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learn to hold your back like a flagpole

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Newt is practically vibrating out of his skin.

He's sat in a booth of a restaurant - a restaurant, because neither of them are bar people, because they wanted neutral ground, because the burgers in here are too die for - tapping his fingers against the table, leg bouncing incessantly. This was such a bad idea, God, this was the worst idea he's ever had, why on earth did he agree to this?

He's wearing jeans and a loose t-shirt, but his long hair pulled into a messy ponytail (he wants to hack it all off so much it hurts, wants to chop at it violently until it doesn't sit too heavy on his shoulders, until he can look in the mirror without flinching) and his too-much chest (cue hollow laughter, God, he'd give his right arm, his legs, his lungs for a binder) don't do him any favours. Dysphoria and anxiety are mixing, churning together in his stomach, and he feels like he's going to be sick.

There's no way this is going to end well, no way in hell. Hermann is going to take one look at him and realise just how much of a freak he is, just how much of a attention-seeking twisted liar he is, and then he's going to turn tail and run and never talk to Newt again, and Newt is going to lose the one good friend, the one good thing he has.

And it will be all his fault.

He's staring at his hands, unable to stomach staring at the door even though he freezes every time the bell above it jingles. He's too busy staring at his hands, fascinating as they are, it's not like he's seen them every second of every day of his entire life, he's too busy staring at his hands to notice who's approaching until there's a polite cough.

"Newton?"

Newt jerks his head up, and oh, there's Hermann, that's Hermann, sweater and buttoned-up-to-the-neck shirt and cane and nervous expression, that's definitely Hermann. Newt doesn't know whether that's relief flooding his veins or the beginnings of a panic attack. Fuck, he's going to throw up.

"Um. Hi?"

Hermann looks relieved, too, and not disgusted, and Newt is waiting as patiently as he can for the other shoe to drop, for Hermann's nose to wrinkle, for Hermann to leave. It's going to happen any second now-- "You didn't send a photograph, so I wasn't sure. It's, um, it is a pleasure to meet you. Finally. It's a pleasure to finally meet you."

Newt swallows. "Yeah, um. Right back at you. You, er, you wanna sit down?"

Hermann nods, sinking into the chair opposite Newt.

There's a pause.

"Well, this is nearly as awkward as I imagined." Hermann says.

A grin spreads across Newt's face without his permission. "Yeah? What did you imagine?"

"I certainly wasn't expecting the lip ring." Hermann says, raising an eyebrow. Newt barks out a laugh, surprised.

"Yeah, I, er, I get that a lot."

It gets easier after that, the tension disapating as they get talking properly, after they order food and have something to do with their hands, an excuse to take a pause to think. They click, somehow, bouncing off each other in person just as they did in the letters, and it's, well, it's easy.

After a while, the constant anxiety of 'I'm going to say something that will make him hate me I'm going to say something offensive I'm going to put my foot in my mouth I'm going to fuck everything up' even fades to nothing more than a quiet background hum. Newt almost forgets it's there at all.

Then, then, and of course there's a then, of course there's a but, then they start talking about kaiju.

"It's weird, isn't it? That it's actually happening? It's like our lives are some cheaply-made sci-fi movie with bad special effects and even worse acting or something."

"The kaiju are monsters." Hermann agress, nodding. "Like something out of a child's nightmare."

"They're beautiful, though." Newt says, putting his foot in his mouth just like always, except he doesn't notice the way Hermann's face changes, doesn't realise, just keeps talking, just keeps making it worse-- "I mean, they're works of art. Killing machines, sure, but from a biologist's perspective, God, they're awesome. The toxicity factor alone--"

"You don't mean to say you like them?" Hermann interrupts, and yep, there go Newt's hackles, rising like he ever asked their opinion.

"In the same way people like great sharks, yeah, maybe. I mean, don't you? Never find yourself just a little bit in awe?"

"They've killed thousands."

"So have we."

Hermann sneers. "Ah, yes, because humanity has never done anything of worth--"

"Oh, please, don't try and sell me that shit." Newt snaps. "You of all people should understand that humanity is far from perfect."

Newt can almost see Hermann bristle. "Just because I let myself have a little optimism, Newton, doesn't mean--"

Newt says something, then, something sharp and sarcastic and probably just a little bit insulting, but he has no idea what. His mouth's running on autopilot, his brain full of white noise and "Newton" repeating on a loop, because that was his name. That was his name, someone just called him his name, and God, of course it was filled with thinly-veiled disdain, of fucking course, that is so goddamn typical.

The argument continues, gets louder, just keeps escalating until the only reason they're not full-out screaming at each other is that they're still sitting in the corner of Newt's favourite restaurant this side of the Atlantic, Christ.

Newt's fucked this up, of course he has, he was always going to fuck this up, God forbid he ever have nice things, but Hermann called him his name. They're arguing, they're fucking ripping each other to pieces, and Hermann still keeps spitting his name at him like a bullet but he never once says it mockingly or sarcastically and he never once calls Newt a girl and God, Newt's starting to hate the guy just a little bit but he's still perfect.

