I. THE LUNGS
15.01.25 | 6:17 PM
On some yet uncharted periphery of Newt’s mind, a new, unfamiliar part of him plaintively murmurs, man, I’d kill for a cigarette.
No, he scolds himself, no you wouldn’t.
Himself? Maybe not. Maybe it’s not even him.
In any case—bad idea. Meds, for starters. Should he even smoke with—well, but who cares, right? A bit—a bit too late to dwell on that. He plucks anxiously at the cap of his PPDC-issue cardboard-flavoured beverage branded as K-fi, watching the muddy sugary liquid spill jerkily over the top; then drip onto the carious paint-flaking window-frame. Bit late—he must’ve fucked something up already anyway, judging by the ubiquitous buzzing tremble of his hands and dull pressure gathering at the back of his head, muddling thoughts. Dosage, maybe? Or maybe there just isn’t anything that would keep working after—
He blinks. A tinge of blue scatters from his sight-line, clearing away.
Point is, yeah, he’s fucked up as it is, so why not find a new poison?
What’s your new poison, Hermann? Newt thinks involuntarily, raising his eyes to the lilac-tilting grey above. For a moment he feels blinded, instinctive rapid blinks of his eyelids setting off to conjure something in the tear ducts that would salvage blurred sight. Or is a sneaky cigarette enough? Enough to forget about the—
God, no, Newt thinks, inhaling sharply, shaking his head. Not again. Not today.
But it’s futile. The blue is swarming closer, vaguely, to the surface memories, quiet but irrevocable. These days, everything always circles back to the drifts.
And everything in the drifts always circles back to Hermann, an intrinsic element of the perfect loop of Newt’s annoyingly circular life. Hermann the constant variable, Hermann the universal law of negation, Hermann the Shakespearean tragic fucking romance of Newt’s life.
Hermann the untouchable.
Ah. There it is now—a ripple of something prickly and electric sparking up in Newt’s head. His hands twitch up, a violent tug of unplanned motion, his breath hitches. Fuck. There it is. There we go again.
This time, it’s a stunningly, infuriatingly razor-sharp memory that’s forming in his head, entirely blue-tinted—like most things are, lately—but drawn from life regardless, from Newt’s own.
The scattered shadow of Hermann’s ridiculously long eyelashes, heavy as he blinks: one eye red-rimmed, injured to match Newton’s, because—with me. With me. Wide lips parting against the cigarette, the captivating leaning motion of his smooth-angled pale face as he chases the nicotine. He’s done it, with me. Long strong fingers, skin brushing past skin, and Newt wonders—but no. No. Badly-trimmed dark hair, curling over the forehead and by the pointy ears, wayward from humidity. By now Newt’s choked up from affection. No, better not—and yet? And yet—
Newt winces, pulling up the zipper of his torn-up jacket to the very tip of his chin, slumping heavily against the windowsill. It’s cold; temperature plummeting down with the downwards curve of the barely visible sun aimed at the horizon. His forehead, pressed to the window, is leaving blurry splotches of fog on the glass. There’s an ambulance howling faintly somewhere below, the sound shrill and sharp against the low whine of the wind in the loft’s faulty piping.
It’s a recent memory, Newt knows, set some five days prior at most, on top of the Shatterdome’s spacious rooftop, where he’d followed Hermann, starved for genuine proximity.
Only the recent ones feel so nauseatingly fragile.
How much time left? Newt closes his eyes once again, and suddenly ah, there it is, the ghost-rush of nicotine expanding with inhalation. It must be residual, the memory of it, another one of their drift-echoes. Does Hermann feel Newt’s hands shake? No, he probably doesn’t allow it.
The clock’s ticking. Allow me to—
The thing is, the more Newt seems to be allowed, the more he finds himself frozen.
II. THE SKELETON
15.01.25 | 1:25 PM (four hours earlier)
‘There’s no,’ Hermann says, slow and quiet and almost mild, the most terrifying of his subtle warnings, by far exceeding the more mundane shouting and sniping, ‘central heating?’
‘Not yet,’ Newt says desperately.
Hermann’s eyes narrow. His head tilts back. His lips thin into a curved, downturned line. Straightening, he inhales through his nose.
Newt bites his lip, holding his breath. One, two—
‘Newton, I don’t think I need to say that you have grossly misrepresented the state of this property when advertising it to me,’ Hermann finally delivers, in a clipped, disgruntled voice that Newt associates mildly with the looming threat of a notification labelled ‘official complaint filed’ blinking red on his sticker-covered PPDC laptop. ‘But alas, I shall tell you this: it is not and will not be a place apt for functional long-term inhabitation. By God, Newton, I would not be surprised to find a rat chewing on my cane this instant. It is also, should you somehow fail to perceive it—absolutely bloody freezing.’
