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“Kircheis.” 

It’s conversational, pouring easily from Reinhard’s lips as he swirls his wine around its glass. It’s an attractive, deep brown telling of its age, jeweled only where cup meets stem, rich on his tongue when he takes the first sip of it.

Kircheis answers, “Yes, Your Excellency—” A pause, a clenched jaw, and then: “Lord Reinhard.” 

Reinhard smiles despite himself, draped leisurely across the loveseat in a way his command chair doesn’t permit. Kircheis sits opposite on an equally ornate sofa, gazing patiently back. 

“What will you do once this is over?”

Kircheis’ eyebrows draw. “The imminent battle?”

The answer to that is whatever is asked of him, Reinhard knows. He says, “The war.”

He doesn’t mean the war with the Alliance. That is a grueling, complicated matter, one that might span half their lives or more. He won’t put Kircheis’ happiness on hold for that long—once he ascends to power in the Empire, there will be nothing he cannot give to his dearest companion.

Kircheis brings his glass to his lips in thought. Reinhard can’t help himself then.

“Don’t you want to marry Annerose?” 

It’s teasing, or so it sounds to Reinhard’s ears. Lighthearted. But Kircheis swallows a mouthful of wine the wrong way, and the shells of his ears redden as he hacks into his sleeve. He licks his lips once the fit quells, runs a hand across the back of his cherry-stained mouth, and Reinhard’s eyes follow the motion of it. 

“That’s,” Kircheis tries, and then sucks in a breath. “I haven’t thought about who I might marry, but I don’t—it’s not that. I just want Annerose to be happy.” And after a moment, eyes lowered so that Reinhard can see the shadow of his lashes across his cheeks in the cabin light, “And for all of us to be together.” 

“Of course we will be.” Reinhard’s lets his lips quirk, unsurprised and unvexed and more relieved than he will let himself admit by his answer. Kircheis is himself, through and through. “But you must hope for something else. I want to know what it is.”

Kircheis meets his gaze, steady. 

“Only that you’ll allow me to remain at your side.”

Through and through. Reinhard knows the truth in his marrow. Still, petulant, he says, “That’s no different than now.”

“It is,” Kircheis insists. “Under your rule, when there is peace and our hearts are lighter. It will be different.”

“A new universe, and all you want out of it is me?” Reinhard can’t keep the pride out of his voice, grinning with all the preening satisfaction of a fat, stretching housecat. “You keep both feet on the ground, Kircheis.”

“And yet we fly among the stars.”

Kircheis’ eyes glitter like sapphires, with that boyish wonder from his youth, and that blunted, stubborn edge to parry Reinhard’s contrariness. And affection. Always that. 

From the von Müsel house, to cadet school, through every grueling rank of the Imperial military, Kircheis has always been at Reinhard’s back, hand within reach, eyes gleaming that deep twilight blue, full of stars and enough devotion for the whole of the universe they seek. 

It’s no different now, inside Reinhard’s cabin aboard the Brünhild— though Reinhard himself feels different, buzzing with a victory not yet won but most certainly assured; paused in an indelible threshold he has every intention of crossing. The battle at Astarte will bring him glory, and with it, more power, granted to him by the Kaiser’s own hand. 

Every promotion Reinhard earns is another step toward freedom: for the people of the Empire, plagued by the greed of noble houses; and for Annerose, who roams the Kaiser’s sprawling mansion in Odin like a caged songbird, plucked as one. For Kircheis, who might still be wide-eyed and untroubled and common if Reinhard was an unselfish man, or one who could not see his own shortcomings.

“Come with me,” he’d said that day. He hadn’t loved Kircheis then. Reinhard could feel nothing but grief and unyielding hatred for the state of his homeland and his place in it—boyish friendship alone would not have survived that preoccupation. 

It was something else. Something that pulled taut when Kircheis looked back at him; was strummed with all the sweetness of a delicately tuned harp string when his offered hand was firmly taken. It was loyalty that should not exist between mere boys, and—that he found as he climbed his way to the top—did not exist between most men. Their partnership, he decided, had been plotted by the stars. 

