A Wheel Inside a Wheel

by

javert

TWS - Chapter Eight - The Two Angels Came to Sodom In the Evening

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The Two Angels Came to Sodom In the Evening

August 476 I.C., Odin

Reuenthal returned to school without much fanfare, taking up residence in the slightly larger sophomore dorms and pinning his new year pin on his collar. He didn’t feel as though anything had changed since the year before. Even his classes were almost the same, just one level higher.

There were some responsibilities that he theoretically had as a sophomore, such as contacting the number one student in the year below, in order to be his mentor. Reuenthal did that, and never received a response, so he considered that duty accomplished, and ignored it.

Yang, on the other hand, seemed to be taking his mentorship duties a lot more seriously. His mentee had asked if there was any way to get extra SW practice, and Yang had asked everyone he knew if they would be willing to play some extra games against his mentee.

“It surprises me that your mentee is so eager to learn the ropes around here,” Reuenthal said as they walked out of hand-to-hand class together. The night was cool, thanks to a slight wet breeze, and Yang and Reuenthal were alone on the path back to the dorms. “I wasn’t jumping on the opportunity to get more SW practice.”

“Maybe he is high strung, and is just good at hiding it,” Yang said. “That’s what Eisenach said, anyway.”

“Think he’ll be any good?” Reuenthal asked.

“No idea,” Yang said. “Well, I mean, I don’t think he’s going to beat you. I should have volunteered Bittenfeld to match up with him. Then he might stand a chance.”

Reuenthal chuckled. “Don’t let him hear you say that.”

“If Bittenfeld’s ego can’t stand a little bruising, I don’t know what he’s doing hanging around with you.”

“And you.”

“Sure,” Yang said. “I guess I’m looking forward to it, though.”

“What are you going to set up for our scenario?” Reuenthal asked.

Yang lightly punched Reuenthal’s arm. “You don’t need more of an advantage against him.”

“I just want to make sure you’ll make it interesting.”

“Have I ever bored you, Reuenthal?” Yang asked.

“No, never,” Reuenthal said. “It’s the only reason I keep you around.”

Yang laughed. “It’ll be fun to play some games without Staden looking over my shoulder.”

“You had better be careful in class this year. I don’t think he’ll tolerate too much more from you.”

“He’ll get over it,” Yang said. “And if he gets me kicked out…” Yang shrugged. “I don’t care.”

“I would.”

“I know,” Yang said with a smile. “I don’t think it’s going to happen, anyway. I’ll toe the line, I promise.”

“Save all your strange rants for your game against Eisenach,” Reuenthal said.

“I think if there’s any person in the world who cares the least about hearing me give a speech, it would be Herr Taciturn.”

“Well, I look forward to whatever you have prepared for me,” Reuenthal said.

“Don’t get your hopes up on it being that thrilling. I want to ease my mentee into it slowly.”

 


 

That Friday, Reuenthal and Wahlen were in Joseph’s. They had tried to invite Yang, but he had apparently fallen asleep directly after his last class, missed dinner, and could not be roused no matter how much Reuenthal knocked on his door. He had texted Reuenthal an apology, but by this time Reuenthal was slightly buzzed and Yang’s apology had included the line, “I’ll see you tomorrow, I’m going back to sleep,” so Reuenthal did not expect him to show his face.

He and Wahlen had staked out one of the nicer pool tables, not the one with a bit of a wobble, and were on their second game. Joseph’s was crowded, since it seemed like the entire new freshman class had decided to show up to celebrate the end of their first week of classes.

“Any idea when Staden’s going to be back?” Wahlen asked.

“Why would you think that I have any more information on that than you do?” Reuenthal leaned over the table and sent the four ball into the pocket.

“I don’t know. Just trying to get your professional opinion.”

“If he was going to be gone for more than a week, they’d have somebody else fill in.” Staden, their instructor for the SW practicum, had unexpectedly cancelled the first week of classes, across all years. All of the sophomores that Reuenthal spoke to were disappointed by this.

“Strum said he was having surgery.”

“For what?”

“I dunno,” Wahlen said. “Stomach trouble? I heard him mention that once.”

“Well he’s always complaining about his headaches,” Reuenthal said.

