

Lust saved her from that wretched life, so she'll do Lust proud and stay hidden and away from prying eyes. And if anybody asked, she won't mention her. If she gets in trouble, it's only right for the brown haired child to take the fall herself.

Luckily for Chloe the store wasn't far from her new and temporary, she thinks, home. Being alone in a big city was nerve wracking at first. The bustling of the big city was significantly, widely different from the small town she used scourge food from as she lived her life as a street rat. The only reason she left was because Lust told her to buy food and drinks for herself. Enough to last over a week. Humans needed nutrition for survival and to maintain a healthy life and body.

Her entire body was pumped with the adrenaline of the oddly mixed sensation of unnerving trepidation and fierce resolve hit the young child when she entered the store. She stepped inside with one goal clearly in mind. Get what she needs and skedaddle. This less interaction she has with people, the better.

The nerves in her body were tingling with restlessness. But she couldn't keep standing here like a clueless idiot, which she was in hindsight, being unfamiliar with the place and all. With her leafy green eyes shimmering with artless determination, she began her hunt.

Let's see… Lust gave her about thirty one hundred cenz to spend on food, so how many foods can she buy with that much money?

Chloe already understood that, since she can't cook, her options were limited. Limited to products she could eat at any time without the need for it to be prepared first. That means she could only buy fruits and vegetables that don't need to be heated or boiled. They don't have a microwave where she lives. At least, she thinks they don't. She's never seen one. And some snacks for an added bonus, and definitely some drinks, too.

She spent a better part of an hour scouring the store for the victuals and refreshments she needs. It was a tedious and worthwhile task because, for once, it brought her a great sense of pleasant joy and euphoric happiness. Why? Because for the first time since her mother's horribly tragic passing, someone was waiting for her return! For that reason...that simple, heartfelt reason, she strongly desires to work extra hard to show how useful she can be.

A giddy smile materialized on her facial features from just thinking about it.

The small girl speed walked, checking each of the aisles for the juice section with the eager impatience of an excited puppy. She hummed a quiet, happy tune to herself. Just down, slightly past the dairy section, she finally managed to find the juice zone. It was somewhat strange and confusing to her that they would place orange and apple juice separate from all the other fruits and vegetables. She merely shrugged her shoulders at the notion. Maybe it's just an adult thing. Adults sometimes really enjoy unnecessary and/or complex things.

Twisting on her heels in a one eighty degree turn, Chloe hurried over to the checkout to purchase the items she gathered in her makeshift shopping basket the store provides. For her somewhat weak and little body, it was kind of difficult for her to carry the basket. Luckily, the checkout wasn't far. Just eight feet away.

Lugging the basket with all her might, she slowly made her way over to the cashier. The semi small box jostled back and forth as she strode towards her designated destination. She took slow, deliberate steps as to not tire herself out so quickly. The supplies she was holding were already slightly heavy enough and taxing on her body. She needed to conserve as much energy for the trek back home.

She made the decision to start working out once she returns. Her current strength she had was only because of her bleak, hopeless she had a year ago. The endurance she had gained came from stealing and plundering food from unsuspecting people, mainly men. And her speed and agility gave raise when she needed to make a quick escape. It wouldn't do her any good, if she was caught. She had developed ways to conserve her energy as much as possible during that time. Everything, and she means everything to her was a matter of life or death.

When Chloe reached the line for the checkout, she breathed out a relieved sigh. However, once she spotted the cashier was a male in the line she entered, she grimaced in disgust, and an explosively acidic bile of repulsive contempt bubbled inside her stomach, threatening to climb its way up her throat. She clicked her tongue, distastefully, green eyes frantically darting around for another cashier working. Hopefully female.

Her frown of abject abhorrence turned upside down into a smile of blithe gratefulness. Yes! There was another checkout person working today. And it was a girl! Yes, yes, yes! She did happy cheer and dance in her head as merrily skipped over to the line holding the woman cashier.

Though she did take a step back when she was about to be in line next to an unpleasant man. Willingly and without an ounce of hesitation, she allowed a woman to go in first before stepping into line. She prayed to the high heavens that the next person coming behind her was another woman, and almost let out a triumphantly joyous squeal when her requisite wish came true.

This may be a little longer than her previous, but that was a price she would gladly pay for this blessed situation.

After about forty five minutes of waiting, it was finally Chloe's turn. When it was her turn to checkout, the cashier shot her a skeptical and concerning look. The little girl was profoundly regardful of the way the female cashier was searching for any parents or legal guardians. Although, it was not unheard of for young children to go shopping on their own, it was fairly uncommon.

Anyone who was smart, responsible, and filled with concerns would think who leaves a ten year old kid to go grocery shopping alone?

But the brown haired girl doesn't need the cashier's approval. She chose to do this. She wanted to show Lust and prove to her new caretaker that she was a responsible, big girl.

Truthfully, that wasn't the only reason. She was angry and frustrated with that palm tree head jerk always belittling her with mean and mocking comments. The guy took every chance he had to be callous to her and say mean remarks about her. She hated it, and she hated him. How many times has he harassed her and threatened to kill her because she's a 'useless human child' and would only 'get in the way'?

Everything about him sends shockwaves of revolting displeasure that greatly stings every cell in her body with intense, uneasy anxiety. His cold, purple eyes, so dark, chilling, and menacing truly frightens her, peritrifies her to the depths of her core reminiscent of sharp icicle daggers mercilessly piercing at her heart. Every slither of his tongue sends her reeling back in fear and disgust. Her stomach would roll with horror struck loathing and paralyzing nausea whenever she laid eyes on his wickedly cruel smiles. Simply being alone in his presence stops and freezes all the blood in her veins and makes her nerves go haywire with unnerving panic and fearful dread.

Despite all that, despite how scared and terrified she gets, the little, brown haired girl refuses to give him the satisfaction of seeing her whimper and burst into tears like a scared, little puppy. Men live by the fear and suffering of their victims, and she won't fall down that route! She would brave through any perilous trial, tramble through any devious traps men could conjure up with their malevolent minds, and always, always come out victorious. Nobody would ever see her crying for a man for help, or groveling on her feet before a man! Never again!

In the end, who cares about what he thinks? He was a stupid, mean, ugly palm tree! He only validates that Chloe's detest and hatred towards men are indeed correct. That all men are abhorrently disgusting, unrepentantly malicious, and ruthlessly terrifying monsters. And that's all they ever will be!

The sound of someone clearing their throat snapped Chloe out of her dark, self aggravating musings.

"Huh?" was Chloe's confused response, and her green eyes landed between the cashier and her already bagged groceries. Her cheeks flushed a light pink color of embarrassment for being caught daydreaming while the cashier was ready to check her out. She knew the cashier was annoyed with her due to her strained smile and twitching lips.

She drooped her head a bit in shame for being so lost in thought, and timidly gazed at the cashier through her eyelids. "I'm sorry. Could you repeat that, please?" she asked, meekly.

The lady resisted the urge to blow out an exasperated sigh. "I said," she started, stressing out the first two words. "That would be two thousand six hundred and eleven point eighty one cenz," she finished with the smallest hint of irritation in her voice.

The little girl could only bob her head, dumbly. She didn't want to say anything in fear of provoking the woman's anger further. She didn't want to get in trouble with Lust. How long was she staring off into space for and being so absorbed in her thoughts?

Self consciously, Chloe pulled out the pocket money Lust gave her and silently paid for her groceries. When she received her change in return, she swiftly pocketed the money in the bag. "Thank you," she mumbled, quietly.

"Have a nice day." The woman's strained voice was filled with thinly veiled irritation and annoyance and that caused Chloe to duck her, shamefully embarrassed.

She breathed out an abashed sigh, willing her nerves to calm down from their high on nervousness, shame, and anxiety. She let out a somewhat startled and surprised gasp when she saw a slim figure zoom right past her.

