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“Dachau Diaries”
Arc One; Chapter Fourteen
Balance of Power


WARNING: Post Series, Post Movie **SPOILER HEAVY** and slightly AU


"'Arbeit macht frei'. It is a lie. Work does not set us free from this hell, save by death. We will be free when we are dead, and buried in the mass graves with our friends. Our brothers and sisters, who have died before us." ~ M. E. (Dachau Diaries: Letters from the Holocaust)



0o0o0


May 31, 2006 – 9:15am
Bartlesville, Oklahoma


That was it! Ed had decided to declare war on the vile pink room and there was nothing that would stop him today. They’d found Al and plans to get him out of the hospital in Wichita were going to be made tonight. Within the next 48 hours, Al would be with him, back home and safe. He wanted to make him feel comfortable, and the current state of this room would not do.

Ed stopped and realized what had just gone through his mind. Home. It was strange. This was far from a ‘home-like’ situation for the average person, but for Ed and Al this was about as close as they’d gotten in a few years. The last place Ed felt comfortable enough to call home was the Rockbell’s.

Reilly had told him under no uncertain terms that he was welcome to stay as long as he wanted or needed. She made it clear after they got Al out of that hospital, he was welcome too.

“I can hardly let you stay and say no to your brother, now can I?” she’d said.

Okay, he couldn’t really argue the logic. But the fact that she was willing to take them both in still meant a lot to him.

It didn’t matter that they might have to run at a moment’s notice. For now, Ed and Al had a place they could call home.

Hell, even Hughes had more or less moved in, although that had more to do with playing body-guard than any pretense of romance. What the man thought he could do against those shadows, Ed had no idea, but Hughes seemed to think it was necessary, and Reilly didn’t argue. Ed was just glad that they’d made arrangements so that no matter what, someone was around at night.

He’d never been afraid of the boogeyman before; he’d never looked to make sure there were no monsters under the bed. He never went through that phase other kids did when imagination ran away with you in the dark. He didn’t need to. His real life had been horrifying enough.

Now he wondered if he could ever sleep without a light again.

Ed was beginning to think of Reilly, Tom… and even Ducky, as family of a sort. He had Hughes too, and despite how obnoxious the man was, Ed genuinely cared about him. He’d been there for him and his brother on more occasions than he cared to admit; and if he were to be honest with himself, under the guise of Equivalent Exchange, he owed Hughes… a lot.

He owed all of them. More than he thought he could ever repay. He still couldn’t fathom why three strangers would go out of their way to help him and his brother. People don’t do that, unless they want something in return. But those three asked for nothing.

“It’s called paying it forward,” Reilly had said once. “Someday, you’ll be in a position to do something without getting anything in return, and you’ll look back on this.”

And now… tonight… they were making real plans to get Al. Which was another reason Ed had decided to paint the bedroom; sitting around waiting until everyone could get together was going to drive him crazy.

It would be a simple process just to use alchemy to change the color of the room and not even have to resort to the physical labor of the standard preparations, but there was something satisfying in the actual act of moving things out of the way and rolling the paint on the walls. Besides, this way would take longer and keep him occupied.

Especially since Reilly wasn’t letting him near her laptop computer.

She’d made sure to back everything up after the last time Ed wiped the hard drive on the desktop, but there was no recovering or reinstalling anything this time. It was little more than a boat anchor now.

He felt himself heat up at the thought of how spectacularly he’d ruined her computer the other night; and he’d apologized profusely to her. She wasn’t angry over the ruined thing; she was worried about him. Still, he thought, I should do something.

Chances of being able to open the gate on Reilly’s property and getting back to either Germany or Amestris were slim, but he could still help with her research. While he was beginning to realize that her theories weren’t nearly as far out on the fringe as he first thought, he’d still been less than open-minded. Perhaps being a little more cooperative would be the better way to go.

This world was a shock in a way Germany hadn’t been, but Ed was starting to adjust and realize it wasn’t all that bad. He could even tolerate Ducky on occasion. And if he could learn to do that, he could learn to tolerate almost anything…

Except for that bedroom.

Reilly had given him her blessing in painting those horrendous pink walls, and today was the day to do it. The weather was good for once, and no one was home but Ed. Reilly and Hughes were working, then would be off in different directions making last minute preparations for “Mission: Rescue Terminator Junior”, as Ducky had dubbed it in an email he sent Reilly last night. Boredom was looming overhead and he really didn’t feel like staring at the ‘infernal idiot box’, as Reilly so aptly called the TV. So he had a choice of reading books on subjects he had little to no interest in, or painting. Painting won out, and he didn’t even have to flip a coin.

Ed had already taken the curtains down and moved what furniture he could into the center of the room; now he was staring at the laden bookshelves, trying to decide where to start and wondering if the bed would actually hold them all without collapsing.

From the living room, a combination of classic rock, blues and even some Gospel was cranking from the stereo speakers. Before Reilly had left for the day, she’d helped Ed create a playlist from all the MP3s she’d amassed, and he’d developed a fondness for the blues and rock tunes she had. He had to admit, even though the Gospel tunes were religion-based, it was damn good music.

