The Flower Princess and the Alchemist @bloodpokemon101
Uncertain Relationships

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

Simply Christian: Thanks for the review! I totally understand what you mean about Ichigo's and Orihime's relationship because it's exactly how I felt about Naruto/Hinata. Originally, Ichigo was supposed to be returning Orihime's affections, but the idea was scrapped because... We have to have a clueless main protagonist, am I right? In the Bleach pilot, Orihime and Ichigo did have feelings for one another, but...circumstances [not going to spoil the pilot chapter] prevented them from bing tgether. So, you can say Kubo planned Ichigo/Orihime since the very beginning like Kishi planned Naruto/Hinata since the very beginning. But...yeah... With Orihime, you can see that people with...serious issues don't make the best decisions. They mean well and have good intentions of course, but they...go about it the wrong way. That's one of the downsides to Bleach. They explore how people get into the Soul Society, but not the journey there. A new ghost or dead soul finding themselves in the afterlife. About Kon and Morgan... I found it ironic that Morgan and get women [and I don't mean forcing himself on them] unlike Kon, despite being the bad guy.

LightJakRises: Thanks for reviewing! Although, even if Ed does get more jaded in future, I can not see him killing people, given his intense aversion to murder. If it was the 2003 FMA version of Ed, I could understand. But not the manga or Brotherhood version of him. And I was mainly talking about how we see so many child prodigies in anime and manga, not just in the FMA universe. Oh, and Morgan always been a mod soul. Nothing's changed about that.

TheEmeraldMage: Thanks for the review! Don't worry. There were plenty of people who were sad over Hughes's death, especially those who read the manga or watched the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist. Yeah, that's what I was going for with Edward's and Alphonse's continued investigation on Hollows. I want to make them sort of right, but for the wrong reasons. I agree. Nobody should force themselves to be someone they are not just to getting someone to like them. If they do, then the person is probably not the right person for them. Morgan is a despicable man. Regarding Edward/Orihime... Hey, what can I say? I like to explore.

Thanks to everyone else who faved, followed, and reviewed this story so far! You guys are the best!)

Uncertain Relationships

Edward stared at her. Simply stared at her with an absolutely gobsmacked expression. His golden eyes were as unbelievably wide as saucers, and he was stunned speechless. He gazed at the healer before him with a dumbfounded daze. He was at a complete and utter loss for words. His mouth snapped up and shut several times, however, no cohesive sentences were forming. It was as if his brain was starting to malfunction.

The blood rushed up to his features, turning his face and ears a deep, crimson shade of red. He couldn't hear anything, except the thundering of his heart. He was utterly blinded and intensely entranced by that brilliant smile. The swarming of giddy butterflies was going haywire in the pit of his stomach. His heart instantly leaped to his throat.

"Orihime? Wh-what did you say?" he stammered, almost incoherently. With the excessively erratic pounding of his heart, he must've misheard her. She didn't say what he thinks she said, yeah?

The world around him magically disappeared. He was currently being wrapped around in a pleasantly warm, delightfully joyous blanket of delirious exaltation and blissful rapture. The captivated, metaphorical clouds of sheer, unadulterated happiness slightly parted away to make room for the halcyon rays of the sun that promptly captured his heart and melted it in its bright, yellow streaks of burning passion and enticingly strong hope. The excited, aching need to hear her words again, an earnest declaration that he desperately hungered for with deep seated adoration.

Was this a dream?

This was a dream, right?

This had to be a dream, right?!

This wouldn't be the first time he had dreamed of a scenario like this. Hypothetically.

The blond alchemist's slumbers are frequently plagued by a seemingly unforgettable, or, at worst, a horrible, traumatizing nightmare about his and his brother's botched transmutation of their mother.

Luckily, there are occasions where he has very pleasant and sweet dreams. It generally involves them completing their years long journey. Alphonse is back in the flesh of blood. Edward himself would ditch the automail because he has his right arm and left leg back. Perhaps, merely one or the other, or he's simply stuck with an automail leg and arm for the rest of his life. He never really cared about getting his old body back. All he really cared about was getting his dear, little brother back into the body he was born in, and to see him smile again.

That's beside the point.

The Elric brothers would be back home. In Resembool. They would be a grandiose celebration. Winry would shed tears of joy. Granny Pinako would give a snide remark before congratulating them, and welcoming them home for good with open arms.

The only difference this time than the ones before it is that Orihime appears in this delightfully pleasing daydream fantasy.

A year ago, the auburn haired girl would never show up in one of the blond alchemist's idyllic idealistic visions of the future. His perfect ideal future life.

Now, it felt completely natural to have her there, celebrating the return of their original bodies with her delicious, mouthwatering cooking. It had become rather unfathomable to not think about her being one of the people patiently waiting for the day he and Al become normal again. She's right there with everyone else near and dear to his heart. Right there. Right by his side. Smiling that beautiful, radiant, modest smile he loved so much.

Smiling at him. Like she is now.

If this was a dream, then this is the happiest dream he'd ever had! Please! No one wakes him up from this wonderful dream! As much as he mulishly didn't believe in god, he wanted to thank the heavens for this gracious gift. His long awaited, yearning desires were finally, finally being granted!

Without his acknowledgment, Edward pined after Orihime's affections. The shining, breathtaking twinkle in her beautiful, gray orbs as she articulated that magnificent revelation thoroughly bewitched him in an enchanting spell. The attractively radiant glow of her gorgeously dreamy smile tantalizingly enthralled him. Her invitingly warm, stunningly beautiful smiles always drew him in. No different from a hypnotic moth to a dazzlingly irresistible flame. He could never turn away from it.

Ah! She was just so lovely. Absolutely stunning. Mesmerizingly alluring.

What a euphorically wondrous fantasy he was having! He never wanted to wake up from this marvelous dream!

Hold up!

On second thought…

Ed oh, so deeply, sincerely hoped that this wasn't a dream. He was an alchemist. A man of science who seeks the complete and absolute truth. He craved for this not to be one of that witch's sick, twisted illusionary tricks, or for this to be a remarkably deceptively wonderful figment of his imagination.

He wanted...yearned for this to be reality. His reality.

One of the blond alchemist's heart's secret desires was, at last, being realized!

How long has he coveted for this precise, special moment? He doesn't want to be suffocated by an unforgiving, raging sea of crushing disappointment.

He positively had to hear her say those three, enchanting words again. Just one more time to assure him that this is not a dream. That this is real life.

Orihime stared at Ed, expectantly. He had nearly forgotten about the weight of the small bag she had very recently given him in the palm of his hand.

Nevertheless, he merely couldn't form a proper, coherent response. He was totally astoundingly tongue tied, being so utterly caught off guard by her cheery proclamation. Did she not realize what she just said?! Or was it really his imagination, after all?

Ed was pretty sure that whatever was coming out of his mouth was a jumbled mess of utter nonsense, making him appear as a flustered, hopeless moron. He simply gawked at her like a complete, bumbling idiot.

How did things come to this?

It all took this unpredictable, unexpected turn a few days ago…

When Orihime had returned to Edward's and Alphonse's room, she was bombarded with inquisitive questions of concerns, courtesy of a disquieted Winry and perturbed Nina. As she predicted, the girls were worried for her. She was truly touched by how much they cared for her.

"I'm sorry to have worried you, Winry, Nina, but I'm...alright now," the auburn haired girl expressed with a half smile.

Nina tugged on the midnight blue sleeve of her crop top. "Are you sure you are alright, Big Sis Ori?" she asked, blue eyes glancing up at her older sister figure in concern.

Smiling, wider, the healer bent down at her knees until she was at eye level with the young child. She held the brown haired girl's tiny hands in her bigger ones. "Don't worry, Nina. I'm fine," she reassured her. "Eddie helped cheer me up."

"Really? Edward did?" Winry spoke, genuinely surprised. She crossed her arms, humming, thoughtfully. "I guess that idiot can do something right."

"Wait a moment…!" Her face took on an expression that was a mixture of wary skepticism and perturbed anger. "What did he say? He didn't say anything stupid or insensitive, did he?" she asked, giving the impression that she believed he did something to upset the healer or make the situation worse.

The older girl shook her head, vehemently. "No! No! It was nothing like that! And you should have more faith in Eddie, Winry. He can be really sweet and supportive when he wants to," Orihime asseverated, defending the blond alchemist.

