“Stay where you are, freak!”, one of the men shouted at him and produced a gun from his pocket.
“That was foolish.”, Erik told him, the only warning that imbecile got, then Erik reached for the metal of his gun… and found none. Shocked he stared at the two men, but they just grinned, then they both cocked their guns and aimed for his head.
Erik did not stick around to watch them pull the triggers; he ran. Idiots like the two he was now running away from, they were the reason why a co-existence between mutants and humans would never be, could never be. It was impossible.
He darted through the back alleys of Boston, where he was currently laying low, or at least he had tried to until the two goons had seen him talk to another mutant, trying to recruit him. He had no idea whatsoever what had happened to the other mutant, but after having taken a serious punch to his head, Erik had not had time to even think about him, he had to save his own hide at the moment.
He tried to lose the two men following him, pulled heavy dumpsters into their path while he ran from them, but somehow, they evaded the projectile dumpsters and thereby brought him into quite the predicament, when Erik spotted an escape route: A mesh wire fence.
With a jerk of his hand, he ripped the at least two metres high standing metal apart and after he had run through, he immediately ordered the links to knit closed again. Or he would have, had he not lost his concentration when he ran headlong into an obstacle.
“Whew!”, that obstacle gave a muffled groan when they both went down and Erik landed on top of the other person… a girl.
“Sorry, I didn’t see yo…”, she began, but Erik cut her off with a harsh gesture, jumped to his feet and tried to close the fence. But it was too late. The two men chasing him were already through.
Frantic, he looked around, tried to find some sort of weapon he could use without having to remove the fence that could protect him from them, but he came up empty-handed.
“Freeze, freak!”, one of the men shouted and Erik growled, “The term is mutant, you simpleton.”
“Whatever.”, the other snickered, pointing his gun at Erik as well, “Freak, mutant, what does it matter? You’re scum.”
“No.”, Erik protested, but to his immense surprise, the girl interrupted him, “No, you’re scum.”
With those words, she jutted out her chin and the two gunmen were thrown backwards, through the hole in the fence yards back where they landed on the pavement, groaning in pain.
“Close the fence. Now!”, the girl told him and he was so surprised, it took him a moment to actually and simply follow the reasonable order.
“Come on, let’s go before they come to their feet again.”, she suggested and reached for his hand, so Erik automatically pulled her to her feet and then held fast onto him as she ran away from the alley in which they had just been in. He did not know these streets, but she obviously did, for she led him through the narrowest back alleys as sure-footedly as a cat.
When she stopped, she was already panting, but she smiled up at him. Suddenly, however, her face fell and her hand darted up to his face.
Instantly, Erik flinched back, an automatic response he had no control over.
“Sorry.”, she mumbled, “But you’re hurt.”
Was he? He had not noticed, but when he brought his own hand to his temple, he felt the blood, saw it on his fingers and with the realisation also came the pain, throbbing and pounding.
“Come, I can get you patched up.”, the girl offered, but he shook his head, “No need.”
“Of course there’s need.”, she objected sympathetically, her dark brown ponytail swinging furiously as she shook her head, “You’re bleeding.”
“It’ll…wear off.”, Erik replied, but even before she gave him an exasperated look he had known that it was a lame excuse… even as far as lame excuses went.
“Look, you need medical attention, a place to hide…”, she told him, but now Erik interrupted her, “So do you.”
“What?”, she blinked up at him, “I mean… beg your pardon?”
Was he mistaken, or had she just corrected herself because she had been trying to stick to proper manners? Curious, curious indeed.
“I saw what you did there. You and I, we are the same. And we both need a safe place to hide, a place apart from the humans that hate us.”, he told her and then, out of a sudden impulse, offered his hand to her, saying, “Come with me.”
“No.”, she immediately rejected his offer of help and he was admittedly taken aback, but then he growled, “Have you not seen what they tried to do? What humans have already done? Just because we are mutants. You cannot tolerate that. We are better than them.”
“No, we’re not.”, she told him indignantly, “We’re all human.”
“We are more than human.”, he objected, but she shook her head, then shrugged, “Well, we may be human and a little extra on the side, but that doesn’t make us less or more than human. We’re… still human.”
Erik growled deep in his throat. Was she just stubborn or truly thick? Should he really try to help someone as dim-witted as her?
