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Try Anything Once / Twice Shy

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The problem is that they're a six-pack and a half down and bored as fuck. Alison and the baby are in Alaska visiting her folks, Hermann's at some tedious colloqium to which Newton couldn't be bothered to be dragged along when he had so much summer-course marking to do, and, well, Tendo had been fussing at him for a thorough drinking and catch-up session anyway. Carpe diem.

And so, sprawled on the sofa as they are, seemingly having run out of shit to talk about, it strikes Newton as an intensely perplexing non sequitur when Tendo says, "Have you seen the Grapefruit Technique video? You're a nerd about old internet crap, please tell me you've seen it."

"No?" Newton ventures, because a quick trawl of his mind tells him he hasn't. "Like, are we talking grapefruit technique as in how to peel said fruit, or . . . " He fishes for an alternative possibility, but draws a blank.

"I thought this day would never come," says Tendo, setting his beer down on the coffee table, snagging the remote control. "There's some weird online shit Newt Geiszler has never seen, and I get to show it to him." He flips through screens till he hits YouTube and then types grapefruit your man into the search field, which, Newton thinks, is the first bad sign. "Are you ready for this?"

"This is some weird sex thing, isn't it," Newton says, reaching for Tendo's beer, lazily taking a swig. "Tell me it's some weird sex thing and it is hilarious? Oh, dude. How the fuck did I manage to miss—"

"Shhh," hisses Tendo, yanking the bottle out of Newton's hand. He puts a companionable arm around Newton's shoulders and hits PLAY. "Your self-styled awesome sex guru for the evening is Angel."

Twenty-five seconds into the video, Newton is already gawping at what's come out of the confident, professional woman's mouth. He's had enough to drink that he's sure he ought to be laughing, but Angel's demeanor is so straightforward and put-together that he kind of respects the hell out of her for being willing to go on camera and say stuff like Normally you can only get this technique in one of my classes, but I wanted to share this with you because I believe every man should get grapefruited and When you grapefruit your man, it's going to feel as if you are giving him head and fucking him at the same time; no better feeling will he ever get than being grapefruited.

"I had no idea grapefruit could function as a verb," he says in reverent, drunken awe.

"Oh, just you wait," says Tendo, taking the video off pause. "It gets better and better."

Angel proceeds to explain that you need to have a grapefruit, ruby red if possible (because sweeter is easier), and then make sure it's room temperature. She rolls her specimen against the counter-top, explaining that you want to juice it up a little bit, and this, this is inexplicably the line that pitches Newton into a hysterical giggle-fit, because who in their right mind looks at a grapefruit and thinks, I am going to find a way for somebody to fuck that. He's wheezing by the time Angel explains that you want to set the grapefruit on a plate and slice off about a quarter of the fruit on each of the navel-sides; by now, it's kind of obvious where this is going and it is absolutely fucking ridiculous.

"Newt, hold it together," Tendo says, pausing the video again, but he's not doing a very good job of hiding the fact he's been silently laughing so hard that there are tears streaming down his cheeks. He wipes at them ineffectually, and Newton just chokes harder. "Stay with me, brother."

"C'mon, start it back up," Newton cackles. "There's no turning back. Angel's a class act!"

"Don't know if you're still gonna be saying that in a few minutes," Tendo sighs, and complies.

So you should have a grapefruit that has two sides missing. Just like this. Now, what you're going to do is, you're going to put a hole in the middle of the grapefruit approximately the size of your man's penis. Do not make it too big, do not make it too tight. Just approximate.

"But why approximate when you can take actual measurements?" demands Newton. "I have actual measurements! I mean, okay, I estimated in order to get said measurements, because I think Hermann would've strangled me with the tape-measure if I'd brought it to bed."

"I won't ask the reason you estimated," says Tendo, with grim resolution. "I will not."

"I don't need one," Newton says belligerently, smacking him. "Because I fucking can."

"Well, how about you shut the fuck up," Tendo drawls, "and let Angel give you one."

Angel proceeds to cut a hole in the middle of her grapefruit that's definitely too big.

"Nobody has a dick that size without surgical intervention," Newton blurts. "Nope."

"If you don't stop talking, genius, you're gonna miss the punch-line," Tendo sighs.

Now, when you grapefruit your man, he has to be blindfolded, Angel says. There's no ands, ifs, or buts about it. Why? If you came to the bedroom with a grapefruit, what is your man going to say? What are you going to do with that, is it going to burn, and all those other things. You don't want any of that, so this is what you do. Say, "Baby, you know what, tonight I want to do something a little freakier; I want to suck your dick blindfolded." Your man will blindfold himself if he knows he's going to get some head.

