A/N: I. AM. SORRY. I never meant for this to be so late, but at least it turned out for the better. This is an important bit of the story, and I hope you enjoy it. I really can't keep excusing myself for my lateness on updating, but there is one thing that is really hindering me: My father won't let me on the cp at all during the week. It annoys the crap out of me, but whatever. Here you guys go, thank you for being patient with me! Love you all! Please review, follow, or favorite!


The World of Amestris: III

Naomi gave a sigh as she looked at the unaltered ground. She was hoping to somehow make a long staff and vault the accursed steps. Now she'd have to walk up them with lead-like legs. Apparently alchemy needed a specialized arm or something – just like Edward's. Yes, Naomi did see the teen's metal arm. It was that very morning when she saw it, but it didn't dawn to her as important. After all- her father had lost a limb in the War. She quickly put away her thoughts about her family and began her ascent.

She groaned with each and every step. The fifteen-year-old really didn't want to walk steps. Sure it was better than dying, but then again, she was tired. Sometimes being tired was all it took.

When at last Naomi reached the right floor strode over to the Hughes' apartment. She knocked on the door and waited for Gracia. It took no more than a few seconds for the door to open and the mother's figure to step out.

Gracia's eyes closed and she took a breath of relief while her hand-made its way to her heart. When the mother opened her eyes again, they were almost frantic-looking. "Naomi – don't you ever give me another heart attack again. You said you'd be back a little after noon, and it's already dark out! Not only that, but the streets were being blocked off and I wouldn't have been able to search for you! Do you know how dangerous it could be if you're out there alone? You could have been taken or kidnapped or..or assulted. Did it occur to you that you needed to come back sooner or even…" she suddenly stopped, sighed, and let her face relax, "…I'm sorry...ignore me please. I've been worrying way to long. I'm sure you have reasons for being so late. Come on in. You can help set the table for dinner."

Naomi gave a small apologetic smile and muttered a 'sorry' to Gracia after stepping in and closing the door behind. On their way to the kitchen, her face scrunched up into a pout as she passed the comfy-looking couches. That's when the soreness and the bitterness of the entire day hit her – and she suddenly felt exhausted. Her abrupt energy crises caused the girl to stay put in the living room and moan out loud, "Do I have to set the table? I'm worn out!" Gracia turned and raised an eyebrow at Naomi's tone. The woman had heard the girl complain before, but never like she did just then. There was a brief pause before the mother asked, "How come?"

"Um well…kind of com …om…ings hap…yeah." Naomi ducked her head and mumbled incoherently.

"I can't really understand you, I hope you know."

"I'm sorry." the girl apologized softly, without hesitation. "I…just…don't want you to worry, is all."

"That makes me worry more."

"I'm sorry!"

"You don't need to apologize, Naomi. Just tell me when you're ready, alright?"

"Yes!"

"Then go rest up until dinner."

"Really?"

"Yes."

-x-

Neither Maes, nor Edward, nor Alphonse came for dinner that night. Besides that, vigorous tremors would shake the apartment building as they ate. During their meal though, Gracia kept a smile and good mood to wave away what was happening outside the building- but it didn't cease the subtle movement of her fingers or constant flicking of her eyes. Even the worry lines on her forehead would crease every now and them, by which Naomi used to ascertain how uneasy she was truly feeling. The mother's uneasiness soon rubbed off on Naomi herself, but didn't affect the noisy Elicia whatsoever. After perhaps a maximum of thirty minutes of dinner, Naomi excused herself from the table and headed towards her bedroom. Another headache was starting to ring in her ears, so she entered the room and dramatically fell on the bed.

One hour passed. Two hours. Three. It was impossible to even close her eyes while she lay unmoved on the still-made bed. Images of the shady criminal killing the officers haunted her mind. Sure Naomi had already accepted the fact that death was a part of her life, but the difference is that she never witnessed death firsthand. Not only that, but guilt was soon eating away at her insides. Maes still didn't know her name, and it was killing her. She knew that she couldn't sleep as long as the father was left clueless. Another hour passed until finally there was the sound of a door creaking open.

Without another thought, the girl quickly sat up and stumbled out of the bed. She clumsily exited the room and walked up the hallway and into the living room. Maes had just hooked his coat on the coat rack and was looking rather beat. She frowned, feeling unhappy about how long his work shifts were. As soon she entered the room he looked up and noticed her. Her rubbed his droopy eyes to make sure he wasn't hallucinating her shadowy figure. "Sissy, what are you doing up so late? You should be sleeping."