The rest had blossomed on its own.

“Is…something troubling you?” Kircheis asks, concern unbidden in the furrow of his brows.

Reinhard wants to laugh. How can he still be that boy he met on the other side of the garden, with his heart on his sleeve? Siegfried, with messy hair the color of carmine, a gem in the rough. All grown up now, seven centimeters taller than Reinhard will ever be. A better man than Reinhard will ever be.

“Would you like some more wine?” Reinhard asks.

Kircheis blinks, once at Reinhard and then down at his glass full of cabernet. “Thank you, but my glass is—”

“I didn’t mean from your glass.”

“Uh.”

“Come here,” Reinhard says.

Kircheis does, after a moment’s pause, rising from his spot and moving across to the loveseat without another word—it’s not as if he’s a stranger to Reinhard’s whims, and his hesitance belies a curiosity apparent in the still-red tips of his ears. When Reinhard pats the seat, Kircheis sits. For a brief moment, they simply look at one another. And then, heart thrumming, Reinhard takes another sip of wine, and sets his glass down on the table.

“Lord Reinhard?” 

For all the shock Reinhard senses when he curls forward, Kircheis lets him in easily—lets him take his jaw between his fingers and lead that first hot brush of mouth against mouth, and then tongue, sweeping between Kircheis’ lips and sharing what little sweetness is still left. Not enough to spill down their chins, but enough for him to taste, to have to lick into their kiss himself so that no mess is made. His Adam’s apple bobs against the back of Reinhard’s fingers, warm and vulnerable.

This is not the first kiss they’ve shared, but this is not like the one all that time ago; there’s no impatient, fumbling lips on lips, chin, jaw, neck—wherever Reinhard could reach in that small, desperate stretch back then. This is deep, slow, unhurried. Sensual in a way that makes him ache with the want of it.

When Reinhard pulls away, Kircheis’ eyes are still closed, cheek hot under the brush of his thumb.

“I am yours,” he murmurs, words sticky in his mouth and gravelly when he hears them. “And you are mine. You don’t need to ask, or to worry—it will always be that way.” 

“Always,” Kircheis echoes, eyes fluttering open. His breath fans against Reinhard’s lips, but he’s otherwise still—not rigid, not frightened, but waiting. For direction of some sort, Reinhard realizes. Permission to move either forward or away.

“Let me prove it to you.” Reinhard relishes in Kircheis’ sharp inhale. “Now,” he clarifies, fingertips trailing down Kircheis’s throat, dipping into the high collar of his uniform. He can feel the pulse fluttering there. “Like this.” His head tilts, a request. 

“You—don’t need to prove—”   

“I want you,” Reinhard says. “Do you want me too?” 

Kircheis’ expression crumbles, eyes dark but for that cleaving gleam of desire. Stars, indeed. 

This time, it’s him who closes that small distance and kisses Reinhard on the mouth. His clumsy, eager sweetness shakes loose something tender in Reinhard’s chest, and it ricochets between them, uneven and graceless and perfect. The wine—drink that has fermented for twenty of Reinhard’s own lifetimes, meant to be uncorked and enjoyed as a reward—is promptly forgotten.

Kircheis’ hair is thick and curled in one of Reinhard’s hands; in the other a fistful of fabric and the lean, sturdy bunch of shoulder beneath it. He drags Kircheis closer, but instead of falling forward, succumbing as he might if they were talking instead of kissing, deferring as he always does, Kircheis’ hands find Reinhard’s waist and pull until he’s nearly in his lap.

And then Reinhard is in his lap, using the momentum to surge forward, hand slipping free from Kircheis’ hair to push him down into the cushion of the loveseat. It’s exciting, to learn this dance, to discover that there is a difference between kissing Kircheis when he doesn’t expect it and being kissed by Kircheis, a confident participant, who strains his neck in chase when Reinhard pulls away.