Curiously, her leaf colored orbs gazed around the corner of the aisle, and witnessed an older girl with strange reddish orange hair standing there with an oddly mixed expression of euphoric happiness and melancholic sadness on her countenance. Her hair color struck Chloe as really peculiar. She has never seen anyone with that type of hair color. Was it fake? Was it not her real hair color? Or was the strange girl a foreigner?

Intrigued, the small child strolled up to the teenager to question her about her strange yet pretty hair, however, she stopped when she took notice of her slightly shaky form and her hand unconsciously gripping the red coat she was wearing. Though it was weirdly just a bit shorter than her frame. Perhaps it was someone else's.

Before she knew it, her feet were dragging her to get a closer look at the older girl. The girl's face was twisted in so much pain and anguish that it tugged at the small girl's heartstrings. Then, all of a sudden, her face turned a light crimson shade of red, and there was a blissful joyful expression on facial features as she tucked the coat closer to her.

The brown haired child craned her head in confusion. This girl goes from happy one minute, then sad the next, to happy once more. She was really weird. What could she be thinking about to make her both happy and sad?

"Miss? Are you okay?" She blurted that out without thinking. She felt her face heat up, slightly out of embarrassment, and resisted the urge to cram her mouth shut with her hands.

She heard the older teen give out a startled yelp. Guess she wasn't expecting to catch the attention of anybody nearby, and have them witness her in this emotionally charged and distraught, contrasting state.

When her shocked, gray orbs landed on her, Chloe mentally scolded herself for drawing unnecessary attention. She hurriedly racked her brain for her options. Should she quietly excuse herself and make a break for it? But wouldn't that draw more suspicion to her? However, she was both curious and concerned over the auburn haired girl's plight.

"Uh? Oh! I'm fine!" Chloe was really perceptive for a child her age, and she could tell the lady wasn't fine. She was far from fine. The smile she wore, the one meant to deceive her into thinking she was happy and okay, was full of sadness and pain.

She frowned. "You were about to cry just now," she pointed out with a sad pout on her lips. She twisted her lips into a bright, unassuming smile. "And besides, you looked so super happy a few moments ago!" she exclaimed, using the best childishly innocent voice she could muster. She threw her hands up in glee, being mindful of her groceries in order to continue this guise of hers. Remember, she wasn't supposed to draw unnecessary attention to herself. She must act like a naive, curious child her age. "You were blushing, smiling and giggling to yourself, and everything!"

The auburn haired girl blinked, owlishly, being completely caught off guard. After a few minutes, the utter shock and dumb confusion her facial features morphed into embarrassed and flustered expression perfected by the deep crimson red blush on her face.

"See?" the brown haired girl yelled, proudly and cheekily. "Whatever you are thinking about must have made you really, really happy, miss!" She tilted her hand in genuine curiosity. "If you are so happy now, what made you so sad before?" she asked, concerned.

"Uh…" The teenaged girl was left in a slight daze, wondering how to comment on that. It was too embarrassing! She shook her head to get rid of any thoughts she had, smiling down at her. "Are you here by yourself? Where are your parents? You shouldn't be here by yourself. It's very dangerous."

The young child was somewhat smart enough to know that the older girl was trying to change the subject, and that was perfectly fine by her. It was something she shouldn't pry into anyway. They were just two strangers conversing. They don't know each other. And if she did pry, it'll give rise to skepticism and wariness.

"She's waiting for me at home," Chloe answered, honestly. Thinking about Lust brought a beaming grin to her face. "My house isn't far from here, so it's okay." Home… If she could call that underground basement place with all those chimeras here home. No, home was with Lust. Whatever Lust goes, that's Chloe's home.

"And I'm guessing you were about to leave until you spotted me?" she presumed, eyeing the groceries in the child's hand.

The younger girl eyed her bag before glancing back at her and bobbing her head in confirmation. "I'm used to walking around on my own, miss," she stated, proudly. "It's been a long time since I had anyone waiting for me." There was a brightly melancholic quip to her tone, almost bittersweet. "The lady I'm living with isn't my real mom, but she's very nice to me." Lust took her away from the awful streets, even though they just met. Well, technically, she just followed the mysterious woman, however, Lust never kicked her out or discarded her and that was enough for Chloe. "I really owe that from saving me from that terrible life. That's why I'm doing my best to help and support her as much as I can."

All the brown haired girl wanted was to be of some use to Lust. And she'll show that palm tree meanie that she's not a burden. A year ago, the world she saw was bleak and gray, full of hopelessness and despair. She once thought she was going to end up living the rest of her life on those dark, depressing streets. Die all alone. No one who wanted her. No one who would take care of her. No one who loved her. Not since her mother's passing. Passively living one dark day after another.

Then Lust came along and shattered her grim, dreary world. She was the first person to show some level of care and kindness to her. For the first time in a long while, her world shone with color. Finally, there was a brilliant light of hope shining in the gloomy tunnel of pessimism, apathy, and negativity.

Chloe's lips spread into a beaming grin. "I'm going to do my best, no matter what!" she proclaimed, childishly energetic. That's what she could do. The only thing she could to repay Lust for saving her is to do whatever is in her power to help her. "You should do your best, too, miss! You should be happy and smile a lot because when you are happy, your friends would be happy, too! That's what my mom used to say!"

It was true. Her mother used to tell her that all the time. Her mom always adored her daughter's smiles, commenting that it was one of the prettiest things about her. And an offhand remark about when she grows up, she would have men falling at her feet with a flash of her bright, lovely smiles. Whatever that means.

The auburn haired girl smiled, kindly. "Your mom sounds very nice. You should protect the things that are most important to you. I'm sure the people you love are happy to see you so bright, cheerful, and always smiling," she assured.

The brown haired child's heart swelled up with happiness upon hearing that. She hoped what she does now and in the future would make Lust happy and proud of her.

Her leafy green eyes widened when she realized the time. She was getting too distracted talking to this older, strange girl. "It's time for me to go, miss," she announced, almost sadly. She was having fun talking to her. "No more crying, okay?" she advised, innocently wanting her to take her words to heart.

After that, Chloe readjusted the grocery bag in her hand, and left as quick as lightning. She wanted to get home fast, and hopefully avoid a nasty, degrading lecture from the jerky palm tree.

(END OF FLASHBACK)

Chloe sighed, pleasantly yet wistfully to herself. She wondered if she'd ever see that foreign girl again.


"So, you simply want us to look after this Third Laboratory?"

Ritsuko stared at the two homunculi in absolute border. Kyuko was looking at them, blankly from her left, and, on her right, Morgan was hardly paying attention.

"Why?" she inquired, impassively. Quite frankly, the reddish brown haired mod soul disappointed with the new assignment. Bodyguard wasn't something she was expecting or looking forward to. They are forgetting that the only reason she joined up with them was so she could fight against powerful and strong alchemists.

"The colonel has been sneaking around lately," Envy said in an annoyed clip. "He's been awfully persistent in finding Hughes's killer."

"That's why we need you guys to guard the Third Lab," Lust added in. "We don't need Colonel Mustang snooping around in there. We got some important work that needs to be done."

"Colonel Mustang? Colonel Roy Mustang? As in the Flame Alchemist?" A maniacally excited glint twinkled in the redhead's green orbs. Her fingers drummed against the hilt of her sword. "He's the hero of Ishval, isn't he? His alchemy controls fire." Her lips turned upward in a gleefully malicious smirk. "I always wanted to have a deal to the death with him, and now's my chance!"

Morgan snorted, rolling his dark green eyes. "Battle hungry, she devil maniac," he mumbled under his breath. "Count me out. I'm not interested," he declined, lacking any enthusiasm in his tone. This earned a peeved off glare from the shapeshifter homunculus due to his refusal to participate in the mission.

