Newt lay on the couch with his feet hanging over the armrest, book held up over his head as he kicked his legs and waited for the buzzer on the oven to go off. He could hear Hermann typing away at his laptop at the dining table and muttering under his breath and he sighed and lay the book down on his chest, sliding his head off the edge of the couch to look at Hermann upside down.
"You sure you don't want to go over it one more time?" He asked, drumming his fingers on the cover of the book, already knowing the answer.
"I've been over it a dozen times already. I wrote the bloody proof a year ago; I know this material like the back of my hand." Hermann grumbled, sneering at the screen as he peered at it through his glasses.
"Then what's got you so worked up?" Newt dogeared a page and dropped the book on the coffee table, rolling off the couch to go stand behind Hermann.
"I can't get this blasted e-ticket to open." Hermann glared at the screen as if it was purposefully trying to thwart him and double clicked the file again.
Newt leaned down and wrapped his arms around Hermann's shoulders. "Can I see the email?"
Hermann switched to the browser and clicked on the tab with his work email in it.
"Just print that out. It's got the barcode in it, that'll be enough." Newt kissed Hermann on the cheek and stood back up, patting his shoulders before he headed into the kitchen to check on the pie.
Hermann huffed and hit print before standing up to head down the hall and pick it up from the wireless printer in Newt's office.
Coming back, he put the ticket in the laptop case and sat to delve back into his inbox to find the message he'd flagged earlier in the day. "I, uh, got an email earlier today, from the internal job postings. There's a research position opening up in biology," Hermann said, following Newt with his eyes.
"Huh," Newt said noncommittally, as he pulled the pie out of the oven. "Forward it on to me, I know a couple of people who might be interested. Do you want ice-cream with this?"
"What? Oh, no. Thank you." Hermann pinched the bridge of his nose and removed his glasses, twisting in the chair to face Newt. "I thought... the position sounds like it might be perfect for you."
"I've already got a job." Newt shrugged picking up a knife and carefully slicing into the middle of the pastry lattice, down through the cherries and into the crust.
"Didn't you say you missed research?" Hermann asked as he stood and made his way to the kitchen, hanging his cane on the counter and leaning against it to watch Newt carefully lever a slice of pie out of the tin and onto a plate.
"Yeah, I guess." Newt shrugged, licking his thumb as he passes the plate to Hermann. "I mean, I miss finding out new things and stuff... but I get to find out new things here every day. For instance, I am incredibly close to making the perfect cherry pie." Newt cut his own slice and put it on a plate, taking a bite and considering it for a moment before turning and making a few notes in the notebook on the counter. "How is it?"
"It's good," Hermann said, taking another bite and frowning down at the plate. "Don't you feel you could be doing something... more?"
"Yeah, I'm missing something..." Newt said thoughtfully. "Is the pastry too buttery? I mean, individually the filling and the pastry are great, but put them together and-"
"I'm not talking about the bloody pastry, Newton," Hermann said as he set the plate down on the counter and stepped towards Newt, settling his hands on Newt's hips. "You could be doing so much more. Just think of the things you could discover; organ regeneration, cures for disease, I don't know... a revolutionary use for frog spleen. Whatever's in that head of yours, you could make a reality. You could be helping people."
"Hermann," Newt said taking a deep breath as he put down his fork and placed his hands over Hermann's, looking up at him seriously. "I do help people. I don't need to be in a lab to do it."
"But think of the things you could do if you were." Hermann squeezed Newt's hips in emphasis, trying to get his point across.
"I do," Newt said softly, looking down and avoiding Hermann's eyes. "But that's not where I am anymore."
"You could be." Hermann disentangled a hand from Newt's and gestured towards his computer. "The university would jump at the chance to have you back."
"What's this about, Hermann?" Newt looked up searchingly.
"I just don't want to see you wasting your mind-"
"In a coffee shop." Newt huffed in frustration and looked away, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Yes! No. No, that's not what I meant. You have so much to give, Newton." Hermann reached up and clasped Newt's shoulders, trying to get him to look him in the eye.
"I'm done giving, Hermann," Newt said, shrugging out of Hermann's grasp and walking away.
"You're not even going to consider it?" Hermann reached back for his cane and followed Newt into the living area. "You're being very selfish."
"Ha! Right. I'm being selfish. I look out for me and I'm being selfish." Newt spun around and set his hands on his hips, glaring at Hermann. "I can't go back any more than you can take up jogging."
"That's not the same at all," Hermann said, halting in place and glaring at Newt.
"Oh, really? It's not the same? You think because you can't see it, that, what? It's all in my head?"
"It is all in your head!" Hermann said with a thump of his cane, the echo of which followed the room into silence. He raised a hand to his head and rubbed his eyes. "I didn't mean it like that."
"Fuck you." Newt glared, hands curling into fists by his side.
"You have a plane to catch," Newt said evenly, cutting Hermann off abruptly, jaw clenching as he turned away to stare out the window.
"Newton, please..." Hermann walked closer to Newt, placing a hand on his shoulder.
"I think you should go." Newt shrugged off Hermann's hand and stepped away.
"That was rotten of me. I do not believe-"
"Jesus, Hermann. Can you just leave?! I really don't want to fucking talk to you right now." Newt leaned against the window sill, staring out at nothing in particular as his blood pumped in his ears.
