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mutual idiocy: the saga

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“You...sorry, sir, but what the hell?” Hermann asks, staring dumbfoundedly at the brochure Marshal Hansen’s handed him. On the cover’s a picture of a small, if elegant, Craftsman-style house surrounded by evergreens, the sun filtering through the leaves and onto the ground in a dappled pattern.

“A vacation, Doctor Gottlieb,” Hansen sighs. “Mandatory—HR’s insistent, and, given the...unique nature of your relationship with Doctor Geiszler, they deemed it best if you were to take one together. Three weeks paid leave—it’s the least we can do for you, given that neither of you has used any of your leave for the past decade.”

That, Hermann realizes when he thinks about it, is very true; then again, in the face of death and destruction, sick leave and vacation time had seemed insignificant. Well, they still do, but when he opens his mouth to argue the point, Hansen’s stony glare silences him, and he merely nods.

On his way out, brochure in hand, Hansen calls, “Oh—Gottlieb? Don’t forget to tell Geiszler.”

Hermann freezes for the barest fraction of a second, dread creeping down his spine, but he’s already crossed the threshold, the door closing behind him with a solid thump and hiss as it secures itself.

Well , he thinks, grimly, this should be fun.

“They what?” Newton asks, doing an excellent impersonation of a dying fish. He’s staring at Hermann like he’s grown an extra head, hands hanging limply at his side. “You’re kidding, right?”

“Sadly, no,” Hermann replies. “It isn’t ideal, but...we might as well make the best of it, yes?”

Newton presses the heels of his palms to his eyes and drags in a deep breath. “Okay, okay...it’s just a month, right?”

“Three weeks, yes,” Hermann confirms.

Newton nods, half to himself. “Okay. We can not kill each other for a month, right?” He sends Hermann a searching look, and all Hermann can do is shrug helplessly. “Well, shit.”

They pack their bags over the next few days—Hermann can feel the echoes of his lab partner’s frustration over the lingering Drift bond at the refusal of his clothing to fit properly into the small suitcase—and, on the day of the flight, silently meet in the lab.

Newton offers a weak smile. “Well, it can’t be worse than Drifting with me, right?” he questions, in an attempt to lighten the mood, and Hermann scowls at the implication that the Drift was undesirable but says nothing.

(He’s gotten very good at these silences; certain words omitted when he speaks—Newton’s fondness for him is platonic, this much he can tell from the Drift, Hermann’s decidedly less so, though whether or not Newton knows is unclear.)

“We ought to be going,” he says, instead. “Our flight leaves in an hour, and, given the traffic—”

Newton cuts him off with a wave of his hand and an eye roll. “Okay, I get it, dude—no need to give me a lecture.” Hermann scowls, but it seems to have done the trick, as Newton picks up his suitcase, grabs Hermann’s, and begins to walk down the hall, leaving Hermann sputtering for a moment in his wake.

“Newton!” he calls, irritation tinging his tone darkly, “you—” but Newton’s faint laughter floats back to him, and with a huff of annoyance, Hermann stomps after him.

They do make it to their gate on time—Hermann makes sure of it—but along the way, various humorous incidents occur, the highlights of which include Newton getting pulled aside because airport security though he was a Kaiju cultist, leading to a loud argument in thickly accented Cantonese and sweeping gesticulations, until Hermann finally digs out their PPDC badges.

Finally, though, they make it aboard the plane, Newton shoving both of their luggage—“I’m not the one who’ll fall over from the weight, dude, just let me do it—!”—into the overhead storage and collapsing into the seat. “Oh man, I forgot how uncomfortable they make these things,” he groans, twisting his fingers into the seat-belt straps.

Hermann settles into his own seat—Newton’s insisted on the window seat, and, in the hopes that it will distract him, Hermann had agreed—and calmly fastens his own seat-belt, pulling out a book, and points out, “It’d be less so if you simply stop moving every three seconds.”

Newton scowls at him, restlessness making his leg jerk up and down rapidly despite the fact that he’s sitting still otherwise, sending tendrils of annoyance skittering across Hermann’s mind from the bond. With a sigh, Hermann places his hand on the fidgeting biologist’s knee in an attempt to calm him.

Newton quiets suddenly, stock still in his seat, but Hermann’s too exhausted to investigate that further, a yawn cracking his jaw, eyes heavy, and he slips into the embrace of darkness.