“True,” Wahlen said. “Well, I hope he gets back soon. I don’t really know if I trust anybody else to take over the class.”

“I’m sure they’d find somebody. Staden’s not that special. He’s married to theory.”

“Not like Leigh, you’re saying.”

“Sure,” Reunthal said, keeping his voice light. “Leigh could teach everybody a thing or two.”

Wahlen laughed. “Maybe. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.”

“Has he sent you the game setup?”

“I don’t think he’s made it yet,” Wahlen said. He had volunteered to help GM the game Reuenthal would be playing against Yang’s mentee. “I would bet you he’s going to wake up around two in the morning, furiously put the whole thing together, and then sleep through physicals.”

“Starting the year off strong. How much would you bet on that?”

“Oh, you’d bet against me?”

Reuenthal smirked. “I can get Leigh to come to physicals.”

“Then it’s not a fair bet. I’d have to bet against Bittenfeld or somebody who can’t influence the situation.”

“True.” Reuenthal was about to sink the eight ball when there was a resounding crash from the other side of the room, the sound of shattering glass, and a high-pitched yelp that cut over the din of loud student conversation. Reuenthal turned to see what was going on.

One of the waitresses— Reuenthal thought she was probably new, since she was young, and he hadn’t seen her around before— had dropped a whole tray of beers on the ground, and was standing alone in the center of the room, her face beet red. Reuenthal decided that it was not his problem, or even a problem at all, and went back to trying to line up his pool shot.

The volume of the bar had decreased in the sudden shock of the dropped glasses, though, so Reuenthal could clearly hear the sound of a few mocking voices, taunting the waitress. Reuenthal rolled his eyes and sank his shot. The manager would be out in a second to yell at the students. Threatening to kick them out and not let them back in was usually enough to forestall any trouble with the wait staff, since Joseph’s was the only place that students had easy access to. The belligerents must be freshmen, then, because only freshmen would stupid enough to make trouble like this in the first week of classes. Upperclassmen at least usually waited until they got really drunk after midyear exams.

The harsh voices continued for a second. Reuenthal made his shot and then stood, looking around to see if the manager was going to appear. There was no sign of him. Wahlen was hefting his own pool cue, just in case. Reuenthal leaned over to him. “You go see if Herr Gronmeister is around. Check the back.”

Wahlen nodded, dropped his pool cue on the table, then headed into the back.

Reuenthal continued to watch the situation, which was rapidly disintegrating. One of the freshmen was stepping up towards the woman, then reaching to take the tray out of her hands. A bit of a ring had formed around the waitress, and she was looking around to try to escape.

A different student pushed through the crowd then, and came up to stand between the waitress and the leering freshman. This new student was shorter than average, with long blond hair worn in a ponytail. He said something that was too quiet for Reuenthal to hear across the room, but the other student responded loudly, “Oh, yeah? Really?” and tried to shove the blond out of the way.

The blond boy didn’t move, though, and so the taller freshman swung a punch. That was all the blond needed, though, and he responded in kind. The blond was graceful and quick, but he was also surrounded by people who apparently liked the other guy more than they liked him. Funny that he should have made enemies already. Reuenthal decided to step in, at least until Wahlen came back.

He waded through the fray, hefting his pool cue, and he whacked it against the knees of someone who was swinging at the blond, distracting him enough to allow the blond to duck out of the way. He glanced at Reuenthal, and their eyes met for a split second, a smile involuntarily breaking out on Reuenthal’s face as he dropped the pool cue to punch someone who was coming towards him.

He and the blond freshman ended up side by side, protecting each other’s backs. In the sudden fracas, the waitress had had a chance to escape, dropping the rest of what she was holding to retreat behind the bar and into the kitchen area. Reuenthal and this freshmen were the focus now.

Someone miscalculated their punch and ended up scraping their fingernails across Reuenthal’s jaw, and he kicked at their ankles for that, sending the boy tumbling to the floor. The blond next to him got whacked with the pool cue that Reuenthal had dropped, though by now it had been snapped in half, and he ended up with a matching scratch.

The fight didn't last very long. Wahlen returned with the huge owner of the establishment. While Herr Gronmeister started yelling, Wahlen restrained someone who wasn't getting the message. Wahlen mouthed at Reuenthal, "Go," and jerked his head at the door before Gronmeister turned to address the rest of the fighting students.

