The weeks following the coronation are full of ceremonies and banquets and rituals; so many that they begin to blur together in their minds, a golden haze of toasts and speeches and grand glittering marble-lined halls. Oskar von Reuenthal and Wolfgang Mittermeyer have no time to regret being swept up in the spectacle—they are Imperial Marshals, now, and making their bows in the reflected brilliance of Kaiser Reinhard is payment enough.
They are in a grand suite in a former lord’s mansion on the far side of Odin that has been briefly reclaimed for the Kaiser’s and his entourage’s use before its conversion to public housing, dressing and having a last coffee before the evening’s ceremony. Reuenthal watches Mittermeyer changing from his languid pose on the couch, not even pretending to disguise his gaze. Mittermeyer ignores him, but that’s fine. There will be more chances to have him later, he knows—somehow the busy days have made them want each other even more, and there’s a heady rush of triumph in the air that make them feel like young, new lovers again, sex drives in full victorious swing. Mittermeyer seems troubled, though. Reuenthal sees a pinprick violet bruise on his thigh when he takes his pants off, which he rubs at as if it pains him.
“Get your shot today?” he asks when Mittermeyer comes to sit down beside him. His lover has been irritable and sluggish the past few days, as happens every few months when his testosterone implant starts to run out of hormones to supply his body with. Reuenthal makes a game effort to keep track of the dates, if only so he knows when to avoid deliberately antagonizing Mittermeyer.
“Yeah.” Mittermeyer nods, but he sounds less cheerful than he typically does about it. Reuenthal picks up his coffee and waits. Though Mittermeyer is the kind of person who normally would rather stifle his problems and stew in silence, he is always honest with Reuenthal. Eventually, he says, “At lunch today, Wahlen and Lutz were talking about the Lohengramm Dynasty, as a concept, and how His Majesty will eventually have to find a Kaiserin.”
“Seems a little soon to be talking about that.”
“I don’t know.” Mittermeyer tugs at the crimson sash on his dress uniform. “I mean, I married Eva when I was around his age.”
Reuenthal doesn’t respond to that, only makes a face into his coffee that he hopes Mittermeyer doesn’t see. He does, but only responds by leaning against his shoulder, a welcome reassurance of intimacy despite the mention of his wife.
“You know I’m a person who wants kids, right,” he says eventually, his voice carefully even.
“Yeah.” Reuenthal does not relate to this at all. (He is usually very happy that his sexuality provides him with a convenient way of avoiding the question of family.)
Mittermeyer sighs. “The only thing I regret about this—” He gestures to himself vaguely, encompassing his body and everything he’s done to it since his teenage years. “—is that I’ll never be able to have children of my own. Honestly, it was the only thing I was looking forward to about marriage when I proposed to her. I want to be a father—a good father. To have the chance to get right what my parents got wrong… It’s really important to me, but I had to give that up when I made all these choices. Every time I see people I know having kids, it feels like someone’s stabbed me in the chest and is twisting the knife. I think Eva’s unhappy about it too, but she doesn’t really mention it.”
“What about adoption?” Reuenthal suggests, taking a sip of coffee.
“Eva’s fine with it,” Mittermeyer says in a tone that suggests he isn’t. He leans into Reuenthal a little harder. “I tell her that I want to wait until the war is over. But really, I’ve been putting that off because I want a kid who’s mine, who’s a result of me and—someone loving each other enough that we want to bring a baby into the galaxy.” He falls silent and morose, then laughs self-deprecatingly. “I’m sorry to go on about my paternal urges. I know you don’t get any of this.”
“You’re right, I don’t,” says Reuenthal, harsher than he means to. He puts his arm around Mittermeyer’s shoulder to offset the potential insult. Kindlier but not without bitterness, he continues, “I just don’t think I would be able to raise a child well. You would, but not me.” He’s not sure why he says so—perhaps the quiet, vulnerable honesty of the conversation has infected him with Mittermeyer’s confessional mood.
“I’m touched you think so.” There’s a smile in Mittermeyer’s voice, genuine and good to hear. After a moment, he reaches out and puts his hand on Reuenthal’s thigh affectionately. “But don’t sell yourself short, Oskar. You could make a good father too.”
