Erik had been staking out the house for two weeks, trying to find the patterns in the comings and goings of its inhabitants. His primary target left the house every day at eight, Monday to Friday, like clockwork. Punctuality and discipline had always been something they prided themselves in, Erik thought, his lips curling into a smirk. This time, it would be their undoing.
Half an hour later, the boy left the house. Erik didn't give him much thought. He was too young to really know anything, too young to be much of a threat to his plans.
At least that had been what Erik had thought right up to the point when suddenly, he heard the soft, subtle click of a trigger being pulled back right behind his head, and a quiet voice said:
“Who are you, and why are you watching us?”
Erik held back a sigh, and slowly lifted his hands off the steering wheel. It was about half an hour after sundown, and he had driven back with the intention of staking out the property. Well, it seemed like there was a way to get in and out of the house without being seen, since he hadn't noticed the boy slinking out of the door. Or getting into his car, for that matter. Erik couldn't help being somewhat impressed by the boy's talent at stealth.
Slowly, and with his hands held at about shoulder height, Erik half-turned in his seat to get a better look at his would-be assailant. Close up, the boy looked even more like he had just stepped down from one of the Reichspropagandaministerium's posters about keeping the race pure. Really, you couldn't look any more Aryan if you tried, and it made Erik sick to the stomach.
“I'm watching your family because your father knows something I want to know. And because he's a criminal. Now put the gun down before someone gets hurt.”
“You're lying!” The boy hissed through clenched teeth, his face drawn with anger, eyes glittering in the feeble light of the streetlamp that stood further down the road. “And the only one who will get hurt is you, if you don't go away and leave us alone.”
Erik shook his head almost imperceptibly, a tight, tired smile on his face: “What are you going to do, boy? Shoot me?”
The boy hesitated, and the gun that was now pointing at his face wavered slightly. Erik knew that no, he wouldn't even have hold off any bullets here. The kid just didn't have it in him to murder someone in cold blood. Oh, if Erik made a sudden move, then he would probably pull the trigger out of pure instinct, but like this? No. Genetics weren't destiny, and just because his father was a cold-blooded mass-murderer didn't mean that this boy was, too.
“Leave us alone.”
It had probably been meant to sound tough, but there was an almost pleading note to it.
“I'm sorry, boy, but I can't.”
As soon as he had spoken those words, Erik exerted his mind and bent the barrel of the gun upwards, using the second of stunned incomprehension that followed to grab the boy's wrist with one hand and pull the bent gun out of his grasp with the other.
“Wha... what are you?” The boy gasped, scrambling back into the furthest corner of the back seat, staring at Erik from eyes wide with terror.
Erik crumpled the gun up as if it were made of paper, and tossed it into the back of the car, where it bounced off the seat next to the boy. Then, he fixed him with his eyes, and pulled his lips back from his teeth in a threatening grin:
“I'm someone who doesn't like it when people get in his way. Or go snooping around after him.” He let his expression soften: “But I'm not someone who kills innocent children, so you can stop wetting yourself. I only go after people who deserve it.”
The boy swallowed, his Adam's apple bouncing nervously, and a hint of his earlier aggression and defiance crept back into his features:
“My father didn't do anything!”
Erik snorted, and shook his head.
“Poor, ignorant child.”
It was almost a yell, and the boy's hands clenched into fists. Erik had to hand it to him, he wasn't that easily cowed.
“How old are you, boy?”
“Sixteen. And stop calling me boy.”
Well, that would explain some of the feisty bravado. He actually thought he was a man.
“What else should I call you, then... kid?” Erik said with a smirk.
“My name's Adrian.”
“Well then, Adrian,” Erik said, letting a slight drawl creep into his voice, “you're too young to actually remember anything. So tell me, what did your daddy do in the war? Before you all packed up and came to America?”
Adrian bit his lip, his brow furrowing slightly.
“He doesn't talk about that. Mother didn't, either.”
“And you never asked? That's hard to believe, seeing how you're such an inquisitive young man,” Erik said, and smirked at the boy.
“I did ask. He said that he worked in a factory. And that he was a soldier. But he never gave me any details, and after I'd asked him two or three times, he told me to drop it and never ask him about that again.”
