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the shadow of death

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yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil;

for thou art with me

psalm 23

 


It started with Kircheis' death. But then, so hadn't everything that followed? If one were to look at things objectively, as von Oberstein liked to consider he did, it had been for the best. Emotional attachments were something best left to those who didn't hold power.

He hadn't planned it, though, despite the whispers that followed him down hallways, and any time his back was turned. Even in his own calculations, he'd thought there would be a high probability Reinhard would blame him if anything like this were to happen. And while Reinhard's wrath didn't intimidate him, dismissal or death were not conducive to his long term plans.

Thus far, however, no blame had been placed. Reinhard hadn't even emerged from his vigil over the body, though twenty four hours had already passed. He sat in that darkened room, eyes glazed and fixed upon a corpse that no one dared to remove. It was vexing, and all too dangerous. Von Oberstein frowned, pushing away the papers that lay on his desk.

This had to stop, or everything they'd achieved would be for naught.

*

"Your Excellency."

Reinhard gave no response; he may well have been carved out of stone. Likely, he still hadn't slept. His hair gleamed in the dim lamplight, but his eyes were dull and shadowed, looking yet not seeing.

Von Oberstein took a step closer and coughed, finding himself at something of a loss. It was disconcerting. The irrationality of it all chafed at his mind.

"Your grief is understandable," he began smoothly, voice dispassionate, "but if this continues your authority will undoubtedly suffer."

Something in Reinhard's expression flickered. "Get out."

For a moment, neither of them moved. Von Oberstein knew that to press the issue would be insubordination, but still he hesitated. It seemed increasingly unlikely that Reinhard would listen to reason. As the seconds passed, Reinhard's frame tensed, knuckles turning white as his hands clutched at his chair. For now, retreat seemed the best strategy.

Von Oberstein saluted curtly and turned, ignoring the stares that followed him as he exited the room and returned to his office.

*

He gave it another ten hours before trying again. The reports he had received stated that no one had entered since. His jaw tightened in resolve. Was it cowardice or something more underhanded that kept the other admirals away? That von Reuenthal, at least, was surely the latter. No matter; he would do what needed to be done. It was what Reinhard kept him around for, after all.

The door had hardly shut behind him when Reinhard spoke, voice listless. "What do you want now?"

Von Oberstein approached and saluted, expression carefully blank.

"Have you slept? I'll have food brought if—"

"Stop it." Reinhard's lips twisted in a disdainful smile, the first hint of feeling he'd shown so far. "This motherly act really doesn't suit you, von Oberstein."

Well, that wasn't something he could disagree with. "Then perhaps your sister— "

"No!" The vehemency of it cracked the stillness of the room. "No," Reinhard repeated softly, and von Oberstein saw that he was trembling. "You wouldn't dare - she can't— "

Reinhard was, he observed, seemingly terrified. It was distasteful and something about it turned his stomach. Or— no, that wasn’t right, but he couldn’t quite place the feeling.

“Regardless of who says it, you still need to eat.” 

Reinhard’s gaze had moved back to the pale corpse, biting his lower lip so hard it seemed as though he would draw blood. His dark lashes drifted shut as he bowed his head. Reinhard von Lohengramm was beautiful in his grief, that much was undeniable. But, von Oberstein thought, arrogance and anger suited him better. 

“I keep thinking,” Reinhard began, voice distant, “that maybe, if I close my eyes it will turn into a bad dream. Then I’ll open them and it will be him standing beside me, telling me to eat.” He raised his arm, stretching out his hand in front of him, reaching for someone who would never take it. 

“Your Excellency?” Von Oberstein approached, wondering if perhaps he’d made an error in his assessment of Reinhard’s mental stability. 

“Take my hand.” Reinhard’s voice was barely a whisper, laced with desperation. Any earlier lucidity had vanished. How to respond to an order that was clearly not directed at him? Von Oberstein frowned. He was loath to get a doctor involved, but this was just too— “Take it!” 

A foreign sense of apprehension filled him as he reached out, mouth dry. If this had pushed Reinhard von Lohengramm’s sanity over the edge, it was the end for them all. The fingers that clutched at his own were cold, the pressure almost painful as Reinhard jerked him forwards without warning. 

“Ahh.” They were close, too close, and Reinhard was murmuring words against the palm of his hand, breath hot and damp against his skin. “But this isn’t you, is it? I can tell.” 

Von Oberstein couldn’t take his eyes off the way Reinhard’s lips brushed against his skin, and hated himself for it. “Your Excellency, please open your eyes and face reality.” 

He wasn’t prepared for the piercing clarity in the way Reinhard looked up at him over their joined hands. “It had to be you, didn’t it?” The pressure loosened, and Reinhard let his hand drop. “No one else would dare.” There was resignation in his voice, and his gaze flickered to von Oberstein’s face, considering. “Leave me. I need— time. Do whatever you must.” 

With the ghost of Reinhard’s lips still on his hand, von Oberstein saluted, plan already forming. He would do what was necessary, as always, whether it was moral or not. Shadows are darker than those who cast them, after all.

The next time von Oberstein saw Reinhard, he had a heavy locket clutched in his hand like a lifeline, and a hard fury in his eyes. And as he stormed off to the FTL room, leaving terrified onlookers in his wake, von Oberstein smiled.