"Hmmm," Newton says. "Not sure I'm okay with that. Like, Hermann might not ask questions because, TMI time, when I say jump, he'll pretty much ask how high. But I'm not sure I'd want to be blindfolded without knowing what's gonna go down, I mean aside from the going-down."

"And if your partner's got a citrus allergy, that might not be the best idea, period," says Tendo.

"We just don't like citrus that much," Newton admits. "And this wouldn't work with a mango."

"Jesus Christ, are we actually discussing this," Tendo mutters, fetching another bottle of beer.

They watch Angel complete her demonstration. The pièce de résistance is comprised of the truly horrifying sound effects resulting from Angel going down on the huge black dildo she's produced out of nowhere—that and the fact that her mic is clipped to her cleavage. They don't say anything for the remainder, because it's kind of hard to say anything when somebody's working a grapefruit up and down an oversize dildo while simultaneously devouring the head in artless, noisy abandon.

Now, ladies, remember, Angel concludes, grapefruit is also a fat-burner, so you're actually losing weight while you're sucking his dick. Now, once you're doing this technique, it feels amazing to him, but he still has no idea what you're doing, so what you want to tell your man to do is this: take the blindfold off. He's going to be looking at you like, "What the hell are you doing?" But he'll never say stop; all he's going to be thinking is, "I could've been fucking a grapefruit all these years." And that's the Grapefruit Technique.

"Oh my God," Newton says. "Seriously? Losing weight? Dude, if this is your idea of getting on my case, you can fuck right off; I don't eat any worse than Hermann does now and you know it—"

"Calm down," Tendo sighs, muting the video as it starts playing again. "I just wanted to show you a funny thing. I was going through my old playlists a couple weeks ago and found this in there."

"Hermann wouldn't be looking at me like What the hell are you doing," says Newton, staring up at the ceiling, finding that it wobbles ever so slightly. "He'd be looking at me like You deserve exactly what you're getting right now —namely, grapefruit-flavored dick.  And he'd totally be right, because Angel's a kick-ass lady and all, but that is freaking nuts." He pauses for breath, clutches at his jaw as it clicks, catches, seizes in pain. Well, fuck. He knows he's had a bad week, sure, but . . .

"I'd try it on you if you wanted, gorgeous," Tendo slurs, nudging Newton's elbow, and that's the precise moment at which Newton realizes they've drunk so much they're approximately beyond the pale. "I won't tell if you won't tell. And, anyhow, Al says there's this girl at work she wants to—"

"How about no," Newton mutters, but he tips over and leans against Tendo's shoulder because the video is still running on a perpetual loop, and, yeah, no question, Newton is trashed. "How about. Well. Think about the practical application possibilities here for starters, okay? With all the nightmares and shit, I grind my teeth. If Hermann ever murders me in my sleep, you'll know why. So anyway, it's been happening a lot lately and my jaw fucking hurts, and you can imagine that doesn't make deep-throating or similar pleasant, so what she's proposing might actually be a pretty cool life hack. Minus the bad sound-effects. I hate to say it, dude, but I do not sound like that when I'm sucking Hermann off and I don't think I could even if he wanted me to, but why would—"

"You're telling me," says Tendo, his fingertips playing with light imprecision down the side of Newton's thigh, "that you're going to try this for science? You've already told me you guys don't like citrus. Which do you hate more, grapefruit or oranges? Pick the lesser of two evils. Not gonna lie, my man, I almost want you to record this for posterity."

"Sorry, no sex tapes," replies Newton, trapping Tendo's hand in place. He twines their fingers together and brushes his thumb fondly across the back; every memory he has about the way Tendo had flirted with him at the Academy, Hermann also has in his possession. "Listen, we're too old for this shit. I love you, but it's not like that. I don't mind whatever you and Alison decide you're gonna do with your relationship with respect to including other people, but, like, I'm so not up for it. I'll let you cuddle the fuck out of me, and I like cuddling the fuck out of you, but I just . . . "

Tendo kisses the top of Newton's head. "You're a goddamn adorable drunk, you know that?"

Newton smiles against Tendo's shoulder and mouths a messy kiss there.

"Maybe a little, yeah," he admits. "I learned something while we were in training."

"If I can't convince you to tape this thing, will you at least tell me how it goes?" Tendo asks.

"You wanna peer-review my findings?" Newton asks, poking him. "Awww. That's sweet."