As Ed closed his eyes and pointed at a random bookshelf, one of his new favorite songs started playing. He loved the whiskey-rough voice and the earthy sound of the woman who sang the lead, and he liked the way the song started slow, then sped up. It was nothing like he’d ever heard in Amestris, nor 1920’s Germany. More’s the pity, as far as he was concerned.

“…Listen to the story, now,” Tina Turner suggested as Ed started pulling books from the first shelf. As the song slowly progressed, Ed started singing along with her. About the time he dropped the fourth armload of books on the bed, the song paused… and so did Ed. He grinned, anticipating what would come next.

“Oh, left a good job in the city, workin’ for the man every night and day…” Tina and Ed belted out as he spun and danced back to the set of shelves. He wouldn’t be caught dead doing this where anyone could see him. No way, no how. But he was alone, and he really, really liked this song.

One thing about wood floors; they made sliding across them easy. Unfortunately, Ed had misestimated the needed acceleration and slid his shin into the bed frame. Fortunately, it was his left shin, so he didn’t feel the pain that collision should have caused. Unfortunately, it caused him to fumble the stack of books and one fairly heavy one landed on his bare foot. The right one.

He started hopping around on the automail foot, clasping the flesh one as Proud Mary wrapped up, muttering curses and considering seriously on wearing his shoes all the time now. In his pain, he neglected to take into account that he had no tread on the metal foot and it slipped out from under him, launching him into the bed, then down to the floor; the precarious pile of books tumbling down on him in a dusty, sharp-cornered avalanche. He flinched and covered his head until he was certain the avalanche had ended. Once the thudding of books had ended, he cautiously opened one eye, then the other.

The minor disaster seemed to be over, and with a minimal amount of damage. Then one last book bounced off his head and landed in his lap with a dull slap, front cover down. This was the first one he grabbed as he dug himself out of the pile, and started to get to his feet.

He absently flipped the book over when he was about halfway up and promptly fell back to the floor… unable to breathe.

The title was “Dachau Diaries: Letters from the Holocaust” , and the faces that stared back at him punched him in the gut with the force of a battering ram. A dark-skinned, dark-eyed woman… once exotic and beautiful in her youth, now gracefully middle-aged, stood next to a flower shop window…

“N-noah…”

…Her arms were wrapped affectionately around the shoulders of a tall teenaged boy with equally dark skin, but the eyes were light. His dark hair was short, except for the bangs that nearly hung in those light eyes. The woman was smiling; happier times… but the boy was sulking. An expression that was all too familiar.

Except for the darkness of the skin, it was the same face that looked back at Ed every morning.

Sick, shaking and unable to breathe, Ed flipped the book open and felt the blood drain from his face at the first entry…

München
Januar 4, 1941

Vater,
Ich sollte Sie hassen. Ich traf Sie nie, und es gab nur eine Abbildung von Ihnen, daß ich überhaupt sah, aber ich merkte mich jedes Detail. Mutter erklärte mir viele Geschichten von Ihnen, aber, wie ich wirklich glauben könnte, daß ein guter Mann so, wie sie sagte, Sie waren, würde uns lassen? Sie würde mit großer Liebe sprechen, und, im Ende Ich mußte vertrauen, daß was sagte sie, war zutreffend.

-Maes Elric

Munich
January 4, 1941

Father,
I should hate you. I never met you, and there was only one picture of you that I ever saw, but I memorized every detail. Mother told me many stories of you, but how could I truly believe that a man as good as she said you were, would leave us? She would speak with great love, and in the end, I had to trust what she said was true.

-Maes Elric



“M-maes?”

His mind wanted to shut down. He didn’t want to acknowledge the surname attached to the quote. He couldn’t. Because to do so would mean…

München
März 12, 1941

Vater,
Wo Sie sind, wir benötigen Sie jetzt. Es gibt Gerüchte, welche die Deutschen Leute von ihren Häusern in nebensächlichen Städten nehmen und sie setzen, um als Sklaven zu bearbeiten. Mutter bittet mich, ruhig zu sein, und Glauben haben. Ich lasse sie nicht sie verletzen, sie töten mich zuerst, bevor ich sie sehe, sie zu berühren.


Munich
March 12, 1941

Father,
Where are you, we need you now. There are rumors the Germans are taking people from their homes in outlying towns and putting them to work as slaves. Mother tells me to be calm, and to have faith. I won't let them hurt her; they will kill me first before I see them touch her.


“Oh, God,” Ed moaned and scrambled to his feet with his hand over his mouth.

0o0o0



München
März 28, 1941

Vater,
Es gab Rauch von einer nebensächlichen Stadt heute morgen. Mutter fürchtet das schlechteste.



Munich
March 28, 1941

Father,
There was smoke from an outlying town this morning. Mother fears the worst.

Dachau
Mai 2, 1941

Vater,
Ich habe Mutter nicht für fast einen Monat gesehen. Die Deutschen drangen München am Ende März ein und nahmen viele von uns weg in ihren LKWAS. Ich sah die Freunde, die in den Straßen wie Hunden geschossen wurden, und ich fühlte so hilflos. Warum hassen sie uns so? Mutter erklärte mir dieser Welt, die Sie pflegten zu kennen. Von gab es solcher Haß, wo Sie waren? Glaubten die Leute, die für einfach anders als ermordet wurden?