He casually threw his hands behind his hand. The ugly, transforming bastard can glare at him all he wants. He wasn't budging from his decision. "Ritsuko should be more than enough to handle Mustang and any cronies he sent," he remarked, matter of factly. "I'll let her have all the fun."

He let out an unimpressed hum. "Although, I would like to add Mustang to my collection. He would prove useless to me, if he's defeated by Ritsuko so easily."

Envy wrinkled his nose in disgust. These mod souls were dangerous and creepy, especially the eerie girl with the magic mirror who is as pale as a ghost and Morgan and his 'collection'. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how he looks at it, they were powerful and useful adversaries for any enemies that gets in the way of their plans.

"Ritsuko, don't get too excited," Kyuko spoked in her usual blank and emotionless tone. "We aren't allowed to kill Mustang, remember?"

The red haired girl produced an unladylike scoff of displeasure. She crossed her arms, pouting like a petulant child. "Then what's the point? Like I give a rat's ass whether or not he's a sacrifice! Besides, he's just a potential sacrifice, ain't he?" she lazily droned, shooting the two homunculus a challenging glower.

"Yes, he is. But we prefer to keep him alive," Lust spoke with a sliver of cool pragmatism in her tone. "We don't know if we would be able to get another candidate in time for our plans. It's better to be cautious and overly prepared than underly prepared."

Ritsuko only snorted at her rational and sensible logic, though she didn't argue. Frankly, whatever plans the homunculi has doesn't matter to her. She was merely using them for her own self satisfying pleasure as much as they were using her and her friends.

Morgan rose a brow. "Couldn't you just force another alchemist to open the portal?" he inquired, a tiny bit confused. Although, a big part of him couldn't care less. He just wanted to satisfy the curiosities that's been itching at the back of his head. "Couldn't you just kill a potential alchemist's family member, and the military cover it up? Like with the Hughes guy case?" His voice seemed to have dropped several octaves, turning dark and ominous. "People are the most desperate when they want to bring back a loved one. Why not use that to your advantage?"

There was an air of heavy silence in the dank, dreary room. Everyone in that room, mainly the five having this discussion, knew that the inquiry is more than just a question. It was a challenge. Almost a threat even. Why should the mod souls potentially risk their lives for the homunculi's plan?

The atmosphere was thick with tension. They were all aware of Mustang's alchemy, and how powerful it could be. There was a reason why he is labeled the Hero of Ishval. Fire is a very threatening and powerful element to deal with. Depending on the user and how they control the temperature of the flame, the heat could be as cool as a warm breeze or as hot as the blazing sun. If they are not careful dealing with the colonel or come up with some sort of countermeasures to deal with his flame alchemy, they could suffer severe burns that could hinder their abilities later on, or be charred to crisp, disintegrated to ashes with a simple snap of his fingers.

No way in hell were the mod souls sacrificing themselves for the homunculi's scheme! They've got their own agendas. They were formidably strong, however, they were not invincible. They could die just like every other living organism.

"Maybe the Fuhrer can explain it to us," Kyuko said in that dull, monotone voice of hers.

"You are easily able to sense my presence, I see," a deep, gruff voice suddenly sounded through the room. "You're as sharp as ever, Kyuko."

Slightly perplexed by the ghostly girl's claim, everyone's ears perked up at the clicking sound of boots hitting the hard floor. All eyes turned as an elderly man with short black haired man wearing an eye patch over his left eye sporting an unmistakably large, black moustache wearing a military uniform made his presence known.

"Your insatiable rage and bloodlust makes you rather detectable," she replied, flatly. "You might want to control that." It wasn't said as a snide, mocking remark. It was a genuine factual statement. A honest and crucial advice.

Bradley chuckled, but it lacked any sense of amusement. "I'll keep that in mind," he responded, somewhat darkly. His usual jovial, bumbling, easygoing facade that citizens and soldiers of Amestris were so used to seeing was not present at the moment. He exhibited the dignified image of the coldly ruthless, maliciously wrathful man he is deep down.

His single, aquamarine colored eye landed on the only male mod soul. "To answer your infuriating questions, Morgan, having soldiers assassinate any associates close to alchemists with the potential to open the portal would be way too conspicuous," he reasoned with an icy tone of annoyance and irritation. "As bodies start to pile up, people would begin to lose faith in the military, or suspect and spread rumors about conspiracies going on behind their backs. It would only unrest the citizens who have been living their useless lives in ignorant bliss. We don't need to give Mustang any more reason to be snooping around than he already is. I'm tired of that upstart sticking his nose where it doesn't belong. It's infuriating when I can't predict his next move. Instead of asking meaningless, tireless questions, you should be more focused on how to handle Mustang."

Morgan narrowed his eyes. "Don't tell us how to handle your job!" he snapped, his lips curled into a chilling sneer. "Just because you are the leader of a country full of pathetic, weak humans doesn't mean you get to boss us around on your high and mighty pedestal."

The atmosphere grew ominously heavy. The menacing aura of anger and malice radiating from the two was dangerously unpalatable. The tension was so thick, someone could slice right through it with a hot knife.

Lust sighed, softly at the two idiots. She wasn't keen on observing her youngest 'brother' and their comrade quarrel and bicker like immature children. By the twitching muscles in his shoulders and the subtle clenching of his jaw, Wrath seemed about ready to unsheathe his sword and slice the impudent mod soul into pieces. Despite Wrath's outwardly cool and serenely calm demeanor, he was always the most hot tempered one among them, second only to Envy. Quick to vicious rage and ice cold fury when angered.

Her purple eyes took a quick glance over at Chloe. The young girl did her best to put on a brave, fearless front, however, the wariness and fear in her green orbs wasn't exactly hard to pinpoint. She was in the middle of feeding a dog bat chimera an apple. Gluttony was hovering close to her, dumbly sucking on his fat finger. She had noticed lately that the young, ten year old child had taken a liken to the chimera. She always attends to it and pays more attention to it than the other chimeras whenever she's here, bored and with nothing else to do. She also named it. 'Gale' is what she called it.

In the meantime though, a weird sense of protectiveness sparked within Lust when she took note of the brown haired girl's fearful look between Wrath and Morgan. Her heart was telling her to go comfort Chloe, but her mind was telling her not to bother. It wasn't her problem. She could never get used to the feeling. It was so strange and unlike her. And because of this new, unpleasantly distracting emotion, she found it highly annoying and unwanted.

In the beginning, she frequently asked herself, why did she take the child in in the first place? Was she feeling sympathetic to the kid's lonely, pathetic plight? Though, as time went on, the incredulous voice in her head started to become nothing more than a dull whisper in the wind. Easy to ignore.

These maternal instincts of care and protectiveness were very slowly yet surely beginning to grow on the female homunculus. Without her noticing, Chloe's presence became natural to her, which was odd, seeing as she's only known the child for a little over a month now. These feelings were becoming more acquiescently welcoming, to say the least. So much so that she was becoming empathetically used to them.

Was it a bad thing? She doesn't know. Initially, she would have considered it a useless, intrusive emotion that would only be a detriment to her later on.

"Stop it, you two," Lust admonished, sternly, crossing her arms under her bosoms. "We don't have time for your bickering." They didn't have time to be fighting among themselves. Father would always reprimand them that arguments and spats against themselves is for childish lower lifeforms. Plus, they were scaring Chloe, and that just won't do.

The arguing men remained silent. Bradley simply glowered, and Morgan snorted, derisively.

Ritsuko yawned, boredly. "You know what? I'm tired of all this," she said, growing sick of this tiresome conversation. Her green gaze fixated on Lust. "I'll protect this Third Laboratory," she conceded, her voice turning. "But I won't keep any promises about sparing intruders. Not even Mustang."

Envy growled, opening his mouth for an angry retort, nevertheless, he was coldly cut off.