"You're an asshole, Newt, but I'm not gonna stuff you in a cab in this state when there's nobody at home waiting," Tendo sighs, staggering to his feet, and tugs on Newton's arm until he lets himself be pulled. "C'mon, let's get you settled in the guest room. You can start plotting tomorrow."

"This is gonna be either really dumb or really awesome, can't decide which," Newton mumbles.

 

 

*

 

 

Newton has three days until Hermann gets back. He spends most of the first day at Tendo's place a hung-over mess. Tendo, who's not much better off, makes him breakfast and fusses over him anyway, which makes Newton wonder if he ought to reconsider some of his life choices.

Alison and the baby return that evening.  Daniel, speaking in full sentences now, seems so happy to see Newton that leaving is a difficult decision to make. Alison drives him home at seven, and even agrees to stop off at Wellcome so Newton can pick up his ridiculous-yet-necessary supplies.  She asks if Tendo behaved himself; that's always a debatable question, although she always means it in jest.

"Does he ever?" Newton asks, grinning, and gets out of the car. "Thanks for the lift, Al."

"Judging by where he dumped your ass last night, I'm tempted to guess he was a perfect gentleman," Alison snorts. "Don't forget these," she adds, picking up the plastic shopping bag.

"Um, hah," Newton manages, taking it from her outstretched hand. "Thanks. See you later."

There's nothing but eerie quiet waiting inside, so Newton slams the front door and flips every light-switch within reach. In the living room, Bertie twists and darts in his tank; he's missed two feedings at this point, and Newton feels so wretched he gives the little guy four pellets instead of three. He sits down on the couch, tugs off his boots, and then dumps the shopping bag out on the cushion beside him. Two grapefruits and two large oranges roll and scatter, settle haphazardly beside him.

"Yep, they're colorful," he tells the fish, who's grown slightly interested in the proceedings. "But you can't watch this time. Not even if you ask nicely, dude. I'm almost ashamed I'm trying this."

Newton is too tired to do practice-runs, and his head's starting to hurt again, so he sneaks one of Hermann's painkillers, takes a long, lukewarm shower, and crawls into bed naked. He's almost asleep when his phone vibrates on the nightstand. He picks it up and squints at it.

I won't ask what havoc you've been wreaking with our most excellent friends, says Hermann's text. I've been out rather late myself; apologies. I'll call you tomorrow, and I'll see you very soon.

I love you, Newton types, but he's too exhausted to actually hit SEND, so he does that first thing in the morning when he wakes up and discovers the failure to launch. The room's bright and his head feels fuzzy, and he knows exactly what he's left on the sofa and why.

"You," he says to Bertie, gathering up the fruit in his dressing-gown covered arms. "Stop judging me."

The slicing job is so straightforward that he's not sure why he thought he needed to practice to begin with, and, in Hermann's absence, cutting a hole the size of his own penis makes the most sense under the circumstances. He's an advocate for self-experimentation, after all; the ludicrous and the dangerous aren't that far removed from each other. He feels absurd sitting alone at the kitchen table with Hermann's dressing gown open, stroking himself to full hardness. It's not difficult to think about Hermann, though, because he's been gone three days at this point and Newton misses the bastard like nobody's business.

And I you, Hermann texts in return, with impeccable timing.  I'll call before too long, I promise.

Newton tries the grapefruit first. All he really wants to know is what Hermann's going to be feeling; leaving the fruit on the sofa had meant not having to worry about warming it. The sensation is wet and sticky and not entirely unpleasant, although he doesn't have the benefit of Hermann sucking him off at the same time. He tries the orange, finding the scent of it less of a turn-off. There's some kind of citrus note in the expensive cologne his mom had sent for Hermann's birthday, but this will not be easily mistaken for Newton having dabbed on some Creed Royal Service.

Hermann's phone-call comes just as Newton's pulling the orange off himself and swabbing away the juice it's left behind with a damp, clean dish rag. Having an actual voice in his ear makes finishing the job with nothing but his hand that much more enjoyable, although Hermann seems perplexed at his breathy replies and asks, with rising concern, if he's feeling all right.

When Newton comes, what he's been doing is made far too obvious by the helpless moan he lets slip before he can put down the phone.

Hermann is silent for almost a minute, and Newton can't find the breath to explain himself.

"You might have told me that's what you wanted," says Hermann, tersely. "I'd have gone back up to my room."

"Sorry," Newton manages, leaning against the table. "Yeah. I really did.  Ah.  I mean . . . "

"I'll be prepared tomorrow, in which case," says Hermann, wryly. "And look forward to it."

