Newt’s not really sure what it says about him that two months without Hermann is enough to set him on edge. More than set him on edge—he’s been downright lonely. It was, obviously, great to hang out with his dad again, great to visit his old haunts that he hasn’t seen since he fucked off to devote his life to kaiju, great to not be literally be facing the end of the world his every waking moment, but goddamn if Newt didn’t miss the weirdo.
Two months, after a solid six months of post-World Not Ending Business in Hong Kong, two months of Newt back in Massachusetts (with his dad) and Hermann back in England (with his sister) to just sort of...ease back into the world as best they can. Mutually decided on and everything, shared taxi cab to the airport, stiff hug in the terminal and promises to talk soon. After the two months were up, they promised each other, they’d consider their options—maybe they’d stay with the PPDC after all, maybe they’d look into those university offers that are cluttering up their email inboxes by the day, maybe even one together. (Probably one together, or so Newt hopes; Newt can’t imagine, after over a decade of working together, that they’d suddenly stop now. It just works for them.)
Two months. Newt regretted the decision a few days in.
Luckily, it seemed Hermann did too. When Newt sent him a totally one-hundred-percent casual hey how’s it hanging email at the start of week two, Hermann replied within the hour and was more than happy to keep the correspondence up over the remaining weeks. It was almost like the old days, when all they each knew the other as was penpal.
Hermann was also more than happy when Newt suggested a slight adjustment to their end-of-the-two months plans. So I was thinking, Newt wrote, maybe we could go on a little vacation. Just the two of us. Not a long vacation, of course. Now that they’re more or less jobless and their paychecks have been cut off—the only negative side effect of the world not ending—they’ve got a limited budget to work on. But before they settle down somewhere (before they’re, possibly, split up forever), Newt wants a vacation. He deserves a vacation. With Hermann. An exciting end to their years and years alongside each other in the lab.
What did you have in mind? Hermann replied.
Road trip, maybe? I could show you New England, and you could meet my dad, stuff like that .
You don’t drive, was all Hermann's next response said, but he took very little further urging to agree and their plans were set. They decided they'd reconvene in Boston when the two months were up and go from there. And finally, thankfully, blessedly, those two months are up today.
Newt could barely sit still on the taxi ride to the airport, and now he paces around the benches in front of the international arrivals gate, hands shoved in his pockets, checking his phone every few minutes to doublecheck the time. He got here an hour before Hermann’s flight was due to land. It’s forty minutes past the scheduled landing time, now, but he knows baggage claim is a pain, and customs are a pain. Hermann could take another forty for all he knows. Should he go get Hermann a coffee? Something from a vending machine or food stand? Hermann might appreciate that.
One of the glass doors slides open; a familiar grumpy green blur in the shape of a parka emerges with luggage in tow, and Newt’s face splits into a wide grin as he scurries over. “Let me help,” Newt says, taking both Hermann’s big suitcase (some massive retro thing with wheels) and slipping on his over-the-shoulder bag. How much shit did he bring, anyway?
Free hand no longer occupied, Hermann shakes it out, then pushes back the fluffy hood obscuring his face with a small, relieved sigh. “Oh, thank you.”
“Did you wear that thing on the plane, man?” Newt says, grinning wider. He goes to pull Hermann in for a hug, but to his surprise, Hermann beats him to it. Newt gives himself over to the touch gladly—Hermann’s never been much of a hugger before, so Newt’s going to savor this while he can. To his utter embarrassment, Newt feels warm tears prick at the corners of his eyes. He blinks them away quickly.
“I missed you terribly,” Hermann says into the crook of his neck.
Newt gives Hermann a once-over once they break apart. Hermann looks good. Life without the apocalypse looming overhead is treating him well. His undercut’s grown out a bit. He’s a little less pale (probably from getting actual—if not limited, since, like, England—sunlight instead of being subjected to the fluorescent overheads of the lab). Less skinny, too, less sickly, no more dark circles under his eyes, like he’s been eating and sleeping well. He looks—well, Newt’s always been a little weak-in-the-knees for Hermann’s whole stern, Victorian-scholar-with-consumption thing, but he looks downright handsome now. “You look good,” Newt says. “Really, really good. Wow.”
“It’s only been two months,” Hermann says, but he looks pleased.
If this were a movie, Newt would probably dip-kiss Hermann right here and now, and onlookers might even clap. As it is, they’re just in a grimy, over-crowded airport, and people are starting to get pissy with them for blocking the path, so Newt snags the handle of the rolling suitcase and offers his right arm out to Hermann. Hermann takes it gladly. “I bought dinner stuff,” Newt says, leading Hermann out towards the exit. “I figured you could nap or something while I cook.”
“I’ll help you,” Hermann says. “I don’t mind.” He squeezes Newt’s arm companionably.
Hermann dozes off the instant Newt shows him over to the tiny futon in his (very newly leased) apartment despite his assurances and protests otherwise, not even bothering to take off both his shoes: his left one is tossed aside on the carpet while his right one, half-laced, hangs off his socked foot a bit pathetically. It’s sweet, somehow. Newt waits until he’s finished toasting the loaf of garlic bread in the oven and set the table before he touches Hermann’s shoulder gently. Hermann stirs, blinking at him sleepily. “Mm?” he says.
“Dinner’s ready,” Newt says, and Hermann sits up with a yawn.
It’s a bit of a pain cooking for both himself and Hermann, mostly because their individual dietary restrictions rule out both gluten (Hermann) and meat (Newt), and Hermann is about five times a pickier eater than Newt is. Not more refined, just pickier. Like a toddler. Everything has to be a very certain way in taste and texture and size or he won't eat it. Newt ended up just making gluten-free pasta with an alfredo sauce and whatever vegetables he dug out of his fridge that were still good. (The garlic bread is just for him. He earned it.) Hermann compliments him on it several times, though, which feels awesome. And a little weird. Mid-Apocalypse Hermann was a grumpy old bastard, no-fun-allowed-ever, but this new Hermann, this carefree, Apocalypse-free Hermann is...happy. He laughs at Newt’s jokes. He tells his own. He smiles throughout dinner, rather than sit silently and sullenly like he always used to in the mess hall. And he hugged Newt, way back in that airport—a real, genuine, big hug, not like the hug they parted with two months prior.