Kircheis head hits the cushion, chin canting. He is a sight freshly kissed: lips red, eyes lidded, hair mussed. Reinhard’s knee slides up between his thighs and finds him there wanting, hot through his trousers, and he remembers how Kircheis had hardened under his hand in the showers in the barracks, cheeks flushed and mouth parted so sweetly that it stirred something deep and hungry and dangerous in his gut.

It was a risk then, in the open walls of the bath house. It’s not a risk now; this is Reinhard’s flagship, and no one under his command will question Kircheis’ presence this late on the eve of battle.

He asks, “How long until we reach Astarte?”

Kircheis swallows, blinking back into clarity. “Approximately four and a half hours.”

“Mm,” Reinhard hums, moving to straddle him properly. “That’s more than enough time.”

“You—really want. Me. Like this,” Kircheis breathes. He isn’t touching Reinhard anymore, hands-white knuckled in their grip on the upholstery.

Reinhard looks at him. “Is it so surprising? I thought I’d made my desires clear long ago.”

“You mean—”

“Did you think I was just lending a helping hand?” He teases. “Or practicing on you?”

“I did not know what to think,” Kircheis says. “But you never spoke of it, and…I came to accept that it was a passing curiosity.”

Reinhard’s smile falters. He hadn’t wanted to undermine Kircheis’ future, to sully his name or reputation. There have always been unsavory rumors, spurred on by Annerose’s public favor and his own. It had been difficult enough to reign in his heart once, to convince it that immunity from reprimand was worth the wait. 

He’s not quite there yet, but he’s close. Once they return to Odin, he’ll have his most potent taste of victory yet. He’ll share it over kelsey plum cake with Annerose and Kircheis. And later, with only Kircheis, again and again and again, because anything that stands in his way from here on will fall.

Arrogant upstart? Is it arrogance if he knows the truth in his bones? If the man beneath him believes in it just as much?

“Kircheis,” he says, “what I feel for you has never been in passing.” 

It’s spoken with every fibre of his being, a vulnerable honesty reserved only for the man who is tucked so tightly inside his heart. He watches as it registers, undoing the tension wound in Kircheis’ taut body, the hard dig of his fingers into the furniture. His face is slack in shock, or wonder—and then he smiles, and Reinhard realizes he had been smiling first without knowing it. His chest feels warm. 

“I won’t say I’ve never laid with another. But those weren’t matters of the heart.”

Kircheis says, with a quick, startled flutter of his lashes, “I know.”

“And you?”

“Never.”

Reinhard’s thoughts scatter. He recalls easily every detail of what happened in the bath house: the tentative touching, and then the urgency of it, the swelling crescendo, the stifled gasp in his ear. He remembers the desperation, the way Kircheis’ hips had canted, the hitch of his breath, the slippery grip of wet hands on wet skin. Steam so hot Kircheis’ breath felt cool on his neck. The satisfaction, the disappointment. The longing. He had wanted more. Kircheis had, too.

That was years ago, now.

Reinhard says, in near-disbelief, “You must have been propositioned.”

It isn’t a question—Kircheis is young, and kind, and unwittingly charming, and a handsome man in Imperial uniform always draws attention as it is.

Kircheis’ hands settle gingerly atop his hips. They’re warm, strong—familiar, but not in their hold. They have never touched him here before, so intimately, not even when Reinhard brought him to completion. Most carnal distraction Reinhard has partaken in has been measured, impersonal, chest to back, a woman’s hips or hair in his hands instead.

“Yes, a few times,” Kircheis admits. “When we’ve been stationed.”

A few times. It makes Reinhard’s blood heat, the thought of Kircheis being touched, cozied up to by strangers with intent. Invited back to rooms, ships, alcoves shrouded in dim light. He buries it down, aware of the impotence of that insidious feeling—and the needlessness of it. 

It’s curiosity, not jealousy that prompts him to ask: “Why not say yes?”

“I don’t desire…” Kircheis says, and then stops. “Lord Reinhard, the only one I want to serve is you.”

“Serve me, then,” Reinhard says, lowering himself until they’re nearly chest to chest and his own hair tickles his cheeks. “Let me touch you.”