"Oh?" the blonde mechanic grinned, slyly. "What did you two talk about?"

She stood back, facing her blonde haired friend fully. "Nothing special, really," the auburn haired healer replied, oblivious to the younger girl's deviously teasing tone. "I was upset because I thought I was causing Eddie trouble and being an embarrassment for him with this tabloid magazine scandal."

"You are not an embarrassment, Orihime! Don't ever think or say something like that!" Winry exclaimed in surprise disbelief. "You shouldn't worry about stuff like this. Especially when it isn't your fault. Besides, Ed isn't the type of guy to let something as stupidly ridiculous as this get to him, nor blame you for this, Orihime, when he knows it's not your fault. He would never think any less of you!"

Orihime laughed, lightly. "Eddie basically said the same thing. That he doesn't care what happens or what other people say. No matter how awful things get, it's his choice to stay with me, and he wants to keep it that way."

Raising a teasing blonde brow, the mechanic took on a more puckish tone. "Did he now?"

The healer remained innocently ignorant to her mischievously playful inflection. "It...kind of made me happy." She shyly nibbled on the bottom of her lip, feeling all bashful now.

"Oh?" Winry cooed in a sly voice. "What happened?" she asked, girlishly excited.

"I told you, nothing really happened. Eddie was just there to comfort me. That is all."

"Uh huh," she quipped, incredulously. "Are you sure that was all that happened between you two?" she pressed on, deliberately drawing out the 'sure' in her cheeky pitch.

The auburn haired girl's cheeks flushed a light pink color at the implication. The image of the kiss between her and Edward that happened less than ten or twenty minutes ago appeared in the forefront of her mind.

"Oh! Something did happen!" the blonde girl squealed in delight, almost bouncing on her feet in absolute glee like an ebullient child discovering the secret stash of where their parents hide all the candies and treats.

The healer frantically waved her hands in front of her slightly reddened face in an awkwardly nervous manner. "Nothing! Nothing at all happened!" she insisted, stiltedly. There's no way she can talk about her kissing Edward, nor that she wants to go on a test date with him! Her shy, self conscious self would die of sheer embarrassment! She can't confess that to the blonde mechanic when she doesn't fully comprehend her own feelings for the blond alchemist.

"Oh, yeah? Then why are you blushing, Orihime?"

The auburn haired girl let out a short and high pitched squeak, and her face and ears now nearly as red as her hair. The blonde mechanic giggled as if she uncovered a juicy, little secret, causing her to become even more hopelessly abashed.

A confused Nina was staring at the two, older girls in utter curiosity.

It was at the point where Edward and Alphonse decided to make their return. They both wore solemn expressions, but it transformed into one of perplexity when their gazes landed on their three female friends. They were greeted by a discomfitingly rattled Orihime. An impishly grinning Winry who was pestering her about something, and a somewhat puzzled Nina, who was almost just as slightly baffled as they are.

"Uh, what's going on?" Al questioned, confused.

At the sound of his tentative inquiry, and finally taking notice of the Elric brothers in the room, Winry immediately pounced on Ed like an eager chimpanzee.

"Winry! What the hell?" Ed shouted, nearly jumping back in surprise. Her face was way too close to his.

She ignored him. "Ed! Tell me what happened between you and Orihime!" Winry demanded similarly to that of an impatient child.

"Huh?" He stared at her, an annoyed and confused look plastered his countenance. "What are you talking about?"

His golden orbs landed on bashfully flustered Orihime vehemently shaking her head 'no' plus the teasing glint in Winry's blue eyes, and, for a guy who was dense and sometimes tunnel visioned, he was quick to catch on. "It's none of your damn business! Stop noisy!" the blond alchemist spazzed with an angry and embarrassing red face.

The blonde girl merely pouted, disappointed.

Once that was settled and the mechanic gave up on interrogating Orihime and Edward about their progress in their romantic affairs...for now...the group of five began to discuss their next course of action.

"I've been ordered to investigate a recent serial murder case happening here," Edward began, figuring now is a good time as any to tell them about the mission Mustang assigned him.

"What's the case about?" Orihime asked, her earlier shy embarrassment finally dying down.

"Apparently several families have somehow been murdered inside their homes," he answered, frowning, deeply.

"In their own homes?" Al questioned, shocked. "How?"

Ed could understand his younger brother's unsettlingly alarmed reaction. How frightening and unnerving it would be for someone to barge into a person's own home, their own sanctity, and kill them in cold blood. A person would figure that their home is one of the safest places to be. Hearing families being killed at their safe and secured house brings a whole new, unimaginable level of dreadful paranoia to the table. If a person is not out of harm's way in their home, then how can they ever feel sheltered and protected from danger?

At last, the blond alchemist responded with a solemn shake of his head. "Nobody knows how. There weren't any signs of forced entry. The police have tried asking if any suspicious characters were seen entering the victims' homes, and all of them received a 'no' as a reply."

An involuntary shiver ran down Winry's spine. "That sounds kind of...unnerving," she remarked, a sense of uneasiness gnawing at the pit of her stomach. "Do you think the perpetrator was someone who was acquainted with the murdered victims?"

When she was presented with questioning gazes to her inquiry, she nervously fidgety in her seat on the couch.

"Sorry. I just figured that culprit was someone well acquainted with the victims," she elaborated, somewhat hesitant. What she was implying, although plausible, sounded somewhat ridiculous in her own head. "After all, the doors weren't forced open, meaning they were probably led inside. And everybody else claimed that they didn't see anyone suspicious entering or leaving their houses."

Ed hummed, crossing his arms, and leaned back in his chair, reflectively. "You got a point, Winry."

"I don't understand anybody who betrays their own friends," Orihime muttered, sadly. "Any ideas on how the victims were killed?"

"According to the autopsy the colonel was able to gather, apparently the victims were killed by suffocation. As if they drowned underwater," the blond alchemist answered.

"What? How?" the blonde girl gasped in utter shock.

"And nobody knows who is doing these awful things?" Nina spoke, a concerned frown plastered on her facial features. She leaned closer to the auburn haired healer for comfort.

"If that's the case, then what is our next move?" Alphonse asked.

Edward shrugged. "No clue. That is why I wanted to inform you guys. To warn you to keep your guard up, and be on the lookout for anyone suspicious or any shady activities. A crazy serial killer is running loose out there, and we all need to stay alert," he said, seriously.

They all nodded in agreement.

"So, what are everyone's plans for today?" the auburn haired girl asked, curiously.

There was a contemplative moment of silence that passed by them.

Ed sighed, exasperated. "There's fucking leads to go on, so I'm lost on what to do on the case."

She perked at that. This could be her chance!

A sudden tingle of anxiety began to overtake her. The realization that she never asked a boy out on a date before struck her. Hard.

Her cheeks started burning a light shade of pink. How does one go about it? How should she go about doing it? What is the proper way to ask Ed to hang out with her sometime? Alone? Just the two of them?

Oh! What should she do? Just the mere thought of asking Edward out is giving Orihime nervous goosebumps. Should she talk to him casually as if they were spending time together as friends? But that would be too informal, wouldn't it? It may give him the wrong idea, or that she doesn't take him seriously as dating material.

But how else could she ask him? She was already frettingly disquieted as is. Why was she so nervous? The swarming of butterflies fluttered, endlessly in her stomach. The fibers in her hands and feet became very jittery. It's not like this is the first time she's been alone with Ed before.

However, this is the first time that it's done deliberately. Knowing that… Knowing that… Being acutely aware of the circumstance… The healer felt so bashfully embarrassed.

Why should she bother anyway? She was entirely wise to the fact of what Edward's answer was going to be? He was going to reject her, right? It's a foregone conclusion. There's no point in dwelling in the inevitable. She doesn't even know how to be the perfect girlfriend yet, so there's no way she could ask him now. She knows she's not good enough yet, so she should hold off on her plans a little longer.

She tightly and slightly shakily clenched the fabric of her black pants. Maybe she should wisely wait until later.

She inwardly sighed, sadly to herself. It was for the best. So much for her resolve. Great. She made herself discouraged.

"I want to go to the park!"

Nina's cheerful voice snapped Orihime out of her dispirited musings. Ah, shoot. She's been so wrapped up in her thoughts she didn't hear everyone's plans for today.