Adrian's tone was defensive, but there was something there, a small undercurrent of doubt that Adrian seemed to have harbored for a long time. That only needed uncovering.
“Would you like to know the truth?”
Adrian nodded, but the look he gave Erik was almost fearful. Well, he had every reason to be afraid. The truth was seldom pretty, and in this case, it was positively hideous. Monstrous.
“Then meet me tomorrow at three, in the park. By the chess boards.”
The boy nodded again, and reached for the car door's handle. Then, he hesitated, and looked back at Erik, his brow tightening: “What if I just tell the police about you?”
“Then you'll never find out, and you'll spend the rest of your life being an ignorant fool.”
Erik could see Adrian's jaw work for a moment, as if he were literally chewing over the problem.
“I won't,” he finally said.
“Thought so. Now get out of my car.”
Once again, Erik hadn't even noticed the boy's approach until he was standing right next to the chess board. Adrian picked up one of the pieces, a rook, with slender fingers and moved it over the board.
Erik narrowed his eyes, looking at the way the pieces stood, extrapolating the possible outcomes of the game. Then he nodded and pointed at the seat across from him with an open hand.
“Nice move. Sit down, Adrian.”
Adrian slid onto the worn-out chair that was bolted to the ground in front of the stone table and leaned back, crossing his arms in front of his chest and regarding Erik with a cool, cautious gaze.
“You said that you would tell me the truth about my father.”
“And I will.”
Erik made a move on the board, then bent down to pick up the slim leather briefcase he had brought along. Opening the clasp at the front, he tilted his head slightly: “Are you sure that you want to know, boy? Sometimes, ignorance can be bliss. Mind you, it's still ignorance, and in your case it would even be willful ignorance, but let's just say that I want to make sure that you know your options. Because I do think that your relationship with your father might be a little... upset by this.”
Adrian gave a short, humorless snort, and shook his head: “Hasn't it crossed your mind that it might already be disturbed? Just by me knowing that he's keeping something from me, that he's been lying to me all this time?”
He reached out for a bishop, and moved it forward two spaces. Erik smiled.
“Oh, it has. But a lie is easier forgiven and forgotten than the truth.”
With that, he opened the briefcase and removed a number of black and white photographs, handing them over to Adrian wordlessly.
For the next few minutes, Erik watched the boy's expression change as he slowly flipped through the photos. First, there was skepticism. Adrian didn't believe what he was seeing, but with every photo his skepticism was eroded away, no more able to withstand the onslaught than a cliff was to the relentless pounding of the waves. Erik watched the color drain out of the boy's face, his lips first tightening into a thin line, then quivering slightly as he started to shake his head, not forcefully, but slowly, as if his body were still trying to deny the truth his mind was now accepting.
In the end, Adrian placed the pictures face down on the chess board, careful and with shaking fingers, and his gaze sought out Erik's, eyes wide like a child's that had just woken from a nightmare.
Erik let his head fall back, looking up into the sky, then around the park, everywhere but those scared eyes.
“Because your father was a chemical engineer, and he had to test his inventions on someone.” Finally, he looked back into Adrian's eyes, unable to spare him the sadness and anger that was welling up in Erik's chest. “And because your father, like so many, thought that my people weren't even properly human.”
Adrian looked away, blinked, swallowed hard. Looked down at his hands, his fingers clenched and twisted into each other. He took a deep breath, and forced his fingers to unclench.
“But you. You aren't human.”
Erik almost had to laugh at that. The boy was really something.
“Astute observation. No, I'm not human.” Erik shook his head, his moment of mirth seeping away like rain into a sandy beach. “That's why I was able to survive. Because I'm not human, and was of interest to someone who was even worse than your father. It's him I'm after. Your father is... a step on the way to finding him.”
“Will you hurt him? My father.”
Erik waited for a moment, waited for the plea, the threat, the bargaining that almost inevitably followed a statement like that. When it didn't come, he shrugged.
“I don't know. It depends.”
The boy was here to hear the truth, and Erik wasn't going to start lying to him now. Adrian nodded, then got up, slowly, the fingers of one hand placed on the edge of the chess table as if for support.
