She doesn’t think that she’s breathed in ten years. She’s not sure exactly - her thoughts used to be ordered, compiled and dismissed between breaths, a mess to everyone but herself (to everyone but herself and her), and now she knows how her professors, her colleagues felt. How irritating it is that her thoughts are jumbled, incoherent, how she can barely maintain a sentence on her own anymore.
No wonder they all hated her. No wonder every single one of her lab partners left her, alone and babbling like the madwoman she was.
It made her blood fucking boil , how they would look down on her for her unwashed hair and loose ties and inked arms. They all hated her, why shouldn’t she try and take revenge for that, why shouldn't they all pay for every single second they ostracised her for being a stupid little girl, for loving what she did instead of hating them like the rest of the world, for being a fucking kaiju groupie -
She blinks. The anger bubbled inside her, rose up roaring, but it wasn't hers, it wasn’t hers, no, no, no no no no not again, get out of my head, get out of my head-
WE WON’T LEAVE. YOU INVITED US IN.
“ No…” Newt whispers, and there are tears in her eyes, dripping down her cheeks, and blood in her mouth that isn’t hers, and she doesn’t know where she is, she doesn’t even know if she’s speaking aloud or if this is all in her head. “...Please. Please .”
YOU ARE A PART OF US NOW. ONE WITH US.
“No!” She can’t breathe. She can’t breathe because something, something else , has control of her airways, her whole body, why can’t she move her fucking body ? Theres a voice in her head, not just in her head, but all around her. Smothering her.
It feels like her thoughts are being torn to shreds. Like ribbons. When she was a child, and she couldn't stay still in class, she would pull out the ribbon that her mother had put in her hair and tear it apart, string by string. Her thoughts, her ideas, her mind, she’s watching them fall to the ground. Useless without being part of a whole. Useless now they've been pulled away from everything that mattered to them.
She’s alone. So alone, and yet, she can feel them, curling and ever present in the corners of her mind. A terrifying reassuring presence. She doesn't want to be alone, alone like string that’s meant to be a part of a ribbon, alone like the only girl in her class to get a doctorate in kaiju biology, alone like she always always was until
UNTIL WHEN? YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN ALONE. NO ONE HAS CARED FOR YOU. NO ONE DOES. NOT AFTER WHAT YOU’VE DONE.
But what had she done? Her head hurts. The voice in her head sounds familiar and foreign all at once. Grating and soothing. The Drift is calming, a reassuring presence.
Warmth, and fire and destruction. Revenge for everything they did to her us. They deserve to have their cities crumble, their spirit broken, their metal machines that destroyed the only thing you ever loved, do you remember, they’re the reason you’re alone with us.
Wait. she thinks Wait, no, that’s not what I want, this isn't what I wanted!
Even as she thinks the words, they unravel in front of her. She can’t hold onto a thought anymore. They’re sorting out her thoughts for her, cutting and pasting their words on top of hers, and she can’t tell the difference between hers and the monsters in her head.
Because in this moment, Newt knows what they really are. Monsters. The ones that almost destroyed the planet, if she hadn't helped stop them, and to do that she let them into her head, she let them in, in the pursuit of knowledge, in a desperate attempt to feel close to someone again. There are monsters in her head, and she put them there because -
YOU DON’T HAVE TO FEEL ALONE ANYMORE. SHE MAY HAVE LEFT YOU, BUT WE NEVER WILL.
WE WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU. DON’T YOU WANT TO FEEL THAT AGAIN? OUR GIFT?
She tries to think, tries to fight, fight like she has whenever she gains these small slithers of conscious, rational thought again, but she can already feel herself drowning again.
No, no knowledge is worth this. My mistake isn't worth this. I didn’t want to be alone, but I didn’t mean this!
She focuses with all she has on what she has left, on what they haven’t yet stripped from her in trying to use her like an empty puppet.
The familiar feeling of the Drift, of chasing the RABBIT washes over her, and she ignores the fact that this should be impossible, is she even hooked up to anyone right now?
(Ghost Drifting: taking on the traits and personality of a co-pilot after drifting with them. Increases with each subsequent drift. Subjects report feeling as if they are still connected to their partners even when outside of the Drift - Newt, Newt, you fucking idiot why didn’t you remember this, why didn’t you think of this, you knew this would happen)
She’s standing in the Shatterdome and she’s ten years younger, and she’s watching the celebrations around her with a mix of elation and bemusement and… grief? She saved the day, she and Hermann made this happen but there is her entire life down the drain too, all her research, all the hours and months and years of her life… gone, when the kaiju are.
