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Athene Noctua

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Hermann shudders awake from a familiar nightmare made worse by the addition of the dizziness-inducing colors of the Anteverse. He steadies himself with carefully controlled breathing and a quick touch of his chest reassures himself no blood leaks from the deep incision he dreamed a doctor had cut. 

The last thing Hermann wants to do is doze off again for fear of falling back into the nightmare. He stares at the wall and tries to think wakeful thoughts. Newt’s request that Hermann wake him when Hermann had a bad dream floats through his mind. Should I wake Newton at this early hour, especially as today will be a horribly long day of intercontinental travel? he wonders. Fifteen hours on a military flight from Hong Kong to Geneva promises to be torturous and at least one of us should arrive well-rested

Hermann debates for several more minutes, wings fluttering nervously. In the end, he elects to retrieve his tablet from under his pillow and spare glasses from their hiding place behind the headboard and continue his introductory reading on hydrological and meteorological modeling. He carefully adjusts the screen’s brightness to its dimmest setting in hopes of allowing Newt to sleep undisturbed. 

Shifting mental gears from mapping interdimensional portals to water flows and weather patterns has proved more troublesome than Hermann expected and he feels as though his cogs slip as often as they mesh. As he annotates the electronic text he worriedly chews on his lower lip. Am I capable of this? he asks himself. Newton and my new employers are counting on me, but I must master a whole new method of thinking. I’m not sure I can learn quickly enough to be of use to them. He shakes his head to clear his thoughts and returns to the intricate interplay of freshwater streams and tidal currents at the boundary of land and sea. 

He snorts a laugh at himself. When did I become a poet

The noise wakes Newt. "Somebody’s in a good mood this morning … ," he says drowsily. Hermann heaves a tired sigh in response. Newt leans in closer and refocuses his eyes on his companion. "You didn’t sleep much, did you?" He reaches out and smooths Hermann’s sleep-ruffled hair. "You look like hell." 

"I never sleep well before travel," Hermann says. "I’ve been reading for quite a while." Newt squints at him. "What?" he asks. 

"You had a nightmare, too. You’ve got those wrinkles under your eyes that spell ‘bad dream’." Hermann closes his eyes and leans into Newt’s hand in his hair. "Why didn’t you wake me up?" 

"I didn’t want to trouble you." 

Newt makes an exasperated noise. "That’s another thing we need to work on. I want to be bothered when you’re upset like this. Seriously, dude. You don’t need to suffer." 

"There’s no need for both of us to lose sleep if I have a bad dream. I wouldn’t want to impose on you." 

"Start imposing already," Newt says with an eye roll. "Hey, aren’t we supposed to be getting on a plane, like, soon?" Hermann opens his eyes and thumbs his tablet back on. 

"In three-quarters of an hour." 

"Good thing you made us pack last night, huh?" 

Somehow the two scientists manage to get ready in time, even with the time they spend arguing over how tightly to bind Hermann’s wings. To Hermann’s amazement, Newt wins and Hermann’s wings are left as loose as he feels they can be without betraying their presence so they don’t stiffen too badly on the long flight. 

They argue amiably all the way to the airport, where they are allowed to skip the usual security checks by heading straight for the military side of the complex. Their companions—Herc Hansen, Mako Mori, Raleigh Becket, and Tendo Choi—sigh and roll their eyes in perfect sync. Newt and Hermann don’t notice or at least pretend they don’t. 

Conversation is quiet and limited on the flight. Everyone on board tries to conserve their energy. The next two days of interviews, appearances, and presentations before the United Nations will probably demand everything they can muster. 

Hermann, though, gives voice to a thought that’s been bothering him for a few days. "Newton," he says, "When did New Zealand contact you about about these positions you secured for us?" 

"Umm … technically, they didn’t. I … uh … called the science minister and volunteered our services." Hermann gapes. "Yup. Just cold-called her. That’s who I’ve been skyping on the sly for the last week or so, ever since you showed me your list of potential jobs. You can blame your sister for the idea." 

"Karla?" 

"Yeah. We’ve been trading ideas for years and she mentioned the minister’s office called to ask how close she was to finishing her project. I figured a package deal of you and me would get the attention of someone wanting to attack a kaiju-related problem," he says with a proud grin, "And I was right. We negotiated a bit and everything worked out. Now we’ve got a private island, nice paychecks, and all of the research toys we could need." 

"You’ve been emailing my sister for years? Without telling me?" 

"You’re one to talk about keeping secrets there, Archie," Newt taunts. Hermann fixes him with his best glare. With a snort, Newt pops in a set of earbuds and disappears into his music. Hermann picks up his tablet, shifts slightly in his seat, and begins to read. After a couple of hours, he gives up on technical papers and switches to the Russian science fiction anthology he’d downloaded the day before. After a few more hours, he falls asleep with his head on Newt’s shoulder. 

"Why does it always rain when we go out? I swear the little black cloud following you around causes this," Newt complains as he and Hermann exit the car which carries them from the airport to their hotel in Geneva’s city center. Hermann sniffs and pushes the fur trim of his parka hood out of his eyes as he stumps toward the hotel entrance. Newt gives up trying to keep the umbrella over the other man and centers himself beneath it for the rest of the short walk. 

Newt shucks his jacket onto the floor and flops face first into one of the beds in their assigned room. "Dude," he says, voice muffled in the duvet, "I totally forgot beds came in ‘luxurious’ and ‘big’. We might never find each other in here if we get separated. We’ll have to hold hands like otters so we don’t drift apart." 

Hermann scowls at him, but then looks about nervously. "What will I do with any feathers I shed? There’s no way to properly dispose of them here," he worries. 

"Trash isn’t good enough for you?" 

"They have to be completely destroyed before anyone finds them. Feathers retain DNA. I can’t risk someone discovering their origin and my true nature. I normally use your biohazard bins." 

Newt rolls over and makes a face. "Jesus christ, dude. This isn’t Gattaca. People don’t go around sequencing the DNA of random biological samples. We’ll put any you lose in our suitcases and take them with us. So relax. C’mere." He sits up and beckons Hermann over to him. 

Hermann eases himself down, sitting next to Newt on the edge of the bed with his sore leg stretched straight in front of himself. Newt tugs at the hem of his sweatervest. Hermann slowly pulls the garment off over his head before folding it and setting it aside. He adds the remainder of his clothes to the pile piece by piece. His exhausted fingers fumble with the buckles on his binder. Newt slaps Hermann’s hands away and undoes the straps for him. Hermann feels Newt’s hands linger longer than strictly necessary on his feathers as he slips off the binding and he lets his wings shiver in response to the touch. 

Despite his tiredness and the comfort offered by the fancy bedding, Hermann can’t sleep, fretting and twitching instead. At least, he does until Newt pulls him against his tattooed chest and places his warm hand on the nape of Hermann’s neck. The gentle pressure calms him and he soon yields to unconsciousness and a pleasant dream.