Dachau
May 2, 1941

Father,
I have not seen mother for nearly a month. The Germans invaded Munich at the end of March and took many of us away in their trucks. I saw friends shot in the streets like dogs, and I felt so helpless. Why do they hate us so? Mother told me of that world you used to know. Was there such hatred where you were from? Were people murdered for simply believing differently?


0o0o0


Ducky knew Reilly wasn’t home yet. It didn’t matter; it was Ed he wanted to talk to. He’d given almost no detail about Al’s state, or about the Walking Wall that was protecting him, and he knew Al hadn’t told him much. No one wanted to risk messages being intercepted. Not with the Men in Black snooping around. Ray said they’d faked Al’s medical records to throw the Feds off the scent, but Ducky knew it would only be a matter of time before they picked it up again.

That meant one of two things: either the Men in Black were going to figure out where Al was hidden before the recon team could get there, and they were going to have to plan a full-out assault to get him; or he would really be moved and placed under someone else’s protection, and they’d have to plan a full-out assault to get him. Either way, something was going to go boom.

He stood in the middle of the unpopulated living room and looked around. Music was playing, but he didn’t hear anything from the kitchen. “Hey! Terminator-boy! Got some news for you,” he called out.

No response.

Ducky thought he caught a hint of something, but couldn’t pin down what it was. He turned down the music on the computer, and listened. A moment later, he heard it again. A choking, coughing sound; low and muffled, and coming from the direction of Ed’s room.

“Reilly’s dust bunny collection get to you?” he said as he headed down the hall. At the doorway he froze, a smart-assed comment dying in his throat at the sight before him.

Ed was sitting, curled in on himself amidst a pile of tumbled books, hugging one tightly to his chest. He glanced up at Ducky with huge gold eyes stricken with more anguish than he’d ever seen. Haunted, heartbroken. Wet trails etched his face where tears had been shed.

“Ed?” Ducky whispered as he took a cautious step forward. “What’s wrong, dude?”

The boy swallowed, and his mouth trembled. Ducky saw his eyes fill with more tears just before he brought a hand up over them. A sob escaped as Ed curled up into a tighter ball, hugging the book as though it were the only thing that could keep him from shattering into a million pieces.

Ducky shoved books out of his way and knelt next to Ed. He gently took the book from the boy’s hands, meeting no resistance, and took a look at the cover. The face of the teenaged boy that stared back at him bore an uncanny resemblance to the young man sobbing next to him. A feeling of dread settled in the pit of Ducky’s stomach as he opened the book up to the footnotes at the end. The page was crumpled and damp, but the ink was still legible.

"Noah Elric, 33. Cause of death, hypothermia. Cremated. Maes Elric, 16. Cremated. Maes Hughes, 45. Cause of death, pneumonia. Cremated. Gracia Hughes, 41. Cremated. Elysia Hughes, 15. Cremated," he read softly, the horror of what he was seeing sinking in and gripping his heart. “Oh fuck.”

Ducky set the book aside. He had no words to offer; he just drew Ed into his arms and held him. The younger man’s sobs started in earnest, and his narrow shoulders shook. “She was p-pregnant when I left,” Ed choked. “I h-had a son... I had a s-son... I didn’t know… and now he’s d-dead.”

0o0o0

Dachau

Bastard! Cowardly stinkende Tiere!!! Mutter...


Dachau

Bastards! Cowardly stinking animals!!! Mother...

Dachau
Juli 12, 1941

Sie wird gegangen. Ich sah ihr weg führend. Und für einen Moment, sie betrachtete mich. Dann drückte der deutsche Schweinsoldat ihr Vorwärts. Es gab die spielende Musik, aber ich könnte ruhig die Schüsse hören.


Dachau
July 12, 1941

She is gone. I saw her being led away. And for one moment, she looked at me. Then the German pig soldier pushed her forward. There was music playing, but I could still hear the gunshots.

Dachau
Juli 23, 1941

Sie kommen für uns. Vater, Ich habe Angst. Ich benötige Sie, bitte


Dachau
July 23, 1941

They are coming for us. Father, I'm afraid. I need you, please.

0o0o0


Reilly hated days like this. A glitch in the system had caused several thousand bills to be sent out that were wrong, and all day long she had to take calls from several thousand pissed-off customers. The calling was so heavy that overtime was made mandatory to handle the queue. Two hours extra. It felt like ten. It made her regret begging to get her job back.

She had never been so happy to see her driveway in her life. She was even happy to see the Ninjavan parked there; it meant she could talk Ducky into cooking tonight.

As she crawled out of the truck, a set of headlights hit the mirrors from behind her and she turned to see Hughes pulling in. He’s here early, she thought.

Ducky already here; Hughes arriving early. It meant one thing to Reilly. Ducky had more news about Ed’s little brother. She hoped it was good. She could really use some happy sounds right now.

She waited until Hughes climbed out of the car and her heart sank at the grim set to the man’s mouth. “Shit,” she said when he reached her side. “What happened?”

Hughes shook his head. “Don’t know yet. Ducky called me at work and said Ed needed me right away. It didn’t sound good.”

“Oh boy,” Reilly breathed and started for the door. Hughes gripped her shoulder, and she looked back.