‘Look,’ Newt blurts out—too quick and too pleading—anxiously rubbing his hands together, and god, doesn’t he sound just pathetic, ‘okay, maybe I remembered this place a little bit differently, after the tiny-ass bunkers we had at the Dome, this just seemed like … a lot, you know? A lot … Lots of space. Lots of, uh, potential. I know it’s not ideal. But we can … we can work something out. Right?’
(‘It’s … spacious,’ is what Hermann has said to begin with, uncertainly, lurking on the very threshold in spite of Newton ushering him in, scanning the space with his careful eyes, still undecided on whether he wants to condemn the place on the spot—or give it a reluctant and dubious chance for Newt’s benefit solely.
Hermann indulging Newton—a notion which, mere weeks ago, would seem nothing less than hysterically ridiculous to both of them.
Hermann: clad in his new Decent Coat—sent by Karla straight from Berlin, with a grey fur-lined collar and wine-coloured lining—leaning on his cane, looking clean-shaved and put-together, vaguely distant, vaguely untouchable.
Newt should’ve known there and then.)
‘Work is indeed a decent choice of term regarding what this … this hellhole requires,’ Hermann presently bites back, scathing. ‘But personally, I would opt for prolonged manual labour.’
Newt can’t help it; he hunches in on himself, just a little. ‘Aw, come on, man,’ he mutters, squirming. ‘It could be—I mean, what else do we have to do, right? At least we won’t be bored.’
Hermann raises a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose, eyes shut. ‘Yes, Newton,’ he grits out, his voice coming out muffled and irate. ‘Because this is exactly how I would envision the first weeks off-duty I have had in ages: valiantly attempting to turn an abandoned freezing warehouse into functional living quarters suitable for two grown men. Truly idyllic.’
‘I mean,’ Newt says, weakly. ‘At least we’re in it together, right? It’s not that bad to me—’
‘Perhaps that is because you do not have to consider the consequences of each physical effort inhibiting your capabilities, Newton,’ Hermann snaps, and Newt’s blood runs cold.
‘God,’ he says, stammering. ‘Fuck, Hermann, I’m sorry, I didn’t—I didn’t think—’
‘No?’ Hermann retorts. His eyes are boring into Newt’s face, dark and nearly expressionless. ‘Well, perhaps that is indeed too much to expect from you: to think about anything other than yourself.’
There’s some odd, sharp edge to Hermann’s voice and Newt gets thrown off balance before he manages to muster up a rebuttal: an odd flash of a blue memory cutting through to the forefront, his own distorted voice forming the joke of a recording he’s left behind before his first drift.
Startled, Newt opens his mouth and closes it. It’s not just the memory; it’s the registered perception of it: frightened, laced with something bitter and helpless—and, yes, hurt. It’s not—it’s not his own, not by far—
‘Dude,’ Newt manages to choke out, panic flaring up inside him in a sickening tide. ‘I didn’t—back then. I didn’t know you—I’d never think you’d—’
‘Don’t,’ sighs Hermann—his voice low, weary. He shuts his eyes. ‘Just—don’t. Now is really not the time. I need … I need to think this current situation through properly. I’d appreciate some quiet in the meantime, if that’s not too much to ask for.’
Throat tight with something foul and choking, Newt nods.
III. THE HEART
15.01.25 | 6:25 PM
Hermann who is, for the lack of a euphemism, the sole reason Newt hasn’t come crashing earlier, way earlier, still in the comforting dim of the Shatterdome.
He thinks it must’ve been the steady dose of shock after Boneslum and Double Drift Extravaganza; the desperation and exhaustion that drove him to do something as totally fucking stupid as physically clinging to the wide-eyed shellshocked Hermann at the LOCCENT and then—and then plain refusing to let go. Just—no. No.
(‘You’re stayin,’ he repeats, hands fisting weakly in the uniform’s starchy pale-green fabric, eyes falling closed from exhaustion as he stares desperately at the neatly done-up buttons of Hermann’s collar. ‘You’re staying here.’)
That it worked, that Hermann sighed wistfully and fell along with Newt, meekly, onto his unmade bunk—all dark blinking eyes and a slack uncertain mouth, his uncannily hesitant hands nowhere near pushing Newt away—seemed to border with a miracle.
Well. Like lots of things.
(Otachi’s mouth—sharp and luminous and terrible, looming closer, and closer as he stumbles and falls—and oh fuck, oh god, no—)
The wave, in any case, was nothing short of intoxicating; a spike of hope so palpable, for the first time since he remembers, so strong that it physically kept Newt far out of the darker corners, instead spurring him on, onwards, towards action, towards Hermann. Keep him, get to him in time, explain that—
That what he feels is need, because with time the wanting started feeling more like being hungry for something; consuming. That it’s not even just sexual most of the time—or not entirely, at least—because Newt’s too spent and nerve-wrecked and exhausted. It’s—no, it’s some other frequency of need, low and aching and perpetual, as though concerned with something you’ve come to discover to be necessary for your sustenance and survival.