Kircheis laughs, and it’s warm, honest. Reinhard loves that sound. “Shouldn’t I be the one touching you, in that case?”

Reinhard says, tenderly, “I want that, too.” 

Then his fingers are at the buttons of Kircheis’ jacket, and as is tradition, Kircheis follows his lead.

 


 

“He tethers you,” Annerose had said once. “Make sure you never cut that cord. Keep him by your side.”

It had been easy to agree to. So easy. He hadn’t known, then. He hadn’t realized it required so much sacrifice to merely brush progress with his fingertips. He hadn’t realized what—who, how much he’d be giving up for an inch forward in this vast unknown. What he risked losing.

“What are you to me?”

“I am your loyal subordinate, Marquis Lohengramm.”

Kircheis had looked at him as if he were a stranger.

He needs air, solitude. He needs the stars, to look upon them and remember what it means to be steadfast. They remind him of Kircheis—unmoving, gleaming in the blackness. Always in the same place, emitting that same beautiful light. 

He finds what he needs in the observatory, a room of transparent panes that stretches in both directions. For a moment, he can breathe. He can think. There is only starlight, and the quieting thoughts inside his head. Until there isn’t.

“Kircheis can’t see the forest for the trees, Your Excellency.”

That voice. Reinhard whirls around hard, anger swerving suddenly toward a target that doesn’t make his heart hurt quite so much. He hadn’t heard Oberstein enter.

“Watch your tongue,” he warns.

The neutral line of Oberstein’s mouth doesn’t even twitch. His eyes, cold and artificial as they’ve always been, stare through Reinhard in a way that has begun to rub his nerves raw. He says, “I meant no disrespect. He has proven himself to be a talented commanding officer. He is perhaps the most virtuous man in the entire Imperial Fleet.”

“I don’t need you to tell me that.”

Oberstein says, “You also don’t need me to tell you there is nothing virtuous about winning a war.”

“I had my own reservations about Westerland,” Reinhard argues. “Two million human beings—two million senseless deaths—”

“For the future of billions more. That is the sacrifice you made for humanity.”

His head pounds. He asks, voice nothing more than an anguished whisper, “Did I have the right to?”

Oberstein blinks at him, unaffected. “It seems your conversation with the High Admiral has brought about regrets you didn’t have before. Your favoritism has emboldened him.”

Reinhard laughs without humor. “And how are you any different, whispering in my ear like a snake from Eve’s garden?”

Oberstein looks at him. “You’re impartial to my feelings. You would not have allowed Westerland to be destroyed if you didn’t think it best in the end.”

Reinhard narrows his eyes, skin prickling with annoyance. “What are you getting at?”

“Kircheis is thoroughly loyal. You don’t need to worry about him turning against you or the Empire.”

“I’m not worried,” Reinhard snaps. 

“So you should take this opportunity to let distance grow where it is needed. Publicly and…privately.”

Reinhard’s blood runs cold. Of course he knows. Oberstein always knows more than he lets on. He hears himself say, dangerously, “That is no concern of yours.”

Oberstein inclines his head. Briefly. “Forgive me. But your feelings for Kircheis disallow you from reprimanding him the way you would any other rebellious subordinate. It’s a fact that is plain for all to see. Favoritism breeds resentment among men, even loyal ones. Your path is treacherous enough.”

Reinhard waves his hand dismissively, turning away to stare out the seamless window again. “Yes, I’m surrounded by enemies on all sides. I’ve heard enough.”

“Your Excellency—” 

“Oberstein,” Reinhard says, a final warning. “Let me be. You’re dismissed.”

Oberstein’s footsteps are expectedly silent. The mechanical sliding and whooshing of the door is the only indication Reinhard has as to his solitude. 

Petulantly, he stares into the vastness. No matter how long he looks, the stars don’t shine as brightly. 

 

 

It’s late when Reinhard finds himself outside Kircheis’ door.

His chest is tight, heart heavy, saturated with regret. He should have never left things that way, tangled and frayed, with both of them upset and distrustful. He’s never. Fought with Kircheis before, not like this, not ever, and he can’t help but feel that something has irreparably shifted between them. What has he lost in only a moment?

