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Bear Your Neighbor's Burden Within Reason

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"It could've been a lot worse," Newton is telling him. The bitter gripe to his voice has suddenly vanished, and he just sounds relieved as he helps Hermann back to the lab. "I mean I'm really sorry about your cane but at least it wasn't your leg."

"Well, not technically," Hermann snaps, and it's obvious that despite having to lean on Newton he's simultaneously trying to lean away, "But I assure you, Dr. Geiszler, that I am just as incapacitated than if it were."

"You are not, don't be so fucking melodramatic." As they make it to the lab, Newton sits him down and looks at the pieces of cane in his hands. "Maybe we can fix it with some duct tape or something," he grumbles, rummaging around through his slimy desk drawers.

"I won't be able to put my whole weight on it," Hermann sighs from his chair, "it's useless."

Newton sighs. "Okay well, how long does it take to get a replacement of one of these things? It can't be too hard, right?"

It's a stupid thing to ask. Prior to K-Day, no, it wouldn't have taken long at all. Several hours, at most. But a lot of things have changed in the past ten years, and one of them is easy accessibility shopping. Hermann shrugs. He's exhausted. The fall down the stairs may have taken more out of him than he originally thought. "Two weeks? Three? God, three weeks."

"You don't have a spare or something?" Newton asks, disbelieving.

Hermann groans, shaking his head. That had been his spare. He'd lost the silver and oak one his mother had bought him in a kaiju attack about a year ago. He feels foolish now for never bothering to get another while he still had the time.

Newton frowns. He looks as if he blames this whole thing on himself for some reason. "It's not like you pushed me down the stairs, Dr. Geiszler."

"Yeah," Newton sighs, sounding a little wistful, "But now I feel bad for thinking about doing it all these years." He's smiling, so Hermann doubts he's serious. Even if he is, Hermann can hardly take offense. He's thought about doing the same to Newton since day one.

There's grim silence as they both look at the splintered wreckage of his cane. "We have basically the same schedule," Newton says after a moment, "I can be your stand in for a few weeks."

"Pardon?" Hermann asks, trying not to sound too scandalized. Newton is only trying to be helpful, he just doesn't realize what he's offering.

Newton shrugs, as if he's thought this over very deeply in the span of the last eight seconds. "Well you hardly leave the lab anyway, so like, what, the occasional walk to the cafeteria, the bathroom? I know you probably don't want a three week roomie but unless you find a way to rig up some walkie-talkies I don't see what other choice you have."

Hermann sees several choices. He can make a stand-in cane. He can even probably develop a wheelchair out of spare parts around the dome. But those all would take time, time that Hermann isn't exactly sure they have, with the next breach coming any day now, so he nods. "I guess there isn't one," he admits finally. Newton lets out a breath.

"Great," he says, "I hope you're hungry, then, because I'm starving."

Hermann sighs. "We just got here," he says, looking around the lab, but he gets awkwardly to his feet and lets Newton grab his hand.

When they walk arm-and-arm into the cafeteria, no one even looks up, which Hermann almost takes as an insult. Newton walks him to a table and sits him down, which Hermann opens his mouth to object to before Newton cuts him off, "Whatcha want?"

Hermann has always pushed away help like this. The insistent, cloying 'let me do it' help that he used to get from family and colleges since his injury. But Newton doesn't seem to be doing it because he doesn't think Hermann can. He just looks like he would've done this for anyone.

Finally, Hermann allows himself to order from his seat, and Newton disappears into the line. When he comes back, he has a tray for Hermann with a cookie that he hadn't asked for. When Hermann looks at him, Newt shrugs. "I got one and then I felt bad because what if you didn't know there were cookies and you would've asked for one if you knew?"

"I would not have asked for -" Hermann starts, handing it back but Newton rolls his eyes and shoves it back in his face.

"Take the freaking cookie, Hermann."

Hermann wants to argue - he's never been much for sweets and Newton isn't his mother, he shouldn't have to do anything he doesn't want - but he feels like he owes Newton as much if he's going to be letting him use him as a crutch for the next three weeks and anyway, it was only a gesture of kindness. He nods and keeps the cookie on his tray, eating his food without further complaint.

Newton finishes long before Hermann does, having shoveled it all the food together and plowing it into his mouth like an animal. He waits patiently for about a minute before he starts drumming his fingers on the table and sprawling over several chairs at once "Why do you eat so slow?" he asks snappishly after the ever-stretching eon of five minutes.