Newt thinks he could get used to it very, very easily.
“Have you mapped any of our route yet?” Hermann says after dinner. He’s taken on the unenviable task of figuring out how to work Newt’s brand new coffee maker—a gift from Newt’s dad—that Newt hasn’t bothered to set up yet (he’s spent a disgusting amount of money at Dunkin instead) while Newt does the dinner dishes.
“Yeah!” Newt says. He wipes his hands off on the dish towel to dig his phone from his jeans pocket. He downloaded a fancy app for their trip and everything, and he’s marked the most exciting spots off on the map. “I thought we could go up to Vermont to look at the leaves,” he points towards the little blue line of their route and follows it up to Maine with his fingertip, “maybe stay at the beach a few days too to whale watch.”
“You whale watch?” Hermann says.
“I could,” Newt says, with a grin. That’s not his real reason for wanting to find a beach, though: “ And we could stargaze.”
As he expected, Hermann seems to like the sound of that. “That’d be nice.” He smiles at Newt, and—for a brief moment—Newt’s struck dizzy. Then the little alarm for the coffee pot beeps and startles both of them. Hermann turns to it. “Oh, it’s ready. I’m afraid I’m not quite sure if I’ve done this right…”
“You programmed how many jaegers?” Newt teases. He scoots Hermann aside to busy himself with finding his mismatched and chipped collection of mugs, which, in the two months it’s been since he moved in, he’s completely forgotten the location of. “Here, I got this. Go sit down.”
“It’s no sugar—”
“I know your coffee order, Hermann, Jesus.”
Hermann’s made himself at home on the couch once more when Newt carries their mugs over. A little too at home for Newt’s liking—he knows, instinctively, that Hermann’s going to try to sleep there tonight. “I already washed my sheets for you,” Newt says, and hands Hermann’s coffee over. “I’m taking the couch tonight, dude.”
Hermann juts out his bottom lip. “I really don’t mind—”
“You’re taking my bed,” Newt says, more firmly. “Seriously. We’ve got nothing but shitty motels to look forward to for the next week or so. Enjoy it while you can.”
“I don’t want you to be uncomfortable,” Hermann says, refusing to give up that easily. “Is there a guest room, or—?”
“No guest room,” Newt interrupts, quickly. “Not at all. Just the one bedroom. No spares.”
Hermann doesn’t seem to totally buy it—and for a good reason, Newt is totally lying, but he has his Reasons that he doesn't exactly want to reveal to Hermann just yet—but he finally sighs and takes a sip of his coffee. “Alright,” he says. “I’ll take your bed.”
They catch up a bit, but truthfully there’s not much to catch up on. Everything important they shared with each other over emails or texts; everything not of note (books they read, weird or interesting people they passed on the street, their thoughts and feelings on the annual resurgence of pumpkin-flavored things), they shared anyway. They don’t discuss what Newt really wants to discuss, though, what’s been hanging over his head since they closed the Breach, what they promised each other they'd talk about at the end of the two months. They don’t discuss what’s next, and they don’t discuss their drift. And God, does Newt want to discuss their drift.
It’s not until Hermann’s yawns become louder, more frequent—until he can barely keep his eyes open—that Newt finally decides to take pity on him and call it a night. “Get ready to wake up bright and early,” he says after he shows Hermann to his bed for the night, and Hermann makes a face at him.
“I can hardly wait,” he says.
At first, Newt debated delaying their road trip until a few days after Hermann’s arrival, give Hermann some time to get acclimated to the time difference and all, maybe show him around Boston by foot, but he finally decided that it’d be way more fun to just jump right on into it. He rouses Hermann at half-past nine; by quarter past ten, they’re both showered and dressed; by ten forty-five, Newt’s hoisted both their travel bags (massive wheeled suitcase for Hermann, duffel bag for himself) in the trunk of his dad’s ancient lime-green VW Beetle, borrowed just for the occasion. “This is your car?” Hermann says, apparently not so sleepy that he can’t muster up a healthy amount of disdain for Newt (and for the fuzzy pink dice dangling from the rear view mirror).
“I learned to drive on this bad boy,” Newt says, and slaps the hood. “I mean, badly, but I still learned. My dad said we could use it.” Hermann begins to shuck his parka off in preparation for sliding into the driver’s seat, but Newt reaches out and stops him. “The, uh, heat doesn’t totally work, so you might wanna—”
Hermann curses under his breath. He zips the coat up to his throat. “I detest you,” he says, and squeezes into the driver’s side.
Newt leaves his hoodie on too when he hops into the passenger’s seat. It’s only October, so it’s not like they’re going to be freezing their asses off or anything (though Hermann does run a lot cooler than him, so he might), but it’s nice to be able to tuck the sleeves over his hands if he wants. He finds Hermann staring intently at the wheel.
“I must admit,” Hermann says, “I’m, er, not exactly practiced when it comes to driving in America.”
“It’s basically the same as England,” Newt says, because that is technically where Hermann learned, “except backwards.”
“Thank you,” Hermann says, extremely sarcastic. He swaps the glare he's sporting for wide-eyed surprise when, on looking up from the wheel, he's met by Newt's grin and the flash of Newt's cell phone's camera. Wide-eyed surprise that is now about three seconds away from being immortalized permanently (if not slightly blurrily) on Newt's Instagram account. Hermann swipes for his phone and misses just as Newt finishes typing out a long string of emojis (❤🧡💛💚💙💜🔬🔬🚗🦎🦎🦎🦕🦖🛸😝) alongside the caption K-SCI ROAD TRIP!!!!!. He clicks Share.
“You need to make an Instagram so I can tag you in shit,” Newt chastises, as Hermann continues swiping for his phone in vain. “Oh, look, your sister liked it already. Aw. Can we do a selfie, too?”
“No,” Hermann says. Newt bats his eyelashes. Hermann grits his teeth. “Fine. Only one.”
