So… this is REALLY late. For those of you who care: I get my AP scores tomorrow and tryouts went well. Now, you guys really need a summary here…

Summary: Jack and the brothers have gone to Winry and Ed got fit with his new automail. There was also a suspicious little conversation between Mystery Girl and Truth at the very end of that chapter, which hinted at some dark voodoo stuffs happening with Nina. OOH SCARY! Now, it's off the the first branch of the library!

.oOo.

"IT'S ALL GOOONEEE!" Ed cried, clutching his hair with his gloved hands. Alphonse was in a much similar state, though he was less vocal about it. Even I had to agree that this really sucked.

The entire first branch of the National Central Library had been burned to practically nothing. Maybe a third of what used to be the front wall remained, and even that looked very much unstable. The rest of it was… mostly ashes. Ed slowly climbed into the almost-building and crouched by the charcoal remains of a book. It crumbled to nonexistence in his hand, staining his white glove a dusty black.

"There's nothing left… the research notes…" Ed mumbled to himself. I will admit, I was very much tempted to tell them the secret of the Philosopher's Stone then and there, but I had made a promise to She-Who-Has-Yet-To-Tell-Me-Her-Freaking-Name, and the internet access could be of use later.

A pair of clipped voices barked out, "Major Armstrong, reporting for duty, sir!" Our group turned around to see two military peeps saluting us. One of them was a young man who looked a bit like what I would expect Ed to look like in a few years and a haircut, except with green eyes and several more inches. The other one was a woman of about the same age, with very short dark hair and one of those beauty mark-mole-thingies below her eye. Their salutes were identical and the two of them looked equally stiff as they appraised us.

"What's this?" Major Armstrong questioned in his deep baritone.

The dude responded in that same tone, "We have been assigned as new escorts for Edward Elric, sir!"

Ed groaned. "What, more bodyguards? Come on, this is getting ooold!" he whined.

"And how is what they're doing any different from what you're doing?" I asked, raising an eyebrow. "Surely you noticed that you're in the same position with me…"

"Well yeah," he huffed, crossing his arms, "but you're secretive and interesting to be around."

I clapped my palms to my cheeks in mock surprise. "Oh, my darling!" I took on my British accent again, "I had no idea you thought of me so! Why, you could make a girl blush!"

I saw a vein in his forehead pulse in irritation. "Nope, I take it back, you're a complete waste of time." He looked back at the ruined library in despair. "And apparently, so was this… Now we're back to square one…"

The lady lowered her hand sharply and spoke. "Did you want to read something from the first branch? Second Lieutenant Maria Ross, by the way."

Ed sighed. "Yeah… but it doesn't matter now, I can't read charcoal."

Ross smiled reassuringly. "Don't give up. Maybe somebody who worked there would be able to help."

.oOo.

One trip to the Second Branch Library later, they stood at an apartment complex. Ed knocked on the door in front of him quickly.

"Hello?" Sergeant Denny Brosch called out. "Sheska? Are you home?"

Completely ignoring the lack of response from the other side of the door, Jack marched up and wrenched it open, then proceeded to walk inside.

"Jack!" Alphonse gasped. "You can't just go in, what if she isn't…" He finally noticed the mountains of books hiding every inch of the walls and towering all the way to the ceiling.

"Woah." Ed followed his charge inside, everyone else just behind him. "That is a lot of reading material."

They maneuvered through stacks of books until Alphonse noticed… a hand? "BROTHER! I THINK SOMEONE IS UNDER THAT!"

Everyone bolted towards the mountain of toppled books and began digging like their lives depended on it. Eventually, more of the body was revealed, and they discovered that the person under the pile was a young woman with short, mousy brown hair and large glasses.

She sat on the ground and panted along with the rest of her rescuers. "Oh, thank goodness. I thought I might die under there!"

Ed looked at her for a moment. "Are you Sheska?"

She nodded with a smile. "Yes, that's me. Who are you all?"

After introductions had been passed around, Jack spoke up. "So, you worked at the Central Library, right?"

"Oh yes! The library!" She clasped her hands together, smiling. "I loved that job so much! All the books there… I just love to read. In fact, it's probably the only thing I'm good at!" Her smile faltered and her hands fell. "Unfortunately, I spent more time reading than working, and ended up getting fired! It's such a shame, now I don't have the money to move my sick mother into a better hospital!"