For a moment, it works. There’s Hermann, letting the age-old barrier between them come undone under Newt’s feverish insistence. Hermann smiling, such a soft thing on the same pale peculiar face that Newt has come to goddamned worship, and for a moment it all makes sense, everything in Newt’s joke of a life makes sense.
Stay, he’d think, later, when they try and sleep the exhaustion away, tangled together, face nuzzled into the short-trimmed hair on the side of Hermann’s head, just below the shell of his ear. Don’t leave me.
A moment—then suddenly, it’s gone.
Whatever he’s done with the dark thing, stuffed it under some dusty mental carpet, stifled with sheer force of attempting to deliver the indisputable proof of Hermann being worth all the big damning love that Newt’s grown and nurtured for him—well, it’s been good while it lasted, but now the dark thing is back, lurking on the edges, creeping closer, closer.
The wave comes crashing down, knocking Newt off his feet.
He stares vacantly at the fire escape, then lets his eyes slink down, to a small inconspicuous shop across the street.
III. THE HEAD
15.01.25 | 10:20 PM
He feels sick.
He’s drinking straight from the bottle now, cheap red wine with a name in Cantonese that he can’t even begin to comprehend; staring at the flickering neon across the street. Letters, a word, but somehow it doesn’t make sense and Newt can’t force his neurons to push through with understanding. Hair is dangling over his forehead, half-wet from the drizzle, and his lips feel numb.
Everything is sunk in fog. Fog, drizzle, whatever—everything’s swaying. He’s cold, cold, but growing number and more insensate with each passing second. Withdrawal inwards, into his own mistake of a body, loosened limbs and thinned blood. Thinned thoughts. He feels every vein, separate and linked, and—
And Newt thinks, vasoconstriction: the skin arterioles constrict, moving blood away from the surface of the body, retaining the heat carried within the blood. Shivering: muscles begin to shake in small movements, expending energy through cell respiration (which produces heat as a by-product)—
All day, it’s been grey blinding light and air so heavy it forbade breathing, the tense silence between him and the shielded entrance to the small nook where Hermann sets up his temporary study, and he’s been almost relieved when it’s finally faded into night.
Only—not wholly. Not to sleep. Don’t sleep. Don’t you dare sleep.
There’s a lesser of two evils in there, but Newt can’t seem to take his pick: dreams or nightmares. Dreams making him even sicker with wanting, nightmares stealing the last shred of control he has over anything. Anything: from his own failing eyes, shaking hands, the lilting fall of his voice, the desperation with which he still wants to cling to—
God, Hermann. I’m sorry. I’m going to fuck it up.
He’s alone, right now, but only to the first of many daunting degrees—huddled on a small platform on top of the loft’s flat roof, with Hermann still present somewhere below, shuffling around the building, existing tangentially to Newton.
But soon enough it’s going to morph into properly alone.
And there’s currently too much of Newt in Newt, his head feels too much to handle, too much to be human, too much to—
He looks down onto his hands, perpetually stained from a life of carelessly handling chemicals, perpetually shaky from a life of carelessly handling the exact presence of himself in his own head. Warning, Newt thinks, bending slowly to bury his head in his hands and clutch at the hair, the wine bottle tucked between two trembling knees in ripped denim, Handle with care. Toxic contents.
Alcohol hazes everything into even more of in-distinction: steam and fog lending the electric pink light shapes and forms, making it crawl around the roof, writhe in the pools of water. Newt drags his hands down, over his own skin, and it’s all one jumbled experience: the sting of air, of his own dreadful touch, the city noises surrounding him—every inch of it dragged to the extreme, morphing into parallel sensations, every thought rendered so colourful it’s unbearable, every sound made palpable. Heightened, brightened, linked together from each side.
Sometimes Newt fucking hates his brain.
And even—even if he closes his eyes, the colour-sound-texture won’t leave, instead threading into a pulsing, vibrant map far, far behind his eyelids, emerging from the backbone of trembling black at the edge of perception. Everything is perceived, coloured, heightened. Linked. Always linked. There’s no—there’s no dark, no quiet, not ever—
Another connection: guilt tastes mostly like numb lips bit to blood, Newt notes hazily, a little bit nauseating. He wants Hermann’s fingers to wipe it off, wants a scolding tsk and reproachful eyes, wants Hermann soft mouth to touch where it stings most.
Wants something quiet and settled for a change, a hum of static, comfortingly grey. Stability contained in sharp edges, steadiness. Hermann, Newt wants Hermann, and it’s starting to hurt once again.
Hermann, fuck. Hermann, I’m so fucking sorry.
It takes a whole breathless moment for Newt to open his eyes and shift his focus to the physicality of the pink-tinted fog around him. To realise that the voice is factual; outside of his head.
Hermann must have found him, trudged up the wobbly fire escape and onto the roof, despite his leg, despite Newt being an idiot. Hermann does such things.
For a moment, Newt’s too confused again, trying to tell the difference between then and now, stuck in recalling the quick moment right before their drift again, the one that’s sent all of Newt’s world shifting. For me?
‘Newton? Is everything … alright?’