They take a lot more than one. By the thirteenth, Hermann's actually beginning to smile; by the twentieth—where Newt's managed to convince him to swap their glasses, just for fun—Newt's wishing he'd thought to invest in one of those disposable cameras with the roll of film you can get developed or dug around a little deeper in his Dad's basement to find his ancient Polaroid camera. (He doubts it'd still work, though, whether from mere age or the sheer amount of abuse it suffered at the hands of Little Newt. He wasn't exactly careful with his possessions as child.) He resolves to look for disposable cameras at any rest stops they make.
“Off we go, then,” Hermann says, once their glasses have been returned to their proper owners and Newt's tucked his phone away (after posting another two pictures). Hermann turns the key in the ignition.
They have a rocky start. Newt would chalk it up to Hermann being out of practice—they spent nearly a decade shut up in the bowels of various Shatterdomes, after all, with public transport readily available on the rare occurrences they bothered stepping off-base, and Hermann’s sister drove him everywhere during his two months in England—but Newt has a sneaking suspicion that Hermann’s just a shitty driver in general. He forgets his blinker, for example, three times in the single mile from Newt’s apartment complex.
Once Newt’s pretty sure Hermann’s not about to crash the car (and, subsequently, incur the wrath of Newt’s dad), he manages to talk Hermann into going through the Dunkin Donuts drive-through for breakfast. A New England tradition, after all. Hermann agrees, but only under the condition that Newt pays for it all, though he’s extremely skeptical of Newt’s iced coffee. “It’s October,” he says. “Wouldn’t you rather something warm?”
“Nah,” Newt says. Iced coffee is absolutely a year-round thing. He starts digging through the cluttered glove compartment. “Okay, so, I brought us a few mixtapes for the ride—”
“Mixtapes,” Hermann sighs.
“—because this thing’s so old it doesn’t even have a CD player,” Newt continues, “let alone an aux cord or Bluetooth.” He crows triumphantly. “Oh, hell yes.”
He flourishes the prize of his quest at Hermann: a bright purple cassette case, housing their authentic, unique, official Newt and Hermann’s Road Trip Mixtape. Newt decorated it with little stickers (of lizards, rocket ships, and other cool shit) and everything. “I made so many of these when I was a kid,” he says happily. He ejects the Abba cassette that’s currently in the tape deck and exchanges it for the new one.
“You made this?” Hermann says, eyeing Newt with no small amount of trepidation. He was never exactly a fan of Newt’s music taste back in their old lab-sharing days, which he wasn’t shy of letting Newt knows.
“Chill,” Newt says. “I put some shit you like on here too.” Well, not really, but he knows Hermann can appreciate some quality New Wave when the time calls for it.
The tape carries them through the late morning and out of Boston, and by the time Newt switches out Mix #1 for Mix #2, then that for #3, they’ve already made several wrong turns (mostly Newt’s fault, but singing along required absolute concentration and detracted from his ability to give directions) and hit intense traffic (not Newt’s fault, but Hermann is sure as hell acting like it is). In short, what should’ve been a mere three hour car trip has stretched (so far) into four, they’ve already had to stop for gas, Newt's eaten both peanut butter and Fluff sandwiches he packed for himself, and they’ve only just hit New Hampshire.
Then Newt starts to get antsy.
Road trips are great in theory, you know, but not so much in practice for guys like Newt, with his constant need for stimulation and movement and not being strapped into a seat for prolonged periods of time. “How much longer until dinner?” he says, staring out the window and drumming his fingers on his arm rest. It’s overcast, like the sky’s about to open up at any moment, which Newt didn’t plan for, and he knows Hermann is a bit of a bitch when it comes to things like that and will probably want to find a motel for the night (even though it’s barely evening) instead of driving on. Newt doesn’t mind, truthfully; he knows it’s mostly because Hermann’s leg and joints ache him more with the rapid changes in pressure, and it makes it just that bit more difficult for him to drive. (The other half of the reason is that Hermann’s just plain fussy.)
Hermann turns down the Duran Duran currently blaring over the speakers—because Newt’s dad’s car seems to have two settings when it comes to volume, loud and nonexistent —and hums in thought. “I imagine a couple more hours,” he says. He’s looking darkly at the sky, too.
Newt starts tapping along to the rhythm of the music, which has now transitioned into their third Culture Club song of the day. Raindrops begin flecking his window. “Perhaps a bit sooner than that,” Hermann corrects himself. He switches on the windshield wipers. “Can you search for restaurants on your phone?”
Newt pulls up few places in the ten-mile radius, some more promising than others. He vetoes the boring chains and the expensive places right off the bat. There’s a small diner some twenty minutes ahead, pretty close to a (slightly creepy-looking) Best 5 Motel. “How about this place?” Newt says. He scrolls through a few sample Yelp reviews. Most mention its kitschy charm, though no one seems to think very highly of the food. Whatever. It's all part of the experience. “It’s 90s themed. How fun is that!”
“Er,” Hermann says.
It’s raining harder by the time they pull into the diner parking lot, and Newt’s glad he had the foresight to bring an umbrella big enough for the two of them to share. Not just because it's just small enough that he and Hermann are forced to huddle close to each other to fit. (It’s mostly for that reason).
The booth they get shown to is less of a booth and more of two large, translucent, blow-up (and mismatched—one orange, one purple) sofas crammed together with an ugly metal table between, so cramped that their knees knock together when they squeeze in on their respective sides. The diner really leans into the whole 90s gimmick, which Newt will give them credit for, even if it’s extraordinarily artificial: aside from the blow-up chairs, Britney Spears plays over the speakers, all the waiters and waitresses wear chokers, and odds and ends that Newt remembers, vaguely, from his childhood make up the wall decor and the binding of the menus. Newt’s menu, in particular, is made up of Pokemon cards, which he’s pretty sure is more early aughts than 90s, but whatever. “Hey, I think I have this one,” he says, pointing at the third card down in the clear plastic sleeve. An Omanyte. He wonders if the management will notice if he liberates it for nostalgia’s sake.
Hermann examines at his menu, which is bound with a small collage of Pogs. “I hate this place,” he says.