The thought sends a surge of desperation all the way to his fingertips, and he opens Kircheis’ door without a second thought, needing to see him, to speak to him, to— 

Kircheis sits up in bed, squinting against the bright light from the hallway.

“Lord Reinhard? What are you—”

Reinhard lets the door slide closed and strides into the dim room.

“Are you still angry with me?” He demands.

Kircheis straightens further, pushing the blankets away from himself. His night shirt is wrinkled and rucked up where he missed a button, exposing the marble of his skin in the moonlight. He looks bed-ruffled, but not groggy, not pulled from peaceful slumber the way Reinhard feared. His eyes are alert, wide now in the dimness.

“I was never angry with you, I just—” 

“Then—” Reinhard kneels onto the bed, crawls nearly into Kircheis’ lap before his voice breaks out of him. “Touch me. I need—” 

“Reinhard?” There’s concern, perhaps for the strain in his voice, the rawness of his request. It’s unlike him. He knows it.

He says, “I love you.”

Kircheis’ eyes widen, and then his brows pull together. “Reinhard…”

“I love you,” he says again, out of his mind. “You must know that.”

“Yes,” Kircheis says, voice thick, pained. He takes Reinhard’s cheeks between his palms, the first brush of warmth Reinhard has experienced in weeks. His eyes prickle. “Yes, of course I know that.”

“And I need you. I’m sorry for that, but I need you no matter what happens.” No matter what I do, or who I become.  

Kircheis wears his sadness so plainly. “I would never turn my back on you. I just don’t want you to lose sight of what we strive for.”

“I wish it were you,” Reinhard confesses. “At my side. I fear every day that I lose sight of our promise.”

“Then—”

“But I can’t keep you to myself. I rely on you as a commander. You deserve —and I—can’t rely on you to choose for me what is right. I know well enough what you would say, anyway.” Reinhard swallows.  “I did know. And I still. I still—”

“Reinhard,” Kircheis says, cupping his jaw. Reinhard stills. “I love you, too.”

He kisses him, and relief sinks into Reinhard’s bones; the joyous realization that Kircheis has not strayed, does not want him any less for what he’s done. How silly to believe even for a moment that he had been alone, that Kircheis had not been here all along, only waiting for him to extend his hand. How lucky he is. How precious this love, this moment, the solid weight of Kircheis against him.

It’s been too long. There have been lightyears between them for weeks on end, and distance far more immeasurable than that between their hearts.

“I want—” he gasps between kisses, “will you…”

“Let me make love to you,” Kircheis murmurs against his mouth. “I’ve never—felt like—”

“Yes, I— need—”

Kircheis’ tongue sweeps between his lips, and Reinhard’s hands fist into his shirt, mouth opening, sharing breath and sound and the sweet mimicry of fucking as they grasp closer. His hips shift with it, and it’s then that he’s laid down, that Kircheis’ warmth begins to burn him though like a paper photograph.

Kircheis is easy: loose shirt pulled off with a tug, pants slipping down on their own when Reinhard’s hands wander under their waistband to pull Kircheis closer against him. Reinhard is more difficult, requires more inconvenient parting to undo the snaps of his uniform and the layers beneath—but their hands are skilled at this by now, and they make quick work of it.

Everything is overwhelming; Kircheis’ hands too hot for his skin, the air around them stifling and humid and not enough between their mouths. Kircheis’ tongue finds his neck, and it burns him, makes Reinhard dig his fingernails desperately into his back and drag. There’s a pleasured groan in his ear, so broken and honest that Reinhard will replay it, he thinks, for the rest of his life.

He gasps when Kircheis sinks inside, the oiled stretch new, strange, but not painful. It’s just on the right side of too much, nerves flaying themselves open where they meet, where his own leaking cock is pressed between their bodies.

“Kircheis,” he manages, voice breaking. 