Newt blinks. Raises his eyes. The voice is closer now.
And there he is, standing close in his unfamiliar coat, seeming taller and even more distant on the damp ill-lit (illicit? illusory?) roof, coming to shoot Newton down, once again. Or not. Or—
Or with me? But what’s even the difference, Newt thinks, dazedly, it’s still you that makes it mean anything at all.
‘Newton,’ Hermann repeats, with pressure now, lowering himself carefully onto the edge of the platform Newt’s huddled on: hesitant legs, bony knees in too-loose trousers, the scratch of a cane dragged across wet floor—finally his face, strange and lovely, as he levels himself with Newt.
There’s concern in his voice, too, which is dreadful, dreadful. Newt ducks his head.
‘I’ve been looking for you—you wouldn’t pick up your phone,’ Hermann says finally, half-reproachful, half-something-else. Wary? Worried? ‘It occurred to me that perhaps you’ve—but ah, that’s irrelevant, I’ve found you now. Newt, what on earth are you doing out here in this cold? You’ll catch your death.’
That foreign new soft note to this familiar-coloured voice and—and, god—
‘I wish,’ Newt mutters, weakly, and he can feel Hermann grow rigid, their interactions still infused with that extended physicality of a waning drift bleed-out. ‘Would’ve been a bit to easy, though, no?’
‘Don’t you—’ Hermann retorts, voice cutting. ‘Don’t you even say that.’
Newt flinches in spite of reason, hunching in on himself. Oh, that tone. That tone, yes.
‘I’m sorry,’ he repeats, only semi-coherently, trying to breathe out. Something has welled up in his throat, obtrusive, lumpy and constricting, so words come out heavy and slurred.
There’s a pause, drawn-out, hazy. Newt closes his eyes again—but again, it’s not enough.
‘For what?’ Hermann finally demands, something like tension staining his voice now. He reaches out and coaxes the bottle from between Newt’s knees, setting it aside.
‘I won’t have you … Newton, in all frankness, there’s nothing to be sorry for. Nothing that wouldn’t be—come, I need you to get back inside with me so we can warm you up. Though God only knows, that’s a fearsome task in this horrendous den of drafts and leaky piping you’ve purchased. We’ll have to … ’ he makes a theatrical disdainful pause, ‘… improvise.’
And it’s all … tempting. Tantalising. Warming up, Hermann, inside. But it’s too late for that now, too late to—but Hermann doesn’t realise yet.
‘No, yeah, you—you need to go back,’ Newt manages to choke out, hoarse, trying to straighten enough from his slouch to appear convinced, even as the whole world sways around him. ‘Shouldn’t’ve listened to me, about the … apartments and shit. Christ, I don’t even know what I’m saying. You should’ve … you’d be much better off without… ah, fuck. Hermann. What I mean is, I’m not gonna blame you. Really. Like, listen to me—I’m not kidding. No hard feelings. Cause I, shit, I can barely handle myself most of the time. And I’d, like, really hate you to … to hate me. If you, I mean, if you don’t already, cause shit—’
He trails off. The ringing whine in his ears grows louder.
‘Newton,’ Hermann utters at length, sounding something along the lines of stricken. ‘What on earth are you talking about?’
‘You’ve gotta leave, man,’ Newt repeats, relentlessly. ‘Leave. Okay? Like, you’ve got to, I’m not even—’
Hermann blinks, and he seems startled. Uneasy. ‘Oh, don’t—don’t be ridiculous,’ he says, uncertainly.
Newt swallows, trying to breathe out steadily enough to get the words out without choking. ‘No. Not ridiculous—I’m a mess, yeah, but. But listen—’
‘Yes, Newton,’ Hermann interjects, suddenly sharp, and it’s enough to cut Newt off mid-sentence, ‘you are. That’s hardly news. But why would you think it necessary for me to leave you here is beyond me—what, because of the state of the flat? Newton, we are perfectly capable of surviving here for the time being and then either refurbishing it or finding … different quarters, perhaps more suitable for both of us. For God’s sake, as much as I stand by my irritation, I did not mean to imply that I find the situation hopeless—’
No, he. He doesn’t understand.
‘No, Hermann, it’s—it’s more than that,’ Newt pushes his face in his hands again and sways in his spot. The low ringing whine in his ears is expanding slowly into something like a shriek, and he’s beginning to shake even harder. How does one say it?
Because wanting, needing, okay, that maybe makes sense, that’s maybe normal, but can Newt really prove to be this much of a self-centred asshole to go and say, I need you to sustain me? Keep me from falling apart. I’m a mess, I’m an absolute dysfunctional mess, and now I don’t even have a purpose to keep me upright daily but—but sometimes I feel human with you. Only ever with you.
And the devastating answer is, Newt could. He would. But he doesn’t—he doesn’t want to. No, that’s wrong: he does, he really does, he wants Hermann to be as ride or die on this as he is, he wants that big stupid love to stay exactly that way, I’ll go with you.
