“So,” Wolfgang starts. “What was that about?”
Reuenthal takes a long sip from his glass before answering, looking at Wolfgang as if he’s challenging him. To what, Wolfgang isn’t quite sure. “What was what about?”
Wolfgang glares at him, incredulously. It’s late, and most patrons have left the bar by now. Slowly, the number of empty bottles on their table continues to increase, testimony of how long they’ve been here, talking about everything and nothing. It’s easy to lose track of time when he’s with Reuenthal.
He figures that they’ve both had enough to drink to talk about things that require a touch of vulnerability. Nobody to hide from, here, just the two of them. “Your stunt at the wedding,” he says, almost accusatory.
It’s been days, and Reuenthal hasn’t brought it up. Wolfgang had talked about it with Eva, and they had laughed again, happy and carefree, at Reuenthal’s seemly well-intentioned strangeness. But when it comes to Reuenthal, Wolfgang knows, there’s no such thing as a single intention, or a single meaning.
Reuenthal looks amused, if anything. “I wanted to congratulate you.” He refills Wolfgang’s glass, and then his own. “Evangelin is a fine woman,” and at that, Wolfgang raises his glass in agreement. Reuenthal meets him halfway. “And you’re a good man,” he adds, after taking another swing. “I’m happy for you.”
Reuenthal’s answer almost sounds sincere in its simplicity. Over the years, Wolfgang’s come to accept that Reuenthal is hardly ever honest, often hiding bits and pieces of the truth. Wolfgang knows that he’s an open book. It used to bother him, that Reuenthal could see through him so easily, while he had to work for each bit of himself that Reuenthal chose to reveal. Now, that’s just part of what makes Reuenthal’s company so thrilling.
“Thank you,” he says. He pauses before continuing. “It’s still not too late for you, you know.” Wolfgang has only heard of Reuenthal’s romantic life in passing, but knows that the women Reuenthal’s been involved with don’t stay around for long. “I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard for you to find a woman to settle down with.”
Reuenthal laughs, the sound of it insincere. Wolfgang doesn’t call him out on it. “You flatter me, Mittermeyer,” he says, “but I’m afraid I’m not cut out for marriage.” And with a sly smile: “Commitment seems awfully demanding, and scarcely rewarded.”
“I guess it’s not for everyone”, Wolfgang concedes, “but it could be good for you.” The same way it has been good for me, he almost says, but doesn’t.
“Ah, Mittermeyer,” Reuenthal’s voice is rough, in the way it always gets when he’s had too much to drink, “you will come to understand, with time, that most women can’t be trusted.”
Wolfgang opens his mouth to protest, put Reuenthal stops him, waving a hand dismissively in the air. “I know, I know. Not all of them. Not Eva. I didn’t mean to offend you, or her.”
“I just don’t understand how you can say such things, when you don’t have the full picture.”
“I can only speak from my own experience,” Reuenthal says, “and love has never been kind to me.”
They both grow quiet after that. This is how Reuenthal speaks of himself, usually. Never a liar, but never revealing the whole truth. Wolfgang isn’t patient by nature, but he won’t push Reuenthal, not tonight. There’ll be plenty of other nights like this, nights more suitable for reveals and confessions.
It’s Reuenthal who breaks the silence. “As for myself,” his voice is quieter now, less steady, as if suddenly all the alcohol is finally getting to his head, “I know I’m not exactly the type that women like.”
At that, Wolfgang can only glare at him. “A moderately high-ranking military official with a bright future ahead. A little difficult and extravagant, sure,” Reuenthal shrugs at that, as if admitting guilt, “but reliable and with a good head on his shoulders,” he points an accusatory finger at Reuenthal, “and not lacking in good looks, on top of it all?”
“Again, you flatter me,” says Reuenthal. It makes Wolfgang’s face heat up. He drowns the last of his drink just to have something to do with his hands. “But it’s not that simple,” Reuenthal continues, “after they get to know me a little better… I won’t seem like such a good catch anymore.” He leans down on the table, getting as close to Wolfgang as he can without lifting from his seat. “Maybe the same will happen to you,” he whispers, conspiratorially. “You think too highly of me, Mittermeyer. One day, I might become an inconvenience to you.”