Ed leaned forward. "While you were working there, do you remember if there were research notes by a Tim Marcoh there?"

"Let me see… Tim Marcoh…" She looked up at her dusty ceiling in thought. "That's right! I remember them because they were placed in the wrong section of the library."

"So they really were there?" He groaned in desperation. "Then that means they burned down with everything else in the library. Thanks…"

"Did you want to read his notes?"

He sighed. "Yeah… but it's too late now."

She held up her hand. "I remember everything in them, would that help at all?"

There was about three seconds of stunned silence. Then everyone exploded.

"WHAAATT?"

Sheska looked startled. "It's just the way I am! I only have to read something once and then I can remember it word-for-word!"

Jack nodded. "So you have a photographic memory."

"Y-Yes, I suppose you could call it that…" She stuttered.

Ed held up his hand suddenly. "Hang on, so you could rewrite Marcoh's notes exactly as they were?"

"It would take some time, but I'm sure I could manage it…"

He grinned. "Sheska, you're a life-saver!"

.oOo.

During the five days it took for Sheska to write everything down, the brothers and their 'bodyguards' toured Central with me. And when we weren't touring, I was trying to guess that girl's name. She had refused to drop any hints regarding the subject, and I was beginning to get a bit irked.

Susan?

Nope.

Sam?

Nope.

Bridget?

Nope.

Bobalina?

Now you're just being ridiculous.

We arrived at Sheska's apartment, knocking on the door this time before entering. Once we had breached the threshold—which sounded really badass in my head but was actually just walking through the door—Sheska revealed the multiple stacks of research notes. Or at least, that's what we thought they were going to be, until it was announced that they were "1000 easy recipes!"

Brosch picked up one stack, reading through it quickly. He then eyed Sheska in mild surprise. "What part of these looked like alchemic research notes to you?"

She lost the smile on her face. "Oh no, did I do something wrong? I just wrote them down as I remembered them…"

Ed and Al were still examining the notes with glee. "You're positive that this is exactly as they were?"

"Positive." She nodded sharply.

The midget grinned. "You're the best Sheska!" Then, seeming to think of something, he grabbed a piece of scratch paper from a pocket notebook and removed his pocket watch from the clip on his belt. Scribbling something down on the paper, he handed both articles to Ross. "Lieutenant, this is my certification. Please go down to the military offices and ask them to remove that amount from my annual research funds for Sheska's payment." Then he hefted some of the stacks of paper. "C'mon, let's get these down to the library."

The two girls opened the slip of paper as we walked out, and I very nearly had a heart attack from their screams of surprise. "Is he missing a decimal place in there somewhere?!"

Ed snickered ahead of me, meaning he knew exactly what he had given the girl. I shook my head and hefted my stack a bit higher into my arms before following them to the car.

.oOo.

If there is one thing that I absolutely hate more than anything in the world it is boredom. Always. The brothers and I spent every minute of every day in that room in the library, with Ross and Brosch standing guard outside. Not that they needed to, the only thing going on in there was the flipping of pages, the shuffling of pages, and the occasional convergence of evidence between the two of them.

This would have been fine with me (they weren't prying into my secretive life), except for the fact that I couldn't help too. I had absolutely no understanding of alchemy except for maybe a bit of basic chemistry, and I wasn't about to learn now. The first step of alchemy was understanding, which meant learning, which meant… studying. I do not study.

And so, I spent the entirety of the several days we spent there surfing the web and attempting to guess the name of the cranium companion. It was such a blessing when Sheska came in that I very nearly ran over there and hugged the lady.

She stood in front of their table shyly. "I just wanted to thank you for all the help you've done. With all the money you gave me, I was finally able to move my mother to a better hospital." She gave a small bow of appreciation, then smiled hopefully at the boys. "Have you had any luck cracking the code?"

Their groans of depression were enough to answer her question. Ed then returned, "have you had any luck finding another job" Her similar groan of depression was enough of an answer for them.

Just then there was a knock on the doorframe, and the porcupine haired guy with the glasses raised a hand. "Yo!"

"Lieutenant Colonel Hughes!" Ed smiled. So that was his name…

He grinned at them slyly. "What gives, Ed? I thought I told you to give me a shout next time you dropped by Central!"

