There were dozens of people in the waiting room at the hospital, tired people waiting and waiting for one of the overworked doctors to come to see them, to speak of loved ones. In the Soviet Union, in the camps, waiting had been a way of life. She should be used to it. She should be able to be patient. But it wasn't possible. Nausea warred with horror in her mind, as she remembered the sickening moment when she'd struck out, when the table had flown at her command and he had fallen, a single swift scream and then silence. He'd been alive when she'd rushed to the hospital with him, when in her poor French she had stammered out that someone had hit him, help him, please help him. There was no reason he should not still be alive. He was strong, he'd survived so very much, he had to be alive. She couldn't have killed him, please no, God, let her not have killed him.
That was what it sounded like, anyway. It took a moment for her to recognize her name mangled by a French accent. "Uh... moi, I mean, c'est moi, le docteur, me verra-t-il maintenant?"
The nurse scowled, probably at her miserably accented French. "Venez avec moi," the woman said, and she understood her to mean "Come with me." Fearfully, she followed.
The doctor was waiting by one of the rooms. "Madame," he said, not even trying to manage the last name, "your husband is awake now. His injuries are severe, but he's strong and he'll live. It will be several months before he can return to work in construction, but he should be able to return to his university studies in a day or two." At least, that was what she hoped he said. Her French wasn't good-- she relied on her husband and his gift with languages to translate, most of the time-- but she knew enough that she thought she understood. Silently she wished again they'd never come to France-- but then, whose fault was that, who was it who had made the Soviet Union too dangerous a place for them? It had been her husband who had dreamed of France, but it was her actions that had made it necessary to leave home and come here.
"Can I see him?" she said, or hoped she said.
It seemed to be close enough. "Certainment," the doctor said. "Il est dedans ici." He's in here.
She stepped into the room, a semi-private ward with four beds. Two were curtained and hidden, one was empty, and the one at the back held her husband, looking uncharacteristically vulnerable with the cast around his arm and ribs. But he wasn't dead. Thank God. He glanced at her as she came in the room, and then looked away, staring out the window into the night.
Oh God. He was angry at her. Well, of course he had the right to be angry at her. But she wished he'd shout, he'd shake his fist, do all the things that usually terrified her so much, rather than this cold withdrawing.
"Erik," she whispered. "Erik, they told me-- they told me you'd be all right. They said--"
"I heard," he said.
She sat down by the side of the bed, trembling. She'd hurt him. Why wasn't he shouting at her? Why wouldn't he talk, really talk, to her? "It-- you'll be able to go back to university, they said. In a couple of days."
"But I cannot work. Where will we get the money for me to continue at university, if I can't work for several months?"
He was talking, at least. "I-- I can get a job. I'm sure-- I'm sure there's something I can do. Or I could... the other thing."
"No one here speaks our language, Magda. You might as well say what you mean."
She felt a sudden surge of anger. He knew how ashamed she was of what she'd done at his behest, knew how much she wished to have nothing but a normal life, never do anything to attract the attention of the police, ever again. But it was too late for that. It'd been too late since that night in Vinnitsa, when she'd saved him and Anya, and everything had changed. And she had no right to be angry at him for anything now, no right at all. "I could steal something," she mumbled.
"Do you really think it would be wise for you to get a job? Under the circumstances?"
"I don't want to steal--"
"So what will you do if you take work, and the supervisor shouts at you? Hit him with a table?"
"I'm sorry," she whispered, tears welling in her eyes. "I'm sorry-- I never meant. I never meant to hurt you. I just--"
"You just?" he prompted, his voice still ice cold, still not looking at her.
"I just got angry," she whispered.
As short as it was, the reply contained a wealth of sarcasm. Ah, so that makes it all right then. Ah, of course, most people who are angry with their spouses would throw heavy iron tables at them. Ah, so you can be angry but not me. He didn't say any of those things, so she filled in the blank with all of them.
"You're angry with me."
He didn't dignify that with a reply. For a moment a terrible silence fell. He still wouldn't look at her, and she had to see, had to look in his eyes and see how much damage she'd done their love. Her mother had stayed with her father after a thousand beatings and abuses, until the Nazis came and murdered them both, but Erik was far prouder than her mother had been. "Erik, look at me."
Still he stared out the window. "Look at me," she repeated, reaching out to him, to touch his good shoulder.
He flinched violently, his head snapping around to look at her, and for a moment she was looking at a trapped animal, terrified and enraged, ready to bite. "Or what?" he said. "If I did not look at you would you break my other arm?"
Magda's hand dropped to her side. "I'm sorry," she choked, a sob welling up. He wasn't just angry. He was afraid of her. Erik, her fearless Erik, was afraid. Of her. "I'm so very sorry..."
He'd never been afraid of her. That night in Vinnitsa, she'd terrified herself, reacting to throw aside the men beating him, and then trembling in shock at what she'd done. He had been the one who'd guided her, who'd grabbed onto her and had her protect them both as they went back into the building for Anya, in utter faith that she could do it when she herself was so frightened and unsure. He had threatened the bystanders with her vengeance if they should interfere, supporting her so none could see how she was truly weak and trembling, not the powerful goddess he was making her sound like, and after they'd stolen a car and fled he had been the one to drive for more than a day, lying, getting forged papers for the three of them, buying food for the three of them, caring for Anya in her hysterical fear, all while Magda herself had lain near unconsciousness from her outburst of power. Never for a moment had he shown a single sign of fearing her-- when men lay dead with their own guns wrapped around their throats, he had never censured her, never shown her anything but fierce support and loyalty. When she'd wept at her own damnation, at the murders she'd committed, he'd held her in his arms and kissed her tears away and told her she was a mother defending her child, a wife defending her husband, what else had she been supposed to do? He'd told her, again and again, that she had saved both his and Anya's lives that day, that anything she did in that cause was justified. He'd never been afraid.