It’s typical of Reuenthal to speak of the future as if it’s something he’s already seen, leaving Wolfgang feeling blind and with his hand tied, but he won’t let it get to him tonight. There’s so much Wolfgang could say to him, but it wouldn't be anything he hasn’t said before. Reuenthal is remarkably talented at ignoring what he doesn’t want to hear.
Silence stretches between them again. Finally, Reuenthal speaks. “I hope that when that day comes, you’ll do the right thing, and that you won’t sacrifice yourself for something as trivial as friendship.”
Wolfgang wants to protest, but doesn’t. By now, he knows Reuenthal’s sharp edges well, and they won’t hurt him. He knows that there’s always and underlying roughness even in his tenderness. Reuenthal’s truths, that might cut through other people like knives, feel like small concessions to Wolfgang, Reuenthal granting him access to the inner workings of his mind.
He repeats these words to himself when Reuenthal makes him feel lost, and in his most doubtful moments, he hopes that repeating them will make them true
The first time Wolfgang had seen Reinhard von Müsel and Siegfried Kircheis they had seemed impossibly young, despite not being that much younger than Wolfgang himself. Back then, he hadn’t realized yet that they would slowly rise to become brilliant stars, but their potential had already been undeniable. A baby tiger mistaken for cat , Reuenthal had said about Müsel, and it seems that destiny will prove him right.
He now owes these men his life, and his freedom. Loyalty seems like a small price. When Reuenthal had first explained the arrangement he made with Müsel, Wolfgang had been unconvinced, but that’s in the past. He thinks he might owe Reuenthal, too, for granting him a spot on the winning side.
Tonight, they had toasted to their pact. In Müsel’s words, to their new bond. Wolfang had excused himself from their reunion and asked for the direction of the restroom, more to clear his head and get a second to think than anything else. Kircheis had walked him across the hallway, in an act of courtesy Wolfgang had found both flattering an unnecessary.
When he makes his way back, he finds Kircheis standing with his back towards the main room, Reuenthal and Müsel hidden from view behind the closed door. He has been waiting for Wolfgang’s return, that much is clear.
“Captain Mittermeyer,” he says, his tone soft and polite. “A word?”
Wolfgang nods, and Kircheis leads him to a smaller room. He offers Wolfgang a seat, that he takes, albeit reluctantly.
“I’m sorry for my indiscretion,” says Kircheis, “but I wanted to speak with you in private.”
Wolfgang thinks of Reuenthal, alone with Müsel in the other room. He raises an eyebrow. “Is this a test?”
For some reason, that makes Kircheis smile. “You could say that,” he concedes. “The admiral didn’t put me up to this, if that’s what you’re wondering.”
Somehow, Wolfgang can’t help but think he’s lying, but he doesn’t particularly mind. He doesn’t have anything to hide, not from Kircheis, and not from Müsel. Kircheis is a charming man, in a subdued way that makes Wolfgang feel comfortable around him despite the circumstances. Next to Müsel’s light, it was easy to miss Kircheis’, but he’s smart, diligent and level-headed, qualities that will make him a remarkable ally.
So he nods at Kircheis, and looks at him expectantly.
Kircheis crosses his legs, one leg over the other, in a gesture that reminds Wolfgang of Müller’s graceful, refined body language. Then he speaks. “As you probably know, we discussed things at length with Reuenthal before all three of us came to an agreement. We—” he stops, then corrects: “I’m worried you might not be satisfied with your current situation, given that you didn’t have a say in it at all.”
Wolfgang knows this is Kircheis asking him if he has thoughts of betraying Müsel, with formalities and pleasantries stocked on top, but he can’t bring himself to be offended. In the world they live in, sometimes loyalty will only go so far.
“If I’m alive right now, and if I’m a free man, it’s thanks to you,” he says, “and I’m grateful. I know who my real allies are.” He keeps his eyes on Kircheis’ as he speaks, hoping that his honesty will reach him. “Besides,” he adds, in an attempt to lighten the mood, “Reuenthal has permission to speak for me in most situations, if so he pleases.”
Kircheis nods. “I see. I’m glad you’re satisfied, then.”
“Really, ‘satisfied’ is an understatement. You don’t have to worry about me.”