"Because I have manners, Dr. Geiszler, and was not raised in a barn."

Newton scoffs. "Really, mom?"

Feeling the back of his neck going red at the jab, Hermann schools his face and grumbles, "You offered to help. If you wish to leave, you may. I'm sure someone else would be willing to help me back to the lab."

Newton looks guilty for a moment, but then he sneers. "We could strap a vest and a harness on Max and have him drag you from place to place."

Rolling his eyes, Hermann adds, "he would certainly make for a better companion."

Newton seems genuinely hurt by that. "I'm sure," he says without any real venom, and Hermann doesn't have a response. He picks up the pace at which he's eating while Newton digs in his pants pocket for his battered old iPod.

Newton obnoxiously sings three horrid, decade-old pop songs under his breath before Hermann finishes his meal. He moves to stand, but Newton eyes the cookie left untouched on his tray. He doesn't move until Hermann sits back down, unwraps the cookie, and takes a resigned bite out of it. Begrudgingly, he admits it's good enough to finish, and Newton smiles as he crumples up the empty wrapper.

"Finally," he says, springing to his feet like a jack-in-the-box and holding out his arm. Hermann looks back at the pilots crowded around their own trays as Newton leads him out, frowning when he sees that still no one seems to care.

"You don't have your cane, idiot," Newton says as they're making their way down the hall, "They don't want to stare at you. They're being polite." Hermann makes a face. He wonders why that hadn't occurred to him. No one in the Shatterdome ever treated him with anything less than respect.

Except Newton.

"I'm not an idiot. My IQ is as high as yours, at the very least."

"Mhm," Newton mutters, unimpressed.

"I taught physics at MIT at the age of thirteen," he adds, bristling.

"I got my third doctorate by fifteen, Hermann, who cares?" Hermann opens his mouth to respond but Newton cuts him off. "Mein Gott would you calm down, I take it back you're not an idiot, jeez." They walk a couple more steps before Newton grumbles under his breath, "Just an asshole."

"Says the rockstar kaiju groupie," Hermann hisses back without missing a beat.

"I'm gonna drop you," Newton tells him flatly, but he doesn't.

When they make it back to the lab, Hermann uses his desk, ladder and the tray at his chalkboard for support enough that Newton is able to do his own work, headphones on and kaiju guts squelching unpleasantly as Hermann checked and rechecked his equations.

It's about an hour later when Hermann is calling in for a replacement cane to be sent in as quickly as possible. "It's rather urgent," he tells the woman on the other end of the line, "is there anyway you can send it high priority?"

"The earliest we can get it to you will still take about two weeks, Doctor Gottlieb, I'm sorry. With the next breach expected to hit Hong Kong we don't have a lot of people willing to fly out there for packages, it makes the whole system pretty slow."

He understands that, he does, but he still has to bite his tongue to keep from taking his anger out on the poor girl. He's reining in his emotions as he hears Newton from behind him shout over the blaring of his headphones, "Are you calling in the order for a new cane? Are you getting a cool one?"

Hermann turns around, raising an eyebrow. He waits for Newton to remove his headphones before asking curiously "A 'cool one'?"

"Yeah, ask for one made from kaiju bones or something, gimme the phone, I wanna know what they've got. You could use this as a grand opportunity to improve your image."

"Don't be ridiculous, I like my image just fine," Hermann growls. He can hear the woman snickering on the other end and takes a breath before putting the phone back to his mouth. "Apologies, miss. Thank you for your time." As he hangs up he notices Newton looking contemplatively at the remains on his desk.

"I bet I could've made you one out of the bits of kaiju bones I had before I had to scrap 'em. You should've broken your cane last week."

Hermann rolls his eyes. "Agreed, at least then I'd be halfway done with waiting for a new one."

As night falls, Hermann finds himself refusing to admit he's tired for even longer than usual. He's just not sure how he feels about Newton sharing his quarters. Every room has a bed and a futon, set on opposite sides, but opposite sides are still rather tight and all he can think is that he hopes Newton doesn't snore.

When Hermann finally gives up he turns to see Newton asleep at his desk, head pillowed awkwardly in the crook of his elbow while his other hand rested in his lap.

