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What's Finally Gonna Let Me Sleep Alright? You Might

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Hermann wordlessly reaches for Newton’s sleeve, hanging far past his fingertips, and rolls it neatly just above the slight bump of his wrist bone. He gives it a soft pat, lets his fingers linger on the well-loved lines of Newt’s tattoos. Newton watches, eyes flickering between his borrowed sweater and Hermann’s quiet concentration, the space between his eyebrows creased with something akin to worry. He unrolls the cuff of the sleeve, re-rolls it, then moves to turn it down once more. Newt catches his hand.

“Herm-”

“I’d rather you wore my clothes for the rest of our lives than to ever have to see you in another garish suit,” Hermann mumbles, shifting to heft himself from the hard edge of the hospital bed but thinking better of it and settling back down beside Newton. Newt swings his legs over the side to let them dangle idly beside Hermann’s, bent at a stiff forty-five degrees beneath his pressed grey trousers. "Besides, I quite enjoy the way you look in sweaters, if you'll consider them as a permanent part of your wardrobe."

Newt quirks the corner of his mouth in an attempt at a smile. Hermann kisses his cheek, runs through the carefully constructed list he has written in his head, checking boxes off as he goes. He has put fresh bed clothes on their bed, stocked the refrigerator with Newton’s favorite beer, made plans to take him out during the week to find more suitable clothes to fill out the closet, purchased a second toothbrush to occupy the space beside his in the holder on the polished bathroom sink. Newton scrolls through his phone beside him, growing impatient with the time it is taking the staff to process his release form.

There had been some discussion amongst the higher-ups, whispered debates as to exactly where Newton was going to go - his parents if they would take him, a private care facility in some remote location - but Hermann had shut it down swiftly. He is not a specimen, an experiment to be shifted from one uncaring hand to another. There was never once a doubt in Hermann’s mind as to whether or not he would be taking Newton home.

Hermann will not miss the hospital, the pale blue blanket that had lain in the same flat shape across Newton’s legs all those months, the too-white walls and unspeakable silence. It smells artificially clean, the chemical odors masking the scent of death and decay even past the fragrance of the flowers he’d been filling Newton’s room with all these months. He never did grow accustomed to the smell. The thought of it makes Hermann’s skin crawl, and yet he has stayed here day after day for what has felt like a lifetime. Fascinating what people do for love, he thinks.

Newt nudges Hermann’s leg with his gripper-sock-clad foot. When Hermann looks at him, he smiles. It is a brittle, unsure thing, as it will be until some indefinite point in the future has him recovered (or as close to that as he can come), but Hermann’s heart swells in his chest. He takes Newton’s hand in his own and rubs his thumb over the little gauze bandage on the back of Newt’s hand where an IV had been living until just an hour before.

He is here and he is alive, thin and wobbly though he’s become. Hermann can sense the strange cocktail of emotions swirling in Newton’s head and offers a reassuring squeeze. Even their neural link feels stretched too-thin, ringing hollow like calling a telephone number only to have the other person pick up and not say anything. He is not certain what else he can do. Hermann has never been without an answer, or at the very least a quite-probable hypothesis to work with.

He fears that Newton has picked up on his unsteady footing, the trepidation that comes with navigating murky waters. There is a chance now that they didn't have before; suddenly, the future can be the two of them growing older again, even if it is not quite the picture of the future Hermann used to daydream about. He can't even reasonably imagine arguing now, not with the fragile bits of Newton that are left, not even if Newton leaves his underwear strewn about the floor or never bothers rinsing his plates before loading the dishwasher. Newton feels like a stranger, small and subdued beside the slouched curve of Hermann’s posture. He is there: at the core of it all, Newton is still the very same person that Hermann had fallen headfirst in love with, but there is an unshakable difference to him.

Logically, of course, Hermann had known things would not be the same although an irrational piece of him had still held out in vain hope. But Hermann will work at getting to know the person Newton is now, even if Newton, himself, is not quite certain who that is yet.