But it doesn’t matter, because in that moment, Hermann is next to her, and they’re both basking in the glow of their achievement. The other woman is smiling awkwardly, leaning on her cane and brushing her hair out of her eyes so she can look around at the celebrations.
Their eyes meet and, fuck, Newt has never been embarrassed in front of her collegue, but, then again, she had never drifted with her before. Now all of her…. Embarrassing secrets are out in the open. It was always going to be impossible to hide her feelings in the Drift, and even with their mission, even with the third of their Drift going to the infant kaiju, they were always going to be obvious. The flushed cheeks that she had always attributed to the fact that she was hauling around kaiju guts all day, the butterflies in her stomach that she told herself were down to her irregular eating habits, the real reason behind them was now apparent, to both herself and her… colleague doesn't really fit, her… partner?
She doesn’t expect Hermann to talk first, but she does “Newton-”
“You don’t have too… We don’t have to talk about anything right now, can’t we just, celebrate, Herm? And not think about work, for once?” She doesn’t want this conversation right now. She’s never been very good with these kind of things, these kind of feelings. She’s always felt every emotion too much, or not at all. She knows she can be overwhelming, in everything she does. Hermann has been the first person not to leave her, even after sharing a lab with her for years. She talks too loud, and too much, and she’s always, always too much, and that has never boded well for any kind of… romance.
She knows what her answer will be.
“Newton, we need to talk.”
She has been firmly ignoring Hermann’s gaze, but now she turns to look at her. “Not here, not now, okay Herm? We just won the war, this can wait!”
Hermann reaches over and puts a hand on her shoulder. The contact is sudden, unexpected - Hermann has a rule against PDA, afterall, not that they ever really needed it before.
“In the Drift, when we… what I saw...”
She cuts her off by shrugging her hand off her shoulder, face burning, and immediately wishing that she hadn’t removed her only source of warm comfort as her stomach feels like it’s freezing over. Newt already knows what she’s going to say. In a way, she’s always known.
“We both know what you saw, just, get it over with already.”
Hermann fiddles with her cane. Newt has never seen her so… lost for words. She’s seen her partner angry, irritated, frustrated, elated… she’s every single part of her in the Drift.
And, fuck, she loves her. Even in this moment, she loves her.
“Newt.” She says, her voice quiet amongst the backdrop of celebrations, but it still echoes in Newt’s ears. “I don’t wish to lead you on, but I-”
“I got it.” Newt interrupts, without even realising it. Her mouth is dry, and her whole body feels like ice. “You don’t have to say anymore, I, I know. I should have known from the start, Hermann, and, I’m sorry you had to see that, any of that.”
She’s backing away now, out of the control room, away from Hermann, because if she started breaking down now, she won’t stop, and she can’t, she won’t do this in front of everyone.
They’re already staring, she knows it, even if she can’t see it, and god she’s used to being stared at but this is different, this is even worse, and she has to get away.
“Newton!” Hermann calls, and Newt notes the renewed use of her full name, and she hates it.
She watches the memory of herself flee the control room, watches Hermann stand by and let her, helpless and hopeless and useless.
She cleared out her lab that day, she remembers. She avoided Hermann with a dedication of self-control that she didn’t even know she possessed. She avoided her until she left, and, slowly the occasional cursory wellbeing text petered out, the professional emails stopped, after a few years.
Even drowning in monsters and voices and hunger and power and greed, lost and broken as she is, she still loves her.
She loved her and, look what happened. She lost her damn fucking mind. This is officially the worst rebound ever.
That... that wasn't funny, was it? What would Hermann say if she saw what Newt had become?
Shocked, yes. Angry, definitely. Upset? Maybe. Maybe she wouldn’t even care at all. Maybe she stopped caring when Newt walked out of that room ten years ago.
Maybe this was all Newt’s fault after all. This is all her fault, and she never got a chance to apologise. Never made the effort before the precursors slithered their way into her brain, and twisted her thoughts into a tangled, fraying mess.
God, Hermann, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry , I…
… What was she sorry about again? Ribbons, she was thinking about ribbons. Ribbons and backdoors and the mix of organic and metallic and… Oh yes. She knew what she had to do. So she wouldn’t be alone anymore. There’s a blissful smile on her face, even if she can’t feel it. Someone else is talking in her voice, but that’s okay. She isn’t alone. They aren’t alone.
They lean over her desk, and get to work.