Hermann probably hates his guts, and Newt's ruined the one good thing he has, but he can't even find it in himself to care because Hermann probably hates his guts and he's still getting his name right.

Newt storms out of the restaurant first, because he's over-dramatic like that and he's so angry he's pretty sure he can feel his blood boiling, but he's still so happy he could cry. Fuck. Fuck.

---

Newt isn't having a good day.

It doesn't happen often anymore - one of the advantages of no longer having to interact with transphobic fucktrucks on a regular basis - but it still happens. Newt's reluctantly accepted that he's never gonna escape these days of feeling wrong in his own skin, of hair trigger tempers, or barely being able to find the motivation to get out of bed. He's even started to develop coping methods his sister would approve of, which is weird enough that he's kinda scaring himself.

But he didn't sleep too well last night, even for him, two hours if he's pushing it, and now he can't make himself get up. He should've been in the lab twenty minutes ago; he's still in bed.

"Newton?"

Newt jumps, not expecting anyone to bother coming to find him. Though, really, he should've known. Hermann'll take any opportunity to shout at him.

"Newton!"

"Alright, alright! Jeez, gimme a minute!" Newt shouts back.

He stumbles out of bed, smacks his leg against a cupboard, and opens the door. Hermann's leaning against the doorframe, a cup of coffee in his free hand and what looks weirdly like a concerned expression on his face.

"Are you planning on getting up anytime soon?" Hermann asks, but it sounds softer than usual. Perfunctory, almost.

Newt shrugs. "Maybe, man, I don't know. The lab's, like, ten whole minutes walk away. That's pretty far."

He tries to sound sarcastic, but he means every word. He's honestly not sure he can even make it to the lab today, let alone do any work.

Hermann frowns at him. "Are you unwell?"

Newt barks out a laugh. "Hey, man, careful there, I might start to think you care!"

For some reason, this makes Hermann's frown deepen, like Newt doesn't say that everytime Hermann expresses the tiniest bit of interest in Newt's well-being. He knows Hermann cares, of course he does. Kinda. In theory. On his good days.

Today is not one of his good days.

"Look, I'm fine, okay? Really, I'm great, so you can stop looking at me like that, it's kinda starting to freak me out--"

"If you're unwell, you should be resting." Hermann says, like Newt hadn't even spoken. "Do you need anything?"

"Um, what?"

"Do you need anything?" Hermann repeats, like it makes any kind of sense that he's asking that. "Is there anything I can do?"

"I'm fine, man." Newt says, again, a little louder, trying to convince Hermann it's true and he can stop acting so weird already.

But Hermann shakes his head. "No, you're not." Newt opens his mouth to protest. "Newton, your hands are shaking."

Newt looks down, and, hey, turns out his hands are shaking. Huh.

"So, I repeat; is there anything I can do to help?"

Abruptly, Newt can feel his mood dropping, a sinking weight gathering in his stomach. It's a familiar feeling, sure, but that doesn't mean he's used to it. He shakes his head. He doesn't need Hermann's help, he doesn't. He's just fine on his own.

"...I'm not leaving you." Hermann says, after a beat, and Newt's mouth actually falls open in shock, because what.

"Wait, what, no, I'm fine, you shouldn't-- you don't have to--"

"I'm not leaving you." Hermann repeats. "We've both worked up at least a week's worth of overtime in the past few months alone, we can afford one day off."

Newt swallows. "Right. Okay. Um."

"Is there anything I can do?" Hermann says, for a third time. Newt can't tell if he's being persistent because he's determined to get Newt to admit he needs help or because he's just that stubborn.

"This is. This is good." Newt replies, voice slightly shaky. "That you're here. That's. Um. Yeah."

"Do you want to go back to bed?" Hermann asks. "I can fetch you some coffee, if you would like. Or perhaps your tablet?"

Newt just nods, which Hermann correctly interprets as a cue to lead him back into bed. Once Newt's curled up in his duvet again, warmer than he was but still bone-tired, Hermann presses a kiss to Newt's forehead and disappears again. Newt spends the however-long he's gone staring at the ceiling, letting his thought process spiral out of control until he's convinced himself Hermann won't be coming back, that he's finally realised Newt is a waste of his time and he deserves so much better and he should just leave Newt alone to waste away quietly.

Then Hermann comes back in, the noise of the door opening jolting Newt out of his thoughts. Hermann is balancing two steaming mugs of something on a tray, Newt's tablet tucked under his arm.

He sets the tray down on Newt's desk, then hovers awkwardly in the middle of the room, like he doesn't know where to go from here. Newt stares at him for a couple of minutes before he says, "Alright, come here already, you're making me jittery just looking at you."