Oh no, no, you are not getting this from me; I have this shit locked down so tight you won't know what hit you till you're actually receiving it, thinks Newton, determined. "I meant what I texted."

"I know," replies Hermann; a colleague's voice intrudes. "I do, too," he adds, and hangs up.

Wasting the rest of that day is easier said than done, but Newton blows through a ton of articles and movies, and even gets a full night's rest. Hermann will arrive sometime around four, he thinks on waking the next morning, and he'll probably be tired and cranky and need a nap. Newton decides he'll err on the side of doing cut-prep on the remaining orange instead of the remaining grapefruit, because heaven knows they'll both find that more pleasant (at least in the olfactory sense).

Stowing that cling-filmed under the bed along with a few of his handkerchiefs knotted together for a blindfold is what ends up happening the next afternoon around three.  After fetching their thickest towel and stashing that there, too, he wastes time watching television until the doorbell rings at almost four-fifteen. Hermann's inside and already halfway down the hall before Newton can even get there to answer.

"You ought to have come with me, I told you," Hermann murmurs against Newton's temple, kissing his way down to the juncture of earlobe and jawline. His fingers fan there, probing gently, one hand on each side of Newton's face. "I could hear it over the phone. The clicking’s worse, isn’t it?"

"Nah, whatever," Newton says, interrupting him with a kiss on the mouth. "You tired?"

Hermann draws back just enough to look at him, and then leans back in to return the gesture with complete, longing abandon.

"As if you think I'd choose to sleep when you have other plans," he whispers.

"Right," Newton says, tugging at him. "Get out of those shoes and meet me in the bedroom."

Newton's heart is in his throat, but it shouldn't be. What he's about to do isn't difficult, it's just ridiculous and will hopefully give Hermann the welcome-home that Newton can't actually give him right now because of a stupid TMJ flare-up. He finishes stripping out of his clothes and sits down on the edge of the bed just as Hermann enters the room; he takes Hermann's cane once he's close enough, sets it aside, and sets Hermann's hand on his shoulder so that Hermann can use him for support while he undresses. He ought to have suggested a shower, but Hermann is eager.

"What would you like me to do?" Hermann asks, sucking at Newton's lower lip.

This is not really the way Newton had planned for this to go; Hermann going all classy sex-master on him is not the kind of thing he has in mind. He pushes to his feet, almost setting Hermann off balance, and manages to manhandle Hermann so that he's the one seated on the edge of the bed.  Next, he drops to the floor, snagging the improvised blindfold from just beneath the edge of the bed, and gets up again.

"If it's okay with you, I want you to put this on. No cheating, either. Keep your eyes closed under there if you have to, got it?"

"This is rather unlike you, but I see no reason why I ought not to go along with it," Hermann grumbles, but he does as he's told. "Mind your jaw. I don't think anything strenuous in, er, that regard would prove terribly wise—"

"Dammit, would you just lie back," Newton says, making sure the pillows are satisfactorily arranged. "The point here is that you don't have to do shit."  He drops to the floor again to fetch the towel; nudging Hermann aside in order to put that down earns him a grunt of irritation.

"I rather hope you'll let me after," says Hermann, acidly, but the truth is that he's so turned on Newton kind of wishes they were skipping this experimental nonsense in favor of getting straight to fucking. Newton kisses him, nuzzles Hermann's neck, strokes his thighs. Hermann whimpers.

"I'm not actually going anywhere," Newton promises, slipping off the bed. "Just sit tight."

Hermann mutters something under his breath that Newton would've given anything to hear clearly, but fetching the orange modified as per Angel's instructions is his top priority. He sits down on the edge of the mattress and peels off the cling-film; it's amusing to watch Hermann's eyebrows shoot up from beneath the blindfold in undisguised perplexity. Newton licks some juice off his thumb.

"I have no idea what it is you've got, but you'd best be willing to explain why it smells of orange," says Hermann, testily, although he doesn't get to say much more because Newton doesn't hesitate to set the orange down on the nightstand before leaning down to nuzzle Hermann's cock up against his belly and lavish attention on the damp, straining head with his tongue. Hermann fists one hand in Newton's hair, but Newton pries it loose and guides it back to rest beside Hermann's thigh.

"Call it a novelty item, how's that," Newton says, reaching for the orange. "And here we go—"

Hermann sits very still while Newton threads his cock through the orange and works it up and down a few times for the sake of adjustment. Newton's cheeks and the back of his neck are burning, but he persists, and Hermann finally shifts his hips, makes a choked sound low in his throat.