"What are you going to do, Big Sis Ori?" the young child directed her question at the healer, curiously.

"Oh? Me?" Orihime sheepishly rubbed the back of her head. "Nothing much really. I think I'll take a walk around the city," she replied, honestly. She successfully aimed to mask her depressingly low spirits just moments earlier.

Unbeknownst to her, Edward was gazing at her with a deep, concerning frown. She may have been able to convince the others into thinking she was alright, but she was not able to fool him. She was worried about leaving her alone, however, he begrudgingly understood that couldn't and shouldn't babysit her.

Hughes's last words of wisdom to him whipped around him in a maelstrom of uplifting hope and heartfelt assurance, encouraging him not to give up.

Oh, yeah, one more thing. Take care of Orihime. You have a good woman by your side. Hold onto her, and never let her go! I know you like her, Ed. Everyone can see it from a mile away. Make her happy. That girl… She's going through a lot. A lot more than any of us can understand. And she's planning on shouldering this burden all on her own. She needs you, Ed.

If he could reply back, Ed would answer that, of course, he would. He would always be here for Orihime. Whenever she needs him for whatever reason, he'd be here to lend a helping hand and, admittedly, clumsy words of comfort.

The blond alchemist decidedly ignored Hughes's assumption that he had feelings for the auburn haired healer. It was true that he cares for her. Very, very much. On the other hand, it was too soon to proclaim that he...l-l-loves her.

There was always something stunningly charming and delightfully alluring about her that naturally draws people in. Her comforting, warm presence simply engulfs a person in an invitingly tender blanket. He was one of the people who had been captured by her tranquil and beautiful aura. He wanted to bask in her kindness and warmth forever.

Besides, even if he hoped to pursue a relationship with her, he doesn't know where her feelings for him lay. After all, the healer was in love with Ichigo. Not him. Any fancy enamored postulation of a potential romantic connection between them is merely wishful thinking on his part.

Sure, they kissed. Two times. However, should he really get his hopes up because of that? Don't forget. Orihime rejected Ed after the first kiss. He can't bear the stinging pain and agonizing affliction of rejection again. The excruciatingly brokenhearted sensation of his heart being repeatedly stabbed by a sharp, jagged knife until it splintered apart and broke like shattered glass.

To go through that ordeal again was...too distressingly unbearable. The agony of heartache… The anguish of unrequited affections… The dejection of witnessing someone he cares for already having her heart taken by another man… It was all so, so painful. The poignantly miserable feeling of being submerged in a punitively cold, unforgivingly austere was plainly too much to bear. He was drowning in the stormy sea, and, no matter how desperately hard he tried, he was swallowed up by its raging currents. These feelings have subjected him to so much raw emotional pain.

Yeah, maybe Edward was making the right choice. It's better not to push too far. Get close to the sun, and he'll get burned. A hopeless idiot he may be, but he wasn't ready to be unsympathetically crushed by false hope again. He wasn't sure if he could take having his heart broken again.

Was he just going to give up on her? Just like that?

Ed wasn't giving up on her! He was just being cautious, okay? He was not going to jump the gun on an uncertain outcome. The jealous and possessive demon in his head doesn't have to present him with an image of her being taken away by another man. Being taken away by him. He wasn't going to foolishly experience a bout of naive optimism, gullibly believing that there was something more. Only to reveal that it was all in his lovestruck head. A starry eyed fantasy.

He's being a coward, who is afraid of getting his feelings hurt. Make his move already! Orihime kissed him back! That should mean...something! She didn't reject him, or pull away! She kissed him back!

An exhilarated rush of shockingly rekindled yearning hope flowed through him. His golden eyes broadened, significantly as he realized something vitally crucial, his heart swelling. His mind malfunctioned. The nerves in his body sparked with enamored pleasure and euphoric glee. The blood practically sprinted to his face, dusting his cheeks a light shade of dark pink.

That's right! Orihime didn't pull away, push him away, or show any sign of rejecting his kiss. He'd never forget how delicately soft and warm her lips were. Or how sweet and savory they tasted. But, most of all, she let him kiss her! She let him kiss her!

The blond alchemist had been so consumed with the notion of despairing rejection that he never registered that she let him kiss her, and bashfully returned the kiss with equal fervor!

He would also never forget the look in her eyes when they parted. A strange emotion was shown across her beautiful, gray orbs. It was nearly those same eyes she has when she's thinking of Ichigo. Eyes filled with deep affection and warm adoration. It wasn't exactly the same. Not as intense. It was more reservedly subdued and repressingly low key. But, at the moment, it was completely focused on him. How long has it been since he longed for her to look at him like that? Eyes that were for him and him only. Eyes just for him! His heart skipped the beat at the possibility of her...caring for him as much as he cared for her.

A tremor of pleasantly soothing and besotted happiness ran past him. He gazed down at his mismatched palms. What does this mean? He was afraid of being rejected again. The despair filled crushing feeling of having his heart shattered into million fragments. There's no doubt about that. He felt so heartrendingly lost and harrowingly depressed after that. Later, discovering that Ichigo also plagues her dreams, caused him to become even more poignantly disheartened. That was how Amelia was disgustingly able to take advantage of him with her sick machinations.

But now… Now a different emotion consumes him. Yes, he was still jealous of Ichigo. Jealous of him for coveting a large piece of Orihime's heart. Orihime would always, always be in love with Ichigo.

Then why? Why was looking at him like that? Why did she kiss him back? She keeps giving him all these mixed messages that he doesn't know what to think. Doesn't she know that he is having a really fierce battle between sound reasoning and overwhelming desire inside him right now?

Ed wasn't exactly a genius when it came to girls. They were frivolously fickle and highly emotional. Take Winry for example. She could become violently angry or upsettingly sad at the drop of hat, depending on her mood or the situation at the exact moment in time. Women constantly confused him. Girls switch emotions so much, guys consistently have to stay on their toes, lest they unintentionally upset them. So, excuse him for being slow and not apprehending this idiosyncratic mixture of cautious puzzlement and hopeful yearning that enveloped him.

What were the healer's feelings for him? What were his feelings for her? All the blond alchemist knows is that he wants to be with her! He deeply and sincerely cared for her. It was a substantially dissimilar variety of care. Not the same kind of care he had for Al or Winry. This new, scary sentiment leaves him susceptible to emotional pain and vulnerability. After all, there is no protection to the pain, anguished, and agony inflicted on one's heart.

He kissed her. She kissed him. So, what does this mean for them? Edward only had two options. Either push forward into this scarily fresh and fervidly unknown territory, or forget the kiss ever happened and just continue remaining as friends with Orihime.

They were both incredibly difficult choices to make, and each with their own risks of heartache. It just depends on which is worse. The pain of rejection, or the pain of giving up on her? Which would he choose? He wants to be with her. With all his heart. But was that enough to make his heart vulnerable, and risk the agonizingly and depressingly sting of rejection and heartbreak on a second chance?

Why not? Go for it! What was he waiting for? An invitation? Make his move!

Edward gazed over at Orihime once again, and when their eyes met for a split second, impressive gold locking onto stunning silver, the auburn haired healer immediately broke eye contact. However, it wasn't out of horrified shame, but rather out of timid shyness. That caused Ed's heart to swell with happiness. His fear almost vanishing. Emphasis on 'almost'. He may not fully understand the opposite sex, however, he knows that this novel development was a good sign. Right?

She turned away, slightly, a rosy pink tint forming across the bridge of her nose.

Was she...blushing?

The blond alchemist's eyes nearly widened in surprise.

Why was she blushing?

He noticed that she seemed oddly shyer than usual. Come to think of it, she's acting differently now than a couple of hours ago. She kept glancing down at her lap with a pensive look that often switches between bashful felicity and dejectedly disheartened. And she'd steal shy glances at him when she believed he was not looking. She would self consciously play with the strand of her hair, and absentmindedly nibble at the bottom of her lip.

Her face is so freaking adorable! When she's shy and happy, she's so damn cute.

He was keenly aware, after knowing her for so long, that the healer was anxiously nervous about something.

But he wondered what she was thinking about that was making her so sad? He wanted to know, so that he could take her pain away. As he said before, it hurts to see her sad, unhappy, or in pain.