 

[d̷͓̭̰͈͇̏̋̍̍̕r̵̨̡̙͔͙̱̪͍̗̰̗͇̰̜̓̇̑͋į̷̰̻̜̹̔̋̇̏f̵̧̨͍͙̞̦͕̤̝͎̈́͊̐̆̉̒̃̋͑̊̐̉̄̉t̸͈̯̟̲̱͉̒ ̷̮̗̰̓̓͗̐̀͂̉̈͊͛c̴̠̞̲͎͕̩͍̯͓̓̋͊̉̈́̃͝ǒ̴̳̼̪̦̹̯̤̰̘̖̥̠̍͋m̴̛̯̲͇͎̎̒̌̒̓̇̋̎͑͘͠p̸̠̯͈̫͓̫̃̔̉̃̕̚͜a̶͉̝̤̝͂̈́̐̾͠͠t̸͈͖̙̤͕͙͎͚̭̗̻͚̓̌̔͗̿͛͜͝i̸̡̢̘̮͓̖̞̜̹̦̲͉͋̏͐̅̋͒̚b̶̻̮̤̲̠̫̘̼̪̱͇̙͙̭͑̅̅̃̔͗̈́̂́̾̿̄̚͘l̸̜̥̻͉̏̈́̄̂̑͗̍̽̈́͘͝e̷̢̪̰͓̗̳̰̋̐̊̈́̋͂̋̒͆͘͜͝]

 

Newt’s still frozen, barely daring to breathe in case it stirs Hermann. The hand on his knee is a heat-sink, but the truly surprising thing is that it’s there . Hermann’s never been one for casual touch, as much as Newt poked and prodded (and hoped); the arm thrown around his shoulder after the Breach closed was easy to brush off as a one-off, but now, with Hermann placing his hand on Newt so casually, as if it’s second nature, Newt is seriously beginning to freak out.

There are two possible explanations: one, Hermann’s been replaced by aliens (see: Kaiju); not impossible, but highly unlikely, and two: it’s a Drift thing that’ll fade in a few days. Well, Occam's Razor, right?

(Part of him hopes it won’t fade—he’s wanted this for...years. Well, not this, considerably more than this, but he’s accepted that Hermann will never feel the same for him, so…)

In an attempt to distract himself, he turns on a movie—some shitty alien/post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie—but his gaze keeps drifting back to the pale fingers splayed across his knee; they’re slender, but Newt knows from experience that they’re a lot stronger than they look. He wonders idly if Hermann ever played an instrument—piano, perhaps; he imagines Hermann, dressed in a clean-cut black blazer and white shirt, sitting straight-backed at an elegant piano, fingers gliding across the keys, eyes half-closed, immersed fully in the piece he’s playing—

Shit , he thinks, nope, nope, think about something else—anything else. Eels! Stingy, bitey, ugly moray eels—

It’s no use; his mind’s latched onto the idea, spinning a thousand fantasies where Newt comes up behind him, wraps his arms loosely around Hermann’s slender shoulders, nuzzles his neck, and Hermann lets out a soft laugh, turning to capture his lips

No, no, no!

If not for fear of disturbing Hermann, Newt would pull his hair in frustration and anguish; distractions are futile; his heart wants what it wants, and he cannot do a thing about it.

At least the house is large, so he can avoid Hermann, right?

It’s not. It’s not, not by any means. The house is unassuming from the outside, if a bit on the cosy end of the size spectrum, but Newt, ever the optimist—it’s what won the war, he’s sticking with it, piss off, Hermann—brushes it aside, instead exclaiming at the diversity of tree species; despite the Kaiju Blue’s devastating effects, the ecosystem is righting itself. “It’s amazing,” Newt enthuses. “I mean, I know that Washington didn’t get hit as bad as, like, Sydney or San Francisco, but still, Blue’s nasty stuff—you remember what happened to the other forests hit by Kaiju?”

Hermann squeezes his eyes shut. “Newton, please, it’s almost midnight—for once in your life, be quiet,” he begs. “I just want to put down my suitcase and sleep.”

Newt rolls his eyes; having not slept on the flight, he’s a bit past exhausted and firmly into the realm of so tired he’s manic , but offers an arm. Hermann stares at him for a second, before Newt huffs impatiently, “Support, dude, I can feel your leg. Come on, let me help you.”