“I kinda do too,” Newt agrees.
They order waffle fries to share, at Newt’s insistence, and Hermann gets boring black tea with their specialty soup of the day while Newt orders a milkshake and a veggie burger. The veggie burger is half-frozen when it gets to the table, and Newt—after picking off the edible bit and forcing himself to eat the lukewarm lettuce—pushes it aside with a pout. “This isn’t remotely radical,” he declares. The milkshake's good, at least, and it's served in a novelty Jurassic Park cup, the straw poked through a T-Rex head. Looks like the kind of thing you'd find for a fortune at a thrift shop.
Outside, the storm’s only worsened. Newt can hear thunder rolling in the distance. “At the very least, it’s close to a motel,” Hermann says, stirring his soup slowly. He hasn’t touched his dinner much, either. They’ll probably be checking out the vending machines at the motel later. “Thank you for that, Newton.”
“Sure thing,” Newt says. He looks around—though literally no one is there but them—before leaning in. “The website said they have a Jacuzzi. We should totally use it.”
“I didn’t pack a swimsuit,” Hermann says.
“Neither did I,” Newt says, and throws caution to the wind and waggles his eyebrows; Hermann colors.
“Oh,” he says. “Er. No thank you.”
If this were a romantic comedy, There’d only be one available bed at the motel, and Newt and Hermann would be forced to share, and they’d wake up spooning or cuddling or something and maybe things would progress from there. Unfortunately for Newt’s hopes and dreams, this is not a romantic comedy, and thus their universe is governed by normal, regular, boring logic. The motel is just as deserted as the diner had been (and just as outdated, if not more so, but Newt’s pretty sure it’s not deliberate this time), so they’re able to book a room with two twin beds and some of the ugliest green shag carpeting Newt’s ever seen without any hassle. Newt bequeaths Hermann the slightly less lumpy-looking bed out of the goodness of his heart.
“I was hoping they’d have one of those massage things,” Newt says, after a search around both ends of his bed proves tragically fruitless. “You know, like they do in movies.” The kind of shit you put a quarter into and the whole bed vibrates.
He sets his phone and the nicked Omanyte card on the nightstand, then flops onto the bed.
Newt shoots straight up. “What the hell?”
“Waterbeds,” Hermann remarks mildly.
Ugly carpet, ugly bedspreads on the waterbeds, ugly wallpaper, ugly curtains. Ugly sweater on Hermann. Ugly sweater hitting the ugly carpet, followed by Hermann’s rain-damp button-up. Newt shuts his eyes quickly, flushing badly, but he isn’t fast enough to prevent himself from seeing a flash of the bare skin of Hermann’s pasty, bony, and weirdly elegant back. “Maybe warn me before you start stripping next time?” Newt squeaks.
“I’m wet,” Hermann says. “It’s somewhat uncomfortable.” There’s the sound of the zipper on his suitcase, the rustling of clothing, and then he says “You can open your eyes.”
He’s changed into a soft-looking pull-over sweatshirt—maroon—and faded striped pajama bottoms. They’re both too big for him; he looks like a kid in his dad’s clothes. It’s cute. “Guess we’re staying in, then?” Newt says, as Hermann eases himself down onto the wobbly bed, hooks his cane over one bedpost, and begins to fluff up his flat pillow.
“You’re not the one who spent all day driving,” Hermann points out. He doesn’t get under the covers, just tucks his arms around himself. (Hermann, Newt remembers from various overnight conferences the PPDC sent them to back in the Olden Days, has always been a bit picky when it comes to hotel bedsheets and stuff like that. Germ thing. Newt’s surprised he didn’t pack his own.)
“That’s true,” Newt says. Hermann’s snoring within minutes, but Newt can’t help but think he still looks cold.
Hermann’s parka is soaked and hanging up to dry on one of the coat hooks next to the door. Newt’s leather jacket doesn’t fare any better. At a loss for anything that doesn’t involve going back out into the rain and poking around in the trunk of the Beetle, Newt shucks his hoodie off and lays it over Hermann. He’ll be able to fall asleep without feeling guilty, at least.
The rain doesn’t let up the next day. If anything, it gets worse. Newt goes out and scores them depressing-looking breakfasts from the complimentary buffet and equally depressing-looking coffee while Hermann sleeps in (poor bastard’s still got some jet lag to work through), but he’s—thankfully, because Newt was getting crazy bored—awake and struggling into a sitting position by the time Newt gets back. “Good morning, dude,” he says, handing a groggy and disoriented Hermann a styrofoam plate of turkey bacon and rubbery scrambled eggs. He keeps the multiple chocolate chip muffins for himself.
Hermann grumbles something incoherent, but takes the plate. He glares out the window. “Rain,” he says.
“Rain,” Newt agrees.
Once they've finished eating, Newt strips the sheets from the bed while Hermann dresses in the bathroom. They’re back on track for Vermont in no time.
“We’ll be needing more petrol soon,” Hermann remarks some two hours later. He taps at the dashboard at the little fuel gauge. Half-hour until empty, Newt guesses, and they’ve still got at least another hour to go. “See if you can’t find us a nearby station.”
Newt locates a gas station without problem. While Hermann works the pump, Newt runs in and gets them each some snacks, then flips through radio stations. The antenna is kind of (read: very) shit, so he’s not all that surprised when the most they get is static, country (inherently shitty by nature), and a single oldies station that plays no less than three Beatles songs in the time that it takes Hermann to pay, struggle with the zipper on his parka, and squeeze back behind the wheel.
Newt jabs the off button on the radio and holds out his bag of cherry licorice as an offering. “Want some?” he says.
Hermann looks at Newt disdainfully, as if he should be ashamed he even offered. “No thank you,” Hermann says. “I only like the black kind.”
“Gross, dude,” Newt says, and sticks out his tongue.
Hermann wrestles Newt’s new bag of churro-flavored Bugles away from him one-handed, not taking his eyes off the road. He waves the bag around. “Pot, kettle.”