“Reilly,” he said, and hesitated. “He… he sounded like he’d been crying.”

Reilly’s jaw clenched and tension twisted in her stomach. “Not good.”

Together, they went into the house.

Ducky met them in the living room, his head was hanging low, and he had a book in his hand. Both Hughes and Reilly stopped dead in their tracks.

“Ducky?” Reilly queried.

The hacker never looked up, but she heard him sniffle before he spoke. His voice was thick, and it cracked. “The good news is… Al’s safe.”

“Oh good,” Hughes breathed next to her.

“He’s alive and well,” Ducky stated. “It’s just going to take some planning to get him.”

Reilly breathed a sigh of relief, and felt Hughes relax a little next to her. The good feeling was short-lived though, for when Ducky finally looked up, his dark eyes were sunken and pained. He focused on Hughes and said, “You’d better sit down, Maes.”

0o0o0


Hughes had gone to Ed’s room after Ducky had filled him in and showed him the book. Two hours later he was still sitting on the floor, back against the side of the bed. Ed had cried himself to sleep before Ducky had called him, and the boy was still asleep. Hughes had no intention of waking him up. Not after all that. But he was going to be there when he woke on his own.

The creepiness of seeing his own name and that of his girls listed as dead in a concentration camp was bad enough. The pain he felt at the horrors they had faced clenched his heart with an icy grip, and he couldn’t shake the feeling that it was his own girls’ names. Logically, he knew this wasn’t his Gracia or his Elysia that had been sent to the ovens, but logic didn’t help any in this case. It was still Gracia and Elysia Hughes. They were his girls and they died a horrible death in a horrible war. And he wasn’t there to save them.

He tried to reconcile the fact that Maes Hughes was there, but it just wouldn’t stick. It wasn’t him. And all he could do was pray that his girls were all right.

He glanced over at Ed, who was beginning to stir. It was horrible enough to think about the alter versions of the people he loved the most being imprisoned, starved, tortured, and killed. It was worse to think about how Ed was suffering now, knowing that a woman he loved and a son he never knew about had died in actuality. Noah and Maes were not alter versions, they were the flesh and blood… and heart of the young man laying in the bed next to him.

Hughes sighed and rested his head on his arms. He remembered when Ed was only twelve years old and had helped deliver his own precious Elysia. Now the boy was a young man, and a father who had just discovered he had a son, only to have that child ripped from him in the same instant.

Hughes knew, probably better than anyone else outside of Alphonse, just how agonizing it was for Ed right now. He knew that it wasn’t just that his son was dead, but also that his son had grown up without him. He knew that Ed was horribly afraid that he’d just followed in his own father’s footsteps and that his son thought he’d abandoned him and his mother.

He also knew that he was going to have to do a lot of talking to get the boy past that guilt. It was an accident, after all. Ed wouldn’t abandon his wife and child if he’d been given a choice.

“She must’ve taken my name when she found out she was pregnant,” Ed whispered, startling Hughes from his thoughts.

There was enough light streaming through the un-curtained windows for Hughes to see that Ed was awake and not talking in his sleep. It was also enough for him to see the look on his face, and it worried him. He had only seen that horrified, haunted look one other time; after Nina Tucker had been transmuted into a chimera, then murdered. “Ed,” he whispered.

“He probably died cursing my name.”

“You didn’t abandon him, Ed.”

“I wasn’t there.”

“It wasn’t your fault. It was an accident.”

“Fat lot of good it did,” Ed spat. “The bomb was still developed and used.”

“You delayed it by several years, and Germany didn’t develop it first. The US did.”

Ed rolled over, turning his back to Hughes. “I think I would rather have died at ground zero fifteen years early… beside my… son. As a father.”

Hughes let the silence weigh heavily between them for a few moments, his back resting against the bed again, before he spoke. “So I’m a bad father, am I?”

He felt the bed behind him shift. “Huh?”

Hughes focused on his hands, remembering when he first held his daughter. “I deliberately left my family, Ed. I left them, letting them think I was dead, because I was involved in something larger than myself. I knew I’d never see my daughter grow up, never see her go to school, never get to watch my wife age beautifully as she matured.” His breath caught. “I abandoned them.”

Hughes felt a flesh hand rest on his arm. “You didn’t abandon them, Maes. You didn’t have a choice. If you wanted to keep them safe, you had to leave.”

Smiling slightly on the inside, Hughes looked up. “Then how can you call yourself a bad father?”

Hughes saw the surprise on Ed’s face, but didn’t let him get a word in. “You went to stop something larger than yourself and Noah thought you were dead. You didn’t know she was pregnant; neither did she, I’ll bet.” He smiled lightly through the sadness. “She was probably grateful you left something of yourself with her, and told your son as much.”

Ed blinked, then stammered “But I still—“

Hughes smiled at the boy, reaching up to silence him. “It doesn’t work that way, Ed. If you’re guilty of being a bad parent, then I am, too.”

Ed’s mouth flopped for a few seconds, as he tried to come up with an argument and failed miserably. Then his face fell into that trademark sulk and he flopped back on the bed. “You fight dirty, Hughes.”