Hermann wavers for a moment—literally , which is kind of worrying—before grasping onto Newt’s arm like a lifeline, leaning against it heavily. Newt feels the pain dull to a throb instead of a shooting pain and lets out a sigh of relief; while Hermann can go without his cane, and did so because, as he said, it’s “not worth the hassle”, twenty-four hours alternating between standing and walking without the aid of his cane has left a mark; his shoulders are tense with the pain, and his mouth is pinched into a thin line.

They limp down the hall, Hermann silent at his side; there’re two doors, and, when he opens the one to find a bathroom, Newt’s spider-sense goes off like a siren. Aaaaand—

yep. There’s only one bedroom. And only one bed.

Shit,” Newt hisses, and Hermann, whose head has fallen onto his shoulder, starts at the noise, blinking rapidly. “Hermann, I—” he flounders, and Hermann frowns at him, confused.

“What’s—oh,” he says, belatedly, then, again, “oh. Well.”

“Yeeeah,” Newt draws the word out. “Um. I can—take the floor, or the sofa or—”

Hermann bats at his chest lightly, unable to lift his arm further, and says, as sternly as he can manage in his state of zombification, “No, absolutely not.”

Newt clenches his jaw. “Well, you can’t take the sofa—I won’t stand for it—”

Hermann stares at him, as if calculating the exact odds of ending up with such an idiot, and says, slowly and clearly, “No, Newton, neither of us have to take the sofa. I’m proposing we share the bed. It’s large enough, and we’re both exhausted.”

Newt’s face is probably bright red; this is exactly how he didn’t want it to go—take a vacation they said, it’ll be fun, they said. Well, now there’s only one bed and it feels like he’s living a shitty fanfic trope, so.

He breathes out a sigh, decides he can deal with this tomorrow . “Fine. But if you snore, I swear...”

Hermann does a little quirk of his lips, head pillowed on his shoulder, and Newt’s heart melts. “Right,” he says, clearing his throat awkwardly, disentangles Hermann from his side. “I’ll...I’ll take the right side.”

Hermann nods silently, and Newt escapes to the en suite to pull on his pyjamas, splashing water on his burning face, and thanks the powers that be that Hermann is too tired to have noticed his blush. The cold water on his face is grounding, shocks him slightly out of his state of growing panic. It’s going to be fine , he tries, tomorrow, we’ll find an—air mattress or a camp bed or something .

The thought calms him a bit more, his fingers no longer drumming rapidly, and when he looks at his reflection in the mirror, the face that stares back at him is more or less serene, save for the still-fading bruise-like mark around his iris; Hermann’s mirrors his, he remembers, out of the blue.

When he gets out of the bathroom, Hermann’s already laying under the covers, hair falling across his face and onto the pillow in whisps, lips parted slightly. Newt can see the collar of his dressing gown poking out from under the covers, the dark material highlighting his almost-vampirically pale, alabaster skin. Hermann shifts, and, with an alarmed squeak, Newt realizes he’s been staring, and, in his surprise, flails, knocks his leg against the mattress, and lets out a curse.

The sound rouses Hermann—at least, partially, because he makes a muffled groaning noise and buries his face in the pillow. “Sorry, sorry,” Newt hisses. Thankfully, Hermann falls back to sleep immediately, and, breathing a sigh of relief, Newt tries to not think of the implications of the action as he pulls back the covers and slides beneath them next to Hermann, the warmth enveloping him immediately.

Exhaustion crashes over him, suddenly, like a tidal wave, and his eyes feel like they’ve got leaded weights on them. With a soft sigh, he gives in, slipping into the embrace of sleep.

 

[d̷͓̭̰͈͇̏̋̍̍̕r̵̨̡̙͔͙̱̪͍̗̰̗͇̰̜̓̇̑͋į̷̰̻̜̹̔̋̇̏f̵̧̨͍͙̞̦͕̤̝͎̈́͊̐̆̉̒̃̋͑̊̐̉̄̉t̸͈̯̟̲̱͉̒ ̷̮̗̰̓̓͗̐̀͂̉̈͊͛c̴̠̞̲͎͕̩͍̯͓̓̋͊̉̈́̃͝ǒ̴̳̼̪̦̹̯̤̰̘̖̥̠̍͋m̴̛̯̲͇͎̎̒̌̒̓̇̋̎͑͘͠p̸̠̯͈̫͓̫̃̔̉̃̕̚͜a̶͉̝̤̝͂̈́̐̾͠͠t̸͈͖̙̤͕͙͎͚̭̗̻͚̓̌̔͗̿͛͜͝i̸̡̢̘̮͓̖̞̜̹̦̲͉͋̏͐̅̋͒̚b̶̻̮̤̲̠̫̘̼̪̱͇̙͙̭͑̅̅̃̔͗̈́̂́̾̿̄̚͘l̸̜̥̻͉̏̈́̄̂̑͗̍̽̈́͘͝e̷̢̪̰͓̗̳̰̋̐̊̈́̋͂̋̒͆͘͜͝]