 


 

Hermann turns the key in the ignition with shaking hands. Hermann Gottlieb has never considered himself to be the most confident of vehicle operators, but he is emphatically never allowing Newton behind the wheel again. Newton secures his seat belt without waiting for Hermann’s pointed stare, the tired green of his eyes brighter in the early evening sun. He reaches into the glove compartment for the pair of sunglasses that he knows Hermann has kept there for him.

“I really don’t think they had to- had to fuckin’ wheel me out here like an invalid, y’know? My legs work just fine- Promise me you aren’t gonna go like, half the speed limit, Herm. I don’t know if my heart can take that shit - y’know they pull you over for that, right? Because they do.”

“Yes, darling, I’m well aware of that fact.”

There is a smudge on the left lens of the sunglasses.

“And no road rage, okay, Herm? You gotta cool it for like one second, I’ve never seen someone get so mad at nothing.”

Hermann sniffs, turns his nose up at Newton teasingly. Newt turns to Hermann to regard him, a lopsided half-grin tugging at the corner of his chapped lips. He reaches across the center console for Hermann’s trembling hand, twisting their fingers together and gripping them as though their lives depended on it.

Maybe they did.

“What do we do now?” Newton asks, sobering, a quiver to his voice. They will go home, they will eat dinner, they will rearrange and realign; but Hermann knows that is not what Newton means.

I don't know, meine Geliebte.

Hermann leans over to kiss his lips, quick and soft but enough to bring the both of them to quiet tears. When they part, Hermann pulls his handkerchief from his pocket and dabs stiffly at the corners of his eyes before shifting into reverse and pulling smoothly out of the parking lot.

 


 

Hermann’s front door - their front door now - swings open on well-oiled hinges. Newt sidesteps neat piles of books beside the full floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, careful not to knock them askew. Hermann is still neat, still tidy, though it seems he’s devolved into organized chaos in the years that Newt has lost. He certainly seems to have acquired a significant amount of new books. Newt smiles, runs his fingers over the glass-topped coffee table as he walks past it. He has been here. Not in person, not until just now, but he has been here in the hazy backlog of memories that Hermann’s brain has provided him.

The study sits with its door open, the lamp on the desk casting the room in a gentle yellow. Newt creeps to the dark wood desk as though he might be reprimanded for trespassing, and sits carefully in the chair. Hermann’s doctorate hangs proudly on the wall, framed and displayed beside Newton’s own degrees. The sight of them, crisp and unchanged and the last thing he expected to see, throws him off whatever semblance of balance he’d entered the room with. He pictures Hermann rummaging through the things in his old apartment, salvaging bits and pieces of him to cling to with sweaty palms. He thinks of the steps that had led to his penthouse bedroom, swallows the guilt that sits in his mouth at the thought of Hermann struggling up and down them.

The bookshelves here are organized alphabetically - something Newt knows without needing to check. Hermann’s laptop sits closed in the center of the desk. He has a cup of pens, a smaller cup of paper clips, four little silver-edged photos framed in a neat row. The first is the two of them posing stiffly in the lab the day after they saved the world, both hungover but beaming, arms slung around each other, glowing with the hope of a future and the indescribable newness of love. The second is a candid Newt had tried taking with his instant camera, a poor, off-centered attempt at a selfie; Hermann is caught in a blurry half-laugh, high cheekbones dusted a faint and breathless pink, mouth edged in laugh lines. The third photograph is from the press tour just after the war: Newt's hair is combed and his shirt wrinkle-free, Hermann is wearing a suit that actually fits him, their hands are twined discreetly together though their smiles are stiff and practiced.

The third photo is Newt, decades younger, sprawled across the couch of his college apartment and grinning. 