"Naomi." She blurted out without any consideration.

"What?" He said, bewildered.

"M-My name. It's my name, Naomi Lockhart." She gave him a ghost of a smile in the dim light from the moonlight coming in from a window.

Maes continued to stare at her through the darkness, still confused. Then his face gave a thoughtful look; what she had said finally dawned on him. He gave a short sigh and rubbed the back of his head. "Well that was sudden." Naomi nodded her head with so many emotions boiling within her.

"I'm sorry. I've been insensitive." Naomi said hoarsely. "You guys aren't strangers. You've done everything imaginable for me, and I-I couldn't even give you my real name. I'm sorry…" She sniffed at her running nose.

It took no more than a few seconds for the black-haired man to understand the girl and come forward. His arm extended forward and his hand rested on her shoulder. His eyes glowed with affection as if she was one of his own children. "Its okay, Naomi. You've been through a lot. I understand, you only needed some time." Naomi nodded and rubbed her eyes while Maes grinned. He raised his hand from her shoulder and ruffled her hair. "Thank you for telling me. Now go on and get some sleep."

The corners of the girl's mouth curved gently upwards. She was about to turn around, but a silent alarm went off in her head. "Uh- um, where are Edward and Alphonse?" she asked the father.

He gave a sigh, "They're alright. Ed was hurt, but it's nothing serious. He's at the hospital now."

"What!?" she croaked. "He'll be fine, right?"

"Yes, you don't need to worry. Alphonse is with him."

"Are you going to the hospital tomorrow?"

"Yes. Do you want to tag along? Even if you guys haven't started out on the best terms -"

"I'll come!" she interrupted. "I- I have to thank him."

Maes scratched his chin stubble while piecing things together and muttered. "And I was sure you were mad at him from last night."


-x-

Edward

"I told you not to go after him."

"Yeah, well if I hadn't gone after the guy, then Central would be a mess."

"Well you did mighty fine, because it's a mess right now. I mean it's ridiculous! Have you seen the damage?"

"It was that bastard's fault, not mine." Ed huffed in annoyance. Naomi was leaning back in a chair next to the hospital bed, fiddling with his pocket watch that she had so kindly taken from him. "Can you give that back now?"

"No." she muttered a reply. "It won't open! You locked it up or something."

"Yeah, so what?" Edward said smugly. He was now sitting up and looking down at the girl who was trying so hard to open the watch. Can't she see its sealed shut? He snickered to himself.

"What's inside? Is there an embarrassing love letter that you secretly like to read? Or is there some kind of picture of you kissing a certain girl with blonde hair?"

Ed's face reddened like a ripe tomato. "Where the hell did you get such ideas!? Did Al say something?" He yelled at her. She just cracked up from amusement which made his face even redder with anger. "Stop laughing! Whatever is in the watch is none of your damn business!"

"Okay, okay. Don't get pissed at me now," she tossed it to him without another thought. He caught it with his hand but then cursed when he felt pain stab his wounded shoulder. He rolled his eyes in annoyance caused by the damn wound. When he glanced back at Naomi, she had for some reason stopped laughing. She was now looking intently at him like a piece of bacon- wait, what? Why would he think that?! No, she was just staring at him as if she wanted to say something. Finally Edward gave her an odd look and grunted, "What?" Naomi's mouth opened partially from surprise, but she closed it and coughed uncomfortably. That irked Ed even more and so he pronounced each syllable obnoxiously, "WH- A- T?"

She answered after a moment's pause, "Ed, thank you."

The blonde blinked a few times, "For what?"

"For yelling at me yesterday."

"Wha-what? Look I'm sor- I'm sorry! I didn't consider anything I said and I regret it, okay?" Ed stammered and avoided her gaze. There was a short pause. Then, the blonde heard a little giggle that gradually changed into loud laugh. Edward flicked his eyes to the girl and glared. He snarled with frustration, "Don't laugh! I apologized, happy?! You can either accept it or forget about it, and right now I'd rather you choose the second option if you're just going to laugh!"

