On the day Newt Geiszler met Hermann Gottlieb, it was raining. Thick grey stormclouds rolled across the sky, tumbling over each other in their haste to rub salt in his wounds. It rained down lemon juice on the great big paper cut that was Newt’s existence.
But — it wasn’t like it was Newt’s fault Hermann couldn’t take a joke, or pick up on his (frankly obvious) flirting, or care about anything other than what other people would think! It wasn’t Newt’s fault at all. Yeah, maybe he got a little too heated, a little too loud, a little too himself, but all that was only because Hermann was fucking infuriating.
Maybe he got a little too carried away with their argument, maybe he said some things he didn’t mean, maybe he found himself so high on the adrenaline of their back-and-forth that he maybe tried to kiss Hermann in the middle of their screaming match and maybe Hermann pushed him away and kept yelling, louder this time, his face so red he looked like he was about to explode, and maybe the owner threatened to call the cops if they didn’t get the fuck out of her cafe and– and– yeah. Okay. Newt messed up. Big fucking surprise.
He was halfway back to his apartment when it started pouring, heavy raindrops sliding down his neck and making him shiver. He popped the collar of his leather jacket, stuck his hands in his pockets, and walked the rest of the way home with his gaze fixed on the pavement.
It’d take Newt a while to get over the embarrassment, but he was pretty sure he and Hermann could recover from this. He just had to figure out an apology or an explanation or something to tell Hermann after his next letter came, and everything would be fine.
But no letter ever came, and two weeks after Newt swallowed his pride and sent his sprawling, four-page apology, it ended up in his mailbox again, unopened and marked RETURN TO SENDER.
After that, Newt pretty much gave up hope. He threw all of Hermann’s letters in a box at the back of his closet and did his best not to think about it. If he went through an ungodly amount of ice cream that week, well, that was between him and the supermarket cashier.
The next time Newt saw Hermann, it was three years later in Anchorage, and there was a wedding ring on his finger. So, that was it. Newt had never really had a chance.
All things considered, Newt thought he was behaving himself exceptionally well. He never asked about Hermann’s husband (mainly because he didn’t want to think about it, and he refused to think about why he didn’t want to think about it), and he only flirted a little bit, when he couldn’t help it. Hermann didn’t seem to mind anyway.
The one thing Newt did want to know about Hermann’s husband was why the motherfucker wasn’t there for him when he obviously needed someone to make sure he didn’t work himself to death.
“Morning!” he called as he strolled into the lab, pounding back half a lukewarm black coffee. Newt spared a glance towards Hermann’s side of the yellow tape, like he always did, to gauge what kind of mood the mathematician was in before he tried to irritate the shit out of him. He did a double take and frowned at Hermann’s outfit. “Uh, dude? Are those the same clothes you were wearing yesterday?”
Whatever spell Hermann had been under shattered, and he shot Newt a halfhearted glare over his shoulder. His brown eyes were glassy, a bit glazed over, like he was looking at something vaguely Newt-shaped in Newt’s general direction. The dark circles under his eyes stood out against his deathly pale skin. His knuckles were stark white, hand gripping his cane like he’d keel over without it. Newt wasn’t so sure he wouldn’t.
“I’m perfectly fine, Dr. Geiszler.”
“Well, that’s not the answer to the question I asked, so I’m gonna call your bullshit on that one,” Newt said. “You look like crap, man. What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” Hermann replied, turning his steely look back to his chalkboard, “and that’s precisely the problem.”
“O-kay! Sounds great. I think you should take the day off.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Newton. There’s work to be done.”
Newt just nodded. “Not when you’re dead on your feet, man. At least sit down, you’re making me sore just looking at you.”
Hermann let Newt lead him to his desk chair before collapsing in it, burying his head in his hands. Newt crouched beside him. He reached out and stroked a hand over Hermann’s back and shoulder.