Reuenthal took Wahlen's advice and edged his way out through the crowd, most people either trying to return to their drinking or make the same escape as Reuenthal, so no one really noticed him go.

Except for the blond, who followed him out.

"Hey," the blond boy called as Reuenthal was walking down the road. "Thanks, in there." The blond jogged up to him.

Reuenthal stopped walking to let him approach. The moonlight and neon glow from the bar's humming sign was illuminating his hair, some of which had slipped out of its ponytail and was dancing in the wind. He was handsome, Reuenthal decided, with an open, honest expression on his face. His eyes might have been blue or grey, Reuenthal couldn't really tell.

"How'd you get so many enemies already, freshman?" Reuenthal asked.

He shrugged, smiling. "Von Eichmann just thinks he can say or do whatever he wants just because he's first. You must know how that goes."

Reuenthal suppressed his smirk at the unintentional insult. "Of course," he said. "Just be careful you don't get them so mad at you they start looking for revenge."

"If it happens, it happens," the other boy said, not seeming bothered at all by the prospect of punching the freshman number one again.

"Put some salve on that cut," Reuenthal recommended. "You won't want to be telling a story of how you got a scar in your first week of classes for the rest of your life."

He laughed. "I will. Thanks for the advice."

By this point, Wahlen had come out of Joseph's and was making his way back toward Reuenthal. "Not a problem," Reuenthal said, and with a nod began walking again.

"See you around?" the freshman asked.

Reuenthal turned and walked backwards for a second. "Probably not," he called back. "Freshmen and sophomores are like water and oil."

"Wet behind the ears and slimy, respectively?" the other boy riffed.

"No," Reuenthal said. "We're just on top, you see." He smirked again and headed off with Wahlen, leaving the other boy shaking his head.

 


 

Reuenthal found Yang in the dining hall the next day at lunch. Yang had not shown up to physicals, which wasn’t really surprising, but was funny. It was a good thing that Reuenthal hadn’t actually bet against Wahlen.

“Starting the year off strong, I see,” Reuenthal said, sliding down into the seat across from Yang.

“I’ll go tomorrow. I forgot to set an alarm.”

“This new ‘toe the line’ strategy of yours isn’t really working.”

Yang looked up from the book he was flipping through, then. “It’s not like anyone misses me at physicals.” He frowned a little. “What happened to your face?” He touched his own jaw, indicating the place where Reuenthal had scraped his the night before.

“Caught the wrong end of a bayo,” Reuenthal lied. It was just instinct to lie about the origin of any injuries, the words slipped out before he even really thought about it, and then it was too late to take it back. It didn’t matter.

“Ouch,” Yang said in a flat voice. “You ready to face my mentee?”

“Sure,” Reuenthal said. “Let me finish my lunch first, though.”

“See, if you skipped physicals like me, you’d have time for a leisurely meal.”

Reuenthal just shook his head and ate.

They met up with Bittenfeld and Wahlen and Yang’s mentor, Eisenach, in the hallways of one of the academic buildings. Eisenach had somehow managed to get off-hours access to a fully set up training room, so their little group would have plenty of privacy during their games.

“Your mentee ditching us?” Bittenfeld asked.

“He’s probably just trying to find the room,” Yang said. “I’ll text him.”

But that didn’t end up being necessary, because they heard footsteps jogging down the stone-tiled hallway, and then Yang’s mentee appeared around the corner.

Reuenthal clamped down on his surprise. He looked a little different in the bright hallway light, but it was the same freshman he had fought side by side with the night before. Their eyes met for a second across the hallway, and Reuenthal hoped his slightly smug expression would clue the other man in to not saying anything.

“Oh, there he is,” Yang said. “Hey, Mittermeyer, glad you could make it.”

“Sorry, I had trouble finding this hallway,” he said. “Thank you all for volunteering to help me out.”

Yang made the formal introductions. “Er, everyone, this is Mittermeyer, my mentee. Mittermeyer, this is Reuenthal, Bittenfeld, Wahlen, Eisenach.”

