Newt runs his hand lightly along the leading edge of the wing Hermann holds over him, thrilling a little tiny bit at the softness of the feathers under his touch. Experimentation and grudging permission from the wing’s owner led to Newt’s discovery … petting is the wake-up call most likely to produce a Hermann who is conscious and in a good mood. Newt always figured Hermann for the sort who would set obnoxiously loud alarms and pop out of bed fully awake at the first beep. The Hermann he’s been living and sleeping with for the past three weeks, though, wants a gentle touch, slowly crawls to consciousness, and whines almost as much as Newt for five more minutes of sleep on days without early morning appointments. It surprises the hell out of him every morning he has to wake Hermann.
Today Hermann opens his eyes with minimal grumbling and lets Newt help him to his feet and hand him his cane. "How’s the wing feel this morning?" Newt asks.
Hermann shifts his weight to his cane and flexes both wings a few times through their full range of motion, from tight against his back to fully open and brushing the walls on either side of him. "Nearly as good as new," Hermann says as he lets them relax into a neutral position against his back.
"It feels rock-solid, too," Newt agrees as he presses through the feathers to feel the bone. "Without an xray—which you’ll never agree to, I know—to confirm it, I’ll say it’s safe to take the splint off. Everything I’ve read says it should be healed by now, so let me get this thing off you."
Hermann complains about Newt’s roughness as the medical tape holding the splint in place pulls out feathers as it’s removed and mutters about it all the way to the shower.
"I have a happy No-More-Splint-Day present for you," Newt singsongs as Hermann exits the bathroom. "Tahdah!" he shouts and brandishes a soft garment with a few snaps and straps made in a pale flesh color.
"A new binding?"
"Yup! Try it on! It should be a lot more comfortable than the old thing." Newt fairly vibrates with excitement.
Hermann shrugs into the item and snugs it down. He checks his outline in the mirror.
"Well, wha’d you think?"
"It seems to do the job well enough," Hermann admits as he continues studying his reflection.
"Which means it works perfectly. How does it feel?"
"It is marginally more comfortable."
"Which translates to you are wrapped in a little slice of heaven," Newt says with obvious satisfaction. "I’ve got enough material to make two more, so I’ll whip those up the next time we have some downtime."
"Where did you learn to sew?"
"Cosplay. X-Files, Evangelion, Harry Potter. I made a bunch." Newt starts to shrug but freezes mid-gesture. "Hey! Maybe we can use your feathers to make costume wings as a sideline!"
"No. I destroy any I shed and I will continue to do so as not to face questions about their source."
"Huh. Don’t suppose we can save some of your down for pillow … ."
"But it’s so soft and fluffy!" He buries his face in the thick pad of coverts on the underside of Hermann’s wing.
Hermann pushes Newt away. "Newton, I’m afraid if you want feather pillows you’ll need to acquire the materials from proper birds."
"Aw, come on," Newt whines and takes a step forward.
Hermann sighs then snaps the offended wing through a sharp beat, striking Newt in the face with enough force to knock his glasses crooked and leave a fine coating of powder down all over him.
Newt sputters, trying to clear the dust from his mouth, before sneezing hard enough to see stars. "No fair!" he yelps as he struggles to clean his glasses on the hem of his shirt, succeeding only in smearing the powder around.
"I get it now!" he says excitedly. "The chalkboards!" Hermann sighs again, plucks the glasses from Newt’s face and clears the smudges with a handkerchief he pulls from a pocket. "This stuff looks exactly like chalk dust! The boards are a disguise!" Hermann replaces Newt’s glasses.
"It’s misdirection. No one asks questions if they believe they already have the answer," he says.
"Genius, dude. Pure genius," Newt marvels. Hermann responds with a smug smile before dressing and leading the way to breakfast and the lab.
Hermann perches behind his desk and checks his email. Newt stares at the back of his head for a moment before pulling a slab of kaiju pituitary out of the cooler and setting up to make slides for microscopic examination. As he finishes excising the segment he wants, Hermann clears his throat to attract Newt’s attention. Newt pauses in his work to listen.
"Oxford wants an answer from me soon, Newton," Hermann says. "May I have your permission to stop delaying?"
"Well, uh, not just yet," Newt stalls while he debates how much of the story to tell and walks across the lab to lean against Hermann’s desk. "I didn't want to tell you about this until I had more of the details worked out, but these people I'm talking to want both of us. As a set. For their new long-term project."
Hermann raises his eyebrows in interest. "Which university?" he asks.
"It's not a university. It's New Zealand."
"New Zealand doesn't exist as a nation anymore."
"That's why they want us. The government-in-exile wants to reclaim Auckland. We'd be in charge of figuring out how to run the environmental cleanup of the coastline. They'll give us the Bay of Islands as a testbed and we get to pick our own team and they’ll guarantee five years of full funding. It's a really sweet deal, dude."
"That seems like a position for a biologist such as yourself, but I don't see how a mathematician could be of use."
"They don't want a mathematician. They want you because you're the best modeler of complex systems in the world."
"That is certainly an overstatement," Hermann sniffs.
"You accurately simulated the goddamn Breach! The best anyone else has is weather systems or tidal flows," Newt argues. "They really want you. So, yeah, I need you not to go to Oxford."
"If I do, will your 'sweet deal' fall through?"