Hughes smiled. “I have to work with what I’ve got.” Standing up and brushing dust from his hands, he offered a hand to Ed. “C’mon; we’ll sort this whole mess out once we’ve got Al back.”

It took a few moments, but Ed smiled slightly and grabbed the proffered hand. “Sounds like a plan.”
 
 
 
 
 
 
that whole thing there, just now, blew my freakin mind
Wow. Just... wow.
Is there more of this somewhere? It sounds interesting but I don't want to start reading it in the middle and be completely confused.
Here is the index for this story. Hope you enjoy it!
ZOMGWHUT.

ok question. if noah was pregnant when ed left and ed knew it was his.... why is he just NOW having paternal pangs?


*emos more for the situation as a whole*
Ed didn't know she was pregnant when he went through the gate. He -assumes- the boy is his because of the name and the similarity in looks.
(typed through tears, damn you all for the ANGST!) :-P
About the eight paragraph in from the beginning: He’d been there for him and his brother on more occasions than he cared to admit; and if he were to be honest with himself, under the guise of Equivalent Exchange, he owed Hughes… a lot. *kills the "and" after the semi-colon*

Two paragraphs down from where Ed thinks about using alchemy to change the wall color:
He felt himself heat up at the thought of how spectacularly he’d ruined her computer the other night; and he’d apologized profusely to her.
*sneakily replaces semi-colon with comma*

Unfortunately, Ed had misestimated the needed acceleration and slid his shin into the bed frame. I know "misestimated" is a word, but it feels off here. Perhaps you could use "misjudged" instead?


Things to make me forget the ANGST:

Ed and "Proud Mary". Rollin...rollin...rollin on the automail...

the precarious pile of books tumbling down on him in a dusty, sharp-cornered avalanche very nice imagery!

This was such a wonderful chapter....
...You know, I just discovered this fic the other day, and finished the twelfth chapter yesterday. So I was emo-ing about that, when what do I discover on my friends page but two more chapters! This update seriously made my day.

Despite the horrible ANGST. :( Angst follows the Elrics wherever they go, I guess. No matter what world they're in.

Anyway, this story is...amazing. I'm hooked. Addicted, really. I'll be impatiently awaiting the next installment.

Sidney needs to die.
Ed's e-mail doesn't work.
also...

GAH! Pwned by angst!
Esteemed authortachi --

This is the editing pass wherein I lay on the line all the credibility and goodwill I have thus far accumulated to say that I think this chapter drops a bombshell that doesn't fully explode. Worse, the edits I'm going to suggest involve changes to the plot structure rather than just the details of presentation or syntax. Therefore I won't be going line-by-line this round, but section-by-section -- if you're still talking to me after this, I can do a closer reading of the next draft. And I disclaim at the outset: these are just my opinions; y'all can take 'em or leave 'em. I'm enjoying this story for its intriguing plot and good characterization, all presented in a style that's generally easy on the ear. (I'll also cheerfully come back and delete any of the following comments that you'd rather not have hanging off the back end of your magnum opus in public.)

Here we go, then -- and it's not all complaints, either:

[Ed planning to paint]

Good set-up for what follows, as Ed, preparing his welcome-home for Al, realizes that he has a home (of sorts); even the reminder of the shadows' attack emphasizes that he's not being left alone to face the danger now. With his quasi-family, new and old, to back him up, all Ed (and we) need worry about are the practical details of raid and homecoming -- which makes it all the more terrible when he (and we) are blindsided by his "failure" to protect Noah and Maes. The contrast is high but not forced: this is a logical moment for Ed to reflect on the relationships we've watched develop over the past few chapters. His decision to paint the room is not only a distraction and an attempt to claim space; it's also an instance of forward payment. With no way to recompense Reilly & Co. for their kindness, Ed sublimates his feelings of obligation by making a gift for his brother. Ed is always more comfortable when doing, as you've noted, whether for self or others; he's also uncomfortable accepting gifts (e.g. he lets Reilly begin brushing his hair because he knows it will comfort her) and more willing to dispense others from obligations to him than himself from obligations to others (which is a significant element in his subsequent guilt spiral). Nicely done.

[The avalanche]

Ed rocking out to "Proud Mary" alone would make this chapter worth reading :-), but that you use it to introduce a sequence that is its utter emotional opposite renders it priceless. Very well done. The discovery of Dachau Diaries itself, however, suffers from being a little too coincidental. The appearance of coincidence is impossible to avoid -- out of all the zillions of books in Reilly's house, This One falls into Ed's lap -- so I'm inclined to mitigate it by using the old one-of-many device. That is, have the avalanche fall on Ed, but then have him begin to clean it up, shifting books onto the bed by ones and twos, idly noting covers and titles[*], so that we notice he's been ambushed by Reilly's Holocaust memoir section -- lots of teenage girls develop one after reading The Diary of Anne Frank. (Ed himself may or may not notice, depending on how you want to play the scene; he could be oblivious or he could wonder a little, as he realizes what he's looking at, why Reilly would want to read about such horrors.) Then he's stopped dead by Dachau Diaries. The result is the same, but the context hides the authorial manipulation that provides this particular book at this particular moment.