"Please, I misspoke. Let me expla-"
"No! God-fucking-damnit, Hermann. Get the fuck out." Newt pushed away from the window and stormed back to the kitchen, giving Hermann a wide berth.
Hermann reached out to try and catch Newt's shoulder as he passed, but Newt shrugged him off, smacking his hand away. He moved to follow and stopped, feeling his heart clenching tightly in his chest.
"I'll be back from Geneva on Sunday night. It will give us both time to... cool down. Can we talk then?" Hermann asked Newt's back.
"Whatever." Newt picked up his fork and stabbed his piece of pie with it viciously.
Hermann sighed and made his way to the table, packing up his laptop and putting it in his bag and slinging it over his shoulder. He looked over at Newt, standing with his back to Hermann and repetitively jabbing the pie.
"I love you," Hermann said as he prepared to go.
"I'll see you... when I see you." Hermann made his way down the stairs and out of the building. Making his way to his apartment to pack and call for a taxi.
Newt waited ten minutes before checking to make sure that the doors were locked.
To: Newton Geiszler
From: Hermann Gottlieb
To: Newton Geiszler
From: Hermann Gottlieb
What I said was unconscionably hurtful. I cannot even begin to imagine what reparations I could make for my thoughtless words.
It was wrong of me to say it, and even more wrong to think it, however briefly. I do not believe it to be true. I hope you can find it in yourself to let me explain myself.
I miss you.
I love you.
To: Newton Geiszler
From: Hermann Gottlieb
I am so very sorry. Please answer. I miss you terribly.
Hermann listed to the side as he checked his inbox and his sent messages once more. He had possibly had a few glasses of wine more than was necessary at the final dinner and it was making his already pessimistic state even more maudlin. Taking his glasses off, he placed them on the desk and closed the laptop.
He steadied himself on his cane and the back of the desk chair as he stood before wobbling over to one of the beds and flopping down. He watched as his cane slid to the floor and snorted as he reached to pull the dialling instructions out from under the phone on the bedside table. Scanning through it, he worked out how to get an outside line and picked up his notebook, flipping to the front binding to get the number.
Taking a deep breath to steady himself, he dialled, finger hesitating at the last digit before punching it in solidly and listening to the clicks and static until the line connected and the ringing tone began. He closed his eyes and breathed out slowly until-
"This is Newt. Leave a message."
"How I have missed your voice," Hermann sighed, pressing the phone closer to his ear. "I had been hoping to speak to you directly, but I do not blame you for not picking up. There is so much I want to say, but not to your voicemail. I want to say it to your face. I miss your face. I miss you. All of you."
Hermann put his elbow on his knee and rested his head on his hand, fingers curling roughly into his hair. "I was an ignorant, heartless, callous fool. I hope you can forgive me."
Smoothing his hair down with the palm of his hand, Hermann straightened up as well he could and steeled himself against the waves of guilt that washed over him. "My flight leaves here at four, local time. I should be home by ten tomorrow night. I'll call you when I get in... I love you, Newt."
Hermann hung up the phone and lowered himself to the bed, raising his stockinged feet and curling up on his side. Knowing the hurt he was feeling was nothing compared to that which he'd mindlessly inflicted on Newt was no comfort.
He could survive one more day.
Newt stood behind the counter and picked up his phone, powering up his screen to check for messages. His fingers - nails bitten to the quick - rapped a short staccato agitatedly against the countertop. There had been nothing since the missed call from Hermann at eight-thirty; he hadn't left another voicemail, and he hadn't called the night before like he'd said he would. Newt glared at his phone for a moment before unlocking it and calling Hermann's apartment, and then his office. On receiving no answer at either place, Newt scrubbed a hand through his hair and called Mako.
"Hey, Mako! Yeah, can you come in for a few hours? I've got something I need to do and-... No, he hasn't... Yeah, I know. I just- Look, can you come in or not? I will bake you a pie. I will bake you two pies... Gingerbread dinosaurs? I will bake you all the gingerbread dinosaurs. Whenever you want... Yes, with the icing. I'm not a philistine... Ok, great. Thank you. See you in an hour." Newt hung up the phone and hesitated for a moment before locking the screen and shoving it back in his pocket. All he could do now was wait.
Hermann took a deep breath and entered Kaiju Blue, walking over to the counter where Mako stood at the till. The fact that Newt wasn't there on a weekday did not bode well. "Good afternoon, Miss Mori. Is Newton upstairs?"
"No, Dr. Gottlieb, he left twenty minutes ago." She said levelling a cool stare at him. "Looking for you."
"He did what?" Hermann stared at Mako, dread settling into the pit of his stomach.
"He said it was going to be an 'object lesson'," Mako said, raising an eyebrow at him.
"I don't know what it is you've done, but you'd better fix it or..." Chuck trailed off and cracked his knuckles.
"You think anything you do could make me feel any worse?" Hermann said with a disparaging glare. "Call me a taxi, please. To the campus; the Plimpton Building. I'll wait outside."
Hermann turned and left without waiting for a response, standing on the corner and clutching at the head of his cane feeling a weight, heavy upon his shoulders. He turned his head to the side, muffling a yawn into his blazer as he felt the previous thirty-six hours of conference proceedings and travel begin to take their toll.