Newt is suddenly, painfully aware of the body he inhabits, the near-decade he has been stuck in it with no control.  His hands are too large, his head more empty space than substance, his insides a mass that doesn't belong to him anymore. He's glad he can't remember much of what he's lost, between the drinking and the kaiju bone powder and the whole "not being in control of your own body for nearly a decade" thing, though the thought that he might someday is more than he can bear. It makes him dizzy and nauseous, and he pushes his glasses up onto his forehead so he can't make out the memories that stare back at him from the frames. His head pounds. Newt rises shakily to his feet and wanders back down the hall.

He passes the kitchen, peeking in only briefly to glance in at the stainless steel appliances before padding the rest of the way down the hallway in his gripper socks to where he knows the bedroom waits.

The sight of the bed, made up and tidy in its shades of modern grey and black like a photograph from a home and garden magazine, is what brings warm tears welling up in Newt’s eyes. He flings himself down onto the mattress face-first, wrinkling the covers, breathing in the scent of fresh linens and something that is undeniably Hermann in nature: earthy and dusty, chalk and tea.

Newt rolls onto his back to gaze up at the smooth plane of the ceiling, the quietly whirring blades of the fan. He wonders idly how long Hermann has lived here in this apartment, where he lived before that, when exactly he stopped occupying his cramped quarters at the Shatterdome, who had helped him pack his belongings into boxes, who had carried those boxes for him. Hermann is sturdy and he does possess a surprising amount of strength for someone so scrawny, but there's no way he could have lifted anything - not with his hip the way it is. 

The silence here is warm, punctuated by the muffled sounds of Hermann’s comforting presence in the hall. When Hermann steps gingerly into the room, folded laundry stacked in his arms, Newt props himself up on his elbows and studies him.

It's not that he has forgotten what Hermann looks like; it's just that there are times when he thought perhaps that he did, that the Hermann flickering strangely behind his eyelids all that time was somehow put together differently than the one who bent at the waist now to pull open a bureau drawer and lay a neatly folded sweater into it. The other Hermann had been less knobby, more slender strength than skin stretched too far over jutting bone. The other Hermann still had the stubbly grain of that horrible undercut. This Hermann limps into the bathroom, flicks on the light. There is a more pronounced difficulty to his step that breaks Newt’s heart, no doubt from the days upon days he had crawled into the narrow space of Newt's hospital bed just to hold him. His hair is curling around the tops of his ears, at the base of his neck in soft little wisps. There is some tired asymmetry to his face that might have been keeping him from being truly handsome, but Newt can think of no sweeter sight.

He vaguely registers the sound of water filling up the bathtub. Newt twists his upper body to watch through the open door as Hermann lays a set of clothes atop the closed lid of the toilet. He moves briefly out of Newt’s sight and reappears with a fresh towel. His trousers are too loose on his frame, his untucked shirt a bit large; but Newt supposes that he, too, must look as if he’s swimming in his borrowed outfit.

Hermann pauses momentarily when he catches his reflection in the bathroom mirror, wipes his hands self-consciously down the front of his slacks. He returns to stand cautiously at the foot of the bed, braced against the slant of his cane, and clears his throat quietly.

“What would you like for dinner? I’m leaning heavily in favor of ordering in this evening,” he says, stiff.

“I'm not really hungry.”

“A new Thai restaurant just opened a few blocks away, and I'm certain that would be preferable to-”

“Herm.”

“-Whatever unpalatable nonsense they've been forcing on you-”

Hermann!

Hermann stops short, blinks once as though the sound of Newt raising his voice is a slap to the face that he can't quite process. Feeling sick, Newt tumbles quickly out of bed and tucks himself beneath Hermann’s chin, settling his hands apologetically between the points of Hermann’s shoulder blades. He is too sharp, too unpredictable now, jagged where he shouldn’t be; and guilt squeezes his heart. He can’t help it, not really, when he doesn’t know it’s going to happen like that. Hermann nuzzles into the tickle of Newton’s hair.

I’m sorry, Herm. It’s been a long day and I’m anxioustiredmissedyou. I don’t want to hurt you, not again, I’m sorry-

“Shh. At least have a warm bath.” Hermann presses his mouth to the top of Newt’s head.