The young alchemist watched the girl continue to giggle to herself with his furrowed eyebrows – but for some reason his angry expression slowly dissolved. He started observing the way her light brown tresses would glide across the sides of her head when she laughed and how her eyes took a kitten-like form when pinched shut. When at last her giggles receded until nothing put a few gasping breaths, she looked up at him once more and replied speedily, "I'm not laughing at your apology, in fact I accept it. It's just that you're reaction was hilarious! You thought that I was reminding you of yesterday so you'd feel guilty, when that really wasn't what my intention was, and if that wasn't all, you apologized to me while unaware of what I really meant which was "Thank you" because I really mean thank you and that "–

"What the hell are you saying?" Ed interjected before she could finish, finding it difficult to keep up with the words that were jumping out of her mouth.

"Uh, sorry. Um, I guess I was saying is that I accept your apology, even if I don't need it. You were kind of right about everything, so I wanted to thank you." Before he could react, the girl's face was thrust near his. Edward stifled a small gasp of surprise. He could smell her minty breath on his face before she pecked his check with her lips. Edward could feel a deep blush heat up his face as he stared, dumbfounded, at Naomi. As soon as she pulled back, she smiled, but then the tips of her grin slowly pulled themselves into a frown as the room remained silent. "So?"

Ed remained flushed, still embarrassed and unsure of how the heck he should react or what he could even say in the situation. Naomi slowly brought her hand up to her face and scratched in confusion. "You're supposed to say something, like - your welcome or I'm glad you're happy. Oh! –and then you have to pat my head." The girl sat back down in her chair, slightly discouraged.

"W-why exactly should I have to do that? And why the hell did you kiss me on the cheek?!" Ed forced out a sentence, unnerved.

"'Cause Mommy does. Daddy says it too. Yet, you don't say it. Why are you such a jerk?" Naomi pouted. Ed raised his eyebrow at her answer. From what he just heard, the girl sounded either like a young child or a complete idiot- or a mix of both. "And why did your face look really weird and red after I thanked you? Geez, I just gave you a 'thank you' peck on the cheek. " Well she could've said that earlier, Edward thought. At least her actions finally made a scrap of sense to him. She thanked him. That's all…yet his pride was hurt as soon as she mentioned his face. He had been so taken aback that it was probably the weirdest expression of his life. Curse expressions. Curse his short body. All people could do was point out his flaws.

His voice rose in irritation once more, "What's wrong with my face, huh? Is it too good for you?"

"Nothing's wrong," Naomi snickered back at him, now watching him with an amused expression, "it just looked funny."

"My face doesn't, and never did, look weird or funny. Not once. " Ed growled back.

"Yeah, it must've been my imagination." The girl said frankly, trying to keep a straight face.

" 'Yeah' is right. If anybody looked weird, it'd be you."

It was during his sentence that the door swung opened and a large suit of armor entered the room. Ed didn't need a second look to know that it was Alphonse, and he silently cursed his luck.

"Brother! Say –"

"I'll pass." Ed grunted, annoyed at Al's bad timing.

"Hey Aleyfonsey!" The girl swerved her head to watch his brother enter his room with big eyes. Ed could feel a grimace creep on his face as Naomi called his brother something bizarre.

"Aleyfonsey? You have a big imagination." Alphonse laughed as he turned his shiny head towards the brunette.

"More like a poor excuse for imagination." Ed harrumphed.

"Then I guess I can call you Metaly." Naomi piped in. He groaned in frustration. "Just call me Ed or Edward and call Alphonse Al or Alphonse."

"You're boring." The girl pouted across from him. "At least Al is more fun."

"Good for him."

"She has a point, Ed." Al laughed. "You think fun is just running around catching bad guys."

"He does? Well that's not right, chasing bad guys is dangerous!" Naomi covered her mouth in surprise, "you should have some real fun some time, Edward!"

The older brother felt heat rising to his head. It's not like he was mad at Al or Naomi, but he felt frustrated. He clenched his automail hand. Fun? He had no time for it, Al needed his body back! "First of all, people can think what they want. Second, I'm so sorry I'm no fun, but it's not like I have a choice in the matter!" Edward blurted out. "If having fun stops us from getting a damned Philosopher's Stone, then there's no point in it!"

He watched Naomi's body stiffen with surprise and Alphonse look at him with his helmet's hollowed eyes. The alchemist sulked inwardly because he seemed to always ruin the good mood. Suddenly he realized that Naomi was in the room and he panicked briefly. His golden eyes darted away and he grumbled, "Never mind."