“I mean…”, she began and bit her lip while her dark brown eyes searched his, “We’re… someone’s daughter, someone’s son. When we are hurt we cry, when we have fun we laugh. When we’re injured we bleed.”
Her hand once again rose to his face, but she retracted it before she touched his bleeding temple.
“Not all humans hate mutants.”, she said, but Erik scoffed, however, she cut him off with a harsh gesture, “Don’t you scoff at my family, Mister!”
“Your…family?”, he asked and with a careful smile, she nodded, “Yes. My dad is a doctor, he can take care of your wound there. They know what I can do and they are alright with it. Believe me.”
“I…can’t.”, Erik said, too surprised to hide his astonishment and she smiled, adjusting the backpack he had not noticed before, “Then come with me and let me show you. They won’t mind you being there, even though it’s the last day of Hanukkah.”
He had completely forgotten about it, but now that she had mentioned it, he knew it was indeed the eighth day of Hanukkah… and the first time he would probably not be alone on Hanukkah ever since… He did not want to think about it.
“Are you alright?”, the girl asked him, concern in her eyes, “I mean apart from your temple.”
“Yes…”, he quickly replied, but in fact, he was spooked. Could she really be telling the truth? And even more, could Charles have been right all along?
“Uhm…”, the girl in front of him began and when Erik looked at her again, he noticed that she was probably older than he had first thought, probably as old as Raven, who he had not seen in weeks.
“I kind of need to get back, Mom sent me to get some last-minute groceries for the latkes. So, if you’d be willing to come along, then come.”
Erik was not sure what to do, but before he had consciously thought about it, he had already answered her: “Thank you. Lead the way.”
She gave him a smile, warm as the day’s last hours of sunshine, then while walking she held her hand out to him: “I am Rachel.”
“Erik.”, he introduced himself, wondering what the hell he was doing. He still had no answer when she addressed him with a question: “I don’t mean to be rude, but… are you religious? Are you…?”
“Jewish?”, he chipped in and nodded, “Yes, I am.”
“What a coincidence.”, Rachel smiled at him, “Although… Mom will say that there’s no such thing as coincidence.”
Erik raised an eyebrow in a silent question and Rachel chuckled to herself, rolled her eyes and then told him with a lopsided grin: “She’ll say that somehow, some weird way, we were meant to meet today and meant to wind up at our home to celebrate Hanukkah. She truly believes that.”
Erik stayed silent, but in secrecy, he wished he still had such faith as her mother apparently had. It would have given him confidence, safety…even though he felt stupid for desiring such belief. It distracted from the harsh reality around, but for once, he wished for a sense of security, even a false one.
Rachel rounded a corner and then stepped up the steps of a two story building, neatly kept and beautiful, evidently a home and a Jewish one at that, for he could clearly see the menorah in the wide window. Rachel produced her keys from her pocket, but then stopped and turned around to Erik: “I have to warn you, though, I’ve got four younger brothers.”
“Four…?”, Erik mouthed and Rachel nodded, “Yeah, they can be quite the rascals. But I bet you’ll like them. Even though they’re all human.”
Saying that, she cheekily winked at him and for a moment, he was dumbfounded. Had she just… teased him? Remarkable, to say the least about the strange by-chance-encounter.
“Hey, I’m home!”, Rachel called out and then popped her head into the next room, probably the living room, Erik thought, “Dad, could you come out here? I found someone in need of a doctor.”
“Sure.”, the deep and rumbling voice of a man answered her and within seconds, Rachel left the room followed by a man with broad shoulders and the same, warm and dark eyes and hair she also sported.
“Erik, this is my father.”, Rachel introduced the two, “Dad, this is Erik. He was attacked because he is a mutant.”
Erik almost flinched when she said that so matter-of-factly to a man he did not know and who was, for all he knew, a human that would hate him.
“Bastards.”, her father swore under his breath and was scolded, if lightly, but instantly from the next room, “Abe, don’t curse.”
“Sorry, love.”, he called and smiled at the woman who emerged from the living room. There was no doubt that she was Rachel’s mother, for they had the very same features, build and tall height, even though the elder woman’s eyes were blue and her hair blonde. A cynic thought about an Aryan looking Jewish woman popped into Erik’s head, but he instantly banished it again.
“I am Ruth.”, she introduced herself, “Nice to meet you.”