"If you want to protect the lab and safeguard Mustang, then do it yourself, homunculus," the red haired mod soul replied, bluntly with a stony pitch. "Keep him from investigating the lab, then he won't have to die. It's that simple."

No one could argue with her. Or, more accurately, nobody wanted to. Both sides knew where their relationship and alliance stands. An opportunistic agreement held up on a pillar of enmity and distrust.


Alphonse was silently mumbling to himself about what Liza discussed with him at the library. Their conversation about demonic entities and a mysterious group of superhumans designed to take them down was very difficult to wrap his head around. How was he supposed to believe any of it? He wasn't being irrational by having some doubts.

Nonetheless, with all the freaky weird stuff that's been happening to them or around them lately, he couldn't ignore Liza's words. A dreadfully dark, uncomfortably sick feeling burned inside him after the blonde haired woman left. He tried to meticulously search the library for anything related to Hollows, demonic entities, or a lost civilization full of empowered people, only to come up short. There was nothing on the subject. Zero. Zip. Nada. Zilch.

After hours trying unsuccessfully to research the apparently nonexistent subject, he gave up. If there were any records of the dark, eerily creepy, abnormally spine chilling subject, all records of them have been utterly destroyed. Not a trace of them left. Completely obliterated into dust. Totally annihilated out of existence.

It was pretty dark out when the suit of armor began his trek back to the hotel. The sun had already set, and the street lights were on. He didn't see his brother at the library where they said they'd meet up after his report to the colonel. Maybe the meeting with Mustang took longer than Ed thought. But knowing Ed, he wouldn't be surprised.

His stroll back to the hotel wasn't a long or tedious one, especially considering he was in a body that could never get tired. Normally, he would enjoy a nice, quiet walk like this. Being an empty suit of armor, he lacked the capability of needing sleep and rest. He usually takes nightly strolls to pass the time while everyone's asleep.

However, this was no time for dilly dallying. He could do that later. Right now, he just needed to get to the hotel, and inform his brother about the little information regarding Hollows he was able to gather from Liza.

Luckily, the hotel wasn't quite far from the library. Just a forty minute walk away. There were fewer and fewer people out in this dark hour. Not surprising, considering how late it was and it would only grow darker as the hours passed, deeming it terribly unsafe for civilians to be on the streets alone and unprotected. He wondered if Edward was home yet? What about Winry, Orihime, and Nina? Were they at the hotel by now?

Though, when he arrived, only his brother was there to greet him. Al was glad to see his older brother safe, but the solemn expression he wore on his face had him worrying.

"Brother! I'm back!" he announced.

"Oh… Hey, Al," Ed replied. However, his voice was far off as if he was distracted by something.

"Where are Orihime, Winry, and Nina?" the suit of armor asked as he glanced around the room, looking for the girls.

"Nina and Winry are in their room. Orihime hasn't arrived yet." Edward's tone lowered in a slightly sad, almost regrettable pitch at the mention of the auburn haired healer.

Okay, something was seriously wrong with his brother. If Alphonse had eyebrows, he would raise one in concern and suspicion. It was then that he noticed the newspaper laying on the table. When he read the title of the paper, he let out a loud gasp of astonishment.

"They found Hughes's killer?!" Al exclaimed, vindictively excited and rightfully shocked and angry. His friend's death was still a sour, sorrowful note for him. The metaphorical blood in his iron veins was boiling in tranquil fury. He was more than ready to find this despicable crook and take him down in order to avenge his fallen friend.

"Al! Shh!" the Fullmetal Alchemist reprimanded, hurriedly shushing his younger brother. In a panic, he hopped off the couch and ran towards the door. He opened the door and frantically glanced around the halls, making sure she wasn't there.

When she was not, he breathed out a sigh of relief. The least thing he wanted was for her to overhear that. He couldn't stand the possibility of breaking this tragic news to her. He wanted to be absolutely certain, one hundred percent sure Ichigo was the one who killed Hughes. He didn't want to bring her heart over a false assumption or misunderstanding. That's why he had no desire to tell her until all of this was cleared? But how long would he be able to keep this a secret from Orihime?

Closing the door, the blond boy slammed his automail fist against the wall in frustration. Why had such a beleaguered task befallen him?

"Brother?" Al's tentative and faintly worrisome voice caught Ed's attention. Somber, gold eyes landed on his armored brother. "What's wrong?"

The elder Elric breathed out, deeply, running a frustrated hand through his blond locks. "It's nothing, Al."

Al frowned, figuratively, unconvinced and displeased by his brother's dismissal. He began to lightly scold him. "Brother, don't lie to me." His glowing, red orbs eyed Ed as he sluggishly walked and plopped himself back down on the couch. "It's weird that you are acting this mopey when Hughes's murderer is discovered. Usually, you would be way more excitable and quick to action." His arms produced a nearly inaudible 'cling' as he crossed them. "What's wrong?" he asked once more, this time expecting a proper answer.

Edward simply sighed, dejectedly. "Listen, Al," he muttered, sadly. "This isn't something that I-"

A soft, resounding thumping on the door interrupted him.

Al towards the door while Ed was dreading who it was. He hurriedly snatched the newspaper off the table and fraughtfully stuffed it under his leather black jacket, causing his younger brother to gaze at him with confusion and skepticism at the blond's somewhat apprehensive and nervous face before returning his attention back on the door.

Alphonse unlocked the door, the door letting out a tiny 'creak' as it was pried open, and he was faced with loads and loads of bags filled with groceries. With his normally kind and helpful nature, Al didn't waste any time to grab a few of the bags before they tumbled over. He was surprised they haven't by now.

"Hey, Al," Orihime smiled at him once she could see clearly, the groceries no longer obstructing her view. "Thanks," she said in an appreciative tone.

Edward crawled out of seat to help Orihime with the rest of the groceries. Al was already taking his portion to the kitchen counter.

"That's a lot," Ed commented, vaguely amazed. He wondered how she was able to carry all that from the store to the hotel?

"I know, Eddie," she replied, giggling sheepishly. "I wanted to buy enough to last us a whole month. My original plan was to buy enough to last a couple of weeks. Guess I went overboard."

The blond alchemist let out a small hum. He could hear Al snickering in the background when he tried to exude a casual air of nonchalance, as if he was not having a slight panic attack just moments before she arrived. He shot his brother a glare as he unveiled the contents of the bags piece by piece.

When he went to help lighten more of her load, his hand accidentally brushed against hers. His skin instantly burned at the contact, electric jolts coursing through the nerves of his fingers.

He was startled when the auburn haired girl let out an embarrassed squeak. He stared at her in confusion when a light pink blush fell across the bridge of her nose. "What's the matter?" he asked with a bit of concern in his voice.

Orihime blinked at him, dumbly before regaining a little bit of her composure. "Oh! It's… I'm fine," she mumbled out, the beads of self consciousness dripping out her voice. She did her best to ignore the frantic thumping of her heart. She shyly averted her gray eyes away, and sped walked into the room and to the kitchen.

"You were blushing, smiling and giggling to yourself, and everything!"

"Whatever you are thinking about must have made you really, really happy, miss!"

As much as the auburn haired girl tried to ignore it, the little girl's teasing words and amusing observations were getting to her. Not to mention how she began to notice her playfully coquettish interactions with the blond alchemist seemed to happen when she became too relaxed around him. Forgive her for being wholly more conscious of how she communicates with and presents herself around Ed.

She was fully okay minutes ago until a light tingle of pleasant nervousness ran through her fingers and down her spine from her a simple brush of his fingers. She was so shy, awkward, and embarrassed to be near the elder Elric right now, thanks to remembering that embarrassing conversation.

She seems ridiculously happy when thinking about her male blond companion? Were all her interactions with him flirty and intimate? Or was just over thinking things? Cause the only real intimate, somewhat affectionate, tender and, very sweet moments between them was when they kissed. And the dance before that. And playing footsie and touching each other's hair before that.