“Bugles are an experience,” Newt says, snatching them back. “They’re fun. Look—” He spends a painstaking amount of time sticking ten Bugles onto each of his fingertips. It’s not easy. When he’s done, he waves his little claw-hands at Hermann with a grin. “Uh-huh? How about that?”
“Mm,” Hermann says. “What exit am I taking?”
Newt spends a minute tapping at his phone with the Bugle claws still on (and shedding cinnamon sugar at an alarming rate) before admitting defeat and eating them off both index fingers and thumbs. “Two more to go,” he says, once he’s able to properly scroll around on his screen.
Hermann’s smirking. Newt’s pretty sure he only asked to watch him struggle. Dick.
In all honesty, Newt wasn’t sure what to expect from the road trip when he proposed the idea to Hermann. He didn’t necessarily expect—like, the spilling of heartfelt confessions, or for them to dissect everything they saw inside the kaiju hivemind (blue, endless, sublime), or even for them to be completely and utterly civil with each other, but he hoped for some acknowledgement of their drift (of the monumental act of selflessness Hermann did for the world, but to a lesser extent for Newt), some discussion of their future.
Namely, whether or not they'll be sticking together.
The six months they passed together in Hong Kong following the closing of the Breach were hectic, frantic, busy. There was paperwork to be filed, mandatory medical checkups to be had (they kept Newt in for a whole goddamn week, just because he drifted twice), bunks and laboratories and workspaces to be packed up and cleaned. Half of Newt’s clothing ended up in Hermann’s quarters over the years, somehow, and half of Hermann’s ended up in Newt’s, so that had to be sorted out too. They didn’t really have the time to talk about things at length, other than the very basics required for their equally mandatory reports. (Was Newt given official permission to drift with the chunk of kaiju brain? The first time, technically no, but everything worked out a-okay. The second time? Yes! Definitely! Was the drift tech legally acquired, with all the proper paperwork? Newt accidentally left that spot blank, whoops, too late to fix it now that it’s been submitted.)
The point (and, really, Newt’s point for planning the road trip in the first place) is that Newt thought they’d talk, and maybe even about the biggest issue pressing on Newt, the most important issue, the great big elephant in the room: just exactly what Newt and Hermann are to each other.
Newt saw some pretty interesting stuff in the drift, after all. He knows Hermann saw his fair share in return.
There’s only two dozen miles or so left to go until they reach the motel at which they originally planned to spend the previous night. Hermann’s polished off the bag of pre-shelled sunflower seeds Newt bought him and—despite his complaints—a majority of the cherry licorice, and they’ve got Part Four of Newt’s road trip mix blasting and the heater is miraculously working. Newt’s so happy and warm he can’t help but finally cave and ask one of the questions that’ve been weighing on his mind, as casually as he can manage. “Have you decided to stay in Europe, then?”
“You’ll need to be a bit more specific than that,” Hermann says.
Newt rolls his eyes. “Are you staying in England or Germany?” he corrects.
Hermann does not answer for some time, not until Tears For Fears fades into Adam Ant. “I’ve been offered positions at several universities in both,” he says, finally. “Very comfortable positions. I’m more inclined towards Germany.”
“Cool,” Newt says, because of course Hermann is, it’s their mutual homeland, after all. “That’s cool. Yeah. Okay.” He drums his fingers on his knee. “I’ve been offered a few over here.” MIT wants him back, as expected. He’s not sure how to phrase the next bit to Hermann without sounding too desperate, probably because he is desperate. “I bet we could, uh, leverage our way into joint positions pretty easily.”
Hermann gives him a very odd look. “...Is that something you’d be interested in?”
“Uh, yes,” Newt says. “Why the hell wouldn’t I?”
The corners of Hermann’s mouth twitch up into a small smile; an overwhelming sense of relief blossoms in Newt’s chest. Hermann drags his eyes back to the road. “I don’t mind New England,” he says.
“I don’t mind Germany,” Newt says.
Hermann begins humming along to the radio.
This, of course, is when everything goes south. There’s a loud pop; the Beetle swerves, first in the lane (Newt grabs at the dashboard and shrieks, Hermann swears, the cars behind them beep), then over to the side of the road, where Hermann brakes it to a halt before rounding on Newt.
“Do we have a spare tire?” he says, through gritted teeth.
“Uh,” Newt squeaks. He hasn't let go of the dashboard. “Probably?”
There’s one shoved in the very back of the trunk (thank God, or Hermann might’ve had a literal conniption), along with a car jack and some basic tools that Newt thinks look like the sort of things one might use if they had to, hypothetically, change a tire. “Do you know what you’re doing?” Hermann says, sticking his head out the window. He rolled it down before he shut off the engine just to harass Newt, apparently.
The flat tire is right at the front of the driver’s side. Newt pokes at it with a wrench. “Yep,” he lies. He has a PhD in engineering. He cobbled together top-secret military tech from garbage. He won first place in a Science Fair at age 7 for a pretty sick potato alarm clock. How hard can this possibly be?
“You gotta get out of the car first, dude,” he tells Hermann.
Hermann casts him a dark look. “It’s cold.”
Newt sits back on his heels. He sets down the wrench. He folds his arms.
He manages to duck in time to avoid getting smacked in the face by the car door when Hermann, grumbling and scowling, flings it open. He's less lucky with avoiding the end of Hermann’s cane, which delivers a sharp hit to one of Newt’s combat boots and makes him wince. “You’re such a baby,” Newt says.
“Do be quick about it,” Hermann says. He pulls his big fluffy hood up.
Newt actually gets the hang of it all pretty fast, though that’s probably mostly due to the instructions he pulls up on his phone via Google. He sweats enough that he shucks off his leather jacket (leaving him in nothing but a t-shirt) about halfway through. “See,” he says, grunting a little as he screws the hubcap back into place, “Nothing to it.”
Hermann says nothing. Not even a snarky little remark, like Newt'd been expecting.
“Hermann?” Newt says, and glances back.
Hermann’s eyes quickly dart up from Newt’s bare arms (smeared with a bit of mud from the roadside) to his face. His own face is mostly obscured by the hood of his parka, but Newt can see a blush spreading across his cheeks, even from here. "Yes?" Hermann says.