“Come on, man. You’re exhausted,” Newt reasoned. “You’ve been up for twenty-four hours. Your math is so past being accurate it’s insane. Nothing you do now will be worth anything tomorrow.”
Slowly, Hermann nodded. Newt knew Hermann was really tired if he was agreeing with him so easily. Every little thing was a fight with them. Of course their concern shouldn’t be any different.
“Can you walk back to your quarters?”
“Yes, though I might– I might have to lean on you, just a bit.”
The look on Hermann’s face was weary and just a little shy, like he thought Newt would ever say no to that. Like he would ever say no to helping Hermann. A little part of him raged at the thought of anyone leaving Hermann to his own devices — not that he wasn’t more than capable, but Jesus, Hermann shouldn’t have to be the only one who cared about himself! What kind of husband would leave their partner halfway across the world (Newt assumed) in a place as cold and clinical as a Shatterdome! The guy had to be a massive dick, and Hermann deserved better. He deserved someone who would take care of him. Someone who was here.
(Someone like Newt.)
“All right, Einstein, up we go,” Newt said, holding out an arm. Hermann took it graciously, and Newt tried to convince his heart not to beat out of his chest. “We’ll get you into bed and definitely get you some painkillers, man. Woof.”
Hermann nodded. The glazed-over look in his eye hadn’t really gone away.
“Yes, that seems… reasonable,” he said. “Newton, would you– er, would you mind terribly if I–”
Before he could finish his question, Hermann’s weight was already on him. Newt wrapped an arm around Hermann’s waist and led him back to his room. They got a few looks, but Newt didn't really care, and luckily Hermann wasn't awake enough to notice. He’d have a fucking hissy fit if he knew how dumb they looked, with Hermann draped over him like a mathematician-shaped fur coat, his short, even breaths puffing against Newt’s ear.
They made it to their hallway without running into anyone they respected too much (besides Tendo, but he didn’t count). Newt plucked Hermann’s key card out of his jacket pocket and deposited Hermann straight onto his pristinely-made bed, where Hermann proceeded to shed a million layers and still show less skin than a Catholic nun. His shoes came off next, and then everything was placed neatly at the foot of his bed. Newt had to look away. Hermann looked so soft in just a sweater and socks that Newt felt almost embarrassed to be there.
Then Hermann reached for his belt, and Newt whipped around to face the other wall, blushing furiously. He rushed over to the bureau and dug around until he found a pair of thick fleece pajama bottoms. Hermann muttered his thanks when Newt tossed it to him.
“Uh, is there– there anyone you want me to call, man? Let them know you’re gonna be passed out for the next fourteen hours?” Newt asked, desperate to hear something other than the click of Hermann’s belt buckle on the cold metal floor. “You should probably text your husband, or whatever.”
Hermann scoffed. The bedside drawer squeaked open, and Newt winced at the sound of rattling pill bottles. He stepped in after just a few seconds, ignoring Hermann’s put-upon scowl. Newt held up a bottle, and Hermann nodded.
“Do you want me to text your husband?” Newt asked again.
“Don’t have a husband.” Hermann closed his eyes, primly covering his yawn with one boney hand. He maneuvered himself underneath his bedsheets and muttered, “Text Vanessa.”
Newt’s brow furrowed, but he did as he was told, snagging Hermann’s phone from his pile of discarded clothes as the other man began softly snoring.
When he saw the last message from one Vanessa Gottlieb (a very sweet, sincere, “please get some rest, love”), he froze.
Now, Newt had six doctorates. He was a smart guy. Kind of a genius, actually (though people didn’t like it too much when he called himself that, no matter how true it was). He could put two and two together.
Hermann didn’t have a husband, but he had a wedding ring and a pet name, and that was all it took, really. Hermann didn’t have a husband. He had a wife. Like, a woman. A woman who married Hermann.
Newt hazarded a suspicious glance at the sleeping man. By all accounts, Hermann should have been as gay as the day was long. It was written in the everything about him, from his unfortunate taste in clothing to his love of romance novels he didn’t think Newt knew about to the way he did every single thing with the bitchiest attitude possible. Looks could be deceiving, he guessed.