"Then it's settled!" Winry piped in. Her cheery voice snapped Ed out of his musings.

"Let's meet back here for dinner tonight!" Orihime announced, and everyone nodded in affirmation.

The group of teens left the hotel room after that exchange. Ed and Al were headed off to the library in the hopes of encountering Liza Patterson again, or digging up any information on Hollows. Nina wanted to go to the park, secretly wishing to see that boy again. Winry was going to pay her respects to Mr. Hughes. Perhaps, stop by a florist and buy some flowers to put on the gravesite. And Orihime planned to aimlessly wander around the city.

Mustang scowled. He scowled, coldly incensed at the letter presented in front of him. What was the meaning of this letter? Was it to make a fool of him? Was the culprit making a mockery of Hughes's death?!

Apparently, this is a letter from Hughes he'd obtained this morning. This fake letter.

The colonel skimmed through the letter for the thousandth time already. His dark eyes narrowed and hardened into a nastily vicious glare. It seemed as if he was willing the 'dying' message to ignite into flames by his glare alone. Although, he wouldn't have to burn it with his fiercely intense stare. He has his ignition glove on, and he was seconds away from snapping his fingers and watching the repulsive message combust with a dark, satisfied smirk.

"Colonel. Glaring at the letter will not make it disappear," Hawkeye chided his behavior in a cool voice. She walked up to the desk, holding a stack of papers. "If I may ask, sir, why do you look like you have some sort of vendetta against the letter? Shouldn't you be happy that you got to read Brigadier General Hughes's final message?"

He sneered. He slapped the paper on his desk, forcibly. It was the only display of raw anger he was willing to show, knowing that he was at work and must conduct himself professionally. "I would be happy, rejoicing even, lieutenant, if this was actually a letter from Hughes."

She cocked a delicate brow. "What do you mean, colonel? Is it not a letter from the brigadier general?" she asked, curiously. She stepped over to put the papers in their correct files.

"Hardly," the colonel said, his tone clipped and dripping with venom. "This letter says it's by Hughes, but it is clearly written by someone else. This is not Hughes's handwriting."

The blonde lieutenant stiffened at the possibility of the letter being a completely and mockingly cruel hoax. "Do you think it's a message from Hughes's killer? To throw us off?" she questioned, gazing at her superior with concern, brown eyes. "You know? The one in the reports?"

Mustang blew out a deep breath to calm. "Honestly, that's what I thought at first," he answered, truthfully. He leaned back in his chair, his angry scowl softening into a ruminative feature. "But now that I can process it calmly and clearly, there's about the contents of the message."

His lieutenant shifted around in her position by the window. She craned her head, inquisitively. "Off? How so?"

"Take a look."

He handed the letter to her, and she quietly took it within her grasp. She meticulously studied its contents, and her eyes slightly broadened in a brief show of confounded shock before dissipating. Her gaze returned to her superior, a subtle expression of horror etched on her countenance.

"Are these accusations correct? If so, then it almost sounds like…"

"A government conspiracy?" he finished for her, frowning, pensively. "I don't know. But whoever wrote this wasn't Hughes. That's something I'm absolutely certain about. However, they do not seem to be one of Hughes's enemies either."

"Colonel, haven't you heard of the phrase 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'? Could be it something along the lines of that? Maybe someone who has a grudge against the military is using Hughes's name as a coverup to hide their identity."

"Maybe or maybe not."

Hawkeye arched an eyebrow. "I fail to follow, sir."

Mustang propped his elbows on the table, and folded hands together in front of his face, concealing the bottom half of it, giving him an enigmatically esoteric aura. "This may not be Hughes's penmanship, but, strangely, I can, without a doubt, imagine Hughes writing the letter all the same. The speech pattern is uncannily similar to how Hughes speaks and acts. Either this person is scarily good at copying a person's unique quirks and characteristics. Or…," he trailed off, uncertain of how he should put this. In his opinion, the possibility sounded way too far fetched.

"Or?" The lieutenant egged on. She was keenly aware of how all these new, unseeable, unpredictable, and inscrutable events that Edward has been reporting lately have been most peculiar, to say the least. About over a week ago, Edward had informed them about mod souls. Corpses of the deceased are controlled by artificial souls.

The very concept of dead bodies being manipulated by ersatz souls left Hawkeye with a disturbing sensation of morbid fascination and abject horror. Artificial souls? How was this possible? She has never heard of such a thing. Granted, she wasn't a scientist or an alchemist, but, having been working under one for years and being a daughter of a deceased alchemist, she knows for a fact that the creation of synthetic souls has never been done before.

This could be considered a major alchemical breakthrough! One of the biggest ones in history! After decades and decades of countless practice, endless research, and tragically failed attempts, it's as close to the concept of Human Transmutation that anyone has ever gotten to.

Sigh. If only it wasn't being used for evil. Why must alchemy and science be used in either a self serving manner, or to inflict pain and suffering onto the general public?

Her attention turned back on the colonel when he chuckled, humorlessly. He pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling greatly unnerved by all this, and letting out a discomposing raspy sigh.

"Why do I get the feeling this is going to cause some major headaches?" Mustang exhaled, sharply. "Everything that's been happening lately has been freakishly surreal. It's almost like this charlatan of a letter is the least of our problems."

Hawkeye curtly bobbed in agreement and understanding. "Things have been rather strange lately. The reports Edward has been sending in have recently gotten more and more...unusual. Any ideas on what is going on?"

"Wish I knew," the colonel spoke in an exasperated breath.

He twisted his chair to the side, and half gazed out the window. It was a rather clear, sunny day, which was good. It's been rather cold these past several weeks. However, it's to be expected as it's still winter. Out of his peripheral vision, he could see the oblivious civilians merrily going on about their day.

His lieutenant was right. Latterly, Fullmetal's reports have seemed to be quite...unbelievable, for lack of a better word. If anyone else has given him the reports, he'd be in the very thralls of disbelief and skepticism, and write them off as ridiculously delusional by having their own paralyzing fear and daunting paranoia negatively influence their sense of perception and reality. But this was Fullmetal. He would never make up crap like this. The boy was a lot of things, but he would never create inconceivably outlandish claims unless he actually saw it for himself and had no choice but to accept that it was actuality. He'd never bring up things science couldn't prove as absolute truth and factual. So, what happened was indeed true, and not a hallucination conjured up by the terror affecting one's mind.

The last mission he sent the young, blond alchemist off to was bizarre in its own rights. People suddenly disappearing into thin air was strange enough. Finding out the culprit was a woman stealing her victim's life energy to extend her own was just plain creepy. He wished to see it for himself, so he could confirm it with his own eyes. But, at last, he was stuck here doing tedious paperwork.

He blew out an exasperated, tired sigh. What has the world come to? It's just a never ending, vicious cycle of freaks.

"And what about the mod souls?" the lieutenant frowned. "Who created them? What's their end game?"

Mustang's own frown deepened at that. What were they going to do about the mod souls? Now, they had two factions to deal with. The homunculi and the mod souls. To make matters worse, the homunculi and mod souls have joined forces, according to Ed. His lieutenant was right. Who would create such creatures, and for what purpose? What was their goal? What were they trying to accomplish?

"There's also the matter of the imposter Hughes letter," he muttered under his breath, darkly.

He swerved his chair back around to face his most loyal subordinate. "So, we have the homunculi, the mod souls, and, if the information in the letter is to be believed, the military to deal with. Three groups of enemies attacking us from all sides. Three powerful forces on our tail, watching, observing our every move." He inwardly smirked, sardonically. "This is one hell of an unexpected turn of events."

Though none of this would stop him from achieving his goals. He will become Fuhrer, he will figure out who produced this fake letter, and he will find Hughes's murderer! If his enemies thought these latest turn of events would be enough to shake him and make him quake in fear, then they had another thing coming. The strength of his convictions would not be wavered by these newly developed, anticipatingly high risk circumstances.

His dark eyes narrowed, giving him a serious and sharp demeanor. "From this moment forward, we must proceed with the utmost caution. Things are going to be rather hectic, chaotic, and extremely dangerous, lieutenant. Are you still with me? Are you still willing to stay with me, and serve by my side?"

Hawkeye saluted her superior. "Do you even need to ask, sir?" she shot back, respectably terse.