The taxi pulled up and whisked him away to the campus, depositing him outside the building as a sense of foreboding settled in his chest.
Newt made his way up the stairs in the old building, dodging students and focussing on the beat of the song playing in his headphones. Reaching the top, he darted towards the list of offices stuck up on the wall, hovering a finger over it until he found Hermann's room number under an arrow pointing to the right. He stepped back into the throng of students and faculty and hurried down the hall, trying to avoid touching anyone.
Stopping outside Hermann's door, he pulled one of his headphones out and knocked on the heavy wood, trying to peer through the frosted glass of the window. "Hermann! Hermann, open up!"
"Gottlieb doesn't see students outside office hours," someone said, tapping the piece of paper stuck up by the door. "And he doesn't like being called anything but Dr. Gottlieb."
"Do I look like a student?" Newt snapped, pulling his phone out of his pocket and not making eye contact. He opened up the calendar and checked the dates Hermann had given him; no class until three.
"Just trying to help, dude."
"Thanks, but I've got it covered. I'm cool. It's good. I'm fine. Everything's fine. Just. Go away. Go away go away go away go away..." Newt cringed away from the student, continuing to mutter go away under his breath as he switched from the calendar to the phone and called Hermann's office, shading his eyes and pressing his face up against the glass as he looked in.
There was no movement in the office and the phone rang out. He'd checked. He'd called Hermann's apartment. He'd been to Hermann's apartment. He wasn't in his office. He'd assumed Hermann would be in one of those places. He'd assumed. He shouldn't have assumed. Maybe he was somewhere on campus. Or Hermann could still be in Geneva. Maybe he'd decided he'd had enough and was going to stay in Switzerland. Maybe the plane had crashed into the side of a mountain. No. The missed call came from Hermann's apartment. Maybe Hermann had left to go to work and been hit by a car and Newt would never know because nobody would think to tell him. Maybe he'd fallen in the shower and knocked himself out on the tiles. Oh god, what if Hermann were lying in his bathroom and Newt had just shown up and yelled through the door while he'd been bleeding out on the floor. What if-
Newt looked up and found that he'd slid down Hermann's door, staring at his hands while he hyperventilated. Hermann was pushing his way through a few students who had stopped to stare at Newt, yelling at them to stop rubbernecking and get to class!
"Holy shit. You weren't in your office and you weren't at home and I couldn't find you. I thought you were dead." Newt scrambled to his feet and latched on to Hermann's arms, fingers tightening like talons as he reassured himself Hermann was right there in front of him. "I thought you were dead."
"I'm okay. Everything's okay. Let me open the door and get you inside." Hermann wrapped an arm around Newt's shoulder and turned him towards the door as he fished in his pocket for the keys, glaring at the students who hadn't got the message to leave through their thick skulls.
Unlocking the door, Hermann ushered Newt in and pulled the blind down over the glass as he closed it behind them. He felt Newt's arms wrap around his middle, face pressed between his shoulder blades and a litany of not dead not dead not dead murmured into the back of his blazer. Hermann raised a hand and clasped it around Newt's over his chest murmuring reassurances as he rubbed Newt's wrist, feeling his heart break.
"Damn it, Hermann," Newt said, wrenching his arms away from Hermann and moving into the centre of the room to pace. "This. This. You think this is all in my head? You think I'm just overreacting? This is just how my brain works. I don't get to choose what I get freaked out about. I don't get to choose how freaked out I get about it. I don't get to choose when. You want to keep thinking this is all in my head, go right the fuck ahead, but we will be over."
"I don't believe it," Hermann began with a shake of his head.
"You think I'm going to take you back while you think I'm just making shit up? Not a fucking chance." Newt glared, hands on his hips as he stared at Hermann.
"No, not that. I believe that. I don't want you to, but I do believe you would leave me for being that cruel. And you would be right to," Hermann said, walking to the middle of the room to stand in front of Newt. "I do not believe that your problems are imaginary. I was unfathomably, unconscionably hurtful to you and it is thus far one of the biggest regrets in my life. I wish I could tell you I had a reason for it, but... all I have is guilt - that I am still pursuing the career we both sought, while it is no longer an option for you."
"That's not a very good reason," Newt said shakily, crossing his arms over his chest.
"No," Hermann agreed, looking down, ashamed. "It isn't."
"Damn it, Hermann." Newt's shoulders slumped and he scrubbed a hand tiredly over his face. "Where do we go from here?"
"I don't know. I..." Hermann trailed off, frustrated at his sudden inability to articulate himself. He took a deep breath and looked Newt straight in the eye, trying to convey his earnestness. "Research has always been my place of solace; the closest I ever came to true happiness... I wanted that for you - I want that for you. I want you to be happy, Newton. But... I don't know how to give it to you."
"Fuck. You are the most ass-backwards man I have ever met. I am happy- I was happy." Newt looked up at Hermann at a loss.
"I cannot even begin to tell you how sorry I am that that is no longer the case," Hermann sighed, mouth twisting down unhappily. "I... I did some reading, while I was in Geneva. About..." Hermann waved his hand awkwardly around his head. "...Anxiety disorders and the rest. If I'd done it sooner, it might have saved us both a lot of pain. But, I want you to know: I am trying to be a better man- I want to be a better man. For you. Please, let me try to make it up to you."
"I don't have the energy for this," Newt said, letting out a heavy breath and staring at the floor between them.