Kircheis’ forehead rises from his shoulder, pushing up to gaze down at Reinhard properly. His arms are trembling where they bracket his head. He says, sounding anguished, “Is it—does it—”

“Perfect,” Reinhard rasps. “You feel—come here, I—” He reaches for him, and Kircheis goes, powerless to it, burying his face in the crook of Reinhard’s neck. 

They rock together just like that, like smothered fire kindling, a slow burn that grows hot but not bright, secret as something whispered.

When they’ve settled, stilled in bone-deep exhaustion, wound around each other like the tangled sheets at their feet, Kircheis buries his nose in Reinhard’s hair. He says, so quietly, “I wish…we could stay like this forever.”

Reinhard wants to give Kircheis the universe, but all Kircheis wants is Reinhard. It’s always been true, and it’s always been promised. He’d thought it easy all that time ago; obvious, non-negotiable. Of course he’d belonged to Kircheis and Kircheis alone. Of course he saw them in the garden again, around that table with Annerose, older and wiser, unburdened rulers at the helm of a new universe.

But now, even wrapped in Kircheis’ arms, Reinhard feels himself slipping like sand through his fingers. And when he dreams, it’s not of the garden, of the sunlight and laughter and warmth of his small family; it’s of a starless black sky, and a velvet-lined throne.

 


 

“Do you think I’m breakable?”

The temperature in Kircheis’ room is oppressively hot against Reinhard’s skin, weighted and restrictive, like being swaddling blankets of wool. He gasps for the breaths that are meticulously punched out of him; a swallow of air for a thrust, a choked noise for the snap of Kircheis’ hips against his ass.

Kircheis says, “Of course not, Your Excellency.”

Reinhard growls, despite himself, “Then fuck me harder.”

“You want me to punish you,” Kircheis says. It’s not an accusation, but the truth. The fucking ceases. Kircheis’ cock slips free. He says, “I won’t.”

“Even if I command it of you?” Reinhard pants into the humid space between mouth and bedsheet. “You’re my loyal subordinate, are you not?”

“Reinhard…”

Reinhard expects to see hurt in Kircheis’ eyes when he looks back at him—that stunned register, the unrelenting desire to understand what he means in lieu of what he says. Reinhard does not expect the blankness in them; the detached pity; the kind of gaze only meant for animals who need to be put out of their misery. 

Kircheis says, “You think you can atone?”

“What?”

“Two million people…” Kircheis murmurs. “Innocent people, an entire planet. You traded their lives like cards in a hand. You’re no better than Goldenbaum.”

“That’s not—”

“It is true,” Kircheis says. “You know it as well as I do. Everything we wanted…you’ve thrown it all away. And for what? A shortcut to power?”

Reinhard’s lungs feel close to bursting. His chest constricts.

Quietly, with some effort, he asks, “Will I lose you, too?”

Kircheis smiles, but it isn’t right. It doesn’t reach his eyes. It isn’t loving, or reassuring, or familiar. He leans down until his face moves out of Reinhard’s line of sight, over his limp body until their skin is nearly touching again. Reinhard wants to feel it, needs to feel it, but the closest he gets is the cool brush of lips against the shell of his ear.

“You already have.”

Reinhard wakes gasping. 

His skin is chilled, the sheets damp beneath his naked body, wet in one clenched fist as he eases himself up in bed. Kircheis is soundly asleep beside him, having said none of it, but that knowledge does nothing to slow the hammering of Reinhard's heart or the slow seep of dread into its cavity, black and viscous and frighteningly real. 

A single, horrible thought crosses his mind in the dead of that endless night; strikes him so hard he recoils from the force of it:

Oberstein is right.

 


 

“All special clearance privileges granted to High Admiral Kircheis are to be revoked. Imperial Fleet standards across the board will apply to all commanding officers from this day forward. Am I understood?”

“Yes, Your Excellency!”

 


 

Reinhard doesn’t leave his grief on Kircheis’ headstone with the flowers he brought. 

The dreams don’t stop. The waking nightmare doesn’t, either. It all goes on and on and on, like the universe stretched out before two fleets on the eve of battle.

