Fourteen and desperate
November 10th meant the end of hope for many, including Sebastian. A pogrom they called it, an act of justified vengeance meant to counter Jewish corruption. Bastian knew, he'd seen, he'd heard. He'd just never believed people could be so ruthless.
Mein Kampf sat proudly on the mantelpiece next to a tall crystal vase. His mother had flown into a rage the like of which had become a regular occurrence over the years.
Gideon sat crouched on the floor, arms covering his head. His hands were balled, his knuckles white and from time to time a pained cry escaped his lips. The leather of the belt made a dull snap as it touched his big body.
Gideon's back was large, Bastian realized, as he took the stairs two at a time and nearly sprained his ankle. Gideon's nape, while tanned and strong, appeared delicate as thick dark hair connected to sensitive skin, merging into broad shoulders, the arms of a young man used to hard labour. These little traits were only amplified as he sat there and did nothing, while a woman more than twice his age, standing on shaky legs and wobbly heels, hit him over the head with a belt.
'How come this damn child,' she said, breathing hard, 'is so damn big!' Slap. 'Rotten child.' Slap. 'How come a Jew is allowed inside my house?' Slap, smack.
'Stop!' Sebastian cried, storming into the room. 'Mother! Stop it!'
Gideon looked up just as the belt came down. He was hit in the face with a loud smack that shocked even Bastian's mother into a momentary state of silence. Then her face grew hard and her eyes filled with newfound rage.
Someone grabbed Sebastian by the arm. He was pulled back by his older brother, now twenty-five and enormous. 'Stay back', Hanz said, briefly glancing up at the scene. 'Let it go. He deserves what he gets.' His tone was so matter-of-fact, so cold, he might've as well been talking about the placement of the furniture.
Sebastian wouldn't have it. He trashed in his brother's arms. His struggling was only a mild annoyance to Hanz, who jerked him back so hard Bastian's shoulder gave a nasty pop. 'Will you fucking stop-'
'Hanz, that's enough.' Their father appeared dressed in a suit and tie, weary from work and in need of a drink. Everybody froze and held their breath.
Herr Neudorf looked down at the cowering Gideon and frowned. He took a bottle from the cabinet by the door and poured himself a drink. Much like his eldest son, he felt annoyed.
'Do try to control your temper, for once', he said, glaring at his beautiful blonde wife. 'How's the kid supposed to work if you beat him half to death?'
'But Liebling', Bastian's mother protested. 'Please understand, he misbehaved, he-'
'He's unpaid labour,' the man barked, 'a house rat, he's nothing. He's to be given orders and ignored, do you even understand that? What's the point in him skulking about if all you're gonna do is obsessively watch his every move? Might as well prance about singing, then. It's his job to stay out of sight. Now look what you've done. Look at the damn mess you've made and tell me, was he worth it?' To no one in particular he ordered: 'Throw him out.'
Seconds later Helga and Hilde, appearing seemingly out of nowhere, began dragging Gideon over the carpeted floor into the hallway.
'What are you-' Bastian made to move, but Hanz's grip was like a vice. From the other side of the room his father pinned him down with a fierce stare. 'Sebastian', he said. 'Listen to your brother, keep those heretic thoughts to yourself.'
Sebastian felt nauseous all the way to his toes. He had about five seconds to wrench himself loose and empty the contents of his stomach on the hallway tiles. Hanz looked on, his face an unreadable mask. Helga made a sound of disgust.
Gideon was thrown out in the cold rain in only his working clothes and a pair of socks. Bastian kneeled on the floor, coughing and heaving while the heavy front doors slammed shut. He stayed there until Hanz hauled him upright and shoved him in the direction of the staircase. The climb was strangely difficult on heavy, trembling limbs. Halfway through Sebastian sunk to his knees, sobbing against the smooth wooden banister.
He waited until nighttime to climb out of his window. The roof tiles were slippery and Bastian nearly broke his neck as he dove for the branches of the nearest tree and stubbed his toe, scratched his jaw, broke his nail on the hard bark. He reached the ground with a limp and a bleeding face, clutching his rucksack to his chest.
Bastian found Gideon in the stables with the horses, huddled in the furthest, darkest corner. His friend's breathing was faint, his form covered in shadows. Drops fell through the ceiling and splattered softly on the straw-and-dirt-covered floor.
Gideon opened one eye as Bastian went to work, holding a moist cloth to his face. His whole body was slumped in exhaustion, draped on the floor like a rag. His clothes were soaked, his lip was split and swollen.
He smiled. 'Hey.'
'Don't talk', Bastian said, a frantic tone to his voice. 'You... I...'
Gideon's smile promptly disappeared. For the first time his brown eyes were dead. It came as such a shock to Bastian that he gave up pretending altogether. His lips trembled, his vision went cloudy and his fingers clenched around the cloth. A low wail was building in his throat, a pathetic sound as finally his featherweight endurance broke to pieces.
'Jew or no Jew,' he said, rubbing at his tears, his mind a blur, 'I don't really understand, but to me... there's no difference to me.'
Gideon tried to move his arm, but winced and quickly pulled back. He turned his head as a drop landed on his cheek, slowly trickling into his collar. He sighed and hid his face.
Sebastian wrapped Gideon in a thick, soft blanket. He took off his wet socks and massaged his feet until they were no longer stiff and cold. He lowered Gideon into a more comfortable position and curled up against him, sharing the same space and warmth. Gideon didn't protest. He was still in too much pain to move. Bastian watched his best friend sleep while the hatred he felt for his family grew stronger than ever before.
Early morning came, with the first light of dawn falling through the open windows onto the stable floor. One of the horses turned, hoofs clacking in tune with the rattling and the whispering of the wind.