"If you need time. You have it. I won't push you," Hermann said, looking at Newt solemnly.
"I don't want time. I want you to have never said it in the first place." Newt scrubbed his hands through his hair in agitation. "I can't reconcile the man you were with the man it turns out you are. I just- I can't get it straight in my head."
"I'm still the same man, Newton. It was an unfortunate choice of phrase at exactly the wrong time, but I am still the same man - the man who loves you. Unequivocally."
"Ugh. Fuck. Am I an asshole? I'm an asshole. I'm such a fucking asshole. I shouldn't do this. I really shouldn't. But, fuck. Fuck shit fuck. Fuck." Newt pushed his fingers up under his glasses and pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes, breathing raggedly as his fingers clawed into his hair. Taking a moment to collect himself, he dragged his hands down his face as his shoulder's slumped and he looked up at Hermann tiredly. "I haven't forgiven you. But... I just- Ugh... I want... I want a hug. So... So, there's that."
"Whatever you need, Newton. I would do anything to put things to right between us."
Newt walked forward slowly and let his head thunk against Hermann's chest, hands coming up to grip the lapels of his blazer and tug them in frustration. "Just... don't be that dick. I don't want you to be that dick."
"I will absolutely try. I am so very sorry. Words alone can't express how much." Hermann tilted his head forward to press a kiss to the crown of Newt's head, closing his eyes and inhaling the scent he'd missed while he was gone.
"Stop apologising and hug me, asshole," Newt said, voice muffled into Hermann's shirt.
Hermann leaned his cane against the desk and brought his arms up around Newt to hold him tightly, pressing his cheek against his hair and closing his eyes as a frisson of relief ran through him. "I missed you," He murmured.
Newt let go of Hermann's lapels, sliding his arms under his blazer to wrap around him as he turned his head to the side to rest it on Hermann's shoulder. "I was just angry at you. And disappointed. We were doing so well."
"We were. I cannot apologise enough for spoiling our run," Hermann said, running his hands up and down Newt's back, as much to reassure himself as Newt.
"Stop apologising, Hermann," Newt said, burying his face in Hermann's shoulder. "You've said sorry so much that it's stopped meaning anything. I should get you to write an essay on why you're wrong." Newt pulled back and looked Hermann in the eye seriously. "How am I supposed to trust that you won't pull this shit again?"
Hermann swallowed, biting back the apology that threatened to spill out, and raised a hand to cup Newt's cheek. "I will never stop working to rebuild your faith in me. Even if it takes until the day I die. You are the most important thing to me in this world. I would give up air and water before I gave up on you."
"That's... that's a good start," Newt said, letting out a slow breath, closing his eyes as Hermann pressed his lips to his forehead. "How long do you have until class?"
Hermann glanced over at the clock on the wall. "I won't need to start preparing to leave for another hour."
"Good. We can sit," Newt pulled back and lead Hermann to the leather sofa sitting along one wall. He pushed Herman down to sit and then gestured for him to lay down, curling up beside him and laying a hand on his chest.
"I get where you're coming from on the research thing," Newt said into Hermann's shirt, toying with a button as he spoke. "I know you think that I'm wasting myself in Kaiju Blue, and, yeah, I could be contributing to the world's knowledge base... but, I've done that six times over, and... I like where I am now. It's mine. It's my home. I like going to work and I like getting up at five a.m. to bake. I like the people - Chuck and Mako and Stacker and Herc and Tendo and Raleigh. I like getting to take care of them a little each day. They're family."
"Kaiju Blue is a very special place. I don't want to take it away from you. I-... I found my family there, also." Hermann tightened his arms around Newt's shoulders and pressed a kiss to Newt's temple. He tried not to relax, willing himself to stay awake in spite of his lethargy. "I always considered my limitations to be separate to my intellectual pursuits; one does not inform the other and vice versa. I've come to realise that I've been unwittingly applying my own internal logic to you... and that's just not a feasible approach."
"Hermann..." Newt said unhappily, mouth turning down at the side as his fingers curled into his palm on Hermann's chest.
"You would not be the man you are without your experiences. And I cannot break you down into distinct sections and not acknowledge some of the things that make you who you are." Hermann stroked his hand up Newt's back to his cheek and turned Newt's chin until he could look him in the eye. "I love you, Newton. All of you. I cannot do it any other way. I know this now."
Newt sighed and rested his chin on Hermann's chest. "You're the only one who can make me hurt like this." He said softly. "When we're good we are so fucking good. But when we're not..." Newt looked up at Hermann sadly. "Can we do this?"
"I want to give you an unequivocal yes. I want to tell you I will never hurt you again," Hermann said smoothing his hand over the back of Newt's head. "I cannot make you that promise. But I can tell you this: I will never knowingly bring you pain. I will always make the effort to right any wrong, and soothe any hurt I've caused you. You are worth my time. You are worth my effort. You are worth not taking the easy way out."
Newt reached behind his head and grasped Hermann's hand, threading their fingers together as he brought it back down. "Thank you," He said softly, giving Hermann's hand a gentle squeeze. "We can do this." Newt bit his lip and looked to the side, taking a moment before meeting Hermann's eyes again. "It might take me a while to get back, but... the same goes for me, too. As much as it hurts right now, I really want to trust you again - you have no idea how much - and... I want us to work."