Mustang was always and would forever be eternally grateful to have Riza Hawkeye as his closest camaraderie, loyal subordinate, and trusted bodyguard. He would unfailingly remain cool and level headed with her by his side, no matter what hardships come his way.

Now… How should he plan his next move?

Orihime forlornly paced along the somewhat busy streets of Central. She wanted to figure out what makes a perfect girlfriend. But she does not know where to start. This was to be expected. She lacked any experience in how couples operate or romance in general. The only knowledge she had on romance was those romantic comedy movies she used to watch back home, her female classmates' gossip, and the romance novels Chizuru usually lends her. Granted, most of those novels' relationships are between two girls, but there were occasionally guy and girl secondary romantic relationships. The strange, redhead girl would lend her those...creative books to teach her something about the 'fruits of female love'.

Maybe the auburn haired girl should ask for some advice. Someone with more experience when it comes to relationships. But who?

Does she even want to? That would probably require relaying them about these...complicated, affectionate feelings she had for Edward. Thinking about it caused her slightly pink hue to form across the arch of her nose.

No, this was something she wanted to keep to herself. For one, she's too bashfully embarrassed to confess to someone that she likes kissing Ed. And two, she wanted to keep it a secret. She wanted to understand these confusing feelings she had for the blond alchemist. Plus, she wasn't privy to a public relationship. She strongly desired for her...affairs with Edward to be kept private.

She felt her face becoming warmer. Oh, dear! Even thinking about him or the kiss causes her heart to flutter. The pleasant warmth that fills up inside her chest was there again. The overflowing desire to touch him and feel his warmth was overwhelming her.

The chattering of passerbyers filled her ears as Orihime took in the leisure sights before her. She passed by a bakery, and the delicious smell of baked pastries and sweets wafted via her nose. She wanted to stop by to try a bite of cheesecake. Nevertheless, despite her mouth nearly watering in hunger, she decided not to. She just wasn't in the mood.

Then an idea popped into her head. What if Edward would want some piquant? Or, better yet, what if she makes some for him? There's this new cake recipe she wanted to try out. Imagining the blond alchemist's smiling, pleased countenance from taking delight in her cooking made her all giddy inside.

That is another thing Orihime has come to realize. Thoughts of Edward constantly plagued her. Reveries that were supposed to be surrounded by Ichigo are being shared with images of Ed instead. Since when? Since when has Ed invaded her mind? When they kissed? Or was it before that? If so, when?

She shook her head. The more she dwells on it, the more these confusing yet extremely fond feelings churn up inside her. Her stomach ties up into knots, and she internally felt weirdly warm and fuzzy.

That reminds her… Before they left the hotel, Ed had called out to her. His face held such a serious look that was poised with a hint of concern. The healer had gotten the feeling he wanted to tell or ask her something, something important, but she chickened out and ran away. Her timid apprehension has gotten the better of her.

What was he planning to say to her? Did he spot her imperfections? Because of that, was he about to reject before she even had a chance?

When those thoughts crossed her head, the auburn haired began panicking, inwardly. Oh, no! Oh, no! Oh, no! What did she do wrong? She conjured up some excuse about wanting to be on time for a special sale at the grocery store with a false smile plastered on her face, and took off before he could get a word in. It wasn't a complete lie. There was a sale on sliced turkey breasts. She was thinking about using it to cook tonight's dinner. The only problem was that the sale would last until tomorrow night at eight thirty p.m. So, it wasn't immediate that she should get it now as she had proclaimed.

She was a coward. She knows that. She was acutely aware of it. She was being a pathetic fraidy cat. How was she so certain that the blond alchemist's look of concern was him trying to break the bad news of...whatever's happening between can't continue to her without hurting her feelings?

All these really, really negative cogitations were her fearful trepidation and obstructive insecurities playing with her mind. They were cruelly designed by that criticizing voice in her head to break down her resolve of this test dating thing she wants to try out with Ed. Haunting her and taunting her that she wasn't even good enough and never will be, so don't bother trying.

She had to be brave and strong! She can't let that mean voice in her head verbally and emotionally bully her into submission.

Nonetheless, she'd heard stories of couples breaking up because one of the partners was a bad kisser. Was she bad at it? If she was a bad kisser, that would be enough of a reason for Ed not wanting to date her. She wasn't an experienced kisser. She never had a boyfriend before. She has never been...intimate with a boy. The most she's ever been overly affectionate with a boy is when she held Ichigo's hand after her pseudo rescue, and tried carrying her off to safety. There are also the occasional friendly hugs she gives out when she gets super happy, and forgets her sense of personal space. Edward was the first and only boy she has ever kissed!

The chances that Edward would accept her as a girlfriend were very slim at best. Just because she doesn't mind testing their new...relationship, doesn't mean the blond alchemist shares the same sentiment. That's why she has to learn. She has to learn and fast what it means to be the 'perfect' girlfriend and all that it entails.

A melancholic sigh escaped past the healer's lips.

Out of the corner of a building two blocks down from the bakery, she witnessed a couple make their way towards the sweets shop, hand in hand.

Her gray orbs glanced down to her own hand as she lifted it up to her face. A sad expression was etched onto her facial features.

Couples hold hands, huh? It wasn't a secret that lovers often hold hands. It was a very common concept for two people in a romantic relationship to hold hands. Still, though, how can she ever hope to be Edward's ideal girlfriend, if she was afraid of holding his white, gloved covered hand? Ed invariably and selflessly has to forcibly adjust himself just to accommodate for her weakness. He is continuously so nice and kind and patient with her, no matter how pathetic and weak she has become.

If Orihime aimed to be Edward's perfect girlfriend, then she had to get over this...ridiculous fear of hers. Being frightened of the color white was just plain silly. She had to learn, grow, and change herself into a girlfriend Ed could be proud of. She doesn't want to be an embarrassment to him or a disappointment.

The young couple was smiling, happily at each other and chatting. The guy said something, perhaps a joke or funny story of sorts, causing the girl to giggle. They appeared to be totally in love with one another. She was almost...envious of them. Would she and Ed be like that, if they started dating?

The guy was softly clenching something around. It seemed to be some kind of necklace. Or, rather, upon closer inspection, it was a star shaped pendant. She had to admit. It looked very cute.

It also reminded and gave her an idea to make the protective charm she wanted the blond alchemist to have into a necklace. Subconsciously, the auburn haired girl fiddled with her earrings that were hidden behind her hair. The aching feeling that was a rather uncanny mix of self condemned guilt and wistful sadness that churned, awfully inside the pit of her gut. She felt a very tiny slither of downhearted unworthiness from being somewhat undeserving of such a wonderful gift.

Don't get her wrong. She absolutely loves the earrings Edward bought for her as a gift! She would treasure it forever! She just… She felt a lingering silver of repentant awfulness for never giving Ed something in return. That's all. He gave her something so precious, and she has yet to give him anything in return.

No, all she has given him was pain and grief. She has been nothing but a burden to him lately. He lends her his favorite red coat to comfort her whenever her anxiety kicks up. God, he was hesitant to be wearing his gloves around her anymore, worried that he might cause her to have a silent breakdown. Because of her, he and Alphonse and sometimes Winry and Nina are always getting hurt in one way or another. It was her fault Nina's future became twisted, and the same thing is happening to Ed!

No more! The healer was tired of seeing her friends getting hurt because of her! And she's too pathetically weak and distastefully helpless to do anything about it.

Orihime's gray eyes widened when the couple kissed. It was a sweet and chaste kiss. She immediately turned away, averting her gaze, face flushed in shy embarrassment.

They definitely weren't shy about showcasing public displays of affection.

Flashes of her own kiss with Edward just hours ago appeared in her mind, and her heartbeat began picking up.

She quickly walked away before stopping in her tracks when she realized something. Wasn't she the one who was desperately searching for ideas and inspiration on how to be the ideal girlfriend? How young people in romantic relationships operate? Well, the auburn haired girl had a superlative guideline right there. She could follow the young, lovey dovey couple, and learn everything she can from them. That way she could use it in her hopefully near future relationship with Edward.