Unexpectedly, and very unexpectedly, Naomi bolted up from her seat. Edward's reflexes acted without a thought and he ended up recoiling and falling out on the other side of the hospital bed. "OW!" he yelled."WHAT THE HELL?"

"Brother!" "Ed!" He heard Alphonse and Naomi exclaim at the same time.

"I'm fine." Through his clenched teeth, the teenager stood up holding his shoulder that stabbed with fresh pain. His bottom also felt bruised. Annoyance radiated from him as he stood. Then he pointed an accusing finger at Naomi, "And what's with you and jumping up out of the blue!

"I'm sorry!" squeaked Naomi. "When I heard 'Philosopher Stone' I couldn't help it!"

The Elric brothers stiffened. With a cautious look, Ed narrowed his eyes at her, "Why?" She rubbed her cheek as if she was trying to remember. After a few seconds, Naomi sighed.

"I don't know."

"What do you mean don't know? Are you stupid or what?" He said incredulously, ignoring one of Alphonse's sharp comments about watching what he says. The girl looked at him with her blue eyes, irritation residing in their depths.

"I'm not stupid. I- I was just was spastic for a brief moment. It's- It's nothing new." Ed watched Naomi bite her lip in attempt to either hide her embarrassment or calm herself. Suspicion slowly coursed through the boy's body. She was hiding something. At least, that's what he thought.


-x-

Alphonse

It had been a week and three days since his brother had been hospitalized. Al knew that they would be leaving the hospital soon, but he felt disappointed at the thinning amount of time that he and Ed had could spend with Naomi. She had visited them a few times during the hospitalization (when she tagged along with Hughes during his regular check-ups-with-the Elrics). He was sure that the three of managed to somehow get along quite well, even if Edward and Naomi had a particular kind of friend-enemy-mutual sort of relationship.

Al admitted to himself that the girl was slightly odd in the way she did things, said things, or when she would think of things. There were some days when Naomi would act younger than she really was, or much older than she was. There were so many characteristics about the girl that it made it hard to decide her personality. Then there was that one thing that worried Alphonse was that Naomi seemed to keep a distant look in her eyes. She also looked confused or spaced out for a little while before regaining her senses. He wondered if that was normal for her, or if there was something on her mind.

His observations of the girl's actions also brought the thought of her sudden reaction after Ed mentioned the Philosopher Stone. She was confused, yet in that very moment of when she jumped up - it was impossible to disregard the moment's recognition she had.


-x-

Roy Mustang

"So you're saying you found a girl lying in the middle of the grass of Central Park and that she is from some place called California, and you've let her live in your house without informing anyone."Roy Mustang gave his old friend a skeptical look. Hughes stood across from him, giving an almost nervous grin.

"That's about it."

Mustang heaved a sigh. Just when one thing's resolved –something extremely random just pops up out of nowhere. "Now tell me, where is this girl now and how long has it been since you've found her."

"Well Naomi, the girl, has been here close to three weeks now, and is now at the hospital visiting with the Elrics, sir." Mustang's eyes lit with surprise, but when he thought about it, he remembered that they were all staying in the same house. But a question was still lingering in his mind."So where is California?"

"…"

"Well, Hughes?"

Hughes hesitated before answering, "No where."

"What do you mean by that?"

"I mean what I say, California doesn't exist. I researched it for over two weeks, but there are no such maps or records with that specific name. I looked at every town, city, area, and country that has been recorded – but there isn't a place called California. "

Roy felt dissatisfaction at the answer. "Now tell me, how is that exactly possible? She didn't just come from the sky, did she now?" He said coolly, calculating the range of possibilities that could clarify the girl's sudden appearance. "Does she have amnesia?"

"I considered that at first, Roy, but she said she remembers everything before waking up here. Not only that, but when I found her, it was obvious that she wasn't from around here. Her accent is pretty different, and she speaks of peculiar and highly incredible things." Mustang grunted. The rational part of him asked why he was wasting his time with a girl who could easily be dealt with by other officials but the seriousness that his friend was taking the situation kept Roy focused on the matter. Maes started speaking once more, "And there is another thing…"


-x-

Naomi

She yawned and rubbed her eyes, slightly unsure of where she was. Her right side felt sore, and that's when she realized that she was leaning on Alphonse's armor on the bench in Ed's hospital room. That's right – Hughes hadn't come to pick her up yet, and she must have fallen asleep while waiting. The girl let out a sigh while stretching her body. She looked out the window to see the evening sky slowly paint the different color hues in the great expanse of sky. Even from a window, it mystified Naomi.

