“Reinhard,” says Subaru, quiet, and Reinhard immediately turns to look at him.
“Hello, Subaru,” he greets calmly.
Subaru gestures at the grass next to Reinhard. “Hey, do you mind if I stand here?” he asks. There’s a nervous lilt to his voice.
Reinhard smiles, trying to put Subaru at ease. Normally Subaru isn’t nervous around him, but Reinhard supposes that anyone would be terrified to stand in the presence of a man who comes back to life after dying. “You can do whatever you want, Subaru,” he says, trying to make his voice as genuine as possible.
“Great,” Subaru says, shuffling to stand next to Reinhard. He stands there, drumming his hands on the sides of legs.
Reinhard looks at Subaru for a moment before turning back to the spot he’d been gazing at. It’s where he fought with that nice kid, Garfiel. Reinhard had liked that. It was fun in a way most of his battles weren’t.
Reinhard glances at Subaru again. He meets Subaru’s eyes, and Subaru looks away quickly. Subaru’s arms go up around himself. It’s a defensive gesture. Reinhard winces a bit and turns away once more.
“Did you know?” Subaru asks suddenly.
“Did I know what?” Reinhard responds, measured.
“That—that you come back, when you’re killed. That you—” and Subaru trails off.
Deliberately, Reinhard looks at Subaru. He wonders how Subaru’s going to end that sentence. Did you know you were a monster, Reinhard? Subaru will ask, maybe, and Reinhard will get to smile prettily and say, why, yes, yes I did.
That’d be the kind thing to do. The cruel thing would be to say, Oh, Reinhard, why didn’t you do that before? Why did it take you that long, Reinhard?
Or maybe he’ll say, How unfortunate, Reinhard, that you can’t die.
No. That’s just what Reinhard is saying, now, to himself. Subaru isn’t like Reinhard. Subaru is kind and loved and he’s so, so human, in all the right ways. Yes, he’s nothing like Reinhard.
Subaru can be cruel, Reinhard thinks. It’s in a thoughtless way, though, and Reinhard suspects that Subaru is more likely to be cruel to himself than anyone else. It’s sad. Subaru doesn’t deserve it.
Subaru whispers hoarsely, “That you return after you die,” and Reinhard’s attention immediately snaps back to him. He says it with such a gravity that Reinhard leans forwards a bit, caught up in Subaru’s pull. He catches himself and shifts back.
“I didn’t know, no,” Reinhard says. His voice is low, too, and he’s not quite sure why.
“So that was your first death? First time dead but not gone?” Subaru asks. His eyes are strangely glossy and bright and far, far away. “Very pristine. Just like you, Reinhard. Nothing messy about it.”
Reinhard is confused. He blinks at Subaru and tilts his head. “It was very quick,” he confirms, because he thinks that that’s what Subaru is asking. “No pain.”
“That’s good, that’s good,” Subaru mutters. “Divine Protection of the Phoenix...agh, that’s such a cool name! I should’ve thought of something like that.”
“For what?” Reinhard asks.
Subaru flinches. “Don’t go listening in on people’s inner monologues,” he scolds. “My heart almost stopped.”
Reinhard ducks his head. He stares at the grass for a moment. “Death is...unique,” he says, slowly, and he’s not quite sure why he’s saying this, but maybe it’s because he has to. Maybe it’s because he wants Subaru to know. Maybe he just wants someone, anyone, to know. “It’s—”
He stalls out. He doesn’t know how to put it into words. He only experienced it for a fraction of a moment, and it was far too little and too much for him to know how to simplify it into neat, useless sounds. It was terrifying awareness and incomprehension of everything, for a split second, and then nothing, for no time. How is Reinhard supposed to put some incredible vastness—such inconspicuous blankness—into words?
How does Reinhard put nothing into words?
Maybe he’d be able to, given time and reflection. Reinhard doesn’t want to reflect on it, though. He wants to move on. He wants to pretend it never happened.
“It’s incomprehensible,” says Subaru. “It’s terrifying, no matter how many times you’ve felt it. It makes no sense. It’s everything slipping away from you, and pain, and desperation, and guilt, and relief, and it’s all muddled together until all you can do is pant and scream and wish it was over, and know that, if given the chance, you’d try as hard as you could to stop it from ending.”
Reinhard’s eyes are wide and his mouth is hanging open.
Subaru looks up at him, suddenly. He sees Reinhard’s expression and his own face goes slack. “Ah! Sorry, Reinhard!” he says quickly, waving his hands in the air. “I didn’t mean to interrupt or anything!”
“No,” Reinhard blurts, just as quick. “That’s—that’s it. Except I—I didn’t—”
He falters again.
Subaru snaps his fingers together. “Too quick,” he says, with awful realisation and sympathy in his voice. “Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt. Don't know you're dead until it's over, and you're blinking awake even though you never fell asleep. Quick reset, except you're all de-synched, and you can't tell whether anything really happened in the first place.”
“Yes,” says Reinhard, because even though he didn’t understand all the words in those sentences, he heard the meaning well enough. “Yes. I thought I was prepared, but I—you can’t—“
“You can’t be prepared for that,” says Subaru, with an odd curl to his lips. “You’d have to be insane.”
He falls quiet for a moment, looking straight through Reinhard. And then he blinks and he looks at Reinhard again and says, “Don’t do that again, okay, Reinhard? Death is greedy. If you let her steal one kiss, she’ll keep coming back for more.”
Subaru sounds almost wry, but that can’t be right. That wouldn’t make sense. That’d be too bizarre and irreverent and—unfathomable.
Reinhard swallows again. It feels dry. “I’ll do whatever it takes to protect my friends,” he says. He means it. He smiles. “Why shouldn’t I use this tool, if I have it?”
“You got lucky this time,” Subaru snarls, suddenly intense. Were Reinhard a lesser man, he’d take a step back. There’s a darkness to Subaru’s eyes that Reinhard has seen lurking, in Subaru and in others, but he’s never seen it this exposed and raw and ugly. “What’re you going to do next time? Die on them? Leave them crying over your corpse? That’s worse than useless. That’s pathetic. If death’s your only option, then you’re—”
Subaru cuts himself off. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “Listen up, Reinhard. I hate to admit it, but these are words are from the most influential woman in my life. Love yourself. And—if you don’t mind me stealing from Felt—live strong.”
Subaru huffs. The intensity lifts and leaves, as suddenly as it came. Reinhard doesn’t relax. “Anyways,” Subaru says lightly, “I’ve gotta get ready to leave. Sorry for getting a little heated there.”
Subaru raises his hand up and salutes, and then before Reinhard can say anything he’s hurrying away.
“Subaru?” Reinhard asks Subaru’s retreating back. Subaru doesn’t stop. Reinhard was too quiet.
There’s a question on the tip of Reinhard’s tongue. He opens his mouth. “Subaru,” he asks, “why did that sound personal?”
Reinhard didn’t raise his voice. Subaru couldn’t have heard him. He’s too far away.
And now he’s gone.