Reuenthal doesn’t understand at first. Then he thinks he sees what Mittermeyer is implying, what he wants from him, and his jaw sets in unconscious frustration. All his life, he’s chafed under the awful omnipresent pressure to get married and have kids and continue your family line, said smilingly by well-meaning relatives and homophobic officials alike. Nothing good can come of that directive and he knows it firsthand. Having a child destroyed his parents, a fact of which he is reminded every time he looks in the mirror to see his unmatching eyes. Reuenthal sees no reason to repeat that mistake. He has long since resolved that the von Reuenthal line will end with him, and thank the gods for that. The idea of a woman becoming pregnant with his child and birthing some small creature that carries half his genes faintly disgusts him, not least because he can’t imagine anyone willingly undergoing such an unpleasant physical process for something of his. The whole discussion has been scratching open all his old sores of self-hatred and resentment.
But Mittermeyer isn’t part of that pressure, as much as he tries to bend to it instead of breaking as Reuenthal might. He’s being completely sincere—his desire for a child has nothing to do with the stifling heteronormative atmosphere of the Empire. The fondness in his voice when he talks about being a father proves that, if nothing else. Reuenthal feels a yawning void of terrifying possibility open up before him.
“Oh,” he says, flat, and drinks more coffee while he tries to come up with a better response. Mittermeyer leans in further to nuzzle his neck. “You’re waiting until the end of the war, though?”
“Yeah. Far too much going on right now—I’m in space too often. Plus, it’s much better to raise a child in peacetime, you know?”
Reuenthal makes a wordless noise of agreement. “I imagine you’d have to take some time off.” He tries to picture Mittermeyer carrying a child and cannot. It feels like a betrayal, to put him in that female role after he has expended so much effort to become a man in spite of his birth. But if Mittermeyer wants it for himself, then it’s different, isn’t it?
“Mhm. A month or two at least, if His Majesty can spare me that long.” Mittermeyer is distractedly caressing Reuenthal’s leg, rubbing his thumb along the seam of his pants. “The funny thing is, for all that I think about this, I still haven’t settled on any names. Eva probably has a few thought up already, though.” He sighs. “I really do feel badly that she can’t be the actual mother of our child, biologically. But there’s only so much that modern medical technology can do…”
He trails off, staring blankly at their laps. Reuenthal absently plays with his hair, twisting a fluffy lock of dark blonde around his finger. For once, Mittermeyer whining about his marriage doesn’t sting. There are some things that Evangeline can’t provide for Wolf, but Reuenthal can, and they both know this. (Secretly, he imagines that she can’t provide most things and Mittermeyer is deluding himself when he claims she is more than just his ticket into straight normalcy, but only when he is feeling particularly uncharitable towards her.) It’s a piece of knowledge that excites him, makes him feel superior on good days and worthy of existence on bad ones.
Perhaps parenthood is one of those things that Reuenthal can give Mittermeyer. They have the right anatomy for it, at least. The concept is admittedly slightly less repellent if Mittermeyer is involved, if it’s something they choose out of sheer love for one another. A primal part of Reuenthal notes that it’s a way of claiming him, indelibly marking Mittermeyer as his. It would mean divulging all their secrets, even if they were somehow able to keep it out of public attention. But the Empire that enforced those secrets is dead, and Reuenthal is long past caring about the opinions of individuals who already dislike him. Perhaps the Lohengramm Dynasty does not need to be beholden to Rudolf von Goldenbaum’s vision of a future populated by straight child-bearing dyads in wholesome identical nuclear families. Isn’t that why they aided Reinhard in the first place, to wrench the Empire from its fascist track and create something new, outside of the Goldenbaum’s narrow moralizations? A new Empire, in which they could be together without the threat of death or imprisonment coloring their moments of intimacy. He turns to press his nose into Mittermeyer’s thick, wavy hair. He smells like honey and sunlight.
Reuenthal struggles to put his tentative agreement into words, or even just that he’s not completely averse to the idea. His usual eloquence has failed him. He takes a deep breath, takes the plunge. “You know I would do anything you asked of me, Wolf,” he says, quiet.