“When will you come for him?”
Once again, Erik didn't bother with lies. He had a feeling that this kid wasn't going to warn his father, not after what he had seen today. And if he did, well, Erik had found Veidt once, he would find him again. Especially if the bastard didn't have almost a decade of a head start this time.
Adrian gave a short nod, then turned around and walked away, his hands pushed deep into his pockets, his steps slow, cautious, as if he didn't trust his legs to hold him. Or maybe he wasn't sure where to go.
“Goodbye, Adrian,” Erik called after him, and reached for the photographs, putting them back in his briefcase. Then, he once again studied the board. It was too bad that they hadn't been able to continue the game. From what it looked like, Adrian might even have beaten him if they had.
Locks had never been much of a problem for him. Feel the mechanism, the intricate workings of tumblers and sliders, push it all into the right place, and there he was, free to go wherever he wanted to. It was even easier when people left the key inside.
Having gotten in by way of the back door and grabbing a convenient kitchen knife from a counter in the kitchen, Erik took a short moment to take in his surroundings. The house was quiet and dark, except for a thin sliver of light that spilled out from one of the doors along the short hallway. He hadn't seen any other lights in the windows, either, and somewhere at the back of his mind, Erik felt relief at the thought that Adrian probably wasn't here. He really didn't fancy having to face the boy right now. Not with what he was here to do. There were some things no child should witness, not even if their parents admittedly deserved it.
Erik shook his head, pushing the thought back to where it had come from. The thought, but not the memories it had brought along with it. No, he would need those for what was to come. He needed his anger, his pain and his hatred.
Turning the knob, he opened the door and strode into the room, a tight, almost feral grin on his face: “Good evening, Herr Veidt.”
The knife flew out from his hand, the point just barely touching the skin of the man's neck right above his pulse.
“Don't move. Not even an inch.”
“Who are you?” Veidt gasped out, his eyes wide with terror. He tried to lean away from the knife point, pushing himself further into the armchair he was sitting in. Erik just let the knife follow.
“I'm the man who is going to ask you a few questions. And if you answer them correctly and don't try anything stupid, you might give me enough reason to let you live.” Erik moved closer, looming over the sitting man. Then, he tilted his head slightly, the grin still painted on his face: “I've already got enough reasons to kill you. So, care to tip the scales in your favor?”
“What do you want from me?”
Veidt had gone still as a statue now, too scared to even tremble, his face white as bleached bone. Erik suppressed a smirk. You had to admit, one good thing about being a monster was that as soon as he showed them what exactly he could do, most normal people were so gripped with terror that they didn't even try to fight back. And this one, well. Seemed like the spirit he'd seen in Adrian came from the mother's side of the family. But then, Veidt had never been much more than a bureaucrat. Someone who let others do his dirty work, watching and analyzing the numbers afterwards.
“I want some information on a former acquaintance of yours. Doktor Klaus Schmidt. I know you worked with him in the camps.”
“I...” Veidt's eyes darted around the room, as if looking for a way out, and he licked his lips. “I don't know anyone by that name. And I was never in the camps. I was a soldier, nothing more, I was following orders...”
The smooth, heavy metal paperweight that had been sitting on the desk snapped upwards and hit Veidt in the jaw, drawing a strangled yelp from the man. Erik let it hover next to Veidt's temple, just inside his line of vision.
He let his voice drop to a growl: “I said: don't lie to me.”
“I'm telling the truth,” Veidt jabbered, his eyes wide, wild, blood trickling from his lip where he had accidentally bit it, “I'm not who you are looking fo...”
Once again, his words were cut short by a yell when Erik smashed the paperweight down on the knuckles of his hand, which had been gripping the armrest of the chair.
“Lie again and I'll pound this into your skull.”
Erik could feel the anger inside of him burn ever brighter, thrumming like the engine of some monstrous machine. He almost hoped that Veidt would lie again, that he would open his mouth and give Erik the final reason to smash his skull to pieces.
“All right,” Veidt whimpered, cradling his smashed fingers to his chest, “I'll...”