"I tried it on myself first," Newton explains, working the orange with care. Maybe that's not a sexy thing to say, but he feels bad about the blindfold. "It felt kind of—not unpleasant, but weird. Maybe it's because I had full knowledge of the object and was doing it to myself, but—"

"Newton, if I've correctly grasped the circumstances with the senses left to me, you are using a creatively butchered piece of fruit to get me off. Would you care to explain exactly why this daft, tiresome experiment struck you as—oh," Hermann gasps, stopping short as Newton goes for broke and bends to add his lips and tongue to the action. It's not as easy to coordinate as Angel had suggested, and it does sound kind of strange (although he knows now the microphone was mostly to blame).

Newton keeps at it for a minute, two minutes, three. There's orange juice all over his chin and his hands and Hermann's thighs, but Hermann's strained breath and his softly-exhaled pleading suggest that he's either decided to set the strangeness factor aside or that he's too far gone to care. His fingers tighten in Newton's hair, gently tugging, and Newton lets his tongue dip sharply into Hermann's slit before easing off. He removes the orange, which has more or less gone to useless mush, and licks up as much of the mess as he can manage. He wants to touch Hermann, wants Hermann to touch him, and so he meets with no protest when he settles in Hermann's lap.

"On or off?" he whispers in Hermann's ear, tugging at the blindfold while he fists them both with his other hand.

"Leave it," Hermann murmurs, pressing both hands against the small of Newton's back. "Please."

"Mmm," Newton sighs, leaning in to kiss him. "I did think you'd like the blindfold thing. Go me."

They don't say anything more, can't say anything more, because Hermann groans and starts coming even as Newton releases them because his hand's getting tired and he just wants to feel this. He shudders and bucks against Hermann, gasping; he can still smell the aromatic sharp-sweet bite in the air around them and thinks, shivering as he recovers, Maybe it works better as an ambiance aid after all.

Hermann is quiet, stroking Newton's back and breathing unsteadily into his hair.

"Tell me," he asks at length, giving Newton a slight squeeze, "you got this idea from where?"

"About that," Newton says, contently closing his eyes, "there's this thing you need to watch."

Chapter Text

What finally wakes Newton from his drowsing (Damn straight, chimes the Tendo in his head, coordinating sex with citrus fruit is hard work) is Hermann trying to extricate himself from the four-limbed trap in which Newton currently has him. It's not too taxing to blindly nuzzle from Hermann's collarbone up to his chin, coax him into a kiss that earns Newton a fond sigh.

"Hey, I missed you," Newton whispers, licking Hermann's lower lip. "Like, a lot."

Hermann seems pleased by this pronouncement and kisses Newton for a bit longer.

"I hate to be the harbinger of bad news," he says at length, "but I do need the loo."

"Oh, fine," Newton grouses, unwinding his arms and legs. "Just go. See if I care."

He rolls onto his side, slits one eye to watch Hermann grab his cane from where it's propped against the nightstand, and gets a pleasing eyeful of backside while Hermann makes his way to the bathroom. He so doesn't care, because he's sleepy and warm and Hermann is home and—

"Newton!" Hermann's shout echoes off the tile. "Would you care to explain why this burns?"

Trace amounts of citric acid in the urethra, Newton's brain supplies helpfully.

Instead of actually saying that, he groans, squeezes his eyes shut, buries his face in the pillow, and mutters, "Um."

"Surely you could've had the decency to consider using a condom?" Hermann demands, still at top-volume, and flushes the toilet. After washing his hands, he loudly slams the soap back in the dish.

Newton wants to say something like C’mon, it’s not fatal or We suffer for our art, but Hermann has emerged from the bathroom while engaged in using the damp hand-towel to scrub at the vague stickiness remaining on his abdomen, and his eyes are throwing sparks. Not the fun kind.

"C'mere," Newton offers, propping himself up on his elbows in a pose that he hopes is seductive, but which is probably just going to make Hermann even angrier. "How about I kiss it better?"

"It'll take more than your blasphemous mouth to sort this mess," says Hermann, peevishly picking what looks like—ah, yep—a bit of orange-pulp out of his pubic hair. "Shower," he seethes. "Now."

It's not the fun kind of shower, either. Hermann makes Newton break out the chair, and he plants himself in it under the shower spray like he's the goddamn king or something waiting for his particularly dim-witted manservant to get on with it.

Newton takes the long way around just to be contrary, washing Hermann's hair first. He tries to kiss him while he's at it, but Hermann actually smacks his cheek, and it stings. Fair enough. He has to scrub shampoo between Hermann's legs three times before there's any visible improvement in the pulp situation. Hermann isn't turned on.