The healer absentmindedly placed the bags on the counter next to Al as she continued to count all the super friendly turned romantic moments between her and Ed.

Like the time she impulsively kissed him on a check. And the time he held her hand. Okay, there were multiple instances where they've done that, but it was one of the few times she noticed how, despite his younger age, big and warm his hand was. She wanted to include the time he could her beautiful and bought her earrings, but she didn't want to misinterpret his intentions. Plus, her face was now burning with pure bashfulness and embarrassment.

Uh… Okay… They had quite a few shared tender hearted and passionate moments, but that doesn't mean anything.

Right?

"Orihime?"

She resisted the urge to jump at the sound of Al's voice. She stared, wide eyed and shocked at the seven foot tall animated armor.

"You seem out of it," he continued, setting the apples and oranges on the counter, tone laced with concern. "Is everything alright?"

"Oh…!" She laughed, sheepishly. "I was a bit distracted, is all. It's nothing to worry about."

Alphonse hummed. He then finally keenly aware of the fact she was wearing his brother's coat. "You are wearing brother's coat," he remarked.

From Orihime's other side, Edward threw a glare at his younger brother once he detected the teasingly amused undertone in the way he spoke. The healer, one the other hand, remained oblivious and let out an 'ahh' sound of recognition.

"I almost forgot…" She shredded off the red coat and handed it over to the aforementioned boy, smiling, brightly. "Thank you for lending it to me, Eddie," she whispered, softly. "It really...helped." Her last sentence was barely a whisper in the wind, but Edward could discern the warm, shy intensity of her tone.

Ed grinned, chest swelling with pride and happiness. That little notion spoke volumes of how much his coat helped to comfort her during her time of anxiety and uneasiness whenever she felt uncomfortable around something, mainly when her trauma button is pushed. His internal fears were laid to waste because he was worried for a minute that his coat wouldn't be enough to keep her calm and prevent her from freaking out at the color white. But, thank heavens, it was more than enough, judging by the healer's modest, radiant smile.

"Glad it was helpful," he muttered back. He took his red coat from her awaiting hand, and casually tossed it. It went over the counter and landed on the couch.

There was a pleasant, cordial silence that rang between the three teenagers.

It took several minutes to fully unbag and unload all the groceries. Orihime had instructed them to arrange them in sections, so it would be much easier for her to sort through them later. After they were done, Edward went to take a seat on the couch, seeing as they were not needed anymore, while she and Al began piling groceries in the fridge or various cabinets, except for the ones she was going to use to make tonight's dinner.

"Eddie, I'm finally making that curry you wanted for dinner!" the auburn haired chirped, grabbing her yellow apron and draping it over her clothes.

Edward hummed in confirmation that he heard her. She giggled, knowing he was putting an insouciance front to hide how happy and excited he was. The subtle twitch of a smile before it was immediately wiped off gave his anticipated eagerness away. She was aware that, deep down, he wanted to cheer and do a little happy dance. How could she not notice with the way his mood and the delicate details of his body language simply ooze avid exaltation? He only prevented himself indulging in his to keep up his guise of blithe toughness and arrogant nonchalance.

"I think I'm going to take a short nap," Ed crisped, somewhat tiredly. And not merely physically exhausted, he was emotionally fatigued from his overwrought and distraught, conflicting emotions on how to deal with the Hughes case. "Wake me up when dinner's ready." He threw his leg across the couch, and started laying down in a more comfortable position. He closed his eyes and fell into a light slumber. Or, at least, tried to, but he didn't want to bother Al and Orihime while they were packing up the groceries, so solely rested his eyes for the time being.

Granted, with Orihime now here, he was too nervous to sleep anyway. Recognizing and having information on the prime suspect in Hughes's murder, he wasn't sure how he should behave around her. Although, he did resolve himself to keep it a secret from her, that didn't make him feel any less guilty. He can't tell her. Not yet. Not when she's recovering from Amelia's manipulations. Not when she's in this fragile state.

He couldn't bear to make her cry again! He wouldn't forgive himself, if he did.

"I'll help you with dinner," Al volunteered, once he put the cartons of orange juice and apple juice in the fridge.

"That would really help a lot, Al," she expressed, grateful for the extra, succoring hands. She was going to make her orange and grape jelly curry Ed requested a few days ago. "Can you do me a favor, and begin chopping the onions, please?"

"Sure thing." The armored Elric took out a knife and a cutting board, and started prepping the onions, per Orihime's instructions.

They worked together on the curry dinner in relatively, comfortable silence. "I wish I could make this for you, too, Al," she bemoaned. She really wanted Al to taste her cooking. She wanted to see his delighted smile after experiencing it. She wanted to experience everyone's happy expressions when enjoying one of her meals, which is why she wanted to open a small diner when she gets older. That was her future plan. A dream Edward encouraged her to pursue, convincing not to let others criticize or undermine her passion for cooking and subsequently cripple her self confidence.

"I will. Once I get my body back," the suit of armor humorously replied with a hint of steadfast determination. "It's actually one of the first things I want to do!" He gently set aside one set of freshly chopped and diced onions before picking up another one. "Seeing brother happily indulge himself in your cooking, Orihime, makes me want to eat all the more," he remarked, an inkling of playful envy. "Brother's always the most happy when he's eating your food."

The auburn haired healer's cheeks burned a little, decorating it with a light pinkish hue. The potato she was peeling almost slipped from her hand at the flattering compliment to her skills as a chef. Why did Al's comment how much Ed enjoys and takes delight in her meals caused her heart to flutter? A feeling of confidence and pride burst inside her mixed with lingering feelings of self effacing embarrassment.

Unbeknownst to them, Edward shifted on the couch, secretly listening in on their conversation.

She smiled, bashfully. "You're overexaggerating, Al. Ed likes to eat a lot, so he'll enjoy anyone's meal as long as it tastes good. Besides, I'm sure he's eaten other people's cooking that is better than mine."

Al chuckled. "That may be true, but I see the way brother's eyes twinkle with joy and mirth whenever it's a meal you cooked, Orihime. Brother may be ill mannered and too much of a brute to say it, but it's obvious. Your meals are his favorites!"

Ed's lips quivered into an embarrassed frown, his fingers twitching against the fabric of the couch, and his face flushed, slightly. Stupid, Al. He talks too much. Can't he keep his trap shut?

He wanted to scream in denial that he isn't like that. That his brother is just imagining things. Sure, he loves Orihime's cooking, but he isn't making googly eyes at her every time she's the one who makes it, as Al is implying. He wanted to shout his indignation at Al, however, he didn't want to be caught eavesdropping, so he kept his mouth tightly shut.

Meanwhile, Orihime's felt a weird sensation tingling inside her chest. Weird in a good way. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach, and the color of her cheeks deepened more into a darker shade of pink.

"Eddie likes my cooking the best?" That was the only thing her brain could repeatedly chant. Continuously recapitulating it like a surprisingly heartwarming mantra. The serene, tender warmth inside her was reminiscent of a captivated mind reeling and swimming in cloud nine.

"Thanks, Al. That makes me...really happy to hear that," she whispered, bashfully elated, her voice barely above a whisper. Her tiny, shy smile showed how overjoyed those words made her feel. She finished peeling the potatoes. "Your brother...really is a nice person," she said, fondly. She took out a pot and set it on the stove. "He's rough around the edges, sure, but he genuinely has a kind heart." She grabbed a bottle of olive oil and poured some of its contents in the pot, turning on the flame to medium afterwards. "I told Eddie this once before, but that's what I like most about. His passion and drive. His dedication. He makes mistakes, but that never stops him. He's a proud failure is what I believe with all my heart. He's a good friend." She grasped a large bowl and placed it on the counter. Al was busy chopping the potatoes now.