"Oh, you're awake."

Naomi glanced up at Alphonse and yawned, "How long was I out?"

"Only thirty minutes." Naomi bobbed her head up and down slowly before glancing at the hospital bed across from them. Edward was passed out under the covers of the bed, taking his daily cat nap. It was impressive how long the boy could sleep when given the time to. He had been asleep for at least two hours before she gave in to a nap of her own.

She yawned again and asked sleepily, "So, do you know what time Maes was going to pick me up?"

"No, but I'm sure –" Alphonse by a loud bang of a door.

"Naaaaoooooomiiiii! Sorry I'm late! Oh look at Edward- he's so adorable when he sleeps! Well, not as adorable as Elicia, because she's an angel." The pale wooded door was pushed open as Hughes strolled in. Naomi chuckled at the father's timing. "Did you keep Alphonse un-lonely while Ed was sleeping?

"Yes she did Mr. Hughes," Al answered for her.

"For a little while, but then I feel asleep." she chipped in.

"Well, that's good to hear. Anyways -ah here he is. Naomi, I want you to meet Colonel Roy Mustang, my good buddy." Naomi lifted her head a little higher to see a man with sleek black hair standing behind Maes. The man carefully walked forward, his onyx eyes examined her physical appearance closely. The unfamiliar man stood tall, clad in the same dark blue uniform as Hughes, but he had a commanding aura surrounding him. Naomi stood up and walked a step forward, but was a little hesitant of extending her hand to greet him.

"H-hello. I-I'm Naomi Lockhart, um, Mr. Roy Mustang." She stuttered.

The colonel gave a small smirk and extended his own hand and shook hers, "Colonel Mustang – and it's nice to meet you, Miss Lockhart. I've been informed of your…current predicament."

Naomi shrugged and released her grasp of Mustang's head. "I guess that explains why you're here."

"Anyways, will you please follow us? There are things that need to be discussed."

"No thanks."

"What?"

"I said no thanks, Mr. Mustang. If you have something to discuss, you can discuss it here."

The black-haired man raised his eyebrow in surprise, but then gave a grunt of laughter. "And I thought Fullmetal was arrogant." At his sentence, Naomi heard a moan come from the hospital bed. She glanced to see a slowly awakening Edward sitting up and rubbing his eyes. Apparently the colonel also noticed this, but tried to pay no heed to the groggy blonde. "Why not?"

"You're scary." She said in a softer voice, but still very straightforward.

"Naomi, don't worry he won't hurt you," Alphonse interjected (out of nowhere), straightening up his armor and moving slightly closer to her."

Uh- What's going on?" Ed yawned in the background, confused.

"I'm sure you're right, Alphonsey, but he just feels scary."

"I assure you, Miss Lockhart, I don't bite." Mustang smirked with amusement.

"Hey, what the hell are you doing here Colonel Bastard?!" A moody voice echoed in the background.

"Why would you mention biting out of all the words in the dictionary, Mr. Mustang, its just plain weird."

"Haha! Oh,Naomi, it's just an expression!" Hughes laughed at her other side (seriously, where are all these people coming from?). "A very common one at that!"

"I know that Maes! It's just so stupid! Why would someone think that someone else would bite them?"

"Hmmm, I think I've got to agree with Naomi on this one." Alphonse replied thoughtfully.

"Hello, is anybody going to answer me?!"

The four of them chatted idly about the topic of expressions. Naomi and Alphonse teamed up and poked and prodded int the subject with the two officers who formed their own makeshift team. The conversation lasted about another seven to eight minutes, which also included poor Ed's attempts to gain somebody's attention, before Mustang finally took the authority to change the subject,"Alright, just forget it. We're getting off topic-" Mustang gave a half-tired sigh before being interrupted.

"WILL YOU ALL JUST SHUT UP! WHY THE HELL ARE YOU IGNORING ME!" Edward fumed, his face distorted into an angry scowl.

"Oh, Fullmetal you're awake." Roy said nonchalantly, hiding his grin." I'm just here to clarify some things with Miss Lockhart."

Edward was about to scream or rant, but Al had got to him on time and covered his brother's mouth. Naomi chuckled at the sight. She then returned her attention to the colonel and questioned, "So what is it you want to clarify?"