Sebastian lay in a strange curve, shoulder squashed between the hard floor and his own chin. Gideon lay wrapped in his arms, breathing softly into the crook of his neck. As his senses returned one by one, Sebastian lay breathless in the clammy, damp warmth of the blanket they shared. Gideon's strong body, his scent, his dark hair and long lashes, the swelling under his eye and lip and the slight gash in his cute nose, all numb, resting, momentarily unburdened.
One of the horses huffed through its nose and Gideon woke up with a start. He blinked and locked eyes with Bastian. 'Huh', he said groggily. 'Ah, waw. Auch. Good morning.' He grinned a crooked grin. 'This is new.'
'You're too stiff', Bastian muttered, clasping Gideon's long fingers between his. 'We need to get you upstairs.'
Gideon flinched, fully awake in an instant. 'I can't', he said. 'I can't go up there.'
Bastian grit his teeth, shivering when his bare neck was exposed to the cold. He squeezed his eyes shut and, swearing under his breath, tangled his fingers in Gideon's hair. Gideon leaned into the touch, his eyes lidded, snuggling closer. Bastian held back more muttered curses.
'You ready to stand?' he asked after a while, when the weak autumn sun was already high up in the sky.
'I think so', his best friend answered.
They clambered upright, Bastian weak from the cold, Gideon's body black and blue. He stumbled and bumped into the wall, grunting as a burst of pain shot through him. Sebastian clasped Gideon by the arm, gasping. 'You alright?'
His friend conjured up another grin. It was unconvincing, a tad desperate. 'Come here', he said, and held out his arms.
At fourteen, Sebastian was tall and pretty strong, but Gideon at fifteen was still almost a head taller. Sebastian stepped into the arc of Gideon's arms. He buried his face in Gideon's shoulder, leaning into his firm chest. Gideon worked in the kitchen, the stables, the yard. He was covered in hard, thick muscle, naturally bred and sustained. He was the object of Bastian's every desire.
'I'm going to fetch you something to eat', Bastian said, unmoving. 'Then I'll help you up the stairs. You can sleep in my bed today, no one will notice.'
'It's good to be pampered by you', Gideon said, breathing against the top of Bastian's head. 'You never complain because you pity me, but I wonder, this must be a pain, right? Day after day...'
Bastian opened his mouth to protest, but was cut off: 'I wonder what it'd be like if we were living freely. If you didn't have to pity me, would you spoil me like you spoil me now, or would you get sick of me?' Gideon squeezed, crushing their bodies together, hints of hurt in the tips of his fingers.
Bastian's words were stuck in his throat. Then Gideon let go and Bastian stepped back, the entire moment lost. 'Wait here', he said, turning for the door on shaky legs.
Bastian tried to sneak out unnoticed, but alas, good plans rarely ever work out the way they're supposed to. As soon as he stepped outside his housemaid came running out the door.
'I've been looking for you!' Helga cried, urgently grasping his arm. 'You should be in your room!'
Bastian pulled away as if he were scalded. 'Don't touch me', he spat.
'I said, don't touch me! Don't ever come near me again!'
Bastian's head shot up, gaze travelling up along the wall, to where his father was standing on the balcony. His crisp shirt was partially unbuttoned, his hair not combed but casually brushed back. 'Tone it down', he said, gazing calmly at the pair from his high place. Instant fear filled Sebastian's throat, seeping quietly into his bones.
The kitchen door opened and Hanz appeared, flanked by Ludwig, his manservant, and Hilde. They brushed past Bastian and before the latter had a chance to protest, crossed the short distance to the stables.
'Wait', Sebastian blurted, but was again halted by the looming presence of his older brother.
Hilde reappeared, again dragging Gideon along wit her. She slammed the stable doors. Ludwig was carrying most of the weight. They seemed to be in a hurry, stumbling towards the house. Bastian's face fell when he saw his friend, unable to resist the manhandling, too miserable to do anything about it. He was crying.
Hanz snatched Bastian by the shirt, forcing him to meet his gaze. 'Listen', he said, and Bastian was shocked to discover a sort of urgency in his brother's voice. There was anger and exasperation, but also worry painted on his face, reflected in his eyes. 'There should be a limit to your mercy, kid', Hanz said, a ruefulness to his tone. 'Give up already, he's beneath you.'
Bastian squirmed, recoiled from the touch. 'You don't get it', he said, craning his neck to look back at Gideon. 'He's my friend.'
What followed was a smack so hard and sudden his head lurched to the side. He met his brother's bright blue eyes. They were shocked and staring as if he himself were baffled by his own actions.
Instantly Bastian's face closed off, like the smothering of a deep breath, the interruption of a sentence. 'Did you learn that in the military?' he asked, his voice toneless, devoid of emotion. There was nothing more to say; a bond severed in one pointless instant.
It took little effort to tug himself loose, and soon Bastian was standing in the wide, tiled hallway. He watched Ludwig and Hilde puff under Gideon's weight.
'What are you gonna do to him?' he asked. 'Just leave him with me.'
'Master's orders', Hilde said, stubbornly staring ahead.
Sebastian's father appeared at the top of the stairs, a black tie in hand. He began solemnly tying the knot while he looked at the group in the hallway, the little people cowering at his feet.
'From now on the Jew will stay in the basement', he said. 'He'll do his chores as told. You will not bring him any fresh meals, only leftovers. Do not give him new clothes or treats, don't let him use the servants' quarters. If someone should enquire, there is no Jew living in this house. There never was one. Understood?'
A chorus, as in one voice: 'Jawohl!'
a/n: Thanks for reading, don't forget to review ! ! ! As for you, sweet Palindrome, I know your review said not to overstate things, but I quite enjoy laying it all out on the table. This story is what I write when I don't feel like writing. Hope you still enjoy and this doesn't turn into a disappointment :(