Mittermeyer shifts, stares up at him. Reuenthal avoids eye contact and continues, with effort, “Even that. If it’s what you want. Or, well, at least I’d seriously think about it.”
“What?” Mittermeyer says, confusion in his wide gray eyes. Then, “Oh. Oh, I, uh, that isn’t… That’s not what I was asking.”
Reuenthal is ashamed and relieved all at once. “Oh,” he says, stupidly.
With an awkward, nervous laugh, Mittermeyer sits up and goes on, “I mean, I don’t even think it’s possible for me? Not after sixteen years.”
“I’m sorry for misunderstanding you,” says Reuenthal. It comes out cold—he’s flattening his affect, trying to keep any of his upsettingly confused emotions from leaking out into his voice. Mittermeyer doesn’t seem to notice, and just stares into space, thoughtfully tugging at his earlobe.
“It’s fine, I guess I wasn’t clear.” He chews at his lip. “There were fertility storage things on Phezzan, but my parents didn’t have the money for it. Maybe if we had, I could take you up on that.” There’s a wistful note in his voice. Reuenthal bites his tongue on the angry sarcastic denial that rises in his throat—it was Mittermeyer who wanted that, not him. Even if the thought of him holding a child and proudly saying that it’s theirs, with that amazing glowing smile he wears when he’s truly happy, elicits an odd little tug of warmth in Reuenthal’s chest. He quickly quashes the image down. Mittermeyer said it was impossible, and he should be thankful that it’s the case. He has no business fantasizing about parenthood, for all the reasons he’s already articulated to himself, a hundred times over by now. The only reason he has to regret the unfeasibility of it is that Mittermeyer seems disappointed. A whole litany of cruel comments is still at the forefront of his mind, instinctive deflections away from the soft vulnerable feeling seeping out from behind his breastbone, but he remains silent, looking at the sad frown marring Mittermeyer’s handsome face.
Reuenthal squeezes Mittermeyer’s shoulder, permitting himself to enjoy the way his muscles fill out his uniform for just a second, then stands. “Come on, Mittermeyer, enough moping,” he announces with mock seriousness to the room, his familiar mask of ironic coldness settling back over his face. “It can’t be good publicity for Our Kaiser to have his Sturm Wolf looking depressed all through the ceremony.”
Mittermeyer smiles, and takes his hand to rise. “I would never dream of disappointing His Majesty.” Reuenthal gives him a wolfish grin, pressing his lover’s strong, warm hand to his lips before they go out to the banquet hall.
Reuenthal doesn’t think about the question of children again until later that night, after the ceremony. They are both terrifically drunk from dozens of toasts (the ballroom floor was carpeted in broken glass by the end of the night). The room is a hot dark out-of-focus swirl around Reuenthal, as is his brain; it feels fitting that the only stable things he knows are Mittermeyer and how much he wants him. They lasted less than ten minutes alone together after leaving the banquet hall before dragging each other to a private room. Reuenthal nearly tore Mittermeyer’s dress pants pulling them off, to shove his face into his cunt with no preamble. He tastes incredible.
“Fuck me, Oskar,” Mittermeyer breathes, barely louder than their pounding heartbeats.
Reuenthal looks up from between his thighs. “What?”
“I want you to fuck me,” he says, a little clearer but still slurring. His eyes are closed and his chest is heaving, his skin rosy and shining with sweat. Reuenthal would do anything Mittermeyer asked of him, but he hesitates. It’s not something he enjoys doing, and he is fairly sure Mittermeyer is usually equally, if not more, repulsed by the idea. Yet—they’re both drunk, and Mittermeyer looks gorgeous, and he would be lying if he said that the thought didn’t give him a strange, perverse thrill. Like a normal heterosexual couple, except they’re both undeniably men.
“Are you sure?” He lets his hand rest on Mittermeyer’s crotch (his dick wet and twitching against his fingertips underneath the thick curls of hair).
Mittermeyer half-opens his eyes so that he can roll them at Reuenthal. “Yeah. I’m drunk enough right now that it sounds like a good idea. It probably isn’t, but, gods, Oskar, I just want to know what your cock feels like in me.”