"Just about everything."


-x-

"You're positive?"

"Absolutely."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes! How many times do I have to say it?"

Naomi rolled her eyes as she leaned against the white walls of Ed's hospital room. Mustang had taken a seat on the wooden bench across from her, a grim look on his face. The girl felt a weird sensation bubble in her stomach; an uneasy atmosphere was starting to take form around her. She could even feel the curious stares of the two Elric brothers watching on the sidelines with Hughes (who looked more on the worried or strained side).

"Okay, so you lived in a the country known as the United States of America, a state known as California, and a city called Rocillec - which is in some numbered area." He looked at her with narrowed eyes once more. She nodded her head after an exasperated sigh. She saw him give a quick glance at Maes before flicking his dark eyes back on her. "Will you tell me what happened to you?"

Naomi remained silent.

This was an...exeptionatly hard thing to answer. What could she say? Yeah, like she would say that she was a former test subject and that during one of her tests, she was teleported to this place. This would then lead to questions about her stupid, stupid past. She wanted to put it all behind her, even if it wasn't plausible. Soon she'd be free of the horrible nightmares that engulfed her nights in chaos. That is what she believed – or wanted to believe – yet here she was. A man was inquiring about that same tender subject, snooping through her life as if it mattered. Even if he was a friend of Maes, she wouldn't answer him before sharing her story with the ones whom cared for her. She inhaled slowly and said,"I- I've decided. I won't tell you."

Mustang's face was carefully guarded, like her own face, as he watched her. It was hard to tell if the atmosphere in the room stayed hushed because of him or not. "It would be best to tell me. You are an intruder in the city, and can be easily taken into custody." Mustang narrowed his eyes, expectant.

"There isn't much to say."

"Oh really?"

Naomi felt her throat tense. "Th-there isn't. I can only remember so much, and what I can remember I'd much rather forget. Forgive me, but I won't say anything."

"What is it you want to forget?"

"N-nothing! Th-there isn't anything to tell. I'm fifteen. My birthday is December 3rd. I lived in Rocellic, California in the United States. I went to school, had friends, and lived a n-normal life!"

"You are either a good or terrible liar." Mustang snorted. "Do you expect me to belive that you came from a place that doesn't exist, with a casual excuse that you woke up in the park - how do I know you aren't a spy?"

"Roy!" Hughes quickly stepped forward to intervene.

"Maes, stand down. As your superior, please understand that I need to know the truth for both you and the military." The colonel said with an authoritative tone. Hughes stopped hesitantly, unsure of how to react to his friend's actions. Without a word, he finally stepped back. Ed and Al were right near him, tensed yet eager for what was to come. Naomi kept her right index finger tapping nervously on the wall behind her. Confusion started sweeping away her thoughts.

"What are you saying," she strained to keep her voice soft, "you don't know what America is? The U.S.A? The United States of America? Are you saying that this island we're on is so secluded that you've never had outside contact?" The man with slick, coal-black hair gawked at Naomi as if she were an alien from another planet.

"Where did you say we were?" He asked slowly.

"An island...a secluded island. I haven't actually confirmed this...but I just assumed because everyone should know the United States. Or are you from Australia? They're that really really big island that's bigger than Texas..." Mustang pinched the bridge of his nose thinking over what she said. Naomi wondered what was getting on his nerves. When he looked back up at her, his onyx eyes were cold and serious. "Miss Lockhart, I'm sorry to say that you are severely mistaken. Amestris is not a secluded island and we are very aware of all the countries around us, and there is no such place called the United States, or California for that matter."

For some reason her chest tightened. She gave a forced smile and laughed, "Please don't say these things. I'm getting reallllly confused." Her heart started thumping harder in her chest.

"Then perhaps you are only confused. Hughes brought a map with him, would you like to look at it?" Her eyes widened and she hastily nodded her head to accept the offer. Her stomach started doing flips now. It was only a dream.

Maes walked up to her and gave an encouraging nudge when he handed her the map. Her mouth was now in her throat. What if it was true? She carefully unfolded the map. It was old and musty, the colors seemed to be faded. She kept opening it until it showed the whole picture. Thick lines danced their way around the borders of the countries as names were scribed with careful caligraphy. The unfamiliar shapes of the map reflected in her eyes. It was just a dream.