Newt complies with that much, discarding his clothes in a heap on the bathroom floor and lowering himself carefully into the water. Hermann has set out a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt for him, and he wants nothing more than to skip the bath and go right to sleep. He still smells like the hospital, though, more sterile than actually clean , like he’d been dipped in chemicals before they let him come home.

The notion of home is warmer than the bath water. Newt is surprised by Hermann’s interior decorating sensibilities, the clean lines and neutral colors looking more homey than hard and uncomfortable like he’d expected. Hermann seats himself on the wide edge of the bathtub with some minor difficulty that manifests in a wince and a short exhale. He steals a satisfied sideways glance that Newt doesn't miss the way Hermann was hoping he had. Years ago, Newt probably would have made some half-assed crack about privacy, but he can’t bear not having Hermann in his line of sight. Not now. He is Newt’s one landmark on an unfamiliar map stretching infinitely in all directions.

He sinks into the tub, the water rising up around his chin when he leans his head back. Hermann flips open a book, the pages whispering as they brush each other. Newt almost reaches for his phone, asks Hermann a question - anything to keep his mind from wandering, but he decides against it and presses his lips into a hard, straight line. Part of him wonders if this isn’t all some elaborate mix up, if the PPDC is going to come breaking down their door in the middle of the night to drag him back to the hospital, to some high security underground facility. There are things he can’t remember, places and pieces of things that feel so much like dreams that he can’t sift through them properly, but it doesn’t stop him from trying. Newt’s head throbs once, hard and urgent, and fear stabs at his chest. He is terrified that despite being cleared, the Precursors are still on the end other end of some last, straggling thread, that the flashes of the Anteverse behind his eyes will never truly go away.

Hermann turns the page of his book, and his face pinches.

He is home, he is with Hermann, Hermann loves him. Hermann loves him.

Would you still love me if- is a phrase that has been springing unbidden to Newt’s foggy mind all day. If it’s a thought that Hermann has managed to pick up, he hasn’t said a word about it. It feels like some silly game Newt might have played as child. Would you still love me if I ate all your lunch? Would you still love me if I turned into a frog? Would you still love me if I had to move away? Would you still love me if I wasn’t myself? Would you still love me if I lost my mind?

Newt doesn’t realize he’s been staring blankly into the water until Hermann’s gentle, “Of course I still love you, Newton,” slams him full-force back to his body. His instinct is to apologize, to explain himself somehow or brush it off, but before he can offer any lame excuse, Hermann is in the water with him, fully clothed, and folding him against his chest.

 


 

Hermann does not sleep that night. He keeps his arms draped securely around Newton, whose new medications do a decent job of keeping him from bolting upright, screaming, thrashing. He had done that in the hospital, once after he’d come around, and scared Hermann nearly to death. He’d had a seizure, too, in his fitful sleep, far too much like the one Hermann had found him having after that first Drift. Too much like the seizures the first Jaeger pilots had succumbed to under the stress of the neural load, under Hermann’s care and not-watchful-enough eye. Had he been more careful, would those pilots have lived? If Hermann had paid just a tiny bit more attention, could he have stopped this - all of this - before it began?

So Hermann remains awake. It is relief beyond measure to hold Newton in a real bed, without the ceaseless noise of machines and hospital staff filling the room and the hallways and his head. He catches a few muggy flashes of dreams, mostly pale blue and lapping waves and the way it sounds when he holds a seashell to his ear. Better by far than nightmares. He could creep to the kitchen and microwave what remains of their extravagant order-in dinner, but leaving Newton alone is exactly the opposite of what Hermann wants though he is, by all accounts, safe. There are no wires and tubes here for Newton to pull violently loose, nothing that he might tangle about his neck or rip from his body, but Hermann cannot relax even so. A car passes by the window on the wall opposite the bed, the headlights coming through the curtains and casting them both in momentary squares of pale blue. Newton shifts closer to his chest, heavy and warm, sedated. The slope of his nose brushes Hermann's chest. He sighs but keeps sleeping, lips parted just enough that his gentle snores are audible. Newton's heart thumps steadily against the curve of Hermann’s ribs, in his mind, and he counts the beats until he is lost in numbers.