The desperate way he says it sends a throb of feeling to Reuenthal’s groin. He smiles slightly. “You sound like a character in some terrible pastoral erotica,” he teases, stroking him gently.
Mittermeyer grins and rocks his hips up into Reuenthal’s hand. Going along with the joke, he mock-pleads, “Oh, Oskar, I need you inside me, I’ll die without your cock. Fuck me already. Please, breed me.”
Reuenthal remembers the conversation from earlier that night, all at once in a confused flood of emotions that immediately gets tangled up with his arousal. If that’s the way they’re framing this, then he can certainly go along with it. He slips a finger into the red warmth of Mittermeyer’s cunt and leans in. “Oh? Is that what you want?” he purrs.
It was a deliberately exaggerated, insincere plea, but Reuenthal sees Mittermeyer’s face flush further at the prospect of his request being taken even half-seriously. He tries to hide it, turning his face away fractionally, and says lightly, “That’s what I said, isn’t it?”
Reuenthal flexes his finger, pushes it deeper. Mittermeyer shudders involuntarily. “You want me to fill you with my cum?” he asks, trying to keep the irony out of his tone despite how ridiculous the lines feel. “You want to get knocked up?”
Mittermeyer responds with a strangled moan. Reuenthal is knuckle-deep inside him now, and he starts moving his hand, sliding his finger in and out through warm folds of flesh. “Say it,” he growls. “Wolf. Say you want me to put a baby in you.”
“I want you to—I want you to cum in me,” Mittermeyer manages from behind his hand, clasped over his face in embarrassment. “Oskar…”
It’s good enough for Reuenthal. Anything more would probably make him realize how stupid of an idea this is, how much he’ll regret it once they’ve sobered up. He bends over to whisper in Mittermeyer’s ear, now sweet and gentle, “I think I can do that for you.”
Another helpless, delicious moan. Reuenthal feels muscles tightening around his finger and withdraws quickly—if this is the kind of sex they’re having, it won’t do to have Mittermeyer come too soon. He leaves him trembling in the middle of the bed to go dig up a bottle of lube from his bags.
Mittermeyer is so wet already that the lubricant seems superfluous, but almost two decades of hormones and exclusive topping have had their effects on his anatomy. He’s very tight as Reuenthal carefully stretches him with the ends of two, then three, slick fingers, and trembles a little as he pulls his hand away. If they were doing this properly, they should have started hours ago, working their way up to it with a dilator and probably even more lube. But they’re not; this is an impulsive, drunk decision, as thoughtless as any of the straight extramarital hookups that happened daily in the mansions of the old nobility. Reuenthal is half-disgusted with how hard he already is when he strokes lube over his own cock. The little gleeful twist of betraying his principles, the wrongness of it, is turning him on. There’s a bizarre subversive element too that he can’t make sense of, like they’re making a mockery of heterosexual sex by bringing this act into their homosexual affair. It helps that Mittermeyer is so hot, his head lolling drunkenly on the pillow to expose the strong curve of his neck and his genitals shining fleshy and pink under his blonde hair. Reuenthal slides his hands under Mittermeyer’s thighs, pausing just a second to appreciate their broadness and strength, then lifts and places them over his own legs as he positions himself.
“Are you sure about this, Wolf…” he asks, cautious, feeling a tautness in the muscles under his hands. Mittermeyer relaxes himself deliberately, his legs going limp around Reuenthal’s hips and his fists unclenching from the sheets. Without saying anything, he reaches down and presses the head of Reuenthal’s bare cock against, then into, himself. A gasp—Reuenthal can’t say which of them made the noise. Mittermeyer’s eyes roll back in their sockets. He still looks lovely.
Reuenthal does not move for a moment, feeling muscles pulse and relax to accommodate him. Mittermeyer’s hand is still on his cock, holding him at his entrance. He wishes he could give himself completely over to Mittermeyer, let him be in control; maybe they should have started with him on top, riding Reuenthal instead of this. Almost always, Reuenthal would rather be submissive, rather enjoy the weak helplessness of getting pinned down and manhandled and used. But Mittermeyer doesn’t seem like he wants to move much, now that he’s lying down.
And there is something to be said for switching their roles, occasionally. Reuenthal pushes in further. He’s very tight.