“And if we don’t have to worry about you, do you think the same can be said for Reuenthal?”
Wolfgang’s voice threatens to rise. “What do you mean by that?”
“Captain Reuenthal strikes me as someone of great ambition,” Kircheis explains. “Under our current circumstances, I’m sure you understand—”
“I’ve known Reuenthal for a long time,” Wolfgang cuts in, “and I can guarantee he’s a man of his word, and a good subordinate.”
“Reuenthal is, ah,” Kircheis’ eyebrows are drawn together, as if he’s struggling to find the appropriate word. “He’s a capable man,” he concludes. “I hope you didn’t think I was trying to imply that he isn’t.”
“I didn’t,” Wolfgang says. “I know most people wouldn’t doubt his abilities, especially not someone as bright as yourself, but—”
Wolfgang lets out a sigh. To say Reuenthal is a complicated man would an understatement. He’s well aware of what some officials think of his friend, and he can see where Kircheis’ apprehensions come from. He knows of Reuenthal’s darkness, from his upbringing to his sometimes revolting thoughts, the ones Wolfgang has to ask him to not say out loud, not in public, not where people that aren’t him can hear.
But if Wolfgang, who understands Reuenthal better than most people— better than anyone else, even— sees good in him, why shouldn’t the rest of the world?
“He’s more than just capable. He’s… honorable, and loyal.”
Kircheis is smiling again. “It seems that you know him well,” he says, as if the idea of it pleases him.
“I do,” Wolfgang agrees, because it’s true. It only makes sense that Kircheis had come to him to know more about Reuenthal. How curious, he thinks, that somewhere along the line, Reuenthal’s life had ended up becoming an extension of his own.
His ship docks at Iserlohn, followed by the rest of his fleet. Once on board, it doesn’t take long for Reuenthal to come find him.
“Thought we could make good use of the bars while we still can,” he says as a greeting.
Wolfgang shakes his head. “We’re here to work, you know,” but he’s already following Reuenthal’s lead.
Reuenthal laughs, with no malice. It’s never easy for Wolfgang to deny him, when Reuenthal’s smile sparks so many memories in him. Even on the night of their first encounter, it had sent a rush of excitement and anticipation through his body. Over the years, it’s something that still hasn’t changed. It’s juvenile, immature, but the impending sense of danger calls him towards Reuenthal like a moth to a flame. It’s an habit he needs to outgrow. He has a fleet under his command now, and Müsel as his direct superior. They can’t go around punching military police officers, now.
“I have a feeling,” Reuenthal remarks, putting an arm over Wolfgang’s shoulders as they make their way to the entertainment facilities, “that things are going to get really interesting soon.”
Reuenthal’s touch is equal parts comforting and enticing. Not for the first time, he wishes that his head, as well as his body, wouldn’t respond so easily to Reuenthal. It’s getting harder these days, retaining his self-control.
Later, in the privacy of his quarters, he writes to Eva. He could video-call her, but they’ve always enjoyed the simple romanticism of written letters, even if it isn’t easy for Wolfgang to express himself through words. Tonight, he needs the aid of the paper and the pen to put his thoughts in order.
He tells her about the beauty of Iserlohn, how its surface shines like liquid onyx against the starry sky, and about the young men under his direction, each with a promising future ahead. He writes about the city life at the fortress, how the artificial light has soon begun to make his eyes hurt, and about the bad bar food Reuenthal made him eat that night. He remembers Reuenthal’s prediction. It had made Wolfgang feel expectant, hopeful. Reuenthal is hardly ever wrong about such things.
That night, at the bar, Reuenthal had presses his shoulder against Wolfgang, mouth moving close to Wolfgang’s face as he muttered about the past, the present, and their future. The warmth of his breath had sent a shiver down Wolfgang’s spine.
There is much more I want to tell you, he writes, but it’ll have to wait until the next time I see you in person. I hope you can understand this. It seems awfully inadequate, but if a letter containing his thoughts of the future ends up in the wrong hands, it might bring trouble.
His mind is still troubled when he finishes the letter, but his heart feels lighter.