"I want that also." Hermann raised Newt's hand and kissed the back of it.
Newt pressed his lips together, took a deep breath through his nose, and nodded slowly. He lay his head down on Hermann's chest and closed his eyes, listening to the sounds of shoes squeaking and people talking out in the hall. He let himself relax against Hermann and just take comfort in the warm body pressed up against his side, that he could handle; it was so much easier when they weren't talking. He let himself drift, trying not to think about whether or not it was even possible for Hermann to make it up to him.
"How did the presentation go?" Newt asked, tired of all the emotional upheaval and wanting to pretend nothing had changed, if only for a little while.
"It was well received. There was applause and a few interesting questions posed in the post-mortem," Hermann said, hand stroking up and down Newt's side.
"Cool. Go to any good panels or presentations?"
"Some," Hermann said, biting back the urge to tell Newt he hadn't really been paying attention. "A man from Quebec gave a talk about combustion mechanics with a demonstration that I thought you might have enjoyed."
"What's his name? I'll look him up when I get home," Newt said, toying with Hermann's hand distractedly.
"I don't remember off hand. I'll find it and send it to you." Hermann said, glancing over at the clock on the wall and sighing. "I have class soon. Will you be okay getting home, or would you like to wait here until I return?"
Newt bit his lip and sat up, letting go of Hermann's hand. "I'll go."
"Are you sure?" Hermann asked, remaining where he was and rubbing a hand down Newt's back. "You're welcome to stay."
"No, it's okay. I called Mako in last minute. Should get back and let her go," Newt stood and stretched, patting himself down to find his earbuds.
"Can I walk you out?" Hermann swung his legs carefully over the edge of the couch and massaged his thigh, looking up at Newt hopefully.
"Sure." Newt shrugged and picked up Hermann's cane from the desk and brought it back to him, watching as Hermann levered himself off the couch.
Taking the cane, he smiled tightly at Newt. "Give me a moment to collect my things." Hermann walked over to a filing cabinet and pulled out the second drawer down, flicking through the hanging files until he found the one he needed and brought it back to his desk.
"Which class is this again?" Newt asked, looking over at the transparencies and papers Hermann was flicking through quickly.
"Fluid Dynamics. It's mostly Juniors, so the class isn't quite as idiotic as they could be," Hermann sniffed, straightening the papers and putting them back in the folder. He reached under the desk and pulled out a backpack, tucking the file into it and slipping it over his shoulders before turning to Newt. "Ready?"
Newt looked over at the door, took a deep breath, and visibly steeled himself. "As I'll ever be."
Hermann walked over to the door and, placing his hand on the knob, turned to look at Newt. "There'll be fewer students around when I finish."
"No." Newt shook his head. "I've gotta rip the band-aid off quickly. The sooner I leave, the sooner I'll be home. Thanks, though."
Hermann nodded and opened the door, letting Newt step through first before following and locking the door after him. Turning, he looked at Newt, hunched in on himself and eyeing everyone suspiciously, and reached out to brush his knuckles against Newt's wrist, offering him his hand.
Newt looked down at Hermann's hand, then up at Hermann's face. Seeing a worried, but gently encouraging half smile, he took hold and clasped it tightly, letting himself be lead down the hall to the elevator bay. They rode the elevator down and walked through the quad in silence until Hermann guided him to a quieter spot and stopped, stepping in front of him.
"My class is in that building," Hermann said, pointing across the space. "Do you want me to keep walking with you, or will you be okay from here?"
"I've got my headphones. I'm cool." Newt waved the earbuds and then set about untangling them.
Hermann watched him, hesitating for a moment before reaching out a hand to still Newt's motions. "I know you're still not happy with me... but, I would very much like to kiss you goodbye."
Newt stilled. "There's a lot of people here..." Newt said, gesturing at the students milling about the area.
"If you're uncomfortable, I can-"
"It's not me. You said no large, public areas in the revision. You're not worried your students are going to lose respect for you?" Newt said, narrowing his eyes at Hermann.
"My students can... go jump," Hermann said with a wave of his hand. "You are what's important to me, and... I'm sorry that I wouldn't let anyone see it. Most of all, you."
"Oh," Newt said quietly. He looked up at Hermann searchingly, staring for a moment before he nodded and tilted his head up to let Hermann take his lips in a soft, slow kiss.
Hermann stepped closer, cupping Newt's jaw and filling the kiss with all the apology and emotion he couldn't even begin to articulate. Deepening the kiss, he ignored the catcalls and yells of Get it, Professor! echoing from the other side of the quad, and let his hand slide down Newt's neck to his shoulder before he pulled back and let his forehead rest against Newt's.
"Come over tonight," Newt blurted, eyes widening as if he hadn't expected himself to say that. "Not to- I mean- ... I'm tired of sleeping alone."
"As you wish," Hermann said, pressing another soft kiss to Newt's lips and stepping back to look at Newt solemnly.
"One day I'm going to make you watch The Princess Bride," Newt said with a shake of his head.
"This may come as a surprise, but I've already seen it." Hermann squeezed Newt's shoulder.
"Huh," Newt said face slowly shifting into a tentative smile, looking up at Hermann through his lashes.
"Is seven okay?" Hermann asked, letting go of Newt's shoulder to adjust the straps of his backpack.
