The old man lifted his hand from Eric and nodded. He looked Hispanic, maybe, or Native American. A long gray braid fell down his back, and he wore scuffed leather boots that looked like they belonged on a ranch somewhere, not in a tiny apartment in Seattle’s hippy hood. The man’s eyes were ice blue, though, like Thorne’s.

Chapter 4: Justice League, an excerpt

“Breathe, son,” The man’s voice was calm, deep, kind. “Close your eyes. Just breathe.”

Almost without meaning to, Eric did as told. Eyes closed. Breathe in. Breathe out. Again. Again. When he opened his eyes finally, the rainbow whirlwind had subsided, though all the colors in the room seemed intensified with a clarity so edgy it stung.

“Good.” The man stepped back. “Get up now.”

“I c— I can’t.” But even as he objected his right leg swung forward to push himself upright.

“But, Uncle,” Thorne started as Terry tried explaining and the other two men protested.

“He’s dangerous,” one of the young men said, his eyes narrowed, broad shoulders tensed and ready.

Uncle put a hand up to silence them all. “Graham, he is untrained, that’s all. Would you tether one of the young ones back home? Is that the way to teach them?” He turned to the other man. “Would you treat your son this way, Storm’s Eye?”

“He’s no pup,” said Storm. His eyes were as dark as his hair and he stared at Eric like his gaze alone could keep him contained.

“Has he harmed you, niece?” Uncle turned to Thorne. When she reluctantly shook her head he looked at Terry, one eyebrow raised, until Terry also muttered, “No.”

 “Lay another hand on me,” Eric said, his voice steady despite the rapid beat of his heart, “and I will fuck you up. Don’t think I won’t. Don’t think I can’t.”

“I know it,” Uncle said. “But do you, I wonder? Do you know what you are, son?”

There it was again. What, not who. What was he? A whore? A madman? But how could these strangers know anything about him? Unless it was clearly written all over him, like the colors he could see again, wrapped around each of them in a dim glow.

“I’m not your son.” He meant to sound belligerent, angry, hard.

“I’m not your son.” He meant it to sound belligerent, angry, hard, but those emotions were drowned out by a refrain ringing through his head.

 “Royal courts laughing hysterically,”—the poem again—“as a mother’s youngest son becomes an enemy. Through the Wizard’s schemes and manipulation…”

He stopped mid-verse when he realized he had said the words out loud, but it wasn’t until Thorne spoke the line he hadn’t yet uttered that he found himself stunned and questioning his own ears.

“…Lies a world of unbroken dreams.” Her words echoed his unspoken thought.

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