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Playing Dressup

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It had taken three trips for Erik to transfer his Christmas presents to his attic bedroom. He doesn’t plan to gloat over his haul, exactly, but after the morning madness, the big breakfast, and the tidying up, he needs a break. As soon as the wrapping paper and other debris had been cleared, his foster parents had shooed “the kids” away so they could get to work on dinner. Sarah is in her room talking on the phone, probably making plans to see friends tomorrow. She seemed to truly like his gift, a hat, scarf, and glove set in rose pink. Certainly she’d looked very well in them, but Sarah is always beautiful. Michael had raved about the Blake’s 7 videos, and there’s no doubt he meant every word as Michael is the most transparent person Erik has ever known. Erik can hear his television going as he passes the second floor landing.

This is without question the best Christmas morning Erik has ever experienced. That would be remarkable enough if he were, as he appears, a boy in his mid teens, but technically Erik is the oldest person in the house, decades older than Maddy and Marcus who have taken him in to care for as they cared for their own children. Back when he was known as Colonel Olrik his worst Christmas was probably when he was imprisoned in a gulag, although given what happened afterwards, the one spent at Lilly Sing’s establishment is close, followed by every Christmas beyond bars. No Christmases were actually pleasant in his first life.

Since then Olrik has reinvented himself until he achieved wealth and respectability under an alias, with the help of the CIA. The holiday season never became important to “Ivan Ostrovsky” either, old bachelor that he was, but he appreciated the effort to cheer the darkest time of the year. Of course, his participation was limited to signing off on a gift list and perhaps attending a few holiday parties for the sake of the business. All the real work was handed off to assistants. This likely would have continued until he faded away or died if not for the Sato rejuvenation experiment that screwed up his life beyond all recognition. Instead of coming back in the prime of life as his old enemies, Blake and Mortimer, had managed, he’s a kid living in a suburb, plotting his comeback and actually doing Christmas for the first time in nearly 80 years.

So far he’s counting the holiday a success. Everyone seemed to like the presents he selected; hell, Maddy had actually cried a little bit over the silver and abalone hair clasp he got her for her book events. Later today some cousins and friends of the family will arrive and there will be twelve people at dinner. He’ll have to be charming and answer questions which will be a trial, but nothing he can’t handle with a little rest and preparation. Erik, as he’s now known, looks at his calendar and realizes he has only two clear days until school starts again in January. The rest of the time he’ll be busy with visits with friends, outings with his foster siblings, the trip to Vermont where his former assistant now has a bed and breakfast. He’ll have to find down time where he can.

The top floor of the house is always quiet, well-insulated against both the cold and the noise of whatever is going on below. Erik decides to put away his new treasures and relax a bit until hunger drives him to the downstairs hive. He puts on the new Silverchair album - a gift from Michael - and shelves the rest of his music and all the new books except for Exploring the Night Sky, the companion piece to his new telescope. The telescope takes a place of honour on an empty shelf. The new skates go in his little storage room. He’s never ice skated in his life, but he’d never downhill skied before either and now he loves it.

What on earth will he do with all this candy? He has five pounds of sour hard candies in a glass jar courtesy of Sarah, a crazy amount that will last at least the rest of the school year at least. Months ago he’d mentioned liking them, and somehow that stuck in her head. He also has a box of home-made almond bark from Andre Torres, his lawyer and legal guardian who’d sent it from New York along with three Raymond Chandler novels, part of the Vintage reissue. Erik had offered to leave the bark in the pantry for everyone to share but they’re already overloaded. He puts the bark in the mini fridge and leave the jar of sour balls on his desk where he can help himself while studying.

Then there’s the clothes. It’s a family tradition that everyone gets socks for Christmas, something they’ve done since Michael returned from his first semester of university with two ragged pairs to his name. Erik’s are thick black wool specifically for winter sports, and he’d been meaning to get some anyway. The other clothes are more concerning, but he can’t quite put a finger on why.

It really is the most innocuous thing; his foster parents gave him two sweaters and two shirts. That’s it, nothing sinister. In all his past lives he was a bit of a dandy, but now he affects a minimalist look, dressing the part of the moody outsider. These new things aren’t radically different. They’re not an attempt to mould his taste or reform him. It’s not like giving a diet book to a fat person or a bible to an atheist. In fact, Maddy and Marcus had made a point of telling him they kept the receipts, just in case.

Erik takes a second look at the clothes. The shirts are broadcloth button downs, nicer than the ones he wears to school but nothing extraordinary. One is dark grey with a fine maroon stripe, the other is white with a green windowpane check. The sweaters are flat-knit wool crewnecks, one maroon, one pine green, to coordinate with the shirts. Everything is a little big on him right now, but he’s due for a growth spurt. The new clothes will end up fitting his adult form perfectly. Erik folds the sweaters neatly and puts them in the drawer beside the grey cardigan he’s had for decades.

Then it hits him: maroon and green. Forty years ago an actual Nazi had dragged him into a mad scheme to take over the world with god magic. At some point in all his insane plotting Von Stahl had taken the trouble to buy Olrik two expensive suits, one sage green, one dark pink, before plucking the notorious criminal out of Jacksonville prison. The silver coin plot had been doomed from the start, of course, but he wasn’t about to reject an obvious nutcase in open waters. Besides, he never could pass up a chance to get back at Phillip Mortimer in the old days. Like most cultists, Von Stahl had been self-indulgent. Behind the dark glasses, his pupils were like golf balls, and he’d been very handsy, always taking Olrik’s arm, letting a hand linger on his back, plying him with champagne. Olrik had put him off by suggesting they save themselves for a celebration, but he would have jumped through a window to avoid Von Stahl’s bed.

What is it with people trying to dress him up like a doll all the time? Put on this uniform, put on these pyjamas, put on this hospital gown. He’d been forced to wear the Yellow Mark outfit three goddamned times. Put on this wetsuit, put on this tribal regalia, put on this ridiculous astrakhan hat. Erik feels rage build in his chest as he’s flooded with memories: the smugness on Evangely’s face as he’d tossed the black trousers and pullover on the cell floor, the arrogance of Princess Gita when she’d forced him to strip in that freezing lab, the proprietary grin on Von Stahl’s face.

And then the feeling breaks. This isn’t the same at all. Erik takes a deep breath and imagines Marcus and Matty browsing the racks of a department store, probably Nordstrom Rack or Marshalls. No doubt Marcus checked the seams of the shirts to make sure they’ll last. Maddy would have handled the sweaters to make sure they were soft and comfortable. They’d been worried he wouldn’t like the colours, given that almost everything he wears now is black, grey, or navy, but Erik is vain enough to know how well rich jewel tones suit him and doesn’t mind showing off. He runs a hand over the sweaters. With proper care they will last forever. He’ll wear the green one to dinner tonight with the shirt. It was especially chosen to make him happy, the least he can do is return the favour.