"Yeah, sure. I'll, uh, see you then." Newt shoved his headphones in his ears and his hands deep into his pockets and powered away across the lawn in the direction of the cafe.
Hermann watched him until he was out of sight and turned with a sigh to go set up for his class.
Newt closed the door and turned the oven off, leaving the dish inside to stay warm. He was grabbing some cutlery when his phone rang, the display showing an unfamiliar number. He popped the drawer back in with his hip and swiped to answer.
"You got Newt."
"Hello? Newton? I, uh-"
"Hermann? You better not be cancelling. Wait, where are you calling from? Are you okay?" He said as he walked to the table and dumped the knives and forks down to start setting it out, forcing his focus into the physicality of the act so his mind wouldn't run away with him.
"What? I- No. I'm standing outside." Hermann's voice came through the speaker, tinny and crackling.
"Oh, okay, right. I'll be right-" Newt said, feeling relief wash over him as he turned to head down the stairs before stopped abruptly. "Wait, what?"
"You are not to give this number to anyone. It is for your benefit only."
"You got a cell phone?" Newt asked, shaking off his shock and heading downstairs to let Hermann in.
"Yes. I, uh, thought it time. Also, I- No, I'll wait until you get here."
"Okay, I'll be, like, five seconds," Newt said, hanging up and sliding the phone into his pocket as he exited the stairwell, slipped through the cafe and into the back room. Opening the side door, he stepped back to let Hermann in. "Hey."
"Good evening, Newton," Hermann said as he walked through and watched Newt close the door and turn to face him with a raised eyebrow.
"You were waiting to tell me something?"
"Yes. Yes, I, uh... If you ever need me: call me. If you're ever worried about me: call me." Hermann stepped closer and cupped the back of Newt's head gently as he pressed his lips to Newt's forehead. "I am so very sorry that it took witnessing you like that to see its necessity."
"Oh. Right. Yeah, no. It's not usually that bad. I can usually talk myself down from it, y'know? 'Chuck's gone home, he's fine.' 'Mako checks in on Thursdays, she's fine.' 'You're at work, you're fine.' I just... got a little overwhelmed today, is all." Newt ducked his head, avoiding Hermann's eyes.
"Mako told me," Hermann said quietly. "I came in to see you and found that you'd gone looking for me. She told me what you said." Hermann held the phone between them in the palm of his hand. "My lesson is learned."
Newt stared at his hand, unspeaking, and Hermann resisted the urge to shift uncomfortably.
"I do not expect to be able to restore us to our former glory in less than a day," Hermann said as he looked down at Newt solemnly. "But I want you to know that I am actively trying and not feeding you pretty words alone."
Newt nodded slowly, continuing to stare down at Hermann's hand before pushing it aside and walking forward to push his hands underneath Hermann's blazer and hug him tightly. "Thank you," He said, pressing his forehead against Hermann's chest. "It means a lot."
Hermann wrapped an arm around Newt and kissed the side of his head.
"Dinner's ready," Newt said and pulled away. "Come on."
Newt lead the way upstairs and was setting the corningware dish on a corkboard on the table as Hermann arrived.
Hermann slipped his blazer off and hung it over the back of his chair and sat down as Newt leveraged a piece of some sort of vegetable bake from the dish onto his plate before repeating the action for himself. They began to eat in a silence bordering on awkward, Hermann slowing his pace to more closely match Newt's indifferent picking in spite of his hunger.
"You didn't call last night," Newt said, not looking up from poking at a piece of cauliflower.
"My flight was delayed," Hermann said, wiping his mouth with a napkin. "I spent an extra five hours in Zurich on the transfer and didn't arrive home until well after three. I thought you might not appreciate a call at that hour."
"Right, yeah, no." Newt said, putting the cauliflower in his mouth and beginning to chew. "Why didn't you leave a message this morning?"
Hermann picked up his fork, pushing the food around his plate as he bit his lip and avoided Newt's eyes. "I've been seeing a, uh, physiotherapist. We've been working on decreasing the effects of the osteoarthritis and, um, increasing the range of movement. My appointment started and I did not have time to leave a voicemail."
"Oh. Well… We'll get an early night, then," Newt said with a twist of his lips, taking in the bags under Hermann's eyes.
"I'm perfectly alright," Hermann said with a shake of his head.
Newt swallowed and frowned across the table. "You look pretty tired..."
"I assure you, I am fine. I can do whatever you want to tonight." Hermann said, straightening and trying not to let any fatigue show.
"You'd let me walk all over you right now, wouldn't you?" Newt said, hand dropping to the table as he narrowed his eyes at Hermann in frustration.
Hermann looked down at his plate, focussing on his food. "I do not believe you would do anything I did not deserve."
"Holy shit, you really would." Newt dropped his fork on his plate and reached over to still Hermann's hand. "We can't work like that, Herm."
"What am I supposed to do, Newton?" Hermann looked up from his food and turned to Newt, no doubt looking as tired as he felt. "I'm trying to prove myself to you. How can I do that if I put my needs before your own?"
Newt pinched the bridge of his nose, pushing his glasses up onto his head before rubbing his hands over his face tiredly. "You can't 'prove yourself' to me if you wear yourself out." He rested his head against the palms of his hands, fingers tugging at his hair, and looked over at Hermann. "This isn't about you when you're trying. It's about the things that slip out when you're not. There's a part of you that thinks those things about me... and now I know it's there."