Regardless of the results of the battle, Wolfgang figures they would have gone for drinks either way. That they could toast in celebration to Müsel’s victory in Astarte just makes the burn of the whisky sweeter. Their Fleet Admiral’s success is not only a decisive move in the war, but it’ll also bring good fortune to his subordinates in the form of promotions. The men at Iserlohn don’t need much else to celebrate, always eager to find news reasons to fight for.
Wolfgang feels the same excitement thrumming through him. It hums in his veins, and when he looks at Reuenthal, he finds a matching glint to his restless energy in his friend’s eyes.
At one point, Reuenthal had suggested they moved from the bar to his quarters. Wolfgang had been drowsy and the alcohol had made him agreeable. It wouldn’t be the first time they’d drink in private. A part of him, one he doesn’t want to examine too closely, is pleased to have Reuenthal all to himself.
They open a bottle, and then another. When they first arrived, Reuenthal had been sitting across from him, coffee table between them. Now, they’re both on the same sofa, and Wolfgang doesn’t remember if it had been him that moved, or Reuenthal. They’re close together, their knees touching.
Reuenthal’s leaning carelessly, indulgently on the sofa, head thrown back, the collar of his uniform undone and cheeks flushed. Wolfgang can’t recall if he’s ever seen the other man this drunk, and still lucid. They’ve stumbled to the ground together on dark alleys, and he’s seen Reuenthal pass out with his head resting on countless of bar tables, but in all this time, he’s never seen him this willingly vulnerable. He keeps touching Wolfgang, a causal hand on his knee, an arm over his shoulders.
If they were different people, or maybe even different men, it would almost feel like seduction.
Reuenthal’s carefully guarded, deliveratibly crafted composure is so different from Wolfgang’s own trusting nature. He wonders if the differences between them will ever stop fascinating him, and hopes they don’t.
Having his friend by his side like this, both of them languid and warmly meleable with alcohol in their veins, Wolfgang can’t help it. Starting from his chest, his vision traces the curve of Reuenthal’s neck, slowly going up his jaw. He wouldn’t let his eyes wander like this, usually. He might not be as intoxicated as Reuenthal is, but he’s still drunk, after all.
Wolfgang’s hands ache to follow the same path as his eyes.
To his dismay, Reuenthal catches him looking. “Say, Mittermeyer,” he starts, before Wolfgang can avert his eyes and save his dignity. His speech is slurred, rough. “Do you remember that time you admitted you found me attractive?”
It’s like being thrown into cold water. First, there’s confusion, shock, and after, it feels like all the blood in his body rushes to his skin, trying to fight off the unpleasant sensation and leaving him burning in the process.
“That wasn’t what I said.” Wolfgang’s mouth is moving on his own. He’s frozen on his spot on the sofa, wishing fervently that Reuenthal’s warm body wasn’t so close to his. “I didn’t—” he pauses, swallows, “not with those exact words.”
He’s admitting defeat, and Reuenthal knows. “I remember it well,” he says. “That time, I wanted to reply that I think you’re quite easy on the eyes too, but wasn’t sure if you would take it well.”
“Please,” Wolfgang begs, for the sake of his own self-control, “don’t say things like that.”
“Why not?” Reuenthal breaks the distance between them and puts a hand on Wolfgang’s face. His long fingers reach the exposed skin at the nape of his neck, and the touch ignites something forbidden in Wolfgang’s gut. “If not now, then when?”
There’s no use denying it, alone with Reuenthal in the dark. Wolfgang’s desire for men had been left unacknowledged for so long. He can admit it to himself now that the object of his desire is Reuenthal. It’s always been hard to think clearly when they’re together, and only a part of it is because of the alcohol. Sometimes it feels like a trance, and when he goes back home to Eva and the spell is gone, his insides burn with shame.
When Wolfgang leans forward to press a kiss on Reuenthal’s mouth, it’s like his body is moving on its own. He doesn’t remember making the choice, but Reuenthal kisses him back before he can regret it. His eyes close, and he’s lost.
This wouldn’t be happening if they were sober. He knows, and yet, he can’t stop himself, not when Reuenthal’s lips and tongue feel like heaven on his own. When his hands are touching Wolfgang over his clothes, heat radiating from his skin, leaving his imprint on Wolfgang’s body as they explore his back, his chest, his shoulders.
