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Graymalkin Revisited

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Lady Marchmain strides into the dining room and they finally sit down, with a clatter of chairs. Somehow Charles has contrived for Erik to sit next to him, so there's that at least. They say grace. Erik, as usual, sits in his chair awkwardly, waits for it to be over as they cross themselves and murmur, "Amen."

"Welcome to Brideshead, Mr Lehnsherr," says Lady Marchmain, unfolding her napkin neatly. "I've been hearing all about you. I do hope you didn't let Charles call you away in too much of a rush." Her cool eyes take in his flannel suit disdainfully. Her eyes on Charles are worse.

"Afraid I didn't quite have time to pack the right things," says Erik, firmly. He won't let her make him feel inferior, he swears to himself.

"Charles must lend you some clothes while you're here," Lady Marchmain allows. "Or perhaps Hank would be a better fit."

"He can't borrow Hank's clothes," Raven smiles, raising an eyebrow. "Hank dresses like a bank clerk."

"Don't be vulgar, Raven, vulgar is not the same as funny," says Lady Marchmain, taking a sip of her soup.

"I hope you're being looked after properly," says Hank cheerfully. "Has Charles been seeing to the wine?"

"Yes, Charles has been seeing to the wine," says Erik, raising his glass. Charles looks at Erik and seems to read what's in his mind about the night before. Charles smiles at him so nakedly happy that Erik is afraid everyone can see, that Lady Marchmain will throw him out of the house.

"Delighted to hear it," says Hank, and turns back to his soup. He seems to think a moment. "I do wish I enjoyed wine a little. It's such a bond with other men."

At this Charles gives a wicked grin. Erik nearly inhales his wine, but Hank is continuing, oblivious. "At Christchurch I tried to get drunk more than once, but I didn't enjoy it."

"What do you enjoy, Hank?" asks Raven, arch but seeming actually curious underneath it. Erik can't read her at all. She's more of an enigma than the rest of the family put together.

"Hunting. Shooting." He pretends to think a moment. "Fishing." Hank's deadpan makes Raven smile, almost laugh despite herself, showing a face Erik hasn't seen before.

"And what form do your pleasures take, Mr Lehnsherr?" asks Lady Marchmain.

Erik almost chokes on his wine. With Charles' eyes on him, he manages, "Sorry, pleasures?"

"Your hobbies," she says calmly.

"He drinks," says Charles hastily, taking a sip from his own glass.

"Drinking is not a hobby, Charles," says Lady Marchmain, her eyes judging him and finding him unworthy. Charles' face is filled with an old familiar ache. Erik is overtaken with the desire to hit her, hurt her somehow the way she's hurting him.

"You're from Germany, is that not right." Lady Marchmain says to Erik. "Whereabouts?"

"Erfurt."

"Bless you," murmurs Raven, and Charles glares at her from across the table.

Lady Marchmain nods. "How quaint. I haven't heard of it."

"No? Well, it's quite large. It actually has the first university established in Germany - "

Lady Marchmain continues as if he hadn't spoken. Social duty to ask politely after son's friends, discharged. "I think we might spend a little time in the chapel after dinner. Would you join us, Mr Lehnsherr?" Her eyes are steely blue awls boring into him.

Erik clutches his glass, can't think of how to speak to her about this.

"You do know Erik is a heathen," says Charles, slurring a little. He already sounds drunk and it's only six o'clock. His mother glares at him.

"I wish you wouldn't make a jest out of the Lord, Charles."

"Actually," Erik swallows, smiles awkwardly. "I'm Jewish. So truly, no thank you." He grips a fork on the table, the metal cool against his fingers, comforting.

"Really. But the Jews killed Christ," says Lady Marchmain.

Erik presses the metal against his skin, curls his other hand into a fist under the table.

Charles says, "Don't be absurd, Mama, the Romans killed him. All those scripture lessons you put us through as children aren't forgotten that easily!" He's trying to make a joke out of it but it falls flat.

Lady Marchmain's smile doesn't reach her eyes. "Of course." She raises her chin. "But you'll join us anyway. Out of - curiosity."

Erik's smile is tight. "Thank you. But I think I'd like to rest after dinner." He takes another gulp of his wine.

Charles' gentle eyes on his feel like a caress, and Erik allows himself to be soothed for the rest of the meal.