All the same, it'll be super creepy, if she spied on some random couple to get pointers on how a proper boyfriend and girlfriend act around each other. She could attempt to convince herself that it's a field experiment, however, that doesn't lessen the factor of it. If she was doing this all for Ed's sake, for the sake of making him happy, it felt so wrong. She must be pathetically desperate to consider spying on two strangers. Two one note characters that she doesn't know and would definitely never see again on a loving get together.

No. She shook her head, vehemently. She could not do that. It would be ultra weird and really insensitive to spy on a couple's romantic outing. She should just go.

Orihime continued on her way. She aimlessly wandered around the city with nary a destination in mind. She observed the citizens ignorantly and merrily going on their way without a care of the world. They were completely unaware of the dangers that lurk in the shadows. Homunculi… Hollows… Mod souls… Apparently people with powers like hers, who could potentially use their powers for evil deeds or selfish causes… As optimistic and bubbly as she might be, she's not naive enough to believe that there aren't people in the world with evil hearts. Edward and Alphonse are starting to believe the homunculi are the cause of all these problems or behind it somehow. Cause or not, everyone is responsible for his or her own actions.

It was no different than how it was back in her old world. Every blissful going on about their everyday lives, sadly nescient of the Hollow threats skulking around every corner. At any given, horribly tragic, terribly unfortunate moment their lives or the lives of their loved ones could be snatched from underneath their noses.

The healer recalled how she casually waltzed into the classroom with a chirpy, carefree aura enveloping her as if she hadn't very recently helped Ichigo battle a horde of Hollows. How it all felt so ridiculously easy that it felt natural to lead what is essentially a...double life. The moment she manifested her powers, her world became much more vibrant and colorful. A whole new world was opened up to her! At last, she found a way not to be a burden to others. She found a way to help people. She found a way to help Ichigo!

Sure, the auburn haired girl had to deal with treacherous dangers and perilous situations the likes she has never seen or witnessed before. There were times where she suffered. There were times where she cried. Times where she was scared, deathly afraid for the lives of her friends. However, with her friends by her side, she had the courage to preserve.

She could also never forget the experiences she shared with Ichigo and the others. All the joys and laughter, cheers and happiness, excitement and wonder. Despite the countless enemies they've faced, they made new friends along the way. Brand new adventures that no ordinary humans could participate in awaited them. She was exposed to a world beyond any comprehension of the imagination. It was rightfully scary, yet fantastically exhilarating. Regardless of her newfound supernatural life, it was relatively simple to continue on with her normal, mundane life, if all she had to do was keep with her school and social life is by studying and acting nonchalantly cheerful as if she hadn't come back from a battle with a supernatural monster.

Now, all of a sudden, Orihime realized just how different her life was from everyone around her. It was funnily ironic that it takes her being sent and trapped in a world parallel to hers with a century time difference for her to notice how...abnormal her life was. She has to constantly make decisions, sometimes painful decisions between her private life and her duties and obligations to the spiritual world. She truly felt similar to a fish out of water. By this logic, it sounds very lonely and depressing.

Even if she began dating Edward and succeeds in becoming his ideal girlfriend, then what? The Hollow and supernatural threats aren't going to cease anytime soon. She may have to end up skipping out on dates or leave in the middle of them to deal with a nearby Hollow. Plus, he was already in enough danger as is just by being near her. What would happen if her enemies found out he's her lover? They could use him as a hostage or leverage against her, or, worse, kill him to severely damage her emotionally. Which comes into play, will a complicated yet effective romance really work between them?

All these ponderings are making the auburn haired healer realize that it is not just her insecurities getting in the way of pursuing a relationship with the famous Fullmetal Alchemist, but her secretive life as well. There were risks and tribulations in seeking a romantic connection with Edward. She hasn't exactly been entirely honest with Ed. For starters, she hasn't even told him she comes from another world and there are many worlds out there like the Soul Society and Hueco Mundo. He merely thinks that Japan is some faraway country because of the half truths she's been feeding him and his brother.

She wondered if there are any supernaturally powered people and ordinary humans who ended up together? If so, how did they do it? Did the person with the spiritual powers come clean and lay down all their secrets? If they did, how did their lover react? Were they understanding and supportive of them in their otherworldly endeavors, or did they deem them as delusional liars and called off the relationship because their ex lovers were 'dishonest and untrustworthy'?

For example, Ichigo's parents' relationship. How did they work out? A Soul Reaper marrying a human… She never heard of anything like it before. How did their interspecies romance bear fruit? She wanted to know. She wanted advice.

The healer stopped viewing her heavy hearted reflection in a nearby window of a jewelry store. She melancholically pressed her right hand against the glass.

She never considered any of these problems when she only thought of Ichigo as her love interest. There was never any need to. Everything they do, they'd do together. Whether it was battling Hollows, going on dates, or going to school, they would do it all together. Throughout all the happiness and pain, suffering and laughter, they would support and be there for each other through thick and thin.

There was no inherent secrecy. There was no need for it. They were both humans greatly affected by a twisted fate of a changed destiny. Because of her powers, she was able to get closer to Ichigo. Due to her adventures with him, she grew significantly closer to him, which resulted in her simple crush progressively transforming into genuine love.

With Edward, it was a whole different ball game. If she wanted to commence a serious relationship, she needed to take all this into consideration.

Were the risks really worth the reward? Would it be a lasting relationship?

She sighed, sadly, pressing her forehead against the display window of the jewelry store.

Wait a second… A jewelry store…?

Gray eyes stared at the many colorful accessories in the display window. Then a brilliant light bulb lit up in her head.

With her despondently gloomy disposition vanishing into one of upbeat cheerfulness. She gleefully opened the door that was next to the window, and strolled inside the store. She decided to temporarily forget her troubles for several moments.

The store clerk was too busy dealing with a customer to notice her entrance. That's good. In that case...

Orihime calmly and fastidiously browsed the store's selection of jewelry, gemstones, and other trinkets. From necklace to bracelets. From rings to earrings. And everything in between.

She had to search for the perfect gemstone or trinket for Edward. She decided to use it to create a protective charm. In spite of refusing to stalk the couple, they did give her the idea of making Ed some sort of pendant or necklace. She desired to make the lace of the necklace herself.

Hmm, what would best suit Ed? She wanted to carefully choose and put a lot of thought and consideration into her choice. Like he did for her and these earrings.

The auburn haired girl has been searching for half an hour now. She had picked up and examined a handful of gems and charms by now, however, none of them felt right. None of them screamed 'Edward' to her in any way. She wanted something that reminded her of Ed. She wanted something that Ed would look at with prideful admiration, and think of her. He has done so much for her. This was the only way to repay his kindness. The only way to protect him. She had to be smart. She had to choose wisely.

She visualized what sort of jewelry Ed would want. What would he choose?

Then she shivered and her face turned slightly pale green.

Yeah… On second thought… Nevermind.

She was not trying to dismiss his viewpoints on taste and style. It's just that...Ed's fashion sense wasn't...the best. No doubt he would want something terribly gaudy. Something with fangs, horns, and/or skulls. She giggled, quietly to herself in amusement. Without a doubt, he'd want it red or black. She shook her head, gaiety. He truly had no taste.

It was funny how thinking about Edward in a less...overly...complex manner made her anxiety disappear and feel more at ease. Alphonse, too. Al was constantly so gentle and sweet. The younger brother and the mature one of the two. Al's gentle presence was always a warm welcome to her. She remembered how kind and warm he was to her when they first met. How he welcomed her with open arms. She truly appreciates it. If she had a little brother, she'd wish he would be similar to the soul bonded armor in terms of personality. Those two boys always had a way of making her feel right at home.

For the first time in a long time, Orihime actually felt at home. Not to say, she doesn't feel at home in Karakura Town. That's where Ichigo, Tatsuki, and all of her friends are. That's where they are waiting for her return. It's the place where her big brother raised her. It was her hometown. It would forever hold a special place in her heart.

It was simply nice to come to a place where there are people waiting for her instead of a lonely, dreary apartment. Nice to enjoy family meals again. Of course, Tatsuki stops by for dinner on occasions, and the time where Raniguku and Toshiro used her apartment as a base for their battle against the Arrancar, but all that's different. When was the last time she got to say 'good morning' when she woke, and was greeted with it in return? And 'goodnight' when it was bedtime?