"God," Newton mutters, finally getting to wash his own hair while Hermann goes about methodically scrubbing the rest of his body with a washcloth. "I didn't mean for this to—"

"Darling, I'm tired," Hermann snaps, and it's amazing how he can turn what's usually a sincere endearment into a scathing insult. "Finish washing up and think about dinner, won't you?"

Newton dresses quickly once they've finished and flees to the kitchen. If Hermann wants to lounge around for a while and read articles online, fine; he's just back from a goddamn conference, has earned the slack-time. He replicates the ramen thing from the place up the road that Hermann particularly likes, but all he gets by way of thanks is Hermann's satisfied hum when he finishes.

Hermann retires to the bedroom again while Newton does the dishes. The guy is a master class in passive-aggressive anger expression, and, at its most extreme, it's even more disturbing around the house than it ever was in the laboratory. Slamming doors, leaving his tea half-finished, and snapping at the fish are pretty typical manifestations. The latter is petty as hell, because what has Bertie ever done to deserve it?

Newton's foul mood isn't salvageable; if he follows Hermann and tries to talk it out, they'll both end up screaming, and their well-meaning upstairs neighbor will call the police again (there's a second time for everything, he supposes, but he finds he'd actually rather avoid it). He turns off the television and keeps Bertie company for a while, showing off the scrimshawed kaiju tooth from a variety of angles.

The fish swims back and forth along the artifact, and then studies Newton quizzically.

"Oh, don't give me that told-you-so shtick," he tells Bertie. "Good night to you, too."

The lights are out when Newton creeps into the bedroom, and Hermann is asleep with his back turned to Newton's side of the mattress. He strips down to nothing and slips under the covers, still furious, and the abrupt buzz of his phone on the nightstand is a curious relief. He squints at it.

Dare I ask how our bold K-Sci adventurers have fared in their quest for pomological knowledge?

Fuck off, Newton texts back to Tendo. About as well as you'd expect. Hermann's ripshit about it.

Aw buddy, Tendo replies, complete with pathetic emoji frown. Wanna come back over and vent?

Sure, Newton says. Tomorrow night. I have papers to mark all day while Hermann ignores me.

Chin up, sexy, Tendo writes back; Newton's not sure he isn't being mocked. I'll buy more beer.

Halle-fucking-lujah, Newton replies, feeling exhaustion begin to set in. That's just what I need.

 

 

*

 

 

Hermann is already awake and in the kitchen when Newton wakes up. Scrambling out of bed and into whatever mismatched t-shirt and underwear oddments he can find lying around isn't optimal, but Newton makes do with OBEY GRAVITY: IT'S THE LAW and his Red Sox boxers.

He freezes in the kitchen doorway, still rubbing his eyes. Hermann's eating cereal that Newton hadn't even thought he liked (he takes a moment to be grateful that Lucky Charms have such an international cult-following that they'll always be available), and he's got the spare grapefruit on the table in front of him. He's trapped it between two mugs of tea, one of which, at least, is for Newton.

"How many times were you planning to do this?" Hermann asks as Newton takes his usual seat and picks up the mug that's intended for him.

They both make a grab for the grapefruit so that it doesn't roll away. Their hands collide painfully, all sharp knuckles on both sides, and Newton withdraws in disgust. If Hermann needs the fucking fruit for a visual aid in making his point, then sure, he can have it. The mere sight of the thing is so shame-inducing that Newton wonders if Hermann will ever be inclined to let him experiment again.

"Only once," Newton insists, taking a sip of the tea. It's Yorkshire Gold, over-brewed, the strong stuff he absolutely hates. "I wanted to make sure I could cut the right size of hole in each type of fruit without destroying them. C'mon, Hermann. I don't have to lecture you on back-up supplies."

Hermann raises his eyebrows, either bemused or incredulous (or somewhere in between).

"And I suppose you just happen know off the top of your head the circumference of my—"

Newton takes a too-large gulp of his revolting tea, almost choking on it.  Tactical error.

"I just know, okay?"

"I've decided what you'll be doing to make amends for this," says Hermann. He wedges the grapefruit between the napkin-holder and the bottle of wine they'd been saving for when he returned; now, apparently, those plans have been jettisoned. "Once you've had something to eat," he explains, tapping through screens on his phone while Newton clutches his mug in terror, "you can cut that in half, fetch the salt from the cupboard, and use it to scrub the shower. If you so much as try to use gloves, please don't doubt you'll have another thing coming."

