Xylos didn’t remember everything yet—like future history, what was to come in other universes, which was a pretty good guide to this one—but he remembered enough to know that being Jewish here and now was not a good thing, and it was only going to get worse in the immediate future. He had certain powers; again, he didn’t fully understand them all, but he had some ability to protect his family, the people he loved who loved him in return. Human lives were cheap and fragile, but they loved with all their being, no matter the hurt it caused them, and that felt familiar and right to him.
“Max, can you chop these for me?” his mother asked, indicating the pile of carrots and potatoes on the table.
“Let the boy study,” his father countered, when Max looked up from his history book.
“No, it’s okay, Mama,” Max assured her quickly, marking his place and jumping up. He knew most of what was in the book anyway; school had become significantly easier for him and his family had such high hopes for him, it was painful to think they would likely go unrealized.
Max started chopping the carrots for the soup his mother was making. He burned up inside, thinking about them acting as if everything was normal, while the world went to h—l around them, but he had to be careful; he couldn’t be a hothead like his older brother, who was probably off at a secret meeting that was just going to get them all in trouble. They had talked about leaving, going to the country at least; his parents more or less agreed they should, but nothing had yet motivated them to start.
There was an authoritative thumping on the door. “I’ll get it,” Max offered, wiping off his hands. Every knock at the door, every turn around a corner, he hoped to see the face he was longing for, the one that haunted his dreams. Maybe he would show up once they were out of town?
Another forceful knock and Max finally yanked the door open. And saw—Roman. Beautifully alive and golden, a light about him that had to be quenched around humans, who could never appreciate him the way Xylos did.
And he was wearing a Nazi uniform.
The bottom dropped out of Max’s stomach.
Roman’s intense blue eyes flickered over him and Max prayed he would remember. “Awkward,” Roman intoned, bone-dry. “You look good,” he added in approval.
“Who is it, Max?” his mother called, and Max snapped out of his frozen state.
“Just—someone,” he stuttered, desperate for her to stay put. Roman raised an eyebrow in amusement. “I’ll take care of it.” He stepped out into the street, Roman forced to back up, and shut the door firmly behind him.
“Do you remember me?” Roman checked immediately, leaning one hand on the wall by Max’s head. The younger man felt very boxed in, his world encompassed by Roman, which he assumed was the point.
“Of course,” Max hissed, looking around for witnesses. “What are you doing here?”
“The usual, looking for you,” Roman asserted. “Thought I’d get a warmer welcome.” He leaned down as if he was going to kiss Max, but the other man put a hand on his chest to stop him.
“Not dressed like that,” he replied, still not fully recovered from the shock. “Not here and now.” Everything he wanted, everything he was, was dangerous here.
Roman pulled back, mildly perturbed. “Actually I’m looking for—“ He pulled a paper from his coat pocket. “Are you Jozef Faber?”
“No, that’s my brother,” Max corrected. “I’m Max.”
“Erik Lehnsherr,” Roman introduced. “Lieutenant,” he added proudly, indicating the stars on his uniform.
Sometimes Roman could be unbelievably tacky. “Were you hoping that would impress me?” Max responded flatly, and Erik rolled his eyes.
“It’s just convenience,” he dismissed. “Officially I’m here to arrest your brother for subversive activities.”
Max snatched the paper to see for himself, horrified that his brother had caught the attention of the authorities. Erik merely waited, tipping his hat at two elderly women who passed them, murmuring to each other and shooting him dark looks.
“You’re not—are you really going to arrest him?” Max asked hesitantly. If so they were going to have a problem.
“Of course not, Schatzi,” Erik assured him, thinking it ought to be obvious. He reached out to caress Max’s cheek and the younger man’s eyes fluttered closed, the warmth of the familiar touch nearly overwhelming. “I’m here to get you out,” he added, and Max forced his eyes back open.
“My family, too?”
Erik looked like he would rather say no. “If that’s what it takes,” he agreed without enthusiasm. “How old are you? Stop worrying, I know what I’m doing.”
“Nineteen,” Max answered, and Erik patted his cheek.
“Even younger would be more fun,” he claimed flippantly, “but significantly more difficult to explain.”
“Like this will be easy to explain,” Max sighed. “Come on, we need to get inside.” Neighbors could be spies these days.
He opened the door and led Erik in, closing the door tightly behind him, and wandered slowly into the main room, scrambling for what to say. “Mother,” Max began, and when she turned and saw Erik looming behind him she nearly dropped her wooden spoon, and his father choked on his pipe in the corner. For his part Erik whipped his hat off and smiled politely, as if he was an ordinary visitor. “Mother, this is… my friend, Erik,” Max introduced. “My father.”
“Ma’am, sir,” Erik greeted. He knew how to behave, at least.
“Your friend?” his mother repeated faintly.
“I’m here to get you out of the country,” Erik interrupted, solemn but urgent. “It’s not safe here for anyone who’s different. There’s a warrant out for Jozef’s arrest,” he added, handing the paper to Mrs. Faber, who read it with a gasp. “Luckily they asked me to serve it.” Max doubted there was any luck involved.
Mr. Faber had come up near his wife. “Aren’t you a Nazi?” he asked, clearly confused about what was going on here.
“No, he’s not really,” Max assured him.
“It’s just a disguise?”
“Well, technically, I am a Nazi,” Erik corrected, which was really not helping.
“Are you going to arrest Jozef?” Mrs. Faber demanded.
“How do you know Max?” Mr. Faber asked at the same time.
Max felt the scene descending into chaos. “Just let me explain—“
Roman was always more a man of action and he suddenly grabbed Max and pulled him into a kiss. After a moment Max forgot their audience and let himself be caught up in the first taste of this lifetime, that he had never experienced before but somehow remembered. When they finally parted Max saw his parents staring at them and flushed.