[*]Some books that would have been in print when Reilly was a teenager include Anne Frank's Diary; Fania Fenelon's Playing for Time; Ilse Koehn's Mischling, Second Degree; Johanna Reiss's The Upstairs Room; Yehuda Nir's Lost Childhood; and Jan Yoors's Crossing (itself interesting for being an account of a Dutch teenager who spent his summers travelling with Gypsies and became heavily involved in resistance against the Nazis -- fascinating stuff).

Continued below ...
Continuing ...

[The letters]

I'm not wholly satisfied with the German versions of the letters. In general, the grammar appears correct, but they do not read colloquially; they sound like translations from English. I think you set yourselves a harder task here than is strictly necessary, though. If Dachau Diaries is intended for a popular audience, as The Diary of Anne Frank is, then the letters would all appear in translation anyway, so there's no need to provide a German "original". The German passages are also a distraction to the reader who isn't conversant with the language; the eye has to keep skipping down the page. If you do decide to keep the German, I suggest running it past a native or fluent speaker (university language departments are a wonderful resource) to make sure it comes out right.

I'm also not completely convinced by the scenario the letters lay out. I've done some quick and dirty research into the persecution of Gypsies by the Nazis (one reason why this critique took so long to post) and it is rather a different beast than the Jewish Holocaust. Both groups were caught in the Nazi net, but for different reasons and to different ends. For background, I recommend Guenter Lewy's book The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies (Oxford University Press, 2000), which lays out the subject in a way that's both scholarly and readable. Here, I just want to offer a few points (which you can skip if it's stuff you already know):

Gypsies were identified as an inferior racial group (particularly the Rom, who originated in the Balkans), but not marked for extermination as the Jews were. Pure-blooded Gypsies, in fact, were in less danger of being identified as a threat than those of mixed blood (Mischlinge); it's another stick to beat Ed with that merely by being Maes's father, he's put him in peril. Gypsies tended to get caught by purges of "asocials" (Asoziale) -- people whose way of life ran across the dictates of the Nazi social order -- and to be sent not to extermination camps like Auschwitz (or at least not in the period you reference) but to concentration camps like Dachau. Traveling groups, though raising greater fears of espionage and the undermining of social values, also tended to slip more easily through the Nazis' grasp by not being where they could easily be found. Sedentary groups or individuals were far more vulnerable.

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Which brings me to Noah and Maes. I assume that when Ed and Al didn't come back and Noah found herself pregnant, she went to Gracia in Munich for help and to be where the brothers might conceivably find her. (I wasn't able to research far enough to confirm this, but my impression is that by having a son by a gadjo, Noah would have transgressed Romany sexual morality in a way that would have rendered her unwelcome among her own people -- not that she got along really well with them anyway, per the film.) I suspect that Gracia and Hughes (a little redemption for him, yay! -- but he did see that the monster was Eckart after he killed it) supported her until she could support herself, when it became clear that Ed and Al were gone for good. I also suspect that Noah would have had to come back to them when the Nuremberg Laws and other strictures of Nazi social control began making it impossible for her to live on her own. Itinerant music-making was a good way to be identified as asocial; she might have worked as an entertainer in cabarets or some such, but that would have largely dried up when the Nazis began cracking down on "degenerate art". Anti-Gypsy prejudice would have made it very difficult for Noah to find work as a domestic or shopworker, although she might have managed employment at a factory. (At least Maes wouldn't have been kicked out of school in Munich under anti-race-mixing statutes -- a lot of municipalities passed them, but despite its history of being anti-Gypsy, Munich didn't.) The likeliest way for her and Maes and their protectors to end up at Dachau is not by way of a general round-up (the one major one that took place around the period you reference was aimed at deporting Gypsies to Poland, and it didn't work very well), but a personal denunciation as "asocial" by a neighbor. The likely charge against Noah would be fortune-telling, which was punishable by a stint in the camps; Hughes and Gracia might find themselves included in the charge as co-conspirators (if Hughes did have a change of heart, his position in the police probably got shakier as the institution was Nazified -- the police were also strong supporters, institutionally, of anti-Gypsy measures as a means of keeping order). Maes gets swept up as a Zigeunermischling (and probably does himself no good by pulling an Ed on the people who come to arrest his mother). I'm not sure where this leaves Elysia -- she might be just young enough to escape Dachau and be placed in an orphanage or with relatives, if any would have her. (She could still die in either place, particularly the orphanage.) Dachau had no gas chamber until 1942 (nor was it was ever used) and tended to work people to death as a byproduct of forced labor, malnutrition and lack of health care (except for those who "volunteered" for the medical experiments infamously carried out there, in some cases specifically on Gypsies). In the summer of 1941 the camp physician was required to register the ill and throughout the winter of 1941-1942 "invalid transports" were sent to an former insane asylum near Linz where the sick were gassed to death. That strikes me as a possible end for several of these characters.

Okay, more than just a few points, there. (Sorry!) I note all of this not just because I'm the apostle of backstory; I also think that the more real-world details a writer of fiction has to work with, the more inspirations for invention may pop up out of them. YMMV, of course.