On the other hand, Hermann might be bi or pan or asexual. He was married to a woman, so he wasn’t strictly gay, but did that mean he had to be straight?
Whatever! It didn’t matter. Newt didn’t really like being the creep standing in the middle of his sleeping coworker’s room contemplating said coworker’s sexuality.
It wasn’t like he had a chance either way. Whatever Hermann’s sexuality was, his relationship status was still firmly married. And just because that marriage involved a woman didn’t make her any less of a bastard. It didn’t change the fact that Newt was left to play husband while Vanessa was out there doing whatever the hell she thought was more important than Hermann. Didn’t she know that nothing was more important than Hermann?
hey it’s newt geiszler hermanns lab partner. he was up all night so I made him go to bed. he’ll be out for like 10-12 hours probably. he wanted me to let u know he’s still alive
Newt hesitated before sending another message, deleting it immediately so Hermann would never get a chance to read it.
but btwn u and me he’s not doing so hot
A reply came in almost instantly after that.
Oh, he is going to be so LIVID when he wakes up
Newt frowned. He sent another text, just a question mark, and immediately those daming little dots popped up onscreen. (Even if Vanessa wasn’t living with Hermann, she obviously cared. And, you know, Newt couldn’t really blame her for choosing not to live in a Shatterdome. Shit sucked.)
He keeps a very tight schedule. Thank you for taking care of him Dr. Geiszler
Newt stared at the message until his eyes crossed, and the words all jumbled together, letters bending and buckling under the weight of what they might have been if Newt hadn’t messed it up all those years ago.
anytime, he replied, heart sinking with the realization that, shit, he meant it. With everything he was, Newt meant it.
Before he left, he deleted that message too.
Newt had nearly forgotten about the whole Vanessa thing when he met her six weeks later.
He had almost turned around and walked right back out of the lab when he saw them, sure he was in the wrong place. But, no, there was Hermann’s chalkboard and Newt’s kaiju viscera, all exactly like they’d left it the night before.
The only difference was the two women standing idly on Hermann’s side of the lab. They eyed him interestedly, the taller one’s face breaking into a wide grin. She was, like, drop-dead gorgeous, with dark skin and darker eyes and long coily hair. She wore light wash jeans, a baby pink sweater, and giant daisy earrings.
The other woman Newt would recognize anywhere. Her sharp features and wide lips were familiar, and there was something about those eyes and the air of distinctly British disdain that Newt couldn’t get out of his head. She wore Doc Martens, dark jeans, and a maroon sweater over a white collared shirt, sleeves rolled up to her elbows and a thick watch on her wrist. Newt liked her instantly.
Sure enough, he was right.
“Dr. Geiszler?” the woman asked. Newt nodded dumbly and shook the offered hand. “Karla Gottlieb, Hermann’s twin. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I’ve read most of your work. It’s fascinating. You have a particular way of sneaking the humanities into what should by all means appear strictly scientific.”
“I’ve got a couple doctorates in the social sciences,” Newt explained. “What’s the point of knowing what neurons are firing when we hug someone if we don’t also think about what that means, you know, like, in the grand scheme of the collective human psyche?”
“That is precisely what Hermann doesn’t understand!” Karla agreed. “He’s always been so caught up in the logic that he can’t admire the emotions of the thing.”
“Yes!” Newt cried. “You’re exactly right!”
“You’d think, with his fondness for dramatics, he’d be–”
“Now, Karla,” the other woman admonished, voice smooth and deeper than Newt would have expected, “no bullying Hermann when he’s not here to defend himself. It’s not fair.” She looked to Newt with a wide smile. If Newt hadn’t had a thing for Hermann, he would have swooned. “I’ve been playing referee between these two for over a decade. It’s good to meet you, Dr. Geiszler.”