Mittermeyer shook hands with everyone. His handshake was firm, and he grinned right back at Reuenthal, though he seemed to have picked up on the fact that Reuenthal had not mentioned to Yang that they had already met. It didn’t look as though Wahlen recognized him, either, but that wasn’t that surprising, as Wahlen had been out of the room for the beginning of the fight.

Everyone seemed happy to get started with these games. Reuenthal was certainly curious to see what Yang had prepared for him. They all sat down at the computers around the room, and Yang stood at the front for a second, explaining the basics of the scenario and how to play the game to Mittermeyer.

The scenario that Yang had chosen was a relatively simple one, and Reuenthal noted immediately that he was at a slight disadvantage. Reuenthal’s goal was to capture a star system that Mittermeyer was holding. The game was timed, so Mittermeyer, who had a smaller force, could win by holding out until his own reinforcements arrived to end the game.

Reuenthal, who had plenty of practice at playing these games, entered his commands very quickly, and then had to wait for a while for the GMs to advance the clock; Yang and Wahlen were clearly giving Mittermeyer plenty of time to send out his own commands.

The first thing that Reuenthal did, and the standard opening move in almost any game, was to send out scout ships to see what the positions of Mittermeyer’s forces were hiding within the system. Reuenthal received a slew of ‘no contact’ messages from most of his scouts, but one of them was destroyed before it could send back an update. Of course, this told Reuenthal exactly where Mittermeyer’s forces were hiding. Mittermeyer eventually found and destroyed the rest of Reuenthal’s scout ships, but by this time, Reuenthal had already given the command to start moving in to the system, targeting the space where Mittermeyer’s fleet had been.

When Reuenthal’s forces arrived at the specified point, he found only a small detachment of ships waiting for him. He surmised that Yang would not be cruel enough to give Mittermeyer this paltry of a fleet with which to defend himself, so this must be only a fraction of Mittermeyer’s forces, with the other, larger piece waiting to swoop in and attack his backside. Reuenthal approached the detached group of ships as slowly as he could, waiting for Mittermeyer’s larger force to appear and try to encircle him.

When they did, Reuenthal ordered all of his ships to turn and charge, breaking through the center of Mittermeyer’s attempted encirclement. Mittermeyer’s forces swerved out to either side, allowing Reuenthal to pass through mostly harmlessly, and they joined back up with their detached force. Both of their attempted tricks and countertricks had cancelled out, and so both fleets ended up whole and staring at each other across the battle space.

It became almost a dance, then. Every move that Reuenthal made, Mittermeyer seemed to intuitively know the counter, and the opposite was true. For every mistake or misstep either made, the other capitalized on it. They were so well matched that it thrilled Reuenthal. It was almost like fighting Yang, but Yang never made some of the mistakes that Mittermeyer was making.

Mittermeyer had the smaller force at his command, so Reuenthal was able to grind him down until, finally, Mittermeyer pulled his forces out and retreated, losing the game.

Reuenthal’s heart was pounding with the strange excitement of this hard-fought battle, and the thrill of victory. He turned his chair around as Yang pulled off his headphones and started addressing Mittermeyer across the room.

“I can’t fault you for that,” Yang said. “I probably would have done the same thing.”

“Good game,” Reuenthal said, trying to inject some honesty into his usually dry voice. Mittermeyer grinned at him.

“Yeah, you too.”

“Do you want to know the secret to winning this?” Reuenthal asked.

“Sure, though they’re not going to reuse the exact same game type in class, are they?”

“Not this exact one,” Yang said. “What are you about to tell him?” He was curious, looking between Reuenthal and Mittermeyer.

“The same thing I told you: you have to remember what level you’re playing the game on.”

“What do you mean?” Mittermeyer asked.

Reuenthal leaned back in his chair while Mittermeyer leaned forward. “This isn’t real,” he said. “If this was a real battle, it obviously would be best for you to retreat and meet up with your allies. That way, you could come back and recapture this whole place, taking it easily against me, since I’m now much weaker after a prolonged fight. It would, in fact, be suicidal of me to stay without reinforcements of my own arriving, so, while you retreated, I should have chased you and tried to destroy you before you could meet up with your friends. That way, even if I can’t hold the starzone, your overall force would be weaker. I’m sure you were thinking about those real logistics.” Reuenthal’s smile was only slightly predatory.