Hermann feels guilty, now. He had assumed Newton would speak up before crashing. He barely made it a minute after finishing his own meal before telling Hermann to hurry up, Hermann had assumed their work would be no different. Hermann makes his way to Newton shakily, standing over him for a moment once he gets to his desk, unsure of what to do.

"Dr. Geiszler," he says softly, feeling foolishly unsure of how to wake him. He reaches out and touches his shoulder. "Newton," he says a little firmer, giving him a shake. Newton jolts awake so fast that Hermann jumps back, automatically shifting his weight to a support system that isn't there and crashing to the ground.

"Shit," Newton jumps to his feet and runs over to help him up. "Shit, I'm sorry, are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Hermann says through clenched teeth, pain slicing from his hip to his calf, "I'm all right, I'm all right, it's - it's not your fault."

"I didn't mean to fall asleep, I'm really sorry - shit, are you sure you're okay? That's like, exactly how you fell this morning."

Hermann wants to say that he's well aware of that from the radiating pain in his entire right side, but Newton looks so genuinely horrified and apologetic that he lets it slide. "I'll take a hot bath, Newton, I'll be fine."

Newton nods. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to doze off, I swear I wasn't even tired a minute ago."

"Are you still apologizing?" Hermann asks, feeling a little overwhelmed by how much he seems to care.

"Well yeah, it was my fault."

"You didn't mean to startle me," Hermann assures gently, feeling as if he should know this. "It's fine, I'm fine. Nothing's broken."

When they make it to Hermann's room, Newton pipes up, "I can start your bath for you if you want." Hermann has been rethinking the idea of a bath since he said it - he's far too tired, and anyway that's a line he hadn't hoped to cross with Newton tonight - but Newton has already disappeared into the bathroom, the sudden gush of water reverberating in the tiny space.

Newton seems to realize as he's exiting the bathroom that this was a relatively awkward plan. "Oh," he says. "Do you wanna like, change into swim trunks?"

"You can't possibly be serious, Dr. Geiszler." Newton shrugs. "You are a biologist," he reminds him.

Newton shrugs again. "Yeah, a kaiju biologist." When Hermann scowls, he relents, "But yeah okay I see your point. You're gonna need help getting in and out, right?"

"Not on a regular basis," Hermann says slowly, trying to gauge how long he can walk without his cane before he loses balance. Can he make it in and out of the bathroom? Suddenly he can't remember - he's never really had to know, his cane has always been within arm's reach. Either way he's certain he's incapable of any movement tonight. Two falls in the past 20 hours have taken a toll on him.

"Right," Newton answers, as if he knows. "Great, good. I mean not that I wouldn't, obviously, but. That's good."

Newton runs to get him a towel and Hermann takes off his sweater vest before hesitating with the rest. He can't even remember the last time he's been nude with another person in his presence. He feels a little guilty for snapping at Newton over his suggestion of swim trunks. All of a sudden they don't seem like such a bad idea.

Still, he's never owned a pair, so it doesn't matter anyway.

As Newton returns again, he tosses the towel at Hermann, awkwardly mumbles, "I'll just, uh..." and turns to face the wall. Hermann rolls his eyes, but can't help but appreciate the sentiment. He strips down and wraps the towel around his waist.

"All right," he says, and Newton spins like a top and grabs Hermann's arm just as he's getting to his feet.

When Hermann removes the towel he expects Newton to react to the mangled flesh of his right thigh in some way, but when he doesn't, Hermann looks at him. Newton's not looking anywhere near his leg, checking the water and then turning his head to look Hermann directly in the face. "Okay, dude, ready set go."

Newton's surprisingly gentle with helping him into the tub. Hermann expects him to hover awkwardly once he's in, treating him as if he's suddenly a complete invalid like every nurse and family member who has ever had to help him when he was first injured, but he turns for the door. "Call me when you're ready to get out."

"You don't snore, do you?" Newton has the audacity to ask him as they're getting ready for bed. Hermann scoffs. "Talk in your sleep? Anything weird? Sleep hobbling?"

"Very funny."

Newton seems to think so. "Okay, just checking. I need to know what to expect here. Gotta have my three hours of beauty sleep."

The way he says it, Hermann can't really tell if he's joking or not. He doesn't say anything. "Goodnight, Hermann," Newton says after a moment of rustling. It feels strange saying it back, so Hermann doesn't. He falls asleep to the sound of Newton's slow and even breathing.

The next morning, Hermann wakes up to Newton's face looming about a foot over his. "Gott im Himmel!"

