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When The Lights Come on Again

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Erik doesn't notice the boy at first. Lord Ignatius's is a small school, but he thinks he can be forgiven for that.

After all, he has only been in America for two weeks.

It feels like a trick- that he should have been one of the few to escape on those trains all those years ago, only for the sky to fall in England as well.

Ruth and Jakob- well, who knows?- the last he had seen them was when they were on the Isle of Man, the terrified and traumatised children of the kindertransport, none over sixteen, yet believed to be spies for the war that England, if not her citizens, admitted was coming.

They had been split up, after that, Max and Ruth and Jakob - Erik and Edith and Joseph, sent to opposite ends of the tiny green country that was so far removed from the dust and cold and hate of the Warsaw ghetto as to seem a dream.

He had gone to London, and had found the smoke and noise of a city both comforting and disturbing- it seems strange, looking back, that in all his travels the closest he should find to the storied pastoral delights of the England in the books his mother used to read is in America.
London- and the Smith's- had been fine. After that solitary winter in Warsaw, the hungerignorancehungerhate nearly physical in it's manifestation, he would have a hard time complaining.

He will find out later- after the war, when the details come rushing out of life beneath the shadow of the black eagle- that the allotted food ration for the children of the ghetto was just 300 calories a day, that tens of thousands died of starvation, that the crime for selling food to a Jew was imprisonment in a concentration camp. At the time, all he knew was that it is so cold that he wakes up in the middle of the night and cannot feel his legs, that hunger feels physical, like a fist, and what little food they get twists and turns in his stomach until the cramps are so bad he feels as though he will throw up.

(His thoughts drifted towards his mother and father and uncle, and tried to push them away from what must have happened to them. They had not been allowed to exchange letters. Later, when he sees the newsreels, he will briefly wonder if that was kindness.)

To Erik's memory, the first time he meets Charles it is late, but not dark. This is important.

He can never quite remember why they had stayed so late- looking back, all he can remember is walking the dusky streets back to the Winslow's.

It had been unbelievably bright for that time of night, the street lights and shop windows casting the evening a warm, dusky purple.

Erik stopped beneath a street lamp, turning his face up to the night sky. It is September, but the night is unseasonably warm, and his jacket is slung across his arms.

For a moment, he forgets that he is in America, forgets the words that adults whisper about him when they think he cannot hear, forgets to be angry and scared and grateful; forgets that he is alone.

“It's amazing, isn't it.”

Erik jumps. “What?”

The voice comes out of the shadows, and Erik sees a boy, smaller than himself, his rounds vowels strangely comforting in this strange land. He had lived in England for two years before the blitzkrieg began.

The boy gestures to the lights with a thin hand. “The lights,” he says with a smile. “You could forget that there even was a war.”

“You're a war guest, then.”

The boy nods seriously. “London isn't safe, not-”

“-I know. I lived there too.”

The boy wrinkled his eyebrows. “But you're not English.”

“No.” Erik says flatly, and leaves it at that.

The boy gets a distant look in his eyes, there and gone before Erik could blink, and nods.

“I suppose there isn't one, really,” he says, “Not here, anyway.”

Erik hums in agreement. “You're from the school?”

The boy smiles. “Charles Xavier. I believe we have maths together.”

“I'm sorry, I-”

“It's okay,” Charles says, “I'm told I'm rather forgettable. Quiet, you know. You're Erik Lehnsherr.”
Erik nods. It has been three years, and the name no longer sounds like a stranger's.

Erik never could remember what Charles said next, something about their Latin teacher, he believes- but he laughs, and then responds in kind, and before he knows it Charles is asking him if he plays chess, and would he like to go to the drugstore with him.

When he thinks back on that night, years later, the memory is always scented, smells like a malted and cut grass and the slight hint of autumn in the air.

He won't remember all of it, but what he will remember is Charles' smile, bright in his thin white face, his eyes a shining, deep blue, the feeling of his young arm thrown casually around Erik's shoulder in fraternal affection.

He will remember marvelling that one so young- just three years, but three years is a century when one is eleven- is so free with his affections, that he laughed loudly and covered his mouth, that, although thin and pale, his cheeks were rosy with warmth and happiness and life.

He will remember feeling that this is the first person he has met since Poland who sees him as more than the sum of his parts- more than a refugee, a brother, a Kraut, a Jew, a Polak, a boy, a man- someone who sees him as a friend.

For the first time since Poland, he is not alone.

This is only the beginning.