 

Hermann wakes slowly, consciousness returning in a trickle; he’s warm, warmer than he’s been in years. His leg’s still aching dully, but the pain is somewhat alleviated by the warmth relaxing his muscles. There’s an unknown weight pressing around his torso; when he attempts to move, it tightens, followed by a half-asleep mumble, and Hermann freezes.

Carefully, he cranes his neck as far as it’ll go, to be met with a glimpse of tousled chestnut hair in the darkened room, and he realizes that it’s Newton whose arm is pinning him in place, face pressed into Hermann’s neck in sleep. It snaps him awake, and, barely daring to breathe, Hermann tries to wriggle out of the—admittedly not unwelcome—position, stilling every time Newton moves, afraid to wake him.

And what if he does wake? demands the reckless part of his mind. What then?

No, Newton mustn't wake—it’s imperative, given that that would only cause the both of them a great deal of embarrassment.

Finally, he manages to extract himself from the biologist’s grip only to be struck by a sense of intense longing at the lack of contact, wanting to return back to Newton’s arms—No, he scolds himself, shaking his head to dispel the illogical desire. Don’t be foolish . Regardless, he does tuck the blanket carefully around his lab-mate’s sleeping form, lingers in the doorway for a moment, watching the gentle rise and fall of his shoulders as he breathes.

Breakfast , he thinks, a bit desperately, I should make something to eat.

Cooking breakfast is automatic—despite the fact that it’s been years since Hermann has cooked an actual meal, the muscle memory is still there, and, mechanically, he toasts bread, cracks eggs, chops scallions and mushrooms, sautees them with a small amount of meat. By the time the sun’s risen above the horizon, he’s made two omelettes and plated them, a small bowl of a simple tomato and cucumber salad chilling in the refrigerator.

Briefly, he wonders what to do; should he wake Newton, or should he let him sleep? Doubtless, he needs the sleep, but it’s already—he checks the clock—8:30, and Newton really should eat something.

The decision is made for him, as Newton comes stumbling into the kitchen, blurry-eyed and yawning. “Oh, god,” he says, when he sees the plates. “Is that—is that actual real food, dude? Oh my god, this is the best thing ever—” he reaches for the omelette, and Hermann bats his hand away.

“Newton! Fork!” Hermann snaps. Newton rolls his eyes, but grudgingly takes a fork and cuts and spears a large piece, the cheese dripping out of the edges, and shoves it into his mouth. His eyes flutter closed, and he makes a practically indecent noise.

“Oh, god, this is so good,” he breathes, and Hermann, uncertain of how to react, ducks his head and fiddles with his toast. “No, really, dude, this is like—the best,” Newton enthuses. “I haven’t had real food in ages—I could kiss you, dude.”

A furious heat rises to Hermann’s cheeks, and he chokes on the toast, doubling over and hacking for a good half a minute. “Shit, dude, you okay?” Newton’s at his side within a moment, worried face peering at his own, and Hermann tries to give an affirmative nod through the coughing, only half succeeding.

When he finally rights himself, Newton’s hand on his back, bracing him, hands him a glass of water, watching with hawk-like eyes as Hermann downs it greedily, the cool liquid a balm to his raw throat. “Of all things to kill me, of course it’s the toast,” Hermann jokes raspily in an attempt to lighten the mood, and a beautiful smile splits across Newton’s face, and he lets out a bark of laughter.

“That’s the spirit, my man,” he grins. “Now, you going to eat that, or...?”

“Absolutely not, that’s mine,” Hermann says, hotly, blocking the biologist’s attempts to get at his plate.

(He winds up sharing, anyway.)