(Was Hermann checking him out?)
Newt flexes one arm and grins. “Like what you see?”
Hermann makes an odd, strangled noise. “Tattoos,” he says. “I’d forgotten—er.” He coughs, and then coughs again. His grip on his cane is white-knuckled. “Are you nearly done?”
“Yep,” Newt says, and turns his attention back on the tire.
He makes sure to flex far more than strictly necessary for the remainder of the procedure.
The next motel is wildly less creepy than the one in New Hampshire, and the pool doesn’t look like it might’ve been the sight of several homicides, which is a definite improvement in Newt’s opinion, even if it means some of the potentially haunted mystique is lost. The woman at the front desk—cropped hair, big necklace, late fifties—is also wildly more friendly than the last manager, especially when Newt explains to her that he and Hermann are here to look at the leaves as she charges them up. She and her wife (co-runner of the motel) moved up here for the autumn scenery, apparently.
“No twin beds left, I’m afraid,” she says, flipping through the thick bound pages of the motel bookings. Then she looks up and smiles knowingly. Too knowingly for Newt’s liking. “But I suppose that won’t be a problem for you boys. Queen or full?”
Hermann coughs into his fist. Newt, about to hand over his credit card, freezes. “Uh,” he stammers, “we’re not—I mean—”
Hermann plucks the card from Newt and hands it to the woman himself in one smooth motion. “Queen,” he interrupts. “Thank you.”
Newt won’t look Hermann in the eyes until they’re safe beyond the door of their room, bags deposited onto the floor and coats shrugged off. “We could’ve just gotten two rooms,” he says. “I don’t mind paying for another, dude.”
“Don’t be dramatic,” Hermann says. The mattress springs creak as he sits down on the bed. The single queen bed. “There’s. Er. Plenty of room for both of us.” He pats the opposite side. In all honesty—though there’s no way in hell Newt is admitting this to Hermann—Newt’s thrilled at the prospect of living out even a fraction of the romantic comedy of his dreams. He flops down next to Hermann.
This isn’t the first time he and Hermann have been mistaken for being...significantly more than lab partners. A surprising number of their colleagues back in Hong Kong assumed they were, too, as did the odd waiter when Newt and Hermann would go out to dinner or lunch together. One university that recently offered Newt a position even made sure to mention that there’d be a spot for his husband, Dr. Gottlieb, should Newt wish it. (Newt starred that email.)
It never fails to be simultaneously weird and gratifying.
“I grabbed a pamphlet,” Newt says, at a loss for anything else to say, and pulls it (slightly crumpled) from his jeans pocket. It’s a listing meant for tourists like them of local public parks. “I figured we could find somewhere to walk around and then get dinner once the sun sets.”
Hermann likes his plan. They change into slightly warmer clothing—Hermann into a turtleneck that Newt’s never seen before and a scarf, parka thrown overtop, Newt into an old sweatshirt under his leather jacket—and snag some shitty complementary coffee from the motel bar before they hop back in the car for a short drive. And it really is short. The park Hermann chose (with the most amount of trees and a small duck pond) is only about ten minutes away, and the route is what one might deem picturesque. They drive past a dilapidated old barn, cottages resting between trees that remind Newt of cheesy Christmas cards, a covered bridge over a stream.
Hermann hasn’t stopped smiling since they pulled out of the motel. He grew up in what was little more than farmland, Newt reminds himself, a far cry from Newt’s Berlin and Boston and their eventual shared Hong Kong. It probably feels homey to him.
When they get to the park, Newt holds Hermann’s arm as they amble down a little dirt path, just because he can, and points out the best trees to Hermann. “I used to be really good at identifying this shit,” he says. “The different types of trees, I mean.” He drops his arm from Hermann to stoop low and pick up a bright red leaf, and Hermann tucks it into one of his big pockets along with the rest of the little things Newt’s found: some acorns, a pinecone, an old weathered snail shell that Newt’s about 80% sure doesn’t still currently house a snail.
“I was always better with flowers,” Hermann says, and Newt is immediately charmed at the mental image of Hermann (young, maybe in knee socks) poring over some botany text in a garden and poking at flower stalks. So charmed that he doesn't notice Hermann gesturing to a small bench overlooking the duck pond until he says “Do you mind?”
Newt shakes his head. They take a seat. From here, they have a nice view of the sunset over the incline of trees on the horizon. It’s beautiful, really, the way the pink and purple light hits the oranges and the reds and the yellows, the way it reflects off the rippling surface of the pond and the lenses of Hermann’s dorky, round glasses.
Hermann hasn’t let go of his arm. “I’m very glad you proposed this trip,” he says, and—very gently—rests his head on Newt’s shoulder.
Newt wonders if he should kiss Hermann. He does nothing.
Lately, it seems, there are two Hermanns that Newt's had to contend with. There’s Hermann his lab partner, stuffy, bitchy Hermann, Hermann who never missed a chance to argue with him and prove him wrong, Hermann who didn’t visit him once in medical during the week they kept Newt under lock and key and could barely stand to make small talk with Newt in the months following. There's Hermann who drifted with him, Hermann who wrote to him nearly every day in their two months apart, Hermann who hugged Newt at the airport, who said he’d stay in America if Newt wanted it, who touches Newt so, so casually, like it’s something they’ve always done.
Fortunately, or maybe it’s unfortunately, Newt’s head over heels for Hermann in any and every iteration.
He just wishes he wasn’t too chickenshit to make a move.
They get dinner once the sun finally dips out of sight and the breeze turns from pleasant to chilly, and drive mostly in silence back to the motel. Tomorrow, they’ll be heading up to Maine to stargaze. Tonight, they’ll be sharing a bed.
Neither of them bother bathing, despite the fancy-ass shower in their room, and Hermann changes into the same pajamas as the night before. Newt sticks to his ugly old sweatpants. “So,” he says, watching Hermann brush his teeth. “You, uh, seeing anyone?”
Hermann looks at him strangely and spits out his toothpaste. “No,” he says.
“No hordes of nerds sending you anonymous love letters?” Newt says.
Hermann scoffs. “No,” he repeats.