If only he hadn't pushed. If only he hadn't kept demanding that she work harder, practice harder, train harder. If only he hadn't kept frightening her, reminding her that if normal humans ever saw her use her power they'd hate and fear her, and that she had to be prepared to defend herself and Anya and him if a mob attacked. If only he hadn't screamed in her face.
Her father had always screamed in her face, and then hit her. Erik shouted but never hit her. But she'd been with her father 16 years, and Erik only 8. If he hadn't done that, she wouldn't have gotten afraid, and she wouldn't have gotten angry, and she wouldn't have reacted--
--The table had been Erik's design. He had talked her through shaping it, directing her to use her power on the scrap metal he'd bought, guiding her through the intricacies of the scrollwork he'd had her decorate it with, to teach her control and precision. It was very heavy-- without her powers she couldn't lift it at all. Only to be expected-- it was made of solid iron. Erik could only lift it with an effort.
She had picked it up with her mind, the same powers that had shaped and created it in the first place, and thrown it at the man who'd designed it, the man she loved.
And now he was afraid of her.
A broken sob escaped Magda, and then another. Erik was her protector. He'd saved her life in the camps, had sheltered her afterward. He was the one who'd figured out that her powers were based on magnetism, and had taught her how to use them, based on his studies at university after they'd come here to Paris. If he was afraid of her, if he hated her, she didn't know what she was going to do. She put her head in her hands, overwhelmed by grief and regret for what she'd done, and cried.
A hand touched her arm. "Magda."
She looked up, eyes brimming with tears. His good hand was on her arm, and he was looking at her with something other than rage and fear in his eyes. "Magda, come here," he said, pulling her toward him.
Magda went into his embrace, trying to be so very careful of his broken ribs and the other arm in the sling. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," she sobbed, clinging to him, as he stroked her hair with his uninjured hand. "Forgive me, please, Erik I'm so sorry, I'll never do it again, I never wanted to hurt you, I'm sorry sorry...."
"It's... all right," he whispered. "It's all right. I'll live. I've lived through worse."
The words of reassurance destroyed whatever fragile control she had left, and she sobbed harder, letting his strength support her. It was all right. He didn't hate her. He wouldn't leave her and the children. He was hers still, he was hers.
After a while he released her. "We will need to do something while I'm injured," he said. "Did you fill out any kind of accident report?"
She shook her head. "I couldn't speak French well enough."
"I suppose I'll do it, then. I'll say it happened while I was moving furniture, it'll be better for all of us. I might be able to get some kind of disability, but our papers are questionable, you know that."
"So I should get a job? Or steal?" She disliked stealing. It reminded her of the camps, where you stole and lied and did whatever you had to to stay alive. She wanted normality, stability. But she wasn't going to get it.
"You belong at home with Anya and the twins. I don't want you looking for a job. It would be too easy for you to lose control when I'm not there to watch over you."
Magda swallowed her resentment. It was what she deserved-- she'd just demonstrated she didn't have the self-control she needed. "So you want me to steal."
"We'll take a trip to Switzerland on the weekend. Their banks wouldn't give me back my father's money, so we'll steal from them. They owe it to us."
She didn't want to do that. She wanted to get a job, to do something that made her seem like a law-abiding citizen, to fit in with all the other law-abiding citizens in the world. She was so very tired of living in shadows. But Erik was her protector and her guide, and her husband that she'd vowed to obey, and he knew what should be done. She wouldn't get angry at him for making her do this again. She wouldn't. "All right."
He kissed her forehead. "Go on home, Magda. Attend to the children. They'll let me out of the hospital in a day or two, and we'll make plans then." What he meant, of course, was that he would make plans while he was in the hospital, and in a day or two he would explain them to her in detail, and she would carry them out. That was the way it always worked. But she had no right to get angry. She should just be relieved he'd forgiven her for hurting him. Even if it wouldn't have happened if he hadn't been yelling at her.
Magda stood up. "I'll come by tomorrow if they haven't let you out then. Chloe says she doesn't mind watching Wanda and Pietro, and Anya loves to play with little Giselle."
"I mind. Suppose they have powers like you do? Suppose Anya or one of the twins shows some sign to Chloe or her daughter that they aren't truly human? Or suppose Anya slips and admits to Chloe or Giselle that her mother is superhuman? We can't trust anyone, Magda. I want you to stay at home with the children until I come home. Don't come to visit me, I'll be home soon."
She looked at her feet. "I'm sorry, Erik," she whispered.
"Don't apologize, just do what I say. Now, go on. Get the children back from Chloe and put them to bed. I'll be home soon." He smiled at her.
Magda kissed him goodbye, and left. She'd do what he said-- she'd go home and get her children and watch over them, she wouldn't leave them in her friend's care to visit her husband tomorrow-- because he was right. He had to be right-- he was her husband. And if he didn't do it, he would be unhappy, and she didn't want him to be unhappy. And he would shout if he was unhappy, and that would make her scared and angry, and then she might lose control again. And she couldn't do that. So she would do what he said. Even if she didn't want to.