Newton laughs. "I brought up some breakfast from the cafeteria," he says cheerfully, and Hermann wonders how long he's been awake. "Eggs and bacon?" He thrusts the plate into Hermann's lap before he can fully sit up.

He means to say 'thank you' but it comes out "Why?"

Newton doesn't seem to take offense, anyway. He shrugs. "You take forever to do everything," he says. He draws the last word out as if it's three, and Hermann hears a five-year-old in his words. "I woke up forever ago and I tried to wait around but I was really hungry, so I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone and get you something, too. By the way, you do snore."

Hermann is absolutely mortified. "I do not," he argues as if he could possibly know.

"Not loud," Newton assures, grinning. "But yeah, you do, a little."

Hermann stuffs a forkful of eggs in his mouth to hide his embarrassment.

Their work schedules remain unaffected by Hermann's immobility. Newton isn't needed while Hermann is sitting at his chalkboard. They work in silence - or well, as close as it can be, with Newton. Hermann can hear the tinny thrum of music wafting from Newton's headphones and tries not to get too distracted.

"You're going to go deaf, that way, Hermann says when Newton finally pops his headphones off as they head to the cafeteria for lunch.

"Well seeing as how you'll owe me for all this dragging you around you can listen to my music for me if that happens," Newton says, rolling his eyes. "What do you want?"

It takes a second for Hermann to realize Newton means his food. Hermann looks up, indignant. He's pretty sure he can walk into the line with Newton just as well, but then the idea of keeping a tray steady while still using Newton for balance does seem tricky enough that he drops it.

Newton eats slower today. Hermann speeds up, ever so slightly. Newton still finishes first, but instead of putting on his headphones they have an easy conversation about work until Hermann is done.

They develop a rhythm of sorts. A routine. They rarely leave the lab for things other than bathroom breaks and meals, and nights eventually stop being awkward.

It's been about a week since the accident when Newton asks him, "Do you ever think about what would happen if you died in the next attack?" They've already shut off the lights and gotten into bed, and usually even Newton has fallen silent by now. It takes Hermann a moment to understand his words.

"Not really," he says awkwardly, "I mean, nothing would happen. I would be dead." He's not sure what Newton means, asking such a thing. He knows Newton doesn't believe in an afterlife, so he isn't sure what he expects Hermann to think.

There's silence for a few moments and then Hermann hears, "I'd miss you."

Hermann doesn't know what to say to that. "Oh," he manages uncomfortably. He doesn't say anything else for a few seconds, but he feels like something should be said. It feels too personal to tell him likewise, because he can't really picture Newton dying before him, anyway. Finally, he says, "I'll try not to, then."

Newton laughs.

Nothing feels any different the next morning. They don't mention it. Newton greets him with coffee and tells him the cafeteria is out of milk, so he hopes he's okay with it black. Hermann wonders if he'd maybe dreamed their conversation.

Things are relatively uneventful in the lab for most of the day, as well. Until one point, Hermann crosses from his chalkboard to his desk and startles at the feel of a hand at the small of his back. It's only there for a moment, Newton knows he isn't needed for such a short distance, but as he's walking behind Hermann to get to the bookshelf, it's as if he works on instinct.

It feels different, after all. Hermann takes notice, after that. He wonders if it had been changing all this time, and he's only just realized. Their bickering has lessened, and more of their conversations are simply that, rather than arguments. They finish eating at more-or-less the same time, now, lobbying ideas back and forth about what they know of the breaches.

The things that had been awkward before have reached an equilibrium now. Newton is always there when he needs to be and is never in the way. He no longer gets flustered helping Hermann into the bath or his bed, and Hermann has taken to reciprocating his "good night"s. They get to bed earlier and eat at normal hours. It feels easier than it has in years.

One night they're lying in the dark when Hermann suddenly blurts, "I'd miss you too, Dr. Geiszler."

"Thanks, Hermann." Newton answers. A pause, and then, "Where am I going?"

"No - nowhere, hopefully." He cringes, amends, "Most likely. I just, I meant if you were to die. In an attack."

No answer. Hermann remembers it taking him a while to react as well, but Newton is silent for what seems to stretch on for several minutes. "Do you have to keep calling me 'Dr. Geiszler'?" he says finally, "You've called me Newton before. It doesn't burn you."