“And you.”, Erik said, suddenly feeling a bit sheepish, utterly surprised by Rachel’s parents, “Your daughter was so kind to offer to take me here so your husband could take a look at my wound.”
“And I will.”, Abe told him, but Ruth sighed unhappily, “Why, I wonder? Why hate just because of such a little difference? It’s wrong.”
“Yes.”, Rachel said and then looked at Erik, giving him a look he needed no telepathy to decipher it as a cheeky “I told you so.” Then, with a smile she produced potatoes from her backpack and she vanished with her mother into another room which Erik presumed was the kitchen.
“Come on, son.”, Abe told him, “Let’s get you patched up before the boys find out they have another man in the house who looks strong enough to pick them up and carry them around.”
This sentence was so strange, yet heart-warming that Erik chuckled to himself and Abe gave him a rumbling laugh: “Don’t you laugh about it. The twins, our youngest, are only three. They love being carried, but they’ve grown heavy.”
Erik had to smile at the thought when he followed Abe into the next room where the older man politely told him: “Sit down, let me take a look at that cut.”
When he did, Abe hissed: “Bastards. What made them think they could just do that? Well, I’ll have to clean that, but then a band aid will do.”
Erik nodded and then Abe worked in silence until he warned, cotton swab in hand: “That might sting a little.”
“I know.”, Erik nodded and Abe grinned, “My boys always say it burns like lava.”
“I bet they do.”, Erik chuckled, but signalled that Abe could proceed. Surely, it burned like hell, but the pain was bearable. Abe nodded impressed, then stuck a band aid to Erik’s temple and said: “There. Good as new.”
“Thank you.”, Erik said, but then cleared his throat before he added, “I don’t… mean to disturb your celebration any further. Rachel was kind to also offer me a meal, but you are family and…”
“You’re our guest.”, Abe said, “Rachel did what we raised her to do. Please, feel free to stay. Ruth makes the best latkes you’ll find this side of the Atlantic.”
Ruefully Erik smiled at that, then sighed heavily and nodded. He had no idea why he dreaded a family evening. At last none he was willing to admit. And a hot meal would be a nice diversion. So he said the only words he could think of: “Thank you.”
“Dada!”, a loud call rang through the house and Abe chuckled, his round belly shaking with it, “Let me introduce you to my boys, Erik.”
From the ruckus coming from the living room alone could Erik have guessed that boys were on the loose, but he had to grin at their reaction when Abe entered the room. They were still a rambunctious bunch, but they made an effort to at least try to be polite when Abe introduced them: “Boys, this is Erik, he will stay for tonight’s dinner.”
“Hi, Erik.”, one of them, a boy of seven, if he guessed correctly, piped up, another he estimated to be about twelve mumbled a response and the two toddlers grinned up at him, stretching their little arms towards him.
“See?”, Abe laughed, “I told you they loved being picked up. This is Simon, this Samuel.”
After he had introduced the twins, he nodded at the shy, but clearly clever middle one and said, “This is Nathaniel, he will turn eight in March. And this is Elijah, thirteen.”
Erik nodded at them in turn, but as Simon squeaked again, clearly unhappy that he had not been picked up yet, he chuckled at the young boy and gathered him up in his arms. And, while he was already at it, he also picked up Samuel who had looked as if he would start to cry had Erik left him on the floor.
“Huh.”, Abe mumbled, looking at him, “You do that well. And it… suits you.”
Erik refused to think about what the man might have meant by that and Abe obviously knew that for he chuckled: “Good thing, too, that you carry them both. Your back is much younger than mine is.”
Erik now had to chuckle as well and with less effort than he had expected, the balanced the two toddlers in his arms that were both happily gurgling and looking at him, the new face.
“Elijah, a game?”, Abe prompted his oldest son, setting up a chessboard, but when the elder boy shook his head, he added, “How about you, Nate?”
“Gladly.”, the younger boy said, but Elijah mumbled distractedly, “No, thanks, I’m good.”
Something in the boy’s voice struck Erik as odd, but he did not know what it was. The toddlers demanded his attention, both of them pulling his ears and by now Erik knew why Abe had been glad they had found another victim at least for tonight. He felt watched, however, and not because the twins looked at him, curious about the stranger.
Erik turned around and found Elijah intently staring at him. He returned the stare and sure enough, the boy’s gaze flickered, but then returned and Erik was impressed. Not many people had withstood such a glare from him.