“…exactly where we predicted they’d be, in…”

Just like they’d been that day at Astarte. How long ago that seems now. How many lifetimes have passed in a blink.

“…Alliance ships, carrying approximately two million men. Your Majesty, are you listening?” 

“Of course,” Reinhard says, eyes snapping to the man in front of him.

Oberstein looks Reinhard for a very long time. And then he wordlessly crosses the distance, sinking down onto his knees in front of Reinhard’s command chair. 

“What do you think you’re doing?” Reinhard’s voice is rigid, authoritative, a warning to anyone who knows what’s good for them.

But Oberstein is Oberstein, and he says, like it is not at all degrading to be on his knees in front of his Kaiser in this manner, “You seem to be having trouble focusing as of late. When have you last found time to pleasure yourself?”

The suggestion is immediately apparent. Reinhard’s grip tightens on the armrest of his chair. He won’t say what they both know: there has been nothing, no one since Kircheis. Not even a flicker of desire, of longing. Any time Reinhard has tried to—in his room alone at night, his thoughts wander and his stomach turns until he finds himself leaning over a toilet bowl.  

“You’re pent up,” Oberstein continues. “Distracted. You have been for months. I advise that you let me aid you in finding release.”

Reinhard allows his trousers to be undone in a slowly-fading state of shock, glaring down at Oberstein’s head.

His hair is meticulously groomed, dark and thin and free of tangles. There’s no wild red, no coarse wave to sink his fingers into. And there is no loving petting, no affectionate, slow-kindling worship on either side. There is a kind of clinical pragmatism in the way Oberstein takes his soft cock out and strokes until it begins to harden in his hand. 

It’s robotic, Reinhard thinks, sexless, though his breath hitches without his permission. It’s just his body responding to human touch after so long without any, he tells himself, his nerves on sensitive end, an involuntary pleasure response.

He doesn’t tell Oberstein to stop. He can’t. The word burns his throat, but it won’t breach, not when Oberstein opens his mouth and sinks down on him slowly. The slide is hot, wet, real tongue and teeth and Reinhard nearly laughs at his own ridiculous thought that Oberstein is human, after all. Instead, he sighs and lets his head loll back.

The stimulation keeps him hard. It doesn’t do much more than that, not for the first ten-minute stretch of cocksucking. No pleasure mounts, no heat crawls into the nonexistent space between skin and uniform collar. His thoughts drift to Kircheis as they are prone to do, where they wander in slow-motion, mingling with sensation. The nausea begins to curdle his stomach.

Oberstein pulls off. Matter-of-factly, he says, “This isn’t helping.”

Reinhard’s brow raises. He doesn’t sound disappointed or surprised. If Oberstein is to stop this fruitless, arrogant attempt at bringing him release, he makes no move to fold Reinhard’s wet cock back into his trousers or avert his eyes. He just continues to pump, slowly, squeezing just enough when Reinhard begins to soften. And then, after another thoughtful moment, the warmth and pressure disappears. Reinhard blinks.

Oberstein says, meeting his eyes for the first time since he went to his knees, “Do you ever think about the fact that Kircheis might still be alive had I not convinced you to put your feelings for him aside?”

Reinhard’s stomach drops. He goes rigid. “I. Don’t talk—”

“Does it keep you up at night, Your Majesty?” Oberstein runs a single cool finger up the length of his cock without looking away, pushing it up against his clothed stomach. “How much of your suffering could have been prevented if you had overruled my advice and sent me away? You might not be Kaiser, but at least you would have him.”

Reinhard loathes the way he pulses under Oberstein’s touch, the way the rising fury in him fans this new fire. “You—”

“But we’re more alike than you have ever wanted to believe, and it eats at you. Kircheis was too good for you, too noble, and you knew deep down that you were always going to lose him. If not in death, then because of your differences. You knew you’d never be able to have both the universe and your lover, and in the end, you chose—” 

“Shut your mouth,” Reinhard hisses, head pounding, vision blurring, and it’s only after the flaring intensity recedes that he realizes he’s taken a tight fistful of Oberstein’s hair and wrenched his head back.

