Newt has always come second to Theseus - it is one of those universal truths, like the way that Erumpent’s horn is full of exploding fluid that is really a strikingly pretty iridescent colour before it goes bang. He was born after Theseus, went to Hogwarts after him, came second in the estimation of all the professors there, was remembered second when their parents thought to owl their two sons.
It is normal - expected - the way of the world - but it still makes Newt freeze when he hears Tina teasing Percival about his crush on Theseus. His heart, it seems, forgets a beat. He stops stock-still where he is, hot coffee splashing out of his cup and onto his fingers.
He half-hopes that he will hear Percival deny it - or that he might say something mawkishly sweet about how he had loved Theseus once, perhaps, but it was Newt that he loved now - but how reasonable is that hope?
Newt knows the way of the world. For all that he has been accused of keeping his head in the clouds and being blissfully ignorant of the way the world works, he knows.
It occurs to him that where he is - half-hidden by the potted plants and crowds of people flowing through the cafe - he might be construed as eavesdropping on Percival and Tina’s conversation. That would never do.
He sets the cup of coffee down on the counter with careful precision, next to the carafe of milk that he should have added to it - oh, that explains why the coffee was scaldingly hot - and turns, and leaves. He slips through the crowd of people waiting for their coffee and goes out the door, into the sudden shock of cold winter air.
There are several things that he must do today - feed the Occamies, and finish composing the letter to the French magizoologist who had written to him with an account of a Lethifold sighting, and work on the proofs for his book. Newt is busy - he has things that must occupy his time and his attention - there is no reason for him to strike out blindly into the streets, walking with no thought or sense of his way, all the while with the echo of Tina’s words ringing in his ears.
Yes, well, you like him, don’t you? she had said. Just like you liked his older brother. Wasn’t he charming when he visited last year?
Wasn’t he charming, wasn’t he charming, wasn’t he charming - it rattles like the echo of the subway passing under his feet. Yes - Theseus is the charming one. He is poised and handsome and charming. He knows how to make people love him.
He knew how to make people like Percival Graves love him - and then what? He went and left for Britain, leaving Graves here, leaving him. And then Newt came to the city, and Percival’s attention, and - well, why not? If the brother you wanted was gone, and another was here - not so handsome, not so charming, but who looked enough like him to seem like Theseus if the light was poor - why not, then, reach out for the brother who was there, even if he was not the brother that you wanted?
You like him, don’t you? - but Newt is not the brother that people like. He is not like Jacob, who has the knack of making people like him, or like Queenie or Porpentina, who seem to know effortlessly how to talk to people. Newt is simply not the sort of person that people liked.
His feet are cold in his boots and his knees ache from walking on the hard city pavements. Newt looks down - yes, his hands are chapped and wind-roughened and cold. He looks for the angle of the sun, but the clouds make it hard to tell how late it is. He does not know if Percival is still at work - he does not know how he can Apparate home and face him. Something of what he heard will show, he thinks, on his face or in his words or in the way that he will find it hard to look Percival in the eye. It will not be fair to Percival, to remind him a second time in one day that he is stepping out with the second brother, his second choice.
He considers taking refuge with Tina and Queenie - impossible, when Tina is the one who spoke to Percival this morning - or with Jacob, in the warm sweet-scented rooms above his bakery - but that, too, is unfair to Percival. Newt has been staying with him for weeks now - has moved his clothes into Percival’s cupboards - has slept in his bed, woken to watch the moonlight play over his sleeping face, woken to share coffee and breakfast with him. Percival would worry, Newt thinks, if he did not come home.
Wasn’t he charming when he visited last year?
Newt is not charming - does not know how to be. He did not know, before he met the real Percival Graves and saw the hint of a smile hiding in his eyes, and tasted the warmth of a kiss, and felt the strength of his arms, that he would someday wish that he was charming - wish that he had the same knack with people as he did with his creatures.
Creatures are easy - they communicate in straightforward ways, they have simple wants and they act according to their natures. Human beings are far more complicated - Newt never could have predicted that Percival would want to sleep with him as a sort of proxy for his older brother. He is not Theseus, and never can be him.