Mittermeyer nodded. “Some of them.”

“But this isn’t real. You retreated, so you lost. It’s really a very simple game, when it comes down to it.”

“Don’t let him psych you out,” Yang said, trying to inject some compassion for Mittermeyer into the conversation. Mittermeyer didn’t need it, though. He didn’t seem upset at losing, and was just listening to the advice the sophomores were giving out. “I have that same internal struggle every time I play.”

“He gets lost in the fantasy,” Reuenthal said, jerking his thumb at Yang. “Then Staden yells at him.”

“Once,” Yang said. And it was certainly more for Mittermeyer’s benefit than it was for Reuenthal’s when he said, “I probably won’t do that again.”

“Probably,” Reuenthal agreed.

Yang kicked his feet up on his desk, which made Eisenach whack his legs to get him to put them down. Yang ignored it. “It’s stupid though. If you think like that, I think you’re setting yourself up for bad habits in the future. When there’s actual people on the line, and real stakes, not just points.”

“I don’t know,” Bittenfeld said. “I think I play the game the same as I would act.”

“Of course you do. But maybe you shouldn’t,” Wahlen said, giving Bittenfeld a long-suffering glance.

“So, what are you saying, that the SW classes are useless?” Mittermeyer asked.

“Not useless.” Yang and Reuenthal said that at the same second, glancing at each other with an amused expression.

“I think they do a decent job at separating the wheat from the chaff,” Reuenthal said. Or the water from the oil, for that matter.

“They’re good at some things,” Yang said. “Forcing you to develop situational awareness, quick decision making, adapting to other people’s ways of thinking. At least in the top level SW class, anyway.”

“The problem isn’t people who play the game as though it’s real,” Reuenthal said. “They’re probably fine, if wasting their time. The problem is people who learn that the best way to treat reality is like a game.” It was a delicate balancing act, and while Reuenthal swayed too far to one side of it, Yang often went too far in the other direction, and neither really profited from it.

“Stop lecturing the kid,” Bittenfeld said. “You’ve already crushed his spirit enough for today.”

 


 

The group played another game after the conclusion of Reuenthal and Mittermeyer’s matchup. Eisenach faced Yang in some sort of historical, horseback cavalry situation that Bittenfeld cooked up. Mittermeyer helped GM, learning the ropes of that process. Yang won, handily, as Reuenthal had suspected he would. Yang was unmatched, and Reuenthal had the strong thought that Yang would probably win these games against any of the teachers, as well.

When it was all over, everyone seemed eager to meet up again the next week and play again, just for fun. The pretext of practicing schoolwork had been quickly dropped. Everyone could see that it was an interesting challenge to face off against the most talented and agreeable subset of their classmates, in an arena where there was nothing but their own pride on the line, and where they would have more creative freedom than they might in class.

Everyone dispersed, mostly planning to head to dinner on more or less circuitous routes, but as Reuenthal was heading out, Mittermeyer jogged up beside him. Reuenthal let him catch up and they walked together.

“Sorry for insulting you the other night,” Mittermeyer said. “I would have deserved you holding it against me.”

“You continue to insult by implying that my ego is so easily bruised.”

“Can’t win, can I?”

“No, of course not,” Reuenthal agreed.

“I shouldn’t have been so quick to discount the number one,” Mittermeyer said. “Since Leigh mentioned you positively.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah.” Mittermeyer looked across campus. “I guess I should trust his opinions.”

“Yes, you should,” Reuenthal said.

“How did the two of you become friends, if you don’t mind me asking?” Mittermeyer asked.

“I helped Leigh after he was shot on the kaiser’s horseback hunt. Life around here would be significantly less interesting without him.” Reuenthal shrugged.

“I can tell,” Mittermeyer said. “I look forward to playing against him.”

“No, you don’t,” Reuenthal said.

“Why not?”

“He’ll beat you.”

“Not after I get some practice.”

“No one’s beat him yet,” Reuenthal said.

“But you’re first.”

Reuenthal’s smile was tight and uncomfortable. “Only because Leigh cannot be allowed to have the first place position. He won’t tell you that he deserves it, but he does.”

“Oh,” Mittermeyer said. “I see.”