He wipes his mouth off and makes his way back to his side of the bed. “No one at all, then?” Newt tries again.
Newt can’t see Hermann’s face at this angle, but his shoulders go stiff. “Is there something you’d like to ask me, Newton?” he says.
“Nope,” Newt says, quickly, and that’s that.
Newt sleeps on his side facing away from Hermann that night, though sleeps is probably the wrong word, because Newt doesn’t sleep. He watches the hours on the digital clock on the nightstand flip by and thinks of how close Hermann is to him, how Newt could just roll over and—in a second—be pressed to him, nose-to-nose, eye-to-eye. How easily he could touch Hermann, like how easily Hermann's been touching him. Hermann doesn’t sleep, either, just as restless; Newt can hear his uneven breathing, the occasional quiet cough, can feel the mattress shift minutely along with him.
Finally, there’s a hand at Newt’s waist. (This is it, Newt thinks.)
“Newton,” Hermann says, softly, breath warm on Newt's neck. His touch is gentle, like all his touches are these days. It has the opposite effect of what it should on Newt: panic begins to rise, hot and suffocating, in his chest. (What if Hermann knows, and is about to reject him? Worse—what if he doesn’t reject Newt, but Newt manages to screw it all up anyway?)
Newt says nothing. He forces his eyes shut.
Hermann taps him lightly. “Newton, are you still awake?”
After a few seconds, his hand retreats.
They’ve got about six or so hours on the road from here to the beach Newt picked out in Maine, so they take their breakfast to go and are checked out of the motel well before the required time of noon. They pass by more beautiful scenery on the way, more trees, more old farms, more quaint little cottages that Newt briefly entertains the happy little fantasy of living in with Hermann. Nothing but the two of them, and trees, and their research, maybe a little garden— “We’ll need to make another stop soon,” Hermann says, and Newt blinks at him. They’ve passed the Maine border without him even realizing.
Newt picks out black licorice for Hermann at the gas station when they stop; Hermann doesn’t say anything about it, but he doesn’t tease Newt about his own questionable snack choices this time. Most of the remainder of the car ride passes in silence, actually, save for the stereo (Newt’s mixes back on loop) and Hermann’s occasional requests for the next bit of directions. Newt considers suggesting they play one of those dumb road trip games he remembers his dad entertaining him with on long car rides as a kid—like finding the alphabet in order on license plates and road signs, or Twenty Questions—but Hermann’s driving is already highly questionable as is and definitely wouldn’t benefit from any distractions.
Newt’s dad texts him around the three-quarters mark of their ride. “He wants to know if he can take us out to dinner when we get back,” Newt says, and when Hermann hmphs, Newt grins. “I did say he wants to meet you, dude.”
“Can’t see why,” Hermann says, and takes a sharp turn that sends Newt scrabbling for the arm rests.
Newt waits until his heart rate settles mostly back to normal before speaking. “Because you’re important to me,” he says without thinking, and then turns beet-red. He rushes to clarify. “I mean, you know. As my lab partner. And...friend.”
“Friend,” Hermann repeats, turning over the word in his mouth like he’s never heard it used in relation to him before.
“Yes, Hermann, you’re my friend,” Newt says. “I’m your friend. We’re...friends.” He starts typing out a reply to his dad in hopes of shutting himself up. “So that’s yes to dinner, then?”
“Oh, fine,” Hermann says. He lets out a short, humorless laugh. “Heaven forbid if my father ever wishes to meet you.” Newt’s seen photographs of the patriarch of the Gottlieb family before, and, once, a brief segment of a television interview that Hermann clicked off in seconds. He’ll pass, thanks.
There’s no one else around on the little stretch of beach when they finally pull into a parking spot and Newt helps Hermann over the uneven ground, save the distant flickering and even more distant laughter of what looks to be a bonfire party far down the beach. Probably college students. It makes Newt nostalgic, for a brief, fleeting moment—nostalgic for his childhood camping trips, but mostly nostalgic for the carefree young-adult experience he never got the chance to have, eaten up by academia (at first) and then the never-ending kaiju war. Hermann, Newt reminds himself (because he does remember plenty of their drift, after all), barely even had a childhood. Newt knows it’s dumb, but he feels like it’s up to him to...make up for it, somehow.
“We should come back this summer,” Newt says, kneeling as he unfolds the thick sheets he brought for them to lay on. He’s glad he did: the sand’s fucking freezing, and a little damp, probably from high tide. “Build a campfire, roast marshmallows, do all that dumb corny shit.” He finishes laying out one sheet and spreads out another. “Maybe I’ll learn how to surf.” Newt's quest for disposable cameras proved fruitless on this trip, but he could bring one for that, make a whole photo album of Hermann in dorky sunhats and too-much-sunblock and the kind of old-timey bathing suits with suspenders and high waists that Hermann definitely wears.
Hermann shivers where he stands and draws his parka closer around himself. “My mother and father took us on holiday to the shore once, as children,” he says. There's a wry twist to his mouth. “I got horribly sunburned.”
Newt snorts. “I bet.” Hermann’s so pale he glows. Newt struggles to his feet and wipes his hands off on his jeans. “There, all set. There’s another blanket in the trunk, lemme grab that.”
Hermann’s made himself comfortable on the sheets by the time Newt comes back with the promised blanket, an ancient thermos he dug up from his dad’s basement and filled with coffee at the last gas station, and two mugs from home. The coffee’s still warm, to his pleasant surprise, and the blanket is thick enough to buffer the frigid autumn sea breeze. Newt might even venture to say it’s cozy. “I wish I’d thought to bring a telescope,” Hermann says, accepting a mug of coffee from Newt. He’s gazing up at the night sky. “It’s wonderfully clear.”
“Next time,” Newt promises.
A gust of wind lifts the edges of the blanket and ruffles Hermann’s hair. Hermann shivers again and scoots in closer to Newt. “Bloody freezing out,” he says.
Newt considers for a bit, before the desire to be close to Hermann and touch him wins out over his nerves, and he carefully slips an arm around his waist; Hermann, as he did yesterday at the park, immediately rests his head on Newt’s shoulder. Almost like he’d been waiting for an in. “Thank you, Newton,” he says.