And Theseus had talked, in his last letter, about coming for a visit - about visiting his old haunts in the city, about seeing old friends, about having time for a proper visit with his brother. Newt wonders if Percival knows that Theseus will come - had Newt mentioned it to him? Had Theseus written to him? Will Newt carefully, quietly, quickly slip out of Percival’s house and his bed, leaving the space for his brother? Will Theseus be the one to wake Percival when he has a nightmare and bring him a cup of coffee in the morning and kiss him when he comes home from work?
Newt stops where he stands - the middle of a street, a bridge, an alleyway, it hardly matters - and closes his eyes for a second. He cannot think where he will go if that happens - if he will have to stay with Tina and Queenie, and see Tina’s knowing looks and deal with Queenie’s prying thoughts - if he will stay with Jacob - if he will stay in a boarding house, nestled in with the noise of other transient lodgers - if he will creep into Percival’s guest room and sleep there, and be a witness to their morning breakfasts and pleasantries over coffee. He does not think that they will kiss in front of him - he does not think that Percival would be so thoughtless or so cruel.
Newt shoves his hands into his pockets - they are stiff with the cold now, and he will want a salve for the windburn when he goes home. He must go home to Percival, he sees that now - it would hardly be fair to make him worry, and it would hardly be right to give up whatever time Newt has left with him. He had not thought that he would ever have a lover - he is too shy, too awkward, Leta had always teased him and said that he would die alone and be found months later, half-eaten by his own Kneazles. If he has Percival, even for a short time, he will keep him for all of it, he thinks - there can be no reason not to enjoy the kisses and soft touches while Percival is still willing to give them to Newt instead of his older brother.
A unicorn might want to fly, but it has no wings - a dragon mother will guard her own eggs but not watch over any imposters placed in her nest - creatures love and live and act according to their natures. Newt knows that. It would hardly be fair of him to want Percival to change his nature, to do anything other than love the bright and flashy Theseus Scamander instead of his drab, awkward younger brother. What creature is there that does not choose the best mate, the brightest, the strongest and fittest? What made Newt think that he could ever be anything other than the completely hopeless case that Leta had told him he was?
Newt does not think that he could ever bring himself to resent Theseus - for all of the times he has been first, he has deserved to come first. He was the better at flashy wandwork, he brewed better potions, he studied harder and earned better marks. Newt had cared only for the things that he was interested in, the lure of the Forbidden Forest and the heights of the Owlery and the nooks and crannies of the castle where there were discoveries to be made and new friends to find. Everyone at Hogwarts had thought he must be jealous of his older brother - he was not, but he did wish that he might have had this one thing.
But Percival, Newt reminds himself, is not a thing. He is a person who makes his own choices. He is a person who had chosen to make love to Newt in the soft half-light of a candlelit room, dark enough that the scars that differentiate Newt from Theseus were not visible. He is a person who had chosen to close his eyes when he kissed Newt. He is a person who can make his own choices when Theseus returns.
Yes, well, you like him, don’t you? Tina had said. Just like you liked his older brother. Wasn’t he charming when he visited last year?
Newt bites his lower lip and reminds himself of all of the things that he has thought on this walk - that it is better to have any time he can with Percival before he goes back to Theseus, that Percival will not be cruel, that Newt is simply not the sort of man to be charming and make people like him. Yes, well, you like him, don’t you?
Newt had wanted to use another word - love - had practised saying it in his head, had wondered when the best time to say it to Percival would be, had swallowed the urge to say it too soon with long sweet kisses. He wonders if he should say it now while there is still time, while he is still in a position to be able to say it to Percival - or if it might function more like a silken lead, binding Percival to him unfairly. He knows that Percival does not have it in him to be cruel, that he might feel guilty about asking Newt to leave if he knew how Newt feels about him. He cannot stand to tie Percival to him, while knowing that he wants to be with Theseus instead. No, he thinks that he will not say it. It is just a word, after all. Newt will use the time that he has left with Percival to give him sweet kisses and the quiet whispered nothings that they shared as pillow talk - he can say what he feels without using any words.
All of his favourite creatures show their love and devotion without ever saying a word, after all.
The trick will be to do it without letting Percival realise that Newt knows - what he overheard in the cafe. To kiss him and savour the kiss, knowing that it is one of a limited number of kisses before the end, before Theseus comes - to lay next to him in bed, pressed close enough to hear the thud-thud-thud of his heartbeat, and count the beats, without Percival knowing what he is doing and why.