 

[d̷͓̭̰͈͇̏̋̍̍̕r̵̨̡̙͔͙̱̪͍̗̰̗͇̰̜̓̇̑͋į̷̰̻̜̹̔̋̇̏f̵̧̨͍͙̞̦͕̤̝͎̈́͊̐̆̉̒̃̋͑̊̐̉̄̉t̸͈̯̟̲̱͉̒ ̷̮̗̰̓̓͗̐̀͂̉̈͊͛c̴̠̞̲͎͕̩͍̯͓̓̋͊̉̈́̃͝ǒ̴̳̼̪̦̹̯̤̰̘̖̥̠̍͋m̴̛̯̲͇͎̎̒̌̒̓̇̋̎͑͘͠p̸̠̯͈̫͓̫̃̔̉̃̕̚͜a̶͉̝̤̝͂̈́̐̾͠͠t̸͈͖̙̤͕͙͎͚̭̗̻͚̓̌̔͗̿͛͜͝i̸̡̢̘̮͓̖̞̜̹̦̲͉͋̏͐̅̋͒̚b̶̻̮̤̲̠̫̘̼̪̱͇̙͙̭͑̅̅̃̔͗̈́̂́̾̿̄̚͘l̸̜̥̻͉̏̈́̄̂̑͗̍̽̈́͘͝e̷̢̪̰͓̗̳̰̋̐̊̈́̋͂̋̒͆͘͜͝]

 

Shit shit shit shit , Newt thinks, trying not to die inside. What the actual entire fuck , Geiszler?!? Here Hermann is, making breakfast , and Newt has to go and make it awkward by—by—by saying that!

He wants the floor to open up and swallow him; he’s going to die of embarrassment before the month is up. Well, at least Hermann will get the peace and quiet he wants , he thinks, wryly.

The next week passes in a more or less uneventful fashion, however, and Newt dares to entertain the idea that this...might actually turn out alright? Hermann hasn’t said anything about the bed situation, and Newt figures that, if he isn’t going to say something, Newt won’t, either. Plus, the physical proximity seems to alleviate the...he hesitates to call them nightmare , given that they’re actually just really, really terrifying memories. Alien memories. Literally. As in, he’s plagued by images of the Anteverse through Kaiju eyes. Fun.

God, it’s pathetic; his lifelong dream, for—years, was to see a Kaiju up close, and now that he’s had the experience, he’s realized that, actually, it’s a lot more scary and involved a lot of people dying, and. Yeah. Fuck. Calm down, Geiszler, deep breaths.

Only thirteen more days to go. He’ll be just fine for two more weeks...right?

his fingers tighten around hermann’s neck, his lips turning blue as he gasps for air, and newt grins, taking pleasure in the rasping, desperate gasps, the way hermann’s fingers scrabble at the chokehold, this is wrong but oh, it feels so right—

He jerks awake with a gasp, palms bleeding from where his nails have cut through the skin, shaking. By his side, Hermann sleeps on, oblivious, but Newt’s gasping, trying desperately to draw in air, the terror of Hermann dying fresh on his mind, what is wrong with you, Geiszler, dreaming about killing your friend?

He scrambles off of the bed, trying to get away from Hermann, if I get far away enough he might be safe—

Newt’s back presses against the wall, and he curls in on himself, drawing his knees to his chest. There’s a rustle of sheets, someone calling his name—Hermann. He flinches away. “N—no, don’t come near me, I—”

The words die in his throat as Hermann kneels down beside him, murmuring soothingly. The urge to reach out and clench his hands around Hermann’s pale neck is all-consuming, the need to kill destroy conquer —”Newton, are you alright?”

Hermann’s fingers ghost over his lips, and Newt realizes belatedly that he’s bitten it hard enough that it’s bleeding, the tangy, coppery scent thick in his senses. Hermann’s face hovers in front of him, worry and concern flicking across his features in turn. “What happened?” he asks, softly, and Newt draws in a deep, shaky breath.

“I—I don’t want to talk about it,” he croaks, shying away from Hermann.

Hermann gives him a searching look. “Alright. Is there anything I can do? Or do you just want to come back to bed?”

Newt mulls on it for a moment, before he asks, hesitantly, “Can you, um, make a cup of tea? The way you make it...it helps me calm down.” He averts his gaze to the ground, wow, now you’re just clingy—

“Of course,” Hermann says softly. “Let’s get you back into bed and I’ll put the kettle on.”