The man's gaze drifted to a point somewhere over Erik's shoulder, and Erik saw a glimmer of hope spark in the pain-filled depths of his eyes.
“Adrian! Run! Quick! Get help!”
Erik pivoted around, the fingers of his left hand pointing in the direction of the knife to anchor it, his face drawn into a snarl: “Get out of here, boy. Now.”
Damn it. Why was the kid even here. Erik had told him. Any sensible person would have either run, or ratted him out. But instead, the kid was standing there, pale as a ghost in his dark blue pajamas, his body shaking, naked toes curling into the carpet beneath his feet as if to hold on to it.
Slowly, Adrian shook his head and took a few steps toward them, one hand clenched into a fist and hanging at his hip, the other hidden behind his back.
Veidt's eyes darted from his son to Erik, then back again, his expression caught between hope and desperation: “Please, Adrian, don't believe anything he says, he's a madman, a monster, just run...”
Adrian's yell made both men shrink back for a moment. His face was still pale, but his eyes shone with a pure, undiluted rage that bordered on madness: “Shut up! I don't want to hear your lies any more, you murdering bastard! You lied to me my whole life! Lies, lies, nothing but lies, and I believed you, I swallowed them all because I didn't want to know! You fucking coward!”
The boy's voice was shrill, trembling, and Erik could see tears forming in the corners of his eyes.
“Did you think you were doing me a favor, feeding me with nothing but lies? Did you think I'd never find out? Or did you think I wouldn't care? That I would just forget that you're a murderer and move on with my life because you're my father?” Adrian spat out the last word as if it were poison on his tongue, and his face twisted with hate: “How could you just go around pretending to be some... some upstanding citizen, a member of normal society after all that you'd done? Don't you have a conscience?”
Slowly, the anger had drained out of Adrian's voice, until his words were nothing more than a raw whisper: “Is that why mother killed herself? Because she couldn't live with it, with you?”
The silence that settled over the room was so deep and so unsettling that Erik found himself hardly even daring to breathe in it.
Finally, Veidt swallowed audibly, then raised a wavering voice: “Adrian, I'm sorry, I...”
“Just tell the man what he wants to know, father,” Adrian said, shaking his head slowly and wiping at his eyes with the heel of a shaking hand.
Erik fixed his gaze on the man, and prompted him with a short wave of his hand, causing the knife to scrape along his neck, leaving a thin red trail on his skin.
Veidt sounded defeated, tired: “The last I heard, he was somewhere in Spain. I don't know where exactly. I haven't had direct contact with him, or anyone else, for that matter, since we got here. I... just wanted to leave it all behind.”
Erik nodded: “I'm sure you did.” Then, he smirked tiredly and shook his head: “But you don't get to do that. None of us does.”
Slowly, deliberately, he set the paperweight down on the desk before letting the knife fly back into his still outstretched hand. Then, he turned to Adrian, stepping up next to the boy and putting a hand on his shoulder.
“I'm sorry. I really didn't want you to see this.”
Adrian looked at his father, then shook his head in revulsion, turning towards Erik: “Are you going to just... leave him alive?”
“Why?” Adrian's eyes were looking at him questioningly, and there was something in his voice that almost sounded like disappointment.
“Because I don't see any need to kill him. Except for maybe revenge, but even that...” Erik took a deep breath, and let it out with a sigh. No. Somehow, he didn't feel like revenge. He just felt tired, numb. Even though he had gotten what he had come for, this really hadn't gone the way he had envisioned it.
“But I do.” Adrian's eyes narrowed as he looked back at the broken, bloodied form of his father, his jaw trembling slightly. Veidt just looked back at his son, eyes going wide once again, his mouth forming the question he didn't dare to ask out loud.
Erik took his hand from the boy's shoulder, and straightened up, giving Adrian a long, hard look. Then, he turned around and headed towards the door.
“I'm sorry, Adrian,” he said, looking back at the boy from across the threshold, “but I don't kill people because someone else wants me to.” He smiled a tired smile: “I'm not that kind of monster.”
Adrian nodded, then slowly raised the gun he had been holding behind his back.
Erik was already back at his car, his fingers wrapping around the door's handle, when he heard the shot echo through the warm night air.