Finally, they come up to Wolfgang’s face. Reuenthal pulls back, and Wolfgang opens his eyes, vision unfocused, panting as if they’re in the middle of battle and not half on top of each other in Reuenthal’s room after sharing a single heated kiss.
Reuenthal’s expression is impossibly calm and lucid. Only the red of his face and the shining spit on his lips betray his composure. Even after taking such a big leap of faith, Wolfgang still hadn’t been able to catch him off guard.
Before he can say anything, Reuenthal stops him with a thumb on his lip, voice full of authority. “Don’t think.” The finger on Wolfgang’s mouth traces the curve of his bottom lip, and it makes him shiver.
Wolfgang’s mind is drifting. Reuenthal’s other hand sinks into Wolfgang’s hair, the grip only strong enough to be felt, like a promise for more. There are images of an ideal vision of himself, the picture his mother painted for him years ago, when Eva had first come to live with them. A good man, a devoted husband and father, slowly going up the military hierarchy with hard work and determination, putting all those that have their futures handed out to them on a silver plate to shame.
Heart thrumming, and body shivering in Reuenthal’s arms, he wonders if he can become that man, and still give in to this.
It occurs to Wolfgang then, that even when he thought that he would be the one to make a mess of things with his misplaced feelings, that his impulsiveness would be what changed things, reshaping their camaraderie into something else, maybe he’s been a piece in Reuenthal’s game all along.
What can be done now, then, besides surrendering?
The hand on the back of his head becomes more insistent, grip stronger. It doesn’t quite hurt, not yet, but Wolfgang thinks he wouldn’t mind if it did. It’s a revelation, but also an admission.
He kisses Reuenthal again, a mess of teeth and tongue. And even though Reuenthal’s never been an honest man, right now his intentions are clear. Wolfgang clings to that one truth, and as they pull apart, he lets Reuenthal’s hand push him down onto his knees.
It’s like looking into the mirror for the first time. Wolfgang didn’t expect that he’d find honesty in the form of a hunger that only Reuenthal’s body can settle, but there’s nothing truer than the passion of Reuenthal’s kisses, and nothing has ever been as real as the feeling of Reuenthal inside of him, hips settling between Wolfgang’s open legs, teaching him all the ways in which the bodies of men can come together.
Pleasure is simple, honest, easy.
Shame, on the other hand, threatens to pull him apart at the seams.
There’s no shame in what he does with Reuenthal, on the act itself. He isn’t ashamed of how much he enjoys being taken, or in how he sometimes wishes Reuenthal could mark his body the same way Wolfgang marks his, with angry kisses and too much teeth, or in how Reuenthal’s mismatched eyes can make him shiver with a single look, no words needed.
But it’s shameful to live as somebody else. Someone pious and kind. A man that wouldn’t do such cruel things, that wouldn’t dishonor his loving wife like this.
He doesn’t have to try to convince himself that he loves Eva, because he does. It doesn’t make the situation any better, and he knows it, because the guilt alone isn’t enough to make him stop.
His first reaction had been anger. Beyerlein had tried to reason with him, and he had managed to make Wolfgang sit down and think instead of taking matters into his own hands and going to see Lohengramm straight away.
Reuenthal would never betray the empire. He would never betray Lohengramm. And Wolfgang knows, better than anyone else, that he would never betray a friend. He wants to scream at Beyerlein, and to anyone else that would ever doubt Reuenthal’s integrity. Anyone that fails to see him for what he really is.
More than anything, he wants to see Reuenthal, and speak to him face to face.
But he can’t get a hold of him, and doesn’t see him until the hearing. He won’t get to speak to him until much later.
Wolfgang’s always been moved by injustice. Seeing Reuenthal at Lang and Oberstein’s mercy, forced to explain himself in front of emperor Lohengramm and his admirals, he can’t stay quiet. He would never forgive himself for not trying to help Reuenthal. For not saving Reuenthal when he needs him most.
“I acknowledge my impoliteness,” he begins, not feeling sorry in the slightest, “but I will say this nevertheless.”
When he told me , he wants to say , he didn’t feel any guilt, because he has nothing to feel guilty for . He’d come to Wolfgang out of his own volition, and had opened up about his relationship with the Lichtenlade woman willingly, looking for a friend’s advice, like he’s done so many times before. He’d brought flowers for Eva. Yellow, like the ones Wolfgang had given to her when he proposed, like the ones Reuenthal had given to her at their wedding.