Hermann sighs. The first words out of Newton's mouth the day they met had been 'call me Newt.' Since he joined the PPDC he has made it his mission to drop all formalities, which had always baffled Hermann. He despises when Newton will do it to him - at least in front of other people. Newton's lack of professionalism never seems like a slight in and of itself, but Hermann doesn't want it spreading to anyone else in the dome.

Newton has begged him a thousand times to call him by his nickname, or at least his first name, but this time there's something behind the words that isn't usually there. Where there's usually just exasperation and a vague sense that Hermann feels he's being made fun of, now it was just simple. An honest please. Hermann suddenly feels guilty for denying him all this time.

"Goodnight, Newton."

Something stops him from just using 'Newt' - still too informal, still too awkward - but it's enough. He hears Newton chuckle.


The next morning, Hermann wakes up to coffee on his nightstand. Newton has his headphones in and is picking up his futon like he does every morning. Hermann watches quietly. He doesn't think Newton has noticed he's awake. He hasn't put on a shirt yet and Hermann can see his tattoos disappearing into his waistline. As he turns his back to him, Hermann can see the maze of monsters and colours drawn over his shoulder blades and down his spine.

Hermann catches himself wondering if there's even an inch of uncovered skin below his neck, other than his hands. He feels foolish when he realizes where his mind is going and sits up to realign his focus. Newton catches the movement and looks over his shoulder. He takes off his headphones with a smile, and Hermann hears his insufferable metal bleeding out from the speakers around his neck.

"What?" Newton asks after a moment, and Hermann realizes he's been staring.

"Did they hurt?"

Newton doesn't react exactly the way Hermann was expecting. The look on his face is suddenly drawn, and he shrugs. His eyes don't meet Hermann's when he mutters, "Nah."

Hermann can guess there's more to the situation, but he knows better than to ask. He nods. "They're very well done."

Like a light switch, Newton's face changes again, breaking into a grin. "You do like them."

"No," Hermann insists, but his face must betray him, because Newton is still grinning. "I find them horribly distasteful, but they're well done."

"Yeah, yeah." Newton says, waving him off. "You ready to get breakfast or what?"

As Newton leaves him at the table to get their trays, he cuffs his shoulder. It's nothing out of the ordinary, anymore. Since the accident they've had no choice but to have more physical contact, but in the past week or so it's become an easy, familiar thing, rather than just a necessity. Newton has joked several times about letting Hermann ride on his back to get him places faster, but Hermann always scoffs. "I'm nearly a foot taller than you, Newton. You'd never get anywhere."

Mako sees Hermann sitting alone and walks over. "Where's Newt?" she asks curiously. The rest of the dome have grown used to seeing them together at all times long before the accident. Since, it's been downright impossible to find one without the other, except at meals.

"He's getting our lunch," Hermann answers breezily, "What can I do for you, miss Mori?"

Mako's face brightens as she remembers why she's here. "Oh!" She grins, "You got a package today! My guess is, it's your cane. I thought you'd like to know. Would you like me to retrieve it for you?"

Surprisingly, Hermann feels a weight in his chest. He blinks. "That's...wonderful news, miss Mori," he finally says, and Mako seems to notice he doesn't entirely mean it. "I - there's no need, I'll have Newton take me back to my quarters after lunch to get it myself."

Mako smiles. She looks up, seemingly to scan for Newton, before sitting down in his chair. "If you'd like, I can keep a secret," she tells him, her voice low.

"There's no need for that," Hermann says, looking shamefully at the table as the idea alarmingly appeals to him for a moment.

Mako nods, understanding. She gets to her feet before saying, "Newt likes it too, Doctor. Your new arrangement. If you ask him, he'll stay."

Hermann smiles weakly. He doubts that. "Thank you, miss Mori," he says gently, "I'll...I'll be sure to keep that in mind."

Mako walks away just as Newton walks up. She waves at him, and he exuberantly hollers "Hey, Mako!" loud enough for the entire cafeteria to hear. As he sits down he hands Hermann his tray and asks, "What were you guys talking about?"

Hermann hesitates, which is the most unnerving thing. Hermann can't remember the last time he's lied in his life, but suddenly, he wants to. He doesn't know how, though, nothing believable comes to mind, so he just says flatly, "My cane arrived today."

He wants to see it, the flicker of disappointment across Newton's face. A moment later, he's grinning, no sign of anything other than excitement. "Hey, that's great!" he says, "We can go pick it up now, if you want." Horrified, Hermann looks down at his food.