I’ll stay with you.
But isn’t that, he thinks, spiralling further down. Isn’t that the definition of too much to ask for.
‘I—fuck,’ Newt mutters, vaguely, ‘I don’t want you to hate me.’
Somewhere in the lingering phosphenes of blue, this warm neural presence stretching thready and waning between them, Newt feels Hermann’s rare smile curving into existence; feels the forgiving sound of his voice before it takes shape of words and becomes audible.
Hermann says, ‘That’s highly unlikely to happen.’
Newt’s ribcage constricts. Quite suddenly, quite literally, he can’t breathe.
‘No, stop,’ he whispers, frantic. ‘Stop, I—I can’t, Hermann. I’m sorry, it’s too much, it’s too much. I’m sorry. Please, please, don’t—’
‘Too much?’ There’s a slight but vital change to Hermann’s voice, concern emerging once again, a lingering blue hesitance—but Newt’s far too gone to process it. He only hears his words, disjointed and distant by now.
‘Newt, what is it? What’s wrong?’
The name—the—he says it now.
How to say it? Newt thinks dazedly. Too much. Just too much.
I can’t fucking stand existing.
‘I’ll fuck it up,’ he says instead, into his useless, helpless hands, moving in little twitches as though to escape physicality, dissipate into something easier to bear. ‘I’m sorry. I’ve fucked it up.’
It’s harder and harder to focus on anything but the painstaking act of pushing his face into his fists, roughly. Of containing—keeping everything in place. Just for a while. Just, please, just a while. Just—
There’s a touch.
Very slight, almost imaginary—a touch of cold fingers, brushing past the knuckles of one of Newt’s bunched up fists.
He inhales sharply, instantly stunned by the intake of piercingly cold air.
And then Hermann’s voice, quiet.
‘And what makes you think that?’
Don’t you know it? Because—because it’s too easy. Hermann does not do easy. Hermann is always ambiguous with his affections, Hermann never says anything explicitly, never allows. Hermann is vague and stymied and unreadable, and untouchable. So why change?
Why suddenly—why would he—no—
And there comes the sickening, frightening blue, spilling over everything, lighting it up into unbearable clarity. Newt sees it, distorted and drawn out, feels himself forcing, tricking, spilling his mind into Hermann’s, coaxing him into staying, into enduring him.
He feels so sick. So, so sick.
‘Because I always do,’ Newt groans. ‘I’m … I’m sorry. I’m doing it now! D’you realise? To—to you, I’m doing it—I’m sorry. I do this thing where I … I just keep pushing and pushing until people give in and either let me in or … or push me back, hard, so that I won’t get up and try again. But if maybe—maybe if I’m pushy enough, then they’ll give in, and you’ve—you must have—but I don’t want this to be like that, okay? Not this time, I don’t want to be like that with you—’
He almost chokes on the last word, curling in on himself. There it is, suddenly, a moment of absolute, definite quiet.
‘Newton,’ Hermann then says, after what seems like ages: low but firm, and sounding unforgivably sad. ‘You are not.’
‘The fuck I’m not,’ Newt spits out, hysteria creeping out into his voice, tainting it with a high pitch of bright yellow. ‘Why’re you here if not—this is how it goes, Hermann, and I don’t want it.’
‘Newton, look at me,’ Hermann counters—an echo of that crushing declaration of his, not-so-long-ago on a parallel rooftop, when he was the one in need of reassurance. It’s a distorted echo: steadier now, deliberate without the bitter lining.
And—and maybe all he needs is to look, maybe it would be enough, but Newt can’t.
‘No, you don’t … get it,’ he manages instead, vaguely, opening his eyes only to stare ahead, voice hitching and high-pitched and he hates it—because everything is sharpening again, along with seeing, only now it’s really too much. Really. ‘It’s—I’m useless.’
‘Do you understand, Hermann? I’m useless, I’ve done all I ever could have, there’s no more. You—you’re different, you’re gonna be only better. But I’m, I’m just not—who’d need me? Who the fuck needs a fucked-up Kaiju-obsessed freak with more issues than there’s elements in the fucking periodic table? No one. No one wants—no, what are you doing here, Hermann? You need to go. Fucking please, go, how could you—I can’t even get a grip and pull myself together, let alone a life, and you, you deserve—’
‘You?’ Hermann interjects, voice startlingly clear. He repositions himself slowly so that he’s half-facing Newt, one leg bent at the knee, one safely outstretched, over-perceptive eyes searching Newt’s face. ‘Do I deserve you?’
‘No, it’s not—’ Newt stammers, ‘no, it doesn’t—it’s not like that, I—’
‘Or perhaps that’s just what I want,’ Hermann continues, steadily.
Newt’s breath hitches. ‘No—don’t. Don’t say that.’
‘Why not?’ Hermann counters, frighteningly unruffled. ‘It’s the truth. And besides—I think I need to say it. I think, not for the first time, I’ve proved to be a fool.’