“Oh, just call me Newt,” he said, going for a handshake. The woman’s nails were long and painted neon green. “Sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“Vanessa Gottlieb. It really is good to meet–”
Newt’s heart jumped to his throat as he realized who he was talking to. His stomach soured, and he couldn’t help but feel suddenly inadequate next to her. Vanessa was gorgeous, tall, put-together, and Newt was just some guy. They really couldn’t get any more different.
“You’re Hermann’s wife?” Newt blurted. Both Karla and Vanessa tensed, and Newt realized how fucking dumb he sounded. “Ohh, that came out bad. It’s just that, like– You’re not what I expected.”
Karla scowled. “That doesn’t sound much better.”
“I just mean you’re way out of Hermann’s league,” Newt rushed. “I was expecting someone more… librarian-esque.”
Vanessa let out a sharp laugh, and the knot in Newt’s stomach only tightened. It made him a little sick to think that he never had a chance with Hermann at all. There was no way someone who loved Vanessa would ever love someone like him. Newt felt terrible about it, but he hoped that she had a weakness somewhere that he just couldn’t see yet. Maybe she was emotionally distant or boring as shit. (Though Hermann probably wouldn’t mind that last one. He sure as hell didn’t like Newt’s brand of exciting, at least.)
“Not you too,” Vanessa scolded playfully. “No bullying Hermann until he gets back!”
Newt tried his best to smile. He let the women poke around his side of the lab as he set up for the day, answering their odd questions here and there. It was nice (weird, but nice) to have someone ask about his work without insulting it in the same breath. He still wished Hermann were there, though. He always did.
Vanessa was staring contemplatively into the kaiju brain’s tank, yellow-green glow turning her skin a sickly hue, when Hermann finally reentered the lab. Newt turned to him as the door slid shut, and his breath caught in his chest. He hadn’t seen a a smile that big on Hermann’s face since– fuck, he hadn’t even been that happy when they met for the first time.
“Good morning, Newton,” Hermann greeted. That smile turned towards him, and Newt felt a little light-headed with it. “I see you’ve met my– Oh! Oh, dear. What is it? Has something been contaminated? Those two haven’t done anything, have they?”
“We have not!” Karla argued. Still, she stepped cautiously away from the kaiju samples she was examining. “Right, Newt? Newt?”
“Uh,” Newt said, swallowing hard. God, he had to get out of here. “What? No, you’re– you’re fine. Everything’s fine.”
“You’re white as a sheet,” Vanessa said with a frown. “Your hands are shaking.”
Newt shrugged, tucked his hands into his back pockets. “I, uh,” he muttered. “I think I forgot, uh– I forgot to– I gotta…”
Hermann frowned, stepped towards Newt with a hand outstretched, reaching.
“Did you take your medication last night, Newton?”
Newt almost collapsed in relief, he was so grateful for the out Hermann gave him. (Of course he had taken his meds the night before, he had seven alarms on his phone just to remember.)
“That’s it!” he cried. “Yes, yeah, I forgot to– to take my medication,” he breathed. “I’m gonna go. I’m gonna go do that.”
Vanessa might have asked him to meet them for lunch, or whether he’d be free the next day, or something sickeningly polite and sweet and good, but Newt didn’t hear it. He was too busy getting the fuck out of the lab and hurrying to his room, trying to push the image of Hermann’s soft smiling face out of his mind.
Hermann stared after Newton as the lab door slid shut behind him, speechless.
“Is he all right?” Vanessa asked. “I swear we didn’t do anything to him. He was fine until you came in!”
Karla nodded in agreement, coming around to Vanessa’s side and slipping her arm around her waist. Hermann fought the urge to roll his eyes and swallowed down the jealousy that always reared its ugly head whenever Karla and Vanessa were affectionate.
“I don’t know,” he said. “He’s certainly done stranger things.”
Vanessa nodded, but Hermann could tell she didn’t quite believe him.
“Well, I like him,” Karla said. “Do you think he’d join us for lunch?”