 

Chapter Text

Newt thinks too often of That Fight, the one neither of them talk about, the way he’d left Hermann pink-faced and standing alone in the cold on his front step. The way he’d looked out the window after and watched Hermann’s shapeless parka-clad form linger on the steps like Newt was going to realize his dreadful mistake and come back down the stairs to rip the door open and yank him inside. The way Hermann’s retreating back had grown smaller and smaller in the arcs of the streetlights, snowflakes swirling around him like dust in a beam of afternoon sunlight. The way he’d thought that perhaps he was letting the best thing in his life just shrink away from him and not doing anything to stop him. The way he expected Hermann to come back on his own, to read his mind and decode Newt’s feelings for what they really were. Newt still hears himself sometimes, sharp and so unlike the person he thought he was: “You should go.”

He should have gone flying down the street, snow soaking through his socks, and grabbed Hermann by his skinny wrist. He should have told him, then, that he loved him.

It doesn’t matter now, not really, but Hermann had been thinking of it a few days before, and Newt has been unable to erase the bits of it from his own mind since. He seems harsher than he thought, in the chunks he catches from Hermann’s memory; is it time that’s made him sound clipped and jagged, or was he always that way?

They probably should talk about it, fling it open and shake it out to banish the phantom of it from their heads and hearts; but neither party has ever been the best at communicating. Newt had loved Hermann silently all those years and never managed to convey it to him in a way that wasn’t fighting and stealing furtive glances at him across their lab space; Hermann had spent a decade trying to dissect his feelings before he saw them for what they were, robing worry and fear of rejection in shouting and pointless bickering. Newt had been too busy stealing Hermann’s baby carrots from over his shoulder to come to the realization that he'd been in love with him long before they ever saw each other’s faces.

When the pair had been corresponding, before that first meeting that made them doubt the nature of their feelings, Newt would have said for certain that they were in love (though he never would have admitted that he had secretly considered Hermann his boyfriend, weighing the word in his mouth when he was alone in his bedroom). What else could he have made of the daydreams where he took Hermann’s slender hand from across the table at the cafe he frequented in his rare downtime between classes? He wishes he’d had Hermann in college, that he’d followed up on that wild, nagging impulse to buy a plane ticket and turn up on Hermann’s doorstep to sweep him into his arms and kiss him. It would have gone well (very well). He knew this now. He could have draped his leather jacket around the thin slopes of Hermann’s wire-hanger shoulders, could have taken his hand. They could have gone for coffee or tea or sat on that bridge near the train tracks and let the stars wink at them all night. Newt could have fallen asleep on Hermann’s floor or twisted beneath his sheets and stayed there the rest of his life. They could have clung desperately to each other the way they had in the days following their Drift.

They could have been light years ahead of themselves.

He thinks of the scars marching in various states of newness down Hermann’s hip, all old now and in different stages of faded-but-never-quite-gone but some still less old than the others; tries to place which ones would have been there if he’d gone to see Hermann when he should have.

Should have, could have, would have - Newt has always been wasting his time, their time, since the beginning.

“What is it, dear?” Hermann asks, dipping his head to rest his chin in the vast thicket of Newt’s hair. Hermann’s Newt Senses hardly ever fail him, pricking up at whatever subtle disturbances he picks up from Newton’s head.

Newt scrambles his Rubik's cube and hands it over his shoulder to Hermann, feigning ignorance. He shifts slightly, leaning back into Hermann’s chest, wiggling his toes in an attempt to restore circulation to his tattooed legs. Hermann hands the cube back, patient, solved, before the laugh track on the television fades. Newt tilts his head back to raise an eyebrow at Hermann and regard him with false suspicion.