This is not—this is not what was supposed to—what is even going on here. Everything starts spinning again. It takes all of Newt’s willpower not to bite down at his own knuckles.
‘What?’ he breathes out, dazed, jittering, miserable. ‘You? What—’
‘Yes, for not seeing what’s unraveling right in front of my eyes,’ Hermann continues, and then reaches—reaches to touch Newt’s face, and oh, fuck. No, don’t—
Don’t stop, please, don’t stop.
It’s tentative, again, just as light as that earlier brush against the knuckles of his hand, and in spite of all reason, Newt finds it impossible to flinch.
‘You tend to be so much, Newton,’ Hermann says, fingers splaying against the side of Newton’s face, cool against his skin which seems to radiate heat, ‘so loud and so blatantly visible, and you withstand so much in that rash violent manner, that even I keep forgetting you’re—’
‘An idiot?’ Newt mutters.
‘Fragile,’ Hermann says. ‘More than most.’
And that’s it.
‘Ah, fuck,’ Newt whispers, giving in. It’s pathetic, pathetic how touch-starved he is, even now when he should fight to keep himself together and be an adult for this. Follow through with the decent thing he was trying to do, give Hermann all the facts he needs and make him see what Newt sees, that he’s been an idiot to be so optimistic that—
But Hermann—the frustrating thing about Hermann is that he just sits there with Newt, until some of the tension relents and some of the world stops spinning; fades and softens, sharp edges thinning. Hermann reads all of Newt’s misgivings with odd improbable acceptance. Hermann stays, and endures—and Newt suddenly can’t remember why it’s supposed the wrong thing. The wrong—
Wrong? What’s it even mean?
For the first time in what seems like hours, Newt’s able to exhale with full awareness of the fact. He blinks up at Hermann, disoriented.
‘I’m not very vocal at my best,’ Hermann picks up, apparently sensing that he’s got Newt’s attention, his voice low and halting. ‘I shy away from … exposure. There’s been many a lesson learned—about how that tends to be disastrous in results.’
‘I know,’ Newt says, weakly, his eyes falling back shut. Tired, he feels so tired now, slowly winding down, declining. ‘I’ve seen. I don’t want you—I don’t ever want you to be—’
‘Hush, Newton, this was not an invitation to lament over the less exhilarating of my life experiences. Typically, my withdrawals work well—but in certain cases, they are a mistake. Because sometimes I’ll silence myself, and then … and then, suddenly, I have grown so used to persisting in the quiet, that I see no other way of functioning. But there there must be a different way—and I’ve been a fool not to—’
‘Hermann, you don’t—’
Hermann’s hand stills on Newt’s temple and travels down to cradle the side of his face, dizzying.
‘What I have been trying to grasp, for this past week, is that I am not alone. But you’re not either,’ he chases Newton’s scattered gaze: dark steady eyes, achingly serious now. ‘You’re not going to be. I am not going to leave you. It’s unthinkable that it’s only now occurring to me that it needs saying out loud. More fool me.’
Newt is staring. He swallows.
There’s some funny sensation inside his body, a dizzy rush of disjointed warmth, in the blood, in the ribs. It’s—
‘I—’ Newt tries, strained voice hitching painfully as he desperately tries to look away once again, hide whatever wet traitorous thing is blurring his vision, keep himself together and not come undone, not again. ‘But Hermann, you. You should.’
‘No,’ Hermann insists, one of his hand squeezing Newton’s, the other tilting his head stubbornly back. ‘No, Newton, because there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. Tell me, do you really want me to leave?’
Newt nearly chokes on the hysterical laugh that tears out of his throat.
‘Oh, come on,’ he chokes out finally, distressed, shaking his head as guilt comes crashing down, but there’s no way around it. No way to hide it, not from goddamned Hermann, with his VIP pass to Newt’s blue-radiating synapses.
‘Like I’ve ever—no, fuck, Hermann, how can you even say that. I need—’
‘To be quiet,’ Hermann interjects, nonsensically, reaching for the back of Newt’s neck to turn his head again, and it makes so little sense, and Newt still wants to protest that—until it suddenly does, all things clicking into place like his self-assembled PONS unit.
Everything’s still an odd-coloured jittery mess, only a little more bearable. But.
But Hermann is kissing him.
He initiates the kiss, too, which is rare—and done with methodical thoroughness of soft lips and steady fingers that is Hermann in all aspects, and goes miles beyond simply stabilising. Newt’s perception of the world does not merely slow down, it centres and focuses: Hermann. Just Hermann, nothing else.
There’s never been, if Newt’s being honest with himself. His breath hitches, wandering restless hands coming to clutch at Hermann’s weird expensive coat, at old his woollen sweater, at the shape of bony ribs beneath it; the entire thoroughly-mapped phenotype. His whole body responds with suddenly regained senses, synapses firing—and Newt thinks he is. Honest. Maybe it is wrong, maybe it is self-centred and whatever the fuck else, but this is the closest to honesty Newt’s ever come, this, Hermann.