Hermann frowned. “We’re going to lunch?”
“Yes, a celebratory lunch. To honor our divorce!” Vanessa explained. “It’s been a lovely time committing tax fraud with you, Hermann. Don’t you think we ought to commemorate it somehow?”
“What are you talking about?” Hermann asked. “We haven’t committed tax fraud.”
“Yes we have!”
“I don’t think you have,” Karla chimed in.
Vanessa glared at her and said, “Well, this doesn’t feel legal at all.”
“It’s the most legal it can be. We’ve got a certificate.”
“Actually,” Karla offered, “you can get a certificate for anything these days.”
“Right!” Vanessa cried, squeezing Karla’s arm. “We claimed to be married for, like, eight years.”
Hermann frowned. “We didn’t claim anything, we were legally married.”
“We only got married to commit gay tax fraud together!”
“That’s categorically untrue,” Hermann said. “We also got married so your parents would stop trying to set you up with heterosexual white men.”
“Yeah but that’s not– I mean, is that fraud, or is it just lying? Lying isn’t a crime.”
“Perjury,” Karla offered. “Perjury’s a crime.”
Vanessa rolled her eyes. “I didn’t swear in a court of law to not lie to my parents, Karla. Besides, why the fuck have you let everyone here believe we’re legitimately married if this hasn’t been one huge scam?”
“It is a scam,” Hermann replied easily, “though I’m not quite sure it’s as serious as tax fraud.”
“You let people think you were straight for this marriage!” Vanessa trilled, voice high with disbelief. “You could have gotten so much dick here, Hermann, and you fucking squandered it, you let everyone think you were straight, you let Newt think–”
“Vanessa!” Karla scolded. “That’s a little far, don’t you think?”
“Oh, no,” Vanessa breathed, a manicured hand over her mouth. “Oh, I’m sorry, Hermann, I didn’t mean it. I’m sorry.”
Hermann swallowed, cleared his throat, lied through his teeth, “It’s quite all right. No harm done.”
“If it makes you feel better, I think he likes you,” she said. “You should’ve seen the way his eyes lit up when Karla mentioned you.”
“Too bad he thinks you’re straight,” Karla quipped. “Though, really, even knowing you’re married to a woman wouldn’t convince me.”
“Was married to a woman, hence our imminent celebration,” Vanessa reminded. “Please, can we invite Newt, Hermann? We can fill him in on our life of crime.”
Hermann shook his head. “He tends to get a bit… well, frazzled when he doesn’t take his medication, and… honestly, I’m surprised his social anxiety didn’t send him screaming the moment he saw you two in here unsupervised.”
“Awww, you know him so well! Cute!”
Hermann sent Vanessa a glare. “Please, spare me. Do you have the papers?”
As his marriage dissolved before him, with nothing more than a few signatures, Hermann felt his excuses crumbling right along with it. There were no more pretenses he had to uphold, no more lies he had to tell. No woman he was legally bound to, no reason he couldn’t finally examine the tender feeling that rooted in his chest whenever Newton smiled or laughed or complimented his work or brought him tea.
No, it was probably best Newton didn’t join them for lunch. Hermann might say something he’d regret later, and that just wouldn’t do.
“So,” Newton said the next day, voice uncomfortably casual, “it’s super cool that Karla and Vanessa could visit you. How long are they staying in the country?”
Newton was elbow-deep in a kaiju sample, glasses slipping off his nose and hair flying about his face, and still he wanted to talk to Hermann about his family life. Hermann, on the other hand, was busy writing up a report on the predictive model he was working on. He really didn’t have the time.
“A week,” he replied, “though I’m sure they’ll spend most of it sightseeing without me.”
“Aw, that sucks. You didn’t take vacation to spend time with them?”
Hermann sent Newton a withering look, and Newton held his (kaiju-covered) hands up in surrender. His glasses clattered to the floor, and he cursed, falling to his knees in a search doomed to fail.