“Are you… also a mutant?”, Elijah then asked and Abe cleared his throat, glancing up from the chessboard. Nathaniel also stared at the stranger in the house, curious for the answer, but the twins were happily gurgling in Erik’s arms. Figured.
“Why do you ask?”, he then enquired from Elijah. The boy took a deep breath for his response, then he said: “Rachel can…do things. What can you do?”
“What makes you think I could do anything at all?”, Erik countered, and Elijah frowned, insecure now, but his voice was steady when he replied, “You’re here. Still. And… Rachel doesn’t have a boyfriend. She doesn’t just bring men home. And she clearly doesn’t know you that well, so, you’re strangers. But something made her bring you here.”
“She was kind enough to introduce me to your father and he patched up the cut two muggers gave me.”, Erik said, cocking his head to show the band-aid Abe had stuck to his head. Elijah frowned, but still was not satisfied: “There’s more to it. I know it.”
“Do you now.”, Erik replied with a hard face, knowing that the two babbling toddlers in his arms were clearly not enhancing his threatening demeanour, but it was just as well. He was a guest and he did not mean to push his luck too far.
“Yes.”, was Elijah’s short response after a stretch of silence, “I know.”
For a moment it occurred to Erik that he could had snooped or maybe… maybe he was a telepath, but he discarded the thought and said truthfully: “Yes, I am a mutant like Rachel.”
“Wow.”, Nathaniel mumbled, “What can you do?”
“Nathaniel, don’t you think this might be rather rude?” Abe asked, only slightly scolding, but the boy ducked his head, glancing apologetically at his father, then at Erik, “Sorry, but… I am curious.”
“I thought you’d be.”, Erik said with a grin and looking around, he sat down on the sofa, balancing the toddlers on his lap as he found something metal. With a gesture of his hand, Erik made the thimble slowly rise from Ruth’s sewing and dance in the air. Mouth agape, Nathaniel was staring at the little object and it amazed Erik to no end that apparently, Rachel had been right. Her family was really alright with mutants. So… had Charles also been right? He did not want to think about it…
“So you’re… like Rachel?”, Nathaniel asked, “She can move things, too.”
“I can only move metal.”, Erik said, biting his tongue as soon as he had revealed this weakness and decided to keep quiet about just how much metal he could manipulate.
“I saw you moving dumpsters.”, Rachel’s voice reached him from his right where she was standing, leaning against the doorframe that apparently led to the kitchen, “Very impressive.”
“Not as impressive as what you did.”, Erik countered, “I take it you can move anything, regardless of what it is made of?”
“Basically, yes.”, Rachel replied, “But it can’t be very heavy. I cannot hold things for long, just… give them a nudge.”
“That was more than a nudge.”, Erik said and she shrugged, but then looked at her mother who followed her out of the kitchen. To his surprise, Ruth only glanced around the room once, then addressed him: “Would you be so kind and help me with the potatoes?”
“Of course.”, Erik said, startled, and he gently put the twins in his arms down onto the floor where they whined a bit, but as soon as Rachel had sat down next to them, they were happy again, so Erik joined Ruth in the kitchen. Even though he had no idea why.
He was impressed at the huge pile of potatoes she and Rachel had obviously washed and that were now ready to be peeled and grated for the latkes.
“I hope you don’t mind helping me with dinner, but I thought you might need a break from the men in this house.”, Ruth smiled at him and as he nodded with a smile, she handed him a knife, so Erik rolled up his sleeves to get started.
Too late he realised what that meant.
He flinched when he saw the numbers, buried deep beneath his skin, always there to remind him.
Quickly, he wanted to push his sleeve back down before Ruth’s gaze would drop to his forearm… when he realised that she was smiling bitterly, a tear running down her cheek.
Without a word, she rolled up the sleeve of her left arm and to Erik’s astonishment there was a number as well, similar to his own.
“I am so sorry to see that you had to live through that.”, Ruth began and wiped away her tear, “Maybe even more if your powers showed at such a young age as Rachel’s did.”
Erik swallowed hard; he did not dare to speak. A mother’s instinct was something… he had never quite comprehended and the sad, sympathetic look in Ruth’s gaze made him realise just how much he missed his own mother. But he refused to think about her.