Wasn’t he charming when he visited last year?
To look at Percival, to look at Porpentina when he sees her next, to see them and to act as though nothing has changed, as though there is not something a little broken inside of Newt, a hope that he had cherished and allowed to flower having withered where it had sprouted - to do this will be hard, but Newt reminds himself that there is no alternative. He does not think that he could bear to lose Percival, to leave him a second earlier than he must.
Newt is not Theseus, but he can still be strong. He has to be.
He is passing under a streetlight, thinking that the city has grown quiet and even colder, when a crack of Apparition sounds near him. He whirls around, his frozen fingers groping in his pocket for his wand. Grindelwald may have fled back to Europe, but that is no guarantee that the streets are safe now.
He is stopped short, though, when he sees that it is Percival. Newt was nearly ready to come home and face him there - or more likely, to go home and slip through his suitcase into his creatures’ refuge, and spend a few more hours thinking about what he overheard - but he is hardly ready to face Percival like this, here in the middle of the street.
“Newt,” Percival says, his voice sounding half-strangled. He is dressed with less than his usual care. His lapels are crooked, and Newt wants to reach out and straighten them. He thinks that his hands are too cold, though - Percival will hardly appreciate it. “Newt, are you all right?”
Newt blinks at him. It seems strange for Percival to seek him out to ask this, to Apparate here and risk public discovery - even if it is a quiet street - but somehow it does not occur to Newt that this might be another imposter stealing Percival’s face. This is his Percival - his for now.
“Of-of course - what?”
Percival is pulling him close, then, not minding that they are on a public street and in the glare of light cast by a streetlamp. He presses his hands against Newt’s cheeks, lingering there for a minute and then taking Newt’s hands in his own.
“Newt,” he says. “It’s nearly midnight - you’ve been gone for hours. I went to your office and Mamey said she hadn’t seen you all day.”
Newt blinks again - it hardly seems possible that it could be so late. “I must have lost track of time.”
Percival shakes his head and there is that half-hidden smile that lurks at the corners of his lips and was the first thing that Newt loved about him. He takes a sharp breath at the thought and reminds himself that he absolutely cannot tell Percival that.
He lets Percival take him by the arm and pull him into the dizzying swirl of Apparition, and holds onto him a second longer than strictly necessary when they land in the warmth of Percival’s sitting room. The sudden heat that flares in Newt’s fingers and cheeks is a shock - it seems possible, then, as it had not before, that he had been out wandering the streets in the cold for hours.
Newt resists when Percival tries to pull him closer to the fire. “I really must go and feed the Occamies-”
“I fed them just before dinner.” Percival is almost rough with him, pushing him into his favourite armchair and then pushing it even closer to the fire. “Newt, you’re freezing.”
“I hadn’t noticed really.”
Percival swore and summoned a potion, uncorking it with a pop and holding it to Newt’s mouth until he swallowed obediently. “That’s frostbite, you idiot. What were you thinking?”
The sudden flush of warmth that spreads through his body is the result of the potion and not panic at having to come up with a reason to excuse his absence, Newt thinks. It surely must be the potion.
“Oh - I -”
Percival kneels next to the chair and takes Newt’s hands back in his own, chafing them until the skin starts to smart. Newt protests, but Percival ignores him.
“You will learn to take care of yourself, Newt, or so help me -”
Newt nearly smiles - it is sweet of Percival to care, and sweeter to hear him say Newt’s name, to know that he is here with Newt in the moment and not likely to be thinking of Theseus. Percival catches the hint of a smile, though, and glares at him. “If you were chasing some mad rumours of one of your beasts again…”
He peels Newt’s boots off his feet and starts to warm them as well. He summons piles of blankets and starts to heap them over Newt, weighting him down until he can scarcely move.
“Stay there,” he says when Newt protests again. He disappears for a moment and then comes back from the kitchen with a mug of steaming hot tea. It is some sort of spiced herbal American tea - nothing like what Newt would have chosen, but he accepts it meekly and holds it to warm his fingers. He even takes a sip, and the tea is even more warming than he expected. It is not proper tea, of course, but once he has had that first sip, he drinks the rest and feels pleasantly warmed by it.
Percival nods, as if it was only what he expected, and replaces the empty mug with a bowl of soup.