“No, Dr. Geiszler. You and I don’t have the luxury of ‘taking vacation.’” Hermann rose to his feet and crossed the yellow line separating them. “Despite the nauseating work you’re up to, I’d much rather be in the lab than traipsing about the city.”
“But isn’t that, like, part of your husbandly duties, or something?” Newton asked. He looked up at Hermann with squinty eyes as Hermann plucked his glasses off the ground. “Escorting your wife around Hong Kong, shit like that?”
“Oh, no,” Hermann replied. “We signed divorce papers yesterday.”
Newton’s jaw dropped open. “What?”
“We’re divorced,” Hermann repeated. And because he was a coward, he continued, “Vanessa’s a lesbian.”
“Holy shit. I’m– I’m sorry, man, that’s… really rough,” Newton said. He sat back on his heels and cocked his head. “I mean, obviously, good for her. Gay rights, y’know? But damn.”
“Yes, of course,” Hermann agreed. He returned Newton’s glasses to their proper place on his nose. His fingers grazed Newton’s ear, knuckles brushing against soft hair. Hermann had never wanted to kiss anyone as badly as he wanted to kiss Newton just now. He wanted to cup Newton’s soft, stubbly face in his hands and press their lips together, breathe the same air, melt into each other. He wanted to crack his ribcage open and gather Newton to his chest and keep him close and safe forever, and maybe that was a little strange to think on a Wednesday morning, so Hermann pushed it out of his mind. “Be careful, would you?”
Speechless, lips parted in surprise, eyes wide and searching, Newton nodded.
Hermann straightened, returned to his side of the lab, and continued his report.
The drift was cold and blue, white-hot and confusing, memory and emotion overshadowed by blood and death and violence. Electricity traveled up and down Newt’s spine, his whole body tensing with the weight of a million minds shoved into his own.
Through it all, he reached out to Hermann, desperate for something familiar to tether him to the world of the living. In a tiny, distant corner of Newt’s mind, he felt Hermann reaching back.
They were in the helicopter and on their way back to the Shatterdome, silent but holding hands, when Newt turned to Hermann and blurted, like an idiot, “Dude, your fucking sister, though?”
Hermann stared at him with furrowed brows, one brown eye rimmed in red, blood drying on his upper lip.
“What on earth are you talking about?”
“I saw– Like, okay, I get there’s a lot going on right now, but– your wife left you for your fucking sister, dude?” Newt asked. “That’s so– so–! I thought siblings were supposed to have each other’s backs!”
“You saw that?”
“What did you see, exactly?”
Newt winced. “Uh, I saw Karla and Vanessa, like, being all couple-y and shit, and I felt, like, so jealous I thought I was going to explode, or– I don’t even know, man.”
Hermann hummed, as if it was normal, as if this was some run-of-the-mill shit. He squeezed Newt’s hand gently, and Newt nearly jumped out of his skin. He squeezed back harder, so hard he thought Hermann would rip his hand away and shout in his face and call him every unsavory name in the book, but Hermann just gazed at him, eyes soft and sad. Newt wondered what Hermann had seen in the drift to make his face look like that.
“I appreciate your vehemence on my behalf, but it’s a bit more complicated than all that.”
Newt let out a disbelieving laugh. “You literally cannot be serious, dude.”
“Unfortunately, I am,” Hermann replied. “Are you feeling all right, Newton?”
“Obviously not. You?”
“I feel like I got hit by a bloody train.”
Newt nodded. “Me too. I– Thank you, Hermann. For doing that. You didn’t– Just… thank you. For everything.”
“You don’t have to thank me, Newton.”
“No, I do, man, you literally saved my life,” Newt insisted. His heart beat frantically in his chest. He was pretty sure he could feel Hermann’s heartbeat too, echoing his. “I probably would’ve died if you hadn’t– if you hadn’t shown up, I– I’d be dead on the floor of the lab if you– Oh, holy fuck, I should totally be dead right now. Am I dead?”