Lohengramm lets him speak, despite Wolfgang’s anger and brashness. He doesn’t care; he wants Oberstein to hear his accusations, wants everyone to know the truth, and wants Reuenthal to know he’s on his side, even if it seems like the entire world is against him.
But Reuenthal is far more skilled at these games than Wolfgang will ever be. He should have known. He speaks with such conviction, Wolfgang is reminded that he didn’t get to where he is now on battle ability alone. He can move people, just like Lohengramm. That’s what scares others so much, what makes him a potential threat.
When Lohengramm asks for reasons, Reuenthal says he’s not qualified to become someone's parent, and it leaves Wolfgang with a deep and unexpected sadness, for Reuenthal and for himself. He can’t help but think of Eva. The world they live in is so terribly unfair.
"Before I inherited the family name of Lohengramm,” says the emperor, “I was once given a pledge of loyalty from you." A pause. "Do you remember that night, fleet admiral Reuenthal?"
Wolfgang wasn’t there, but he knows what was discussed. Lohengramm is asking Reuenthal if he remembers their original exchange: his loyalty for Wolfgang’s life.
"I've never forgotten, Your Majesty,” Reuenthal states, with utmost resolution. "Not even for one day."
The unmasked honesty in Reuenthal’s voice convinces Lohengramm, and makes Wolfgang’s insides burn, with something akin to gratefulness, or devotion. Something a lot like love.
“Mittermeyer,” Reuenthal gasps, as one of his hands slides down Wolfgang’s naked back.
Wolfgang can’t answer, too busy trying to unbutton Reuenthal’s shirt. He wants to touch him so badly, he feels crazed with it.
Reuenthal puts both hands on his shoulders, and presses with enough force to make Wolfgang look up from Reuenthal’s chest. “Mittermeyer,” Reuenthal repeats, “listen to me.”
He knows Reuenthal is aware, by now, of the effect he can have on Wolfgang when he speaks with authority in his voice. “I’m listening,” he says. Reuenthal’s arms fall from his shoulders onto the bed, allowing Wolfgang to pull his shirt open and get his hands on Reuenthal’s skin.
“This is the last time,” Reuenthal says, coldly.
That makes Wolfgang pull back, so he can look at Reuenthal’s face. “What do you mean?”
“I mean,” Reuenthal starts, shrugging out of his shirt and discarding it to the floor, “that this is the last time we do this.”
His hands are back on Wolfgang’s shoulders, pulling him down, fitting Wolfgang’s body between his open legs. Wolfgang’s can’t help but react to the touch, the familiarity, even as he feels his insides twisting with worry.
“I don’t understand”, he maneges, as he sits up on his knees, looking down at Reuenthal’s face. Impassive, like a mask.
“There’s nothing to understand. Things changed. We can’t risk to get caught now.”
“And we could, before?”
Reuenthal raises a hand and sets in on Wolfgang’s knee. “Trust me, Mittermeyer,” he begins, a grin forming on his face, “it won’t do you any good to be associated with me. Didn’t I tell you, long ago? Don’t you remember?”
Wolfgang remembers. It didn’t make sense then, and it doesn’t now. Whatever judgement Reuenthal is trying to keep him away from, he doesn’t care. People will talk. What they don't know is that if there's darkness within Reuenthal, then surely the same darkness now resides inside of Wolfgang, too.
Straightening his back, Reuenthal brings his torso up to sit on the bed, hands searching for Wolfgang’s face.
“Be a good boy now, Mittermeyer,” he continues, “for both of our sakes.”
Wolfgang is angry, now, in a way he can’t contain. “This isn’t fair,” he says, yells. It isn’t fair that Reuenthal can put his life on the line for him, can risk it all, without letting Wolfgang give anything in return. “You keep making choices for the two of us without caring about what I think, or feel. You won’t even—” the honesty of his own words makes him pause. “You won’t even let me give you this. Why is that you always—”
“You have a wife,” Reuenthal cuts in, “a family.”