"Salt and citric acid?" asks Newton, taking his turn to be incredulous. "That'll cause actual injury."

Hermann ignores him, turning his phone around so Newton can see the screen.

"Here's an informative link regarding what I'm talking about," he says primly. "Take careful notice that there's absolutely no mention of applying grapefruit or similar to one's nether regions."

Newton sets his jaw and finishes his tea with resolve.  It looks like the least fun thing in the history of ever.

"Only if I can use gloves," he insists.

Hermann sighs, waving his hand.  Mercifully, the half-life of his ire is deteriorating with each endless second.

"As you will. Whatever gets my hard-earned grout clean."

"Your hard-earned grout?" demands Newton, floored by the gall (as if Hermann's forgotten the fact he sold shit on the black market to pay for their condo). "Fine. You also have to watch the video."

"A small price to pay, I'm sure," Hermann agrees, and oh, yeah, his façade's cracking. "You must be starving. I sliced one of your favorites and left it in the fridge. You'd best fetch it before it turns."

Newton fetches the bowl of sliced mango and comes back to the table, smirking at Hermann.

"I've just remembered these things come seedless now. What do you think about trying—"

"Mango is for eating," says Hermann, sternly, still trying not to break, "not for fucking."

Newton shrugs, digging in with his fork.  On principle, he won't let the discussion drop.

"Ways and means. We could still eat it if we—"

"Newton," Hermann hisses, abruptly far too focused on his cereal. "No. Absolutely not."

Newton swallows his mouthful, not about to stop; Hermann deserves to be tormented.

"So, wanna know your circumference?"

"You've never taken it, and neither have I," snaps Hermann. "You can't possibly be right."

"I don't know," says Newton, casually. "Humor me. There's a tape-measure in the study."

Hermann wipes his mouth on a napkin and tosses it on the floor.  His prissiness is adorable.

"Your reciprocal conditions are absurd, but if my compliance will yield results," he says, rising stiffly, "so be it."

"Thirteen point eight centimeters," Newton calls after him. "Just so you know what I'm seeing."

He enjoys the rest of his mango, because, really, he knows that what Hermann is doing back there.  Fourteen point two centimeters has been the generally accepted average for decades.

Newton knows he's closer to fourteen point three, but he's not going to gloat about that. He's just going to gloat about how practiced an eye he has: you don't spend that many years measuring weird appendages and organs in the lab and not derive some kind of non-traditional benefit.

Hermann comes back fifteen minutes later, visibly in a state, and glowers from the doorway.

"I was right, wasn't I?" Newton asks patiently. "Maybe subtract half a millimeter, but—"

"You have work to do," Hermann mutters. He tries to make his way back to the table, but Newton gets up and insinuates himself in Hermann's path, kisses him slow and heavy where they stand.

"Let me take care of you, huh?" Newton coaxes softly. "Let me do it right this time, Hermann."

Hermann kisses him back: hungry, eager. "This only stays your sentence a short while," he says.

 

 

*

 

 

After two pretty awesome blow-jobs (for one of those, he'd at least been on the receiving end, but not before being vengefully tape-measured) and one not-so-awesome, several-hour scrub-job, Newton gets out of the house by the skin of his . . . teeth seems like the wrong word,  but anything else feels blasphemous.  Tendo takes pity and lets him in when he sees that Newton's stopped off for a six-pack of Blue Girl to add to whatever Tendo's got waiting on the coffee table.

"Son of a bitch," Tendo says, clinking his bottle against Newton's.  "Your hands could've been rubbed raw.  You haven't fucked all the fight out of him yet, have you?"

"Don't give me ideas," Newton sighs.  "Yeah, it was ugly.  I never wanna use kosher salt for cooking again as long as I live.  I don't even know why he bothers with that, it's not like either of us—"

"Oh, quit your bitching," Tendo replies, grinning behind the neck of his beer bottle.  "Dish."

"Tried it on myself first," Newton mutters, taking another drink.  "It felt weird.  I didn't like it."

"No offense, but you'd have to have Hermann or somebody else do it to get a real result. Right?"

"Neither you, nor Hermann is going to apply a goddamn thing to my—hah, as Hermann so delicately put it—nether regions.  Nope.  That's not even up for legitimate discussion."

"What about papaya?" muses Tendo.  "Those have great texture, it's easy to core out the seeds— "

"Leave him alone, you crazy fuck!" Alison shouts from the next room. Dan, who's in his high-chair being fed, chirps, "Crazy fuck!" Alison swears again; Tendo winces before chugging his beer.