No, he had this. He needs this first. He doesn't say anything, and Newton awkwardly amends, "Or, you know, after lunch, we can just. We'll wait until after lunch, that's cool."

Hermann feels a sudden wave of guilt at the realization of what he's been doing for the past two weeks. Newton hasn't had any time to himself. He's slowed the manic pace of everything he does just because of Hermann. He's been sleeping on a crowded, lumpy futon and helping a cripple in and out of bed and bath for a fortnight. He just wants some peace, peace he deserves after all this trouble, and Hermann is too selfish to give it to him before he's ready.

It's utterly foolish, anyway. He'd hated this arrangement when it started. It was stupid and clunky and hard to get around. Nothing was going to be easy. It wasn't supposed to be this easy. It was supposed to be exhausting and uncomfortable and frustrating. It obviously has been for Newton.

And of course it has been. For Hermann it was more or less just the company of another person. For Newton it's been responsibility. It's been a burden.

He's been a burden.

"Dude, Hermann, do you want to go get it now?"

Hermann starts, realizing he's zoned out, staring blankly at his food for God knows how long. "Might as well eat, now that we've got it out already," he says, feeling his stomach flip uncomfortably. He can't do it, not yet. He just wants one more meal where Newton will wait for him. Just this last time.

The meal, however, is relatively silent. Newton looks upset, and Hermann feels terrible for dragging this out when he so obviously wanted it to be over by now.

Despite himself, Hermann finds himself finishing first out of guilt, and Newton looks down at his own tray in surprise at the fact that it's still half full. "All right," Newton says, getting to his feet instead of finishing, "Ready to be free of me?"

Hermann stares at him. He wants to say he isn't. He grabs his arm, instead.

This is ridiculous, Hermann tells himself as he can feel his grip on Newton's arm white-knuckling. They work together already. They've worked together for years and they'll continue to work together for what is most likely several more. They see each other every day. Their lab is designed in a way that makes it impossible for them to get a moment's peace from each other.

Their current situation has only lasted the past two weeks, there's no reason to be this attached. It'll go back to normal for the best, and they'll get back into the swing of things, and everything will be like it's supposed to. Newton is still going to be a constant presence in his daily life. The only thing that's going to change is he'll have his room to himself again. He'll be able to stop being such a burden and take care of himself again.

Hermann doesn't understand why that just makes the feeling worse.

Newton must notice how Hermann is holding his arm far tighter than normal, because he stops walking and asks, "Hey, dude, you okay?" Hermann doesn't even get to answer before Newton looks at him worriedly and adds, "You look like you're about to be sick."

"I'm fine."

"I'm still totally willing to carry you on my back, if need be," Newton says with a hesitant smirk.

Hermann wonders if he's serious. He can never tell when Newton is joking or when he's just trying to make light of a bad situation. Newton suddenly grabs his arms and guides him backward until his knees knock into something solid. "Okay, no. Sit down, Hermann, breathe a minute."

Hermann sits, and Newton follows him, dropping to his knees in front of him so he can watch his face. One of his hands is in Hermann's hair, the other is still holding on to one of his arms. Hermann is only just now realizing that his vision had been blurring. He blinks a few times until he can see Newton's face clearly, looking worriedly back at him.

"You okay, buddy?" Newton asks after a few minutes. "That looked kinda bad."

Hermann's mouth is dry, so he just nods. Newton doesn't look convinced. "You want me to take you to your room to lie down a minute? I can go get your cane for you and bring it back."

He doesn't want to be a burden anymore, but he just feels dizzy, now. He nods again.

Newton frowns. "You even okay to walk yet, man?"

Another nod. Newton sighs and hoists him back to his feet, keeping a hold on Hermann's arm and his other hand at his back. It's not a long walk from the cafeteria to the dormitories, but Newton is keeping the pace slow enough for the walk to take forever.

"I must've eaten something a little off," Hermann suggests lamely.

"It looked more like you were having a panic attack," Newton offers, and Hermann feels stupid for trying to hide it from someone who takes three different kinds of anxiety medication. "Are you sure you're okay? What's going on with your numbers?"

"Nothing," Hermann says honestly, "Nothing unexpected, anyway. The next kaiju attack isn't for most likely another month."

Newton doesn't have anything to say to that. They make it to Hermann's room and Newton sits him on the bed. "Just relax a minute, okay?" I'll bring you your cane and you can come down to the lab when you're feeling better."