Ed… Al… Nina… Winry… They were… They To have the delightful warmth of a family again… It was… It was… extremely pleasant. Gratifyingly wonderful to wake up to a place that was filled with the cheerful brightness and light hearted joy of friends and company. She hadn't experienced it since her brother's passing. The persistent warmness of a family is something she missed dearly.

That is why… She can't afford to fail Ed. Al can't afford to lose his brother, the only family he has left. If Ed gets killed by a Hollow, it'll be her fault. If Ed lost his life, Nina would be heartbroken. Winry would grief. Alphonse would be devastated. She has to protect Edward! She has to protect him at all cost! After all, he still has his promise to Al to keep.

The young girl continued on her hunt for the right for her blond haired companion. It'd be best to find something artistically simple yet aesthetically pleasing. Charming yet not too refined. The color or shape doesn't really matter. While she'd prefer it to be red, any color would do as look as the charmed appeared craftily pretty.

The healer passed by various shelves that held an assortment of gorgeous earrings. The shapes and designs of earrings ranged from relatively simplistic to stunningly intricate. They were all so lovely. But she wasn't here for earrings, so she continued browsing.

Seconds turned into minutes… About another half an hour passed, and still no luck. The healer was slowly becoming disheartened. Was there nothing she could use as a charm for Edward? Would she have to try somewhere else? Perhaps a different store? Or completely make the protective charm from scratch?

Then something in her peripheral vision caught Orihime's attention as she strolled past it. She stepped back a couple of steps and fully turned her body. It was a chained bracelet with a semi large sun charm attached to it. Her gray orbs brightened, immensely. They twinkled with animated jubilation.

This was it! This was perfect!

She reached out and tenderly cradled the bright yellow satin jewelry box. It was placed on a delicate, yellow cloth. The outside of the sun charm was an alluring golden yellow color. It had eight long, graceful points that curved in an exquisitely smooth fashion, ending at the tip, and eight similar yet smaller points between each one. There was a beautiful clear silver at its center.

The daintily lovely style of the accessory was magnificently beautiful. It was less bold and more subtly pleasing. It was clearly meant for a girl to wear. Conversely, that wouldn't be a problem because she simply needed the sun charm. And, luckily for her, the charm was detachable.

It reminded Orihime so much of Edward's eyes. The strength and warmth behind them that was complemented by the shimmer of sheer determination. The way they glow brightly and become a captivatingly gold color when he is happy, and turn a depressingly dark yellow when he is sad. They prompt her to repeatedly think of the sun. The manner in which the sun shines when it's unobstructed by anything that could detract from its brilliant rays, touching the earth with its gentle warmth. Not to mention, the dusky state it becomes when it's overcast by misty, cloudy weather.

That's why she decided that this sun charm was perfect for him. Because Ed's eyes are just like the sun!

Orihime checked the price tag. Four thousand nine hundred and twenty two cenz? That's a little expensive. Is it within her budget? She took out her fuchsia purse, and inspected it to verify how much money she has. Fortunately, she had enough to buy the jewelry, earning a sigh of relief from her. The bad news that she is very steadily and slowly losing money. Of course, she still gets paid about fifteen percent of the profit for every fashion magazine that gets sold, which she was featured in. However, how long will that last? Those magazines won't keep selling forever.

She has to eventually figure out a new way to make money. She could make a request to Elizabeth to let her model in another issue of Central Times Fashion. Nevertheless, the mere notion of doing something obscenely embarrassing as modeling caused her cheeks to flush, timorously shy. And there would be greatly against the idea of her modeling. Edward, for one.

She recalled how the blond alchemist vehemently expressed how much he disliked her modeling when found out. Alphonse and Winry were rather okay with it. Perhaps, even a little encouraging. It was only Ed who had a serious problem with her modeling. But why though? She can not put her finger on it, but it was not his usual anger and disapproval. He seemed rather...heated about it. That confused her. She has never seen him so…super...antagonistic about anything before.

There are probably people out there that would tell her not to worry about her money concerns. Edward would pay for everything. All she had to do was ask nicely, and he'll buy it. After all, he is a State Alchemist. He's practically loaded with cash. How else could he travel from place to place on merely a whim on most occasions?

That's the problem though! The auburn haired healer doesn't want to rely on Ed for her financial needs. She wants to make her own money, and buy her own stuff! She had no time to settle down and go job searching. Not with all the traveling she does with the boys. She thought about opening up her own bank account, but wouldn't she need citizenship for that? Maybe Ed and Al have forgotten, but she hasn't overlooked the crucial detail that she is still considered an illegal immigrant.

How would a person be able to legalize their citizenship in Amestris? The question is… Does she want to? Considering that's been here for over half a year, and who knows how many more months or years would pass by before her friends discover a way to connect her world to this world, it'll probably be a good idea. She should probably discuss it with Ed and Al.

Though that can wait to later. Right now, she has a present to buy.

Orihime traipsed over to the register with a happy skip to her steps. "I like to buy this, please." She set the sun bracelet down on the counter.

"For your boyfriend?" The store clerk asked, a sly smile gracing her dark pink colored lips. The woman appeared to be in her early thirties with long, slightly wavy, black hair. Her eyes were a midnight blue, which was highlighted by her lime tinted eyeliner. She wore a stylish, button down, blue blouse, a black pencil skirt, and black low heels. Dangling from her ears were two, large, gold hoop earrings.

At that remark, the healer instantly felt her face grow hot. "B-b-b-boyfriend?!" she stammered, embarrassingly flustered. She did her best to regain her composure. "Sorry, I don't have a boyfriend." Which wasn't much because her voice sounded incredibly low and shyly meek, causing her to inwardly cringe.

The clerk rose a delicately thin, black brow. "It isn't for your boyfriend?" she inquired. Though, judging by her tone, she seemed unconvinced. Then she burst out laughing. "There's no need to be so modest or shy about it," she waved, jauntily. "Everybody knows that you and the Fullmetal Alchemist boy are going out together!"

Orihime paled. "E-everyone?"

"Yep!" The black haired clerk twirled her body around. She flipped some strands of hair over her right shoulder, and crouched down. She opened a small, ivory wood cabinet. She pulled out something, but with her back obstructing her view, the auburn haired girl couldn't see what it was.

Yet, when her gray eyes were able to spot significant parts of the article she was pulling out, her face whitened, considerably.

There were two magazines. One was the mag she modeled in. However, the other one was what provoked Orihime's heart to drop. It was the same magazine Winry showed her this morning! The one with the page where she was caught kissing Ed on the cheek!

Why? Why does she have it? Just when she was doing her best to think positive and not to be so dispirited, it gets slapped right back in her face! If she hadn't acted so impulsively, then that mortifying picture wouldn't have been taken. She was reminded again that she causes Edward nothing but trouble. She was an absolute embarrassment! She has no confidence asking Ed out now. Maybe her wanting to date him was simply wish fulfillment, and this is a sign that she should give up before she even tries because it would be a waste of time for both him and her.

Her once joyfully cheerful mood turned sour with crestfallen dejection. The store clerk seemed blissfully ignorant of her consumer's depressingly dismayed disposition as she gleefully flipped the page of the second mag until it landed on the article about Orihime having a secret lover.

"See?" she squealed, excited, pointing a slender, ivory white, light pink nail polished finger on the picture. "Isn't that you and him in the picture, Orihime?" she drawled out her name, playfully waggish. "You can't fool me! I can tell you two are in love!"

The healer didn't say anything. She lacked the proper emotional capacity for a suitable response. She was too distraught by the revelation that people are looking at the magazine of her and Ed. If she said something now, her voice would come out cheerlessly damper. All she could do was nod, numbly along with the clerk as she talked, fervently. She strongly wished for the ground to open up and suck her in, so she could escape this uncomfortable humiliation.

"I'm so jealous," the female clerk moaned, actorly. "Not of your boyfriend, of course," she remarked in a slightly snooty tone. "Personally, I think you could do better. He's too short and, although he has achieved many great feats, I heard his personality is terribly atrocious. Not my taste, at all. Why would a gorgeous girl like you even go out with a guy like him? Though he is a State Alchemist, so he must be loaded with oodles and oodles of cash. If you are only in it for the money, I totally understand."