The tacky “JUST MARRIED” banner Newt had both insisted on in the first place and then taken back with them from the reception hall the week before still hangs proudly on the wall behind the couch, tacked above where Hermann watches him, upside down; neither of them has any intention of taking it down in the foreseeable future. It had taken some gentle prodding from Hermann’s side of things to get Newt to take it out of their front window after a few days and instead hang it on the wall. There are still wedding gifts arriving in the mail, most from far away colleagues who had caught wind of the good news, though one had recently arrived from Mako and Raleigh, who had been unable to get a flight on time to attend their small reception and were increasingly apologetic about the whole thing.

Hermann places a chaste kiss on his forehead, smiling fondly.

Congratulations on the successful co-mingling of your genetic material, the voice on the television says dryly and Hermann laughs hard enough that Newt feels the reverberations in his own body. He grins.

“I wanna get, like, a plaque for the door,” Newt says, accepting the re-scrambled cube and twisting it as though solving it is second nature to him. “The front door. Or maybe I wanna paint the mailbox. I dunno what you’re supposed to do when you get married. I’ve never been married before.”

“We can do whatever you like, Newton, as long as it’s in good taste. I absolutely refuse to be the neighborhood eyesore.”

“Did you see the thing I got for my desk at the university?”

Hermann scoffs quietly, reaching down to drape his arms around Newton’s shoulders and wait for him to finish the cube. “Unfortunately, I did. It’s abhorrent, though I assure you the sentiment is not lost on me.”

The little sign itself is fine - cute, even, if not a bit kitschy - emblazoned with a crooked proclamation of Newton Gottlieb-Geiszler; but the ceramic dinosaur figurines supporting either end of it are a little less within Hermann’s perfectly reasonable decorating sensibilities. He might not have been so critical had it been a wedding gift, as opposed to something that Newt had gone out and had made specifically for himself.

“It's cute , Herm! You can't tell me it doesn't have whimsical charm.”

“I can certainly tell you that, and I will.”

Newt wishes desperately that it was anything other than a Bad Day. He has them far less than he used to, but they are still there, tucked away like embarrassing school photographs at your parents’ house, just waiting to strike when you bring your new boyfriend to meet them for the first time. Bad Days constitute laying on the couch for hours on end, or in the bathtub, because the only thing keeping your brain from exploding is a combination of experimental pills that make you feel like a rock that’s sinking slowly to the bottom of some endless ocean; and there's nothing else you really can do.

Newton turns his head to kiss Hermann’s hand, the stubble dotting his cheek scratching pleasantly against it. It is a Bad Day, but Hermann sits with him on those Bad Days, either working dutifully from home on his laptop, keys clicking and giving Newt something to focus on, or just not working at all. Hermann’s body, his chest pressed against Newt’s back, is his one foothold on the steep mountain he’s named Recovery.

The setting sun paints the living room a soft pink, dusting the two of them in little pieces of sunlight broken up into rectangles by the panes of the tall living room windows. Behind the slouch of Newt’s form, Hermann bites his lip to keep it from quivering, poorly disguising a sniffle as a sneeze. Newt says nothing about it, the way Hermann allowed his wordless shift in conversation topics.

Thank you, the woman on TV says, but I'll get something at the conference.There's a bulimia talk today, and I'll wager that's one lecture hall with a snack machine outside.

 


 

Hermann cries a good deal more now than he ever has, and the only trigger seems to be Newton. Especially now, cradled close, ring on his finger. Marriage suits him (both of them) quite well, if the last one hundred and seventy-three hours are anything to go by. There was a day - many days - where Hermann had thought perhaps this particular day would be nothing more than wide-eyed wishful thinking; but here they are, tangled in each other’s brains indefinitely, lazing across the sofa. Married. After all the business with the hospitals, the courts, the government - every single damned shred of paperwork -

He treasures the shape of Newton’s face in his hands, brushes his thumbs over the creases that appear scrunched at the corners of his eyes when his smile widens. His stubble is going grey, as is his wild hair at the temples. It seems to Hermann that one morning, all at once, Newton just woke up older, like when the curtains were pulled back and the sun fell across his sleeping face, he had been given touches of grey hair above his ears and tiny wrinkles alongside his eyes.