She tightened her right hand's grip on the map, released her left hand from the paper, and slowly dropped both her arms to her sides. Naomi stared at the ground. It was only a dream. Her right hand released the paper. It fluttered effortlessly to the ground.

"No."she whispered inaudibly."Don't lie."

"Naomi?" Maes inched closer to her from where he was standing.

"No. no. You're lying! Stop lying to me!" Naomi startled everyone in the room when she suddenly yelled. She shook her head, not wanting to believe what he said and not wanting to believe what the map said. It was all a dream. It had to. She was just dreaming – nothing more.

"Naomi, I'm sorry that California, America, or wherever you say you're from, doesn't exist." Maes placed his hand on her shaky shoulder."But you might just be confused...it'll be alright. We'll figure out where your family is soon. I promise." The girl was able to tell how strained he was, she knew he didn't want to break her spirit; yet Naomi could only prevent herself from screaming at him. It wasn't his fault; he didn't deserve her anger. He didn't deserve the overwhelming confusion that threatened her sanity.

What was the reason? The reason why she was there, the reason that let the impossible happen. Impossible meant that nothing like this should happen. Her mind was puzzled, perplexed. How could she wake up in the middle of a park and have no recollection about how she ended up there? How could she be in a place that's so much like earth, but not earth? How could she be found and taken into a stranger's home without another thought? How could any of this be happening?!

-then it hit her.

The epiphany struck her like a truck speeding on a highway. And it hurt. Naomi didn't think she could feel any worse, but right then her mind started going numb. Her heart gave slow, dreaded thumps against her chest as the world practically stopped spinning. The teenager's mouth trembled and she stepped back from Maes.

That's when she ran. She spun around and flung the door open. She ran through the hallways of the hospital until she found herself barging out of the front doors. Naomi glanced around her and took in her surroundings while she dashed past the courtyard. Suddenly everything looked different; the sky, the buildings, and even the people. Adrenaline pulsed through her veins and she sprinted faster through the unknown world...She didn't know how much longer she could continue carrying the burdens of her life.

Even when her chest and body burned with gastric acid that made her want to vomit, she persevered running. She welcomed the pain. Naomi hoped that somehow the pain would take away her problems. Her mind was like static as she thought everything over while she ran. The happiness, the smiles, the freedom, the arguments, her feelings, the people –it was all a sham. Everything was fake. Nothing was real. The very thought sent tears flowing down her face. It was all too good for it true, but she believed it all so easily. She slowed down and halted, her instincts saying that she had run far enough. Hyperventilating from the excessive sprint, Naomi's arms found their way against a brick alleyway wall. The fifteen-year-old leaned in against the dull red bricks. Her eyes were warm and puffy because of the salty tears that continued to stream out from them.

Her body trembled uncontrollably as her heaving breaths and sobs threatened to choke her. "What did I do to deserve this?" She hacked out. "Give me an answer, God! I'm sorry! I'm sorry I'm selfish, I'm sorry I'm stupid! I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry! Just give me a life back – give me my life back! Please! I won't do another bad ever again! I promise!" Naomi's knees gave way beneath her and thumped the cement ground and caused her head to lean forward and rub roughly against the wall. Thoughts cycled through her mind faster than any other being could process them, but only one word stuck out among the endless stream of sentences:

Simulation.

They were watching her now, laughing at the normally expressionless girl, the girl whom would never acknowledge their presence. This was her punishment. To be tricked, to be broken down, to be humiliated – it was all just one big show for them. She was just a plaything for them. It made her whole being tremble with abhorrence.

"You win," Naomi cried softly to herself, "You win. I lost. What more do you want?" Only silence answered her cry.

-xxx-


OMG. WHAT WILL HAPPEN? IS IT TRUE? - IS IT? I'd tell you, but that'd ruin the whole plot now, wouldn't it? I'll let you on a little secret though- this is the start of the rising action. This is where things will actually be a little more actiony, adventurey, or perhaps romancy (I don't care if these arn't real words :P) Anyways, thank you kittens that reviewed! I love reading all the reviews because when I'm feeling down about my writing, I can just look at them and smile :) And don't worry, I appriciate you anonymous reviewers too! (and I do get the Gibbs reference lols^^)

Thank you soooooo much for all the support! But just remember- at the end of the rainbow there is a pot of gold! Where's the rainbow? Well just give a review and the portal will open and you'll be rich! :D

Sky65