“If our positions were reversed,” Reuenthal began, then stopped.

“What?” Mittermeyer asked.

“I would like to think that I would do something about it.”

“Why doesn’t he?”

“The easiest thing to say is that he doesn’t consider it worth fighting for. Maybe that’s the truest, as well. I don’t know,” Reuenthal said. “He would be unhappy if I did anything on his behalf.”

“Would you do something, if he wouldn’t be upset?”

Reuenthal glanced at Mittermeyer, who had a curious expression on his face. “Why do you ask?”

“You seem close. I don’t know. I was just curious.”

“Is that so?” Reuenthal’s voice held a warning note.

Mittermeyer frowned. “Is that not true? You both speak very highly of each other.”

“We’re friends,” Reuenthal said. Mittermeyer’s question was probably innocent, and probably had more to do with the fact that Yang was foreign than anything else. “I suppose it’s partially about my pride, anyway. I would like to be a person who earns what they have. I remain hopeful that I will someday beat him, so that I can deserve my place.”

“Good luck,” Mittermeyer said. “Have you really never beaten him?”

“If you ask him, he’ll tell you that he lost to me. Don’t believe him.”

“Is he just lying to keep up the image?”

“No,” Reuenthal said. “There’s probably part of him that actually believes it.”

“You must be well matched then, if each of you thinks that he’s losing to the other.”

“Perhaps,” Reuenthal said. They were coming into view of the dorms.

“I enjoyed playing against you, for what it’s worth. Though I probably didn’t present much of a challenge.”

“No,” Reuenthal said, “You put up much more of a fight than I was expecting.” He didn’t say anything about the strange way Mittermeyer had felt able to predict his movements. Perhaps Reuenthal had telegraphs that he didn’t himself know. He would have to read over the match transcript later.

“Oh, I’m glad to hear it,” Mittermeyer said, sounding surprised and pleased. “Maybe all you sophomores aren’t so far above me as I had feared.”

“Probably not,” Reuenthal said. He paused for a second as they turned the last corner onto the residential quad, glancing at Mittermeyer and considering something. “I was joking the other night, by the way,” Reuenthal said. “You’re welcome to join us for dinner, if you like.”

Mittermeyer’s face lit up as he smiled. This invitation seemed to please him an inordinate amount. It surprised Reuenthal, both how pleased Mittermeyer was and how much Reuenthal unexpectedly liked to have made Mittermeyer smile.

“I will, then,” Mittermeyer said. “Though maybe not today, since I said I would meet with some of the engineering guys to do homework.” He frowned a little.

“Engineering guys? Why would you be working with them?”

Mittermeyer heaved a sigh. “I’m not technically in the SW department. I’m an engineer.”

“Oh, like Leigh in history.” Reuenthal shook his head. “I keep telling him to drop it.”

“Yeah,” Mittermeyer said.

“Are you going to drop engineering?”

“No, I can’t.”

“Why not? You like it?”

“Hah. No. It’s a long and stupid story.”

“Oh?”

“The short version is that my dad is an engineer, so…” He trailed off and shrugged, then stuck his hands in his pockets. He was so expressive, Reuenthal thought. Like Yang, in some ways, but Yang’s expressiveness was always strange and sometimes impossible for Reuenthal to interpret. Mittermeyer was as clear as the sun on a cloudless day.

“I see,” Reuenthal said. He figured Mittermeyer wouldn’t want to talk about it, so he left it at that.

“Yeah.” They had finally reached the point on the green where their paths would diverge. “I will see you around, then,” Mittermeyer said.

“Yes,” Reuenthal agreed. Mittermeyer flashed him a quick smile, then headed off down the path the other way. Reuenthal watched him go, his hands loosely in his pockets, his stride quick and sure.

 


 

After dinner, Reuenthal and Yang were sitting on the green outside the dorms. The last light of the August sun was sending their shadows far across the grass, and Yang was tilting his book to try to catch the best last light on the pages, though he gave up on this after a while and just leaned back on his hands and stared up at the blood-bright clouds on the edge of the sky.

“What did you think of my mentee?” Yang asked after a while.