“Don’t bring her into this. You never cared about her before.” It’s a truth Wolfgang had never wanted to face. All those years ago, at their wedding, had Reuenthal been mocking him? Mocking them?
Reuenthal sneers, as if reading his mind. “This isn’t only about disgracing your pretty wife anymore, Mittermeyer,” he says, voice full of venom. “It’s about survival. You either want her to be safe, or you don’t. You can stay out of this and survive, or get involved and face the consequences.”
“You’re not making any sense,” Wolfgang objects, shaking his head. “What are you talking about? What are you getting involved in?”
“Mittermeyer,” Reuenthal says, with a note of finality in his voice, “don’t make questions I can’t answer.”
It makes Wolfgang’s blood boil.
Reuenthal is taller, but Wolfgang is stronger. One time, the first that Reuenthal had asked Wolfgang to fuck him instead, Reuenthal had confessed that he liked it, the pads of his fingers tracing the shape of Wolfgang’s arms appreciatively. Wolfgang uses the strength of his upper body to pin Reuenthal to the bed, one hand firm on his wrists, the other holding his own weight on the mattress, so that their bodies are almost pressed together, but not quite.
Face to face, there’s nowhere for either of them to hide. When Wolfgang speaks, Reuenthal doesn’t look away. “Why won’t you tell me the truth?”
“There’s nothing to say.”
Reuenthal has never been an easy man to love. Wolfgang knows this, he’s always known, but he had wanted to try anyway.
“I can’t ask you to throw away your life for me, Mittermeyer.”
His life. Evangeline. His career. The future his mother wanted, that he abandoned the second he kissed Reuenthal for the first time.
“I would,” he says, growls. He’s angry. Furious. Heartbroken. “I would, if you asked me to.” I already have , he doesn’t say.
Reuenthal’s expression remains the same, but he raises a hand to Wolfgang’s face, touch incharestically soft. It makes Wolfgang sigh into it. “I won’t. Not ever.” He smiles, then, as honest as Wolfgang has ever seen him “I hope you can understand why.”
Wolfgang nods, even though he doesn’t know, doesn’t understand. He wishes Reuenthal would stop talking in riddles, if only for tonight.
Maybe he’s no different from all the women Oksar bewitched, only to be left behind. He’s just like them, caught in Reuenthal’s gravity, the pull of attraction and the push of hatred impossible to resist.
No. It was never like that between them. Even now, Wolfgang knows there’s something else, something more.
He kisses Reuenthal, softly, the way he’s wanted to for a long time. He’s so afraid that this might be his only chance to touch Reuenthal tenderly. Reuenthal kisses him back, taking control, and turning the kiss into something hungry and not tender at all.
“Now Mittermeyer,” he says, “are you going to make me come, or should I go find someone else to finish the job?” He smirks, and for the first time, Wolfgang can see right through the farce.
So Wolfgang fucks him like that, with Reuenthal on his back, legs around Wolfgang’s waist. Under normal circumstances Reuenthal would protest, and try to make them move as he says, as he commands. It doesn’t feel like victory, but Wolfgang thrusts into him hard and relentless, as if he finally has the upper hand. They’re both generous lovers, albeit for different reasons. Reuenthal moans for him, arches his back, pushes back against Wolfgang’s hips, and comes with Wolfgang’s name like prayer on his lips. All to make Wolfgang crumble, make him admit defeat.
Wolfgang, he— he just wants to make Reuenthal feel good. That’s the only thing he’s ever wanted.
Later, when Reuenthal says that he’s found his purpose in fighting against the emperor, Wolfgang understands that he’s failed him, and that nothing he has ever given him has been enough to soothe the emptiness in Reuenthal’s soul.
He comes to Evangelin because there’s no other place for him to go. She is home, the only home he’s ever known. The comfort she offers is unlike anything else, and Wolfgang knows he doesn’t deserve it, and yet, he can’t help but want to stay with her, skin on skin, free to love, and be loved. He doesn’t tell her that this could be their last night together. Lying by omission almost feels like a gentle concession, after everything else.
Afterwards, as they lie together naked under the sheets, keeping each warm in the dark, cold room, Eva speaks, mouth moving against his skin.
“Wolf,” she whispers. .
“Yes, my love?”