Mittermeyer’s eyes snap open and he swears softly. “Go slow, fuck—careful—oh—"
For once, Reuenthal is glad of his streak of sadism, and how it overpowers any guilt he might feel over Mittermeyer’s little hisses of pain-pleasure as he forces himself inside him. When he’s in up to the hilt, he stops again, leaning over him and breathing hard. Their eyes meet. It’s another one of those moments of universe-opening synchrony, where Reuenthal knows they’re both thinking the same thing—how despite everything, it feels good. The thick warm smell of sex and sweat and their skin. The hot throbbing pressure where their bodies meet and become indistinguishable, dissolving into and being consumed by one another. Then that same region becoming a boundary, burning and frissive and very, very apparent, as Reuenthal starts moving. He has no idea what it feels like for Mittermeyer, but can imagine from what he knows of being fucked—the feeling of being stretched around something too big for you, the pressure of someone’s cock or fingers touching some deep and secret point, the pain and your body welcoming it. He can see some of that sublime ecstatic discomfort in Mittermeyer’s face, and he starts moving faster and less gently.
As he does, though, Reuenthal takes Mittermeyer’s other hand and raises it to his mouth. He kisses his fingers tenderly first, squeezing his hand in a reassurance half for himself, half for Mittermeyer. (It stills feels strange, still reminds him too much of the way he’s expected to have sex, if he stops to think about it for too long.)
He doesn’t seem to need the reassurance. Mittermeyer traces the edge of Reuenthal’s lips with his fingertips, maddeningly gentle. Then his fingers are inside his mouth, holding his teeth apart, teasing and pinching his tongue. Reuenthal whimpers softly and jerks his hips hard into him, ducking his head forward at the same moment to deepthroat his fingers. The nails on Mittermeyer’s other hand dig into the soft flesh at his waist as he moans, loud, his body twisting in pleasure beneath him. Mittermeyer stretches his jaw open, four fingers pushing into Reuenthal’s mouth now, and he gags, happy to be penetrated in this way at least. He lets Reuenthal choke on it for a moment, then removes his hand and runs it down to his waist, leaving a wet trail of saliva along his neck and chest.
“You don’t have to be so delicate, Oskar,” he breathes. “You know I’m not some fragile noblewoman afraid to be hurt.”
“I’m not being delicate,” he snarls, or tries to—it comes out weak and strangled. He’s not being delicate, but he somehow can’t bring himself to really fuck him. There is a tiny, still-rational part of his mind that keeps making Reuenthal question himself, detaches him from the act. He feels childishly aware of his facial expression, embarrassed by the obvious arousal on Mittermeyer’s face while he still feels awkward and uncertain with schoolboy hesitation.
His lover makes a thoughtful noise, a familiar growl that signifies he’s thinking about making Reuenthal do something. Reuenthal catches his breath in anticipation, pushing himself back into his slick hole.
Mittermeyer’s hands curl around his hipbones—they’re large and strong, easily big enough to hold onto Reuenthal’s slim waist despite their deceptively different statures—and pulls him close. He starts grinding into him, his hands firm and warm as he moves Reuenthal’s pelvis in tandem, easily controlling the rhythm of his thrusts. Reuenthal closes his eyes and gives himself over to it.
Neither of them last very long after that. Mittermeyer pushes Reuenthal faster and deeper—he lets his hips go slack so he’s easier to move, so he doesn’t have to think—until his body goes stiff with a delicious moan. He pulls Reuenthal in with an iron grip until he’s completely inside him, his thighs and inner muscles clenching tight. Reuenthal feels his orgasm in heart-stopping detail, the sensation of his cunt throbbing around his dick, and moans too, until colors are flashing into the blackness of his squeezed-shut eyelids and he’s collapsing, shaking, onto Mittermeyer’s chest.
Eventually the trembling, as uncontrollable and severe as if he had been electrocuted, stops. His body feels like a body again and not a rushing wave of pure sensation. He sighs, and thoughtlessly wraps his arms around Mittermeyer, nuzzling into his downy chest as his hair is stroked. They don’t move for a few long, blissful moments.