They fall into a familiar, comfortable routine, one as old as their working relationship in Hong Kong and reminiscent of the nights they’d spend bickering away on the Shatterdome roof—Newt pointing out constellations he half-remembers for Hermann to name, and both of them hunting for shooting stars—until they settle into equally comfortable silence. After some time, Newt becomes aware of the fact that Hermann’s fixed his eyes (warm, long-lashed, currently soft and half-mast) on Newt instead.
Newt wonders, for the second time in two days, if he should kiss Hermann. The thought (also for the second time in two days) makes him panic.
He blurts out the first thought that comes to mind that doesn’t have something to do with how nice and pretty and inviting Hermann’s lips look right now. “I do have a spare room.”
“I lied when I said my apartment doesn’t have a spare room,” Newt continues, in an embarrassed rush. “I specifically rented a place with one so you could move in, if you wanted. And, uh—” He hopes it’s too dark for Hermann to tell how bad he’s blushing. “I decorated it for you, and shit.” He doesn’t go into the specifics—how he bought Hermann a bed low enough that Hermann would have no trouble getting in and out of it, how he painted one wall with chalkboard paint (which his landlord will definitely be pissed about), how he plastered corny glow-in-the-dark plastic stars to the ceiling—but it’s not any less mortifying as is. “I was going to ask you, but I just...chickened out.”
Hermann lifts his head from Newt’s shoulder. He’s giving Newt the sweetest, smallest smile Newt’s ever seen. “I considered doing the same,” he says. “However. I was under the impression that we’d be sharing a bed, so I didn’t really see the need for it.”
“You were—?” Newt stammers, and Hermann’s hand drifts up, lazily, to the side of his face. He strokes his thumb across the curve of Newt’s jaw, over Newt’s few days’ worth of scratchy stubble.
“I’m really very fond of you, Newton,” Hermann says.
The kiss he gives Newt isn’t earth-shattering—it’s simple, sweet, clumsy and fumbling and unpracticed—but it’s Hermann, so it’s the greatest fucking kiss of Newt’s life. It's the greatest fucking moment of Newt’s life, even. “Hermann,” he breathes, over and over, and Hermann kisses his lips, his jaw, the wet corners of his eyes. “Holy shit, I thought it was just me, I thought—”
“You daft little man,” Hermann says, smiling so wide and toothy the corners of his own eyes crinkle. “Of course it isn’t just you.”
Newt pushes Hermann down onto the sandy sheet, parka and all, and—struggling with the zipper of the dumb thing—does his very best to kiss him senseless. And God, kissing Hermann’s fantastic. Hermann’s got the perfect mouth for biting (big and wide and distracting, distracting Newt always, for as long as he can remember) and the perfect hands for touching Newt (elegant fingers slipping Newt’s glasses off and running through his hair, large palms sliding up under his shirt and over his back and eliciting shivers from Newt), makes the funniest little noises every time Newt so much as tilts his head (quiet gasps, sharp inhales of surprise, Newt's name, breathed over and over), and the stars shine overhead and Newt feels dizzy with it all, like it's just the two of them, together, in this great big endless universe, that everything starts and stops with Hermann and this tiny little stretch of beach. Like if he lets go of Hermann, stops kissing Hermann, he'll be lost. So he doesn't.
He doesn’t, and Hermann doesn't, either, and Hermann touches Newt and Newt touches Hermann until they become acutely aware they’re not alone anymore.
“Oh, shit!” someone says behind them.
The spell's broken; Newt scrambles to stick his glasses back on, wondering wildly, for a moment, if they’re about to get fined for public indecency, and then he looks over his shoulder and realizes it’s nothing more than some heavily intoxicated college frat kid in board shorts and a handful of his equally intoxicated friends. They’ve probably wandered off from the bonfire party. “Sorry, bro!” the same frat kid says. (He’s wearing sunglasses, Newt sees, at night. Terrible.)
Newt curses violently under his breath. “All good,” he calls back. Beneath Newt, Hermann collapses into helpless giggles.
One of the frat kid’s friends spies Hermann in his somewhat compromising position (and Newt’s thankful for the blanket hiding everything below their shoulders or it would be really compromising), nods, and gives them both a double thumbs-up. “Ha, nice.”
The group staggers off back down the beach, but the moment’s already been shattered irreparably. Obliterated. Decimated.
“Man,” Newt groans. He rolls off Hermann and onto his back. “So close.” Finally getting somewhere with Hermann and cock-blocked by total strangers. Fucking figures.
But Hermann (finally calmed down, and only letting out the occasional wheezing chuckle now) drapes his arm across Newt’s waist and tucks his chin in against Newt’s chest. It lessens the sting, somewhat, as do the feather-light kisses he brushes over Newt’s neck. “That’s nice,” Newt says. He can feel Hermann's eyelashes (long and pretty) fluttering against his skin, too. “That’s really nice. Wow.”
“Mm-hmm,” Hermann says. His hand creeps down lower.
“What now, then?” Newt says, after a very eventful half-hour under the old blanket, Hermann starry-eyed and smiling as wide as ever and wrapped, happily, in Newt’s arms. Newt’s not even really sure what he means by the question, to be honest. Back onto the road to find another motel? To head back to Boston? To Germany? To locate the nearest non-denominational no-questions-asked wedding chapel and get hitched and buy a cottage and raise two-point-five tomato plants together? As long as Hermann’s there—as long as they’re together—Newt’s pretty sure he could be persuaded into doing anything.
“I haven’t the foggiest idea,” Hermann says. He’s not anxious at the admission, as he might’ve once been in the past (stuffy, bitchy Hermann, Hermann who made a career out of predicting the future with his chalk and his numbers and his fierce need to know), but calm in a way that’s almost languid. He drags his fingers through Newt’s hair and presses a single chaste kiss to Newt’s lips. “But we certainly have plenty of time to figure it out together.”
It’s not the end of the world any more, after all. “We do,” Newt agrees, and he matches Hermann’s smile.
They have all the time they want.