Newt begins to lose his temper. "No. You're missing the point here. I'm setting this up for us."
"Why … ?"
"I want to stay together," he says simply. He hugs Hermann and rests his head against the taller man's chest. "Look, I really think New Zealand is a better idea than Oxford." Newt suddenly facepalms and Hermann jumps at the unexpected motion. "I forgot to mention the island! We get our own island, Hermann. Ours. Just ours. No neighbors. It’s small, but you won’t have to hide or worry about someone walking in on you. You can work and just … be you for once. Will you at least think about it before you sign a contract? Please?" Newt begs.
Hermann grudgingly agrees to think the matter over with an inscrutable expression before turning back to his work. Newt trudges back to his worktable and forces himself through the rest of the steps to prepare the slides.
What if Hermann says ‘no’, he worries. I never thought he’d say ‘no’, but he really didn’t seem enthused about it. What’s wrong with him? Who wouldn’t want his own island? I guess it’s an island versus a job he’s been dreaming about for, like, twenty years. It’s probably normal for a guy to want to think something like this over. I did just sort of spring it on him. It’s a big deal, a big change from what he’s been doing and maybe an even bigger change from what he thought he’d be doing before K-Day.
Newt’s thoughts stay crowded and nervous through the morning and lunch, so much so that he ruins two batches of slides before he manages to focus well enough to do it right.
Newt loses track of Hermann around midafternoon. He blames the earbuds. He couldn’t hear Hermann stop scribbling away over Black Sabbath. Newt’s stomach rumbles, reminding him that they have a date with an excellent homestyle Chinese restaurant in the city. Which means he needs to locate Hermann the old-fashioned way, since the guy refuses to wear a watch or carry a phone, before the restaurant cancels their reservation.
Newt wracks his brain as he rather aimlessly wanders halls beginning to empty of PPDC personnel. Where could Hermann have gotten to? he asks himself. He’s not in the normal places: the lab, their quarters, Tendo’s office.
He rounds a corner and bumps into a Max-less Herc Hansen. "Seen your other half lately?" the Australian asks.
Newt fights down the reflex to argue about being half of anything with Hermann and answers with a shake of his head. "Not for a while. I’m actually looking for him now. Why do you need him?"
"He offered to walk Max a couple of hours ago and he hasn't come back yet. If yeh find him, gimme a ring." Newt agrees and the Marshal waves in thanks and continues his walk.
If I was Hermann and I had a dog, where would I go? He can't have gotten far, Newt thinks. He decides to trust to chance and picks turns at random. In a few minutes his steps carry him to any empty helicopter hangar. Knowing these places always have more than one door, Newt ventures deeper. Halfway across the cavernous space, he hears a gruff snuffling noise.
He spots Hermann sitting on a lonely packing crate scratching the ears of a very happy Max, who lies half on his lap. Newt strolls over as Hermann and Max continue their quiet interaction, oblivious to his approach.
"Am I interrupting anything?" Newt asks. Both Max and Hermann startle and Max hops to the floor to sniff Newt's shoes. Hermann shakes his head and motions for Newt to sit next to him on the crate. Newt shifts a well-chewed and damp tennis ball and a short length of heavy rope and and drops himself into place.
Max barks and bows in front of Hermann and the man picks up the ball and tosses it underhanded across the room. Max scrabbles excitedly after it. "Looks like you've made a friend," Newt says as Max returns at a trot. Hermann reclaims the ball, throws it again, and smiles as Max races after it. "Hansen's starting to think you kidnapped him."
Hermann chuckles. "I suppose I should bring him back to his family," he says as Max comes back with the ball wagging his tail. "We're also going to be late for our dinner if we don't leave soon, aren't we?" Newt agrees. Hermann takes the ball from Max and snaps the leash to his collar. He scratches the dog's ears again.
"Newton," he says without looking away from Max, "I've been thinking." Newt swallows a smartass remark. Something tells him what Hermann's about to say needs his respect and full attention. His stomach stops grumbling for a moment and shifts to churning nauseatingly.
"If the offer you made this morning still stands," Hermann continues, "I’d like to accept the position." Newt’s entire person lights up as Hermann finishes his declaration.
"Really? Seriously?" he asks, voice cracking with delight.
"Yes, I’m serious," Hermann says impatiently. "It’s an opportunity to do important work which could eventually be applied to positive effect around the world. It should also be intellectually stimulating for me."
He pauses and smiles. "I must also admit the idea of a private island and opportunities to spend time in the sun greatly appeals to me."
"And I’m going to be there," Newt chimes in.
Hermann fights a smile threatening to grow. "And you’re going to be there."
"You’re making the right call. You won’t regret this, dude."
"I know," Hermann says.
Newt eyes widen and he blinks twice, before he embraces Hermann tightly enough to push some of the air from the man’s lungs. "Let’s get Max back to his person and haul ourselves to dinner," he says as he releases his hold. Newt stands and offers his hand to help Hermann to his feet. Hermann accepts and they amble toward the main body of the Shatterdome with Max padding at their heels.
That night as Newt dozes off snuggled against Hermann’s side, listening to his steady heartbeat, he realizes Hermann accepted his help to stand and move twice that day. He didn’t swat Newt’s hands away or yell at him. He’s letting me help. Holy shit.
Newt brushes a tiny kiss against Hermann’s shoulder. "Thanks," he whispers.