Hermann helps him up and back under the covers; Newt’s shivering now, the sweat cooling and making him clammy, and, without a word, Hermann helps him strip out of his shirt and into a dry one. “Thank you,” Newt says quietly, afraid that raising his voice will reveal how terrified he still is, and Hermann gives him a small, if tight, smile, and pats his shoulder reassuringly.

 

[d̷͓̭̰͈͇̏̋̍̍̕r̵̨̡̙͔͙̱̪͍̗̰̗͇̰̜̓̇̑͋į̷̰̻̜̹̔̋̇̏f̵̧̨͍͙̞̦͕̤̝͎̈́͊̐̆̉̒̃̋͑̊̐̉̄̉t̸͈̯̟̲̱͉̒ ̷̮̗̰̓̓͗̐̀͂̉̈͊͛c̴̠̞̲͎͕̩͍̯͓̓̋͊̉̈́̃͝ǒ̴̳̼̪̦̹̯̤̰̘̖̥̠̍͋m̴̛̯̲͇͎̎̒̌̒̓̇̋̎͑͘͠p̸̠̯͈̫͓̫̃̔̉̃̕̚͜a̶͉̝̤̝͂̈́̐̾͠͠t̸͈͖̙̤͕͙͎͚̭̗̻͚̓̌̔͗̿͛͜͝i̸̡̢̘̮͓̖̞̜̹̦̲͉͋̏͐̅̋͒̚b̶̻̮̤̲̠̫̘̼̪̱͇̙͙̭͑̅̅̃̔͗̈́̂́̾̿̄̚͘l̸̜̥̻͉̏̈́̄̂̑͗̍̽̈́͘͝e̷̢̪̰͓̗̳̰̋̐̊̈́̋͂̋̒͆͘͜͝]

 

When Hermann gets back, Newton is half-asleep, and he blinks blearily as Hermann helps prop him up with pillows, presses a warm mug into his hands. “Drink,” he commands, not trusting his voice if he tries to say anything more. Seeing Newton there, pressed against the wall, flinching from his touch and obviously terrified of—of something was like his worst nightmare come true.

Newton only manages half the cup, but by then he’s already drifting off, and Hermann takes the mug and sets it on the bedside table. When he glances over, the biologist’s face is open and vulnerable, eyes flicking rapidly behind tightly-shut eyelids. Hesitantly, Hermann reaches out, carding his fingers through Newton’s hair, repeating the motion until Newton’s mouth softens, and he lets out a soft sigh, unconsciously angling his body towards Hermann.

The sight is unlike the other’s usual state—Hermann’s used to seeing the other manic and energetic, so to see him this unguarded feels almost...intimate. The trust required for Newton to relax this fully, and the fact that it’s been bestowed upon him , is humbling.

He drifts off propped up next to Newton, the other’s head against his shoulder.

The next few days find Newton more subdued; despite his curiosity, Hermann remains true to his word, and doesn’t pry. Still, the quietness is unsettling—he’s grown used to Newton practically talking his ear off at any given moment, and when he’s not, Hermann grows antsy.

Eventually, though, Newton does bounce back—if Hermann weren’t as relieved as he is, he’d be annoyed at the other’s inability to stay still or slow down. “Please, don’t try and climb the tree,” he begs; Newton’s got it into his head that the massive maple in the garden is the perfect thing to test his climbing skills with.

“C’mon, Herms, live a little!” Newton exclaims, grinning at him wildly, and Hermann shakes his head, at a loss for what to say. “Hey, if the Kaiju didn’t manage to kill me, I don’t think a measly tree will,” he scoffs.

Hermann sputters, unable to formulate a proper reply, and, eventually, blurts, “Don’t be crass!” Newton grins at him, and begins to scale the tree, and Hermann sighs. “I’ll go get the disinfectant wipes and the gauze.”

Somehow, to Hermann’s surprise, Newton manages to not fall on the way up—only on the way down, and even then, only a few meters. He scowls and winces as Hermann peels back the leg of his jeans, propped up on the coffee table, and hisses “Ow!” as Hermann wipes the scrape clean of mud and gravel.

“Maybe this’ll teach you a lesson,” he scolds, and applies one of the plasters—bright pink, because they’re the only ones in the house—before starting on the other leg. Newton’s hands, hardly in a better state, are clutching an ice pack wrapped in a towel.

Newton lets out a whine. “Ow ! What are you doing? It’s not supposed to hurt that much—!”