Edward's heart pounded, erratically inside his chest as he kept on tuning into Al's and Orihime's easygoing chatter. "Is that what she thinks of me?" A part of him was positively, amorously dumbstruck, however, another part of him roughly declared that he already knew this, though that didn't stop him from being any less ecstatic yet somewhat disappointed to hear her opinion of him hasn't changed much.

Nevertheless, the euphoric feeling of happiness and pride combined with the incessantly frantic beating of his heart breathed life into deeply burning flame to his face, neck, and ears. His golden eyes stared at his red coat he scooted to the floor. He was pretty sure his face was the same shade of red as his coat. Orihime always, always knew what to say to make him feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

With that came touches and sentiments of shame and guilt when Ed realized he was hiding something crucial from her. Here Orihime was praising him for his hidden kindness when he was currently doing something terrible to her. Something that was really going to hurt her. A lot. And he was seriously dreading when that day would come. He'd rather face Winry's wrath than to see Orihime's heartbroken expression. She may not look it, but she was surprisingly smart and perceptive when she wanted to be.

"Although," the auburn haired continued, still oblivious to certain blond alchemist listening in to their conversation. "Sometimes I wish he wouldn't overwork himself so much," she pouted, cutely, her words holding no bite. "He rarely looks after himself, and he makes me worry."

Alphonse chuckled. "That's Ed for you. Once he has his mind on something, he neglects to take care of himself," he responded, humorously.

Orihime giggled and smiled in return. "That's why we have to be the ones to look after him, right?"

After that, they decided into a casual, idle chat. With how hectic and insane everything's been lately, it was nice to regain this sense of normalcy they've been missing for the past few weeks. Not since their week long stay in Dublith, minus the Greed incident. This semi quiet and peaceful atmosphere was very relaxing. Gives them time to think and recharge before another unsettling mind blowing, heavily disastrous, abnormally freakish event hits them next.

Twenty minutes later, the sound of sizzling pot reverberated through the two bedroom hotel room. The pleasant, spicy and sweet aroma wafted through the area. Edward practically drooled at the appetizing scent. When was dinner going to be ready? He was starving! The soft rumbling of his stomach was just another indicator of his growing hunger.

Orihime was humming a somewhat melancholic tone to herself. She carefully stirred the pot that was filled with the almost finished product of her sweet and sour, zesty orange and grape jelly curry. She gently poured very tiny drops of lemon juice into the sauce, and set the flame to the lowest level.

It was pleasant times like this that she can't help but think she wished Mr. Hughes was still alive. She may have gotten a bit of closure, however, that doesn't mean she doesn't have one or two regrets. Everyone has something they wanted to do with a friend, family, or loved one one last time, and she was no different.

Who would kill such a friendly, energetic, loving man in the first place? Mr. Hughes was a really nice and caring person. Sure, he was kind of goofy and eccentric, but that just made him more endearing to the auburn haired girl. Despite how busy he was, he would always try to make time for them. When Ed was in the hospital, he constantly took a break from his strenuous schedule to check up on him. A bittersweet fond memory of that single occasion where Mr. Hughes invited them to have dinner with his family. She had an amazing, wonderful time, and she would sincerely like to do it again. Only if she could.

How was a great man like Mr. Hughes murdered? Who murdered him? Her first thought was that he may have been killed by a Hollow. However, that theory was outright preposterous. She only thought about it, at first, because he was attacked by Hollow. Though what she forgot at the moment was that Mr. Hughes was already dead at the time. His ghost was attacked.

Before that, Mr. Hughes shouldn't be able to attract soul sucking spirit monsters. He had little to no spirit energy to speak of. The only reason he was in danger in that incident was in view of the fact that his soul was exposed, since he was dead and everything. So, ultimately, Hollows was crossed out of a list of potential suspects to Hughes's. The killer was a human, not an unworldly, supernatural being.

She sighed, softly, turning off the stove. The curry was done.

How was kind Ms. Gracia and sweet, little Elicia holding up? If Ed, Al, Nina, Winry, and her was this grief stricken and upset over his death, then Ms. Gracia and Elicia must have felt ten times worse. In under two months, they lost both a doting father and a loving husband. It was so painful recalling Ms. Gracia putting up a strong, brave front when she was hurting so much inside. She felt awful being so blissfully unaware of Hughes's death while she was off enjoying herself at the dance party with Edward.

She deeply wishes that one day...that would be able to achieve closure, too. They truly need it.

She sighed once more.

"You've been sighing a lot. Is something wrong, Orihime?"

Resisting the urge to jump, slightly in surprise, owlish, gray eyes directed their attention on the armored Elric who spoke.

After a very short period of confusion, she swiftly caught herself. Luckily, he didn't startle her too much for her to tip the pot over and ruin everyone's dinner.

"Oh, I was just remembering something…" She paused for a sec. "Hey, Al?"

"Yeah?" he hummed.

"Do you remember the time we had dinner at Hughes' place? Me, you, Eddie, Lieutenant Ross, and Sergeant Brosh?" she said, smiling wistfully. "I remember and I remembered how fun everyone had." She checked the smaller pot that was filled with white rice and with tiny pieces of fried pickled plums mixed in it, and turned that off, too, once she realized that it was done. "The smiles, the laughter… The atmosphere was so full of joy and happiness. Even Eddie was having a good time, despite the fact he was trying to hide it by being mad and grumpy. It was so fun!"

Her small, hearty laugh was tinged of sadness while her hand left to wipe a single teardrop from her left eye. "I guess I was just thinking that I do have one regret, and that is that we would never be able to have dinner like that with Mr. Hughes ever again," she finished, somberly.

Alphonse clenched his fist, his head tilted downward until the faint, red glow of his artificial eyes were no longer visible. "I'm sorry." He didn't know who he was apologizing to. Orihime, the now broken Hughes family, or himself? "It's our fault. We dragged Hughes into our mess. It's our fault he died." His body and voice was trembling with so much sadness, it was heartbreaking.

The auburn haired girl pursed her lips and furrowed her brows in sorrow. It was so painful to see Al like this. Despite being incapable of tears, his very soul was weeping for the deceased Maes Hughes. She listened, intently as he poured his saddened heart out. She cares about him. She was his friend, and that's what friends do.

"When me and brother started this journey, we understood that there would be dangers and risks," he croaked, his voice shaking with grief. "We were even prepared to risk our lives in order to get our bodies back. We were too naive not to think innocent people wouldn't get hurt, or worse, die, if they involved themselves with us. I really do want to be normal again. I want to be able to taste things again, and experience the pleasure of having dreams and the terror of nightmares. I want to be able to feel the heat of the sun's rays or the cool, wet touch of raindrops when they touch my skin. I want that so much! I miss having a body!" he almost shouted in anguish, the depth of every normal human sensation he was missing out on taking its toll. "But… But if people are going to die because of that, then I don't want mine back."

"Don't say that!" Orihime, unexpectedly, burst out, the force of her outcry caused Al to jolt, startled. He was left shocked because this was probably the first time he heard her shout like that. At least, at him. Normally, she's very sweet and mild mannered. She was rarely prone to bouts of anger. And even when she does get mad, it's more passive and the silent type of anger.

She took a few quick breaths to calm herself down. "I'm sorry for that, Al" she apologized. "But don't ever say that!" she exclaimed with so much intensity he was left speechless. "Don't ever say you'd give up on getting your body back! That isn't what Mr. Hughes would want." She quieted down, her tone taking a more subdued turn. "I know it hurts now, but it's going to hurt a lot more, if you end up dropping your journey halfway." She lightly touched his armor, placing a gentle palm against his metaphorical heart. "Everyone's waiting for the day you and Eddie would get your bodies back. Mr. Hughes cared about the two of you. That's why he was willing to go to all these risks to help you two. And I know you care about him, otherwise, you wouldn't be hurting this much. Winry, Nina, Ms. Gracia, Elicia, Pinako, Ms. Izumi, Mr. Sig, Lieutenant Hawkeye, and Colonel Mustang... They are all encouraging, cheering, and waiting for the day you and Eddie get your bodies back. So, please don't say sad things like that. Don't say you'll give up, Al."