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[Ducky's discovery]

That it's Ducky who finds Ed in tears is a graceful and sensible choice (on more levels than one, if certain possibilities I'm meditating pan out :-). We know that Ducky's compassionate and we've seen the two fight like brothers; now Ducky takes an elder brother's role to comfort Ed, leaving all the quasi-parental figures out of the equation initially. I find this choice apt, as it keeps the focus on Ed's admission of accidental/failed fatherhood. Hughes, Reilly and even Tom would bring their own parental experiences or impulses to the scene -- holding them off allows the initial revelation its own space and leaves you room to build perspective on it layer by layer.

On that note, I suggest that Ducky is not the right person to read the footnotes about all the deaths. You fall back on coincidence again to get the book open to the right page; it also seems to me that, with Ed so thoroughly and uncharacteristically collapsed in front of him, Ducky would not turn away from him for very long. I think what Ducky actually does is flip the book over to glance at the back cover blurb, taking in a few sentences ("Maes Elric was a teenager when the Holocaust reached Munich ... chronicled the destruction in letters to an absent father ... in the spirit of Anne Frank, a poignant testimony to a brief life ..." or some such; back cover blurb language is always kind of unnatural) that are enough for him to get the gist of what's happened. It's Hughes who has time to read the footnotes and look at the pictures -- those eight pages of plates that always occupy the middle of such books -- and take in the whole story while he's waiting for Ed to wake. This has the advantage, again, of presenting information and reactions layer by layer, keeping the tension up for the reader: just when we think we've reached the end of the horror, there's more.

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[Ed's revelation]

With regard to Ed's final line, I agree with the comments that the phrase "She must have been pregnant when I left" communicates the nuance that he didn't know about Noah's condition at all better than the current version. This revelation raises all kinds of backstory questions: how long-standing was their sexual relationship? how invested in it were each of them? what did Al know about it? These are not, I hasten to add, questions I expect to have answered here, although I rather hope this information will dribble out as the narrative continues. Maes Elric's existence is a gorgeous bombshell to drop, one of those events that makes us go back and look at the entire story-thus-far differently. We thought we knew who these characters were and what they were to each other (e.g. Noah is almost a non-presence at the film's end, whose final dialogue, setting out their future course, belongs entirely to the Elric brothers). Now, suddenly, we need to rethink our assumptions. And in order for us to do that, you have to play fair. :-) I think Noah needs to be mentioned a little more often, particularly in Ed's line of plot, to keep her in our peripheral vision. We see her once as the significantly delayed reflection in Ed's coffee and again as he mourns her after watching the History Channel, which is good, but not enough. She might also usefully show up during the shopping trip; Ed's experience of being observed all too closely might draw a comparison to her ability to read dreams and feelings. It might also be useful to bring her up in the previous chapter's hair-brushing sequence (as, frinstance, Ed tries briefly to remember when was the last time someone did that for him -- perhaps it was her, but it's not a memory he wants to dwell on right now); that has the advantage of having her last mention be recent enough that she doesn't pop out of nowhere. This is the same principle I alluded to in my last set of comments WRT Reilly's past: plant clues in the narrative that don't seem like red flags until we look back from the perspective of the revelation, but which nevertheless underpin that revelation, allowing us to give it immediate credence even as it surprises us.

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[Hughes's intervention]

As I said, I think it's Hughes who ought to read the footnotes. His reflections are spot-on, particularly his inability to distance himself and his family from the tragedies that struck his alternate self and his family. His point to Ed about bad fathers is exactly right -- pushing Ed's self-accusation to its logical analogical conclusion (if you're a bad father for being torn away from an unsuspected son, then what am I, who deliberately left my wife and daughter behind?) is the one argument guaranteed to force Ed out of his guilt spiral. The problem is that this is exactly the wrong place for this particular confrontation. Ed's recovery of emotional balance is too quick to be at all plausible after we've seen him so completely broken. Hughes compares his reaction now to his response to Nina's death: note that the anime wisely allowed Ed's depression to run through the whole following episode before Ed was able to get the experience into some kind of perspective. This tragedy cuts far closer to the bone: Ed's Oedipal issues were touched only by analogy over Nina; here, a cruel fate is dancing on them with spiked heels. Even with a few hours' sleep, there's absolutely no way he'd be psychologically ready to listen to Hughes and put his guilt aside. His character isn't built that way.

So, here's where I become the Editor From Hell: I suggest that you need to restructure the arc of Ed's recovery to add time between the revelation of Maes Elric's existence and Hughes's talk. I realize that the clock is ticking down in the background toward the raid to rescue Al, but that can work to your advantage by keeping the emotional pressure cooker simmering as everyone feels the urgency of meeting a deadline. I'm now going to lay out a possible sequence of events to show what I think needs to be done. I emphasize possible because I know this is your story, not mine, and that you have knowledge of subsequent events that I do not which may have influenced the structure of this chapter. This scenario is, therefore, merely exemplary; the details don't matter as much as the fundamental point stated above.