Hermann put down his fork and folded his hands in his lap, looking down at his plate as he spoke. "I do not think those things about you. I think those things about me. It's how I cope - the pain is in my mind, I can get through it if I subsume it. I made the mistake of equating my experience with yours. It won't happen again."
"You- you once said to me that I 'presume a level of normalcy and try to apply it where it's inapplicable'." Newt sighed, sliding his glasses back onto his nose. "I'm not trying to be an asshole and throw it back in your face, but... this is kind of the same thing."
"I forgave you," Hermann said quietly. "I made an effort to understand your rationale and take your feelings into account. Is this-... Am I-..." Hermann looked over at Newt sadly. "Am I so unforgivable?"
"God, Hermann... I want to forgive you, but... this is my mind. It's all I have and it's working against me." Newt dropped his hands to his lap and looked at Hermann, honest and fearful. "I can't handle you working against me, too."
"I'm not working against you. I made a mistake - a truly grievous error." Hermann's lips twisted, jaw jutting out as he tried to keep his voice even and non-accusatory. "I have apologised. I have explained myself. I have offered you time and made it clear that I understand that this will not be an easy fix. I tell you I am trying to better myself... and- and you say there is something inherently wrong in me, that I cannot change. I don't know what I'm to do... You know what's important to me and you hold it over my head every time we fight."
"I- What? What are you saying?" Newt leaned back, hands clutching the edge of his chair until his knuckles turned white.
"You, Newton. This relationship." Hermann gave a half-smile, air huffing out of his nose in a humourless laugh. "Whenever things are not to your expectation, you hold it over my head - tell me to jump through the hoops. And I do until you deign to lower it once more. Now... you've held it over me and told me there are no hoops. I can do nothing but wait while you sit in judgement."
"Is that- that's how you see this?" Newt asked, colour drained from his face as he stared at Hermann with wide, scared eyes.
"Partially. My hands are tied." Hermann shrugged with a defeated, sad smile. "I cannot reassure you or convince you of my sincerity. I want to be the man who can stand by you until you are whole once more. I want to be the man who soothes your pain. I want to be the man who knows how not to inflict it. But, I am... tired." Hermann ran a hand over his face, rubbing his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. "My hope is dimming and I can't tell if it's exhaustion or if ... Was this a mistake? Are we stuck in a past we should have left behind?"
"No." Newt shook his head determinedly, throat tight. "No. We're- This is-... I- It's not-..." Newt closed his eyes and took a deep breath, feeling the anxiety prickle across his skin. "I'm ninety-eight percent sure that I'm going to forgive you; you've done everything right - more than right. It's just... that two percent is killing me. I can't just let it go."
Hermann stared at Newt, eyes dull and mouth downturned. "I feel like negative space, Newton. You don't see me. I adjust to accommodate you and you expand. You push and you push and you push and I am stretched to my limit trying to keep us together. I don't know if I can hold on."
"No. Hermann, no." Newt's hand darted across the table to grab Hermann's wrist, sliding around and over his palm to thread their fingers together and squeeze. "It hurts now and it's going to keep hurting, but we can do this. You told me we could do this. I-... I believe you."
Hermann looked down at Newt's hand tightly grasping his own, he felt slow and heavy and he couldn't find within himself the energy to squeeze back. "I don't know what I believe."
"How much sleep did you get?" Newt asked, not releasing Hermann's hand; trying to take up less space.
"Hm? Three hours or so. I'm alright." Hermann said, shaking himself and sitting up straighter.
"You didn't sleep on the plane or on the layover, either, did you?" Newt asked and took Hermann's lack of response as an affirmative. "And then you had that appointment this morning… You're not alright. You're exhausted," Newt said with a shake of his head, trying to push aside their problems so he could do what needed to be done. "We're not going to get anywhere right now. Finish your dinner and go to bed, get some rest."
"I assure you, I don't need to," Hermann said, picking up his fork with his off hand.
"Please don't fight me on this, Herm. I see you. I see you," Newt said, squeezing Hermann's hand again, holding it tight. "You need to eat and you need to sleep. So we can fix this."
Hermann looked at Newt's hand and then up to his face, staring back at him with sad, worried eyes, lower lip caught between his teeth. He closed his eyes and sighed, giving a small, tired nod as he relaxed almost involuntarily into the chair. His fingers twitched around Newt's - a small gesture, but the only one he could manage - and he began to eat, slowly and mechanically. He heard Newt follow suit and they finished the meal in silence, hands remaining in each other's grasp.
"You finished?" Newt asked when Hermann's plate was empty.
Hermann nodded, letting his hand slide down to his lap as Newt released it, suppressing a sigh. He watched as Newt picked up the plates and stood, hovering beside him for a moment before reaching out to squeeze his shoulder.
"Go get some sleep."
Hermann nodded and hauled himself to his feet, feeling wobbly as he walked across the room. As he reached the hall, he turned and caught Newt's attention. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "For making it about me."
"Would you-... would you have told me? If you weren't exhausted?" Newt asked, setting the plates on the sink and walking to stand beside the coffee table, hands pressed deep into his pockets.