“We’re alive, Newton. Against all odds.”
“Why would you be holding my hand if I wasn’t dead? Huh?”
“Because we just shared a drift,” Hermann said, “and I find myself a bit reluctant to let you go just yet. Is that all right with you?”
Newt nodded. He squeezed Hermann’s hand again, moving as close to him as he could despite the seatbelt keeping him from falling out of the fucking helicopter.
“You don’t have to thank me, Newton,” Hermann repeated. Newt’s skin burned where Hermann’s other hand rested on his face, long fingers curling around his jaw. Newt opened his mouth to ask a question, but then Hermann’s lips were on his, and his whole body went warm and bubbly as he melted into the kiss. He tried to follow as Hermann pulled away, but the stupid fucking seatbelt caught and held him back. “There was no other choice,” Hermann continued, like he hadn’t just rocked Newt’s world. “It was for purely selfish reasons, I assure you.”
“What’d you see?” Newt asked, voice hoarse. He cleared his throat, looking out over the city as the chopper descended on the Shatterdome helipad. “When you were in my head. What did you see?”
“More than enough,” Hermann replied. “Newton, would you do something for me?”
“Yeah,” Newt said. “Of course.”
“Look up the definition of a ‘lavender marriage’ when you get the chance. When all this is over.”
Newt nodded again. He didn’t argue that they didn’t know how this was going to end, if they were even going to live to see that night, much less the next day. He didn’t argue because the helicopter had landed, and the bomb wasn’t going to work, and the world needed saving.
For the next few days, Newt spent as much time at Hermann’s side as possible. He showed up at Hermann’s door in the morning so they could walk to the lab together. He brought Hermann tea and scrounged up some of those tasteless shortbread cookies he liked. He came up with excuses to cross over to Hermann’s side of the lab, leaning over his desk when he was writing up a report or against his chalkboard when he was working out some equations.
Just as Newt was starting to wonder if Hermann really wanted him around that much, he walked into the lab to find the tape keeping them apart completely gone, leaving behind only a discolored strip of floor in the middle of the room. After that, Hermann seemed to reciprocate just as much, calling him over to his desk to go over his numbers, resting his hand on Newt’s shoulder or elbow, leaving a space on his blackboard for Newt to doodle on.
It made Newt want to press gentle kisses all over Hermann’s sweet little face.
Which, y’know, reminded him that he never actually got back to Hermann on that whole kissing in the helicopter thing.
By the next time he wandered over towards Hermann’s side of the lab, he had decided that they’d set the whole thing straight (ha!). He perched on the edge of Hermann’s desk and watched him work, eyeing the hard line of his shoulders as his equation sprawled across the board.
“What is it, Newton?” Hermann asked. He didn’t turn around, but Newt knew his attention was on him.
“Are you busy?”
“It’s nothing I can’t pick up later.”
“Okay, cool. Do you wanna talk?”
Hermann looked at Newt over his shoulder, eyes wide. “What about?”
“The drift, I guess,” Newt replied. “The helicopter. My Google search history.”
Without a word, Hermann set down his chalk and took a seat at his desk chair, looking up at Newt with a content little smile on his face. He held out a hand, and Newt took it gratefully, squeezing gently, careful to avoid the fading bruises he’d left a few days ago.
“So, I feel like an idiot.”
Hermann shrugged. “I can’t blame you for believing in the validity of a legally binding marriage, but to think that you would think so lowly of me…”
“I mean, if it makes you feel better, I totally thought you were gay before I figured out who you were married to,” Newt said. “It’s, like, painfully obvious.”
“I take that as a compliment.”
“Oh, it definitely is. And it obviously wasn’t just for Vanessa’s benefit, then.”
“No. It started because it was just… convenient,” Hermann explained. “Vanessa’s mother stopped urging her to give mediocre businessmen a chance, and my father got to present his picture-perfect family to the rest of the world. Not to mention the social benefits.”
Newt nodded in understanding. “And when did Karla and Vanessa become a thing?”