“I’m not a very good Nazi,” Erik understated. “I’ve got a truck waiting,” he added, giving them a little mental prod. “Pack what you must, but hurry.”
“The books!” Mr. Faber decided, eager to leave the room.
“The photo albums, and some food,” Mrs. Faber listed in turn, leaving dinner preparations to start packing. “And where is Jozef?”
Once they were alone Max turned back to Erik, slightly gobsmacked that he’d done that, and Erik gave his crazy grin with too many teeth. “Convincing, yes?” he asked with great amusement.
“I can’t even—what they must be thinking now—“ Max sputtered.
Erik took his face in his hands. “They are thinking how lucky they are, to have a homosexual Nazi in love with their son, who’s going to save their lives,” he predicted dryly.
Max’s red lips curved into a sudden grin. “Are you in love with me?” he asked in delight. Erik raised an eyebrow and Max winced. “Sorry, of course you are,” he realized. “That was Max talking.”
Erik gave him a quick kiss. “I’m sure it’s still confusing,” he allowed, in a slightly patronizing way. “And I look forward to getting to know Max better.”
Max knew there was probably something he should be doing, helping his parents throw things together, but he was reluctant to let Erik out of his sight, after waiting so long to see him. “Um, where—where are we going?” he asked.
“England,” Erik replied, as Mr. Faber returned with a stack of books Max feared he intended to bring with them. “Here, let me help,” Erik offered, transferring the books to the table. “My mother has a country house there,” he went on. “With a friend of mine named Raven.” Max perked up at this, recognizing the name as someone else Xylos needed to find. “Should be safe.”
“You’ve been planning this for a while?” Mr. Faber surmised.
“Max is very special to me,” Erik stated matter-of-factly, and the younger man blushed again.
“Uh, not to be rude,” Mr. Faber began, and Max cringed, since that nearly always meant rudeness was imminent, “but how do we know this isn’t just some kind of… clever scheme to get rid of us?”
“Papa!” Max squawked indignantly. Of course, he didn’t exactly have a logical answer, having only met Erik moments ago.
“Well, not to be rude, Mr. Faber,” Erik returned smoothly, leaning casually on the table, “but we don’t really need a clever scheme to get rid of you. It’s actually pretty easy. And it’s going to get worse.”
“Right,” Mr. Faber agreed, apparently convinced. “I’ll just grab some more books.”
“Papa, we can’t carry all those books to England—“ Max tried to tell him.
He almost ran into his mother. “How many people can your truck hold?” she asked of Erik, depositing a suitcase near the table.
Max turned back to her. “We can’t bring everyone we know, Mama,” he pointed out, feeling like a horrible person. “We have to leave tonight, before they miss Erik at work.” At least, he assumed that was sensible; the longer they delayed, the more chance there was of getting caught, and he didn’t yet understand the full extent of their powers—there had to be a limit to what trouble Erik could protect them from.
“We do have to leave soon, Mrs. Faber,” Erik confirmed. “Within the hour. We have to get to the coast and catch a ship.” He had not actually answered her question, and her look said as much. Max decided Erik had just better get used to his mother’s looks. “I could take a dozen people,” he sighed, which got her very excited. “I have to make some paperwork on each of them, for the checkpoints—“
“The Bruners, and I could call your Aunt Rose and get her to meet us—“ Mrs. Faber planned.
“Within the hour, Mama,” Max emphasized. He didn’t like the idea of leaving friends and relatives and neighbors behind—he had lived in this house his whole life, grown up on this street—but to delay, or spread the news around too widely, was to risk the whole plan. “Or else none of us might get out.” Maybe they could find a way to help them later.
For his part Erik did not seem anxious, sitting on the edge of the table casually swinging his shiny black boot. “Whoever you want, whatever you want,” he shrugged. “But Max and I leave on that truck at six.”
“I’ll go make some calls,” Mrs. Faber decided.
Max took a deep breath and tried to think logically, despite the panic that threatened to choke him. “Okay, what’s the plan?” he asked of Erik professionally.
The other man had the temerity to chuckle slightly. “The plan is, I use some magic, and get you all to safety,” he claimed. “I guess there should be a ship now, since I mentioned that.”
Max was not heartened by this response. “And because we’re going to an island,” he noted pointedly. “You said paperwork? Checkpoints?”
“That’s what one says,” Erik claimed. “In the movies. You know, this uniform is even better in person than I’d imagined,” he went on in a pleased tone, brushing a bit of lint off the sleeve. “Very understated, but with just enough touches of luxury—“
“Could you not—“ Max began in exasperation, but he was interrupted by the front door opening. His older brother marched in, stopped abruptly, and stared at Erik in alarm.
“Jozef Faber?” Erik asked in an imposing tone. The younger man immediately turned and raced back out the door.
“Jozef, wait!” Max shouted, but he was already out of sight.
“That’s my Nazi voice,” Erik noted, smugly. “It’s quite good, don’t you think?”
Max was not in the mood to compliment him. “We can’t leave without my brother!” he was forced to point out, and Erik rolled his eyes and stood.
“Fine. I’ll go after him,” he offered, which was just one remark too many for Max to take.
“No, I’ll go after him,” he countered, since the sight of a Nazi officer on Jozef’s heels probably would not convince him to stop and chat. “You stay here and help my parents. Okay?”
“Six o’clock, Schatzi,” Erik reminded him, taking off his coat as if preparing to move furniture. “You and I are gone. The humans are coming up with new ways to kill each other. Like they always do. We aren’t going to get caught in that.”
“I’ll be back, I promise,” Max told him, and raced out into the streets to find his brother.