“I like him,” Reuenthal said. This was something of an understatement. He had been thinking about Mittermeyer, and the image of him in the bar from earlier in the week would not leave Reuenthal’s head. He had been interesting then, but now that Reuenthal knew he had talent, real talent, there was more than just a passing interest.

“That’s high praise, coming from you.”

Reuenthal made a noncommittal noise, trying to downplay his high opinion of Mittermeyer.

“What?” Yang asked.

“Am I not allowed to say that?” Reuenthal asked.

“You usually don’t.” There was an odd tone in Yang’s voice. If Yang had been someone else, Reuenthal might have called it jealousy. But maybe he was projecting what he wanted Yang to feel.

“He has good intuition,” Reunenthal said, trying to justify his opinion without mentioning the fight that Yang didn’t know about.

Yang’s voice brightened, and he nodded. “I thought so, too. You should read the game transcript. I kept up a little commentary.”

“I look forward to doing so.”

They fell silent. Yang was looking around, watching the distant passers-by far across the green vanish into the buildings. Reuenthal was looking at Yang, who didn’t seem to notice or mind his quiet observation. But they were usually like this.

Without looking at Reuenthal, Yang asked, “Reuenthal, am I allowed to ask if you’re okay?”

Reuenthal twitched, startled, then laughed harshly, but Yang still wasn’t looking at him. He didn’t want to talk about this, but he wasn’t going to deny Yang at least a surface level inquiry. “You’re allowed to ask.”

“I was worried about you.”

Reuenthal scowled. “Pity is a poisonous emotion, and I find it unpleasant to be around people who insist on feeling it.”

“You know that’s not what I meant.” Yang looked strained and uncomfortable, still not looking at him, his hand that had been twisting in the grass finding the back of his head and pulling his hair there.

Reuenthal always found that endearing, his awkward posture, so instead of saying anything harsh, he just said, “Oh?” giving Yang space to explain.

“I can’t pity you for things that you refuse to speak about.”

Reuenthal’s voice was sharp again. “I’m certain you can. Especially since you stayed with the countess.”

Yang flinched. “Are you accusing me of something?”

Again, Reuenthal tried to moderate his tone, though it was difficult. “Not you.”

“When the subject came up, I stopped her before she said anything.”

“You’re such a gentleman.” Reuenthal didn’t think that Yang was lying, but the countess probably had let more slip than Reuenthal wanted Yang to know. Reuenthal wished that Yang knew nothing, of course, but he himself had made that impossible. What had possessed him to make that whispered confession at the funeral? He had been knocked out of balance then, by his father, by the funeral, by Yang’s unexpected offering of companionship. Here at school, he was on stable ground, and he didn’t want anything to intrude on that stability, least of all Yang’s pity, clear and present, no matter how much he denied it.

“And a scholar,” Yang said.

The silence stretched out between them, Yang continuing to tug at his own hair.

Reuenthal tried to rescue the situation. “There’s nothing that you need to worry about. I’m fine.”

Yang finally looked over at him, his eyes dark and wide. “If you ever…” he began. He was tearing out fistfulls of grass now, anxious. “You know, I would do anything I could for you.”

“You shouldn’t say things like that,” Reuenthal said.

“Why not?”

“You might make a liar out of yourself.”

“I don’t think so,” Yang said, earnesty written plainly in his expression.

Reuenthal looked at him. Their eyes met, and Yang looked away. “You wouldn’t do something against your nature. That’s all I mean,” Reuenthal said, thinking of the one thing he wanted most from Yang, and the one thing that Yang would not give him.

“And what would be against my nature in helping a friend?”

“Don’t worry about it, von Leigh,” Reuenthal said. He stood and shook the grass off his pants. “I talk too much.”

The last of the sun’s rays dipped behind the buildings, and the green fell into deep shadow.

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A note from javert

Mittermeyer...... I love you................

chapter title: https://youtu.be/uW18ujNGiN0

this story is generally a fun exercise in “what did yang know and when did he know it” and filling in gaps with as much plausible deniability that i’m not just retrofitting things to the existing structure as possible. hopefully it’s not too janky

thank you to Lydia for the beta read!


About the author

javert

Bio: hi I'm noodle, I studied aeronautical engineering in college, then I taught high school math. now I'm [redacted] and [remainder of message lost].

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