Reuenthal becomes aware of a spreading wetness around his crotch, something thick and warm trickling out between their intertwined legs. Disgusted, he jerks himself upright and away, remembering.
Mittermeyer makes a small noise of protest. Reuenthal says shortly, “We need to get clean.”
He can’t bring himself to look at his lover, doesn’t want to invite an inaccurate comparison between him and one of his impulsive straight one-night-stands. His hands stiff at his sides, Reuenthal almost runs into the adjoining bathroom. He stands and stares unsteady as the alcohol rushes back into his brain with his blood at the neat stack of towels in the linen closet, luxuriously soft and embroidered with the family’s crest. For a second, it feels as if the whole rigid weight of the Empire is crushing down on him again, and the sense of freedom and lightness afforded by Kaiser Reinhard’s brilliant glow was only a momentary, illusory dispelling of that weight. They say that when you fall into a black hole and your ship twists and buckles around you as gravity crushes it, your brain, warping from the pressure, creates vivid hallucinations that almost give you hope. Worse, he can’t shake the feeling that it was he who broke the delusion, revealed the dream for what it was with his perverse urges, his perverse desire to be a father despite his unsuitability. He cannot expect to actually get to live in the utopia he envisioned, can he?
Mittermeyer is waiting in the other room for him, he reminds himself, and seizes the first towel on the stack and staggers back out.
They don’t bring it up any more after that night, nor do they have that sort of sex again. Reuenthal tries to forget about it, which he succeeds at for a few months at least. The next time he thinks about children is when she’s in his house—specifically when she starts making strange antagonistic remarks about what a terrible father he would make, in the few weeks before she finally disappears. It’s a relief to have her gone, but her comments linger; she’s right, of course, especially if she means their hypothetical child, born into the abusive mockery of a marriage that they shared for a brief, hateful time. Reuenthal is not surprised when it turns out it wasn’t just cruel conjecture.
He is too angry (with himself, with her, with the scheming minister who set up the whole situation) to consciously link it to Mittermeyer’s feelings. Subconsciously is another matter—why did he mention the child to his friend’s face, if not to play on that connection in an impulsive moment of needless cruelty? Why did he fuck her bareback like she challenged him to those few times, holding the image of Mittermeyer moaning beneath him in his head, if not to try and recapitulate that experience, the feeling of love that made the unbearable thing bearable? It didn’t work, of course; he hated himself every second that he was inside of her.
Reuenthal only remembers these things, only puts it all together, when she comes to him that last time. The room is a fading orange blur, but she is a stable thing, and so is the baby in her arms. Blue-eyed and smiling at him.
His thoughts are disjointed and weak from blood loss, but he feels a swelling in his chest that is entirely unrelated to his wound. (Unrelated until he jerks forward, disbelieving, to see what she’s holding. There’s a fresh spurt of blood from his shoulder, but he doesn’t care.) For a horrible moment, he regrets it all—regrets his rebellion, regrets losing Mittermeyer, regrets dying. He wants to live, to hold his child and bring him to Mittermeyer and say something like, look, here’s our son—not really, but we can pretend, we did everything else right after all. You’ll be a good father to him. And Mittermeyer would beam at him, take the baby, and tell him, don’t sell yourself short, Oskar. You’ll make a good father too.
It’s a nice fantasy, and it hurts to let it go, more than he expects. Can he really mourn this future, when he only got a glimpse of it on the day that it’s lost to him forever? Perhaps instead he should mourn not knowing about it earlier. He bought in too hard to the vision of the future the old Empire taught him, the future that has no place for him, unlovable, unreproductive queer that he is.
Mittermeyer will be a good father, though. Maybe even better without Reuenthal there to drag him down. So he asks her to give the baby to Mittermeyer, making up some justification about a historical figure from antiquity he remembers reading about in school. He says it ferociously, with all the remaining authority he has left from years of Fleet command, unsure whether the dampness on his cheeks is sweat or tears; it’s the last order he’ll ever give and the most important one, since he’s fast losing hope that he’ll get to see his Sturm Wolf one last time.
Elfriede doesn’t say anything in response. She doesn’t even let him hold his son. Reuenthal supposes he deserves that, and closes his eyes to wait again for death.