Please don’t leave me, he’d say, if he were just a little more honest still. And maybe Hermann hears anyway, through whatever traces of the drift are still thrumming and simmering in between them, because when Newt shuffles him closer, down, Hermann pulls him closer still.
‘Newton,’ a murmured warning of lips against lips, spoken after an indefinite measure of time. ‘We’re going to fall down.’
‘I don’t care,’ Newt breathes out, because he doesn’t. He feels three times more intoxicated now, but in some better, fuller way. Not numb, warm, alive. ‘I don’t care.’
‘Well, I do,’ Hermann says with a sigh, leaning devastatingly away and then pulling them both—Newt wholly breathless and half-slung across his lap by now—further inwards onto the platform.
The new angle casts a harsh sheen of the eerie neon-pink light onto Hermann’s asymmetrical pointy face, adding odd theatrical depth to the frame of his eyes, the pronounced hollows of his cheeks. His mouth is reddened, stark against the skin that’s almost translucently blue in the false lighting. Something striking about it all. Improbable.
Throat constricting suddenly, Newt shivers and lets out a wary breath. He raises a hand and proceeds to trace his shaky index finger down one of Hermann’s cheekbones, then his jaw, taking in the way his eyes flutter involuntarily at the touch.
Hermann is smiling—a subtle stretch of lips, a net of small crinkles in the eyes’ corners—but it’s all lined with some striking uncertainty, and it hits Newton suddenly that he’s not quite as calm as he has made it look, and perhaps much more scared.
‘I’m sorry,’ says Newt.
I love you, he thinks. You don’t deserve this.
‘Third time’s the charm,’ Hermann replies, soft. He intercepts Newt’s hand mid-air, holding its back pressed to his cold cheek. ‘You’re sorry, but for what? The central heating? Because, well, that would be understandable, at least.’
‘I don’t know,’ Newt says, voice small and hoarse again, leaning in only to close his eyes and push his forehead against Hermann’s shoulder—then, to shuffle even closer and nuzzle his neck, because that’s not enough, not enough.
Hermann doesn’t push him away.
‘Not just the heating,’ Newt mumbles. ‘For—everything.’
That feels honest, too. Everything. A haze of memories dripping with blue, stretched across a curving timeline. An echo of a recording. Everything.
‘That’s a lot to be held accountable for,’ Hermann says delicately, and he sounds … he sounds something amused, which is not quite something Newt can wrap his head around just yet. ‘Are you sure you have a right to claim everything to be your fault? Because I am quite positive both me and the rest of humanity must have had at least some share.’
Newt hears—no, feels Hermann’s voice, vibrating out from the thorax through the skin of his neck, then fading into quiet along to the steady thrum of the pulse. He thinks, distantly, that he should answer, that Hermann is owed an answer—but no answer comes. He breathes out against Hermann’s pulse-point; then breathes in, trying to synchronise their breathing.
After a while, Hermann picks up, a note of carefully measured teasing emerging in his voice. ‘For what it’s worth, apology accepted. Everything is as of now no longer your fault. The central heating still is. Are you happy?’
Smiling in spite of himself, Newt forces his eyes open. His glasses have ridden upwards on his forehead and everything is blurry: a hazy blur of distant light, essentially unimportant. The nearer haze of Hermann’s face, essential.
‘See, now you do that thing,’ Newt mutters, nosing seamlessly back into Hermann’s brachial plexus. ‘Where you’re just really kind of a dick to me but at the same time you just … go and accept all my bullshit. And it’s real unfair, too, cause it tricks me into—’
Hermann leans away again, frustrating with his infallible precision of eluding Newton’s defensive comfort zones and managing to stare him square in the eyes. He tugs Newt’s glasses down with one finger, and Newt can see all the funny pink shadows, all the little intricacies of his froglike frown.
‘Trick you?’ Hermann says, sternly. ‘I trick you into what, exactly?’
‘It’s like,’ Newt says, softly, smoothing out the creases he’d made in Hermann’s stiff-ironed shirt collar. ‘If you think I’m bearable, then I must be less of a wreck than I thought. If you—see, I’ve only ever been able to like—to like myself when you did. If that makes … sense.’
‘So, always?’ Hermann says, raising his eyebrows. ‘Well, good, Newton. I’m sure we can live with that.’
‘Fuck you, dude,’ Newt says damply, with something like a dizzy tired chuckle, ducking his head once again, ‘What’s even this conversation we’re having? You made it … you made it all wrong. You were supposed to realise I’m a mess and … and I don’t know, go off to have a good life.’
‘Yes,’ Hermann says, and it’s so wonderfully wry and familiar. ‘Thank you very much, Newton, for your input regarding the way you envision my supposed good life. Let me inform you that your ideas are, as per usual, ridiculous, and I’ve no intention of complying with any of them.’