“But you pulled through.”, Ruth smiled at him and started to peel the potatoes, so he followed her example, even though he found his hands shaking, “You found something to live for.”
“Yes…”, Erik whispered, “Revenge.”
“That is not a healthy path.”, Ruth mumbled and he growled, “I did not care. But I know you are right. I know now.”
“As long as you have learned and still have something to live for.”, Ruth kindly said and Erik fought with himself in his mind. Did he really, truly have something to live for? No. Did he want to admit that? Hell no. Could he hide that fact from her? Probably not… so he almost tonelessly asked, “What was it for you?”
Ruth looked at him and gave him a tight-lipped smile, so he specified: “What made you pull through, made you want to live? Because I…”
He did not want to say it, but he knew it was true. There was nothing to live for but revenge, not for him. But Shaw was dead, killed by his own hand and now… maybe he was taking his revenge out on…?
No, he refused to think something that had been Charles’ idea about his passionate distrust for human. He outright refused.
“I was sure that I would not live to see another day.”, Ruth suddenly spoke quietly, never stopping her task of peeling the potatoes, “I was alone, away from my husband, my family, I saw people die horribly every day. I was absolutely sure that I would die too, if not the next day, then the day after that. But then we were liberated. Still I did not think I would make it and even when Abe found me and took me with him to Boston, I was sure that I would not live, could not. It was… we were in love, but it was not enough.”
She sniffled, another tear dropped down onto the kitchen counter and even though Erik did not want to hear her words, did not want to hear her cry, he did not dare interrupt her. So he listened, his heart beating painfully in his chest as she spoke.
“I wanted to end it.”, Ruth said, her voice hard and she gripped the knife so tightly her knuckles turned white, “I thought that what I had experienced there had killed me already, inside, so the shell wandering through the life that should have been mine was not me, but merely a shell. So I decided to finish what the time there had not accomplished, not quite.”
Erik felt himself tensing as he remembered his own wish to simply end it all. The only thing that had kept him from doing it was his stubbornness and that it would have felt like giving in. So he had settled for revenge instead.
“We had just been a few months in Boston when I stood there, on the roof of the building we had a little flat in back then and when I was just one step away from the edge I… I suddenly felt that I should not do it. Maybe I was just a coward, but I like to believe that it was a sign, a gentle reminder of God that a life should not be thrown away. The thought that I had nearly put Abe through mourning me… it sickened me and as soon as I was back in our flat, I ran for the bathroom. And when I was kneeling there, retching I suddenly realised… I had not bled in months. I had known that and at first had thought nothing about it, because after malnourishment and such…experiences it was not uncommon. But then I also realised that I had eaten properly, Abe had made sure of that.”
Sighing deeply, Ruth finally turned to look at him and with tears in her eyes, but a smile on her lips, she told him: “So instead of ending my life that day, I made an appointment with my doctor. And when I came back from it, I knew. Rachel was on her way to us.”
Why, he had no idea, but Erik felt his heart clench at these words. Ruth chuckled to herself, wiping away her tears and she truthfully smiled at him as she continued: “Well, I didn’t know it was Rachel back then, but I knew that there was someone who depended on me, someone who needed me… someone I needed. And that was finally enough for me to live. And now see where that got me.”
Erik’s throat was tight and dry, so he tried to clear it before he spoke, but his voice was still embarrassingly hoarse: “I… do not have someone like that. Either way.”
“Maybe not yet.”, Ruth countered, “But you will find something to live for. If you only allow for it to find you.”
As she said that, Erik stared at her and she smiled: “I have been married for more than 35 years now, I grew up with three brothers and I am raising four sons of my own. I know when a man is trying to hide something. Even if it is himself.”
At this Erik could do nothing more than smile crookedly and bow his head, which made Ruth chuckle. But then he spoke again, serious and still with a hoarse voice: “How… how come that you tolerate mutants? All the world hates us…”
“Not all the world.”, Ruth shook her head, “You just refuse to see those who do not hate you and instead focus on those that do. That’s what I told you: You have to allow that special something to find you or you will never see it, even if it is right in front of you.”
He was speechless, blinking in confusion, but Ruth merely smiled at him: “Come on, that is a lot to think about. Let’s cook instead.”
Curiously, he was grateful for the emergency exit she had left him and without hesitation, Erik assisted her. It had been years since he had last seen latkes made, years since he had tasted them, but it came naturally. And he was looking forward to dinner. Odd enough.