“If that’s what you would like,” Oberstein begins, in that same calm, droning voice he says everything else in, “perhaps you should stick your cock in it.”

The vulgarity of it brings Reinhard up short. His ears ring. The anger does not subside, though; it furls in his gut, warms his taut fingers, and before he knows it he’s rising from his chair, fitting a hand around himself, and sliding into Oberstein’s waiting mouth with purpose.

It feels good to give into it, that red-haloed sweep of loathing, though whether it is for himself or Oberstein he can’t say and doesn’t care to determine. He just wants to feel it, to violently shove his cock into the source of its beginning and ream it out. And so he does.

Oberstein doesn’t dare touch him now, not even to brace his hands against the forceful snap of his hips. He just takes it, soundlessly but for the unavoidable slick, wet noises of mouth-fucking; unmoving but for the way his throat contracts around Reinhard’s cock. Upended on his knees, hair still bunched in Reinhard’s fist, he keeps his eyes closed.

So he does know they make Reinhard sick.

Just like he knew what to say to make him…just like he knows everything else, whether Reinhard wants him to or not. Kingmaker. Puppet-master. An intelligent man of unswerving, immoral, sacrificial loyalty. He lacks nothing but heart. 

Reinhard sneers, panting, “There is a hole where your dignity should be.” He’s fucking it, he thinks privately.

Oberstein says nothing, because his mouth is full of cock. 

There is a build like this: a whirling vortex of anger and shame, prickling up his spine and down into his groin with every thrust. His nerves are on fire, sweat beading at his brow from the exertion and the familiar, sickening, coiling heat.

Reinhard pulls Oberstein down violently, and whether it’s pain or pleasure that brings him to the precipice, it’s the choked, surprised noise Oberstein makes and the vibration on his cock that pushes him over it. He spends himself quickly, near-silently, allowing nothing more than a labored hiss between his teeth at the height of things.

Oberstein swallows obediently. It’s disgusting, though Reinhard can’t help but to pump his cock slow between Oberstein’s lips even after the first wave of orgasm, to push once more toward the tight vice of his throat, chasing that last pulse of thought-smearing sensation. Like this, there is no grief to pinpoint, no fear or anger or regret to wash over him. It’s all washed together, running, unsaturated color, the kind of bliss that is akin only to unconsciousness.

But it too does end.

His cock slips from Oberstein’s mouth, and it’s then that the man attached to it comes back into focus: eyes unchanged when they should be glazed and watering, but lips red and wet, cheeks blotchy, proof enough of what has happened. Reinhard’s chest heaves with exertion.

“Do you feel better?” 

It’s the same voice as always, but roughened, dragged through gravel. Oberstein’s expression betrays nothing, but Reinhard glances lower and sees that he’s straining against his trousers.

“You enjoyed that?” He asks in disgust.

“Was I meant to be suffering?” Oberstein’s voice is mild.

Reinhard folds himself back inside his pants, forcing his eyes away to do up his belt and fall back into his chair, boneless.

“If that was your intention,” Oberstein continues, “I could tell you how best to go about it next time.”

“There will be no next time,” Reinhard snaps, oily palms slipping against the armrests as he tightens down on them. “And you will never speak another word of this to me or anyone.”

A pause.

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

Reinhard fumes in silence. 

Eventually, he says, “You seem to overestimate your importance and the reigns you have with me. Should you feel inclined to try anything like this again, you will find I don’t need a breakdown on how best to make you suffer. You will never set foot on an Imperial ship again. Your name will be disgraced. Am I understood?”

“Yes, Your Majesty. Is there anything else?”

Reinhard says, without looking up from his own white-knuckled, trembling grip, “Get out.”

He does, rising slowly in Reinhard’s peripherals, taking his leave without the haste Reinhard’s threat should have instilled in him. Reinhard grits his teeth through the last suffocating moments of Oberstein’s presence.

When he’s finally alone, for the first time since Oberstein sunk to his knees, Reinhard recalls the pendant hanging from his neck.