“You’re not eating,” Newt says as he sits there and watches Newt.
“I ate hours ago.” Percival sounds as though he is angry, Newt thinks. When he says as much, Percival glares at him.
“You disappeared without a word to anyone, Newt. You didn’t meet me for coffee this morning in the cafe - you weren’t here for lunch, for dinner, for your Occamies. I had no idea if you’d been kidnapped or if you’d fallen and hurt yourself or if you’d done something stupid in front of a No-Maj and gotten yourself arrested. I don’t even - what were you thinking ?”
There is no way that he can tell Percival what he was thinking. Perhaps Percival will go on thinking that Newt was chasing after some creature or another - if he doesn’t say anything about it, it isn’t precisely a lie, is it? Percival can choose to think anything that he likes.
“I’m sorry.” Newt looks down at his half-empty bowl of soup and sets it aside, no longer very hungry. “I - I guess I wasn’t thinking.”
Percival sighs and stands. “I just wish you’d remember that you’re not exploring the wilds of the Sudan on your own anymore, Newt. You have people - there are people here who will worry about you if anything happens to you.”
Newt sits and stares at his bowl of soup, listening to the sound of Percival’s footsteps in the next room. He does not know if it will make it easier or harder for Percival to leave him when he is angry like this - if he will remember, perhaps, and talk about it with Theseus, the two of them laughing together about the stupid things that Newt used to do. Perhaps it will be better if Percival does not have fond memories of his time with Newt, if he does not miss him or think back to the pleasant times that they had together. It might be better that way - it might be easier for Percival.
Newt, though, would have to carry the memory of Percival being angry at him, the memory of how Percival had glared at him just now, of how disappointed he had looked. Newt thinks that he hardly knows what would be better anymore.
Percival reappears, carrying Pickett in the palm of one hand. He holds him out, letting Pickett jump onto Newt’s shoulder, and then begins the slow process of unwrapping a few of the blankets.
“Are you warm enough now?” he asks, and it is almost as though they did not just have a fight - almost as if Percival was never angry at him at all.
Newt doesn’t look at him - he doesn’t think he can bear to see if Percival is still angry or not. “I’m fine,” he says. “I - thank you.”
He would have been fine - he has dealt with frostbite before, on one adventure or another, and had been none the worse for it. But he feels warmer now for the way that Percival is touching him, the way that Percival had made soup for him and cared for him. Perhaps, if he is very good and gracious and causes no trouble at all, he will be allowed to stay in the guest room after Theseus comes - to stay here, to be near to his Percival, to be close to his kindness. Newt rather thinks that he would rather that than the lonely dark rooms in a boardinghouse or the guest room at Tina and Queenie’s.
He would be close to Theseus, then, too - it occurs to Newt that he should have put that first, that he should love his brother more than he loves this man that he has known for a few short months.
Percival is grave and quiet, unwrapping Newt from the blankets and checking his hands and face for signs of frostbite. Newt thinks that he should say something to break this strange silent, but the first thing that comes to his lips is, “Can I stay here when Theseus comes?”
Percival looks up at him. He is kneeling in front of Newt’s chair, rubbing his ankle - touching him gently, as if he is somehow precious - and he looks confused. “I didn’t know your brother was coming.”
“I - yes. His last letter said.” Newt should have thought of something, anything better to say. He hadn’t meant to bring up Theseus at all - hadn’t wanted to hear Percival say his name.
Percival rubs a circle over Newt’s ankle bone and then sighs again, and stands, and holds out a hand for Newt. He pulls him to his feet and stands there - close as he can be - and they are just the perfect height to stare straight into each other’s eyes. Theseus would be too tall for this, Newt thinks, and he closes his eyes.
Percival puts a finger to his cheekbone and then traces the line of his jaw. “I know we hadn’t talked about it, but I rather thought that you were living here,” he says. “Perhaps we should have had a conversation about it, instead of just gradually letting it happen?”
He brushes a kiss over Newt’s lips and Newt thinks that he should start to count now, that he should know how many kisses from Percival that he has left in his future. One.
“Is there some reason why you would not want to stay here while your brother visits? To … to spend more time with him, perhaps? Or did you not want for him to know about us?”