Initially, Hermann was frightened to see Newt looking so aged in such a seemingly short time period; did the Drifting, the Precursors, the sheer terror and stress of it all shorten his lifespan? The possibility is not something he wants to consider, though he is certain that it would be unwise to rule out entirely based merely on the fact that it was not a reality Hermann could bear to face. It did not appear to affect the jaeger pilots in any significant way, though of course there is the fact that the pilots Drift with each other rather than with the dying brain of an alien creature. No one had studied that.

He thinks sometimes of writing a book, of asking Newton to write it with him; but it is one thing to observe a set of events from a scientific perspective and another thing entirely to attempt to separate yourself from phenomena that have impacted, that continue to impact your life and the life of the man you love.

Perhaps if he can manage to separate himself to some degree, Hermann will stop having so many nightmares, residual headaches, ghost-Drift nosebleeds. Even on his long-awaited vacation, Hermann can think only of work, of numbers and equations and fumbling to make some sense of the lives they have been tossed into. They tell him that it is a near-impossibility. They want him to think he cannot find some solution to the onslaught of problems they face, together and separately all at once, but he knows they are wrong.

His therapist (their joint-counseling therapist) tells him that he needs to “take it easy”, but he cannot afford to “take it easy”. There is a solution to any equation if one perseveres, if one is smart. Hermann is smart. Newton is smart.

Hermann wants to find a place in their home for his chalkboard; it might make it less difficult for him to think things through logically. He attempts to envision a plausible string of numbers, a hypothetical yet workable equation. It brings a dull ache to the front of his head, like someone is pulling a string near to breaking. Hermann brings a hand to his face to pinch the bridge of his nose between his thumb and index finger. His vision blurs around the edges, smudging the colors of the furniture in his peripherals.

Hermann thinks suddenly that he might be dying, and finds the notion all at once terrifying and deeply intriguing. If this is the beginning of death, it is a spiral, an imploding star, the sharp fringes of a black hole. He is in his body and he is in Newton’s body, on the sofa yet in the hospital but in the bed they share. He is the Pons device crammed onto Newton’s head, he is a sickly green light, he is the hand Newton reaches for in the endless space of the Drift; he feels Newton seizing in his arms, twisting, cracking, his own heart bursting, Newton’s beautiful, wonderful brain frying with a fantastic sizzling pop-

Newton twists his body around in Hermann’s arms to kiss the sweet corner of his mouth, the laugh lines there that deepen instinctively upon being kissed, as though he knows full well where Hermann’s train of thought is heading and intends to stop it with both hands outstretched. He pulls back only to study Hermann’s face, to cup his cheek and rub his fingers along the nearly-invisible stubble growing along the angle of his jaw. Hermann feels the instant that Newton picks up on the vibrations from their Drift-bond, like a string being plucked in his brain somewhere and reverberating through them both.

“Hermann?”

Hermann’s stomach flips, turns as he struggles to center himself on Newton. He squeezes his eyes shut, though when they reopen, he feels as if he’s on the brink of losing his eyesight. He is dizzy; the television, the clean lines of the room are a blur that stretches briefly into the shape of a sterile room, a hospital bed, a beeping machine, a prison worse than the kaleidoscope of the Anteverse that Newt’s fractured mind has given him. Let him live please god let him live - but Hermann is on the sofa and Newton is on the sofa and they are alive.

Hermann blinks once, clearing his eyes of the tears like knives that well up, bringing the details of the living room back into focus beyond the lenses of his glasses. He looks at his husband. Newt’s eyes dance through his eyelashes with a terror that makes Hermann’s chest ache. Their neural link fritzes, a shock to their brains, to their nerves.