Just when they had finished the preparations and dinner was prepared so far that the latkes only had to be fried, Rachel popped her head in, smiling: “It’s getting dark. C’mon.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, Rachel grabbed his hand and pulled him into the living room, giggling, so Erik doubted that he could have resisted even if he had tried to. As soon as the whole family and he as their guest were gathered in the room, Abe lit a candle, the only light in the growing dark of the cold night outside the window. When he lit the first candle on the menorah, the whole family recited the blessings, even the toddlers babbled along, their eyes wide and focused on the flames as even at their young age they sensed that this was important.
Abe then handed the candle to his wife who lit the next candle and Ruth, in turn, offered the candle in her hand to Erik.
Beyond shocked, Erik stared at her and shook his head, not so much to deny, but simply out of utter astonishment.
“Come on.”, Rachel gently told him, “You are older than me.”
“But…I am not family…”
“No one here seems bothered much by that.”, Rachel winked at him and still disbelieving, Erik gingerly accepted the candle, his hands actually shaking as he lit the third candle. He then handed the candle in his hand to Rachel, who gave him a warm smile before lighting the fourth candle on the menorah.
She passed the candle to Elijah, who then passed it to Nathaniel. And while he was lighting the sixth candle, Abe picked up one of the toddlers, Erik thought it was Simon, then he took the candle and lit the next candle on the menorah together with the young boy, then Ruth did the same with the other twin.
It was Abe who blew out the small candle in Ruth’s grasp, then he put the toddler down and produced a bag of chocolate coins he handed to his children. He even offered one to Erik.
“I can’t…”, he began, but Abe shook his head, “Take it, you’ll need it. Nathaniel loves to play with the dreidel and he has a habit of winning all the coins in the family.”
True enough, the boy produced a dreidel and urged Elijah, Rachel and Erik to play with him for the coins and some raisins Ruth gave them.
Smiling with a feeling of surrealism Erik sat down on the floor and for the first time in years, spun a dreidel. He lost his coin immediately, but he could not care less. The toddlers crawled over to them and he placed one in his lap while Rachel held the other, merrily playing.
Nathaniel truly did have a streak of luck, Erik noted and when Rachel raised her hand as the dreidel spun, Nathaniel called: “Oi! No cheating, Rachel! I saw what you did there.”
“I didn’t do anything.”, Rachel countered, but stealthily winked at Erik. Had she…? No, she had lost another raisin, but maybe only because Nathaniel had called her out.
Erik found himself smiling and pulling the toddler on his lap closer into his arm to keep him safe. It was… an odd sensation, keeping someone save by gently caring for them. But on a level he did not want to think on, he realised why Abe had told him that holding a child suited him. It felt good…reasonable in this chaotic world. Oddly calming.
The clink of platters made him look up and when he saw Abe balance dishes and silverware in his hands, setting the table, Erik raised himself up saying: “Let me help you with that.”
He had no idea where that had come from, but he found himself strangely at peace with caring for someone.
“Oh no, you stay there.”, Abe laughed, “Ruth would have my head if I let our guest work. So, go on, keep playing. God knows how much it shows that you haven’t played in a while.”
Erik frowned at that, but turned back to the game, holding the baby in his arms a bit closer to his chest. Not so much to keep the boy safe, but to feel better himself. Even though he did not understand it and refused to think about it. So instead he spun the dreidel… and lost another raisin.
“You alright?”, a faint whisper reached him and he looked at Rachel who adjusted the toddler on her lap, but her gaze was fixed at him. He just nodded absentmindedly, knowing full well that it was a wordless lie. He was most certainly not alright, he did not feel like himself, but somehow… at peace for the first time in… forever.
“It’s your turn.”, someone said and Erik actually flinched, jerked from his thoughts, then he saw Elijah point at the dreidel, “Your turn.”
“Yeah…”, he just mumbled, spun the little toy. And lost again. Weird.
Nathaniel’s raisins were already piling up, but the rest of them was virtually broke.
“Dinner is ready.”, Ruth’s voice reached them, just when it was Nathaniel’s turn and he won the pool of raisins once again.
“If I didn’t know better.”, Rachel told him with a playful glare, “I’d say you were cheating.”
“Maybe I am.”, her brother cheekily replied and then ducked away so he was the first at the table, making his sister laugh.