Percival sounds careful and cautious, much the way that Newt himself would sound if he was approaching a strange new creature, one who had not yet become his friend. He does not think that he likes hearing Percival sound like this - he is best when he is self-confident, sure, commanding.
“I -” Newt realises that he does not know what to say. Percival probably thinks that it is best that they don’t talk about Theseus too - Newt’s heart hurts a little at the thought. Yes, this is his Percival, kind enough that he does not want to hurt Newt with this. “I - it doesn’t matter.”
“I think it probably does matter, Newt.” Percival is leaning even closer now - they are so close that they are breathing the same air, passing molecules from lung to lung. Newt wonders if he can have another kiss, if he dares to reach for one.
He wonders if Percival can hear the rhythm of his heartbeat, the pulse of blood pumping through his vein. Pickett rustles near Newt’s ear, and Newt closes his eyes again. “I don’t -”
“Or,” Percival says, sounding as if he is even closer - as if he is speaking just into Newt’s ear, as if he is mere millimetres from leaning down to nibble on Newt’s earlobe - “or, could it be that there is a connection between the fact that you missed our coffee date and then went missing for several hours?
“Were you, perhaps, already in the cafe, where you heard Porpentina teasing me about my affection for your brother? And did you overhear that, and then rush out into the cold without stopping to ask me about what you heard? Did you walk the streets for hours, thinking about it?”
Newt doesn’t dare open his eyes. His Percival is the best Auror in his generation for a reason, he supposes - these flashes of deductive brilliance must be part of it. He supposes that there is no help for it now. He nods.
Percival is touching him again, taking Newt’s hands in his own and raising them to his lips. He kisses each finger and then waits until Newt opens his eyes.
“Your brother visited over a year ago - yes. He stayed for a week and he was charming and half the department fancied themselves in love with him, Porpentina included. And yes, he caught my attention - he’s a very striking man and easy enough to like.
“But Theseus Scamander is not the one who saved my life, or the one who helped me as I was recovering from the effects of being held in captivity. Theseus Scamander is not the one who is kind, and gentle, and who knows when to hold me after a nightmare and when to give me the space I need. Theseus Scamander is not the one who first kissed me when I had started to think that the world was a dark, cold place not worth living in, the one who banished that fear and gave me something better to live for.”
Percival kisses Newt again then - two - and it starts soft and sweet but turns into something long, lingering, smoke-hot and full of all the things that Newt wants to say. He does not know what to say, but Percival, he thinks, probably does.
“You are the one who looked at me and saw more than the scars that I still feel ashamed of. You are the one who drives me half-mad with worry when you disappear for hours. You are the one I want to spend lazy Sundays and late evenings and early mornings with - you and your impossible menagerie.
“I am sorry,” Percival says, leaning so that his forehead is pressed against Newt’s and keeping his hands on Newt’s shoulders. “I am sorry if I ever gave you a reason to doubt or think that you were not the one I wanted to be with. If you had stayed in the cafe, you would have heard more - Tina teased me, I teased her right back - because she liked Theseus more than I ever did - and then she said something utterly sappy about how she’s never seen me look this happy in all the time she’s known me.”
Three - Percival kisses Newt hard, and pulls him closer so that their bodies are pressed together. Newt can feel Percival’s heartbeat echoing next to his own, just as it does when they lie pressed together in bed, heart to heart. It is, he thinks, the most comforting feeling that he knows. “I am sorry I never made sure that you knew how I felt - sorry that we never properly sat down and talked about it. I do want you staying here when your brother visits, and I want you staying here for as long as you are happy to stay. I want you to stay as long as it takes me to convince you that you are the one that I love and want here - as long as it takes, and longer.”
Newt thinks - now, pressed against Percival and later, following him to bed - that this is better by far than any of the plans for the future he came up when he was wandering half-frozen through the city - that it is entirely worth listening to Percival’s gentle chiding and admonitions to just talk to him next time - that perhaps, he has already been convinced. Newt is not used to coming first before his brother in anything or for anyone, but Percival tells him that the world is made up of blind fools if they cannot see his worth, and he seals each word with a kiss.
Newt thinks that this will end with more kisses than he can count, that the number of kisses that he has with Percival will stretch out like the number of stars in the sky, like the number of raindrops in the ocean, like the number of heartbeats that they have shared pressed together just like this.