He remembers the way Newton had jolted awake, panting and thrashing in the circle of Hermann’s arms early that morning (the way he’d done it the night after he was brought home, the worst seizure to date, and how Hermann was certain that they would admit him again to inpatient care and never let him leave). Hermann had lost so many pilots when the Jaeger program was still in its early phases; he keeps their names close, their faces as fresh in his mind as their deaths had been, but his Drift partner is still here, still breathing, still fighting. For that, he is the most fortunate man in the universe.

“I’m not certain what’s gotten into me today, Newton, darling,” he mutters, stretching his Bad Leg out across the sofa cushion, brushing against Newt’s leg, in an effort to alleviate the pain that shoots through his hip and down the length of his leg to his toes. His hands ache, joints tightening; Hermann thinks perhaps he may be growing arthritic. He fights to recall the breathing exercises his (their) therapist had been trying to teach him. The room still spins at its edges.

“Maybe we should go to-” The worry that staggers Newton’s voice is heart-wrenching. Hermann shakes his head, musters up a smile to keep the concerned lines from his husband’s freckled face. He forces himself to settle inside, to let their neural link return to its white-noise resting state like taking deep breaths to ease an anxious heart.

“No need. I’m quite alright, Newton. I promise.”

“Oh, babe- Shit, okay, hold still, alright? Just, uh, stay right there.”

Hermann feels the slow creep of blood from his nostril, tickling the space above his lip, and tries in vain to will it away. Hermann Gottlieb is not allowed to have days like this, hiccups and bumps in the proverbial road they share. Hermann is the strong one, the one who does not bend.  They are supposed to be happy, to be basking in the simple pleasure of being so near to each other, and Hermann feels a stab a guilt for ruining it. Newton returns from the kitchen with a paper towel and wipes gently at Hermann’s nose.

“Newton, liebling -”

Shh. Just lemme, y’know, take care of you for once. You don't have to do everything on your own.” Hermann says nothing, drops his eyes in an admission of some perceived guilt to look at the tattoos swirling around Newton’s forearms. “I’ve been in your head, and you've been in mine, and for fuck’s sake, Herm, we're in this together. Remember when you told me that?”

Newton excuses himself to toss the blood-splotched paper towel in the garbage. Hermann wipes absently at his nose, inspecting the back of his hand for any excess blood and finding nothing but the phantom sensation of a nosebleed. Newton returns to him, to the sofa, and gathers Hermann against his chest.

I know, Herm, I know. I'm here.

Newton drags his fingers along the curve of Hermann’s spine, peppers his head in kisses. The sob that has spent the day boiling just beneath Hermann’s lungs manifests as a hiccup and shakes his shoulders. Newton coos at him, shifts on the sofa without releasing him so he can wrap himself entirely around Hermann’s skinny frame.

He sniffles into Newton’s vintage band t-shirt, the scent of laundry detergent and Old Spice a comfort to his rattling brain. It is frightening, the notion that you have no control over your own mind. Newton presses him close and leans over, still clutching Hermann to his chest, to shut off the lamp on the table beside the sofa and cast them in near-darkness. Newton strokes the uneven cut of Hermann’s hair, the spots where it is curling and bordering on untamed. Hermann grips the back of Newton’s shirt in his hands, clinging for dear life, and lets the tears fall in quiet streams.

I'm sorry.

Don't apologize, Herm, it's okay.

Nothing is ever quite the same, from day to day, and for Hermann, this lack of routine is troublesome. His mind had always been the one thing Hermann could depend upon, and the shifts to adjust to this still-new life are proving a formidable challenge. But he knows that if he were to lift the roof off the house, the stars would be unchanged. Beyond the light pollution, the clouds, the constellations are still fixed in their disjointed shapes, still being charted and mapped and relied on; they have been there, will be there, and he and Newton are at rest beneath the very same sky.