She hugs him tighter. “I know that you have duties to fulfill, so excuse my selfishness, but this time…” She sounds fragile, sad. The fleeting bliss is now gone, and he’s filled once again with the dread he was trying to escape. “This time I don’t want you to go.”
“I have to,” he says. “For the emperor, and to prevent senseless bloodshed.” He tries to speak with conviction, for her sake as much as for his own. “I’m the only one that can do this. No one else will give Reuenthal a chance, if I don’t try.”
“Everyone needs a friend,” Eva says, right into his chest, “and you’re a good friend to him.” Something inside Wolfgang breaks, and if Eva notices how his grip on her waits turns tighter, or how his breathing loses its rhythm, she doesn’t mention it. “ I guess everyone needs to be cared for, even him. But I don’t want to see you get hurt because of him.”
Wolfgang blinks away the tears that threaten to spill from his eyes. He borrows his face into Eva’s hair, and the smell of her, sweet and familiar, disarms him. “He won’t listen to me,” he says, voice barely a whisper.
Eva rises her head, pushing herself up with a hand on Wolfgang’s chest, and gently cups his face with the other. He melts into the touch, and thinks, once again, how lucky he is to be loved by her.
She looks at him with so much affection and care in her eyes, his heart might burst. When she speaks, her voice is kind. “This isn’t your fault. All you can do is offer him a hand. Whether he takes it or not, it’s his choice,” she kisses him softly, before Wolfgang can respond.
Eva is right. He knows that if comes down to battle, it will be Reuenthal’s decision, but he still can’t bring himself to accept the possibility. Despite it all, Wolfgang loves him. He knows this with the same certainty he knows he loves Evangeline. He’s greedy, selfish, shameless, he knows. But he realized long ago that the knowledge and the acceptance won’t make him stop wanting them, both of them.
Tomorrow, Wolfgang with meet with emperor Lohengramm. He will plea for Reuenthal’s life, at the cost of his own, and he'll warn him against Oberstein and Lang once again. If everything fails, he'll kneel to his emperor's authority, but he will find Lang, and he will kill him. Maybe then everybody will finally understand that the Gale Wolf could never be as honorable as they think he is. They'll finally see his determination, his will and his own, self-made darkness. And if Reuenthal falls, then maybe destiny will allow Wolfgang to fall with him. Make it all end with one last selfish act.
He gave up Valhalla a long time ago. There’s no place for the likes of him amongst heroes. This, in Eva’s arms and with stars and planets between him and Reuenthal, is as close as he’ll get to salvation.
He holds her tighter in his arms, and presses his face into her neck. “Thank you,” he says. “Thank you.”
When he’d woken up, Reuenthal was still asleep, chest pressed to Wolfgang’s back and one hand resting gently on Wolfgang’s hip, where it had held onto the night before. It hadn’t been gentle, but when it had been over, Reuenthal had put his arms around Wolfgang and held him close, kissing him until Wolfgang had stopped shaking. Now, Reuenthal’s nose is pressing into the back of Wolfgang’s neck, warm breath making his sensitive, abused skin tingle.
The memories of the night before ignite something in Wolfgang's heart. Something sweet and tender, that he’s only felt for one other person before. He’s always been honest with himself, unable to fight against his own feelings. Right now, he wants to see Reuenthal’s face. Slowly, he lifts Reuenthal’s hand from his body, and turns to face him. Reuenthal’s expression is stern, even in dreams. How Wolfgang wishes he could take his worries away.
After Reuenthal wakes up, they share more kisses, and then they get ready for the day and leave Reuenthal’s quarters together. It would only occurs to him much later that they need to be more careful, from now on. If the other admirals think anything of the two of them arriving together to the council meeting, they keep it to themselves.
They make their way to their respective seats, and when Reuenthal catches his eyes across the room, he smiles. Almost a smirk, but not quiet. Private, full of mischief and promises of more to come. As Wolfgang smiles back, he feels as if the happiness and sweet content that explode in his chest will overflow out of him, and wonders if anyone else in the room will notice his excitement, the anticipation that radiates from his skin, the nervous energy he almost can’t contain. All these feelings that have taken a hold over his heart, and refuse to let go.
Surely, this is love, he thinks. This is love, whether it’s meant to be or not.