The blonde laughed. "Sorry, we've been kinda busy over here. How've things been on your end?"

"Not good." He groaned, "All of our case files were in the First Branch of the library, and without them working has been a real pain, you know?"

Not Katie sighed in my head. Three. Two. One.

Ed's eyes drifted over to Sheska. I could practically see the light bulb go off over his head. "Then have I got the person for you!" He slammed his fist down on the table and pointed in a very Uncle Sam manner.

"Well I have read all the case files, and I do remember all of them…"

Hughes grinned. "That's all I needed to hear! Miss, you're hired! We'll get you to work right away!" He grabbed her arm and began dragging her off in a manner that reminded me quite a bit of kidnapping.

Before he could leave I turned on Ed. "Can I go too?" I gave him my best puppy dog eyes. Not that those would work on him, but one can hope right?

Ed seemed to understand my boredom. Nodding, he turned to Hughes. "Keep an eye on him, alright?" Then he smiled evilly, and I almost began to regret my suggestion. "I'm sure he'd love to see your photographs!"

That seemed to be enough for Hughes, because soon enough he was 'kidnapping' me too.

.oOo.

"And this is Elysia on a tricycle! She's almost four now, look at those cheeks! Isn't she just an angel?!"

This had been my life for the past couple of hours. It was a welcome change after all the time I had spent doing nothing with the Elrics, but even I had to admit that this guy was completely insane! Where did he even keep all these pictures?

I smiled and nodded. "She sure is. Like she dropped straight from heaven."

"I know, right?" He gushed. "And here she is with my beautiful wife Gracia! The two of them are so perfect, I must be the luckiest man in the world! Speaking of…" he glanced over at the clock on the wall, "…I should probably be getting home soon. It's almost dinner time, and Gracia always makes the best meatloaf in the world!"

My eyes widened and my smile grew larger. "She does? I love meatloaf!" Or at least that's what I said out ld. My head was following somewhere along the track of 'home cooked meal!'.

If it were possible, Hughes grinned at me even wider as well. "Well then that settles it! You're coming over for dinner, I'm sure she'll cook enough!"

After relieving Sheska for the night and informing the Elrics of where we were headed, we made our way to the Hughes' home. It was a quaint little two-story on the outer side of the city, with small hedges lining the path and a tricycle in the yard. Hughes opened the door, calling out a surprisingly stereotypical "Honey, I'm home!"

"Daddy!" The excited voice of what could only be Elysia responded. The girl came bounding down the hall and jumped into his waiting arms, squealing with joy as he swung her around. "Daddy, your beard is itchy!" She complained while laughing away. Gracia came down the hall next and ushered us in after quick introductions. Apparently, Hughes brought home guests rather often, so my apprearance didn't faze her.

As we sat at the dinner table eating what I agreed was the best meatloaf ever, Elysia told us all about her day at the park today.

"And then we saw a rabbit with a big bushy tail! In a tree!" She grinned at the memory.

Gracia laughed. "Those are called squirrels, dear!" Everyone was laughing at that point, myself the hardest. Who would've thought that such a picture perfect family actually existed?

Several minutes later, Elysia was thoughtfully staring at her plate. "Hey, what's up Elysia?" I asked, poking her shoulder teasingly.

She looked up at me. "Where do babies come from?"

Everyone froze. I glanced at Hughes, hoping to convey to him that this was most certainly not my department. Gracia saved the day. "They come out of mommies' tummies silly, you knew that!"

"But how do they get there?" Or so we thought. This time I decided to step in.

"Well you see, the stork comes along carrying a teeny baby in a blanket." I flapped my arms gently like wings. "And then, he flies over your house while a mommy and daddy are sleeping and drops the baby in!"

She nodded like she understood, and we all relaxed. Then, she asked "Why do you need a daddy for a baby then?"

And suddenly the room was tense again. I smiled. "They've gotta sign a special paper for the stork, saying that they want the baby too. It's a decision that both of the parents have to make together."

Elysia smiled. "Oh, that's good!" Then she turned to Mr. and Mrs. Hughes. "Can you ask the stork for a sister for me?"

My God, this child! Before the other parent could answer, Gracia stood up. "Elysia, it's time for a tubby!" She smiled like nothing had happened and carted her child out of the room. I threw Hughes a questioning look.

"Well? Are you planning on any more?"