As soon as Ruth brought out the latkes, Erik’s stomach growled. He had not eaten properly in days, had not been able to on the run, but the smell of homemade latkes… it caused in him a hunger that was more than the need for sustenance. It was a raging ache in his guts, for latkes were not only food. They were a symbol of family, a reminder of happier days he would never see again. Or maybe…
He did not want to think about it, so he simply enjoyed dinner with Rachel’s family. He did not even mind that the toddler, Samuel as he had gathered by now, refused to leave his lap. It was harder eating with only one hand and having to give Abe next to him room to feed the boy, but it was fun.
When Ruth collected the plates afterwards, Erik glanced at the menorah and behind it, the cold, dark night. He would have to go out there again, leave this place and… be alone. It was the path for him…even though he resented the thought to no end.
“Then stay.”, a calm, almost serene voice told him and Erik’s head shot to the boy who had spoken, “You don’t have to be alone. And I know Rachel would hate it if you left unannounced as you had planned, without saying goodbye first.”
Erik could do nothing but stare at Elijah, stare at him in a wild mixture of astonishment, sorrow and cold fear. He had sounded so much like Charles… and within an instant, Erik knew exactly why.
“Elijah, what are you talking about?”, Rachel asked stammering, “I didn’t… Erik, surely you did not plan to…?”
He did not dare look at her for even from the corner of his eye he saw the pleading, the hurt in her warm eyes. And he had put it there.
He held Samuel closer, the boy whimpering quietly, surely because he felt Erik’s heart beat hard and fast with the anguish he felt, but Erik nevertheless bluntly said: “That is exactly what I had planned.”
Rachel gasped, herself holding the toddler in her arms closer: “Why? And…how, Elijah?”
“I just… know.”, her brother whispered, hiding his face in shame, but Erik hoarsely muttered, “He is a telepath.”
Their parents exchanged looks, then Ruth smiled at her mortified son and said warmly: “Don’t be ashamed.”
“Reading thoughts is…”, Elijah began meekly, but his mother interrupted gently, “Intrusive, yes. But Rachel thrashed this place when she found her powers. Yet she learned to control them. You will learn, too.”
“And if…?”, Elijah stopped a question it took no telepathy to understand. Before he knew what he was doing, before he ever consciously thought about, Erik looked at him and said: “I know a telepath. He is very powerful and always willing to help. Should you need help, he will give it to you. No matter what.”
As he said it, Erik’s throat tightened, because for the first time he realised the truth in those words. Charles was always willing to help and he was sure that he had not even given up on him. No matter what.
Shaking his head, Erik tried to get the thoughts out of his head, especially because there was a telepath in the room, but he failed. The sheen of anguish in Elijah’s eyes was not the boy’s pain, he knew it for he knew the expression from his own reflection in the mirror. He was looking at his own pain in another’s eyes.
All Elijah did was shake his head softly, but Erik understood and again, without thinking, he said: “I won’t.”
“Leave, I hope.”, Rachel said, panting from the recent conversation, “Because no one should have to be alone. Especially not today.”
Ruth took her daughter’s hand in hers, then she looked at Erik and after a glance, he averted his eyes. A mother’s instinct… she knew, without being a telepath, she still knew, how utterly alone he felt, how he missed his own family, how he now grieved having rejected everyone in his life. How he had been…
“Hiding.”, Erik muttered and felt his heart constrict painfully.
“No more hiding.”, Ruth whispered and even though it took more courage than Erik thought he could muster, he looked into her warm, blue eyes and relied as quietly, “No.”
“Good then.”, Rachel said even though she could not possibly know what exactly Erik and her mother had just discussed, “So you’ll sleep here tonight. The couch is more comfortable than it looks, believe me. I’ll get you a pillow and blanket.”
Before he could respond, she had already left the room, having put Simon into his arm to his twin before she did so.
“She likes you, you know.”, Elijah said quietly, but Nathaniel heard him and scrunched up his face, “Eew.”
Why, he would probably never know, but hearing this made Erik laugh and in turn, the twins laughed. Before he knew it, Abe and Ruth were also chuckling, but Nathaniel asked, bewildered: “That’s gross. Why do you think that’s funny? It isn’t, it’s gross.”
“You may feel that way for now.”, Abe smiled at his son, “But not for long, believe me, boy.”