‘Jesus, okay,’ Newt snorts, but there’s tears blurring his eyes now, burning hot and saline, stinging in the cold humid air, and there’s no way to stop them. Fuck. ‘Right, yeah, okay, cause you’d rather sit on a roof of a rat-infested leaky building without central goddamned heating with an unemployable loser who’s bought the said building, run out of his meds and has just dragged you into the Nth panic attack of his life. Yeah, cause that’s real—real classy, that, real good choice. That makes sense. That’s—that’s just—’
His breath hitches and the rest comes out as a strangled gasp, and he’s shaking his head now, something like half-seconds away from breaking down.
But he doesn’t let go.
‘Yes,’ Hermann says, brushing his thumb past Newt’s cheek to wipe away some of the treacherous moisture—and then leaning in to lightly kiss him on the lips. ‘Stop insulting my life choices, Newton. It’s getting redundant.’
It’s unavoidable, really—Newt laughs.
IV. THE HANDS
25.02.25 | 6:24 AM
Newt wakes with his overeager heart ready to rip out of his mouth.
He arches up on the bed, body vibrating with each heartbeat, dizzy with jolts of epinephrine coursing through his system. For a moment, he cannot catch his breath. It’s not quite dark anymore, not entirely, light gathering in twitching particles and tinging everything around him grey. It’s warm, stuffy—unfamiliar, odd—
Newt touches his face blindly, cold hands on sweat-drenched skin, and starts at the sudden slight sound to his left, a vague rustle of breath. He turns—and stops.
Hermann is asleep. Rare as it is, Newt’s fresh terror of a recycled memory-nightmare must have failed to carry over and force him awake. The ghost of their neural link seems to be receding gradually, day by day; both a curse and a blessing.
Breathing heavily, heart still racing, Newt fixates on Hermann’s face: seemingly smoother while he sleeps, younger, devoid of that old edge of anger that used to stain it. His hair is growing out, curling amusingly over the forehead. His mouth is parted, slack in one downturned corner. Newt tries to blink, to help his stinging eyes that are suddenly miserably wet, but finds himself much too afraid—he can’t stop looking.
It still takes a while, for it all to settle in, properly: that he is not dying and he is not stuck in any of the fragmented blue flashes of the past, not—
—not alone. Not in a while.
Newt nods erratically, solely to himself, a practiced movement of self-reassurance, and inhales. It’s okay. It’s okay.
He pushes himself out of bed, staggering to the kitchen on wobbly legs, and nearly breaks a glass while trying to fill it with tap water. Shit. No, it’s okay. It’s okay, it’s—stop being an idiot. Just stop.
Nodding again, Newt waddles back to the bedroom, stumbling over his own haphazardly discarded boots on the way and colliding roughly with the door-frame. Something on the bed stirs, inhaling with a snuffle.
‘No, no,’ Newt whispers, insistently, ‘no, you idiot, go back to sleep.’
He crawls back with a valiant attempt at carefulness, the mattress dipping under his weight, making him stumble into Hermann’s bent knee and fall over onto his elbow. Earning him a confused bleary look and something between a huff and a grunt.
‘Go to sleep,’ Newt repeats, quietly.
Hermann—sleep-sweet, slack-mouthed and tousled—still manages to frown up at him with an admirable amount of reproach. He huffs once again, props himself ungainly on the trapped elbow and mumbles a hoarse, accusing, ‘You’re cold.’
‘Uh, pot, meet kettle?’ Newt bites back, trying to yank his own blanket from where it’s trapped under Hermann and wrap it around himself. ‘Dude, you’re usually a sentient icicle. You don’t get to steal my blanket and then bitch about it.’
Hermann graciously decides to forgo the comeback and help, then, by means of a surprisingly strong downwards tug on Newt’s elbow, which brings him flat down onto Hermann’s chest. Entangling loosely but firmly in Newt, he’s out in two seconds.
Warm, too: the mornings being the only time of day when Hermann does tend to be warmer than Newt. The fact that he knows of it, knows it, knows what Hermann is and isn’t, still makes Newt dizzy when he actually stops to think about it.
Like right now.
He lets himself go further, to what they will likely be, indefinite, predictable measures of time later:
He’ll manage to doze for a while (maybe) reassured by the steady weight of Hermann’s touch; then get restless (likely) and sneak out to the tiny cluttered kitchen. Hermann will come hobbling in some considerable time later, with ruffled-up hair, in his ridiculous victorian ankle-length bathrobe, rubbing his eyes with knuckles of pale bony hands.
‘Coffee,’ he’ll utter cryptically in lieu of a greeting; raspy and delightfully disgruntled. He’s never particularly articulate in the mornings.
Newt will ditch the breakfast, then, to lean up across the table and kiss the frown away from the preciously askew line of Hermann’s stubborn mouth.
Like that. Or only slightly different. It will be—they will. Newt is more or less sure of it now.
So he reaches out, skims his fingers down the sharp cheekbone and then flattens out the palm of his hand, fingers splaying on soft pale skin.
‘Touchable,’ Newt says, very quietly.