Al was greatly touched by Orihime's strong words of spirited motivation. He was reminded yet again of how much she cared for him and his brother. Should he really expect anything less? This was the same girl who's gentle and kind declarations were enough to nudge him into rectifying, reevaluating, and reconciling his relationship with Edward. If it wasn't for her, Barry's psychological, malicious taunts would have endlessly continued to torment him until he couldn't take it anymore and finally lashed on his older brother. She gave him the emotional support he needed in his time of existential crisis.

This was the same girl who willingly and fearlessly put herself in danger in order to protect them from Scar. In barely two months in knowing each other, she was already ready to go through great lengths to keep them both safe. At that time, she was so selfless, compassionate, and determined, she was like a brilliant ray of hope casting down on them in a dreadfully bleak situation. He was glad she was their friend. Gradually, without him or Ed realizing it, it felt like she's always been with them. Right by their side every step of the way of their journey. She slowly became an...irreplaceable friend and ally.

He would also never forget the way she verbally deconstructed Scar's reasons for his murders. It was done so fantastically well, it was scary. Orihime's second and more daring, spectacularly awestruck display of her inner fire was a sight to behold. He was so glad and so relieved when she arrived just in a nick of time to save Ed from a terrible fate when his older brother was ready to give up and die. But the way she calmly broke down Scar's psychological problems without raising her voice, a mere poised, even tone seemed more unnervingly ruthless because it was frighteningly more effective than if she had shouted. Scar himself snapped and tried to kill her!

This is the same girl who reminded him of his mom sometimes. Her warm aura… Her gentle smiles… Her kind gestures… The oftentimes mature femininity she oozes out emanates the raw, subdued, glowing flare of a mild, caring, and nurturing, motherly figure with a remarkably strong will. Her compassionate, selfless, and affable nature naturally draws people into her tender embrace. She exhibits the same, comforting air of modest, serene grace that was very similar to what his mother used to possess. Not to mention, she's always the one doing the domestic chores,and doing her best to morally and emotionally support them.

And this is the same girl his brother has fallen in love with. Although, Ed would never admit it. He's stubborn and obstinate for his own good. He wasn't blind to the way his brother looks at her. He always seems more calmer and happier in her presence. He frequently glances her way when she isn't looking, and he's oddly more prone to acting tough in front of her. More so than usual. He's...surprisingly and unexpectedly...conscious in the way he acts around her. Al doesn't know how to phrase it, but Ed is uncharacteristically mindful not to say or do anything that upsets Orihime or causes her to be disappointed in him in some way. And she knows how to reign in his brother's temper with just a simple look. But if that doesn't work, then with some firm yet tender words. It's also funny and amusing watching how crazy jealous Ed gets around Orihime and other guys. His brother was officially whipped. There's no doubt about it.

When he heard sniffling, he snapped out of his musings and his attention turned to the source of the sound, only to be shocked and surprised at Orihime teary eyed face. He was at a loss at what to do. Why was she crying? Did he do something wrong? "Um, Orihime, please don't cry!" he , frantic and awkward. If his brother sees her like this, he'd surely kill him for making her cry.

Wiping away a few of her tears, she gently clasped both her hands around one of his comparably bigger, metallic hand. "Sorry, I just got a little emotional." She threw Al a stern look, somewhat staggering him making him take a step. "Don't ever say you are going to give up again, Al!" she scolded him. "You worked too hard just to throw it all away now. It would be just too sad, if you quit. Everyone wants to see you and Eddie return to normal." She gently wrapped her arms around him, pulling him into a hug, which he was hesitant to return. "Me too!" she admitted, burying her face in his armored chest. "I-I want to see human Al, too! I want to see you in your real body, Al! Sorry for being a little selfish, but I want to see the day you get your human body back, Al!"

The suit of armor wondered how many times he was going to be left stunned and speechless in these few, short minutes? He never knew how much Orihime wanted to see him in his human body. She never expressed that desire so passionately before. However, what else was he expecting? She has been with this long. It's only naturally that she would want to be there for the day he and Ed could get their original bodies back. It's the sole reason why his brother became a State Alchemist, and why they began this treacherous journey in the first place. Why they suffered and endured so much hardship because they believed the end result would be worth the pain. He had forgotten how sensitive she was to other's plight. For instance, he has never seen or heard her touch about his brother's height complex, acutely understanding how insecure and frustrated Ed is about it. That just highlights how big, compassionate, and empathetic her heart is.

He internally smiled, despite himself, gently patting her back. The coolness of his hand felt good against his back. "You're right, Orihime. You are absolutely right. I shouldn't be thinking about giving up. I need to keep moving forward. Not just for myself, but for the people who have always and continued to support me and Ed up to this point." He chuckled, releasing himself from the hug. "I really was being an idiot for thinking of quitting." He let out a frustrated breath, turning his head away. "I guess I have gotten so sick of people dying. So sick of feeling so helpless."

Orihime let out a sympathetic laugh. "I know what you mean, Al," she spoke, softly, a sad, regretful glint in her gray orbs. "It really hurts seeing the people we care about get hurt. It hurts me when you and Eddie are in pain. That's why I want to help you guys as much I can. And I'm sure Winry and Nina feel the same." She grinned, sheepishly at him. "All we can do is become strong enough to protect the people we love."

The red light in Al's red eyes gleamed in blissful melancholic fashion. "We feel the same way, Orihime," he replied, inwardly smiling. His mind drifted back to the girl before him freak outs. He couldn't do anything, except helplessly watch her shake in fear and cry uncontrollably. A sting of guilt pierced his soul. "If you are ever feeling troubled, you can always consult with me or brother. You don't have to hide anything from us. Okay?"

She smiled, appreciating the sentiment. They are so alike. They really are brothers. Edward gave her the same comfort and advice just days ago. "Thanks, Al. I'll keep that in mind. We should probably start eating before our dinner gets cold," she said, changing the subject. "Can you get Winry and Nina? I'll wake up Eddie."

"Sure thing." Al paced towards the door and left to go fetch the two girls.

The auburn haired girl's feet led her to the couch where the elder Elric was currently snoring away. Her lips tilted upward into a soft smile. He always seems so peaceful when he's asleep. The grumpy features softening and fading away into a calm and relaxing expression. She giggled at the cute, little dribble of drool at the corner of his mouth.

"I wonder what Eddie's dreaming about?" she softly whispered to herself. She slowly dropped to her knees, gray eyes taking a closer inspection of his face. This boy, who was a year younger, has been through so much for his little brother. Willing to endure anything for Al. When Edward's awake, he habitually carries himself in a perpetual serious and determined manner. Seeing him this content, defenseless, vulnerable, and unburdened by the harsh reality of the waking world was kind of cute and adorable.

Her face heated up when she registered that her musings were taking an unwanted, embarrassing turn. She shook her head to rid herself of such thoughts, although, the warm, calming pleasant feeling in her stomach still lingered like a dull throb. The soothing sensation of lightly satisfying contentment roared inside her in gentle waves.

Her silvery eyes traced the familiar features of his face. When they landed on his gloveless hands, a sad frown replaced her features. He was being considerate of her feelings, and refused to wear his white gloves unnecessarily around her, knowing full well how much the color makes her sick and nauseous with anxiety. The gray silvery color of his automail gleamed, the brightness of the ceiling lightbulb illuminating off it.