He sighed and sunk forward in his chair. "We would love to have another, but Elysia very nearly didn't make it when she was born, and that's scared Gracia to death. I don't think she can handle another close call like that…"

"You could always adopt." I suggested. "In fact, I think I know of a little girl around Elysia's age who could really use a good home environment right about now."

Hughes looked interested. "Do you now?"

I nodded, hoping I could do some good for that kid again. "Yeah, her name is Nina. Nina Tucker."

Hughes's gaze darkened. "Is she the daughter of Shou Tucker, perhaps?"

I grimaced. "Yeah, she is. She very nearly died because of alchemy that night. I think what she needs most right now is a nice, normal home environment and a nice, normal father figure." I stressed the word 'normal', using the term he himself had used during the Scar incident.

He seemed to ponder for a moment. "I'll have to bring it up with Gracia first, but I think I like your idea." He stood from the table, and I did the same. "It's getting late, I should walk you back."

"That would be much appreciated, thanks." I caught a look at the calendar hanging on the wall as we walked out and paused for a moment.

July fourth…

"Are you coming?"

"Yeah, I'm on my way!"

.oOo.

That night in bed, I stared out the window with a frown. It's so weird not hearing fireworks on the fourth of July…

I could play some patriotic songs if you'd like. The girl in my head suggested. I smiled.

Yeah… I think that would be nice.

She played and sang through classics like the Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America for the majority of the night. Eventually, she played her final song.

Oh beautiful, for halcyon skies—

Are you sure that's right?

This is the original poem. I figured it would be a nice way to close. Now shut up and let me play.

Fine, fine. Play away.

She seemed to take a deep breath, then resumed. Oh beautiful, for halcyon skies; for amber waves of grain. For purple mountain majesties, above the enameled plain! America! America! God shed His grace on thee! 'Till souls wax fair as earth and air, and music-hearted sea!

Oh beautiful, for pilgrim feet Whose stern, impassioned stress A thoroughfare from freedom beat Across the wilderness! America! America! God shed His grace on thee! 'Till paths be wrought through wilds of thought By pilgrim foot and knee!

I began whistling quietly along with the tune, getting into the spirit a bit. It was one of my favorite holidays, after all.

Oh beautiful, for glory-tale Of liberating strife When once or twice, for man's avail, Men lavished precious life! America! America! God shed His grace on thee! 'Till selfish gain no longer stain The banner of the free!

Standing just beyond the doorway and out of my sight was Alphonse, helmet tilted at a thoughtful angle while he listened to my whistling.

Oh beautiful, for patriot dream That sees beyond the years. Thine alabaster cities gleam, Undimmed by human tears! America! America! God shed His grace on thee! 'Till nobler men keep once again Thy whiter jubilee!

Figuring that I was done for the night, Alphonse quietly clanked away, wondering about what exactly he had just witnessed.

.oOo.

Well, that took way longer than it should have, and was significantly shorter than it should have as well. Sorry, These 2 episodes kinda go really well together, and I absolutely HATE the way it was split in the show, so I took some liberties and moved it up a bit. The next one should be significantly longer, since that one takes up all of Lab 5, plus the rest of this episode…

So I believe some virtual cookies are in order.

Amelie Nockturne-simply mentioned that there were a lot of references. I guess that counts for something… Poin 0+ for you!

RoseblossomWarrior-got the Doctor Who reference. Point 1 for you!

Anonymous Heavy On The Anon-got the Princess Bride and Doctor Who, among with—and I quote—other stuff. Yes, you get cookies too. Point 2+ for you!

And… that was it actually. I was kinda hoping for a better guesser turnout, but whatever. The actual list was: Trigun, the English dubbed OVA for Fullmetal Alchemist (why didn't anyone catch that one?), the Princess Bride, Doctor Who, and this one is only sorta a reference but Rumplestiltzken. Did I spell that one right… whatever.

ALSO, NONE of you suggested a name for Mystery Girl. That's cool, I just wanna remind you that that's still open…

It comes to my attention that I am just shy of 50 reviews. WOOHOOO YEAH I LOVE YOU ALL SO MUCH! So, whomever gets that special five-oh will get to request something for me to put in at some point. So long as it doesn't directly contrast with something I've already got set in stone for future chappies, I'll definitely put it in.

SEE YOU ALL BEFORE SUMMERS OUT!