Hermann still doesn't move for a moment, until Newt pats the bed beside him pointedly. That prompts Hermann's face to clear, like the sun coming out, and he settles carefully next to Newt, sitting up and leaning his back against the wall. He's warm, comforting, and Newt shuffles around so he can rest his head in Hermann's lap.

"I was going to ask if you wanted to watch that trashy sci-fi show you're so fond of--" Hermann means Doctor Who; Hermann knows perfectly well what Doctor Who is called; Hermann has this weird vendetta against the best TV series of all time, but it's okay, Newt's determined to convert him eventually, "--but I'll take this as a no?"

"Cuddling." Newt agrees. "Sleep."

Hermann nods. "A most agreeable plan." He rests a hand on Newt's head, running his fingers through Newt's hair in a way that Newt can't help but lean into. "I'll be here when you wake up."

And that, somehow, is enough for Newt to start to drift off, surrounded by the warmth of Hermann and his love and his slightly off-key humming of some lullaby Newt doesn't recognise. Newt's last thought before sleep claims him entirely is that maybe today won't be such a bad day after all.

---

Hermann turns down the corridor leading to the lab late one Friday afternoon to the sound of raised voices, one of which he immediately places as Newton's. For once, oddly enough, it's not directed at him.

Newton is pushed up against a wall, crowded there by two Jaegar pilots who's names Hermann cannot be bothered to remember. He looks angry; hell, he looks furious.

Except that Newton doesn't get angry, not like this. He gets agitated and exasperated and anxious and frustrated, but he doesn't get angry. Especially not at people who are not Hermann, people who's next move he cannot predict.

"You take that back!" Newton says, venomous.

The Jaegar pilots merely laugh. "Why? You scared your precious cripple boyfriend is gonna dump you like a sack of kaiju shit when he finds out the truth?"

Newton flinches, and that expression is one that Hermann recognises, and God, he wishes he didn't.

"When I find what, exactly?" Hermann asks, voice dripping with disdain, and all three heads snap round to stare at him. The arsehole Jaegar pilots look surprised; Newton looks relieved.

Arsehole Jaegar pilot number one grins viciously and says, "Why, that Dr. Geiszler here isn't all he claims to be." There's a horrible, sing-song inflection on "he", and Hermann clenches his fists.

"You are assuming there is anything about Newton that I do not already know." He replies, keeping his voice much calmer than he's feeling through sheer willpower alone. "You are assuming I am anywhere near as big a bigoted arsehole as yourselves. Both of these assumptions are, unfortunately, incorrect. So, I repeat; when I find out what, exactly?"

Newton's eyes are wide, and Hermann realises that this is the first occasion he has had to witness something like this. Usually, no one has the gall to say this kind of thing to Newton's face.

Arsehole Jaegar pilot number two says. "Dr. Geislzer's a girl. You know about that?"

Hermann's vision momentarily flashes red, because Newton flinched again and now he looks upset, and Hermann can hardly bear to see him angry, let alone upset. He is not allowed to be upset. No one is allowed to upset him. Hermann refuses to stand for this.

He takes a step closer towards the arsehole Jaegar pilots. "Did I know that, despite it being 2021, there are still people unable to grasp the frankly incredibly basic concept of gender?" He asks, raising one eyebrow. "Well, I had hoped otherwise, gentlemen, but I am by no means surprised."

"Wh--" Arsehole Jaegar pilot number one starts.

Hermann doesn't let him get a word out, taking another step closer as he continues, "Did I know that you are transphobic imbeciles who get your kicks by belittling others? No, I did not, because to be frank, gentlemen, I do not even know your names. But I am sure the Marshall does, and I am sure he will not take too kindly to learning that you spend your free time threatening your co-workers."

There is a beat. Both arsehole Jaegar pilots stare, apparently struck speechless.

Hermann smiles thinly. "Did you not know about the security cameras?" He points out the one positioned a mere metre from where Newton and the arsehole Jaegar pilots are standing. "I am positive the Marshall is already on his way here now. There is a zero tolerance policy, you see."

The arsehole Jaegar pilots continue to gape gormlessly. Hermann, satisfied they are no longer a threat, turns his attention to Newton, who's still staring at him with wide eyes.

"Come along, then. We have work to be doing."

Newton jumps into action, pushing away from the wall and pushing past the arsehole Jaegar pilots and pushing open the door to their lab, disappearing inside. Hermann follows at more of a sedate pace.

"That was-- Jesus, Herms, that was amazing. You're amazing, you're incredible, I love you so much--"

"It was the least I could do." Hermann interjects. "And, after all, am I not contractually obligated to come to your defence?"

Newton beams at him, an ear-to-ear grin that still takes Hermann's breath away, even after all this time. "Yeah, okay, but, like, you were just breathtaking, okay? I am in awe. You were dictionary-definition awesome, what in Hell did I do to deserve you, Jesus. Come here, I need to kiss you. Like, actual burning need."

Hermann smiles, and obliges him, closing the distance between them and pressing their lips together. Kissing Newton is definitely not something he will ever get enough of.