“Well, it wouldn’t if you hadn’t behaved like a nine-year-old!” Hermann shoots back hotly, snapping the box of emergency first-aid supplies shut. “Honestly, sometimes you’re impossible!”

“Well, you’re one to talk,” Newton snarks. “Mr. Handwriting-of-God, hah! You’re ridiculous sometimes. At least I have a sense of fashion from this century—what are you, a gothic vampire?”

Hermann rolls his eyes. “As if I’m the one who wears corduroy skinny-jeans,” he retorts.

“I look a like a snack in skinny jeans,” he protests indignantly.

Hermann rises from his seat. “Whatever helps you sleep at night. And it’s your turn to cook tonight,” he reminds the biologist. “If I come back from my nap in an hour to find that you’ve ordered pizza, I will not be amused.”

Newt frowns at him. “Not even if I get the veggie one?” he questions hopefully, and Hermann shakes his head.

“Absolutely not. Now, I’m exhausted and still slightly jet-lagged, so I’ll see you in an hour or so.” Behind him, Newton mutters something, too quiet for him to catch, and Hermann shakes his head fondly.

He doesn’t wind up falling asleep—just stares at the grey ceiling in the dim room, every attempt to drift off in vain. His mind replays the events of the past two weeks, pausing momentarily on the way Newton’s eyes crinkle when he smiles, the freckles on his skin charming when paired with his exuberance.

Oh, damn it, he’s in deep.

When he emerges from the bedroom, Newt’s in the kitchen earbuds in and humming to—something as he stirs a whisk in a pan of white sauce. He doesn’t notice Hermann approach, focused on his task, and Hermann bites back a smile of amusement as he jumps when Hermann offers, “Do you need a hand?”

“Oh! Hermann! I didn’t see you come in.” Newt pulls out the earbuds, stuffing them into his pocket, cheeks flushed. “No, um, I’ve just gotta finish the sauce and then the lasagne goes in the oven for twenty minutes, otherwise I’m done.”

“Well, if nothing else, I can help you assemble it,” Hermann points out, and Newt nods.

“Yeah, sure, sounds—sounds great.” He grins weakly, and Hermann blinks, puzzled by the change in attitude, but shrugs it off. Newton’s temperament is mercurial at the best of times. He moves to pull out a pan, searching the cupboards for one that isn’t too shallow.

They fall into an easy rhythm, Hermann laying down a layer of sauce and cheese before Newt adds a few noodles, and, within ten minutes, it’s assembled and in the oven, the cheese melting and bubbling visibly on the top. Newt flashes him a grin. “We make a good team, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Hermann echoes. The lighting throws half of the biologist’s face into shadow, hits his eyes in a way that, at the minimal distance, makes Newt’s eyes stand out, the vivid green ringing a burst of brown at the centres. Partial heterochromia , Hermann rememberers. Beautiful.

He opens his mouth, about to say something rash—will you go for dinner with me? or I don’t want to lose what we have by pursuing careers separated by an ocean or even I think I’m a little bit in love with you and it terrifies me —but the timer beeps, snapping him back to his senses. Newt scrambles to check the lasagne, and announces, “It’s perfect! Hermann, hand me the hot mitts!”

Hermann practically trips over himself in his endeavour to retrieve the desired items, tosses them at Newt, who catches them midair, pulling the oven door open fully. With a small grunt at the wight, he lifts it out, setting it on the stove-top.

Steam rises from the top in elegant curls, and they watch it for a second, mesmerised, before Hermann clears his throat. “I, er—I’ll cut it.”

“Y—yeah, you do that. I’ll—I’ll set the table,” Newt stutters, moving jerkily to open the drawer and fish out the silverware; obviously, the awkwardness of the situation—the damned domesticity—has caused him discomfort.

Hermann opens his mouth to apologize, but the other’s already fled the kitchen. Hermann bites back the tears stinging at the corners of his eyes and sinks the knife into the casserole pan, trying to lose himself in the methodical task.