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[Scenario, for purposes of example]

When Ed wakes, I imagine that his conversation with Hughes goes only as far as the “He probably died cursing my name”/“You didn’t abandon him, Ed” exchange. Whatever Hughes might try to argue beyond that (short of the "bad father" point), Ed wouldn't respond to because he's not really listening; he's stating the conclusions he's reached inside his own head. And, having reached those conclusions, his next move is to seal away his anguish and feelings of guilt (as opposed to his consciousness of being guilty). He's broken once, in front of Ducky; he's doesn't intend to do it again or talk about what happened. That's over (or so he thinks): he has hold of himself now and a job to do. Rescuing Al becomes his focus. Thus his next question to Hughes probably has to do with whether everyone is there for the meeting. Hughes no doubt sees what kind of head game Ed is playing with himself. While he might want to prod Ed into a healthier mindset, he probably realizes that he doesn't have an opening here. Ed's stubborn as hell and he's been through hell -- maybe this is the only way he knows to keep himself sane. On top of everything else, they do need to plan Al's rescue, so I suspect Hughes would decide to play it Ed's way for now and keep a weather eye on him, though it hurts him to see Ed so hurt.

(My cap to this scene, FWIW, would have Ed sketch an array on the wall and change the paint from pink to white, completing the task he'd begun, though not in the way he had envisioned, and reminding us how far we are from "Proud Mary".)

Next, the meeting -- which could either be presented directly or recalled the next day (depending on whether it's a better choice to have the reader know the plans for the raid in advance or just watch them play out as they happen in the narrative). I expect the meeting to be difficult: Ed would be in no mood to accept pity or condolence. I can see Ducky being gentle, getting his nose snapped off for his pains and retreating in confusion; Tom and Reilly would probably know better than to approach Ed overtly, but subtle he'd just brush off with irritation or no acknowledgment at all. He's done with that; he wants to get on with the important stuff. He sublimates all his negative feelings into planning his brother's rescue, which annoys the bejeezus out of everyone else because there's too much energy to bleed off in that channel. Ed won't be willing to acknowledge roadblocks; he will be impatient with and dismissive of cultural matters outside his understanding; and he'll end up trying to run the show rather than accept a role as part of the team. They'll be ready to strangle him by the end of the night but, recognizing that he's had a horrific day, hold off on their murderous impulses for the moment.

Eventually, however -- not at the initial meeting, but during one of the follow-up sessions the next day or during some gathering Ed tries to turn into a follow-up -- somebody gets fed up and calls Ed on his behavior. Gently at first, perhaps, but Ed won't be having with any criticism or psychoanalysis. The argument escalates, turns nasty, and climaxes by overturning Ed's assumption that of course he's going on the raid; they point out to him that they can and will do it without him -- in his current state, he's a liability. Ed's control begins to slip: he can't be left out, he has to rescue Al, he can't just abandon him ... "Like your son?" someone asks. Which pushes Ed completely over the edge, but he still won't break in front of an audience, so he runs out into the yard to hide.

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And now I find it psychologically plausible that Hughes would track him down and have the rest of their argument about bad fathers. I also suspect he would follow up his advantage by reminding Ed that he doesn't have to do everything alone -- neither retrieve Al nor figure out how to live in this time nor bear his grief. He has people to help him, after all. In response, Ed might remember the lessons he learned two years ago about not holding himself apart from others, something Noah helped teach him. He can honor her memory, at least, by keeping to that. Then, I suppose, they head back to the house for Ed to apologize and have his apology accepted ...

The end of this crisis should not, of course, constitute the end of this line of character angst. This is not the kind of bomb to be dropped lightly on any character; it must have long-term repercussions for the plot (as, e.g., Nina's death does in the anime, being referenced now and then all the way to the closing moments of episode 51). I await future developments with interest.

HTH. This really is a good story; I want it to work. Of course, I may not know how best to do that. Not all criticisms are relevant (as I felt like remarking to my thesis adviser on more than one occasion).

Peace,
Liz
Aw, heck... I'll just respond here, rather than in each comment! (and apologies if this isn't -entirely- coherent, I just woke up)

First of all, you are most definitly -not- about to be booted. I'm very excited about the critique. I've said it before, but it bears repeating... this is the kind of thing I live for. Coming across someone who is this willing to put in the time and effort to go into this much detail is someone I would rather keep around, TYVM ;) And someone with a stronger knowledge in WW2 history than I have? This is like cheesecake!

I'll warn you once more that you're liable to regret this! ^^;;

As for the issue of possibly changing the entire structure of the story? Your comments and suggestions actually are a big help for the direction we've been planning, some of which I cannot mention here, but am willing to discuss in a more private setting. Especially since the coming chapters are going to be much more plot-heavy. Up until this point, we've been playing with Ed and Al and their impressions of the strangeness (in thier eyes) of this time, but now we're getting ready to get down and dirty with why they are here, and what they're going to be doing soon.

This, incidentally, might partially explain why the next chapter has been fighting us tooth and nail (aside from the end of school-year mess and real life biting us in the ass).

Anyhow, I get the impression from some of the subtle hints you've dropped in the commentaries that you've picked up on where this is leading (and I appreciate you not spilling the beans!). If you're willing, I would love to discuss this with you via email. If you're okay with "spoilers", you might just keep us from making mistakes further down the line.

I've become the unofficial project coordinator (probably because this mess is my fault anyway), so I don't think Heist or Amber will mind if I take this part on. I can be reached at drgnlvr at cox dot net.

Once again, thank you, so very much! With your help, this story will become even better than it started out.

--Lorrie