A part of her felt so super happy and blessed because of how kind and thoughtful he was. He may not show it very often, but Ed truly does have a sweet and gentle heart. It shouldn't be surprising for anyone who knows him because he's very caring and protective of the people he loves. Truthfully, she often found his brittle confidence and casual bravado quite cute. Most people found his temper annoyingly irritating or frighteningly intimidating, but she usually finds it adorable because he resembles a puppy barking. He primarily conceals it behind a tough, belligerent, and bull headed exterior.

And that is the reason… That is the reason why… The tears that overflowing down her face wouldn't stop.

She tenderly grabbed his automail hand gently held, burying her tearful face in it.

First Nina…! Now him?!

The immense sorrow and guilt she felt was unbearable. Even if he does succeed in his mission to restore Al and himself, his life would never return to normal. That sense of normalcy he was hoping to regain after everything was over was forever lost. Not when there was no mistaking it.

Edward was starting to sense Hollows!

Although, his senses weren't perfect, that doesn't change the fact that his spiritual awareness has increased was horrifically devastating. The only reason he hasn't fully realized it yet was due to his underdeveloped spirit energy and his own denial. But he has shown to have a potential, latent ability to see ghosts and spirits, and that's what scares, terrifies her the most.

She promised herself she would become stronger. She promised herself she wouldn't become a burden to anyone. And now, Ed was paying for the consequences because of her own lack of strength. If she had never fallen for that Hollow's trap, then none of this would've happened to him.

She was so pathetic. Weak. Useless. She was so inadequate and spineless that she had developed an irrational fear of a simple color! It was so stupid! Just as stupid as her fear of the dark. After her rescue from Hueco Mundo, she couldn't stand the darkness. She was a high school girl, and she had to buy and use night lights to sleep?! It was really pathetic! She was pathetic! And though she carried a slight discomfort for the color white, it wasn't as bad as it was now.

She thought she had recovered from her traumatic endeavors, however, now it was clear she had only repressed the painful memories. The light hearted laughters, the comfortable, warm atmosphere, all the fun and exciting adventures... All happy times she had with Ed and Al since coming here had allowed her to forget about her terribly nightmarish experiences. And the more good times she had, the more she was finally able to recover from her grisly and harrowing affairs.

Until it was all horrifically and mercilessly shoved back in her face.

She promised that she would get stronger to help Ichigo fight the Arrancars, and she ended up kidnapped and turned into a helpless damsel in distress. She promised that she would get stronger after the war, wanting to be useful to Ichigo for when the day comes and he gets his powers back, and she gets sucked into another world. She promised she would get stronger, and she somehow failed Ed and Nina.

All in all, she has done nothing but commit a series of mistakes, one after another. Somehow, someway someone dear to her was always getting hurt because she was too weak to protect them. Because of her weaknesses, the blond alchemist had to compensate for her. She did her best to display a strong front when shopping, but the truth is, she was so terrified. His red coat was only comfort and saving grace. He can't even wear his white gloves around her anymore!

Stupid! Stupid! She is so weak, pathetic, and stupid! And this pathetic girl realizes now more than ever she needs by her side!

"Please, Eddie!" she mentally begged, tightening her grip on his automail, causing the metal to make a little creaking noise. "Please don't ever leave me alone!" Droplets of her heart wrenching, despairing tears hit his prosthetic hand. A very soft, light, and near inaudible clattering with each drop that fell. She began to sob uncontrollably now. Her mind was a jumbled mess of heartache, misery, and remorse.

She was sorry for being so weak!

She was sorry for being unable to protect him!

She was sorry for unwittingly dragging him into this supernatural!

She was sorry for everything, and everything that may happen to him in the future!

Orihime could only hope that she could produce a protective charm to keep him safe from Hollow attacks. She felt so ashamed of herself for putting him in this kind of danger. She wondered if this is how Rukia felt when the petite Soul Reaper was overwhelmed with guilt and regret for dragging Ichigo into the paranormal, spiritual world of Hollows and Soul Reapers?

"Please!" she pleaded to whatever higher power was up there and willing to hear her request. "Protect Eddie! Keep him safe!"

Edward began to stir at the sound of someone crying. His eyelids fluttered open, revealing his brilliant, golden hues. He lazily rubbed his eyes, feeling somewhat groggy. Man, did he fall asleep? How long was he out?

When he registered the sound of somebody crying, that wasn't in his imagination, his entire body perked in full panic and alert. The creaking of his automail led to shift his downwards, only to be caught completely by surprise when he spotted holding his prosthetic hand in a near death grip, holding it to her face, and weeping.

"Orihime?" Ed called out to her in frantic worry. Why was she crying? Did something happen while he was out? His heart ached the scene before him, and his blood boiled in rage at the prospect of someone making her cry like this. "What happened, Orihime?" he shouted again in concern and anger. Whoever did this, there was going to be hell to pay!

He could deal with the culprit later. Or did she experience another panic attack? He cursed under his breath. He knew he shouldn't have left her alone, even when she insisted upon it. Why did he leave her alone? He crossly chastised himself for his stupidity.

It doesn't matter. Right now, Orihime needed him. "Orihime…" the blond alchemist muttered, gently flexing his automail hand. His other arm came around, and tenderly patted her back. The urge to comfort and soothe her was great. To alleviate this girl, who he had admitted to coming to care for very deeply, from her pain. She was precious to him, and seeing her like this significantly pains him. "Orihime, it's okay," he said, softly. "I'm here. So, stop crying, please. I'm right here. I'll protect you."

Hearing that Ed was awake, teary, gray eyes turned their attention on them. In a split second, she practically threw arms around him, virtually stunning him and leaving him flummoxed. She buried her face in his neck as she continued to cry nonstop. All her emotions were going haywire, and she couldn't cause the tears to cease.

"Forgive me. Please, forgive me," she mumbled, but it was barely enough for the blond boy to comprehend her quiet pleads.

He was confused and puzzled. "Forgive you? For what, Orihime?"

The auburn haired girl didn't say anything. The words died in her clogged up throat as she continued to cry her distressingly guilt ridden, gut wrenchingly sorrowful heart out.


(A/N: This the end of chapter forty six! I hope you enjoyed it! Yes, as you know, Ichigo has been accused of murdering Hughes. Ichigo becoming a suspect in a crime was something that I have been planning since the very beginnings of the story. Now, it's going to be leading to some very conflicting feelings and loyalties for Orihime. If she finds out, because Ed seems adamant of keeping her from finding out. I know some people are going to complain and protest that Ed isn't the type to keep a secret like this from someone. But, given his personality, yes, he would. The Elric brothers generally idea of protecting someone is to try to keep them at arm's length from trouble or danger. Plus, Ed initially wanted to keep the reveal of Scar killing Winry's parents a secret from her, so why should him keeping Orihime locked out the loop about Ichigo's supposed crime a secret from her as well?

I have another question. I have already told you guys there's going to be a sequel coming up soon, right? As soon as this is over, right? [Still thinking of a name though.] Well, the sequel would focus primarily on the spiritual side of things. I guess what I want to do is more world building and backstory in the sequel. And I had this idea of making a flashback arc [I don't know how long] focusing on Ed's and Al's maternal side of the family. However, I do pose one question. Given that I have reread the manga of Bleach once again, I had this idea of Trishia being part of a 'certain' clan, but I don't know how susceptible you guys are about Ed's and Al's mother secretly having spiritual powers. Don't get me wrong, I already decided what she is on the spirit alignment. I'm also planning to introduce their maternal grandmother soon, but it's only a small cameo. You won't know it's here until the sequel series. If you guys think this a good idea, then terrific. I'll go along with this future story arc. But if you think it's dumb or not a really good idea, then I'll just drop this story arc. I just want you guys' opinions on the matter. I'm sorry, I try not to say too much to avoid spoilers.

Well, anyway, please leave any comments, suggestions, and questions in a review, and thanks for reading! I know this is pretty late, but Happy Thanksgiving!)

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