"No. I would never-"
"Then it was probably something I needed to hear." Newt shrugged, hands turning outwards in his pockets helplessly. "Go to bed. We'll talk more in the morning. I'll be in later."
Hermann made his way down the hallway, stopping to brush his teeth before heading to the bedroom to change into his pyjamas and crawl into bed. He sighed as he lay on his back, looking over at the empty space on Newt's side before reaching over to turn out the light.
Newt stopped in the doorway to his bedroom, the streetlamp outside providing the only illumination in the room as he looked at Hermann, sound asleep, lying on his stomach with a hand outstretched to Newt's side of the bed. He stripped down to his boxers and threw on a t-shirt before pulling back the sheet and sliding in, carefully lifting Hermann's hand so he could lie down. He felt Hermann's fingers curl against his and looked up to see Hermann blinking at him with a sleepy smile.
"Missed you," Hermann said muzzily as he inched his way across the bed until his shoulder and forehead were pressed up against Newt's arm.
"Go back to sleep, Herm," Newt said softly, placing Hermann's hand on the mattress beside him and settling in.
Hermann felt about with his hand until it landed on Newt's and he was able to thread their fingers together. He pressed a kiss to Newt's shoulder and rubbed his nose against it, sighing. "I never told you, did I?" he said into the darkness sleepily. "I fell in love with your mind first."
"Shh, Hermann." Newt turned and looked out the window, mouth turned downward, feeling uncomfortable.
"I was seventeen," Hermann continued as though Newt hadn't spoken. "You sent me a four page letter, double sided."
He huffed a quiet laugh and Newt could feel his smile against his shoulder.
"You were working on one of your first doctorates... biology, I think. It was something I never would have cared about, but the way you wrote about it made it... beautiful. Interesting." Hermann stretched, seeming to come a little more awake as he curled Newt's hand to his chest. "Your passion bled through onto the pages... like a physical presence in my room... I could see your emotions in every sentence. Your handwriting would change - looping and languid when you were in awe of your work-" Hermann brought his spare hand up to Newt's chest and imitated the strokes with his index finger sleepily. "-and tight and precise when you wanted me to see - really see - what it was that had captured you so." Hermann's movements changed from slow and gentle to short hard lines.
Newt stilled Hermann's hand and turned to look at him with wide eyes, chest tight with emotion.
"I read that letter so many times I was afraid I'd wear the ink away and lose it forever..." Hermann trailed off, embarrassed. "I copied it out into a notebook, trying to mimic the flow of your pen so your emotion would carry through into my poor copy. I was so frustrated; the notebook version just wasn't the same." He huffed a soft, self-deprecating laugh. "I didn't know at the time what that feeling was... We'd only been writing for a little over a year... I'd never met you in person." Looking up at Newt, his eyes seemed slightly clearer, though no less tired. "It's the same feeling I get when I watch you bake, or talk to Tendo about music, or when you try to explain Godzilla movies to me." Hermann squeezed Newt's hand tightly. "The way you see the world is... euphoric. You find joy in the things that you love and you aren't afraid to share it. If I had even a sixty-fourth of your fearlessness..." Hermann looked at Newt with open wonder before he registered Newt's expression and his eyes dimmed. He released Newt's hand, pulling away to move across the bed. "I'm sorry. I'm keeping you awake."
"No! Hermann..." Newt rolled onto his side, following Hermann across the mattress and cupping his chin with his hands. "That was-... that was the right thing to say." Newt kissed Hermann gently and rested his forehead against Hermann's on the pillow.
Hermann tentatively settled on Newt's hip, gaining more confidence and sliding around to his back as Newt pressed in closer. "Which part? I don't-" he asked, confused at Newt's sudden change of heart.
"It doesn't matter which bit. All of it." Newt kissed Hermann again, sliding his hands down to rest against Hermann's chest. "We can do this," he said, relaxing against Hermann.
"You're giving me a second chance?" Hermann asked softly, staring at Newt with his heart tight.
"I already gave you a second chance. This is... I'm at ninety-nine point five percent now." Newt kissed Hermann softly again, feeling Hermann's arms tighten around him.
"I don't understand why, but thank you." Hermann pressed himself tightly against Newt, fingers splayed up the back of Newt's neck to hold him close. "Thank you."
"It's the things you say when you're not trying, Hermann," Newt said, nosing against Hermann's cheek fondly. "Just... trust me. That was the best possible thing you could let slip."
"We're okay?" Hermann asked not quite believing his good fortune.
"We will be." Newt smiled softly, patting Hermann's chest before rubbing it lightly. "Go back to sleep. You're still exhausted. We'll still be we in the morning."
Hermann kissed Newt softly and lay his head back down on the pillow, closing his eyes and drifting off to sleep safe in the knowledge that the man he loved would still be there when he awoke.
Two Weeks Later
To: Newton Geiszler
From: Hermann Gottlieb
Dear Dr. Geiszler,
Please find attached a twenty-five page (not including reference list) analysis of the discrimination faced by those with invisible disabilities in the United States today. (A librarian advised me that APA would be a more appropriate citation style for this type of work than AMS, as such it has been employed here.)
Dr. Hermann Gottlieb
Attachment: Discrimination Against Invisible Disabilities - Gottlieb. H.docx
To: Hermann Gottlieb
From: Newton Geiszler
Jackass. I can't believe you remembered that.
I love you.