Hermann doesn't say anything. Newton is out the door before he can stop him.

It's too quiet in this room by himself. There's no one else breathing, no one to talk to. He doesn't hear the quiet rustle of anyone else getting comfortable in the dark. Just pure dead silence.

It shouldn't be unnerving. It's all Hermann has heard since he started working here. But it feels wrong, now. Uncomfortable. Almost disturbing.

By the time Newton returns with his cane, Hermann gets to his feet. "I feel quite fine now," he insists. "I'll join you." He takes the cherrywood cane from Newton's hand and leans on it hard. For a split second he wildly hopes it'll snap in half, but it doesn't.

Newton looks nervously at Hermann, but nods. "Okay, man, just lemme know if you change your mind."

On their way to the lab, Newton stands too close. Hermann finds himself leaning more into him than his new cane. They make it about ten paces before Newton reaches up and holds Hermann's elbow. The movement snaps them both out of the trance of muscle-memory. Newton pulls away, Hermann leans back on his cane, and they walk down to the lab in silence.

It happens again at dinnertime. Pulling off his headphones, Newton walks over to Hermann's desk and helps him to his feet. This time they make it out of the lab before Hermann stops. "My uh. My cane." Embarrassed, Newt runs back to get it, handing it to him and then hanging back for a moment, as if unsure if they should still eat together.

Hermann waits, so they go down to the cafeteria side by side.

The pain in Hermann's chest eases during dinner. They stand in line together and bicker good-naturedly as they eat. It doesn't have to be any different at all, Hermann tells himself. This is fine, he had nothing to worry about.

That assurance holds until later that night. Newton yawns and gets to his feet. He stops for a moment, as if waiting, before realizing he doesn't have to. "Oh uh." He stands there, shifting his weight back and forth before mumbling, "I guess I'll...see you in the morning, Hermann."

Hermann feels his whole body tense. He can't leave now, too. It would be too obvious, too pathetic. He looks down at the floor. "Yes, goodnight, Dr. Geiszler."

It's instinctive, to try and develop a healthy distance between them again, but Newton looks absolutely devastated at the sound of his name. It's too late to take it back, so the two of them look nervously at each other before Newton leaves.

Suddenly, the lab is too big.

It's too big and it's too dark and it's too quiet. It's all too much. Hermann can't breathe. He has to get out of here. He grabs blindly at his cane and staggers out into the hallway. He can still see Newton, dragging his feet at the end of the hall, and shouts for him. The cane isn't enough support and he slumps against the wall just as he sees Newton turn around.

Newton reacts quickly, spinning on his heel and racing down the hall to meet him.

"Hermann," Newton's voice is suddenly right in his face. Hermann blinks. So is his face, for that matter. He's gripping tight at his arms again, holding him up with a lot more power than Hermann would've thought him capable. "Hermann, it's okay, I'm right here, it's okay."

"I'm sorry," Hermann is repeating breathlessly, his hand clenched in Newton's shirt. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, this is utterly ridiculous."

"Nah," Newton is smiling, and Hermann realizes for the first time that they're sitting down like they had outside the cafeteria, only this time Hermann is on the floor. He wonders briefly if Newton helped him down or if he'd collapsed before Newton got there. "I'm not too happy about it, either, to tell you the truth."

Hermann can't look him in the eye. "Absolutely foolish," he mutters finally. "I'm perfectly capable - the past twenty-seven years -"

"Yeah, yeah, okay." Newton says, cutting Hermann short before he could talk himself out of breath. "I know you're capable of taking care of yourself, Hermann, but maybe you're tired of doing it alone?"

Hermann doesn't say anything. "Let's go to your place, okay?" Newton asks. "Let's both get some sleep."

Hermann takes a deep breath, but still can't manage to form any words. Newton smiles at him a little nervously. "You good to get up?"

Instead of answering Hermann tightens his grip on Newton's shirt and starts to pull himself up, Newton swiping his cane off the floor and handing it to him. Hermann doesn't take it, dropping his face into Newton's shoulder.

He feels Newton sigh, and assumes it's out of frustration. Feeling guilty he moves to pull away just as Newton slings an arm around Hermann's shoulders and buries his face in his neck. He mumbles something that Hermann can't understand, but it doesn't matter what it is because his next words are "Let's go home."