"So, parenthood," says Newton, smugly.  "How's that working out for you guys, anyway?"

"Better than your exploits in the boudoir, brother," Tendo counters.  "Which one did you use?"

"Orange," Newton confesses, resigned.  "We both consider that just slightly less gross."

"Slightly less gross," Tendo repeats mockingly, but with admiration.  "Slightly less gross in comparison to what?  Jesus. You got Doctor Hermann Ten-Years-of-Decorated-Experience Gottlieb to screw a piece of fucking fruit.  You win, Newt.  You win the internets forever."

"Slightly less gross than a grapefruit, are you deaf?" Newton snaps, but he can't help grinning.  "I'm afraid I have to turn down your offer of papaya, though.  That would put Hermann right off one of his favorite flavors of bubble tea, and nobody wants that. Well, I don't."

"You should vlog about this or something," says Tendo, thoughtfully, and then slides back into taking the piss.  "Or something more formal, maybe—some kind of fancy academic paper?"

"Again with the offer of peer review," Newton scoffed, using the battered MIT bottle opener on his keychain to sort them another set of drinks.  "It's not that I'm not touched, but I'm touched in the wrong place, if you feel me.  As for the papaya, maybe you should have Al ask her co-workers if any of them are willing— "

"No way!" Alison shouts.  "If honey-pie wants to try it on someone, he's gonna have to ask!"

Tendo bats his eyelashes at Newton.  "Offer's open one last time," he murmurs.  "Please?"

"I don't know why I bother," Newton mutters.  "Go ask Hermann, see how far that gets you."

"Hermann!" Dan announces.  "I wanna go see!  Hermann.  And fish.  Mom, I wanna go— "

"When all this blows over," Alison tells Dan.  "Eat your peas, or we're not going anywhere."

While Dan starts crying loudly in the kitchen and Alison swears a blue streak of Qawiaraq in lieu of English, Tendo scoots closer to Newton.  Newton draws his legs up and curls into the arm Tendo's carelessly thrown across the back of the sofa, happy to take this for exactly what it is.

"You're an asshole, and you're goddamn nuts," Tendo tells him, "and I hate to say it, but I'm proud of you.  Crazy shit for science.  Your college buddies would be proud, too."

"Yep," Newton agrees, letting Tendo hug-smother him.  "Best.  Hack.  Ever."

 

 

*

 

 

Newton stops the video and turns to glance at Hermann, who hasn't said a word.

"There," he says. "You've been initiated into Angel's secrets. Use them wisely."

Hermann persists in silence, and it's maddening. His expression has been the same neutral, impassive mask of moderate interest (this last detail, Newton has had to glean from Hermann's eyes and from what few thought-nuances he can perceive at the moment) for the past three minutes and forty-eight seconds. He blinks and takes a slow, leisurely breath, as if coming back to himself.

"Does this mean you're going to murder me for real? And here I'd thought TMJ was the last straw."

Hermann just looks at him, and then opens his mouth. "Would you back that up a bit, please?"

Newton stares back, not quite trusting his ears. "What? You mean this? Back up the video?"

"Yes," Hermann replies. "Something she says around the three-minute, thirty-four second point—"

"Dude, that's messed up," Newton mutters, but he moves his cursor, backs it up, and hits PLAY.

all he's going to be thinking is, "I could've been fucking a grapefruit all these years." And that's the Grapefruit Technique, Angel says onscreen, as pleased with herself as can be.

Hermann nods, considering this, and Newton wonders if he's going to regret everything. "If I'd been fucking you all those years, might we have foregone this grapefruit nonsense altogether?"

Christ, Newton thinks, not prepared for the fact that he feels like laughing and sobbing all at once.

It's then that Hermann's flawless composure breaks down. He bursts into one of those fits of hysterics so rare and genuine that any chance Newton might've cried evaporates altogether. They don't pull themselves back together for several minutes at least; they lean into each other, clinging and wheezing, until they both degenerate into giggles and half-gasped oh Gods and I can'ts.

"It was worth it, yeah?" Newton asks, because Hermann's carefully shifting to straddle him.

Hermann cradles Newton's jaw in both hands, massages the hollows beneath Newton's earlobes with careful fingers.

"I ought to have considered your reasoning sooner," he murmurs. "Yes."

Newton sighs as Hermann presses a kiss off-center against his mouth.

"We have an audience," he says smugly.

"That's easily enough sorted," Hermann says, proceeding to unbutton his shirt. He removes the garment, turning just enough to make sure that the calculated flip of his wrist lands it exactly where he wants it: over Bertie's tank.