Orihime frowned, displeased. Her diffident distress was temporarily forgotten. Something about the way this dark haired woman talked so negatively about Edward… She didn't like it. She didn't like it one bit. She had a suddenly huge urge to defend her blond haired friend. All the lady is talking about is all of Edward's bad traits. But he has a lot of good ones, too! Why don't people notice that? Ugh! It… It really...frustrates her to no end.

"That's not true!" Orihime, catching the woman by surprise. "Sure, Eddie may be a bit mean and stubborn, but he is a really kind person!" she exclaimed, passionately with an angry pout. "He acts tough, but that's just to hide his soft and insecure side. He has a lot of weaknesses and vulnerabilities that he keeps concealed from the world behind a cocky boisterous front. He's always been so sweet and nice to me. Even when I mess up or when I'm feeling down, he's always there comforting me, cheering me on, and encouraging me, pushing me to keep moving forward."

Orihime was completely unaware of how her facial features changed from indignantly defensive to a blissfully dreamy like manner. "That's not all. His eyes are as pretty as the sun. And he has a cute, boyish smile. His hair is really soft. It surprises me how soft it is. I want to run my fingers through it all day. When he concentrates on something, you can sometimes see his nose twitch. It's so adorable! When he's embarrassed, he sputters and spazzes out. I admire how passionate and enthusiastic Eddie is when it comes to alchemy. He gets awkward and shy when something makes him flustered. When his dorky side comes out, it's really endearing. Plus, he-"

Unexpectedly, the store clerk broke out in an ebullition of hearty laughter, interrupting the healer's rant. "If that isn't the face of a girl in love, I don't know what is!"

Orihime's countenance combust. Her entire face, neck, and ears were a very, very, very dark shade of red, and there was steam coming out of her head. She was so embarrassed! She rambled on and on about Ed without realizing it.

How?! How does her face look when she is prattling in regards to Ed?! She wasn't doing a very convincing job, was she? Now this lady more than ever firmly believes she and Ed are an item. Which they are most definitely not! Is this how celebrities feel when they fail to persuade their more thick headed and bull headed fans concerning false misconceptions surrounding them?

"Any girl who talks about her boyfriend with such intense earnestness must really be in love with him," the woman cooed, skittishly.

"But Eddie's not my boyfriend," Orihime protested, weakly, still feeling the stings of self conscious embarrassment.

"Don't be so modest. I know what it's like to be young and in love." She sighed, dreamily. "I remember how deeply in love I was with my first boyfriend. Everything felt so exciting and so new. It was so scary and so exhilarating!"

She desperately wanted to declare to the clerk that she was wrong. Dead wrong. She does not have any feelings for Edward because...because she already has feelings for someone else. Unfortunately, if she expressed that, what kind of scandals would that bring forth? A story about her cheating on Ed with a new, mysterious lover? The media and society as a whole would love to eat up that kind of drama for dinner and dessert.

"If you don't mind, can I get your autograph?" the black haired woman asked, kindly.

Orihime bobbed her head, absentmindedly, sporting a fake smile. "Sure," she replied, feigning happiness. Not to sound rude, but she just wanted to buy this bracelet and go. This has been one of the most...unpleasantly uncomfortable thirty minutes of her life. She's not sure if she wants to step foot inside this store ever again.

The clerk beamed, brightly, almost gleefully, giving off the expression of someone who found a prized diamond jewelry. She produced a pen from under the counter, and handed it to her customer. Orihime could sense how extremely eager she was, but was poorly camouflaged behind a professional front.

She took the pen with a customarily courteous half grin. She swiftly as possible signed in her full name, in English of course, on both magazines. While she was reluctantly doing it, she had to fight down a bile of disgruntled displeasure that began to rise. Why was she doing this? Signing the mag she modeled in, she doesn't mind. But why was she putting her signature on the one with that horrid picture of her and Ed? This is essentially and wrongly admitting that they are a couple, which they most certainly are not!

"Thank you so much!" the female clerk proclaimed with so much sincere gratitude. Her midnight blue eyes glanced at the clock. "Oh, my," she gasped in surprise upon realizing how long it's been. "I should go ahead and take your order now," she said, sheepishly. "Sorry about the delay. I get off track sometimes, and lose sight of the time."

The woman finally got back to work. She checked the price tag, and began punching in some numbers on the register. "That would be five thousand one hundred and ninety five cenz. But for you I'll lower the price down to three thousand six hundred and sixty four cenz," she smiled.

Orihime smiled a more genuinely pleased smile this time. She lowered the price. That was so nice of her.

She took out her purse and produced enough money to pay for the sun charm bracelet. The older woman counted the money, and gave her customer the right amount of change back. She bagged Orihime's purchase while she put her change inside her fuchsia purse.

"Here you go, Orihime." She passed her purchase over to her. "It was nice talking to you. I hope to see you in another modeling gig. Have a nice day." She gently waves her goodbye.

The auburn haired healer slightly bowed her head goodbye out of nothing but sheer, inherently engraved politeness, and quietly left the store.

The minute the door closed, her smile immediately dropped, and she blew out an exasperated, tired breath. Wow. That ordeal.

But, hey. At least, she got a small discount on the sun bracelet. See? Kindness and politeness does pay off sometimes.

Although, Orihime was still very much bothered, and that left her feeling a little disheartened.

How was she going to deal with everyone thinking she is dating Edward? How would he feel about it? No doubt he'd be very upset and angry. He has to endure the humiliation because of her screw up. This is all her fault. She had to fix this somehow.

She paced down the streets. Where to next?

"If that isn't the face of a girl in love, I don't know what is!"

She came to a halt, her countenance laced with bewildered confusion and abashed disarray.

"I'm not in love with Eddie," she softly muttered to herself. "Am I?"

Everything was silent, except for the erratic pounding of her heart.

The Central train station was decently packed with people either travelling to meet friends and family outside the city, going on business trips, or moving somewhere else.

Nobody took notice of the medium length, brown haired woman approaching the platform. Her vacant, brown eyes were filled with unjustified rage. She was swaying, sluggishly. She teetered and tottered, lividly.

"This bitch…! This bitch stole my job from me!" she repeated, quietly, to herself in a crazed frenzy, as if that deranged chant was the only thing keeping her feet moving forward. "I'll make her pay!"

There was clearly something wrong, however, nobody took any heed to it. They were too occupied saying their goodbyes to friends. There were few lovers who gave each a light smooch and embraces, whispering to their romantic partners or spouses a safe journey.

The woman spotted her intended target, a woman with curly, light brown hair, and an unhinged smile etched across her face. She slowly approached the woman, taking careful steps to make sure she wasn't noticed. She stood a couple feet behind her like a predator waiting for the perfect moment to pounce on their prey.

The sound of wheels screeching on tracks alerting everyone to the train's arrival.

The woman took this opportunity to subtly push her victim onto the tracks. The other lady let a surprised, stunned gasp as she lost her footing on the platform. The citizens who finally took notice of what was going on, watched the scene in speechless horror and dumbfounded dismay.

The next thing they saw and heard was the sickening sound of flesh and bones being nauseatingly crushed and blood splattering everywhere in a gruesome fountain of crimson red.

The attacker inconspicuously left, cackling, insanely.

(A/N: Finally! That's the end of chapter forty nine! I hoped you guys enjoyed it! There were some stuff I wanted to add like Orihime meeting and talking to Gracia and Armstrong [different times, mind you], Ed and Al trying and failing to investigate Hollows, and Nina running into Zero again, but this chapter was getting pretty long, so I decided to scrap those ideas for a little later.

The conversation Orihime had with the store clerk is loosely based on the conversation I had with a coworker. We were just talking, getting to know each other, you know? Then she tells me about how she has a date coming up, then next thing I know she was divulging about the many dates and boyfriends she has. I immediately lost interest, barely listening anymore, all while thinking 'how the fuck did we get into this discussion? We just met!' Of course, Orihime is a lot politer in dealing with the situation than I was. The clerk is well meaning, but very...obnoxious, and that was what I was going for.

Yes, Mustang got 'Hughes's' letter, and let's say...he did not take it well. He is very, very suspicious. I wonder if he would discover Orihime wrote the letter? And what would he do to her, if he does? What steps would Mustang take now that the letter has warned him about the military's corruption, if he believes what the letter says in the first place?

Well, I do not really have anything else to say. Please leave any comments, suggestions, and questions in a review, and thanks for reading!)

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