 

[d̷͓̭̰͈͇̏̋̍̍̕r̵̨̡̙͔͙̱̪͍̗̰̗͇̰̜̓̇̑͋į̷̰̻̜̹̔̋̇̏f̵̧̨͍͙̞̦͕̤̝͎̈́͊̐̆̉̒̃̋͑̊̐̉̄̉t̸͈̯̟̲̱͉̒ ̷̮̗̰̓̓͗̐̀͂̉̈͊͛c̴̠̞̲͎͕̩͍̯͓̓̋͊̉̈́̃͝ǒ̴̳̼̪̦̹̯̤̰̘̖̥̠̍͋m̴̛̯̲͇͎̎̒̌̒̓̇̋̎͑͘͠p̸̠̯͈̫͓̫̃̔̉̃̕̚͜a̶͉̝̤̝͂̈́̐̾͠͠t̸͈͖̙̤͕͙͎͚̭̗̻͚̓̌̔͗̿͛͜͝i̸̡̢̘̮͓̖̞̜̹̦̲͉͋̏͐̅̋͒̚b̶̻̮̤̲̠̫̘̼̪̱͇̙͙̭͑̅̅̃̔͗̈́̂́̾̿̄̚͘l̸̜̥̻͉̏̈́̄̂̑͗̍̽̈́͘͝e̷̢̪̰͓̗̳̰̋̐̊̈́̋͂̋̒͆͘͜͝]

 

Newt picks at his plate, pushing around the sauce. Despite his earlier hunger, his appetite’s gone now—stupid, stupid, to allow himself a moment of indulgence in a fantasy of domesticity that’ll never come true.

At the other end of the table—it seems empty, with each of them sat at opposite ends, and even though it’s not terribly long, it feels like there’s a hundred-thousand miles between them. It’s terribly sordid and poetic, and he feels the inane urge to comment on it aloud.

He doesn’t. The silence stretches between them, heavy and oppressive, and finally, Hermann clears his throat. “What shall we do after this?”

Newt starts. “We?”

Hermann’s expression shutters. “Ah—I mean—not to assume—”

“No, no, you’re not...it’s fine,” Newt sighs. “I just figured you’d be wanting me out of your hair now that the whole “end of the world” thing is over. I was...surprised.”

Hermann blinks at him. “Who else would I possibly want to spend the rest of my time with?”

“Rest of—?” Newt squeaks, and Hermann rises from his chair, face paling rapidly.

“Forgive me, I—”

“No, Hermann, wait!” Newt scrambles after him, snatching his wrist. “Don’t—!”

“Let me go,” Hermann snaps, but there’s something beneath the harsh walls he’s throwing up, something that is scared . It all clicks into place.

“Oh, Hermann,” Newt says, softly. “I didn’t know—”

“No, you don’t,” Hermann hisses, “now let me go.”

“Why don’t you want to talk about this, Hermann?”

“Because you will only use it to mock me!” Hermann snatches his hand from Newt’s grip. His face is red, and he’s trembling slightly. His eyes are glossy with unshed tears, and he blinks furiously, trying to force a neutral expression, but his lips are trembling.

“I would never mock you because of your feelings,” Newt snaps. “I swear, you’re so dumb sometimes.”

Hermann grits his jaw, and Newt realizes his misstep. “I don’t mean it like that—you’re so brilliant that sometimes you wind up missing the little things, Hermann.”

“The...the small things?” Hermann asks, eyes wide. “Newton, what do you—?”

“I mean , you dummy, that I feel the same,” he says softly.

Hermann stares at him wide-eyed. “You…? But I thought—? In the Drift—”

“I didn’t see anything from you either,” Newt replies. “It was just—flashes, so it makes sense that you only got flashes too.”

“Oh,” Hermann says, lamely, and slumps slightly. “I—”

“We’re both idiots,” Newt says, amused. “But I mean, what else is new?”

It startles a laugh out of Hermann, the sound sharp and slightly cracked in the middle, but it’s more genuine than any Newt’s heard before. “Well, you know what they say about love,” he says, offering Newt a hand. “It makes fools of us all.”

“Yeah,” Newt says, twining their fingers together, and smiles. “Yeah, it does.”

They hug, properly this time, and Newt tucks himself against Hermann, draws in a breath, and smiles. “Hey,” he says, muffled slightly against the fabric. “We saved the world and we’re—we’re in love.” The grin that breaks out across his face is so wide it’s painful, but he can’t stop it.

Hermann pulls back slightly and kisses him, soft and sweet, and murmurs against his lips, like a secret, “I love you.”

“Just to be clear,” Newt says, once he’s caught his breath, “we’re gonna do this together, right?”

“Together,” Hermann smiles.