Nathaniel clearly did not believe him, but it only made Erik laugh even more. It felt good and it had been a long time since last he had laughed this whole-heartedly.
Without him seeing it, Abe had shooed the boys away from the table and had busied them with a game, but Ruth came to Erik and without a word, she embraced him. He was speechless for a moment, but then leaned against Rachel’s mother, dreaming for a second she was his mother. When she released him, Ruth smiled at him and relieving him of one of the twins, she said: “You’ll find it. Elijah may be onto something, but regardless whether or not he truly is, you will find a reason.”
To live, that was what she left unspoken, but they both knew. By now, Elijah probably knew too and they both simultaneously glanced at the boy, then smiled at each other for their identical action. But Elijah was still happily playing with Nathaniel and his father, unaware of their exchange. At least he seemed to be.
With a huff, Rachel entered the room and made the sofa ready to be his bed. Before he could say anything, Ruth also took her other toddler from him and Erik barely took the time to smile at her in gratitude, then he got up to help Rachel prepare his makeshift bed.
“I can do that on my own.”, she hissed and smiling despite himself, Erik replied, “That’s what I was going to tell you. I can do that, you don’t have to.”
Rachel glared at him and he felt the sudden urge to apologise. No, he would not. But then again… what the heck.
“I am sorry.”, Erik told her quietly, “I am… not used to… all this.”
“A family?”, Rachel asked and he nodded, but then elaborated, whispering so that only she would hear, even though Abe made an effort to make enough noise to drown out their conversation, “Not only a family, but… being accepted, being… loved. I haven’t known that for a long time and I never thought I would again.”
“Then you better get acquainted with it again.”, she said, but left it uncommented and him standing there, the bed made, as she joined her brothers and her father in a game.
Erik spent the rest of the evening in the company of the twins. They were easily to satisfy, undemanding… not asking. They were easy compared to the rest of the family.
But when they were put to bed, he merely sat and watched, staring out into the night, not quite thinking, but not able to keep his mind blank. Too much had happened only in a couple of hours.
“Erik?”, a small voice reached him and he jerked out of his thoughts, blinking heavily and looking around, baffled. The house was dark but for a dim light in the hallway and everyone had retired. Only Rachel was sitting next to him on the sofa, his bed for the night. The only light in the room came from the streetlights outside and the menorah.
He tried to clear his throat, failed, and spoke nonetheless, in a hoarse, too thick voice: “I was… lost in thought…”
“You were lost in an entirely different realm if you ask me.”, Rachel joked lightly and he grinned crookedly, not able nor willing to deny it.
“I’m sorry too.”, she then told him, baffling him, but before he could ask, she explained, “I was harsh to you when I had no right to be. I just thought… it wouldn’t have been okay for you to leave without a word.”
“And it wouldn’t have.”, Erik admitted then sadly added, “I simply don’t know anything else.”
“You could learn.”, Rachel suggested and they exchanged a long look, then she allowed, “You could at least try.”
She had her mother’s instincts, that much was clear.
“I will try… to try.”, Erik said and it made her smile, then she surprised him by pulling him into a brief, yet warm hug.
“Good night.”, she wished him and got up, left the room. He wanted to say something, but could not find the words. For a fleeting, ridiculous moment, Erik hoped she would not go and his heart jumped when she stopped in the doorway, turning around to him.
“If I wake up tomorrow to find this sofa empty because you left without a word…”, Rachel said with a low voice that got even lower when she threateningly added, “Then I will search for you. And I will find you, Erik.”
The glasses in the cupboards rang hollowly, the whole room shook with Rachel’s emotion. It fell utterly and suddenly silent when she left and Erik gulped. She was serious.
He was not afraid, why would he be, but truth be told, he had no intention of leaving. So, he thought, it was just as well to lie down and get a good night’s sleep for once.
As soon as he had pulled the blanket over himself and closed his eyes, he fell asleep.
Unaware of the young woman standing in the doorway, smiling at him and, as she was joined by her mother, whispering: “Do you think…?”
“He will stay.”, Ruth replied, “At least for a while. The poor boy has seen too much, suffered too much. He needs time to heal. And love. Good night, baby.”
Rachel felt her mother kiss her temple, then she was left alone in the dark hallway and, with a last look at Erik, she whispered as much to herself as to him: “I can do that.”