“About a year after we got married,” Hermann said. “They make each other the happiest I’ve ever seen them.”
“Huh. That’s sweet. Can’t imagine that conversation, though.”
Hermann rolled his eyes. “Karla called me and said she was sleeping with my wife. Something I never wanted to picture, but I got it anyway.”
“Okay,” Newt said with a grin, “but why are you jealous?”
“In the drift, I saw Vanessa and Karla together, and I felt… I felt jealous. I was pissed. I know you’re happy for them, and there’s no hard feelings, I felt all that too, but… there’s just something there I’m not understanding, man.”
Hermann’s face soured, and Newt frowned back, afraid he’d struck a nerve. Hermann squeezed his hand in reassurance.
“You are absolutely not allowed to judge me harshly for this,” Hermann said, voice stern. “I feel terrible, but there’s nothing to be done about it.”
“Dude, you will not believe the fucked up shit you’re gonna learn about me in the very near future. Go for it.”
“Since we were kids, I– I’ve always felt that Karla had things… easier than I did, I suppose,” Hermann explained. He refused to meet Newt’s gaze. “It’s– It’s not true, of course. The world isn’t exactly kind to people like either of us. But it’s always felt like… good things land in Karla’s lap, whereas I have to chase them down with a large net. Nothing is ever easy for me, Newton. I don’t know if it’s something predetermined, or if it’s something about me, but–”
“No way, dude, it’s totally not you.” Newt tugged at Hermann’s hand until he looked up, face as guilty as Newt had ever seen it. “Hey. Listen to me, all right? It’s not your fault.”
“I’ve always wished I could have something like that,” Hermann admitted. “Something easy. Something that comes without the struggle for once.”
Newt scoffed. “Well, I’m not easy.”
Hermann actually laughed. “Yes, I’m quite aware,” he said, grinning widely. Newt had wanted Hermann to look at him like that for so long he couldn’t even remember when it started. “Your very existence is a challenge. You act like you could take on the world and win. It’s one of the things I admire most about you.”
Newt couldn’t help but bend down and press his lips to Hermann’s. Not after Hermann just said the sweetest thing anyone’s said to him, like, ever. To his relief, Hermann kissed back, even going so far as to place his free hand on the back of Newt’s neck, keeping him close.
“This can be easy, though, if you want it,” Newt said softly when he pulled away. “If you want us, I mean. You and me — it can be easy. I don’t know what you saw in the drift, but I know you know I love you, and… if you’re open to it, I mean… I think it could be good. We could be good.”
Hermann pulled Newt into another kiss, this one hotter and harder than the first. Newt shivered as Hermann coaxed his jaw open with just a little pressure on his cheek. He whined into Hermann’s mouth, flushing with embarrassment when Hermann chuckled at him.
When they were both red-faced and panting, Hermann finally pulled back. Newt tried to follow him, but Hermann stopped him with a smirk.
“I love you, Newton,” he said, and it sounded like he’d never been more sure of anything in his life. “I love you. I want… us, whatever it entails. Easy or not.”
Newt blinked away tears, took a deep breath. He pressed a shaky kiss to Hermann’s forehead, his cheekbones, his jaw, each corner of his lips, the back of his hand, his fingertips.
“You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to hear that,” he said. “I’ve loved you forever.”
“I know.” Hermann gave him another quick kiss on the lips. “I loved you too, you know. The day we met. I loved you already, but I… I was afraid. I didn’t know what to do with all of it. I’ve never loved anyone the way I love you, and it scared me. I got married five months later so I wouldn’t have to face it.”
Newt nodded. “I was scared too. ‘S why everything went sideways in the first place,” he said. “I was freaking the hell out. Messed everything up.”
“You weren’t the only one,” Hermann replied. “What are we to do now, then, now that this is all over?”
“I guess… we just figure it out as we go along. Like regular people.”
Hermann smiled. “That sounds lovely, Newton. Where should we start?”